Is the discursive material? (fwd)

jwalker jwalker at
Mon Jul 17 06:11:17 MDT 1995


I think I disagree with your point in this passage:

> One point I want to interject here (I promise).  Everybody seems to be
> in agreement about the idea that there is a reality "independent of
> human discourse and perception"--the tree's there whether we talk
> about it or not.  In our everyday lives, this is a nice, practical
> assumption--it works pretty well to act on the basis of the assumption
> of a human-independent reality.  But note that this realist
> ontological position *is* an assumption.  It is ontotheological faith.
> For we can never use our knowledge production techniques to demonstrate
> that there is a reality independent of our knowledge or discourse
> about the world.  In order to carry out the demonstration, we need
> direct access to Reality on one hand and our Knowledge on the other,
> and then we need some sort of meta-knowledge practices to compare
> the content of these two domains and show that Reality is unperturbed
> by discourse and human representations.  My point is simple: this
> demonstration is impossible, for we have no direct apprehension
> of extra-discursive Reality.

If you mean by "assumption" something we accept on the basis of no
evidence, I think the realist something-out-there-independent-of-our
-thought idea isn't an assumption.  It's something we believe on the
basis of inference, as the explanation for our experiences that *seem* to
be experiences of a world.

I think the "demonstration" you outline above, and say we can't have, is
something wholly impossible.  I take it you'd agree with this -- that's
your point.  But I draw a different conclusion from its impossibility.

It seems to me that the demonstration you describe is impossible in an
extremely strong sense, impossible in principle, because no such thing is
even conceivable.  We do have "direct access" to reality, as direct as we
ever could want.  (I think you'd only think otherwise if you buy
something like sense-data theory.)  So any demand that we should have
some other, more direct access to reality in order to claim it's there is
deeply misplaced.  We have all any creature could ever have, and
therefore evidence aplenty.

> So when people say "There is a reality independent of human discourse
> and perception", I always wonder: by what magical means have you
> gained non-perceptual, non-discursive apprehension of reality so that
> you can support this claim?  Bluntly: You haven't.  Realism is a
> question of faith, analogous to the faith in deities.
> Miles Jackson
> cqmv at
> mjackson at

I'm interested why this matter seems so evident to you.  Are you starting
within something like a Cartesian framework, so that problems like "what
if there's an evil demon out there" become very troubling?  Or what?

John D. Walker
Department of Philosophy
UNC - Chapel Hill
jwalker at

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list