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(1) Dave asked:
I have not studied philosophy but I seem to keep gravitating to it unwittingly.
I spend a lot of time thinking and I recently discovered Solipsism and thought it fit almost perfectly with my beliefs.
However, upon trying to find out more about it I just found people using it as a device to make ironic jokes. I just seek clarification on what I am and whether I am a type of Solipsist.
People seem to think that Solipsists would not want to congregate because by definition they are denying everyone but themselves and see little value in others.
I believe in quite the opposite. If all other people are fabrications of my mind, I would find great value in meeting with them especially those with similar ideas. This is because I am not consciously creating them and the fact that they are aspects of my mind's creation means that they are aspects of myself and I have created them for a reason.
Have I got Solipsism right or wrong? Or am I specific type of Solipsist?
I don't want to get into a boring taxonomy of philosophical positions. And who cares about names and labels anyway? However, it is necessary to make some preliminary 'cuts' in order to address Dave's question.
The first cut the first option which I want to put on one side is scepticism about other minds. Scepticism about other minds, or more specifically the hypothesis that I am the only conscious being in the universe, could be contingently true if either of the following circumstances obtained:
(a) I live in a world populated by robots disguised as human beings, each controlled by a pre-programmed tape. (This is to rule out the possibility, which a materialist might argue for, that if the 'robots' are genuine examples of AI, then they have consciousness just as I do.) The super-intelligent alien scientist who created the robots and tapes has died.
(b) Mind-body dualism, of the epiphenomenalist variety, is true, but I am the only person with a mind as well as a body. Everyone else that I meet is a zombie, which behaves in every respect just like a human being except that it lacks a mind or consciousness. (I'm not asserting that this is necessarily a coherent possibility, merely that it is initially plausible. I actually think that it is incoherent, but I won't try to show that here.)
The second cut I want to make relates to another contingent possibility, related to the Matrix scenario. Imagine that the machine world is devastated by a massive power cut, leaving only myself alive and my dreams of living in Sheffield in 2010 and answering questions for the Ask a Philosopher web site. Apart from my personal life-support system, all the machines have ground to a halt. It is possible that I am the only consciousness in the universe (assuming the absence of any alien life forms).
Well, actually, I am answering those questions, and not just dreaming that I am answering them, because we are assuming, by hypothesis, that I am in full possession of my intellectual faculties. However, the questions originate, not from named or anonymous surfers on the internet, but in the computer program my brain is interacting with. Dave and his question are the invention of the original Architect of the Matrix.
Why am I confident that none of these scenarios fits Dave's description? He states that he 'recently discovered Solipsism and thought it fit almost perfectly with my beliefs'. No plausible process of scientific investigation or inference to the best explanation could lead to the belief that I exist in a world populated by robots, or the other bizarre possibilities outlined above. You don't believe something just because it's possible, unless you are suffering from serious mental problems.
So now we need to supply an argument which Dave does not give which might plausibly have lead him to the conclusion that he is a 'solipsist'. By understanding how that argument works, we can diagnose exactly what kind of solipsist Dave is.
I suggest that the missing argument is along the lines given by Descartes at the beginning of the Meditations. All I know for certain is my own existence, and the fact that I have experiences. Descartes never actually goes this far: he proposes, as sceptical hypothesis, the idea that an evil demon is deliberately deceiving me into thinking that a material world and other people exist, when in reality all there is, is me and the evil demon. (Note, that this goes way beyond the Matrix scenario which assumes the existence of material objects in space.)
If all that exists is me and the evil demon, then my experience of looking at my computer monitor has two sides. It is my experience, but it is also produced by something external to my conscious mind. Dave would say at this point, 'Exactly! I am not consciously creating the computer monitor. But my mind is still the source of my experience.' But there is a problem here. What makes this 'unconscious' source of my conscious experience mine or part of me? My experience would be just as it is now if it was the evil demon who was responsible for it. Or, rather, 'my unconscious mind' is the evil demon for all intents and purposes.
This is still unsatisfactory, because one could argue that Dave is assuming something he has no right to assume: that when experience happens, it comes from somewhere, something is 'producing' it. Why?
A large part of the answer lies in our adherence to a certain model of causal explanation. You don't have an effect without a case. You can't have experience without something producing the experience. But isn't this a merely contingent matter? Based purely on my experience, I cannot say for certain whether it has an external cause or not.
I'm going to take a leap at this point I don't know whether Dave is willing to join me and assume that my experiences have no external cause. All that exists in the universe, all that I have any certain knowledge of, consists of my actual experiences. This isn't some crazy lunatic fantasy but a powerful philosophical position. This is all I know, and all that could ever be. Nothing that is not this could possibly have any impact on me, or have any meaning for me.
At this point, there are some subtle arguments that the solipsist can deploy, along the lines of Kantian and Husserlian phenomenology, to the effect that, in some sense, it is necessary that my existence takes the form of perception of 'objects in space', and that I identify myself as a 'person' in relation to other 'persons'. The details aren't important. What is important is that they allow, or indeed justify, my concept of 'other persons' as an essential part of my experience, characters in the story of my world. If my experience was not like this, if it didn't take this logical form, there wouldn't be anything describable as 'me' or 'I'.
A suitable name for this position (if you are into naming philosophical positions) is transcendental solipsism. The kind of solipsist that Dave is, is a transcendental solipsist.
One very curious feature of transcendental solipsism is that, prima facie, no practical consequences follow from this theory. It's not as if you look at people in a funny way. You deal with them exactly as you would do if you didn't believe in solipsism. You can attend solipsist philosophical conventions, and argue the toss with solipsists and anti-solipsists.
I said 'prima facie', because there is a problem here. You can deal with other persons in just the same way as you would if you weren't a solipsist (or Dave's kind of solipsist). But you don't have to. After all, they are just characters in the story of 'my world'. You can choose to behave ethically, if this helps to keep up the illusion that you are enjoying their 'company', but that's just your choice. On the other hand, it might be more fun if you played games with some of these characters. After all, they are just your barbie dolls and action men. Whatever you do can't be 'wrong'.
Personally, I wouldn't like to be stuck with this view of ethics, which is why I think it is important to find an argument which would be sufficient to refute solipsism. But that's another story.
(3) Don asked:
Can God and evil coexist?
This is a question which, in various forms, arises in philosophy at regular intervals. Probably the first thing that needs to be said about this question is that the questioner (Don), seems to suggest that while there may be a God, that evil, whilst it exists, may not have been part of His/ Her/ Its original design.
Should this be the case, the second thing that needs to be said is that proof of the existence of God has been, and ( since it has more to do with faith that reason.) still remains one with which philosophy has some difficulty.
Let us take, for example, the most commonly posited proofs of God's existence: the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, and the teleological argument, and the arguments these 'proofs'.
The cosmological argument for God's existence is also known as the causal or 'first cause' argument. This takes the view that from experience we know that behind everything that happens we know that there is a cause. If this chain of effects is traced back far enough, the argument goes, it must come to the ultimate or first cause, which is God. If there was no first cause, then there would be no succession of events, therefore, there must be a first cause, and this first cause is God. The argument against this is that there does not necessarily have to be a first cause. That is, can it not be that things do go back indefinitely.
Another version of the cosmological argument is that the universe only exists 'contingently', not necessarily, and therefore must depend on something else, which is God. Since in this argument God is also the ultimate cause, the argument against this is the same as that against the cosmological argument.
Ontology is concerned with the nature of being. The ontological argument is an attempt to prove rationally that God exists: that God must necessarily Be. This argument stems from St Anselm (1033-1109) and takes the view that proof of God's existence can be shown by reason alone. That is, it does not depend on any knowledge about the world (it is a purely a priori demonstration). Anselm asks us to imagine the greatest, most perfect being possible. If the being you imagine possesses everything but existence, it is not the greatest or most perfect being, because, clearly, a being that exists is greater and more perfect than one that does not. Therefore the greatest, most perfect being must exist, and this greatest and most perfect being must be God. That is, God must exist both in reality and as an idea. God, says Anselm, is greater than that which non greater can be conceived.
One of the first and most powerful critics of the ontological argument was a monk called Gaunilo, who was a contemporary of Anselm. Anselm had written that if you could conceive of a perfect being, but could not accept that such a being exists, then you are a fool. In defence of the 'fool' Gaunilo pointed out that if Anselm's argument was correct then it would be possible that all sorts of unreal and imaginary things must exist. If one could imagine a perfect island, said Gaunilo, far beyond anywhere any explorer might venture, that would mean that such an island must exist, for if it did not that would mean that it was not perfect. Anselm's defence that he only claimed that his argument applied to God, since no other concept could be that of a perfect object, is not sustainable.
Teleology means that there is a design or purpose to nature. Also known as the argument from design, the teleological argument falls into two categories: the first holds that the universe is designed by divine intelligence, and that this design is moving towards an ultimate goal; the second teleological argument places emphasis on uniformity and argues that the universe displays design in the sense of order. It also takes the view that the universe contains order which is independent of human minds. If human beings ceased to exist, the cosmos would its merry, ordered way, without us. The teleological argument is that this ordered universe is the work of a supernatural intelligent being, and that this supernatural being is God. One of the most forceful arguments against the teleological argument is Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, God cannot be demonstrated conclusively in a rationalistic way, by merely extending the use of abstract categories which introduce order and design into our experience. There are as many instances of chaos, waste and of useless repetition and multiplication, says Kant as there are for beauty, symmetry and order. The appearance of external design, he asserts, is not conclusive proof of Providence.
Thus we see that, philosophically speaking, the existence of God cannot be taken as a given. And since it cannot be taken as given, we cannot say that God and evil coexist.
However, let us put aside these arguments and see if we can reconcile the view of those of a religious persuasion, that God, who is all knowing, all powerful and all good, can coexist with evil. Whilst people of such conviction take it as a given that such a God exists, they will argue that whereas God created the world, men (I mean, of course, humankind) created evil. From a philosophical point of view this argument is absurd, for what kind of omniscient, omnipotent, and benign entity would create a world in which abuse of children, rape, plunder, thievery, murder, fraud and other such 'evil' acts are perpetrated against innocent victims on a daily basis.
Just as the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, and the teleological argument each have their shortcomings, so too does the Christian argument, which over the millennia has given us a God who has created not only the world, but heaven and hell (with the now defunct purgatory and limbo somewhere in between), is also philosophically unsustainable, and Descartes' argument, which is really a variation of Anselm's ontological argument, is equally rationally invalid. However, whilst the argument for coexistence of God and evil cannot be sustained, what can be said is that Good and Evil , since they are both concepts determined by man, can be seen to coexist. Moreover, since they are ways of describing man's treatment of his neighbour, it must also be said that it is within man's power to ensure that evil does not prevail.
(7) Emmanuel asked:
Dr I am Emmanuel a student at a university pursuing a Bachelors in Business Administration. I need your assistance on some questions such as:
Provide philosophical arguments to the ethical questions which arise when considering modern advertising techniques:
1. What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly educating the consumer about its product?
2. Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc?
3. Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably don’t even use themselves?
4. Is it the buyer’s responsibility to be aware of these strategies and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions?
This question was sent as a personal email rather than submitted to Ask a Philosopher. I'm guessing that Emmanuel found my article Ethics and Advertising. I don't give private advice because that's too close to helping students cheat with their homework. All answers to questions submitted to Ask a Philosopher are published on the internet.
These are very good questions, which you won't find the answers to in my article. I was more concerned to set limits to what ethics can reasonably demand from advertisers, rather than put forward specific principles governing the ethics of advertising. However, it seems to me that the questions Emmanuel raises don't require any special expertise in business ethics. They are a matter of plain common sense.
What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly educating the consumer about its product?
Let's imagine a case where you are marketing a very nice product, which has some features not found in any of the competing products in the marketplace. You go to an advertising agency, who discuss your 'unique selling point' (USP), and possible ways of presenting this in TV adverts, billboard advertising etc.
However, you know, and your advertising agency knows that there is a better product available from a rival company. You've done extensive secret testing and their product beats yours every time. Yes, your product has features the rival product doesn't have, but that is more than offset by the fact that these features are mostly eye candy and not very useful. Is it unethical to tell consumers that yours is the best available?
I am told that in Germany it is actually against the law to state in an advert that your product is the best unless you can prove that it is. Elsewhere, such as the UK where the rules are a bit more relaxed, saying that a product is 'the best' isn't considered as potentially misleading information. Whereas if you say that your toilet cleaner kills 99% of germs when it only kills 75% then you are breaking the Trade Descriptions Act.
'We think it's the best,' is a way of saying, 'We believe in our product, we stand behind it.' To me, that is a perfectly reasonable attitude.
Do you have an ethical obligation to tell your potential customers that the rival product is better, according to your own tests? Absolutely not. You are ethically (and in many cases legally) obliged to ensure that your product is fit for purpose, not dangerous to use, and not misleadingly described. On the other hand, a sufficiently resourceful and creative advertising agency can make the most of the fact that you are not the leading brand. 'We're Number Two But We Try Harder,' was the famous Avis advert which won them an increased slice of the car hire market against their leading rivals, Herz.
I would love to see an advert which said, 'Product X is Better But Ours Has More Eye Candy!'
Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc?
My answer to this would be, Yes, if it's true. If the product in question really does make you more sexy, for example, then you have every right to tell consumers that it does.
But how could this be measured? 'In a survey of a randomly chosen sample of consumers, users of laptop A were considered more sexy than users of laptop B.' Well, an advertiser would never say this, just like that. But they would imply it. The finesse here (as I argue in Ethics and Advertising) is to realize that the advertising campaign in itself can give the product the power to make you more feel, or appear sexy. The money invested in the campaign adds to the value of the product, not by making it more useful, but by making the users of the product feel or appear more sexy, or cool, or whatever.
I suspect that behind this question is a puritanical attitude that hates the glitz and the glamour of today's marketplace. A car is just a useful machine from getting you from A to B. A laptop is just a useful device for sending emails and browsing the internet. As if!
I know that there will be some who are unsatisfied with my defence of the glitz and glamour. Do we really want to live in a tinsel world far removed from reality? How close to reality do you want to be? I don't want my face rubbed in the dirt. Don't take away my dreams, the world can be a hard place. But I understand that there's a happy medium. Use value is an important consideration, of course it is. Just don't get puritanical on me.
Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably don’t even use themselves?
This is a sneaky question, because of the use of the qualifier 'probably'. We have to look at two different cases:
The first case is where a celebrity states that they use a product, and that they like it and they endorse it. If they are lying, if they don't use the product, then that is unethical, because it is unethical to lie. There's no argument here. However, in the real world things are not quite so black and white. Consider the immensely lucrative field of sports endorsements. A leading tennis player uses Wilson tennis rackets. But this isn't a Wilson that they purchased in a local store. The racket has been finely adjusted and tweaked. To buy something like that in a shop would cost you thousands. But surely you'd have to be an idiot to think that you could win Wimbledon with a racket you got from the local sports shop!
The second case is where celebrities appear in adverts but don't explicitly endorse the product. Rather, the product gains glamour through the association. Here, again, I think that most viewers of the advert are not taken in. Having said that, you have to consider things from the point of view of the celebrity. Would you, a famous film actor for example, appear in an advert for a product that you considered junk, which had the potential to harm your image? It is not unreasonable to infer some degree of endorsement, even if this isn't explicitly stated.
Is it the buyer’s responsibility to be aware of these strategies and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions?
If you are able to prevent anyone ever manipulating your emotions then you are a better man than me. Of course our emotions get manipulated, and often we willingly allow this to happen. I don't like it when an advert makes me feel bad, yet if it is an advert, say, for the charity NSPCC which campaigns against child abuse then, then I know that I ought to feel bad about the things the adverts depict. On the other hand, if an advert makes me feel good that's a gift for free, and I haven't even bought the product! Before buying it I will consider the practicalities, of course, but in my eyes its value is already enhanced. That's how human emotions work.
Consumers are not puppets, we do succeed in resisting what we see as irresponsible or shameless manipulation of our emotions. It is in the advertiser's own interest not to go too far in this respect, but to remain within the bounds of good taste. Campaigns backfire badly when advertising executives get this wrong.
Yes, emphatically, the buyer has responsibilities. The responsibility doesn't all lie with the seller or advertiser. But there are different cases to consider. If your marketing campaign is aimed at younger persons, especially children, then different rules apply than if it is aimed at adults. It's a matter of common sense.
(10) Dave asked:
I have not studied philosophy but I seem to keep gravitating to it unwittingly.
I spend a lot of time thinking and I recently discovered Solipsism and thought it fit almost perfectly with my beliefs.
However, upon trying to find out more about it I just found people using it as a device to make ironic jokes. I just seek clarification on what I am and whether I am a type of Solipsist.
People seem to think that Solipsists would not want to congregate because by definition they are denying everyone but themselves and see little value in others.
I believe in quite the opposite. If all other people are fabrications of my mind, I would find great value in meeting with them especially those with similar ideas. This is because I am not consciously creating them and the fact that they are aspects of my mind's creation means that they are aspects of myself and I have created them for a reason.
Have I got Solipsism right or wrong? Or am I specific type of Solipsist?
I am tempted to say that you are the more interesting type of solipsist, in that some solipsists showing the influence of Kant merely maintain that other persons are physical mechanisms and they themselves are the singular autonomous consciousness, whereas you go further and lay it down that pretty much everything in the world is the fabrication of your mind, ie, no independent mechanism or reality whatsoever. And you can't call that uninteresting. It certainly grabs the attention, and there are unkind people who would say that this is often one of the main purposes of maintaining a philosophical 'belief'.
Actually all solipsists are rather interesting fellows. The usual interest in Solipsism is in:
1. what leads you to find your theory a satisfying explanation of the facts
then, pulling in a slightly different direction,
2. whether you really believe what you say you believe (whether you really find your theory a satisfying explanation of the facts)
and connected with this,
3. whether what you say is even intelligible.
There is a forth point of interest in your case, in that your response to one of the arguments offered on point 2 is rather persuasive. You point out that if you regard other people as figures of your fantasy life, this will lead to a certain kind of interest in them, given that human beings are usually rather interested in their own fantasy lives. Thus, one popular line of attack on the solipsist 'if you really believe that you wouldn't bother talking to me' seems to be refuted, and I feel sure you will appreciate my congratulating you on this refutation, fantasy creation though you say you think me.
However, point 2 still has some life in it because of the obvious connection with point 3. You can't 'really believe' things that are in fact unintelligible even to yourself. So the relevant question is: can solipsism even be made sense of?
The solipsist's general temptation is to respond along these lines:
'What's the difficulty? I claim that only I exist as a conscious being that's the only test of intelligibility that can matter, given that I am the only intellect'
The problem with this is that you can claim all sorts of things that are in fact unintelligible nonsense, but which you can, with varying degrees of success over varying periods of time, imagine yourself to understand. Surely you have had this sort of experience yourself. In your case, if you are now imagining that your own intellect is God of the entire universe, this will go with the thought that any previous imagining that God was an intelligence omnipotent and omniscient and beyond you was not only in error (as the ordinary atheist might think), but actually the sort of claim which assigned the wrong meaning to terms. You now think that the idea of a power beyond you is not merely wrong but unintelligible, given that You yourself are (you now imagine) the power animating the universe entire. My point is not to agree with your analysis but to point out that even on your analysis it would be possible for you to think you understand claims which are in fact unintelligible. And there is good reason to suppose that this is just what is occurring in this case.
For what, after all, does the word 'fabrication' mean? Obviously, it means making, or something akin to that. There are 'Steel fabricators' meaning, people who make things out of steel. If I make a bed, that's one clear kind of making. Now, if I make up a story and just pretend that it's true, that's another kind of making, more like the sense you invest in 'fabrication'. But it seems to me that we don't know what it would be for me to 'make something up' outside of the ordinary human context in which we are one of a number of thinking persons amidst a reality which has a nature and a presence that is independent of of our imaginations. Really, I am a seven year old boy who will shortly be called to tea and not a cowboy riding out into the west, but in the garden, with my friends, I can fabricate that alternative world. Now, it seems to me that we know what the 'fabrications of my mind' are in that sort of case, that these are the cases by which we learn the meaning of 'fabrication', and that these are the sorts of case in which 'fabrication' has a meaning and is intelligible.
Your use of 'fabrications' is unlike such paradigm cases in every way, since on your use of 'fabrication' there is nothing in your experience that is not to count as your 'fabrication'. This underlines a doubt about whether what you say is at all meaningful. For in using the word precisely so as not to discriminate in your ascription you thereby lose any content to that ascription. If you claim that it is all fabrication, what can 'fabrication' possibly mean? Think, if it were always raining everywhere and throughout all eternity, how could the word 'rain' come to have a meaning?
Given that doubt about whether your claim is intelligible even to yourself, the doubt about whether you really believe what you say you believe returns.
And with that we return to the general question, appropriate for all varieties of solipsism, of why you should find your unintelligible theory a satisfying response to the facts.
I suppose that, apart from the slight satisfaction to be got from maintaining a philosophical position and defeating a range of less effective opponents (and naturally we can discount that!), the thought that I am, despite appearances, really in control of EVERYTHING is weirdly consoling. Whatever happens, I shall have intended it perhaps without knowing, but all the same:
they are aspects of myself and I have created them for a reason
Well, if this seems to offer consolation, I have to say that any deep consideration of that appearance will return us to the old anxieties pretty quickly, and with knobs on. For now, in place of other persons whose intentions are unknown to me, but which I could in principle come to know something about if I accepted that that they are real, I am now presented with my own unconsciousness which is said to have 'a reason' for everything, but whose reasoning and intentions must be essentially unknowable to me, if the world is to retain the kind of apparent diversity and development that is the essence of life. Turning Freud into an absolute metaphysic of the fantastic, you speak as though you could inquire into your unconscious and consolingly fathom the reason for the creation of X. But again, what is the meaning and home of 'reason'?
I know perfectly well what a 'reason' is in the ordinary context in which I am one of a number of conscious beings facing a world which is independent of our imaginings. I have a reason to pay my taxes in that sort of world. In the world in which the unconscious is not merely an actor in the world but the creator of the world in which it acts, how can we possibly make sense of the idea that it has a 'reason' for creating X? Again, I can have fabricated reasons in my cowboy fabrication just because there is an ordinary world which is the backdrop to that that fabrication, but your totalisation of fabrication denies us the ordinary meaning of words and makes your claims unintelligible. That is, even the consolation you might hope to derive from your unintelligible theory is itself unintelligible. Your unconsciousness could not have reasons for it's creations, and your solipsism replaces the knowable and reassuring reality of other persons with the frighteningly unknowable and irrational unconsciousness. Your claim is unintelligible and your consolations unconsoling.
This would make your contribution inexplicable but for the joy to be derived, and rightly, from intellectual contact with one's independently real peers.
(12) Crystal asked:
Does God know what it's like to be a bat?
On Tues, Oct 5, 2010 at 18:53:14
My question here is, Can God himself reverse history so I can change something in the past? Also I have some reasons to go against but also to go with the theory that maybe he can reverse history.
A. Reasons against the theory:
1. God makes it clear that we make mistakes and must learn from them.
2. God is not a genie in a magic lamp.
3. God cannot reverse history because he does not have the power.
4. God would not do this for one person and not the whole world.
5. God would not reverse history because it would wind back everything that had happened to everyone else and take their free will away.
6. God does not need to reverse history.
B. Responses to A:
1. We have the right to make heaven on Earth. If all time in history is the same, we can go back to make it as we want to correct our mistakes.
2. Nothing else we know can make us able to change history so God is the only thing that can. We do not need to ask for money because we can get it but [without God] we can't reverse history and change it.
3. If God has no control over reversing history, then he cannot do everything. If God made the universe, he can do what he wants with it, anyway, how big a thing is reversing history? why should reversing history be hard?
4. But if God has done it, nobody will ever know.
5. If you changed something in history, it would not take everybody else's free will away because they could react how they wanted to what had been done.
6. God can do what he likes but if you do need to reverse history, he's the only thing that can.
I love Crystal's question, but Marl has to be given credit for attempting an answer something that we advise anyone submitting questions to Ask a Philosopher to try do do.
Before we get started, there's an excellent discussion of changing the past in Michael Dummett's article 'Bringing About the Past' reprinted in Richard Gale Ed. The Philosophy of Time Macmillan 1968 pp 252-274. Crystal's question is prompted by Thomas Nagel's famous piece, 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' Philosophical Review 1974 pp 435-450, reprinted in many anthologies.
I don't recall that Nagel brings up the question whether God can know what it is like to be a bat; he argues that we can't, and therefore a basic assumption of physicalism is brought under strong pressure. Dummett in his long and intricate discussion considers as one of his examples asking God to make something have happened in the past, e.g. praying 'that the announcer has made a mistake in not including my son's name on the list of survivors', something we seem to have no difficulty in imagining, and yet which seems to imply God's power to bring about something in the past.
What is the point of all this? Especially if your an atheist, why get so het up about what God can do or not do? As a principled non-believer, my justification would be that considering what God can know or do, or, better, what any god (with a small 'g') can know or do, we are using a kind of shorthand for considering fundamental questions of epistemology and ontology.
Let's start from that premise. There are very good reasons (in my view) for holding that no god exists. But if he (or she, or it) did, what knowledge or powers could conceivably be attributed to such an entity?
The crux of Nagel's argument in 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' is that we can't conceive of what bat awareness or consciousness is like because there is too wide a gulf between human perception (through sight, hearing etc.) and bat perception (through sonar). It is crucial to his argument that the issue we are considering is knowing what something is like. I know what eating pineapple ice cream is like, even though I have never tasted pineapple ice cream, because I have eaten ice cream many times and I have also tasted pineapple. It doesn't require a great mental feat to put the two together. But no amount of mental gymnastics will bring me to the point of appreciating how the world 'appears' from the point of view of a bat. You can make up anything you like (as a novelist writing a story whose main characters are bats would) but in this case it is pure fantasy.
But God (or 'any god') isn't confined to our forms of human perception. He (or she or it etc.) doesn't need eyes to see or ears to hear. Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason speculates that God is not confined to gaining knowledge by subsuming 'intuitions' under 'concepts', has a form of understanding and knowledge which is directly intuitive. He 'knows' each and every thing in its very existential essence. There is no perceptual gap, as is the case for created beings such as ourselves.
Consider this analogy: in order to determine the current state of my Apple Power Macintosh G3 (soon to be replaced, I hope, by a G5), I need to look at the screen. Whatever is going on inside the grey box, information written to RAM or onto disk, or the instructions being processed by the CPU, is something to which I can have no direct access. There is software (the MacsBug debugger, as my G3 crashes rather often) which can give some information about this, and display the information on the screen. But would it be possible (leaving aside the question of the immense amount of time needed, given that thousands of instructions are being executed every second) to display all the information?
There does seem a logical problem here, which one can illustrate with the somewhat simpler example of HTML code. One of my pages, Today's Note consists of a representation of a Unix screen, running the text editor Pico. This is in fact the method I use to update this page. I don't upload the page using an FTP program. I write directly onto it using my text editor. On your monitor you will see representations of the HTML code which has been used to create this effect. What you don't see is the extra code which is needed to represent the code. (You can check this for yourself by going to 'View → Page Source'.) In principle, it would be impossible to show everything using HTML. I could add even more extra code to represent the 'extra code' but then this new extra code would not appear on the screen.
All human knowledge is in a sense 'representative' knowledge. There is a space, a gap, between knower and known. Even when we have so-called 'direct' knowledge through action (the sense of touch, or awareness of making an effort, or the proprioceptive feedback which enables us to know how our limbs are moving) this knowledge is immediate and non-representative only when described from the point of view of the agent. I may know that I am moving my fingers as I type this, but what is going on beneath the skin, in my muscles and sinews, is out of my immediate ken. Even if I lacked all senses other than the sense of touch (as in the Helen Keller story) I still need language and concepts, to represent the knowledge gained through 'direct' action.
This leads to a rather simple (possibly too simple) characterization of the difference between human knowledge and God's knowledge. God doesn't know the world and His creatures by means of representations (bringing intuitions under concepts). He knows them directly, as they are, for the simple reason that He is their creator and sustainer for every moment that they continue in existence.
It follows that there isn't a synapse or a cell or a molecule in the body of a flying bat that that God doesn't 'know'. Nor is God confined to only knowing about the world on the very lowest level. He can abstract. He can consider the bat as a collection of molecules, or cells, or organs, or as a discrete entity in relation to its environment. But I don't think that this is enough for knowing what it is like to be a bat. God knows too much not least, that he is God.
In Western philosophy, Spinoza is the philosopher who has come closest to solving this conundrum. The bat is just a 'mode' of God. It no independent existence from God, the only true 'substance'. God 'knows' himself as the bat, but the bat, from its point of view doesn't know this and necessarily cannot know this (otherwise it would be God). Spinoza, through the medium of his finely wrought philosophy, knows and yet doesn't know that he is God.
For making this claim, Spinoza incurred the charge of pantheism, and his insistence on arguing the case at every opportunity got him excommunicated from the Jewish community. But we're not concerned with the finer points of theology. Our question is what any god could know. The question of what kind of god would be worthy of adoration or worship is something which does not the least bit interest me.
I said that this was the best case for explaining the possibility of God's knowledge of what it is like to be a bat. But I don't think it is good enough. It depends, ultimately, on a fudge. If God 'knows' everything only in Spinoza's sense, because God just is everything, then I have lost my grasp of what 'know' means. Even if we assume that God's knowledge is 'intuitive' (in Kant's sense) and non-representational, we still need conceptual room for God as a self-conscious entity, which Spinoza does not seem to provide.
In other words, if God just is the universe, seen under the aspect of unity, then the term 'God' reduces to a mere 'something concerning which nothing can be said'. To talk about God is just to talk about the universe.
Let's now look at the case of changing the past. Dummett notes in his article that the possibility of praying to God in order to change the past is unacceptable to orthodox Jewish theology. I didn't know that. You learn something new every day. But are the orthodox Rabbis right?
I remember the day when I received my A-level examination results, which would determine whether or not I went to university (I'm keeping this simple for the sake of the example). Supposing I did believe in God. I have no difficulty in imagining that I might pray to God that I passed, and that God heard me and granted my request. Even though I had in fact failed! I'm sure many people have done this.
One easy get-out would be to say that God exists outside of time, and therefore knows my prayer 'before' I made it. So no funny backwards causation was involved. But this solves the problem of how God can change the past by effectively destroying the difference between past, present and future. I no longer know what 'cause' means in this scenario. So let's stick with a world in time, and a God who is also in time and not looking down on the universe sub specie aeternitatis.
What did God have to do, in the exam results example? The slip of paper inside the envelope with 'failed' written on it had to change to 'passed'. All the steps which led up to the typing of that word (and my marks or grades) had to alter also, right back to the point where some examiner was marking my script, and indeed before that to when I was actually sitting in the exam making a total mess my (say) Pure and Applied Mathematics paper. But how could I have written a good paper, if I hadn't revised? How could I have revised, when most of my time was spent going to parties and getting stoned?
I can totally see how Marl would object that this is a serious encroachment into my free will, not to mention the other difficulties.
But we're looking for a logical objection, if there is any. The question of whether or not you would like the kind of God who would do this, or consider them 'worthy of adoration or worship' is neither here nor there.
Dummett's case rests largely on a single observation: If I know that it was the case that P (e.g. that it was the case that I failed) then I can't, by any action including prayer intend to bring it about that not-P (e.g. to bring it about that I passed). It's a logical contradiction. In fact, it is more or less the same logical contradiction which vitiates time travel (as traditionally conceived see my Afterword to David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself).
Okay, but let's look at this from another angle. Where is the past? The past is gone, its water under the bridge. (John Donne: 'Tell me where all past yeares are, Or who cleft the divel's foote'.) But where we are, always, is on the bridge of the present. We can remember, infer from evidence, hypothesize more or less accurately about 'what happened', but always with the proviso that we could be wrong, that is to say, there is no logical contradiction in the idea that the most vivid memory of something that happened only ten seconds ago could be false.
As long as I don't know what's inside the envelope, the question whether I passed or failed is up for grabs, at least by me (as indeed is the question whether my maths teacher knows, whether the secretary at the examining board knows etc.). It's not that difficult to think in this way of the past as something malleable, or flexible, not fixed and final. From my perspective, at least, there is just me and God and the world which God partially reveals to me and partially conceals. That's all 'the world' is from my perspective.
This sounds rather like anti-realism about the past (which Dummett defends in another article, 'On the Reality of the Past' in Truth and Other Enigmas Duckworth 1978 pp 358-374). But there is just one rather important difference: it is essential, in order to make sense of exam results example that one is only considering my perspective (or our perspective if a group of persons is praying together) not human knowledge generally, not 'what can be known' of the past, but only what I (or you and I) can know.
As Marl has seen, if God changes the past, as such, He changes it for everyone, not just for me. Whereas, if all God changes is 'my past' or 'our past' then we have left behind the very idea that there is such a thing as the past. This is just a little too close to Solipsism for comfort. (If you can be a quasi-solipsist about 'we'.)
Ultimately, as I have indicated, the question whether God can know what it is like to be a bat, or whether God can change the past isn't about theology. It is about the nature of the universe and our knowledge of it. But one thing it does show is that as a theologian you can't make assumptions about God's powers without at the same time making fairly hefty commitments to your epistemology and metaphysics.
(18) Farnaz asked:
Is it possible that a person can be in different places at the same time?
The ability to be (or, alternatively, 'appear' that's one of the questions we have to decide) at two different places at the same time is known as bilocation. This cropped up in a story I once wrote:
The giant out door auditorium was filled to capacity. Overhead, robot drinks and ice cream vendors darted about amongst the hovering TV cameras. On the podium a man in a blue tunic had just started to speak. Distorted images of his friendly features loomed on scores of giant video screens.
'...Some of you might remember me from the old television series, Star Trek. For the benefit of those who haven't seen any of the episodes, my name is Captain Kirk. And yes, I am a real Star Ship Captain. The series is substantially based on true events, though of course we had to simplify things to fit each story into a fifty minute slot. Followers of the series will be glad to hear that all your favourite characters are here. You might even get the chance to meet some of them. You will all have met Mr Spock of course...'
Captain Kirk's words were almost drowned in wild cheering. He paused to salute his Science Officer, who was seated behind the podium. Spock stood up briefly to take a stiff bow.
'...Like the rest of us here today, Spock has para-psychic powers. In his case it is the relatively rare but extremely useful gift of bilocation, the ability to appear in several different places at one and the same time. Some of the Catholic Saints were able to bilocate, I believe.
'Well that is by the way. The main question that seems to be on everyone's lips is, 'Where is Heaven?' That's a little difficult to explain. But if you give me a few minutes, I'll do my best to fill you in. Mr Spock has written a useful little book for those of you who've done a bit of maths and physics, complete with equations and flow diagrams, but I shall just try to keep things simple.'
Kirk paused for a few moments to collect his thoughts. The famous smile beamed down from scores of video screens. One thing you knew for sure. The maths and physics weren't above his head.
The Possible World Machine Unit 12: Space Hopper
Downloadable from www.philosophypathways.com/download.html
In the story, a group of persecuted telepaths escape to an alternative universe existing in a different space from our actual universe (but not in a different time). The idea was to test Kant's claim that there necessarily can exist only one space using a thought experiment which doesn't rely, as Anthony Quinton's does, on a subject falling asleep and appearing to 'dream' of a life which is no less coherent than his 'waking' experience (Anthony Quinton 'Spaces and Times' Philosophy 37, pp 130-147 1962).
In my tale, there is said to be a fully scientific explanation of how there came to be two spaces. It's the 'simplest explanation' of the data. (There was a 'cataclysmic explosion', and a fragment of space 'split off' from the universe to form a space of its own.) There's no reason, in principle, why experimental evidence couldn't lead us to conclude that Kant was wrong about there being one space, just as Quantum Mechanics has shown that he was wrong about the a priori truth of determinism.
I don't know if that's acceptable as a response to Kant. It amounts to little more than stating the very thing that Kant denies. Unlike the case of QM, we don't have the least bit of scientific evidence for multiple spaces (ignoring things like the many-worlds interpretation of QM which seems to be a different thing entirely). It is pure speculation about what we would conclude if such alleged evidence turned up. In this case, we really need to consider the argument Kant gives (in the first part of Critique of Pure Reason), and whether the argument is in fact logically sound. (Many commentators agree e.g. P.F. Strawson in Bounds of Sense  that Kant's argument for the necessity of determinism is over-ambitious: the most he can claim is that experience should exhibit sufficient regularity to enable us to make reliable predictions.)
If there were overwhelming logical objections to the very idea of a person being located at different places at the same time, then no amount of empirical 'evidence' would be sufficient to persuade us otherwise. We would have no choice but to offer an alternative explanation. However, it is worth pointing out, that at least some of the things said about the bilocating Catholic Saints can be understood in the weaker sense of the individual in question appearing to observers at a place (as a realistic apparition) as opposed to actually being there in the flesh.
But is genuine bilocation actually being in two different places at the same time such a nonsensical idea?
Before we can even consider that question, we have to address the prior question of what it is to be located at a space. For trees and rocks, or planets and stars, there is a simple and conclusive test. Spatial position is one of the criteria (or, indeed, the main criterion) for identity. If an object, say, a paperweight is seen at two places at the same time, then we have two exactly similar paperweights, not one paperweight. If I scratch the paperweight on my desk, and an identical scratch mark simultaneously appears on the matching paperweight on my coffee table, or if smashing one paperweight with a hammer immediately results in the destruction of the other, then the conclusion would be that some kind of unknown causal influence has occurred, not that this is proof that the 'two' paperweights were in fact one and the same object or entity.
Of course we are free to call the matching paperweights by a single name, describe it as an extended 'object'. This might even be a useful thing to do. (We might want to distinguish superficially matching paperweights from genuine pairs which exhibit this remarkable property.)
With persons, on the other hand, an entirely new factor is brought into play. Persons have a point of view. If I have a twin on Twin Earth or for that matter Doncaster even if the same things appear to happen to my twin as happen to me and at the very same time, we are not the same person. I have my point of view and my twin has his point of view.
The problem with this intuition, as Daniel Dennett entertainingly shows in his piece 'Where Am I?' (originally in Brainstorms 1978, reproduced in Dennett and Hofstadter Eds. The Mind's I 1981 pp 217-229) is that if we assume the materialist hypothesis that the mind is a kind of program which 'runs' on the brain, then there are various science fiction scenarios where we simply don't know how to answer the question, 'where I am'.
I'm not going to pursue Dennett's idea of brains being simulated by computer programs. If the self is a program, and a program is (as it necessarily must be) a kind of thing, a set of instructions which can be written in any language, realized on any suitable hardware (or 'wetware'), if that's all it is, then it's hardly surprising that you can't 'find' the location of the self, or even decide whether you are dealing with one self or more than one self. The 'GK program' would be like Windows XP.
So I'm going to assume we don't know whether or not you could 'write' the program for GK. In other words, I'm assuming that you can be a materialist without being committed to Dennett's version of materialism.
The US flying drone which destroyed the alleged Al-Qaeda cell last Saturday was 'flown' by a GI operative sitting comfortably at a laptop. In World War II, the Japanese kamikaze gave their lives to achieve the same objective. But what exactly is the difference between being there, at the moment the high explosive detonates, and not being there?
Let's notch this up a bit. Instead of a metal and plastic flying drone, let's have a fully functioning robot which reproduces my bodily movements via a broadband radio connection. To make this really effective, I need the ability to feel when my robot is damaged. This is a very expensive piece of equipment, what better way to protect it than to give the operator a suitable jab of pain? As my robot engages in battle (presumably with other robots) I have the most vivid sense of 'being there'. Only, I am not there. It's just an illusion, isn't it?
Let's say that as a result of carelessness or lack of sufficient fighting skill, my robot gets destroyed, and I feel the pain of its destruction. After receiving a severe dressing down from my commanding officer, I'm issued with another robot with the warning not to let this happen again, or else. This time, I will not only feel the pain, I will receive the same injuries, in the same body parts that my robot receives. If it dies, then I die.
Remember that my robot doesn't have a brain, or a computer simulating my thought processes. It is just a sophisticated drone. And yet, in this extreme case, wouldn't it be correct to say that where my robot is where the action is happening there I am also?
If I put my hand into a fire, then the fire doesn't only burn my hand, it burns me. Whereas a drone under my control is just like an extended artificial hand. What puts me there, in the flames, is nothing other than the fact that it is my life that is at stake. I am where my vulnerable parts are.
It helps to have 'eyes' and 'ears' where your vulnerable parts are located otherwise you will injure yourself too easily. But merely having eyes and ears at a location (as in the case of the Al-Qaeda drone) isn't sufficient for being there.
If Dennett is right about the possibility of a brain program, then human beings do not, in principle, have any vulnerable parts. As noted above, the self program can be endlessly reproduced. On the other hand, if Dennett is wrong, and brain function cannot be duplicated in a program (more precisely, by a Turing Machine) then the living human body which I call 'mine', or at least that part of me (say the brain) whose destruction would lead to my death, is necessarily where I am.
I have noted that 'genuine' bilocation must be more than just appearing in a place. The appearance must correspond to reality. As we have also seen, it must be more than my manipulating a robot or simulacrum of me at that place, because the destruction of the robot or simulacrum does not entail my destruction. To be in a place is to risk death at that place. If I can do this in two or more places simultaneously, then I can bilocate, but not otherwise.
(25) Ottis asked:
What is something a philosopher might think about?
I normally avoid this kind of vague question which invites you to write about just about anything you like. Unfortunately, this week the selection of questions submitted to Ask a Philosopher was so uninspiring that I'm actually glad to find a question which invites me to write about anything I like.
What do philosophers think about? The standard response is to toss out a few examples, showing why these illustrate the nature of philosophical problems or questions, or the techniques or methods used by the philosopher in answering them. But that's boring. In any case, it wouldn't be true. At least, not about me. I don't spend my time thinking about 'the problems of philosophy'. My students do this, and in my letters to my students I criticize their efforts and offer guidance. Of course, this involves thinking about those questions, but that's become second nature. I don't think about it, I just do it.
What I think about, what occupies every spare minute of my day, wherever I happen to be and whatever I happen to be doing, is something entirely different, something you won't find in the average introduction to philosophy. If you asked me, what it is that 'makes me a philosopher' it would be this, and not what I do in my day job.
What I think about is The Question. There is only one. Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy humorously puts the case that the joke is on philosophers for being so dumb as to believe that there could be just one question. ('The answer is 42. What did you expect?!') But on a closer reading, I see something that isn't a joke at all.
The Question isn't, 'The Universe, Life and Everything'. That's just a dummy phrase, a placeholder, for whatever-it-is that philosophers think about, ultimately think about, as part of the very essence of being a philosopher. The meaning of it all. Except, you can't just talk about 'meaning' as if you knew what that meant, or even 'it all' as if you what is involved in a universal generalization which isn't restricted to any particular subject matter or domain, just 'everything'.
I wrote my book Naive Metaphysics about this. Well, not exactly this, but about one component of the Question, namely What It Is that we ask the Question about. My answer is that there are two things, not one. 'A theory of subjective and objective worlds'. However you pose it, you have to ask the Question twice.
In the very first paragraph of Chapter One (which I'm sorry to say many readers don't get past) I give an argument for the impossibility of asking the Question, or at least, of interpreting it as a 'why' question:
Logically, the world ought not to exist. Brute fact is an affront to human reason, which always seeks the sufficient ground for every contingent given. Yet neither can reason be persuaded to accept (pace Spinoza, Leibniz) that it is necessary that our little planet Earth should have come into being. Or that I should be writing this. Or that the Holocaust happened. Fortunately, as finite beings, we are never brought to the point of having to make that impossible choice. The chain from consequences to grounds is (as Kant observed) never-ending. However, a contradiction that will never have to be faced is still a contradiction. Between logical contingency and logical necessity there is no third modality: either our world is or is not the only logically possible world. If it cannot be either, then it cannot be.
Logically, the world ought not to exist! 'Well, so much logic,' you might be thinking. But you'd be dead wrong. There is no thinking without logic, only the babbling of an infant.
What is all this about? Ignore the allusions to Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant. That's for students of philosophy to dabble into. (Clue: the Kantian reference is to his 'Antinomies of Pure Reason' in the Critique of Pure Reason.)
What I'm saying is that the world, or universe, cannot be 'necessary' and it cannot be 'an accident'. Either alternative is unacceptable, an affront to sense and logic. I could just have easily argued that the universe cannot be 'rational' and it cannot be 'irrational'; that it cannot be 'meaningful' and it cannot be 'meaningless'; that it cannot 'have a purpose' and it cannot 'lack a purpose'.
Investigate this for yourself. 99.99 per cent of all the discussions of the Question in all its guises, on all the internet forums, take the form of rebounding endlessly between the two alternatives. Much of the history of philosophy is the same. Every 'new' answer, every tweak or dodge, is just a variation on what went before. You go for one side, or you go for the other, or you invent some clever reason for taking a position somewhere in the middle (philosophers love to 'reconcile contradictions').
I don't have an answer, or even a clue how to go forward. If you think you'd like to discover that the universe had a purpose, say, just imagine how you'd feel if you didn't like that purpose. Tough titty. The purpose is the purpose, willy nilly, and what you think is totally irrelevant. Or imagine that you discover, finally, that the universe really doesn't have a purpose. You can do whatever you like, life has whatever purpose you give it. Really? Is that your final answer? Are you happy with that?
I could roll of a list of philosophers who claimed to be happy with that answer (starting with Nietzsche, maybe) but I strongly suspect no, I know that they only said that, only defended that view because of the unacceptability of the alternative. Logic again. If it can't be P then it must be not-P.
Let's just assume that both alternatives are false. (The example is about purpose but pick your favourite concept.) How could that be possible? Here are some more or less familiar strategies:
1. Overcoming the contradiction in a synthesis. Hegel is simply following old logic here, not inventing a new kind of logic (so-called 'dialectical logic'). If the contradiction is 'overcome', that is to say, if both alternatives are false, then that merely shows that the 'contradiction' so-called wasn't really a contradiction. The contradictories were merely contraries. In other words, Hegel is merely generalizing on Kant's strategy in the Antinomies.
2. Denying duality. The 'alternatives' so-called aren't really alternatives at all. They are merely different aspects of one and the same thing. Spinoza argued, against Descartes, that there is no 'mental substance' interacting with 'material substance', rather, there is only God and his mental and material 'modes'. So with regard to purpose you might try to have your cake and eat it: the universe is purposefully purposeless, or maybe purposelessly purposeful. There's no choice to make because it's all one and the same in the end. But that's just a transparent dodge. There's no problem if the contradictories apply in different 'senses' or 'respects', or from different 'points of view'.
3. Denying logic. I like this one because I tried it in Naive Metaphysics. So what if the objective standpoint and the subjective standpoint contradict one another? In that case, here's one example (there could be more!) of a contradiction which isn't false. Problem is, I've been stuck at this point for the last 20 or so years. Meanwhile, my mental capacity isn't going to undergo any miraculous increase. I've got to make do with what I've got, which doesn't seem a lot these days.
Why bother? Why keep worrying at a question (sorry, Question) which you know, or at least are pretty sure you will never be able to answer? I don't have the answer to that one. To hold the entire universe 'in question' seems liberating, in a strange sort of way. Like Neo in The Matrix, I know there is 'something wrong with the world'. What a great movie that would be if only the answer wasn't so banal!
(28) Amanda asked:
Which ethical theory is most 'natural'? That is, which theory requires the least alteration of our natural inclinations in order for us to live ethically?
Amanda, this is quite a broad issue and one which I to me that we should consider a number of those ethical theories that might approach the criterion set out by you in your question. Whilst, there are more ethical theories than those included in this response, I have attempted to deal primarily with those which I believe have held most influence on our lives of course others may not agree, or find other theories more appropriate, but that is what philosophical discourse is all about. In this response I intend to consider, in particular, utilitarianism, Kant's duty theory, Aristotle's, and more recently, G.J.Warnock's, virtue ethics, and Hobbes' 'social contract'.
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that argues that an action is right if and only if it conforms to the principle of utility. Founded during the Victorian era, its founder, Jeremy Bentham, came to believe that there was a need for society to rely on reason rather than metaphysics. The central tenet of utilitarianism is what is called the 'Greatest Happiness Principle'. Because the human beings are rational self-interested creatures, says Bentham, they seek to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. Thus, a morally correct action is one which results in the greatest possible pleasure within a given set of circumstances.
Set against utilitarianism is deontology. Deontologists are concerned with the concept of duty. That is, they are concerned with fulfilling (what they believe is) their moral duty whether or not it makes people happy. In short, deontologists hold that right actions are defined by duty. Once we know what it is that we are duty bound to do morally, then we can carry out this 'natural' right action regardless of the consequences. What matters, they argue, is that we do what is right what is right, and what is right is that which conforms with moral law. One of the leading exponents of this theory is Immanuel Kant. For Kant, right actions are those which are done purely and simply from a sense of duty and not by following impulses, inclinations, or adherence to the 'Greatest Happiness Principle'. Human beings, says Kant, are, by nature, rational beings and as such need have a rational basis to their lives: they need to know what make right actions right. Ethics, he maintains, is concerned with identifying moral imperatives, and providing rational explanations as to why we should obey them.
Central to Kant's duty ethics is the view that right actions are those actions that are not instigated by impulses or desires, but by practical reason. Right action is right only if it is undertaken for the sake of fulfilling one's duty, and fulfilling one's duty means acting in accordance with certain moral laws or 'imperatives'. To help us identify those laws which are morally binding Kant has provided us with the ultimate calculus: the 'categorical imperative' which states 'Act only in accordance with the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law'. To the categorical imperative, Kant offers a codicil which relates specifically to human will; 'so act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means'. Thus far we have seen that both utilitarianism and deontology hold different views in regard to what is most natural ethical theory. For utilitarians it is the 'Greatest Happiness Principle', whilst for Kant it is the 'Categorical Imperative'. Now it is time to consider what has become known as the Virtue Theory.
It is in his Nicomachean Ethics that Aristotle sets out his ethical theory (later to become known as 'Virtue Theory'): his concept of what it is, for human beings, to live well. For Aristotle, the end or final cause of human existence is eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is most commonly translated as 'happiness', but a more accurate translation is 'flourishing'. Aristotle believed that the desire to live a fulfilled life is part of what it is to be human. A eudaimon life is a life that is successful. It is important to relies that what Aristotle means by happiness/ flourishing has nothing to do with physical pleasure, but is an activity of the mind/ soul in accordance with virtue.(NB for the ancient Greeks, soul was a synonym of mind). For Aristotle there are two parts to the mind/ soul: the intellectual and the emotional. Correspondingly, there are two types of virtue: intellectual and moral. Moreover, virtue, whether intellectual or moral, is a disposition (a natural inclination) of the mind/ soul, which finds its expression in voluntary action -that is, it is consciously chosen. Moral virtue is expressed in the choice of pursuit of a middle course between excessive and deficient emotion, and exaggerated or inadequate action: this is the famous doctrine of the Golden Mean, which holds that each virtue stands somewhere between two opposing vices.
Thus, courage or fortitude is a mean between cowardice and rashness; and temperance is the mean between licentiousness or profligacy and insensibility. Justice, or 'fairness',the most important virtue of the moral virtues, is also concerned with a mean in the sense that it aims at each person getting neither more nor less than his or her due. However, it is not like other virtues, flanked by opposing vices since any departure from the just mean, on either side, involves simply injustice. Moral virtue prevents disordered emotion from leading to inappropriate action. What decides, in any situation, what is appropriate action and the correct amount of feeling, is the intellectual virtue of prudence or practical wisdom (phronesis): this is the virtue of that part of reason that is concerned with action. The virtue of the speculative part of the reaction is learning, or philosophic wisdom (Sophia): this virtue finds its most sublime manifestations in more or less solitary contemplation (theoria). Supreme happiness, according to Aristotle, would consist in a life of philosophical contemplation. However, whilst this would be the ultimate in human fulfillment, it is also a life that is beyond the realization of mere mortals. The best we can aspire to is the kind of happiness that can be found in a life of political activity and public magnificence in accordance with moral values.
Following Aristotle, Warnock, in his The Object of Morality (1971), also takes the view that there is no universal criterion by which our actions can be classified as either right or wrong. 'It is clear', says Warnock, 'that moral principles may point in opposite directions, and I can pronounce no ground on which one could pronounce in general which... is to predominate another'. Virtue theorists, then, accept that human beings must be governed by moral principles, what they do not accept is the view that these principles are bound by moral absolutes or 'imperatives'. For virtue theorists, it is not whether one answers to the demands of the categorical imperative, nor is it one's determination to opt for pleasure over pain that determines whether or not one is ethical, rather it is one's natural disposition to lead a virtuous life. Whilst deontology, or 'duty ethics,' can be said to hold considerable merit, in that it advocates that human beings should be treated as ends in themselves rather than means to ends, I would argue that it fails to meet the criterion set out in your question in that it looks on people, not as sentient beings, but as duty automatons.
Moreover, an ethical theory, such as Utilitarianism, that advocates that the happiness of the majority takes precedence over the minority cannot be counted as a reliable ethical model. Thus, of the three theories discussed so far, it seems to me, by virtue of its rejection of closure in relation to what it is that determines right action, and its view that it is one's natural disposition to seek to lead a life of excellence, Virtue Theory is the closest we have come to identifying an ethical theory that requires the least alteration to allow us to lead an ethical life. However, before drawing this discussion to an end there are two more ethical theories that deserve consideration. These are the ethical theory set out by Thomas Hobbes in his magnum opus, Leviathan.
Central to Hobbes' thesis is the view that 'the human desire for peace is the motive that moves humans from the natural condition to civil society. Hobbes operates on the premise that all men are equal. Nature has created men so equal in faculties of body and mind that, when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is so slight that no man can claim superiority over another. Moreover, 'as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are the in the same danger with himself.' In this, hypothetical, state of equality there is no sovereign power, each man believing himself to be equal, is motivated purely by self-interest to preserve his own life and liberty, and also to acquire power over others. These desires are motivated by an innate impulse, or 'inclination', for self-preservation. In this 'natural condition of humans', says Hobbes, there arises conflict: a state of 'war of all against all' and the life of man would be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. Left to its own devices, says Hobbes, mankind would eventually destroy itself. The struggle for power, for no other reason than self-preservation and self-interest, defines the natural condition of humans. Altruism, compassion and self-sacrifice find no place in Hobbes' scheme of things. Hobbes wants to show that people in such a state of anarchy will naturally want to move to change their circumstances. To show how they might go about this he introduces four interrelated concepts: the state of nature, right of nature, law of nature, and the 'social contract'. He presents us with the concept of a situation in which man is in a state of nature: a state without a sovereign or common power to enforce rules and to restrain behavior is naturally a state that any reasonable man would want to move to a situation in which he could live in peace.
The ambition of Hobbes' Leviathan, then, is to show how man can move from a state of nature to a state of peace. For Hobbes, man's self-interest does not have to lead to a life of misery. By giving up certain rights, and adhering to certain rules, the individual can move to a situation of greater comfort, harmony and security. This can be achieved, says Hobbes, by surrendering certain rights to a sovereign power, who, in turn, would guarantee the conditions necessary to live a 'harmonious and commodious' life. This could be achieved by entering into a social contract. If people were prepared to give up their individual rights to a powerful authority which could force them to keep their promises and covenants, then a peaceful, civil society could be formed. By virtue of the social contract a new political power could be created. Thus established people would now have an obligation and duty to obey the sovereign. In such a state, the sovereign would have to be empowered to use as much force as necessary to retain order, any failure to do so would entitle the subjects to remove the sovereign power and return to a state of anarchy. However, given that it is Hobbes' view that people are naturally predisposed to prefer a state of peace to a state of nature a state of 'war of all against all' it is to be felt that they would soon choose to elect a new sovereign and return to their harmonious and commodious lives.
Considering each of the above theories, you will note that the predominant theme is that ethical lives must be governed by reason. The implication of this is that, whilst we may be predisposed to seeking to live 'good lives', unless our emotions and appetites are brought under control by reason, our 'natural inclinations' could, and in many cases would, inhibit this ambition. Thus, whilst it grieves me to admit it [my own preference, since it involves not only the obligation to live ethically, but also ensures that one's relationships with others is also governed by ethical principles, comprises of a mixture of Kant's categorical imperative and the virtue theory], it seems to me, since it involves, in any situation, simply adding up the positives on one side and comparing them to the negatives on the other side utilitarians call the 'felicific calculus', that the theory that would require least alteration to live our lives ethically is utilitarianism. But I would add that an ethical theory in which the consequences for those of the minority who fall on the wrong side of the 'happiness sums' can be disastrous (just look at the current French government's policy to its Romany community, for example) is not one that I could embrace.
What do you think Amanda?
(31) Alan asked:
Do we have free will?
Just before I typed this, I toyed with the idea of not submitting the question. Then I decided to submit the question although it seems that I could effortlessly have decided not to submit the question. This seems to be a process of me doing the deciding. Is it not meaningless to say that it is just an illusion that I have a voluntary choice of whether or not to submit this question when it feels so real that I have this choice?
I have a similar story to Alan's. It being a Friday afternoon, with the prospect of a weekend of relaxation and enjoyment ahead of me, there are several items on my list of things that I had meant to get done this week which have still not been done and my Tentative Answer is just one of them. And it's not necessarily the most urgent, either. However, all things considered, having done enough this week to keep the good ship Pathways afloat, having not disappointed too many people, I feel I'm justified in doing what I would most enjoy from my task list and leave the rest until next week.
Some people would hardly bother to go through this rigmarole of deliberation. Others would not consider their feelings of enjoyment to be a relevant consideration, but would just plough ahead do the most important task whether they enjoyed it or not. I'm somewhere in the middle. Anyone who knew me well enough would be able to predict my decision. It's not that I always take the easiest or most enjoyable option; only sometimes. But you can bet that if there's any time I'm likely to do this it will be on a Friday afternoon.
Well, Alan's case on the face of it is slightly different. He claims that his decision was made 'effortlessly' by which I take it he means that there was no particular reason to submit the question or not submit the question. He could just as easily have not submitted it. Problem is, if he hadn't submitted it, we wouldn't be able to give him an answer. My grandmother used to say, 'If you're lucky, you can win the lottery without filling in the coupon.' But Ask a Philosopher doesn't work that way. We're not mind readers.
I know what Alan means. What he means is something that we find ourselves doing when we first consider the idea of free will. We want to prove it to ourselves, by doing something freely. But what exactly does that entail?
This is familiar territory in philosophical discussions of freedom of the will. The default view, which you will find defended by many philosophers from David Hume onwards, is that an action is free provided that it is done from our own choice, not under duress and in full possession of our mental faculties. This view is known as 'compatibilism' defined in this way, freedom of the will is fully compatible with determinism.
This won't satisfy Alan (and it doesn't fully satisfy me either) because this kind of 'freedom' hardly looks the kind of thing that we would want or be satisfied with. We want more. We don't want there to be a story about causes and effects that ultimately explains every action that we do. We want the action to come from us not from the world grinding on, doing its thing.
Confusingly, however, we also want it to be the case that when we do good, not only do we receive praise but also recognition that the action in question was to be expected, given our character. If the action is praiseworthy, it's an insult if someone says, 'I'm surprised you did that!'
But aren't we all part of the world? If I have the sort of character which would lead me to do something praiseworthy, or blameworthy, is that not a fact about the world? In that case, where does my 'process of deciding' fit in, if not as a process taking place in an entity situated at a place and time, following its nature or character?
There is something wrong with the statement I have just made; and it's wrongness was pointed out by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. There is something that happens, at the moment of making a decision, that cannot be fully accounted for in terms of any amount of knowledge of one's character or predispositions. Every situation is unique. It doesn't matter if you have been here a thousand times before. You still have the opportunity to confound those who would predict your action. In this respect, it is wrong to see human beings as merely 'part of nature'. There is something added to the equation every time you decide, regardless of what other people expect, or even what you expect from yourself.
But how to prove this?
I've thought a lot about our meeting, Mr. Hofman.
Since the beginning, I felt the need to see you.
When you left the cafe,
I realized I couldn't wait any longer.
What you said on television persuaded me.
I gathered the courage you spoke of.
You can kill me.
I acknowledge your right to do so.
I'll take the risk.
But I'm banking on your curiosity.
You want to know what happened to Miss Saskia.
When I was 16, I discovered something.
Everyone has those thoughts, but no one ever jumps.
I told myself: 'Imagine you're jumping.'
Is it predestined that I won't jump?
How can it be predestined that I won't?
So, to go against what is predestined, one must jump.
The fall was a holy event.
I broke my left arm and lost 2 fingers. Why did I jump?
A slight abnormality in my personality,
imperceptible to those around me.
You can find me listed in the medical encyclopedias
under 'Sociopath' in the new editions.
The Vanishing 1988 (Dutch: Spoorlos)
What did Raymond Lemorne, Saskia's abductor, think he had proved all those years ago by jumping off the wall? There was a very good reason for not jumping off the wall it's sheer height from the ground, the consequent risk of injury but he also had a very good reason for jumping: to prove a point.
If Alan had wanted to 'prove' his free will, wouldn't it have been better to choose something he had a strong reason not to do, but do it nonetheless, in spite of his character and circumstances, in spite of himself? Lemorne gives the lie to that conceit. He knows what he is: a sociopath. And it's not as if you could just choose something trivial to prove the thesis. I could go home now, leave this post unfinished, leave my computers on (much to the annoyance of my office landlord) but I won't, because even if I did, it would prove nothing.
If you can't prove your free will by doing something predictable, you can't prove it by doing something unpredictable either.
But do I have to prove it? Don't I just know? As Alan states, it's 'meaningless' to assert that free will is an illusion when it 'feels so real'.
Isn't Alan just being a good empiricist here? How else do we find out about the world and about reality but from our experience? And some things just can't be meaningfully doubted. At the end of the day, you have to go along with your best take on how things seem, the best explanation. And how things seem, in the case of human action, is that actions come from us, not from the world. It's called 'saving the phenomena.'
I'm not going to dispute the claim about explanation. It could be argued that the whole purpose of seeking explanations is that we dig below the surface. Sometimes explanations can be counter-intuitive or paradoxical, yet we know them to be better than the explanations that seem easier to accept, because they take more into consideration. However, in the case of free will it's a moot point. As soon as you leave the perspective of the agent, in your attempt to 'take more into consideration' you lose the very thing you were trying to focus on.
My objection is different. To call something an 'illusion' implies that you grasp the difference between how things appear in respect of the entity in question, and how things are in reality. I know what it means to say that it is an illusion that a straight stick partially immersed in water appears bent, because I grasp the difference between what it is for a stick to be straight and what it is for a stick to be bent. If is an 'illusion' that I am freely deciding what to type next, then this is a claim about how things appear to me, at this moment. But that implies the possibility of there being some other way of seeing those same events. You immerse the stick in water, or you remove it. But there is no corresponding alternative in the case of human action.
Thomas Nagel in The View From Nowhere (1986) refers to this as the 'necessary penumbra of ignorance' of the causes of those events we regard as our actions.
In short, I don't know what I would be denying if I denied that free will is an illusion. I don't have any conception of 'how things might be otherwise'. Therein lies a possible solution to the free will problem. We think we know 'what we want', but the very attempt to state what we 'want' from freedom of the will falls into confusion.
(36) Derrick asked:
I recently read a report on a request made by the Russian Minister of Finance who asked that Russians Smoke and Drink more as the country needed the revenue, is this not as a result of their adoption of the capitalist system, a system that has been faulty since its exception.
Communism did not work and the West did its utmost to see it failed. The Capitalist system is no better as it benefits only a small segment of the population and the myth of the creation of wealth which is now the holy grail is all smoke and mirrors and has value as long as the paper Dollar retains its value.
When it comes to finance we have people who are awarded the Nobel prize for the creation of systems that are supposed to improve how systems work, I have yet to see this actually effect anything, in fact things keep getting worse.
We are told how well we are doing while pensioners don't know how they are going to survive.
We are also told the markets know best, best for who? A shareholders interest is never a countries interest, self interest is the only consideration.
What do we need to break the cycle of greed, a 3rd World war, but then war is profitable.
I understand Greek Philosophers had thoughts on matters of finance, does Philosophy have solutions or is man so flawed that we are to far into the abyss to pull back.
(a) Does philosophy have solutions? I certainly wont suggest that Philosophy has solutions. That is not what philosophy is about. But philosophy can certainly offer some contribution for some part of the list of woes that you cite in your question. In particular, philosophy has given me the ability to recognize that you have made numerous errors of fact and theory in the content of your question. Perhaps it may be possible that by exposing some of these errors and showing you some examples of your erroneous thinking, I might make is easier for you to see that circumstances are not nearly as bad as you seem to think they are.
(b) that Russian Ministers request for added revenues. I saw a similar report. However, the report that I saw made it clear that the Minister in question was not being serious in his request that his people smoke and drink more. The report I saw made it clear that his request was made as an effort to highlight his governments difficulties in obtaining sufficient tax funding for necessary government expenditures as it were tongue in cheek. However, we can ignore this possible misconstrual of the Ministers intent, and pretend for arguments sake, that the Minister was serious in his suggestion that his people drink and smoke more as a means of increasing tax revenues.
This would not have happened as a result of Russia adopting a capitalist economic system (instead of their previous communist system). It is obvious to me that you do not clearly understand what a capitalist economic system is. One of the things it is not, is a prescription of the extent of government requirements for tax revenues, nor a prescription of just how that revenue is to be raised. It is, on the other hand, an economic system that prescribes how economic capital is to be best allocated amongst competing alternative uses. Fundamental to a capitalist economic system is a free market a (possibly virtual) place where people can freely exchange that which they value less for that which they value more. Critical to the existence of a free market is an absence of force or fraud.
What a government chooses to do (and thus have a need to pay for), and how a government chooses to raise the funds necessary to pay for what it chooses to do, is no part of a capitalist economic system. What students of capitalism do study, and do debate about, is what the consequences are likely to be, given certain government decisions about what it chooses to do, and how it chooses to pay for those things. For whatever a government chooses to do, and however a government chooses to raise the revenues it finds necessary, those actions will constitute interference in the functioning of free markets. Hence any government action, however well intentioned, constitutes an interference in a capitalistic economy, and can be shown to be a source of economic inefficiency.
The Ministers suggestion that tax revenues could be raised by increasing the amount of smoking and drinking that his electors do, has therefore little to do with capitalism. Even under communism, the Minister could easily have been faced with exactly the same problem of raising revenues to pay for government expenses. And even under communism, the Minister could have made exactly the same suggestion. The only difference, at this level of discussion, between capitalism and communism, would be the range of options available for Minister to consider. Under communism, because of its central-command organization of the economy, the Minister would have had very many more options.
(c) The Capitalist system is no better. You claim that the Capitalist system is no better [than Communism] as it benefits only a small segment of the population. But this is simply false as to fact. Capitalist economies have delivered far more welfare to far more people than any economic system ever devised. In those countries that have been capitalist economies for over 70 years (so that comparison is possible), even the poorest people today are far better off than were the wealthy 70 years ago. On any scale of measure you might choose to apply, over the 70 years of relevance (1920-1990) capitalism has delivered greater benefits to more people than communism did. The difference in the welfare (however you choose to measure it) of the average Russian of 1920 and the average Russian of the 1990s was insignificant compared to the difference in welfare of the average American/ Canadian/ Brit (etc) of the 1920s compared the 1990s.
It is certainly true that a capitalist economic system tends to promote a disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. That is because capitalism, as an economic system, rewards productive and creative talent (where communism does not). If, by magic, we could suddenly redistribute all the wealth equally amongst all citizens, the natural differences between peoples as to their talents and abilities would in short order reproduce disparities in wealth distribution. Capitalism rewards those who produce and create new wealth.
(d) the myth of the creation of wealth is all smoke and mirrors Communism, as a system of economic organization, is very good at spreading an existing stock of wealth amongst a population. Communism thus has attractions in a social environment where there is great disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor (as, say, in Europe in the 1860s and 1870s, Russia in the 1910s). But communism is very poor at encouraging productivity, innovation and creativity because it does not reward these things. Capitalism, on the other hand is very good at encouraging productivity, innovation and creativity because it rewards these activities very well. And it is productivity, innovation and creativity that creates wealth.
Capitalism has traditionally been attacked by its opponents on the basis of two historical phenomena. One is the appearance of Robber Barons in the period 1880-1920 in the United States a period that critics of capitalism have called Laissez Faire Capitalism. The second is the extent of interference by the various levels of government in the United States an economy that is held up by critics of capitalism as the premier example of a capitalist economic system in action. But both of these historical phenomena have been seriously misinterpreted and misunderstood by the critics of capitalism.
It was called Laissez Faire Capitalism to imply that it was a period in which the economic rules of capitalism were allowed to operate free of government interference. The implication is then that the obvious flaws were the result of capitalism rather than government interference. Unfortunately for the critics, the period of Laissez Faire Capitalism was anything but a laissez faire capitalist economic system. Instead it was an historical period that was remarkably similar to recent Russian economic history. In the two decades since the collapse of Soviet communism, the Russian economy is notable more for its kleptocracy than for its capitalism. The workings of the modern Russian economy are controlled less by capitalistic market forces than by who you know and what you can steal. Force and fraud, collusion and conspiracy govern Russian economics today. Capitalism is just the underlying foundation.
The same sort of social environment permitted the rise of the robber barons in the United States at the turn of the last century [the likes of John Jacob Astor (real estate), Andrew Carnegie (steel), Edward Henry Harriman (railroads), Milton S. Hershey (Chocolate), J. P. Morgan (banking), John D. Rockefeller (oil), Leland Stanford (railroads), Cornelius Vanderbilt (railroads)]. As common as it is to speak of robber barons as the proof that capitalism only enriches the very wealthy, most such critics are confused about the role of capitalism and fail to make an important distinction. One needs to distinguish between what might be called a market capitalist and a political capitalist. A pure market capitalist succeeds by selling a newer, better, or less expensive product on the free market without any government subsidies, direct or indirect. The key to his success as a capitalist is his ability to please the consumer, for in a capitalist society the consumer ultimately calls the economic shots. By contrast, a political capitalist succeeds primarily by influencing government to subsidize his business or industry, or to enact legislation or regulation that harms his competitors.
Fair trade and market forces had little to do with the rise of the railroads, the steel monopolies, the oil monopolies, and other similar foundations for the wealth of the robber barons. Influence in governments permitted the railroads to acquire, without cost, great stretches of land and associated land rights. Coercion and unfair trade practices with government collusion, not market forces, permitted the rise of the great monopolies of the early 1900s.
If you are going to look for a period in history to hold up as a great example of capitalism in action, you must not look to the robber barons. Look instead at the great flourishing of wealth that occurred in the 50 years between 1850 and 1900 as the new immigrants to North America flooded into the west and mid-west to exploit the lands captured from the Native Indian population. Here, at this local level, unhindered by any serious governmental interference, was capitalism in action at its best.
This earlier era, and not the modern United States, is the premier example of capitalism in action. Capitalism, as an economic system, depends on cooperative fair exchange and a minimum of governmental interference. In its modern manifestation, with its excessive governmental interference in markets, capitalism, as a system of economic organization, is hardly recognizable. Things may keep getting worse, as you put it. But that is not the fault of capitalism. It is entirely the fault of the well meaning, but sorely economically ignorant, legislators who keep meddling in things they oughtn't. They, and their electors, have simply not grasped the basic economic truth of capitalism if you meddle with the market, you will reap unintended consequences. The market forces of capitalism are far more efficient in managing an economy than any central planner can possibly be. But that is entirely because any economy is so complex, with so many different and often conflicting feed-back loops, that to any kind of analysis it is a chaotic thing. Hence, any legislature, contemplating a change in any kind of rule, can never predict what the economic consequences are going to be.
(e) pensioners don't know how they are going to survive. Pensioners may indeed not know how they are going to survive. But that is not the fault of capitalism. It is, instead, the fault of government. Pensioners are in dire straits for two reasons. First, the very existence of pensions is due to government rules. Pensions, as we know them, would not exist but for those rules. You cant, therefore, blame pension granting organizations for playing the pension game by the rules dictated by the government. If you don't like the fact that the Enron employees had their entire pension savings wiped out when Enron failed, then don't blame the Enron executives. Blame instead the government for setting up the rules to allow companies to invest their pension funds into company stock. Any reasonably prudent investor will advise you to spread your risk if your job depends on your company, make sure your savings do not. But the political capitalists who run the larger companies managed to persuade (buy?) legislators so that they could invest their pension funds in company stock. Who is at fault here? The businessmen who are paid to look out for their company, or the politicians who are paid to look out for the people?
If, as individuals, we are concerned about our economic future in a retirement without a family to support us then as individuals we can, should, and as many do, make preparations for retiring on an economically sound basis without a reliance on pensions. But then along comes the government to tax our earnings, to tax our capital gains, and to persuade us that Big Government will provide, and we need not as individuals, concern ourselves with our future.
And even if, as an untrusting soul is often prepared to do, we make preparations anyway and set aside some savings to keep us comfortable in our retirement along comes the government with its inflation policies to inflate our savings into worthlessness. This is not capitalism. This is big government doing this to screw the people albeit with the best of intentions.
(f) the markets know best, best for who? The reason that capitalism is so enormously successful at wealth creation, is that it depends on the forces of free markets to allocate productive capital (money, land, labour, etc.) to the projects where it will earn the greatest rewards. There is no other means that is anywhere near as efficient as a free market in this function. And this is best for everyone who has any role in the economy.
As a consumer, you want cheap but high quality goods to buy. So open up the marketplace to as wide a collection of competitors as possible international markets. Producers of anything that you are willing to pay for, will line up to offer you the cheapest alternatives and then let you decide how much quality you are willing to pay for. If you don't like the cheap Chinese imported toys at Walmart, then go to a different store where you can find more expensive but better quality toys. Toys is just the example. It holds good for every single product that you might want to buy. So who benefits? The consumers benefit. Without free international markets in toys, toys would be far more expensive.
As a labourer, looking for a well paying job, you want the greatest paycheck for the least amount of work on you part. So open up the marketplace to as wide a collection of competitors as possible keep an open mind and be willing to go where the jobs are. Consumers of labour will line up to offer you the highest paycheck they can afford to offer you, given the skills and abilities that you are willing to offer. Consumers of labour can only hammer down the wages they have to pay if the labourers are unwilling to go where the wages are. So who benefits? The labourers benefit. Without a free market in labour (jobs) and wages, paychecks would be a lot smaller than they are.
Of course, as I mentioned above, free markets demand fair and uncoerced exchanges, and they demand free exchanges of information as well. False advertising in either consumer products or in the jobs market, is tantamount to fraud. In either case, you have to be able to expect to get what you pay for, and not a pig in a poke. But lying and cheating, fraud and thievery, are not problems exclusive to capitalism. It is just that the free markets that are the hallmarks of capitalism are more sensitive to abuses.
But, since everyone is both a consumer and a labourer, free markets benefit everyone!!
(g) self interest is the only consideration. Yes, self interest is (or at least ought to be) the only consideration. But you state this as if it were unfortunate that it is so. However, no other consideration is as effective at motivating people. Even within the communistic system, it came to be recognized that the reason it did not work, is that everyone, at every level, in all situations of choice, is first and foremost, self-interested. (Careful a caveat is needed here. To be self-interested is not necessarily to be narrow minded and parochial about it. Intelligent self-interests looks to the long term, and the wider consequences of things.) Capitalism, as a system of economic organization, takes advantage of this innate human characteristic.
(h) is man so flawed that we are to far into the abyss to pull back So I would argue that looking at man as flawed is to have the wrong perspective on human nature. Man is not flawed. But our governments are. That abyss you speak of is not a creation of capitalism and human nature. It is a creation of our governments, and our misplaced attraction to altruistic ethics principles. Lets go back and re-emphasize self-interest and self-reliance, and get the government out of the way. What we need is less good intentions on the part of our legislators, and more benign neglect.
I hope that some of this response seeps in, and you recognize that the real source of that litany of woes that you bemoan is not capitalism and the workings of an capitalist economy, but the machinations of government legislators and the electorate that keeps demanding more government actions to fix what is really government created problems.
(37) Ruth asked:
(I apologise for asking such a basic question, but I have googled and googled and... nothing.)
I was reading a discussion online the other day and one of the participants posited that 'all experience essentially takes place in the mind'. My question is, if there is no such thing as 'objective' reality, are people altered by the things they experience and change because of outside stimulus, or do they 'change' the things they experience to suit their own framework? Which choice is preferable?
At first glance, Ruth's question looks like a question about idealism. But I don't think it is. The idealist doesn't say that 'there is no such thing as 'objective' reality'. On the contrary, Berkeley's immaterialism, Kant's transcendental idealism, or Hegel's objective idealism are all theories about the nature of objective reality. In these theories, mind plays an important role, but it is not your mind or my mind but Mind (with a capital 'M').
It is fair to say that the current philosophical climate is predominantly realist rather than idealist. Yet even the staunchest realist would agree that our point of view is not the 'View from Nowhere' as Nagel terms it (Thomas Nagel The View From Nowhere 1986). The way we gain knowledge about the world outside us, our ability to access the 'objective' facts, depends on many factors including our mental constitution, sensory capacities, concepts and linguistic resources. Human beings differ from one another in this respect, although there is a also sense in which there exists a specifically 'human way' of perceiving and gaining knowledge of the world, by contrast, e.g., with that of a whale or a bat.
So in response to the question, 'Do we change because of outside stimulus, or do we 'change' the things we experience to suit our own framework?' my answer is, both.
I am writing this tentative answer today because when I checked my 'Questions In' mailbox I found Ruth's question there. If there hadn't been a question that interested me, I might have been doing something else. When Ruth clicked the button at Ask a Philosopher to submit her query, that action in a small way changed the course of my life.
Yet it is also true that the things I experience, the way the world impresses itself on me and stimulates me to action, depends on my desires, attitudes, moods. By working on myself, by reflecting on the way I feel and think, I effectively change my world. The world is the world, the same world for all of us; but I can choose where to live in that world, my intellectual habitation be it high or low, austere or lush. In a very real sense, it is up to me to create my own reality.
Which choice is preferable? How do you choose when to open yourself up and let the world impress itself on you, and when to work on yourself in order to make the world or your world different? That's a fair question. Each person, I would argue, differs in this respect. It is a particularly tricky question for the philosopher.
As a seeker after truth, my aim is or ought to be to make my subjective contribution as small as possible so that I can accurately reflect the nature of objective reality. It isn't up to my free choice whether to be a materialist, or a dualist, a realist or idealist. I have to let the arguments impress themselves upon me, and then decide. I am nothing and reality is everything. That attitude is often taken as definitive of the 'philosophical standpoint'.
And yet, truth seeking would be a pointless exercise, if it were not part of a strenuous effort to make sense of things. It's not as if any 'truths' will do. A philosopher is only concerned with ultimate or universal truths, truths which would remain true even if the actual world as we find it was different in so many different ways. But that's still too many. My world is meaningful, or meaningless, depending on choices I make, for example, choices about which truths to focus upon, which questions to live with.
As regards 'how to live' in a practical sense, there don't seem to be many choices open to me, given my resources and ongoing commitments, my place in society. And yet as regards making sense of things intellectually, all the work is yet to be done. As I remarked last time, the world seems to me like a puzzle that doesn't add up. That impression, that feeling: is it an accurate reflection of reality, or is it rather the reality I have merely chosen to inhabit?
It feels like a choice. I have chosen to be gripped by a question which, if the reactions of students, colleagues, friends are anything to go by, not many people nor even many academic philosophers find puzzling. I don't have to spend all my time thinking about it. I don't have to slip into this mood. But I do, because that is what I will.
I don't find much comfort in the thought that the thoughts I am thinking now are merely the product of two and a half thousand years of the history of philosophy. That somehow I am merely 'continuing a tradition'. The past is the past, water under the bridge. It's true that 'those ignorant of the history of philosophy are doomed to repeat it' (as I often tell my students). After nearly 40 years doing this, I think I know enough about the history of philosophy to get by. (Not nearly as much as the late Anthony Harrison-Barbet, author of Philosophical Connections but I doubt whether many working academic philosophers do.)
I said last time that 'to hold the entire universe 'in question' seems liberating, in a strange sort of way'. Why do I need to be liberated? liberated from what? The idea that philosophy has its 'consolations' is as old as Boethius, or older, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I chose philosophy all those years ago because I needed it, because it seemed to be the only way I could stop my world from falling apart. And it's done a pretty good job ever since.
Some will sense that the G-word is in the background to all of this. The theist says, 'Of course the world has a purpose, the purpose given to it by God.' My response: If it turned out that God did exist (don't ask me how we would know), it would be our duty to kill him, or her (don't ask me how we would achieve this). If it turned out that God didn't exist (don't ask etc.), it would be our duty to create him, or her (don't ask etc.).
This isn't some mad idea; better minds have been here before me. But I'm not really interested in the God question, I see through all these facile moves. This isn't where the answer is going to be found. (Like philosophy, religion is a life choice. I just don't think that it is a very good choice, but I'm here speaking for myself not for you.)
So, in my own mind, I have found something better than religion. I've spent two thirds of a lifetime creating my world, and the job is not done yet. When it is, I'll let you know.
If the sun refused to shine,
I don't mind, I don't mind.
If the mountains fell in the sea,
Let it be, it ain't me.
Got my own world to live through
And I ain't gonna copy you.
(Jimi Hendrix 'If 6 was 9')
(44) Courtney asked:
A man named Morpheus approaches you on the street and tells you that the world is not real. Specifically, he makes the claim that you are plugged into a machine, and the world that you believe to be real is nothing but a computer simulation. He then challenges you to prove him wrong. With reference to Descartes, make an argument that either agrees or disagrees with his position. After establishing your Descartes based position on the external world, argue against the opposite one. Make sure not to take any red or blue pills until you do!
This is a typical philosophy instructor's question, and I reckon from the language an American philosophy instructor. The last sentence suggests female rather than male. I can't say exactly why it does, it just does. But that's mere guessing. I'm not being responsible in making this assertion. Descartes would say, I am willfully abusing my God-given powers of judgement. The truth is, I don't know and wouldn't know even if by pure luck my guess turned out to be correct.
But I'm jumping ahead. In Meditation 1, where Descartes considers the possibility that he is being deceived by an all-powerful evil demon, the fear is that exercising one's judgement responsibly is no more likely to arrive at the truth than wild guessing. The corrosive world-destroying doubt only ends when Descartes succeeds in convincing himself that God exists and is not a deceiver. God wouldn't give me ample evidence for the existence of an external world when no such world exists.
But that doesn't mean we can't make false judgements. The best we can do, in the face of the ever-present possibility of empirical error is to remind ourselves that we have made errors in the past and keep our eyes open for new evidence that overturns what we previously believed. That's part of what it means to exercise one's judgement responsibly.
In Meditation 6, Descartes goes further and explains in considerable detail how it is that illusions and misperceptions arise. Our perceptual powers such as sight and hearing, our ability to sense when we have suffered an injury, depend on physical processes which God has designed to lead us to truth. But even the best, most optimal design doesn't guarantee that we will always attain the truth. The very same laws of nature which lead us to knowledge can also lead us into error.
So what would Descartes say about the Matrix scenario? It's possible. It could happen in reality if we grant the hypothesis that human beings will one day create artificial intelligence. Of course, Descartes would disagree on this particular point: he believed that intelligence requires a non-physical soul. Non-human animals are just machines, he thought, like the clockwork birds twittering in cages that amused the idle rich. But that detail is easy enough to fix. We can change the Matrix story to one where an evil angel, with finite not infinite powers, puts us asleep and makes us dream of a world of 2010.
Would God allow this? Why not? There are evil angels (Satan and his host) whom God could destroy if He wanted to, but out of his infinite wisdom and benevolence chooses not to. The point is that, even while dreaming, we are not deceived into thinking that an external world exists. We are physical objects existing in space, even while asleep. Even though we are deceived, there remains the possibility of discovering the deception, provided we exercise our judgement responsibly. That's what Neo does in the Matrix when he concludes (rightly, as we the audience know) that after he is 'woken up' in a pod with tubes attached to his back, this was his first taste of reality, and not just the beginning of a science fiction nightmare.
So in answer to the instructor's question, nothing Descartes says in the Meditations proves that Morpheus is wrong.
I'm going to take a bit of a jump now. Actually, it's a huge leap, but you'll see the point in a minute. In my post a couple of weeks back on what a philosopher might think about I confessed that 'Like Neo in The Matrix, I know there is 'something wrong with the world'.' Something tells me that this isn't real. I don't mean that I am not awake, at home (because the heavy snow made it impossible to get into my office today), writing a post for my Tentative Answers blog. I've no doubts about that. I mean something deeper, not just 'more of the same' which is all you discover if you take the red pill.
Hegel thought about this. In one of the most difficult passages in his Phenomenology of Spirit (a text which I've struggled with and never mastered), he turns the tables on every attempt at drawing a distinction between 'the apparent world' and 'the real world' a project which traces back to the earliest Greek Philosophers Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. The final, most sophisticated version of this story is Kant's distinction between the phenomena and noumena, or the 'world of appearances' and 'things in themselves'.
The passage in question is entitled, cryptically, 'The Inverted World'. (I apologize to Hegel scholars in advance, because I don't have the text in front of me.)
Why an 'inverted world'? Hegel considers the idea of a reality 'behind' the world of appearances. This world is 'different', indeed radically different. The extravagant idea that everything in this other world is the 'inversion' of what it is in this world is meant to be a metaphor. Scientific inquiry is all about this world, the world of appearances, just as Kant believed. Yet there must be something more, Kant thought, than just the world of science: the ultimate reality, which we can never know or comprehend because our knowledge is limited to the world of our possible experience.
Now you can say (with Wittgenstein) that 'a nothing will serve as well as a something about which nothing can be said'. But Hegel goes further, and that's what makes this passage so brilliant. He gets right into the brain of someone who believes, wants there to be something more. Yet all we know about this 'something' is its sheer 'difference'. The inverted world is opposite to all we know. What does that mean? Nothing, says Hegel! We are deceiving ourselves with a picture (as Wittgenstein would have remarked).
In Hegel's metaphysics, no 'ultimate reality' is revealed, or posited, because the Absolute is none other than this world, seen aright. Seen aright, the world has an irreducibly teleological structure by virtue of which we can construct a suitable object for religious awe, even though God or Christ in a Hegelian universe is a different entity from anything the non-philosophical believer would recognize. From the perspective of the Absolute, the meaning of human history is finally revealed. This is it, there is nothing else.
Are you still with me?
In the 20th century, arguably the two seminal philosophical texts in Metaphysics are Heidegger's Being and Time and Whitehead's Process and Reality. Right at the beginning of their respective works, these philosophers nail their colours to the mast. According to Heidegger, what phenomenological ontology seeks to reveal is (as I would put it) the 'wood we fail to see for the trees', the ontological structure of appearances. According to Whitehead, the task of the philosopher is to 'frame the best set of categories that we can', categories which apply to the world of our experience, more general than the categories of physics because they depend on only the most general features of experience. In Whitehead's memorable metaphor, we don't notice the elephant which is always present.
(It goes without saying that both philosophers owe a massive debt to Hegel.)
Now I remember that that was the topic of my very first post, August 1009 The elephant in the room...
Funny that I seem to have gone full circle. Have I made any progress? I see through myself. I have nothing to offer, nothing to contribute to the academic debate. Nothing hidden away in some dark corner of my mind. I won't wake up tomorrow and 'remember' the truth. And, supposing I did, it would just be more of the same. Whatever it is I want, whatever it is I'm looking for, I can't even give a name to. (It sure ain't religion, so don't even think of going there. Read my other posts.) All I know for sure is that Heidegger and Whitehead are old hat. Nor even Emmanuel Levinas author of Totality and Infinity which some philosophers would rate even higher, whom I once thought was the veritable bees knees.
The elephant is sitting right next to me. Staring at me. Chuckling silently as I scramble through every possible permutation. Logic isn't enough!
But you know what? I don't give up that easily. So what if I took the red pill and nothing happened. That just goes to show that you shouldn't rely on pills.
(49) Richard asked:
Do you not think that much controversy over morality is abortive being about particular acts rather than the basic philosophy that advises attitudes to those acts?
That is to say: there are three essential attitudes to ethical values moral codes.
There is what may be called the Authoritarian, which essentially means 'God' in which obedience to that authority is the definition of virtue, and anything else is vice. The good of people is in obeying that authority.
The second type is the Libertarian or Relativist. For whom virtue is in obeying ones own conscience, and what is right for ones self, with no external standard by which acts can be judged.
The third type is what may be called Altruist. For whom there is an absolute standard of ethical values, although they may not be clearly determined. The good of all society and every individual. That ethical value is prior to any authority, or 'God'.
Yes, Richard. I would agree. Most of the visible moral debate appears to be over the morality (or immorality) of particular actions, rather than over the underlying moral principles that result in those disputed opinions.
So, for example, we see in the press, on TV, and over the Internet, lots of stories about the good things or bad things that some people are doing, and how other people are so upset by those actions. But we never seem to see any discussions about the underlying moral principles that appear to guide the superficial attitudes that are being expressed over specific actions. Is the issue of the moment abortion, right-to-life, Arizonas new illegal alien law, taxation, tax breaks for the wealthy, the effects of welfare on the poor, etc., etc., etc. All we seem to see is one person, center stage, yelling at the top of their lungs that whatever is going on is a good thing, while someone else is yelling at the top of their lungs that whatever is going on is a bad thing. No one seems at all curious about the underlying moral principles that motivate those overt (and noisy) expressions of attitude and whether those principles are reasonable, or true (whatever true might mean in that context).
You would think, wouldn't you, that if two (groups of) people are so noisily (and sometimes even violently) disagreeing with each other about the morality of some action, there might be some benefit in exploring their differing moral principles. But no one seems at all interested in the possibility that at least one of the positions might be based on a more fundamental error about the proper moral principles.
The general attitude seems to be, however, that because we have (to various degrees in various countries) the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, it is permissible for anyone to believe and to say whatever they please even if what they believe or say is demonstrably false, and demonstrably contrary to the general welfare. The generally accepted public attitude is solidly relativist the truth for you is whatever you choose to believe it is, and each person has the right to believe and proclaim their own notion of truth.
I agree that it is absurdly stupid. But until people in general wake up to the fact that truth is not a relative matter, things will not change. And people will never wake up to this basic fact, until we stop teaching Relativism in the schools. We don't teach it in Math, or the Sciences. It is time we stopped teaching it in Social Studies as well.
A separate topic, I do not agree with your three-way split of attitudes towards moral codes. I think your characterization of the Libertarian and Altruist labels is quite incorrect. I would suggest as an alternative split the following:-
1. Authoritative Rules/ Divine Command
2. Subjective Opinions/ Cultural Relativism 3. Objective Standards/ Natural Law
If you believe that the 'right thing to do' is specified by rules of behaviour (e.g. 'Thou shalt not . . .', 'Do unto Others . . .', etc.), then you believe in an 'Authoritative Rules' or 'Divine Command' notion of Ethics. The ethical thing to do is that which most closely conforms to the relevant rules. It is unethical/ immoral/ sinful to behave contrary to or in violation of the rules.
Many different sources of Authority for these rules have been cited by various philosophers. The most obvious, of course, is some Deity as in the Ten Commandments of Moses, and the 'Word of God' captured in print in the Bible, Koran, or Torah. For some people, the words of Buddha or Confucius fulfill that role. And even, for some people, the works of Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, Lenin, or Mao Ze-dong.
A key challenge for this notion of Ethics is that it is impossible to convince someone by logical argument that one source or one particular interpretation of the commands of Authority is any better than another. Any philosophical discussion approached from the perspective of an Authoritative Rules notion of Ethics will almost always degenerate into emotional posturing. In a social environment, therefore, 'persuasion' in ethical disagreements almost always degenerates into ad hominem attacks or outright coercion.
A notable characteristic of most flavours of Authoritative Rule Ethics is an intolerance of any curiosity about the rationale for, and justification of, any of the Rules. A Rule is the Rule because the Authority says so and no further response is available. 'Life will be Better' if you adhere to the Rules 'Trust me!', because no explanation of why or how is available or permissible. The popular term for this sort of Ethics, when encountered outside of mainstream religions, is 'cult'. Although followers of main-stream Authoritarian Rule Ethics would vociferously object to that characterization.
If you believe that the 'right thing to do' is a matter of personal or public opinion, then you believe in a 'Subjective Opinion' notion of Ethics. The ethical thing to do is whatever you 'intuit' is the right thing to do; or whatever you feel most emotionally 'good' about; or whatever you feel is the consensus of other people's opinions on what you should do.
Many different sources of opinion have been cited by various philosophers. The most obvious, of course, is the individual's personal opinion, feeling, or emotional attitude. But other approaches have included the Social Consensus, social customs, habits or thoughts, and cultural norms. There is, of course, a fair degree of overlap between Subjective Opinion Ethics and Authoritarian Rule Ethics.
A key challenge for this notion of Ethics is similar to that of an Authoritarian Rule notion. It is impossible to convince someone by rational argument that one opinion, or source of opinion, is any better than another. Any philosophical discussion approached from the perspective of a Subjective Opinion notion of Ethics will almost always degenerate into emotional posturing. In a social environment, therefore, 'persuasion' in ethical disagreements almost always degenerates into ad hominem attacks or outright coercion.
Adherents of any of the various flavours of Subjective Opinion Ethics also must deal with two additional challenges. Firstly, there is nothing within such a system of Ethics that requires the various opinions be logically consistent and not mutually contradictory. And secondly, there is nothing within such a system of Ethics that guides the adherent in choosing which of a set of contradictory opinions to apply in any situation, or protects against a ludicrous misapplication of some opinion. It is impossible, therefore, to employ logical reasoning or rational analysis in an exploration of the consequences and implications of the relevant opinions. Consequently, in practical application 'Moral' behavior is almost always the result of a non-rational and non-logical subjective opinion as to which (or whose) opinion to apply when, where, and how. As I mentioned above, it would appear that as a society, we operate on the basis of an assumption that Subjective Opinion Ethics is the proper basis for ethics.
If you believe that the 'right thing to do' is whatever will best meet some standard, or fulfill some purpose, or achieve some goal then you believe in an 'Objective Standards' notion of Ethics. The ethical thing to do is whatever is most likely to be most efficient and effective at meeting the standard, or fulfilling the purpose, or achieving the goal. Within Objective Standards Ethics the concepts of 'Good' and 'Bad' are established by appealing to some objective 'Natural Law' that is outside of and independent of people, societies, or authority.
Many different Purposes have been cited by various philosophers. They have varied from 'eudaimonia' for Aristotle, 'happiness' for the Epicureans, and 'pleasure' for the Hedonists, to 'Utility' for the Utilitarians, and 'Life as Man qua Man' for the Randian Objectivists, among others.
The great advantage of Objective Standards Ethics (regardless of the particular standard that is adopted), is that rational discussion can be profitable. That is why, for example, the utility of Utilitarianism is employed as a rough approximation in many debates about ethical issues. In a social environment, therefore, 'persuasion' in ethical disagreements almost never degenerates into ad hominem attacks or outright coercion.
But of course, you will never convince anyone that their own preferred understanding of the proper basis of Ethical analysis is not the correct, proper, and only reasonable one to adopt.
(51) Daisy asked:
What is necessary for personal survival?
I guess that Daisy isn't looking for an answer along the lines of, 'a compass, a pen knife, a torch, a box of matches, and a can of Mace.'
This is one half of a question which analytic philosophers call, 'the problem of personal identity.' I won't say whether this is the easier or more difficult half. The problem of personal identity concerns the necessary and sufficient conditions for the identity of person A at t1 with the (allegedly) same person A at t2. This isn't a question that arises in everyday conversation. However, there are particular circumstances where the issue of personal survival becomes urgent: Can a person be said to 'survive' if they suffer total amnesia? or in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease? or if they fall into a permanent coma?
Added to these relatively few practical challenges which would hardly justify the vast industry of philosophers who've worked on the topic of personal identity are all the resources of science fiction. One feels, and as an analytically trained philosopher I think this feeling is largely correct, that if you can't say whether a person 'survives' in this or that imaginary scenario, if you are puzzled and are not sure what to say, then there is an understanding which you lack an understanding of what it is to be a person. Maybe in everyday life (modulo the medical cases) we can get by perfectly well without this understanding. But that's just part of the genius of philosophy: it poses questions you never thought to ask.
But once you see the question, you are gripped.
We will consider some of these problem scenarios in a minute. But actually I don't think this is all of it. There is a deeper question about survival and identity, which I considered in my book Naive Metaphysics. I reached the scary conclusion that there is no such thing as survival. The 'I' the essential I does not survive from one moment to the next:
[T]he subjective standpoint is a world every bit as rich and detailed as the world of the objective standpoint. Yet its reality hangs by the slenderest possible thread. It is real because I take it to be real, and only for so long as I take it to be real. By the slenderest possible thread the objective world is held at bay, yet no power in the universe can break that thread, so long as I exist. (Chapter 8, p.101)
Only something that continues through time can cease to exist. Yet my subjective world, as a reality constituted by its own appearance, only appears to continue; and that appearance itself is something which neither continues nor fails to continue. My subjective world can never die, can never cease to continue, for with every new moment it is as if it had never existed, and will continue no longer than that very moment. (Chapter 9, pp.119-20)
But let's get back to basics. One of the things I tell my students is, if you get stuck, try to think like a detective. Go back to the very beginning and don't assume anything. So I won't make any assumptions about what a 'person' is, or might be. Instead, I will list all the things, or kinds of thing, that might be necessary for personal survival. Here's the list:
- Something physical
- Something psychological
- Information (e.g. pattern, structure)
- Something metaphysical (whatever that means)
- None of the above
As you see, I'm not leaving anything to chance. At this point, one can't imagine what might be covered by item 5. but you never know.
However, I will make this assumption: if a thought experiment or science fiction scenario inclines us to say that survival would, or would not have occurred, then that should be considered as a datum, so long as we are unable to find a compelling argument against that intuition.
1. Is something physical required logically required for personal survival? My intuitions tell me, no. It seems to me perfectly possible that (as in Anthony Quinton's much discussed thought experiment in his article 'Spaces and Times' Philosophy 37 1962: 130-4) I could wake up tomorrow morning on Planet X, and know who I was, in the absence of any evidence of something physical having made the journey from Earth to Planet X, or indeed evidence that Earth and Planet X were in the same universe.
2. Is something psychological required for personal survival? John Locke thought so. Indeed on Locke's account memory is not only necessary but also sufficient for personal identity. Locke's theory of personal identity appears to confirm the intuition expressed in the previous paragraph. What matters is consciousness of my own identity. The essential thing, when we praise, or punish, is that the person be aware that such praise or punishment is merited, which they cannot be in the absence of memory of what one did in the past.
I don't agree that this is an inviolable intuition, and as evidence for this I put forward the case of Cypher in The Matrix:
Cypher: I don't wanna remember nothing. Nothing, you understand? And I wanna be rich. You know, someone important … like an actor.
Agent Smith: Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.
Cypher bitterly regrets his decision to take the red pill. He's sick and tired of 'reality'. He feels duped by Morpheus. What's interesting about this is that the scriptwriters evidently thought (and I agree with their intuition) that it is reasonable that someone might wish to have a total memory wipe. I wouldn't, but some would. From Cypher's perspective, this isn't death, not at all. He will be the famous actor, feasting on juicy digital steaks, living a life of ease and luxury. He will survive, even though the famous actor has no memory of Cypher's present existence. (I can't help wondering if the name chosen for this character, 'Cypher', isn't a sly joke on the part of the scriptwriters.)
3. It would not be an unreasonable inference from 1. and 2. that what is necessary for personal survival is either something physical (as in Cypher's case) or something mental (as in Quinton's thought experiment). Analytic philosophers don't like such 'disjunctive' answers. When you ask for necessary or sufficient conditions, a disjunctive, 'either-or' answer just sounds like equivocation. Either we're talking about 'physical survival' or we're talking about 'mental survival'. But that would be missing the point. In the case of the necessary conditions for personal identity, there is just one thing we are interested in: survival of what matters.
There is a way around this, however. One could say that 'what matters' is the continuity of information, a certain unique structure or pattern that can be carried either in a physical or a mental medium, or both. However, this is not a view that is universally held. While the idea of reincarnation or rebirth appears to require continuity of some aspect of the consciousness of the person who dies, there is no agreement amongst different schools (e.g. of Hinduism or Buddhism) on what exactly that aspect is. There appear to be some who have argued that what survives is the sheer point of view as such, distinct from all psychological attributes or contents of consciousness. That's how I understand the notion of an individual 'atman'.
I think this is sufficient to warrant a 'pass' on the question of transmission of information, as necessary for personal survival. To massage this intuition, one might envisage a combination of the Quinton and Cypher thought experiments. Imagine that Cypher wakes up on Planet X and spends a few years there, where his existence is totally miserable. Then Agent Smith offers him a splendid life on Planet Y, where all his memories of Planet X will be wiped.
4. At this point you will be champing at the bit to argue that in our new thought experiment, Cypher must believe that what he is essentially is an 'atman', a sheer point of view, which exists now on Planet X and will exist on Planet Y, even though nothing physical or psychological survives.
My response is, believe this if you like. It just doesn't make any sense to me. I lose the thread at this point. But I can't rule the possibility out because I just don't know what I'd be ruling out. It's an 'unknown unknown'. I have the feeling, though, that if Daisy gives this as her answer (I'm assuming, Daisy, that you have an assignment to write) she won't be very popular. Perhaps a better line would be to argue for an aporetic conclusion, as I have done. We've tried all the alternatives and none of them work, end of essay.
5. By now, you may have guessed where this is heading. We've tried all the alternatives and none of them is satisfactory. I'm happy to accept that not everyone will agree with me about this. At any rate, I'm not satisfied. 'Person' is a concept with a valid use within our linguistic community, our moral, legal and political practice. The philosopher's 'problem cases' aren't really problems. But they are to the philosopher.
Then again, if you are looking at the concept of a person from a philosophical standpoint, it is arguable that we put far too much emphasis on identity (see Derek Parfit's acclaimed book Reasons and Persons, 1984). However, I think Parfit overstates the case. I wouldn't like to live in his preference utilitarian utopia where the notion of being a person, or of personal identity or integrity is no longer considered 'important'.
We need to look again at the question of 'what matters'. When you consider the sufficient conditions for personal identity (something I haven't done here), it becomes apparent (as some philosophers have argued, e.g. David Lewis) that the best theories we have allow for multiple survival. E.g. I go to sleep, and two or a hundred and two GKs wake up, each individual version of GK fully satisfying the criteria for personal identity, according to our best theory. In this kind of scenario, our intuitions go AWOL. We don't' know what to say. We feel drawn to insist on something 'metaphysical' (such as a Cartesian soul substance, or Buddhist atman) which exists in one, and only one of the GKs, but common sense and logic tell us that there simply is no foothold here for picking out one of the GKs from the multitude in order to bestow this special honour.
So what really matters? I don't know about you, but I want to know is what it is by virtue of which it is true that I am GK (Thomas Nagel's 'I am TN'). That's what matters. The fact that I am here, that there is a world for me, when it is perfectly conceivable (as I would argue, you may disagree) that the world might have been exactly as it is now, in the absence of I. In other words, the existence of my subjective world is a contingency which depends on nothing at all. It's just a brute fact, evident to me now as anything can be, and yet nothing in my knowledge or experience justifies or accounts for the existence of my subjective world one single moment from now.
I realize that many will regard this conclusion as fantastical. I the essential or ultimate 'I', the thing that matters do not survive. I will not survive to see this blog post finished. Not even to see the next sentence that GK will write. I remember once my old Prof David Hamlyn (who did a writeup for my book) commenting in a letter that he sometimes worried that I took Plato's advice to 'follow the argument wherever it may lead' beyond the point that most would consider reasonable. I don't have a reply to Hamlyn, except to say, 'that's just me, innit?'
(54) George asked:
What is the best way to learn complex theories from Kant, especially with things such as synthetic a priori and how will Philosophy help me in terms of reasoning and future career prospects?
George, while you do not say what type of career you aspire to, it must be said that a degree in Philosophy does not automatically offer a direct link to employment in the same way as a degree in Law or an Engineering degree might (unless of course one intends to go on to teach Philosophy). That being said, skills such as the ability to think logically, to express oneself clearly and articulately, both in the spoken and written word, and people management all philosophy related skills are all abilities that employers value in potential employees and all abilities most useful if one's ambition moves one in the direction of teaching, writing (both fiction, non-fiction and/ or journalism) and other academic pursuits. Personally I have not found a love of wisdom and the search for knowledge an impediment to finding employment which over the course of my life has included running a small but successful business, being a librarian, a musician, a civil servant, a teacher of English, and of course, a Philosophy lecturer. It might interest you to know that an acquaintance of mine who is a successful businessman insists that his love of Philosophy not only plays a significant role in the day to day running of his businesses, but it helps him to find a balance between work, play and, most importantly, family.
With regard to your interest in Kant, while there are many excellent introductions to Kant available in good academic bookshops, until you discover one yourself, you may find the following piece on synthetic a priori judgements and other aspects of Kant's philosophy useful. (for more see www.tonyfahey.com)
Immanuel Kant: Synthetic a priori judgements
In his essay An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) John Locke declared that the mind was a tabula rasa a blank slate. Human beings, he argued, are born with nothing other than the capacity to experience through the senses. The knowledge we acquire is not due to any innate power to reason, but by the accumulation and organisation of experience. David Hume (1711-1776), one of Britain's most eminent empiricists, followed Locke's argument. 'We know the mind', said Hume, 'only as we know matter: by perception'. Hume maintained that the mind is not a substance, an organ of ideas, but an abstract name for a series of ideas, memories, and feelings, which all have their source in experience.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant was impressed by the Empiricist argument that experience is the basis of knowledge. Indeed, he claimed that reading Hume caused him to awaken him from his 'dogmatic slumber'. However, he could not accept that all knowledge was derived from experience. 'Though all our knowledge begins with experience', he said, 'it by no means follows that all arises out of it'. In 1781, in response to the claims of Empiricism, Kant published his famous Critique of Human Reason; his ambition was to show pure reason's possibility, and to exalt it above the impure knowledge which comes through the channels of sense. By 'pure reason' Kant means knowledge that does not come by way of sensory perceptions. There is knowledge, he argued, which, though it may derive from experience, is understood to have its source in other than experience: knowledge that is inherent in the human mind; knowledge which is a priori. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant relies extensively on the term 'synthetic'. By 'synthetic' he means knowledge which adds to, or extends previous knowledge. It was Kant's contention that there are, in philosophy, judgements that are both synthetic and a priori.
David Hume argued that metaphysical propositions are neither empirical nor analytical. That is, they are neither verifiable nor falsifiable by experiment or observation, nor or they propositions whose denials are self-contradictory. For example, propositions such as 'God exists' or 'Man is morally responsible' are propositions which are plainly neither empirical nor analytical. Hume's argument is that since metaphysical arguments are neither verifiable nor falsifiable, they must be meaningless. Only empirical or analytical propositions, he said, have meaning. Kant rejected this argument. He believed that there is a classification which falls outside Hume's two classes of empirical or analytical. This classification is not of propositions per se, but of judgements. By 'judgements' Kant means propositions asserted by somebody. He was not concerned with the proposition in itself, but with the judgement by some person to that effect. Every judgement, Kant maintained, is either analytic or synthetic:
In all judgements in which the relation of a subject to the predicate is thought (I take into consideration affirmative judgements only, the subsequent application to negative judgements being easily made), this relation is possible in two different ways. Either the predicate B belongs to subject A, as something (covertly) contained in this concept A, although it does not indeed stand in connection with it. In this case I entitle the judgement analytic, in the other synthetic. (CPR. 1929, A7, B11, p. 48)
An analytic judgement is one whose truth follows merely from the meaning of he words used to express it, a judgement in which the concept of the predicate is 'included' in that of the subject. Thus, the judgement 'an equilateral triangle is a triangle' is analytic: it follows from the meanings that we give 'equilateral triangle' that the second term 'triangle' applies to everything that falls under the first. A synthetic judgement, in the other hand, is one that goes beyond the meaning of the subject terms, and brings some new idea or information not already contained in the subject: it is a synthesis of two different notions, one being the subject about which the other, the predicate, is asserted. For example, if 'I say the sun is shining, but the day is cold', I am making a judgement which is the synthesis of two different ideas. With a synthetic judgement, then, the predicate must contain some information not contained in the subject, whereas an analytic judgement merely elucidates the meaning of terms but is otherwise uninformative.
It was Kant's contention that a judgement is either a priori or a posteriori. A judgement is a priori it it 'is independent of all experience and even all impressions and senses'. (CPR., B2, p. 28) A posteriori judgements depend logically on other judgements which describe experiences or impressions of sense. It is not only judgements that describe a particular sense-impression that are a posteriori, even general judgements may be logically dependent on such descriptions and therefore a posteriori. For example, the judgement that 'all bodies, if deprived of support, fall downwards, is a posteriori because it entails the description of particular experiences.
Thus, it seems that Kant's classification offers four possibilities: (i) synthetic a posteriori, (ii) synthetic a priori, (iii) analytic a priori, and (iv) analytic a posteriori. However, analytic a posteriori must be discounted as there can be no such judgements. An analytic proposition, being about the meaning of terms, does not give any other information. An a posteriori proposition, on the other hand, does. This leaves us with three classes of judgement which Kant holds to be not only possible but patently obvious: synthetic a posteriori, synthetic a priori, and analytic a priori. All analytic judgements must be a priori since they merely elucidate the meaning of the terms and are thus logically independent of judgements describing sense-experience. It would seem to follow that if all analytic judgements are a priori, then all synthetic (non-analytic) judgements are a posteriori. However, Kant holds that there is a third classification of judgements whose predicates are not contained in their subjects, and are yet logically independent of all judgements describing experience: synthetic a priori judgements.
For a synthetic a priori judgement to be possible, says Kant, they must contain some information not purely of a logical nature, while at the same time they must rely on empirical information for their truth. But where can one find such evidence? Kant maintains that mathematics and physics are precisely of this character. They are both possible and synthetic a priori judgements. There are, he says, two kinds of mathematical truths: geometry and arithmetic. Even the elementary arithmetical judgement that 5 and 7 equals 12 is a synthetic a priori judgement, for, says Kant, 'the concept of a sum of 7 and 5 contains nothing over and above the uniting of both these numbers into a single one' (CPR., B1, p. 37) this proposition is true, insists Kant, not because of the veracity of the definitions of terms involved, but also because it contains more information in the predicate '12' than in the concepts '7' and '5'. In order to join these two concepts together, says Kant, a kind of intuition is necessary which introduces something new in the conclusion. In other words, we can take '7' and '5' as two separate entities, but without 'intuition' we would never arrive at their 'synthesised' sum to form a completely separate conclusion. 'All mathematical judgements, without exception', says Kant 'are synthetic'. (ibid., p. 52)
The same is true of geometrical truths. For example, if we take the proposition 'A straight line is the shortest distance between two points', we note that the concept of a straight line does not represent any suggestion of it being the shortest route, and yet the judgement is a universal and necessary truth. Physics, says Kant, also holds such truths, which we see in the proposition, 'Every event has a cause', which is both synthetic and a priori. This evidence, argues Kant, shows that in addition to sensory experience, there are also certain relating activities of mind itself: activities on which a priori truths depend.
The mind, says Kant, receives data of the phenomenal world through sensory perceptions. However, in order to understand this information these sensory perceptions must be processed by certain conditions inherent in the human mind. As well as the 'intuitions' space and time, Kant lists ten categories which were meant to define every possible form of prediction: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, possession, action, and passivity. These concepts (or categories) were reorganised to consist of four types: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. In short, everything we, as humans, experience we can be certain will be imposed within the a priori framework of the intuitions space and time, and subject to the law of causality the law of cause and effect. These conditions, says Kant, operate as a formal apparatus to bind together a priori judgements. These functions are the pure concepts of synthesis which belong to the understanding a priori, and for which alone it is called pure understanding. The phenomenal world, says Kant, is a combination of something which our senses present to us and a priori conditions inherent in the human mind. The mind, then, determines the kinds of answers given but not the specific content, which only experience can provide. Space and time, and the law of causality, impose on the mind necessary conditions of both experience and knowledge, but the actual content arises out of something independent in us: before sensations can be known they must be brought into a unified consciousness, which thus is no mere additional sense, but an intellectual synthesis, presupposed by every possible experience.
According to Kant, the world, for humans, is not a datum given by some external power. It is not some objective fact 'out there'; it is a product of the laws of our own understanding, acting in no arbitrary way, but according to specific principles, which are not peculiar to our separate individuality. For Kant human experience gives a point of view for the interpretation of everything that we can know; between the world, and ourselves there is an inner identity. As human beings we have sensory experiences, that is, we perceive impressions of phenomenon from the outside world through the senses; these sensory impressions are thus shaped by conditions inherent in the human mind. In other words, the mind assimilates the information perceived through sensory perceptions, and the judgements it arrives at will conform to the a priori intuitions of space and time, and the law of cause and effect. In the case of synthetic a priori judgements, while the judgement may appear to derive from sensory experience, its validity does not depend on it. For example, I can enumerate 7 and 5 on my fingers and conclude, by sensory perception, that the sum total is 12; however, such judgements, according to Kant, exist as universal and necessary truths whether I have sensory experience or not. They are a priori but they are discovered by experience. That is, they are synthetic a priori judgements.
In examining Kant's view on synthetic a priori judgements we come to realise that, in Kant's view, there are two sets of elements that contribute to our understanding of our world. The first set involves external conditions, which we cannot know before we have perceived them through the senses. The second involves the conditions inherent in the human mind. Empiricism argues that the human mind is but a 'passive wax' which is pummelled and shaped by sensory impressions. David Hume had reduced the mind to little more than a sponge which absorbed impressions and formulated complex ideas, not by virtue of any innate power, but by force of repetition and habit. Kant refused to accept such a skeptical approach. While accepting that our knowledge of the world enters the mind via sensory experience, he rejected the notion that all our knowledge arises out of these experiences. If this is the case, the question arises as to from whence comes order. According to Kant, the world is ordered, not in itself, but in that the mind already contains certain innate power laws, which impose an order on the data received through sensory impressions. The human mind, says Kant, assimilates these impressions and makes judgements on these perceptions by virtue of the power inherent in the mind. These powers allow the human mind to make sense of, and function in, the phenomenal world. Access to this world, then, is only that which our intellectual and sensory powers, operating in tandem, permit. In other words, our capacity to understand the world in which we live depends on the intuitions 'space and time' and the concept of cause and effect. It is within this framework that we can arrive at certain judgements which, while they derive from experience, they do not depend on empirical evidence to determine their validity: they are synthetic a priori judgements.
Kant's Transcendental Philosophy
For Kant the term 'transcendental' means knowledge that concerns the a priori conditions of knowledge.
However, 'transcendent' means 'going beyond' or 'being beyond'. According to Kant there can be no knowledge of anything transcendent. That is, there can be no knowledge beyond the limits of the world of experience.
By transcendental idealism Kant means the doctrine that appearances are to be regarded as being, one and all, representations only, not things in themselves, and that time and space are therefore only sensible forms of intuition, not determinations given as existing in themselves, nor conditions of objects viewed as things in themselves.
Essentially, Kant's Critique of Human Reason can be divided in two parts: The Transcendental Analytic and the Transcendental Dialectic. The Transcendental Analytic considers the a priori principles that determine the scope and validity of the operations of the human mind: it investigates the limitations of reason. The Transcendental Dialectic deals with the sophistries and illusions to which the mind is prone. That is, it examines the illusions of reason, which originate from reason's propensity to draw conclusions of things that are beyond its capabilities. As he says in the preface to the first edition of the Critique, 'Human reason has this particular fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is not able to answer' (CPR A vii) The questions the mind cannot ignore, and at the same time cannot answer are those related to the soul, the cosmos, and God.
As already said, Kant's arguments are intended to show the limitations of our knowledge. Transcendental idealism, then, holds that metaphysical knowledge: knowledge of God, of souls, and of substance, is ideal, not real. Rationalists held that such knowledge was real. Kant argued that we cannot have knowledge of the realm beyond the empirical. There are two reasons why this is so: two constraints to this knowledge. That is, inherent in the human mind are two a priori sources which confine our knowledge to things as they appear to us as derived from experience. They are: i) the receptive capacity, or sensibility, and ii) the conceptual capacity, or understanding. Sensibility is what Kant calls the 'Transcendental Aesthetic (the term 'aesthetic' being derived from the original Greek meaning 'to have feeling'). By this Kant means that the mind contains, a priori, the sensible 'intuitions' space and time. According to Kant, sensibility is the minds way of assessing objects. The reason synthetic a priori judgements are possible, is that space is an a priori form of sensibility. It is not possible to understand the object as an object unless we delineate the region of space it occupies. Without this a priori 'sensibility', we would not be able to ascribe properties to particular objects. Time, he says, is also necessary as a form or condition of our intuitions of objects. The idea of time, like our idea of space, does not derive from experience because succession and simultaneity of objects, the phenomena that indicates the passage of time, would be impossible to represent if we did not possess, a priori, the capacity to represent objects in time.
In short, for Kant, it is impossible to have any experience of objects that are not in time and space. However, space and time themselves cannot be perceived directly, so they must be the form by which experience of things is obtained. Subjecting the sensations to the a priori conditions of space and time, however, is not enough to make judgement of objects possible. Understanding must provide the concepts: the rules by which what is common or universal in different representations of things (CPR. A 106). 'Without sensibility no object would be given to us', says Kant; 'and without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind'. (ibid., B, 75) In the Transcendental Analytic section of his Critique of Pure Reason Kant argues that in order to think about the input of sensibility, sensations must conform to the conceptual structure that the mind has available to it. By applying concepts, the understanding takes the particulars that are given in sensation and identifies what is common and general about them. A concept of 'shelter' for instance, allows me to identify what is common in particular representations of a house, a tent, and a cave. Hume had argued that for a sort of association to explain how we arrive at causal beliefs. The idea of a cue ball in motion becomes associated with the black ball being struck and falling into a pocket. Under the right circumstances, repeated impressions of the second effect following the first produces the belief that the first causes the second.
According to Kant, the problem for Hume is that he failed to recognise that the association of ideas already presupposes that we can conceive of identical, persistent objects that have regular, predictable, causal behaviour. Being able to conceive of objects in this way presupposes that the mind makes several a priori contributions. Empirical derivation is not enough to sufficiently explain all of our concepts. I must be able to separate the objects from each other in my sensations, and from my sensations, I must be able to attribute properties to the objects. I must be able to to conceive of an external world with its own course of events that is separate from the stream of perceptions in my consciousness. These components of experience cannot be found in experience because they constitute it: they put shape on it and give it meaning. The mind's a priori conceptual contribution to experience can be enumerated by a special set of concepts that make all other empirical concepts and judgements possible. These concepts cannot be experience directly; they are only manifest as the form which particular judgements take. The special set of concepts is Kant's Table of Categories, which are taken. By and large, from Aristotle:
Of Quantity Unity, Plurality, Totality Of Quality Reality, Negation, Limitation Of Reality Inherence and Substance, Causality and Dependence Of Modality Possibility Impossibility, Existence Nonexistence, Necessity Contingency
For Kant, this is the complete and necessary list of a priori contributions that the understanding brings to its judgements of the world. Every judgement the understanding can make must fall under the table of categories. And subsuming the sensations of space and time under the formal structure of the categories makes judgements, and ultimately knowledge, of empirical objects possible.
As we have already seen, David Hume's view was that all knowledge derives from experience. In 1781 Kant published his reply to Hume in his Critique of Pure Reason. The Critique is a critical analysis of pure reason. Through this examination of reason it is Kant's aim to demonstrate pure reason's potential and to exalt it above impure knowledge which comes to us through the distorting channels of the senses. Kant held that while all knowledge begins with experience, it does not mean that all knowledge arises out of experience. By this he means the pure reason is knowledge that does not come from sensory perceptions: knowledge that is independent of all sensory experience, and knowledge that is the inherent nature and structure of the mind. Kant calls this type of knowledge Transcendental Knowledge. Knowledge, said Kant, is not all derived from the senses, as Hume believed he had had shown, but it is derived from both sense and reason.
However, it should be said that when Kant says that reason makes a contribution to experiences, it should not be mistaken for the argument of the Rationalist's that the mind contains 'clear and distinct' (transcendent) ideas such as 'God is a perfect being' and so on. The notion that there are such complete propositions is completely rejected by Kant. When he talks of the mind, understanding or reason possessing a priori ideas, he means that the mind provides a formal structuring that allows for the conjoining of concepts into judgements, but the structuring itself has no content. The mind lacks content until interaction with the world actuates these formal constraints. The mind contains a priori templates for judgements, not a priori judgements. Empiricists held that habit arises as a consequence of knowledge which happens after, or succeeding, contact with sensation: it is a posteriori. Rationalists proposed that knowledge is analytic: it attempts to anticipate experience by constructing a logical deduction from basic axioms. This results in the possibility of a priori ideas of reason. By considering both Empiricism and Rationalism, Kant created a sophisticated model of knowledge which overcame the simplistic notion of the subject either anticipating or reacting to experience. He called this sophisticated model Transcendental Knowledge.
According to Kant the mind is neither passive wax nor a blank slate, rather it is an active organ that moulds and coordinates sensations into ideas: an organ that transforms the chaotic multiplicity of experience into the ordered unity of thought. He calls this process, 'transcendental philosophy'. For Kant then transcendental philosophy is the study of the inherent structure of the mind: the innate laws of thought. Kant calls it transcendental philosophy because it concerns that which transcends sense experience. Transcendental knowledge, for Kant, is concerned not so much with objects, but with our a priori concepts of objects. There are two stages in the process of developing sensations into a finished product of thought. The first involves the coordination of sensations by applying to them the forms of perception, space and time. The second involves applying to them the forms of conception the categories of thought.
Hume had maintained that it was only the force of habit that made us see the causal connection behind all natural processes. Kant refuted this argument: the law of causality, he held, is eternal and absolute: it is an attribute of human reason. Human reason, he said, perceives everything that happens as a matter of cause and effect. That is, Kant's transcendental philosophy states that the law of causality is inherent in the human mind. He agreed with Hume that we cannot know with certainty what the world is like in itself, but we can know what it is like 'for me' or for all human beings. We can never know things in -themselves (noumena), said Kant, we can only know them as they appear to us (phenomena). However, before we experience 'things' we can know how they will be perceived by the mind we know a priori.
Thus, for Kant, the mind contains conditions that contribute to our understanding of the world. As well as the law of causality these conditions include the modes of perception, space and time. Space and time, he says, are not concepts, but form of intuition. Everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and so on, happening in the phenomenal world occurs in space and time. However, we do not know that space and time is part of the phenomenal world; all we know is that they are part of the way in which we perceive the world. Time and space, he says, are irremovable spectacles through which we view the world. They are a priori forms of intuition that shape our sensory experience on the way to being processed into thought. Space and time are innate modes of perception that predetermine the way we think. It cannot be said that space and time exist in things themselves, things 'out there' in the world, rather they inherent intuitions through which we perceive and conceive our world. Time and space, says Kant, belong to the human condition. They are first and foremost modes of perception, not attributes of the physical world. Kant called this approach the Copernican Revolution in the problem of human knowledge. That is, it was just as radically different from earlier thinking as Copernicus' claim that the earth revolved around the sun.
Kant, then, concluded that the human mind is not, at birth, a blank slate to be filled with sense impressions. On the contrary, in order to make sense of sensory experience the human mind must already possess certain basic organising categories of reference into which these sense impressions are fitted. These organising categories are often called 'innate ideas' or 'concepts' because they precede any individual human experience of life. We are born with them. They are an integral part of what it is to be a human being. These categories constitute the core of our faculty of reason. Time and space are subjective. They are our way of perceiving the world. However, they are not the only subjective elements which assist us to understand our experience. As well as space and time, our 'intuitions' there are the a priori concepts which include such things as quality, quantity, relation and causality. It is only in virtue of these innate conditions that we perceive and understand our world. However, the world we perceive is only the phenomenal world. We never perceive actual noumena: the true reality which supports and gives rise to these phenomena. Nor can we ever know transcendent things. Knowledge of certain things such as the true nature of souls, the existence of God are all beyond our limitations. Whatever is beyond our power of knowing Kant called transcendent. That is, it is beyond the realm of human experience. Transcendental knowledge, however, is knowledge which is concerned not so much with objects, as with our a priori concepts of objects (see CPR., p.10). Transcendental knowledge (or 'pure reason') then, goes beyond sense experience and deals with what is known before sense perception: it is a priori.
Drawing from both Empiricism and Rationalism, Kant formed a synthesis between two schools of thought and created his own model. He argued that both sense and reason are integral to our understanding of the world. He accepted Hume's theory that all our knowledge comes from sensory experience, but he also agreed with the Rationalists that our reason contains certain decisive factors that determine how we see and understand our world. Everything we experience will first and foremost be perceived as phenomena in space and time, and for everything that happens we will want to know the reason for its occurrence: its causality. For Kant these conditions are inherent in our minds: they are a priori, and they are what it is to be a human being.
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
By 'transcendental' Kant means a priori or necessary experience. That is, experience that does not depend on outside influences empirical experience.
Kant's Critique, it can be said, is divided into two parts: the Analytic and the Dialectic. The Analytic involves the Aesthetic. By 'aesthetics' he means aesthetic, not as we understand in the sense of art, but in the sense that it was understood by the ancient Greeks: as sensation, as in 'anaesthetic' without sensation. The Analytic is largely positive; in it are determined the a priori principles of understanding: we are also shown the proper use of metaphysics in providing the basis for our objective knowledge. The Dialectic is largely negative. In it we are shown the misuse of metaphysics in using concepts to go beyond that which we can possibly experience, to a world of illusion and contradiction. We are also shown why we are prone to be tempted to this kind of speculation. The Analytic and Aesthetic give us a metaphysics of experience; they display what must be the basic features of experience and reasoning. The Dialectic shows how we err when we attempt to extend our knowledge beyond that which it is impossible to experience.
The Transcendental Analytic
In the section of his Critique entitled 'The Transcendental Analytic', Kant analyses how the faculty of understanding makes information presented by the mind into so called objects of thought. 'Without sensibility', he says, 'no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought'. The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing.
Kant borrows the notion of category from Aristotle. However, where Aristotle spoke of the categories as (i) substance (as the physical or materiality of a thing), (ii) quantity (two metres long etc.,), (iii) quality (colour), (iv) relation (how one thing can be measured against another thing), (v), place (as in location: in the house etc.,) (vi), time (yesterday), (vii), position (sitting, standing(, viii), possession (owning or belonging), (ix), action (walking etc.,), (x), passivity (has walked, was sitting, is cut and so on), Kant's categories consist of four types: quantity, quality, relation and modality. However, within each category he listed a number of what might be called 'sub-categories. Quantity contains Unity, Plurality Totality; Quality contains Reality, Negation and Limitation, Relation has Substance and Accident, Cause and Effect and Reciprocity, and Modality has Possibility and Impossibility, Existence and Non-existence, and Necessity and Contingency.
Kant's concern is with sensibility or sensible intuition. Sensibility is a passive power for receiving information. He wants to bracket off or identify that which is specific to intuition, and to discover the relationship between understanding and that which is specific to intuition.
Kant decided that there are two forms of intuition: space and time. This approach revolutionised metaphysics, where, traditionally, space and time were held to be 'out there' as conditions of the existence of things. Kant changes this idea and proposes that space and time cannot exist because there is no empirical experience that would allow us to form concepts of space and time, because a void and infinity cannot be thought it is argued that only someone who had never seen a mountain (as Kant hadn't), could make such a claim. What he means is that because we cannot actually conceive or have notions of the void or infinity, our understanding of space and time is not derived from empirical experience, but are a priori sensible intuitions: intuitions that exist in the mind which are not dependent on outside influences.
Space and time, then, are analogous to filters on a camera: the only images formed are those that have passed through or been subject to the filters. They are not empirical: they are not derived from experience, but are the necessary form of all experience. Neither are they concepts, for there can be no object (like a cup, a dog, a mountain even) corresponding to space and time.
As well as the intuitions space and time there is knowledge. Knowledge involves the use of the basic concepts or categories of the faculty of understanding. The knowledge that that which we see as a table involves having and applying the concept of a table by a judgement of the understanding, as well as seeing it in space and time.
(57) Sadikie asked:
Explain the meaning and importance of Socrates teaching Know Thyself and how it relates to another one of his important teachings, i.e., the unexamined life is not worth living.
Use Plato's work The Apology to support and illustrate your explanations.
Sadikie, whilst this is a question that I believe is both interesting and important in that it encourages the 'questionee' (sic) to carefully examine two of the central issues that arise in Socrates'/ Plato's philosophy: the invocation extended by the Oracle of Delphi to 'Know Thyself', and to Socrates' view that the unexamined life is not worth living, since it seems to me to be this question may be a reformulation of a question that is often put to philosophy undergraduates, I have chosen not to respond to it in the form of an essay, but to break it down into a series of, what might be called, 'snippets'. These 'snippets' appear under the following headings: Socrates; The Theory of Recollection and the World of Ideal Forms; Apology; The 'unexamined life'; What, in Apology, is Socrates' view of life after death?; Phaedo; and the Development of Platonic thought in Apology/ Phaedo. Although it may appear that I am touching on issues of Plato's philosophy not specifically mentioned in your question, I believe a better understanding of the issues you raise may be gained by a perusal of these wider issues, particularly in the development of thought between Apology and Phaedo.
Socrates was the first great Greek philosopher to be actually born in Athens. Socrates shared with the Sophists a concern for practical issues and particularly for education; but he questioned the extravagant claims of some Sophists that they could teach virtue. He himself was concerned with questions of moral education and moral character, and he seems to have held that the pursuit of moral improvement was the most important human task. How he lived hardly anybody knew. He never worked, and he is said to have never been concerned about the future. He ate only when requested by his disciples to share their food; but they must have found him agreeable company, for there is no account of him having gone without food. At home, however, it was a different story. He neglected his wife Xanthippe and children; and his wife considered him a good-for-nothing idler who brought his family more notoriety than food. In spite of all this she loved him.
This portrayal of Socrates has led some people to take the view that he was quite unsophisticated. However, in his paper entitled 'Wittgenstein, Plato, and the Historical Socrates' (The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 319 Jan 2007), M.W. Rowe tells us that this may not be the case. It seems that Socrates' father was a well-known stone mason at a time of great extensive public building e in Athens, and that it is probable that Socrates followed him in this profession. It is also thought that Socrates was married twice. First to Myrto, daughter of Aristides the Just, and secondly to Xanthippe. The 'ipp' of which identifies it as an aristocratic name. Moreover, many other names in his family were of aristocratic origin. This suggests that Socrates, like his father, was a member of the bourgeoisie, and his private means were sufficient to attract the attention of aristocratic fathers on the lookout for potential spouses for their daughters.
Socrates was modest about his wisdom. In fact he did not claim to have wisdom, only to seek it lovingly. The Oracle of Delphi had pronounced him the wisest of Greeks; and Socrates had taken this as approval of his agnosticism which was the starting point of his philosophy: 'One thing only I know', he said, 'and that is that I know nothing'. Philosophy begins when one begins to doubt when one begins to question the accepted wisdom of tradition. Particularly the one's cherished beliefs, one's dogmas and one's axioms. Puzzled by the priestess of Delphi's statement, Socrates felt obliged to seek the meaning of her remark. By questioning others who had a reputation for wisdom, he came to see that he was wiser than they, because unlike them he did not claim to know what he did not know. The life of Socrates is known mostly through the Plato's dialogues. Possibly through Plato's' Meno we come to understand something of Socrates philosophical method, elenchus, and its primary purpose. And through we learn of his moral character and fortitude through Apology and Phaedo.
Theory of Recollection and the World of Ideal Forms: The theory of recollection is first mooted in Meno. According to Socrates, because the soul (mind) is immortal and has been born often and seen all things in the underworld, there is nothing that it has not learned, about virtue and other things. Thus, there is nothing to prevent one from recalling that which one already knows. What is needed is a process, a method, which allows one to reconnect with knowledge that one already possesses. Thus, for Socrates, there is no learning, only recollection (see Meno 81 c,d). This theory is not without its difficulties. One is what I call the 'chicken or egg' dilemma. That is, if, as is argued, for the soul (mind) there is constant movement between life and death, how do we know which came first: the soul/ mind in a pre-corporeal state during which it has access to ideal forms which it brings into the material world at birth, or the soul/ mind in the body that brings certain ideas gleaned from sensory experience with it into the underworld when the body dies. Surely, it can be argued, if it is the case that the soul/ mind experiences perfection a pre-corporeal state it would have no desire or reason to surrender such a state to enter into the imperfect world of the body.
Another difficulty is the concept that there is an altogether too sharp contrast or distinction between the two realms: between the ideas and particular things. For Plato, the only way that the soul/ mind can experience real truth or real knowledge is by detaching itself completely from sensory experience. Whilst he acknowledges that freedom and separation of the soul from the body can only occur in death (see Phaedo, 67, b), Plato himself, whilst still in the alive, claims not only to know that an ideal world exists, but also to know all that it contains. Thus, he presents us with a concept in which there appears to be a hiatus that is impassable. Not only when one turns to true knowledge does one get no assistance from the senses, but the senses are an actual impediment to the attainment of true knowledge. To behold the ideal, one must eliminate, as far as one can, any knowledge gleaned through the senses, and depend only on the pure light of the mind. As he says,
...the body is the source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food, and is also liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search for truth, and by filling us so full of loves, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. From whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? Whence but from the body, and the lust of the body
(Plato Phaedo 66).
For Plato, it is whilst the soul is imprisoned in the body it can catch only the faintest glimpse of the perfect world which it desires so much. It is this very marked dualism, between the world of ideas and the world of things, which presents the greatest difficulty with Plato's system. If the senses are such a burden, if the prevent us from attaining our true destiny, why are we cursed with them? Moreover, if the world of Ideas alone is the rue reality, why should anything else exist? Finally, although it may be some grounds for accepting the view that the soul/ mind precedes physical existence, it does not follow that it survives the demise of the body.
The Apology professes to be the speech made by Socrates in his own defence at his trial or rather it is an account of Plato's recollection of Socrates' defence given some time after his trial. In a typical Athenian trial of that period the defendant was given a limited time (measured by a water-clock) to answer the charges and, although he had to defend himself, he could, if he so desired, buy a suitable speech from a professional speech writer a Sophist. Socrates, of course, rejects this approach and declares that he will speak plain and unvarnished truth. It can be argued, of course, that his disavowal of any knowledge of rhetoric (rhetoric is the art of speaking eloquently and persuasively) and that his ambition is to tell nothing but the truth, is itself a form of rhetoric in that it implies that his statements can be trusted implicitly.
Socrates had been accused of being an 'evil doer and a curious person, searching into things under the earth and in the sky, and of making the worse seem the better cause, and of teaching all this to others'. He was found guilty by a majority and was, in accordance with Athenian law of that time, to propose an alternative penalty to death. The judges had to choose, if they found the accused guilty, between the penalty of demanded by the prosecution and that suggested by the defence. Therefore, it was in Socrates interest to suggest a penalty that would be accepted as a reasonable alternative to death. However, he chose the sum of 30 minas. While this was much more than Socrates could possibly afford (the sum was guaranteed by Plato, Crito, Critoboulus and Apollodorus) it was considered insufficient by the court and he was sentenced to death. From this we can conclude that Socrates actively sought this verdict, since, to suggest an alternative penalty that would be acceptable to the court was tantamount to admitting that he was guilty of the charges against him this of course he could not do for central to the charges made against him were that he was guilty of not worshipping the gods that the State worshipped, but of introducing new divinities, and of corrupting the minds of the young by instructing them accordingly.
The Apology, then, is, according to Plato, Socrates' answer to these charges. Socrates opens his defence by accusing his prosecutors of eloquence (what he means by this is rhetoric- the art off speaking persuasively), and rebutting the same charge which was made against him. The only eloquence he admits to, he says, is that of the truth. If this approach offends the court, he says, the court must forgive him for, not being familiar with the ways of the court, he is not familiar with its un-forensic way of speaking. Socrates goes on to relate the incidence where the Oracle of Delphi was once asked if there was anyone wiser than Socrates, to which the Oracle answered that there was not. Socrates claims to have been bemused by this statement, since he always claimed that he knew nothing. However, he also accepts that the god cannot lie so he set out to see if he could find someone wiser than himself.
This sequence is central to the Apology because it is from here that Socrates infers his raison d'etre derives. That is, he regards the Oracle's reply as a puzzle that has to be resolved. Therefore he sees it as his life's mission to expose false knowledge. The first person he goes to is a politician, who is thought to be wise by many people, and even wiser by himself. He soon discovers that the man was not wise at all, and as a consequence is hated by the politician for exposing his ignorance. Next he visits to the poets, and asks them to explain passages of their writings. When they were unable to do so, Socrates concludes that it is not in virtue of being wise that they write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration. Then he tries his luck with craftsmen, but he finds them to be equally unwise. They think they are wise, he discovers, because they know their own trade, but in reality that is all they know. Finally he concludes that only God is wise, and that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.
Question: do you see any contradiction in Socrates' claim that his mission in life stems from the Oracles's statement?
According to Socrates, his mission arose from the sense of obligation he felt to discover the truth behind the oracle's statement that he was the wisest. In fact, it must have been the case that he was had already embarked on his philosophical mission, why else would the question have been out to the oracle (it was put, by the way, by Socrates' friend, Chaerephon). It should be said that it was traditional for the oracle to respond to questions in an obscure fashion, and it was accepted that her answers always required interpretation. It is worth mentioning that the Socratic method of enquiry, by its nature, had the effect of undermining the basic assumption of ancient democracy that is, that all men had the knowledge necessary for the conduct of public affairs. Therefore, by exposing the ignorance of those who were most powerful in Athenian society, not only to themselves, but, since these investigations were carried out in public, to all and sundry particularly the young aristocrats who had nothing else to do but follow Socrates around all day.
The second part of Socrates' Apology concentrates on charges made against him by Meletus, that he was guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, and that he did not acknowledge the gods of the city, and even introduces new divinities. Since Meletus is in court, Socrates can question his charges directly which is legally entitled to do. With regard to the first charge, Meletus is forced into the absurd position of claiming that every Athenian citizen improves the minds of the young and only Socrates corrupts them. The conclusions to this premise are self-explanatory. That is, the outlandish claim by Meletus shows that he had never thought seriously about the education of the young, that his charge against Socrates is not based on any concern for their welfare, and that even Socrates, regardless of his wisdom, was no match for the collective wisdom of the entire community.
The charge of introducing new divinities must be understood against the background of the official religion of the state. In contrast to monotheistic religions (one god religions), Greek religions were polytheistic (they had many gods) and undogmatic in the sense that they had no bible or set of orthodox beliefs that the faithful were obliged to accept. The only written account of the Greek gods were found in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, but these stories did not have to be believed by those who performed the prescribed rituals to appease these deities. However, while there was no set of orthodox beliefs, each city had its own pantheon of divinities its own group of gods and goddesses- that had been gradually accepted over the ages. Athens, for example, was named after the warrior goddess Athena, who was born out of the head of Zeus. Many of the public buildings on the Acropolis were dedicated to her; the temple of Athena Nike was built to celebrate the defeat of the Persians, and her festivals would have been the most important in the Athenian official calendar. All these public rituals had a profound significance, and Greek religion may be regarded as a kind of worship of their native city by its citizens. There was an officially sanctioned set of gods in each city, and their festivals were carefully regulated, since that was part of the political order. There was also a strict ban on blaspheming against the accepted divinities, and the introduction of new gods was strictly forbidden. This was the legal basis for the charge of impiety brought against Socrates who had often spoken in public about his personal daimon, describing it as it was a warning sign against any kind of wrongdoing. When Meletus is forced by Socrates to clarify the charge of introducing new divinities, he goes to the extreme of accusing him of not acknowledging any gods. Socrates is able to point out that he is being confused with Anaxagoras (one of the natural philosophers) whose book denied that the sun and the moon were gods. Furthermore, Meletus contradicts himself because he also accuses Socrates of introducing new gods (like his daimon) which implies that he does believe in some deities.
Question: What lies behind the apparently contradictory charge that Socrates is an atheist and that he is introducing new gods? Answer: This charge refers to the Socratic talk of a personal daimon which did not belong to the official pantheon (hence the charge of the introduction of new gods), and which led him to challenge traditional pieties on the basis of reason (hence the charge of atheism).
The 'unexamined life'
According to Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living because it does not prepare us for the next life, nor does it allow us to see things as they really are. It is only when the mind is free from bodily passions that we can see and know the truth. Rather than blindly accepting what tradition tells us, we should search for the truth ourselves.
What, in Apology, is Socrates' view of life after death? Towards the end of Apology, Socrates says that there is a good hope that death is one of two things: either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything or death is a change and relocating of the soul to another place. If it is a complete lack of perception, he says, like a dreamless sleep, then death is a great advantage, for who does not wake from a dreamless sleep feeling refreshed. If it is a change to another place, as tradition has it, he reckons that it would be wonderful to spend his time testing and examining those there in order to see which of them were wise.
Does this suggest that Socrates has an open mind to the question of life after death? Why, you may wonder, did Socrates choose this particular mission when there were more than likely many other types of political activities that he could have become involved with? The answer is that he was warned by his daimon against participating in democratic politics because he would be destroyed, and so be of no benefit to the city (in the light of subsequent events, one is forced to question the wisdom of Socrates' daimon). In short, Socrates refused to be corrupted by politics and pursued his own personal mission of urging his fellow-citizens to care for their own souls to examine their own lives rather than being concerned with wealth and power.
The Phaedo is a record of the conversation between Socrates and the friends who have come to visit him in prison on the day of his execution and deals with the reason why Socrates is not afraid of dying.
In Phaedo, Cebes expresses doubt as to the survival of the body after death, and urges Socrates to offer arguments, which he proceeds to do. The first argument is that all things have opposites and that the opposite of anything is generated from the thing itself: life and death are opposites and therefore each must generate the other to have life, you must first be dead, and vice versa. Hence, it follows that souls of the dead must exist somewhere, and come back to earth in due course. The second argument is that knowledge is recollection, and therefore the soul must have existed prior to its involvement with the body. This argument is supported by the fact that we have ideas, such as equality, which cannot be derived from experience. We have experience of approximate equality, but absolute equality is never found amongst sensible objects. (In the same way as there is no such thing in real life as an absolute straight line or a complete circle, yet we can conceive of both in our mind). He extends the same argument to other ideas. Thus, the existence of essences, and of our capacity to apprehend them, proves the pre-existence of the soul (or mind) has certain knowledge before it is attached to the body.
To behold the Ideal, argues Socrates/ Plato, the individual must disassociate him/ herself with the senses and rely solely on the pure light of the mind. The body, he says, which requires food and warm, and is subject to all sorts of diseases, obstructs us in our search for truth, and, by filling our heads with loves, fears, and other fancies, prevents us from having so much as a thought. Only philosophy, says Plato/ Socrates, can free us from bodily passion. For it is only through reflection that the soul re-connects with the realm of purity, and eternity, and changelessness. To pass into the Realm of Ideas the soul must be purged completely from the taint of the earth and the only way the soul fully achieves this is when the body dies. It is for this reason that Socrates has no fear of death.
The central theme of Phaedo is that philosophers should not be concerned with the body, but with the soul, which should be freed from the body as much as possible. (It should be noted that by 'soul' Plato, and the Greeks in general, meant the mind). The body, says Plato, as an obstacle to obtaining knowledge, since we may be led astray by what we see hear, touch or taste. Reality, for Plato, is more accessible to the mind (soul) through reason than through sensory experience, since reason is undisturbed by sense perception or by the sensations of pleasure or pain. The philosopher should turn away from the body towards Realm of Ideal Forms such as Justice, Beauty and Truth which can only be grasped by reason.
In short, Socrates argues that if we are ever to attain pure knowledge or wisdom, we must free ourselves from the body and observe things in themselves with the mind (soul) itself. This is what he means by saying that the unexamined life is not worth living it is not worth living because it does not prepare us for the next life, and it does not allow us to see things as they really are. It is only when the mind is detached from the body that it can have true knowledge. While it is in the body it must purify itself as much as possible.
Convinced profoundly that knowledge alone is salvation, Socrates saw that the first and most important step toward getting rid of the confused mass of opinions going by the name of knowledge, was to make its inadequacy apparent. Socrates saw himself as the divinely appointed gadfly given to the state. The state, or polis, he said, was 'a great and noble steed who was tardy lazy in his motions owing to his size, and requires to be stirred to life'.
In spite of his insistence upon his own ignorance, Socrates was convinced that no one can be more convinced that there exists an absolute truth, and that realisation of this truth is possible to man (see Apology 29b), and it was in his awareness of the existence of this truth and his belief in its availability that Socrates saw himself as superior or wiser than other men: 'Whereas I know but a little of the world below', he said, 'I do not suppose I know. But I do know that injustice and disobedience to a superior, whether God or man, is evil and dishonourable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil' (ibid.). It is here, in this notion of a truth which transcends that which we glean from human experience, that we get a hint of a theme that is central to development of Platonic thought found in Phaedo and, in even greater detail, in Republic. That is, the notion of the Realm of Ideal Forms.
In Phaedo, we see this theme continued, and developed, where Socrates discusses the doctrine of recollection. (72e-78b). In this argument, Plato, through the auspices of Socrates, combines the doctrine of recollection with the doctrine of Forms. Starting with Justice, Beauty, Goodness, he maintains that there are eternally existing entities which are distinct from ordinary things in the perceptible world, and which the mind (of the philosopher, at least) can grasp by a kind of pure thought. When one does grasp one of these forms, says Plato, one attained true knowledge of an absolute value. (Note the shift from the Apology, where Socrates moves from the view that knowledge of truth is possible to the view that knowledge of these truths is actual). The theory of Forms leads Plato deep into metaphysics, and the theory of knowledge (epistemology), and compel him to consider how the human mind (psychology) can have a nature which allows it to know the eternal Forms he thinks of the human mind as being in some way related to the forms and how such knowledge can be made to guide the community.
In the Recollection Argument in Phaedo, Socrates uses another 'absolute form' in the examples of Equality or the Equal Self when he argues that absolute Equality (or equality with a 'big E') is distinct from any notion of equality that we derive from worldly experience: like the equality of stones, trees, and so on. When we see two objects which appear to be equal, he says, we are reminded of a distinct ideal form which we do not perceive, but that we recollect. This recollection does not come from prior experience, but from knowledge of Forms which predates our birth.
At this stage it is important to recognise another shift in Platonic thought between Apology and Phaedo. In Apology Socrates says that death is either a dreamless sleep or an opportunity to spend eternity fulfilling his philosophic mission in Hades. Implicit in this statement is the view that Socrates does not know what awaits the soul after the death of the body. In Phaedo, however, Plato introduces the argument that the soul is distinct from the body: that it exists separately from the body, and that, after death, it awaits rebirth. In this theory of opposites he claims that all things arise from their opposite. For example, good is the opposite of evil and arises out of evil, and vice versa. Life and death are also opposites to die you must first be born, and conversely, he argues, to be born, first you must be dead. And it is in the realm before the life of the body that we acquire knowledge of true Forms.
The Development of Platonic thought in Apology/ Phaedo: Convinced that knowledge alone is salvation, Socrates saw that the first and, most important step towards getting rid of the confused mass of opinions going by the name of knowledge, was to make its inadequacy apparent. Socrates saw himself as being the divinely appointed gadfly given to the state. The state, or polis, he said, was 'a great and noble steed which was tardy lazy -in its motions owing to its size, and required to be stirred to life'.
Socrates' mission, his 'raison d'etre', is to expose false knowledge. Hence, we can conclude that he believes that true knowledge is attainable. So, in spite of his insistence of his own ignorance, Socrates was convinced that there exits an absolute truth, and that this truth is possible to man (see Apology 29b). It was his awareness of the existence of this truth and his belief in its attainability that Socrates acknowledged that he may be wiser than other men: 'Whereas I know but little of the world below', he said, 'I do not suppose I know. But I do know that injustice and disobedience to a superior, whether God. or man, is evil and dishonourable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil' . This statement by Socrates is central to his concept of truth: while he says that injustice or disobedience to one's superior, God or man, is evil, it should be noted that he has already determined that there is no-one wiser than himself, therefore, in the world of men, he has no superior. However, we have also seen that the god that directs him is his own personal daimon which is not of this world; thus, the truth to which he aspires must be of that same world. It is here, then, in this notion of a truth that transcends that which we glean from human experience, that we get a hint of a theme that is central to the development of Platonic thought which is continued in Phaedo, and developed in greater detail, in Republic. That is, the notion of the Realm of Ideal Forms.
In Phaedo, we see this theme continued, and developed, where Socrates discusses the Doctrine of Recollection (72e-78b). In this argument, Plato, through the auspices of Socrates, combines the doctrine of recollection with the doctrine of forms. Starting with Justice, Beauty, and Goodness, Socrates maintains that there are eternally existing entities which are distinct from ordinary things in the perceptible world, and which the mind (of the philosopher at least) can grasp by a kind of pure thought. When one succeeds in grasping one of these forms, says Socrates, one has attained true knowledge of an absolute value. This is a significant shift where Socrates moves from the view advanced in, that knowledge of truth is possible, to the view that it is actual. It also marks a shift from the view that only God is wise, and that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.
Another significant development or shift in Platonic thought is found where, in the Doctrine of Recollection, Socrates uses another absolute form in the example of Equality or the Equal Self when he argues that absolute Equality (equality with a Big E) is distinct from any notion of equality that we derive from human experience. When we see two objects that appear to be equal, he says, we are reminded of a distinct ideal form which we do not perceive, but that we recollect. This recollection does not come from prior experience, as Hume would later argue, but from knowledge of true forms which predates our birth. If you recall, in Apology, Socrates says that death is either a dreamless sleep or an opportunity to spend eternity fulfilling his philosophic mission in Hades. Implicit in this statement is the view that Socrates does not know what awaits the soul after the death of the body. In Phaedo, however, Plato asserts positively that the soul is distinct from the body: that it exists separately from the body and that, after death, it resides in the world of forms, where, in accordance with his 'theory of opposites', it awaits rebirth. In the theory of opposites Plato maintains that all things arise from their opposite. For example, good is the opposite of evil and arises out of evil, and vice versa: to become good, first you must be evil, and to become evil you must first have been good. Life and death are also opposites to die you must first be alive, and to be born you must first have been dead. It is in the realm before life of the body that we acquire knowledge of true forms. Concepts like Justice, Beauty, Goodness, Equality, and Truth, says Plato, are already in the mind when we are born. All it takes to remind us of these absolute forms is to experience their imperfect representations in the physical world.
(58) Len asked:
My question has to do with language and in that sense it could be a linguistics or a philosophy of language question. Of the two, I'm not really sure into which category it falls.
If you agree or disagree with a statement, it seems to me this is an absolute. However, on many psych tests employers use these days for candidates seeking to fill the open position, they give choices of 'agree,' 'strongly agree,' 'disagree' or 'strongly disagree. For example; if the the statement is 'The sky is blue,' I can either agree or disagree with the statement. How could I further agree or disagree about the state of the color of the sky or any other statement for that matter. If you and I both disagree, how could either of us disagree 'more' than the other? Herein lies my question:
How can you assign an adverbial quantifier to something that I believe is an absolute? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who thinks this way so could tell me the difference between agree and strongly agree?
This is a fascinating question in the philosophy of language. Somewhere (I can't remember where) Michael Dummett raises the possibility of a speech act similar to assertion, where the speaker is less than fully confident about what they are saying. I think the term he used was 'probabilistic assertion', an idea he associated with Michael Polanyi. I remember long ago discussing this with my thesis supervisor John McDowell, who was roundly dismissive of Dummett's proposal.
Consider weather forecasts. People complain when the weather girl says, 'It will be fine tomorrow,' when she knows damn well that there is only a 70-80 per cent probability that it will be fine tomorrow. (I'm talking about BBC weather girls who've studied meteorology and actually know what they're talking about, on other TV stations they just read a script.) In the discussion I made the point that the context (a TV weather report) makes it clear that when the weather girl makes an assertion about tomorrow's weather, she isn't doing what we normally do when we make assertions. It isn't necessary for her to quote the probability figure, or express some degree of doubt about what she is telling us. It's understood.
But that's just the thin end of the wedge. (I think that this was McDowell's objection.) We would have to admit a whole family of speech acts, speculative assertion, tentative assertion, cautious assertion, confident assertion, emphatic assertion. And that just seems wrong. To make an assertion is to aim at truth. There are only two possibilities, you aim at truth or you aim to miss (i.e. you tell your audience a deliberate lie). It's understood that failure is a possibility. But you can't include a rider to that effect without destroying the whole point of this language game. Or, if not, then the rider adds nothing to what you've already said, the force and semantic content of your speech act.
However, my intuitions tell me that there is a point in the way these questionnaires are constructed, and the options they give. To extract this point, we need to do quite a bit of of work in a number of related areas: game theory, probability theory, the analysis of knowledge from testimony, as well as philosophy of language. Just to give a sense of the complexity involved, here's a short parable:
I am having a pleasant stroll in the hills around Athens with my three companions, Parmenides, Zeno and the young Socrates. Somehow, we've managed to get lost. I'm sure we passed that broken tree half an hour ago. We reach a point where the path forks three ways. 'Which we should we go?' I ask. Zeno scratches his chin. After what seems like an eternity he says, 'It's not right and it's not straight ahead, so I think it must be left.' 'No, no!' shouts the young Socrates waving his pointing finger enthusiastically, 'We have to go right, I'm sure of it!' Parmenides scowls. He stares straight ahead and nods. 'That is the way,' he says in a quiet tone.
Which way do you go?
I don't think that there's any doubt. I would follow Parmenides, I'd go straight ahead. Zeno isn't completely sure, so we can discount him. Socrates' wild gesticulations aren't convincing. Whereas Parmenides impresses us with his authority. He doesn't need to make a fuss about it. He knows.
There's a discussion of the connection between knowledge and authority in my Answer to Demetreus. If you think about it, there could not be a linguistic device which qualified a statement in a way which reliably gave the hearer information about the speaker's authority to make that statement, the credence one should place on it. And yet, we make these kinds of judgements all the time. The reason why we couldn't have such a device is that people aren't always the best authority on how credible an authority they are.
However, there is no objection in principle to introducing new devices into the language game, provided they have a use. Indeed, arguably, we already have such a device in the various ways and means available for conveying the strength with which you hold a belief or opinion. The finesse here is that the 'measure of strength' isn't like assertion, it doesn't function in the same way as a speech act, nor does it function as a qualifier of the speech act. It's information which you give out, more or less voluntary, of the same order (or at least closer to) the information you give out when your face blushes, or you tremble, or your features contort in anger. It is almost impossible to imagine what human life would be like if these features were absent.
When you tick the boxes (and I fully accept, sometimes it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense when you are asked whether you 'agree' or 'strongly agree' to a particular statement which is just plain true so far as you are concerned) you are giving out information which will be processed to yield a result. A numerical scheme is applied, somewhat like the various proposed preferential voting schemes for proportional representation. In a similar way to preferential voting, knowing this gives you some additional measure of control over how your application will be assessed. And the people who designed the form, know that you know this. In other words, you are being invited to participate in a game.
Here's just one example: Good psych tests (I mean, ones that are actually researched empirically, and constructed so you can't just 'cheat' your way to a better result) give you plenty of opportunity to contradict yourself. If you strongly agree to X and also strongly agree to Y, and the implicit assumptions behind X are inconsistent with the implicit assumptions behind Y, you earn a higher demerit than if one or other or both of your statements was less emphatic.
Your doubts justifiably reflect uncertainty about exactly what game you are being invited to play. Who designed the test and what is its real purpose? You are at a disadvantage because you don't know the rules. You don't know what numerical scheme will be applied. Or maybe and this is potential source of criticism of this kind of exercise you don't agree to this game at all. (That's what I feel about the new '0-5 star' system of appraisal introduced by eBay. If you're happy with the transaction, there ought to be only one choice, so far as I can see.)
However, if you are applying for a job, you don't really have the option. Honesty is, or ought to be, the best policy. But if it seems to you as if you are being required to be dishonest, give a false account of yourself, then maybe you should consider how badly you want the job.
(61) Ogundele asked:
What is philosophy? How does Greek philosophy affect the way we live today?
Although these are questions that arise quite frequently, the answers to them can be of major concern to one setting out on the philosophical path. Because I have given my view on the first question, 'What is Philosophy?', some weeks ago on Ask a Philosopher, and because this view has not changed in the meantime, I have decided to deal with the issue, 'How does Greek philosophy affect the way we live today?', first.
How does Greek philosophy affect the way we live?
Sometimes it is possible to look at the natural world and become aware of an unseen energy, a dynamic that animates physical phenomena. Some people see this dynamic as evidence of that each phenomenon is created by divine force or god for a particular end or purpose, and that this purpose belongs to a greater harmonious system. This view is described as a teleological approach. Others, whilst they may agree that in the natural world events may appear to occur in a regular, preordained, sequence, are reluctant to ascribe to these events the intervention of a divine province, whilst others argue that there is no evidence of a teleological dimension to natural events.
The early Greeks looked at how this energy or force manifested itself in various natural phenomena and attributed to them anthropomorphic or human characteristics. Thus Zeus, or Jupiter, was seen as the supreme god whose anger, at what was perceived as wrongful behavior, was expressed by the roar of thunder, whilst Poseidon was seen as the god of earthquakes and sea, and Bacchus as the god of wine and vegetation. In other words, these gods were seen as whimsical or capricious entities that possessed all the frailties of mortal beings. The myths that evolved from the belief in the power of these gods formed the basis of the early Greeks worldview. Thus, we see the early Greeks found answers to what can be called philosophical questions in religious myths which were handed down from generation to generation. Gods were given human attributes, and in order to appease these gods, and to ensure a sense of permanence and stability that the sun would rise each day, Spring and Summer would return each year, and so on sacrifices and homage were paid to these divine entities.
Western Philosophy began when three Milesian thinkers, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes (Aristotle's 'natural philosophers') began to question the legitimacy of the worldview that had been handed down to them by tradition, and to seek answers to the questions concerning the nature of things through the use of reason. And it is the insistence on the search for truth through reason set out by these pioneers in philosophy and taken up by subsequent thinkers from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle right through to Descartes, Kant, Foucault, Habermas and beyond that has shaped, and continues to shape, the world in which we live today. In summa, it should be said that even in our more secularized society, the values enshrined in the philosophies of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle continue to hold influence. Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Christianity, through Augustine (Plato) and Aquinas (Aristotle and Plato), drew heavily on the work of these ancient Greek thinkers, and Islam, through Averroes and Avicenna, borrowed much from Aristotle when Syrian versions of the Stagirite's work had been translated into Arabic as early as the 9th century, that is two hundred years before Aristotle's work became available in Europe.
What is Philosophy?
Philosophy, as any student of Philosophy will tell you, means 'love of wisdom'. In its truest sense it is a desire to challenge, to expand and to extend the frontiers of one's own understanding. It is the study of the documented wisdom the 'big ideas' of thinkers throughout the history of humankind. However, even in our most respected institutions, Philosophy is often presented as theology, psychology, spirituality or religion. Indeed, many exponents of these respective disciplines seem to have no difficulty in identifying themselves as 'philosophers' when in fact they are 'dogmatists' (sic). What can be said, however, is that Philosophy is all of the above and none. 'All', in the sense that it will certainly engage with the views advanced by the exponents of these disciplines. 'None', in the sense that Philosophy can never be constrained by views that do not allow themselves to be examined, challenged, deconstructed and demystified in the realisation that 'wisdom' or 'truth' is not something that can be caught and grasped as one particular ism.
For those really interested in Philosophy, it is important to draw a distinction between 'a philosophy' and 'Philosophy' itself. There are abroad today many colleges, institutions, societies, schools of philosophy, groups, cults and sects promoting the view that they 'teach' Philosophy, whereas in fact what they are doing is promoting a particular worldview that they claim is superior to other worldviews or 'philosophies'. What has to be said is that when a body claims that its philosophy has the monopoly on other worldviews it cannot be placed under the rubric of Philosophy it is dogma. It is for this reason that those institutions that promote a particular religious ethos cannot, by their very nature, be said to teach Philosophy in any real sense: they are constrained by their own 'philosophical' prejudices to treat other worldviews impartially particularly where these other approaches run contrary to their own. Moreover, by indoctrinating their students into a mindset that holds that it is their way or no way, these institutions show that their interest is not primarily in that which is best for the student, but that which is best in ensuring their own perpetuity. This approach (of using others as a means to one's own ends), as Kant reminds us, is repugnant to Philosophy the search for wisdom.
What this means is that Philosophy cannot condone any body of knowledge that advocates a closed view on wisdom or truth one cannot take an a la carte approach to Philosophy. As the Dalai Lama, in the prologue to his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality advises, where scientific discoveries are made that expose weaknesses in long held traditional beliefs, these beliefs should be abandoned, and the new discoveries embraced (would that all spiritual leaders or 'philosophers' were so open minded!). Philosophy, then, must operate on the premise that its conclusions should ever be open to what Karl Popper calls, 'the law of falsification'. That is where its conclusions are found to be questionable, it is imperative that these views are revisited, re-evaluated and, where necessary, either re-formulated or abandoned. Unfortunately, as history shows, many systems of belief either will not entertain such an approach, or, if or when they do, it is often so far in time removed from the initial discovery that much harm has occurred in the interim.
What should be realised is that the wisdom to which Philosophy aspires is not attained by the practice of uttering self-hypnotising mantras or prayers, nor by being initiated into some select group, sect or cult that promises that its 'road less travelled' is the one true road. Philosophy is not love of 'a truth' or 'some particular approach to wisdom', but a love of truth and wisdom. However, this wisdom or truth does not come pre-wrapped and packaged as one ism or another, rather it involves the courage and preparedness to engage with, to challenge and to expand the boundaries of one's own knowledge and experience. one's own wisdom.
(65) Kym asked:
Hi, my questions are:
1) why philosophy is not sophistry?
2) why philosophy is not wisdom?
3) why philosophy begins with wonder?
Having once described myself as an 'internet sophist' (see My Philosophical Life) you could say that I deserve this question. I am proud to belong to the tradition of Sophists, which includes the great figures of Thrasymachus, Protagoras, Prodicus and Gorgias. These were thinkers of stature who ventured out into the market place, as I have done, not to talk to anyone willing to listen like Socrates a most unsuccessful Sophist if there ever was one but rather on the understanding that their time was worth something, that they deserved recompense for their work. These contemporaries of Socrates and Plato were highly respected. The term 'sophist' had no negative connotations at that time. The closest translation would be 'professor'.
However, I accept the assumption of Kym's question: that there is an accepted sense of 'sophistry' (indeed, no-one these days would use the term any other way) which implies strong criticism and rebuke. To engage in sophistry is to use bad arguments deliberately to confuse your audience, in order to manipulate their beliefs. I hope that I have never done that, deliberately, or even as a result of carelessness or inattention. I share Socrates' passionate concern for the truth. Nor will I criticize his life style. There is nothing commendable about being wealthy. I make a living at what I do working as an independent philosopher outside the Academy but no more than I need for a very modest subsistence.
But pity poor Xanthippe. Pilloried by historians for being a fish wife, she had to live with the consequences of Socrates' decision to give up his well paid profession as a stone mason, choosing poverty and despising all comforts in order to follow his muse.
It was, above all, the founding of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum which put the final nail in the coffin of the honorable profession of Sophists. If you didn't belong to a school, then you didn't belong, period. To be a genuine 'philosopher' was to be recognized as such by other 'philosophers'. If you were not a member of the Philosophers' Party then by definition you were no lover of wisdom. That still holds true today, although universities are now under increasing pressure from the marketplace, as the recent scandal over the massive hike in UK university tuition fees has demonstrated. It is high time the university professors recognized that they no longer have the monopoly on excellence.
There are indeed signs that the prediction I made back in 1999 when I wrote my piece for The Glass House Philosopher was not so wide of the mark: 'The university departments have had their day. Time has come for a more democratic arrangement.' If I may venture a plug for my philosophy school, Pathways to Philosophy, you can do a highly acclaimed BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy from the University of London, with a higher standard of tutorial support from Pathways than any of the universities is able to provide (including Oxford and Cambridge with their long-established tutorial systems) for less than £5000 all in, for a complete four-year course, a fraction of what it would cost you if you applied as an internal student to the least 'expensive' university today. And you don't have to give up your day job!
(I think I have earned the right to blow my trumpet now and then. After all, no-one pays me to do this blog.)
Well, what about wisdom. There are examples of great philosophers you could point to who were not very wise. Possibly the most catastrophic example from the 20th century would be Heidegger, whose flirtation with the Nazi regime (whatever gloss you place on it) cannot be justified or explained by any amount of sophistical reasoning. Bertrand Russell, rightly regarded as one of the most important figures in English-speaking philosophy and one of the founders of the tradition of philosophical analysis, was a serial womanizer, who alongside his brilliant views on logic and epistemology was prepared to entertain ideas on social reform which many today would consider opiniated and uninformed. Finally, there is Gottlob Frege, possibly the most important of all the founders of the analytic movement, about whom Michael Dummett in the Preface to his monumental first book Frege Philosophy of Language (1973) laments,
There is some irony for me in the fact that the man about whose philosophical views I have devoted, over years, a great deal of time to thinking, was, at least at the end of his life, a virulent racist, specifically an anti-semite. This fact is revealed by a fragment of a diary which survives among Frege's Nachlass, but which was not published with the rest by Professor Hans Hermes in Frege's nachgelassene Schriften. The diary shows Frege to have been a man of extreme right-wing political opinions, bitterly opposed to the parliamentary system, democrats, liberals, Catholics, the French and, above all, Jews, who he thought ought to be deprived of political rights and, preferably, expelled from Germany. When I first read that diary, many years ago, I was deeply shocked, because I had revered Frege as an absolutely rational man...
Which just goes to show that the capacity for logical reasoning doesn't always go together with wisdom. That's not to say that we should take a sanguine view of philosophers who do not aspire to wisdom. There is a point in speaking of the 'love of wisdom', it's not just hot air or a mere political slogan. I view my own lapses from wisdom with regret, but it doesn't seem to me that my failings in that respect make me any less of a philosopher. One could have also pointed out that there are many persons whom one would consider wise, who have never ventured into philosophy. My old grandmother Rose was wise, though to my knowledge she had never read a word of philosophy. To put the point in terms of the language of logical analysis, being a philosopher is neither a sufficient condition for being wise, nor is being a philosopher a necessary condition for wisdom.
Finally, wonder. The motto on the web site for the International Society for Philosophers is 'Philosophy begins with wonder'. When I came to write this answer, I couldn't remember whether it was Plato or Aristotle who said this. Then I found this answer from Hawkinsian on Yahoo Answers:
Plato puts the following words in the mouth of Socrates at Theaetetus 155 d (tr. Benjamin Jowett): 'I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher, for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.'
Aristotle echoes the Theaetetus passage at 982b12 of his Metaphysics: 'It was their wonder, astonishment, that first led men to philosophize and still leads them.'
What many miss, however, is that Plato and Aristotle are both talking about the search for theoria, for a knowledge and understanding of the nature of the cosmos and our place in it, in a sense which today would include the great figures of science as well as those of philosophy. (I guess that Hawkinsian is a fan of Stephen Hawking.)
Another motto which I penned for the PhiloSophos web site is, 'Philosophy is for everyone and not just philosophers. Philosophers should know lots of things besides philosophy.' Philosophers should know about Hawking and Dawkins and all the rest. Nor do you need any specialist academic training in philosophy to be a philosopher, to feel that special sense of wonder. That's why I said that philosophy is for all, and I meant it. But not everyone does feel that sense of wonder. My explanation would be, not that the non-philosophical multitude are are not clever enough, or sufficiently well informed. Rather, as the great Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus said, they are like people asleep. They sleepwalk through life, never realizing the truth about the Logos, the ultimate principle of all existence. The question never occurs to them! But it can occur to anybody.
I date the beginning of my interest in philosophy with that question. I have grappled with the question all my career, although, if the truth be told, there has been a long gap where my attempts to make progress with it had to go on the back burner (roughly, from the date when my book Naive Metaphysics appeared). Now I'm back on the case. If I may end this post with another plug, I've started another blog, Hedgehog Philosopher where my daily attempts to put the the jig-saw pieces together is recorded. I may never succeed. In fact, given the ambitiousness of the project, it is almost guaranteed in advance that I will not succeed. But while I remain engaged, I am filled with wonder, I am doing the thing that I do best, I can without blushing call myself a 'philosopher'.
(72) Sydney asked:
I had my first class in critical thinking earlier today and my professor was unable to tell me if instinct was epistemic luck. I was wondering if you might be able to help answer this question?
Reading Sydney's question, my first, somewhat unkind thought was, 'No-one likes a smartass.' But then the question immediately came to mind, Why wouldn't someone qualified to teach critical thinking be able to answer Sydney's question? There is an answer: The term 'epistemic luck' is a piece of technical jargon, coined in the debate over epistemological theories following Edmund Gettier's landmark 1963 article, 'Is Knowledge Justified True Belief?' If you aren't trained as an academic philosopher (or studying for a degree in philosophy) it is fairly unlikely that you would have come across that term. Sydney has obviously been doing a lot of extra-curricular reading.
The curious fact is, you don't need to be a trained philosopher in order to teach critical thinking, at least the way this subject is often taught at colleges and universities. I'm not offering comment on whether that is a good or bad thing.
(Ignorance cuts both ways. My lack of knowledge of the current state of debate in critical thinking leaves me totally unable to answer the question what view critical thinking takes about instinctive knowledge generally, knowing but not being able to explain how you know, following hunches etc. I can live with that.)
If you want to get up to speed with the debate over epistemic luck, you could start by Googling "Rocking Horse Winner" or "chicken sexer", plus Epistemology. These are standard examples of cases where we might be inclined to say that someone 'knows' even though they are unable to explain how they know (the little lad who mysteriously predicts the winners of tomorrow's horse races, workers trained to sort newborn chicks into male and female by subtle differences in their look or feel or is it?).
I am somewhat bemused by these debates, even though I regularly mark essays sent to me by my students taking the University of London BA module in Epistemology. Epistemology is one of those areas of philosophy that has increasingly acquired the aspect of chess opening theory, with every possible avenue of inquiry, every argument and counterargument explored and elaborated on ad nauseam. No better evidence could be put forward that current academic philosophy has drifted into a new age of scholasticism, driven in part by the incessant need to publish or lose tenure.
However, whenever I begin to feel sick, or bored, I remind myself of things that matter to me in relation to the question of knowledge. Then it all gets real again. Knowledge matters, no more so than to the philosopher pursuing knowledge.
I rely a lot on my instincts. I have hunches. I will pursue an investigation, expending many days, weeks or even months on a question because I have a feeling that it might lead somewhere. What wasted effort, if that feeling could not be relied upon, or did not at least promise some probability of success! Then there are issues in philosophy which I take a strong position on, where I am sure that I am right, even though I know that are those who take the completely opposite view who are just as sure that they are right and I am wrong. How is that possible?
Human beings, like other members of the animal kingdom, have instincts which we have acquired through the process of Darwinian natural selection, although because we are language users and reasoners, the instinctive side of human knowledge has been pushed very much to the sidelines. Instincts are much less useful to us than they are, say, to a pair of nesting birds or a pride of lions. I guess my direct answer to Sydney's question would be that if you believe something 'on instinct', say, that beneath the false smile of the person extending their arm and hand in greeting there lurk aggressive intentions, and that instinct is a genuine biological instinct, with an aetiology, an explanation of its 'reliability' then that isn't a case of 'luck' epistemologically speaking. It is not an accident when the person who roused your suspicions turns out to be a thief or confidence trickster.
The problem is, there are many, perhaps many more examples where one 'feels something on instinct' where there is no valid explanation that a more knowledgeable observer could provide. Then is it just mere guesswork? If you turn out to be right, was that just luck? I'm not sure that it is, always. Maybe I've watched too many American TV detective programs, but it seems to me that hunches can be valid, even if there is no explanation of how you could possibly know, or what it was that gave you the hunch. There is an art to judgement, which no amount of methodological analysis will ever unravel. This applies, in different though related ways, to police work, sports like golfing and archery, or the judgement of a scientific researcher or philosopher.
Of course, one has to exercise caution here. It's so easy to persuade oneself that one's hunch is valid (it wouldn't be a hunch if it didn't feel that special way). But how can you possibly know? More to the point, why should anyone else, who doesn't feel the hunch that you feel, believe you? (How many TV detective plots have followed that theme!)
I've alluded to the question of reliability in Epistemology. One of the main contrasts in current debates is between Epistemologists who consider 'acquiring a belief through a reliable means' as sufficient for knowledge, provided that the belief is true, and those who require something stronger, say, the ability to defend your belief with persuasive reasons when challenged. The problem, is, it's too easy to defeat a knowledge claim just by asking an innocent question (see my Answer to Demetreus). My own tentative view would be that we need to shift the focus away from the question of defining knowledge and onto the question why we are interested in identifying the 'one who knows' the answer to a particular question.
To make a factual statement, any statement, implies that one has the authority to speak. At any time, you can be legitimately challenged. But the inability to meet that challenge doesn't necessarily undermine your right to state your view. 'I just know,' can be a sufficient answer say, when one is a very experienced golf caddy who just 'sees' that the number 5 iron would be too heavy for that shot, even though according to the book that's the correct iron to use. Trust your caddy, he knows.
At Oxford, I was lucky to have a term of supervision by P.F. Strawson for my B.Phil paper on Kant. In our conversations, it very quickly became clear that when Strawson told me, 'no, you are wrong', it was no use arguing. I was wrong. It wasn't arrogance on Strawson's part, just the voice of experience.
Strawson wasn't claiming to be right about everything. Just about some things. I don't do this too often (my students wouldn't let me). But the philosophical point is about authority. Authority is established, granted, defended, or challenged and defeated. Our interest in knowledge, as a concept, hinges on the question of authority: Whose authority do you trust on a particular topic? when do you accept a piece of advice or testimony and when do you reject it? This isn't about a definition of knowledge in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, but rather about the place of the concept of knowledge in the social matrix. The simplest example: 'How do you know?' 'I saw it with my own eyes.' End of discussion. This is how language (to use Michael Dummett's happy phrase) 'extends the range of human perception'. Your eyes become my eyes, through the authority which being a witness of the event in question grants you.
I'm coming up to my 60th birthday (next Monday, as it happens). Having been in philosophy for the best part of four decades there are one or two things that I know. In saying this, I hope you will believe me but the decision is yours. Judge me on my work. Right now, I am pursuing a line of investigation (in my other blog Hedgehog Philosopher) where feelings and hunches are playing a somewhat larger role than I would like. I know there's 'something there' which I can't articulate. In the past when I've had that feeling, it turned out to have substance, but not always. I've been down many blind alleys, took many wrong turns and there's no saying for sure that I haven't taken a wrong turn this time. But, in the end, it is a matter of judgement and one has to trust one's judgement.
Good luck with your course, Sydney. Don't blindly accept authority, but don't become a boring sceptic either. Strive to find a balance, that way you will grow.
(79) Louella asked:
Kindly explain the saying,
'NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.'
or does REALITY exist?
Louella has struck a nerve with her question. On the face of it, it looks like a beginner's question, the sort of thing that someone who hasn't had much exposure to philosophy would think about. 'Nothing is what it seems.' We know that isn't true, don't we? Some things are what they seem (e.g. the half-drunk cup of luke warm coffee on my desk is a half-drunk cup of luke-warm coffee), and some things aren't what they seem. We sometimes get the wrong impression of things. We correct that wrong impression, and then we see things aright.
But, actually at least in certain moods I am more inclined to think that all that's just superficial. What we term 'reality' is just a more or less coherent story, not the real truth about things whatever that may be. I'm just describing a feeling, you don't need to think particularly deeply just to feel this, say, to feel the way Neo felt in The Matrix.
But note what I just said: 'not the real truth about things'. Louella goes on to ask, 'or does reality exist?' Either nothing is what it seems, or reality exists, but not both. That's the implication of her question. But I'm suggesting the opposite: In stating that 'nothing is what it seems', we have in mind, or imply, that there is something real, a real truth about things, which we can never know, or at least which is very difficult to know, or maybe only a few people know.
What if reality didn't exist? How would you describe that situation? Then everything is what it seems. A thing cannot fail to be what it seems unless reality exists, unless there is a way that thing 'really' is, which is different from the way it seems. If reality doesn't exist then everything is the way it seems to me, and everything is also the way it seems to you. If things seem different to you than they do to me, neither of us can be wrong. We are both right. My world-of-seeming is mine, and your world-of-seeming is yours.
But surely that's just... nuts? How could absolutely everything just be exactly as it seems? That would mean that I never a mistake or error about anything, that it is never necessary to correct my first impressions, that, basically, my beliefs are always true (and so are yours). One only needs to consider that a person's beliefs are are not always consistent with one another to realize the impossibility of what I've just stated.
Plato in his dialogue Theaetetus considered these questions. Interestingly, he didn't think that the idea was so 'nuts' that it was OK to ignore it. He puts the thesis, 'Everything is what it seems' in to the mouth of the great sophist Protagoras. (Some commentators would argue that this is a somewhat unfair gloss on Protagoras' famous statement, 'Man is the measure of all things.') Plato doesn't rest content with saying the obvious: that the very attempt to state the thesis leads to absurdity. He considers how one would have to think of knowledge if that hypothesis were accepted.
If there is no real distinction between 'seeming' and 'reality', then we can no longer think of statements as 'aiming at the truth', that is to say, aiming to correspond with the way things 'really are'. Instead, a statement becomes a tool which one uses to affect someone's behaviour. That's what a sophist aims to do in Plato's picture. As a result of listening to the sophist's discourse you are not 'informed' about 'reality' (because there is no reality). Rather, as the sophist would claim, you are made 'better' in some way. The athletics trainer helps you run faster. The rhetoric coach helps you to impress people with your speaking ability, that is to say, your ability to use words to influence or manipulate them.
In a Protagorean universe, according to Plato, everything as we 'know' it is turned upside down. Nothing is 'rational' or 'irrational', 'valid' or 'invalid', 'true' or 'false'. All one is permitted to say is that the verbal statements we make are either 'effective' or 'not effective'. Nor can one even speak of there being a 'truth' as to whether or not a statement is 'really' effective. All speech is propaganda, all thinking is reacting. In some ways, it is a perfect depiction of the world George Orwell horrifyingly portrays in his novel 1984. That's surely not what Protagoras or the other Greek sophists had in mind, but according to Plato it is the inevitable consequence of the relativist view of knowledge.
So what about that feeling I had, that maybe Louella is right and nothing is what it seems? All this, all of you, these... things around me are just shadows, as indeed am I myself. Plato talks eloquently about this too, in his dialogue Republic, in the allegory of the Cave. But, then, according to Plato, something is real, because you can get out of the cave if you're clever enough, if you know how to work the dialectic. And then you will 'see', not with your eyes (which can never yield true knowledge) but with your mind. The perfect world of Forms.
But if Plato is right then something is what it seems, after all. The eternal Forms are what they seem (to the mind's eye). You cannot gaze upon the highest Form, the Form of the Good, and not know it for what it is, in its very being and essence.
If like me you think that this is all fairy tales or 'the last fumes of evaporating reality' as Nietzsche describes it in Twilight of the Idols then maybe you will begin to feel an unnerving sense of the threat that the Protagorean way of seeing things poses. I can't quite wholly believe in this familiar world, I can't fully accept it's 'reality'. But I can't see anything else either, no alternative, certainly no 'purer' or 'higher' world behind these deceptive appearances. Then, maybe, we really can't say for sure whether the Protagorean view, as Plato describes it in Theaetetus might not after all be the only possibility left standing, after all the alternatives have fallen away.
If this is a Protagorean universe, then I am not arguing with you now. I am not making a case. This isn't logic and my words are not governed by any notion of validity. I am behaving linguistically a trick invented by a certain species of ape around 50 thousand years ago in order to improve their success rate in hunting non-speaking animals for food. Or whatever is the current explanation. Except of course that what I'm telling you now isn't 'knowledge', or even a 'probable theory'. Just words intended to produce an effect.
One of the more interesting developments in English-speaking analytic philosophy in the last century, was the idea of a clash between 'realist' and 'anti-realist' approaches to the nature of meaning and truth. A foremost figure in the debate is Michael Dummett who argued for an 'anti-realist' theory of meaning, along the lines of the later Wittgenstein's notion of 'language games'. (I first came across Dummett's views in his celebrated book Frege Philosophy of Language London, Duckworth 1973.) To know the meaning of a word or a statement is no more, or less, than to be competent in following the rules for using that word or statement, as accepted in one's local linguistic community.
Subsequently, in an interview (around 1980 in a religious program on TV exploring Dummett's Catholic faith) Dummett confided that his real desire though he could not yet see a way to do this was to argue for the necessary existence of God, in a manner similar to the idealist philosopher Berkeley. Rebounding from the Protagorean universe described in the anti-realist theory, there is no alternative to believing in God, if you want to defend your belief in knowledge, truth and rationality. When I saw the program, I was shocked by Dummett's frankness. My D.Phil thesis which I was working on at the time defended a stark version of anti-realism, without the God option.
I don't know exactly where Dummett stands on the God issue today. It is true that he has modified his views on the theory of meaning somewhat. But the stark challenge posed by the philosophy of anti-realism remains: believe in God or something or resign yourself to living in the world of 1984. I am aware that there are many analytic philosophers today who broadly follow Dummett's line who would dispute this claim. Wittgenstein believed he was merely combating illusions about our inner life and the 'grammar' of our language. Quietism does not necessarily lead to totalitarianism. However, I don't think that things are that easy or simple. I don't think we really know where we are. My impression is that the way things are going now, it would only take a couple of small steps to find ourselves living in an Orwellian universe.
Meanwhile, academic philosophers debate minutiae, not realizing the ground is being cut from under them.
(107) Julie asked:
I was reading a fantasy novel recently, and the theology in this book was very interesting. In the novel, the idea is put forth that WE are God. That man, and his sentience, are a vessel with which the universe is to becoming selfaware.
Is this a common belief? Is there a name or an 'ism' for this particular line of thought?
Julie, it seems to me that the author of the novel to which you refer has borrowed a small part of his theme from the 'ism' known as pantheism and a larger part from Hegel's 'dialectic process'. Pantheism, from the Greek pan (all) and theos (god), is the belief that God and nature are identical where nature is taken to mean the universe and the totality of all that is; alternatively that God is all and that all is God, that God is identical with the universe. This doctrine holds that all beings are modes, attributes or appearances of a single, unified reality or being. Baruch Spinoza's philosophical views, as set out in his Ethics is considered to reflect this approach. However, since you suggest that the novel in question concentrates rather on 'man, and his sentience' rather than everything in the universe, it seems to me that your writer has taken more from Hegel than Spinoza. According to Hegel everything in the universe can be understood only in terms of the Absolute mind which has been evolving throughout the world`s history into a transcendent, self-contained being. Each stage in the world`s history is the expression of the inner struggle of the Absolute to achieve self-realisation. The term Hegel used to describe this evolutionary process is `dialectic`. All change, says Hegel, is subject to this law. By this he means that first a thesis is produced, it then develops an opposition (an antithesis), from the ensuing conflict between the thesis and antithesis a synthesis arises. This synthesis then becomes the thesis, and the unfolding process continues throughout history until the Absolute achieves self-realisation.
Hegel believed that in discovering the dialectic that he had discovered a necessary historical law. That is, for Hegel, the dialectic is an actual process which worlds events necessarily follow. All change, he insists, occurs by virtue of this law. According to Hegel, history is not a series of discontinuous contiguous events, rather it is structured by the triadic process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. All forms of life, says Hegel, whether artistic, philosophical or religious, display this organising principle. The dialectic process shows how, in human history, one form turns into another as the contradictions are revealed in previous forms. However, the preceding form is not discarded, rather that which is valuable in each is carried into a richer and deeper form of life which incorporates and transcends the previous forms.
For Hegel history can best be understood by observing the development of nations in the light of the dialectic process. For example, a nation develops; it produces an opposition to itself, and from the resulting conflict between the two opposing forces a new order emerges: a civilisation that is of a higher order than either of its predecessors. For a working model of Hegel's argument we need no further than the northern counties of this island: the Nationalist opposition (antithesis) arises in conflict to Unionism (thesis). Following a long struggle a synthesis (which has its genesis in the Good Friday Agreement) emerges. If Hegel's thesis is correct, this new situation should lead to a more pluralist, equitable, and stable society: a society that will be most value to each of its predecessors. In time this synthesis will become the thesis, out of which will emerge an antithesis, and so the process continues.
According to Hegel the dialectic process must take account of all major forms of human experience and activity and with the basic psychological structures of selves who engage in such activities. That is, the nature of the self and its capacities has to be understood in relation to basic forms of activity in which human beings engage: familial, economic, political, artistic, philosophical, and religious. For Hegel, human beings only develop a rich sense of self in relation to common activities. That is, they achieve recognition from others, and affirmation of their 'selves' by engagement and interaction with the world in which they live. For Hegel there is unity in diversity. That is, beneath the surface differences between various activities in which human beings engage there is an underlying connectedness which can be brought to the surface by virtue of the dialectic process. Immanuel Kant had argued that all experience is subject to certain conditions which exist a priori in the mind. The human mind, he held, is destined never to know reality. Kant's philosophy had established a chasm between philosophy and science. It maintained that scientific enquiry and discovery is constrained by certain a priori criteria. Hegel rejects this approach. According to Hegel, a complete understanding of reality is possible: there is nothing real which cannot be grasped by reason, nor is there anything which is a concept of reason that is not real.
Hegel's dialectic process, then, stands in direct opposition to Kant's thesis. What Kant holds to be transcendental a priori conditions peculiar to all rational human beings at all times, Hegel holds to be historical. That is, conditions that Kant maintains has always existed in the human mind, Hegel says have been developed over time. Hegel's dialectic process contends that the subject is primarily in a state of primitive consciousness. That is, the individual is in a state of consciousness that does nothing but grasp that which confronts him or her at any given moment. Hegel calls this most primitive form of consciousness 'certainty at a certain level of sense experience', or simply 'sense certainty'. From this naive form of consciousness the mind, by virtue of the dialectic process, evolves to a state of self-consciousness. However, human beings only develop through interaction with the world in which they live. Self-consciousness cannot develop in isolation. If consciousness is to develop it requires an object outside itself as opposition to itself. This relationship manifests itself in the form of desire. And to desire is to want something for oneself: to obviate that which is different in 'the other' and to possess that which is different in oneself.
To understand the place of the triadic dialectic process in Hegel we need to look at the most well-known section of his Phenomenology: the Master/ Slave relationship. In this relationship the master holds his position precisely because he keeps a slave. The slave is subservient to the master who enjoys the fruits of the servant's labours. At first examination the master seems to be superior to the slave in that the latter's identity depends on his relationship with the master. However, when we consider that the master also needs affirmation of his identity we understand that, while he has acknowledgement of his slave, in the mind of the master, the slave is just a 'thing' not an independent consciousness. Thus, since to the master the slave is a non-person, his desire or need of affirmation of his identity by this 'other' is not satisfied. In a sense, the master is slave to the slave. When the master reflects on this situation, as Hegel believes he must do, he cannot fail to acknowledge the arbitrariness and injustice of his relationship with his slave, and upon whom he depends, and out of this understanding arises a synthesis: a more rational and humane social arrangement. For Hegel, human consciousness, history, philosophy, science, religion, art, and everything else operates in accordance with this triadic law.
Hegel's dialectic mode, then, contends that the most primitive form of consciousness is 'sense-certainty'. By this he means that primitive beings react spontaneously, or without reflection, to the world around them. The inner conflict generated by others leads to a state of self-consciousness. That is, in virtue of the triadic process, one form of consciousness emerges from others. However, rather than replacing one of the preceding states in favour of another, the new state retains all that is good from both states. Thus, sense-certainty evolves to self-consciousness, and self-consciousness become objective consciousness: the ego-centricity of self-consciousness gives way to the experience of oneself as a meaningful part of a greater, universal consciousness. By letting go of the concept of being of 'I am' as a separate or partial entity, the individual becomes aware that the experience of being, of 'I am', is not of oneself as an isolated subject in an alien universe, rather it is the experience, the knowledge and awareness of oneself as an integral part of the whole: the absolute, which is one's true self Geist.
For Hegel, the term `Geist` means `objective` or `cosmic` spirit. Every condition of thought, or of things every idea and every situation in the world -generates within itself a contrary thesis an antithesis. From this conflicting thesis arises a higher, more complex whole. This evolutionary movement is a continuous spiralling development of oppositions, and their merging and reconciliation constitutes the formula of all development and all reality. The evolution of consciousness is the same as the movement of all things: in each there a dialectic progression from unity through diversity and to diversity- in-unity. In the individual, the Absolute rises to self-consciousness and becomes the Absolute Idea. That is, thought realising itself as part of the Absolute, transcending limitations, and drawing together beneath the surface chaos, an underlying universal harmony. By the Absolute Idea,, Hegel means that the Absolute, reflecting on Its own Being becomes, in the virtue of the dialectic process, conscious of Its true self. It is through the dialectic process that the Absolute gains a clear understanding- a clear idea of its true Self. The task of philosophy is to discover the unity that lies potential in diversity. The task of religion is to reach and feel the Absolute in which all opposites are resolved into unity, that great sum of being in which mind and matter, subject and object, good and evil, are one. God is the system of relationships in which things move and have their being and their significance. As mentioned above, the individual rises to self-consciousness, and becomes the Absolute Idea. What this means is that the dialectic process is not simply a process through which human beings become conscious of the Absolute, but that it is a process through which the Absolute comes to consciousness of Itself. Human beings, for Hegel, are not contingent to the Absolute, not things which can be done without, rather it is that they play a vital and necessary role in the Absolute's coming to realisation of Itself.
Geist, or cosmic spirit, then, is the Absolute striving to each self-awareness, and the locus, the channel, through which this comes to realisation is the human being. It is in virtue of the dialectic process that, through human beings, the Absolute reaches Self-realisation, and that human beings come to a new understanding of their own lives. That is, they see themselves, not as individual fragments of the universe, but as indispensable vehicles of the cosmic spirit. This spirit is not reducible to man; it is not identical with the human spirit, for it is the spiritual reality underlying the entire universe. For Hegel, Art, Religion and Philosophy are humanity's aspects of the self-revelation of the Absolute. The medium of Art is sensation, the medium of Religion is mental imagery, and the medium of Philosophy is imageless conceptions. Each represents different areas of the Absolute Spirit -`Geist` revealing itself.
Hegel conceived Art to be the absolute form of spirit, a universal phenomenon and an epochal force: a mode of being and a thinking that characterises particular stages in the history of mankind. Thus understood, as the constitutive force and the substantial expression of an epoch, art is no longer. From a purely critical-historical point of view, Hegel concluded that for the modern world art is something of the past. The history of Art evolved through the dialectic process. The spiritual contents of art are `moments` or stages in which the mind reveals itself and becomes conscious of itself through history. Symbolic Art, that is pre-Greek and especially Egyptian and Oriental, represents the seminal stage of the unfolding process, and is represented in the architecture found in objects like the obelisks and pyramids which represent the Absolute trying to realise itself. Out of this emerges Classical Art, that is Greek and Renaissance art, which represents the unfolding of the Absolute as it emerges in harmony with itself. By the time the dialectic process reaches the Romantic period the Absolute has evolved to the stage where it dominates the medium: thinking and refection have superseded art. There is a deeper comprehension of Truth which can no longer be appropriately expressed in Art. Art is no longer the highest and most privileged way in which we articulate and express our understanding of reality, of ourselves or the Absolute. Art has become absorbed into philosophy. It is no longer the primary and spontaneous means in which the comprehensive image of our world is brought to consciousness.
Through the individual the Absolute achieves self-realisation. The dialectic from which Art arises is the dialectic between spirit and matter. For Hegel, Art is conceived as a manifestation of the Absolute and the supreme form of Truth. The function of Art, for Hegel, is to reveal Truth. In Art the individual grasps Truth in its immediacy. The aesthetic experience, for the individual, is the Absolute realising itself through that individual.
(127) Adan asked:
Hi. I just had a question in regards to 10 necessary and sufficient clauses. They are as follows:
Are the following sentences true or false ? In each case explain the reasoning behind your answer.
1. Being alive is a necessary condition for having a right to life.
2. Being human is a sufficient condition for being a mammal.
3. Having US citizenship is a necessary condition for becoming president of the US.
4. Having US citizenship is a sufficient condition for becoming president of the US.
5. Being a woman is a sufficient condition for being human.
6. Rain is a sufficient condition for the ground's being wet.
7. A perfect SAT score is a sufficient condition for getting into Notre Dame
8. Being 7 feet tall is a sufficient condition for being at least 5 feet tall.
9. Completing all assignments is a sufficient condition for getting an A in PHIL 20101.
10. Committing acts that scare civilians is a sufficient condition for being a terrorist.
What fun. The questions deal with a nice mix of logical, legal, physical and practical necessity/ sufficiency
1. Being alive is a necessary condition for having a right to life. I think True.
Being alive is obviously not sufficient for having a right to life (TB germs are alive but nobody thinks they have rights) But is it necessary ? For existing things, the answer seems clear. A thing cant have a right to life unless it already has life. So books, houses and other inanimate things cant have such a right. For non existent things, it's less clear. We sometimes say future generations have a right to, say, a world without devastating, maybe lethal, global warming. So do we have an obligation to any future individual (who is not now alive) so that this individual has a present right to expect us to discharge that obligation thereby recognizing and protecting her right to life ? I'd say no, future individuals, being non existent, cant have rights. Our present policies will determine which individuals get born. The present policy by many Western women to have children when aged 30-plus means that the children who would have been born had those women gone for teenage pregnancy don't get born at all (the sperms and eggs that would have formed them just go to waste). Have we violated the right to life of these never-existing children ? I don't think so.
2. Being human is a sufficient condition for being a mammal. True (taking 'human' to mean 'a human being', rather than including, say, a piece of human DNA, which obviously isn't a mammal). Logical sufficiency. Mammals include the species homo sapiens (human beings) and many other species, so that being a member of any one of these species is sufficient to be a mammal.
3. Having US citizenship is a necessary condition for becoming president of the US. True. Here, the necessity is legal rather than logical. The US constitution requires candidates to be US citizens, US-born and over 35 years old.
4. Having US citizenship is a sufficient condition for becoming president of the US. False. Other things are needed as well. You must be eligible to run for the job, you have to get more votes than any other candidate. Having US citizenship isn't even a sufficient condition for being eligible. Sadly for Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, as Governor of California, tried but failed to get the Constitution amended so that he could run for president, you have to be US-born.
5. Being a woman is a sufficient condition for being human. True. A woman is human by definition being an 'adult female human being'.
6 Rain is a sufficient condition for the ground's being wet. True. Given that the ground is wet, one condition that is enough to explain it, is rain. Of course rain is not always sufficient to make the ground wet. Rain at sea doesn't (no ground) and rain wouldn't if the ground were very hot, say 800 degrees C (rain just vaporizes) or very cold (rain instantly freezes so ground is icy not wet).
7. A perfect SAT score is a sufficient condition for getting into Notre Dame. Don't know. It's a matter of practical sufficiency true if regulations say so and assumed background conditions met. I've no idea what a SAT is (age-related ignorance I suppose). I assume that the only life forms on earth to get perfect SAT scores are humans, and that by 'getting into Notre Dame' you mean enrolling at the University rather than visiting the cathedral. So, is being a human with a perfect SAT score enough to get you in ? Say the regulations state that a SAT score of 70% or more gets you in, then your perfect score is sufficient. So the answer is yes. The regulations make background assumptions eg that you are human (a perfect SAT score from an ET might or might not suffice to get the alien in) and not dangerous (a perfect SAT score might be insufficient in an applicant recently-released, hopefully 'rehabilitated', after 20 years in jail for compulsive arson targeted exclusively at University buildings in various countries. More general background conditions are assumed to be met eg the Earth continues to exist, Notre Dame isn't closed down because it turned out to be an elaborate money-laundering scam etc.
8. Being 7 feet tall is a sufficient condition for being at least 5 feet tall. True. Logical sufficiency.To be at least 5 feet tall means to be 5 feet tall or to be more. Seven feet tall is more than 5 feet tall and so is sufficient.
9. Completing all assignments is a sufficient condition for getting an A in Phil 20101. Don't know. Do you mean 2010, or are you a visitor from the 201st century, or is 20101 a course number rather than a date? Anyway, answer as for 7. (depends on regulations and assumed background conditions). I doubt if just completing assignments would suffice, they could be done so atrociously as to fail to merit any grade never mind an A. But, for all I know, maybe 'completing'' means 'completing to the satisfaction of those setting them', and different assignments are set depending on the grade you are aiming for, so that completing all assignments is sufficient.
10. Committing acts that scare civilians is a sufficient condition for being a terrorist. False. Hinges on definition of terrorist. Those committing acts that scare civilians would seem to include drunken revellers any night in UK town centres, football hooligans, police officers on duty at violent demonstrations, and I wouldn't call any of these terrorists. To do so would be to define 'terrorist'so broadly that the word becomes useless. At the same time, I recognize that a judgment that somebody is a terrorist depends a lot on your perspective. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
(130) Derrick asked:
I recently read a report on a request made by the Russian Minister of Finance who asked that Russians smoke and drink more as the country needed the revenue. Is this not as a result of their adoption of the capitalist system, a system that has been faulty since its exception?
Communism did not work and the West did its utmost to see it failed, the Capitalist system is no better as it benefits only a small segment of the population and the myth of the creation of wealth which is now the holy grail is all smoke and mirrors and has value as long as the paper Dollar retains its value.
When it comes to finance we have people who are awarded the Nobel prize for the creation of systems that are supposed to improve how systems work, I have yet to see this actually effect anything, in fact things keep getting worse.
We are told how well we are doing while pensioners don't know how they are going to survive.
We are also told the markets know best, best for who? A shareholder's interest is never a countries interest, self-interest is the only consideration.
What do we need to break the cycle of greed, a 3rd World war? But then war is profitable.
I understand Greek Philosophers had thoughts on matters of finance, does Philosophy have solutions or is man so flawed that we are too far into the abyss to pull back?
Derrick's question is timely. I have been seriously considering whether I want to continue as Editor of Philosophy for Business, the e-journal which I launched in November 2003, in an atmosphere of heady optimism that a 'reformed' version of Capitalism, or 'Capitalism 2.0' was just around the corner. The philosophers would show the way.
While the readership of the e-journal has steadily increased, the flow of articles has significantly declined. There are undoubtedly business ethicists out there, marketing their expertise, but they've gotten smart. They know the things that companies and corporations don't want to hear, so they don't tell them. All the talk is of how, by increasing the company's ethical quotient, or boosting its CSR strategy, or even developing the 'emotional intelligence' of managers and executives, profits will inevitably increase. Cast your bread upon the waters.
Don't mistake these remarks for cynicism. I think that the business ethicists are doing the right thing, the only thing they can do, by working for evolutionary change and not trying to start a revolution. If things seem to be going very slowly one has to remember that the system has massive inertia. Change will come, but it will come slowly. At least, that's the optimistic forecast.
But too slowly for the likes of me. The great slogan of defenders of Capitalism (of which I am one) is 'freedom'. I believe in freedom. You can't have freedom without the marketplace, where goods, commodities and services are freely bartered and exchanged. That's the way it works. This isn't caving in to human 'selfishness' but rather the only way the game can be played. There's a place for ethics, provided you recognize that ethics and CSR are things you have to budget for. In some years you have more to spend and in other years less.
What really hurts me is seeing how unfree this same system has made us. If someone offers you work you don't waste time thinking whether you really need the money (unless you are lucky to have an inheritance or private income). It doesn't matter if you are a senior executive or do the postal round. Now, as a response to the recent downturn, belts are being tightened once more, we are being asked to work harder and longer while we avert our eyes from those unlucky enough to be cast on the scrapheap.
We are prisoners of our own expectations for example, that the only healthy state for an economy is growth. You must consume more, so that the money can go round, job opportunities increase etc. This is all economic witchcraft. Why not consume less, work less, have more time to dream, more time to philosophize?
Our wealth is one another, our friendships, our human capacities, the world of culture that human beings have created. When will there be an economics of that? Could there be, or is it more realistic to assume that the very concept of being 'economical' is at fault, that human beings are at their best when they are extravagant, when they don't count the cost? When was the last time you treated yourself or your partner, or family to something you couldn't afford? If you ever did, did you feel guilty afterwards? Shouldn't one feel more guilty at allowing such base considerations as money to influence one's decisions? (Actually, I think we do based on my own experience.)
I sympathize with the Russian Minister of Finance. Alcohol and tobacco are two of the greatest benefits bestowed on humankind and at the same time two of the greatest curses. They are not just 'addictions'. They make you feel good. I can't think of anything more important then feeling good about oneself and about the world. You'll say that the country 'doesn't need' even more resources expended on the illnesses caused by smoking, or the social disorder caused by drinking. But maybe there is a balance that hasn't been reached yet. The economic benefits of a ten percent increase in smoking, say, marginally outweigh the cost of the increased burden on the health services. I can see that.
In his question, Derrick refers to the Greek philosophers. One of the fashionable trends in contemporary business ethics reflected in the number of articles on this topic published in Philosophy for Business is the application of Aristotelian virtue theory to the business world. The focus on the virtues needed for the 'good life', and in particular, the virtues needed to be a good business person, is one that I welcome. (See my Ethical Dilemmas, in particular Unit 10.)
The problem is that if you are looking to redress the imbalance between the rich and the poor, Aristotle and Greek philosophy generally is the wrong model. The Greeks had no problem with the idea of social inequality. Slaves were an essential part of the well-ordered polis. Unless you give a totally false, 'Christianized' gloss on the notion of 'virtue', there is no necessary corollary that exercising the virtues, or the business virtues will lead to a 'fairer' world, where we can all be free and equal together.
But I agree with Derrick that the world is in a mess, in so many ways, as it always has been (although that's no comfort).
My response is unoriginal, one that you will have heard many times before. If you can't change the world, if things move too slowly regardless of your best efforts, then at least you can work on yourself. If you are well-off, in a good job, then stop being so complacent. Become aware of your over-dependence on the system, which rewards you now but tomorrow may kick you out through the back door. If you are poor, then stop complaining. Consider all the ways there are of improving yourself without amassing useless material possessions. Ask how you can be helpful to others rather than just looking to others for help.
I am going to publish my answer to Derrick in the next issue of Philosophy for Business, which is due to go out at the beginning of next week, provided I can scratch together another couple of articles to go with it. If you are a philosopher or business ethicist reading this, then the offer of the Editorship is genuine. There's no salary, but then there's not a lot of work to do. Mainly, you will be badgering (or, if necessary, bullying) colleagues or people you know into writing articles. It would look good on anyone's CV.
If you're interested, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Initially, you will be invited to guest edit one issue. This is an experiment we've successfully tried in the past. If you pass the test, and still have the appetite for more, then the job's yours for as long as you can continue the flow of quality material. Think about it. It could change your life it certainly changed mine.
(137) Harman asked:
In Descartes' second meditation, he claims there are many more things beyond doubt in the same way his own existence is. He says 'I now hear a noise, I feel heat. These things are false since I am asleep. Yet I do seem to see, hear and feel warmth. This cannot be false. Properly speaking, this is what in me is called 'sensing'. But this precisely so taken, is nothing other than thinking.' Does this mean that Descartes says his senses cannot be doubted?
Hi Harman, taken in isolation, I can understand how you might assume that this quotation infers that Descartes held the view that his senses could not be doubted, however, if you read the text immediately following this passage (that relating to the 'ball of wax'), you will find that Descartes quickly moves to question this approach. Thus, rather than saying that the senses cannot be doubted, Descartes held that all empirical evidence all knowledge deriving from the senses, is unreliable. What he is interested in was a priori clear and distinct ideas: ideas which do not depend on sensory experience, but ideas or knowledge that derives only from reason. If you would like a more extensive explanation of Descartes' philosophy, you may find this piece (put together by me some time ago) of some interest.
Descartes' Discourse on Method
With the Renaissance came the rediscovery of man in nature and a desire to assemble contemporary thought into one coherent philosophical system again presented itself. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) came to believe that the body of knowledge inherited from the Middle Ages was unreliable. His main concern was with what we can know. This form of philosophy is called epistemology. In other words, 'certain knowledge'. Descartes was convinced that there was a division between spirit and matter. In his Discourse on Method he raises the question of the method the philosopher must employ in the search for truth. Descartes argued that we should not accept anything as being true unless we can perceive it clearly and distinctly. To achieve this we must break down a compound problem into as many single factors as possible. Then we must take our departure point the simplest idea of all. Every single thought must be weighed and measured, just as Galileo wanted everything to be measured and everything immeasurable to be made measurable. Descartes believed that philosophy should move from the simple to the complex, because only then would it be possible to construct a new insight. Finally, it would be necessary to ensure, by constant control and enumeration that nothing was left out. Only then could a philosophical conclusion be within reach.
Descartes' aim was to reach certainty about the nature of life. He begins by maintaining that at first one should doubt everything. Following this chain of thought he came to conclude that one thing he could be sure of was that he was doubting. Moreover, because he was doubting, he must be thinking, and because he was thinking he must surely be a thinking being. Or, as Descartes says 'Cogito, ergo sum' ('I think, therefore I am'). Following Parmenides and Plato, Descartes held that that which we grasp with our reason is more real than that which we grasp with our senses. He perceived not only that he was a thinking 'I', but that this thinking 'I' was more real than the material world which we perceive through the senses. This is the kernel of Descartes' theory of knowledge. Bertrand Russell maintains that it contains that which is 'most important in his [Descartes'] philosophy :'I think, therefore I am', makes mind more certain than matter, and my mind (for me) more certain than the mind of others' (History of Western Philosophy, 1991, p. 550. Routledge London). Having established his existence, Descartes proceeded to investigate his nature of essence. What kind of thing am I? he asked. I am not essentially a physical being, for, applying the method of doubt, I can doubt whether I have a body or even that external objects exist. One thing that I can be sure of is that because I am a thinking being, the essence of my nature is to think. Furthermore, this thinking 'I' is separate from my physical body.
Descartes' Theory of Dualism
Descartes believed that each of us possesses the idea of a perfect entity. Inherent in that idea is the fact that a perfect entity must exist because, as Anselm had said, a perfect entity can only be perfect if it has existence. Neither could we conceive of a perfect entity if there was no such thing. We are imperfect, said Descartes, so the idea of perfection cannot come from us. Descartes reasons that the idea of a perfect being must have been placed in him by a really existing perfect being God. That God exists was therefore as self-evident to Descartes as that a thinking being must exist.
Descartes believed that the idea of God was innate; it was something we are born with. The more self-evident a thing is to one's reason, the more certain it is that it exists. From this he concluded that he was a thinking being and that there exists a perfect entity, God. With this as his departure point, Descartes lays out his theory of dualism. With regard to all the ideas we have concerning outer reality, there is possibility that we are deceived. We think we have a body but we may be dreaming; we cannot be certain that we have a body. Descartes believed his body and all the non-conscious natural world was non-essential, that is, contingent. It is important to realise that Descartes is not saying that the material world does not exist, but that its existence is radically unlike that of the mind. His body is not part of his essence, therefore, if his body ceased to exist, his mind would not cease to be all that it is. In other words, Descartes would continue to be Descartes even if he had no body.
There are two kinds of reality two substances says Descartes. One is thought, or mind, the other is extension, or matter. The mind is purely conscious and occupies no room in space and therefore cannot be subdivided into smaller and smaller parts. Matter, on the other hand has no consciousness. Descartes maintained that both mind and matter originate from God, because only God exists independently of anything else. Although both substances come from God, they are independent of each other. Thought is independent of matter and conversely, the material processes are independent of thought.
Descartes, then, can be said to have divided God's creation in two. In this way, we understand that he was a dualist: that is, he effects a sharp division between the reality of thought and the reality of extension, or matter. According to Descartes, the human body is a machine. But man also has a mind which operates independently of the body. Descartes' 'mind' can be compared to the Christian notion of 'soul'. Christianity teaches that the soul is independent of the body and therefore not limited to the co-ordinates of time and space; it is the source of consciousness and survives death of the body. The Cartesian mind can be understood in the same way. Descartes believed that the existence of the body was contingent to the mind that is, that the mind does not depend on the body for its existence. This brings us to, what might be called, the 'Cartesian paradox', for although Descartes argued that the body and mind were separate substances, he did accept that there was constant interaction between them. As long as the mind is in the body, Descartes believed it is connected to the brain by a special 'organ'. This organ he called the 'pineal gland', and it is found at the base of the brain, somewhere in the region of the nose. Here, apparently, some sort of impact occurs between the physical, the extended brain and the unextended, thinking mind. The existence of the pineal gland allows for constant interaction between 'spirit' and 'matter'. In this way the mind can be constantly affected by feelings and passions that are related to bodily needs. But the mind also has the ability to detach itself from such 'base' impulses and operate independently of the body. This aim is to get reason to assume command.
Not surprisingly, the pineal gland theory actually produced more problems than it solved, since one could ask whether this was physical, and if so, how could it be connected to something that did not occupy space? If it were mental, how could it be next to any part of the brain? When this problem was pointed out to Descartes he became increasingly vague about the issue and insisted that the fact of the interaction was known to everybody. 'We experience it all the time', he said, 'but how mind and body were united', he admitted, 'was most difficult to explain' (see Philosophy. Popkin and Stroll. 1996: 125). In parenthesis, it should be said that there actually is such a gland (also called the 'pineal body' or 'epiphysis'). It is a small endocrine system endocrine gland in the brain. It is located near the center of the brain, between the two cerebral hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two rounded thalamus-thalamic bodies join. However, there is absolutely no evidence that it serves the purpose described by Descartes and it should come as no surprise to learn that the 'curious transactions of the pineal gland' was dropped by followers of Descartes.
In Descartes' metaphysics there are three basic components of the universe, called substances: God, mind, and matter. All other things are modifications of these. God is the creative substance, who created mind and matter. The essential property of the mental substance is that it thinks. The essential property of matter is that it is extended.
By reducing all material entities to extended substances, Descartes produced a philosophical justification for a new picture of the natural world. Like Newton, he saw the physical world as an elaborate mechanism a grand cosmic clockwork. This vast world machine operates in accordance to God's constant laws, says Descartes. God constantly converses with, and controls, a physical order in which various portions of extension move others by contact, producing the regular world that modern science describes. Descartes believed that everything that is extended is part of this elaborate machine. The only aspect of the created world that is not part of the world machine is mind. Mind, says Descartes, is completely unextended and therefore, not in contact with the material world which brings us back to the unresolved problem of the pineal gland. The activities of the mind include: thinking, willing, reasoning, and so on. In this way Descartes' world machine, in denying any purposeful capabilities in the physical world, provided a suitable metaphysical basis for the new scientific theories of such scientists as Galileo in that it gave scientific activity intellectual respectability without offending the Church. It should also be said that Descartes was not without his critics. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), for example, saw Descartes as a man of little understanding of religious faith, and his remark that 'The heart has its reasons which reason knows not' (see Pensees) was directly aimed at Descartes.
One argument against Descartes' concept of the I or ego as an intrinsic, independent entity divorced from the body is that it devalues the existence of other human beings. In fact, it could be said that, were it to be true, it reduces other people to non-beings: simply to figments of the ego's imagination. In such a situation there would be no compunction or obligation for the 'thinking I' to attempt to empathise or sympathise with others. Since all would could be certain of is that one alone exists, there would be no reason for a charter of human rights; no need to think of anyone's happiness but one's own, for to possess such an intrinsic, independent existence is to hold the view that the ego has the capacity to remain untouched by or influenced by the actions of others and of other things.