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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 28
24th March 2002


I. 'Philosophy and Policing' by Larry Barksdale

II. 'The Bigger Picture' by Michael Ward

III. New Element Discovered



     Sergeant, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, Police Department
     Student on Pathways Program D. 'Language and the World'

I once read that a Sheriff in a rural County in the United States advertised
for a philosopher's position. The Sheriff explained that Philosophers do what
good law enforcement officers should do. This made me start to wonder what it
is that philosophers do, and if what they do has real world, day-to-day,
application in an occupation like law enforcement.

One would surmise that the culture of a given society has identified and
defined certain acceptable behaviors. At least the law and social conventions
have established some parameters of acceptable behavior. With this assumption
as a given, it follows that law enforcement personnel engage in behaviors that
tend to reinforce acceptable behaviors. Philosophers define reality, establish
meaning, clarify morals, clear up confusion, and seek what is true; tasks which
relate to defining acceptable societal behavior. It is a short step to extend
such actions to the creation of public policy.

My interest in the Sheriff's advertisement, however, went beyond the relevance
of philosophy to social policy. Policy as such would seem to extend beyond the
daily behavior of police officers. This is assuming that the law enforcement
officers internalize the cultural values. My interest was in the practical
application that might relate to daily tasks. Does philosophy have a practical
application to the task performance of a worker such as a law enforcement

A place to begin, it would seem, would be with what might apply to the
gathering of information and the use of information. As an example, does
philosophy have anything to say about the practical investigation of a store
robbery? The concern is not if the robbery was immoral, calling for justice,
and so forth, but if there are any applications to relate to investigative

The thought that arises is that the investigative task is akin to theory
formation. The law enforcement officer gathers information of various sorts,
and attempts to develop a theory, an explanation, of an event. Information
might include witness statements, victim statements, suspect statements,
physical evidence, and crime analysis information. The explanation, or theory,
would hopefully include a description of the events entailing the legal
culpability of a person.

Theory building in an investigation such as this does not particularly lend
itself to empirical testing. One cannot shoot or assault people to test the
validity of an injury pattern. Additionally, a theory must be formulated in a
rather quick fashion to guide an investigation. Wherefrom does the philosopher
enter into the picture?

I would suggest that the philosopher enters into the practicality of an
investigation by formulating the methodology of theory testing. One approach is
to apply the steps of the scientific method: identify a problem, propose a
hypothesis, gather data, form a conclusion, accept or refute the hypothesis.
Since one is not afforded the opportunity to recreate the event, there must be
others means to test the data and form a conclusion from the data. The data can
be physical evidence, witness information, and intelligence information. One can
test the logical relationship between the physical evidence, witness
information, and intelligence information to form the conclusion that such an
event took place, and that such a person was illegally involved in the event.
Can one be sure that all of the information is accurate, and that all possible
information has been gathered, and that logical relationships are valid? Here
is the point at which the philosopher steps in to drive the bus. It is the
point of conceptualization of a method, and rests upon the concept of error.

Sir Karl Popper provides a fitting observation along these lines when he says:

     "According to this piecemeal view, there is no clearly
     marked division between the pre-scientific and the
     scientific experimental approaches, even though the more
     and more conscious application of scientific, that is to
     say, of critical methods, is of great importance. Both
     approaches may be described, fundamentally, as utilizing
     the method of trial and error. We try; that is, we do not
     merely register an observation, but make active attempts to
     solve some more or less practical and definite problems. And
     we make progress if, and only if, we are prepared to learn
     from our mistakes: to recognize our errors and to utilize
     them critically instead of persevering in them
     dogmatically.... All theories are trials; they are
     tentative hypotheses, tried out to see whether they work
     and all experimental corroboration is simply the result of
     tests undertaken in a critical spirit, in an attempt to
     find out where our theories err." (Popper pp. 314-315).
What emerges is that the law enforcement investigator ought to look for errors
in the investigative information and the investigative theory. The efforts that
refute a theory seem often to be a contributory factor in the "chance discovery"
of important information (Popper, p. 177). The looking for errors to refute is a
philosophical teaching point. The concept that refutation proves the truth of a
theory is a philosophical exercise in thought. It would be fair to say that
most law enforcement officers want to be accurate. However, after information
is gathered and an explanation tendered, the efforts to find error in the
information or to 'poke holes' in an explanation are less likely, I suspect,
than the efforts to adhere to an assertion or to gather further information to
bolster an assertion.

The philosophy of language might provide an area to illustrate the effort to
look for error. Let us assume that the store owner and a witness gave a
physical description of the robber. Let us further assume that the height and
weight descriptions were different by considerable amounts, and that there were
differences in clothing descriptions. One might question the witnesses and make
comparisons with known heights and colors, as an example, to get a more
specific description. It would not be atypical for a law enforcement officer to
combine the two descriptions into a general description, believe one witness
more than another, or to leave a very broad description.

The philosopher might ask if the language of each witness was not a shared
language (in the sense of Wittgenstein). Efforts to transform the 'private'
language into a shared language might produce a more specific description. What
one would be looking for is the basis of error in the language use of the
witness or the law enforcement officer. It is a large step, but perhaps a
possible step to look to the concept of deconstruction and interactivity
proposed by Derrida (p. 127). That is, can one break down the meaning of an
assertion to expose its errors, and thus accept that in the meaning is the
growth of meaning? In essence, is a 'gun' a gun, or a 'tall man' a tall man,
and how did each come about to be the case? Does the interaction to reach a
shared language include a new meaning that approaches or digresses from reality?

From one of my previous experiences, a person described the vehicle of a bank
robber as a certain make and model and probable year. The witness also
described a specific color of the suspect vehicle. Tire prints that were very
unique were discovered at the scene. A suspect vehicle was subsequently
discovered that was similar in make, model, and year. The unique tire tracks
were matched to the suspect vehicle. The owner of the suspect car matched the
description of the robber. However, the color of the suspect vehicle was
completely different than that described by the witness. It was learned that
the witness was not color blind. The witness had ample light and position to
clearly see the suspect vehicle. The witness was driven to numerous car lots
and asked to identify colors of automobiles pointed out by an investigator. The
investigator was satisfied that the witness accurately identified colors as
perceived by the investigator. Later, however, it was discovered, quite by
accident, that the brown suspect vehicle when parked at a certain distance from
a mercury vapor streetlight clearly looked green. Reconstruction of the scene of
the robbery with the suspect vehicle at the same time of day and location as the
robbery with the witness in the same observation position confirmed that the
vehicle in fact was 'green' to the witness and various police officers at that
point in time and space.

Might one, with the training of a philosopher, not have been able to mentally
consider alternative possibilities of explaining the difference in the color of
the suspect vehicle? Might one not have thought to apply the concept of 'testing
for error' and seen that a color difference could logically have been due to
physical properties of light reflection? Thus equipped, the investigator could
have recreated the scene earlier on in the investigation and taken advantage of
a 'chance discovery' in Popper's sense rather than relying on sheer accident.
Applying the philosopher's tools, considering meaning, structure of language,
concepts of color, and so forth one might have arrived at a conclusion that the
language of the witness constituted a valid, not an invalid assertion. From
this, one might have reasoned that the error was not in language but was due to
another phenomenon. Applying the tools of the philosopher would have produced a
more timely resolution of the issue of suspect vehicle color, and reduced the
risk of not resolving the issue.

I suggest that the philosopher has much to give to the day-to-day activities of
the law enforcement officer. There are the techniques of methodology of truth
verification. There are the concepts related to language and object
relationships. Most practically, I offer, is that philosophy has the
opportunity to provide the gift of exercise of thought.


Derrida, J. (2000). 'Limited Inc' Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Miller, D. ed. (1985). 'Popper Selections' Princeton, NJ: Princeton University

(c) Larry Barksdale 2002



Consultant Mechanical Engineer
Student on Pathways Program B. 'Searching for the Soul'

Occasionally there are days when the pieces of life's jigsaw amazingly seem to
fall in place - such a day occurred when I read Pathways Issue 25.

Personally I've spent the last fifty odd years reaching a point where I now
know what I don't want from life - all that is left is finding what I do want.
The article by Peter Raabe put in a nutshell what I have found to be my unease
with philosophy over the past fifteen years I have been studying it - it's
almost exclusively been theoretical and rarely applied. In many ways it's
seemed to me like the nonsensical arguments over how many angels you can get on
the head of a pin or the practical benefit of working out calculations to the
nth decimal place and I suspect readers will have many other similar futile
examples in mind. Pursuing thought experiments, no matter how personally
rewarding (or frustrating) does nothing to alleviate the problems of your
friends and relations lives being torn apart by divorce, bereavement, drugs,
feelings of lack of purpose or any of the other challenges being faced by
people daily. Plumbers fix leaking taps and electricians fix faulty appliances
- what do philosophers fix for others, to justify their pursuit? Getting out in
the community and pronouncing that you are a "philosopher", if you dare to,
leaves people confused and uncertain as what you are and especially what good
you do.

Philosophy is addictive and I openly confess that I am hooked on it but unlike
other addictions its side effects can be beneficial not only to the addict but
to those who become contaminated by what I would call "passive philosophy". If
like me you persist in speaking about it with other people (as did Socrates)
then in some way the "elitist" image of a philosopher diminishes and people
open up and do want to talk. Perhaps their talking is self-interest at first
because they have problems on their mind and seek the advice of a friend - but
how much better would that advice be if their friends included Socrates,
Seneca, Epicurus etc.

Passive philosophy exists. For the past two years there has been a growing
group of us in Rugby who meet on a monthly basis very much like that described
in Paul Clark's article (Issue 25) about his Chesterfield philosophy group. We
have around ten members who participate and we have just embarked upon a new
format where we both meet and have a meal at the same time. I came across this
idea from the Greek concept of 'Symposium' where people met to eat, drink,
listen to music and participate in intellectual conversations - Philosophy in a
wider and more social context!

We've all been to trade fairs and public exhibitions where products and skills
are displayed and made accessible to the public, so what about a Philosophical
Exhibition or two? I'm not thinking about the conferences attended by and for
the benefit of those with philosophical addictions but more of a way of
changing the public's perception of the "P" word.

Finally getting back to the Philosophical Counsellor - now at last it's
becoming a practical application for philosophy and it holds many attractions
for me because it makes the acquisition and use of a philosophical
qualification something of real use both to myself but more importantly

(c) Michael Ward 2002



[Forwarded by Anthony Flood, Pathways Mentor]

The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by chemists. The
element, tentatively named Administratum, has no protons or electrons and thus
has an atomic number of 0. However it does have:

1 neutron.
125 assistant neutrons
75 vice-neutrons
111 assistant vice-neutrons

This gives it an atomic mass of 312. The 312 particles are held together by a
force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called

Since it has no electrons, Administratum is inert. However, it can be detected
chemically as it impedes every action with which it comes in contact. According
to the discoverers, a minute amount of Administratum causes one reaction to take
four days to complete when it would have normally occurred in less than one

Administratum has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which
time it does not actually decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which
assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice-neutrons exchange places.
Some studies have shown that atomic mass actually increases after each

Research at other laboratories indicates that Administratum occurs naturally in
the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government
agencies, large corporations, and universities and can usually be found in the
newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

Chemists point out that Administratum is known to be toxic at any level of
concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is
allowed to accumulate. Attempts are being made to determine how Administratum
can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not

[Forwarded by Anthony Flood, Pathways Mentor]

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