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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


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I agree with your comments here (and elsewhere on the blog) about the Contrast Argument, but there is also a simple problem with Austin's specific argument: the use of the term "dream-like" does not require that all dreams share a certain form, which we call dream-like. I cannot speak for others, but some dreams I have are very dream-like (in part because I am aware that I am in a dream), and others are very life-like [lucid] (as I am not aware, until later, that it is a dream).

In other words, "dream-like" can be meaningful AND some dreams can be qualitatively the same as waking experiences.

Given that during a lucid dream I am not aware that it is a dream, it is at least possible that my entire experience is of this type. Not so much an issue with "dream-like" life, but with "life-like" dreaming.

I have no problem with contrast arguments as a species. The problem I have with Austin's argument is that it is not a proper contrast argument. The Cartesian argument is that some experiences can be shown not to represent anything (dreams), whereas other experiences do represent something (imagine we are looking both at someone and their reflection in the mirror. So we are able successfully to contrast represention-of-something with not-representing-something.

Descartes now points out that what I take to be "my wife" is really itself an image or sense-datum, and that the image of my wife in the mirror is really an image of an image. So, is it conceivable that there is no reality at all corresponding to my wife-sense-datum?

I think this is conceivable even if (for other reasons) it is impossible.

In summary, we do have an available contrast between 2nd-order images which have first order images (reflections) and 2nd-order images which have no corresponding 1st order images (dreams). Given this contrast, we can then legitimately ask whether the 1st order images (sense-experience) are really images of anything, or whether they are ilusory.

So Austin's argument fails for this reason.

Hope that makes sense.

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