How does this anthropic principle argument from Schopenhauer make any sense?


According to a blog post This is what another universe looks like, "in Arthur Schopenhauer's 1844 work "Von der Nichtigkeit und dem Leiden des Lebens", he argues that our world must be the worst of all possible worlds, because if it were significantly worse in any respect it could not continue to exist".

But if we live in the worst possible world, then better worlds are able to continue to exist which means worse worlds than possibly-existing worlds can exist which means worse worlds than currently-existing worlds can exist.

Which argument is wrong?


Posted 2018-12-06T14:41:49.147

Reputation: 119


English translation of Schopenhauer's argument can be found in Bennett's Schopenhauer and the Geometry of Evil:"this world is so arranged as to be able to maintain itself with great difficulty; but if it were a little worse, it could no longer maintain itself. Consequently a worse world, since it could not continue to exist, is absolutely impossible: thus this world itself is the worst of all possible worlds." This only works if one assumes that all worlds are comparable by "worseness", which is doubtful.

– Conifold – 2018-12-06T21:00:03.710

I agree with @conifold, moreover that "this world is so arranged as to be able to maintain itself with great difficulty" has to be proven somehow: we can imagine a lot of worse worlds able to maintain themselves – Francesco D'Isa – 2018-12-06T21:27:33.450

Is that even an argument? Looks more like an opinion. Like "nothing worse can exist". – rus9384 – 2018-12-06T21:28:12.970

1@Conifold I'm not questioning his concept of worse, I'm questioning his follows from his concept of worse. He simultaneously argues that better worlds than ours do exist, and worse worlds than one of those existing worlds cannot exist! So no, you're wrong in thinking that that argument works if one assumes that all worlds are comparable by worseness. – EternalPropagation – 2018-12-07T02:18:05.077

@rus9384, it's an early concept of the anthropic principle. I can deduce a range of possible worlds just by my one data point, but it's impossible to deduce where I am in that range. – EternalPropagation – 2018-12-07T02:18:51.790

@FrancescoD'Isa you actually CAN prove that. Just ask yourself why aren't you in another world? The answer is that your (the subjective your, not genetic) existence is impossible in any other world else you'd already be there. What you can't prove though is these two: that there's a range of worlds where the subjective you exists AND that you can tell the subjective you is on one extreme end of this range. You can only prove one or the other, not both. – EternalPropagation – 2018-12-07T02:23:49.047

Just ask yourself why aren't you on a different continent? Then evidently your existence is impossible on any other continent or else you would already be there? This is not an argument. It is also way off the intended point. – None – 2018-12-07T05:48:29.087

Every material thing continuously degenerates, declining into entropy. Then eventually, from the dust, somehow beautiful works of cosmic art are recreated. All matter is in a constant state of flux. Human minds may be deluded / delude themselves into believing that they're so closely bound to matter as to be incapable of escaping the same fate. – Bread – 2018-12-07T06:22:30.693

@jobermark: "Just ask yourself why aren't you on a different continent? Then evidently your existence is impossible on any other continent or else you would already be there?" -- exactly. – EternalPropagation – 2018-12-07T06:59:59.057

I don't think this "argument" has anything to do with logic. Schopenhauer could think of no worse world than that where he is in, so he thought it is the worst possible world. Or maybe that was a sarcasm? But knowing Schopenhauer's worldview, probably not. – rus9384 – 2018-12-07T07:31:13.123

Schopenhauer makes a cynical point about the actual world not possibly being able to be worse (i.e. he says "our actual world is the worst") and you seriously ask whether it stands at odds with their being possible worlds with - from their standpoint - worse worlds? Worse is not absolute and the possibility of there being better worlds tells nothing about whether ours is the worst. Also, I suspect that you confuse the modals with respect to worlds used here with modals used with time qualifiers (e.g. possible future). They are not to be muddled. The actual world has possible futures. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-12-07T11:55:44.910

@PhilipKlöcking, you seem to actually subscribe to Schophenhauer's faulty logic then: that any world worse than our existing world cannot exist ergo we are the worst world where all the better worlds think the same about the impossible existence of a worse world than theirs (ie, us). – EternalPropagation – 2018-12-07T13:53:16.667

@EternalPropagation I am currently on North America. I have been on Europe in the past, and intend to be again (probably in 2020). Therefore, it would appear that it isn't impossible for me to be on Europe, except in a sense that disregards contingent truth altogether and says that anything that is not actually true is impossible. You can reason that way, but don't expect anyone else to agree with you. – David Thornley – 2018-12-07T18:44:02.753

1Your argument is wrong and Shope's is right, logic-wise at least,, but I wouldn't be able to fruitfully address that in an answer because I can't even really parse what you wrote because of the very loose language of your paragraph. Maybe consider revising it. – Chelonian – 2018-12-07T18:58:18.013

@EternalPropagation Given these extensive comments, I suggest that the original question be rephrased and reposted. – Mark Andrews – 2018-12-11T03:39:52.540



Schopenhauer's logic is impeccable. I don't agree with his premises as stated. I don't know if he has any arguments in support of the premises, and would almost certainly disagree with them. I can imagine a worse world, and so have many science fiction and alternate history authors, so it appears to me that a worse world would be capable of holding together as a world.

If there is only one possible world, then indeed it is the worst of all possible worlds and the best of all possible worlds, and no world could be worse, and no world could be better. Your second argument fails on that point.

Also, it's conceivable that there are multiple possible worlds, that there is at least a partial ordering on better-worse, and we're in the worst possible world. In that case, there would be possible worlds that had at least one other possible world worse than it, and it happens that we would not be in one of the better ones. Your second argument fails in that eventuality. Schopenhauer did not claim that no world could be worse than another, only that we were in the worst.

David Thornley

Posted 2018-12-06T14:41:49.147

Reputation: 1 034