Define Reality

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

Is reality a concept that separates objects into those that exist and those that don’t exist?  If so, which concept is it?

Since the world is the set of entities (existents), sorting objects into entities and nonentities (nonexistent) is obviously a fundamental project for each of us.  What is the difference between real objects and unreal objects?

Permit me to suggest an answer.  Let’s begin by clarifying some relevant terms.

Reality is one of the three fundamental concepts.  (The other two are evidence and value.)

The traditional question of ontology [metaphysics] is:  “What kinds of entities are real?”  Different thinkers separate entities into different categories.

The question of proto-ontology is:  “What is an entity?”  Obviously, the proto-ontological question is logically more fundamental than the ontological question:  until you are clear about what an entity is, how could you separate entities into different categories?

The task of proto-ontology is to find some quality F that all entities have and all nonentities lack.  A quality F will be unacceptable if either a real objects lacks F or an unreal object has F.

Since reality is such a fundamental concept, it should not be surprising that only half a dozen candidates for F have been seriously proposed, namely:  unity, matter, mind, perception, power, and identity.

This post is not the place to review the relevant dialectic (argument back and forth).  Instead, let me just mention my belief that there are fatal objections to the first five just listed.  (For more on the dialectic, see my The Concept of Existence and Butchavrov’s Being Qua Being.)  If so, F is identity.  If so, the ontological dictum “no entity without identity” is true.

Let me suggest the power of the reasoning behind that conclusion with a simple example.

Suppose that you enter your bedroom and unexpectedly see a $100 bill on your bed.  Quick:  what’s the first thing you’d do?

You’d rush over to your bed and pick it up, wouldn’t you?

If you were able to pick it up, you would be successful in convincing yourself it was a real $100 bill, that you weren’t just hallucinating by seeing something you wanted to see.  On the other hand, if you weren’t able to pick it up, you surely would conclude that it wasn’t real.

Perceiving is the primary way of picking or singling out objects.  To make the identity judgment ” the object I am seeing is (one and the same as) the object I am touching” is to make the judgment that what appear to be two objects (namely, the visual one and the tactile one) are, in reality, one entity.  [For more on this, see the posts “Define Understanding,” “Define Identity,” “Define Indiscernibility,” and “Define Qualities.”]

In this way, to be an entity is to be multiply singleoutable.  In other words, an entity is two pure objects, which is the same thing apprehended in at least two ways.

Usually entities are indefinitely singleoutable, but all that is required for being an entity is that something be the subject of at least one true identity judgment, in other words, that it be singleoutable twice.

Notice that the view is not that to be an entity is to be multiple singled-out.  Anything multiply singled-out would be an entity, but, presumably, there are many entities in the universe (perhaps small planets in distant galaxies) that are not singled out at all (and never will be).

The domain of entities is a subset of the domain of objects.  The function of the concepts of reality and identity is to reduce the number of objects into a world, a set of entities, that has many fewer members than the domain of pure objects.  Without such a reduction, nothing would be intelligible, able to be understood.  If every object were different from every other object, there could be no conceptualization.

With a clear concept of reality, it is possible to go on and do ontology intelligibly.  We can enquire about the existence of such supposedly different categories of entities as physical objects, events, substances [substrata], activities, numbers, strings (in physics), minds, gods, God, and selves.  (If you are interested, consider a course in ontology.)

There are no criteria of the primary applicability of the concepts of existence and identity; ultimately, such applications are decisions, which are enforced.  This explains why the domain of objects may be understood in different ways, why different conceptual systems are possible.

It is false that there is just one conceptual scheme; obviously, there are many.  Any adequate account of understanding must permit this, and that is one virtue of the account presented in these posts.

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