I have been looking at the implications of various philosophical approaches for an understanding of the nature of education.
When thinking about an existential approach to education it seems to me that the emphasis must be on individual and personal understanding in learning, and education as a means to finding personal meaning and understanding. If this is the case, then I am finding it difficult to reconcile this idea with the possibility of the curriculum ever being prescribed in any way and not simply stemming from the individual interests of the learner. I guess my question therefore is what kinds of learning would follow from an existential perspective for education?
It seems to me that there are all sorts of problems lurking in the conclusions you are tempted to draw concerning the implications of "existential approach" for education. It is very difficult to know quite where to begin and quite how to understand your ideas about this.
In the first place, whether or not one takes an existentialist view of things, it is, in a sense, trivially true that education emphasises "individual and personal understanding in learning" because it is trivially individual persons that understand and/ or learn anything (or not, as the case may be). So I feel that you you must have something more significant in mind here, perhaps hinted at when you talk about education as a means to finding "personal meaning and understanding". But this is even more problematic. I have a feeling that meanings are generally fairly public sorts of things and I would have hoped that existentialism did not entail some sort of solipsistic conception of meaning/ understanding and if it does then I would take that as a prima facie case for rejecting existentialism in the first place even before considering whether it has anything useful to say about education.
The point is that I think you need to spell out in more detail what you take to be the significance of "personal" meaning and understanding. Why the epithet "personal"? What are you really setting it up in opposition to? "Public" meaning and understanding? If so, why? and what is wrong, from the allegedly existentialist point of view, with public meaning and understanding? or "interpersonal" meaning and understanding? or whatever else you have in mind?
But perhaps the nub of my concerns about what you say is that you seem to feel that the alleged existentialist notions of "finding personal meaning and understanding" (whatever this amounts to) are totally incompatible with a student's ever being challenged to confront and come to grips with something that does not happen to "stem from his individual interests". We need to explain a bit more fully why these are incompatible.
Presumably you take the student himself as the final arbiter of his own "personal interests"? So be it. That is, no doubt, a truism. And in that case "his individual interests" means "what he happens to find interesting at some particular time". Is he also the only judge of what "stems" from his personal interests? Even if that is the case it still needs to be considered whether the purpose of a state funded education system is to provide cash handouts to enable individuals to go seeking their "personal meanings and understandings".
The thought or possibility that I am asking you to consider here is a rather difficult one but it amounts to this: Consider whether there might just be some things in life that are SO important that, for precisely that reason, they should not be set up as "objectives" of the education system at all! And I am beginning to think that your notion of "personal meaning and understanding" might be just such a thing!
Anyway, whether or not "personal meaning and understanding" is a sensible and meaningful objective for an education system to have, you still have at least two major problems:
(1) You have to argue more fully why it should be that ANY element (even partial) of prescription in a curriculum MUST inevitably preclude achieving "personal meaning and understanding" or MUST, at best, lead to learning and understanding that is somehow not "personal" or wrong or bad in some way ... and you will need to spell out exactly what that is, and why it is so.
[I suspect that lurking here are some partially digested existentialist notions of "authenticity" and "freedom". These will have to be spelt out properly. Also in this context it might be worth giving some consideration to the accusation that existentialism had managed to replace the hard notion of truth with the soft notion of authenticity.]
(2) Conversely you will need to explain why only engaging with what I personally find interesting, or deem to stem from what I personally find interesting, should lead to my finding ANY "personal meaning and understanding" at all let alone be the ONLY way to such an achievement.
My thought here is that, on the contrary, if this "finding personal meaning and understanding" is to be worth a fig then it needs to be built upon a person's ability to respond to whatever the world might throw at him. After all, if I am not mistaken, existentialists have had an awful lot to say about "facticity", human "thrown-ness" into a world one did not create, and "authentic engagement" with the world and others, and such like. The notion that I am only being authentic if I follow only my own "personal interests" (even if, and it is a very big if, these can be distinguished from navel-gazing, or other forms of self-indulgence) seems to me run counter to all these existentialist notions.
Sartre (and others) have had a lot to say about "viscosity" and "boredom" and such like (manifestations of the facticity of existence in the world) ... but I did not think that they conceived of simply pursuing one's "individual interests" as an "authentic" way of coming to terms with these and achieving "personal meaning and understanding"! though I stand open to correction on this point but if I am wrong then I think it behoves someone else to explain to me the difference between existentialism and hedonism.
So then, quite contrary to your interpretation, it might be the case that real authentic personal meaning and under- standing might ONLY be achieved or achievable via those encounters with the world and others where one HAS TO to face up to challenges precisely NOT of one's own making or choosing! And so an existentialist view of things might in fact demand that the education system present students with challenges over and above their own personal individual interests. That is to say, an existentialist philosophy might demand some measure at least, of prescription in the curriculum!
Now another approach I think it is important that you consider is this: try not to do all you thinking about your problem just at the level of vast and woolly generalisations about "individual interest", "personal meaning and understanding", etc. You can go round in circles for ever and ever doing that, redefining things, re-interpreting them this way and that to serve whatever purpose you want ... rather come down to earth & take a specific example of some minimal but real measure of prescription in some curriculum (and not just a "straw man" case!) and try to prove, if you can, in specific detail why it must, in itself and as such, inevitably fail to lead to ANY "individual learning" or finding of "personal meaning and understanding", however you understand or define these. I think this might be rather difficult.
Robert de Villiers
How do I compile or write a philosophy?
What are the morals and ethics of humans interfering in natural evolution?
Oboy, you've really pressed one of my buttons here. Just what does "natural" mean? Anything non-human? Anything non-rational? Anything non-mechanical? Let's see... non-human. That would mean that absolutely anything a human being does, in any circumstance, is "unnatural". No, too extreme.
Ok... non-rational is "natural"? But then we'd have to say that some actions of the higher apes, at least, are "unnatural", since they can reason, to some extent. Also, it would mean that anything we do, think, say, etc., based at all on rational thought is "unnatural". That would pretty much eliminate everything we do, except when we're driven entirely by emotion, not really a very frequent occurrence, I'd say. Not that we're particularly rational, mind you... just that it does enter, a teeny bit, into virtually everything we do or think.
Mechanical? Well, then we'd have to eliminate lots of tool-using animals; not just apes, but creatures like ants, wasps, birds, etc., etc.
Now what? Well, how about this... when humans do something which alters an ecosystem, they're being unnatural. Well, I'm afraid that won't work either... there are innumerable examples of animals doing the same, from deer eating themselves into starvation, to predators exhausting the supply of prey and dying, to huge populations of buffalo turning prairies into dustbowls... and so forth.
Building cities? What about termite mounds, columns of driver ants (and their colonies), prairie dog colonies stretching for literally hundreds of miles (yes, before humans).
Ok... polluting the planet...? Sorry, but we breathe the oxygen which was originally generated by anaerobic bacteria, several hundred million years ago (or maybe as long as a billion, I can't remember), which turned the methane atmosphere of this planet into something like what we breathe today. Highly unnatural, those little critters.
Human beings cannot do anything unnatural. We are creatures evolved on this planet, like all the others. What we do is part of what has arisen from causes responsible for everything else. We can destroy the planet, just as any animal can destroy its environs, and as many have, or we can live in "harmony", i.e., in some kind of equilibrium with it, like some lucky animals... if we manage to figure out how before it's too late.
Now. Evolution. Tell me, just what does "evolution" mean? Roughly, adaptation because of random genetic changes making our phenotypes (the result of genetic read-out) more able to reproduce, for whatever reason. So let's see... Parasites living inside creatures are unnatural, since their hosts have "interfered" by providing an "unnatural" environment? Ants which keep aphids for the sugar they secrete are unnatural, then, because the ants have interfered with the aphids "natural" evolution?
Dogs? Do you have a pet dog or cat, or goldfish? Do I need to elaborate? What about bread... you like to eat bread, right? How do you think the wheat got so tasty, hardy, fast-growing, etc... yes, by selective breeding. Rice? Corn? Should I go on? We've "interfered" in the genetics, the "natural" evolution, of all those and many, many more. Did we consider the ecological effects, when we domesticated the horse? When we irrigate land to raise rice to eat, and destroy huge habitats, forcing adaptation of all sorts of creatures, including ourselves? Yes, of course we should consider the effects of breeding different plants, animals, etc... and we should have been for the last few hundred thousand years. But we haven't, have we. But then, neither did the ants when they domesticated the aphid.
So now everyone is talking about "genetic engineering". We now have yet another technique for doing what we've been doing all along. And it will let us do it more efficiently, and perhaps make more profound changes. Yes, indeed. We are entering the century of biological engineering, like it or not. I for one think it's wonderful... it can give us more control over our lives and our environment, it can feed the hungry, it can help make work easier. And we will learn things. Or it can destroy us... just as our overpopulation, our weapons, our diseases, can, just as... hey, you name it.
Whatever the ethics of "interfering" in evolution are, it's certainly not something we've just begun to do. I for one would prefer the comfort of a warm house in the winter rather than being huddled in a cave... but that implies massive interference in the environment in which I'm living, even if all I'm doing is living in a log cabin burning wood I've cut (not to mention that to have as little as an axe with a metal blade implies all sorts of technology... mining, smelting, etc., etc.). And that interference implies adaptation in that environment on the part of plants, animals... and other people.
No, I'm afraid that there is no boundary between any actions we take, especially now, and actions which "interfere". So the morality of interfering is just exactly the same as the morality of any actions at all.
Steven Ravett Brown
How do we determine what we believe to be true?
If we aren't able to coin a definite definition for what is truth then how is one to answer such a question as it would be based on mere speculation.
I hope you will pardon me for not regurgitating 5000 years worth of speculation on "what is truth?" and how one might frame its definition so as to have an unassailable position on it. Instead, what I want to suggest to you as a precept is this: It is part of the bargain engaged in by life forms and I mean all life forms from bacteria upwards that the rules of existence may be rewritten. In the material realm, truth is an easy concept: yeah or nay; there or not there etc. It is the clear-cut answer to an unambiguous question. It is only natural, I suppose, that we humans would wish for this kind of security, but it is purchased at a price ultimately nothing less than giving up life for it. So the bargain of which I spoke is this: that we enjoy the flexibility, plasticity, adaptivity of multi-choice answers to all the question posed by the universe; and that we ask our questions in the same spirit. And this way we retain options for development, for evolution, for growth in short, for all the wonderful things that make forms of life different from forms of nonlife; but this inevitably means that the concept of truth must change as we ascend the spiral towards greater spiritual and intellectual awareness. More knowledge means a greater range of truths; and if we continue to explore the realms of being in the same manner as we have done in the past, we will discover not just new facts, new sciences, but new truths as well.
In short, the whole notion of just one truth reflects (with apologies to many a great thinker) a view of life that is a bit simplistic. And I don't think this is either a limitation or an invitation for anyone to aver that 'therefore' we cannot distinguish truth from falsehood. We humans are complex beings; we can accommodate the idea of many truths, because in the end there is a term or concept which (as it were) does embrace them all, although obviously I would class it as a group concept: so let's call it Truthfulness. If you accept this, then you can see how it also has a single opposite, namely Falsehood. I won't go into this, but if you think a little about this opposition, you will then find that an answer of the kind you asked is implicit here: for although there are many truth and many ways of being truthful, there is only one way of being false.
Well, most of the time we don't determine anything by means of procedures that can be spelt out unless we are involved in science and experiment. In perceptual case, we check again. Sometimes we ask others.
The logical positivists, early in the century, thought that we could hold that something is true if we can verify it. This means that statements of value, those of ethics, aesthetics and many other evaluations cannot be true. On this view, only facts can be true. But facts change. A fact for the philosopher Hume was an impression, whereas a modern day fact might hold at the unobservable quantum level, and beyond that there may be phenomena that we cannot verify at all.
Some people, in particular, these days, Bernard Williams, believe that there is an absolute conception truth, aimed at by physicists, which is free from perspective and a relative truth which is relative to the capacities of a being and the latter is the most we can achieve. But this doesn't really capture what we mean by "true" when this is limited by our incapacity to know the absolute. For sure, the meaning of truth is not "mere speculation". It is only because that we "know" what it means that we can talk about it and use the concept to distinguish between absolute and relative truth. The concept might not be definite, but (the Wittgensteinian view) is that to know what a concept means is to be able to use it. Philosophers have tried to define it in terms of assertibility conditions, verification, correspondence to states of affairs, or conceptual coherence, but nothing has been particularly conclusive. Lack of determinacy is a problem with a lot of our concepts and I think it is too much to expect.
And it seems that truth might have different senses. When we talk of sentences being true we are looking at semantic truth and tend towards a theory of correspondence to facts because of the connection of sentences to logic through grammar, but the value problem arises, and a problem our beliefs about fictional sentences. When we look at scientific truth, we may be more concerned with coherence of a theory within our conceptual scheme.
We seek to justify beliefs in terms of reasons for holding them rather than their truth. But truth is that towards which we aim.
Relativists determine something to be true by reducing it to basic statements. Such a truth exists only in a specific system of thought.
Absolutists BELIEVE truth to be absolute. They attach the value TRUE to basic statements and further use the same logic methods as relativists. In their eyes there exists only one system. That comes close to your "definite definition". It is a point of view found in many religions. They all have their own commandments (basic statements), and in some cases followers are ready to die for it.
There is no big difference between relativists and absolutists, only the first ones realize that they DEFINED some things to be TRUE, and consequently that there are as many truths as definitions.
In an article in a recent issue of Time magazine, Dr Sanjay Gupta discussed what would be the outcome "If Everyone Were on Prozac", in which he noted that some people/ psychiatrists "fear that a nation on Prozac would miss the inherent value of struggle and strife".
Do we have any logical grounds for believing that such a positive value is indeed inherent in struggle and strife? Would an idyllic Eden be an inappropriate goal to seek?
An interesting question: does pure pleasure have inherent value? Here are a couple of scenarios to consider: 1) We develop the ability to put an electrode into one's pleasure center (we can do this), and indefinitely support them (we're close) with IV drip, etc., while they do nothing, think nothing, and feel nothing but intense pleasure; 2) we turn the planet into a garden, with more than enough food growing everywhere, and no need to do anything to satisfy basic needs beyond picking it off the nearest bush... and the food is loaded with tranquilizers and euphoric drugs (well, possible in some future). Ok? You like these? Do you think one or the other of these is what humanity should aim for? If you leave the ability to think, you're going to have striving, at least by some... so you've got to turn it off, one way or another. But hey, why think, if you've got food, shelter, sex, and (minimal, since we don't think) entertainment? Bread and circuses, like the Romans, right?
You could ask what the difference is between humanity like that and no humanity at all, just blades of grass... I don't see one. I'm not going to present an ethical system with some other basis, although I easily could. You think of one. I could say that in order to make the scenarios above, or something like them, work, you'd have to change the basic nature of humanity... and then the question becomes: to what do you think it should be changed, and why?
But to give you two direct answers: yes, and yes. Here's one simple reason: we can't predict the future. If we have a world of contented cattle, they'll need keepers, right? Because something is bound to happen to the system, eventually. Well, who will be the keepers? Robots? Could you trust them a) to do a good job, in the long run... be flexible enough to cope with the unexpected, to not rust away, etc., and b) to not just abandon humanity?
Steven Ravett Brown
Why should freedom not be sacrificed for happiness?
Why is it that children in our schools are not permitted to read the Bible and men in our prisons can?
Because our country (I'm referring here to the US, but the same arguments hold in Britain) is not a theocracy; there is separation of church and state (or so the Constitution says).
Because children are, by definition, not responsible adults and so cannot separate fact from superstition.
Because schools are not prisons.
Because if they were "permitted to read" (which actually means: "taught to believe", doesn't it?) one bible, why not all? The Christian bible, which I assume you are referring to, is only one of many. Why should we prefer that one?
Because, since this is primarily a Christian country, children would not merely "read" the Christian bible, they would be (and are) subjected to pressure to believe it. Why should they be Christians and not Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists... etc., all religions with millions of followers just as zealous and certain of the correctness of their faiths as Christians? Not to mention the hundreds of faiths with less than, say, hundreds of millions of followers... in Utah, for example, they would be (and are) pressured to be Mormons, and to "read" (i.e., to believe) the Book of Mormon, their bible. Should they be "permitted" to do so in state-sponsored schools?
If you want your child to be schooled in one of the multitudes of faiths presently existing, send that child to the appropriate religious school; there are thousands of them. There they will learn that the particular set of beliefs taught in that school is the only correct one, and that all the rest of humanity, from the dawn of time to the present, is and has been utterly wrong and misguided in their beliefs, and is most likely burning in some version of hell. Am I exaggerating, even the smallest bit? No, I don't think so. Just tune in to any religious broadcast, any faith, and check it out.
Steven Ravett Brown
But they are so permitted. But not in our schools (or at any rate) not as truths.
Are you there?
Although the principle of Ockham's razor (that the simpler answer is often better than a complicated one, provided it is not oversimplified) has been highly influential in the field of science, why has this approach not been so highly regarded in philosophy itself?
It is quite highly regarded. You can find references to it in every field of philosophy. However, it is, basically, just another assertion which must be backed up with argument in any particular case. To put it another way, although the sciences may employ it, they do not do so, as a rule, explicitly. That is, a physicist, faced with two explanations, will not choose the "simplest" one (assuming the physicist even has some clear criteria for making that judgment) merely for that reason. It must have data, etc., backing it up; and being supported more clearly by the data weighs much more heavily than simplicity. Now, once you've got two or more rivals for an explanation, all of which seem to do an equally good job, then you can fall back on Occam's Razor to make a tentative choice between them. But all the romanticism of "beauty", "simplicity", and so forth that everyone holds forth on so eloquently is very post hoc... if you look at the literature, you'll find that cutting-edge work in virtually any field is messy, difficult, and complex... and data-driven.
Steven Ravett Brown
The question is not what philosophers think of the use of Occam's razor in the empirical sciences, but rather its application to philosophical theories. Here is an extreme view:
If a sign is useless, it is meaningless. That is the point of Occam's maxim (L. Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 3.327).
Occam's maxim is, of course, not an arbitrary rule, nor one that is justified by its success in practice: its point is that unnecessary units in a sign-language mean nothing (ibid. 5.47321).
Taking Wittgenstein at his word, it is inconceivable that there could be two alternative philosophical theories, one of which was preferred to the other on the grounds of positing the fewest entities, or making the fewest assumptions. If we are faced with such a decision, all that can mean is that we haven't thought things through thoroughly enough. If we did, we would realize that one of the two alternatives must be meaningless.
My view? I think I can see why Wittgenstein says this. But I can't agree with it. There are many occasions when a philosophers sense of judgement is called for. Perhaps because 'thinking things through' to the bitter end is an impossible ideal. In practice, the philosopher makes the decision to go with one theory rather than an alternative theory on similar grounds to those which the scientist appeals to.
I am not saying (as some philosophers would like to say) that this shows that philosophy is just another species of theory making, alongside chemistry, physics etc.
I am trying to get clear about Davidson's scheme/ content distinction as a generalisation of the analytic/ synthetic distinction. Is this anything like it?
The world (from Wittgenstein's Tractatus) consists of simple objects, these can be linked to form 'states of affairs', the obtaining of a state of affairs is a fact.
Mind: A representation of a state of affairs is a picture a proposition is such a 'logical' picture. In the picture names go proxy for objects. Any proposition therefore must be analysable into names each of which stands for a simple object. Simple objects must exist to stop an infinite regress.
Analytic/ synthetic distinction. An analytic sentence is true by meaning, a synthetic one is true by data, to say a proposition is tautological is to say it is analytic, which is to say it contains two parts that 'mean the same thing', again which is to say it can be analysable into parts that represent the same simple objects? (this is the part I am particularly perplexed about, what do 'meanings' do? connect the representations in virtue of projecting out into the world? how else could two representations mean the same thing?
Scheme/ content distinction. In 'immediate awareness' there exists 'the given' names? These are synthesised into propositions, this synthesis is done according to a 'scheme', the appropriate rules for combining them (in analytic philosophy the rules of logic implicit in language). The rules are 'in the mind', they are what the mind contributes, this is why analytic truths are indubitable.
First I'll forget your interpretation, because trying to understand it could influence mine. In "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" Davidson treats the idea that there could be differing conceptual schemes (i.e. in fact different 'truths', sometimes called conceptual relativism). By different conceptual schemes Davidson means basically different points of view on the same thing. He concludes that two people have different conceptual schemes if they speak languages that cannot be translated in one another. But because he considers translatability as a criterion of any language, he speaks about partial failure of translation.
First question: how could different conceptual schemes be possible, i.e. different truths exist? Two elements must be present:
1. The relation seen between objects is essentially different in the two 'compared' languages (if experiences of the speakers of those languages don't share the same logic or rationality).
2. Failure of translation (in fact result of 1)
This is a notion from mathematical logic. In Formal Languages such different schemes are treated. In my opinion general philosophy could speed up quite a bit by looking more at mathematical logic.
Davidson says: "Something is a language, and associated with a conceptual scheme, whether we can translate it or not, if it stands in a certain relation (predicting, organizing, facing, or fitting) to experience. Thus, the CHALLENGE is to say what the relation is and be clearer about the entities related."
The difference of two logic schemes that are essentially different is found in two ways of explaining. There is no real comparing, only trying to find out the different explanations for the same object or action. Something is said to be an acceptable conceptual scheme or theory if it fits sensory evidence. Thus in the case of failure of translatability there clearly are different sensory experiences, maybe incomparable senses. Here we have two different truths.
Just for the sake of being able of considering translatability as part of any language Davidson speaks about partial failure of translation. In fact two different truths means total failure of translation. Languages can only be translated into one another IF they share the same truth (or conceptual scheme). That is my own interpretation, but this statement seems difficult to really contradict.
Translating includes that there is a third language, being (at least) the sum of the two translated ones. Often not all statements can be translated from one language into another (their truths partly differ). That's why partial translatability comes in handy, but the essence behind it remains that the failure is caused by different truths. That means that translatability is NOT a trait of every pair of 2 languages (i.e. if you want to call any form of verbal communication language). Space travel could make us meet beings that we don't understand.
You have to distinguish interpretation and translation. Between two languages always interpretation is possible by means of a third language that contains both. To keep it simple: in language 1 a statement is "dogs bite cats" and possibly in 2 "sometimes 4 legged animals don't understand each other". Clearly in language 1 in this statement dog are unequal to cats or A=/=B, and A and B relate by biting. In language 2 in this statement A and B equal and relate by misunderstanding. So it's better too speak about interpretation instead of translation. For such an interpretation a third language is used. It contains both language 1 and 2. Between 1 and 2 there is total failure of translation. But language 3 offers space for interpretation.
In quantum-theory you have particles described by for instance 75% of time equal to A and 25% equal to B. What if in a third language B is understood in a third language C, but not A? This situation resembles schizophrenia were someone part of the time is in an unknown world. Then there is no translation or interpretation
Back to your questions:
So both languages can consist of analytic sentences (based on a kind of basic logic). Both too can have synthetic ones (Based on experience. In an acceptable scheme this fits basic logic too.)
In any language many sentences are similar (or tautological if they can be reduced to the same basic sentence).
Scheme / content distinction. The scheme consists of a couple of basic propositions. The content of any sentence in theory is reducible to such basic propositions, but because of tautologies they can become very complex.
The mind only USES schemes, so it only plays an active role as interpreter.
We have come to find that matter is comprised of molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, nuclei, subatomic particles, nano thingys, etc. We have known of the existence of planets, moon and stars and galaxies for much longer.
If we assume we are 'middle of the road', speaking of size, intelligence, development, why are we finding more smaller things than larger things?
Does it really matter? Why is this issue important? How about this... we're finding smaller things right now because it's easier to find bigger things; you just look up into the sky and there they are, right? But for smaller you need to devise very expensive, complicated, instruments based on extremely complex physical theories.
Steven Ravett Brown
It appears that the Ancient Greek atomists wondered about this too.
Here are two tantalizing fragments quoted by Kirk, Raven and Schofield (The Presocratic Philosophers 2nd. edn. Cambridge University Press p. 416):
Leucippus posited an infinite number of elements in perpetual motion the atoms and held that the number of their shapes was infinite, on the ground that nothing is such rather than such (Simplicius, DK 67 A 8).
To this extent they (sc. Epicurus and Democritus) differed, that one supposed that all atoms were very small, and on that account imperceptible; the other, Democritus, that there are some atoms that are very large (Dionysius, DK 68 A 43).
Arguments that appeal to the idea that, nothing is such rather than such (i.e. in the absence of an adequate reason why alternative A should obtain rather than B) seem to have been very popular with the Presocratic philosophers. KRS comment wryly on the second quote, "No doubt he would have explained that very large atoms are to be found only in parts of space distant from our universe" (ibid. P. 416).
Why are contemporary cosmologists not tempted to make a similar claim? Because, unlike Leucippus and Democritus (and, later, Epicurus) who reasoned out their atomist philosophies their using logic alone, cosmologists today seek the best explanation of the available evidence.
I'm a self-read philosophy student. Is relativism a legitimate philosophy, or is it too general a term? The way I see it, everything is relative, including absolute truths.
You put questions like this to a philosopher strictly at your own risk! You might find that it can be an issue apt to raise quite a blast of passion, and in fact debate on it (very passionate!) goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. And truly I can't do better than to recommend some reading to you: Plato's Protagoras, quite a wonderful (and surprisingly humorous) dialogue that you can read in little more than an hour. Here Socrates, in debate with Protagoras (the man who uttered the famous words: "Man is the measure of all things") shows why relativism is not a sound position to hold; and then you might feel inspired to do a piece of your own trying to prove the contrary. That's important. After all, you might be accused of merely holding to an unsubstantial opinion.
On that score, let me give you my opinion, which is that for you or anyone to say "The way I see it, everything is relative" is not really enough; you need at least to add "relative TO . . ." and define a little better what you mean by "everything". And when you do, you may discover that this ubiquitous relativity is punctuated by a surprisingly high degree of hierarchical structure among humans, in nature, in physics, indeed everywhere you look. What I mean is this: that "dependence on" is such a universal phenomenon that it is likely to cure you very quickly of the relativity position. Because once something depends, relativity ends within that relationship. Anyway, happy hunting!
I don't know what a "legitimate" philosophy is. But relativism seems to be one. The first thing to ask about a relativist philosophy is "relative to what"? Moral relativism is the doctrine that all moral beliefs are relative to some particular society. The denial of relativism is not absolutism, but universalism. Universalism is the view that there are (in the case of moral truths) universal moral truths: That is to say, moral truths (maybe thou shalt not murder) true in all societies and cultures. According to the moral relativist, what morally true in one society or culture (e.g. cannibalism is wrong in Western Society) is false in other (cannibalistic) societies.
As you suggest relativism can be used in a general way or with regards to specific issues. Used in a general way however I think it is wrong for the following reason.
The main problem I see with relativism is that if it is true that everything is relative, then the proposition that everything is relative is not an absolute truth but a relative truth. Now if truth is relative to the individual (or whatever) then the truth that everything is relative on analysis becomes:
Everything is relative for me.
But this cannot be an absolute truth so you get:
Everything is relative for me, for me.
Again this can't be absolute and so a vicious regress is generated. On the other hand if the proposition that everything is relative is an absolute truth then it makes itself false. The position then that everything is relative leads either to a vicious regress, or to self refutation, as such it can be seen to be a weak position.
On the other hand relativism when applied to other issues seems entirely plausible, for example whether or not Marmite is nice, Elvis is pleasing, or a picture is beautiful. Hope this helps.
Look, I don't mean to be insulting, but you need some disciplined instruction in philosophy. You just can't ask a question like the first, and follow it with that second comment. They don't work together, and that you didn't see that indicates to me that you need to find some coursework, a mentor, etc., in this field. You can ask whether "relativism" is "legitimate"... after you've defined your terms. I could guess at what "relativism" means from various writings, but "legitimate"? What could that possibly mean? True? Consistent? Applicable to something (what?)? Employed by people? I don't have the slightest idea of what it could mean, and depending on that, an answer could be just about anything. Then you ask whether "it" is too general a term. What, "relativism"? "Legitimate"? "Philosophy"? They're all too general.
Then you follow with a contradiction. Why, just to be contentious? What purpose does that serve? If you're really serious, then you have extremely non-standard meanings for "relative" and "absolute" (assuming you've thought it through sufficiently to have reasonably well-defined meanings), and again, how can one answer a question when the terms in which it's put are undefined, and seem contradictory? You want absolute? Ok, try walking through the nearest wall. Whoops, now that's pretty absolute, isn't it.
So my take on the above is that you need, as I say, some criticism, and some discipline. You might try the program that Geoffrey K. runs from this site.
Steven Ravett Brown
My name is Yevgenia. I am 17 and live in Kazakhstan. I would like to talk with people who think about world, life, future and happiness. Because I can't find such people here, in my town. I have wonderful parents. My dad all of his life wants to become philosopher, but can't find people understanding him. I don't know what I must do. All people around me think about food, love and so on. They only live no they only exist. I want to be useful for world. When I look in people's eyes I see emptiness. They look like robots. I feel pain. I think that anybody would be absolutely happy only then when all will be happy. I mean each man, each animal and finally each particle. And I hope people will do that, but in the future. We must only help them: don't kill, be good, love all around us. That idea of my dad. He told me and I understood. But I can't find anybody who thinks so too. I'm young and I must do something. I don't know what? Maybe you can help me. I want to do all possible in order to be good. Please I need to know What are you thinking about? Tell me your ideas. I hope you help me with your words.
P.S. I don't know English very well. And it's difficult explain my thinking in my language (Russian), all the more in English. And I'm sorry for my mistakes.
Goodbye. I wait for your letter.
Hello, Yevgenia! Thank you for your wonderful question. (And your English, I think, is quite good. It is certainly better than my Russian, which is nonexistent! :-) ) It sounds as though you and your father would like to have meaningful conversations with people, but find that the people around you are not willing. How frustrating! Some people, for whatever reason, are simply trying to make it through the day. They don't have the energy left over to think about much. Other people seem to be afraid to think. They're afraid that if they try to think, they'll fail and be forced to think of themselves as stupid. They're afraid that if they ask "What is the meaning to life?" they won't like the answer they come up with. These people are like little children who are worry that a monster lives under the bed, but are too afraid to look. I'm glad that you are not one of those people! I know, though, that it can be lonely, if you don't have someone to talk to about things that are important and meaningful. First, I'll give you some ideas I have about that. Then, I'll talk a little about being happy and good. Okay?
You've already done one important thing to find a philosophical community you've looked on the World Wide Web! There are lots of good discussion groups online. Also, there might be more people in your area who want to talk about ideas than you suspect. People around the world are starting philosophy cafes also called "Socrates Cafes" in local bookstores or coffee houses. If you know of a place that might be willing to have a group of people gather to chat, you could ask to put up a notice, announcing the time and day of the first meeting. You could also advertise around town. I'll bet that a number of people would show up, very happy to have a chance to think and talk about meaningful things! Your father might be willing to help you, too.
Now, about happiness. You wrote that nobody can be absolutely happy until everyone else is happy. I don't think that is right. Think about it this way. Suppose that there are only three people in the universe Ann, Bob, and Carol. Further, suppose that they are not completely happy. And finally, suppose that none of them can be happy until the other two are. Now, how can any one of them, say Ann, become happy? There are two facts here, as the situation is described. 1) Because Ann can't be happy unless the other two are, Ann can't be happy until both Bob and Carol are happy. 2) But because neither Bob nor Carol can be happy until everyone else is happy, neither one can be happy until Ann is happy. But do you see what this means? Putting ideas 1 and 2 together, we get the fact that Ann can't be happy until Ann is happy! Ann needs to get happy before she gets happy! =:-O This is a paradox, so something must be wrong with the situation as described. In particular, I submit that people can be happy even though not everyone else is. I do think that you need to be a good person in order to be happy you need to treat yourself and other people well, you need to extend wisdom and compassion to everything, no matter how unhappy or dead inside that thing seems to be but you don't need everyone around you to be happy. Ultimately, your own happiness may very well be one of the things that makes those around you happy!
There's a saying where I live: "Never cut down a tree in winter." That's because, where I live, trees loose their leaves in the winter and so you can't tell the dead trees from the living ones. What you need to do is care for all of the trees, because only in the spring, when they bloom, will you know which ones are alive. People are a lot like that, I think. Sometimes they seem dried up and dead, cruel, or mean, or only interested in unimportant things. But you should always remember that it might be winter for that particular person, and sometimes winter lasts a long, long time. Sometimes people are afraid, or busy, or beaten down for decades. Water them anyway. Let your happiness be in the watering, not in the blooming, and when spring eventually comes, there will be more blossoms than you can imagine. At least I think so. That's always been the way it worked for me.
Department of Philosophy
University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
Hello Jenia, my name is Katharine. I'm 28 years old and I live in southern England. (You can see a picture of me here.)
I struggled to find the right words to respond to your letter. Many people here, when they write philosophy, use a lot of long, complicated words, and often it is difficult to understand them. Your letter is breathtakingly simple and direct by comparison.
You must indeed have wonderful parents, if they have helped you to learn and talk about such ideas. But you feel lonely because you do not meet anyone else like yourself there is no-one you can really be friends with. You might be surprised to hear that it's not so easy to find people here in England who want to talk philosophically about life. When philosophy is being taught in Universities, students are not taught to discuss life, peace, or happiness.
Here is one of the great benefits the internet can bring us, and that Pathways helps to achieve. It is best when we can discuss such important things with other people one-to-one and face-to-face, but when that isn't possible, it's much better to be able to discuss them by e-mail than not to be able to discuss them at all.
I think that getting to know people, I mean their character and personality, is important in helping us to understand their thoughts and ideas. As you say, it is difficult to tell other people what you really think in any language. But we will succeed, as long as you are honest and say exactly what you think and feel, and as long as you really want me to understand you, and if I really want to understand. It's just that most people don't really want to go that deeply into their thoughts and feelings.
You also say you want to do something to improve society, to make the world a better place. To do something is much more difficult than thinking about it or talking about it although some talking and thinking are important to help you do the right thing.
Personally, I don't believe it will ever be possible to achieve world peace there are too many people who don't want to know but I do believe it is possible and worthwhile to do smaller things that will make a difference. As one example: I work in a Montessori nursery school, teaching and looking after children from 2 to 5 years old. I try to hold their interest and attention, to correct them when their behaviour might offend others, to question them and make them think more carefully or in new ways. But I can't do much about what happens in their home life, which in some cases is affecting their development or behaviour. Many parents would take their children away from the school in anger, if the teachers tried to tell them very much about what they should do at home to help their children.
I hope you will find my reply interesting and helpful, and that you will want to write to me some more. I also hope you will get many more letters from readers of Ask a Philosopher.
Your father must be a fine man. I was moved by your letter, and I am sure that our readers will be too.
Your letter will be posted on Ask a Philosopher...and will also go out tomorrow in Issue 48 of our Philosophy Pathways electronic journal.
My thoughts? A philosopher might question what it would mean for a particle say a particle of wood or iron to be 'happy'. Yet your statement, 'I mean each man, each animal and finally each particle' is very powerful. One instinctively grasps what is meant, even if one cannot find words to adequately express that meaning. A 'happy universe' would be one where every part of the universe every particle! was like a singer in a choir, singing out chords of joy. Or like a tiny piece of glass in a magnificent stained glass window, with the sunlight streaming through.
You might be interested to read the words of one of our contributors from the Russian Federation, Dmitry Olshansky, who has posted his personal thoughts on philosophy in the Philosophy Lovers Gallery at:
Yevgenia, your letter is very beautiful.
I have every sympathy with your father's and your own frustrations of doing philosophy in isolation because since graduating I have spent my working life very far from academic philosophy or any like-minded people with whom to discuss things.
You describe the emptiness you see in other people's eyes. This is a very common feeling travel on the crowded London Underground and you will see that emptiness all the time. The trouble is that when I catch my own reflection in the window I see that I look just the same as everyone else! I have come to think that this habit of seeing emptiness in other peoples eyes is a very negative and destructive thing perhaps we are just seeing our own emptiness reflected back at us? (Is Hell other people, as Sartre said? no it is not.) What I think can start to happen here is that, if one makes the effort to look a little harder one can begin to see this not as an emptiness but as a wonderful space of infinite human possibilities and potentialities of nobility, vanity, joy, suffering, silliness, wisdom, hopes, fears, aspirations, frustrations... and to be quite honest also weariness, failure, duplicity, wickedness... that's life. It is up to us to fill out the apparent emptiness by being truly involved with our fellow men and not just wallow in our own angst.
You will (unlike me!) be able to read Tolstoy in the original Russian. You might notice that his stories almost always start with descriptions of of the most apparently superficial, empty, comical people in apparently silly and facile social situations. But slowly, as the story unfolds things imperceptibly change, 'till after a while, we seldom know quite when, those silly empty figures have become real people capable of the most profound humanity suffering, heroism, compassion, love, joy... And so he is able to write the greatest stories ever told BUT they are about bone-headed army officers and and St. Petersburg social butterflies! So much for what one might or might not
see in the eyes of a stranger even one who may never share own own particular philosophical passions and interests. And maybe we too can come to see in a stranger a little bit of what someone like Tolstoy could.
You feel that "anybody would be absolutely happy only then when all will be happy" and say you are young and "must do something". These thoughts are surely true and we all have to come to terms with them in working out our destinies...
But you personally are not responsible for the whole of humanity, "the poor ye will always have with you" and we have to learn discretion and fine judgement about when we need to be our brothers keeper and when we have to hold back and let others work out their own destinies... and there are seldom any easy answers.
As Bob Dylan said: "May you always do for others" but also "and let others do for you".
Don't try to boil the ocean...
Read a lot...
Listen to music...
Take it slow (and remember, as Wittgenstein said, that in philosophy the one who wins the race is the one who comes in last).
Remain faithful to the visions of your youth, and again, as Bob Dylan said: may you stay forever young.
I hope these mere words may be of some help.
Fondest regards, Rob.
Robert de Villiers
Maybe what you see in the eyes of others is not emptiness. Maybe they feel pain too. For sure, they are not robots. If you want to be useful to the world, you could start now, close to home, and try to connect and communicate with those you see as robots. Perhaps to be useful to the world you need to find a place in it and understand how others really feel first. Some people think that a small amount of suffering is needed in the world. Only if this is so would you seek to be good and useful.
My question is philosophical anthropology: what is the human essence? what property defines us all as human and distinguishes us from other types of living beings?
Behold man, who strikes coins with the same die and gets coins all alike; but behold the King of kings, the Holy-Blessed-Be-He, who strikes all men with the die of Adam and not one is the same as another.
To be a human means to live as if one were not a being among beings. As if, through human spirituality, the categories of being inverted into an 'otherwise than being'.
What makes humans special from rocks, trees, trout, dogs, in fact everything is that we are unique, individual, we can't be lumped together under a heading, or at the most such headings and categories are incidental and does not identify what makes us special as the quote from the Talmud recognises. What makes us unique is threefold; 1) that we are able to transcend our own particular place in the world and to identify other times and places, nothing else experiences time and space as we do, 2) that we recognise our own self, we are self aware, 3) that we recognise Others as Others that is others in their own special uniqueness. No other living thing can respond to an other of its kind, or any other living thing and say 'wow look at that it's completely unique and individual'. All cows are the same. All humans are different.
Put these things together and you get something like what Levinas is describing an 'otherwise than being' (this is not to be understood as not-being, nothingness or death. (Heidegger thought that our experience of nothingness was what distinguished us, the awareness of our own death made us unique, but there are problems with this view, plus the fact of our own death can I think be analysed in terms of the three conditions I listed above especially self awareness and time awareness).
Cows are part of being, they exist from moment to moment with only a fleeting awareness of the flies buzzing around the smell fresh grass, the calls of the bull. Humans are a part of being too (note Levinas says as if one were not a being among beings), we have material bodies that need to eat and sleep, but we can make the move from merely participating in being to moving beyond being to something better, we can care for and look after one another. We don't need to be defined by what we are, that we exist, but by how we are, the way we exist.
Bernard Lonergan draws the distinction that other living beings are pre-programmed and to act by instinct, while humans alone perform intentional acts. The species Homo was initially pre-programmed, but humans also had the capacity to develop. In Lonergan's view, expressed in his A Second Collection (1974 Westminster Press, Philadelphia) modern humans "apart from times of dreamless sleep, are performing intentional acts. They are experiencing, imagining, desiring, fearing; they wonder, come to understand, conceive; they reflect, weigh the evidence, judge; they deliberate, decide, act. If dreamless sleep may be compared to death, human living is being awake; it is a matter of performing intentional acts; in short, such acts informed by meaning are precisely what gives significance to human living" (1974, 3-4).
In the same work Lonergan identifies three levels of human investigation of reality and of human intellectual development. There is the first level of experiencing, imagining and saying, the second level of inquiry, understanding, defining and conceiving and the third level of reflecting, weighing the evidence and judging (1974, 35).
It is the progress into this third level that has made Western culture dominant. The process of the acquisition of information is intentional, and "our intending intends, not incomplete, but complete intelligibility" (1974, 41). He dismisses Kant's limited understanding of "object",which asserts that the one way our cognitional activities are related to objects immediately is by intuition, and he proposes that "objects are what are intended in questioning and what becomes better known as our answers to questions become fuller and more accurate" (1974, 122-3).
Lonergan's position is consistent with my thesis that the Cosmos is a process with a purpose. This process involves both self-organization and self-creation at the human moral cultural level. ["The Process of the Cosmos" (1999) USA, Dissertation.com] We are distinguished from other living beings by our intentionality, our creativity and our morality.
I am trying to find a answer to the question, "What does that person really think of me?". I've applied the knowledge I have of the thought process. My question to you would be, "What philosophers have covered this topic?" The rest of this email is what I have been able to put together on my understanding of what makes a person likable to others.
An individual's subconscious (or lower order thoughts) assigns a feeling/ emotion to each person who that individual interacts with. Along with that feeling/ emotion, a representation is also assigned to that person.
Some examples of the feeling/ emotion assigned are love, hatred, pleasant, or tolerance.
Examples of the representation assigned are troublemaker, provider, companion, enemy, etc.
More then one representation can be assigned, such as a companion/ provider, or a troublemaker/ instigator. This all takes place subconsciously and we are unaware that our brain is subconsciously categorizing each person we meet.
These emotions combine with the representation creating a mental state. This mental state dictates how we interact with that person.
If you were at home bored, looking for someone to call, it would reasonable to assume that you would call someone that your subconscious has given a pleasant feeling and companion representation to.
If you were at home trying to get your computer to work properly, and in need of help, you would call a person you have given a provider representation to so they could provide you with the information and help that you need. This person could possibly have a tolerance emotion associated with them. Or you could call someone with a pleasant emotion associated, that has a companion/ provider representation.
The person/ people you decide to interact with is decided by what you need at that present time. Humans are selfish by nature; whether you need companionship (someone to watch the game with you) or a service (someone to install your satellite dish so you can watch the game). Our mental state (derived from emotion/ feeling and representation) is subject to constant change depending on our needs at that time.
When you meet new people, a feeling/ emotion and representation is still assigned upon first contact. This is a first impression. These initial feeling and representations are subject to change. Only after repeated contact with a person do you have a set feeling/ emotion and representation assigned to them.
Our subconscious also applies these emotions and representations to animals. We might have a fearful emotion with a predator representation for a lion, but a compassionate emotion with a helpless/ needy representation for a stray puppy. Once again, these emotions and representations combine to form a mental state. This mental state would cause us to run from a lion. On the other hand, the mental state created by seeing a stray, hungry puppy would prompt us to help the stray puppy.
When a person asks you, What do you think of me?, that person is essentially asking you two questions, What emotion or feeling do you associate with me? and What representations have you assigned me?
We do have limited control over the representation and feeling/ emotion a person assigns us. The emotion that we are assigned come from the general feeling or vibe that person gets from us. We have almost no control over this because the feeling is drawn from the other persons past experiences and how we parallel those experiences. An agreeable attitude and a smile would give us a friendly emotion association, whereas a frown and restlessness would give us that person a suspicious feeling about us.
We do have a lot of control concerning the representation assigned to us. We can mediate our action (verbal and physical) to mimic the representation we would like to have. Such as constantly helping out would put us in the provider category. If we seemed to know the answer to that person's problems, then we would be given a wise man representation.
Our actions dictate how the other person will view, perceive, and classify us. Although emotions are more primal and people tend to go with those, by having control of the representation aspect, we can somewhat direct their mental state towards us.
It must've been hard work to organize your ideas about the thoughts and feelings we have for others. It's all pretty clear and coherent. But although what you argue makes sense to me, it sounds more like a way of looking at things, a model, rather than an explanation.
It is impossible to be rigorous and scientific when discussing emotions, and this leads many philosophers to dismiss such discussions as not really philosophy at all. Emotions are easier to express or evoke, rather than pin down with descriptions; hence much poetry, music and art.
Nevertheless, here is a question that people really want to know the answer to what do other people think of them; and equally, what do they think of other people.
"What does that person really think of me?" has implicit in the question the understanding that another person may be lying or otherwise concealing what they really think. People aren't always honest. What do we really want to read their mind and discover their most secret private thoughts?
It's not socially acceptable to march nosily up to someone and baldly ask "What do you think of me?" If you did it, you'd be likely to provoke a lying, or at least not completely truthful, response, perhaps for the sake of politeness. Total honesty can be terribly rude we call it tactlessness. Maybe it is better that we don't know how people think about us in their private, secret thoughts. It might be shocking.
In finding out what a person thinks of us, we can only go by what they say and what they do. There's nothing else we can get at. I suppose people's actions are less likely to be deceptive than their words. It's easy enough to say nice things about someone you don't like that much, but you would be less likely to bother to invite them round for dinner, say. What about those people who swap addresses with you and passionately declare that you must keep in touch, then never or hardly ever contact you again? You might've thought they must like you, if they want to swap addresses, but this is merely a convention which for some reason is considered polite. If they never actually write, they obviously didn't like you that much their actions give them away.
So here are two ways of getting a better idea of what a person really thinks of you: you either need some reason to feel sure they are telling you the truth (perhaps there is simply nothing to be gained by lying; or they have said they will do something for you and then actually carried it out several times in the past). Or, you need to pay attention to what they do rather than what they say. (Do they keep in touch? Do they speak/ write formally or informally to you? Do they make time to meet up with you?)
The other aspect of the question "What does that person really think of me?" I find equally interesting "What do I really think of that person? (and why?)" I have thought about this quite a lot. I tried making a list of characteristics that several people I found attractive seemed to me to possess (e.g. casualness of appearance, sensitivity, interesting ideas, humour). But this is an analysis trying to make sense of a feeling that's already happened. The feeling seems to arise without thought I don't decide what to feel about somebody, whether to like them or not. What is that feeling of attraction or aversion? We struggle to put it into words. Maybe it's some kind of animal instinct we have the ability to quickly decide who is our friend or our enemy, who is likely to help us or fight us. If so, evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology might all be able to help us understand.
A couple of comments: you make the assumption that "Humans are selfish by nature", but not everyone agrees with this. How is it that a person might decide to phone an acquaintance they thought would need comfort after the death of a close relative, for example? It is hard to explain this convincingly in terms of selfishness.
Our 'verbal and physical actions' are not the only things other people observe about us that we can control. We choose what clothes to wear, what hair style to have, perhaps also our hair colour, whether to use cosmetics, what objects to buy and be seen with. These things all influence other people's opinion of us indeed, some people choose these things according to what they believe other people will like and approve of, rather than what they themselves like.
The following philosophy writings all have discussions of affection and/ or aversion:
Sartre: Being and Nothingness
Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Bk VIII "Friendship"
Montaigne: Essays, esp. "De l'amitie" ('On Friendship', or 'On Affectionate Relationships')
Hume: Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals
Hume Treatise of Human Nature, Bks II and III
Hume Essays, esp. "Of the Dignity and Meanness of Human Nature"
E.R. Emmet: Learning to Philosophize, Ch.5 "Value Judgements"
I have a project for my high school philosophy class due in a month on Nietzsche. The problem is that when I start to read some of his works, I just get confused. I mean, I feel like I think I might understand, but his wording is just baffling to me, at least partially due to differing translations I know, but also because my education in the Bible is limited and when it comes to Greek mythology, I have utterly Americanized versions that I only vaguely remember. I was wondering if you could help find any sources (preferably internet) that are informative AND understandable. Especially considering that I have to do an analysis of one of his major works.
and Casey asked:
I have been learning about Friedrich Nietzsche in school, and I was wondering if someone could explain his philosophy to me, because I am having trouble understanding it. What does it mean that he separates everyone into ascending and descending? What is the sign of affects?
In a nutshell: Nietzsche is a troublesome thinker, because the unsystematic manner of his work invites the most diverse and conflicting opinions on what his real message is. More than most philosophers he had his readers importing their own opinions into his writings and therefore reading them as confirmation of whatever views they held. In consequence he's been accused of being a mere essayist (i.e. not a full quid as a philosopher) and variously blamed for Nazism and other forms of disreputable politics, not to mention sundry other evils of society, for which he is supposed to have furnished an ideology. In truth, however, he was a culture critic and moralist, who saw his task as the diagnosis of western civilisation, which seemed to him corrupt to the bone.
The consequence he drew from this diagnosis was, that the rot had set in such an extent that it was irremediable: The type of man representative of western civilisation was malformed (spiritually & culturally) by a 1000-year hegemony of Christian morals with their enmity for and disgust with life, which in turn inevitably fostered false ideals and counterfeit values. Not seeing a cure, he preached the overcoming of this type of man, the revaluation of all values and an affirmative attitude to the sacrifice inevitably demanded by these goals. This is the core of his philosophy.
Let me add that Nietzsche was a passionate philosopher, as none before him; and that philosophy was for him quite literally a matter of life and death. One needs to know this in reading him which is to say, in the study of his works, the microscope reveals too little too close up. In Nietzsche, the larger context is everything. Although they comprise mostly aphorisms, these add up to the meaning of a whole book. This is what readers miss out on who content themselves with selections.
Nietzsche is nowadays becoming increasingly recognised as primarily a moralist and attention is gradually shifting away from the poetic/ prophetic masterpiece Thus Spake Zarathustra to the more strictly philosophical Genealogy of Morals. If you need to study a principal work, this would be my recommendation; and there is available an excellent book to help you along, Nietzsche on Morals, published in the Routledge Philosophy Guides, which gives you a chapter by chapter analysis as you read.
Suppose a scientist could create a machine which is able to create an exact duplicate, or clone, of an adult human being (assuming the materialist view that humans are 'physically duplicatable' as living, conscious beings).
Now suppose this scientist puts Fred in his machine in his lab, and creates an exact clone of him. Both Freds have the exact physical form and identical memories (and so the clone cannot tell that he is not the original, and he is never told or able to find out otherwise).
Now, seconds after the clone and original are both conscious, the scientist kills the original Fred. The clone is then allowed to go back to Fred's everyday life, believing himself to be the original.
The question is: Is anything lost in this process? And if so, what, exactly, is it? (A 'soul'?)
It appears that, once the clone and Fred are both alive (and conscious), they are separate (sentient) beings. And so, for the Fred who entered the lab, his life ended there.
My Dad, however, argues that a person's individuality is defined by his memory, and so, since all of Fred's memories would still be intact in the living clone, Fred would still be alive (and therefore, nothing would be lost).
Which of these views is most likely to be correct? If the first view could be correct, does this pose a problem for (strict) materialism?
Why do I get such a strong feeling that Fred's life 'for him' must end in the lab, even though, to every one else around him, it would appear that Fred is still alive? To illustrate more bluntly: Knowing that the cloning had a 100% success rate, would YOU volunteer to go through the same treatment as Fred? If not, why not?
The crucial word in your question is "assuming". You see: there is no legitimate warrant for assuming that in the real world such things are possible, even in principle. Of course I'm aware, as you are, that a colossal amount of industry (though mostly entertainment) is devoted to it: but fundamentally the answer has to be "no". This is because human life (indeed any life form) is not willy-nilly reduplicable; the notion of living things as "material" entities is only true insofar as that is what they are made from. But the way these material constituents hang together is a dynamic equilibrium; and part of this transformation entails that they no longer behave in a normative chemical manner and cannot be handled as chemical systems qua chemical systems. Ergo: chemistry = dead matter, manipulable; biochemistry = living matter, cells, self-assembling.
One way of appreciating this fundamental discrepancy is to take note of what "cloning" is, namely, not (as in your assumption) some kind of mechanical copying, but rather the initiation of the biochemical process of self-assembly which culminates in the generation of a new life (and, by the way, the same applies to "genetic engineering", which is nothing like engineering, but again the outcome of a scientist disturbing in a targeted way a genetic strand and waiting for it to repair and re-assemble itself).
The last point is this: that a body could (in principle) be duplicated if particular conditions prevail. I hope from the foregoing you know what that "special condition" must be. In a word: death. When a body is dead, the dynamic equilibrium collapses and the material bits and pieces return to their normal chemical functionality. Hope this answers something. Not much philosophy in it, but I suspect that the completely fictitious dilemmas of your question would not arise if philosophy were to play a more pronounced role in scientific developments.
This issue is addressed by many sci-fi authors. I'm always a bit puzzled, actually, by the controversy here. How do you know that the next person you pass on the street isn't identical to you, mentally, at least? That's certainly possible, isn't it, especially if you're a physicalist (which I am)? Given that, what's the answer to the above? Of course Fred sub1 and Fred sub2 are different individuals: they have separate consciousnesses, realized in separate brains. Whether they're thinking the same or different thoughts at any given moment is surely irrelevant. If they have the same memories, again, so what? Maybe that person you pass on the street has memories close to yours also. Even if you and they are identical, all that means is that your two consciousnesses are, at that moment, identical in content. Why on earth would that mean that killing one would not be killing a conscious individual? If it comes to that, to aliens, human beings would seem virtually identical anyway... think about us vs. insects, for example. So we could all be killed except one individual, with no effect? No.
What is being lost here, when a Fred is killed, is an individual consciousness. You might argue that no "information" is being lost, but I don't know what "information" means when you apply it to this kind of situation. In addition, the fact that the two Freds must occupy different locations, etc., implies that they cannot be identical. But I do not think the latter argument especially relevant. The point is that unless their two brains were intimately connected, so that their two bodies had one consciousness, killing either is killing an individual conscious being. If you're Fred sub1, and you're killed, Fred sub2 lives on, a separate consciousness, as he always was.
So if you want to put yourself, say, into a computer, as a conscious program, and so live a long and varied life, the way you'd have to do it would be to connect your brain quite intimately to the computer, so that you had one consciousness sharing both the computer and your physical brain, simultaneously. Then you could, I think, kill off your body and claim that you had transferred into a computer... but you'd have to make sure, beforehand, that the neural configuration, on the one hand, and the software configuration, on the other, both responsible for consciousness, were continuous across both systems, otherwise killing your body would also kill the consciousness in that body, as above. To put it another way, if Fred sub1 and Fred sub2 were wired together so completely that only one consciousness (FRED) animated both bodies, then I think that you could kill one body and claim that FRED was still alive, although greatly diminished in intelligence and other capacities.
Steven Ravett Brown
I think you and your father are talking about different aspects of personal identity. Your father is looking at his identity in terms of what makes him the person he is, considering introspectively what it is to be him, and chooses memories as opposed to his body. I think I would choose my body. And, really, to choose memories is a bit harsh on amnesiacs. Do they not have a sense of self? You, on the other hand are looking at the philosophical concept of personal identity, and what is essential to having a personal identity is subjectivity, as you rightly say, whether this is filled out by private awareness of mind or body as necessary for being. Pure subjectivity is lacks being or conceptual content. You are both right.
This is why you feel Fred's life ends "for him". There is nothing more to subjectivity, in its purity, than being here and now, or non-conceptual awareness of "this", because "here" are "now" seem to involve conceptual knowledge and I feel this brings in something beyond the pure subjective feeling of the non-conceptual "I" which you are looking for. "Here" and "now" presupposes possession language. You do need a language to think "I", but an awareness of self in relation to others can be ascribed to animals, in my view.
What is "I" or "this"? We cannot say. We cannot even say it is the same for all of us. Maybe it is not after all it is subjectivity, the purely private.
To contrast essential subjectivity with personal identity as a set of memories, you have to think that you are Fred. It will matter to you that YOU will no longer exist. The clone will not be you even if he is physically identical and has your memories. They will no longer be available to YOU, the subjective self, positioned as "I".
I don't think there is a problem specific to materialism. One type of materialist holds that to be in the same physical state is to be in the same mental state and the clone's physical state is never in the place as you, so the clone cannot be physically identical. You might simply want to claim that identical brain states make for same mental state, if you subscribe to internalistic materialism. But I find it difficult to see how the brain would be positioned in relation to the world beyond the senses which contributes to the privacy of the feeling of subjectivity. Another type of materialism says that if two people are in the same mental state they are in an identical physical state. Whether two identical mental states are identical depends on content and possibly internal connections. But there might be an element of "Being you and not Fred" which differs in relation to content in that the memories matter to you. Mental states are analysed in terms of content but if a mental state is relational, there is still this mysterious "I".
This isn't really a question, but more of a 'Tell me your opinion' thing. Now Let me say what I've got to say.
Infinity is most commonly classified as having no beginning or end. Infinity seems to be such an impossible thing to comprehend. Try to visualize it. I would say you couldn't.
Now, take a circle. A circle can be the size of an atom, or the size of the universe. But, look at it closer. A circle has no beginning, or an end. Just the circle.
And, as I said, that circle could be the size of an atom, or the size of all creation, yet it has no end. So, what I'm really trying to say is: Infinity isn't a size, or a measure, or anything of that sort. Infinity is a property.
What are your opinions on this?
This isn't a matter of opinion. In the above, you are not being clear on what you mean by the term "infinity". There are several coherent meanings of this term, and very many incoherent ones. As far as a circle having an "end"... you are confusing two senses of the word "end". One is that of the end of a series of numbers, the other is the end of a physical object... or, alternatively, the end of a path one is traversing. Why are you supposing those are identical? They certainly don't have to be.
The coherent meanings of infinity are mathematical/ logical. First, you might look at any basic book on calculus, at the section on integration. You will find that the integral, in a sense the inverse of the differential, may be expressed as the sum of an infinite series. That is one mathematical notion of infinity, coherent enough that most of physics and engineering uses it to build bridges, stereos, etc., etc. Infinity in this sense is a measure. The differential is also the limit of a series, and as such also a measure. Second, there is Dedekind's (and others') definition of continuity, which uses a similar notion of infinity. Again, this is quite explicitly a measure. Third, there is Cantor's notion of orders of infinity, having to do with the size of various infinite sets. These various orders of infinity measure the size of sets of numbers.
Steven Ravett Brown
Is man good by nature? Can you cite a proof why yes or no, a proof from a particular philosopher, or a philosophy of man?
In my answer to Shaif I referred to the work of Levinas who says that what is special about humans is that we can transcend nature towards ethics. But suppose for a moment that we were unable to do this, what would it be like?
My guess is that things would stay pretty much the same, we would still have relationships, we would still donate to charity, we would still have babies, we would still be polite to people. But what would be different as the philosopher Kant notices, is that we would do all these things not because it is right to do them but because of other reasons, self satisfaction, self-interest, sentiment, these reasons may be useful and beneficial, they are done in accordance with the Good requires but are they done because they are what the good requires?
Consider cases where the Good may require us to give up our life for someone, how may penguins have you seen thrown himself on a grenade to save his fellow penguins? A penguin may trip and fall on a grenade when it is about to explode and save the colony but that wouldn't be self-sacrifice. Self sacrifice is not part of nature, it requires something special.
It requires that we move beyond the binds of nature. Penguins can't do this but we can. Kant thought this move involved reason giving itself laws of action, ones not conditioned by inclinations or motivations, but are followed solely for its own sake (see his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals). Levinas suggests that the move is made when we encounter the special presence of an other person, who demands our help. This move does not just solely require sacrificing my life, rather all ethical acts are an act of self sacrifice of some kind, it is the putting of the others needs before my own.
Levinas argues that the other person is special in that are Other, they are different from me and to treat them as if they were the same, would be to do them a violence, it would be to take something away from them. Therefore in order to protect this otherness, I must not place them in or reduce them to a mere role in nature, they are better than that.
Humans then are not good by nature, they are self satisfying animals, but because we can transcend nature, we can do good. All that is Good about humans is unnatural:
"Ethics is, therefore, against nature, because it forbids the murderousness of my natural will to put my own existence first".
(dialogue with Levinas)
I am having a problem defining realism. I hope you can clear this up for me.
The meaning of the terms Realism and Anti-Realism has been much discussed in modern philosophy. As I understand the terms the following map might help
(D is the discourse in question i.e. the comic, the good, the scientific etc)
(1) are any of the sentences of D truth-apt? (capable of being true or false)
If yes then go to (2), If no then you are a anti-realist non-cognitivist about D. You believe the the surface grammar of D is not actually expressive of facts but something else, i.e. emotions as many non-cognitivists about the moral hold.
(2) Are any of the sentences of D true?
If Yes, then you are a Realist about the discourse. You believe that the D is a factual discourse and some of the sentences are true. Go to (4).
If no, then you are an anti-realist error-theorist about the D. You believe that though the sentences of D are truth-apt, none of the sentences are true. J.L. Mackie was an error-theorist about the moral (Ethics Inventing Right and Wrong). He believed that moral sentences are capable of truth, but the world 'lets us down' and there are no moral properties. Thus, when we make moral judgements, we commit an error (hence Error-theory!)
(3) Does D exhibit a cognitive command?
If yes, then no two people, with all the information about D, can disagree about the truth-value of one of D's sentences without committing a rational error. i.e. one of their cognitive capacities is functioning wrongly. If two people, with all the information can still disagree, then this is good (though not conclusive) reason to be an anti-realist about the discourse.
Supplementary Realist question:
(3a) Are the truths about D mind-dependent or mind-independent?
If mind-dependent then the truths are dependent on minds existing i.e. if no minds then no truths. If mind-independent then even if no minds then still truths. I.e: if no one existed 2+2 still equals 4 but Monty Python would not be funny. Though you can be a realist about the funny and about logic, you can have different kinds of realism, as your answers to 3a might be different.
I hope this helps a bit, there is a lot of literature on the realism debate. This is just how I was taught it in Uni, and how I approach the question.
Which are God's merits, qualifications,background, (luck?), etc. for being God? why his entity and not mine or your's or anybody's? did he compete? how did "he" create himself? I know you can not have answers but, please elaborate.
God is held to posses certain qualities that make him the supreme being. Theologians and philosophers usually list a big old list of them: Omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, eternal, infinite, omnipresent. Imagine a God that wasn't all knowing all seeing, all powerful, all good and the source of all creation, what would be the point then of calling him God? He would just be like us finite or at the most like some powerful alien from out of Star Trek. So these qualities are supposed to define God qua God.
But is that enough for us? for us as people engaged with the world that presents problems for us problems like why am I here and what should I do?
Suppose we meet God some day say on the judgement day, but we're just not impressed. Wouldn't we be justified in taking Him to one side for a moment and asking him " What gives you the right to come and judge us?" The fact that he created us wouldn't give Him the right, the analogy of parent and child (that some believers use) is unconvincing to my mind. If I created some one individual and unique, like Mr Data from Star trek for instance I don't think I could claim any rights of sovereignty over him, In the same way God has none over me. Further God created us free to choose, if I chose to reject him or ignore him what has it got to do with Him, if he then threatens me with oblivion that hardly seems to be in accordance with a loving good God. We have moved to the question of God justifying himself to us. I can't think of anything God could say that would make me want get down on my knees.
All I have said up to now rests on an understanding of God that has been intellectualised, the God here is the God of philosophers, of thinkers, that this is the God that died, and it's a God thing that he is dead, because he wasn't really a god we could believe/ have faith in. Would not the 'real' God justify himself not by the things he would say or do, not by encompassing everything in his domain, not by a show of his strength and powers, but by his withdrawal, his silences, the void and gap between him and everything else. Not by his involvement in existence in being but his sheer difference from it.
If so then we have reached the limits of what can be said, we cannot know the how or why of God's being moreover we cannot talk of 'god existing, or being' or having qualities or essence, this does not mean that God does not exist or have being, but that his existing is different from that of the world, including any spiritual or psychical elements.
However we can have an experience of this difference. The philosopher Levinas has argued we can find it in the face of another person. The Other's existence is also different. the other is never completely present even when she is standing in front of me, how ever much I may know and recognise her there is always something unreachable my me about her, there is a void and a gap between us. The other is absent even while she is standing next to me. But Levinas says the other is also hungry and needing my help. The other calls me to justify my own place in the world, to account for my own (potentially unethical) existing when so many others may die just to keep me home and fed.
Could it be then that this absent god justifies his (non-understandable, un-knowable) entity, in calling me to justify my own before another person?
I'm inclined to suppose your question is not altogether flippant; I will state my answer in tune. On the assumption that philosophy is an essentially a-gnostic pursuit, God's qualifications, luck etc. etc. are precisely the same as those of the cultural group who worship him, under whatever guise and by whatever name. Proof of this contention is easily furnished when you consider how many "immortal" gods in mankind's history have not lived up to the claim of deathlessness meaning that when their culture disappeared, they were decommissioned. Of course this implies an anthropomorphic theory of religion, and if that is the view you hold, then the above should suffice. However, one may retain nagging doubts all the same: for example, what qualifications, luck etc. inhere in the residual electric potential of the universe by which we scientific super sophisticates explain the (possibility of the) Being of Everything. You would now return the favour and explain this to me?
Why do philosophers disagree?
Yes. You know, this is the kind of infuriating question that really, in my opinion, needs to be taken quite seriously. The easy and obvious answers are things like: philosophers are trained to see details, to argue, and indeed to disagree. And they are trained to question everything. Thus disagreement is inevitable. Well that's all very fine, but one could say the same about mathematicians or physicists, or even engineers... but we find massive agreement in those fields, don't we. Now, why is that? Well, in part it's the old trashcan story: philosophers are cheaper to hire than mathematicians... neither need labs or machines... but with philosophers you save money on trashcans; we don't need those, either. To put it another way, just what does it take to refute a philosophical position? As long as the logic is clear, all we can do is attack the assumptions, and how does one do that, if they are not empirically based? And once they become empirically based, somehow, magically, we're not philosophers anymore, we're scientists. Given enough background and subtlety in arguing, one can defend pretty much any position. As far as I can tell, the only reason philosophical positions are not held is that either 1) they turn empirical and philosophers (mostly) lose interest; or 2) someone does find a flaw in the logic and a question does get settled or eliminated; or 3) upon analysis, it is found that a question has been inadequately or too simplistically formulated; or 4) they just go out of fashion.
1) Mostly the case. As far as I know (though there are people who disagree with this claim), most of the sciences, etc., arose as branches of philosophy.
2) Flaws in logic are rare, and usually when they are found the person just reformulates their position. Look at all the "unmoved mover" arguments.
3) More common than 2. But again, it is rare that a position is abandoned in consequence. It is usually elaborated to take the additional complexities into account. But at least here we can argue that there is a reason to continue the discussion, i.e., that elaboration may lead to further insights, and so forth.
4) Lots of these. Why don't we debate Medieval religious questions any more? Well, who cares?
All very fine. But where is the agreement? 1) After becoming empirical, we test against the world, and it's hard to argue against things either exploding or not, and so forth... although it's always tried. But ultimately we tend to get agreement here. 2) Back to the beginning after the reformulation; no agreement. 3) Here maybe we make some progress, but we still don't agree. 4) If you can call this agreement.
If it comes to it, there are still people arguing the pros and cons of Aristotle's analyses of causation. There are still arguments about the validity and consistency of Thomism. We have discovered a "new problem of induction", but we're also still debating whether induction is merely a type of deduction or a different kind of reasoning.
It seems that philosophical positions just fade away... they never really completely die, but eventually they just lay there gathering dust: they are conceded to be valueless dead ends. I have no idea if anyone has addressed whether this process is a valid form of induction; someone probably has, but if not, it might be a good idea for someone to think about.
Steven Ravett Brown
My personal opinion is that philosophy is either giving a view on statements as made in any language that developed during evolution, or extending such a language. Differences in views are inherent.
But Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg wrote that he mainly noticed philosophers who refuted other philosophers.
So you may assume that there is some truth in this statement.
Maybe the majority of philosophers drowned too much in quarrelling, because that is what the 'man on the street' observes. It isn't much different in 'harder' sciences, so maybe evolution caused this tendency to fight.
According to Bertrand Russell in "The value of philosophy":
If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it.
So if you're happy studying it, then this happiness inflects others. In the same chapter Russell writes:
But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man of learning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences.
And he concludes:
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation.The value of philosophy for Russell is: (1) enlarging our view on what is possible, (2) improving our intellectual imagination, and (3) lessening dogmatic assurance. Perhaps he meant that is what philosophy should do. Points 1 and 2 or more or less similar, it is improving knowledge like any study should. There remains probably the main point of making one humble, because of an overview on 'the problems of life'.
Back to your question. Those philosophers who act like their main job is disagreeing with one another are certainly not being humble. For Bertrand Russell these are not real philosophers. So if that is the impression about the whole of philosophy of the majority of people, then there is something VERY WRONG.
Perhaps the question should be, why should philosophers not disagree. After all, there is disagreement among practitioners in all areas of investigation: physicists, psychologists, and economists, to name just three. So why should philosophers be any different? Disagreement in general is caused by differences in view, or mistakes by one party or another. The same is true in philosophy.
You may think that there is something special about philosophy that causes disagreement, and it is true that there is perhaps more controversy in philosophy than in some (but not all, for instance political science) areas. Of course, philosophy is an especially abstract subject, and that, perhaps makes for the possibility of differences in view as well as for the greater possibility of mistakes in thinking.
When discussing the problem of evil, why must we assume a duality in nature (good and evil) and the idea of God as good? Isn't it merely human to categorize things so? Are things in life, in the universe, not on a continuum? Hasn't some modern philosophical thought evolved that places God in the middle, or better yet, above it all? He is the sole creator, after all.
The problem with evil is that it avoids categorization, that may sound an odd thing to say after all, as you say humans split things into categories all the time. We know the difference between a good thing and an evil thing, keeping babies in dark cupboards is evil, giving the homeless your coat is a good thing, so how can I get away with saying that evil avoids categorization?
What I mean is that evil itself, the phenomena, its feel, the way it affects us, doesn't fit into any conceptualisation no sense can be made of it, it's useless. Try answering the question "why do we suffer, why role does the misery and pain serve?" I don't know the answer, I doubt any can be given that's because evil itself doesn't fit into the continuum of life, it exceeds it. Evil is excessive. There is always too much of it. It can't be added up or invoiced We could even say that evil is unnatural, in that it does not belong in the world, it has no place.
If god did create the world he could have done so without miserly and suffering and if he does have some purpose for the suffering we endure doesn't that make evil even more abhorrent, for example saying that the horrible pain of the dying breath of a starving child is accounted for by the role it has in some divine plan fills me with disgust. For a start God doesn't need any means to fulfil his desired end, he's God! It's only a half formed intuition but, I feel that rationalising evil makes evil more evil, the nearest expression I can find of it is Dostoyevsky's Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov : "And if the suffering of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price...to high a price is asked for harmony".
And what about the Holocaust, 'a paradigm of gratuitous human suffering'? A time where God turned his back and not in order to protect us from his burning glory. What can we say about a god who let the nazi's do what they wanted?
One option is Ivan's: Rebellion.
Option two is to declare the death of god. This includes the a version of the problem of evil; god cannot be omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent and at the same time evil exist. Evil does exist, so god is not omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent. Such a being however would not then be god. Hence 'the death of god'.
Option three is the view you have identified, the view that places God beyond the world. This view states that God of option two is dead, but that this is a good thing because that wasn't really God anyway but just, as you indicate, a human categorisation, a conception crudely of God as a part of the world, in the sense that he shared in being, he had existence in basically the same way we did, but just more of it. A conception of God as the Supreme Being. The top dog of things that are. But this is just a mistaken view of God say defenders of option three, God does not share in being. He has turned his back on us and left us in the world. God is, to use Levinas' term, 'otherwise than being' (take a look at my response to Eduardo for more on this). But why did God leave?
One answer may be that if God is absent then we must be atheist. We are left alone to tender the world. Atheism clears the way for human life to exist and flourish. This is not a version of the view that God created us with free will and so we can do what we want, rather it's the opposite, for Levinas the human life is the ethical life, the life lived for the other person, that God is not part of being means that what we do for the other person we do for ethical reasons and not in the hope of some reward from God.
The responsibility for everything that happens becomes ours. For Levinas, on this picture a defender of option three, atheism is a necessary step towards the ethical life, (a strange thing to hear coming from a celebrated Talmudic commentator). What this also means is that evil is a human affair, its our doing, Evil on this picture originates when we take what is special about others and turn it into something ordinary and mundane. The holocaust again is a prime example, the Jews were seen, transformed into something less than people.
It is part of the paradox of evil that its origins, the attempt to reduce persons special otherness to a theme or caricature or category, rather than respect they unique and unassimilatable difference, produces a phenomena of such magnitude that it itself does not fit into and destroys any such categorisation.
Of course its not all doom and gloom, goodness is excessive too, it reaches beyond the confines of being, in helping the other, taking care of her, providing for her we can experience this good kind of excess.
According to the theist apophatic theology, God is beyond human categories. However theism and particularly mainstream Christianity, holds to both the transcendence and the immanence (presence within and interaction with the world) of God.
Your question pertains to two important theological issues: 1) Theodicy (justification or explanation of belief in God, in the face of the existence of evil). 2) The contrast of the theism with pantheism (belief that God and the world are one either without qualification or with the world as divine emanation) and with deism (God is creator but there is no divine participation/intervention in the created order).
Does Marx's theory of communism discredit human nature and its complexities? If it does not than why are we not living in a true state of communism now? If communism is the ideal way of life, then why does is its philosophy biased on the "evil" structure of capitalism? In communism, would man's natural aggression disappear?
Scanning down the questions, I came on this... no one else has answered, so I'm going to comment. The proviso is that this is not my field of expertise. However, I became curious about Marx once, and attempted to look up a description of the goal state, so to speak, i.e., the end to which his system moves and which he claims is inevitable. I could find virtually nothing. There was a vague description of someone working in the fields, then going fishing, then reading... so absurdly unreal and impractical that it was quite amazing. Perhaps somewhere in his writings there is a clear description of where, precisely, he believed society was going... but I couldn't find it. Now, my question is, given that there is no clear statement of what an ideal society is, how it runs, etc., and I mean clear and precise, as many details worked out as possible, how could he, or anyone, claim to know the path to that state of affairs, much less claim it to be inevitable? How do you plan change without knowing the end to which you're aiming?
That's problem one. Problem two, in my opinion, is that given the enormous amount of data supporting territoriality and dominance/ submission behaviors throughout the animal kingdom, and indeed into the insects and plants, it seems to me that anyone with any sort of modern education would have to reject the possibility any sort of "classless" society. That kind of idea is one which could only be formulated before our modern knowledge of anthropology, ecology, and evolutionary psychology. We are part of a planetary ecosystem which seems hard-wired, genetically programmed, if you wish, for obtaining territory, defending it, and controlling it. And "territory" can encompass, for humans, quite abstract areas, such as one's dominance in a field of learning, for example... as well as a social hierarchy, like most animals.
So given all that, and given communism's failure globally, how anyone, at this point, could imagine it could exist stably except perhaps on a very small scale, e.g., in a small religious group like a kibbutz (and indeed those are usually controlled by some dominant figure a "prophet", "guru", or whatever), is beyond me.
Steven Ravett Brown
We've all heard that direct electric stimulation of the brain can elicit memories and sensations in the subject undergoing such a procedure someone being thus probed might remember a past incident, or smell the scent of a peach.
Assuming these reports are true, (I know nothing of the science of it) would it follow that this kind of direct stimulation of the brain could cause new, unprecedented sensations in the subject? That is, is the scent of a peach somehow there, already, in the brain, awaiting to be switched on? If so, could new knowledge (e.g. the taste of mint to one who had never tasted it) arise in this situation?
This seems improbable, but the alternative seems to be that the act of smelling a peach causes that smell to be recorded somehow by the brain. The problem here is what is happening the second time you smell a peach...are you smelling the peach or is your brain providing the sensation for you? It seems you could never know, which makes the first idea not so far-fetched. Any ideas?
The easy answer to "pre-sensation" is: No, there is no scent (or any other sensory stimulus) hidden in your nervous system. To put it extremely simply: Smell is communicated to the nervous system by molecules, so it's an altogether physical impingement. You may know that Hobbes promoted the view that all our senses are variants of the sense of touch; and science has confirmed this. What this means in relation to your question is that our sensory modalities are each "preconfigured" (by long massaging from evolutionary factors) to have sensitivity to "their" species of input, and being physical, stimulation modifies the affected nerve strands (this is called "hardening" in neurophysiology). This physical alteration acts like a marker to pathways in your memory facilitating recall. What your question deals with are memories that the subjects have forgotten but the hardened nerve strands are still in place and therefore accessible under certain conditions (including direct stimulation of the dedicated nerve strands).
There's much more to it, of course, but I can't produce a thesis here. The only other thing that might help your understanding is that memories are not stored, computer fashion, as complete (tactile, audio or video) images, but as instructions for the mind to reconstruct the whole memory from its internal resource of stored stimuli.
Yes, those reports are pretty much true, depending on where in the brain the stimulation is. It is the case that the act of smelling the peach causes the smell to be "recorded" (ugh, a bad term, really... it's much more complex than that) by the brain. So when you smell a peach when your brain is being stimulated, you are recreating the neural effects of smelling a real peach... and you can't tell the difference, since those neural effects are what smelling a peach is. Now, the last two sentences are rough. There are very many qualifications I could put on them, about how complete the experience is, where in the brain the stimulation must happen, other things accompanying smelling the peach (seeing it, etc.), philosophy about mind/ brain differences... and so forth. But very roughly that's what's going on. You might check out a recent book: The World in Your Head by Lehar.
Now, as far as stimulating the brain and producing a new sensation. An interesting idea... but not unprecedented. Think of the similar effects of drugs, for example. Don't we have there stimulation of the brain, not identical to stimulation by electrodes, perhaps, but similar, and external in the sense of not willed, i.e., not self-induced? And doesn't it result, sometimes, in strange ideas? Think about LSD trips, about how we think better (or so we hope) on caffeine... etc. That's really pretty much the same, isn't it. So really, you don't need to think about electrodes here, and people have been doing this for quite a long time.
Steven Ravett Brown
I am not sure if this statement is better suited for analysis by a psychologist than a philosopher but I will give your team of philosophers the first crack at it. I dropped out of college on purpose for no reason. Is this possible? Does it make sense? I would also like to know how you came up with the answers to these two questions.
Does it matter whether it "makes sense"? Whether you can now reconstruct the reason, whatever it may have been? My question to you is, why are you asking this question? Why is it important to you? What purpose will answering it serve, for you? Why not just ask what you want to do now?
Steven Ravett Brown
I believe I have a stronger understanding of psychology than philosophy, but I will give a satisfactory answer to your question, hopefully.
In brief, a reason is not necessary. Whether you know WHY you decided to drop out does not have any effect on the outcome of your decision. You will still be dropped out either way. [if we restate your question: "I dropped out of college on purpose."]
I assume from previous personal experience that you can "drop" by failing to register for the following session. The system has to work this way. [now your question could be: "I failed to register on purpose."]
Now, for my explanation of why:
If your college is like those with which I have experience, the college cannot keep you enrolled against your will. That is, students must actively signify their willingness to attend by registering. If nobody registered, the college would not offer any courses, nor would they need to. In fact, it is more surprising from an effort standpoint, that people register for courses at all.
Does this make sense? Certainly. College is a social contract. You pay for the courses you attend according to a published schedule. As long as you register and pay, you can expect full privileges as a student. Just as you should not expect to use the college's facilities without paying, the college cannot charge you when you are not registered for classes.
If you do something 'on purpose' that means you do not do it inadvertently, or accidentally, or unknowingly. After you have done it, you know what it was that you did, and you know that it was indeed your intention to do that thing, and not nothing, or something different.
It won't help in explaining the meaning of 'doing something on purpose for no reason' to give an example of something one fails to do, a state of affairs that is brought about as the result of not taking a certain action. For one can still ask the question, 'Why?' Why did you intentionally, knowingly drop out of college?
Suppose you reply, 'I could see no reason to continue' then that is a reason, and a sound reason. College costs money. You could be doing better things with your time. The drawbacks outweighed the benefits. But that is not what you want to say. What you want to say is that your dropping out your not turning up to register, or whatever was your doing, but there was no explanation that you could give, then or now, of why you made that choice, rather than the opposite choice. It is as if the decision just happened out of the blue. One minute you were going to continue, the next minute you found that you had 'decided' to drop out, but without having any reason to give for that decision.
Sometimes it happens that one forgets the reason for doing something. Perhaps you once had a reason for continuing in college, you saw the point to it, then one day you could no longer see the reason. But even here, one can say that that your reason for not continuing was the things I mentioned under the heading of 'drawbacks'. So in this scenario it is not the case that you dropped out for no reason. Your reason was (what you saw as) the unnecessary waste of time and money.
Let's suppose finally that you did have all the time, and the money, in fact you had absolutely nothing to lose by continuing at college. But you also forgot the reason why you had previously chose to attend college. Well then, I suppose, whether you continued or did not continue was nothing to you at all. You dropped out on a whim. I grant that this makes sense. That's why there is a word for it. But is it really true in your case?
In criminal law it is a duty of certain people to act in given situations, and is therefore a crime to omit to act. Should liability be extended to all people in situations were there is a moral obligation to act?
and Meg asked:
Are me morally responsible for our omissions? We assume to hold ourselves and others for our actions, but what about our non-actions?
We are responsible for our omissions, why some say we are not rests I think on a mistake concerning the workings of ethics, a mistake I will outline below.
We can make a distinction between those omissions that allow bad things to happen and those omissions that do not promote good things happening. These are not the same since whilst allowing a bad thing to happen will avoid promoting a good thing, avoiding promoting good will not necessarily mean that a bad thing will happen, things could just stay the same.
First, are we responsible for allowing bad things to happen? Consider the case of a burning house with a child trapped inside. You are the only person nearby, the only chance the child has of surviving, trying to rescue him will mean that you will certainly suffer burns and smoke inhalation, possible even die, should you go in or let the child die? One day I was walking home from school, the route took me across a busy road and up a public footpath, on the way up the path I saw a young boy on a bike speeding down the hill screaming, obviously he was going to fast and had lost control, I could have lifted him of off the bike as he past me, instead I sidestepped, let him past and he went into the road hitting a car, breaking his arm and leg. Watching him go I felt terrible, I knew what was going to happen and it did, I let a bad thing happen. I felt horrible then and every time I think about it I feel terrible. I was responsible for his injuries even before they happened. When I ignored him, his shouting, when I moved out of the way I was responsible for what happened next.
Karl Jaspers once wrote about the Nazi percussion of the Jews, "Each one of us is guilty in so far as he remained inactive. The guilt of passivity is different. Impotence excuses; no moral law demands a spectacular death...but passivity knows itself morally guilty of every failure, every neglect to act whenever possible, to shield the imperiled, to relieve wrong, to countervail." (The question of German Guilt).
The reason we may think that we are not responsible for our omissions is that there are limits to the demands of ethics (of both consequentialist and deontological kinds), it permits us to pursue our own goals and interests and steps in to prohibit anything that will affect others for the worse during these pursuits, sometimes morality requires us to sacrifice some of our own interests for the benefit of others but not at the expense of our own welfare.
This I think is the mistake in traditional thinking about ethics. Often ethics is seen and thought about on the same model as economics, a book-keeping of gains and loses, pros and cons, weights and measures. A balancing act of avoiding blame, keeping ones hands clean securing ones own self, against helping others. Often the balance wins out in favor of oneself. We help others up to a point but where it beings to interfere with our leisure time, our bank balance, our secure home, the limit is reached. That's one reason why it is generally regarded that we are not responsible for our omissions; there are limits to he demands of morality and our omissions point to those limits. This is the idea that morality should be about stopping bad things happen, but not necessarily about promoting good things happening and that the domain of responsibility only reaches as far as the first. Omissions of the latter kind are on the traditional view not omissions at all but superogatory acts, something above and beyond our normal call to duty. We can be praised for doing them but not blame for not doing them.
But morality is not like economics, its not about balancing what I use with what I can give away, morality breaks up this structure, there are no limits, it's looking after the other person bearing the weight of the world. Some object that this would make intolerable demands on people, it would make us all murderers for failing to help those in Zimbabwe, it would mean giving up more and more until we have nothing left, for to do otherwise would mean that more people die, it would mean, to take up Matthew's point that liability be extended and that's just unrealistic, if we put everyone in prison no one will feed the poor! But that's exactly what morality requires. (Not that everyone be in prison the Law follows even more the pattern of economics, of give and take, I wonder if it makes sense to punish someone legally for what they have failed to do ethically, since ethically we will all fail to do something, perhaps then responsibility and punishment need to be separated.) According to Emmanuel Levinas: "Responsibility becomes serious when it is not only my surplus that is affected but all that sustains my life and my very occupancy of this post".
Morality for Levinas is answering for the needs of the other person, without concern for my own self. A paradigmatic example is the giving of bread from ones own mouth to the beggar on the street. If I turn the beggar away he will die, I have killed him. But someone will object: "there will always be beggars on the street I can't feed them all I can't be responsible for them all!" Such an objection is still tied to thinking of ethics as if it were a balance sheet. Levinas is fond of quoting Dostoyevsky: "Everyone of us is responsible for everyone else in every way". Further there is no way to alleviate this responsibility. We cannot make it lighter, Levinas recognizes that there will be more beggars of course that's not a good thing, but it's no objection to denying our responsibility either: in fact recognizing our responsibility increases it: "The more I face my responsibilities the more I am responsible". When it comes to responsibility the accounts can never be settled.
The view that says we are not responsible for our omissions, of both kinds, is a view that does not see the beggar on the street, it's a view that does not take ethics seriously.
Why did Zeno's paradoxes provoke such a deep crisis in the intellectual environment of ancient Greece? Show how philosophical progress after Zeno required some compromise between the views of the Parmenidean camp and those of the pre-Parmenidean camp.
and Zero asked:
Could you explain Parmenides' and Zeno's objections to the reality of change?
I'll give you two of a number of equally valid reasons:
(1) If you hold to the ontological view that "Whatever is, is" (as Parmenides did), then logically this implies, "Whatever is, cannot not be." Therefore creation and destruction, both of which are neither being nor non-being, are logically impossible: e.g. to become, the thing that is becoming must be something already, it cannot be nothing. But this means it is. Conversely, if something is to be destroyed totally, you need to ask where the matter goes that is being annihilated. But wherever it goes, it cannot not be. Therefore in ultimate reality nothing ever changes, the universe is one unchanging material block. From this Parmenides deduced that all change whatever is illogical, yet since we seem to experience change nonstop, it was necessary to discredit the senses which communicate change to us. Parmenides himself did this in his poem by depicting the realm of ultimate truth as the immortal Gods' realm. The gods, who are not prone to illusion as we are, demonstrate the changelessness of reality to him.
From a modern scientific perspective you would probably say that it is contradictory (for the gods) to be eternally changing along with evolution, where and how would they end up? But just in case you think this is all hocus pocus, since it is so obvious that the world is in a state of non-stop transformation, the fact is that even today's scientists have not given up on Parmenides' notion. For a fascinating insight into his enduring impact on physics, you might delve into Popper's The World of Parmenides.
(2) Zeno's paradoxes, or logoi as he called them, are demonstrations of the impossibility of motion, by showing that all increments of seeming motion can be broken down into discrete units, i.e. an arrow in flight, so comprehended, is really standing still. Proof that change is mere illusion communicated by the senses. Zeno's puzzles, I might add, were not solved until the 17th century. At least to scientists' satisfaction. Some philosophers maintain, however, they were never solved and indeed can never be solved, because their logic is unassailable.
Has the language problems discussed by Wittgenstein been resolved as of yet? Is there a future for analytic philosophy?
Well probably this questioner has given up... this was at the bottom of the list. And for good reason... who could possibly answer whether there is a "future" for analytic philosophy? However, I have a solution for you! Read This Book: Edmonds, D., and J. Eidinow. Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument between Two Great Philosophers. New York, NY: Harper Collins, Inc., 2001. You still won't get an answer, but you'll understand the question a lot better!
Steven Ravett Brown
Don't you think that Wittgenstein himself tried to provide resolutions of the problems he raised? Or was he just a riddler who tried to tie us all up in conceptual knots? (A bit like Socrates, perhaps?)
The simple answer to your question is that in the philosophical world generally there is is still a great deal of argument about the sort of language problems that W. discussed and so it would appear that they are, as yet, unresolved. But some philosophers seem to almost completely ignore what W. had to say about these things, others do not. Many of these would still regard themselves as analytic philosophers in some sense or the other ... so perhaps analytic philosophy is alive and well ... but in some quarters "analytic" philosophy would appear to have been taken in a direction very different to what W. was doing. And even in W's time there were those (e.g. Carnap) doing very different types of "analytic" philosophy from what W. was doing... but I would not be too hung-up about labels like "Analytic"...
What is far more important is that Wittgenstein himself believed that he had resolved (or untangled or dissolved) many of the problems he discussed or at least pointed to how they might be resolved/ dissolved. It is not always very clear how this has been achieved, because he doesn't give simple black and white answers. He believed that that would lead to people not thinking for themselves.
I would suggest the following approach: pick just one specific language problem that Wittgenstein raised, try to work out WHY its is a problem for him and philosophy generally, consider carefully what W. has to say about it and whether he has not, explicitly or implicitly provided a resolution/ dis-solution of the problem. Do YOU also feel it to be a problem and does what W. say help you see any glimmer of a resolution? Try to work from the original W. texts but by all means use secondary commentators to help you (just bear in mind that there is a fair measure of disagreement between secondary commentators!)
THEN consider whether more recent philosophers are still haggling about the same problem. If W. had a solution have the contemporaries missed the point? Or have they found that W's solution was wrong? Or (a third possibility) have they simply ignored W, having perhaps rejected his philosophy for other, unrelated, reasons and are now just going their own sweet way, returning to the old problem, but perhaps with a different approach? If so, surely one or the other is/ was barking up the wrong tree? Or are their problems really different, only apparently the same?
I would most strongly recommend you take a look at Peter Hacker's book "Wittgenstein and Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy" I am sure it will help you find some answers.
Robert de Villiers
At the end of the day does any of it matter, is there a right way to be, a way to be that that is more right than any other, taking for granted that religion is man made, there for there will be no reward after death, does anything we do in our life matter, as after death it will all be lost anyway??
Of course it matters. It matters what we do in our life today. It matter to us and it matters to others alive today. Sometimes what we do will matter when we are dead and not there to care, but it might still matter to those alive.
Everything matters. If we accept that small things don't matter, like lying, for instance, then it becomes socially acceptable and things escalate and we don't mind who lies. We will allow it from parents, teachers and politicians. Surely that matters? We have standards and even if there is no God and no afterlife, we simply have human standards and we know what they are.
Your question contains a number of assumptions. The examination and questioning of the assumptions that we have taken for granted is fundamental to the development of a sound philosophical attitude.
Even taking for granted that religion is man-made, does it follow that nothing that we do in life matters,or that after death it will all be lost? Religions are attempts by humans to come to terms with aspects of reality. This does not mean that they are worthless. Much that is good in the world, including much great art, has been inspired by religion. How we live our life, and what we do in life, matters both to ourselves and others. Religion can make a great difference to how we live and how we act. That difference is usually, but not always, beneficial. Religion that does not accord with reality can be counter-productive. A religion that is fully in accord with reality would not be. Is such a religion possible? I believe it is.
Christianity has been the most productive religion to date, but the Christian explanation of the world, particularly the explanation of the Christ-event that was forged in the next five Centuries, no longer resonates with modern thinking. There is a need for a critical re-thinking of the Christ-event. I have argued elsewhere that:
1. The existence of a self-existent entity a God is the best explanation of the existence of the contingent Cosmos.
2. The only motive for a self-existent entity to act is to enable the production of another entity that is similar to itself.
3. The self-existent entity cannot directly create an entity that is similar to itself. Any directly created entity is obviously non-self-existent, and so is dissimilar to the self-existent entity.
4. The only course possible is for the self-existent entity to initiate a process involving self-organization and self-creation, to enable the possible self-creation of a communal entity that is similar to the self-existent entity in both creativity and goodness.
5. The stages of the development of the Cosmos to date have the appearance of such a process. The present human-moral-cultural stage is part of that overall process.
The Thesis on "The Process of the Cosmos" and associated papers are available on my Web Page at http://www.philosophy.27south.com
What I regard as cheating is considered OK by many American university students one survey revealed that as many as 75% of the interviewed students had purchased essays, term papers or even their masters theses from other writers, usually through online "paper mills", instead of doing their own work. One student responded to the question Why do you cheat? by saying "If you're not cheating, you're not trying."
As a non-cheating student in classes as large as 400 students, I can vouch for the difficulty of competing against students whose written work is done by professionals and whose exams and classes are taken by paid substitutes. They get better grades, look smarter on school records and get better opportunities for jobs as the "A" students. Professors don't bother to make themselves available to students or to get to know them, so they have no way of knowing that many of their "best" students got their grades by cheating.
These papers cost a lot of money, but cost is irrelevant to students who use Daddy's charge cards to pay for them, stay in party mode and assign their education to writers and sit-ins. I do not see that they really lose out. They do not care whether they are educated, they want to make money and hang with people like themselves, and they will graduate with far more social advantages than I will, swotting away while they cruise the clubs and make the connections that will get them the best paying jobs. I'm sure they will continue to cheat at their jobs by using insider information and paying underlings to do all their work for them as they take the credit for it. They will have better grades and no doubt get into better grad schools after they get tutoring for GMAT exams or even get access to tests, and present their references as top of the class pupils with good social connections.
I am bitter and struggling for my grades and wish I could find a way to rationalize cheating, because it seems I am being a sucker by not doing it.
They say it doesn't matter if they cheat to get through required courses that they'll never use, (like Ethics, haha.) What is your take on this cheating epidemic? It is not only common in University, but also in lower schools, where 75% of seventh grade students had cheated, and 63% of sixth grade students, according to a Duke University study. Professors do it too! One east coast professor was allowed to continue teaching after being caught lying to his Vietnam History of the War classes about his (non)experience fighting in Vietnam, or the several historians and writers who have been caught presenting plagiarized material as their own work in books, or the journalist who made up his own "sources" to quote. I know one cheating professor who even used old, forgotten dissertations in his newly published book and presented the work as his own, because I worked for him!
Is there a new philosophy that makes cheating laudable because it is so prevalent and because there is no benefit to not doing it except a feeling (useless) of virtue? I can't say that I recall anything much from my courses, even ones I got excellent grades in only a year ago, so it's not as if I am so much better educated than cheaters are.
They all act as though cheating is an out of date concept and practical results are everything. I feel as if I am adhering to some outmoded philosophy (not religious I was brought up Unitarian) that works to my ultimate disadvantage yet I can't seem to let go of it. Please comment, this disturbs me every time I see a fellow student sitting in the U. pub while I am flogging myself toward the library. It is ruining my educational experience, plus there are not very many fascinating minds to connect with. My University is ranked in the top 5 in the U.S. it's not as if this is happening where it won't affect the future, but then look at the President did he really have what it takes to get to, let alone through Yale? I wonder.
There is no philosophy of cheating. Instead, cheating is a strategy for accomplishing a goal with a minimum of effort. Moreover, cheating is a calculated risk. The cheater reasons that his professor will likely not check his work, and he may thus escape capture. However, penalties are severe if a cheater is ever caught (expulsion or other severe penalties, in Universities where I have been). Honestly, a notation of expulsion on a college transcript is something that is never washed away. That horrid legacy will haunt anyone who is caught cheating. The fact that increasing numbers of Universities are subscribing to anti-plagiarism systems should sound a note of caution to all potential cheaters.
You have high ambitions for yourself, as you described. I applaud your effort. However, it is important to remember that not everyone shares your desire for top grades, nor do they have the same talents as you. When you find yourself admiring the guy drinking beer at the bar as you trudge to the library, remember this: He might have paid his look-alike friend to take a test for him. Or, he might be celebrating an "A" on a test, after hours of his own studying. Or, he may have a photographic memory. Or, he may simply keep a different schedule than yours. Or, this person may be content to get the lowest passing grade and does not see the need to study until his grades fall below passing.
Cheating is not a philosophy, it is a strategy. People who cheat to succeed are also the same people who ran Enron, WorldCom, and any number of other businesses with abysmal ethics records. Their "luck" ran out and now most of them are scrambling to cover their hind sides before someone else exposes them. That is the life of the cheat.
At the end of the day, the only opinion of yourself that matters is your own. If you are willing to risk a college degree for the sake of a better letter grade, then perhaps your life's priorities require reassessment.
Take care and don't cheat.
let me tell you something about honesty. Nothing philosophical, nothing religious, but practical:
It is about being honest to yourself, to your own way.
If you identify something in the world around you that might be of help to you and you feel good with it then take it. If you do not feel good with it then leave it and do it your own way. This is real simple. If you saw the whole world cheating around you and you don''t feel good with it then do not look left or right'! Do not compare your way to the way of the others! This is very essential! Never compare! Honesty might bring material disadvantages with it but not necessarily. The example I have before my eyes is my boss. He was one of the German top managers and I was real lucky to be his secretary in the past 5 years. He was an honest man through and through, he had an outstanding career in our company over the past 35 years and last Friday he retired and he got lots of good-bye emails of which I read some. It is unbelievable how he was seen as an example to others, how much respect all those people paid him. He was the one in our company in several years who retired on his own terms, he was forced to nothing.
It is a deep and very real experience to me that people who go their own way in honesty to themselves and to others are guided by some invisible hand. This is nothing religious but a real experience! This way is not the bright and shining, funny and good looking way of the mass but your own which may often be dark and full of hindrances but in going this way you will become a personality people can trust. Would you ever trust somebody or pay respect to someone of whom you know how he got his degrees or whatever by cheating. What he achieved is a lie. Would you want to build your life on a lie? Besides being afraid that it will be known some day. If you see them sit together, drinking beer in a pub do you really think they can ever trust each other knowing that they are all able to cheat? Leave them alone. Let them live their lives how they want. Find people in your school or university who are honest like you. Be together with them, your own people. This gives some confidence and you are not alone. If there is no one you can turn to the way to the library is the best way you can choose. In case there are no fascinating minds alive around you be sure there are lots of the most fascinating minds who left their thoughts to us in the books.
My favourite is still Seneca and his letters to Lucilius. They are brillant for somebody in your situation. I know because I was in a similar situation but I was the one being cheated. And not only once. It helps to stay honest, go your own way despite of what happens to you and gives you confidence doing the right thing and showing this to all the others. And the strength to separate from people who are not good for you which might bring with it that you are often alone but again, not necessarily.
I wish you the strength to not looking left or right when there is nothing good for you to see.
There has always been dishonesty, cheating, lying, stealing, torture, maiming, and killing throughout human history. Many times it results in no punishment for the unethical; they get rich and powerful. If you doubt that, just look at world leaders and the rich today and throughout history. I assume that you've just realized that, and that you're shocked by it. I don't blame you, really... but there isn't much difference between conduct today and in the past, as far as I can tell. Human beings haven't changed much. Actually, things might be a little better... people don't usually torture others, at least physically, for public entertainment any more, as virtually all societies used to do, and there are watchdog groups, such as Amnesty International and the ACLU, now.
If cheating is successful, then you will do worse than cheaters in your grades and future jobs and money, probably. However, you will learn the subjects you study, and you will learn to behave ethically under duress. Children learn from example, and you will be setting an example. If you feel very strongly about it, start making a fuss: write letters, start a club, talk to the administration. Perhaps something will come of that, perhaps not. I'm certainly not going to give you a message of hope here... given human nature as it is shown by human history, the picture is bleak. There are a few people, here and there, who try to keep things going, intellectually, artistically, ethically. Not very many, really... most are indifferent, some are hostile. That you can reflect as you do above is a good sign... you are able to choose your values, which most people do not do. Good luck.
Steven Ravett Brown
Your letter to us is eloquent and disturbing and I am sad to read it. As you say, this is a practical problem that affects what our society turns out to be like.
The first comment I would make is that I don't think the situation is the same here in England. I studied at Uni here a few years ago (I graduated in 1995). The classes here, both at school and Uni, were certainly much smaller than your 400. At Uni, our exams were set by the lecturer who had taught the course, and often invigilated and marked by them certainly by one of the departmental staff. They all knew who I was!! (I used to draw cartoons and write limericks about them.)
I'm sure our lecturers recognized the students who showed themselves in the department and regularly attended lectures. These students would be expected to get better grades than those who never attended. I worked hard and read a lot, but I was rewarded with a 1st. I don't think the people who used to come up to me and my friends 2 weeks before the exams and ask "What books are we studying?" did so well although I don't think they failed, either... My only experience of cheating was when another student borrowed one of my essays 'to help him understand', and I had some difficulty getting it back.
That said, it sounds like cheating is a common and accepted fact in the US. Do you believe the statistics produced by the surveys? Do you think, from your own experience, that those figures are accurate? In England, few students would admit to cheating, even if they were doing it! Here, there is a great suspicion about the results of surveys, the accuracy of which depends on many things, including the sample size, the truthfulness of those conducting the survey and of those questioned, and the statistical analysis applied, which are often not disclosed when the survey's results are quoted.
If everyone knows about this cheating, doesn't anyone else besides you want to stop it? Do you think there's anything you could do about it? Would it be possible for you to expose people you know to be cheating? What about if a group of people formed an association or campaign against cheating? Don't your schools and Uni's want to do something about it? Is there any group you can join that works to reduce cheating? Is there any action that can be taken against those who take exams for others, or who supply essays and papers to cheats? If no-one would agree to do this, it would be much harder to cheat. These people are as much to blame for the continuance of cheating as those who pay them.
Looking at this issue from a different angle, do you really believe that cheats have the happiest lives? Would what they have make you happy? Cheats only benefit if, as you suggest, having lots of money and status are the things most to be desired in life. Are they what you most want? Our society seems to tell us that they are indeed important. Do you agree? Do you think these things are what is really valuable in life? Because I don't. But I often find it hard to remember they're not. Rich and famous people are admired, they seem to have it all.
By the way, I was interested in your comment that "...there are not very many fascinating minds to connect with." I don't think this is anything to do with cheating there just aren't many fascinating minds, not anywhere! Statistically speaking, the majority of people are of average intelligence, and even the clever ones aren't all interesting! Like you, I wish I could meet more people I would enjoy talking to, and perhaps become friends with. But as there are not that many of them, the chances of meeting one are relatively small. I hope Pathways to Philosophy is one place where 'fascinating minds' can meet!
There seems to be a lot of frustration in your "question". The kind of cheating you notice is inherent in a capitalist system. That indicates that not the cheaters are wrong, but possibly the system. Anyway bought knowledge helps to get titles, but not to solve problems. So it's a matter of your goals: do you want a title, or do you want to solve problems? If you want only a title, than the present system can be frustrating. However if you yourself want to attack problems, than own knowledge is inevitable.
Why do you wonder especially about Bush? Because he talks funny, and comes from Texas? As for me, I wonder how so foolish a man as Clinton got where he did.
I just happened upon your website and found myself enraptured by your virtual smorgasbord of ideas! A question: "Are philosophical problems, problems of linguistic clarity and interpretation, or real problems that transcend language itself, or are they an amalgamation of both linguistic and evidential difficulties?"
Hal also asked:
What constitutes a paradox and if they do exist, then why do they exist? From my perspective there seems to be a number of different kinds of paradoxes: apparent paradoxes (paradoxes which appear to be, but after deeper reflection aren't), real paradoxes (paradoxes which stand unresolved after prolonged scrutiny) and unrealized paradoxes (ones which exist but are not readily apparent). I have read many explanations for the existence of paradoxes through the years:
1) the limitation of human comprehension
2) the imposition of flawed assumptions
3) the introduction of sin into creation
4) an irreducible fact of existence
5) a problem of frame of reference
6) the cognitive dissonance of order and chaos.
1) Thanks. In answer to your question: yes. I could stop there, haha... all of those types of problems are philosophical problems, or can be. You have touched on one of the most ghastly areas of philosophy... the whole question of whether there are philosophical problems that can be addressed as more than linguistic. I'm just not going to go on about this one... it's too big. Take a look at the recent and excellent book: Wittgenstein's Poker, for an introduction to this issue, and how Wittgenstein and Popper almost came to blows (as the legend goes) over it.
2) First, here's one of many sites on paradoxes: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/3022/. Now, how about these:
a) the statement below is false.
b) the statement above is true.
Think about it. There are paradoxes which arise, inevitably, from the limitations of expressions within "orders" of logic, given a language which does not contain an infinite number of (or the capability of an infinite number of) meta-linguistic expressions. One can argue that natural languages do have this potentiality, and I tend to agree. Thus, we could make a natural-language meta-statement about a & b above, and that meta-statement would not be a paradox. But we could not do this within the propositional level at which the statement is formulated (at least in a formal language).
I would not say that human limitations give rise to paradox, in a formal sense of that term. You must be careful in your use of "paradox". A paradox refers to a logically self-contradictory statement or set of statements that cannot be resolved. Now of course humans hold contradictory ideas all the time... and so I guess you could say that someone who says one day that they believe in an infinitely merciful god and the next that all sinners will burn forever in hell is being paradoxical... but it's a paradox that is easily dismissible, as merely a contradiction that has not been resolved, but could be, in a religious context. Whereas the logical paradox above (a & b) cannot be resolved within its context.
Flawed assumptions: a trivial case of paradox. "Sin"? I can use the term, as in the above... but I don't really feel that I understand it, not being a theist. It seems to have something to do with obeying "laws" or commands that cannot be questioned... but as a philosopher, I hold that there are no such laws or commands. A fact of existence? Um... what's "existence"? Again I don't understand your terms. "Frame of reference" is usually a phrase in physics, or in cultural anthropology, or psychology. The first leads, if at all, to logical paradoxes, the second and third, to the kind of "human" paradoxes I mention above. Now you've completely left me behind. As you employ those terms, they are, as far as I can tell, meaningless. "Order" and "chaos" are extremely vague and/or complex terms, with multiple meanings in a huge variety of arenas. "Cognitive dissonance" is a technical phrase (originated by Festinger) in cognitive psychology which does involve paradox, again in the human sense above, where someone holds contradictory ideas. Here's a site on that: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/~jamesa/learning/dissonance.htm. But it's not related to order and/or chaos in anything but vague ways.
Steven Ravett Brown
I have a grade 12 Philosophy essay to write and I decided to chose the topic "The notion of Love". I'm looking at it from the aspect of fate and love at first sight. An example what I'm talking about would be like the movie, "Serendipity". Please try and help me out here I'm having a have time finding resources for this topic but ever since I saw that movie I've wanted to try and find out answers. I figured this would be the best opportunity.
There are 2 things I like about your question: 1, that a movie you've watched has made you think; and 2, that the subject you've chosen to think about is love. You've helped yourself greatly with your essay by choosing a topic you're genuinely interested in.
Love is a subject that is rarely tackled by philosophers, because it is so difficult to be sure other people have understood exactly what we mean when we talk about our feelings. But I think love is extremely important, and therefore we shouldn't be afraid to discuss it, even if this is difficult.
I've never seen the movie you mention, but we've all heard stories about love at first sight. 2 people walk into a room, and as soon as they set eyes on each other they just know that is the person they will marry and love forever. And so it goes on to happen.
Maybe this really does happen occasionally instant attraction leads to an enduring relationship. But I wonder if people conveniently forget all the times when they felt sure they were going to love someone they'd just met, only to be deeply disappointed when they got to know them! Isn't that one reason why many relationships break up?
Do people even remember how they felt when they first met, or are they perhaps imagining things? It's easy to say you fell in love at first sight after the relationship has proved to be a lasting one. Did any of the people who claim to have felt love at first sight keep a diary, and write down at the time what they felt when they first met their loved one? I wonder...
In fact, I don't believe that love at first sight is possible, although attraction at first sight obviously is. I think that for a relationship to last, it is extremely important for you to love the other person's character and personality. At first sight, you simply do not know what a person is like, and in that case I fail to see how you can love them.
This leads me to remind you that our word 'love' can cause problems, as it can be used to describe a huge range of different emotions, for example:
love of a parent, child, sibling
'love thine enemy'
love of God
love of country
love of humankind
strong liking for certain foods, TV programmes, clothes etc.
love of nature
love of a pet
I don't think anyone would be particularly confused when you talk about 'love at first sight' we usually understand this as romantic love that proves long-lasting but you might find it interesting to consider how this kind of love differs from other kinds. I would particularly suggest you think about how love at first sight makes people feel (in the body), and what does it make them want to do (kiss the loved person? get to know them? marry them?) Have you ever experienced this kind of love yourself, or do you know anyone who has, who could describe it to you?
David hume remarked that if we give an explanation for any natural phenomenon, we'll still need an explanation for the explanation itself, and there is one of two possibilities, endless (infinite) number. of explanations, or a last explanation (unexplainable explanation!).
Here's an example:
1. Water boils if put on fire.
2. Explanation: fire gives water energy, and this energy makes the molecules go far from each other till the water boils.
3. How does energy go to the water from the fire? and how does it increase the kinetic energy of the molecules?
4. When you answer, I'll ask 'how' and so on...
Well there can't be infinite number of explanations, because this will mean than an infinite number of actions happened after the water was put on fire till it boiled, and this would require an infinite time. So we are left with a last unexplainable explanation, can it exist? how?
Well there can't be infinite number of explanations, because this will mean than an infinite number of actions happened after the water was put on fire till it boiled, and this would require an infinite time. So we are left with a last unexplainable explanation, can it exist? how?
Wait. What if Hume was wrong? What if we come to an explanation which is intuitively obvious, so clear that we just can't help but understand it? That's one possibility, one which Husserl (in a sense) wanted. Second, why do explanations correspond to events? If we "explain" an event, just what are we doing? Does an explanation imply that we must invoke another, different event? What if we are just reformulating, or understanding that first event in a different way through our explanations? Third, let's say that we would require an infinite number of explanations, all of which correspond to events. Why would those events take an infinite time? What if some of them were of infinitesimal duration, or simultaneous? Fourth, let us say that we are left with a "last" event which we cannot explain. Ok, so what? We cannot explain it... and... what? So maybe after we study it for a while we will be able to explain it... or maybe not. What does that have to do with its "existence", whatever that means? Why does explanation have anything to do with existence?
These are just some of the issues and questions that might be raised here. I'm sure that you could find more at this point. My point is that before you go on and on building huge constructs from some limited set of ideas, take some time to question those ideas. The odds are that you will find alternative viewpoints.
Steven Ravett Brown
The study of Free Will vs. Determinism is by far the most fascinating and yet aggravating topic that I have thus far stumbled upon. I find it completely unlikely that all human action is caused by neuron firings. I have been trying to construct an argument to convey my point of view that humans do have free will and although biology does have some influence it is not responsible for all human action. If neuron firings were responsible for the complete make-up of an individual then would it not be possible to know every action an individual would commit beforehand simply based on previous experience? Do you have any thoughts regarding this issue one way or the other?
Even supposing you were right and someone could know whatever a person would do before he did it, would that imply that the person did not do those actions freely? I don't see why. I know, pretty well, that when you read this, you will not commit suicide over what I wrote. Does that mean that you did not commit suicide of your own free will? Why, I wonder, do you think that knowledge of what you will do implies that what you do is not done freely?
There are not many choices, really. You might take a look at Searle's article, which is a reasonable summary: Searle, J. R. "Consciousness, Free Action and the Brain." Journal of Consciousness Studies 7, no. 10 (2000): 3-22. But a search of the references on this issue will give you only a few alternatives. The neural alternative: see Libet, B. "The Timing of Mental Events: Libet's Experimental Findings and Their Implications." Consciousness and Cognition 11 (2002): 291-299. Also, Libet, B. "Unconscious Cerebral Initiative and the Role of Conscious Will in Voluntary Action." The Behavioral and Brain Science 8 (1985): 529-566. The latter is probably the seminal paper in this area, and has stimulated enormous controversy. Libet's follow-up is in his second paper, and it's easy to find commentaries.
Religion: you're on your own here; I'm not a theist.
Physics: there are two ways around it, as commonly conceived, here. One; quantum theory. Check out H. Stapp on this... but I don't believe what he says. The model of the collapse of the wave-function as determined by consciousness is, in my and very many others' opinions (and theory), dead, dead, dead (for early theoretical support (and there is more): Mulhauser, G. R. "On the End of a Quantum Mechanical Romance." Psyche 2, no. 19 (1995)). Two; chaos theory (e.g., Freeman, W. J. "A Proposed Name for Aperiodic Brain Activity: Stochastic Chaos." Neural Networks 13, no. 1 (2000): 11-14.). A possible way out, but not a good one, really, since chaos theory is, or can be, completely Newtonian. You get randomness here, which I don't think helps. You can get that from quantum theory also. If you want your actions to be partially random and you think that gives you free will, good luck to you; we've certainly got that, given nothing more than thermal (and chemical) noise in the nervous system.
Metaphysics: well, here it gets sticky. What you have to argue here is that conventional notions of causation are wrong when you come to the mind. Well and good... but first, physics is enormously successful, and second, what alternative are you proposing, that takes mind (nonconventionally causal, in some sense to be argued for)/brain (conventionally causal, or so it seems) interactions into account? Whoops. I was not pleased with what I found in this literature, and lots of it comes straight from various religious dogmas. I'm afraid that since my interests are not in pure metaphysics, I cannot give you anything I consider good arguments here. You might take a look at Whitehead on process, and Taylor on metaphysics.
Now, in answer to your question. No, it would not be possible, even with complete knowledge, to know every action an individual would take, but not because of free will. Neural circuits are chaotic (in the technical sense of that term), and this implies that in some cases literally an infinitesimal initial difference will result in a large resulting difference. You just can't measure, i.e., have knowledge of, infinitesimals... which means, really, that you can't, even theoretically, have complete knowledge of someone's complete makeup. And this is aside from thermal noise, quantum uncertainty, etc. But this doesn't help the metaphysical issue of free will. The best I can do here is to remind you of the similarity (let us say, for the sake of argument) between mind and a computer program. The same substrate can run an infinite number of different programs. The counterargument is that actually, the substrate is not the same, since to run a program a particular configuration must be "loaded" into (the neural equivalent of) memory, i.e., into molecular-level configurations of neural circuits, and that loading changes the physical substrate. True enough... on the other hand, running the program, through feedback, also changes the substrate, and thus you could argue that the mind "reprograms" the brain's circuitry. Yes. But the counterargument to that is that the program feeding back is itself run on the physical substrate, i.e., it is the dynamics of the physical substrate, and thus subject to the laws of physical causality. So the best you can get out of this, I think, is that we have free will inasmuch as we have feedback capabilities, but subject to physical (and of course "mental", i.e., to follow the analogy, programming) laws. Libet's argument is somewhat the same.
Steven Ravett Brown
What would Marx think of the rich and famous people of today?
Marx was more interested in capital, accumulation of capital, means of production and class struggle than in rich and famous people.
Since the means of production are today (as well as in Marx's epoch) owned by private enterprise and since there is still no classless society, one could suppose that Marx would not change his views and opinions.
The short answer Not a lot.
Marx believed strongly in human freedom; his problem was to somehow produce a political system based on collective freedom and at the same time retaining that precious individual freedom. Within such a system a fair means of controlling production had to be found. This obviously had to be achieved without allowing the development of a class structure. The simple concept is "rule of the people by the people," a class-less society requiring legislation to prevent the separation and elevation of a ruling class founded on wealth and privilege.
The big enemies were aristocracy and capitalism, in both their social and political concepts: he found the systems repugnant. Here were systems in which the rich and the privileged made all the laws, unassailable laws which gave protection to themselves and perpetuated the system. At the time of Marx, the early and middle nineteenth century, the gap between rich and poor in western society was enormous; there was no hiding the fact that the rich looked down on the poor, oppressed them, exploited them and generally treated them with disrespect and disdain. The courts came down heavily on the poor and leniently on the rich.
What differences would Marx see today? He would note that the gap between rich and poor had probably increased, despite the fact that the working classis marginally better off. He would see that the means of production is firmly in the hands of the rich: that the tentacles of capitalism now stretch across the world, with some multinationals so rich that governments have little or no power over them, they have now proved beyond a shadow of doubt that money means power. They can now freely desecrate and pollute the planet in pursuit of profit and within the capitalist laws which protect them.
Marx would also find that his system, designed to put an end to capitalism and privilege, not only never got off the ground but had been misrepresented by dictatorships and police states, thus playing right into the hands of capitalists, enabling them to point to murderous and oppressive regimes as socialist/ communist threats to the world.
Seeing that Marx had very little regard for the rich and famous of his day, he would be very unlikely to approve of what he would see today. The rich are still being put on pedestals and decorated for making themselves lots of money. As for the famous, he would again be made aware of the influence of wealth in creating so-called famous people. He would find himself in a very artificial world confronted by so-called 'stars,' 'celebrities,' 'millionaire footballers,' ' TV newsreaders,' 'TV presenters,' and so on. He would now find that we had the famous rich and the rich famous. But he would be able to rub his hands and say, "I told you so!!"
We are often told in introductory philosophy textbooks that we can be absolutely certain of the truth of mathematical propositions For example we can be absolutely certain that 3 + 4 = 7.
My question is whether the certainty referred to is just a psychological contingency that arises because the proposition is so easy to understand and is so familiar to us.
If it more than this for example something to do with the nature of mathematical propositions themselves being tautologies how should the following example be explained?
Consider a sum in simple arithmetic that consists of 500 numbers each 10 digits long (e.g. 7453895823). How can we ever be certain what they add up to? It would seem certain that the 500 numbers actually do have definite total but, again, the question is how can we ever know with any certainty that we have added them up correctly and therefore have the right answer to be certain about?
In practice the overwhelming likelihood is that a mistake will be made. Obviously if you're just using a pencil and paper!! but also if your using a calculator (slips of the finger, misreading of digits or their order, etc).
I think there is a sense in which we can never be sure getting such sums right and therefore cannot be sure of the results of even simple arithmetic. What I'm not sure about is whether this lack of certainty has any significance such as showing that arithmetic is just like any other empirical science and it is a matter of experiment (i.e. doing the sum again and again and checking with other people's results) to see whether we have got it right?
I might add that this is not just an academic question but has real-life consequences for people like me who are accountants and are required to devise methods of testing (i.e. auditing) whether sometimes many hundreds of long numbers have been added up correctly (just think, you only need to be dealing with hundreds of thousands of pounds to have 8 digit numbers if the pence are included e.g. £999,999.99p and the clerks that work in accounts departments often have to add up pages and pages of such figures!).
That's an interesting distinction, between the actual adding of a number and the theory. First, no, the addition of, say, 3+4 or any other sum (or product, or whatever) is not contingent. It is dependent on the nature or definitions of number and on the operators employed in the ring or set constrained, say, by the operation of addition. And that set can be extended to other operations as well.
Now on the other hand, is actual addition contingent? I'd say both yes and no, for a couple of reasons. First, you could break any complex operation down into simpler ones, and do them separately. Thus, you can be certain about additions, say, as they extend to higher powers of ten, because of the nature of the symbolism we use. That is, we can take 10+7 and know it's 17, right? A simple operation which we do not need to verify by counting, because we have defined the symbolism in such a way that it must be true. Thus, we put the "1" of the "10" into the second column, and the "0" into the first, since we're using base 10 numbers. And so adding 7 to it is transparent... we just put it in the column next to the 1. Then we can simply read what 10+7 is because of our notation. Thus in this sense addition is not contingent. We can, if we want to, verify any sum, but not by the methods we employ to (routinely) add that sum, but by inspecting the processes we engage in to arrive at that sum, and merely matching, process by process, to see if the processes are identical. Thus, 1000+874 is also 1000 with an "8" put into the next (hundreds) column, etc. We can do this because these processes are Markovian, i.e., not history-dependent.
But we don't add this way, and the second sense of contingent then is the one involving, as you say, the practicality of adding many numbers at high speed. Now here I'd agree; mistakes are inevitable, and adding in this sense is contingent. But that's why we have computers, right? Think of how the log tables were originally calculated, for example... yes, by hand. That's why, by the way, in statistics, we use a significance level of.01... because that's the accuracy they could be practically calculated to when statistics began. And we've enshrined that value, for no good reason, since.
So as electronic media become more ubiquitous, the likelihood of mistakes should decrease... and hopefully people will not have to read and enter numbers by hand, error correcting will be highly redundant, etc... but of course these will never eliminate this kind of error. Practical addition will always be contingent.
Now, there is yet another sense in which addition and all mathematics may be contingent. But that is a much deeper sense than you are asking, viz., is number dependent on human perception and cognition? One can argue that the nature of the way we structure the world gives rise to our abstracting number from our tendency to group and isolate objects (which one could argue is merely a human set of processes imposed on objectivity), then count them, and so forth. I actually think that this is the case, and that it is probably possible to perceive and manipulate the world without human types of differentiation. But that's another, long, discussion.
Steven Ravett Brown
Well, that we are certain of 3+7 is a psychological contingency in that it is an easy sum. It is possible that we could have brains that could be certain when we performed much more complicated calculations. However, we have not got that sort of brain, but this doesn't affect the fact that there is a correct answer to mathematical calculations and it is intrinsic to maths that this is so. Mathematics is never under dispute we know there is a correct answer, even if there can be error on our part. The error is human and correction of error is to check again, using normal human means, although artificial intelligence isn't subject to the same sort of error as humans and with a human checking AI is functioning normally, there seems no reason to be concerned about auditing problems.
Mathematics is not an empirical science. It is necessarily true that 3+7 = 10 and the same is so for more complicated calculations and it is only because you know this to be the case that you can be concerned about error. We cannot conceive of any conditions which would create doubt about actual calculations. It is different with empirical science which tells us that water is H20. We can easily conceive that what we take to be water might have a different chemical constitution. But what would make it the case that 3+7 (or a bigger calculation) was false?
An excellent question. Immanuel Kant distinguished between "subjective certainty" or "I am certain that...." and "objective certainty" or "It is certain that...." As you correctly argue, arithmetic evades subjective certainty because of the ever present possibility of mistake, although as a practical matter of fact, this possibility is vanishing small when it comes to simple and short calculations.
But, given that the answer to an arithmetical calculation is true, that answer is certainly true. That is, it would be impossible for it to be otherwise. It is, in other words, a necessary truth, and people often use the expression "is certain" for a necessary truth. So your calculation is certain (given the answer is true) in the sense that the proposition that the earth is round is not certain since it is not a necessary truth and could be otherwise.
What is the major difference between religion and philosophy?
With a wink one could say the major difference is, that philosophy asks questions, while religion is answering them.
Viewed from a safe distance the most apparent difference between religion and philosophy is, that Religion is based on ritual, dogma and authority, while Philosophy rests upon critical thinking. "Most religions rely on authorities, as in the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rabbinical Councils and Courts, or the Imam. Philosophies do not. There is no Absolute Aristotlean Authority, or Supreme Scholasticism Senate", one of my colleagues once said quite bluntly. A bit more sensitive, one will realise, that philosophy knows at least authorities, that "all western philosophy was merely footnotes to Plato" as Whitehead coined. Or what about some postmodern thinkers, who claim there is no absolute truth, holding their very own claim as absolute truth! Isn't such an authoritative tenet quite what we would call a dogma for short?
From a more inside view, we could say that, though both, religion and philosophy are concerned with many of the same issues the nature of reality, belief, right conduct, the mind,... but they treat these issues quite differently, there are different "techniques of approach": while religion investigates by means of commitment, faith and emotional experiences, philosophy investigates by means of scepticism, criticism and objectivity. But wouldn't we end up in total skepticism without a trace of faith and wouldn't we fall for false prophets without a trace of skepticism?
For true religious people there is an essential difference: religion is linked to God Himself, the Creator, Upholder and Mover of the Universe. God's words are unlike those of philosophers not well-built arguments but revelations of eternal truth. Whereas it is out of question that humans can experience "revelations", I don't see why these revelations should be reserved for institutionalised religions: What about the great Mystics then?
To my mind all these distinctions are quite superficial and it's better to put your question in a bigger frame. While we have developed many tools for the many fields of physical research since the invention of philosophy as "mother of all sciences", it seems that religion and philosophy are left only for the provisional unexplicable rest. And while noone seriously would use neurophysiological equipment to investigate atoms, some still use telescopes to investigate God. The basic idea behind this is, that one day everything can be explained (or rather reduced) by physical sciences.
At this point the so-called Chain of Being comes into play, I will use this model to adjust the positions of religion and philosophy from my point of view. In terms of the modern view, largely influenced by the doctrine of evolution, this chain starts with inanimate matter and to consider man the last(!) link of the chain, as having evolved the widest range of useful qualities.
Why should men be the last possible or existing emergence with significance?
If Mineral can be written m,
Plant can be written m+a
Animal can be written m+a+b
Man can be written m+a+b+c,
then God can be written as m+a+b+c+d, or perhaps as m+x+y+z+a+..... z.
On these levels a,b and c are the significant ontological discontinuities or, more simply, each a jump in the Level of Being, and there are adaequate "significant" sciences for each of these levels, where none of these sciences can be reduced to another.
For example, if
m: physics, chemistry
m+a+b: behaviour research
m+a+b+c: philosophy (as Wittgenstein said: philosophy is the investigation of thinking by means of thinking) and sciences of consciousness
m+a+b+c+....z, the "supermental", "supernatural", "spiritual", or "God" is the realm of true religion (it's not the simple fact that Jesus lived, but his spiritual dimension, on that religion is built). So we could conclude, if philosophy is the study beyound physical sciences, then religion is the study beyound philosophy.
Virtuelle Schule Österreich
Department Philosophie & Psychologie
My question is very short: Can sport be considered a form of art?
David Best argues that even if there are aesthetic sports (gymnastics), where how one performs (the beauty of the movement) is valued and acknowledged in competition, this is not enough. Aesthetic sports do not have the fundamental trait of a form of art in which the central purpose is creativity, and leaving an artifact. Cordner also does not consider sport as art because sport, unlike art, does not possess an internal end. What do you think?
I tend to agree with the critiques, in general. My view of art is that it must not merely have an end (which some sports do, i.e., when in the Olympics one tries for a record in human achievement surely that is "internal"?), but an end which attempts to express something. Now, what do I mean by "express something"? Whoever is doing, realizing, performing art is employing that medium as a symbolism to communicate something about themselves, as well as whatever else, if anything, they are attempting to communicate. What are the alternatives here?
First, we might consider, as did Kant, that art expresses or realizes aesthetic feelings: let us say, feelings purely of pleasure in beauty. So art might be the creation of something with no other purpose than to be beautiful. But I do not agree with this. One could, for example, reproduce something already considered beautiful. Would that be creating art? Well, it wouldn't be "creating", since it would be reproduction... would it be art in any other sense? It would be the production, at least, of something purely for its beauty. But we would not consider this art, surely... merely reproduction. So it is not enough to produce beauty.
What about creating something that is purely beautiful, but expresses nothing, merely gives one, upon seeing it, the sense that there is something beautiful and the pleasure associated with that? Is that art? Suppose someone came up with a pattern that meant nothing, but was acknowledged to be a beautiful pattern; a purely abstract pattern in a rug, let us say. I think that might be considered art... but I'm not actually sure why, because the only difference between that pattern and some other original pattern which people did not consider beautiful would be that feeling, and further, why would its uniqueness, in contrast with the reproduction above, count toward its being art? However, this is a controversial point. There are many who consider mathematicians who create abstract beauty in systems which as far as anyone knows will have no real-world applications to be artists. Similarly for chess and go players, and so forth. In this respect, one could, I believe, consider sport to be art. What if the grace of a gymnast, or indeed of a basketball player, were such that their movements were considered beautiful? Then by this criterion they might be creating art. But I just don't see this as sufficient to consider something a work of art, or a process as an art.
Let us take another alternative. Suppose we considered creation essential to art, but not aesthetics. Thus, a new theory in science could, by this criterion, be considered art. Is that the case? No, I think we would deny this. One might consider a theory in science as art, but only if it met both criteria, namely, that it was new and beautiful. But even this is controversial, just as the pure mathematical idea was. We do not usually consider science to be art. Even exhibitions of "art in science" usually consist of photography or something similar, i.e., an acknowledged art form incorporating results from science. Again, this is a debatable point, but I am unconvinced that science, per se, is ever art.
Let us consider the case of expressiveness. Suppose that one wrote a description of a scene. Would that be art? It might be a beautiful description, in which case we would probably consider it art, but what about newspaper reporting, for example? Is that art? We don't seem to normally consider that type of expression art, because although something is being communicated, there is no attempt (except, perhaps, in finding the content) at originality of expression, or at creating beauty. So creativity and aesthetic feeling enters into this also; and in cases where the content is extremely unusual and presented well, we do sometimes consider news to be art.
Let us consider another case. Suppose there was someone who created something that most people acknowledged was ugly, and that person did not do it (produce the ugliness) purposely. Would that be art? I think we would all deny this... or at best, if the creation were original, we would say it was seriously flawed art. Now, what if the ugliness was purposeful? Is it now art? I think that we would concede that it might be. Unpleasant art, but still art. So what is happening here? First, we are still employing the Kantian test of aesthetic feeling as a criterion. The creation of beauty, or its opposite, must be purposeful. So art, it would seem, does include at least an acknowledgment, however, grudging, of beauty.
We are narrowing this down, it seems. We want some acknowledgement of beauty, we want creativity of expression and/or content, and we want that content also to express something beyond its appearance. Let's just arbitrarily stop here, and I'll claim that I've identified the essentials of art. Now, do sports meet these criteria?
1) Acknowledgement of beauty: not usually, except perhaps inasmuch as being good at, say, gymnastics or ice skating implies gracefulness and beauty of movement. But this is not, on the face of it, the acknowledgement of beauty, merely coincidence.
2) Creativity in expression and/or content: perhaps at the highest level of a sport, where someone is good enough to invent a new way to score, a new move in wrestling... but we do not consider this art, but very good craft.
3) Expression beyond the appearance: not in sport, except perhaps those sports on the edge of art, like ice skating. The breaking of Olympic records is a goal beyond previous content, but expresses nothing beyond that.
So, all in all, it seems, if my analysis is at all correct, that sport is not usually art, but craft, i.e., something requiring skill that does not in any way move beyond its internal practices. The "aesthetic" sports like ice skating, gymnastics, and so forth, may become art by transcending their craft, in effect, and attempting to strive for beauty and expressiveness. This, as an aside, is why I have problems with the term "martial arts", which I think is misleading, since none of them: karate, aikido, judo, etc., meet the above criteria for art. If one incorporated movements from such crafts into, say, ballet, then we would have art... but only as ballet.
Steven Ravett Brown
Assuming there is a God, how does one know God's will from one's own?
One must be cautious. There are many who believe that their illusions and some who believe that their hallucinations make them know God's will. Wilhem Steinitz (1836-1900), the first official chess world champion, towards the end of his life believed that he was connected by telephone with God and, thus, he was in a position to know directly God's will. His high IQ did not preserve Steinitz from being the victim of hallucinations.
For a believer, it is safer to examine the issue within his/her religious context. As far as religions are concerned, God's will is known thanks to the scriptures and (for the biggest and some other denominations) tradition. Several denominations may acknowledge the existence and authenticity of possible private revelations, provided that the person who claims to be the beneficiary fullfils the established norms for the recognition of genuine mystical phenomena. One significant indication is the absence of inflation of this person's ego.
One knows one's own will, if one knows anything. Any attempt to know God's will is obviously a far more difficult project. Any assumption that anyone knows God's will should be soundly based. Most such assumptions are based on pre-critical, mythological thinking. Distinguishing between one's own will, and any accurateconcept of God's will, should therefore not be very difficult.The prior question is "How could God's will be known?"
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all profess to know something of God's will, but theirideas of the nature ofGod's will clearly differ. These religions all believe that God has revealed his will in some way. The idea of such "revelation" arose primarilyamong people who had mythical perspectives on the world. They arose before the general application of a critical perspectiveto the world.
There would appear to be two possibilities.One is that God, or a messenger of God, spoke to some people at some time. The other possibility is that some people perceived values, particularly moral values, as Platonic "ideal objects" at a time when such perceptions were even rarer than they are today. In a pre-critical time these perceptions of ideal objectscould well have been characterised by the perceivers as messages from heaven.
Values, including moral values, occupy a special place in the realm of ideal objects. Their mode of being is uniquein thattheir realisation, in the sense of their being made real in the world of things, is mediated only through human action. Only humans can add value to the world.
Given that it is certain that some people have the capacity to perceive and realise moral values, the application of Occam's Razor would seem to indicate that we do not have to postulate God, or a messenger of God, as having spoken to the people who are characterised as prophets.Such prophets can be more simply understood as persons who perceived moral values, when such perceptions werevery rare,and who understood and proclaimed their moral insights as the "voice of God". If that is the case it would appear that the question of the nature of God's will is still open.
The human capacity to perceive moral values is a comparatively recent development. I have argued elsewhere that morality developed among the Hebrews before it developed among the Greeks. There is a significant difference between the "morality" of Homer and that of Xenophanes. Lawrence Kohlberg has found that only a very small percentage of present-day people are capable of making principled moral decisions. The vast majority of people still get their "morality" from the accepted pattern of behaviour in their own culture. This appears to support the view that morality, as distinct from mores, is a recent human development.
Clearly the nature of God's will is an important question. Perhaps an appropriate starting point in the attempt to work out an answer to this question would be to begin with Leibniz's deduction that this is the best of all possible worlds. The question of the nature of God's would appear to be related to the question: "In what way is this world the best possible world?" I have dealt withthis latter question in the Winter 2002 edition of the on-line Philosophy Journal, "The Examined Life".
I have read in many books that thoughts attract thoughts of a similar 'vibe' and can lead to a manifestation in reality even to the point where a natural disaster is the result of many people worrying that said disaster will occur! Do you think this is a real possibility, and can you recommend any philosophers who expand on the subject?
No, I don't. No, I can't. I could name people who write about this, but first, I don't want to recommend this kind of fuzzy thinking to anyone, and second, I wouldn't consider these people philosophers. They're either writing popular books to make money or they're motivated by religion and/or superstition.
Instead of reading that stuff, why don't you try these:
Shermer, M. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1997.
Hines, T. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988.
Kitcher, P. The Advancement of Science; Science without Legend, Objectivity without Illusions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Young, A.W. "Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs." Mind & Language 15, no. 1 (2000): 47-73.
Piattelli-Palmarini, M. Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994.
Schick, T., Jr., and L. Vaughn. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995.
Steven Ravett Brown
I have to write a paper on a period of solitude I've experienced in my life in Levinas's terms. I do not understand what he says solitude is. Can someone help me?
When we think about solitude it is usually in terms of the absence of others, as being on ones own, isolated from the rest, lonely. Think about social occasions, a friend's party, a professional occasion, an office party, don't we sometimes feel we have nothing to say, nothing in common with the people there, we're just not interested in what's going on? Or think about personal relations, these sometimes fail because one person cannot understand the other, doesn't know what they want from them. Think about Robinson Crusoe alone on his desert island, or Shakespeare's plays without the soliloquy, without the glimpse into the characters mind. This is the solitude we are familiar with.
However these are incidental, transitive features, Robinson Crusoe can be rescued, Shakespeare can add the inner dialogue. What Levinas describes when he talks about solitude is a state that each of us has all the time, one that cannot be detached from what we are. Levinas wants to find the 'ontological root' of solitude, the something that structures our life rather than being just an outcome of it. He wants to say "something else about solitude than its unhappiness and opposition to collectivity, to this collectivity whose happiness one usually says is in opposition to solitude" (Time and the Other pp.41).
Levinas locates this 'something else' at a level in a person's life before (prior to) his social contact with others: Before any of these relationships, we can say of a person that they exist, moreover each of us exits, it is something each and all of us does and yet it is unique and individual to each person, no one else can have my existence, my little bit of Being. Levinas says "One can exchange everything between beings except existing" (T&O p. 42). My existence is mine alone, it is what is most my own, it cannot be shared or swapped (of course I can share aspects of my existence, my time and space for example, but not my existence as such). In other words my existence is like a solitary confinement 'to be is to be isolated by existing' (T&O p. 42).
It is by this fact that I exist, alone, that Levinas locates solitude, it is an ontological solitude, not a social or anthropological solitude. Solitude is the relation I have to existence, existing, to Being before I have a relation with any other. But for Levinas this I not a sad and lonely state of affairs because in my relation with being I have a certain mastery over being, I can shape the world to my wants, I can affect the world in what ever way I desire. Solitude, this being on my own means my Freedom; 'Solitude is not only a despair and an abandonment', Levinas says, 'but also a virility, a pride and a sovereignty' (T&O p.55). But this freedom comes at a price. When I am alone, out in the world, enjoying myself, there is a limit to these activities, a limit imposed by my solitude, by my being: it is the fact that I cannot detach myself from my existing, I am lumbered with myself, enchained to myself. Levinas says that the existent is occupied with itself. This sounds very strange, what is it to be lumbered to myself? Its just this; that I can't carry on doing whatever I like, after all I have a body, I exist materially and I have to look after myself after my own being, I need food and rest and the like. The condition of my freedom then, by being, solitude, is my responsibility for myself. This says Levinas is a paradox of existing " a free being is already no longer free, because it is responsible for itself" (T&O p.55).
My own self, for Levinas is like a weight or a heaviness that I must carry around. (Oddly enough I have found the best or most acute experience of what Levinas is describing occurs after a few drinks and a night on the town, its not just I think the magic effects of beer at work, but that my own body, my materiality becomes apparent. Its an weird experience, not that I'm suggesting you go and get drunk in order to write your paper, I doubt Levinas himself was much of a drinker and he got along with writing strange experiences okay.)
So It takes a lot of work just to simply be. It takes effort: "Everyday life" he says "is a pre-occupation with salvation" (T&O p.58). Real salvation, not taking up this responsibility means a return to an anonymous being Levinas calls the il y a, the there is. Levinas then proceeds to give descriptions of the states we find ourselves in when the effort of being is felt; two examples are work and fatigue.
In work effort is needed. Sweat and toil, pain and sorrow is how Levinas understands work. It is in this sweat and toil that the subject finds "the weight of the existence which involves its existent freedom itself" (T&O p.68). Having to work, the effort involved highlights the fact that I am. And of course work makes us tired. Think about the end of the working week; we've been nagged at, stressed out, abused, overburdened, we go home, wash of the sweat and curl up for the weekend (if we're lucky). Think of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to watch it roll back down, before he starts to push the rock again we can imagine him giving an almighty exhale, he's fed up, he doesn't want to do it but he has to, his gasp is a hesitation, a recoil from work before the effort of being is taken up again. Curled up on our sofa of a Friday night, tried, fatigued, we have an aversion to work, its not even a break from work, a rest, fatigue is a reminder of the commitment to work and of course a desire to escape from work. As Manning points out "it is to be weary of being oneself" (Manning p.46).
This desire to escape from oneself, from being is the continuing concern of Levinas's philosophy. He thinks he find an escape via the other person, first as an erotic encounter, then, later, as an ethical response made to the Other's demand for help, But that takes us away from your question.
You said you had to write about 'a period of solitude', I hope it is clear that this is inaccurate when applied to Levinas' understanding. Solitude is not something that comes an goes, it is rather a condition of our being, the weight of being continually haunts us, sometimes it is just more acutely felt. I have indicated some of the areas Levinas thinks it is at its most apparent, you have to ask your self if you have felt the same, if not a starting point might be to consider just the strangeness of your existing, the fact that you are and that no one else can have what you have.
Levinas Time and the Other ( T&O)
Levinas Existence and Existents
These works contain Levinas' most extended treatment of Solitude.
Robert John Sheffler Manning Interpreting Otherwise than Heidegger
Contains a good introduction to Levinas' thinking on Being.
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
In Time and the Other, solitude is held to be the incommunicable sense of self, so it would seem that we are always in solitude.
In enjoyment, such as eating, solitude can be escaped. But in knowledge and in sociality, there is an impossibility of escaping the solitude of the self. In knowledge and sociality (where these exceed ordinary consciousness of the external world) the self is in solitude proper or up against the really other.
Levinas has said there is solitude in a "concern for knowing", where this is not knowledge of the thematised, or scientific, but of the more abstract, such as an attempt to understand creation or time. In Time and Infinity, Levinas says "The solitude of the subject will be recognised also in the goodness in which the apology arises". Solitude in its most intense form arises beyond intentionality, in the more spiritual, or in relation to that which is irreducible to fact. The goodness in which the apology arises is more than the apology itself. In paternity the son is part of the father, as the father prolongs himself in the life of his son, but he is not his son.
If you are studying philosophy, in writing your essay you will be in solitude. Otherwise, think in terms of interactions with others.
I am a 2nd year Philosophy student having some problems with getting into grips with what the central problem of Frege's puzzle of identity is. I came across the your site when I was trying to read up on Frege. I think I am mentally exhausted by Philosophy right now, especially because I am having to do Logic and Metaphysics in my tutorials. My brain somehow does not respond to Logic and Metaphysics at all (and that is rather worrying considering they are the fundamental parts of Philosophy). I would be most grateful if you could outline the main purpose of his paper "On Sense and Reference". I don't seem to see the difference between the object view and the meta-linguistic view. I have an essay title, "If the meaning of a name consists in the fact that it stands for a certain object, then frege's puzzle of identity is insoluble." I am not at all confident with handling logic and metaphysics and I seem to be "missing the point" most of the time. I would be most grateful if you could help me with clearing up the confusion in my head with regards to the two theses that he is refuting. What exactly is meant by the mode of presentation?
In his early work, Begriffschrift where Frege described his ground-breaking system of quantifier logic, he was not really interested in natural language at all, but rather in the logical apparatus which mathematicians use in setting out proofs. When it came to the concept of identity, Frege proposed that when the mathematician asserts a statement like, 'wxy = z', the content of that statement is that the expression 'wxy' refers to the same entity (e.g. number) as the expression 'z'. This is the 'meta-linguistic view', which Frege rejected in "On Sense and Reference".
Why did he reject it? He was not denying the truth of the statement:
The cube root of 1879080904 = 1234 if, and only if the number referred to by the expression, 'cube root of 1879080904' is the same number as the number referred to by the expression '1234'.
However, this equivalence disguises the fact the two expressions, 'cube root of 1879080904' and '1234' refer to the same number only because of a structure that exists in mathematical reality, and not because the mathematician has merely stipulated that the two expressions will be used with the same reference (as one might stipulate, when doing a proof, that the expression 'E[x,y,z]' refers to the same number as 'x + y + z').
This throws us back on the question, How can a statement that a certain number is identical with itself express a piece of knowledge?
In order to answer that question, Frege famously proposed a distinction between sense and reference. As a change of tack from the standard expositions of Frege's theory, I am going to stick to the arithmetical case. There is a certain number which we know something about. We know that it is the 1234th successor of 0. That same number is also referred to by 'MCCXXXIV' in Roman numerals. We also know arithmetical facts about that number as the result of performing calculations, such as the one given in the example. Each distinct 'way of knowing' the number involves a different mode of presentation. The mode of presentation might also be thought of as the route to reference. Think of following a route to a destination, such as a map or sheet of instructions. To follow a route you need to do work, calculate or find out things. When two different routes take you to the same destination that is an extra piece of knowledge which you didn't have before. That is how according to Frege, identity statements are informative.
Now comes the controversial part. Having established the sense/ reference distinction with the aid of the example of identity statements, Frege offers a logical analysis of indirect contexts, e.g. statements of the form, 'A believes that XYZ'. If the truth of the statement:
Bess believes that there are 1234 words in Geoff's answer.
depends solely on the reference of 'Bess', 'Geoffrey', '1234' etc. then it would follow logically that:
Bess believes that there are cube-root-of-1879080904 words in Geoff's answer.
But clearly the second statement does not logically follow from the first. Frege explains that this is because referring expressions which occur after a phrase such as 'believes that' refer to their ordinary sense. So in this example, '1234' does not refer to the number 1234 but to the sense of the expression '1234', the mode in which the number 1234 is presented when we refer to it using the expression '1234'.
This still leaves a number of questions open. What about the simplest case, e.g. the expression '1233 + 1'. Is it really plausible that someone could know what a number such as 1234 is but not be able to perform the operation, 'add 1'? Here is a case where there are arguably distinct 'senses' which can always safely be substituted.
Another problem is with different systems of numerical representation, such as binary, or duodecimal. I said earlier that 1234 is the 1234th successor of the number 0. That is the most direct route to reference. Once you know how to count, you can refer to any number. However, we cannot allow that the simple operation of counting fully accounts the sense of a given numerical expression, because many people (myself included) could not give the binary or duodecimal representations of the number 1234. On a simpler level, I am not even 100 per cent sure that the Roman numeral 'MCCXXXIV' is '1234'. Does that mean that 'MCCXXXIV' and '1234' have different senses?
Why, according to Russell`s theory of definitive descriptions, does his theory suggest that definite descriptions have no meaning in isolation?
Andrea also asked:
What is the reference of entire sentences inside and outside indirect contexts according to Frege?
1. Russell thought that language was vague and ambiguous and an example of this is the definite description which is incomplete. "The President of the United States" is a definite description and looks as though it refers to Bush, but could refer to a past president, so it is, in isolation, an incomplete symbol. This is why Russell analyses the description so that its meaning is determined by universals such as "presidency", "American", "currently" and another definite description like "Bush".
This is supposed to answer several logical problems of definite descriptions when they are taken to refer, one being the case of there being no President. If "the President" is referential and the meaning of a name is determined by an object (as ordinary predicate logic has it) and picks out directly, it is impossible to say "The President is no longer alive" truly because there is no such person to give meaning to "The President"; reference fails and the sentence is false and meaningless. But for Russell the sentence can be true or false and meaningful in both cases. Instead of the President referring, the role of the word in the sentence falls under the scope of the existential quantifier, and it is false, but we can still identify the President by a universal and further definite description, such as ex-presidency and Roosevelt.
Another reason is epistemological. Russell's analysis reflects our understanding that language expresses general knowledge by description rather than by acquaintance. While something known by acquaintance, i.e. "this", refers and so is complete, all descriptions fall within the inferential and background process of language use. This allows us to understand sentences like "the present King of France is bald" even when King of France fails to pick something out. The King of France has to be understood within a context, because there is no real King of France to bear out and make true the meaning of the sentence.
Another reason is that if definition descriptions are incomplete and don't refer (only logically proper names such as "this" refer) then the world is not cluttered with non-existent objects. This problem is raised by Meinong whose account of logic was that symbols in sentences were tied to items in the world leading to a "bloated ontology". This is a metaphysical reason. If names had meaning in isolation, any name of a non-existent person, would seem to have it's meaning determined by a non-existent entity.
2. For Frege, the reference of a sentence outside an opaque context is its truth value. As with a name which refers or denotes by virtue of the object named, the whole sentence is true or false by virtue of whether the state of affairs obtains or not. A sentence is extensional, though, so that if you substitute Hesperus for Phosphorus, truth is preserved. This is not the case in opaque contexts. So the reference of the content of a propositional attitude is its sense because what makes the proposition true is different. It is not the extensional state of affairs that makes it case that you belief is true, but something about you. What makes it true that you believe Hesperus is Venus (that you have seen the evening star and learned it's name) doesn't make it true that you believe Phosphorus is Venus.
['Hesperus' is the name given to the evening star, 'Phosphorus' is the name given to the morning star. It was an astronomical discovery that Hesperus=Phosphorus.]
How can I know that God is real? (but not only like an idea).
I presume that when you say "not only like an idea" you mean "like a person", not just a philosopher's "first principle".
According to the religious thought, reason alone could not give the knowledge that God is real like a person. Reason could give the knowledge that God is real as a first cause or as principle.
According to the Christian tradition, one knows that God is real through Faith. Faith is considered to be a supernatural act, dependent on God's action on the soul and of the soul's response to this act.
The search for God started way back in the past and, it seems, still continues. However, there are those who believe that the search is long since over. These are mainly religious organisations, although some scientists and some philosophers believe that there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a God. Taking the judaeo-christian religion as an example, proof is dependent on ancient writings, where it is claimed that certain privileged persons actually spoke directly to God, and in fact received instructions from him. This was the tribal God of the people known as Israelites whose name was Jahweh. Unfortunately most of the writings seem to have their foundations in mythology and legend, and very little actual historical evidence seems to be there in support. Archaeologists have searched diligently for the necessary remains and artefacts to provide this evidence, however, such alleged evidence which has come to light is scant and not very convincing.
For example no record can be found in Egyptian history for the events claimed by the writings; one of the main events being the alleged exodus from Egypt of six hundred thousand Israelites (probably two million as only the men were counted). This seems strange as the Egyptian civilisation was comparatively well advanced and capable of recording events for posterity.In fact some of the claimed events are so far reaching and extraordinary that it is very unlikely that they would not be recorded elsewhere than the Bible. There are those who claim that many Old Testament stories are exaggerated natural events, like floods, earthquakes, pandemics, etc. Also a nation whose ancestors were nomads would find it very handy to invent a god that was on their side and could authorize the theft of land from settled tribes like the Philistines and the Canaanites, and many others. The situation was conveniently reversed, making the settled tribes the aggressors and illegal occupants of their own land. They were seen as the perpetrators of evil, whilst the Israelites were denoted as the victims and the representatives of God and goodness.
Reading the histories of science and philosophy we are confronted by a range of arguments for the existence of God, and conversely a range of arguments denying the existence of God. The arguments range from the extremes of cosmology to simple everyday psychology. Some questions and statements debated are: How can a universe be created in a complete vacuum? Where did the first 'solid' particle come from? Evolution indicates a steady progression of 'improvement', who or what is directing it? Is there not an obviousorder in nature? Man is not a creator but a discoverer of things and laws that already exist; where did they come from? Why can we not accept that there is a God that did not have to create 'real' matter from nothing. Surely such a power was capable of producing a non-material mind, which would produce an 'illusion' of matter and apply non-material (abstract) natural and mathematical laws and a moral code? Such a monistic creation would provide for a soul or spirit and a possibility of life after death!
Those opposed to the notion of a God, in the main, place their faith in the 'real' existence of matter, and believe that the starting point is a 'Big Bang' as a super-dense primaeval particle explodes and expands at a phenomenal rate, creating a universe of matter and an indescribable amount of energy. However, we never seem to discover where the primaeval atom came from in the first place. Further, those with materialistic leanings claim that progress in the organic world is produced by a series of fortuitous accidents, which they refer to as evolution. This materialistic approach quite logically produces the argument that there is no such thing as a soul or spirit, and therefore no life after death. All psychic phenomena are dismissed with the simple statement, 'there is bound to be a natural explanation,' whatever that means!
Many arguments about the existence of God are contained in the philosophical literature, and if you have time to look at the many previous answers on this Ask a Philosopher site you will find some of these arguments outlined and debated. If you are very interested I suggest you read The Existence of God Problems of Philosophy Series, Macmillan. Perhaps when you have perused some of the arguments for and against, you will come to the same conclusion as many of us, that the belief in God is personal and an act of faith. John Wesley once told a young preacher who had doubts to preach faith until he had it, and then to preach it because he'd got it!
I have asked before, "What is a question?"
However, how could one answer the following question:
"What is an answer?"
Also: Just how fitting is the following analogy?
"Psychology is to philosophy as linguistics is to languages."
Well given my answer to your previous question, think about it this way. What happens when you have a word, or better, an idea, on "the tip of your tongue"? You know the expression? There's a gap that you're aware of, and if you finally remember, you fill that gap, and have a sensation of filling that gap. There's actually a bit of literature on this, starting with William James, and going into what's termed "metacognition": knowing that you know (which you can be mistaken at, by the way: see Metcalfe, J., and A.P. Shimamura Metacognition: Knowing About Knowing 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996.). So you're completing a pattern, aren't you, and this fits in with the idea that a question arises when there is an incomplete or erroneous pattern or model. Creating and/ or remembering these interrelationships, then, is answering a question. Quine has quite a bit to say about that sort of thing, and so does Gestalt psychology, and its extensions in cognitive linguistics (see Fauconnier, for example: Fauconnier, G., and E. Sweetser Spaces, Worlds, and Grammar Edited by G. Fouconnier, and G. Lakoff and E. Sweetser, 1st ed. Vol. 2, Cognitive Theory of Language and Culture Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1996). And so do many many others. There's a whole literature on cognition as theory building, for example.
As for the analogy... well. I don't like analogies like this; they simplify too much. Also, I don't know what you mean by "languages". All the other terms are words relating to fields of human learning and thinking; language is, roughly, a human function like emotion. So the category is different. In other words, you have to study the other areas; you don't study languages in the same way in order to speak them, you either learn them intuitively as children, or you study as fairly pure memorization. Whereas, the others are fields aimed at analyzing something, you see? Language expresses, it doesn't analyze, at least in the same way. If it did, there would be no need for science. At least that's one possible position... however, one could consider learning a field like, say, physics, as equivalent to learning the language: physics. But that isn't the same as doing physics. I'm not going to go further here. Anyway, if what you're asking is whether psychology underlies philosophy... haha, that's an unbelievably controversial area right now (and has been, off and on, for a few thousand years). My answer would be yes, it does. But in saying that I have to be prepared to duck the truckloads of eggs and fruit that more traditional philosophers will throw at me. Take a look at this one: Lakoff, G., and M. Johnson Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought 1st ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999.
Steven Ravett Brown
Philosophy of Punishment:
To what extent would it be possible to justify punishment on the basis that an offender has the right to be punished or that the general public have a right that the offender be punished?
Kant thought that people, as rational agents were subject to a moral law and that any moral action we undertake should be directed towards treating them as 'ends in themselves' rather as a means to some other end. From this starting point Hegel developed his thesis that punishment is a criminal's right. The idea can be set out as follows: "If human beings are subject to a moral law, then one suffers an indignity when treated as being exempt from that moral law which is what happens if breaking the law does not call forth from others its reassertion" (from H. Morris 'Persons and Punishment', The Monist 1967). In other words an individual is not treated as a rational person if allowed to break the law without being punished. According to Morris (and Hegel) retributive punishment is in keeping with and indeed is the only form of punishment justifiable in treating a criminal as a rational agent, as an end in itself. For Hegel anything else (such as reform or rehabilitation) is "akin to raising ones cain to a dog", it does not respect the criminal's capacity to make his own decisions, to be the author of his own actions.
So there are two questions: First, whether the right to be punished follows from the right to be treated as a person. Second, whether retributive punishment is the only acceptable form that respects this personhood right.
I think the answer to the first is that, Yes, it does, conditionally: Punishment is only one way that the right to be treated as a person. Another way is to be forgiven. Forgiveness is possibly a more human, more personal way, more ethical (though of course more difficult way) of relating to others as people. Unfortunately (possibly because it can be so hard) this option has been largely ignored in the area of the ethics of dealing with crime. It is an interesting question whether one has the right to be forgiven, how can one demand that one be forgiven? Or whether others have a responsibility to forgive, perhaps forgiveness points towards something (ethically) better than rights.
The answer to the second question is that it is not. The reason Morris (and probably Hegel too) thinks that forms of punishment other than retributive are unjustifiable is that they fail to respect the criminal as a person. This is a conception of a person as a rational decision making agent, clearly this is a key element in being a person but is it too narrow? Being a person is not just about choosing to do something, it's about being a subject in the world, having a unique point of view that can see itself in the world, but that can also empathise with others, consider the needs of others, to be concerned with others and to be concerned with how others see it. If this is right, then surely trying to help someone who is suffering from a lack of such a perspective, via rehabilitation or reform, counts as treating them as a person.
Of course this runs the threat of the dis-topian visions we see in many sci-fi films, a vision of society 'treating' individuals, using rehab as a form of therapy or conditioning, that in actual fact ignores the individual's right to be treated as an end in itself. Addressing the balance between the individual and the state is a perennial question in political philosophy, so were not going to answer it here, but obviously helping people to be better individuals is a good thing and needn't lead to happy pills or citizenship classes.
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
I'm really interested in philosophy of perception. I'm trying to write essays about this. But I have a problem about the sense-data theory. The majority of philosophers are talking about sense data coming through our eyes, ears etc. Locke and Berkeley had no doubt about this. But when we accept the faculties and these parts of our body, don't we presuppose and accept the external world in space and time? After accepting the causal theory and sense data, how can Berkeley and others argue about an "external world"? I am not a direct realist, but I believe that the representative theory of perception has structural problems, not only leading to idealism. What do you think about this?
I was actually hoping that someone else would tackle this one... oh well. Yes, you're right. But the problem I have is that I've actually done some reading in this area, and to go further gets us involved in matters that have had so much discussion that I hardly know to where to refer you. For example, if you want to stick to philosophy you can look at what Husserl and other phenomenologists have had to say on this. Merleau-Ponty, one of Husserl's pupils, attacks it directly in several of his books. There is an absolutely enormous literature on perception throughout the history of psychology, and most of the better psychologists are at least acquainted with some of the philosophical literature here (although it's only recently that the reverse is true, by and large, unfortunately). For a good modern treatment of perception, there's Palmer's book. In other words, what I'm also saying to you is that, in my strong opinion, to write meaningfully about perception, even the "philosophy" of perception, requires, now, a knowledge of the psychology of perception also. There's still people arguing about whether "colors" are real, and in what sense they are... and that's very close to being straight philosophy. But if you want to go further than the metaphysics, you need to know something about what's been done empirically. To put it another way, Helmholtz came up with theories about perception back when psychologists were still half philosophers. But they were, mostly, wrong, and what weren't have been elaborated to a quite radical extent, based on empirical work.
Some random readings:
Arnheim, R. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974.
Arvidson, P. S. "On the Origin of Organization in Consciousness." Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 23, no. 1 (1992): 53-65.
Baars, B. J. "Attention Versus Consciousness in the Visual Brain: Differences in Conception, Phenomenology, Behavior, Neuroanatomy, and Physiology." The Journal of General Psychology 126, no. 3 (1999): 224-33.
Bealer, G. "The Boundary between Philosophy and Cognitive Science." The Journal of Philosophy 84, no. 10 (1987): 553-55.
Bekkering, H., and S.F.W. Neggers. "Visual Search Is Modulated by Action Intentions." Psychological Science 13, no. 4 (2002): 370-74.
Boyer, P. "Natural Epistemology or Evolved Metaphysics? Developmental Evidence for Early-Developed, Intuitive, Category-Specific, Incomplete, and Stubborn Metaphysical Presumptions." Philosophical Psychology 13, no. 3 (2000): 277-97.
Cariani, P. "As If Time Really Mattered: Temporal Strategies for Neural Coding of Sensory Information." edited by K. Pribram, 208-52. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.
Cariani, P. "On the Design of Devices with Emergent Semantic Functions." State University of New York, 1989.
Colcombe, S.J., and R.S. Wyer. "The Role of Prototypes in the Mental Representation of Temporally Related Events." Cognitive Psychology 44 (2002): 67-103.
Davis, G. "Between-Object Binding and Visual Attention." Visual Cognition 8, no. 3/4/5 (2001): 411-30.
Dennett, D. C. "Quining Qualia." In Consciousness in Contemporary Science, edited by A. J. Marcel and E. Bisiach, 42-77. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 1994.
Dreyfus, H. L. "The Current Relevance of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Embodiment." Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy 4 (1996).
Fernandez-Duque, D., and M. Johnson. "Attention Metaphors: How Metaphors Guide the Cognitive Psychology of Attention." Cognitive Science 23, no. 1 (1999): 83-110.
Flanagan, O. "Conscious Inessentialism and the Epiphenomenalist Suspicion." In The Nature of Consciousness, edited by N. Block, O. Flanagan and G. Guzeldere, 357-73. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997.
Fogassi, L., V. Gallese, G. Buccino, L. Craighero, L. Fadiga, and G. Rizzolatti. "Cortical Mechanism for the Visual Guidance of Hand Grasping Movements in the Monkey: A Reversible Inactivation Study." Brain 124, no. 3 (2001): 571-86.
Follesdal, D. "Husserl's Notion of Noema." The Journal of Philosophy 66, no. 20 (1969): 680-87.
Gardner, H. The Mind's New Science. New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1985.
Gasche, R. The Tain of the Mirror. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Gibbs, R. W., and H. L. Colston. "The Cognitive Psychological Reality of Image Schemas and Their Transformations." Cognitive Linguistics 6, no. 4 (1995): 347-78.
Giurfa, M., S. Zhang, A. Jenett, R. Menzel, and M.V. Srinivasan. "The Concepts of `Sameness' and `Difference' in an Insect." Nature 410 (2001): 930-32.
Goldman, A. I. "Cognitive Science and Metaphysics." Journal of Philosophy 84, no. 10 (1987): 537-44.
Gregory, R. "Perceptions as Hypotheses." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences 290 (1980): 181-97.
Grossberg, S., E. Mingolla, and W.D. Ross. "Visual Brain and Visual Perception: How Does the Cortex Do Perceptual Grouping?" Trends in Neurosciences 20, no. 3 (1997): 106-11.
Gurwitsch, A. The Field of Consciousness. Edited by A. van Kaam, Duquesne Studies: Psychological Series. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1964.
Hasson, U., T. Hendler, D. Ben Bashat, and R. Malach. "Vase or Face? A Neural Correlate of Shape-Selective Grouping Processes in the Human Brain." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 13, no. 6 (2001): 744-53.
Hayek, F.A. The Sensory Order. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Helmholtz, H.L.F. On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music. Translated by A.J. Ellis. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1954.
Hollingworth, A., and J.M. Henderson. "Accurate Visual Memory for Previously Attended Objects in Natural Scenes." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 28, no. 1 (2002): 113-36.
Husserl, E. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by D. Cairns. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995.
Husserl, E.. The Idea of Phenomenology. Translated by W. P. Alston and G. Nakhnikian. Fourth ed. The Hague, Netherlands: Marinus Nijhoff, 1970.
Merleau-Ponty, M. Phenomenology of Perception. Edited by Ted Honderich. 1st ed, International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
Merleau-Ponty, M.. The Visible and the Invisible. Edited by C. Lefort, J. Wild and J. M. Edie, Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995.
Palmer, S. E. Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999.
Steven Ravett Brown
What are the Cons of drinking alcohol?
I am going to be concerned with beer over other alcoholic substances in this answer. I'm also going to assume that the abuse of alcohol is not the issue, because those cons are pretty much the same as other substance abuse: health issues, breakdown of social and personal relations, crime. There are also interesting questions about personality changes that sometimes occur when drunk, Am I still the same person after eight pints as when stone cold sober, are personality traits merely enhanced, or does a different personality take over? But I'm going to concentrate on the moderate drinker. I used to think that the most damaging thing about booze was that it destroys brain cells, which later in life would be a real disaster, especially when I can't remember where I put my drink down, but thanks to a friend of mine, who only recently came over to the dark side, I am no longer worried about this. Knowing my concerns she forwarded this to me:
BUFFALO AND BEER
A herd of buffalo can move only as fast as the slowest buffalo. When the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular culling of the weakest members. In much the same way the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest cells first. In this way regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers."
Well it convinced me anyway!
So now the only cons of drinking that I can see are mostly financial. In the U.K. the price of a pint is on the heavy side, it costs so much for a drink. It's an expensive past time.
Of course, now that I think on there are other cons, one is that one must be continually vigilant against the ever present threat of spillage, often the concern to protect the drink from dangerous affects of the enjoyment of consuming the drink.
And let's not forget the ethical implications of what one drinks. Much of the beer industry is dominated by monopolies of large international brewers, leaving the small local brew (often superior beers) to be marginalized even erased from the beer drinker's life. Should one then boycott these mass produced beers in order to safeguard independent (but more expensive) brewers thus protecting the diversity of beer for generations to come or does the need for cheap booze outweigh the impact on real ale?
And then there are the wider issues, how does drinking adversely affect others? Is it right to spend all this money on a pint of booze, which is really a luxury on the drinker's part, and which will probably end up against a wall, when so many people the world over are starving?
While these are serious issues that should be addressed by any drinker, let's not forget the biggest con of all, The Hangovers!
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Sheffield