Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Betty Alvarez
Last updated: April 4, 2019
The Realist / Idealist dichotomy attracted the writer to the following; we immediately find ourselves in the hard-nosed, clamorous, and antiquated trenches of this polemic.
Significant proponents of the relevant camps provide the contextual background for our endeavor. The treatment as such brings fecund opportunity to develop phenomenalist perspective of the ‘problems of philosophy’ well enough to deconstruct their premises as being nonsensical. Phenomenal mind, matter, and self result and are oriented with the world in which we sense, know, and live: our Universe, one with no Other.The renowned Realist/Idealist dichotomy incited the following exploration, which began with Russell, “IS there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? ” Of what do we have indubitable knowledge? This query, without even considering the products of its perusal, is worth exploring. Descartes spawned the ascent of the ego by the method of systematic doubt, and developed the mind and matter polarity that knowledge must be of something; this is an ‘object’, by definition. Are there any objects, anything, which are given, truly known to us?A very relevant piece by Ayer, who writes as boldly as soberly: “There are no objects whose existence is indubitable.
.. no synthetic propositions are logically sacrosanct… All of them, including the propositions which describe the content of our sensations, are hypotheses which, however great their probability, we may eventually find it expedient to abandon. All ‘objects’ are ‘given’ to us by sense-content. ” (121) Consciousness may be regarded as sense-experience from sense-content, sense-data, sensation.
It may be asked, “What is a sensation and is it separate from my self?Are sensations of something other than mind? ” Substantial queries also include, “What exactly is mind, self, and matter? ” Knowing philosophers perpetually question, by definition, I discovered this to be the tour de force of this endeavor: Philonous: “Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man into an absurdity? Hylas: “Without doubt it cannot. ” (Berkeley, 14) This will serve as the lodestar for what lies ahead; Ayer’s strong Positivist background will valuably help us parse through many propositions.The desired goal is remembered, though; the aforementioned dichotomy shall be described, and Ayer will reconcile the ‘existence’ of the issue and lead us away from doubt, helping us logically construct an integrated universe with which we participate from the question, “What are we? ” Berkeley’s Idealism and Russell’s Realism The Arithmetical Paradox defines the Realist/Idealist issue well, and relates to the ‘problem of perception’.
It may be represented as, “there appears to be a great multitude of these conscious egos, the world however is only one” (Schroedinger, 52). One great reason why it is felt that we must secure a physical object in addition to the sense-data, is that we want the same object for different people.When ten people are sitting round a dinner-table, it seems preposterous to maintain that they are not seeing the same tablecloth, the same knives and forks and spoons and glasses. But the sense-data are private to each separate person; what is immediately present to the sight of one is not immediately present to the sight of another: they all see things from slightly different points of view, and therefore see them slightly differently. (Russell, Problems of Philosophy) What is the common, public, “neutral” object that everyone senses? Realists believe in the existence of a physical object which, more or less, causes the sense-data, which may happen to be perceived. Russell describes …
a ‘real’ table, which is distinguished from the ‘sense-data’, the means by which we know of the table. The ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. Thus it becomes evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what we immediately experience.It is rational to believe that our sense-data..
. are really signs of something existing independent of us and our perceptions. (Problems) Berkeley’s Hylas initially propounds Realism, “The sensation I take to be an act of the mind perceiving; beside which, there is something perceived; and I call this the object” (Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous). Idealists hold that only the sense-data or content is known; there is no ground for believing in the presence of something synthesized from sensations, or sense-contents.
A short summary of the Realist assertions Philonous incites Hylas to reject in Berkeley’s Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous benefits our endeavor. Sensible qualities arise in conversation with Hylas’s describing ‘apparent’ and ‘real’ things, i. e. sense-contents in the mind and material things, respectively. Hylas ‘owns’ that both the secondary and the primary qualities, colors and tastes and motion and extension, respectively, do not exist outside the mind, impactful for Idealist Arithmetical Paradox thought.Leading to Hylas’s concession that sounds too have no real being outside the mind, Philonous notes the obvious paradox “that real sounds are never heard” (19). Similar threads will continue to strain these Realist conceptions. Eventually, Hylas admits as the basis for rejecting color’s existing without mind, that no idea, nor any sensation (like color or heat), can exist in an unperceiving substance.
Before Berkeley reaches to give his own account of the neutral ‘objects’ that do exist even after leaving a room, he valiantly criticizes proposals to distinguish sensations from their objects, and the concept of material substratum.Berkeley’s mistake was asserting, metaphysically, that the things one may sense in a room, when left alone, still existed, but only as thoughts in the mind of God. Berkelyian Idealist presentations of pertinent arguments are valuable, though, especially contra Russell’s Realist claims. A pivotal aspect of Realism is its notion of matter: “We commonly mean by ‘matter’ something which is opposed to ‘mind’, something which we think of as occupying space and as radically incapable of any sort of thought or consciousness.It is chiefly in this sense that Berkeley denies matter; that is to say, he does not deny that the sense-data which we commonly take as signs of the existence of the table are really signs of the existence of something independent of us, but he does deny that this something is nonmental.
.. ” (Russell, Problems) Berkeley decides that our sense-data or sensations, in being perceived, must be mental and he explicates the idea of matter as an oxymoron, Philonous: Material substratum call you it? Pray, by which of your senses came you acquainted with that being? (33)Hylas indicates that matter is nonmental, and it may not be perceived, Philonous: Is it not a great contradiction to talk of conceiving a thing which is unconceived? (35) Russell expounds his idea of the existence of the ‘real’, and more subtly, truth, “It has appeared that, if we take any common object of the sort that is supposed to be known by the senses, what the senses immediately tell us is not the truth about the object as it is apart from us, but only the truth about certain sense-data which, so far as we can see, depend upon the relations between us and the object.Thus what we directly see and feel is merely ‘appearance’, which we believe to be a sign of some ‘reality’ behind..
. [I]f there are any things that exist independently of us they cannot be the immediate objects of our sensations (Problems). That something non mental exists independently of us/mind is fundamental for Realism as Michael Devitt explicitly, while somewhat vaguely, defines in Realism and Truth Weak Realism- Something objectively exists independently of the mental. Realism- Tokens of most current common-sense, and scientific, physical types objectively exist independently of the mental.Among the opponents of Realism are some, including operationists, instrumentalists, and van Fraassen, who accept the existence of observable entities but are dubious about the existence of unobservable ones.
(22) Claims of ‘unobservables’ prove perilous as non sensible. Russell gives the name sensibilia “to those objects which have the same metaphysical and physical status as sense-data without necessarily being data to any mind. Thus the relation of a sensabile to a sense-datum is like that of a man to a husband: a man becomes a husband by entering into the relation of marriage. which is especially significant when we consider what happens to sense-data when/if it isn’t sensed. Continuing, Russell claims, “What the mind adds to sensibilia, in fact, is merely awareness: everything else is physical or physiological” (Mysticism and Logic, 111).
This distinction/disconnection merely founds the nascence of the terms mind and matter, as well as spirit and body, crucial Realist polarities. Representatively, Russell claims, “The faculty of being acquainted with things other than itself is the main characteristic of the mind.If there are any things that exist independently of us they cannot be the immediate objects of our sensations” (Problems). Russell even goes so far as to inquire whether we have any justification in believing that what is sensed is at all mental and so completely separates his mind from what he senses, therein demonstrating his error. Ayer’s Critique of Metaphysical Realism and Idealism It seems as though, by Realists own definition, we must never have the opportunity to sense matter; this has been known as the ‘problem of perception’.Purely inductively, matter is supposed to be the substance to what we sense and our sensations are used to form a logically constructed entity. Synthetic propositions about logical constructions must be an a priori tautology, which matter surely is not, or be empirically tested, which proves impossible as well. [T]he fact that the utterances of a metaphysician are nonsensical does not follow simply from the fact that they are devoid of factual content.
.. We may accordingly define a metaphysical sentence as a sentence which purports to express a genuine proposition, but does, in fact, express neither a tautology nor an empirical hypothesis.
Ayer rejects the proposition of ‘matter’ as speculation, “… it has never been the practice of the system-builders in philosophy to choose inductive generalizations for their premises” (46). Ayer claims philosophy is wholly critical and analytical, serving no metaphysical function; philosophy is not speculative, thus distinguishing it from the sciences. He speaks of philosophy as a sort of department of logic, which should not have groups or parties with different ‘beliefs’, “The philosopher, as an analyst, is not directly concerned with the physical properties of things.He is concerned only with the way in which we speak about them.
.. The propositions of philosophy are not factual, but linguistic in character ..
. One cannot say that it is philosophy which justifies his beliefs. Philosophy merely shows him that experience can justify them. We may look to the philosopher to show us what we accept as constituting sufficient evidence for the truth of any given empirical proposition. But whether the evidence is forthcoming or not is in every case a purely empirical question. ” (48-9)This stance necessitating empiricism logically leads to Ayer’s refusing to recognize the validity of Realist metaphysical terms ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’; Ayer rejects transcending one’s conceptions. On Ayer’s first page of Language, Truth, and Logic, “..
. take the case of those who believe that it is possible to have knowledge of a transcendant reality as a starting-point for our discussion. The arguments which we use to refute them will subsequently be found to apply to all of metaphysics..
. [W]hat valid process of reasoning can possibly lead him to the conception of a transcendent reality? (33) Ayer says that in speaking of ‘its’ appearances we appear to distinguish the thing from them, but this is simply an accident of linguistic usage. A criticism of the statements comprising a system of transcendent metaphysics is required, For we shall maintain that no statement which refers to a ‘reality’ transcending the limits of all possible sense-experience can possibly have any literal significance. (34)The question that must be asked about any putative statement of fact is…
simply, ‘Would any observations be relevant to the determination of its truth or falsehood? And it is only if a negative answer is given to this question that we conclude that the statement is nonsensical. (38) Ayer pertinently explicates, “What is entailed by sentences of the form ‘x is real’? “: Thus, it is the contention of Berkeleyan idealists that the sentence ‘x is real’ or ‘x exists,’ where x stands for a thing and not for a person, is equivalent to ‘x is perceived,’ so that it is self-contradictory to assert that anything exists unperceived; and they hold, furthermore, that ‘x is perceived’ entails ‘x is mental’. 138) This is the basis for the overthrow of metaphysics, and, as will be shown, therein, the Realist/Idealist frustration. Ayer sees metaphysical and logical, involving existential propositions, components of this dichotomy.
Metaphysically, the two relevant positions both agree that an ‘object’ may be ‘real’ as opposed to ‘illusory’ and that ‘objects’ have an undetectable quality of being, real for Realists and ideal for Idealists. Accepting the term matter in the described sense affirms Realism, a metaphysical view.This “intuitive leap” is similar and related to Descartes’ Rationalist construction, of whom Ayer writes, “a mere appeal to intuition was insufficient for his purpose..
. [W]hat he was really trying to do was to base all our knowledge n propositions which it would be self contradictory to deny. He thought he had found such a proposition in ‘cogito'” (46). Descartes hence highly influences the notion of self by combining con and agito- running with, or agitating with (Goodin). The self becomes the subject of cogito, substantially its own entity.This notion of self is very much entangled with that of a substantial individual mind, and so our exploring it will be fecund in its relevance.
Ayer prefers cogito to be understood not “in its ordinary sense of ‘I think’, but rather as meaning ‘there is a thought now’… [H]is initial principle, ‘cogito ergo sum’, is false. ‘I exist’ does not follow from ‘there is a thought now'” (46-7). Verily, this strongly indicates phenomenalist character. Logical Constructions and the Self We characterize ‘material things’ by the same means as our self and mind: via logical constructions from sense-experience.Ayer himself affirms believing in the ‘independent’ existence of ‘material things’ constructed logically from experience, We have already applied these considerations to the so-called problem of perception, and we shall shortly be applying them also to the traditional ‘problems’ of our knowledge of our own existence, and of the existence of other people.
.. [T]o avoid metaphysics we were obliged to adopt a phenomenalist standpoint. (121) We must, too, distinguish a statement claiming sense-experience, or sense-content, exists from claiming a material thing exists, which s defined in terms of the actual and possible occurrence of sense-contents which constitute it as a logical construction.
.. One can not significantly speak of a sense-experience… In fact when we say that a given sense-content or sense-experience exists, we are saying no more than that it occurs…
It seems advisable always to speak of the ‘occurrence’ of sense contents and sense-experience in preference to speaking of their ‘existence,’ and so to avoid the danger of treating sense-contents as if they were material things. 123) Sense-contents are neither mental nor physical; their logical constructions only may be compared in those terms. “The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. It is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence” (Schroedinger, 34). We see Mind and matter are logical constructions and not things ‘in themselves’, representing multiplicity in unity.The difference between the entire class of mental objects and the entire class of physical objects is not in any sense more fundamental than the difference between any two subclasses of mental objects, or..
. two subclasses of physical objects..
. What makes one unite these two classes of objects to form the single class of mental objects is the high degree of qualitative similarity between many of the sense-contents which are elements of other living bodies…
We are not now concerned with the provision of an exact definition of ‘mentality’. (Ayer, 124)Ayer effaces the famed mind and matter problem which he claims arises “out of the senseless conception of mind and matter, or minds and material things, as substances”. He continues to develop the notion of self, “We know that the self, if it is not a metaphysical entity, must be held to be a logical construction out of sense-experiences… which constitute the actual and possible sense-history of a self” (125).
Ayer describes Berkeley’s correctly treats the succession of ideas’ constituting a person’s sense-history as contents rather than objects of sensation.He explicates that sense-contents may not necessarily be perceived, “[T]he elements of any given material thing are not merely actual but also possible sense-contents…
This explains how it is possible for a material thing to exist… when none of its elements are actually experienced” (141). Schroedinger introduces the ‘mind objectivation problem’ in Mind and Matter, which may be related to Plato’s description of man in a cave only seeing shadows of reality (very implicative for the Realist/Idealist polarity too).We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world..
. First my own body (to which my mental activity is so very directly and intimately linked) forms part of the object (the real world around me) that I construct. [A] moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non-concerned observer. (38-9)He continues to describe the mind’s being left out of the picture of the world and its relation to the distinction between subject and object, “Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff” (42).
Ayer concurs, We find that the possibility of self-consciousness in no way involves the existence of a substantive ego. But if the substantive ego is rot revealed in self-consciousness, it is not revealed anywhere. The existence of such an entity is completely unverifiable. And.
.. its existence is no less metaphysical than Locke’s discredited assumption of the existence of a material substratum..
.The considerations which make it necessary, as Berkeley saw, to give a henomenalist account of material things, make it necessary also, as Berkeley did not see, to give a phenomenalist account of the self. (Ayer, 126) Ayer notes Hume’s rejection of the substantial ego, because no such entity was observable. Hume stumbled, though, in underscoring memory; he did not connect memory to the continuity of sense-contents involving the same body. Ayer’s position differs from Hume’s in that the self, for Ayer, is not a mere collection of sense-experiences, rather it is the construction from them.Ayer feels his phenomenalism is necessary, “We.
.. must maintain that a man must define his own existence, and the existence of other people, no less than that of material things, in terms of the hypothetical occurrence of sense-contents” (141). Ayer does not accept the realist analysis of our sensations in terms of subject, act, and object; the relationship of sense-contents and ‘subject’ is what’s investigated. Relating these ideas to the advances in physics, namely the uncertainty principle of quantum theory, Schroedinger ends, “Subject and object are only one.
The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist” (51). Oneness of Mind, Matter, and Self We generally regard the mind, as consciousness, or a result of it, as sui generis, distinct from the consciousness of any other being (a thing that is) in the universe; this has not always been the case though, as CS Sherrington explicates in his description of the explorations of mid-16th century physician Jean Fernel For Aristotle, animal and man had been of the same category of being… The oyster and the other shell fish attached to the rock cannot move [i.
e. locomote] but…
If pricked they draw away… Fernels’s bias was not to distinguish between life and mind! ‘All animals have a sense of the pleasant and unpleasant, and that sense impels them to move toward an object or away from it. The sensation causes ‘an internal agitation which drives the animal to seek the pleasurable and the useful and to avoid the opposite. Such movement is in its nature inevitable and necessitated.
‘ (18) This is physis, the physical process.The Arithmetical Paradox relates to ‘objectivation’, “The reason why our sentient, percipient and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is itself that picture… There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousnesses. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only mind” (Schroedinger, 52-3). Schroedinger continues to develop “one world crystallizing out of the many minds..
. , based ostensibly on the many cell-lives” (62).Ayer disagrees here, claiming considerating the world of One, in the sense of Leibniz’s monism, are totalities as well as metaphysical and not a priori, and are, as such, unwarranted as speculation. Schroedinger distinguishes his view from Leibniz’s though; the construction of being, which every one seemingly must do, is necessarily synthetic.
The common terms monism and pluralism are invalid in virtue of their sense of ‘world’; stances’ views are either pluralistic or unitary; the world created by ontology is logically interconnected, One. Consciousness is only experienced in the singular, never plural; it is a contradiction to speak of a plurality of consciousness” (56). At the end of Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic, he propounds unifying science and philosophy. This was the spur of the fork in the ideas directly above. Philosophy may only speak of certain things, as may science; the crux is the inability of two propositions to conflict, because their discourses are in different realms. Philosophy is analytic and science is synthetic. They describe one though.Confidence should be vested in the dual-participant, Erwin Schroedinger, who, in another essay, explicates the Eastern idea of tat tvam asi, “I am this.
I am the East and I am the West. I am below and above. I am this whole world. ” Near the beginning of “The Physical Basis of Consciousness”, Schroedinger declared, regarding a question, “How far back ‘down’ in the animal kingdom there is still some sort of consciousness..
. cannot be answered…
and ought to be left to idle dreamers. (1)” This precludes a further comment about believers of mind as exclusively human Are we prepared to believe that this very special turn in the development of higher animals, a turn that might after all have failed to appear, was a necessary condition for the world to flash up to itself in the light of consciousness? Would it otherwise have remained a play before empty benches, not existing for anybody, thus quite properly speaking not existing? This would seem to me the bankruptcy of a world picture. The urge to find a way out of this impasse ought not to be damped by the fear of incurring the wise rationalists’ mockery..
.After Spinoza the genius of Gustav Theodor Fechner did not shy at attributing a soul to plant, to the earth as a celestial body, to the planetary system, etc. I do not fall in with these fantasies, yet I should not like to have to pass judgment as to who has come nearer to the deepest truth, Fechner or the bankrupts of rationalism. ” (2-3) “Fernel’s bias was not to distinguish life from mind! ” (Sherrington, 17) With unified perspective, no distinction of mind, matter, or self is made.