Dr Franz Berto of our university's philosophy department, member of the Northern Institute of Philosophy, and author of 'How to Sell a Contradiction' has offered to give the society a talk on 'Can we Conceive the Impossible?'. All are welcome regardless of knowledge of philsophy, you just need to be interested In his own words this is what the talk entails:
There are many ways things could be, different from how they actually are. I could be in Venice drinking wine, rather than in Aberdeen drinking beer; I could prove Fermat's last theorem instead of getting drunk. Philosophers call ways things could be possible worlds, and use them anywhere – from logic to metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, of language, etc.
There are many ways things could not be. I could not both be and not be in Aberdeen simultaneously; I could not disprove Fermat's last theorem, and perhaps, I could not be a bottle of beer. If ways things could be are possible worlds, it's natural to call these ways things could not be impossible worlds.
Impossible worlds are very useful: one can use them to analyse inconsistent data bases, belief contexts, the notion of proposition, failures of logical omniscience, etc. But can we think about them? A venerable philosophical tradition drawing on the Humean motto "Whatever is conceivable is possible", and ranging from Wittgenstein's Tractatus to logical positivism, denies this. If we just cannot conceive absolute impossibilities, we cannot know anything about them. If so, the notion of impossible world is void.
In this talk, I try to show that we can conceive of absolute impossibilities; and that Kripkean arguments from Naming of Necessity against the view don't work in all cases. Since I am at it, I give an introduction to impossible worlds for non specialists.