Ch. 5 - The Problem of Perception Part II - (The Philosophy of Knowledge by Kenneth Gallagher)

Scholastic Solutions: Preliminary

Here in this chapter Gallagher begins with laying out the realist position. He first mentions "naive realism," which is the idea that the world exists independently of my perception and exists in such a way that it is publicly accessible to all, even when it's not perceived. He then points out, though, that it is naive because it's not backed up by philosophical reflection yet. Philosophical Realism, on the other hand, is able to back that conclusion up with philosophical argumentation. Depending on the philosopher, philosophical realism may also offer certain critiques of naive realism. 

Within Realism, errors in knowing do not occur in the senses. Rather, the senses tell us what they tell us, and error occurs when a judgment is made about that information. But there is room for discussion as to the nature of a "reliable" sense perception. Gallagher defines this as: "Sensation appears to involve a stimulation of a bodily organ, by a physical object, through a medium of action, and certain conditions are requisite on the part of all these elements." This begs the question, though, what is a healthy organ? What is a proper medium? What are the right conditions? There is a distinction that might help between "common" and "proper" sensibles. Common sensibles are those physical realities that can be sensed by multiple senses, whereas proper sensibles are those which are limited to one sense. With multiple sources of verification we can come to a better sense of what the "right" versions of these things are. On the other hand, though, there seems to still be some amount of subjectivity or variability that cannot be verified in a "public" way, other than maybe by a majority opinion. For example, the experience of "red" by the color blind versus non color blind person. Which is the proper way of experiencing red, well who can say. 

Virtual Realism

One interpretation is that of "virtual realism." This is the view that proper sensibles and secondary qualities have a foundation in the formal and objective nature of things, that these qualities are only fully actualized when there is a perceiver to know them. These are called "relational realities," and include sound, taste, warmth, and odor, for example. These qualities are, therefore, "virtually" present in their objects. Virtual realism is still an immediate type of knowledge, but there is an aspect of it that becomes actualized in our consciousness when we know the thing. Reality then is fully actualized when subject and object come together in the act of consciousness. 

There is a distinction to add to this. The virtual realist holds that common sensibles and primary qualities are formally present in their object, not just virtually. This is because those qualities are so fundamental to the materiality of the thing, and our act of sensing is of the same nature as that quality. For example, our sense of touch is something extended in matter and extension as a quality is present in material things. The secondary qualities are so because they involve qualities that are of a different nature than their knowing organ. Redness is different than the eye, there's no "redness" stored in the eye. One can see this reflected in scientific thinking about the world. There are physical structures and movements that can be scientifically tested, but the subjective experience of secondary qualities cannot be scientifically accessed. 

Evaluation of Virtual Realism

In evaluating the claims of virtual realism, Gallagher points out the problem that it faces in its evaluation of primary qualities as being formally and objectively part of the object. How does it know this? Is that truth not based on the assumption that one's bodily organ is extended and therefore it must tell the truth regarding extended objects? Is this not an assumption? How do I really know either of those two truths? Doesn't my experience of my organ as extended depend on that organ itself? I cannot get outside of myself to verify that my fundamental apparatus of consciousness is and does that I perceive it to be and do. 

Therefore the virtual realist is left with two options. Either, one, he can say that it is a fundamental premise of his beliefs that his organs are extended as he thinks and that therefore they tell of extended reality in its objectivity, or, two, he must take his ideas to their logical conclusions and say that all consciousness is of relational perceptions, and that he is where Kant stood, in the belief that all perceptions were products of the structure of perception and that the objective world in itself remained inaccessible. This doesn't mean that some perceptions are not more fully true or universal, as extension would be, but that we cannot know the objective thing at all as it is in itself. 

Science, in so many words, is stuck in this dilemma itself in that all the perceptions that the scientist depends on to run his experiments as a functioning person depend on organs. He cannot get outside of himself as a human being. Therefore, it cannot necessarily contend either that the reality that manifests itself to us is the only reality that makes up the universe. Rather, it is the only reality that we have the ability to interact with. 

Summing Up

What can we really say about the statement, "an objective world exists in itself?" Well, first it must be pointed out that just because some of our experiences are subjective doesn't mean that for our living and acting that those subjective experiences are just a real as anything else in our life. If you're in pain, that's just a real as anything that you're facing at that moment in time. Second, our perceptions of reality correspond to where they should correspond to. The guitar makes music. The water is cold. etc. The subjective and objective are at their proper locus in our experience. Our perceptions are reliably tied to being. Walking off a cliff is going to end my being, regardless how much I worry about that cliff being "as it is in itself." 

There are limitations in epistemology when we are getting to the reality of things in themselves. What is at the root of all being? Is there a metaphysical realm which we do not have access to directly. Possibly. Some claim that there is no other reality than as it appears to us because there is no other "us" to know or perceive being. How do we conceive of some objective observer looking at the universe without being a type of observer who is subject to the very same problem that we are? 

Maybe it is possible that the uniqueness of being a human observer, or a type of human observer, means that we are just perceiving one layer of being, and there are many more out there, but this is an objective layer of being in that we can say, "someone who has the faculties of observation just like I do would see exactly what I see." And, in reality, how could we even tell a difference in the nature of our perceptions between different circumstances or different people if there were not some objective reality which ensured the consistency of all of this? Maybe Kant was right, but maybe this is the sliver of being that is real for us and that we operate within. 

Puzzles About Objectivity

Our experience of subjectivity must be recognized as a proper mode of being. We should not be reductionistic about them because in the larger schema of perception all things become realities of relations without an underlying metaphysics. There seem to be an infinity of possibilities for what a thing is if you look at the types of relations that make it up, a temporal dimension of its existence, and levels of abstraction it inhabits. That this thing in front of me is a "rock," shows the being-ness off all my perceptions, as well as the necessity for a metaphysics.