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The Aquinas Lecture, 2001 by WILLIAM P. ALSTON Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Alston, William P. A sensible metaphysical realism / by William P. Alston. p. cm. — (The Aquinas lecture; 2001) “Under the auspices of the Wisconsin-Alpha Chapter of Phi Sigma Tau.” Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 0-87462-168-2 (alk. paper) 1. Metaphysics. 2. Realism. I. Title. II. Series. BD111 .A47 2001 110—dc21 00-012240 All rights reserved. © 2001 Marquette University Press Printed in the United States of America
A SENSIBLE METAPHYSICAL REALISM
The Wisconsin-Alpha Chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the International Honor Society for Philosophy at Marquette University, each year invites a scholar to deliver a lecture in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The 2001 Aquinas Lecture, A Sensible Metaphysical Realism, was delivered on Sunday, February 18, 2001, by William P. Alston, Professor Emeritus of Syracuse University.
William P. Alston received his Ph. D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1951. He has been Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University since 1980 and Professor Emeritus since 1992. He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinous at Urbana-Champaign from 1976 to 1980 and served as chair from 1977 to 1979. He was previously Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University from 1971 to 1976, serving as acting chair from 1972 to 1973. He taught at the University of Michigan from 1949 to 1971 where he become Professor of Philosophy in 1961. Professor Alston is a past President of the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association, of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and of the Society of Christian Philosophers. He was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 1965-66 and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology at the University of Alberta in 1975. He is a Fellow of the American Academy -5of Arts and Sciences, and he received the Syracuse University's Chancellor's Citation for Exceptional Academic Achievement. He conducted NEH summer seminars in 1978 and 1979, and directed an NEH Institute on Philosophy of Religion in 1986. He is founding editor of the journal, Faith and Philosophy. In October, 1987 he led a delegation of eight American philosophers in epistemology and philosophy of mind for a week of discussions with Soviet philosophers in Moscow and Leningrad. In September, 1991 he participated in a conference at Castel Gandolfo, Italy on theology and physical cosmology sponsored by the Vatican Observatory. His publications include several anthologies, Philosophy of Language (Prentice-Hall, 1964), more than one hundred journal articles, many of which have been reprinted in anthologies, eighteen articles in
the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards (MacMillan, 1967), and numerous reviews. Two collections of his essays have been published by Cornell University Press (1989): Epistemic Justification: Essays in Epistemology and Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology. His most recent books are Perceiving God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religious Experience, (Cornell, 1991), The Reliability of Sense Perception (Cornell, 1993), A Realist Conception of Truth (Cornell, 1995), and Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning (Cornell, 2000). To Professor Alston's distinguished list of publications, Phi Sigma Tau is pleased to add: A Sensible Metaphysical Realism. -6-
A SENSIBLE METAPHYSICAL REALISM
Before expounding and defending my “sensible” realism, and explaining what is sensible about it, I had better indicate which of the many varieties of (metaphysical) realism that are found in the luxuriant jungle so called I will be seeking to develop a sensible version thereof. Historically the most prominent “realisms” are the medieval commitment to the objective reality of universals, and the opposition to one or another metaphysical idealism, the view that everything is mental, or an aspect of, or dependent on, the mental. Moreover, there is a plethora of “departmental realisms”, in addition to the medieval realism about universals, each of which claims ob-
jective reality for the apparent objects of some field of inquiry. Thus we have realism about moral standards, values, theoretical entities in science, “abstract” objects like propositions, meanings, and so on. These departmental realisms are in opposition -7both to flat denials that such entities exist and to “reductions” of entities of the type in question to something allegedly more fundamental or less problematic. Thus a realism about physical objects is opposed to a phenomenalist reduction of physical objects to patterns of sensory experience. Realism about propositions is opposed to their reduction to classes of synonymous sentences. Realism about values is opposed to the denial that values have any sort of objective status. And so on. 1 The realism with which I shall be concerned differs from all of the above. It differs from departmental realisms in being more global in character. And it differs from the anti-idealist kind of realism in the character of its principal opposition. Indeed, an initial characterization of realism is most effectively couched in terms of what it opposes. To quote a phrase of J. L. Austin's from the old male chauvinist days, it is antirealism that “wears the trousers”. The species of metaphysical realism I will treat here is a denial of the view that whatever there is, is constituted, at least in part, by our cognitive relations thereto, by the ways we conceptualize or construe it, by the language we use to talk about it or the theoretical scheme we use to think of it. This kind of antirealism stems from Kant's “Copernican revolution”, according to which anything of which we can have knowledge owes at least its basic structure to the categories in terms of which we think it, rather than to the way it is “in itself”. In a more contemporary vein, we may think of my metaphysical realism as defined by the denial of the semi-Kantian position held by Hilary Putnam. “… what objects does -8-
the world consist of? is a question that it only makes sense to ask within a theory or description … there is more than one ‘true’ theory or description of the world.” 2 In other words, whatever there is, exists and is what it is only within a certain way of “describing” or “conceptualizing” what there is. This is a relativized Kantianism in that it recognizes a number of equally viable ways of describing or conceptualizing or theoretically organizing reality, ways that would be incompatible if each of them were put forward as an account of reality as it is in itself. Since Putnam avoids recognizing Kantian noumena, things as they are in themselves, he can assert the conceptual relativity of what there is in a more unqualified way than Kant, not restricting it to what we can know. As the above quote from Putnam indicates, he uses a variety of terms to specify that by which he takes reality to be (partly) constituted on the cognition side—‘theory’, ‘description’, and (elsewhere) ‘conceptual scheme’ and ‘language’. My initial characterization of the contrast was similarly varied. I would like to boil down the profusion so as to make this antirealism, and by derivation my realism, more specific. Some of the reduction is simple. Since the language used to describe things and to report facts gets that function by virtue of expressing concepts, we may drop the linguistic formulation without loss. 3 That leaves us with ‘conceptualization’ and ‘theory’. Since modes of conceptualization are generally embodied in extensive schemes of concepts, I will concentrate on the term ‘conceptual scheme’. That leaves us with the question of how different -9modes of theorizing, of theoretically organizing a domain, are related to different ways of conceptualizing. Many differences in theorizing go in tandem with differences in conceptual scheme. Major revolutions in scientific theory, like relativity physics, involve fundamental reconceptualizations. But it is not necessarily so. Less radical theoretical innova-
that there is something that is not so dependent. This has to do with the notion of dependence involved. according to antirealism. is hardly significant enough to be worth the trouble. viz. that nothing depends on such choices. realist and antirealist alike. agrees. 4 it is not committed to the contrary of that proposition. At a minimum. at least in part. 5 If the dependence is construed as causal.tions can involve reorganizing familiar concepts. More than one reputable philosopher has opined that the claim that reality depends on our cognition is either absurd or unintelligible—not an attractive pair of prospects. Much of this essay will be devoted to exploring the question of just what stretches do and do not exhibit this independence. Of course. as practically everyone. the most minimum denial. the view is palpably absurd.. it need only deny that all of reality is like that. Hence I will need both conceptual scheme and theoretical system as factors on the cognition side of the cognition-reality relationship. in some detail. Since my metaphysical realism is a denial of a universal affirmative proposition (everything depends. on our conceptual-theoretical choices). I will be thinking of metaphysical realism as holding that large stretches of reality do not depend on our conceptual and theoretical choices for existing and being what they are. It flies . The main respect in which my realism is distinctive in being sensible is that it recognizes that some stretches of reality do conform to the account antirealism gives of the whole of reality. choices between which can be partly constitutive of the reality side. of a defensibly modest form of metaphysical realism—I must respond to a doubt about the genuineness of the contrast between my view and its antirealist opponent. -10- 2 Before turning to my main task—developing a characterization.
it is claimed. Since I have formulated realism in terms of independence of concepts and theories. we need not accept the above dilemma. We can think of the sort of antirealism in question as an unqualified generalization of this dependence relation. if this is so. But I do not accept that there is no form of dependence that renders the view intelligible without being absurd. what is it? No intelligible answer that is not equally absurd can be found. I will then seek to extract from the examples a general characterization of the kind of dependence involved. I will proceed to do so by first looking at a few plausible candidates for entities or facts that depend for their existence and/or for being what they are on a conceptual scheme or theoretical choice for which there are equally viable alternatives. Later I will be arguing that the attempt at such an unqualified generalization results in fatal internal de- . it would be a Pyrrhic victory. and it is incumbent on anyone who speaks in these terms to provide an explication of a form of dependence that is appropriate for this purpose. the kind of dependence required to make sense of the view is not obvious on the face of it. realism stands vindicated.in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to suppose that the heavens and the earth only came into existence when human conceptualization 6 came on the scene and came into a position to exercise causal influence. since its chief opponent has turned out to be only a paper tiger. Fortunately for my position. It may be thought that. I agree with everyone else in rejecting as absurd the view that the physical uni-11verse causally depends on human conceptualization for existing and being what it is. at least not without transforming the view into something that is far from what its proponents have intended. it would seem that if dependence on those factors doesn't make sense. But if the dependence is not causal. No doubt. But if so. independence goes down the tube with it.
000 feet in Colorado. some are more natural than others. . Beliefs in supernatural beings. ‘democracy’. whether this is so depends on what we choose to regard as necessary for a certain social phenomenon's being a religion. There are 50 peaks over 14. such as ‘art’. obviously.fects of the position. As in other such cases. and ‘Christian’. equally valid alternatives. 1. ‘poem’.. Both of these cases depend for their acceptability on a certain conceptual choice for which there are. in exhibiting what we might call “combination of conditions” indeterminacy. Here are what I take to be some plausible candidates. No doubt. And. 7 It is easy to list salient features of paradigm cases of religions. but it seems clear that there will be a variety of more or less equally natural and intuitive criteria that will yield somewhat different results as to the number of peaks in the state. ‘Religion’ is typical of many terms for social entities and human products. As for 2. we have to understand the position before we are in a position to demonstrate the internal incoherence. But this kind of internal incoherence must be distinguished from unintelligibility. features that would readily spring to mind if one were asked for examples. When counting -12“peaks” in a mountain range we work with certain criteria for how much lower altitude there must be between higher elevations to count them as different peaks rather than parts of the same peak. These include: 1. these criteria could be set in different ways. rendering it self-defeating. Communism is a religion. 2. arguably.
) 5. Communism or Confucianism or Humanism might or might not count as a religion. Prayer and other forms of communication with supernatural beings. Depending on such conceptual preferences. depending on which of the items on the central list are considered most important or most crucial. Characteristically religious feelings (awe. 6. When we consider a social organization that exhibits some of these features and not others. 8. adoration. that is partly constituted by our conceptual preferences. The only cognition-relative aspect of the situation concerns our conceptual applications or abstentions therefrom. 7. 3.2. or that Communism is (not) a religion. An organization of one's life based on the world view. It is rather that the terms or concepts ‘peak’ and ‘religion’ are not fully determinate. it might or might not count as a religion. etc. Ritual acts focused around sacred objects. Naturally that . A world view. A natural reaction to these first cases is to say that they are not “genuine” objective matters of fact that partly are what they are by virtue of conceptual or theoretical choices. There is no “fact of the matter” that there is some exact number of peaks in Colorado. the application of which to genuinely objective realities is correspondingly indeterminate and up for grabs. sense of mystery. but rather more or less indeterminate concepts. -13The list could be extended. A distinction between sacred and profane objects. A social group bound together by the above. Communism just is what it is. 4.
is dependent on our conceptual-theoretical choices. holds on a currently prominent way of construing propositions as sets of possible worlds. propositions with different conceptual content. including formal semantics. like the two just cited. the only thing concept-relative in these cases is concepts. Every human being has an infinite number of beliefs. the antirealist qualifications of which cannot be so easily dismissed. depends on . or the same propositional content of two psychological states or speech acts. On that reading statements that are true in the same set of possible worlds express the same proposition. propositional attitudes. will count as different propositions.. this way of identifying propositions is useful for certain logical purposes. Nevertheless. This is counter-intuitive.’ I am “saying the same thing”. expressing the same proposition. and 4. 5. Most of us balk at the idea that when I utter ‘2+2 = 4’ and ‘The angles of a Euclidean triangle add up to 180 degrees. 8 I am not disposed to quarrel with this diagnosis. On a more natural way of viewing propositions. -143. There is nothing here that requires any qualification to a full-blown realism. The cause of the fire was an overturned candle. reflect different possible ways of conceptualizing and theoretically organizing a subject matter. All necessary statements express the same proposition. So in this case what a proposition is. 3. 3.e. Instead I pass on to some other sorts of examples. where the concept in question is not so fully formed as to have a uniquely correct application in every case. i. in this case. In short. 4. as well as what counts as the same proposition. treating speech acts as attitudes for this purpose.
that it is not a necessary condition for having a belief that one be capable of consciously entertaining it. or that one is disposed to act as if its content were true. These assumptions have reasonable and viable contraries. this implies that for any belief one has. as genuine antirealist cases. Clearly an overturned candle is not sufficient by itself for a fire in a house. But all that was taken for granted in the context of utterance. 5. but rather relativity to interest or to what has already been assumed. one has thereby an infinite set of other beliefs. of course. and 2. I can easily imagine someone rejecting 5. as aid and comfort for the antirealist on somewhat similar grounds. but from a context defined by what is taken for granted as a background against which to pick out one of the causally relevant factors for special attention. 4. it is the case only relative to conceptual-theoretical choices that have viable alternatives. is the case. and the causal . Harkening back to the dismissal of 1. It reflects a construal of beliefs according to which when one believes that p. 4. assumes. not of what the discourse is about. and. There must be inflammable material sufficiently close by. is a somewhat different kind of example. and attention was focused on what in addition to that makes the difference between fire and no fire. etc. one thereby believes everything entailed by p. Here the variability stems not from ways of theoretically organizing a subject-matter.our choices as to how to structure our account of this subject matter. Here it is not an indeterminacy of concept that is involved. Hence if 4. given the principle of disjunction according to which p entails p or q. enough oxygen in the atmosphere. represents a simpler example of the same thing. And it might well be argued that this is a feature of the discourse. The fire is just what it is. for -15any q.
and 4. part of what is involved in “the way things go in the world” (as we surely do. But.contributors to it are just what they are. at least in part. Of course. and it seems that different ways of doing this have an approximately equal claim to be adequate ways of dealing with the subject matter. as prima facie plausible examples of how states of affairs can be dependent. at least it is not so obvious that this is the case. then we must take them as examples of how the existence and nature of things in the world. This is not the causal dependence that we have seen to be ab- . which we recognize as playing a large role in the motivation and guidance of behavior). Now for extracting a reading of ‘dependence on conceptual and theoretical choices’ from examples 3. We have a choice as to how we construe and individuate propositions and beliefs. and 4. The basic idea has been hinted at already. Propositions and even beliefs are creatures of theory in a way that fires (and mountain ranges and religions) are not. these matters go one way rather than another depending on those choices. and how it spread. whatever particular contributor we pick out as of special interest. and 4. On the contrary. It may be urged that there is some unique objective truth about these matters. especially with beliefs. And so I feel entitled to take 3. -16But 3. Hence if we think of propositions and beliefs as part of reality. The nature and individuation of propositions and beliefs do not confront us as something ready made. are not so easily dismissed. this last judgment may be contested. how it started. on conceptual-theoretical choices that have viable alternatives. including their individuation. is partly constituted by one or another way of conceptualiz-17ing them and theorizing about them. whatever our concepts and theories. just as there is about whether there was a fire in the house.
indeed. tout court. But we are still not at the end of the needed explication. even if we are unable to say which is the one that alone has it straight. With respect to the latter. if..g. then all but one is mistaken. Go back to the hard nosed realist who holds that any differences as to what propositions are and how they are individuated are only differences as to how we think and what we believe about them. -18To meet it let's move to a different way of thinking of the dependence involved.. If those views are incompatible.surd. We can best approach this task by once more recurring to the alternative of handling the variation in essence and individuation of. Propositions are what they are in these respects by virtue of our shaping our thought of them in one or another way. e. however different theorists might view them. Our theorizing clearly does not exercise that kind of influence. . e. I find this reaction to be the most powerful challenge to the idea that there is an unmistakably intelligible account of how. propositions are what they are. For any sort of reality that is subject to this constitutive dependence on our thought. Not enough has been said to make clear what this “constitution” amounts to. in some one unique self-consistent way. not differences in propositions as denizens of reality. It is what we might call constitutive dependence. there is no such thing as what it is absolutely. propositions as having to do solely with the conceptual-theoretical side of the transaction.g. Let's say that propositions enjoy a particular nature not absolutely. leaving the reality side untouched. propositions can exhibit different natures by virtue of being embedded in different conceptual-theoretical structures and do so “themselves” as objects of thought and discourse. but relative to a certain theoretical-conceptual scheme. and how it is distinct from causal production. but only what it is relative to a certain scheme of thought. any of them do.
The statement must be something like ‘In C. I suggest that some familiar analogues may help us to grasp the idea. Consider the relativity of motion to framework. One may still feel the need for more explanation of the kind of relativity envisaged here. yes. I should point out a respect in which this is more difficult for me. In a bit I will argue that the attempt to universalize this relativity propels antirealists into fatal internal defects. Whereas those who take everything to be relative to alternative conceptual schemes have no contrasting. threatens to swallow up all the putatively relative entities and banish all relativity to the thought side of the thought-reality relationship. so to say. the problem of why I shouldn't treat my alleged examples of relativity in the same way is a live one for me. A more literal formulation would be ‘relative to’. To say ‘Propositions are sets of possible worlds’ and leave it at that is to make an incomplete statement. as the previous discussion makes -19clear. It is more difficult for me because. propositions are sets of possible worlds’. It is not that propositions are themselves constituents of a conceptual scheme that represents them as sets of possible worlds. To continue with my burdensome job. easier for them. who universally generalizes the relativity to conceptual schemes. absolutist mode of reality that. recognizing as I do vast stretches of reality that are absolute. Before doing what I can to meet this need. And don't take ‘in’ too literally. To render it capable of truth or falsity we must add an index. Is the train moving? Well. relativizing it to a conceptual scheme. as a realist. rather than ‘in’. it is moving .With respect to propositions. where ‘C’ denotes a theoretical-conceptual scheme. an absolutist statement is incomplete. in a way. than it is for someone like Putnam or Goodman. not relative to conceptual schemes. But the fact remains that the job of explaining what such relativity amounts to is.
whereas absolutely the train either is moving or not? That is the position of one who takes space to be absolute. Obviously it is only relative to a certain spatial position that Boston is nearby rather than far away. in contrast to our ways of describing the proceedings. there is no such absolute space and time. And there is a plurality. And note that the “dependence” in these analogies is not causal. It's not that the relevant framework. indeed an infinite plurality. rather than the locomotive causes the train to move. Either the train is changing its location in absolute space. This involves indexical statements.relative to the station but not relative to another train moving at exactly the same speed on a parallel track. Can we say that the relativity attaches only to our ways of describing the situation. We can think of propositions as relative. and consider the fact that makes this true. in something like the same way. to ways of construing the nature and individuation of propositions. Consider someone's saying “Boston is nearby”. But according to the now generally accepted relativity physics. And what causes Boston to . in this case the spatial location of the speaker. or it is not. of such possible frameworks. to “conceptual frame-20works”. from which motion can be ascribed. it would not have been true that Boston is nearby and there would have been no such fact to make it true. We can think of this as a relativity of fact to a feature of discourse. that is the end of the matter. If the speaker had been in Los Angeles rather than in a Boston suburb. This may help us to see how facts about propositions or beliefs can be relative to ways of conceptualizing them. Another interesting analogy is put forward in Sosa 1999. And as far as the train itself is concerned. and in that way “dependent” on those ways for the details of what they are and how they are individuated. somewhat as motion is relative to framework. The only motion there is is motion relative to one or another framework taken as fixed.
form an intelligible conception of facts in the world being. I must confess that Sosa does not use the analogy in the way I just have. that Boston is nearby. Relative existence is still existence. to have a higher mode of reality than what exists or obtains only relative to one of several equally viable theoretical-conceptual schemes. To get back to the analogies. To be sure. In any event. He supposes that the fact that makes it true. as a realist I do consider things that exist absolutely and facts that obtain absolutely. in part. my present concern is not to use the indexical phenomenon to prove anything but only as a stepping stone to help the reader. and myself. when it is true. I have discussed Sosa's take on these and other matters having to do with realism in my “Sosa on Realism” (forthcoming). Thus my explanation of constitutive dependence of things and facts on conceptual-theoretical choices is in terms of their relativity to such choices. not the position of the speaker. relative to features of thought or discourse. is absolute and in no way relative to the spatial location of speaker or any other -21feature of thought or discourse. relativ- . to be more real. even if it is not absolute existence. On the contrary. he takes the relativity to location to affect only the content of the statement (only the thought side of the thoughtworld relation).be nearby is whatever caused the speaker and Boston to assume their relative positions. But that does not imply that what exists or obtains only relative to such schemes has no existence except for the existence of the schemes themselves. not relative to some optional mode of conception or theorizing. it is like the way in which motion that occurs only relative to one out of many different frameworks is still something other than the frameworks themselves. and not the world side.
I want to bring out.ity of the sort exemplified by the analogies. dependent on cognition and on other aspects of the mental. Consider. 9 First. the fact that R is concerned only with independence of conceptual-theoretical choices. 3 The next item on the agenda is drawing some boundaries around the kind of metaphysical realism I advocate here. And since this kind of realism frequently carries various other commitments in its train. not with other ways in which things and facts are. at least in part. Berkeley's “To . that is to be understood in accordance with the foregoing. relative to certain conceptual-theoretical choices that have equally viable alternatives. with some examples. And the canonical explanation of the contrasting positions is in terms of relativity. I have just made explicit the positive core of the position. for example. many of which I hold. Realism (R)—Vast stretches of reality are what they are absolutely. or might be thought to be. But it will be useful to make explicit certain things that are not involved in that core. and is what it is. separating it from other commitments with which it is frequently associated so as to give it a full treatment in its own right. not in any way relative to certain conceptual-theoretical choices that have equally viable alternatives. It is just that for present purposes I want to focus on the independence thesis. Though in the sequel I will often speak in terms of ‘dependence’ and ‘independence’. -22Antirealism (AR)—Everything and every fact exists or obtains. In doing so I do not thereby reject those views. it will not be amiss to point out that I do not conceive the position as including them.
in one way or another. R is not opposed to. That is not the kind of dependence on cognition that is at issue between R and AR. being a member of an organization. Here too there is no tendency to suppose that objects of perception are relative to various ways of conceptualizing or theorizing about them. depending on how we conceptualize them. whether in human minds or the mind of God. nor does it endorse. such as being married or divorced.be is to be perceived”. having a job. Both Berkeley and the phenomenalist Russell are ontologically as absolutist as any realist. being a church building. owning property. being guilty of a crime. the view that values or moral statuses are a function of people's attitudes or interests. These cases illustrate the way in which the kind of metaphysical realism under discussion here is not opposed either to Berkelyan idealism or to phenomenalist or other reductions of the physical to something more mentalistic. These and many others are social statuses of people. The reality of “physical objects” con-23sists. Moreover. This point leads to one that needs more extensive discussion—the status of social statuses. in the reality of perceptions or “ideas”. but there are also social statuses of inanimate things—being a $10 bill. This is certainly a kind of dependence of everything (except minds themselves) on the mental. being a football -24- . The same goes for twentieth century phenomenalists' attempt to reduce physical objects to the conditions under which a perceiver would have certain perceptual experiences. He is completely innocent of any tendency to suppose that objects of perception take on different natures. But Berkeley would reject as firmly as the staunchest realist Putnam's kind of antirealism. There is no trace of ontological pluralism in his thought.
And so on. not on whether one rather than another conceptual scheme is used to organize a certain subject matter. To be a member of an organization or to have a certain job is to have certain rights. Though I take the depen-25dence of social statuses on generally shared beliefs and attitudes in the society to be a crucially important example of a dependence of objective facts on the mental. I will suggest. a sensible realism should make to AR. In all these cases the person or thing has this status by virtue of certain propositional attitudes taken toward it by members of the society in question—what they believe about it. I will not be citing it as one of the concessions that. etc. None of this is a matter of the adoption of a certain conceptual scheme or a certain theoretical orientation among other alternatives vis-a-vis these matters. To oversimplify in order to make the point in a concise manner. For a piece of paper to be a $10 bill is for it to be generally acceptable as a medium of exchange. The concepts involved (concepts of obligations. and the possession of those rights. is dependent on their recognition by members of the society generally. For a building to be a church building is for it to be generally recognized that certain activities are appropriate there and others inappropriate. Hence this kind of dependence on cognition falls outside the contrast between AR and R. permissions. and so on illustrated above. whether or not they are employed as they are in the recognitions. obligations. appropriateness. being a wedding ring. what obligations. . exchange of goods) are already in the usual human conceptual scheme. acceptances. what behavior is appropriate with regard to it. permissions. and so on. and responsibilities that one would would not otherwise have. prohibitions.field. they take to apply to it. these social statuses depend on how concepts are deployed in beliefs and attitudes that are generally held in the society.
and R. mediums of exchange. I can't just decide to “organize” marital relations. Another feature of the AR-R contrast is that the AR side involves not only (1) a (partial) dependence of how things are on our conceptualization. as its denial.The example of social statuses brings out the fact that AR could be construed more generally to include any sort of constitutive dependence of things and facts on human cognition thereof. though tangentially. not isolated individual ones. This is a maximal relativity. I don't have the power to reshape them on my own. it is up to each individual theorist whether he or she adopts one rather than another way of construing and individuating propositions and beliefs. is not so extreme. as I like. a vulnerability to individual shifts in cognition. in the sense that each individual is free to make his or her own choice. confront me as objective facts that I must accept willy-26nilly. variations in the way a given domain is conceptually and/or theoretically . and sometimes actual. etc. In the examples from section 2. Who is married to whom. There are possible. This would be a weaker AR. the rules of football. would be correspondingly altered. who owns what houses. But the malleability of social statuses. though real. The relativity of things and facts to conceptual-theoretical choices that AR universally generalizes and that I acknowledge at certain points is a malleability. The phenomenon of social statuses illustrates another point that is importantly. related to this essay. but (2) a dependence that is (possibly) variable.. or who owns what property. They are subject to change only by a general shift in beliefs and attitudes in the society. but these are generally shared beliefs and attitudes. since its universal generalization would be over a wider range of constitutive dependencies. But for present purposes I will stick to the more restricted version of AR set out above. They exist at the sufferance of propositional attitudes.
in Hegel and absolute idealism generally. Moreover. though not as strongly. of course. construe R so that it is opposed to Kant as well as to Putnam. For though Kant does not take seriously the idea that human beings might categorize the manifold of sensation in different and equally valid ways.organized. what I regard as the main arguments Putnam and Goodman give for AR is based on this alleged variability. Kant and the absolute idealists need different kinds of arguments for their position than those deployed by Putnam and Goodman. then how does that differ from holding that (apart. denies to be universally applicable. by a unique dependence of everything on certain ineluctable features of our conceptualization of it. of course. for purposes of this essay. one could espouse (1) without (2). But. from mistakes in details) our way of representing reality is just the way it is in itself? Despite all this I will. I find myself with a strong temptation to do just that. confine myself to the AR that takes there to be actual variations in conceptualization that are consti- . if our way of doing it is the one and only possible way. as I have been presenting it. of course. 10 -27Moreover. We find this in Kant and. And it is this whole package that R. what does the “Copernican revolution” amount to? If we cannot even conceive the abstract possibility of alternative conceptualizations (perhaps for other cognitive subjects). just as it is by a dependence of everything on a plurality of equally acceptable conceptualizations. it is still the case that the force of his “transcendental idealism” depends on a contrast with conceivable alternative categorizations. Apart from that. in a different way and less clearly. the pluralist and absolutist forms are not as starkly opposed as they appear to be at first blush. Of course. But they all represent a generically similar opposition to common sense realism. And I could. The realist conviction I am concerned to defend is also violated.
tutive of differences in things and facts with which we are confronted in the world. But my present point is only that in order to hold that large stretches of reality are what they are independently of our modes of conceptualization. Though the independent reality of. the physical world would hardly be worth fighting for if we were fated to remain in complete -28ignorance of it. to be purely physical. or any other particular .. and one need not accept a causal theory. e. one need not take those stretches. or even conflated. I will set aside those epistemological issues in order to concentrate on the independence thesis. my realism carries no epistemological commitments. or with a minimalist version of that. For one thing. and though I am convinced that we do know a lot about it. and others take it to be committed to its accessibility. And my partial concessions to AR will concern stretches of reality that are dependent on alternative conceptualizations in this way. much less all of reality. Finally. Second. Interestingly enough. in recent decades realism has been frequently associated with physicalism and with a causal theory of reference. realism is often associated. I can set aside these entanglements with greater enthusiasm than the first two. with a correspondence theory of truth. some philosophers take realism to be committed to the inaccessibility of reality. since although I am enthusiastic about independence realism. But although I agree that it would be bizarre for a metaphysical realist to hold an epistemic conception of truth or any other conception that makes the truth of a statement to consist in something other than what the statement is about being as the statement says it is. I will abstract my “independent reality” realism from issues of truth in this discussion. Now I want to dissociate R from various commitments that are frequently connected to it. I hold no brief for either physicalism or a causal theory of reference.g. which in Alston 1996 I call a “realist conception of truth”.
It is not a thesis about discourse or thought. To be sure. picks out a unique objective epistemic status. In addition to standard textbook examples like ‘unicorn’. Otherwise we would be in a pretty pickle. This also implies that R is not. when used in the epistemic evaluation of beliefs. and correspondingly controversial. This reflects a more general point about R. but here goes anyway. Quine. In Alston 1993 I argue that it is a mistake to suppose that ‘justified’. fortunately. as such. with some status or other. notoriously. Quine does not hesitate to draw this inference for ‘Are these terms synonymous?’ Although I cannot point to documentary evidence. takes the same position for ‘meaning’ and ‘analytic’.theory of reference. reference is an important and fascinating problem in itself. opposed to views that . I have the sense that it is not infrequently assumed that a serious metaphysical realism would imply that every meaningful question has a unique objectively correct answer. What may be less obvious is that the above fact—that not all intelligible concepts denote anything—implies that not every intelligible question has an objectively correct answer. And one must be able to refer to things in order to ascribe independent existence or anything else to them. as semantic terms. but strange things happens when philosophers discuss realism. there are more interesting. It should not be necessary to say this. The question is as to which way or which status. Everyone realizes in practice that this is a truism. R does not imply that every one of our concepts (terms) denotes something that exists. Hence the need to take up space to point out that this is not the case. It a thesis about (much of) what exists. philosophical examples. But. human beings can succeed in doing so without being in possession of an adequate theory of reference. The opposition between R and its antirealist opponents only arises when both parties have agreed that something exists (obtains) in some way or other. -29There is other baggage we need to discard.
7. The deepest trouble with this suggestion is that if anyone is disinclined to accept such a modest gen-31eralization. 4 My next task is to explain what I think to be possible by way of defending realism. Of course. If we are properly cautious. although various proponents of R may also disagree with these claims. but will be content with the claim that much of reality exists independently of conceptualization.-30something or other does not exist at all. It is just that there can be an R-AR dispute between them about X's only after both admit that X's exist in some way. suppose that it can be supported as the best explanation of our sense experience. But the presentation of this in Devitt 1984 (5. I don't see any prospect for a direct argument for realism. or possible worlds. like Devitt. pp. Some. 64-65) is much too sketchy to carry conviction. he will be equally disinclined to accept the status of independence for the individual items. or whatever. that generalization will not be unqualifiedly universal. an advocate of R may hold that X's exist independently even though other thinkers deny that there are any X's. Someone who denies that there are propositions. . or unobservable objects. That would consist in listing all the items that enjoy independent existence and then generalizing from this. A straight enumerative induction would do no better. or God. is not contradicting R. I fear my position on this will seem disappointing to many realists. or unexemplified properties. as I say. For. the issue between R and its opponents only arises when there is agreement on something's existence.
there is no need to examine arguments for the position. The unrestricted . I will not undertake a criticism of arguments for AR in this essay. since it could not possibly be correct.Thus what seems to me the best way to view the matter is to take realism to be the default position. the unrestricted generalization has been given up. All of us. unhesitatingly ascribe independent existence to what we take ourselves to encounter in the world. a list to which I will shortly make further additions. Hence the only defense needed is a critique of attempts to give such reasons and/or an argument for the lack of viability of an unqualified antirealism. Obviously an infinite regress looms. But if so. The internal incoherence is a direct result of that unqualified generalizations. Relative to one of the alternative schemes those objects and facts have one detailed constitution. But I will indicate ways in which I take AR to be self-defeating and hence internally incoherent. 11 But now what about those con-32ceptual schemes themselves? And if we are not thinking of such schemes as abstract objects but only as employed by concrete cognitive subjects. This is as deeply rooted as any conviction of common sense. what about these second level conceptual schemes. Let's say that we have identified a variety of equally viable conceptual schemes (total ones if you like) such that physical objects and facts have a certain character relative to one or another such scheme. If I am right about that. before we encounter clever antirealist arguments. It is to be given up only if there are strong reasons against it. whereas relative to another such scheme they have a somewhat different constitution. Remember that the antirealism under consideration here is an unqualified generalization of the relativity to conceptual schemes I have already acknowledged to hold for certain matters. how about those subjects? Do all of these exist and have the nature they do relative to each of a number of different conceptual schemes? If not.
to which the plurality -33of schemes of categories is applied. But this means that the view presupposes some common object of conceptualization. And if the conceptual schemes involved must actually be used by subjects. Thus the view is driven back to something like the Kantian noumenon. we are off on another infinite regress. they can all happily coexist in one unique reality. A second fatal internal difficulty stems from an essential element in the argument for this kind of antirealism. Otherwise there is no objection to taking the entities to be what they are absolutely. If we try to escape this consequence by taking what is differently conceptualized in different conceptual schemes to be itself relative to different conceptual schemes. But they can be incompatible only if they are construals of the same entities. The different conceptual schemes must be construed as yielding incompatible construals of the entities dependent on them. it is itself immune from relativity to those different schemes. I take all this to be obviously unacceptable. not relative to one or another scheme. I feel justified in taking realism to be the default position for any putative entity or fact. and so split it up into different “versions” corresponding to those different second order schemes. For what are to say of that which is conceptualized differently in those second order schemes? … Since an unqualified conceptual relativity is unacceptable.generalization is purchased at the price of an infinite hierarchy of conceptual schemes. or at least an infinite hierarchy of employments of different conceptual schemes by subjects. For if they are construals of different entities. And just by being the shared object of the different conceptual schemes. And so the price of maintaining the basic argument for the position is an exception to the universal generalization of relativity. we get an infinite hierarchy of subjects. .
all of them). so to say. I will not be able to complete such an enormous task in this essay. It involves a painstaking discussion of all the more promising candidates for dependence on our conceptualizations. But I will introduce this by a contrast that seems to me to put into sharp relief the difference between those entities and facts that are and those that are not. And even if I had several volumes at my disposal. let me say that I believe one result of any such investigation would leave most of the objects we have commerce with. making some -34distinctions between different kinds of dependence on human cognition. and arguments about them could drag on interminably in the way typical of philosophical arguments. For the present I will have to restrict myself to. so as to determine which of them passes the test. But before starting on that. and. second. imposed on us by the nature of things willy-nilly.taking any such item to be independent of our cognitive activity until it is shown to be otherwise. Thus the process is much messier than we might hope. making a case for a significant relativity to conceptual schemes of some of the most promising candidates. 5 I will be spending most of my time in this remainder of this essay presenting and discussing candidates for the conceptual-scheme-dependent side of the R-AR opposition.. Hence the specification of those stretches of reality that are independent will proceed negatively—by whittling away at the mass of prima facie independent realities (i. there are items with respect to the nature and . first. the fact would remain that some of those candidates will be highly controversial. cognitive and practical. and most of the facts concerning such objects with their prima facie realist credentials intact. and ascribing independence to what remains. On the one hand.e.
I mean thus to recall our criteria of existence and perdurance for snowballs. i 2 …. and.” which we may define as an entity constituted by a piece of snow as matter and as form any shape between being round and being disc-shaped. Artifacts and natural objects are normally composed of stuff or of parts in certain ways. boxes and constituent sides. which are what they are regardless of our interests or preferences. for every division of i into a sequence of subintervals i 1. The like is true of chains and constituent links. it con- . there are those with respect to which we do have a choice as to whether or not to “countenance” them. therefore.existence of which we have no choice. any piece of snow that constitutes a snowball constitutes a snowdiscall. and so forth. related in certain restricted ways. … Thus a snowball exists at a time t and location l only -35if there is a round quantity of snow at l and t sufficiently separate from other snow. So much for snowballs. At any given time. but a piece of snow might at a time constitute a snowdiscall without then constituting a snowball. on the other side. and it endures through an interval i only if. in the strongest sense. and a great variety of artifacts or natural entities such as hills or trees. “stubborn and unyielding facts”. Those that endure are normally composed of stuff or of parts at each instant of their enduring. which are. Here is an imaginative example from Sosa 1999. there is a corresponding sequence of quantities of snow Q 1. … Whenever a piece of snow constitutes a snowball. Q 2 …. and the same goes for persons and their constituent bodies … Compare now … the concept of a “snowdiscall. therefore.
if we recognize all the snowdiscall sorts of entities as individuals with their distinctive essential properties and conditions of identity. whatever we will. I believe that it will seem intuitively plausible to most of us that this infinity of snowdiscall-like putative individuals are not thrust on us by the nature of things. interests. Under a broadly Aristotelian conception. the barest flutter of the smallest leaf creates and destroys infinitely many things. There are some kinds that are thrust upon us by the fact that the members of such kinds share nu- . And since hunks of snow are only one of a potential infinity of masses of different kinds of stuff. unyielding facts that are there to be reckoned with. regardless of our preferences. we will not be flying in the face of any empirical data. as the snowdiscall example shows. or choices. we choose to accept the existence of all these individuals. If. 132-33) -36To elaborate on the last two paragraphs of the above. and ordinary reality suffers a sort of “explosion. we are faced with a very high order of infinity of individuals. and indeed. So just the example of hunks of snow enables us to specify an infinite number of kinds.” (pp. though the consciences of those committed to Ockham's razor will undoubtedly feel a decided twinge. an infinity of individuals all occupying the same space at the same time. for whatever reasons. therefore. I think this intuition can be strengthened by considering some contrasting cases in which it does seem that we encounter stubborn. since there is a continuum of shapes between roundness and disc-shape.stitutes infinitely many entities all sharing its place with it. we could draw a line anywhere along that continuum and define another kind as a piece of snow the shape of which falls somewhere between roundness and that line.
runs into the crushing objection that snowdiscalls share no theoretically or practically interesting properties that indicate they are pulling some independent weight in the economy of the universe. Artifacts do have intrinsic. for prediction. water. chemical elements. a cold virus. the strong nuclear force. crystalline and other physical structures. Thus snowdiscalls and the infinitely numerous other artificially marked out kinds can be distinguished by a clear criterion from natural kinds and their members. The idea that the form definitive of snowdiscalls has an ontological claim to “be there” equal to that of hydrogen. and for the construction of powerful explanatory theories that often provide drastic unification of what heretofore seemed to be diverse phenomena.merous properties that are of importance for our attempts to understand the world. And yet it does seem that desks and chairs are “out there” confronting us in a way that snowdiscalls are not. This is so oft told a tale that it is unnecessary for me to belabor the point. On which side of this divide should we place artifacts? They can't claim the theoretical importance of organic species. basic types of forces. living cells. Salient examples include the species of organisms. The remark was designed to provide another illustration . or protons. as being much less worthy of being recognized as existing independently of our interests and choices. though it comes not from nature but from art. chemical compounds. and so on. fundamental physical particles. And I think that there is a significant basis for this intuition. They prove fruit-37ful for taxonomy. chemical elements or fundamental forces. He says that -38a hammer could also be used as a doorstop. I will bring this out by reference to a point Sosa makes near the end of Sosa 1999. non-arbitrary principles of identity and persistence.
Though it is much simpler to design and construct a snowball than a gun. Why is that? Presumably it is because there are standard procedures for shaping snow into balls for a well defined purpose—to throw them at people. we have a close analogy between natural kinds and human artifacts. But the intention of the maker. if that. That provides the primary identity and persistence conditions by contrast with which the conditions stemming from other possible uses have only a secondary status. It is much more plausible to take snowballs as existing in a contextfree way than to accord that status to snowdiscalls -39or any of the other indefinitely numerous putative individuals that we could dream up in the same way. the purpose for which it was constructed.of the ontological explosion. There is still the difference that the standard way of discovering the natural kind to which natural substances belong does not normally go through an investigation of the intentions of the maker. And yet in both cases there are objective facts of the matter that provide a basis for placing an item in one kind rather than others to which it nominally belongs. And that is due to the intentions of the maker(s). and hence . If we may think of the essences of natural kinds as intended by a divine maker. Like anything else. takes a certain precedence. and giving that kind a special ontological status. Moreover Sosa's example of the snowball reminds me that there are artifact-like things to be found among ways of dividing up stuff. whereas the opposite is true of artifacts. it can be used for various other purposes. Is there both a hammer and a doorstop confronting us? But the example leads me to reflect that the hammer has a kind of foothold on reality lacking to the doorstop that it constitutes. it is not too much of a stretch to think of them as endowed with an essence by their creators in basically the same way. The object was manufactured in order to do such things as drive in nails. including organisms.
whereas the same cannot be said for fish and other organic species. alternative ways of conceptualizing. etc. And there are even “pieces of stuff” analogues to natural kinds—snow flakes and drops of water. in principle. viz. This opens up the field to an enormous variety of stuff shaped for a purpose— sugar cubes. This discussion has thus far been restricted to the question of whether certain putative kinds and the individuals of those kinds exist independently of our conceptual or theoretical choices. The same cannot be said of snowdiscalls and the like. medallions of veal. or as ‘a complex conceptual structure capable of a truth value’. for instance. But it seems that we have a much greater degree of freedom in the latter than in the former case.’ just as we can define ‘proposi-40tion’ as ‘a set of possible worlds’. or perhaps in terms of DNA constitution. of determining what the essential nature is and what the principles of identity and individuation are. A specification of the essence of fishhood in terms of anatomical or physiological structure. like living in water. whether different conceptual and theoretical choices engender equally valid ways of describing and theoretically organizing a given subject matter. There it seems that a particular way of assigning an essence to fish and other organisms is thrust upon us re- . For both sorts of cases there are.’ or as ‘animal organism with fins and gills. We can achieve our cognitive goals at least approximately as well with one conceptualization of propositions as with another. This is a somewhat different issue from the one that bulks largest in Putnam and Goodman.as having the same kind of title to context-independent existence. is of much greater theoretical and practical significance than specifications in terms of more superficial features. To see a clear opposition here we can contrast the earlier examples of propositions and beliefs with natural kinds.. gold rings. We can define ‘fish’ as ‘animal organism that lives in water.
gardless of our choices. “Five. let us suppose. Alright. I will try to order them in accordance with degree of controversiality. a notebook. -41One of Putnam's favorite examples concerns mereological sums. “How many objects are there in this room?” My companion answers. “A chair. and nothing else.” “How about you and me? Aren't we in the room?” My companion might chuckle. then. and I ask. “I didn't think you meant to count people as objects. Suppose I take someone into a room with a chair. 6 I expect that my remaining examples of entities and facts dependent for their existence and/or their nature on conceptual-theoretical choices will be more controversial than the ones already mentioned. and a ballpoint pen. a lamp. in a way it is not with propositions. a table on which there are a lamp and a notebook and a ballpoint pen.” “What are they?” I ask. a table. and even with beliefs. to feel I have “pulled a fast one. beginning with what I believe to be the least controversial. seven.” “How about the pages of the notebook?” At this point my companion is likely to become much less cooperative. I can now proceed with further examples of what I take to be on the conceptually dependent side of the contrast. Having shown my hand as to what I take to have a status in reality independently of conceptual-theoretical choices to which there are acceptable alternatives.” But what is the answer to my question? A logician is likely to say that there is .
Each of us is free to treat any group of entities as an entity.an ordinary (or perhaps a metaphysical) notion of an “object. x. Should we agree with him? Is there any unique fact of the matter as to whether we should? Is there an objective fact of the matter as to whether there are all these mereological sums. y. the 14th page of my copy of The Possessed. etc. the pages of the notebook are not “objects” as long as they are still attached. On this approach. According to mereology. 110-111) -42Let's focus on this last example. and according to which my nose is not an object. or . the spruce tree in my front yard. there is a entity of which they are parts. Clearly. which involves “mereological sums”. Moreover. if. for any entities. … What about the group consisting of my nose and the lamp? Is that an object at all? Is there no such object? (Putnam 1989. and the Taj Mahal make up a composite entity with these as its sole parts. on this approach there is a high order of infinity of such entities. perhaps. indeed. independently of what we choose to recognize? Or do we have a free choice in the matter? I can't see that our choices are limited here by facts that obtain independently of those choices. only a part of an object as long as it is still attached … and that there is a logical notion of an object or “entity” according to which anything we can take as a value of a variable of quantification … is a “object”. Any number of such complex entities constitute a higher order complex entity. there are entities other than individuals— properties. …. possible worlds. sets.” according to which. the components of these mereological sums need not be restricted to individuals. So says the mereologist. and that all the parts of a person or a notebook are “objects” in this logical sense. a crumb beneath the breakfast table in my house. For not only does any collection of individuals constitute a complex entity.
so far as I can see. and so on? Or should we refrain from doing so. one that. conditions of persistence. Should we count the marble of which Michaelangelo's David is composed as an individual in its own right. whatever our preferences. is a prime candidate for facts that obtain only relative to a certain theoretical choice. If we wish to count the constituent marble as a distinct individual. taking up just the same space for as long as the individual is so composed. distinct from the statue so composed. we can tell a completely coherent story in those terms. with its own essential properties. to which there are equally viable alternatives. which. taking the statue as the one and only individual in that location. goes in the opposite direction from the one about mereology. I cannot see any facts that we are constrained to recognize. has to do with whether we should recognize the “hunk” of stuff(s) of which something is composed as a dis-43tinct individual from the one it composes. This problem can be broached for organisms and other individuals that are composed of a complex organization of “stuffs.refrain from doing so. taking that to include its stuff as one part of its individual being. so to say.” But in the interest of simplicity discussion is usually focused on more homogeneous stuffs (at least more homogeneous at a macroscopic level) like the marble or bronze that is fashioned into a statue. that dictate one or another answer to this question. so to say. And an equally coherent story will result from a decision to limit the occupants of that location to the statue. I suggest this too as a plausible case of something that fits the AR picture of an issue . Another issue. Here. “swallows” up the stuff of which it is composed as one of its constituent aspects or features? This too strikes me as a matter about which we have a conceptual-theoretical choice.
nothing gained. The sides. If. rather than. as we ordinarily suppose. But nothing ventured. One currently prominent opposition in metaphysics concerns the question of whether we should think of enduring objects as having temporal parts as well as (for those that are physical) spatial parts. not the entire object. looking at the same entire computer each time. When I encounter my computer each morning it is the entire object I encounter. concerns what individuals or objects to recognize. -44These last two issues. I will expose myself to attack from legions of metaphysicians who are convinced that they have the independent objective truth about such matters. the back. -45Is there a straightforward factual issue between those who assert and those who deny that physical objects have temporal parts? Are there objective facts . Whatever ones I pick.” completely present. on the other hand I wipe off its screen. If we were to think of a computer as having temporal parts. Now let's consider a plausible candidate for different ways of conceptually organizing a domain of reality. I will forge ahead and present what seems to me prima facie cases of metaphysical construals about which we have free choice. I am wiping only one part of it. at each moment of its existence. not some (temporal) part of it. Metaphysics is rife with prima facie examples of such. which are such that there is no unique choice between them that is determined by the way things are apart from our choices or preferences. then I would have to think of my looking at a different part each time I look at it. like Sosa's problem about the snowdiscalls. the inner hardware is left untouched.that can receive equally viable resolutions in different conceptual-theoretical schemes. We ordinarily think of enduring physical things as being “all there. Here the degree of controversiality goes up a notch.
period. To take a more global. or do we have a choice in the matter? Are we free to “countenance” temporal parts if we choose to do so? In the absence of some conclusive reason for thinking that there are or are not temporal parts of enduring objects. we don't ordinarily think of enduring objects as having temporal parts. metaphysical issue. When I look at my bedside table on awakening each morning It is just the same individual that I see each time. Now contrast this with a process metaphysics such as that propounded in Whitehead 1927. 8/18/2000 part of my computer. According to the former the physical world consists of various kinds of relatively enduring substances that -46remain identical through change. at some time between 5:00 and 5:25 on that day. they are in agreement.that determine that one is correct and the other incorrect? Where would we find such facts? No doubt. consider the opposition between a familiar common-sense substance metaphysics of the physical environment and a process metaphysics. On this metaphysics the fundamental units of reality are “actual occasions”. but is there anything in independent reality that constrains us to think that way. but allied. the commonsense opponent will say that I am using my computer. It is only that they wish to conceptually structure this in different ways. As far as anything that is obviously thrust upon us by things in themselves. momentary happenings each of which occupies some minimal duration. say 1/20th of a second. Where the latter will say that I am now using a 5:00-5:25 PM. and some very small spatial extent. What in the more familiar substance metaphysics is construed as a per- . It would seem that everything the commonsense advocate wishes to recognize (apart from the alleged matter under dispute) can equally well be recognized by the temporal parts advocate. it seems very plausible (at least to me) to suppose that these are different ways of construing the same familiar facts.
as it is ordinarily taken to be on the usual substance metaphysics. It was the question of whether enduring substances have temporal parts as well as spatial parts. But a process metaphysics like Whitehead's represents a more radical departure from the standard substance metaphysics on which substances lack temporal parts. but a different temporal part thereof. The previous issue was framed within a substance metaphysics. if it does have temporal parts. minimally. From this standpoint it is an illusion to suppose that there is an individual that retains its self identity through the life span of what we call a beside table. For the basic individuals of the former not only have tem- . and it is such temporal parts that are the fundamental constituents of reality. In that case one and the same bedside table can be there every day of its existence. for an individual to be a substance (in addition to -47being a bearer of properties and not itself a property) is that it can remain the same individual through change. been formulated in a way that rules out temporal parts of substances.sisting substance like a bedside table is thought by Whitehead to be a complex “society” of actual occasions. so I can see the same bedside table this morning as I did yesterday morning. though. at least until recently. though on a different spatial part thereof. To be sure. substance metaphysics has without exception. it is not wholly there every day. What we have here is a succession of events (or rather a number of such successions) each of which exists but for a moment. The “bedside table” has temporal parts just as a football game does. I had best say something about the relation between this issue and the previous one about temporal parts. There is no single individual that remains the same through what we think of as the life span of the spruce tree. Just my feet are on the same bed as my head. But if what it takes. then an individual can be a substance and also have temporal parts. on the temporal parts alternative.
of course. For those of us who lack a firm commitment to one of these contending orientations. But these oppositions have persisted for at least 2500 years in Western philosophy. to remind us that Aristotle does not control all of the substance territory. and Kant.poral parts. Whitehead's metaphysics is not the only alternative for a process metaphysics. and process metaphysicians from Heraclitus on. This. grist for the AR advocate's -48mill. present arguments that are designed to show that their chosen metaphysic is the unique truth about the physical world. I make bold to suggest that here too we have an issue that is. But on either version there is nothing that counts as an individual retaining its identity through change. both substance metaphysicians from Aristotle on. I need only mention the names of Descartes. Of course. And Whitehead's metaphysics is only one of the options on the process side. requires a view of process as consisting of discrete temporal “drops”. and there are no signs that a general consensus is on the horizon. Leibniz. It seems that the physical reality we are dealing with . Locke. Moreover. Spinoza. each of which occupies a minimal duration without undergoing change during that duration. but there is no sense in which basic individuals retain their identity through change. Another would be a view of process as a continuous becoming which is not in any way composed of distinguishable individuals. Of course. as Whitehead recognizes. Each “actual occasion” happens all at once. It would seem that reality can equally well (though not equally familiarly or comfortably or simply) be construed in either of these ways. prima facie. and that their opponents are simply mistaken as to what reality is like. it is not that we are faced with only two contenders. it seems not implausible to suppose that a choice between them is radically underdetermined by such considerations as can be brought forward. Both camps are split into many competing factions.
But in doing so was I not employing a substance rather than a process ontology? If dogs and sofas. I don't know of any metaphysical position that does not face serious problems. To go properly into this issue I would have to undertake a thorough discussion of the epistemology and methodology of metaphysics. doesn't that imply that a substance ontology of the physical world has the same status? And how can that be squared with the above sug- . I certainly do not expect universal agreement on my judgment that a unique choice between metaphysical positions on this issue is not determined -49by the objective facts. indeed. insist that there are unique facts of the matter as to which of the competing positions have it right (if. I only have space to make one comment. whether we can definitively show this to be the case or not. But as for the first point. this is at least a prima facie case of facts that are what they are only relative to a certain mode of conceptualizing and theorizing to which there are equally viable alternatives. Before leaving this topic. exist and are what they are regardless of our conceptual choices and preferences. The usual defense of metaphysical positions like the above consists in showing that the relevant subject matter can be construed in the favored way. I must address the following worry. artifacts. as ordinarily conceived. And there is no room for that in this essay. no doubt. 12 If so. it turns out that the subject matter can also be construed in rival ways. and that alternative positions face certain problems. Those who are strongly committed to a traditional metaphysical project will. Earlier I presented familiar macroscopic items—organisms. any of them do).is more or less equally susceptible of a number of different ways of conceptually and theoretically structuring it. And as to the second point. hunks of stuff— as enjoying an objective reality independent of conceptual choices.
gestion that a substance ontology holds only relative to the choice of one way of construing that subject matter. That makes it possible for us to pick out a fact in a way that is neutral between opposed metaphysical construals and thus specify the subject matter about which they are proffering rival construals. if we choose. as against equally viable alternative ways? -50To solve this puzzle I must distinguish between different aspects of our ways of conceptualizing what we are talking about. That is inevitable just because our language is structured in terms of such a metaphysics. Even if I were able to avoid substance presuppositions by availing myself of a language constructed on process lines (bedside table stages. to a considerable extent. What I can do is to disavow the metaphysical implications of my terminology. operating within a substance metaphysics construal. eschew figures of speech and speak plainly and literally. as I can. It is not as if we can take what I am calling the “detailed factual” aspect out by itself and speak in terms that are restricted to that. Go back to my bedside table. restrict what we are claiming to the latter aspect. whether I realize it or not. I would still be utilizing one of the rival metaphysics rather than others. In using that expression I am. The basic claim will be that although we can't avoid using concepts belonging to one of a set of competing metaphysical views in reporting facts. we can. Hence I can say that there are both substantive and process ways of conceptualizing bedside tables without having prejudiced the -51- . thereby leaving the other aspect as all I am claiming in my report. à la Quine). no doubt. The crucial distinction I will make is between the ontological aspect and what I will call the commonsense or detailed factual aspect.
The syntactical category of a word can be specified in terms of what other words are or are not substitutable for that word. But since I admit that we cannot make any statement that exhibits one of the aspects without its being entangled with the other. a technique familiar from linguistics and other sources. But the substitutability test is effective in pinning down the syntactic category. of course. we would not consider this a felicitous way to talk about the subject matter. it is by no means the whole. salva grammaticality.’ that includes a commitment to a metaphysics that divides the world up into enduring substances like tables and clocks and works with a scheme of properties and activities exhibitable by such substances. If we consider the full content of a report like ‘My bedside table has a clock on it. It is by no means any part of a substance metaphysics that there is a table beside my bed or that my bedside table has a clock on it. to lacking in determinateness to provide a sufficient basis for my claim to be able to specify a subject matter in ontologically neutral terms.issue in favor of the former by the way in which I stated the issue. In an analogous way we can get at the concrete. If we wanted to endorse a process metaphysics like Whitehead. one may feel that this talk of “aspects” is still too nebulous. What else can I do here? I think that the most useful tack is to bring in patterns of contrast. It is not as if I could bring these things about by adopting a substance metaphysics rather than by making purchases at a furniture store! I assume that the above does something by way of explaining my talk of a metaphysical and a concrete aspect of a statement or fact. even if this metaphysical commitment is part of the content. Here too we cannot exhibit syntac-52tic category by finding a word that only has that feature and no phonological constitution or meaning. non-conceptualscheme-relative aspect of the fact that there is a clock . But.
I have put flesh on the suggestion that one can make assertions.on my bedside table by considering the way this fact contrasts with the (possible) facts that this table is black.” This set of contrasts exhibits the metaphysical aspect of the original fact. that it contains a drawer. “There is a clock on my bedside table. The ways in which the original fact differs from other facts within the same metaphysical scheme constitutes the concrete. non-metaphysical aspect of its content. I have given reason to think that one can use substantival -53language to specify the facts that are construed differently in substance and process ontologies without begging the question in advance in favor of the substance alternative. Assuming that this does the job. without thereby committing oneself to favoring that metaphysical scheme over its rivals. specific contents that facts concerning my bedside table (or concerning anything else for that matter) have within that metaphysics. And if so. that it has four legs. 7 Lest the reader be too easily convinced that I have gone overboard in recognizing conceptual-scheme relative facts. using terminology that carries with it an involvement in one out of several rival metaphysical schemes. but which I prefer to . and so on. Imagine yourself in the original situation and using an event scheme or a scattered particular scheme to report what is reported in the substantival scheme by saying. That is. To exhibit the metaphysical aspect we display contrasts between the ways in which the same concrete state of affairs is construed in different metaphysical schemes. we stay within the same metaphysical aspect and display the different concrete. let me present another sort of case that has been treated in this way.
it is not a deep insight that complex . Hence we can accommodate both of them only if each is accepted as relative to one among a plurality of viable theoretical choices. But a closer look will reveal other possibilities for reconciliation. energy quanta or even weirder items. That is not to say that the former recognizes no distinctions between one portion of space and another. tables. The former consists of relatively enduring objects scattered around in space. The scientific picture is much more continuous than the commonsense construal. in a more recent version. This is the familiar contrast between the “commonsense” and “scientific” pictures of the physical world. a hammer or a dog or a pebble and its immediate environment. more or less definite boundaries. each of which has a certain integrity. even dogs and cats have disappeared as distinct individuals. In the latter picture the familiar chairs. But they -54all have the same basic constituents. in an older version we have elementary physical particles with a lot of empty space in between. properties that are essential for its self-identity. From the “scientific” perspective it is just a matter of our practical interests that leads us to make a sharp distinction between.g.. In the preceding paragraph I have deliberately been representing the contrast in such a way as to make it a plausible candidate for conceptually relative existence. The pictures are incompatible if each is taken as an account of independent reality. The differences between different “things” that bulk so large in the structuring of the physical world in the former picture are not stressed in the latter. e. rocks. After all. Instead. The first step would be to point out that differences in structuring between the perspectives is due to the fact that the one is dealing with complex totalities that are analyzed into their fine grained constituents in the other.handle differently. and so on. the differences lying in the ways these are organized and in the dynamics of their behavior. mountains. or.
The surface of my desk certainly -55appears to ordinary observation to be solid matter all the way through. And. before the development of modern physics. So only a minor adjustment in semantics is required to maintain the absolute. After all. it depends on how the term ‘solid’ is construed whether the judgments can be reconciled on an absolute construal. If ‘x is (completely) solid’ entails ‘x contains no empty space’. How can these judgments be reconciled as both giving us an absolute. we are familiar with the fact that the use of even an ordinary microscope on organic tissue reveals a lot of things that are hidden from the naked eye. To say that the desk top is solid is to say that ordinary observation and manipulation reveals no empty portions. That is quite compatible with such portions being revealed by more minute observation and theoretical construction. most of us are happy with a more modest understanding of ‘solid’. the objects that appear as solid in the commonsense perspective are revealed in the scientific perspective as mostly empty space with minute particles moving about in it. nonrelative account of the matter. Well. if we have the capacity to delve sufficiently into their fine structure. then we can accept both pictures only at the cost of relativization. To take a frequently noted one. as organized systems of ultimate constituents. Though this is the central point.things have parts. Chopping it up will uncover no hollow portions. it does not dissipate all the worries. nonrelative. accep- . no doubt. The scientist need not deny the real (nonrelative) existence of the dog when he reveals the micro structure— anatomical. chemical. physiological. that was the way in which complete solidity was understood. and that they can be viewed either as unanalyzed wholes or. and physical— of this complexly organized beast. But now that the rudiments of elementary particle physics is common knowledge.
They become relativized to conditions of observation. condition of the observer. distance and angle of observation. Another. But no such properties appear in the physicist's description of the world. background contrasts. more widely discussed example concerns color and other “secondary” properties. I take it that I have given reason to hold both that there are indefinitely many objects . with all their qualitative distinctiveness. and so on. which we might term the “subjectivization” of what were regarded as physical properties under the impact of modern science. it is easily shown that apparent colors of objects vary with differences in factors other than the putative bearer of those colors—the light. Moreover. On a naive construal the colors that physical objects seem to present to visual perception are intrinsic properties -56of those objects. undergo a reconstrual analogous to that of solidity. we can reconcile the commonsense and scientific pictures without taking each of them to be true only relative to one of a number of equally acceptable conceptual-theoretical schemes. The point about solidity is a particular example of a general phenomenon. Therefore colors. Thus by a combination of reconstrual of property terms and a recognition of the difference between what appears to macroscopic and to microscopic observation. as properties of physical objects. To say that the cloth is red (rather than ‘looks red to me now’) is to say something about how it would look to a normal observer under certain specifiable conditions of observation. 8 To sum up.tance of both pictures as far as this problem is concerned. even without sophisticated developments of physics.
This does not imply that all human conceptualization can be achieved without the use of language. Alston Syracuse University -58- Notes 1 This is far from an exhaustive catalogue of the views labeled ‘realism’. Note the restriction to our choices. “critical realism”. p. at least of a much greater variety and of much greater importance than those that enjoy that status only relative to a dispensable scheme. For example there are various realisms in the philosophy of perception: “direct realism”. etc. This via media gives something to both the realist and the antirealist. if not more numerous. it must be confessed. and that there are also indefinitely many objects that exist and facts that obtain only relative to a conceptual-theoretical scheme to which there are equally viable alternatives. William P. while at the same time recognizing that this relative status does attach to some of the objects and facts we. I would add that the absolute existents and -57facts are. recognize as existing or holding. if we so choose. Putnam 1981. much more than half the loaf to the former.that exist and facts that obtain absolutely. though. one that recognizes most of the entities and facts with which we have cognitive and practical dealings and which are of interest and importance to us to exist independently of any particular conceptual-theoretical scheme. A view according to which reality depends on the conceptual or theoreti- 2 3 4 . 49. Thus I have given reason to adopt a sensible realism. not relative to some conceptual-theoretical scheme to which there are equally viable alternatives.
To be sure.g. “If one must use metaphorical language. For a treatment of ‘religion’ in these terms see Alston 1967. Cortens 2000. to make the metaphor even more Hegelian. For the sake of concision. see Alston “What Metaphysical Realism Is Not” (unpublished). 12 No doubt. 11 It is not necessary for this argument to take antirealism to be so extreme as to hold that the entities and facts in question are totally different relative to different schemes. Olson 1997. 3. this view of the matter presupposes a particular position on a controversial issue. 159-162. pp. See Plantinga 1982. then let the metaphor be this: -59the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the world (Or.cal choices of some other cognitive subject(s). I cannot enter into this here except to say that the side of the conflict just expressed seems to me to be incomparably the superior position. each of the rival metaphysical positions is . would be a wholly different matter. any vagueness or other indeterminacy attaching solely to our attempts to conceptualize and describe it. xi. the Universe makes up the Universe—with minds—collectively—playing a special role in the making up)”. For example.. such as God. 7 8 9 10 This is reflected in the Kantian and Hegelian utterances of Putnam. viz. e. Putnam 1981. Plantinga 1982. For a more extended treatment of what this kind of realism need not be committed to. whether reality itself is perfectly precise. Some significant differences will give the view a distinctively antirealist character. 5 6 See.. Ch. I will sometimes refer only to conceptualization where the conjunction of this with theorizing is tacitly understood.
“Sosa on Realism”. But it is not as if one unique position is markedly superior to all the others in this respect. William P. 1996. no. Truth. Realism and Truth. Unpublished. New York: Macmillan and Free Press. Andrew J. Alston. Alston. “What Metaphysical Realism Is Not”. Alston. Reason. “Epistemic Desiderata”. “How to Be an Anti-Realist”. Philosophers and Their Critics. 53. 1993. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. NJ: Princeton University Press. Putnam. ed. Ithaca. 1997. Boulder. A Realist Conception of Truth.. Eric T. William P. William P. Phen. William P. 527-551. Devitt. Cortens. 1967. Res. The Human Animal. Philos. William P. pp. in a volume on Sosa's work in Blackwell's series. Hilary 1981. to be edited by John Greco. Forthcoming. Colorado: Westview Press. -60- Bibliography Alston. 2000.. NY: Cornell University Press. Global Anti-Realism. Plantinga. 3. Alston. Princeton. and History.faced with difficult problems in working out its scheme in a wholly satisfactory way. Olson. Michael 1984. Paul Edwards. . in Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Religion”. Alvin 1982. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. New York: Oxford University Press.
edu/mupress/ 1. Process and Reality. Cicero in the Courtroom of St.J. St. O. St. St. E. Humanism and Theology. See web page: http://www. Ernest 1999. Thomas and the Greek Moralists. Whitehead. Étienne Gilson (1947) ISBN 0-87462-112-7 13.Bourke (1947) ISBN 0-87462-111-9 12. William R. Pegis (1939) ISBN 0-87462-103-8 4. Thomas Aquinas. “Existential Relativity”. Thomas and the Problem of Evil. Thomas and the Gentiles. (1946) ISBN 0-87462-110-0 11. St. (1937) ISBN 0-87462-101-1 2. Thomas and Epistemology. Thomas and the Life of Learning. Vernon J. Hilary 1989.mu. Rand (1945) ISBN 0-87462-109-7 10.P. John F. New York: Macmillan. Sosa. St. MA: MIT Press. Jacques Maritain (1942) ISBN 0-87462-106-2 7. Phelan (1941) ISBN 0-87462-105-4 6. Midwest Studies in Philosophy.Putnam. John Wellmuth (1944) ISBN 0-87462-108-9 9. Yves Simon (1940) ISBN 0-87462-104-6 5. Thomas and Analogy. Cambridge. St. -61THE AQUINAS LECTURES Published by the Marquette University Press Milwaukee WI 53201-1881 USA All volumes available as ebooks. Gerald B. St. St. Representation and Reality.O'Connor (1948) ISBN 0-87462-113-5 14. Robert M. Louis-Marie Regis. S. 1929. 23. pp. 132-143. The Nature and Functions of Authority. History of Philosophy and Philosophical Education. The Natural Desire for God. The Nature and Origins of Scientism.K. Alfred North. Thomas and the World State. McCormick. Adler (1938) ISBN 0-87462-102-X 3. Thomas and the Greeks. Mortimer J. Hutchins (1949) ISBN 0-87462-114-3 . Werner Jaeger (1943) ISBN 0-87462-107-0 8. Anton C.
The University in Process. John O. John E. Robert O. Emil L. The Lure of Wisdom. Salmon (1952) ISBN 0-87462-117-8 18.R. Thomas and the Object of Geometry. Method in Metaphysics. James D. Joseph Owens. Wisdom and Love in St. C. Wm. Ideas and Concepts. Étienne Gilson (1951) ISBN 0-87462-116-X -6217. Realism And Nominalism Revisted. Victor M. Henle. (1956) ISBN 0-87462-121-6 22.J.Ss. Beyond Trinity. Julius R. (1968) ISBN 0-87462-133-X 34. The Pragmatic Meaning of God. Thomas and Philosophy. S. S. Henry Veatch (1954) ISBN 0-87462-119-4 20. Bernard J. Oliver Martin (1959) ISBN 0-87462-124-0 25. Anton C. Smith (1953) ISBN 0-87462-118-6 19. St. The Subject. Johann (1966) ISBN 0-87462-131-3 32. Collins (1962) ISBN 0-87462-127-5 28. Elizabeth G. Gerard Smith. Thomas Aquinas. Pegis (1964) ISBN 0-87462-129-1 30. Smith (1967) ISBN 0-87462-132-1 33.J. Weinberg (1970) ISBN 0-87462-135-6 . Riedl (1965) ISBN 0-87462-130-5 31. Fackenheim (1961) ISBN 0-87462-126-7 27. The Good in Existential Metaphysics. Metaphysics and Ideology. Paul Weiss (1963) ISBN 0-87462-128-3 29. St. Hamm (1960) ISBN 0-87462-125-9 26. O'Neil (1955) ISBN 0-87462-120-8 21. (1957) ISBN 0-87462-122-4 23. Henry Margenau (1958) ISBN 0-87462-123-2 24. S. Truth and Poetry. Metaphysics and Historicity. Religion and Art. Language. Charles J. Bernard Lonergan. Thomas and the Physics of 1958: A Confrontation. Thomas Aquinas.15. Religion and Empiricism. Imprudence in St. (1950) ISBN 0-87462-115-1 16. Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics.J. Vincent E. The Truth That Frees. Cooke (1969) ISBN 0-87462-134-8 35. Robert J. St.
Robb (1974) ISBN 0-87462-139-9 40. Reason and Faith Revisited. Expectations of Immortality in Late Antiquity. Errol E. John N. Marjorie Greene (1991) ISBN 0-87462-158-5 56. (1986) ISBN 0-87462-227-1 51. St. Anthony Kenny (1988) ISBN 0-87462-155-0 53. The Nature of Philosophical Inquiry. Hilary A Armstrong (1987) ISBN 0-87462-154-2 52. Francis C. Augustine. The Problem of Evil. Alan Donagan (1985) ISBN 0-87462153-4 50. Armand J. Final Ends and Contemporary Philosophical Issues. Ralph Mcinerny (1981) ISBN 0-87462-148-8 46. Francis H. Thomas and Historicity.S. James H. Roderick M. Psyche and Cerebrum. Paul Ricoeur (1984) ISBN 0-87462-152-6 49. Findlay (1972) ISBN 0-87462-137-2 38. Quentin Lauer. Thomas' Treatment. Harris (1977) ISBN 0-87462-142-9 42.J. C. Imagination and Metaphysics in St.B. The Reality of the Historical Past.J. S. S. The Gift: Creation. The Inference That Makes Science. Maurer. Ernan McMullin (1992) . Rhyme and Reason: St. Zedler (1983) ISBN 0-87462-151-8 48. (1979) ISBN 0-87462-144-5 44. Schmitz (1982) ISBN 0-87462-149-6 47. Robert O'Connell. How Philosophy Begins. Kenneth L. Descartes among the Scholastics. The Catholic University and the Faith. Human Ends and Human Actions: An Exploration in St. (1978) ISBN 0-87462-143-7 43. The Problem of the Criterion. Charles Hartshorne (1976) ISBN 0-87462-141-0 41. The Self. Man as Infinite Spirit.J. Aquinas to Whitehead: Seven Centuries of Metaphysics of Religion. Wade. S. Beatrice H. First Principles. Thomas and Modes of Discourse.36. Alasdair MacIntyre (1990) ISBN 0-87462-157-7 55. (1989) ISBN 0-87562-156-9 54. Parker (1971) ISBN 0-87462-136-4 -6337. Does God Have a Nature? Alvin Plantinga (1980) ISBN 0-87462-145-3 45. Chisholm (1973) ISBN 0-87462-138-0 39.
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