TA112  (Müller)


Commentary 9 (to R8)



by Richard W Moodey
25 March 2009, posted 4 April 2009



( Thank you for your comments; I have added some replies, marked [HFJM:]

                                                                                                Herbert FJ Müller )



Re <1> Exclusive objectivity is a view which people with purposes use;  the statement that exclusive objectivity does something is short for   ‘people who hold the exclusive objectivity view do something’ 


RWM:  In philosophical discussions, I think it is important to get the words right, hard as it may be.  I think it is a serious misrepresentation of reality to attribute human powers to abstractions.  It leads to stereotyping and to arguing with straw men.  To what actual person do you attribute the attempt to eliminate subjects?  Where does she say this?  Is she aware that others say that she tries to eliminate subjects?  How does she respond to this criticism?  I agree that academic writing often takes the form of a one-person argument, but I think it is important to argue with real people, citing what they have actually said, rather than with very broad categories of others.  Stereotyping occurs, because your category “exclusive objectivism” is something you constructed.  Then you put certain others into that category, and attribute to those individuals the traits you assigned to the category when you created it.


[HFJM:]  A pertinent quote is from F Crick :  ‘ “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules’ (The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994, p.3).   His response to objections was to write this book.   My response to his book was to start the KJF in 1997, not primarily in order to document opinions but to prompt discussion, which I found difficult to get in meetings, due to time limitations.



Re <2> Subjects cannot become objects, and should not be treated as-if-they were objects; see for instance Martin Buber.  I agree that many objects are not subjects.


RWM:  Here we have a conflict between an “either-or” perspective and a “both-and” perspective.  I take a both-and perspective when I say that some objects are subjects.  I am sitting before my computer, and it is an object for me because I make the judgment: “I am not this computer.”  My son is in the next room, and he is an object for me because I make a similar judgment: “I am not this young man.”  For me, people are objects because I can perceive them, and I do not judge them to be me.  Unlike my computer, however, I also judge my son to be a human subject.  That is, I attribute to my son the same kinds of mental powers I attribute to myself.  This does not make him a non-object, but an object who is also a subject.


I read Buber as focusing on morality rather than ontology.  It is immoral to treat other persons as if they did not have the same powers and the same rights as myself.


[HFJM:]  I agree, but that does not exclude the epistemological meaning.   0-D implies ‘both-and’, in the sense that objectivity is a specialized method within phenomenology (experience).   My point is that in contrast to bodies and brains the subjective-experience aspect cannot become an object;   but that impossibility is often neglected, as one can see in works that try to deal with the mind-brain puzzle.



Re <3> The rephrasing points to the reason of the disappearance of ‘subjects with purposes’ in exclusive objectivity.  Atheists tend to be exclusive objectivists.


RWM:  But if you rephrase what I wrote in a way that I say misrepresents what I meant to say, it does not further the dialogue to explain why you rephrased it that way.  Responding to me requires that you try to understand what I meant to say, that you ask me if your rephrasing really expresses what I meant to say.  Otherwise, you are just responding to yourself, engaging in a one-person argument, rather than a two-person dialogue.  I grant you the right to construct a category called “exclusive objectivity,” and to attribute to it whatever characteristics you desire.   But I don’t grant you the right to stereotype those whom you say are members of your category.  Within category individual differences are often very significant.  


[HFJM:]  The rephrasing is my opinion, not meant to be yours.



Re <4> If one treats perception as a physiological event, the subject is not taken into account.  Exclusive objectivity (that is people who rely on that view) lose the subject, either implicitly or even explicitly and deliberately.   A typical example of the latter is F Crick’s ‘astonishing hypothesis’.


RWM:  Here again is the conflict between “either-or” and “both-and.”  I treat perception as a physiological event, but it is also a psychological – phenomenological -- event.   I reject Crick’s hypothesis, because he denies the phenomenological dimensions.   I also reject, as I believe you do also, any hypothesis that would deny neuronal activity in an act of perception.


[HFJM:]  I agree.  The question is how phenomenology and physiology fit together.    I suggest that physiology, like all objective knowledge, can and should be seen as a specialization within phenomenology.   The objective method does not have to be subject-exclusive;   its purpose is to minimize subjective bias, not to eliminate subjects.



Re <5> For instance visual gestalt-formations prompt the assumption that there are visual MIR-objects.   My position  -  the result of elimination of other possibilities rather than of a leap of faith  -  is that structures, like visual gestalt-formations for instance, are formed with subject-participation in an otherwise unstructured matrix.   If you make the leap of faith to MIR, can you explain how you know something that is not in your mind ?    Or to put it the opposite way :  what you know or believe is in your mind and thus is not MIR.   This has been the main difficulty with metaphysics since Parmenides, it seems.    ‘My faith’ is not that there is no MIR but that in its traditional subject-exclusive form  MIR is impossible, although something like it is also necessary;   MIR can instead be considered as a mental tool (as-if-MIR or reality-design), not as subject-independent.


RWM:  I think that this gets to the heart of where we really disagree.  I think it is important to be very clear about our disagreement.  I agree that my belief in MIR is a kind of “leap of faith.”  So we don’t disagree about this.  Where I disagree with you is that you claim, or seem to claim, that you have arrived at your position without making a “leap of faith.”   You say that you have arrived at your position by the “elimination of other possibilities.”  But then you seem to backtrack, by saying that you do not deny MIR, but only its “subject-exclusive form.” 


Would you agree that my position is not a “subject-exclusive form” of MIR ?


[HFJM:]  I agree.  I do not suggest that you are promoting an exclusive-objectivity position.  In more general terms the question, as I see it,   is not    to either accept or reject MIR-metaphysics    (this has been a pseudo-alternative since Parmenides),   but to convert it from a fictitious and inaccessible ontic-outside reality or agency   into a mind-internal mental tool,   which I have called ‘reality design’ (or ‘working metaphysics-ontology’; see for instance TA 57).   Plato suggested that we can only see the shadows of an unknowable reality;   0-D does the opposite :   we use gestalt-formations,  and to supplement them  we design a more compete ‘reality’,   such as complete objects, etc.,  in our mind.




RWM:   You ask if I can explain how I know something that is not in my mind.   By making reasonable judgments.  I don’t think it is reasonable to think that my son, whom I know, is just in my mind.  I don’t think it is reasonable to think that you, whom I know only through electronically mediated strings of words, are just in my mind.  I judge both my son and you to be subjects (and objects), active centers of knowing, choosing, and acting.   


[HFJM:]  A problem here is the pre-supposition of an ontological subject-object split.   If we follow Jaspers’ view that the mind encompasses all mental structures, there can be no primary ‘ontic’ differences between inside and outside the mind, only pragmatic ones.    For instance my clothes are a part of me when I wear them but not (or at least less so) when they are stored away.     You are not me  but right now you are in my mind nevertheless.    That does not imply that you are ‘just’ in my mind, which would be solipsism (with an implicit ontological basis). 




Re <6-7>  I agree that they are inarticulate, but one can understand them as-if they were able to assert themselves.  As an analogy, one can understand people’s expressions and gestures even if they don’t talk.


RWM:  The question is whether or not I will understand self-replicating molecules better if I say that they “assert themselves” than if I say, as I do, that they do not assert anything.   I understand the gestures of other people because I attribute to them human powers similar to my own.   I do not attribute these powers to molecules. 


[HFJM:]  However, self-replicating molecules do create biological beings including humans and their thinking.   There is a continuity from biological evolution to subject-inclusive planning (or ‘design’) and vice-versa; see TA112 [4]:  One can understand   deliberate intelligent design [objectively] as a continuation of biological development.   That might respond  to a question which Byers poses in his book on mathematics (p.321) :   whether it is reasonable to say that natural processes are intelligent.   Over the long term, they (can) behave as-if they were intelligent. ’




Re <8> I agree that objectivity is a method of thinking, and that one can form judgments about arguments by thinking about them.


Re <9> See Re <2> above.


RWM:  I don’t understand the connection between <9> and <2> -- sorry.  I distinguish between “intelligible” and “intelligent.”  I argue that natural processes are intelligible, but that not all of them are intelligent.   There are degrees of intelligence.  People are more intelligent than chimps, and chimps are more intelligent than dogs, etc.  I’m not sure just where intelligence disappears completely.


[HFJM:]  It appears you are asking  ‘how far down the line’  empathy is possible.   There are obvious limits to that.   I agree that intelligent and intelligible are different.  But in my above note (Re <6-7>) I try to point to a plausible connection between them.   Biological evolution is the most prominent example, and the one that causes the most controversy.  The way I see it, we have to understand evolution from the anthropocentric point if view, because we have no other view available   (exclusive objectivity, although presently very popular, and although it can be developed into algorithms,   is a dead end, I suggest, because it eliminates us, subjects (cf. Crick).    Since this is a difficult point, I elaborate it  in more detail  (and also clarify my view further) : 



We can only start from anthropocentric thinking which is goal-directed.   From there we develop an objective method (which per se does not eliminate subjects),  in order to minimize subjective bias.   Then we may become convinced that    objectivity in the subject-exclusive sense, Nagel’s view from nowhere,    is the only ‘scientific’ possibility to get to reality       Wittgenstein even wrote that referring to subjects is a ‘disease of thinking’.    At this point we lose the subject (that is, ourselves) and his purpose.   But next we  (Darwin &al., to be specific)  find that there is an ‘exclusively-objective’ MIR-process like   evolution   that, because of natural selection, behaves (over the long term)   as-if it were intelligent,   similar to what we started out with.   Both goal-directed thinking and natural selection  ‘aim for success’   (in the face of chance = absence of predictable structured pattern).


No wonder some people want to skip the intermediate steps, which complicate matters, and insist that everything is due to someone’s intelligent design.   But for that one has to postulate an omniscient anthropomorphic ‘someone’,   like father God or perhaps instead mother Nature,   and then the chance (unstructured) aspect is ruled out by the omniscience (unless  chance = ‘not knowing’  is compatible with omniscience).    Nor are the structures autonomous (MIR-‘in-themselves’).    Another alternative might be to give up altogether and become an appendage to chance events and algorithms, leaving the world to self-programming computers.    But no,  computers are programmed by people.    And even Adam Smith’s invisible hand   -   which presently suffers from arthritis   -   refers to individuals with their interests, not to automata;   right now a great number of people try to treat the malady.     Thus, how can we maintain the individual’s subjectivity and autonomy in the face of the increasing automation  (use of algorithms, computers)  of not only knowledge but also of the do-able world ?   Is theism,  or alternatively naturalism,  the best response ?       


0-D structuring means an explicit return to an unstructured origin  (structuring in an unstructured background,  which is similar to  apeiron, tao, nirvana, etc., some of which have a long history of continuous use).   That  makes it clear that we are the ones who produce the structures,  and not some postulated outside authority.    This is the position of epistemological constructivism (e.g., vonGlasersfeld, TA17; and others) in general, and of 0-D structuring in particular;  the latter is required for an access to the mind-brain problem.   0-D implies reality-design = working-metaphysics;  which can use ‘as-if-MIR’ as a temporary stabilizing tool.   It means subject-inclusive structuring of mind, world, and everything.   It does not mean solipsism or subjective idealism;   ideas are not understood as realities in themselves, à la Hegel, but as human tools.   Many human activities, like work, sport, and games confront   aims   with   chance happenings;   that type of interaction indeed appears to be a fundamental process for thinking.   


For ‘evolution’ this means that chance (unstructured) mutation plus natural selection, and their as-if purpose, are our structures   and arise   within our purposeful mind.   (This is not a paradox :   nothing, statistics, and chaos theory, for instance, are human structures.)   If we accept that, the concept of evolution by chance and success does not pose problems within our goal-directed thinking.     We do not have to postulate an outside agent in order to maintain a holistic view of the unstructured kind.   (It is also possible to consider the relation conversely from the traditional MIR-perspective  by saying that    goal-directed thinking is a continuation of the evolution process;   but this would be based on the subject-exclusive objective ‘view from nowhere’,  MIR-structuring-in-itself.   As mentioned, however, one can instead use that as an ‘as-if’ reality in the 0-D view.)


As you may have noticed,  I am presently reviewing contemporary proposals for metaphysics (i.e., for a structured MIR-origin),  in order to determine   how they relate to    what I am trying to do, concerning an unstructured non-MIR origin (though this is compatible with a temporary working or as-if-MIR).   Proposals for metaphysics have surprisingly become much more numerous since about 1950.    This recent increase is a reversal from   the rejection in science of traditional metaphysics, as meaningless,   for several centuries.    So far,   I assume that the increase results from   (a)  the paradoxical maintenance of MIR-belief despite the rejection of metaphysics  (the MIR-belief is sometimes labelled  ‘empiricism’,  ‘positivism’,  ‘realism’, or even  ‘ontology’,   but mostly without recognizing these as aspects of metaphysics)    plus    (b)  a recent wish to specify the foundations of the MIR-belief  (which leads back to the metaphysics of Plato, Aristotle, and the Pre-Socratics).



Re <10> I agree, encompassment needs to be ‘of everything’ in order to deal with the mind-brain question.


Re <11> I agree that the unrestricted encompassment precludes the traditional understanding of metaphysics-ontology as mind-independent;  but it is compatible with its transformation into a mental tool.


I apologize for having imposed on your time.   But I would still be quite interested in what you think of the conclusion section of my previous note R7.


RWM:  I apologize, but I can’t find your conclusion section of R7.


[HFJM:] The end of R7, section [6].


Richard W Moodey
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