God and the reality of the world (on Alex Watson’s contribution to a workshop in Hawai’i)

Do we need God to make sense of the world’s reality? Michael Dummett, who was surely not known for his religious fanatism came to this conclusion. God is, for this well-known philosopher, the objective perspective from which the world can be known as it is (i.e., “objectively”, independently of how each single subjective mind might imagine it). In this sense, God could also be said to be needed in order to avoid the idea of a world as noúmenon, i.e., a thing in itself, real but unattainable and therefore never grasped as it really is.

One might object that there is no intrinsic reason whence the world needs to be known or whence the world needs to make sense for us.*
In contrast to that, Dummett’s thesis is based on the premiss that it is impossible to conceive the universe as never having been observed. If something exists, it needs to be knowable, and if it is knowable, it is known by someone. And since no one could observe all aspects of the universe, one necessarily needs an omniscient being as its observer. Dummett sees this premiss as needed in order to safeguard subject-independent direct realism. If there were only partial observers, how could we be sure that there is an intersubjectively available universe, which we all perceive in the same way?

However, as it has been argued by Alex Watson, this premiss is not necessarily shared by Indian realists.
Alex Watson asked if there is anything akin to Dummett’s ‘theism-realism connection’ in play in Nyāya/Vaiśeṣika. He first pointed out that the only reason Dummett needs God to preserve the reality of the external world is that the latter is placed in jeopardy by Dummett’s strongly idealistic premises. Dummett, for example, claims that it’s unintelligible to conceive of the world as never having been observed. Because Dummett believes such claims, the only way he sees of preserving the mind-independence of the world is God. The world ‘as-it-is-in-itself’ can then be made sense of as the way it is observed by the mind of God.

Alex asked how might there be something similar in Nyāya/Vaiśeṣika? He answered that someone might claim (1) that Nyāya/Vaiśeṣika too has an idealistic premiss, namely that whatever exists is knowable, and (2) that realism is preserved by means of an omniscient Īśvara’s all-comprending, single (abhinna) and eternal knowledge (jñāna).

But he argued against the plausibility of this claim on the following grounds. (1) Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika are not really committed to an idealistic premiss. They do not claim that for something to exist it must be known, but just that it must be knowable. He sees this more as optimism concerning knowledge than as placing an idealistic limit on what exists. (2) The claim of the knowability (jñeyatva) of the world is not accompanied in Nyāya or Vaiśeṣika by worry that in that case without God we lapse into idealism. (3) God in Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika does not play the role of preserving realism. Vaiśeṣika was realist before it was theistic. Even after God has been introduced into the two systems, we do not find God being mentioned in relation to the thesis that all existents are knowable. And, finally, for Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika the world-as-it-is-in-itself is not knowable by God alone, but also by humans. For Dummett God has to be brought in precisely because neither humans nor any other species are capable of knowing the world-as-it-is-in-itself.

(Alex concluded by remarking that an example of a Dummett-like omniscience-realism connection is found in the 6th century Jaina philosopher Samantabhadra.)

My contribution, by contrast, focussed on another problem connected with the idea of God as support for the world’s reality, namely the conception of God it requires.

NOTE: The post has been updated thanks to Alex Watson’s thoughtful comments. All shortcomings remain mine only.

*Yes, it would be hard to imagine that the world as it is is not knowable for us. But being “hard to believe” is not enough to rule out a view, unless you have a fundamental premiss saying that you prefer what looks reasonable (i.e. harmonises with your background belief). The “reasonability” premiss would rule out all gnostic or Matrix-like world-views in which (normal) people see the world in a way which is innerly consistent, but is ultimately unreal. However, there is no intrinsic reason to choose the reasonibility premiss over alternative solutions.

The first two parts of my marginal notes on the workshop on Omniscience, Realism and God/no-God have been published here and here.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

2 Replies to “God and the reality of the world (on Alex Watson’s contribution to a workshop in Hawai’i)”

  1. Experience is the test of reality, according to Dvaita. It is God who provides experience to individual soul. If there is no experience there is no testing of reality.
    Mostly it is taken for granted . We think we provide our own experience. Madhva writes that dream experience is a reality.
    This cannot be purchased or can be Self provided. Hence God is essential in our lives

  2. A view on the problem :
    Individual human brain displays its own unique personal reality.The uniqueness is attributed to the genetic and acquired nature
    of the individual( which is controlling and regulating the individual ).
    God is conceived as the controller of all nature.As such He will be having the display of the authentic reality under His control.
    The conclusion is that the individual can have a glimpse of authentic reality by controlling his own nature and can have a full
    view of authentic reality by eliminating all of his nature.

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