Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Taking the Universal Viewpoint: A Descriptive Approach

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Taking the Universal Viewpoint: A Descriptive Approach

Article excerpt

Today, in an epoch of the proclamation of radical incommunicability between ethnic groups, between the sexes, and between individuals sunk in the privacy of their own gratifications, supported by a theoretical rejection of principles or universals of any sort, I want to explore the possibility of "taking the universal viewpoint" and thus finding a way out of a situation of radical cultural disintegration without succumbing to one or the other mode of intellectual imperialism, theological or otherwise. I will attempt to do so by attending to what, I would claim, is the most obvious and showing what is implicit in recognizing that. In focusing our attention, let us attempt to set aside for the time being everything we might think we know from other sources, science included: bracket temporarily all theories, all dogmas, all preferences, all commitments other than that of paying attention to what presents itself to careful attention here and now. Nothing should intrude except the evidence present to us, since, I would claim, that evidence is presupposed in appealing to these other factors, including arguments for the "theory-ladenness" of evidence.(1)

Besides this more general framework of concern, however, we should keep in mind the direct presence of the written page both I and my readers have in each of our sensory fields, though differently located spatially and temporally. Further, since it is most likely that each of us is reading a different reproduction of the same text -- I on the computer screen, the readers on paper -- we should keep in mind the differentiation between the sentences which are the same and their spatio-temporal sensory instantiations which are different in each case. Further still, since I might also read the paper to an audience, keep in mind the differentiation between the sameness of the sentence in the difference of sensory medium, visual and audile. We will return to that later.

I

Let us begin within those two frames -- that of the general cultural situation today and that of the status of the vehicle of delivery of this essay -- and attend to the simple, trivial, and seemingly uncontroversial recognition that something is. Of any entity we consider, the most obvious and yet the least articulated thing we can say about it is that "It is." "It is" can be said of an indeterminate number of instances of whatever sort, including the visible marks on this page or the sounds of my voice as I utter "It is" to myself or to my interlocutors. "It is" is an eidos, a universal, a one-over-many, capable of being applied to an indeterminate number of instances. Further, "It is" exhibits my recognition that whatever "it" might be, it stands outside of not-being-at-all. Yet simultaneously we recognize that it is an object of awareness, so that there is an essential distinction between awareness and its objects. "Being" can be said of whatever "it" we might consider, including oneself as considering it. "Being" is an eidos or universal, object of reflective awareness; but it is also more than an eidos, including as it does all instances of being, eidetic and individual, and everything about them. We quickly see then that there are at least six eide which show themselves as sharing in being and as involved in the most universal and indeterminate consideration which forms the framework for any consideration: the eide of being, of instance, of object of awareness, of awareness itself and, at another reflective level, of eidos itself and of individual. They articulate what is implicit in our beginning with the simple "It is"; they articulate being.

An eidos, in addition to its distinction from and relation to its instances, involves a distinction between its universal mode and its content. As eide all eide are the same in their universal mode but differ in content. The instances of eide are either other eide -- as we have shown thus far -- or ultimate individuals, functioning spatio-temporal unities. …

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