A Discussion on Realism, Anti-Realism, and the Question of Human Knowledge

by Daniel Kaufman and Dan Tippens

The two Dans — Kaufman and Tippens — discuss metaphysical Realism, its troubles, and what our knowledge is knowledge of.

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  1. Hi DanK, agreeably, everyone can have the same experiences I described and come to the same conclusion about the “earth” and “stars”. It is in accounting for the experiences where they differ.

    The Berkeleyan can’t give the same account I gave because to them the source of experiences are not objects in the world with any physical relation between them. There are only mental objects, with experiences arranged in some way (presumably by some other mind) to present a relation between “earth” and “stars”. Indeed they require an additional layer of explanation to account for the constancy and consistency of experiences for these relations over time.

    The realist account posits the source as the earth and stars themselves, and how they interact with our senses based on some physical relation between all three (earth, stars, senses). No additional layer of explanation is necessary for relations, and methods of exploration are relatively straightforward.

    If the anti-realist position you use would accept the same account I gave that is fine, because I was not clear if it would.

    And I wasn’t trying to hit all angles (I only have 350 words), just get a start on what approach you take to experiences compared to me. I don’t have the space to unpack the Quine quote, but I will try.

    Yes, when one discusses what the objects of a theory are, it is to basically lay out the underlying assumption/theory by which one will examine other theories in light of past and future experiences. My position is that all ontological statements/positions are assumptions used to formulate other positions/theories, and as such they cannot become certain ontological knowledge.

    That does not make ontological statements arbitrary, unintelligible (as long as one understands the caveat), useless, or not true. In fact it might turn out we actually know what the real world is like (if the assumption matches reality), we just will never be in a position to know that we know. The best we will ever get is confidence with an ontological model, based on its utility.


  2. Dear PeterJ – if a formal analysis cannot even reach a conclusion about the existence of the external world or other minds, but can repair the modal collapse in Godel’s ontological proof for g-d, I don’t see much hope there.


  3. Hi David – I would want to argue that formal analysis can and does reach a conclusion about the existence of the external world. It concludes that this idea gives rise to fatal contradictions. The whole idea of existence does so.

    A lot would depend on what we mean by ‘existence’, of course, but the conclusion of Nagrjuna’s formal argument (and the later arguments of Brown, Bradley, possibly Hegel et al) would be (it is often put this way) that nothing really exists, where the qualifer ‘really’ would allow for different meanings of ‘existence’. To exist would be to be a relative phenomenon, not an independently existing one. Here logic would seem to agree with physics.

    This would the doctrine of ‘dependent existence’ (all existence would be relative), which appears in consciousness studies as ‘relative phenomenalism’.

    To prove the independent existence of anything is not logically or empirically possible, while the problems caused by the idea of independent existence are well known. So, all in all I feel that reason and logic do the job in this instance.

    At any rate, I see no case for taking anything for granted.