TA106 (Müller)

Response 21  (to C50 by William A. Adams)


by Herbert FJ Müller  
18 September 2009, posted 26 September 2009


Thank you for your note.   I will in the following try to answer to the points you make.   Concerning dualism, in general terms, after discarding ontology one uses pragmatic (working) dualism instead of ontological dualism.   One has to utilize the tools created in the mind at some distance, at arm’s length, to be effective.   Thus I don’t know whether we are not really saying more or less the same thing in different words.


About your more specific questions:

<4> ‘Epistemological dualism distinguishes between the knower and the known’ :   this sounds like a working-  or as-if-  dualism, which can be used for practical purposes  provided that one keeps in mind that it has nothing to do with ontology-metaphysics (the assertion that there exists a mind-independent reality).   But  a problem is that your argumentation here still implies ontology :  ‘the fact of the matter’.  

<5>  ‘2+2=5’ is a statement about a mathematical procedure which is wrong by the mathematical rule itself (such as counting and parcelling) that is being used, and is thus not a mind-independent fact.   Mathematics does not involve ontological claims.   In that it differs from  ‘that God exists’  which can be a ‘communal’ ontological assertion.    In reality-design there is no such thing as ontology.    It is replaced by feedback-testing during use of the created structures.  

‘Epistemological dualism’  apparently refers to Husserl. <6> You say he distinguished between noema and noesis, and that he left ‘the world’ suspended in mid-air, so to speak.   But so far as I can determine, Husserl was an ontologist.   He wanted to go to the (somehow mind-independently pre-structured) things themselves (‘zu den Sachen selbst’) and obtain a view of essences (‘Wesens-Schau’), which to me sounds not only like straight metaphysics-ontology, but in addition like knowable metaphysics-ontology.   But paradoxically he wanted to do it on the basis of phenomenology (which would mean description of mental phenomena without metaphysics).   Therefore I don’t think that he was a pure phenomenologist.  

I should add though that this is a conceptual problem that all phenomenologists (including Heidegger, Jaspers, and Merleau-Ponty) had in one form or another.   In addition, and that may actually be the reason for this difficulty, they understood the phenomena not as structured by subjects  but as ‘given’, per ‘aletheia’ for instance, which is similar to Wesens-Schau, and implies subject-independent self-structuring, despite the start-point in phenomenology.    

<7>  The ‘disappearance of mind-independence in thorough phenomenology’  concerns ontology :  it means that when we base ourselves (for instance) on an unrestricted understanding of Jaspers’ notion of the encompassing aspect of experience, there can be no ontological mind-independent concepts (of self, others, world, all).   Since this seems to be your main point of concern, let me elaborate a bit.  

Using the notion of the  ‘encompassing’  in an unrestricted meaning leads to several closely interrelated points in the understanding of mind and reality, which have far reaching implications.    The encompassing aspect of experience entails that  (a) there can be no mind-independent reality.  (b) All structures, and the differences between them, are pragmatic working-structures, not ontic, because we could  neither create onta (noumena), nor know them in case they did ‘exist’, and (c) there is consequently also only a pragmatic difference between self and non-self.  (d) The subject is an aspect of all structures, even when the subject’s influence is minimized in order to reduce personal bias.   Finally, (e) the matrix or background of structures is unstructured, except for the structures created within it.

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’.   -   This sounds like a horror vacui, or fear of nihilism.   But in order ‘to overcome nihilism one has to face nothingness’ :  namely the task to structure in the unstructured.   One has to create structures rather than find ready-made ones.   For practical purposes 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.   ‘Knowledge’ means the subjects’ use of reliable structures (which can be said to be ‘real’, to make things more practical, but with the awareness that this is a shortcut).

One might also note that in mythological times (before the first millennium BCE, the ‘axis time’ of Jaspers) people by and large did not have the choice of selfhood and objectivity, and understood themselves as effects of super-human agents.

The ‘idea of knowledge without a knower’  <7>  is actually a side-effect of objectivity;  it develops because for many objectivists the mind is not real because it cannot become an object and vanishes from discussion.   In the words of Heinz von Foerster :  ‘Objectivity is a subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him.  Involving objectivity is abrogating responsibility    hence its popularity.’  (Glasersfeld 1995, p. 149)    It implies an  ‘inversion of thinking‘, in which agency, including goal-setting, is displaced from the subject onto postulated external entities (a sort of theism without gods), a circular procedure which actually reduces working-ontology (reality-design) to traditional metaphysics-ontology.  But the traditional view is commonly maintained by excluding the circularity from awareness, and often also the outward leap of faith. 



Glasersfeld, E. von (1995) Radical constructivism.  A way of knowing and learning. Studies in mathematics education series 6.  Falmer Press: London.

Jaspers K (1955), Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte.  Fischer Bücherei (Piper, München).


Herbert FJ Müller  
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>