0. Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher fame has published two posts in response to my “Seeing and the Existence of the Seen” of December 31, 2013, itself written in response to his “On Seeing: Intentionality without Aspectuality?” of December 30, 2013. In the present post I will do my best to reply to the much of what he says in the first of his two responses, the “The Epistemologically Primary Sense of ‘See’” of January 10, 2014. I will, if fortune continues to smile upon me, reply to the remainder of what he says therein if or when I have a reply I think worth offering. Ditto re the second of his two responses, the “Seeing: Internalist and Externalist Perspectives” of January 17, 2014.
1. In his first response, then, Bill early on formulates, on my behalf and with perfect justice, the perfectly valid argument which he says my discussion suggests:
1. Every instance of seeing is an instance of knowing
2. Every instance of knowing is existence-entailing
3. Every instance of seeing is existence-entailing.
He goes on to say in effect that he rejects the argument as unsound, for he believes that one of the premises is false:
I reject the initial premise, and with it the argument. So I persist in my view that seeing an object does not entail the existence of the object seen. Hennessey and I agree that seeing is an intentional or object-directed state of the subject: one cannot see without seeing something. Where we disagree is on the question whether there are, or could be, cases in which the object seen does not exist.
2. Bill goes on to present a thought experiment, that of one facing a person claiming, seriously and with evident honesty, to have seen a ghost. Then he presents the challenge:
Now suppose you are convinced that there are no ghosts. What will you say to the person? Two options:
A. You didn’t see anything: ghosts do not exist and you can’t see what does not exist!
B. You saw something, but what you saw does not exist, so have no fear!
Here too justice has been perfectly served. But Bill goes on to give two reasons why “the first answer won’t do.” He puts the first as follows:
The subject had a terrifying visual experience in which something visually appeared. If you give the first answer, you are denying the existence of the subject’s visual experience. But that denial involves unbearable chutzpah: the subject, from her behavior, clearly did have a disturbing object-directed experience.
The chutzpah, however, is quite bearable: I have, after all, the chutzpah to get in the ring with the Maverick Philosopher. More to the point: I am not just simply “denying the existence of the subject’s visual experience.” That is, while I am denying, without reservation, the existence of an extra-mentally existent ghost, I am not denying her experience. I grant the reality of her experience, with the reservation that it was not an experience based in vision, but one with a basis in imagination, imagination as distinguished from vision.
3. Bill presents the second reason why he thinks “the first answer won’t do” as follows:
You are presumably also confusing not seeing something with seeing something that does not exist. That would be a sort of operator shift fallacy. One cannot validly move from
S sees something that does not exist
It is not the case that S sees something.
I am not at all “confusing not seeing something with seeing something that does not exist,” quite the contrary. But I do grant that the “move” just given is logically invalid; if I were to first affirm that “S sees something that does not exist,” surely I would then logically have to affirm that “S sees something.” I, however, understanding that one cannot see something that does not exist, for it does not exist to be seen, would not first affirm that “S sees something that does not exist.”
4. Now, after next engaging in some musings about dreams and hallucinations, which I’m not sure really take us any further, Bill goes on, beginning with “But even if we never dreamt or hallucinated…,” to present a line of argumentation which takes things to a deeper and more complex level and to which I am not yet ready to offer any response constituting an effective reply. I will return to these things, as I said at the outset, if or when I have a reply I think worth offering.
The one remaining thing I will do here and now is take note of a statement Bill makes in the course of his argumentation and which contains a thesis of real significance. It reads:
Since the object seen is what it is whether or not it exists, I cannot validly infer the existence of the object from my seeing it.
The statement as a whole is a complex statement, one presupposing the truth of the metaphysical or ontological assertion, “the object seen is what it is whether or not it exists,” contained within the initial clause; it is in this assertion that I see the significance mentioned. It, however, seems to me to be false, even as I recognize that thinkers as eminent as Avicenna and Aquinas, as I understand them, thought it true and central. For my part I hold that only an existent can be something of any sort whatsoever; my holding that only an existent can be seen is but a particular instance of the broader metaphysical or ontological thesis. But an actual argument on behalf of the broader metaphysical or ontological thesis will have to await another day.