In his magisterial Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown writes of Augustine, "He wanted complete certainty on ultimate questions." (1st ed., p. 88) If you don't thrill to that line, you are no philosopher. Compare Edmund Husserl: "Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben." "I just can't live without certainty." Yet he managed to live for years after penning that line into his diary, and presumably without certainty.
I would say that the ability to tolerate uncertainty without abandoning the quest for certainty is a mark of intellectual and spiritual maturity. A truth seeker who can tolerate uncertainty is one who will not seek false refuge in dogmas that provide pseudo-certainty. I cannot help but think of Islamo-terrorism in this connection. Had Muhammad Atta and the boys entertained some doubts about the bevy of black-eyed virgins awaiting them at the portals of paradise, they and three thousand others might still be alive.
The trick is to tolerate uncertainty without becoming either a skeptic or a dogmatist.
There is a difference between subjective and objective certainty. If subject S is subjectively certain that p, it does not follow that p is true. That would follow only if S were objectively certain that p. But objective certainty appears attainable only with respect to one's own mental states. I am both subjectively and objectively certain that I have a headache now. This is because the esse of the headache = its percipi. Its being is its being perceived. It therefore cannot be intelligibly supposed that I merely seem to have a headache now, while in reality I do not. With respect to a physical object or state, however, appearance and reality can come apart, and what is subjectively certain can turn out to be false: my seeming to see a mountain is no guarantee that there is a mountain. My seeming to feel elated, however, just is my being elated.
What about states of affairs that involve neither mental data nor physical objects? If S is subjectively certain that torture is always morally impermissible, and T is subjectively certain that torture is sometimes morally permissible, then one of the two must be wrong, which shows that subjective certainty is no proof of objective certainty.
What about this last proposition however, namely, the proposition that apart from mental states, subjective certainty does not entail objective certainty? Is its truth merely subjectively certain, or is it also objectively certain? It is objectively certain. One sees that subjective certainty can exist without objective certainty from the fact that two subjects, S and T, can be subjectively certain of contradictory propositions. Here the mind grasps a truth about a state of affairs transcendent of one's mental state and does so with objective certainty.
I conclude that there are some propositions the truth of which can be grasped with objective certainty even though these propositions are not about such mental data as pleasures and pains. The mind has the power to transcend its own states and not only to know, but to know with objective certainty, truths whose truth is independent of mind. That is amazing.
One some days, existence strikes me as the deepest and most fascinating of philosophical topics. On other days, I give the palm to time: "What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know." (Augustine, Confessions, Bk. 11, Ch. 14) But today, the honor goes to knowledge.
Suppose I am conscious of an object in the mode of visual perception: I see a bobcat in the backyard. Does it make sense to try to analyze this perceptual situation by saying that 'in my mind' there is an image or picture that represents something 'outside my mind'?
In the Fifth of his Logical Investigations, Edmund Husserl refutes this type of theory. One point he makes (Logical Investigations, vol. II, 593) is that there is a phenomenological difference between agenuine case of image-consciousness (Bildbewusstsein) and ordinary perceptual awareness. Suppose I am looking at a picture of a mountain. The picture appears, but it refers beyond itself to that of which it is a picture, the mountain itself. In a case like this, it is clear that my awareness of the object depicted is mediated by a picture or image. Here it makes clear sense to speak of one thing (the picture) re-presenting another (the mountain). But when I look at the mountain itself, I find no evidence of any picture or image that mediates my perceptual awareness of the mountain. Phenomenologically, there is no evidence of any epistemic intermediary or epistemic deputy. So on phenomenological grounds alone, it would seem to be a mistake to assimilate perceptual consciousness to image-consciousness. The two are phenomenologically quite different.
A second consideration is that consciousness of a thing via a picture or image presupposes ordinary perceptual consciousness inasmuch as the picture or painting must itself be perceived as a precondition of its functioning as an image. How then can ordinary perceptual consciousness be explained as involving internal images or pictures?
Husserl also points out that, no matter how carefully I examine the picture, I will discover no intrinsic feature of it that is its "representative character." (593) That is, there is no intrinsic property of the picture that confers upon it its reference to something beyond itself. So Husserl asks:
What therefore allows us to go beyond the image which alone is present in consciousness, and to refer the latter as an image to a certain extraconscious object? To point to the resemblance between image and thing will not help. (593, Findlay trans. slightly emended.)
Why won't resemblance help? If picture and thing depicted both exist, then of course there will be resemblance. But it cannot be in virtue of X's resemblance to Y that X pictures or images Y. "Only a presenting ego's power to use a similar as an image-representative of a similar . . . makes the image be an image." (594) Husserl's point is subtle. I'll explain it in my own way. A picture considered by itselfis just a physical thing with physical properties. What makes it be an image? Its physical properties cannot account for its being an image. And the fact that it shares physical properties with some other thing cannot make it an image either. A painting of a mountain can be a painting of a mountain even if there is no mountain of which it is the painting. Pictures of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas are pictures ofsaid hotel even though it has been demolished. The intentionality of a photograph can survive the destruction of its 'subject.' A depiction of Cerberus is what it is despite the dog's nonexistence.
But even if there exists something that a picture resembles, that does not suffice to make the picture a picture of a thing it resembles. Suppose I have two qualitatively identical ball bearings. In an AndyWarholish mood, I take a picture of one of them, the one closer to my computer. Gazing fondly at the photo, I say, "This ball bearing is the one that is closer to my computer." Since the photo resembles theother ball bearing as well, but is not of that ball bearing, it cannot be resemblance that confers upon the photo its intentionality.
What Husserl is saying in effect is that pictures, paintings, movie images, and the like possess no intrinsic intentionality: what intentionality they have is derived from conscious beings who possess intrinsic intentionality. For Husserl, and for me, the project of trying to account for intrinsic intentionality in terms of internal pictures that resemble outer objects is a complete nonstarter. For onething, it leads to a vicious infinite regress: "Since the interpretation of anything as an image presupposes an object intentionally given to consciousness, we should plainly have a regressus in infinitum were we again to let this latter object be itself constituted through an image . . . ." (594)
There are both phenomenological and dialectical reasons for rejecting the image-theory (Bilder-theorie) of consciousness. Phenomenologically, there is no evidence that ordinary perception is mediated by internal images. In addition,
1. The image-theory interprets intentionality in terms of resemblance, but resemblance cannot explain the intentionality of pictures that (i) never had an object, or (ii) lost their object.
2. The image-theory interprets intentionality in terms of resemblance, but resemblance cannot account for a picture's being of the very object it is of as opposed to some other one that it merely resembles.
3. The image-theory is involved in a vicious infinite regress.
4. Since image-consciousness presupposes ordinary perceptual consiousness, it is impossible to explain the latter in terms of the former.
5. The image-theory tries to locate the intentionality of consciousness in the intentionality of a picture when it is clear that there is nothing intrinsic to any picture that could account for its intentionality.
In the recent post Mary Neal’s Out of Body Experiences you state: "No experience, no matter how intense or unusual or protracted, conclusively proves the veridicality of its intentional object. Phenomenology alone won't get you to metaphysics."
I have been attempting to reconstruct your reasoning here, and the following is the best I could come up with.
1) No experience, no matter how intense or unusual or protracted, conclusively proves the veridicality of its intentional object.
2) The subject matter of phenomenology is experience.
3) The subject matter of metaphysics is existence, which includes the quest of proving the veridicality of intentional objects. Therefore:
C) Phenomenology alone won't get you to metaphysics.
I have an issue with (1). Surely, the very meaning of ‘veridical experience’ designates a harmonious pattern of interconnected experiences, the paradigm case being perceptual experiences. Correlatively, when one speaks about the intentional object existing, one means nothing other than the reappearance of the self-same object across this harmonious flow.
Non-veridical experiences, e.g. hallucinations, are then just those experiences that promise, but fail, to endure harmoniously. Whenever non-veridical experiences obtain so do veridical experiences. For example, I was mistaken that there was a cat walking outside on the pavement, and hence had a non-veridical experience of the cat, but I had a veridical experience of the pavement itself. Ultimately, the experience of the world is given as the veridical background that serves as a foundation for all non-veridical experiences. To speak ontologically, the existence of non-veridical experiences depends on veridical experiences and likewise non-existence objects demand existent objects. Therefore, non-veridical experience could never exist on their own, which does not prevent us as talking about them as self-sufficient.
In relation to (2), I would argue that the subject matter of phenomenology is not just experience but also the object experienced just as it is experienced. But if existence is just the reappearance of an object through a harmonious flow of experience, then phenomenology does have metaphysical implication.
I do not think that perceptual experience is the only mode of experience through which existence is experienced; the room is left often for experiences that reveal the divine.
As always, I am very grateful for the existence of your blog.
Thanks for reading, E. C., for the kind words, and for the above response.
First of all, you did a good job of setting forth my reasoning in support of (C). But I take issue with your taking issue with (1). You are in effect begging the question by just assuming that what makes veridical experience veridical is its internal coherence. That is precisely the question. It may well be that coherence is a criterion of truth without being the nature of truth. By a criterion I mean a way of testing for truth. It could be that coherence is a criterion, or even the criterion, of truth, but that correspondence is the nature of truth. One cannot just assume that truth is constituted by coherence. I am not saying the view is wrong; I am saying that it cannot be assumed to be true without argument or consideration of alternatives. Such arguments and considerations, however, move us beyond phenomenology into dialectics.
To say of an experience that it is veridical is to say that it is of or about an object that exists whether or not the experience exists. If so, then the existence of the object in reality cannot be explicated in terms of its manners and modes of appearing. If you say that it can, then you are opting for a form of idealism which, in Husserlian jargon, reduces Sein to Seinsinn. I would insist, however, that it part of the plain sense of outer perception that it is of or about objects whose existence is independent of the existence of perceivers and their experiences. To borrow a turn of phrase from the neglected German philosopher Wolfgang Cramer, it is built into the very structure of outer perception that it is of or about objects as non-objects. That may sound paradoxical, but it is not contradictory. The idea is that the object is intended in the act or noesis as having an ontological status that surpasses the status of a merely intentional object. Whether it does have that additional really existent status is of course a further question.
For example, my seeing of a tree is an intentional experience: it is of or about something that may or may not exist. (Note that, phenomenologically, 'see' is not a verb of success. If I see x in the phenomenological sense of 'see,' it does not follow that there exists an x such that I see it.) Now if you say that the existence of the tree intended in the act reduces to its ongoing 'verification' in the coherent series of Abschattungen that manifest it, then you are opting for a form of idealism. And this seems incompatible with the point I made, namely, that it is part and parcel of the very nature of outer perception that it be directed to an object as non-object. The tree is intended as being such that its existence is not exhausted by its phenomenological manifestation.
But the point is not to get you to agree with this; the point is to get you to see that there is an issue here, one subject to ongoing controversy, and that one cannot uncritically plump for one side. If you haven't read Roman Ingarden on Husserl, I suggest that you do.
As for premse (2), we will agree that there are acts, intentional experiences (Erlebnisse), and that they are of an object. Throughout the sphere of intentionality there is the act-object, noesis-noema correlation. But this leaves wide open the question whether the being of the thing in reality is exhausted by its noematic being, whether its Sein reduces to its Seinsinn. On that very point Ingarden disagreed strenuously with his master, Husserl.
"But if existence is just the reappearance of an object through a harmonious flow of experience, then phenomenology does have metaphysical implications." That is true. But I deny the consequent of your conditional and so I deny the antecedent as well.
My point, in sum, is that you cannot just assume the truth of the antecedent. For that begs the question against realism. From the fact that an object manifests its existence in the manner you describe, it does not follow that the very existence of the object is its manifestation.
It may be methodologically useful to bracket the existence of the object the better to study its manners and modes of appearing, but this very bracketing presupposes that there is more to the existence of the object than its appearing. One could say that Husserl was right to bracket the existence of the object for purposes of phenomenology, but then, in his later idealistic phase, he forgot to remove the brackets.
My body is my body and not my body's body. So I am not my body. I have a body. This having, presumably sui generis and unlike any other type of having, is yet a having and not a being. My body doesn't have a body. I know that I have a body. My body doesn't know this. So again I am not my body. 'This body is this body' is a tautology. 'I am this body' is not a tautology.
The human body is not a body in the sense of physics alone but an embodiment of subjectivity. The body of the Other is the body of the Other.
Contra Husserl: I cannot constitute Paul's body (Leib, nicht Koerper) as a lived body without first constituting him as an Other Mind. So I cannot explain the constitution of the Other as Other by starting from the constitution of the body. The Fifth of the Cartesian Meditations ends in shipwreck.
Ich muss meinen Weg gehen so sicher, so fest entschlossen und so ernst wie Duerers Ritter, Tod und Teufel. (Edmund Husserl, "Persoenliche Aufzeichnungen" ) "I must go my way as surely, as seriously, and as resolutely as the knight in Duerer's Knight, Death, and Devil." (tr. MavPhil) Note the castle on the hill, the hour glass in the devil's hand, the serpents entwined in his headpiece, and the human skull on the road.
Time is running out, death awaits, and a mighty task wants completion.
Husserl used to say that to his seminarians to keep them careful and wissenschaftlich and away from assertions of the high-flying and sweeping sort. Unfortunately, the philosophical small change doesn't add up. Specialization, no matter how narrow and protracted, no matter how carefully pursued, fails to put us on the "sure path of science."
Given that plain fact, you may as well go for the throat of the Big Questions. Aren't they what brought you to philosophy in the first place?
One finds the phrase cognitio fidei in Thomas Aquinas and in such Thomist writers as Josef Pieper. It translates as 'knowledge of faith.' The genitive is to be interpreted subjectively, not objectively: faith is not the object of knowledge; faith is a form or type of knowledge. But how can faith be a type of knowledge? One ought to find this puzzling.
On a standard analysis of 'knows,' where propositional knowledge is at issue, subject S knows that p just in case (i) S believes that p; (ii) S is justified in believing that p; and (iii) p is true. This piece of epistemological boilerplate is the starting-point for much of the arcana (Gettier counterexamples, etc.) of contemporary epistemology. But its pedigree is ancient, to be found in Plato's Theaetetus.
It is obvious that on the standard analysis mere belief is inferior to knowledge since if I believe what is false I don't have knowledge, and if I believe what is true without justification I don't have knowledge either. How then can mere belief be a form or type of knowledge? It is rather a necessary but not sufficient condition of knowledge. Or so it seems to the modern mind.
Another puzzle has to do with certainty. Whether or not knowledge entails certainty, it seems to the modern mind that belief definitely does not entail certainty: what I believe but do not know I cannot be certain about since if I believe but do not know, then either truth is lacking or justification is lacking or both. How then can mere belief be said to be certain? And yet we read in Aquinas that "It is part of the concept of belief itself that man is certain of that in which he believes." (Quoted from Pieper, Belief and Faith, p. 15).
Is easy to understand how one who believes but does not know that p can be subjectively certain that p; but it is difficult to understand how such a person can be objectively certain that p. Objective certainty, however, alone has epistemic value.
We now turn to the remarkable Edith Stein (1891-1942), brilliant Jewish student of and assistant to Edmund Husserl, philosopher, Roman Catholic convert, Carmelite nun, victim of the Holocaust at Auschwitz, and saint of the Roman Catholic church. In the 1920s Stein composed an imaginary dialogue between her two philosophical masters, Husserl and Aquinas. Part of what she has them discussing is the nature of faith.
One issue is whether faith gives us access to truth. Stein has Thomas say:
. . . faith is a way to truth. Indeed, in the first place it is a way to truths — plural — which would otherwise be closed to us, and in the second place it is the surest way to truth. For there is no greater certainty than that of faith . . . . (Edith Stein, Knowledge and Faith, tr. Redmond, ICS Publications 2000, pp. 16-17)
Now comes an important question. What is it that we as philosophers want? We want the ultimate truths about the ultimate matters. If so, it is arguable that we should take these truths from whatever source offers them to us even if the source is not narrowly philosophical. We should not say: I will accept only those truths that can be certified by (natural) reason, but rather all truths whether certified by reason or 'certified' by faith. Thus Stein has Aquinas say:
If faith makes accessible truths unattainable by any other means, philosophy, for one thing, cannot forego them without renouncing its universal claim to truth. [. . .] One consequence, then, is a material dependence of philosophy on faith.
Then too, if faith affords the highest certainty attainable by the human mind, and if philosophy claims to bestow the highest certainty, then philosophy must make the certainty of faith its own. It does so first by absorbing the truths of faith, and further by using them as the final criterion by which to gauge all other truths. Hence, a second consequence is a formal dependence of philosophy on faith. (17-18)
But of course this cannot go unchallenged by Husserl. So Stein has him say:
. . . if faith is the final criterion of all other truth, what is the criterion of faith itself? What guarantees that the certainty of my faith is genuine? (20)
Or in terms of of the distinction made above between subjective and objective certainty: what guarantees that the certainty of faith is objective and not merely subjective? The faiths of Jew, Christian, and Muslim are all different. How can the Christian be sure that the revelation he takes on faith has not been superseded by the revelation the Muslim takes on faith?
Stein's Thomas replies to Husserl as follows:
Probably my best answer is that faith is its own guarantee. I could also say that God, who has given us the revelation, vouches for its truth. But this would only be the other side of the same coin. For if we took the two as separate facts, we would fall into a circulus vitiosus [vicious circle], since God is after all what we become certain about in faith. [. . .]
All we can do is point out that for the believer such is the certainty of faith that it relativizes all other certainty, and that he can but give up any supposed knowledge which contradicts his faith. The unique certitude of faith is a gift of grace. It is up to the understanding and will to draw the practical consequences therefrom. Constructing a philosophy on faith belongs to the theoretical consequences. (20-22)
So there you have it. There are two opposing conceptions of philosophy, one based on the autonomy of reason, the other willing to sacrifice the autonomy of reason for the sake of truths which cannot be certified by reason but which are provided by faith in revelation. It looks as if one must simply decide which of these two conceptions to adopt, and that the decision cannot be justified by (natural) reason.
My task, in this and in related posts, is first and foremost to set forth the problems as clearly as I can. Anyone who thinks this problem has an easy solution does not understand it. It is part of the tension between Athens and Jerusalem.
Lev Shestov and Kierkegaard have much in common. Both are irrationalists, to mention the deepest commonality. Husserl and Kierkegaard have almost nothing in common except that both are passionate truth-seekers each in his own way. So I find it amazing that it was Edmund Husserl, of all people, who introduced Shestov to Kierkegaard's writings. As Shestov explains in In Memory of a Great Philosopher:
. . . during my visit to Freiburg [im Breisgau, where Husserl lived], learning that I had never read Kierkegaard, Husserl began not to ask but to demand - with enigmatic insistence - that I acquaint myself with the works of the Danish thinker. How was it that a man whose whole life had been a celebration of reason should have led me to Kierkegaard's hymn to the absurd? Husserl, to be sure, seems to have become acquainted with Kierkegaard only during the last years of his life. There is no evidence in his works of familiarity with any of the writings of the author of Either-Or. But it seems clear that Kierkegaard's ideas deeply impressed him.
It testifies to the stature of both men that they sought each other out for dialogue despite the unbridgeable gulf that separated them.
In his magisterial Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown writes of Augustine, "He wanted complete certainty on ultimate questions." (1st ed., p. 88) If you don't thrill to that line, you are no philosopher. Compare Edmund Husserl: "Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben." "I just can't live without certainty." Yet he managed to live for years after penning that line, and presumably without certainty.