Reality and Appearance

The course of our ordinary experience, as well as our education, has made us all familiar with the distinction between what really is or exists and what merely appears to be.
There is no opposition more thoroughly enshrined in the language than the contrast of seeming with reality. We come upon it alike in our study of the processes of nature and our experience of human character. Thus we contrast the seeming stability of the earth with its real motion, the seeming continuity and solid of a table with the real discontinuity and an area of largely empty space, the seeming friendliness of a hypocrite with his real indifference to our welfare.
When two perceptions, both apparently equally authenticated by our senses, stand in direct conflict with one another, we cannot, without doing violence to the fundamental law of rational thinking, regard both as equally and in the same sense true. If we demand our intellect for consistency in thinking, we have to recognize that things are not always what they seem to be; what appears to us is, sometimes at any rate, not real, and what really is does not always appear.
Of our two conflicting perceptions, only one at best can be a correct representation of the reality; one of them at least, and possibly both, must be mere seeming or appearance. It is because of the importance of these puzzles of immediate perception as stimulating to such intellectual reflection that Plato and Aristotle called philosophy the child of Wonder. And, such an inquiry into the general character of reality, as opposed to more or less unreal appearance, is precisely what is meant by Metaphysics. Metaphysics sets itself, more systematically and universally than any other sciences, to ask what, after all, is meant by being real, and to what degree our various theories about the world are in harmony with the universal characteristics of real existence. (Taylor pages 2-5)


We have often spoken of the object of metaphysical knowledge as “Being” and “Reality”.
Being – “What is”, “What truly exists”.
Reality – “The ultimately real”. (Taylor 51)

When we say that a thing “is” or “has Being”, we seem primarily to mean that it is an object for the knowing consciousness, that it has its place in the system of objects which rational mind recognizes. Thus the “non-existent” primarily means that which finds no place in the scheme of objects contemplated by consistent and coherent thought.
When we call the same object “real” or a “reality”, we lay the emphasis on the consideration that it is something of which we must take account, whether we like it or not, if some purpose of our own is to get its fulfillment. Thus, the “unreal” means that which we have not, for any human purposes, to reckon. (Taylor 51)


1. Reality is not self-contradictory.
In the principle that “Reality is not self-contradictory” we have a universal and certain criterion of reality which is not merely negative, but implies the positive assertion that reality is a consistent and coherent system. (Taylor 18)
The validity of this criterion is not affected by the suggestion that it may be merely a Logical Law.
Law of Contradiction: A cannot be both B and not B. (Taylor 20)

2. All the materials or data of reality consist of experience, experience being taken to mean psychical matter of fact, what is given in immediate feeling or apprehension. (Taylor 23)
The materials or data of reality are facts of experience. And experience means for our purposes immediate feeling or apprehension. (Taylor 30) What immediate means, that it is an actual mental state; when someone is in an actual mental state of feeling or apprehension, he or she has then an immediate experience.
An experience must not be identified with “sensation”. Sensation is only one feature of experience. A pleasure or pain, an emotion of any kind, the satisfaction of a craving while actually present, are felt or apprehended no less immediately than a sense-perception. (Taylor 27)
Thus, there is a great deal more in experience than what is present as the object of conscious cognition. Or, as Bradley is fond of putting it, there is always more in my mind than before it. I am never fully aware at any moment even of the full nature of my own purposes and feelings. (Taylor 82)
When we say “whatever is real consists of experience” or “of psychical matter of fact”, we are not saying that reality is merely psychical fact as such and fall into “subjective idealism”. Reality comes to us from the first in the guise of pieces of psychical fact; (Taylor 28) and we try to determine the real parts, which are independent of our mind, that account for this whole experience. (Pragmatic Realism)

3. The real things or events, under specified and "actual" conditions, would be perceived.
Many of the objects of scientific and historical knowledge are of this kind. Thus I have never seen, and do not expect that anyone ever will see, the centre of the earth or no one has ever seen his own brain. Yet I call the centre of the earth or my own brain real in the sense that if I could penetrate to a certain depth below the soil, I should find the centre of the earth; If an opening were made in my skull, and a suitable arrangement of mirrors devised, I should see the reflection of my own brain. (Taylor 24-25) For the same reason, it is an honor to know that dinosaur did exist, Napoleon is short, and that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it does make a sound.
On the other hand, the events of next week, the constitution of Utopia, and squared circle are all alike in not being real. (Taylor 25) The events of next week may not happen; and there are no “actual” conditions that would possibly allow the establishment of constitution in Plato’s fictional Utopia or the squaring of a circle.

Existence and Content

Reality is always a concrete unity of experience in which the two distinguishable aspects of a conscious fact, its existence and its content, the that and the what, though distinguishable, are inseparable. (Taylor 55)

When we reflect upon any psychical fact, we may distinguish within it two very different aspects. There is, in the first place, the fact that it does happen, that it is a genuine psychical occurrence, - the existence or that, as we may call it; and there is also peculiar character or quality which gives this mental occurrence its unique nature as distinguished from any other experience – the content or what of the psychical fact. Thus a simple color-sensation, say that of green, has its that, - it is actually present; it has also its what - the peculiar quality by which it is distinguished, for example, from a sensation of blue. (Taylor 30-31)

The presence of these distinguishable aspects in all psychical occurrences is best illustrated by the case of illusion, the essence of which is the false apprehension of the what. Thus, when a person sees a ghost, or a hypochondriac is tormented by “imaginary” symptoms of disease, the ghost or the malady is not simply non-existent; something is actually seen or felt, but the error consists in the mistake as to the nature of what is seen or felt. (Taylor 31)

The immediately experienced is always a this-what or existence-content in which the distinction of the this from the what does not enter into consciousness. In the art of reflection, on the other hand, the what is explicitly distinguished from the that, and then ascribed to it as something which can be truly said about it. The work of thought or knowledge in making our world more intelligible to us essentially consists in the progressive analysis of a content or what, considered in abstraction from the this to which it belongs. (Taylor 31)

The this may, as in the particular judgment of perception, actually appear in the propositions as the subject to which the what is explicitly ascribed; or as in the universal statement, not appear in the proposition at all. This is why the true universal judgment has long been seen by logicians to be essentially hypothetical. (Taylor 31) This may explain why universals are seen to be real by the Realists and unreal by the Nominalists. The same can be said about ghosts, angels, any of the particular fictional characters, like Superman, or abstract concepts, like liberty; they are the that which exist in the world of intellect. Their what or content in its true character shall ultimately ascertained upon reflection or by scientific methods.

This union of existence and content is broken up upon reflection and may be restored at a higher level.
The fundamental characteristic of experience is its immediacy: the fact that in experience as such the existence and the content are not mentally separated. This immediacy may be due to the absence of reflective analysis of the given into its constituents. But it may also be due to the fusion at a higher level into a single directly apprehended whole – the results of successful process of abstraction and reflection. (Therefore, there is an immediacy of experience before reflection but there is also a higher immediacy afterword.) A work of art with an intricate internal structure, such as a musical composition, as directly presented to the artistically uncultivated person, is little more than a mere succession of immediately given data in which the aspects of existence and content are as yet hardly separated; it has no significance or meaning, but merely is. As education in the perception of artistic form proceeds, the separation becomes at first more and more prominent. Each subordinate part of the structure now acquires a meaning or significance in virtue of its place in the whole, and this meaning is at first something over and above the directly presented character of the part, something which has to be grasped by reflective analysis and comparison of part with part. The individual part has now, through analysis of its content, come to mean or stand for something outside itself, namely, its relation to all the other parts. But with the completion of our esthetic education the immediacy thus destroyed is once more restored. To the fully trained perception the meaning of the composition, its structure as an artistic whole, is no longer something which has to be pieced together and inferred by reflective comparison: it is now directly apprehended as a structural unity. The composition has a meaning, and thus the results of the intermediate stage of reflection and comparison are not lost, but taken up into the completed experience. But the meaning is no longer external to the existence of the composition; it is what it means, and it means what it is. (Taylor 32-33)

We may now see that what is thus illustrated by the case of artistic perception holds good to all advance in the understanding of reality. (Taylor 33)

Every experience appears to be implicitly complex in respect of its content.
Its aspect of content appears never to be absolutely simple, but always to contain a plurality of aspects, which, as directly felt, are not distinct, but are distinguishable upon reflection. For instance, in even the most rudimentary experience there would appear to be some subjective pleasure or pain that accompany the objective quality of a sensation. (Taylor 33-34)

In conclusion, a completely adequate apprehension of reality would be one which contained all reality and nothing but reality, and thus involved no elements whatever of deceptive appearance.
1. It would be all-embracing; it would include in itself every datum of direct experience. These data of experience, as the matters of psychical fact, are the materials of reality.
2. It would contain all its data without contradiction or discrepancy as part of a single system with a harmonious internal structure of its own.
3. Such an all-embracing harmonious apprehension of the whole data of experience would clearly transcend that separation of existence from the content. It would involve the immediacy at a higher level. It would thus experience the whole of real existence directly as a system with internal consistency and structure, but without any reference to anything beyond itself. As we said of the artistic whole, so we may say of the whole of existence as it might be apprehended by a completed insight, it would be what it meant, and mean what it was. Such an ideally complete experience of reality as a single system shall be called a “pure” experience. (Taylor 34-35)

An adequate apprehension of reality would only be possible in the form of a complete or “pure” experience, at once all-inclusive, systematic, and direct. The problem of Metaphysics is to ascertain what would be the general or formal character of such an experience, and how far the various provinces of our human experience and knowledge approximate to it. The knowledge Metaphysics can give us the ultimate nature of reality as it would be present in a complete experience, though imperfect, is final as far as it goes. (Taylor 18)

Our own human experience clearly falls far short of such an ideal, and that for two reasons.
1. our experience is incomplete in respect of its data: there is much in reality which never directly enters into the structure of our experience at all. Hence our human experience and the intellectual constructions by which we seek to interpret it have always the character of being piecemeal and fragmentary.
2. In all our reflective analyses and sciences we are constantly compelled to use hypothetical constructions, which often are merely “symbolic”, in the sense that, though useful in the coordination of experienced data, they could never themselves become objects of direct experience. (Taylor 35-36)

Our fundamental metaphysical problem, then, is that of discovering, if we can, the general or formal characteristics of such a complete or “pure” experience, i.e. those characteristics which belong to it simply in virtue of its all-containing and completely systematic nature. Also, we would have to decide what features of human experience, among those which do not possess this character, approximate most nearly to it. Unlike all other knowledge, our metaphysical knowledge of the formal character of an all-inclusive experienced whole would be , in the sense that no addition of fresh knowledge could modify it in principle. Fresh knowledge would do no more than fill in and make more concrete our conception of the system of Reality, without affecting our insight into its general structure. (Taylor 36-37)

Method of Metaphysics

As to the method of Metaphysics, it must be analytical, critical, non-empirical, and non-inductive. (Taylor 18, 38-41)


Reality and Experience

In a sense “reality” for each of us means that of which all of us must take account if our special purposes are to find fulfillment. But ultimately the world must possess a structure of which all purposes, each in its own way, must take account. This is the “Ultimate Reality” or “Absolute” of Metaphysics. The experience within which all reality falls cannot be my own, nor yet the “collective” experience of the aggregate of conscious beings. It must be an experience which apprehends the totality of existence as the harmonious embodiment of a single “purpose”. (Taylor p50)

When we say that a thing “is” or “has Being”, we seem primarily to mean that it is an object for the knowing consciousness, that it has its place in the system of objects which rational mind recognizes. Thus the “non-existent” primarily means that which finds no place in the scheme of objects contemplated by consistent and coherent thought.
When we call the same object “real” or a “reality”, we lay the emphasis on the consideration that it is something of which we must take account, whether we like it or not, if some purpose of our own is to get its fulfillment. Thus, the “unreal” means that which we have not, for any human purposes, to reckon. (Taylor 51)
This is what is often expressed by saying that reality means what is independent of our own will, what compels our recognition, whether we like it or not. The “stubborn” facts or realities, as we commonly say, force us to recognize them if some purpose of our own is to get its fulfillment. What lies entirely outside my purposes gets no kind of recognition from me; it is “unreal” for me because I have no need to take account of it. However, if we use the term in a relative sense and with reference to the special ends of this or that particular agent, then there will be as many different orders of “reality” as there are special purposes. What is “real” for the agent inspired by one purpose may be unreal for his fellows whose purposes are different; and there is therefore no such thing as an ultimate reality which we must all recognize as such; there are only the special realities which correspond to our special individual purposes. (Taylor 51-52)

Such an argument would, however, be beside the point. It is emphatically not true that there is no identical character at all about the purposes and interests of different individuals. The very recognition of the fact that any one individual purpose can only get expression by accommodating itself to a definite set of conditions, which constitute the reality corresponding to that purpose, carries with it the implication that there is a larger whole, which is ultimately a system for all individuals and must be taken into account by every kind of purpose that is to get fulfillment. All coherent pursuit of purpose must therefore in the end rest on the recognition of some characteristics of the world-order which are unconditionally and absolutely to be taken into account by all individual agents, no matter what the special nature of their particular purposes. This is all that is meant when it is said that the reality investigated by Metaphysics is absolute, or when the object of metaphysical study is spoken of as the Absolute. (Taylor 53)

We may, in fact, conveniently define the Absolute as that structure of the world-system which any and every internally consistent purpose must recognize as the condition of its own fulfillment. It is important, however, to bear in mind that in Metaphysics, though we are certainly concerned with the ultimate or absolute Reality, we are concerned with it from a special point of view. Our special purpose is to know, or to think coherently, about the conditions which all intelligent purpose has to recognize. (Taylor 53-54)

If there is such an Absolute Experience, all the realities that we know as the contents of our environment must be present to it, and present to it as they really are in their completeness. (Taylor 62)

The inseparability of reality from immediate experience.
With Reality so defined, we can see more completely why it is only in immediate experience that reality is to be found. The reason we identify reality with immediate experience for we have seen:
1. that immediacy means simply indissoluble union, a whole, of what is "objectively" given and "subjective" feeling, and that this immediacy belongs to every mental state as actually lived through, when someone is in an actual mental state of feeling or apprehension.
2. that the dependence of sensations on an “external” cause is in no sense an immediate datum of experience, but a reflective analysis; and that reality is to be found in what is immediately experienced, as opposed to what is severed by subsequent reflective analysis from its union with feeling.
3. that it is a philosophical blunder to identify the real with merely “independent” of ourselves. Presence in immediate experience is a universal character of all that is real, because it is only in so far as anything is thus presented in immediate unity with the concrete life of feeling that it can be given as a condition or fact of which an individual interest must take account. (Taylor 54 & 56)

  Actual life is always a concrete unity of immediate experience in which the two distinguishable aspects of a psychical fact, its existence and its content, the that and the what, though distinguishable, are inseparable. Scientific reflection on the given is always abstract, in the sense that its very essence is the mental separation of the content from the process. By such separation we get to know the character of the separated content better, but our knowledge, with all in fullness, still remains abstract; it is still knowledge referring to and about an object outside itself. It is only when, as a result of the reflective process, we find fresh meaning in the concrete actuality of real existence. (Taylor 55)

Now, we may express this same result in another and an even more significant way. To say that reality is essentially one with the immediate experience, is only another way of saying that the real is essential that which is of significance for the attainment of purpose. For immediate experience is essentially teleological, as we may see even in the case of simple pleasure and pain. (Taylor 55)

This point may perhaps be made clearer by a concrete example. Suppose that some purpose of importance requires my immediate presence in the next town. Then the various routes by which I may reach that town become at once circumstances of which I have to take note and to which I must adapt my conduct, if my important purpose is not to be frustrated. It may be that there are alternative routes, or it may be that there is only one. In any case, and this is fundamental for us, the number of alternatives which my purpose leaves open to me will be strictly limited. I can, as a matter of mere mathematical possibility, go from A to B in an indefinite number of ways. If I have to make the journey in actual fact on a giving day, and with existing means of transit, the theoretical infinity of possible ways is speedily reduced to, at the outside, two or three. For simplicity’s sake we will consider the case in which there happens to be only one available way. This one available way is “real” to me, as contrasted with the infinity of mathematically possible routes, precisely because the execution of my purpose restricts me to it and no other. The mathematically possible infinity of routes remain unreal just because they are thought of as all alike mere possibilities. They are “imaginary” or “mere possible” just for want of specific relation to an experience which is the expression of a definite purpose. (Taylor 56-57)

This illustration may lead us on to a further point of the utmost importance, for it illustrates the principle that the real as opposed to the merely “possible” is always individual. There was an indefinite number of mathematically conceivable ways from A to B; there was only one, or at least a precisely determinate number, by which I could fulfill a concrete individual purpose. While thought is general, the reality about which we think is always individual. Now, what is the source or principle of this individuality of the real as opposed to the generality of the merely conceivable? It is precisely that connection of reality with actual purpose. (Taylor 57)

It is from the unique individuality of the purpose expressed in an actual experience that the objects or facts of immediate experience derive the individually in virtue of which we contrast them with the generalities or abstract possibilities of science. (Taylor 57)

Thus we seem to have reached the conclusion that to say “Reality is experience” involves the further propositions, “Reality is through and through purposive” and “Reality is uniquely individual”. (Taylor 58)

The experience within which all reality falls cannot be my own, nor yet the “collective” experience of the aggregate of conscious beings. It must be an individual experience which apprehends the totality of existence as the harmonious embodiment of a single “purpose”. (Taylor 50)
Reality cannot be separated from experience. However, identify reality with experience does not mean identifying it with my own experience. My own experience, in fact, is very far from satisfying the conditions of completeness and harmony which we found to be essential to a “pure” or perfect experience. Its defectiveness is principally manifested in three ways”
1. The contents of individual experience are always fragmentary. It usually contains the poorest fragment of the whole wealth of existence. The purposes or interests which make up my conscious life are limited.
The major portion of the facts of the universe, i.e. of the conditions needed to fulfill our aims lie outside the range of my individual interests or expertise. Hence, being without significance for my individual purposes, they do not directly enter into my special experience. I either know nothing of them at all, or know of them only indirectly and through the testimony of others for whose lives they have real and direct significance. (Taylor 58-59)
2. My insight even into my own aims and interests is of a very limited kind. For one thing, it is only a fragment of them which is ever given in the form of what is immediately felt in an actual moment of experience. We have largely to interpret the actually felt by theoretical intellectual constructions which reach, in the form of memory, into the past, and, in the form of anticipation, into the future. And both these types of intellectual construction, though indispensable, are notoriously vitiated by fallacies. (Taylor 59)
3. Even of the realities of which I do take note I never perceive more than just those aspects which attract my attention just because they happen to be significant for my special interests. Everything that is has an infinity of sides to it, over and above those of which we become aware because of their special importance for our own purpose. (Taylor 59)

For all these reasons we are prohibited to identify our own limited experience with the experience of which that to be real is to be bound up with it. Neither can we identify this experience with the “collective experience” of the aggregate of human beings in the universe. The various experiences of finite individuals are all, we have said, fragmentary and more or less incoherent. You cannot, therefore, get an experience which is all-comprehensive and all-harmonious by adding them together. Beside, our finite experiences are not only fragmentary, but also largely contradictory and internally chaotic. (Taylor 59-60)

Thus, the experience of the absolute whole must not be thought as a mere reduplication of our own. Nor should it be thought as scientific facts, which we co-ordinate for the purpose of general scientific theory. For all scientific analysis is in its very nature general and hypothetical. It deals solely with type and abstract possibilities, never with the actual constitution of individual things. But all real existence is individual. (Taylor 63)

To put it in a different way, scientific theory deals always with those features of the content, the what, of things of which we take note because of their significance for our human purposes. And in dealing with these features of things, it seeks to establish general laws of linkage between them of which we may avail ourselves, for the practical purpose of realizing our various human interests. This practical motive, though often not apparent, implicitly controls our whole scientific procedure from first to last. Hence the one test of scientific hypothesis is its success in enabling us to infer one set of facts from another set. It shall also lead to other aspects which are not represented in the hypothesis, in other words, to other facts capable of experimental verification. (Taylor 63)


We may now, before attempting to carry out in detail our general view of what is involved in being real, enumerate a few philosophical doctrines about the nature of real existence which our conclusion as to the connection of reality with experience justifies us in setting aside. (Taylor 67)


The conclusion we have reached so far is identical with the anti-materialistic view of Berkeley. But there is one important difference that leads to momentous consequences.
Berkeley’s argument against the independent existence of unperceived matter is based on the principle that to be means to be present in an experience, in other words, to be perceived. It is to be noted that he works throughout with different conception of “experience” and “presence in experience”. He treats experience as equivalent to mere passive “awareness” of a quality presented to perception. To experience with him means simply to be conscious of a presented quality. Hence he is led to infer that the things we perceive are nothing more than complexes of presented qualities, or, as he phrases it, that their whole being consists in being perceived. (Taylor 64)

On the theory that experience is purely passive and presentational, consisting merely in the reception of certain sensations, the question at once arises, “What determines what in particular the sensations we at any given moment receive shall be? On the Berkeleian view, their order must be determined altogether from without by a principle foreign to the experience which, he assumes, has nothing to do but to cognize the qualities put before it. Hence he is led to appeal to the agency of God, whom he supposes directly and immediately to cause perceptions to succeed on another in my experience in a certain definite order. This source he identifies with God, might as well be, as by Locke, in the original constitution of matter. Also, if presence to my own experience, while it lasts, is an adequate account to the esse of a thing, it does not appear why I should recognize the reality of any other experience. If its being is not exhausted by my awareness of it, then its esse cannot be merely percipi. (Taylor 64-65)

The purposive aspect of experience - the selective attention.
Berkeley’s difficulty arises from his failure to take adequate account of the purposive aspect of experience. Experience is not mere awareness of a succession of presented objects; it is awareness of a succession determined by a controlling interest or purpose. The order of my experiences is not something simply given me from without; it is controlled and determined by subjective interest from within. It is the interests for which I take note of facts that in the main determine which facts I shall take note of. I do not simply receive my presented facts passively in an order determined for me from without; in virtue of my power of selective attention, on a limited scale, and very imperfectly, I recreate the order of their succession for myself. (Taylor 65-66)
The very expression “selective attention” itself carries with it a reminder that the facts which respond to my interests are but a selection out of a larger whole. (Taylor 66)

Idealism, i.e. the doctrine that all reality is mental, becomes unintelligible when mental life is conceived of as a mere awareness of “given” presentations. (Taylor 67)


Subjectivism is the view that I can know with certainty only my thoughts – my own mind and its content.

Subjectivism asserts truly that there is no reality outside experience, and then falsely concludes that I can know of no realities except my own cognitive states. (Taylor 75)
Subjectivism, according to which all that I know is states of my own “conscious”, is irreconcilable with the admitted facts of life. (Taylor 50)

Though the logical consequences of subjectivist doctrine are so subversive of all the practical assumptions upon which daily life is based, we must not dismiss the subjectivist theory summarily. We must examine the doctrine to discover where the fallacy comes in.(Taylor 76)

The current arguments for Subjectivism are often so stated as to confuse together two quite distinct positions. When it is said that what we perceive is “our own subjective state”, the meaning intended may be either that there is, at least so far as I am able to know, no real existence in the universe except that of my “state of consciousness”; or that there are such realities, but of the properties which I perceive do not belong to them in their own nature but are only subjective effects of their action upon my “consciousness”. (Taylor 76-77)

Now, many of the arguments commonly urged by the subjectivist would at most only prove the second conclusion that there are such realities but we do not always perceive the world of things as it is.
Here comes the problem “How is it possible for us to perceive falsely?”
If what I perceive has some kind of existence distinct from my perception, then the discrepancy is in no way shows that the things which I perceive are “states of my own conscious”. If the existence of a thing is only another name for the fact that I perceive it, it seems impossible that I should perceive anything except as it is. We may confine our attention, then, to the grounds which the subjectivist alleges for the former conclusion, that nothing can be known to exist except my own “states of consciousness”. (Taylor 77)

The mistakes of doctrine of Subjectivism:
1. There are certain realities, admitted by the subjectivists themselves, which are manifestly not “states of my consciousness”, and yet have a genuine though imperfect knowledge. (Taylor 78)
2. Subjectivism, as a doctrine in Psychology, is demonstrably false. (Taylor 78-80)
The subjectivist confuses experience with mere awareness of a presented content. He ignores the presence of the true “subjective” factor of selective attention throughout experience, and is thus let to forget that all experiences imply an element which is in the experiencing mind but not presented to it. And in confining his attention to the presentational aspect of experience, he goes on to confound the presented content with the fact of its presentation. However, the cognitive state is never its own object, it refer to or cognizes an object distinct from its own existence as a psychical occurrence. (Taylor 80)
3. The capability of a plurality of percipients of communicating their experience to each other. (Taylor 80-81)

Thus, Subjectivism asserts truly that there is no reality outside experience, and then falsely concludes that I can know of no realities except my own cognitive states. (Taylor 75)

You can also read Mortimer J. Adler‘s article Consciousness and its objects that discuss the mistaken view of Locke that alleges all ideas in anyone’s mind are subjective and private and are that which we apprehend when we are conscious of anything.  


We can at once see that our view (note: the view of A.E. Taylor) is incompatible with all forms of what is commonly known as Realism. By Realism is meant the doctrine that the fundamental character of that which really is, as distinguished from that which is only imagined to be, is to be found in its independence of all relation of a subject. What exists at all, the realist holds, exists equally whether it is experienced or not. Neither the fact of its existence nor the kind of existence it possesses depends in any way upon its presence to the experience. Before it was experienced at all it had just the same kind of being that it has now you are experiencing it, and it will still be the same when it has passed out of experience. (Taylor 67)

Realism, both of the Agnostic and of the Dogmatic type, is incompatible with the meaning we have been led to attach to “Reality”. But Agnosticism is justified in insisting on the limitations of our knowledge of Reality, and Dogmatic Realism in rejecting the identification of Reality with experience as a merely cognitive function of finite percipients. (Taylor 50)

As to the number and nature of the supposed independent real things, very different views may be held and have been held by different representatives of Realism. Thus some realists have maintained the existence of a single ultimate reality, others of an indefinite plurality of independent “reals”. Parmenides is an instance in the ancient, and Herbert Spencer, an instance in the modern, world of realism of the monistic type. The ancient atomists and modern Leibnitz and Herbart afford the best known instances of a doctrine of pluralistic Realism.
Even more diverse theories have been propounded as to the nature of the “reals”. Materialism is perhaps the most appealing form of realist doctrine. But though a materialistic is necessarily a realist, a realist need not be a materialist. (Taylor 68)

The only point on which all the realist theories agree is that which they recognize as true Being consists in it not depending for its existence or its character on relation to an experience. The differences of detail as to the number and nature of independent “reals”, though of great importance for our complete estimate of an individual realist’s philosophical position, do not affect our general verdict on the tenability of the first principle of Realism. (Taylor 68)

The one point of divergence among realists which may be considered as of more than secondary importance for our purpose, is the difference between what we may call Agnostic and Dogmatic Realism. (Taylor 68)

Agnostic Realism, while asserting a reality which exists independently of experience, denies that we can have any knowledge of the nature of this independent reality. The independent reality by which all experience is conditioned is, on this view, an unknowable or thing-in-self. The doctrine of Agnostic Realism forms a leading feature of the Philosophy of Kant as expounded in his First Critique. (Taylor 68-69)
Agnosticism enshrines a piece of truth which the metaphysician is peculiarly prone to forget. Because his special interest is to know something final and certain about Reality, metaphysician is the most apt to exaggerate the amount of his certain knowledge. It is well to be reminded that the certainty with which we may say that Reality is experience, it is compatible with a very imperfect and limited theoretical insight into experience itself. Agnosticism is justified in insisting on the limitations of our knowledge of Reality. (Taylor 71)

Dogmatic Realism, while maintaining that real being is independent of experience, at the same time holds that it is possible to have positive knowledge not only of its existence but its nature. (Taylor 69) One of its forms, the “naïve realism”, supposes the world of experienced things with all its perceived qualities to exist independently of any relation to an experiencing subject in precisely the same form in which we experience it. (Taylor 72)
This is also the view of common-sense realists as well. Nothing seems more obvious to “common sense” than that our perception of a thing does not bring it out of nothing into existence, and again does not create for it new qualities which it had not before. It is because the thing is already there, and has already such and such a nature that we perceive it as we do, according to the common sense realists. Therefore the whole world of perceived things must exist independently in the same form in which they are perceived, as a condition of our perception of them. (Taylor 72)
"Scientific" realism is the view that the world described by science is the real world.

It is clear that our general argument that reality exists in an experience is against the view of “naïve” & “common-sense” realism as well as the more reflective “scientific” realism. The important elements of truth contained in Realism seem to be in the main two.
1. It is certain that a thing may be real without being consciously present in my experience. Things do not begin to exist when I begin to be aware of them, or cease to exist when I cease to be aware of them. (Taylor 73)
2. The fact of our imperfect understanding of our own feelings and purposes, something may have been an integral part of my own life as experiencing subjects without my consciously recognize it as such when we reflect on the contents of our experience. This may result in the relativistic view that there are as many different orders of “reality” as there are special purposes. What is “real” for the agent inspired by one purpose may be unreal for his fellows whose purposes are different; and there is therefore no such thing as an ultimate reality which we must all recognize as such; there are only the special realities which correspond to our special individual purposes. (Taylor 73 & 52)

However, we have already insisted that it is not my experience which constitutes Reality and that experience is not merely cognitive. The experience cannot be my own, nor yet the “collective” experience of the aggregate of conscious beings. The realist thinks he may infer that there are realities which would still be real though they entered into no experience at all. But there is really no logical connection between the premises of this inference and the conclusion which is drawn from them. The experience within which all reality falls must be an individual experience which apprehends the totality of existence as the harmonious embodiment of a single “purpose”. (Taylor 73 & 50)

Realism, as we saw, started from the true premises, that there are real facts of which my experience does not make me explicitly aware, and that my cognition even of my own experience is incomplete, and argued to the false conclusion that there are therefore realities independent of any experience. (Taylor 75)


The Systematic Unity of Reality – The One and The Many

The problem whether Reality is ultimately One or Many is inevitably suggested by the diverse aspects of our own direct experience of the world. The world seems at first to exhibit an indefinite plurality of more or less independent things. On the other hand, there are strong reasons for regarding the world as a single unity. (Taylor 84-85)

Is Reality One or is it Many, we have to ask, and if it is both, how are the unity and multiplicity connected? The answers which different philosophical systems have given to this question may conveniently be classified as:
1. Monism. Monistic views lay the principle stress upon the unity of the real and tend to treat the aspect of plurality and variety as of secondary importance.
2. Pluralism. Pluralistic views hold the multiplicity and variety of real beings as the primary fact.
Within each of the two types there is divergence of view as to the special nature of the real. A monistic system may be purely materialistic, like that of Parmenides, or idealistic like that of Schopenhauer, or it may treat mind and matter as “aspects” of a common reality, like Spinoza. A pluralist may conceive of each of his independent real things as a person, an organism, an inanimate thing, or as a physical atom.(Taylor 85-86)

Pluralism begins by misapprehending the presumed fact of the mutual independence of human beings, and teaches that this independence of each other belongs to all real beings. The pattern upon which the pluralist views of Reality are constructed is that of a community consisting of a great number of selves or persons, each with its own unique interests, and each therefore at once internally simple& indivisible individual and exclusive of all the rest. However, the selves or persons composing society are not themselves simple, undifferentiated unities. Human personal interests, for instance, are never merely mutually exclusive. My aims and purposes may never completely coincide with those of other members of the same community, yet they have no meaning and could get no realization but for the fact that they are comprised in the wider whole of social interests and purposes which makes up the life of the social organizations to which I belong. (Taylor 87-89)
Physical science, as it grows, learns more and more to look upon nature as a realm of interconnected events where no one fact is ultimately entirely independent of any other fact; political experience and social science alike reveal the intimate interdependence of human lives and purposes. (Taylor 85)

Note: The Monadism of Leibnitz was an attempt to effect a compromise between Pluralism and Monadism. According to this view, the universe consists of an infinity number of fundamentally isolated monads. Being mutually independent, the monads have no genuine relations with each other; each is conscious only of the succession of its own states. So far the system is pure Pluralism. But at the same time the unity of the whole system of monads is to be genuine. As Leibnitz puts it, each monad “represents” the same systematic structure from its own special point of view. Now a system of this kind seems to exhibit all the defects of Pluralism with certain superadded difficulties of its own. We might reasonably reject it on the basis that there is no example of a genuine system in which all the elements are actually independent. (Taylor 91-92)

Reality must be the expression of a single principle in and through a multiplicity. The unity and multiplicity must both be real, and each must necessarily involve the other. (Taylor 84)
The world for knowledge must be an orderly whole or system. To be a system at all, it must be the development or expression in detail of a single principle. It cannot be a mere unit; it must be the expression of a single principle in and through a multiplicity of terms or constituents. Not only must it both be one and many, but it must be many precisely because it is truly one, and one because it is truly many. In addition, because the world-system is a perfect systematic whole, not only is multiplicity in general necessary to its unity, but each particular element in the multiplicity is necessitated or logically implied by the character of the unity. To think of the world as a single systematic unity means to think of it as the manifestation in a possibly infinite multiplicity of detail of one perfectly determinate principle. And, what we have called the individual elements of the multiplicity may on inspection themselves turn out to be systems of infinite complexity determined by a law of construction derived from that of the complete system. (Taylor 94-95)

Note: Spinoza has played so large a role in the subsequent development of Monism – the double aspects or attributes of Reality. The two are thus everywhere inseparable and irreducible “parallel” expressions of a Nature which is neither mental nor physical. On this fundamental point, our theory completely parts company with Spinozism. That the Nature, the one and the common whole, should be equally manifested in two entirely irreducible forms, is a patent impossibility. Either the unity of the whole or the absolute disparateness of its twin manifestations must be surrendered if we are to think consistently.(Taylor 102-103)

In the all-embracing systematic whole the unity and the multiplicity must be equally real and each must be real through the other. How is this possible? Only on condition that the whole system forms a single experience and that the constituent factors are also single experiences. (Taylor 95)
a) The unity of the world cannot be that of a mere collection or aggregates. In a mere aggregate the elements are real independently of their relation to one another as elements in this aggregate. (Taylor 95-96)
b) The world of Reality cannot be thought of as a mere whole of parts. A whole of parts, which has a determinate single character as a whole that manifests itself in the structure of the various parts, is a better model of a true systematic unity than a mere aggregate. For this reason, a geometrical figure or a machine is much more than a mere aggregate; it has a character as a whole, which is expressed by the construction of the different parts. But we cannot say that the unity and the variety are equally real, for the whole cannot exist without the parts, whereas the parts may continue to exit, though not, as parts of this whole. The whole may be said to be constituted by the successive construction of the parts, and the parts may survive the destruction of the whole. There is not that equal reality and complete mutual implication of the two sides which we have deemed necessary to a genuine systematic unity. (Taylor 96)
c) An organism has a systematic character of its own which manifests itself in and through the difference of its various members. The members come into being along with the whole, and in the course of its growth as a whole; though they may continue to exist after the severance from the whole, it is not with the same kind of existence which belonged to them as members. (Taylor 96-97)
An organism is a truer systematic than a mere whole of parts, but still fails to exhibit the perfect systematic unity of the One and the Many of which we are in quest. In the machine the aspect of multiplicity was relatively more real than that of unity; in the fully evolved organism the unity seems more real than the multiplicity. For the unity is a conscious one; in some degree at least it exists for itself, and its members for it. Whereas it is doubtful that the member exists for itself, it is even more doubtful whether the whole exists in any sense for the members. And though the member cannot retain its peculiar form of existence except as a member in the whole, yet in even the highest organism the unity is so far relatively independent that it is unaffected by the removal of some of the members. (Taylor 96-97)

Not every member is of vital significance for the life of the whole. But in a complete systematic unity the unity and multiplicity of the system must be equally real and equally interdependent. This can only be the case if the whole is for its members as well as the members for the whole; just as the all-embracing whole of reality must be an experience, so each of its members must be itself an experience. Such a view is, strictly speaking, hardly to be called either Pluralism or Monism. (Taylor 97)

We may say, then that Reality is a Systematic Experience of which the components are likewise experiences. Another way of expressing the same thought would be to say that Reality is an Individual of which the elements are lesser individuals. This emphasizes the fundamental teleological character of the unity of the real, and also of each and all of its constituents. We may thus call Reality a complete or perfect individual of minor or incomplete individuals. (Taylor 97-98)
The fundamental distinction between the supreme individual whole and the lesser individuals will be discussed in the next section “Reality and its Appearance”.

The relation between the individual whole of Reality and the elements within the whole is necessarily unique, and cannot be adequately illustrated in a mechanical way as that of “parts” to a “whole of parts”, or as that of “members” to an organism. The whole is a real individual. We may say that it is made up of experiences or minds, but we must not say that it is a collection of minds. A mere collection cannot be said to have any genuine individuality, because it has no teleological unity. Whether we could properly speak of the absolute whole as a society of minds is a further and a more difficult question. A society is much more than a mere collection: it has a purposive unity of structure which exists for its own members as active in assigning to each of them his special place in relation to all the rest. (Taylor 100)
In a society of selves we have a larger and more genuinely self-determined individual than the single self. Hence it would be nearer the truth to think of the Absolute as a Society, though no finite whole adequately expresses the Absolute’s full nature. (Taylor 334)

If we are to look at this stage for some analogue within our partial experience for the kind of unity of individuals in a single supreme individual which we have demanded for the system of Reality, we shall probably do best to turn to what is after all the most familiar thing in the world, - our own personal experience. If we consider the nature of any coherent “mental system” as the embodiment of a purposive life, it possesses a degree of individuality of its own and constitutes a genuine self-existing individual whole of the kind which psychologists recognize as a “self” and we wherein may call “total self”. The total self is no mere collection or product of the lesser and special purposive “selves”. These lesser “selves” are not mere parts of a whole, but each is the expression, in a concrete conscious life, of the nature of the total self from a special “point of view”. (Taylor 101)



Reality is to be thought of as a systemic whole forming a single individual experience, which is composed of elements or constituents which are in their turn individual experiences. In each of these constituents the nature of the whole system manifests itself in a special way. Each of them contributes its own peculiar content to the whole system, and as the change of any one of them would alter the character of the whole, so it is the nature of the whole which determines the character of each of its constituents. In this way the whole and its constituent members are in complete interpenetration and form a perfect systemic unity. In the happy phrase of Leibnitz, we may say that each of the partial experiences reflects the whole system from its own peculiar “point of view”. If we call the complete system, as it is for itself, Reality par excellence, we may appropriately speak of the partial experiences in which its nature is diversely manifested as its Appearances. However, in calling them appearances is not to stamp them as illusory or unreal. They will only be illusory or unreal when we forget that they are one and all partial aspects or manifestations of a whole of which none of them adequately exhausts the contents. (Taylor 104-105)

If we treat any partial experiences as though it were the complete and adequate expression of the whole nature of Reality, - in other words, when we apply conceptions which are only valid for special aspects of existence to the existence as a whole, - we shall inevitably find ourselves led to contradictory results. (Note: Blind men and an elephant)Each partial aspect of a total system can only be ultimately understood by reference to the whole to which it belongs. Because our knowledge of the structure of the system as a whole is so imperfect as it is, our insight into the structure of its constituents is also necessarily limited. Hence, even within the limits of their applicability, the special concepts of our deep beliefs are not free from internal contradiction. For instance, we are led to powerful results of modern science in interpreting the whole system of experience in terms of the concepts used in the purely physical sciences; and even in their restricted use as physical sciences, these concepts seem incapable of being so defined as to involve no element of contradiction. (Taylor 105)

Therefore, every Appearance implies an element of contradiction; only for an insight which could take in at once the whole system of existence would its details be completely coherent and harmonious. Though our detailed insight into structure of the whole may never reach the ideal of perfect self-consistency, yet it may approximate to that ideal in different degrees, at different stages, or with reference to different aspects. And the closer the approximation the less the modification which our knowledge would require to bring it into complete harmony with itself, and the greater therefore the element of truth about Reality which it contains. (Taylor 105-106)

We must avoid falling into the mistake of thinking of the Reality and the world of its appearances as though they formed two distinct realms. In a systematic unity, the whole can exist only in so far as it expresses its nature in the system of its parts, and the parts can have no being except as the whole expresses itself through them. Reality, then, being a systematic whole, can have no being apart from its appearance, though neither any of them taken singly, nor yet the sum of them thought of collectively, can exhaust its contents. The whole is truly, as a whole, present in each and every part, while yet no part is the whole. (Taylor 106)

Blind men and the Elephant
Blind men and the Elephant
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We may illustrate by an appeal to our own experience. Consider the way in which we set to work to execute any systematic purpose, for example, the mastery of a particular business. We have in such a case a central purpose, which in the process of execution spreads out into connected system of subordinate ideas and interests welded into one by the reference to a common end which pervades the whole. The central aim is only realized in the successive realization of the subordinate stages; at the same time, while it is what sustains all the members of the system, it has no existence apart from them, though it is identical neither with any one of them nor yet with the sum collectively considered. (Taylor 106)

If our conviction that Reality is a single systematic unity pervading and manifesting itself in lesser systematic unities is correct, we shall expect to find that some of the lesser systematic unities with which we have to deal in practical life and in the various sciences exhibit more of the full character of the whole to which they belong than others. The “points of view” from which each minor system reflects the whole, though all true, need not be all equally true. Though the whole, in a genuine system, must be present as a whole in every part, it need not be equally present in all. To take a concrete example, a living organism and a human mind engaged in the conscious systematic pursuit of truth, are both to some degree, represent the structure of the universal whole to which they both belong. But it does not follow that both manifest the structure of that whole with equal adequacy and fullness. The nature of the whole system of Reality is exhibited with greater adequacy and clearness in the working of the conscious mind than the vital processes of the living organism. (Taylor 106-107)

In practical life, too, one of our convictions is that there are degrees of worth which coincide with degrees of the adequacy with which partial systems exhibit the nature of the larger wholes to which they belong. For instance, among the different mental systems, some are “truer” than others, on the ground that they more fully reveal my whole character as an individual human being. I am in one sense myself wherever I may be and whatever I may be doing, and yet I am “more myself” in health than in sickness, in the free pursuit of self-chosen studies than in the forced discharge of uncongenial tasks imposed on me by the necessary of earning an income. (Taylor 107)

We ought, then, to be prepared to find the same state of things universally in the relation of Reality to its Appearances. The same thought may be expressed by saying that Reality has degrees, and that the forms of Appearance in which its common nature is mostly and clearly manifested have the highest degrees of reality. (Taylor 107-108)

Reality is one in the sense of being an individual self-contained whole of experience. And its individuality means that it is the systematic embodiment of a single coherent structure in a plurality of elements or parts, which depend for their whole character upon the fact that they are the embodiment of precisely this structure. We may say that degrees of reality mean the same thing as degrees of individuality, and that a thing is real precisely to the same extent to which it is truly individual. A thing, no matter of what kind, is really what it appears to be, as it appears for our knowledge, is itself a self-contained and therefore unique systematic whole. (Taylor 109)

One thing is ceteris paribus more truly an individual whole than the other: 1. when the wealth of detailed content it embraces is greater; 2. when the completeness of the unity with it embraces that detail is greater. Or, the degree of individuality possessed by any system depends: 1. on its comprehensiveness; 2. on its internal systematization. The more a thing includes of existence and the more harmoniously it includes it, the more individual it is. (Taylor 110)

The more the partial system embraces, the less will its constituents be determined by relation to anything outside itself, and the more completely will its organization be explicable by reference to its own internal principle of structure. That is, the greater the comprehensiveness of the system, the completer in general will be its internal coherence. That is, the greater the internal harmony, the greater in general the comprehensiveness of the system. (Taylor 110)

Although our limited insight is insufficient to assign to every appearance with certainty its own place in the ordered system of appearances through which the single Reality expresses itself, we are justified in using comprehensiveness and harmony as the measure of the individuality and therefore of the reality of the partial system. It is on such grounds, for instance, that we may safely pronounce that an organism, which is the living unity of its members, is more individual and therefore a higher reality than a mere aggregate of pre-existing units, in which the nature of the parts is generally independent of the structure of the whole; and again, that a mind consciously and systematically pursuing a coherent self-chosen system of ends is a higher reality than an organism reacting according to the temporary character of its environment. (Taylor 112)

One important argument concerns the relation of the lesser individuals to the perfect individual which is the absolute whole of Reality. Now that we have learned what it meant by degrees of individually, we may be led to believe that there can, in the last resort, be only one perfect and complete individual, the whole of Reality itself. (Taylor 113) Note: It is either God or a Theory of Everything. Unless, someone has figured out Kant’s “Dinge an sich”.



Appearance and Reality of Human Existence

In examining the history of philosophy, one finds that various aspects of the problem of appearance and reality have been important issues with the great philosophers from Plato to Kant, including many contemporary philosophers. In addition, advancements made in the last century in the physical sciences, have prompted increased discussions of this problem amongst some of this centuries most eminent physicists.
The problem of appearance and reality takes many forms; all of them involve discrepancies between the way things really are and the way they appear to us.
This inquiry will examine aspects of these apparent discrepancies that have arisen from the theoretical and experimental work of modern physicists. We will examine theories that conflict with our common sense view of reality and that have consequences in our understanding of the existence of things, and in particular, human existence.
Knowing that he has devoted considerable time and effort in addressing these questions, I decided to consult with my colleague Mortimer Adler to see what light he could shed on this subject. (Max Weismann)

According to Arthur Eddington, the table he and his audience perceived through their eyes and could touch with their hands might appear to them to be solid. That was the appearance, an appearance that might even be called illusory in comparison to the reality of the tiny invisible particles in motion that filled the space occupied by the visible table, a space largely empty.
What we are confronted with here is the fallacy of reductionism. It consists in regarding the ultimate constituents of the physical world as more real than the composite bodies these elementary components constitute. Reductionism may go even further and declare these ultimate constituents to be the only reality, relegating everything else to the status of mere appearance or illusion.
According to Dr. Adler, both the solid table and the imperceptible particles have real existence, but their reality is not of the same kind, not of the same order or degree. By virtue of that fact, the conflict can be resolved.

Human Existence

What do people have in mind when they inquire about the existence of anything?
First of all, they are usually asking about whether the thing in question has reality. Does it exist in the real world independent of our minds or is it only an object that exists when we use our powers of perception and thought?

A second question they may have in mind concerns the manner of existence. Does it exist in and by itself, not as a part or aspect of anything else, or is it merely the latter? If it exists alongside other things which constitute the whole of reality, then it exists as a part, and not entirely in and by itself. But if, when one of these other things ceases to exist, it still continues in existence, then it is not a part of that thing in the sense in which the leg of a chair would cease to exist if the chair did.

What I have just said about the leg of a chair be also said about its color, its shape, its weight, and so on. These are attributes or characteristics of the chair. As such, they do not exist in and by themselves: they exist in the chair, and continue to exist only as long as the chair does.

In ancient philosophy, the words “substance” and “accident” were used to make the distinction between that which existed in itself and that which existed in another. These terms no longer have currency and may be misleading. I am, therefore, going to substitute for them the more familiar words “thing” and “attribute” for what was once spoken of as having substantial and accidental existence.

Still another question concerns the the duration or durability of existence. As compared with a thing, or even with its attributes, events are existences of a short duration. A lightning flash, for example, we regard as an instantaneous event; a long peal of thunder, as an event of short duration, having a beginning, middle, and end within a brief span of time. We would not, therefore, refer to it as a thing. In contrast, a house that has been standing for a century or more, undergoing change during that time, is not an event but a thing.

In the world of physical phenomena, things are the only existences that are the subjects of change. Events do not change .The attributes of a thing do not change.The greenness of an apple that has not yet ripened does not become red when the ripening occurs. On the contrary, it is the apple that has altered in quality, changing from green to red. It is the apple that changes in place when it is moved from here to there. And it is the human baby that changes in size and weight, and in many other respects, when it grows, not the attributes or characteristics that are “replaced” by other attributes or characteristics when these changes take place with growth.

The mutable existence of things involves another point of great importance. For a thing to change in whatever respect, it itself must remain that one and the same thing throughout the process. If it did not remain the same thing, how could we possibly speak of “it” as changing?

In short, that which is the subject of change must have an enduring identifiable identity. It must also have a persistent unity.

How then, do we as human beings exist?
Our common sense of the matter, based upon our common experience, is that human beings exist as individual things, having many attributes with respect to which they change while they remain one and the same enduring thing that is subject to all these changes.

What has just been said is a matter of no slight importance. Without the kind of identifiable identity that belongs to the individual thing as a subject of change, human beings, having obviously mutable existence, could not be held morally responsible for their acts.

Our own sense of our personal identity is that, from moment to moment, sleeping or waking, we are one and the same individual, the same whole of parts, the same bearer of many attributes. We do not cease to be that one individual thing, even if, with surgical amputation, we lose a part of our body; or, in the course of aging, we undergo radical changes in our physical characteristics, our personal attributes, our temperamental traits. We regard other human beings in the same light in which we view ourselves. They, too, have an identifiable identity, an enduring oneness while they undergo change. They possess their identity in the same way that we do, and that they have same moral responsibility for their acts that we have for ours.

Our common sense of the matter goes further than that. All the physical objects in the world of our daily perceptual experience–the chairs and tables, the houses and automobiles, the pet animals, the trees and plants in the garden, the stones and statues–all these are individual things, have enduring identities that are subject to change. And we think of them as possessing the various sensible qualities–the colors, textures, odors, and so on–that we experience them as having.

This common-sense picture of the world in which we live would appear to be shattered by what we are told by the physical scientists of our own day.

A Tale of Two Tables

Sir Arthur Eddington, in his Gifford Lectures “The Nature of the Physical World”, told his audience that the table in front of which he was standing, the table which seemed so solid to them that they would bruise their fists if they tried to punch through it, was in reality an area of largely empty space in which tiny invisible bodies were moving about at great speeds, interacting with one another in a variety of ways, and making the table appear to us to be solid, of a certain size, shape, and weight, and having certain other sensible qualities, such as its color, its smoothness, and so on.

Appearance and reality! There seemed to be no doubt in Sir Arthur’s mind which was which. The table he and his audience perceived through their eyes and could touch with their hands might appear to them to be an individual thing that had an enduring identifiable identity which could undergo change while remaining one and the same thing. That was the appearance, an appearance that might even be called illusory in comparison to the invisible and untouchable reality of the atomic particles in motion that filled the space occupied by the visible table, a space largely empty even though impenetrable by us.

When we passed from thinking about the table to thinking about ourselves, we were not different from the table. We, too, were individual physical things. We might appear to ourselves to be as solid as the table, perhaps somewhat softer to the touch, but just as impenetrable to a probing finger. But, in reality, the space our apparently solid bodies occupied was just as empty as that of the table. Whatever attributes or characteristics our bodies appear to have as we perceive them through our senses, they have as a result of the motions and interactions of particles that themselves have none of these sensible characteristics.

According to this view, the imperceptible particles that compose all the objects of our ordinary perceptual experience possess only quantitative properties, no sensible qualities at all. The latter, it is maintained, exist only in our consciousness of the objects we perceive, not in the objects themselves. They have no status in reality.

What becomes of my personal identity, or yours, and with it moral responsibility for our actions, if each of us ceases to be one individual thing, but instead a congeries of physical particles that do not remain the same particles during the span of our lifetime?

We seem to be called upon to say that perceptible things of common experience are divisible wholes made up of moving and changing components. Would we not be compelled to say that it only appeared to be what it was perceived as–a solid, indivisible body–but that in reality what we perceived was only an illusion?

That is the assertion of many modern physicists. What we are confronted with here is the fallacy of reductionism, a mistake that has become most prevalent in our own day, not only among scientists but also among contemporary philosophers. It consists in regarding the ultimate constituents of the physical world as more real than the composite bodies these elementary components constitute. Reductionism may go even further and declare these ultimate constituents to be the only reality, relegating everything else to the status of mere appearance or illusion.

How is this fallacy of reductionism, this philosophical mistake, to be corrected as it must be if our commonsense view of things plus a philosophy of nature that accords with it, is to be validated?

We need to know that the table of our common experience, the reality of which a philosophy of common sense defends, is not only a solid body, but even more fundamentally it is a single being. Whereas, the table of modern physicists consists of irreducible multiplicity of discrete units, each having its own individual existence.

If the unitary being which is the solid chair, with all its sensible qualities, is dismissed as an illusion foisted on us by our sense-experience, then no conflict remains. Or if the physicist’s elementary particles, or quanta of mass and quanta of energy are merely theoretical entities to which no real existence is attributed, that is, if they are merely mathematical forms which have no physical reality, then their being posited for theoretical purposes does not challenge the view that what really exists out there is the solid table of our experience.

But if real existence of the same kind is attributed to the entities described by the commonsense view and by the scientific view, then we cannot avoid a conflict that must be resolved.

A clue or hint that leads to the solution is contained in the italicized words in the preceding statement: “of the same kind.” Both the solid table and the imperceptible particles have real existence, but their reality is not of the same kind, not of the same order or degree. By virtue of that fact, the conflict can be resolved. The contradiction is then seen to be only apparent.

Werner Heisenberg used the term potentia–potentialities for being–to describe the very low, perhaps even the least, degree of reality that can be possessed by elementary particles. He wrote: “In the experiments about atomic events we have to do with things and facts, with phenomena that are just as real as any phenomena in daily life. But the atoms or the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.

Heisenberg, in saying that the elementary particles are not as real as the perceptible individual things in daily life, does not deny that they still have some reality.



Let us now summarize the solution to the problem, which corrects the philosophical mistake that arises from the fallacy of reductionism. It involves two steps:

(1) The reality of the elementary particles of nuclear physics cannot be reconciled with the reality of the table as an individual sensible substance if both the particles and the chair are asserted to have the same mode of existence or grade of being. The same thing can also be said about the nuclear particles and the atoms of which they are component parts. The particles are less real than the atoms; that is, they have less actuality. This, I take it, is the meaning of Heisenberg’s statement that the particles are in a state of potentia–“possibilities for being or tendencies for being.”

(2) The mode of being of the material constituents of a physical body cannot be the same when those constituents exist in isolation and when they enter into the constitution of an actual body. Thus, when the table exists actually as one body, the multitude of atoms and elementary particles which constitute it exist only virtually. The same thing can also be said about a single atom and the nuclear particles which constitute it; or about a single molecule and the various atoms which constitute it.

The virtual existence and multiplicity of the material constituents do not abrogate their capacity for actual existence and actual multiplicity. If the unitary table–or a single atom–were exploded into its ultimate material constituents, the elementary particles would assume the mode of actual existence which isolated particles have in a cyclotron; their virtual multiplicity would be transformed into an actual multitude.

The critical point here is that the mode of existence in which the particles are discrete units and have actual multiplicity cannot be the same as the mode of existence they have when they are material constituents of the individual table in actual existence.

If we assign the same mode of existence to the particles in a cyclotron and to the particles that enter into constitution of an actual table, the conflict between nuclear physics and the philosophical doctrine that affirms the reality of the material objects of common experience cease to be merely an apparent conflict. It is a real conflict, and an irresolvable one, because the conflicting theories are irreconcilable. But if they are assigned different modes of existence, the theories that appear to be in conflict can be reconciled.

Not only is the conflict between the view of the physical world advanced by physical science and the view held by common sense reconciled, we also reach the conclusion that the perceptible individual things of common experience have a higher degree of actual reality. This applies also to the sensible qualities–the so-called “secondary qualities”–that we experience these things as having. They are not merely figments of our consciousness with no status at all in the real world that is independent of our senses and our minds.

With this conclusion reached, the challenge to the reality of human existence and to the identifiable identity of the individual person is removed. There can be no question about the moral responsibility that each of us bears for his or her actions.

A correct understanding of the solution of this problem has crucial consequences. Unless we affirm that each human being, as perceived, is a single, solid substance, then a whole dimension of philosophy - the dimension in which we find moral and political philosophy - would become null and void. A mere collection or aggregate of particles in motion cannot serve as the agent of human conduct.

Human beings with intellects and free wills are the really existing substances that we are dealing with here. What physical science gives us in terms of elementary particles in motion is not the ultimate reality, but only an analytical aspect of that reality. The error is the error of reductionism, substituting an aspect for the reality of which it is an aspect. The whole and ultimate reality here is the individual, substantial human being.

Here we have a metaphysical question that quantum theory and subatomic research cannot answer. It is a question for philosophy, not science.

(From the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas’ journal, “Philosophy is Everbody’s Business” Vol. II, No.1 Summer 1995.)



On the Lighter Side

Auala Beach on Savai'i, Samoa

Auala Beach on Savai'i, Samoa
Auala Beach on Savai'i, Samoa
Image source:  

Buddha is a Bridge - between Appearance and Reality

Buddha is a Bridge
Buddha is a Bridge
Image source:  


Skyline Reflected on Kerala Waterways.

Skyline Reflected on Kerala Waterways.
Reflections of trees lined on the banks on a waterway in Kuttanad,Kerala
Image source:  

More clear than reality

More clear than reality
More clear than reality
Image source:  


Reality Not

Reality Not
Reality Not
Image source:  

Reality is for people who lack imagination

Reality is for people who lack imagination
Reality is for people who lack imagination
Image source:  

Rene Descarte walks into a bar.
Bartender says, "have a beer?"  
Descarte says, "I think...not..."
and disappears.    


Appearance versus Reality

Tom Brady courtroom sketch   Tom Brady and wife Gisele Bundchen
Left: Courtroom sketch of Tom Brady -------- Right: Real Tom Brady and wife Gisele
Image source:  

Optical illusion

Optical illusion   Optical illusion: Which way is this man facing?
Optical illusion     Right: Which way is this man facing? Forward, or sideways?
Image sources:     Right: (Multiple sources) Multiple sources


Appearance versus Reality

A flipped reflection in water of the Stanley Woolen Mill in Massachusetts
A flipped reflection in water of the Stanley Woolen Mill in Massachusetts
Image source:   Reference: Wikipedia Flipped image  

Appearance versus Reality

A flipped reflection in water of the Stanley Woolen Mill in Massachusetts
Real photo of the Stanley Woolen Mill in Massachusetts
Image source:   Reference: Wikipedia Flipped image  


Appearance versus Reality

Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex at Agra, India
Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex at Agra, India (Upside-Down Photo)
Image source:  

Appearance versus Reality

Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex at Agra, India
Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex at Agra, India
Image source:  


Appearance versus Reality

Nanxiang Ancient Town At Night Shanghai, China
Illusive Appearance-Nanxiang Ancient Town At Night, Shanghai, China (Upside-Down Photo)
Image source:  

Appearance versus Reality

Nanxiang Ancient Town At Night Shanghai, China
Reality-Nanxiang Ancient Town At Night, Shanghai, China
Image source:  


Appearance versus Reality - Tso Kiagar Lake Ladakh

Tso Kiagar Lake Ladakh
Illusive image of Tso Kiagar Lake Ladakh (Upside-Down Photo)
Image source:  

Appearance versus Reality - Tso Moriri Lake, Korzok, Ladakh,

Tso Moriri Lake, Korzok, Ladakh,
Reality image of Tso Moriri Lake, Korzok, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Lake reflecting the sky. (Liquid mirror: A reflecting surface created by a liquid.)
See another image of Tso Moriri Lake


Appearance versus Reality

Landscape in Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash'
Illusive Appearance-Landscape in Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash' (Upside-Down Photo)
Image source: Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash'  

Appearance versus Reality

Landscape in Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash'
Reality-Landscape in Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash'
Image source: Tri-Star movie 'Ricki And The Flash'