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PHENOMENOLOGY

© Avi Sion, 1990-2005 All rights reserved.

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Phenomenology

II. Organizing Principles

1. The Order of Things

2. Appearance and Other Large Concepts

3. Material, Mental, Intuitive, Abstract

4. Number, Space and Time

5. Modality and Causality

1. The Order of Things

Philosophy cannot answer its basic questions any old how; it must proceed in stages, in such a way that its own assertions and implicit assumptions are equally addressed. If a philosopher does not take account of the order of things in his mind or knowledge, he is bound to develop erroneous views. To assess such order, one must trace the complex genesis of important concepts. (See Figures 1, 2 & 3.)

Basic concepts like ‘appearance,’ ‘existence,’ ‘reality,’ ‘illusion,’ ‘experience’ and many, many more, are of course well-nigh impossible to define in verbal terms. The reason is obvious: definition has to stop somewhere; it cannot go on ad infinitum. Such concepts can at best be partly indicated, by pointing to experiences, partly communicated by negation. They are nonetheless generally understood, if only after some verbal clarifications.

One of the principal tasks of philosophy is to identify the main organizing concepts or principles, through which all the information given us in appearance can be summarized, ordered and understood. Some of these subdivide the world of appearance into smaller, variously interactive domains and classes. Others are concepts of number, which make measurement of these various elements of appearance feasible, in the realms of space and time, or in statistical contexts like modality and causation, or in other, more specific issues.

In this context, it would be necessary to hypothesize how the distinction arises phenomenologically. That is to say, are there phenomenal marks or events that promote and justify such distinction? For example, is matter simply more vividly manifest than mind, or otherwise evidently qualitatively different, or do we make the distinction with reference to intuitions of our own inner actions, such as looking in the direction of the senses versus looking in the direction of memory or of one’s own intentions. As we shall see, my conclusion in many contexts is that phenomenal marks or events are not sufficient differentia, and we must refer to self-experience to explain certain primordial distinctions.

If we proceeded according to the natural or logical ‘order of things,’ our account of the foundations and development of knowledge would begin with meditation on and discussion of present Appearance, by which I mean the totality of appearance, in a given moment or cumulatively over time. Then we would dissect such totality into its constituent appearances, in an appropriate order, and investigate the various reasons and ways such distinctions arise, as well as the measurements involved in making them. This is of course an enormous task, and I do not propose to fulfill it exhaustively in the present volume but merely to begin it and thus illustrate it.

The topics treated in this work cannot be presented in such strictly orderly fashion without losing the reader’s interest. Some segments will grab the reader’s attention, others may seem tedious; so the writer must gauge what to put where. The important thing is to try and make clear within the text what the correct ordering of information would be. Some topics will barely be mentioned, because they have been or will be dealt with in considerable detail in other works of mine, and I see no point in repeating myself. Nevertheless, some repetition is inevitable, if only in the way of summary, if my discourse is to be understood.

The following are some of the most important organizing concepts or principles, which we shall try to elucidate to some extent in the coming pages. This catalog is not intended as exhaustive or systematic, but rather as suggestive and associative.

a) Large concepts:

· Distinction between appearance, existence and reality (and their respective negations); ontology.

· Discerning object, consciousness and subject; epistemology.

b) Analytic concepts:

· Distinction between phenomenal (material or mental), intuitive (self and its immediate functions), abstract (concepts about phenomena, intuitives and/or abstracts); comparison, confrontation, verbalization, classification; inductive and deductive logic.

· Distinction between matter, mind and spirit.

o Matter: surrounding world (atoms and molecules, quarks and stars, fields) and own body (sense and motor organs, brain); physics, physiology.

o Mind: memories, imaginations, anticipations, mental feelings; psychology.

o Spirit: self/other; soul, cognition, volition, valuation; psychology, ethics.

c) Concepts of mathematical relation (measurement):

· Discerning number (unit, plurality, proportion); arithmetic (algebra).

· Discerning time (present, past and future), space (distances; adjacent, apart; inner, outer), motion and change (all of which, in matter or mind); chronology, geometry.

· Discerning modality (necessary, actual, potential, and their negations) and causality (spontaneity, causation, volition, influence), in all their modes; statistics, tropology, aetiology.

2. Appearance and Other Large Concepts

By ‘appearance’ is meant, first of all, anything and everything – but upon reflection, more specifically anything which ‘comes to mind,’ by whatever means. This is not a definition, but an indication. The term appearance is too fundamental to be definable without circularity, we can only ‘point to’ its instances; indeed, whatever we can point to, in any sense of the term(physically with a finger, mentally by projecting a boundary, verbally by defining or intentionally by focusing on), is an appearance. Thus, ‘appearance’ refers to any object – of consciousness (but of course, ‘consciousness’ is itself too basic to be definable – see further on).

The concept of appearance differs from that of ‘existence’ as of when we assume that things exist before or after we are aware of them, and therefore by extrapolation that things exist that we are never aware of. This assumption that there are things (existents) we are not conscious of, serves to explain or integrate, among others, the appearance that things disappear and reappear (signifying continuity of existence in the interim – granting reliability to memory). It also expresses our belief that other selves beside oneself exist (as opposed to solipsism), each of which is aware of (and reports) some things one is not aware of, or unaware of some things one is aware of.

Thus, although the two concepts may initially coincide, at some stage we come to regard appearance as a subcategory of existence, implying that whereas all appearances exist, some existents are not apparent. Non-apparent existents are, note well, hypothetical; i.e. ‘nonappearance’ is a word whose content is by definition unknown but not in principle unknowable. Non-existents do not, of course, exist; which means that the word ‘nonexistence’ has no ideational content, but is just a verbal construct by negation (an artifice we use as a sort of garbage can for incoherent hypothetical concepts or propositions).

We may here also mention, in passing, the subsidiary concept of actuality, or ‘present existence,’ which arises in the specific context of natural modality, to distinguish between potentiality with present existence and that without present existence.

The concept of appearance likewise to begin with coincides with that of ‘reality.’ But as of when we come to the conclusion, as a way to explain certain illogical appearances (like contradictions between experiences or between our beliefs/predictions and experiences) that some things are illusory, i.e. that consciousness errs occasionally, we posit that reality is a mere subcategory of appearance, and therefore of existence. The complementary subcategory of appearance, unreality or ‘illusion,’ also has the status of existence, note well. There are also appearances that we are at a given time unable to classify as reality or illusion; these are temporarily problematic.

One cannot claim that all appearance is illusion, without thereby contradicting oneself, since such a claim is itself an appearance that is being assumed a reality; it is therefore logically self-evident that some appearances are realities. The deductive relation between these concepts is therefore this: appearance is the common ground of reality and illusion, i.e. implied by both but not implying either. Reality and illusion are mutually contradictory concepts – both cannot be true/applicable, but one of them must ultimately be so. Thus, every object of awareness can be claimed as appearance offhand, without prejudicing the issue as to whether it is real or illusory. However, appearance and reality are also inductively related, as follows: every appearance may be assumed a reality unless (or until, if ever) it is judged (for logical reasons, as mentioned) to be an illusion. Just as the concepts of appearance and reality are initially (at an uncritical, naïve level) the same, so in every instance they remain equal except where illusion is demonstrated (or at least, doubt is instilled). This principle, indeed, underlies and justifies all inductions.

Note well that the above differentiations between existence, appearance and reality are not immediately obvious, neither in the development of an individual’s knowledge nor in the history of human thought. They are not a priori givens, or self-evident deductive certainties or an axiomatic absolute truths, but conclusions of rational (conceptual and logical) process. That is, they express a set of hypotheses which inductively, over time, have been found to satisfactorily integrate and explain a mass of appearances, i.e. to fit-in in a comprehensive and convincing world-view. Thus, to mention these differentiations ab initio, as we do here, may be misleading – they are only at this stage vague notions and assumptions, which are in the long run further defined and found confirmed by the absence of any equally credible hypotheses, any other conceptual constructs which prove as coherent and consistent both internally (as theoretical postulates) and externally (in relation to cumulative appearance, and especially experience). Their being hypotheses does not per se invalidate them, for the claim that all hypothesizing is invalid is itself equally hypothetical and so self-invalidating.

We shall again anticipate, with reference to what we mean by ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’ or ‘cognition.’ This may be defined as the relation between Subject and Object, whatever activities or states either may undergo within such relation[1]. The fundamental given is appearances – but we have no reason to believe that all appearances appear to each other, i.e. we seem to have a privilege among existents in being aware of other existents. We suppose thereby that the fact of ‘appearance’ is different from mere ‘existence,’ and occurs only relative to a conscious Subject.

The ‘Subject’ of this relation is identified with the intuited self (me, in my case – you, in yours), but such intuition has at first only the status of an appearance; it is initially a vague and uncertain notion rather than a fully developed and justified concept. The other pole in the putative relation of consciousness, the ‘Object,’ refers to the appearances involved (which are here given another name to stress their being taken into consideration specifically within the said relation).

To posit such a relation does not tell us anything much about it, admittedly – we merely have a word for it, referring to something supposedly too primary in knowledge to be definable. But the trilogy Subject-consciousness-Object is posited by us in a bid to understand and explain how and why appearance differs from existence. The meaning and validity of this hypothesis, including the new ideas of a Subject and consciousness, are not immediate, but established with reference to the cumulative thrust of experience and reasoning, including consideration of conflicting hypotheses. It is only after the latter are found less coherent and consistent than the former that we inductively conclude that our hypothesis is convincing and reliable.

Let me emphasize preemptively that to postulate that appearance signifies existence within awareness is not meant to imply that the existence of appearances is caused by awareness, but only to differentiate putative non-apparent existents from appearances. The relation of consciousness is postulated as per se neutral, affecting neither the Subject nor the Object. Existents remain essentially unchanged by it when they enter the field of awareness and are labeled more specifically as ‘appearances.’ To presume the contents of consciousness ‘subjective’ (in the pejorative sense of the term), implying a dependence (creation or modification) of the Object by the Subject, is a very different hypothesis; one, indeed, hard to uphold, since if we apply it to itself we put it in doubt. Moreover, if such subjectivist hypothesis were claimed true, there would be no need for it, for ‘appearance’ and ‘existence’ would be coextensive. So our hypothesis of consciousness is inherently rather ‘objectivist.’ Evidently, there is lots of reasoning behind such concepts and postulates; they are not arbitrary assertions (as some philosophers contend). Also, such reflections and clarifications are not and need not be consciously made before at all embarking on the enterprise of knowledge; they flower gradually in response to specific doubts and questions.

3. Material, Mental, Intuitive, Abstract

Now, of all appearances, those labeled ‘phenomena’ are the most manifest, the most evidently present to our consciousness. They are so called to stress that we should not immediately take for granted their apparent reality, having over time become aware that some are best judged illusory after due consideration. Phenomenal objects seem more directly or immediately knowable than others – apart from the issue of reality or illusion just mentioned – so we assign them a special kind of consciousness or cognition called perception and label them ‘percepts.’

Among phenomena, some are more ostentatious and permanent than others and seem relatively far and independent of us – these we refer to as ‘material’ or ‘physical.’ The remainder we label ‘mental’ or ‘imaginary,’ distinguishing them by their relative poverty, transience, intimacy and dependence on us. Most of our common ‘world’ (cumulative appearance) is composed of material phenomena, and all or most mental phenomena seem to be derivative replicas of them or of parts of them. Among material phenomena, some are considered ‘in our own body’ or ‘physiological,’ and the others ‘outside our body,’ our ‘body’ being distinguished by its relative proximity (to the observer) and the peculiar events occurring in it (sensations and sentiments). Some bodily phenomena (such as sentiments and ‘actions’) seem to have mental origins, and so are called ‘psychosomatic.’ Conversely, many mental phenomena are regarded as having bodily causes.

In addition to mental phenomena, we should distinguish the non-phenomenal appearances we may call ‘intuitive’ appearances, which are our impressions of self-knowledge (one’s self, cognitions, valuations, volitions). These differ from imaginations, in that they per se have no phenomenal expressions, yet they share with mental phenomena the appearance of intimacy and being in our power to some degree. They are assigned a specific kind of consciousness called intuition (whence their name here) or apperception.

Phenomena (mental or material) and intuited objects have in common a status of immediate evidence, which we express by calling them ‘empirical’ or ‘experiential.’ Experiences are ‘givens’ in a way other appearances (namely abstracts) cannot match. Considered purely in and for themselves, without interpretation or inference, they are unassailable, not requiring any proof. To distinguish them from abstracts, they are called concrete appearances or concretes.

Abstract’ appearances or abstracts may be classed as last in that they seem derived, by various means, from the preceding, experiential (concrete) varieties of appearance. These means are collectively labeled ‘rational’ (implying they proceed from a faculty of reason). The term abstract refers to the primary act of reason, namely abstraction (which depends on identification of sameness or difference, i.e. on comparison and contrast between two or more appearances).

Abstract appearances share with intuitive ones the lack of phenomenal manifestation; we have nothing to directly show for them, they are phenomenally blank. But abstracts differ from intuitive appearances, in that getting to know the former requires a process (comparison and contrast), whereas the latter are directly known (in self-experience). Furthermore, abstract objects are ‘universals’ and essentially ‘external to us,’ whereas intuitive objects are ‘particulars’ and very much ‘part of us.’

Consciousness of abstracts is called conception, so they are also called ‘concepts.’ But the processes leading to concepts (our discourse) are far from simple and seem subject to many rules; the latter are labeled ‘logic.’ Abstracts require proof, and ultimately some sort of empirical grounding. The only exception to this rule is the case of self-evident propositions, which cannot logically be denied without committing a self-contradiction. But even in the latter cases, the concepts involved are never entirely ‘a priori,’ but require some preceding experience to have at all arisen.

Let me summarize here: perception is knowledge of material or mental phenomena; intuition is self-knowledge; perception and intuition are experiences, their objects are concrete particulars; conception is knowledge of abstracts, derived with the aid of logic from phenomenal or intuitive data. ‘Knowledge,’ of course, at first simply means consciousness or cognition – the term is rendered more precise later with reference to cumulative Appearance. ‘Thought’ and ‘idea’ are, by the way, catchall terms that may include a mix of conception (concept formation, conceptualization), imagination (visualization, verbalization, forming hypotheses) and logical discourse (inductive and deductive), all of course implying some experience (sensory or intuitive).

As I have indicated earlier, I am not convinced that qualitative differences alone suffice to distinguish material from mental phenomena. We tend to think of the latter as less clear or vivid than the former, but this is not always the case. Dreams are sometimes extremely vivid and colorful, and the physical world is sometimes misty and unclear. For this reason, I suggest that phenomenology must suppose that introspection is to some extent involved in making this fundamental distinction. We are presumably somehow aware of the direction of input of the concrete data. Material data is ‘felt’ as coming from or via the body, whereas mental data is ‘felt’ as coming from a closer source (called the mind). Granting that such ‘feelings’ of direction of source are not themselves phenomenal marks (otherwise we would be begging the question), we must interpret them more precisely as intuitions. To be consistent we must say that we do not intuit where the data comes from, but rather intuit in what direction we turn our attention to gain access to the data.

It should be noted that we have above effectively distinguished three substances or stuffs of existence, matter, mind and spirit. We have based their differentiation partly on the fact that some experiences (those intuited) do not have phenomenal characteristics; and partly (as regards the distinction between material and mental phenomena) on the differences in phenomenal properties and locations combined with assumed intuited differences. All three of these substances may give rise to concepts. We may also presume souls, i.e. spiritual entities, other than our own through their apparent phenomenal effects and by conceptual means.

Just as the phenomenal modalities and qualities and their behaviors are considered as mere varieties of matter and mind, so the cognitions, volitions and affections of the soul need not be assigned yet another substance, but may be considered as events or properties of that same substance. Abstracts relating to material, imaginary or spiritual givens do not, likewise, require a further substance, but may be considered as mere expressions of these three substances. There is nothing epistemologically unreasonable in assuming substantial differences between the said three classes of object. It remains possible that the three substances are ultimately different versions or degrees of one and the same stuff.

The concept of substance is introduced relative to those of static attributes and dynamic movements, implying a presumed substratum for them. It allows us to presume continuity of something, an individual entity, in the midst of motion or change. The various attributes and movements are thus conceived not as mere happenstances but as all ‘belonging’ to and ‘caused’ by an abiding, unifying entity[2]. We also assume that different instances of that kind of entity remain essentially the same (i.e. of same substance) although some of their attributes and movements may differ. Note well that both ‘substance’ and ‘entity’ are abstracts. Although material and mental phenomena have phenomenal character, while soul has not, the latter may nonetheless equally legitimately be conceptually posited as being concrete.

These beliefs, in substances and entities, are not immediate certainties but constitute conceptual hypotheses. This fact alone does not disqualify them, contrary to what some philosophers suggest. If a hypothesis gives rise to a world-view that is always, all things considered, consistent and confirmed, and no alternatives serve the same purpose as well or better, then it is inductively worthy of adoption. This seems to be the case with regard to the concepts of substance and entity. Without them, we would find ourselves unable to ‘make sense’ of (integrate, explain) all our experiences and intuitions; no one has to my knowledge managed to construct in detail equally credible and useful counter-hypotheses.

4. Number, Space and Time

As will be explained, concepts are measurements that experiences have in common. Measurement means use of number, i.e. selection of a unit (distinct entity or feature), identifying and counting pluralities of such units (frequencies), and comparing such pluralities (proportion). Number is, in particular, implied in our subdivisions of time and space, and in considerations of modality and causation; but the scope of measurement is of course much larger. The detailed study of these issues gives rise to the sciences of mathematics, including arithmetic, geometry, algebra, statistics. I will not go into them here, save for a few remarks that seem pertinent.

Phenomenology has to note that numbers imply intuitive acts. To define a unit of something, we must mentally delimit some segment of appearance. This selection is an intention, a subjective act. Furthermore, when we count a plurality of things, we need to decide what common feature we will refer to so as to group them. That is to say, to count things we need to classify them (whether simply as ‘any objects of thought,’ or more specifically as ‘the white horses in my field’ or whatever). Here again, an intention is involved. The same is true when we move on up to the abstract realms of algebra. Thus, even in the background of pure mathematics, we must acknowledge introspection.

With regard to space and allied concepts. In the visual field (which is the first domain we relate space to), space refers to the length of a line (in comparison to some other line) between any points the observer focuses on, and eventually to the direction of that line (again relative to some other line). The visual field ordinarily contains many different colors, shades and outlines: these shapes commonly guide our choice of points to measure distances and angles between. Thus, gradually, we evolve geometrical concepts, including the concepts of dimension (more on all that in a later chapter). Concepts like: contiguous, separate, overlapping, inside, outside, near, far, etc. all of course derive from situations we encounter in the visual field. Many of these concepts are then carried over into other fields, and even into general logic.

It is important to distinguish the concept of ‘empty space’ from the more general concept of ‘space.’ Many philosophers seem to get bogged down due to failure to make this distinction. We effectively see space (at least surfaces) whenever we see anything; space is a concept with concrete referents, viz. any area of the visual field. In contrast, empty space is a hypothetical concept, because we never see instances of it. If we look at the sky, we see a curtain of light blue or white or black – we never see nothing at all there. If we look at the space between two objects, we may only call it empty by deliberately ignoring all the things (colors, shades) in foreground or background between them. It is only by inventing a ‘third dimension’ (an abstraction) that we ‘create’ the emptiness between the two objects. Thus, space as a receptacle of objects, something objects move in, something apart from objects – these are constructs, that we find useful, but whose status is that of hypotheses.

Another comment worth making concerns the different phenomenal modalities of space. We have the impression that we know ‘analogies’ of space through the various sensory organs, but it is not strictly speaking the case. Space is essentially a visual phenomenon. As mentioned previously, we mentally project this visual space and its properties into the other sensory modes. This allows us to effect an inner correlation between sensory events or sense-modalities[3]. Thus, different tactile or auditory events may be regarded as points in a continuous trajectory, by mental projection of (visual) lines linking them. Or again, the direction of a sound or odor may be hypothesized by mentally placing it within a (visual) mental space. Or again, the touch sensations inside the mouth can be used to form a mental visual image of objects in it (this is, by the way, possibly why babies often get information on objects by putting them in their mouth).

Thus, we should not multiply ‘spaces’ unnecessarily. There is, however, one important duplication of space, implied in what we have just said. In addition to the visual space seen through the physical eyes, there is an analogous visual space seen through our ‘mind’s eye’ – that is to say, in the mental domain. That concept is unavoidable, since just as with a material visual field we can all construct space concepts, so with a mental visual field we can likewise do. These two spaces can be known independently of each other. They are similar, but not one and the same. They may overlap somehow, as is evident from the experience of hallucination and from the use of mental space in tactile, auditory and other such situations; but they do not apparently interact, at least not directly.

The spiritual domain, i.e. the soul and its functions, does not (as far as I can tell) have noticeable spatial characteristics. But the soul is sometimes ‘represented’ by visual images (e.g. as a ghost coextensive a body). Such ‘representation’ is nothing more than symbolic or hypothetical, not based on concrete phenomena. It can however be useful conceptually, as for instance to suppose that one part of the self monitors or controls another part of the self.

Another important organizing concept to consider is that of time. This arises as an explanation of apparent movement (motion or change) within any present Appearance (minimal version, assumed independent of memory) and of apparent change or plurality of Appearances (enlarged version, relying on the hypothesis of memory). Note this well. A concept of time is indeed possible within a single present Appearance, be its constituents material (external time) or mental or intuitive (internal time). This concept of time is independent of that of memory (and could be labeled ‘objective time’ for that reason), but is not our whole concept of time. The latter is based also on comparisons between successive present Appearances, and therefore only possible by hypothesizing the concept of memory (because of the necessity of such introspection, this may be called ‘subjective time’).

The concept of memory must therefore also be considered as one of the basic ‘organizing principles’ of our knowledge. It is a hypothesis, through which we try and enlarge our concept of time, to include not only events experienced in the present but also those allegedly experienced in ‘previous’ presents. The concept of anticipation enlarges time still further, in another ‘direction,’ time being conceived as a line, a fourth dimension of existence, by analogy to space, though with a distinctive irreversibility. But memory and anticipation are not conceived as fully equivalent functions, differing only in the temporal placement of their objects. Memory is conceived as containing (if anything) residues of facts (experiences), whereas anticipation is normally conceived as at best educated guesswork (projection).

We cannot prove memory, except by inductive appeal to our memories, taking their apparent suggestions at their face value, except in cases where they turn out erroneous. Digging deeper, phenomenology now asks the following question: precisely on what empirical bases do we distinguish non-present from present appearances, and subdivide the non-present appearances into past and future ones? I will try and propose an answer to this question, without claiming it to be complete and final.

The ‘present portion of time is firstly the overall duration of the present Appearance, the moment. Within the present Appearance, we distinguish constituent phenomena and intuitions that seem hazier, less forceful, than others, and yet resemble those others and give the impression of continuity with them. These presentations are presumed and classed as not in themselves present, but as mere ‘representations’ of presentations which occur in an extrapolation of the present (short) time-line, in one direction or the other. Some of these representations seem to refer to previous present Appearances; these are classed as memories and located on one side of the time-line called the ‘past.’ The remaining such representations seem not to refer to previous present Appearances, but to be inventions, mental projections (imaginations) of things to come; these are classed as anticipations and placed on the other side of the time-line called the ‘future.’

Here again (as in the case of the distinction between material and mental phenomena), I doubt that we can distinguish between present impressions of present events (the present) and present impressions of past events (the now remembered past) or of future events (the now projected future), only with reference to marks (like degree of vividness). I think we have to assume that there is also an intuition by the Subject as to where his experiential data is coming from – from his senses (the present), or from his memory (the past), or again from his creative imagination (the future). The recourse to an intuitive faculty here is similar to that for distinguishing between material and mental, because after all memory of material events means their conversion into mental events. Memory of mental events is less of an issue, since recall of past imaginations is simply re-imagination of same; and in this case intuitive knowledge of the difference is more easily assumed.

These kinds of considerations and reflections serve, in my view, to add weight to the hypothesis that we have intuitive empirical knowledge in addition to inner and outer perceptual empirical knowledge. Conversely, the hypothesis of intuition reinforces the hypothesis of memory; they mutually buttress each other. Additionally note that while intuition is initially proposed as knowledge of self, own cognitions, volitions and valuations, we have here somewhat expanded or further elucidated the powers of intuition, by assuming its ability to assess the direction of incoming concrete data (from senses, memory or creativity, or from mind or matter).

As the above discussion shows, philosophers who wish to discard the idea of subjective intuition, or direct self-knowledge of some of our inner workings, are hard-put to explain some of the other basic concepts that they effectively accept, such as distinction between matter and mind, or between past (memory) and present (sensation) and future (anticipation). However, none of this means that whatever someone carelessly declares to be an intuition is indeed an intuition. Our introspections remain fallible. Logically, they are admitted as hypotheses to be gradually confirmed or rejected in each instance with reference to the totality of experience and logic. This avoids all danger of arbitrariness, or circularity in justification, or eventual contradiction.

With regard to the abstract constituents of an Appearance, they are thought permanent rather than transient like phenomena or intuited events, although (a) they are usually conceived by comparisons between past and/or present appearances, and (b) of course the event of their conception is located in the past or present and it may go on over time, and (c) once generated they are stored in memory and (d) by their nature they anticipate future appearances. All this relates the conceptual to time, but does not mean that its contents are temporal like percepts or intuitions. Concepts have no existence other than as measures of experiences; when the experiences cease to recur, the concepts in a sense continue to exist in the minds of men, in that men may remember or infer their past existence. If later the experiences recur, we may say ex post facto that the concepts remained in potential existence during their actual absence.

I will stop here, save for a couple more comments.

The first is that although I have herein placed consideration of space and time after the distinctions between phenomenal (material or mental), intuitive (subjective) and abstract appearances, it is evident that many of the things said about space and time do not depend on these distinctions. Thus, for instance, we can measure a visual field without specifying its substance (material or mental). On the other hand, some issues relating to space or time are not independent of these distinctions. For instance, when discussing memory or the concept of the past, we had to refer to the concepts of matter, mind and intuition. With regard to the concepts of modality and causality, the concepts of space and time play important roles in their development, rather than the reverse. Thus, when issues of the ‘order of things’ in knowledge arise, we must be attentive to the specific issues we are dealing with, and not refer to concepts in bulk.

The other point I want to make is that although I do not here mention the space-time concept of Einstein, which ties the two concepts together in novel and much firmer fashion, I have no doubt that Relativity is of radical importance to all the issues treated here. I would particularly like to eventually think about the impact of his insights on the theory of universals, since presumably waves in a relativistic milieu do not have the same properties as those in an absolute space. But for now at least I am not qualified to comment on this.

5. Modality and Causality

Modality and causality are also major organizing principles in our knowledge.

I have treated the concepts of modality in great detail in my work Future Logic, and I am treating the concepts of causality in great detail in my work Causal Logic. So I will not here go into them in any detail. Suffices to say that they are essentially statistical concepts, variously related to each other, through which we record, or try to forecast, the (proportional or absolute) frequencies of occurrence of appearances, alone or in conjunctions with other appearances. These concepts therefore rely on numerical concepts; and they help us to order information within a present Appearance, and more broadly in cumulative Appearance.

The underlying concepts of conjunction (indicated in propositions by the word ‘and’) and non-conjunction (denial of conjunction, ‘not-and’) are of course crucial. Conjunction can be directly apprehended (we can experience two things as both present in a given cognitive field), whereas negation of conjunction is a more rational object (we look for a projected presence and fail to find it). Conjunction is however not in itself a concrete phenomenon or intuitive experience, but an abstract relation between phenomena, intuitions or abstracts.

Thus, both conjunction and its negation are conceptual objects, though to different degrees; the former is more directly known than the latter. Note well: this does not make them artifices; there is nothing arbitrary in their apprehension or judgment. These concepts are needed to formulate hypothetical and other conditional propositions, and the causal propositions built up from them.

Modality and causality are very radical principles of knowledge, because they are involved in its organization at a notional level long before they become clearly formulated concepts, and because they can be utilized before we make (i.e. even without making) distinctions like those between concrete and abstract, or material and mental, for examples. At an explicit level, they imply number; but on a notional level, they may be grasped and used without such references.

I have identified many ‘modes’ or types of modality and causality. The main mode, an ontological consideration applicable to individual existents, is the ‘natural’ mode (and its subsidiary ‘temporal’ and ‘spatial’ modes). Another important mode is the ‘extensional,’ which treats classes as individuals. The ‘logical’ mode is an epistemological version, which refers to contexts of knowledge, instead of circumstances of existence. Some modes relate to volition, as for instance the ethical or teleological mode, which refers means to ends.

Within each mode, there are various categories of modality and causality. Thus, the categories of modality are: presence or absence; necessity, contingency (possibility and possibility-not) or impossibility; probability or improbability. These are variously defined: possibility, as presence under certain conditions; necessity, as presence under all conditions; and so on. Their interrelations follow: necessity implies presence, which in turn implies possibility; and so forth. In particular, the concepts of incontingency follow inevitably, by negation, from those of possibility to be and possibility not to be, so that one cannot logically both uphold the latter and deny the former[4]. The categories of modality may be given more specific names in each mode. For instances: in natural modality, presence is called actuality and possibility is called potentiality; whereas, in ethical modality, possibility is called permissibility.

Attention must also be given to derivatives of modality, concepts like seemingly, allegedly, etc., that imply modality in some sense (e.g. possibility, probability), but which additionally define the experimental or experiential or report-based or hearsay epistemological basis of the modal nuance.

A phenomenological approach to modality would ask such questions as: ‘where do potentialities that are not actual at a given time actually reside?’ Our answer to that one will be (as it was in Future Logic) that the common idea of potentiality as referring to some ‘substantial quality or entity’ actually resident in the ‘nature’ of the thing having it, as a presence that changes form when it actualizes, seems redundant, a breach of ‘Ockham’s Razor’ of conceptual economy; it suffices to assume that the potential resides ‘in actual surrounding circumstances only.’[5] The potential may be viewed as a lesser ‘degree of being’ than the actual, which in turn is a lesser one than the necessary, with reference to the frequency of occurrence over the whole ‘existence’ of that which has it. But this difference between transience and permanence, or variability and constancy, does not have to be reified. Concepts may refer to abstractions, as well as experiences.

A phenomenological approach to causality would begin with consideration of events or things of any sort as ‘happenstance,’ before deciding whether or how they are ‘caused’[6]. I myself use the term ‘causality’ in its widest possible sense, as applicable to any answer to this question. I thus accept, as at least conceivable, spontaneity, causation, volition and influence. Whether these philosophical concepts relating to ‘causality’ all have expression in our world is an issue open to debate; but we may and must first try to elucidate and interrelate them. The issue is to be resolved without prejudice, by due consideration of experience and how to convincingly organize it. Thus, if physicists (such as Niels Bohr) considered that some subatomic events could not credibly be assumed to have causes, we may concede the hypothesis of ‘spontaneity’ in the physical domain at the levels concerned as an explanation.

Causality, then, is not to be equated at the outset (as it has been by some in the past) to causation, meaning physical and (by extension) psychological determinism. The negation of causation may also be considered as a ‘causal’ explanation. Similarly, volition cannot be simply waved-off, but must be granted due consideration. And indeed, we need to persevere in this open-minded attitude, for whereas causation and with it spontaneity are relatively easy to define with reference to frequencies of conjunction of phenomenal events or abstracts about them, defining volition or ‘free will’ is very difficult. No one to my knowledge has succeeded so far, let alone proving that volition exists, i.e. that people and animals have this power. The concept of influence is subsidiary, since we can define it as ‘making it easier or more difficult’ to will something.

Phenomenology may take as experiential data of sorts the anthropological fact that most or all people in practice if not in theory consider that they have powers of choice, of decision, of initiation of mental thoughts and physical movements. Such beliefs do not prove volition, but constitute corroborative evidence in an inductive hypothesis. Another public sector fact to consider is that the concept of volition precedes that of causation in mankind’s history (and still does so today, I believe, in the personal development of individuals). Long before we reached an understanding of things as having ‘natural causes,’ we were explaining the movements of stars or stones or our own fate or moods with reference to ‘spirits’ or ‘gods’ or later (with the advent of monotheism) to God.

Our concept of ‘force’ is obtained by abstraction from the introspected physical sensations of pushing, pulling and squeezing. This notion is then used to help us understand by analogy the determinism of events we (today, at least) consider as natural and not as involving any volition. Thus, Newton conceived gravity as a “field of force,” and this terminology has remained with us for other fields. Even in our modern statistical concept of causation, we explain the constant conjunction observed as being symptomatic of a “causal connection,” i.e. an underlying (natural) ‘force.’ Similarly, we would imagine spontaneous generation as a sort of ‘forcible’ gushing forth!

The 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume acknowledged this subtext in his critical discussion of alleged causal ‘connection.’ For him, such a ‘tie’ between events was dubious, first because we never perceive instances of connections, but only instances of mere conjunction.

“All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined but never connected.” (P. 360.)[7]

This argument of Hume’s is, note incidentally, based on an observation relative to (and which assumes) human will, a form of causality more difficult to conceive than causation! In the human (volitional) domain, we do distinguish between (a) conjunctions of events that occurred accidentally relative to human will, i.e. coincidences, and (b) conjunctions of events that were deliberately intended. It is significant that Hume’s ‘mere conjunction’ is intelligible to us due to our experience of (a), while it is (b) that makes his discussion of contrasting ‘connection’ meaningful to us. Hume does not define what ‘connection’ would be in the natural (i.e. non-volitional) domain, before rejecting it. At best, then, his argument amounts to saying that the notion is too vague to be scientific.

Moreover, Hume explains away our belief in connection as due to a mental habit produced in us by repetition.

“But there is nothing in a number of instances, different from every single instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar; except only, that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant, and to believe that it will exist. This connection, therefore, which we feel in the mind, this customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual attendant is the sentiment or impression from which we form the idea of power or necessary connection.” (P. 361.)

We could retort, for a start, that his thesis is internally inconsistent, if it is understood as a denial of methodological validity to generalization. For it is clear that Hume’s own statement about human habits is a generalization from his own observations. He generalizes from some moments of his experience to all moments, and from his own experience to everyone else’s. Moreover, his statement is presented as an explanatory thesis, regarding what ‘causes’ us to (erroneously, according to him) infer a fact of causation from such mental association. He thus implicitly lays claim to some knowledge of some sort of causality, that of the force of habit. Is his thesis, then, that causation is more knowable in the psychological domain than in the physical? I doubt it; rather he did not notice the inconsistency.

“The appearance of a cause always conveys the mind, by a customary transition, to the idea of the effect. We may, therefore, suitably to this experience, form another definition of cause, and call it, an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other.” (P. 362.)

For Hume, then, what we call causation is only an association of ideas. That is, we think events to be causally connected because they happen to be constantly conjoined in our memory. Whence, he effectively ‘infers’ that causation is a figment of the imagination. But his thesis is a result of his imprecise thinking. What he seems to refer to are situations like the following: e.g. a man first met his wife-to-be when a certain musical tune was playing; since then, whenever he hears (or remembers) that tune, he is reminded of his wife[8]. But we would not regard such a situation as indicative of causation, since in fact he does not physically see his wife again every time he hears the tune again! For this reason, we would call this conjunction through mental association of wife and musical tune coincidental (although the mental sequence of memory of tune and memory of wife might well be called a causal relation of sorts). On the other hand, if every time someone played the tune his wife was physically conjured, we would suspect a causal connection.[9]

If we put all this in clear, formal language all doubt is easily dissolved. Four forms may be distinguished:

a. X causes Y

b. X causes the thought of Y

c. The thought of X causes Y

d. The thought of X causes the thought of Y.

These four forms refer to very different relations, but all four have in common the relation “causes”. The terms differ, but the copula remains the same. To prefer (as Hume does) one of these forms to the others, as the appropriate description of the events at hand, does not succeed in discrediting the common factor of causation, but on the contrary supports it. Hume’s reasoning is self-defeating!

In my view, apparent causal relations may be real or illusory. Unlike Hume, I do not see the fallibility of our judgments about causal connection as proof of our inability to establish causal connection. In this context as with all other conceptual judgments, processes of generalization and particularization are involved. There are two generalizations involved, we might say. The first is from observed particular conjunction to general conjunction (including unobserved instances). The second is a generalization from such constant conjunction of events to a presumed ‘connection’ between them (i.e. something deeper and more forceful than mere conjunction). If we admit the (occasional, so long as empirically confirmed) validity of the first generalization, we may not deny it of the second process, which is in principle no different. We could only at best deny it in specific cases, as a particularization; though I do not see how we might justify such a discrimination or partial particularization.

In other words, how does Hume himself know (granting that ‘connection’ is meaningful, though difficult to define in words) that ‘constant conjunction’ does not imply some deeper ‘connection’? He can only consistently claim that it sometimes might not. But in that case, his argument loses all its force, which depends on generality. Nothing precludes us from formulating hypotheses about constant conjunction and about causal connection, provided we validate our theories in each case in accord with the rules of adduction, testing our propositions with reference to consistency and experience, and by comparison to alternative theses.

In addition to the above-mentioned physical sensations, our introspection suggests that ‘we’ have some degree of control over some of the physical movements of our body (and through it of other bodies) and over some of our mental imaginations. It is at this level, that of intuition (and not that of sensation), that the concept of volition arises. This inner cognition of self as actor in the mental and physical world may well ultimately turn out to be an illusion, but it must be granted credence at least to begin with as raw data. Any sincere claim like this has to be respectfully acknowledged, as an appearance to be taken into consideration in the overall arrangement of data. There is no methodological justification in outright denial (as indulged in by some dogmatic modern Mechanists).

Many experiences and abstractions, as well as intuitions, suggest volition. For instance, certain sensations depend on movement, be it movement of an object in the mouth, of one’s skin against an object to feel its texture or mobility, torsion of one’s body parts in different directions like the eyes for seeing or head for hearing, of a part of our body relative to the others such as an arm, walking through space to experience depth, or even speaking out to produce sound. Also, attention towards present phenomena, looking at the past or trying to forecast the future, all seem like acts of volition. Similarly, imagination, concept formation and logical insight are experienced as often calling for effort, or at least as acts of choice. Consequently, the concepts of time and space may be said to be dependent on volition. Similarly, volition seems involved in verbal thinking.

We undeniably have some sort of personal awareness that we have a certain power of action in the phenomenal environment. It is not an absolute and unlimited power, but it is ‘felt’ as there all the same. No sensible qualities can be said to be volitional acts; but many may be considered as signs of volition. Rather, we ‘know’ internally and directly whether or not our volition was involved, at least most of the time; it is an object of intuition. Indeed, this function is, together with cognition and affection, regarded by us as essential aspects of our identity. Volition is certainly an integral part of our logical discourse in sorting out other experiences, as for instance when we correlate different sense modalities. I may for example formulate a proposition about perspective: ‘if I turn around this object, it will change shape thusly and thusly,’ projecting a volitional series (turning around object) and predicting a certain phenomenal sequence (visual and other changes).



[1] Whereas ‘consciousness’ refers to the relation, ‘cognition’ is conceived rather as an ‘act,’ and ‘awareness’ as a state – but for our purposes we shall regard them as equivalent terms. The point is that the essence is relational, irrespective of activities or states that may often attend it.

[2] In the case of a human Subject/Agent, causality is usually meant as ‘volition’ (implying some consciousness and responsibility) not as mere mechanical ‘causation,’ note well. Similarly, ‘possession’ of attributes may in some cases be voluntary.

[3] I think we have to assume that non-visual sensations generate a unit visual mental phenomenon, which is then placed by us in a visualized “map” of our body or surrounding space. Without such an initial generation of some minimal visual message, it is hard to conceive how the later interpretative overall picture of things could be produced.

[4] This is stressed to preempt foolish philosophies, like that of Hume, which while admitting (if only by implication in their discourse) the existence and knowability of ‘possibilities’ pretend to succeed in invalidating the concept of ‘necessity.’ Logically, no concept that refers to a part of existence (like ‘possibility’) may be used without thereby granting its negation, too, so as to account for and cover the remaining portion of existence.

[5] Buddhists would say that potentiality is ‘empty’ – i.e. it makes no trace in that which has it, but exists solely in the conditions that may eventually, given an appropriate cause, actualize it.

[6] This ‘first things first’ attitude is equivalent to that of taking appearances at face value before deciding whether they are reality or illusion.

[7] In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Part II.

[8] The converse is unlikely, i.e. that whenever he sees or remembers his wife, he is reminded of the tune. Unless the poor man is obsessed!

[9] Here is a more common example of association. I glimpse a person, who faintly reminds me of Miss X, say. But it turns out on closer inspection that it was not Miss X which I just saw. Notwithstanding, given this occasion I start incidentally reflecting on Miss X, thinking of our last contact together, what we said, etc. These reminiscences may in turn give rise to new thoughts logically unrelated to Miss X, such as the present philosophical analysis of ‘association’. And so forth, till I manage to change the subject.

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2016-08-23T09:54:02+00:00