Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Two Horns of Realism and Non-Realism

I’m going to begin this how I ended it and call attention to my post on (click“Prayer and Meditation”). It occurred to me as I was writing this and reflecting on my Buddhist sentiments that I am in fact a non-realist to a high degree – even though I’ve been fighting it for a while. The point of the prayer and meditation post was to point out just how un-mystical the mystical really is, but for some reason I’ve been hanging onto it even though I’ve been all along in my posts on Buddhism ridiculing it. I’m a non-realist, what can I say…

It could be said that I’ve reached a bit of an impasse in my thinking, although I suppose it’s always been there, I simply haven’t seen it clearly. The impasse of course, centers around the sort of vocabulary one would find in a religious discourse from the Realist perspective and sort you would find in the Non-realist perspective. Clearly, as it stands, I have a foot and a half in the non-realist court and a half a foot still holding on to an old way of speaking.

If I were to take the realist horn relative to a religious discourse, then I mean to suggest that, in terms of God, there is in fact a God “out there” and the manner in which we speak identifies in some sense with what his nature is. In other words to call God good is to speak literally (of course this notion I reject). To put it more clearly a realist would suggest that science, lets say that of gravity, is identifying True characteristics which are intrinsic properties of the world, that we have in effect made a discovery about the world which was always there to be discovered. So once again, to call God good from this perspective is to identify a characteristic of God which is intrinsic to his nature. On the other hand, opposite of talking about God’s objective characteristics as being “all good”, “omnipotent”, “omnipresent”, “all knowing”, etc., is the speaking of/about God’s presence in terms of mystical and spiritual connections or awareness (a transcendence) – there is the feeling of the divine so to speak, and this language suggests that the presence of this experience is from the “God out there”.

So we have two perspectives here of course, the objective and the subjective, both of which lead to the same sorts of criticisms from the atheist. On the one hand (the atheist would suggest) there should be some way to measure and prove at least some of Gods nature in the same way we can measure and prove the world by defining and measuring gravity – where gravity is in this case, an intrinsic characteristic of the world in itself. If we say that God is out there and he’s “all good”, then we have the problem of evil. If we ascribe to any of the other common characteristics listed above, then we’re merely speaking nonsense and appealing to ineffability, in which case we’ve given no real reason why one should believe in God at all. Of course there are hordes of arguments for God out there which I won’t get into as from the realist perspective they are all wrought with holes, inconsistencies, pre-suppositions and circular reasoning.

From the subjective side of the argument the atheist will often grant that in fact there is such a thing as a “spiritual dimension”, but quickly passes it off as “a metaphor for complex cognitive and emotional states that other traditions might describe as ‘transcendental’.” Which, as I’ve argued, is merely pushing the problem off to another language game; after all, appealing to nerves and brain states, whereas it seems nice and scientific (getting us one step closer to big “T” Truth), only seems as such as it’s not part of our everyday language practices. If, as apposed to stating, “I’m feeling spiritual”, I rather stated that, “I’m in cognitive state ‘G’[od]”, the question of the cause of that brain state still remains, we’re just talking about it within another language game. What remains is the realist perspective that the cause of those brain states is a transcendental God existing “out there”, in which case we still have the burden of proof to show we have something objectively valid as a first cause which amounts to more then playing “God of the gaps”.

As a result of all this muddy water of realism, for a long time now I’ve grasped the non-realist horn without really even realizing that that’s what I was doing; which is merely to say that I hadn’t yet categorized my position, or for that matter thought about categorizing it. There’s a slight catch, however, when grasping to firmly onto the non-realist horn, which I’ll get to, but let me first state again what I tend to think this horn implies. As stated in a previous post, the basic premise of the non-realist stance is to say; nothing exists apart from our knowledge and language about a particular thing – more importantly, God doesn’t exist outside of our faith and what it is we say about him. Essentially this gets us to Rorty’s definition I quoted in an earlier post which I’ll paraphrase here by saying that truth is not “out there” as truth is a product of human language; language is a human creation, as such, where there is no language there is no truth. As a result, truth cannot exist “out there” independently of the human mind simply because sentences cannot exist in this way. Here we can rightly say that the world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not and only descriptions can be true of false.

Now I don’t want to belabor things I’ve already stated in the past, but this is where I dive head first into my mantra on God and much of religious language as metaphor. Furthermore that this metaphor plays itself out via a continual conversation had by man over time. In this way, from the non-realist perspective, we’re always re-defining what God is relative to whatever we may see as our current needs and intentions, always keeping in mind the underlying principles that define our belief. The obvious question becomes, “What is God a metaphor for?” I generally see this question as a tactic to tie down what it is we’re talking about in such a way that we can evaluate if from the realist perspective – and of course I refuse to have that conversation with the atheist, so he then claims that I’m being intellectually dishonest, or cowardly.

There are two perspectives I’d take in responding to this question and those are:
1.) With respect to a community of believers identifying and communicating with each other.
2.) With respect to a personal language that one has within himself.

Responding relative to “1” I would simply say that God is in some sense a figure, or symbol that:
A.) Identifies us with a certain community of believers.
B.) Codifies an underlying system of belief that’s based not on an authority per se, but on certain fundamental principles, i.e. Love, Forgiveness, Hope – essentially all the principles Christ preached which could be quite an expanded list of principles.

To see God as a metaphor in this way is to always have a sense that we’re expanding our community relative to our underlying principles to include all of mankind in much the same way a democratic society, following it’s underlying principles of freedom and equality, expands it’s principles to include all of mankind. To say that God is “all good” in this sense, is simply to say that relative to how our community defines that, we, through following the principles that underlie our beliefs, cultivate that goodness within ourselves and perpetuate those principals to all man kind. In this way we should see our beliefs not as dogmatic or static, rather we should always be re-interpreting those principles to include everyone. For example there are big questions going around as to whether or not homosexuals should be accepted into the religious community; this question will not be finally decided upon relative to a static dogma (although it’s that view which continually pushes the homosexual community away), but relative to the principles which underlie our beliefs. In this way, we cease to see God as “something out there” and rather something that identifies us as a people with basic principles in mind as to how we should act and behave towards one another. To believe in God is merely to adhere to some basic principles in much the same as to be a believer in Democracy is to be one who follows in the principles of freedom and equality. In this instance I can see the atheist asking, “Great, so why do we need God then?” and I would simply respond, “You don’t.” But you don’t need to talk about Democracy either, but in not doing so you’re in effect alienating yourself from the community.

Anyway (I said I wasn’t going to belabor things I already said), so I’ll move on to 2, a response to the metaphor with respect to a personal language that one has within himself – this is where my half a foot dangles into the realist. Within a community of believers we’ll often talk about doing things in the name of God, or doing things in the name of Christ, and in this sense we can side with Rorty and see these beliefs not as representations but as habits of action, and the words not as representations, but as tools. This works rather nicely as a view of the Christian and what he/she does. However, once we start talking about things like “a personal feeling of spirituality”, “faith”, and “a sense of the mystical”, we here begin to reach out to the realist horn where the transcendental arises and our actions cannot account for our language practice. Seemingly enough we understand each other (as Christians) when we use such language, but in what sense is this actually the case? I think we would understand each other as speaking metaphorically, but metaphorically of what? If someone were to say to me, “I have a real sense of the presence of God”, I think I can to a certain degree appreciate and understand it, but I certainly can’t parse anything of use out of it. Relative to a “habit of action” I can only assume that this means one has strong convictions and feelings about our underlying principles. So should I or could I reduce 2 to 1 and say with complete confidence, “God is nothing more then what we say” and ignore all spiritual components as unimportant?

Suppose I make an analogy here between a spiritual sense and love. We all have a sense of love, what it means and how it feels. From a communal aspect it’s one thing to understand and/or know how a person is feeling, but it’s generally more important to understand what that implies in terms of a habit of action. When we “share in the love” we’re sharing in a certain habit of action towards each other – it’s not so important then, that we infer specific feelings then we observe certain actions that we assume to be consistent with those feelings. So in this instance are we ignoring love? If, again, we say that God is nothing more then what we say about him (and our beliefs represent habits of action), does this really short site the mystical component to experience? Or does it say rather, we understand there to be a mystical component as we experience it in ourselves, however its irrelevant compared to our actions regarding it? In other words I can say I’m as spiritual as I want, but if I’m a dick, nobody cares.

Let me grab that statement one more time, “Does the non-realist position ignore the mystical component?” or is it that the mystical component is merely irrelevant? In other words calling ourselves mystics (and having mystical experiences) infers certain behaviors… Short of deeds and habits of action, saying that one has great faith, belief, and mystical connections is completely meaningless to anybody and everybody but oneself – as a result one should only consider it relative to deeds. What else do we have?
To suggest that there is something more to the mystical beyond a habit of action is almost to suggest that the morally upright atheist who donates money and volunteers his time is somehow feeling different then the faith based Christian who does the same…


  1. An interesting struggle, and well executed. I have a couple suggestions on how one might handle it. You say,

    "the atheist will often grant that in fact there is such a thing as a 'spiritual dimension,' but quickly passes it off as 'a metaphor for complex cognitive and emotional states that other traditions might describe as "transcendental."' Which, as I've argued, is merely pushing the problem off to another language game...."

    I don't think one should see this as a problem. Barring whatever eristical thing an atheist might say, I think it is entirely the point that we see things in terms of different language games. Believers get pissed by atoms-and-voiders who reduce everything to physics because it deprives them of a vocabulary with which to talk about God--they cry, "Reductionist!" and start in with anti-reductionist arguments that have been around since Aristotle. As well they should. However, atoms-and-voiders get pissed when believers start in with crazy supernatural stuff that is physically impossible.

    Believers need to concede the so-called "ontological" ground to atoms-and-voiders, but the latter need to stop thinking they can reduce everything to physics and still be able to do everything, talk about everything, we will want to talk about. The way through the Scylla of supernaturalism and the Charybdis of reductive materialism is to grant the general ontological reality of anything we find it efficacious to talk about and grant that physics tells us the best way to talk about how to predict and control our physical environment.

    So when you say, "once we start talking about things like 'a personal feeling of spirituality,' 'faith,' and 'a sense of the mystical,' we here begin to reach out to the realist horn where the transcendental arises and our actions cannot account for our language practice," my inclination is to see you holding a narrow view of "action." Speaking, making marks and noises for communication, is action. If faith and a personal feeling of God's Being makes sense to a community, that's all you need. Rorty tosses out the sense of "metaphor" you are using, in which "flower" is a metaphor for "virginity" (and the literal is something that means what it says). This use of metaphor, while understandable in the language game of literary criticism, gives the appearance of depth, in which there has to be a reality ("virginity") standing behind the appearance ("flower"), and so creates the question, "What is God a metaphor for?" Rorty, however, substitutes that familiar/unfamiliar distinction, which eliminates the depth and says that, hey, if there's a language game in which God-talk makes sense to you and your fellows, you don't really need to ask that question.

    In other words, you need to keep kicking the crap out of the realist's intuitions and demands, which creates these dilemmas. It is only a willy-nilly reductionism, what Davidson once called an "adventitious philosophical puritanism." It's what makes you think "the question of the cause of that brain state [of the feeling of God] still remains" in the religious language game, as opposed to the scientific one. "God causes you to feel God" is an appropriate answer in a religious language game, which you can say in parallel and tandem with a scientific language game answer (like, "photons irradiated my left frontal lobe"). The former isn't metaphorical for the latter--the two are simply appropriate for two different situations (like, as you say, inclusion in a certain kind of community).

    Because your analogy between God and democracy is right--if scientific realists really held true to the things they think they do, they need to tell us more about scientific politics than they do, about how to test and measure freedom and democracy. It is only the hope for a single language game with which to communicate that creates the illusion of a problem for Christian physicists.

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  3. I really don't understand how non-realism grants you more justification in positing god than a realist (by the way, you're being a litte liberal with your usage of the terms). It makes no sense. Especially the quasi-definition of anti-realism you're advocating. If there's no fact of the matter, there's no fact of the matter. Anti-realism denies verification-transcendent statements of true or false (at least the semantic challenge to realism does), so you're belief in god is unjustified even if it's entirely subjective. Why? Because you're an anti-realist. I just don't understand your rhetoric. How can you even adopt a theology?

  4. Matt,
    thanks for clearing that up for me.

    A.) I was taking a bit of a narrow view of action, indeed.

    B.) Yes, I realized after the fact the use of metaphor. That was a huge black hole in where I was trying to go - once you said it, the light came on.

  5. There are some other issues that arise here regarding some of the things you've stated that I'd like to post on - dilemmas on yielding ground, so on and so forth, ragarding argumentation.

  6. PD,
    are you saying you don't know how I can adopt a theology because I don't believe in a "literal" God that stands behind appearances?

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  9. PD,
    I’m not necessarily saying that one point of view grants a *better* justification. What I was really doing here is working out my point of view.

    You said:
    “Anti-realism denies verification-transcendent statements of true or false (at least the semantic challenge to realism does), so you're belief in god is unjustified even if it's entirely subjective”

    Only if my belief in God is relative to verification-transcendent statements of true and false… As a non-realist; I’m not justified in believing “Rover has brown hair” because it’s objectively true and corresponds to an actual reality behind appearances; I’m justified because within a community of language users it makes sense to say that.

    The same goes for the statement “God is all loving”. On what grounds can you say that I’m not justified in saying or believing that? If it makes sense to say that as a Christian, then it makes sense to say it. That is, I don’t have to justify it with a claim that it represents an underlying reality in and of itself – because I’m not a realist.

    I'm not talking about the strict anti-realism associated with wiki that implies solipsism and the like. I'm talking about the sort of non-realism associated with Rorty's neo-pragmatism which rejects notions of correspondence theory and appearance reality distinctions. I have various posts below which talk about that.

    The “Systemic Truth / Rorty” post, which has a quote from “Contingency, Irony and Solidarity”, is a pretty good short description of how I’ve tended to see truth and the world.

  10. "The same goes for the statement “God is all loving”. On what grounds can you say that I’m not justified in saying or believing that?"

    Okay.. well who are you talking about? God right? It's a meaningless statement if it isn't about anything. So you're entire belief system is a belief in your ability to form meaningless statements that are not about anything true or false or relative to any objective entity or subject? And don't give me the "statements about other statements" thing. I have to say, I'd rather pull my own hair out than listen to any form of justification for that kind of ambiguous pseudoprofundity.

    How do you function in the world with out assuming functional beliefs about existence apart from your self?

    "I’m justified because within a community of language users it makes sense to say that."

    -really?? How is that? And how do you posit a community of language users if you don't somehow justify, at least functionally, other entities?

    I mean, if you're just using Kant's world of appearances for every belief, I suppose I understand what you're doing. But those belief statements are still about a world as it appears to be. And note the existential "to be" in there.

  11. Who was the philosopher who stated "it does not matter whether or not I believe that God exists"?

    In the end, even if there is such a thing as objectivity, we can never know it. It is difficult for us to accept that everything that we believe is based on convenience and ordering of our worlds (emphasis on the plural). If one believes or does not believe in the existence of (G)god(s), then such is their reality. Faith can not be explained, only experienced. Either we have it or we don't. It's sad to see how theists and non-theist badger and mock one another. That being said, as we are making things up as we go along (or not), we need this to survive. If we don't have a sense of morality, then we revert to what Hobbes wrote about of man's natural state.

    In the end, I can rationalise my beliefs and way of living. There are things that feel right and wrong for me down in my gut - call that faith or intelligent design, it matters not to me. Trust me, I'd love to be able to conform to a religion like Christianity as it would make life a whole lot easier. In the end, for me, believing in Christianity is as bizarre as worshiping Poseidon, but that doesn't mean I am going to belittle those who do (though I will certainly challenge them as I know they would and have challenged me).

    Keep questioning, keep an open mind and be prepared to observe several changes in the landscape as you carry on with your journey.

  12. Umm.. I'm not badgering Andrew's belief in god. I'm questioning his foundation for belief. Didn't mean to sound like a total jerk. I'm just skeptical of the philosophy he's pushing, which seems to have no foundation except language, which in order to have, must assume other language speakers, and statements of aboutness.

  13. PD,
    I think you simply misunderstand my philosophy - you need to stop thinking ANTI-REALIST....

    I'll be back

  14. Fine. "Non-Realist" then.

  15. As well, I'm back to work after 2 1/2 weeks of being off... Rather then respond here, I'm going to put up another post. As I started to think about it, it got long.

    As a non-realist I don't reject the world or other minds - what I reject is epistemic certainty, words as representations, the correspondence theory of truth, the appearance/reality distiction.

  16. MMT,
    to the point as always.

    Regarding rationalizing my beliefs, I think in the end that's exaclty whay I'm trying not to do. Perhaps it doesn't look like I'm doing a vary good job though?...?

    As of late; Phaedrus just likes beatin the crap out of me and I like beatin the crap out of him. I've always been of the opinion that, if it wasn't for the fact that other people didn't have opinions, I wouldn't have an opinion. I find if I can strike up arguements with people who hold radically different beliefs then I do, it helps me better consider the foundations of my own opinions.

    On the other side of the token, I love debating with fundi Christians because I disagree with them as much as I do PD. And that's not to place PD in the same catagory by any means.

    I realize you weren't necessarily calling attention to anything specific, but perhaps just making a general comment.

  17. I think you quoted me in the original post but both you and Matt, in thinking of my view as 'eristical' or as 'passing off', are responding to the straw realist in your head rather than my argument.

    If you can accept that god-talk is metaphorical, then you should accept that spiritual talk can be as well. But I don't assume that the complex cognitive and emotional states are the 'reality' for which spirituality is a metaphor. Rather, I think that the metaphor allows the articulation and communication of such states. 'Spiritual talk' is a different level of description of such states, and metaphor seems to help some people organise the phenomenology of these experiences into a narrative.

    However, I still think there is a big flaw in your (and Rorty's) philosophy regarding our dialogue with the world. I'll return to that after I've read your subsequent post.

  18. Psiomniac,
    I was careful to leave you name out of it - but nonetheless wanted to address it as an argument to hash out my own thoughts about it.

    Would you suggest that there is a reality for which spirituality is a metaphor? You say that the spiritual metaphor allows one to articulate and communicate about cognitive states – isn’t that to some what suggest that it’s a metaphor for those states, or rather that it “represents” those states? I’m either forcing myself to see a contradiction in what you’ve said, or your position is a bit lost on me – you seem to have one leg realism and the other in non-realism.

    I’m not going to get to that post until the weekend – I said I was going to repost, but I can’t make it happen; let’s hash this thing out here.

  19. I have to confess, Psiomaniac, I have no idea who you are or what positions you might take or what arguments you have forwarded, or might forward, etc., etc. I didn't even know, and one isn't expected to know or even care to get the gist of Andrew's post, that the text within quotes in question was a direct quote, as opposed to something made up to be in the voice of Andrew's made-up atheist.

    My use of "eristical" was designed to abstract the situation even more from Andrew's set-up of a confrontation with an atheist. For my purposes, it didn't matter what came after "metaphor" because that word was the cue for Andrew saying "merely pushing the problem off to another language game" which was the more general thing I wanted to comment on (rather than the content of what that metaphor was filled in by, proposed by either a made-up atheist, or apparently a real one).

    I thought I was talking about a fake atheist, so I chose "eristical" because not only does it refer to concrete confrontation (the kind, like lawyering, that is able to take advantage of an opponent's mistakes, unlike what philosophy is supposed to be, something more like an inquiry, which hopes to rise above the particular foibles of an individual human being and always seek the better) and, because the atheist was being treated as an opponent, as a cute little slap.

    I apologize if the artful and innocent flourish caused offense.

  20. Once again, the quote wasn't directed at you, Psiomniac - it was directed towards reductionism as I come accross that argument quite a bit. I wanted to in this post, address reductionism, not whatever postition you may hold.

    So in the case of *this* blog post, we're talking about a *Fake Atheist*.

    I realize that your argument is a bit different (which is why you're here), and I'd like to understand it. As well, I appologize for the confusion.

    Psiomniac, who was Anonymous over there, do you know? Just curious.

  21. Matt,

    I apologize if the artful and innocent flourish caused offense.
    None taken. My concern was similar to that which you yourself seemed to outline when you mentioned 'atoms-and-voiders', which is the polarization of the debate where each side simply argues against a caricature. I'm not saying anybody here is doing that, just that I want to avoid that hazard.

  22. Andrew,

    I’m either forcing myself to see a contradiction in what you’ve said, or your position is a bit lost on me – you seem to have one leg realism and the other in non-realism.
    That's interesting because I thought I was a pretty mainstream realist. I recognise the problems that you have with my position, so I'll have a think about the best way to address them.

    Once again, the quote wasn't directed at you, Psiomniac - it was directed towards reductionism as I come accross that argument quite a bit.
    I realise you meant no harm and I take no offense. The fact that you took a direct quote from me and put it in the mouth of a fake atheist in order to counter their position is a choice of style which I personally avoid; I always attribute direct quotes in order to ensure clarity. However this is your blog and I wouldn't presume to advise you on how to write it.

    I realize that your argument is a bit different (which is why you're here), and I'd like to understand it.
    Likewise, so as I say I'll have a think and come back with a longer post.

    I'm afraid I don't know who 'Anonymous' is.

  23. Because I feel sufficiently like a jackass now, let me say this one last thing:
    This particular blog post went up without the intention of a debate surrounding the reductive claim, but just as my own ideas regarding a particular sort of argument I come up against a lot. In other words at the time, it wasn’t intended that you come over and debate/defend it, it was intended to address reductionism – the fact that it contained words you spoke is meaningless. As well, it wasn’t until after the fact that it was realized we had an interesting discussion unfolding, and I’d like to note, the only one that was going anywhere. In other words, I never assumed I’d have the pleasure of you being here to have this conversation.

    Anyway I’m happy you’re here – and I feel like a dumb ass.

  24. Andrew,

    the fact that it contained words you spoke is meaningless.
    Well, I'd agree that it was irrelevant to your purpose. Anyway there's no need for you to feel like a jackass, we should see whether we can make progress.

    Let us first focus on areas where we might agree.

    1) The reality/appearance distinction.

    I do not think that science gives us direct access to reality, or certainty or Truth with a capital 'T'. I think science is one way that we conduct our dialogue with the world.


    I think we agree that there can be no non circular justification of the various forms of realist world view.

    3) Reductionism

    There are different language games and different levels of description. Suppose you are in a concert hall listening to a symphony. You could install measuring devices that could give very accurate traces of the pressure waves in the room over time. These data could be taken to be a description of what was happening to the sound in the room. But there are phenomena at the level of discourse on music, within the language game of a sophisticated audience that simply cannot be abstracted by looking at traces of pressure waves. To think otherwise is to subscribe to a kind of crude reductionism which we both reject.

    So far so good?

  25. 1.) I don’t see that I have a problem with this.

    2.) I would say that realist claims to certainty are ultimately circular, yes.
    From a non-realist perspective this isn't an issue as certainty, either relative or absolute, is not something we're after - you have merely justification.

    3.) So I understand, do you want to say that between the box and the person we have different descriptions of the same thing, or different descriptions of different things, or different descriptions for different purposes?

  26. On 3, I think the least problematic is the last, namely different descriptions for different purposes. And these are human purposes, without us there would be no descriptions in this sense, or symphonies (extra terrestrial composers aside of course).

    On 2, I'm a realist but I don't have certainty. I have reasons for my world view being as it is, but I don't have Reasons with a capital 'R' since I proceed on assumptions about the way the world seems to be that cannot be rigorously justified without circularity. One such might be (to simplify) that certain time invariant physical laws might remain the same in the future. So for example the inverse square law of gravitation will hold tomorrow.

    Of course, I'm not thereby making a simplistic statement about the ontology of physical laws. I think they are human constructs and part of a particular language game. But since we are not solipsists or followers of Bishop Berkely we can consider that there is a world that is not mind dependent and it influences the rules of our language games as it does our other games like soccer.

    If the above isn't too controversial, then we might move to areas of potential disagreement?

  27. I’d like to make a note of this statement in “1”:
    “I think science is one way that we conduct our dialogue with the world.”

    Special not on “with the world”.


  28. I've been thinking about a way to move on to areas of disagreement but I think you have beaten me to it. So perhaps you could expand on your objection? I have seen you agree to the notion that there is a world* with which we interact, or at least, that's how I interpreted what you said. So why the 'special not'?

    * Of course, 'world' is a very loose term, so we might have to take a Kantian detour to deal with it.

  29. Hu,
    I actually meant to say “special note”, no matter, the meaning is understood just the same…

    Yes it is a very loose term. Let me simply say what came to mind that lead to the objection in the first place, then move from there. Suppose I was arguing from the realist perspective on God and made the comment, “I think prayer is one way we conduct our dialogue with God.” Well that opens the exact can of worms we’ve been trying to open all along. As a realist, I’m sacked with the burden of proof about God, not to mention the previous issue of “The Problem of Evil”. What’s God?

    So I’m thinking 2 things here; either you were speaking rhetorically and didn’t mean to put it quite that way, or you are quite serious about the matter. If you’re serious, then what’s “the world” and how do we have a dialogue with it?

    Of course it’s my contention that “truth”, “facts” and “descriptions” are not in the world. So are you having a dialogue with? Nothing? Or a dialogue with dialogue?

  30. I am serious.

    I do think I have read you correctly in that you accept that there is a mind independent realm with which we interact? If not, just say so and I'll trawl your quote and get you to explain what you do mean.

  31. What can be said about it.

  32. Well we can say that we interact with it. Reality is what you bump into when you get carried away by the notion that you get to make all the rules of your language game from scratch. We can't provide a bullet proof justification that there is a real world out there of course. But we can suppose that there are good reasons to proceed on the assumption that there is.

  33. Would you say that it's nonetheless subject to human contingencies.

    We may "bump into it", but what it is we bump into cannot be known outside of human needs and intentions. Yes/no?

    Do we 'bump into' dogs the same way we 'bump into' Democracy?

  34. Yes I do accept that the phenomenal world is subject to human contingencies. But although it is appealing to try to replace the dualism of the phenomenal versus noumenal worlds with the monism of the phenomenon, that leaves us with only half the story. Which is that the way we bump into dogs is different to the way we bump into democracy for reasons that are partly dependent on us but partly independent of us.

  35. By talking about them though, we're talking about something that's in the world, yes/no?

    Perhaps you could expand on your last statement. "...for reasons that are partly dependent on us but partly independent of us."

    Does that statement apply equally to both dogs and democracy.

  36. I'm not sure what you mean with your latest yes/no question.

    I don't know about 'equally' but I think our bumpings in both cases are not wholly dependent on our minds, other than in the trivial sense that without our minds there would be no 'we' to bump.

    What I think is unsustainable in your position is the complete rejection of representation as a possibility and I wonder whether this has its origin in the impossibility of representing the noumenal. What do you think?

  37. Not to unduly butt into your conversation, Psiomniac and Andrew, butt:

    In observing the exchange, I find it difficult to judge what kind of realist you are Psiomniac, though on the other hand I'm not totally sure what kind of non-realist Andrew is. But since Andrew would like to identify Rorty as an inspiration for his position, and you commented early that "there is a big flaw in your [Andrew] (and Rorty's) philosophy regarding our dialogue with the world," I thought I might comment on behalf of what Rorty might think when confronted with you.

    The first thing is that in your initial comments about the appearance/reality distinction, foundationalism, and reductionism, you pretty much conceded most of everything Rorty finds contentious in realism (and Rorty would particularly find agreeable your further elaboration that "different descriptions [are] for different purposes"). This means that calling yourself a realist means something a bit different than who Rorty means, and why we'd then need a position like "non-realist" in contradistinction.

    Andrew clearly sensed that and could only find issue with "dialogue with the world." That's a metaphor Rorty has suggested we drop because it seems to raise the idea that Nature speaks a specific language that we might hope to correctly translate at some point (Science typically being the correct translation manual). I've been pressured by self-identified critical realists in the past who think that that metaphor is still helpful even after we've dropped foundationalism and reductionism. I can't see how, but on the other hand, if one self-consciously spurns those isms, the harm is gone, and so should one's interest in debating the point--hey, godspeed in finding a use for it, but forgive me for yawning and still using different metaphors.

    Using the metaphor of "bumping," in fact, is far more Rorty's taste--he loves to say that the world pushes around, but it doesn't speak to us. This is the Davidsonian distinction between reasons and causes, to which we can say that our physical environment may cause us to have a belief ("there's a dog"), but it doesn't give us a reason--it simply forces the belief to pop up into our head.

    This stiff distinction is erected because reasons, which can themselves be causes, are the things we pass between us language-users and that reasons are a public exchange is why we might be wrong about our belief that there's a dog (it's actually a cat), though we aren't that we have the belief ("I really thought it was a dog"; "Well, sure you did, but you were also really high"). Using the computer metaphor, we can say that once we've been programmed with a language, we can be caused to think things, but these causes aren't themselves reasons, except in the carefully distinguished sense in which, when pressured about why we think there's a dog, we reply with the linguistic noise/reason "Because I see a dog."

    Your definition of reality is, in particular, very Davidsonian (and not something I've ever heard a self-identified realist, at least no professional philosopher, say): "Reality is what you bump into when you get carried away by the notion that you get to make all the rules of your language game from scratch." Few are the times I wish I had said something, but I wish I had come up with that as a gloss on the pragmatism that eschews from Rorty. Specifically, Davidson replaces the correspondentist and representationalist notion of a person-world, one-to-one relationship with his notion of triangulation between person-community-world. A person does not try and correspond or represent the world, we should say, but negotiate with both the marks and noises of our peers and the causal pressures of our environment. It is why Wittgenstein made his famous argument against the very notion of a private language.

    I slipped in "representationalist" to bridge to your last statement: "What I think is unsustainable in your [Andrew's] position is the complete rejection of representation as a possibility." Representationalist is the epithet Rorty's student Robert Brandom came up with some years ago to refine the realist/anti-realist debate (during the early 80s). Since Kant, we've been plagued with an oscillation between realists who thought truth was a correspondence between our words and the world and idealists (who later became anti-realists) who thought truth was a coherence between our words with themselves because, in Berkeley's helpful dictum, the only thing like an idea is an idea. What neopragmatists came to see, however, was that this all hinged on a picture of the mind as containing what Kant called Vorstellung, representations between us and the world.

    Rorty wants to drop, as Andrew does, the idea of there being an interesting intermediary between us and the world. That's why they are anti-representationalists. When that happens, something like a direct or commonsense realism might pop out, but for philosophers like Rorty, they would rather say that philosophy doesn't tell us a lot about how we hook onto the world--by virtue of being in the world, we already know quite a bit about it. Our normal, day-to-day negotiations with something not-us, whether physical environment, other people, or political institutions, are our hook.

    When philosophy takes up words like "correspond" or "represents," the words turn into terms of art, pieces of jargon in weird language games played by philosophers. What Rorty most wants is not a philosophical language game that mirrors what people commonsensically do, but for philosophers to just let common sense do what it does. If he rejects "representation," he is not voiding his ability to say, when appropriate, "Warhol's Diamond Dust shoes don't seem to represent shoes very well," he's just trying to suggest that we learn the same thing Wittgenstein suggested we learn: how to put philosophy down.

  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. ahhh fk,
    I just deleted my post...

  40. What I find unsustainable in your position is representation, for you then need to show how your language represents a particular thing. But as we already agreed, you cannot show representation outside of a circular argument.

    Again, the world exists, but what can we say about it? We cannot say anything outside of human contingency.

    As for Democracy, in what way does its existence in the world differ from the dog’s? We can say that our descriptions of a dog are relative to our own personal needs and interests, but it makes just as much sense to say that about democracy. Had there been no need to talk about Dogs, they would share just much non-existence as Democracy if we had chosen not to talk about it. If one would answer no to this, then you must then describe to me what dogs are outside our need to talk about them. Of course, one cannot do this.

  41. Matt,

    Thanks you have moved things on considerably I think, with a cogent overview of the issues. Maybe I'm not a realist then! Or maybe I'm a common sense one. I'll have a think about what you've said and also about dogs and democracy Andrew, and I'll see if I can make my position on representation clearer.

  42. Matt,

    I've had a chance to think over some of what you have said. I agree that 'dialogue with the world' could be improved upon. How about the metaphor that our interaction with the world is like traffic?

    I like some of the aspects of Davidson's position, particularly his triangulation metaphor and it is interesting that he seems to want to supersede the realism/anti-realism debate, and as such he is difficult to place in either camp. I note that there is some controversy over his reading of Tarski but I haven't reviewed that in detail.

  43. Andrew,

    But as we already agreed, you cannot show representation outside of a circular argument.
    I think we agreed that there can be no non circular argument that justifies our appeal to things like reason or to the existence of things outside our minds. That is to say that the foundationalist quest for a bullet proof argument to show we are justified is doomed.

    But it doesn't follow that there are no reasons at all to suppose that we represent aspects of the phenomenal world. You want to argue perhaps that it is impossible to occupy a position from which we can directly assess a correspondence between what we say and how things are; trying to attain such a transcendental vantage point would be like trying to step outside our own skin.

    The plausibility of this idea, and perhaps the notion that if there are 'objects' in the world that exist independently of our representations of them, then there is no way in which our representations could intelligibly thought to be 'like' the objects, since the only notions of representation as such that are available to us, are in terms of our concepts and sense experience, rather than the objects themselves. This is taken to introduce the limitation that since we can't know objects in-themselves, we cannot talk meaningfully about them. Thus the notion of representation is a non starter, or so the argument goes.

    Is that interpretation close? Because if so these objections, and Rorty's have been countered. Have you heard of the 'no miracles' argument, or the Putnam-Boyd transformation?

  44. Psiomniac,
    I'm going to have to get back to this - busy...