Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Owen Barfield persuades Lewis to reject "realism"

 In the second place he convinced me that the positions we had hitherto held left no room for any satisfactory theory of knowledge. We had been, in the technical sense of the term, "realists"; that is, we accepted as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed by the senses. But at the same time we continued to make for certain phenomena of consciousness all the claims that really went with a theistic or idealistic view. We maintained that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgment was "valid", and our aesthetic experience not merely pleasing but "valuable". The view was, I think, common at the time; it runs through Bridges' Testament of Beauty, the work of Gilbert Murray, and Lord Russell's "Worship of a Free Man". Barfield convinced me that it was inconsistent. If thought were a purely subjective event, these claims for it would have to be abandoned. If one kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the senses, aided by instruments and co-ordinated so as to form "science", then one would have to go much further--as many have since gone--and adopt a Behaviouristic theory of logic, ethics, and aesthetics. But such a theory was, and is, unbelievable to me. I am using the word "unbelievable", which many use to mean "improbable" or even "undesirable", in a quite literal sense. I mean that the act of believing what the behaviourist believes is one that my mind simply will not perform. I cannot force my thought into that shape any more than I can scratch my ear with my big toe or pour wine out of a bottle into the cavity at the base of that same bottle. It is as final as a physical impossibility. I was therefore compelled to give up realism. I had been trying to defend it ever since I began reading philosophy. Partly, no doubt, this was mere "cussedness". Idealism was then the dominant philosophy at Oxford and I was by nature "against Government". But partly, too, realism satisfied an emotional need. I wanted Nature to be quite independent of our observation; something other, indifferent, self-existing. (This went with the Jenkinian zest for rubbing one's nose in the mere quiddity.) But now, it seemed to me, I had to give that up. Unless I were to accept an unbelievable alternative, I must admit that mind was no late-come epiphenomenon; that the whole universe was, in the last resort, mental; that our logic was participation in a cosmic Logos.


StardustyPsyche said...

"that the whole universe was, in the last resort, mental;"
row row row your boat
gently down the stream
merrily merrily merrily merrily
life is but a dream

StardustyPsyche said...

I have decided I am God and you are just a figment of my divine imagination.

I know I am God because I know I am mental.

bmiller said...

I know I am mental.

Ha ha!. No one can argue with that ;-)

Victor Reppert said...

So, Lewis was persuaded by this kind of argument.

1. Either a behaviorist understanding of logic, aesthetics, and ethics is true, or the universe is, in the last analysis, mental.

2. The behaviorist understanding of logic, aesthetics, and ethics is not true.

3. Therefore, the universe is ultimately mental. I take it that mental causes were operative througout the universe's history, and did not only begin to occur when brains evolved.

Which premise of this argument do you think is mistaken. The Behavorist view is very much aking to eliminatie mateiralism, and would probably be called that today.

StardustyPsyche said...


If we were doing a word association session I would blurt out "B F Skinner".

Yes, from the context of your argument I implied that behaviorist is a somewhat archaic term for materialist.

I am not going to defend "the" materialist view, only my materialist view. Per my previous post there is nothing you can say to me to prove I am not god, or in the matrix, or a brain in a vat, or other such typical speculations.

I know with absolute certainty that I exist in some form, and that therefore there is an existence as opposed to absolutely nothing at all. The known knowns quick taper off and end after that limited set of available certain knowledge.

I am personally convinced of the basic reliability of my senses and the truth of the fundamental axioms of logic, so those are my foundational provisional postulates upon which my materialism rests.

The fact I am self consciously aware that my foundational provisional postulates are just that, provisional postulates, makes my materialism entirely free of self defeating circularity.

Based on the evidence of my senses and analysis of my logical reasoning reductionist materialism is clearly the case. So, at least premise 2 is false.

David Brightly said...

I am trying to recreate Lewis's thinking. He seems to start with a kind of dualism. There is mind in the world and through the senses mind can grasp the material world. The world also contains logical, moral, and aesthetic orders which the mind grasps. But mind is fragmented into individual human lives. And human thought is 'purely subjective' (Why?) So mind may not be secure in its graspings (Why?) So this dualistic position has to be given up (Again, Why?) Given that, there appear to be two monistic alternatives available. A mindless materialism which Lewis cannot possibly accept or an idealism which he had rejected earlier in his development but now finds acceptable.

Is this roughly the right story? And why does he make those intermediate inferences?

Martin said...


It seems that you are just doing a version of the "stone" objection to Berkeley's idealism. Berkeley argued that reality ultimately consists of only experience, and therefore reality is only mental (not material). And Samuel Johnson tried to refute Berkeley by kicking a stone and exclaiming that he could feel it. But it's just a handwaving fallacy.

I take Lewis's fundamental point to be that some aspects of the world are not only indispensable, and objective (true/false independent of any human observer), but also cannot be boiled down to some bit of particles.

The laws of logic and math being an obvious example. I like to use Pi as an example. When we explore deep into Pi, for example to find your phone number in it, you are not exploring:

A) some physical object (no physical circle could give you accurate Pi beyond a few decimal places)
B) the contents of some human's mind what are you exploring? It's not physical and it's not a human mind. But it's an abstract object, and abstract objects can only exist in a mind. Very interesting...

StardustyPsyche said...

"The laws of logic and math being an obvious example."
No, they are not, but let's continue.

"When we explore deep into Pi, for example to find your phone number in it, you are not exploring:"
On an infinite series of random numbers, or good enough pseudo random series, all particular finite patterns will be found. Pi has no special significance in that regard.

"no physical circle"
There is no such thing as a physical circle, none whatsoever.

"It's not physical"
Correct, it is a process of the physical, the brain

"it's not a human mind."
Ad hoc assertion contrary to evidence. Scientific evidence is overwhelming that what is commonly called the mind is really the dynamic material processes of the brain.

"abstract objects can only exist in a mind."
Abstract "objects" do not exist at all, any more than unicorns exist just because you imagine one. There is no unicorn in your skull, just the material of your brain in motion.

Martin said...

On an infinite series of random numbers, or good enough pseudo random series, all particular finite patterns will be found. Pi has no special significance in that regard.

Yes, but that just emphasizes the point all the more: any chain of random numbers would simply be anchored in my mind, or yours, or on a piece of paper. A number like Pi has a specific sequence. But where is this sequence stored or anchored? Not in anyone's mind. Not in any physical circle.

There is no such thing as a physical circle, none whatsoever.

Yes, that was in fact my point.

Abstract "objects" do not exist at all, any more than unicorns exist just because you imagine one.

Yes, that was my point as well.

StardustyPsyche said...

"But where is this sequence stored or anchored?"

These are just solutions to equations in systems with arbitrarily defined parameters.

Where is the solution to "1 / 3 = X" anchored? We made up rules of arithmetic. Under those rules only certain complete sentences are allowed, just as in other grammars. Take out a part of the sentence and only certain values can be determined as the seemingly missing part, in this case X.

But the sequence of numerals .33333... is also a consequence of the arbitrary choice of base one wishes to work in. In binary other characters would be 0.010101...

For Pi not only is the sequence dependent on the arbitrary choice of base of representation but also you chose to abstractly draw a line through the center. If you draw lines in your circle in other ways you will get other numbers. The same is true of triangles, squares or other abstractly defined figures.

You can arbitrarily chose other rules such as
while (x*x + y*y ≤ 2*2 AND iteration < max_iteration) do
xtemp := x*x - y*y + x0
y := 2*x*y + y0
x := xtemp
iteration := iteration + 1

If you plot that you will get certain sorts of patterns on your computer screen.
Change the rules at your whim and you will get different patterns.

You can make up whatever rules you want and figure out all the combinations of symbols that meet the rules you chose. There is no great world of forms or mystical storage location for all of this, just you going through permutations of abstrctions.