This is the first of a three-part blog. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in a few days.
There are two sorts of people: The Jabberwockians (the J’s of this world) and Anti-Jabberwokians (the AJ’s). The former are all those who believe that the Jabberwocky described by Lewis Carrol in Alice through the Looking Glass is a real creature and is as described! Anti-Jabberwokians, by contrast, believe that this creature is a hoax, does not exist except in the minds of young children and infantile adults.
The J’s therefore believe in the (real) possible existence of creatures of their imagination, just as they believe in their own existence (I think therefore I am) but also in the reality of butterflies. The follow-up question is, “What creatures in their imagination do not exist and are therefore imaginary?” This question demands that we submit a set of criteria which demarcates creatures that are officially real from those deemed non-real. By what standards can these two classes of creatures be reliably identified?
The truth is that even the most committed solipsist will wander up and down the boulevard declaring that some objects encountered are real whereas others are not, i.e., are unreal. At least, they may express doubts whether all things on their walk were as perceived or not. We wish to know, however, by what standards does the solipsist makes his/her judgements because we are often placed in a position where we need to decide for ourselves whether specific claims made are justified or seem to be ill supported. We do not argue that indeed there are more imaginary creatures than objects encountered on our walk — at least that may be so for some people.
Two classes of creatures? Surely there are more categories? Some are more likely than others to have the required attributes. We often also assume there is a dimension which helps us to distinquish matters, so that our choice is not confined to either/or! Ther may be many choices that have to made. Therefore, If we confine ourselves to two anchor-points, we join the group of either/or thinkers, those who bifurcate, for whom the world is left/right, up/down, right/wrong, where the notion of dimension has no place. For me such a world is unthinkable, although it was the dominant mode of thought for long periods. We ask, is “exist/does-not-exist” part of this world? I think not, because we have always allowed room for the category of “could exist”, for possibilities, and in recent times we have encouraged the habit of suspended judgements.
When Macbeth exclaims, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” the audience realizes that there is no miraculous dagger suspended before him as he believes; that the dagger is imagined by him, or as we commonly say, “in his mind”. The audience can tell — and knows — the convention whereby matters or common objects are regularly identified and also on what occasions this is possible and feasible. In short, we have all learned to distinguish things we think about — which are deemed to be private — from things which are public, which are assumed to be available for everyone to see and sense.
It would be more correct to talk about “private as well as public”, given that matters can be private and NOT be public. “My toothache” is a case in point, but so is “to my mind”. The statement “I think of Jeannie with the light brown hair” is private because there maybe no such person as Jeannie! Whatever is referred to as “in my thoughts” is therefore private unless a claim is attached that it is also assumed to be public! Such a claim is a game-changer.
We know therefore that others — occasionally we ourselves — see and detect matters without cause, so that we can usually (but not always) tell or distinguish the real from illusion. Example: “(I thought) I heard a burglar in the bathroom, and therefore shot my gun in that direction.” The cause to action in this case is the presumed burglar, and we are asked to accept that this was a reasonable thought to have under the circumstances and — all things considered — not just an illusion or an aberration.
Here is the critical question which arises from the above example: what is the status of events which we agree are “private” compared to those we accept as “public” events? The lamp-post at the corner of our street is a public event/object. We assume it will stand there regardless of whether it is seen by anyone or not. It has endurance, a lasting presence. It does not “will itself” to stand! It was placed there by someone and probably for some reason. In this respect the lamp-post is quite different from an itch on the sole of my foot.
More to come in Part 2 in a few days!
I like how Nietzsche simplified such metaphysics when he wrote: “God is dead — of his pity for man hath God died.” Which left him freer to comment on “those who sit in the swamp, and speak thus from among the bullrushes, saying ‘Virtue: that is to sit in the swamp.’
Yours, Harry, is a delightful blog. I look forward to reading further and finding occasion to engage you at more leisure. My best to you,