Wednesday, July 19, 2017

To be is to be percieved

I have run into a few idealists over the years.  An idealist is somebody who thinks mind and the things that make up minds are all that exist.  There is no mind-independent material world.  Everything is perception.

This idea has always struck me as being kind of crazy.  Well, no, I take that back.  There was a time when I was very young that I entertained the idea that everything was perception, especially my own. I guess I should say that for the last 20 to 25 years, this idea has struck me as being crazy.  I mean it's one thing to allow for the mere possibility and to entertain the idea just for the fun of having and exchanging philosophical thoughts. But it's another thing altogether to take the idea seriously or to actually believe that it's true.

But I've met some really smart people who at least claim to believe it.  Some of them have even been Christians.  I'm not going to go into all of my reasons for rejecting idealism in this post.  I just want to respond to one challenge that is always put to me whenever I run into an idealist.  They always want me to describe mind-independent reality.  The reason they appear to see this as a legitimate challenge is because it will be nearly impossible for me to describe anything in the "external" world without appealing to what's going on in my head.  If I start talking about shape, size, colour, etc., these are all just perceptions in my mind. Since I cannot describe reality apart from my mind, they seem to think that means there's no mind-independent reality.

Let me parody this argument. If there are any idealists out there who think I'm misrepresenting their point when they bring up this challenge, leave me a comment and straighten me out.  In the meantime, here's the parody.

Suppose I challenged you to describe a dinosaur without using language.  Well, obviously you couldn't do that.  Aha!  Therefore, there are no language-independent dinosaurs!  Dinosaurs cannot exist independently of language.  So dinosaurs could not have existed prior to the advent of language.

Surely there's a fly in the ointment.  The fact that I can't describe a dinosaur without the use of language doesn't mean dinosaurs can't exist independently of language.  And just because I can't describe a dinosaur without appealing to perception doesn't mean a dinosaur can't exist without being perceived.  It no more follows that dinosaurs are perception than it follows that dinosaurs are language just because I use language and perception to describe them.


At 7/21/2017 7:26 PM , Anonymous scbrown(lhrm) said...

Hey Sam,

While I'm not an Idealist, I think what you'd need to do to complete the proverbial "ontic-loop" is to distinguish between the Theist Idealist and the Non-Theistic Idealist.

The Non-Theistic Idealist by necessity lands within the mutable and the contingent, and that just won't do. Whereas, the Theistic Idealist would land, at some ontological seam somewhere, within the Divine Mind, the Immutable and the Necessary.

Then, from that "Y" in the road, clarity increases. God, or Infinite Consciousness, provides a very different lattice within which the Created Order finds its very being than does any Non-Theistic brand of Idealism.

The Non-Theistic Idealist is.... well...I'm not sure there's any difference between that an Solipsism.

So, in a sense, given that we -- or the Created Order -- live and move and have and find our very being in *GOD*, in Infinite Consciousness, the concept of "Mind Independent" may, on some levels, sum to a metaphysical impossibility.

Again, I'm not an Idealist, yet, as a Christian, there are some peculiar inroads and interesting overlays.


At 7/21/2017 9:06 PM , Blogger Sam Harper said...

Howdy scbrown(lhry),

I don't know what you mean by "the proverbial 'ontic-loop'." But anyway, the challenge I brought up in this post seems to apply to both theist and non-theist idealists because both think whatever we perceive is all in the mind and that there is no corresponding mind-independent external world. That's what the challenge is about.

Otherwise, I agree with everything else you said. I have talked to a guy who considers himself a non-theistic idealist, but the way he describes it, he sure sounds like a theist to me. It might just be semantics. He believes there's a God, but he doesn't call him "God." He's not a solipsist, though. You took the words out of my mouth when you said, "I'm not sure there's any difference between [a non-theistic idealist] and Solipsism." I was literally going to say that before I got to that part of your comment.

I have other problems with idealism that I may blog on at some point. It's an interesting subject. Maybe I can get WisdomLover to comment on it.

At 7/22/2017 4:31 AM , Anonymous scbrown(lhrm) said...

Hi Sam,

You said, "...because both think whatever we perceive is all in the mind and that there is no corresponding mind-independent external world..."

I would clarify by saying Idealism claims that we cannot know any mind-independent reality and, there, we have to be careful. If a mind-independent reality (MIR) exists, as in an external world, our reach is limited by perception.

There are Idealists who *deny* any MIR, but there I agree with you in that that is just Solipsism.

Where the Theistic Idealist would (IMO) break free of that is that the IMR or external world *does* exist, *but*, as alluded to earlier, that carries forward into the Divine Mind because God, or Infinite Consciousness, provides a very different lattice within which the Created Order finds its very being.

In short, the Material is real even as it ultimately gives way to the Immaterial and, by "immaterial" that progression lands, finally, in the Divine Mind.

So, then, from there: The IMR or the Created Order, you and I, live and move and have and find our very *being* in *GOD*, in Infinite Consciousness, and, so, if we follow that out, the IMR is not entirely accounted for without Mind, both the being of the IMR itself as per *God*, and, also in our own perceptions.

Therefore (perhaps) the concept of "Mind Independent" cannot apply to the IMR itself.

We seem to come upon an delightful cheeseburger where instead of bread at the top and bottom we've Immaterial at the top/bottom, as in:

Immaterial/God/God ↔ Created Order ↔ Meaning ↔ Truth ↔ Perceived/Mind/Immaterial.

That said, *if* one speaks of a full blown Berkeley-ian Idealism, well then ( I understand that version...) there is no IMR. But then that's solipsism and suffers all of its baggage.


[1] for "Philosophical Idealism and Christian Theology" by James H. Snowden. The Biblical World Vol. 46, No. 3 (Sep., 1915), pp. 152-158



At 7/22/2017 4:33 AM , Anonymous scbrown(lhrm) said...


Sorry... any "IMR" was supposed to be "MIR" (...Mind Independent Reality...)


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