The Enigma Of The Universe ► 1 ►What is the Universe? ► (A) Nature Of Reality: Idealism And Realism ► 2. Idealism of the Scientists ► Sir A.S. Eddington

Posted: 19.08.2014

We may make a beginning by considering the views of the famous idealist, Sir A.S. Eddington. He calls the philosophy of science "selective subjectivism", which, according to him, is quite different from Berkeleian subjectivism. In his own words, "Selective subjectivism" which is the modern scientific philosophy, has little affinity with Berkeleian subjectivism, which if I understand rightly, denies all objectivity to the external world. In our view the physical universe is neither wholly subjective nor wholly objective-nor a simple mixture of subjective and objective entities or attributes".[1]

We find that Eddington gives prominence to the spiritual reality in his philosophy. He believes that the experience of each individual is primarily the changing content of his consciousness. It is a succession of tableaux accompanied by sensory feelings of various kinds, memories, abstract thoughts, emotions, etc..[2] Thus, according to Eddington, mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference. Eddington considers "consciousness" or "mind" as the ultimate reality. The epistemological reason given by him is-that if every element of experience was utterly unlike every other element of experience, there would be no subject-matter either for science or philosophy. Progress depends on recognizing a common factor in two elements of experience.[3] Further, according to Eddington, physics is based on the fact that there are resemblances between two elements of experience which have the same subject-the consciousness.[4]

We have already said that Eddington does not deny the existence of objective reality. He clearly says, "I, therefore, take it as axiomatic that the external world must have objective content."5 But Eddington denies the objectivity of the physical or material world. He asserts that consciousness is the only objective reality. He has expressed this thus. "Our philosophy has led to the view that insofar as we, can separate the subjective and objective elements in our experience, the subjective is to be identified with the physical and the objective with the conscious and spiritual aspects of experience."[5]

Now, because the objective reality is different from the physical world, physics can never know it. The laws of physics are the laws of subjective world. Eddington states in one of the conclusions, "This means that the fundamental laws and constants of physics are wholly subjective, being the mark of the observer's sensory and intellectual equipment on the knowledge obtained through such equipment; for we could not have this kind of a priori knowledge of laws governing an objective universe."[6] He has stressed the same fact at various places in his philosophical writings. At one place he writes, "But the assertion that the methods of physics cannot reveal absolute (objective) truth or even fragments of absolute truth, concedes my main point that the knowledge obtained by them is wholly subjective."[7]

According to Eddington, the above view is not his own philosophical conclusion, but it is accepted by the scientific philosophy. He, therefore, points out: "Keeping to physics, the commonly accepted scientific philosophy is that it is not concerned with the discovery of absolute truth about the external world, and its laws are not fragments of absolute truth about the external world, or, as I have put it, they are not laws of the objective world."[8] Thus, it becomes clear that in his view, the philosophy of science considers the physical universe as a subjective reality.

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