Saturday, October 11, 2014

Repost: John Deely, "Solipsism"

The following article on solipsism by Dr. John Deely is so fantastic and straightforward. It explains all the hesitations and frustrations I experienced while studying modern and contemporary philosophy (aside from the frustrations of actually trying to understand what was being said by the convoluted style so infamous and probably genetically passed on among philosophers). Not only does Deely provide a solution to epistemology, but he also provides a powerful framework for cultural criticism and assimilation.

[1439] From the Latin solus ipse, “the self alone,” solipsism is the view that knowledge does not extend beyond our own subjective existence. Sometimes used to describe a pathological medical condition of a person who has lost capacity to communicate, the term is also used philosophically to name the view that all we directly know and experience reduces to a state of our own consciousness or “mind,” beyond which we have no direct access to anything at all.

The term is often associated with René DESCARTES' formula “I think therefore I am” and with Gottfried Wilhelm von LEIBNIZ's formula “Monads have no windows.” Our consciousness is a kind of bubble: We have no direct awareness of anything that is not itself a product of our own mind.

The term itself seems first to occur in Alexander Campbell Fraser's 1874 edition of Selections from Berkeley: “Berkeley's reasoning implies that we can know only our own notions… thus leading, by a reductio ad absurdum, to Egoism or Solipsism” (47). EGOISM has generally come to designate self-interest, whereas solipsism has come into general use primarily in the context of modern theory of knowledge or “epistemology.” “In this respect,” [1440] Bertrand RUSSELL, in his book My Philosophical Development, summarized: “I agree with Berkeley. The starry heaven that we know in visual perception is inside us. The external starry heaven that we believe in is inferred” ([1959] 1997, 20).
There is good reason why solipsism is connected with EPISTEMOLOGY. Both terms arise from modern philosophy 's preoccupation with the theory of knowledge. Epistemology dates to James Frederick Ferrier 's 1854 Institutes of Metaphysic: “This section of the science [of Metaphysic] is properly termed the Epistemology—the doctrine or theory of knowing, just as ontology is the doctrine or theory of being” (46). Of course, knowing being depends upon what knowing is. And what knowing is, according to modern epistemology, is precisely the intervention from within the mind of mental representations that stand between ourselves as knowing and whatever there may be around us. Bishop Berkeley, in A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge ([1710] 1948, Part I, Section 10, p. 45), advised simply that all sensible qualities are “in the mind and nowhere else.” David Hume put it this way: “No man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say ‘this house’ and ‘that tree,’ are nothing but perceptions in the mind.” (Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding [1748] 1975, Sect. XII, Part I, last par. in marginal section 118).

The isolation of the knowing self within itself, generally traced to Descartes, is more properly traceable to William of Ockham's view on relation. As Julius R. Weinberg (1965) noted, all the moderns (Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant) adopted Ockham's view that relations have no being in the order of what exists independently of our awareness. Against this background of NOMINALISM Descartes made as his first step toward a “new beginning” in philosophy the bare certainty of our own existence as thinking things. The first unmistakable version of the problema pontis, the “problem of the bridge,” resulted: How can we cross from the cognitive states of our own subjectivity to the world of things existing independently?

John LOCKE agreed with Descartes that the immediate objects of awareness are our own ideas, “mental representations.” But Locke disagreed that our first idea was the rational idea of God. Locke argued instead that ideas of sense are first. Followers of Descartes came to be called rationalists; followers of Locke, empiricists. But both lines agreed that objects as directly apprehended or known are one with our subjective cognitive states. Immanuel KANT, “Master of the Moderns” by virtue of his synthesis of RATIONALISM and EMPIRICISM, introduced a distinction between objects and ideas. But the relations between ideas and objects he attributed wholly to the working of the mind itself (the a priori forms of reason introduced into the phenomenal appearances of sense to give us the necessities of science). Thus Kant concluded that there is no possibility of a bridge passing from consciousness to “things in themselves.”

As a term designating the study of knowledge, epistemology seems straightforward. But when we consider the context of the term's introduction, in particular the assumption that is common (albeit in varying ways) to Descartes, Locke, and Kant, that the direct object of apprehension in every respect of every case involves “ideas” or (after Kant) the “phenomenal veil,” the usage carries the implication that the realm of being as existing independently is “unknowable,” that is, closed to us in principle. Study of “knowledge” reveals a closed circuit wherein the access to “being,” and hence the prospect of ONTOLOGY, is foreclosed.

John Poinsot (1589–1644), a contemporary of Descartes who received no consideration in the context out of which mainstream modern philosophy formed, presciently warned in 1632 (Treatise on Signs, Book III, Q. 2) that any assumption of the view that all awareness terminates directly in mental representations would create an insoluble “problema pontis.” Poinsot's argument (drawn from St. THOMAS AQUINAS) is that sense perception is founded on relations directly consequent on physical interactions between our bodies and surrounding bodies. The resulting awareness does not involve mental representations, but provides rather, within perception, the basis upon which only secondarily as interpretations of direct experience mental representations are introduced. “On this principle, as in a root,” Poinsot states, is founded the knowability of being as having within our awareness a directly awareness-independent dimension concomitant with the objective interpretations that we introduce through mental representations. Otherwise, Poinsot warned, there is no way out of our mind if mental representations are the whole basis of perception within experience.

Leibniz (1704) called the modern development of epistemology “the way of ideas” precisely because of the modern denial that awareness directly involves any relations that are awareness-independent. Leibniz saw at once that, given the assumption that defines this modern path, solipsism is a logically inescapable cul-de-sac—“Monads have no windows”; hence, being is unknowable.

The proposition that the “external world” is in itself unknowable, as Percy Bridgman remarked (1959), “is usually felt to be so absurd as to constitute its own refutation.” From the time of Kant to the present day, however, many have avoided facing up to this consequent, but no one has been able to explain how, starting with the thesis that what we are first aware of is a mental representation, we can get beyond solipsism. Bertrand Russell summarized the modern “epistemological dilemma” concisely. Despite the fact that, given the [1441] assumption of modern philosophy common to Descartes on the Rationalist side, Locke on the Empiricist side, and Kant in his synthesis of Rationalism and Empiricism, “we cannot witness or observe anything else at all” except “what goes on in our heads,” yet “those—and I fear they are the majority—in whom the human affections are stronger than the desire for logical economy, will, no doubt, not share my desire to render solipsism scientifically satisfactory” (My Philosophical Development, 1959).

Solipsism, in sum, is a term that precisely summarizes in the context of modern epistemology the logical consequent of the antecedent mainstream assumption that the human mind has a direct awareness only of its self-constructed mental representations.

Source: Deely, John. "Solipsism." New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2012-2013: Ethics and Philosophy. Ed. Robert L. Fastiggi. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 2013. 1439-441. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <|CX2762500669&v=2.1&u=gonzagaufoley&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=5eb7130d8b53c771f1c1dd6321615811>.

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