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1 Introduction

1.1 The objective reality...

We are living in a reality that exists objectively outside ourselves. That is the idea almost everybody, in all countries and cultures, is convinced of. It's hard to imagine that the material world, including all human beings, animals and our own body, so explicit present, could not really exist. Many are convinced that, in addition to material reality, also a non-material reality exists, such as the world of God or gods, a spiritual reality and, for example, reincarnation. Such a belief may be so strong and real, that people speak in corresponding terms about the soul which leaves the body as when talking about a brick, a mountain or rainfall.

                                  ... versus subjective experiences

Meanwhile experiencing things in the world is quite subjective. At any time, we only see a small part of reality, distorted, only from our own point of view. If people share their experiences, they appear to have a lot of different images and views on many occasions, nevertheless being complete sure of the truth of their own observations.

How is it possible to conclude from subjective experiences to the existing of an objective reality? What's the idea of an objective existing reality based on? Maybe it's hard to imagine something else because it's so strongly in line with human intuition? Or is it the continuity of the material world what makes us think it's real? After all, the world you experience is disappearing as soon as you fall asleep or lose consciousness, and waking up you find the whole world as present as before.
If one wouldn’t believe in a truly existing world but just in a self-created one, it would be hard to imagine what could cause that continuity. The rather fickle human mind itself would not be able to, what one thinks today can be quite different from yesterday thoughts. The experienced continuity is difficult to imagine without a real, stable world. As mentioned, far most people adhere this point of view, called (philosophical) realism, in contrast to the much less supported idealism.

GalileoHowever, such obvious intuitions are not always reliable. The idea that mankind lives on a flat and stagnant earth with sun, moon, planets and stars rotating above it, which was the general astronomical view for centuries and canonised by the church, has been completely rejected after Galileo - at risk for his life - stated that in fact it was opposite. quineSince ancient times philosophers have raised the ontological question of the real character of reality, in addition to the epistemological question, how to know that reality. However, despite countless studies, reasoning and analyses no agreement has ever been reached, and it is questionable whether that will ever happen, if only because of the different religious views. For true believers God or gods belong to the undisputed reality, while for the atheist those beliefs are just fantasies. And for most people common concepts such as 'democracy', 'kingdom', 'mother love', 'second world war', 'soccer ghost', 'hysteria' and 'hype' are without doubt reality, while philosophers greatly differ on this. William Van Orman Quine for example believed reality is limited to what is studied in physics.

1.2 Does matter exist objectively?

Even for the evidently real existing material world, one can wonder how it's possible to conclude from subjective experiences to the existance of a real, objective world. For example, take a tree. I can see it, feel it, hear the wind blowing through its branches and so forth. These are sensory experiences; my senses transmit the information about that tree to my mind. Moreover, I can think about the tree and, for example, remember how it loses its leaves in autumn. But all those are processes completely taking place in my mind.
Also, other people can inform me about the tree by telling or writing about it. Even a dog can provide me some information when I see him peeing against the tree. However, all this is only indirect information, there is no direct connection between the tree and my mind. Since I´m only aware of the tree in my own consciousness, I can strictly speaking only conclude the tree exists in my consciousness. The question whether there is a tree outside my consciousness is answered positively by my intuition, but can´t be confirmed by the reason. I have to accept that all information about real things only can be obtained by the combination of my senses and the filtering and possibly even deforming effect of the mind in processing the information received by the senses.

In the philosophy of science a solution is sought of the problem of how to obtain objective observations and how to formulate general laws. However, the sciences themselves cannot reveal the deeper nature of reality. Within those sciences only the relationships between observed phenomena can be studied. The concept 'reality' itself is generally accepted in science as something natural, but it doesn't play any role in scientific practice.

1.3 Realism versus idealism

Throughout the centuries, philosophers have been occupied with this question. A distinction has been made between realism and idealism or constructivism. For the realist, the real-world, independent of his thinking, is the measure of things determining the conditions of thought and as such creating an absolute worldview. Opposite of it the idealist believes that man creates his own image of the world, depending on his individual thinking. For the realist, this is unacceptable, if only because it's not clear how people should communicate with each other if everybody creates his own individual subjective reality. In the eyes of a realist idealism leads to relativism, without any common truth. Reality and truth then have a different content for every human being, causing all solid ground sinking away underneath the feet. However, a distinction is made between cultural relativism and cognitive relativism. The first, the idea that different cultures think differently about questions like good and evil, beautiful and ugly, is acceptable to many. But the far-reaching cognitive relativism, which implies that everyone's reality is different, has few followers. The disdain thereabout among most philosophers is strong and in philosophical publications often the fear to 'decay into relativism' can be read, as if it were the Fall itself.

Wiener KreisIn 1920 a Viennese group of philosophers and scientists criticised the at that time popular metaphysics and theory of knowledge and propagated a philosophy of science based on logic and language analysis, which led to the logical positivism. The 'Vienna Circle', as the group was mentioned, disintegrated in the 1930's because of the prosecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. The members fled to England and the United States, as a result of which in the Anglo-Saxon world the analytical philosophy and the philosophy of language got a dominant role.

In the same period, another development occurred in Germany. The philosopher Martin Heidegger gave colleges, drawing large numbers of enthusiastic students and published in 1927 his main work 'Sein und Zeit', a metaphysical ontological study which looked great. After the Second World War, he remained in high regard despite his Nazi past and became popular throughout Western Europe. In France postmodernism, developed as sequel on the German phenomenology, nowadays counts a growing number of followers, in the Aglo-Saxon world as well, as it seems.

The result was a division in philosophy at the end of the twentieth century. Opposite the Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy, European attention was directed to the essence of being, two camps which did not understand each other.

Although I myself mainly focused on Anglo-Saxon philosophy, it seems to me a dead end. The logical analysis of language concepts in which the natural language is seen as inadequate has proved useful for the development of artificial languages for computer use, but I do not think it’s adequate to understand the human mind.WittgensteinThe continental philosophy does not convince me either, with the Anglo-Saxons I experience a lot of European works as a collection of unclear texts, which, though satisfying the feelings of many, cannot be interpreted unambiguously by anyone[1].

Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose early work 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' was based on pure realism, got into relativistic territory in his later, strongly language-oriented work, but did not want or was not able to take the obvious logical next steps.

1.4 Ockham's razor

OckhamTo the English philosopher William of Ockham, who was born in 1288 and died at the black death in 1347 in Munich, whereto he fled to escape persecution by the pope, a principle is attributed well known as ‘Ockham’s razor’: "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity". If you critically analyse the notion of 'reality', how much it responds to everyone's intuitions, you must draw the conclusion, in the sense of Ockham, that it’s a 'multiplication without necessity' which does not provide any meaningful contribution to the understanding of the human mind nor to the understanding of the world beyond. The question of whether or not reality exists just creates confusion, therefore I will let go of the concept ‘reality’.

Philosophers, psychologists and linguists agree the human mind creates concepts that correspond to ideas and, in the opinion of many, also to words. The presence in the mind of concepts such as 'democracy', 'kingdom', 'mother love', 'second world war', 'soccer deception', 'hysteria' and 'hype', whether or not referred to as reality, seems not controversial.

abelardFrom the 11th century, the time of scholasticism, a debate was held about the nature of universals, general concepts as 'red' or 'dog'. In addition to the main streams of realism and nominalism, d'Abélard and others developed an intermediate position in what they called conceptualism. It implies that universals are a product of the human mind, a relativistic view which, if applied to the concept of "God", violates the at the time compulsory belief in an absolute truth. Maybe for this reason, it was suggested that universals, in addition to be products of the mind, at the same time express the objective reality. However, in this way the conceptualism turned out to a be an inconsistent variant of realism and died a silent death.

1.5 A different approach: New Conceptualism

As the title of my book indicates, I am developing a theory characterised as New Conceptualism, describing not only universals but all other notions as concepts, regardless of whether these concepts represent reality and without reference to realism or idealism. I also deviate of the way philosophers in general interpret the notion of ‘concept’. My way of defining leads to a far-reaching form of relativism because a concept is just present in the mind of a single person; in principle it only can be approached from a first-person-perspective, from his own thoughts and experiences.

The question then arises how, in my consciousness, which exists exclusively in myself, I can experience concepts as images of an objective reality. In the elaboration of my theory this problem will prove not to exist: human concepts are not an image of reality, but a part of all concepts is called reality. Either, the concept of reality itself is one of the human concepts. It could be objected that this leads to a pure metaphysical theory, which is correct. But the same applies for realism and any other not empirically based philosophical theory. Even the most objective empirical sciences cannot be justified by universal, objective knowledge.

Another possible problem of relativism, the lack of any solid beacon, which causes the mind to break adrift both ethically and cognitively and so making interpersonal communication impossible, will not occur owing to the way in which ‘concepts’ are defined here.

HumeWittgenstein would completely disagree with this approach and even though both French postmodernism and the thinking of some Anglo-Saxon philosophers enter in a way a relativistic pathway, this theory does, as far as I know, not have a relation to any current philosophical theory and is going straight against some recent realistic developments in philosophy[2]. Consequently, drawing up this theory is a somewhat lonely but fascinating quest in a poor cultivated landscape, at which I'm inspired by a comment from David Hume, from 'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding', paragraph 21:

”It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, to enquire what is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory. This part of philosophy, it is observable, has been little cultivated, either by the ancients or moderns; and therefore our doubts and errors, in the prosecution of so important an enquiry, may be the more excusable; while we march through such difficult paths without any guide or direction. They may even prove useful, by exciting curiosity, and destroying that enquiry. The discovery of defects in the common philosophy, if any such there be, will not, I presume, be a discouragement, but rather an incitement, as is usual, to attempt something more full and satisfactory than has yet been proposed to the public.”

Amsterdam, 2018
Jaap van der Aa

[1] Probably the most famous quote by Heidegger: "The nothing nothings"
[2] For example the  speculative realism, the object-oriented ontology and the new realism of Markus Gabriel and others