Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Extra-Mentally Real

Contemporary philosophy and apologetics often use the phrase “extra-mental reality.” This usually means the person is qualifying their argument or comment to hold constant certain epistemological commitments or assumptions.

Why should we speak in terms of ‘extra-mental’ reality? This seems to be a misnomer or implies the mind cut off and distinct from the world in a subjectively perceptualist sense. Such a view reflects precepts which are certainly non-compulsory.

If we are going to bifurcate the mind and the world, then we are committing to idealism. Reality just is. It is what we are, what we talk about. To deny it is to affirm it. The ‘out there” and the “in here” are not two different realities. For if things do not impose themselves upon our unified selves, if we only apprehend ideas and beliefs and not things, then we are left with creating reality. And a created reality is not reality at all. We are then stuck with many contrivances to extricate ourselves from a mess of our own creation. (My own position in this area agrees with the arguments laid out by Frederick Wilhelmsen in Man’s Knowledge of Reality and Etienne Gilson in Methodical Realism).

How does something that is real assess the “extra-mental” to determine its reality or nonreality? Among the problems alluded to above, this very ‘bird’s-eye’ view begs a regress, where a higher view becomes necessary to render the judgment (of reality/non-reality) on that which is under it. However, what renders this third perspective correct? We need a fourth perspective, and so on.

It is implicit that I am real if I am making a judgment on reality by making a statement about extra-mental reality. But if I, the one making the judgement, am implicitly cut-off from reality, then how can I judge that it is real? It seems that I need to be above “myself” and “the world” to judge the difference. It is this very act of the third, transcendent position that is an artificial reconstruction. It is only possible because the mind and world are equally real, and that certain acts of the intellect entail an abstraction from things apprehended; where abstractions are possible only because the absolute exists as a tether.

I recently heard an apologist begin a debate with a qualifying commentary that there is no absolute “proof” for God because one could always raise doubts, we could be in The Matrix or tormented by Descartes’ demon, and so forth. Such a delimiter was unfortunate because it plunges dialogue into the realm of idealism. Here there is no limit to what artificial devices and analytical fabrications might be used to justify one’s rationality in denying the premise of an argument that is otherwise evident. There is little ground to be gained because metaphysics and idealism are very strange bedfellows. A priori commitments to idealism do not allow for genuine metaphysics. 

The ‘extra-mental’ qualifier introduces a stiff headwind. Unfortunately, it almost certainly will not be done away with unless a monumental paradigm shift occurs in philosophy. Since these shifts usually take hundreds of years, I am not holding out much hope. On the upside, we can carefully vet the ‘extra-mental qualifier; we can choose to not let it slip by when we see it or hear it. We can press for greater clarification and better judge how useful a discussion will be in each context.

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