What Is a Stone?
For the longest time, I struggled with Descartes’s question: what if I have been deceived by an evil spirit all my life? At first glance, the repercussions are obvious: I have been deceived, and my world is a lie. But then what of it that is a lie?
You see, at the moment, I am writing while sitting on a chair behind my table. But I am told that the chair and the table do not exist and that my senses have been deceived by an evil spirit. But what does this deception consist of? Well, it consists of the sensation of a chair and a table. But how can a sensation lie?
A lie is an intention, and even then, to construct a good lie, there has to be some truth in it: that I am currently indeed seeing a veil. It is a lie because I see that the duck is not a duck, and it turns out to be a cleverly painted doll. But is it a lie that what I am seeing resembles a duck? Or, to take it further, is it a lie that I see anything at all? Certainly not. I see something, and that something turns out not to be what I think it is. But the fact remains that I see the veil, and the veil i.e., the sensation itself is true: I see a doll that resembles a duck from a distance.
But then, what does this entail? It is that a sensation cannot be mistaken; it is the judgement that is in the wrong here. Our sensation is nothing more than just a transfer of information; in itself, it does nothing. I see the doll — it means my eyes register the shape and colour of the doll. It is incapable of judgement, and thus cannot be in the right nor in the wrong. But then surely, if the evil spirit is deceitful, this means that the world is a lie in the sense that my sensation does not show me the world’s true nature. The stone that appears to be hard is not real; it is not a stone. There is not such a thing as a stone, and thus, while the sensation does not lie, it is still a lie.
But is that so? When I touch a stone, it is hard, and it appears to have such and such properties. It is opaque, it sinks in water, and when I throw it, it returns to the ground due to gravity. So in what sense do you speak of its “true nature”? What is this “true nature” that you are talking about? That it is not a stone? But what is a stone, if not what I can hold in my hand, that I can interact with? What is a stone, if not a part of the world I live in? “But surely,” I hear you say, “you cannot be that naive. After all, if the stone happens to be nothing but a lie, a simulation, one might say, that is inputted into your senses, then the stone is not a stone”. But is it not an actual stone? If a stone is a part of the world that I interact with, then the world, this so-called “deception,” is also real in that it has a “metaphysical property” that is different from the “metaphysical property” that you speak of. A stone in my world is a stone — it is hard, it sinks in water, and if I throw it into the air, it will not travel very far. It is a stone; it is the stone that I speak of. Does it matter whether this stone is a creation of an evil spirit or not? Does it matter if it happens not to be like you prefer? And besides, while you speak of deception, what is this “true world” that you are talking about? What makes that world “truer” than this world? What gives a certain type of “metaphysical property” a priority over any other type of “metaphysical property”? When you speak of Descartes’s evil spirit’s deception, you’re essentially saying that you prefer a particular type of “property” over the other. But is this of any importance?
Mind you, this is not to dissolve everything into empiricism and idealism. After all, I still tie the so-called-“truth” of the stone to what comes from beyond our senses. But still, what is this “metaphysical true stone” that you are talking about, if not the stone that I am currently holding in my hand?