Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alternatives to Idealism


Something which I have never seen covered fully in philosophy is a thorough analysis of the alternatives to idealism.

In fact, I can think of only two methods, broadly speaking, of knowledge representation used by philosophers. Idealism is one, and Relationism is another. Relationism isn't usually the term coined in those cases, but refers to Eastern ideas about Emptiness and reality.

Idealism has its roots with Plato, and Western philosophy has largely progressed from there. Under Idealism, everything has a definite "is" nature -- or to put it some other ways, a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for identity, definite set members, can be operated on using the law of the excluded middle, is mutually exclusive with its opposites and has an inherent nature.

Relationism is different. It supposes that the existence of a thing and its characteristics are not owned by that thing alone, but rather include references to its context. All things are complexes -- that is that at every level of consideration, there is some further subdivision of logic possible. Yin and Yang are opposites, but at their centre is a seed of the other. Under Relationism (relativity, whatever), things only exist in context.

Some kinds of alternative logic, often based on one of these, and occasionally a synthesis, may be found. Paraconsistent logic, spearheaded by Graham Priest, is one such logical form. Objects in a paraconsistent knowledge scheme can break some of the Idealist rules outlined earlier, but do not obey Relational ones either. Rather, paraconsistent logic is an exercise in seeing what happens if you "break" logic.

There is some reason to believe that human brain processing is in fact Relational, but that conscious reasoning is broadly Idealistic. The hardware of the brain is clearly Relational, yet reasoning in this manner does not often come naturally to people.

However, it occurs to MP that there may be as yet unconsidered options. Perhaps readers could suggest some options?

I would suggest that for every claim under either scheme, it would be possible to make a meta-claim. For example "X is Red" and "(X is Red) is Idealistic", or "Y is Purple" and "(Y is Purple) is Relational".

Can the space of meta-claims be broken cleanly into Idealism and Relationism? Are these two mutually exclusive? Under some kind of logical framework, will the conclusions of one ever contradict the other? Which best captures reality? Are there some observations which may be described more naturally under one than the other? Can anyone think of any other options?



Anonymous RdR said...

Interesting use of terms. "Idealism" usually covers a broad program of assertions about the reality of mental entities -- not so much the development of logic from Aristotle up to, say, Graham Priest's paraconsistent logic.

The contrast between paraconsistent logic and more traditional logic is perhaps better drawn with reference to Aristotle.

He pretty much developed the law of the excluded middle, which paraconsistent logic takes issue with (in a very particular way).

However, even Aristotle recognised (Metaphysics IV:1005b) that the law of the excluded middle only applies if the context of the terms is the same. See the Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle (by Politis) for more discussion on this -- look in the index for Priest.

Also, ontologically (rather than the aspects _logic_ that paraconsistency is concerned with), the existence of entities as a bundle of relations is not in conflict with much of western philosophy, including Aristotle in many ways.

As far as alternatives to idealism (as you use the term): pragmatism would also qualify.

12/31/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Ah yes, the magic of "context". I am rather contemptuous of the idea that with context one can resolve all inconsistencies.

It seems to me to be a matter of faith rather than good argument that context can indeed resolve conflicts of the kind we're discussing.

I realise I'm using Idealism a little unusually -- i.e. not metaphysically but logically, but I can't think of a better way.

Pragmatism I think would apply, I think many people are practically pragmatists and theoretically idealists :) That is to say, pragmatism is all very well for synthetic things, but doesn't cut it for analytic ones.


1/08/2006 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For MP

What about Pyrrhonism – as a alternative to idealism?Scepticism seems to be the best medicine against dogmatism


11/04/2006 06:52:00 AM  

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