Idealism is a defense of objective reality

"There are difficulties enough, no doubt, in the way of accepting such a form of 'idealism,' but they need not be aggravated by misunderstanding. It is simply misunderstood if it is taken to imply either the reduction of facts to feelings... or the obliteration of the distinction between illusion and reality...

"On the contrary, its very basis is the consciousness of objectivity. It's whole aim is to articulate coherently the conviction of there being a world of abiding realities other than, and determining, the endless flow of our feelings." -- T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, pp. 41-42

13 comments:

  1. Gene, why don't the arguments for idealism you've been discussing work equally well as arguments for certain form of solipsism? If Berkeley's argument is that you can't have trees-without-a-mind in a mind, couldn't you similarly argue that you can't have trees-without-*your*-mind in your mind?

    Couldn't you say that when you try to imagine a tree unperceived by you but perceived by someone else, what you're really imagining is yourself in someone else's shoes looking at the tree? And couldn't you say that physical objects that are never observed by you are a mere abstraction?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you COULD argue that, but no idealist HAS ever argued that!

      And the reason is pretty easy: what then could account for me encountering things that I never thought up on my own? What could account for me running into some fascinating invention that I had no idea how to invent? How could I account for reality behaving in ways contrary to my desire?

      Delete
    2. And that is another advantage of this view: the "problem" of other minds goes away: we realize we encounter their ideas directly.

      Delete
    3. Gene, I'm trying to do a reductio. Certainly there are good reasons for believing that solipsism is incorrect, but why is it that the argument for solipsism I outlined above is fallacious?

      Delete
    4. Hmmm: "what then could account for me encountering things that I never thought up on my own? What could account for me running into some fascinating invention that I had no idea how to invent? How could I account for reality behaving in ways contrary to my desire?"

      I mean, I gave you several reasons it is fallacious, and you seem to be just ignoring them.

      Delete
    5. But that all seems to me to be reasons for doubting the conclusion of the argument, not a reason for doubting the reasoning leading up to the conclusion. But maybe I'm missing something.

      Delete
    6. A tree apart from mind is a mere abstraction. But I don't see you giving any argument at all why a tree apart from my mind is a mere abstraction. Why can't you have a concrete tree in mind?

      You seem to keep focusing on *how the thought was formed*. (Gene extrapolates from his experience of trees to Keshav's.) But that has nothing to do with this argument. I have no reason at all to think that a tree in your mind is not just as concrete as a tree in my mind. But I have extremely good reasons to think that a tree "in no one's mind" is an abstraction: it is a tree without color, without texture, without size, without weight: a mere abstraction. We cannot even really think through what it means, which is certainly not the case when I think of a tree in your mind.

      Delete
    7. By the way Keshav, the way the Berkeley put this argument was not the best. But the thing is to try to get at what he was saying. The contemporary focus on the argument itself in philosophy departments, rather than on what the philosopher meant, is a sign of the contemporary degraded state of philosophy. Russell and Stove both did this with Berkeley's argument: instead of wondering "Hmm, what was Berkeley getting at here?" and spending some time contemplating that question, they simply cast it as a formal argument as hastily is they could, and were thrilled to find that argument was very bad (since they so wanted to make Berkeley out a fool anyway).

      Delete
    8. Keshav: I think that you might be making the mistake of confusing the claim "nothing can exist without the mind" with "nothing can exist without human minds (or my mind)." As Gene mentioned, this is not an idealist claim. The idea that is that you cannot have anything exist without *any* mind.

      Also, Keshav, I'm not sure that you are thinking about this claim seriously enough =) If I say, "something cannot be and be at the same time", you would (or, at least, should) say, "I agree." Everywhere in philosophy the mind is given primacy: we attribute to arguments their validity based on how they appear to us ('us' being our minds, of course; our feet don't have intellectual appearances) or what seems conceivable. But this primacy of the mind is just flippantly dismissed. It's as if everyone is pretending that what we can conceive of has bearing on reality - but not about metaphysics (the philosophy of "stuff", or what "stuff" exists). But this is absurd; for our conclusions regarding metaphysics are based on propositions - propositions whose truth claims are based on our ability to conceive of the truth! I should also add the very concepts of truth and metaphysics are creations of the mind themselves.

      Gene: in our philosophy of mind department, we were asked the question What is physicalism? Three general ideas (no pun intended!) were given: it is the view that all of reality is reducible to a) biology, b) chemistry, or c) physics. In this moment, I remembered what Oakeshott said about abstractions, and I realized that all of (a) through (c) were *abstractions* from experience: one must come before the other; ergo, the primacy of the mind is (again) asserted. It was as though a light-bulb went off in my head. I'm still researching Idealism, but I am becoming more and more sure of it's truth almost weekly.

      (And by the way, it *isn't* a good objection to say "aren't we just basing our belief of idealism on what we can conceive of or experience? isn't that arbitrary?" unless you want to abandon logic, mathematics, sensory experience, concepts of truth, etc etc ... in other words, it is impossible. By asserting this point, you are making a claim that is itself based on things that exist in the world of experience!)

      Delete
  2. Gene, many of your posts on idealism are evocative of the writings of the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. (Not so much his later, religous and mystical writings, but rather his early philosophical work.) I am wondering if you have come across his thought before, and what you think of him if so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My kids went to a Waldorf school for a couple of years, so I am somewhat familiar with him. But I do not know his writings well.

      Delete
  3. Steiner was an interesting figure. He certainly had some strange ideas, but he was also a powerful and original thinker. As his biographer put it, "in the end, it's difficult to give an exact assessment of a man whose work combines cogent criticisms of Kant with accounts of life in Atlantis."

    The early Steiner had strong roots in idealism. If you ever get around to taking a look at his some of his work, I would definitely be interested in reading your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "If you ever get around to taking a look at his some of his work, I would definitely be interested in reading your thoughts."

    Same here, Gene!

    ReplyDelete