Rush - The Metaphysics of Logic

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Featuring fourteen new essays from an international team of renowned contributors, this volume explores the key issues, debates, and questions in the metaphysics of logic. The book is structured in three parts, looking first at the main positions in the nature of logic, such as realism, pluralism, relativism, objectivity, nihilism, conceptu-alism, and conventionconceptu-alism, then focusing on historical topics such as the medieval Aristotelian view of logic, the problem of universals, and Bolzano’s logical realism. The final section tackles specific issues such as glutty theories, contradiction, the metaphysical conception of logical truth, and the possible revision of logic. The volume will provide readers with a rich and wide-ranging survey, a valuable digest of the many views in this area, and a long overdue investigation of logic’s relationship to us and the world. It will be of interest to a wide range of scholars and students of philosophy, logic, and mathematics. p e n e l o p e r u s h is Honorary Associate with the School of Philosophy and Online Lecturer for Student Learning at the Univer-sity of Tasmania. She has published articles in journals including Logic and Logical Philosophy, Review of Symbolic Logic, South African Journal of Philosophy, Studia Philosophica Estonica, and Logique et Analyse. She is also the author of The Paradoxes of Mathematical, Logical, and Scientific Realism (forthcoming).



e d i t e d b y PENELOPE RUSH


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The metaphysics of logic / edited by Penelope Rush, University of Tasmania. pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-1-107-03964-3 (Hardback)

1. Logic. 2. Metaphysics. I. Rush, Penelope, 1972– editor. bc50.m44 2014

160–dc23 2014021604 isbn 978-1-107-03964-3 Hardback

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With thanks to Graham Priest for unstinting encouragement,



List of contributors page ix

Introduction 1

Penelope Rush

part i t he main positions 11

1 Logical realism 13

Penelope Rush

2 A defense of logical conventionalism 32

Jody Azzouni

3 Pluralism, relativism, and objectivity 49

Stewart Shapiro

4 Logic, mathematics, and conceptual structuralism 72

Solomon Feferman

5 A Second Philosophy of logic 93

Penelope Maddy

6 Logical nihilism 109

Curtis Franks

7 Wittgenstein and the covert Platonism of mathematical logic 128

Mark Steiner

pa rt ii hist ory and aut hor s 145

8 Logic and its objects: a medieval Aristotelian view 147


9 The problem of universals and the subject matter of logic 160

Gyula Klima

10 Logics and worlds 178

Ermanno Bencivenga

11 Bolzano’s logical realism 189

Sandra Lapointe

p art i ii spe cific issues 209

12 Revising logic 211

Graham Priest

13 Glutty theories and the logic of antinomies 224

Jc Beall, Michael Hughes, and Ross Vandegrift

14 The metaphysical interpretation of logical truth 233

Tuomas E. Tahko

References 249



j o d y a z z o u n i , Professor, Department of Philosophy, Tufts University. j c b e a l l , Professor of Philosophy and Director of the UCONN Logic Group, University of Connecticut, and Professorial Fellow at the Northern Institute of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. e r m a n n o b e n c i v e n g a , Professor of Philosophy and the Humanities,

University of California, Irvine.

s o l o m o n f e f e r m a n , Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, Emeritus, and Patrick Suppes Professor of Humanities and Sciences, Emeritus, Stanford University.

c u r t i s f r a n k s , Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame.

m i c h a e l h u g h e s , Department of Philosophy and UCONN Logic Group, University of Connecticut.

g y u l a k l i m a ,Professor, Department of Philosophy, Fordham University, New York.

s a n d r a l a p o i n t e , Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, McMaster University.

p e n e l o p e m a d d y , Distinguished Professor, Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine.

g r a h a m p r i e s t , Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, CUNY, and Boyce Gibson Professor Emeritus, University of Melbourne. p e n e l o p e r u s h , Honorary Associate, School of Philosophy, University


s t e w a r t s h a p i r o , Professor, Department of Philosophy, The Ohio State University.

mark steiner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

t u o m a s e . t a h k o , Finnish Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki. p a u l t h o m , Honorary Visiting Professor, Department of Philosophy,

The University of Sydney.

r o s s v a n d e g r i f t , Department of Philosophy and UCONN Logic Group, University of Connecticut.



Penelope Rush

This book is a collection of new essays around the broad central theme of the nature of logic, or the question: ‘what is logic?’ It is a book about logic and philosophy equally. What makes it unusual as a book about logic is that its central focus is on metaphysical rather than epistemological or methodological concerns.

By comparison, the question of the metaphysical status of mathematics and mathematical objects has a long history. The foci of discussions in the philosophy of mathematics vary greatly but one typical theme is that of situating the question in the context of wider metaphysical questions: comparing the metaphysics of mathematical reality with the metaphysics of physical reality, for example. This theme includes investigations into: on exactly which particulars the two compare; how (if ) they relate to one another; and whether and how we can know anything about either of them. Other typical discussions in the field focus on what mathematical formalisms mean; what they are about; where and why they apply; and whether or not there is an independent mathematical realm. A variety of possible positions regarding all of these sorts of questions (and many more) are available for consideration in the literature on the philosophy of mathematics, along with examinations of the specific problems and attrac-tions of each possibility.

But there is as yet little comparable literature on the metaphysics of logic. Thus the aim of this book is to address questions about the metaphysical status of logic and logical objects analogous to those that have been asked about the metaphysical status of mathematical objects (or reality). Logic, as a formal endeavour has recently extended far beyond Frege’s initial vision, describing an apparently ever more com-plex realm of interconnected formal structures. In this sense, it may seem that logic is becoming more and more like mathematics. On the other hand, there are (also apparently ever more) sophisticated logics


describing empirical human structures: everything from natural lan-guage and reason, to knowledge and belief.

That there are metaphysical problems (and what they might be) for the former structures analogous to those in the philosophy of mathematics is relatively easily grasped. But there are also a multitude of metaphysical questions we can ask regarding the status of logics of natural language and thought. And, at the intersection of these (where one and the same logical structure is apparently both formal and mathematical as well as applicable to natural language and human reason), the number and complexity of metaphysical problems expands far beyond the thus far relatively small set of issues already broached in the philosophy of logic.

As just one example of the sorts of problems deserving a great deal more attention, consider the relationship between mathematics and logic. Questions we might ask here include: whether mathematics and logic describe the same or similar in-kind realities and relatedly, whether there is a line one can definitively draw between where mathematics stops and logic starts. Then we could also ask exactly what sort of relationship this is: is it one of application (of the latter to the former) or is it more complex than this?

Another central problem for the metaphysics of logic is that of pinning down exactly what it is that logic is supposed to range over. Logic has been conceived of in a wide variety of ways: e.g. as an abstraction of natural language; as the laws of thought; and as normative for human reason. But, what is the ‘thought’ whose structure logic describes; how natural is the natural language from which logic is abstracted?; and to what extent does the formal system actually capture the way humans ought to reason?

As touched on above, a key metaphysical issue is how to account for the apparent ‘double role’ – applying to both formal mathematical and natural reasoning structures – that (at least the main) formal logical systems play. This apparent duality lines up along the two central, indeed canonical applications of logic: to mathematics and to human reason, (and/or human thought, and/or human language). In many ways, the first application suggests that logic may be objective – or at least as objective as mathemat-ics, in the sense that, as Stewart Shapiro puts it (in this volume) we might say something “is objective if it is part of the fabric of reality”. This in turn might suggest an apparent human-independence of logic. The second application, though, might suggest a certain subjectivity or inter-subjectivity; and so in turn an apparent human-dependence of logic, insofar as a logic of reason may appear dependent on actual human thought or concepts in some essential way.


Both the apparent objectivity and the apparent subjectivity of logic need to be accounted for, but there are numerous stances one might take within this dichotomy, including a conception of objectivity that is nonetheless human-dependent. In Chapter 4, Solomon Feferman reviews one such example in his non-realist philosophy of mathematics, wherein “the objects of mathematics exist only as mental conceptions [and] . . . the objectivity of mathematics lies in its stability and coherence under repeated communication”. Others of the various positions one might take up within this broad-brush conceptual field are admirably explored in both Stewart Shapiro’s and Graham Priest’s chapters, though from quite differ-ent stand points: Shapiro explores the nuances and possibilities in concep-tions of objectivity, relativity, and pluralism for logic, whereas Priest looks at these issues through the specific lens afforded by the question whether or not logic can be revised.

There are, then, a variety of possible metaphysical perspectives we can take on logic that, particularly now, deserve articulation and exploration. These include nominalism; naturalism; structuralism; conceptual structuralism; nihilism; realism; and anti-(or non-)realism, as well as positions attempting to steer a path between the latter two. The following essays cover all these positions and more, as defended by some of the foremost thinkers in the field.

The first part of the book covers some of the main philosophical positions one might adopt when considering the metaphysical nature of logic. This section covers everything from an extreme realism wherein logic may be supposed to be completely independent of humanity, to various accounts and various degrees in which logic is supposed to be in some way human-dependent (e.g. conceptualism and conventionalism).

In the first chapter I explore the feasibility of the notion that logic is about a structure or structures existing independently of humans and human activity. The (typically realist) notion of independence itself is scrutinised and the chapter gives some reasons to believe that there is nothing in principle standing in the way of attributing such independence to logic. So any benefits of such a realism are as much within the reach of the philosopher of logic as the philosopher of mathematics.

In the second chapter, Jody Azzouni explores whether logic can be conceived of in accordance with nominalism: a philosophy which might be taken to represent the extreme opposite of realism. Azzouni argues the case for logical conventionalism, the view that logical truths are true by convention. For Azzouni, logic is a tool which we both impose by conven-tion on our own reasoning practices, and occasionally also to evaluate


them. But Azzouni shows that although there seems to be a close relation-ship between conventionality and subjectivity, logic’s being conventional does not rule out its also applying to the world.

Stewart Shapiro, in the third chapter, argues the case for logical relativ-ism or pluralrelativ-ism: the view that there is “nothing illegitimate” in structures invoking logics other than classical logic. Shapiro defends a particular sort of relativism whereby different mathematical structures “have different logics”, giving rise to logical pluralism – conceived of as “[the] view that different accounts of the subject are equally correct, or equally good, or equally legitimate, or perhaps even (equally) true”.

Shapiro’s chapter looks in some depth at the relationship between mathematics and logic, identified above as a central problem for our theme. But in particular, it investigates the extent to which logic can be thought of as objective, given the foregoing philosophy. He offers a thorough, precise, and immensely valuable analysis of the central concepts, and clarifies exactly what is and is not at stake in this particular debate.

In the fourth chapter, Solomon Feferman examines a variety of logical non-realism called conceptual structuralism. Feferman shares with Shapiro a focus on the relationship between mathematics and logic, extending the case for conceptual structuralism in the philosophy of mathematics to logic via a deliberation on the nature and role of logic in mathematics. He draws a careful picture of logic as an intermediary between philosophy and mathematics, and gives a compelling argument for the notion that logic, as (he argues) does mathematics, deals with truth in a given conception.

According to Feferman’s account, truth in full is applicable only to definite conceptions. On this picture, when we speak of truth in a conception, that truth may be partial. Thus classical logic can be concep-tualised as the “logic of definite concepts and totalities”, but may itself be justified on the basis of a semi-intuitionist logic “that is sensitive to distinctions that one might adopt between what is definite and what is not”. Feferman shows how allowing that “different judgements may be made as to what are clear/definite concepts”, affords the conceptual structuralist a straightforward, sensible and clear understanding of the role and nature of logic.

Penelope Maddy, in the fifth chapter, offers a determinedly second-philosophical account of the nature of logic, presenting another admirably clear and sensible account, focusing in this case on the question why logic is true and its inferences reliable. ‘Second Philosophy’ is a close cousin of naturalism as well as a form of logical realism and involves persistently bringing our philosophical theorising back down to earth.


In Maddy’s words: “The Second Philosopher’s ‘metaphysics naturalized’ simply pursues ordinary science”. Thus Maddy investigates the question from this ‘ordinary’ perspective, beginning with a consideration of rudi-mentary logic, and gradually building up (via idealisations) to classical logic. On this account, logic turns out to be true and reliable in our actual (ordinary, middle-sized) world partly because that actual world shares the formal structure of logic (or at least rudimentary logic). Maddy gives an extensive account of some of the ways we might come to know of this structure, presenting recent research in cognitive science that supports the notion that we are wired to detect just such a structure. She then offers the (tentative) conclusion that classical logic (as opposed to any non-classical logic) is best suited to describe the physical world we live in, despite the fact that classical logic’s idealisations of rudimentary logic are best described as ‘useful falsifications’.

In the final two chapters of the first part, Curtis Franks questions the assumption underpinning any metaphysics of logic at all: namely that there is “a logical subject matter unaffected by shifts in human interest and knowledge”; and Mark Steiner unpicks Wittgenstein’s idea that “The rules of logical inference are rules of the language game”.

Steiner points out that for Wittgenstein “There is nothing akin to ‘intuition’, ‘Seeing’ and the like in following or producing a logical argument. Instead we [only] have regularities induced by linguistic training”. So, Steiner argues, supposing that logic is grounded by anything other than the regularities that ground rule following (say by some object-ive ‘fact’ according to which its rules are determined), is engaging in a kind of ‘covert Platonism’.

Steiner identifies the key difference (for Wittgenstein) between math-ematics and logic as the areas their respective rules govern: whereas both mathematical and logical rules govern linguistic practices, (only) math-ematical rules also govern non-linguistic practices. Interestingly, while Steiner argues that the line between mathematics and logic is thus more substantial than many may think, Franks argues that the line between maths and logic is illusory, based on a need to differentiate the patterns of reasoning we have come to associate with logic from other patterns of reasoning, which itself is grounded on nothing more than a baseless psychological or metaphysical preconception.

Franks argues that logicians deal not with truth but with the “relation-ships among phenomena and ideas” – and agrees with Steiner that looking for any further ‘ontological ground’ is misconceived (note, though, that Steiner himself does not commit himself to the views he attributes to


Wittgenstein. Rather he gives what he takes to be the best arguments in Wittgenstein’s favour). As something of a side note, it is interesting to compare Sandra Lapointe’s discussion of Bolzano’s notion of definition (in Part II) to that which Franks presents on behalf of Socrates. Lapointe argues that, for Bolzano, there is more to a definition than merely fixing its extension, whereas Franks argues that Socrates was right to prioritise the fixing of an extension first before enquiring after the nature or essence of a thing. Steiner’s discussion of the Wittgensteinian distinction between explanation and description is also relevant here. This debate touches on another important subtheme running throughout the book: the nature and role of intentional and extensional motivations of logical systems; and the related tension (admirably illustrated by Franks’ discussion of the develop-ment of set theory) between appeals to form/formal considerations and appeals to our intuitions.

Both Steiner’s Wittgenstein and Franks agree that the image of logic as a kind of ‘super-physics’ needs to be challenged, even eliminated; but each takes a different approach to just how this might be achieved, with Franks arguing for logical nihilism, and Steiner going to pains to show how, for Wittgenstein, the rules of logic ought to be conceived as akin to those of grammar and as nothing more than this.

The next part of the book gives an historical overview of past investi-gations into the nature of logic as well as giving insights into specific authors of historical import for our particular theme.

In the first chapter of this section Paul Thom discusses the thoughts of Aristotle and the tradition following him on logic. Thom focuses particu-larly on what sort of thing, metaphysically speaking, the objects of logic might be. He traces a gradual shift (in Kilwardby’s work) from a concep-tion of logic as about only linguistic phenomena, through a concepconcep-tion wherein logic is also understood as also being about reason, to the inclusion of ‘the natures of things’ as a possible foundation of logic. Kilwardby considers a view whereby the principal objects of logic: ‘state-ables’, are not some thing at all (at least not in themselves), insofar as they do not belong to any of Aristotle’s categories. Kilwardby opposes this view on the basis of a sophisticated and complex argument to the effect that there may be objects of logic that are human dependent but also external to ourselves, and can be considered both things of and things about nature itself. These insights are clearly relevant to the modern questions we ask about the metaphysics of logic and resonate strongly with the themes explored in the first part. The range of possibilities considered offer a fascinating and fruitful look into the historical precedents of the questions


about logic still open today: e.g. Thom notes that for Aristotle, the types of things that can belong to the categories are ‘outside the mind or soul’, and so Kilwardby’s analysis clearly relates to our modern question as to the possible independence and objectivity of logic. The complexity of that question is brought to the fore in Kilwardby’s detailed consideration of the various ‘aspects’ under which stateables can be considered, and according to which they may be assigned to different categories.

Thom’s chapter goes on to offer a framework for understanding later thinkers and traditions in logic, some of which (e.g. Bolzano in Lapointe’s chapter) are also discussed in this part. His concluding section ably demonstrates that understanding the history of our questions casts useful light on the modern debate.

Gyula Klima also discusses strategies for dealing with the two way pull on logic – from its apparent abstraction from human reason and from its apparent groundedness in the physical world. Klima focuses on the scho-lastics, comparing the semantic strategies of realists and nominalists around Ockham’s time. One of these was to characterise logic as the study of ‘second intentions’ – concepts of concepts. Klima points out that when logic is conceived of in this way, the core-ontology of real mind-independent entities could in principle have been exactly the same for “realists” as for Ockhamist “nominalists”; therefore, what makes the difference between them is not so much their ontologies as their different conceptions of concepts, grounding their different semantics.

Klima argues that extreme degrees of ontological and semantic diversity and uniformity mark out either end of a “range of possible positions concerning the relationship between semantics and metaphysics, [from] extreme realism to thoroughgoing nominalism” and points out how the conceptualisation of the sorts of things semantic values might be varies according to where a given position sits within this framework. His chapter illuminates the metaphysical requirements of different historical approaches to semantics and the way in which the various possible meta-physical commitments we make come about via competing intuitions regarding diversity: whether we locate diversity in the way things are or in the way we speak of or conceptualise them.

In the next chapter, Ermanno Bencivenga picks up a thought Thom touches on in his closing paragraph – namely that our modern conception of logic appears to have lost touch with the relevant ways in which actual human reason can go wrong other than by not being valid. Offering a Kantian view, Bencivenga suggests we adjust our conception of logic to that of almost any structure we impose on language and experience, just so


long as it is a holistic endeavour to uncover how our language acquires meaning. In this way almost all of philosophy is logic, but not all of what we commonly call logic makes the grade. For Bencivenga, logic should focus on meaning: on the way language constructs our world. From this perspective, the relationship of logic to reason is just one of many connec-tions between the world we create and the internal structure of any given logic. For example, while appeals to reason may motivate logic’s claims, so too do appeals to ethos and pathos.

Sandra Lapointe looks at the sorts of motivations and reasons we might have for adopting a realist philosophy of logic, pointing out that these reasons may not themselves be logical and developing a framework within which different instances of logical realism can be compared. Lapointe examines Bolzano’s philosophy in particular and shows how his realism may best be thought of as instrumental rather than inherent: adopted in order to make sense of certain aspects of logic rather than as a result of any deep metaphysical conviction.

Lapointe’s chapter shows how Bolzano’s works cast light on a wide array of issues falling under our theme, from his evocative analogy between the truths of logic and the spaces of geometry to his critique of Aristotle’s criteria for validity. Lapointe’s discussion of the latter is worth drawing attention to as it deals with the topic mentioned earlier – of the tension between external and intensional; and formal and non-formal motivations for logical systems. Lapointe compares the results of Bolzano’s motivations with those of Aristotle for the definition of logical consequence and in so doing, identifies some central considerations to help further our under-standing of this topic.

The final part of the book deals with the specific issues of the possible revision of logic, the presence of contradiction, and the metaphysical conception of logical truth.

Graham Priest’s chapter deals with the question of the revisability of logic and in so doing also offers a useful overview of much of what is discussed in earlier sections and indeed throughout this book. Priest outlines three senses of the term ‘logic’ and asks of each whether it can be revised, revised rationally, and (if so) how.

In some ways, Priest’s paper dovetails with Shapiro’s discussion of the possible criteria used to judge the acceptability of a theory, and draws a conclusion similar to that of Shapiro’s ‘liberal Hilbertian’: i.e. “[that] There is no metaphysical, formal, or mathematical hoop that a proposed theory must jump through. There are only pragmatic criteria of interest and usefulness” – which, for Priest, are judged against the requirements of


its application(s) and by “the standard criteria of rational theory choice”. And like Shapiro’s, Priest’s chapter is an immensely valuable overview of the key concepts informing any metaphysics of logic.

In the next chapter, Jc Beall, Michael Hughes, and Ross Vandegrift look at different repercussions of different attitudes toward “glutty predicates” – predicates which “in virtue of their meaning or the properties they express. . . [are] both true and false”. Their chapter shows how our various theories and attitudes about such predicates may motivate different formal systems. The formal systems in question here are Priest’s well-known LP and the lesser-known LA advanced by Asenjo and Tamburino. The upshot of the discussion is that the latter will suit someone metaphysically “commited to all predicates being essentially classical or glutty” and the former someone for whom “all predicates [are] potentially classical or glutty”.

Thus, Beall et al. draw out some interesting consequences of the relationships between our intuitions and theories regarding the metaphys-ical, the material, and the formal aspects of logic. They highlight both the potential ramifications of the role we afford our metaphysical commit-ments and the ramifications of the particular type of commitcommit-ments they might be. So while Beall et al. look in particular at a variety of metaphysical theories about contradiction, and the impact of these on two formal systems, their discussion also gives some general pointers to the way in which our metaphysical beliefs impact on other central factors in logic: crucially including the creation of the formal systems themselves and the evaluation of their differences.

Tuomas Tahko finishes the book by examining a specific realist meta-physical perspective and suggesting it as another approach we might take to understand logic, especially to interpret logical truth. His case study offers an interpretation of paraconsistency which contrasts nicely with that offered in the penultimate chapter. Tahko’s approach is to judge logical laws according to whether or not they count as genuine ways the actual world is or could be. From this perspective, he argues, exceptions to the law of non-contradiction now appear more as descriptions of features of our language than of reality. Thus he argues that the realist intuition grounding logic in how the world is (or could be) gives us good reason to preserve the LNC. Tahko’s metaphysical interpretation of logical truth also offers an interesting perspective on logical pluralism. From Tahko’s metaphysical perspective, pluralism may be understood as about subsets of possible worlds representing genuine possible configurations of the actual world. Tahko’s chapter is a meticulous investigation into the links, both


already in place and that (from this perspective) ought to be, between an interesting set of metaphysical intuitions and those laws of logic we take to be true.

In all, this book ranges over a vast terrain covering much of the ways in which our beliefs about the role and nature of logic and of the structures it describes both impact and depend on a wide array of metaphysical pos-itions. The work touches on and freshly illuminates almost every corner of the modern debate about logic; from pluralism and paraconsistency to reason and realism.


Logical realism

Penelope Rush

1. The problem

Logic might chart the rules of the world itself; the rules of rational human thought; or both. The first of these possible roles suggests strong similarities between logic and mathematics: in accordance with this possibility, both logic and mathematics might be understood as applicable to a world (either the physical world or an abstract world) independent of our human thought processes. Such a conception is often associated with mathematical and logical realism.

This realist conception of logic raises many questions, among which I want to pinpoint only one: how logic can at once be independent of human cognition in the way that mathematics might be; and relevant to that cognition. The relevance of logic to cognition – or, at the very least, the human ability to think logically – seems indubitable. So any under-standing of the metaphysical nature of logic will need also to allow for a clear relationship between logic and thought.1

The broad aim of this chapter is to show that we can take logical structures to be akin to independent, real, mathematical structures; and that doing so does not rule out their relevance and accessibility to human cognition, even to the possibility of cognition itself.

Suppose that logical realism involves the belief that logical facts are independent of anything human:2

that the facts would have been as they


Two things: note I do not claim we can or ought to show that logic underpins, describes, or arises from cognition. In fact I think the relationship between thought and logic is almost exactly analogous to that between thought and mathematics (see Rush (2012)), and I disagree with the idea that there is any especially significant connection between logic and thought beyond this. Two: while this chapter deals with the notion of ‘independence’ per se, it investigates this from the perspective of applying that notion especially to logic. That is, my main aim here is to indicate one way in which the realist conception of an independent logical realm might be considered a viable philosophical position but one primary way I hope to do this is by showing how attributing independence to logic need be no more problematic than attributing independence to anything else (e.g. by arguing that the realist problem applies across any ‘type’ of reality which is supposed to be independent).



are regardless of whether or not humans comprehended them, or even had existed at all. A sturdy sort of objectivity seems guaranteed by this stance. Janet Folina captures this neatly:

[If logical facts exist independently of the knowers of logic], there is a clear difference, or gap, between what the facts are and what we take them to be. (Folina 1994: 204)3

This sturdy objectivity is just one reason we might find logical realism appealing.4

There is, though, a well-known objection to the idea that we can coherently posit the independence of facts (including logical facts) from their human knowers (and human knowledge).

Wilfrid Sellars formulated a version of this objection in 1956. Sellars argued that in order to preserve both the idea that there is something independent of ourselves and epistemological processes, and the idea that we can access this something (e.g. know truths about it), we seem to have either to undermine the independent status of that thing (by attributing to it apparently human-dependent features) or to render utterly mysterious the way in which any knowledge-conferring relationship might arise from that access.

Sellars’ idea is that we cannot suppose that we encounter reality as it is independently of us, unless we suppose something like a moment of unmediated access. But, there can be no relevant relationship between independent reality and us (e.g. we can make no justificatory or founda-tional use of such a moment) unless that unmediated encounter can be taken up within our own knowledge.

The obvious move is simply to say that this initial encounter is available to knowledge. But this move undermines itself by casting what was independent as part of what is known: i.e. it attributes an already in-principle knowability to a supposed fully independent reality (for more on Sellars’ argument, see Fumerton (2010), and Sellars (1962)).

The broadly applicable Sellarisan objection bears comparison to Bena-cerraf ’s (1973) objection to mathematical realism, which extends, at least to a degree, to logical realism.5Benacerraf argued that even our best theory of

3 Folina was talking about mathematical realism, but the sort of logical realism I want to examine here

is directly analogous to mathematical realism in this respect.


Lapointe (this volume) explores a variety of reasons that may play a role in holding some version of logical realism, so I won’t go into these in depth here.


For more on the possible entities a logical realist might posit (e.g. meanings/propositions), see Lapointe (this volume). Regardless of which entities are selected and where these are situated on the


knowledge could not account for knowledge of mathematical reality just so long as that reality was conceived of in the usual mathematical realist way: as abstract, acausal, and atemporal. Part of the problem, as Benacerraf saw it, was that the stuff being posited as independently real is not sufficiently like any stuff that we can know, and if it were, it would not be the sort of thing intended by the mathematical realist in the first place.

Sellars’ objection can be understood as a generalisation of Benacerraf ’s: common to both is the idea that the fully independent reality posited by the realist is not the type of thing we can know, or if it is, then it is not the type of thing the realist says it is.

Thus, even were the mathematical or logical realist to adjust his con-ception of mathematical or logical reality by ruling out one or all of its abstractness, atemporality, or acausality, the problem induced by its com-plete independence of humans and human consciousness would remain.

Recall, the realist idea of independence I am interested in here is one which posits an in-principle or always possible separation between what independently is and what we as humans grasp. The basic idea is that were there no humans to experience or be conscious of it, logic would still be as it is. So it seems that being the type of thing which is experienced or known can be no part of what it (essentially) is.6

The problem can be expressed this way: how can independent reality be part of human consciousness and experience if our human consciousness and experience of it can be no part of independent reality? A putative solution, then, might show how independent reality could play a role in human consciousness, but such a solution would need also to affirm the necessary condition that being the object of our consciousness is no (essential) part of independent reality itself.

This notion of independence, then, is not only the most problematic feature of any logical realism, it may be outright contradictory:

A realist. . . is basically someone who claims to think that which is where there is no thought. . . . he speaks of thinking a world in itself and independent of thought. But in saying this, does he not precisely speak of a world to which thought is given, and thus of a world dependent on our relation-to-the-world? (Meillassoux 2011: 1)

abstract–physical scale of possible entities, just so long as the realist also posits IND (Lapointe, this volume), they’ll encounter some version of Benacerraf ’s or Sellars’ problem.


For more on the nuances of ‘independence’ available to the realist, see Jenkins (2005) – I take essential independence to follow from modal independence, and I take modal independence as characteristic of the sort of realism I want to explore.


Husserl characterised the realist problem of independence (which he also called ‘transcendence’) in various ways, one of which is as follows:

[the problem is] how cognition can reach that which is transcendent. . . [i.e.] the correlation between cognition as mental process, its referent and what objectively is . . . [is] the source of the deepest and most difficult problems. Taken collectively, they are the problem of the possibility of cognition. (Husserl 1964: 10–15)

Each of the above characterisations of the realist’s situation turns on the central theme of how we can sensibly (and relevantly) conceptualise the role that a reality independent of human consciousness could play in the realm of that consciousness.

Husserl’s characterisation of the problem already gives a clue as to his overall approach: rather than view the problem as bridging a gap of the sort Folina describes, Husserl suggests we view it as “the possibility of cognition”.

2. The potential of phenomenology

I hope to show how Husserl’s approach potentially enables us to take independent reality in both of the ways sitting either side of the gap: i.e. both as what is and as what is not the end point of a reasonable epistemol-ogy. That is, I hope to use his approach to see how we might accommodate the idea that what is cognised, and what must (on a realist account) remain irreducibly external (or, in principle, separable) to what is cognised – can be one and the same thing, or (perhaps) more accurately, a dual thing.7

At first glance, this might seem simply to concede the contradiction Meillassoux graphically outlines. I want to take a second glance – illustrating how such a concession need be neither simple nor impotent but rather offer a way to conceptualise the elements underpinning the realist notion of independent reality and so begin, if not to resolve, then to make some sense of its intractability. That is, there are ways in which the Husserlian perspective can motivate us to find reasons and avenues by which we might begin to accommodate the independent reality the realist posits, even as potentially contradictory – rather than to take its inherent instability as reason enough to brush it off as impossible and therefore irrelevant. These ways all intersect at the possibility opened in the phenomenological


As will become clear, I have a very particular notion of duality in mind here – i.e. a (contradictory) duality of object: ‘one that is also two’ – rather than a duality of an object’s role, or aspect, or components, etc: ‘one that has two aspects/dimensions/components, etc’.


perspective (admittedly most probably neither envisaged nor anywhere claimed by Husserl himself ); namely that the realist predicament is itself an essential ingredient for the possibility of cognition.8

All of the above ways of rendering the realist problem of independence (barring his own) – i.e. as an intractable and apparently unbridgeable dichotomy between reality and our knowledge of it – Husserl characterised as a product of the ‘natural’, ‘scientific’ attitude, which he saw as pervasive all of philosophy (again, barring his own, e.g. Husserl 1964: 18–19).

By contrast, phenomenology offers a picture of entangled cognition wherein independent reality is inextricable from cognition itself. This sort of picture takes the first step toward accommodating both sides of the divide insofar as it introduces the idea that our internal perspective itself irreducibly incorporates the possibility, even the necessity, of there being something outside that perspective.

To be clear, I reiterate that this is my own interpretation of Husserl and my own exploration of the possibilities his work suggests to me. I do not attribute these possibilities to Husserl. As I understand him, for Husserl, experience is always experience of – and so cannot begin to be defined without allowing (at least) a place or a role for something external toward which it is directed at the outset. For me, the promising bit is this: that this something is both somehow outside or external to (‘constituting’) experi-ence and within it (‘being constituted’) at the same time.

It is by examining and enlarging on this promising bit that I hope to explore one way in which phenomenology (potentially) offers a role for the realist predicament itself as the (contradictory) structure of our relationship to independent reality. I hope to sketch how accepting the predicament in this way might enable us to make sense of reality, cognition, and experi-ence within a realist framework – to see the realist’s ‘predicament’ as a complex and interesting structure that these elements share, as opposed to an impossible riddle or a problem in need of a solution.

In what follows, I’ll briefly unpack just a couple of aspects of Husserl’s account in order to show how we might use them to begin to open and explore this possibility, specifically regarding the idea of a realistically imagined independent logical structure.9

8Caveat: I’d like to argue that the predicament can play this role just so far as the basic idea of an

independent reality existing at all can. It is the latter that I see the framework in Husserl’s ideas as able to directly establish.


Or, again, to illustrate how conceiving logic as an independent objective structure akin to mathematics need not be considered an especially problematic instance of the general idea of independent reality itself, once that idea is effectively defended.


3. Key aspects of phenomenology 3.1 The Platonic nature of logic

Husserl had a very broad concept of logic that embraces our usual modern idea of logic as well as something he called ‘pure logic’, which we can loosely characterise as something like ‘the fundamental forms of experi-ence’. For Husserl, logic as formal systems (and so too ‘modern logic’; incorporating classical, modal, and all the usual non-classical structures), is to be accounted for in much the same way as is mathematics: by its relationship to these fundamental forms. This relationship is roughly that which holds between practice and theory – pure logic is the purely theoretical structure (or, perhaps, structures – I don’t think it matters much here) that accounts for logic as practised.

For Husserl, the fundamental forms of pure logic are an in-eliminable part of experience: i.e. ‘experience’ encompasses direct apprehension of these inferential relationships. The apprehended structures are abstract and platonic; discovered, rather than constructed. Theory, empirical observation, and experience are in this sense fallible: they may or may not ‘get it right’ and reveal the actual independent structure of logic. In Husserl’s words:

As numbers. . . do not arise and pass away with acts of counting, and as, therefore, the infinite number-series presents an objectively fixed totality of general objects . . . so the matter also stands with the ideal, pure-logical units, the concepts, propositions, and truths – in short, the significations dealt with in logic . . . form an ideally closed totality of general objects to which being thought and expressed is accidental. (1981: 149)

Thus both logic and mathematics, for Husserl, have a ‘pure’, ‘abstract’, ‘theoretical’, ‘definite’, and ‘axiomatic’ foundation. Further, Husserl believed that:

one cannot describe the given phenomena like the natural number series or the species of the tone series if one regards them as objectivities in any other words than with which Plato described his ideas: as eternal, self-identical, untemporal, unspatial, unchanging, immutable. (Hartimo 2010a: 115–118, italics mine)

So, according to the prevailing view, both logic and mathematics as they are characterised by Husserl, should encounter the realist problem of independence – neither are the sort of thing we can simply take as part of human cognition; i.e. not without also accommodating


the idea that what cognition accesses is in principle no part of what either mathematics or logic independently is.

3.2 Inextricability

As touched on above, one of Husserl’s most suggestive and promising ideas is that consciousness is not separable from consciousness of an object – intentionality is built into the structure of consciousness and experience itself.

The leading idea is consciousness as consciousness of: the very definition of experience and consciousness as involving already what it is directed toward, or what it is conscious of. Of course, this idea is also what a great deal of the controversy in Husserlian scholarship centres on. One reason for the controversy, I think, is the ambiguity in the prima facie simple idea of an object (or realm, or reality) as an object of anything (including, for example, consciousness, intention, act, or perception). Even on the most subjectivist reading, the notion is ambiguous between the idea of objects in experience, and as experienceable. This ambiguity interplays in obvious ways with the tension underpinning the realist’s problem: that between the object as given to an epistemological human-dependent process, and the object as independent. In turn (as we’ve seen) this ambiguity itself centres on a distinction between ‘internal’ (what we take the facts to be), and ‘external’ (what the facts are).

I suggest that the urge to disambiguate Husserl on this point should be resisted,10since to disambiguate here would be to miss a large part of the potential of phenomenology. Indeed, Husserl himself seems at times to deliberately preserve ambiguity here (though whether he meant to or not is tangential to the point). For example:

First fundamental statements: the cogito as consciousness of something. . . each object meant indicates presumptively its system. The essential related-ness of the ego to a manifold of meant objects thus designates an essential structure of its entire and possible intentionality. (Husserl 1981: 79–80) On the one hand it has to do with cognitions as appearances, presentations, acts of consciousness in which this or that object is presented, is an act of consciousness, passively or actively. On the other hand, the phenomen-ology of cognition has to do with these objects as presenting themselves in this manner. (Husserl 1964: 10–12)



In the above quotes, both the ‘presenting objects’ and ‘the manner in which they present’ give cognition its essential structure. It seems that Husserl resists resolving the ambiguity in these phrases one way or the other.

Husserl’s “phenomenology of cognition” is accomplished through a prior conceptual step called the ‘phenomenological reduction’. This ‘reduction’ is related to Descartes’ method of doubt (e.g. in Husserl 1964: 23. A useful elaboration can be found in Teiszen 2010: 80). Teiszen argues that for Husserl the crucial thing about the phenomenological reduction was what remains even after we attempt, in Cartesian fashion, to doubt everything. Teiszen makes the point that if we take a (certain, phenomenologically mediated) transcendental perspective, we can uncover in what remains (after Cartesian doubt) a lot more than an ‘I’ who is thinking. In particular, we can uncover direct apprehension of “the ideal objects of logic and mathematics” (Teiszen 2010: 9) whose pure forms extend far further than what Descartes ended up allowing as directly knowable, and further than the knowable allowed for in Kant’s philosophy.

Just as there is with what to make of the ‘consciousness as consciousness of’ idea, so too there is much controversy surrounding exactly what the phenomenological reduction is and involves. To say that there is disagree-ment here among Husserl scholars is something of an understatedisagree-ment. Indeed: “there seem[s] to be as many phenomenologies as phenomenolo-gists” (Hintikka 2010: 91).

But the clarification of exactly what Husserl may have meant is not relevant to my purpose here, which is to see if there are ideas we can draw from Husserl that might help a realist philosopher of logic.

I pause to note, though, that Teiszen’s interpretation of the reduction as a “‘suspension’ or ‘bracketing’ of the (natural) world and everything in it” (Teiszen 2010: 9) is standard; and the ‘ideal objects’ recovered in Teiszen’s consequent ‘transcendental idealism’ (including their ‘constituted mind-independence’) are also standard for an established tradition of Husserl scholarship (adhered to by Føllesdal, among others). But these ‘ideal’ objects are very far from the realist mind-independent realm that I want to imagine has a place here (to hammer this point home, see Teiszen 2010: 18).

Again, it is the (possibly resolute) ambiguity in Husserl’s account that allows for my alternate reading of phenomenology. Another case in point: “the description on essential lines of the nature of consciousness . . . leads us back to the corresponding description


of the object consciously known” (Husserl 1983: 359). The phrase: “the object consciously known” is ambiguous. It can be read differently depending on each term’s specific interpretation and on which terms are emphasized: e.g. the ‘consciously known’ can be read as ‘the object as we know it’ (i.e. a strictly constituted – internal – object); or as ‘the object that is known’. It is the latter interpretation that opens the possibility of an ‘external element’ in the basic ingredients of the nature of consciousness.

To reiterate: the interesting thing about Husserl for my purpose is that in his ideas we can discern a (at least potential) role for an independent objective other, while nonetheless focusing on experience and consciousness: my thought is that if we can argue that intending reality as it appears (i.e. in the case of the realist conception of logic: as objective and independent) is itself constitutive of cognition and even of the possibility of cognition itself; then we can see a way in which objective independent reality is (complete with its attendant predica-ment) already there, structuring the essential nature of consciousness and experience.

For me, the phenomenological reduction, or ‘ruling out’ of all that can be doubted, and the subsequent re-discovery of the world (ultimately) demonstrates an important way that reality, in all of the ways it seems to us to be (including being independent of us), in fact cannot be ruled out. Thus, we can see in the basic elements of the phenomenological analysis how objective, independent reality enters the picture as objective, and independent – not only as an object of consciousness, but as consti-tuting consciousness itself. This is the case even if (or, as Husserl would have it, especially if ) we try to focus only on ‘pure experience’ or ‘pure consciousness’.

I’ll mention a couple of other perspectives that gesture in a similar direction to my own before moving on.

From Levinas we get:

the fact that the in itself of the object can be represented and, in knowledge, seized, that is, in the end become subjective, would strictly speaking be problematic . . . This problem is resolved before hand with the idea of the intentionality of consciousness, since the presence of the subject to transcendent things is the very definition of consciousness. (1998: 114, italics mine) [and]

the world is not only constituted but also constituting. The subject is no longer pure subject; the object no longer pure object. The phenomenon is at once revealed and what reveals, being and access to being. (1998: 118)


Once we get our heads around the idea that the presence of the subject to transcendent things defines consciousness,11it is not a huge leap to see how this initial subjective/transcendent relationship (even if it’s just one of mutual ‘presence’) can incorporate the entire problematic outlined above: i.e. that the Sellars–Meillassoux contradiction is ‘built in’ just so far as it describes that relationship. Recall that Husserl equates that problematic with the problem of the possibility of cognition (p. 16 above): it should now be apparent how his equation can be understood as a means by which to understand (rather than resolve or dissolve) the ‘natural’, ‘scientific’ perspective, complete with its consequent dilemma. That is, Husserl’s point:

‘The problem of the possibility of cognition is the traditional realist dilemma’

need not be interpreted thus: ‘the problem of the possibility of cognition supplants the traditional dilemma’. Rather, it may be interpreted thus: ‘the traditional dilemma defines (in some way or other) the problem of the possibility of cognition’.

Hintikka is another who seems to suggest that the contradictory rela-tionship between the subject and external reality is a part of Husserl’s (along with Aristotle’s) philosophy. He asks:

Is. . . the object that we intend by means of a noema


out there in the real “objective” world? Or must we. . . say that the object “inexists” in the act?

He then points out:

Aristotle [and Husserl] would not have entertained such questions. For him [/them] in thinking (intending?) X, the form of X is fully actualised both in the external object and in the soul. If we express ourselves in the phenom-enological jargon, this shows the sense in which the (formal) object of an act exists both in the reality and in the act. (2010: 96)

My own point is that this characterisation of the relationship (one I agree Husserl himself advocates) does not automatically eliminate or supplant the traditional, ‘natural’ characterisation of the relationship, and so nor does it eliminate the problem as it arises for that ‘natural’ characterisation. I suggest that the phenomenological perspective is best understood as a re-conceptualisation of the same relationship that is characterised and


Note that this need not go the other way: we can retain the phenomenological insight without the inverse claim that the object itself depends on, or even is (either necessarily or always) present to, consciousness.


Husserl’s name for something akin to Fregean ‘sense’, but also apparently akin to (though more fine-grained than) Fregean ‘reference’ (for some interesting details on these subtleties, see Haddock 2010).


problematised in the natural attitude; and so as capable of engaging directly with its key concepts (rather than as wholly re-interpreting, removing, or supplanting those concepts).

4. Overflow

I want now to discuss the idea of the “pregnant concept of evidence” (Husserl 1964: 46). Husserl says:

If we say: this phenomenon of judgement underlies this or that phenom-enon of imagination. This perceptual phenomphenom-enon contains this or that aspect, colour, content, etc., and even if, just for the sake of argument, we make these assertions in the most exact conformity with the givenness of the cogitation, then the logical forms which we employ, and which are reflected in the linguistic expressions themselves, already go beyond the mere cogitations. A “something more” is involved which does not at all consist of a mere agglomeration of new cogitationes. (1964: 40–1)

Elsewhere, he notes:

The epistemological pregnant sense of self-evidence. . . gives to an inten-tion, e.g., the intention of judgement, the absolute fullness of content, the fullness of the object itself. The object is not merely meant, but in the strictest sense given. (Husserl 1970: 765)

The point I want to draw attention to is that Husserl takes both logical and physical/perceptual ‘objects’ as the sort of thing that in one sense or another ‘overflow’, or ‘go beyond’ what is given to cogitation.

The word ‘object’ must. . . be taken in a very broad sense. It denotes not only physical things, but also, as we have seen, animals, and likewise persons, events, actions, processes and changes, and sides, aspects and appearances of such entities. There are also abstract objects. . . (Føllesdal, in Føllesdal and Bell 1994: 135)

Bearing in mind that in the phenomenological reduction, access to abstract logical forms is not treated in any especially problematic way, all of what is given to experience can be explained in much the same fashion: “sensuous intuition means givenness of simple objects. Categorical intuition. . . means givenness of categorical formations, such as states of affairs, logical connectives, and essences” (Hartimo 2010b: 117). The structure underpinning logic – the form and structure of experience – is constituted and ‘given’ in experience. It is ‘seen’13analogously to the way physical objects are seen by perception.


Or rather, ‘intuited’, where ‘intuition’ is used in the sense of “immediate or non-discursive knowledge” (Hintikka 2010: 94).


So, the object of genuine perception and, by the extension I want to make here, genuine categorical intuition, overflows what is given to the act of perception or comprehension itself. For this reason it is capable of being veridical, and is opposed to Hyletic data, which is not.14

This is because genuine perception and intuition involve noema that are both conceptual and objectual.15

It is because each noema is objectual that our conceptual grasp can never fully contain the whole noema: i.e. that this grasp is always ‘pregnant’. Note that Husserl does not commit to there being two noemata for each act of perception or comprehension, but neither does he commit to the idea that the conceptual and the objectual are simply two aspects of the one noema.16 Rather, his claims regarding objectual (or, to anticipate what’s to come: ‘non-conceptual’) phenomena and conceptual phenomena are in tension with one another.

In every noema, Husserl says:

A fully dependable object is marked off. . . we acquire a definite system of predicates either form or material, determined in the positive form or left “indeterminate” – and these predicates in their modified conceptual sense determine the “content” of a core identity. (Husserl 1983: 364, italics mine)

It is within this ‘core identity’ we find that which gives the noema its ‘pregnant sense of self evidence’; that which makes what is ‘given to cognition’ overflow cognition and any (e.g. formal) ‘agglomeration of new cognitiones’. Other terms Husserl uses for this ‘core identity’ include: “the object”; “the objective unity”; “the self-same”; “the determinable


Shim (2005) nicely characterizes hyletic data as the ‘sensual stuff ’ of experience. He gives the following helpful example of the process of ‘precisification’ to contrast memory or fantasy with genuine perception: “In remembering the house I used to live in, I can precisify an image of a red house in my head. The shape, the color and other physical details of that house must be ‘filled in’ by hyletic data. Now let’s say I used to live in a blue house and not a red house. There is, however, no veridical import to the precisifications of my memory until confronted by the corrective perception. . . there is no sense in talking about the veridical import in the precisifications of [the memory or] fantasy” (pp. 219–220). In the latter cases, we may mistake merely hyletic data for non-conceptual (or objectual) phenomena (p. 220). An analogous situation might be said (by a logical realist) to occur for logical intuition when we encounter counter examples or engage directly with the meaning of logical operators – in these situations we can see a genuine role for veridical input capable of correcting or ‘precisifying’ our intuition. On the other hand, perhaps analogously to what occurs in a fantasy or hallucination, we may mistake the mere manipulation of symbols for genuine (veridical) comprehension.

15 Shim gives a sophisticated argument for the idea that what provides perceptual noemata with

‘overflow’ is that they have both conceptual and non-conceptual content. My idea is similar, but, as will be elaborated shortly, the duality I want to consider should not be rendered as (non-contradictory) aspects of one and the same object, but rather as a contradictory object; whereas I think that Shim means the duality he proposes to be interpreted in the former sense.



subject of its possible predicates”; “the pure X in abstraction from all predicates”; “the determinable which lies concealed in every nucleus and is consciously grasped as self-identical”; “the object pole of intention”; and, best of all: “that which the predicates are inconceivable without and yet distinguishable from”. This is conceptually located in a similar variety of ways, including as: “set alongside [the noema]”; “not separable from it”; “belonging to it”; “disconnected from it”; and “detached but not separable [from it]” (all quotations, 1983: 365–367). I simply note here that some of these characterisations are contradictory. What I hope to indicate, in what follows, is that this is as it should be.

To review and sum up:

The main points I get from Husserl are these: that independent abstract ‘reality’ is no more difficult to accommodate than is independent physical reality; that conceptualising logical structures as similar to platonic math-ematical structures does not preclude conceptualising either as immedi-ately apprehendable objects of cognition; and thus that the idea of independent reality as (genuinely, problematically) independent finds a place in phenomenology.

5. McDowell

It is useful to compare what has so far been drawn from Husserl to a specific interpretation of McDowell.

Neta and Pritchard in their (2007) article make a point that helps situate Husserl’s programme: they argue that one way to understand attempts (specifically McDowell’s, but their ideas extend to Husserl’s) to reach beyond our ‘inner’ world to an external realm is precisely by close examin-ation of the assumptions we bring to the Cartesian evil genius thought experiment. The argument they present demonstrates links between a particular (perhaps ‘natural’) way of conceiving the distinction between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, and the commonly held assumption that:

(R): The only facts that S can know by reflection alone are facts that would also obtain in S’s recently envatted duplicate. (p. 383)

Neta and Pritchard argue that McDowell rejects R on the basis that there is something about our actual, embodied experience of the world that cannot be replicated by stimulus, no matter how sophisticated, experienced by a brain in a vat (compare this with Husserl’s differentiation between genuine ‘pregnant’ perception and hyletic/sensuous data). The clue as to how McDowell rejects (R) and to uncovering the similarities between his and


Husserl’s approaches is in the concept ‘experience of the world’. For McDowell, experience of (the world) is experience as (humans in the world). The idea is that if indeed that is what we are talking about, then when we talk of ‘experience in the world’, we cannot, as it were, ‘slice off ’ the part that is us experiencing from the part that is being experienced.

Neta and Pritchard outline McDowell’s position as follows:

McDowell (1998a) allows . . . that one’s empirical reason for believing a certain external world proposition, p, might be that one sees that p is the case. Seeing that is factive, however, in that seeing that p entails p. However, McDowell also holds that such factive reasons can be nevertheless reflect-ively accessible to the agent – indeed, he demands. . . that they be accessible for they must be able to serve as the agent’s reasons. (p. 384, italics original)

Thus, for McDowell, ‘it is true that p’; or ‘it being so that p’, are internal to the knower’s ‘space of reasons’. But her ‘satisfactory standing’ in the space of reasons in which p is so, involves ‘seeing that p’, which entails p itself. McDowell’s ‘factive reasons’ are subtle things with clear similarities to Hintikka’s characterisation of the Aristotelian/Husserlian ‘object of an act’: they are knowable by reflection alone, but also entail objective ‘external’ states. I remember my then seven-year-old son once saying ‘I think the trees have faces’, and thinking that this is a nice way of explaining some of the ideas in McDowell’s Mind and World (1994), which I take as an attempt to argue that what is external and objectively so is nonetheless also accessible – available to us as conceptual content.

But I think that the McDowellian/Husserlian sort of manoeuvre can only work if ‘what is experienced’ genuinely is the realist’s independent reality (at least as much as it is accessible content). To the extent that any account re-casts or re-defines that independence, it is hard to see how the specifically realist problem (which both McDowell and Husserl identify in the ‘natural attitude’) is the problem their accounts actually address.

Put another way, if an account implicates the external in our human (reflective) experience simply by fiat (or by initial (re)design), then it becomes difficult to see how such an account can help us understand the problem that inspired it in the first place: i.e. the problem of the realist’s conception of independence as independence from human experience. McDowell’s and Husserl’s solution are of a kind, both answer the sceptic along the following general lines: you can’t take away reference to external reality (as in the sceptical scenario) just because what we experience has external reality somehow written into it. But if a position’s ‘inwritten’


externality collapses into (even an interesting) aspect of what remains, strictly, internal, then that position offers no essential insight into the dichotomy and the problem with which we began.

6. Effectively defending ~R

The important word in the preceding paragraph is “somehow”. Expanding on the ‘somehow’, we can find a sense in which neither McDowell nor Husserl escapes or resolves the traditional, ‘natural’ dilemma. Or rather, to the extent that they can be said to, their solutions do not address this original dilemma. Conversely, I want to suggest it is just to the extent that they don’t escape the dilemma that they may (via expansion on the ‘somehow’) be taken as having offered a sort of solution wherein what was unintelligible from the traditional/natural perspective, is made at least a little intelligible. That is, their sort of insight might be taken as offering a perspective from which the contradiction inherent in speaking of a reality independent of humans altogether need not automatically undermine the possibility of a relationship between the two.

To see this, we need to start by outlining the ways in which both positions “clearly [challenge] the traditional epistemological picture that has (R) at its core”.

Neta and Pritchard outline McDowell’s challenge to R this way:

McDowell’s acceptance of reflectively accessible factive reasons. . . entails that the facts that one can know by reflection are not restricted to the “inner” in this way, and can instead, as it were, reach right out to the external world, to the “outer”. One has reflective access to facts that would not obtain of one’s recently envatted duplicate, on McDowell’s picture. If this is correct, it suggests that the popular epistemological distinction between “inner” and “outer” which derives from (R) should be rejected, or at least our understanding of it should be radically revised. (p. 386)

Not believing R is tantamount to taking a more sophisticated or more complex view of the original Cartesian experiment. To accept ~R, we need reasons to suppose that the thought experiment of ‘doubting everything’ is not simply or not only constructible along lines drawn from our ‘natural’ understanding of the ‘outer/inner’ distinction. Husserl offers the broad reason that consciousness per se is not possible – if we try to imagine such a thing, we find a sense in which independent reality got there before us: consciousness itself incorporates ‘potentialities’ that, in turn, cannot be reduced to wholly ‘subjective’ or ‘internal’ phenomena.