A Humanly Realistic Philosophy
A Humanly Realistic Philosophy
Abstract and Keywords
We human beings are quite limited, it is painfully plain, in our experiencing, our thinking, and our understanding. Yet, even when mindful of our human limitations, we may perhaps aspire to a humanly intelligible philosophy of the world that is, nonetheless, a fairly substantial philosophy. This chapter provides some quite simple and obvious observations and then attempts to articulate some instructive implications of those observations. The implications may also be features of a humanly realistic philosophy. Each of us has a power to think, and a power to experience. When one's power to think is exercised, or his/her propensity is manifested, then he/she actually does think. Rene Descartes famously held that, at every moment of his existence, he was, and must be, conscious. In addition to having a propensity toward experience, quite certainly manifested in certain conditions, one may also have a real propensity toward unconsciousness. When writing philosophically about himself, David Hume is sometimes so extreme as to claim he cannot really have any idea of himself.
We human beings are quite limited, it’s painfully plain, in our experiencing, our thinking and our understanding. Yet, even when mindful of our human limitations, perhaps we may aspire to a humanly intelligible philosophy of the world that, nonetheless, is a fairly substantial philosophy.
What might we expect of such a satisfying philosophy? In what follows, I provide some quite simple and obvious observations. And, I then attempt to articulate some instructive implications of my observations. The implications also may be features of a Humanly Realistic Philosophy.
1. I Am a Real Thinking Being and You Are Another
One thing we should want, in our humanly intelligible philosophy of the world, is an idea as to what are the real entities of the world, maybe far from comprehensive, but at least pretty accurate so far as it goes.
Though we should expect to add various further things to our idea of what’s real, I should start by observing that I am a real entity. And, not only is it plain to me that I’m a real entity, as plain as is possible with any substantive matter, it’s just as obvious that I think and I experience. All in a package, I’ll say that, as is quite obvious to me, I’m a real (p.37) thinking experience or, in more traditional terms that here will mean the same, I’m a real thinking being.1
In this I closely follow “the father of modern philosophy,” Rene´ Descartes. For what I here mean by “experience” is, unless otherwise noted, just conscious experience. (So, as I typically use “experience,” it’s redundant to say, even if it’s often also emphatic to say, that we experience consciously.) And, though he’s only a human being, and so quite limited in his thinking and understanding, I continue to follow Descartes, quite closely, in thinking that, in some philosophically important sense, it’s more obvious to me that I exist, and I think, and I experience, than it is that you do. And, in such a sense, it’s also more obvious to me that I think and I experience than it is that, at least from (p.38) time to time, I choose what to do from among actual alternatives for my own thoughtful activity, at least for my own thinking.
In advancing a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, however, I’ll hardly ever make much of any such differences in plainness, obviousness, or certainty. For as I’ve argued many times over, and at very considerable length, I suspect that anything remotely like that may be impossible for us ever to attain.2 In this way, then, I don’t follow Descartes closely, as I (p.39) never seek any real certainty, or any absolute knowledge, or any complete lack of doubtfulness.
At all events, and quite unlike Descartes, I start by also observing that not only am I right now a real thinking experience, but, as is also plenty obvious enough, for quite a substantial time, I’ve been a real thinking experience, thinking and experiencing varyingly. Indeed, as compared with all the thinking I’ve already done, the bit I’m involved in right now is, just by itself, extremely paltry and quite narrowly limited. And, compared with all the experiencing I’ve already been through, the little I’m just now enjoying is almost monotonous. For example, right now I seem to smell nothing at all, while at certain earlier times I’ve enjoyed happily impressive smells, as with the smell of roses. So, over quite a substantial period of time, I’ve thought, and I’ve experienced, pretty widely and rather variously.
I also observe that, now as before, I am hardly the only real thinking being; it’s also plenty obvious enough, at least to me, that there are now, and there long have been, many other thinking experiencers. And, in particular, it’s plenty plain that you are a real thinking being, whom I now address in writing, and whom, as you’re my student, colleague, or friend (please suppose) I’ve earlier addressed in speaking. And, it’s also quite obvious, of course, that, much as have many other thinking experiencers, over quite a substantial period of time, you’ve thought, and you’ve experienced, pretty widely and rather variously.
Here’s something else that’s rather obvious, even if not so very obvious as most of the points already observed: When I express my thoughts to you, often I successfully communicate with you. And, similarly, you effectively communicate with me, too. As is quite obvious enough to me, we’ve successfully communicated with each other as to even our innermost thoughts and experiences.
I trust that a little imaginative exercise can make the point more vivid: Closing our eyes for a few moments, each of us is to imagine a solid figure, a cylinder, for example, that, transparently through and through, is a single spectral color, for instance, orange. You’ll choose yours and, independently, I’ll choose mine. And, then, each of us is to divulge to the other what he chose to imagine. Well, we each do our chosen little bit of imagining. Then, most sincerely and truly, I tell you that I imagined a blue sphere, maybe by saying the words “I just imagined a blue sphere.” And, just as truly and sincerely, you tell me that you imagined a red cube, saying the words “Me, I imagined a red cube.” As is plenty plain enough, by the end of this exercise I’ll have quite a good idea, really, as to how it was with you experientially when you imagined as you just did. And, as is also plenty sure, you’ll know, (p.40) rather well, actually, how it was with me when I imagined my blue sphere. But, of course, there was nothing notably new or unusual in this imaginative exercise. So, now what I said was obvious to me should be vividly clear to you: We’ve successfully communicated with each other as to what are even our innermost thoughts and experiences.
About as obvious to me as the fact that we often communicate with each other successfully, even as regards our innermost thought and experience, is the fact that, at least from time to time, I choose what to do from among real alternatives for my own thoughtful activity. To make this vivid, recall our little imaginative exercise. As it happened, I chose to imagine a blue sphere. But, this was not my only real alternative. It was also open to me to imagine a red cube, or, for that matter, an orange cylinder. Indeed, it was perfectly possible for me not to have exercised my visually imaginative powers at all. To me, this is just about as obvious as your communicating to me, so successfully, how it was for you experientially, with the red cube you imagined. So, in attempting a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, I also start with this pretty plain observation: At least from time to time, I choose what to do from among real alternatives for my own thoughtful activity.
Having made even just these simple observations, I’ve taken on board far more than Descartes allowed himself at the start. But, of course, even as my main purpose is very different from his, my way of proceeding should be quite different.
In the rest of this Chapter, I’ll seek to articulate some philosophically important implications of my rather simple and obvious observations.
2. We Are Differentially Responsive Individuals
How is it that, sometimes when there’s thinking, it’s me who is thinking; and how is it that, quite distinct from any of that, sometimes it’s you who’s thinking, not me at all? And, how is it that there’s some experience that’s your experience, and there’s some other experience that’s mine?
Each of us has a power to think, and a power to experience. Or, if, in apparent rebellion against Locked tradition, you take “power” to be an overly grandiose term, then say that there’s my capacity to think, or my disposition toward thinking, or my Propensity to think, and, equally but separately, there’s your Propensity to think. When my power to think is exercised, or my Propensity is manifested, then I actually do think. And, conversely, unless there’s the exercise of this mental power of mine, or unless there is the manifestation of my Propensity toward (p.41) thinking, I really do not think. Similarly, unless there is the manifestation of your disposition to experience visually, it won’t be you that experiences visually, however much visual experiencing may be going on. As each of us is a numerically distinct being who actually does think, each of us is a distinct mentally Propensities individual.
Now, having suspended our discussion of the Mystery of the Physical, I’ve temporarily disallowed myself thoughts as to any physical reality and, in the bargain, as to any spatial relations among any concrete. So, I don’t look to grasp, here and now, how things may be with distinct concrete beings that, at every moment of their existence, are always precisely similar and, perhaps for good measure, are always perfectly symmetric, in all their “external relations.” Towards the end of the book, I’ll address this interesting topic. But, not here and now.
In this limited Chapter, with so very much disallowed, it’s worth noting, I imagine, several salient (intrinsic) differences among all actual people currently here on earth. In fact, no two of us are precisely alike; indeed, it’s not even a close call. In fact, when considering just our preferences, one of the many respects in which we differ, we notice considerable variation between people, along with undoubted commonality: while there are many things—including many precise sorts of experience—that the both of us like equally, there are many others about which we greatly differ. There are some that you like enormously and I don’t like at all, and there are others where the reverse holds true. In all ordinary situations, these differences between us are quite enough to make plain, even to the most distant outsider, that each of us is a numerically distinct concrete individual. Will most readers find the previous few sentences more helpful than confusing? I hope so. Anyhow, I return to the Chapter’s main business.
Well, my power to think is a differentially responsive mental Propensity: the specific (way of) thinking that I actually manifest, at any given time, is but one of many that, even at that very time, I have a Propensity to manifest. Just so, my power to think may be manifested, in some situations, in my thinking that someone has just told me something true. And, in some other situations, where it’s quite different considerations that engage with me, this selfsame mental power may be manifested in my thinking someone’s just told me something untrue. And, in still other situations, where what I encounter is very different still, my power to think may be manifested in my thinking that recently nobody’s told me anything at all, true, untrue or neither. So, to a large degree, how my power to think is actually manifested, at any given time, will depend on what’s my situation at the time, including what considerations I’m then confronting, or considering.
(p.42) Those general remarks seem quite right. But, we want a better grasp of what they entail.
As a start toward that, we’ll suppose that I have labored hard to draw a certain metaphysical distinction, say, that between my Propensity to feel emotions variously and, on the other side, my feeling happy on a particular occasion. I may then consider the question of whether, in my own immediate experiencing, this mental power’s current manifestation, my currently feeling quite happy, will be more fully available to me experientially than is the whole Propensity toward feeling emotions. In response to considering this yes-or-no question, I emphatically think “Yes!”
Now, let’s suppose that, contrary to fact, I considered the converse question, whether, in my own immediate experiencing, this whole Propensity toward feeling will be more fully available to me than is the power’s current manifestation, again, my currently feeling happy. And, let’s suppose that, in response to considering this quite opposite question, I should also emphatically think “Yes!”
Much more extravagantly still, we may suppose this much: At the time in question, no matter what I should (be supposed to) consider—whether I like to drink paint, whether green is more like red than it’s like blue, I’ll then respond with the same old emphatic mental “Yes!”
Though we’ve hardly covered every base in the complex field of human psychology, by this point we’re getting fairly close to where there’s precious little substance in the proposal that, at the time in question, I have the power to think about “yes-or-no questions.” And, if it were supposed that “I” then have no differentially responsive mental Propensity at all, then there wouldn't’t be supposed a real thinking being. Instead, there’d be supposed, at the most, just such a non-differentially responsive entity as would enjoy something like a certain subvocal experiential modification, perhaps labeled aptly with our inscriptions of “Yes!” At all events, the supposed entity would lack the power to think and, so, it won’t ever think at all.
As I imagine, we’ve just made some progress toward understanding how it is that the power to think must be a differentially responsive mental Propensity, toward grasping how it is that a real thinker must respond differentially to different considerations, or to some of them at least, that the thinker may consider. Still, it may be useful to offer clarifying illustrations.
So, let’s consider an analogous case that’s far simpler, an example that features nothing so impressive as real mentality. We’ll consider a pocket calculator or, if you like, a very simple really old-fashioned (p.43) adding machine. Now, if you push the 7-button on your machine, and then the plus-button, and then the 5-button, and then the equals-button, the machine will display . As we should take it, this machine “added” 5 to 7 and arrived at 12 as their sum. Next, consider a look-alike object that, upon having just such buttons just so sequentially pressed, also displays . But, unlike your machine, this look-alike device displays , and only , no matter which sequence of (four or more) buttons are pressed. This machine doesn't’t add 7 and 5 to yield 12, nor does it ever add at all. (Nor can the look-alike, just as it is, be used by thoughtful beings really to add 7 and 5.) That’s because, unlike your machine, this look-alike isn’t differentially Propensities, at least not in any way relevant to being a calculator.
A far more impressive object than the monotonous look-alike, your machine is differentially Propensities in relevant ways. When you press its 7-button, and then its plus-button, and then its 4-button, then (unless it’s broken, or things are otherwise amiss), it won’t display . (Presumably, it will display . And, if it doesn't’t now display , then your supposed calculator is blatantly limited or, more likely, it’s poorly made or badly broken.)
Placing aside the useless “one-track” look-alike object, let’s continue to consider your differentially Propensities device. At any time, its power to add, if I may so verbally dignify the Propensity in focus, is, at best, only very partially available in your experience: At the time in question, or during that brief episode of its use, there’s just the one manifestation of its additive Propensity, which we may loosely label as 7, +, 5, =, . At that time, there isn’t available in your experience, not even quite indirectly, any manifestation that we may well label as 7, +, 4, =, , nor any we should label as 5, +, 7, =, , and so on. At that time, there are no other manifestations at all. And, so, beyond the actual manifestation noted, there’s nothing for you to experience at all. Nonetheless, you know well enough that, at the very time in question, your machine has the power “to add.” Not all objects are as monotonous as that useless look-alike. And, as you well enough know, your differentially Propensities calculator is among them.
Much as it is with the look-alike object that displays  no matter what sequence of its buttons are pressed, so it also is with the supposed “thinker” that suffers a subvocal “Yes!” no matter what “considerations’” just previously occur to, or in, it. And, on the positive side of our analogy, much as it is with the crude instance of your calculator’s manifesting its power to add when it manifests 7, +, 5, =, , so it is with you manifesting your power to think when you answer “Yes!” to our supposed metaphysical “yes-or-no” question.
(p.44) Indeed, in at least two respects, the case is clearer with your real thinking than with your effective calculator: First, even as the Propensities of an effective calculator are pretty impressively differentially responsive, the mental Propensities required for you really to think about anything, much less about matters metaphysical, must be far more richly differentially responsive. These mental Propensities must be, indeed, richly differentially responsive in ways whose details we mere humans can hardly hope to imagine. And, second, of course, when you yourself are thinking, you know full well, or as well as anyone ever knows anything substantive, that you’re really thinking.
There are, of course, many other substantial differences between what goes on with your thinking and what occurs with a mere calculator’s “adding.” But, for highlighting the points central to our subject, a specification of them is a detrimental distraction.
Now, in articulating what’s involved in your power to think, even just so far as I’ve just managed, I described various scenarios only one of which could possibly be, at any given time, your actual situation. So, in describing more than one, I resorted to employing conditional sentences. But this should not lead us to think that your power is something you have only conditionally, or, indeed, that there’s anything more conditional with your power than there is with, say, an episode of your thinking. Not at all. The fact that, at a certain time, you have the power to think is no more conditional than the fact that, at the time, you imagine a blue sphere. To be sure, I may very usefully employ conditional sentences in making clearer many ideas about you and your thinking. For example, I may say that if it’s your power to think that’s manifested in the imagining of a blue sphere, then it’s you who’ll be thinking in the course of that imagining. But, there’s nothing of any great philosophical depth, nor of any metaphysical moment at all, in any of these clarifying comments.
Of course, it’s a perfectly general point that there’s nothing fundamentally conditional about powers, or dispositions, or Propensities. As C. B. Martin has often emphasized, the point applies whether what’s in focus is the electrical power of an insensate electron, supposing there are such basic enough physical entities, or whether it be your power to think, or my power to experience.3
Any philosophy that denies the reality of my thinking, or its distinctness from your real thinking, is a philosophy, I think, that we should reject. If the fact of your thinking requires you to have your very (p.45) own richly differentially responsive mental powers, as surely it does, then our philosophy must have it that you do indeed have your very own richly differentially responsive mental powers. Of course, that’s firmly affirmed in the Humanly Realistic Philosophy we’re advancing.
From focusing on our thinking, I turn to focus on our experiencing. Now, just maybe the concept of experience is extremely lenient and, unlike with thinking, experiencing doesn't’t require a differentially responsive mental Propensity on the part of an entity that’s engaged in it. Just maybe there could be some mutant clams, say, that always sense perfectly monotonously. While I suspect that’s not really a coherent suggestion, I don’t really know. But, for assessing the claims to be made in our Humanly Realistic Philosophy, we needn’t know about that. For, it’s plenty obvious that our own experiencing, or at least much of it, is differentially responsive experiencing. Here’s one example of what that means: Should my immediate experience be as of my wife’s enjoying success in her pursuits, then, typically, I respond by experiencing happiness, or by feeling happy. And, here’s another: Should my experience be, instead, as of her being embroiled only in trouble and failure, then, typically, I will respond by experiencing unhappiness, or by feeling unhappy.
Again I’ve used conditional sentences, now using the “should” form of locution. But, of course, my power to experience isn’t riddled with conditionality, whatever that might mean. I’ll try to put the point with jargon that’s helpful: My power to experience is categorical, or non-conditional; it’s as categorical an aspect of me, right now, as is my feeling happy, the power’s present manifestation.
Even when properly taking powers to be perfectly real, we should accept nothing less than this: Any philosophy that denies that we are richly differentially responsive Propensities experiencers is a philosophy to be denied. But, of course, our Humanly Realistic Philosophy affirms that each of us has quite rich powers of experiencing, insisting even that, at any moment, each of us manifests only an extremely minute aspect of, or extraordinarily tiny fraction of, her full experiential power.
3. Against Descartes, We Are Intermittently Conscious Individuals
Descartes famously held that, at every moment of his existence, he was, and must be, conscious. This profoundly philosophical thought is decidedly contrary to our commonsense belief. And, though I’m hardly the greatest friend of common sense, I think that here Descartes is in error.
(p.46) Descartes also held that his existence wasn’t ever temporally intermittent, or interrupted. By contrast with his belief that he always was conscious, this philosophical thought accords fairly well, I think, with commonsense thinking. And, as I think it’s at least roughly right, I won’t contest this second proposition.
Because he held (incorrectly) that he must always be conscious, along with holding (correctly) that he existed quite continuously, Descartes held, against common sense (and incorrectly) that there never were any periods of his sleep, in any night or day, when he wasn’t conscious; it only appeared that way. What really happened in his deepest sleep, he held, is that he completely forgot a conscious thought, or that he just failed to remember it, immediately after, quite consciously, he did think the thought.4
A Humanly Realistic Philosophy wants a more plausible view of the matter: When you come to be completely unconscious, as may well happen in deepest sleep, or with a powerful anaesthetic, it may come to be that your power to experience isn’t manifested even while you still exist, complete with that mental power then un-manifested.
For just a moment, I’ll go out on a limb, just a tiny little bit, to offer an “instructive speculation” that’s radically opposed to Descartes’s position. In addition to having a Propensity toward experience, quite certainly manifested in certain conditions, you may also have a real Propensity toward unconsciousness. So, even as your Propensity to experience will be manifested in just certain conditions, this opposite Propensity may be manifested in many other conditions. Generally, when you’re well rested and going about your business, your Propensity to experience is manifested. But, when you’re extremely tired, or when you pass out from drinking lots of alcohol, then, not only will it (p.47) cease being manifested, but, there will be manifested, instead, your diametrically opposite Propensity, your Propensity not to experience.
Think about it for a minute. Do you think that, when you’ve passed out, for example, and you aren’t experiencing, it’s just mere happenstance that, right then, you’re not experiencing? No; not at all. Far from it’s being the least bit coincidental that, shortly after having downed a liter of high-proof whiskey, you weren't’t experiencing at all, it was, rather, that the situation was like this. With your brain then quite differently configured, or with some other suitable shift in you, or in your immediate interaction partners, there’s then (satisfied the conditions for) the manifestation of your Propensity not to experience.
Well, so much for my not-very-speculative little “speculation.” Now, some much less ambitious words of opposition: Whether or not you have a Propensity for unconsciousness, there’s no question but that, when you’re unconscious, you still have your power to experience. It’s just that this power of yours isn’t manifested. And, even as you still have this power, so do you still exist. Let me elaborate on this sensible, unambitious point.
Sometimes, in deep sleep people think intelligently, but unconsciously. Sometimes, they awaken to find they have the solution to a hard problem that they lacked the day before. When in sound sleep, their power to think intelligently is, apparently, still being exercised, though their Propensity to think consciously is not. When this happens, their power to think may be exercised greatly while their power to experience might be manifested not at all.
At other times, say, when stunned by some shocking experience, many people can’t think intelligently, even though they remain quite awake. When in such stunned stupid awareness, a person’s power to think consciously is, evidently, still manifested. Not so with her power to think intelligently. As seems clear, that power’s then “blocked by” what’s so shocking. Or, maybe better, in consequence of her being so shocked, there isn’t, at that time, (the satisfaction of conditions conducive to) the manifestation of the person’s power to think intelligently.
But, of course, that’s not all. Or, do you think that, right upon the shock, it was just quite happenstance that the stunned person, though he was still thinking consciously, didn't’t think intelligently? Of course, you don’t. Rather, a more credible bullish description of what happened runs much more like this. The suddenly stunned person then didn't’t think intelligently because her Propensity not to think intelligently was then manifested (as there then obtained conditions so conducive to its manifestation).
(p.48) Even as all that is, doubtless, quite true, at least this much is pretty certainly true. Just as you may exist while your power to think intelligently isn’t manifested, so you may exist, quite equally, while your power to think consciously isn’t manifested. Indeed, you may exist, quite certainly, while neither power is manifested, or exercised, or activated, at all.
4. Our Realistic Response to Descartes Raises a Problem of Our Unconscious Quality
When I’m conscious, there’s no mystery, to me, about what’s my qualitative character. Sometimes it involves my experiencing visually and not auditorily, sometimes the converse holds, and sometimes my character has, at once, both a visual and an auditory aspect.
Now, though I’m no expert on philosophy’s history, so far as I can tell, in consultation with experts, Descartes did not think much about, nor did he care much about, questions of qualitative character. For him, apparently, you might consciously think that you exist, for example, while having, even right then, no qualitative character at all. But, if you’re consciously thinking something, you’re then not just thinking, but you’re also experiencing. And, in that you’re experiencing, you must have some qualitative character; indeed, specifically, you then must have some experiential quality. This may be a deficiency, in Descartes’s philosophy. But, no matter; for it’s very easy to remedy. For a Cartesian position that’s quite fully intelligible, we may enrich Descartes’s severe view, with apt ideas as to qualitative character. Already, we’ve done enough of that to proceed productively, with our discussion of imagining a red cube, or imagining a blue sphere, and with our points about feeling happy, and feeling unhappy. (In the course of the book, I’ll be doing this more, and more, and more.) So, let’s proceed with what are, for me here, the central questions.
Well, then, when I’m wholly unconscious, how is it with me qualitatively? Suppose that, following Descartes, we hold that we’re nonphysical mental beings, entirely lacking in spatiality. Then, even if an insensate physical thing each has qualitative character, whatever that might be, still, it won’t be enough for any of us, when unconscious, to have any quality. Anyhow, what are we to think about ourselves here? When we’re wholly unconscious, do we then have only powers, or Propensities, and no quality at all? The suggestion seems perfectly empty. So, as it seems to me, there’s a problem here for a Dualist Metaphysic, the Problem of our Unconscious Quality, which Descartes can handle only (p.49) quite heroically. And, he does this, in effect, by heroically holding that we never are unconscious.
Now, this Problem also needs a treatment from Materialist philosophers and, indeed, from all those holding with our Scientifically Metaphysic. And, preferably, the treatment shouldn’t be heroic. Whether such a nice treatment’s ever available will depend, I imagine, on whether there’s a nice resolution of a difficulty that, for all Scientiphicalists, may be a larger problem. I refer, of course, to the Mystery of the Physical, a Problem whose treatment is postponed until the next Chapter.
For serious Substantial Dualists, at all events, the Problem of Our Unconscious Quality looks to be a rather serious difficulty. Near the end of the book, I’ll try to offer a Dualistic treatment of this Problem that’s not an overly heroic response. But, that’s then, and this is now. Right now, let’s notice some further features of a Humanly Realistic Philosophy.
5. Against Hume’s Restriction, Human Understanding Transcends Human Experience
Among us mere human beings, it’s hard to do better than David Hume’s Treatise for deeply thoughtful and challenging work in philosophy. But, if we follow Hume more than just a very little, we’ll have no chance, of course, to advance a philosophy that’s even very modestly ambitious. This is not to say that an acceptable philosophy must avoid all substantial Humean influence, or every Humean aspect. But, it does mean that, in reasonably ambitious attempts at a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, we should employ conceptions Hume would have us avoid. Indeed, even with the few thoughts this Chapter’s already considered, we’ve seen enough to make this compelling and clear.
I don’t pretend to advances in Hume scholarship, no more than I take myself to make scholarly contributions to Cartesian studies. Rather, I want only to have us explore a certain aspect of Hume’s enormous appeal. In that way, perhaps we may earn a sensible liberation from Hume’s most constraining requirements.
As a check on what he took to be our rather empty philosophical pretensions, sometimes with much justice, Hume suggested we adhere to quite strict demands of experience. Briefly but usefully, we may render his injunction like this: (At least if you’re to be fully justified in what you believe, including even those beliefs of yours most deeply and directly involved in your philosophically most ambitious endeavors) you should believe to be real entities only such things as are fully (p.50) available to you in your own direct experience; about these available entities, you should believe only so much as is fully available to you in your direct experience.
Here are some examples to help with what that means: A certain feeling of heat may count as an entity fully available to you in your direct experience. But, as it’s conceived by Locke and, I daresay, by us, too, not so with a hot sticky-bun. Quite as it’s so fully available in your direct experience, the feeling of heat, or the felt heat, is presumed free of anything so suspect, and so unavailable, as a real Propensity or power. By contrast, the hot sweet bun itself will be, we presume, replete with powers and, so, it won’t be fully available. For example, as it’s a hot individual, the bun should have the Propensity to transfer heat to colder Propensities particulars or individuals. And, as it’s presumably sweet, it should have the power to affect you, a typical human taster, in certain experiential ways, under certain familiar conditions. And, while these conditions might be fulfilled, it also might be that, in fact, they are never fulfilled. Now, all this business about such a variably and elusively powerful particular won’t be anything like fully available in your direct experience. So, here’s Hume: As you should reject pretentious thought, you should accept only the feeling to be a real entity, and maybe the felt quality, but not any such supposedly powerful particular as the bun itself is supposed to be.
As Hume allows, you may feel felt heat. But, what is this experience, you yourself, of course, that feels this felt quality? Are you something that, in your direct experience, is fully available to yourself? Well, you are a differentially responsive Propensities particular. Indeed, during almost any pretty short period of your life—anything that, when being most properly metaphysical you’ll take to be the present time, there’ll be, in actual fact, only some very few manifestations of what are, at that very time, your richly differentially responsive mental Propensities, or powers. So, right now, as I imagine, you’re not hearing sounds characteristic of songbirds, though you have the mental Propensity to have auditory experience like that. Anyhow, your actual auditory experiencing is only a tiny sample, so to say, of all the auditory experiencing of which you’re now capable. And, you’re not having visual experience as of gold, or silver, I’ll imagine, though you’re fully able, right now, to enjoy just such visual experiencing. And, until I’m just mentioning it now, you weren't’t thinking about mighty mountains, though you had the capacity, then as now, to think about majestic peaks. Because you’re a highly differentially responsive Propensities particular, extremely little of your impressively powerful nature will ever be, in your direct experience, fully available to you.
(p.51) What’s more, the vast majority of what are, for you, your real experiential possibilities, you’ll never manifest, or actualize. You’ll never even come anywhere close to doing that, not even throughout your whole existence, or lifetime. Just think about it: There are many strange songbirds whose songs you’ll never hear, if only because you’ll never be close enough to them to have such auditory experiences. Nor will you ever have any auditory experience, not even in a dream, that’s qualitatively very like those experiences. And, there are many strange sights that, though you’re visually well enough endowed to enjoy such experiences, you’ll never experience the likes of. And, though you’ll enjoy the experiences that come your way when reading certain narratives, there are many other such experiences, engendered by perusing other stories and novels, that you’ll never happen to suffer or enjoy. All this is quite obvious. Though your power to experience is certainly limited, your actual experiencing, even over your whole lifetime, is far more limited.
Similarly, though my power to think is notably limited, all my actual thinking will be much more limited still. For instance, since I engage in a very great deal of thinking about metaphysics, I don’t engage in so much thinking of other sorts, on other subjects. Though I have the power to think in various of these other ways, I don’t do so very much, I suppose, by way of manifesting my power in these other modes or directions.
Not with any great constancy, it seems to me, but, still, and as a rather general rule, Hume allowed that you have available in your direct experience, apparently quite fully enough, whatever is so experientially available to you throughout your whole existence. He did not require, nor did he even regularly suggest, that you should believe to be real entities only such things as are fully available to you in your own direct momentary experience; nor did he require that, about such perfectly present entities, you should believe only so much as is fully available to you in your perfectly present and direct momentary experience. For several reasons, it was only natural that he not require so very much as that. Yet, it pays to explore this terribly severe requirement.
At any experiential moment, we’ve already agreed, I have no great variety of impressions. Sometimes I feel heat, but usually not. And, as well, only sometimes do I feel cold. Very rarely do I feel both at once. And, right now, I can assure you, isn’t any such very rare time as that. And, so it is with love and hatred, and pain and pleasure. Since you’re a very human being, quite like me, I suppose, the same is true of you. So, if you were restricted to what your present moment experience makes fully available to you, you’d have available a very poor corpus of (p.52) (Humean) impressions indeed. With just that as your working basis, you’d never get far at all in trying to do any substantial philosophy or, for that matter, anything else of intellectual interest.
After all, we can’t have serviceable (Humean) ideas, of course, except insofar as we’ve impressions that service them. But, all this is blatantly obvious. So, it’s also obvious that if he imposed a temporal restriction on us that’s so extraordinarily severe as what we’re discussing, there’d be little we could learn from Hume. But, of course, he didn't’t do that.5
Hume’s directive, that you accept only what’s so very available in your own direct experience, is enormously more appealing than the blatantly stultifying directive that you accept only what’s so available in your own momentary, perfectly present direct experience. But, at the end of the day, as I’ve been arguing, Hume’s directive really isn’t any more tenable. In your own direct (very human) experience, over the course of your whole (very human) existence, not even your own mental powers can be fully available to you, much less any of my quite distinct powers. Yet, even in your most theoretical frame of mind, you should accept the idea that, right now, you have a terribly rich power to think, manifested only very partially, indeed, in how it is that you’re now actually thinking. And, right now, you have the Propensity to experience very differently from just how it is that, right now, you’re actually experiencing.
(p.53) For a Humanly Realistic Philosophy that’s even modestly ambitious, we must accept a view that has each of us be, as we doubtlessly each are, an individual whose mental powers greatly outrun what’s fully available in her direct experience. Perhaps all the clearest or fullest human understanding must be somehow informed by our limited power to experience, even if often very indirectly. Still, as against Hume, human understanding greatly transcends human experience.
6. We Are Experientially Varying Individuals
When writing philosophically about himself, sometimes Hume is so extreme as to claim he can’t really have any idea of himself:
If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, thro’ the whole course of our lives: since self is suppose’d to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable. Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time. It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derive’d; and consequently there is no such idea.6
Avoiding cheap shots at Hume’s extremities, we may learn more by supposing that, contrary to evident fact, I do have an impression constant and invariable.
Suppose that I always hear a certain tone, bell-tone, with a certain pitch, loudness and timbre, constant and invariable. Maybe I won’t then notice the constant tone. But, so what? And, along a line I’ll now suggest, maybe I’d sometimes notice bell-tone: Sometimes I hear other tones that accord well with it; and, so, I hear a pleasant chord. Bemused, I might then think that my variable experience was harmonizing well with me, or with my constant and invariable nature. Other times, I hear tones that accord very poorly with bell-tone; then, I hear a “bell-tone-based” cacophonous sound. Aggravated, I might then think my variable experience was grating for me, conflicting with my constant and invariable nature.
Of course, what I’ve just suggested is rather silly: Why should my experiencing this constant bell-tone be my experiencing myself? Or, maybe better, why should my experiencing constantly in any specific (p.54) respect be a case of my experiencing myself, whereas my experiencing variably, in any such respect, not be my experiencing myself?
It’s only if I think that I must have a constant qualitative character, fully available to me in my own direct experience, that I’d entertain, at all seriously, any such strange notion. But, as against this, I’ve been arguing that, quite as we should expect, we’re powerfully variable persisting particulars, sometimes manifesting our power to experience in a certain sort of qualitatively rich experiencing, other times in very different sorts. And, as I’ve also urged, sometimes we won’t manifest this mental power at all, as may happen in deepest sleep, between dreams.
It was on purpose, of course, that, in making these pretty plain points, I chose such an obviously weak candidate as an impression of bell-tone. For, who would ever, ever think that in experiencing bell-tone, then, but only then, he was experiencing himself? But, of course, once you’ve so easily seen these main points I’ve just made, using that obviously weak candidate, you’ll realize that the same points hold, just as well, with less obviously weak candidates. So, we might contemplate a certain (possible) metaphysician who always felt very depressed, to just such a certain severe extent, and in just such a certain psychically painful way. Though he’s certainly worse off, on the whole, than most other philosophers, is there a certain way in which he is better off than them? Is he more fortunate than they are, at least in this one respect: While each of them lacks any adequate idea of herself, for lacking an impression that’s quite constant and invariable, he has just such a nice idea of himself, just for always feeling so depressed, just so utterly constantly and terribly invariably? Not at all. Though it might possibly have some bad side effects on this constantly depressed thinker, it certainly won’t be that, should his regularly taking Prozac often stop him from feeling so depressed, that will put him at any philosophical disadvantage.
Realistically, when will it be that I should experience constantly, or invariably? Well, maybe something strange will be going on with me, as with my having a glitch that’s completely stultifying my differentially responsive powers. Or, it may be, suppose, that I should always be similarly interacting with things that, owing to their perfect monotony, always appear to me exactly the same. Or, something else strangely monotonous might come to pass. But, nothing like that is going on with me, as my varying experience evidently attests. As I’m happy to say, I’m an individual with a highly differentially responsive Propensity to experience, at certain times experiencing in certain qualitatively rich ways, at other times in others.
Maybe some of the simplest of our supposed mutant clams, simply sensing and never really thinking, will have, throughout a sleepless (p.55) existence, an impression constant and invariable. Or, maybe not. However that may be, we are far more complex, in our real mental powers, than are even any real clams. So, in a lifetime of variable experiencing, why should I expect to have an impression that’s constant and invariable? Quite as nothing useful should be served by such constancy, there’s not the slightest reason, of course, to expect myself to experience so very invariably as all that.
7. We Are Not Bundles of Experiences, Thoughts or Perceptions
With just the first two of the following three sentences, Hume provides one of the most famous passages in all modern philosophy:
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are remove’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself; and may truly be said not to exist.7
But, on the face of it, it’s the third of these sentences, apparently not so much attended, that shows Hume most blatantly contradicting our commonsense thought about ourselves. Why is this striking sentence less attended? For one thing, and as we’ve already observed, Descartes had already upheld the idea that, should you not be consciously experiencing or thinking, then you should not exist at all. So, we see nothing both basic and new in Hume with “When my perceptions are remove’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself; and may truly be said not to exist.”
But, while there is nothing peculiarly Humean in our passage’s last sentence, it’s important for us to notice the great difference between Descartes and Hume as regards your existence and your conscious states: Descartes, as we’ve observed, held that, as our existence isn’t ever temporally intermittent, there never are any periods of utterly unconscious sleep; with periods of deepest sleep, we undergo conscious episodes, all right, but we just completely forget them, or we fail to (p.56) remember them, directly as they occur, or directly after they occur. Hume, by contrast, holds that our existence can be, and actually is, temporally intermittent. You exist before dreamless sleep, and also after perfectly unconscious sleep, but not during the intermediate period, when you’re supposedly sleeping (and, so, existing) without consciousness.
Common sense differs from both these great thinkers, of course, as concerns their very general point of agreement; as it says, we needn’t be conscious at every moment of our existence. Should you not be conscious during sound sleep, or when under a powerful anaesthetic, as it appears does happen, you nevertheless exist at that time. And, as I’ve been arguing, during your periods of unconsciousness, you continue to be a particular with the power to think, and to experience, even while your persisting mental powers aren’t manifested in conscious episodes. Offering a more Humanly Realistic Philosophy than either, there is this large difference between the present work and, on the other side, both Hume and Descartes.
Hume’s idea that we have temporally intermittent existence comports well with his view that each of us is, though not nothing whatever, “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions.” (This is less extreme than the view Hume seems to take in the passage quoted at the start of the previous Section, where he says that he has no idea of himself whatever.) In an ostensible expression of openness toward the possibility of great differences in human experience, as between himself and, perhaps, someone who might always hear bell-tone, Hume soon sarcastically segues into offering us his famous “bundle theory” of himself, and of you and me, too:
If any one upon serious and unprejudiced’d reflexion, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continue’d, which he calls himself; tho’ I am certain there is no such principle in me.
But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity,…8
Now, as I’ve already argued, a metaphysician who always experiences bell-tone, for example, would really be no better placed than I am, or than you are, to experience or perceive himself. But, now setting aside (p.57) all that, we do well to note how nice is the fit between Hume’s idea that we are each a “bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other,” and his thought that we have intermittent existence. With plenty of logical room to do so, he need only add this specification: Some perceptions in my bundle, or in the bundle that’s me, call them “Earlier Perceptions,” may precede some others, call them “Later Perceptions,” with times between the Earlier and the Later when there occur no perceptions in my bundle, or, more colloquially, none that are my perceptions.
Hume’s bundle theory of ourselves may be seen, I think, to be perfectly absurd. Indeed, to my mind, the simplest consideration against the view is perfectly decisive: We must acknowledge the possibility of just a single thinking, or a solitary perceiving, or a lonely experiencing. As such a lonely experience is so perfectly solitary, it can’t be part of any bundle or collection of perceptions. On a bundle theory, then, it must be an experiencing of no experience at all, which is obviously absurd. Nor will we be helped in avoiding absurdity, it’s evident, by a clever logical dodge, as with defining a “minimal bundle” comprising just one single experiencing, which may somehow serve to comprise, or to compose, a being whose experiencing it is. For, it’s also obviously absurd to think that an experiencing may be its own subject, or to think that there may be no difference at all between an experience, however small and impoverished, and, on the other side, the experiencing that this subject enjoys.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’ll allow that it’s perfectly possible for there to be a person who only ever engages in extremely little experiencing. Just so, it’s perfectly possible, I’ll at least allow, for there to be someone who exists for only a tiny fraction of a single second, experiencing only just then, and then only in just a certain absolutely specific way, perhaps as simple as just experiencing bell-tonally, for instance. As I’ll happily allow, this “terribly fleeting” being won’t ever enjoy, or he won’t ever suffer, any more experiencing than just that, during his single existential moment. What I’m not prepared to allow, by contrast, is that there’s ever any experiencing, or any (so-called) experience, that somehow constitutes an experience; no more than there’s any experience, or any experiencing, really, that’s not the experience of an experience. Rather, in every possible case, it’s the ex-perimeter that’s quite basic, with the experiencing, or the (so-called) experience, only ontologically parasitical (on the sentient being). It may be helpful, I think, to put the point this graphically: An Almighty God, if Such there be, could make an experience who never enjoys any experience; maybe, during his very brief existence, he’s always in (p.58) absolutely deep sleep, say, and, for that reason, he’s never experiencing. But, not even an Almighty God could make there be some experiencing (or, what’s colloquially called some experience) that wasn’t the experiencing (or the so-called experience) of an experience, who’s ontologically more basic than the experiencing.
On views very different from bundle theories, as with Descartes’s idea of substantial individual souls, there’s no place for such absurd thoughts as that of an experiencing, or an experience, without any experience. (Nor is there any place for such an absurd idea as that of an experience who’s identical with his experiencing.) Rather than an experience that’s floating free of all souls, we should have each experience be an experience of a properly powerful individual, maybe a manifestation of the individual’s power to experience. Though we may disagree with Descartes on many other matters, on this critical point, he is, apparently, right on the money. By contrast, Hume’s bundle theory is wrong.
8. We Substantial Individuals Are More Basic Than Our Thoughts and Experiences
The key difference here, favoring not Hume but Descartes, can be helpfully marked, I think, with some useful technical terms. You are a substantial individual; by contrast, your particular perceptions, thoughts and experiences are ontologically parasitical on you. Here are some thoughts that should help us with the distinction just marked.
It’s perfectly possible for you to exist always having quite different specific experiences and thoughts from those you actually do have, different in many respects even if, perhaps, not in absolutely all. But, if there’s never a being that’s you, then there never could have been any of your particular thoughts and experiences.
Because we habitually take uses of nouns and pronouns to designate entities, there are certain dangers for us. In particular, there’s the danger of our failing to note that what we apparently designate with some uses are ontologically parasitical on more basic things, designated with other uses. So, it may be more perspicuous, for metaphysical purposes, to speak of you thinking, and you experiencing, rather than of your thoughts and your experiences. (There’s some heuristic point, therefore, in speaking, somewhat barbarously, of your experiencing, rather than talking, more colloquially, of your experiences.)
Ordinarily, we may think of you now as having several different experiences, as with one that’s visual and another that’s auditory. We (p.59) might then suppose that there are then these three entities: you, your visual experience, and your auditory experience. And, we may wonder about the relations among the entities: Are you in a special “having relation” with respect to your visual experience? Is this the very same relation that you’re in with respect to your auditory experience; or is it, rather, a suitably similar relation; or what? I don’t think these are philosophically important questions. More likely, I think, they’re the reflection of philosophical confusions. To forestall falling into any such confusion, we may avail ourselves of descriptions that are relevantly more perspicuous. Here’s a pretty good start with that: You are experiencing in a visual way and, at the same time, you’re experiencing in a nonvisual auditory way. Few would want to reify ways; fewer still would have you be a bundle or collection of ways.
But, some might. Following Roderick Chisholm, we may clarify matters still more for them. Just so, here’s a description that’s relevantly still more perspicuous: You are experiencing visually and, at the same time, you’re experiencing auditorily.9
Consider a troubled woman: First, she has a headache; and then, for a little while, she’s not bothered by any headache; and then, right after that, she has just such a bothersome headache once again. There seems a small problem here: Is the headache at the end the selfsame headache once again, or is it a second headache she then suffers that’s just so like the first? As I’ll suggest, this small problem should now seem even smaller: As compared with the individuals on whom any headache is ontologically parasitical, headaches are ontologically superficial items. So, as far as our very small problem goes, we may do well to say something like this: First, the woman experiences headaches, and then she doesn't’t, and then again she experiences headaches. For certain purposes, such strange talk may be detrimental; but, for present metaphysical purposes, it may be helpful.
(p.60) For a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, we might do best, even, to deny that such apparent parasites, like headaches, are real things at all. But, adequately defending this severe stance would take, I think, far more effort than the issue here warrants. Anyhow, whether we deny the reality of headaches entirely, or whether we allow them as real but ontologically superficial items, we may be clear about the philosophic status of the issue just discussed. Problems concerning the individuation of such presumptive things as headaches are philosophically superficial issues. It’s a philosophically superficial issue whether, during a certain brief period, a certain experience has a single headache, which headache exists only intermittently, or whether the experience then has a sequence of several headaches, none existing just intermittently, and all of them qualitatively much the same.
These considerations are hardly peculiar, it should be noted, to mental modifications, to the likes of headaches and experiences. Consider your fist, as we say, or your lap. When you’re seated, you are so configured (or maybe it’s just your body that’s so configured) that you have a lap. And, when you stand up tall, or you lie down straight, you don’t have a lap; then, there’s nothing that’s your lap. When you sit, and then stand up, and then sit down again, is it the same lap that you have, both before and after the interim of standing? Or, do you first have one lap and, after the interim, you have another lap that’s so similar to the first? Well, I’m inclined to say it’s the same lap. But, for serious philosophy, that’s no important question. And, for much the same reason, our question about individuating a woman’s headaches isn’t very important, either.
Let’s think some more about things apparently quite different from ourselves and our mental affections. So, let’s suppose a perfectly solid object that’s almost perfectly spherical. To get a tolerably clear conception of this supposed physical individual, imagine that it’s transparent pink, through and through, with its pink matter being so perfectly homogeneous that the little solid has no substantial parts. Now, suppose that a searching look at the sphere’s scratched surface, as with a magnifying glass, reveals nine separated scratches, each of them quite continuous, that are so nicely arranged like this: MADE BY GOD (As we suppose, that’s the end of this issue, no matter how much magnification.) Now, there may ensue a discussion as to whether there are only THESE nine here, or whether, in addition to them, there’s also a larger discontinuous scratch, comprising all nine of the smaller scratches (and more directly serving to reveal the scratched object’s origin).
Is there really such a larger discontinuous indentation, comprising the nine continuous scratches? This isn’t a question of much substance. (p.61) Not so concerned with such ontologically superficial parasites as scratches, or indentations, a serious philosophy will be enormously more concerned with more substantial individuals, in this case, with the very nearly spherical pink object. Without wishing to suggest that there exist any such things as ways, we may say, quite simply, that our pretty spherical object is indented in a certain way, just like so: MADE BY GOD And, then, we may speculate as to whether its being so indented may serve to reveal the object’s origin.10
Now, let’s think about both you yourself, as modified variously, and also a simple nonmental individual, which presumed particulars may be modified very simply and straightforwardly. I’ll start with you. Well, you may experience visually, all at once, as of a Dark Grey Square, as “in the upper left of your visual field,” and a Light Grey Square, in the upper right, and a Dark Grey Circle, in the lower left, and a Light Grey Circle, in the lower right, each spatially separate from the others. Let’s grant or suppose that, as Frank Jackson has argued, we can’t use our adverbial expressions to say, adequately, how it is that you’re then experientially modified.11 Indeed, let’s grant or suppose that, using ordinary English locutions, we can’t express adequately how things will be with us experientially, unless we use expressions that, at least to all appearances, will have us suggesting, at least, the existence of entities other than substantial individuals. Can that mean any serious problem for the thought that it’s we experiencers that are substantial, with our experiences just ontologically parasitical on us? No; it can’t. Why should we think, after all, that this language of ours should be well suited for any adequately perspicuous presentation of anything like a basic metaphysics?
Indeed, as it might well be, even should some metaphysically better language somehow be made available to us, as with a gift from a (p.62) beneficent God, matters metaphysical still would elude our systematic codification. For, though some mentally powerful beings might be up to employing that theoretically fine language to good philosophical effect, we merely human beings might not, by contrast, possess the requisite mental powers. But, what of it? In basic metaphysics, I believe, the last thing we should do is conclude anything much about which (concrete) entities exist, from anything about our own mental Propensities, or our limitations and lacks thereof. Better for me simply to think that, say, I’ll never be very good at saying how it is with me experientially, or visually, and that’s that, rather than my thinking that there exists, in addition to just me myself, something that’s my visual field, for instance, as well as something that’s the real relation between me and this visual field of mine, maybe something that’s a certain real “having relation.” Unless we may take it that they’re just some onto-logical parasites on unproblematic substantial individuals, it’s truer to deny, and so it’s better to deny, I think, that there really are any such metaphysically peculiar particulars as, say, visual fields, our denial being a nice expression, I think, of an aptly robust sense of reality.
For good measure, we consider a relevantly related nonmental example. Well, a cubical object may have impressed upon it, all at one square face, several shallow indentations, a Rough-bottomed (or Dark) Square indentation, and a Smooth-bottomed (or Light) Square indentation, and a Rough-bottomed Circle (or circular) indentation, and a Smooth-bottomed Circle (or circular) indentation. A power press may do that to a pretty perfect cube, thus turning it into a less than perfect cube. For a philosophically perspicuous description of the situation, I might well say that this near-cube is internationally configured in a certain complex way. And, now, let’s grant or suppose that we can’t use our adverbial expressions to say, adequately, how it is that this near-cube is shaped, or how it’s been impressively modified. Can this be a serious problem for the thought that cubical concrete are more basic particulars, with their literally superficial indenting ontologically parasitical on them? Again, no.
As Bertrand Russell noted, sometimes there won’t be a nice parallel between an experiential case and the presumably grosser material case.12 Putting it crudely, that’s due to “experiential orientation.” In one subject’s visual field, so to say, there is a Dark Grey Square (color patch) to the left of a Light Grey Circle (color patch), and that’s it. In another’s, there’s just a Dark Grey Square to the right of a Light Grey (p.63) Circle, and that’s it. Now, grant or suppose that we can’t use our adverbial expressions to say, adequately, how it is that these experiential subjects are experientially modified, thus adequately expressing both the experiential difference between them and also the similarity. And, with Russell, suppose that here there is no relevant parallel with physically geometrical cases. Can this mean a serious problem for the thought that we experiencers are more basic entities, while our visual fields, and our experiences, are ontologically parasitical on us? No, once again.
As I’ve been suggesting, you and I are each substantial individuals. By comparison with us, who are said to “have” the supposed mental items, all our thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, finally to use Hume’s favored term, are ontologically superficial items, each parasitical on the being said to “have” it. For that reason alone, nobody is “a bundle or collection of different perceptions.”
Right now, I’ll do just a bit more toward articulating my developing distinction between substantial individuals and, on the other side, ontological parasites. A bundle of solid physical cones and spheres is ontologically parasitical on individual cones and spheres. At least if they themselves aren’t bundles or collections, each cone, by contrast, and each sphere, may be a substantial individual. Again, a group of people is not any substantial individual, but is ontologically parasitical upon the people in the group. Each person, by contrast, may be a substantial individual.
So, we see a second reason why no substantial individual can be “a bundle or collection of different perceptions.” Apparently, we couldn’t be a mere bundle or collection of anything. As it appears, then, Hume compounded ontological errors. First, even if it should be supposed that you’re a bundle of something, it won’t be mere perceptions, or perceiving, that can compose the wonderful bundle. For, it’s you that’s the onto-logically more basic entity here, with your perceptions parasitical on you. And, second, even if you should be somehow composed of constituent parts, it’s not any mere bundle, or collection, that your parts should then serve to compose. On the issues we’ve been so far discussing, the first error is more influential and, so, it’s been more in focus.
9. As We Communicate with Each Other, We Are Reciprocal Interaction Partners
Though I can’t get you to read my mind, or to be most directly affected by my mental modification, yet, by expressing my thoughts to you, often I successfully communicate with you about many things. I succeed (p.64) in communicating to you, indirectly, how it is that my thinking is progressing, and how it is with me experientially. And, in a similarly indirect manner, you sometimes effectively communicate with me, too. Any philosophy that denies this should, I think, itself be denied.
To make this clear, recall the little imaginative exercise where we imagined colorful solid figures: Closing our eyes, each of us imagined a regular solid that, transparently through and through, was a single spectral color. You chose yours and I chose mine; and, each divulged to the other what she imagined. Most sincerely and truly, I told you I imagined a blue sphere, by saying the words “I just imagined a blue sphere.” And, you told me you imagined a red cube, saying the words “Me, I imagined a red cube.” As is plenty certain enough, by the end of this exercise I knew, rather well, how it was with you experientially when you imagined as you just did. And, you knew how it was with me when I imagined my blue sphere.
Inasmuch as I can communicate with you, I have the mental power to affect you. And, just as necessary for there to be any communicating between us, you have the mental Propensity, or the Locked “passive” power, to be affected by me. So, at least to some extent, you and I are reciprocal disposition partners, as C. B. Martin aptly characterizes the relation between us.13 I’ll amplify on Martin’s message.14
Whether you (still) exist or not, and whether or not you’re “within the reach of my communicative attempts,” I am categorically disposed to affect the thinking of any existent that’s precisely like you actually are. And, correlatively or reciprocally, you are Propensities to be so affected by someone just like me. As you’re now listening to these sentences of mine—please pretend—expressed by me for you in our seminar room, you’re now within the reach of my communicative attempts, whatever that may precisely involve. And, so, these reciprocal dispositions now are actually manifested, by me and by you: I actually (p.65) do modify you mentally, at least somewhat, and, correlatively, you’re mentally affected by me.
As we discuss these metaphysical questions together, not only do I communicate with you, which even the dead Descartes may do, but you also communicate with me, which you don’t do with Descartes. Even as I communicate so as to affect you, so, correlatively, you have the mental power, or the mental Propensity, to affect me. And, on my part, there’s my categorical disposition to be affected mentally by your communicative attempts. So, in that we quite fully communicate with each other, it’s very fully that we’re reciprocal disposition partners.
Here, we have a reciprocal disposition partnership that isn’t always dormant, as may be a somewhat similar partnership between me and, say, some philosophy student somewhere in Saskatoon, soon to leave the field. In some sense or way, I suppose, she and I can communicate with each other, if only the conditions for our doing so were far more favorable. But, for better or worse, they never will be. So, though we may be reciprocal disposition partners, we aren’t, she and I, what may be called reciprocal interaction partners. By contrast, as you and I actually do communicate with each other, we are reciprocal interaction partners.
When we converse about matters metaphysical, as we often do, generally I affect you as regards both your experiencing and your thinking, and also as regards how you’re Propensities.
First, when you hear my voice, then, obviously, I affect you as to how it is with you experientially in auditory ways. Just so, I have the power, or the Propensity, to affect you like that, and, reciprocally, you’re Propensities to be experientially affected by me. This may be a power of mine that I exercise only rather indirectly; more directly, I affect, for instance, some medium through which we communicate. But, this does not change the main point.
Second, with your hearing these meaningful sounds I’ve made, there’s a new exercise of your power to understand English sentences; truly enough, this is an exercise of (part of) your very complex, highly cultivated power to think. This episodic understanding affects, in turn, your Propensity to think, particularly, to think about metaphysical matters. For example, it might consciously occur to you to disagree with me in a certain way. Wholly novel, at least wholly new with you, this disagreeable thinking is, no doubt, a manifestation of your newly increased Propensity to think about philosophy, at least very slightly more complex than just previously was this mental power of yours. In orally communicating my metaphysical thoughts to you, I affect you as regards your mental Propensity, too, not just your experiential character and your occurrent thinking. So, though the interactions here (p.66) are quite indirect indeed, I do have the Propensity to affect your mental power, while you have the reciprocal Propensity to be so affected by me.
Our metaphysical conversation is, of course, a two-way street. So, as often happens, you will express your disagreement to me, which it is also well within your power to do. And, then, correlatively with how things went just before, you will affect me, and I will be affected by you, as regards both my experiencing and my thinking. Just as you certainly do have the power to affect me so, and this is so successfully exercised, I have the Propensity, or the passive power, to be so modified by you. Nor does your success end here. With respect to me, at least, you are powerfully effective. And, as is required for that to be so, I am very receptive with respect to you. And, as is also required, the conditions for our philosophical interaction are, no doubt, quite favorable. So, you modify my philosophical Propensity. When some of my newly modified philosophical power is manifested, as often happens very soon, then there may occur to me a novel conscious thought, new for me at least.
As we are such successful interaction partners, communicating with each other so very consequentially, all of this really does obtain. A philosophy that denies it should itself be denied.
10. There Is Perplexity Concerning How We Commonly Communicate
Often you effectively communicate with me, though I can’t ever read your mind, nor can I do anything of the kind. As I must believe, there are more things involved in our reciprocal interaction partnership than just you and me. In addition to the two of us, there is a mediating entity, or some mediating entities, through which you communicate to me how it is with you. It is by your more directly interacting with these “third parties’” that, less directly, you interact with me and, thereby, you affect me aptly, both experientially and otherwise. And, correlatively, it is by my being directly affected by them that, less directly, I’m so affected by you.
Let me try to put a bit of concrete meat on these rather abstract bare bones.
The most commonly effective way for us to communicate much occurs with oral conversation. What happens here? Well, it’s said that you give oral expression to your thinking. And, at least in the many cases where your innermost thinking precedes, and results in, its oral expression, when you’re conversing with me, I’m more directly affected by the oral expression than by the innermost thinking itself. At first blush, (p.67) none of this seems very perplexing. But, perplexity does befall us when we look into the details of how it might actually have been accomplished.
When you express your thoughts to me by speaking some happily expressive words, and this occurs in effective communication, then, I should perceive an audible expression of your thinking. But, what is the perceptible expression that I here perceive? Well, we may say that it’s an audible utterance, you’ve produced. But, then, what real entity can that be?
Maybe, it’s a certain disturbance in some of the air in the room. But, even the air in the room is a pretty bad candidate, it would seem, for being any genuine individual, much less a perceptible entity. (Indeed, the room itself is little better than a mere region of a certain building.) And, a mere disturbance in what’s merely some of this “air in the room”? I’m already quite perplexed.
When you audibly communicate with me, what perceptible entity, pray tell, is a really relevant mediator between you, who’s indirectly affecting me, and, on the other side, me, who’s being so affected by you? Between the two of us, there’s little more to pick on than a certain disturbance in some of the air in the room, the sad candidate we’ve lately noted. Is this disturbance of air in the room your audible utterance? To me, at least, it doesn't’t seem that I hear any disturbance of the air, nor do I seem to perceive air disturbances in any other way. So, what’s going on?
To be sure, not only do we say that I hear your utterances, but, as well, we say that I hear you. But, noting this can’t help. Even if you think common parlance is often a fount of deep truth, you shouldn’t think it does anything here. For, it’s a mediating entity we’re here seeking, or several presumably perceptible mediators, between you and me. And, you can’t be that.
Even if we should be Substantial Dualists, your body won’t be a very relevant mediator. For, I didn't’t hear your body, as you were just sitting and talking, not crashing into a chair. And, though I see your body, and even your moving mouth, I’m no lip reader, nor anything else so interesting. Rather, this case is just so commonplace, though it remains very perplexing.15
(p.68) In a world far more marvelous than what’s actual, there might be, as with supposed mental telepathy, quite direct communication between you and me. In such a world, perhaps, we’d have no need of mediating partners, whether unproblematic perceptible particulars or whether most-mysterious whatnots. As we’re well-habituated to this actual world, that may seem magically mysterious. But, from a philosophical perspective, it may be less perplexing than what’s supposed to go on in the actual world, in the most common cases of human communication.
The commonest cases of communication between us, where we come to grasp each other’s thoughts quite effectively, are very far from receiving any philosophically adequate human understanding. Still, any philosophy that denies that you communicate your thoughts to me, or that I communicate mine to you, is a philosophy to be denied.
11. Much of the World Interacts with Us, But Doesn’t Communicate with Us
It’s plenty obvious that I experience variously as my life progresses. This is, no doubt, a manifestation of my complex power to experience. Obviously enough, this complex power is manifested by my interacting variously with things external to me, or, just possibly, a single external thing. Apparently, this holds true even with the straightforward spatial sense of “external” in force, but, at the least, it holds true in some sense of this traditionally useful philosophic term. Just so, there’s a very (p.69) considerable external reality that’s my continually affective interaction partner, whether this external reality be just one vast heterogenous entity or whether it might comprise, in fact, many quite distinct external entities.
By contrast with the likes of you, let’s consider my more direct disposition partner or, maybe, many such more direct partners. As appears plain enough, it’s nothing like that which ever communicates with me, certainly not in the most straightforward sense of the term. Certainly, there’s no communication to me, from most of external reality, as to any mental processes or activities on its part. Nor does it communicate any such thing to any of the beings with whom I do communicate, as with you, for example. So, even while you are external to me, and I to you, our communication, about our mental processes is a pretty exceptional occurrence. For the most part, my interactions with external reality involve no such communication, and neither do yours.16
The noncommunicative external reality that interacts with me affects how it is with me in various regards. Most saliently, it affects how it is with me as regards my experiencing. Thus, even as I am disposed to be experientially affected by this external reality, so, reciprocally, external reality is disposed to affect how it is that I experience. Now, this same external reality is rather similarly disposed, I feel sure, to affect how it is that you experience. And, if I may presume that (not being blind, or deaf, and so on) your senses function quite as well as do mine, as I certainly hope I may, then, reciprocally, you’re disposed, very much like I’m Pro-pensioned, to be experientially affected by this selfsame external reality. After all, both of us are reasonably ordinary human beings, quite devoid of supernatural powers. In very general terms, that’s why it is that, (p.70) in many respects and overall, your experiencing is, even unto its innermost aspect, rather like my experiencing.
I’ll illustrate. As it might well be, part of this external reality is what I’ll call, properly enough, my computer, which comprises my CPU, my monitor, my keyboard, and so on. And, another part of the external reality, distinct from my computer, though very similar, is what we’ll call your computer. Then, I’m experientially modified by external reality, we might say, by being so affected by my computer; this computer is disposed to affect me experientially and, reciprocally, I’m so disposed to be so modified by it. And, by being similarly modified by your similar computer, you’re experientially modified similarly by external reality. So, first, that similar part of external reality is similarly Propensities to affect you experientially. And, reciprocally, you’re so disposed to be so affected by it.
At least from time to time, I affect this external reality, the selfsame external reality that, from time to time at least, you also affect. So, I’m disposed to affect, or modify, the external reality that often affects us experientially.
Again, I’ll illustrate. Sometimes I may affect this external reality in affecting the part of it that’s my computer. So, I’m disposed to affect this part of reality; and, presumably, under similar conditions, I’m similarly disposed to affect anything relevantly much like it, as with similar computers. And, reciprocally, my computer is disposed to be affected by me (and, by things much like me, such as a similarly skilled computer user.) Now, suppose your computer is much like my device. Well, then I’m similarly disposed to similarly affect your computer, that other part of external reality, and your computer, for its part, is reciprocally disposed to be affected by me.
In an awkward and roundabout way, I’ve just sketched something of my philosophical approach to ordinary tables and chairs, rocks and trees, and so on, as well as to our own bodies and what does most to sustain them. Why so roundabout? Perhaps owing mainly to my philosophical confusions, I feel that a great deal of caution is appropriate here.
As one facet of this desired caution, I want to leave open many ontological questions that, on more straightforward formulations, would at least seem to be closed, or settled in advance. For example, I want to leave it open whether my effective interaction partner might be a single vast heterogeneous field—and, if so, whether there then will be, most really and truly, just one single entity, perhaps, comprising all “non-communicative” external reality. On this open option, all alleged rocks might be, really and truly, not any entities in their own right, and, just possibly, no real entities at all. As well, I want to leave open whether my noncommunicative partnering might comprise very many quite distinct, (p.71) but also quite fundamental, particles or, if that’s not the best term, many distinct external items each entirely lacking any substantial parts. On this other open option, I want to leave it open, further, whether there might then be, most really and truly, just these very many distinct basic particles, perhaps, together comprising all noncommunicative external reality, whilst all alleged rocks might be, again, no real entities at all.
What goes on when I’m perceiving some of external reality, as when I perceive you, or your body, or your nose, which I can hardly discriminate, of course, from all the rest of your body? (Of course, it’s supposed to be no more problematic for me to see your nose than it is for me to see your body. But, then, maybe both are very problematic. But, we’ll let this pass.) First, when I’m perceiving your body, as we say, then there’s something going on that involves me, on one hand, interacting with our external reality, on the other, but not all of external reality. (For your body isn’t all of external reality and, as I’m not seeing your kidneys, I’m not really perceiving, even, all of your body.) And, no doubt, this interaction has something to do with my being mentally altered in some such way that, in circumstances typical or normal for me, I’m then set to be more likely successful in my upcoming transactions with some of external reality. But, much more than that is hard to say. Well, I’ll just leave it at that.
Though in most of the book I’ll suppose them all settled, and all settled in a most common and boring manner or way, for another few moments I’ll leave open several large metaphysical issues. For example, I leave it open whether our external world might be a single vast basic noncommunicative external entity that thinks, or experiences. And, I leave open whether there might possibly be many distinct basic noncommunicative external entities, each of them thinking but never communicating that to us. So, in this Chapter I’m leaving it open whether some sort of panpsychism, or idealism, might be true. Of course, even in this Chapter I reject any Absolute Idealism that denies I’m one potent particular and you’re another. And, so, too, with any phenomenalism that has you be a bundle of parasites. But, there are also other views, not so obviously to be rejected.
12. We Often Choose What to Think About, and Even What to Communicate
From time to time, at least, I choose what to do from among actually available alternatives for my own thoughtful activity. In particular, I choose what I’ll think about from among actually available options for (p.72) me. As sometimes happens, I choose to think about metaphysics, even while there are other alternatives available for my thoughtful activity, including an option to think about soul music. Now, knowing my very limited self as I do, I know that typically, and at a certain short time that’s upcoming, I can’t do more than one of these things, all at once. Yet, I also know that each is a real alternative for me. And, when I choose to think about metaphysics, from among my real alternatives, often I do that because I choose to do it.
To make the point usefully vivid, again return to consider the little imaginative exercise used, in the first instance, to illustrate how very effectively we communicate with each other, even as concerns our innermost thoughts and experiences. As it happened, you’ll recall, I chose to imagine a blue sphere, whereas you chose to imagine a red cube. But, as is obvious enough, at least to me, imagining a blue sphere wasn’t my only real alternative. It was also then open to me to imagine a red cube, or, for that matter, to imagine an orange cylinder. Indeed, it was perfectly open to me then not to have exercised my visually imaginative powers at all, and to let you do all the envisioning and divulging. To me, this is just as obvious as was your successfully communicating to me, in our supposed exercise, that it was a red cube that you imagined.
In fact, just a few minutes ago, I chose again. This time I chose to imagine a red cube, not a blue sphere. But, as I’m quite sure, my imagining a blue sphere was, this second time, just as much a real alternative for me as first it was, when I actually imagined a blue sphere, and did so just because I chose to do so.
When I choose to think about something, then, as I feel sure, this is a nonderivative choice of mine. Now, a committee may make choices, from among the alternatives available to it, and these will be only derivative choices. They’ll be derivative because the committee will make choices only when, in a more central and unqualified sense, some of its members, some thoughtful individuals, each makes nonderivative choices. But, when I choose to think about metaphysics, it’s nothing even remotely like what happens when such a committee chooses. Rather, it’s very much like what happens, of course, when a thoughtful member chooses.
It is not quite so obvious to me that I ever really choose, I hasten to admit, as it is that I sometimes experience, or that I sometimes think. But, nor is it so perfectly obvious to me that you effectively communicate to me what you’re thinking, or experiencing. But, for progress toward a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, all that’s plenty obvious enough to me, and, I think, to you, too.
Any philosophy that denies that each of us really chooses, from actual options for his own thoughtful activity, is, I think, a philosophy (p.73) that we should deny. Indeed, any acceptable philosophy must have it that sometimes I effectively communicate to you my innermost thinking because I choose to do so, and sometimes I’m affected mentally by you because you choose to communicate just certain of your own innermost thoughts to me.
Do you remember Scientiphicalism, the dominant worldview sketched in the previous Chapter? On that view, I’ll remind you, all your powers are physically derivative Propensities, all deriving from the far simpler physical properties of your simple physical constituents, saliently including their simple Propensities, and the (sufficiently basic) physical relations among those simple components. Can your power to choose, quite evident enough to you, possibly be any such physically derivative power? I suspect not. And, I find this suspicion so enormously intriguing that I can hardly wait to investigate the matter.
But, wait we must. For, though we’ve made some progress, I think, in advancing a Humanly Realistic Philosophy, we’ve done it without employing any very intelligible idea of physical reality. But, of course, questions concerning Scientiphicalism are questions concerning physical reality. So, to make some progress with those questions, we must return to address the Mystery of the Physical. And, that’s what we’ll now do.
(1) . Though I’m never dogmatic about the issue, and maybe I shouldn’t ever claim absolute certainty in the matter, I proceed on the idea that any philosophy that denies my existence, or that doesn't’t have me be a real being, is, I think, a philosophy that should be rejected by me, and by you too, I think.
Indeed, the only considerations I’ve ever found to threaten this proposition pretty persuasively, and maybe even that’s putting the point too strongly, are challenges to the effect that there’s never really been, for human beings at least, any coherent concept of human beings, and any real natural languages. At least for the most part, these are the familiar challenges stemming from such ancient sources as the paradox of the liar and the sorites paradox. For some sorites-style thoughts to some such dismal effects, if you’ve lots of time, you might look at one of these three old papers of mine: “There Are No Ordinary Things,” Synthase, 1979, “I Do Not Exist,” in G. F. MacDonald, ed., Perception and Identity, Macmillan, 1979, and, the one I believe to be most ambitious, and—maybe, the most insightful—“Why There Are No People,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 1979. As will make things convenient for many readers, these papers all are reprinted in a new collection of my (selected) published essays, Philosophical Papers, Volume 2, Oxford University Press, 2006.
(Here’s a quasi-historical aside: For those few interested in tracking my published thoughts through the years, later I took a more positive stance on these matters, most saliently in my book Identity, Consciousness and Value, Oxford University Press, 1990. In that work, see pages 191–210 and, especially, pages 219–223. As I now suspect, it was in the earlier, more “nihilistic” writing that I was more nearly correct. But, as the rest of this note makes clear, for the present work, none of that need concern us much. Now, it’s back to the note’s main thrust.)
Now, if some such paradoxes really are as effectively challenging as they sometimes strangely seem, then, at this point, it might not be not possible for me to advance any substantive philosophy, as even the very formulation of any substantive view, however partial and sketchy, might await adequate conceptual invention (and, I suppose, adequate linguistic invention). But, in these pages, my whole purpose is to advance a substantive view, indeed, a reasonably ambitious philosophy of reality. So, here, it’s clearly most appropriate to say, at the least, that any acceptable philosophy must recognize a plurality of distinct real beings, you and I among them.
About apparently threatening sorites arguments, and about what I call “vague discriminative terms,” interested readers may look, rather briefly, I hope, at the appendix I’ve appended to chapter 7 of this book. But, please do make that brief. If you don’t do it directly, I hope that it’s in only a few minutes that you’ll return to the body of this present Chapter, just up above.
(2) . Very blatantly I first did this, publicly and for the permanent record, in my paper “A Defense of Skepticism”, Philosophical Review, 1971, now conveniently reprinted in the new collection of my (selected) published Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. A little later, I did it in a related paper, where the focus was more on the normative aspect of knowledge: “An Argument for Skepticism,” Philosophic Exchange, 1974, now also reprinted in my Philosophical Papers. Just slightly later still, and perhaps most prominently, I provided a very sustained effort, to such a very skeptical effect, in my first book, Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism, Clarendon Press, 1975, reprinted by the Oxford University Press in 2002. With at least a bit of force, in Ignorance I argued, against Descartes, that none of us ever knows—not for certain, anyhow—that he or she currently thinks, or that he or she currently exists. Some several years later still, I offered substantially more forceful argumentation to the same skeptical (anti-Cartesian effect) in my “Skepticism and Nihilism,” Nous, 1980, reprinted in my Philosophical Papers.
Finally for now, so far as my early publications are concerned, here’s something I noticed only in retrospect, though the first retrospective insight occurred decades ago: In my very old paper “An Analysis of Factual Knowledge,” Journal of Philosophy, 1968, also reprinted in my Philosophical Papers, I argued for the striking claim that someone knows something to be so if, but only if, it is not at all accidental that the person is right about that thing’s being so. Now, on lenient uses of “it’s not at all accidental,” no headway will be made from there to skepticism. But, on a strict use of the term, which really may be the only quite correct and literal usage, a very great deal of headway might be made.
(This will be true, I suspect, despite all sorts of currently modish contextualize shenanigans—all started by me and my old partner in crime—dear old David Lewis, of course. Though David was, apparently, always steadfast about this slippery stuff, I’ve been mighty suspicious of it all, for at least some several years now. On the start of the suspected shenanigans, first see David’s stimulating old paper “Scorekeeper in a Language Game,” Journal of Philosophical Logic, 1979, reprinted in David Lewis, Philosophical Papers, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 1983. And, then, see my quasi-anarchistic old book Philosophical Relativity, University of Minnesota Press and Blackwell, 1984; reprint, Oxford University Press, 2002.)
At all events, throughout this present book, I never seek to advance any claim about our (allegedly) knowing this thing, that thing or the other. Nor am I concerned, in these pages, about whether such concepts as that of a reason for believing (or for wanting, or for acting) are coherent notions. As far as I’m concerned, right now, it makes no difference whether anyone ever has any reason to believe anything at all. What I am concerned to observe, by contrast, are items of just this simpler sort: I do believe that, in addition to myself, there are other sentient beings. And, then, I take things from there, so to say, arriving at some other things I may well believe. Or, as may happen on other occasions, I’ll be arriving at certain hopeful hypotheses that, in some weak sense of “accept,” perhaps, I accept into my Philosophy. Or, as may happen at still other times, I’ll arrive at only something that, for the first time in a long time, I’ll take seriously.
As far as anything seriously normative goes, or anything that’s heavily epistemological, this book’s project is a quite neutral effort or, at least, that’s how it’s intended.
(3) . As in, among other writings, his contributions to D. M. Armstrong, C. B. Martin and U. T. Place, Dispositions: A Debate (ed. Tim Crane), Rout-ledge, 1996.
(4) . See Descartes’s Author’s Replies to the Fifth Set of Objections, as available in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. II, translated by J. Nottingham, et. al., Cambridge University Press, 1984. The most pertinent paragraph is, in this volume, on pages 246–247:
You say you want to stop and ask whether I think the soul always thinks. But why should it not always think, since it is a thinking substance? It is no surprise that we do not remember the thoughts that the soul had when in the womb or in a deep sleep, since there are many other thoughts that we equally do not remember, although we know we had them when grown up, healthy and wideawake. So long as the mind is joined to the body, then in order for it to remember thoughts which it had in the past, it is necessary for some traces of them to be imprinted on the brain; it is by turning to these, or applying itself to them, that the mind remembers. So is it really surprising if the brain of an infant, or a man in deep sleep, is unsuited to receive these traces?
No stranger to all this, I discuss Descartes’s views, on this and related matters to be explored here shortly, in my Identity, Consciousness and Value, especially on pages 45–47.
(5) . For my main purposes, it’s best to leave this matter just with that. So, in the text, I do. For some other fine philosophic purposes, however, it may be well to make further remarks. So, here I do.
Especially for Hume’s own writing on the subject, but quite intuitively for us, too, there’s a problem about how it might be that, not in memory, but in actual experience itself, you can apprehend temporal change, even when it’s you yourself that’s changing, from being in more pain to being in much less. Without benefit of imported memory, and for Hume any such importing must be vigorously disallowed, each present perception must be, it seems, too restricted to comprehend more than just one side, or one end, or the supposed change. Of course, it’s just the presently available side or end. You can experience the pain that’s less, as it’s the pain that’s now. But, can you experience it as being less? Not with a suitably strict understanding of “experience,” you can’t.
There may be a succession of impressions or perceptions here, as Hume has us notice. But, especially for Hume, how can there be any impression of succession? Apparently, there can’t be. So, you have no impression of temporal change. And without just such an impression to secure, for you, an acceptable idea of temporal change, you’ll have no decent idea of change. So, you’ll have no decent idea of what it is for you to change from experiencing very painfully to experiencing far less painfully.
If you accept only what’s fully available in your own direct momentary experience, even if it be only in your most theoretical endeavors, then, at least in those most deeply philosophical endeavors, you’ll have to rely on a terribly poor corpus of ideas. So, again, and as I said in the text, you should accept very much more.
(6) . Hume, Treatise, 1739,—pages 251–52. I use what’s now the standard edition of Hume’s Treatise, first edited by L. A. Selby-Biggest, in 1888, and with the current second edition revised by P. H. Naiditch for the Oxford University Press in 1978.
(7) . Hume, Treatise, page 252. The first two sentences are quoted, quite alone, in many recent works, I must imagine. For salient instances, see page 39 of Roderick M. Chisholm’s Person and Object, Allen & Unwon, 1976, and page 213 of John Foster’s The Immaterial Self, Rout-ledge, 1991.
(8) . Hume, Treatise, page 252.
(9) . As many will recognize, in these metaphysical, as with some other main metaphysical matters, I’m greatly influenced by Chisholm, as in his Person and Object, pages 48–52. Though there’s much that we agree on here, there are also great areas of disagreement. For the most part, I won’t note the differences, or the similarities, as that would do more to distract than advance.
In any case, however, I want to be very clear about this: My use of adverbial expressions, like “experience auditorily,” is meant to be only a helpful heuristic. I don’t offer anything that might be labeled, even if somewhat misleadingly, an “adverbial theory of experiencing.” What’s adverbial is, of course, something that’s linguistic. And, experiencing is, at most, only rarely linguistic. More generally, it’s my belief that, whether from considerations of common parlance, or from more-or-less useful paraphrase, we shouldn’t expect much substantive philosophy.
(10) . I borrow this marvelously entertaining example from John Leslie, Universes, London: Rout-ledge, 1989. Leslie has us look at matter under very powerful microscopes, and he has us find little inscriptions of MADE BY GOD on every bit of observed matter. Well, isn’t this very suggestive evidence in favor of the hypothesis that a powerful agent created the observable universe? In this work, I pass on that large question. For my much less momentous purpose, one imagined object is sufficient. And, of course, my point here is that, when we’re thinking about whether ontologically parasitical items are real entities, we’re not involved in any very momentous question.
(11) . As Frank Jackson has urged, in his Perception, Cambridge University Press, 1977, there are problems with using our adverbial constructions to report the variety in what I take to be our experiential modification.
In Jackson’s wake, there has ensued a long discussion of the matter. For a recent contribution to the discussion, see Michael Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness, MIT Press, 1996, pages 74–77.
(12) . Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, Simon and Schuster, 1948, 198–199.
(13) . A fairly full-dress expression of these ideas is in Martin’s contribution to D. M. Armstrong, C.B. Martin and U. T. Place, Dispositions: A Debate, Tim Crane (ed.), Rout-ledge, 1996. But, to my mind at least, much of that is hard to understand well. A much more accessible presentation, with what may be a few improvements, is C. B. Martin and John Neil’s paper “The Ontological Turn,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 1999.
(14) . In continuing fairness even to those long dead, I should report that, as regards his general lines of thought Martin takes himself to follow the lead of John Locke in these matters, though there are substantial differences, of course, between Martin and Locke. As I’m here following Martin, I suppose that, in turn, I also follow Locke’s lead. So, while in some large respects I’m following Descartes, and in others Berkeley, and, of course, Hume, in still others it’s Locke whom I’m following. As will transpire over the course of this essay, a very big follower am I.
(15) . The most usual case of communication is, of course and by far, where we converse auditorily. Far less common, and much more peripheral, is the case where we communicate visually. Now, in the visual case, perplexity isn’t anywhere near as blatant as in the auditory case. Let’s see. I’ve written laser-printing on circulated pages:
THE RELATIONS BETWEEN COMMUNICATION AND PERCEPTIBLE PARTICULARS ARE PUZZLING.
Here, there seems a quite visible expression of my puzzled thinking
Still, we observe some perplexity attaching even to this visual case, though it’s not especially blatant. To foster this observation, we ask: When I just communicated with you via this visual expression of my thinking, what was the (or even an) entity that, while it expressed my thinking, you were perceiving?
Following a certain philosophical tradition, we may say that it’s a visible inscription, right there on this piece of paper, on this very page. But, even as compared with the visually perceptible piece of paper, which itself might harbor a host of deep problems, the supposed inscription is a very problematic object. Passing over however many problems, perhaps we might say that, at best, the inscription is a somewhat scattered row of slightly raised, “latterly” shaped mounds of inky stuff, each separated from the next by some boundless space on the paper, with each such mound protruding outwards from one of the two main surfaces of the piece of paper. But, first, are mounds real entities? I’m not so sure. Even Mount Everest is, after all, just a protuberance of the earth’s crust. Maybe the earth itself is a substantial individual, or near enough so to merit a pretense to such an effect, or to be a fair candidate for a perceptible entity. But, a mere protuberance? And, as if that’s not enough to engender some perplexity, what about a scattered row of protuberances?
But, anyhow, these puzzling rows are the comparatively good candidates for real entities helpfully perceived. As compared with the common case, which is the auditory conversations case, here we have things that apparently approximate, at least, to being perceptible particulars, to being plausible third partners that might mediate, unmysterious enough, between communicating individuals. So, far more blatantly than in any quite marginal visual case, it’s the enormously common case of our very many oral conversations that’s got me perplexed, flummoxed, and bamboozled.
(16) . The expression “disposition partner,” which I find quite useful, was first introduced, as far as I can tell, by C. B. “Charlie” Martin. But, apparently, my use of the term is very different from his. So, for me, it’s always substantial individuals that are disposition partners, as with two (minimally) massive Newtonian Particles, each gravitationally disposed to attract (the likes of) the other. For Martin, who believes in so-called tropes (or so-called abstract particulars) it’s always such particularized properties, apparently, that are (to be considered as the) disposition partners. So, with a certain couple of Newtonian Particles, the mass-trope of one of these Particles is a disposition partner with the mass-trope of the other Particle and, of course, vice versa. Now, I’m not perfectly sure that, with this gloss of Martin’s use, I’ve correctly characterized his preferred employment of the term. But, in this present exposition, which is, of course, my own attempt to articulate a certain Humanly Realistic Philosophy, that’s not very important. What is important, of course, is that we be clear about, and that I be consistent with, my own use of “disposition partner.” So, on my part, I’ll try hard to be consistent in my usage of this expression. And, I hope that, on your part, you’ll try to be clear about what I mean, in this present work, by the expression.