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pathways (letters)

18 July 1997

Dear Margaret,

...Cars are just glorified invalid carriages running on smelly petrol, but we make fetish objects of them, allow them to run our lives. The one good thing that came out of my joining the ranks of car owners (not so long ago — in 1993) was the discovery of a fertile source of philosophical examples. (E.g. the problem of free will: how could I have made such a disastrous decision, when I was so well primed on the reasons against?)

Here then is an example of 'appearance vs. reality': eating up the miles in my 'mean machine' vs. being carried around on a motorised wheel-chair.

It is important to realise that Kant's 'Refutation of Idealism' involves rejecting the mental 'intermediary' (sense datum) in perception. When I perceive the chair it is the object in space that I see, not a mental image of a chair. (Look at 127ff. again.) Still, for Kant (though not for the subjectivist who makes use of Kant's argument) the spatio-temporal chair is only an appearance. I don't think the Austin line works here. Conceptual distinctions have a point: you start with paradigms from our actual experience and then discover new ways to apply the distinction, ways that do not necessarily have application to experience, but which may be motivated by philosophical or scientific considerations. To call into question Kant's distinction between 'appearances' and 'things in themselves' (or 'phenomena' and 'noumena') you have to look at his arguments. (Generally, the target of the Austin-inspired critics of metaphysics were people like Bradley: but the criticisms failed here too.)

By the way, I am coming to regret having chosen the term 'subjectivism'. In the moral philosophy programme I stick to the more usual term 'solipsism' in order to clearly distinguish that theory from moral 'subjectivism'.

On Kant's 'religious motive', see Bradley's Preface/ Introduction (I can't remember which) where he explicitly links interest in metaphysics with religious feeling.

In order to see how, according to Kant's 'Refutation' there could be more than three spatial dimensions (see also 4/132), you need to use the mathematical notion of a matrix. A matrix is just a table. (The results of six papers taken by ten students would produce a two-dimensional, six by ten matrix.) The 'theory' of a two-dimensional world would place objects or qualities at different positions on a finite or infinite two-dimensional matrix, and correspondingly for three dimensions. Spatial movement involves going to an adjacent position on the matrix. Now, four dimensions would involve a two-dimensional matrix of two-dimensional matrices (or a linear series of three-dimensional matrices), while five dimensions would involve a two-dimensional matrix of three-dimensional matrices (or three-dimensional matrix of two-dimensional matrices), where spatial movement was allowed between corresponding positions on adjacent matrices. And so on. (Though I'm not a mathematician, I think that the alternatives I gave in parentheses are effectively equivalent.)

Of course, this is not the same as imagining or visualising what it would be like to inhabit a four or five-dimensional 'space'. ' The point about keeping the laws of nature going' was intended as a defence of solipsism against the point made in 142. I think one has to realise here where one has simply ceased to ask intelligible questions. It is simply a brute fact that the laws of nature don't change.

On Husserl, the point here is that there is a solipsistic reading of arguments for the necessity of associating experience with a body, or for the necessity of 'recognising' other people. This makes it all the more important to identify the crucial dialectical move involved in rejecting solipsism. (In the Cartesian Meditations, Husserl cops out when it comes to the crucial question of other minds. His argument here would be diagnosed by Kant as a mere 'paralogism'.)

There is a lot more to be developed out of your point that 'what is defined as mental illness changes with time'. Is the distinction between 'seeing things as they are' and 'suffering delusions' merely relative then?

The external component of the reality principle is the one thing that the solipsist cannot take on board. The possibility that I might be dreaming that I am writing this letter would be interpreted by the Kantian solipsist as the possibility that I might later experience waking up, or possibly seeing a timed video clip of myself snoring away. The one thing that is absent from the solipsist theory is the idea that my experience as a totality may be grasped from a different point of view, i.e. as the experience of a subject in the world, perceived by other subjects. The external component of the reality principle adds nothing to my experience, or possible experience: rather, it involves a difference of interpretation of that experience.

There is a big difference between the idea of possibly 'knowing everything about everything' (whatever that would mean) and merely (!) having a scientific theory that 'explained everything' in leaving no legitimate questions unanswered. ('How the laws of nature are kept going' might or might not be interpretable as a legitimate question.)

One of my lecturers at Birkbeck in the 70's...put me onto Alan Watt's The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I also read The Wisdom of Insecurity. Watts attacks the idea of the self as a separate 'ego in a bag of skin' and characterises our materialist view of the world as made out of separate things with or without an external deity as creator as the 'crackpot theory of the universe'. Watt's favoured metaphysic is the philosophy of the Vedanta, as laid out in the Upanishads. As I understand it, this comes closest to objective idealism, although Schopenhauer saw a close correspondence with his Kantian inspired theory of the world as noumenal 'Will' and phenomenal 'Representation'. Either way, the 'separateness' of you and I is merely an illusory appearance. In reality, we are all One (or It.)

This, I should emphasise, is not my view, although my formula, 'I am the one asking the question' is the closest the programme gets to raising the issue of the duality of subjective and objective worlds. (Sorry if this sounds like a tease: I have already explained my reasons for holding back here.)

Before the metaphysical 'turn' represented by the refutation of subjectivism, the capacity for judgement, interpretation etc. were attributes of the transcendental ego. Rationality i.e. my rationality was not empirically conditioned but simply a brute, a priori given.

And the this? Attempting to suspend all judgement (an attempt admittedly doomed to fail) is one way of bringing the thisness of things within the range of one's philosophic vision. It's a technique, not a theory. (Or perhaps not even that: think of it as my attempt at irony.) The existence of 'mind' or 'I' or the 'subjective view' are all attempts to give philosophic expression to the vision of this. It's what it's all about.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Klempner