Jan Westerhoff is Professor of Buddhist Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Originally trained as a philosopher and orientalist, his research focuses on Indian philosophy (primarily on Madhyamaka) and on contemporary analytic philosophy (mainly on metaphysics). For more information see https://janwesterhoff.net
Recent discussions in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind have defended a theory according to which we live in a virtual world akin to a computer simulation, generated by our brain. It is argued that our brain creates a model world from a variety of stimuli; this model is perceived as if it was external and perception-independent, even though it is neither of the two. The view of the mind, brain, and world, entailed by this theory (here called “virtual world theory”) has some peculiar consequences which have rarely been explored in detail. This paper sets out virtual world theory (1. 1) and relates it to various central philosophical problems (indirect realism (1. 2), the role of the perceiver (1. 3) and the problem of the existence of the external world (1. 4)). The second part suggests three interpretations of virtual world theory, two familiar ones (a strong and a weak one, 2. 1) and a somewhat less familiar one (the irrealist interpretation, 2. 2). The remainder of the paper argues that the irrealist interpretation is the one we should adopt (2. 3–2. 6).
This paper has two main aims. I first argue that ontological nihilism, that is, the view that there are no things is a consistent position. Second, I discuss an argument for the view that nihilism is not just possible but actually true, that is that there actually are no things (This paper is not meant as an addition to the considerable literature on the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Of course, any attempt to answer this question would have to presuppose the conclusion of the first section, that is, that nihilism is a consistent position. But if the argument in the second section goes through the question we would then have to answer is not why there is something rather than nothing, but why there is nothing rather than something). My argument is based on two main premisses, eliminativism (‘only the fundamental exists’) and non-foundationalism (‘it’s dependence all the way down’) which jointly entail ontological nihilism. I conclude with some reflections on the consequences of the nihilist position for the project of constructing a fundamental metaphysical theory.
Open peer commentary on the article “A Defence of Starmaking Constructivism: The Problem of Stuff” by Bin Liu. Abstract: I consider two problems arising in the context of Goodmanian constructivism as discussed by Bin Liu: the question of solipsism and the status of immaterial minds.