Having tried to follow the recent discussions of various realisms, I have always wondered about the sort of a picture of reality that one would have were one to agree with a realist position, even if a very speculative (and entertaining) one – Harman does a good job of describing his fictive reality, yet still one wonders what it would be like to actually live in one. I think my main (philosophical) concern has always been with the peculiar distinction between “is” and “ought” both in a metaphysical and ethical sense: metaphysically, if I am using this term correctly, of course, the distinction could be the one between “actual” and “potential”; ethically, it is a distinction between “I do” and “I ought to do” – at least this is what it seems like to me. Before I cite some passages from Kant (as I usually do), I’d like to summarize my issues, if you’re interested in a specific text I am thinking of, you can read on and see if my reading of it makes sense.
As I think about a philosophical view that would claim that there is no significant philosophical problem when it comes to the distinction between the way we perceive things and the way they are in themselves, i.e. the distinction itself is affirmed (I’m yet to see a realist position that completely disregards the fact that it is humans who perceive objects) but it is not presented as a major issue, I wonder if there is any possibility of prescription in such a view of reality. In other words, if we ask an old question – why should I be moral? – then the issue here is not simply of moral motivation (self-interest, pleasure, utility etc etc), but of the possibility of any sort of moral necessity, in fact, if we take Kant’s moral theory as a model here, then any necessity, period. Does reason prescribe at all, or does it simply describe? It seems to me that in the world of things in themselves (assuming that our perception of them coincides perfectly with the way they are in themselves), of things without any input from human understanding, there can never be any sort of a consistent ethical or political theory. That is, no knowledge of what is right, only a competition of opinions. Continue reading