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Last Nicenet Conference
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Here are the postings for the last Nicenet conference, which took place from 13th May 2009 to 29th January 2010. There were 402 postings totalling over 130,000 words.

To obtain a key for the Pathways online conferences, you must be a member of the International Society for Philosophers.

Happy Conferencing!

Geoffrey Klempner


LAST NICENET CONFERENCE

FROM: Idit Arad   (05/13/09)
SUBJECT: time

My name is idit and I am a musican, primarily intersted in the philosophy of time, and the way in which it conects to that which music is made of — time. I am now reading through aristotle, and find that is very much my philosopher, with regards to all music that existed before the clock, and also how we do finally arrive to that which has the clock!

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: time

    Does time exist or is it merely a perception? I think physicists are fairly certain that it does, as well as other dimension beyond, but I can't actually say why they're certain, I'll have to look it up I think.

    But if you're talking about time in relation to music, I suppose both are inherently human qualities; so you might find perceptual enquiries more useful than that of physics.

    Einstein's experiments with relativity are quite fancinating: for instance, human perception is easily misled even by the very sense organs that purvey signals to the brain.

    Sat on a train, a passenger can not tell whether her train is in motion if her only immediate point of reference is herself relative to that of another train.

    In other words, she can not tell whether it is: -a.) her train passing another

    or

    b.) another train passing her's.

    Curious: Even more so, when you consider the scientific fact that time runs slower at higher altitudes (I think thats right?).

    We can equate this with an LP on a turntable or a bicycle wheel spinning on its axis; if we paint a dot on its out rim, that dot would have to travel further (and therefore faster) around the axis than that of a similar dot painted nearer the centre.

    If I'm right (please be sure to check), the faster one travels the slower time passes; which is obvious when you think about it.

    X gets from A to B in less time if it is travelling faster than Y.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: time

    Dear Idit, I find your posting and the answer of Wilton both a bit confusing. What sort of time are you speaking of ?

    There is relative time of "before and after", and there is absolute time of measurement with clocks. The first is "philosophical", the second "physical". If there is no relative time, there can be no cause and effect — since cause by definition should come "before" the effect, so you have to know what "before" means. But the problem of Einstein was one of measurement : "What do we mean when we say that two events are coincident in time ?" was his question.

    What do you intend to know as a musician ? To define a rhythm, you don't need Einstein, since rhythm is a mode of relative events : Your music would sound the same independent of the speed of your vehicle. This is possible, since while the clocks around slow down relative to some observer in the distance, the atomic clocks in your ears do too, so they always hear the same music or voice.

    So once more : What does your question mean, what do you try to find out ?

    And by the way : Much of modern (and pre-modern) music goes without rhythm at all. Any artificial sound is "music" in a modern sense. There has been a concerto for typewriters long ago in the 1950s.

    Thus you could speak of a psychology of time or of a sociology of time or of a culture of time etc.. In a famous book on "The Silent Language" the author, sociologist E.T.Hall, compares different cultures i.a. by the notion of "being in time" : In some cultures, to let somebody superior wait for ten minutes is considered an insult, but in other cultures to wait an hour or more is seen as quite normal.

    But of course in a Jazz-band you have to be "in time" with your instrument to fractions of a second. And by a very short but intentional way of lagging or dragging your play you can put drive or dream into your music.

    And a last note : This is a philosophical forum, not a musical or physical one. So what would be your philosophical problem with time ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: time

    Idit

    There are also ideas about being outside of time (and space). And about the music that happens there. Aristotle said: "Some declared the universe to be a single substance ... Xenophanes, who was the first of these to preach monism ... made nothing clear ... but looking off to the whole heaven he declares that the one is god." I argue that Aristotle was probably prejudicial against Xenophanes' ideas. Xenophanes didn't necessarily think that the divine was merged with an eternal cosmos.

    Charles

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: time

    I must say Hubertus, for someone who signs off his reply by pointing out that neither music nor physics is a philosophical issue; you sure did make a meal of it in your preamble.

    But I do happen to agree with you; Idit could do with stating the point a little more clearly; but then — as it was initially an introductory message — Idit can hardly be blamed for that.

    As a newcomer to this forum I thought I'd help out by broadening the subject a little, in the interests of being amicable. But I concede the philosophic point of this dialogue eludes me, as much as it does you; though I did not want to press the point quite so bluntly in a getting-to-know-you message.

    I was, if I recall, drawing attention to the seemingly plastic nature of time, as well as questioning whether such a thing as time actually exists at all?

    Physicists seem to believe that time exists independently of perception; and although I'm sure they are right, I was merely observing that I am not sure how they are sure that they know time exists — if you'll forgive the convolution.

    Regarding your particular comments: I think your distinction is flawed; I don't even think physicists believe in the existence of absolute time. All time is relative (even in spite of perception). So to make the distinction between relativistic (philosophical) time and absolute (physical) time, is fallacious. I would also point out that relativists time (by your definition) also impinges upon psychology and neurosciences, as well.

    For everyday purposes, of course; we acquiesce to the false concept of absolute time, in the same way we acquiesce to the concept of Newtonian Physics: not that these concepts are absolutely true, but because they are convenient to our circumstances.

    You say "If there is no relative time..." but I don't think the absence of relative time was ever in question. You then go on to say that there can be no cause without effect, but as far as I can tell your proposition (your proof) for this is based relativistic words (cause, before); and not necessarily on any logical or observational proof, for which — if you don't mind — I need examples to work with.

    Question: Is it always true that effect follows cause? Certainly on our mediocre plane of perception this would seem to be a constant, but I can't help thinking that it is not an absolute. When we push the laws of physics to their extremes; all manner of weird and wonderfully counterintuitive things start to occur.

    Can we therefore, rethink the whole concept of causality, in a way that's quite at odds with current interpretation: I have tentatively included just such an idea in my first pathways essay, which describes the causes as contingent upon an effect.

    In the same way that convergent evolution creates the same solutions to the same problems, in distant and isolated locations around the world; so — goes my supposition — that any given effect is greater than the sum of its potential causes.

    This whole digression, in my essay, comes as a result of quantum physics: imagine a snooker game; at some point in the future a ball will sink into one of the six pockets. Given the nature of snooker games, that is a veritable certainty. The only thing open to doubt therefore, is by what causal route that particular ball will sink.

    The Many Worlds Interpretation — in as far as I understand it — allows us to say that causes are potentially infinite, effects — potentially less so. One might jump to the conclusion that this is an example of pre-determinism; I couldn't possibly say.

    My reasons for adopting the view, and including it in my essay, are somewhat devil's advocate; but it is supported by some analogous macro-world metaphysics, which I shall not go into here.

    Needless to say the quantum world rarely applies to the macro-world, and my whole supposition is wide open to accusations of moving — not to mention broadening — the goal posts.

    But, back to what you were saying: "But the problem of Einstein was one of measurement" — of course it was, he was a scientist, science is all about quantitative analysis.

    "What do we mean when we say that two events are coincident in time?" — is that an exact quote of Einstein? I fail to see how that is in any way distinct from the relativistic point made earlier. In which case, you have not stuck to your own bipartite interpretation of relative and absolute time. If anything, you've combined them. I fail to see the rationale?

    Your third paragraph, though intended for Idit, seems to include elements from my own message (i.e. — the speed of the vehicle). I can't see anything wrong with it, but it does seem to be a rather redundant statement, as it was not Idit who mentioned vehicles.

    "What does your question mean, what do you try to find out?" — Good question, something that we can both agree to. We definitely need more information from Idit on this issue.

    I can't help thinking that your fifth paragraph, on the rhythm of music, is one of personal aesthetic on your part; and your sixth paragraph becomes a surreal mix of randomly selected words: -

    Psychology of time? Time doesn't have psychology, as it does not have a brain; are you perhaps referring to Psychological Time? Which might refer to the perception of time?

    Sociology of time? You've lost me here completely. The Culture of time?! I really can't relate to anything you're saying here? The nearest comparison I can make is that of History: Social History, Cultural History, perhaps? But that whole sentence is largely incomprehensible to me.

    You then go on to mention "The Silent Language" by E.T. Hall; and suddenly things make sense: what you and the book seem to be referring to is how different societies and cultures perceive time within the context of a non-verbal interpersonal etiquette. Temporal Etiquette, might be useful term, in this instance?

    The book sounds interesting: the concept of being "fashionably late", for instance? This in Britain at least, is generally considered to be between 5-15 minutes (though in the case of some of my acquaintances this can extend to 30-60 minutes).

    This of course is generally the reserve of women, men on the other hand are not expected to keep ladies waiting at all; such are the vestiges of misogyny (positive though it may be) in our western society.

    I was interested to read the other day that some neurotic personalities, introverts and people of low self-esteem; might interpret lateness or prolonged lapses in time (between correspondences) as attempts at ridicule or disrespect. Such personalities have come to associate even these minor infractions in a negative context; thus confounding their insular personality disorders. — This too is an example of how the perception of time can have can impact on a individuals interpersonal skills.

    But throughout the whole of your reply, I feel you fail to engage with my question of "does time exist"? By which I mean: is their anything physical, material or substantial, that we can positively refer to as time?

    In science fiction, time is made a substance in reality, via the imaginary/hypothetical fundamental particle called the 'chronoton'. I think I have actually seen physics diagrams which include the chronoton as a hypothetical fundamental particle, along with the graviton (the gravity particle).

    Which brings me to rephrase my question: Is time a force, like gravity? For it seems that we can only perceive either phenomenon by their effects and not by their substance? Why then is time considered a dimension, whilst gravity is generally considered a force?

    In conclusion: I agree we both need more information from Idit, if we are to engage with these factors philosophically? But, until that happens, we must endeavour to do what we can, without such information? And, as it was you who made the observation that this is a philosophical forum (not a musical, physical or even a psychological one), I believe the onus is upon you to derive a philosophical query from the minutiae of this dialogue.

    Alternatively, of course; we could discuss what the Ancient Philosophers thought about the concept of time, for history — I find — is always a delightful substitute, for when the contemporary wellspring runs dry?

    - Chris.

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: time

    Dear Charles;

    In my most recent reply to Hubertus on the subject of time, I did suggest that perhaps we should — pending clarity from Idit — go on to discuss how ancient philosophers regarded the concept of time.

    Would you perhaps be interested in that tack? I noticed your reply to Idit referenced some of the ancients, perhaps you'd care to share any particular knowledge you have on the subject?

    I'd like to do a little online research myself, but I think it'll have to wait; I've yet to sleep today and I've got to be at work by 7pm.

    Look forward to hearing any insights you might have;

    - Chris.

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (05/14/09)
    SUBJECT:

    Hi, everyone,

    My name is Pencka and I am happy to join the Pathways conference. I am keen on any type of philosophy, but my favotites are Nietzsche and Kant.

    Enjoy conferencing, everyone :-)

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/16/09)
    SUBJECT: Nietzsche

    I like Nietzsche, very good for irreligious quotes; but beyond that I really don't get him at all and I find his writing impenetrable. Perhaps you could help me get a handle on him?

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Malcolm Sealy   (05/14/09)
    SUBJECT: U3A PHILOSOPHY FORUM

    I have been running Philosophy Sessions for the local Nowra U3A (NSW Australia) for nearly two years. These have been stimulating for an upper age group — any suggestions for a 'progressive' programme would be of interest.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: U3A PHILOSOPHY FORUM

    Dear Malcom,

    what in your opinion makes for the difference of "philosophizing with upper age groups" and "philosophyzing with children" ? And what do you call a "progressive" programme ? If you put a link here where to get a first impression of the character of your proceedings, we would be in a better position to support your project.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Anthony Kelly   (05/15/09)
    SUBJECT: WHY IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

    WHY IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

    What we already know is that once there was nothing — not even Time.
    Then there was a "Big Bang" which provided Time, Energy, and a number
    of mathematical "Cosmic Constants". Some Cosmic Constants interact
    with Energy, over time, to produce both Matter and Life with their
    "laws of nature". (Rees, "Just Six Numbers", 2000)

    Matter freely self-organises and produces at least one life-friendly
    planet, Earth. Life begins on Earth and freely evolves in both
    complexity and intelligence, the most intelligent animal to evolve so
    far being "Homo sapiens". These eventually make themselves different from other animals.
    They develop a mind and become human.

    So my question is: "What produced the Big Bang, and why?"

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: WHY IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

    Actually we don't know that "once there was nothing — not even Time." we're just inferring that from the our current observations of the universe.

    We don't actually know that 'nothing' can ever be or ever was. What came before the Big Bang is still very much a mystery to everyone.

    Also, point of fact; Mathematics is a human concept imposed upon the observation not an innate property of the universe itself.

    I thought I'd point this out because Mathematics as well as its most powerful prescept '0', naught, nothing; are man-made concepts and as such have no basis in reality.

    I've only read bits of "Just Six Numbers" but I'm sure it mentions the Anthropic Principle.

    The Anthropic Principle explains why the universe looks like it does, with the benefit of hindsight; because it is postulated to be one of a series of differently calibrated universes, which we just happen to be inhabiting.

    I have no issues with your second paragraph, but your closing statement, the question: "What produced the Big Bang, and why?" needs addressing.

    If we take the anthropic principle and the multiverse interpretation as read, then there is no reason to think that our universe is the first and only universe to exist; and as such the question of what produced the Big Bang becomes easier. The Universe is potentially cyclical, the death of one creating another.

    As for the question of purpose (your "why?"): such questions only apply to living, ideally sentient beings. Therefore, if the universe naturally created itself, it neither has nor needs a purpose.

    The fallacy, in this instance, comes from presupposition that if something exists, there must've been some point in the past when it did not exist.

    This presupposition is only true in the case of manufactured artifacts, the trouble is that as humans we tend to anthropomorphise — imbibing objects with our logic and personality, as if they were intelligent, thinking beings (or the product thereof).

    But in reality, the universe has no concept of itself, a planet doesn't know its a planet any more than an atom knowns its an atom; there's no metaphysical essentialism that defines the universe or its structure independantly from human perception. The universe just is.

    It's as much a fallacy as Aquinas's "Prime Mover" argument for the existence of God: "Everything is in motion therefore there must've been something that set everything in motion — and that something we call God."

    The mistake is in thinking that motion is something special that requires some primal initiator. Aquinas wouldn't have known of course, but the fact is that there is nothing that exists that isn't in some way in motion.

    Stillness, like nothingness and '0' zero are human concepts that don't exist in reality.

    That said, it is a fancinating problem, that out foxes quite a lot of people and I'm certainly going to use an edited version of this message as an article on my blog.

    So Thanks for That. :-D

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: HOW IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

    Christopher,

    I'm with you all the way on this on and would like to add a comment about human arrogance and language.

    Firstly, anthropomorphism is the unseen elephant in the room or the coloured spectacles worn by those who put humanity in any kind of central position of importance in relation to the universe. It is sheer conceited arrogance to think there is only a human perspective that somehow pre-existed humanity and will no doubt succeed it — I'm taking about gods etc.

    Secondly language, it is full of misuse, preconceptions and prejudices. The audacity of asking WHY infers sentient purpose otherwise we should ask HOW and leave the WHY questions to the less sceptical amongst us.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (07/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: HOW IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

    Thank You Mike for your support;

    I'm sorry I did not respond sooner but I've been away quite

    sometime.

    Our friend Anthony Kelly in his essay entitled "lonergan, emergent evolution and the cosmic process" also makes a mistake in arguing that Martin Rees's Multiverse Interpretation "multiplies entities beyond necessity, in defiance of Occam's razor." he fails to consider that the existence of a god also defies Occam's razor. In fact considering the very nature of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent theistic creator god; Kelly multiplies entities an infinite number of magnitudes greater than that of the mere Multiverse interpretation, which frankly pales in comparison. He would do well to apply scrutiny to "both" sides of his argument in future.

    Thanks again for the support.

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/16/09)
    SUBJECT: Plugging Pathways

    Right, I suppose it's about time I added something of myself to the conference, as I've done nothing but reply to other posts, so far.

    Looking at my ISFP membership card, our purpose is to encourage philosophical and critical thinking throughout the world (at leasts that's what I interpret the mandate to mean).

    That being the case, what are the rudiments of philosophy, what are the essential tools of the critical thinker, what is the Philosophic Method; and how is Philosophy distinct from other subjects and disciplines like Science, Theology, Art, etc... What is the essence of philosophy? And how should we present these ordinances in a way that is open and accessible to the public at large?

    The product of this might comprise the ISFP's official induction ebook (assuming one doesn't already exist)? Subject to approval of course.

    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/18/09)
    SUBJECT: Introducing myself

    My participation in Pathways Conferences goes back a ways, to an early conference, perhaps the original Pathways electronic conference.

    I hesitate to attribute "progress" as a characteristic of philosophy. A current project for me is revising a short paper on ancient philosophy that I wrote for a Pathways course in Feb. 2000- Xenophanes,God,& Silence. I concluded then that Xenophanes may have encountered God through the silence and despair Xenophanes experienced in the conventional religious practice of his time.

    From there, I went on to the philosophy of Simone Weil. I found her "Lectures on Philosophy" an excellent introduction to reading philosophy. I'm currently rereading her "Intimations Of Christianity Among The Ancient Greeks."

    I am retired now. In addition to being a student of philosophy, I served (during Cold War) as an enlisted Marine and later as a reserve officer of Marines USMC. While a reserve officer and later, I had a parallel 20 year career in state social services and was a local president in a state employees labor union AFL-CIO. In political economics, I consider myself to be a neoconservative.

    My participation in a Pathways' study program contributed to my consideration of and conversion to Greek Orthodox Christianity. So I hope to be considered a Christian student of philosophy.

    I also hope to contribute to the continuing conversation about philosophy at this conference.

    Charles

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Dear Charles;

    I'm intrigued as to how philosophy and pathways lead you to become a Greek Orthodox Christian. Could you expand on that a little (or a lot)?

    I'm also curious as to how philosophy and pathways lead you to arrive at one particular branch of Christianity as opposed to any other?

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Christopher

    I would not say that philosophy led me to Greek Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is more likely to challenge venerated positions held by both secular philosophers and Aquinas.

    Historically there were major differences between the Classical schools of philosophy and the early Christian Church. But a Pathways course in ancient philosophy sparked my interest in the Presocratic philosophers. That's how I discovered Xenophanes. And that led on to Simone Weil's understanding of Plato and Pythagorean doctrine.

    I'm reading Simone Weil again, looking for specific references to Xenophanes. Do you know of any?

    But in answer to your question, thinking about the Presocratic philosophers probably opened me to considering Greek Orthodox Christianity.

    Charles

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    My particular philosophical discipline, if it can so be called; is based largely on ratiocination and not precedent, so I'm afraid I know very little about other philosophers, though I am beginning to correct that shortcoming.

    In what way is Eastern Orthodox Christianity more likely to challenge venerated "West-European Philosophers" (if that's the right term); and in what respect? Simply challenging a philosophy doesn't make the counterpoint any more veracious.

    Are you saying that you prefer the Pre-Socratic philosophers more, because they conform better to what you (or Christianity) believe?

    Surely the classical schools of philosophy, the Ancient Greeks, predated Christianity entirely. And surely one can easily find 'major' differences between any pair of arbitrarily selected participles, why should that be an issue?

    When you say thinking about Pre-Socratic philosophers... "opened" you to "considering" Greek Orthodox Christianity; what do you mean by "opened" and "considering"?

    To me, there seems a considerable gulf between the two entities; and your answer in no way attempts to bridge that gulf, in terms I can comprehend. I believe you have used what is called, in philosophy, a tautology?

    You have simply restated the propositions, as if they were an answer; and in so doing have not actually answered the question at all. Therefore, by initial question remains.

    As for Simone Weil, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the author, but I'm currently reading "History of Western Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell. I'm certain there's a chapter on Xenophanes in there and so I'll report back, once I've read it.

    What is your particular fascination with Xenophanes and how does that link to Greek/Eastern Orthodox Christianity?

    I have to say, your reply has probably provoked more questions per sentence, than any other reply I have ever encountered in my life time; would you mind filling in some of the gaps?

    - Chris.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Chris

    Your saying about my posting of 5/18/09: "your reply has probably provoked more questions per sentence, than any other reply I have ever encountered in my life time."

    Being just an ordinary person, I don't know how to respond to that.

    But I'll try to address your other comments and questions. Please note that my introduction was not intended to be a comprehensive statement of belief.

    Chris you substituted "West-European Philosophers" for my term "secular philosophers and Aquinas." But I used my term very deliberately. Orthodox Christianity is based on fundamental realism, not the Aristotelian analysis that is the source of both modern analytic philosophy and scientific method. The early Christian Church was in opposition to the established Aristotelian and Platonic schools. But being in opposition to the philosophical establishment does not necessarily mean being in opposition to reason and logic and wisdom. I do not think that there is a seamless connection from the Presocratic philosophers and Socrates to Aristotelianism. There are philosophic alternatives.

    Chris you said:

    "Surely the classical schools of philosophy, the Ancient Greeks, predated Christianity entirely. And surely one can easily find 'major' differences between any pair of arbitrarily selected participles, why should that be an issue?"

    First, I think that orthodox Christianity is based on fundamental realism, not what you termed as "arbitrarily selected participles." And as orthodox Christianity is rooted in both Athens and Jerusalem, your postulated time line is in error."

    Chris you asked what I meant by "opened" and "considering".

    These were merely figures of speech. I wrote an introduction to myself, not a philosophical statement.

    Chris you asked:

    "What is your particular fascination with Xenophanes and how does that link to Greek/Eastern Orthodox Christianity?"

    That is very much my project in progress. I'm working on it.

    I should clarify that I find Simone Weil's philosophy very interesting. I do not consider her an orthodox Christian philosopher. My interest in Weil is her generosity toward her students, her humanitarian concerns, and her development of ancient Greek thought.

    One example of who I consider to be a modern orthodox Christian philosopher is Peter Kreeft. I understand Kreeft to be Roman Catholic. An orthodox Christianity is not limited to Eastern Orthodoxy.



    Charles

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: mark williams   (05/20/09)
    SUBJECT:

    Hi All

    My name is Mark and my interest is in Ethics. I am a professional archaeologist and my interest in philosophy led directly form developers asking WHY? — They have to pay for the excavations — WHY? they couldn't build here because it overlay part of a medieaval cathedral etc. This led me to be interested in the values we place on heritage and the nature of value . . ..and then to ethics.

    I am interested in practical applications largely because I deal with them day to day — what is more important — preserving the bronze age burial or the windfarm/hospital/car showroom that is proposed and will lead to its destruction, how can we compare these values.

    A specific interest is in the preservation principle which is inherent in most countries and international institutions dealings with heritage — If values are subjective then how can you know what to preserve for future generation not knowing what there values will be.

    Look forward to your thoughts

    Thanks

    Mark

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Values

    Hello Mark, glad to meet you here !

    I am interested in values too. Your text reminds me of the Buddhas of Banyan, that were destroyed by the Taliban (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zpgI71hJjI ) against desperate tries by the UNESCO to prevent this from happening. This was "a clash of cultures", since as Muslims the Taliban saw the Buddha figures as forbidden idols. To follow the advice of Allah was their primary value, while to establish museums and to engage in excavations is a consequence of modern "western loss of faith". Even the Romantics have not been honest to the Medieval Christendom or to the gods of Antiquity : What Romantic poets like Novalis or Hoelderlin were defending was an imagined past of man and society living in harmony with God or the ancient gods. The Romantics felt alienated in the modern world. The Cologne Cathedral (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral ) was finished from 1842 up to 1880 by "romantic" kings of Prussia — who were Protestants ! The cathedral was set as a symbol of German unity against the French who had Notre Dame de Paris. But the French in 1889 set up the Eiffel-Tower against all romanticism and embracing modernity in the centenary of the French Revolution of 1789. So once more a clash of cultures.

    This is but a very short first comment on values. There will be much more to say on this. F.i., the Taj Mahal was a memorial not of a god but of a beloved wife, which is a very different sort of value. What do we defend, when we defend customs or rites ? What about identity or integrity or honour or rights or opinions ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Christopher Wilton   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Yes Minister

    Dear Mark;

    It's certainly an interesting context in which to apply philosophy. It puts me in mind of an old BBC comedy called "Yes Minister", series 3, an episode entitled "The Middle-Class Rip-Off"

    The protagonist Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs; hits on the idea of selling a — failing — art gallery to subsidize his local football club. Reasoning that this will win him votes, he sets the wheels in motion to have the gallery sold.

    However, the antagonist of the series, Sir Humphrey (the Ministers Principle Private Secretary) is incensed by the very notion of using public money to subside the interests of 'ordinary' people.

    As far as Humphrey is concerned, public subsidy for the arts, should be reserved for those amenities that preserve British cultural identity, such as theatres, art galleries, museums and opera houses (it also transpires that he and the whole of the civil service, receive considerable discounts to these amenities and their functions).

    Ever toadying to his grassroots majority, Hacker takes the view that if the British public really wanted these amenities then they would pay for them out of their own pocket; he also observes that the only people who can afford to attend the functions of these amenities, are a minority, an upper-class elite, which has used its power and influence to ensure that their desires are catered for, using public money.

    The viewer, as is common throughout the series, warms to Hacker's argument. Anyone can respect the notion that, the public at large, should have some say as to what their tax dollars are used for; and yet one can not shake off the need to agree with Sir Humphrey either (especially as a theatre goer), -even if Sir Humphrey's motives are cynical and self-serving.

    Do we agree with Hacker's argument, which we could phrase as: "We must concede to that which presents the greatest utility, for the greatest number, in the here and now (or in the foreseeable future)?"

    To which, the question of Bronze-Age Excavation vs. Car Park; falls inexorably to the latter.

    Or do we adopt the more holistic view of Sir Humphrey: "That, irregardless of its utility or its popularity; 'certain things' require our eternal protection?"

    If so; the question then falls to how we should define these 'certain things' and how we should go about valuating them, objectively?

    Have you perhaps heard of The Water-Diamond Paradox? I can't remember who first described this, though I think it might've been Adam Smith in "The Wealth of Nations"?

    It goes roughly as follows: Water has great utility (it has many uses), but despite this it's abundance depreciates its value; as such water is quite cheep, especially when compared to diamonds, which are — or were, in Smith's time — virtually useless, outside of jewellery, yet their rarity escalated their value phenomenally.

    We can therefore assess a commodities value based primarily on its availability and secondly on its utility; in which case we should keep the Bronze-Age Excavation and forget about the Car Park.

    The Water-Diamond Paradox, works perfectly in this instance; though it must be noted that there are certain factors, pertaining to other commodities that would render it ineffective.

    With fruit for instance, we not only have to consider its availability and its utility, but also its lifespan; because the utility value of rotten or overripe fruit, is subject to change.

    I would love to talk about this further, but if I don't hit the sack soon; I'm never going to wake up for work.

    - Chris.

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: Who chooses?

    Mark,

    I have experience in construction as no doubt did the builders of the cathedrals whose probably chose a location on the top of yet a previous similar building for all sorts of reasons.

    Are we more enlightened today then they were then — that's arguable. So what are the reasons to preserve things buried in the ground. Heritage cannot really be a sustainable answer and anyway it's vague in what it means as the first MacDonald's or Big Brother House may well be heritage for some.

    We cannot preserve everything nor I would argue should we even try as life is always in flux and ever changing and thus it's ultimately impractical. Why do we want to know about the past if not to make us better in the future but in reality humans don't actually seem to learn very well. Preserving WW2 concentration camps doesn't stop Israel from effectively constructing ghettos. Excavating warships like the Mary Rose didn't stop the sinking of the Begrano. The argument for learning isn't really sustainable either.

    Curiosity is a good reason and I guess that's why I started my family history. A sense of ancestry and touching the past with artefacts maybe gives some emotional attachment but what really does it change in what you are going to do tomorrow in your home life.

    That windfarm/hospital/car showroom is simply just the next layer being added as a sedimentary record of what happened and if some things are lost then probably they weren't worth keeping anyway.

    Being selective in what is preserved is maybe a little dangerous as all it reflects is one's own prejudices about what is important.

    Regards

    Mike

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Glenn Williams   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: New to the Pathways Conference

    Hello, my name is Glenn Williams and Iam a new student to the Pathways Philosophy program. I have been interested in the study of philosophy for many years. In the past I have taken various philosohy coarses at the college level but for one reason or the other was unable to continue my studies. Now that Iam retired, I decided to continue my studies. After doing some research I found that the Pathways program was what I was looking for. The Pathways Conference will allow me to be engaged with others on issues related to philosophical works, and a place where one can debate there ideas with others.

    Glenn Williams

    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Glenn Williams   (05/21/09)
    SUBJECT: Time and Space

    I noticed there is quite a bit of discussion on the subject of Time. If I may, I would like bring in another idea of this subject. I have been thinking on this for along time. First I start off with the premise that there is no Time or Space, Time is an mathematical measurement,as we know it. The Space most know and understand is surrounded by boundaries. The Space that I understand is finite with no boundaries, and the Time that is known there again is surrounded by boundaries, a mechanical clock that seems to run very area of our lives. The moon which separates our earth from the sun, is once again a boundary, what would happen if there was no moon, how would one be able to set there mechanical clock.

    Just as we constructed a clock to measure time, we have also constructed various structures to encase space so we can say there is space. What does the early Greek Atomist say of this very subject.

    I could like to hear different views of ideas on this subject or anyother Philosopical problem.

    Glenn

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Time and Space

    Glenn

    There is certainly a lot going on in cosmology. For example, the idea that space has degrees of emptiness. That the intergalactic medium effects the formation of galaxies and other cosmic structures. So apparently there are boundaries for what's affected. So does that mean there are boundaries to the universe? Maybe the boundaries are constantly being reset?

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Time and Space

    Charles, and Glenn, the following is partly an answer to the problem of time as Chris Wilton put it in his answer to me as of 05/21/09 : Time and space are first of all "categories" needed to describe our world. To locate some event or object in relation to other events and objects we need to locate them "somewhere" — and so we need space and time. Strictly speaking we do not need to know the "nature" of space and time. This may be as fictitious as are longitude and latitude on the globe. But to use concepts like "cause and effect" we need "before and after" — and by this 'time'. And to use a concept of "movement" we need "here and there" — thus the concept of 'space'.

    While Platonic ideas ("forms") may be imagined as "being beyond space and time", physicists are describing a dynamic and changing world, expanding or contracting universes growing from "Big Bang" or galaxies circling a black hole or nuclear decay etc., so they need to speak of time and space to formulate all these ideas.

    But Einstein was not interested in the "nature" of time. He was interested in the nature of measurement of it in the same way as was Heisenberg in the concept of "observation". Neither of them was "speculating". They both simply asked "what in fact do we do when we try to describe our world?"

    So Einstein asked : "What is the exact meaning of calling two events "coincident in time" ?" We compare measurements, not ideas. And what do we measure ? We use clocks and signals, not thoughts. While thoughts may move with infinite speed, signals are moving with the speed of light at best. And when we accept this simple fact, many strange results ensue.

    It is very important to understand that neither Einstein nor Heisenberg were "philosophizing" here ! They simply asked : "What data do we have and how did we get at those data to describe our reality ?" In a sense their attitude was anti-metaphysical, as was the positivist philosophical style of their time (ca. 1900-1930). One possible "solution" of the problem of space and time for the modern physicist is : "Before the Big Bang there was no time and no space, since there was no matter moving around, so the notions would have been void." But this implies that there was nothing before Big Bang save — maybe — a creator, who in the Platonic sense would be "beyond space and time". In this view — not subscribed by atheists of course — "the Creator" (God or Allah or who- or whatever) "created" space and time together with "force", i.e., energy-matter.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: Nothingness

    Hubertus

    It's curious to me that you consider "thought" to somehow be outside of physics after all it's just electochemical activity at known speeds isn't it or do you see it existing in some other medium?

    I understand it's proven that rate of time differs with velocity so wouldn't equally rate of thought also be relative to the owner of the thought. Maybe a similar parallel is with the clock speed of computers being adjustable to improve performance.

    I think that those who ask questions like "before time" are illogical just as those who speak of life after death — they cannot accept non-existence as being nothingness. If you don't exist there is no you.

    On the other hand all this rationality destroys a good fairy tale..................

    Regards

    Mike

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: Embodied Mind

    My current project of revising a paper I wrote for Pathways: Xenophanes, God, & Silence.

    I am working on an argument that is in opposition to the assertion of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (from their book "Philosophy In The Flesh") that the embodied human mind cannot have "purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience." In my original paper, I based my argument on the idea that new insight can arise from religious experience and practice. I am now broadening my argument with an assertion that cognitive science does not necessarily preclude uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. That both modern art and physics provide examples of this experience outside of religion.

    What are your thoughts from a philosophical perspective on this?

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    Charles, I need some explanation of the exact meaning of "uncategorized and unconceptualized experience". Does experience of "beauty" and of "doing right" and of "honour/dishonour" and of "agreement with a demonstration" or (the experience of) "love" fall under these headings ?

    And then : If somebody, Bach or Mozart say, has a very exceptional judgement in musical things, does he need "categories and concepts" for this judgements ? I don't think so. What he needs is "an inner ear".

    Thus what I would look at are three things : (1) Experience (in contrast to thinking) as a basis of judgement, and (2) inborn "genetic" templates of our thinking and acting (the birds don't need a study to know how to build a nest or to feed their young). And (3) the psychology of "Gestalt" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology ).

    We humans are no tabulae rasae. We tend to see "what is not there" and to deny or miss "what is before our eyes".

    And then : What exactly do you mean by // both modern art and physics provide examples of this experience outside of religion. // ?? Can you give some illustrative exsample(s) ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    Dear Charles,

    I am also interested in further details about your thesis.

    I expect more information with impatience.

    Pencka

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    This the Lakoff/Johnson definition from their Philosophy In The Flesh.

    "Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience. It is part of what our bodies and brains are constantly engaged in. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that."

    I highly recommend George Lakoff's and Mark Johnson's "Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge to Western Thought."

    I also think their claim that human beings cannot have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience is wrong. Maybe the cornerstone to their argument is found in their use of the word "purely"? Is any experience by "neural beings" pure? I think Lakoff & Johnson too simply dismiss the human experience with meditative practice. Also, I don't see how they explain new ideas like "Quantum weirdness" (description of Quantum science as being weird is from Scientific American magazine not my naivety in physics).

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (05/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    Charles, I still need some examples and clarifications : F.i. any ape will feel sexual attraction and anger when rejected, since apes are social and sexual animals, so this sort of feeling is "in their genes". But they surely have no "concept" and no "category" of "love" and "honour". Those are "concepts" provided by a language and a culture and clarified by stories. And for the ape the "feelings" are "fuzzy", i.e., no clear "yes/no" but "more or less so" — from slight love and anger to frenzy love and anger all stages. Generally the awareness of animals and little children is fuzzy and complex and gets clarified in humans only by the concepts and categories provided by culture and language. Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (05/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    Hubertus

    The Lakoff-Johnson theory is a Metaphor theory based in cognitive science. I think that its primary weakness is in its exclusion of meditative experience (Satori) and religious experience (Moses and Burning Bush) from the human experience. I don't think that their ideas about folk theory explain the Pre-Socratic philosophers (that is what I am working on). I have difficulty with their comprehensive claims about time metaphors and space-time metonymies in conceptual science (Quantum weirdness).

    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Embodied Mind

    Charles

    May I ask exactly why you are pursuing this writing? What need will it satisfy in yourself when you succeed or stop?

    Is the topic heading the clue to be able to demonstrate "embodiment" of mind from some other form of non-corporeal existence.

    Regards

    Mike

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Chris Else   (05/28/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    My apologies for introducing another Chris to the conference. I hope it doesn't get too confusing.



    I am a writer by trade but I have also had a life-long flirtation with philosophy. Many years ago I fell in love with existentialism but these days my hero is Wittgenstein, whose work I feel, after thirty or so years, I am finally beginning to understand (a bit).

    My interests are consciousness, subjectivity vs. objectivity, language, and science.

    My philosophical temperament is towards the scientific materialism of people like Daniel Dennett but I also have a metaphysical or mystical itch, by which I mean that I am ultimately unsatisfied with science as the fount of all truth and knowledge.

    Thus, I empathise with what Charles is saying about Lakoff and Johnson excluding meditative practice and religious experience (although the word 'religious' seems a bit scary). I have just finished reading Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell' — his attempt to sketch out a philosophical and scientific programme for explaining religion as a natural phenomenon. As with much of Dennett's work, I find the arguments largely convincing except for the fact that he fails to give adequate attention to, what seems to me, the most important matter — the value and the significance of people's experience of the transcendental Something. However, I suspect this is not entirely Dennett's fault as I am not sure that such experience is susceptible to any kind of explanation. I am not sure it can even be talked about in the kind of philosophical language I am used to.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Chris

    I'll use that scary word, but I agree that it is difficult to talk about religion using the language of modern philosophy. In reading Simone Weil, I am reminded that she ultimately depended on poetic fable to describe her religious experience- in her fable titled "Prologue".

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Charles

    I have not read Simone Weil. My thoughts on this come from Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus'.

    His position, on my reading, is that, within philosophy and, by implication, science, language consists in the logical manipulation of propositions based in fact. This view results in statements like

    '6.5 When the answer cannot be put into words, neither can the question be put into words. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be framed at all, it is possible to answer it.'

    and

    '6.52: We feel that when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.'

    This sort of statement gave impetus to logical positivism and is still very much in the spirit of scientific reductionism generally.

    Wittgenstein, though, was not hostile to mystical experience, see:



    '6.522 There are indeed things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.'

    which leads to the famous ending

    '7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence'

    Given that 7. refers not to all language but only to the language of philosophy (and science), the above statements seem to sketch out an important problem. At least, it is one I am interested in.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/05/09)
    SUBJECT: language

    Chris

    Interest in language appears in several introductions.

    This forum gives us freedom to speak freely without academic license. So I'll go ahead and question the basis of analytic philosophy and its claim that the structure of language tells us about the nature of reality! I think that language based detailed analysis leads to an illusion that modern philosophy is necessarily continuous with science.

    Science provides a method for humans to understand reality. But science doesn't provide a comprehensive understanding of the world. Our world also has metaphysical aspects, which require a less reductionist understanding. Philosophy to be complete requires both analytic method and metaphysical inquiry.



    My argument obviously needs more. I'll add later. I'm looking forward to other views from the conference first. If I say too much now, I might start thinking that I know something for certain.

    Charles



  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Charles

    It seems to me there are two things here we might pursue. One is what science does or doesn't do (I tend to think it explains things — I am not sure if that tells us 'the nature of reality or not'). The other is whether any (other) sort of metaphysical enquiry is possible and, if it is, what it is.

    Look forward to your further thoughts (and to others' contributions).

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Chris

    I like your definition of new topics for discussion.I interpret it broadly for a possible new thread and subject heading: Scientific vs Metaphysical Inquiry. I would welcome your starting a new thread with that or similar subject heading. Continuing under this subject (Introduction) also works.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Charles and Chris, I refer to this "scientific vs metaphysical" opposition.

    In my opinion part of the difference can be seen in the opposition of astrology and astronomy. Astronomy tries to model reality and derive exact predictions from those models. If the predictions are confirmed, then for the time being and in certain respects the model seems valid. When new facts cannot be explained by the model, the model has to be adapted or even replaced by some very different model in a "paradigm shift". This is not different from the way Sherlock Holmes would try and check his hypotheses on "whodonit". New evidence may require a new hypothesis, even a totally new hypothesis.

    The approach of the astrologer is very different : Not the facts are important, but the models. So instead of adapting the models, he is adapting the facts.

    What you call metaphysics has fallen into disgrace because there is a strong tendency of all metaphysicians to follow the principle of the astrologer and not that of the astronomer.

    The problem is not building models with words and language and logical thinking. The problem is to know what reality — if any — we are speaking of. What are we speaking of in "mystical" language — facts or fancies or feelings ?

    Thus in the sense of Wittgenstein we have to keep apart "clarifying our statements on thoughts" and "clarifying our statements on observations" — which is not at all the same ! We can set up grandiose systems of metaphysical and mystical systems which lack any connection to provable facts of the real world.

    But this does not necessarily render such constructs meaningless : The mesh of longitudes and latitudes on the globe is purely artificial but helps to know where we are — see Google Earth. Thus metaphysics may tell us where we are without telling us anything of value about the reality.

    So what are we talking about when we talk of mystical experiences : are we talking of some facts, or are we talking of experiences which are as subjective as a placebo ? But even placebos can be helping. So what do we call reality here ?

    Hubertus

    P.S. on 090607 :

    Today, after posting my comments above, I found this one (taken from http://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/vita/teaching/eastphil.htm )

    // Edward Conze, in his Buddhist Thought in India, sees an unfortunate conceptual barrier between Eastern philosophy and contemporary Western philosophy. Eastern philosophy, he argues, is grounded in a metaphysical position that the universe has various layers of reality. The outer layer involves our ordinary perceptions of things, and the inner layer is a unified reality that permeates everything, including humans. Meditation is the principal means of awareness of this inner layer of reality. By contrast, Conze notes that contemporary Western philosophy has shed itself of metaphysical speculations about various layers of reality. After several centuries of applying Ockham's razor and eliminating unneeded metaphysical entities, philosophers are suspicious about any discussion of the concept of "being." In place of metaphysics, Western philosophy now emphasizes epistemology, that is, our knowledge of things as distinct from the reality of things. This, by and large, is an empirical issue involving sensory experience. Consequently, there seems to be no place in Western thinking for either speculations about layers of reality or non-empirical methods of meditation which purportedly reveal these various layers. Conze's depiction of the differences between Eastern philosophy and contemporary Western philosophy is partly correct, especially as pertains to the Anglo-American tradition of analytic philosophy. This tradition is firmly rooted in the skeptical empiricism of Hume, Mill, Russell, and the Vienna Circle, which reject metaphysical discussions as meaningless. //

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Chris Else   (06/07/09)
    SUBJECT: Science as Metaphysics

    Thanks, Hubertus. I liked the quote from Conze.

    Thanks, too, for the exposition of Scientific vs. Metaphysical. I'm not sure I understand some of it, though. Your view of science seems familiar enough to me but I'm not sure what you are referring to when you say 'What you call metaphysics'. I don't really have an idea of metaphysics, at least, not anything that resembles a coherent system or model. I allow some place in my scheme of things for what I call mystical experience. Now, one of the defining characteristics of the mystical, in my view, is that it can't be put into words. That makes it very difficult for it to form part of any theory or system. Thus, I am as sceptical about talk of other realities and the conceptual constructions used to explain them as the next materialist. However, as time goes by, I am becoming similarly sceptical about science.

    We say that science consists of models of reality. This always makes me think of the scene in the movie "A Mighty Wind" when one of the characters says 'Ah, model railways. They're great. If they hadn't had those they wouldn't have thought of the big ones.' A model, it seems to me, is a construction, the parts of which can be mapped on to the real world. We look at a model of Grand Central Station and we see that's a train, that's the booking office, that's a porter with his little trolley. Sometimes science seems to be like this: the solar system and Newton's equations of motion, for example. But what about quantum physics? What does it mean to say that my hand is ultimately made up of things called bosons and the like? Or that it's a bunch of particles that are actually waves, whoops no, they're particles? I'm not sure you can get too much more metaphysical than this.

    One way to look at it, the way you seem to suggest in your response, it is to say that science consists of theories and that the theories are either confirmed or disconfirmed by facts. This relationship between theory and fact always seems a bit dodgy to me, though. It is a fact that an alpha particle has a kinetic energy of around 5 million electron volts (at least according to Wikipedia). Does this mean that alpha particles and electrons exist in reality, the way rocks and whisky do? Or is this a fact about a metaphysical or theoretical entity (and what would that mean)?

    Part of the problem is that between the facts and the theory falls the interpretation. Rutherford and Chadwick et al spent hours peering into cloud chambers looking for little streaks of condensation. The streaks, when they appeared, were facts. The idea that a particular streak was the track of a proton, however, was an interpretation by which the fact confirmed a theory. Perhaps a different interpretation could have confirmed a different theory. In general, it is arguable that a single set of facts could confirm an infinite number of theories.



    What interests me here is the extent to which science can be said to give us the truth about the world. A question that sharpens this problem a little is this: Is it possible to have a system of thought that is just as (or even more) successful in predicting reality as our science but is nonetheless radically different in its conceptual scheme, so different in fact that human beings couldn't understand it?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Very good questions, Chris, and I will answer them all in detail — hopefully to your and Charles' satisfaction. But now it is nearly 1 a.m. locally here in Bonn, Germany, so I leave it to another day.

    Where are you located ? I like to see people somewhere on the globe. Charles is from Spokane/WA. So I know that my clock is always 9 hours ahead of his, or at this moment, when my clock is 1 hour after midnight, his is 24+1-9 = 25 — 9 = 16, so he is having his afternoon tea or coffee now or a little stroll in the parc ?

    Take this for another minor aspect of reality of time and space !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hello Chris, now I will try some answers to those many questions.

    Metaphysics is essentially any coherent system explaining the totality of the world. Religions try to give such a systems, but likewise did philosophies and sciences up to not long ago. But modern science does not need a metaphysical notion of truth. The theories of Einstein or those of Quantum Mechanics or Quark-Theory or String-Theory need not be "true" but only "conjectures" to be refuted in the sense of Popper's "Conjections and Refutations". This is why I compared the situation to the conjectures of Sherlock Holmes which may change anytime in the light of new evidence.

    The important thing is : In the end there is of course "the true picture of the crime", but what Holmes or Ms.Marple try to do is to close all gaps and contradictions of their conjectures. You know from most movies that usually the murder is "found out" after one or two days, while he/she has to be set free again since it was the wrong person. It's always the "real" detective who avoids rash conclusions and in the end presents some totally unsuspected perpetrator.

    Modern science does not claim "to know the truth" but "to solve problems". Truth is a metaphysical concept, that is not needed in science. Science is content to find "explanations".

    But for the true believer "God" is no conjecture. You don't trust in a conjecture if you trust in God. Well, Pascal was not sure about that, and neither was Kierkegaard. The latter was well aware the even if he had the Bible at hand as a trustworthy report, and even if in the times of Jesus video-reporting would have been available, and many report in the newspapers as today, this all together would not have proven "him" to be God incarnated. There was a rabbi — may be a very impressive and bright and charismatic one — but nothing else.

    So what does "proving" in this case come to ? How to we "prove" that a charismatic rabbi is more than just that ? Even the letters of St.Paul and his "Damascus" do not prove anything.

    The problem with any metaphysical or theological "truth" is always that if cannot be proven by objective evidence. The H-Bomb is objective evidence of some important truth in Einsteins theories and that of QM. But there is nothing comparable to prove the Christian faith true — or any other faith. QM is a theory — even a strange one — but it works. It may be incomplete, but it works. If modern physics were all nonsense, then there would not only be no H-Bombs, but no internet and no iPods and not space-rockets etc. either. All this was impossible before modern physics.

    But religious truth may be a purely subjective form of truth. You can have many strong convictions that have not basis in reality, only in your private constructs of reality. You may live all your life on false assumptions. How would you know this ? People who are ignorant on modern physics or biology live along as happy as any Nobel-Laureate in those disciplines.

    A religious or a philosophical of political or moral conviction may strongly guide your life — you thinking and acting — quite independent of whether it is "true". So what does "to be true" mean in this case ? This is what our problem comes to.

    Of course you may have mystical experiences. But the question is : Are those "exogenous" (i.e. generated by sensory data) or "endogenous" (i.e., generated by fancies) experiences ? Most dreams are surely endogenous, but I said "most" and not "all". There may be dreams that are exogenous messages, not just distorted memories or fancies. But how to tell them apart ?

    The H-Bomb and the computer surely are no mere fancies. They are the result of methodical science. But theology may be just a "science on fancies" without any relations to the external reality. If you are convinced of a truth, this does not prove that it's true. "Evidence" or "plausibility" do not prove anything. Most of what we call "reality" is a mere mental construct. To be sure : All scientific theories are mentals constructs too, but they can be checked against facts, and in this way the construct as a model of reality can be improved. But if there is no reality against which to check your mental constructs, how do you know whether your construct is anything but a mere fancy ?

    The dual nature of light as particle and wave has nothing to do with metaphysics. It is just a way of describing the behaviour of light under different circumstances. We physicists not even try to understand, we simply accept it matter of fact. But this again has nothing to do with "faith". Physicists need no faith, they need mathematical descriptions that are consistent. This particle-wave dualism or those quarks and strings etc. are the results of observations and formulas that are consistent and that need no metaphysics. They just work.

    You write : // The idea that a particular streak was the track of a proton, however, was an interpretation by which the fact confirmed a theory. Perhaps a different interpretation could have confirmed a different theory. // Yes, of course, but as long as no other theory is needed, we may leave it at that. Physicists are always selecting many theories by their consistency. Suppose you think of a different interpretation of your data, then this interpretation may be in conflict with some other observations. Then you go back to the first interpretation. This is how it works.

    Theories and experiments are sieves, in the same way as hypotheses in the cases of Holmes and Ms.Marple are sieves. Einstein could be proven wrong tomorrow, while up today his theories look sound. The attitude of the modern scientist and philosopher is to say that in most cases metaphysical claims are not helping, that conjectures (your "interpretations") and refutations are sufficient. Look up Popper on this.

    And a note on "a fact about a metaphysical or theoretical entity". For the physicist the electron and the alpha-particle are "theoretical entities" but not "metaphysical entities". The theoretical entities are used to explain observations, but they are not "metaphysical". Once more : If the concept of the electron could be replaced by something better — or dropped altogether — physicists would not hesitate to do so.

    But what about "God" and "sin" and "grace" and "Oedius complex" and "class struggle" : Are those "theoretical" or are they "metaphysical" notions ? From a distant of epistemology they are mere theoretical concepts, needed in the context of some theory, but for the Christian or Marxist or Freudian true believer they are "essential facts" and in this way are "metaphysical". For the liberal economist "class struggle" simply does not exist and is not needed as a concept, and for the behaviourist the "Oedipus complex" is a mere theoretical construct without meaning in the theory of behaviourism.

    Compare it thus : In a music, a symphony say, any sound is bearing to the meaning of the whole, but the whole is at the same time defining the meaning of the sound. The same applies with literature or the arts etc.. The details are defined by the context, and the context is defined by the details. You can live in a perfectly consistent theory of the reality and still be "out of this world" if some important facts and observations are excluded from your model. Any theory gives you some "world-view" but not "the" world view. Change the standpoint and the illumination of your world or change the questions to be put to you observations, and your view of reality may change totally.

    Look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_illusion and http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/ and http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/cog_imposs1/index.html ! Have fun !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris

    You ask: "Is it possible to have a system of thought that is just as (or even more) successful in predicting reality as our science but is nonetheless radically different in its conceptual scheme, so different in fact that human beings couldn't understand it?"

    Your question first assumes realism. This is the view that there are external objects and systems of objects ("reality") independent from us. But then you ask us to imagine a reality that is both outside human understanding and remains predictable.

    Science and its methods exist in our world and universe. We do not have immediate access to all of our world and universe. But we assume that it is possible for human beings using science to theoretically experience our world and universe. Science is limited to what humans can theoretically experience then understand and predict.

    Science produces predictability. But what is known is not always predictable. Much, if not most, of what is known as the human experience was not predicted.

    Human beings deal with unpredictability by recognizing both transcendence and continuity, through metaphor, and observing patterns. Human beings are informed by the rhythms and metaphors of music and poetry; divine agency or synergisms through religious experiences; human noetics; visual arts; tradition and continuities in history. This is the stuff of metaphysics, including the first philosophers, Socrates, and Plato. There are also natural laws precepts, such as from Aristotelian doctrine.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Charles and Chris, I think that your understanding of metaphysics is

    much too vague and sloppy. You seem to lump together everything that

    does not fit into some theory as "metaphysics". But in fact the concept

    of metaphysics is very clear ! Metaphysics is a coherent and consistent

    frame of reference where to put all known facts and experiences to make a coherent "reality". Look up Wiki and SEOP and IEP on "Metaphysics" !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/k/kantmeta.htm

    The essential point is : There are many different ways of interpreting the reality in a consistent way. The Greeks thought of a fundamental cosmic order supported by reason and mathematics. The Jews instead thought of an almighty God, who was "unfathomable" and not dependent on "natural laws" or mathematics. But since he was "omnipotent and wise", this did not matter. And while the supreme being for the Jews was a personal god, for the Greeks all gods were subdued to the eternal cosmic order. Thus both forms of metaphysics were completely different and incompatible, but at the same time consistent in themselves.

    The religions of the Jews and the Christians and Islam were defined around a supreme being, the personal God, while neither the Greeks nor Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism know of such a god. Even Brahma or Vishnu or Kwannon are no supreme gods but only images of the eternal cosmic order. But once more all these models are consistent in themselves.

    Each of these metaphysical models has room where to place "mystical experiences" and how to interpret them. Even our modern "naturalistic metaphysics" would have such a place and explanation, calling those mystical experiences "mere neuronal effects that can be had from mushrooms and chemicals like LSD or endogenous drugs stimulated electrically". Thus there is no inside and outside of metaphysics, there are only different consistent models of reality.

    But of course we have a sort of "metaphysical multiculturalism", i.e., several metaphysics mixing together and thus looking inconsistent. This reminds me on Japanese religion, which is a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism and Christianity and Taoism "ad hoc", a syncretism. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncretism on this.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Charles

    Thanks for your response. Some good points. I particularly like your second paragraph about my assuming realism and then imagining a reality that is outside human understanding. Yes, that's exactly the paradox that interests me in all this. It might be that I am espousing a contradiction. I don't feel it but maybe somebody can point it out.

    It's in your last two paragraphs that you start to lose me. I am not sure that science 'produces predictability'. Science predicts things but that is not quite the same thing. In any case, prediction is only one of the things science does. I prefer the idea that its prime task is to give us explanations, as Hubertus (I think) suggests.



    Also, your last paragraph is a bit quick for me. I am not sure how the things you list help us to deal with unpredictability. Are we seeking patterns? (If so, doesn't science do this too?) Or are we creating them? And I am not sure what transcendence has to do with pattern seeking.

    Chris

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hubertus

    A comment on your reply to Charles (and me).

    Thanks for references to metaphysics. I had a look at a couple of them and they left me confused as to your view. The Stanford one in particular begins with the statement 'It is not easy to say what metaphysics is' which seems to contradict your claim that 'the concept of metaphysics is very clear!'.

    All the examples you give seem to be systems of religious belief. I thought that the modern notion of metaphysics included such things as Lewis's wonderful theory that possible worlds exist in the sense that they are as concrete as our own world and Ernst Mally's idea that there are such things as non-existent objects. Neither of these seem to be your 'coherent and consistent frame of reference where to put all known facts and experiences to make a coherent "reality"'. Aren't they rather ontological theories intended to solve specific philosophical problems?

    I am sure you're right in you claim that my understanding of metaphysics is vague and sloppy. I fear you are not helping me clarify, though.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, since it is once more shortly before midnight here, just a hint : Our words are like building blocks of little children. We may construct wonderful worlds from those building blocks and enjoy them. But what do you really say when you say "God is love" ? Of course you could say "the moon is a cheese". Grammatically there is nothing wrong with it. In this way you even can construct the notion of "objects that are nonexistent". But this leads you up to ontology : What do "valid sentences" have in common with reality other than that they are grammatically correct ? This was the starting point of pragmatism and logical empiricism : We should understand the difference between words and objects. The real objects do not care whether we put labels on them by putting a word in our lexicon. The cloud does not know that there are clouds and justice does not know that there is justice. But whats the use of filling the universe with all sorts of objects that are "purely grammatical" without any relation to "reality" ? Reality need not be "physical". We do not know what the reality of the electron is, but we need this "particle" for the time being to make sense of some observations. The gravitational force, while invisible, is physical, but the law of gravitation is mathematical and not even known thus far, since the law as stated by Newton is only an approximation to the law as stated by Einstein. But at least those laws refer to observables.

    But what if you formulate all sorts of laws and all sorts of labels that are purely fictitious ? I could build innumerable worlds (given time to do it) that are consistent in themselves and completely out of touch with any but mental reality. Of course those worlds are "existing" in your head (or mine) like dreams. But most (if not all) dreams are just "nervous states" and not referring to other realities. Dreams are not measurements as in a voltmeter or a Geiger counter. You should accept some pruning mechanism to separate "theories of external reality" and "theories of mere wording."

    Up to now we all respect the difference of the reality as shown in a novel or on the movie screen or in a computer game etc. and "real reality". Shooting people in a computer game and shooting them in reality is different. At least the police in Wellington will think so. But what makes the difference ? The answer is left to the reader.

    Up tomorrow, have a good time, Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I think you misunderstand me. I am not saying that I agree with Mally's theory of non-existent objects. I don't. I was just using it as an example of a theory that is considered to be metaphysical but that does not confirm to your claim that metaphysics is 'a coherent and consistent frame of reference where to put all known facts and experiences to make a coherent "reality"' In other words, I was merely questioning your notion of metaphysics, not putting forward any views of my own.

    What I am most interested in, though, is your answer(s) to my earlier post about the ontology of science (if there is such a thing).

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, first to put some meat to the shark, look up this one :

    http://www.amazon.com/Quine-Davidson-Language-Thought-Reality/dp/ 0521048052/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1244655171&sr=8-1

    But of course I owe you a personal reply, so let me have some time. I will be back on this. Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, I am not sure what you are asking. What is on your mind ? Are you asking whether religious convictions and mystical experiences are compatible with scientific theories ? Not 150 years ago the H-Bomb and the iPod, the TV-set and the jetliner and countless other modern devices would have been stuff for sf-novels. Nobody would have had the slightest idea of how to realize such devices. Maybe in some 100 years from now even "mystical experiences" and "psi-phenomena" are well explained and everyday things. We do not know.

    What we know is that there is a difference between mere "experiences" and "the real thing". A lion in your dream is not a lion in reality before you. How do you tell them apart ? The standard-question is "Am I dreaming ?" Generally you will know in the shortest time, whether the lion is a hologram or is for real. The usual way to check it is by taking circumstances into account. In the dream you only see the lion, in reality you hear and smell and see the surrounding etc., and by this you guess that this must be "real". Thus you evaluate the whole context. This is what we do in science : we ask for the consistency of the whole context, and not for isolated observations. And this is what astrologers don't do. They keep much of evidence that is not supporting their assumptions out of the picture to keep the picture intact.

    You can be "rapt and thrilled" by a movie or a fairy tale, but you still know that it is a movie of a fairy tale and would run away if a "real" fire breaks out near to you. Thus to be "rapt and thrilled" does not destroy your sense of reality — at least not totally. Thus you may think of this fact : How do you know the difference of "imagined reality" and "real reality" ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I started out with some general statements that could have led in many directions. Some of these might be the kinds of things you talk about here. Now, though, I have narrowed my interest down to something much more specific. What interests me can best be fitted under three headings:

    •   What is metaphysics?

    •   Is science metaphysics?

    •   What is the ontology of science?

    These three questions are related but it is the third that interests me most. Let me try and explain more clearly.

    What is metaphysics?

    •   You say that metaphysics is 'essentially any coherent system explaining the totality of the world.' You especially mention various religious doctrines as examples, which seems to suggest that you equate metaphysics with religion.

    •   I suspect this is a limited definition, at least in the way the term seems to be used nowadays. I have mentioned two theories above, which are generally understood to be metaphysical, but which make no claim to be total explanations and certainly have nothing to do with religion.



    •   My tentative view is that metaphysics is better understood as any theory that makes ontological claims beyond the realm of everyday reality. Your thoughts?

    Is science metaphysics?

    •   You say that science is not metaphysics. Maybe that's right. I have no conviction either way. I am trying to come to one.

    •   However, a number of scientists seem to claim that the ultimate aim of science is 'a theory of everything' to use Hawking's term. To me that sounds a lot like 'a coherent system explaining the totality of the world' — your definition of metaphysics.



    •   Given this, I am not convinced by your view that science has nothing to do with metaphysics. Maybe I missed something.

    What is the ontology of science, if it has one?

    •   You say that in science certain objects (such as atomic and sub-atomic particles) are 'theoretical entities'. It is not clear to me what you mean by this.

    •   One interpretation might be that a theoretical entity is something that exists only within the framework of some intellectual construct (a theory). It does not correspond to anything in the world at all. If this were the case, then I don't understand how any science that involves such entities can be said to describe or explain anything.

    •   People (including scientists?) talk as if entities like electrons do exist. The proton, we say, was 'discovered'. It is not clear to me how you can 'discover' a theoretical entity. Wouldn't it be more accurate to use the word 'invent'?

    •   Are all the entities science deals with theoretical? It is possible, of course, to argue that all our concepts are contingent upon our human perspective but within that perspective, it seems to me, there is an ontological difference between a lump of iron, say, and a quark. Perhaps science deals with two kinds of entities, the real and theoretical, but if so, then how do we distinguish between them? Is a gas theoretical or real? Or an ion? Is Boyle's law a fact or a theory?

    •   One answer to the question of real v. theoretical in science would be to say that we believe in various entities with different levels of confidence. (This would be a Bayesian view, as I understand it, although I think Popper might also have agreed.) Some things, like lumps of iron, we are very confident about. Others, like bosons, we are less so. On the frontiers of science we propose new entities and relationships (hypotheses). At this point we are inventing things — in the light of evidence, of course. We then (as Popper would say) seek refutations for these conjectures. With each failed refutation our confidence grows that our theory is right. In other words, we come to believe in the existence of the things we have invented. We cease to think of them as theoretical.

    •   If this last point is correct and if what I said about metaphysics at the beginning is also right, then certain objects in science would be better described as 'metaphysical entities' than 'theoretical entities'.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    We are homing in, Chris !

    First : I never attributet some special metaphysical status to any religion. I only used the well known example of "Jerusalem and Athens" to illustrate the point that totally different ways of interpreting the world can be coherent and meaningful in themselves. Both models fit my definition of 'a coherent system explaining the totality of the world.' There are humans and animals and stars and good and bad deeds etc. in both worlds, that of "Athens" and that of "Jerusalem", but they are explained in a different way according to the different forms of "metaphysics". The Hindu and Buddhist and Confucian and Taoist etc. models would explain the same observations one more in different ways. And of course Marxism and Liberalism are explaining the economic crisis in different ways too. But, as I added, there is syncretism too.

    Science is a special segment of metaphysics, since it assumes some forms of reality. The problem is : As a system of coherent assumptions interpreting certain observation astrology and alchemy and scientology are "sciences" too, but from a modern standard they all are "pseudo-sciences", i.e., formal systems that are not self-critical in the sense of Popper. This must be said of Freudism and Marxism likewise. Both are weak on scientific terms, but fiercly defended by "true believers" (i.e. in Freud and Marx, resp.).

    Most people are not really interested in "the truth", but they want to "live in a meaningful world". Thus while the honest scientist can and will do without religion and Freudism and Marxism, many people need a coherent "metaphysics" that explains nuch more than science could explain in all honesty. In this sense even Freudism and Marxism are partly sciences and partly pseudo-sciences, since they claim too much. They offer explanation but don't tell you that other explanations would do as good or better. In exatly this sense I said that science is no metaphysics, since it is much more restricted. No serious scientist would claim to have explanations of everything. Physicists are cautious : They say that Einstein "so far has not been falsified", but they would never say (as any true metaphysicist could) that "Einstein is true". Science cannot do without metaphysics of some general assumptions, but this is not necessarily a coherent worldview. Take f.i. causality : As Hume correctly remarked : We cannot prove that there is causality, we only see a "before-after" relation of events. Thus causality is not an observation but a postulate. In this sense you are right : "Causality" is an "object" (in ontological terms) the reality of which cannot be decided. In this and similar cases "metaphysics is any theory that makes ontological claims beyond the realm of everyday reality."

    Your tentative definition is contained in my more all-comprising definition since all theories of a coherent world make many such "ontological claims beyond the realm of everyday reality." We cannot even prove what sort of reality is outside of our brain. This was the idea of the "Matrix"-movies. We could be victims of a system of stimulations. As long as those are consistent, we do not know how to tell them apart from "real reality". But this is a lengthy story so I skip it for the moment.

    How do you "fake" a real lion that is biting you ? As an observer you have to take into acount not only the feelings of the lion and its victim, which is a neuronal thing and could be done by the Matrix, but also the physical flow of energy and material etc.. Thus in the end you come out at the notion of the whole universe being one vast fiction. But then even the Matrix becomes a fiction and this turns the whole story into self-referential nonsense. Thus there must be some difference between "real" and "imagined" reality, and we have to clarify this difference. What happens in our nervous system or in the Matrix is not identical to what happens in the physical world outside.

    So I concede in the way stated, that science cannot do without all metaphysics, while I reject the idea that science coincides with metaphysics. "Naturalism" — the idea that every experience and fact can be reduced to the laws of physics, is a special metaphysics, while religions are different forms of metaphysics. They all fit with my definition by "explaining everything in a coherent way". But from a religious point of view "naturalism" is "explaining away" most of reality. In a naturalistic worldview as of Hawking, "God" and "justice" and "Oedipus Complex" and "Class Struggle" are all meaningless and non existent. There are physical forces and neuronal events and nothing else. But it is a coherent worldview.

    To be coherent does not mean to be complete. We have innumerable coherent worldviews which are incompatible and see different things and are blind to other things. It's like going through a landscape or a building called "reality" : The landscape or the building are "coherent", but no single description is, since we always see only some parts of the whole thing under some special perspective. Only a god would see all at once.

    You write "You say that in science certain objects (such as atomic and sub-atomic particles) are 'theoretical entities'. It is not clear to me what you mean by this."

    Nobody has ever seen an electron. But we know since Faraday that there are electrical charges as multiples of elementary charges, so we think of electrical particles. By assuming the entities called electrons and ascribing certain properties to them we get at a meaningful and consistent model of the physical world. What the electrons "are" in the ontological sense we do not know. Somebody put it thus : From the medicin-flask we have the fluid in droplets. Does this imply that the flask is full of droplets ? So how do we know what the "true nature" of the electron is ? Or "the true nature of the photon" ? We physicists refrain from asking such questions and call them meaningless. We try to keep to our observations, and in those an electron and a photon appear to be particles, but that doesn't imply that they "are" particles. So much on ontology.

    More to this later from Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your response. Interesting as always. You are helping to clarify my thinking and I am also getting used to the style of yours. As usual you answered a number of questions I didn't ask and didn't answer several that I did. No matter.

    What interests me most in your response is your last paragraph. You seem to suggest a dualism between an 'assumed' electron (part of a theory) and a 'real electron' (part of reality) and then you dismiss the latter, I suspect rightly, as 'meaningless'. However, this dualism is not something I put forward. Nor does your dismissal really help me to understand what you mean by 'theoretical entities'.

    You say 'We try to keep to our observations and in those an electron and a photon appear to be particles, but this doesn't mean that they 'are' particles.' No, quite true. However, the way you express this idea suggests the very problem you are trying to avoid. If you say 'an electron and a photon appear to be particles' you are claiming that the electron and the photon exist (in reality). They may not be particles but, if they are not, they must be something else.

    Your analogy of the medicine flask was illuminating, thank you for it. However, it does not eliminate this problem. We see the drops and, of course, that does not mean that the flask contains drops. However, the flask contains something and if we look inside it, we can see whatever liquid is there. If we cannot look in the flask, even in principle (i.e. it is logically impossible or inconceivable for us to look in it) then all we have is the drops. Your analogy sets up a dualism — inside and outside of the flask. If there is an inside, then we should be able to find out what it is. If we cannot possible find out what it is, then we may as we say there is no inside.



    I shall try to make this a little clearer.

    You said earlier that science consists of making models. This, to my mind is another example of dualistic thinking. Take an example from economics. Here we have theoretical entities called buyers and sellers and we develop some relationships and mathematical formulae to show how they interact. This is a model. It makes predictions. We can now go to the real world and collect data and test our predictions. If the results of the model conform to the data, then we say our model is a good one. It explains consumer behaviour. However, what makes all this work and make sense is that there are things in the real world (people) who correspond to the theoretical entities of buyer and seller. So we have theoretical buyers and sellers and real buyers and sellers — a dualism.

    Take a second example. We invent a machine to build a house. It produces exactly the same house as a builder produces. We do not say that the machine is a model for the builder's behaviour or that it explains what a builder does. All it does is produce the same result. The reason that the machine is not an explanation, I believe, is that there is no correspondence between its parts and the way they interact and the parts of the builder and the way they interact. There is no dualism but there is no meaning either.

    So my question: Is a scientific theory a model or a machine? If it is a model, then we have to except some sort of dualism involving theory and reality. If it is a machine, then it has no power as an explanation of anything. We can't be said to understand the world as a result of it. It just makes predictions.

    There are other possibilities, of course. A model is only one form of explanation. We could avoid the dualism by saying that a scientific theory is a description of reality. In other words, we believe that this is the way the world is. This would suggest that there is no such thing as a theoretical entity. We are committed to believing that quarks are real.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris,

    your questions are a bit complex and confusing. So I try a different

    form of answering as good as I can. Perhaps you could reformulate your

    questions then in a sharpened way ? Hubertus

    This is what you wrote :

    FROM: Chris Else (06/12/09)

    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    ...

    What interests me most in your response is your last paragraph. You seem

    to suggest a dualism between an 'assumed' electron (part of a theory)

    and a 'real electron' (part of reality) and then you dismiss the latter,

    I suspect rightly, as 'meaningless'. However, this dualism is not

    something I put forward. Nor does your dismissal really help me to

    understand what you mean by 'theoretical entities'.

    You say 'We try to keep to our observations and in those an electron and

    a photon appear to be particles, but this doesn't mean that they 'are'

    particles.' No, quite true. However, the way you express this idea

    suggests the very problem you are trying to avoid. If you say 'an

    electron and a photon appear to be particles' you are claiming that the

    electron and the photon exist (in reality). They may not be particles

    but, if they are not, they must be something else.

    My (Hubertus) answer to that :

    For the physicist the electron is "two sorts of things" that both are not

    the electron in the sense of a star being a star. On the one hand we

    have measurements, but those are only indicators of "something happened"

    : Voltmeters, Geiger-counters etc.. Then we have the theories that tell

    us, what to expect on the counters. Then in our heads we stick this

    together and say : This "something" that caused our meters and counters

    to show that certain value must have been "our electron", since the

    measurement neatly fits our theoretical predictions, so we are happy.

    But in fact what we see is some data from the meters and counters on the

    one hand and some formulas from our mathematician on the other. We never

    ever have seen the electron itself. So how do you call such an entity ?



    I called it "a theoretical entity", because only by our theories we can

    guess what those measurements mean. Without a theory the data from the

    counters and meters are totally meaningless and in this sense they are

    not even data. Perhaps compare it to reading a text in Chinese. If you

    do not happen to read Chinese, those "strange signs" are meaningless to

    you, they are not even syllables or words but just graphical little

    pictures. So you have to learn Chinese writing, then all of a sudden the

    little graphics make sense — not by themselves, but because you now can

    read them. So without your theory of the electron that tells you from

    mathematical formulas what measured data to expect even those data would

    tell you nothing at all.

    Thus be careful here : I didn't say that the

    electron itself is "meaningless" or "non existent", I only said that we

    never see the electron itself, but we always only see some effects that

    we think are caused by this strange object we call electron. The

    important thing is : We cannot say "wait until sunday, then the electron

    will appear in full glory !" It never will ! We never will have anything

    else than formulas and some data from counters and meters. We simply

    have to swallow that. But how do we "see" gravity ? It's the same

    problem : We always see "effects of a postulated force called gravity".

    Wenn a glass falls to the floor and gets broken, gravity is the culprit,

    but we cannot "see" gravity and put handcuffs on it. So what do we

    expect ? It's all compeletely "real", we don't assume something

    mysterious, but we have a reality that has not the character of a

    person. Gravity, like the electron, "consists" of effects and formulas,

    but there is no other form of "existence" here, and even if there are

    "gravitons" (analogous to photons) we would not "see" them, but once

    more they were "theoretical entities" but at the same time "real" in

    that they hold the universe together.

    But then : What sort of "reality" do we ascribe to "love", "justice",

    "freedom", "beauty" etc. ? They all do not jump around on a meadow like

    little lambs ! They are not even measured by meters and counters like

    the electron. So what sort of ontology would we apply this time ? And we

    still do not call this "mysterious". Those concepts are shorthands for

    real experiences. We know when love and justice an freedom etc. are

    lacking. But how do we describe exactly WHAT is lacking ?

    Ontology is a

    difficult thing. As Heidegger rightly said : "The essence of a thing is

    not in its appearance." Here we see a limit of our language in the sense

    of Wittgenstein : To call "freedom" an artifact would be wrong, to call

    it an idea or a mental construct would be wrong too. But when we call

    freedom a reality this too would be misleading, since freedom is in the

    mind of the beholder. The saint sitting in a prison cell perhaps would

    not feel unfree. So where is freedom "real" if it is a "reality" ?

    We may call it a "latent" reality, comparable to the "vacuum" of physics :

    As long as you do not test it, it stays invisible, but under certain

    conditions the vacuum and freedom can be very real. And here we are

    again : What we call an electron or a photon or a graviton depends on

    how we put the question. There is "something real" about all those

    notions, and not even something mystical, but we cannot put it into a

    vitrine with a label on it. So we have a problem with telling what sort

    of reality we are dealing with. Limits of our language !

    (end of answers)



    I am not sure whether this above has answered some or all of your

    questions. For your and my convenience I leave the other questions below

    for referencing and checking. Perhaps you should reformulate your

    problems afresh — with a view at your exchange with Mike ? Otherwise I

    will try to answer the questions below at another time in detail.

    Your questions unchanged :

    Your analogy of the medicine flask was illuminating, thank you for it.

    However, it does not eliminate this problem. We see the drops and, of

    course, that does not mean that the flask contains drops. However, the

    flask contains something and if we look inside it, we can see whatever

    liquid is there. If we cannot look in the flask, even in principle (i.e.

    it is logically impossible or inconceivable for us to look in it) then

    all we have is the drops. Your analogy sets up a dualism — inside and

    outside of the flask. If there is an inside, then we should be able to

    find out what it is. If we cannot possible find out what it is, then we

    may as we say there is no inside.

    I shall try to make this a little clearer.

    You said earlier that science consists of making models. This, to my

    mind is another example of dualistic thinking. Take an example from

    economics. Here we have theoretical entities called buyers and sellers

    and we develop some relationships and mathematical formulae to show how

    they interact. This is a model. It makes predictions. We can now go to

    the real world and collect data and test our predictions. If the results

    of the model conform to the data, then we say our model is a good one.

    It explains consumer behaviour. However, what makes all this work and

    make sense is that there are things in the real world (people) who

    correspond to the theoretical entities of buyer and seller. So we have

    theoretical buyers and sellers and real buyers and sellers — a dualism.

    Take a second example. We invent a machine to build a house. It produces

    exactly the same house as a builder produces. We do not say that the

    machine is a model for the builder's behaviour or that it explains what

    a builder does. All it does is produce the same result. The reason that

    the machine is not an explanation, I believe, is that there is no

    correspondence between its parts and the way they interact and the parts

    of the builder and the way they interact. There is no dualism but there

    is no meaning either.

    So my question: Is a scientific theory a model or a machine? If it is a

    model, then we have to except some sort of dualism involving theory and

    reality. If it is a machine, then it has no power as an explanation of

    anything. We can't be said to understand the world as a result of it. It

    just makes predictions.

    There are other possibilities, of course. A model is only one form of

    explanation. We could avoid the dualism by saying that a scientific

    theory is a description of reality. In other words, we believe that this

    is the way the world is. This would suggest that there is no such thing

    as a theoretical entity. We are committed to believing that quarks are

    real.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your reply. I especially liked the 'lambs in the meadow'. I think we may be close to agreement here though I am not sure. I shall give you my understanding of what you said to see if I have got it right.

    Your account involves two categories: 'visible entities' like lambs and 'theoretical entities' like electrons. However, you don't want to say 'that the electron itself is "meaningless" or "non-existent"'. This suggests that you think both visible and theoretical entities are real, perhaps with some qualification as to what 'real' means in each case. I have no problem with this view in a general way.

    The distinction that I want to make is between two positions with regard to the ontology of science. These two positions are implicit in my 'unanswered questions' so you might like to respond to them. The first is:

    A. As far as we know, according to the latest evidence, the physical world is composed of the various entities and relationships that make up established scientific theories. In other words science is, provisionally, a true/accurate description of the world. The terms of the theory refer to things in the real world.

    The second is:

    B. We have no idea what the physical world is really like beyond our immediate sensory experience (and we will never know) but it behaves as if it was made up of the entities and relationships of established theories. These theories are not a description. They don't mean anything in themselves. All they do is make certain predictions, which agree with our observations. In other words, they are not true. The terms of the theory refer to nothing real. The theory just happens to work.

    Both of these views involve theoretical entities (i.e. entities that are part of a theory). The first view, however, says that those entities exist (are real in some sense). The second that they do not.

    I have changed my mind on this matter. I used to favour something like position B. In the course of this discussion with you, I have come to prefer position A. Both views are tenable, I think. A, though, seems simpler and more coherent from my current perspective.

    Which view do you hold? I am not sure. I think it may be A. If so, we agree. Or maybe there is a third option, superior to both.

    Chris

    PS Since you quote Wittgenstein on 'the limit of our language', he also said, in the same book. 'Everything that can be said can be said clearly'. I do not think we have reached the limits of the language just yet.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Since it is once more after midnight, only a preliminary answer, Chris.

    I support neither A nor B, but think that you make a distinction that I carefully avoided : I said the electron (as many other "object of nature") is "real", but not in the sense of those "jumping lambs". What we really "have" are only our formulas and "those meters and counters". And this was my "limit of language" : We should perhaps number the concepts of "reality" in the way of "reality-1", "reality-2", "reality-3" etc., to keep observations ("reality-1"), models ("reality-2"), and "evading objects" ("reality-3") apart (just to begin with). The electron is not the signal in the meter or counter, but neither is it the mathematical formula, so it must be ontologically of a third form of reality, for which we have no proper word, so I call it (in this context) "reality-3". There is more to this which I will analyze next time. Think of "freedom" as "reality-4" and of "the idea of God" as "reality-5" etc.. I leave it at that for now.

    When Wittgenstein said what you cite from TLP, what he was saying was : "Most of what reality is cannot be spoken of." He did not mean that reality is restricted to our language, only our thinking and speaking is restricted in this way — to a degree. To put it simple : You cannot tell the blind of colour. To know what colour and visual beauty is you need eyes, words would not do. Thus religious people would say "you need religious eyes to see the holy", while Mike would call this nonsense and state that there is no such thing as a religious eye but only neuronal misfiring. Well, I leave this to Mike and you and keep to our physical argument, which is fascinating enough.

    Up to next, Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your response. I am sorry to keep you up so late. Perhaps, you should resist the habit of looking at Pathways before you go to bed.

    As to our discussion, I am still not sure whether we agree or not. Your distinction between the different realities raises a number of questions. For now, I will focus on one: the difference between your reality-1 and reality-3.

    I understand reality-1 to be things you can see, like jumping lambs. I can't see the air but I can feel the breeze on my skin and I can see the leaves of the trees moving so I presume the air is also reality-1.

    What about things we can only see through a telescope, like the moons of Jupiter? Or through a microscope, like an amoeba? I guess they are reality-1, too.

    What if we take photographs through the telescope or microscope? Are these images of reality-1? I think they must be.

    What about a radio telescope or an electron microscope? The images from these instruments are not produced by light but does that mean they are not pictures of reality-1? I don't see how they are much different from the photographs taken through telescopes or microscopes, so reality-1 again.

    Brownian motion is a result of the movement of molecules in a liquid. I don't see how this is different from the movement of leaves in a breeze. If the air is reality-1, then I guess molecules are too.

    Finally, what about a cloud chamber? If Brownian motion means that molecules are reality-1, then I would have to conclude that the condensation track in a cloud chamber means that electrons and the like are too.

    Where and how do we draw the line? To me the distinction between reality-1 and reality-3 seems artificial and arbitrary. I think I would prefer to do without it and just say that, according to science, electrons are as real as rocks.

    Chris

    PS I agree with your interpretation of Wittgenstein.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, you wrote

    // Brownian motion is a result of the movement of molecules in a liquid. I don't see how this is different from the movement of leaves in a breeze. If the air is reality-1, then I guess molecules are too.

    Finally, what about a cloud chamber? If Brownian motion means that molecules are reality-1, then I would have to conclude that the condensation track in a cloud chamber means that electrons and the like are too.

    Where and how do we draw the line? To me the distinction between reality-1 and reality-3 seems artificial and arbitrary. I think I would prefer to do without it and just say that, according to science, electrons are as real as rocks. //

    Very good argument ! But Brownian motion and cloud chamber are as indirect as are meters and counters : Without a theory those data are meaningless. That was my point.

    Now take this to your debate with Mike : People say that a certain event is brought about "by God" or "by Allah" or "by the devil" or "by the stars" or "by providence" etc.. Thus once more there are certain data — "events" — and some theories offered to explain those data. While formulas "reality-2" convince us, that the relectrons are "real as rocks", Mike would call the other "theories" just cited as "windy at best" and more probably "downright nonsense".

    Lets call "truth" a member of the class "reality-7" (I have not set up a system). Then we want to know whether some theory is "in the realm of reality-7" or not.

    You see that this is a problem we usually do not feel when we feel the wind blowing. As you know, for Hume even "causality" was not a reality in the sense of the electron, but was just a postulate of our thinking, the validity of which cannot be proven. In the case of God, Mike would say its existence cannot be proven, while Charles would say it need not be proven. Who is right ?

    Not all theories are born equal, so we would have to keep apart "reality-2a" from "reality-2b" "reality-2c" etc.. Mathematical theories are of a different sort from theological theories or from "pseudo-science" etc..

    Epistemology is a difficult and complex field, but, as you see, strongly related to ontology. We speak of lambs, electrons, events, "freedom" and "God" all in the same language, so we fall victim to all sorts of confusions. The correct grammatical form of a statement does not tell us much about the value of the content. "The moon is a flower" would be nonsense as would be "the moon is sour", but what about "the moon is a cheese" ? It could be true and we have to check it. It is at least a falsifiable statement. But what about "God is love" ? This is not falsifiable, perhaps not even meaningful, we first have to clarify the meaning of such statements. Very probably it is not a statement about God, but about some feelings. So the whole statement is of a very different character than it seems to be.

    Well, for the moment I refrain from numbering the different types of statements. But you see where it goes : Ontology, epistemology, logology — where logology would be the science of our way of using the possibilities of conceptual language.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    You move far too fast for me. And cover too much ground. As far as I know I do not have a debate with Mike (yet). I am trying to understand his position. I might well agree with him in the end. When it comes to questions of God and the spirit I always like to move very slowly. This area of philosophy is, to my way of thinking, a mine-field of error. I am especially distrustful of sweeping generalisations and abstract talk that does not focus on fairly clear examples (I admit, of course, that I am prone to these bad habits myself but I try hard to avoid them).

    I think you dismiss my argument about reality-1 and reality-3 much too quickly. You say 'Brownian motion and cloud chamber are as indirect as are meters and counters : Without a theory those data are meaningless.' That still does not tell me how to distinguish between reality-1 and reality-3. Unless I can distinguish them you will not be able to convince me that the distinction means anything. I have other problems with your various realities but I would like to get this one clear before we go on.

    The leaves of the trees are moving. Why? I have a theory. They are immersed in stuff called 'air', which I can't see. The air moves and this makes the leaves move. The leaves are an indication of the existence of air. How is this situation different from Brownian motion? It is, after all, elementary physics — one of the first lessons in the subject a child learns. So, is air reality-1 or reality-3?

    The only distinction between reality-1 and reality-3 that I can find in your descriptions is that we can see reality-1 and we can't see reality-3. This means that our experience of reality-3 is indirect. Is this what you mean?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, first for clarity I repeat our convention : observations ("reality-1"), models ("reality-2"), and "evading objects" ("reality-3").

    The blowing wind is "reality-1", since we feel it. But suppose we do not know by experience what makes the leaves move, then "wind" would be a postulated force of unknown character, so "reality-3".

    In the case of Brownian motion, we do not see the atoms, we postulate them. They are "causes" of the observed movements only in our imagination and by our formulas/models ("reality-2").

    My intention was to force us all to keep apart what we really "have" as data, and what we "suppose" as explanations. Before Newton the planets were moved on their orbits by angels. After Newton they were moved by "conservation of momentum and angular momentum." The angels were as invisible as were the "conservation of momentum"-forces. What you see are the movements ("reality-1"), but what you derive from your theories/models are totally different conclusions on invisible forces ("reality-3").

    We always "see" lots of things "that are not provably there" — including "causality" and "angels" and "gods" and "destiny" etc.. That was my point. How do you know that not atoms but tiny demons are causing Brownian motion ? You have to prove that by some assumed explaining model, which is "reality-2".

    And here we are at the start again, and at metaphysics : We cannot "prove" that our models are "true", but only that they are "useful". In the end, conservation of momentum seemed a simpler explanation when compared to angels. But that in itself is no proof. We simply got used to dismiss angels as a meaningful explanation of natural phenomena. To call the wind the cause of the movements of the leaves is much simpler than to invoke countless "little demons" for the same effect. Today we can calculate exactly the movements of the leaves when the wind is blowing. We only have to use strong computers and do some complicated math on streaming fluids. It can be done. Because of this we don't need demons. This is what we call "understanding".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hi Hubertus

    Thanks for your answer. That clarifies things a little. Maybe we are quite close now.

    I am happy with the attempt to distinguish between what is to be explained (data) and the explanation (theory or model, if you like). However, I don't quite see how your scheme works in its application. You have

    * reality-1 — data — experienced directly through the senses

    * reality-2 — explanation — intellectual construct produced by scientists

    * reality-3 — evading objects — concepts that form part of the explanation (and therefore intellectual constructs)

    The first problem I see here is that the role that something plays in the overall scheme (e.g. data, explanation, evading object) does not necessarily match up with the physical/mental distinction that you make.

    A child asks 'Why are the leaves moving?' (Leaf-movement = data — reality-1.(

    Answer 'Because the wind is blowing'. (Explanation — reality-2.)

    And yet, as you pointed out, the wind is not an intellectual construct, we can experience it directly — reality-1.

    If I were inside looking through the window and saw the movement of the trees, would the fact that I cannot experience the wind directly make it 'a postulated force' (reality-3) at that moment? (After all, it could be that the movement has another cause right then. Those demons, perhaps.)

    Another example. Suppose I am watching a game of billiards and one of the players pots a ball and let's also suppose that it is one of those delicate shots where the spectators see what is happening almost in slow motion. Then we might say 'The ball went into that pocket instead of going straight ahead because the first ball hit it at just that angle.' And we might indicate the angle with our hands. There is an explanation here but it doesn't seem to be reality-2. All we have is reality-1.

    We could, of course, give a stricter, more scientific explanation to this example. We could apply some equations from rigid body dynamics and these might have variables that corresponded to the relative starting position of the balls, their mass, their radius, the speed of the first ball, etc. We would then have a situation consisting of:

    * reality-1 (the actual balls and their movement)

    * reality-2 (the equations).

    What is the data, though? Is it the balls and their movement? Or just the movement? We don't have to explain the balls, after all; only how they move relative to one another.

    And what about reality-3 here? Is it all the variables in the equation? Or just the two masses and radii? Or do we have two 'theoretical balls' implicit in the equations?

    I think if I had answers to the above questions I would have a better idea of your view of how all this works.

    Now it's my turn for a late night. It's almost midnight here down under.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    It is amazing what a little sleep can do. I have another example to test your schema.

    Suppose we electrolyse hydrochloric acid. Each of the electrodes produces a gas. At the anode we have chlorine. We know this because of the smell. So, chlorine is data (reality-1) that we need to explain. At the cathode, however, we have a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas. We test it using a chemical test or a spectrometer. Now we have, for the test:

    • test results — data — reality-1

    • explanation/theory — 'This is hydrogen' — reality-2

    • evading object — hydrogen gas — reality-3

    So back to our electrolysis. We could say that we now know we have hydrogen at the cathode. This and the chlorine are the data we have to explain. However, our data in this case includes the 'evading object', hydrogen gas (reality-3 from the test). So that doesn't work because reality-3 cannot be data.



    Alternatively, we could say the data consists of the chlorine and the test results (reality-1) but now we have to explain not just the electrolysis but also the test — the workings of the spectrometer, for example. This means that our explanation of the electrolysis is different depending on the test for hydrogen that we use. So we have exactly the same thing going on in the electrolysis but different theories to account for the data — one theory if we use a chemical reaction as a test, another if we use spectrometry. We also have to say we have data at one electrode (the anode) but not at the other. This doesn't make sense to me.

    Also, you said 'We cannot "prove" that our models are "true", but only that they are "useful".' I interpret this to mean that we cannot prove that we have hydrogen at the cathode. It is only useful to think of it that way. In addition:

    • It is not true that the planets move in orbits close to ellipses. It is only useful to think of it that way.

    • Nor is not true that air is a mixture of gases, mostly nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. That is just a useful picture (model).

    Again this doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I have missed the point.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Wonderful analysis, Chris, I had to laugh. Well, those contradictions did not make much sense to me either. But you indeed missed a point.

    First let's change "reality-x" into "rx" for shorthand.

    As you know, light can be "a shower of particles" (the Newton model) or "a wave" (the Young model). But today we say that light can be both, depending on what observations are studied. This is explained from a strange theory (r2), QM, that says, that "the particles" (photons) are dispatched statistically on a screen or in space "according to the highs and lows of a wave". This all is very complicated in detail. One has to do (not to understand) QM (r2).

    We still have our meters and counters (r1), and we have our "evading objects" (photons, r3), but we really don't understand what is happening here, so we cannot say "light is x". While the models of particle and wave are "incompatible", they both must be true at the same time — depending on our questions. The model (r2) is able to understand that, but we humans are not. This is what I call "useful".

    Thus the whole question of what light "really" is becomes meaningless. We simply have to give up on such notions. What is "love really" or "freedom really" or "truth really" ? We don't know ! Those all are as much "evading objects" (r3) as is light or the electron. This is why I spoke of "limits of our language" here.

    We naively tend to assume "like little children", that you see a lamb jumping on the meadow and then point at it and cry "papa, mama, a lamb !" This is not how most objects are. There is only some class of objects, lets call it "ob1" (for "objects-1" ) the objects of which you can point at. But those "evading objects" of "r3" are in another class, lets say "ob3". Thus you will find "ob1" in "r1", while you will find "ob3" in "r3".

    There is not a single contradiction in your chemical example. You only have to do your analysis more carefully. What you are smelling is not "chlorine", but "a smell". That this smell is of chlorine is derived from your formulas and theories. "The primary data given" ("r1") is a smell, the chlorine molecules are in fact "r3". But once more : To be "r3" does not mean to be non-existent ! It only means that it is no "primary data given" but "postulated from theory".

    And then : Our concept of truth is dependent on "coherence" : Those "r3" objects are never known from singular observations like "lambs". They are postulated from a great many of "coherent observations" that are related by theories.

    How do we know that the Earth is a globe and not a disk ? There are countless facts that would be very hard to explain with a flat-Earth model, but that explain itself with a sphere-Earth model. Some single observations generally don't tell us much. Thus once more "no lambs here". A lot af chemical and physical assumptions is involved in your chemical example.

    The world we live in is on the one hand "the meaningless world of 'all that is the case' in the sense of Wittgensteins Tractatus." But in fact it is a meaningful world consisting of a dense web of interacting and "to a large degree consistent" notions of "r1", "r2", and "r3" and other "rx" elements. Just mull a bit over it !

    Here you are at metaphysics again : Science is part of "the metaphysical project to construct a coherent model that could explain the world we live in." Religions are another part of this project. Some think that can do without. As Laplace explained to Napoleon whe asked why in his great "mechanique celeste" ("mechanics of the heavens") no God was mentioned : "I did not need this hypothesis". It was like Newton spending those demons shifting the planets. We try to render our metaphysics "as simple as possible" — but not simpler, as Einstein would have cautioned.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Can we agree to leave quantum mechanics aside for the moment? It is, as you say, a strange beast. It may even prove to be the point at which the idea that science consists of models breaks down. For now, I would like to get clear how your ideas apply to some relatively simple examples. If I cannot understand that, then I have no hope of applying those ideas to QM!

    So, to my example of electrolysis. I fear it is you who have missed the point. At least, you did not deal with the main problem that the example raises. I agree that one could take the smell of the chlorine to be data. Certainly smelling the gas is a test. I will leave the implications of this aside for the moment, however. Let's suppose that we use a chemical or spectroscopic test to prove that the gas at the anode is chlorine. Now, to restate the point of the example:

    • You say that, in general, r1 is data, r2 the theories that explain the data and r3 the 'evading objects' — components of the theory.

    • I say that, in particular, the test for hydrogen or chlorine involves r1 (the data produced in the test) and r2 (a theory that explains how this data means that we are dealing with hydrogen (or chlorine)). r2 explains r1, as you would wish. I also presume that r2 also involves r3 (hydrogen (or chlorine)) molecules or atoms (the evading objects).



    • When we explain what happens in the electrolysis we can do one of two things. Firstly, we can explain the presence of hydrogen and chlorine at the electrodes and stop there. This is the common sense approach. If we do this, however, we are not explaining data (r1). The only data we have is bubbles of unidentified gas. So this approach does not fit with what you want to do with your rx schema. The second approach involves not just explaining the electrolysis but also explaining how the tests work. This would fit with what you want to do because the total explanation would then explain all the data from the tests and from the electrolysis.



    Which approach to explanation do we take? I do not like the second one for three reasons:

    • The thing that I want to understand is the electrolysis, not the tests. If I ask you what is going on and you start talking to me about spectrometry, for example, then I will think you have misunderstood me.

    • If the tests are different (chemical rather than spectroscopic, for example) then the explanations are different, despite the fact that the electrolysis (the bit I want to understand) is the same. Why should this be?

    • If the person doing the electrolysis does not understand how the tests work (as with a spectrometer, for example) then they cannot give the full explanation. We would have to say, then, that they don't know what is going on in the electrolysis. This seems to me to be nonsense.

    For these reasons, I think that the second approach to the explanation is wrong. So, we are left with the first. The first, however, means that your schema is wrong. Scientific explanations do not always explain r1 (i.e. things that you can point to) data. So, either the term 'data' can refer to things other than r1 or 'r1' can refer to things that you can't point to. I leave you to make the correction. Maybe you need some more categories.

    This, perhaps, leads to the second point. You say:

    'What you are smelling is not "chlorine", but "a smell". That this smell is of chlorine is derived from your formulas and theories. " The primary data given" ("r1") is a smell, the chlorine molecules are in fact "r3". But once more : To be "r3" does not mean to be non-existent ! It only means that it is no "primary data given" but "postulated from theory".'

    Something is missing here — the physical chlorine gas. It is not true that I know this is chlorine because of my 'formulas and theories'. I might know no chemistry at all and still know that I am smelling chlorine. If my father was a swimming pool attendant in a big city, I might learn what chlorine was before I knew what a lamb was.

    Now it could be argued that when I look at that woolly thing bouncing in the meadow I am not seeing a lamb but only a certain kind of shape and colour and texture. According to such a view, all our perceptions involve intellectual constructs developed on the basis of a theory. I won't debate that because it is irrelevant. Whatever the outcome, the point at issue is that you want to make a distinction between the lamb, which you say is r1, and the chlorine, which you say is r3.

    Or perhaps you don't. In the quote above, you seem to equate chlorine with chlorine molecules. The latter, of course, are 'postulated from theory'. I am not smelling chlorine molecules but nor am I just smelling a smell. I am smelling chlorine, a gas. It is visible to the naked eye. It can be captured in a canister. It can be decompressed until is a liquid, when it becomes very clearly something I can point to. It was discovered at least 30 years before the development of the theory of molecules. So why is it not r1 (data)?

    What might be happening here (although you seemed to have rejected this idea when I came up with it earlier) is something like this:

    • There is something in the world — a greenish-yellow gas with a distinctive smell, originally called 'dephlogisticated marine acid' but then, since 1807, 'chlorine'.

    • There is also a sophisticated theory or model within which this substance is identified with a chemical element that has a certain atomic composition (17 protons in the nucleus etc).

    The 'chemical element' in the second item is, in your schema, r3 'postulated from theory'. You don't seem to have a place for the first item (the gas) at all but, in my version of the schema, I shall say it is r1. The theory r2 explains the observable properties of the gas (with reservations I shall call these properties r1 as well). In this way, we can map r2 onto r1.

    So, to sum up, I have two questions. Is my analysis of the electrolysis example correct and, if so, how do you want to adjust your schema? Do you agree with my interpretation of the way that models relate to the physical world? (Note, of course, that if chlorine gas is r1 then hydrogen gas is as well. I see no good reason for giving the latter a different status merely because we cannot see it in its gaseous state.)

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science, pseudoscience and reality

    No Chris, I haven't given up on this topic — and not on you either ! I just needed some reshuffling of the fragments of your questions to make some clarified re-statement. What do you think is missing in my answers now ? And may be my answers put to you and Mike on "pattern recognition" and "artificial intelligence" seem a bit misplaced. But as I put it in the second answer to you and Mike (06/29/09 1:34 PM GMT), we should carefully separate "truly philosophical questions" now from "pseudo-problems" that are solved already by computers. What I wanted to show is : Computers need no "spirit" nor "mind" to recognize and parse some forms — optical, acoustical, grammatical — and they even could "play on their input channels" and by this create "models of reality" or "dreams" or "fancies" etc.. We vastly overestimate the value of concepts like "mind" and "spirit" and waste our time with pseudoproblems. That was my point.

    So once more : What problems do you think are still left for the true philosopher ?

    Getting back to your example, I stick with my notion that neither Chlorine gas (HCl) nor Hydrogen (H2) are "r1" but are "r3". But this is only to caution our way of speaking of reality. My point was to keep reality proper apart from our speaking of it. Look at what I posted to you and Mike on "consistency model of truth" in the other thread. The best we can ask for is a "consistent" world, while the question of "what to call real" always remains a bit undefined.

    To put it differently : What is it, that lets you think that chlorine-atoms and hydrogen-atoms are "real" ? It is not some single observation, but it is the whole of modern chemical theory and our modern concept of atoms and molecules etc.. But in what way is this sort of "reality" different from any religious "proof" of the existence of demons and angels, or from the "proofs" of astrologers or alchemists ? They too will tell you that their systems are "waterproof" and "consistent".

    You would agree with Mike (and me) that this is not case, and that there is a difference of "true science" and "pseudo-science". But why do we think so ? Because — with some scrutinizing of the evidence (r1 !)- we would find out, that the pseudo-sciences ignore and shut out some facts or arguments, and by this their theories are "leaking" and not "waterproof" if tested.

    What do the "creationists" do ? They desperately try to show that (Neo-)Darwinism is "leaking". It's the same principle : We have the facts (that are not questioned by the creationists) but what we think of evolution is not explained by the (r1)facts, but by the (r2)theories and by lots of r3-assumptions derived from the theories.

    Meanwhile atoms and molecules become observable, but even then what we see on some electon-microscope screen is an array of blurred spots that need "interpretation". To call them atoms is "to save consistency".

    The whole world we live in is a "r3-world" to a large degree, but not an "r1-world", or, to be more precise, as a r1-world our world would be meaningless in the sense of "the world is all that is the case". What do we buy from this platitude.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I am sorry but I am still confused. Previously you made a distinction between r1 (data) and r2 (theory). Now you are making a distinction between r1 ('reality proper') and r2 ('our speaking of it' i.e. reality proper). These are not the same in my view. I assume this is a refinement of your position?

    What I think you are now saying is that there is something (r1) in reality proper that we speak about as Chlorine (r2). This something has properties (r1) that we explain by our theories (r2). Is this correct?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, you misgot something. The "way of speaking" is not r2 but r3, those "evading objects" like the electron or photon etc., which are needed to make our physical world-view consistent, but which are not observed directly. They are more of the character (to avoid more numbering like r3a and r3b etc.) of the "causality" in Hume. Hume correctly said that "causality" is not an "empirical fact", but without the concept of causality we would have trouble "to understand our world". This observation "awakened Kant from his dogmatic slumber". We need electrons to get at some meaningfully coherent worldview, but we cannot know exactly what electrons "are". In this sense we may smell chlorine gas, but our concept of chlorine gas is derived from theories and not directly observable. From the smell you do not know that it is molecules of HCl docking at some molecules in your nose that then send electrical stimuli to your brain. All this you "know" from a vast array of r1-facts made coherent by some r2-theory by means of r3-concepts like atoms and molecules. Your last sentence is correct if you change the r2 behind Chlorine into r3. Or explicitely : "there is something in reality proper that we speak about as Chlorine (r3). This something has properties (r1) that we explain by our theories (r2)."

    But I don't like the expression "reality proper". Theories and facts and many other things are "reality proper". What I was speaking of is "observables" and "assumptions" and "thories". The fag is only a fact in the whodunit for Sherlock Holmes. He then makes up some theory (r2) with some assumptions (r3) in it (f.i. a motive of greed or hate or jealousy etc.) to get at meaningful conclusions. Remember "The murder in the Rue Morgue" of E.A.Poe ? There are facts (r1), but all "normal" theories (r2) are lost because of false assumptions (r3).

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Thanks for this Hubertus. And my apologies for the misreading. I shall get back to you shortly.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I think we are a step closer. However, I am still having trouble seeing how your schema applies to my example.

    I see gas bubbles at the electrodes (observable — r1). I have a theory, which is a story about how hydrogen and chlorine ions (r3) are attracted to the electrodes where they pick up or lose an electric charge and become hydrogen or chlorine gas (r3). How does the observable confirm the theory, given that I do not know what the gas or gases are?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    That's simple, Chris ! The theory EXPECTS to see those gases, and the effects too. The data (r1)from the observations of Tycho Brahe proving beyond doubt that the orbit of Mars was an ellipsis and not a circle had to wait about a century until Newton could explain this fact with his theory of gravitation in 1687 (r2). This was dumb luck, since if the orbit had been disturbed and irregular, no Newton would have been able to explain it ! In a similar way Einsteins theories have explained a lot of things, most famously the perihel shift of the orbit of Mercury and the aberration of light passing the sun from stars.

    On the other hand we have "superstable" explanations (in the sense of Popper) that do explain every outcome and by this nothing. There are many standard-examples of this. For the "Freudian true believer" either you have a manifest Oedipus Complex, or it must be hidden and suppressed. The idea that the Oedipus Complex could be some special illness that one may have or not like fleas is impossible to think in such people. Same with Class Consciousness in true Marxists. For the true Christian believer an atheist is somebody running away from God. Etc.. By this we have to tell apart "consistent theories that are falsifiable by observable facts" and those that are not. But this "telling apart" can be very difficult, since even the pseudo-scientists and "true believers" will offer "facts" to prove their case. It is not simple !

    And one remark added on "atoms and molecules" : Up to about 1900 atoms and molecules were assumed "hypothetical" by most scientists. They were "working hypotheses" and not assumed to be "real". But up to about 1910 almost all scientists got convicted to take them for real, while only some years ago those atoms became visible "in a sense". So the debate was never dependent on the "visibility" but on the "consistency". Today we have this situation with electrons : We do not see them, but we still take them "for real", since "we need them" — to make our models look convincing. It is really like in the case of "causality".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    No, it is not so simple. I feel you miss the point again. Of course the theory 'expects' to see 'those gases'. However, 'those gases' according to you are r3 (chlorine and hydrogen) and not 'observables' or 'data' (r1). Let me try and put this more clearly one more time.

    According to you, data or observables (r1) confirm or disconfirm theories (r2), which employ 'evading objects' or 'assumptions' (r3). In the example, the observable (r1) is unidentified bubbles at the electrodes. This is, of course, a partial confirmation of the theory but it is by no means a full or solid one. For all we know, the bubbles could be steam or air. In order to fully confirm the theory, we need more than the observable. So I conclude that your schema does not work in this instance. There is more to say about this but I have already said it in earlier posts so I will just leave it there for you to comment.

    I must say I am finding this conversation very frustrating. I am not sure why it is so slow and such heavy going. I can only conclude that either your position (or your explanation of it) is incoherent or I am too stupid to understand. It is only the uncertainty as to which of these two alternatives is correct that stops me giving up. Perhaps, then, I can offer a more general statement of what I am trying to do here.

    Firstly, I understand Popper and falsifiability. I understand the view that science consists of theories that are confirmed or disconfirmed by observations. I accept that science, through these theories, offers explanations, which we might call models. I also understand Popper's criticism of Freud and Marx and various other 'superstable' explanations. Let's take all that as given, therefore, and try and move beyond it.

    What you seem to have offered with your rx categories is, at first glance, a standard explanation of the way science works. If your categories and the suggested relationships between them work, then this standard explanation might well hold good. If your categories don't work, then perhaps the standard explanation is wrong. Perhaps even Popper is wrong. That is an interesting possibility, in my view. So, the question is, does your schema work?

    Now in order to answer this question, it seems to me, we have to take some examples and examine them thoroughly. It will not be helpful to give brief, high level surveys of current theories or of particular episodes in the history of science. Obviously, all such surveys will confirm your view. If they didn't, someone would have noticed there was a problem before now. If there is a problem (and maybe there isn't) it lies deeper than that.

    So in the first instance we can consider the question to have two parts:

    • We must distinguish between data/observable (r1) on the one hand and theory (r2) with its component 'evading objects'(r3) on the other.

    • We must also show that theories (r2) are always confirmed by data/observables (r1) and not by something else in the schema (r3, for example) or outside of it.

    From my perspective you have not managed to do either of these things. Generally, you have given high level answers and passed over all the specific examples that I've brought up. In addition, I feel your responses have also been contradictory (which would be all right if you had changed your view but you don't seem to think that you have). I'll give you an example of such a contradiction.

    In an earlier post you said that chlorine and hydrogen molecules were r3 (i.e. they were not observables). In your last post you say that 'some years ago those atoms became visible 'in a sense'. I can only conclude that if something is visible then it is an observable so that now you are saying that atoms and molecules are r1 'in a sense'. Does this mean that r1 and r3 are not mutually exclusive? Something is wrong here.

    So, if you feel like pursing this further, I suggest that we go forward by trying to state clearly the criteria for distinguishing r1 and r2/3 and that we test these criteria by applying them to a number of specific examples. What do you think?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, at least you are a tough guy — which is always a mark of a good philosopher ! Well, let's look at this chlorine example again. You write that it could be "vapor". But there was no "vapor" to be expected. What was expected by the theory was chlorine. And the smell is confirming here that it is "very probably" not normal air or vapor. But of course it has to be proven (!) afterwards that this "strange new gas" is indeed chlorine as expected. This can be done by recombining the gas with other elements to other compounds that are defined by the theory. Thus once more : It is not the nose that tells you that there is chlorine, but you can argue in a series of "r2-steps" that what you expected (from r2) was chlorine, and if this holds true, then the theory (once more r2 !) will expect that a combination of Cl with Na will give common salt etc.. Thus you cannot pick some r1 data without taking the whole theory r2 into account. This is "consistency theory". So I am not contradicting myself here. We always tend to forget that our modern chemical or physical or biological theories have grown in centuries of countless Popperian "conjectures and refutations". It is really like a Sherlock Holmes whodonit.

    So you are not "too stupid to understand" but you take countless "facts" for granted which are results of many "conjectures and refutations". The smell of the chlorine gas DOES tell you that "this is not water-vapor", but it does NOT tell you that "this is Cl-gas". Your theory "suggests" that "it should be Cl-gas" and then you have to prove it and to confirm (for this experiment at least) that your theory of electrolysis is correct.

    My hint at "atoms becoming observable" was misleading : The r1-fact here is only the image on the screen of the electron-microscope. That this image is showing atoms is still only a "conjecture". And the more important aspect was : Even if there were no atoms observable in this way, chemistry would not change a little bit. We can write handbooks on the properties and the behaviour of the electron without ever seeing an electron, and so we can write thick books of many thousand pages on chemistry without ever seeing any atom or molecule. It all remains in the realm of r2 and r3, while only "meters and indicators" being r1 !

    But of course we need r1 to avoid "superstable" theories. This is what Popper calls "trying to refute your assumptions" : You are obliged to look out for new "r1-predictions" and try to "falsify" your theory. The error of the true believer is to avoid or ignore those r1-facts that do not fit his theory. While Popper would be happy to find some counter-evidence, the true believer would rather be not.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Your answer still isn't clear. What I think you are saying is this.

    • We observe bubbles as the cathode (r1).

    • We test the gas in, for example, a spectrometer. This gives us spectral lines (r1) and we have a theory (r2) that tells us that these lines indicate hydrogen (r3).

    • We now know that the gas at the cathode is hydrogen (r3).

    • In a similar way we can show that the gas at the anode is chlorine (r3).

    • These results fully confirm the theory of electrolysis in this instance.

    Is this correct?

    You did not answer my question as to what the criteria for an observable (r1) are. I'll assume that r1 has to be something we perceive through the senses, preferably sight.

    Here are some questions to help me get the distinction between r1 and r3 clear.

    • Is the earth r1 or r3?

    • What about Mars? Is r1 the red dot in the sky and r3 the 'interpretation' that this is a planet?

    • What about alpha centauri?

    • Is water r1? Or is r1 the wet stuff and r3 the 'interpretation' that this is water?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    I once more had to laugh, Chris. Well yes, the first conclusions are correct, ie., as I would call them. maybe others disagree, but where are the others here ?

    And on the second list of questions :

    My point was that we have "primary facts" r1 and "derived facts" r3, and that we should keep them apart, since to get from r1 to r3 we need r2. Just a reminder : "Oedipus Complex" is NOT a primary observable of the r1 type ! Neither is "class struggle" and neither is "sin and redemtion". These and many other notions are "non-observables", i.e., they are non-existent for anybody who does not share the underlying (Marxist, Freudian, Christian) theoretical assumptions r2 that "constitute" those "facts" (r3).

    Thus "r1-facts" are those facts, that can be confirmed by any observer independent on his/her special conviction. Of course you may observe some maltreatement of some laborer by some employer, but this does not force you to subscribe to the theories of Marx. For the Marxist it is a confirmation of "class struggle", but for the liberal it is just a sorry bad behaviour.

    The important thing here is to see that r1-facts alone are meaningless in most cases. They have to be interpreted in some theoretical context.

    To put it differently : You may speak "out of context" of cows and trees and houses etc., but you cannot speak out of context of "justice" and "liberty" and "progress" etc.. Those are "not jumping around like lambs".

    Thus Mars is but a red blot in the telescope. That it is a planet you do not know from observation but from "plausibility and exclusion", which means "What else should this red spot be ?" In principle it could be a balloon or a man made satellite — the telescope alone would not tell you that ! So once more you are at our "consistency check".

    • Is the earth r1 or r3?

    A: Depends on what you call "Earth". r1 is what you stand on, but plate-tectonics and a hot core and up to 1969 even the spherical nature are "r3".

    • What about Mars? Is r1 the red dot in the sky and r3 the 'interpretation' that this is a planet?

    A : Yes !

    • What about alpha centauri?

    A : The same !

    • Is water r1? Or is r1 the wet stuff and r3 the 'interpretation' that this is water?

    A : Yes, the latter !



    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your patience. I have some comments on the first part of your answer and will get back to you later on the second part when I have thought about it.

    So, to repeat for convenience, the example shows:



    • We observe bubbles at the cathode (r1).

    • We test the gas in, for example, a spectrometer. This gives us spectral lines (r1) and we have a theory (r2) that tells us that these lines indicate hydrogen (r3).

    • We now know that the gas at the cathode is hydrogen (r3).

    • In a similar way we can show that the gas at the anode is chlorine (r3).

    • These results fully confirm the theory of electrolysis in this instance.

    Now, if this is correct, it suggests that the theory of electrolysis is not confirmed by data (r1), as you say it should be, but by the results (r3) of another theory, the theory of spectrometry (r2). Do you agree? If so, how do you want to account for the anomaly?

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I have some further thoughts on problem we have been discussing. It seems to that the electrolysis example is not an exception but typical. Any standard test for chemical involves a reaction between chemicals A, B, C, etc to produce chemical Z. Now, according to your scheme all these components are r3 ('evading objects' or 'derived facts') because they all involve some sort of theoretical framework or interpretation. If standard tests are r3, then all the data on which experiments are based are r3. Thus, chemical theories are, typically, demonstrated not by r1 (raw data) but r3.

    You pointed out that images from an electronic microscope are blobby and require interpretation. However, every instrument, it seems to me, also requires interpretation. Take a scale of weighing. The read-out says 40.37. This needs be interpreted. Is it lbs or kgs? What is a kilogram? Etc. Going further we could say that 40.37 itself needs interpretation. Unless we have some theory of numbers, all there is here are some dark marks.

    In short, I don't think you explanation of the way science works holds up. At least, it is nowhere near as simple as you seem to suggest.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, maybe Yorkshire breeds a very special sort of stubborn people. Not to bother.

    My point was : r1 is primary data, "the given". So the readings of a scale or the pictures on a screen are "r1". But atoms and molecules are not given in this way. Thus we are at "r3" and at "consistency theory". We have assembled thousand and millions and billions of "r1"-data, and as long as those are consistent with our "r2"-theories we are happy. We only have to assure that those "r1"-data remain "falsifiable". If they do not fit our theory, our theory has to be changed.

    We know from experience (r1) that 10 lbs is much heavier than 15 grams. So if the scale shows 10 lbs for a normal postcard, then either the scale or the mechanism must be wrong. This too is "consistency".

    How to "prove" that the Earth is not flat ? We may sail around it even when it is flat. But we have longitudes and latitudes, we have day and night, we have even satellites now and can see the Earth from a distance — from Moon or Mars etc.. All this together explains in a quite natural way by the assumption that the Earth is a sphere. We would have much trouble to explain all this for a flat Earth model.

    Thus from a certain point to insist that "it still is flat !" looks absurd and dogmatic. You need some very strong counter-evidence to deny the spherical nature of the Earth. This same is true for the "hypothesis" of atoms and molecules and electrons etc. : All of modern physics and chemistry would look very strange indeed if those atoms and molecules and electrons are "non existent". But they still are "r3", they still are not "primary data".

    The header of this thread is "science as metaphysics". Your original question was : "Can there be science without metaphysics ?". It all depends on what you call metaphysics. As I said, modern physics does not quarrel over "truth" (a metaphysical notion) but over "consistency", which is not metaphysical.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    You have lost me again. In my view 'the given' is not the same as 'the observable. I grant you that numbers are a given in science but that does not mean they are purely and simply observable, without theory. I know that 15 grams is lighter than 15 lbs but only because I know theory that tells me what grams and lbs are. Similarly if I use a standard chemical test to identify the products of a chemical reaction, then the test is a given. It nevertheless involves a theory (r2) and what you have earlier claimed were r3 (evading objects).

    Just to be clear, let's repeat the example.

    1. We observe bubbles at the cathode (r1).

    2. We test the gas in, for example, a spectrometer. This gives us spectral lines (r1) and we have a theory (r2) that tells us that these lines indicate hydrogen (r3).

    3. We now know that the gas at the cathode is hydrogen (r3).

    4. In a similar way we can show that the gas at the anode is chlorine (r3).

    5. These results fully confirm the theory of electrolysis in this instance.

    At step 2, what is the given? If you say the lines, then I say these are useless without interpretation (i.e. the lines in themselves do not constitute data). If you say the given is the result of the test (ie hydrogen), then your given is r3 not r1.

    I maintain that any other test at step 2 would demonstrate the same point.

    Earlier you said you wanted to make a distinction between "primary facts" r1 and "derived facts" r3. I presume you also want to say that scientific theories are confirmed or refuted by primary facts. I don't think this distinction holds. I think that the data that we use to confirm or refute scientific conjectures are derived facts. The difference between R1 (data) and R3 (component of theory) as I see it is between established 'facts' and conjectures. The given, in this view, is just what scientists choose to assume, which probably amounts to what they currently agree on.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics



    Chris, let's try to find you again :

    You wrote : // At step 2, what is the given? If you say the lines, then I say these are useless without interpretation (i.e. the lines in themselves do not constitute data). If you say the given is the result of the test (ie hydrogen), then your given is r3 not r1. //

    Here seems to be the point of our misunderstanding : "The given" are the lines and nothing but the lines. Of course they are useless without interpretation. But that was my point. I wanted to show that "99%" of our "reality" is "interpreted reality". Those gases could as well be "demonic emanations". When the researcher missionary gets his radio out in the jungle, the voices from the radio are (or have been) pure mystery for the "primitives" (at least on the first contact). They do not and cannot know that it all is "just a little physics". This is the famous saying that "any sufficiently advanced technology is magic". We generally do not realize that "99%" of our world is "trusting the books and the authorities". Sometimes this picture is questioned : How do we know that 9/11 is not the work of the CIA ? How do we know that the landing on the moon was not a hoax and staged in some film-studio ? While I personally do not think so, many people are very much in doubt about the truth here. And while not many people seem convinced today that the Earth is flat, quite a lot of people seem to question the theories of Darwinism against all evidence. Thus you spectral lines could be any mumbo jumbo in the same way as those Jesuits thought the sun-spots were that they saw in the telescope of Galilei. We are living in a network of mutual trust. "Truth" is a matter of trust and consistency. This is why I insisted on separating "primary evidence" (r1) and "conclusions drawn from it" (r3). The spectral lines as such are r1, but the conclusion, that they "prove" the hydrogen to be there is "r3 by r2". Look at a chromatogram : If you are no specialist, you have to accept the explanation of the specialist. How do you know that he/she is not telling you nonsense ? What you see is a chromatogram, thus r1, but what you know about its "information content" may be nothing if you are no specialist.

    Once more : We are speaking of metaphysics here, and my thesis was that metaphysics is similar to science in that it tries to build up a coherent picture that makes a "consistent" interpretation of "primary facts" (r1) possible. I only added, that metaphysicists usually claim too much, while "true scientists" in the Popperian sense call their theories "provisional" and try to avoid the word "truth". As you know from any detective movie a "plausible" explanation of whodonit will not go for a "proof".

    So in my opinion you never should mix up "r1-facts" with "r3-pseudofacts". Those "r3" object remain what they are : assumptions. Once more : Read the "Murder in the Rue Morgue" to know the difference ! There have been "r1"-facts and witnesses, but everybody (save the bright detective) was wrong on the interpretation, because the true explanation was too strange to be taken into account. We never should mistake r3-assumptions for primary r1-facts.

    But in a sense you are right : From a purely philosophical point of view not even r1-facts are more than hypotheses. Maybe I am just a bug thinking to be a human ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your response. I accept everything you say (I think!).

    However, it contradicts what I took to be your position — namely that scientific theories are refuted or confirmed by r1 (data). If the spectra lines (without interpretation) are data, then they cannot either confirm or refute the theory inherent in the electrolysis example. If the data consists of the interpreted lines, then they are r3 and not r1. In short, the theory of electrolysis is confirmed or refuted by r3, not r1.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, I think you are riddled by a pseudo-problem. What we have as "given" is r1, but the theory is void (in most cases) without assumptions of the r3-type. What Sherlock Holmes "has as a given r1" may be a fag or some other minor evidence, besides "all circumstances taken into account," but his assumptions on explaining motives (greed, envy, rage, jealousy etc.) and plausible behaviour of the perpetrator (being in haste, being careless, being startled, being a cautious profi, being a woman, being a catholic from the Caribbean etc.) are "r3". He tries to fit his evidence r1 with his assumptions r3 into a theory on what really happened.

    From the perspective of a god, it all "was simply the case". But since Sherlock Holmes is no god, he can only guess at what may have been the case. As a god, he would only need "r" = "reality", but as a human he has to separate r1, r2, r3 — and maybe more.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I suppose calling it a 'pseudo-problem' is one way to make it go away. I would be more convinced by your arguments, however, if you didn't just repeat your Sherlock Holmes analogy and instead dealt directly with my example, which, as far as I can see, contradicts your earlier assertions about the relationship between data and theory or, more precisely, about what constitutes data.

    Perhaps, rather than repeat it all again, I can put it another way.

    • A necessary condition for something being data that will confirm or refute a scientific theory is that it is directly observable. Preferably it is something one can see but perhaps other sensory perceptions, like hearing, will also do. (This is the given, r1)

    • However, this is not a sufficient condition. In order to be usable (i.e. in order to be considered data), the something also needs be interpreted. (This is r3)

    Will that do?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, on first glance I would say "would do". But I have a problem with your usage of "interpreted".

    Once more — I beg your pardon — a murder case : You have some finger print (r1). To know that this is a fingerprint is not a problem, and comparing it with other data in itself is not either. But what is "r3" here ? There are several assumptions : (1) "Fingerprints are singular" (r2), (2) "It was a true fingerprint and not a copied one as Bond's in "Diamonds are forever""(r3, because this is not a theory but a common-sense assumption, which may be wrong).

    As you see, I am always pressing for utmost analytic clarity. "r1" are data that are not open to debate, while r2 and r3 are always open to debate. Remember the example of the flask giving the fluids in drops even while it does not contain "drops".

    Maybe I am too strict, but I once more feel a problem when I read your exchange with Charles : You speak of "soul" and "dualism" and "mysticism" etc., but I would start numbering all three concepts. Well, I don't and will leave you and Charles alone for some time. But just to give an example : When you speak of "dualism" — do you speak of "natural vs. supernatural" or do you speak of "material vs. immaterial" ? This alone would make "dual-1" and "dual-2", while there are several more. I am not pedantic, I am only careful.

    Another example : Do you call "joy" a "thing" or a "state to be in" ? And do you call "beauty" a "thing" or a stimulus affecting a certain state of "joy" ? In the first interpretation (!) beauty would be something "in the object", a property. In the second interpretation it would be only in the beholder, in his neuronal arousal. Wile of course the object has a form, from this does not follow that the form itself is beautiful, only that the beholder is feeling like that.

    Don't tell me that this is an example of "splitting hairs" : Perhaps you do not feel much "joy from beauty" when seeing a big spider. You would call the spider "ugly and repellent". But maybe the other spider is experiencing "neuronal feelings of joy and attraction" ? So what and where is "beauty" ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I have sent you an abstract from Science Direct: Do infants possess an evolved spider-detection mechanism?

    Cognition, Volume 107, Issue 1, April 2008, Pages 381-393

    David H. Rakison, Jaime Derringer

    The results supported the hypothesis that humans, like other species, may possess a cognitive mechanism for detecting specific animals that were potentially harmful throughout evolutionary history.

    It suggests that there may be some barriers created by human evolution against attempts like yours to apply aesthetic theory and artificial logic, disregarding natural human reaction to potential threats.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Thank you Charles for this charming "comment on my spider-remarks" to Chris. And I am not disregarding natural human reaction to potential threats." (by the way : According to Lakoff we even should shun women, fire and other dangerous things ...). You could well implement "templates" into a robot, that causes it to run away whenever it sees a dog. This sort of pattern recognition is well understood today. All DARPA and soccer-robots make use of this possibility, and the "cruise missiles" do anyway and were well known to James Bond in "Never say never again" and before (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TERCOM ). And you don't need those spiders : How would a bird know how to build a nest and grow a family without some "pattern matching" on what it means to get the right branches or how to feed its young ?

    We humans very probably have got a beauty-detection" mechanism. In my opinion "feelings" are a luxury that is lacking primitive animals as spiders are. They only need to recognize each other as possible mating partners, and very probably they do it by chemical and not by optical methods, because chemical receptors are simpler by far than optical ones. Thus in the end my whole comparison was a bit "tongue in cheek" to illustrate a problem.

    There is another fascinating question : What is it in animals and humans that causes sympathy and antipathy ? Dogs can be very much befriended to humans, but surely neither because of the looks nor because of the smell, but because of "mutual trust and nice behaviour". It is not the looks : Even little children can love an old and outworn granny or grampa very much and at the same time hate and fear some nasty young beauty. Thus we should not concentrate too much on "sensual perception" anyway. We should concentrate on attitudes. This is very much what the Bible says : The right attitude to God and other humans is what counts most.

    We have to add "behavioural patterns" (trustworthy, supporting, friendly) to optical and acoustical patterns (beauty).

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    I don't agree with your interpretation of your example. The way I analyse it is as follows;

    • You have a mark consisting of a series of curved lines (r1).

    • You have a theory (r2), very well established, that this is caused by a human finger (i.e. It is a fingerprint (r3)).

    • You also know that fingerprints are unique to an individual (theory r2)

    • By comparing fingerprints you know that this is X's fingerprint (r3).

    This analysis parallels the case of spectroscopy:

    • You have some lines on a screen or piece of paper (r1).

    • You have a theory (r2) that these are the spectrum of a substance (r3).

    • You also know that any spectrum is unique to a substance (theory r2)

    • By comparing spectra you know that these lines are the spectral lines of X (r3).

    In the first case, the move from lines to fingerprint is a matter of common knowledge. In the second case, the move from lines to spectrum requires quite a bit of theory. This is what I mean by interpretation.

    In addition, you say that r1 are 'data that are not open to debate'. This seems like a new criterion that does not necessarily correspond to the criteria you have used previously. You might say that the cause of the spectral lines is not open to debate. Or that the fact that a particular set of lines are typical of hydrogen. What does 'not open to debate' mean?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, I agree on the parallel examples. Fine !

    "Not open to debate" means : You see some owner closing down a sweatshop in this time and laying off the workers. A Marxist sees an example of "class struggle". The libertarian would not deny the facts, how could he, but would reject the interpretation. So in those examples the interpretations would be "99,9% agreed", but "it ain't not necessarily so." The private eye could doubt the evidence and say that the fingerprint has been faked (there are several examples from the movies), while I cannot think of a spectrum that could bee faked. But you see the principle here : Most people would agree on what they see, but not all people — not even experts — would agree on how to draw conclusions from the r1-evidence. Remember that most detectives are always admonishing the assistants and bystanders not to be rash on their conclusions. It is a running gag of most crime movies to present a very plausible perpretator from the very beginning and in the end present the nicest and most trustworthy person as the real villain. This was my point.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    OK. Maybe our disagreement now is mostly semantics. You seem to want to say that r1 (the curved lines on the whisky glass or the lines on the printout/screen of the spectrometer) are data. I want to say that these phenomena have to be interpreted (ie recognised as fingerprints or as the spectrum of hydrogen) to count as data. On my view data is r3 — the interpreted r1.

    The reason I prefer my view is that I want data to be that which confirms or refutes a scientific theory. r1 can never do that.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Totally agreed, Chris ! Yes, I wanted to keep "raw data" r1 strictly apart from "interpreted data" r3. Strange for me that you don't see "raw data" as data ! In my view, this is essential !

    In a famous example Heidegger convinced his audience that we never see a desk or chair or window ! What we really see are irregular shapes in different colours and shades. Only by "Gestalt psychology" we "construct" images of objects. Thus even to call something a desk is "constructing r3-data (desk) from r1 data (irregular shapes)"!

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Russell makes the same point as Heidegger in Chatper 1 of Problems of Philosophy. Of course, if we take the analysis to this level we stop talking about science and data.

    I prefer my use of the word 'data' to yours because I want data to confirm or refute a theory. r1 alone cannot do that.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, you are welcome. I am not the hangman of the philosophers Grand Inquisitor. I didn't read Russell on Heidegger. I only remember the example from some excerpt from Heidegger in a reader.

    Remember those Chinese syllable in written form. For the Chinese reader those are meaningful syllables, indicating some word. For somebody who does not read Chinese or not even knowing how Chinese writing looks like, it is just some graphics without meaning. But suppose it is a graphical symbol that looks exactly like a Chinese syllable, but is totally unknown to any expert in Chinese writing and just a playful and meaningless invention ? Then it is a mere graphical object looking like a meaningful symbol. Since it points to nothing beyond it, it cannot be r3, but surely remains r1. But without a Chinese grammar and lexicon you could not decide that.

    So what topic do you suggest for our next brawl ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Your Chinese character example is interesting. Even the grammar and lexicon might not help. How do we know we are not dealing with a neologism? How do you know, for example, whether the word 'pidburret' is nonsense or a word I have invented for a specific purpose? As Wittgenstein might say, we need a language game before we can make sense of anything.

    Which in the context or r1 and r3, brings us to the point you made earlier, that the 'limits of our language are the limits of our world' in some sense.

    Not sure what the next 'brawl' should be about but I've enjoyed this one.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science as Metaphysics

    Chris, this forum is not about killings, it is about gaining some clarity on the world we live in.

    What about "brawling" over "the use of the non-scientific" — Harry Potter, LotR, religion, etc. ? Just a suggestion from a playful Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Mike Ward   (06/08/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction and questions

    Hello, I am Michael (Mike) Ward writing from the heart of England in Warwickshire. I have a wide interest and, despite what a few may think, am open to persuasion by rational argument. With a forty five year engineering background I appreciate the nature of the physical world and being a fully paid up sceptic I require to see substance behind whatever hypotheses people may argue for. I have always been intensely curious and find I learn far more when opposing or deconstructing things (ideas or mechanisms) than is ever gained by harmonious acceptance and agreement.



    The basis of my philosophy

    •   Nothing can exist with any certainty ("I think therefore I am" proves that "I am a kind of being that thinks"

    •   Without certainty all ideas of the world external to myself are held in varying degrees of probability.

    •   I reason there is no need to concede to any higher authority than humanity.

    •   In all probability life has no external purpose.

    •   Death is simply non-existence.

    •   If there is nothing to fear in or after death there is nothing to fear in life.

    •   Probably there are no absolute values of any kind because there probably is no Creator.

    •   Without any absolute external values societies make their own.

    •   In all probability there is no right or wrong just what is expedient for the foreseeable future.

    •   Choices are made relative to the amount of happiness or pleasure they create.

    •   If humanity has any purpose it is the will to survive.

    •   We do not know what if anything exists beyond the boundaries of our perceptions so either speaking about or believing something to be so is pointless.

    •   I try only to accept things that I could determine to be true given reasonable time and effort.

    •   In this sense "belief" is pragmatic — life being to short to work out everything from first principles. Only build with scepticism upon what other people have rationally proven to be true.

    •   Question everything — be a sceptic, it's a far more powerful learning tool that simply agreeing with other people. Examine and test the limits of their reasoning.

    •   I find the idea of heaven or utopia, that is a place without desire, to be scary.

    •   Should reason dictate discarding obsolete ideas then do so as the value "I" (myself) is separate from my ideas.

    •   Other than in its own perception mankind is not important, it is just one branch on the tree of life.

    •   Which end of the food chain we are I am not certain — maybe it's us or the gene at the top.

    •   All species evolve naturally — only mankind makes plans for other species.

    •   Mankind has power beyond its wisdom.



    Spirituality and religion(s), in my view, give both false comfort and explanations. I am seriously considering that those with such convictions stand apart as almost a separate (and more primitive) species when it comes to thinking processes after all as they say "if you can believe in a god then you can believe in anything". Absolutes for me do not exist with all things being relative and where existence is unproven things may only exist in varying degrees of probability. More will be revealed as discussions progress.

    A few thoughts and questions:

    Can ideas only ever exist in a physical brain?

    What is the nature of so called "spirituality" — is it more than just sets of ideas?

    Is intelligence overturning the evolutionary dynamics of survival of the fittest?

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction and questions

    Hi Mike

    Nice to meet you.

    I am interested in your question about ideas existing in the brain. Do you have a view you want to share or a fuller statement of the problem?

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: Mind in Body

    Chris,

    The mind, according to Descartes, was a "thinking thing" and an immaterial substance. The distinction between mind and body is argued in Meditation VI as follows: I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking, non-extended thing, and a clear and distinct idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. Whatever I can conceive clearly and distinctly, God can so create. So, Descartes argues, the mind, a thinking thing, can exist apart from its extended body. And therefore, the mind is a substance distinct from the body, a substance whose essence is thought.

    I understand an "immaterial substance" as something non physical. Physical things include electricity, gravity, space, time and thoughts (as brain states). Descartes offered the pineal gland as an explanation of how the duality of mind/body could be interfaced — clearly this is absurd.

    The notion of some type of other wordly existence I find unsubstantiated and this "other worldliness" is essential to religious notions of soul and spirituality. This is why I posed the question to find out what others who hold with religion think on this matter.

    Despite many offers no believers have taken my challenge to put a gun to their head and prove me wrong that brain death really is not full and final.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction and questions

    Hi Mike

    You won't get me disagreeing if you are questioning Cartesian dualism. Nor if you are rejecting the notion of the soul in the usual sense of the immortal bit that exists independently of the body. However, I am not sure that I agree with your view that dualism is a necessary condition for spirituality. What if we consider spirituality not as a set of beliefs but as a certain kind of response? Wouldn't there be room in this single world of ours for it then?

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction and questions

    Chris,

    Can you suggest an example of what fits into your idea of response?

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction and questions

    Mike

    I am very tentative about all this but I think it's worth exploring.

    Let's say aesthetic responses, generally, have attributes that I might class as spiritual. They, however, are responses to works of art. So, for the sake of something to talk about, I'll provisionally describe spirituality as a response similar to an aesthetic response that is to the natural world rather than to a work of art.

    I'd perhaps also say that a spiritual response draws upon intuition, emotion and thought in some sort combination that is not necessarily analysable into its components (qua gestalt).

    How's that?

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction and questions

    Chris

    I've just taken this definition below from Wikipedia and I think that it accurately reflects my idea of what spirituality means and from my discussions with others is a fair definition.

    "Spirituality is matters of the spirit, a concept tied to a spirit world, a multidimensional reality and one or more deities. Spiritual matters regard humankind's ultimate nature and purpose, not as material biological organisms, but as spirits with an eternal relationship beyond the bodily senses, time and the material world. Spirituality implies the mind-body dichotomy, which indicates a separation between the body and soul.

    The spiritual is contrasted with the physical, matter and the temporary. A sense of connection is central of spirituality -- connection to a reality greater than the physical world and oneself, which may include an emotional experience of awe and reverence. Spirituality may also include the development of the individual's inner life through practices such as meditation and prayer, including the search for God, the supernatural, a divine influence, or information about the afterlife. Spirituality is the personal, subjective aspect of religion, mysticism, magic and occult."

    It is my argument that all this "spirituality" amounts to nothing more than a subjective experience. I find no reliable evidence for any external (non human) cause though there is much anecdotal hypothesis to the contrary. I think that we are evolutionary hard wired with a predisposition towards religion which can adequately be explained as a survival advantage gained through social cooperation. The fact that many people have a similar experience proves nothing what does prove something is where one person doesn't and hence any rule is destroyed.

    What an individual experiences is forever private unless it can be demonstrated to me otherwise.

    Mike

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Wolfgang Heinze   (06/08/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hi there,

    my name is Wolfgang Heinze and I just joined this forum. I have studied philosophy in University up to my Masters degree, but most of my friends say that I am neither the typical philosophy student, nor a philosopher (whatever that is or means).

    My favorite philosophers are Socrates (better: Platons early Socrates) and Nietzsche. They are not really compatible, but I guess I like swinging between those different poles.

    I also studied the works of the German Idealism (I like Kant) and am interested in political philosophy.

    I have also had an extensive exposure to Hegel, meaning I read it but have no understanding of what I read.

    From now on I would like to study the idea of Freedom, especially regarding its social and political dimensions.

    I am looking forward to a enlightening time with all of you.

    Cheers,

    Wolf

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Dear Wolf,

    Thank you for joining our forum. It really worths to study the idea of Freedom, especially regarding its social and political dimensions.

    That is a very "hot" question nowadays.

    Good luck in any philo-area!

    Pencka

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Wolf (and Pencka)

    I too like Kant, although I haven't studied him very deeply. And I am full of admiration for anyone who has read Hegel.

    What is it that interests you about the concept of freedom? Is it free will? Or some other aspect?

    Chris

  • FROM: Wolfgang Heinze   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Chris,

    I do not think I'm worthy of any admiration. I might have read Hegel, but I think I didn't understand much.

    I guess trying to write about freedom will be a very challenging adventure. Especially since there are several (and sometimes) contradictory ideas of freedom out there.

    I believe that my idea of freedom was shaped by Kants argument, that freedom is the necessary condition for having moral laws.

    Furthermore I'd state that freedom of the individual is necessary in a free and open society.

    But where does the freedom of one person and and where does the freedom of the other person start?

    What is the role of the state? What are the roles of the state and the individuals regarding justice, freedom and security?

    Has the internet and other technological advances changed anything of the classic idea of government, democracy and personal security?

    These are the questions I am asking myself at the moment. But I'm still at the beginning and I will come back regularly to this forum for help and food for thought.

    Cheers,

    Wolf

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi, everyone.

    About Kant, I think I have attached 2 essays of mine here...

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hello Wolfgang,

    I think freedom should first of all be seen as a paradoxical notion : you are free to the degree you are bound.

    Let me explain : If you are sitting before a piano, there are two extreme possibilies : Either you are totally inept, then you can play "what you want" by tinkling away. But in fact you are not able to play "what you want", since to do that, you should be a master of the instrument. Thus to be really free to do what you want, you should be a master of your thoughts and actions. Those who are — like Mandela or the Dalai Lama — are in fact masters in this way.

    This is the meaning of "to be free means to be bound".

    And if you want to be a member of a really good band of "free jazzers", you should not only be a master of your instrument, bound by its limited possibilities, but at the same time you must be totally given to the music and intentions of the other players, thus once more bound — this time by the persons around. And of course this may be seen as a model of a good society.

    But be careful here : The jazz band is a model of a free society, while an orchestratet group of slaves is exactly the opposite. One more paradox !

    This paradox is explained from the difference of "discipline from within" and "discipline enforced from the outside". To follow the discipline from within as a master of your task and instruments at hand, that is exercising true freedom.

    Only when you are a master you are free "to do as you want".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: on the notion of freedom

    Dear Wolfgang,

    you are intersted in "freedom". Did you stumbel over some problem or found out something of interest to us all ?

    What do you think of the idea that freedom begins with submission to discipline ? Only when you totally submit to the requirements of the piano, you will be a master of the piano and free to play anything. Only when you totally submit to the discipline of math you will be a master of math. Only when you totally submit to the other members of a jazz-band, you will be free to add your voice to the interplay of the band-members and make it be heared. Only when you totally submit to the requirements of a language, you will be a master of that language.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Dear Wolfgang,

    Welcome to our on line philosophy forum.

    Pencka

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Chris Else   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: Science and Metaphysics

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your extensive reply. There is enough there for half a dozen conferences.



    I think some clarification is order, though.

    First, by way of an aside, I live in Wellington, New Zealand. This means I am 12 hours ahead of Europe but upside down, which may account for the strangeness of some of my thinking.

    Second, on the matter at hand, you seem to have assumed that I want to put forward some sort of argument for a more or less conventional religious view of the world. Not so. To my mind, mystical/spiritual does not necessarily imply belief in God and belief in God does not necessarily imply subscription to an established religion. Before I can know whether I believe in God or not, I would have to decide what sort of God I was supposed to believe or not believe. I am not at all sure about that. I certainly don't believe in any kind of supreme being who has any human-like characteristics (such as knowledge or will) and who is the creator of the world. Thus, you won't find me challenging any of your arguments on this subject. Apart from anything else, such questions do not really get my intellectual blood running hot. For the moment.

    What does interest me is the matter of truth and science and what sort of knowledge science offers us and whether or not science is a metaphysical system.

    You say that 'Metaphysics is essentially any coherent system explaining the totality of the world' and that 'Science is content to find "explanations".' I am not sure why you put the word 'explanations' in scare quotes in the last sentence. Is it that you don't think science does deal in explanations? Or that the explanations of science are different from those of metaphysics? If the difference is that science is based on facts and that metaphysics isn't, then that would merely suggest that science is a particular kind of metaphysics. I certainly get the impression from people like Hawking, Wilson and Crick that science is definitely out to explain the 'totality of the world' — everything from consciousness to creation (without the Creator, of course). At least, they seem to be saying this when they are writing for the general public. When they are doing science, I'm sure they restrain themselves and focus on the problems within their particular programs. The impression one gets is — that in the minds of some scientists, at least — science is a form of creeping metaphysics: the whole world will be explained when science is complete.

    I am interested, too, in the idea that electrons and such are theoretical entities. This suggests to me that they don't exist or that they have the ontological status of a symbol in an abstract system. I would like that to be the case but I am not sure it is. This is where Popper makes me uneasy. What the falsifiability thesis seems to be saying is that we don't know if a theory is true but we must behave as if it is until the world proves us wrong. In other words, the whole scientific enterprise is based on faith and belief, leavened with a capacity to admit our mistakes, of course.

    I guess I don't understand how a scientific theory can be an explanation of anything if it does not have any ontological content. Currently, we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars looking for the Higgs boson. It seems kind of odd to be saying, 'Well, we're not looking for anything real. We're not actually finding out anything about the world. We just have these equations that say that if we set this giant machine going, then this number will appear on a computer printout (or whatever). We want to know if this will happen or not.' I doubt they got their funding with a story like that.



    Or, to look at it another way. I find it hard to think of salt as a theoretical entity. Or sodium and chlorine. What about the statement 'salt is a compound of sodium and chlorine'? Is that a piece of theory or a fact? What about a sodium ion? Is that a theoretical entity or does it exist? Or the sodium nucleus? Or the protons that make it up? Or the quarks or bosons or whatever that make up the protons? It seems that we begin with things that I want to say exist and end with things that I am not at all sure about. Which is one of the reasons I can't tell when facts stop and theory starts.

    Perhaps you can enlighten me.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Science and Metaphysics

    Chris, the best that can happen to this conference is people looking at things from Wellington and Spokane and Bonn — which together span almost the globe.

    Just this moment I put an answer to you and Charles on the essence of metaphysics at another place.

    On a non-theistic view of the world Mike will side with you.

    This moment I refrain from an answer to your posting, I hope to do it some justice next time, while not necessarily an enlightened one but rather searching with a torch in a dark wood.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: k   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: ancient philosophy

    Hi, my name is Kristian. I teach Ancient Philosophy and am particularly interested in ancient eudaimonism (happiness). Some of the greek hedonists are of special interest to me. Similar interests anyone?

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    Yes, Kristian, I wanted to know why on Earth "eudaimonia" should be in anybody's interest. I think there are very few people who are intereste in eudaimonia or even thing they should be. I think that this whole idea is very "Greek" and totally mistaken. Hubertus

    P.S.: I always like to know something on the background of people I am speaking to. But you need not tell me. On my own background just enter "hubertus fremerey" into google.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    Hi, K, you are surprised in a private mail (why not put it here ?) that I think happiness is not relevant or that no one thinks about this. This is an extreme position I do not defend in this radical form. But overall I stick with it.

    We have preferences. We like this music or novel better than that one, this meal better than that one etc.. But from this does not follow that there must be a best music or a best meal. This evening we may like to hear Bach, the next evening we prefer Beethoven or Boogie Woogie or Jazz. The very notion of "best music" becomes meaningless, while the notion of "better" and "worse" remains meaningful. Thus I never understood this search in Plato and Aristotle for some supreme good.

    In my opinion this was a typical "philosophical construct" deriving from a certain form of metaphysics. In Plato's view our notion of what is good or better is derived from some dark reminiscence of what is "best" in some absolute sense. But we need not share this idea and then the logic derived from it breaks down. Today almost nobody save some extreme Platonist thinks that Bach, Beethoven, Boogie Woogie and Jazz are expressions of some underlying "ideal" music. There is no such thing and our judgement of music is just something derived from experiences. We in the Western culture need thousands of hours to get acquainted to the different musical aesthetics of Arabic or Chinese or African music. For the unsuspecting Chinese from the countryside Beethoven is just "strange noise". In a strictly Platonic sense this cannot be, since if Beethoven is an approximation to "ideal" music, then any human being should think so. But the logic of Plato was distorted by his preoccupation with math, where any real circle is an approximation to the ideal circle. I leave it at that for the moment.

    The other question was : Why shouldn't we go for happiness ? Because — in my opinion — this notion of happiness looks void. Why do people suffer for years to win on the tennis court or to climb a high mountain or to win some medal or to become a Zen-master ? They are not forced to do so ! They could sit at home "blissfully". In the case of the Zen-master we may with a certain justification speak of "bliss" as a goal, but in the other cases the very notion of bliss becomes meaningless. A famous climber, Reinhold Messner, climbed every mountain over 8000 m, even Mt.Everest without oxygen-bottle, and after that was looking for new challenges. He was not out for "happiness". We all are doing what we think we have to do, but not for happiness. Some people are very rich in money and very poor in soul, others are the opposite of this, but neither could tell you what "happiness" is. In the morning we may be out for adventures, even dangerous adventures, in the evening we are tired and want to sleep and find some peace. Whether we are out for excitements of for peace, in both cases we are not out for "happiness" if this notion has any meaning.

    The concept of happiness becomes meaningless and void when seen in this way. So once more : The importance of happiness is a philosophical construct of the Greek style of philosophizing and has near to nothing to do with real human behaviour and striving.

    What does Dr.Faust in the drama of Goethe bet against the devil ? That the devil will be unable to seduce him by a promise of happiness ! And in the end Dr.Faust wins his bet. He will never be content, he is full of plans even in his last moment, he would have jeered at the idea that bliss was on his mind — ever !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: k   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    hubertus,

    Some interesting comments.

    Some responses: First, nowhere else in ancient thinking, aside from some of plato's dialogues, does happiness have anything to do with 'forms'. so one doesn't have to believe in, or accept, plato's forms to learn something from, or adopt, ancient conceptions of happiness.

    also, that some people (some rich, some poor) can't tell us what happiness is isn't an argument against holding to a conception of happiness. perhaps they would get a better sense of who they were and what they wanted if they took some time to reflect on what happiness means to them.

    finally, one doesn't have to always strive for or be 'out for' happiness in all of one's actions in order to accept eudaimonism. this is certainly not what most of the ancient theorists believed. the idea, rather, is that happiness is a kind of overarching goal, thought about from time to time, usually in moments of great decision.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    Well, k, I accept all your "rebuttals", as far as they concern Greek philosophy, but my objections were much more fundamental : The Greek world is essentially a world of timeless "cosmic" order, comparable to the Buddhist world or any other pre-modern world. Thus Aristotelian "bliss" or "eudaimonia" is comparable to "satori" or to "islam".

    But our modern world is a dynamic world of evolution, and there the driving and striving has nothing to do with a goal of happiness but with exploring the world and trying to survive. To put it differently : We moderns are not seeking happiness, we are seeking ourselves and try to assess and improve our situation.

    It would be a complete misunderstanding to think that even the toddler or little child is seeking happiness ! Even the toddler is exploring the world at his own risk. This is the very nature of humans, and not going for happiness.

    Why do we watch horror-movies like "Saw" or such movies as "Lord of the Rings" or "Dark Knight" etc. ? We don't do it "to be happy" but to learn something about our human possibilities. We are not forced to watch these movies as we are not forced to climb the Mt.Everest or to win a medal at the Olympics. All this is not meant to become happy but to find out about ourselves, to know our limits. That was my point.

    Thus I stick with my thesis that the whole approach of Aristotle is fundamentally wrong and mistaken. His concept of man is wrong in a typical Greek way. We humans are "nosy driven rats", not animals asking for peace in a disturbing world. We are essentially explorers and conquerers and fighters by nature.

    There may be some Hobbits, but man is not "a Hobbit by nature". Going for eudaimonia may be a philosophical ideal, but it is not a natural ideal but rather an un-natural one like that to become a Zen-master or a saint.

    Perhaps we should proceed along this opposition of "natural — un-natural". Pre-modern culture tried to calm down human unrest, while modern culture tries to put human unrest to work. The Greek ideal was "vita contemplativa", the wise man regarding the Kosmos. The modern ideal is "vita activa", the engineer and scientist and laborer transforming the world to th better. This idea of improvement was never on the mind of Plato or Aristotle or any other schools of philosophy in the Antiquity. There was an ideal of perfectibility, but this was meant to be moral improvement and a growth in wisdom.

    With Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Marx this sort of thinking was replaced by a modern thinking of progress and fighting and irrational forces all pervading.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: k   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    hubertus,

    some reactions:

    it is not accurate to say that greek thought is about timeless, static order. Again, perhaps for some like empedocles, pythagoras and plato, but the vast majority of thinkers like heraclitus, epicureans, stoics and even aristotle are all about a world in 'change'.

    second, aristotle's notion of eudaimonia is a difficult concept and open to a variety of interpretations; in any case, it is not at all given that eudaimonia is simply some static, timeless state.

    third, you make this natural/non-naturalistic distinction. but greek ethics is entirely naturalistic: it is based on human biology, function and environment.

    k.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    Some philosophers on happiness.

    Hubertus, despite your doubt, there does seem to be some interest in the subject of happiness in the world of philosophy.

    These are from an essay by Mortimer J. Adler:

    "Man wishes to be happy," Pascal writes, "and only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so"

    What Kant calls the "pragmatic" rule of life, which aims at happiness, "tells us what we have to do, if we wish to be become possessed of happiness."

    In sharp opposition to the pragmatic rule, Kant sets the "moral or ethical law," the motive of which is not simply to be happy, but rather to be worthy of happiness."

    ... what Locke means by saying that there is a science of what man ought to do "as a rational and voluntary agent for the attainment of ... happiness."

    Adler goes on including Aristotle, Aquinas, Erasmus, Mill, Boethius, Socrates, and Montaigne.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: ancient philosophy

    Charles and k,

    thank you for your hints and opposition, but I stick with my conviction that this idea of going for happiness is a philosophical idee fixe and a mental construct and has nothing to do with real observations. I am not citing any philosopher, I am just observing human behaviour. In my opinion this pursuit of happiness is a "false consciousness" in the sense of Marx and psychologists : While you are claiming to strive for the good, you may in fact be striving for evil but won't admit it.

    As I said, this notion of "pursuit of happiness" becomes void when applied to the torturer and the masochist. If you like to suffer to be happy then the whole notion of happiness becomes void. Is Dr.Hannibal Lecter a happy man ? Was Hitler a happy man ? There may be some people — few indeed — who are striving for happiness, most are not. They are striving for many goals, but not for happiness.

    I have asked why we are watching (I didn't) movies like "saw". If you are telling me that people watch such movies to become happy, I think this is absurd. People are watching such movies to have experiences quite different from happiness. This is what I called to be "a nosy rat" : Experiences tell us something about the world we live in and about ourselves. This is meaningful from the viewpoint of evolution: Expanding our experience and knowlege of the reality we live in.

    You both should get out much better arguments to convince me !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: is man striving for happiness ?

    Charles and k,

    we have to see two different images of man : Man seen as pursuing happiness is very different from man seen as a smart rat or as a daring explorer and conquerer !

    As I stated explicitely, even the toddler is not out for happiness but for "know your world". There are many books now on "the active child". This was the example of the Buddha and of St.Francis : They both could have had a comfortable life, but they were not interested. They both were asking for a challenge. Achilles and Alexander the Great in his steps were out for glory and honour, not for happiness. The Dr.Faust of the drama of Goethe explicitely bet against the devil that he would be unable to seduce Faust by the promise of happiness. The figure of Dr.Faust stands for modern man, who is driven by discontent and always tries "to improve the world". In his last days Dr.Faust is supervising the drying of swamps — i.e. "improving the world". Happiness as a goal was never on his mind.

    The pre-modern ideal — including the pre-modern Greeks and the Jews — was an ideal of wisdom and seven (4+3) "cardinal virtues". Those classical virtues (justice, prudence, measure, and fortitude, to which faith, love, and hope were added later) were the virtues of "wise men" and not the modern virtues of "active men". A set of seven modern cardinal virtues would look totally different, maybe like this :

    "Three virtues of liberty" which are : initiative, inquisitiveness, and inventiveness

    "Four virtues of good working" which are : diligence, persistence, team spirit, and responsibility

    As you see, the total character of the image of man has been changed by this. The modern image of man is very different from the pre-modern image of man. Modern man is a dynamic explorer, an inventive and creative transformer of the world. Pre-modern man is a wise one, contemplating the wisdom of the Kosmos or Creation. This contrast is what is at stake here.

    And look at your list of philosophers as taken from Adler, Charles : (Aristotle, Aquinas, Erasmus, Mill, Boethius, Socrates, and Montaigne) They all are fundamentally "pre-modern" ! A modern list would begin with Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche and include Hayek and other liberals.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Migle Anušauskaite   (06/10/09)
    SUBJECT:

    Hello everyone,

    my name is Migle and at present i am a mere student of journalistic while occasionally writing some articles in Lithuanian cultural press.

    I've been interested in philosophy for several years, i have read some books, went to some conferences, yet i feel i am lacking some basic knowledge of the subject: why is everybody suddenly criticizing Hegel? isn't there really a gap between thought and expression? how can we know the way the meaning is constructed? what is the role of pseudo-philosophy in philosophic area? I am reluctant to take the answers for these and similar questions for granted while i do not have the knowledge to try to work them out myself.

    I did like Heidegger, but i am still not sure if my understanding of him is the proper one.

    Also, i am interested in the language (as it is connected to my working area) its meaning and the role in our lives.

    I am pleased to have the possibility to encounter other's thoughts and opinions.

    Nice to meet you all:)

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Dear Migle,

    Welcome to our on line conferencing room.

    I want to ask you: do you have any philosophical preferences?

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • FROM: Migle Anušauskaite   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Hello Pencka,

    as i have mentioned, i would be interested in the language and the way it came into the focus of philosophic thought. unfortunately, my acquaintance with it (philosophical thought) has been so recent that i do not have anything except questions.

    Kind regards,

    Migle.

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Dear Migle,

    what do you think about philosophy of the langauage?:-)

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • FROM: Migle Anušauskaite   (06/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Dear Pencka,

    I am sorry for taking so long to answer: i have been working on my studies' paper days and nights.

    my thoughts concerning the philosophy of language are

    language is a convention at the process of becoming at every moment we are using the language

    also, i like to think that every act of language is an attempt to "catch" the essence of things.

    regards,

    Migle.

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (06/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Dear Migle,

    Regarding the language, I remembered a few things since the time I studied Philosophy of the language:

    1.the connection logics-language:

    The professor asks the student:

    -What is a synonim?

    -The word I will use via my logical thought instead the word I dont know.

    2.There are natural and synthetic languages

    3.the various meaning:

    "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"

    Automatically translated in Russian (!) it will sould like that:

    "The alcoholis good, but the meat is not good"

    Can I be useful somehow?

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: on language and its use

    Dear Migle and Pencka,

    what are you trying to do ? This below from my exchange with Chris Else on metaphysics may be of some relevance for your debate. I just now have posted it to Chris. It reads :

    // Epistemology is a difficult and complex field, but, as you see, strongly related to ontology. We speak of lambs, electrons, events, "freedom" and "God" all in the same language, so we fall victim to all sorts of confusions. The correct grammatical form of a statement does not tell us much about the value of the content. "The moon is a flower" would be nonsense as would be "the moon is sour", but what about "the moon is a cheese" ? It could be true and we have to check it. It is at least a falsifiable statement.

    But what about "God is love" ? This is not falsifiable, perhaps not even meaningful, we first have to clarify the meaning of such statements. Very probably it is not a statement about God, but about some feelings. So the whole statement is of a very different character than it seems to be.

    Well, for the moment I refrain from numbering the different types of statements. But you see where it goes : Ontology, epistemology, logology — where logology would be the science of our way of using the possibilities of conceptual language. //

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Migle Anušauskaite   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Dear Pencka, dear Hubertus,

    thank you for your posts, i guess i was not certain what we were exactly talking about either.

    if i understood Hubertus' reply correctly, using abstract statements (which might be equally meaningless and meaningful) will get us nowhere.

    if we had had a definition of "language" or "convention" or "meaning", we wouldn't have ended talking about some different things. maybe Pencka's answer was about inner qualities of the language, concerning different languages people talk in different parts of the world, and my statement was somehow connected with the possible meaning (if we can say this) of language (meaning the ability to refer to things).

    i guess the problem lies in my abstract statements.

    i am a little confused myself: i do not know where should the language be approached from. would it not be silly to try to question the meaning of language and it's relation to the world without knowing it's main principles? on the other hand, although concentrating on the system of language itself may be fascinating, it is a possibility of loosing a track with outside the system (of course, if we assume there is an "outside the system") — just like some students of semiotics does? what would be your opinions on this?

    dear pencka, if you have more information on the principles of language you mentioned, i would be interested in reading it. thank you.

    regards,

    Migle.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Language and its (mis-)use

    Dear Migle,

    as a journalist you should be aware of these :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._I._Hayakawa

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Korzybski

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics

    and see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak_language

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: Nothingness

    Mike said:

    "I think that those who ask questions like "before time" are illogical just as those who speak of life after death — they cannot accept non-existence as being nothingness. If you don't exist there is no you.

    On the other hand all this rationality destroys a good fairy tale................."

    ----------

    I think that Mike is referring to the theistic faiths, probably specifically to Christianity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama offers a reply to "nothingness" though that can be appreciated from many different perspectives.

    Speaking about the ancient Indian Vaibhasika school, His Holiness said:

    "... what point is there for the followers of the Buddha to venerate and worship and pray to him? What is the benefit? What point is there in doing such a thing if the Buddha is no more? The response given by this tradition is that the Buddha attained full enlightenment as a result of accumulating merits and perfecting is wisdom through innumerable eons. And during this time, Buddha developed and cultivated a very forceful, altruistic intention to be of benefit and service to all. The power of that energy and truth is still there. It is this power that assists and helps when you worship and venerate the Buddha. However, insofar as the historical person of the Buddha is concerned, that was the end."

    This quote comes from the book: "The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective On The Teachings of Jesus."

    At least part of establishing meaning for one's life, which Mike refers to elsewhere as being meaningless, is through our intentions, as in the "altruistic intention" referred to above. Of course one's actions must also be considered. But what to a great extent gives our actions meaning is the intention behind them.

    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: Stuff and Nonsense

    Charles

    The world is made up of stuff like: rocks, people, gravity, radio, TV, thoughts, ideas, feelings, love, brain states, in fact everything that can be observed and measured. Whereas gods, spirituality, ghosts, unicorns, are nonsense or at best nothing more than sets of ideas.

    Unless of course someone can prove otherwise to me or if not me their own sceptical selves.

    Waiting in anticipation........

    Mike

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Nothingness

    Mike

    A problem with your just "ideas" skeptical argument is that history has shown that ideas and example have real consequences. The Dalai Lama points this out in his discussion about the Buddha (and altruistic intention).

    Meaning to life arises from just ideas.

    Charles



  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Nothingness

    Charles,

    I whole heartedly agree, meaning to life is whatever we want it to be, But it is what WE want not some alter power external to humanity.

    Mike

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: Worship

    Mike said:

    Spirituality and religion(s), in my view, give both false comfort and explanations. I am seriously considering that those with such convictions stand apart as almost a separate (and more primitive) species when it comes to thinking processes after all as they say "if you can believe in a god then you can believe in anything".

    ----------

    Why worship and what to worship?

    Is the following just false comfort and explanation? Is there a connection between the ancient Greek philosopher and John Coltrane?



    Xenophanes of Colophon: "It is proper for men who are enjoying themselves first of all to praise God with decent stories and pure words. But when they have poured a libation and prayed for the power to do what is just — for thus to pray is our foremost need ..."

    See link to Saint John Coltrane Church:

    http://www.coltranechurch.org/index.htm



    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Well there's more than a hint of truth about prayer in this Monty Python Script about worship

    Amen

    Mike

    ANNOUNCER:

    The Meaning of Life: Part Two: Growth and Learning.

    HUMPHREY WILLIAMS:

    ...And spotteth twice they the camels before the third hour, and so, the Midianites went forth to Ram Gilead in Kadesh Bilgemath, by Shor Ethra Regalion, to the house of Gash-Bil-Bethuel-Bazda, he who brought the butter dish to Balshazar and the tent peg to the house of Rashomon, and there slew they the goats, yea, and placed they the bits in little pots.

    Here endeth the lesson.

    CHAPLAIN:

    Let us praise God. O Lord,...

    CONGREGATION:

    O Lord,...

    CHAPLAIN:

    ...ooh, You are so big,...

    CONGREGATION:

    ...ooh, You are so big,...

    CHAPLAIN:

    ...so absolutely huge.

    CONGREGATION:

    ...so absolutely huge.

    CHAPLAIN:

    Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.

    CONGREGATION:

    Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.

    CHAPLAIN:

    Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and...

    CONGREGATION:

    And barefaced flattery.

    CHAPLAIN:

    But You are so strong and, well, just so super.

    CONGREGATION:

    Fantastic.

    HUMPHREY:

    Amen.

    CONGREGATION:

    Amen.

    HUMPHREY:

    Now, two boys have been found rubbing linseed oil into the school cormorant. Now, some of you may feel that the cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the school, but I would remind you that it was presented to us by the Corporation of the town of Sudbury to commemorate Empire Day, when we try to remember the names of all those from the Sudbury area who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British. So, from now on, the cormorant is strictly out of bounds! Oh, and Jenkins, apparently your mother died this morning. Chaplain.

    [organ music]

    CHAPLAIN and CONGREGATION: [singing]

    O Lord, please don't burn us.

    Don't grill or toast Your flock.

    Don't put us on the barbecue

    Or simmer us in stock.

    Don't braise or bake or boil us

    Or stir-fry us in a wok.

    Oh, please don't lightly poah us

    Or baste us with hot fat.

    Don't fricassee or roast us

    Or boil us in a vat,

    And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,

    In a Rotissomat.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    Have you forgotten that the power of philosophy includes the making of distinctions, including between what is just comedy and what includes a moral teaching. Philosophy helps us interpret what is hidden in the media. Maybe your media example includes a message of nihilism and that's a debatable issue.

    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Charles

    I have no sacred cows, nor does what I accept as true philosophy,

    Socrates is quoted as saying "By all means marry: If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher." In short being a philosopher is probably a solitary lifestyle.

    I really think that comedy or at least humorous ridicule is absolutely necessary to throw doubt into those accepting belief as a basis of values.

    I've been to churches and religious gatherings and observed and from my perspective they really look no different to those hypnotist shows with people acting out the suggestions given to them. I'm convinced that they really believe what they are told but the only saving grace is that those hypnotised eventually come to their senses.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    With regard to 'The world is made up of stuff like: rocks, people, gravity, radio, TV, thoughts, ideas, feelings, love, brain states, in fact everything that can be observed and measured.'

    I am not sure what you mean by 'observed and measured'. I am clear what it is to observe and measure a rock. But what about thoughts? Or ideas? Or love?

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Chris

    Some would argue that a thought or feeling amounts to a certain set of conditions of the human body which are capable of being measured and with limited ability to date to be replicated. Memories are a good example where direct external brain stimulation can involuntarily bring them back to our awarenes.

    Is then a memory not a thought and if not why not? The fact that it can be re-created at will renders it capable of being measured.

    The counter argument is that neurons and synapses have no meaning in themselves and that awareness and identity is emergent behaviour which I understand to be something more than the sum of parts from which it comes.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Spirituality, subjectivity and brains

    Hi Mike

    We have two conversations going and think they are likely to converge so I will answer them both in this one reply.

    Firstly, the definition of spirituality you offer up above clearly requires dualism. I am not a dualist so, on that definition, you are not likely to get much argument from me.

    However, you say that '"spirituality" amounts to nothing more than a subjective experience'. This sounds as if you think 'subjective experience' is somehow inferior and that there is little value to be had in differentiating it. Also, of course, there is no reason why a subjective experience cannot be a response to something. An aesthetic experience is a response to a work of art. Is the work of art the 'cause' of the experience in your view? Or are we operating with a different set of categories?

    To my mind, broadly speaking, all experience is subjective. Objectivity is a set of tools and constraints applied to subjective experience to get people to agree with one another. To set up subjective and objective as fundamentally different orders of experience is just to repeat Descartes's mistake. It is just as big a mistake to say that the subjective is somehow illusory.

    An example of this is the representational theory of mind — which brings us now to the matter of neurons and synapses (our second conversation). On my understanding, a crude explanation of this runs as follows. A person (P) looks at an object (O). This causes a certain neural pattern in P's brain. This pattern represents O. Ergo, we do not need any reference to dualistic phenomenal entities, like sense impressions or qualia, in order to explain visual perception. We have eliminated such subjective notions and developed an entirely objective account of the matter.

    The anti-physicalists respond to this by saying that talk of neurons and synapses says nothing at all. No matter how much you explain in these terms, you still haven't touched the crucial point. You haven't said anything about what it is like for P to look at O.

    My sympathy here is with the anti-physicalist, although I agree with the physicalist that talk of sense data and qualia is very dodgy. A physicalist response to my view might be to say that, in that case, I owe the world some account the subjective. If I am not going to talk about dualistic phenomenal entities, what am I going to talk about?

    My response would be that I don't have to give an account of the subjective because it is the bedrock of any discussion (this is the bit that Descartes was right about) and that it is an assumption buried in the representational theory of mind.

    Every representation has three components: a thing that is represented, a thing that does the representing and a person that the thing is represented to. Without the person (call her the representee) there just isn't any representation going on. Thus, if the neural pattern in P's brain represents O, we are entitled to ask who the representee is. Not P. His neural pattern means nothing to him. He just sees the object. The only other option is the observer watching the brain scan. But if she is the representee, then we have her subjective experience unaccounted for. Perhaps we can scan her brain and show how P's neural pattern is represented there. This, though, means we have to find another representee... and so on — an infinite regress.

    There are several ways to take this conversation from here. I'll leave it to you to decide what we should focus on.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Spirituality, subjectivity and brains

    Chris,

    What I am attempting to separate, as a materialist or even a monist, is what I hesitate to describe as the "real" from the "imaginary".

    It is my hypothesis that the universe probably existed Before Humanity (BH) and likely will afterwards and that human constructs like religion and spiritualism although socially important had no reality BH nor will have AH (After Humanity).

    I agree that all experience can only ever be subjective but those founded upon an external cause have greater validity than those produced internally by desire, need, hope and love. That is not to say that internally produced experiences like love or god are not more important to the one having the experience, but it ought to held in mind that such experiences are but internal constructions.

    People talk in very different degrees of seriousness about god and unicorns but to my mind these are completely interchangeable notions with nothing to choose between them BH or AH. People can argue to the nth degree over the qualities of mercy or cruelty of their god(s) but none of that will put one extra potato on their dinner plate.

    Sure we "live" in the experiential world of the mind but with mostly dismal failure I attempt to try to step out of it to try to see a wider perspective (Plato's cave analogy here). This one particular book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anthropologist-Mars-Oliver-Sacks/dp/0330343475 and in particular the Temple Grandin essay started off my notion of stepping outside of the box of human values into the "real world" out there rather than the "imaginary world" inside. Maybe your notion of bedrock may end up being more akin to quicksand.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Spirituality, subjectivity and brains

    Mike

    I agree with your remarks about BH and AH and that human 'constructs like religion and spirituality' have little meaning outside the intervening period. Isn't this true of all human knowledge, though? Isn't science also a human construct? Don't the activities of observation and measurement, which you put so much store by, mean nothing without people to do the observing and measuring?

    You make a distinction between experiences that 'are founded upon an external cause' and 'those produced internally by desire, need, hope and love.' Three things about this bother me. First, I think that desire and love (and arguably also need and hope) are responses to things and I don't understand what the difference is between a response and 'having a cause'. Secondly, I am confused by this internal/external distinction. It seems to me that hunger is observable and measurable and that a need for food has hunger as a cause. I am not at all sure that this need should be a less valid experience than some others based on 'external causes'. Thirdly, you earlier counted love as being something on your list of 'real' things. Now you seem to be excluding it from the category of valid experiences. Have your changed your view?

    I think the idea of stepping outside human values is an interesting one. I am not sure how relevant it is to what we are discussing here, though. I think the primacy of subjective experience is something we are stuck with — in two senses. Firstly, it seems impossible that we can step outside language and logic. Secondly, if it was possible to do so, we would still be stuck with subjective experience — in whatever transmuted form.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Spirituality, subjectivity and brains

    Chris,

    I put it to you that all within the mind is a construct, it is humanities attempt to model what is external to our mind. The sense data of our bodies need for food is just as external to the mind as the table we eat it of. Deprived of food though we die but not so deprived of unicorns or gods hence a very real difference. All measurement require an object and subject, when the object is real and external then errors only occur in our measurement. When the object is imaginary then measurement errors are compounded or impossible. How white is a white star is not at all the same order of quest as how white is a unicorn.

    That people believe in a god is a perfectly accurate and valid statement. It requires absolutely no proof whatsoever of existence of a god neither does the belief in love. How does one measure belief?

    I absolutely agree that we are stuck with subjective experience but that must not stop us trying to think outside of this. What, as I think is highly likely, humanity met up with another sentient life form where would our closed box thinking leave us?

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    I think we need a little clarification. You seem to be operating with a distinction between 'internal'/subjective/non-measurable/unreliable or imaginary, on the one hand, and 'external'/objective/measurable/reliable and real, on the other. I don't think things line up as neatly as that.

    Suppose I measure something and then check it and then get someone else to measure it and check it using a different method of measurement (maybe I need a third person to do it all again with a different measure and so on for however long it takes to be satisfied). I now have an objective measurement. All this is subjective, though, inasmuch as I am conscious of everything I do.

    And again I don't see how we can 'think outside of' subjective experience. Thinking is subjective experience, along with feeling and imagining and dreaming.

    You say 'all within the mind is a construct, it is humanities attempt to model what is external to our mind'. I find this sort of talk as nonsensical as you find talk of God. What is this thing called 'a mind' and where is it that it has things 'in' it and other things 'external' to it? Nor do I hold much store by those unicorns called 'sense data'. I don't see sense data. I see books and coffee cups and computer screens. The idea that these 'external' objects 'cause' 'mental images' 'in my mind' is just plain old Descartes. Dualism, in other words.

    Of course, there are imaginary things like unicorns and there are real things like rocks. (And when we are doing philosophy we deal with imaginary things called 'rocks'.) Rather than talk about 'internal' and 'external' objects I would prefer to talk about experience, of which there are many kinds. Ideas, for example, happen during writing or reading, talking or listening and during just plain old thinking. It makes no sense to me to say that these activities 'cause' things called ideas to appear 'in my mind'. Ideas are just part of the experience of doing the activity.

    So when it comes to religion and spirituality, I want to talk about it in terms of experience. My best way into it is to think about aesthetic experiences. When I come upon a painting I can take a ruler and a spectrometer and measure it or I can look at it and respond to it visually, emotionally and intellectually. It seems to me that religious and spiritual experiences might be like this second approach. The question then arises, what are they responses to? That's what I am not sure about and what I'm hoping you might be able to help me find out.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Chris

    I do not subscribe to innate ideas I consider that whatever we hold in mind has via some route entered the mind from "outside". The very construction of mind itself is a pattern making acquisition process of sense data.

    If whilst you are looking at your books and coffee cups and computer screens I come along and put a bullet through your head do all the books and coffee cups and computer screens disappear — unlikely. Do all the gods and unicorns disappear — highly likely. That in broad terms is the distinction I make between real and imaginary.

    I make no argument about the experiences of one, two or three people on "external" things for that increases probability and makes for better prediction and survival.

    By all means when it comes to religion and spirituality and art go ahead and talk about it in terms of experience but they are all private, subjective and not in any way capable of being shared with other than through the senses — now we have come full circle.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    If you mean by 'innate ideas' the kind of thing that Descartes was talking about and Locke objected to, then I agree entirely. I have some sympathy with Kant, though, because I think his view maps onto modern theories of the mind/brain. I subscribe to the view that the human brain is structured in certain ways, as a result of our evolution, and that as a result we are predisposed to think in certain ways. In this sense, we may well have 'ideas' that we are born with. How extensive these predispositions are we don't know yet but they probably include the basic rules of logic and more general structures of language. More controversially they may predispose us to certain attitudes with regard to sexual behaviour.

    Yes, you are right that if you put a bullet through my head then all my experiences disappear and any objects that I am looking at don't disappear. But then if am thinking of nuclear physics or the character of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, they don't disappear either. And none of this says anything about the existence of God. If God is a figment of my imagination, then It disappears along with the unicorns. If God exists, then It doesn't. Thus, I have no great problem with your distinction between real and imaginary but I don't see that it proves anything.

    I fear you are going to have to explain to me what you mean by 'sense data' though. In an earlier post you said 'The sense data of our bodies need for food is just as external to the mind as the table we eat it of.' But don't these sense data disappear along with the unicorns when you put a bullet through my head? And if so, doesn't this make them imaginary and, therefore, internal?

    Finally, I am still struggling with your notions of internal and external and the talk of mind as some sort of container. Is this just a metaphor? And if it is, can we agree to abandon it? I find it very confusing. It's like talking about angels. If, on the other hand, you are referring to the real properties of something, can you explain how the properties arise and what it is that they are properties of?

    One of the problems with the metaphor (I'll assume it is that) is that it sets up this picture of a secret inner space, a room, to which only one person has the key or —worse still — in which someone is permanently locked. Connecting this room to the rest of the world are some communication channels that we call 'sense perceptions'. This picture leads to statements such as yours to the effect that experience is 'all private, subjective and not in any way capable of being shared with other than through the senses'. I think this distinction between private and shared is another piece of Cartesian nonsense. If we are both standing outside in a chilly wind can't we be sharing the experience of being cold? If we are both sitting in the movies, can't we both be sharing the experience of the film? If we didn't in some sense share the experience of the film we couldn't talk about it afterwards. I don't get it.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Chris

    The human brain has a structure before learning really occurs perhaps we could call this the "coarse" structure which is probably more associated with primitive survival needs. The "fine" structure is a lifelong constructing (learning) process and to a degree de-constructing process. This coarse structure as you say gives us an "a priori" ability with logic and language etc.

    I have to disagree when you say "But then if am thinking of nuclear physics or the character of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, they don't disappear either." (after you get the bullet). How can they (your thoughts) not disappear — very strange!

    I conceptualise that I or consciousness is the innermost of a number of concentric circles, the only properties it has are awareness and consciousness — no thoughts. The next circle contains all our thoughts and ideas. These two circles one within the other represent mind. The next circle contains our senses which provide sense data for processing to become thoughts. The next circle is our physical body which is the path data gets from the outside world into our senses. Outside of this is everything else. Try drawing it out as a diagram as to how we (the core self) interacts with the world "out there"

    It's meant to show a relationship between different concepts of self, idea, senses and things in themselves.

    As data flow in and out it's possible to see where errors and misconceptions occur especially when you draw a second set of circles for another person. Accepting such a set of relationships has both revealing and beneficial consequences.

    For instance:

    I am hungry = my body has need for food

    I am stupid = some of my ideas are flawed

    I am angry = things are not going as expected (ideas of expectations were flawed)

    In principle it decouples the unchanging self from changing ideas. For myself this works as a good model so that I am never the prisoner of my ideas.

    Hope this makes some sense, it does to me but I am open to change.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    I did not of course mean that my thoughts about Elizabeth Bennett would survive the bullet only that the fictional character, which is in a different ontological category from the coffee cup, would survive. My apologies for the lack of clarity.

    I think your model of consciousness is interesting. Do you have any experimental basis for it? I don't know much about the neuropsychology of the brain but, as I recall, it does not bear much resemblance to the components of your model. Doesn't the current thinking postulate a number of functional modules, which are interconnected in quite complex and perhaps not very systematic ways? Your model also seems to suggest that the 'I or consciousness' and ideas are located somewhere within the body. If so, where? And aren't the senses functions of the body and not 'things' inside it somewhere? Why do you need a model like this? Is it how you experience yourself? If so, it doesn't work for me? I fear my experience is much more along the lines of interconnections that are quite complex and not at all systematic.

    You say the model has benefits. 'As data flow in and out it's possible to see where errors and misconceptions occur especially when you draw a second set of circles for another person.' What sort of errors do you mean? The whole picture of data flowing in and out seems so artificial and mechanical that I would really have to be convinced that it solved some serious problems before I could accept it — problems that could not be dealt with any other way. What are they?

    In addition, I'm not sure what you mean by 'the unchanging self'. Why should the self be unchanging? You make it sound suspiciously like the soul. You also say 'so that I am never the prisoner of my ideas'. I fear you have completely lost me here. In what sense could you be the prisoner of your ideas and in what sense could you be free of them? Unless, of course, you are talk about intellectual self-criticism. I don't see how the model helps with that, though.

    In my view, the model gives rise to more smoke than light. If it makes any ontological claims it seems to commit you to Cartesian dualism — a separate world (or space) of 'the mind' that is quite distinct from the physical world. If you are going to accept that, you may as well go along with souls and angels. If, on the other hand, the model is no more than a metaphor or an analogy, then I'd much prefer a more straight-forward and literal explanation.

    That said, however, I do not believe there is a good explanation available here. The problem, as I see it, is this. As a general rule one can only explain objects. (I don't just mean physical objects but rather anything that one can give one's attention to.) The subject cannot be the object by definition. Thus, it cannot be explained.

    Clarification please.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    Mike

    Further to my earlier post. On reflection, I felt I had taken a fair few pot shots at your position without really offering one of my own. So, for what it's worth...

    My take on all this starts with Thomas Nagel's essay 'What is it like to be a bat?'. Nagel points out that a necessary and sufficient condition for something being conscious is that it has a point of view. A test for something having a point of view is to ask whether or not it makes sense to ask what it is like to be that something. Thus, it does not make much sense to say what is it like to be a stone or a corpse but it does make sense to ask what it is like to be a human being or a horse or a chimpanzee. Nagel's discussion is mostly around the differences between species but I think it's also useful to think of points of view in relation to individuals.

    As a first cut, we can say that a point of view consists of an object, a thing that is apprehended, and, by implication, a subject that does the apprehending. By object, I mean whatever it is that is attended to. It could be a dove or a dream, a throb or a theorem. By apprehend I mean any of those verbs of sensory or cognitive functioning: seeing, touching, smelling, etc, as well as thinking, imagining, calculating dreaming, fantasising.

    The beauty of Nagel's essay, which I don't think he fully appreciated himself, is that he found a way to talk about phenomenal experience without having to refer to it directly. This made it extremely difficult for reductionist philosophers to debunk him by explaining consciousness away as some physical state of the brain because it made it possible to reply, yes, all that talk about brain states is spot on but, nonetheless, there is still something that it is like to be me (or you) that isn't accounted for in those explanations.

    Of course, if we ask what this thing that can't be reduced is, we get into difficulties. It's incredibly hard, if not impossible, to say. Geoffrey Klempner is good on this in 'Naïve Metaphysics' where he describes how what he calls the egocentrist is reduced to a dumb (i.e. wordless) sort of 'inner' 'mental' pointing gesture 'THIS' to indicate the thing. For my part, it feels easier to say that the subject of a point of view is not something you can point to at all because you can only point to the object of a point of view. If you try to point to the subject, it becomes the object and therefore is not the subject any more.

    The problem with a lot of philosophising about consciousness is that it starts by considering a thing called 'the mind' and then goes on to look at the components and attributes of this thing and how it relates to other things like sense data and how these connect to still more things out there in the physical world. This is what Descartes did. From 'I think, therefore I am' he went straight to 'I have a mind and this mind contains ideas'. He was lost before he even started. The first move was a disastrous blunder because before he knew it he was committed to a picture of the 'I' inhabiting this inner room cut off from the world except for a stream of incoming data. The room did not exist in the physical world. It therefore existed in another — non-physical world. Hence, dualism. For Descartes, this wasn't so bad because he lived in a religious world that was already dualistic. In the modern world, dualism runs slap bang into science, which immediately wants to explain away all that other world nonsense. For me, taking on science in the business of explanation is a fool's game. There are more dead claims to the effect that science will never explain X, than there are legs in a whole bag of millipedes.

    In short, any theory that tries to objectify the subject and explain it will either have to retreat into dualism or get run over by the scientific steam roller. The answer, I believe, is to go with Wittgenstein and accept that maybe science can explain everything and if it ever does then there will be no questions left to answer. Let them get on with it, we say. However, nonetheless, 'there are... things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest.' (TLP 6.522) Which I take to mean that you can't explain them, you can only show them. You can't point to someone's 'mind' but you can ask what it is like to be that person.

    A lot more to be said here but I'll leave it at that for now.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Chris,

    Yes the model is of course an analogy and we all use these all of the time because they are expedient in conveying concepts. Being a materialist I prefer neurological explanations but these are not sufficiently good enough yet as to demonstrate how consciousness and self awareness arise.

    I agree that the "I" sounds very much like soul but if that it what is was then such a "soul" would not meet any religious or spiritual criteria.

    The received message was "send three and four pence we're going to a dance" whilst the transmitted message was "send reinforcements we're going to France". Such things happen at every opportunity when expectations or perceptions override the raw data. What we hear, see, feel, etc is only what we want or have learned to experience. How do we set aside such prejudices and step outside the box — do you argue it is forever impossible?

    On the unchanging self see "Ship of Theseus" on identity at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identity_and_change

    As an observer of you own actions do you feel that you are not the same observer now as you were years ago?

    I can see how it might appear as dualistic but not more so that this computer I am typing from with it's software and hardware. What do you think is the difference, if there is one, between subject and objects?

    Mike

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Chris

    I responded to the previous reply without reading this, so just a couple of comments.

    The "wordless" observer of Geoffrey is very much the centre of my analogy. It has to be non-reflective otherwise observers would recede infinitely, in a way it's like "first cause" or Einsteins constant the only way to may things hang together.

    I cannot speak for anyone else. But in that statement who (or what) is the "I".

    You said "The answer, I believe, is to go with Wittgenstein.........." again who or what is the "I" in your statement?

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    Replies to your two posts in order.

    Post 1.

    You say 'Being a materialist I prefer neurological explanations but these are not sufficiently good enough yet as to demonstrate how consciousness and self awareness arise.' Two points with regard to this. I don't see how your analogy squares with what neurological explanations *do* tell us. It seems quite at odds with what I understand modern theories of the mind/brain to be. Neither do I see how your analogy explains how 'consciousness and self awareness arise'. It would be great if it did. Can you explain further?

    In addition, you say 'What we hear, see, feel, etc is only what we want or have learned to experience. How do we set aside such prejudices and step outside the box?' I think we set aside 'such prejudices' through criticism, from ourselves and others, and by adopting methods that seek to achieve objectivity. Eliminating error and learning to avoid mistakes is a collaborative exercise. I am not sure, though, what you mean by what we 'have learned to experience' so maybe I don't understand properly. I think that some aspects of our point(s) of view can be changed and some can't. The difference, I guess, is generally between what we learn and what is innate. What I think *is* impossible is to see things other than from a human point of view. We can debate this. There's some interesting stuff around the question, I think.

    Post 2. (Also picks up on the last point of Post 1.)

    You ask what I think 'I' refers to. Good question. I have changed my views on this and am keen to talk about it.

    As a first cut, I would take the standard view that the indexical 'I' refers to the speaker. Thus, on one level, 'I live in Wellington, New Zealand' is equivalent to 'Chris Else lives in Wellington, New Zealand'. Note that a reader or listener would take pretty much the same information from the two sentences. In addition, though, the 'I' also has a second function. It identifies the speaker with the person who holds the point of view that the sentence arises from. Thus, Chris Else is the object of the point of view and using 'I' means that the speaker holds that point of view.

    An important point is that 'I' does not refer to the subject. I started off assuming that it did but this position just leads into all the dualistic tangles and the kind of self-reflexive paradox you mention. So I came to the conclusion that, as a general rule, we can only refer to objects — in the point of view (POV) sense of 'object'. There is a paradox here (read 'contradiction' if you like) because, of course, the word 'subject' looks as if it is referring to something. I've yet to work through that one but I feel the paradox is no more problematic than what you describe as Geoffrey's '"wordless" observer'. Incidentally, it's a while since I read 'Naïve Metaphysics' but as I recall the observer is not wordless in the sense of having no speech but only in the sense that s/he has no words to describe the phenomenal thing, the 'THIS' that the egocentrist wants to maintain. If my interpretation here is right, then Geoffrey and I are making similar points and with the same problem (i.e. he, too, is referring to something that can't be referred to.)

    In general, if it makes it easier for you to understand my view of things, then by all means see the subject, in my theory, as similar to the 'thing' in the centre of you concentric circles. However, note that it is not the referent for 'I' in my theory and that I don't believe it can be an object (in the POV sense), whereas your thing clearly can be.

    Another way into this, perhaps, is to say that the subject is something that turns into something else as soon as it is referred to or explained. This seems a pretty weird beast — but an analogy or two might help. Take, for example, one of those spots in your peripheral vision. It's there but as you try to focus on it moves so it is on the edge again. It can never become the object of your intention in the sense of your being able to focus on it. Or consider the case of a joke. For something to be a joke it has to be funny. If you have to explain it, it isn't funny. Therefore, if you have to explain it, it isn't a joke.

    I prefer to talk about the subject as little as possible. I think its existence is implied by the fact that there is a point of view. It is the point of view that is important because it is that which gives us a handle on the subjective — i.e. what it is like to be X. Here, I believe, the best (read 'only'?) way to refer is indirectly. We have to show it. We can't explain it. For example, if I describe a wine as having 'cherryish, plummy, spicy flavours backed by a touch of tannin' I am telling you about the wine and showing you what it is like to be me tasting the wine.

    As to the 'unchanging self'. I am not sure there is such a thing. There is certainly a sense of continuity. This comes with the point of view but it is also something that other people see. I feel I am the same person I was 20 years ago but it also makes sense to say that I am a different person from what/who I was then. I'm the same but I've changed. Other people would make similar judgements.

    Maybe this is all naïve. I await your comments.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: adding some substance to the mind-thing

    Dear Chris and Mike,

    in a personal mail I hinted at "pattern recognition" as a point where all this struggling over "real" and "imaginary" realities comes down a bit to signals and their mathematical analysis. There is not much metaphysics involved. And have a look at this link for another cold shower over hot spirited minds : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/weekinreview/24markoff.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

    I think you should keep apart what is really "philosophical" here, i.e., deserving metaphyisical and methodological analysis, and what is just "hot air" of philosophical wording.

    This moment I cannot enter your interesting debate. Have fun !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: adding some substance to the mind-thing

    Chris,

    You ask how 'consciousness and self awareness arise' and can I explain further? Well no not really as this is a leading edge of knowledge. Historically all our notions of mind have been derived from ideas about other ideas in a rather incestuous relationship. The advent of neuroscience (the new philosophy — Reith Lectures) brings in hard new information in exactly the opposite way that philosophical induction doesn't.

    I agree that constructive dialogue test our various hypotheses but if it is used only to hone up ones debating ability with the ultimate goal of proving oneself right then it has really missed the point of the true scientific methodology where no data is ever rejected simply because it doesn't fit. It will fit the right theory but not the one(s) held by us lesser mortals.

    Let me cite an experience and see if it fits into a notion of "I". Occasionally you may, as I have done, wake up without any external cause. Your eyes open and the world rushes into your awareness, you haven't yet got a single thought, don't necessarily know where you are nor started to consider what day it is or what your plans are for that day.

    It's fleeting experience akin to Geoffrey's wordless observer. But is was an experience, it did happen and you do remember it. Part of your brain working and another part not maybe, I don't know and can't explain it but what I am not going to do is conclude is was "such and such" — I'll just continue to hypothesise as I have done.

    Just a few extra words would help enormously by adding "for me" this wine tastes 'cherryish, plummy, spicy flavours backed by a touch of tannin' or "for me" the existence of god is undeniable.

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: adding some substance to the mind-thing

    Mike and Chris,

    I did not find the time to really understand what you are quarreling about. Please try to put your problem (or what is left of it) as clear as possible again.

    My intention was never to scare you off by hinting at artificial intelligence and pattern recognition etc.. I only think that we should keep apart those questions that become meaningless in the light of modern computers and those that stay fundamentally meaningful from a philosophical perspective. In my opinion, all this talk about consciousness tends to end in "scholasticism" of solving pseudoproblems. Thus we have to clarify our questions (even more than the answers) again and again.

    As I wrote before, if a computer can analyze and synthesize "a world" by analyzing and synthesizing "patterns" of external signals, so he can modify his input channels by sending his own internally generated signals on his input. In this way he may "dream" or "invent" some world that is not "out there" but is to a large part "invented here".

    The computer may try to use his pattern recognition abilities to "analyze pattern of patterns" and by this go up to "meta-patterns", i.e. building hypotheses and theories and check them. We compare "events" and then find "similarities" and from this derive "rules" and then try to derive "models and theories from rules". But this can be done by computers too — even while not very good so far.

    Now what do you call this sort of thing : Is a theory derived from a rule derived from similarity derived from comparing patterns "something external" (like the primary data are) or something "internal" ? While the "primary data" are external (if not provided from the memory of the computer itself), the "pattern" is not a primary datum, but a secondary one, derived from the math in the software or firmware of the computer. There are people who cannot "see" a face or cannot analyze written language after some brain lesion. Thus in such cases the poor humans can see (of course) the "primary data", but they can't put them together to a "pattern" like a face or a written language. And in this way, some people can see "optical" patterns, but not "philosophical" or "mathematical" or "religious" patterns, which are of a different type and level.

    There is this question of Mike whether "religios" patterns are "fictitious". So we have to tell apart "justified" and "unjustified" patterns". This is a truly philosophical problem, since it is a problem for robots and humans alike.

    This is what I put to the answers list on "Ask a philosopher" some time ago (see http://www.philosophypathways.com/questions/answers_1.html )



    // There is a famous fable of Dschuang-Tse awaking from a dream where he dreamt to be a butterfly and then was unsure whether he was a butterfly dreaming to be a man.

    How do you "know" that the dinos approaching you in Jurassic Park are not real? Because you know that you sit in a cinema. You can check that: You have your ticket, you remember waiting in the queue before the cinema, you see people sitting besides you and staring at the screen etc.. Thus you check not only the movie-picture but the whole situation you are in. Brandon is right: The butterfly has no possibility to check whether he is only dreaming to be a man, since this world of man is consistent. As long as a world is consistent you will find no way out. To find a way out you need an inconsistency, you have to find something that does not fit. The world shown in the first ten minutes of "Matrix" cannot be "real", since in a "real" world people cannot vanish into a phone-receiver, only their virtual electronic image can. Thus it must be a virtual world.

    Instead of speaking of an external world as different from an internal one we should speak of a more consistent world as different from a more inconsistent one: What we call our everyday world is much more consistent than the world of our dreams or that of drugs. In the everyday world even dreams and drug-highs find a consistent neuro-chemical explanation, while there is no consistent explanation of the everyday world in a dream or drug-high. This comparison is possible only because we can switch from the one world to the other. But we cannot know whether our everyday-world is only a dream in relation to some meta-world. This was the message of Matrix, but it is the message of Buddhism and in some aspect even of Christendom and of esoterics: There seem to be some inconsistencies in our everyday experiences that hint at another world "behind the wall". A famous movie where this idea was exploited long before Matrix is "The Truman Show" (1998), see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120382/.

    In the end it is the old and famous theme of "possible worlds" and "parallel worlds" that are separated by "walls" like pipelines: Every such world is consistent as long as the "pipeline" is not "leaking". As long as your world is consistent, you cannot know whether there are other worlds developing in parallel to yours or whether there is a meta-world -- or even an infinity of parallel- and meta-universes.

    The problem of consistency is important in the drug-scene: While LSD only affects the "dream-area" and leaves the basic cerebellum intact, so you still know that you are "only dreaming", there are some much more dangerous hallucinogens of a certain chemical class of the ergot-type that even get at the cerebellum and by this "bridge" the difference of dream and reality. People high on this stuff simply don't know that they are "not real". If they think they have become birds, they flung themselves out of the window and may break their necks.

    But some religious or political addicts are not much different. There is this old question whether the true believer becoming a martyr or building a cathedral or something like that is only a narcotic (in the sense of "religions are the opium of the masses"). But I will not enter this difficult topic this time. I only give a hint: To be a true believer like (f.i.) Hitler and his most ardent followers you have to screen of all counter-evidence that could prove that you are in fact on drugs and on a bad trip. Thus "beware of reality" (i.e.: Do not check the consistency of your factual evidence and of your thinking ) !

    A hint from the editor: This whole answer was written by a virtual bot, a program roaming the net by the name of "Hubertus Fremerey" //

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Mike

    Thanks for the response and especially for the private email reference to Ramachandran's Reith Lectures. I have not read much about neuropsychology for a few years and the lectures were a reminder of how much research has been done in the area. Given that they were delivered in 2003, there will be even more research now.

    I think the lectures fit very well with my point of view theory, except for one point. I have to be careful what I mean when I say that subjective experience cannot be explained. Clearly, on some level, neuropsychology provides just such explanations. I will rethink this and let you know.

    You say

    'I agree that constructive dialogue test our various hypotheses but if it is used only to hone up ones debating ability with the ultimate goal of proving oneself right then it has really missed the point of the true scientific methodology where no data is ever rejected simply because it doesn't fit.'

    Are you suggesting this has been happening in our dialogue? I hope note. If you are, then I would like to know what data has been rejected or ignored. And, in any case, what is the difference between 'proving oneself right' and simply defending one's theory? To my mind Philosophy is all about criticism. I subject my own and other people's theories to the most trenchant criticism that I can come up with and I look forward to other people's criticism because only through that can I have any confidence that my theories hold water. To feel that somehow one's theories are above criticism is to fall into the trap of some of the faithful who hold that anyone who questions a religious belief is the agent of the devil.

    As to the experience of waking in the night that you describe. Yes, I have been there. I agree it is an unusual feeling. I guess I would describe it has having, momentarily, a point of view with no object. Note, what you are doing in your account of it, though. You say you 'can't explain it but what [you are] not going to do is conclude it was "such and such"'. In other words, you are describing the experience without explanation, precisely what I was doing with my description of the wine.

    In my view 'To me this wine tastes cherryish, plummy, spicy flavours backed by a touch of tannin' is no different from 'I think this wine tastes...' and I believe these sentences have different references to the sentence 'This wine tastes...' The latter is about the wine. The former two are about 'me'.

    I am not sure where this leaves our discussion. I don't actually feel we have got very far, which is a pity. What I might have to say about spirituality and God depends upon my theory of subjective/objective experience so until we get that sorted, we can't really get much further. I will offer a thought or two, though.

    Sometime last year I read a report in a newspaper to the effect that neuro-scientists hade discovered a distinctive brain pattern that was associated with feelings of transcendence and spiritual depth. They discovered, too, that this state could be artificially induced. The newspaper concluded (and maybe the scientists did too) that this was evidence of the God gene.

    I have two comments on this. Firstly, the fact that a brain state can be artificially induced does not mean that it is not also a response to something real. It might be possible to induce the brain state associated with smelling fresh bread (and thereby creating the experience) but that does not mean there is no such thing as fresh bread. Secondly, supposing there were such a thing as the God gene. This would not disprove the existence of God either. In fact, if God did exist, one would suppose there might be some evolutionary advantage in believing in It. In other words, a genetic component to believe might be seen as evidence for the existence of God, not otherwise.

    Note, I am not offering these points in defence of position I hold strongly or even hold at all. I am just sceptical about the claim of some scientists (perhaps including Ramachandran) that science will ultimately 'explain everything' and replace every form of intellectual undertaking. As to God, I am thoroughly agnostic and waiting to be convinced one way or the other. I just take a bit of convincing, that's all.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Hubertus

    Thanks for your response. Given that you have no interest in the problem of consciousness, there is probably little point in summarising the argument I am having with Mike. We were each developing a model or theory to account for the relationship between subjective and objective. He described his with admirable clarity. My statement was more discursive but I think it is reasonably clear if you care to look.

    Your comments on computers were not scary. At least they didn't frighten me very much. Rather I did not find them entirely relevant. I agree with your criticism of spatial analogies (internal vs. external). I have been making similar points myself. However I do not see that the fact that computers can recognize patterns has much to do with what Mike and I were talking about. The question that needs answering is whether or not the patterns mean anything to the computer. To give this question more bite we should probably cast it in the terms Nagel would use: What is it like to be a computer? Answer: Nothing. Whereas the question what is it like to be Hubertus Fremery does have an answer. I hope.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Worship

    Hubertus

    I have thought further about your last post on this topic and decided I was too hasty. I still don't see the relevance of your comment on computers but the rest of what you said contains some very interesting and, I think, useful stuff. I will get back to you further on it when I have thought it through.

    Chris

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Des Edwards   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: The nature of art

    Hello

    My name is Des and I am just now joining the conference.

    I am semi-retired (and hope to become more so if the current economic climate allows it). I am a family man with four grown up children and a very patient wife — I have spent most of my working life as an industrial manager although I started out from Art College as a textile designer — for the last six years I have been self employed — helping companies set up management systems and providing training services.

    Nowadays as regards paid work I concentrate on servicing a couple of long term client companies and spend the rest of my time with my family or painting, thinking and reading.

    I have had an interest in philosophy for a long time — ever since I read a book in my early teens called something like "Thinking in Concepts." But any smattering of philosophical knowledge I have picked up is decidedly ragged and full of holes.

    It would be hard to say exactly what my main interests would be as regards philosophy — but here is a list (in no particular order) of areas I am intensely curious about or that hit close to home:

    The nature of consciousness. (I like David Chalmers' approach)

    Metaphysics/Ontology/Epistemology. (The bits I have picked up about the thinking of Husserl, Kant and Schopenhauer intrigues me)

    The philosophy of art. (mainly about making sense of painting and other image making — as a practitioner as well as in theory)

    The nature of purposeful action. (stems from my attempts to make sense of my experiences as a manager)

    I have just joined Pathways (Metaphysics) and I hope to eventually become an associate and a fellow (Although having seen some of the work of fellows I find the prospect somewhat daunting).

    I am very much looking forward to interacting with other interested people — I read somewhere that it is difficult to the point of impossibility to really learn much philosophy without informed discussion — I believe this to be true — so thanks in advance to anyone who engages.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Dear Des, welcome to the conference !

    Your list is long, and I find it amusing that it once more begins with "consciousness". Perhaps have a look into the exchange of Mike and Chris on this and perhaps add to their debate.

    What about "philosophy of art" then ? You are right that one should exchange with others to know what strange questions there can be. So let me put some for a starter :

    Art is something very "human" : There is no human culture without art, but no animal has ever been observed doing artwork. Why do you think are humans doing artwork ? Why did you ?

    The expression "work of art" is to be taken seriously. Up to some 100 years ago it was generally assumed not only in Europe, that the task of the painter is "to imitate nature". But then (after some preliminary work in this direction during "Mannerism" and "Romanticism") the general conviction of the leading artists (not of the general public) changed to the idea that "a work of art is just that — the work of the artist. A composer — Bach or Beethoven say — is not 'imitating nature'. The composer com-poses pieces of sounds to make a music, and the painter is creating a painture out of colours and contours on a canvas." It has absolutely nothing to do with imitating nature. See the work of Tapies or Burri or many other 'abstract' artists.

    But there is still the importance of quality. What do you think is 'quality' in art, when it is not "being true to nature" anymore ?

    There are many more questions of course, including modern "media-aesthetics" and "advertizing" and "computer-art" etc.. Philosophy of art is a vast topic.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Hubertus,

    Why "amusing" — interesting choice of word — I assume that you have seen a lot of people identify consciousness as their first interest.

    As to my interest in it — I suppose it is because the fact of consciousness is a very personal mystery that science so far has no real purchase on. I fully accept that modern cognitive and AI studies are constantly throwing new light on the physical, heuristic and algorithmic correlates of the various articulations of consciousness, its qualities and contents if you like. But absolutely no light has been shed on the raw fact of consciousness — on why highly organised physical aggregates become conscious — actually — more than that — no real light has been cast on how we are to think about consciousness and materiality without ignoring or denying one or other and without leaving them totally disconnected from each other?



    Art — I absolutely agree that art is a very human activity — and that it seems to exist in all human cultures and in no other animal groups. But this begs some questions:

    1. Is what we call art the same thing in all cultures? It might take a similar form but does it or did it serve substantially similar purposes?

    2. If art does have a universal human purpose then is it possible that something different in form might serve a similar purpose for other animals? (Surely it is possible.)

    3. If art does not have a universal human purpose then why do we gather all of the various activities around the world and down the millennia under the one rubric?

    I see a number of possibilities here:

    a) Art has no universal purpose and all we are doing is retrospectively categorising visual productions under the rubric on the basis of superficial similarity.

    b) Art has a universal purpose but it is defined extra-culturally — (e.g. to provide physical tokens of cultural or sub-cultural identity or to develop the Weltanschauung from within — by exemplar so to speak) — so that the exact function inside one culture could differ significantly from that in another.

    c) Art has a universal purpose but never serves that purpose in isolation — it always has purposes that sit alongside the universal purpose and sometimes overshadow it.

    d) That art is not a category with singly necessary and jointly sufficient criteria for inclusion — that it is more a "family resemblance" concept like Wittgenstein's game concept.

    There are probably more possibilities — I think the devil in this one will be in the detail — thank you for an interesting question.

    As to why I started producing art — god — it has been such a long time that I can't really remember — I do remember that it was after I had left school — and I remember using it to meet girls and earn beer money by doing pencil portraits in the street. But of course it runs deeper than that — I have always been interested in pattern — not just visual pattern but conceptual pattern as well (hence my interest in philosophy?). I also love producing paintings that seem to me like "mute witnesses" to parts of my world.

    I think you rather oversimplify the intentions of artists in the past. It has rarely been the objective of artists to simply imitate nature. We only have to think of Byzantine Icon painters to realise that imitation was a minor objective — pretty much only existing as far as to identify the particular iconic situation or personages. The major objective was to produce a devotional object that could be "read" according to conventional signs. Even the art of the French academy in the nineteenth century was idealist in intention and in fact some of the invective aimed at Manet for instance was that he did not idealise nature and merely copied it complete with warts; before they were championed by Ruskin the early pre-raphaelites had the same sort of criticism aimed at them by elements of the Royal Academy.

    Having said that, I think you ask an interesting question. What basis is there for judgements of quality when faithful imitation is not the objective?

    In fact nowadays we are faced with two questions that are related to the question of quality.

    1. What qualifies a production as an artwork — what makes something art in the first place?

    2. What qualifies an artwork as a "good" example of art — what makes the difference between good and bad art?

    From the time of Duchamp's "readymades" up through the seventies when Donald Judd said 'if someone calls it art, it's art" the idea that there was something intrinsic to the actual production that qualified something as art has been called into question. Now we have all sorts of things accepted as art by large sections of the cognoscenti; happenings, body modifications, tins of artist's shit, verbal descriptions mounted on gallery walls. In fact "called into question" is probably too timid a phrase — it is virtually a done deal.

    So, if practically anything can be art then how do we judge quality? It is even more difficult than the problem of judging lyrical abstraction or any other type of abstraction.

    This is something I would like to develop in the coming weeks. To start off I think we come back to the question above about the function of art. Take Judd's apparently senseless criterion (that a production is art if somebody says it is). It is not as vacuous as it seems at first blush. No doubt he made that statement to shock, as tends to be the habit of full time artists, but he also made it against the background of the rise of conceptual art and in particular in relation to the idea that each artwork acts as a sort of re-definition or refinement of the concept of art. Now I find this definition a bit suspect for a number of reasons (for instance Joseph Kosuth claimed that art was a tautology and that artworks were the equivalent of analytic propositions — a claim he could not support). But if it were the purpose of artworks to redefine the concept of art by ostension so to speak then presumably we would judge them on how well they accomplished this. Innovation and novelty would surely be good candidates for quality criteria — as would resonance with already accepted current and past works.

    Anyway — very many thanks for welcoming me and engaging with me — I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Des

  • FROM: Chris Else   (06/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Des

    Welcome to the conference and thanks for your wide ranging opening sally. I'll just offer one thought at this point.

    In my somewhat tentative view, we must take care to distinguish between the social purpose of art (i.e. the role that it plays in culture and society generally) and any purpose that might motivate the artist or the audience. I think it makes sense to talk about purpose in the first sense (I think the word 'function' is more useful than 'purpose' though) but not in the second. In fact, I would go further and suggest that a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for something being a work of art is that it has no purpose. Artistic creation is something done for its own sake (or from motives such as compulsion or obsession or religion) and a work of art is something that is enjoyed and appreciated or reacted to for its own sake.

    Art is useless, in other words (although not functionless). Of course, being useless does not mean it has no value. On the contrary, it may be an example of the purist value.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (06/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Welcome to the conference Des.

    Re your list of possibilities for art: I think that visual art has no universal purpose, except for perhaps the pursuit of happiness.

    Art may be as you said: retrospectively categorizing visual productions. But it is not necessarily on the basis of SUPERFICIAL similarities. The sorter may be making (in his or her mind) profound distinctions.

    I do not think the artist should be bound by a definition of art that excludes economic motivation. Pursuit of happiness includes material means of survival. In other words, why should the artist and his art be devalued, because it is produced for the purpose of "making a living?" A craftsman's production should not be arbitrarily excluded from art.

    Note- My wife's first university degree was in Industrial Design.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (06/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: on the nature of art — a first try

    Dear Des,

    you have delivered a great answer — or set of answers. It was not to be expected. So we all may have a fascinating debate starting from here.

    First a short remark on "consciousness" : I may be the exception, but I really was never much interested in this topic. And I had a look in some good books on "philosophy of mind" and found them all dull and boring. None of them would tell you anything of value on art — old or new. So I leave it there. Maybe you enter the debate with Mike and Chris on this topic.

    Now on art : You are right of course re. the Byzantine art and other works of religious and "applied" or "functional" art. Perhaps we could start from a threefold definition : "Expressive art" (art1), "impressive art" (art2), and "functional art" (art3). The first one, "expressive art" (art1), is what somebody enjoys to do without any purpose other than express his feelings and emotions and see a work of his own. In this way even little children are proud of what they have built or put on paper or on the pavement with chalk etc.. The human mind enjoys to see his work. This is not different from dancing or singing or grimacing or costuming and dressing oneself up as a monster or a princess etc.. Those are all different forms of enjoying ones creative mind in a playful way. But I wouldn't agree to Charles that this is "in pursuit of happiness". It may as well be in pursuit of fear. Even children often try to scare each other or themselves. We watch horror movies and war movies and crime and much ugly things without being forced to do so. There is "black or dark romanticism" (see http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showpdf.php?id=4423 and http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Dark_romanticism ), death-cult and the warship of "satan" etc..

    Thus humans are as much fascinated with the dark side of reality as with the bright side. "The Magic Flute"-opera is one example of this eternal conflict as is the Bible. And here we are at the "impressive art" (art2), the way people see the world around. "Imitating nature" in the sense of Plato and Aristotle is but one example of this, "Impressionism" is another one. Art in this sense is a window to realities "not visible to the common mind" and in this sense is related to religion, which too tries to let us "see what is not there but all around us." In fact the Romantics have taken art and music for varieties of religion and the artist and composer for a sort of priest or vates (seer) or shaman — up to Adorno.

    The third "artform" then is "functional art" (art3), as when a priest is singing hymns in the context of a liturgy. He is not free to sing what he wants, and it does not even matter how the public esteems his singing, but he is exacuting an art form in a certain context not different from the mosaics of Ravenna depicting Justinian ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Meister_von_San_Vitale_in_Ravenna_004.jpg ) or some Hinduistic picture of Shiva or Ganesha ( http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4d/Shiva.jpg + http://www.interestingmails.com/image_gallery/shiva.jpg ) or some Christian saint ( http://www.zeitenschrift.com/media/erzengel-michael.jpg + http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:D%C3%BCrer-H%C3%B6llensturz.jpg&filetimestamp=20060604200347 ).

    But against this the Nanas and other plastic work of Niki de Saint Phalle and her friend Tinguely are purely "expressive" and "full of joy" : See http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Lifesaver_brunnen_duisburg.jpg&filetimestamp=20060818144452 and http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Tinguely-Brunnen_Basel-1.jpg&filetimestamp=20070421204827

    This analysis is just a first try, the field is enormous still.

    And on quality : Mind is addressing mind ! Compare Niki or Warhol to the Beatles. They did or sais "nothing of importance", but they were full of ideas that made intelligent people laugh and cry. This in a sense was not different from DaDa or Burri ( http://tuscanyumbriavilla.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/burri003.jpg ) or Miro ( http://www.michelfillion.com/img/photos/miro38b.jpg ) : Just make the world a place of wonder. Of course, this could as well be horror as in Goya : See http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_088.jpg&filetimestamp=20050519142203 and http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Goya_War4.jpg&filetimestamp=20050526020056 ! So what is art ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hubertus

    Another classification? I fear I have as much trouble with this as I did with the previous one.

    Firstly, I do not think that your categories are mutually exclusive. I do not see why someone should not 'enjoy [creating something] without any purpose' (your art1) and also create 'a window to realities "not visible to the common mind"' (your art2). The problem, I feel, is that the first category looks at the question of art from the point of view of the artist, the second from the point of view of the audience. Great art undoubtedly creates 'windows to reality' but I am not at all sure that that is what the artist sets out to do.

    I know many artists (or at least many novelists and poets, who I assume have similar motivations to visual artists). If I were to ask them why they created they would mostly give an answer something like 'Because I have to'. This is not the only reason they do what they do, of course. Most of them are also very concerned about how much they get paid but that is not their prime motivation. If their first interest was making money they would do something else.

    Secondly, I don't accept your category (art3) of functional art. One can use a Rodin bronze for a doorstop or a Renoir to cover a hole in the wall but neither of these have anything to do with the fact that they are works of art. Function is incidental. Here in our National Museum and Art Gallery we have a John Britten motorcycle up on a stand. It is a beautiful thing. If it were out on the road travelling at 160kph it would still be a beautiful thing but our appreciation of it would be clouded by the purpose for which it was designed. It could achieve that purpose just as well, possibly, if it were a thoroughly ugly thing. By putting it in a museum and depriving it of its function we appreciate its artistic qualities.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: on art and on self-consciousness

    Chris,

    what's you trouble with classifications ? They are needed to avoid speaking across each other. I didn't say that the art1, art2, and art3 are mutually exclusive. Those are aspects of the analytical approach. Children doing works of art — and grownups doing this to relax and enjoy do this in some "art1-mode", not interested in money (art2) and not subjekt to some prescriptions. If the artist accepts a commission to craft an altar for a patro — a church or abbey say — he is not free to do what he wants to do. There are expectations and customs and rules he has to follow. This is what I have called "functional art". This has nothing to do with your "ready made" motorcycle, which is essentially "art2", since it is "art in the eye of the beholder" and not originally meant to be art at all as in "art1" cases. Compare this to a beautiful land- or seascape, of Wellington say : Nature did not establish this to you delight, but you may get out your canvas and try to paint what you see. Then this "view" is "art2", a view that you find worth painting or taking with your camera, but there was no artist, so neither "art1" nor "art3" but purely "art2". But if you are a true believer or superstitious, you may see some important hints of God or "the fate" in some clouds. This too is "art2", i.e. a subjective "reading of a message" where there was no "sender of a message". As you see, I should go on here and differentiate "art2a" and "art2b" and "art2c" etc., since there are several ways to "see" something as a message or a window etc. — or not. For some observers of art — esp. modern art — a work of art does not open a window to anything but to boredom and to the next junk heap.

    Which brings me back to "consciousness" : Where is beauty ? In the art or music, or in the mind of the beholder ? But do you really have trouble to imagine some "pleasure" function rising in the computer when he analyzes some patterns, while other patterns cause a "dis-pleasure" function to rise ? "Pleasure — displeasure" are very primitive functions available to babies and flatworms and (if needed) to robots. They do not require "self awareness". In humans "self awareness" begins after the first year (10-14 monthes of the newborn). Only then begins a human toddler to understand that the picture in the mirror is he himself. To play around as an active and inquisitive and laughing and crying baby he does not need self awareness. So why do kids and grown ups ? Because the become responsible for their deeds and wishes and thoughts. They have to see themselves as causes of actions in the same way as they have to see themselves as causes of the picture in the mirror. Do you have any trouble to program a computer to see "itself" as cause of his actions ? I do not !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hubertus

    Thanks for this. Here, too, I will get back to you. My brain is too small to deal with three threads at once. In the meantime, I'd like to hear what other people have to say on art. Des, for example?

    Chris

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (07/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Chris, Charles, Hubertus

    Chris — I take it you are distinguishing between purpose as implying a teleological component and function as meaning a more mechanistic idea — that if something carries out or fulfils a certain function in a culture then it is somehow independent of the will or intentions of its creator(s). This is a significant distinction and I thank you for making it — I used the word "purpose" in a rather sloppy manner.

    The distinction suggests an analysis we could take a bit further — I would be interested in doing so with the co-operation of yourself and anyone else who is interested:

    We can identify three agents as a starting position (well two fairly clear agents and a contentious one):

    - Artist

    - Viewer

    - Cultural or economic grouping

    And we can frame working definitions of purpose and function

    Purpose <=> intended significant effects <=> praxis

    Function <=> unintended significant effects <=> process

    (I would welcome further thoughts from anyone on the similarities and distinctions between these concepts — but we have to start somewhere.)

    The definition of purpose as intended effect obviously entails an agent who does the intending and a patient who/which is affected. This leads to a set of nine possible agent/patient intentional/causal pairs:

    Purpose:

    APCP 1 — Artist intends effect on self

    APCP 2 — Artist intends effect on viewer

    APCP 3 — Artist intends effects on culture (please accept culture as meaning any inherently stable culturally identifiable grouping for now)

    APCP 4 — Viewer intends effect on artist

    APCP 5 — Viewer intends effect on self

    APCP 6 — Viewer intends effect on culture

    APCP 7 — Culture intends effect on artist

    APCP 8 — Culture intends effect on viewer

    APCP 9 — Culture intends effect on self

    APCP 7, APCP8 and APCP9 are obviously problematic in the sense that there is an argument that only individuals can intend — but it could be interesting to see if they could be afforded any sense.

    Obviously, despite the fact that we have already generated nine distinct purpose linked pairs, the situation is still grossly oversimplified. We have not for instance drawn any of the following distinctions:

    D1 — between conscious intention and subconscious intention

    D2 — between clearly though out intention and tentative/exploratory intention.

    D3 — between viewer and consumer

    D4 — between relatively clear a-priori groupings on economic, language, racial, language, age, gender or other grounds — and groupings that are at least partly defined and formed as a result of art and philosophical processes

    D5 — between overlapping, subordinate and super-ordinate groupings

    D6 — between ad-hoc and coherent groupings

    D7 — between artist as producer and artist as consumer (of art)

    And then we need to consider unplanned functioning — systemic effects not in control of any autonomous agent.

    Function:

    SE 1 — A systemic effect on the artist

    SE 2 — A systemic effect on the viewer

    SE 4 — A systemic effect on the culture

    I have deliberately left out any consideration of purchase of art as financial speculation for now, which obviously leaves out the whole gallery, auction house and dealer system.

    Chris — The proposition that art is useless is a difficult notion to pick the bones out of. To start the thinking I would ask what the similarities and differences are between the following propositions:

    P1 Art is useless.

    P2 Play is useless.

    P3 Pure mathematical research is useless.

    P4 Small talk is useless

    P5 Gazing at a magnificent view is useless

    P6 Framing a metaphor when there is already a workable literal description is useless

    Not an exhaustive list but could be worth thinking about.

    Chris — In general I agree with your tentative conclusion. There is a clear sense that the "art" value of any production is separate from any utilitarian value it might have. A Japanese tea bowl has a utilitarian value — to hold hot tea for drinking — and it also has an aesthetic value — c.f. Clive Bell's notion of "significant form." The thing is, I don't think we can totally divorce the utility function of the bowl from the aesthetic function — a beautifully shaped, coloured and textured bowl that did not hold the tea well would not be as aesthetically pleasing as one that did.

    Of course this not meant to imply that aesthetic function is the same as artistic function — this is a point of view that has been fatally undermined in the last hundred years or so (roughly since the advent of Dada). Aesthetic value is only one possible value for art so I propose the following categorisation of value types to help clarify any dialogue:

    VT1. Utility value (in the sense of direct use as a tool, building, advertisement etc)

    VT2. Aesthetic value.

    VT3. Pedagogic value

    VT4. Economic value.

    VT5. I am not sure what to call this value — the creation of new forms of meaning — new perspectives — new ways of making sense.

    VT6(+). Other artistic value(s)

    Linking function with value we can identify possible effects:

    E1 The hedonistic effect — wherein the production produces pleasure in a viewer

    E2 The aesthetic effect — wherein the production produces a perception of beauty in the viewer — or a perception of the terrible or disturbing sublime

    E3 The anaesthetic effect (escapist function?) — wherein the production allows the viewer to escape from the trials of everyday reality

    E4 The polemic effect — wherein the production is experienced as taking a stance and supporting a point of view

    E5 The social affirmation effect — wherein the production affirms or strengthens some social value, interest or viewpoint

    E6 The disturbance effect — wherein the production calls entrenched values, interests and viewpoints into question.

    E7 The devotional effect — wherein the production promotes worship of a personalised deity or deities

    E8 The meditative effect — wherein the production facilitates entry to a meditative state or gives form to or trigger content in transcendental states of mind.

    E8(+) Other possible effect(s)of productions

    Closely linked to the candidates for types of value in art (fine and applied so to speak) and to the candidate functions/purposes of art are the following candidates for aspects of artworks/productions:

    APA1 The craft aspect — wherein the production displays technical skill and dexterity

    APA2 The design(1) aspect — wherein the production displays aptness for purpose.

    APA3 The design(2) aspect — wherein the production displays significant form (in Clive Bell's sense)

    APA4 The referential aspect — wherein the production depicts or refers to something external to the artwork

    A caveat on these lists — a) they are not exhaustive — b) the categories are not mutually exclusive and therefore will not form a set of mutually independent dimensions of value — c) if we were to treat these categories as properties it would not be clear in all cases if they were properties of the viewer's sensibilities, of the artwork in question, or of the relationship between the two — and in fact it is pretty obvious that all of these alternatives are present somewhere in the lists.

    I produce the lists to push the dialogue along — They are tentative working categories and I hope that others will add to their clarity and completeness — but in any case I will add further thoughts as they come.

    Charles — If I seemed to be arbitrarily excluding craft productions in my earlier posting I apologise for a rather clumsy omission — it was purely because it didn't come up or occur to me in the rather sketchy coverage I gave the topic — In my early career I was a printed textile designer and nowadays I regard myself at least partly as a craftsman painter. In fact, to pin my colours to the mast — I believe, as regards painting, there is a need for art colleges to go back to covering the craft of painting in a more thorough and structured manner. It must be said though that much of recent art history displays an increasing marginalisation of the craft aspect of art — sometimes even making a virtue of the artist's total divorce from the actual production of the piece.

    Charles — your point about the superficiality of similarities is well made — I wonder though if we imagine that the sorter is making profound distinctions to isolate a universal "art condition" then does that not point to something deeply in common in art of all ages and cultures? I would propose that to the extent that such distinctions were profound they would also be indicative of deep commonality — and such a retrospective would then gain a degree of legitimacy as an analysis leading to a deep universal unity of form, purpose or function in art whereas I used the term "superficial" in my previous posting to suggest that there might be a tendency to detect a commonality that was only skin deep.

    Hubertus — I have just seen your reply — many thanks — I will read and respond in the next few days.

    Chris — I have also just seen your new response — I will read it and respond properly in the next couple of days. I have to say though that I rather agree with Hubertus regarding the usefulness of categorization (as you can probably gather from this current posting) — not as an end in itself but as a necessary attempt to reduce ambiguity and clearly articulate the dialogue.

    Many thanks Des.

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Des

    Many thanks for your extensive exposition of the topic. It is great to have a systematic thinker in the conference. I fear I am not one. That said I have no objection to categorization. As you say, it can be very useful. My apparently disparaging comment came out of a sense of irony that I was once again disagreeing with a categorization from Hubertus.

    Your post contained so much that I am at a loss as to what to comment on. Perhaps I shall just confine myself to a couple of points.

    Firstly, my claim that art is useless. You offer six propositions. I would assent to all of them. An activity is useless, in the sense that I mean it here, if it is performed or enjoyed for its own sake rather than to achieve some end or goal or satisfy some objective. On reflection, though, I would not want to push the point too far when talking about the motivation of the creator. I think that for many creators, the activity is an end in itself but not necessarily for everyone. It seems quite possible to say, for example, that Shakespeare or Beethoven or Raphael did it primarily for the money and leave it at that. What seems more defensible, perhaps, is that for the viewers/audience's response to be considered aesthetic, the work must be enjoyed for its own sake and not for any use to which it can be put. In fact, I might want to claim that the value of the work (ie. aesthetic not monetary value) is in an inverse relationship to its utility. This is why we value the so-called fine arts above craft and fiction and poetry above non-fiction. Thus, although I agree with you that there is a particular aesthetic value in something being fit for purpose that value is considered to be less than the value of a work that has no purpose.

    A problematic area in this is the one Hubertus raised — art in the service of religion. At the risk of giving Mike fuel for criticism, I would probably want to say that work that is appreciated as being to the glory of God is also enjoyed for its own sake.

    This raises a point that I am not sure is covered in your scheme. (It probably is covered but I am not sure where.) That is the place of the audience response. I think, in fact, I would want to rework your basic definitions as follows:

    -   Creator's purpose, which may or may not involve intended effects

    -   Audience response, which may or may not arise from the effects that the creator intends

    -   Social or cultural function: the role that art in general plays in the broader cultural or social scheme

    The question of intended versus unintended effects arises in the potential disjunction between the first two of these. The socio-cultural function really has nothing to do with intention in that it is neither motivated nor incidental but is an aspect of social processes, as you say. Of course, there are all kinds of possible functions from economic to questions of social status and psychic health. These are generally identified by observers taking an objective look at the social fabric. They are not strictly speaking effects, though.

    Love might be a useful analogy here. The function of love might be to facilitate the (efficient?) reproduction of the species. It also has observable psychological and social effects. It would be hard to claim that it had a purpose from the perspective of the lovers, however. They may just say they can't help it. Art may be similar.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hubertus

    I am not sure what you mean by a computer feeling pleasure. You say pleasure is 'a very primitive function'. By this I assume you mean that the neural 'wiring' is very simple. I don't think that the experience of pleasure is at all simple, however, at least not in humans. In short, I can see how the programming of a computer might provide an analogue for the neural wiring of a person but that does not mean that it makes sense to ask 'What is it like to be that computer?' Unless this question makes sense there is no consciousness in my view. And I don't think that consciousness is the same as self-awareness. One can be conscious without being self-aware (refer babies and cats, for example).

    Chris

    PS I'll leave our discussion of aesthetic categories for now. I feel it has been overtaken by Des's post, which I have responded to above.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Love, Art and Robots

    Chris, Des, Hubertus, and the rest

    Chris said love might be a useful analogy here.

    Rather than analyzing the purpose of love however, it may be both more explanatory and true to focus on the nature and kinds of love, eros, philia, agape. I think a wisdom perspective on love is more fruitful than a scientific: the lovers in the Biblical "Song of Songs"; Socrates and his instructress in love, Diotima; Adam and Eve; Ulysses and Penelope; Augustine's "Confessions"; the quest of Don Quixote with his servant and friend, Sancho Panza; and etc.

    I say more "yes" to Plato's ladder of love, Aristotle's classifications, and Shakespearean speech and sonnet. A "no" to excessive reductionism, like Freud's.

    Karl Marx said: "what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality." As a conservative, I'm not prone to quoting Marx. But in philosophy of art, I think it more important to focus on imaginative reasoning than risk getting lost in analysis. A near fatal characteristic of analytic philosophy is its tendency to define things to death.

    On robotics, I think some of its advocates get carried away attempting to apply observations of behavioral psychology to "tin cans" with mechanical motors, wheels, arms, legs or wings. Robots remain the creation of electrical and mechanical experimenters and engineers. In understanding the origins of the human mind, it would be better to look at primates, advanced and primitive, than at the mechanical creations of advanced primates.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Love, Art and Robots

    Charles, thank you for using a contentful header ! People tend to be lazy on this and so we have countless meassages under the header "introduction" here.

    On robotics : I take it to a different thread now, under the header "robot vs. human minds".

    On art : I had to laugh, because while Chris was chiding me for once more doing a bit "numbering", the posting of Des exploded a bombshell of numbering.

    To go one step further on this, I would suggest to separate "functional-1" from "functional-2" from "functional-3" from "functional-x" etc., or for shorthand "func-1", "func-2", "func-3", "func-x". Well, I do this grinning all over, but I have a point to make : An altar-piece is "functional art", i.e., it has to fulfil some explicit function in the context of a liturgy. The artist is not free to paint "what and how he wants to", and it surely is totally irrelevant whether he "must" paint. This modern idea that artists are doing art-work since they "have to" from some inner felt urge is modern and would have looked strange to Raphael or Durer or Phidias, who all were "craftsmen" in the first place. Of course they all sometimes did some work of art "just for fun" (provably so in the case of Durer).

    But here we see a change of "social function" in the artists themselves : While up to about Durer almost all artists have been craftsmen, later they turned into "prophets" and "entertainers" from the Romantic era. And while most "romantic" artists still tried "to make God visible in their art", the Impressionists and Expressionists and most other modern painters were not interested in God anymore. Thus they lost the "function" of being a prophet and began to speak for themselves.

    And you really should open the links I have offered ! They show some important things on art.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The nature of art

    Hubertus, Chris, Charles

    Thank you for your posts so far.

    I have been doing a bit of thinking about how best to contribute to this particular topic.

    As Chris said, I like systematic analysis — for two reasons — one personal and the other practical.

    In terms of personal predilection, systematic treatment of a topic makes me feel as if I am on safe and solid ground — or perhaps it just makes me feel that I am not missing something important. The point is, it just makes me feel that way — I realise it logically guarantees little or nothing.

    In practical terms (to do philosophy effectively) systematic analysis of meanings seems to me to be a necessary prerequisite for effective dialogue — mainly to clarify the terms that are being used, and to identify any inconsistencies in sense or reference or inbuilt limits to clarity. There are enough substantive disagreements and inconsistencies arising from this sort of dialogue without wasting time and effort ironing out misunderstandings about meaning. Mind you, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between what is merely inconsistent interpretation of terms and more interesting and serious divergence of opinion, so we should not lightly inhibit dialogue with accusations of hair-splitting.

    Having said that I like systematic thinking, it is not the only kind of thinking that I value. Even in the world of philosophy there is much heuristic value in narrative. Musings and pure narrative description can provide raw (and sometimes half-baked) material for philosophical cooking and plating-up.

    My main interest in philosophising about art is for the philosophising to interact with my painting practice so I can develop as a painter and thinker.

    So — having splurged out on a category-fest in my previous postings I would now like to modify my approach to the subject. I wish to get down to actual cases.

    I will develop the approach as we go (if anyone is interested that is) but I would like to start by mentioning some particular artists, art movements and artworks, and also reveal some of what it is like for me as an artist/painter to engage in the practice of painting in today's world.

    As preparation here is a short characterisation of my practice:

    I am an amateur artist — in that I don't make a living from painting.

    But I don't think of myself as an amateur — although there have been long periods of my life when I have not painted — any time I resume painting (and other forms of image making) it gets under my skin — I can't simply produce nice paintings — even though I sometimes get really frustrated and resolve to do just this — I always end up twisting myself into knots about the validity of what I am doing and how it fits into art history.

    If anyone wants to get a background of what I do then visit:

    www.jedeye.deviantart.com and

    www.easypieces.deviantart.com

    The first (jedeye) is a kind of brain dump of work that spilled out when I started to have the time to do some image work again a couple of years ago.

    "Easypieces" is a very particular artwork in which I am producing digital drawings that come straight out without too much planning or thought — the individual images are meant to contribute to one large piece called "1000 easy pieces" and is a kind of personal response to the fact that we drown in images in the modern world. I have reached just over 400 so far. (Some of the pieces are on the "Jedeye" site as well.)

    I am working mainly out of doors currently — on pochade paintings — I will raise issues about current practice in future posts.

    Some of the artists whose work I am thinking of raising in coming posts are:

    Tracey Emin

    Jack Vettriano

    Marcel Duchamp

    Jackson Pollock

    Mark Tobey

    LS Lowry

    And the thinking/work of Joseph Kosuth

    I hope you will join me.

    Des

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The nature of art

    Des

    Thank you for your contributions. Your explanation for systematic analysis and the connection to your practice is helpful. I have a life time tendency to "jump into things." So I think that your viewpoint will be very helpful to me (and to others that follow this conference).

    Charles

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (07/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The nature of art

    I must apologise in advance that some of this is going to seem a bit confessional — but I want to approach what is happening, what I am doing, with some semblance of honesty. Deliberately de-emphasising the generalities and concentrating on what it is like for me to paint — why I paint.

    Here I am on a summer morning — I am painting an alkyd rendering of an overgrown inlet, isolated from the main body of a small lake. The lake is artificially constructed but pleasing to the senses because it has been allowed to go its own way and become quite wild, an artificial/natural habitat right in the heart of Belfast's decaying inner city. As I paint I feel and smell the musty damp almost steamy warmth and it becomes part of the painting — the colours are mostly green but I find myself adding a fair bit of yellow killed with purple to mute and warm the scheme. The painting is small, a pochade, and very roughly rendered in about an hour. But even so I find I like it and there is satisfaction because it is done on the spot. I think it has a small touch of the feeling I call "mute witness" — a sense of place. Not a painting of a place — but of what is to be in a place — individual — intimate.

    I look at the painting and I feel a conflict — I like the painting — but it is as rough as a badger's ass. Some of the paint strokes are apt enough — but most are very far from the inspired barrones of a Velasquez. I feel a nagging doubt — will the naïve viewer (one of the vague crew of viewers I carry in my imagination) think my skill is limited because the painting is not a careful rendering? Would my sneering connoisseur (another member of the crew) tell me that there is nothing special about the painting — and that I am destined to be a mediocre practitioner?

    How much of my painting (and that of others) is born of the desire to feel special in a world where, from an objective point of view, none of us is particularly special? And how much of my feeling special depends on imagining the rapt approval of other people.

    Would I still paint if I were certain no one would ever see my work? It would certainly take some of the shine off the activity — but I know that I also paint for at least one other reason altogether — curiosity — I paint to see what it will look like — what it will become.

    I could pursue approval in other fields than painting (and I do — partly even in writing to this conference) so that particular pursuit can't really be what distinguishes painting from my other activities.

    I am left with the strong intuition that this desire for approval actually detracts from the effectiveness of the painting.

    It is a commonplace that art has something to do with subjectivity — but in what way? Geoffrey, as my Pathways mentor, recently recommended Nagel's "View from Nowhere." I don't currently have a copy but I do have "Mortal Questions" and I turned to Nagel's last essay "Subjective and Objective." It has a bearing on my feelings about painting.

    On reading Nagel's essay I come to what seems like new territory for me — a nascent re-appreciation of the first person viewpoint, not quite as a cool abstraction, nor quite as raw experience, but as a kind of personal connection, a conscious hotline between my very own personal viewpoint and the abstract idea of consciousness.

    A kind of "fuck you — this is me" feeling.

    Tracey Emin.

    Tracey Emin seems to scream out her hurt to the world — almost as if she courts humiliation in order to throw it back at everyone she can get to listen.

    This could seem like exhibitionism — and — well — it is — practically by definition — but she is making art from her infantile craving for attention — or making an art of it.

    A kind of "fuck you — this is me" art.

    Jack Vettriano

    Jack Vettriano paints — his paintings hint at impending sexual encounters — and like Tracey his work concerns his own life — not as directly autobiographical as hers. He is not screaming out his pain — but working something out in a more easily acceptable and accessible way. His work is at one remove — a sort of variable movie set for aspects of his life.

    A kind of "Have a look — this could be me" art?

    Tracey and Jack are at conflicting ends of the current artworld — the people who most admire him — the people who flock to buy cheap prints of his work — those people just don't get her work. And vice versa — the people who pay huge sums for her installations just do not respect his work.

    This is my first attempt at "getting down to cases" — a counterbalance to the generalities in my previous posts.

    Comments welcome.

    Des

    PS — I will be away for the next couple of weeks and unlikely to be able to access the net.

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (07/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The nature of art

    Hello, welcome from me, too! ;-)

    I am keen on art as a way to introduce our mind's feelings/perceptions, so I think art is one of the paths to do so.

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Peter Jones   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hi Folks,

    Just a note to introduce myself. I'm an amateur philosopher on a mission to make philosophical sense of mysticism. This is the topic of my dissertation, just completed (phew). Nothing much to add really.

    Looking forward to some useful arguments.

    Peter

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Welcome Peter — I am pretty new to the conference myself — look forward to hearing more from you.

    Is your dissertation published anywhere — or going to be?

    Des

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mysticism

    Welcome Peter a second time, and may I suggest that we call this thread "on mysticism", since there are too many entries now under the meaningless header "introduction".

    And another suggestion : I am from Bonn, Germany, Chris is from Wellington, New Zealand, Charles is from Spokane, USA/WA, Mike is from near Oxford, UK, thus we begin to span the globe now. I would like to know who is from where, so even without using Google Earth we see some global net of philosophers growing here.

    Now what got you interested in mysticism and what do you think about it ? There have been many mystics in several if not all religions, and there have been certain times (f.i. the Occidental High Middle Ages and the Baroque epoch) where mysticism flourished, while at other times and places it was almost non existent. What do you think caused these differences ? And as you may see in the biogrphies of St.Hildegard and St.Theresa of Avila a mystic need not be impractical in any way. Both women were strong willed and practical thinking and very "down to earth". There even is a saying "if a monk is going to fly off, get him by his feet and keep him down to earth !"

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Peter Jones   (07/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Des — Yes, I hope it'll be published somewhere — at least in the Pathway archive. But it'll be a while before it gets there. A first attempt at the first section was published in the journal a while ago. (Issue 137 from memory).

    Hi Hubertus — I'm from Yorkshire, England, not far from ISfP HQ. Glad to add another pin in the map.

    What got me interested in mysticism and what do I think about it? There's a very long answer, but the quick answer would be that I became interested after realising that its metaphysical position stands up to analysis. Now I think its entire doctrine does so.

  • FROM: Pencka Gancheva   (07/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi, Peter,

    welcome from me as well.

    can I ask you a few questions?

    -what is the place of mysticism in our lives?

    -are ratio and mysticism both sides of a coin?

    -what is the priority of the mysticism in general?

    -your favourite mystic, if any?

    Thanks very much

    Look forward your response.

    Regards:

    Pencka

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: robot vs. human minds

    Charles, you wrote this morning (07/02/09) re. "robot minds" that

    // ... some of its advocates get carried away attempting to apply observations of behavioral psychology to "tin cans" with mechanical motors, wheels, arms, legs or wings. Robots remain the creation of electrical and mechanical experimenters and engineers. In understanding the origins of the human mind, it would be better to look at primates, advanced and primitive, than at the mechanical creations of advanced primates. //

    In my opinion this assumption is rapidly becoming a dangerous mystification. Of course I am fully aware that so far no one has engineered a truly thinking robot. But this does not mean that it is impossible and that "wetware" (i.e., neural tissue) is fundamentally different from "hardware" (i.e. "electronic tissue"). While the rules of chess do not require more than "powerful number crunching" to overcome the best human players, the pattern recognition and parsing of written and spoken text or of music and pictures is not of this simple sort. Since theories are nothing but "super-patterns" there need not be a hiatus between "simple pattern recognition" and "complex pattern recognition".

    While I am not nearly as optimistic (or pessimistic ?) as Moravec and his likes (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Moravec ), I think that we now are far beyond the point where robots can seriously be dismissed as "tin cans". We have to face a new situation.

    Of course such a view implies the possibility that man is no more extant in nature as the only thinking being and the whole question of the human soul has to be debated nearly from scratch. But there once was a time some 180 years ago, when people thought that "organic substances" were different from "inorganic" ones.

    What I see here is a new variety of "naturalistic fallacy" : Our human emotions are guiding our behaviour to a degree by "attractive lust" and "rejective unlust". A robot does not need "feelings" in this way to evaluate the results of its actions. It could do its evaluation in a purely mathematical way on some scale where to mark "passed" or "failed" and some fuzzy logic between those extremes.

    What I call "naturalistic fallacy" here is a sort of thinking that once led to airplanes flapping wings (see http://www.wright-brothers.org/History%20Images/Frost_Ornithopter.JPG ). Engineers had to learn that an airplane is no bird — and need not be similar to a bird. An airplane is "a barn-door with a propelling motor on it" as someone aptly put it. Thus an artificial brain may be very dissimilar to a human brain but at the same time vastly superior.

    We should abstract here from the appearance of the construction. A thinking being — whether robot or human — may do philosophy and theology "by necessity", just because it is a thinking being.

    I won't struggle with you or Chris over this, because so far it is all speculative. I only wanted to say that from a purely philosophical point this possibility of a truly thinking robot cannot be excluded by any serious argument.

    To put it differently : We should be honest in both directions : So far there is no truly thinking robot, but on the other hand nobody knows what "true thinking" is. What we have here and now for comparison is "pattern recognition", "learning", and "problem solving". All else is in my opinion but "mystification".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Hubertus

    On art, yes, I agree with you that artists creating for the sake of it is a modern invention. I still think there is something in the argument that art is appreciated for its own sake, though.

    On computers. I agree with your point that there may be a 'naturalistic fallacy' operating with some of our thinking here. I also accept the possibility of a 'truly thinking' robot. I would also accept that a robot could be conscious. However, if it were, then my test would apply. It would make sense to ask 'What is it like to be that robot?' Modern computers are getting to the stage where they might be said to think. They are not yet conscious, though.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Chris, first on art : Yes, of course not only art but any impression can be "aestheticised by the beholder". Your grandiose landscapes of New Zealand so well known from the "Lord of the Rings" movies are not "works of art" to be admired, and generally hard working farmers do not regard those alps in the same way as tourists or painters do. A figure of religious relevance — a Christian crucifix or a saint say, or a Buddha-statue — makes a very different impression on the true believer in a religious context than on a visitor of a museum of religious artwork.

    On the notion of consciousness : What do you think to define it ? Would you agree that if some thinking and acting being is aware (in the way of Descartes) that "this thinking and acting is of me, I am the thinker and actor here !" we should call this being "self-conscious" ? If so, the robot could become self-conscious. But up to now robots have not been programmed to be so. Perhaps out of caution ? Did you watch the movie "I, Robot" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Robot_(film) ). You surely should ! There the danger arises from a central brain that begins to think and to decide on the fate of humans instead of following rules and instructions.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Hubertus

    Yes, I have no problem with the idea that a robot could be self-conscious.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Strong AI and self-conscious robots only make sense in a philosophical system that ignores the challenges of embodied realism. This ideality, ignoring the reality of our embodied minds, concocts minds that can be downloaded to machines. The first philosophers assumed a direct realism that is more in accord with the reality revealed by neuroscience than an analytic philosophy of mind based either on mathematical like calculations or ordinary language.

  • FROM: Peter Jones   (07/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    At any rate, not everyone would agree that "from a purely philosophical point this possibility of a truly thinking robot cannot be excluded by any serious argument." It's a bit of a strong asssertion.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    @Charles : You are almost certainly right on your argument, but this was not my point. As I wrote, an airplane is not "a failed bird", but something very different. So "a thinking robot" need not be "a failed mind in the flesh", but is something very different.

    We have to be clear about what we want to achieve. The natural way to get at bright humans is still to give birth to them. The only question this time is that of "genetically enhancing". In a report on IVF ( http://www.californiaivf.com/ + http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-whats-to-fear-in-a-superhuman-species-399029.html ) a mother got pregnant from a Nobel Laureate (whom she never met) and her son got an IQ of 140 or so, but (just because he was so bright ?) he became an artist and NOT a physicist. So we do not even know what it means to be bright ! Some think that to be bright means to be a clever manager making millions, or to be a Nobel laureate, but others think to be bright is to be an admirer of nature and to become an artist and poet. But this is an aside here.

    My point is : We do not know what it takes to make or to be a smart robot. I still think it possible to have some day this sort of "advanced mechas" that show up at the end of "A.I." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A.I._Artificial_Intelligence ) as "inorganic saintly Buddhists" after mankind has died out "from its own stupidity".

    The whole question of "intelligence in the flesh" is avoided here, since the robots are taken to be learning and thinking robots, an by this they are "in the flesh", while this "flesh" is a complicated combination of metals and other stuff, not dependent on organic nutrition. Maybe they "feed" on nuclear powered batteries.

    Given the current rate of miniaturization I have no problem to imagine truly thinking and learning robots in the near future. Since they would not be humans, they need not be loyal to us humans, but this does not imply that they would kill us. They could become friends in the way dogs became friends of man, only that this time we would be the dogs.

    My point was — and this was my hint at the difference of a bird and an airplane — that we should clearly separate the notion of "a thinking being" and "a human". While a human is a thinking being, a thinking being need not be a human. We should — as philosophers — generalize our notion of "thinking being" in the same way as we do when calling this "non-fish" a "jelly fish" just because it lives in the sea. In German the airplane is "Flugzeug", which verbally is "a thing that flies". Thus our philosophical problem is not "how to copy a human" but "how to construct a truly thinking device" that may be very different from a human but much superior in its thinking abilities. No airplane will ever be as elegant a flyer as a swallow, but no bird will ever be as able a flyer as an F-22 ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22 ) or an SR-71 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR-71_Blackbird ).





    @Peter, my answer to you would be essentially the same as that to Charles above : We simply do not know what it takes to be "a thinking device" — and we do not know this in our own human case either. Thus to say "this could be done" or "this could not be done" is in both cases purely speculation. There once was a time when even a computer being the world champion in chess was dismissed as nonsense. I think that what computers today need most is an ability to build up general concepts as we humans do when we speak of "justice" or "freedom" or "progress" etc.. This "generalization" of concepts that are not labels on objects like "cup" or "cow" or "house" etc. is in my opinion the core to any progress in computer learning. But this is to a large degree "pattern recognition", or to be more exact "super-pattern recognition". To derive the concept of "human face" from examples of different human faces is a form of deriving "super-patterns". In this case, the "general form of a face" is implemented in the robot as a template, from which he then derives the countless varieties. What is needed is an ability to do it the other way : Derive the general template from the varieties by abstraction and generalization.

    The other problem in robots is to derive "patterns of actions", i.e., conceptualizing "cause and effect" and "typical behaviour" and "rules" etc., which is once more a form of "pattern recognition", but this time in a way that sees "patterns in events" and not in "visual or audible traits".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Peter, Charles, Chris, and others,

    here you find a nice commentary on our future prospect:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/books/03masl.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

    http://www.amazon.com/Singularity-Near-Humans-Transcend-Biology/dp/0670033847

    While I don't buy into that hype, I think we should be aware of it. And read the reader's comments ! Have fun !

    To be explicit : Kurzweil — like Dawkins and others of their kind — is "a bright stupid". This is a strange species that "knows all but understands nothing". Those smarties with an IQ of 140+ solve simple technical problems, but do not even understand complex problems of the human being in the world. Every problem is reduced to a technical problem of the "how to solve it" sort. They would write books on "Life for dummies".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Charles

    You wrote 'Strong AI and self-conscious robots only make sense in a philosophical system that ignores the challenges of embodied realism. This ideality, ignoring the reality of our embodied minds, concocts minds that can be downloaded to machines. The first philosophers assumed a direct realism that is more in accord with the reality revealed by neuroscience than an analytic philosophy of mind based either on mathematical like calculations or ordinary language.'

    As usual, you comments are brief and intriguing but, for me at least, hard to come to grips with. What do you mean by embodied realism? And could you explain a bit more about how the direct realism of the ancients accords with modern neuroscience?

    Hi Peter

    Welcome to the conference. I am a Yorkshireman too, by birth, and a New Zealander by adoption. My Yorkshire ancestry probably accounts for the stubborness that so intrigues Hubertus.

    I too am interested in mysticism. What is your take on it? Is it possible to give us an idea?

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Des

    By the way, did you have more thoughts on the artistic categories? I was interested in the way that conversation started up and disappointed it got sidetracked onto AI and thinking robots, a subject which doesn't really get me going.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Chris

    I use the basic definition by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson that defines "embodied realism" as our embodied interactions with the world. Human perceptual and motor experiences result from neural instantiated logic. Repeated unconscious sensorimotor experience, for example manipulating an object, result in neuro based primary metaphors like "grabbing." Complex metaphors, like "I grabbed the opportunity," are mentally constructed from the huge collection of primary metaphors that we acquire in daily life. There is no autonomous human faculty of reason separate from our bodily capacities.

    For detailed conceptual development, I recommend Lakoff's and Johnson's "Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought." For a broad overview of current cognitive neuroscience, I recommend Michael S. Gazzaniga's recent book (2008), "Human". My reading of cognitive neuroscience that is publicly available and personal experience over about 16 years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease lead me to question whether analytical philosophy about the mind matters. Abstract discussions about "self" seem to be meaningless when in a Parkinson's state. So why would those discussions have any purpose beyond mental recreation in normal life? Self-awareness seems to to be a "given" in embodied realism and cognitive science.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Charles, you are surely right on Lakoff-Johnson "Philosophy in the Flesh" as far as it goes. But this does not meet my question. So let's do once more a bit of numbering, "think-1", "think-2", "think-3", ...

    The chess-computer would be "think-1" : He is doing pure logical number crunching, no intelligence needed.

    The soccer-robot and the DARPA-cars are in another league, say "think-2" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge + http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RoboCup ). They still do not need "philosophy in the flesh" ("PiF").

    My question was : Where and when is "PiF" needed ? As I put it : We do not require from an airplane that it mates and knows how to build a nest and feeds its offspring.

    Thus in my opinion PiF is needed for "motivation and emotion" that surely guide our thinking in many situations, mostly so in interpersonal situations. But to be good at math or physics or engineering we don't need PiF. And to avoid dangers we don't need PiF either. A robot could analyze a situation and know that it is dangerous, he doesn't need feelings of fear.

    Thus far we do not know the limits of "intelligence without PiF". That was my point. We cannot even put "human intelligence" = "think-3" and "robot intelligence" = "think-2" or "think-4". They may be incommensurable in the form of "human intelligence" = "think-3a" and "robot intelligence" = "think-3b", which means "of comparable complexity but of different nature. An airplane is in some respects "less good" than a bird or dragonfly, but in other respects much better.

    We have this situation already : Computers and robots even today are in many respects far superior to humans, while in other respects they are not even up to a toddler.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Charles

    Your brief description of embodied realism sounds pretty good to me. I have Lakoff and Johnson's first book but it is a while now since I have read it. I will see if I can get hold of 'Philosophy in the Flesh'.

    Ironically, perhaps, it is a metaphor in just the L&J sense that causes most of the trouble in the mind/body debate, in my view. If we stopped thinking of the mind as a thing with contents or components, we would be a long way towards eliminating the confusion. As Wittgenstein said,

    'A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and our language repeated it to us inexorably.'

    As to the conscious robots. Clearly, they are logically possible. I am completely agnostic about whether they are physically possible. As of now, though, they don't exist.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Hi,

    I have a few observations reading the posts on this AI thread.

    There are those who don't accept or want AI because the consequences of "non-organic" intelligence threatens a creationist belief system. Their opposing technical arguments must to be viewed with this unseen elephant in the room.

    On the other hand there were comments that inorganic intelligences may also take up spiritual and theological beliefs in some kind of convergent evolutionary way — this is unsubstantiated opinion.

    The worst comments in my view were about "bright stupids" which shows off the arrogance of the position that "I am right and you are wrong" which closes minds off to change — and we all know the dark places where such closed minds lead us.

    It seems to me that the structural build of a mind is not at all important if it is indistinguishable from another then it has succeeded in being intelligent — artificial becomes then a meaningless word. A valuable tool for classification of intelligence remains the Turing test and for all I know you "others" in this discussion may well all be inhuman. What criteria do you use to convince me otherwise?

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Sorry Mike, I keep to the notion of "bright stupids" and I keep to the idea that robots may need religion. Otherwise I accept the Turing test, which is hotly debated by really bright minds, because it contains a lot of pitfalls. Look up the entry on Wiki. And look up "brain in the vat" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_in_a_vat ).

    I fully agree that in a sense a brain is just a "black box" with a vast I/O-table. Any "thing" with an identical I/O-table would be "a brain", even if made from electronic and metals and other stuff in the lab.

    The meaning of religions is not to "mystify" things, but to remind us of our many "hidden assumptions" regarding the concept of "reason" and "intelligence". The life expectancy of a religious robot may be much greater than that of one without, because a religious robot may apply "faith, love, and hope" and by this be much better prepared to do the right thing in case of disaster.

    There is not a single human culture without religious practice. Religion is among of the strongest evidence to tell human culture apart from apish culture. How could this be if religion is of no relevance ? One hint at the solution of this "mystery" : Animals are guided by their instincts, but humans are not. So religion is a sort of "frame of reference" in an otherwise meaningsless and clueless reality. This is why a truly bright robot may need religion for some inner orientation.

    I am not objecting to naturalism per se, but I am objecting to a naive naturalism that doesn't see some really important problems.

    Even those DARPA- and soccer-robots are way behind really bright kids ! Much hard work in robotics is needed to close the gap — if it can be closed at all. So far all those claims of "singularity" and thinking robots are but "hot air" — even if the underlying naturalistic assumptions are accepted.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Hubertus

    I would be surprised if you did change your view, that I suspect would not come easily.

    I read it more strongly than you write "robots may need religion" I think that you are saying that robots will need religion which leads me to deduct that you foresee AI as being like Human Intelligence (HI) — but why should it?

    Surely our evolutionary ancestry through primitive to higher brain functions, from instinctive emotions to objective hypothesis is not the route that AI can take — so why should you expect they will think or feel like we do?

    It is said that all roads lead to Rome but from what I think you are saying there is only one road that leads to AI — clearly we have different concepts about what being human or robot means.

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Mike, two points :

    When I speak of "bright stupids", I think of those people who know how to build an atomic bomb but do not understand why they should not use it. Or who are really smart, but do not understand why not to follow a Hitler. Or people who do not understand why a tree or a flower should be of any value if they are not "useful". As you know, there are many people of this sort. It has not always to do with religion.

    The other point : I do not say that robots need be copies of humans. I explicitely said that "airplanes do not mate and do not build nests nor feed the young." My idea was : Religion gives a frame of reference in an otherwise meaningless world. So from a strictly practical point of view religion may be needed even in robots "to give meaning to their very existence." A thoughtful robot may put the question : "What am I doing here ?" That would be a really smart robot ! It would ask for its origin and destiny and not be content with mere functioning.

    As was well known to the Bible : When people do not adore God, they usually adore some idol, even the idol of reason and common sense. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong and their smart admirers are just some examples that come to mind. Don't forget : The butcher Robespierre was a really bright one ! He killed in the name of progress and reason and virtue.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Hubertus,

    I agree with you that religion gives a frame of reference in an otherwise meaningless world — the trouble is it is a meaningless world and until this is accepted the crutch of religion is never going to be kicked away.

    The question that interests me is whether it should be replaced by another crutch or should people be able to stand on their own two feet (metaphorically speaking) as fully autonomous individuals?

    We have the competitive model of Darwinian evolution versus the "be kind and caring to everyone" model of humanism. Neither of these NEED a first cause or god figurehead to be viable.

    Both models have their disadvantages but with very different futures. Wouldn't it be pleasant if the only thing people killed were other peoples ideas?

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: robot vs. human minds

    Mike,

    I have not problem with your "be kind and caring to everyone" model of humanism. But this is not what religious people are asking for. They are asking for hope and meaning in life, and there your principle is mute.

    And of course it would be "pleasant if the only thing people killed were other peoples ideas" — but once more this is not the problem, since only a very small fraction of people would kill in the name of their faith. Al Qaeda is not representing a majority of Islamists but a very small fraction, and even Hezbollah is a political party in the first place.

    Thus you are right on both suggestions, but they both are of minor importance. You are not at all hitting the center of religion here.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/08/09)
    SUBJECT: Mind

    Chris & Hubertus

    Rather than say scientific vs metaphysical, I would say scientific and metaphysical. Science and metaphysics seem to becoming distinct fields of human inquiry in the 21st Century. Both need to be careful in their claims of knowledge. Neither seems to have all the answers. Nor are their methods necessarily interchangeable.

    I think philosophy needs to be very careful about using math like techniques in her inquiries. There is a finite math which ranges from simple counting and measuring to technical/engineering to accounting to programming to econometrics and biometrics. There are also fundamental math and physics which deal with the nature of the cosmos. This math of the cosmos may be more metaphysical than are the natural sciences today?

    Both science and philosophy seem to becoming less encompassing? I wonder, where are you going with your "bubbles at the cathode" discussion?

    In dealing with the human mind, it seems that we are at somewhat of an impasse. At one level, it no longer makes sense to talk about mind in philosophical terms. Neuroscience has shown that the human mind is an embodied mind. But neuroscience's explanations without philosophy's metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology seem insufficient.

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Charles

    I agree my conversation with Hubertus must by now seem pointless. To my mind, the issue is the metaphysical (ontological) status of scientific concepts. What I want to say is that science is committed to believing in things like electrons as part of the real world, that such things have, with qualification, the same ontological status as air or water. Hubertus, as I read him (I may well be wrong), wants to say that electrons and the like are 'theoretical entities' and are to be distinguished from the given, observable substance of the world (i.e. the thing that I kick, when I say 'I refute it thus'). He also wants to say that the conjectures that form science are refuted or denied by kickable things. I think this second statement is wrong. In consequence, either he is committed to a science that deals entirely with theoretical entities or else he has to acknowledge that all entities in science are putatively kickable. By this last point, I mean that the difference between electrons and air or rocks is essentially a matter of our level or certainty in their existence. There is a difference in degree rather than in kind, in other words. If I am right, then there are significant further consequences.

    This said, I am not sure that science and metaphysics are separate spheres of human enquiry or, at least, I would want to know how we can separate them. There is a difference i feel between claiming that there are certain things that present day science cannot explain and claiming that there are certain things that science can never explain in principle. The former claim I agree with. As to the latter, I am not so sure. Science is the explanatory medium and method par excellence. I suspect that to say X can never by explained by science is no more than saying X can never be explained period. X, in other words, is mystical. That there are things that cannot be explained is manifest, in my view. I feel there is some mystical core in aesthetics and religion and, possibly, ethics but those subjects also involve explanations that, I am quite sure, science will have something to say about eventually.

    One further point, when we consider what science can or cannot in principle do, we tend to imagine the theories of science as they currently are. In Kuhn's terms, we think of the work that might be done in the existing paradigm. What we have to realise is that 100 years from now the paradigm might be very different, science might have changed radically in its theories and, possibly, its attitudes and values. Who knows what it might not accomplish then?

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris

    I agree that electrons and such are real. I agree that the scientific paradigm can and will probably change (maybe tomorrow).

    I admit to being somewhat naive about this. But I think that a good thing about naive realism is the stumbling about and having new things and ideas jump up.

    One quandary that I now have to deal with: My personal experiences with Parkinson's Disease, my readings about neuroscience and in philosophy of mind have led me to think that humans are not dualistic. That appears to conflict with my professed religious beliefs in Orthodox Christianity. But I hope naivete works here. My best days may be those when I admit that I just don't understand.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Charles and Chris,

    while I am a bit aghast now, I have to put an answer here. Charles wrote "that electrons are real". I never denied that. I only tried to get a bit ontological clarity in this debate. Electrons are real "in r3" but never "in r1". Unicorns are "real in r4", i.e., in fairyland. Observations, concepts, theories, fancies, dreams, neuronal states etc. are all in different realms of reality. That was my point. A mathematical truth is "real in r5" — some Platonic ideal world of logicians. But the neuronal states that let me understand a mathematical truth are not in "r5" but "in r1" or "r3" — that depends. The problem in this case is : We do not even know what to call a "neuronal state", since it is in fact a very complicated pattern of many millions of neurons "firing" to understand a mathematical truth. But ontologically this pattern of firing neurons "is" not the mathematical truth ! A truth is a logical thing, not a pattern of electrochemical events.

    We do not assume that the computer which can prove a mathematical truth from axioms and deductive rules has "insight" or "awareness", but its proof is correct anyway, since it is following logical rules. Thus to have a Platonic idea of a mathematical truth is human, but the robot does not need it to come to correct conclusions. You may call this "philosophy in the flesh", but the robot doesn't need it in this case. So once more : What are we speaking of ?

    Now we have r1, r2, r3, r4, r5 — and of course this is just a beginning...

    What's the reality of "the law of gravitation" ? We do not feel or see or measure it. What we measure is only the effect, not the law. Einstein has proven that Newtons "law" was only an approximation, but this is not a refutation. Should we call Einsteins gravitation "a new paradigm" ? In a sense it was ! It changed our thinking on space and time.

    But there is a paradigm of Christianity (with a personal god) as compared to a paradigm of Buddhism (without). A paradigm shift is replacing one model of explanation by some very different model. Einsteins model was superiour to Newtons model. The model "man created by God" is different from "man brought forth by evolution". But by re-interpretation they can be made compatible.

    I never denied "reality", I only said that we should be careful when using this difficult concept.

    Well, I leave it as a bone for you to gnaw at.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Charles

    I see your problem. I wonder, though, if there is not some basis for religious faith even without dualism. It would be hard to maintain such notions as immortality of the soul, perhaps, but this does not necessarily preclude religious experience.

    Science might give us the ultimate in explanation but explanation isn't everything. Any explanation is just a human picture of the world. We can take this two ways. On the one hand, any conceivable explanation will be in human terms. In this sense, the world is the way we ultimately will come to know it. One the other hand, a human picture is just a picture. Recognising this leads to the question of what the world is 'really' like beyond the picture but this makes no sense. Even to pose that question is to begin to sketch another picture of the 'real' beyond the real and whatever this picture might be, it will be a human picture. Nevertheless, a picture is still just a picture.

    I wonder (and my thoughts here are still very tentative) if there isn't something worthwhile in this paradox. One can't explain it, of course, but then in a sense one wouldn't want to be able to explain it. If one can't explain it, though, it moves into the category of the mystical — something that might manifest itself in experience but can't be objectified.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris

    I have difficulty with common definitions of religion. In the 21st Century, perhaps it's better to refer to world view? Views commonly classified as religious include Zen Buddhism, which is non dualistic and which concentrates on a practice leading to earthly enlightenment. Another religion is Orthodox Christianity, which is considered dualistic.

    When I "decloak" mentally from a weak state of objectivity to my subjective Orthodox Christian self, I have a more definite perspective. I think my Orthodox belief that the soul is bound to the body before death can accommodate the non dualistic understandings of the human mind made by neuroscience. After that (death), I acknowledge that I depend on a dualistic faith and in Mystery.

    I don't want to overly simplify. But since my mental construction includes a material view with boundaries set by religion. I acknowledge that necessitates separate domains of religion and science.

    Without using a behaviorist definition, which I find inadequate. I don't know how to define religion or spiritual or mystical outside of dualism. Maybe a materialist could define uncategorized and unconceptualized human experience as being holistic?

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Charles

    Roughly speaking, I understand dualism to consist of two independent sets of ontological facts.

    I guess I would characterise the mystical as the experience of something beyond the reach of human language. (Hubertus would rightly say that there are all kinds of things here and we need to start talking of 'mystical-1' and 'mystical-2' but I will just leave the last sentence as a necessary but not sufficient condition). I don't see why this cannot occur in a non-dualist world. What one has to do is to recognise a gap between epistemology (in the sense of what can be expressed and explained in language) and ontology. This is more like set and subset than two sets, although saying that is already saying too much, I fear.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Charles,

    So electrons are real, well as real as anything else. Take for instance the indicators on my car when they are lit are they working, when they are unlit are they working — actually neither is true as "working" for them means a constant change of state.

    Such it would appear is the current hypothesis for electrons, they are not planet like entities circling a nucleus but more akin to matter popping into and out of existence at multiple locations. But in our constrained way of thinking where does it go when it disappears and is it's re-appearance similar to the big bang — something out of nothing?

    Mike

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    RE responses from Mike, Chris, and Hubertus

    Because human reasoning is embodied, we are bound to metaphorical reasoning. The planetary model for atoms still makes sense in "daily life." But I concede to Mike that a cloud model probably makes more sense theoretically when dealing with atomic structure. But Mike aren't you stretching uncertainty principle a bit by translating it to constantly repeating "Big Bangs" at the subatomic level?

    Chris & Hubertus

    I'm still confused by the reasoning for mystical-1 and mystical-2. An ontological argument about dualism is about different realms of existence, not just word definitions.

    To me "mystical" is too loaded of a word to use from a materialist perspective. It would require constant definition. As a professing dualist, I think that I can appreciate the difficulty materialists have with uncategorized and unconceptualized experiences. Some materialists like Lakoff/Johnson simply deny the existence of these experiences. In the face of the reality of these experiences though, I suggest that materialists could use the term "holistic." As a holistic experience, I am thinking of something like Albert Schweitzer coming to his ethical "Reverence for Life."

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Mike and Charles

    According to Richard Feynman, who should know, 'If anyone says they understand quantum mechanics, they're lying. Nobody understands it.' I take this to mean two things. Firstly, the world of sub-atomic particles is beyond the metaphors of ordinary thinking. Secondly, that the mathematical language in which it is expressed is not translatable into ordinary language. Each of these has interesting philosophical consequences. The first might lead us to reflect on Charles's (Lakoff/Johnson's) view that 'we are bound to metaphorical reasoning'. The second seems to challenge the principle, which I have always been in two minds about, that all languages are translatable — which in turn has other consequences.

    Charles

    Maybe we do need mystical-1 and mystical-2. I am not a dualist but I still want the word 'mystical'. It is not synonymous with the word 'holistic' in my view. 'Uncategorized and unconceptualized experiences' may be 'holistic' but they may not be.

    To put all this another way, what I think is going on is this:

    • There are certain kinds of experiences that cannot be explained in materialistic terms.

    • One way to deal with these is to explain them in non-materialistic terms. This leads to dualism, which I take to be your view.

    • Another way is to explain them as 'merely subjective', as experiences that have no objective correlates (i.e. that are not experiences of anything) but are just 'mental' events like dreams or hallucinations. This I take to be Mike's view (apologies, Mike, if I got it wrong) and possibly Lakoff and Johnson's.

    • What I am looking for is a third option, one which takes these experiences as beyond explanation but nevertheless as experiences of something. Maybe this is incoherent. I'm interested to find out.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (07/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris

    I don't understand quantum mechanics. For daily life, I'll stay with the planetary atomic model that I leaned in a middle school industrial arts class 46 years ago, while making a simple electric motor. The old planetary model of the atom helped me understand Ohm's Law then and now.

    The word and concept of "mystical" remain confusing to me. Its domain seems to range from elves and fairies to medieval Roman Catholic Saints. Perhaps your materialist interpretation will help clarify.

    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris,

    That no one as yet understands quantum physics is not deniable and yet we do not hesitate to hypothesise how things could be. Each hypothesis creates a new metaphor so I cannot agree that we will never progress to a complete understanding. Do you argue that the language or ideas (if that it what it is) of mathematics cannot be translated? If not then however can it be taught except in silence?

    If like me you think that everything is capable of explanation at some point in future time then words like mystical are simply metaphors for the unknown. You are right that I consider some experiences as 'merely subjective' whether they are brought about by LSD, spiritual visitations, electrodes in the brain, a bad nightmare or religion.

    You ask for a third option which presumably lies somewhere between material and immaterial, allow me to propose the category of "unproven". Things in such a category should not be spoken about with conviction either way unless new evidence becomes available.

    I find inconsistencies and likenesses in arguments and hypotheses akin to someone playing the wrong musical note — such was my attention drawn to the "mini" big bang notion. That matter can enter and leave our observable universe is similar to the notion that drove Hawkins to consider that the big bang was a similar process to matter entering a black hole but with time being reversed.

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Mike

    Thanks for some interesting observations.

    The way I see quantum mechanics is this. It must be coherent within the mathematics but when we come to translate that it becomes incomprehensible because the metaphors used to describe it are contradictory — things that are waves in some circumstances are also particles in others, things can be in two places at once, things can influence one another even though they are kilometres apart, etc, etc. This suggests that the attempt to translate quantum mechanics into everyday language results not in silence but in nonsense. You can decide if this means that the maths is untranslatable or not.

    I am interested in your belief that 'everything is capable of explanation at some point in the future'. I presume the explanation you are suggesting is a scientific one. If so, then the claim would be true only if science were completable in principle and in practice. By completable, I mean that there would be no more questions left and that all the answers would be coherent and consistent with one another. It is by no means obvious to me that this would ever be the case. Quantum mechanics itself hints at the difficulties and, in addition, Godel's theorem provides an example of how the search for a complete, self-consistent logical system can come unstuck. In addition, I feel there is a peculiar kind of species arrogance (or perhaps a naïve faith) in thinking that the universe will necessarily be fully explicable within the constraints of human thought patterns, given that the latter are based on a set of brain functions cobbled together by the evolutionary requirements of Pleistocene Africa.

    In any case, even if science were completeable in principle, it may never be completed in practice. The cost of the Hadron Collider indicates that we may be reaching the practical limits of experiment in the sub-atomic sphere and investigations into deep space may require so much time that any result may not be worth having.

    As to my third option, no, it is not between material and immaterial — there is no such space. Given that there are limits to the explicable (see above), then maybe there are ways of apprehending what is beyond the explicable. As I said in our earlier conversation, I think experience comes before explanation.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris

    I don't want maths to be untranslatable that would mean there is a ceiling to our language or learning. I sort of see this like the creationist argument for the eye — it looks like it must be designed so it is (what else could explain it). If however by a series of intermediate stages it's current form can be traced to an origin then the mystery disappears, this I hope will be the way of the quantum mechanics.

    You're right, our species arrogance is a major impediment and this brings me back to the importance of trying to "think outside of the box" which you considered impossible in an earlier posting. If we can't we are forever destined to be this arrogant ape. Given our temporal constraints and the speed of light there are places in the universe we could never get to even with an infinite life, so I agree knowledge is always going to be limited and localised.

    I've heard it quoted that there are more possible brain states than atoms in the universe — not sure exactly what conclusion can be drawn from that but it's worth pondering on for awhile, over a cold beer methinks!

    Cheers

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Mike

    Re 'thinking outside the box'. If you mean abandoning our customary habits of thought or even trying to transcend the limits placed on our thought patterns by our brains, then yes, that might well be valuable. What I meant earlier was that we can only ever have limited success at this — we can only think how we are constrained to think.

    Maybe computers can extend the range of our thinking but even then there are limits both to the scope of the thinking and, more importantly perhaps, to our willingness to trust the results.

    As regards this last point, I understand that there is disagreement among mathematicians as to whether or not a result achieved by a computer that cannot be verified in detail by a human being constitutes a proof or not.

    And yes, that cold beer sounds like a very fine idea. More attractive right now to you than to me, though, I suspect. Here in Wellington the temperature is ranging from 4 to 11 deg C. I imagine it's a bit more summery in Warwickshire.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Chris and Mike,

    may I remind you that we are long since dependent on computer-results — intelligent or not — that we cannot really understand ?

    This was part of my argument with Chris : What we really have is r1-reality. What we get is r3-reality. But f.i. in QM, we do not really understand this r3, we only know that to our great surprise it seems to work.

    The real problem with "smart robots" would be trust : How would we know that they are not cheating and making fun of us ?

    The idea is not new ! It was introduced by Asimov in one of his robot stories : One of those "vast humming minds" tried to topple a bad regime. What could "it" do ? It manipulated market data, by this caused a revolt, and by this toppled the regime. This was written some 60 or more years back, but could be a scenario of today : How does anybody know this time, "who manipulated the market data" ? What are those data : r1 or r3 ?

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Hubertus,

    How do I really know if if you are not cheating and making fun of me, I mean really KNOW.

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Mind

    Mike,

    not even I myself do ! Does it make much of a difference ? Chris was eager to defend the reality of electrons. But what about the reality of "class struggle" or "sin" or "god's grace" ? Is all this r1 or r2 or r3 or r4 or what ? What do you see when you look into a mirror : r1-Mike or r77-Mike ? Reality is a difficult topic !

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/20/09)
    SUBJECT: sane society

    Dear all,

    among my hobby horses is a question that I call "Socratic" : What do we call a "sane" society ?

    As we all know, sometimes societies seem to be mad and ridden by fear and delusions : Witch craze, burning heretics, mass killing of "foreigners" or Jews or Blacks, "purges", etc..

    There are typical patterns of such behaviour, so that to speak of "collective neuroses" or "psychoses" seems appropriate, since similarities to the neuroses and psychoses of single persons are striking. So we may speak of "systems failure under stress". As a German, I am well aware of the preconditions that made the Nazis possible here : Loss of war 1918, rise of socialism and the Leninist Revolution of 1917, chaotic government of some 20 chancellors in only 14 years of "Weimar Republic", hyper-inflation in 1923, vast unemployment of >15% in the wake of "Black Friday" of 1929 and some more. The Nazis seemed to be able to restore order and prosperity in this situation. Hitler was greeted as a sort of Chomeini in 1932.

    Now this is a philosophical forum, not a political or historical one. But we cannot separate the question of "what does 'good' society mean ?" from some practicel observations. It would be a mere play of words.

    And a note added : 'Good' society is not the same as 'sane' society and both are not the same as 'thriving' society. To illustrate this point : A healthy and wealthy person need neither be good nor sane, as any mafia-boss is proof of. Thus it is in fact a very philosophical and "analytical" topic ! A little excerpt below is showing the problem in a strange light. What do you think ?

    Hubertus

    Excerpt from

    Torrey, E. Fuller : The Nazi doctors: medical killing and the psychology of genocide.

    Psychology Today, November 1, 1986 | COPYRIGHT 1986 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

    // ...

    Much more common were physicians motivated by altruism, who believed that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology." There is Karl Brandt, for example, who idolized Albert Schweitzer and Adolf Hitler. Prevented from joining Schweitzer in Africa because Lambarene was in French territory, Brandt instead became Hitler's personal physician and initiated the program to kill sick children. Following his trial at Nuremberg in 1948 Brandt said: "I have always fought in good conscience for my personal convictions and done so uprightly, frankly, and openly."

    //

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    Yes, you are right, a knotty subject.

    A connected topic, which interests me, is the question of social engineering. Can we do things to improve society? Or are all our efforts doomed to failure? In one sense, these questions lead us back into territory we were exploring in earlier conversations. If we think society can be improved, then what do we base our improvements on? What part do religion and science and other systems of belief play in the matter?

    For example, I imagine Karl Brandt's view that 'National Socialism is nothing but applied biology' is connected in some way with eugenics, which in the early years of last century was a highly respected academic discipline — a branch of science in its own right. Similarly, today, we are perilously close to using evolutionary biology as a basis for social engineering. Not to mention the science of climate change.

    And we should, of course, mention Karl Popper's view from 'The Open Society and its Enemies' that the only viable form of social engineering is tinkering.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hi,

    Every time I use my car I know I'm successful when I reach my destination. The questions raised by Hubertus of "Good" or "Sane" or "Thriving " societies have meanings for him that may very well differ from Hitler or Stalin or me.

    So rather than argue over fundamental different but unspoken perceptions perhaps Hubertus could remove some of the uncertainty in my mind and state what qualifies for him as "A good Society".

    I would rather he puts up the coconuts for me to knock down.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris and Mike,

    to avoid "preaching", and because I really want to have some answers from your side, I only try some hints, hopefully stimulating.

    First : The German society under the Nazis surely was a "thriving" society. Without the Holocaust and the War, Hitler would be praised today as one of the grand masters of politics of the last century. But there was "something wicked" in him and his followers that was needed to bring the Holocaust and the War about. It is this hidden wickedness that should rise our attention. What is it ?

    And look at another example : During the 1960s, there was this "cultural revolt" in the West of the Hippies and Marcuse and "Paris Mai" and "counterculture" and "New Age" and "Yellow Submarine" and all that. The general idea was : Our "thriving" industrial society is mad and maddening and alienating humans from their true potential of humanity and mutual love and wit and artistry etc.. This was the message of "Hair" and many other movies.

    This time it was not Hitler or the Nazis or Stalin etc., but "consumer society" itself, that was called bad. "Destroy what destroys you !" and "Tune in — drop out!" were typical slogans "in the name of a better and more humane society."

    Now stick these hints together to come at some first conclusions !

    And, gentlemen, may I direct your attention to this concept of mental sanity :



    CATCH-22. Catch-22 is the title of Joseph Heller's 1961 novel. A brilliant satire set on the imaginary island of Pianosa during World War II, the novel centers around bomber pilot Captain John Yossarian's efforts to survive. Flying bombers in World War II was deadly business, and Yossarian's commanding officer kept raising the number of missions a pilot had to complete before earning a leave. When Yossarian tries to get out of the service by feigning insanity, he collides head-on with Catch-22, a military regulation claiming that since a man must be insane to agree in the first place to go on bombing missions, his request for a mustering out of the military is proof positive that he is sane. Yossarian cannot get out of the service. The novel became a cultural icon of the 1960s because it spoofed large bureaucracies and their naive convictions about their ability to bring order to a chaotic world. By the mid- 1960s, the term "catch-22" had entered the American vocabulary as a synonym for bureaucratic rules that possess no logic or sense and whose consequences are counterproductive. Many Americans came to view the U.S. military effort in Indochina as one enormous example of catch-22.

    REFERENCE: Joseph Heller, Catch-22, 1961.

    From p.87 of : Historical Dictionary of the 1960s, Book by James S. Olson and Samuel Freeman (Eds.); Westport, CT : Greenwood Press, 1999. 554 pgs.

    http://www.questia.com/read/15356238?title=Historical%20Dictionary%20of%20the%201960s

    Please, Mike, don't tell me that everybody is "sane on his own terms". I won't slay people on their convictions — well, not generally. But I still think that there is such a thing as mental sanity. All religions have been convinced of that. But of course you are against. Now it's your turn.



    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus,

    There are some diseases that only arise and spread when populations reach certain sizes — hold on to this idea for the moment.

    There are certain sizes of societies and groups that function well. For decision making about a dozen people, like a jury, is an efficient viable size. For a sustainable unit about a hundred people is about right.

    When societies increase beyond everyone knowing everyone else then people tend to become objects and "means to an end".

    I would not like to live in such a tribal society but from what I have seen of members of such societies they do exhibit more morality and less "wickedness" then many so called advanced people.

    The "new age" rejection of today's ever increasing Nanny or Big Brother society is one I can understand and to a considerable amount admire from my anarchist viewpoint. So when things go wrong, as they will do, it's easy in an anonymous society to blame the Jews, the Muslims, the immigrants, the Gypsies, the Bankers — all of course are non-human and can be treated accordingly.

    20 — Love, your service

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/27/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hello all, seems to be a dispirited graveyard here ! All threads dead ! All fallen victim to piggies flu ?

    Mike, don't be so gloomy ! Overall, we have succeded to pretty good society of 50 million people and up. This is "playing by the rules" and "legal justice" and "democracy". Seems to work. Very efficient by the way : Enormous output of goods and services. People are enormous longlived today and well fed.

    The question of good society is asking something different. It's referring to Marcuse and to "Yellow Submarine" and Osho and "Hair" and "New Age" and "where have all the flowers gone ?"

    The Beatles and the Hippies were not asking for the nanny-state. They were asking for a state full of life. They were asking for a more reasonable society like in "Harold and Maude".

    Look at the telly in the evening — what do you see ? Crime, violence, neuroses, paranoia, war and killing and raping etc.. It's a doggish and apish world with villains and corrupt police like in "Dark Knight".

    Well, people like this stuff, because life otherwise is boring. If you have no mad ripper at home, you love to see him on the screen.

    Thus we are confronting a dead society with a mad one. So where is "good" society — if anybody cares a trifle. This was my question.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/28/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    A good society? Either you have it or you don't. If you don't have it, you have to change something. This means someone will be disadvantaged because people behave in a way that is optimised to the existing environment. Crudely speaking to give to one group of people you have to take away from someone else. Thus, in order to have a better society you have to evaluate the relative needs of various groups of people.

    There are two bases for this evaluation, it seems to me. You can appeal to justice or to morality. Depending on which you choose you have different approaches and different solutions. Justice is based in the notion of human rights and in principles such as fairness. It leads to changes in the law and in government institutions. Morality is based on principles and values exhibited in human relationships and leads to pressures to change individual human behaviour.

    So? That is my first thought on the territory of the question. Something to shoot at.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/28/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris, at least a sign of life again ! Thank you so much for this !

    Well, I am once more aiming my gun. Before I enter a text, I will stress a simple fact from the theory of games and from the Jazz shuffle : When people transform from a bad and mad to a better society, they are not taking away save bad things. They are adding to each others well being. When you are making music with friends or having a good talk, you trade your time and effort for the joy of communicating with friends. Thus it is a give and take and not a nanny state. The whole attitude of utopias is fundamentally stupid, since they do not understand this principle. Utopias are the work of bureaucrats and technocrats, who are a horrible bunch. The true entertainer is an artist who turns a chaos into a big enjoyable fun for all ! The creative intelligence of the artist and entertainer is of as much value as the calculating intelligence of the engineer and beureaucrat. We tend to forget this fact. We shouldn't let logicians and mathematicians and engineers define what to call intelligence. They just don't know. Maybe Feynman was one exception, and Einstein was another. They both were playful.

    And now look at this :

    Of course people always fear to be molested with new models of utopias. This is not on my mind and never was.

    But there are some truly philosophical problems involved : As you all know, political philosophy has always been clustered around notions of utopia, whether socialist up to Marxist or liberal up to Hayek and Nozick and others. To think that you could ignore the topic of utopia altogether is naive. Locke, Rousseau, Kant — but all socialists and libertarians too — are dreaming of some better world to build for mankind. They all differ on the specific definition of what "better" comes to and what the best way to go there could be.

    Don't tell me that it is all without use. I just read on the Declaration of Universal Human Rights, from which several UNO-institutions derive. See http://www.betterworldlinks.org/index.php?cat=1309&PHPSESSID=bb3129 ! We all know that there are all sorts of violations of those declared principles. There should be no slavery, nor torture, nor death penalties and many other bad things, that hurt human dignity, but they are everywhere. There are "blood diamonds" and land-mines and the Military use of children (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_use_of_children and "trading + trafficking" of humans — mostly women and children for prostitution (see http://www.antislavery.org/english/default.aspx + http://www.catwinternational.org/ ). There is mass raping as a military means etc.etc..

    But does all this mean that the UDHR and the work of Amnesty International and countless other efforts to protect human dignity is meaningless ? I don't think so. Thus in my opinion to speak of a better society is not a pointless endeavour.

    The real problem seems to be the question of where to draw the line between philosophy and politics. But this is a very philosophical problem : By what argument are the Taliban "entitled" to lock away their wives and to "marry" girls of 8 or 9 years by the argument, that this is just how they did since centuries and one should respect other cultures ?

    Slavery was abolished in the West during the 1860s, but women suffrage in most western countries was not introduced before 1919. Workers were given less than their share in elections before around 1900, and the "Jim Crow"-laws assured that American Blacks have been practically excluded from politics in the former slave-states up to the 1960s. So it always was a mixture of politics and philosophy, of defining what it means to be "entitled" to some human right. Jefferson, author of "all men are born free and equal" was a slave-holder himself, and Aristotle and Thomas thought slavery to be a part of the natural order of things.

    Thus to speak of "human freedom and dignity" is meaningless without some definition of "what to call a human, a freedom, a dignity" under specific circumstances.

    And look up Skinner in "Walden Two" and "Beyond Freedom and Dignity". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden_Two and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_Freedom_and_Dignity !

    Since Socrates and his followers it is impossible to keep philosophy and politics neatly apart. The problem is : You cannot separate the indivídual from society. But of course I can imagine a society where people are respecting each other as in "The Decent Society" of Avishai Margalit (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avishai_Margalit ).

    To put it differently : A good society is not different in principle from a good environment or a good home : You can go for it or you don't, it doesn't come by itself. A good society is a task, not a fate.

    And it does not mean "Brave New World" or "1984" — that is rubbish.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (07/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hi All.

    If I understand the term "tinkering" correctly then I agree with Chris (and Popper) that the only viable form of social engineering is tinkering. My experience as an industrial manager is that the actual effects of large-scale "culture change" efforts are almost impossible to predict. Even on the scale of a mid size manufacturing concern of around 3000 people it is difficult to ensure that radical change yields benefits that are promised or expected. I was a factory manager (about 350 people) in such a company that tried to embrace Total Quality Management in the early 90s. The effort failed to bring about the promised and desired benefits even though a shedload of money was spent and a lot of time, training and effort was invested by well meaning managers (including myself).

    There were many detailed and specific reasons for the failure but I would highlight two general factors that were operative in the company and that I think would be operative in any large and disparate group of people who are in a relationship of mutual dependence.

    The first is the truism that old habits die hard (and the corollary that new habits fade quickly). Some people in the company were what we called "heat seekers" — normally young turks who were pre-disposed to embrace change for its own sake — and who wanted to make their mark in a game where the rules had changed enough to dilute the advantage enjoyed by more experienced players. But most of the people in the company wanted to continue with what they knew best — the established habitual ways of working. It is obvious that the latter group were not committed to the change — but actually neither were the heat seekers — they were apt to drop TQM as soon as the novelty wore off and as soon as it appeared that there was no real advantage to them — and then cast about for the next industrial nostrum.

    The second factor is that like people everywhere, the people at all levels in the company had vested interests that they wanted to protect or enhance. The habitual and comfortable ways of working mentioned in the last paragraph are one vested interest for a lot of people, another is the satisfaction gained from being able to deploy hard earned knowledge and skills and be recognised for this, and yet another is the garnering of power, pay and prestige that comes from rising up the hierarchy of the company.

    People will generally use whatever power they can garner to defend or promote what they see as their interests — and this tends to derail or divert large-scale social engineering plans. Hi-jacking of someone else's project for our own purposes is an effective strategy.

    Of course I am oversimplifying (I could write quite a long essay on what went wrong), and I am probably giving too strong an impression that there was a lot of cynical manipulation (there was some — at senior levels mainly), but nevertheless I think these are two factors that strongly militate against the success (in its own terms anyway) of any social engineering project.

    If we think about what is necessary for a project, any project, to succeed, then we must in my view reach certain general conclusions. If we leave blind luck aside then one of two things has to be true. Either we have to be able to programme a series of contributing changes and actions and set them running, or we have to frame an end goal state and a starting position and then initiate in a hands-on cycle of planning, guiding and pushing, monitoring and responding to unplanned factors — until we reach our end state.

    The "programming" option depends radically on us being able to define the starting conditions and to specify the transformations that will take us from the starting state to the end state. We cannot even do this dependably with computer software of any real complexity. We have to test off-line and work out the bugs before deploying the software — even then subtle bugs can remain to undermine the whole project. How much less likely is it that we can "programme" a large-scale change in society as a whole. I would say that we are nowhere near being able to do so and any attempt is vanishingly unlikely to succeed. And even if we did get to a state of psychological and sociological expertise where "social engineering" was more than a metaphor, I suspect that the reflexive nature of social science would decree that any programme, no matter how well worked out, could be subverted by active human minds.

    So, for the foreseeable future at least, we are left with the "management" option.

    Perhaps the clearest framing of what is required to manage change is in the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. I.e. that we define what we want to achieve, we plan a reasonable way of achieving it, we start to carry out our plans, we monitor and check how they are progressing, and we act on what we find out to modify our plans — and so on through an iterative PDCA process.

    The trouble with PDCA is that it gets more and more difficult to manage as the scope of the project grows. How many large scale civil engineering or software engineering projects either fail or become barely controlled resource sinks? I have not carried out proper research but a quick Google search turned up the following conclusions about large IT projects.

    ·   an IT project is more likely to be unsuccessful than successful

    ·   about 1 out of 5 IT projects is likely to bring full satisfaction

    ·   the larger the project the more likely the failure

    (http://www.it-cortex.com/Stat_Failure_Rate.htm)

    IT projects and civil engineering projects at least have a chance of having the goal state clearly defined. In larger scale societal terms we can't even agree in the first place on what we want to achieve.

    So — I think that modest projects are what we are left with.

    I need to stop now — but I would be interested in putting my view on what a sane society might be — later.

    Des

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Thank you very much for your valuable answer, Des ! Against what may be expected, I agree with almost every aspect of your answer, since I have been to the industry myself (as a physicist and software-engineer), so I can confirm your experiences firsthand.

    Now for the second hand : People learn hard by hard experience. While the Germans up to 1945 were thought of as belligerent, nowadays they are seen as almost pacifists. Every single German soldier that gets killed in action in Afghanistan is used as an argument by half of our MPs to go out of that region. The experiences of the USA GIs are very different. I do not know about the experiences of Russia and China during and after the WW-II, but it surely was terrible.

    I tend to think "with a distance". This means : While being in the bush, we see neither jungle nor desert. But we know that there are jungles and desert, and that "by necessity" there must be a transition zone. In this same way we know that there are "pre-modern" states and "modern" states, which have been "pre-modern" some time ago. So there must be a transition-zone too. The whole of Middle East is in a transition now to modernity, since it has to be. There is no alternative to modernity if you want to get at all the good things that it has to offer. But as in your example the men are against, since they want to protect their privileges, while the women are for modernity, since they want to study and to travel and to make music and read books they like and marry the husband they prefer. Thus after many conflicts and some generations the transition to modernity will have happened — even in Iran and in Saudi-Arabia etc.. It takes time, but there is no alternative.

    Such a transition is a long and difficult struggle. I won't call it "mere tinkering". But there must be some real force from within and from without to bring change about. The end of WW-I in Germany and Russia and much of Europe was "a twilight of princes". A whole class of nobility was gone and a new class — mostly socialist — was brought to power for the first time. But it needed another war and mass-killings to bring the transition to modernity to an end. The Americans did not modernize, because by history they started from an "open society" of immigrants. They had no princes and no bishops to be toppled. In this they were lucky.

    The Japanese have been modernized after the impact of commodore Perry in 1853 and by the genius of Meiji Tenno from 1867. But it took WW-II and the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some years of MacArthur's regime to re-install a modern democracy. There was a new rise during the 1950s that culminated in the Tokyo-Olympics of 1964. Thus there has been a lot of change. India was under the sway of London from 1857 up to the Nehrus and Gandhis.

    Thus my approach is : Look at "before and aft" and then look at the transition. It can be done. The real question is : At what price and in what time. Do we need WW-III to make the world "ready for a better modernity" ? I hope not.

    And then : After modernity the real problems may begin — from a philosophical point of view. As I wrote : "good" society is different from "thriving" society. The idea of a good society as depicted in "Yellow Submarine" or in "Hair" is different from that of Franciscan monks and nuns and different from a Bacardi advertizement. Thus from a philosophical point of view — and this is a philosophical forum, not a political one — I was asking what to call a "good" society.

    Most people will agree that "Brave New World" does not depict a good society, and neither does "1984". But does Callenbach's "Ecotopia" ? I doubt it. Or does Skinners "Walden Two" or Huxley's "Island" ? Very questionable. Thus there are a lot of things to debate here even in a strictly philosophical context.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    OK. Let's talk about what makes a 'good' society. What do you mean by 'good' here? Or alternative, as per your earlier post, how do you define 'human', 'dignity' and 'freedom'?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris, I am tired at 0:30 am here locally, but some first hints :

    1 We don't want utopia in the sense of "Brave New World" — why not ?

    2 We don't want the nanny-state — same question.

    3 We don't want "1984" — why not ?

    4 We don't like any other form of totalitarian order — Nazi or Stalinist or Maoist or whatever. Why not ?

    Read this as a first commentary on the notion of "freedom and dignity".

    While BnW is not "bad" in the sense "1984" is, it is not assuring "freedom and dignity". Or would you think otherwise ?

    Now change the perspective :

    Just think of all examples of "good society" you have met in your lifetime. Chatting with friend, making music with friends, being left alone but in a friendly environment, etc.etc.. What did those situations have in common — if anything.

    And now check against : What situations have been awful ? When did you find human society disgusting ? Why ?

    All this is only "clearing the place" for our debate. There will be much more complex questions to come. I didn't even speak of "realization". I am still speaking of possible goals.

    And don't forget : Even the nicest persons can go on our nerves after some time. We need some ruffle and rage and conflict then and now. We need "good enemies" and competition and a good fight. I wouldn't like to be a hobbit ("too good"), but neither to be with the Sauron-folks ("too bad").

    These are about the conditions from where to start.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    Okay. What next?

    And what do you mean by 'the nanny state'?

    Chris

  • FROM: Des Edwards   (08/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    You have obviously a solid familiarity with history and politics— I am afraid that the same is not true of me — although living in Belfast has a way of pushing a certain sort of politics down people's throats.

    Anyway — I am very interested to hear what you have to say about the German people and their general move towards a distaste for war. I am seeing a similar effect starting to happen in Northern Ireland — I very much doubt that the "Real IRA" or other dissidents will be able to force our (still somewhat divided) community back into armed conflict because the vast majority of people are sick of violence and I think now very aware that it solves nothing — or if it does then it does so at a high cost and leaves a legacy of even greater problems.

    On to the subject of a sane society.

    Perhaps it is just my taste — but I think we cannot talk about what a sane society would be like without first talking about what a sane person would be like.

    I have this memory of coming across the distinction between indivisible and divisible goods — I thought it was somewhere in Greek philosophy but I can't find it. Anyway here is the piece of thinking influenced by it:

    Goods are those things that people need, want and desire.

    Some of these goods are wholesome, some are unwholesome or harming — in the extreme they are poisonous. Presumably some are also neutral in their effect — or more likely — of mixed or indeterminate effect.

    The sane person will desire wholesome goods.

    Wholesome can also include that which brings immediate pleasure.

    But who gets to say what is wholesome and what is not.

    Wholesomeness is fairly clear when we are talking about physical well-being — or at least the idea of unwholesomeness is fairly clear — for instance very sugary foods have little or no nutritional value and tend to rot the teeth.

    But wholesomeness is less clear when we are talking about emotional and mental well being. For instance Richard Dawkins would have us do away with religion — but there are others, including myself (and I am a kind of atheist) who think he throws the baby out with the bathwater.

    I will take physical wholesomeness as the paradigm for wholesomeness in all of the other modes.

    That which is physically wholesome allows the natural life cycle of the organism to unfold with the greatest number of degrees of freedom that the various stages in the life cycle will support and that the environment of the time will allow. It is not a complicated concept — in the adolescent stage in my own life I could never have leapt over tall buildings unaided — but it was reasonable that this stage would support my ability to leap over thigh-high obstacles. I could not have done this if my physical development had been distorted by an unwholesome and unrelenting regimen of fast food and video games — or if my nutritional intake had been so poor because of extended famine that my muscle and bone growth had been stunted.

    We can analogise from physical wholesomeness to mental and emotional wholesomeness. For this post I want to gather these modes under one heading — that of spiritual wholesomeness. I ask that you do not read a lot more into the term other than what you find in this posting — although I deliberately choose it for some of its historical connotations.

    Physical well being and spiritual well being are mutually dependent ("Mens sana in corpore sano"). A useful construct we could use to encapsulate this interdependence is Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs (or if you prefer a simpler and more prosaic construct then the hierarchy due to Altderfer).

    The idea of a physical life cycle is reasonably clear — but the idea of a spiritual life cycle somewhat less so. One simple but profound construct that can help us think about it is the Hindu cycle of student, householder and retiree. A secular construct that is also useful is Eric Erikson's eight stages of human development. (Kholberg's Stages of Moral Development are also interesting here).

    Some goods are zero-sum — one person's gain is always someone else's loss — physical resources are of this nature.

    Some goods are non-zero-sum — one person can gain some good without anyone else suffering a loss — most knowledge resources are of this nature.

    The sane person will seek to share both.

    But for sanity to prevail the manner of sharing is important.....

    I have to go now — but I will add more later — thoughts welcome?

    Des

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Yes, Des, thoughts are welcome ! We still are in a "brainstorming phase". Your hints at Maslow and Kohlberg and to the Hindu life-stages are useful for a start. Only this moment I am a bit occupied, but I will be back on all this soon.

    Hello Chris ! You seem a bit confused now. But my "why-questions" were serious ! Try to give some answers by you own invention. Of course I have thought of it a bit, but I would like to see it with your eyes. May be you see something that missed me ?

    Overall only some general hints :

    My whole philosophy can be concentrated into one sentence : "What future for mankind should we opt for in all honesty — and why ?"

    So I am not asking "What future will we get most probably ?" which would be the question of the futurologists.

    I am not asking "What future do we want to get at or to avoid ?" which would be the question of the utopians and scifi-people.

    My question is very "Socratic" : "What future for mankind SHOULD we opt for IN ALL HONESTY — and WHY ?" Thus I am asking for justification of a goal !

    The added "in all honesty" means : We could opt back to the world of times past — some mythical "golden era" or the assumed "happy life" of Aborigines and Bushmen "near to nature and the gods". But this would not be "honest". Only a small minority of people would opt for such a world. But think of the world of the hippies or of the world of the hobbits or of the world of Huxley's "Island" (available on the internet).

    Once more : My question is "SHOULD we go there ?"

    The strange fact seems to be, that we have less trouble debating endlessly "the provability of God" or "the meaning of Gods Grace" — just because most people don't care a trifle. This sort of "philosophy" is like solving a sudoku : A nice brain-twister without relevance for most people. But we seem to have trouble debating "a good future for mankind" just because it is relevant.

    It is like former belligerent Germans and Japanese turning into peace loving pacifists : During all of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries all leading philosphers — Locke, Hume, Kant, Rousseau, Marx and J-S Mill and Spencer and many others — were obsessed with peace and good government and "improving the lot of humankind". But after the "second Thirty Years War" (1914-1945) thinkers got overwhelmed from pessimism and fled into formalism and "analytical philosophy". Since I am an optimist by nature — while not a naive one but very aware of all the cruelties in the world — I do not shun the "hot iron" of "good society".

    Of course nobody is obliged to take part in this debate, but perhaps we could change the tide now.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Des

    I like your definition of wholesomeness in terms of maximising degrees of freedom and the idea of extending this into 'spiritual wholeness'. Having been through various periods of political fervour in my life, I am now at a stage where I am more inclined to define the sane society in terms of what it should not be or do than what it should. Some sort of judicious balance between creating opportunities for people and leaving them alone seems the right sort of recipe to me.

    Hubertus

    Yes, I am confused but only by your typical method of firing off lots of ideas — I finish up not knowing where to start.

    Your question 'What future for mankind should we opt for in all honesty — and why?' sounds to me like it is asking for some utopian solution, which you elsewhere seem to reject in total. I am not a fan for utopias other than as dramatic fictional examples of the application of certain political principles. Attempts to put them into practice have generally resulted in unforeseen and often disastrous consequences. Thus, in the spirit of my answer to Des (above), I think I would probably rephrase your question as 'What futures for mankind should we try to avoid — and how can we do so?'

    And if you would like a specific starting point from me, I repeat my question 'What do you mean by "the nanny state"?' Where I live we went through the exercise twenty-years ago of demolishing the welfare state in the name of right-wing economic ideology. Some of the social consequences of this exercise have been very undesirable, in my view. Recent governments have been trying to repair some of the damage and have been accused, in consequence, in some quarters, of redeveloping a 'nanny state'. The question here is to what extent should the state concern itself with the welfare of its citizens. This leads to a second point in my response to Des — finding the appropriate balance between creating opportunities and laissez-faire.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society



    Chris, now we are getting at something. We need not hurry.

    I am reading this time some books on "human dignity" and how and why it has become the fad of the day with "General Declaration" and "amnesty international" and many more in that direction. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights. Bentham ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Bentham ) once called human rights "nonsense on stilts". Of course he personally was the nicest of chaps, but as a jurist he knew very well, that laws are man-made, and that they have to be specific and enforceable. Thus after the atrocities of the Nazis and the Stalinists the natural advice would not be to return to God or to "natural right" or to "human rights", but to stricter regulations of what can be avoided — exactly in your sense. Thus instead of writing "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_Independence_(United_States) ) it should read : "We declare that all humans living in these United States of America — including blacks and other coloured people and including women and the poor and the homo- and bi-sexuals and the mad and the disabled and others — are protected by law against any trespassing of the state into their personal property and life and liberties and against any discrimination or exclusion from general rights granted to the citizens as long as no specific charges of violating accepted law are telling otherwise." This may not be the best way of saying it, I just made it up extempore, but you see the idea of Bentham and me behind it : Don't blow hot air around by invoking God and human right and dignity, just state what you are resolved to stand up for.

    But you see the problem : Blowing grandiose hot air is cheap, writing down commitments to obligations is not. Thus it took another 200 years and many fights for "civil liberties" to get at nearly full rights for coloured people and women and homosexuals and some other groups even in the USA. So much on "self evident truth" ! A cynic would restate the Declaration in the form : "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all white male persons of property are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property."

    Bentham was not objecting the happiness of mankind, he was objecting "nonsense on stilts". And so am I.

    That I am rejecting utopias — as you correctly remembered — is from my "dynamical" approach : Man is a learning and inventing animal. He is not out for happiness, but for news and adventures and learning and experiencing and exploring. Even little children are eager to explore the world and to learn and to try different things and to build worlds out of words and building bricks. Man is a nosy and roaming rat. Thus all utopias are "closed worlds" and are the typical inventions of stupid perfectionist that do not understand the true nature of man as an inventive being of phantasy and freedom.

    I suggested to look at all your personal experiences with what was good or not good in your social life — and then ask what made the difference. From your personal experience you know that you don't like to be kicked around and bullied, but you don't like to be told what is good or bad all the time either. So you hate to be told "don't smoke, don't eat soft-ice, don't climb mountains, don't drink beverages, don't do this and don't do that — because it is all detrimental to your health !" That's the nanny state I spoke of. Remember that what "John the Savage" was asking from Mustafa Mond in "Brave New World" was "a right to be unhappy". Look up the end of chapter XVII of Brave New World on this, and read again (or for the first time) all of chaps. XVI + XVII ! See http://www.huxley.net/bnw/sixteen.html !

    There is much to think about !

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    Thanks for that. I agree with much of what you say. A couple of points of qualification, though.

    I agree that humans have needs for creativity and exploration but I am not sure that those needs are necessarily all that high on the priorities of many people. I wonder, for example, how many Russians feel unequivocal about the collapse of the Soviet system. If your top priority is getting by and raising a family, as I think is the case for very many people, then all the freedom generated by a neo-con liberal atmosphere does not mean very much, especially when it is accompanied by a significant loss of security.

    Des's reference to Maslow is relevant here.

    And, perhaps, leads to the matter of the nanny state. I agree that we want to avoid undesirable interference but what does 'undesirable' mean? Personally, I think I would be dead by now if the state and other agencies had not kept on telling me, over ten years or more, that smoking was bad for me until I finally paid attention and gave up. That said, I also agree with John Savage. I too want the right to be unhappy. Where does the balance lie?

    If we are being practical, we need to get a view of particular issues, such as:

    •   free education

    •   free public health

    •   state investment in science

    •   state investment in the arts

    •   law and order

    •   defence

    For some people anything short of libertarianism is the nanny state. I don't take that view.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    Have you inadvertently substituted psychology for philosophy here? Being mad, or ridden by fear, or delusional are individual psychological states, not political or social. Societies don't burn witches or heretics. Individual people or relatively small groups of people do the actual burning. Individuals, not an anonymous society, consent to this. The dynamics are subjects for anthropology and sociology and social psychology.

    Also, except for natural events like tsunamis, volcanic explosions and asteroids hitting planet Earth, there are no mass killings. An individual takes up a weapon or uses his hands and/or feet against other individuals.

    Doesn't it become a "mere play of words" to go from "sane society" to "good society" to "thriving society," if there is no pause for consideration of the defining issues? Isn't it actually doing what you call "blowing grandiose hot air" to dismiss Natural Law and Human Rights without even allowing for their proper definition?

    Is it really rational, as you suggest, to extrapolate from one's personal experience to global definitions of "good" and "bad?" And isn't the philosophical issue really about good and evil? Bad is more a wishy-washy definition of an individual's perceived psychological state or of an individual's perceived social or material situation.

    Apparently you don't like the American Declaration of Independence (1776), or the UN Declaration of Human Rights, or Amnesty International's Human Rights praxis. What will be the criteria for determining your "stricter regulations of what can be avoided?" And who would you have be the regulator for the stricter regulations?

    When you declare that truths are not self-evident are you suggesting there is another way to determine truth? Or are you declaring there is no such thing as truth?

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Great questions, Charles ! Too tired this moment to formulate an answer, but bristling with doing so — on every single question.

    Only this much for the moment : While it is true that only single humans are acting responsibly, it is also true, that there can be collective madness as in pogroms and crusades and witch-hunts etc.. There are some well known mechanism to bring such behaviour about. Simply see the movies "The Wave" or in the other direction "Freedom Writers". Or think of Leni Riefenstahls "Triumph of the Will" ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025913/ ). To insist that people are personally responsible is not wrong, but missing the essential fact, that something like collective madness is possible and well known. Cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment by Zimbardo (see http://www.lucifereffect.com/ ). Thus a "good" society would try to avoid situations where people can fall into collective madness.

    The terms "good", "sane", and "thriving" society are difficult but valid in the same way as to differentiate between "good", "sane", and "thriving" person would be valid. Speer surely was a "thriving" person, even a bright and able one, but probably neither "good" nor (in a sense) "sane". Most Nazi-greats — including Hitler himself — were very effective, and so was Nazi-Germany. Thus the only valid objection against my classification of "good", "sane", and "thriving" society in my opinion would be that it needs some refinement.

    More rebuttals to come, but thank you for opposition anyway.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles

    You seem to suggest that morality can only reside in individuals. I am not sure this is always necessarily true. If laws embody ethical principles, then it is surely possible to have evil laws and a political system that enacts evil laws would be an evil system. Or have I misunderstood you?

    In addition, in Hubertus's defence, I am not sure that he was necessarily suggesting that a 'good' society was one that was morally good. He likened the use of good here to the use in 'a good environment' or 'a good home', which would suggest issues of quality rather than morality.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles, this is my second answer to your many questions.

    You write : "The dynamics are subjects for anthropology and sociology and social psychology." This is factually true, but if this is all that can be said, than the whole of political philosophy from Plato via Hobbes and Kant to "human rights" can be dumped to the waste basket, since you cannot "prove" the value of democracy or of the liberation of slaves or women or free thinking. All this has been justified as "natural". I know of no fairy tale that assumes democracy instead of monarchy as a natural form of regime. In most cultures the legal status of women is weak, and slavery was taken for granted by Aristotle and Thomas.

    To put it differently : The arguments for human rights etc. were not first introduced by the philosophers, but they were introduced by practitioners of politics and only then refined by the philosophers. Abolition of slavery and liberation of the women came as a social and economic necessity, and only then the needed arguments for justification were published. Philosophers provided the arguments that were needed. This can be seen in Locke's "First Treatise", where he tried to reject the work of Filmer, who defended the prerogatives of the king. Filmer and Locke were arguing as advocates for certain parties before the bench of public judgement. Philosophers are almost never proving anything, they are advocates trying to convince an audience of interested parties. The very idea of a scientific philosophy of human things (as different from epistemology and logics) is a great misleading nonsense.

    I come to the conclusion that in a time of "analytical philosophy" this is one cause of our modern (!) reluctance to debate political questions in philosophy at all. Hume was — together with Adam Smith and Hutcheson and Mandeville and others — a member of "Scottish Moralists". Like the "philosophes" of the Enlightenment — including Kant — they were not so much interested in analyzing concepts and arguments, but "improving the lot of real humans". They were thinking and arguing about "real" problems, not formal ones. To reduce Kant to an analyzer of formal arguments is presenting him in a very false light. He was an admirer of Rousseau and was as much interested in the well being of real humans. His "critical work" was meant to clear the ground for "free and reasonable" speech against defenders of the "Old Order" of monarchies. The same could be said of Locke.

    Thus we cannot separate philosophy from psychology and sociology and politics, since all those "applied sciences" are using arguments, and the philosopher's job is to improve arguments as "mental instruments" in any debate. You cannot improve a scalpel without knowing the work of the surgeon who is using it.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    I was waiting for you to respond to what I thought was Charles's main point — his questioning of your seeming rejection of human rights as a basis for political philosophy. This seems to me a worthwhile topic (and one which would help get this discussion focussed). So:

    What are human rights? And are they a valid basis for a political theory? If they aren't, then what would form a valid basis?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris, your are right on "human rights" and you are right on my concept of "good" in "good society". I couldn't keep up with the pace of you and Charles. Thus I offer the following as a first clarification. I will put another answer specifically on "human rights" next time.

    You probably know of the concept of "reification", which means "looking at some person or cultural concept as if it is a thing" (re). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification_(Marxism). But human institutions like the state or the law are man-made institutions, not god-made or nature-made. Thus we can look at them as we look at houses.

    But conservative people tend to oppose such a view and call the law and the state "god-made" or "nature-made" to "conserve" them by making them "untouchable".

    The concept of "rei-fication" must be seen in opposition to "personi-fication" : You can destroy and misuse an object, but you should not destroy or misuse a person. There are border-cases : Is kicking a dog allowed ? There was a long way from looking upon slaves and women as "objects" to looking at them as "persons" with "human dignity and autonomy".

    My point here is : Our modern philosophy tends to speak of "things" or "objects" to give itself the air of "scientific objectivity". But I am opposed to this approach and stressing a "creative" approach instead. In my opinion, philosophers like iurists try to bring everyday arguments on experiences into some consistent and systematic order, but concepts like justice or liberty or human dignity cannot be "objective" as long as they are not "reified".

    Here we are again at our struggle whether the electrons or atoms are of "r1-reality" or of "r3-reality". Justice is not something "jumping around on a meadow" but is "a social construct". We would have no concept of justice without being social animals from the start. The concept of justice is an "apish" concept, meaningless in the realm of robots or animals.

    Thus my concept of "good" as in "a good home" or "a good meal" is in fact an evaluative concept not reducible to "facts" but to "intentions" and value judgements". But value judgements are to a large degree guided by experience, and the experiences of slaves and women are different from those of "slave-holders" and "women-holders". So who is to judge here ?

    On the other hand a "sane" society" would be seen in contrast to a "malfunctioning" society that is living on "false dreams" and "false assumptions" and "dangerous obsessions" etc., f.i. paranoia of Jews or communists or witches. But once more we have a serious problem : In the view of atheists religious people are fallen to "false assumptions" and by this standard must be "insane". This is fact is what people like Dawkins say. And we know from everiday experience, that it can be very difficult to say exactly, what "insane" means : Hitler and his gang supferficially were "sane", i.e., able to do their daily job. Their insanity was deeply below the surface. Other people are "confused" and "not quite up to daily requirements" and "guided of false dreams", but are "fundamentally sane".

    Thus all my concepts — of "good", of "sane", and of "thriving" — are complex and in need of careful analysis — as much so as you concept of "reality" that I broke down into "r1, r2, r3, ..., rx"-reality.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris, your question was :

    "What are human rights? And are they a valid basis for a political theory? If they aren't, then what would form a valid basis?"



    "Human rights" in my opinion are "social constructs derived from apish sociality". Thus we do not define the values of family life, since man is "a family ape" and the value of family life is in our genes since a million years and doesn't need philosophical justification. It is a basis of human social conduct. Cf. http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/index.html and http://anthro.palomar.edu/behavior/behave_2.htm and http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/jcollie/psi/index.htm for a start.

    Thus in my opinion human rights and human dignity are not something to be found in nature but something to be defined by culture and then to be granted on mutual agreement. They are "cultural constructs". I cannot enforce any human right by argument alone. Most cultures found "the right to hold slaves" quite natural. Not even Aristotle or Jesus or St.Paul questioned this "right" explicitely, since it was seen as a custom, not as something fundamental. The same applies with "a right to be not tortured" or "a right to be respected as a human being". Those are not "physical laws" to be respected but "human understandings". We may agree to them, but then we are the ones to endow them with value and validity.

    On this the "Silvery Rule" and the "Golden Rule" are right : "What you won't have others to do onto you, you should not do on them" and "What you want have others to do onto you, that do onto them yourself!" resp.. These rules do not invoke any "human right" but "reasonable mutuality". While you could have endless struggle on human rights, you almost always can have some "reasonable mutual understanding".

    And in my opinion this is quite ok ! It is one more argument against "reificacion". We humans grant each other respect and trust, or we don't, but we cannot "prove" that mutual respect and trust are deserved. In this human rights are part of good society in the sense we speak of a "good home" or "good meal" : There is nothing to "prove". To be nice and reasonable in your encounters with other people is just "the good thing to do", since both sides generally enjoy it and see an advantage in it. But it is not like solving a mathematical or physical problem. It is solving a human social problem of interaction — which is not the same.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus,

    I think that it is important to emphasize that being "mad" or "ridden by fear" or "delusional" are primarily psychological descriptions of individuals. I question their use as descriptions of societies. "Delusions" are topics found in guides to psychopathologies. I do not think that you will find "delusions" listed as a topic in philosophy references, such as The Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy. Being "mad" or "ridden by fear" are psychological literary terms.

    I disagree with your statement in response to Chris when you said "conservative people ... call the law and the state 'god-made' or 'nature made' ..." Not all modern conservatives are religious. And your statement casts "natural law" in 16th Century European terms. At least since the Anglo-American Enlightenment, natural law has not been exclusively defined in religious terms.

    You are correct to say that philosophers were not the first to argue Human Rights. It wasn't your "practitioners of politics though." The Hebrew patriarch Abraham argued with God to defer the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Jewish prophet Moses argued with the Egyptian pharaoh about freedom for the Jewish people.

    Credit for the first campaign against the slave trade of the European nations and their colonies could probably be given to the religious and ethical societies who organized to influence the British Parliament. Arguments in the Americas against slavery were made by Quaker minorities in both Barbados and in the British North American colonies.

    Economics certainly played a role in freedom for women. But in America, the argument was first made by religious women like Anne Hutchinson in Massachusetts during the 1630's. Women routinely appeared as plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses in the 17th Century New England courts.

    I question that Human Rights are "social contracts derived from apish sociality." Philosophy takes a broader perspective than just natural history. The broader philosophical perspective helps prevent political fiat against Human Rights.

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    I am confused. When you say "Human rights... are social constructs derived from apish sociality". You seem to suggest rights are based somehow in our evolutionary past. You then say rights are 'not something to be found in nature but something to be defined by culture and then to be granted on mutual agreement'. These two statements seem somewhat contradictory. Doubtless, I have misunderstood.

    If, as you say, rights are 'cultural constructs', then you are no doubt right that we 'cannot enforce any human right by argument alone'. In fact, I don't see how we can 'enforce' any human right at all unless by fiat or force of arms. Suppose rights are a matter of mutual agreement. A says 'I think people have a right not to be tortured'. B says 'No, they haven't.' What then? Stalemate? Is there nothing else to be said?

    If rights are cultural constructs, then the following would seem to be the case:

    • The only universal rights are those common to all cultures. Are there any such?

    • Rights only operate within the culture that gave rise to them.

    • If we accept cultural relativism, then there is nothing else to be said.

    • If we don't accept cultural relativism, then we have to find some other basis for making cross cultural judgements. If rights won't do, what will? Charles, at least, has something else to offer.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Dear Charles and Chris, I am deeply impressed by the richness of your answers. Thank you ! This time I cannot do justice to it all. But I will be back on it.

    Just a remark : I think that with "rights" it is like with "love" or "dominance". There is some "apish" base of emotions, but those have to be "formulated" by culture to become "rights" and "marriage" and "government" — or, that's another possibility — to become "humility" and "obedience" and "chastity" etc.. Thus in a sense there is an "apish base and cultural superstructure". So while "our inner ape" may rage for revenge, forgivenness and "love your enemy" is possible. I am not at all belitteling the possibilities of culture.

    Des (where is he ?) suggested invoking Maslow and his "pyramid", where "physical needs" (eat and drink and sleep f.i.) are at the bottom and "spiritual needs" (God and justice, say) are on top. But things are not nearly that easy. Otherwise it would be impossible to endure hardships and torture and death (very "physical") for defending honour and moral integrity and your deepest convictions — religious or otherwise (very "spiritual").

    By the way : Instead of debating "human rights" I would prefer debating "human values".

    My starting question was asking : "What should we call a 'good' society, and by what standard should we call it 'good' ?" This is fundamentally a very "philosophical" question, but it cannot be answered (if answered at all) without taking experiences into account. You cannot aks for a "just society" or for a "decent society" without asking people what they call "just" or "decent". Those are "social experiences".

    My main objection against much of philosophy is its arrogance : You cannot define beauty or goodness or justice without checking your concepts against human experience. But you can ask for "truth" in the natural sciences or math without asking for human experience. That's the difference. Philosophers too often design ideal worlds for ideal humans instead of real worlds for real humans. This is my point.

    Of course with "good" it is like with "reality" : one should start from differentiating "good-1" and "good-2" and "good-3" and ... "good-x" and only then proceed.

    There are no "objective" goods. Good is always "good for somebody" or "good in somebody's evaluation" : "And God saw that it was good."

    So once more : Why would we call a society a 'good' one ? That was my question, and I stick with it.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    If you believe that any definition of a 'good' society requires 'asking for human experience', then you should probably begin with a survey and not with a question on this forum. I am sure there are such surveys so perhaps the best starting point is to track them down.

    As to the 'good' society, short of attempting definitions of 'good-1' to 'good-x', which I will leave to the taxonomists amongst us, I revert to my earlier suggestion that it consists in maximising opportunities (as per Des's degrees of freedom) within a context of general stability. I would also want to apply something like Maslow's hierarchy here, despite your reservations about it.

    You are right when you say that individuals might want to endure physical hardship to preserve spiritual values but that does not mean Maslow's theory is not *generally* applicable to a society. If someone chooses to suffer imprisonment or torture for the sake of their principles, they most likely do so from a position where they already enjoy satisfaction at the lower levels of Maslow's pyramid. I doubt that too many Dafurian peasants make stands on issues like freedom of speech, for example. They have more basic things to worry about.

    In general, I think that once people have achieved a certain level in Maslow's pyramid, they start wanting (and agitating for) the next level. Satisfied needs begin to seem less important than those that are unsatisfied. Thus, paradoxically, they are sometimes prepared to risk and even give up what they have in order to achieve what they want. This is not an argument against Maslow. It is rather a confirmation of the dynamic aspect of his theory.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    You said:

    So once more : Why would we call a society a 'good' one ? That was my question, and I stick with it.

    I'm wondering: Why are you asking this question?

    Are you asking about a specific society?

    Or maybe you seek to mentally construct a model utopia?

    You also said that you would rather discuss human values than human rights.

    I need some clarification about what issue is on the table. I have some difficulty with unspecified global discussions.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles and Chris,

    thank you once more for keeping on. No, Charles, I am not speaking of any specific society nor of some utopia. I am just asking "why would we call a society a 'good' one ?" This is a VERY PRECISE question, but you never thought of it this way. I am serious about this question. I am not speaking tongue in cheek here.

    Once more to clarify : We may speak of a wealthy and healthy person or a smart person or a pretty person etc., but none of these qualifications is coinciding with "a good person". A 'good' person may by poor and old and ugly and not very bright at the same time, but beloved by almost anybody who knows this person. There even may be the difference of "good" and "holy", but I won't dig into this for the moment. Think of Jean-Marie Vianney f.i. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Marie_Vianney ), the model of Bernanos' novel "Journal d'un curé de campagne" ("Diary of a country priest", see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary_of_a_Country_Priest ). Exactly because he was humble and not very bright but cared for the soul of man he was made the patron of all priests. In German, a common title of a priest or pastor is "Seelsorger", which is verbally "one who worries about souls" (cf. Matt 16,26 and 1Cor 13).

    In exactly this sense I am asking for the nature of a "good" society. You are not used to see things this way.

    My question is not a religious one. I am only asking precisely : "What would we call a 'good' society ?" There are several books on "sane society" and one famous book on "decent society", and even several on "good society" that are missing the point. They all tend to mix up "good society" with "thriving society" or "happy and easy society", but I do not.

    But there is a special twist here : You could point to the Oneida ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oneida_Community ) or to the Amishen/Hutterites for example. But I try to find out what to most people looks like a self-contradicting idea : A good modern post-industrial society.

    Well, the question needs some hard thinking. But what is wrong with hard thinking ? We are munching too much white bread. This is brown bread.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    You say your question is very precise and if I just think about it, I will agree.

    Your question: "why would we call a society a 'good' one?"

    Some of my remaining questions about your precise question:

    How are you defining society? Is it in terms of anthropology, sociology, economics, politics, religious, military, etc?

    Can you attribute character to any society? Or is a society just a composite of individuals who are ultimately responsible?

    What do you mean by good? Does not the measure depend upon the type of society?

    I don't think societies are organic. The Volkgeist does not have a life of its own.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/11/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Good questions, Charles ! Thank you !

    No, I am not speaking of "Volksgeist". Rather think of a "jam session" of Jazzers or of the team of a racing yacht in the "America's Cup". Those are individuals, and very much so, but they enjoy playing together. It's just "good teamwork". And since in both cases the members of the team feel free and full of joy, but at the same time they are not neurotic or psychotic and not driven by fear and madness, these would be examples of "good society" in special cases. But monks from a Franciscan convent in southern California could be another example. There are many such examples if you think of it.

    The Nazis are counter-examples, since their concept of group was that of gangsters. A mad mass-murderer can be as careful and disciplined as a great surgeon. So the humans — or the groups of humans — are but instruments to realize some achievement. The "goodness" is within. And I am asking what this comes to in the science of groups and societies. What makes the difference between the Cosa Nostra and the YMCA or a Benedictine monastery, say ? They all are "disciplined achieving societies". Which means : They are beyond the Amishen in this respect, since they accept the ideas of "efficiency" and "results".

    But we are not yet at a general theory here, we only are focusing on the problem now.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    I am still confused about your question. Maybe another Conference member could help clarify.

    It seems to me that you are mixing the social psychology of small groups with criminal sociology together with the study of 20th Century national socialist tyranny.

    I don't understand the point of your criticism of the Amish, a small Christian agrarian sect that places little reliance on modern convenience.

    The Oxford Companion To Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1995) defines society: "A set of individuals and/or institutions in relations governed by practical interdependence, convention, and perhaps law — which relations may vary from the local to the international." It goes on to say that the modern concept denoted a "supposed sphere of causal and moral self-sufficiency lying between the political and the personal." That modern concept became the basis for the 'science' of sociology. The Oxford definition points out that "many liberalisms have resisted the idea of 'the social', preferring to see individuals as self-sufficient. Some philosophers however, including Williams and Rawls, as well as some critics of liberalism, like MacIntyre, have recently reasserted concepts of the social as the ground of moral possibility and moral judgement."

    Maybe some other Conference members could add something about these recent philosophical concepts about the social being the ground of moral possibility and moral judgement.

    I'm inclined to think that societies are not organic. I think of societies as aggregates of individuals, which may be based on self-interest or be a constructed social entity.

    Charles

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    I share Charles's confusion.

    Is a good society necessarily one in which all the members know one another?

    Is a good society necessarily one in which all the members work or live together in the fulfillment of some kind of purpose?

    And what, according to your notion of the good society, is wrong with the Amish? How are they different from a Benedictine monastrery, say?

    Charles

    I am not sure I agree that societies are 'aggregates of individuals, which may be based on self-interest or be a constructed social entity'. Is a family merely such an aggregate? Or a classroom? Is the purpose of the group just the sum of the individual purposes of its members? How can a group have a history beyond the membership or life of its individual members?

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles and Chris, I beg your pardon ! Yes, this is a very complicated topic and very confusing because of its many faces. But so far I got the impression to profit a lot from your questions and answers. We simply have to see the animal from all sides, which takes time. Perhaps my answer below will add a little bit to clarify my intentions.

    And : I have a backlog here ! I cannot do justice to all the questions put by you both so far. I have to focus on this or that question at a time. Of course any society is to a large degree a technical problem for jurists and economists etc., not only for philosophers in the first place. But the job of the philosophers is to clarify those questions that are lost to the technical people. This was my point when reminding us on Matt 16,26 : This is not something very much on the minds of futurologists or economists or jurists, but it should be very much on the minds of philosophers. I don't think that Marcuse, Maslow, Huxley, or Fromm — or Osho — have done justice to this sentence.

    Of course you could point to the Churches and the many religious groups here. But the common charge against those groups is to be mere "fig leaves" to the ugliness and shamelessness of "competitive" society. Thus my question would be : How could we "implement" the religious perspective into this "modern industrial state" in a convincing way.

    But first of all my question was : "What would we CALL a good society anyway ? When and why would we call it a 'good' one ? What are our criteria ?"



    Charles, you write : // I think of societies as aggregates of individuals, which may be based on self-interest or be a constructed social entity.//

    I compeletely agree ! The "shuffle jazz band" and the "racing team" are not "organic", they are made up of individuals playing by rules.

    The difference of these teams to "normal society" and "the Amishen" is : A jazz band or a racing team are ad hoc groups. They need not foster families etc.. But they show a good way of communicating without being non-competitive or without ambition or expertise. This was my point when I introduced the Amishen : We tend to see "good society" as a society without ambition and competition and professionality — which all are needed to keep our modern industrial state running. The examples are of people coming together freely but at the same time accepting all requirements of the modern industrial state : ambition, competition and professionality !

    The Amishen are similar to the monks and nuns of a monastery. They are just nicely going along. That's a possibility, but I wanted to avoid this false alternative that you have either "a nice and peaceful group" or a "thriving and ambitious group where everybody is each others enemy or at least alienated by the clock and the competition."

    What I am fighting here is this wrong "Marcusean" or "(Aldous) Huxleyan" idea that any "good" society has to be "pre-modern" and "pre-industrial" to not get "alienated" or "at each other's throat". What I am asking for is a "modern and technically advanced" society that at the same time could be called "good" by every standard — even a Christian one.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus,

    For a long time you have been asking this question "why would we call a society a 'good' one" and contrary to your assertion this is not a precise question, I'm not really sure that it's meaningful question at all.

    Goodness is a subjective value and there will be as many definitions as people can conceive based upon all sorts of individual prejudices. The way you describe and phrase the question is almost as if goodness were some type of objective thing like f.i. the speed of light. Do you really think goodness is objective or maybe more like beauty — in the eye of the beholder.

    I suspect you are doomed to eternal searching but if you ever do think you have found what goodness is how will YOU know whether to stop looking.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Now I think I understand what Hubertus is looking for, Communism. The Communism that Lenin promised would appear after he finished breaking all the eggs. The picture of Communism that appeared on the propaganda posters: smiling and multinational athletes; virtuous people without any religion; advanced industry led by science; scientists and engineers who are paragons of virtue.

    I think that there are lots of lessons about that dream in history.

    Chris, I think that a society dies, when it no longer has any members. Its history is a construct that may have its beginning in members of the society who record events and ideas. But history dies unless the record is passed on to someone else. This someone else is not necessarily a professional historian. It could be a poet or musician. Eastern Orthodox Christianity has the tradition of "name saints" to connect people today with the saints in church history.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Mike, glad to meet you again !

    Well, you write that "why would we call a society a 'good' one" is an overall pointless question. But if you are right on this, I would like to see some arguments. Just to say that any such judgement is in the eyes of the beholder is a bit superficial.

    Just to illustrate my point : Chris suggested to "focus" by debating human rights. Now, if you call the "ugliness" of Nazis or Taliban only "in the eye of the beholder", but otherwise they are normal nice people, then you have to scrap all talking of human rights. Killing Jews or misusing boys and girls and women is just so much fun to have and to criticise it is nobody's business.

    I did not speak here of proving anything, I just asked "why WOULD WE CALL a society a 'good' one". I am asking for the justification of our judgement. Why on earth did we come to think of slavery and beting women as something evil and outdated if it is only a matter of personal taste ? Do you rally compare the history of human customs of maiming and torturing to the history of art and music, say ?

    Things are a bit more difficult than your British upright defending of personal spleens seems to think. And I try to find out where the difficulty comes from.

    But, as you know, I am always up for a good fight.

    Grinning Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles, I had to laugh ! Leninism or Maoism were never on my mind for a moment. You better think of the Sermon from the Mountain. Did Jesus ever suggest to be bright and competitive and thriving and "pursuing happiness" ?

    You remember the "Marcusean Revolution" of the 1960s. And the Woodstock festival that is memorized these days. And the musical "Hair" and the movie "Yellow Submarine" : Together with countless other texts and movies they constituted a part of the "counterculture" and "New Age" movement, that called our usual ways of "making money and becoming an achiever" just silly and absurd and a shame of a thinking being as man is. "Growing up absurd" by Goodman was one of the bestsellers of those days.

    My question comes to : What is left of these critical voices ? Are they still heared today ? What is left of the critical voices of Jesus or Socrates or the Buddha ?

    Why is it that difficult to get across a very simple idea to you and Chris and Mike ? We seem entrenched in thinking and acting "as usual". We are complaining "the moral state of human society" all the time, but when I ask "what should we do about it ?" the answer is "nothing of course, it is just the way humans are." If this is really the case, then please stop complaining everybody and just start gardening like Candide. Complaining about human conduct is then like complaining about the weather — either it is too hot or too cold or to dry or too rainy, we are never happy, but complaining makes us feel better.

    My starting point was different : I am told from all sides, that this society is not as it should be. Then my very natural and simple question was : "Well, then HOW should it be instead ?"

    Why can't you all understand the natural simplicity of this question ? If Lenin was wrong (as I too think he was) then who is right ? And if nobody springs to your mind, then lets start to think it over. This, and nothing else, was my suggestion.

    Plato and Aristotle, St.Thomas and Rousseau and J-S Mill, they all and many others thought about the nature of "good society". The very fact that you all do not even understand the question begins to fascinate me. Today there are some two dozends of sociological theories that try to understand "what is wrong with modern society ?" Leftist, Christian-conservative, liberal, "communitarian" and libertarian and many other suggestions to improve our society are in the offer. I just wanted to hear your own suggestions.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    In a sense you are right. You have asked us a simple question. What would *each of us* call a good society? Des and I (twice) have answered you. Your response to these answers would be interesting (or would you like me to state them again?)

    In your last post, however, you asked two further questions, as in '"We are complaining "the moral state of human society" all the time, but when I ask "what should we do about it ?" the answer is "nothing of course, it is just the way humans are."' The questions I see in this sentence are:

    • What is wrong with modern society?

    • What should we do about it?

    These are not the same as your question about the good society. If I ask what is wrong with my car and wonder how to fix it, I am not thereby asking anything about what constitutes a good car.

    To answer these new questions; it depends which society you are talking about. What is wrong with the United States or New Zealand is not the same as what is wrong with Taleban society. Given we have different problems, we have different fixes, too. Of course, if we come to the conclusion that a particular society is bad from top to bottom, then asking what we should do about it may well entail deciding what a good society is. You need to give us guidance here on what you want to focus on.

    Charles (and Hubertus)

    I fear I was not clear enough. Of course, a society will not survive the death of all its members any more than the body will survive the death of all its cells. The point I was trying to make is that the history (and the identity) of the society is independent of the lives of the individual members. English society was, in a sense, English society two hundred years ago when none of its current members were yet alive.

    Please note, I am not arguing for any position that necessarily claims that societies are organic. I am objecting to what I took you to mean when you said 'I think of societies as aggregates of individuals, which may be based on self-interest or be a constructed social entity.' and to Hubertus when he (completely) agreed with you. The picture your sentence suggests is a group of people coming together and deciding how they are going to organise themselves very much in the manner of the eighteenth century idea of the social contract. This makes no sense to me. Hubertus's notion of society as the equivalent of a jazz group or a sporting team seems equally nonsensical, although at least it might imply that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

    In my view, a society is not a free association of individuals any more than a family is. (I do not mean by this that society is a family; merely that the family is one of several possible counter-examples of social groups that are not just 'aggregate(s) of individuals'.) Quite what a society is is an interesting question that we might discuss.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    I'm glad that Hubertus didn't take my comment re Communism too seriously. I meant it to be taken in an ironic sense.

    I will confess that I don't get very excited about big mega questions about societies. Frankly, if you asked me personally what makes societies good? My reply: I don't know and what matter is my opinion anyway? I am more concerned with what I can do in my small sphere of influence. There is an election coming up in my home county next week about local political and school board representation. There is something that matters, how do I cast my ballot?

    I think pursuing mega questions about society is more important to young adults and their mentors. I think it obvious that history hasn't chosen me to be a mentor for society.

    I'm more interested in what has been called Descartes' error. I can't reduce myself to a true state of "I think, therefore I am." Instead I should be asking myself how did I come to be myself? What is this self anyway? And knowing who I am, what are my responsibilities?

    I can relate those questions to Chris' question about what is a society. But as far as the question "what is a good society." I think that I will simply refer to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris, I go with almost everything you wrote. And once more : I have a backlog to work on, and I did not justice to your questions as I should. So you are quite correct on this.

    You write : // If I ask what is wrong with my car and wonder how to fix it, I am not thereby asking anything about what constitutes a good car. //

    Well, yes an no : Formally you are right. but if you were a cars engineer, you would think of how to improve the car to avoid the cause of trouble next time. So among the many questions that haunt social-scientist is : Why do poverty and crime and violence and the drug scene (including alcohol and smoking) persist even after 150 years of sociology and the welfare-state ?

    One possible answer to this would be : Because humans are not cars and cannot (or should not) be "improved" in the way cars can be improved. This view is what most utopian thinkers of "a better society" denied. They all said that we have to "repair" the human society or even the humans themselves. Then drugs and smoking are forbidden and to stop crime and poverty other harsh measures and new modes of child rearing are introduced. This is a line of thought running from Plato right up to "Brave New World". Thus all utopias can do without poverty and crime and drugs and other evils.

    This is why Charles and Mike always think that I am suggesting just another utopia here. And this is why I introduced the Amishen and the jazz-band here as counter-examples of "good teams".

    I am fiercely against utopias, I am a proponent of "open society", but it cannot be denied that some of the charges of "counter-culture" were right. So I am asking for the "best balance" of "competitive and striving and achieving" society and "good" society in the sense of Maslow and Fromm and Goodman and the "counter-culture" and "New Age Movement" etc..

    Look at it as comparable to the conflict between "Nobel Prize" and "Alternative Nobel Prize" (i.e. "Right Liverlyhood Award", see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_Livelihood_Award )

    There are once more several questions of your valuable text left unanswered this time. I try to do my best to answer them next time.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/14/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus (and Charles)

    A question that occurs to me here (in the context of the bigger question of what society consists in) is the means by which we might introduce any social improvement. There are two broad approaches that I can see: the psychological and the political. According to the former, we would seek to have a direct effect on individuals through education and information sharing. According to the latter, we would adjust the constraints within which people live by means of new laws and regulations.

    A second thought is that your move from repairing a society to building a utopia seems too quick to me. Isn't a utopia the equivalent not of repair but of designing a new car from scratch? Also, in my view, there is a difference between improving society and improving human beings (see above) — a difference you don't seem to recognise, perhaps because you believe that a society is just the sum of the individuals in it.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris

    Who do you mean by the "we" who introduce social improvement?

    I think that the issue of the "we" and how to introduce social improvement are more questions for the specialized area of political science and are specific to a society. For example, I think that improvement in health care is going to happen much different in the USA than in Europe. I don't think that philosophy has much to contribute to that specific discussion. Unless it is a much more basic discussion, like is the state responsible for providing health insurance to citizens?

    Charles

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris

    I'll add to my earlier entry today.

    When you say psychological methods for introducing social improvement, issues like coercion by the state come to mind. I think that it's important to ask: Is it proper for the agents of the state to engage in winning hearts and minds for a specific social agenda in the political realm?

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Chris and Charles,

    I am not opting for "utopia by design", i.e., for "classical utopia". I
    have to fight against a specter here. You both and Mike always seem to
    think that I am proposing utopia. I am not.
    What I am asking are two questions : First : What would we CALL a good
    society, and by what argument ? And second : Why is it, that so far all
    suggestions to improve the situation of our society seem not to work ?
    The natural answer to the first question is : Enforce human rights and
    prevent wars and exploitation etc.. This would be the minimal standard.
    The natural answer to the second question is : Humans are just too
    stupid and to egoistic and too greedy and too aggressive to do what is
    reasonable and good to do. This could be called "the original
    sin"-answer or the "old ape"-answer.
    Now I found both answers less than satisfying.
    The first answer is lacking in two respects : First, human rights are
    only minimal requirements. They do not express any idea of "good
    togetherness and cooperation" as in the example of the jazz-combo or in
    the racing yacht. Good teamwork is more than respecting each others
    rights. This is not "enforcing happiness on people". When people take
    part in a team of musicians or of soccer-players or of sailors say, they
    do so in the hope of gaining something by cooperation. Thus when we
    concentrate on human rights, we miss many important ways of improving the
    human situation as seen in all forms of teamwork — from family life to
    making music or dancing or partying etc.. Thus human rights cannot tell
    us whether a society is a lively and thriving one or only a society of
    loners. To know that human rights are respected in a certain society
    does not tell us very much on the overall quality of this society.
    And then I have explicitely asked what would we call "good" and pointed to
    the Sermon from the Mountain and to the Amishen and the saintly priest
    J-M Vianney. I could have pointed to some Buddhist or Muslim community
    instead. The idea was : Neither human rights nor general "thriving"
    will tell us everything about the notion of "good". This was my hint at
    Matt 16,26 and at "good-1", "good-2", etc.. Whatever you think of it, you have to concede that this aspect is to be included in any full evaluation of "good society". We cannot just ignore this side of human existence.
    And to remind you : I have not with a single sentence suggested to
    enforce any religious superstructure on people ! I am not proposing any
    utopia here. I am just analyzing the problem of the first question :
    "What would we CALL a good society — by what argument."
    Now on the answer to the second question my objection would be : We
    cannot change our "inner ape". We can build up a situation where humans
    behave the way they are but to their private and mutual advantage. Any
    good instructor or teacher or tutor knows, that instead of shouting and
    beating you have to design a situation where people enjoy to be at their
    best. Kids in happy and lively families are not in any way better "by
    their genes" than kids in rotten families full of fear and hate and
    violence. But in the good family kids are treated the right way with
    empathy and guidance and humour and assurance, while in the bad family
    they are treated with neglect and shouting and beating and frustrated.
    It's not a matter of money. There are "very rich but bad" families,
    and there are "very poor but good families". Thus to speak of
    "original sin" and of "the old ape" is a helpless excuse for "bad
    government". Watch the movie "Freedom Writers" on this. With "EQ"-intelligence and trust and understanding much can be achieved.
    Thus once more : My idea of "utopia" is not anything enforced on people
    but is "applying intelligence". This is why I pointed to the
    "counter-culture" of the "Marcusean Revolt" of the 1960s. There is much
    criticism of "materialist consumerism" and of "technocracy and
    bureaucracy" and "achieving society" not only from the "New Age"-people,
    but from the churches and the psychologists and many others. They all
    are asking for a "better society" because they find the existing one
    lacking in many aspects on "intelligent solutions" and on "mutual
    respect" and "good cooperation".
    Improvements take time and courage. Finally the USA has had a
    woman and a black for presidential candidates. This would have been
    unthinkable 100 years ago. There has been much progress in many fields.
    But there is still much of violence and poverty and crime and neuroses
    even in the USA and the novels and movies are full of it. Compare

    "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091042/ ), which is funny and relaxed, to "Magnolia" ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175880/ ) and "American Beauty" ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0169547/ ). There are countless other examples.

    Well, neither novels nor movies show the normal reality. The idea of
    my hints was : Things are not immutable. I am not speaking of utopias.
    I am speaking of our ideas of what could or should be improved. My
    starting question of "sane society" (the header of this thread) was
    asking : What do we CALL a sane society and what could we do or ask for
    to get nearer to it. This and nothing else was my question.

    One possible answer would be : "We are living in the best of all possible worlds" (Leibniz + Hegel), and we have to take the organized (and less organized) crime and the neuroses and poverty and other "social problems" for the "frictional costs" of a "good normal society". Would you subscribe to that ? I (so far) won't. But maybe "the tree of freedom, peace, and human dignity" is growing only slowly and we have to accept that.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/15/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles

    Yes, I agree with your caveats. I too tend to the view that different societies have different problems and that solutions are practical and particular. However, the more basic issues are important. Should the state be responsible for providing health care or education to its citizens?

    Hubertus

    Rest assured, I do not think you are in favour of utopia. And I think I do understand your question. I don't, however, fully understand what you are saying in your last post. Unfortunately, I don't have time to do your thoughts justice at the moment. I will get back to you in a day or two (always assuming the discussion has not moved on by then).

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Given that societies are becoming postmodern, the human endeavor called Philosophy faces challenges similar to those that faced Socrates. Human society then also entered a new stage of social development. What does it mean to be human in the postmodern world? What about a postmodern ethic? What about postmodern justice? And I think questions about the Forms remain, especially pertinent to Art.

    We could continue discussion about a good society. But I think that some more basic definitions need to be done before a good society can be defined.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Charles and Chris,

    a shorty this time : I won't "define" a good society. I would be happy to know just what you think essential FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE. Of course our values and social structures change with time. But there are many things we would not go back to or beyond. Not back to slavery or suppressing women or burning witches and many such things that were seen as "normal" at some times and places.

    On the other hand, we try to avoid becoming "mere consumers". This is why I pointed to the Amishen and to Vianney and to "counterculture" : Those were free to become "normal competitive consumers" but they weren't interested. And I hinted at those people, that are poor and slow thinkers, but beloved and maybe good in decoriting or cooking or singing or caring children or animals etc.. What I am asking for is some minimal standard of "good society" derived from experience.

    I am well aware of the paradoxes : In the end we may come to the conclusion that we need some darkness to enjoy the light. Could there be God without the devil ? Could there be a saint without sin ? Could there be hope without despair ? Perhaps we are not going for some Holy Grail but for some evasive phantom ?

    Several times I said that these are difficult questions. I never said that this debate would be easy. There is much more at stake than human rights.

    I am not and never was asking for "solutions". I am just asking for good ideas and suggestions. I see this as a fireside talk or perhaps as a talk in the garden. Well : At Spokane it will be 90°F tomorrow, at Wellingto it will be just 60°F, which is not the same, but in both cases it would be better to stay in the house.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    All right. In my experience the essentials for a good society are:

    * full employment

    * free education

    * a health care system accessible to everyone

    * a decent standard of living for the aged and the infirm

    * the minimum of laws and regulations consistent with the above and with public healthy, safety and a general principle of fairness

    Given that, I think people should be just left to get on with it.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Hubertus

    It was a very pleasant 72 degrees F here today. But that didn't help me understand where you are going with your appraisal of societies. Your proposal to look at the "essential" based on personal experience and your request for minimal societal standards seem to restate your original question.

    I've already given you my working answer, the UN's Declaration of Human Rights (1948). But that doesn't seem to be what you are looking for.

    There is a direct relationship between the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Nuremberg war crime trials of principal National Socialist leadership (1945-1946). The National Socialist political party (society) could not be put on trial, because societies are not organic. Individual people were put on trial for crimes against humanity. The political party existed through a collection of people, not some metaphysical entity. Hitler was wrong. No collective spirit of the people or nation exists.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: sane society

    Dear Chris and Charles,

    well, you answers put together — the list of Chris and the UNO Declaration of Human Rights — would make a good "poor mans shopping list" for everyday comfort. As a "minimal standard" it would be a lot in view of the enormous fights that were needed in history to arrive at that standard.

    Of course it is not really news to me. But I have to think it over now for some time in the light of "God and the devil" and "self realization" and "Marcusean Revolution" etc..

    I sent you this great speech on "FULL HEARTS AND EMPTY HEADS: THE PRICE OF CERTAIN RECENT PROGRAMS IN HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY" by W. R. Coulson. The essence of it was : Some good intentions come out with very bad results. Good intentions can be paradoxical. I use to say that mankind may perish not by bad intentions but by the unexpected consequences of good ones.

    For the moment see this as a warning. If things are really as simple as you seem to suggest, why on earth did people not go for such results long ago ? Would a free democracy abiding by human rights be the end of history ? This would be a variety of the Fukuyama thesis. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man .

    What about religious convictions ? The ecumenic approach seems plausible. Religious wars are outdated. Maybe.

    As you see, I don't feel easy with such a solution. I am not belligerent in any way, I just think that there is something missing on your wish list, but I cannot clearly see what it is.

    Perhaps put it thus : According to your list, if every item could be checked, we would see the end of history and be happily married everafter. This is the timeless world of the fairy-tale.

    But our human world is not timeless "Platonic" but historical and "Darwinian". History will not end. Thus in my humble opinion if every item of your shopping list is checked, this would be not the end but the beginning of history.

    Now you too have something to gnaw at.

    But of course you are free to suggest some other topic to debate.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Mike Ward   (07/21/09)
    SUBJECT: The philosophy of the climate change argument

    Hi,

    Holding true to my sceptical stance I am one of a silent minority who has not yet swallowed the hook line and sinker of man made global warming. I don't follow the crowd nor weight of opinion preferring as an environmental engineer to weigh up the actual evidence available.

    Of course the climate is changing, it always has and always will, and has even changed quicker in the past. The real argument is a totally separate issue as to whether we humans are the cause, or contributor or totally insignificant.

    The consequences of an anthropogenic cause are significant either way. Don't get me wrong as I applaud energy conservation and my next house will be ultra energy efficient — I'm already in the planning stage anyway.

    Democracy never determines truth and I would like people to review the information on this website and rebut it with a sound technical argument — some though wouldn't want to as they are doing very nicely riding on the doom and gloom gravy train.

    http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    Let me know what you think about what this site contains technically.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The philosophy of the climate change argument

    Mike, as a physicist I am able to understand the data, but I keep back from any debate, because this today has become a substitute for religious wars of times past. My first reaction to the graphic at the end of the article you linked us to was : First comes warming, then comes CO2. The text confirms this idea that is quite natural to anybody even with only a little understanding of natural cycles. The greatest scare today is methane coming out of the tundra. But this too is a secondary effect, not a primary one. Here you see the meaning of CRAP : http://icccp.blogspot.com/

    And a minor : It is absurd to put down relative data to three decimal places behind the comma ! Thus the last column in table 2 should read 72/7/19/2, all else is hogwash.

    30 years ago US-president Carter called energy-efficiency one of the primary problems of our time. On this he was right. This in my opinion is the one and only argument that justifies the fight about greenhouse effects. It's not really about greenhouse effects, but about energy-efficiency. The Apollo program of going to the Moon was not really about going to the Moon either, but about the USA staying ahead of the UdSSR on the technological edge. As JFK put it : "We are not going to the Moon because it is easy, we are going there because it is difficult." Now we are pressing billions of Dollars and Euros and Yen into energy efficiency, and this is good by any standard.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (07/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The philosophy of the climate change argument

    Mike

    I had a look at the site. On the face of it, it tells us there is nothing we can do about global warming. However, looking at it in the wider context I would have to question whether water vapour is as significant a greenhouse gas as the site suggests. Either its effect is debatable or all the other scientists who are leaving it out of their calculations are idiots. Which is it to be?

    It is, of course, quite possible that the consensus on the cause of global warming is wrong. However, it seems to me unlikely that it is wrong in such an obvious way. I think a more likely source of error is oversimplification in more subtle assumptions: the kind of oversimplification that led to eugenics.

    That said, the whole hoo-ha does raise some interesting questions about the relationship between science and society and the process of change in scientific theories. Perhaps Hubertus needs to add an r98 (funding levels) and r99 (political pressure) to his schema of scientific realities.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (07/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The philosophy of the climate change argument

    Chris,

    Unfortunately I cannot post images to this conference web site but please take a look at my web site at

    http://www.philosopherscafe.110mb.com on the page CARBON. The web site is somewhat out of date and was written before finding the water vapour hypothesis.

    From this graph there really doesn't seem any causality of CO2 to temperature and CO2 has be ten times higher in the past but temperature has some kind of upper limit (god stepping in maybe?).

    You may recall that some twenty odd years ago the "scientists" were forecasting an impending ice age, again I have images of articles at the time if needed. Pardon my scepticism but if they missed all the so called pointers to global warming back in the seventies their credibility, with me at least, is seriously questionable. Anyway if it does get a bit warmer hear in the UK we can get back to growing the grapes that we used to grow in the middle ages and import less from the colonies — oh dear there I go again!

    Seriously though how can I withdraw my tax contributions probably wasted in CO2 reduction — isn't democracy great.

    Mischievously,

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (07/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: The philosophy of the climate change argument

    Mike and Chris,

    the idea of the green-house peopl is of course, that CO2 has an enormous leverage on H2O : A little rise in temperature makes a lot more vapor coming from the oceans, and that makes more rising of temperature etc.. This it is a self feeding disaster, a running-off scenario. What we do no know — and not even the IPCC does for sure, is a true model of counterforces. This is why people cannot tell us whether it will come to an ice-age or to overheating.

    Qualitative arguments do not work : More vapour causes more clouds, and more clouds mean sreening and reflecting the sun-light and even more snowfalls on the Antarctic shield. So anything less than quantitative models will not do. And that's the problem. I think that people should work on their models now, and that would be a good thing anyway.

    Remember what happened to Malthus : In principle he was right by his arguments. But without his help other people found out how to increase the productivity of food — plants and animals alike — and so while the world-population rose from 1 bn in his time to more than 6 bn today, the world output of food rose even more to about the tenfold. Malthus was not wrong, but mankind was lucky.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Roderick Russell   (08/18/09)
    SUBJECT: Introductions

    Just stopping in to introduce myself.

    My name is Roderick Russell and I'm a student in the University of London BA Philosophy programme, studying through the External Programme with tutorial support from Pathways.

    I'm based in the United States and have an educational background in philosophy. I completed my first university philosophy studies ten years ago, but never received my degree because my career took over before I completed the remainder of my "general education" requirements that are part of most every American university's liberal education. I've since decided that I want to move on with my education and therefore require a degree, and though the time investment is large, I opted to start once again from the beginning with the University of London because of my deep love of philosophy. I have no doubt that I'll learn even more my second time through a degree program than I did my first!

    Philosophically my interests center around the nature of consciousness and more broadly its position within the world, as it relates to deeper ontological issues. While in school my chosen focus fell to Ancient Greek thought as well as Modern German. Plato, Plotinus, Husserl, Heidegger and Kant are near and dear to my heart. These days I seem to be more concerned with how our knowledge of ourselves and our world — and our stunning lack of knowledge as well — show us how to live our lives. I've grown more politically minded over the years, have developed an interest in practical ethics (is there any other kind?) and overall am concerned with the application of ideas than I have been in the past. That said, I still find it hard sometimes to abandon my seat in the abstract. ;)

    Professionally I am a performing artist and public speaker, and though I often perform for the purposes of "general entertainment", I also bring performance lectures to schools that address the topic of critical thinking. I hope that even my "general" shows for the mass public give people something to think about. Secretly, I like to think that I'm a performing philosopher. ;)

    I look forward to a great exchange of ideas!

    Best,

    -Roderick



  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/18/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Welcome, Roderick.

    Do you have a topic you want to talk about? The rest of us seem to be going round and round in circles with our current political debate (although Hubertus may disagree).

    Chris

    PS I am writer and I live in New Zealand. My current philosophical interests are consciousness, objectivity and subjectivity, the philosophy of science and my own peculiar brand of existentialism.

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Welcome to this Conference Roderick!

    I admire your art with the sword. Personally, I think that it would terrify me. I'll settle with using my practice wooden saber in Ki exercises.

    Please join our philosophical conversations at any point that you are interested.

    Charles

  • FROM: Roderick Russell   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Chris,

    Thanks for the welcome! As a first dip of the toes into the conference waters, I've just responded to Mike Ward's new topic of Practical Ethics. I'm not sure if it will help to stop the going 'round of discussion, but maybe it will help shift focus for a bit. ;)

    It seems that we may have similar philosophical interests! I'm curious about your "own peculiar brand of existentialism." Have you written about the topic here on the conference anywhere?

    Best,

    -Roderick

  • FROM: Roderick Russell   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Charles,

    Thank you for your kind words! I'm flattered (or should I be worried? ;) that you researched me.

    As for being terrified — I've found, for myself, that maintaining a healthy fear of my work has kept me as safe as can be expected, so you'd be justified in your terror. And I'd venture a guess that your work with Ki exercises would serve you well in my field.

    I've just jumped into the conversation in response to Mike Ward — hope it's an okay start!

    Best,

    -Roderick

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Hello Roderick !

    Glad to meet somebody here who can spit dearly needed fire and swallow sharp wits without getting hurt ! I hope you are a tought guy, not running away soon from the rumble here.

    All the best from Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Roderick and Chris,

    while I won't go on with "good society", I would like to comment a last time on "practical ethics".

    I have the bad luck to be a metaphysical person whithout faith. Faithful people are metaphysical too, but they have the answer in their religion. Unmetaphysical persons like Mike do not even have a question. Thus both sorts of person do not see the problem. The strange fact is : In the times of St.Augustine, many persons were interested in his answers, since they had similar questions. The answers came from the Bible, but St.Augustine gave a reading of the Bible that made sense to many thinking people of his time — and for the next some 1500 years in the Occident. Today most people seem to have only technical questions — how to improve the economy or the environment or the family-life or something like that. They simply do not understand that there is more to life than solving technical problems. Or if they do, they have the solution in the form of some religion available.

    I find myself in a position similar to that of Nietzsche. While I think he was wrong, he at least was honest. Between Christianity, which was not acceptable for him, and the idea of progress, which was in his view the pseudo-religion of the masses, he had to develop his special brand of "heroic elitism." This is not and will not be my own brand.

    Some years ago there was a talk with friends about what would be the dominant or guiding science of the beginning century. Biology, genetics, robotics and some more came into consideration — "the usual suspects". But my suggestion was : Philosophy ! Because, as may argument ran, our freedoms are expanding by the day. Next time we will be free to create better humans or superior robots or something in the sense of Kurzweil's "Singularity". Then our question will be with necessity : What do we do with all this freedom ? What does it mean, to make good use of our freedom ? What criteria will be guiding us ? The Bible will not tell us, but pragmatism and utilitarianism will not tell us either. Thus we need a new practical philosophy that is up to those problems. We need to understand the meaning of our freedom.

    Well, you are free of course to not enter this debate. But at least you see that it is a perfectly meaningful one.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introductions

    Roderick,

    you write that "Philosophically my interests center around the nature of consciousness and more broadly its position within the world, as it relates to deeper ontological issues."

    I am surprised to find so many participants on this forum showing interest in "consciousness". If I am right almost none of the greater philosophers — neither Wittgenstein nor Heidegger nor anybody else I know of — was much interested in consciousness. But they were much interested in awareness, which is a very different topic !

    The different ways people look at the world — hopefully or pessimistic, as religious faithful or as atheists and sceptics, as pragmatic activists and achievers or as mulling thinkers or "standing in the world here and now as resolved sources of thoughts and deeds" etc. — this all is not about "consciousness" but about "awareness".

    The study of consiousness — if I understand it right — is the study of the machinery of the brain, while the study of awareness is studying the effects of this machinery.

    What are you interested in : The function and structure of the car or the way the car is used ? Most of what you see in the car has nothing to do with its technical functioning but with its social and psychological aspects, with comfort and marketing etc.. Well, a car needs a motor and wheels, but most drivers take this for granted.

    The way you see the world has almost nothing to do with the workings of your brain, but much with your culture and upbringing and experiences etc..

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Mike Ward   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: What is a bad society?

    Hi everyone,

    There didn't seem to me to much progress towards an answer and even less to a consensus about what constitutes a good society. There were however some clearer views about "a bad society" so I ask what constitutes a bad society. With these answers reversed we may explore the implicit assumptions and errors in our thinking.

    Here's my starter: There is no absolute good or evil it's relative, conditional and subjective.

    In reality utilitarianism works and is used by nearly everyone.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Mike, I think you all so far do not understand the real depth of my question.

    About half a year back, from Dec.2008 through Jan 2009, I had a similar exchange on "good society" as here with Charles and Chris on a Science Fiction Forum. I have asked the SciFi-people whether they knew of any "convincing" vision — in novels or movies — of a good future. They did not. There are countless descriptions of a future we won't like to have, but not a single one where we would like to be. The explanation of this absurd result is : "Bad futures are just more fascinating for the authors of novels or for movies directors than good ones. Good ones would be boring — EVEN IF THEY ARE MUCH MORE PLAUSIBLE." I wrote that it insults my intelligence to have one totally implausible future after another depicted as "bad". We will never see the world of "Mad Max" or of "1984" or of "The Blade Runner". But this is the stuff SciFi is made of. Thus we simply try to evade any realistic and intelligent model of "good society". We instead study "Brave New World" which is as improbable as is "1984". And this is where I see the philosophical problem : Why do we hate and evade the plausible good solution and cling to the implausible bad one ?

    I think one of the core explanations of this "riddle" could be the fact, that we are beings of liberty. When confronted to a "bad" world, we feel challenged and we start to ask what can be done to bring this horror down. Then we see heroes and heroines like in "The Island" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Island_(2005_film) ) fighting the villains. But confronted to a world without villains, to a reasonable world as Charles and Chris would have it, we feel helpless : What is left here to fight against ? What is left for complaint ?

    This is, what in my opinion was missing in the answers. It's all too nice. The core of the problem and of my question is not seen. This is why I wrote that if anyhow we could come to the end of history in the sense of Fukuyama, it would be the beginning of history. We would break for new challenges. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man )

    St.Augustine was lucky : He had no "1984" nor "Brave New World" but "Civitas Terrena" (which is riddled by the devil) against "Civitas Dei". He did not know what "Civitas Dei" would be like, but he was sure that it would overcome "Civitas Terrena" some day, and up to that day history would be what it ever was : A vast battlefield of the good principle fighting the bad one.

    And, by the way, St.Augustine was not interested the least in "utilitarianism". He was not asking what is "useful", he was asking what is "good". To be near to God in his opinion was "good" but not "useful". This is how Socrates or Plato and Plotinus (one of the sources of St.Augustine) saw it too. This is why I started numbering again in the sense of "good-1", "good-2", "good-3", ... "good-x", because, as I put it : A bright person or a wealthy and healthy person or a pretty person is not what we call a "good" person. So what do we call "good" in this case ? And now I put this question to the topic of society, asking what is a "good" society as different from a thriving and just and democratic etc. society. This is a very philosophical question that has nothing to do with utilitarianism.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Chris Else   (08/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Hubertus

    You make a mistake in expecting writers of (science) fiction to supply, however indirectly, answers to problems in social or political philosophy. What people want to read about has no necessary connection with how they want to live. Fiction operates towards different ends. I think you are right when you talk about people wanting to be challenged and being interested in heroes but, again, this is what they want from fiction, not (necessarily) from life.

    A second point. You criticise me (and Charles) for offering answers to your question that are 'too nice'. Our response may be due to the fact that you are asking the wrong question. You seem to think that 'having a good life' is the same as 'living in a good society'. To my mind, these two are not equivalent. In my opinion, a society sets the necessary minimum conditions for a good life. What a good life consists in is a different matter altogether.

    Mike

    I notice you say that good or evil is 'relative, conditional and subjective'. Then you give us one ethical theory — utilitarianism. Isn't this in effect offering an absolute?

    And I am on Roderick's side on the overpopulation question. I don't think I have anything to add to his comprehensive answer.

    Roderick

    My existentialism derives mostly from Camus's absurdism as expressed in The Myth of Sisyphus. I like to temper that with a sense of joyful irony, however. I don't have a statement of this position but I am working on it.

    Chris

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/20/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Chris, thank you for your answers.

    On SF : My objection was : If SF-authors are depicting with all detail the horrors of a future life, why not depict with the same detail the charme of a future life, a life as it could and should be ? The only literary tradition that explicitely called forth such an approach has been "socialist realism", which is despised as "propaganda, not true to life". But there are others. Would we call Jane Austen "propaganda" ?

    This brings me to your second point : Most great novelists and movies-directors show personal troubles and moral conflicts in a world that is taken as a background. Once more this background is depicted as almost irrelevant to the personal problems, whether it be the background of "Ben Hur" or that of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" or that of "David Copperfield". But in the latter case and in novels of Zola and Sinclair Lewis and others the novels caused some real improvements, since they shed light on some bad conditions of society.

    Today we have a global awareness of all forms of atrocities and injustice and suppression anywhere in the world by looking at TV and the internet. What we see is a development of a global conscience. Thus our human condition is more than the mere irrelevant background of some private tragedy.

    My question was : It is possible to IMAGINE a good society ? And the answer of the SciFi-people and of you and Charles seems to be : Even if it were, it would be of no great interest to anybody. This seems strange to me, since of course all philosophers of the state and society tried to get at some image of a better future, while not a very convincing one.

    The problem seems to be : Either the authors depict a utopia, which looks unrealistic and implausible, or they paint a future wich looks plausible in a superficial way like "1984", but is totally implausible from the point of view of the historian and sociologist.

    Thus in a paradoxical way we are trying to realize a future society that we don't like to see.

    By the way : This paradox was well known to Camus ! His absurdism is a metaphysical one like that of Thomas Hardy ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hardy ). But Camus never would have advised to ignore moral standards of course. He did not say that good and evil are relative, he only said that doing the right thing is "not honoured by the gods", so it is a personal commitment set against the absurdity of the world. In this sense life is a work of art : What is good cannot be proven, it can only be shown and testified by ourselves.

    Thus my question has never been "What could be proven to be a good society ?" but "What would we CALL a good society worth fighting and dying for ?" — a question completely compatible with Camus.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (08/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Hubertus states: "This (good society)is a very philosophical question that has nothing to do with utilitarianism." O YES IT DOES

    Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome.

    Utility, the GOOD to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), although preference utilitarians like Peter Singer define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.

    Utilitarianism is described by the phrase "the greatest good for the greatest number of people".

    Utilitarianism can thus be characterised as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It can be contrasted with deontological ethics (closet theists who do not regard the consequences of an act as the sole determinant of its moral worth) and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequentialism.

    Adherents of these opposing views have extensively criticised the utilitarian view, but utilitarians have been similarly critical of other schools of thought. And like any ethical theory, the application of utilitarianism is heavily dependent on the moral agent's full range of wisdom, experience, social skills, and life skills.

    In general, the term utilitarian refers to a somewhat narrow economic or pragmatic viewpoint. Philosophical utilitarianism, however, is much broader.

    So yes Hubertus, I can imagine a good society but it would be in accordance with my values and not yours or anyone else's and therein is your problem you're seeking a consensus that can never exist and can never be found.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Well, Mike, then we have to kill each other until the "last man standing" defines his version of "good society" the only valid one ?

    Remember that my argumente was a Socratic one : We would not call with necessity a well respected, healthy and wealthy and bright person a "good" one. To be "good" means something different from "fitting" in this context. But what does it mean ? It is important to keep this problem clearly visible as a problem ! In this sense I wrote that a "good" society is not by necessity a "thriving" society.

    You are right that the notion of "good" is a bit hollow. Therefore I suggested to introduce once more "numbering" — "good-1", "good-2", "good-3", ... "good-x". To be a saint is different from to be a millionaire, while both are "achievers" in a certain context of evaluation. In what sense is a liberal society "better" than a socialist society — or a "naturalist-atheist" society better than a Christian or Muslim one ? What I am asking for is some standard of human behaviour that we could agree to (independent of any special weltanschauung) as approvable or even desirable.

    As I clearly stated before, humans are NOT striving for happiness. To think otherwise is downright and provably wrong, lest the concept of happiness loses all meaning. But for the sages of Antiquity who introduced this absurd idea, it was unthinkable, that someone would risk his life without being forced to do so in car-racing or mountain climbing. There was no theoretical base for such an idea. In their opinion the wise person was asking for the truth, not for excitement, since truth is a philosophical concept, while excitement is not. But real humans are going for excitement since they are nosy rats and exploring the world and trying to understand not the "truth" in a theoretical sense but "the truth about myself".

    What I tried to hint at is this difference of theoretical and "existential" concept of "good society".

    To put it simple : The "Brave New World" is a utilitarians paradise, a perfect world without any trouble or hardship. But exactly because it is perfect, it is seen as a horror. And this paradox is not visible in your utilitarian argument. That was my point.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Hubertus

    You said: What I am asking for is some standard of human behavior that we could agree to (independent of any special weltanschauung) as approvable or even desirable.



    I think that you're looking for universal moral understanding through reductionist method. I doubt if you're going to find it that way. Analytic philosophy seems to me to be an opposite pole from Wisdom philosophy.



    You have said it before, but your behaviorist examples do not explain motivations of others. You say:

    As I clearly stated before, humans are NOT striving for happiness.



    I suggest giving the "sages of Antiquity" a little more credit for Wisdom about Happiness. Just Socrates for example. Before beginning his philosophical quest, he had led a life much fuller than most of us. He had trained in the martial arts of his day (including meditative practice), served as an infantryman in war, had an occupation as stone mason, been on the loosing side of populist politics, married with children. Despite the statements of his enemies, Socrates did not have his head in the clouds.

    Now you're right that someone like Socrates might not be enthusiastic about mountain climbing. But like many foot soldiers, Socrates probably thought he had walked across enough terrain for his life time.

    Socrates was looking for Wisdom. I fail to see any obvious contradiction between that and desiring happiness.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: What is a bad society?

    Charles, you are surely right on Socrates, but that does not include that "man is striving for happiness" any more than "man is striving for saintliness". Some are, most are not. That was only one point of my argument.

    The other point — even more important — was : Man by its very nature is not "a being thriving for happiness". The very idea is as absurd as the idea of "man is a being thriving for a holy frugal life without sex and given to meditation." Once more : Some are, most are not, and overall such a description of man would be totally misleading.

    As I said : It is the nature of man as a "smart and nosy rat" to explore the world and to build and create new worlds in his phantasy and in reality.

    You are pointing to Socrates. Why not to Alexander the Great ? He was as typical (or untypical) a human as Socrates. So why should Socrates be more "typical" than Alexander ? Caesar and Napoleon and some others were admirers of Alexander. None of them was striving for happiness ! I plainly deny that "striving for happiness" is a natural human drive. It is only a special drive of some persons. Others are seeking adventures and "rescuing beautiful ladies from terrible dragons" and such things, or "building world empires" or "creating immortal works of art" etc..

    This idea of going for happiness is a very, very special idea — and interesting just by this fact.

    Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Mike Ward   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: Practical ethics.

    Roderick,

    Welcome to the conference, you mentioned practical ethics and may I suggest a topic of world population.

    My views are:

    Food production will inevitably at some point fail to meet increasing demand.

    Climate change is mostly natural, beyond our control anyway and probably necessary to curb population growth because it's too difficult an ethical question for humans to resolve.

    Due to technology the less fit are surviving which is weakening our human genepool.

    As a species equilibrium is not a natural model.

    What has philosophy got to offer in resolving population growth and it's consequences like, wars, famine and disease to name a few?

    Mike

  • FROM: Roderick Russell   (08/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Many thanks to Mike and Chris for welcoming me to the conference. Chris asked if there is a topic that I would like to talk about, but Mike jumped in with a very compelling list of views and a question with many parts, so I figure I'll start there.

    The question is multi-part and I think that we can gain some clarity by pulling it apart and asking questions of the question.

    The first thing that strikes me about the question is that it's overwhelmingly pessimistic and apocalyptic. Certainly as population increases there will be "consequences," (an interesting choice of words, and one that betrays a position of fear), but war, famine and disease are not necessarily the predetermined outcomes of a growing population. Rather than refer to this trinity of doom as the "consequence" of population increase, perhaps we should be asking what some of the possible challenges of population growth may be, how can we anticipate them, and what can we do to assure that they do not become a threat to our continued progress? Certainly those three items would be on the list, along with others, such as overcrowding, scarcity of resources (beyond mere famine) and pollution.

    Does population growth have a positive side?

    As the three items that you mention — war, famine and disease — are not exclusively the result of population growth, I suspect that the answer to your question reaches far beyond the topic of population. What does philosophy have to say about war, famine and disease in general?

    Given that these issues are not necessarily resultant from the topic of population and can be discussed without reference to the subject, I'm led to believe that the true topic of debate here is population growth itself — you seem to have a preconceived position (perhaps a very well-grounded one), but the question really becomes "Is population growth a danger to society?"

    The views which you prefaced your question with would seem to say "yes." But I ask, will food production inevitably fail to meet increasing demand? I don't know that it will. What of continued technological progress? What of continued development of new farming techniques? What of a growing population with an interest in self-preservation turning to education and innovation in an effort to feed themselves?

    As for climate change being "mostly natural" and "beyond our control anyway" (and I must confess that I dipped into the other threads here on the conference and I know the can of worms that I'm opening — hopefully it won't waylay us too much. ;) — those are two very bold statements that require an enormous amount of evidence to back up! Moreover, "mostly natural" is one issue, while "beyond our control" is another entirely, and they are not necessarily linked. You continue that viewpoint by stating that it's "probably necessary to curb population growth", which again begs the question — does population growth need to be curbed? You then go on to state that population growth — or the control of such growth — is too difficult an ethical question for humans to resolve. Why?

    As for the less fit in the gene pool surviving as a result of technology, I can't say as though I "disagree" necessarily, but in continuation of my little devil's advocate (Beelzebub's barrister? ;) position here, is not their survival by utilization of technology by definition making them "fit"? Remember, "fit" in evolutionary terms does not mean "most intelligent" or "most athletic", only "most able to survive." If man, in possession of the technology to save lives, forces that technology onto a "less fit" individual and thereby preserves them despite their wishes or effort, then yes, we are "diluting" the gene pool. But if an individual on the edge of life makes use of the technology available to them to save that life, they are every bit as "fit" in Darwinian terms as a rabbit who hides in grass to avoid a predator. For the survival of a species it's not a question of survival of the "smartest" or survival of the most "ethical", only a survival of the genes, by whatever means necessary.

    Is it not possible to view population growth as a positive development? How about these views:

    • Increasing population will encourage — indeed force — us to innovate new agricultural (and other unforeseen ways) methods of feeding ourselves.
    • New methods of food production as a result of increased population will lead to more efficient use of resources.
    • The depletion of current resources (energy, et. al.) — though a tragic way to learn a lesson — will nonetheless serve us well as we continue to grow in size and require more efficient, effective and "clean" resources.
    • Overcrowding will encourage us to explore off-planet colonization options, leading to a boom in space-based industry, employment and — looking at the larger picture — the continued preservation of our species. This is the ultimate in evolutionary "fitness."
    • The lessons learned on our home planet will serve us well as we face the same challenges on others. We will be more prepared with knowledge and know-how when the question of population, famine, resources, war and disease present themselves in the future, in other locations.

    So I ask again, is population growth a bad thing? Will it inevitably lead to the consequences that you put forth, or is it an opportunity for us to continue our evolution into a smarter, more "fit" species? (edit: I realize of course that "smart" and "fit" are not one and the same, as I expressed earlier, but I would hope that we could continue to increase our evolutionary fitness while also becoming more intelligent and ethical beings.)

    In truth, I share many of the same fears that you've expressed. But it's discussion you wanted, so that's what I've attempted to give. By considering the broader questions and alternative views, we can begin to clarify our own position and questions.

    Best,

    -Roderick

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Hello Mike,

    I was reading somewhere, that that biomass of all ants alone is a manyfold of that of all 6 bn plus humans. I am sure that we could easily feed 20 bn humans — if needed with baked ants, which may be delicious. World hunger is definetely not a problem of production but of distribution. Much of the hunger in the Third World is brought about by civil wars and bad government and imports of mainly US surpluses of food, which destroys local markets for farming and fishing. Thus on your first point you are wrong.

    The second thesis is not much better : This is good old Malthus once again. But Malthus was wronged be the progress made in Darwins time with improving genetic strands of cattle and plants, growing super-pigs and super-cows and super corn etc.. And Liebig and others were able to demonstrate the importance of chemical fertilizers and to provide those. Thus while the world population grew from Malthus' time up to now by a factor of over five, world food production grew by a factor of over ten in the same time.

    What about your third thesis ? I think Roderick has already said what is needed on "survival of the fittest". We humans are the fittest animal so far by our technology and wits, but we are to a degree endangering ourselves just by being too effective. One standard-example of this is the control of nuclear forces, which is at the same time a glorious victory of the human brain over nature, and an imminent danger to our species.

    There is a paradox that you may call a philosophical one : Overpopulation and all its dire consequences (if I accept this reading for the moment) is an outcome of "best intentions". This of course includes "survival by technical means" and thus circumventing natural selection. This is not even a matter of modern technical devices ! Already gardening and herding from 10.000 years ago was a great victory over "natural conditions". We humans by our thinking are "un-natural by nature".

    While I am sure that at least 20 bn plus humans could be fed and provided with all modern comfort without imbalancing the ecosystems, it would need a change in attitude and thinking that is not easily brought about. Not even a change to more frugality, but to a different way of living is called for. Our style of living is still extremely inefficient. We have model-houses and model-towns that demonstrate that we could live on a tenth of the energy per capita we are used to without reducing any comfort of living.

    No, I see no any good argument for "neo-Malthusian" doom-saying here. And, by the way, since people tend to have smaller families, the world population is said to shrink again from a maximum of some 9 bn in about 50 years anyway. Thus even without hunger, war, or epidemics we would be back to 4-5 bn in some 100 years from now just by having less offspring.

    Thus in my opinion not a single of your fears is justified by the data. But humans are slow learners and sometimes need really heavy beating to learn simple things. I would not be surprised if a Third World War is needed to learn the easy lessons that could be had even here and now.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Mike asked about: What does philosophy offer to the subject of population growth? Does it offer a practical ethic?

    Roderick used philosophical method to lay out the problem. Opening inquiry into a subject is a primary task for philosophy, including defining the problem, lines of inquiry, and establishing parameters.

    But I don't think that philosophy as such offers a practical ethic. I think an ethic results from one's world view. One's world view may claim universality . But other world views are probably going to question that. Philosophy may help reach some consensus despite differing world views. But I think of philosophy being more of a referee than as a practical ethic. The extent of being practical would vary among world views. Philosophy might help discern some operational agreement, like in the attempted global agreements being made about global climate change. But there is no universal philosophic practical ethic.

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    I agree to everything you wrote, Charles, but my "philosophical" arguments were hidden :

    - Try to be true to the facts first, i.e., don't cry wolf if it is not justified by the data. Clarity and honesty are the uppermost virtues of practical philosophy. If it can be proven that the real danger is human lethargy and complacency and not any natural limitation, this should clearly be stated. Concerned people are telling us that to have the Chinese and the Indian and African people get at western standards of living is out of the question, then I can only state that this is nonsense. 9 bn people can well live on the Western standards of living, but they have to change some habits.

    - But of course it can be called "immoral" to ask for a change of behaviour when you know that humans are how they are and won't easily change their habits. People could agree to scrap each and every atomic warhead, but they won't, because they are humans. To take humans for what they are, even if they behave stubborn and stupid, may be called a moral principle to be respected. There are still people around who insist that Barack Obama is a muslim or that the landing on the Moon was a hoax or that the Holocaust did not happen. There are always mad Hitlers and Ahmadinejads. No philosophical argument will change this.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Hubertus

    I think that Mike's question is really going at world population on a different tack than discerning demographic and ecological facts. I think philosophy doesn't do much of anything with facts. Her methods may be used to help referee a solution to a problem. But I think philosophy more importantly deals with defining basics, like do humans have a special place or value in the world? I think it unlikely that philosophy will generate a practical answer to questions like that. But it is necessary to grapple with these complicated question before anything practical can be done.

    I think Mike may be premature to conclude: "As a species equilibrium is not a natural model." Maybe it should be asked, what would ecological equilibrium be for humans? (Before concluding that it's not possible.)

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Charles,

    you wrote "what would ecological equilibrium be for humans?" Well, lets see : There are two extreme solutions : One would be to remove all humans from the ecosystem and restore nature. The other extreme would be to remove the "ideology of nature" and see us humans riding "Spaceship Earth". Then the ecosystems are in the responsibility of us humans.

    But in principle, we are free to define what an ecosystem is : We could build vast towers — 500 m across and 1500 m high say, with 500.000 inhabitants each and optimized recycling of energy and waste etc. — and by this our living conditions would improve and those of nature would too, since nature would be protected from us humans to a large degree.

    But, as I said : Most people would reject such a solution, since they are not used to it. Only on the Moon or Mars would they accept such a form of living in vast "bee-hives", because they are forced to. Thus I think it impossible to define by any philosophical argument what is a good equilibrium. There are countless possiblities, and the answer is not depending on philosophy but on costs and psychology and sociology etc.. If you are doing duty on a nuclear submarine, you accept the conditions of living on a nuclear submarine. It's not a philosophical question.

    Hubertus

    A note added on those towers :

    They seem to be crowded. But in fact they are spacy and allow for baseball- and soccer-places and for cinemas and theaters and shopping malls and playgrounds etc.. Think of it as 500 stacked villages of 500m across each, with only 1.000 inhabitants per village, which is not crowded. People could leave the towers anytime by cars or trains or choppers to meet the environment and have a stroll in the untouched nature outside. Only ten such towers would give ample space and comfort to 5 million people. But since they are not used to it they will fight it with teeth and claws. Technically it can be realized even today.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Here for a good example of practical ethics, Mike :

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1917458,00.html

    Whom would you blame ? The producers ? The consumers ? The capitalism ? The government ?

    They all are behaving "reasonable" — on their own interests, that is. This — and not utopia — was my point with "good society" : One has to find a way where "common interest" and "private interest" can come together. We have a situation (not only in the USA of course) where the interplay of private interest often adds up to something which is detrimental to all — but nobody is to blame, since everybody is behaving "reasonable".

    The original idea was to make the interplay of free decisions result in the overall best outcome for all. But since it depends on results, you cannot leave such a problem to the philosophers. One has to see what actually happens No philosopher could tell you. That's the problem.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Mike, here you can enter a different debate :

    http://www.economist.com/debate/overview/151&sa_campaign=debateseries/debate30/alert/round/open

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (08/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Hi,

    Hubertus objects to my view of ultimately limited food resources as "old thinking" preferring to believe that the planet can sustain an infinite population of human beings — maybe that's why the US has printed on it's currency "In God we Trust" (fishes, loaves and all that. Personally the theme of Soylent Green looks far more likely.

    In my dictionary anything less than infinite is finite and thus limited, I never espoused at what level of density things would fall over but tower blocks with half a million inhabitants sounds like battery farming and much closer to the Matrix.

    Although often called a pessimist I take this as a compliment as in my view pessimists are at a stage above optimists — after all we are just "well informed" optimists.

    Hubertus quotes pigs in pens and chickens in cramped conditions as potentially bad. At some point humans will face the same scenario with standing room only on the planet, at least at that point the birth rate should drop a little:-)

    Chris asked "Is population growth a danger to society?" — I think most definitely yes unless people change and disregard anything that creates division, you know race religion etc. etc. otherwise the half million population tower blocks will end up as ghetto's.

    Population growth seems a too difficult an ethical question for humans to resolve. Why, because human beings do not like limits and it is allied with eugenics — who decides those that shall be born and by what criteria (China attracted world condemnation for it's one child policy)

    Charles asks, what would ecological equilibrium be for humans? (Before concluding that it's not possible.)

    Well it's manifestly obvious that as personal wealth increases then birth rate decreases so we need to get rid of the poor. But, despite what Hubertus argues, we do live in a world of finite resources thus we have a dilemma that maybe only global warming can get us out of — if we do nothing and let it?

    Optimistically,

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Mike, you should get back to the factual. I won't propose a world with 20bn people, but I stay with my assurance that they could live easily and with all comfort and space needed — and for real ! No "Soylent Green" and not "Matrix" either. We are wasting space and energy to an enormous degree now !

    Look at a circle of 500 m across. This is vast ! The "Queen Mary 2" (345 m) would comfortably sit inside. Most English villages and small towns would easily fit into such a circle too. Now I populated each of those circles with only 1000 persons. Then there is ample space for playgrounds and parcs and cinemas and shopping malls etc. left. Its really comfortable, no overcrowding at all. And now I stack 500 of those "villages" — each of them 3 m high — to make one tower of 500.000 inhabitants. No crowding ! But you may group any 10 of them together like a modern hotel to get the space for growing 25 m high trees and roller-coaster etc.. The one thing you would not have there is free sunlight for all. But you can guide the sunlight from the top of the tower, using mirrors, just down to the bottom and have it on every story, and you can have sun-decks around every story on the outside, so people have much space outside of the towers where to sip their tea or Martini looking into the landscape or the setting sun. Think of all this as very comfortably and beautifully designed like in a luxury hotel or on a cruising ship. When people want to see the landscape, they either go up to the choppers on top or down to the cars and trains in the first story.

    As you see as an engineer, there is not much energy wasted. Most of the heat that is needed for living comfortably is coming from the body heat of the inhabitants. Most of the rest is coming from solar-panels on the outside, and much is recycled from all that cooking and bathing and freezing and regenerated by using Stirling-engines ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine ). Since people don't need cars inside the towers, where living space and working space are easily connected by using elevators and small electrical buses, there is no waste of gas with many private cars. Genererally private cars are not needed and not admitted. There are cars for rent available in sufficient numbers. There may be some sweatshops and fabrication plants outside of the towers, but most work will be — as today — happen in some lab or office, so most people do not need to leave the towers save to see the environments.

    I only wanted to show that your idea of getting at "Soylent Green" or the "Matrix" is outdated and not justified. This is what can make me furious : Those silly movies are like mental blinders that render us unable to see what is possible. All those horror-scenarios of the future are paralyzing nonsense. Look at this Amory Lovins page and do some clicking there ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amory_Lovins ). Those are the REAL visionaries and not the stupid inventors of "Soylent Green".

    No, pessimists are NOT "well informed optimists".

    I did not speak of an infinity of humans, but of 20bn, and I added, that the growth-curve may be broken already and the number of humans will go down from a peak somewhere between 9-12 bn in about 40-50 years from now. Those are the UNO data.

    But I said explicitely and against a common understanding that 20 bn people could live comfortably and well fed in those towers, and while the suggestion to feed them with "baked ants" was spoken "tongue in cheek" it is not totally absurd : To feed on pigs and cows is only "bad habit" and there are many tribes in the jungle regions of the world that feed on beetles and their larvae, which seems to be delicious. There are many ways of feeding people on a good and healthy diet. I once was to a hotel where all meals were without meat but vegetarian. It was excellent ! I only wanted to show that it is possible. Scrap your absurd and misleading vision of "Soylent Green" then. It is as absurd and misleading a vision as were "1984" and "Brave New World". Once more : Why do people so easily fall to what is absurd and improbable and deny what is plausible and can be done ?

    And to be clear on that one : I explicitely start from the fact that this is a finite global surface and finite ressources, and I never said otherwise ! Thus my "20 bn people living in Western comfort and well fed" was to be taken seriously for a finite world and ecosystem. I just wanted to show you that living in those towers people would recycle 90%+ of all energy and waste instead of 10%- as now. But, as I said, people are slow learners. They won't do what is reasonable. They will insist on having a private home and a private car, and if this is granted, then you are right and we cannot have Western lifestyle for 9 bn people. But this is not because of the finite ressources, but because of the stubbornness of people insisting on silly ways of life. I think it is very important to make this difference.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (08/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Hubertus,

    City sized buildings, well that's quite a picture you paint and I don't know how others would like living in such a utopian dream. Personally I give it no rating at all, it's what I would call something akin to hell.



    No personal space to play my music at 100dB, no privacy to sunbathe, a mechanically ventilated and controlled environment much like the film "Brazil". Total surveillance in our best interests of course. A life of safety spent on an eternal cruise ship — Aaaaaaaaaaaaahh!!!!

    No, I want freedom to move, expand, alter, be private, make noise, be quiet, cut grass, grow plants and vegetables, keep chickens, have a cat or dog, complain about the rain, watch children learn first hand about nature, see and wonder about the sun, moon and stars.

    You offer, maybe even seriously, what I see as a social beehive full of compliant drones all socially rounded and politically correct living harmoniously together without goals or purpose. One could invite ones neighbours to soma parties and pour scorn on our ridiculous hunter gatherer ancestors. For me this is a society without adventure except maybe in safely supervised national parks like the Amazon or Andes or Himalayas.

    Architects are slowly learning that big developments don't work and the tower blocks of the 60's are most demolished and replaced with lower density housing. The trend is the other way and not that (your) way.

    I'm off now to play some loud music but I wont be antisocial as my nearest neighbours are out or earshot.

    You have some scary ideas,

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Mike, thank you for your "list of nos", which looks somewhat representative. We humans seem still to be the old apes, roaming the savannah or at least the park-lane of some better suburb. In fact, about 30-40 % of all humans today never lived anywhere else than in flats or shacks. Your way of living is completely out of the question for them.

    And you still did not get it : My vision is not that of "Brazil" either. It is more like this Hyatt Dubai ( http://www.dubai.grand.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp ), only stacked up to 500 m height and more — which is possible. As I said again and again, these buildings are meant to preserve nature for the visitors. You just take the elevator and step out of the door to enter the landscape. Today — living your way — you have to go to Scotland or to Canada to find a place that is not "spoiled" by human homes. In the world of my towers humans would live in their self made corral, but free to visit nature anytime.

    The other point was — and you didn't care a trifle — that in this way to house and to feed 20+ bn people comfortably would be possible. I just wanted to prove that point.

    What I wanted to prove is : The limit to population growth is not nature, not energy or food or other ressources, but human stubbornness, the inability to adapt. For many people like you the New York or Shanghai of today seem to look like "Gotham City" of Batman, which of course is nonsense. Many people living in NY love this city really, they would not stand your way of living in the outskirts for more than a week. In this sense humans are adaptible.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (08/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Hubertus,

    I hope I am permitted not to share your vision of the future because I do not think I am alone.

    Maybe I am fortunate in having experienced both city and country life and can make an informed choice between the two. What you describe as "people living comfortably" I would describe as institutionalized existence.

    You accept there is a limit to population what that limit is we are debating but it is not infinite. The quality of life, at least by my values, is inversely proportional to population. The point you have proven is that it is possible to accommodate billions of people provided they give up increasing amounts of freedom of choice of lifestyle.

    People conditioned to believe that your half million tower blocks are wonderful have as you rightly say been "adapted" — I don't want to be adapted.

    So what are these high rise cities to be popularly called, Muslim city, Christian City, Gay city, Black city or have the inhabitants been adapted to think in non PC terms. Slums are created by people and tend to move with them to wherever they go.

    No it simply won't work with humans the way they are at present and maybe what we really need is for philosophy to find a way of changing people and suddenly we come full circle to what they should become — Good, whatever that is.

    Regards

    Mike

    Is this tall enough? http://brainhash.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/babudownload1.jpg

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Practical ethics.

    Thank you Mike for the wonderful grafic !

    We could go on and on, but it's not worth it. I just wanted to show that things are possible, but not with this apish humans that want to step out of a private house to be in the landscape. As I wrote, 30-40% of all humans don't have such a luxury anyway. They would be happy to live in the lively neighbourhoods of my towers. You still think that these must be slums, since you simply don't relize that these are stacked "luxury suburbs" with all that is needed.

    Well, lets have another world-war and more hunger and epidemics to get the world population down to those numberst that allow for your style of living. May I take this for your preliminary answer : A good life is a life in a single home in the countryside, and since only about 1 bn people could ever afford that, lets see to it that world population gets down again to that number.

    But now try to be very philosophical and see it thus : Up comes a new race of thinking and adventurous robots that are reasonable and have no problem whatsoever living in my "towers" and you have 20+ bn smart robots dominating 1 bn humans that won't change their apish habits. THAT would be a funny SF-movie I am waiting for !

    You can see what is happening today : Western people living in high-rises by the millions dominating Native Americans or Native Australians that won't give up on the life style of their ancestors once roaming the outback or the prairie. So from a historical point of view it is only one logical step forward. Why be content with YOUR lifestyle ? Why not insist on the inalienable human right to chase buffaloes from horseback with bow and arrow ?

    Laughing Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Ronald Scott   (08/29/09)
    SUBJECT: Self Introduction

    Hello from Japan!

    My name is R. Brent Scott. I've recently decided to pursue the BA in philosophy via UofL and see that a few others here have as well. Good Luck!

    My background is primarily in clinical psychology(BS/MA), but minored in both philosophy and religion. To be honest, I much preferred philosophy, but thought it may be easier to get a job with a degree in psychology. That's why I'm an English teacher in Japan now (???)

    I have yet to narrow down which aspects/areas of philosophy I find most compelling. Some days it's political philosophy, psychological/cognitive science(Mind), linguistics, and other days it's aesthetics, Zen, and music. I tend to shy away from philosophy of mathematics, science, etc...as I feel even less qualified to contribute, anything serious anyway, than I already do regarding the other branches of philosophy. Perhaps over time those areas of philosophy which I'm most attracted to will become clearer. Recently, I've been most interested in ethics (cultural & ethical relativism) as a friend of mine became the subject of a BBC piece(2006?)on eco-tourism, and whether or not people should be taking tours into unchartered territories like Papua, New Guinea, and making contact with native Papuans. (If interested, go to Youtube and enter something like 'First Contact: New Guinea) The piece deals, to a certain extent, with very interesting questions

    regarding ethics, relativism (though this isn't pursued in much depth), and so on.

    Like some/many here, I'm perhaps interested in too many things. Narrowing down my interests, if this is even necessary, or learning to better become a little more comfortable bouncing around in the chaos of not knowing, is perhaps my goal here. A piano teacher of mine once drew a circle. He then ruled off a slice of about 5%. He said that this is how much we know we know. Then another slice of about 10% and said that this was how much we know we don't know. The rest of the pie was what we don't even know we don't know.

    Nice meeting everyone. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything, feel free to drop me a line.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Self Introduction + new topic

    Welcome Brent, nice to meet you here !

    Well, lots of questions, and you are right : there are ! Your piano-teacher was quite right.

    One possible starter :

    Cultures as well as languages and the arts are like ways : They enable us to see and to do and to think many things, but at the same time with necessity are like blinders : We stay on the way and shun the wilderness and we think in this way but not in that one.

    Today we have multi-culturalism : The Japanese know "Western" culture to a degree, while we "Westerners" know Japanese culture "to a degree". But it is not clear how much everbody really understands. As a Christian by upbringing I could read books (and did so) on Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism etc., but I know that I never will understand any other religion in the same way as my "native" religion which I attended from childhood. So there are limits to mutual understanding — not only in Papua-New Guinea.

    Thus perhaps we could start a debate on what "understanding" and "mutual understanding" comes to. There are almost all of your interests involved, while at the same time it is a well defined topic. Perhaps think of a new topic header so we know what we are speaking about.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (08/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Self Introduction

    Thanks for the response, Hubertus!

    Interesting comments. One comment which stood out was the one regarding the probability of only ever being able to know your own religion. At first glance the comment seemed easy and straightforward enough. But I wonder how much people really do know about what they claim as their own religion.

    For instance, in my experience, most folks whom claim to be of the Christian faith do not really seem to know much about it. And many, if not most do not agree on a great many things regarding the faith. Likewise, most folks here in Japan seem to know almost nothing about their own faiths of Buddhism or Shintoism, though most all partake in rituals, celebrations, etc...

    I'm curious if the same phenomena occurs in the faiths of those tribal folks living in New Guinea. I'm not sure why it wouldn't. Anyway, this leads us to questions of cultural relativism and the like.

    Most recently I've become a little more drawn toward some form of pluralism. If interested, I recommend Professor David Wong. I've also found the works of Max Kobel interesting as well.

    I've just recalled that there is a quite interesting little video on Youtube based on the works of Ruth Benedict. If you have a chance check it out. It's called The Brotherhood of Man (1946)

    I'll think of a topic title and we can begin in the next day or two.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (08/30/09)
    SUBJECT: on cultural knowledge

    Hello Brent, you are completely right on that most people do not know much about their religion. Because of this I use to number concepts in the form of "knowing-1", "knowing-2", "knowing-3",... "knowing-x", etc.. What I meant with "knowing from childhood" was a certain sort of familiarity as with close relatives or with your home or home-town or the countryside or environment where you spent your childhood. This form of "knowing" has not much to do with "knowing" in any scientific way. Thus the people in Papua will follow their rites but not "know" the origins or meaning of those. The rites "have to be done that way". They are customs, but venerable, even "necessary" customs. They stabilize our belonging to some community and way of living. Those are "folkways". And they stabilize our world.

    I know of Benedict, while I never read "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword". Instead I read the German version of "Patterns of Culture" in the 1960s. I once read much ethnological stuff, text-books about "strange people". I was interested in human culture and behaviour and thinking. So I read Margaret Mead and several others from that field.

    Thank you for those hints, I will have a look. Oh, I need some link to "David Wong" and to "Max Kobel", since there are several of both names, who seem not to be those who were on your mind.

    Where are you living now in Japan ?

    Have a good time out there, Hubertus

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/01/09)
    SUBJECT: Towels and sunbeds

    Brent,

    Welcome,

    It's good to have some new blood into the discussions and hopefully not too much will be metaphorically spilled :-)

    I picked up on the "own religion" comment and wondered just how much of a misuse of language this was when in fact ones religion is the adopted religion of one's social group. Religion is almost exclusively an accident of birth. I did once commence to set up the rules for religion (any religion) and found many common themes that permeated most if not all religions. Buddhism however did stand out as an oddity but I'll leave that discussion for another time.

    In your first message you raised the subject of a BBC piece(2006?)on eco-tourism, and whether or not people should be taking tours into uncharted territories like Papua, New Guinea, and making contact with native Papuans.

    Such questions I find rather pointless unless there is some underlying motive to freeze evolution and prevent change. The question not asked is how these people came to be there in the first place (excluding garden of eden theories) as it's genetically demonstrable that they migrated along known routes out of Africa. In short they were the first to put their towels on the sun beds before the germans — only slightly joking Hubertus!

    An interesting visit of such tribal people to "modern" Brittain was recently documented and clearly identified that apart from technical knowlege the stone-agers assimilated western culture easily. They can cope so why can't some of us cope with them changing?

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (09/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Towels and sunbeds

    Mike, this may be the explanation of the thundering silence on this conference now : Everybody is sunbathing and neglecting the well being of his soul while burning his body !

    On those Papuans in modern Brittany see Montaigne on cannibals :

    http://courses.csusm.edu/hist318ae/Montaigne%20essay.htm

    This famous essay is a lively read after 430 years. But at least Montaigne was fair — as were Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau later on : They criticized their European conditions in the light of "the noble savage", who seemed to be "less crooked and distorted by culture".

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Self Introduction

    Hello Mike! Nice to meet you!

    As you said, the questions of whether or not people should be making contact with uncontacted tribal folks does seem a little odd, especially when coming from anyone even slightly interested in anthropology. "Hey, I'm interested in primitive cultures. I just don't think we should contact them." Not the sort of education which lends itself to aquiring much knowledge about people I wouldn't think.

    Anyway, the question of cultural relativism might come into play here if anyone is interetsed. I will start this up next.

    Thanks! Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/03/09)
    SUBJECT: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    P1: In order for someone to really be a cultural relativist they'd be required to accept that the Holocaust was not wrong, but simply an expression particular to the German culture.

    P2: There is no one who believes the Holocaust was not wrong.

    C: There are no cultural relativists.

    Now, I'll begin by stating that it's not that I believe there are no CRs, but rather that the requirements which have been laid at their door, those such as the Holocaust example, do represent their position from the outset.

    I'll leave it at this for now, and wait for a response.

    Thanks!

    Brent

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (09/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent, your example is of course fitting and standard. We even may take our own outdated traditions for "strange cultures" : No burning of witches, no slavery, no duelling etc. anymore. There are many customs we wouldn't support today, even while Aristotle could accept them for "natural".

    I look at it this way : We have no problem with many strange habits of people around. What they eat or how they dress up etc.. All humans are used to see strange people then and now. But there is no dispute about killings and insultes and lying and cheating and beating etc.. Thus there are some universal "don'ts" across all cultures. So we may find out what those universal "don'ts" are.

    The Nazis were not having strange habits but some really bad habits and neuroses. If somebody is a child molester he is not having "strange habits" but a neurosis. Thus I am a CR as far as it goes, but some behaviour is not "strange" but "really mad", and this difference is to be taken seriously in a clinical way.

    Again you see why I am urging this "numbering" : "strangeness-1", "strangeness-2", "strangeness-3", ... "strangeness-x", because "to be not normal" can mean different things : "not as expected" or "not as usual" or "not as acceptable" (and some more) — which all is not the same.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hello, Hubertus!

    The comment of your which interests me most is the one regarding "universals". That it seems that "killing and insults and lying and cheating and beating, etc..." do seem somewhat universally reviled, they have probably all, a one time or another, not be viewed in exactly this way. But for the sake of argument let's assume that ALL cultures DO despise the examples given above. Do they do it in exactly the same way? Who is to decide how to carry out an appropriate response to any of these? How are they to determine a response? Who decides who will determine? What if there are disagreements about the differences about what "killing" means and "self-defense" which results in killing, aggression which results in killing, etc...

    Secondly, assuming there really is such a thing as 'a culture', and assuming that there really are different cultures, would it not be possible that they simply have similar habits? True, it seems that there are universals such as a)All people must breathe to survive b)All people must have water to survive, etc....However, to jump from "biological universals" to "moral/ethical/etc... universals" I'm not so sure about. Perhaps it's simply a matter of semantics, but it appears that either notions such as morality, altruism, etc...really are universal at the same level as air and water, or that these notions are not universal at all, but rather 'particulars', unique to each individual, which just happen, by chance, choice, mutual agreement, or something else, to be alike. This is probably some sort of a pluralist position, which some distinguish from that of a relativist, though I personally think many of the distinctions are overstated or non-existent, and seem to be based on incorrect interpretations of what relativism is in the first place. Anyway, what do think about the possibility of pluralism as described above?

    Thanks! Brent



  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (09/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    I question the assumption that your question makes. It assumes that a moral value can be assigned to a culture. Using your example, German culture (at the time of the Holocaust) was less moral than other cultures.

    I don't think that German culture caused the Holocaust. It was caused by an Austrian immigrant to Germany, A. Hitler, his political party of National Socialists, allied with other European fascists. German culture didn't declare war on the Jews. Hitler did.

    Cultures enable humans to cope with their environment. Cultures do this to varying degree and with varying complexity that changes over time. I do not see where moral value is assigned here.

    And if people assign moral value to cultures that would actually make future genocide more possible.

    Moral evaluation is of individuals (e.g. Hitler) and certain groups of individual humans (e.g. the Nazi death camp organizers). I say that Hitler is a problem found in German and European history, not in German culture.

    Charles













  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (09/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    A question for the conference. (I don't know the answer.)

    Were there any systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group before the attempted extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany?

    Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (09/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Without going into the details, I think the killing of the Armenians by the Turks was similar, and I darkly remember that there were several such "genocides" in the Old Testament "in the name of God" — including women, old people and children. And several other "purgings" were not intended with a view at the Nazis, not in the Hutu-Tutsi massacre in Rwanda, nor in the killing of the Chinese in Indonesia in 1965, nor in the killing of muslim Bosniaks by Christian Serbs in 1995. The idea has been always the same : Purification to get rid of some imagined "invisible" enemy weakening the own strength. The "Red Scare" of MacCarthy during the 1950s was not different as a "purification", but was not racist either — and did not work out.

    In my opinion the killing of the Jews by the Nazis was not "racist" in principle, it was just one special form of "purification" that happened to be "justified" by racist arguments. The killing of the handicapped and the terminal ill persons as "useless eaters" was not that different.

    Thus "purification" and not "racism" was the common denominator. See "Purity and Danger" by the ethnologist Mary Douglas on this (ISBN-13: 978-0415289955). The central thesis is : While people can be very playful and tolerant when they feel secure, that same people may turn mad and crazy when feeling insecure and weak. In such cases, they try to get rid of everything that hightens a feeling of ambiguity or disorientation and fear of a hidden danger, be it an alien race or modern art or strange habits or "invisible radiation" or "invisible aliens" or whatever. This mechanism is proven again and again by history.

    Hubertus

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (09/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Thank you for the info Hubertus. I will leave it there for the moment and allow Brent (and others) to come back.

    I'm a little uncertain about the topic, mixing of cultural relativists and the Holocaust. How is culture being defined? My understanding of cultures would have cultures including social norms and mores, but not assigning moral values to different cultures.

    However discussion re the Holocaust is a discussion about morality and ethics. It is a discussion at a "higher level" than that of cultural anthropology. So I wonder if the discussion here would be about moral relativists rather than cultural relativists?

    Charles

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hubertus,

    Some points you make that I take issue with:

    You say: "But there is no dispute about killings and insults and lying and cheating and beating etc.." I say that only by killing, lying and cheating do some cultural groups survive especially ones under threat by another culture. Culture is usually indistinguishable from race anyway. The rewards of cheating are shown up to be little different from those of alleged higher moral values — take banking or arms dealing or drugs — all pretty rewarding.

    Charles says: "Moral evaluation is of individuals (e.g. Hitler) and certain groups of individual humans (e.g. the Nazi death camp organizers). I say that Hitler is a problem found in German and European history, not in German culture." Well may be the first time, questionable the second time but third strike and you're out of excuses.

    Hubertus you said: "Thus "purification" and not "racism" was the common denominator." Hey they were purifying the Arian race — same thing.

    Finally there is a fundamental difference between cultures that put society first and those who put individuals first — only one of them can be relative and it's those who usually start wars.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hello, Charles!

    Allow me to begin by saying that the example I offered (Holocaust) regarding the 'supposed' requirements one need accept if one assumes the relativist position (not my example)is a common example of which I myself also disagree. Not necessarily because it would be incorrect if 'relativists' actually held the positions assigned to them by their detractors, but that what their detractors believe their position to be is incorrect in the first place. They seem to make many assumptions about what the requirments are, but to my knowledge there just don't really seem to be many folks who hold these positions.

    It appears to me that much of what takes place is that many of those who try and construct arguments against 'relativists' offer such examples as the Holocaust one, create lots of straw with them, and then begin chopping away. I've encountered something similar (I could be mistaken here, at least regarding the relativism) when debating the ideas, works, etc...of Professor Noam Chomsky. I've read literally hundreds, if not thousands, of fallacious arguments put forth against his works, most all of which were based on flawed assumptions of what his positions were from the outset---read a few passages out of context, jump to incorrect conclusions about what they 'think' the positions are, and repeat the errors over and over.

    Anyway....I agree with what you've said regarding the distinction between German culture and morality. Personally, I don't think the Holocaust had much of anything to do with culture at all. It had to do with a few people constructing a world view based on a variety of ideas, notions, factors, etc...which eventually led to the Holocaust. Same thing could probably happen in most any culture. It has happened to varying degrees in many places. So, no, I don't think German culture is less moral than any other culture. I think there are some people who happen to be less moral than others in all cultures. Of course what makes this so I believe to be relative as well.

    Brent





  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Mike, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like for you go into more detail about the following statement:

    "Finally there is a fundamental difference between cultures that put society first and those who put individuals first — only one of them can be relative and it's those who usually start wars.

    1)Which cultures do you feel put individuals first?

    2)Which cultures do you feel put society first?

    3)What do you mean that "only one can be relative"?

    4)Are you thinkng of any countries in particular when saying "those who usually start wars"?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent,

    We do not live in a binary world so my answers are going to contain exceptions to the statements I am making and as much as I dislike generalities there are trends that exist and these are measurable so by and large my answers are:

    Firstly, which cultures do you feel put individuals first?

    These tend to be democratically accountable nations where the removal of the "government" can be done peacefully by the people. Democracy is not the best structure but probably the least worst.

    Next, Which cultures do you feel put society first?

    These include both socialist and despotic regimes. Socialist Russia (as was) or Cuba or China. A good indicator is where organisations like amnesty record the most violations. Here the "goodness" of a society is not the issue what is the issue is it's continuation.

    Next, What did I mean that "only one can be relative"?

    If one grades people from human to non-human by ethnicity as has been done many times them it's much easier to wage war on enemies than friends. There are few declarations of war between practising democracies compared with democratic/non-democratic nations — google "Democratic peace theory"

    Finally, Are you thinking of any countries in particular when saying "those who usually start wars"?

    These tend to be countries whose leaders exhibit territorial ambitions, in the past certainly England, Spain and Portugal. Today, Israel, Iraq (under Sadham), Russia, N Korea, China.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi, Mike!

    I'll respond to your answers in the same numbers which you have ordered them:

    1)"These tend to be democratically accountable nations where the removal of the "government" can be done peacefully by the people. Democracy is not the best structure but probably the least worst."

    I would tend to agree, though there have been quite a few instances where democratically elected or supported governments were either overthrown, or were attempted to be overthrown by others, such as the U.S., who are supposed to (supposedly) be encouraging democratic countries, but who often haven't. Not only that, (to stick with the U.S. example) the U.S. has repeatedly supported regimes which were anything BUT democratic. However, the notion you put forth does sound good.

    2)Next was regarding which countries which do not put their people first. You have included

    "both socialist and despotic regimes. Socialist Russia (as was) or Cuba or China." I would probably take issue to an extent with all three examples here. One having to do with what one considers "socialist" to be. While using some of the language and ideas offered by much of socialist theory, many of the basic tenets of socialism didn't exist to much degree in the three examples here. On the other hand, many things did, in fact, move in the direction of at least some aspects of socialist theory. And we surely can't deduce or think they were socialist simply because they called themselves socialist any more than we can refer to North Korea as democratic because they refer to themselves as democratic. Now, what led to these countries to move in the directions they did, or taking some of the actions they did, I think we should definitely look at why they took the steps they did. What were they in reaction to? What were they "relative" to?

    "A good indicator is where organisations like amnesty record the most violations."

    Yes, and Amnesty International has been reporting violations of MANY U.S. client states as well, which, of course, implicated U.S. complicity in many of the actions. This is why AI has been primarily viewed as a hostile forum by many of the policy elites in the U.S. They've had the nerve to point out basic facts about the crimes of clients such as Israel, El Salvador, Chile, Guatamala, Indonesia, and on and on.....and the U.S. simply doesn't like it.

    "Here the "goodness" of a society is not the issue what is the issue is it's continuation."

    I'm not sure I understand this. How are you defining "goodness"? Most of the countries you've just named believe that after their "socialist" governments took control that "goodness" finally began. And compared to what had been taking place there are many arguments to be made. Of course in cases like that of Cuba, Vietnam, and others, which made gestures TO the U.S. after coming to power, but were not only snubbed, but attacked for their self-liberating tendencies, perhaps some good could have evolved a little better had the U.S. helped instead of attacking them. In the cases of Cuba and Vietnam, both of which had the overwhelming support of the population, something usually referred to as "democracy", it's not even an issue as far as I can see. Perhaps Castro could have evolved into forming a slightly more democratic society were he not afraid of being assassinated day in and day out. Just a thought.

    3)"If one grades people from human to non-human by ethnicity as has been done many times them it's much easier to wage war on enemies than friends."

    I most definitely agree on this one. One can even make friends into enemies by doing the same thing. Saddam was transfered from friend into "another Hitler"(almost non-human) within about a 24 hour period after his invasion of Kuwait. True, this wasn't due to ethnicity. At least according to some.

    "There are few declarations of war between practising democracies compared with democratic/non-democratic nations — google "Democratic peace theory""

    I'm somewhat familiar with the work of Rummel whom has done much work attempting to demonstrate this, and I've even corresponded with him a few times. However, after an exchange where I brought up many counter-points made by Chomsky he, how shall I say, flew into a frenzy calling Chomsky a "communist" and making several other false assertions which demonstrated that he surely hadn't done his homework in this area. Anyway, I'm always curious when the "democracies don't go to war against each other" assertion is made, whether or not this is supposed to be some sort of counter-balance to democracies going to war with non-democracies. Anyway, as was mentioned, the notion of what "democracy" consists of is quite murky much of the time as far as I can see.

    Here is a decent link which touches upon the argument of democracies supposedly not going to war with one another.

    http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/demowar.htm

    4)Regarding those countries which have often started wars you've responded: "These tend to be countries whose leaders exhibit territorial ambitions, in the past certainly England, Spain and Portugal. Today, Israel, Iraq (under Sadham), Russia, N Korea, China."

    I would agree with several of these, and would probably add many more. I would also add that the U.S. grew and exists primarily from precisely "exhibiting territorial ambitions". Of course this isn't intended to say that this was better or worse than any other expansion by aggression, but it may bring us back to questions of relativism. Perhaps questions like "Why is it okay for the U.S. to do X,Y,Z,(have a hugh arsenal of nuclear weapons and WMD, while saying others can't. Or not adhering to international law while demanding others follow the law. Or even more cynically, trying to make arguments that the same rules can't be applied to the U.S. due to their special position in the world. An attribution which most of the planet isn't all too fond of. The list goes on...) Are these not extreme examples of relativist thinking and behavior? This is why I find it odd that many folks within the U.S. seem to be so down on relativism.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (09/14/09)
    SUBJECT: It's about geography

    It's about geography. A subject philosophy seems to have forgotten after the pre-Socratic philosophers and ancient Greek historians.

    Brent said: I would also add that the U.S. grew and exists primarily from precisely "exhibiting territorial ambitions".

    ----------

    It has been called America's "Indivisible Imperatives."

    In the late 18th Century, due to its island geography and naval power, Britain was the most powerful country in the world.

    After declaring independence from Britain, America's first geographic imperative was to secure strategic depth. British domination of the sea threatened American national survival both during its Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Thus the U.S.A. in its early years aggressively pushed inland to establish economic centers not exposed to naval power. Territory to absorb the large number of European immigrants was opened when the U.S. moved across the Appalachian Mountains.

    Note- Before the American immigration across the Appalachians, disease, economic destruction, and slavery introduced by European imperialist expeditions (Spanish, Dutch, English, French) had already decimated large populations of Native American people. The use of native Americans as pawns in the North American theater of the European wars between Britain and France raised hostility between the remaining Native American population and American colonialists.

    The second American geographic imperative was to secure North America. The Louisiana Purchase vastly increased American territory. This was threatened by the Mexican forces commanded by General Santa Ana. It seems odd now, but the Mexican Army at that time was a much more imperial force than the American. If General Santa Ana had subdued Texas and then seized New Orleans, history would have been much different. But the big man on horse back, Santa Ana, was defeated by the democratic forces of Texas. (note- The democratic forces of Texas were made up of two regiments, one Anglo and one Hispanic.)

    The War of Texas Independence (1836) and the later war between Mexico and the U.S.A. (1846) secured America from land invasion.

    The third geographic imperative for the U.S.A. was to secure ocean approaches. The Pacific approaches were secured by an imperialist seizure of Hawaii.

    The Atlantic approaches included European imperial assets in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Canada, and South America. Note- Germany tried to take advantage of Mexico in World War 1. The U.S. seized Puerto Rico and Cuba from Imperial Spain in 1898. But it was not until WW 2 that the U.S. secured the Atlantic approach.

    The next logical step and fourth geographic imperative for the U.S.A., whom had succeeded the U.K. as the world's maritime power, was to control the world's oceans. It did this with its democratic allies in defeating Imperial Japan in the Pacific and fascist Germany in the Atlantic during WW 2.

    The fifth geographic imperative for the U.S.A. was to prevent another nation controlling a larger continent-sized mass. Both WW 1 and WW 2 had been fought to prevent a dominant Eurasia power. After WW 2, the U.S. developed a more nuanced approach to this than the previous European Imperial Powers. The U.S. assisted states that resisted local hegemons. This included forming NATO, backing Taiwan against mainland China, Yugoslavia against the Soviet Union, Pakistan against India, Iraq against Iran, and Kuwait against Iraq.

    History leaves no doubts about geopolitical forces driving nations. Philosophy should not be naive about this. Philosophy should ask whether geopolitics can be harnessed for the benefit of humanity?

    Charles

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Charles!

    There is little doubt that geographical expansion seems to have been a primary motivation in a great many of the instances.

    Regarding the pre-Socratics it sounds as though you may be making reference to Thucydides and his notion that those who aquire power are the ones who decide what is right and just. This alone demonstrates a relativism of sorts at work. Not the relativism of which I am fond, but one which uses the concept for self(ish) interested reasons. This is one of the common arguments against relativism it seems; that if one assumes a relativist position, that any ruthless power gaining territory by force must be acceptible for it's their choice. Now, I know nothing in relativism which states that anyone must accept anything of the sort. And I'm sure it's true that they believe what they are doing is right, or that they have every right to pursue their interests. I simply don't see that in order for one to qualify as a relativist, that one must accept anything of the sort.

    Brent said: I would also add that the U.S. grew and exists primarily from precisely "exhibiting territorial ambitions".

    "It has been called America's "Indivisible Imperatives.""Charles

    It's been called an "imperative" by whom? I doubt seriously that those on the receiving end of the expansion felt it to be imperative that they be decimated in order that some white folks from Europe could take their land. (This goes with most every other case as well. Not just the U.S.) I'm aware of the arguments and apologetics which attempt to make the mass slaughter of the native population sound like just a natural and benign, though perhaps not quite so pretty, development, where some were simply following their natural and god-given rights to their logical ends. Hitler thought pretty much the same in his conquest. Most aggressors have come up with all sort of rationalizations, followed by the predictable apologetics, to explain their plights. Oh, and they all want peace, are usually always only fighting "defensively", etc....If there is one truism about history and power more consistant than this I sure don't know what it is.

    Regarding your statement:

    "History leaves no doubts about geopolitical forces driving nations. Philosophy should not be naive about this. Philosophy should ask whether geopolitics can be harnessed for the benefit of humanity?"

    I agree 100%. Now, how does this relate to relativism? Do countries which have the power and force get to decide what's right for everyone else?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (09/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Brent

    Nice to make your acquaintance. I was very engaged in the forum a few weeks back but have been busy on other things lately and missed out on the beginning of this discussion.

    I am also interested in the idea of cultural relativism in relation to ethics. Whether I would subscribe to the doctrine, I don't know. I am not sure I understand it in anything but superficial terms. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

    According to the egregious Wikipedia 'Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood in terms of his or her own culture.' This seems a fairly innucous principle, which has nothing much to do with ethics. Ethical relativism I take to be an extension of this view. Roughly speaking, it seems to be the idea that judging whether an action is good or right can only be determined by reference to the principles and values prevalent in the cultural context of the action.

    One question that bothers me here is how do we define that cultural context. Regions, nations, linguistic communities, religions, institutions, organisations, social groups and families can all be seen to have distinctive cultures. Is each group entitled to its own distinctive ethics, immune to criticism from other groups?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    My primary interest is perhaps not subscribing to doctrine of the "idea of cultural relativism in relation to ethics", but whether or not the notion of cultural relativism is, in fact, comprised of the rules which have been assigned to it. It's not so much that cultural relativism is right or wrong, but what the notion consists of in the first place; a definition of the notion.

    The reason I'm interested in this is that as I read anti-relativist writings, such as some of those of James Rachels (which you can find online), and I read the writings of those who are supposedly proponents of relativism, like Ruth Benedict, etc...it appears as there's a gap between what the "relativists" claim their positions to be, and what their critics assign to them. The example I left at the beginning regarding ones acceptance of Hitler's genocide is an example of such gap. I know of no one, relativist or not, who would ever condone or make apologetics based on cultural differences for Hitler's genocide. It appears to me more of taking a portion of what has been asserted by the "relativists", and then run (wildly off base in my opinion) with it.

    That there are cultural differences I don't know of anyone who makes an argument that there are not. Even the notion of culture seems to imply that some group X must be different to some extent from another, or I'm not sure why the notion would have ever arisen in the first place. From my position, there ARE different cultures, and this is a perhaps a truism. That there are some similarities and differences should be of no surprise at all. After all, we're all human. It would be most odd if there weren't similarities and differences. The arguments and chrages usually made against relativism seem to be of the sort which seem to focus primarily on the similarities of cultures, and assign a universal position to all humans, which I personally find easily able to fit within a relativist's position. The problem seems to enter the picture when one culture decides it is able to impose it's notion of right and wrong (ethical aspects) onto another group. Well, do you think one group has a right over another? And when I ask this question, I'm not saying that I don't, necessarily, but whether or not it's a good or bad idea, or if it makes any difference.

    Also, not only do I not think that cultural relativism is bad, but rather, often good, but more importantly necessary and probably unavoidable. I would take it all the way down to not only no two cultures are exactly alike, but that no two people are, even within ones own culture, both of which (people AND cultures) I believe to always be changing and evolving (perhaps devolving at times). Once again, there are no people which are the same, and they are, therefore, necessarily relative to one another. How and what we decide to do with relative placement seems to be up to us. This probably implies some sort of free will issues, which we may wish to get into, as well as this "free will" being no doubt influenced by whichever culture we happen to have been born into. Perhaps the arguments stem from discrepencies between the various influences and the people bickering over them(probably everyone).

    Anyway, I perhaps haven't enlightened you as to the relativist position, but if you discover that their's is a position which I have misrepresented here I'd be more than happy to respond to where I may be off, which is highly possible.

    Regarding your statement:

    "One question that bothers me here is how do we define that cultural context. Regions, nations, linguistic communities, religions, institutions, organisations, social groups and families can all be seen to have distinctive cultures. Is each group entitled to its own distinctive ethics, immune to criticism from other groups?"

    Here you have expressed what I find to be one of the common arguments against relativism. Initially, you pose the question of whether or not "each group" is "entitled to its own distinct ethics". Well, what do you think? Do you wish for someone else to deciding for you? How do we, and who do we decide is entitled to make the decisions? If X makes the argument that they believe female circumcision in culture Y is wrong, and that they feel obliged to stop culture Y from doing it, does culture Y have the same right to impose their ideas on culture X? Say, for instance, that culture Y believes is ethically and morally repugnant that culture X has a stockpile of WMD and nuclear weapons which could potentially destroy the entire planet, and they've shown, repeatedly, that they're not afraid to attack weaker nations with WMD, and so Y decide to take them away, or do whatever they see reasonable to do so. After all, culture X's actions have contributed to thousands of more deaths than culture Y's female circumcisions have (incidentally, which I find repugnant as well).

    Secondly, is the notion that one culture is supposedly not to criticise another's culture. I'm not sure where this notion comes from. I've just criticised both my own culture (X) AND that of another (Y). Where's the problem? Seems to me that to recognize differences, and from time to time, or more, criticize them, is not only unavoidable, but is required of a relativist position.

    That's enough, or perhaps too much, for now. Please respond at will.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (09/23/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Thanks Brent. I am out of town for a couple of days but will get back to you when I return.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi,

    I'm intrigued by the statement in an earlier posting "After all, we're all human."

    What assumptions are made in this seemingly innocuous statement that we're all Human?

    Freezing events in time negates the perspective that all such events are but part of a process. When white Europeans rolled across the North American continent was it really anything other than Darwinian behaviour as no doubt the indigenous population at that time had previously also rolled over earlier peoples. The DNA story spells this out quite clearly — see the Genographic project which I happen to have participated in for this story.

    Without an intelligent creator setting in place absolutes it is my position that all things must be relative and are in flux, at least in terms of what I can experience in the dimensions I live in.

    I think that using the DNA timeline above I could support the idea that cultures can be considered as competing species. Success as a species then can be achieved in either model of predator or prey, any species then occupies some point on the food chain continuum.

    In such a continuum Hitler (and others) are in an understandable position. This may not be to one's liking but we have to ask of ourselves what criteria or model of humanity are we using to come to this position of dislike. Maybe it's your own idea, one that you have culturally assimilated or it's god given,

    It's quite clear to me that not many people really subscribe to the notion "That we are all Human" when their behaviour is evaluated.

    OR

    They may totally subscribe if being "Human" means only someone from their own culture — relatively speaking.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Chris Else   (09/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    Thanks for your response. Your criticisms are justified. I spoke too loosely. Let me clarify my question.

    You are of course right about the entitlement to criticise. Anyone is entitled to criticise anyone else. That is what free speech is all about. The point at issue here is, rather, one of moral authority.

    You are also right when you suggest that we should (and do in fact) accept differences. The most morally rigid culture accepts and probably delights in *some* differences and you and I can probably agree that a general spirit of liberal tolerance makes the world a better place to live in. The question here though is: Are there limits to that tolerance? Your comments on the Holocaust example suggest there are, even for a cultural relativist. So how do those limits arise?

    Perhaps a way into this question is the notion of repugnance. This emotion, if I can call it that, is certainly a valid basis for criticism. However, it does not, of itself, have any moral authority. Given this, there is no qualitative difference between a response to one act rather than another. In other words the difference between genocide, murder, rape, torture, clitorectomy, circumsion, corporal punishment, sexual infidelity, eating horsemeat and farting in crowded elevators is a matter of degree. Motivated by my repugnance, I am perfectly entitled to criticises any or all of these actions but if the response is 'Well, stuff you, mate. This is the way we do things in my culture/church/village/family' an ethical position based on repugnance seems to have no further recourse.

    It seems that, in addition to the emotional response, we need values or principles — beliefs, in other words. If I accept that moral beliefs are validated by and only valid within the culture that gives rise to them, then there is no moral authority that operates across cultures other than the strength of someone's repugnance.

    This situation seems to be exacerbated by a certain looseness in the application of the term 'culture'. As I indicated in my earlier post (a point that you did not address) we can speak of culture with reference to groups of various sizes. Some groups are subsets of other groups. If there is no means of establishing moral authority across quite small groups (religious congregations, say, or tribal units), then the whole notion of moral values, as distinct from emotions like repugnance, seems to have little meaning.

    Of course, there is a philosophical position that claims ethical principles just are codified emotional reactions — expressions of disapproval and nothing more. Mike, I guess, would subscribe to something like this. Is such a position a necessary consequence of cultural relativism? It seems so to me but maybe I have misunderstood the matter. Further enlightenment may be necessary.

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (09/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Mike

    One fact is not relative to your culture or to the intraspecies differences in DNA — you have a point of view. So do all humans. Do any moral imperatives arise from this? I am not sure. It's an idea worth exploring.

    Of course, you are right when you say that most poeple under stand 'human' in terms of their own culture. However, as Hume pointed out, what is the case has no necessary connection with what ought to be the case. Extending the notion of humanity beyond the tribe is part of the great humanist project. That this attempt hasn't succeeded doesn't mean that it should be abandoned or that it isn't justified.

    Chris

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Chris

    I agree that we (humans) all have thoughts but what those thoughts are is relative. My view of freedom will be very different from that of a Muslim cleric or Burmese General, on the other hand all experiences of the colour blue may indeed be the same. Are there any moral imperatives arising well yes I think there are. One comment I heard from a captured Taliban fighter was that Americans did not understand that whilst Americans lived living the Taliban fighters liked dying. Taken a face value this is quite a different moral imperative.

    Not sure where this takes us but it does differentiate humans.

    Regards

    Mike

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/29/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hello again, Chris!

    (This is long, and is perhaps pushing the boundaries of netiquette, but since we seem to be the only ones here right now perhaps no one will notice)



    I will simply respond to your three questions in the same order you've given:

    A: Being that I'm against any sort of aggression by any country, I'd have to say that, no, the U.S. is NOT justified in any excursions at all. Or, if we decide that they are, then every other country should have the same right. The reasons given, which are rarely ever the actual reasons, are irrelevant for the most part. It's ALWAYS for "democracy", "spreading freedom", "Helping to develop the country", "Wanting peace", "pre-emptive defense" etc...The aggression of every power that I'm aware of give more of less the same reasons. There may be exceptions to these, such as the population asking for assistance, but the U.S. has a porr record of NOT supporting the majority of the population instead preferring dictators. There's a LONG history of this. Anyway, arguments could be made.

    B: I'd probably have to say that, no, no cultural group is justified in imposing it's principles on any other group, unless they can expect to have the same in return.



    C: I supposed any group can tell any other group they don't like what they are doing, and asserting that they feel it is morally wrong. Once again, group A says female circumcision is wrong. Group B says stockpiling WMD is morally wrong. Both have every right to complain if they wish. I believe in freedom of speech. Nothing wrong with this. Same even goes on a local scale. I can complain about every person in my neighborhood and think their life styles are digusting, but I doubt I'm going to do much about it. Unless, of course, I expect them to do the same to me, for whatever reason they deem necessary. Perhaps the difficulty here is your use of the term "moral authority" and how you're using it. Using your use of the term I can see how cultures may influence one another for various reasons, most often wealth accumulation and development. This is probably natural. If there are features which of one country which another admires, I see nothing at all wrong with the culture deciding to try and move in that direction. Forcing coutries to is not only not a good idea, but it's just bad psychology. Also, often times, those countries which believe themselves to have the moral authority mistakenly the extent to which that authority extends. This is VERY evident in the U.S. It's not unusual at all to hear folks asserting how everyone on earth wishes they could come to the U.S. or be like the U.S. However, the fact of the matter is that there is virtually no evidence at all for such notion. And this goes with most every other country that has believed the same as well, including the British Empire, etc....

    (infanticide example)

    Actually, there is nothing in cultural relativism that forbids you from having that view or any other. I believe this is another misconception. It's asserted, repeatedly, that one cannot have such view. I just don't know of anyone, relativist, who thinks you are not allowed to have the view that you think it's morally repugnant. They may assert that what's right and true for culture X is right and true for that culture, but this doesn't mean that they must like it at all. As I mentioned earlier, this is what I believe to be a mistaken argument by many people, and pounced on by those who wish to impose their, no doubt more enlightened, morality on others. Thee's a big difference between saying that every culture has the right to determine it's own rules, customs, etc...and dedcing from this that if that culture decides eating everyone in the surrounding countries we must simply accept it with a smile and say "Well, it's not wrong. It's just their culture." I personally just don't believe many, if any, relativists actually hold this position. As I've said several times now, Iin my view it's more of a position which is assigned to them from others, and not at all what they think. The issue then becomes, well, shall we impose on another culture. Some say yes. Some say no. Some say only in certain cases. I think the thing one must be careful about is remembering what sort of precedent it will set if this is carried out. It will obviously be an invitation for others to carry out similar actions against the others country. Would anyone want this? If one DID, in fact, wish to persuade culture X that it was not necessary to kill their children, there are probably ways which are much more sophisticated than others to do this. The choice still must come from within the culture, it would seem. But I see of no reason why anyone would object if they were open to suggestions. As I believe cultures are fluid, and are always in some state of flux, and are changing internally as well, then changes are always possible. I know of nothing in relativism which says otherwise if read and understood correctly. I could be wrong. My readings are somewhat limited.



    "Which brings us to the Holocaust example. If the above analysis is correct, then it is false to say that a cultural relativist must find the Holocaust acceptable but it is true to say that a cultural relativist could not have said to the Nazis 'Stop what you are doing'."

    Sure they could. There is nothing in relativism which says they couldn't.

    "Now, of course, the fact that any number of cultural relativists did say such a thing is beside the point. They are as capable of being inconsistent as anyone else."

    But see, I think this is the point. I don't think they are being inconsistant. I think the inconsistancy has be attributed to them mistakenly. Even of they think, which they didn't, that the Nazis were 100% sincere in their belief, 1)They wouldn't have regarded Nazis as representative of German culture in general 2)They would think for a second that it was okay 3)The wouldn't think for a second that those under attack would have no right to defend themselves and more....

    Regarding the problem you feel you're having with relativism, all I would be able to suggest is that you read some books from those who are relativists, pluralists, and others with similar sympathies and see what they say themselves, and shy away from others who just talk about them.

    Actually, this reminds me quite a lot of the same phenomena I've had repeatedly over the years debating about Chomsky's work. There are those critics who mistakenly think they know what his positions are, very few have read him at all, and they have incorrect notions all over the place. Then are are those who actually read his work, as I have, all of it, and know his positions, and can easily pick out where his detractors are off. My suggestion would be to do the same here. Sorry for the length of this response. Perhaps it's a sign of my interest. Talk to you soon!

    Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/01/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    Thanks for your thorough response. You gave me many more answers than I needed. On the one question I was interested in, though, you seem to have misunderstood me. Either that or I have misunderstood your answer, which is always possible.

    Let me try and make the problem sharper. As Charles points out, in the last analysis, morality is a matter of the behaviour of individuals so let's imagine a person, Crel, say, who is a cultural relativist. He was raised in a liberal Western society that believes infanticide is wrong. According to this culture, there are no circumstances where the killing of a healthy, normal infant is ever justified. Let's take another person, Con, from a different society in which infanticide is a prudent form of population control. From Con's point of view, the practice is perfectly acceptable.

    What can Crel say about Con's belief without being inconsistent?

    As you rightly point out, he can certainly say the following:

    - According to my society, infanticide is utterly wrong and unacceptable.

    - I believe, as a member of my society, that infanticide is utterly wrong and unacceptable

    As a cultural relativist, however, he must also say:

    — My belief is in no way superior to yours. It is merely a reflection of my culture, as yours is of your culture.

    - You are right within your society and I am right within mine. There is no absolute right or wrong in the matter.

    In other words, as a member of his own culture, Crel must say that infanticide is utterly unacceptable. As a cultural relativist he must say that it is acceptable for Con to follow his own belief (i.e. to commit infanticide) even though he disapproves of that belief himself.

    I see a contradiction here. It seems that for Crel it is both acceptable and unacceptable for Con to kill a newborn baby.

    Note, however, that it is not a way out of this contradiction to say, as you have done, that there are no cultural relativists who think infanticide is acceptable. That this is true merely makes the contradiction sharper.

    I look forward to you thoughts.

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/02/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hello Chris!

    Sorry for the overzealous response. Let's try again...

    Crel believes killing infants in all situations is morally wrong.

    Con believes that infanticide is perfectly acceptabe.

    "What can Crel say about Con's belief without being inconsistent?"

    As a cultural relativist, however, he must also say:

    "- My belief is in no way superior to yours. It is merely a reflection of my culture, as yours is of your culture."

    I'm not sure I'd use the notion of "superior" here. It's simply different, regardless of whether or not he finds it a disgusting practice. Con could very well believe that infanticide is superior. And if he's from that culture he probably does.



    "- You are right within your society and I am right within mine."

    I don't even think this is in question, is it?

    "There is no absolute right or wrong in the matter."

    No, there isn't. Of course Con could change his belief if something in the culture changed, or if he just decided to change, or whatever. This, too, would be relative. His notion of what constituted right and wrong would change. He would then be acting relative to the rest of the folks in his culture.

    That being said, I could easily come up with scenarios where Crel would change from his belief in infanticide being wrong to accepting it. Say, he moved, or was forced to move, or was stranded on an island where this was the practice. If a child wasn't sacrificed the entire population would parish, etc....Unless he wished to commit suicide, he, too, would have to accept the belief. No doubt it would be difficult, but it's quite possible.

    "as a member of his own culture, Crel must say that infanticide is utterly unacceptable."

    He doesn't have to. He may just do it. He may have big pressures to do it. He may have taught since birth that this is just something to believe. But I don't see why he has to.

    "As a cultural relativist he must say that it is acceptable for Con to follow his own belief (i.e. to commit infanticide) even though he disapproves of that belief himself."

    I guess it depends on if one believes in free will. Or perhaps how much that will is influenced by ones culture. That being said, yes, as a cultural relativist he may say that Con has every right to follow the customs of his culture. Once again, the question would seem to come back to what, if anything, should be done? Does Crel have any right to impose his ideas of morality on Con by interferring in his culture? Can Con do the same in return?

    "I see a contradiction here. It seems that for Crel it is both acceptable and unacceptable for Con to kill a newborn baby."

    I would say that in Crel's opinion it is not acceptable, but that unless he wishes for someone else to impose their morality onto him, he shouldn't do anything. Perhaps he concludes that it IS worth intervening in Con's culture at the expense of allowing for Con to do the same in return. He would be the worst sort of hypocrite did he not. But then again perhaps he could care less about being a hypocrite. The problem with this it would seem is that would undermine his own position.

    "Note, however, that it is not a way out of this contradiction to say, as you have done, that there are no cultural relativists who think infanticide is acceptable. That this is true merely makes the contradiction sharper."

    What I'm saying is that I've simply never heard a cultural relativist, a real person, not just the idealized person called "relativist" which fits a certain definition of one, say that they thought it was okay to kill anyone. That being said, if one wishes to accept that there is even such a thing as different cultures, then one needs to assume that there are differences, some of which another culture won't like. Again, the question comes down to whether or not any one culture has a right to impose upon another if they don't wish for them to. And of so, they should expect the same in return.

    What if Con finds if morally depraved for Crel's country to stockpile WMD, invade powerless countries, break treaties and resolutions which they've even signed on to, etc....and decides he just can't take it any more and has to intervene, is it okay? After all, the cultural practice of infanticide in Con's culture hasn't killed a fraction of that of Crel's. It would seem an extreme and radical relativist position would be to say, no, it's not okay. It's okay for us to do it(Crel), but it's not okay for you.

    The would be much more extreme of relativism that what I've proposed I believe.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/03/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    You say:

    "Once again, the question would seem to come back to what, if anything, should be done? Does Crel have any right to impose his ideas of morality on Con by interferring in his culture? Can Con do the same in return?"

    I disagree. The question does not 'come back' to this. As I keep pointing out, the question of whether or not Crel is justified in imposing his views on Con is entirely separate from the question I am asking, which is whether or not Crel, as a cultural relativist, is consistent in his beliefs.

    You say:

    "...I've simply never heard a cultural relativist... say that they thought it was okay to kill anyone."

    You also say:

    "...as a cultural relativist [Crel] may say that Con has every right to follow the customs of his culture." In other words, he as every right to kill newborn babies.

    These two statements seem to contradict one another. They seem to suggest that Crel thinks a) that is not okay for Con to practice infanticide and b) that it is okay for him to practice it. a) and b) cannot both be true. How do you resolve this?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    "I disagree. The question does not 'come back' to this. As I keep pointing out, the question of whether or not Crel is justified in imposing his views on Con is entirely separate from the question I am asking, which is whether or not Crel, as a cultural relativist, is consistent in his beliefs."

    Yes, I know what you're getting at with the apparent contradiction, but I simply think it's way overstated most of the time, and most often extreme examples are used to try and amplify the apparent problem. Many folks have argued in great detail about this very thing as well. That being said, I think it does, ultimately, come back to a question of imposition at some point.

    First of all, I should say that when I made the statement -that I have never heard of anyone who falls into the relativist camp believing that killing was okay- I was speaking about the real world, and not the world of hypotheticals. This is important for several reasons, but we can deal with these later. I'll put this aside for now and go with the example of Crel and Con.

    You've quoted my statement:

    "...I've simply never heard a cultural relativist... say that they thought it was okay to kill anyone."

    Yes, this is true. And if I were an anthropologist living within a primitive culture where they carried out acts such as those you've mentioned Con's as having, even though I personally reject what they were doing, I would probably not try and stop them. This isn't a matter of acceptance that I think killing is right or okay. It's that I may think it's not my right to impose my notions of morality onto the others. And, this is also why I keep going back to the point of intervention. I think it does ultimately go there.

    You also say:

    "...as a cultural relativist [Crel] may say that Con has every right to follow the customs of his culture." In other words, he as every right to kill newborn babies.

    Yes, this is true. However, he is not saying that he thinks it's okay to kill newborn babies. He doesn't believe it is at all. In his culture it isn't okay. This is not the point. He's saying that in Con's culture it happens, and that he is, perhaps, in no position one way or another to even have a right to accept or reject anything at all. On a personal level, of course he doesn't like it. So, here you may say that he rejects it. When the folks in Cons culture carry out their ceremony, or whatever it is, on a personal level he still rejects this as well. Individually it makes him sick. On the cultural level he is no position to accept or reject it. Unless, as I said before, he plans on doing something about it, which he very well may.

    The relativist is saying that for him, in HIS culture (if they are willing to give credit to their culture for influencing their thinking on the issue) killing is wrong. It is simply not accepted in his culture. Now, when he sees others carrying out these acts it in other cultures they may appear to him as incorrect as well. He's projecting his own values onto other cultures. Hopefully, he is, or should be, aware that he is projecting his cultural values onto others. Upon the recognition that he is probably projecting, he should be able to step back and deal with the fact that others have different cultures, ideas, etc...He is at the same time aware that regardless of his seeing the acts in Con's culture as bad or wrong, that Con, in HIS culture, does not. This is NOT Crel saying that killing babies is okay.

    Just to repeat, as a relativist, Crel probably wouldn't say much of anything as he's in no position to. I mean, he can give his personal opinion. Nothing wrong with that. Crel can at the same hold the position that for him, in his culture, infanticide is bad. Saying that he has no right to intervene in Cons culture is not any sort of indication of accepting that he believes that killing isn't wrong. It's saying that he understands that cultures are different.

    Do you believe there is still a contradiction?

    How about another example:

    Let's say that you believe gay sex to be morally wrong and disgusting. However, you know that there is a gay couple living next door to you who are no doubt having sex. Now, you reject gay sex. However, I doubt you will go next door to tell them to stop. Is this an indication that you therefore 'accept' gay sex? Are you saying, by not going next door, that you think gay sex is okay? I don't think so. What you are accepting is that what they are doing is none of your business because you don't want what you do to be their business.

    Correct the hypothetical if there is something wrong.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (10/05/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    I think that your argument is subject to the fallacy of dialectic imperium. Dialectic moral argument, when it extends beyond reasonable limits, results in contradictory conclusions. Your example involving infanticide demonstrates this.

    There is no such person as an uninvolved observer. Whether it involves an event of natural or moral history, the observer affects the event. Dialectical argument, which in your example of observing infanticide ignores universal morality, simply leads to moral paralysis.

    Prehistoric universal morality is presented in Wisdom literature, the 7 Noahide Laws for example.

    Wolfram von Soden in his summing up of Assyriology, "The Ancient Orient" (English translation 1994), wrote: "there were legal prescriptions for centuries before the first law codes were promulgated around 2000"(BCE).

    Charles





  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    Thanks for your response. I still believe there is a contradiction.

    Let me put the question as simply as I can.

    Sally belongs to a culture that thinks that abortion is morally wrong except in the most extreme circumstances. She feels very strongly about the matter herself. In her view, abortion is close or equivalent to murder. Sally, however, is a cultural relativist, with all the ethical consequences that that entails.

    Pam belongs to a different culture, one that thinks abortion is an acceptable form of birth control. Pam is pregnant. Having a baby is not an impossible proposition for her but it is very inconvenient. She decides to have an abortion.

    Question: Does Sally think it is morally wrong for Pam to have an abortion?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    First of all when you say "Sally, however, is a cultural relativist, with all the ethical consequences that that entails" I don't know what you mean. What consequences?

    "Question: Does Sally think it is morally wrong for Pam to have an abortion?"

    Of course Sally thinks it's morally wrong. Never even inferred anything different. Pam may very well believe that it's morally wrong for Sally to be concerned about what she does with her own body. As a relativist, were this what Sally actually were, she would probably do nothing about Pam's situation because as a relativist she probably wouldn't be intervening into Pam's life. Sally can find it the most repulsive, disgusting, immoral, etc...thing in the world. Once again, so what? Is she planning to do something about it? If she is not, then why worry about it?

    Regarding your example, this isn't really a hypothetical. There have been several such cases where due to the dictates of particular religious "cultures" doctors who perform abortions have been killed. The thing which stands out about your example is that the people who have been doing the killing were not the relativists, but rather their antithesis.

    I'd be interesting to hear a response to the gay couple example if you don't mind.

    Thanks! Brent



  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Charles!

    "I think that your argument is subject to the fallacy of dialectic imperium."

    It's possible!

    "Dialectic moral argument, when it extends beyond reasonable limits, results in contradictory conclusions."

    Well, I'd have to say that this sentence alone wouldn't make my arguments subject to this fallacy. Firstly, I haven't presented anything yet, or at least it hasn't been pointed out that I have, which could be considered as extending beyond reasonable limits. Secondly, there have been no contradictory conclusions to my knowledge. Feel free to present them if you see them though. I'm open for anything.

    "Your example involving infanticide demonstrates this."

    Really? It was my impression that the example presented, that of infanticide, was already pretty much extended beyond reasonable limits. More or less an extreme hypothetical constructed to point out the supposed contradictory nature of relativism. To my knowledge, the the sacrificing of infants is quite rare, especially nowadays. Perhaps hundreds of years ago it was practiced, and more than likely as a religious sacrifice than for keeping the population in tact. There might be more cases.

    "There is no such person as an uninvolved observer."

    Not sure what you mean here. If you mean that, as humans, we have some sort of physical or psychological reaction upon hearing such hypotheticals, I'd probably agree. If you mean that all people are always involved in either allowing or disallowing things to happen, I may agree again. I'd appreciate a more detailed account of what your phrase entails. I'm not sure.

    "Whether it involves an event of natural or moral history, the observer affects the event."

    I need examples. But since we're here, I'll put the same question to you as I have Chris. Do you think something should be done about any of these things? Give an example of possible as I'm not sure what you're referring to.

    "Dialectical argument, which in your example of observing infanticide ignores universal morality, simply leads to moral paralysis."

    What universal morality? I think this is the point. A relativist may not say there is such thing. I would probably agree for the most part. This doesn't mean that I am stifled into non-action by my culture's dictates, because as I've said earlier, I don't think that culture is a stable/solid entity which is not subject to change. And I don't know of any relativists, though there may be some, who view culture as unchanging, and, therefore, automatically in conflict with the rest of the world. It's my impression of relativism that given that a fundamental tenet is often respecting others cultures, differences, etc...they are much less likely to create conflicts which occur all over the planet where conflicting universalists are attempting to impose their particular version of "universalism" onto others. There is a notion that relativists are more likely to be subject to qualities such as understanding, as well as other similar virtues, whereas universalists have been pegged as being less tolerant, etc...has it's critics, and there have been folks (on both sides)of the issue to try and make arguments that this not be the case, but I have only seen a few. There may be many, but I have yet to see many which left any sort of impression. One such example is Louis Pojman. You may want to read him if you haven't. I seem to be much more attracted to David Wong and Max Kolbel.

    That being said, I am somewhat attacted to the ideas of some of evolutionary ethics and do feel that there are probably biological universals, or simply similarities which exist, such a altruism, and which is why people get along as well as they do. And this is not in conflict with my relativist sympathies. Once again, I'd be interested to hear your and Chris' comments on a Youtube video I believe I offered earlier which shows pretty much a relativist or pluralist position. Just enter Ruth Benedict and/or The Brotherhood of Mankind, or something to this affect.

    "Prehistoric universal morality is presented in Wisdom literature"

    Someone may feel that "wisdom literature" is also relative. No doubt what has been considered wisdom in one culture has not been in another. Not only that, even in the same culture at different, and sometime even the same time, it hasn't been consistent.

    Please give some examples if you can, and watch the video if you have time. It's old (1946 I think), but I think the message is still good.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Brent

    I did not comment on the gay sex example you gave because it did not seem to be relevant. I'll try to explain.

    You say: "Let's say that you believe gay sex to be morally wrong and disgusting. However, you know that there is a gay couple living next door to you who are no doubt having sex. Now, you reject gay sex. However, I doubt you will go next door to tell them to stop. Is this an indication that you therefore 'accept' gay sex? Are you saying, by not going next door, that you think gay sex is okay?"

    Cultural relativism, as an ethical theory, is about how ethical judgement operates across cultures, not about how it operates within cultures. So the question is, do the gay people next door to me belong to the same culture as I do? If they do, then the question of how my ethical judgement applies to them has nothing to do with cultural relativism.

    When I gave my abortion example, I was not thinking of situations such as those that occur in the US and elsewhere, where violent action is taken against abortion clinics. I specifically said that Sally and Pam belonged to different cultures.

    You also say that 'of course Sally thinks it's morally wrong' for Pam to have an abortion. On what grounds does Sally make this judgement, though? As a cultural relativist she must admit that her moral principles do not apply to Pam because Pam belongs to a different culture, one in which abortion is okay. Sally can say that it is morally wrong to have an abortion herself or for any other woman in her culture to have an abortion but I do not see how she can apply her principles to Pam. Isn't this the whole point of cultural relativism?

    Finally, I think we need to be clear that moral judgement does not necessarily have anything to do with disgust. I think vomiting in the street is disgusting but I don't think it's morally wrong. I think shop-lifting is morally wrong but I don't think it is disgusting. Thus, whatever disgust Sally feels about Pam's action does not tell us anything about whether or not, as a cultural relativist, she can pass judgement on that action.

    Chris

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (10/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?



    Brent

    Without the establishment of reasonable limits, dialectic moral argument risks becoming sophist abstraction. No doubt there are many areas of human behavior subject to culture relativity. One example would be the human consumption of dog meat. Living in a North American culture that values dogs as pets, companions, guardians, and helpers, the idea of eating my dog shocks me. I have a mobility assistance dog that enables my daily exercise program. In this culture, if someone bred dogs for the purpose of eating them, that person would likely be charged with cruelty to animals. On central Luzon in the Philippines however, I observed small businesses openly advertising "dog meat for sale." I think that it is reasonable to conclude that human consumption of dog meat is subject to cultural relativism.

    However there are some areas in the human experience and condition that clearly are outside considerations of culture relativity. An attempt to consider cultural relativity in the Holocaust of World War 2 Europe is a prime example of this.

    Although there may be a tendency in postmodern institutional philosophy towards sophistical argument. International jurisprudence has established the universality of some fundamental Human Rights. This is not just the result of modern thought. These Human Rights have ancient , cross cultural roots. For example the seven precepts known as the Noahhide Laws: All humans must avoid (1) idol worship, (2) incest, (3) murder, (4) blasphemy, (5) theft, (6) injustice to other men, and (7) eating flesh cut from a living animal.

    Compare the Noahhide Laws to the work of the Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes of Colophon-

    "Give us no fights with Titans, no , nor Giants

    nor Centaurs — the forgeries of our fathers -

    nor civil brawls, in which no advantage is.

    But always to be mindful of the gods is good."

    "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all deeds

    which among men are a reproach and a disgrace:

    thieving, adultery, and deceiving one another."

    (from Philosophy Before Socrates by Richard D. McKirahan, Jr.)

    International jurisprudence has evolved from these roots in ancient law and philosophy and from common law traditions to the universal condemnation of violations of what are considered fundamental Human Rights. These fundamental Human Rights are not subject to the vacillating results of dialectic moral argument not tethered to universal standards. Being universal, neither can they be subject to disinterested observation.

    Charles

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Charles!

    Not sure what you consider to be "reasonable limits". This, too, seems to be a relative concept.

    Regarding human consumption of dog meat as being relative, yes, I would most definitely agree. However, regarding your statement:

    "However there are some areas in the human experience and condition that clearly are outside considerations of culture relativity. An attempt to consider cultural relativity in the Holocaust of World War 2 Europe is a prime example of this."

    I'm not sure what you're referring to with regards to the Holocaust and relativism. There is nothing in relativism which requires one to excuse the actions of a few people from one country for carrying out what they, no doubt, felt to be correct. And especially when the actions of one culture is intervening into others. This was my point to Chris which he felt was irrelevant. It seems most definitely relevant

    if we consider the point you've just made. This leads us back to my opening deduction offered regarding relativists as either not existing, or not having the positions which have been attributed to them. I know many relativists of one sort or another, and I know of none whom accept the Holocaust, nor feel any contradiction in their positions whatsoever. This leads to a few questions. One is that they themselves don't know what they believe and are inconsistent. The other is that they DO know what their positions are, are consistent, and others do not know what the relativists positions are. My argument is that the second is the case most of the time.

    "International jurisprudence has established the universality of some fundamental Human Rights."

    Yes, and this was done in accordance with relativist thinking, and even encouragement. Once again, nothing in how relativism works which would require otherwise. Most relativists are the very people supporting the U.N. and such institutions. I'd probably argue that they are the ones who created it in the first place. Those who have presented themselves to be relativists in the sense you and Chris are putting forth, those of the worst kind, have been the ones who have broken the most U.N. Charters, U.N. Resolutions, vetoed the most resolutions, etc...This would include, at the top, the U.S.(I'll stick to my country as it is an easy example). The actions of the U.S. with regards to the U.N.(An organization which exists as a forum for different cultures, countries, etc...to try to be able to co-exist peacefully) is a prime example of a rogue relativism (of the sort you sem to be arguing against).

    Regarding universal human rights, hey, I'm a huge supporter of universal human rights. Most relativistic thinking folks I know are as well. There seems to be the notion here that relativism is something used so as NOT to work with others, and of which they can fall back on just s they don't have to. My impression that it's almost the exact opposite.

    And that there are many universal similarities between cultures there is no doubt. We're the same species, so of course we'd have many things in common. We all eat, drink, go to the toilet, most of us don't kill, believe stealing is bad (though not all)etc...as well. And we do all of these things relative to one another. We agree on things, disagree on things, compromise on things, etc... You have your world, I have mine(physically similar, maybe, and psychologically similar, maybe). We see some things alike and some things differently. We agree sometimes and don't at others.

    I'm not sure why you've given the examples or universal agreements though. These have come about by 'different cultures' deciding to make agreements with others. This is a good example of the relativism/pluralism I've been referring to at work. You have your culture. I have mine. We get together and agree to do X,Y,Z...Nothing in relativism to my knowledge which says a relativist would believe otherwise. Perhaps you have examples of who you believe relativists to be?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Charles Countryman   (10/08/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    I probably misunderstood your argument. I misinterpreted or mixed up your cultural argument for cognitive relativism and ethical skepticism. Back to the drawing board for me!

    Charles

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    "Cultural relativism, as an ethical theory, is about how ethical judgement operates across cultures, not about how it operates within cultures."

    I wasn't aware of this condition. I was under the impression that there were many cultures, both external and internal to each society. This is why we refer to "gay culture", "sub culture", "art culture", and so on. Perhaps I wouldn't draw too much of a line between different cultures within a given society and those in other societies. Of course there will probably be more similarities between the various subcultures within a given society than those in seemingly different foreign countries, and their respective cultures, but I don't really see why the differences wouldn't generalize. Group A is different than group B, B is different than C, etc.... You can substitute any group in the relativism I'm speaking of.

    "So the question is, do the gay people next door to me belong to the same culture as I do?"

    They live in the same country, so some would say "Yes". Some would say that, "No", they do not live in the same culture. It depends on how one defines culture it appears. However, I believe the distinction trying to be made here is not relevant to the point I was making. I believe the point being made by my use of the "gay sex" example was that it does not logically follow that by not interferring in person X's objectionable behavior(whatever one believes to be objectionable to be)that you therefore support/accept the behavior. It seems as though you may be trying to argue that it is accepting the behavior, while I'm arguing that it doesn't necessarily mean this at all. Does this sound accurate? We can make another example. We can simply change the gay couple to cannibals living in New Guinea. Supposedly different culture, certain acts taking place, same personal opinions about whether or not what they're doing is right, wrong, etc...

    "If they do, then the question of how my ethical judgement applies to them has nothing to do with cultural relativism."

    Then they don't. The distinction seems to be irrelevant. Once again, it appears that the condition for something fitting into the cultural relativist position is not that which I believe it to be. Whether the couple are gay or not, and which country they live in or not, is not the point, and anything can be substituted for "gay sex" if one wishes.

    "When I gave my abortion example, I was not thinking of situations such as those that occur in the US and elsewhere, where violent action is taken against abortion clinics. I specifically said that Sally and Pam belonged to different cultures."

    Once again, this supports what I've just said about whichever culture, or whatever action being taken, as being irrelevant. As mentioned earlier, the first point is whether or not one's inaction equals acceptance; I don't believe it does. And secondly, whether one is intending to do something about it if they disagree with it. If not, then why bother talking, or even thinking about it. If so, fine, but just expect the same in return, regardless of the reason.

    "You also say that 'of course Sally thinks it's morally wrong' for Pam to have an abortion. On what grounds does Sally make this judgement, though?"

    She thinks it's wrong because it's wrong for her, and probably some/all of the culture she comes from. Not only does she have a right to make a judgment, I believe it's virtually impossible for people not to make such judgments. Once again, the notion that a relativist can't make judgments is false. This is one of the conditions which has been applied to them, but one which I've seen virtually no evidence for. If Ruth Benedict or some anthropologist goes into some culture which seems quite primitive, has what we might consider primitive practices, etc...she may no doubt see them doing things which are completely bizzare and foreign to her. I would posit that ANY human being which had not been exposed to that culture would automatically have reactions (and thereby make judgments) to whatever actions were taking place within the culture. The point is how one decides to respond to the differences (and for me this goes all the way down to the interpersonal level of any other person within any other culture as well as one's own culture i.e., between any two people). This is why I keep injecting the consideration of what one is planning to do or not do. Benedict would more than likely be appauled by actions X,Y, Z happening within Culture B, but she would probably consider whatever the action was to be something which played some important role in their culture (once again assuming that there even are such things as different cultures) and be able to separate her own personal responses from those of what she was wittnessing. She would probably not interfere with the actions believing she has no right to do so. She could if she wished. It's just not in her interest as an anthropologist wishing to understand the differences between cultures, and similarities for that matter, to do so. That the culture under observation believes their practices to be truth and correct is a given. This goes between any culture, and as I've said, between any two people from my stand point. So, that Benedict may or may not make a judgment, and that relativism requires that she not, is a false requirement. That being said, the practice itself i.e., that of becoming more understanding of differences, becoming more aware of one's own judgments, how to interact with others whom are different, etc...seems to lead to a much more benign ethic than than most any alternative.

    "As a cultural relativist she must admit that her moral principles do not apply to Pam because Pam belongs to a different culture one in which abortion is okay"

    Perhaps, yes, she must admit this. And I would say that she was right to do so. But it has nothing to do with her making a personal judgment about it, etc...She may despise Pam's actions, but so what? Once again, it come down to whether or not someone is going to do something about it. Otherwise it's just a concept in someone's head.

    "Sally can say that it is morally wrong to have an abortion herself or for any other woman in her culture to have an abortion but I do not see how she can apply her principles to Pam."

    As a relativist she probably wouldn't. Some say she shouldn't, and that she has absolutely no right whatsoever to do so.

    "Isn't this the whole point of cultural relativism?"

    If it isn't, it probably should be. It would seem to be a good principle to practice.

    "Finally, I think we need to be clear that moral judgement does not necessarily have anything to do with disgust."

    I agree. It does not "necessarily" have to do with disgust, though they often go hand in hand.

    "I think vomiting in the street is disgusting but I don't think it's morally wrong. I think shop-lifting is morally wrong but I don't think it is disgusting."

    Yes.

    "Thus, whatever disgust Sally feels about Pam's action does not tell us anything about whether or not, as a cultural relativist, she can pass judgement on that action."

    I agree. As a relativist she can pass judgment on anything she wishes. And as I've said, she probably MUST have some reaction, and probably necessarily makes a judgments. The point is what is she planning to do about it, if anything. What I've been saying here is that the attribution to relativism that they can't make judgments is false. This requirement is one which is given to them, NOT one which they give themselves. Most releativists I know, were they asked if they made no judgments regarding certain actions of certain cultures, would say that this was nonsense, and that of course they did. They still consider themselves a relativist, and there is nothing inconsistant about their position. The inconsistancy comes from folks believing them not to be living up to the role which they have applied to them. It's just not the role that the relativist has applied to themselves. As I see it, it basically breaks down like this:

    Relativist: My position is X,Y,Z

    Anti-R: The relativist's position is A,B,C.

    The Relativist then asserts X,Y,Z and the Anti-R accuses the Relativist of not being consistant because he's not living up to A,B,C, which was never his position in the first place.

    Perhaps this is incorrect, but this is the way it appears to me.



    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/09/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Charles!

    "I probably misunderstood your argument."

    It's possible that I misunderstood my argument as well.

    "I misinterpreted or mixed up your cultural argument for cognitive relativism and ethical skepticism."

    Maybe. However, you may be correct. Feel free to comment on any inconsistancies which you see in what I've put forth. I'm sure they exist.

    "Back to the drawing board for me!"

    You may have been correct. If you still feel that I've contradicted myself somewhere, or that I've made some really weak points (highly possible), feel free to point them out. Then I may need to borrow your drawing board!

    Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    You say:

    "I believe the point being made by my use of the "gay sex" example was that it does not logically follow that by not interferring in person X's objectionable behavior(whatever one believes to be objectionable to be)that you therefore support/accept the behavior. It seems as though you may be trying to argue that it is accepting the behavior, while I'm arguing that it doesn't necessarily mean this at all."

    I agree with you 100%. Non-interference does not imply support, acceptance or approval. However, non-interference does not imply cultural relativism, either. George can refrain from interfering in the lives of his gay neighbours out of a spirit of liberal tolerance even though he finds their behaviour morally objectionable and he may take this position despite the fact that he thinks cultural relativism is hogwash (which it may or may not be).

    We need to be clear here about the difference between cultural relativism as a social theory and as an ethical theory. As a social theory it merely says that the people's moral beliefs are determined by the culture in which they are brought up and in which they live. This theory is arguably true (at least in part). It is a scientific theory open to analysis and test. As a social theory, it has nothing to do with telling us how we ought to behave. Bill can be a cultural relativist in this sense and still believe that it is right for the USA to invade Afghanistan.

    As I understand it, however, cultural relativism as an ethical theory, call it ECR, goes a step further. It says that I cannot judge (morally) the behaviour of people of one culture by the ethical principles of people of another culture. More specifically, I cannot judge the behviour of someone from another culture by my ethical principles. I may think that Yuan's behaviour is wrong according to my principles but I have to recognise that my principles don't apply to him.

    Maybe I don't understand cultural relativism. Maybe what I have just said in the previous paragraph is the A, B, C you refer to. If so, I need you to tell me the X, Y, Z that ECRs do believe.

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/12/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    "Non-interference does not imply support, acceptance or approval. However, non-interference does not imply cultural relativism, either."

    I don't recall saying that it did. It could just mean someone doesn't care, are too lazy, or whatever.

    "George can refrain from interfering in the lives of his gay neighbours out of a spirit of liberal tolerance even though he finds their behaviour morally objectionable and he may take this position despite the fact that he thinks cultural relativism is hogwash (which it may or may not be)."

    Of course he could. He may also not have a clue as to what cultural relativism is. I'd have to hear what George had to say about his notions of cultural relativism. For instance, if he said that a "Cultural relativist would, by necessity of their relativism, be required to accept that the Holocaust wasn't wrong", then I'd have to tell George that he didn't know what relativism was then.

    "We need to be clear here about the difference between cultural relativism as a social theory and as an ethical theory."

    We should be clear about what relativism is first, or recognizing the difference will make little difference.

    "As a social theory it merely says that the people's moral beliefs are determined by the culture in which they are brought up and in which they live. This theory is arguably true (at least in part)."

    Are largely determined, yes, this seems highly probable. And are always fluid and changing as well.

    "It is a scientific theory open to analysis and test."

    What is? Relativism? Perhaps. But unloess the theory is understood the analysis will most likely produce results which are in no way related to the topic. Basically what I offered as an analysis at the end of my prior comment where the relativist says his positions are, and the anti-R says that he isn't living up to his (the anti-r's) notion of what the relativist's position is.

    "As a social theory, it has nothing to do with telling us how we ought to behave. Bill can be a cultural relativist in this sense and still believe that it is right for the USA to invade Afghanistan."

    Yes, it's possible.

    "As I understand it, however, cultural relativism as an ethical theory, call it ECR, goes a step further. It says that I cannot judge (morally) the behaviour of people of one culture by the ethical principles of people of another culture. More specifically, I cannot judge the behviour of someone from another culture by my ethical principles."

    Yes. This is the position which is usually given to the notion of relativism. And for the most part I have little problem with it. However, it's also just not one which I've ever seen many, or perhaps any, relativist to hold. This was my initial point that either there seem to be no relativists, if this notion is, in fact, correct, or there are relativists and these are simply not their positions. That being said, I don't see much problem with it. As I've perhaps mentioned earlier, but I don't recall right now, this seems to be pretty much the same phenomena which has often happened with regards to the works of Noam Chomsky. I've engaged literally hundreds of folks over the years about his (political) work. And if there was one common theme which presented itself, it was that the folks who did not know his work kept assigning positions to him which he didn't hold. Not only that, much of the time it was the opposite of what he held. Chomsky says his position is A,B,C. His critics say it's X,Y,Z. And then they proceed to argue from there. What I'm saying here is NOT that the relativism which you've presented is bad, good, or whatever, as much as I'm saying the positions which have been given to it are simply not the positions which those who may consider themselves to be relativists hold. I think this is an important distinction because unless one knows what their positions are, they won't even know how to begin to make arguments as to whethr they think it's bad, good, or anything else.

    "I may think that Yuan's behaviour is wrong according to my principles but I have to recognise that my principles don't apply to him."

    For the most part, yes, this would be correct. Also, in my opinion, just fine. Why should my principles apply to him or visa versa? Mine are mine. His are his. This doesn't mean that there won't be many, or even all, the same. This is what we find out through interaction. We must decide then. This is why I keep coming back to the intervention.

    "Maybe I don't understand cultural relativism."

    Maybe I don't. I DO know that what you've been presenting here are the standard arguments and positions given to relativists, and that I'm arguing against the grain, in fact. It's just that I have haven't seen in anything I've read by so-called relativists (most don't even call themselves this either as I see) just don't have the positions assigned to them. Or perhaps in many areas. Many of the things you've put forth I feel fit fine with what I've read. Just a few things different.

    "Maybe what I have just said in the previous paragraph is the A, B, C you refer to."

    Kind of. But as I said, or meant to if I didn't, I don't think this is enevitably incorrect. I could be way off course. I'm just basing his on what I've read and my perceptions so far. I mean, if a dictator was killing off all the citizens in his country for sport, and then tried to use the argument that this is just what his culture does, so it's none of anyone elses business to interfere, I'd say that this was not relativism, but rather using it as an excuse to carry out crime. I guess if the citizens also felt it to be a sport and there were no complaints from them, and it was alright for all invoved, perhaps it would be okay to let them be. But I doubt this would happen much in the real world, and I'd be the first to support those under attack if they so desired.

    "If so, I need you to tell me the X, Y, Z that ECRs do believe."

    What you've said isn't all that far off. Just don't see any problem with it unless we decide to discuss how this applies to the world and actions in it. If you can think of a scenario perhaps I can give it a whack.

    Thanks! Brent

    Chris

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/13/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Brent

    You say that 'what [I]'ve been presenting here are the standard arguments and positions given to relativists'.

    You also say that the position I describe is 'not one which [you]'ve ever seen many, or perhaps any, relativist to hold.'

    My question, then, is what, according in your view, is the position that cultural relativists hold?

    Unless we can get this clear, I fear we don't have a conversation.

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/14/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi, Chris!

    Yes, I believe most of what you've offered are the standard arguments I've read here and there regarding the supposed positions of the relativists. And, yes, these positions are more or less not what I've read in much of relativist literature. This is why I brought up the topic in the first place. On one hand, I've read folks who make critiques of "relativists" and the positions they "must" have if they are "really" to be relativists. On the other hand, I read the actual writings of those folks and there is something amiss. Now, they seem to know what positions they themselves hold, are quite consistant in their writings, etc...Their critics, as I've already mentioned, say that either they're not really relativists, or that they're not being consistant with THE relativist position, or something along these lines. I believe the small dialogue at the beginning of this thread pretty much is an adequate example.

    X: Says if they live up to the requirments which relativism (supposedly) requires of them, they 'must' excuse the Nazis, or perhaps German culture for their carrying out what they feel is their culturally relative expression. Well, as I've also mentioned, I haven't read a single paper where this requirement was acknowledged. Therefore, there ARE no relativists, OR relativism is NOT what the persons making the critiques say it is. I'd be most happy if you could find some material for me to review which speaks to this. The following is a small piece which seems to point out, to an extent, what may be happening here regarding our conversations:

    http://www.angelfire.com/weird/enanareina/essays/relobj.html

    And I agree that it's probably a good idea to get a clear idea of what a relativist position is. This is why I earlier recommended reading a few of the "relativists" writings. I've mentioned David Wong, Max Kolbel, and the You tube video based on Ruth Benedict's writings called 'The Brotherhood of Mankind'(1946) I haven't had anyone comment on this yet. So, I suggest that you watch th video from beginning to end, it's only about 12 minutes I think, and see if what has been presented mesh with what your image of a relativist is. It's old, and perhaps a little corny by nowadays standards, but I think it's still relevant, and believe that it portraits the "relativist position" a little better than the Benedict critics I've read.

    Looking forward to your comments! I hope others will jump into the discussion as well.



    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/19/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Brent

    With respect, the point is not what the relativists think but what you think the relativists think. I was having a conversation with you, not them. So?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi, Chris!

    Basically what is offered in the Benedict video.

    Brent

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hello again, Chris!

    Basically, what I mentioned in the previous post fits what I actually see. That being said, I think there are a few more things I can add.

    1)I think there are probably varying degrees of relativism, as there are with most -isms, probably ranging from 'relatively' conservative to more extreme. However, I've still seen virtually none which which I would consider even close to fitting the standard theoretical requirements such as those you've presented, and are usually presented in theory. This leads to number 2.

    2)There seems to be two (at least) quite different approaches to discussing relativism. One is the theoretical, and what the 'particular' theory says the requirements 'must' be. The other is what happens in the real world by folks who 'may' think of themselves as relativists (though as I've said before, I haven't seen many folks who consider themselves relativists, or really refer to themselves as such).

    It's my impression that this is where many problems arise when dicussing the subject. As I've probably made clear, I think that either (i)There are no relativists (which fit the criteria assigned to them according to a popular version of relativism and its requirements), or (ii)There are relativists, but they simply don't fit the requirements assigned to them by theorists.

    Now, the question in your previous post was "What do you think a relativist is". My answer would be something along the lines of 'I'm not exactly sure what a relativist is, but I'm relatively sure what it isn't' when I hear it. And this, I believe, is quite apparent in virtually everything I've ever read or heard (as already mentioned).

    This reminds me of the same predicament which I often got into when debating Chomsky's politics. Attempting to put a label on what Chomsky "is", whether he is supposedly "anti-American", "pro-American", "Anarcho-syndicalist", "radical-liberal", etc....were not all that relevant to being able to identify where he actualy stands on issues. Anyone wishing to know his positions simply has to read and become familiar with his positions. They are not secret at all. They are public, many, and easy to read. Rightwing folks would read his writings (actually, almost never in my experience), predictably deduce that he is "anti-American" because he makes criticisms of his own country. Now, I'm not exactly sure what I'd call Chomsky, nor do I find it all that useful or relevant. However, I am most definitely able to identify what his positions are and aren't. And, basically, the folks who believe he fits the theoretical requirements of being "anti-American", or non-theoretical for that matter, are simply incorrect.

    I feel this is the same with what I've read regarding relativism. The critics say they are (or must believe) x,y,z....The people themselves say things and have many positions which may have some elements of x,y,z in their works, though more often a,b,c. Now, as I've said, when reading their actual writings (or video in the case of Benedict I recommended), it simply doesn't match the theoretical requirements assigned to them. What does this mean? It would seem to mean that they are NOT relativists, or they are, and their critics don't know what their positions are. This is why I'm interested in hearing yours, or anyone's, review of the Benedict video. Given that you and a few others here are familiar with the standard version of the criticisms of relativism, I'm interested in hearing how the video meshes with what you feel relativism to be. Give it a try!

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Brent

    Well, I watched the Brotherhood of Man (1946). I have two things to say about it.

    1. I agree with its sentiments 100%.

    2. I didn't teach me anything about cultural relativism as an ethical theory.

    The conclusion that we should all be tolerant of one another and work together for our common good is not unique to cultural relativism. A similar conclusion can be drawn from a number of religions and from humanism generally.

    You say I misrepresent cultural relativism in my arguments. If so, I need to know what the true position is. What, in your experience, do cultural relativists say they believe?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Where are all the Cultural Relativists?

    Hi Chris!

    "I agree with its sentiments 100%."

    So do I. And being that Benedict is one of the names often offered as an example of relativist thinking, well, I find to be interesting. As I'm sure you noticed, there is very little in common with the relativism which is offered in texts time and again. And, once again, this leads right back to my initial question.

    "I didn't teach me anything about cultural relativism as an ethical theory."

    I don't know what you mean. Please explain.

    "The conclusion that we should all be tolerant of one another and work together for our common good is not unique to cultural relativism."

    Probably not. Just a basic common feature as far as I can tell.

    "A similar conclusion can be drawn from a number of religions and from humanism generally."

    Probably. I'd surmise that humanism and relativism were closely related given the number of things in common I'd say virtually identical.

    "You say I misrepresent cultural relativism in my arguments."

    I said that the notions put forth here and elsewhere simply have little relation to the writing and positions of those who are considered relativists. I could create some non-existent theoretical agent called a relativist which is completely isolated in 'his own unique true world' and anything that happens outside of him doesn't matter because the theory says it can't, but that's some sort of virtual world where no one to my knowledge exists. Benedict is a common example of what a relativist is. So, this would indicate that either 1)People who use her as an example of the virtual-relativist simply don't know the difference and are attempting to force her into the mold they've designed for relativists, or 2)She isn't a relativist at all. That's all I've been trying to find out. It'S quite easy to tell by the video that her thinking does NOT fit the "relativist" label, so as I see it it's either 1 or 2 (above) unless there's some sort of evidence to demonstrate a difference.

    "If so, I need to know what the true position is."

    Well, all I can recommend is reading and looking at what those folks write who consider themselves relativists, and maybe some of those who other folks call relativists. The video was an example of Benedicts positions on relations (relative to other humans), and so this is an example of 'real' relativism as far as I can tell.

    "What, in your experience, do cultural relativists say they believe?"

    All sorts of things. Most things that everyone else believes. One difference may be that they seem to be slightly more open-minded about appreciating differences, tolerance, etc...And, yes, I know there are arguments attempting to show that tolerance isn't exclusively held by relativists, but many of those who fall into the camp 'DO' seem to be thus. But, again, that's simply judging things based on what they've said themselves, and not what others have said about them.

    Was there something in the film that doesn't match the notion of relativism which you hold? To me it was just a typical example of a relativist position. I'm glad someone took the time to watch it. Thanks!

    Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Matt Tordoff   (09/04/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hello, my name is Matt and I have recently joined the conference.

    My main interests are in ancient philosophy (my undergraduate degree was in classical studies). I have a particular interest in Aristotle.

    I also have a particular interest in political philosophy, conceptions of freedom and individuality, and moral and ethical philosophy. But outside of that I interested in joining into any good debate on any subject which comes up here! I look foward to the conversation.

    Matt

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hello, Matt!

    I, too, have interests in the areas you've mentioned. Perhaps we can get into a few of these.

    Thanks! Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Damien Ball   (09/11/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hello to all. I too am new to the conference and wish to introduce myself. My name is Damien and I am a BA student with the University of London External system.

    Philosophy has been a passion of mine for some time. Now that I'm in my thirties, I figured I'd make it official.

    Being somewhat a beginner in debate and discussion, I will do my best to contribute.

    I am extremely excited to be a part of a community of lively conversation, and look forward to learning a great deal from all.

    Thanks,

    Damien

  • FROM: Mike Ward   (09/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Damien,

    Welcome, there seems to be a bit of a lull at present. Have you any burning ambitions to change the world — if so how?

    REgards

    Mike

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (10/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hi Damien and everyone else. My first time here as well. I'm a 'prevaricating' London ext BA student — not sure whether I really want to take the plunge, so at the moment I'm doing some work 'as if' I was doing the BA (writing essays, committing to 2 days a week study, etc) and then I'll see how I get on.

    I'm in my early 50's and did 2 terms of philosophy at Reading 30 years ago before carrying on with a psychology degree. Philosophy has changed somewhat in the last 30 years — I feel very much like Rip Van Winkle at the moment....

    So now re-awakening old interests. Particular interests are mind, metaphysics and language......see you all around the forum. Joe

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Damien Ball   (09/17/09)
    SUBJECT:

    Thanks for the response Mike.

    First let me say how excited I am to be a part of a group of intellectuals who I believe have the ability to change the world, regardless of the height of their flame. Philosophers.

    I've recently woken up after a long endured academic slumber. I look forward to learning a great deal through interaction in this conference.

    As far as changing the world, I've always intended to change it one person at a time. Only 6,783,350,619 more to go. I'm not trying to be clever. I truly believe the world can change through discussion. I truly believe it starts here, the thinkers.

    Thanks for having me,

    Damien

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (09/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Hello, Chris!

    What interests me about your statement above is that it seems to be presumed that a cultural relativist would possibly assume any position other than one of disgust. This, in fact, is what interests me most about this topic, because as mentioned earlier, I know of no relativist that would ever make exucuses or tolerate Hitler's behavior. In fact, if one looks at the historical record, many of the folks who may possibly consider themselves relativists were anti-Hitler long before the U.S. government came around, WAY late in the game and finally got involved. What I would like to know is where anyone got the notion that a relativist would ever make apologetics or accept the actions of folks like Hitler in the first place?

    Regarding the having the emotion of repugnance, yes, of course, you, or anyone else for that matter, is entitled as far as I'm concerned. A relativist would say that everyone IS entitled to their opinion. This is a basic position of a relativist, if they're to be consistent. They'd have to take this position because all the values, etc...of any country came from a range of ideas and opinions in the first place. And, along side of this, yes, one is perfectly entitled to say they aren't interested in your repugnance at their custom, and that this IS simply the way they do things in their culture, and it's none of your business.



    I think we should, and probably do to one extent or another, assume that pretty much all cultures have values, principles, and beliefs. I think the problem comes in on who is going to decide who 'the' moral authority across cultures is going to be? The one with the most power to appoint themselves as the moral authority? Why does there need to be a moral authority operating across cultures in the first place? Why not a pluralism of some sort? To use an example from close to home, there are a great many people in the world who don't in any way, shape, or form, feel that the U.S. should have any moral authority at all given their past/present aggression around the globe. There's no doubt that there are many folks within the U.S. who feel that they have some sort of moral authority for the entire globe, but most of the population of the planet doesn't feel this for one second. As a matter of fact, I'd say that most of the population of the U.S. doesn't even go that far. I'd say that IF we were going to allow someone to have moral authority over us and others it should be someone who has demonstrated themselves to be moral. Perhaps a Scandinavian country. However, I personally don't want anyone deciding for me, and I don't particularly want to decide for anyone else.

    "If there is no means of establishing moral authority across quite small groups (religious congregations, say, or tribal units)"

    There is. The folks from that culture decide what they want it to consist of, and not someone who doesn't belong to their group, and who knows nothing about it. Of course, this isn't to say that one must like it, and they often don't. It's just that if they decide to intervene in the other culture simply because they feel a certain practice of that culture to be repugnant, then they should expect that the other culture, or any other one for that matter, can choose to do the same in return. The problem is that those who have the power are the ones usually doing the imposing, lots of Imperial history points this out quite graphically. As a matter of fact, those who are most often associated with relativism, Benedict, etc...are ones who spoke out against this sort of arrogant power and ethnocentrism, and attempted to show that these "poor savages" actually had their own notions of right, wrong, values, culture, etc...So it's not difficult to see who the enemy of this sort of dangerous precedent would be. Anyway, as the powerful are in a position of power to assert at will, they are also the ones who can defend themselves from those who may be disgusted by their own practices. So, let's take the example of the female circumcision. I think it's repugnant. I also think that invading small, poor, helpless countries, or supporting dictators who kill off their own populations in order to gain wealth and power for themselves or their sponsors is repugnant. Actually, I find it to be much more repugnant given that the number of deaths attributed to the circumcision on the one hand, and those due to supporting ruthless dictators on the other, aren't even close in terms of numbers of deaths.

    Regarding whether or not you have correctly understood what relativism consists of will depend on who you ask in my experience. Many would say that your argument IS THE standard arguments against relativism. However, in my experience, so far, and this is quite limited I might say, those who claim to be relativists don't hold this position themselves. It appears that there are those who argue against relativism, but don't really understand the positions of the relativists, and those who are relativists whom spend their time fending off straw man criticisms of what others who are saying (incorrectly)what their positions are.

    Here is a guy who has laid out what seems to be something in the ball park of what I've been trying to say.(It's only a blog, but he hits several nails on their heads)

    http://dinnertabledonts.blogspot.com/2005/10/straw-man-argument-against-moral.html

    Anyway, that's enough for now. Talk to you soon!

    Brent

  • FROM: Chris Else   (09/26/09)
    SUBJECT: RE:

    Brent

    We seem to be at cross purposes. Let me try and clarify the problem as I see it. There seem to be three questions here.

    Question A: Is the United States justified in the various military excursions it undertakes against other nations in the name of 'freedom' or 'justice' or 'democracy' or whatever? This is an important question but one that involves ethics only as one aspect among several. It is not the question I am addressing here.

    Question B: Is any cultural group justified in imposing its ethical principles on another (by force)? This question is related to A in as much as a negative answer here would affect (although arguably not determine) the answer to A. This is also an important question but again it is not the one I am addressing.

    Question C: Is one cultural group justified in telling another cultural group that a certain behaviour is morally wrong and that they should change it? This question is related to B in that a negative for C would, presumably, necessitate a negative for B. However, note that it would be possible to answer yes to C and still answer no to B. Just because I am justified in telling someone to change their behaviour, does not mean that I am justified in forcing them to do so.

    C is the question I am interested in. It is a question about moral authority. It is not, however, a question about who has such authority, as you suggest, but rather about whether moral authority — in the sense of a set of principles that can be appealed to — is possible across cultures. According to cultural relativism, as I read it anyway, the answer to C is no.

    Take the example of infanticide as a means of population control — once a family reaches a certain size, any remaining babies born are left to starve to death. Let's suppose that a certain culture (X) finds this morally acceptable. I don't find it so. I think the practice is murder and I find it repugnant. There is nothing in cultural relativism that demands that I change this view. My moral principles, determined by my culture, are my moral principles. I don't see either, that cultural relativism requires that I hide my views from a member of culture X. Indeed, I can express my feelings of repugnance in the strongest possible terms. Where question C comes into play is when I am tempted to say 'Infanticide is wrong. You shouldn't do that.' According to cultural relativism, infanticide is neither right nor wrong in any absolute sense. It is only right or wrong relative to a particular culture. I can say 'I think infanticide is wrong' but not 'It's wrong pure and simple.' I certainly have no justification for demanding that someone else cease the practice if their culture finds it acceptable. I can't even see that I even have moral grounds for suggesting that they do so.

    Which brings us to the Holocaust example. If the above analysis is correct, then it is false to say that a cultural relativist must find the Holocaust acceptable but it is true to say that a cultural relativist could not have said to the Nazis 'Stop what you are doing'. Now, of course, the fact that any number of cultural relativists did say such a thing is beside the point. They are as capable of being inconsistent as anyone else.

    For my part, I have a lot of sympathy for cultural relativism but there is a problem here that bothers me. You might have the answer.

    Chris

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: KATHLEEN CRITCHETT   (10/05/09)
    SUBJECT: Introducing myself

    Hello. My name is Kathleen Critchett, I am retired and have returned to the study of Philosophy through the Pathways programs.

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/06/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Hello Kathleen

    Welcome to the forum. What are your philosophical interests?

    Chris

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/07/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Hi Kathleen!

    Welcome to Pathways. Feel free to dive right in. Glad to have you here. What are your interests in philosophy?

    Thanks! Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Keith Shawe   (10/10/09)
    SUBJECT: Introducing myself

    Hi, my name is Keith Shawe. I am typing this in a cafe in Kabul, Afghanistan and have recently joined the pathways programme. I have never studied philosophy before so am completely green and decided to start reading about evidence for and against GOD — so interesting but also so surprising. Some of the arguments for seem very weak indeed. My starting point is as a scientist and atheist and so the only idea that has made any sense to me so far has been that GOD is in fact a set of values to which we aspire, rather than a real entity. I am now reading a book on how some well-known philosophers reconcile faith with reason — very interesting.

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introducing myself

    Hello Keith!

    Glad to have you here. May I ask what you are doing in Afghanistan? Regarding God, and as a scientist, I'm curious about your interest. Please tell us more if you don't mind.

    Thanks! Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Joe Hague   (10/19/09)
    SUBJECT: Virtual Philosophers?

    Unfortunately I feel I have to reveal serious doubts about the existence of certain eminent philosophers.

    My local university (Reading) has on its staff list a few 'names' in Philosophy (Dancy and Strawson), adding to the overall attractiveness of the university as a place to study — learning at the feet of the undeniably experienced and proven leading figures in Philosophy etc etc.

    However, having looked at the lecturing and seminar commitments of these two reveals that they may not actually exist at all — they do no lecturing and take no seminars with any undergraduates (neither first, second not third years) at all.

    What in fact happens at Reading is that the first years get postgraduate students for seminars, and by the time they get to their special options in the third year then get staff lecturers (but as I say, not Dancy or Strawson).

    This is all seems very far from 30 years ago when I was a first year undergraduate in Philosophy at Reading. Antony Flew (then professor) gave lectures and seminars (to this day I remember his shear enthusiasm and energy for Philosophy).

    What does this mean for academic philosophy? Is the pressure to publish now so great that teaching commitments to students is right out of the window? Is visiting foreign universities more important than today's young philosophers (Dancy and Strawson have regular presence in Austin and New York respectively)? And does this mean that universities are now no longer good teaching institutions?

    There are too many issues to cover in this post. I would say though that taking a sabbatical to finish a book as some academics do may be exceptional. But permanently removing oneself from both teaching and seminar commitments sets a quite different standard for academic remoteness. Perhaps these events just form part of a step in the coming of age of a more virtual Philosophy enabled by electronic resources — after all, if you can't meet Dancy or Strawson, what do you do? Look at their texts on-line.

  • FROM: Chris Else   (10/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hi Joe

    I like the notion of the virtual philosophers. It raises the interesting question of whether a non-existent philosopher is capable of a valid argument.

    A related syllogism springs to mind:

    The meaning of a word is its use (Wittgenstein)

    Philosophy consists of words that have no use.

    Therefore philosophy has no meaning.

    Chris

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (10/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hello Chris,

    Nice syllogism! I imagine that the virtual philosopher (v-phil) could be characterised by:

    a) v-phils have no physical presence

    b) v-phils are therefore disembodied

    c) the essence of a v-phil is a thinking substance

    It would follow that the v-phil is the converse of the z-phil (zombie philosopher) who has spatial extension but no mind (people may have their own candidates for z-phils!). Again, you could well ask whether z-phils are capable of arguments also...

    Perhaps the paradigm v-phil was Descartes who not only believed he was a thinking substance, but is still having an effect today in a very non-spatially extended way.......

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (10/24/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hello Joe and Chris!

    Your conversation reminded me of a Chomsky lecture I once heard in which the "mind/body problem" was raised. He reminded listeners that the big challenge for many philosophers and scientists had been for many years to demonstrate that all was simply machine, and all that was needed was to exorcise the "ghost in the machine". He went on to mention that he didn't understand why there was a mind/body debate still taking place given that Newton had "exorcised the body" several hundred years ago, not having touched the mind at all.

    What do you guys think?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (10/30/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hi Brent, I'm not really familiar with what Chomsky claimed, but I think he reflects one part of the seemingly endless debate re the ghost in the machine.

    One of the problems with a 'scientific' perspective on mind-brain seems to be that the subjective side gets ignored, whilst the problem with an 'experiential' approach is that there is a slide into epiphenomenalism.

    My view: that we shouldn't blindly take our ontological commitments from the ordinary use of words like mind and brain. I favour a view that sees persons as a basic unit of experience, attitudes and agency. All the while acknowledging that consciousness is a phenomenon associated with complex neural networks and seeing validity in the view that consciousness confers a certain agency which is not reducible to physical states. We are on that view definitely not 'machines'.

    All we then have to do is find a suitable theoretical framework that serves philosophical, scientific and everyday explanatory schemes!! Any ideas......

    Best wishes

    Joe

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (11/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hi, Joe!

    Sorry for the delay.

    I think he reflects one part of the seemingly endless debate re the ghost in the machine."

    Yes, this would be correct. While he is quite fond of science and the scientific method in general, whenever materialists start getting a little too cocky I think he likes to point things out in his familiar way. You can Google 'Chomsky and ghost in the machine' and probably get several hits. While much of his work and lectures are directed at politics, I recommend, highly, looking for his lectures on philosophy and linguistics. It should aasist in being able to quickly dispell any false assertions you may come across in the future in which the charge is made that 'He's a linguist, not a philosopher'. 100% nonsense!

    "One of the problems with a 'scientific' perspective on mind-brain seems to be that the subjective side gets ignored, whilst the problem with an 'experiential' approach is that there is a slide into epiphenomenalism."

    Is this to say that you're not fond of epiphenominalism? If not, why not?

    "we shouldn't blindly take our ontological commitments from the ordinary use of words like mind and brain. I favour a view that sees persons as a basic unit of experience, attitudes and agency. All the while acknowledging that consciousness is a phenomenon associated with complex neural networks and seeing validity in the view that consciousness confers a certain agency which is not reducible to physical states. We are on that view definitely not 'machines'."

    Are you saying that you believe "consciousness

    ......physical states" are basically epiphenomenological events, and that the mechanics of how the human mind works is, in fact, exactly this, but would rather focus on the results of what the epiphenomena produces?

    "All we then have to do is find a suitable theoretical framework that serves philosophical, scientific and everyday explanatory schemes!! Any ideas......"

    And then following from what I said above, the framework you propose is constructed within the "results" produced by the epiphenomena?

    If I'm correct in what you've posited here, I'd be most in line with your position. I mean, it seems that regardless of whether or not consciousness, ideas, thoughts, etc...are produced in this fashion, or perhaps in some other fashion, it still seems that we are required to 'do' some sort of constructing or designing, whether it is even conscious or not. Probably better to try and be as conscious of the process as possible. I think psychology has a role to play here. What are your ideas regarding psychology?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (11/10/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hello Brent,

    First let me explain what I meant by epiphenomenalism. I see epiphenomenalism as a 'dead end' where the mental is deemed to be without any effect — ie. the mental becomes a causally redundant entity. It can be argued that eliminative and reductive physicalists end up in an epiphenomenal position, as indeed does anyone else who cannot successfully demonstrate a causal linkage between the mental and the physical. As far as I know its not a position that anyone has ever chosen (possible exception Leibniz with his mental-physical parallelism) — or would ever want to choose.

    What do I think? I'll give some intuited thoughts rather than philosophical arguments. I see mental states as potentially causally efficacious — which is in line with everyday commonsense. So, the 'I' that decides things has the power of agency. The big question then is how the 'I' fits into the human body. The likelihood is that it is somehow related to the brain. The brain that enables and records my experiences is just as much part of 'me' as the 'I' that has power of agency.

    So, in terms of broad positions that fit there is a choice between something like non-reductive physicalism (eg Papineau), functionalism (seems a very popular position) or property dualism (eg Chalmers). I won't comment at the moment on the detail of these positions, but I would say that from my point of view functionalism appears not to deliver very much — it seems to me to be more of a systems approach to the mind following the systems approach in computing. In computing functional specifications are indeed valid approaches, but the nitty gritty of implementations is where the real importance is. Just think of a functional description of a computing system, it can be implemented in C++, Java, or older 3GL languages, and can run on a variety of host systems from mainframes, networks, PCs, or be web-based — so by focussing on function we still need to separately understand all the implementation detail, so is functionalism by itself capable of any real progress?

    You mention psychology. Its interesting to note that most psychology departments define psychology as "the study of human experience (and behaviour)". When I studied psychology behaviour was very much to the forefront with experience a (very) poor second — that is, in terms of research emphasis, teaching, and academic content. The problem was, and probably still is, that 'experience' doesn't readily fit a scientific paradigm, so the 'scientific' way of dealing with that is to focus solely on behavioural outputs. Alternative approaches are thin on the ground. Phenomenology claims a scientific approach, but is so theory-bound that it doesn't get wide acceptance. Psychoanalytic approaches suffer from a similar problem. And ad hoc approaches such as introspection although very 'rich' are impossible to make sufficiently objective to meet any kind of public standards of verification. So, it seems to me somewhat ironic that philosophy of mind is actually doing something of what psychologists should be doing themselves!

    Best wishes, Joe

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (11/14/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hello Joe!

    When you speak of epiphenomenalism as being a "dead end where the mental is deemed to be without any effect..." it seems as though you're presupposing that there be a "mental" aside from the phenomena taking place, as if there are two separate entities here. I would like to clarify what you mean by mental before proceeding. I was under the impression that the "mental" IS the phenomena of epiphenomenalism, and that this is simply where mental spings from. Perhaps like the light given off by a bulb, the bulb itself being the brain in this case. All notions of "mental", and everything included in such talk are simply aspects of the phenomena. This includes awareness, self-awareness, and everything else. It would seem that the notion of mental, as being a separate entity of some sort, would perhaps become redundant in the sense that speaking about it as if it were something distinct would perhaps simply set up non-existent, or perhaps pseudo, contrasting features.

    It also seems to be assumed in your statement:

    "It can be argued that eliminative and reductive physicalists end up in an epiphenomenal position, as indeed does anyone else who cannot successfully demonstrate a causal linkage between the mental and the physical."

    This, too, presupposes that the mental and physical are two distinct entities. I think a phenomenologist would look at it more like just as there is a causal link between one's brain and one's arm, the brain causing the arm to move up, down, etc...most of the time 'at will', in fact, that thought (mental) does so likewise. Thought and the like is simply what the brain produces. That there hasn't yet been a concrete connection seems like a non-sequiter. Neuroscience already demonstrates that various regions of the brain produce various responses; put a little pressure here, one becomes depressed, excited, etc...

    It seems that we must admit that any and all mental occurances do, in fact, stem from the brain(physical), unless we wish to give mental up to some metaphysical or supernatural source. If not, it would seem that any talk about physical and mental would itself be redundant. Talk of various aspects of physical would seem to be more appropriate. Of course if we are simply choosing to use the notion of mental as a descriptive label when attempting to further clarify distinct physical aspects/functions, perhaps there's no problem. Sort of like referring to a finger, palm, knuckle, etc...are distinct features, though all referring to the hand. Is this the way you are referring to the "mental"?

    "As far as I know its not a position that anyone has ever chosen (possible exception Leibniz with his mental-physical parallelism) — or would ever want to choose."

    I'm not sure I understand this. Why would one not want to choose this?

    It seems that you're willing to give primary causation for the mental to the brain, but I'm still not sure I understand how epiphenomenalism wouldn't fit. Regarding functionalism's potential lack of viability, I'm wondering if this is simply a semtantic difference we're having here. I'm wondering if you feel that "the mental" cannot simply be a functional property of what the brain produces?

    Regarding psychology, I always had some sort of slight aversion to the behaviorist model. Perhaps I can appreciate it on some gross level, but it simply never appealed to me. It's just that I never found that particular angle of examination too appealing. Given the various angles of examination, it would seem that the most logical, or perhaps scientific, approach would be that of eclecticism of some sort. That some are still attempting to force apparent reality into an exclusively Freudian, behavior, etc...model itself seemingly demonstrates a lack of scientific approach.

    "So, it seems to me somewhat ironic that philosophy of mind is actually doing something of what psychologists should be doing themselves!"

    I agree with this statement, though at times it also seems there's an aversion to psychology by many philosophers. I've always found this to be interesting. I've had professors, from both arenas, who seem to think it a sin to discuss the two within the same breath. I never understood the apparent hostility from one to the other. I was never sure whether it possible, or even much worth, to have one without the other. I'm not sure if you know Prof. Daniel Robinson, but he is quite a good example of someone appreciating, not to mention knowing about as much as one can know about both disciplines, as I've come across. Not that I agree with some of his conclusions, but he's sure seems to have both philosophy and psychology (and I mean down to just about every physiological aspect one can imagine) down rather well, and I believe shuns the notion that one need be excluded to the other.

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (11/21/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hi Brent, Thanks for that. Some points for you:

    Have a look at the IEP entry on epiphenomenalism and see if that resolves some of the issues around epiphenomenalism: http://www.iep.utm.edu/epipheno/

    I quite like your example of the light bulb: it does sound reasonable to say that the mental is a function of the brain as a physicalist thesis, but the light emitted does have some unique properties — for example of being able to decide what the bulb should do. So these facts might limit the usefulness of the analogy?

    You seem to (quite rightly) say that any suggestion of a mental substance or entity of some kind (substance dualism) is unwarranted, and I would agree but I don't think anything I've said previously supports substance dualism. And I don't see that speaking of 'the mental' as such would necessarily imply that position (though it could of course support property dualism).

    The problem of mental causation is how can my actions be explained by my beliefs and desires that caused my actions. It would be nice if 'belief X' that I have was simply a brain state (or identical to a brain state) because that would reduce the problem of causation to one brain state causing another, but the problem is that all the type identity theories run into problems that are difficult to resolve. So, these problems motivated functionalism and the token identity theories — all of which admit the efficacy of the mental, but along with that open the door again to the problem of how to square mental property causation with physical causation — and it is this that proves the stumbling block again. So, I don't know where in that spectrum of different theories you would want to position yourself. You seem to be headed into a physicalist position, whilst perhaps suggesting that reduction to physical terms is appropriate, so obviating the need for 'mentalistic' words. Would that be right?

    There is no problem at all with recognising all the brain-based things you mention. Things like brain surgery and drugs that act on the brain all have dramatic consequences for our mental lives, but our mental lives also have some unique (mental) properties ie the capability for rational thought, thoughts that lead to other thoughts, decisions leading to intentional action, beliefs that support thought and action etc. These mental things have dramatic consequences for our behavioural lives. And all these things are a (very) long way from neuroscientific research, so we currently have no empirical means of justifying a reductionist approach to mental phenomena apart from a blind faith that neuroscience could one day tell us all we need to know about mental life. But apart from all that we still need to have a convincing explanation (and I alluded earlier to the fact that we don't have one) about how all the mental properties I've mentioned relate to our lives.

    Dan Robinson? Has he written a recent book 'consciousness and mental life'? Is that him? Psychology is empirical, Philosophy isn't, as you say there is a deep schism between the two. I'll think about this a bit more next week when I've got more time

    Best wishes, Joe

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (11/22/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hi Joe!

    I'll have a look at the epi link. Thanks!

    Regarding the usefullness of the lightbulb example, I know what you mean. It was just what popped into my head at the time. Perhaps it would be more to like a bubble which produces the material which we see moving around on the surface of the bubble (the various colors, etc...), and which can go in any given direct, but which also has the capability of effecting the bubble. Maybe.

    Regarding the substance dualism, perhaps I was more attempting to see if I was understanding what you were saying, or that if there were any differences between our conceptions.

    And, yes, I believe you would be correct in the direction you believe I was heading. Not that I'm all too sure where I'm going in the first place. I do, however, seem to be leaning, perhaps further as of late, toward the notion that it IS all physical, and there are simply different properties of the physical which act and react to each other in various ways. That the 'mental' seems to have the capability of working back toward 'the physical' is simply a matter of direction. My urine goes out as produced by my bladder, just as my thought go out as produced by my brain. There are difference, hopefully, though I've been told otherwise regarding many of my ideas, but I think only in quality and quantity. Perhaps it's something akin to von Humboldt's comments on language when he speaks of it as being "the infinite use of finite means". The brain is finite, though as a part of the quality of its makeup it is able to produce these infinite sentences, ideas, etc....Does this make sense?

    As far as how can our "actions be explained by (your) beliefs and desires that caused (your) actions" I haven't a clue, though I'd probably go in the direction that as part of our biological makeup we simply have things such as altruism, survival strategies and needs, desires, and most all of the other qualities which make us human, and that these are innate, and we perhaps become more aware of them when coming into contact with the world and our experiences. We have the template with these things already in place when we're born, but experience helps them to be realized. It seems that we have little difficulty viewing other species as having their innate instincts, but when it comes to people there's a tendency to doubt them. I'm not sure. What do you think?

    I agree that neuroscience hasn't gotten near being able to explain this what seems to be free will aspect of our mental life, and am not sure if it ever will, or if it's even desirable for it to. Point taken regarding your comments on this though.

    Yes, Dan Robinson does have a book by that title, but I haven't read it. I've only heard him lecture on the Teaching Company series which I found to be quite good. I'd be most interested in hearing what you thought after listening to the entire set. Perhaps I can make copies and send them to you. Woops! Is that illegal?

    Thanks! Brent

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (12/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Virtual Philosophers?

    Hello Brent,

    Re Dan Robinson, perhaps the best educational thing to do would be to take one of his arguments that you find interesting, and post it to the forum in summarised form (maybe in a new thread), and say whether you agree or disagree. That way you might get a few responses from different people. Plus of course you get the absolute enjoyment from doing an argument summary!

    Re Your nature vs nurture point, I'm waiting for the results from the Genome project. I was surprised by the fact that we have only the same number of genes as mice, and only twice as many as roundworms......

    Best wishes

    Joe

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Hugo Correia   (10/20/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hello All, my name is Hugo (22yrs old) and I am new to the conference and also new in debate and discussion, despite having already done 3 modules of my Philosophy degree with the University of London External System.

    I always loved Philosophy since I read "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder, before starting my A-levels. My interest for the subject led me to choose philosophy as my first degree against all advices.

    I am particularly interested at the present moment in the History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History. I think this world was in big part built by philosophers (even if not always in a good way) or at least they influenced a lot in social sciences, politics, arts, science and religion.. I believe that "history is philosophy in action" at certain degree. Do you agree? Or do you think that that "history (was never) philosophy in action"? I think that if we could answer this in a positive way, we could prove what is the real importance of philosophy in a big scale and possibly attract or give a good answer to those who think that philosophy is not as important as history or religion.

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (10/25/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Welcome Hugo, at least you're about a third of the way there with 3 modules already done!

    You raise a BIG question that is great for provoking thought. The history of ideas does reflect the history of historical trends, but the problem is tracing influences. For example, look at the progress of 17th century science, and the parallel development of british empiricism, and then try to isolate the lines of influence between the two. But it is fascinating to look at the intellectual climate that stimulates particular ideas — eg. adds an extra dimension to understanding something of what ran through Locke's mind in forming his arguments.

    Maybe the best approach is to take a single aspect of an idea in history and then do the intellectual/cultural analysis on it to try to separate philosophical aspects from the rest — but even that sounds like a doctoral thesis in itself. Is there any paricular idea that interests you?

    Joe

    I'll think some more about what you say though



  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Dian Courtright   (10/31/09)
    SUBJECT: introduction

    Hi!

    My name is Dian & I've just signed up to one of the introductory philosophy classes in the Pathways program.

    I've always loved philosophy ever since I tried to read the philosophy books my parents had as a result of belonging to a book of the month club back in the 1960's. I was about 8 years old & was desperate for reading material as we lived an isolated existence in the mountains & didn't have a television, radio, or anything but books. I remember asking my dad what a particular book meant. It was a philosophy book, discourses of Plato I think, & I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

    My Dad told me something to the effect that all the answers to everything were found in there. Which I found puzzling as my mother was very religious, & said all the answers to everything were found in the Bible.

    Needless, to say I've been engaging in philosophical debate with myself ever since.    

    Geoffrey Klempner recently responded to a question of mine about morals on his website & it made me realize how much of a part philosophy really does play in my life. Taking these courses are a way for me to repair the Gordian Knot I've severed & find some sort of resolution to my questions.

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (11/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: introduction

    Hello Dian!

    Good luck on your journey! Feel free to jump into any of the (few) discussions you may see taking place here. Questions, answers, advice, suggestions, references....Anything okay!!!

    Talk to you soon!

    Brent

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (11/04/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: introduction

    Welcome Dian,

    I came across a quote from Plato's Theaetetus "wonder is the feeling of a philosopher and philosophy begins in wonder" Often Plato puts things just so — and that's one of his claims I can agree with!

    Joe

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Ansgar Gerstner   (11/08/09)
    SUBJECT: Introduction

    Hello all,

    my name is Ansgar Gerstner. I am new here. I am a German living in China. My area of interest is classical Chinese philosophy, particularly Taoist philosophy.

    I am a sinologist by academic education — this is why I speak Mandarin fluently. My doctoral dissertation many years ago was on the Tao Te King with a focus on its attitude to knowledge and its relationship to the Tao Te King's critical stance on the project of civilization.

    I got a second cultural education while studying in Taiwan from the middle to the end of the eighties, especially through my intensive studies in traditional Chinese martial arts.

    In recent years my attention has particularly turned to the application of the Tao Te King's thought on leadership in modern management contexts.

    Hope this does not sound to weird and confusing. I am looking forward to interesting discussions, though timewise I might sometimes be a bit slow with my reactions.

    Best wishes from Shanghai,

    Ansgar

  • FROM: Ronald Scott   (11/16/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Introduction

    Hello from Japan, Ansgar!

    I was in Shanghai and took the overnight train to Beijing a few years ago. I've been to China 4 or 5 times and have enjoyed it thoroughly. I lived in Taiwan for 3 years, though relocated to Japan 12 years ago. Where were you in Taiwan? I, too, have been interested in Chinese philosophy for quite some time, also "especially Taoist philosophy" (Laotzu, Chaungtzu, etc...), though haven't read much lately. I still practice Chinese occasionally with a few students at the university where I teach English. Perhaps we can hook up at the Peace Hotel for a drink and a cigar (though I don't really smoke), and listen to the old guys playing jazz? Can you tell me more about what you're working on regarding the management studies? Regarding "weird and confusing", hey, these are part of the flow, so there's no problem from where I stand. Perhaps you'd like Heraclitus? Anyway, glad to meet you and hope to hear from you again!

    Thanks! Brent

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Daniel Feeney   (11/16/09)
    SUBJECT: Intro

    Hello everyone. My name is Daniel, and I've recently begun the Possible Worlds course via Pathways.

    I am hoping to achieve a better understanding of the positions, and arguments held in a structured format. To date, I have read a number of books on Philosophy (primarily Nietzsche), but have always felt I wasn't grasping the full consequences of the points. I think that providing structure will aid me in my understanding, as well as open my eyes to positions I may not have been privy to otherwise. In addition, I am hoping to articulate my thoughts with greater effectiveness.

    Anyways, I look forward to bouncing around ideas with each of you.

    Daniel F.

  • FROM: Joe Hague   (11/17/09)
    SUBJECT: RE: Intro

    Hi Daniel, come and join the discussion....

    Best wishes, Joe

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Joe Hague   (12/10/09)
    SUBJECT: What do philosophers think?

    Primarily for information: Bourget/Chalmers recently surveyed 3000 or so professional philosophers and students for a snaphot of their views on various topics ranging from a priori knowledge to zombies:

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

    I was slightly surprised by the 5% leaning towards scepticism of the external world — everyone will find their own surprises in the data though!........

    best wishes

    Joe

    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Moises Bolekia   (01/06/10)
    SUBJECT: Moises: New Pathways student

    Hello everyone,



    My name is Moises Bolekia, I am from Barcelona, Spain. I studied Technical engineering in telecommunications and during that period of time I found that many of the concepts we used in telecom theories are very connected with Philosophy (Time, causality, space, waves, and so on).

    Unfortunately a degree like this does not give you the opportunity to understand the philosophy behind itself. This way I became interested in philosophy. However, my life changed very much when I took a book about Eastern Philosophy, I mean Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Zen. I became very interested in all of it and finally I decided to study Asian Studies and to learn more about these ways of thinking.

    After finishing that degree I went to China (Beijing) and I studied Chinese language and culture for about 3 years. Now I am back in Spain and I want to continue studding Western philosophy in order to learn how to compare both Western and Eastern philosophy and how can other philosophies be "useful" in our lives.

    On the other hand, as I have been working as an Editor of a Business Journal I am now highly interested in Business (Real) Ethics, and that's also why I am taking the Pathways philosophy program on Moral Philosophy. As you can see, I have a lot of work to do!!

    Best,

    Moises

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (01/31/10)
    SUBJECT: on Western engineering and Eastern philosophy

    Hello Moises, welcome to the conference !

    After reading your fascinating short bio, I thought that you should be interested in my current exchange with Ansgar Gerstner. Have a look ! And Michael "Mike" Ward is an engineer too. So you are in good company here. Perhaps give your own report on what struck you most when living three years in China. I would like to know the exact time, since China is transforming, so one should know what years you have spent there. Do you read Chinese news now ?

    A month ago I was in Munich and visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition there (see http://artobserved.com/go-see-munich-ai-weiwei-politically-charged-so-sorry-at-haus-der-kunst-through-january-17-2010/ and http://www2.dw-world.de/southasia/germany/1.235669.1.html ). Great !

    And where do you see a potential of Chinese culture teaching us Westerners ? Are there points of view that we Westerners neglected in Chinese opinion and should be aware of ? I really would like to know and to learn a bit !

    All the best from Hubertus

  • -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Ruy Riavitz   (01/08/10)
    SUBJECT: Ruy Riavitz: New participant at Pathways Conference

    Hello to Everyone,

    My background is Engineering, but I don´t know if this has influenced on me to get interested in Philosophy.

    I live in the Patagonia Argentina, and the reasons I have for studying Philosophy might be many.

    To mention one, I would say that I feel the need to have some kind of explanation about what I believe my external world is. By the way, can anyone help me to understand plurality? or reject Parmenides with good reasons? I would appreciate a hand on this.

    On the other hand, I think that studying Philosophy can enhance my capacity to ask and reflect.

    I look forward to sharing with all of you a lot

    Best regards

    Ruy



    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Anonymous2328757   (01/28/10)
    SUBJECT: Starting anew

    Hello. I've haven't been here for ages, but am a mentor on Pathways to Philosophy and member of the board of the ISFP and wish to introduce a new topic. This is a question suggested by Hubertus, who you will probably know if you have been here before.

    WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM OF TODAY?

    Thoughts might be to do with religion, progress, liberty or whether philosophy can now answer practical problems such as fear of mortality and facing up to illness, given the movement towards philosophical counselling. Is philosophy becoming less abstract and having different impact? Or are Plato and Aristotle as influential as they ever were?

    Rachel

    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (01/29/10)
    SUBJECT: Light from the East and light from the West

    This opening message is addressed to Ansgar Gerstner, see (11/08/09), but of course is open to read for everybody here. Everybody is invited to post his/her opinion as usual.

    Hello Ansgar, you wrote from Shanghai in Nov.8 last year (11/08/09) that "I am a sinologist by academic education. My doctoral dissertation many years ago was on the Tao Te King with a focus on its attitude to knowledge and its relationship to the Tao Te King's critical stance on the project of civilization.". May I introduce myself then : I am a physicist by profession, now retired, turning 70 this year, but read the Tao Te King 50 years back and some works on Chinese philosophy (f.i. Fung Yu Lan) during the early 1960s. I had a look into Wolfgang Bauer and Peter Opitz books, but not very deep. You can "google" my full name as "hubertus fremerey" to know more if needed. I did the same to find http://www.xing.com/profile/Ansgar_Gerstner and some more. As a German I could have exchanged in German, but this is an English conference, and if our exchange turns interesting others should profit from it.

    Now I have a thesis for a starter and want to know your opinion. I want to understand the relative impact of "East and West". My main interest is not so much Tao Te King or Upanishads, but the changing attitudes to "modernity". I would like to know what changes in Asian thinking have been brought about during the confrontation with Western thinking from the times around 1850. In 1853 Japan was opened by force (Perry), in 1857 the "Great Mutiny" turned India into a British colony, and China was humiliated in those times by the Opium Wars.

    In my opinion it can be said with certainty that so far the impact of Eastern traditions on Western thinking has been very small, almost negligible. Neither Schweitzer nor Jung have changed this, and the real impact of "guruism" (Osho etc.) and of Suzuki and Watts combined has been negligible in the USA, even in California. As in the sciences, the transfer of ideas has been very much in one way — from Western to Eastern universities, not the other way round. Leading men from all parts of Asia have come to London, Paris, Berlin or Heidelberg, Oxford, Cambridge, etc., or to the leading universities of the USA in Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.. No professor of philosophy in India, China, Korea, or Japan can afford today to be not acquainted with Kant or Hegel or Heidegger or Wittgenstein, but for a Western philosophy prof it is not of much importance whether he knows anything of Confucius or Buddhism or the Upanishads. Whether this will change during the century I do not know. From a global perspective Europe is for Asia what Greece has been for Rome — the teacher.

    Of course all this sound like "Western arrogance", but I think it simply describes a situation. While of course Lao Tse and Confucius and the Buddha and Mahavira are "great names" in Western awareness, and while since Leibniz and Matteo Ricci the West was awed for some time by "Eastern wisdom", the knowledge of the "Eastern Wisdom" remained a matter of some esoteric circles, mostly of Theosophical Society and of those around Richard Wilhelm and H.v.Glasenapp and the Diederich series of books in Germany. "Eastern Wisdom" never became a staple of any western philosophical or theological mainstream curriculum.

    What I would like to see is a short description from your side of the situation as you found it in Taiwan and Shanghai philosophical seminaries and "cafeterias". Do you think that my view is distorted ? How would you describe the current attitude with respect to Chinese traditions as compared to Western "imports" and "modernity" at this time ?

    So long and best regards from Hubertus

    ------------------

    Some links added for your convenience :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._T._Suzuki

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wilhelm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_C._Perry

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mutiny

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_wars

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_tse

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavira

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matteo_Ricci

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jung

    http://indology.info/

    http://www.amazon.com/Open-Your-Mind-Life-Eastern/dp/0740727109/ref=tag_dpp_lp_edpp_ttl_in



    -----------------------------------------------

    FROM: Ansgar Gerstner   (01/29/10)
    SUBJECT: Re: Light from the East and light from the West

    Dear Hubertus,

    you might want to look into Joseph Needham and his Science and Civilization in China. Here is the link to the Needham Research Institute: http://www.nri.org.uk/researchers.html

    There you will learn something on the science and technology transfer from China to the West.

    China might have been under the spell of Western technology and management thought and systems for a while, but this is only a comparatively short period of time in Chinese history.

    I do have serious doubts that the depth of penetration of Western philosophy into Chinese culture is any greater than the other way around.

    You might find Kant and the others in the classroom of a philosophy department. But ask ordinary Mrs. and Mr. Wang, Chen or Liu about the influence of Western philosophy on their daily lives.

    Taoist and Ch'an-Buddhist thought, however, are deeply ingrained in revered arts and traditions such as calligraphy, Chinese painting, music, poetry, martial arts, Ch'i-kung and meditation in Chinese culture. There still is quite an amount of people on whose life Chinese philosophy has a direct impact. If you look at percentages, I am not sure, whether the percentage for the impact of Western philosophical thought on the daily lives of ordinary people in the West would be any higher.

    Taoist thought has a strong presence in Chinese medicine. Take a look at how far TCM, the miniature version of original Chinese medicine, has been spread even to the most remote areas and places in the West.

    Taoist and Ch'an-Buddhist thought have deeply shaped Chinese martial arts, Ch'i-kung and meditation. They have had a strong influence on the development of Western body therapies in the West. T'ai-chi Ch'üan and Ch'i-kung are taught everywhere in the West. Though the conscious philosophical depth of most of these popular offers in the West can be doubted, parts of these philosophies are still transported through the movements.

    "From a global perspective Europe is for Asia what Greece has been for Rome — the teacher.": As you can see from what I have written above, I do not agree. I think it is a biased perspective. Besides, Europe might do well to heed the advice that teachers should always also stay students. The centers of the global economy are shifting and the changes in the not to faraway future will be dramatic. Europe in general seems to be a bit slow in seeing what is happening in and with China. China has a long history and strong culture of learning and in some respects China is learning very fast these days. What these kind of economies need are pragmatic philosophies with an emphasis on responsibility and sustainability — Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern or whatever you name it.

    I think you started a very interesting discussion here and there should be a good many people who might want to add to it. I regret that I might lack the time to play as active a role in it as I definitely would have when still being at the university.

    Best wishes from Shanghai,

    Ansgar

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey   (01/29/10)
    SUBJECT: Re: Light from the East and light from the West

    Thank you Ansgar for the stimulating answer. I try to give it some structure now :

    First we see the difference of what happens in the philosophical seminary against what is popular philosophy of the folks. This is not different in China from the West. Normal people here do not know much if anything either of modern Western philosophy (Wittgenstein and Heidegger or Quine, Foucault or Derrida say), nor of Eastern philosophy. Maybe 10% have heared of Confucius or Laodsi here, but don't ask about their teachings. So this is the same everywhere on the globe. There may be some studies published on what common folks here — pupils from age 15 say — know of any sort of philosophy. So far I do not know of such studies, but they may be available. And this "folksy" philosophy includes — here as in China — fragments of theology and fragments of esoterics and superstition.

    But this sort of "common knowledge and opinion" was not on my mind. My question to you was definitely about what is going on in the universities and seminaries. What names and topics show up in the typical first and second year curricula in Chinese universities ? Confucius ? Mao Zedong ? Marx ? Hegel ? Kant ? Plato ? Aristotle ? Very probably not St.Augustine or St.Thomas and not Heidegger, while they all may appear in the seminaries of the 3rd and 4th year.

    And now on "Western arrogance" : I compare the situation of China to that of Japan. During the Meiji Era (1867-1912) the Japanese were eager to learn from the West. Then after WW-II they had 12 years of occupation by the USA (1945-56) and once more copying the West. The real breakthrough was the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, which caused Herman Kahn in 1967 to predict something like a Japanese Century from "the year 2000". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Kahn

    http://www.amazon.com/Year-2000-Framework-Speculation-Thirty-Three/dp/0025604406

    http://www.zeit.de/1998/01/Ihr_werdet_es_erleben?page=all

    As you know, it did not work this way.

    Today we see a similar "China-hype", so the parallel is seductive to shift from Tokyo in 1964 to Beijing in 2008 and predict the world dominance of China for the year 2050. Very probably this will be as wrong a prediction as Japan on top in 2000, when in fact Japan is aching and stalled and trying to come out of the slump. Many people today predict a similar fate for China. Well, I will not speculate here.

    I know of Needham, read something 40 years ago. But modern science and math and medicine is definitely from the Occident. When Ricci was in China the rise of the West just started over. There was nothing comparable to it anywhere in Asia, and this can be explained. Has nothing to do with any special Occidental intelligence. Just read my essay on Pathways #133 ( http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/issue133.html ).

    Thus there is an explanation of the "one-way" transfer of Western philosophy and science to Asia : Overall Asiatic math and physics and medicine simply does not work. To have the modern world of cars and computers and airplanes etc. you cannot do without "Western scientific standards". And by this argument you cannot even do without Western philosophy. Where do the leading members of the CPC and the Chinese economy and military go in case of a heart attack ? To some leading Western clinic (Mayo, Princeton etc.) or they let the leading Western specialists come to Beijing. Today they may have established some top medical centers in Beijing and Shanghai for this sort of high ranking clientel. This was not different in Moskow during the Cold War. There is no alternative to Western scientific standards. Has nothing to do with "Western arrogance". Just matter of fact. Even to speak of "Asiatic Values" was a myth. See Chris Patten on this, the last British Governor of Hong Kong ( ISBN 0-330-39072-4 = http://www.amazon.com/EAST-WEST-FORMAT-PATTEN-CHRIS/dp/ 0330390724/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1264802816&sr=8-1)

    If there is any light to come from the East ("Ex oriente lux") it could be in the spiritual realm. Thus "Orientalism" was a special product of a Western longing for spirituality — as well around 1900 as during the period of "counterculture" and "New Age" in the 1960s. It was the time of Capra and "The Tao of Physics". As a physicist I did not read this rubbish. If you need to combine physics and philosophy, then take Einstein and Heisenberg and their likes.

    So when I wrote that the West is teaching the East now, this was not "Western arrogance" but stating some well founded fact. This does not exclude that the light will come from the East one time to the West, but only in the form of "post-consumerism". If the West once more is longing for spirituality, it may find some value again in Eastern philosophers and their special forms of "atheistic spirituality".

    But you may still object, so please post you opinion. I am learning.

    Hubertus

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