Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Italian New Realism and Transcendental Philosophy: A Critical Account

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Italian New Realism and Transcendental Philosophy: A Critical Account

Article excerpt


Let us imagine, for a moment,to be conversing with the representative of a community of people living on an island very far away from the continent about the color of the holy stone they adore, which they firmly affirm to be white when it is clearly black. Let us consider those people to have grounded their observation on experience and that they are fully persuaded of their conclusion. Let us ignore for a while all the problems related with the translation of concepts and words, and assume we have a good knowledge of their culture, so that we are sure that the words "black" and "white" do not refer to the same color.1 Assuming all of these premises: would we ever agree that the stone is white? Why would we not instead believe that our interlocutors are just wrong?

Despite the simplicity of the question and the obviousness of the answer, this example is interesting for shedding light on a new philosophical proposal that grows around Maurizio Ferraris's remarks (Ferraris 2012; Ferraris 2014), and which is receiving praise in many countries outside Italy (Gabriel 2014). In fact, as the mental experiment mentioned above shows, the reason why we would never agree with the natives' point of view consists in the fact that, independently from the system of notions, images and signs we are used to-and from their particular relation with the correspondent domain in the world of the facts-there must always be a material and tangible substratum where all theories lose their heuristic power: according to Ferraris, the final judgment depends only on what there is.

This appeal to the "hardness of the given," which in a sense recalls some of the philosophical approaches developed in the last century as an opposition to neo-Kantian constructivism,2 finds its very application outside the linguistic field though, and, at least according to the Italian thinker, it should represent a true change in our way of thinking the whole relation between the world and our position in it.

The sense of this radical turn can be correctly understood by having a look at the recent tendencies in contemporary philosophy, which would suggest the growth of a gradual awareness of the necessity of quitting the magical anti-realism defended by the post-modernist movement, "a doctrine that ascribes to the spirit an uncontested domain on the course of the world" (Ferraris 2012: 63).3 In this context of "rebellion" against the dominion of the determining subjectivity, Hilary Putnam's theory of the common-sense realism, the re-flourishing of aesthetics and philosophy of perception as well as the re-launch of ontology as the science of being represent the clear signs of a natural process that finally puts an end to the masquerade of post-modernism, just in the same way as post-modernism did with the systematic tendencies of the previous period.

According to the point of view presented by Ferraris, the continuous separation of philosophy from the un-amending ground of reality finds its very first manifestation in the doctrine of Immanuel Kant, who first gave a definite form to the binomial relation between ontology and epistemology, leaning definitely towards the latter. With the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), speculative thought "quit ontology sustaining that philosophy had to put objects aside (since they were now in the domain of science) abandoning the 'proud name of an ontology' in order to limit itself to investigate, under 'the modest title of analytic of the pure understanding,' the conditions of possibility of the knowledge of these objects" (Ferraris 2012: 63).4 The perspective reached by metaphysics as a result of these assumptions evidently implies a strong connection between what we know and what we define as real, in such a way that Kant's Copernican revolution turns out to be "a Ptolemaic revolution, which has put mankind in the center of the universe, as the architect of the worlds through concepts" (Ferraris 2012: 47). …

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