Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Two Assertive Frameworks

In Appendix K of Problems from Kant, van Cleve discusses the problem that anti-realists have in making sense of claims about the physical world that are supposed to be true in the absence of perceivers, given that they argue that the physical world is somehow mind-dependent. He asks: "How can you eat your cake empirically and still have it transcendentally?" (p. 249) The focus of the discussion is Foster's distinction between `two assertive frameworks'. According to Foster, one should distinguish between assertions made within the framework of physical theory and assertions made about this framework. Given this distinction, it supposedly follows that we can make sense of claims about physical reality in the absence of perceivers if these claims are seen to be made within physical theory. At the same time, we can accept the claim that physical reality is mind-dependent since it is a claim about the framework of physical theory. Van Cleve argues that there is no formal incompatibility between the two assertive frameworks, but that "inconsistency arises as soon as one adds that minds are necessary for the obtaining of the experiential constraints. A proposition that excludes the existence of minds cannot be made true by a state of affairs that essentially includes them." (p. 252) That is, the truth-makers of claims made within physical theory are experiential constraints. These experiential constraints only obtain as long as minds exist. Accordingly, we get inconsistency when the claim made within physical theory excludes the possibility of experiential constraints. The claim made within physical theory is such that it undermines the possibility of that very claim being true. In footnote 67, van Cleve refers to impure forms of phenomenalism that could possibly account for experiential constraints without the existence of minds. "Foster mentions the possibility of a phenomenalism that grounds physical reality in a 'causal field' defined by the constraints it would impose on minds if they existed (Case for Idealism, p. 240). Such a field would be similar perhaps, to Mill's 'permanent possibilities of sensation.' But Foster does not avail himself of this option, and it is not in any case a pure phenomenalism." (p. 315)

While I agree with van Cleve that pure phenomenalism faces this difficulty, I think that Kant's phenomenalism is not a form of pure phenomenalism, but a noumenally grounded phenomenalism. It is the noumenal sphere that grounds physical reality. According to transcendental idealism, the obtaining of experiential constraints is not dependent upon the existence of minds, but upon the existence of the noumenal ground. We can have claims made within physical theory that are made true by noumenal truth-makers which ensure that the experiential constraints obtain even though no minds exist.

What I am not so sure about yet is what implications this has for the two assertive frameworks. Does this mean that we can salvage the two assertive frameworks? In fact, is there any need need for these two frameworks? When appealing to noumenal truth-makers, do we still need the two frameworks? Or does the need for the frameworks result from a special problem that only faces pure forms of phenomenalism, which would imply that the two frameworks are irrelevant for impure forms of phenomenalism, such as transcendental idealism?


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