The epistemological tradition from Descartes through the classical empiricists — Locke, Berkeley, Hume — to Immanuel Kant is based on an erroneous idea that the possibility of knowledge of the external world (external to the subject) needs to be proven.
It is not sufficient to well-grounded belief to affirm belief in miracles (e.g. a resurrection from death, or a feat of levitation) on testimony and reports of such events. Much more is called for if we’re to see such belief as rationally and empirically well-grounded.
In the modern age it may not be “hard to imagine” that the subjective/objective distinction has no “metaphysical significance,” but it surely does not follow from a philosophical rejection of the mind-body dualism. Rejecting mind-body dualism, with its implication of mind as entity apart from body, does have metaphysical implications; but this is distinct from questions regarding the significance of the distinction between subjective experience and objective reality.
Far too many people — mainly philosophers and psychologists — and now Antonio Damasio (of all people!) —- assume that it makes sense to think of “us” (the knowing subject) as somehow situated inside the brain. Sure, if you think of the subject (who perceives and has experiences) as located inside the brain or identical to the brain, then a mystery arises as to how the subject (the person?) interprets that input, which may or may not represent external reality. But why in the world do we have to accept this queer perspective?
With the model of sense perception of sense perception, which I shall call the “Reid-Darwin-Pragmatic model,” we assume as a starting point the existence of the individual in a natural, social world. Instead of saying with Descartes that there is a chasm between the perceiver (the subject) and the object, physical world which must be bridged if we’re to avoid the skeptical trap.
Insofar as our coherent language and thought allows, the so-called “phenomenal world” is the real world, i.e., the world in which we exist, the one we experience and one accessible to human understanding. Of course, our concept of this reality can be refined through analysis, mathematical modeling, scientific theorizing and investigation. The resulting picture or model, a refined one when compared to our untrained intuitions, will be a picture or model of the world of experience. It does not point to a “world-in-itself.”
Recently the question of what we mean by “truth” came up in a discussion with one of my internet correspondents, Spanos. The issue related to a previous claim that a full understanding of what we mean by truth requires reference to an ideal observer, i.e. one who sees and knows everything.
This talk of “transcendental reality” distinct from “empirical reality” (the reality investigated by science and experienced by humans) is suspect, to say the least, unless you happen to be a Kantian or believer in transcendence of some kind.
I have great trouble accepting the claim by some people that they can “climb out of their minds” to the realm of the transcendent (whether this is a philosophical, metaphysical, or mystical claim); hence, I stand with the thinking of Richard Rorty, John Dewey, William James, Hilary Putnam and Donald Davidson on this issue.
The case for Platonism, expressed in Plato’s Divided Line Analogy, as a model for what philosophy should be (or should aspire to) is a weak case, given the problems with its metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions. A large number of philosophers rightfully dissent.
William James wrote a well-known essay “The Will to Believe,” in which he defended certain religious belief as compelling even if not rationally grounded beliefs; for example, the decision to belief in God as a vital choice that many persons make, despite lacking good rational grounds to support that belief. We will to believe in God.
In one sense of the term “belief,” what James contends may strike us as being absurd. For in ordinary circumstances our belief that something is such & such (e.g., that it will rain today, or that my car has enough gasoline to get me home) is not a matter of choice or of our willing it, but rather a case in which we base the belief on supporting evidence. Here making a decision to believe irrespective of the evidence could get us in trouble.