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The Absolute Uniqueness of Unconditioned Reality

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NOTE: Today we continue our six-part series by Karlo Broussard on a metaphysical proof for God's existence. The posts will run each of the next four Mondays:

 


 
For readers who have already read the first and second installments on the metaphysical demonstration for God’s existence, they will recall how it was argued that there must be at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality and that such reality must be absolutely simple in nature, which means such reality cannot be restricted in its mode of existence (can’t have any spatial, temporal, or existential restrictions) but must be pure being or pure existence itself that is compatible with and inclusive of all other real or really possible modes of being.

In this third installment, it is my intention to argue for the absolute uniqueness of unconditioned reality—that is to say there can be only one absolutely simple unconditioned reality. When combined with the attribute of absolute simplicity, absolute uniqueness moves us one step closer to seeing such a reality worthy of being called “God.”

Consider, first, for argument sake that there are multiple instantiations of unconditioned reality—we will call them UR1 and UR2 for the sake of brevity. Now, in order to have multiplicity we are going to have to differentiate UR2 from UR1; otherwise they would be self-same and therefore one.

Now, the difference implies a distinguishing note or some principle of dissimilarity (as Fr. Spitzer puts it in his book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, an “instantiating factor”). In other words, there would have to be some factor that differentiates UR2 from UR1 and makes UR2 a particular or distinct instantiation of unconditioned reality.

We normally distinguish modes of being by factors such as space, time, or a way of existence. For example, this tree exists here and that tree exists there. This tree existed before (or after) that tree. This tree exist in the pine tree way and that tree exist in the oak tree way.

So, if UR2 is to be distinguished from UR1, then UR2 is going to be different than UR1 either due to a position in space (not existing somewhere where UR1 is), or a point in time (not existing at a time when UR1 does), or a way of existence (not existing in the way that UR1 exists).

Given this hypothetical state of multiple instantiations of unconditioned reality, we can offer five separate lines of reason for why it is metaphysically impossible to have multiple URs.

First, to differentiate UR2 from UR1 by space, time, or a way of existence is to restrict its mode of existence. For example, if UR2 is differentiated by space, then it's going to be restricted to existing here and not there. If UR2 is differentiated by time, then it’s going to be restricted to existing now instead of then. If UR2 is differentiated by a way of existence, then it’s going to be restricted to existing in this way instead of some other way.

Now, as shown in the previous installment of this series, restrictions (or boundaries) are that which cause exclusion and make for real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity—much like how a proton’s existential restrictions allow for the incompatible state of an electron to be excluded from it. But as we have already demonstrated in the previous post on absolute simplicity, unconditioned reality cannot have any restrictions (or boundaries) that would allow for any real or really possible incompatible state of being to be excluded from it less we end up in an intrinsic contradiction. Furthermore, unconditioned reality must be compatible with and inclusive of every other real or really possible mode of being in order to ultimately fulfill the conditions necessary for the existence of every other real or really possible mode of being. This cannot be if unconditioned reality has restrictions.

So, any restriction that we ascribe to UR2 (or any other hypothetical multiple instantiation of unconditioned reality) in order to differentiate it from UR1 would result in UR2 not being unconditioned reality at all. Therefore, there can be only one unconditioned reality.

The second line of reason follows from the fact that unconditioned reality cannot have any real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity. Recall, as we mentioned in our previous post, that protons allow for incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity such as neutrons and electrons. Although different because of their particular restrictions, we see that neutrons and electrons are the same kinds of being as protons, namely particles. Similarly, the electromagnetic field allows for the incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity (simpler than particles) such as the neutrino field, the electric field, the gravitational field, etc. Although different because of their particular existential restrictions, we see that these fields are the same kinds of being, namely fields. So, it follows that those states of being that are on the same level of simplicity are the same kinds of being—multiple instantiations of a particular nature or essence.

Now, since unconditioned reality cannot have any real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity, it follows that it cannot have any states of being that are of the same kind—there can be no multiple instantiations of unconditioned reality. Unconditioned reality, therefore, is absolutely unique.

The third line of reason considers how the differentiating factor that distinguishes UR2 from UR1 precludes UR2 from being pure being or pure existence. As mentioned above, UR2 would have to be differentiated either by a spatial restriction, a temporal restriction, or a way of existence. Now, the presence of such restrictions would constitute within the nature of UR2 a metaphysical composition of being plus the restriction. For example, UR2 might have the act of being plus a position in a spatial manifold—existing here rather than there; or it might have the act of being plus a point in the temporal manifold—existing now rather than then; or it might have the act of being plus a particular way of existence (“existence” plus “essence” in Scholastic jargon)—existing in this way instead of some other way.

Notice how in each case the restriction is not identical with but distinct from UR2’s act of being. As such, UR2’s nature would not be pure being or pure existence but an act of being plus the restriction. But as proven in the previous post on absolute simplicity unconditioned reality considered in and of itself must be pure being or pure existence without restrictions. Therefore, unconditioned reality cannot have any type of restriction that is distinct from its act of being. And since multiplicity necessitates some restriction, it follows that there cannot be a multiplicity of unconditioned realities. Therefore, there can be only one unconditioned reality.

The fourth line of reasoning for the absolute uniqueness of unconditioned reality follows from the third. Consider the aforementioned conclusion that the attempt to postulate UR2 ends up with UR2 being metaphysically composed of being plus a restriction. Now, since the restriction within UR2 (or any hypothetical multiple instantiation of UR for that matter) is not the act of pure being or pure existence itself (it’s distinct from it), it follows that the restriction is not unconditioned reality itself—recall from our previous post that unconditioned reality is pure being or pure existence.

Now, if the restriction is not unconditioned reality itself, then it must be a conditioned reality. But if one of the component principles of UR2’s nature is a conditioned reality, then the composite must be a conditioned reality, in which case UR2 (or any hypothetical multiple instantiation of UR) would not be unconditioned reality at all. Therefore, there can be only one unconditioned reality.

Finally, only one unconditioned reality must exist because UR2 would be dependent upon something outside itself for its restricted mode of being. Recall from the first line of reason that the differentiating factor is going to be a restriction of some sort that limits UR2’s mode of being. It will either be restricted to existing here instead of there; or it will be restricted to existing now instead of then; or it will be restricted to this mode of being instead of that mode. And recall further how such restrictions allow for a real or really possible incompatible state of being that would be excluded from it (like the electron is an incompatible state of being excluded from the proton.)

Now, if UR2’s mode of being is restricted with spatial or temporal restrictions, one must ask the following questions: “Why does UR2 exist here instead of there?” and “Why does UR2 exist now instead of then?” If UR2’s mode of being is restricted by a particular way of existence, then one must ask the question, “Why does UR2 exist in this mode instead of some other mode?” With these questions, we are basically asking, “What is it that determines UR2’s spatial restriction, or temporal restriction, or way of existence?”

This question of determination suggest the need for a principle of selection that selects this spatial position, this temporal point, or this mode of being from the wider range of possible spatial positions, temporal points, and modes of being. Such a principle of selection cannot be UR2 itself because in such a case UR2 would have to exist prior to determining its own spatial location, temporal point, or mode of being – picking out the space, time, and mode of being it likes prior to existing. Obviously this cannot be. Therefore, the principle of selection must be something other than UR2.

But if the principle of selection would have to be something other than UR2, then UR2’s spatial location, temporal placement, or mode of being would be conditioned by that principle of selection, in which case it would be a conditioned-unconditioned reality in the same respect at the same place and time. This amounts to an intrinsic contradiction. Therefore, unconditioned reality cannot be conditioned by a principle of selection.

Now, if unconditioned reality cannot be conditioned by a principle of selection, then it cannot have any sort of restriction that would restrict its mode of being, which as indicated above necessitates a principle of selection. And if unconditioned reality cannot have any sort of restriction to its act of existence, which is necessary for multiplicity, then there cannot be multiple unconditioned realities. Therefore, there must be only one unconditioned reality in all of reality.

From these five lines of reason, it follows that there can be one and only one unconditioned reality in all of reality that is absolutely simple—only one reality that is pure being or pure existence.

Now, since there can only be one absolutely simple unconditioned reality, it stands to reason that such a being is worthy of the term “God.” But are there more divine attributes that we can deduce about this reality? The answer is yes, but that will have to wait until the next post.

(Image credit: Jay Mantri)

Karlo Broussard

Written by

After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Who wrote this entry: Karlo or Brandon?

    • Sorry, Paul! The author--as stated in the beginning--is Karlo. It's now properly attributed in the author box.

      • GCBill

        I had just checked this site's homepage, and saw the article attributed to you. When I clicked the article, it was Karlo.

        You have good timing.

      • Ok. Cool! Just wanted to make sure!

  • Krakerjak

    I was under the impression that Karlo was the one who was supposed to continue the series on the topic of Ultimate Reality......but we seem to have an overlap....I hope Karlo did not get discouraged and opt out.....perhaps I misunderstood something...It would not be the first time it happened.

    • Sorry! The author--as stated in the beginning--is Karlo. It's now properly attributed in the author box.

  • Loreen Lee

    Although the article is attributed to Brandon Vogt, and the typeface in the intro is black rather than red, I could not identify either the style or tone with his authorship. Indeed, I was tempted to think of this post as being rather 'unique', in that I found this difficulty with respect to both of the ''conditional authors. Needless to say, it was difficult for me to read, as usual, such an intricate argument, let alone comprehend it's awesome power. Truly.....

    • Sorry, Loreen! The author--as stated in the beginning--is Karlo. It's now properly attributed in the author box.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks Brandon. Tomorrow I'm gong to make another attempt to read the article.

        • Loreen Lee

          OK. I made another attempt at understanding this argument. I am familiar with the principle within the philosophy of Leibniz called 'The Identity of Indiscernibles'. I have always been satisfied that this is the best possible definition of what it means to be 'unique. I can relate this to the first mode of reasoning. But after attempting again to get through all the other reasonings, I am left with one difficult puzzlement. Would this 'unique' unconditional reality be transcendent or include the uniqueness of all the particulars referred to in principle of Leibniz? And if so, how is this argument made in the argument s given. Help, somebody!!!! I need a translator!!!!

          • Loreen,

            Indeed the unique unconditioned reality transcends all particular modes of being precisely because it is pure being or pure existence (pure being is beyond restricted or limited being).

            Now, in regard to your question regarding the one UR "including the uniqueness of all the particulars," we can say that any perfection that is in creation is in the one UR in an absolute way. Furthermore, we even talk of the one UR as a purely inclusive reality, but this is not to be understood as unconditioned reality absorbing everything into itself (as in Monism). Rather, as Fr. Spitzer writes, "it means only that unconditioned reality itself can interact with any less simple reality on any level. It does not destroy or absorb the less simple reality, it simply transcends the less simple reality's boundaries" (New Proofs for the Existence of God, pg. 131).

            In other words, because of its absolute simplicity the one UR is compatible with all restricted modes of being and thus is able to be the ultimate source of the fulfillment of conditions for every real or possibly real conditioned reality. No being is excluded from the unique UR because the one UR has no excluding boundaries.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: we can say that any perfection that is in creation is in the one UR in an absolute way.

            The difficulty of being a merely human mortal then would be the attainment of a 'perfection'. (In freedom, and immortality as per Kant?) It has always been a difficulty of mine to distinguish between the transcendental and immanent definitions of 'God'. This really helps.

            Thank you for a comprehensive and truly 'fulfilling' answer. I shall return to reread the post, as I know my understanding of it is quite a bit less than 'perfect'. Thank you

          • Loreen Lee

            I have reread the article and find that I still cannot relate the distinction between transcendent and immanent UR to the language used in the argument. Of course, I find discussion involving protons and electrons etc. difficult. But I can't help feeling that there is something else at issue here. Oh well. Will keep trying with future posts.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    What if UR1 and UR2 are undistinguishable? For instance, I believe two electrons are indistinguishable from each other, yet they are not one and the same thing. Unless I am wrong about my physics?

    • ben

      Two electrons cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

      • But two photons can occupy the same space at the same time with the same energy. How are the two supposed to be distinguished?

        • ben

          How do you know where two photons are? You can't unless you perform some measurement. Either their momenta will add up, revealing that there are two of them or, there will be variations in intensity; if they are in phase the result will be increased brightness, if out of phase then there are interference patterns. Either phenom. betrays that there are more than one present. Photons are, therefore, conditioned by frequency, momentum, field intensity and location. A photon has a particular frequency not infinite frequency (what ever that might be). It has specific, finite momentum. Nor can it be everywhere.

          • But the photons will have identical intensity (it's quantised, after all), frequency, phase, location. There's two of them (you know there's two because each contributes to the intensity). Now, which one is "1" and which one is "2" and how can I tell? How do I distinguish them?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am way out of my depth in this conversation, but just out of curiosity: if these two photons are empirically indistinguishable, how do we know that they haven't momentarily combined to become one entity with the combined intensity?

          • That's a good question, and that may be one way to think about the problem: small photons combine to make one big photon, and can dissolve again into small photons.

            The reason I might think there are two photons and not one super-photon is this:

            The theory tells me that a photon at a frequency will have an energy equal to h * nu (Planck's constant times the frequency). The theory also tells me that if I have n identical photons (n can be 1, 2, 3, etc.), the energy will be n * h * nu. I can measure the energy and the frequency with the same measurement (since both the frequency and the energy commute).

            I have one measurement and find light at a wavelength of 550 nm (green light), with energy of about 4.5 eV. One photon at that wavelength should produce energy of about 2.25 eV, so I say that there are two, even though there's no way to tell the two apart.

            If you were so philosophically inclined, you could insist that it's really just one big photon with twice the energy, that when I put two photons together, I get one big one with the energy of the two photons, and three photons gets one with the frequency of a single photon but three times the energy, and so forth. But strangely the big photons always act as though they are made up of a whole number of smaller photons. Never would you find a big photon that acts as though it's 1.5 photons.

          • ben

            It does not matter whether you personally can distinguish between them. A photon is a conditioned reality just because it must exist at a specific frequency and does not contain within itself all frequencies. The brightness of a beam of light depends on the number of photons in the beam. You can measure the brightness and from that, calculate the number of photons emitted. You just don't get "big photons" either from flashlight or lasers or candles. Also, you can discriminate them according to frequency with prisms and diffraction gratings, etc. Photon counters are available also. But, again, the conditionality of the entity is innate to it.

          • ben

            Remember, from the photoelectric effect, that it is not the brightness of the light (number of photons) that causes the emission of electrons from a metal, but its frequency. A very bright light at the wrong frequency won't dislodge any electrons... a dim light at the right frequency will.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            An object being conditioned reality and it being distinguishable from other objects are two different things.

          • ben

            Negative. They are conditioned: limited in extent/location/duration, etc. Each is not the other. Nor can either be the cause of itself (most fundamental condition). Whether you can distinguish between them or not matters not. Please don't propose that one thing can be in two or more places at the same time even using even using quantum th. since those probabilities really only point out what we don't and can't know (another aspect of its conditionedness).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Being X is conditioned if there is some being Y that is required for X to exist. This has nothing to do with the beings location or duration or distinguishing properties.

            Being X is distinguishable from being Y if there exists a property that can be used to know which being is which. Suppose we have two particles A and B that are distinguished only by position. The particles are both conditional on spacetime. However, they are actually indistinguishable from each other, because according to Quantum Mechanics, we can lose knowledge of where the particles are located.

            Therefore, we can not say that UR1 and UR2 are necessarily distinguishable. That needs to be shown.

          • ben

            Quantum mechanics is a red herring. You seem to be trying to say that because you can’t discriminate between them, that they are examples of unconditioned reality due to their sameness in certain attributes. Yet you are aware of two distinct electrons and that fact, by itself, is sufficient to affirm that they are indeed conditioned realities. Neither is the other; the presence of the two is measurable by various means. Electrons are conditional realities by reason of their finite (limited) charge magnitude. Electrons are members of the set of charged particles. They are not the source of charge and they are definitely not charge itself. They are conditioned with respect to mass; no electron is infinite mass. They are conditioned with respect to space/location; no electron is everywhere. Most fundamental of all, they are conditioned in being; no electron is responsible for its own existence.

            The same is true for the pictures you propose. Your ignorance of the complete set of attributes or characteristics cannot elevate them to Unconditional realities. They are conditional with respect to the subject, the camera and the photographer. Each of these, in turn, is conditional in its existence, on multiple levels, the most fundamental of which is its existence itself. In fact, your lack of knowledge itself proves that your very existence is also conditional – it is not infinite and depends on awareness, learning, etc.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not saying that they are examples of an unconditional reality. It does not matter if the reality is conditional or not for my argument. Electrons are a counter example to the claim that:

            If reality X and reality Y are different then there must be a marker which distinguishes them.

            In the case of electrons, it has been argued that we can distinguish them because they have different positions. (Position is the distinguishing marker.) However, Quantum Mechanics strongly suggests that we cannot distinguish by position, because that information is lost from one observation to the next.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        How will I know which one is which? Say I observe two electrons and then go eat a sandwich. When I come back, will I be able to know which electron is which?

        • ben

          Non-sequitur: You presented electrons as examples of UR. I merely pointed out that electrons are conditioned both in in space and in time. You are aware of the two electrons, one here and one there. At any time, every electron must be in a particular place; they are not and cannot be omnipresent. Their physical attributes, charge, spin, etc may be the same but their locations cannot be.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I did not intend to present them as examples of a UR. I meant it has a counterexample to the claim that two realities are necessarily distinguishable. The original poster said this:

            Now, in order to have multiplicity we are going to have to differentiate UR2 from UR1; otherwise they would be self-same and therefore one.

            Multiplicity of a reality does not imply that the realities are all distinguishable. Another example that I will provide is photographs. Say I take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and develop it twice. I call one picture A and the other B. I toss them on my desk, and forget about them for some time. When I come back, how will I know which picture was A and which one was B? They are indistinguishable but two realities.

          • ben

            Nevertheless, each is conditioned with respect to space (location). Each is confined to a specific location which IS distinguishably from all others.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Suppose we observe two electrons A at position (X1,Y1,Z1) and B at position (X2,Y2,Z2). If, three hours later, we again observe the two electrons, there is no way to know which electron is A and which electron is B. Quantum Mechanics is nondeterministic. Furthermore, any theory involving local variables that would allow us to distinguish A and B would give predictions different from the predictions of quantum mechanics. Therefore, the electrons are indistinguishable.

            With regard to the pictures, if person X mentally labeled the pictures A and B and then gave the pictures to person B who shuffles them behind his back, how would person A know which picture is which? The pictures are multiple and not the same thing, but the information that tells them apart (their position in space) is lost when B shuffles them. Let us say picture A is a few minutes older than picture B. Is there a way of knowing which picture is older than the other? Does the older picture have some property that the newer one does not? If not, the pictures are indistinguishable, yet multiple.

            Therefore, we cannot assume that UR1 and UR2 will have a distinguishing characteristic. And, even if my counterexamples were invalid, you would still have to show that for every multiple instance of a reality there exists a distinguishing characteristic.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    I think the problem with the argument thus far is that the property of being conditional or unconditional is a subset of the concept of simplicity. If two objects are the exact same, except that A has three objects that it is conditional on, while B has four, we can say that A is simpler than B. An objects conditional status is a type of simplicity.

    However, conditionality is not the only type of simplicity. For instance, isosceles triangles and triangles are both conditional on the Euclidean plane and various geometrical definitions and postulates, but a triangle is simpler than an isosceles triangle, even though it does not have extra conditions that must be fulfilled for it to exist.

    This series makes the mistake of assuming that because conditionality is a subset of simplicity therefore a reality that is maximally unconditional (i.e. a reality that is a UR) will also be maximally simple. I do not think this follows.

    I think that at best it has been shown that a single unconditional reality exists and that conditionality is a subset of simplicity. It has been shown that a maximally simple element is unconditional, however, it needs to be shown that a maximally simple being must exist.

    • Ignatius, if you notice in installment two, I argued that unconditioned reality is abolutely simple because if it wasn't, then it would have restrictions (or boundaries), which would give rise to real or really possible incompatible states. But if UR had real or really possible incompatible states of being (states of being excluded from itself), then it could not be the ultimate source of the fulfillment of that being's conditions, in which case it wouldn't be UR at all since UR considered in and of itself (as argued in installment one) must be able to fulfill the conditions of any conditioned reality. So, if at least one UR must be exist in all of reality (installment one), and UR considered in and of itself must be absolutely simple (free from all boundaries or restrictions -- installment two), then it follows that an absolutely simple being exists.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Suppose we have two unconditional realities UR1 and UR2. They are the same with the only restriction being that UR1 is a necessary being (must exist) and UR2 could possibly not exist. UR2 is simpler than UR1, yet it is said that God must exist. Therefore, God is not a maximally simple unconditional reality.

        • "Suppose we have two unconditional realities UR1 and UR2. They are the same with the only restriction being that UR1 is a necessary being (must exist) and UR2 could possibly not exist."

          If UR2 could possibly not exist, then it is not actually a UR (unconditioned reality). Its existence is conditioned--it depends on something else for its existence. Therefore, we're back to one simple, unconditional reality: UR1, what theists call "God".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But UR2 would be simpler than UR1. I don't see how a necessary being is maximally simple, because UR2 is to my mind simpler.

    • ben

      The general triangle is the simpler. The iso. is constrained to 3, 60° angles. If the angles are other, the iso ceases to exist. The general "triangle" is simpler because it contains within itself the possibility of the iso.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I believe that is what I said. Technically, you are thinking of an equilateral triangle. An isosceles triangle has at least two congruent angles, as such it is simpler than an equilateral triangle.

        What is simpler a right triangle or an isosceles triangle? A right triangle always has a right angle, but an isosceles triangle always has two congruent angles. A triangle could be both isosceles and right. Do we say that these triangles types are not comparable?

  • Doug Shaver

    For readers who have already read the first and second installments on the metaphysical demonstration for God’s existence, they will recall how it was argued that there must be at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality and that such reality . . . must be pure being or pure existence itself that is compatible with and inclusive of all other real or really possible modes of being.

    The bit about "pure being or pure existence itself" escaped my attention. Existence is a concept, and I find the metaphysical existence of any concept to be incoherent.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Am I understanding correctly: you don't think that concepts exist?

      • Concepts exist, the concept of a cloak of invisibility exists. The cloak does not exist. The concept of "blue" exists, blue itself doesn't exist.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          OK, I think that's probably where Doug was going too, but I wanted to clarify, because what he actually said was, "I find the metaphysical existence of any concept to be incoherent." I think what he meant, and what you mean, is just that some concepts don't have meaningful referents in the world "out there".

          Personally, I'm not entirely confident that I can draw a clean line between the world "out there" and the world as humans experience it. The old, "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it ..." riddle has never been solved, as far as I know. I am therefore generally content to rely on common sense when deciding whether things exist.

          Common sense says that experiences exist, and that the experience of blue exists, and therefore I am perfectly willing to say that blue exists. Whether blue could exist independently of any human experience of blue is, to me, beside the point. I do have the experience, and I believe that my experience corresponds to the experience of blue that others have, and so as far as I am concerned, blue is a quality that exists.

          • Doug Shaver

            I wanted to clarify, because what he actually said was, "I find the metaphysical existence of any concept to be incoherent."

            That was, at best, an oversimplification.

            All concepts exist only in our minds. They may have referents in reality, but they don't have to. A longstanding metaphysical position has it that if a concept's referent does not exist in empirical reality, then there must be another, transcendent, reality in which it exists. That is the position that I regard as incoherent.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yeah, OK, that's more or less what I thought you meant.

            So, if I follow you now, you accept that many concepts have meaningful objective referents, but "existence" is one particular concept that you don't think has a meaningful objective referent. I'm sure that's a defensible position, but it seems to me to run counter to common sense. When I say that certain things exist, I really feel like they share some property of existence that is not just a creation of my own mind, and not even a creation of any human mind. It really seems to me like existence objectively exists. Do you think I am deluding myself?

          • I think the mistake you are making is considering existence as a property rather than a concept.

            What is this "existence" then? What is this pure being? As much as we talk about it we are never told what it is. The way it is used it seems to be just words.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think the mistake you are making is considering existence as a property rather than a concept.

            That's fair, since I think the mistake you are making is considering existence to be only a human concept and nothing more.

            What is this "existence" then? What is this pure being? As much as we talk about it we are never told what it is. The way it is used it seems to be just words.

            Pilate famously asked, "What is truth?". Some 2000 years later, we still haven't pinned down the definition. All definitions seem to be ultimately self-referential. And yet, I think we would all claim to care about truth. I think we would all claim that "the truth" has some common sense meaning, even if it escapes exact definition. I think we would all claim that that common sense meaning excludes the possibility that truth is just a concept in our minds. The truth is something real, not just within us, but also "out there" in objective reality.

            All those things that I just said about truth, I think one could also say about "existence" or "being". (I just didn't want to perturb the Pilate quote.)

          • This is why I am a materialist. My inability to observe or even to conceive of what something non-material could be. I don't think it is hard to articulate what I mean by existence, it is something that is material, is matter or energy. I literally cannot understand what is being advanced by non material existence, nor do I see any reason to advance such a claim.

            Generally what are being advanced are some kind of mental aspect that can "exist" with no matter or energy. Yes, we have concepts of blue and exist and poetry. But these concepts are material brain states, they are definitely related to brain states and I've heard nothing that suggests they have anything I can understand as existence if there is no material mind involved.

            The trouble in identifying a workable definition for what you mean by "existence" I would say comes from your inability to have any idea what you mean by non-material existence. The only people I hear advocating for this type of existence are theists and philosophers. The latter seems to me to be a semantic dispute, the former dances between empirical and semantic.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think it is hard to articulate what I mean by existence, it is something that is material, is matter or energy.

            Not in my lexicon. Matter and energy are instantiations of existence, but they are not existence.

          • I'm not saying that we need to agree, but if we use a term we should have some understanding of what we mean. And we should be able to articulate that. How would you articulate it?

          • Doug Shaver

            I cannot articulate it. I think "is" and "exist" are semantically primitive: they cannot be noncircularly defined, and the same hold for all their grammatical inflections. You and I just have to assume that we mean the same thing when we use those words, unless we reach a point in the discussion where that assumption obviously fails to hold.

            The failure, in this instance, is what I perceive to be your conflation of an example of X with X itself. We say that dogs are mammals, and as such they instantiate whatever we think mammalhood might be, but we cannot then infer that mammalhood is dogs.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I can live with the idea that everything that exists has some material manifestation. That seems like a very incarnational idea actually: the enfleshed truth cannot ultimately be separated from the truth per se. I just don't think that once you have described the material properties of a thing (which, scientifically speaking, would consist only of measurable properties of that thing) that you have at that point provided an adequate description of the thing. I think that every material thing is a manifestation of some deeper reality.

          • I don't pretend to have an adequate description of things that exist. I just mean that when I say something exists I am talking about matter and energy. Matter and energy may be more complex than I observe, there may be other categories of existence but these are speculative. We can't even articulate what we might mean by these other aspects or deeper reality and we have no observation that suggests such a deeper reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            When I say that certain things exist, I really feel like they share some property of existence that is not just a creation of my own mind, and not even a creation of any human mind. It really seems to me like existence objectively exists. Do you think I am deluding myself?

            No. I think you're making a mistake, but I don't regard it as a delusion.

            The feeling you're referring to seems to be pretty intuitive. Long before I became interested in philosophy as such, I was keenly interested in the history of mathematics. In my reading I sometimes came across discussions of the modern debate over the ontological status of mathematical objects such as numbers and proofs. Do numbers actually exist? Did a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem exist before Wiles discovered it, or did he, instead of discovering it, just invent it? To me, any notion that such entities depend for their existence on human minds seemed prima facie absurd, but I was also a bit uncomfortable with the alternative of mathematical platonism.

            It seemed to me like a really interesting issue, but I didn't spend much time trying to resolve it until I was back in college working on my philosophy degree. I needed some kind of answer for a paper I had to write for a metaphysics class. By this time, I thought I understood the basis of our platonic intuitions, and I concluded that those intuitions were a mistake. (My professor disagreed, by the way, but I must have argued my case well enough, since I got an A on the paper.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I can't resist ...

            So Platonic ideals like those expressed in Fermat's Last Theorem don't objectively exist, and you have a truly marvellous proof that these ideals don't objectively exist, which this margin is too narrow to contain?

            All kidding aside, I'm sure you did make a very respectable case for that position, and I'm sure that people much smarter than I hold to that position. But again, in my view, the non-existence of pure mathematical relationships is such a departure from common sense that I would need to see a very compelling proof before I abandoned my position.

          • Doug Shaver

            you have a truly marvellous proof that these ideals don't objectively exist, which this margin is too narrow to contain?

            Exactly :-)

            I wish I had such a proof, but I doubt that one is possible. At this level, I think one's ontological commitments just have to treated as axiomatic. Having conceded the intuitive force of platonism, and I can only paraphrase Laplace and say, "I have no need for that axiom."

            I can defend my position on grounds of parsimony, but I don't see Occam's razor as a cogent argument against platonism. Plantinga once referred to a position like mine as "ontological penury." The idea of parsimony is to discard whatever assumptions are unneeded to explain whatever you're trying to explain. The universe makes sense to me without the real existence of platonic ideals. I would expect a platonist to respond, "Well, it doesn't make any sense to me." So be it. I don't know how to make it make sense to anyone more inclined than I to follow the lead of their intuitions.

          • Phil

            Hey Doug,

            All concepts exist only in our minds.

            Just to add some clarification--concepts do exist outside our mind. In fact, they must exist outside our mind for coherent human communication/language to be possible. The fact that we are having a coherent conversation shows that concepts do not simply exist in our mind.

            Take for example the concept "tree". We aren't talking about any specific instantiation of a tree; we are talking about the concept of "tree". This is what we call universals. (Some would refer to the concept of tree as "treeness".) It is not simply the fact that the concept "tree" exists in our mind. No, an actual tree in reality must actually have "treeness" as a part of its very existence.

            In summary, the concept "tree" exists both in the mind and the external world. But the concept ultimately has its origin in external reality--in actually existing trees--not in our mind.

            _______

            On imagination:
            Some point to the example of imagination and thinking up things in our mind that have never existed and probably will not exist, e.g., unicorns, dragons, etc., and say that this shows that these concepts are purely in the mind and have no connection to reality. The counterpoint to this would be to ask, if a person had no external experience of reality, would the coherent concepts of unicorn and dragon be possible. Most would argue that it is not--and I would agree. This points to the fact that even these "mythical" concepts owe their existence to external reality in some way.

            Another example would be someone who is born blind (the famous YouTube guy is a great example). But he really has no concept of something like "sun". The reason is he must rely on his other 4 senses to abstract concepts from the world, and there is no good way for him to form the concept "sun" with simply those 4 senses (even with others trying to compare it to others things he knows better).

            In the end, this points towards the Thomistic belief that all natural human knowledge ultimately begins with the senses and moves to the intellect. Truth is simply the intellect conforming itself to the way the world actually is.

          • Doug Shaver

            In fact, they must exist outside our mind for coherent human communication/language to be possible.

            I don't see why.

            Some point to the example of imagination and thinking up things in our mind that have never existed and probably will not exist, e.g., unicorns, dragons, etc., and say that this shows that these concepts are purely in the mind and have no connection to reality.

            I would not claim that products of the imagination have no connection to reality. I would, however, insist on a distinction between a connection to external reality and existence in external reality. I have connections with people who live in places where I've never been.

          • Phil

            I don't see why [universal concepts existing outside our mind are necessitated by communication through human language].

            This can be challenging to see at first because we are so used to using universal concepts from a very young age (by 4-5 years old for most). Though we have written discussion of this debate for over 2000 years. The simplest way to understand this is again by a basic example:

            Let's say you point to a specific tree and say that is a "tree". Unless I can then recognize something that we call "treeness" actually existing in that physical tree, there is no way for me to coherently understand what you are talking about. If the universal concept of "tree" only exists in your mind there is no way for me to ever know what you mean by tree. If you try and explain your concept of tree by saying things such as, "it has branches like this, usually with green leaves like that...", well those things (branches and leaves) are universal concepts as well. So that would not help because those concepts are only in your mind as well.

            In the end, coherent communication through human language would be impossible unless we can point to a tree and actually recognize what makes a tree, a tree--it's "treeness". And this treeness comes from the actually existing trees outside our mind. We abstract this nature of "treeness" from actually existing trees, which makes both recognizing future trees possible and coherent human language possible.

            In summary, unless there is an actual direct connection between the concept in a person's mind and the external world, you will be stuck in your subjective mind with no way to communicate coherently with anyone else. this is because no matter how much you try and explain something you will always be using personal subjective concepts. (This is the problem with subjectivism.)

            What I am proposing is what is called a "realist" view of universals. What you are proposing is a "conceptualist" view of universals. (For further reading, check out writing on those topics.)

            I would, however, insist on a distinction between a connection to external reality and existence in external reality.</blockquote

            And I absolutely agree, because if that distinction did not exist then it would be impossible to invent something actually new. The point about imagination was to show that even brand new inventions and imaginary items must come about through concepts that we have learned about from the external world.

          • Doug Shaver

            I see several restatements of your claim. I don't see an argument supporting it.

            What I am proposing is what is called a "realist" view of universals. What you are proposing is a "conceptualist" view of universals. (For further reading, check out writing on those topics.)

            Thank you, but I am familiar with the philosophical lingo.

          • Phil

            The easiest way to understand that universal concepts must have their origination outside the mind is that all human language uses universal concepts and interpersonal language would be incoherent if they only existed in the mind.

            For example--anyway that you try and explain a universal concept to me is also going to use universal concepts of some sort. That pushes the discussion back another layer. This is going to keep pushing the discussion on and on ad infinitum. In other words, I will never be able to understand exactly what any universal concept is that only exists in your mind. There will never be any way for any person to know what when I say "tree" and they say "tree" we are talking about the same thing.

            But the fact of the matter is that we have conversations using lots of universal concepts, and from a very young age, with ease. This points to the fact that we actually abstract universals from the external world.

            That is why it is so easy for you to point to a tree and a 6 year old will begin to understand what you mean by "tree". Both you and the 6-year-old, can abstract the concept "tree" from the actually existing tree that you both are experiencing.

          • Doug Shaver

            interpersonal language would be incoherent if concepts only existed in the mind.

            Communication by language would be impossible if concepts did not exist in the mind. Thus they have to be in the mind. You have not demonstrated that they have to be anywhere else.

          • Phil

            Communication by language would be impossible if concepts did not exist in the mind. Thus they have to be in the mind.

            Yes, my realist position is that they exist in the mind, as abstracted from external reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            Communication requires only that they be in the mind. How they might have gotten there is beside the point.

          • Phil

            Communication requires only that they be in the mind.

            That would not be completely true, because communication takes place outside the mind--between more than one person. We have to make sure that we do not cut ourself off from the outside world, as that leads to problems of skepticism. If universal concepts exist only in the subjective personal mind, we will have some issues on our hand.

            I am most curious as to your philosophical explanation of the phenomenon of universal concepts and interpersonal use of them (As I just mentioned in the other comment).

          • Doug Shaver

            I am most curious as to your philosophical explanation of the phenomenon of universal concepts and interpersonal use of them (As I just mentioned in the other comment).

            I'm working on a response to your other post. Making it both concise and intelligible is going to be a challenge, but I'll give it my best shot.

          • Doug Shaver

            If the universal concept of "tree" only exists in your mind there is no way for me to ever know what you mean by tree.

            When I say it exists only in the mind, my own mind is not the only mind I'm referring to.

          • Phil

            When I say it exists only in the mind, my own mind is not the only mind I'm referring to.

            When you refer to other minds, I am assuming you refer to all other people's minds. How do you know that your universal concept of "tree" is the same as mine or anyone else's? You can no direct access to anyone else's mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you know that your universal concept of "tree" is the same as mine or anyone else's?

            Everyone who talks about trees acts as if they mean the same thing I mean when I talk about trees. That justifies my assuming that they mean the same thing.

            You can no direct access to anyone else's mind.

            I don't need direct access. I can infer what is on their minds from their actions, including their speech actions. Of course, my inferences will occasionally be incorrect. I can live with that.

          • Phil

            Everyone who talks about trees acts as if they mean the same thing I mean when I talk about trees. That justifies my assuming that they mean the same thing.

            My analysis of this would be you have a phenomenon: that people are able to easily use universal concepts in language, such as "tree", and we have good reason to believe we all mean the same thing. But you need an explanation for how this can be the case.

            What would be your explanation for why we can so easily use universal concepts in an interpersonal manner with no real doubt as to our ultimately ability to do so coherently?

          • Doug Shaver

            But you need an explanation for how this can be the case.

            Given that it is the case, I don't see why. You're making the claim that it could not be the case unless universal concepts existed independently of the mind. Until you can do more than just assert the claim, I'm justified in rejecting it just on grounds of parsimony.

          • Phil

            The purpose of philosophy is to understand and explain the existence of reality as it actually is. So we have this phenomenon of universal concepts, and their ease of interpersonal use, and I am curious as to your philosophical explanation of this phenomenon.

          • Doug Shaver

            The study of reality is the subject of metaphysics, which is only one branch of philosophy, not the purpose of philosophy, or at least not its sole purpose. Some philosophers would probably argue that that metaphysics ought to be the primary purpose of philosophy, but I don't believe they constitute a majority of practicing philosophers. In any case, I disagree with them. Whether the subject be metaphysics, ethics, esthetics, politics, logic, or whatever, it seems to me that in any of them, the questions "What do we know?" and "How do we know it?" are inescapable, and those questions are the concern of epistemology.

            I cannot present my philosophical understanding of universal concepts both briefly and intelligibly, but I'll attempt to convey some of the core notions I have. Some of the following has been copied, with revisions, from an essay on my website, "Platonism and the theists" (http://dougshaver.net/philos/metaphysics/theisticactivism.html).

            At this point in scientific history, we do not know much about the details, but evolution produced our brains for the same reason it produced all our other organs: They help us survive. Any organism capable of locomotion needs to make decisions. If nothing else, the organism needs to decide at any given moment whether to move or not move. For the simplest animals such as protozoa, subcellular chemistry suffices to process the pertinent data. But one of the earliest divisions of cellular labor dedicated some cells to data processing, and the result was primitive nervous systems. Certain data about the environment were input—food this way, danger that way—and the output was movement in this direction or that direction. Primitive organisms would have had no concepts of food, danger, or any other sort of abstraction, any more than a thermostat has a concept of heat or cold, much less of any idea as purely subjective as comfort. None of that mattered. Only results mattered.

            Nervous systems, and the DNA sequences causing those systems, survived if the organisms hosting them survived. Evolution continued, and in due course we humans came along. We have no reason to suspect there were any discontinuities between our nervous systems and those of our ancestors. At some point certain of our ancestors’ brains got complicated enough to produce the sensation we call self-awareness. We became able to think about thinking, and as soon as we started doing that, we started doing philosophy. We are not even close to figuring out how this all happened or even could have happened—how computational complexity alone could have been sufficient to produce sentience and abstract thought as we know it. So far as we can tell, though, it is just a matter of complex computation. Our every thought is just some data in our brains. At least, in some sense, that is all it is. I’m not here endorsing a pure identity theory of mind, just the notion that when we experience a thought, that thought is represented by some data physically encoded in our neurophysiology, and if the data aren’t there in our brains, then we don’t think them or think about them.

            It has been suggested that our brains’ neurophysiological data could have no meaning if the brain was nothing but a computer if, qua computer, it was doing no more than executing a program. The argument, though, rests on an assumption about the insufficiency of any syntactical system to generate semantic content, and that assumption has been challenged. It thus seems at least arguable that what we call abstractions are just data corresponding to relationships or patterns that we observe in, among, or about the physical objects in our environment. Those data exist at least as the neurochemical states that encode them, and that is all the existence they need in order to make statements communicating them true, provided only that the correspondence between those data and the real environment is sufficiently reliable.

            The interpersonal use of these data is manifest in language, which is the means by which we transfer information in coded form from one mind to another. For most of our history, the code was mostly auditory, supplemented on occasion by visual arts such as sculpture and painting. For the past few thousand years some of us have also used a visual code known as writing.

            So the question is: If abstractions such as universal concepts don't exist independently of our minds, then where do our minds get them? I think we can start to answer that question by considering numbers.

            Using nothing but predicate logic, we may say: "There exists X such that X is a tiger, and there exists Y such that Y is a tiger, and X is not identical with Y, and for all Z such that Z is a tiger, either Z is identical with X or Z is identical with Y." In plain English, we have just said, "There are two tigers." The word "two" is simply a very convenient shorthand, or abbreviation, or encoding, of all that logical jargon. And what we can do for "two," we can do for "three" or any other natural number. Here is the logical coding for "There are three tigers": "There exists W such that W is a tiger, and there exists X such that X is a tiger, and there exists Y such that Y is a tiger, and W is not identical with X and X is not identical with Y and Y is not identical with W, and for all Z such that Z is a tiger, either Z is identical with W or Z is identical with X or Z is identical with Y."

            Of course the equivalence between "two" or "three" and all that other verbiage is not obvious, but it doesn't have to be obvious. We don’t even have to be aware of it, as long as our brains can do the translation beneath our consciousness. Think of our ancestors throwing weapons at their prey (or enemies). To hit even a stationary target with a projectile, you have to solve a differential equation, even if you have no clue that that is what you're doing. Our brains evolved with the ability to solve differential equations, subconsciously, in certain limited situations. We would not otherwise have survived. I have no use for most of what Freud had to say about our minds, but no one disputes that he was correct in observing that a great deal of what our brains do, happens without our being the least bit aware that it is happening.

            What about the universal concept of a tiger? That's just another shorthand for the set of data we use to distinguish tigers from other animals, the data being the characteristics they all have in common with each other and not with any other animal. If we see a critter with those characteristics, we call it a tiger, and if we see a critter that doesn't have them, we call it something else. And we do the same thing with any other thing of which multiple instances exist because it is useful to do so. We had to evolve the ability to talk easily about things with shared characteristics because our survival depended on the ability to recognize, and to efficiently communicate with one another about, many of those things. In many contexts, this is referred to as "pattern recognition." A universal concept is just a kind of pattern.

          • Phil

            Hey Doug,

            Thanks for the in-depth reply. I am going to respond to it in several parts. Some of them are just comments, or to clarify my position--so there may be no need to respond to them.

            -----

            Paragraph 1:

            You mentioned that the purpose of philosophy is not to come to an understanding of reality. The reason I would say this is false is because then we are in danger of saying that philosophy does absolutely nothing. If it is not trying to get a the truth of reality, then what is the purpose of point of philosophy?

            In regards to metaphysics--it also studies the structure of reality, but its focus is being qua being. I don't think many philosophers would argue that metaphysics is the only purpose of philosophy, but it is rather what one must start with. If one doesn't start with "being", and the actual existence of external entities, one is going to be in a lot of trouble.

            That is why Descartes' epistemological starting point that "he thinks, therefore he is" is only possible because he exists first, and can then think and prove that he does actually exist.

            Now time to get to work on the rest!

          • Doug Shaver

            You mentioned that the purpose of philosophy is not to come to an understanding of reality. The reason I would say this is false is because then we are in danger of saying that philosophy does absolutely nothing. If it is not trying to get a the truth of reality, then what is the purpose of point of philosophy?

            We are possibly getting into a semantic quibble here. Not excluding philosophers, we all want to understand reality. Philosophy, as I perceive it, is our attempt to figure out the best way to achieve that understanding. A key trick to developing a good philosophy is to avoid, as much as it can be avoided, presupposing the answers we're going to get. In other words, philosophy isn't supposed to tell us what to think. It's supposed to tell us how to think.

          • Phil

            On the main discussion of universals:

            So far from reading your reply twice, it sounds like you would propose something in a similar vein to a Kantian approach to this issue of universals. You might say that all human persons evolved to have the exact same "program" by which they normally subconsciously run all these logical and mathematical type items? The human person then translates these things into "language".

            Could you confirm/deny and then clarify this sort of general understanding of your position?

          • Doug Shaver

            My limited studies of Kant didn't take me to his discussion of universals -- or, if they did, I've forgotten what he said about them.

            I would not use the term "exact same" to describe our cognitive programming at the level of abstract thinking. A key feature of our brains is their adaptability. Our survival has depended on our ability to reprogram our thinking at the drop of a hat. If anything is the exact same in all of us, it is that ability.

            Some constraints are necessary, though. We're all getting approximately the same data from our environment, and if we're going to going to communicate those data among ourselves, our language has to use a mutually intelligible code. When you and I are talking about universals, we're talking about some regularity that we observe in our common environment. Presumably, we observe that regularity because it's really there. And, there must be something the same about your brain and mine that enabled us both to perceive that regularity. Whether the specific neurochemical details are identical, I don't think anyone knows yet. They can't differ too much insofar as they were produced by the same genetic code, but insofar as our different life experiences also influenced their production, there could be some important differences.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the clarification. A couple comments/questions I have at this point:

            1) My first big question is that it seems that you hold that every human being has a similarly "programmed" brain which names universals in a similar manner for all humans. This claim relies on knowing that our universal concept for "human brain program" is correct, and that there is such a thing as a "human brain program" that we can communicate reliably and coherently. We only come to know this by observing other human persons, its brain and such.

            To restate: The argument for explaining the coherence of using universals, and using them interpersonally, relies on the correct functioning of universals for itself to work.

            The issue I'm seeing is that you are going to have to propose an argument that does not use any universals at all if you are to validate the claim that we can believe in the coherence of universals, and the person's ability to use them coherently interpersonally. The problem is I don't see any way to do this.

            -----

            2) A lesser point: You mention that we seem to perceive regularity because it is actually there. For example, we can tell that there is a unity, a regularity, to a leaf and therefore call it a "leaf". We don't call half the leaf, a "leaf". We recognize an intrinsic order and unity to the whole leaf. We also recognize that there is an intrinsic unity to a tree, so we call it a "tree". When we point to a tree and say "leaf" a person does not think that you are talking about an atom that makes part of the trunk. (An atom has its own unity/universal.) So for some reason we are able to recognize unity every easily.

            This unity appears to be what causes us to name universal concepts. So when you propose that the regularity actually exists in reality, it appears you are implicitly saying that the universals actually exist in reality and we are capable of understanding them.

          • Doug Shaver

            This claim relies on knowing that our universal concept for "human brain program" is correct, and that there is such a thing as a "human brain program" that we can communicate reliably and coherently.

            I don't think so, but it might depend on what you mean by "knowing."

            I am arguing only that we can explain our use of universal concepts without making any platonistic assumptions about their existing independently of our minds. I am not arguing that we don't need any assumptions at all. I assume that the mammalian brain, including ours, is an organic computer. I think that assumption is well justified by our current state of scientific knowledge about human origins and our understanding of what computers do independently of their architecture. Data processing is data processing, regardless of the physical medium in which it happens.

            Given this assumption, and knowing that any computer needs to be programmed, we can justifiably believe that evolution has done some of the programming that our brains need to have in order to operate. We can call that our genetic programming. We can also believe that our experiences throughout life do a lot more programming, which we can call environmental programming. Much of our environmental programming is actually reprogramming -- modifications to previous programming.

            Of the programming that is unique to our species has endowed us with the ability to use language. I see no reason to suppose that we actually accomplish any act of communication with perfect reliability or coherence. Perfection can happen on occasion, but it does not, and does not have to, happen all the time. Our survival as a species requires only that we achieve a level of reliability and coherence that is sufficient to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.

            The issue I'm seeing is that you are going to have to propose an argument that does not use any universals at all if you are to validate the claim that we can believe in the coherence of universals, and the person's ability to use them coherently interpersonally. The problem is I don't see any way to do this.

            I don't see the importance you assign to coherence. If I'm talking to you and refer to a tiger, there has to be something we both mean when we use that word, or else I have failed to communicate with you. But how exactly the same it has to be depends on the situation. In some situations, it may be quite enough for you to think tiger = predator. In other situations, you might need to associate the word with a particular pattern of black and yellow stripes and a certain body size and shape.

            Just think of an argument on here when people understand a concept in even just a slightly different way--it leads to incoherence and people talking "past" each other. And just think if that was the case for almost every single word in the human language. Human communication becomes incoherent!

            Miscommunication of the sort you're talking about happens often in some contexts. It happens less often in some other contexts, and there are contexts in which it rarely or never happens. Mathematicians don't have to waste much of their time arguing with each other over the meaning of the square root of negative unity. They don't even concern themselves, at least as mathematicians, over whether or in what sense the imaginary numbers actually exist. If you like arguments of that sort, you need to talk with philosophers, not mathematicians.

            Plus, as I mentioned in (1) above, to know that the human brain is "programmed" similarly is to make a claim about that universal concept. It leads to a circular argument.

            I'm not seeing that circularity. If I'm understanding you correctly, you and I are not disagreeing about whether universal concepts have an existence of some sort. We do use them when we communicate with each other, and so there must be something real about them. Our disagreement is over their existence as extra-mental entities, and I don't claim to be proving that they have no such existence. I am only claiming that we can explain how we use them without assuming that they have such an existence.

            You mention that we seem to perceive regularity because it is actually there. For example, we can tell that there is a unity, a regularity, to a leaf and therefore call it a "leaf". We don't call half the leaf, a "leaf". We recognize an intrinsic order and unity to the whole leaf.

            That is not what I'm recognizing when I call some particular object a leaf. What I'm recognizing is the set of characteristics that the particular object shares with every other object that an anglophone will usually call a leaf.

            We notice that the whole tree has a unity, and so do the many parts that make up the tree--down to the smallest of subatomic particles. So for some reason we are able to recognize unity every easily.

            The concept of unity, as I see it, goes to our inclination to regard the tree as an entity distinct from everything else in the universe. It is what distinguishes any tree from anything that is not a tree, and any particular tree from anything, including other trees, that is not that particular tree. This concept of unity has some connection with the universal concept of tree itself, but the two concepts are not the same concept. And, I don't see how the unity concept adds anything to the argument for the extra-mental existence of universal concepts.

            This unity appears to be what causes us to name universal concepts. So when you propose that the regularity actually exists in reality, it appears you are implicitly saying that the universals actually exist in reality and we are capable of understanding them.

            We name concepts for the same reason we name anything else. It's way more convenient to talk about them that way. If we didn't have the word "automobile" or any synonym, then every time we wanted to refer to one we would have to say something like "road vehicle powered by a motor (usually an internal-combustion engine) and specifically designed to carry one driver and a small number of passengers."

            What I'm saying about universal concepts is that they refer, in a way analogous to how "automobile" refers to those vehicles, to regularities in certain data we perceive in our environment, and that those data regularities frequently (but not invariably) occur because of actual regularities that our ancestors had to notice and to talk to each other about in order to survive.

          • Phil

            I am arguing only that we can explain our use of universal concepts without making any platonistic assumptions about their existing independently of our minds.

            Actually I would agree with this. I find the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of natures/universal concepts is the most correct description of reality at this point in time; not the Platonic account. Natures/universal concepts do not exist purely apart from any person or object. In other words, universals are not just immaterial things "floating out there somewhere". "Treeness" actually exists with the physical object of a tree. (If you are familiar with the distinction of form/matter, this will ring a bell.)

            The human person simply has an intellect capable of abstracting this universal concept/nature.

            I am not arguing that we don't need any assumptions at all. I assume that the mammalian brain, including ours, is an organic computer. I think that assumption is well justified by our current state of
            scientific knowledge about human origins and our understanding of what computers do independently of their architecture. Data processing is data processing, regardless of the physical medium in which it happens.

            The big question I have is that it seems this assumption relies upon us actually being able to come to know the nature/universal concept of an externally existing object--namely the human mind and human person. But we are using this assumption to explain is the coherence of universal concepts in the first place. In other words, we are making an assumption of what we are trying to explain in the first place--which makes me lean towards the faulty status of this type of argument.

            (Obviously arguing that the human mind can be completely reduced to an organic computer is very problematic in its own right, but that's for another discussion!)

            I don't see the importance you assign to coherence.

            Our goal is to use reason to explain reality as it actually exists--if our explanation is truly incoherent, it is not a good theory, description, argument, etc.

            In some situations, it may be quite enough for you to think tiger = predator.

            Tiger and predator are actually two different universals. It isn't that tiger equals predator, it is that tiger equals the actually being that is a tiger. Predator is another universal that one could assign to the being of a tiger, as long as one understands what the concept of predator actually is.

            In other words, concepts always have some sort of connection to external reality, hence the problem of trying to relegate universals entirely to the subjective mind.

            If I'm understanding you correctly, you and I are not disagreeing about whether universal concepts have an existence of some sort.

            I think that's correct. I think you hold them to simply exist in the subjective human mind. I hold them to exist both in the mind and in every single entity in all reality. There is no universal concept in the mind that does not first exist in external reality.

            In other words, if a human person had no experience of external reality through the senses, they would have no understanding of universal concepts. This may be one of the best giveaways to the external existence of universals. (We are sticking to normal human experience in this life on earth.)

            What I'm recognizing is the set of characteristics that the particular object shares with every other object that an anglophone will usually call a leaf.

            Yes, and these characteristics you recognize have a unity as well. The shape, size, color, etc all have a unity that we can recognize. These themself all form the unity of the leaf. These characteristics are themselves universals. This unity that you recognize existing in all things in reality is key. That is why Aristotle was correct in saying that everything in reality exists as a unity of form and matter, also stated as "universal nature and matter".

            No matter exists apart from a nature/universal.

            This concept of unity has some connection with the universal concept of tree itself, but the two concepts are not the same concept. And, I don't see how the unity concept adds anything to the argument for the extra-mental existence of universal concepts.

            I would argue that the only reason you proclaim any sort
            of universal concept/nature is because of an intrinsic unity. What is the reason you call just the leaf, a "leaf", and not the leaf and the one inch of the bark of the tree a "leaf"? Well it is of course because you recognize that the leaf has its own intrinsic unity and the bark has its own intrinsic unity. The reason we recognize any universal is because of the object having an intrinsic unity. Hence my comment that universals have a direct connection to unity. (Obviously there are many levels of unity; from the tree, down to the bark, trunk, leaves, down to the atomic level, then to the subatomic particles, etc)

            If unity has a direct connection to universal concepts then, of course, it would be very relevant to the conversation. (Obviously at this point you don't hold that connection, so it wouldn't be on your radar yet.)

            We name concepts for the same reason we name anything else. It's way more convenient to talk about them that way.

            Yes, it is convenient but you can't then say that these universals have absolutely no connection to external reality. (You mentioned the unity of external objects in your first comment.)

            When we have two different cars in front of us, we can rationally say they are both "cars" because they have the same sort of actually existing intrinsic unity. A car exists with a certain external unity in a very different way than the unity of a tree. That is why once we recognize what makes the unity of a tree, a "tree", we recognize it is incoherent to call both a tree and a car, a "tree".

            What I'm trying to do is show that universals always have a direct connection to external reality. This will hopefully begin to show the necessary connection between our subjective mind and its understanding of universals, and the externally existing objects.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am arguing only that we can explain our use of universal concepts without making any platonistic assumptions about their existing independently of our minds.

            Actually I would agree with this.

            In that case, I suspect that our disagreement is more about semantics than anything else.

            The big question I have is that it seems this assumption relies upon us actually being able to come to know the nature/universal concept of an externally existing object--namely the human mind and human person.

            I wouldn't put it in those terms. I would say that we have to assume the general reliability of our sensory data about the external world, including the other human beings who occupy it. The qualifier "general" is vital, since we also know that our senses occasionally deceive us. But this does not justify the platonic inference that our senses are not to be trusted at all.

            if our explanation is truly incoherent, it is not a good theory, description, argument, etc.

            Agreed.

            In other words, concepts always have some sort of connection to external reality

            I'm not so sure about that, but I'll stipulate for the time being.

            hence the problem of trying to relegate universals entirely to the subjective mind.

            I've said that they refer to external reality. It seems to me that that is all the connection they need.

            What I'm recognizing is the set of characteristics that the particular object shares with every other object that an anglophone will usually call a leaf.

            Yes, and these characteristics you recognize have a unity as well. . . . What is the reason you call just the leaf, a "leaf", and not the leaf and the one inch of the bark of the tree a "leaf"? Well it is of course because you recognize that the leaf has its own intrinsic unity and the bark has its own intrinsic unity.

            I would not state my reason in those terms. But if you think that what you're saying means the same thing as what I am saying, I won't pursue this particular point any further.

            Yes, it is convenient but you can't then say that these universals have absolutely no connection to external reality.

            I have not said that.

            Merry Christmas!

            And to you. Thanks.

          • Phil

            In that case, I suspect that our disagreement is more about semantics than anything else.

            There may be some of that, but I still think the big point of difference is that you would not hold that universals/concepts/natures exist whatsoever outside the human mind, right?

            I hold that they exist, and actually originate, in external entities and the human mind is capable of abstracting these universals/concepts/natures from external reality. (We then simply use langauge to name this universal/concept/nature.)

            ----
            Main part of the discussion right now:

            I wouldn't put it in those terms. I would say that we have to assume the general reliability of our sensory data about the external world, including the other human beings who occupy it. [This is in regards to the question of the nature of the human mind and person.]

            I agree that we should assume that there is an external world and we receive generally reliable sense data from it--but on your proposal that is all we receive; only sense data.

            So the meaning of this sense data, the "what" something actually is--the "tree'ness", the "car'ness", the "green'ness"--is actually thrust upon the data by the human mind. (Since universal concepts/natures only exist in the human mind.)

            The key question then is: How do you hold that your interpretation of your sense data about the actual nature of the human mind and person is actually correct, and it isn't just your subjective mind thrusting that meaning upon it?

            (Again, the easiest way to avoid this problem is to hold that we actually come to understand the nature/universal concept of a being from the actual being, not simply from our mind.)

            ----

            I've said that they refer to external reality. It seems to me that that is all the connection they need.

            Refer back to the above point; but you hold that they refer to external reality only insofar as your subjective mind has thrust that meaning upon it. That is why a disconnect between the subjective mind and objective reality starts to form. Now, if you do actually believe that the universal concept/nature comes from the external object, then you are actually a realist, and would hold the same position as myself (which means you might just not have worked through the position before this well enough).

            I hold that we actually get the meaning, the universal, from the externally existing object, not from our mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            but on your proposal that is all we receive; only sense data.

            Then I have not made my proposal clear enough. I don't believe the only data we have are sense data. I believe our brains generate some data on their own. An analogue might be the BIOS of an electronic computer, except that our brains' hard-wiring probably includes some portion of the operating system as well.

            The key question then is: How do you hold that your interpretation of your sense data about the actual nature of the human mind and person is actually correct, and it isn't just your subjective mind thrusting that meaning upon it?

            Are you asking how I could prove it? I can't, and I don't see why I need to. I can only assume it is correct until, and except when, something happens to make me suspect otherwise. Most of us have had to do this several times in our lives. We once thought "All A's are B's" until we discovered some A that we could not reasonably include in the B category.

            I hold that we actually get the meaning, the universal, from the externally existing object, not from our mind.

            I hold that the meaning is produced by our mind from an interaction between the mind and the external object. That interaction is mediated by the sensory data we get from the object.

          • Phil

            Are you asking how I could prove it? I can't, and I don't see why I need to. I can only assume it is correct until, and except when, something happens to make me suspect otherwise.

            Saying "prove" is a strong word. Here is what others have proposed and I hold as well; when it comes to proposing explanations/theories for explaining reality, no matter whether it be a scientific or philosophical theory, the most rational and best explanation to hold is the one that is the most internally coherent (i.e., does not have internal issues, internal contradictions), is the most consistent with all the data and with other reasonably accepted theories, and is the most comprehensive (i.e., explains the most data). If one has two theories, the one that meets these qualifications the best would be the most rational to hold.

            --
            On the theory you are proposing (conceptualism):

            A) When it comes to the theory you are proposing it has an issue right off the bat with internal coherence. You want to show that all human minds have the universal--the nature--of an object that uses concepts and bestows concepts upon external entities in a similar or same way. (Remember our goal is to explain the data of universals and their ease of inter-communication.)The problem is that you first have to assume that the human mind bestows concepts/natures upon the human mind in a similar or same way. But this is exactly what this theory is are trying to show; it is assuming what it is trying to show!

            This not internally coherent, and is viciously circular. It is a classic example of a bad philosophical argument/theory.

            ---
            On the theory I propose (realism):

            B) All it takes to have a very coherent, consistent, and comprehensive theory and explanation of universals/natures is to hold that they actually have their existence with, and in, actual external entities. And the human mind is simply capable of coming to know these externally existing universals through the senses. That's it! It's simple and elegant, which is exactly what you want in a good explanation/theory.

            It does not have the issue of circularity that your proposal has because the human person actually gets the universal nature of "human mind" from the actually externally existing human mind. So we can say with confidence, no the human mind does actually have this nature; it is not simply my mind's projection upon it.

            It's solves our problem of subjectivism, because universals come from the actually existing objective objects. It solves the problem of interpersonal communication via universals because all human persons get their universals in the same way. I point to a tree and say "tree" and you can very easily know exactly what I am talking about, because the object and universal is out there in front of us.

            That is why I hold realism to be the most coherent, consistent, and comprehensive explanation; and therefore the most rational to hold.

          • Doug Shaver

            On the theory you are proposing (conceptualism): . . . . you first have to assume that the human mind bestows a universal concept/nature upon the object of "human mind" in a correct and similar/same way as most everyone else.

            That is not my theory or what it must assume. That is your restatement of something it must assume.

            The only thing I'm assuming about human minds is that, in general, those of other people are just like mine in certain basic respects. If you think this is an indefensible assumption, then you and I are at a dialectical impasse. But please note that I can make this assumption without having the foggiest notion of how anybody's mind actually does work. It is consistent with any general theory of human cognition. It is just as consistent with Roger Penrose's thinking as it is with mine. Indeed, I don't think Penrose could defend his own theory without this assumption.

            Then, given this assumption, if I believe more particularly that my own mind works as my theory says it works, then I reasonably believe that other people's minds work that same way. This is not a circular argument.

            when it comes to proposing explanations/theories for explaining reality, no matter whether it be a scientific or philosophical theory, the most rational and best explanation to hold is the one that is the most internally coherent (i.e., does not have internal issues, internal contradictions), is the most consistent (i.e., internally logically, and with other reasonably accepted theories), and is the most comprehensive (i.e., explains the most data).

            So far as I can judge, mine meets those criteria, and I think it also has the advantage with respect to parsimony. Yours asserts the existence of entities that mine does not.

          • Phil

            The reason I find the discussion of universals and natures to be fairly straight-forward is that any proposed explanation that takes a view that universals and natures only exist in the subjective mind is going to fall victim to the same/similar issues I have been pointing out. They will not be able to explain normal human experience (not a good thing for a philosophical theory) and when one tries to "finagle" or "massage" them to explain these human experiences it will fall victim to internal contradiction (also not good for a philosophical theory).

            Now that doesn't mean we automatically write of every "new" conceptualist theory that someone proposes, but at this point it in my understanding it simply appears that there are deep metaphyiscal problems with any sort of conceptualist theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            They will not be able to explain normal human experience (not a good thing for a philosophical theory)

            An explanation has been proposed. Many people regard it as inadequate. Many others don't see anything inadequate about it.

            and when one tries to "finagle" or "massage" them to explain these human experiences it will fall victim to internal contradictions and incoherency

            I have seen it so alleged. I have not seen it so demonstrated.

          • Doug Shaver

            but I still think the big point of difference is that you would not hold that universals/concepts/natures exist whatsoever outside the human mind, right?

            I have no idea. Are you talking about three different things, or are you offering me a choice of labels for the same thing? I don't believe universals = concepts = natures.

            I hold that they exist, and actually originate, in external entities and the human mind is capable of abstracting these universals/concepts/natures from external reality.

            So I gather. That is the topic we've been debating, isn't it?

            but on your proposal that is all we receive; only random bits of sense data which the mind then places into order with what we call "universals/natures".

            My proposal says nothing about our sensory data being random.

          • Phil

            I will call it a day as I think we are, as you said, at a point where there is just a fundamental difference. I do appreciate the great conversation!

            In the end it seems that the main difference is that you don't mind holding an assumption that cannot be supported by its own theory (that human minds are all the same/similar, which is indefensible because one has to know the nature/universal of the mind to show it to be true), while I would hold that all endeavors for truth, whether they be scientific or philosophical in nature, should not lead directly to internal incoherency of this nature.

            ---

            Anyway, wanted to pass along that I started reading this interesting book by Thomas Nagel--"Mind and Cosmos". He is talking about the prominent issues with reductionistic materialism and its inability to account for mind. (Ultimately, he holds that this metaphysical worldview will come to be held as prominently false.) He comes at it simply from a philosophical and scientific POV.

            I am only about a third of the way through and his focus of the book is not to propose an alternative, but simply to show that materialism is false beyond a reasonable doubt. He throws out some ideas of what could replace it, but interestingly enough it doesn't appear that a hylomorphism along the lines of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical tradition is on his radar!

            He says that he is staying away from any type of religious motivation in this book, so I always wonder if non-religion affects a person's ability to genuinely address hylomorphism. (Or it could be the fact that he is not familiar with it. After 2000 years of staying power, it makes me wonder how someone in the philosophical community could not be familiar with it!) Oh well, at least he makes his point well about the incoherency of materialism!

            Have a blessed new year!

          • Doug Shaver

            I will call it a day as I think we are, as you said, at a point where there is just a fundamental difference. I do appreciate the great conversation!

            You've presented some interesting challenges. Thank you for the workout.

          • Phil

            Hey Doug,

            So I was able to put together a short list that goes over the reasons we have for believing that universals/concepts are not a physical thing and are also not purely a mental entity that exists only in the mind This also shows why it is rational to believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that immaterial abstract concepts do exist (and humans can in turn understand them, which tells us something about the nature of the human intellect!):

            1) One over many argument: "Triangularity", "redness", "treeness" are not reducible to any particular triangle, red thing, or particular tree. Or even to any group of those things. Any of those particular instances of them could go completely out of existence, but they could always come back into existence (e.g., all "red" objects disappearing, but "redness" could always come back into existence).

            Also, the "redness" of an object exists even when no human being is thinking about it. Hence concepts/universals are not material things nor collections of things, and neither do they only exist in the human mind.

            2) Geometry: Geometry deals with perfect lines, perfect angles, perfect circles, etc. and we discover objective facts about them. We didn't invent these facts, we discovered them, and since we can't change them--they do not depend on our mind. Since they are necessary and unalterable, and no material object has the perfection that geometrical objects have, they do not depend on the material world either. Hence geometrical objects are immaterial concepts that exist outside our mind, yet are not physical objects.

            3) Mathematics in general:Mathematical truths in general are necessary and unalterable, but the material world is contingent and changing. These mathematical truths were true before the human mind existed and would still be true is the human mind ceased to exist. The series of numbers is infinite, but there can only be a finite number of physical things, or a finite number of human ideas. Therefore, mathematical truths are not material things, but they do not also depend on the human mind. They are immaterial abstract entities.

            4) Nature of propositions: Propositions cannot be idenified with anything that is purely material or purely mental (in the mind). Some propositions like mathematical ones are necessarily true and remain true if the material world ceased to exist or if the human mind went out of existence. Others like "Einstien was born in Germany" also would remain true if the material world ceased to exist or if the human mind went out of existence. Even if there never was a material world or a human mind, the proposition "there is neither a material world nor a human mind" would still be true. Therefore propositions are neither material in nature, nor do they rely on the human mind for existence.

            5) Science: Science points out facts that are mind-independent, and relies on mathematical formulations and universals. To affirm the findings of science is to affirm the non-material nature of universals/concepts, and therefore the non-material nature of the human mind.

            6) Words are universals too: A person can utter the same word and it applies to many different physical existing things--such as saying "red". This is enough to show that the meaning attached to the word transcends our mind and the physical world.

            7) The objectivity of concepts and knowledge, and possibility of communication: When we entertain the same concept, say "treeness" or "redness", we are each entertaining the same one concept. You aren't entertaining your private concept of "red" and "tree" and I my own private ones, with nothing in common in between them. This leads to the next point. We would never have access to eachothers private concepts of "red" and "snow", and therefore interpersonal communication would become impossible. But we can communicate, therefore concepts are not purely mental.

            [Note: these are a summary from some of the books I have recommended around here]

          • Doug Shaver

            Phil, I appreciate your taking so much time to assemble those arguments. A thorough rebuttal would take a lot more time than I have available, so I'll have to make do with a few general comments.

            If I understand you correctly, you are attempting to demonstrate the mind-independent existence of concepts, particularly of those concepts we refer to as universals. My position is that, while such their existence as such may be assumed, reason does not compel that assumption, and so I am epistemologically blameless if I don't assume it. I have also offered an account of how we could have acquired the ability to use concepts notwithstanding their nonexistence outside of our minds.

            "Triangularity", "redness", "treeness" are not reducible to any particular triangle, red thing, or particular tree.

            My account requires no such reduction.

            Geometry deals with perfect lines, perfect angles, perfect circles, etc. and we discover objective facts about them. We didn't invent these facts, we discovered them, and since we can't change them--they do not depend on our mind.

            I think that's a non sequitur. I don't see what changelessness has to do with mind-independence. Besides, we did have to change a few of the "facts" we thought we knew about geometry, when we discovered the coherence of non-Euclidean geometries.

            Mathematical truths in general are necessary and unalterable, but the material world is contingent and changing.

            Again, you aren't showing me how "necessary and unalterable" entails your conclusion.

            Also, while I note your "in general," which implies that there could be exceptions, I don't think those exceptions are irrelevant to your argument. Over the course of history, mathematicians have had to revise some pretty fundamental ideas about what they can truthfully say.

            These mathematical truths were true before the human mind existed and would still be true is the human mind ceased to exist.

            I suppose so. Two plus two was four before we came along, and it will be true after we're gone. I just don't see how that makes two, four, or any other number any more mind-independently real than Capt. Kirk or his starship.

            Propositions cannot be idenified with anything that is purely material or purely mental (in the mind).

            They don't need to be so identified in order to be useful. They just need to have some correspondence with things that are material or mental.

            Even if there never was a material world or a human mind, the proposition "there is neither a material world nor a human mind" would still be true. Therefore propositions are neither material in nature, nor do they rely on the human mind for existence.

            You seem to be conflating truth with existence. We can make true statements about things that aren't real.

            A person can utter the same word and it applies to many different physical existing things--such as saying "red". This is enough to show that the meaning attached to the word transcends our mind and the physical world.

            Meaning is not the same as reference. A word can refer to something that is neither in our minds nor in the physical world, but the meaning exists only in our minds.

            When we entertain the same concept, say "treeness" or "redness", we are each entertaining the same one concept. You aren't entertaining your private concept of "red" and "tree" and I my own private ones, with nothing in common in between them.

            We have to assume that, if we're using those words and understanding one another. As soon as it becomes apparent that we're not understanding one another, we have to question that assumption, because it might be unwarranted.

            This leads to the next point. We would never have access to each others private concepts of "red" and "snow", and therefore interpersonal communication would become impossible. But we can communicate, therefore concepts are not purely mental.

            You cannot access my private concepts the way I can access them. I am the only one who can know, certainly and precisely, what the word "snow" means to me. The same goes for you and what the word means to you. But we can confirm, just by talking to each other, that we mean the same thing when we talk about snow. This, as far as I can tell, proves nothing beyond the fact that you and I speak the same language.

          • Phil

            This is great--Nagel ends his overview chapter by stating:

            "That order would have to include physical law, but if life is not just a physical phenomenon, the origin and evolution of life and mind will not be explainable by physics and chemistry alone. An expanded, but still unified, form of explanation will be needed, and I suspect it will have to include teleological elements. All that can be done at this stage in the history of science is to argue for recognition of the problem, not to offer solutions."

            It is as if Nagel does not realize that Aristotle provided us with a very powerful explanation almost 2000 years ago (which then Aquinas expanded it to unify it even more, and Edward Feser is expanding our understanding of its harmony, and explanatory power, with the natural sciences even more today).

            At least Nagel recognizes the need for teleology, hence Aristotle's "final causality"!

          • Phil

            In light of some reflection on my previous comment (I'd read that one first to have some context), a couple of thoughts about your semantics comment and sense data:

            The key question for you to think about is: Does the sense data that comes to us have any order already, or is it just random and the mind places order upon it?
            ---
            It seems that you might hold that the human person receives sense data that isn't just random, but actually has order to it? This means you would not hold as I said in my previous comment that "we only receive random bits of sense data which the mind then places into order with what we call "universals/natures". Is this correct?

            Now if you do hold that the data comes already to us ordered, then you do actually hold that universals do exist outside the mind. Because in that case the sense data of a tree comes informed with "treeness" already. Our concept of "treeness" comes with the sense data! Which that was exactly Aristotle's point, and many of the realists since then.

            Does that help clear things up any?

          • Doug Shaver

            Does the sense data that comes to us have any order already, or is it just random and the mind places order upon it?

            We should not presuppose that it is all either one or the other. Some of it seems ordered and some of it seems random. It's up to us to figure out, using the cognitive tools we have, how much of it really is ordered and what kind of order it really has. We should be prepared to discover that there is order in some of the apparent randomness and that some of the apparent order is illusory.

            It seems that you might hold that the human person receives sense data that isn't just random, but actually has order to it? This means you would not hold as I said in my previous comment that "we only receive random bits of sense data which the mind then places into order with what we call "universals/natures". Is this correct?

            I'm uncertain whether it is correct because your meaning is not entirely clear to me.

            As I just got through saying, we should not presuppose one way or the other. But having said so, I also note that we could not long survive without assuming that there is some order in at least some of the sensory data we get.

            Now if you do hold that the data comes already to us ordered, then you do actually hold that universals do exist outside the mind.

            That depends on what you mean by "hold." I have already stated, more than once, what I believe about the existence of universals, and you have said nothing yet that makes me think I have been mistaken.

          • Phil

            I will put this point apart from my longer reply, though there are a lot of good points of discussion in that one!
            ---

            The best way that one could show that universal concepts exist purely in the subjective human mind, is to show that a universal concept never has or had any connection to external reality. I think this is going to be hard, if not impossible, which would point towards the fact that universals in the mind have an actual direct connection to external reality.

            The reason for this is that on the position you are supporting universal concepts have ultimately no direct connection to external reality. Sure, much of the time they do, but because they only exist in the mind they ultimately have no objective and intrinsic connection to external reality.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            I assume that the mammalian brain, including ours, is an organic computer. I think that assumption is well justified by our current state of scientific knowledge about human origins and our understanding of what computers do independently of their architecture.

            The idea that what humans do mentally is based on any kind of computer-like system has been refuted quite well by Roger Penrose in the first half of Emperors New Mind. (Unfortunately, he then goes on a wild quantum goose chase, and that is all anyone talks about regarding that book.)
            What do you mean by "what computers do independently of their architecture"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Penrose presented a rebuttal in that book. It was not a refutation. His argument essentially boiled down to "I don't see how, therefore not."

            What do you mean by "what computers do independently of their architecture"?

            If you put certain information into a system and get certain other information out, then the system is a computer. It doesn't matter whether system is made of silicon or protein, or how the information gets in and out, or how the information is coded. Processing information is what computers do, and it doesn't matter how that processing gets done.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Penrose presented a rebuttal in that book. It was not a refutation.

            If memory serves, he provides a clear example of something human beings do, which cannot possibly be done by any algorithmic computing device. It was structured around the question of whether an algorithm will complete or not.

            If you put certain information into a system and get certain other information out, then the system is a computer.

            Is the digestive system a computer? How about rainfall on a mountain? I read some time ago that materialist reductionist accounts eventually lead to pantheism or animism.

          • Doug Shaver

            If memory serves, he provides a clear example of something human beings do, which cannot possibly be done by any algorithmic computing device.

            It was clear to him, perfectly clear, that the example proved his point that the brain was doing something that no computer could ever do. That argument depends on defining computers in terms of strict reliance on algorithms.

            It is apparent that our brains, whatever they do, aren't doing it the same way that electronic computers do what they do. It does not follow that our brains are not doing what electronic computers do.

          • Julie

            Tangental, but, I guess this means that red does not exist for my husband who is red-green color blind.... because his experience of red is sooo different than mine....(His "red" looks like what green looks like to me)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sorry if I was confusing, but that's not what I meant to imply. I think that blue does exist independent of any particular human's ability to perceive it. I even think that blue may exist independent of any human perception at all , just as I believe (though it is unconfirmable) that if a tree falls in a forest and no sentient being is ever able to hear it, it still makes a sound.

            It's a little easier to discuss in terms of stereograms. Some people (relatively few, as far as I understand), lack the stereoscopic vision required to see a dolphin jumping out of this image , no matter how long they stare at it. In this case, we know that a dolphin is jumping out of that image, because it was programmatically embedded. Its existence doesn't require that every person be able to perceive it. I think you could even argue that its existence doesn't require that any person be able to perceive it. The logos is there, whether we see it or not.

          • I accept that there is light that acting in a certain way is what we label as "blue". But absent the light, there is no such thing as blue. The light itself is not "blue", it is light acting in a certain way.

            Taking your tree analogy, if there is no tree, no air, not observer, does that sound "exist" because I can still imagine it?

            When it comes to this "pure being" we seem to have a concept of "existence". This is a concept that humans hold in their minds. The concept is basically the most broad category. that is it. There is nothing "pure" to extract from it and certainly no reason to think it can be the creator of all material.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree that the light itself is not blue. The experience of a particular sort light is blue, and I think that experience exists independently of me, and perhaps even independently of human perception.

            I think that if a tree falls only in my imagination, the accompanying "sound" exists, as a figment of my imagination . The imaginary sound of imaginary trees falling, I believe, will persist after I die (other sentient beings will continue to experience the same thing). I don't know if the imaginary sound of trees falling could exist independent of any sentient beings. It seems like if existence itself is the only witness to an imaginary sound, then the imaginary sound is probably not imaginary after all. But I don't know. It's hard for me to look at the world from the perspective of pure existence.

            I think the purity of "pure being" has to be understood in relation to the less-than-absolute being that you and I have. For one thing, you and I will not live forever (allow me to presume on your behalf; perhaps I speak only for myself). So, when I say "I exist", I am referring to some sort of limited (less than pure) existence. I partake in pure existence, but my participation is limited and, in that sense, is not pure.

      • Doug Shaver

        What Ben and Brian said. Concepts exist in our minds. Their referents don't exist anywhere.

    • ben

      concept --> something (idea, notion, thought) present in a mind.
      MIND must, therefore, exist; no mind, no concepts. And, that's the million dollar question everyone here dances around. Namely:

      Can any *thing* exist (i.e., be) unless it is known to exist to a MIND? Is it possible for any *thing* whatsoever, to exist, and yet be utterly unknown and utterly unknowable, at any time, past, present or future, to any (every) mind.

      Since, for any *thing* to exist, existence (being) must be possible. Therefore, MIND, must necessarily be aware of its own existence.

      BEING *must be* aware of its own being necessarily.

      • Doug Shaver

        Can any *thing* exist (i.e., be) unless it is known to exist to a MIND?

        Yes. It's what some of us call empirical reality.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But "empirical" means "observed", or "experienced". How could the observation or experience occur, absent any mind?

          • Doug Shaver

            But "empirical" means "observed", or "experienced".

            It does not mean only that. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in the most common usage, that is empirical which can be known "by means of direct observation, investigation, or experiment (as distinct from deductive reasoning, abstract theorizing, or speculation)." The key term is "can be" as contrasted with "actually is." This is the meaning intended by most epistemologists. The position you're referring to is empirical idealism, made famous by Bishop Berkeley.

  • I think what it comes down to is the definition of "unconditioned reality" being applied. We are not allowed to hypothesize about "unconditioned realities" that have different existential restrictions than what we are experiencing right now. For some reason there can be no such separation in realities, the possibility of an electron in this reality means that it would also be real or really possible in any other "reality".

    We cannot hypothesize an "unconditioned reality" in which only a single proton exists and electrons are impossible, because we know electrons are possible. But of course when we say they electrons are possible, we are not talking about in a separate single proton reality, we know they are possible based on what we observe in our material universe. Now, whether Mr Broussard would call this material universe a "reality", conditioned or not, I do not know. But because the possibility of electrons is relevant to any hypothesized UR, whatever that hypothetical UR is, it would somehow be connected to our material universe, because that which is possible or not in our material universe is a relevant consideration on whether the hypothesized UR is coherent. In other words, the fact of electrons being possible is the case for any UR. The same would go for anything that is real or really possible in the material universe, these would have to be real or really possible in any UR.

    This doesn't mean that there cannot be different universes within UR that have different physics, but these would not be separate unconditioned realities, but rather part of a greater reality.

    All this to say that fine, I agree, if you define unconditioned reality in this way, there can be only one. This is indeed my position, but it really is a difference of definitions. I just see no reason to apply the modifier "conditioned" or "unconditioned" to "reality" in this sense. There is one "reality", it is all that exists, has, or will exist. Whatever, exists that "accounts" or caused the material universe, or multiverse, or anything else real, is part of it.

    I prefer the term "cosmos" to "reality" or "universe". I use this word basically to mean, the ultimate category, that which encompasses all. I don't know if it is entirely material, immaterial, a mixture of these or a mixture of many more "substances". In this respect. I know that it is not contingent, because anything that any part of it relied on would be included in it.

    What I am interested is in what is this separation between "conditioned" and "unconditioned" with respect to this inclusive definition of reality.

    I definitely agree with Doug Shaver "pure being or pure existence itself" is conceptual, a concept without a metaphysical existence.

  • Question for the author: what do you mean by "reality"?

    • "reality" is synonymous to "being" - that which exists.

      • Then I do not see why we are talking about the possibility of multiple realities, conditioned or not. That which exists is the largest category. Everything is a part of it and it can have no conditions.

        So any conditioned reality is not a "reality" it is an object or objects that form part of reality.

        This makes sense to me. But I think we could have save a lot of time if you had just advanced this definition initially. You could have just expressed that it is incoherent to say there are multiple sets of "that which exists".

        I still don't see why you think "that which exists" is "simple" it is the most complex thing, it is all things.

        • Conditioned realities each have their own distinct acts of being. They are not absorbed into unconditioned reality as in monism. Each conditioned reality retains its own individuation. CRs participate in the being of unconditioned reality in as much as they depend on the one UR for their being right here and right now. That is why we call them contingent beings.

          Pure being itself, which unconditioned reality is, is not the most complex of all things because it does not consist of any parts whatsoever. As Aquinas has said, its essence is existence. It has no composition of essence and existence or act and potency. If no parts (both material and metaphysical), then absolutely simple.

          Another way of seeing it is that unconditioned reality (or uncaused cause) is a pure act of existing through itself. There is nothing to its being that is different from the pure act of existing through itself; otherwise that different part would be caused and it wouldn't be the pure act of existing through itself. So, if no parts, then no complexity (absolute simplicity).

          Hope that helps!

          • I still don't see why we are speaking of CR. A cat is not a "that which exist" a cat is not "being". It is a being, with unique properties. I don't understand why you describe it as a "reality".

            "Pure being" so far as I can tell is a concept.

  • Johncfs McGill

    Fascinating so ur2 would be off by-2 thank you so bunches your ideate has imagination wow

    Much dimensions
    God bless