P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
Some scientists use possible worlds to explain the physical features of our universe. More accessible, perhaps, are the possible world theories that philosophers of language use to model concepts like possibility and necessity.
Closer to home, the October issue of The Atlantic, dubbed the “values issue” by the editors, provides an extended meditation on a possible world that might be familiar to many of us. The magazine takes articles on the “reinvention of philanthropy” and socially responsible investing, and puts them together with ads from car companies and Ralph Lauren.
In the possible world suggested by the editors, unchecked consumption coexists peacefully with a feeling for self-sacrifice. We can, without the slightest pang of conscience, drive to that Sierra Club fundraiser in an SUV; we can discuss our love of animals over a steak dinner with our friends. Not only is this world possible, the Atlantic editors seem to tell us, it’s the world we currently inhabit.
Providing a materialist grounding for this view, the issue includes an article by Olivia Judson on the evolutionary basis of altruism. Kindness and cruelty spring from the same source—the human genome—and we are born to save the planet even as we destroy it.
Image source: One of the panels from the cover of Roz Chast’s Parallel Universes.