The Subjectivist Critique of the Belief in an External World

Dissertation, State University of New York at Albany (1980)
Abstract
Chapter V deals with the attack on direct realism by both subjective idealists and two-level realists. The focus is on the standard argument used by both parties against direct realism. This is the argument from the relativity, or variability, of perception. Since the content of direct perception varies relative to the observation conditions of the perceiver, subjectivists hold that the object perceived depends for its existence on being perceived under those conditions. Four possible direct realist rejections of the relativity argument are considered and rejected. The discussion concludes with an argument that, despite the relativity, the perceptual phenomena can be interpreted along direct realist lines. ;The dissertation ends with an Appendix dealing with the psychological conceivability of an external world. Stace's and Hume's genetic views on this are contrasted. For Stace the fiction of an external world is a social product. On Hume's view, the solitary mind can form the belief in continued and distinct existence. It is argued that Hume's account is preferable. ;In Chapter III the conceivability issue is continued, in discussion of Moore's attack on the idealist tenet that 'Esse is percipi' is necessarily true. Moore invokes the act-object distinction. But, it is argued, the idealist need not collapse the distinction between consciousness and object of consciousness. Berkeley is specifically defended against the Moorean charge. Moore's argument for the act-object distinction is dealt with, including its implications for the problem of personal identity. Russell's restatements of Moore's criticisms of idealism are discussed and criticized. ;Stace's views on the problem of the external world are the topic of Chapter IV, including his various arguments dismissing realism en masse, criticisms of specific realist arguments, and the argument for epistemic solipsism. Stace's views are exposited and criticized in detail. ;Chapter I begins with the belief in a real external world and the two basic forms which the belief takes. These are, first, direct realism, and second, "two-level" or "two-story" realism. Direct realism holds that at least some of the physical objects we directly perceive also exist unperceived. Two-level realism denies the direct realist tenet but affirms an independent world of physical objects at the "second level" of reality beyond the mind-dependent data which are directly perceived. Most of the chapter is a discussion of Berkeley, Hume, and W. T. Stace as subjective idealists. It is held that all three take the mind-dependence view of objects. Hume's use of Berkeleyean arguments, and his affirmation of mind-dependence, are taken as evidence that he is a subjective idealist on the external world, rather than a skeptic or phenomenalist. Stace is viewed as an idealist in light of three things: his use of the non-demonstrative Berkeleyean-Humean arguments; his argument for epistemic solipsism, with its metaphysical implications; his fictionalist view of the external world. ;Chapter II focusses on whether a perception-independent world is logically possible. Most of the chapter deals with Berkeley's a priori attack on the conceivability of an external world and the attack's relation to the "egocentric predicament" and the act-object distinction. Hume's and Stace's views on the logical possibility of mind-independence are dealt with more briefly. ;The central concern of this study is the challenge put to our common-sense belief in a mind-independent external world by subjectivist philosophers. For the first four chapters, subjectivism is taken to be identical with subjective idealism. In the fifth chapter, subjectivism is taken to include both idealism and one kind of realism. The dissertation addresses itself to a variety of subjectivist arguments given against the central realist tenet that some entities sometimes exist when not experienced by any finite mind.
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