Realism and Appearances: An Essay in Ontology

By John W. Yolton | Go to book overview

Introduction

The distinction between appearance and reality is as old as the history of philosophy. EVorts to save the appearances have taken various forms, usually sparked by attempts to devalue appearance in favor of reality or “the really real. ” Sometimes, in our history, saving the appearances has been motivated by claims to reduce appearance to reality, or even, it seems, to deny appearances altogether. A less drastic tactic offers to explain the appearances in terms of items in reality. To say the appearances are not real does not, of course, get rid of them; their status (however characterized) must be reckoned with. Trying to ignore them is difficult; phenomena and qualia are tenacious. It is even more difficult to attempt to reduce them to items in reality, to their causes. It is salutary to keep in mind a remark by Bradley: “Whatever is rejected as appearance, is, for that very reason, no mere nonentity. ”1

The locution “nothing but” is frequently used when philosophers discuss appearances. The appearances are said to be “nothing but” particles or corpuscles, for example, or structured brain events. Even Thomas Hobbes, who recognized and honored the appearances, employed the “nothing but” locution frequently. That locution did not mean he denied the appearances or reduced them to matter and motion. Hobbes's materialism is at best an explanatory one, not an ontological one. He was very firm: there are appearances (phantasms) and reality (matter and motion). Our contemporary materialists are not so clear about what they are affirming or denying. Often, they seem to me to confuse two claims: (a) all phenomena, all seemings or appearings, can be explained in terms of or by reference to, e.g., brain events, and (b) there are only brain events (and other physical events in the environment). The recent vogue for talking about supervenience may be an attempt to have

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1
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality: A Metaphysical Essay (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1893), p. 135.

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Realism and Appearances: An Essay in Ontology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Mind, Matter and Sense Qualia 9
  • 2 - Causing and Signifying 26
  • 3 - Actions and Persons 42
  • 4 - Locke on the Knowledge of Things Themselves 57
  • 5 - The Notions of Berkeley's Philosophy 77
  • 6 - Hume's “appearances” and His Vocabulary of Awareness 99
  • 7 - Hume's Ontology 112
  • Conclusion - The Realism of Appearances 133
  • Bibliography 146
  • Index 151
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