Philosophers debate the nature of reality and its link to knowledge. They exclude the Christian explanation from their considerations. The result is chaos. Logic can’t justify its own existence. If being logical can’t explain reason, maybe we should embrace being illogical? Let’s see how that works out. . . .
After Hume (1711-1776), there were two important divisions in philosophy: Kant (1724-1804) and Reid (1710-1796).
Kant, following after Hume, recognized that Hume all but destroyed science. That’s the implication of Hume’s philosophy: all things are ultimately meaningless if you deny an objective nature of reality, meaning a reality in which there is no significance or purpose that undergirds its components. Where Hume gave up, Kant continued the search for a basis for certainty in the world (something which, as we saw previously, 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell was happy to do without). Wikipedia puts it like this: “Kant’s goal was to find some way to derive cause and effect without relying on empirical knowledge.”
So, seeking to preserve the value of concepts like scientific knowledge and morality without destroying the one by the other, Kant divided reality into two realms: the phenomenal and the noumenal.
A DUALISTIC REALITY
He postulated that, instead of an infinite number of realms as Hume’s metaphysical theory implied, there are only two: the phenomenal and the noumenal. He proposed the phenomenal realm as the one of science, of measurable cause-and-effect, quantifiable dimensions, and so on. Every effect is determined by some cause which precedes it. In that sense, the phenomenal realm is deterministic. Every action that happens is the result of some cause which came before it. There are no accidents, and there is no liberty of will because every observable action can be traced back to some previous action. The phenomenal realm can be detected and observed by our senses. The job of science is to understand the physical relationship between cause and effect.
Physical history, in that sense, is just one long train of dominoes toppling each other. Nothing can disrupt them. Kant’s idea of the phenomenal realm is just a resuscitation of the ancient concept of fate.
The noumenal realm, on the other hand, is that of the immaterial: ethical choice and human free will and responsibility. These concepts are what Kant called things “in themselves.”
Kant’s things “in and of themselves” cannot be known by the human mind. Your mind can never understand something which exists outside of it (like “truth”) because your brain has no method of piercing the mysterious veil between it and the thing.
There’s the thing that produces the phenomenon. With our senses we experience the phenomenon. Our brains interpret the signals from our senses and create ideas and thoughts about what we just experienced. But the thing itself which actually created the phenomenon lies in the noumenal realm.
We may call a moving creature a kitty cat, but we can never know or understand what the thing of itself, which he perceive to be a kitty cat, actually is. Our senses cannot pierce beyond the phenomenal veil.
We’re not seeing it; we are seeing what we imagine it to look like.
THE BOTTOM-LINE PAYOFF
The primary consequence of this line of reasoning is that, since God exists outside of man, in and of Himself, man can never truly know God because man’s mind cannot pierce the divine veil of God’s mind.
That’s convenient for atheistic man. It’s one reason Kant’s philosophy overtook the modern world and defeated the common-sense realism of Thomas Reid that dominated up until the late 1800’s.
With Kant, the link between true knowledge and knowledge’s creator, God, is destroyed and re-created so as to now ultimately be founded within the human mind: “Thus the order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce. We could never find them in appearances, had not we ourselves, or the nature of our mind, originally set them there.” (Critique of Pure Reason)
In simple terms, the implications of Kant’s theory of reality is that it’s man who creates reality, not God.
But Kant left the world of philosophy with a logical inconsistency. In Christian philosophy, all things exist by God’s decree. Nothing can exist anywhere for any reason “in itself,” outside of God’s total decree. All factuality is God-interpreted factuality, and man is to think God’s thoughts after him in an analogous fashion. Our knowledge is supposed to be conformed to God’s interpretation of reality, knowledge, and ethics.
He doesn’t like murder. If we try to call murder good, then he sends us to hell. He exists, and if we try to pretend that he doesn’t exist by pretending that we don’t know him, he sends us to hell. There’s a benefit to conforming our interpretation of reality to God’s: we avoid hell.
But with Kant, he put man in the role of determining reality. Instead of man conforming his knowledge to objects, objects conform themselves to man’s knowledge: “We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.” But the “things in themselves” still exist independently outside man’s total decree. They exist independently of man’s mind.
Man can try to impose the pattern of a bear onto a kitty cat, but the “thing itself”, no matter how a person tries to interpret it, still exists. Man can do lots of things solely by altering his thought patterns, but he can’t make “things-in-themselves” vanish.
This was a logical problem that had to be eradicated because it suggests an error in the system, so Hegel took the challenge upon himself. The fruits of his labor, his concept of “dialectical materialism,” inspired Karl Marx, whose Communist worldview led to the needless deaths of a hundred million people or more.
COMMON SENSE REALISM
As I mentioned earlier, an alternate reaction to Hume’s theory comes from the Scotsman Thomas Reid. Reid said this: “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them–these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.”
Reid’s approach was what we might call irrationalistic because it was based more on feelings and intuition at its foundation than brute logic. He founded a rational worldview upon irrationality: an arbitrary assumption that lacked any justification. He would no doubt call Hume’s theory absurd: “Of course men don’t create their own realities!” he might say.
Hume’s rationalistic nominalism, while resting squarely and solely upon the faculties of human reason, couldn’t rationally explain observable reality. Reid turned, instead, to an intuitive concept we call “common sense.” It was an appeal to something Reid considered to be a gut feeling that we must take for granted even though we can’t rationally explain why it should be the case. This is ultimately an arbitrary assumption, a mere opinion. It is not justified by any evidence. It “just feels right.”
And yet, as Reid noted and probably Hume would agree, there was a lot of seeming truth in “common sense.” The problem was that there was simply no basis for believing it other than some kind of human intuition that human senses alone could discover. Hume was not willing to resort to an arbitrary opinion to support the foundation of science and human reason, even though it meant destroying them in principle. He just gave up.
Reid couldn’t so easily release human reason to drift in a sea of absurdity.
REALISM – THE PROBLEM OF THE ONE
Read, ultimately, was embracing philosophical realism. “Realism” is the idea that all things are connected. There are some things that exist independent of the human mind, like “concepts” and “truth” and “logic.” There is some ultimate purpose holding all things together on the metaphysical level. All things, all people, and all objects are ultimately related to each other by this hypothetical underlying metaphysical structure which binds them all together.
This connection to realism becomes evident when you think about the implications of what Reid said. If we all possess “common sense,” meaning inherently recognizable principles the origin of which we can’t explain, then we are all somehow connected to each other. What exists in you also exists in me, apparently in some way which remains invisible and undetectable by us or by our senses.
This is the opposite of Hume’s nominalism, in which no one is connected and every one imprints their own interpretations, their own reality, onto the world around them. With Reid, every one is connected and bound by some underlying metaphysical structure which unites us all, and meaning exists outside of and independent of our minds.
Hume essentially said “There’s no reason that inductive reasoning should be valid, even though it seems to be.”
Reid essentially said “Inductive reasoning is valid because we all know it to be true, even though we have no explanation for why it’s true.”
This is the great philosophical conflict between the One and the Many. It has engulfed humanity from its inception. It is the conflict that tore ancient Rome to tatters: is everyone’s fate predetermined by some unknowable and mystical, impersonal metaphysical force, or is there no ultimate meaning in the universe which leaves us with total free will but without reason for hope?
Hume embraced the many. Reid embraced the one. Kant aimed for somewhere in the middle at not one, not many, but two (dualism). By attempting to do so, he asked that his followers do the impossible: hold rational thoughts in their minds, which existed in a realm governed by irrationality, a realm which is not governed by the phenomenal realm of rational cause-and-effect.
Obviously, this is not very satisfying. So more philosophers rose up, and continue to rise up, to set forth their own conceptions about the link between the nature of reality and knowledge. On and on it goes.