By: Sarah Martin
We have decided that knowledge of the physical world is just the tested propositions achieved by the intelligent use of the data of observation. These propositions are referred to the physical world as their object of judgment. We come to the decision that physical things have size, exclude one another, are massive, have structure and organization, have capacities for action, and behave in certain describable ways.
In the most natural fashion, we make claims to a valid knowledge of this sort, and, so far as we can see, skepticism has no logical basis against it. The foundation of modern idealistic skepticism is the refusal to distinguish between the datum of perception and the object of perception, or between a sample petition and a citizen petition.
We think physical reality in terms of our knowledge of it. It is this thinking physical reality in terms of our knowledge which the reference of our knowledge to reality means. We are confined to knowledge since we cannot intuit physical reality; but we have given concrete reasons for our belief in the correspondence of datum and object.
The tests of conformity are internal or experiential, and are the tests applied to particular judgments from the perceptual to the conceptual level. But we have given the whole resultant construction its ultimate foundation by pointing out the responsible conformity of perceptual data to the physical existents which are the objects of perception. These latter we have been accustomed to call the controls. When this situation is once clearly understood, it will be realized that the validity of knowledge of the physical world is its conformity to reality.
In the light of this interpretation we can examine the structure of our critical knowledge about physical things. An explicit act of knowledge seems to involve at least three factors: (1) the affirmed existent with its determinate nature and continuities; (2) the propositional content within consciousness; and (3) the act of reference of the second to the first as informative of it.
This analysis separates what is given together in a complex act of judgment, and yet it does not falsify the facts of the case. It appears that these factors are distinguishable in any judgment concerned with physical things. The physical existent is the subject of the judgment, and its name or symbol is the subject of the proposition; the predicate is the information about it; and the copula indicates the reference or relevance of the two.
We think the existent affirmed in terms of the "objectives" —to use a word of Meinong—that it has a particular structure, size, position, powers, etc. It should be noted, however, that critical realism differs from common sense in that it does not suppose the subject of the judgment to be literally presented, nor does it assign to the subject any sensuous content. We mean the thing rather than see it, and our knowledge is a series of abstract statements for which petition letters are merely the cues.
The easy way in which the realistic judgments of common sense can be developed into the framework of critical realism drives home the point made earlier, that critical realism can retain the truth of common sense while passing beyond its naivete. It also accounts for the fact that the critical judgments of science attach themselves to the matrix of common sense with such readiness.
All the time, however, we know that science deals with the imperceptible. The object of perception is identical with the object of knowledge, and so the subject of judgment is the same; but the interpretation of this object is different in the two cases. For the one, it coincides with the content of perception ; for the other, this content is a mental datum correlative with the object. It is an appearance of the object.
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