BLTC Press Titles


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Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Evolutionary naturalism

by Roy Wood Sellars

Excerpt:

It is particularly desirable that the naturalist should gain a clear insight into knowledge. Otherwise, he may fall into naive notions of the reach and directness of his knowledge and suppose that the very stuff and labor of the physical world is open to his penetrating gaze. The mistake of physical realism in the past has lain largely in this impatient passage from knowledge to reality. Knowledge is, of course, a fact: but it behooves us to discover what kind of fact it is, what its materials are, and what processes are involved. A measure of brooding upon this field will make us less likely to adopt simple ideas of substances whether material or spiritual.

Critical realism is an epistemology that accepts physical realism. Like common sense, it holds to the belief that there are physical things; and, like enlightened common sense, its idea of physical things is moulded by the conclusions of science. But its acquaintance with the process-side of knowledge ma) make it very critical of any remnant of intititionism in the thought of the stuff of the physical world. While the critical realist is convinced of the existence of physical things and considers his own organism in which his knowing takes place as one of them, he may have views as to what sort of information knowledge can convey that will sharply differentiate his physical realism from ordinary physical realism with its associations of metaphysical dualism. It will be well that the reader bear this suggestion in mind.

The common character of all modern realisms is the principle that the objects of kndwledge do not depend for either their being or nature upon our knowledge of them. To know is not to form the reality known out of a priori and a posteriori material of a mental provenance, as Kant held, but to gain information about it as it exists in its own circle of being. Being is one thing, and knowledge is quite another sort of thing, a function of the mind resting upon a causal relation with that which is known as one of its essential conditions.

Our position, which we call epistemological dualism, agrees, then, with the so-called "axiom of independent reality." Prichard's formulation of this axiom is as follows: "Knowledge unconditionally presupposes that the reality known exists independently of the knowledge of it, and that we know it as it exists in this independence." The idealist, perforce, denies this axiom and asserts that we have no such conviction. Thus Bosanquet substitutes the following formulation which is more harmonious with his epistemology: "Knowledge presupposes that the system of judgments in which it consists can maintain itself against any contradiction, and that the reality known is unmodified by knowledge except in the direction of being revealed as more completely itself"1 Now I think that it is obvious that this qualification is simply the expression of his idealism. And it is clearly a very sophisticated and artificial qualification. Yet, as against naive realism, it receives the support that

1 Bosanquet, Logic, Vol. 2, p. 305.

consideration of the experiential character of the content of perception yields. "The nature of reals/' argues Bosanquet, "is fatal to the axiom that we know things as they are apart from cognition." But the epistemological dualist comes to the rescue of the realist and points out that the object oF knowledge is never given in knowledge but only the content^ of knowledge.

We shall concern ourselves very little with the refutation of idealism. The development of a coherent realistic system is of far more value, even from an argumentative point of view, than a continuation of the more or less dialectical struggle between idealism and realism. The strength of idealism has always lain more in the weakness of past realisms than in its own plausibility.


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