An excerpt from an e-mail by Chris Chrappa, with responses in blue.
. . . I read your post on Butchvarov's latest paper, and you made clear your argument about the problem with the crucial step in the "idealist" position; then you closed with the assertion that realism has its own set of problems. Granted that that's obviously true, I was wondering if you had a piece, whether a paper or a blog post, that elucidated your positions on 1) Why, although you think ultimately he is wrong, you also think Butch's position is a serious alternative to realism; and 2) Why, despite its problems, you believe realism addresses those problems adequately.
That post ended rather abruptly with the claim, "Metaphysical realism, of course, has its own set of difficulties." I was planning to say a bit more, but decided to quit since the post was already quite long by 'blog' standards. Brevity, after all, is the soul, not only of wit, but of blog. I was going to add something like this:
My aim in criticizing Butchvarov and other broadly Kantian idealists/nonrealists is not to resurrect an Aristotelian or Aristotelian-Thomistic theory of knowledge, as if those gentlemen clearly had the truth, a truth we have somehow, post Descartes, forgotten. My aim is to throw the problems themselves into the starkest relief possible. This is in line with my conception of philosophy as fundamentally aporetic: the problems come first, solutions second, if ever. A philosopher cannot be true to his vocation if he is incapable of inhibiting the very strong natural tendency to want answers, solutions, definite conclusions which he can live by and which will provide 'doxastic security' and legitimation of his way of life. You are not a philosopher if you are out for solutions at all costs. As Leo Strauss points out near the beginning of his essay on Thucydides, and elsewhere, the unum necessarium for the philosopher, the one thing needful, is free inquiry. Inquiry, however, uncovers problems, difficulties, questions, and some of these are reasonably viewed as insolubilia.
The philosopher, therefore, is necessarily in tension with ideologues and dogmatists who claim to be in possession of the truth. What did Socrates claim to know? That he didn't know. Of course, to be in secure possession of the truth (which implies knowing that one is in secure possession of it) is a superior state to be in than in the state of forever seeking it. Obviously, knowing is better than believing, and seeing face-to-face is better than "seeing through a glass darkly." On the other hand, to think one has the truth when one doesn't is to be in a worse state than the state of seeking it. For example, Muhammad Atta and the boys, thinking they knew the truth, saw their way clear to murdering 3000 people.
Your first question: How can I believe that Butch's position is untenable while also considering it a serious alternative to realism? Because I hold open the possibility that all extant (and future) positions are untenable. In other words, I take seriously the possibility that the central problems of philosophy are genuine (contra the logical positivists, the later Wittgenstein, and such Freudian-Wittgensteinian epigoni as Morris Lazerowitz), important -- what could count as important if problems relating to God and the soul are not important? -- but absolutely insoluble by us.
Your second question: How can I believe that metaphysical realism, despite its problems, addresses those problems adequately? Well, I don't believe it addresses them adequately.
I would say your book is pretty much a response to those questions, but what I'm looking for is your understanding of what makes Butch's position so powerful. What I have in mind is something like what [Stanley] Rosen does in The Elusiveness of the Ordinary, where in a couple of essays he makes clear that there is not going to be a way based on analysis or deduction to adjudicate between the Platonic and the Kantian claims - that is, the claims, respectively, that the "Forms" are external and mind-independent and that they are internal and mind-dependent. The final two essays in the aforementioned book are Rosen's attempt to provide a way to tip the scales in favor of Plato, and I have to say I haven't really seen a better way to do it.
I haven't read Rosen's book, but I will soon get hold of it. It will be interesting to see whether he has a compelling rational way of tipping the scales.