Author Topic: What is there?  (Read 309 times)

Eric Bright

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What is there?
« on: February 16, 2014, 10:56 PM »
Ontology is arguably the most central issue in philosophy whether one admits it or not. Nothing would remain the same if one starts with the assumption that reality is an illusion, or the contrary. Absolutely everything that comes next is directly affected by an assumption such as that.

The real issue with the reality of reality (pun intended) should be addressed first before one can even begin to do anything else in philosophy. In order for us to get a good introduction to this topic, if we are not already familiar with it, there is an interesting book by the name of  Realism and Anti-Realism that can be obtained from your local library or a bookstore.

There are plenty of online resources that can help us to get a rudimentary awareness of the topic. Tons of articles and such are also available from online repositories. Here is a very short list of some of them:

Ontology
http://philpapers.org/browse/ontology

Ontological Realism
http://philpapers.org/browse/ontological-realism

Realism
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/realism/

Kant: Ontology
http://philpapers.org/browse/kant-ontology

Metaontology
http://philpapers.org/browse/metaontology

In there we will find an ocean of articles to work with. Of course we cannot read them all, but in case we have to investigate the issue a bit deeper, these are good resources to begin with (not all of the published articles are consequential or even significant anyway. So, please don’t be intimidated by the sheer number of the available articles in those places).

To give you a taste of what we are here to talk about, I am going to cite a paragraph from the catalogue on Ontology referenced above:

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Following Quine, ontology is here understood as the study of what there is. [...] Our focus is on the existence of the most generic things that populate many philosophers’ ontologies, e.g., objects, properties, natural kinds, states-of-affairs, events, etc. We often talk of these things without thinking twice, but the existence of such entities can seem odd on reflection.

For instance, it is natural to say that red roses and red firetrucks have something in common, the property of being red. But does this mean there is a single entity that is a constituent of every such rose and firetruck? A second example concerns composite objects: Suppose Abe Lincoln replaces the handle of his axe in 1825, and later in 1860 replaces the head. Does this mean he has owned more than one axe in his lifetime?

In general, given a puzzling entity X, Realists about X will strive to minimize such oddities--whereas Anti-Realists often try to preserve ordinary talk of X, despite excluding X from their ontology.

Questions about ontology can also lead to questions about these questions. Thus, ontology often bleeds into metaontology, the study of the study of what there is. In recent years, the ontology literature has grown dramatically, especially on metaontology and on composition.

I think we have enough material to give us a good starting point. It would be fun to discuss them bellow.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2014, 01:08 AM »
Coming from Linguistics, I think ontology would benefit from a more precise terminology.
In linguistics, we differentiate between referents and ontological entities, because the use of language is not itself tied to ontology, but rather to the retrieval of representation.

Top put it on its point: There are no cats, ontologically. "cat" is a word that refers to class of beings. The class of beings is an abstraction formed inductively based on sensory cues. Ontologically there are beings that effect sensory cues, and if the cues match the abstract formula for the class of beings referred to by the word "cat", then the being "is" a "cat".

Ouch.

Adam Griffith

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2014, 01:33 AM »
Yes, I agree with the representation argument. However, the objective reality is what provides the sensory cues to provide us with the transduction of sensory information to form the representation in the first place. Therefore, the objective reality is there even though we experience it as a representation. Its a question of accuracy.

Aside from solipsism and mental illness, the representation is accurate at least in regards to a parcel of reality we can conceive, and then categorize. Aristotelian categorization is inevitable, but a pitfall, and this is where language can be a brick wall. (I think this is what you were alluding to)

Example: If we put a coffee cup, a slightly larger glass, and then a mug on a table we can use language to identify them specifically as I just did. Now, what if I put a bucket on the table as well?

The categorization linguistically (Generalization) is that all the previous items are used for drinking, or Human use. However, a bucket is not typically thought of as a table placed item for drinking out of. Yet, it is perfectly legitimate to drink out of a bucket. If it works it works. Psychologists call this "Functional Fixedness".

Although our brains form representations, and our language can describe these part and parcels of reality I think it is a question of accuracy. We are limited by our senses. We see only a short part of the light spectrum, hear only a certain decibel of sound range, smell at such a distance, and feel only to a degree. So what I am pushing here is the William Blake poem "If the doors of perception are cleansed things would appear as they truly are infinite" (I hope I got that in verbatim)

A question of accuracy. If we had senses that were not limited we would be devoid of context thus devoid of language. So you make an excellent point. I am still researching the recommended reading material so I can further educate myself. It may take me a bit, but I thought I would at least chime in to say hello to everyone. I am very excited to be here.  :)

Eric Bright

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2014, 02:13 AM »
Adam, I think Andreas is tackling the issue from a different angle. If it was up to me, I would have already closed this topic as ‘solved’! :D But let us play around this idea a bit longer, because I am learning a lot from this discussion.

I am not sure if there is more to say about it than what Andreas has already said (the rest might be a fight over insignificant details?).

The central question that is raised is something like this: What is there? What is there that gives rise to the perceptions we might have (accurate or not)? Is there some-thing substantially different or is it just a reflection of reflections in parallel mirrors amongst ideas and ideas and ideas ad infinitum? Answering each of these questions differently would take us on a totally different journey.

Can we consistently and coherently claim that it is not only a world of ideas and there is actually something aside from these ideas that is causing them? Because, one might argue that yes, these ideas are caused, but by yet another ideas. How can this path be avoided? So, I believe the more fundamental issue is the issue of things in themselves.

Because, the Andreas’ approach (and I guess Adam’s approach too) already assumes the thing-ness of a world beyond ideas that gives birth to the world of ideas. But, how can this assumption be justified?

I have heard Dennett saying that he does not know of any way in philosophy out of solipsism if one wants to go down that path. But, is this claim right? The thing that is there, what is it? Yet another idea? Or something inherently different from ideas? I guess that is the starting point.

By the way, welcome to both of you. I am very glad that you are here and we can have this discussion in a calm a quite place away from all the Facebook-style hysteria.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

Adam Griffith

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2014, 02:41 AM »
Oh that was good. You see if you would have closed the issue I would not have been able to reflect on it. I see where she is coming from now. Thats much more abstract.  :) I have tried to break solipsism myself logically and I can't do it. I think Dennet is right. Justifiable? Well thats why we are here...

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2014, 12:27 PM »
I think assuming that there is a world that effects our percepts is justifiable, because it is inductively strongly indicated.

I have earlier caused some consternation, because I reject the problem of mind being a problem at all.
If we assume materialism, there's no real problem, we simply have the brain generating the mind, which in turn generates consciousness.
If on the other hand we just stick to the mind, we get stuck in a Zeno-type paradox, since we let the mind define everything, and the mind itself is undefinable. And, diagnostically, I see Zeno-type paradoxes as symptoms of trying to solve a problem from the wrong end.

So, no, we can't know that materialism is correct, but it is still a far better solution: It explains more, with no increase of complexity.
(Because, the solipsist illusion would have to be as complex as the observable Universe, if not moreso).

This is just an inductive assessment, but it is, I think, the best we can get to.

Eric Bright

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2014, 05:06 PM »
I think assuming that there is a world that effects our percepts is justifiable, because it is inductively strongly indicated.

Exactly! There are two issues with the opposite position in my mind of which you mentioned one. One is epistemic and other one is logical.

To follow your train of thought, I put your comment into the epistemic category and add the following. If realism is not justifiable, then I don’t know what justifiability is and nor does the supporter of a solipsistic stance. The question would then be: What would constitute a justification for this or that claim?

My gut feeling is that the advocates of solipsism would not be satisfied by anything. That is to say, their position is irrefutable. If that is the case, then their position would be only metaphysical at best.

The logical anti-realism (or idealism for that matter) is that it has a default premise that usually does not include in arguments but is implied very clearly. It assumes, out of nowhere and without any further “justification” that it is possible for ideas to form without any medium for them to form through. This is very similar to the Platonic ‘forms’. According to that idea, there is a form of triangle of which all triangles are vague and incomplete examples. There is a form of horse of which all horses are incomplete, shadowy examples, and so on. These forms, are supposed to be in their own realm of being. All other beings are shadows of those. So, being is nothing but having the properties of shadows that can be formed of the true beings, i.e forms.

Solipsism also hinges upon a very similar assumption, that ideas are mediums of themselves. No other being is necessary for ideas to form. Ideas are mediumless. They need all what they need to be. So, to be is nothing but to be an idea, “To be is to be perceived” and George Berkeley puts it.

Well, that might work IFF the premise is true, and will fail otherwise.

Then, there is very little thing to support this premise to be true. Also, there is no logical, conceivable experiment that can possibly refute it. Therefore, again, it is both irrefutable and having unproven premise in its argument. Even if we give it the allowance to go ahead and stay logically irrefutable (and say that is fine), it still has some work to do with the premise; hence the logical weakness, or better to say the logical flaw.

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If we assume materialism, there's no real problem, we simply have the brain generating the mind, which in turn generates consciousness.

This is the core of the issue. Are we justified to assume so? And I think we are justified to do so, only if it is because “justification” can only mean anything in the context of realism (remember the definition of “truth” and its relationship with reality).

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If on the other hand we just stick to the mind, we get stuck in a Zeno-type paradox, since we let the mind define everything, and the mind itself is undefinable. And, diagnostically, I see Zeno-type paradoxes as symptoms of trying to solve a problem from the wrong end.

We can always start with shaky assumptions, or even false assumptions and have a very coherent, closed system that can hold up very well. But the result of it would inevitably be a big contradiction with all other systems that start with true premises and take valid, logical steps.

If what we say in here is true, and if, as I think, pure idealism is coherent in itself but false, then there has to be logical consequences from that system that must necessarily contradict with some known propositions resulted from its opposite system. It has to be more contradictions than the promises show.

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So, no, we can't know that materialism is correct, [...]

I am not sure about it. If we ever have a clear understanding of what it means for a statement to be true, then we might not be in too bad a position.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

Andreas Geisler

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2014, 01:40 AM »
I am not sure about it. If we ever have a clear understanding of what it means for a statement to be true, then we might not be in too bad a position.
Yes, correct. I am actually unclear on how to formulate what I meant, there...
Perhaps more treacherous vocabulary?

Eric Bright

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Re: What is there?
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2014, 10:51 PM »
I just found something similar to what I have said by Saul Kripke, in Naming and Necessity:

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Some philosophers think that something’s having intuitive content is very inconclusive evidence in favor of it. I think it is very heavy evidence in favor of anything, myself. I really don’t know, in a way, what more conclusive evidence one can have about anything, ultimately speaking.

This is a real concern that anti-realism should address. I am not aware of a conclusive refutation of Kripke’s position and don’t even know what such a refutation would amount to.

The whole issue gives the impression that rejecting realism somehow entails a loss, so great that even anti-realism itself cannot afford.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”