KARL JASPERS FORUM
Commentary 57 (Reply to R21 by Herbert FJ Müller)
ARE WE NOT DEMI-URGES ?
by William A. Adams
27 September 2009, posted 3 October 2009
Herbert Müller’s Reply R21 helpfully clarifies some points for me but raises new questions.
I agree that Husserl was a closet Kantian and an implicit ontologist. However his innovation was to discriminate mental phenomena given to the mind, from the extended, perceived phenomena of the world. He was thus not a traditional ontologist in the sense of attempting to describe the presumed mind-independent furniture of the world as do biologists or physicists. Mental phenomena cannot be mind-independent of course. But Husserl considered them self-existent, so they were independent of subjective intentionality, that is, noetically independent.
Müller wants to classify noetically independent mental objects as elements of a metaphysical ontology, even though they are mental and have nothing to do with the world of physics, to which the term “ontology” usually is applied. I will go along with that, for I think it is correct in principle, but I think it would be useful for Müller to use an adjective to distinguish mental from traditional physical ontology because nobody is going to argue that mental objects are mind-independent. What I learn then, is that when Müller objects to “mind-independent reality,” he is really objecting to a reality independent of subjective intentionality. That is a significant clarification.
If I am correct that Müller’s main point is to deny the existence of objects persisting independently of intentionality, then this implies that his (and perhaps Jaspers’) philosophy takes creativity, intentionality, or at least agency, as a first principle. If so, I agree with that axiom. Subjectivity creatively projects aspects of itself outward, away from itself (to use a spatial metaphor), then self-alienates from its own projection, resulting in the apprehension of a self-independent object. This process puts creativity at the core of mental life and is not so different from what Brentano (1874) described as each object’s latent “intentional inexistence” within the intentional act itself.
Müller does emphasize the creative aspect of subjectivity, emphasizing the need “to create structures rather than find ready-made ones” . He emphasizes that we must face “the task to structure the unstructured”  and he disparages theories that fail to acknowledge the creative act of structuring, as “delusional” and an “abrogation of responsibility” . Whereas today we think of ourselves as agents, Müller notes that by contrast, “ in mythological times … people … understood themselves as effects of super-human agents”.
Müller also seems to also accept the second step of the creative process in which the subject self-alienates from the intentionally projected object. Müller says “one has to then distance oneself from the created conceptual tool, and uses a pragmatic dualism from one’s own structures in order to employ them; but that is a second step”. So far, so good; we seem to be in agreement.
But strangely, Müller also denies that we are capable of projecting objects in the first place, undercutting everything just established. He says “we could neither create onta (noumena), nor know them in case they did ‘exist’” . Perhaps there is a confusion here about the use of the term “onta.” Once the object has been intentionally (creatively) projected from the self, and after the subject as alienated itself from its own projected object, the object stands as a perfectly respectable object, does it not? It can be assessed, measured, discussed, kicked, or bitten. It satisfies every conceivable criterion of objectivity that one could invoke. So in what way is it not an object? Just because it was projected from subjectivity makes it no less an object. Artificial diamonds are real diamonds, chemically and physically indistinguishable from their geologic cousins. They are in no sense as-if diamonds. By analogy, subjectively structured reality is real reality. Its origin in no way diminishes its ontological status. It is not an ersatz reality, because there is no other, “true” reality to which it might be compared. Projected reality IS the reality. Why then does Müller assert that we are “incapable of creating onta” ?
Is Müller’s hesitancy due to the fact that supposed “real,” “genuine” onta are defined as mind-independent and forever unknowable? But we have already noted that the criterion that matters is not mind-independence but noetic independence. If mental objects are noetically (creatively) produced, then we obviously can and do create onta. Is the problem that, once projected and alienated from their creative source, the onta could never be known? That cannot be right either, for we are now talking about them. Of course they can be known. Self-alienation from one’s creative products can be overcome with a little effort (as psychotherapy amply demonstrates).
There is some question about how we manage to overcome self-alienation to become reunited with our creative products. It is not necessarily easy. But there is no question that we are capable of doing it. Kant was skeptical of the noumenal because the limits of sensation and perception logically preclude observation of anything beyond those limits. However, as Husserl demonstrated, it is possible to apprehend mental phenomena with faculties other than sensation and perception. Whatever those methods of apprehension are (e.g., the transcendental reduction, noetic and eidetic analysis, and all the rest), they are not limited to sensory perception. There is no a priori reason to assume that self-projected objects must remain forever impenetrable to our inquiries.
I would appreciate further clarification from Herbert Müller about this apparent opposition of the suggested creative origin of objectivity and its denial.
Brentano, F. (1874). Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
William A. Adams
e-mail <bill.adams111 (at) gmail.com>