Home // The Metaphysical Apple, A Group Exercise in a Class Lesson

The Metaphysical Apple, A Group Exercise in a Class Lesson


Introduction to Philosophy

Dr. Peter Krey

May 8th 2003

The Metaphysical Apple



Let’s get into groups of three or four persons and choose one of the philosophers here listed and describe the way that this philosopher would look at the apple. Use the concepts that this philosopher would use, and describe how this philosopher would see the reality of the apple.

For this exercise, the teacher will have to have a bag of apples to hand out to the students. It is a nice reversal from the student bringing an apple for the teacher!

Then give them the example of the metaphysical description of the apple according to Plato. The descriptions of several of the other philosophers are here worked out and can be compared to what the students worked out in their groups. This exercise was used at the end of the introduction course after these philosophers had been studied.


The Platonic Apple


this apple is slightly more real than a picture or a reflection of this apple, but this visible apple is considerably less real than the concept or the idea of the apple and the eternal universal form of the apple, which is the most real.

A reflection of the apple is the mere conjecture of our mind, a poor copy of this physical apple, which is visible to the senses, and is thus a changing opinion of belief.

On the other hand we can know the concept of the apple, and the apple we see, participates more or less perfectly in its eternal universal form. The apple changes in the realm of our opinion, but the eternal unchanging form of the apple always helps us recognize visible sensual apples that participate in the intelligible form of apples in the world of eternal universal forms above the visible world.


The Aristotelian Apple

There is not an ideal apple separate from the natural apple, but the natural apple is all that there is and the form of the apple is dynamic and inside the apple. The apple shares its form with all other apples, but its matter is distinct, and makes it a particular apple. It is an apple because of its form; it is this apple because of its matter. The form and the matter of the apple come together in its substance and that form, without which it would no longer be an apple, is its essence (which is related to its function of reproducing apple trees). Those forms the apple shares with other substances are its accidents, e.g., (for example) color, size, and weight, a peal, a stem, etc. Different fruit can also have stems, peals, the same color, etc.

The essence of the apple cannot be separated from its substance, but it is possible to perform the purely intellectual act of abstracting the essence from the substance. And then the apple can be taken apart or analyzed and put back together in our minds, but we could not do it to the apple without destroying it.

The form of the apple is also its operating cause and the apple is a self contained system striving in four ways to its ends or its goals or purposes: the teleology of the apple. The material cause of the apple is the stuff out of which nature made it; the formal cause is the form of the apple tree it strives to be; the efficient cause all the watering, nutrients of the earth, carbon-dioxide needed to redesign the apple into a tree; and the final cause to reproduce apple trees or apples to eat. Thus its form moves from the potential apple to the actual apple tree.


The Cartesian Apple

The idea of the apple is as real as the physical apple, but the idea of the apple is non-spatial while the body of the apple extends into the external world and has size, shape, weight and location. God is separate and infinite substance. (Descartes now forgets God.) In the finite substance of the mind, the apple is a thought and in the finite substance of the body, the apple extends into the external physical world in modes of existence. All the perceived qualities of the apple are in the mind: its color (red, green and yellow), its sweetness, the smacking sound of one’s bite into the apple. Meanwhile in the physical body the apple extends into its essential attributes which are measurable, mathematical qualities located in the external world. Here the apple is a cold, colorless, odorless, soundless, and tasteless piece of matter in motion.

The apple is thus in two distinct substances composed of mind and body and how the mind, which has no space or location can move and relate to the physical apple, is a puzzle.


The Spinozan Apple

According to Spinoza, it was self-contradictory to distinguish the finite substance of the apple from infinite substance that Descartes defined as God, because if substance is defined as something that exists, needing nothing else in order to exist, then Spinoza realized that substance itself was God and the Infinite necessarily existed in such a way. Thus the apple is divine and its physical nature is one aspect of God and its idea is just another. The mind and body of the apple are finite attributes of God, whose nature extends physically into such modes as size, shape, location, etc., which are modifications of God’s attributes.

It is a pantheistic apple because an apple is part of nature and nature equals God. Now the reality of the apple can be viewed from two human perspectives, through the attribute of the mind or the attribute of the body. The true philosopher will transcend these human perspectives and view the apple from the perspective of reality itself, which Spinoza called, sub specie aeternitatis (from the point of view of eternity).



The Lockean Apple

All this rational speculation about apples has to go, because they are predicated on innate ideas, which do not exist in the mind. It is just commonsense that the mind is a blank slate, a tabula rasa, and it merely experiences a particular apple through the senses and further particular things are the only things that exist. Thus through the senses the mind forms simple ideas of the apple. It is red, green and yellow, and from this primary data, the mind combines the simple ideas into more complex ones: the apple is red, spherical, ripe or unripe, sour or sweet. Even abstractions of the apple are just particular ideas that stand for collections of ideas. The primary qualities of the apple are in the physical apple itself: its extension, size, shape, and location. Secondary qualities are often attributed to the apple, but in fact they really exist only in the mind (color, sounds, and tastes), even though they are caused by real features in the external apple. The apple in the mind just duplicates the external apple like a photograph. But the real apple is out there and its primary qualities all come together in something, which Locke ends up calling a substance. Now a substance is what Descartes found to be unobservable, so he called it an innate idea of the mind. Locke ruled out innate ideas, so one cannot have an idea of it at all, but just a supposition of we know not what supporting all the qualities of the apple and capable of producing the simple ideas in us.



The Berkeleyan Apple

If secondary qualities exist only in the mind, so do primary ones. Let’s see you prove to me otherwise. Neither you nor I have a vantage-point outside of our minds to be able to tell what is inside and outside. There is no external apple. An apple can exist only in the mind. There is no external world because it all merely exists in our perception and without intelligent perception, nothing exists. Granted, that the perception of God makes the apple real, and it does not disappear when we no longer look at it, but the physical nature of the apple is merely a more concentrated and intense thought of the Creator God.

Locke was not consistent enough in his empiricism. He made a distinction between the primary and the secondary qualities of the apple. He cannot see the primary qualities of the apple independent of the mind; they depend completely on the secondary qualities. So the primary qualities are merely interpretations of the secondary qualities. Therefore primary qualities also exist only in the mind. Q.E.D. The apple cannot exist except in our mind. Being is really perceiving and thus the mystery of the substance of the apple is explained. Our minds or better, the mind of God produces the apple and God’s thinking ideas is the continuous creation we exist in. The apple does not disappear if we stop looking at it, but if God stops dreaming everything up, and wakes up, for example, poof! – it will not only be the apple that disappears!



The Kantian Apple

The Berkleyan apple shows what foolishness consistent empiricism brings about. The Cartesian apple shows what mistakes are made by rationalists, whose reasoning is not anchored in sense perceptions. The thought of the apple without the data of the senses is empty; the sense perceptions of the apple without the concept of the apple is blind. Our perception does not have to conform to the apple, but the apple has to conform to our perception. We can not see the apple as it is in itself. Our mind has an a priori structure that organizes the perception of the apple in the internal condition of time and the external one of space. The concepts of pure reason enlighten our understanding of the representations of sensation making the apple appear to us as a manifold, a phenomenon, a thing. We cannot perceive the apple outside of the structure of our mind as a thing in itself. We cannot see the noumenal apple. It is beyond our knowledge. But the apple as an appearance is real enough as the external world also is. For Berkeley to refute the existence of the apple in space outside of us is false or impossible. He cannot be refuted if space is considered a property of the apple in itself, because then space is a non-thing. But the inner experience of the apple is only possible if it is mediated by an outer experience. According to Kant it is a fact that the existence of an outer apple is required for the possibility of a determinate consciousness of the apple. So, feel free. You will not be eating a pure form, a thought, an essence, an apple split into mind and body, a phenomenon, just an apple. Eat it.


The Scientific Description of an Apple

Added April 7th, 2018

The apple is a seed bearing fruit, called malus pumila or malus domestica in binomial nomenclature. The stem or stalk on top of the apple is called the pedicel and the tuft at the bottom of the apple is the calyx, i.e., the set of petals or sepals left from the blossoms. The male organ in the calyx is called the stamen. In science each organ of the anatomy of the apple is named, making precise distinctions between its parts possible. The core of the apple contains an ovary, in which there are seeds or pips, by which the apple reproduces its species. The ovary is surrounded by a fleshy, edible pulp called in one nomenclature, the hypanthium or perianth and in another, (the same pulp can be called) the mesocarp, which is between the endocarp: the core of the apple itself or the inner skin surrounding the core, and the exocarp, which is the outer skin, the plant tissue covering the apple.

In the classification or taxonomy of the apple, it is in the kingdom of plants, the clades (in the ancestral groups) of Angiosperms, Eudicots, and Rosids; then in the order of Rosales; family, Rosaceae; genus, Malus and species M. pumila.

How does the scientific description of an apple compare with the different philosophical descriptions?




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