A London philosopher sends the following along which I take to be a quotation from Jasbir Puar:
One, I examine discourses of queerness where problematic conceptualizations of queer corporealities, especially via Muslim sexualities, are reproduced in the service of discourses of U.S. exceptionalisms. Two, I rearticulate a terrorist body, in this case the suicide bomber, as a queer assemblage that resists queerness as sexual identity (or anti-identity)—in other words, intersectional and identitarian paradigms—in favor of spatial, temporal, and corporeal convergences, implosions, and rearrangements. Queerness as an assemblage moves away from excavation work, deprivileges a binary opposition between queer and not-queer subjects, and, instead of retaining queerness exclusively as dissenting, resistant, and alternative (all of which queerness importantly is and does), it underscores contingency and complicity with dominant formations.
The London friend then comments:
Bill, to me this reads like a parody of Continental Philosophy. What are ‘corporealities’? ‘Identitarian’? ‘Deprivileges a binary opposition’?? What other kinds of opposition are there?
Sartre has a lot to answer for.
A lot of recent Continental 'philosophy' is gibberish, and the above passage reads almost like a parody of it. So my London friend and I agree that the above is rubbish, and as such, beneath critique. How would one even begin to criticize writing like this?
What is Puar trying to tell us in the first sentence? Continentals are big on verbal inflation. So Puar can't just write bodies, she must write corporealities. It sounds impressive to the unlettered. She wants to give the impression that she is engaging is some really deep theorizing here. Referring to a body as a corporeality is like referring to a method as a methodology or a truth as a verity.
It makes some sense to say that the bodies of homosexuals have been "problematically conceptualized," to use another pretentious phrase. To supply my own politically incorrect example, you would be 'problematically conceptualizing' the dick of a homosexual male if you maintained that it was but a social construct. But for a body to be problematically conceptualized via Muslim sexualities makes no sense at all. Is she trying to say that the bodies of homosexuals have been dubiously understood or perhaps wrongly understood by Muslims? But then how do sexualities come into it?
Puar has a thing for the plurals of abstract substantives: corporealities, sexualities, exceptionalisms. But we are only half-way through her meaningless opening sentence. We are told that dubious theories about homosexual bodies somehow support U. S. exceptionalisms. Who would have thought? What does it even mean?
It only gets worse, so enough of this.
Now if this junk were merely the scribblings of some crackpot on her personal blog, we could ignore it. But she is an associate professor at Rutgers University. File this under Decline of the West.
As for Jean-Paul Sartre, I would say say that my insular friend is not being quite fair. A lot of important work has been done by Continental philosophers up to an including the Sartre of Being and Nothingness. (I confess to not having studied Critique of Dialectical Reason.) Here is a list of (some) Continental philosophers who are well-worth close study: Franz Brentano, Alexius von Meinong, Kasimir Twardowski, Edmund Husserl, Adolf Reinach, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Roman Ingarden, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Nicolai Hartmann, Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus.
I would point out to my London correspondent, who is interested in medieval philosophy and logic, that Paul Vincent Spade, no slouch of a scholar, has a lively interest in the early Sartre. See here.
So I don't think too much can be laid at Sartre's door step. The rot sets in in good earnest later with characters like Derrida who, according to John Searle, "gives bullshit a bad name."
John D. Caputo is another Continental 'philosopher' that I criticize in a number of entries. He is not as bad as Puar, however. But he is very bad!
You probably knew that Elizabeth Warren, aka Fauxcahontas, contributed recipes to the cookbook, Pow Wow Chow. You might even know that some have alleged that these recipes were plagiarized by the Indian maiden. But I'll bet you don't know that Jean-Paul Sartre worked on a cookbook. Another reason why you need to read my blog.
We have recently been lucky enough to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Aparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write "a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavor forever.'' The diaries are excerpted here for your perusal.
Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula for a Denver omelet.
Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.
I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is still long.
Today I again modified my omelet recipe. While my previous attempts had expressed my own bitterness, they communicated only illness to the eater. In an attempt to reach the bourgeoisie, I taped two fried eggs over my eyes and walked the streets of Paris for an hour. I ran into Camus at the Select. He called me a "pathetic dork" and told me to "go home and wash my face." Angered, I poured a bowl of bouillabaisse into his lap. He became enraged, and, seizing a straw wrapped in paper, tore off one end of the wrapper and blew through the straw. propelling the wrapper into my eye. "Ow! You dick!" I cried. I leaped up, cursing and holding my eye, and fled.
From Kant on, transcendental philosophy has been bedeviled by a certain paradox. Here again is the Paradox of Antirealism discussed by Butchvarov, as I construe it, the numbers in parentheses being page references to his 2015 Anthropocentrism in Philosophy:
PA: On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189) This Kantian insight implies a certain “humanization of metaphysics.” (7) On the other hand, knowable physical reality cannot depend for its existence or intelligibility on beings that are miniscule parts of this reality. The whole world of space-time-matter cannot depend on certain of its fauna. (7)
As I was mulling this over I was reminded of the Paradox of Human Subjectivity discussed by Edmund Husserl in his last work, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, in sections 53 and 54, pp. 178-186 of the Carr translation. Here is the paradox in Husserl's words:
PHS: How can a component part of the world, its human subjectivity, constitute the whole world, namely constitute it as its intentional formation, one which has always already become what it is and continues to develop, formed by the universal interconnection of intentionally accomplishing subjectivity, while the latter, the subjects accomplishing in cooperation, are themselves only a partial formation within the total accomplishment?
The subjective part of the world swallows up, so to speak, the whole world and thus itself too. What an absurdity! Or is this a paradox which can be sensibly resolved . . . ? (179-180)
What is common to both of the paradoxical formulations is the idea that we are at once objects in the world and subjects for whom there is a world. This by itself is not paradoxical. For there is nothing paradoxical in the notion that we are physical parts of a physical world that exists and has the nature it has independently of us, and that our knowing ourselves and other things is a physical process. Paradox ensues if (A) the world is a product of our accomplishments (Leistungen) as Husserl would have it, or a product of our formation (via both the categories of the understanding and the a priori forms of sensibility, space and time) of the sensory manifold, as on the Kantian scheme, and (B) we, the subjects for whom there is a world, are parts of the world. For then the entire vast cosmos depends for its existence and/or nature on transient parts thereof. And surely that would be absurd.
Interestingly, for both Butchvarov and Husserl, the solution to their respective paradoxes involves a retreat from anthropocentrism and a concomitant 'dehumanization' of subjectivity. For both, there is nothing specifically human about consciousness, although of course in "the natural attitude" (Husserl's natuerliche Einstellung) humans are the prime instances known to us of 'conscious beings.' For present purposes, consciousness is intentionality, consciousness-of, awareness-of, where the 'of' is an objective genitive. For Butchvarov, consciousness-of is not a property of (subjective genitive) human beings or of metaphysical egos somehow associated with human beings. It is not a property of human brains or of human souls or of human soul-body composites. It does not in any way emanate from human subjects. It is not like a ray that shoots forth from a subject toward an object. Consciousness is subject-less. So it is not a relation that connects subjects and objects. It is more like a monadic property of objects, all objects, their apparentness or revealedness.
Husserl and Butchvarov: Brief Contrast and Comparison
Husserl operates in a number of his works (Cartesian Meditations, Paris Lectures, Ideas I) with the following triadic Cartesian shema:
Ego-cogito-cogitatum qua cogitatum
Subject --------------------> object (where the arrow represents a directed cogitatio, a mental act, an intentional Erlebnis, and where 'object' is in the singular because the noema of a noesis is precisely trhe noema of that very noesis. Got that?)
Butchvarov's schema is not triadic but dyadic along the lines of Sartre's radically externalist, anti-substantialist theory of consciousness (where the arrow does not represent a mental act but monadic universal 'of-ness,' Sartre's "wind blowing towards objects" and where 'objects' is in the plural because subject-less consciousness is one to their many):
For Butchvarov, following Sartre, consciousness is no-thing, no object, other than every object, not in the world, and thus not restricted to the measly specimens of a zoological species. The relevant text is Sartre's early TheTranscendence of the Ego, directed against Husserl, according to which the ego is not an 'inhabitant' of consciousness but a transcendent item, an object alongside other objects. (Personal anecdote: when I first espied this title as a young man I thought to myself: "Great! A book that will teach me how to transcend my ego!")
Bear in mind that the phenomenological notion of transcendence is transcendence-in-immanence, not absolute transcendence.
Of course there is a paradox if not a contradiction lurking within the Sartrean, radically externalist, anti-substantialist conception of consciousness: consciousness is nothing, but not a 'mere nothing,' inasmuch as it is that without which objects would not be revealed or manifested or apparent. It is both something and no-thing. It is something inasmuch as without it nothing would appear when it is a plain fact that objects do appear. That objects appear is self-evident even if it is not self-evident that they appear to someone. It is not clear that there is a 'dative of appearing' though it is clear that there are 'accusatives of appearing.' Consciousness is nothing inasmuch as it is no object and does not appear. This apparent contradiction is to my mind real, to Butchvarov's merely apparent. It is clearly a different paradox than the Paradox of Antirealism. It is a paradox that infects a particular solution to the Paradox of Antirealism, Butchvarov's solution.
How does Husserl dehumanize subjectivity?
Here is a crucial passage from Crisis, sec. 54, p. 183:
But are the transcendental subjects, i.e., those functioning in the constitution of the world, human beings? After all, the epoche has made them into 'phenomena,' so that the philosopher within the epoche has neither himself nor the others naively and straightforwardly valid as human beings but precisely only as 'phenomena,' as poles for transcendental regressive inquiries. Clearly here, in the radical consistency of the epoche, each 'I' is considered purely as the ego-pole of his acts, habitualities, and capacities . . . .
[. . .]
But in the epoche and in the pure focus upon the functioning ego-pole . . . it follows eo ipso that nothing human is to be found, neither soul nor psychic life nor real psychophysical human beings; all this belongs to the 'phenomenon,' to the world as constituted pole.
Husserl is a great philosopher and one cannot do him justice in one blog post or a hundred; but I don't see how his position is tenable. On the one hand, each transcendental ego functioning as such cannot be a human being in nature. For nature and everything in it including all animal organisms is an intentional formation constituted by the transcendental ego. But not only can the world-constituting ego not be a physical thing, it cannot be a meta-physical spiritual thing either. It cannot be a res cogitans or substantia cogitans. As Husserl sees it, Descartes' identification of his supposedly indubitable ego with a thinking thing shows a failure fully to execute the transcendental turn (transzendentale Wendung). The Frenchman stops short at a little tag-end of the world (ein kleines Endchen der Welt) from which, by means of shaky inferences, he tries to get back what his hyperbolic doubt had called into question.
Husserl's thinking in sections 10-11 of Cartesian Meditations seems to be that if one fully executes the transcendental turn, and avoids the supposed mistake of Descartes, one is left with nothing that can be posited as existing in itself independently of consciousness. Everything objective succumbs to the epoche. No absolute transcendence is reachable: every transcendence is at best a transcendence-in-immanence, a constituted transcendence. Everything in the world is a constitutum, and the same holds for the world itself. If Descartes had gone all the way he would have seen that not only his animal body could be doubted, but also his psyche, the psychophysical complex, and indeed any spiritual substance 'behind' the psyche. He would have seen that the cogito does not disclose something absolutely transcendent and indubitable. For Husserl, everything objective, whether physical or mental, ". . . derives its whole sense and its ontic validity (Seinsgeltung), which it has for me, from me myself, from me as the transcendental ego, the ego who comes to the fore only with the transcendental-phenomenological epoche." (CM, p. 26. I have translated Seinsgeltung as ontic validity which I consider more accurate than Cairns' "existential status.") In Formal and Transcendental Logic, sec. 94, along the same lines, we read: "nothing exists for me otherwise than by virtue of the actual and potential performance of my own consciousness."
One problem: just what is this transcendental ego if it is the purely subjective source of all ontic validity, Seinsgeltung? Does it exist? And in what sense of 'exist'? It cannot exist as a constituted object for it is the subjective source of all constitutive performances (Leistungen). But if it is not an indubitable piece of the world, then it cannot existent transcendently either.
Descartes thought that he had reached something whose existence cannot be bracketed, eingeklammert, to use Husserl's term, and that that was himself as thinking thing. He thought he had hit bedrock, the bedrock of Ansichsein. Husserl objects: No, the ego's existence must be bracketed as well. But then nothing is left over. We are left with no clue as to what the transcendental ego is once it is distinguished from the psychological or psychophysical ego who is doing the meditating. To appreciate the difficulty one must realize that it is a factical transcendental ego that does the constituting, not an eidos-ego. The transcendental-phenomenological reduction is not an eidetic reduction. It would be a serious mistake to think that the re-duction (the leading back, the path of regress) from the psychological ego to the transcendental ego is a reduction to an eidos-ego, an ideal ego abstractly common to all factical egos.
Here is another approach to the problem. The transcendental-phenomenological reduction regresses from everything objective, everything naively posited as existing in itself, to the subjective sources of the ontic validity (Seinsgeltung) and Being-sense (Seinssinn) of everything objective. This radical regression, however, must leave behind everything psychological since the psychological co-posits the objective world of nature. But how can Husserl execute this radical regression and yet hold onto words like 'ego' and 'cogitatio' and 'cogitatum'? How does he know that it is an I or an ego that is the transcendental-phenomenological residuum? In simpler terms, how does he know that what he gets to by the trans-phen reduction is something that can be referred to by 'I'? How does he know that it is anything like a person?
After all, indexical uses of the first-person singular pronoun are used by human beings to refer to human beings.
Husserl and Butchvarov: Similarities and Differences
1. Both philosophers espouse versions of antirealism, albeit very different versions.
2. Both philosophers face versions of the Paradox of Antirealism.
3. Both philosophers solve the paradox by retreating from anthropocentrism and advocating the 'dehumanization' of consciousness.
4. Both philosophers oppose (Berkeleyan) idealism if that is the view that "all reality is mental" (Butchvarov, p. 213), a view that entails that "the perception of a tree and the tree perceived are no more distinguishable than are a feeling of pain and the pain felt." (213)
5. Both philosophers hold that there are specifically philosophical indexical uses of the first-person singular pronoun.
6. Both philosophers agree that the existence of such uses is, in Butchvarov's words, "evident from the intelligibility of Cartesian doubt. . . ." (196)
7. Both philosophers hold that these uses are referring uses.
8. Both philosophers hold that these referring uses do not refer to human beings.
9. Both philosophers oppose Descartes in holding that the specifically philosophical uses of the indexical 'I' do not refer to anything in the world.
10. Husserl and Butchvarov disagree on what these uses refer to. For Husserl they refer to the factical transcendental ego, which is the constitutive source of everything worldly as to its Seinsgeltung (ontic validity) and Seinsinn (ontic sense or meaning). For Butchvarov, they refer to the world itself, not things in the world, distributively or collectively, but the totality of these things. Butchvarov's theory is essentially that of the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "I am my world." (5.63) There is no metaphysical subject in the world. (5.633) There is an ultimate philosophical I but it is not in the world; it is the limit of the world (5.632), or rather the world itself.
11. Husserl and Butchvarov agree that, in Wittgenstein's words, "there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way." (5.641) But of course the ways in which the two philosophers talk about the self non-psychologically are radically different.
12. Another major disagreement is this. Husserl sticks with the Cartesian Ansatz while attempting to radicalize it, but he never succeeds in clarifying the difference between the transcendental and psychological ego. Butchvarov abandons (or never subscribed to) the ego-cogito-cogitatum schema of Descartes, and of Kant too, and in a sense cuts the Gordian knot with Sartrean scissors: there is nothing psychological or egological or 'inner' or personal or subjective about consciousness. And so there is no problem of intersubjectivity such as bedeviled Husserl in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation and elsewhere. Butchvarov goes 'Hegelian.'
There is much more to be said, later. It is Saturday night and time to punch the clock, pour myself a drink, and cue up some oldies.
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 in Philosophy 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?
Butchvarov's Replies with My Rejoinders
1. “Consciousness is both nothing and something” is Sartre’s view, which I endorse. It’s no more self-contradictory than Meinong’s “there are objects concerning which it is the case that there are no such objects” or Wittgenstein’s that a sensation “is not a something, but not a nothing either.” They are attempts to convey a radically new thought. Even in everyday life we often hear sentences like “He is and he is not,” “I like it but also I do not.”
BV: We will agree that Meinong's paradoxical formulation involves no formal contradiction. He chose to express himself in that way for literary effect. What he is saying, of course, is that some objects do not exist. To be precise, he is saying that some objects neither exist, subsist, nor enjoy any mode of Being whatsoever. Pace van Inwagen and many others who toe the Quinean line, there is no formal contradiction involved in maintaining that some objects do not exist. The apparent contradiction in Meinong's formulation is shown to be merely apparent by distinguishing two senses of 'there are,' one existentially noncomittal, the other existentially loaded.
What I don't understand, however, is what the Meinong example has to do with Sartre's radically externalist, anti-substantialist theory of consciousness. It is no contradiction to say of the golden mountain that it is something and nothing: we can read this as saying that it is some item but nothing that exists, or subsists for that matter. It is a contradiction, however, to say of consciousness that it is something and nothing -- unless one can make a distinction, parallel to the distinction made in the Meinongian case -- one that shows that the contradiction is merely apparent. What would that distinction be?
In the everyday cases that Butch cites, it is clear that they can be read as non-contradictory. But again, what does this haveto do with Sartre? Agreed, Sartre is aiming to convey a radically new thought. But the question is whether it is a contradictory thought. (Side point: a case could be made that the thought is already in Heidegger.)
Consciousness is not nothing, but neither is it a thing. “[Consciousness] ‘exhausts’ itself in its objects, [Sartre] wrote, precisely because it is nothing but the revelation of them: ‘consciousness is outside; there is no ‘within’ of consciousness.’ It has no inhabitants. Whether perceptual or conceptual, consciousness is not a ‘thing.’ One may even go so far as saying that it is nothing. To use a word Heidegger had applied, consciousness is only the ‘lightening’ of its objects, like the coming of dawn, which lightens, reveals, the rocks, bushes, and hills that had been invisible in the darkness of the night, but is not itself an object of sight” (page 204). See also 2 below.
BV: I agree with this as a description of Sartre's theory. But it leaves us with the problem. Consciousness, although other than every object and every entity, is not a mere nothing, a nugatory nothing, ein nichtiges Nichts to borrow a phrase from Heidegger. Why not? Well, it is is the 'light' in which objects appear and without which they would not appear. Although this 'light' does not itself appear as an object of sight as Butch well explains, it is not a mere nothing: it is in some sense or other 'real.' Note also that while Butch is surely right to describe Sartrean consciousness as exhausting itself in its objects, this 'exhaustion thesis' is not an eliminativist claim to the effect that consciousness just is its objects such that there is no distinction at all between consciousness and objects. There is this distinction and so its terms must be 'real': consciousness on the one hand and its objects on the other.
2. Physicalism denies the existence of mind and consciousness as they are usually understood, and so do I. It asserts that there are only physical things. Consciousness is not nothing, but neither is it a “thing” (see 1). On page 235 I explain: “[C]onsciousness has no intrinsic nature and no “inhabitants,” not even an ego.... there is just the world. Hence, there is some plausibility of the physicalist picture of the world as matter. But, unlike it, ours does not exclude consciousness – it merely does not include it, much as a group portrait of a family usually does not include the photographer” (235).
BV: Butchvarov is telling us here that his picture neither excludes nor includes consciousness. I am afraid I find this as contradictory as the claim that consciousness is both nothing and not nothing.
3. As I just said, my picture of the world “does not exclude consciousness – it merely does not include it.” I deny that consciousness is a thing in the world, that “the photographer is included in the photo.” This is why I say nothing about its site or ties to animal organisms in nature.
Of course, I do not deny that sometimes I have a headache, that sometimes I am hungry, that usually I remember what I read yesterday, that I need eyeglasses to see better, that what other people say often makes sense to me, etc. In these everyday or scientific contexts we may speak of consciousness as tied to animal organisms, though the word is seldom used. They may involve nonphysical, “mental,” events, but these events would hardly be bits of consciousness rather than just objects of consciousness. Biology, psychology, and linguistics may tell us what they involve. I doubt that philosophers have special knowledge of such essentially empirical matters. But it is exactly in these contexts that to hold, as only philosophers might, that consciousness shapes or makes the world would be especially absurd.
One of my aims has been to question philosophical claims, especially in ethics and epistemology but also in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, to knowledge of what can only be empirical matters.
A full answer to this excellent question, however, would require a whole book -- or several books!
BV: I would insist that it is legitimate to ask about the relation of consciousness as Butchvarov conceives it and what goes on in us when we think, perceive, imagine, remember, feel, and so on. Granted, consciousness is not a thing in the world, and so it cannot be identified with or reduced to any events that transpire in human animals or their brains when they perceive, imagine, remember, and so on. I also grant that empirical matters should be left to empirical scientists. But that does not change the fact that consciousness in Butchvarov's Sartrean sense is involved when a man sees a tree or imagines a tree or remembers a tree. Suppose a man sees a tree. This cannot be accounted for without referring to consciousness in whose non-physical 'light' the tree appears. Butchvarov will of course grant this. He will surely not maintain that the 'lightening' that he mentions above can be accounted for by the empirical sciences of vision. Consciousness is a transcendental condition of the revelation of objects; as such, it is not something that can itself be investigated objectively by empirical means.
Given all this, is it not legitimate to ask how consciousness, as Butchvarov conceives it, is related to animal organisms, or at least those who we describe in ordinary language as conscious? Butchvarov maintains that consciousness is subject-less. But it doesn't follow that we can ignore the question of how consciousness is 'tied to' animal organisms.
One possible answer is that consciousness is not tied to animal organisms at all: it floats free. Not a very satisfactory answer! Where did it come from? Another answer is that it is an emergent. Doesn't Sartre speak of the "upsurge" of the For-Itself?
In any case, I don;t see that this question can be evaded in the way that Butchvarov evades it by reiterating the point that consciousness is not a thing in the world. I grant that!
In his highly original Anthropocentrism in Philosophy: Realism, Antirealism, Semirealism (Walter de Gruyter 2015) Panayot Butchvarov argues that philosophy in its three main branches, epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics, needs to be freed from its anthropocentrism. Philosophy ought to be “dehumanized.” This entry will examine how Butchvarov proposes to dehumanize metaphysics. These Butchvarov posts are exercises toward a long review article I have been commissioned to write for a European journal.
Anthropocentrism in Metaphysics
In metaphysics, anthropocentrism assumes the form of antirealism. Antirealism is the view that the world, insofar as it is knowable, depends on us and our cognitive capacities. (6) Bishop Berkeley aside, metaphysical antirealism has its source and model in Kant's transcendental idealism. Contemporary antirealism is “the heir of Kant's transcendental idealism.” (189) On Butchvarov's view there can be no return to a pre-Critical, pre-Kantian metaphysics. (225) But surely the world cannot depend on us if 'us' refers to human animals. Butchvarov's task, then, is to develop a version of metaphysical antirealism that is free of anthropocentrism. A central question is whether the characteristic antirealist thesis that the world depends on us and our cognitive capacities can be upheld without 'us' being understood in an anthropocentric way. To answer this question is to resolve the Paradox of Antirealism (PA), a paradox that I would maintain is endemic to every form of transcendental philosophy from Kant, through Husserl and Heidegger, to Butchvarov:
PA: On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189) This Kantian insight implies a certain “humanization of metaphysics.” (7) On the other hand, knowable physical reality cannot depend for its existence or intelligibility on beings that are miniscule parts of this reality. The whole world of space-time-matter cannot depend on certain of its fauna. (7)
Some will reject the paradox by rejecting its first limb. But that would be to reject antirealism. It would be to dissolve the problem rather than solve it. Let's see if Butchvarov can solve the paradox while upholding antirealism. But what version of antirealism does Butchvarov espouse?
Butchvarov's Metaphysical Antirealism
Metaphysical antirealism is so-called to distinguish it from antirealism in ethics and in epistemology. It is the view that “The world insofar as it is knowable by us depends on our capacities and ways of knowing, our cognitive faculties.” (111) I would have liked to have seen a more careful unpacking of this thesis, but I take the point to be, or at least to imply, the substantive (non-tautological) proposition that the world is not intrinsically knowable as an Aristotelian realist would maintain but knowable only in virtue of certain contributions on our part. If this is not the point, then it is difficult to see how contemporary antirealism could be “the heir of Kant's transcendental idealism.” (189)
Metaphysical antirealism divides into cosmological antirealism and ontological antirealism. A cosmological antirealist denies the reality of the world, but needn't deny the reality of the things in the world. Note that 'world' has multiple meanings and that now we are distinguishing between the world as a sort of totality of what is and the world as the members of the totality.
Butchvarov takes his cue from proposition 1.1 of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus wherein Ludwig Wittgenstein stipulates that by 'world' he means the totality of facts (die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen), not of things (nicht der Dinge). Now if the world is the totality of facts, then one who denies the reality of facts denies the reality of the world, and is thereby a cosmological antirealist. (113) Such an antirealist need not be an ontological antirealist, i.e., one who denies the reality of things. Since Butchvarov does not question the reality of things (169), he is not an ontological metaphysical antirealist. He is a cosmological antirealist who advocates a form of logical antirealism according to which (i) “there are no logical objects even though logic is present in all thought” (114), and (ii) the “cognized world” depends on the logical expressions of our language rather than on our “mental faculties” as in Kant. (189)
At a first approximation, when Butchvarov says that there are no logical objects what he means is that the logical connectives, the quantifiers, the copula 'is,' and whole declarative sentences do not designate or refer to anything. In old-fashioned terminology, they are syncategorematic or synsemantic expressions. Consider the sentence, 'Tom is tall and Mary is short.' As I understand Butchvarov, he is maintaining that the sentence itself, both occurrences of 'is,' and the single occurrence of 'and' are all logical expressions while the proper names 'Tom' and 'Mary,' and the predicates 'tall' and 'short' are non-logical expressions. There are no logical objects corresponding to logical expressions. (This bald assertion needs be qualified in a separate post on semirealism. Butchvarov takes a semirealist line on facts, the logical objects corresponding to some sentences.) That there are no logical objects is perhaps obvious in the case of the propositional connectives. Few will say that 'and,' 'or,' and 'not' designate objects. The meaning of these words has nothing to do with reference. But while there are no logical objects, there can be no “cognized world” without language, or rather human languages. With this we are brought back to the Paradox of Antirealism. Even though the things in the world do not depend on human animals, the world itself does so depend inasmuch as there would be no world at all without language.
Consider the generic sentence, 'Men are taller than women.' For Butchvarov, many generic sentences are true, but there is nothing in the world that makes them true: they have no corresponding logical objects. And yet without truths like these, and other sorts of truths as well, there would be no world. In this sense, the world, but not the things in it, depends on language-users. Butchvarov's position is roughly similar to Kant's. Kant held that one can be both a transcendental idealist and an empirical realist. Butchvarov is like a transcendental idealist in that he holds that the world depends on language and thus on us; but he is like an empirical realist in that he holds that the things in the world do not depend on us. Like Kant, however, he faces a version of the Paradox of Antirealism: surely it is as absurd to maintain that the world depends on the existence of human animals as to maintain that the things in the world depend on human animals.
Butchvarov's Solution to the Antirealism Paradox
The solution involves a re-thinking of the role of the personal pronouns 'I' and 'we' as they function in philosophical as opposed to ordinary contexts. (See article referenced below.) The idea is that 'I' and 'we' as they figure in the realism-antirealism debate do not refer to anything in the world, and so they do not refer to human beings; these grammaticallypersonal pronouns refer impersonally to a view or "cognition" of the world, one that is not owned by any person or group of persons. This view of the world, however, just is the world. Therefore, the world does not depend logically or causally on the view of the world or on us: "the world and our cognition of it . . . are identical." (191) To grasp the thought here, you must realize that "cognition" is subjectless: it is not anyone's cognition.
Now let's dig into the details.
Butchvarov's theory can be divided into negative and positive theses. On the negative side, he claims that (i) "there is no such entity as the philosophical, metaphysical, self or ego." (191) Nor (ii) is there any such thing as consciousness as a property or activity of the metaphysical self, or as a relation (or quasi-relation) that connects such selves to their objects. (191) (ii) is a logical consequence of (i). For if there is no self, then it cannot have properties, stand in relations, or exercise activities. It also follows from (i) that (iii) there is no act-object distinction. Butchvarov would claim phenomenological support for the first and third claims: no self appears and no mental acts appear. Phenomenologically, he is right. But this doesn't decide the matter since there is also a 'dialectical' assumption at work, something like a Principle of Acquaintance:
Only that with which we are or can become acquainted, only that which can be directly experienced or singled out as an object, can be credited as real and as a possible subject of true and false predications.
This Principle of Acquaintance (my formulation) is a bridge principle that connects phenomenology to ontology, and makes of phenomenology more than a study of 'mere appearances.' It would therefore be fair to classify Butchvarov as a phenomenological ontologist along with Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre. As opposed to what? As opposed to what could be called a metaphysical ontologist who essays to peer behind the phenomenal scene into a realm of 'positive noumena' to use a Kantian phrase, where God and the soul count as positive noumena. Butch of course will have no truck with positive noumena, nor even with Kant's negative noumenon, the unknowable Ding an sich. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Butchvarov neither affirms nor denies the negative noumenon.
One sort of move that the Butchvarovian approach rules out is a transcendental inference from what is given to transcendental conditions of the given's givenness that cannot themselves be brought to givenness. Someone might say this:
Granted, the subject of experience does not itself appear as just one more object of experience. But this failure to appear is precisely what one ought to expect: for as a necessary condition of any object's appearing it cannot itself appear as an object. The fact that it does not and cannot appear is no argument against its existence. For it is precisely a transcendental condition of objectivity. Just as there must be an 'accusative of manifestation,' something that appears, there must also be a 'dative of manifestation,' an item to which an appearing object appears, but which does not itself appear.
To which Butchvarov might respond that this begs the question by its rejection of the Principle of Acquaintance. The principle disallows any posits that cannot be brought to givenness. No ego appears, and so there is no dative of manifestation. And since there is no ego, appearing is non-relational: it is a monadic feature of that which appears. Objects appear, but not to anything.
But of course this does not end the discussion since one can ask what validates the Principle of Acquaintance. Why should we accept it given that it cannot be brought to givenness? Hume claimed that all meaningful ideas derive from sensory impressions. But what about that (propositional) idea? Is it meaningful? Then which sensory impressions does it derive from? It appears that here we end in a stand-off.
Butchvarov's Sartrean position is opposed to the triadic Cartesian schema that Husserl presupposes:
Ego-cogito-cogitatum qua cogitatum.
For Butchvarov, there is no ego and there are no cogitationes; there are only the cogitata and their appearing. He speaks of objects and their "lightening" and "revealing." (205) He mentions Sartre by name but alludes to Heidegger as well for whom the world is not the totality of things or the totality of facts but the illuminated space wherein things appear.
For Butchvarov, then, the structure of consciousness is not triadic but dyadic: there is just consciousness and its objects. But it is impersonal: it is not anyone's consciousness. It is the sheer revelation of things, but not to anyone. Consciousness is exhausted in its revelation of objects: it has no inner nature. This is a radically externalist, anti-substantialist view of consciousness. Butchvarov is a Sartrean externalist about consciousness.
If this externalist view is correct then one can understand why Butchvarov thinks he has solved the Paradox of Antirealism. If consciousness is no-thing, then it is no thing upon which anything else can depend either logically or causally. The paradox arises if the things in the world are made dependent for their existence, nature, or intelligibility on any transient parts of the world such as human animals. The paradox vanishes if consciousness is no thing or things.
Toward a Critique
But wait a minute! What has now become of the first limb of the paradox? The first limb reads:
On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189)
Surely consciousness as no-thing, as a Sartrean wind blowing towards objects, as Mooreanly diaphanous, emanating from nowhere, without a nature of its own, not anchored in a Substantial Mind or in a society of substantial minds, or in animal organisms in nature, ever evacuating itself for the sake of the revelation of objects -- surely consciousness as having these properties cannot do any shaping or forming. It cannot engage in any activity. For it is not a substance. It is only in its revelation of what is other than it. All distinctions and all content fall on the side of the object: none come from consciousness itself. On a radically externalist, anti-substantialist view of consciousness/mind, it can't do anything such as impose categorial forms on the relatively chaotic sensory manifold.
Kant is the main man here as Butch well appreciates. Kant's thinking operates under the aegis of a form-matter scheme. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensibility, and the categories are the a priori forms of the understanding. These forms are imposed on the matter of sensation. The vehicle of this imposition is the transcendental unity of apperception. All of this is our doing, our transcendental doing, whatever exactly this means (which is part of the problem). Our making of the world is a transcendental making: it is not an immanent process within the world such as a literal making of something out of pre-given materials -- which would presuppose the world as the where-in of all such mundane makings and formings. Nor is this transcendental making a transcendent making by a transcendent deity.
Now who is it, exactly, who does the forming of the sensory manifold? Who imposes the categorial forms on the matter of sensation? It cannot be human animals or their brains. It cannot be anything in the world. Nor can it be anything out of the world either. And what, exactly, is this activity of forming? It cannot be an empirical process in the world. Not can it be a transcendent process such as divine creation. What then?
These problems are part and parcel of the Paradox of Antirealism. The paradox cannot get off the ground without the notions of forming, shaping, imposing, etc. whereas Butchvarov's solution to the paradox in terms of an impersonal, subjectless, non-substantial consciousness without a nature does away with all forming, shaping and imposing. Mind so conceived cannot impose forms since all forms, all distinctions, all content determinations are of the side of the object. How can Mind be spontaneous (a favorite Kantian word) and active if Mind is not a primary substance, an agent?
My suspicion, then, tentatively proffered, is that Butchvarov does not solve the Paradox of Antirealism; he dissolves it by in effect rejecting the first limb. It is clear to me how he removes anthropocentrism from metaphysics; what is not clear to me is hgow what is left over can still be called antirealism.
There is also the question of whether the philosophical uses of 'I' and 'we' that are essential to the formulation of the realism-antirealism debate are really impersonal uses. To that issue I will return in a later entry.
A reader wants me to comment on the analytic-Continental split. Perhaps I will do so in general terms later, but in this post I will consider one particular aspect of the divide that shows up in different approaches to existence. Roughly, Continental philosophers espouse the thick theory, while analytic philosophers advocate the thin theory. Of course there are exceptions to this rule: Your humble correspondent is an analytic thick theorist and so is Barry Miller. Whether there are any Continental thin theorists I don't know.
Why should analytic philosophers prefer the thin theory? Part of the reason, some will say, is that analysts tend to be superficial people: they are logically very sharp but woefully lacking in spiritual depth. They are superficial specimens of what Heidegger calls das Man, the 'they': lacking authenticity, they float along on the superficies of things. Bereft of a depth-dimension in themselves, they are blind to the world's depth-dimension. Blind to the world's depth-dimension, they are blind to existence. A Heideggerian might say that they are not so much blind as forgetful: they have succumbed to die Vergessenheit des Seins. The analysts, of course, will not admit to any such deficiencies of sight or memory. They will turn the tables and accuse Continentals such as Heidegger and Sartre of being muddle-headed mystics and obscurantists who commit school-boy blunders in logic. (Carnap's famous/notorious attack on Heidegger is a text-book case.)
So we have a nice little fight going, complete with name-calling. Perhaps a little exegesis of a passage from Sartre will help clarify the issue. I have no illusions about converting any thin theorist. I aim at clarity, not agreement. I will be happy if I can achieve an exact understanding of what we are disagreeing about and why we are disagreeing. When that goal is attained we can cheerfully agree to disagree.
So let's consider the famous 'chestnut tree' passage in Jean-Paul Sartre's novel, Nausea. The novel's protagonist, Roquentin, is in a park when he has a bout of temporary aphasia while contemplating the roots of a chestnut true. Words and their meanings vanish. He finds himself confronting a black knotty mass that frightens him. Then he has a vision:
It left me breathless. Never, until these last days, had I understood the meaning of 'existence.' I was like all the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, 'The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,' but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must [have] believe[d] that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word 'to be.' Or else I was thinking . . . how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that that green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things I was miles from dreaming that they existed; they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface.
If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form that was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder — naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness. (p. 127 tr. Lloyd Alexander, ellipsis in original.)
This marvellous passage records Roquentin's intuition (direct nonsensory perception) of Being or existence. (It would be interesting to compare in a subsequent post Jacques Maritain's Thomist intuition of Being with Sartre's existentialist intuition of Being.) Viewed through the lenses of logic, 'The green sea exists' is equivalent to 'The sea is green' and 'The sea belongs to the class of green objects.' For the (standard) logician, then, 'exists' and cognates is dispensable and the concept of existence is fully expressible in terms of standard logical machinery. Anything we say using 'exists(s)' we can also say without using 'exist(s). To give another example, 'Dragons do not exist' is logically equivalent to 'Everything is not a dragon.' If we want, we can avoid the word 'exist(s)' and substitute for it some logical machinery: the universal quantifier and the tilde (the sign for negation) as in our last example.
But why would a man like Peter van Inwagen -- the head honcho of the thin theorists -- want to avoid 'exist(s)'? Because he wants to show that existence is a thin notion: there is nothing more to it than can be captured using the thin notions of logic: quantification, negation, copulation, and identity. He wants to show that there is no reason to think that there is any metaphysical depth lurking behind 'exist(s)' and cognates, that there is no room for a metaphysics of existence as opposed to a logic of 'exist(s)'; nor room for any such project as Heidegger's fundamental ontology (Being and Time) or Sartre's phenomenological ontology (Being and Nothingness).
And why does the thin theorist go to all this deflationary trouble? Because he lacks this sense or intuition of existence that philosophers as diverse as Wittgenstein, Maritain, and Sartre share, a sense or intution he feels must be bogus and must rest on some mistake. He fancies himself the clear-headed foe of obfuscation and he sees nothing but obfuscation in talk of Being and existence.
But as I have been arguing ad nauseam (so to speak) over many a blog post, published article and book, sentences like 'The sea is green' presuppose for their truth that the sea is an existing sea. Compare the reference above to an existing seagull. And, as Sartre has Roquentin says, "usually existence hides itself." It hides itself from all of us most of the time when we are immersed in what Heidegger calls average everydayness (alltaegliche Durchschnittlichkeit, vide Sein und Zeit), and existence hides itself from the logician qua logician all the time. For all of us most of the time, and for logicians all of the time, existence is "nothing, simply an empty form."
In fact, that is a good statement of the thin theory: existence is nothing at all, apart from an empty logical form. Sea, seagull, bench, tree, root -- but no existence of the sea, of the seagull, of the bench, etc. Sea, seagull, bench, tree, root, and some logical concepts. That's it.
"Usually existence hides itself." This invites mockery from the thin theorists. What? Existence plays hide-and-seek with us?! [Loud guffaws from the analytic shallow-pates.] To the existence-blind it must appear a dark and indeed incomprehensible saying. But of course to the blind that which is luminous must appear dark. Perhaps we can recast Sartre's loose and literary formulation in aseptic terms by saying that existence is a hidden and taken-for-granted presupposition of our discourse that for the most part remains hidden and taken-for-granted. Let me explain.
'The sea is green' and 'The green sea exists' are logically equivalent. But this equivalence rests on a tacit presupposition, namely, that the sentences are to be evaluated relative to a domain of existing items. The reason we can make the deflationary move of replacing the latter sentence with the former is because existence is already present, though hidden, in 'The sea is green.' 'The sea is green' can be parsed as follows: The sea is (exists) & the sea (is) green, where the parentheses around 'is' indicate that it functions as a pure copula, a pure predicative link and nothing more. The parsing makes it clear that the 'is' in 'The sea is green' exercises a dual function: it is not merely an 'is' of predication: it is also an 'is' of existence. Therefore, translation of 'The green sea exist' as 'The sea is green' does not eliminate existence as the thin theorist falsely assumes.
In material mode, the point is that nothing can have a property unless it exists. The sea cannot be green or slimy or stinky unless it exists. This existence of the sea, seagull, etc., however, is a presupposition that remains hidden as long as we comport ourselves in Heidegger's "average everydayness" manipulating things for our purposes but not wondering at their very existence. We have to shift out of our ordinary everyday attitude in order to be struck by the sheer existence of things. Perhaps the thin theorist is incapable of making that shift. But he really doesn't need to if he has followed my reasoning.
What the thin theorist does is to substitute logical Being for real Being. Note that I am not endorsing Sartre's theory of real Being: that it is an absurd excrescence, de trop (superfluous), unintelligible, etc. What I am endorsing is his insight that real Being is extralogical, that it is not a thin notion exhausted by the machinery of logic. Thus I am endorsing what is common to Sartre, Maritain, Wittgenstein, and others, namely, that existence is real not merely logical.
But what if you are one of those sober types who has never experienced anything like Heideggerian Angst or Sartrean nausea or Wittgenstein's wonder at the existence of the world? Well, I think you could still be brought by purely discursive methods to understand how existence cannot reduce to a purely logical notion. We shall see.
Existence is often 'invisible' to analytic types well-versed in logic, for existence is "odious to the logician" as George Santayana sagely remarked in Scepticism and Animal Faith (Dover, 1955, p. 48) It is so odious, in fact, that they need to mask it under the misnamed 'existential' quantifier. So I need to resort to extreme methods to bring it into view I will quote from Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea.
Now it goes without saying that I don't agree with Sartre that existence is an unintelligible surd. For me it is the opposite of unintelligible. But what I will borrow from Sartre is the insight that existence is extralogical: it is precisely not what Quine said it was whn he said that "Existence is what existential quantification expresses." So let's consider the famous 'chestnut tree' passage.
Today I made a Black Forest cake out of five pounds of cherries and a live beaver, challenging the very definition of the word "cake." I was very pleased. Malraux said he admired it greatly, but could not stay for dessert. Still, I feel that this may be my most profound achievement yet, and have resolved to enter it in the Betty Crocker Bake-Off.
Near the end of Part One of this two-part series, I wrote,
. . . Sartre, denying God, puts man in God's place: he ascribes to man a type of freedom and a type of responsibility that he cannot possibly possess, that only God can possess. He fails to see that human freedom is in no way diminished by an individual's free acceptance of an objective constraint on his behavior. This is because human freedom is finite freedom; only an infinite freedom, a divine freedom, would be diminished by objective constraints.
This may well be the crux of the matter. But we need to explore it in greater depth. For a theist, God is the absolute. But Sartre famously denies God on the ground that a for-itself-in-itself is impossible: see Being and Nothingness. For Sartre the God-denier, man is the absolute. But there is no Man, only men. Man is an abstraction. So the absolute fractures into finite individual subjectivities, each of which exists contingently. Here is a crucial passage:
Suppose we divide theories of the meaning of human life into the exogenous and the endogenous. According to the exogenous theories, existential meaning derives from a source external to the agent, whereas on endogenous theories, meaning and purpose are posited or projected by the agent. Classical theism provides an example of an exogenous theory of meaning: because man was created by God for a purpose, namely, to serve and glorify him in this world and commune with him in the next, the purpose of human life is to live in accordance with the divine will so as to achieve one's higher destiny of unending bliss. Jean-Paul Sartre's theory as presented in the manifesto "Existentialism is a Humanism" is an example of an endogenous theory. Indeed, it is the polar opposite of a theistic theory of existential meaning: "Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position." (369, Kaufmann anthology) Herewith, some critical commentary on Sartre's theory as we find it in the essay mentioned.
The anguish of the American confronted with Americanism is an ambivalent anguish; as if he were asking, "Am I American enough?" and at the same time, "How can I escape from Americanism?" In America a man's simultaneous answers to these two questions make him what he is, and each man must find his own answers.
It sounds like projection to me. Anguish? Ambivalence? Had I been able to drag Jean-Paul's sorrily citified Parisian ass away from his cafes, Gauloises, and Stalinist comrades and through the Superstition Mountains in June — well, perhaps the univocity of rock and sun and the reality of a world that is not man-made but also not a featureless surd-like en soi would have cured his anguished ambiguity.