How can we understand that we have fallen in love?
If we think of philosophical investigations as a learning activity then I think most people would agree that it is probably a bad thing if the activity kills the pupil.
When the subject of enquiry is one such as this we have to consider how to proceed safely for both subject and the owner of the question. Philosophical thinking would seem to be the most harmless activity in the world yet it can be quite harmful in two distinct ways. The first is its tendency to pare away at an object until it has been reduced to nothing or something quite different from its original form. Secondly, our thinking can be taken in completely the opposite direction and lead us to over simple generalisations that leave no scope for tolerance, compromise, revision of ideas or moderate action.
So given these safety warnings, how should we advise someone to undertake the philosophical analysis of the concept of love? We might begin by asking a question that could stop us in our tracks, which is, given the criteria we often attach to knowledge and understanding, is this particular subject one that it is possible to answer in principle? The question, "when do we know that we are in love" seems clear and simple but if we restrict our thinking about knowledge of love to a classical philosophical approach to the subject of knowledge then we shall be forced to demand that only those objects capable of carrying truth values and in particular only the value 'true' can be objects of knowledge.
A lover-philosopher of this sort would say that they could only know that they have love when they are certain that they have true love. The Platonist lover- philosopher restricts their thinking even more and demands of themselves that the object of love is not simply a true-love but a necessarily true-love. They would follow this line of thinking, as if they were a very unsubtle automaton and force the view on themselves that nothing 'in-the-world' can be necessarily true and the only type of things that they can love are abstract entities that have truth by virtue of their internal form independently of any material or contingent fact.
While I'm not sure that the Platonists intended to characterise the fault-blind stage of interpersonal love in their theory of knowledge it does seem to approximate to one phase of the phenomenon. Love on their terms would be of an idealised individual who's material form represented a sort of matchmaker's profile that actual individuals fit to a greater or lesser degree. One problem for an individual, who tries to fit the person they love into such an abstract, unchanging framework is that real people are very material and guaranteed to change. The holder of such a view then is almost certain to experience catastrophic dissatisfaction with love themselves sooner or later and probably induce dissatisfaction in their partner sooner rather than later. In terms of non-destructive testing of the idea under consideration the approach taken so far to analysing the problem of knowledge of love, has done no more than introduce into the discussion a truth-based philosophical concept of knowledge which when applied to love yields a model of some aspect of the experience. The game being played is one of, what if love were like this, or supposing love is thought of in this way.
Although we should be protective of the ideas and the owners of ideas undergoing philosophical surgery we can and probably should be quite entertainingly vicious about the techniques or tools we use for such dissections. So we would be quite justified in raising doubts about the logical possibility of undertaking any analysis of love in the same way that we can doubt the possibility of ever teaching an automaton to genuinely have humour until they also have a nervous system, language and cultural experience that has very little difference to ours. The objection to analysis here is based on the idea of analysis as reduction in which to analyse something is to identify the parts of which it consists but at the same time to insist that those parts cannot belong to the same category of thing as the object of analysis. Under this theory the analysis of as joke would take the constituents of the joke apart but the parts could not be jokes themselves. As a good example of this look at the end jokes in the British sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley.
Similarly, he analysis of love must be explained under this theory of analysis in terms of non-love constituents.
Therein lies an interesting paradox. If a good analysis implies that everything that is true of the object of analysis must also be true of the parts into which it is analysed then how can what is true of 'A' also be true of non-A if 'A' and non-A cannot be true at the same time. J.O Urmson an English philosopher suggested an approach (Philosophical Analysis OUP 1956) which he called 'same-level analysis' which had some similarities to the concept of 'explication' Rudolf Carnap advocated (An Introduction To Symbolic Logic Dover) in which the concept of analysis could be understood in the imagery of the unfolding of a curled up flower, so that the parts and the interconnections that were wrapped up on the inside of a sphere become visible and separated as the petals containing the parts lay out flat. The analysis of the parts of the flower do not then require equating to objects that are non-flowers. Similarly the analysis of love on this model requires only the unfolding of the concepts shielding its internal working from our view without the requirement to surgically remove them from the living organism.
How does contemporary theory about the ultimate nature of reality compare with the theory of Democritus and the atomists?
You know, it's minor pet peeve of mine; the idea that some people (I'm not saying you) have that the Greeks did it all, that "all philosophy is a footnote to Plato" or whatever, and that we're just sort of sorting it out or elaborating on it. No. There is basically no resemblance at all between Democritus' idea of "atoms" and the contemporary idea, now current, that "strings" or even that "elementary particles" are fundamental to physical reality.
First, what you have to remember, is that the ancient Greeks spoke and mostly thought in, yes, ancient Greek. What was the Greek word that Democritus used that could be translated "atom"? Here are some possibilities, all of which might translate as "atom" in some sense or context: athroisma, eidos, phusis, kataxaino, sphairion, suntribo, schema, and schematismos (as we would spell them in our Latin alphabet).
Democritus believed that people were made of very small globules of fire, and I believe that "sphairion" was probably the term he employed. Why fire? Well, the elements were, roughly, earth, air, fire and water. Humans, according to him, were fire. What was fire, for Democritus? Probably something vaguely like our conception of a glowing hot gas. So human "atoms" were little globular bits of hot gas, roughly speaking. But remember, they did not separate the "physical" and the "mental" as we do, nor make any number of other distinctions that we are not even conscious of, until they are brought rather forcibly to our attention. He did not, most emphatically, see, think, react to the same world as we do. A globule of "fire", for Democritus, had both of what we would now term physical and mental attributes, and there were no connotations of oxidation, chemical reactions, the nature of heat as motion, and so forth and so on. Therefore, does his conception resemble an atom in contemporary physics? An electron, etc.? Well, we can make nice metaphors if we want, but otherwise, no.
The Greeks (some few of them) were, in the West, the pioneers of rational thought. They spun off some brilliant ideas in attempts to go beyond the religious and cultural "explanations" of the time for various phenomena. Those explanations consisted mostly of stories, myths, parables, mostly verbal, intended to instruct people in what their culture wanted them to learn about the world, about morality, about how to act in various situations. A remarkable set of efforts, and it is amazing that more of them weren't executed by their societies, like Socrates. But it's one thing to try, however valiantly, to institute reasoned explanations as a reaction to learning sets of precepts and stories, and another thing entirely to get those explanations right.
Steven Ravett Brown
Do you ever get the feeling that we are moving with ever increasing speed towards self-destruction?
Do you think that humanity, in it's lust for power, is sealing it's own fate?
Are we all brain-washed by advertising? Do you ever get sick and tired of being swamped by advertising?
My answer to every question is yes, apart from, "Are we all brain-washed by advertising?" To which I can say no, I am not; but I see your point, many people are. The reason? Probably the use of professional psychologists who now go into advertising as a career, and find it easy to pull the wool over the eyes of most of the populace. To stand up to these people you now require to be a philosopher or a logician. It is a pity that young people, at an early age, are not taught logic in school. When I tried, along with others, to establish this we found little support, as we expected in a capitalist society, too many 'thinkers' could be detrimental to profits.
More and more people are beginning to recognise the doom and gloom scenario that you portray, which is a good sign that there is still some common sense and moral awareness left in the world. Protests against global capitalism are now on the increase. In my opinion, and I believe I am supported by many others, the great threat to this world has always been capitalism, rather than socialism. So far as I know, socialism, in it's true concept of rule by the people for the people, has never been established anywhere. Police states and oppressive dictatorships have masqueraded as socialist states, and provided the excuse for capitalists to identify them as such and to condemn them.
One Prime Minister of this country was famously allowed to say, without challenge, that socialism had been brought to an end in Eastern Europe by the demolishing of the Berlin Wall. The same Prime Minister said that there was no such thing as society, which led to the "never mind you Jack I'm alright" society which is prevalent today. Following this, unrestricted capitalism was let loose upon us in this country, the national assets of water, energy, railways, public transport and telephones were virtually given away to profit motivated organisations. Prices rose, profits soared and members of society ceased to exist, they became known as 'consumers,' to make use of consumers and exploit them to the full, you have to constantly let them know what you have for sale, and to keep updating what is now loosely known as a 'product.' This ethos has now rubbed off onto all kinds of profit inspired business. This brings us full circle to the answer to your questions on advertising.
The unfortunate thing about all this is that capitalism has been equated with democracy, the public are conditioned to refer to Western capitalism as Western democracy. There is a rather weird idea abroad that capitalist societies are free societies, I harbour the idea that you can be free in these societies if you can afford it. But there again, I'm old fashioned, I belong to another generation. Banks, financial institutions, insurance companies and big business, all seem to have loads of freedom, perhaps this is what is meant.
Your questions have to be modified a little. "...we are moving...towards self destruction." would be better posed as; "...we are being moved towards....etc." Secondly; "...humanity in its lust for power, is sealing it's own fate." Would be more acceptable as "Certain elements in their lust for power are sealing the fate of humanity." These 'certain elements' want us to believe that what is happening is the universal fault of all humanity, it relieves them of blame.
As governments of all political persuasions condone this state of affairs it is difficult to predict the outcome. The worst scenario would be global anarchy, but perhaps nature will intervene before then. The button for self destruction, as you call it, has already been pressed, global warming is no longer a myth but a reality, rise in sea level is evident, and millions of people are starving in droughts that seem to have no end in sight. Capitalist greed has been let loose on the world and who is powerful enough to stop it?
Regarding your third question, I am not sure that I can answer you actually asked but I can offer you an answer that may provide you with a 'defense against the dark arts'. You might find it interesting to read an article in The Guardian Unlimited an online version of a UK paper containing an article by Madeline Bunting entitled; 'Slaves of our desires' in which she discusses evidence of the disturbing systematic and deliberate use of psychoanalytic thinking at corporate and later state level originating with Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, to promote a concept of self and a view of human nature that it could manipulate. In particular the view, almost certainly not true that humans are nothing but a bundle of irrational, emotional responses and desires often contradictory and often infantile. She argues that clever market research enabled corporations and later politics, to understand and respond to those emotions and desires to manipulate based on Freud's view that, 'democracy is impossible because people are irrational and ignorant'.
Bunting argues that there is evidence that the strategy of social engineering in conjunction with capitalism is so powerfully adaptive that even counter-culture movements such as those of the 60's and 70's were transformed into virtues of the cultures they opposed. The prisoners became the guards and imprisoned their own children. Freedom loving hippies wanted their true selves so insurance companies presented their financial goods as though they would provide exactly those ends. So how can you defend yourself against the dark arts? (C.f. Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone).
The logical analysis of advertising and political spin is difficult to deal with partly because logic is like the T-Rex food object in Jurassic Park, if it doesn't move it ain't there, so you can't eat it. In logic's case if it's specific types of imagery then it ain't there, so you can't criticise it. So how do we make the images of advertising and spin arouse our critical hunting instinct? If we take one example from UK TV advertising you may begin to see how you can create a logical potion powerful enough to counter the bewitching charms of the media.
If we consider that TV adverts contains two types of strategy then we can characterise them as property affirming or perception denying or a combination of the two. Property affirming advert elements simply list the properties of a product without touching the effects that ownership could have on the individual. More sophisticated versions of this type also list the properties of 'toy' rivals, compare the benefits of the two products and declare theirs the winner. These types are often given credibility by actors playing the role of experts or scientists (men with glasses, white coats, a serious expression and tone of voice). Perception denying adverts concentrate more on the effect of ownership on the individual. The example I wanted to look at is mostly of the second kind. There is an alcoholic drink advertised in the UK, Guinness, which was not being bought for reasons partly to do with its properties but more to do with specific absolute perceptions of the drink and relative perceptions of the drink compared to new drinks such as lagers. My knowledge of this subject by the way stems more from observations and inquisitiveness than professional or personal experience in the either the advertising or drinking fields.
If we characterise the perceived dissatisfactions, i.e. those features we have but do not want in the drink we could list them as follows:
- It was drunk by safe, cautious, unadventurous, unattractive, elderly people in dingy run down pubs (UK drinking houses).
- It was boring, conventional, unexciting, and serious.
- It took a long time to pour. (One of my sons tells me that some pubs will pour the drink by 'phone order half an hour before you go to the pub. This is now considered a quirky good thing.)
- It was messy to drink. It has a large, white, frothy head that sticks to your lips and dribbles down your chin.
- It was a drink of the poor and lonely.
- Drinkers of Guinness were quiet, isolated, unapproved by the majority and especially the young.
- The taste was sour and metallic.
- It was a form of medication. (Iron for the anemic)
- It was drunk in very small measures.
Guinness advertisers have countered all these perceptions or truths with two, at least particularly successful TV advertising campaigns. The first featured a young, male, different looking, individualistic, idiosyncratic, understatedly uncaring (of approval) comic dancer who hesitatingly but deliberately delayed his approach to an already poured drink and deliberately delayed the slaking of his thirst.
The imagery was so successful because it created and showed controlled frustration leading to positive satisfaction through the medium of understated visual and musical (accompanying sound track) humour. Humour is a particularly good medium for delivering adverts and spin because it is part of the logic of humour that it essentially unanalysable because the analysis of jokes are themselves not jokes and we think of that which is self sustainingly true to be necessarily true, (there is a famous argument concerning the 'analytic-synthetic debate and the attack on the notion of analytic truth by the mighty Quine, a noted US logician). So humour is the analogue of unanalysable truth and may not switch on the critical brain. The packets of information being carried in the humour parcel may well slip into your mental mailbox without you even noticing it. It is only possibly later that you might begin to realise that there is critical food in front of you and begin to question what has now become visible particularly when the humour begins to fade through over frequent exposure. Though by now the drink and its alleged effects may have taken on mythical proportions for the enchanted.
What dark magic did the advert work on you? First it did not attempt to send a double negative message of the form:
'Some people say the Guinness is bad because a,b,c,........,n, but in fact, a is not bad because p, b is not bad because q,.......etc'
The advert restated the denial of the dissatisfactions in positive property form; the denial of dissatisfaction (a) = x, the denial of dissatisfaction (b) = y,....etc. It then built all of these counter properties into the image of the individual personifying the ideal Guinness drinker and in some small measure the drink as well. So that the advert asserts that:
G (the drink) and G (drinkers) Have (x,y,.........., z) characteristics.
It particular it showed or demonstrated rather than stated the argument that, 'if you drink Guinness then you will create the following perceptions in your observers including yourself as self-observer: You are amusing, idiosyncratic, strongly independent, admirably eccentric, unconcerned, easy going but discerning.'
We could summarise this advert as containing the following elements:
- An image consisting of positive versions of counters to specific dissatisfactions,
- The meta-message that, having 'strong frustrations that will eventually be satisfied,' is a good thing i.e. something you ought to want and can get by having ownership of Guinness. Guinness in other word has promissory value for the frustrations and dissatisfactions identified.
- Protagonist-viewer identification. For the target audience and possibly beyond the message carriers is likeable and like the message receivers.
Following Bernays principle the advertisers have focussed on the general cognitive effects of frustration and satisfaction in the inference pattern:
- the frustrated-drinker becomes the satisfied-drinker
- [leads to]
- the frustrated person becomes the satisfied person
- any frustrated person can become a satisfied person
- [following from]
- a frustrated person becoming a frustrated drinker.
In short a general or specific sense of frustration can be satisfied by drinking Guinness specifically.
The advertisement does not need to create a sense of frustration or dissatisfaction in the viewer but only needs to show that when it exists it can changed to satisfaction by ownership of the product given that the first cognitive module of the thinking process is concerned with motivational arousal determined by perception of frustration or dissatisfaction. (See Luria, The Working Brain ch; Thinking, Penguin). The brain has been charmed into letting images into its thought production mechanism, which carry highly charged frustration-satisfaction images. You might consider this process to be brainwashing.
This advertising campaign was followed by an even more visually striking one that could be considered to have some of the features of a work of photographic art independent of its dark purpose and therefore a source of self-sustaining and unanalysable 'truth' akin to the 'do not attempt to analyse this' prohibition warning attached to humour and performative utterances in general like promises. (See Austin, How to do things with words Oxford.)
The dissatisfaction features it worked hard at countering were the dissatisfaction sources the previous campaign did not touch which were the drinks' medicinal, unpleasant metallic taste and the small amounts drunk at one time. This advert features an individualistic, eccentric, idiosyncratic surfer who against the odds rode and tamed a towering white, foaming wave that transformed itself into white, foaming horses (probably mares since they were tamed by males (not my view!!)) to the acclamation of his surfing friends. The salty taste of the sea horse would be a token of the trial and triumph (c.f. The trials of Hercules in the Odyssey) and power of the victor over the wild, dangerous challenge from nature. (There may even be a sexual Freudian subtext going on here).
The towering, foaming sea became a large glass of foaming Guinness and the challenge was to drink large amounts of it. The advertisers have again slipped past the sleeping analytical dragon without arousing it by wrapping their message in the invisibility cloak of artistic pleasure. This like humour allows the Trojan message to jump out into your thinking mechanism resulting in your thinking that you want to be a hero amongst men and when you are in a pub you can satisfy that goal for yourself at least by drinking a lot of Guinness and you will probably feel you are being applauded for it.
This advert works harder than the last one at creating a motivational sense of desire via an exciting, compulsive, throbbing bass line together with a dour, insistent 'beat' poem voice-over with a counter mechanistic message. I suspect it may also countering by making it a virtue, the throbbing headache you can get from the drink or asserting the Zen-like quietism the surfer had that a drinker would need in the midst of the noise and babble of a noisy aggressive pub.
What transfigurations and meta-messages has this potion charmed you with? All of the previous adverts plus:
- The re-enforcement of universalised dissatisfactions: the desire to stand out from the crowd and the desire to be a hero,
- Protagonist-viewer identification and tacit universal assertion that; all life is competition and a frustration and dissatisfaction producer and satisfaction denying, you have to make a sustained effort to achieve satisfaction through adversity.
- Specific tacit assertions: effort makes you thirsty,
- The means for current goal Satisfaction: Having Guinness will deny all of these non-satisfactions and lead to immediate satisfaction,
- The means for repeatable goal satisfaction: defeating the taste will give the drinker a universal token of triumph as a universal (every time) satisfaction.
I have yet to see how they deal with the exorbitant price dissatisfaction associated with the product.
In summary then I am suggesting that the dark arts of the advertisers, spin-doctors, financial advisers can be countered by conducting an inner dialogue in which you construct first person observation sentences of the form:
- " The images that I am now seeing have the following characteristics...."
- And asking yourself the questions:
(i) "These images are countering what product dissatisfactions?"
(ii) "These images are countering what personal dissatisfactions?
(iii) "These images are asserting what tacit universals?"
(iv) "What goals are these images asserting I should want to satisfy?"
- Finally identify the agents of promissory value by asking yourself," what product to they want me to buy in order to achieve these goals and deny these non-satisfactions?"
Formally we can think of these adverts, but not all adverts as having the following logical structure:
- assertion of frustration and dissatisfaction examples; characteristics (initial conditions, premises, problem identification, motivational arousal),
- assertion of achievable goal; characteristics (terminal condition, conclusion, desired end, satisfaction)
- assertion of plan, schema and tactics: characteristics (agent of change for the better, transformational agent, product ownership)
Another defense would be to switch the TV off, but you can also turn the frustrations and dissatisfactions induced in you from adverts by treating them as a very expensively produced resource for philosophical analysis from which you can develop and strengthen your own analytical potions.
The Guardian Unlimited
The Working Brain Luria
Word and Object, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' Quine
Contemporary Readings in Logical Theory Copi & Gould
Philosophy of Logics Susan Haack
How to do things with words J L Austin: Oxford
The Zen Doctrine of No Mind D T Suzuki
Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone J K Rawling
I'm inclined to believe that logical languages are definitionally true. Yet, I still perplex. Some think that logic is the analysis of the propositions and their implications, and others think that logic is a study concerned with things and their relations, and still others think logic is a cognitive model employed to increase consistency within the system of knowledge per se. I'm not sure if this is much of a difference. Meaning that, although the thing and the symbol representing the thing are different, we only speak of one and the same. My question may or may not have an absolute answer, but I am just searching for one more well-developed then my own I am only an undergraduate philosophy student.
My questions are: What are desirable attributes of logical languages? i.e. provability power, consistency, strong or weak entailment rules, few assumptions and/ or definitions, etc.
Also, If no logical system can prove or speak of itself and meta-languages are needed to do so, are the relationships between things or propositions (or both) representative of the nature of reality or is all that can be hoped for definitional truths like '2+2=4' or 'All men are mortal'?
I'll say at the outset: this is not really my area of expertise, but I am interested in some small and specialized aspects of the field of logic and analytic philosophy, so I'll say a bit on this question.
Now, as far as logic goes, there are people who hold a) that logic involves only propositions and their implications, some who hold that b) logic is concerned with things and their relations, and others who maintain that c) logic is a cognitively-based and derived model. The first two may not be mutually exclusive, depending on your metaphysics. If you believe that the world is ultimately comprised of some sort of "atoms", in a very general sense of that term, and that they interact and interrelate through rules or laws, then you can hold both a) and b) above. In order to hold all three, however, it is necessary that one believe, in addition, that the mind is describable as (indeed, equivalent to) a Turing machine (to put it rather baldly). These are extremely contentious issues, and there are and have been enormous debates around all of them. My own tendency is decidedly nontraditional; I think that the world is not (ultimately) comprised of atoms, and in addition I do not think that the mind is Turing-equivalent. But I am nonetheless an empirically-oriented materialist. A nasty position to hold, I'll tell you.
I'm not even sure what you mean by "logical language". According to people like, say, Chomsky and even Pincker, and those of similar bent, all languages are "logical" in the sense that they all consist of a finite set of elements operated on by a finite set of rules. I do not agree with this interpretation, but that puts me in a distinct minority. So what "desirable" means is up for grabs, depending on what you want out of a language. You want ease of translation? Ease of computability? Ease of metaphorical expression? Ease of application to some particular area, like mathematics or logic? All those requirements might impose different restrictions, and result in different languages.
Are the relationships between things and propositions representative of the nature of reality? I'm tempted to be flippant... what do I or anyone know about the nature of reality and its relation to language? That question is one that people have been contemplating for... oh... 30005000 years, I'd say offhand. At the least. It's great that you're thinking about all this, but you've just jumped, as far as I can tell, head first into an issue that has been around forever, and has been hotly debated for about the last 200300 years.
If you really want to even begin to understand how to address these questions, much less actually address them, you need to read, read, read. And read. I mean, I don't want to discourage original thought... but, you know, it's hard to have an original thought (i.e., one that someone else hasn't had) in this area. Why not take advantage of others' thinking? After all, that's what you'd want, isn't it?
I am not going to suggest a reading list. Any reading list, any set of intro courses, especially analytically oriented, will get you into this area. If you really want hard-core stuff, look at Alonzo Church, but he's not easy; Turing and Kleene, among others, were his pupils. If you specifically want language/ thought relationships... well, I'd really recommend starting with Kant before you get into modern analytics. Then there are the empirically-oriented fields of linguistics, psycholinguistics and cognition, not to mention various aspects of computer programming. Have fun.
Steven Ravett Brown
What significance does "meaning" have in postmodern philosophy? How does it differ from other branches of philosophy?
Post-modernism describes a wide range of philosophy, but as far as meaning is concerned the post-modernist takes a stance against logic, realism and truth as correspondence to reality. Meaning is created, made, rather than about something beyond the word. So a theory of reference such as that proposed by Kripke, or the account of sense and reference as put forward by Frege, are rejected as theories of meaning. Traditional theorists presuppose that there are determinate states of affairs and things out there in the world which we talk about. The postmodernist, on the other hand, things that we have a creative and changing language and that this is not determined by the way things are out there in a world that is independent of us. Postmodernists are against theories, really, so they cannot be held to have a "theory" of meaning. Meanings shift and slide away, they suggest, they are supple and they are supplementative. They are indeterminate. This seems to be anti-meaning, but meanings do suggest and imply beyond accepted senses.
Post-modernists do not agree, because they have no theory to agree upon, nor is there a particular post-modernist stance. Post-modernists are into irony and interpretation and vary in degrees weirdness. But Richard Rorty, who is relatively readable says "We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not our there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages and that human languages are human creations." (Contingency, Irony and Solidarity). That is acceptable to non-post-modernists, and Rorty has said (Ironists and Metaphysicians in The Fontana Post-modernism Reader) that post-modernism is compatible with nominalism, which is an anti-realist theory of meaning acceptable to analytical philosophers. It is also compatible with historicism. Both theories reject truth and knowledge as elements in meaning since we create our own language. Both theories are compatible with the characterisation of meaning as part of a language game allowing that meanings can change over time. In both cases the meaning of a term or proposition is determined by reference to our conceptual scheme, terms are translatable and meanings are elucidated by other concepts, rather than by states of affairs in the world.
This characterisation of postmodernism, however, allows in theory. Nominalism and historicism are theoretical constructs, and the very strong postmodernist, such as Derrida, would find such theories of meaning unacceptable. A strong post-modernist moves away from the concept of meaning as that which can be reduced to theory. Although nominalism and conceptualism and the whole idea that we make meaning indicates that meanings are not determinate because they can change, the stronger postmodernist thinks that writing can introduce new words and ways of thinking., Words can be created and meaning is creative, and so we have writers like Heidegger, Derrida and Levinas who introduce new words, the meaning of which is supposedly irreducible to and non-translatable into determinate concepts.
However, that newly introduced words and concepts define new ways of thinking isn't any refutation of realism. Nominalism isn't a refutation either. Newly introduced words and concepts can supplement realism because words are supple, they suggest and can be used metaphorically, but they can be taken as supplementary only insofar as realism about meaning exists. If all we had was postmodernism there would be no determinate meaning and we wouldn't have a grasp of basic meanings on the back of which postmodernism rides.
Realism and nominalism share in the idea of common understanding and given that we have an understanding of what words and concepts mean, we can trifle in postmodernism, introduce derivative words, veer in and out of interpretative suggestions as our fancy takes us. But we can only do this if we accept some form of conceptual determinacy. Derrida's position is that intentional content, the meaningfulness of words, the terms in which we think, isn't exhausted by theory of meaning.
I am a university student in Ghana.
I actually want to know in plain language the difference between an analytically true statement and a syntactically true statement.
An "analytically true statement" is a statement that is true solely because of the meanings of it terms and would be true whatever happens in the world. For example: The statement, all tadpoles are frogs is analytically true. That is because the term "tadpole" is English means "little frog." So what is really being said is that all little frogs are frogs, and that must, of course, be true. Again, all brothers are male persons, is analytically true, since (as you know) the term "brother" means "male sibling," and, therefore, the statement that all brothers are male persons means that all male siblings are male persons, and that, again must be true solely because of the meanings of the terms involved.
You also ask the difference between analytic truths and what you call "syntactic truths." I have never heard the term "syntactic truth" but I think that would mean a statement true just because of its syntax or grammar. I don't believe that if we take that idea literally, that there are any "syntactic truths."
I think, however, that you do not mean "syntactic truth," but rather "synthetic truth" a concept that is contrasted with "analytic truth" which I discussed above.
Now, a synthetic truth is one whose truth (or falsity) is not dependent solely on the meanings of its terms. For instance, consider the statement that all dogs are meat-eaters. It is not a part of the meaning of the word "dog" that it is a meat-eater, so that is not an analytically true statements. A person who knew the meaning of the word "dog" but who knew nothing about dogs (the animal) could not know that it was true that all dogs eat meat. In order to know that, the person would have to have knowledge about dogs and their eating habits. In other words, to know whether or not dogs eat meat or not, it is not enough to discover the meaning of the word "dog." This is very different from the statement, "all dogs are animals." To know that, you have only to know what the word "dog" means. If you do not know all dogs are animals, then you cannot know the meaning of the word "dog." But you may not know that all dogs eat meat, and yet know the meaning of the word "dog."
I think the questioner might mean 'syntactic', not 'synthetic'. A syntactic truth is a truth which is guaranteed by the syntax of the language alone. In other words, a syntactic truth is a logical truth. An example of a syntactic truth is, 'If it is windy and it is raining, then it is raining'.
In order to know whether a statement which is not syntactically true is analytically true, you need to know certain facts about the language in question, namely what certain terms in the language mean. This is not a problem for an artificial language, where we simply stipulate that term A is to be interchangeable in all contexts with term B. The problem, as Quine argued in his famous paper, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' (1953, reprinted in From a Logical Point of View) is that when it comes to the language we actually use, the question whether or not two terms have the same meaning becomes quasi-empirical. Our intuitions about equivalences of meaning are not always correct. This led Quine famously to attack the idea of an 'analytic' truth.
How would you finish this sentence?
"To live is......"
When we answer the questions set in Pathways with only the web site as silent witness we are in a similar position to that occupied by a questioner and responder in Alan Turing's famous test for determining machine intelligence. In this test if the answers sent back to the questioner could not be distinguished from the answers a human would send then we could conclude that the machine is responding as intelligently as a human would so that we could not be sure if the sender is a living human or a non-living machine.
In the game we are playing, we can't be sure if questioner or the answer provider is taking the position of the machine, or if in fact there are only machines communicating. I am pretty certain that if I am a machine then I am indistinguishable from every other human machine. Furthermore if I thought I was responding to a non-human machine the kind of answer I would give would be different to the kind of answer I would give if I thought the receiver was human and I also had some idea of the context in which the question was being asked. I could, with no concern for the consequences of the discussion pursue an analysis of the concept of 'being alive' if the analysis was only a word game. But if the philosopher-player believes there could be life changing consequences for the questioner-player there should be constraints on the scope of the answer provided.
What follows from these considerations is that philosophical investigations that take on practical issues ought to work on a principle of non-indifference with respect to the learning and actions that may follow from the interchange.
Suppose that 'Peter' is a pseudonym for a woman in the UK who is currently seeking the right to die because she does not want to continue her life in a severely reduced and dependent form. She is alive but not independently alive. Should the correct philosophical Turing response be to neutrally elicit from the questioner what her understanding is of the phrase 'to be alive' as she was before her present condition, what it is now and what she thinks it will be? Given the questioner's position would it also for the sake of logical completeness be the correct response to offer interpretations of the key phrase not included in her perspective and persuade her that she may not choose to reject some of those meanings? For a person in this position the question we are thinking about is clearly very heavily weighted with both issues of fact and issues of value. So that a logico-linguistic approach to the analysis of the question may only provide one approach to unfolding the complexities of the issue or even changing minds.
If the questioner has full mental competence, as in fact the individual in question does, then Descartes might try and persuade her that she is no less alive in her present position than she was before, given the belief that the essence of being is thinking. If thinking though was not a source of satisfaction either because it was not something she particularly excelled in or practiced very often or it was not something that she would place in her list of preferences then an approach that would compliment the previous one mentioned would be to elicit from the questioner what are the satisfactions and non-satisfactions of being alive.
The Turing P-game has now altered so that it is not simply a matter of discrete question, response, evaluation, decision and closure but more a continuum of interchange in which information, ideas, questions, learning and teaching are flowing in both directions. But if the elicitation of knowledge in the context of a philosophical investigation has the form of a directed interview then the philosopher should have some idea about the direction the interview can be steered in and those it should not, in the context of a philosophical and not legal or medical inquiry or any other kind of inquiry. The practical philosopher should be aware of what has been, in the history of ideas considered to be sources of satisfaction for individuals in being alive but they can also take an alternative, more general approach of considering individual satisfaction to be an indivisible part of dualistic satisfaction. Decisions then relating to being alive or choosing to not be alive then become inseparable from how the satisfaction and non-satisfaction of others are affected either as classes of individuals such as relatives, such as husbands, wives, children or parents, others in similar positions now or in the future or others in the abstract as represented in medicine as the abstract entity, 'the patient', 'the defendant' in law, the social services 'client', the 'child' in family law, the therapy client.
In answering this question I felt that it was necessary to first talk about the logical delicacy of philosophical investigations conducted blind and suggested that the philosopher player should work within the ground rules of non-indifference in such contexts.
Secondly I have suggested that in the context of the questioner-player making life changing decisions as a consequence of the game then the philosopher-player can use a variety of techniques for practical philosophy:
Identifying particular philosopher's approach to the question,
a logico-linguistic explication of questioner meaning (mind-mapping)
an explication of questioner related truths and satisfactions,
question answering as a dual learning experience,
knowledge of the history of relevant ideas,
investigation of the question taking separately a monadic view of individuals and secondly a dualistic view of individuals.
Finally, it also seems to me that given the tendency of most individuals in the position of questioner producer, answer provider or both, to make two kinds of cognitive mistake of scale at some time due to stress, material or political circumstances which can be characterised as mistakes of over generalisation and mistakes of under discrimination then all philosophical investigations should be conducted within the constraints of non-indifference to consequences.
Turing Test: Alan Turing Andrew Hodges London 1985
Monism & Pluralism: D.W. Hamlyn Metaphysics Cambridge 1984
Modern Epistemology N Everitt & A Fisher
Why must all things that live ultimately die?
Is humanity alone in the universe?
Two interesting questions, the answers to which are currently well beyond the scope of human knowledge. Before asking the question , Why must all things die? It might be wise to ask, What is the purpose of life in the first place why does anything live at all? What seems evident to every observer is that living things go through an inevitable sequence of birth, development, decline and death. In other words, birth is the start of the road to death.
Of course, philosophically, this is a materialistic view of life which is adopted by the majority of the world's human population without question. However, there are those who do not accept the finality of this naive observation. It is, of course, well known that followers of several religious factions believe that life does not end with death of the material body. Some believe in a future material resurrection, some in a spiritual life here after, and some believe that we are reincarnated in a different body to the one we discard at death.
Some idealist concepts which refute the argument for the existence of matter, find it easier to dispose of the concept of death because the difficult transfer from matter to non-matter does not really apply. Though the argument is more complex than this, as even for an idealist the 'idea' of death is still a fact. There is also the notion that dualism provides possibilities for immortality.
The unfortunate situation with regard to death is that, although there have been claims for the proof of spiritual survival, most people are fairly certain that no one has been back from the 'other side' to tell us about it. We sometimes hear of those who are brought back from the brink; and, oddly enough, they all relate the same experience of a peaceful drift down a long tunnel towards a bright light, and some are very annoyed at having been dragged back. Of course, neurologists and psychologists do not accept that this indicates transfer to another form of existence; drifting towards a bright light is to them an indication of the last flickering electrical discharges of the dying brain. Until the real truth is revealed it seems that the answer to your question is confined to the simple scientific explanation, that all living things die to make room for the next generation. However, none of us are forced to accept it, and, in philosophy at least, the search for the truth goes on.
As for your second question, we are still confined to scientific speculation. Considering that there are one hundred thousand million stars in our galaxy alone, and that innumerable galaxies exist in the universe, it is highly probable that several of the planets orbiting these stars support life very similar, if not identical, to the life found on our own planet.However, the truth is, as yet, not forthcoming. You may be aware that physicists are now discussing parallel universes in which each of us will be represented. The search goes on and one day, like death and the after life, all may be revealed.
Well, look at it this way. Suppose you were immortal, in the sense that you didn't age. This will certainly come to pass for people, as we discover how our bodies work, anyway (assuming we don't destroy ourselves in the meantime). Ok... you cross the street (or whatever) and get killed by a passing truck. A new virus, a mutation that our bodies can't handle, kills you. Your spaceship is hit by a meteor. Someone shoots you. And so forth. In other words, in a universe which we do not control, the odds are finite that we will be killed. In an infinite length of time, any finite probability will happen. So we will be killed. Hey, even the stars die, eventually.
However, if you are asking why we are now mortal... our bodies are inefficient. One might argue that in the beginnings of evolution we may have acquired this in order to cut down population pressure. My own feeling is that latter argument is not convincing because single-celled animals are effectively immortal (they divide, in effect becoming their own offspring). So solving the ageing problem is solving a problem (a very hard set of problems, mind you) with our bodies. Unfortunately (that's my feeling anyway), we ourselves won't live to reap the benefits of that research... maybe in the next century. I don't see this as even a particularly difficult problem, especially given the computing power that will be available in the next few decades. Problems like how people can get along with each other are much harder, in my opinion.
Is humanity alone? No. Period. As Douglas Adams says, the universe is a really big place. The question is, why haven't we had contact? Well, you know, I actually don't think that's a hard question. First, how long have we been looking? 50 years, max? Second, how could aliens find us, out here on the edge of the galaxy, until we waved at them, which we've only been doing for about 100 years, a mere tick of the clock, using a method so primitive that even creatures with our minimal intelligence can employ it (i.e., radio)? Third, and most important, how have we been looking? We've been using telescopes, a ridiculous method, and lately, with SETI, some few radio frequencies. Not unreasonable, given that aliens are like us... but why should that be true?
Let's put this in perspective. Suppose that dogs were trying to signal another species of dog. How would they do it? By barking or howling, right? Would we notice that, as a signal of that type? Would we care? How much smarter, given some theoretical maximal potential for intelligence, are we than dogs? Infinitesimally, I would say. Our brains must fit, badly, inside our heads, folded up, in order to have expanded to the amount they have, which is about all our bodies will take, both in volume and metabolically.
Suppose we found out how to increase head size, or produce more efficient folding, or better, connect ourselves to our computers? Where would our intelligence go then? In the latter case, the practical limits would be... well, I certainly can't even begin to envision it. Now, given that we could be, let us conservatively say, 100 times more intelligent than now, how would we signal... what indeed would our picture of the universe be, our physics, our electronics? We are not now 100 times smarter than dogs. How would our physics compare with our present idea of physics? Etc. You see my point? To aliens, if they notice us at all, we are, until we can consciously increase our intelligence, merely another species of animal on this planet. So why should they want to contact us, any more than we would want to contact those dogs? And how would we notice or understand it, if they did, any more than dogs could conceive, build, and use a radio set?
That's one of my theories, I think the most likely one. The next most likely one is this: look at the way computers are going. What if we are able to "scan" our brains totally, convert our neural dynamics into another form, and embody ourselves within a computer (a very large one, of course, and a radically different type from present digital computers, but those are for the purpose of this discussion quibbles). I mean, totally move into the computer, as a dynamic pattern in it. And not just ourselves, but everyone and our civilization... living in a virtual world, having anything we want happen (virtually, of course, but we wouldn't see any difference), and being immortal (as long as the computer wasn't hit by a meteor, etc.). Now wouldn't that be wonderful? Think about it. Anything you wanted, any life, any environment, any physical laws, no risk, no death... as long as you want.
Now, if I were an alien civilization faced with that possibility, vs. living in the cold, hard, limited real universe, hey, why not? So the second theory is that we can't contact them because when a civilization gets advanced to that stage, they just all move into their computer(s) and live happily ever after, in a virtual heaven of their own design, with the computer protected behind layers of armor and powered by something reasonably perpetual. Sounds good to me, anyway. So that's my second theory as to why we haven't and won't contact them. They're out there, zillions of them. They're just living luxuriously in the basement, so to speak, hoping to go unnoticed for as long as possible.
Or it could be a combination of the two above, with extremely advanced virtual civilizations communicating with each other by means unavailable (and incomprehensible) to us, until we get to that point.
Steven Ravett Brown
Why is it that when your neighbour is mowing his lawn you can smell it a good distance away?
I have a friend who likes this guy, but she doesn't know that he and I have been together. What should I do?
This question about the lawn would actually be regarded as a scientific rather than a philosophical question; although science was itself once a part of philosophy, called 'natural philosophy'. Why is it a scientific question? Because it can be explained in terms of the physical structure of things; or to put it another way, the answer can be discovered by investigating, experimenting, observing.
Although I've said your question is scientific rather than philosophical, I do think we shouldn't be over-eager to draw lines cutting philosophy off from other areas of knowledge and study. There are areas of overlap for example, cosmology and quantum physics seem at present to be leading scientists in the direction of more philosophical questions.
As I studied quite a lot of science at school, I will try to answer your question as best I can. As far as I understand it, when your neighbour mows his lawn, the grass is cut and crushed by the mower, releasing its juice, which is the smelly part of the grass. The juice rises into the surrounding air as a vapour. When this reaches your nose perhaps quite a little way away you smell the grass.
Your second question could be regarded as a philosophical question a matter of practical ethics. To put things very simply, in ethics, you can basically either decide what action to take by considering the possible consequences, or you can choose to act in accordance with certain ethical principles.
If you were to consider the consequences of action in this case, you would need to think about what the effects on your friend and the guy she likes might be. Would a possible course of action have good or bad effects? You could, for example, decide to avoid telling your friend that you and this guy have 'been together', if you feel this will cause less pain or unhappiness to your friend than telling her. Alternatively, you might think it will cause less unhappiness if you tell her now, than if she found out later.
If you were to act on an ethical principle, it might be something like 'It is always wrong to hide the truth from a friend'. Do you agree with that?
How will your friend feel if she finds out that you and the guy she likes have been together? Will she be angry with him? Or with you? Do you fear you might lose her friendship? Or his? Do you know unpleasant facts about him that you feel she should know? There are many issues to consider here, and no simple correct answers.
With reference to your first question, I have been mulling it over for a few days trying to connect with what it reminded me of. I have now remembered that when I was quite young I was blown over by a gust of wind. Picking myself up I recall wondering how something we cannot see can exist, yet it must exist because it has force. With hindsight I would like to think that this line of thinking was symptomatic of the beginnings of philosophical rather than scientific thinking. Though probably the two are indistinguishable at this age. This aspect of my brain promptly fell asleep for the next fifteen years. Your question can I think be seen in similar way, you may have reasoned along the lines that; something is happening some way from me. I am not in contact with the thing that is happening yet I have experience of it. Can there be action without connection?
I am inclined to think that your question was a crossover between our personal experience of the world and our philosophical and scientific understanding of it, and that it was a symptom of philosophical awakening.
With regard to your second question, I have been thinking about what should be a philosophical response to matters that engage on issues of personal relationships. We can identify three analytical techniques commonly used by philosophers, though not exclusively philosophers. The techniques I had in mind are those of; logic modeling, generalisation, and semantic modeling.
I just want to look at one aspect of one of these approaches and consider how it engages on one aspect of the question. This aspect is the logic modeling of the concept of friendship.
If we think of the values of true and false and their analogues as images of the symbols that stand for them then we can also think of the standard logical connectives as directing the flow of images in logical space and when we visualise the world under consideration in this manner then these connectives also direct the flow of mental images and therefore influence the way we think.
It is appropriate to characterise by digital values the flow of energy in control systems such as electronics or even neural networks, however it does not have intuitive appeal to represent concepts such as friendship as having on/off states rendering them capable of unfeeling calculation.
We can move in a middle ground between rational analysis represented by binary or first order logic at one end of the analytical spectrum and response-emotivism at the other end by choosing the values satisfaction and non-satisfaction to act as the vehicles of cognitive energy given quantity and direction by the concepts of friend or lover. Supposing we take friendship to require the condition that each friendship pair shares common values, then in terms of the model under discussion this would be the requirement that a pair of friends have satisfaction in common. Referring back to the original question we could then consider how the situation described could affect both the quality and quantity of satisfaction in the friendship space. So by informing a friend of a past love-relationship the question then becomes, "is my proposed action likely to increase, unchange or diminish the friendship?" Would something be taken away, added or will the response be one of indifference to your friend but one of loss to you? Will there also be similar transformations between your friend and her lover as a second friendship pair and also between you and your ex-lover as the third friendship pair.
As we are taking logical connectives as our modeling paradigm we are not restricted to using convergence as a model of the friendship relationship in fact it would be a bad model if we did because not all of the abstract characteristics of friendship are captured by convergence of satisfaction. We could as individuals have a broader concept of friendship such that each pair has individual satisfaction as well as those held in common. The concept of independent satisfaction allows the possibility that the individuals in each friendship pair may have things that add satisfaction to one but not to the other without damaging the strength of the friendship or in the worst case changing friendship into non-friendship.
In terms of the initiating situation the love-pair may add satisfaction to their world but not to your world without reducing the satisfaction held in common by your friendship pair. If your friend has an independence view of friendship whether you do or not, the new information is not likely to reduce the quality of your friendship. This broader, divergent view of friendship gives the relationship some immunity to differences of satisfaction. There must be some convergence but total convergence is not required. There can be differences of satisfaction i.e. there can be situations that lead to satisfaction to either member of the pair without degeneration of the friendship. We could consider that friendship based on divergent-independent grounds is tolerant to differences and disagreement-indifferent in that the denial of friendship is not brought about by their occurrence. Under this concept the limits of friendship are wider.
We could characterise the view so far taken of the situation as one of constructing a static evaluation in which we undertake to identify the logical constraints the concept of friendship places on the satisfactions owned by the individuals concerned. Within this view of friendship the first model could be considered as reducing or restrictive and the second model as opening/dilating or permitting.
We can take another view of the logical effects of friendship which we could characterise as a dynamic evaluation in which we see friendship as an operator for change on the satisfaction states of the affected individuals. Just as we can identify the two main dimensions of satisfaction and non-satisfaction and the third derivative dimension of indifference within the static view we can also identify two dimensions or fields of thought within the dynamic perspective. We could typify friendship as a relationship that at its best has the effect of changing things for the better for one or both parties. Friendship as an agent of change can be considered to always have promissory value and rarely threat value for the individuals within its scope. We can understand the meaning of this when we connect the dynamic viewpoint to the static viewpoint and look at friendship as an agent of minor promissory value in that its occurrence will produce or increase satisfaction without necessarily having any effect on the involved individuals dissatisfactions.
So how could viewing friendship as having the logical characteristics I have described offer something to the situation that initiated this response? The originating question can be understood to be a request for guidance on making a decision: to tell or not to tell, to tell some or to tell all and implicitly, would such an action lead to diminishing or strengthening the friendship?
We could argue that if 'telling' as an agent of change reduced friendship then telling is not an act of friendship, since friendship acts do not diminish friendship. Therefore the advice would be not to tell.
We could also argue that if 'telling' as an agent of change increased satisfaction then it is an act of friendship since friendship acts increase satisfaction, therefore tell. We also have to consider the possibility of the act of not-telling. If not-telling reduces satisfaction then it is not an act of friendship, therefore don't tell. If on the other hand not-telling increases satisfaction then it is an act of friendship, so tell.
We also need to consider the interaction of these outcomes against the two models of friendship discussed earlier, first of convergence-reduction-prohibition and second of divergence-dilation-permission. Looking at the consequences of the act of telling or not telling under the convergent model of friendship you could not be sure what outcome would follow your action. This may not matter to you. It may be that you want to create some uncertainty in the friendship. If, however you want to maintain stability in your friendship it would be require that at least one of the friends has an independence model of friendship and since it is you that is proposing to act, to guarantee a stability maintaining outcome you should acquire an independence model of friendship if you don't have one already.
All this may seem a long-winded approach to an emotionally charged issue, but the delaying effect may be a good aspect of practical philosophical analysis. Golman (Emotional Intelligence) suggests that the emotional drives of the 'neural circuitry of fear' are those that can lead us into impulsive and damaging actions.
If you need a quick response to emotional impulses that will provide you with breathing space while you reason out the balance of values that could follow an action impulse then the approach outlined can still help.Ask the question, "is the proposed action likely to produce a change for the worse". If you don't want this outcome then don't act while you think of an alternative. This question essentially identifies the possible threat value of the proposed action. In terms of the question, to tell or not, the uncertainty implies the possibility of damage to your friendship is a concern therefore don't act, i.e. don't tell while you work out other possibilities or the situation changes.
The previous deeper analysis identifies more delicate possibilities including those that could bring about changes for the better, those that have promissory value, in particular it would almost certainly require the revision of your concept of friendship, even if it is not expressed in the way it has been in the analysis in the body of this reply. It may be for example that you are led to look critically at the particular satisfactions that go to make up your concept of friendship and not the formal connections that have concentrated on in the previous discussion. You may for example include in your 'core belief' (Beck) set of friendship satisfactions the universal propositions that friendship always requires truth telling, or that friends always share knowledge. The question you have raised is clearly not a simple one.
Emotional Intelligence D. Golman, Bloomsbury 1996
Cognitive Therapy, Basics & Beyond J. Beck, Guilford, 1995
Is belief in God realism or is it escapism?
The term 'realism' is used in many senses; I presume that you refer to realism in this case as an affirmation of the 'common sense' standpoint, and contrasted to 'idealism:' it follows from this that God is being considered as an object of reality, independent of mind, in other words, God is not just a thought or idea.
I further presume that your question is aimed at the general concept of God within religious society, as opposed to consideration of the complex ontological and cosmological arguments engaged in by philosophers, and of which many examples are presented in the pages of answers in 'Ask a Philosopher'.
I have no doubt that, in the sense to which I refer, God is a realistic belief in religious communities. You might say that this does not make sense when we consider that naive realists maintain that we can perceive things in the world, and that we are able to point to real objects, and are able to describe them. For God to be real then, he should be located in space and we should be able to point to him.Religious believers will tell you that this will be possible when he chooses to appear. It is a bit like knowing that Halley's comet exists but we can only point to it when it appears. Living, as I do, in the north of England, and believing that they have not ben demolished since my last visits, I am reasonably sure that both Wells Cathedral and Westminster Abbey exist without my being able to point to them. These are perhaps not good philosophical arguments, but we are here discussing what religious communities believe, and to them these arguments are supportive of their beliefs.
Many believers base their notions of a real God on the Old Testament of the Bible, where he appears as a very solid being in the Garden of Eden, in his conversations with prophets, his appearance to Moses, etc.. However, there is great contradiction between what is understood here and what is understood about the New Testament, where God is a spirit. The confusion comes in trying to identify the God of Jesus as the Jewish tribal God, Jahweh or Jehovah, they are not the same. Jesus himself told the priests and pharisees that they knew not the Father to whom he prayed. I have always maintained that the two books should not be under the same cover, if Jesus had been born in Poland they would not have been, this is to do with churchianity not christianity.
The accepted reality of God bears on the second part of your question, in so much that it is the concept of reality which affords escapism for many believers, particularly those who are fearful of the growing secularism in modern society. Surely, they will argue, there must be someone or some universal power to whom there can be a final appeal against the frightening increase in the materialism which is overtaking the world. Such people try desperately to cling on to their religious values, and live in the hope that the world will be put back on track by the creator. To those of an earlier generation the shallowness of the modern world with its commercially controlled stuff that passes for art, music, poetry, sport and entertainment, and which now affords no escape route from humdrum everyday activity, the prospects are scary; if they lost God as well the results could be disastrous.
I am a Junior in High School. I am interested in philosophy of many sorts and have been exposed to a fair amount of it through my research as a debater. Recently I took on the task of writing a research paper that critically examines the quote, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like." This is in a persuasive essay format, and I am writing from the standpoint that it is, in many ways, an acceptable position as an individual, but when it becomes a societal maxim it destroys the marketplace of ideas and makes it less likely that people will take the time to learn about art. My definition of art is fairly broad, and it in many ways encompasses other things besides painting. If anybody could provide sources or permission to use them as a source with their response I would be much obliged.
I agree with your attitude that art is more than a matter of taste and the term is confined to painting, and so do most people. Hence there is a massive amount of literature on aesthetics. Have a look at my answer to VM at answers 15 about Hume, the 18th Century philosopher's attempt to create a standard. You could also look at an answer, Dear Lima at answers 14, on differences of opinion people have as to the status of their own taste and that which they take to be authoritatively good.
As far as visual art goes, which includes painting, it is widely thought that the institution of art sets the standard of what is good. The institution is constituted by galleries, critics, award ceremonies, etc, and Hume might have supported this approach to value in art. There are a vast number of books and journals on aesthetics of music, literature, poetry, architecture, the film and the canon etc and it is doubtful that there is an introductory book covering different standards between types of art but the idea of the institution can probably be applied to all media.
A major problem with the institutional view is that value is determined by social trends. At the moment, good works of visual work need to be conceptual rather than skilled. As Kant noted, the unsuccessful poet cannot be said to produce art if art is that which is acknowledged. If we understand the institution as ideally not influenced by social trends, which is possible, then we can say the great but unsuccessful poet does create works of value but the institution has yet to recognise it.
An interesting book on the subject of aesthetics which distinguishes art from non-art is The Principles of Art by R.G. Collingwood.
Goodman, N. (1976). Languages of art Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company
Goodman, N. (1988). Ways of worldmaking Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company
Kosuth, J. (1991). Art after philosophy and after: collected writings, 19661990 Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
Levinson, J. (1990). Music, art, and metaphysics: essays in philosophical aesthetics Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
Maus, F. E. (1997). Music as drama Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
Arnheim, R. (1974) Art and visual perception; a psychology of the creative eye
Santayana, G. (1955). The sense of beauty
Steven Ravett Brown