The Metaphysics of Totality

The debate about physicalism provides an example of a philosophical context where explicit totality operators are deployed. As is widely recognized, physicalism is not committed to the claim that a full physical description of the world entails every truth. If physicalism holds, there are no angels, but no purely physical description of the world will entail that there are no angels. If PHYS is a full physical description of the world, then the key commitment of physicalism is that “PHYS, and that’s it” entails every truth – where the totality operator asserts entailment of all positive truths, roughly speaking.

An illuminating semantic characterization of such a totality operator is due to David Chalmers and Frank Jackson. Their idea is that “p, and that’s it” is true just in case the actual world is minimal among those possible worlds where p is true. There is no “smaller” world where p is true – otherwise p would fail to describe whatever excess content the actual world has relative to that other world, and would fail to be a total description.

We aim to draw on Chalmers’ and Jackson’s idea to analyse the role of explicit representations of totality in the influential conceivability argument, or zombie argument, and to defend the argument against a popular line of objection. In my view, the idea to use possible worlds to analyse totality has far greater potential to advance the debate about physicalism than Chalmers’ and Jackson’s own brief discussion suggests.

Above, we informally used “smaller” to describe a relation between possible worlds. Chalmers and Jackson use the technical term “outstripping” for such a relation, which they characterize in terms of the notion of parthood and duplication. We aim to clarify the metaphysical commitments of this approach. For instance, it only gives the desired verdicts if things have some of their properties (but not all) as parts. I will examine the tenability of this assumption in light of metaphysical theories of properties, parthood, and duplication, and will consider alternatives.