An adjective can work at least a couple of ways. It can distinguish a particular instance/subset of a group of things (e.g. red car – a specific car that is red) or it can highlight a property that is true of the noun in general (e.g. red Mars – Mars is red). The context and the type of word being used is usually more than sufficient to understand the usage. People may wilfully misunderstand, for example “toxic masculinity” is a term that identifies a particular kind of masculinity but it is often treated as if the term means that masculinity is in all cases toxic.
Which is my roundabout way of introducing Stefan Molyneux’s use of the term “objective reality”. Molyneux is far from alone in using the term ambiguously – know I do and have used it in ways that are less than clear. However, Molyneux is using the term in a book on philosophy and “objective reality” is really important to him. In the same way the book never gets a good grasp on epistemology the book is unsure of its metaphysics. Reality is something he appeals to but not something he knows how to engage with:
objective reality 32
virtual reality 7
simulated reality 4
subjective reality 0
social reality 1
external reality 3
rational reality 2
material reality 4
empirical reality 6 (empirical material reality 2)
physical reality 1
I’ve some sympathy for anybody trying to distinguish between things that sort of like reality and actual reality while contending nothing exists that isn’t made of matter. Even so, if you are going to write a book on philosophy then that’s the task you set yourself. It’s no use saying that sex scenes are too hard to write well if you are selling yourself as an erotic novelist and the same principle is true for metaphysics and writing an overview of philosophy.
The clearest statement Molyneux makes about what he means by reality spins itself in circles:
“In philosophy, the preferred state is truth – in other words, statements that accurately describe the objective facts, properties and processes of empirical material reality. Empirical material reality is objective, rational and universal – a stone is a stone and possesses the properties of a stone everywhere in the universe.”Molyneux, Stefan. Essential Philosophy: How to know what on earth is going on (Kindle Locations 2240-2243). Kindle Edition.
Reality is something Molyneux claims is something we need to take on faith:
“When most people think of the word “faith,” they generally refer to a belief in God – but it is much more accurate to say that we have “faith” in reality. We have faith in ourselves, our existence, memories or history, our relationships, the evidence of our senses, the virtue of our choices – we have few if any real philosophical certainties in these areas. We accept what we have to in order to survive, to get through the day, to find shelter and food – and love, hopefully.”Molyneux, Stefan. Essential Philosophy: How to know what on earth is going on (Kindle Locations 171-176). Kindle Edition.
That seems not unreasonable but later he says the existence of an objective reality is something which can be established:
“In order to value truth, we must first establish the existence of an objective reality. Its existence is easily testable. For instance, I have two realms of experience – one in which impossible things happen, and another in which impossible things do not happen. The first realm is my dreams – or perhaps a very vivid video game. The second is reality. I once had a startling dream wherein an alligator propelled itself backwards a distance of fifty or sixty feet, landing near me. This cannot happen in reality, absent the invention of reptilian jetpacks.”Molyneux, Stefan. Essential Philosophy: How to know what on earth is going on (Kindle Locations 413-419). Kindle Edition.
It’s paragraph like that which induce a strange vertigo in the reader. I’m a sceptical sort but I don’t seriously doubt there’s an objective reality. After reading Molyneux’s argument though, I’m MORE inclined to disbelieve there’s an objective reality.
Also, consider what role “existence” is doing there. “Exist” is a word Molyneux uses but leaves unexamined because he doesn’t examine his own metaphysics.
His grasp of physics isn’t much better than his grasp of metaphysics.
“Objects in the world are consistent for two basic reasons – the first is the existence of atoms, and the second is the existence of stable physical laws. The atoms that make up a feather possess different characteristics than the atoms that make up a bowling ball. The atoms that make up water are different from the atoms that make up arsenic. Atoms are subject to stable physical laws, which result in consistent object behaviour, information about which our senses then transmit to our brains.”Molyneux, Stefan. Essential Philosophy: How to know what on earth is going on (Kindle Locations 941-945). Kindle Edition.
And a not long after:
“Empirical reality is not self-contradictory – at least at the realm of the senses, where philosophy operates. The realm of quantum mechanics is interesting, of course, but does not impact the realm of philosophy, because quantum phenomena cancels out long before we get to the aggregate realm of sense perception.”Molyneux, Stefan. Essential Philosophy: How to know what on earth is going on (Kindle Locations 952-955). Kindle Edition.
I’ll pause to let that paragraph sink in.
Molyneux is doing whatever the opposite of philosophy is. In the past I would have argued that philosophy is a thing that can’t really have an opposite. Yet here we are. Molyneux encountered philosophy once and wasn’t paying attention and yet somehow holds a grudge against it.