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Philosophy Paper on “Subjective Materialism”

I was talking to Amethyst from IRC the other day, and after having spoken to a few others mentioning it, I thought it would be interesting to post the Philosophy paper I wrote in a hurry before a lesson a few days ago. It’s interesting to see how your thoughts on a concept develop over only a few weeks though, because reading it now, as I translated it, I noticed several things I wanted changed, or phrased differently. But here it is. Remember that it’s addressing my Philosophy teacher, I just translated the entire thing.

How do you start a paper where we don’t have a question to ask ourselves, excepting what we consider having been worth memorizing from the Philosophy course since we started it? Well, I suppose I should start by saying that it’s been mixed feelings. Personally, I think that it’s more important to teach how to think philosophically, rather than reading up on what Greek people 2500 years ago thought, which I understand is partly your opinion as well. So far we have after all had quite a few interesting discussions, to the extent you can have them in a group as big as ours. 

The way I am, however makes me spend more time studying how and what the other people in the class think about the philosophies we discuss, and the various questions we’ve asked ourselves. Many of the questions man has asked himself through all ages don’t seem that popular any more. And here we actually get into what we’ve discussed. Plato’s Objective Idealism is definitely not a popular thought these days, even though I am personally quite interested in the thought. I am definitely an Idealist, but at the same time a huge sceptic to most things that come from my own brain. In my opinion, subjective idealism, among other things, is more common than what people in our class expressed. In the spirit of Berkeley, or at least based on his thoughts, people today don’t think of a common world that we can all experience, but instead truth is up to everyone to judge for themselves. Just this question has been recurring during our lessons: What do we actually know? 

But to return to Berkeley, I’d like to say that like Social Darwinism was a perversion of Darwin’s own thoughts, the Subjective Idealism that exists today in the Postmodern society (if I get to generalize a bit) is quite different from the idea Berkeley once proposed. Because while Berkeley claimed that us humans can’t perceive the objective reality, the thing itself (to use Kantian terminology), he still maintained that God was there as the single person who could perceive the objective reality as it was. Even though we haven’t discussed his faith much, it at least seemed like it was through God we could get true objective knowledge. This is the point where modern Subjective Idealism differs. Today, there’s no other God than the one that exists in each person’s own private reality, as a cosmic teddy bear, to quote Freud. As such, it’s not possible for us to live in any kind of universal or common reality. Instead, we’re our own Gods, and everything we perceive is always the best truth there is to get. Because if there is no other God than either ourselves or the one we make up, there couldn’t possibly be anyone else than myself who could decide what’s true or false, right? 

But even though Idealism is common these days there is still a lot of the old Modernist faith in science and Humanism. Because those that haven’t embraced New Age or other private religious movements the last few decades, there must be a more scientific alternative to faith, right? Perhaps most prominently in Sweden, there are many who, while they maintain that every person decides their own truth, refuse to accept concepts like a soul or a higher truth than the meaning I can give the things I perceive. Now we get to the concept I asked about one of the last lessons we had. Is there such a concept as “Subjective Materialism”? I think that despite it not being a generally accepted term within philosophy, it’s a pretty good was of describing the quite confused relationship many people have today with faith and science. Man today wants to be his own God, and thus decide his own reality. At the same time, we don’t want to believe in such concepts as a soul or anything other than what science can prove, and thus the world that we perceive or choose to perceive is without exceptions material. Then a conflict happens between the material, precise and logical world science wants to paint and the mindset where each person is their own God in their own little world. And though we say that we believe that Man himself can understand the reality we live in, many choose not to think much at all, as there obviously isn’t much more to discover other than what “the scientists” can prove for us. 

To summarise, it is this view on the truth that many have today that has been the thing on my mind during and after our lessons in Philosophy. I hope that in the future, we’ll get more philosophical questions to work with, and I’m looking forward to write more papers like this one! 

Peter Berntsson, SPSK05

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