What did Nietzsche mean by the word "spiritual", used to describe the higher man?
Following Nietzsche's proclamation of the 'death of God', anything smelling of 'other-worldly', metaphysics like the soul, an afterlife, or a morality distinct from this worldly life is rejected. This world is all there is. 'Spirituality' is to be understood in this context. In answering the question I will firstly provide an overview of Nietzsche's account of how the civilised human being is created. Secondly, I will describe what spiritual means in relation to the higher man.
No longer the Crown of Creation
Nietzsche characterises reality as ontologically constituted by power (macht). Directed claims of power or Will to Power (wille zur macht) are manifested in instincts, drives and affects which are the fabric of all living phenomena. These are subject to a stratified 'development' and 'ramification'. Not being of divine, other-worldly origin but as part of nature, the human being is the product of such a development and ramification of the more primitive manifestations of the will to power. Nietzsche expounds how these instincts, drives and affects are developed to create the human subject in On the Genealogy of Morals  especially in the second essay.
Primitive human beings acted blindly, following the healthy, regulatory instincts [such as procreation and nourishment] and the active 'forgetting' of physiological processes of the organs. Juxtaposed to this active forgetfulness, an active memory is bred. This is achieved by mnemo-techniques utilisation pain through cruelty to create a memory based on pain. The prospect of pain inhibits the actions of certain drives/actions whilst permitting others. Thereby, an interiority of the human is created providing awareness of oneself, others and the world.
The facilitating of this awareness of oneself and ones actions enables the onset of the phenomenon that is called 'willing'. Here, thinking causally, anticipation of future events, the understanding of ends and means and the ability to calculate are inculcated into the human animal. Thereby, it becomes regular, calculable, and capable of making and keeping promises. It becomes responsible.
In accordance with certain tables of values or narratives, these mnemo-techniques burn into human beings the inhibition and repression of certain wild instincts and the expression of others. Upon this, there follows values, moral systems, ways of acting/not acting that make the human animal into the 'civilised' human being. The narratives are definite perspectives and valuations arising from the definite powers and institutions that enforce them. Powers, institutions such as the State, the Christian Church and its offshoots in modernity inculcate definite perspectives, valuations of the human instincts, drives and affects. Thus the creation of material into what we call the human being.
The Higher Man and Spirit
Drives are not only inhibited they are also spiritualised. As stated above, they are subject to stratified development and ramification. Their primitive expression is redirected into a more sophisticated form. The barbarian instincts of conquest can be spiritualised into the rarefied publications of the academic. Violent instincts and drives can be spiritualised into the performance of Olympian competition and games. Thus although sexual drives are condemned and their extirpation advocated by the Christian Church, Nietzsche heralds the post-Christian 'spiritualization' of sexuality called 'love'.
The spiritualisation of drives can occur as part of the general 'socialisation' process of narratives. Think for instance, of the primordial hunger of an infant for milk spiritualised into the aesthetic appreciation of food by the adult restaurant critic. Or, drives can be overcome and spiritualised individually by what Nietzsche variously calls the higher man, or the free man, or the Over man (Uber-menschen). The latter has wrongly been monopolised in translation as the 'super man' allowing connotations of arrogant elitism and crypto-fascism.
Concerning the individual, the failure to withstand the demands of a strong drive is termed decadence by Nietzsche. This is defined as the inability to resist the stimulus of a drive. Here, where one drive acts as the tyrant to the exclusion of and disrupting the healthy economy of all other drives, it drags its victim down with the weight of its folly. Think of addictions and obsessions of various sorts. The opposite is the case with the Higher man.
The freedom and strength of an individual is measured by his/her ability to resist, regulate and re-employ or spiritualise those strong drives. The higher man can incorporate his experiences and thereby regulate his drives. To learn from all the experiences of life and affirm them characterises the most spiritual human beings. Perhaps Nietzsche incorporated and overcome all his experiences, his illness, his loneliness, his failed love affairs and spiritualised them into his philosophy?
Spirit, is translated from the German by Walter Kaufman as 'neither spirit alone nor intellect alone but also mind, wit and espirit'. It is not a separate mind to the body but expressive of the body. It is the reality of being one has, to understand the economy of one's drives and how they underpin what one does. It permits among other things, to know how one becomes who one is. This understanding allows the higher man of spirit to regulate his drives and actions. It also allows him/her to understand how one acted or responded to events in the past, depended on the then constitution of the drives: one could not have done any different.
In affirming on both accounts, one gives style to ones character. In affirming, even from the abyss, one is affirming the whole universe and one's part in it. Enter the eternal recurrence.
Why do we adore pop-stars or celebrities or in fact any "great" person, although we know that they can not be as "perfect" or as "ideal" as we perceive them to be?
In general, what is this thing about being fascinated with certain things (like the female form, or a very expensive car) and then seeing them just as flesh (like a medical student will see) or like a manufactured good made up of engineering hours, and sheets of metal? (In this sense there seems to be two basic views to many things around us).
Which view should I hold/stick to while viewing things? One makes me feel imprisoned to being fooled by images (taking them ideal) the other makes me lose my desire to approach them.
I think you should stick with being fooled by idealisations up to a point. A certain level of idealisation is normal.
We just don't normally, as a matter of fact, think of others in their full reality, as defecating and masturbating and things. I don't think that this is wrong. It enables us to look at another person without laughing or feeling revolted. Very few people are prepared to express their revulsion at the human body and other people, but some philosophers and writers have done this.
Such writers are dwelling overly much on realities that we normally ignore but they are doing this in contemplative writing and this doesn't reflect on how they think in their ordinary human relationships. If you think of bodies as medical students think of them it is not healthy. Medical students might see a body as mere flesh when they are working on it, but they probably have a healthy unreality when not at work and can emphasise other features of the human body in real life and fall in love.
I think that it is natural instinct to idealise and this has functional value in real life, allowing us not to be revolted by others (and ourselves). But because we have this instinct it is possible for it to be exploited by the media. Many people think that this is not healthy and I think they are right. We have a natural instinct which is being exploited for the glorification of a few for commercial reasons. It can't be helped as we are fed an image of a person in idealised form.
Perhaps being fascinated by the female form is normal! I should hope so! It might be like being fascinated by an expensive car. The latter is probably a form of aesthetic evaluation since expensive cars (with some exceptions) are better looking than cheap ones. The former might be aesthetic too.
We are not static beings and can shift our views given that everything has several aspects. You can focus on the expensiveness of the car or on its beauty. You can think of people with revulsion if you focus on certain aspects. Best not to do this though! Train yourself out of it.
As with aesthetic appreciation when we feel a car has qualities that make it beautiful, so with a great person. It is easier with a great person to say what these qualities are. Aesthetic qualities are very difficult to explicate.
Is the speed of darkness faster than the speed of light?
You might think darkness couldn't be any faster than light, since darkness can only arrive as quickly as light departs.
A rather different question to yours, and one which you might need to ask an indulgent physicist rather than a philosopher, is: Can the speed of a shadow be faster than the speed of light? It strikes me that the answer to this question might be different to the answer to the former question, and some simple minded ideas about what light is would suggest that they are different questions: in the former question one is asking about the speed of propagation of the particles or waves of light, and in the second question one is asking about the speed of propagation of patterns in the particles or waves of light.
With a layman's eye, it is at least tempting to think that the phenomena where the shadow of a car cast by the street lamp appears to approach and overtake the car should also apply at higher speeds, across vaster distances. Supposing a dark object passed between ourselves and the sun at a very high speed, perhaps a speed approaching the speed of light, at what speed might it's shadow move across the face of the earth? Faster than the speed of light? I do not know. It strikes me as the sort of question one would ask if one wanted to test a physics student. Might we seem to get no shadow at all? Might the speeding object seem elongated to us, casting a slow moving shadow? Might the speeding object have peculiar effects on gravity, bending the light and the image of the sun? I do not know. If you find out, tell me. It's the sort of question that Feynman used to address himself to.
Now, to get back to the kind of light Philosophers hope to deal in, there appears to be some further evidence to complicate the picture. For it has been observed:
"A lie gets halfway around the world before truth can even get its boots on." Winston Churchill
The Speed of darkness? Does darkness have a speed? What is darkness? It is simply the absence of light. Now what happens when I stop seeing darkness and see light? At the beginning there are no light waves incident on my retina, thus I see nothing (see darkness) and then, light waves, moving with light velocity (3*10^8 m/s) reach my retina so I see light. Now, when light ceases falling on my retina, I will see nothing, i.e. see darkness. After all, this is a physical question, not a philosophical one.
How might a Christian respond to someone who has racist opinions?
I take it that this 'someone' might also be a Christian? Racism is a pernicious, destructive [philosophy that contributes nothing to the development of the human project. Indeed, it subverts it. It places its primary importance on the external determinants of race or colour and on the basis of that it seeks to make a statement about the human person. Colour is important, because it is constitutive of the person who is that colour, but it is important as a genetic indicator of race but not of one's humanity only human is the indicator of one's humanity.
Racism sets itself up as a valid way of looking at the world, the world environment and the people in it through a method of interpreting place and role in world and society based on cultural or pigmentational factors. It is destructive since it says nothing, or conveys nothing positive about the human people it speaks of since it speaks of those human people in negative terms to the extent that they cease to be human in the eyes of racism and racists. They are 'black'; 'Asian'; 'Irish' or whatever, they are not a 'human person whose country and culture of origin is ....' Racism, therefore, contributes nothing to the on going development of the human project. It is a scourge on the soul of humanity and feeds like a destructive virus or parasite on peoples' fears, ignorance and prejudices (though, having said that, the analogy with the virus or parasite is not fair, even the most destructive parasite or virus is what it is as a thing in itself, one does not condemn a virus for being what it is in itself, but one condemns a racist for being other than what he/she may become in their terms of capability and potential as a human person since they limit the potential; for their own human growth).
The Christian response (bearing in mind that some Christians and Christian groups have been racist, are presently racist, and will be racist) must be based on the fundamental conviction that all men and women are equal before God. But equality does not mean sameness, that is why we have different skin colours, languages, cultures, literature, music and so on. These variations of the creativity of the Divine are testament to the splendour and glory of creation; they are the 'dappled things' that Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks off which give praise and glory to the Creator.
The Christian response, therefore, must be the response of the one in whom Christianity has its provenance, and in whom it makes the confession of belief to be the one, true, and only saviour or the whole of the cosmos, Jesus of Nazareth, which Christianity believes to be God incarnate. His treatment of the Centurion (a Roman, whose servants he heals); the woman at the well in the gospel of John ( a Samaritan woman whose 'race' was utterly despised by Jesus' own race) it must be one of acceptance, respect and liberation. The Sermon on the Mount is a universal annunciation; Love God and your neighbour is a universal annunciation; love your enemies is a universal annunciation. While Jesus is born in a specific history, at a specific time, in a specific culture, he is nevertheless, the fundamental unifying principle of all humanity (I am speaking from my own credal confession). Thus, the simple fact of the matter is: one cannot be a Christian and be a racist. It is diametrically opposed to every principle and value that Jesus of Nazareth held to be the determinant of his own life. The Christian response to racism, thus, is one of challenge and confrontation since what demeans the human person is unacceptable in the eyes of the Divine and it undermines and makes a mockery of everything Jesus of Nazareth became, is, and ever will be. It is to be rejected outright as destructive, pernicious, insidious and an infection in the soul of the human spirit.
Fr. Seamus Mulholland OFM
If we accept the notion that there are fixed 'laws of nature' (ignoring the excessively skeptical approach of the likes of Hume), we can observe and test such laws, as far as they involve observable actions and processes (as in scientific theories), and thus we may have reasonable inductive grounds for believing in the existence of such laws.
However, it seems quite a different thing indeed to state that there are fixed metaphysical 'laws', somehow analogous to the laws of science. Also, scientific laws of nature invariably measure processes, and tend to concern "how" things happen, whilst metaphysics tends to be largely concerned with the "what". If a scientific theory postulates the existence of an entity, it is to account for an observable process. If a metaphysician posits a metaphysical entity, it is a different kettle of fish altogether most often based on intuition critically analysed within a conceptual framework in the metaphysician's mind. Thus, although any such entities postulated by science may be viewed as explanations of genuine observed 'laws of nature', any entities postulated by metaphysicians are inescapably bound to the human thinker's perception of the world, and thus have absolutely nothing whatever to say about an actual 'nature of reality', and certainly not a 'law of nature' (a 'how'), as the metaphysical hypothesis is an attempt to describe the 'what'.
Although this may be getting dangerously close to a logical positivist view, which states that metaphysics is nonsense, the claim I am making here is not that metaphysics is worthless, but rather that even the best metaphysical hypothesis which could be proposed says nothing whatsoever about the 'nature of reality', but instead merely critically assesses the human perception of such a said 'reality', from a purely anthropocentric point of view.
Although scientific theories may be inescapably anthropocentric to some degree, they do succeed in describing phenomena from some kind of objective stance, happily divorced from the human mental perception of the events observed. Metaphysical speculations, on the other hand, are purely anthropocentric, and thus cannot hope to describe any more than a purely human perception of a "reality", and certainly NOT any such "reality" itself.
So my tendency is towards a naturalistic approach to metaphysics (which may be great towards philosophy's contribution to, say, cognitive science, in understanding human concepts from a naturalistic point of view). The conception that there are actual metaphysical 'laws' (or 'facts'), though, does not seem (to me) to have any firm base on which to stand. In speculating about what "actually is" metaphysically, as if we can actually describe a "nature of reality", we seem to be ridiculously optimistic about the potential of human understanding, and it seems foolhardy to imagine that we can actually know about such things.
(I seem to be reverting to a rather Humean naturalistic skepticism at this point.)
My claim, therefore, is that there is no such thing as a metaphysical law, as analogous to a scientific law, and thus that metaphysics at best describes nothing more than laws of human cognition (which, of course, is still an important area of study it may not be possible to understand reality per se, but only OUR reality, which may be all that really matters in the end...:-))
Can someone critique my views on these issues?
Well, where do we start?! You are raising the entire philosophical debate on 'reality'. This is covered by several authors, several commentators, and some of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known. You state your own position quite clearly, and I can sympathise with some of what you say.
Laws of nature are not fundamental in the sense that we have proof that 'nature' is in any way responsible for establishing its own laws. What we do have are notions about laws derived from alleged empirical evidence. Perhaps, as you say, on the face of it there seems to be grounds for inductive reasoning about such laws. However, it is induction about notions, and does this not take us into metaphysics? Where is the border-line between what we understand as metaphysical contemplation and what we consider to be inductive reasoning about hypotheses? Hypotheses and theories are in themselves a priori assertions, the fact that they are constructs of scientific reasoning does not in any way endorse them with empirical veracity.>
In fact, scientists themselves are now beginning to question the notion of an objective reality since the massive paradigm shift, caused first by the quantum theory and the subsequent emergence of the superstring concept. We would be hard put to it to deny that science was now in the realms of metaphysics. In which domain should we place parallel universes? It is indeed science that is discussing them!! It is many years now since physicists watched with amazement as matter reduced to energised particles then to photons of light, they were even more surprised to note particles appearing in cloud chambers where no matter had previously existed. All this drove one great physicist to declare that the universe was a great 'thought' rather than a great machine.
Perhaps you should be referring to 'rules' rather than laws; in which case it seems legitimate to discuss metaphysics within the accepted rules of logic, the simplest case being that conclusions must follow from premisses. This would of course be true for both scientific hypotheses and metaphysical concepts. It could also be pointed out that many propositions in science, just as in metaphysics are conditional, in other words, of the form, 'If X then Y'.
I agree that science tends to measure things, and makes statements about construction and location, this is, of course, working with superficial sense data, well below the level of 'explanation' and 'understanding', where both science and metaphysics require to construct acceptable arguments. I do not agree that metaphysics has nothing to say about the 'nature of reality', as even a superficial study of some of the great thinkers bears out: Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, to name but a few. The views of all these philosophers still cause many scientists to feel more than a little uncomfortable with the empirical and basic materialist notion of the 'nature of reality'. I also disagree with your suggestion that metaphysics has no interest in the question' How?' How did the universe come into being? Has intriguing links with non-causal speculation, quite opposed to scientific concerns with the necessity of causation in all material events.
I also challenge the idea that scientific theories describe phenomena objectively, divorced from mental perception. Scientists work from sense data enhanced by mental constructs. Bare sense data without mental manipulation has very little meaning. We can say that scientific theories themselves are mental constructs tested against empirical evidence.
The subsequent paradigms through which humanity has progressed are basically theoretical constructs within which science attempts to work. There was a time when anyone arguing against a flat earth would have been considered to be mad, every bit of available sense data completely supported the 'fact', and no doubt the 'natural laws' were there to give full support. Evolution has remained a theory for over a hundred years, within which science has presented an illusion of development. The 'Big Bang' is a theory which forms a basis for cosmological adventures. Quantum theory is the basis of our rapidly developing new paradigm. Like all paradigms it may possibly self-destruct in the light of the foundations for a new paradigm. At the end of it all we shall still be questioning Kant's 'things in themselves', metaphysicians will still be seeking to know 'what there is'. Berkeley will still be posing the question, 'Is there really anything out there?' Science will still be involved with its reductionism, whilst philosophy continues to point out that there is more to life than 'particles', and all known objects are more than the sum of their parts, particularly life forms.
Sure. You're starting with many metaphysical assumptions. You state:
"1) If we accept the notion that there are fixed 'laws of nature' (ignoring the excessively skeptical approach of the likes of Hume), 2) we can observe and test such laws, as far as they 3) involve observable actions and processes (as in scientific theories), and thus we may have reasonable 4) inductive grounds for believing in the 5) existence of such laws."
I count five assumptions just off the top of my head in that first sentence, all of which have been debated, some for merely a century or so, and some for thousands of years. But if you make those assumptions (which I've really not exhaustively analyzed for example, just what does "reasonable" mean?) then yes, I agree with your conclusion... I think. I'm actually not really sure just what you mean by the term "metaphysics", except inasmuch as it relates to your assumptions. And by making those assumptions, you've pretty much closed the door on the possibility of other metaphysics, and thus I imagine of "metaphysical laws". But again, since those assumptions you're making are metaphysical, then laws following from them are metaphysical. Thus, what you term "inductive grounds" are in fact metaphysical laws, are they not? And so forth.
Steven Ravett Brown
"Discuss the Nietzschean Approach to the meaning of life in Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
Please, I am having trouble with this. What THEMES are evident? How do I CONSTRUCT the essay? What should I deal with first? How is the Nietzschean approach evident?
How are the themes of nihilism, existentialism and lightness and darkness evident?
Should I even focus on themes? I'm finding this very difficult.
It will be easy once you have done some reading and there should be enough on the internet: Search for Nietzsche and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" but if this is a literature essay, don't read too much but concentrate on the novel. This would be easier to answer if I knew the subject you are studying.
Start off by quoting Nietzsche on eternal recurrence which is the MAIN theme. This is what you have to consider in relation to the meaning in the characters' lives. You can find a full quote at: http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/personal/reading/kundera-unbearable.html.
For one short outline of what Kundera sees as the "meaning of life" have a look at the plot overview at: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/unberaablelightness/summary.html.
The claim here is that since we cannot return, we can only find meaning by comparing different lives, like those of Tomas and Sabina I don't think this is fully correct. For sure, in comparing the lives of Tomas, Tereza and Sabina, Kundera is showing that the lightness which Tomas represents (which is really moral lightness or nihilism) is not to be favoured over heaviness and moral responsibility represented by Tereza. But he goes further and shows that while Tomas comes to accept heaviness through Tereza, Sabina doesn't come to accept it. Sabina ends up loveless and rootless and this implies that at the end of her life she wouldn't want to repeat it. Nietzsche's point is that if you think about the possibility of eternal recurrence, the question arises whether you would go for it or not, whether you would affirm your life. If this is a literature essay, have a look in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy to find out about Nietzsche.
The plot overview claims that meaning has "uncertain existence" because of the lightness/heaviness dichotomy. But it doesn't make sense to say that meaning has "uncertain existence" because this is to abstract meaning from people's lives and then we have no idea what meaning can be. Using novelistic form, and considering the possibility of eternal return, Kundera makes the meaning of life concrete and particular rather than a general abstraction, which Nietzsche would approve of.
So the main thing is to consider "the meaning of life" in relationship to Nietzsche. You can consider the theme of nihilism in relation to the behaviour of Tomas. Nihilism was easy for Tomas, it was light, but he wasn't living fully, with commitment. Life was a game where he had a rule about when he could see his mistresses and for how long following a recurring pattern that was only a parody of real meaning. After he met Tereza's he became a person of more integrity and would not withdraw his published views.
You could consider idealism after nihilism this is represented by Franz, who gets crushed. Idealism is very different from the real-world heaviness of Tereza. The meaning of life totally evades Franz he is worse off than Tomas and Sabina. He has to adopt the fantasy of Sabina as a guide to what he should do and lives with a woman to whom he isn't fully committed. Sabina represented a false god for Franz. For Nietzsche, God or perhaps any god, such as Sabina in Franz's case was becoming meaningless and so there is a need to look at living life more fully (through thinking about eternal recurrence) and to look at reality which is seen in the novelistic style Kundera adopts of looking at his characters from outside.
As far as I know, in limited knowledge of continental philosophy, Nietzsche isn't regarded as an existentialist. But you could look at Gregory Kimbrell's paper on Existentialism and The Unbearable Lightness of Being which can be found in the google search suggested above. According to Kimbrell who draws on Kundera's The Art of the Novel, Kundera adopts Heidegger's description of our existential situation as being a "spatial, temporal and cultural designation in which human beings are involved and are presented with a particular set of possibilities for the realization of their individual selves". But Kimbrell expounds Kundera's existential position in relation to Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence and repetition.
When you have read this answer and the papers on the internet you will find that we are not all saying the same thing. I think lightness and weight have a different meaning when considered in terms of nihilism and existentialism. So it is up to you to think about it for yourself.
I was reading in the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity and came across the following statement: "Four centuries earlier Socrates at Athens observed that a really righteous person would be so unacceptable to human society that he would be subjected to every humiliation and crucified." Unfortunately, the statement is not footnoted. If it had appeared in a less prestigious publication than Oxford University Press I might not have thought much about it. But, I cannot for the life of me remember reading in any of Plato's writings, or any disciple of Socrates, any such statement. Can anyone point me to the text that this statement is referring to?
"The just man, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified..."[Republic 361e5, voice of Glaucon, translation Desmond Lee].
This passage, which has seemed prophetic to some Christian readers, has a specific philosophical purpose for Plato, and even if it is prophetic, it isn't offered as prophecy in the way that Nostradamus offers prophecy. Plato doesn't think of himself as looking in to a crystal ball. Conceivably, there is the question of whether Jesus could have read or otherwise encountered the Republic, but I'll leave the currently popular debate about Jesus's role in bringing about his own fate exactly where I found it. Those who do trouble over the prophetic qualities of this passage in the Republic make much of translation issues, and whether the greek text best justifies "crucified", or whether "impaled" and so on. But in my view, that's entirely besides Plato's point.
What Plato is up to in the surrounding context is setting up a 'thought experiment', as we empirically minded anglo-saxons like to call useful flights of the imagination. The question he wants to answer is: is it better to be just or unjust? In the passage, Glaucon is helping Socrates clarify the meaning of this question. Plato's thought is that if we want to see whether the enviable life is the life of the just, or instead the life of the unjust, then we have to arrange for these things to be pictured in their extremes. Thus: "We must strip him of everything except his justice". Imagine a man reviled, accused, tortured, who still withal remains a just man (albeit one who cries out in pain). Should we praise and attempt to imitate that kind of man? Over the course of the Republic Plato argues that the answer to this question is 'yes', and this is another point of confluence (or influence) between Plato and the Christian tradition. The most unhappy and pitiable man, Plato thinks, is an unjust, tyrannical man who has come into power (managed to get away with it). This belief is much doubted, but Plato has his reasons to do with mental health and the perception of reality (reasons compared by Iris Murdoch to Buddhist thought) and I, for my part, after reading and re-reading the Republic, agree with him. Perhaps I agree with him with waning intensity when I have particularly bad pain in the ear and grow impatient with some unhelpful doctor, but this, I suppose, is only to say what is patently obvious, that in certain situations it becomes harder and harder to think at all.
In responding to this, David Robjant refers to Desmond Lee's translation of the
Republic, which reads in part, "...and after enduring every humiliation he will
The actual Greek, which you can find at,
doesn't refer to crucifixion, but to impaling. (A search for the Greek equivalent of 'crucifixion' in standard Greek-English lexica returned nothing.) I suspect that Desmond Lee is either using a more familiar way to express the horror of the truly just person's fate, or is siding with those who would like to 'Christianize' this great pagan philosopher. A more recent, widely-used translation is that of G. M. A. Grube, as revised by David Reeve [Hackett, 1992]:
"They'll say that a just person in such circumstances will be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with fire, and...at the end, he'll be impaled..."
Crucifixion seems to have been a Roman invention.
Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Emeritus
Should God the bible and religion be given the same consideration by evolutionists as scientific theory?
It meets the criteria. And if so wouldn't the extremist who assert "all religion is nonsense" be deemed by both creationist and evolutionist as being out of step and illogical?
Part of the problem here is determining the role of both. The Bible does not deal with 'scientific' truth but with religious truth as it is experienced by that particular group of people. This makes its subjective but in its very subjectivity lies its claim to truth. The worth of religious truth claims, therefore, cannot be determined by science, but only by the ones who hold to that particular religious belief. Science can determine its asserted truths by recourse to empirical experimentation and demonstration that its hypotheses concur with the accepted laws of physics etc. but it cannot demonstrate that the biblical text is 'wrong' since it cannot apply the criteria for empirical or physical determination to the religious vision of the world made in the biblical text.
We are confronted with the age old problem of the relationship between faith and science. To accept the biblical vision is not to be at loggerheads with the scientific vision of the world and one would expect vice-versa. However, it seems to be the 'in thing' that proponents of the 'new science' attempt to claim that science and its discoveries can give us all the answers. Indeed it can. It can give us all the answers it possesses thus far in its discoveries of the structure of life and the universe, it can show us what the physical purpose, or biological purpose of phenomena are, but what it cannot do is tell us or show us what its meaning is beyond the phenomenological. Only a different 'world' vision can do that, and men and women of faith make this claim.
As a Franciscan I embrace what science can reveal to us of our brothers an sisters in the universe, embrace it and claim them as Brothers and Sisters, and marvel at the splendour of God's creation, where every living thing is a little logos of his mind. At the same time, I accept the theory of evolution and the 'Big Bang' as the best working hypotheses we have at the moment for the historical and existential manifestation of physical phenomena. But, as a person of faith and religious belief, I believe that it can be given shape and dimension that takes it from the realms of the physical to the realms of the mysterious and profound and awe. It is not a question of logic, or illogic, but of perception and belief.
I have no problem with evolutionist theories, but they may have a problem with my assertion that the manifestation of physical phenomena has its source in the creative dynamism of God who simply speaks the word 'Let it be' but does not tell that physical phenomena how 'to be'. That is the inherent freedom of the universe and science cannot quantify that, only measure the consequences of its exercise of that freedom -evolution, the Big Bang, General Relativity, 1+1 will always equal 2 etc. Religion and science are not out of step, they are simply walking the same way by different roads.
Fr. Seamus Mulholland OFM
I was looking at Jurgen Lawrenz's Pathways article Discourse on Malady, and I have a question... Are MS and Le Monde one in the same (as a text) or what is their association? I am researching some of the persecutions that occurred during the early modern period of philosophy; and Descartes' burning of Le Monde is part of my research. I would appreciate any information you could give me. Thanks.
Heather Sokinas, a philosophy student.
My quick answer is that they're not the same. But this needs a little explanation.
The first thing you need to understand is that my piece on Descartes is a parody. The man died ages ago and it's not possible any more to "psychoanalyse" him. So the "MS" refers to the FICTION that an essay by Descartes has been discovered which looks like an early version of the Discourse. But this is just my writing, an imitation of the Discourse with some things changed, and the purpose was to give you, readers and students of Descartes, something unusual to think about: namely that he was very good at hiding himself from close scrutiny by others. I've come around to the view after reading much of his autobiographical texts and testimony of others that one of his really big problems was SUPERSTITION and I believe also that the "vision" he mentions in several of his writings and especially the story of the demon were a terrifying nightmare he went through on that day. So the design of the whole piece is intended to show that Descartes took up the struggle with himself to banish both superstition and the demon by giving us a MIND/BODY duality and a totally MECHANISTIC philosophy. In such a philosophy superstition and demons are impossible.
Now as regards Le Monde, this was Descartes' first book. It was due to be published in 1633, but after Galileo's condemnation, Descartes (who was a catholic) took fright that the same thing might happen to him and withdrew the book. The quotes I give from the book are genuine and show that he had good cause for worry: for he, Descartes, could be interpreted as having INVENTED HIS OWN GOD; after all, he practically dictates to God what laws of nature apply to any universe He might wish to create and so on. Now the last book he published, the "Principles of Philosophy" is actually Le Monde all over again, but by now completely rewritten and a bit of a tragicomedy, because he was trying the impossible of bending his own theories to make them innocuous to the theologians while still rescuing what he could of his own thoughts (and still trying to replace Aristotle). So this last book hasn't got the bite any more of the early one, because it has no teeth. Le Monde meanwhile has survived only as a fragmentary text.
In short, whatever I wrote Le Monde is factually correct. Just be careful you don't mix it up with my parody of the Discourse. As far as I am concerned, however, I have been trying to do what any conscientious fiction writer might do when confronted with big holes and inexplicable facts in a famous man's biography: plug them up with an imaginative reconstruction of what MIGHT truly have happened and could therefore explain many a puzzling fact about the man's known biography.
As far as Le Monde itself is concerned, you can chase up what Daniel Garber and Stephen Gaukroger have written about it; they are two authors who deal extensively with Descartes' physics.
My question is: Why are mathematics and theory the only practical way to determine the temperature of the Earth's core?
I've a feeling that what I'm trying to say is very simple, but I can't find a good way to express it. Perhaps you can help me figure out what I'm toying with here: If we call "Universe" the ultimate set of everything, from which nothing that exists is excluded (a common usage of "universe", I think) then we cannot imagine (posit, conceptualize, propose) any universe but this one just as it is because any imagined "other universe" becomes immediately a part of this one.
This scenario requires that we grant existence to ideas. (An uncontroversial claim, it seems to me, for while ideas do not exist in the same way that chairs exist, as existent things they are no less evident.)
Finally, a question (maybe): If we don't know what something is, can we nonetheless propose it?
Well you seem to have expressed it just fine. Ok, now what? You've defined the word "universe" in a particular way, and certain things follow from that definition. Yes, and...? Does this relate to the real world? How do you know?
The problem with your question is that it's not posed well. What do you mean by that little slippery word "is"? I don't know what an electron is, but I can talk about it, and even propose it because I know some of its properties. Are you asking whether you have to know something, no matter what, about something before you can talk about it? I would say yes, offhand. I suppose you could just say, "there's something which might be called a 'knuuxy', but I don't know anything at all about it beside that, and I'm not even sure of that." But you've just used "knuuxy" as a noun, and so we think, by that usage, that it's a thing, rather than a modifier, like "quick", for example. So we know something about it, and thus we know what it "is", to some extent. But since I don't know what you mean by "is", I don't know if I've answered your question.
Steven Ravett Brown
Of course! Beginning with the fundamentals, Socrates said "I know nothing" after this nothing is certain. To move forward as a society we have to make conclusions based on probability of truth rather than absolute truth itself. So what we do is create theories based on perceived knowledge that are in an ever changing state. When new information comes to contradict the old theory we reanalyze the theory and submit it again. This is considered a sort of microevolution of our species. Without accepting things as a 100 per cent truth there would be no way to move forward at all because we could never come to a conclusion without absolute truth. So in short, you can propose anything, but proving it is where its veracity come into question.
Is movement and having a body essential for self-consciousness?
Well for me as a first year philosophy student with very little reading under my belt it sounds to me like the question is asking can a mind exist without a body, but I may well be and probably am way of the mark. I am thinking along the lines of computers or machines.
No, you aren't way off the mark.
Though as I see it the question also applies to disembodied existence and whether this is possible. We can conceive of a mind without a body which allows many people to believe in a soul. We can say it is possible in the sense that people can believe in the soul, but when you look into the nature of the mental it doesn't look like a natural possibility. Thought is now taken to be affective, not a purely rational process. If it was a purely rational process it couldn't give rise to an idea of "self" which perhaps arises from body awareness and emotionally charged thought. Whether thought can be affective, or emotionally charged, when a being is disembodied is physically doubtful.
Factually, the biological nature of an organic being and neural activity in the brain are known to give rise to both thought and emotion.
You could look at Damasio's Looking for Spinoza. Damasio thinks that body imaging is essential for self-consciousness. In particular it is necessary for feeling. Feeling, for Damasio, is a conscious or mental state, whereas emotion is physical. How could the emotion associated with fear a sudden bodily rigidity and hastening of the heart beat be replicated in a computer so that it could give rise to feeling?
For Damasio, it is through feeling that we learn to go for things or avoid them. But you can't have feeling without bodily emotion. Can you imagine a disembodied being having feelings? What would a purely mental fear be or a mental love? Conceptually, fear implies being rooted to the spot or running away. Love implies physical movement towards that which is loved.
Consciousness is about mental states, but self-consciousness brings the idea of an individual. Self-consciousness is only possible if there is consciousness, but goes beyond it. A series of perceptions might amount to consciousness, but the concept of self-consciousness implies continuity: Memory and planning for the future in the light of the past which in turn suggests caring about the future and being in some subjective way related to one's own past.
It is unlikely that computers and machines could achieve this. Most people don't ascribe consciousness to machines. We don't suppose they have subjective experience, consciousness or a self.
On movement, you might consider perception and whether visual sensory experiences are sufficient for perception of spatiality. As a first year student it might be appropriate to look at Berkeley's New Theory of Vision. Also you might look at a modern paper published on the internet such as Rick Grush's "Skill and spatial content". This can be found through http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/online2.html. You will be able to find out about Searle's Chinese Room argument at this site too. Searle believes that nothing other than something built along the lines of an organic being can think. If you think otherwise, you will find support in arguments against him.
A while back, I took a course in Reiki healing (which I felt particularly drawn to). Although the course claimed explicitly that no special belief is required for the practice of Reiki, the course was steeped in new age metaphysics (chakras, meridians, auras, crystals, angels, energy fields etc.), all of which I am extremely sceptical of. (I regard myself as essentially an agnostic or atheist.)
For those who are not aware of it, the main metaphysical claim of the Reiki system is that the practitioner taps into a source of 'energy' from the universe called 'ki' (equivalent to 'chi' or 'prana' in other Eastern philosophies). 'Rei' refers to this energy's alleged divine source. Although I do not believe this literally, regarding it as somewhat of a 'figment of the imagination', I am aware of the psychological power of a mental image (creative visualisation), and so take the metaphysics as purely a (fictional) visualisation as an aid to practice. On practicing it, I have found it appears to be very effective, despite my scepticism. I thus seem to have a purely pragmatic approach to it.
However, some critics have claimed that it is impossible to divorce the practice of such arts from the associated metaphysical beliefs, especially the highly traditional forms, such as the style of Reiki I learned. Is it truly possible to practice such arts without 'buying into' the metaphysics to some extent (even it is only one's subconscious which accepts them)? If not, then how could a sceptic honestly practice without compromising his/ her rational belief system? (I'm ignoring the 'absent healing' aspect of the practice here, involving healing at a distance, which is purely a matter of faith).
My pragmatic approach to the subject does not feel very solidly grounded, however, and I sometimes wonder if a lot of what I'm doing is just pointless 'mumbo-jumbo'. I would therefore appreciate some philosophical guidance to shed some light on this issue, and to help put my mind at rest on this point!
Another important question is, would it be ethical for me to teach traditional Reiki (after taking the appropriate training) if I don't actually subscribe to the metaphysical beliefs which I am teaching? If I were to introduce a measure of scepticism (or pragmatism) into the training I were to offer, by saying that the metaphysics does not have to be taken literally, would this detract from the authenticity of the training I am providing, especially if I am offering it as training in its traditional form, which has never taken the metaphysics figuratively, to the best of my knowledge? (In traditional Reiki, for example, 'attunement' rituals are viewed as absolutely necessary for induction into the practice, in order to 'tune' the practitioner into the 'energy source', which is something I personally doubt is necessary, as a direct result of my scepticism).
I'd appreciate any help on these issues, as I'm wondering if a sceptic like me would be better suited to another career path!
If you find that Reiki is "very effective" perhaps there is a source of energy that is tapped into. This could have a divine source in which case I would understand this energy source to be in some way external to the individual. As you say, it is easier to believe in a psychological power but what would that be and why haven't psychologists founded this method of healing? What words would they use to describe the energy?
I would suggest that metaphysics isn't supposed to be taken literally. You are buying in to a way of speaking about an energy that can't be reduced to the physical and cannot be measured even if it is psychological. If you recognise this you are not compromising your rational belief system, but simply accepting that there are phenomena in the world that cannot be rationally explained.
The "mumbo-jumbo" hasn't been pointless. It is the origin of something you take to be an effective healing practice. It may seem obsolete, but you could try to respect the way the mystical origin has given rise to an effective practice.
Perhaps it isn't quite sincere to continue to practice traditional Reiki but I'm not sure it is really unethical to teach things you don't believe in. You could see teaching as being for the benefit of the one who learns and for whom the metaphysics might be acceptable.
If you were seriously sceptical you wouldn't have become a Reiki healer in the first place!
Probably. Most of that stuff is utter garbage. Let me put it this way: the placebo effect works about 30 per cent of the time. So if you can reliably demonstrate that you get better than 30 per cent "healing" or whatever from that stuff, you're above the baseline for plain suggestibility.
I'll put it another way. You can certainly justify practicing the above on the basis that if someone believes that it will help, it will, about 30 per cent of the time. If that's good enough for you, then, hey, go for it. Just be aware that anything else that people believe in will also help equally. The ethical question is whether it's moral to support beliefs in nonsense in order to achieve the real results that you will achieve through suggestion. A hard question to answer, since you won't convince most of the people coming to you that their beliefs are wrong. I wouldn't do it myself, but perhaps I'm wrong, and it's worth it for that effect, which is a real one. Be warned, however, that the placebo effect has its limits. You won't cure cancer and pretty much any sort of serious illness with it, and supporting a belief in what is basically superstition will bias people against seeking legitimate doctors who might actually help them. Aside from the dubious morality of supporting a belief in superstition in the first place.
You might take a look at a magazine called the Skeptical Inquirer on this sort of thing; it's on the web. Also, here are some references:
Giovannoli, J. 2000. The Biology of belief: how our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions. Rosetta Press, Inc.
Harrington, A., ed. 2000. The placebo effect: an interdisciplinary exploration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and the paranormal: a critical examination of the evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Schick, T., Jr., and L. Vaughn. 1995. How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Shermer, M. 1997. Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.
Young, A.W. 2000. "Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs." Mind and Language 15 (1):47-73.
Steven Ravett Brown
According to Robert Solomon, The Myth of Sisyphus is a philosophical theory, a vision of the absurd. Sisyphus really represents all of us as we spend our lives in futile quests. in the end, only personal experience is meaningful. Solomon asks if the absurd would disappear in the face of irrefutable evidence that God exists?
I've basically sort of given up answering questions like this... because I've done it so much. So first, go look in the archives on this site about questions on the meaning of life, the existence of god(s), etc. But your putting it in terms of "the absurd" is somewhat intriguing to me...
Let's say that we had that proof. Ok, something we'll call "god" exists. Now, that means, I assume, that we are, or should be, following some sort of "divine" plan that it has for us and the universe. Ok... so what? What makes that plan, or whatever, "meaningful"? Take a god... it's got this plan... and it's just made it up from nothing... after all, where would a god get a plan from, right? So it's made up some plan for life, the universe, and everything... and... so... what? What justifies it? What makes it any more meaningful than a plan you or I would make up? The fact that a god knows everything, and so its plan will work? Um... that's nice... but my plan might work also. I guess that a god knows that its plan will work, and so you and I know that its plan will work. In other words, god's rock will get to the top of the hill. Whoopee. Why should we care? Because there's no other game in town? No, not true, we can make up games also. Because god's game is better than ours, since we know it will work and we don't know that ours will? Well, that's some kind of criterion, all right... but it seems pretty weak to me. After all, maybe it's better not to know, then the game is more fun, right?
So, all in all... I just don't see that there's any more point, unless we want a sure win... and of course that assumes that god's plan gives us (and not just god) that win, which assumes that god is "good"... so we not only have to prove it (god) exists, we have to know its nature. And then, after we do that, we still have to feel that going with a winning game is somehow "meaningful", not "absurd"... and now that we're on that question, just what does make something "meaningful", after all? Or conversely, what makes something "absurd"? It doesn't seem to be having a plan, or a game... we can do that. Having a winning plan doesn't seem to add much... does it? So, what else?
Let me put it another way. There's a very interesting novel by Colin Wilson, The Philosopher's Stone, in which he asks somewhat the same question. His answer is that the mere existence of a being which is superior to us, plus our acknowledgment of it as superior, will motivate us to work for its ends. I think, based on the history of religions and of tyrants (which are actually not really separate issues), that he's correct. But the question is, should he be correct? Should we behave that way? We can look at studies of dominance/submission in animals for reasons that we behave like that, but those reasons have to do with animal survival, all well and good until now. But now we are able (to a certain rather feeble extent) to ask, answer, and act on higher-level, i.e., "existential" questions. God's providing us with a game-plan is the same thing, isn't it. You can bring the issue down to not wanting to go to hell, or some equivalent afterlife, but that's just avoiding the stick for the carrot... a refined version of animal training. Or you can say that the acceptance of some entity's dominance over us assures meaningfulness in our carrying out its goals. That seems pretty silly also, doesn't it. Or, as I say above, you can say that the assurance of being in a winning game provides meaningfulness. But that leaves the question of the game's goals open, not to mention why "winning" is meaningful, and not losing, or whatever... and so, you have to say that there's something about the end of the game that provides "meaningfulness".
Ok... what is it? Solomon, you say, answers that with "personal experience"... um... it's not the winning, it's the journey type of thing? Sorry, but I don't see that taking subgoals, the smaller steps on the way to the main goal, are any more meaningful than the main goal of the game. Maybe "personal experience" means things like friendship, love... etc.? Very nice, but why are those "meaningful", any more than anything else? Because we like them, they make us feel happy, satisfied? Well, yes, you can take that as your criterion for meaningfulness if you want... but why is that any more justified than any other criterion?
So this little meta-ethical romp does not seem to have come to a satisfactory conclusion. And I think that the reason, one reason, anyway, is that we started by asking the wrong kind of question. How, we asked, is meaningfulness tied to a god? Well... I guess it isn't, and so what? Then we have to look somewhere else, don't we... or ask just what we're talking about, anyway. Is "meaningfulness" a feeling? A goal? Something even useful to talk about? Where does that notion come from? What does it mean? I think that those questions might be more interesting to think about before we start with all the "god" stuff that people have gone around and around with for thousands of years.
Steven Ravett Brown
Not having read Solomons words I can only comment upon your quote and I can understand how you can interpret The Myth of Sisyphus in the way you describe but my own take is that the book already posits God/s existence, after all it was one who put Sisyphus there. So no, evidence for a God/s existence would not change his interpretation of the theory being a vision of the absurd.
However, I prefer to see the story as heroic as to me it presents the existence of freewill in Man regardless of the actions of any God/s. In his walk down Sisyphus is free and to me it shows that even if all our actions were to be determined or pre-destined, we would still have freewill.
A couple of questions on physical pain:
Do you feel pain when you are unconscious? A common situation would be in surgery. I admit I am not speaking from medical experience, but I hypothesise (perhaps foolishly) that people do feel pain whilst unconscious. Except when they wake up from their anaesthesia, they forget the pain they endured, and move on. Am I somewhat correct? Or is there proof that surgical patients don't feel pain whilst in surgery? I would imagine they have conducted many brainwave tests and concluded from that, that no pain is felt, but I don't believe our knowledge of the brain is complete enough to make such a conclusion.
This thought leads to other questions, such as the nature of pain itself. Most of it is a remembrance, and only during an infinitely small slice of time do we actually 'feel' pain. So consider being sliced by a scalpel. As it glides through skin and flesh, no doubt it would naturally "hurt". But I argue that the pain arises mostly from your thoughts; as you are remembering the pain before, and anticipating the pain after... and wherever the scalpel is up to, its actual cutting of that part only contributes to a minute amount of the pain you experience. E.g. some of you may have been unexpectedly struck with something, perhaps sharp, very fast. It surely would not have significantly hurt at that instant. Even if, after that instant, pain is felt, say from the resultant wound, I would still imagine most of the pain is a combination of memory and anticipation of other instances of pain. Just a thought.
These are good questions, and haven't been answered to everyone's satisfaction. As far as surgery goes, there are three kinds of anesthetics. One makes you unconscious, one is an analgesic, and one wipes your memory. The first is dangerous; unconsciousness can kill you, because it puts you near risk for heart failure and other system failures. So anesthesiologists don't go all the way with it, usually. The second dulls pain, yes, but doesn't usually make you unconscious without doses high enough to be very risky. The third is really nasty... you seem pretty much totally conscious, you feel pain, whatever, but you have zero long-term memory. So, I don't know... 30 seconds later or whatever after you're screaming in agony you've completely, totally, utterly forgotten it. No memory at all. So that's used, much more than I'd like to contemplate, in conjunction with the others, in a very delicate balance, which is why we pay anesthesiologists so much money. So do you feel pain during surgery? Haha... as you can see it depends on what they use on you. What you don't do is remember whatever you felt (in surgery) after the surgery. But you could be feeling it during the cutting as far as all behavioral and physiological and EEG measures are concerned, depending on the ratios of what they're dosing you with. That's why the other drugs are also used, to cut that down.
What if you're to all intents and purposes totally out on the first type of anesthetic above. Well, we can check that with EEGs, and if you're down far enough, and still alive, there are virtually no brain responses to stimuli that would normally cause them, and cause pain, and there are no other behavioral responses. Do you feel pain in those circumstances? No. I mean, what do you want? That's about as good criteria as you're going to get. Besides, we know where the areas of the brain are that cause pain. But what about lighter anesthesia, where there are no behavioral responses, but some EEG? Now here's the grey area... and no one knows. You wake up with no memory of pain, you've made no response... but. Let me put it this way... I'm of the school which thinks that to feel pain you have to be conscious, to some extent; that you can't feel pain (or anything else, or have any phenomenological experiences at all) if you're not conscious. Can there be "unconscious" feelings, pains, etc.? Yes... given that "unconscious" means something like "partially conscious" or "participating in processes which are also involved with conscious processes" or something like that. But again the kicker here is just how conscious do you have to be? Haha, don't ask me... no one, and I mean no one, including anesthesiologists, knows... because one can argue that in case where there is some brain activity, we've felt some pain but don't remember. Well... how do you either support or refute that? Even waking the patient up at that point won't do it, because it turns out that we seem to need some consciousness in order to remember. So if they say they didn't feel pain, one can object, again, that they had enough consciousness to feel but not enough to remember.
Now, you claim that the "nature" of pain is that it's a "remembrance" and an "anticipating". You are not supported by the neurological evidence. The appropriate areas light up with activation when we feel pain. Think about it. An argument of this sort, that we really don't feel some sensation, is applicable to any sensation. So we don't really see, hear, feel... etc.? But that begs the question of what we're having a memory of. If we never feel much, where do our memories, which seem so intense, come from? No, I think that both logic and data weigh against your claim... which is not to say that both memory and anticipation don't play a part, just as they do in all sensation. It's certainly not a black-and-white situation.
I don't know the medical literature on pain, so I can't give you references there. Some of the philosophical literature is:
Baars, B. J. 2001. "The Brain Basis of a 'Consciousness Monitor': Scientific and Medical Significance". Consciousness and Cognition 10:159-164.
Benedetti, F., A. Pollo, L. Lopiano, M. Lanotte, S. Vighetti, and I. Rainero. 2003. "Conscious Expectation and Unconscious Conditioning in Analgesic, Motor, and Hormonal Placebo/Nocebo Responses". The Journal of Neuroscience 23 (10):4315-4323.
Darwin, C. 1998. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Original edition, 1872.
Herz, R.S. 1998. "An examination of objective and subjective measures of experience associated to odors, music, and paintings". Empirical Studies of the Arts 16 (2):137-152.
Nikolinakos, D.D. 2000. "Dennett on qualia: the case of pain, smell and taste'. Philosophical Psychology 13 (4):505-522.
You could start there.
Steven Ravett Brown
That's a pretty sophisticated bundle of questions, Hong Li! But first things first: It is extremely unlikely that anyone feels pain while they're unconscious. I am assuming (since you refer to an operative scenario) that you have general anaesthesia in mind, and now it is (if you like) an instrumental fact of the body's life that the gases used in anaesthesia "knock out" the transmitters of pain, i.e. disable them from performing their normal functions. So non-functioning nerves + partially knocked out brain translate into a pretty secure non-perceptual condition. Bear in mind, as a supportive argument, that the brain itself contains no pain sensors, so that brain surgery is often performed with the patient fully conscious. This argues pretty conclusively that nerves carry pain signals, and when they're gassed, they cant.
The nature of pain is a very difficult issue to deal with even for experts, but your suggestions in the second batch of questions are very wide of the mark. Let me ask you how you can remember a pain when you are suffering injury unexpectedly and while you're not aware of being injured: as when you step on broken glass in the dark or get bitten by an insect? Further: the delay which sometimes (indeed often) occurs before we feel pain in instances of severe injury has nothing to do with memory, but with a manner of localising trauma devised by your body to ensure that you do not pass out until your brain has at least begun to coordinate suitable defence strategies. In any case, you are really way off with the notion that pain signals are weak and need bolstering from memory: What memory? Of severe pain? Then how perceived??
On the contrary, signal strength is directly proportional to the severity and/or danger to the system of the injury, as well as the sensitivity of the organ being injured, which may differ according to criteria of which we know very little (if anything). You are in fact, confusing something you may have read about the way memory functions: For it is the case, very probably, that a great quantity of the stimuli which bombard us every second of consciousness are referred to memory once your sensorium/brain cooperative has decided that they are virtually identical to information previously collected. Then it is more economical for your brain just to replay the memory, instead of using expensive and time consuming "live" resources to evaluate a run of the mill stimulus. The point here is that the important exceptions to this manner of dealing with daily experience are novelties, surprises and emergencies.
In those cases, the stimuli are passed to the brain "naked", as it were, so that your experience is vivid (and sometimes very confusing) because it is unfiltered. Evidently pain is "emergency" type, often also "surprise" type, and the pain is therefore a signal to you to do something in a hurry. There is a further criterion. Nerves usually require a refractory period after being stimulated; and so one of the other great principles is that they report changes in stimuli, and logically "switch off" when there is no change to report. This is one reason why pain can often be monotonously intense: but this is not because the pain is continuously transmitted, but because nothing in its quality has changed to arouse a nerve bundle to retransmit. Accordingly the "pain switch" (whatever it is) in the brain stays in the "on" position. But plainly this is not a memory function.
The real problem with pain is "what it is". A signal is evidently a form of electrochemical transmission that could hardly be pain-like. It also doesn't carry the sensation from the point of injury to the brain, but only a signal. Maybe this is what lured you down this track. Clearly the signal must be "understood" as something concretely sensory by the brain, which then produces an appropriate feeling. But in what Im describing here for you, there is no intrinsic difference between hearing music or speech, tasting food, smelling a flower or seeing a vase. All these sensation are transmission of essentially similar kinds. Modality determines the type of stimulus and the cortex being addressed, which must all have been calibrated over millennia of evolutionary fine tuning. But to what effect and purpose?
Well, before you conclude, by elongating what I've just written into a scenario of a "black box" type central command, or a "ghost in the machine" or an "homunculus", which is responsible for your "feeling" and actually "produces" it (by what kind of trick?), so that in actuality you don't feel pain or happiness or a nice taste on your tongue, but just imagine or believe or delude yourself into this feeling, I hold that there is a deep-seated logical error in this theory. It is of a kind with the error that tries to "locate" the little man in the box who sees for you, since obviously "you" cant see anything, being the recipient of nothing but electrochemical transmissions . . .!
Well: I think that on the contrary, the ancient, intuitive version of pain etc. was in most of its essentials correct.
You feel a pain in the foot or in your kidney, because that's where it is. And you feel it there not because of some prestidigitation within your cortices (i.e. essentially illusory stuff) or because of magical potions of chemistry sloshing around in your brain, but because the brain constructs for you, while you are awake and conscious, a body map. It is because of this map that you can find the spot on your back that itches, so that you can scratch it, even though you cant see it. Thus the injured site transmits pain signals to that part of the brain to have the information processed where the pain is that you feel, which you could not know unless the brain had first devised this virtual reality inside you, that is made up of every point in your body which is connected to the brain by a sensor. So the pain you feel is not because your brain receives pain messages, but because your bodies nervous system suffers it while the brain is merely called upon to identify and bring to your consciousness the spot that hurts. (Again, in most cases you can find that spot in the dark.)
Whatever factual information we have is available in Ian Glynn, The Anatomy of Thought, in which a discussion of nerves occupies about a third of the length of the book. Mind you, its a totally materialistic theory, but at least it has the virtue of not trying to push you into a particular "philosophy". Antonio Damasios The Feeling of what happens is another fine book on sensation, perception, cognition and especially the role emotions play in this triad. If you really want to know something about the subject, get those books. They're written with the lay person in mind, and they give you what must be regarded to this date the "state of the art", including everything you want to find out about pain and memory.
I'm studying necessity and modal logic, and thinking about whether the world could have been different than it is. I'm not sure if this is really a philosophy or a physics question, but here goes.
Imagine I have a process depending on random, quantum-mechanical effects: e.g. a radioactive decay. I set up a Geiger counter and I measure the number of decays per minute for 60 minutes, and record the numbers.
Now I do a thought experiment. I go back in time and repeat the experiment. Nothing is different, both the equipment and I are the same as before, in the same states. Will I get the same numbers?
I know that radioactive decay is random. It is not predictable, but follows probabilistic laws. To Einstein's dismay, there is no internal mechanism we can observe which is behind the probabilities and which explains them. Yet I find it hard to believe that I will not get the same numbers. Why shouldn't I?
Does it mean anything to say that the equipment is in the same state as before, if there is nothing "inside" which could be called a state?
Although this though experiment is impossible, are there any real experiments which shed light on the question?
The experiment you've just described is known in the "business" as Schrodinger's Cat. Practically every introductory text on quantum physics talks about it (Stephen Hawking once said, "every time I hear about Schrodinger's Cat, I feel like reaching for my revolver!"). There is also a book by Jonathan Gribbin called *In Search of Schrodinger's Cat", worth reading. Most of these books also discuss further experiments, from EPR to Bells inequalities, to improve your perspective on the matter. I append a couple of remarks to point you in another direction of fascinating research.
But first, I don't quite understand your worry over not having a repeatable experiment on your hands. To say that equipment is in a particular state is probably the issue on which you've cut your teeth in vain. The equipment is not in any state whatever. It is the observer who is in a state, and identifies his own and the equipment's state as one quasi-symbiotic setup. In that combined state, you cannot, by any normal criterion of the meaning of "repeatable" repeat your experiment. The initial conditions defeat you. Radioactive decay is a random phenomenon precisely because the exact initial conditions of even a captive atom would be incalculable.
You must understand that the language being used in physics is the same language you speak every day in your neighbourhood, so that a special mental effort is usually required to rid yourself of the shackles of common usage to comprehend the changes of meaning. Asking for "the same numbers" in any such experiment performed twice or many times in a row is therefore asking for numbers with billions of digits after the decimal point matching each other one for one. In a word, whatever you may mean by "state", it is an intrinsically unique constellation of numbers I am tempted to say, impossible to unravel even for God.
One interesting and often pursued branching line of inquiry is the "possible worlds" scenario. It is arguable that each unique experiment, in failing to register the identical "state" of previous experiments, gives evidence of divergencies in the (sub)atomic texture of events. Again, this is an issue puzzled over in many introductory physics books; but be warned that many are close enough to science fiction to make you wonder on how much science they rely. At any rate, I suggest you pick up any basic physics text in your library and check the index for "possible worlds" and carry on from there.
One of the great philosophers, Leibniz, was knee-deep into such theories, which have recently been reinterred with a lot of fanfare by a number of physicists, e.g. Smolin, Barbour, as well as some fiction writers, e.g. Borges. All are worth chasing up for what they've written on the subject. (And, for what its worth, Pathways to Philosophy has a program of study devoted to "Possible Worlds", if you find yourself developing a taste for the philosophy of "possible worlds").
This is where I might leave it, before I start writing a treatise. Meanwhile: bon voyage!
But think about it... what assumptions are you making when you say you'll "go back in time"? First, you can't go back in time. Second, if you could in some way, say, observe what was in the past, you couldn't alter it. You are assuming that "going back in time" implies that you can literally do so and change things when you do. But there's nothing at all in physics to support that assumption. So if you "go back in time" the way you can do it, i.e., by remembering the situation, then of course everything will be identical and the exact decay pattern will "repeat" itself in your memory. So yes, you'll get the same numbers.
But also, there's a lot of fiddling right now with the whole conception of "hidden variables" and that sort of thing. Bell's Inequality, for example, has been shown (as far as I know) to apply to only a limited subset of physical situations. Further, there has been some work which seems to show that we can look at processes "below" the quantum limits, in a kind of indirect way. And there's always Boehm. As for nothing "inside"... what does that mean? Again, you're making the assumption that some sort of functional epistemological viewpoint is reflected in ontology, a very bad mistake, in my opinion, which people have made over and over. Take a look at this, for example:
Hess, K., and W. Philipp. 2001. "A possible loophole in the theorem of Bell". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98 (25):14224-14227.
Steven Ravett Brown
Whilst not a physicist, my own take on your "thought experiment":
If radioactive decay is random then it is not predictable but if it follows "probabilistic laws" then it must be probably predictable. Otherwise what is the point of these "laws".
If radioactive decay is random and probably predictable then, when using the random generator, we can reliably predict that we will probably generate a random number. So I would say that in your experiment you will have a high probability of getting a different set of numbers generated but you might not, although I would bet my dog on it!
My question to you is "What is it you find "hard to believe" when considering the case where you do not get the same numbers"? or "What is it that makes you think you should get the same numbers?"
My own difficulty is in thinking of a case where you would get the same numbers as, even if we ignore all the problems inherent with the idea of "going back in time", I find it difficult to conceive of a way to restart the experiment and it still not produce different numbers.
The only way I can see to get the result of generating the same numbers is to abandon the idea of "probabilistic laws" and look for something else that lets you explain whatever it is these "laws" explain and allows you to show how the"random-number" generator is not really random but deterministic in some sense. Then when you go back in time you can restart the experiment but with the tweak that you set the deterministic rules to work on the experimental state in just such a way as to produce the numbers you want.
Pretty thin but best I can do.
This may be a question for a Physics professor, but it does have some philosophical implications too!
Can physical things actually "move" without an external reference to relate its motion to? Let's imagine a universe where there are no other physical bodies (planets, stars, pogo sticks, Big Macs, etc) besides our own body. We have attached to our backside a rocket pack. We throttle-up the rocket and immediately feel the intense acceleration. After a good long burn we disable the rocket. Are we moving? If you say, "Of course you are moving! You felt the acceleration, didn't you?" Then prove it! Movement is defined as a continuous change in position RELATIVE to another physical object. So, without the existence of any other physical objects to relate to, is it possible to move?
Consider this situation: suppose you hold a bucket full of water in your hand, just letting it hang. Now, suppose the room, even the earth, rotates around that bucket. Will anything happen to the water in the bucket? No. Now suppose you rotate the bucket (not revolve, rotate around a central axis) and keep the room and the earth still. What happens? The water climbs the sides of the bucket, right? This seems to be an example where absolute motion is not reciprocal; where you can tell whether it's you or the universe which is moving, doesn't it. I'm still not sure how this is resolved... one proposal I've seen is that this kind of spin, if enough of the universe were moving around the bucket, would cause the water in the bucket to rise. Of course, another thing about this example is that the water in the bucket is accelerating, not moving uniformly (i.e., its motion vector is continually changing in direction, although not in length), and we're out of the realm of special relativity, which is what your question seems to assume, but actually is outside of, and into the realm of general relativity, where gravity as acceleration, time dilation, and various other nonlinear effects start to take place. To relate it to your example, in a continuously accelerating rocket, you would be able to tell that you were moving, because a) you'd experience weight from the acceleration, and b) when you got out of your rocket, after you returned, you'd look around and see that while 5 hours, say, had passed for you, 5 days, perhaps, would have passed for the rest of the universe while you accelerated, turned around, and decelerated back to your original starting point. This is the classical "time dilation" effect of general relativity, and there are other effects, e.g., a change in shape and increased mass. Now, the rest of the universe could not have been moving, because the time dilation effect is asymmetric, as you can see. If you had sat still and everyone else shot away from you into space, then returned, then everyone else would have had the dilation, while you would not. Things are symmetrical so long as acceleration is zero.
The question is, why does this happen? Is there an effect of the total mass of the universe on all its components (so that if the whole universe rotated around the bucket, the water would rise)? Is there a "fabric" of space (despite Michelson & Morley) which is being "pushed against"? Is the speed of light limitation causing the particles in your body, etc., to require more and more energy to accelerate as their speed increases (i.e., the energy has to "catch up" with them)? Well... none of these are employed today. The explanation of these effects is a geometrical one, involving the curvature of space and time combined: space-time curvature, and the math is rather complex.
Here are some websites that might help:
Steven Ravett Brown
That's a very good observation, Mike! And at least in philosophy your question belongs among the oldest to have been discussed. I call it the "Paradox of Motion", for the same reason you do; and among the very first philosophers there were two, Heraclitus and Parmenides, who acquired "immortal fame" by proposing exactly opposite solutions. Very roughly, the first proposed that motion is the fundamental state of the universe anyway and that nothing ever sits still. The other said the whole thing is a sophisticated illusion, that we live in a static universe (single block) and movement is a play of light and shadows on our senses. Well, there's a little more to it than I've given here, but in any case theirs was not the last word ever spoken on the issue. It may not be beside the mark to mention in passing that in science the question tends, unfortunately, often to get shoved under the carpet.
In addition, a much deeper issue is, as it were, attached to it. As long as we speak about matter only, it could be argued that motion or no motion amounts pretty much to the same thing. If no conscious intelligence is there to register the motion, by what logic might we wish to say yea or nay? But there does exist a conscious intelligence; and now the deep issue I alluded to is this.
Imagine you are in a pitch black room which is also asensory in other respects. Suddenly you see two billiard balls, one white, the other red, stationery in the middle of nothing. (Assume their light source to be internal so that you still cannot see anything else.) Now you would, as a matter of course, assume that these balls are situated on a billiard table. So be it, even though for you it is mere conjecture. But all of a sudden, the white ball rolls rapidly towards the red and collides with it. In the result the white ball is deflected from its course and the red one takes off and disappear a fraction of a second later lets say into a pot. A question arises from this scenario which offers testimony either to an ingrained prejudice or lets you in on a fundamental truth. You choose.
It is this: if you were asked, what moved the white ball, you would without a seconds deliberation urge some cause: whether a third unseen (black) billiard ball, or an unperceived tilting in the table, or a sudden influx of directed air pressure etc. With any of these causes, however, you would immediately understand, without being prompted, that they in turn demand similar causal explanations; that tilting the table (for example) might be due to a crack in the floor, which occurred because of an earthquake, etc etc. This way you could, if that was your frame of mind, continue through to the Big Bang. Once there, of course, you're not allowed to ask for further causes: for this is the great deus ex machina that answers all questions.
(Mind you: the white ball hitting the red in such a way that it rolls straight into a pot is a bit much of a coincidence too!).
If, on the other hand, you were informed that, also unseen by you, a billiard player happened to be present and used an ordinary queue to push the white ball, then you would know the cause of motion of the white ball. But you would not enquire after, indeed hardly feel a need to do so, the cause of the queues motion. The billiard players motion does not require a causal explanation.
So there is an answer of a sort in all this thought experimenting. The motion of matter demands an explanation, and except in the trivial sense of supposing "impetus" or "momentum" to be conveyed from one object to another, we have none. All the standard explanations like gravitation, heat, electrical potential etc. simply beg the question or push it up from one explanatory level to the next, where the same question awaits you again. By contrast, agency requires no explanation beyond assuming a "free will", and this applies to bacilli as much as to us. In consequence some philosophers, aware of this fundamental discrepancy in causal chaining, have proposed either that the same causes operate hidden from us in organic matter as well, while others maintain that agency precedes matter, that without it, we could not explain the simplest facts of the universe.
If you're interested in pursuing this (but be warned it is a difficult as well as contentious subject matter), you might sample Schopenhauer (The World as Will and Imagination) or Leibniz (New System) together with some secondary literature (check Janaway or Magee on Schopenhauer, and the Oxford annotated edition of the New System), for versions of "agency first" idea; or you might delve into Barbour's The End of Time. And of course, let no-one discourage you from reading Heraclitus and Parmenides, who started this ball rolling (lots of cheap editions, e.g. The Origins of Scientific Thought by G. de Santillana in Mentor, or Presocratic Philosophers by Jonathan Barnes in Penguin).
Newton's law: to each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Here you are moving relative to the contents of your your rocket exhaust (which is a physical object besides your own body). In practice, I think you will find it impossible to construct a thought experiment in which the traveller is both (a) accelerating and (b) the only object in the universe.
Do any philosophies deal with the nature of the changes that take place in the individual's definition of themselves and the universe, as the individual moves from infancy to become a member of society?
Do these philosophers deal with nature of the issues that are dealt with, the sequence of these issues? The development of these ideas first as thesis and then as anti-thesis?
Let me explain in part:
1. The infant begins with the concept that it is the universe, then learns that it is dependent.
2. The infant begins with no definitions and learns definitions.
3. The infant begins with isolation and then experience unity.
These three issues define the inside and outside of a triangle the central issue at this stage determining which side of the triangle the infant's tendency will rest is trust/ mistrust.
What I am working on in a philosophy that include, as part of it, the development of a series of thesis/anti-thesis triangles at different stages of individual development. After a series of these processes are passed through the theory sees the development of branches of philosophy as thesis or antithesis formations.
Yes. But one problem with your question is that I don't know a) your background, and b) what you mean by "philosophies". So I'll give you a list of readings, but if you know anything about child development you've probably read them. Nonetheless:
Cowan, N., J.S. Saults, L.D. Nugent, and E.M. Elliott. 1999. "The Microanalysis of Memory Span and Its Development in Childhood". International Journal of Psychology 34 (516):353-358.
Dolgin, K. G., and M. Azmitia. 1985. The development of the ability to interpret emotional signals what is and is not known, edited by G. Zivin. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.
Fogel, A. 1985. Coordinative structures in the development of expressive behavior in early infancy, edited by G. Zivin. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.
Gopnik, A., C. Glymour, D.M. Sobel, L.E. Schulz, T. Kushnir, and D. Danks. 2003. "A theory of causal learning in children: Causal maps and Bayes nets". Psychological Review In Press.
Gopnik, A., and A. Meltzoff. 1987. "The development of categorization in the second year and its relation to other cognitive and linguistic developments". Child Development 58:1523-1531.
Gopnik, A., and A.N. Meltzoff. 1998. Words, thoughts, and theories. Edited by L. Gleitman, S. Carey, E. Newport and E. Spekle, Learning, Development, and Conceptual Change. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Gopnik, A., and D.M. Sobel. 2000. "Detecting Blickets: How Young Children Use Information about Novel Causal Powers in Categorization and Induction". Child Development 71 (5):1205-1222.
Grady, J. 2000. "Cognitive mechanisms of conceptual integration". Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):335-345.
Hickling, A.K., and H.M. Wellman. 2001. "The Emergence of Children's Causal Explanations and Theories: Evidence From Everyday Conversation". Developmental Psychology 37 (5):668-683.
Malatesta, C. Z. 1985. "Developmental course of emotion expression in the human infant." In The development of expressive behavior, edited by G. Zivin. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.
Matthews, G.B. 1987. "Concept formation and moral development". In Philosophical perspectives on developmental psychology, edited by J. Russell. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
Piaget, J. 1959. Judgment and reasoning in the child. Translated by M. Warden. Edited by C. K. Ogden, International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method. Paterson, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co.
Piaget, J. 1971. The construction of reality in the child. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, Inc.
Piaget, J. 1971. Insights and illusions of philosophy. Translated by W. Mays. New York, NY: The World Publishing Co.
Stern, D. N. 1985. The interpersonal world of the infant. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Wimmer, H., and J. Perner. 1983. "Beliefs about beliefs: representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception." Cognition 13:103-128.
Zelazo, P.D. 2004. "The development of conscious control in childhood". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (1):12-17.
Zelazo, P.D., U. Muller, D. Frye, and S. Marcovitch. 2003. "The development of executive function in early childhood". Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 68 (3):vii-155.
I highly recommend Piaget (and what I have of him here is a tiny selection of his writings), Gopnik, and Zelazo, given what you're saying above.
Steven Ravett Brown
Hello. Thank you for this great service.
My question is concerned with understanding why the experience or vision of accepted gods like Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed, Oden etc. does not occur in pagan cultures or to specific person(s) who do not believe in such a god. And if it does occur, why does it? I can only think of one documented example of this in history. (I'm sure there are probably many more?)
I try not to answer questions like this any more, because I've done it so much... but I'll go for it. Look, there are no cultures whatsoever where people do not have "visions", "experiences", "states", etc., etc., which are usually termed "mystical" or "religious". None. Zero. Those experiences are universal to human beings. But, the exact content of those experiences varies according to the culture, i.e., according to the beliefs of the people having them. If you believe in something strongly enough, you will experience it. I'll repeat that: If you believe in something strongly enough, you will experience it. If you believe in the god Thor, and you have religious experiences, you will have visions of Thor which seem utterly real to you. If you believe in Mary Magdalene, you will have visions of Mary Magdalene which seem utterly real to you. If you believe in Krishna, you will have visions of Krishna. If you believe in fairies, you will have visions of fairies. If you believe in flying saucers... etc., etc., etc. What I fail to understand is why people don't see this and say, hey, maybe there's something common to all this which we are producing from ourselves. Because virtually all these religious experiences are utterly incompatible with each other. Krishna and Thor cannot exist in the same universe. Yahweh and Buddha imply totally different cosmologies, characteristics, afterlives... And on, and on, through the thousands of different religions that humans have believed in since the dawn of... whatever. Why, oh why, do I need to go on about this? Isn't it glaringly obvious?
Well, fortunately, there are some people who have asked this question and are actually researching the basis of these experiences. Here are some readings:
Eliade, M. 1961. The sacred and the profane. Translated by W. R. Trask, The Cloister Library. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Frazer, J.G. 1951. The golden bough: a study in magic and religion. Third ed. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.
Alper, M. 2001. The "God" part of the brain: a scientific interpretation of human spirituality and god. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press.
Azari, N.P., J. Nickel, G. Wunderlich, M. Niedeggen, H. Hefter, L. Tellmann, H. Herzog, P. Stoerig, D. Birnbacher, and R.J. Seitz. 2001. "Neural correlates of religious experience". European Journal of Neuroscience 13:1649-1652.
Giovannoli, J. 2000. The Biology of belief: how our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions Rosetta Press, Inc.
Langdon, R., and M. Coltheart. 2000. "The cognitive neuropsychology of delusions". Mind and Language 15 (1):184-218.
Laski, M. 1990. Ecstasy in secular and religious experiences. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Original edition, 1961.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and the paranormal: a critical examination of the evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Schick, T., Jr., and L. Vaughn. 1995. How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Shermer, M. 1997. Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.
Young, A.W. 2000. "Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs". Mind and Language 15 (1):47-73.
Please read some of these.
Steven Ravett Brown
I'm in the middle of a debate with someone who claims that, using Kant's categorical imperative, homosexuality is wrong. He says that you can easily will everyone to be heterosexual, but you can't will everyone to be homosexual because it would lead to the extinction of the human race. I find this a pretty stupid argument, to be honest with you, but I can't exactly say why. His way of saying it seems awfully clumsy and contrived to make his point. Also, I was thinking that I might be able to use the second formulation of the imperative to say that he can't use heterosexuals merely as a means to propagate the species. Anyway, I'm thoroughly frustrated and could definitely use a hand here.
Yes. This is a severe problem with Kant's ethics. Here's the situation:
Kant was coming from a time where there were basically no sciences as we know them, and people were collecting lots of little bits of data, and not being able to put them together into coherent pictures. The big exception was Newton, and Kant wanted to get philosophy on the same footing. Well, Newton developed a system of physics which started from first principles, i.e., Newton's Laws, and from which you could then derive the behavior of any (he hoped) physical system. But those laws were for ideal objects; point masses, frictionless surfaces, objects moving in a vacuum... etc... "ideal" objects, you see? But they worked pretty well for the real world, at least as far as measurements went in those days, and everyone could see that you had to fiddle these other factors to make the ideal equations work for real masses, and so forth, but that they were nevertheless the correct ideal equations.
So Kant wanted the same for philosophy. And what he did, then, was to try to derive the most abstract ethical principles he could. Then he thought once that was done, everyone could just work down and fiddle a little, and it would work out like Newton. Well. Not a bad idea, really... but when you look at what he came up with it's a bit silly, in my opinion, anyway. There are two basic principles, sort of... although they are intended to be aspects of one principle. There's "act as if everyone else would do the same thing"... a kind of way to fiddle out the detailed answer, I think; and the really general, abstract, ideal principle is that the willed action cannot be what might be termed "self-contradictory". That is, if you think you can steal, and you ask, "what if everyone stole?", and you find that if everyone stole society collapses, or something like that... then you have to say that stealing is in a way self-contradictory, because it results in a condition or a society in which stealing is impossible... because the society in which you asked the question could not exist if you answer the question in the affirmative. You see?
Basically, he's trying to show that unethical actions are in a rather bizarre way contradictions, or self-defeating, because they destroy the circumstances under which they originally start. An ingenious way to make ethics logical, right? Right. It's so full of holes you could drive a truck through it. For one thing, what about people who need to steal to survive, in some sort of exceptional circumstances? Well, then, you either have to say that they can't, period, or you have to say, well, we have to take their circumstances into account, and if everyone else stole, society would collapse... etc. Of course you can see the problems, here... just what do we end up with, finally, as situations which are "normal", so that we can't steal in them? And what criteria do we use to decide those criteria? Whoops... And all this is aside from the little problem of demonstrating that this self-defeating dynamic will actually happen, haha. Believe me, his three Critiques are much more impressive. So sure, if everyone were homosexual, there'd be no human race in a couple of generations... but everyone isn't homosexual, nor is even a majority likely to be (I just read about a study on homosexual sheep... yes, well, a useful study, actually... and about 8 percent of rams are homosexual; consistent with what's found in humans and other animals, I believe).
Steven Ravett Brown
The Categorical Imperative is a guide to moral action so it cannot be used to say that being a homosexual is wrong, only that a homosexual act is. It is an objection to Kant that you can universalise anything, but I don't understand it. We cannot universalise anything as rational beings. I don't see how the principle that you should commit a homosexual act can be valid as a law or an "objective principle valid for every rational being". Would a rational being hold the principle that everyone should commit a homosexual act? I would say that it was an individual's subjective principle of action which does not go on to the stage of being objective and becoming moral law. A subjective maxim is not moral law but "a practical rule determined by reason in accordance with the conditions of the subject (often his ignorance or again his inclinations)".
As to the argument you are trying to develop against using heterosexuals as a means to propagate it will probably fail. Kant says "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity... never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end". If heterosexuals are used (by whom??) to propagate the species this is to treat persons as both means and ends.
Hey, I wanna start off by saying I'm glad I found your site. I wanna hear what you have to say to a few of these ideas. This is all pertaining to life after death by the way and I often get stuck thinking these few things.
There seems to be a sense of logic in me thinking that if we die and all fades to black, with no memory of our life in fact...that we couldn't be alive right now. The only similar analogy is to a dream that we cannot remember. We've all had nights we awake and cannot recall all the dreams we've had, when it seems like as soon as your head hits the pillow at night it's then suddenly morning and only one minute went by. If those dreams are never remembered they hold no place in time. The dream was only in YOUR head, thusly "you" would be the only one who could possibly remember it. If that dream goes unrecalled until the end of that life, then I suppose it never occurred...it held no place in time and had no remembrance so it might has well of never been.
I find that whenever an idea seems stuck, it pays to write down what seem to be the significant points and the tentative conclusion(s). I usually have at least a vague idea of what the conclusion(s) might be, because otherwise I would not be motivated enough (excited enough or concerned enough) to keep thinking things through. I am not entirely sure where you think your argument is heading but I have attempted to write down and comment on your main points and conclusion.
Summary of your main points:
1. A forgotten dream does not matter and is not real
2. A forgotten life would be like a forgotten dream it would not matter and would not be real.
3. This life does matter and is real.
4. This life is not forgotten
5. We must survive death otherwise this would be forgotten
Let's first look at the idea of something 'mattering' or 'being important'. It seems to me that things can matter to varying different degrees at different times. For example, when you get a pain in your tooth, the idea that this might lead to a more excruciating pain before long matters, when you actually experience the excruciating pain it matters very much, days later when you only have the vaguest memory of the event it doesn't matter. It also seems to me that one thing can matter in varying degrees to different people. For example, at the time when your toothache matters to you, it will not matter in the least to the millions of people who know nothing about it. Therefore, to be exact we have to qualify 'matters' not only by quantity but also by 'to' and 'when'. For example, the toothache mattered a great deal to me when I was experiencing it.
How should we qualify "matter' in your first point? Our dreams, especially our forgotten dreams, do not usually matter to other people. We also tend to believe that a forgotten dream could not have seemed important to us when we were dreaming it because otherwise we would have remembered it. Therefore, 'my forgotten dream' is an example of something that has never mattered or been important at any time to me or anyone else.
Now let's consider the point 'a forgotten life would be like a forgotten dream'. Certainly they are both forgotten. However, it seems to me that the similarity ends there. A forgotten dream has probably never mattered or been important at any time to anyone, but I don't think that a forgotten life is anything like that. When someone has completely forgotten a dream we can reasonably assume that the dream didn't matter to them, but when someone has forgotten their life we cannot assume that their life did not matter to them. Indeed when someone has forgotten their life we usually assume that their brain is not functioning properly. If there comes a time when my brain is no longer functioning properly and I forget my current life, it would be wrong to assume that my current life does not matter to my family, my friends and myself now. Therefore, in regards to what matters and is important, forgetting a dream seems to me nothing like forgetting your life. Unlike your dreams, your life is not the type of thing can become unimportant all the time to everyone just because you forget it. There does seem to me to be an inconsistency between points one, two, and three. One says dreams can be unimportant, three says life is important, and two says where importance is concerned dreams and life are the same.
It also seems to me that a forgotten life would be nothing like a forgotten dream if we had an after life and the quality of that after life depended on our actions in this life.In that case a forgotten life would have a huge impact on our future life and would be nothing like a forgotten dream that has no impact on our future
The final conclusion is "We must survive death otherwise this life would be forgotten".
It seems to me that we do not need to survive death in order not to forget our lives. Suppose that when I die I cease to exist, and therefore I am no longer around to remember my life. I don't think that in that case I will have necessarily forgotten my life. Claims that are perfectly reasonable about live people are not always reasonable about people that do not exist. For example, "If John is not in my room then John is somewhere else", is a reasonable claim if John is alive. However, if John does not exist then the claim is not reasonable. Similarly, "If John does not remember important events that happened to him, then John has forgotten them", is a reasonable claim if John is alive. However, it is not such a reasonable claim if John has ceased to exist. He might have remembered the events right up to the point where he ceased to exist, and have never forgotten them. He does not remember the events, not because he has forgotten them, but because he does not exist anymore. Therefore, even if all three of your points and the first conclusion were true, the final conclusion could be false.
I hope that my comments help to get your thoughts flowing again.
Premise: This argument is valid.
Conclusion: I am the Pope.
Am I? If the premise is false then the argument is valid, and thus the premise is true and the argument sound. So it seems that I am, therefore, the Pope.
If the premise is false, then it is false that the argument is valid, and you are not the Pope. You have not set up a paradox correctly.
1) This sentence below is NOT valid
2) I am the Pope.
1) This sentence below IS valid
2) I am the Pope.
are NOT paradoxes. The first is simply true, the second is simply false.
Try this one:
1) the sentence below is true
2) the sentence above is false.
You need self-referentiality to set up a paradox. You could add Popes or whatever to the last one if you want.
Steven Ravett Brown
Whether an argument is deemed formally valid has nothing at all to do with whether anything it says is true, but only has to do with whether the various things that are asserted in it are connected in a proper way. Conceivably and for the sake of argument, Johann's one premise argument passes that test, and if it does, then what we are saying is that any conclusion whatsoever could have been validly adduced from this initial premise. Now, it is important to remember that with a valid argument, you can put garbage in and get garbage out. This is because validity is entirely to do with the process from input to output, and not to do with the quality of either inputs or outputs.
Soundness is an entirely different matter. For an argument to be sound, it must be not only valid in its proper connection of premise(s) and conclusion, but also derive its conclusion from a true premise. For something to be a sound argument, you need to take sure to put truths in at the front end of a valid argument. Soundness is validity plus true premises.
Validity and Soundness properly distinguished, we can look again at Johann's two clause central assertion. Johann asserts:
"If the premise is false then the argument is valid..."
Well, we can accept this because we accept that the argument is valid, and that this is so irrespective of whether the premise in it is true or false.
But Johann then continues:
"...and thus the premise is true and the argument sound."
This is a wrong move. From the fact that the argument is valid, nothing whatsoever follows about the truth or falsity of the premise. Just because the argument is valid, it doesn't follow that the premise is true or that the argument is sound.
"So it seems that I am, therefore, the Pope."
No, Johann isn't the Pope. And he hasn't done anything to show that he is either, because his argument is confused about validity and soundness.
Formal logic is abstract and needs to be given content. In his book Logical Forms, Mark Sainsbury suggests that for an argument to be valid in ordinary language it must be "useful" so that is not enough for propositions to be true or false for validity. Your argument is not useful at all and there is no relevant connection between the premises. You would find Sainsbury's whole book very useful, in fact. He shows differences between ordinary language arguments and the workings of formal logic.
Otherwise put, by Avrum Stroll in a paper "Broadened Logic": An argument should be "cogent" as opposed to "nonsense" or "absurd". As ordinary language users we just know what is nonsensical and absurd, and we also have prior knowledge as to what is useful. Stroll says that traditional logic has been "acontextualised" by Russell and Frege and contains no information about the world. As humans beings we acquire knowledge about the world which has to be used as content in an argument in a way which makes sense.
Logic might not reflect the way we think at all. Experience in the world makes a difference to the inferences we are able to draw and formal logic is rather artificial as a way of describing natural inferences. "The kinds of logic described by logicians simply seem irrelevant to normal individuals. We do not construct truth tables and look up the result: We do not use formal rules of inference" this is a only a statement made by Howard Gardner in The Mind's New Science but you could read the whole book to check out the detailed way in which he backs this up.
When Aristotle introduced the idea of a syllogism, he didn't have as much knowledge of the way the mind works as we have today. I have always found the idea that logic underpins our use of language and form of argument highly persuasive, but it seems that it is time to rid ourselves of this idea.
1. Levinas distinguishes between "desire" and "need". what is the difference? Why should DESIRE be a metaphysical moment?
2. The Face is the situs of ethical. Would you explain in your own terms Levinas' phenomenology of the Face and reflect on why the Face-to-Face checks the 'egology' of the life of the Same?
3. WHat is the Same and what is its relation to enjoyment?
The difference between need and desire, simply put is that needs can be fulfilled, desire cannot. For Levinas there are two ways to talk about human life: one is as separate, individual, egocentric and independent, the other is as transcending towards what is Other and the good. The first dimension is what he calls the 'Same'.
This is the realm of the ego's grasp of the world, understood as consciousness' ability to incorporate "actually or potentially, that which lies outside it." According to Levinas, this movement of the suppression and possession of all otherness and difference into theory, knowing and being has been the predominant feature/ characteristic of the western philosophic tradition and leaves no possibility open for transcendence.
However consciousness does not exhaust the meaning of the Same for Levinas, there is also in the movement of the same an enjoyment of the world, which does not take the form of representations, but are lived as sensibility, at the level of the body. The realm of the Same is steeped in need. Needs are characterised as a lack that must be satisfied. Hunger is a prime example, hunger is experienced as a privation of sustenance, satisfying this lack however is not just a matter of finding nourishment. Eating, consuming is a matter of enjoyment, it is a kind of folding back on oneself where the world is absorbed by me such that ultimately only I exist. This world of the same is foremost an economy where there is a balancing of intention and actions, a coinciding of lack and fulfilment.
Desire on the other hand is structurally very different. It indicates the movement out of this ego-based economy, out of the world of the same, towards the transcendence of the Other. Whereas needs can be fulfilled, desires are insatiable. Desire is what remains when all the needs and wants of the ego are met, not in the sense of a 'there is more I can have' but more of a sense that what I have may not be the most valuable. That what is most valuable is what escapes (essentially) any and all encompassing, any and all economy. Desire is desire for what is different, outside, elsewhere. Desire is the desire for transcendence. Rather than a folding back on oneself it is a movement of extreme unfolding, so extreme in fact that there is no return to what is familiar and the Same. Ultimately it is desire for the Other. An Other who when we encounter him/ her reveals a world to me a new world a world that I am no longer justified in claiming as my own. A world in which the movements of the Same no longer suffice in order to make sense of. Why? Because the Other is a very strange experience as both imminence and transcendence, in other words as a Face.
The notion of the face is as you recognise very difficult and slippery. I think the latter feature is deliberate on Levinas' part. He is trying to capture in a detailed way the basic thought that when we are with someone, just by the simple fact that there are not ourselves there is something always out of our reach, the other is both with us and not with us, it is this slippery duality that leads to the difficulty in understanding Levinas' discourse. At one point, Levinas even says, "I do not know if one can speak of a phenomenology of the face, since phenomenology describes what appears" (Ethics and Infinity p83).
The face then is not the physical features of the eyes, nose, mouth. Levinas goes on to say that "The best way of encountering the Other is not even to notice the colour of her eyes!". The face is what escapes any description of the other by the self; the face is what points to that which cannot be brought into the confines of the ego's world. The face is transcendence. And yet the face is what is most immediate, most imminent, most real, because the face presents itself as 'destitute' as 'naked' and 'exposed' calling for help, my help to give up the coat on my back to cloth her, to give up my food to feed her. Before this appeal, I had never had to consider the way I lived my life. I just did as I pleased. The Other breaks into this status quo disrupting the pleasant flow of self-containment. When faced with the Other, however, there is a question that strikes to the very foundations: Do I have a right to exist? Does the fact that my living my life mean that someone else is suffering, if so what can I do? Of course I may not do anything I am under no compulsion to act, But then I have ignored the Other's call for help. If in fact I do help the other then ethics and the Good opens up.
In other words metaphysics, transcendence is made most real, is possible only at the intersecting of the imminent the physical, the everyday.
Levinas opens Totality and Infinity with voices other (wise) than his own: "The true life is absent". "But we are in the world ". The first sentence is a quote taken from Rimbaud and can be read as both an admission of the lack of value or meaning and simultaneously a longing or yearning for what is missing. The second sentence is an allusion to Heidegger, who characterises human life as being-in-the-world. Being-in-the-world means that we have needs and wants that we can fulfil and enjoy, and yet there is something that does not fit into this world, it is beyond or rather to big to fit into this world it overflows it. This 'it' is the good, the infinite, the other. This third sentence reads: "Metaphysics arises and is maintained in this alibi". Levinas understands 'metaphysics' in a literal sense as meta-physics that which comes after physics, the world, what is outside the familiar and the Same. Metaphysics is a transcendence again understood literally as a moving-over or across or rather a trans-ascendance a moving up and beyond. Desire as that which cannot find fulfilment as that which shows up after all needs have been fulfilled is metaphysical or rather metaphysics.
I want to know, if reincarnation is true, why we only remember this life? And how we can explain population growth?
Also I have another question, How can we explain the "gods" in the beginning of life? When I compare my knowledge with Von Daniken's theory, I really mix up.
You've already answered your first question by yourself, so there is nothing more to say. As for Daniken, my best advice is to try and forget what he wrote as fast as you can. Don't blame yourself for being mixed up; chances are the guy was even more mixed up than you are. As I, for example, discovered to my chagrin by checking his sources, he also had the problem that he quotes many that just don't exist. Same rule goes for reincarnation, I'm afraid. The idea is a hangover from very primitive days, when people had no science whatever and tried as best they could to explain to themselves what happens to their precious little self when the body dies. If you're interested in ancient Gods, read about them in books on mythology. There is a huge choice of them in every library in the world.
Actually you're doing very well. These are just the kinds of questions you should be asking, that is, questions about the basis and implications of assertions that people make to you. There are no satisfactory answers to these questions, because 1) there is nothing at all supporting reincarnation; there are just a lot of people who believe in it. There used to be a lot of people who believed the earth was flat, also. If wishes were fishes... For one thing, if reincarnation is true, then Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, to name only three major religions, are false. Why don't people see this? Um...
2) Von Daniken either very cynically cashed in on hordes of gullible people to sell his books, or he was simply a crackpot. There is not a shred of historical data supporting his, uh, "theories".
Keep on with your skepticism! Read about these theories! Think critically about them! Now, the next step is to do the same for the beliefs you were brought up with... painful as that might be.
Steven Ravett Brown
What is at the end of the universe...and don't say that it goes on forever...if it does what is behind forever?
Why shouldn't I say it goes on forever? Why shouldn't it? What if I said it went on for X zillion light-years... then what? Look, suppose that whatever it is that "space" is, stopped after some distance. Now, how would we be able to know that, since we can only measure within and with space? Let's say that the universe is a 4-dimensional sphere, 100 zillion light-years across (a zillion is a number that I've just made up which is less than infinity, ok?). So it's finite. But we can only travel around inside it, around and around. We can't see out, we can't go out, and when we get to an edge, we just get turned around so that we're headed back inside. All we can do is go around and around. What's the "end" of that? Space has no end, then, does it. Is there an "outside"? But there's no way to have one, is there, because space stops there. Or to put it another way, the universe, if it's like that, is any size, and no size, because there's no way to measure it, since it's all the space there is. There's nothing to compare it to, so its "outside" size is anything, or nothing, or a meaningless idea.
Alternatively, let's say that the universe is a finite sized sphere, and there is space outside it. How large is it? Well... a zillion light-years. What's outside it? Space, empty space... why? Because I just said so.
Alternatively, let's say that there are multiple "universes", in different dimensions, or something like that. Ok, now where does that stop? Hey, there are a zillion of them, right? Or maybe there are an infinite number... but what's the difference between saying that and saying that this universe goes on forever... which you don't want me to say. Maybe there are a finite number of finite-sized universes; a finite number of infinite-sized universes in different dimensions; an infinite number of finite-sized universes...; an infinite number of infinite-sized universes. I'm just running through the possibilities here...
Let's put this another way. If you read Kant and similarly-minded philosophers, what they say is that "space" is a construct of the human mind, created by us to understand the flux we're immersed in. That's all. So it's something we created to understand something else... which we can only understand in terms of that concept; we don't have any other way to understand it. So... the "size", the "edge", the "behind" of the world, and so, the universe... those are all things that come out of us, to help us cope with whatever's around us. But whatever that is, doesn't have "size" by itself, or "edges", or any of those things... we just make those up to help us get a handle on it. So then your question must either relate to us, human beings, or it's just simply meaningless, because we don't know what the world "really" is. But if it relates to us, then what's at the end of the universe is what we put there... which brings us back to the "zillion" discussion above.
Steven Ravett Brown
I have long maintained a notion that time is a dimension in the manner of space. 'Moments' do not disappear but rather occupy different positions within this dimension. Our everyday perception/ experience of time is thus due to a limited perspective from which it is impossible to escape. I would not claim to necessarily be able to prove such a notion, but it has a strong intuitive appeal to me. Can anyone elucidate this intuition by referring to thinkers who possess similar ideas, or via its refutation?
Your idea is at least 300 years old and was (and is) still in print in the Correspondence between Clarke and Leibniz. In this exchange of letters, in which Clarke represented Newton's side, Leibniz said just this: that time is not real, but a relation between events. To understand time properly, it should therefore be geometrised, which is the same as treating it as a dimension superadded to 3D space. Of course, Einstein's theory uses pretty much the same notion, the difference being that time is not added to, but integrated with space. You might be interested in Barbour's book The End of Time, which gives you the latest wrinkles on the idea. Mind you, it is indispensable to have some elementary physics under your belt before you read this. If you do, you'll find it totally fascinating.
It's called the "block universe" theory, and comes rather directly from special relativity. Fred Hoyle, the astronomer and sci-fi writer, wrote a rather nice novel around the idea, called October the First is Too Late. You might check it out. One problem with the theory is explaining our experience of the "movement" of time, or "through" time. If the universe is a block in, say 4 or 5 dimensions, of which time is one, then why do we have the perception (technically, the "apprehension") that we move at all? In his book, Hoyle proposed a solution in which consciousness successively "illuminated" different "slots", so to speak, of mind in the time dimension. The problem with that, of course, is that in order to do that, consciousness would then have to have its own time dimension in order to move from slot to slot, to explain our experienced time dimension. But the problem was to explain movement in the first place. So that doesn't work, unless you're into infinite regressions which never actually settle on the solution.
No, I'm afraid that no one has actually come up with a way to get from the block to our experience of motion. Yes, sure, we can say that our consciousness is spread out through the time dimension, but however you cut it, you're still not getting from non-motion to motion.
But there are other problems with this notion. The "time is space" idea is a metaphor derived from ways ("image schemas", according to Lakoff and Johnson see below) of dealing with the passage of time that we employ as children, which ultimately gives rise to a certain mathematical description of time (or to intuitions which are derived from that metaphor). Well, it's all very nice for mathematical description, up to a point, anyway (the point where special relativity turns into general relativity), but does that mean, just because it lets us do some calculations, that this metaphor actually describes reality... or is it just a convenience to let us calculate? For a nice analysis of metaphors on time, you might check out: Lakoff, G. 1990. Women, fire, and dangerous things. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press; and: Lakoff, G., and M. Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. 1st ed. New York, NY: Basic Books.
There are of course many other ways to conceive of time... none very satisfactory as explanation of the basic apprehension of motion. For a very difficult, but in my opinion absolutely the best, analysis of the subjective experience of time, try: Husserl, E. 1990. On the phenomenology of the consciousness of internal time. Edited by R. Bernet. Vol. IV, Edmund Husserl: Collected Works. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Not easy reading, but an extraordinary work.
Steven Ravett Brown
We're wondering if you can help us on our debate whether 'Eating meat is right'. We are For meat and are wondering if you have any philosophical arguments that eating meat is right and eating meat is not cruel.
Well, eating meat isn't really cruel. It is the method of killing which would be held to be cruel. It can also be held to be cruel to keep poultry and animals in bad conditions and to fatten them up for eating. When animals are not farmed they can become extinct, as in the case of fish. This can be seen as an act of cruelty towards creatures who naturally feed on fish.
You might look at Roger Scruton's book Animal Rights and Wrongs. In this book, Scruton says (and I must quote this as it is so funny):
"I find myself driven by my love of animals to favour eating them. Most of the animals which graze in our fields are there because we eat them. Sheep and beef cattle are, in the conditions which prevail in English pastures, well-fed, comfortable and protected, cared for when disease afflicts them, and, after a quiet life among their natural companions, despatched in ways which human beings, if they are rational, must surely envy. There is nothing immoral in this. On the contrary, it is one of the most vivid triumphs of comfort over suffering in the entire animal world. It seems to me, therefore, that it is not just permissible, but positively right, to eat these animals whose comforts depend up on our doing so."
This picture of English pastures and comfort doesn't complete the story. Do animals enjoy being unnaturally herded into a lorry and carted off to the abattoir where we call their manner of death "slaughter"? If Scruton loves animals that much you would think he could allow that we could keep them for aesthetic reasons as a means of enhancing the countryside.
You should look at Richard Sorabji's paper "Thou Shalt Not Kill Not Even Animals" at http://www.gresham.ac.uk/topright/thoushalt.htm. After summarising different points of view, Sorabji concludes that there are many moral considerations but no determinate answer.
I would argue that if animals are truly kept in conditions suitable for their natures and killed in a truly humane way then there is no cruelty. Whether this is "right" when, we have alternatives to meat, will depend on how necessary meat is to our health. If you are going to win your debate you will need to armed with research on whether vegetarians are more sickly, have shorter life-spans and fail to reproduce as much as meat-eaters. This must be set against an argument that it is our moral duty to flourish and survive.
There is nothing wrong philosophically with eating meat. The only criterion is whether your digestion can cope with it. So it ends up being a matter of personal alimentary hygiene. As for cannibalism, there is of course an ethical argument against it. But in saying this, I have to be straight with you and repeat my first sentence. People have been known to practise cannibalism. I don't know how they justified it, but certainly not philosophically.
There is another side to this issue. Life eating life is the rule of life. Every living creature on earth earns its keep by eating some other creature. Vegetarians often eat fish and assert that this is somehow (ethically) different from eating beef. I don't get it. For that matter, if you happen to ever have the misfortune of being stranded in a wild place where lions or polar bears roam, you'll be part of the food chain, so beware. In short, the chemistry of life is infinitely recycled. Without this sort of activity you and I would not be alive. You must surely be aware that our guts are compost heaps, playing host to billions of bacteria. It is easy to forget, especially when you delve into philosophy, that humans are animals to start with. Eating is a creature function. And eating meat is just recycling biological matter. So except for the ethical dimension noted above, eating meat is a personal choice.
What theological questions were raised by the experience of the Holocaust and what attempts have been made to resolve them?
The problem of the existence of evil and how to reconcile it with God's (supposed) qualities as good and all loving, omnipotent and intervening has been around for a long time and very many answers trying to harmoniously incorporate them into justification have been proposed. For example: that evil is the result of human beings use of there (God given) freewill and that for God to change that would be to change the special status of humans. That Evil is not really evil, but part of some divine master plan to test the faithful, that evil is a punishment for our sins. None of these are very convincing from a philosophical point of view and many have concluded that evil is a proof against the existence of God. After the Holocaust these issues were raised again with a new urgency and with a justifiable indignation. Many writers and witnesses to the Holocaust joining Nietzsche in affirming the Death of God. And that after the Holocaust all human endeavour, activity and production must be carried out in its shadow such that "No statement, theological or otherwise should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children" (Greenberg).
But what questions does the Holocaust forces us to consider? Can we any new questions, questions unique to the Holocaust, or unique in that they would not have been asked if the Holocaust had not happened, but questions that impress on us now and demand to be reckoned with? One question is has the relation between God and humanity as a whole undergone revolution? Can we anymore bow down and worship God, can we think of God as a father and we as children after the Holocaust or have the children grow up such that they are in a position to question the Father?
Of course there are questions Jews (specifically and believers generally) have to face; Has the nature of the covenant changed, has God simply abandoned his chosen people? Leading on from this we can ask if the nature of religious vocation has changed, Is the impetus on God to agree to our conditions now, or is a voluntary renewal of the covenant a more ethical pact a more trusting endeavour in the face of the Holocaust? I don't think I am equipped to answer such questions, but there is a kind of question more suited to a philosopher: it is whether we have really ever had a conception of God as God? Or was the God that died in the death camps only merely an illusion of God created by humans?
What I mean is that talk of God as supremely powerful, as guardian, as all loving is an anthropomorphism a God made in the image of man. The perfect man, a fully extended version of man's self-image, This was the God that died and deservedly so along with the death of the image of man himself. If it is correct to say that the Holocaust forces us change every aspect of human existence, so that it will not happen again, this means humanity must rethink what it is to be human, not as free, independent, self-contained and whole unto itself, but as dependent, fragile, responsible. It also means that maybe the God who died in Auschwitz was not the real God, but a God that humanity projected: God as the perfect being. But as I have said previously in these pages (to save repeating myself try a search for the other answers), maybe Being and God don't go together. Rather than being that entity that has Being in abundance the most real being, maybe God is the most delicate entity, exiting not as a thing, not as the biggest and best but as the fleeting and contingent relation between humans who care for one another. What this implies is that God of philosophy and theology and pre-Holocaust humanity is a fiction and a useless fiction after the Holocaust. It is not God's existence that we need to be convinced of since God is outside the realms of being and not-being. And therefore was in no position to physically stop all the children burning. The question becomes inappropriate, it is the wrong question to ask, even if it's hard to realise that, because then the psychological safety net disappears.
What we need to be concerned with is the little goodness that is made possible by recognising that other people as special and needing our help, maybe that's where God lives, such that even in the death camps God was still alive?
A good collection to view is: Holocaust religious and philosophical implications. Edited J.K.Roth & M.Berenbaum
If a person is sliced symmetrically in half instantaneously about the vertical axis, before that person's inevitable death, where would his consciousness lie? Since the brain is also symmetrically divided perfectly, would it be possible to have two entities of that person in that moment? A "logical" and a "creative" version of that person, so to speak?
Your question presupposes that the conscious "I" is somehow independent of the brain in such a manner that it could function with only half of one. I challenge this assumption as a position for which we have no evidence. So my answer would be that the consciousness would die in the instant that the brain was divided.
There is a significant amount of evidence, to which you make passing reference, that the two halves of the cerebrum contribute different sorts of mental functions to consciousness. But there is no evidence that consciousness could successfully function without either set of those functions.
There is evidence from victims of severe schizophrenia, that the corpus callosum can be severed without impairing consciousness. The corpus callosum is the structure deep in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres of the cerebrum. But that is not the only pathway that connects the two halves of the brain. There is more to the brain than the cerebrum. Patients who have undergone such treatment have never displayed dual personalities. Rather they have demonstrated that there must be alternate pathways for information to flow from one side of the cerebrum to the other.
There is also evidence from people with various sorts of brain damage, that consciousness can get along reasonably well without major portions of the brain. But none of that evidence would suggest that one half of a functioning consciousness could suddenly get along without the other. Survivors of major brain-cell losses take years to even partially recover. All evidence of this sort would suggest that loosing any piece of the brain causes severe mental problems for the unfortunate victim. Loosing one-half of the brain-cells would undoubtedly be instantly fatal.
For more discussion of this issue, in greater depth and with greater expertise than I can muster here, I refer you to Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett.
Well actually your experiment has been done. There are people with very severe (i.e., virtually continuous) epilepsy who, in order to stop the spread of the neural discharges over their brain, have surgery in which the two halves of their brain are separated, by cutting the connection called the corpus callosum. This results in "split-brain" people, who do in fact seem to have two consciousnesses in one body. There is a huge literature on split-brain patients... just go look it up. The "logic" and "creative" dichotomy is not really the issue; the major dichotomy is between verbal and non-verbal thinking and expression, since the verbal areas are on the left side of the brain. This makes communicating with the non-verbal personality difficult, but possible.
Steven Ravett Brown
One problem: the brain is not functionally symmetrical. But in any case, your version of a logical and creative brain is so old and obsolete now that I urgently recommend you update your reading. Try, for example, Eccles' Evolution of the Brain, Creation of the Self.
What is the flaw in Robert Pirsig's metaphysics of quality?
Is he just another idealist? maybe the linguistic and cognitive vagueness of his writing fooled me, but I thought he was convincing enough to at least justify his belief.
Having read both Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila I share your liking for Pirsig. And it's absolutely the right thing to do, once you've read something persuasive, to turn about for competing views that help one mull things over and come to a view that's really one's own. And I've a couple of suggestions there, if you follow me to the bottom of this. All the same, I wonder if the way you put that here is a bit hard on Pirsig, maybe even on Philosophers in general.
First off, why speak as if you were looking for some damming 'flaw'? Of course we all talk in terms of flaws in arguments and so on, but the application here to a philosopher's belief system as a whole is a metaphorical one that is pushing a certain picture of how philosophy is, or ought to be and that brings with it problems. Literally, a flaw is a line of weakness in a material along which it will break when put under stress. That's fine for metals in aeroplane wings where the job that the thing is supposed to do is agreed upon: controlled flight. But in Philosophy it's often precisely this sort of thing that is up for debate: i.e. it is the task of philosophy, and so also what would constitute its failure, that is up for debate. What is philosophical reasoning, and what is it for? These are themselves two important topics of philosophical thought. So, there will very often be room for disagreement about whether something is a 'flaw', if only because there is unclarity about what job an 'unflawed' piece of philosophy must do, and about what kinds of stress it may legitimately be required to withstand without fracture. So the imagery of 'flaw' is a bit stretched here. For that reason, I suggest that it may be better to speak of philosophical failures not as 'flaws' but, more precisely, as being variously: factual inaccuracies, contradictions, unclarities, loose ends, imaginative failures and so on, whichever may happen to apply.
It's true that professional academics have been sniffy about Pirsig's work, to varying degrees. One of the philosophical failures likely to be identified in Pirsig is that he hasn't properly read all the great books or the current journals, and so isn't writing from a position of knowledge about the traditions of the past or the controversies of the day. In defence of Pirsig on this count, I'd say first that while studying philosophers is extremely helpful for tackling philosophical questions, I'm not convinced by the position taken by some that it must be actually impossible to do original and interesting philosophy out with a directed study of the tradition just difficult and unlikely. Second, I'd say that while Pirsig's retelling of the history of Philosophy is polemical and has huge gaps, he does show evidence of having read understood and inwardly digested in a rather interesting way at least two important figures, namely, Plato and William James. Whether you think Pirsig's unexpected and innovative attempt to integrate Platonism and American Pragmatism makes up for inadequacies in philosophical understanding elsewhere may depend upon your own philosophical judgements and interests. In my case, I happen to like both James and Plato, and this has something to do with my appreciation of Pirsig when I discovered him.
The three kinds of philosophical failure which can perhaps justly be laid at Pirsig's door are: ambiguity, leaving loose ends, and failing to tackle some questions of interest to philosophers (pick your question of interest). You might want to call some of this "linguistic and cognitive vagueness", except that such things are both relative (Pirsig is a lot less linguistically and cognitively vague than most of what passes for news) and widespread (most philosophers accuse other philosophers of vagueness). There are certainly a good quantity of loose ends and ambiguities in Pirsig's work to be getting on with, and one sign of this is the continuous round of disagreement between folk who think of themselves as Pirsigians. For which see http://www.moq.org. There you will also find some competition between views, all the better to form your own. Two good plans to run in parallel are: (1) visit the fractious http://www.moq.org, and (2) read lots by and about both Plato and James and all the philosophers in between. For the latter you may usefully call on the help of a Philosophy Department, who can help you to identify important books and questions, give you a sounding board and an audience for your developing thoughts, and generally introduce you to all kinds of enlightenment and fun.
1) Theoretically, if something could travel faster than the speed of light, is time travel possible? If you could go faster than the speed of light time would slow down, right?
2) Are heaven and hell a dimension? when you die, you leave the first 3 (maybe 4: considering time is only a conscious thing) dimensions behind.
I'm a 21 year old musician and now this website has inspired me to look into philosophy as a higher learning tool. Thanks.
First: time travel is not possible. Fundamentally, the idea offends against the principle of simultaneity. An object cannot be in two places at once. Although this is commonly swept under the carpet in science fiction, well that's fiction. Scientists often speculate on time travel and devise all sorts of wonderful ideas to circumvent the logical conflict, but (much as I hate to be a spoil sport) the facts all the facts we know are dead against it. So, fiction again.
For what it's worth, time travel also contradicts another basic law. The speed of light in a vacuum is the grain of time. Thus light is essentially energy, void of information. To travel at that speed means you would have to convert yourself into pure energy. But then, you erase the information that enables your reconstruction some place else. So much for stepping under a canopy etc etc. In any case, these fictions never keep you informed that even at the speed of light, time travel would still take thousands of years from one galaxy to another.
Faster than light particles are known, they're called tachyons. And yes, as you guessed, they enable us in certain specialised areas of research, to "slow down time" and study complexity related phenomena at a more humanly graspable speed than "real time". If you're interested, there is a chapter on this in Ian Stewart's book Does God Play Dice?
What heaven and hell are you better try to find out from a theologian. Philosophers are at times inclined to assert that the planet we live on is hell; but as for heaven, although there are hundreds of rivalling accounts from all the different religions, no-one ever received a doubt-free message from the place, so we can't know what it "is". (Theologians will, of course, refer to revelation, but some recalcitrant philosophers will doubt the reliability of this report as well). Now when you die, you don't leave any dimensions behind at all. Strictly speaking, dimensions are a facon de parler; they are not real in the sense that your keyboard is real. But in any case, the crucial thing is not that you "leave", but that you cease to be. Out like a candle, as Shakespeare said. Now many religious people hold fast to the idea that "you" don't really die, only your body disintegrates. But I think there is an awful confusion behind this notion. From my experience this belief invariably entails the survival of the personality, but this cannot be, because the kind of personality you are is completely fashioned in life and carried across time in biological memories which die along with your body.
I think, truly, that one of the great issues in philosophy is just this: death. We've tried for thousands of years to get to grips with it, but because we are creatures, there is inbuilt resistance to our calm acceptance of the ineluctable and utter finality of individual non-being. Maybe you should have a look at my Pathways paper, entitled Death, Free Will, Value. I'd like to think there's something in it for a person who is not frightened to contemplate the meaning of death.
1) Time slows down, sort of, when you move at any speed at all, during your acceleration and deceleration, not when your speed is constant. In the latter case, you can't tell whether it's you or the rest of the world which is moving. Therefore, time also slows down in gravitational fields, since gravity is equivalent to acceleration. You just don't see the slowdown when you're driving in your car, because it's utterly insignificant (but present) at those speeds. As to whether "time" really slows down... no. You slow down, i.e., the motion of the particles making you up... because they become more massive as you accelerate. Look, all this is very nice to sort of push words around with, but everything I'm saying is just pretty vague approximations to the real physics. You need to do some reading on this to really understand it. Take a look at something by Asimov, or the early popularizations by Gamow.
I'm glad... but please learn some more before you take a running jump into sheer speculation.
Steven Ravett Brown
This is intended to be somewhat philosophical, since I haven't found the answer anywhere else: Why are blue jeans blue? I'm not asking about the techniques for dyeing them blue. My question is rather why do we want them blue? why (at least until very recently) do we want our jeans to be blue, in spite of available technology to make them as good in any colour?
This is not a philosophical question, sorry. My memory on details about jeans is vague now, but I'm not going research this matter on your behalf. For as it happens blue jeans became just a fashion craze a couple of decades ago, and they were originally the product of a maker whose factory was in some French town that lent its name to the product [Serge de Nimes]. So your quest for a "deep" meaning is in the same league as the "left wing politics" (why left wing? Because their originals sat on the left side of the house of parliament); or "bernaise sauce" (from Bern) or "saxophone" (from Adolphe Sax, its inventor) and innumerable other instances.
You might have a look at this site: http://www.designboom.com/eng/education/denim2.html.
Jeans were first worn by 18th century slaves and then by 19th century gold miners because the material is tough, but the site says that blue was a good colour when frequent washing wasn't possible.
In the 1950s blue jeans became a "symbol of teenage rebellion".
It might follow from this that older people want to wear blue jeans to express something about their youthful personalities and non-conformity. Perhaps the general statement made by wearing blue jeans, by the young and old, is that clothes washing isn't very important to them although this doesn't seem likely since jeans are the easiest things to wash and normally don't have to be ironed.
But people probably want to wear blue jeans because they are uniform and classless and easy and seem to go with everything. Blue jeans are worn by fashion models and builders, by the rich and poor.
Not everyone wants all their pairs of jeans to be blue. I have a preference for black jeans in very cold weather and white jeans in the summer. The problem with white jeans is that you look too white if you wear a white t-shirt. They are limited in a way that blue and black are not. But black jeans are perhaps not as uniform and classless as blue jeans because they are not as commonly available.
This can be considered to be philosophical question and perhaps it can be explained by Pierre Bourdieu (Distinction: A Social Critique of Judgement) who posits cultural communities we distinguish ourselves from others (the suited) and come to belong to a group of people who don't want to be seen to be making too much effort by wearing easily available and easy to wash blue jeans.
It is also of psychological interest. As a teenager, perhaps wishing to stand out, I had a pair of black and pink stripy jeans which was probably an expression of a wish not to be considered ordinary or the same as everyone else. Though oddly, this was at a traumatic period in family life and my mother actually also had a pair of these jeans, but they were yellow and black. These jeans were quite fashionable at the time, but not common. But the point is that not conforming in dress can express emotional trauma. From experience I have noticed that when people are particularly traumatised they do not conform to an expected dress code. I knew someone who was going through such a difficult period emotionally that he could not buy a ready-made shirt and had to create his own shirt and send it to a tailor to copy.
Someone give me a convincing argument against the reasoning that humans have "free will". I've heard the argument that if you could calculate everything at a certain moment you could predict the future. But that doesn't mean we don't have free will, it just means we can predict the future. I think that a lot of philosophers take the "everything has been determined" standpoint because they are pretentious.
I don't know that I can supply what you are after regarding Freewill. But take care about formulations of Determinism.
You pick upon that popular picture of the clockwork universe in which the pre-arranged future is pictured as being rather like the modern weather forecast only better. Observations about present conditions are made and then computations according to known patterns and laws predict the predetermined future states. Now, the weather forecast sometimes gets things wrong. But you think of the predetermined future as that plan of events which a thoroughly perfect scientific understanding of everything that holds in the present would have predicted: "if you could calculate everything at a certain moment you could predict the future".
Problematically, your choice of words here makes the truth of determinism dependant upon the conceivability (not practicality or actuality, in the way of which there are several obvious obstacles, but conceivability) of 'a perfect scientific understanding of the present'. And I think that there are several reasons why this perfect understanding isn't conceivable. The first and most serious is that the concept of a perfect measurement can't be made sense of. Even supposing that you could get magically instantaneous and non-intervening methods for measuring the position and spin and so on of every single atom in the universe, there would still be the problem that the measurements from this survey would have to be returned in numerical and computable form. If they are to be computed then the number of decimal points in the observations, and thus the degree of accuracy, could not be infinite. So, any set of data from which calculations could be performed would of necessity contain imperfection and error. This necessary imperfection in the information could only lead to a necessary imperfection in the prediction. Thus you cannot (and not even conceivably) "calculate everything at a certain moment [and] predict the [determined] future".
Now, this is just to say that you cannot (as it is usually supposed) understand determinism in terms of an ideal science, with the determined future as that which a perfect science would correctly predict. Maybe it is possible to understand determinism in a different way, but since the attraction of determinism seems to derive mostly from faith in science and technology (the "clockwork universe"), nobody much seems to be trying.
Did you choose to be born? Have you a choice between mortality and immortality? Can you wilfully increase or decrease your height? etc. etc. etc.
It seems that any free will we are able to exercise falls within set parameters. To illustrate with a simple analogy, Consider yourself locked in a windowless room with a few pieces of furniture, your choices will be limited to moving the furniture around, the walls and the locked door will ensure that the number of choices available are determined within these constraining parameters. If your captors control the light switch outside your room, your light and dark (night and day) will also be outside your choice. As I say, a very simple analogy, but the choices in life are rather like this, a limited freedom within a determined scenario.
We can make good choices in life, or we can make choices we afterwards regret, but, over all, we find some powerful restricting boundaries in nature and very much under the influence of cause and effect. Most people live their lives burdened with unfulfilled desires.
I find it difficult to respond to your accusation that philosophers who support determinism are "pretentious". I require to see the premises of your argument, the claim you make is an unsupported conclusion.
Try Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting by Daniel C. Dennett. I think you will find the author very readable, and his text directly addresses your question.