WHAT IDEALISM IS NOT
WHAT IDEALISM IS NOT
D. R. Khashaba
In all my writings I have been trying to advance an understanding of metaphysical idealism. It may be helpful to say something about what idealism is not. Philosophical idealism (Plato’s, Berkeley’s, Kant’s, Hegel’s, Bradley’s) does not say that the objects we see and handle are an illusion. It is rather physicists who tell us that the red rose is not really red. And in a way they are right. In itself the rose is not red. The colour red that we see is a product of the three-cornered interplay of the light, the rose, and the eye. To insist that the rose is not really red is not idealism but what Whitehead called the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.
Idealism does not say that there is nothing in the world but my thoughts, that I am at the centre of things and that all things around me are nothing but my thoughts. This is not idealism but solipsism and I am not now discussing solipsism. Berkeley definitely did not hold that the objects in the world are my thoughts. Berkeley said two things (1) Berkeley, following Locke, said that all we know of the things in the world are the perceptions we receive through our senses: that when I say there is a mountain out there I mean I perceive a mountain out there or that it is possible for a percipient to perceive a mountain out there. (2) Precisely because Berkeley held that the mountain I perceive has actual being out there and because he held that we know of no substance over and above or beyond the perceptions and because perceptions must be in a mind — precisely because he had no skepticism about the actuality of the mountain that he thought the perceptions that constitute the world must be in the mind of God. Think what you may of Berkeley’s vision but don’t say that the things around us were for Berkeley an illusion.
Plato never put the actuality of actual things in doubt. Plato despised the pleasures, the pains, the glories that the world oppresses us with. The poorest psychologist will tell you that a person you despise is much more present to you than all those you love.
Kant decidedly did not deny the actuality of things outside us. Kant said the things outside us in themselves are meaningless. That bright disk above my head at night is just that; it is Astronomy that tells me it is a massive body reflecting the rays of the sun. Before Astronomy it was a god or goddess. In either case what I know of it is what I know of it and what I know of it is what my mind (Understanding in Kant’s terminology) makes of it. For Kant, no more than for the savage worshipping the moon, no more than for Newton puzzling about its rotation, was the actuality of the bright disk up there an illusion or only an idea in my mind.
We all occasionally have illusions or visual deceptions. We recognize them as such and clearly distinguish them from genuine perceptions. The persistence of illusion defines lunacy. The Indian hermit in his forest refuge, leaving the world behind him as deceptive maya, distinguishes clearly between the deceptiveness of the things he renounces and the illusoriness of the red spot he sees if he chances to fix his eye for a while on the sun.
But perhaps it’s no use trying to explain this. Plato was right. The Gods and the Giants (Sophist, 245e-246e) will never come to an understanding. The difference between them is temperamental, else Aristotle would not have so grossly misunderstood Plato.
Empiricists think that the quintessence of knowledge is objectivity. They are right. But that is one kind of knowledge, scientific knowledge, for the core principle of science is objectivity. But philosophical understanding is a totally different thing. Philosophical understanding is first and last subjective. Kierkegaard said, Truth is subjectivity. Better said, Understanding is subjectivity. You don’t understand a concerto by having adequate knowledge about the instruments, about the physical laws of sound, about the physiology of hearing. You can know all that and yet remain unreceptive to what the composer wanted to convey. You understand a concerto by enjoying a subjective experience. That is why I insist that using the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ as equivalents is confusing.
Where my philosophy improves on Plato is in explaining that the reality of the ideas is secondary. What is ultimately real is the mind that creates the ideas; but this statement is also mixed with falsehood; for it is not the mind as a thing (substance or even simply entity) but the sheer pure creativity that is ultimately real. The crux of my philosophy is the seeming paradox: What is real does not exist but gives birth to all existents. What is real is the hupodochê of Plato’s Timaeus, the womb of all being and all becoming, but it is not an existent womb: its reality is its procreativeness, its eternal tokos en kalôi. What exists is essentially evanescent; it cannot be real or the source of reality. This is the gist of my Creative Eternity.
August 16, 2016.