Appearance Without Reality
Is it possible for everything to be an appearance? Might there be nothing in the world but appearances? Granted, there may be many appearances for which there is no corresponding reality (of the kind that we normally suppose), but could this be universally true? Is the pure-appearance world a possible world? I think not, for two reasons. First, appearances must be appearances to someone: there cannot be appearances that float free of a subject for whom they are appearances. Nor can a subject be an appearance of a subject—for who is that appearance an appearance to? Second, appearances must have causes outside themselves: they cannot be self-causing or entirely uncaused. Not all realities need to have a cause (say, the first cause), but appearances cannot come to exist causelessly. This is because they must be appearances of something, and that something cannot itself be an appearance. The logical form of appearance statements is: “A is an appearance of x to y”. That is the structure of appearance. So every appearance has a non-appearance cause. An appearance may be caused by an external object in the standard way, or it may be caused by the state of a brain existing in a vat, or it may be caused by God’s magic touch: but it has to be caused by something. The epistemological problem of appearance is that we don’t know for certain what the nature of the cause is—hence skepticism. We know that there has to be some cause, but we don’t know what cause. We know that our visual experiences, for example, are caused by something, and we may even have an exhaustive list of all the possible causes, but we cannot definitively select a particular item from the list. The appearances underdetermine their specific cause, but they necessarily have a cause—and that cause must be sufficient to bring about the appearances with their specific character. But appearances are not of such a nature that their cause can be read off them. That’s the trouble with appearances qua appearances. Still, we know that they must have some sort of non-appearance cause; so the world cannot consist solely of appearances. There must be a reality that appears and a reality that appearances appear to—there cannot be appearances alone. It cannot be appearances all the way down.