Saturday, March 9, 2013

Naive Metaphysics and point of view

To: Chris E.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Naive Metaphysics and point of view
Date: 29th July 2009 12:21

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your email of 19 July with your essay towards the Associate Award, entitled 'Naive Metaphysics and Point of View'.

I approach this with some trepidation, as you are one of remarkably few students who have actually made an attempt to grapple with my book Naive Metaphysics. The first version of that work was written over 20 years ago, and I can honestly say that the 'theory' of subjective and objective worlds has not subsequently led me to a single new philosophical insight, nor does it seem to me any less paradoxical than it did to me then.

That is not necessarily a criticism of the theory: I tried to state 'the truth' about reality, give an account that includes *everything* in a way that previous accounts have failed to do. But it seems that having stated it, there is nothing more to say. I haven't given up; I am still looking, still feeling the puzzlement that I felt then. On the other hand, it might be a fatal criticism: theories are supposed to lead somewhere, not to dead ends. Or is that only true in science? Have I stumbled on something peculiar about the nature of metaphysics?

In your essay, you have offered a possible way of viewing the distinction between the subjective and objective worlds, in terms of the notion of intentionality. I don't say anything about intentionality in the book (so far as I can recall) so this could be a promising avenue to explore.

What is intentionality and how is it related to point of view? The first point to make is that intentional states have intentional objects, objects which in Brentano's pregnant phrase possess 'intentional inexistence'. Alice may believe that there is an alligator in the bath (your example) but it doesn't logically follow that there is any object in the world corresponding to the intentional object 'alligator'. (There might be, of course. It is possible that Alice's belief is true.)

While any proposition is potentially the content of an intentional state, in that a given proposition can be believed or not believed, the proposition also has properties in its own right. It is true, or false. If it is true, then the objects referred to by the terms of the proposition exist.

Right away, we see a distinction between intentionality and point of view, as I have characterized it. A point of view is defined in relation to actually existing objects. You can look at the Eiffel Tower or Mount Everest from different points of view. The point of view of GK or CE includes the objects in the immediate vicinity of GK, or CE; it also includes everything else in the universe.

One of the properties which belong to the subjective standpoint is that objects are 'absolutely' near or far. The Eiffel Tower is nearer to a subject located in Sheffield than Mount Everest, but further away to a subject located in Kathmandu. That is because 'near' and 'far' are relative terms. Whereas, the Eiffel tower is absolutely nearer, in my subjective world.

However, it might still possible to regard intentionality as providing a useful *analogy* with the structure of my subjective world. Consider what it is to 'have a belief'. When I consider Alice's beliefs, I am representing a possible world in which those beliefs are true; this involves a mental 'bracketing' which allows, e.g. for the 'inexistence' of, e.g. the feared alligator. Whereas, when I consider my beliefs, no such bracketing is involved (assuming that we are talking about my present beliefs, rather than the beliefs held by a former self).

This looks to me like another way of characterizing the subjective standpoint. You mention action; in later chapters of Naive Metaphysics this becomes a crucial aspect of the contrast between the subjective and objective worlds. In my subjective world, my actions are 'absolute doings', whereas from the point of view of the objective world they are just things that happen, alongside other events and the actions of other people.

In a similar way, it might be argued, from the point of view of the objective world my beliefs are 'things believed', whereas from the point of view of my subjective world my beliefs are *the truth*. That's just what believing is.

(Of course, we don't always 'believe' in this absolute yes/no sense. What exactly it means to 'speculate' or 'theorize' or 'hesitantly believe' would require further discussion.)

You say one thing about action earlier on in your essay which might potentially cause confusion. When we use Kant's Refutation of Idealism to construct a position which I call 'transcendental egocentrism' (as I emphasize, this is not a view Kant held) 'objects' become, in effect, part of a theory. The table is not in my mind, it is 'out there'. My spatio-temporal theory of the world places all the objects of my perception at spatio-temporal locations. The given (Kantian 'intuition') can only be described in terms of concepts which apply to the spatio-temporal world. That is how transcendental egocentrism is able to reject the metaphor of the mind as a container.

Kant certainly did believe that the 'construction' of this world involves activity of the mind; and he goes to some lengths (some, e.g. Strawson, would argue too great a length) in describing for the 'transcendental psychology of the faculties'.

When action makes its appearance in my account, however, it is crucially *physical* action. Merely mental action won't do. That is the point of claiming that the self is essentially an agent, and not a passive observer performing merely mental 'actions' on the given data. The idea is that, if agency is primary, then somehow this forces us to see the subjective and objective worlds as 'welded together' insofar as every 'absolute doing' is necessarily also a 'thing that happens'. Whereas if perception is primary, then we seem to be saddled with a 'metaphysical double vision', insofar as every object has two aspects which seem to bear no essential relation to one another.

Does that work? Or is the 'welding' just sleight of hand? I can't be sure. I still feel that there is something missing, but what?

However, I did enjoy reading your essay, and felt that you had understood the arguments pretty well. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to mull over the questions again.

All the best,

Geoffrey