Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Particularity and Consciousness: Wittgenstein and Nagel on Privacy, Beetles and Bats

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Particularity and Consciousness: Wittgenstein and Nagel on Privacy, Beetles and Bats

Article excerpt

The present investigations are guided by the perception that personal experiences are particular, subjective and unique occurrences. This phenomenological observation concerning particularity is garnered through introspection and serves as the starting point for a metaphysical position called radical particularity. Radical particularity asserts that the prima facie differentia noted in calling things particular are, in reality, not merely surface differences. Rather, the difference or otherness between entities is a deep aspect of an individual's constitution. In other words, radical particularity asserts a metaphysical pluralism consisting of distinct particulars which are never fully unified in a hyperconnected totality or Absolute (whether divine or not).

Because of the unfamiliarity of the concept of particularity, we will use the categories of various philosophers in an attempt to find comparable ideas that might help delimit the meaning of nonmonistic particularity. Thus, the initial phenomenological intuition into the particularity of our experiences will have to past muster before a wide range of perspectives. We will find that the particularity of human persons may be compared to the ideas of privacy and subjectivity when they are seen as non-transferable experiential categories describing human consciousness.

The postulation of radical particularity is, admittedly, not standard or normative, although there seems to be a growing appreciation of its relevance. Ludwig Wittgenstein's work on the privacy of sensations and Thomas Nagel's writings on subjectivity are two examples of this increasing appreciation. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that radical particularity and the problems it occasions are abstruse, they open up new perspectives on what it means to be an individual in relationship with others. The depth of what it means to be a conscious human being is given a unique treatment using the perspective of radical particularity.

Our primary conclusions will be: 1) radical particularity is not the same as monadic simplicity, 2) nor is radical particularity fully explainable by causation, 3) certain types of naturalistic methods overlook radical particularity, and 4) radical particularity is comparable to privacy and subjectivity. Additionally, we will find as an important theme running throughout the essay that, if consciousness is seen as private and subjective, then consciousness, like radical particularity, is beyond quantification and symbolization.

A Preliminary Definition of Radical Particularity

To be a particular thing means not being other things. To be a particular thing means to be a one among many. In the case of our identity as persons, we realize by introspection that we are not all things; rather, we are partial aspects of reality. Not only introspection, but sense experience and direct contact with the world manifests our limited realm of perception. Faced with the otherness of another person, we become inwardly aware that we are approached from the outside. We realize there is another whom we are not. Metaphysically, our life is bounded by being a fragment of finite reality. We realize there is an inside and an outside, subjectivity and objectivity. Further, we find some aspects are closer to our core and some reside on the periphery.

In spite of the phenomenological intuition into particularity, the assertion of the unity or "simplicity" of each human experience is problematical. For example, it may be asked from the perspective of the natural sciences: How is it possible for a collection of organs, cells, molecules and, at base, matter and energy to exist as a particular being, as a unity? Does the complexity of our physical constitution mean that there can be no unity to our particularity and that, far from being particular, we are--just the opposite--complex matrices? If we are not simple, but matrices of events, perhaps our boundaries are not as neatly defined as the theory of radical particularity suggests. …

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