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2011-02-27
What about Idealism?
There is a curious statement made by Philonous to Hylas in George Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in the third dialogue.

Here is what Philonous says: "The question between the materialists and me is not, whether things have a real existence out of the mind of this or that person, but whether they have an absolute existence, distinct from being perceived by God, and exterior to all minds."

I think we can modify this quote a little to say: The question between a materialist and an idealist is not, whether things have a real existence out of the mind of this or that human being, but whether have an existence outside of a mind.

The quote itself grants that there is a world exterior to the human mind that is either perceiving it, and this over looks the problem of an external world. However, why do we hold that there is a world that exists independent of a nonhuman mind?

Why should we believe that there is a world that exists independent of a mind instead of the world that exists is dependent on a mind?

I would agree that neither position is verifiable or refutable, and both accommodate our observations. However, we do know that minds exists and perceive things, so why should be believe that these things that we perceive (nonhuman objects like trees and etc) do exist outside of another mind?

2011-03-01
What about Idealism?
I am not sure what kind of a reply you are expecting. There are certainly several possibilities, none of which, however, can be fully satisfying in a purely philosophical sense.

As a philosophic-scientifical naturalist, I hold that, indeed, there are no such things as minds, and that, therefore, the question itself can be sensibly asked sementically, but is otherwise empty because it derives from ontologically false premisses. The statement that there be no such things as minds needs qualification. It contends, first, that there be no single, undivided, esoterical (i.e. non-physical) entities constitutional of human cognition and emotion to which the term 'mind' correctly applies. As concerns my personal stance, it further claims that there be no single, undivided, physical entities constitutional of human cognition and emotion to which the term 'mind' correctly applies. Instead, there are brain processes occuring in and among regions of the brain, while there being no single centre where all processes meet. Thus, from a natural point of view, David Hume's conclusion that, since one cannot detect a self, or ego, by introspection, there in fact is no such thing ontologically would be true in an even stronger sense than Hume himself would have thought.

A more philosophical, though perhaps similar in its consequences, objection to the proposition that everything there be ontologically depend on a mind perceiving it is that it is not true that our observations accommodate both a materialist and an idealist position equally in an unprejudiced sense. That is to say, idealism both overintellectualizes perceptual observation and conflates biased or prejudiced presuppositions with it.

On the other hand, from a purely philosophical standpoint, the idealist may simply respond by pointing out that the same charge apply to the materialist position. And this is what I meant when I wrote that there be no fully satisfying answer to the question posed in exclusively philosophical terms.

Besides, I disagree with your assertion that '[t]he quote itself grants that there is a world exterior to the human mind that is either perceiving it, and this over looks the problem of an external world.' On my reading, the quote you initially gave entails exactly the question you charge it to overlook. Both positions, to be sure, need to assert this, albeit in different manners, yet it is a presupposition, not an explicitly argued proposition, to both, so that either a response to it can legitimately be demanded from both or be skipped for the sake of argument, as is done so often in philosophy, since asking each question that can principally be asked would necessitate any discussion to start from scratch, leading nowhere.

2011-03-01
What about Idealism?
Could you tidy up your question or comment? You have an either without an or, and other unclear passages. Given that the quote asks about existence independent of all minds, I don't follow your question yet.

2011-03-04
What about Idealism?

Seems that someone would have to reject themselves to say that there are no minds. It would seem pointless to even say or do anything, when you have no mind to do anything with. Granted that you listed that you were a philosophic-scientififcal naturalist, but this seems to be like you are holding to a metaphysical principle that already precludes you from saying that there are minds to begin with. It would also seem that one can say that something derives from an ontologically false premises based on their ontological stance to begin with. It would seem to be one argument of begging the question. Your position reminds me of what A.S. Eddington said once. He wrote out his book  The Nature of the Physical World, and said he was writting on two desks. The one made of his sensory impressions, and the one of atoms that he does not sense. In othewords, the one of common sense and the one of theoretical construction. I would venture that your epistemology is influencing your metaphysical beliefs, when they are symbiotic in that neither are separable from one another.

I'm not sure Hume had very good ground for this assertion that there is no ego or self. He was using introspection, and in using introspection he was trying to find what was doing the introspection. It would be like a one-handed man trying to touch his one-hand. Or even one hand clapping. We could just as well point out that it is the activity that is the mind, while he was searching the passivity of things to find the activity. W.T. Stace makes a good point of pointing out that it is the activity of doing something, like deciding to pay attention to a sensory impression. You find yourself presented with two things, and one you have a negative reaction and the other a positive reaction. By these reactions, you can decide which one to focuse on and have a violational activity. Something passive and that did not exist would not be able to do something like that.

I don't think that we need to accomodate both ontological positions of materialism and idealism, since we would only have to hold to one of them. There is no observation of anything existing independent of a mind, or even possible. Idealism does not seem to have intellecutalize anything at all. It just points out that we have no evidence for anything existing independent of a mind. We only know things to exist when a mind percieves it, which David Hume (as you mentioned earlier with the Self/Ego) already pointed out as well. However, we suspect that things exist independent of our observations, since we find things have changed from when we or anyone else last viewed it. So we infer that something happened when we did not observer it, even though we do not know that something did happen. So did it happen independent of another mind? We only have evidence of things happen when a mind is around, or that is all the evidence we have. We could always invoke that something happened out of a mind to accomodate it, but why not have it in another mind instead of out of no mind? Why add another ontological layer when one is just fine?

I am not sure how you obtained that the quote I gave does involve the external world problem? It plainly says that it grants that there is a world that exists independent of our observations, but not that it exists independent of another mind.



2011-03-04
What about Idealism?
The question did not, to me at least, imply anything about indepenent of all minds. It just said of our, human, minds. Not all minds. It is saying why do we believe that something exists independent of a mind, any mind, besides our minds.

Say that there is A and B. A and B are both humans. Now assume that there is C (nonhuman). All three have minds. A and B do not observe an object, and they notice that the object changed from when they last observed it. Now they assume that it exists independent of them viewing it, but the object still existed because C was observing it. 

So the question is,  Why should we believe that there is a world that exists independent of a mind instead of the world that exists is dependent on a mind?

2011-03-23
What about Idealism?
The physical universe, by our best theories, preceded all the minds we know about.
Mentality, at least the mentality we know of, arose out of what preceded it. There weren't solid
things for a long while (sorry, don't have the numbers) and as far as we know, mentality
requires a physical basis that didn't yet exist. So there doesn't seem to be a mind
for the universe to be inside of, at least not for a long while.

Of course this doesn't prove materialism, but the idealist owes us some account of
what the mind is that the universe was 'inside' from the first. Also what the relation
was to that mind. Speculation is cheap, one needs something more persuasive.

If the mind is God's, then we need good reasons to think God exists. Idealism
is weaker if it commits us to theism, as it entails something
very controversial. Also we need reason to think that God didn't
create a world that could exist 'outside' his mind, in the sense that he
didn't have to perceive it for it to continue. Most Western scripture suggests
that God created a mind-independent world, one he knows everything
about but doesn't depend on his perceiving it to exist. Certainly he had the power to do this.
Why wouldn't he?

If it isn't God's mind, whose is it? And science has generally erred away
from supernatural explanations. Idealism is in some tension with Science,
it would seem.

Generally science has proceeded successfully on the supposition that
there is nothing about material things that requires them to be perceived
to exist. What would it be, anyhow? Why would they need to be
perceived. On the face of things, there is nothing about them that
cries out for that sort of explanation. Again, even if they
were created somehow, that doesn't mean they must be perceived
to exist.

The onus seems to be on the Idealist to motivate idealism.



2011-03-28
What about Idealism?
Reply to Jim Stone
First, I don't think this part is valid to begin with:"The physical universe, by our best theories, preceded all the minds we know about. Mentality, at least the mentality we know of, arose out of what preceded it." I say this because our theories presuppose something independent of a mind, and so they won't include something that it a priori rejects.

Our physical theories, under the scientific assumptions, assumes that there is a mind-independent world. It does not show any evidence for it. For, science is done by minded creatures, human beings, and when there is not one human being, we don't know of anything existing independent of a mind.

Science observers X, and when it observes X, it is a mind observing X. Now when it is not observing X, it assumes that X continues to exist when it is not observed. It has no evidence that it does, but assumes that it does. However, it also assumes that X existed before it was observed, but it has no evidence that it existed before it was observed. It only has evidence for it when it is observed. Thus, in order to account for observation of X, it ex hypothesis assumes that X is mind-independent. However, we don't know this. But, it is easier to assume that it was observed before we did, and after we have, by some other mind. For we only know something to exist when it is observed. So, through an analogy, we can keep with our common intuition and say it existed before we observed it, and after we observe it, by saying it was observed by another mind.

You are right that speculation is cheap, and that is what a mind-independent hypothesis does, speculates on something it can't support without assuming it to begin with. It has no evidence for anything existing independent of a mind, but we have plenty of evidence of things existing when a mind is observing it. Why? Because we only know something to exist when it is observed. We have no evidence of something existing independent of a mind observing it.

PS: I have read your paper on Skepticism as Theory of Knowledge, and I loved that paper of yours.

2011-03-28
What about Idealism?
Thanks for your kind words about my paper. Much appreciated.

'First, I don't think this part is valid to begin with:"The physical universe, by our best theories, preceded all the minds we know about. Mentality, at least the mentality we know of, arose out of what preceded it." I say this because our theories presuppose something independent of a mind, and ... (expand) so they won't include something that it a priori rejects.

Our physical theories, under the scientific assumptions, assumes that there is a mind-independent world. It does not show any evidence for it. For, science is done by minded creatures, human beings, and when there is not one human being, we don't know of anything existing independent of a mind.'

I don't think our best theories presuppose something independent of a mind. They do take there to be stars, quarks, atoms, etc, but I think they are agnostic about the ultimate nature of these things.
The question is, to a large extent, empirical, theoretical. So out best scientific theories
suppose the universe began with the Big Bang. MAYBE that existed because it was
perceived, but if so one wants to know who perceived it. Someone who believes in idealism
owes us an account. The idealist hypothesis becomes more plausible then, perhaps.
If Idealism denies the BB, then it's price for science is very high.

Also, proceeding in the same scientific agnostic way, our best theories about minds suggest
strongly that the minds we know about arose out of preceding states of affairs in the universe.
So the theory of evolution applies here. This, on entirely empirical grounds, makes it somewhat
implausible that minds existed at the time of the BB. Again, to make it plausible we
need some sort of account of those minds, whose they were, how they worked, where they
came from.

It isn't that idealism can't be true, only that we need some reason to think it is.
Again, supposing there are material objects, which may or may not be mind dependent,
we need a good reason to think they are mind-dependent; as the theory that they
are independent and don't need to be perceived is simpler ontologically.
There needs to be something the matter with it.

The hypothesis that things exist unperceived has extraordinary abductive value
and it much simplifies our theories. That the room is as I was when I left it
is explained by the fact that it stayed in existence during that span, along with
the fact that you find it as I describe it. What we do perceive is a lot easier
to understand if it isn't always popping in and out of existence. Now we can
say that there must have been a perceiver, but then, surely we we owe
an account of who it was and how it worked. This is a much more
complex and doubtful theory.

The BB is a lot more likely if it was mind-independent. Otherwise the
evidence of entropy doesn't allow us to triangulate back to it--in addition
we need evidence that there was a perceiver and some account of who
it was. Our simplest and best theories, agnostic about perceivers,
are simplest and best if they do not affirm an idealist account
of things. That doesn't assume idealism is false.

Even allowing that we don't know things exist unless we perceive them,
it simply doesn't follow that they don't exist if we don't perceive them.
That requires the premiss that things exist only when we know they do,
and that certainly seems doubtful. In a way it IS Idealism and so begs
the question. The claim that things exist only when we have evidence
that they do is also doubtful. It's a big universe; probably lots of things
exist we don't have evidence for; and we do sometimes have abductive
evidence that things existed that we weren't around yet to observe.

Finally given skeptical arguments (which I find persuasive) we don't
know we have hands or there are trees or whatever, nor is it at all clear
that we have good evidence that they do (rival hypotheses predict the
same observations just as well). Yet surely we are permitted to posit
such things if they help us come up with simpler theories that
explain our observations at a deeper level. But this applies to unobserved objects too.

It isn't a matter of a priori assumptions but of the simplest and most powerful
scientific theories. These don't rule out idealism a priori.




2011-04-03
What about Idealism?
Reply to Jim Stone
I should put it like this, under an empirical stance in which we only know something through experience, it is those who say that things exist when they are not being observed by a mind, whether ours or not ours, need to show that they continue to exist when they are not being observed by some mind. They ex hypothesis say that they do, but we have no reason to think that they do. They end up being a convenient fiction to help us make sense of our experience. It's a brute fact that we observe something, and beyond these brute facts we have to create some theoretical constructs to help us make sense of this.

Let me try to give a simple logical example. We directly observe something, A-->B. We observe both A and B. But now we have the brute fact of observing B, but we don't observe anything leading to B. Thus, this would constitute indirect evidence, under our assumption that things that we observe have a cause, like that of A. Now under direct observation we have A-->B. Under indirect observation we just have B. But now that we see B we think something caused it, like A. However, B can have infinite amount of causes. We affirm B because we saw B. However, going with A-->B, it could have also been ~A that led to B. ~A-->B. Thus we are left between A-->B or ~A--B. Now ~A contains an infinite amount of other things that leads to B. They are all different from each other, at least under conceptual frameworks. Since we don't observe the cause, we think there is a cause that we didn't observe. We have no reason to assume that there was a cause to it. We are going beyond experience. But we have a natural tendency to say that something did cause it.

Now saying that it is simpler for things to exist independent of a mind is assuming that they are, but we have no evidence for it. What we do have evidence for is things existing when they are being observed by a mind. Thus, it's not simpler to say that they exist when a mind is not observing it, because it has to postulate something that is nothing like what we observe, or we can't say that they are like what we observe. It's simpler to say that another mind, besides ours, was observing it when we weren't or aren't. It's simpler because instead of saying that they exist independent of a mind leads us into things that don't agree with empirical observation. It's just a wild guess that doesn't match with experience. Thus, we know that minds exist and nothing exists outside a mind observing it. Thus, its easier to say that another mind is observing it than nothing is observing it.

The real problem is that the onus of proof is on those that things exist independent of a mind. Let us look at it like this: We have a mind (X), which is similar to ours but not exactly like ours. Now we know of minds a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j...... which are our minds. We know objects to exist when a mind is observing it, but each of those other minds, our minds, can't observe all of those things. Now all we have to do is say that another mind, similar to ours, is observing them when we are not. Instead of going beyond experience by hypothesizing something existing independent of a mind, we can go with experience of another mind that would be observing them.

This statement of yours seems like a good one, and a common mistake that people make: "Even allowing that we don't know things exist unless we perceive them, it simply doesn't follow that they don't exist if we don't perceive them. That requires the premiss that things exist only when we know they do, and that certainly seems doubtful." You are right that it doesn't follow that they exist when we aren't observing them. It just means that we have no logical reason to say that they exist when a mind isn't observing them. It takes the hidden assumption that things exist when not being perceived, but we have no evidence that they do, since we only have evidence of things existing when they are being observed. Thus, as you say that idealism would beg the question, so would a world existing independent of a mind. Another point is that we do only know things to exist, empirically, when we are observing them. That's just a fact that we have.

In point of fact, saying that things exist independent of a mind means that it's postulating two worlds. The world of the observed and the world the unobserved. However, saying that things exist dependent on a mind means that it's postulating one world. The world of the observed. Thus, the world of being observed is simpler than the world of being observed and the world of the unobserved.

Recap:
1.) Onus of proof is on those that say things exist independent of a mind.
2.) Having just the world of the observed by a mind is simpler than a world that exists unobserved by a mind and observed by a mind. One world is simpler than two, and saying that we have the world of the observed and unobserved is more complex than the world of the observed. Those that say things exist unobserved would have to describe how that world works, and provide evidence that it acts as they describe. However, this is empirically untenable. We can't do it.


2011-09-14
What about Idealism?
The question you are asking does not have to do with materialism, but with realism. Why should we endorse realism about the external world, rather than idealism? The question turns around the mind-dependence or independence of the external world, or of the object perceived/known from the perceiver/knower, not on its being material or spiritual. The issue has been over-discussed at the beginning of the last century. I suggest that you have a look at Royce's Gifford Lectures, where an argument against realism, interpreted as an idependence thesis, is developped ('independence' cannot be meaningfully defined), and to check out the response of the new realists (Ralph Barton Perry's 'realistic theory of independence', e.g.). Personally, I find convincing the argument that the (epistemological) idealist (or subjectivist) includes in his theory some principles that he constantly refutes in practice. As for the ontological idealism, I am not sure it can be rationally refuted.     

2013-03-12
What about Idealism?
Reply to Bogdan Rusu
I too found Royce's discussion of "independence" as it relates to realism to be most interesting.  I am the Royce editor for PhilPapers, and have started a discussion group under his name, if you would like to drop by for a friendly Royce discussion some time! 
Loyally,
David Kester

2013-03-12
What about Idealism?
Reply to Bogdan Rusu
I too found Royce's discussion of "independence" as it relates to realism to be most interesting.  I am the Royce editor for PhilPapers, and have started a discussion group under his name, if you would like to drop by for a friendly Royce discussion some time! 
Loyally,
David Kester