Undercutting the Idea of Carving Reality

Southern Journal of Philosophy 43 (1):41-59 (2005)
Abstract
It is widely supposed that, in Hilary Putnam’s phrase, there are no “ready-made objects” (Putnam 1982; cf. Putnam 1981, Ch. 3). Instead the objects we consider real are partly of our own making: we carve them out of the world (or out of experience). The usual reason for supposing this lies in the claim that there are available to us alternative ways of “dividing reality” into objects (to quote the title of Hirsch 1993), ways which would afford us every bit as much practical and cognitive mastery as we now possess. Hence there is no warrant for supposing that the objects recognized by such alternative schemes are any less real than the objects we actually consider real—unless we are to appeal to a “God’s-eye perspective”, which virtually no one wants to do. The reasonable conclusion, many philosophers suppose, is that any system of objects exists only relative to a particular conceptual scheme or system of predicates. Our system of objects is, in this sense, partly of our own making. But this claim should not be heard as a reaffirmation of the idealism of Fichte or Husserl. It is more accurate to take it merely as a claim about sameness and difference among the objects of the world. It is the claim that sameness and difference, whether at the level of kinds or of individual objects, do not obtain mind-independently, but only relative to a conceptual scheme or predicate system (see, e.g., Putnam 1981, pp. 53-54). That is, whether two objects are of the same kind, and whether one and the same individual object now exists at such-and-such..
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