A subjective-objective question: How do you know that I exist?

Hi,

I was thinking about Fr. Barron’s comments in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=m_4PSgFjtvI

And I thought about applying it to my relationship to each of you, and you can use this as a sort of thought experiment with others. How do you know that I exist? How do you know that I have a mind, that I can think, that I have free will? How do you know that I am a person at all, and not just a bunch of organized sense impressions? Can you know that another person exists with a heart, soul, and mind, without interacting with them, and speaking to them, and waiting for them to speak? What if we all just said, “I am not going to believe that is a person with an intellect and will, until I have an absolute analytical proof in formal deductive terms.”

These are just some reflections I had. I mostly want to hear what other Catholics think of this. But others can chime in as well. I specifically termed the question “How do YOU know that I exist?” because it challenges the other person to enter into a relationship to myself. It is ultimately the foundation of all morality, because it is the foundation of all human relationships. “How do you know that I am a person like you?” How do we know that we are persons, and not just automatons, or collections of biological material. How do we know that we each have souls, and minds, and hearts, and bodies. None of these concepts or pricniples can be found in the objects of the senses. They have an immaterial elements that reflects universal principle. The principle of personhood, or personalism is the most fundamental principle of existence, because the source of all existence, and existence itself, is not just a principle, but a Person, or three Divine Persons, who know and love each other as Persons, not as things, or principles.

I also want to ask what some of you know or think about the principle of the person or of personhood. Do you know of any good writings on the subject. I know that Pope John Paul II was very adept at this subject, and I think wrote his dissertation Person and Act on the subject.

Any thoughts or suggestions for further reading on the person, personality, development of the personality, etc, human and divine relationships, etc.

God bless you all,
Joshua

After being retired, I hardly even know if I exist. You could easily just be a figment of my imagination. Are you ??? :smiley:

:thumbsup:

1.Materialism is undoubtedly false because it does not have explanatory ultimacy.

  1. Materialism cannot answer any question in terms of reasons, emotions, principles, choices, purposes or decisions.

  2. Impersonal things are at the subnatural level.

  3. Living things are at the natural level.

  4. Persons are at the supernatural level.

  5. The most fundamental level is not lower but higher than nature! :slight_smile:

joshrp,

From your original post in this thread,
I’d say you have plenty of time to do volunteer work at the food pantry or something like that.

Then we’ll know you exist.

Since your post is something that is distinct from my thoughts, you must be a different entity, separate from myself. So far it is obvious.

Irrelevant questions. You act as someone who seems to be a person and therefore the only sensible assumption that you are a person. Your biological composition is irrelevant. Even you are composed of silicon parts, since you act like a person, you are a person.

Heart? A biological organ to pump blood? Who cares? Soul? An undefined concept? Who cares? Obviously you have a mind, since you expressed concepts and ideas - distinct from my own.

What is the difference? If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, tastes like a duck… then the only sensible assumption is that it is a duck and not an elephant. You only have access to the behavior of the other “entities” but not to their internal structure. As such their internal composition is not relevant, and if their behavior is “person-like” they must be regarded as real persons - no matter what they are “made of”…

Because I trust you exist, hath a brain, eyes, you can think, you are a person. This is the internet, you could be a robot! But I am pretty sure you’re not though. I am subscribing to this thread, it seams interesting :slight_smile:

Many years ago, the question of “do other minds exist” troubled philosophical thinkers endlessly.

Then one day, a great thinker came up with a solution to the problem and lo and behold, he invented - Traffic Lights.

They prove conclusively that other minds exist and that they are controlled by free thinking beings similar, if not identical, to you. Even when another mind runs a red light, causing mayhem and destruction, the proof just becomes greater that free will is an aspect of human beens.

These are excellent questions, Joshrp. While there may be answers within the Faith that might suffice for you, I have found that not all the possibilities are covered there,or even acknowledge, commensurate with Teaching or not. I highly recommend, as a specific treatment of what you are considering and it’s implications, a thorough and fascinating book by Ken Wilber called A Brief History of Everything. It addresses both our public and private experience and perceptions in a very unique and exceptionally well organized way.

As for myself, I do not need to know that you exist in any particular way. Surely, if we interact, I will respond, as will you to me. Even if you ignore me, that is a response. But as for knowing, a person cannot ever know the interior experience of another, and can only compare notes and those that have the success of commonality can be considered to align to reality, or at least to a consensus of perception. If you study any work on witnessing, you will quickly realize that we do not see the same things even witnessing the identical event, even though it seems, superficially, that there is a resemblance.

But I would guess that if you are sincerely interested in these matters, KW’s work will give you a competent and useful introduction.

How do I know that you exist?

Before I answer that question, it is important to keep in mind that I already know that you exist. You may respond “Do you?” To which I will respond, “yes”! With this truth in mind, my questioning can now begin. My questioning, then, will be more like Mary questioning Gabriel than Zechariah questioning God.

Because I know my senses are generally reliable I know that you exist. I know that my senses are generally reliable because the contrary would undermine the foundations of knowledge, and, as I already said, I already know some things. Again, my philosophical reflection happens after I already come to knowledge of some things.

No one said I had to have mathematical certainty about it, and to demand such a kind of certainty is making a category mistake.

Why couldn’t you be just a bunch of sense impressions? Because that is not what my senses in general in conjunction with my mind testify to. How do I know that you have consciousness like me and have a mind given the fact that I have only one example (my own) to go off of? Because modern empiricism (not to be confused with Science) is false and I apprehend your essence as a rational animal.

In a very brief nutshell, this is why. Though I’d prefer to say what I said after more experience of communicating with you and not just a message board to go off of at that.

Well I think I get your point. Though I don’t think you’re being precise enough. For I could say that what if I knew something wasn’t a person even though it acted like one? In that case, do I still have to regard that something as a person?

And while it is true that we don’t have direct access to another’s experience, their actions reveal their essence to us piecemeal. Doing follows being and reveals it more fully. That is why in science (and elsewhere) we subject something to tests (actions) to gather a better understanding of what its nature is.

I like your expression “human beens” but of course that doesn’t mean they are “have beens”. :slight_smile:

I got bad new for you. You don’t exist. A gnat is just thinking.

The question is: how do you decide if some entity is not a person, even if it acts as a person does. You do not have access to the internal structure of this entity, you must base your decision on the entity’s behavior.

Sure, and as long as this entity behaves as a “person”, on what grounds would you declare that it is not a person?

I recall a great short story by Isaac Asimov from his book: “I Robot”. There is a “someone”, who is believed to be a robot by some people, but who protects his identity. People only have access to his actions, and the actions of this “someone” reflect the highest standands of behavior, which is exhibited only by the best humans, or any old robot. (Asimov’s robots are way superior to humans). The conclusion is left unsolved, since the points is this: “it does not matter”.

Sure, and as long as this entity behaves as a “person”, on what grounds would you declare that it is not a person?

You missed my point that your functional definition of a person is not metaphysically sound. It may be practical, but it isn’t metaphysically adequate.

And it’s important to make the distinction that doing follows being, otherwise you have metaphysical nutso’s who think people are only bundles of properties–let the reductionism begin. Your statement was giving the impression that doing is being.

And the metaphysical aspect matters for all sorts of reasons. The most important to me would be the ethical dimension.

Question #1: why is it not metaphysically sound?
Question #2: what other definition is there?
Observation: the so call metaphysical principles are of two kinds: some are the distillation of zillions of practical observations (example might be the conservation laws of nature), others are sheer speculation (example might be the concept of a “soul”) - in which case they firmly belong to the “who the #$%^ cares?” category.

What is your metaphysically adequate definition?

The whole problem can be stated as: “what is the difference between the original and the copy?” or the “real McCoy and the perfect emulation?”. Suppose that someone develops a perfect copy machine, which will create a copy atom by atom. He puts the Mona Lisa into the input orifice, and after some time, he will get the perfect copy of it, along with the original. It is true that the “copy” was not actually touched by the hands of Da Vinci, while the “original” was - so in a sense “there is” a difference. But the point is that there is no way to tell which one is which? Even in principle. And if there is no way to answer a question, then the question is irrelevant. Some idle people (philosophers) like to spend time on pondering such questions, but all that shows that they have too much time on their hands, which they could spend better by working on the fields. :slight_smile:

I already answered. What a being does is not the exact same as what a being is. If you didn’t mean to confuse the two then take it as no criticism of your position.

Question #2: what other definition is there?

At the very least someone can try to come up with an essential definition instead of a functional one. But since you are already sure that the soul is mere speculation (which is really funny), there is no point going down that road, right? Let’s just put it this way: as far as I can tell, the only way someone could deny the existence of the soul (in the aristotelian thomistic tradition) is if they deny the reality of change.

Observation: the so call metaphysical principles are of two kinds: some are the distillation of zillions of practical observations (example might be the conservation laws of nature), others are sheer speculation (example might be the concept of a “soul”) - in which case they firmly belong to the “who the #$%^ cares?” category.

The laws of nature are not metaphysical principles because they do not treat being insofar as it is being, but they treat being insofar as it is physical. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, however. Perhaps I was a bit rash in pulling the metaphysics card. I merely wish to point out that functional definitions are not essential definitions and that to confuse a functional definition with an essential one gives you an unsupportable metaphysical picture of the world.

In addition, how many observations of change do I need before I conclude that change exists? In principle, only one. Metaphysics is not science. Have you read The Last Superstition by Edward Feser? It’s a good primer on aristotelian thomistic metaphysics.

The whole problem can be stated as: “what is the difference between the original and the copy?” or the “real McCoy and the perfect emulation?”. Suppose that someone develops a perfect copy machine, which will create a copy atom by atom. He puts the Mona Lisa into the input orifice, and after some time, he will get the perfect copy of it, along with the original. It is true that the “copy” was not actually touched by the hands of Da Vinci, while the “original” was - so in a sense “there is” a difference.

Not only that, but they also occupy different spaces and use different parcels of matter. But I have no problem with two objects being formally the same. In this case both would be paintings; one would be painted by Da Vinci, the other a copy of Da Vinci’s work (still a painting) by the machine and those who programmed and made it. The problem is that not everything works like this. There are some objects that are formally unique and cannot be instantiated in two different parcels of matter without being the exact same thing (one thing). In principle, I don’t think its possible to make a perfect copy of a person (this is of course to deny materialism as a sufficient philosophical position).

But the point is that there is no way to tell which one is which? Even in principle. And if there is no way to answer a question, then the question is irrelevant.

If it truly was the case that there was no way in principle to tell the two apart, then there would be one thing and not two.

If you meant to remove “in principle” and say that they are formally the same, then it would work for some things and not for others, depending on the kind of form (if the form has its own subsisting operations or not).

I don’t know. My experience of other minds is inferred from my experience of the rational or teleological (goal driven) behaviour of distinct objects which happen to possess a particular form. But I don’t know that these experiences extend beyond my consciousness of them. What I am seeing could perhaps be an artificial illusion, hallucination, or some kind of odd anomaly that happens to exist as a result of my having a mind. I don’t think its reasonable to think so, and if it was I don’t believe that it would be a natural phenomenon because of the teleological information involved in the experience. But I don’t know of anyway to infer the necessity of physical reality as having a real extension beyond experience. The most that we can prove is very general facts (metaphysical facts); such as the fact that we are having an experience, that something is changing, and that we are not the sufficient cause of the experience in the sense of “willing it”. We are not wilfully or knowingly generating the experience although it may still be a product of somebodies mind. Its also quite possible that God generates a virtual reality of sorts based on mathematical rules or laws. Its not really physical; but we all experience it as such according to those rules or laws.

We accept physical reality because it strongly appears to be real; this is to say that we have no good reason to question its reality. Its only reasonable to question claims that are not immediately present in some way to our continuous stream of experience.

The Matrix film shows us a way in which we could be fooled in to accepting an artificially generated virtual reality without knowing it. But since I cannot see evidence that this is in fact the case, it is not a reasonable inference of my experience.You have to have good reason to be sceptical. Scepticism is not a default position of knowledge.

Through personal experience of the human form, it tells me that you and I are people. If someone else shares my form then it is also assumed, logically, through knowledge of that form, that they share the same aspects or elements as I do.

I know that I am alive through my own senses. I am human, therefore, anyone human shares the same senses along the human paradigm.

To clarify: do you subscribe to the concept of “essence”? Because I don’t. Every object is simply the sum of its attributes.

Since we have never encountered an “entity” (or being) which was not physical, the assumption of non-physical existence is an unnecessary assumption. (Ideas and concepts are not “objects”.)

That is not the point. There is no method to find out which was the “original” and which was the “copy”, and as such the question “original or copy?” is a meaningless one.

Which is another unsubstantiated position.

Then you think something’s essence is the sum of its attributes. Essence just means what something is. If I were to attach a particular philosophical tradition to it, then you’d might want to disagree.

Since we have never encountered an “entity” (or being) which was not physical, the assumption of non-physical existence is an unnecessary assumption. (Ideas and concepts are not “objects”.)

My position is not an assumption. Immaterial principles are necessary to explain any change whatsoever (and hence the physical world).

That is not the point.

It is very much the point. You have not justified your position that everything physical is merely the sum of its attributes, let alone that doing is something’s being. Sure, you might get away with that regarding artifacts, but some things have a natural unity of their own. It’s just not what we experience.

There is no method to find out which was the “original” and which was the “copy”, and as such the question “original or copy?” is a meaningless one.

But they’re both artifacts, and both are paintings. In your scenario, I don’t need to tell the difference between two persons but in fact a person and something that behaves very similar, or exactly like a person.

And even if you do construct your scenario correctly, the question is not a meaningless one. Meaninglessness means that the question is unintelligible. What you meant to say was that there wouldn’t be much of a point in asking such a question because you wouldn’t be able to find an answer. Practicality is not the same as truth.

Which is another unsubstantiated position.

For a charitable discussion you could ask the reasons for why I say what I do, instead of assuming it is unsubstantiated.

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