Ch. 3 - The Point of Departure (The Philosophy of Knowledge by Kenneth Gallagher)

Here I am continuing my work for my epistemology class and summarizing chapter three of The Philosophy of Knowledge by Kenneth Gallagher. The main theme of this chapter is showing that the Cartesian conception of mind-world is a false one. Rather, the mind and world must be considered part of one reality, mutually informing one another and inseparable. 

Inside and Outside

Gallagher starts out critiquing Descartes, not that he used a system of methodical doubt, as this is an inevitable question that arises in epistemology (how do I know that my perceptions and reality match), but regarding Descartes conception of consciousness itself. He points out that implicit in Descartes thought that he conceives of consciousness as a type of "container" in which realty for me exists or is experienced. The real world, then, is not directly present to the mind, but rather is something which needs to be verified by some more fundamental truth to show its accordance with the reality existing in my consciousness. 

Gallagher uses the metaphor of an orange in a crate. The orange is in the crate, but is spatially distinct from the crate itself. They are two distinct realities. If we conceive of the relationship between consciousness and reality in this way then the problem of subjectivity becomes overwhelming. Rather, we must conceive of consciousness and reality as being inextricably fused together as one. Reality exists within consciousness as part of it, not being contained by it as something distinct. If this is the case, there is no sharp distinction between the subjective and objective, rather consciousness is being shaped by reality from within its own being and inextricably tied together there. 

The Bi-Polarity of Consciousness

"Once we recognize that there is no problem of getting "outside" of consciousness, we have recovered an essential vantage-point. To be conscious is already to be outside oneself. We do not have to break through the container of consciousness, because consciousness is not a container." Descartes puts the consciousness aware of itself as the starting place of truth and thus the world as only known from and through the knowledge of the self. Hence the stumbling block of subjectivity. 

Aquinas, on the other hand, holds that truth is first the knowledge of the world before it is the knowledge of one's own consciousness. The faculty of consciousness is known through its actuality of knowing, and that actuality of knowing is through its object, the world. Only when we come to know the world do we at the same time begin to come to know and have a refence point for the self. Just thinking from real world experience, a child's knowledge of its parents and world around it precede its knowledge of itself. Self-awareness develops much slower than the knowledge of the objects around it. 

Descartes claim cannot stand that one could begin from pure subjectivity of the self to the proceed to the objectivity of the world (Nor is he directly doing this, thus the inconsistency in his ideas). Remember, these two realities are inseparable. They are not like the orange and the crate, but part of the same reality. There is no purely subjective, the two are always mixed. "To attempt it would be something like trying to eliminate convexity and retain concavity; the concave and convex are two sides of one relation, and are not separately intelligible. Subjectivity and objectivity are two sides of one bipolar relation and are not separately intelligible." The development of the self can only take place against the backdrop of the non-self, according to Gallagher. 


Gabriel Marcel
Gallagher turns to Gabriel Marcel, who similarly made this point. One of Marcel's central ideas isdirectly opposed to the idea of a pure subjective self. For Marcel, this is impossible, as we are always an incarnate being. The "I" can only be generated by a "thou" which we are in relation to, whether that be our environment, our culture, or our family, etc. Thus, we are called in to relationship as an "I" by being, by the material world, and by relationships with others, must fully in a relationship with the transcendent, God.

Martin Heidegger also expresses this truth with his concept of "dasein." Heidegger explicitly rejects the idea of some disembodied consciousness, separate from being itself. Rather, we are, in so many words, as a human an expression of being and the unity of things with being itself. There is no getting outside of being to describe it. Rather, we are living in being as a part of it. The most fundamental reality isn't the cogito, but the union of things to being as such. 

Maurice Merleau Ponty
Jose Ortega y Gasset expresses this same idea as well. The way that he phrases it is that reality is best construed from the perspective of one's own life. Life is neither the purely objective or subjective. Rather, my life is an inseparable union of the two. Therefore, reality is known most fully at the intersection, following the boarder between those two worlds. To retreat from that boarder is to do so artificially, whether in science or subjectivism. 

This is likewise backed up by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who emphasized that the intellect cannot exist except in a relational way to being. No matter how deeply we try to dive into our own subjectivity or being, there is always a relation to the world present. On the other end, nor can we know the objective world except through ourselves as human beings, it's always conditioned by that reality as well. So there's that union between the objective and impenetrable and the subjective and intelligible. If a pure subjectivity were possible, there would be nothing meaningful for it to know on earth. 

In fact, a point brought up by Fr. Auguste Brunner is that even in coming to know ourselves as an "I" requires a "thou," another person, who brings forth that conscious mind from its latency. Language itself also reflects this I-thou reality as it is a social phenomena born and used between persons. Actually, our whole being, in some sense, is encapsulated in language as the way of expressing ourselves which at the same time means that we are encapsulated by our relationality to others. [This is a similar point that Hannah Arendt makes.]

The Epistemological Circle 

Has the main question really be answered, though? How do we overcome the problem of the appearance/reality distinction? Gallagher points out that if we keep looking for some fundamental deductive truth we will never find the bottom of it all. Rather, in our experience we hit upon a foundation when we encounter being and it manifests itself to us in a self-evident way. We can demonstrate examples of spontaneous affirmations of contact with reality. These are premises or experiences that cannot be proven deductively, and that's why they are so powerful ... they don't need to be. 

The Question as Irreducible Being 

Now, it is consciousness that even brings up the question of the problem of appearance/reality. Therefore, if we are being which arise from the world of being and yet contemplate a question beyond simple material being, that means that there's something about us at our core which is itself beyond the material. What is this fundamental reality which is the grounding for even being able to ask the question? Descartes, Gallagher argues, doesn't go deep enough when he stops at the cogito. Rather, it is the self united to the world. He focuses on a specifically fundamental capacity, the capacity to question, as an expression of this fundamental self. To question is to be open to the world and its information on a conscious level, though we may not have surety or an answer, that openness on an intellectual level is itself an answer, is itself an intellectual grounding in being itself. The mind is not locked away on its own, but rather united and fundamentally open to reality through its connection at its roots with being itself. Therefore, as a person, I am part of being, intelligible, and meaningful. This also means that I have a fundamental capacity to come into contract with the absolute, with that which is being itself. I have a capacity for the transcendent. 

"If we carry reflection back to its ultimate ground in human reality, we discover human reality as a unique openness to being: both as existent and as knower, I am a question inserted into reality. My privilege is not to be a thinking substance, but to be this unique openness to reality. My claim to a privileged status consists in my being the scene for this disclosure of reality."

Consciousness is a privileged mode of being which allows me to be united to being physically, but also intellectually, materially but also transcendently, to know myself and to know the other. 

In Summary 

Gallagher lays out a pretty formidable critique of the Cartesian worldview and fundamental premises. The basic take away point is that the subjective/objective distinction is not a sharp as one might suspect at first. Rather, the subjective consciousness is an expression of the objective being of the world through it, not only materially but relationally and transcendently. 


^1^  Gallagher, Kenneth T. Philosophy of Knowledge. Ch 3. The Point of Departure.