Arguments against Idealism
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22-02-2017, 09:01 AM
Arguments against Idealism
Given the resurgence in metaphysics here of late, I would like to hear arguments against idealism. Is it fundamentally impossible to refute idealism as suggested in Berkeley's Master Argument? Is it so counter-intuitive and so counter to our own experience as to be dismissed out of hand as ludicrous? Where are the flaws in Berkeley's argument? My read on it is that Berkeley is suggesting that reality is intrinsically ineffable and as soon as we start talking about it it is no longer reality. Whatever it is, we know where your conception of it is - in your head. If you stipulate to that, then it would seem to imply that the physical world is intrinsically unverifiable and hence unnecessary. Which is obviously completely ridiculous and counter-intuitive. But I've been fooled by his intuitions too many times to dismiss it out of hand on those grounds.

The argument:

Phil. If you can conceive it possible for any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object whatever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so.

Hyl. If it comes to that the point will soon be decided. What more easy than to conceive a tree or house existing by itself, independent of, and unperceived by, any mind whatsoever? I do at this present time conceive them existing after that manner.

Phil. How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time unseen?

Hyl. No, that were a contradiction.

Phil. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of conceiving a thing which is unconceived?

Hyl. It is.

Phil. The, tree or house therefore which you think of is conceived by you?

Hyl. How should it be otherwise?

Phil. And what is conceived is surely in the mind?

Hyl. Without question, that which is conceived is in the mind.

Phil. How then came you to say, you conceived a house or tree existing independent and out of all minds whatsoever?

Hyl. That was I own an oversight;

#sigh
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22-02-2017, 09:15 AM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  Is it fundamentally impossible to refute idealism as suggested in Berkeley's Master Argument?

No.

It would be, normally, because idealism is supposed to be ontological, and all ontological positions are ultimately semantic. They're just labels. You can say that the universe is monist, or dualist, or triple-ist, or any number of other things, and call the different substances whatever you like. So long as this is all you do, the position is perfectly valid, though it may not be very useful, and is almost certainly unnecessarily complicated.

Idealism, on the other hand, attempts to co-opt a definition that is already in use when it says that existence is consciousness, or thought, or whatever else the specific variety tries to call itself. This renders it semantically incoherent, as it has to stretch the term so far as to be unrecognizable and meaningless.

It is, therefore, self-refuting.

To address the specific argument advanced, however:

(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  Phil. How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time unseen?

Hyl. No, that were a contradiction.

Phil. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of conceiving a thing which is unconceived?

Hyl: No. You're an idiot. That isn't how language works. Get out.

"Owl," said Rabbit shortly, "you and I have brains. The others have fluff. If there is any thinking to be done in this Forest - and when I say thinking I mean thinking - you and I must do it."
- A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
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22-02-2017, 09:22 AM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  ...
Phil. The, tree or house therefore which you think of is conceived by you?

Hyl. How should it be otherwise?
...

Herein lies the sophistry.

Evidence of tree and house conceived by Monet:

[Image: claude+Monet+Snow+near+Honfleur+1867.jpg]

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22-02-2017, 10:28 AM (This post was last modified: 22-02-2017 10:41 AM by GirlyMan.)
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 09:15 AM)Unbeliever Wrote:  
(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  Is it fundamentally impossible to refute idealism as suggested in Berkeley's Master Argument?

No.

Idealism, on the other hand, attempts to co-opt a definition that is already in use when it says that existence is consciousness, or thought, or whatever else the specific variety tries to call itself.

Is that what it's saying? My read is it's saying that reality, and hence existence, is fundamentally, intrinsically ineffable and as such it makes no sense to talk about it as independent or not. Or even to talk about it all from a metaphysical masturbation perspective.

I think that both idealism and materialism are on solid ground rationally but only matierialism has any practical value. We don't have to know why something works for it to be useful. Hell we don't even fully understand the mechanism of action of aspirin (and many many other drugs for that matter, I daresay most) but that doesn't diminish its utility. Both idealism and materialism avoid the problem of mind-body interaction by either denying the other, subsuming the other, or both derivations from some other latent variable (both subclasses of the same superclass, e.g.). It's only dualism that seems untenable to me. By trying to reconcile the two it is forced to explain the mechanism of interaction which ends up in all sort of Gordian knots and tar pits. Neither idealism nor materialism suffer from that particular problem since they don't admit any need for interaction in the first place.

#sigh
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22-02-2017, 10:38 AM (This post was last modified: 22-02-2017 10:42 AM by GirlyMan.)
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 09:22 AM)DLJ Wrote:  
(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  ...
Phil. The, tree or house therefore which you think of is conceived by you?

Hyl. How should it be otherwise?
...

Herein lies the sophistry.

Evidence of tree and house conceived by Monet:

[Image: claude+Monet+Snow+near+Honfleur+1867.jpg]

We certainly know that one doesn't exist outside of Monet's head. You can't show it to me. Whatever you show to me will not be Monet's conception. Even if you show me Monet's conception. Tongue

#sigh
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22-02-2017, 10:58 AM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 10:28 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  
(22-02-2017 09:15 AM)Unbeliever Wrote:  Idealism, on the other hand, attempts to co-opt a definition that is already in use when it says that existence is consciousness, or thought, or whatever else the specific variety tries to call itself.

Is that what it's saying?

Yes.

At least, that's what ontological idealism is saying. Epistemological idealism tends to be more nebulous, but in short holds that all knowledge is necessarily structured by human thought.

Which sounds like it's much closer to what you're saying, but Berkeley's Three Dialogues are a defense of ontological idealism rather than just epistemological (the former necessarily contains the latter, while the latter in principle does not have to lead to the former, but usually does). He ultimately argues that ideas are all that is real, and that objects can only exist inasmuch as the idea of them is held by a mind (and then goes on to argue that reality exists because it is held within the mind of God, because why not add another spoonful of woo on top of the sundae, right?).

The rest, we largely agree on (notwithstanding the issues with idealism that I laid out in my first post). Dualism and so on don't technically have to be incoherent, but since the various -isms are usually brought into play when discussing things like consciousness, they usually are, for exactly the reasons you describe.

"Owl," said Rabbit shortly, "you and I have brains. The others have fluff. If there is any thinking to be done in this Forest - and when I say thinking I mean thinking - you and I must do it."
- A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
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22-02-2017, 11:19 AM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 10:38 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  
(22-02-2017 09:22 AM)DLJ Wrote:  Herein lies the sophistry.

Evidence of tree and house conceived by Monet:

[Image: claude+Monet+Snow+near+Honfleur+1867.jpg]

We certainly know that one doesn't exist outside of Monet's head. You can't show it to me. Whatever you show to me will not be Monet's conception. Even if you show me Monet's conception. Tongue

I fancy this fanciful concept to be a conceit.

Tongue

Removing Monet's concept and yours and mine removes the conceiver/perceiver/sensor and the conceiving/perceiving/sensing but not the sensible object.

That tree still fell unwitnessed and unheard even with no one there to hear it.

Because ... oil.

Unsure

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22-02-2017, 11:37 AM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 09:15 AM)Unbeliever Wrote:  
(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  Is it fundamentally impossible to refute idealism as suggested in Berkeley's Master Argument?

No.

It would be, normally, because idealism is supposed to be ontological, and all ontological positions are ultimately semantic. They're just labels. You can say that the universe is monist, or dualist, or triple-ist, or any number of other things, and call the different substances whatever you like. So long as this is all you do, the position is perfectly valid, though it may not be very useful, and is almost certainly unnecessarily complicated.

Idealism, on the other hand, attempts to co-opt a definition that is already in use when it says that existence is consciousness, or thought, or whatever else the specific variety tries to call itself. This renders it semantically incoherent, as it has to stretch the term so far as to be unrecognizable and meaningless.

It is, therefore, self-refuting.

To address the specific argument advanced, however:

(22-02-2017 09:01 AM)GirlyMan Wrote:  Phil. How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time unseen?

Hyl. No, that were a contradiction.

Phil. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of conceiving a thing which is unconceived?

Hyl: No. You're an idiot. That isn't how language works. Get out.

It's also not how human brains work, AND it's a meaningless dishonest string of words.

The only reason human brains can conceive of anything, is that they have LEARNED and interacted with reality.

It's equivocating (dishonestly) "seeing" and "conceiving".

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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22-02-2017, 11:47 AM (This post was last modified: 22-02-2017 06:42 PM by Vera.)
RE: Arguments against Idealism
When spring arrives,
And I by then should happen to be dead,
The flowers will blossom as before
And the trees will be no less green than in the spring of last year.
Reality has no need of me.

I sense a tremendous joy
At the thought that my death has no significance whatever.

If I knew I would die tomorrow
And that spring would be there the day after,
I would die content, since it was spring the following day.
If it was time for it, for when else would it come then when it was time?
I relish the fact that all is real and all as it must be;
And relish the fact it would also be so even if I did not relish it.
For all is real and all is as it must be.

Let prayers be said in Latin over my coffin, if so desired.
If so desired, let there be dancing and singing around it.
I have no preferences for when I no longer can have any preferences.
Whatever will be, when it shall be, will be what it is. (Fernando Pessoa)

So yeah, reality has no need for me (but we are still the means by which the universe understands itself)

I am perfectly aware that doesn't really add much (if anything) to the discussion. However, as Samuel Butler said “poetry resembles metaphysics: one does not mind one's own, but one does not like anyone else's.” I ain't much one for poetry but even less so for metaphysics. So there. Drinking Beverage


(ETA: Something about this translation kinda bugs me, not sure what though)

"E se non passa la tristezza con altri occhi la guarderò."
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22-02-2017, 12:50 PM
RE: Arguments against Idealism
(22-02-2017 10:58 AM)Unbeliever Wrote:  He ultimately argues that ideas are all that is real, and that objects can only exist inasmuch as the idea of them is held by a mind (and then goes on to argue that reality exists because it is held within the mind of God, because why not add another spoonful of woo on top of the sundae, right?).

I see. Yes, that is closer to my read. If I leave out the existence of reality and God bit and consider only the master argument on its own, isn't that what the argument says?

#sigh
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