Idealists are not climate change deniers

I find Berkeley to be an odd choice of foil in this article.

The author introduces Berkeleian idealism, then poses the problem of a common reality (through Johnson). This, as far as I know, isn’t a super big problem for Berkeley. In fact, it seems to strengthen the case for God’s presence, which is a major part of his metaphysics.

Of course, the atheist idealists have a bigger challenge in answering this objection, but I’ve yet to see it ignored.

Then he moves to an idea that seems more along the lines of what Derrida or Lyotard (or at least my admittedly weak understanding of them) would say — that we all have own own experiences or narratives and cannot break past that. I.e. there’s only the narrative of each subject. Someone agreeing with them would probably disagree with him. I’m not sure someone following Berkeley’s ideas would.

(I also find this point, which seems to be the crux of the argument, uncompelling:

“That’s why we do all agree that sick children denied health care suffer, that opioids are addictive, that adults need jobs to put food on their tables. ”

1. We don’t all agree on any of those.

2. In that sentence, and each other, there’s a tacit “In my experience,” which is just the heart of the matter. Perhaps in his experience everyone agrees. In my experience they do not. Hooray for situations in which no rule of judgement can apply to all subjects involved!)

25 thoughts on “Idealists are not climate change deniers

    1. I missed a sort of circularity in that the first time around. If Johnson’s point is that we have shared experiences, that’s a rather convenient assumption.

      In response to your question, I don’t think we share certain experiences unless you allow for some abstraction and resemblance. Given every experience is bound up in its complete context and no complete context is repeated, experiences will also be unique. Though that seems to miss the point Johnson was getting at since even he would acknowledge as we watch a kicked stone we at least see it from different angles. If you abstract away enough that you just have enough to say the stone moved, then sure, we share that much. Which gives us a shared language. That much seems right. I’m not so sold on shared experience, nor am I sure what else it would mean, except perhaps having similar or related reactions when put in similar or related circumstances, though that seems to be just an extension of language into nonverbal/nonwritten behaviors.

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  1. “I’m not so sold on shared experience, nor am I sure what else it would mean, except perhaps having similar or related reactions when put in similar or related circumstances—-”

    I agree. It seems to me that when you have any perceptual experience, you are having a unique experience and no body else is sharing it with you. For example, when you are with a friend and both of you perceive a cat, then these are two experiences which are similar but not the same. You are not perceiving exactly what your friend is perceiving but only similar to what your friend is perceiving.
    I think that it is important to remember this point because it shows the basic aloneness of each individual consciousness. There is no such thing as our perception, there are only our perceptions. But as people are mortally afraid to be alone, they are impelled subconsciously to use this sort of language which lets them forget this fact.


        1. Well, whatever people are, if there is a coherent notion thereof, I would agree they have incoherent thoughts and beliefs.

          When you wrote, “But as people are mortally afraid to be alone, they are impelled subconsciously to use this sort of language which lets them forget this fact,” I took your use of “subconsciously” to imply a subconscious.


          1. “Well, whatever people are, if there is a coherent notion thereof,”
            Very good, you are sharp, you detected a shortcoming in my answer. I like that.

            Well Obama is a person, I am a person and you are a person. Is that clear enough? If not why not?


            1. Those are indeed clear examples of persons, though it’s not clear what the relevant similarities are. More to my positive view, it’s not clear that there’s anything real underlying any of them, myself included. Rather, at this moment there are myriad stories I have available to me, which involve characters that I’ll call people. Even the I in the story may not be anything more than a nifty fiction. (In which case the qualities of the characters are also fictional.)


    1. Simply put, he saw philosophy (or at least metaphysics) as needing to recognize that we have standpoints from within a greater system, and these standpoints change how we perceive everything else. I think that’s at least somewhat right–our understanding colors our experience. As I doubt there are things in themselves beyond how they are for us, I’m probably committed to a rejection of some of the move Kant makes, though at the yet more basic level of recognizing we don’t get a neutral or god’s eye point of view on things Kant is exactly right.


  2. Kant’s Copernican Turn

    In a rough parallel with the way Copernicus explained the apparent movement of the heavens as really being due to the movement of the Earth, Kant ascribes to the knowing subject some of what we normally think of mind independent features of the spatio-temporal world. He suggests that, in some respects, objects ‘conform’ to our knowledge rather than our knowledge ‘conforming’ to objects.

    Please point out your objection to this?


    1. As I said: “I doubt there are things in themselves beyond how they are for us.” That is to say, there aren’t objects beyond our knowledge to conform to our knowledge in the first place.


  3. About things in themselves according to my understanding:

    Kant did not say that things in themselves are material. He merely said that they are unknowable. For example, if a friend says that something seems to be bothering you today, so here thing does not need to be a material thing. I take the Kantian things in themselves in the same sense. I do not think that there is a chair in itself in addition to a chair which you perceive.

    I think that when you perceive a chair you are already perceiving thing in itself but in a truncated, partial and distorted way like you see something through a prism or a lens etc. ( This is due to the limitations of your cognizing faculties etc.) which does not inform you of the real thing in itself but still is connected to it. As an analogy, when you perceive a red colored thing, you are perceiving an actual quality of that thing but that quality you do not perceive as it is in itself, you perceive it as red color and other perceivers like bees or certain animals perceive it as blue or yellow color. There is no color in that thing by itself .

    Does it make sense?


    1. Yeah. I’m familiar with that reading of Kant. I don’t agree with it, but I also, unfortunately, don’t have time in the near future to write up a long comment explaining why. I am currently writing a paper that spends at least a section arguing against that position. Once I have a more organized draft, I’d love to discuss how to read Kant, if you’re interested.


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