This entry supplements the earlier entry on what Wittgenstein in the Tractatus calls the metaphysical subject. (5.633)
As I read him, Wittgenstein accepts Hume's famous rejection of the self as an object of experience or as a part of the world. "There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas." (5.631) The reason Wittgenstein gives is that, if he were to write a book called The World as I Found it in which he inventories the objects of experience, he would make mention of his body and its parts, but not of the subject of experience: "for it alone could not be mentioned in that book." The argument is similar to the one we find in Hume: the subject that thinks is not encountered as an object of experience.
But why not? Because it doesn't exist, or because the subject of experience, by its very nature as subject, cannot be an actual or possible object of experience? It has to be the latter for Wittgenstein since he goes on to say at 5.632 that "The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world." So he is not denying that there is a subject; he is telling us what it is, namely, the limit of the world. His thesis is not eliminativist, but identitarian.
From the fact that the metaphysical subject is nowhere in the world, it does not follow that it does not exist. If, however, you think that this is a valid inference, then you would also have to think that from the non-appearance of one's eyes in one's visual field one could validly infer the nonexistence of one's eyes.
As 5.6331 asserts, one's eyes are not in one's visual field. If you say that they can be brought into one's visual field by the use of a mirror, I will point out that seen eyes are not the same as seeing eyes, a point on which I 'dilate' in detail in the earlier entry.
The analogy is clear to me. Just as one's eyes are not in one's visual field, visual consciousness of objects in the world is not itself in the world. Visual consciousness, and consciousness generally, is of the world, not in it, to reverse the New Testament verse in which we are enjoined to be in the world, but not of it. (Needless to say, I am reversing the words, not the sense of the NT saying. And note that the first 'of' is a genitivus objectivus while the second is a genitivus subjectivus.)
Of course, this is not to say that there is a substantial self, a Cartesian res cogitans outside the world. "The world is all that is the case." There is nothing outside it. And of course Wittgenstein is not saying that there are soul substances or substantial selves in the world. Nor is he saying that there is a substantial self at the limit of the world. He is saying that there is a metaphysical (better: transcendental) self and that it is the limit of world. He is stretching the notion of self about as far as it can be stretched, in the direction of a radically externalist, anti-substantialist notion of consciousness, which is later developed by Sartre and Butchvarov.
What we have here is the hyper-attenuation of the Kantian transcendental ego, which is itself an attenuation of substantialist notions of the ego. The Tractarian Wittgenstein is a transcendental philosopher. He may not have read much or any Kant, but he knew the works of the Kantian, Schopenhauer, and was much influenced by them. According to P. M. S. Hacker,
Of the five main philosophical influences on Wittgenstein, Hertz, Frege, Russell, Schopenhauer, and perhaps Brouwer, at least three were deeply indebted to Kant. It is therefore not surprising that Wittgenstein's philosophy bears deepest affinities to Kant's, despite the fact he never studied Kant . . . ." (Insight and Illusion, 139)
Now to Butchvarov. He writes that his picture and Wittgenstein's share "the rejection of the metaphysical self and thus of subjectivism in all its forms." (Anthropocentrism in Philosophy, Walter de Gruyter, 2015, p. 235) A few pages earlier we read, "Hume in effect denied that there is what Wittgenstein was to call 'the philosophical self' or 'the metaphysical subject'." (226)
Here is where I disagree. While it is certainly true that both Hume and Wittgenstein reject the substantial self of Descartes and of the pre-Critical rational psychologists, Wittgenstein does not reject the metaphysical/transcendental subject. Nor should he, even if he accepts Hume's argument from the non-appearance of the self. For the metaphysical self, as the limit of the world, is not an object in the world and so cannot be expected to appear in the world. Its non-appearance is no argument against it.
That Wittgenstein does not reject the metaphysical/transcendental subject is also clear from Wittgenstein's claim at 5.641 that "there is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way" without, I may add, lapsing into a physiological or naturalistic way of talking about it. He goes on to reiterate that the "philosophical self" is not the human body or the human soul, and therefore no part of the world. It is the "metaphysical subject," the limit of the world.
What I am maintaining, then, in apparent contradiction to Butchvarov, is that, while Wittgenstein rejects the substantial ego of Descartes, he does not reject "the metaphysical subject" or "the philosophical self."
There is a serious substantive issue here, however, one that may tell against Butchvarov's solution to the Paradox of Antirealism. (See article referenced below.)
Why call this philosophical self or metaphysical subject a self if it only a limit? Can a limit be conscious of anything? Why should the self be a philosophical as opposed to a psychological or neurophysiological topic? How does the self get into philosophy? Must the self get into philosophy for antirealism to get off the ground? "What brings the self into philosophy is the fact that 'the world is my world'." (5.641) This harks back to the opening antirealist sentence of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation: "The world is my representation." Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung. The world is my world because, tautologically, the only world for me is my world. The only world for me as subject is the world as object. As Butchvarov puts it, though without reference to Schopenhauer, "The tautology is that the only world we perceive, understand, and describe is the world perceived, understood, and described by us." (231) This is the gist of what the great pessimist says on the first page of WWR. (Whether it is indeed a tautology needs to be carefully thought through. Or rather, whether it can be both a tautology and a statement of antirealism needs to be thought through. I don't think it can be both as I will argue in a moment.)
Now the possessive pronoun 'my' is parasitic upon the the first-person pronoun 'I' which refers to the self. So my world is the the world thinkable and cognizable by me, by the I which is no more in the 'consciousness field,' the world of objects, than the seeing eye is in the visual field. How can my world be mine without this transcendental I? And if you send the transcendental I packing, what is left of antirealism?
Are we headed for a dilemma? It seems we are.
1. Either (a) antirealism boils down to the tautological thesis that "the only world we perceive, understand, and describe is the world perceived, understood, and described by us" (231) or (b) it does not. Please note that the quoted thesis is indeed a tautology. But it is a further question whether it can be identified with a nonvacuous thesis of antirealism. (And surely antirealism must be nonvacuous to be worthy of discussion.) While it is a tautology that the only cats I see are the cats I see, this is consistent with both the realist thesis that cats exist independently of anyone's seeing and the antirealist thesis that their existence is just the indefinite identifiability of cat-noemata by a perceiver.
2. If (a), then antirealism 'says nothing' and does not exclude realism. It is a vacuous thesis. For example, it does not exclude a representational realism according to which there is a world that exists in itself, a world that includes beings like us who represent the world in various ways more or less adequately and whose representations are representations of what, in itself, is not a representation.
3. If (b), and antirealism is to have any non-tautological 'bite,' it must imply that the world is in some respect dependent on a self or selves other than it. But then the "philosophical self" or "metaphysical subject" cannot be either a mere limit of the world as Wittgenstein says or nonexistent as Butchvarov implies. It must be a part of the world. But this leaves us with the Paradox of Antirealism. For it conflicts with what Butchvarov considers "self-evident," namely, that in the context of the realism-antirealism debate, "we cannot coherently regard ourselves as a part, mental (an ego, a colony of egos) or material (a brain, a collection of brains), of that world." (231)
4. Antirealism is either vacuous or incoherent. It is vacuous if a tautology. For then it cannot exclude realism. It is incoherent if not a tautology. For then it succumbs to the Paradox of Antirealism.
What Butchvarov wants is a "metaphysics that is antirealist but not anthropocentric." (231) It is not clear to me that he can have both antirealism and non-anthropocentrism. Antirealism cannot get off the ground as a substantive, non-tautological thesis in metaphysics without a self or selves on which the world depends (in some respects, not necessarily all). But the price for that is anthropocentrism in Butchvarov's broad use of that term. He opposes (rightly!) making the world dependent on physical proper parts thereof, but also making it dependent on purely mental/spiritual proper parts and presumably also a divine proper part
One can of course attenuate the subject, retreating from brain to psyche, to transcendental ego, to limit of the world, to a self that shrinks to a point without extension (5.64), to a Sartrean wind blowing towards objects which is, as Sartre says, nothing -- but at the limit of this attenuation one arrives at something so thin and next-to-nothing as to be incapable of supporting a robust antirealism.
Questions for Professor Butchvarov
1. Do you agree with me that, while Wittgenstein rejects the Cartesian-type ego that Hume rejects, he does not reject what he calls "the metaphysical subject" and "the philosophical self"?
2. Do you agree with me that, for Wittgenstein, the metaphysical subject construed as limit of the world, exists, is not nothing?
3. Do you agree with me that, while "the only world we perceive, understand, and describe is the world perceived, understood, and described by us" (231) is plainly a tautology, it is a further question whether this tautology is the thesis of antirealism that is debated by philosophers? (As opposed to a thesis of antirealism that you have arbitrarily stipulated.)
4. Do you agree with me that the above quoted tautology is logically consistent with both realism and antirealism?
5. Do you agree that rather than solving the Paradox of Antirealism, you dissolve it by eliminating the subject of consciousness entirely?
6. Suppose I grant you that there are no egos, no acts, and that consciousness-of is non-relational along the lines of Sartre's radically externalist, anti-substantialist theory of consciousness. Will you grant me that the distinction -- the 'Transcendental Difference' if you will -- between subjectless consciousness-of and objects is ineliminable and undeniable?
7. If you grant me that, will you grant me that the non-relational appearing of objects does not itself appear?
8. If you grant what I want you to grant in (7) will you grant that something can be real without appearing, without 'showing up' phenomenologically?
9. If you grant me what I want you to grant in (8) will you grant that, if something can be real without appearing, that the transcendental ego and acts can also be real without appearing?
To put it another way, if you hold that there are no egos and acts on the ground that they do not appear, must you not also maintain that there is no nonrelational consciousness-of on the ground that it does not appear?