An Idealistic account for Causal, Unperceived Objects without the invocation of God?


How would an idealist, without the use of god, make sense of something like a tumor which can go unperceived and sensationless while still causing bodily harm or anything which is unperceived, yet participating in a causal relationship that is later discovered or perceived? It seems like these kinds of observations would be strong evidence for the existence of mind-independent entities.


Posted 2020-04-20T16:19:04.600

Reputation: 1

Cancer is a biological process due to abnormal cell growth. Why do you think that an "idealist" must have specific "problems" with it ? Are you assuming that the idealist does not believe in the existence of some sort of "physical" reality ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2020-04-20T16:35:50.913

I've understood idealism as the belief in the existence of only mind-dependent objects. A tumor, because of its persisting causal relationship with a human body that can go unnoticed, appears to exist independent of the mind, not needing to be perceived. – paddedrm – 2020-04-20T16:49:27.333

If only mind-dependent objects exist, then "my" body is a creation of my mind. Thus also "my" cancer is a creation of my mind. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2020-04-20T16:51:31.220

Or some mind. Berkeley used god to explain the persistence of unperceived objects. There are more contemporary philosophies whose metaphysics entail only the existence of a mind-dependent reality. I was curious if they tried to do so without the use of god. I was thinking some form of panpsychism. – paddedrm – 2020-04-20T17:08:58.603


You are thinking about Berkeley's subjective idealism, where to be is to perceive or to be perceived, which is uncommon and did involve God coordinating everything. Usual idealism only asserts that the fundamental stuff of the universe is more like mind than matter, it can be perfectly objective at that. The question is more salient for anti-realists, but they would assert that the object with its causation was not there to be discovered, but is rather a theoretical construct posited to explain what is observed.

– Conifold – 2020-04-20T17:09:06.563

From the anti-realist view, the tumor is constructed by what? How can it be causal prior to construction? – paddedrm – 2020-04-20T17:28:25.140

Causality itself is a theoretical construction (by regular folk, and, more rigorously, by scientists), as Hume pointed out, we do not "observe" it. So we have some observable events and come up with a framework that describes and predicts them, which includes causality and some "hidden entities" that participate in it. Tumors are probably bad examples since they usually are observed more or less directly, but something like quarks or dark matter would qualify. – Conifold – 2020-04-20T19:43:23.577

Thanks for walking me through these ideas. The phenomenon we observe has a predictable order - tumor, then illness - dark matter, then cosmic bodies move in such and such ways. How does the removal of causality strengthen the anti-realist position? – paddedrm – 2020-04-20T20:22:28.097

Why remove it? It is a useful fiction, just like other hidden entities we invent to make the equations more tangible. – Conifold – 2020-04-20T23:15:37.317

Perhaps "remove" was the wrong word. How does the non-existence or skepticism of causality strengthen the anti-realist position? You still have ordered events occurring whether they are perceived or not. Is it a belief in unconscious mind-dependence or is mind-dependence not a feature of the anti-realist outlook? – paddedrm – 2020-04-20T23:46:30.873

The mind dependence/independence issue is different for anti-realists than for idealists, and, in a way, moot. In one sense, they are our fictions, linguistic entities with no independent existence, hence dependent on our "mind", but in another they are adjusted to fit "objective" phenomena, hence not freely created. They just do not reify entities that prove useful, and pretend that the reality maps to concepts we happen to employ. It is not about strengthening. "Events occurring whether they are perceived or not" is realist's talk and part of the pretense. – Conifold – 2020-04-21T01:07:42.710

"In one sense, they are our fictions, linguistic entities with no independent existence, hence dependent on our "mind", but in another they are adjusted to fit "objective" phenomena, hence not freely created" - What's the difference between this and Kant's transcendental idealism? And shouldn't you have a better answer than calling the opposing side "pretense"? Wouldn't a realist just respond that it's not pretense? – paddedrm – 2020-04-21T12:26:18.157

No answers