Markus Gabriel is a German philosopher and professor at the University of Bonn.
Date palm compote: What do you think about position of armchair philosophy in contemporary science? What are the relations between traditional philosophy of this kind and popular experimental and neurophilosophy? What is the role of mathematical logic in philosophy, is it useful in philosophical investigations?
Markus Gabriel: The armchair metaphor is not very helpful. On the contrary: it masks the obvious dimension of philosophical conversations. No philosophy has ever been practiced from the airchair if this means that some absolutely socially isolated genius individual sits down and figures out the structure of logical thought by directing noetic rays at it. The contrast between “airmchair” and “experimental” is, this, mostly just polemical. In many cases, insisting on the greatness of experiments or the mind-changing nature of staring at the brain and bowing down to alleged specialists is a form of ideology: it serves just to give voice to the typical self-hatred of philosophers who feel that they add some salt to their otherwise tasteless soup of pure concepts. In general, I have no sympathy for outsourcing philosophy to alleged specialists of any kind. This includes mathematical logic. I love logic to the extent to which it is helpful in philosophy. However, often confusions are created by translating a perfectly intelligible philosophical statement into a much more obscure local dialect of symbolical logic. It can be both useful and misleading to introduce actual mathematical results into philosophy (just think of all the confusions surrounding the set-theoretical paradoxes or Gödel).
Date palm compote: How can you describe your method in philosophy?
Markus Gabriel: Well, I start with a problem which I think is hard to solve. Then I look at the solutions offered both in the history of philosophy and in the more recent literature in order to start a conversation with dead and living philosophers. In this way, one achieves a certain overview over the space of possible solutions. My own method now suggests that I should only really work on a problem if I feel that all available solutions somehow fall short of giving an adequate account of a central concept. In such cases I dig my heel deeper into the structure of a debate in order to see if I have misrepresented it or if I might be after something new.
Date palm compote: Do we still need metaphysic as a super-science? Or the task of philosophy professors now is to invent a new ways of thinking and create new worldviews? Can somebody be a systematic philosopher nowadays or the era of systems ended?
Markus Gabriel: Well, I am a critic of metaphysics, so I have no sympathy for that kind of task. I am against all world-views! The problem is that many scientists are metaphysicians and really practice bad metaphysics or rather heavily overgeneralize some local results. Until recently, this was primarily a problem of physics, now it has spilled over into neuroscience. The idea that we can refute free will by performing experiments in a laboratory to me is outrageously confused. Also, metaphysical views such as that the universe might be a hologram such that we kind of really live in The Matrix and so on are signs of confusions and not reasons to embrace science as science fiction. However, I also think that philosophy should strive for more overview. If “systematic” means realizing that all philosophical concepts somehow hang together precisely because there are overall styles or habits of thinking (logical forms as one used to call them), then I believe that we need much more systematic philosophy and much less specialized investigations into local all too local matters.
Date palm compote: Can we say that the purpose of your philosophy is to solve the religion-science problem and to make people more tolerant?
Markus Gabriel: This is a crucial aspect! The ethico-political imperative behind my activity is precisely to overcome the idea that religion is a form of moronic science and science a form of religion or world-view without God. We need a much better understanding of religion, one that is actually informed by the history and plurality of religions. In philosophy, we are further away from this than, say, the 19th century. There is not only progress, but also substantial regress in philosophy.
Date palm compote: What is In general difference between classical European philosophy and philosophy in XXI century?
Markus Gabriel: I believe that contemporary philosophy really goes beyond any borders (as it should do!). Philosophy is by its very nature universal. However, there are reasons why we think of philosophy as somehow tied to cultures or languages. What we need now is to really figure out to which extent problems of philosophy are a side-effect of the manifold voices of reason. In order to get there, we should start studying actual languages instead of constantly inventing formal languages and practicing formal semantics of English as a paradigm case. I teach philosophy in a variety of languages and it always strikes me how different many of the detailed moves can be a given language suggests you to make. This does not undermine the universality of philosophical thinking, as it rather leads to more inclusion. Classical European philosophy (but also huge chunks of contemporary philosophy!) is based on all sorts of harmful prejudices with respect to people with a variety of upbringings. I see no reason whatsoever to stick to the traditional hegemonies and hierarchies which are typically associated with the word “European philosophy,” but also with the “English-speaking analytical philosophy”.
Date palm compote: Can you briefly describe philosophical situation in nowadays
classical German Idealism widely spread? Is there any, say, hard Hegelians? Germany
Markus Gabriel: Fortunately, it is still an overall expectation that a serious philosopher will know Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Husserl etc. There are also very good contemporary philosophers working on the basis of the assumption that these big figures from the past set the standard (I am thinking of people like Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, Anton Koch, Sebastian Rödl, Thomas Buchheim, Rahel Jaeggi and many others).
Date palm compote: What do you think about the idea of progress in philosophy? Do nowadays thinkers go deeper than Plato or Kant? And do philosophers and historians of philosophy now understand, say, Kant’s theory better then Kant himself?
Markus Gabriel: I think there is lots of progress in philosophy. However, real progress is, as it were, not going deeper but rather becoming more superficial, as it were. We are in a position to understand much better the conceptual stakes of many debates: think of concepts like existence, free will, consciousness, action, knowledge, etc. Yet, all of this comes with a realization that philosophy is now a good science and not a kind of prophecy anymore. As for Kant etc.: I am sure we understand some of his moves better than he did, alright. However, we are far from having surpassed him. Just think of what it would take to write something like the three critiques! Kant would probably not survive a single debate with the best contemporary philosophers. However, his insights and even his arguments are still better than most of what is produced right now. There is progress in philosophy. But in order to make more real progress we need to create ideals of the really big time book again. Otherwise we will be stuck with more or less meaningless papers of 20-50 pages where we clarify possible lines of thought without ever really committing to one. Real progress in philosophy is probably made if we start writing sub specie aeternitatis again. But this is hard for all of us since we have realized that we are definitely moral and that no one has an immortal soul at all.
Date palm compote: I should ask you about Heidegger’s "Black notebooks" story. Can you tell about your role in this story? It seems that a lot of people are deeply thrilled by this.
Markus Gabriel: My role in this is that I learned from reading theses texts that Heidegger was probably just an ordinary Nazi, as Habermas already highlighted back in the fifties. What is shocking is how someone can raise profoundly new questions in philosophy and generate room for radical creativity (just think of all his brillant students and readers!) while at the same time being a stubborn, uninformed, standard evil Nazi racist and antisemite. Evidently, Heidegger was not able to think philosophically about any real issue. These texts will, in my view, amount to a complete destruction of Heidegger’s heritage. We will have to acknowledge that all we thought was there in his texts, was a kind of projection on our side. This is not as bad as it sounds. What people as diverse as like Derrida, Tugendhat or Dreyfus did with Heidegger is still perfectly legitimate, even though it seems as if Heidegger was perfectly honest with his constanst insistance that he is not even doing philosophy but something else (“thinking”).
Date palm compote: What did you think about contemporary philosophy in
Russia before your visit? What’s your opinion
Markus Gabriel: Before, I had only been to
. I just had no particular idea about
what was going in Moscow even though I had briefly met some of the colleagues
from MSU. I was extremely impressed by philosophy at MSU (both by the
professors and the graduate students). St.
Date palm compote: To continue our discussion about truth and fallibilism. Can you formulate your theory of what truth is?
Markus Gabriel: Generally, my sympathies are with minimalism about truth. Now, of course, there are various strands of this, so let me clarify a little bit. There is a connection between truth,
assertion, and belief. In a fairly minimal form it looks something like this: if we assert that
p and thereby express a real belief in p, what we say is that things are the way “p” says they are. This means that there really is a relation between various elements we take to hang together in a certain way. For instance, it is true that
Moscow is a bigger city than . This means that
things hang together in the way expressed by the assertion and the
corresponding belief. In this case, we will be committed to numbers of people,
size of territory, legal concepts governing attribution of “city” to an entity
etc. To claim that something is true just is to claim that something is the
case or that things hang together in a certain way. There is nothing
more (but also nothing less!) to truth. Metaphysical accounts of truth, misrepresent this situation in that they
aim at adding something more substantial to the notion, such as:
correspondence, coherence, mirroring of reality by a mind or what have you. Yet,
adding further relations to relations constitutive of truth does not contribute
anything to a better understanding of truth.
Date palm compote: Can you clarify relations between “existence”, “appearance” and “context” in your definition of existence? Am I right that “appearance” in your theory is a function which collate something existed and its context?
Markus Gabriel: You are right! A context (more precise: a field of sense, which is my account of what contexts are) is such that it opens up a domain where something can make an appearance. To make such an appearance is what it is for something to exist. Appearance, therefore, is not subjective or mental. My use of the term of technical, however, I do not intend to lead people astray: I believe that what Kant, Husserl, or Heidegger were trying to articulate when they talked about “appearances” in my view is exactly what I am characterizing as appearance. It’s just that many philosophers (also in contemporary philosophy of mind) believe that nothing would have appeared had their been no minds. They push appearances into our heads.
Date palm compote: Do you make a difference between “something existed” (an object) and context? Will the thesis “the identity of an object depends on his relation to his Sense and to the other objects in its field” be correct according to you?
Markus Gabriel: The difference between an object and its field(s) is functional, not metaphysical. Fields of sense are also objects depending on the field in question. For instance, my thought that it is raining in
right now is such that rain appears in
it, it is a field of sense where rain can exist (in this case in the way
envisaged by the true proposition my thought aims at). Yet, you can also think
about my thought in a context in which what is at stake is the nature of
thoughts and thereby turn a field of sense (a context) into an object in
another field. London
Date palm compote: In philosophy of mind people make a difference between supervenience, reduction and elimination. Do you reject this distinction?
Markus Gabriel: A lot depends here on how exactly we motivate the distinction and cash out its value and theoretical virtues for the philosophy of mind, of science etc. What I generally do reject is the idea that there is a huge container-like domain out there (nature, cosmos, the universe) which should primarily be viewed as mind- and thoughtless, as a place maybe metaphysically hostile or impenetrable to thought, consciousness etc. Such a metaphysical picture of reality as a whole often is part of the background of questions concerning how minds fit into nature. Yet, rejecting this picture does not per se amount to giving up on the distinction between supervenience, reduction and elimination in that this distinction is a distinction among different kinds of relation that might hold between entities assumed to exist.
Date palm compote: Terminological question. Why the sum of fields of sense is not the world, and hence, your theory is not ideology and world outlook?
Markus Gabriel: Well, there is no sum of all fields of sense. The most sophisticated concept of the world I consider in my work is precisely that of a sum or structured totality (and related views) of fields of sense. The no-world-view claims precisely that such a thing/domain/structure does not satisfy the conditions of its own existence.
Date palm compote: What’s wrong with Kant’s theory of the world as transcendent Ideal?
Markus Gabriel: That is a very long story. But cutting it down to a manageable claim: the problem is that Kant believes in the existence of the world, but turns the world into a “heuristic fiction” (his words!). The world for him does exist, but only in a particular form. He thereby aims at replacing a metaphysically realist picture of the world as totality of theory-, mind- and thought-independent entitities by his transcendental idealist picture of the world as the totality of appearances whose overall unificiation into something that deserves the name of totality is a function of the epistemic setup of thinkers.
Date palm compote: It seems to me that your theory about non-existence of world very similar to Heidegger’s famous paper “Age of World View”. Am I right?
Markus Gabriel: Well, it depends on how to read Heidegger. As I read him now (after carefully studying the Black Notebooks and after learning from Sidonie Kellerer about the Nazi-background the Age of the World View paper), Heidegger is not at all against worldviews! He is just pointing out that any decision to accept a given worldview will be grounded in the history
of the people one belongs to rather than in a genuine cognitive achievement. Heidegger does nowhere deny the existence of the world, but rather gives a specific phenomenological and hermeneutical account of the world broadly in line with Kant’s notion of the world as regulative idea.
Date palm compote: Can you clarify your position about externalism/ internalism debate and the role of theory of the meaning in your philosophy?
Markus Gabriel: For me, central questions of the philosophy of language enter the ontological picture at the interface of epistemology and ontology. In particular, I want to hold on to the idea that a fairly general realism (like the one I am defending) happily commits to the real being external to thought episodes by contributing a significant part of the truth
conditions for any thought about it. We are therefore not able to produce truth, only truth conditions.
Date palm compote: What’s your position on free will problem? What do you feel about hard determinism position?
Markus Gabriel: I just finished writing an entire book on this. Roughly, I defend a form of compatibilism there, which is unorthodox to the extent to which I identify the problem of determinism with the question of the principle of sufficient reason. I think that it is true that whatever happens (including events such as actions) can fully be understood as a function of a set of necessary conditions which are jointly sufficient for the event to actually take place. There is no gap in the order of conditions such that if we know all conditions for something to take place we might still wonder whether it might actually take place. If all conditions are met, the event will take place. This looks like a form of determinism, but one that is supposed to be utterly independent of physical evidence or the modern conception of nature or any such thing. It is way more general (and more deterministic in some sense) than any view involving the idea of a single causal chain running through the universe since the Big Bang. However, even this form of determinism is perfectly compatible with free will if by this term we understand a self-determined course of events, an action. For instance, if I want to fly to
because I was invited I can simply go there. I can determine myself to go there
under many conditions involving actions and decisions by others (including the
existence of countries, airports, visas, universities, history, but also, of
course, anonymous causal chains and laws of nature). Hence, self-determination
is possible and actual. We just need to describe it in the right way, that is,
without invoking the idea that some entity or other would have to ignite a set of
necessary conditions (will it into existence, will it to be actual, as it
were). This is just nonsense. Moscow
Date palm compote: What have you never thought about?
Markus Gabriel: How would I know that without thinking about it while trying to answer your question?