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pathways (letters)

21 May 1997

Dear Margaret,

Thank you for letter of 13 May in response to unit 1 of The Ultimate Nature of Things. I enjoyed reading it...

I appreciate your struggle to get a grip on where the argument might be going. In unit 1 I am just limbering up, though the last four paragraphs give a pretty accurate clue. Idealism and anti-realism seem in different ways to go against the reality principle, but do they really?...Then there is the attempt to define 'metaphysics'. Here you might have noticed the element of reflexivity in making the reality principle as applied to our ordinary, 'mundane' beliefs the subject of metaphysical inquiry, then applying that principle to metaphysics itself...

I'm glad you are borrowing Appearance and Reality, though it would be better if some time you could buy a copy. It's an absolute disgrace if the book is out of print, but philosophy publishing has become increasingly commercially oriented in the last ten years. I got my copy second hand around fifteen years ago from Blackwell's in Oxford. Try scouting around.

'Reality doesn't make jumps' is an interesting formulation of the reality principle. (For Leibniz, it was a basic principle governing physical explanation.) I would be tempted to emphasise the reverse side of the experiences you mention. Driving down to London to see my dad every three weeks or so, I've found that the journey is much quicker if I do not drive so fast: the extra stress and concentration required stretch out the subjective sense of the passage of time. As for encountering situations or meeting people, our preconceptions can have a profound effect on what we eventually 'experience'. And again, sometimes, knowing this, we work on ourselves to produce the optimum response. ('Don't hold your hopes too high; then you might be pleasantly surprised,' as my mum would have said.)

Appearance contrasts with reality in a different way from fantasy, and also again from illusion. It is worthwhile exploring these notions. Appearances are not normally illusory: I am not under the illusion that the rim of my coffee mug is oval, or that the cursor on my lap top screen is 'moving' as I write. (Is that right? Hmm.) Fantasy is more or less under your control, whereas illusions are something you suffer. And so on.

I forget what Sartre says about the body. A remark about the 'wiggling bottom' sticks in my mind. The body is ourselves, yet also something grossly other, part of the world. My uncle, in his 80's, had his leg amputated this week, and I have to write him a letter. This isn't a time for jokes, yet I keep thinking, 'It's bad enough facing death without having parts of you taken away a bit at a time.'

What others do is undoubtedly part of 'how things are'. But as the problem of other minds shows, it is harder to demonstrate the necessity of recognising something 'inner' in addition to external behaviour. This gets back to my book: 'looking down' on the world I grasp that the other is 'the same' as I. But, in reality, one unique individual is I: what kind of fact is that? Analytic philosophy is completely on the wrong track when the only problem it can see is 'proving that the other has got what I have got'.

I'm sure I'd enjoy Santayana if I read more of him. (These days, I have no time to read, period.) The essay was included in a collection Reading I Have Liked by Clifton Fadiman as the token piece of philosophy. In the early years of my parents' marriage they gave each other books. Worthy titles, like Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Leon Fuchtwangler, The Aspirin Age. As far as my sisters and I were concerned, they were just dusty old volumes on a book shelf. Now, reading the inscriptions, I get an uncanny feeling of an irretrievable past that leaves just a few scattered clues.

Uri Geller indeed! OK, so even if I can move the hand of the clock by thinking it, can I change the time by thinking it? Or the past? (The past is the crucial test, as you will see.)

I think Heidegger is wrong on the epistemological question. A being-in-the world can perfectly well ask the question, 'How do I know I am not a being-on-a-laboratory bench?'. That is not Descartes' question. He seeks assurance that there is something material and spatial, in addition to his subjective impressions of such a world. But wouldn't a Berkeleian world of 'immaterial spirits' do? Then again, Descartes never once questions that there is an 'objective reality' beyond the subjective world of his own impressions, even if only an evil demon switching the lights on and off.

No, you haven't guessed the ending. To repeat, the rejection of solipsism/subjectivism, or the belief that 'the world is my world' is the most immediate consequence of pushing the reality principle. But are there subtler ways in which idealism, whether of a Berkeleian or other variety, or anti- realism, Dummettian or otherwise, clash with that principle? Can Berkeley or Dummett be refuted Ð or, should we want to refute them?

I look forward to more words and images!

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Klempner