I have just finished reading your most instructive and thought-provoking book, A Paradigm Theory of Existence.
On p. 257, you write: "(We will have to consider whether our view also undercuts realism.)" However, I did not see any discussion of this issue in the rest of the book.
On its face, the Paradigm Theory of Existence (PTE) seems to be close to Berkeley's position---the being of existents is grounded in the voluntary action/perception of a transcendent Mind (God/Paradigm Existent)---and yet if I understand you correctly, you wish to maintain that your theory is a version of "realism."
I realize, of course, that these are crude characterizations, and that the problem of what constitutes "realism" is a difficult one. Still, there is an apparent tension in your book---indicated by the passage I quoted above, which constitutes an unredeemed promissory note.
So, I was wondering:
1. What I am missing?;
2. Have you published anything else directly addressing how the PTE manages to avoid the charge of "idealism"?
Any help you could give me in understanding your thoughts about the PTE and "realism" would be most appreciated.
These questions are reasonable ones and one of them is easy to answer: No, I haven't published anything about PTE and idealism. I probably should. What follows are some rough thoughts.
1. Is the position of PTE realistic or idealistic? The short answer is that it is realistic with respect to most of the objects of finite minds, but idealistic with respect to all of the objects of Infinite Mind.
First something in defense of the second conjunct of my short answer.
If God creates ex nihilo, and everything concrete other than God is created by God, and God is a pure spirit, then one type of metaphysical realism can be excluded at the outset, namely, a realism that asserts that there are radically transcendent uncreated concrete things in themselves. 'Radically transcendent' means 'transcendent of any mind, finite or infinite.' Radically transcendent items exist and have most of their properties independently of any mind. Call this realism-1. No classical theist could be a realist-1. Corresponding to realism-1, as its opposite, is idealism-1. This is the view that everything other than God is created ex nihilo by God, who is a pure spirit, and who therefore creates in a purely spiritual way. (To simplify the discussion, let us leave to one side the problem of so-called 'abstract objects.') It seems to me, therefore, that there is a very clear sense in which classical theism is a type of idealism. For on classical theism God brings into existence and keeps in existence every concretum other than himself and he does so by his purely mental/spiritual activity. We could call this type of idealism onto-theological absolute idealism. This is not to say that the entire physical cosmos is a content of the divine mind; it is rather an accusative or intentional object of the divine mind. Though not radically transcendent, it is a transcendence-in-immanence, to borrow some Husserlian phraseology. So if the universe is expanding, that is not to say that the divine mind or any part thereof is expanding. If an intentional object has a property P it does not follow that a mind trained upon this object, or an act of this mind or a content in this mind has P. Perceiving a blue coffee cup, I have as intentional object something blue; but my mind is not blue, nor is the perceiving blue, nor any mental content. If I perceive or imagine or in any way think of an extended sticky surface, neither my mind nor any part of it becomes extended or sticky. Same with God. He retains his difference from the physical cosmos even while said cosmos is nothing more than his merely intentional object incapable of existing on its own.
Actually, what I just wrote is only an approximation to what I really want to say. For just as God is sui generis, I think the relation between God and the world is sui generis, and as such not an instance of the intentional relation with which we are familiar in our own mental lives. The former is only analogous to the latter. If one takes the divine transcendence seriously, then God cannot be a being among beings; equally, God's relation to the world cannot be a relation among relations. If we achieve any understanding in these lofty precincts, it is not the sort of understanding one achieves by subsuming a new case under an old pattern; God does not fit any pre-existing pattern, nor does his 'relation' to the world fit any pre-existing pattern. If we achieve any understanding here it will be via various groping analogies. These analogies can only take us so far. In the end we must confess the infirmity of finite reason in respect of the Absolute that is the Paradigm Existent.
There is also the well known problem that the intentional 'relation' is not, strictly speaking, a relation. It is at best analogous to a relation. So it looks as if we have a double analogy going here. The God-world relation is analogous to something analogous to a relation in the strict sense. Let me explain.
If x stands in relation R to y, then both x, y exist. But x can stand in the intentional 'relation' to y even if y does not exist in reality. It is a plain fact that we sometimes have very definite thoughts about objects that do not exist, the planet Vulcan, for example. What about the creating/sustaining 'relation'? The holding of this 'relation' as between God and Socrates cannot presuppose the existence in reality of both relata. It presupposes the existence of God no doubt, but if it presupposed the existence of Socrates then there would be no need for the creating/sustaining ex nihilo of Socrates. Creating is a producing, a causing to exist, and indeed moment by moment.
For this reason, creation/sustaining cannot be a relation, strictly speaking. It follows that the createdness of a creature cannot be a relational property, strictly speaking. Now the createdness of a creature is its existence or Being. So the existence of a creature cannot be a relational property thereof; but it is like a relational property thereof.
What I have done so far is argue that classical theism is a form of idealism, a form of idealism that is the opposite of an extreme from of metaphysical realism, the form I referred to as 'realism-1.' If you say that no one has ever held such a form of realism, I will point to Ayn Rand.
2. According to the first conjunct of my short answer, realism holds with respect to some of the objects of finite minds. Not for purely intentional objects, of course, but for things like trees and mountains and cats and chairs. They exist and have most of their properties independently of the mental activity of finite minds such as ours.
3. Kant held that empirical realism and transcendental idealism are logically compatible and he subscribed to both. Now the idealism I urge is not a mere transcendental idealism, but a full-throated onto-theological absolute idealism; but it too is compatible, as far as I can see, with the empirical reality of most of the objects of ectypal intellects such as ours. The divine spontaneity makes them exist and renders them available to the receptivity of ectypal intellects.
I appreciate that in discussing these epistemological issues we must use the non-question-begging, existence-neutral sense of 'see'. My point is that for the distinction between 'complete' and 'incomplete' to make any sense, the epistemological question as to whether seeing is existence-entailing has to have already been settled favourably, though with the caveat that mistakes occur sometimes. In the context of your latest aporetic tetrad,
1. If S sees x, then x exists 2. Seeing is an intentional state 3. Every intentional state is such that its intentional object is incomplete 4. Nothing that exists is incomplete,
this would rule out the escape of denying (1). Indeed, can we not replace 'see' with 'veridically see' in (1) and (2) and obtain a rather more vexing aporia?
If I understand David's point, it is that the very sense of the distinction between an incomplete and a complete object requires that in at least some (if not the vast majority) of cases, the intentional objects of (outer) perceptual experience really exist. Equivalently, if there were no really existent (finite-mind-independent) material meso-particulars (e.g., trees and rocks and stars), then not only would the predicate 'complete' not apply to anything, but also would be bereft of sense or meaning, and with it the distinction between incomplete and complete.
I am afraid I don't agree.
Suppose one were to argue that the very sense of the distinction between God and creatures logically requires that God exist. Surely that person would be wrong. At most, the concept creature logically requires the concept God. But while the concept God is a concept, God is not a concept, and the God concept may or may not be instantiated without prejudice to its being the very concept it is. (Don't confuse this with the very different thesis that the essence of God may or may not be exemplified without prejudice to its being the very essence it is.)
I say, contra David, that it is is the same with incomplete and complete objects. The sense of the distinction does not logically require that there be any complete objects of outer perception; it requires only the concept complete object. This is a concept we form quite easily by extrapolation from the concept incomplete object.
As I always say, the more vexatious an aporetic polyad, the better. I am ever on the hunt for insolubilia. So I thank David for suggesting the following beefed-up tetrad:
1. If S veridically sees x, then x exists 2. Veridical seeing is an intentional state 3. Every intentional state is such that its intentional object is incomplete 4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
This is more vexing than the original tetrad, but I think it falls short of a genuine aporia (a polyad in which the limbs are individually undeniable but jointly inconsistent). For why can't I deny (1) by claiming that veridical seeing does not logically require the real (extramental) existence of the thing seen but only that the incomplete intentional objects cohere? Coherence versus correspondence as the nature of truth.
In this fine piece, Marilyn Penn takes Thomas Friedman to task. Her article begins thusly (emphasis added):
In Thomas Friedman’s op ed on the Boston marathon massacre (Bring On the Next Marathon, NYT 4/17), the boldface caption insists “We’re just not afraid anymore.” Perhaps this is true for a traveling journalist who doesn’t use the subway daily or who isn’t forced to spend all his days in the 9/11 city of New York, but for most thinking people who work and live here, there is a great deal to fear. We live in a porous society where criminals roam free yet politicians complain about the “discriminatory” stop and frisk policies of the police, even though they have successfully reduced crime precisely in the neighborhoods that most affect the complaining minorities and their liberal champions. If you ride the subways, you know how many passengers wear enormous back-packs, large enough to conceal an arsenal of weapons. These are allowed to be carried into movie theaters, playgrounds, parks, sports arenas, shopping centers, department stores and restaurants with no security checks whatsoever. On the national front, immigration policies are more concerned with politically correct equality than with the reality of which groups are fomenting most of the terror around the world today. Our northern and southern borders are infiltrated daily by undocumented people slipping in beyond the government’s surveillance or control.
I agree with her entire piece. Read it.
It has been a week since the Boston Marathon bombing. There was a moment of silence today in remembrance of the victims. But let's keep things in perspective. Only three people were killed. I know you are supposed to gush over these relatively minor events and the undoubtedly horrendous suffering of the victims, but most of the gushing is the false and foolish response of feel-good liberals who have no intention of doing what is necessary to protect against the threat of radical Islam. The Patriot's Day event was nothing compared to what could happen. How about half of Manhattan being rendered uninhabitable by dirty bombs?
When that or something similar happens, will you liberals start yammering about how 'unimaginable' it was? Look, I'm imagining it right now. Liberals can imagine the utopian nonsense imagined by John Lennon in his asinine "Imagine." Is their imagination 'selective'? They can imagine the impossible but not the likely. It is worth recalling that Teddy Kennedy's favorite song was Impossible Dream.
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.
For Butchvarov, all consciousness is intentional. (There are no non-intentional consciousnesses.) And all intentionality is conscious intentionality. (There is no "physical intentionality" to use George Molnar's term.) So, for Butchvarov, 'consciousness' and 'intentionality' are equivalent terms. Consciousness, by its very nature, is consciousness of something, where the 'of' is an objective genitive.
An excerpt from an e-mail by Chris C., 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.
The point is that I was wondering if you thought, along those lines, that roughly speaking your form of realism and Butch's form of idealism form a similar sort of "fundamental alternative" in the way Rosen believes Platonism and Kantianism do. And if so, I would be interested to see your take on what makes Butch's idealism (again roughly speaking) as something that cannot be truly defeated, but rather must be established as something of a less plausible vision of how things really stand.
Can any philosophical position be "truly defeated"? I assume that we cherish the very highest standards of intellectual honesty and rigor and we are able to inhibit the extremely strong life-enhacing need for firm beliefs and tenets (etymologically from L. tenere, to hold, so that a tenet is literally something one holds onto for doxastic security and legitimation of one's modus vivendi.) Now there are some sophomoric positions that can be definitively defeated, e.g., the relativist who maintains both that every truth is relative and that his thesis is nonrelatively true. But in the history of philosophy has even one substantive position ever been "truly defeated," i.e., defeated to the satisfaction of all competent practioners? (A competent practioner is one who possesses all the relevant moral and intellectual virtues, is apprised of all relevant empirical facts, understands logic, etc.) I would say No. But perhaps you have an example for me.
Now why don't I think that I have defeated Butchvarov on any of the points we dispute? Part of the reason is that he does not admit defeat. If I cannot bring him to see that he is wrong about, say, nonexistent objects, then this gives me a very good reason to doubt that I am right and have truly refuted his position. It seems to me that, unless one is an ideologue or a dogmatist, one must be impressed by the pervasive and long-standing fact of dissensus among the best and brightest. Of course, I could be right and Butch wrong. If he maintains that p and I maintain that not-p, then one of us is right and the other wrong. But which one? If I do not know that I am right, or know that he is wrong, then I haven't solved the problem that divides us. It is not enough to be right, one must know that one is right and be able to diagnose convincingly how they other guy went wrong.
As for Platonism versus Kantianism, see my post on another latter-day Kantian, Milton Munitz, espceically the section on Platonic and Kantian intelligibility. My Existence book avoids both Kantianism and Platonism by adopting an onto-theological idealism. If the reality of the real traces back to divine mind, that is reality and realism enough, but it is also a form of idealism in that the real is not independent of mind as such.
As I've indicated in previous emails, I have always taken realism as a presumptive truth (in a general way) and I thus place the burden of truth [proof] on idealism. Kant impressed me, but he didn't convince me, and consequently I've never understood what it was exactly in realism that made people jump into the idealist camp. That is, I've never understood that basic shift where someone takes idealism as presumptively true and thus places the burden of proof on realism. What was so bad about realist arguments that made idealism so attractive as an alternative for these thinkers?
Well, this is a very large topic, but you can glean some idea of what motivated Kant to make his transcendental turn from his famous 1772 letter to Marcus Herz, part of which is here. And then there is the metaphilosophical topic of burden of proof. How does one justify a claim to the effect that the burden of proof lies on one or the other side of a dispute? For you there is a (defeasible?) presumption in favor of realism, and that therefore the onus probandi lies on the nonrealist. But what criteria do you employ in arriving at this judgment?
This post is a stab at a summary and evaluation of Panayot Butchvarov's "Metaphysical Realism and Logical Nonrealism" which is available both online and in R. M. Gale, ed., The Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics (Oxford: Blackwell 2002), pp. 282-302. Page references are to the Blackwell source. The ComBox stands open if readers have some informed commentary to offer. ('Informed' means that you have read Butchvarov's paper, and my response, and you have something pertinent to contribute either in objection to or agreement with either Butchvarov or me.)
Clarity will be served if we distinguish the following four questions:
Q1. What is meant by 'mode of being'? Q2. Is the corresponding idea intelligible? Q3. Are there (two or more) modes of being? Q4. What are the modes of being?
So far in this series of posts I have been concerned only with the first two questions. Clearly, the first two questions are logically prior to the second two. It is possible to understand what is meant by 'mode of being' and grant that the notion is intelligible while denying that there are (two or more) modes of being. And if two philosophers agree that there are (two or more) modes of being they might yet disagree about what these modes are.
I assume that if talk of modes of being is intelligible, then there is no mistake such as Peter van Inwagen alleges, or fallacy such as Reinhardt Grossmann alleges, that is committed by partisans of any modes-of-being doctrine. Van Inwagen's claim, you will recall, is that such partisans illictly transfer what properly belongs to the nature of an F to the existence of the F. And Grossmann's claim, you will also recall, is that one cannot validly infer from a dramatic difference in properties as between two kinds of thing (concreta and abstracta, for exsample) that the two kinds of thing differ in their mode of being.
An Application to Philosophical Theology
Suppose you have two philosophers. They agree that God exists and they agree as to the nature of God. But one claims that God exists necessarily while the other claims that he exists contingently. What are they disagreeing about? That there is a being having such-and-such divine properties is not in dispute. Nor is the nature of God in dispute. It is at least arguable that the disagreement centers on God's Seinsweise, or modus essendi, or way of being, or mode of being or however you care to phrase it. The one philosopher says that God exists-necessarily while the other says that God exists-contingently. This is not a difference in nature or in properties but in mode of being.
This suggests that with respect to anything, we can ask: (i) What is it? (ii) Does it exist? (iii) How (in what way or mode) does it exist? This yields a tripartite distinction among quiddity (in a broad sense to include essential and accidental, relational and nonrelational properties), existence, and mode of existence (mode of being). My claim, at a bare minimum, is that, contra van Inwagen, Grossmann, Dallas Willard, and a host of others, the notion that there are modes of being is intelligible and defensible, and needn't involve the making of a mistake or the commission of a fallacy. Of course I want to go beyond that and claim that a sound metaphysics cannot get by without a modes-of-being doctrine. But for now I am concerned merely to defend the minimal claim. Minimal though it is, it puts me at loggerheads with the analytic establishment. (But what did you expect for a maverick?)
A contemporary analytic philosopher who adheres to the thin conception of being according to which there are no modes of being will accommodate the difference between necessary and contingent beings by saying that a necessary being like God exists in all possible worlds whereas a contingent being like Socrates exists in some but not all possible worlds. So instead of saying that God exists in a different way than Socrates, he will say that God and Socrates exist in the same way, which is the way that everything exists, but that God exists in all worlds whereas Socrates exists only in some. But this involves quantification over possible worlds and raises difficult questions as to what possible worlds are.
(It is worth noting that a modes-of-being theorist can reap the benefits of possible worlds talk as a useful and graphic façon de parler without incurring the ontological costs. You can talk the talk without walking the walk.)
Presumably no one here will embrace the mad-dog modal realism of David Lewis, according to which all worlds are on an ontological par. So one has to take some sort of abstractist line and construe worlds as maximal abstracta of one sort or another, say, as maximal (Fregean not Russellian) propositions. But then difficult questions arise about what it is for an individual to exist in a world. What is it for Socrates to exist in a possible world if worlds are maximal (Fregean) propositions? It is to be represented as existing by that world. So Socrates exists in the actual world in that Socrates is represented as existing by the actual world which, on the abstractist aspproach, is the one true maximal proposition. (A proposition is maximal iff it entails every proposition with which it is consistent.) And God exists in all possible worlds in that all maximal propositions represent him as exsiting: no matter which one of the maximal propositions is true, that proposition represents him as existing.
But veritas sequitur esse, truth follows being, so I am inclined to say that the abstractist approach has it precisely backwards: the necessity of God's existence is the ground of each maximal proposition's representing him as existing; the necessity of God's existence cannot be grounded in the logically posterior fact that every maximal proposition represents him as existing. The ground of the divine necessity, I say, is God's unique mode of being which is not garden-variety metaphysical necessity but aseity. God alone exists from himself and has his necessity from himself unlike lesser necessary beings (numbers, etc) which have their necessity from God. The divine aseity is in turn grounded in the divine simplicity which latter I try to explain in my SEP article.
Summing up this difficult line of thought that I have just barely sketched: if we dig deep into the 'possible worlds' treatment of metaphysical necessity and contingency, we will be led back to an ontology that invokes modes of being.
Application to the Idealism/Realism Controversy
Consider this thing on the desk in front of me. What is it? A coffee cup with such-and-such properties both essential and accidental. For example, it is warm and full of coffee. These are accidental properties, properties the thing has now but might not have had now, properties the possession of which is not necessary for its existence. No doubt the coffee cup exists. But it is not so clear in what mode it exists. One philosopher, an idealist, says that its mode of being is purely intentional: it exists only as an intentional object, which means: it exists only relative to (transcendental) consciousness. The other philosopher, a realist, does not deny that the cup is (sometimes) an intentional object, but denies that its being is exhausted by its being an intentional object. He maintains that it exists mind-independently.
What I have just done in effect is introduce two further modes of being. We can call them esse intentionale and esse reale, purely intentional being and real being. It seems that without this distinction between modes of being we will not be able to formulate the issue that divides the idealist and the realist. No one in his right mind denies the existence of coffee cups, rocks, trees, and 'external' items generally. Thus Berkeley and Husserl and other idealists do not deny that there exist trees and such; they are making a claim about their mode of existence.
Suppose you hold to a thin conception of being, one that rules out modes of existence. On the thin conception, an item either exists or it does not and one cannot distinguish among different ways, modes, kinds, or degrees of existence. How would an adherent of the thin conception formulate the idealism/realism controversy? The idealist, again, does not deny the existence of rocks and trees. And he doesn't differe with the realist as totheir nature. Without talk of modes of being, then, no sense can be made of the idealism/realism controversy.
A reader, recently deployed to Afghanistan, finds time to raise an objection that I will put in my own words to make it as forceful as possible:
You endorsed William Lycan's Moorean refutation of eliminative materialism, but then you criticized him for thinking that Moorean appeals to common sense are also effective against standard idealist claims such as Berkeley's thesis that the objects of ordinary outer perception are clusters of ideas. You maintained that there is a crucial difference between the characteristic claims of eliminativists (e.g., that there are no beliefs, desires, intentions, pleasures, pains, etc.) and the characteristic claims of idealists (e.g., Berkeley's thesis just mentioned, McTaggart's thesis of the unreality of time, Bradley's of the unreality of relations.) The difference is that between denying the existence of some plain datum, and giving an account of a plain datum, an account which presupposes, and so does not deny, the datum in question. In effect, you insisted on a distinction between identifying Xs as Ys, and denying the existence of Xs. Thus, you think that there is an important difference between identifying pains with brain states, and denying that there are pains; and identifying stones and physical objects generally with collections of ideas in the mind of God and denying that there are physical objects. But in other posts you have claimed that there are identifications which collapse into eliminations. I seem to recall your saying that to identify God with an unconscious anthropomorphic projection, in the manner of Ludwig Feuerbach, amounts to a denial of the existence of God, as opposed to a specification of what God is. Similarly, 'Santa Claus is a fictional character' does not tell us what Santa Claus is; it denies his very existence.
Now why couldn't Lycan argue that this is exactly what is going on in the idealist case? Why couldn't he say that to identify stones and such with clusters of ideas in the mind of God is to deny the existence of stones? Just as God by his very nature (whether or not this nature is exemplifed) could not be an anthropomorphic projection, so too, stones by their very nature as physical objects could not be clusters of ideas, not even clusters of divine ideas.
It seems you owe us an account of why the reduction of physical objects to clusters of ideas is not an identification that collapses into an elimination. If you cannot explain why it does not so collapse, then Lycan and Co. will be justifed in deploying their Moorean strategy against both EM-ists and idealists. They could argue, first, that idealism is eliminationism about common sense data, and then appeal to common sense to reject the elimination.