Cantor and the Infinite Stairway
Also avail able in PDF Cantor and the Infinite Stairway
Peter Krey and Jason Zarri
Although the word ‘philosophy’ etymologically means love of wisdom, this is not its
only meaning, though it may be its most important one. Philosophy also encompasses rational inquiry and argumentation in general, and is not restricted to any particular subject matter. The word “philosophy” may thus be defined, more broadly, as careful, sustained, critical thought about anything you could possibly think of. It is our conviction that this book will vindicate this definition. In what follows you will encounter a wide range of the ideas and arguments of some of the world’s greatest philosophers. In keeping with the spirit of our definition of philosophy, you will not only learn what these ideas and arguments are, but also develop the ability to critically evaluate them based on the support given for their assumptions and the quality of their internal logic. We write this book with the hope that when you finish it you will be both better informed about philosophy and better equipped to practice it.
Ryan, Scott. Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality
Ayn Rand presented Objectivism as a philosophy of reason. But is it? That is the question Scott Ryan seeks to answer in this careful examination of the Objectivist epistemology and its alleged sufficiency as the philosophical foundation of a free and prosperous commonwealth. Sorting painstakingly through Rand’s writings on the subject, Mr. Ryan concludes that the epistemology of Objectivism is incoherent and debases both the concept and the practice of rationality.
In this article I try to answer two questions: First, what is it that we’re trying to do in formulating a theory of knowledge? One (unhelpful) answer to this question that we’re trying to construct a true theory of knowledge. But what are theories of knowledge theories of? Now, in general, attempted answers to a question of the form “What are theories of x theories of?” face a dilemma: The answer that they are theories of x is uninformative, but the answer that they are theories of xaccording to some particular account of what x is is illegitimate, because it is question-begging. Second, can we learn anything from the fact that Gettier cases are difficult to solve? I believe the answer to the second question is “yes”, and that inquiring into why that is will give us a clue to resolving the dilemma we face in trying to answer the first. I begin by explaining what a Gettier case is, and explain why I think there is no agreed-upon response to such cases. I then examine the notion of a theory of knowledge, and the issue of what makes different such theories genuinely rival theories of the same thing. I then give my own account in terms of the notion of a paradigm example, arguing that theories of knowledge should be theories of how paradigm examples of knowledge sources work. Along the way, I answer objections to my views.
Alison M. Jaggar begins her article “Abortion and a Woman’s Right to Decide” by saying that she seeks to defend a right to abortion that is contingent on particular social circumstances; it is neither universal nor absolute. Her core claim is as follows: “… each woman should have the sole legal right to decide whether or not, in her own case, an abortion should be performed” (Living with Contradictions, p. 281). In formulating her ideas as she does, Jaggar hopes to sidestep a host of issues, such as the moral status of the fetus and whether or not a woman’s right to abortion derives from a right to control her own body. She assumes only what she takes to be two relatively uncontroversial moral principles, from which she concludes that in at least some cases abortion can be morally justified. I will argue below that these assumptions are far too flimsy a foundation to support the rights that Jaggar wants them to support.
How to Know What Should Be So: Ethical Guidance and Ethical Theories (Also available as a PDF)
If one is in a moral quandary it is wise to look for ethical guidance if one has the time to do so. Ethical theories are, among other things, intended to be one possible source of ethical guidance. If such guidance is valuable, then in ethics there is an embarrassment of riches: There are multiple, well-accepted, yet mutually inconsistent theories. These include utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, contractarianism, libertarianism, natural law theory, some forms of moral particularism, and more. The disquieting thing is that, at present, it seems that we are not at all close to being able to determine which of them, if any, is right. How can you know what you should do when ethicists, those who devote their careers to studying such theories, cannot reach a consensus on which one we should accept? Those who look to ethical theories for ethical guidance are apt to be disappointed. This situation is problematic, for if ethical theorizing is to have relevance to real-world ethical behavior, and not just be a way of examining ethical issues out of a love of arguments or puzzles, it must be possible for us to use ethical theories to inform ourselves of what we should do.
Tom Regan has argued with great force that animals have what he calls “inherent value”. Because all beings that have inherent value have it equally (p. 87), animals and humans are equally valuable, and thus have the same moral status. But I hold that Regan’s notion of “inherent value” is ambiguous: In one sense it applies to animals, and in another it does not. I will argue, in opposition to Regan, that while animals may very well have a moral status, they do not have the same moral status that human beings do.
In this essay I want to present a somewhat informal introduction to what I take to be the essential doctrine of idealistic ethics. It is the view that there is a single real will that incorporates all of our apparently individual wills, and that there is therefore a single overarching common end in which all of our obligations against one another are grounded.
This doctrine has gone by various names: the general will, social will, the real will, the rational will. It has an interesting and somewhat checkered history. Jean-Jacques Rousseau gave the first modern exposition of it inThe Social Contract, but his account of it was notoriously bad. Thomas Hill Green gave a much more satisfactory presentation of it in his Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation; Bernard Bosanquet did likewise in The Philosophical Theory of the State and elsewhere, calling it the “real will”; Brand Blanshard gave a modified account in Reason and Goodness, suggesting “rational will” as his preferred term. I’ll adopt that term in this essay as well.
Most people find it intuitive that there are some things that are just plain wrong, no matter what. Enslaving some minority group or torturing the innocent are prime examples of such things. Nevertheless, there are some, called consequentialists, who think there are circumstances in which any action, no matter how vile in the estimation of common sense, is not merely permissible but positively obligatory if performing it is expected to produce more good than any of its alternatives. In his article “The Consequentialist Perspective”, William Shaw argues that the commonsense view that something can be wrong even though it leads to the production of the most good is actually paradoxical. In what follows I will show that while Shaw’s argument may be fatal to certain forms of deontology, it leaves a moderate form of particularism of the sort advocated by W.D. Ross unscathed.
When I was young I grew up watching Star Trek. On Star Trek, goodness prevailed over evil, and intelligence over ignorance. Humankind overcame war and managed to colonize planets. Very soon, aliens and humans put aside their differences in order to form the United Federation of Planets, an experiment in cosmic humanism that could only mean continual progress. The handsome Captain Kirk always stood up for the “American Way” gone galactic, the idea that commerce would overcome borders and cultural differences. The Enterprise was there to defend democracy, not to practice it. Captain Kirk had to be obeyed, but only because he was first among equals and not because of any royal birth. The message of Star Trek was that planetary colonization would only lead to a world of expanding horizons and continuing exploration. It was a message that resonated with the imagination of youth.
What ends the naivety of childhood is not the realization that light is the cosmic speed limit, a fact probably prohibiting easy transport to the stars. I knew that then, and such a trifle did not end the imaginative cocoon of childhood. Nor was it the fact that aliens probably don’t look like humans. This was pretty obvious to me at that time given my basic familiarity with Darwin and natural selection. What ends the naivety of childhood is not scientific fact since that is often more the handmaiden of imagination than anything stifling a young mind. What ended childhood was the realization of complexity.
In his article “Famine, Affluence and Morality” Peter Singer gives a seemingly devastating critique of our ordinary ways of thinking about famine relief, charity, and morality in general. In spite of that very few people have accepted, or at any rate acted on, the conclusions he reaches. In light of these facts one might say of Singer’s arguments, as Hume said of Berkeley’s arguments for immaterialism, that “… they admit of no answer and produce no conviction.” While I do think that Singer’s considerations show that people should do considerably more than most people actually do, they do not establish his conclusions in their full strength or generality. So his arguments admit of a partial answer, and once properly qualified may produce some conviction.
In this article I provide a synopsis of Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, in which he tries to get his readers to consider, or reconsider, the question of what their obligations are to those who are trapped in extreme poverty. To make the connections between the different ideas and subjects easier to perceive, I will proceed topically, which means that the order in which I discuss certain things is sometimes different from the order in which they occur in the book. As is almost inevitable when summarizing a book of any appreciable length, I will fail to discuss some sections and even chapters, in order to devote more attention to those parts of the book that I regard as the most important. Also, unless otherwise noted, all page references are to The Life You Can Save.
Julia M. Loo
James A. Marcum wrote his article “The epistemically virtuous clinician” in 2009 in response to what he calls a “quality of care” crisis in modern Western medicine. According to him, this crisis is as follows: despite dramatic advances in fighting illness, increasing numbers of patients are unhappy with their doctors. Marcum attributes the development of the quality of care crisis to physicians’ emphasis on evaluating symptoms and managing disease over connecting with and caring for patients on a personal level. He suggests using virtue epistemological concepts for counteracting medical providers’ tendencies to “objectify” and “dehumanize” patients. He analyzes a model case by identifying the intellectual virtues shown in it. Based on his observations, he recommends the inclusion of extensive and early virtue training into medical school curricula.
I second Marcum’s assessment that the quality of care crisis is related to our society’s shortage of epistemically virtuous attitudes and actions. Virtue training has the potential to positively affect doctors, patients, and society at large. However, I find the range of Marcum’s suggestions for improvement too narrow. It is the purpose of this paper to propose a widening of his scope. I attempt to include additional, broader societal and psychological factors into this analysis in order to create a more ambitious version of Marcum’s approach to virtue pedagogy.
Ethics and Psychology
Erich Neumann’s Holistic Ethics for the Total Person Correlated with Luther’s In Depth Theology
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Erick Neumann developed a new ethics informed by in-depth analysis from Jungian psychology. He argued that we have to take responsibility also for our shadow side that we do not fall for a scapegoat psychology and, I would add, for conspiracy theories. Our shadow side may also fall on the consciousness of the masses, inducing a negative mentality and /or even a negative movement. For example, John McCain and Sarah Palin’s negative campaign against Barack Obama started to make a shadow fall and begin to activate the crowds in a violent and prejudiced direction. McCain had to check these reactions that their irresponsible statements produced.
Neumann argues that traditional ethics, in only operating in the conscious part of our minds, does not take responsibility for what happens because of negatives that we repress, displace, and deny and thus merely drive into our unconscious. There they then gain strength and raise havoc against our wills and behind our backs. In the fascist movements, however, in their reversion to tribalism, they can also lead to atrocities committed in “good conscience.” Neumann will explain.
We will introduce many correlations of Neumann’s thought with Luther’s theology in the progress of this study. But already the integration of the shadow side of the person into the conscious self reminds of Luther’s teaching about being sinners and saints at one and the same time. In a delusional self-righteousness, persons can project their sin onto others who are different from themselves. Self-righteousness prevents a person from owning up to also having such a sinful side.
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History of Philosophy
Hume on Causation, Relations and “Necessary Connexions” (Also available as a PDF)
A specter is haunting Hume scholarship: the specter of the “New Hume.” Contrary to more traditional interpretations, according to which Hume rejects belief in any conception of causation that invokes (metaphysically) necessary connections between distinct existences, proponents of the New Hume hold that Hume at the least allowed for the possibility of such connections—it’s just that he thought we couldn’t know much, if anything, about them, if we assume that they do exist.
I will argue that the views of the “New Humers” (as I shall call them) are mistaken. I will begin by discussing their reading of Hume on causation, using Galen Strawson as a foil. I then examine the relation between Hume’s view of relations (pun intended) and his account of “necessary connexions”. Next, I argue that this account, once properly understood, shows that he did not believe in what we would think of as necessary connections while at the same time explaining why, as the New Humers point out, Hume sometimes writes in ways that can make it sound like he does, as well as reconciling Hume’s two definitions of causation. After that, I answer objections, and then raise some doubts about Hume’s account before finally concluding the paper.
A Primer on Logic
1. An Easy $10.00?
Suppose someone were to bet you $10.00 that you would fail a seemingly simple test of your reasoning skills. Feeling confident in your abilities, you accept. The test works like this: There are four cards, numbered (i)—(iv). Each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. Your goal is to check to see if the following claim is refuted by any of the cards. The claim is that, if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an odd number on the other. To win, you must turn over all of the cards you need to to check the claim, and no more than the cards you need to to check the claim. The cards are displayed like so:
| a | | 3 | | c | | 2 |
(i) (ii) (iii) (iv)
Which of the cards do you need to turn over to check to see if the claim holds? Stop reading this essay for a minute and try to figure it out. I don’t mind waiting.
In this Part our goal is to learn how to determine the validity of argument schemas, abstract “forms” or patterns that multiple arguments have in common. Along the way it will be necessary to examine statements in more detail, in particular the ways in which simpler ones can be combined to make more complex ones, for in doing so we will find ways to tell which argument schemas are valid and which are not. We shall thus need to dabble in formal logic, the philosophical and mathematical field which studies deductive reasoning.
In the last Part we learned how to determine the validity of argument schemas, and in order to do so we had to become acquainted with a small fragment of formal logic. The branch of logic we dealt with is called propositional logic, which deals with statements considered as wholes and the ways in which they are related to each other. Propositional logic is good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. There are many valid arguments whose validity it cannot account for. To find out which arguments these are and why they are valid, we must examine not only statements but the elements of which statements are composed and the ways in which they are related to each other.
In this Interlude I’ll expose some inadequacies of Aristotelian logic, so you can see why it was necessary to go beyond it.
Predicate logic, as we know it today, originated with the pioneering work of the philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege. He devised his logical system with two main goals in mind. First, he wished to develop a logic which, unlike Aristotelian logic, was powerful enough to represent advanced forms of mathematical reasoning. Second, he wished to show that, contra Kant, arithmetic was indeed reducible to pure logic, and so ‘analytic’ in a certain sense. While his second project was a failure, his first was a great success. In this Part we shall discover what this logic is, why it was needed, and how it works.
I believe I’ve found a way to say everything that one would normally say in predicate logic using quantifiers, but without actually using any, and also without using Hilbert’s epsilon operator. Instead of saying that something holds for all x by binding x with a universal quantifier, one can say it by capitalizing all of x’s occurrences in a sentence that would, in “standard notation”, be in the scope of the quantifier. And instead of saying that something holds for some y by binding y with an existential quantifier, one can say it by leaving all of y’s occurrences un-capitalized. Thus, in “variable notation”—so called because it expresses quantification by modifying variables—instead of ∀x (Fx) one would write FX, and instead of ∃y (Gy) one would write Gy.
In this paper I introduce the idea of a higher-order modal logic—not a modal logic for higher-order predicate logic, but rather a logic of higher-order modalities. “What is a higher-order modality?”, you might be wondering. Well, if a first-order modality is a way that some entity could have been—whether it is a mereological atom, or a mereological complex, or the universe as a whole—a higher-order modality is a way that a first-order modality could have been. First-order modality is modeled in terms of a space of possible worlds—a set of worlds structured by an accessibility relation, i.e., a relation of relative possibility—each world representing a way that the entire universe could have been. A second-order modality would be modeled in terms of a space of spaces of (first-order) possible worlds, each space representing a way that (first-order) possible worlds could have been. And just as there is a unique actual world which represents the way that things actually are, there is a unique actual space which represents the way that first-order modality actually is.
One might wonder what the accessibility relation itself is like. Presumably, if it is logical or metaphysical modality that is being dealt with, it is reflexive; but is it also symmetric, or transitive? Especially in the case of metaphysical modality, the answer is not clear. And whichever of these properties it may or may not have, could that itself have been different? Could at least some rival modal logics represent different ways that first-order modality could have been?
When I use the word “experience” I will be using it in a manner that is covered by none of the above dictionary definitions in any strict sense, though some of those uses do hint at it. The best I can do is to allude to my use through examples. There are visual experiences, auditory experiences, tactile experiences, gustatory experiences, and olfactory experiences. Hunger and thirst are experiences, as are vertigo and nausea. Pleasure and pain are experiences. Thoughts, emotions, memories, and anticipations are also experiences, as are hallucinations and dreams. Moreover, when I wish to refer collectively to the entire set of all such items of experience in any instant I will do so by use of the phrase “the field of experience” regardless of whatever arguments might be brought to bear against my employment of the term “field”.
The field of experience is in constant flux and divides into a collection of “experiences” (examples of which have been supplied above). This is the proper starting point for any investigation into the nature of that field, and this fact is often obscured by our human propensity to regard the world of our conceptual models as the “primary reality”. This proper starting point admits of a number of metaphysical views, each with its own characteristic problems. My aim here is to give one such view, namely panexperientialism, a fairer hearing than it often gets today. Some common misconceptions are cleared away, and it is shown that the characteristic problems accompanying this view are not fatal. Neither are they as serious as some of the problems accompanying competing views. Finally, support is garnered for panexperientialism from a number of sources, mainly (but not entirely) deriving from the manifest need for a new paradigm that is forced upon us by the quantum theory. For this reason I have appended a very brief overview of some relevant developments in physics since the close of the nineteenth century, but an understanding of these developments is not essential to an understanding of the main thesis presented below.
This essay is not a technical exposition of the doctrines of objective idealism. What I want to do in this essay is make vividly real to you the problem to which I think objective idealism is the best solution, and tell you why I think that.
In Dropping Ashes on the Buddha [pp. 20-21], Stephen Mitchell [that page will appear in a new browser window] reports an exchange between Zen master Seung Sahn and a student in which Seung Sahn holds up a watch and asks, “Is this watch outside your mind or inside it?”
I suppose most people would give the same answer the student gave – namely, that the watch is “outside” the mind. But this superficially obvious answer is fraught with problems.
For as Seung Sahn himself asks, if the watch is “outside” my mind (which is inside my head), how do I know it’s a watch? Does my mind dash out of my eyes, run over to the watch, and then trot back to my head with a report?
On the other hand, if the watch is “inside” my mind (which is inside my head), I seem to have an equally insurmountable problem. For then there doesn’t seem to be any “real” watch “out there” – just the “mental” watch inside my head. And for that matter, how do I know my “head” is real?
Let’s get into groups of three or four persons and choose one of the philosophers here listed and describe the way that this philosopher would look at the apple. Use the concepts that this philosopher would use, and describe how this philosopher would see the reality of the apple.
For this exercise, the teacher will have to have a bag of apples to hand out to the students. It is a nice reversal from the student bringing an apple for the teacher!
Then give them the example of the metaphysical description of the apple according to Plato. The descriptions of several of the other philosophers are here worked out and can be compared to what the students worked out in their groups. This exercise was used at the end of the introduction course after these philosophers had been studied.
John A. Leslie (born 2 August 1940) and Timothy L.S. Sprigge (14 January 1932—11 July 2007) have enjoyed an unusually high degree of intellectual kinship. Most notably, each has defended a version of pantheism (or panentheism), and each has described himself as essentially a Spinozist. In this essay I want to compare their versions of pan(en)theism and see whether and how they might complement one another. (Henceforth I shall employ the term pantheism for both, as that is the term each of them employs most often in characterizing his views.)
I have already summarized Sprigge’s views in “Timothy Sprigge and the Importance of Subjectivity”, so in the first part of this essay I briefly summarize Leslie’s. In the second part I consider how well the two pantheisms fit together.
In this essay I shall offer a brief appreciative overview of the philosophical system of British philosopher Timothy L.S. Sprigge (14 January 1932—11 July 2007). In so doing I shall be emphasizing the importance in that system of subjectivity—of the existence of centers (he writes “centres,” but here I follow the US spelling convention) of consciousness, sentience, and experience, characterized essentially by the fact that there is ‘something that it is like’ to be them.
Sprigge had adopted this way of talking about subjectivity—as involving what it is “like” to be something—before it was made famous by Thomas Nagel in his 1974 paper “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” Subjectivity was a theme of Sprigge’s philosophical work from the very beginning, well before he had fully worked out his mature views. Indeed, “The Importance of Subjectivity” was the title of his inaugural lecture upon his appointment to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and was chosen (by his friend, colleague, former student, and literary executor Leemon McHenry, at the suggestion of Pierfrancesco Basile) as the title of a posthumously published collection of his papers.
My aim is to provide, for interested readers, a short and accessible (though of course very far from complete) account of the main lines of Sprigge’s system in a way that will provide a quick and ready grasp both of the overall unity of that system and of the fundamental and far-reaching importance of subjectivity within it. (Sprigge’s system is not presented in toto in any single source, but it is presented in helpful summary form in the chapter on “Pantheistic Idealism” in The God of Metaphysics. My order of exposition does not quite follow his, and his summary is a good deal longer and in most respects more detailed than this one.) I have had to be a bit selective, as subjectivity is a major theme in Sprigge’s work and plays some important role throughout all of it. I am therefore limiting my exposition to those lines of argument in which I think subjectivity plays an especially significant role or provides some special emphasis or twist.
I hope eventually to write a series of essays on the philosophical foundations of intellectual property rights. If I ever do, I may collect them into a book under the title Homesteading the Mindscape. The present essay is a preliminary approach to that task, as I think any responsible critical discussion of intellectual property rights should begin by saying something about property rights in general.
I have another motive for starting with rights and property rights. I am politically libertarian, but I have not, for the most part, been terribly impressed either by standard libertarian accounts of property rights in general or by standard libertarian critiques of intellectual property rights in particular. Here and in the essays that will eventually follow, I shall severely criticize standard libertarian approaches to these issues.
This essay is an argument that same-sex marriage is already Constitutional under Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), and Lawrence v. Texas, 000 U.S. 02-102 (2003). The current controversy over same-sex marriage is at bottom a conflict between two views of marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage tend to think that legal recognition of a marriage is somehow a way of bestowing society’s blessing or approval on a marital union. Proponents of same-sex marriage tend to think that getting married is simply the exercise of a personal right that doesn’t require anyone else’s approval.
The first of these views appears to be based on a confusion between religious marriages and civil marriages, or at least on a sense that the two should be somehow the same. And it is surely true that most religious marriage rites do involve some sort of endorsement or blessing of a marital union, a communal or institutional ‘stamp of approval’ that requires at least the tacit permission of a community or its authorities.
But civil marriage involves no such thing. There is a long line of Supreme Court cases holding that there is a right to marry (and we’ll mention a few of them in what follows). This right to marry, according to the Court, is a fundamental liberty right, and its exercise – though, like the exercise of all liberty rights, subject to some regulation – neither requires nor involves societal approval of one’s choice of spouse. (And of course the sort of marriage at issue here is civil marriage, i.e,, marriage under the jurisdiction of the Constitution or of the states that are parties to it. Private individuals’ and organizations’ rights of free association and religious expression and so forth are unaffected.)
(It’s not really a quiz; I just use that format to convey some basic information about how the Constitution is supposed to work, by way of preparation for further arguments about the right of privacy.)
This isn’t a ‘scientific’ test or, really, even a particularly objective one; I’m simply using the ‘quiz’ format as a vehicle for conveying a few basic points about U.S. Constitutional law.
You’ll gather that I’m not terribly impressed with ‘conservative’ arguments as regards Constitutional law and the proper role of the judiciary. I do respond to a few ‘liberal’ views here as well, but for the most part ‘liberals’ don’t have any major objections to the Constitutional right of privacy. Since I’ve written other essays the purpose of which is the exposition and defense of that right, I’m naturally focusing on currently fashionable ‘conservative’ views.
Philosophy of Culture
Stephen Lee Naish
In its mid-2000’s heyday, the social networking website Myspace offered a utopia of shared experiences, transnational friendships, potential business opportunities, and a platform for talented musicians and artists to be discovered and praised. It was a hotbed of what seemed like millions of likeminded individuals, most of whom wished to create a world free of international borders, religious doctrine, and political issues. Myspace seemed to portray the positivity of a globalized, democratic and connected world. Its platform meant that it was a chance to promote your personality, or a hyper exaggerated version of your best personality traits to friends in real life, and to those whom you would never get to meet. It allowed us to explore and developed the kind of people we wanted to be, but perhaps, the people we really weren’t. There was only a slim possibility of being called out on falsification of your job title, social status or education, because everyone was doing the same thing. This led to a virtual state of acceptance, one in which we were happy to live. For a short while Myspace seemed to capture a positivity that was seriously lacking in the post 9/11 world of war, terrorism and mistrust. It all seemed too good to be true, and of course it was.
Philosophy of Language
It has been noted (by George Lakoff, among others) that if someone tells you “Don’t think of an elephant!”, it’s pretty hard not to do it. Though it would take empirical research to fill in the details, the answer as to why this is so does not seem hard to discern: To understand the order—to understand what one is not supposed to think of—one must understand the term ‘elephant’, and thus come to think of one. I’d wager that in addition to thinking of one an image of an elephant popped into your head as well. This is probably because the concept of an elephant is an empirical concept—no crisp, abstract definition of an elephant comes readily to mind, so a stereotypical image is needed to make it intelligible. By contrast, if someone were to tell you “Don’t think of the number 2!” it is less likely that an image would come up, unless you confuse the numeral ‘2’ with the number 2—or, at least, that the image would be unlikely to be constant for different people, or for the same person at different times.
What, though, if someone were to tell you “Don’t think of a square circle!” Is it so hard to comply in this case?
Well, maybe it is: Do I really know what it is I’m not supposed to think of? If not, I’m not really complying with the order, because I fail to understand it. I’m merely doing what it says. Nevertheless, what interests me here is not our concept of compliance, but rather that of conceiving or imagining the impossible.
What is the impact of language on society, and what role does language play in social change? Although Jürgen Habermas calls language the medium of the life-world, the way money and power are the media of the economic and political systems respectively, can language be so powerful to play a role in changing the systems as well? Robert Bellah notes that people have often tried to bring the world closer to the life-world by making it a more human place, and they have tried to do so through language,
In this way Bellah supports the controversial position I am taking: language can change society. But even if I do not want to short change the media of money and power, I believe the role language plays needs more focused attention, and could reward such analysis and investigation in helping to understand how it is involved in societal change. To discount what Emile Durkheim calls the linguistic culture would be a mistake. He places it along-side of the scientific and historical cultures. If a historicization of totality brings reward, introducing evolution into the study of nature and biology, for example; and the scientific examination of totality also brings untold benefit, then despite the reductionism involved, the investigation of the linguistic totality might also bring reward. Reality is more than the verbalization of it. Thus what role does language play in social change and personal growth?
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Philosophy of Logic
Dialetheism is the belief that some sentences are both true and false—or, depending on how one defines negation, that some sentences are both true and not true. As I will use the term ‘dialetheism’, dialetheism is opposed to trivialism, the belief that every sentence is both true and false. It is thus essential to the dialetheist position that a sentence may be true or false without being both true and false. Consequently, there must be a difference between being exclusively true, or exclusively false, and being both true and false. Given this, it is natural to want to have a way to express such claims. In spite of that, we shall see below that expressing them while avoiding trivialism is none too easy a thing to do.
Philosophy of Mind
In his article “Perception and Its Objects”, P. F. Strawson defends a common-sense standpoint on the nature of perception against its scientifically-inspired opponents. In order to do so, he must establish that these standpoints, despite appearances, do not really contradict each other. However, I think that in this case the appearances are not deceiving. First, I explain the apparent conflict between the scientific standpoint and the common-sense human perceptual standpoint. Next, I outline Strawson’s attempt to reconcile the two via the notion of relativization to a standpoint. Finally, I argue that Strawson’s attempt fails because in the end the notion of relativization to a standpoint is incoherent.
Can computers think? This question has proved to be very divisive. On the one hand there are many in the field of Artificial Intelligence, which attempts to create machines that mimic a variety of human behaviors, who think they can. On the other hand there are many in the Philosophy of Mind, which aims to answer philosophical questions about what the mind is and how it relates to the physical world, who think they cannot. One of the most famous arguments that computers cannot think is John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument, which I will explain below. Though it may seem compelling at first sight, I will show that it cannot do the work Searle wants it to do.
Philosophy of Religion
In the “Ethics of Belief,” William Clifford argued that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” The example that Clifford gives of the immorality of belief without evidence is that of a ship owner, who forgoes an overhaul of his ship, overcoming his doubts, and believing his ship sea-worthy, rather than going through the expense of checking it and making the necessary repairs. This example is one that plays off belief against self-interest. The ship owner overcomes his doubts for the sake of self-interest. He then collects his insurance, while everyone in his ship dies at sea, because the vessel had proven unseaworthy.
I just reread Nicholas Berdyaev’s The Meaning of History, (first published in 1936), a book I read and filled with notes in the early 1970’s. I remembered and alluded to some of Berdyaev’s thought in my “Science and the Hidden and Revealed God,” an essay that I just finished and published in Scholardarity. Nicholas Berdyaev, who was born in 1874 and died in exile in 1948, became a Christian existentialist philosopher after becoming disillusioned by Marxism and Russian Socialism. His book provides a unique Russian apocalyptic vision for the course of World History and his Philosophy of History is very relevant to my concern about the Garden of Eden and how it related to the theory of evolution.
Philosophy of Science
Personal Thoughts on the “Universe from Nothing” Construct (Also Available as a PDF)
There is a trend among physicists to explain away philosophical questions about the nature of existence by appealing to a kind of umbrella scientism that seeks to co-opt philosophy. In one instance, there is an attempt to address the question of how physical constants seem fine-tuned for the evolution of carbon-based life by appealing to the concept of a multi-verse. Their argument is very reasonable on the surface of things, appealing to an astonishing discovery in modern quantum physics that empty space is not really empty but actually has an energy state to it. Their argument then further appeals to a possibility that exists in M-theory that our universe might only be one of an infinite number of universes. The claim is that we might be in one of an infinite number of universes emerging out of nothing that may differ in certain physical constants. Some would be fine-tuned for life, while others would not be. In such a scenario, there would be some universes bound to have life that would then evolve consciousness. Our universe seems fine-tuned for the evolution of consciousness because our particular universe is indeed fine-tuned for the very forms of life that can then question why the universe is fine-tuned for life. Yet, the total multi-verse is not particularly fine-tuned for life. We are then stuck in an illusion of meaning that deceives us in to believing in a biocentric teleology when in fact the multi-verse truly is itself bound by no particular requirement to evolve life. This particular counter-claim to the Anthropic argument has been popularized by physicists Lawrence Krauss and Leonard Susskind and is often used as arguments against biocentrism, theism, pantheism, religion, the New Age, and even more secular notions of teleology advocated by such philosophers as Thomas Nagel.
Should Scientists Ignore Philosophical Theories of Evidence? (Also available as a PDF)
In his article “Why Philosophical Theories of Evidence Are (and Ought to Be) Ignored by Scientists,” Peter Achinstein argues that philosophical theories of evidence are ignored by scientists because they rest on assumptions which make their concepts of evidence too weak for scientists to work with, or which entail that the truth or falsity of evidential statements can be determined a priori. Given that, as Achinstein argues, the truth of many evidential statements can only be determined empirically, this “a priorist” assumption makes scientists consider philosophical accounts of evidence irrelevant to their work.
In what follows I will examine the value of evidence, its nature, and its relation to science. I hope to show that, while Achinstein’s conclusions are mostly right, the arguments and examples he gives to support them are flawed in some of their details. Specifically, I propose an account of evidence according to which, though evidential claims are objective to a large extent, something counts as evidence only if, ultimately, it has a relation to beings for whom it counts as evidence. On this view something’s status as evidence does not derive merely from people’s beliefs, but from shared practices that are embodied in what I call contexts of inquiry. I also propose that this concept of evidence is one according to which evidential claims, though defeasible, are in one respect a priori. I argue that this account of evidence is one that should be of interest to scientists.
Philosophy of Time
I present a very short argument that some version of eternalism must be true. The argument in brief is that temporal relations must be either real or unreal (that is, must either obtain or fail to obtain between moments of experience at different times); that if they are not real, then eternalism is trivially true; and that if they are real, then eternalism must be true in order for them to obtain.
on on Fri Aug 24, 2012 60 Evans Hall at 4:10 pm.
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