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 Post subject: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themselves
PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2017 2:30 pm 
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Journeyman
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I'm reading Mortimer Adler's "10 Philosophical Mistakes".

There's a distinction he's making regarding the content of our consciousness. When we perceive something (a table) are we perceiving the ideas of the table or the table itself.

According to Adler, Locke said that we perceive our ideas.... which I'm assuming means Locke would state we don't have direct access to the table but only our idea of the table.

This is a distinction that I'm struggling with. You see a table and you have in your mind the idea of the table.
Would Locke claim that we only view our idea and that we can never see the true external world? It seems confusing because one would assume simply by the fact that we have an idea of a table in our mind that we must be perceiving it.


Adler says that it can't be both ways though: there's a fundamental difference between "that which" and "that by which". Locke would be a "that which" person. Ideas are "that which" we perceive. Adler and the medieval's would be a "that by which" person. From what I'm gleaning "that by which" means something like the ideas we have are that by which we can truly see the external world. But, for Locke the ideas are simply that which we perceive.... apparently cutting us off from the world and everyone else.


Does anyone have a solid grasp on this topic? I'm kind of getting it.... but then it seems to slip away and it appears as if this is a distinction without any significance.

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2017 10:26 pm 
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We perceive.

We make judgments on what we perceive.

We then form an idea.

We do not perceive our ideas first. Our senses are infallible per se and can be trusted (unless of course the sense organ is diseased e.g., jaundiced vision making everything have a yellow tint).

The color green isn’t just floating about - our eyes see the color green in a leaf. It’s not an idea but the physical color green. We see it with our eyes, then we judge that what we see is the color green in the leaf. We then form an idea about what the color green is.

I’m probably skipping some stuff, but I’m in the ballpark here IIRC. :D

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2017 11:25 pm 
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p.falk wrote:
I'm reading Mortimer Adler's "10 Philosophical Mistakes".

There's a distinction he's making regarding the content of our consciousness. When we perceive something (a table) are we perceiving the ideas of the table or the table itself.

According to Adler, Locke said that we perceive our ideas.... which I'm assuming means Locke would state we don't have direct access to the table but only our idea of the table.

This is a distinction that I'm struggling with. You see a table and you have in your mind the idea of the table.
Would Locke claim that we only view our idea and that we can never see the true external world? It seems confusing because one would assume simply by the fact that we have an idea of a table in our mind that we must be perceiving it.


Adler says that it can't be both ways though: there's a fundamental difference between "that which" and "that by which". Locke would be a "that which" person. Ideas are "that which" we perceive. Adler and the medieval's would be a "that by which" person. From what I'm gleaning "that by which" means something like the ideas we have are that by which we can truly see the external world. But, for Locke, the ideas are simply that which we perceive.... apparently cutting us off from the world and everyone else.


Does anyone have a solid grasp on this topic? I'm kind of getting it.... but then it seems to slip away and it appears as if this is a distinction without any significance.


It is extremely complicated and is closely connected to the idea of nominalism, which is another one of Adler's Ten Mistakes. Locke and Hume believed that we can only perceive our idea of an object because, in their view, the object itself does not really exist an absolute sense, and thus there is simply nothing to perceive.

Now, I don't mean that they deny the existence of the external world, what they denied is the existence of universals. To use your example, to perceive a table itself would mean that there have to be such a thing as a universal object of a 'table', and we would have to be able to recognize that the table is simply one particular manifestation of that universal object.

To Locke, Hume and the radical empiricists, there are no universals, there are only particulars. To the nominalist, there is no such thing as a universal at all. Nominalism holds that there are no universal concepts, a necessary consequence of this is that the mental concepts we come up with to understand the universe have ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION WHATSOEVER with reality.

A good short definition of 'nominalism' was given by John Stuart Mill who said that 'there is nothing general except names.'

So, to use your example, to the nominalist, there is no universal category of 'table', rather 'table' is just a word that people made up to artificially IMPOSE a kind of uniformity upon the world that doesn't really exist at all.

Thus, we cannot perceive a 'table' directly, because 'tables' don't really exist, 'table' rather is just a word we made up, and because we invented this word, we cannot observe a table directly, all we can perceive are the artificial, arbitrary concept of a table that we invented.

Now, you asked what the consequences of this belief are. The answer is that the consequences are huge and highly significant.

One major consequence is that it is logically impossible to be an atheist without also being a nominalist. This may seem like a bizarre statement, but it really isn't, because if universals exist, then it follows that God must exist as well. I'm not going to give you that argument right now, but suffice it to say that it is true.

Have you ever argued with a hardcore atheist who insists that the only knowledge that human beings can ever really have is knowledge of science and that anything which cannot be explained by science does not exist? It may not be obvious at first, but this is an expression of a rather extreme version of nominalism.

Nominalism is absolutely incompatible with Christianity, and it is the adoption of nominalism by medieval and early modern philosophers like William of Occham, and, much later, John Locke, that led directly to widespread atheism and irreligion we face today.

Now, here is the thing. Nominalism is a nonsensical point of view. Nominalism is literally self-refuting.

The reason for this is pretty clear: if the concepts we have in our own mind have absolutely no connection to reality, as Locke and Hume EXPLICITLY assert, then it follows that any logical argument that we can come up with to explain or justify nominalism also has absolutely no connection to reality.

Thus, if nominalism is true, then it is impossible to EVER prove that it is true. Indeed, if nominalism is true, then it is impossible to prove anything at all, because the concept of 'proof' is meaningless, and any logical proof we attempt to construct to prove nominalism is true has no connection to reality, but only to the abstract concepts that we invented in our own minds.

It follows that all philosophical and theological concepts are literally meaningless and man can have no understanding of anything, and philosophy is nothing more than a kind of word game, kind of like Words with Friends, but much more work.

Thus, taken to its logical conclusion, nominalism destroys the very concept of rational thought, which is something that many leading atheist intellectuals, such as HG Wells, had no difficulty admitting at all, see, for example, his essay 'Doubting the Instrument' in which he argued that arguments, however clever or inventive they may be, can never actually prove anything, because the human brain is not capable of perceiving truth.

Yeah, crazy conclusions like that are the logical consequence of Locke's views.


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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2017 11:37 pm 
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Now, if you actually read and understood all of that, then it is time to stop reading Adler and move on to a more advanced text.


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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:09 pm 
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Thanks for the replies.

I can kind of see how the issue of universals would play into this.
But the thought comes up in my head that Locke's and others holding so fast to only the idea seems almost to play into the notion of the universal.
Because a universal would be something that can only be understood with our intellect in the form of an idea.... independent of any 'sensible particular' (a phrase I took from Adler's book in the 2nd chapter on Intellect and Sense).

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:59 pm 
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Keep reading, one of Adler's 'mistakes' is the denial of the existence of universals or nominalism. Adler was an Aristotelean, so to him, every time someone deviates from Aristotle, it is a philosophical 'mistake', and the correction of that 'mistake' is to return to Aristotle.

If you want a really good explanation of the problems and consequences of nominalism read Edward Feser's 'The Last Superstition'. He goes into great depth about Artistotle's thought, so it will probably take you a long time to get through it, but it is well worth the effort.


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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Mon Dec 25, 2017 1:52 am 
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Doom wrote:
Keep reading, one of Adler's 'mistakes' is the denial of the existence of universals or nominalism. Adler was an Aristotelean, so to him, every time someone deviates from Aristotle, it is a philosophical 'mistake', and the correction of that 'mistake' is to return to Aristotle.

If you want a really good explanation of the problems and consequences of nominalism read Edward Feser's 'The Last Superstition'. He goes into great depth about Artistotle's thought, so it will probably take you a long time to get through it, but it is well worth the effort.


I second this. It’s a great book.

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Mon Dec 25, 2017 6:29 pm 
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p.falk wrote:
This is a distinction that I'm struggling with. You see a table and you have in your mind the idea of the table.
Would Locke claim that we only view our idea and that we can never see the true external world? It seems confusing because one would assume simply by the fact that we have an idea of a table in our mind that we must be perceiving it.

Are you familiar with the Cartesian Theater? It seems to me that's the problem you are raising. If you don't accept the idea of formal causation or of hylomorphism more generally -- without jargon, if you don't think that things really are what they are but that all that we see is just atoms that happen to be arranged in this way rather than that -- then the bottom line is just that there is now way to get the thing itself in your mind.

Start with an obvious fact: things in the sensible world are material. Trees and tables, cats couches . . . doesn't matter. In our world of real, physical things, "stuff" is made out of matter/energy. But your mind is not made out of matter. So how do you take this physical thing, this table for instance, and put it in your mind? Locke would say that you don't, after all, do that. Instead, what you get is nothing more or less than a steady stream of data, of input. It comes through your senses. Some of that data comes through the organ we call the eyes. Other through the organ we call the ears. Others the tastebuds, others the nose, and others your skin. We call these "senses" sight, hearing, etc. Strictly, it's not that you are seeing a table per se. You are aware of certain data in your mind that is of a visual nature. This one bit of data is the color of brown. Another connects with a material you've called "wood." As you touch the table you get certain sense impressions there. From all this data, your mind builds a representation of what it thinks is causing all of that data. That is why this is called a representational epistemology. You don't actually have things themselves in your mind. All you really have are representations of things. To be even clearer, you don't know any thing, certainly nothing outside of your mental world. Instead, you know your ideas which you presume more or less reliably and truly represents the external, non-mental world.

Now, when Descartes first came up with this scheme, he immediately recognized the problem. How do you know that there is a thing there at all causing all of these sensations? Indeed, how do you even know that you have a body that is doing all this sensing in the first place? Saying you see and feel your body is no more helpful than saying you see and feel the table. Saying you are directly aware of your body is no better, because, again, all of that direct awareness is nothing except your mind's interpretation of something it assumes to be real and calls the extra-mental reality (i.e., your body or the table). In fact, it was just this sort of argument that led Descartes to reject Aristotelian philosophy in the first place. He wanted something he couldn't doubt, and because he could, at least in principle, doubt the physical world really exists (all he had access to what his interpretation of certain sense data), he needed something more concrete, something more indubitable. And so he came up with his (in)famous "I think therefore I am." As an aside, I don't think he was consistent here at all, because I don't know why if he can doubt his body being real why he felt he could doubt that the "I" in that sentence represented anything more than the "It" in a sentence like, "It is raining." I think Descartes (and so Locke) illicitly assumes that "There are thoughts" necessarily entails that there is a thinking substance we can call "I."

But let that problem pass. The question for Descartes, again, is how does he know the real world exists? How does he know his senses do, in fact, relate to something outside of the mind? He knows (he thinks) the mind is real. That he can't doubt, because to doubt that is, in fact, to doubt, and the doubt itself means you are a thinking (or doubting) thing. And so here Descartes comes up with an ontological argument for God's existence--one that has persuaded exactly zero philosophers other than himself (well, there may be a few out there, but I've never met or even read one). It's a long story, like everything in Descartes, but the bottom line is that Descartes claims that in his mind there are not only things like tables and the self, but there is also a notion of perfection. But where did this notion of perfection come from? It was nothing he ever experienced. So what fed his mind that concept? He concludes that only something perfect could give his own mind that idea, and thus, poof, you have the existence of a perfect God. And yet a perfect God would not deceive men by letting them think their senses were telling there was a real world when there was not. And therefore, the perfection of God demands that the real world does exist and that our senses are reliable.

I talk about Descartes because Locke was, in all of this, thoroughly Cartesian. He nuanced things differently, of course, but the basic idea of nominalism and its necessarily attendant representative epistemology is maintained. Once you deny that things really are what they really are, that they have a real though really immaterial part of their existence called the nature or the form, and when you deny that the mind can abstract that nature from the sensible thing and thus have the real thing itself and only the idea of the thing itself (though to be clear, we do, in fact, have both); with such denials comes the problems you are getting at here. You ultimately get to David Hume's position that causality itself doesn't exist, or at least can't be proven to exist, and that it is merely a psychological phenomenon. And that gets you Kant's entire metaphysics and philosophy and all that comes from him in German "higher" thought. All very sad. Yet to quote (or at least paraphrase) Maimonides, "What can be expected of those who do not regard the nature of things?"

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:58 am 
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Thanks for that reply.
That makes sense to me.... but I have to read this over a few times.

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 Post subject: Re: Perceiving our own ideas of things, or the things themse
PostPosted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 4:47 pm 
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"Adler says that it can't be both ways though: there's a fundamental difference between "that which" and "that by which". Locke would be a "that which" person. Ideas are "that which" we perceive. Adler and the medieval's would be a "that by which" person. From what I'm gleaning "that by which" means something like the ideas we have are that by which we can truly see the external world. But, for Locke the ideas are simply that which we perceive.... apparently cutting us off from the world and everyone else."

This is nothing more than promoting relativism and that there is no absolute truth. Its the false idea that everyone within themselves has there own truth and this is wicked. All truth belongs to God. All principles; all science belongs to God.

Job 38:1-6 Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof, …

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Ecclesiasticus 4:11-12 And thou shalt be as the obedient son of [the Holy Ghost] the most High, and he will have mercy on thee more than a mother. Wisdom inspireth life into her children, and protecteth them that seek after her, and will go before them in the way of justice.


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