Saturday, 10 February 2018

There is nothing but the Doing

     Nothing exists
     Nothing is the case
     There are no facts
     There are no values
     There is nothing but the Doing


     — Do I believe this? It isn't a question of 'belief' because belief relates to existence, or what is the case, or facts, or values. You believe that something, e.g. that there is life on Mars, or you believe in something, e.g. social justice for the underprivileged. And all the other shades and variations of belief including 'belief in God'.
     To appreciate, grasp, accept that 'there is nothing but the Doing' is another kind of mental attitude — sui generis if you like — that is more akin to seeing than believing, provided one doesn't take the term 'seeing' too literally. It's more like 'the meaning of the dialectic'. What you end up with after a series of rejections or negations. The only place left to stand.
     I read somewhere (actually, it was a 2008 Guardian obituary for Mark Sachs, author of The World We Found, 1989, which is on my special shelf of books I intend to read) that philosophers are divided between those who believe in 'transcendent realism' and those who don't. Transcendent realism is any theory which says that there is more to reality than merely 'all that is the case', or 'our public world', or whatever. I hold there is more, but somehow the claim 'there is nothing but the Doing' doesn't quite fit. Why?
     The transcendent realist 'reality' is out there, in the beyond, something extra added on to what is the case, etc. Whereas the Doing (from now on I will be using a capital letter whenever I use the definite article) looks like it is somehow less. In this respect, it is more like solipsism. (I don't know, would Sachs classify solipsism as 'transcendent realist'?) But it isn't anything like solipsism, for one simple reason: my doing requires that there is something I do things to. There can't be my doing without the doing of reality. And included under the heading of 'reality' is everyone else.
     And I mean all of reality, not just the bits I am near enough to make an impression on (although maybe that requires some arguing, cf. the 'backdrop world' in my Metaphysics of Meaning, ch. 25 'God and Realism').
     Moreover, the absolutely one essential feature of my claim is that any account that leaves out my subjective world cannot be correct (Naive Metaphysics). If, per impossibile, one could give a theory of a singular 'objective world' — in other words, no 'metaphysical contradiction' between the subjective and objective worlds — then plain, vanilla materialism would be fine, as would the various idealisms, etc.
     Leaving out my subjective world, the claim that 'there is nothing but the Doing' has little force. Say if you like that the world we know is all the manifestation of noumenal Force (Schopenhauer), or that it is 'the world as one action' (Macmurray). Those are just 'ways of seeing', maybe very powerful, compelling ways of seeing but that is all. (Not to forget that I argued in Metaphysics of the Photograph that all metaphysical theories are 'ways of seeing', my bad?)
     'There is nothing but the Doing' isn't a 'way of seeing' reality because it is the only place left to stand once you reach the end of the road — the dialectic. That's a pretty strong claim. Either you accept it, or you don't. But then again, so many philosophies fail (and philosophers too) because of mere faint heartedness, unwillingness to follow though to the only possible conclusion. (As per Sherlock Holmes, 'When you have eliminated all the other alternatives, whatever remains must be the case.')
     (I am not fazed by Hamlyn's criticism of me, 'I can't help feeling that you take Plato's advice to follow the argument wherever it may lead further than is reasonable,' Sophist weblog page 4. Or not too much anyway.)
     Closer to my view would be something like Nietzsche's perspectivism, or even the odd theory doing the rounds of analytic philosophy, 'presentism', according to which only the present time is 'real', a claim Dummett originally made in 'The Reality of the Past' (1968).
     However, all Nietzsche is claiming is that knowledge is perspectival. He isn't doing metaphysics, because in his mind, the whole metaphysical project relates to the 'last fumes of evaporating reality'. (In other words, he understands metaphysics as essentially concerned with 'transcendent reality'.) Nietzsche is making his claim as a psychologist, a 'geneologist of values', a critic of culture. Life is the thing. Ultimately, the only important thing. And the one essential characteristic of life is will to power.
     Presentism is a view I considered and dismissed in my 1978 B.Phil thesis (the original 11,500 word version of 'The Metaphysics of Meaning'). You can say if you like that the past isn't real, or that the future isn't real, or that both past and future aren't real. But the claim is empty unless you can show how that arises through the dialectic. The very fact that there seems to be a 'choice' here undermines any credibility your theory of time might have.
     Above all, 'there is nothing but the Doing' is an expression of nihilism. Let reality do as it does, what I do I do out of my own, unconstrained free creative choice. 'I accept myself and my nature as a given fact' simply means that I am where I am, at this particular moment in time, after all I have experienced and been through, after all the choices I have made. There is no other place for me to be. 'My values are objective because they are mine.'
     Then what is 'the Doing'? Isn't it obvious?
     This is a game. It's been said many times before, to the point of being a cliché, but I mean something more, or at any rate something different. There are only games, and games within games, and games within games within games. Nothing else, absolutely nothing. I am playing reality. Or the reality game. Some stakes are low, some high...
     ... And some too high to calculate, or even contemplate.

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