Philosophy as the Quest for meaning

Would it be fair to call a philosopher - the dictionary compiler? Philosophy is an activity that seeks to clarify meaning of words. It is essentially a futile activity because words as Russell explained and I agree that words are essentially “universals”, that they are ambiguous. What is white, grey, black? There is nothing logical with seeing a particular white, grey or black. They just appear to be that color. I think it is foolish to try to even attempt to pin down words which in themselves are universals.

Consider the battle between free will and determinism, good and evil, they are all in essence an attempt at defining the meaning of words in question. Having read philosophy and having watched the Hitch hiker’s guide to galaxy (new version), and remembering the big computer saying something like “how do you expect an answer when you do not even know the question?” in response to the question of “the meaning of life”.

I want to take the opportunity to criticise the branch of philosophy that deals with appearance/reality/thing-in-itself, the branch of philosophy that says objects do not exist. I would like to pose a question for the doubters of reality. When you say objects do not exist, and all we know is sense-dauctum, what do you exactly mean by objects? and what is the relationship of the objects to sense-dauctum? And what do you mean by existence? I have constructed a reply to the doubters of reality, when you are reading the text you perceive an idea, and the idea is conveyed in the text you are reading. You must concede that the idea exist, thus the medium through which the idea was transmitted must also exist, i.e the computer screen must exist for you to perceive the ideas I am conveying.

I wonder why philosopher can not write with simplicity like the way I am writing to you? I hide nothing, I do not use unfamiliar words, I know what I am talking about that’s why I write so you know what I am talking about. When Plato talked about the world of “forms”, does anyone know what he’s talking about? He has made up a word without explaining what it is, and we the common people, tries to foolishly decipher something which the author himself can not express, and therefore knows nothing about. Isn’t that absurd?

Human beings have wills, the will express itself by means of language. The will itself start off as the physical brain, the will interacts with its close proximity and gains experience which produces character. The mind interacts with the environment and in turn changes itself. An example would be an alcoholic damaging s/his brain, and in the process start haulocinating.

Ask me questions, and I’ll endavour to answer them.

You are talking about a radical (extreme) view of reality, aka–idealism—when you say “objects do not exist”.
Object: the thing in itself, the thing as it exists, the thing as it really is.

All we know is sense-datum means:
Because we rely on the use of our senses, and the use of concepts, concept structures, or concept schemes to explain/understand the world, our reality must necessarily be viewed through these screens, hence we really do not have access to the object itself, but to the object as we represent it using the information our senses provide us, and these structures (the narrative, the story, the pictures). All we have are these concepts/structures/frameworks, hence our knowledge must necessarily be these only–and, hence, “objects do not exist” in our reality.

just from the title,

philosophy isn’t the quest for meaning, it’s the quest for reference.


so when we see something we see the appearence of that thing as opposed to the thing itself?

perhaps you ought to refer yourself to Wittgensteins later work regarding his numerous criticisms of private objects.

Just briefly, when you see something you dont see something else representing the thing you see, (notice how unnecessarily confusing this gets) you simply see the thing.

Why you may ask do you sometimes see things that aren’t there?
Because you see incorrectly, but this does not mean you see something else, consider:

I thought I saw an alien spaceship,
But it actually turns out to be a weather balloon
=/>I saw a representation of an alien spaceship
=> I miss-perceived the weather balloon.

Pinnacle - as I got more and more confused the more I read this post (a condition the cause of which can only reside within me), I thought I would confine my response to your first question only - whether philosophers are mere dictionary-compilers. I do not agree, but many fine, and even famous, philosophers would agree. Either way, this says little about the kind of dictionary each would produce. Different schools of thought would not only produce different definitions, but would include - and exclude - different senses and even different words. This makes more of a difference than you seem (to me, at least) to imply.

In fact. it may be possible to ascertain just what kind of philosopher you are by considering which words and definitions you would include and exclude - sounds like a nice fundraiser for the local philosophy club.

My dictionary would not include the terms “free will” and “determinism”, for instance, because I consider these to be nonsensical - mere pseudoconcepts. I’m not sure how to define any pseudo-concept. I would surely have an entry for "good’, but not one for “evil”. “Free will”, “evil” and “determinism” are metaphysical notions, with no reference to sense-experience at all. And my dictionary would include only those words that did refer to sense-experience or analytical knowledge. They are the only types of words that I would need to use, if I got to formulate the dictionary. For we are talking about a dictionary dictatorship - that’s what these philosophers mean.

Oh, well, I might have a list of “Specious Words Religious People and Other Metaphysicians Might Use” in the back - but that is not what you mean, I think.

If I don’t get to write the only dictionary - really a watered-down scenario, I think - keep in mind, for instance, that in any event, it is explained in dictionaries that unicorns never existed - they are not called mammals, or extinct or endandered. My dictionary would say the same about the Christian God, to give an instructive example. If you, for instance, would not buy a dictionary from me, you are making a philosophical buying decision. If you would not use it - a philosophical reference choice. If you would be indiscriminate in which dictionary you kept by your reading chair, then the activity is futile for you, as you say. But I’m not so sure you’d get a lot of people to agree.

By the way, I think real objects really exist - in space-time, that is. But you want questions - here’s one (or two). Do “wills” exist in space-time? If not, where/how do they exist? I know they exist somehow, because, as you say, they do stuff.

Yuxia, when I went to bed last night, I was thinking you were going to respond to my post, and you did.


Nope. You are misunderstanding the position of the idealist, representationalist, and the psychological-rationalist. [Note that there is a gradation betweeen these views, idealist being the extreme. ]
“Appearance” here does not even mean anything but a careless way of characterizing the views above. Here’s how it goes:

  1. We rely/depend on our senses to perceive or apprehend the object.

  2. Whatever our senses perceive or apprehend, we use some form of conceptual framework, conceptural scheme, structures to understand what the object is—meaning, we categorize it, what kind it is, what is the name of it.

  3. Hence our knowledge of the object itself remains to be the product of our senses and the use of concepts/framework/structure. The object as it exists will be inaccessible to us because “object” here means something independent of our perception of it, hence something independent of our thought. Yet, how do we know of an object but only through our senses and through our use of concepts. So, to us “seeing an object” means seeing it with our sense-perception, and “knowing of an object” means apprehending it using our conceptual structure. Hence, we really do not have access to the “object” defined as something independent of our mind, external to our senses.

Nope. Wrong philosopher to cite—Wittegenstein is on my side on this one. He is a conceptual analyst–in line with the view of representationalist.

Nope again. It has nothing to do with error in perceiving. Whether we are justified in what we see or not (meaning if we correctly perceive or not)----we cannot help but use concepts, categories, kind to understand the object. This is what it means.

Wrong example because you clearly misunderstood what representation is. Representationalist assume that if there is an object, we must necessarily see it with the structures we use to make sense of it—hence, what we get to know is, the object as we see it, not the object AS IT IS. There is a difference.
Your statements are non-sequitur.


“In fact. it may be possible to ascertain just what kind of philosopher you are by considering which words and definitions you would include and exclude - sounds like a nice fundraiser for the local philosophy club.”

Your thoughts of a philosopher’s dictionary remind me of Rorty’s idea of a “final vocabulary”. Not strictly the same thing, but here is a quote:

“All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes… It is “final” in the sense that if doubt is cast on the worth of these words, the user has no noncircular argumentative recourse. Those words are as far as she can go with language; beyond them is only helpless passivity or a resort to force. A small part of a final vocabulary is made up of thin, flexible, and ubiquitous terms such as ‘true’, ‘good’, ‘right’, and ‘beautiful’. The larger part contains thicker, more rigid, and more parochial terms, for example, ‘Christ’, ‘England’, ‘professional standards’, ‘decency’, ‘kindness’, ‘the Revolution’, ‘the Church’, ‘progressive’, ‘rigorous’, ‘creative’. The more parochial terms do most of the work.”




Hi, I have read everyone’s posts, and I think everyone have made intelligent contribution to the discussion at hand. I just want to point out a flaw in the idealist’s argument as stated by arendt.

I want to raise a number of key questions (I am on the materialist side), I respect arendt’s reply, I think he made a good effort.

The question is what do you mean by the word “senses” and what do you mean by Kant’s word “thing in itself”, and finally what do you mean by existence of an object?

I would reply as follow, when we say something exist, we usually mean we either see it, touch it, taste it, we are basically aware of it. When we are no longer aware of it, we can only say it “it existed” not that “it exists”. So I say I know something exist because I am aware of it. What is the thing in itself? The idealists says that we may be dreaming, which is fair enough, but how can we know we are dreaming while we are dreaming the dream itself? If we compare dreaming to the concept of a box, you must be out of the box in order to know that you were once inside the box. As I have said earlier, existing means we are aware of it. If I say, I doubt the existence of the computer, what I am really saying is, I doubt the awareness of the computer which I am currently aware of. See the absurdity?

If you ask me, does the computer exist when I am not aware of it? You are really asking, am I aware of the computer when I am not aware of it? The answer, you tell me! Will I re-see the computer when I open my eyes? Answer: I do not know.

Basically, it is fairly easy to dissect idealist argument analytically. They are playing a language game.

Pinnacle - you are surely correct about one thing - in fact, all metaphysicians are only playing a language game.

I’m a girl. :sunglasses:

Senses: as in sense-perception, the five senses we use.
Thing in itself: not just Kantian TII, but something encompassing a wider conception. So, if one is an Aristotelian metaphysician, it would be “substance”. Other metaphysicians would certainly use “essence”.
Existence of an object/object/object existing: object existing independent of our apprehension of it, independent of our sense-perception, independent of our mind, independent of our thoughts, hence, external to our sense-perception/mind/thoughts.

Okay, here now is a common misconception of “existence”. When we say an object exists independent of our mind/thoughts/sense-perception, we mean independent of our consciousness. What you are describing is, we perceive an object, hence you really are describing our knowledge of it, our apprehension of said object, and therefore, what you are describing is really the “object as we perceive or experience it” or the “object in our consciousness”, but not the thing in itself, its essence, or the substance.

Dreaming aside…………

Again, what you are describing is the object as you perceive it, the object of your consciousness, but not the thing in itself. That is why to doubt the “existence of the computer” in front of you is absurd. There is a “computer”—here now is the concept we use, our conceptual scheme is in progress, you say “computer”—you have a name, a definition, of what is a computer, hence you assert there is a computer in front of you. You see it, so you perceive it, and along with this you know what it is for. So, what you really have is your awareness of the computer, but not the object itself. When you assert ‘There is a computer in front of me’, you are really asserting the object as you perceive it, in your consciousness, and this is perfectly fine. But you cannot assert that ‘There is this thing it itself in front of me’—because it will be self-contradictory to do so. Remember, the thing it itself is supposed to be independent of your consciousness.

If you do this, then again you are confusing what it is “exist as it is”, as a thing in itself, with the “object as you are aware of it” or “object as object of your awareness”.

Faust, when I took a course in Descartes, I almost walked out of that class. I hated it, it was hard, and my prof was intimidating. I felt it was senseless, futile, and uninteresting. But I finished it, though I struggled. After that, I continued my reading on my own. And added (modern) analytics in my courses and my reading. I no longer have the same attitude. Believe me, it is all in the understanding of the subject.

I thought I’d share this with you.


how do you know things exist when we are not aware of them? or how do you know they exist when we are not aware of them? How do you know something you do not know?

How do I know that be the case? What do you mean by independent existence? Can you prove it?

So, what you really have is your awareness of the computer, but not the object itself

what is the object itself?

That’s the thing—you don’t have access to that information. We can claim ordinarily that the table in front of us exists—this is fine according to the analytics and the metaphysician. But ask the metaphysician, what “knowledge” do we have of the table, and their answer would be that the table as you perceive it.

We don’t “know” the thing in itself’s existence, we know that the object as we perceive it. Whatever we prove, it would be the object of our thought, the object of our apprehension, but we cannot prove the thing it itself, hence, the metaphysician’s assertion “Objects don’t exist”—this requires an explanation, don’t take it at its face value.

I repeatedly said this already.

Ask yourself these: Can I prove something that my mind does not apprehend? No.
Can I prove something that my mind apprehends? Yes.


I first read Descartes just about thirty years ago. and have been reading Russell, for instance, for almost as long. If my view of metaphysics is merely a lack of understanding, I can hold out little hope that things will improve for me any time soon.

Just thought I’d share that with you.

I have to say, Faust is making a very good point in his criticism of metaphysics. Welcome to ILP faust.


I know you are an intelligent person. But I see this sentence as representing the center of the idealist fallacy. What do you mean by existence? I have explained that we say something exist because we are aware of them, if you can’t see something, then say you can’t see it.

What do you mean by “We don’t “know” the thing in itself’s existence”, do you realise that the sentence does not even make any sense? Please define “know” and “existence”. With the greatest of respect for Kant, but when he talked about “the thing in itself”, he’s really making up a word which he himself can not define. It’s a language trap. He’s trying to think of something he can’t think of!

Do you agree that all we are aware of are sensations? What we are seeing may be hallucinations, or dreaming. But there is NO way that you or anyone else will be able to find out that you are dreaming during the process of dream. Do you understand? There is no point pondering about whether you are dreaming or not because it is impossible for you to prove.

Thanks, Pinnacle.

By the way, my general criticsim of metaphysics can almost be stated in three (or maybe four) words: Verbs are verbs (only).

I walk. So I can talk about my walking. That doesn’t mean that “walking” exists. It is not an entity.

I exist. That doesn’t mean that “existence”, well, exists. It is neither an entity. Catness, driving, being, beingness, beingnessity (I’m being silly, of course) - verbs are verbs. Think about it.

Most metaphysics is a misunderstanding of the verb “to be”. It’s a verb, darn it. Object - that’s another toughy for metaphysicians. The verb gets transmorgrified into a noun - an entity, an object, and when it’s noticed that this object (which is now established as an object - I said it was an object, didn’t I?) isn’t phenomenal, well, then, by cracky, it’s got to be a…a…metaphysical object!

That’s it in a nutshell, but I can go on for days without eating, sleeping or bathing just talking about this.

Stuff is stuff, abstraction are abstractions, and generalisations are not universals. Oh, man, don’t get me started! I’m gonna roll a fatty and go to bed.

Not that I have anything against nouns, or abstractions. Can’t go ten minutes without an abstraction. Love 'em. Love nouns, too. Just for the record.

Nice thread. Nice board. Nice website. Blame Imp.

See, my suspicion is correct----no, that is not what damages the view of the idealist. All they are claiming—and I repeat: theirs is the most extreme view—is that whatever we call objects/things, and however we describe them (that they exist, that they have properties, etc.) IS NOT WHAT THE THING-IN-ITSELF is. When the idealists refer to the “existence” of the thing-in-itself, they are actually referring to the OBJECT AS IT EXISTS INDEPENDENT OF OUR MIND. But, they caution, since we cannot KNOW a thing without our perception of it—meaning without our use of senses and concepts and structures—then, by default, we really cannot know the existence of the object-in-itself, hence “object-in-itself” does not exists when it comes to our knowledge of the world.

I think you ought to notice by now that you keep confusing “KNOWLEDGE OF A THING”, and “EXISTENCE OF A THING beyond our mind or perception of it”. There is a huge difference. This is what keeps you from understanding my post.

Haha. Okay, if you say this, then you are on the side of the idealist. You just said “All we are aware of are sensations”—this is it, you’re almost there. That is why the idealist would say, “There are no objects (objects defined here as existing beyond our consciousness of it ) because all we really have is our consciousness or awareness of the object.

The idealists do not ask you to prove the thing-in-itself. You cannot. What they want you to accept is, all you have is your awareness or consciousness of the thing.

You are correct. Thirty years is an awfully long time. :wink:

Btw, faust, check out social philosophy or philosophy of law. You might find them interesting and engaging.

Actions are in a separate category from substances. And that’s logic, not grammar. And your use of universals, like “nutshell, universals, walking” seems to belie your doctrine. Do you know what “walking” means? Then you are dealing with universals, it seems. Not one walk, but many having one nature. Is this sensible?

(I don’t mean this to be an Idealist position, it’s supposed to be a Realist position. Does that put me off-topic?)

To my real name -

One having the character of many - that’s a generalisation. “Universal” has a meaning in logic (real logic), but that ain’t it. And yes, I know what “walking” means. Thanks for your interest.