What a wonderful world it could be

Naive Metaphysics
June 23, 1995

What kind of world exists? And why does it exist? To answer these and other foundational questions of existence is to practise what Geoffrey Klempner calls "naive metaphysics". In fact such questions belong to metaphysics pure and simple, but Klempner is presumably reacting to modern scepticism about the meaningfulness of the discipline by regarding such questions as manifesting the entirely reasonable, indeed inevitable, childlike wonder that human beings reflectively have about the world.

The task Klempner sets himself is not a modest one. He proposes an entire worldview which, he believes, can account for traditional metaphysical problems such as those of mind and body, free will, time and tense, the existence of the external world, among others. And the central theme of this worldview is that it is, as it were, a two-worldview. There are subjective and objective worlds, they are "metaphysically contradictory", and neither can be disregarded without losing the conceptual equipment needed for a complete description of what there is.

But what are these two worlds, exactly? Klempner's account begins in such a way that it seems fairly easy to comprehend them: the objective world is reality seen from the third-person point of view, the reality of facts and things, reality as describable by means of judgements; and the subjective world is reality seen from the first-person point of view, from the "inside-out", or from my privileged position as an observer with a unique perspective. As the book progresses, however, the waters are increasingly muddied, so that by the end the reader is unlikely to have any idea what it is Klempner is talking about. The subjective world is associated with (it is hard to be more specific than this) the "incommunicable sense of my own existence", and with the "thisness of this", the "nowness of now" and the "I-ness of I". It is, however, "indescribable in language".

One might be forgiven for thinking initially that the subjective standpoint was that of the persisting self, the "I" which is in a privileged relationship with the rest of reality. But, Klempner tells us, this is not at all what the subjective standpoint is about. There is no persisting self which unifies the subjective standpoint: "All that can be said about my subjective world, as a reality distinct from the objective, is that it is this. If I were to go on to say that the this existed one second ago, I should be saying more than one is logically permitted to say. . ." But then what does unify the subjective standpoint? The answer is not clear. We are told that the "most fundamental condition for being my subjective world is to be the world of a being who exists for the objective standpoint". The problem here is that such a being precisely is a persisting person or self, so it is hard to see how Klempner can extract himself from this contradictory morass.

The "metaphysical contradiction" between the subjective and objective worlds is, for Klempner, inescapable, in which case he might not object to the logical tensions strewn throughout his book. His system is indeed rich, rich enough to embrace contradictions, and perhaps that is all that needs to be said. But it is the philosopher's duty not to rest easy with paradox, and to try to make sense of the world. Klempner's approach, however, casts more shade than light. He tackles the freedom of the will, but has very little to say that is easily grasped, and what there is makes precious little contribution to the debate. On personal identity he plays around with recent important discussions and theories, again getting nowhere. The puzzle case of fission prompts a passing endorsement of the so-called "multiple occupancy" view, whose implausibility (despite recent thought-provoking defences) escapes Klempner's attention, let alone its conflicting with his non-endorsement of an "absolute I".

Klempner is to be admired for seeing the worth of system-building, but the opacity and interminability of his text subvert the effort required to make even minimal sense of it.

Coupled with the lack of an index (an unforgivable oversight for such a book) and the inflated price tag, one is advised to look elsewhere for metaphysical instruction.

David S. Oderberg is lecturer in philosophy, University of Reading.

Naive Metaphysics: A Theory of Subjective and Objective Worlds

Author - Geoffrey V. Klempner
ISBN - 1 85628 962 1
Publisher - Avebury
Price - £40.00
Pages - 7

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