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Friday, February 01, 2013

Epistemological Problems Arise from Bad Metaphysics

As idealists, we start with undeniable reality: the concrete whole of experience. We note that within that concrete whole, we can distinguish, say, 'experiencing' and 'what is experienced'. But we remember that 'Experiencing and what is experienced are, taken separately, meaningless abstractions; they cannot, in fact, be separated.'* But many people forget this: they take what is an analytical distinction to be a real difference: there are subjective experiences, and there is the objective world, and they are two truly separable realms. Once that has occurred, epistemology rears its head as a terrible difficulty: given the belief in this ultimate separability, how can we be sure our subjective experiences have anything to do with the objective world at all? How do we know we are not just "brains in a vat"? It is as though, in thought, we had created a gulf between the head of a coin and the tail, and are now puzzling over how we can ever rejoin the two, when, in fact, it was only in our own imagination that they were ever separated!

* Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes, p. 9

9 comments:

  1. So, the division between the real world and our subjective experiences isn't one that actually exists in the real world? Because, I don't see how this could be correct. But, I feel that the most likely explanation is that I missed the point.

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    1. OK, Jonathan, what I've said was essentially, "You can distinguish between the heads and the tails of coins: but in reality, there aren't, and never can be, heads-only coins and tails-only coins."

      You've responded: "Are you saying the distinction between heads and tails doesn't exist in heads-only coins?"

      Descartes created a real mess (not single-handedly, of course) and it's not easy working our way out of it. If you really want to understand idealism, give Speculum Mentis or Experience and Its modes a whirl. (They are both readable.) But here is food for thought: If your subjective experiences aren't in the real world, just where do you think they are taking place?

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    2. Subjective experiences can be part of the real world in that they are objective phenomena, but they are separate aspects of the real world to the real world that these experiences seek to explain.

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    3. Yes, just so, Jonathan. One of those explanatory schemes we can see as such is the distinction between "objective" and "subjective": what we really encounter is a unified, concrete world of experience where these are not separate, but we may *distinguish* them for explanatory purposes. However, when we forget this is just a distinction WE are introducing, we get into all of the famous Cartesian problems.

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    4. Gene, I agree with what you just said. However, it leads me to ask whether you believe that the whole of human knowledge could indeed be incorrect in terms of reality.

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  2. (1) What do you mean by a "unified, concrete whole of experience"?
    (2) What do you mean by *we* experience such-and-such? Can you provide an account of the phenomenological features of this plural subject experience?
    (3) It seems to me when Gene Callahan makes a claim about "we" and "our" experiences, he is no longer making claims from the subjective view by which he encounters the concrete whole of experiential reality. He is now making claims about the reality of others distinct from his own universe of experience. How can he make this claim? Once you step out from your own mind and first-person standpoint, you are making claims about "objective reality," claims that presuppose a metaphysical distinction between the subjective and objective. It is irrelevant if this claim is limited to "man" or the "human standpoint."
    (4) Veridical vs. non-veridical perceptual experiences? Hallucinations, illusions, "common sense" belief about the universe undermined by elementary science (I dont experience earth's rotation)?
    (5) Colors? To the color blind, is there an objective reality beyond their own subjective phenomenal experiences?

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    1. "(1) What do you mean by a "unified, concrete whole of experience"?"

      Reality.


      "(3) It seems to me when Gene Callahan makes a claim about "we" and "our" experiences, he is no longer making claims from the subjective view by which he encounters the concrete whole of experiential reality."

      That "subjective view" is an abstraction FROM the concrete whole of experience. (You needn't say "experiential reality: that is redundant.)

      "How can he make this claim?"

      By turning my attention to reality.

      "Once you step out from your own mind and first-person standpoint..."

      I did not "step out of" this: My "first-person standpoint" is an abstraction from reality. I am simply looking past that abstraction.

      "you are making claims about "objective reality," claims that presuppose a metaphysical distinction between the subjective and objective."

      No, I am not. I am denying that distinction is ultimate in any sense. And I am certainly not talking about "from a human standpoint." I am talking about te concrete whole of experience: the "human standpoint" is an abstraction from that concrete whole.

      "Veridical vs. non-veridical perceptual experiences?"

      You're are already assuming a Cartesian duality, and a correspondence theory of truth in framing the question. I deny both.

      "is there an objective reality beyond their own subjective phenomenal experiences?"

      Yes, let's keep assuming the very thing I am denying (that there is a split between "objective reality" and "subjective phenomenal experiences") and then see if this assuming and denying things simultaneously doesn't cause Gene some difficulties?

      Basically, your whole comment runs: Let's start by assuming the Cartesian chasm between the objective and the subjective is real, and not merely an abstraction. Now, look at all the problems that creates! How in the world can you solve all these?

      Well, I solve them, first of all, by NOT assuming the Cartesian chasm.

      It's not easy though, Hume, I admit: we are deep down the Cartesian rabbit hole. It is very hard to climb back out.

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  3. Thank you for the reply, I appreciate it.

    (1) "unified, concrete whole of experience" = reality. What work is being done by "experience"? What do you mean by "reality"?

    (2) Are you denying the coherence of the distinction between veridical vs. non-veridical perceptual experience? How close are you to J.L. Austin's Sense and Sensibilia?

    (3) This is not the "Cartesian rabbit hole." The subjective/objective "problem" traces back to Plato.

    (4) Rather than the subject's POV, the "unified, concrete whole of experience" seems to be the abstraction, a generalization from an individual's particular experiences.

    (5) Is this the underlying point: individuals are parts of the singular reality, and anything the individual experiences is itself part of reality, for what/where else could it be?

    (6) The point about the color blind and earth's rotation is important, to me anyway.

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    1. '"unified, concrete whole of experience" = reality. What work is being done by "experience"? What do you mean by "reality"?'

      At this point I've come to fundamentals. Of course I can't go further in defining them: I am taking them as fundamental. Their use is not to be broken down and analyzed: if they could be, they would not be fundamental! There point is to get you to enter into a vision of reality. If they don't work for you, mea culpa! I will search for other one's.

      "Are you denying the coherence of the distinction between veridical vs. non-veridical perceptual experience?"

      People can make mistakes. Someone can think they are seeing a lion when there is no lion there. That two is part of experience and reality, yes?

      "This is not the "Cartesian rabbit hole." The subjective/objective "problem" traces back to Plato."

      OK, how much so we won't debate here: it certainly got much worse with Descartes.

      "Rather than the subject's POV, the "unified, concrete whole of experience" seems to be the abstraction, a generalization from an individual's particular experiences."

      Notice, as an infant, you were experiencing long before you knew of anything like "the subject's point of view." That was something that had to be ABSTRACTED FROM the totality of experience.

      "Is this the underlying point: individuals are parts of the singular reality, and anything the individual experiences is itself part of reality, for what/where else could it be?"

      Getting there.

      There is nothing in any of this original to me, by the way: it's all in Bradley, Green, Bosanquet, Collingwood, Oakeshott, etc. Try Collingwood's Speculum Mentis, say.

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