Thursday, August 03, 2017

Idealism is counter-intuitive

I don't think idealism can be proven false. The main reason I reject it is because it's counter-intuitive in a way that alternate views (e.g. materialism and substance dualism) aren't.

For this blog entry, I'm going to cut and paste some stuff I said in a conversation I had with an idealist.

I think I reject idealism more because it flies in the face of my common sense notions about the world. When I'm standing in front of a tree or a cat, I can't shake the overwhelming impression that it's a real physical object in front of me. Hearing arguments for idealism is like hearing arguments against motion from Zeno's paradoxes. I see the strength of the arguments, but they are not enough to overcome my strong intuition that something has gone awry.

The idea that a subjective mental experience, like perception, could be shared collectively strikes me as being just as problematic as the interaction problem. Even if it's the case that a single God is feeding the same consistent information into each of our minds so that we each see a tree or a cat, we're not all seeing the same actual tree or cat. In fact, we're not interacting with each other at all. At best, we're interacting with a representation of each other. The other person could cease to exist in reality, and it would be possible for God to continue feeding information into our heads as if the other person were still interacting with us. So there's little reason to think that the people wandering around in our sensory perceptions are real people at all except our hope that God is being honest and consistent.

Let me expand on this with an analogy. Let's suppose you and I both go to sleep and have a dream. And let's suppose that by some strange improbable luck, we both have identical dreams in which you and I have a conversation that goes like this:

RationalThinker: Hi philochristos. What brings you here today?
Philochristos: I don't know how I got here to be honest with you.
RationalThinker: Really? Are you suffering from amnesia or something?
Philochristos: Maybe. Anyway, it's great to finally meet you.
RationalThinker: You, too! Let's find something to argue about.
Philochristos: Hold on. I have to use the bathroom first.

If it just happened by luck than you had this dream of having this conversation with me, and I had this same dream of having this conversation with you, and we both saw the same trees and the same scenery and everything, it would still be the case that you and I were not actually communicating with each other. I was communicating with a projection of my own mind, and you were communicating with a projection of your own mind.

If it turned out that the projections in each of our minds were planted in us by God instead of us dreaming them up ourselves, the only thing that would change is that it would no longer be strange luck that we happened to have mental perceptions of this conversation happening. But it would still be the case that you and I were not actually interacting with each other. I would be interacting with a mental image that God implanted in my head, and you'd be interacting with a mental image that God implanted in your head. I would not even have to exist for you to have that exact same experience, and you would not have to exist for me to have that exact same experience.

I see that as a problem with idealism. Idealism not only goes up against our intuitions about an external world, but it also seems to go up against our intuitions about other minds.


At 8/05/2017 3:01 PM , Anonymous scbrownlhrm said...

“....So there's little reason to think that the people wandering around in our sensory perceptions are real people at all except our hope that God is being honest and consistent…”

I agree for a few different reasons. In fact any Berkeley brand of Idealism minus the Infinite Consciousness that is the Divine Mind ends in the mutable and the contingent and, therefore, doesn’t get as far as the brand you described above (…which includes *God/god*…), which itself also is, we agree, inadequate.

Care must be taken to avoid the error of Deism though. That finds creation as an X which God creates and then the X exists all on its own. There is no necessary interface with The Necessary, neither upstream nor downstream, because God creates that which exists independently of Him. Literally.

There’s good reason to count that sort of creative act as a metaphysical impossibility.

Whereas, I think it’s more precise to note that material exists, as you describe. The Immaterial, God, is *not* (…I agree…) feeding reality (…which includes our thoughts…) into our minds but, rather, we perceive *both* the created order *and* the immaterial contours of necessary transcendentals. In fact any such “feeding” would replace our minds, which includes our thoughts, with that direct-feeding.

That sums to Pantheism.

Rather than Panentheism.

They’re fundamentally different.

But now what? Is the material now free of the Immaterial? Is the material “real enough all by itself”?

Not quite. It’s not that “only mind exists”. Rather, it is that but for the timeless Decree of the Divine Mind, the created (…real…) order *neither* moves from non-being to being (…the creative act…) *nor* remains in being (…some would offer Concurrentism here…).

That’s a bit thick or tedious but I think we have to be careful about where the buck stops, as per Deism, Pantheism, Panentheism, and so on.

As for your Idealist friend and that shared dream, well, like WOW! We are in total agreement :-}


It’s important to distinguish (properly) between concurrentism, occasionalism, and conservationism. It is also important to distinguish between the (different) ontological commitments vis-à-vis causality, Pantheism, and Deism in order to maintain precision. One would also need to account for the principle of proportionate causality as it immediately impacts our ontic-state on all levels and at all times and so the content at would be necessary in one’s equations. Lastly, on Divine Concurrence there is the content at which is also necessary.

At 8/05/2017 5:06 PM , Blogger Sam Harper said...

Thanks for the link to Ed Feser. That was interesting. Occasionalism is another view I've also found highly counter-intuitive.

At 8/06/2017 4:10 AM , Anonymous scbrownlhrm said...

One clarification:

With respect to Panentheism (not pantheism), care must be taken as it’s *not* coterminous with Christianity (…as discussed at …) but it does offer many helpful insights. See and see


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home