KARL JASPERS FORUM
Response 6 (to C6, Fisher)
STRUCTURE OR PERISH
by Herbert FJ Müller
8 March 2009, posted 14 March 2009
Thank you for your interesting comment. I will respond here to some of your points.
Concerning your ‘door number 1’ : the ‘outside’ is an ‘inside’ invention, so far as I can see. As you put it, that assumption eventually results in a ‘revolving door’ ; but perhaps it is more helpful to understand it as a subject-inclusive reality-design. Actually, to talk about the ‘problem of ontology’ means jumping the gun : it implies, among other things, a tacit acceptance of an ontological (rather than pragmatic) subject-object split. Kant did not confront this question directly; as you mention, he maintained metaphysics (except for a beginning of a sort of constructivist view in his opus postumum).
But nowadays we can no longer avoid dealing with this question. The reason, as I see it, is that the conceptual mind-brain relation problem (which is the focus of my interest) has remained unsolved in the accepted conceptual frameworks, specifically in the ones postulating that reality is mind-independent (MI-Reality in the ontological-metaphysical meaning) : because the mind can obviously not be mind-independently real. In other areas of knowledge (for instance particle physics) it also becomes clear than the subject has to remain involved.
The traditional MIR-proposition since Parmenides & al. - that reality is certain but mind-independent and unknowable as such - actually prompts the question of how one can possibly know something that is not in the mind. The answer has to be that one cannot; the MIR-assumption (ontology-metaphysics) is self-contradictory. But a desire for certainty-from-‘outside’ (meaning authorities like God or Nature outside-the-subject’s-responsibility) causes people to maintain the MIR-illusion, plus the further illusion of an ontological subject-object split, and also the limitations to critical thinking, that are its prerequisites, but which at the present state of knowledge we can now no longer afford to comply with.
In these circumstances, the mind-brain question, which cannot be addressed in an MIR-framework, overrides other needs, and becomes a touchstone for the overall validity of epistemologies. The leading question is : how can subjective experience regain its place at the center of knowledge, and this against the persistent efforts to amputate it ? As a conceptual difficulty, the mind-brain problem is more circumscribed but also more demanding and even more radical than some of the more traditional central questions in philosophy like ‘what is being’, ‘what is reality’, ‘what is truth’, or ‘what is my existence’, which are not only compatible with MIR-belief but may even suggest it.
Zero-derivation structuring (0-D), in contrast, means a change in direction : the aim becomes comprehensibility with maintenance of doubt instead of doubt-free certainty derived from fictitious outside agencies, or by formalisms, which pass by - and may obstruct - the center of creativity, and have outlived their time of usefulness, except as working-structures. We start from the pre-supposition that what we can know - rather than mind-external realities - are mind-inclusive structures for handling experience of self, world, and everything, which we create within an unstructured matrix, or accept from others; ‘reality’ consists of those structures which we find to be reliable in practice (including for instance our knowledge of the brain and its functions).
‘The other’ is here not a ‘subclass’ of something else, but a pragmatic distinction, as are all distinctions; the main difference to metaphysical assumptions which postulate removal of agency to an imagined outside source or authority is that authorship is retained. I have not read Sartre, but if he had, as you write, ‘a door marked ‘no exit’ ‘, I agree, because we are always caught within the bubble of ongoing experience - it says that ‘door number one’ is an imaginary security exit. As Jaspers emphasized, experience is encompassing, which if it is understood without restrictions, excludes the possibility of an ontological outside.
What we can do is design world-structures, and retain doubt : watchfulness about our designs, and awareness of the properties (including limitations) of the conceptual tools we (can) design. Whether or not to conceptualize experience is a question which may be left to discretion to some degree, but there are many instances where we have no choice but to structure, with more, or less, success. This includes, in my opinion, also a requirement for holistic views of some type. Some conceptualizations conflict with others (creationism with evolution, to mention a currently popular example).
The problem with ‘reduction to an objective base’ is that it usually excludes (intentionally or incidentally) the subject’s role. But one can use the objective method within an acknowledged subject-inclusive view - with only bracketing but not excluding the subject - which is possible without doing harm to science. Thus I would question the statement that scientific observation requires metaphysics – if indeed that is what you mean. ‘Reduction to a self-experience base’ is a somewhat misleading formulation. In constructivism we have mind-and-world-and-all structures within encompassing experience, which is not solipsistic, and so far I don’t think poses logical problems. In case you do I would be interested to know in what way. (‘Systems’ are designed within experience.)
There cannot be more than one generally valid epistemology, which prompts my effort in TA112 to formulate a general-purpose conceptual scheme for 0-D. I think it is simpler and easier to understand than traditional and recent metaphysics-ontology and their derivatives including realism, exclusive objectivism, positivism, materialism etc. But as it comes at the price of renouncing certainty, it is not necessarily easier in practice. - That reality is constructed does not rule out the possibility of ‘epistemology’ : we can ‘know’ about the working-reality which we structure.
Herbert FJ Müller
e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>