28 August 1997
Thanks for your letter of 18 August, and also for your prompt and very positive reply to my 'Pathways on the Internet' questionnaire. As you can imagine, this is an exciting time for me. I have all sorts of ideas for building up the Pathways pages. The difficulty now will be to keep work on the Web site within its allotted time!...
You were absolutely right to return to the beginning as the going got heavier. The title of the course on which the metaphysics programme is based was 'Defining Reality'. That is what it's all about. You've got the structure right too. It is important to realise, however, that the formulations of the reality principle that you have recovered from the text are merely preliminary stabs, rough approximations, not the principle itself. The ensuing dialectic is as much about discovering what the reality principle is as applying it. (This is especially relevant to the discussion of the meaning of the private language argument and the attempt to comprehend the essential meaning or significance of the refutation of egocentrism.)
Dummett's 'Realism' is a very early piece read to the Philosophical Society at Oxford in 1963, so naturally one would not expect it to be a necessarily accurate representation of his more recent views. The most important point, however, is to distinguish when Dummett is talking about the realism anti-realism debate in the context of the theory of meaning, or discussions about the nature of truth, and when he is using the term 'realism' in a much wider sense. In 'The Philosophical Basis of Intuitionistic Logic' he quotes the mathematician George Kreisel's dictum that the point is 'not the existence of mathematical objects, but rather the objectivity of mathematical truth'. Questions regarding the existence or non-existence of different classes of objects are always secondary in Dummett's eyes.
I am not the only philosopher to dispute the relevance of Dummettian anti-realism about meaning — the project of constructing a theory of meaning based on the notions of verification and/or falsification rather than the notion of truth — to anti-realism about truth itself. Other attempts to force this distinction, however, have gone along with Dummett's view that anti-realism about truth entails a rejection of classical logic in favour of intuitionist logic, something I would vehemently deny. (I am thinking particularly of Michael Luntley Language, Logic and Experience Duckworth 1988.)
The crux of the problem really lies here, in the various attempts to make anti-realism into a theory or thesis, something that can be stated as a principle (like the reality principle!) with consequences (such as the revision of logic, or the revision of semantic theory) that can be applied, or tested for coherence. My inspiration comes very much from the later Wittgenstein whose work for me represents almost the ideal of dialectic or metaphysical inquiry, only transposed into a different, almost unrecognisable key. The thing that confuses the reader is the strong anti-metaphysical tone of Wittgenstein's remarks, which — sometimes, not always — belies their true significance. This applies especially to the private language argument.
My vision of the so-called 'problems of metaphysics' consists in the recognition of the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of expressing, say, anti-realism or immaterialism. There are no theories that can be stated, or refuted, but only the dialectic, the continuous struggle to find an adequate expression. Or you can think of it as a battle against metaphysical illusions, where the illusion keeps finding different ways to 'manifest itself'. There is no such thing as 'realism', there is no such thing as 'anti- realism'; there are only the various things that, as a putative 'realist' or 'anti-realist' one is more or less irresistably tempted to say.
I find Wittgenstein's discussion of 'models' and 'pictures' particularly illuminating here. Your quote about the rose in the dark is one of the best. But I want to go further. There is more to metaphysics than the diagnosis of 'symptoms' or offering therapeutic remedies. — Think of it this way: if Wittgenstein adopts the role of the therapist or analyst, I would rather put myself in the position of the adventurous patient, not afraid of undergoing my psychotic episodes but rather looking to learn from them and enjoy them. It is in what we bring back from our dips in the sea of metaphysical illusion — the precious threads of meaningful dialectic that we are able to preserve from the cacaphony of voices or kaleidoscope of visions — that true metaphysical knowledge lies.