31 March 2011

What is Reality? Don't Ask

Some people regard this as the deepest of philosophical questions. Some even regard it as the heart of metaphysics. What is reality? or ... what does it mean to be?

In wrestling with this, philosophers and wanna-bes alike have produced gnomic answers. What is it to be?

To be is to be perceived. That's a good one, George.

Existence is identity. Noted, Ayn. But Prince Hamlet has an "identity" of sorts. He is a very specific fictional character. Identity, then, is not always existence.

Reality is the fulfillment of purpose, complete or incomplete. said Josiah Royce.

Being never was, and never will be, because it is completely whole in the now. Classic -- one of the fragments of Parmenides.

And so forth.

The pragmatic answer to "what is reality," though, is to un-ask the question. For any effort to give a verbal answer to the question will only amount to substituting for the word "reality" or the word "existence" some other word or collection of words. And how will that be an advance, unless there is some confusion in the first word that requires such clarification?

There is no confusion as to what is reality, except the artificial confusion caused by philosophic niggling. Why not? because reality is a primary notion. It is the turtle at the bottom of whatever tower of turtles you want to postulate. It doesn't rest on any other turtle further down so efforts to conjure one up, by "defining" reality, are themselves necessarily unreal.

If you are going to argue over what is reality you may as well argue over what is Nothing, and move thence to the classic dispute over whether it is a verb, whether nothing noths and nihil annihilates.

Beyond the question of "what is reality" there is the far more valuable question, "what is real?" What kinds of things do we acknowledge as the furniture of the world and what are their relations to one another?

4 comments:

ciceronianus said...

Indeed, a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy should be applied when it comes to this long-standing, and ultimately futile, question.

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