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Thursday, November 19, 2020

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Bill,

Thanks for your very interesting and well argued post.

I am inclined to agree with your analysis of things. I agree that if one thinks of existence merely as a kind of “cohesion” or “belonging-together” of the perspectival presentations of something, then you would have to opt for a kind of idealism. I might have put the point as follows: if the thing is simply a showing or appearing, whether it is a simple showing (like a simple impression) or a more complex and variegated showing (an intentional object perceptible through various adumbrations), then its existence implies a to-whom it shows itself or appears. Its existence would simply be the fact of its showing itself or appearing. The distinction in modes of existence would then amount to a difference in the modes in which things show themselves — for example, the tree shows itself as an object of bodily perception, whereas a tree from within a dream shows itself in a different way, and so on.

Because I am not an idealist, I would not describe the existence of the tree in this way. I would not say that the tree is a showing, which would imply that it shows itself to someone. But I would say that the tree is a showable. In other words, the tree is something that can appear in principle, and there is nothing about the tree, considered in itself, that cannot in principle be made manifest in some form of consciousness or other (not only plain sensible intuition, but also categorial intuition and eidetic intuition). The tree, on my view, is defined as something that can show itself. To admit any essentially “hidden” aspect of the tree would be to court skepticism, since it would amount to imposing a distinction between the way the tree appears and the way the tree is in itself. That would call into question everything I take myself to know about the tree, since (i) I think knowledge is at base a kind of “seeing” and (ii) I could never know whether what I see fits in any way with what is there “in itself.”

I would nevertheless emphasize a few points, however, because I think phenomenological analysis is still useful for developing a proper understanding of real existence:

(1) There is a natural and “default” belief in the real existence of the tree. Seemingly by nature, we think that the things presented to us in consciousness exist independently of their showing themselves to us. Contemporary science adds plausibility to this belief when it suggests that the earth and the objects in the universe more generally preexisted human beings. Genesis also makes the same point.

(2) The thing that I think exists is a showable, and yet its real existence, which I naturally and by default attribute to it, is not showable. There are no conceivable conditions of experience in which I could experience a thing such that its real existence would come to light and become manifest. The skeptical thought experiments entertained in philosophy from Descartes to Putnam demonstrate this.

(3) Therefore, because the thing is a showable but its real existence is not, it follows that the real existence does not enter into the constitution of the thing. There is a real distinction between the thing and its existence. And because the real existence of the showable thing is external to it, it follows that the existence of the showable thing must be some kind of “existentializing” or “existentifying” relation in which it stands to something which is not distinct from real existence, indeed which simply is real existence itself.

Of course, by this point, we have perhaps left strict phenomenology behind and have begun to do metaphysics. But the phenomenological starting point was essential and valuable, because it prevented us from thinking of existence as if it were a monadic property of a thing on a par with its greenness, its shape, its mass, and so on.

You might ask: Why define the thing as a whole as a showable? Why not grant a hidden aspect of a thing?

My answer: Because the problem raised by skeptical thought experiments is not that of the existence of something or other to which I have no access, but precisely the existence of this world that shows itself to me.

Thank you for the careful response, Steven.

>>In other words, the tree is something that can appear in principle, and there is nothing about the tree, considered in itself, that cannot in principle be made manifest in some form of consciousness or other . . . .<<

If you mean manifest to us, the above is not quite obvious. 'Tree' of course is a place-holder for any physical thing. It is not clear how you could exclude the possibility of their being unintelligible features of some physical things. N. Hartmann's work is relevant here.

>>To admit any essentially “hidden” aspect of the tree would be to court skepticism, since it would amount to imposing a distinction between the way the tree appears and the way the tree is in itself. That would call into question everything I take myself to know about the tree, since (i) I think knowledge is at base a kind of “seeing” and (ii) I could never know whether what I see fits in any way with what is there “in itself.”<<

I don't accept this. We can discuss it over lunch one of these days.

(1) is certainly true. (2) is true as well, but of course only if you are talking about existence in itself as per my distinction above. (3) is a non sequitur. Real existence does enter into the constitution of the thing despite that real existence's having an external cause -- which all men call God. Or at least that is what I would argue.

>>My answer: Because the problem raised by skeptical thought experiments is not that of the existence of something or other to which I have no access, but precisely the existence of this world that shows itself to me. <<

i reject this characterization of the problem raised by skeptical thought. The problem is not WHETHER an external world exists, but HOW it exists. Roman Ingarden saw this very clearly.

But your comments were very good and show real understanding of the issues.

Bill,

Thanks for your response! Just a couple points:

(i) What I exclude is that there should be some truly "noumenal" or hidden aspect of the tree which could not become an object of some form of intuition or other. Of course, there are aspects of things that we as humans cannot detect by means of our senses, but they are detectable in principle by other forms of bodily consciousness. I don't see what reason there could be ever supposing that there were a truly noumenal aspect, since we can only have a reason for positing something if it shows itself either directly, in propria persona, or else indirectly, through its effects, whereas a truly hidden "noumenon" would do neither of these things.

(ii) I don't agree that my (3) above is a non-sequitur. If the tree is a showable, i.e. intuitable in principle, an intelligible complex that is transparent to consciousness, but its real existence is not, then the real existence cannot be a part of the tree.

Here's a counter-argument. Suppose I am thinking about my cat. I think about her as a particular, and I think about her as an intelligible object with various properties. Then, when I go home to see her, I find that in the meantime she has been annihilated and no longer exists. I was thinking of my cat, even though, unbeknownst to me, she did not exist, though perhaps I assumed that she did. To my mind, this shows that the existence of the cat does not enter into its constitution. Otherwise, I would have been thinking of a different cat than my own.

(iii) I still have to read Ingarden, but I don't think I dispute the claim that the problem of skepticism concerns the "how" of the existence of the world. My only point is that this "world" whose existence concerns us is precisely the world that shows itself in experience, i.e. the showable world.

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