Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Worst Argument in the World Is Stove's Own

David Stove famously rejected idealism as being based on the "worst argument in the world." He said this argument runs as follows:

You cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind, without having them in mind.
Therefore, you cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind.
Now, it is not really that Stove's case against the above is bad. It is that no idealist (that I know of) ever made the above argument. All Stove as demonstrated is that he does not understand Berkeley or idealism.

Here is a version of an actual idealist argument for the interdependence of mind and reality:

The view that objectivity signifies independence of experience because the notion (which it implies) of a world of existence outside experience is self-contradictory. If what is real is what is objective, what is objective must stand for something other than merely what is not subjective -- that which is untouched by consciousness, that from which experience has been withdrawn. For, in the first place, what is objective must, it would appear, be an object, and an object is always an object of consciousness. And secondly, a reality distinguished merely as what is interfered with by experience, must be unknowable and therefor a contradiction. Objectivity, then, if it is to be a characteristic of reality, must imply, and not deny, experience. -- Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes, p. 59

Whether you buy the above or not, it is clearly not the very bad argument Stove sticks in the mouth of idealists. Oakeshott is arguing not epistemology but ontology: he claims it is an intrinsic part of the "objective world" that it is objectively real to us: to consciousness. (And out the window goes the idea that idealists are some sort of "extreme subjectivists" as well.)

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