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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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Bill,

You understand me admirably well. The clarity and depth of what you say are enviable.

You have astutely focused on the question: how can consciousness “shape” the world, as antirealism (but also semirealism) claims it does. My answer is that this claim belongs and is defended on the level of the “humanization” of metaphysics (Part Two of the book), but not on the level of its “dehumanization” (Part Three).

As I say early in the Introduction (page 8): “Hence, the unusual dialectical structure of this book. Part One is devoted to defense of the dehumanization of epistemology and ethics, Part Two to explanation and provisional defense of the antirealist humanization of metaphysics, and Part Three to the dehumanization of antirealist metaphysics. In Part One anthropocentrism in epistemology and ethics is rejected, in Part Two it is defended
in metaphysics, and in Part Three it is rejected in metaphysics. There is no need
for an explanation or defense of the humanization of epistemology and ethics. The anthropocentrism present in them is easily understood, and so is what motivates it. Not so in the case of metaphysics. Its humanization was strictly a philosophical event, obscure to virtually everyone outside philosophy and even to many professional philosophers.”

Though I do not engage in history, Part Two may be said to make the case for Kant, and Part Three for Hegel. There is nothing to dehumanize in metaphysics unless we provisionally accept the Kantian humanization of it. Hegel’s absolute idealism presupposes Kant’s transcendental idealism, even though ultimately only to reject it. After that rejection, the world is seen as pretty much the familiar one (at least in my version, perhaps not Hegel’s). That world never did include things-in-themselves and worldmaking egos or consciousnesses.

In the conclusion I write, “Our project has been to free philosophy – first epistemology and ethics, then metaphysics – from anthropocentrism, not to construct epistemological, ethical, and metaphysical systems” (page 235). I acknowledge nonetheless that a metaphysical picture has been conveyed. But this picture, I claim, is compatible with most other metaphysical pictures, from Fichte’s pure idealism to Wittgenstein’s pure realism, from physicalism to dualism. It also leaves room for the project of ontology: “listing and describing the most general kinds (“categories”) of entities and the relations among them” (page 237). And, as the text makes clear, it deeply respects the alternative to Kant and Hegel that Aristotle and Aquinas provide.


Butch

Butch,

Thanks for the friendly and plausible response. One of the interesting features of your book is the use to which you put Hegel, and in a way that may be sympatico to the analytically-minded.

Three follow-up questions.

1. Are you troubled by the following apparent contradiction to which you are apparently committed, namely, that consciousness is both nothing and something? This (apparent) contradiction comes out clearly in your 1994 *Midwest Studies* paper "Direct Realism Without Materialism," p. 10.

2. You say above that your metaphysical picture is compatible with physicalism. How so? Consciousness for you is real, albeit impersonal. Your "direct realist conception of consciousness" (Midwest Studies, p. 9) suggests that there is something physicalism cannot allow, namely, consciousness. After all, your conception of consciousness, while externalist, is not eliminativist: you are surely not maintaining that consciousness just is (identically) its objects.

3. Consciousness in your sense has no subject or subjects. But must it not have a 'site,' i.e., must it not be tied to animal organisms in nature? And what is the nature of this 'tie'? Or does consciousness 'float free' of all organisms and objects generally?

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