I aim to ask and answer the question regarding the possibility of doing philosophy in fantastic worlds. At this very moment I am planning a four-part series which can be listed as:
- Dungeons and Ontology - What is Being?
- Dungeons and Epistemology - What is Knowledge?
- Dungeons and Ethics - What is good?
- Dungeons and Aesthetics - What is Beauty?
As you can see these four articles cover the basics of philosophical questions asked since the dawn of its genesis. As a note, I assume that none of my readers have an in-depth knowledge of philosophy therefore I begin by giving a primer about the area I’ll be investigating in the fictional worlds and then we’ll start interpreting the concept.
So, without further ado let us begin. Why ontology? Ontology (or Metaphysics which it is commonly, and wrongly, known) is the philosophical field which asks the question “What is being?” and philosophy began with this question, it is the first question of our elders. Thales suggested “everything consists from water” and started to investigate how being comes into as being. This investigation made Aristotle find the “immovable mover”, which the medieval scholars interpreted as God himself. Descartes, who is counted as the father of modern philosophy, rationalized this idea first by doubting everything except a doubter and because there is an idea of perfection in it, he finds God in a very “undoubtable” way. Although our article’s scope ends there, I must add that this journey continued via Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger and formed the crux of Continental Philosophy.
After discussing these ideas, we, ourselves, start to ask the question of “What is being in fictional worlds” and as a necessity we’ll discuss Gods and why they can’t be regarded as one with our modern God concept taken into hindsight and finally delve into the possibility of ontology in universes with different categories of beings.
Ancient Times: Pre-Socratic Tradition, Plato and Aristotle
As I’ve stated in the beginning, the question that gave birth to the philosophy discipline started with Thales who asked the question of “What is Being” and answered it with “Water”, which isn’t the water we consume in our daily lives but a fluid and ever-changing thing that resembles water. We should remind ourselves that in this age and time the knowledge creation process wasn’t systematized, yet. After him, the pre-Socratic tradition also investigated this problem. They thought this problem is an important, maybe the essential, question to answer because if you knew what makes a being, you can guess how it is going to behave in the coming days, it is the first attempt to reach the first principles so to speak.
Socrates, and in extension Plato, was the first philosopher who didn’t continue this tradition, focusing only the question regarding being. In Plato’s books where Socrates as the protagonist, we see he investigates ethics, epistemology and aesthetics, whose genealogy can be traced to his books, as well as ontology.
Plato basically affirms a duality of worlds, our world, the world we live in, exists but it exists as a broken copy of a perfect idea world. Let me try to exemplify this by using a desk. There are many types of desks in our world but their essential deskness comes from the idea world – what makes them a desk, no matter their shape and size, is the idea of desk rooting from the idea world. You can break, deface, change a desk in real life but the essential desk remains unchanged and eternal. The objects in this world, in the real world, are broken copies of their perfect ideas residing in the idea world. They are broken because they are mutable, what is real doesn’t need a change; they are copies because you can see many desks rooting from the same idea.
How did those ideas exist? We don’t know, Plato doesn’t say anything about this. They exist, but what or who is the reason for their existence that we don’t know. But we should remind that this age is a polytheistic one and their pantheon doesn’t suggest that they have created the world and/or the universe. These gods and goddesses are the victors of the Titan war, who created the universe, time and being, and now they drink, eat and meddle with mortal affairs as fun. As suggested by an author I can’t remember now, they are bourgeoise gods who doesn’t do any work worthy of a God. But let’s stop digressing and continue to our topic.
Aristotle will take this idea of idea world and invert it. He suggests that things create ideas, in a way I create the idea of desk by seeing many desks and understanding the commonality between them. By this very reason the idea world and real world are connected, and no world is “superior” to one another as Plato suggested. In addition to that, Aristotle created systematized logic and found the first principle as the “Demiurge” which can be translated as “Immovable Mover”. This concept, although it doesn’t fit to the Christian God like a glove, will be critical in matching the Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology.
Medieval Times: St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm and William of Ockham
When we come into the medieval times we see that God is the sole reason of being. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). But this age had its own question, which is known as the Problem of Universals. This problem is a rematch of Plato and Aristotle’s ideas on ontology in Christian terms and another way of thinking is added to this thorny problem of the genesis of the things.
- First group, the realists which is primarily influenced by St. Augustine and St. Anselm’s thoughts, suggested that universals (ideas) exist independent from the objects and ideas are superior to their physical counterparts. We can hear the Platonist echoes here really. In extension to that human body is a mix of perfectness and imperfectness – its soul, which comes from the God himself, is perfect but its body is imperfect because it exists in the physical world. Therefore, we should shun all things bodily, live ascetically and try to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God which is the real reality, not this broken copy.
- Second group, the conceptualists whose most influential name is Thomas Aquinas, suggest that universals exist but they exist inside of things, they are not independent to those objects and surely not “more perfect” than them. Again, we can hear the echoes of Aristotelian thought here.
- Third group, nominalists, basically says there is no such thing as universals. What we see as “universal” is just a name we tag them and whole search for this mythical idea/universal thing is humbug. It is quite safe to say the third group won the contest. The interest shifted from universals to objects gave birth to modern science, because prior to this, what we call science is an investigative activity focused on finding the universals, the first principles and/or the ideas.
Before ending this section, I must add that this brief overview is just that; brief. Philosophy in this period is studied under the name “The Medieval Philosophy” and if you are interested in the details I can recommend Etienne Gilson’s “The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy” as a primer. So, let us move to Descartes and modern times then!
Modern Period: René Descartes and John Locke
Now it is time to discuss about René Descartes who is thought as the founder of modern philosophy. He starts by doubting everything in his “Meditations on First Philosophy”. He doubts everything but one thing, to paraphrase, “When I doubt about everything, the only thing I cannot doubt is a mind that is in the act of doubting, my mind”. And continues from there to affirm God’s existence, who is the sole reason of the idea of perfection: This idea I have in my mind could not come from outside, because nothing is perfect in the physical world, but must come from somewhere, which he suggests it was put there by God himself. And with this affirmation he is also sure about the outside world because, again to paraphrase, “a good God won’t deceive me, and He is good.” In hindsight the dedication made “To the Most Wise and Illustrious the Dean and Doctors of the Sacred Faculty of Theology” doesn’t seem weird, because this book is all about proving the existence of God. And he is very sure about his and God’s existence.
The criticism to this ideation will come from an English philosopher, John Locke. He suggested that the human mind is an empty slate (tabula rasa) and I carve knowledge to this slate with my sense data. I can infer new ideas by creating connections with these ideas. God is an idea I reach via these connections. But it should be noted here that the concept of god isn’t essential for being and knowledge, those things came within from my mind.
The God as the Source of All Being: Characteristics, Entropy and Dimensional Differences
After giving this brief history of philosophy overview let us review what we have in our hands. Simply what we call God is the source of all being; omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient he exists everywhere and everywhen. But even though he created this world, he is outside of it and doesn’t get affected by entropy and he is also the supreme good because he created humanity and put the idea of perfection in its mind.
God’s out of dimensionality is also suggested in a well-known idiom: “God works in mysterious ways” He must work in mysterious ways because even though we are chained to this dimension by our bodies which exist in a three-dimensional space and it is not possible for us to understand a being who exists in a higher plane of existence than us. Let me try to illustrate my point with an example, as a three-dimensional being you can do everything in 2d space – say on a paper. Let us also assume that the graphical shape we call as the stick man also formed a civilization and existing on another 2d plane of existence which we have the means to access. When you interact with this universe, how would these stickmen interpret your actions, even if they tried they would not be able to know and imagine your dimension which is in 3d. In context we should remind ourselves the words of St. Anselm who answered the thorny question of “If God exists and if He is good, why does the evil exist?”. To paraphrase “The concept of Good and Evil we have and try to apply to God are human concepts of ethics and what we see, in our limited sense, as evil might play a good in the greater plan.”
The Problem of Being in Fictional Universes
After discussing the concept of God in our world and why is he thought of the reason of all being, we can focus on the core of our article which is the concept of being, concept of God in fictional universes. In this context I’ll briefly discuss the Greek Pantheon and will move to other worlds.
As I’ve said before the Greek Pantheon doesn’t fit to the modern Judeo-Christian God concept. They are, not even Zeus, is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Also, because they can mingle with mortals and exist in bodies (and they even have children, considering Zeus again), these gods (if they exist) categorically are not gods but another species which can be stated like Homo Sapiens. They have certain powers and can be considered more powerful than us, but they have neither claim nor power to create universes and concepts. These are created by Titans who are chained by those gods and now relishing in their palaces and works.
I don’t think I’d be missing my mark if I said whole fictional pantheons are the Greek pantheon which changed names and/or powers. They often get into bodies and murdered even, consider the Time of Troubles in Forgotten Realms for example. They even killed the most powerful of gods, Mystra, who made the magic possible by weave which is overflowing from her. This act of murder suggests that those powers are just living beings who is more powerful than a human being.
I hope I have conveyed the basic idea in my mind: any being who directly can interact with the physical world, no matter what their powers are, is not a god – not in the sense we put it anyway. And any being who can directly interact with the physical world cannot be considered as the source of all being, it would be like an apple eating itself. The act of creation requires a being which encompasses the created, the creator is both inside and outside of the created universe, he/she/it doesn’t have to play with the rules of this universe. Therefore any “god” who gives its believers various powers and able to “throw lightning at the unbeliever” cannot be considered as the God. The ability to directly interfering with a dimension, requires you to be in that dimension and as Kant stated, the cannot be “seen” with our senses. Existence in this world, as Plato stated without knowing the concept of entropy, makes change and breaking down an essential thing.
As a radical speculation I want to say that the real gods of these fictional universes can be considered as the writer, or the cadre of writers, who imagined these worlds and they fit our concept of God from the perspective of created universes. They interact with their worlds but not directly, they create that universe, but they are not a part of it and they know, see and interact with everything in that universe without playing by its rules.
Who knows maybe our universe itself is a book existing in another parallel universe, which we can’t claim otherwise because our knowledge is limited to this universe. But maybe, just maybe, the ending of Man In Black 1 is true and we exist in a marble which is played by aliens… who can tell?