Tag Archives: Goodman

Is ‘real’ really real or just no big deal?

“In giving up the dualism of scheme and world, we don’t give up the world, but re-establish unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics make our sentences and opinions true or false.”  Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 198.

The word ‘real’ is a divider. Just like with God, when your real isn’t my real that’s enough to create the type of zeal to come to blows. We constantly show we don’t need the Gods to start a war. That is a fact. It might seem everyday and familiar to sophisticated modern people like us constantly figuring out what is real and what a mere figment of our fancy. Nevertheless it is a fact: whenever people think they’re right, ‘really’ right, death’s on our doorstep.

So let us examine this little word ‘real’ for what it does to our reality. Let’s see whether it belongs with the familiar family of other infamous four-letter words. To start the inquiry, try to remember the last time you heard somebody saying person X was not a ‘real’ Y. For instance X was in fact a muslim but she wasn’t a ‘real’ muslim in that she did not wear a hijab. Or, X was in fact liberal but he wasn’t a ‘real’ liberal in that he didn’t verbally come out in support of gay marriage. Or, X was in fact born here but he wasn’t a ‘real’ national because he failed to defend his identity. Or, X was indeed a refugee but she wasn’t a ‘real’ refugee in that she did adopt our identity. Or, like in my case, I am an atheist but I am not a ‘real’ atheist because I do not think religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the whole wide world. Like I’m not a ‘real’ autistic because, well, I don’t look like one.

It won’t be too hard to come up with your own examples where something like this was thrown at you or somebody you liked. So follow me in tracking how the word ‘real’ flies like a boomerang hitting the utterer of it smack in its own face. At least when we’re lucky enough it doesn’t hit a very real person in a very real way before it has fully bent back.

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Improper Subsets

“Your occupation is to keep your disguise intact and you succeed in it because your mask is the most puzzling of all; to wit you are nothing, you are constantly only in relation to others, and what you are you are only in virtue of that relation.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, own translation.

One word can make a world of difference. The word that makes the difference in the above quote is the word ‘only’. It is not a problem to be constantly in relation to others. Likewise it is not a problem to be yourself in virtue of that relation. The issue is when you are ‘only’ that. It is simply true that you are at least that and the sad truth is that in atomistic times that simple truth is swiftly swept under the rug. You can deny that what you are you are in virtue of your relation to others but the result of your denial is that you’re nothing because you add nothing; what remains of you is ‘only’ your mechanical relation to others.

It may be a stretch to go from Kierkegaard to mathematics. Still, there’s a sense in which it is improper to call the subset of all your relations a subset of all your relations. Somehow it is an impropriety shining through a most modern sense of self: by taking everything one is taking all that can be taken and this everything just ‘has to make do’. Well, it doesn’t and I will now rant a little on how this failure explains current political issues around identity as well as the intuition that personality-changing medication strikes us as ‘unreal’. It will be a rant that takes the Heisenberg principle as consequence – not cause! -of Kierkegaard’s above use of the word ‘only’. Call me crazy and just read on regardless. Crazy is fun.

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