Frag-ments: Don't worry: 'Realism' (and God) is dead.

By Andy Pragacz

So that Frag-ments does not become a drawn-out exposé on the proposed smoking ban, we embark on something new this week: the article “Humanists and Scientist: A Response to Nelli Thomas,” composed by Professor Emeritus Reedy on Feb. 19, 2010. I would like to take the opportunity here to push realism a little closer to absurdity. In my classes this semester we have been considering the works of (the later) Wittgenstein and Nietzsche. In their works, both men attempt to undo the misunderstanding bequeathed to us through philosophy (Searle’s ‘realism’ being one of them). Call me what you will for publishing my classwork, but if the goal of a liberal arts education is to apply our education, to take what you have learned and insert it creatively in Life somehow, then why the hell not? This, I might add, is an idea that I think philosophy of all stripes should take more seriously. I venture that philosophy’s lack of presence in Life has to do with: (1) the pompous notion that non-philosophers cannot understand philosophy, (2) the desire not to seem pompous, (3) the fact that Life is already (overly) full of philosophy (or maybe philosophy is just full of common sense) and (4) Life poses a problem to neat, tidy ‘philosophical’ arguments.

Continuing with these two thinkers at the risk of committing philosophical and/or social crime, I turn to Reedy. The Professor Emeritus states that realism is the position people hold before engaging in philosophy and is “common sense rendered explicit” (for his/Searle’s definition of realism see his article). Besides the fact that common sense must be rendered explicit seems to contradict Reedy’s claims to its ‘naturalness’ (does the idea that “our statements are typically true or false.etc” pre-exist philosophy?), realism does not seem to correspond to the way we as humans live our lives. If reality was pre-given, and we had direct access to reality, then how do we explain change? If we believe we already possess Truth, that we know ‘reality’ (unreasonably conflated here, maybe), then why do philosophy and the natural sciences both search for it? And furthermore, by believing we already know the Truth, wouldn’t we be more apt to accept the False (if the distinction does exists) and less likely to explore and move Life? If Truth were certain, stagnant, and known, any sense of revolution would be omitted from possibility. (Nietzsche, Gay Science; Book I, paragraph 11)

Reedy rebuttal: “Science just uncovers what was there all along, we did not invent the world, we simply try to explain it.” Reply: “Does science exist in the world? Does science have a meaning because it refers to a “real object in the world”? No. Science is (one) of our mythologies insofar as it gives comfort in the form of Truthful explanation. More appropriately, maybe: mythology is a science, just as the study of mythology is a ‘science.’ And beyond that, what is the difference between believing science is the activity of excavators and not artists? Who here reading this aspires to be a miner (No offense intended toward those who work in mines)? There is no Truth or purpose in nature.

Realism does not explain the world better than so-called post-modern theories of knowledge and meaning. Reedy states: “If our perceptions of the world around us were not accurate, the human race would not have survived.” I ask: “What perceptions do you speak of? And what humans?” Certainly our perceptions are fallible–how can you explain this? Why couldn’t we have a fortuitous ‘false’ knowledge of the world? Why is the moon made of rock and not cheese? The moon is made of rock instead of cheese only because of their common usage. Why are moon-rocks not cheese or why isn’t cheese in the same class as rocks? The answer: the words ‘rock’ and ‘cheese’ mean different things only because they are used differently in our language and furthermore, before a knowledge claiming the moon was rock was useful, it had no meaning. It is ‘true’ on many levels that the moon is made of rock, but that truth is completely dependent on the context in which the ‘truth’ is articulated. Doesn’t this make more sense? Isn’t it more applicable to life to say that trees don’t exist in themselves, but it is our relation between ‘us’ and what we call ‘tree’ that is ‘true’? What place do Platonic Ideas have in our lives? Kant’s answer: none (almost), so let us believe in Kant and do away with ‘essences’ once and for all. We don’t need them.

Andy Pragacz ’10 can be reached at [email protected].