Saturday, 13 January 2018

The actual is the issue of my existence

     Ultimate reality. That's all this has ever been about.
... philosophy is concerned with the ultimate questions. What is reality? Why are we here? What is the point of living? Is anything really ‘good’ or ‘bad’ except in relation to our likes and dislikes?
     If you ask, What is ultimate reality? it is possible — or even highly likely — that you are asking the wrong question. If ultimate reality is something that 'is', then maybe Parmenides was right and all you can say about it is that 'It is.'
     Consider an alternative possibility. Ultimate reality isn't something that 'is'. Ultimate reality is something that does.
     In everyday discourse we assume that when something is 'done', then something (something that 'is') does the doing. That's a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. But, maybe, the rule doesn't apply at the ultimate level.
     Ultimate reality is a doing.
     I (the ultimate 'I') am a doing.
     Put the two together, and you have, simply, this. The whole shebang. Everything. My typing these words. My getting up just before nine this morning. Having Somerset brie and marmalade on toast with coffee and orange juice for breakfast. And all the rest.
     I am talking about a formula which I first proposed in Naive Metaphysics but never really properly developed:
Then let us say: my subjective world is not an object which my absolute I contemplates but rather an issue which my absolute I faces. The sense I have of the incommunicable uniqueness of my existence is the fact that my subjective world is an issue for me, and for me alone (Naive Metaphysics Ch. 12).
     The formula, 'the actual is the issue of my existence' first appeared ten years earlier in a series of short essays I wrote in 1983. (The first fifty pages were posted here, with commentary, but I deleted them. My writing back then was so clunky.)
     Looking back over my Glass House Philosopher pages, the following stands out:
Ever since Aristotle, metaphysics in one of its guises has simply been about accounting. Think of a philosopher as doing a stock check or balancing the books of the universe. Of course, there is the desire to explain — hence all the heat about the arguments for the existence of God. One sense of a 'theory of existence' is an 'explanation of everything'.

However, before that question even arises, we want to know what the universe is, we want to have an idea of what we are talking about. What is included in the idea of a 'universe' and what isn't? When do you know that your theory — whatever its ostensive purpose — has taken account of everything that needs to be taken account of?

You have probably heard of the three main traditional views about the mind-body problem: mind-body dualism, materialism (material monism) and idealism (mental monism). There's quite a lot to argue about there, but it's still not the first thing, the most fundamental thing.

Or assume for a moment that I'm wrong, and that asking what stuff the universe is made of is the most fundamental question you can ask. What assumption are we making? That when as metaphysicians we talk about 'the universe' what we mean is a bunch of stuff (just what stuff it is, is something we can decide later).

How could that assumption turn out to be false? Well, that's the question I'm asking. When I wrote, 'The actual is the issue of my existence' I thought I'd seen a way to show just that.

The actual is not matter, the actual is not mind, nor is it mind and matter in some kind of weird combination. It is none of these things because it isn't stuff. The great A.N. Whitehead would agree with me there (in Process and Reality he says the actual is events and processes, not stuff). But Kierkegaard and the existentialists have stolen a march on Whitehead. Events and processes are just another kind of building block of the universe. There is something that comes before that too.

Where it all starts, the very first thing isn't components or building blocks that you put together. That's just messing about with theories or concepts. ('Category mongering' I used to call it.) To play that game you have to forget a rather troublesome fact: that there is you, moving the pieces around in pretty combinations. The subject. The one asking the question. The Single One.

Where it all starts is here, now, me. Ever since Plato, the here-and-now was seen as the antithesis of philosophy, the preoccupation of 'lovers of sights and sounds', pathetic individuals lacking in the ability to perceive the Forms. Wrong!

The here-and-now is precisely what we are trying to see, to grasp. I was aware of this when I wrote about the 'illusion of detachment' in Naive Metaphysics. But I still hadn't got it...

Glass House Philosopher II, 14th April 2004
     And now, here I am, a decade and a half later, thinking: 'Yes, maybe this is the way forward after all.' It fits...

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