One of the most important and perennially debated philosophical questions is whether we can have knowledge of the external world. Butchvarov here considers whether and how skepticism with regard to such knowledge can be refuted or at least answered. He argues that only a direct realist view of perception has any hope of providing a compelling response to the skeptic and introduces the radical innovation that the direct object of perceptual, and even dreaming and hallucinatory, experience is always a (...) material object, but not necessarily one that actually exists. This leads him to a metaphysics in which reality is ultimately constructed by human decisions out of objects that are ontologically more basic but which cannot be said in themselves to be either real or unreal. (shrink)
According to metaphysical realism, the existence or at least the nature of things, “reality,” is independent of our cognition of them, whether in perception, conception, or description. Metaphysical nonrealism denies this. It comes in many varieties, as different as Berkeley’s subjective idealism and Kant’s transcendental idealism in the eighteenth century, Hegel’s objective idealism in the nineteenth century, and in contemporary philosophy what Michael Dummett and Hilary Putnam call antirealism and Nelson Goodman calls irrealism. Berkeley held that the existence of (...) the things we perceive is dependent on our perception of them, Kant that their nature is dependent on our understanding, on our concepts, and Wittgenstein and Heidegger that it is dependent on our language. Metaphysical realism is the bedrock of everyday and scientific thinking, but nonrealism has dominated modern philosophy, in one form or another, at least since Berkeley and Kant. The reasons for accepting it, however, have seldom been stated in detail and usually have consisted in rhetorical generalities such as “Nothing can be conceived that cannot be perceived” or “Thought without language is impossible,” which are not plausible. But a specific and not implausible reason is provided by logical nonrealism. (shrink)
Fundamental disagreements in epistemology arise from legitimate differences of interest, not genuine conflict. It is because of such differences that there are three varieties of epistemology: naturalistic, subjective, and what I shall call epistemology-as-logic. All three have been with us at least since Socrates. My chief concern will be with the third, but I must begin with the first and second, which constitute standard epistemology.
General statements have been the chief subject matter of logic since Aristotle’s syllogistic. They have also been a fundamental concern of metaphysics, though only since Frege invented modern quantification theory. Indeed, logicians and even metaphysicians seldom ask what, if anything, general statements correspond to in the world. But Frege and Russell did, and the question became a major theme in Wittgenstein’s early (pre-1929) and Gustav Bergmann’s later (post- 1959) works. All four were aware that, as Bergmann put it in his (...) posthumously published New Foundations of Ontology, there could not be any laws of nature if generality were not in the world.[i] Generality must be in the world if the world is at all how science, indeed any cognition beyond that of babes, takes it to be. This is why all four were also aware of the tie of the topic to what became known as the realism/antirealism issue.[ii]. (shrink)
The skepticism I propose to discuss concerns the reality of an external world of perceivable material objects. There are three questions our skeptic may ask. The first is nonmodal and nonepistemic: Are some of the objects we perceive real? The second is also nonmodal but epistemic: Do we know, or at least have evidence, that some of the objects we perceive are real? The third is both modal and epistemic: Can we know, or at least have evidence, that some of (...) the objects we perceive are real? By definition, the epistemic questions are the ones the skeptic asks. But I shall take the first, the nonepistemic question as primary; it is, surely, also the one in which we, including the skeptic, are really interested. The traditional approach to skepticism has been to take it as asking one or both of the epistemic questions. I suggest that.. (shrink)
The usual arguments for antirealism, whether Kant’s transcendental idealism or current views such as Putnam’s pragmatic pluralism, Dummett’s antirealism, or Goodman’s irrealism, have been densely abstract, often enigmatic, and thus unpersuasive. The ubiquity and irreducibility of what linguists call generic statements provides a clear argument from a concrete case for the antirealist thesis: insofar as the world is knowable – perceivable, understandable, and describable – it is dependent on our cognitive faculties, including language. We think and talk about the (...) world as necessarily consisting of things that are subject to generalization. But the chief vehicles of generalization are generic statements, typically of the form “Fs are G,” not universal statements, typically of the form “All Fs are G.” Universal statements themselves are usually intended and understood as if they were only generic. Even if there are universal facts, as Russell held, there are no generic facts. There is no genericity in the world as it is “in-itself.” There is genericity in it only as it is “for-us.”. (shrink)
It is too early to judge how 20th century philosophy ended, but its beginning was remarkable. Both Moore’s Principia Ethica and Russell’s Principles of Mathematics appeared in 1903, the first volume of Husserl’s Logical Investigations in 1900-01, and four of William James’s major philosophical books in 1902-09. There was not a significant difference, except in style and temperament, between Anglo-American and European philosophers. The analytic/continental schism came much later. Both Russell and Husserl began as mathematicians. Moore wrote in the preface (...) of Principia that his ethics was closest to Brentano’s. Russell studied and discussed Frege and Meinong in detail. James was admired in Britain and in Europe, influenced Husserl and Wittgenstein, and was the subject of articles by Moore and Russell. (shrink)
Wittgenstein’s distinction in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus between what can be said and what can only be shown provides a welcome alternative to the stark choice between contemporary realism and antirealism.[i] It concerns what he thought was “the cardinal problem of philosophy.” Tough-minded philosophers often ask, “What are those things that can only be shown?” But their question misses the point of the distinction. What can only be shown is not a part of reality. But neither is it unreal.
The common belief that the epistemic credentials of ethics are quite questionable, and therefore in need of special justification, is an illusion made possible by the logical gap between reason and belief. This gap manifests itself sometimes even outside ethics. In ethics its manifestations are common, because of the practical nature of ethics. The attempt to cover it up takes the form of exorbitant demands for justification and often leads to espousing noncognitivism.
Anti-Meinongian philosophers, such as Russell, do not explain what they mean by existence when they deny that there are nonexistent objects — they just sense robustly. I argue that any plausible explanation of what they mean tends to undermine their view and to support the Meinongian view. But why are they so strongly convinced that they are right? I argue that the reason is to be found in the special character of the concept of existence, which has been insufficiently examined (...) by anti-Meinongian as well as by Meinongian philosophers. (shrink)