Sunday, July 13, 2008


The Slightest Philosophy
(prospective second ed.)

Citing a Problematic Tradition

Sextus Empiricus:

“Although, no doubt, it is easy to say what nature each of the underlying objects appears to each man to possess, we cannot go on to say what its real nature is, since the disagreement admits in itself of no settlement. For the person who tries to settle it one of the aforementioned dispositions... And if he is to judge the sense impressions while he is in some one disposition...he will not be an impartial judge of the external underlying objects owing to his being confused by the dispositions in which he is placed.”

“Proof always requires a criterion to confirm it, and the criterion also a proof to demonstrate its truth; and neither can a proof be sound without the existence of a true criterion nor can the criterion be true without the previous confirmation of the proof. So in this way both the criterion and the proof are involved in circular process of reasoning, and thereby both are found to be untrustworthy; for since each of them is dependent on the credibility of the other, the one is lacking in credibility just as much as the other.”

Michel de Montaigne:

“The senses do not comprehend the foreign object, but only their own impressions.”

“We no longer know what things are in truth; for nothing comes to us except falsified and altered by our senses.”

“The uncertainty of the senses makes everything they produce uncertain...the conception and semblance we form is not of the object, but only of the impression and effect made on the sense; which impression and the object are two different things...And as for saying that the impressions of the senses convey to the soul the quality of the foreign objects by resemblance, how can the soul make sure of the resemblance, having itself no communication with foreign objects? Just as a man who does not know Socrates, seeing his portrait, cannot say that it resembles him.”

“Things do not lodge in us in their own form and essence...Thus, external objects surrender to our mercy; they dwell in us as we please.”

“I must see at last whether it is in the power of man to find what he seeks, and whether that quest that he has been making for so many centuries has enriched him with any new power and any solid truth. I think he will confess to me...that all the profit he has gained from so long a pursuit is to have learned to acknowledge his weakness. The ignorance that was naturally in us we have by long study confirmed and verified.”

Nicolas Malebranche:

“One must not confuse the ideas of things with the things themselves. Remember, that we do not see bodies in themselves, and that it is only through their ideas that they are visible.”

“Faith alone can convince us that bodies actually exist.”

John Locke:

“Our knowledge [is] conversant about our ideas only. Since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant about them.”

George Berkeley:

“All that we know or conceive are our own ideas.”

“The things I perceive are my own ideas, idea can exist unless it be in a mind.”

“Nothing is perceived by the senses beside ideas.”

“With all my heart, retain the word matter, and apply it to the objects of sense, if you please, provided you do not attribute to them any subsistence distinct from their being perceived.”

“You talked often as if you thought I maintained the non-existence of sensible things: whereas in truth no one can be more thoroughly assured of their existence than I am….Though indeed I deny they have any existence distinct from being perceived; or that they can exist out of all minds whatsoever.”

“I might as well doubt of my own being, as of the being of those things I actually see and feel.”

“My endeavours tend only to unite and place in a clearer light that truth, which was before shared between the vulgar and the philosophers: the former being of opinion, that those things they immediately perceive are the real things: and the latter, that the things immediately perceived are ideas which exist only in the mind. Which two notions put together, do in effect constitute the substance of what I advance.”

“Sensible things are all immediately perceivable; and those things which are immediately perceivable, are ideas; and these exist only in the mind.”

David Hume:

“Philosophy informs us that everything which appears to the mind is nothing but a perception, and is interrupted and dependent on the mind.”

“Properly speaking, ‘tis not our body we perceive, when we regard our limbs and members, but certain impressions, which enter by the senses.”

“The only existences, of which we are certain, are perceptions, which being immediately present to us by consciousness, command our strongest assent, and are the first foundation of all our conclusions. The only conclusion we can draw from the existence of one thing to that of another, is by means of the relation of cause and effect, which shews, that there is a connexion betwixt them, and that the existence of one is dependent on that of the other. The idea of this relation is derived from past experience, by which we find, that two beings are constantly conjoined together, and are always present at once to the mind. But as no beings are ever present to the mind but perceptions; it follows that we may observe a conjunction or a relation of cause and effect between different perceptions, but can never observe it between perceptions and objects. It is impossible, therefore, that from the existence or any of the qualities of the former, we can ever form any conclusion concerning the existence of the latter, or ever satisfy our reason in this particular.
…Let it be taken for granted, that our perceptions are broken, and interrupted, and however like, are still different from each other; and let any one upon this supposition shew why the fancy, directly and immediately, proceeds to the belief of another existence, resembling these perceptions in their nature, but yet continued, and uninterrupted, and identical; and after he has done this to my satisfaction, I promise to renounce my present opinion. …Whoever would explain the origin of the common opinion concerning the continued and distinct existence of body, must take the mind in its common situation, and must proceed upon the supposition, that our perceptions are our only objects, and continue to exist even when they are not perceived. Though this opinion be false, it is the most natural of any, and has alone any primary recommendation to the fancy.
…For as the philosophical system is found by experience to take hold of many minds, and in particular of all those, who reflect ever so little on this subject, it must derive all its authority from the vulgar system; since it has no original authority of its own.”

“When we press one eye with a finger, we immediately perceive all the objects to become double, and one half of them to be removed from their common and natural position. But as we do not attribute to continued existence to both these perceptions, and as they are both of the same nature, we clearly perceive, that all our perceptions are dependent on our organs, and the disposition of our nerves and animal spirits. This opinion is confirmed by the seeming increase and diminution of objects, according to their distance; by the apparent alterations in their figure; by the changes in their colour and other qualities from our sickness and distempers: and by an infinite number of other experiments of the same kind; from all which we learn, that our sensible perceptions are not possessed of any distinct or independent existence.”

“It is universally allowed by philosophers, and is besides pretty obvious of itself, that nothing is ever really present with the mind but its perceptions or impressions and ideas.”

“That our senses offer not their impressions as the images of something distinct, or independent, and external, is evident; because they convey to us nothing but a single perception, and never give us the least intimation of anything beyond. A single perception can never produce the idea of a double existence, but by some inference either of the reason or imagination. When the mind looks farther than what immediately appears to it, its conclusions can never be put to the account of the senses; and it certainly looks farther, when from a single perception it infers a double existence, and supposes the relations of resemblance and causation betwixt them.
If our senses, therefore, suggest any idea of distinct existences, they must convey the impressions as those very existences, by a kind of fallacy and illusion.

“It seems evident, that men are carried, by a natural instinct or prepossession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or even almost before the use of reason, we always suppose an external universe, which depends not on our perception, but would exist, though we and every sensible creature were absent or annihilated. Even the animal creation are governed by a like opinion, and preserve this belief of external objects, in all their thoughts, designs, and actions.
It seems also evident, that, when men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any suspicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other. This very table, which we see white, and which we feel hard, is believed to exist, independent of our perception, and to be something external to our mind, which perceives it. Our presence bestows not being on it: our absence does not annihilate it. It preserves its existence uniform and entire, independent of the situation of intelligent beings, who perceive or contemplate it.
But this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, through which these images are conveyed, without being able to produce any immediate intercourse between the mind and the object. The table, which we see, seems to diminish, as we remove farther from it: but the real table, which exists independent of us, suffers no alteration: it was, therefore, nothing but its image, which was present to the mind. These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say, this house and that tree, are nothing but perceptions in the mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences, which remain uniform and independent…
By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us?
…It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resembling them: how shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning.
…This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more philosophical sceptics will always triumph, when they endeavour to introduce an universal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge and enquiry.
...Reason…can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove, that the perceptions are connected with any external objects.”

“The mind can always conceive any effect to follow from any cause, and indeed any event to follow upon another: whatever we conceive is possible: at least, in a metaphysical sense: but wherever a demonstration takes place, the contrary is impossible, and implies a contradiction. There is no demonstration therefore, for any conjunction of cause and effect.”

“We can at least conceive a change in the course of nature; which sufficiently proves that such a change is not absolutely impossible. To form a clear idea of any thing, is an undeniable argument for its possibility.”

“I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another.”

“If we believe that fire warms or water refreshes, it is only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise.”

“Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds.”

“Philosophy has nothing to oppose to them [skeptical humors]…”

“We choice left, but betwixt a false reason and none at all. For my part, I know not what ought to be done in the present case. I can only observe what is commonly done; which is, that this difficulty is seldom thought of.”

“I may, nay I must yield to the current of nature, in submitting to my senses and understanding; and in this blind submission I shew most perfectly my sceptical disposition and principles.”

“I have already shewn, that the understanding, when it acts alone, and according to its most general principles, entirely subverts itself, and leaves not the lowest degree of evidence in any proposition, either in philosophy or common life. We save ourselves from this total scepticism only by means of that singular and seemingly trivial property of the fancy, by which we enter with difficulty into remote views of things.”

“This sceptical doubt, both with respect to reason and the senses, is a malady, which can never be radically cured, but must return upon us every moment, however we may chase it away, and sometimes may seem entirely free from it. ‘Tis impossible upon any system to defend either our understanding or senses; and we but expose them farther when we endeavour to justify them in that manner. As the sceptical doubt arises naturally from a profound and intense reflection on those subjects, it always increases, the farther we carry our reflections, whether in opposition or conformity to it. Carelessness and inattention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely upon them.”

“The observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us at every turn, in spite of our endeavors to elude or avoid it.”

Immanuel Kant:

“It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us…must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.”

“All objects of an experience possible for us are nothing but appearances, i.e., mere representations, which…have outside our thoughts no existence grounded in itself. …The realist…makes these modifications of our sensibility into things subsisting in themselves, and hence makes mere representations into things in themselves.”

“The senses...never and in no single instance enable us to know things in themselves.”

“Things in themselves...cannot be objects of experience.”

“Matter…is nothing other than a mere form or a certain mode of representation of an unknown object.”

“Nothing intuited in space is a thing in itself…what we call outer objects are nothing but representations of our sensibility the form of which is space. The true correlate of sensibility, the thing in itself, is not known, and cannot be known, through these representations; and in experience no question is ever asked regarding it.”

“External objects (bodies) are merely appearances, hence also nothing other than a species of my representations.”

“The objects with which we have to do in experience are by no means things in themselves but only appearances.”

“Appearances are not things, but rather nothing but representations, and they cannot exist at all outside our minds.”

“Phenomena are not things in themselves, and are yet the only thing that can be given to us to know.”

“Things as objects of our senses existing outside us are given, but we know nothing of what they may be in themselves, knowing only their appearances, that is, the representations which they cause in us by affecting our senses.”

“The non-sensible cause of these representations is entirely unknown to us.”

“As we have just shown that the senses never and in no manner enable us to know things in themselves, but only their appearances…we conclude that all bodies together with the space in which they are, must be considered nothing but mere representations in us, and exist nowhere but in our thoughts.”

“Your object is merely in your brain.”

“It is also false that the world (the sum total of all appearances) is a whole existing in itself…appearances in general are nothing outside our representations.”

“Since space is a form of that intuition we call outer…we can and must regard the beings in it as real; and the same is true of time. But this space and this time, and with them all appearances, are not in themselves things; they are nothing but representations and cannot exist at all outside our minds.”

“The understanding itself is the lawgiver of Nature; save through it, Nature would not exist at all.”

“If I remove the thinking subject, the whole corporeal world must at once vanish.”

“If then, as this critical argument obviously compels us to do, we hold fast to the rule above established, and do not push our questions beyond the limits within which possible experience can present us with its object, we shall never dream of seeking to inform ourselves about the objects of our senses as they are in themselves.”

“I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

William Blake:

"That called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses."

G. E. Schulze:

“Where do the representations that we possess originate, and how do they come to be in us? This has been for a long time one of the most important questions in philosophy. Common opinion has rightly held that, since the representations in us are not the objects themselves being represented, the connection between our representations and the things outside us must be established above all by a careful and sound answer to this question. It is in this way that certitude must be sought regarding the reality of the different components of our knowledge.”

“As determined by the Critique of Pure Reason, the function of the principle of causality thus undercuts all philosophizing about the where or how of the origin of our cognitions. All assertions on the matter, and every conclusion drawn from them, become empty subtleties, for once we accept that determination of the principle as our rule of thought, we could never ask, ‘Does anything actually exist which is the ground and cause of our representations?’ We can only ask, ‘How must the understanding join these representations together, in keeping with the pre-determined functions of its activity, in order to gather them as one experience?’”

J. G. Hamann:

“All idle talk about reason is mere wind; language is its organon and criterion.”

“With me the question is not so much: What is reason? but rather What is language? …one takes words for concepts and concepts for the things themselves.”

“If I were as eloquent as Demosthenes, I would do no more than repeat one sentence three times: Reason is language, Logos. On this marrow-bone I gnaw, and will gnaw myself to death on it. There still remains darkness on the face of this deep for me; I still wait for an apocalyptic angel with a key to this abyss.”

“Every court, every school, every profession, every closed corporation, every sect—each has its own vocabulary.”

“The eloquence of the flesh…takes us to the cradle of our race and religion.”

“Our own existence, and the existence of all things outside us, must be believed, and cannot be determined in any other way.”

J. G. Fichte:

“That there is nothing whatever but my presentations is, to the natural sense of mankind, a silly and ridiculous conceit which no man can seriously entertain and which requires no refutation. To the well-informed judge, who knows the deeper grounds for this opinion, grounds which cannot be removed by mere reasoning, this thought is one of despair and annihilation.”

“In all seriousness, and not only in a manner of speaking, the object shall be posited and determined by the cognitive faculty and not the cognitive faculty by the object.”

“The man who becomes conscious of his self-sufficiency and independence of everything that is outside himself…does not need things for the support of himself, and cannot use them, because they destroy that self-sufficiency…the self which he possesses, and which is the subject of his interest, annuls this belief in things; he believes in his independence out of inclination; he embraces it with feeling.”

“Reason provides no principle of choice…the choice is governed by caprice, and since even a capricious decision must have some source, it is governed by inclination and interest.”

F. W. J. Schelling:

“It can be demonstrated, indeed, to the most obstinate dogmatists, that the world consists only in presentations.”

“Nature is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature.”

Friedrich Schlegel:"Idealism considers nature as a work of art, as a poem."

Percy Bysshe Shelley:

"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

William Wordsworth:

“Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.”

G. W. F. Hegel:

“Truth is the unity of the universal and subjective will; and the universal is to be found in the State, in its laws, its universal and rational arrangements. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.”

“Freedom is nothing but the recognition and adoption of such universal objects as right and law, and the production of a reality that is accordant with the State.”

“The definition of the freedom of the press as freedom to say and write what one pleases, is parallel to the one of freedom in general, viz., as freedom to do what one pleases. Such a view belongs to the uneducated crudity and superficiality of naive thinking.”

Arthur Schopenhauer:

"The world is my representation: this is a truth with reference to every living and knowing being, although Man alone can bring it into reflective, abstract consciousness. If he really does so, philosophical discernment has dawned on him. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.
...This truth is by no means new. It was to be found already in the sceptical reflections from which Descartes started. Berkeley, however, was the first who distinctly enunciated it."

Soren Kierkegaard:

“What our age lacks…is not reflection but passion.”

“The conclusions of passion are the only reliable ones.”

“It was intelligence and nothing else that had to be opposed. Presumably that is why I, who have had the job, was armed with an immense intelligence.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“Mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb standing with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if everything is to be given its due, then twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”

John Stuart Mill:

“Matter, then, may be defined, a Permanent Possibility of Sensation. If I am asked, whether I believe in matter, I ask whether the questioner accepts this definition of it. If he does, I believe in matter: and so do all Berkeleians. In any other sense than this, I do not.”

Friedrich Nietzsche:

“No, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact ‘in itself.’”

“It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule.”

“That a belief, however necessary it may be for the preservation of a species, has nothing to do with truth, one knows from the fact that, e.g., we have to believe in time, space, and motion, without feeling compelled to grant them absolute reality.”

“That there is no truth, that there is no absolute nature of things nor a ‘thing-in-itself,’—This, too, is merely nihilism—even the most extreme nihilism.”

William James:

“An idea is true so long as to believe it is profitable to our lives.”

“In the last analysis, then, we believe that we all know and think and talk about the same world because we believe our percepts are possessed by us in common.”

“Our reason is quite satisfied, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of every thousand of us, if it can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized by some one else. Our faith is faith in some one else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. Our belief in truth itself, for instance, that there is a truth, and that our minds and it are made for each other—what is it but a passionate affirmation of desire, in which our social system backs us up? We want to have a truth; we want to believe that our experiments and studies and discussions must put us in a continually better and better position towards it; and on this line we agree to fight out our thinking lives. But if a pyrrhonistic sceptic asks us how we know all this, can our logic find a reply? No! certainly it cannot. It is just one volition against another—we willing to go in for life upon a trust or assumption which he, for his part, does not care to make.”

“The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief.”

Bertrand Russell:

“The view which I should wish to advocate is that objects of perception do not persist unchanged at times when they are not perceived, although probably objects more or less resembling them do exist at such times.”

“Among the objects with which we are acquainted are not included physical objects (as opposed to sense-data), nor other people’s minds. These things are known to us by what I call ‘knowledge by description’.”

Martin Heidegger:

“We are ourselves the beings to be analyzed. The Being of any such being in is each case mine. These beings, in their Being, comport themselves towards their Being. As beings with such Being, they are delivered over to their own Being. Being is that which is an issue for every such being.”

A. J. Ayer:

“From our resources of sense-data, we ‘construct’ the world of material things.”

Jean Paul Sartre:

“Tomorrow, after my death, some men may decide to establish Fascism, and the others may be so cowardly or slack as to let them do so. If so Fascism will then be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein:

"The world is the totality of facts, not of things."

"The facts in logical space are the world."

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

"What the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest.
The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world."

"I am my world."

“Supposing we met people who…instead of the physicist, they consult an oracle. (And for that we consider them primitive.) Is it wrong for them to consult an oracle and be guided by it?—If we call this ‘wrong,’ aren’t we using our language-game as a base from which to combat theirs?
And are we right or wrong to combat it? Of course there are all sorts of slogans which will be used to support our proceedings.
Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic.”

“If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: ‘This is simply what I do’.”

"The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing."

Thomas Kuhn

“After a revolution scientists work in a different world.”

“Proponents of competing paradigms must fail to make complete contact with each other’s viewpoints.”

“Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction.”

“In these matters neither proof nor error is at issue.”

“Paradigm change cannot be justified by proof.”

“We may, to be more precise, have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth.”

“Chemists could not…simply accept Dalton’s theory on the evidence, for much of that was still negative. Instead, even after accepting the theory, they still had to beat nature into line, a process which, in the event, took almost another generation. When it was done, even the percentage composition of well-known compounds was different. The data themselves had changed.”

“The man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.”

“What better criterion than the decision of the scientific group could there be?”

W. V. O. Quine:

“I do not see that we are farther along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament.”

Jacques Lacan:

“There is no truth that, in passing through awareness, does not lie.”

Jacques Derrida:

“There is nothing outside the text.”

Nelson Goodman:

“We can have words without a world, but no world without words or other symbols.”

Hilary Putnam:

“Realism is an impossible attempt to view the world from Nowhere.”

“The mind never compares an image or word with an object, but only
with other images, words, beliefs, judgments, etc.”

“There isn’t a ready-made world.”

Donald Davidson:

“The approach to the problem of justification we have been tracing must be wrong. We have been trying to see it this way: a person has all his beliefs about the world—that is, all his beliefs. How can he tell if they are true, or apt to be true? This is possible, we have been assuming, only by connecting his beliefs to the world, confronting certain of his beliefs with the deliverances of the senses one by one, or perhaps confronting the totality of his beliefs with the tribunal of experience. No such confrontation makes sense, for of course we can’t get outside our skins to find out what is causing the internal happenings of which we are aware.”

“The ultimate source (not ground) of objectivity, is in my opinion, intersubjectivity. If we were not in communication with others, there would be nothing on which to base the idea of being wrong, or, therefore, of being right, either in what we say or in what we think.”

“If I did not know what others think, I would have no thoughts of my own and so would not know what I think.”

John McDowell:

“The objective world is present only to a self-conscious subject…it is only in the context of a subject’s ability to ascribe experiences to herself that experiences can constitute awareness of the world. …Creatures without conceptual capacities lack self-consciousness and—this is part of the same package—experience of objective reality. …It follows that mere animals cannot enjoy “outer experience,” on the conception of “outer experience” I have recommended. …Evans’s conclusion will not fit into a Kantian framework…the framework precludes supposing that sensibility by itself yields content that is less than conceptual but already world-involving. In the absence of spontaneity, no self can be in view, and by the same token, the world cannot be in view either.”

Robert Brandom:

"What deeply binds together German Idealism and American Pragmatism and that we'll never understand our interaction with the world if we think in antecedent terms of what subjects are—say, in the way Descartes did—and what objects are—say, in the way contemporary natural science tells us they are—and somehow try to clamp those two together, to understand subjects as able to know about objects and act on objects so understood."

"I am what I'm recognized to be by those I recognize as having the authority to determine what I really am."

"I think Kant is, and should remain, for philosophers, what the sea was for the poet Swinburne: the great, grey mother of us all."

Richard Rorty:

“A number of contemporary philosophers, including myself, do their best to complicate the traditional distinctions between the objective and the subjective, reason and passion, knowledge and opinion, science and politics. We offer contentious reinterpretations of these distinctions, draw them in nontraditional ways. For example, we deny that the search for objective truth is a search for correspondence to reality and urge that it be seen instead as a search for the widest possible intersubjective agreement.”

“Paul de Man was one of the most beloved and influential teachers of recent times. He was the person primarily responsible for the movement which we now call ‘deconstruction.’ The special twist de Man put on Heideggerian and Derridean themes has been the single most influential contribution to what is sometimes called, by its enemies, ‘the politicization of the humanities’ in American universities.”

“What people like Kuhn, Derrida, and I believe is that it is pointless to ask whether there are really mountains or whether it is merely convenient for us to talk about mountains.”

“There is no procedure called ‘turning to the facts’…there is no procedure of ‘justification in light of the facts’ which can be opposed to concilience of one’s own opinion with those of others.”

“The claim that we are responsible to reality is as hopeless as the idea that true sentences correspond to reality.…we have no responsibilities except to fellow-players of what Sellars and Brandom call ‘the game of giving and asking for reasons."

“We understand knowledge when we understand the social justification of belief, and thus have no need to view it as accuracy of representation."

“The notion of ‘accurate representation’ is simply an automatic and empty compliment which we pay to those beliefs which are successful in helping us to do what we want to do.”

“Justification is not a matter of a special relation between ideas (or words) and objects, but of conversation, of social practice.”

“Philosophers on my side of the argument answer that objectivity is not a matter of corresponding to objects but a matter of getting together with other subjects—that there is nothing to objectivity except intersubjectivity.”

“Nature itself is a poem that we humans have written.”

“There is no enclosing wall called ‘the Real.’ There is nothing outside language to which language attempts to become adequate.”

“If one reinterprets objectivity as intersubjectivity, or as solidarity…then one will drop the question of how to get in touch with ‘mind-independent and language-independent reality.’ One will replace it with questions like ‘What are the limits of our community?’ …Dewey seems to me to have given us the right lead when he viewed pragmatism not as grounding, but as clearing the ground for, democratic politics.”

“My rejection of traditional notions of rationality can be summed up by saying that the only sense in which science is exemplary is that it is a model of human solidarity.”

“We need to think of reason not as a truth-tracking faculty but as a social practice—the practice of enforcing social norms on the use of marks and noises, thereby making it possible to use words rather than blows as a way of getting things done. To be rational is simply to conform to those norms. This is why what counts as rational in one society may count as irrational in another. The idea that some societies are more rational than others presupposes that we have some access to a source of normativity other than the practices of the people around us.”

“What we cannot do is to rise above all human communities, actual and possible. We cannot find a skyhook which lifts us out of mere coherence—mere agreement—to something like ‘correspondence with reality as it is in itself.’ …Pragmatists would like to replace the desire for objectivity—the desire to be in touch with reality which is more than some community with which we identify ourselves—with the desire for solidarity with that community.”

“I do not think there are any plain moral facts out there in the world, nor any truths independent of language, nor any neutral ground on which to stand and argue that either torture or kindness are preferable to the other. So I want to offer a different reading of Orwell.
…In the view of 1984 that I am offering, Orwell has no answer to O’Brien, and is not interested in giving one. Like Nietzsche, O’Brien regards the whole idea of being “answered,” of exchanging ideas, of reasoning together, as a symptom of weakness…[Orwell] does not view O’Brien as crazy, misguided, seduced by a mistaken theory, or blind to the moral facts….I take Orwell’s claim that there is no such thing as inner freedom, no such thing as an “autonomous individual,” to be the one made by historicist, including Marxist, critics of “liberal individualism.” This is that there is nothing deep inside each of us, no common human nature, no built-in human solidarity, to use as a moral reference point. There is nothing to people except what has been socialized into them.”

“For pragmatists, the question should always be ‘What use is it?’ rather than ‘Is it real?”

“The difference between myself and Conant is that he thinks that someone like Winston, trapped in such a society, can turn to the light of the facts. I think that there is nowhere for Winston to turn.”

Saint Ignatius Loyola:

“That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.”

Galileo Galilei:

“The authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”


Neil said...

I was a bit disappointed to see you ignoring transcendental phenomenology and the thinking of Martin Heidegger in this consideration of postmodern philosophy. After all, Heidegger is widely considered to be among the more important thinkers in post-modern philosophy. You claim that postmodernism consistently promotes subjectivity and denies the Real, yet what drives much of Heidegger's thinking is an attempt to overcome the reliance on the subjective promoted by some of the other philosophers you mention. To Heidegger, red is real, not just in the mind but a real color out there in the world. The world precedes the subject-object dichotomy. Perhaps a more careful consideration of Heidegger's thought would lead you to understand that to flippantly call all postmodern thinkers "anti-realists" is an exercise in "bullshit."

Quee Nelson said...

I understand. If you feel that I gloss over Heidegger and many others too lightly, I agree and plead guilty. You are right. I needed to write a skinny book, and couldn't do justice to every nuance and player, so I mistreated the period from 1830 - 1980 as flyover country.

But you might be surprised to know that one of my favorite books is Beiser's "German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism."

In this book, a sort of similar point to yours is made about the earlier guys, by an absolute master of the field. Beiser knows everything, and I adore the book, despite the fact that it does a splendid job of playing defense against my prosecution. As prosecutor, I would get up and say, "my opponent is absolute master of the subject and I agree with just about everything he says. Nevertheless, I still stand on everything I said."

The point you want to make about Heidegger, like Beiser's, is interesting, but doesn't really falsify my (broad-brush) story.

It's complicated, but If you read my book, you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that, besides having fun at postmodernism's expense, I also take care to do a good job for them in their turn, defending postmodernism more persuasively than any other enemy of it has, I think. My "professor" scores a few hits in his turn, and he's right popular among postmodernists! I take it as a compliment that they always seem to like the case as I wrote it on their behalf. If you consider that the straw man is the world's most common fallacy, I take pride in not being accused of it, by those who read the whole book.

Indeed, people who thought they hated "relativism" (I never use the word) typically come away from my book with a better understanding of how perfectly intelligent and sincere people feel driven to it by the canon, including some philosophers who pretend to be against it, though by the time you get to the end of their books, they've basically jumped on the postmodern bandwagon.

(Some -- not you -- also complained I do not do careful, personal justice to some canonical guy or other. But that just can't be my job. I'm out to indict a certain train of thought, not a personality, or a philosophical career. I want to go after a cancer that deeply pervades the canon, not the hapless victims who have played host to it. To mete out personal justice and pass a fair and judicious judgment on the overall merit of every philosophical celeb in the canon would be impossible anyway. I couldn't do it. More importantly it's sort of beside the point, since Rorty was a total sweetheart as person, Hume is impossible not to love, and I'd trust Kant with my wallet any day.)

Robert M Wallace said...

Dear Mr Nelson,
I enjoyed your selections from your book very much, and I agree with your view of the "realism/anti-realism" discussion in general. What I regret--and I know this is asking too much--is that you leave us with the impression that this discussion is basically what the "canon" has been about, for the last 300 years. It's been a major feature, undoubtedly, and a very distracting one both for great intelligences and for beginners. But realism/anti-realism was not, in my opinion, Kant's primary concern. His primary concern was the nature and role of inner freedom. That theme ties all of his Critiques together. It's also Hegel's main theme, and probably Heidegger's (in a tortured sort of way). Your quotes from Hegel in your appendix make Hegel sound a bit strange, perhaps, but they don't make him sound like an anti-realist, because he wasn't one. Nor were Plato, Aristotle, or Plotinus, the canonical pre-modern philosophers, all of whom were centrally concerned with what we would call inner freedom. My one book, _Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom and God_ (Cambridge U. Press, 2005) explains Kant and Hegel in this way, including Hegel's entire metaphysical structure (his "idealism," which I fear Fred Beiser does not fully clarify). Several chapters of my book can be downloaded from my website,, which also contains several shorter "conspectus" type texts. Modern philosophy seems much less futile when it's seen as a set of variations (some of them certainly rather frustrating and tortuous in themselves) on the theme of inner freedom. For then we can see the positive dimension in practically every canonical and non-canonical writer. Unfortunately it's in the nature of the case that we're not all equally successful in getting that dimension into focus!
Best regards, Bob Wallace

Quee Nelson said...

Mr. Wallace, Your book looks good and I promise to read as much of it as you promise to read of mine! Of course you are right that the philosophy canon is concerned with all sorts of issues besides those that interest me in this one book.

But let's look back at what I actually said, that "the modern philosophy canon is the anti-realist canon: if twenty of the world’s most popular epistemologists [epistemologists!] since Berkeley [since Berkeley!] were made into baseball cards, you might not find a good [good!] champion of the vulgar in the pack."

To say as I do that "the modern philosophy canon is the anti-realist canon" is a statement like "The Old Testament is the Jewish Bible." It's not a statement saying that the Old Testament is NOT relevant to Protestantism, Catholicism, or Islam.

I'm pretty clear up front that my focus is going to be epistemology in general and skeptical, anti-realist, postmodern fideism in particular. Not the Free Will debate, or aesthetics, or even ethics.

As I said to Neil, above, it just can't be my job to "do careful, personal justice to some canonical guy or other." As you rightly noted, it is indeed "asking too much."

Kant may have been on a mission for God, Freedom, and Immortality, but neither this, nor his justly famous work in moral philosophy is my topic. I'm focused on two things most of all: how did we get ourselves into "The Postmodern Condition," and how do we get out.

Kant plays a certain role in that drama. To the extent that the authority of Hume and Kant are the biggest closers for the sale of postmodern epistemology, to that extent, I need to target the thinking that makes that sale.

In the end, it doesn't really even matter whether or not Hume and Kant "had their hearts in the right place," or would be surprised at the effect they've had. I'm not out to disparage Hume and Kant personally, I'm out to refute skeptical, anti-realist, postmodern fideism.

Robert M Wallace said...

Dear Ms Nelson,
I did say I was "asking too much," but on further reflection, I'm not sure about that. You do include Hegel quotes in your appendix. I think I can safely assume that you do so because Hegel calls himself an "idealist," and you believe that German idealism in general is "anti-realist," so Hegel belongs among the targets of your book. But as I said, I (like Fred Beiser) do not believe that Hegel is an anti-realist. Hegel does not maintain that ordinary objects are "appearances" of something else, or that they are composed of ideas, or that ideas are what we perceive. And he criticizes Kant and Hume for holding these views. Thus he belongs alongside you in your admirable campaign against postmodernist anti-realism. You may not feel that you need his assistance, and that's fine. But if Hegel belongs to the canon of modern philosophy, and if Fred and I are right that he's not an anti-realist, then you should be careful about implying that the canon, as a whole, is anti-realist.
Best regards, Bob W

Quee Nelson said...

Since we both like Beiser, I'll cite him from his 2005 book titled "Hegel," on p. 318, in his "Glossary of Hegelian Terms," Beiser gives this definition under the heading 'Idealism.'

"IDEALISM: Absolute idealism is for Hegel the doctrine that everything is an appearance of the divine idea."

On page 58 of the same book, Beiser lays out a nice history of absolute idealism, explaining that:

"...the term ["absolute idealism"]...was in general currency by the late 1790s; it seems that the the first to use it was Friedrich Schlegel. It was later adopted by Schelling, who used it on several occasions to define his own position. It is indeed significant that Schelling applied the term in works he co-authored with Hegel, and to designate the very philosophy he and Hegel defended in the early 1800s. For all his dislike of general phrases, Hegel himself did not disown the term. According to student lecture notes, he used the term at least thrice to describe his own postion. In his own published work he sometimes used the term 'idealism' simpliciter to define his philosophy." (Beiser, Hegel, p. 58.)

I'm imagining you might have in mind the idea that this admitted "idealism" can be excused from my indictments on the grounds that, as Beiser says:

"Hegel's argument is striking because of the connection it forges between realism and intersubjectivity. Apparently paradoxically, Hegel combines realism with an emphasis ont the social dimension of knowledge, an emphasis that has been all too often anti-realistic. But, for Hegel, intersubjectivity is not a replacement for realism but its very foundation. What Hegel essentially does in these chapters is to socialize Kant's idealism, so that the 'I' of Kant's 'I think' must be part of a 'We think'."

(Beiser, "Solipsism and Intersubjectivity," in Hegel, 2005, p. 177.)

There's a crucial difference between "interpreting" a philosophy rightly, and agreeing with it. I don't "interpret" German Idealists any differently than Beiser does, and we both agree that Beiser is the Man.

In other words, I'm not offering some unorthodox or idiosyncratic "interpretation" of the canon of Saints here. What I'm doing is rejecting, disagreeing with, arguing against, a certain specific thread of reasoning, a particular train of thought, while accepting the same mainstream expert "interpretations" of the canon that other people accept. Even the charitable and ever-patient Beiser admits (p. 176, for example) that it is less than obvious how the absolute idealist move is really possible.

Robert M Wallace said...

Hi Quee,
Well, maybe Fred isn't The Man. I don't think I accept his definition of absolute idealism. Nor do I really think he gets Hegel straight in his Hegel book.
Hegel defines his preferred kind of "idealism" in the Science of Logic (Miller trans., p. 155) as the doctrine that "the finite has no veritable being." The infinite "is the true being, the elevation above limitation" (p. 137). And the "divine Idea" is certainly "infinite" (in Hegel's sense). But this does not mean that "everything is an _appearance of_ the infinite. Hegel doesn't use the word "appearance" in the SL. He avoids it (I think) precisely so as to avoid saying the kind of thing that Fred thinks he means to say. If you look through Fred's book you will see that he doesn't cite the SL very often. I give a detailed account of Hegel's doctrine of the finite/infinite relation (why the finite is not an "appearance" of the infinite), and what he means by "idealism," in chapter 3 of my book. Hegel says on SL p.155 that "the opposition of idealistic and realistic philosophy has no significance," and I explain in my chapter why this is the case.
Best, Bob

Robert M Wallace said...

The reason, to put it in a nutshell, why the finite isn't merely an "appearance" of the infinite, is that such a contrast would be what Hegel calls a "spurious infinity." An "infinity" that's simply the opposite of the finite (by being the reality of which the finite is an "appearance"--the one real, the other simply unreal), is limited by not being finite, and therefore isn't infinite! So a _true_ infinity must _include_ the finite--by being the finite's going beyond itself. I quoted Hegel's statement that the finite "has no veritable being." But it's nevertheless an essential aspect of the infinite (which does have veritable being). Thus, it's not a "mere" appearance, or a mere anything. As Hegel says, "without the world, God would not be God." A paradox developed by other mystics, including Meister Eckhart, but not appreciated by many Hegel scholars. This true infinity is Hegel's fundamental concept, and the focus of my book, fully explained in my ch. 3. Something very like it is suggested by Plato in his Timaeus etc. and by Plotinus. But neither Kant nor Berkeley understood what Plato and Plotinus were up to; they plumped instead for simpler, anti-realist idealisms; and you have chronicled very well the sad results of their doing so. Anti-realism caters very well to our proclivity for simple dualities. The later Plato, Plotinus and Hegel, by contrast, seek to do justice to the legitimate observations that generate these dualities, but within an overarching reality (Hegel's true infinity) that avoids their skeptical consequences.
Best, Bob

Quee Nelson said...

I have trouble understanding an expression which puts "the" in front of an adjective and then stops. The red and the black. The finite and the infinite. Maybe it's some mental lack on my part, but I need a noun.

Bob Wallace said...

Hi Quee,
Thanks for your response. Presumably "the finite and the infinite" refers to everything that's finite and everything that's infinite. But I realize that these particular adjectives may need further elucidation, which I'd be glad to try to provide. "Infinite," in particular, isn't meant (here) only in a quantitative sense, but rather in the literal sense of not-bounded, not-finite. So that what is specified or determined by a boundary (and thus by its relation to what's other than it, what's outside its boundary), is finite, and not infinite. Whereas something that's self-specifying, self-determining, is infinite. So freedom, as Kant and Hegel understand it (that is, as the capacity to specify or determine oneself), is "infinite" in this sense. And freedom is the essential feature of "Spirit" (or "mind": Geist), for Hegel; so Spirit is in this sense infinite. And Hegel's objection to Berkeley's and Kant's conception of mind or the mental is that they understand mind in opposition to matter (which then becomes the unknowable Ding an sich, or is denied existence altogether). But what is understood as opposed to something else, is bounded by that relationship, and thus is not truly infinite, as Spirit was supposed to be. It's what Hegel calls a "spurious infinity," something that was meant to be infinite, but didn't succeed. Whereas if mind/Spirit instead is not bounded by an opposition to matter but rather is understood as matter going beyond itself (beyond its finitude), by achieving some degree of self-determining freedom, then there is no obstacle in principle to mind/Spirit knowing matter (because matter is an aspect of itself). In a nutshell, this is how Hegel restores a kind of "monism," eliminating the unbridgeable divide that created insoluble skeptical problems for Descartes, Locke (the target of Berkeley's criticism), and Kant--but without eliminating the freedom that Descartes, Berkeley and Kant very properly wanted to maintain against reductive materialist monism (Hobbes, Holbach, and the like). Unlike Berkeley's "idealist" monism, the Hegelian monism acknowledges the existence of "material objects," and their indispensable role within the ultimate reality. It merely denies that material objects as such are real in the strongest sense, a sense that it reserves for what is self-determining (what is what it is purely by virtue of itself). Fred Beiser and others suppose that by identifying a fuller form of reality, Hegel must intend to describe what's less real (such as material objects) as "appearance." But as I said in my previous note, Hegel in fact carefully avoids using that term, because it would set up another spuriously-infinite dualism: "real" Spirit versus merely "apparent" matter. If Spirit were understood in that way, it would fail to be "infinite," fail to be fully _self_-determining (because it would be what it is only through its opposition to matter). So Hegel makes "reality" a matter of degree (the self-surpassing of the "unreal") rather than of kind. I hope this may give you a glimpse of an unfamiliar way of thinking about the modern issues, a way that might render them less intractable than (I certainly agree) they have been for generations of thinkers brought up on Descartes/Locke/Berkeley/Hume/Kant/Moore/Bertrand Russell.
Best, Bob W

dave in boca said...

"Perhaps a more careful consideration of Heidegger's thought would lead you to understand that to flippantly call all postmodern thinkers "anti-realists" is an exercise in "bullshit."

Yes, Neil, and I wish I'd thought of that, or said it before you. But you are right on the mark. And Ms. Nelson's also okay in her defense of short shrift of important thinkers after 1830, but Heidegger has a whole raft of nay-sayers who are concerned with his personal politics, not his philosophy.

Paul De Man might be thrashed with the same paddle, or neglected because of that. I now have to get Ms. Nelson's book to straighten out my understanding of how my instincts about 'bullshit' are apparently on the money...!

dave in boca said...

Also, not to be a pest, but did you include anything about Kripke and his 'discussion' with Wittgenstein?

Bob Wallace said...

I personally find these allegations of "bullshit" tasteless and potentially abusive. I realize that Harry Frankfurt has turned "bullshit" into an ostensibly technical term. But I think it's only ostensibly so, and continues to carry its gutter connotations.
best, Bob W.

Quee Nelson said...

Bob, I sympathize with your feeling there, but the trouble is there just isn't another word that has that precise meaning. I wish there was, but there just isn't. It's just too bad, just bad luck, that it's got a curse word in it.

"Nonsense," for example, is really a different thing. For at least a century, epistemology has rightly grappled with the question of what makes something (strictly speaking) "nonsense." Ditto for "meaningless."

Now along comes Frankfurt, and rightly takes aim at a closely related topic, which is the question of what makes some thing B.S. This, as his book has proved to my satisfaction, is at least as central to epistemology, and yet subtly different, in interesting and important ways.

In fact, where "nonsense" or meaninglessness" is more central to philosophers of language, B.S. is closer to the very heart of epistemology itself. Why? Because truth plays such an essential role in it.

There are many epistemologists who conceive of this as nearly epistemology's reason for being. As I do too. When I referred to the Philosophy Department as the B.S. Police, I was kidding, but also sort of serious. (I mean in the book, when the kid complains to the professor, "You're supposed to be the Bullsh-t Police, but you're just another gang of perps!"

By the way, I'm still mulling over your last Hegel comment. I feel an obligation to read it carefully many times over again, and give it the (lots of) thought it deserves. Being so anti-Hegel, makes me feel sharply my extra obligation to try as hard as I can to be charitable to Hegel. Then unleash the hounds.

Quee Nelson said...

Bob, maybe I misunderstood your point. Maybe you're pointing out (rightly) that just to the hurl the word as an epithet is dumb. It's not an argument, it's just abuse.

The legitimate accusation and complaint against postmodernists like Rorty isn't really that he perpetrates the crime of, himself, (actually, Rorty is, personally, unusually innocent of that!) but that he licenses others to b.s.

For example, a serious fan of Rorty once admitted to me that a lot of things Rorty says sound like "Slogans for b.s. artists."

Robert M Wallace said...

Hi Quee,
I had forgotten, if I ever noticed, that you yourself used the term "bullshit." What I had in mind was the use that Neil and Dave in Boca made of it in their postings here.
I look forward very much to your thoughts on my other posting.
Best, Bob W

Quee Nelson said...

Oh! Right. Gotcha. Heh. As Emily LaTella (aka Gilda Radner) would say, nodding, with a senile smile, "Never mind." And thanks for defending my honor.

I was just mulling over your Hegel analysis yesterday. Still mulling. Trying to be charitable to Hegel is, for me, like trying to roll a huge boulder uphill. But I strive ever on.