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The Enigma Of The Universe : Refutation on Common-sense Grounds

Published: 27.11.2014

Now, if we scan this view, we find that such a view cannot be accepted even on the basis of common sense or general scientific facts. For we know that there exists in the universe a number of such substances which do not form the object of our sensory perception. Bertrand Russell explains this by giving an illustration: “There are, in addition to my own experience and other people also, events, which no one experiences, for example, the furniture of my bed room when I am asleep and it is pitch dark.”[1] It does not mean that the furniture of the bed room becomes unreal at that time. A similar example is given by G. E. Moore, who once accused idealists of holding that trains have wheels only while they are in station, on the ground that passengers cannot see the wheels while they remain in the train. Common sense refuses to believe that the wheels suddenly spring into being whenever you look, but do not bother to exist when no one is inspecting them.[2] At another place, refuting the empiricism, Russell writes: “Common sense holds that many things which occur are not “experienced”, for instance, events on the invisible side of the moon. Berkeley and Hegel, for different reasons, both denied this, and maintained that what is not experienced is nothing. Their arguments are now held by most philosophers to be invalid - rightly, in my opinion. If we are to adhere to the view that the “stuff” of the world is “experience”, we shall find it necessary to invent elaborate and implausible explanations of what we mean by such things as the invisible side of the moon. And unless we are able to infer things not experienced from things experienced, we shall have difficulty in finding grounds for belief in the existence of anything except ourselves. James, it is true, denies this, but his reasons are not very convincing.

“What do we mean by ‘experienced’?” The best way to find an answer is to ask, ‘What is the difference between an event which is not experienced and one which is?’ Rain seen or felt to be falling is experienced, but rain falling in the desert where there is no living thing is not experienced. Thus we arrive at our first point: there is no experience except where there is life. But experience is not co-extensive with life. Many things happen to me which I do not notice: these I can hardly be said to experience. Clearly I experience whatever I remember, but some things which I do not explicitly remember may have set up habits which still persist. The burnt child fears the fire, even if he has no recollection of the occasion on which he was burnt. I think, we may say that an event is ‘experienced’ when it sets up a habit. (Memory is one kind of habit). Broadly speaking, habits are only set up in living organisms. A burnt poker does not fear the fire, however often it is made red-hot. On common sense grounds, therefore, we shall say that ‘experience’ is not co-extensive with “stuff” of the world. I do not myself see any valid reason for departing from common sense on this point.”[3]

 Empiricism is refuted on common-sense grounds in this statement. Thus, if only the things or events which are experienced by some living being were real, there would not exist anything in the places uninhabited by any living being.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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  1. Berkeley
  2. Bertrand Russell
  3. Fear
  4. Russell
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