By Jim J. McCrea
One of the central problems in philosophy, today, is that of the intelligence. The problem is this: How can we know that our knowledge reflects reality - or, how can the mind know truth. Today it is commonly thought that we cannot. A psychological argument put forward, to advance this, is that our beliefs are a result of our experiences of the past, our needs of the present, and our goals of the future. If a judgment is made about something, it is always conditioned by the above factors. Since these factors are different for different people, it is said that a number of different people observing a single situation will result in a number of different views on that situation. This view of human knowledge, where it is thought that no absolute truth can be attained, is known as skepticism.
A physiological argument is put forward to support skepticism, as well. It is said that all information that we receive from the outside world must pass through sensory channels before it reaches the brain. It is argued that we do not have direct contact with the outside world (because of the mediation of the sensory channels) and that we cannot tell how much the data from the outside world has been processed or distorted, going through the connecting nerves, before reaching the brain. It is argued that, since we do not have a direct knowledge of reality, we cannot compare reality with what our brain receives via the senses, to determine if our knowledge of it is correct.
The modern problem of how our mind accurately knows reality began, in earnest, with Descartes (17th century). He postulated that we can only know, with certitude, the nature our mental states, and that the reality of the outside world must be inferred through a laborious process of reasoning. Later on, Kant (18th century), said that the objects we perceive with our mind are merely impressions of things. The real nature of the things causing these impressions - that is, the thing in itself - is not directly perceived and known.
Defense of the intelligence is vital in the face of today's intellectual and moral decline. How can this be accomplished? First of all, we see that the skeptic's argument contradicts the everyday facts of human life. Each person who possesses a functioning mind constantly makes judgments about the outside world - attesting to truth, falsity, good, and evil. This would seem to indicate that the philosopher who constructs a system of thought which is at variance with these natural insights (which he has when he is off duty as a philosopher) is not really interested in truth, but has some ulterior motive in mind. In these spontaneous, pre-philosophic judgments of truth, the mind is not only saying "I perceive that this is the case," but is also saying "this is true that this is the case." In constructing philosophies which are at variance with these spontaneous judgments, skeptical thinkers contradict themselves - that is, they split themselves in two.
The problem of how we can compare the contents of our mind with objects outside of ourselves is not truly real. It is a pseudo problem. The contents of our minds are the objects outside of ourselves. No real problem exists as to how we get outside of ourselves to attain to the outside world. As the philosopher Martin Hiedegger stated, the person (which he termed the dasein) is already outside and dwelling among things.
It is important at this point to look at the related problems of knowledge in more detail. The first datum of all knowledge are things as wholes – not things reduced to their component parts. Things as wholes are the true atoms of reality (This is a doctrine of Aristotle). To help demonstrate this, we can show that a thing is not simply its parts. A heap of car parts is not a real car. Only when the parts are properly assembled does an actual car exist. In terms of intelligibility and reality, the parts of a thing are less fundamental than the thing itself. The engine of a car, for example, only has meaning in terms of the car it goes into. The wheels of an automobile only make sense in terms of the automobile they go onto. The same principle holds true for the human body. The parts of the body are less fundamental than the body itself. The various organs of the body – the heart, liver, brain, lungs, etc. - only have significance in relation to the body they are a part of. The body itself is most fundamental. From the other end, we can see that the individual thing (or res), is fundamental in relation to the universal and the collective. For example, the concept of a collection of things only makes sense in terms of the individual items that go into making up that collection. In terms of relations between things or persons, the individual is metaphysically most fundamental. Marriage, which is a bond between two people, is only intelligible in terms of the persons which are united in marriage. With respect to universals, essence (which is the fundamental constitutive element which makes a thing what it is), only has meaning in terms of the thing it is an essence of. For example, "catness" which constitutes the essence of each and every cat, only has meaning in terms of actual or possible individual cats. The idea of a universal essence which does not refer to any type of individual, would make no sense.
We can look more closely at the intellect's visualization of things as wholes. This immediate perception is *primary,* whereas its analysis into its component parts is *secondary.* Our visualization of things as wholes, can be thought of in terms of four metaphysical moments. These are (1) essence, which determines to our mind what a thing is; (2) existence, which means that it has actuality and reality and is not a mere concept or possibility; (3) individuality, which means that it possesses its own identity, and not the identity of something else; and (4) externality, which indicates that it exists in the outside world, and that it is not a product of our own mind (i.e., a dream, hallucination, or figment of the imagination).
The distinction between these four metaphysical moments can be better understood if we consider situations with some of them absent and some of them present. For example, we could describe the essence of a vase which could be situated on a table, but which actually does not exist (it only exists as a conceived possibility). We could describe its shape, its smoothness, the material it is made of, and the features it has on its surface. In this we are describing the essence of a vase without existence. Externality is an element in this consideration of the potential vase because we are considering it as the possibility of something existing in the outside world. Individuality is an attribute because we are considering it as the possibility of a given vase, which would not be another. An object in a dream would have essence because, generally speaking, it is intelligible. It would have existence, because it has reality in its own right. It, however, lacks externality because it is a product of the mind and does not exist in the outside world. If you pick up a coin and ask "what is it?" and get the answer, "it is a penny," this addresses the principles of essence, existence, externality, but not individuality, because the answer only gives information as to what kind of thing it is and not what particular thing it is.
One fundamental fact that demonstrates that the intellect is a component of a non-material soul, is the fact that it is able to go outside of itself to attain to the outside world. If you observe the contents of a room you are in, you may observe all types of objects: tables, chairs, stereo components, books, etc. When these objects are observed, a real contact is made with them, with the observing intellect. The contents of your consciousness are these actual objects, and not merely impressions of them. Our introspection, when perceiving things, should tell us this. Those who philosophically deny that we can have this direct knowledge of things, may lack a reverence toward being which would enable them to simply listen to being (without bringing an agenda to it), so that it may reveal its true properties. They are not open to all of what being would tell them, but only that part of being which conforms to their preconceptions. For example, someone with a materialistic mindset may say that we are not in direct contact with the outside world because of the physical chain which links the outside world to the centers of perception in the brain (i.e. light bounces off an object, which then goes into the eye, which then activates the sensing cells on the retina, which in turn activates impulses in the optic nerve, which stimulates the proper parts of the brain, which results in perception). They mistakenly reason that this physical chain is the essence of perceiving, whereas it is merely the means by which the perceiving intellect is brought into a direct contact with things.
The main logical fallacy which materialists commit, when they deny metaphysical or spiritual realities, is that of confusing a necessary condition with a sufficient condition. Simply because something is necessary for our understanding of a given reality, it does not follow that it is sufficient. Something more may be required.
A fundamental contradiction exists in the philosophy that we have no direct contact with objective reality. One could not even have the idea of objective reality as a concept unless one were, in some way, in direct contact with an outside reality. This is because the very concept of objective reality must come from objective reality itself. It cannot come from something which is not itself. It is axiomatic that the unreal cannot be the cause of the real. The idea of objective reality cannot be mediated by something which is not itself for the same reason. We would have unreality mediating reality. For this reason we can see that Descartes' and Kant's theories, that we do not have direct contact with objective reality, and that we can have no contact with it at all, respectively, are false. The very notion of the objective reality they are denying, is being surreptitiously given to them by an objective reality they are in contact with. For the same reason, it must be asked, where the Buddhist gets the concept of the reality he then subsequently denies (he must have the idea first, in order to then reject it), when he says that all we perceive is nothing but illusion.
On a final note, those who deny that we cannot know if we have accurate knowledge of outside reality because of the mediation of the sensory channels, between the outside world and the brain (because we cannot tell how much the signals are distorted going through these channels), contradict themselves. Such an argument would only be valid if we had accurate objective knowledge of the sensory channels themselves. But this premise contradicts the conclusion.