In 2010 I completed my master thesis in philosophy (see here for an addendum to it). In this thesis I develop a theory of knowledge that comes very close to what the French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux calls 'strong correlationism' (without me knowing this term at that time; I didn't even know who Meillassoux was). Yesterday I entered into a debate at Felix & Sofie with the American philosopher Graham Harman (who, like Meillassoux, rejects strong correlationism). My opening statement to the debat is available below.
"First of all I would like to thank Felix & Sofie for the invitation to participate in tonight’s debate. The question of tonight’s debate is one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: Does reality exist? Well, in my master thesis I make a distinction between the-world-for-us and the-world-in-itself. The-world-for-us is the world as implied by the human point of view. It is the world as it is thought and perceived by us humans. The-world-in-itself is ultimate reality. The-world-in-itself is the world as it exists on and for itself in an absolute sense. It is the absolute.
Now, the-world-in-itself is inaccessible for us. It is impossible for us to get outside ourselves in order to compare the world as it is ‘in itself’ to the world as it is ‘for us’. We do not have access to such an absolute stance. After all, we are trapped in our human condition. We can only access the world from our human viewpoint. It is impossible for us to step outside our relation to the in-itself. Therefore we cannot know anything that is beyond this relationship. To put it differently, we cannot think or perceive something while abstracting from the fact that it is still us who are thinking or perceiving it. Indeed, if we think or perceive anything as true about the in-itself, then what we think or perceive is still a human thought or human experience. All our knowledge is qualified as human knowledge. This is inevitable. We can’t get rid of this qualification of our knowledge. Absolute knowledge is unreachable.
So the-world-in-itself is unknowable because our knowledge is always relative to the human conditions of knowledge. We cannot have access to the-world-in-itself since we cannot have knowledge of anything independent of our human way of thinking and perceiving.
Is this Kantianism? No, for contrary to Kantianism, even the claim that there exist objects outside us that ground or produce our experiences, is only justified as a claim about how the world is for us. So Kant’s claim that there are Dinge-an-sich is only warranted as a world-for-us-claim. In fact, even the distinction between the-world-for-us and the-world-in-itself is only justified as a claim about how the world is for us. For again, everything we think applies to the-world-for-us. So, the-world-for-us is the ultimate unsurpassable horizon of all our understanding. It is for us the holistic all-inclusive. We are always already in it. Hence, it is the subject of all our predications. Is this idealism? No. Idealism claims to know the in-itself. According to idealism the in-itself is consciousness or mind and nothing exists outside it. But this claim is not warranted because we cannot know the in-itself. Is it than realism? No, for idealism might be true. Again, we know nothing at all about the in-itself; so also not whether idealism is false.
Should this all worry us? Not at all! For within the context of the world-for-us we can justify many, many claims. Examples include, but are not limited to, logical propositions such as the principle of non-contradiction, mathematical statements such as the theorems of set theory, ordinary claims (such that I exist, that you exist and are not merely a product of my thought, that the glass of water in front of me exists extra-mentally as well, that Paris is the capital of France, etc.), and moral claims, such as that it is wrong to torture the innocent. In fact the whole project of metaphysics can still be carried out within the context of the world-for-us, as long as we realize that all our claims, metaphysical and non-metaphysical, are about the for-us and cannot be justified as claims about the in-itself. And this is fine. For what else could we as human beings wish for than to justify claims about how the world is for us? Indeed, what else could we as human beings wish for than to be justified as human beings? After all, we are human beings, not gods. The in-itself is inaccessible. That is what we should concede to the skeptic. But we can still find truth: objective universal human truth within the-world-for-us. And for us humans, that should be sufficient."
Note: On 6 April I translated the Dutch parts of this post into English