Is Anything Real?

William G. Thorne and I recently exchanged messages on a philosophical point and something he wrote made me think--a risky thing for a mind like mine. Here are his provocative remarks:

"Reality to me is nothing more than a self-created image, everyone has a different reality and all are correct. Then again they could all be wrong, too… such is the absurdity in it."

Whether or not there is an objective reality outside of our powers of perception, which are necessarily subjective, has long been debated by people who share my love of kicking ideas around.

That physical reality exists seems pretty obvious to our physical senses. We know there is a law of gravity because we always see objects fall down, not up. And if we drop a heavy object on our toes, we can feel nature's enforcement of the law.

Other natural laws govern our survival. We all must breathe oxygen, drink water, consume nutriment, eliminate waste products, etc. To that extent we must concede that reality is there, regardless of what we think of it. It was there before we were born and it will be there after we die.

Is there also a nonphysical reality--we can call it spiritual, metaphysical, imaginary or any other term we wish--with natural laws that we should learn to obey? A growing school of thought called Moral Equivalence denies that such reality exists. Its adherents--influenced by what they think Einstein meant by "all things are relative to one's point of view"--insist that everyone is free to do his own thing and all forms of moral behavior are equal.

Thus capitalism is no better than socialism as an economic system and believers in one shouldn't criticize the other, although capitalism does seem to get an unfair amount of criticism.

We can test that assertion on a more personal level by hypothesizing two people shipwrecked on an island in dire need of nutriment. Should they work together to forage for food? Or should one of them kill and eat the other one?

A relativist would say that both courses of action are morally equal.

But if you are a moral absolutist believing that there is a spiritual reality with natural laws against murder and cannibalism, you should be prepared to present your case convincingly. Particularly if you are the one who is about to be killed and eaten.

I haven't attempted to provide answers here, but only to clarify the search for answers.

Comments will be welcome.