Do you think this world is the real world? Or do you believe that there is an existence more real than our own?

Pre-Socratic philosophers

1. Choose one of the elements defended by the pre-Socratic
philosophers (water, fire, numbers, and so on) and argue for it
as well as you can, preferably with a friend or a few friends who
will try to prove you wrong. For example, if you choose fire,
an immediate objection would be that fire could not possibly
be the essential element in cold objects—a block of ice, for
example. A reply might be that cold objects simply contain
much less fire than hot things. You might also argue that not
all fire manifests itself as flame, and soon, no doubt, you will
find yourself moving into more modern-day talk about energy
instead of fire as such. The point of the exercise is (1) to see
how very much alive we can still make these ancient theories
in our own terms and (2) to show how any theory, if it has only
the slightest initial plausibility, can be defended, at least to some
extent, if only you are clever enough to figure out how to answer
the various objections presented to you and modify your theory
to meet them.
2. Describe the Form of some ordinary objects around you, in
accordance with Plato’s theory. How do you know whether an
object is defined by one Form or another? What can you say about
the Form of an ordinary object, in the fashion of Plato’s discussion
of the Form of triangle? If an object changes, does it change Forms
as well? Can an object have conflicting Forms? Can we understand
our recognition of objects without some conception of Forms to
explain how it is that we recognize them?
3. Categories in philosophy often seem too rigid or too simple-
minded to classify the complexity of our views, but perhaps the
following checklist will help you understand your own position
in the history of philosophy:
a. Are you a materialist? An immaterialist?
Do you believe that ultimate reality can be discovered by
Do you believe that ultimate reality is a matter of religious
b. What are the basic entities in your ontology? What is most
c. Are you a monist? A pluralist?
If you are a pluralist, what is the connection between the
different entities in your ontology? Rank them in order of
their relative reality, or explain their relationship.
Chapter 4–The Nature of Reality142
d. Are the basic entities in your ontology eternal? If not, how
did they come into being?
e. Are you an idealist? (Do you believe that the basic entities of
your ontology are dependent on the existence of minds?)
f. How do you explain the existence of (or how do you deny
the existence of) the following? Minds, numbers, God, tables
and chairs, the law of gravity, evil, moral principles, dreams,
Santa Claus.
g. Is the experience of seeing a green flash nothing other than
having a certain brain event go on inside your skull? Why
would someone want to say that? What problems are there
with that suggestion?
h. Could a computer have a sense of humor? What would it
have to do to have one? What would it have to do to convince
you that it had one? (Would it be enough to print out “Ha
Ha” and shake around a bit?)
i. Does the universe have a purpose? (Sometimes, “Why is
there something rather than nothing?”)
j. What does the word real mean to you? Using your definition,
run once again through the items in Opening Question 1
and rate them for their reality in your view.
k. Do you think this world is the real world? Or do you
believe that there is an existence more real than our own?

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