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Do Other Possible Worlds Exist?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 3141 words Published: 18th Sep 2017

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Omar Haq 


Samantha is working at her desk. While she is unswervingly conscious only of her immediate situation – her being seated in front of her computer, the melodious music playing in the backdrop, the echo of her husband’s voice on the phone in the next room, and so on. She is quite confident that this circumstance is only part of a series of increasingly more comprehensive, although less immediate, situations: the situation in her house as a whole, the city she lives in, the one in her neighborhood, the state, the North American continent, the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and so on. it appears that anyway, it is quite rational to believe that this series has a limit, that is, that there is a inclusive situation surrounding all others: things, as a whole or, more succinctly, the actual world.

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Many of us also believe that things, as a whole, needn’t have been just as they are. On the other hand, things might have been dissimilar in countless ways, both inconsequential and profound. from the very beginning of History, it could have stretched out quite other than it did in fact: The stuff comprising a distant star might never have ordered well enough to give light; species that survived could just as well have died off; wars and battles won might have been lost; children born might never have been conceived might otherwise have been born. In other case, no matter how stuff had gone they would still have been become part of a single, mostly inclusive, all-surrounding situation, a single world. Instinctively, then, the actual world of which Samantha’s immediate state is a part is only one among many possible worlds.

Motivations for Realism about Possible Worlds

Philip Becker’s possible worlds

Let’s begin with some terminology at the start. A world (or possible world-for me, the ‘possible is superfluous) is, first, an individual or single entity, not a set or class. Secondly, it is a particular, not a property or universal. Thirdly, it is concrete in a sense that it is completely determinate in all qualitative and respects. Last but not the least, a maximal interconnected whole and each world is internally combined and inaccessible or isolated from every other world. There is at least one world; we are just part of the world. It is a concrete world, the actual world if there are no “island universes.” Worlds that are not real (if any) are simply possible. A realist about possible worlds thinks that there is a platitudinous plurality of worlds or there might a number of other worlds whenever something is possible-for example, that donkeys talk, or that pigs fly-there is a world in which it is true. There is a number of ways to be a realist about possible worlds. Realists split into two camps depending upon their account of actuality. David Lewis thinks that the worlds are ontologically all on a par; the actual and the merely possible vary, not utterly, but in how they are related to us. Lewisian called this ‘realism’. Most philosophers accept that Lewisian realism, if it is true, it would bring substantial theoretical payback to systematic philosophy. On the other hand, few philosophers have been eager or able to deem it. Often the obstruction to faith is the hypothetical and ontological extravagance that escorts any full-blown realism about possible worlds: belief in talking donkeys and flying pigs-even if they are spatiotemporally and causally inaccessible from us-is deemed simply outrageous. But According to Philip Becker, that opposition is based on chauvinism, prejudice, not argument; and it is not a prejudice that has been collective value. Oppositions to Lewis’s account of realism, however, are another matter. Becker takes it to be theoretically obvious that actuality is absolute, not relative, and that, moreover, the difference between the actual and the merely possible is dissimilarity in ontological status: whatever is ontologically of the same fundamental type as something actual is being itself actual. When Lewis claims, Phillip Bricker then, that all worlds are ontologically on a par, only can understand these protests in spite of being saying that all worlds are uniformly actual. But that makes Lewis’s resistance of a plurality of worlds incoherent and illogical. For this, there could be no good reasons for believing in a plurality of actual concrete worlds. No matter how, Psychoanalysis of modal operators as quantifiers over concrete parts of actuality as well as extensive actuality are surely mistaken. Thus Lewisian realism has been rejected.

Lewis‘s Modal realism

Modal realism is the view propagated by David Kellogg Lewis. Lewis thinks that all possible worlds are as real as the actual world. It is surrounded by the following tenets: the existence of possible worlds; possible worlds are irreducible entities; possible worlds are not different in kind from the actual world; the term actual in actual world is indexical, i.e. any subject can state their world to be the actual one, much as they label the place they are “here” and the time they are “now”. The term goes back to Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds, used to analyse necessity, possibility, and similar modal notions. In short: the actual world is considered as merely one among an infinite set of logically possible worlds, some “nearer” to the actual world and some more remote. A proportional suggestion is necessary if it is true in all possible worlds and possible if it is true in at least one.

Main doctrines

At the heart of David Lewis’s modal realism are six central doctrines about possible worlds:

  • Possible worlds exist – they are just as real as our world;
  • Possible worlds cannot be abridged to something more basic – they are irreducible entities in their own right.
  • Possible worlds are the same sort of things as our world – they can be different in content, not in kind;
  • Possible worlds are causally secluded from each other.
  • Possible worlds are amalgamated by the spatiotemporal interrelations of their parts; every world is spatiotemporally isolated from every other world.
  • Actuality is indexical. When we differentiate our world from other possible worlds by claiming that it alone is actual, we mean only that it is our world.

Reasons given by Lewis

Lewis supports modal realism for a number of reasons. First, there doesn’t seem to be a reason. Many abstract mathematical entities are added simply because they are helpful. For example, sets are useful, abstract mathematical thing that were only visualized in the 19th century. Sets are now measured to be objects in their own right, and while this is a philosophically unintuitive idea, its usefulness in understanding the workings of mathematics creates faith in it worthwhile. The same thing should go for possible worlds. Since these have assisted us to make sense of key philosophical concepts in epistemology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, etc. Their existence should be unanimously accepted on pragmatic grounds.

Lewis condemns that the idea of alethic modality can be condensed to talk of real possible worlds. For example, to say “x is possible” is to say that there situates a possible world where x is true. To say “x is required” is to say that in all possible worlds x is factual and accurate. The appeal to possible worlds presents a sort of economy with the least number of undefined primitives/axioms in our ontology.

By Taking this latter point one step further, Lewis says that modality cannot be made sense of without such a reduction. He upholds that we cannot settle on that x is possible without a origin of what a real world where x holds would look like. In other words, it is possible for basketballs to be inside of atoms whether we do not merely formulate a linguistic determination of whether the proposition is grammatically rational and coherent. We essentially think about whether a real world would be able to sustain such a state of affairs or not. Thus, we need a brand of modal realism if we want to use modality at all.

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s Plurality of Worlds

The French philosopher and writer Fontenelle (1657-1757) was well-known for popularizing science and philosophy in a lively, elegant and dynamic way. His Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) (Fontenelle 1686) propagated an elucidation of the Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe in popular language. It was an instantaneous success and revolutionary work. The book offered a number of conversations between a heroic philosopher (Fontenelle himself) and a Marchioness. The question about life on other worlds was come up and one of the main troubles to be discussed was the following one: are the inhabitants of these planets have similarity like us or are they quite different from ours? Here is Fontenelle’s observation. The inhabitants of the solar system are very diverse from one planet to another. On the Moon, where there is no air, no water, no cloud, no protection against the Sun, the Salinities live beneath the surface in deep wells that possibly could be seen through our telescopes. But the Marchioness looks very uncertain about the humming and hawing coming from his lovely teacher regarding the description of life on the Moon: “it’s a lot of ignorance based on very little science”, she narrates. She has the emotion that Fontenelle is going to populate all the planets and she is at once besieged by the “unlimited number of inhabitants possibly to be on all these planets”. How can we visualize these planet dwellers, so different indeed if nature is opposed to repetitions? Fontenelle delights himself imagining that distinctions boost up as the planets become more and more far-away from the Sun. For example, on Venus, where heat and sunlight are more intense than on our planet, the climate situations are very encouraging and favorable to love affairs. The Venusians (named Céladons and Silvandres) are intelligent and lively but all are sterile, except a very little number of procreators and the Queen who is tremendously productive. Millions of offspring are descended from her and this fact is quite parallel to the bee kingdom on the Earth. The Marchioness seems very amazed!

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Fontenelle passes very little time on the case of Mars, a planet which seems to be very much alike to the Earth. According to him, Mars has nothing extraordinary and it’s not worth mentioning it. But, Jupiter, Saturn and their moons seem to be more interesting and are worthy of being habitable. The inhabitants of Saturn whose are very far from the Sun are very wise and phlegmatic. They never laugh and they require a whole day to answer the least question one asks them. What about far away in the universe? All the stars are so many suns lighting up a world. Fontenelle’s plurality of worlds appears finally to be so probable that the Marchioness appears discouraged and dismayed by such a diversity of living being. Fontenelle presents it to the reader a very broad plurality of living worlds. Its value is to have been the first to popularize in an agreeable style that is the idea of diversity of life in the universe.

Richard Proctor’s Planetary Worlds

The famous British astronomer Richard A. Proctor (1837-1888) is well remembered for having shaped one of the earliest maps of Mars in 1867 and for having written many popular books. Amongst them, Other Worlds Than Ours, The Plurality of Worlds Studied Under The Light of Recent Scientific Researches, had been published for the first time in 1870 and attracted attention not only of the scientific world but also of a very wide audience immediately. Proctor made a poetical description to show what astronomy taught us about the Sun and its planets. He also talked about the probability that other worlds where we could be inhabited.

However, according to Proctor, intricacies arise when the discussion comes to the possible forms of life (Proctor 1870). Habitability would be the key element and argument that able to answer this question, even if it is quite tough to know the conditions under which these beings could live. In Proctor’s belief, habitability could nevertheless be described in considering analogy with the Earth, i.e. parameters similar to those existing upon our planet. Proctor also incorporated the Darwinian theory of biological evolution into his reasoning in order to see if life would be possible in very unusual and exotic environments. He emphasized that we have learned from Darwin’s theory that slight differences between two regions of the Earth could guide us to life forms differently adapted. Furthermore, there are places on the Earth where species belonging to other areas would quickly be perished. He presumed from what our planet taught us about evolution that other worlds could be the residence of living things but they would sustain life in other ways. Proctor deliberated the habitability of every planet of the solar system. He propagated that the existence of planned and organized forms of life depended on the conditions which is hypothetical to have an effect on the planetary surface, such as atmosphere, climate, seasons, geology, and gravity. For example, the physical circumstances of Venus-size, location in the solar system, rotation, density, seasons, heat and light received from the Sun- seemed to show very close resemblances to the Earth. Arguments coming from analogy permitted him to finish off that this planet could be inhabited. Proctor understood that Venus could be the dwelling of creatures as far advanced in the level of evolution as any existing upon the Earth.

However, it evidently appeared that the best contender to be the habitat of life was Mars, “the miniature of our Earth” (Proctor 1870). Certainly, at that time, among all the extraterrestrial bodies experienced in our solar system, Mars had been tested more minutely and under more constructive circumstances than any object except the Moon. The surface of Mars was supposed to be enclosed by oceans and continents (the darker regions were supposed to be seas and the lighter parts continents). The Martian geography-or areography-was immensely studied, experimented and seemed to reveal the presence of a vast equatorial zone of continents, seas and 198 F. Raulin Cerceau straits: without a doubt remained as to the understanding of the features looking like land or water. Mars seemed to present very strong analogies with the Earth and everything looked possible regarding the forms of life likely to be on its surface. With season’s equivalent to terrestrial ones, water vapor in the atmosphere and forms of vegetation growing plentifully, Proctor’s Martian world was entirely suited for complex life. Proctor granted also life on Jupiter. The massive planet might be inhabited by “the most favored races existing throughout the whole range of the solar system” (Proctor 1870), thanks to the very equilibrium and excellence of the system which circles round it. It had been projected at that time that the mammoth dimensions of Jupiter and its distance from the sun led to the termination that Jovians must be a kind of the giant kind. Their eyes might have been in accordance with the weakness of the sunlight: less light, larger pupil and larger eyes, and then larger body. But Proctor did not hold up this hypothesis. Because of gravity and in order to make a Jove-man as active as our earthly counterpart, he propagated that we might have to give to these beings a size comparable to pygmies’one. However, Proctor wanted to stay under the control of exact knowledge. He thought that we could only claim that “the beings of other worlds are very different from any we are acquainted with, without endeavoring to give shape and form to fancies that have no foundation in fact (Proctor 1870).”


Bricker, P., 1980. ‘Prudence’, Journal of Philosophy, 77(7): 381-401.

—, 1987. ‘Reducing Possible Worlds to Language’, Philosophical Studies, 52(3): 331-355.

—, 1996. ‘Isolation and Unification: The Realist Analysis of Possible Worlds’, Philosophical Studies, 84(2/3): 225-238.

Flammarion, C.(1865). Les Mondes imaginaires et les Mondes réels. Didier, Paris

Flammarion, C.(1891). Uranie. Librairie Marpon et Flammarion, Paris Fontenelle (le Bovier de) B (1686) Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes.

McKay Ch, Smith HD.(2005). Possibilities for methanogenic life in liquid methane on the surface of Titan. Icarus 178:274-276

Morowitz H, Sagan C. (1967). Life in the clouds of Venus? Nature 215:1259-1260

Proctor, RA. (1870). other worlds than ours, the plurality of worlds studied under the light of recent scientific researches. Burt, New York


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