Tuesday, August 18, 2009

world as percept

philosophy of freedom, chapter four

Steiner states in chapter four: "The failure to recognize the true relationship between mental picture and object has led to the greatest misunderstandings in modern philosophy."

By modern, of course, we must put Steiner's ideas in the context of the time the book was published, 1894. And the misunderstandings were among his contemporaries who had a spectrum of philosophical viewpoints on the topic of the human's relationship with the world. (One blog is not enough to distill the nuances of thought among the philosophers of the time, so forgive me, if you are a scholar of philosophy, if I oversimplify the concepts presented. My aim is to try and understand the material, often made easier for me through visual representations. In so doing, I am striving to follow the threads of Steiner's thought processes - which I believe is an honest approach to Philosophy of Freedom.)

In this chapter, the relationship of the human to the world is explored as subject and object. Object is anything that can be observed. Subject is the one doing the observing. So, because it is from our perspective that we can speak and know of anything, we can say that the human is a subject, and the world is the object. Steiner introduces the word percept. A percept is essentially an object, but Steiner uses the word to further add the quality of man's perceiving, sensing, and cognizing that object, and that a "perspective" exists, as in, from my perspective, I see the object, the percept.

Where the divergence of viewpoints occurs is in the question, "The thing, the object, the percept, that you are seeing in your mind, what is its true nature?"

Here, I must now introduce the idea of mental picture, or percept-picture. In your consciousness, you see an object, for instance, a flower, and it is a metal picture, a perceived picture of that flower. Three viewpoints that I believe to be presented in chapter four are: naive realism, critical idealism, and Immanuel Kant's theory.

The diagram I created illustrates my understanding of these three viewpoints. Each view is represented as a human figure in brown. The peach-colored circle in the head is conscious awareness (one can say it is the I, or the conscious soul). The flower in the middle represents the outer world. The flower within the peach-colored circle is the mental picture, or percet-picture, of the flower. The lines from the human to the flower represent the process of perceiving the object or percept (the flower) - each has a different quality, which is crucial to the argument. So here goes!

The naive realist sees the flower. All of the flower's qualities that this person discerns - smell, color, touch, form, are that object's true reality. The fuschi line, the perception process, transmits from the flower to the mental image of that flower, without any changes as that may be produced by the body's physiological organization. Deliberately, I did not use a continuous line that passes through the material of the body.

The critical idealist also sees a flower, but there is a huge difference with the naive realist. Steiner cites George Berkeley as the "classical representative" of the following view: in Berkely's words, "...so long as [objects] are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else submit in the mind of some Eternal Spirit." In other words, things do not exist outside of the person. Mental pictures, the percept-pictures, are all that there is. In my diagram, the flower is in the consciousness of the person, and the perception from the outside object is non-existent, hence the transparent line.

Now the Kantian view. Immanuel Kant acknowledges that a flower exists outside of the person. However, he asserts that the human being's ability to really experience the object, the thing-in-itself, in its true nature, is not possible because by the time the perception reaches the consciousness, the percept-picture has been completely modified by the body's physiological organization. In other words, as the object is observed by the eye, for instance, that stimulus upon the retina of the eye, the optic nerve, the white and gray matter of the cortex, is not even anywhere close to the reality of the object by the time it is transmitted to our consciousness. Hence, in my diagram, the line from the flower undergoes a color change when it enters the body and to the consciousness.

In this chapter, Steiner mostly refrains from interjecting his own viewpoint, as his main task in this chapter is to elucidate and refute the other viewpoints. But in every case, Steiner sees the faults in each one as giving limitations to our knowledge. In every case, it is the element of thinking that is not as valued by each of the viewpoints, the human's ability to form concepts is not addressed. For instance, the naive realist accepts the world objects as is, therefore, there is no gain of knowledge as there is nothing deeper than what the person immediately experiences. The critical idealist, since all the pictures in his mind are essentially figments of his own imagination, then this dream-state provides no impetus to know more. For the Kantian proponent, knowledge is limited to what his or her body can transmit and process from the reality outside of the body.

In trying to follow Steiner's own thoughts on all this, he himself does not directly present his viewpoint, so I am eager to discover as I continue to read, what's he thinking?

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