The Flight From Contingency 2

10.         What is the shared basis of dualist philosophy?

A first commonality is constituted by dichotomous differentiations–between language and reality, statement and object, between knowledge and its object, between what we say and what we refer to, between mind and world, appearance and reality, consciousness and being, between a Within and a Beyond of discourse.

The question is how language and world, description and object, statement and object are related to each other, but it is beyond question that such a distinction must be presupposed. The question of the How of the relation between the sides of the dichotomies can be posed only if the question of the That of the dichotomous relationship is not raised.

The dichotomous presuppositions form a basic consensus of the dualist way of thinking that first makes possible the various modalities of the How-relationship between the sides of the dichotomies. The That-presupposition of the dichotomies is indeterminate as regards the How-relationship between its sides. It permits all possible determinations of this relationship. It is “epistemologically” neutralistic and equally compatible with and supportive of all variants of the dualistic spectrum. The relationship between the sides is not part of the basic consensus: The different variants of dualist thinking differ in the “How” of the relationship.

If that were not so, then the question of the relation between language and reality (according to Arthur Danto, the central question of contemporary philosophy) would have always already been settled prior to any possible answer and all that would remain would be to find out what was already there and given from the beginning.

The determinations of the How-relationship that follow the That-presupposition are contingent. The How-relationship can be fixed arbitrarily as a result of the That-presupposition. The dualist can eliminate the arbitrariness of the How-relationship only by making his answer to the question of the How of the relationship between the sides of the dichotomy into theanswer.

He does this by apriorizing the result of his How-determination, by projecting the How-determination into the That-presupposition of the dichotomy. The That-presupposition is specified with the aid of the How-determination and is extended into a That-&-How-dichotomy. The result of the How-determination is presupposed prior to it. The outcome is a correspondence/equivalencebetween the That-presupposition extended by the How-relationship and the How-relationship. Through this correspondence, one’s own determination of the How-relationship acquires priority over the other determinations of the How-relationship. The place for the other How-relationships is thereby occupied in advance of its determination: They can no longer correspond to the That-presupposition and are no longer contingent, but are false instead.Through this procedure, the individual How-determinations become presuppositions not only for these determinations themselves but also for all other How-determinations. As the discourse unfolds, everyone makes/turns his own positings/suppositions into pre-suppositions also for the positings/How-determinations of the other discourse participants.

This procedure is a central feature of the dualizing mode of argumentation. The contingency of the How-determinations is nullified through a circular argument. This technique of argumentation can be learnt and can be applied by all participants in philosophical discourse who presuppose the dichotomous distinctions and specify them in terms of their own particular How-determination.

A second commonality is constituted by the orientation of philosophy to the truth: The search for truth and knowledge is a central concern of dualist philosophy, even if the interest in truth has receded into the background in certain contemporary positions, and in some positions has even fallen into disrepute. This search and striving for truth and knowledge can also be  described as a striving for agreement, as the striving for agreement between the two sides of the dichotomies, between the Within and the Beyond of discourse. And this striving is in no way affected if this agreement is no longer confirmed through the ascriptions of truth but rather by employing substitute concepts like viability or utility.

A third commonalityis the direction of thinking. In all dualist philosophical positions, thinking is directed to the object of thought, whatever may serve as the object: the world, reality, an object language, or an object. Our representations, our descriptions of the world are directed to the world. Our speech is directed to that about which we speak. The search for knowledge is directed to the object of knowledge. “Our object-directed pattern of thought”[1], the "word-(or mind)-to-world direction of fit" [2]the “reference to the world”[3]of our cognitive efforts is unavoidable for dualistic thinkers. The question of whether a different orientation of thought is conceivable does not arise.

11.         These commonalities are unquestioned presuppositions of philosophical discourse. They form the basic consensus of dualist philosophy prior to all differences. Only subsequent to these common presuppositions can differences of opinion between the individual philosophical positions start. Philosophers derive their problems from these presuppositions and they protect themselves against the loss of these problems by construing these distinctions as a conditio sine qua non of philosophizing, indeed of rational discourse as such. The That-presupposition of the dichotomies, the truth-orientation, and the direction of thinking are optional. We can choose to accept them, but we do not have to.

12.         Problems and questions, which result from these shared presuppositions, are:

How are language and reality, language and world, description and object, related to each other?

Does language depict the world or does it construct the world? Is the world language-dependent or the converse? Could it be that language and world are inextricably bound up with each other or interwoven in each other?

Have objects an identity independent of their descriptions or not?

What do we refer to when we speak and describe? To independent objects or to subject-dependent constructions? How is what we say about the world related to the world?

How can language dock onto the world?

How is the reality represented related to its representation?

Does the first side of the dichotomies determine the second side or is it the other way round?

(Defenders of relativistic, constructivist, and deconstructionist conceptions are sometimes accused of denying the second side of the language-world dichotomy, but this accusation is rebuffed by all those thus criticized.)

Can reality be known or not?

How is reality structured?

Is an agreement  between description and object, between statement and object, possible? Necessary? Determinable? And if such an agreement is ascertainable, how can we ascertain it? Can we at least establish falsehood and error, thus non-agreement?

What is truth? Which manifestations of language and thought (sentences, propositions, statements, speech, thoughts, hypotheses, theories) are possible candidates for attributions of truth, or at least for attributions of falsehood?

13.         In contrast to Richard Rorty, it is not my intention to cure philosophers of the delusion that epistemological problems exist. Epistemological problems are real problems for the philosopher who presupposes the dichotomies – and in a very modified form even Rorty remains one of those philosophers.

Epistemological problems are problems of an argumentation technique and the attempt to solve these problems is an attempt to improve this technique. My intention is to render the figures of argumentation, the tricks, and&nbsp;</span>the functional principles of the dualist mode of argumentation transparent and in this way to weaken their effectiveness.

14.         The chief possibilities of determining the How of the dichotomous relations were put forward by Fichte: “Everything of which I am conscious is called ‘object of consciousness.’ Such an object can be related to the representing subject in three different ways: It either appears to be something first produced by means of the intellect’s representation of it, or else it appears to be something present without any help from the intellect. In the latter case, either the properties of this object appear to be determined along with the object itself, or else what is supposed to be present is the mere existence of the object, while its properties are determinable by the free intellect."[4]

The various answers to the question of truth can also be summarized in a straightforward way: Opinions (sentences, conceptions, propositions, statements) are either true because they agree with reality or they agree with reality because they are true. In the first case preference is given to a correspondence theory of truth, in the second to a coherence or a consensus theory of truth.

15.         The principal currents of dualist thought have differentiated into the most diverse variants and subvariants. Until a couple of decades ago, realist variants dominated; at present, the pendulum is swinging more in the direction of constructions that accord the first side of the dichotomies epistemological priority. Why is none of the principal versions of dualist thought able to determine or even dominate philosophical discourse enduringly? A hundred years ago a majority of philosophers in England were idealists but today they form a small minority. What makes philosophical problems and their proposed solutions becoming perennial? Why is it that philosophical discourse is not approaching a consensus towards a proposed solution – indeed, that it is moving ever further away from a consensus?

16.         How is it, Leszek Kołakowski asks, that “of the questions which have sustained European philosophy for two and a half millenia, not a single one has been answered to general satisfaction.”.[5]

Philosophers continually bemoan this state of affairs. For example, Franz Brentano wrote in his essay Über die Zukunft der Philosophie(“On the Future of Philosophy”): “Where there is knowledge there is of necessity truth, and where there is truth there is agreement; for there are many errors, but only one truth. Let us consider the philosophical world around us. Far from unity and agreement on teachings, we find it instead cleft and divided into a large number of schools, so that here the proverb ‘So many men, so many opinions’ seems to be fully confirmed."[6]

René Descartes states in his Discours de la Méthode: “Concerning philosophy I shall say only that, seeing that it has been cultivated for many centuries by the most excellent minds that have ever lived and that, nevertheless, there is still nothing in it about which there is not some dispute, and consequently nothing that is not doubtful ... and that, considering how many opinions there can be about the very same matter that are held by learned people without there ever being the possibility of more than one opinion being true, I deemed everything that was merely probable to be well-nigh false.”[7]

17.         The situation of many opinions about one and the same object is not of itself deplorable.[8]And it is not regrettable simply because, among all the different opinions about one and the same object, only one can be true. What makes this state of affairs so unsatisfying for philosophers is more likely that all these different opinions make the same claim – namely, to be thetruth, even though only one of them can be true. With at most one exception, therefore, all opinions falsely claim to be the true opinion and also falsely claim to be this exception.

If all opinions claim to be the true opinion, then the claim to truth for the opinions contributes nothing to their truth; it is irrelevant for their truth. Then the opinions are true or false independently of whether truth is claimed for them or not. The truth or falsity of an opinion is not a matter that is decided by the opinion itself. The question of truth or falsity is decided by a (truth-)instance located in a beyond of the discursive opinions and this instance is defined differently depending on one’s theory of truth. The decisions of this instance, which are always decided in advance in the beyond of discourse, are merely proclaimed within discourse. But now those who proclaim these decisions vicariously for the discourse-transcending authority are the same as those who claim to defend the true opinion.


[1]W. V. Quine, Ontological Relativity, and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 6.

[2]See John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality(New York: Free Press, 1995), 208.

[3]Jürgen Habermas, Rightness versus Truth: On the Sense of Normative Validity in Moral Judgements and Norms,in Habermas, Truth and Justification (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 23777.

[4]Johann Gottlieb Fichte, An Attempt at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (1797/98),in Fichte, Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings, ed. Daniel Breazeale (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), 12.

[5]Leszek Kołakowski, Metaphysical Horror, 1.

[6]Franz Brentano, Über die Zukunft der Philosophie(Hamburg: Meiner, 1968), 87.

[7]RenéDescartes, Discourse on Method (Indianapolis; Hackett, 1993), 5.

[8]The present author would find a situation in which everyone always defended the same opinions deplorable.

Josef Mitterer is an Austrian philosopher.

The Flight From Contigency 1 here

On Interpretation here

On Interpretation here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy here

The Beyond of Philosophy 10 here