Raphaël Millière

Ingarden's Combinatorial Analysis of The Realism-Idealism Controversy


The Controversy over the Existence of the World (henceforth Controversy) is the magnum opus of Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden. Despite the renewed interest for Ingarden’s pioneering ontological work within analytic philosophy, little attention has been dedicated to Controversy’s main goal, clearly indicated by the very title of the book: finding a solution to the centuries-old philosophical controversy about the ontological status of the external world. There are at least three reasons for this relative indifference. First, even at the time when the book was published, the Controversy was no longer seen as a serious polemical topic, whether it was disqualified as an archaic metaphysical pseudo-problem, or taken to be the last remnant of an antiscientific approach to philosophy culminating in idealism and relativism. Second, Ingarden’s reasoning on the matter is highly complex, at times misleading, and even occasionally faulty. Finally, his analysis is not only incomplete – Controversy being unfinished – but also arguably aporetic. One may wonder, then, why it is still worth excavating this mammoth treatise to study an issue apparently no longer relevant to contemporary philosophy. Aside from historical and exegetical purposes, which are of course very interesting in their own right, Ingarden’s treatment of the Controversy remains one of the most detailed and ambitious ontological undertakings of the twentieth century. Not only does it lay out an incredibly detailed map of possible solutions to the Controversy, but it also tries to show why the latter is a genuine and fundamental problem that owes its hasty disqualification to various oversimplifications over the course of the history of philosophy. In this chapter, I first give an overview of Ingarden’s method, which relies mainly on a combinatorial analysis. Then, I summarize his examination of possible solutions to the Controversy, and determine which ones can be ruled out on ontological grounds. Finally, I explain why this ambitious project ultimately leads to a theoretical impasse, leaving Ingarden unable to come up with a definitive solution to the Controversy – regardless of the fact that the book is unfinished. I argue that his analysis of the problem yields a more modest but nonetheless valuable result.