KARL JASPERS FORUM
Commentary 50 (Reply to R19 by Herbert FJ Müller)
TWO KINDS OF DUALISM
by William A. Adams
16 September 2009, posted 26 September 2009
Herbert Müller raised several interesting and difficult points in his R19 comment. However, before addressing them, I would like to clarify a possible misunderstanding which, if uncorrected, would stymie attempts at further discussion.
Dr. Müller said  that mental structures (knowledge and conjectures) “are our working-structures in the unstructured. ‘Introspection’ is an aspect of phenomenology and as such does not mean dualism, which itself is a secondary development : it means that an ontological difference between self and world is posited as fundamental. The statement that ‘observation’ does not make sense without dualism (Adams <6>) reflects the prevailing opinion that reality is mind-independent, but that problem disappears in a thorough phenomenological view.”
It seems to me that the foregoing quote mixes ontological dualism with epistemological dualism. Cartesian dualism divides that which exists into extended (e.g., physical) and unextended (e.g., mental). Müller’s objection to this dichotomy is at the very foundation of his T106, and much else discussed on this site. I also reject that distinction, except to allow it as a functional, pragmatic, “as-if” distinction constructed by the mind to facilitate conceptualization and action. I agree with Müller that traditional ontological dualism has no intrinsic validity, and perseveres only by custom and for convenience.
Epistemological dualism, on the other hand, distinguishes between the knower and the known, the observer and the observed, the believer and that which is believed, and so on. It is orthogonal to (independent of) ontological dualism. A believer can believe that God exists, whether or not God does exist. One’s belief, knowledge, and observations imply to that person that the epistemological object does actually exist, but that is just another belief. The fact of the matter might be otherwise.
A person can claim to know something when in fact they do not, but that is not an ontological problem. I can say that I know that 2+2=5, or that there is life on Mars, or that God exists, and from my own point of view, this implies certain ontological truths about what does exist and what is true. From the point of view of the larger knowledge community, however, it might be ascertainable that the speaker’s claims are either false, or at least not known to be true, with respect to ontology. The community’s accepted body of ontological knowledge trumps individual belief when it comes to truth claims, because ontological statements are defined primarily by consensus in the germane community, and that is because there is no omniscient point of view.
So when Müller asserts  that ‘Introspection’ is an aspect of phenomenology and as such does not mean dualism, which itself is a secondary development : it means that an ontological difference between self and world is posited as fundamental,” I do not agree. Introspection/phenomenology does entail epistemological dualism, a separation between apprehender and that which is apprehended, but that does not imply anything about the world. Husserl was clear about this. He distinguished noema and noesis as the poles of an epistemological dualism, but said repeatedly that neither implied anything about the world. We accept the phenomena as they are given to the mind. Where they came from, we do not know and do not care, he said. That’s why phenomenology does not imply idealism. It has nothing to do with Cartesian dualism. (Later Husserl introduced the transcendental ego which compromised this approach, but let’s skip that for now).
Müller says  that “The statement that ‘observation’ does not make sense without dualism (Adams <6>) reflects the prevailing opinion that reality is mind-independent, but that problem disappears in a thorough phenomenological view,” That is not a clear statement, as I don’t know what the “disappearance” is all about. Observation (including phenomenological observation) need not imply anything about the world, and does not entail ontological dualism. Yet I still say that “observation” does not make sense without epistemological dualism. What does observation mean if we do not distinguish observer from the observed, the knower from the known ? A state of unknowing existence is brute existence, in which nothing is observed, nothing is known, nothing is believed, etc. In order for any knowledge, belief, or observation to emerge, an epistemological dualism must be established. I do not understand the idea of knowledge without a knower, belief without anyone who believes it, observations made by nobody and nothing. To my mind, there is no point of view from which to assert such a unipolar epistemology. Maybe I am in a mental rut, but I cannot comprehend how observation could be defined without presupposing epistemological dualism.
Having said that, let me qualify it. The necessity of presupposing epistemological dualism was Jack Petranker’s objection to Alan Wallace’s description of a nondual way of knowing, the topic of my earlier post. I attempted to defend Wallace by suggesting (only suggesting) that there might be a way of knowing that combines epistemological dualism and nondualism. But the idea of doing away with epistemological dualism altogether is self-contradictory, undercutting the very basis of communication. If I have misunderstood Müller’s objection to all “dualism” I anticipate instruction. I think until we clarify this point, future discussion will be confusing.