Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 2

Please click here for Pt 1, which sums up the beginning of Gabriel's introduction, particularly his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This is to set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in what follows.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

New Realism

The position Gabriel presents, however, rejects what he dubs as metaphysics and constructivism. New realism, over against both of these, asserts that knowledge is not a collective hallucination. New realism “assumes that we recognise the world as it is in itself. Of course we can be mistaken, for in some situations we indeed find ourselves in an illusion. But it is simply not the case that we are always or almost always mistaken” (5).

He offers a helpful illustration: Imagine Mount Vesuvius is looked at from Sorrento, by Astrid, and Naples, by us. Metaphysics says there is only one real object, namely Vesuvius. Constructivism claims that there are two objects, Astrid’s Vesuvius and our Vesuvius. “Beyond that there is absolutely no object or thing in itself – at least, no object which we could ever hope to know” (6). New realism, however, claims that there are three objects: 1. Vesuvius, 2. Vesuvius viewed from Sorrento by Astrid and 3. Vesuvius viewed from Naples by us (actually, Gabriel points out that this is two views, me and you).

This is the key: “New realism assumes that thoughts about facts exist with the same right as the facts at which our thoughts are directed” (6). Ultimately, metaphysics and constructivism fail …

“…because of an unjustified simplification of reality, in which they understand reality unilaterally either as the world without spectators or, equally one-sided, as the world of spectators … The world is neither exclusively the world without spectators nor the world of spectators. This is new realism. Old realism – that is metaphysics – was only interested in the world without spectators, while constructivism quite narcissistically grounded the world and everything that is the case and our fantasies. Both theories lead to nothing” (7).

This is to say that both metaphysics and constructivism cannot explain how there can be spectators in a world in which spectators do not exist at all times and in all places (see page 7). Gabriel claims that this problem is solved by the introduction of a new ontology, which he will go on to explain in what follows (Gabriel also uses this opportunity to wax against materialism, and explain that if all that exists is that which can be investigated by natural science, the federal state of Germany would not exist, nor would the future etc). 

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At 2/23/2016 3:54 PM, Blogger craig.benno said...

His questioning begs the age old question, "If no one is around to hear it, does a tree make a noise in the forest when it falls?" I think he fails to recognize that there is an issue of collective data through which we make sense of the world.

At 2/23/2016 4:07 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Craig,
why do you think Gabriel begs this question?

At 2/23/2016 5:35 PM, Blogger Terry Wright said...

"If no one is around to hear it, does a tree make a noise in the forest when it falls?"

I don't think this question goes far enough. If no one is around, how do we know there's a tree? How do we know it has fallen?

I'm intrigued to see where Gabriel goes with his thoughts. . .

At 2/23/2016 5:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Jesus turned the cosmos inside out.
Is the forking mountain?

At 2/24/2016 10:37 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Stumped me, Richard!

Terry, his arguments in the intro tangentially address that question, funnily enough

At 2/25/2016 1:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's just that God is a comedian with an audience that forgot how to laugh.
I guess you could call it a conspiracy of ignorance.
And they will eventually find out at one time or another, exactly who screwed with the physics to bring about this reality.
And the ontology just keeps on moving forward.
Blessings Chris thanks for all the smart writing

At 2/25/2016 8:39 AM, Blogger craig.benno said...


We know that a tree makes noise when it falls in a forest because of others historical collective data - which makes something factual. Just because others do not experience it; doesn't make it less factual or real.

At 2/25/2016 9:21 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks Craig, but why do you think this is a problem for Gabriel?

At 3/02/2016 7:55 AM, Blogger Edwardtbabinski said...

“New realism assumes that thoughts about facts exist with the same right as the facts at which our thoughts are directed”

Can he define "thoughts, facts, exist..." Looks like a Jenga tower of some of the broadest terms and generalizations possible. Kind of like defining evolution as a process of stick-togetherations. But then a lot of philosophical debate seems to involve playing word tennis with enormous generalizations.

That reminds me of a koan-like question someone shared with me, "What portion of all that you think you know was not learned second hand?" Much of people's lives are defined for them even before they are born, including the choice of religion and culture in which the child is raised.

What's amazing about the pursuit of scientific knowledge is that people of all religious beliefs (or none) are contributing to that activity and gradual accumulation of more knowledge about the world. True, science is not a philosophical or religious world view, it plods on in pragmatic fashion, and in a sense is a lesson in humility all by itself.

Paradox [a poem about science]

Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
'If...,then...,' this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified,
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimension. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice-attentuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Clarence R. Wylie Jr.


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