The Structural-Systematic Philosophy

Critical comments on Sovik's new book.

What is The Structural-Systematic Philosophy?

The Structural-Systematic Philosophy (SSP) is a systematic philosophy in progress. Books developing it so far are (in English) STRUCTURE AND BEING (2008), BEING AND GOD (2011), and TOWARD A PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY OF EVERYTHING (TAPTOE; 2014). Podcasts describe the project and present details.

On Atle Søvik’s A Basic Theory of Everything

I’d like to begin by apologizing to the author of the book I’m going to be discussing for probably misprouncing both his first and last names. So, having done that, the title of this podcast is “On Atle Søvik’s A Basic Theory of Everything.”
As the author of the book Toward a Philosophical Theory of Everything (which I henceforth refer to by its acronym, TAPTOE), I was of course interested in Søvik’s apparent claim to have achieved what I, in my book, along with Lorenz Puntel’s two books Structure and Being and Being and God, was only moving toward. Sad to say, I found Søvik’s book deeply disappointing.
TAPTOE, like Puntel’s two books Structure and Being and Being and God, is devoted to the structural-systematic philosophy (the SSP), which aims to present and to rely on the best currently available theoretical framework for a systematic philosophy (see TAPTOE, Chapter 2). It also explains, in significant detail, how a different theoretical framework could establish its superiority to that of the SSP (see Structure and Being section 6.4). It is therefore disappointing, particularly given how often Søvik’s book cites particularly Structure and Being, that Søvik’s book does not explain why it takes its theory, or its theoretical framework, to be superior to those presented in the works devoted to the SSP.
One reasonable starting point is with Søvik’s book’s subtitle, “A Fundamental Theoretical Framework for Science and Philosophy.” This is reminiscent of the subtitle of Structure and Being, i.e., “A Theoretical Framework for a Systematic Philosophy.” Søvik writes (33n13), “I use Puntel’s understanding of theoretical framework”; he also suggests (33n14), “See also the helpful description of the same understanding of theoretical frameworks in (A. White, 2014 [i.e., TAPTOE], pp. 24-49 [this should be 24-39]).” Yet Søvik does not in fact use this understanding of theoretical frameworks, in part because, according to the SSP, one essential component of every theoretical framework is its subject matter or, technically, its universe of discourse. Both perplexingly and revealingly, Søvik’s book never uses the phrase “universe of discourse,” and uses “subject matter” only once (33), quoting Structure and Being.
The SSP’s universe of discourse is unrestricted; all sciences save systematic philosophy have restricted universes of discourse (see TAPTOE Chapter 1). Hence, for example, biology and physics have different theoretical frameworks (although with some common elements) because they have different subject matters: physics studies quarks but not rabbits, whereas the reverse is the case for biology. Also, as indicated just above, the SSP classifies itself as a science. Søvik’s book’s subtitle appears to separate philosophy from science, although I have found no explanation in the book of just what Søvik takes either science or philosophy to be (for what it is according to the SSP, see TAPTOE Chapter 1, or the podcast “What Is Philosophy?”, available wherever you found this podcast). According to the SSP, there can be no one theoretical framework for philosophy and for all the sciences, because they have distinct universes of discourse.
I turn next to the final section of Søvik’s book, titled “Why Is There Anything At All?” The SSP’s answer to this question, in a very small nutshell, is that absolute non-being is impossible. Because it is, being must have an absolutely necessary as well as a contingent dimension (see TAPTOE Chapter 8). Søvik’s book makes no mention of this answer (although it briefly considers a part of its argumentation on p. 98, and Søvik considers it in some more detail in his 2018 article “It Is Impossible That There Could Have Been Nothing”). Søvik says, instead, “I offer as a fundamental explanation of the world the necessarily circular hypothesis that the fundamental explanation of everything—where the world comes from—is the power of beginning to exist.” Left unaddressed is the question what the ontological status of this power could be, given that it could not exist. There also could not exist anything else that would have this power. So, the fatal problem with the book’s thesis is one of unintelligibility, not one of circularity.
Søvik’s book cannot adequately address the question raised in the title of its final section because it utterly lacks a theory of being. On that topic, it says (95) the following:
When discussing existence, Lorenz Puntel distinguishes between beings which exist and Being (with capital B) as that which all beings have in common. Concerning capital-Being, he distinguishes between "[capital-]Being as such" and "[capital-]Being as a whole", where capital-Being as a whole includes beings (said to exist) and capital-Being as such is capital-Being considered without beings (Puntel, 2008, pp. 417-418). Since the term "being/capital-Being" can be quite confusing in English, I shall use the term "existence as such" when I speak of that which all existing things have in com¬mon (= capital-Being considered without beings).
This is deeply misleading, because in the SSP capital-Being is not, most importantly, “that which all beings have in common” (again, see TAPTOE Chapter 8).
The SSP argues that it comes to make sense to use the term “God” to designate being (or, in Being and God, capital-Being); the SSP is thus explicitly theistic. Søvik’s book, on the other hand, is noncommittal about the status of God. At least five times (90n68, 413, 414, 414n285), it uses formulations such as “if God exists, then…” and “If God does not exist, then….” How a theory that is noncommittal on this centrally important issue could be a complete theory of everything, basic or not (the book never explains the qualifier “basic”) that was superior to that being developed as the SSP is wholly unclear to me.
Another issue on which the SSP takes a definitive position and Søvik’s book does not is beauty. According to the SSP (see TAPTOE Chapter 7), beauty is (in one terminology) objective—it is not merely “in the eye of the beholder.” Søvik’s book says only in a footnote (408n282, emphasis added), “I do not have a philosophy of aesthetics, I just assume that evaluating something as beautiful is something that individuals do in different ways for different reasons without there being anything objectively beautiful.” As with the topic “God,” because Søvik’s book says nothing about the position taken in the SSP, it cannot argue that its own position is superior.
I take what I have already said to be sufficient to establish that Søvik’s book does not show its theory or its theoretical framework to be superior to the SSP’s theoretical framework or to the theory that is, at present, the best available concretization of that theoretical framework. But I think there is more that may fruitfully be said.
Both Structure and Being and TAPTOE, and (to a lesser extent) Being and God explain theoretical frameworks in significant detail (most concisely in TAPTOE’s Chapter 2). Søvik’s book has no such explanation, although, as indicated earlier, it takes itself to follow the SSP’s understanding. Yet, as has already been indicated, it uses the phrase in ways that diverge widely—indeed, unintelligibly—from the SSP’s uses. It is worth considering a few examples.
A second passage about theoretical frameworks that is utterly inconsistent with what the SSP says about theoretical frameworks is the following (1):
A theoretical framework does not have to be words and sentences. Just relating images in our mind to each other without words is, in a broad sense, a theoret¬ical framework and, in the deepest sense, what it means to understand some¬thing: to relate it to something else.
According to the SSP, “relating images in our mind to each other” requires an at least vaguely determinable theoretical framework, but would not itself constitute a theoretical framework.
Also according to Søvik’s book (10), “modality is a theoretical framework.” Again, this usage is unintelligible given how theoretical frameworks are understood within the SSP. For one thing, modalities can be components of theoretical frameworks that differ enormously in other respects. Similarly (12), “Categorizing something as causes and effects is a theoretical framework.” Causes and effects, like probabilities, can be components of various theoretical frameworks, as, for example, our everyday frameworks and the framework of the SSP (see TAPTOE Chapter 2).
Søvik’s book also (18) presents “the theory of relativity and [explains] why it is a useful theoretical framework in physics.” According to the SSP, the theory of relativity is indeed a theory, and as such must be situated within some theoretical framework or other (and it appears to be situated within several distinct ones by contemporary physicists), but it is not itself a theoretical framework. Søvik’s book nowhere explains how it could be both a theory and a theoretical framework.
Many additional examples of uses of “theoretical framework” that are both unclear in themselves and inconsistent with the SSP’s understanding of theoretical frameworks could be introduced, but I see no point in introducing any more.
Another way Søvik’s book differs from the SSP without noting the SSP’s position, and hence without defending its own position as superior, concerns the mind. According to the SSP, thanks to our mentality we are intentionally coextensive with being as such and as a whole. When I am conscious of a proposition identical to a fact (see TAPTOE Chapter 3), I have, so to speak, absorbed that fact. One way of further explaining this is to understand the mind as a field that always has some value or other everywhere within being as such and as a whole. Whenever I think about Alpha Centauri, my mental field has a value higher than zero at Alpha Centauri. Whenever I think about the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, my mental field has a value higher than zero at that fact’s location within the absolutely necessary dimension of being.
According to Søvik’s book, on the other hand, I am, as it were, trapped within my mind, which appears to be trapped within my head (130): my brain, or more explicitly my neurons, somehow use sensory information to make representations, and my mind somehow has access to those representations. Hence, rather than experiencing the chair that I see and sit on, I experience only physically-constructed representations of the chair, thanks to visual and tactual sensations and then whatever my brain does with those sensations.
I conclude that the theory and/or theoretical framework presented in Søvik’s book fall to the internal critique sketched above, and hence are not viable, no matter how they may compare to those of the SSP. In the absence of any arguments against the SSP’s claim to be the best currently available systematic philosophy, that claim stands.
If you have questions or comments or would like to discuss this further, please email me at Thank you.