The View from Everywhere: Realist Idealism Without God

Few contemporary philosophers take idealism seriously. The View from Everywhere aims to change this, developing a new quasi-Berkeleyan realist idealism, which does not depend upon God to do the metaphysical heavy lifting. This non-theistic idealism requires a fresh approach to the persistence and stability of the physical world. The resulting theory offers unique implications for the nature of perception, and the relationship between our minds and our bodies.

I discussed the book in an interview on MindChat with Philip Goff and Keith Frankish in September 2021. You can watch this (fairly accessible) introduction to my project here.

The rough idea is this: There must be something outside of us that can sustain objects when we are not perceiving them, and account for the regularity of our perceptions. But this needn’t be a god in any recognizable sense. It need not be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, or omniscient. There is no reason it must contain desires, intentions, or beliefs, or even be an agent. What’s crucial for ensuring the persistence and stability of the cake closed in my fridge is simply that there be a unified experience that encompasses all aspects of it. When we peel away all the attributes of God that aren’t essential for these purposes, we’re left with a simpler and more intelligible metaphysical picture. On the resulting view, reality is a vast unity of conscious experiences, that binds together experiences as of every object from every perspective: a “tapestry” woven out of experiential “threads”.

One central goal of the book is to flesh out this idealist metaphysics in a way that lets us make sense of the structure of reality. In Berkeley’s theory, the inner workings of how reality is structured are obscured by God: swept under the rug of God’s unfathomable mind. I aim to give an account of how a multitude of phenomenal perspectives can cohere into a single shared reality. The book’s second main goal is to consider the relationship between our minds and reality, within an idealist framework — offering a unified account of perception, illusion, and hallucination, along with the broader relationship between mind and body. Finally, I show that there are distinctive benefits to embracing idealism — benefits that should lead us to reassess our commitment to the materialist orthodoxy.

Chapter 2 develops my account of the nature of reality, in which reality is like a tapestry, weaving together various experiential “threads” into a vast unity of consciousness. The primary questions this chapter answers are: (i) What sorts of experiences make up the tapestry? And (ii) how are these experiential threads structured so as to form a cohesive unit that functions as our world? (My paper 'Idealism Without God' discusses similar content in considerably less detail.)

Chapter 3 considers the mind-body problem within an idealist framework. I argue that idealists ought to embrace a distinctive form of nonreductive externalism. This chapter also argues that idealism illuminates lessons of general significance to philosophers of mind, including a novel argument against reductionism about consciousness.

Chapter 4 shows how a powerful theory of perception is made available through the conjunction of idealism and non-reductive externalism. According to this theory, our minds literally contain the perceived facets of reality, providing us with robust acquaintance and insight into reality. I argue (contra naïve realism) that this robust acquaintance requires an idealistic understanding of reality. This chapter also develops accounts of illusion and hallucination. (Some of this material is found in 'Idealism Without God' and in 'Get Acquainted With Naïve Idealism'.)

Chapter 5 will consider the nature of space and time, and the compatibility of idealism with existing accounts of natural laws. While scientific investigation reveals structural features of reality, it doesn’t reveal whether we live in a materialist or idealist world. I’ll argue (i) that idealism is compatible with both substantivalism and relationalism. Furthermore, (ii) idealism is compatible with existing theories of natural laws, which remain neutral as to the fundamental nature of reality. My aim is not to offer a novel account of the nature of spacetime or laws, but to illustrate the ways in which thinking about these topics is (and isn’t) affected by idealism. I’ll close by addressing worries about theoretical profligacy.

Chapter 6 highlights the theoretical virtues of my worldview. The theory developed is one in which we are in direct epistemic contact with reality, the world fundamentally is as it appears, and reality’s intrinsic nature is ultimately intelligible. Contrary to naïve realists, I argue that direct acquaintance with reality is only intelligible if reality is fundamentally phenomenal. Thus, I argue that idealism offers a uniquely optimistic account of our place within, and our ability to comprehend, reality. (Some of this material is found in 'Idealism and the Best of All (Subjectively Indistinguishable) Possible Worlds'.)