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Philosophical dialogue on egocentric subjectivism


To: Frank S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Philosophical dialogue on egocentric subjectivism
Date: 23 January 2002 15:11

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your e-mail of 10 January, with your philosophical dialogue for the Metaphysics program, 'The Case of Mr Cogitous: a philosophical dialogue about egocentric subjectivism' which I enjoyed reading very much.

Allowing for dramatic license, you have summarized the dialectic of egocentrism, up to the point of Kant's Second 'Refutation of Idealism' with a reasonable degree of accuracy. It is a tribute to your skilful and sympathetic characterization of Mr Cogitous that the reader finds his philosophy *almost* believable.

Mr Cogitous permits himself to say things like, 'I can see clouds through the bars of my cell', or 'There is soup in the bowl' while at the same time refusing any implication that these concepts refer to things that exist in a world external to the self. All that exists, is the self and the story it tells itself. 'There is no need for real movement, real bowls and stuff like that,' says Mr Cogitous.

Mr Cogitous is trying to tell us something. The immediate question is not whether he is right, but whether he has in fact succeeded in conveying the thought he means to convey. 'What you see is an appearance that appears for several times at different locations.' All that really exists is, 'This'.

Meanwhile, the conversation continues as normal. Mr Cogitous allows himself to say all the things that someone who did not hold his theory would say, but with a sly wink: 'It's not really real, you know!' But what does that mean? What is different, in the world of Mr Cogitous? He looks around, and everything is just the same as it was before. The bars are still there, the bowl is still there.

Now, there is possibly a bit of misunderstanding regarding the idea of 'the This' and the role of the Reality Principle.

As I see it, the dialectic goes as follows. One starts off with the idea that, 'All I really know are the contents of my own mind'. At this early point the reality principle already comes into play. I cannot *know* the red experience or the blue experience, the square shaped experience or the triangle shaped experience, because to apply these concepts, red, blue etc. implies that I have the ability to recognize a given object as red or not-red, blue or not-blue etc. However, if my act of recognition is a judgement which *cannot* be wrong, then by the reality principle, it cannot be right either. So all one is left with is the thought, 'This is this', or simply, 'This'.

The part about the memory medium is a rearguard attempt to explain how judgements can be false as well as true, but it doesn't work. - And then comes Kant.

What Kant means by 'in space outside me' is a matter of dispute. You are right to call attention to this. I have indeed heard it said that what Kant intended here is that there must be something other than 'my world'. That is certainly what he believed. But it is not shown by this argument. For the enlightened Mr Cogitous, i.e. the transcendental solipsist, all that is required is that one recognize the necessity of using concepts which imply the existence of an empirical subject who describes a world from a point of view within that world. Self and world, time and space, on this picture, are correlative concepts. But all the while, Mr Cogitous winks at us. 'All there really is, is This.'

So I agree with the interpretation of the Second Refutation according to which, as you say, 'All that I want from space is that it is something where objects can quasi move themselves.' But note that this space does not need to be three-dimensional. The idea of space that plays the decisive role in this argument is just a theoretical structure on which to 'pin' experiences. Once pinned, there arises the possibility of false judgement. The experience, pinned to a point in quasi space, becomes an 'object' concerning which it is possible for me to have false beliefs.

You leave the dialectic at that point. However, I would argue that what the transcendental solipsist 'means' can only be discovered if we take the next step. 'All there really is, is This' is another way of saying, 'The world is my world.' But we cannot understand what that means until we have fully grasped what it would mean to deny that claim, and assert instead that the world is not my world.

Perhaps the subject for another dialogue?

All the best,