copyright Joshua Carl Davis 2010 all rights reserved
“Men have now become so complex and many-sided that they are bound to become dishonest whenever they speak at all, make assertions and try to act in accordance with them.”
The Meaning of Life
Excerpt from Chapter 1: The First Question
What is the meaning of life?
Here is a question I used to ignore as a young philosophy student. I was not sure what the question itself should be taken to mean. It did not seem to have anything to do with the sort of investigations I was interested in. It took years of experience before I found myself asking myself the very same question. It did not seem so meaningless then.
Can there be a more profound question than this one? Even to ask the question implies that one is taking a very broad vantage point, a philosophical vantage point, if you will. One stands outside and casts an eye over one’s whole life experience, the choices one has made on a whim, the decisions one has made over long contemplation, regrets one may have for this or that, the so-called knowledge one has gained, and one is looking for something, and that something one calls the “meaning.”
This book is about the meaning of life, but it addresses it in a particular way, by looking at the related question: What is the nature of reality? This is a distinctly philosophical question, some might say the most difficult of all, and philosophers will recognize this as being the primary question of metaphysics. Thus, I have a rather vague goal, that is, answering the question of the meaning of life, and I have a particular method of achieving this goal, that is, by trying to come to an understanding of metaphysics.
The first step in this will be to go through the history of metaphysics and philosophy to see and assess what the great thinkers of history have to say. As I do so, I will attempt to draw out some of the implications of their ideas on my first question of the meaning of life. This will be accomplished primarily in the first part of this work. In the second part, I will propose some innovative concepts in metaphysics that are part of a system of philosophy that I developed called apprehension theory.
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What is apprehension theory?
The first thing one ought to notice in investigating the nature of existence is what a bizarre sort of question one is asking. Reality itself may not be so simple to understand as mere parts of reality, and why would it be? If I gave you a list of colors, I may have taken you a step closer to that reality you seek, but there may be a million more steps to go. Supposing I gave you such a list of colors, how would they relate to objects such as cups and saucers, and how would they all relate to what I am and what you are? One ought to realize from the outset what a strange question one is asking and what a mess one has gotten into. In a word, one ought not to suppose that one can grasp reality itself in the same way that one can grasp parts of reality. That said, I will try to tell you what I think reality is.
There is such a thing as reality and, following Nishida, I would like to call it pure experience. This implies that fundamentally your experience of reality is the same as reality. I am convinced that this is the correct way of viewing things, and this of course implies that the “scientific” view that reality consists in atoms is incorrect, misleading, or flawed in some way. apprehension theory seeks to establish once and for all pure experience, which is the origin of all descriptive language about reality—of which scientific language is but one kind—as the true reality. My philosophy is thus not a form of materialism. One may be tempted to rather take it as a form of empiricism, but this would be incorrect as well. Empiricism is a doctrine that, in some form or another, places an emphasis on experience as a source of knowledge. Strictly speaking, this is a specific doctrine of metaphysics: reality and pure experience are one and the same.
This is a rough approximation, but an informal description at best because in my own development of apprehension theory there was no use of Nishida’s term “pure experience.” I first began working on apprehension theory in late 1999 and, at the time, I referred to it as a “Philosophy of Apprehension,” and I only began to refer to it as “apprehension theory” later because it was shorter. Despite this, one can glean a bit of insight in contrasting these two terms. A “Philosophy of Apprehension” is a philosophy about a process, an act, the act of “apprehension.” “Apprehension theory,” on the other hand, is a thing, a theory, a series of conclusions. One of the fundamental ideas of apprehension theory is that the two are interchangeable: events can be construed as things, and things can be construed as events. This ought to always be kept in mind in trying to understand the theory.
When I use the verb “to apprehend” or the noun “apprehension,” I do not use them in the traditional way, but in an attempt to describe something new. In traditional usage to “apprehend” something can be taken as the equivalent of understanding, grasping, noticing, or perceiving something. This is akin to what I mean by the act of apprehension, which I can define tentatively as a process that goes on when subject meets object, as, for example, you are now apprehending words that I have written, and I am now, at a different time, apprehending my writing of these words.
Apprehension theory focuses on the very moment that one is conscious of something. When we “dig in” to this moment—so hard to analyze because it is always present—what we find is always the same. These are entities that I call effections. These can be categorized in different ways, but they all have two features in common: they convey some sort of data to us, but they also stand in an emotional relation to us as well. If they conveyed no data to us, they would obviously not be noticed. If they stood in no emotional relation to us they would be like a random square-inch of air between myself and my object, and also would not be noticed.
This is as far as we need to go in order to know how apprehension theory will answer our question of the meaning of life. Only if objects were entirely data could life be considered meaningless. But, since reality is always found compromising with us, as it were, the meaning of life can be seen in every object and every act of perception if we are but attuned to it. It is only when we are blinded by a narrow conceptual view of the world that life can seem meaningless. These are some of the ideas that I hope to explain, develop, and support in the course of this work.
If one wants a definition in philosophical terms, one can say that apprehension theory is a work of metaphysics that gives primacy to a certain type of being: apprehended being; the effection; the point where (or when) subject meets object and no other point; a mid-point, closer to neither subject nor object; in the terminology of Nishida, a philosophy of pure experience. Describing apprehension theory as a mid-point is perhaps most informative, because we do not weigh ourselves towards the object, which could be an example variously of materialism, empiricism, or, most pronouncedly, of positivism. Nor do we lend ourselves to the equally problematic realm of the subject, of which phenomenology may be accused. Thus, apprehension theory is a sort of mid-point, if one wants to take a systematic view of the matter.