What is philosophy and where does it come from?
What would Kant say to that question?
Every introductory text on philosophy starts with some comments on your question. So look it up.
The first general answer is: "Philosophy is about questions." But then science and theology and "common sense" and superstition and "mom and dad and your friends" give answers to questions too. So what's special with philosophical answers?
The first divide is between philosophy and religion: Religion states for instance: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." And then the philosopher unsatisfied asks: "How do the priests and the Holy Scriptures came to know that have they been there?" and then "What do they mean by 'God'?" And next he may think them to be liars who try to scare the people to make them well behaved and obedient to the priests and elders and the king.
The second divide is between philosophy on the one hand and experience and "common sense" on the other: Where do people get their "knowledge"? That was the concern of Socrates. He said "Nobody knows anything for sure. I don't know anything too. But at least I know this one thing and I am not boasting I know anything for sure or going to sell it." Now that is an extreme position from which the sceptics started. Plato was not that modest and he invented the metaphysical concept of "ideas". How do we know that some way of acting or thinking is "better" than another way if we had not some inborn idea of what acting and thinking should be "ideally". Aristotle thought this to be an unnecessary and unjustified conclusion: By everyday experience we know that all things can be done in a stupid and clumsy way and in a masterly way. But to know that one doesn't need the concept of "ideas". So this was one of the first struggles between two first-class philosophers.
But what is "philosophical" about the arguments of Plato and Aristotle in this case? They argue not over objects but over arguments and their justification. That is one of the greatest themes of philosophy: How to distinguish a justified and "valid" argument from a "sloppy" and invalid one. This "critical" approach to philosophy characterized the style of thinking of Descartes, Kant and Wittgenstein.
Philosophers are arguing as we all do, but the question of the philosopher is: "How can I be sure that my arguments are valid? Or as Wittgenstein had it: "What are we doing with our words and sentences, how do we use them in a correct and meaningful way?"
Just as you can build imaginary worlds in dreams and in the movies and in the arts, so you can build imaginary, fictitious worlds in texts with words and arguments. If you do that in a novel, that's no problem, since a novel is openly sold and bought as fiction, as a written dream. But if you sell some political or religious or scientific fiction as truth and reality, then the true and concerned philosopher is getting nervous. As the late Nelson Goodman once stated: "There may indeed be more things between heaven and earth than our wisdom dreams of, as Hamlet said, but it is my duty to see to it, that there are not too much more things dreamt of than do exist between heaven and earth." (That was the drift of what he said, I cite from memory.) You should read the short and wonderful book Ways of Worldmaking by Nelson Goodman. It's not about "making" different worlds like a movie-director or a novel-writer does, but it's about different ways of seeing the world: The Antiquity "saw" another world than the Middle Ages or the Modern Age. And as Goodman puts it in the foreword to the book cited: "Kant exchanged the structure of the world for the structure of the mind. C.I. Lewis exchanged the structure of the mind for the structure of concepts. And that now proceeds to the exchange of the structure of concepts for the structure of the several symbol systems of the sciences, philosophy, the arts, perception, and everyday discourse."
Of course the study of different ways of seeing the world goes back to Vico and Hegel, and the study of causes for this different ways of seeing the world is indebted to Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud to name but some of the most important thinkers on that question.
So philosophy is a really great undertaking of some of the best human minds. An undertaking to achieve what? To clear our understanding and our arguments concerning the world around us and our way of arguing from false pretensions and false presumptions, from misleading concepts and misleading lines of thought to get at a true picture of the world we live in.
"A" true picture is not "the" true picture. There are many true pictures of the world as there are many true pictures of a person or a landscape or of anything else. But there are many false and distorted and misleading pictures too. There's no contradiction in this.
What did Kant say to that question "what philosophy is all about"? I am no specialist on Kant. There are some Kant dictionaries and concordances to look up for citations. But then his stance was not too different from Goodman's.
And then: Where does philosophy come from? It comes from doubt in the knowledge, wisdom and sincerity of the elders and of oneself. Doubt comes from contradicting answers and experiences. The first great philosophers we know of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, but Confucius and Buddha and some other great Asian thinkers too appeared in a time (ca. 600-400 BC) when the first great cities drew people from all countries, and international trade and colonization built a network of contacts between cultures as today. Then what was valid and valued in one region was not valid and valued in another region and people had to think how this had to be explained. That was the birth of philosophy. Look up Herodotus for this. And: This doubting in the words of the priests was called "Adams Fall" the fall from the grace of innocence, of living in "no-doubt". Philosophy set man against nature, since he became aware of being a thinking animal, a doubting animal, an inquiring animal, not part of the whole of nature anymore, not able to speak to plants and animals or to share their world by transformation as in fairy tales.
So philosophy is the great eye-opener of mankind and the great destroyer of trust and naivety. A famous student of the presocratic philosophers in Greek Antiquity gave his book the title "From Mythos to Logos" both words meaning "speech", but in a different sense. The same change took place in India and China and in some other countries at about the same time in another way. That was the beginning of philosophy.
I have a interest in photography and I have an interest for learning more about philosophy. Through examining the ask a philosopher website I wanted to take a closer look into photography and philosophy.
My question to you is: Do you feel that photographs can or can not engender understanding? I mean many people debate whether photographs can be understood or have meaning like text can. Like Susan Sontag stated in her book On Photography that photographs can't engender understanding and by looking at a picture you can not get a complete understanding of the subjects involved like you can with a text. I was wondering how you felt about this subject?
I know this is not a simple question. But what true philosophy question is?
I have formed many opinions concerning this topic and just wanted someone else's point of view.
As you have no doubt seen on the Ask a Philosopher website, I lay no claim to being an expert on photography, though I enjoy taking photographs. Your question is rather more complex than it appears at face value. Can photographs engender understanding? In some cases the answer is yes, in others the answer is no. Consider a picture deliberately produced to instruct us to do something, say, scissors on a dotted line; this requires no language, the instruction is self evident. Historic pictures, if we know our history, can show us how things were in the past, we could work out the period and the event, or we could make a very good guess at what is going on. However, the more complex the picture, the more things happening, and the more in need we may be of words to describe the total scene. Therefore, the picture might give us a general, overall, view, but may fall short in coming to terms with specific conclusions. Hence, we are, in general, using our pre-conceived knowledge to interpret overall views, but for specific events within the overall view we often need some assistance from word description.
There is no doubt that a photographer by skillful use of the medium can compose pictures that say a great deal, and often a photograph without a caption can press home the point and leave no doubt in the mind what the photograph is telling us. but, again, there can be specifics within the picture which leave us wondering, e.g. Is the man on the sidewalk involved in what is going on? Why is the little girl running away? etc.. Unless the photographer fully describes what is going on we are bound to be dependent on imagination and guesswork in some instances.
So, to deal with your question of whether one can get a complete understanding of the subjects involved in a picture, I would say that it depends upon the simplicity of the subject content, the more complex the subject matter the more vague our understanding. I am, of course, referring to pictures which set out to describe an event, or, in other words, to make a statement about reality. However, as I have said elsewhere, a photographer is an artist in his/her own right, quite capable of constructing a photograph with form and meaning which is a genuine work of art, such a photograph would be open to interpretation ; whether we could properly interpret the photographer's subjective impressions would depend on confirmation by the artist. However, works of art are there to give pleasure or to encourage the observer to think. Photographs of natural scenery, photographs of gardens, could, without captions, say something to us, but if we were curious to know the location we would need a caption.
During the Second World War two of the finest illustrated magazines were Picture Post and War Illustrated. The photography was superb, and some would claim that the impact they produced required no captions. However, it was war, and in wars ships catch fire, bombs explode, guns fire missiles, soldiers are killed, aircraft crash in flames, people lose their homes, etc.. All these things are self evident, the question to be asked is, Where is it happening? During the war we would have been forced to ask, Is it in Warsaw? Is it in Paris? Is it in the Atlantic? Is it in the Pacific? and so on. This I believe usefully describes what I mean by the seeming vague answer to your question Can photographs engender understanding? In some cases the answer is yes, in others the answer is no.
I do not know very much about photography as a craft; but I do have an opinion about the statement you attribute to Sontag, above. Now, I must also offer the disclaimer that I do not have Sontag's book, so I cannot check the context of that statement; thus, I will be responding only to you, and not, perhaps, to Sontag's argument... unless that does happen to correspond to what you say above.
Ok. How does text have meaning? A good question, and one which has occupied people for centuries. "Deconstruction" is only the latest aspect of the hermeneutics tradition. That tradition started, more or less, in Medieval times as the analysis of the interpretation of religious texts. Hermeneutics has been broadened to include anything termed "text" these days, which, if you are Derrida, at least, does indeed include paintings and photographs (e.g., see his Memoirs of the Blind). The literature on hermeneutics is quite extensive, and it's a field I'm only peripherally interested in... but given all my disclaimers, here's my position on your question: text, as the written word, is just as metaphorical (and I'm using the term "metaphorical" in the general sense that Lakoff et al see below use it), undefinable, vague, and infinitely dense as are photographs. My position comes from consideration of Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Turner, and Fauconnier's writings, and others (including Derrida). Now, as far as formal languages go, that text is about as non-metaphorical, i.e., as literal and interpretable as text can be. That is, formal logic, mathematics, computer programming languages, and similar formal languages are indeed completely understandable (or as understandable as we can get... Lakoff actually disagrees with this, and I think he may be right). That's all very fine, but in natural languages like English, we are immersed in an enormous web of metaphorical words, phrases, meanings, and so forth. The result of this is that we must to some extent agree with Quine, at least, as to the web of relationships which define linguistic terms (and the people above go much further than he does). Given that, we do not in any sense understand text more "completely" than we do, say, photography.
There are many counterarguments I could bring up to my own points, e.g., photography is not a language as natural languages are, and thus has no general description (grammar and syntax)... etc, etc... but I could argue against that one pretty easily in terms of visual gestalts and cultural assumptions. And on and on. The upshot is that to defend a position such as that which you attribute to Sontag requires a particular understanding of language which is at this point quite controversial, and which has been strongly argued against.
Steven Ravett Brown
A problem arose to my mind while reading about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, it says that "the overall disturbance in a closed system must increase or at least remain constant but never decrease" but the problem here is that the "disturbance" is something to humans, WE think that scattered billiard balls are disturbance and think that when they take the shape of a triangle (at the beginning of the game) they are not disturbed, so how can something related to humans take place in an impersonal physical law?
Entropy measures the disorder of a system. This term is not a term expressing approval or disapproval it just refers to the fact that e.g. molecules in ice are tighter packed than in liquid water, which in turn has a higher level of organisation compared to gas molecules in steam. This difference in the organisation of matter can be objectively measured (e.g. via the energy levels and the properties of the system) i.e. is not dependent on human beings. The 2nd law simply says that the entropy (disorder) of the universe overall increases. [If the volume and energy of a system are constant, then every change to the system increases the energy].Things get broken, living beings die and decay ... Whenever you want to create order out of disorder you need to put energy into it (e.g. it is easy to break a cup but difficult to put it back together), and part of that energy is irretrievably lost as heat, thus increasing the overall disorder of the system.
This is actually sort of an interesting point. The term "disturbance" is indeed an odd one, to me at least. I would have said something like "smoothness", "randomness", or "uniformity". But aside from that, one could still object that we perceive certain patterns or types of patterns as order, and certain other patterns as disorder, and so this distinction is a purely human one.
There are a couple of ways around this, however. First, there are only a small number of ways that billiard balls can be put into a triangle, and many hundreds or thousands of ways they can be scattered over the table. One could say, then, that what we are actually comparing is the probability of them being in the relatively small number of distributions we term "ordered" versus the huge number we term "disordered", and so that probability governs the frequency of those distributions actually seen. Not unreasonable, but we can still ask why some subset of the "disordered" set is not perceived as a distinct subset, as the "ordered" sets are, i.e., whether there is any real difference between what we perceive as ordered and what we perceive as disordered.
I wondered this myself for quite a while, until I saw the results of the work of G. Chaitin. What he did was to show that there is a difference in the minimum length of formulas which describe various states of affairs, mostly in formal systems. But this is an interesting result in this context, because we can see that symmetrical groupings will have smaller descriptions (because of the identity of rotations) than asymmetrical and chaotic groupings. Those latter will have to be described by larger formulations, because we can't abbreviate for the symmetry in them. Now, no matter who is doing the describing: us, aliens, mother nature, or whatever, that's going to be true. So that is, I think, a nice way to relate more and less random distributions in some reasonably absolute way, and leads to the same types of classifications that our intuitions do, which is rather heartening metaphysically, when you think about it. The interesting implication is that description has to do with composition, a very strange result for me, at any rate... but consistent with the Second Law, it seems.
Steven Ravett Brown
I am not a physicist, but it seems to me that you are too bothered by the term "disturbance" which may just be used in a technical way by physicists.
I am teaching a course on Education in a postgraduate program in Music.
My question is: would you please advise me on some texts (and authors) on the subject of Philosophy of education?
As this branch of philosophy overlaps other main branches of philosophy, especially ethics and epistemology, but also logic and even metaphysics, the selection of suitable literature will depend on what special aspects of philosophy of education you are interested. Here are some suggestions:
If A.N. Whitehead is right saying, Western Philosophy consists of a series of footnotes to Plato, then Philosophy of Education maybe described as a special case of a series of footnotes to Plato's dialogue Meno. There you will find all the fundamental issues such as whether virtue can be taught, what virtue is, what knowledge is, what the relation between teaching and knowledge is and how and whether teaching is possible.
Whitehead himself wrote The Aims of Education and Other Essays (originally published by Macmillan, 1929). An e-text of the first chapter is available at: http://www.realuofc.org/libed/white/aims.html.
Perhaps one of the most influential contributions to the development of educational thinking in the twentieth century was made by John Dewey in his Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of education.
A more visionary attempt was done by John Amos Comenius about 1630 in his Didactica Magna, usually called The Great Didactic. Perhaps a more meaningful translation would be "The Whole Art of Teaching." It explored how people learn and how they should be taught from infancy through the university and beyond. Comenius addressed such topics as education for everyone, career preparation and lifelong learning (not for nothing one of the educational programmes of the European Union is called Comenius!).
One of the most popular books on Philosophy of Education probably is Jean Jacques Rousseau's Emile. Rousseau's ideas about education have profoundly influenced modern educational theory. He minimizes the importance of book learning, and recommends that a child's emotions should be educated before his reason. He placed a special emphasis on learning by experience.
As a teacher in postgraduate programmes in music you might especially be interested in this one: Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education by David J. Elliot (view details with excerpts at http://www.amazon.com).
If you wish to dive deeper into this subject you might find some of the links at Research Guide: Philosophy of education useful.
Begin by looking up Aristotle, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Montessori, Dewey, Makarenko, Tagore, A.S. Neill and Goodman for a start at the UNESCO link Thinkers on education (the texts are in PDF requiring the Acrobat Reader).
And then there's lots of literature! But I think you should be acquainted with the names indicated above before entering any "Philosophy of Education" book. Those books give the grand picture, but you should have some hold on those great thinkers on education to get a feeling of what this philosophy is all about. And then you have to connect it to your own past experience as a child having a home and as a pupil going to school.
Think of what has been good and what has been not so good in your experience
and why. What would you suggest to improve why? Then you are bringing in your part of "philosophy of education".
What is philosophy of education about? It's like medicine and psychotherapy about coaching and mentoring children and pupils to become "as good human beings as possible". But what does this mean? If you have to coach a tennis player or a piano player, you have an idea what the outcome should be. The utmost aim would be to make her/ him a star. But what is the aim when coaching somebody to become "as good human being as possible"? That's a very deep question and the core of all philosophy of education that already perplexed Socrates and Plato.
And once more: If you had to educate your mom and dad or your teachers or your friends what would you want to improve in them, why? And what would you want to improve in yourself why? This "why" is the starting point of all "philosophy of education".
Is there morality among the animal kingdom?
Do animals have morals?
Roger Scruton says in Animals Rights and Wrongs that animals don't have morals in the sense that we have in that they don't belong to our moral community. We invite pets into our moral community, treating them as humans, but they can't reciprocate. For sure, animals don't recognise duty and principle, they don't feel remorse nor (though I'm not so sure about this one) empathy. We treat our pets like persons who have rights, requirements and needs, but they don't treat us like that. On the other hand, I think that we love and honour our pets, and they do reciprocate in this respect. But this is just pets, not animals in general.
The question is, what is fundamental to morality? It could be belonging to a community with a code of behaviour which would mean all animals have a moral code (albeit not explicitly known to them perhaps), or the foundation to morality could be love and honour, and in this case pets might be said to have a basic ethical attitude as well as a code of behaviour proper to their species.
The philosopher, Martin Buber (Between Man and Man) believed that the ethical relation, which he called the "I-Thou" relation could be entered to with all animals, and not just pets. He claimed to have entered into an I-Thou relation with a horse, recognising the otherness of the horse and feeling the horses's approval as he let Buber approach to stroke his mane. Buber also felt in the glance of a cat "the language of anxiety". He said "the eyes of an animal have the capacity of a great language". Communication with animals, the recognition of their approval or anxiety is a reason for us to treat them morally and it is not just a matter of sentimentality about pets. That this communication exists indicates to me that were greater communication possible, i.e. greater understanding on the part of the animal of the nature of humans, we might expect a developed ethical attitude of concern to develop. But for sure we can say that animals do have the fundamental capacity for the ethical attitude towards humans.
A lot of animals care about one another, feeding their young, sticking together in packs, sleeping together for comfort, licking one another's wounds. If the attitude of the mother and the healer, and the ability to live communally indicate a moral kingdom, then yes, in this other sense there is morality within the animal kingdom.
What is the meaning of "morals"? What makes the difference between moral and im-moral? Since animals cannot see that difference (why?), their behavior cannot be "moral" and by the same argument cannot be "im-moral" either. Do babies have "morals"? Do madmen have? In the Middle Ages even an animal could be sentenced for "false behaviour", since it had violated the order of God and nature. But even this we would not call "im-moral" but "im-proper" behaviour in an objective sense. The dragon has to be slain even if he is only displaying his nature as a dragon and could not be in any way "im-moral". Some people look upon mass murderers or upon people raping children as upon dragons or beasts to be slain.
To be moral means to have options to behave this way or that and to be able to justify your choice by some "moral" value you adhere to. So if a child decides to have the lolly offered to him because it tastes sweet, this is no moral decision, but if it deliberates to steal the lolly from a shelf or from another child then it is. The first is only a "preference" by taste, the second is a (false) preference by moral standards. But a standard is something somebody holds it to be. So who is "somebody" in this case? That is "the moral community" or your own conscience, which is in part (not all!) a copy of the former. Your conscience is not completely a copy of the standards of "the moral community", since you may (and should) have your own thoughts on some values. Rebels are rebels because they do not conform in some important points to the standards of the moral community they live in. Sometimes as in the cases of Socrates and Jesus and Antigone and Morus and Bonhoeffer and many more this is good for the moral community, but often as in the case of a murderer or a liar or a thief it is not.
There is some sort of "moral intelligence". Little children think "bad is everything forbidden" or "good is what mom and dad said". Later on they learn that mom and dad may be wrong by thinking or by doing. And still later on they may be thinking that even the teacher and the priest and the Prime Minister may be wrong by thinking or by doing. But look up Lawrence Kohlberg on this. Kohlberg was a pupil of the child-psychologist Piaget of Geneva, Switzerland. Kohlberg is famous for his theory of "Six stages of moral development". You get at all relevant information on the life and theory of Kohlberg in the Kohlberg Tutorial
If I have been depressed for years and all treatment has resulted only in my being able to perform the most basic functions, i.e. I am unable to have relationships of any consequence; steady employment is out of the question; I have, over the years, tried the following: university education, traditional "therapy", three years at the Carl Jung Institute, rebirthing, Swami Muktananda, ten years at a cloistered Benedictine monastery, ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, EST, every anti-depressant known to medical science: the list is really too long for such a forum as this if all of these things have not worked, nothing is working, I'm just at the end of my rope, don't I have the right, even the responsibility or obligation perhaps, to use suicide as a merciful option? I just think this is a perfectly rational solution. Help me.
Well as you no doubt realize, this is a philosophy forum and not a clinical psychology forum. But I'll say something about this problem anyway. Chronic depression is an extremely bad and sometimes insoluble problem. I see your attempts at solutions as basically going into two categories: religious, and pharmacological. There are other categories of possible solutions.
Category one: physical
Drugs: usually work reasonably well; if they don't for you, then that's not a great sign, but there are always new ones coming out.
Shock therapy, i.e., electroconvulsive therapy. Well, usually I highly disapprove of this, because I think it causes some brain damage. There are recent varieties which are not supposed to; I find that hard to believe, but that's what is claimed. As an absolute last resort, before suicide, I'd try it.
Exercise: good for depression. Take up some intense form of exercise: running, weightlifting (preferably both).
Category two: emotional
Religion: you tried it and it didn't work. However, you might give Buddhism a try... find an old and reputable monastery, NOT some guru.
Traditional therapy: no way this works for chronic depression. Same for EST.
Cognitive and/or philosophical therapy: doesn't sound like a good bet for you, but you might try it.
Group therapy: I'd say this was a reasonably good candidate for you, to get you into something new, and see that there are others in your situation, maybe even to find a relationship. If you can, possibly, get into a good relationship; that goes a long way to help depression.
Category three: situational
Drastically change your location and living situation: i.e., move to another country and get a job. Given the above, it looks like you've tried the equivalent and it didn't work... but I'd be depressed by British winters, myself.
Suicide: always an option, in my very strong opinion. Everyone should have the right to end their life, if they wish. However, this is something I disapprove of, not so much on ethical grounds as on pragmatic ones. That is, the world is vast, possibilities are enormous, and time keeps moving. Things change. Unless you are in truly enormous pain and there is really no other way out (i.e., you're a terminal cancer patient, you're being tortured, etc...), I believe it is better to wait things out.
So where are we? Group therapy; exercise; cognitive therapy; Buddhism; shock therapy; and maybe, hopefully, there's a new drug out that might help. In addition, there is a reasonably good possibility that as you age, you will improve. Wait for that. The fact that you have been able to attempt these solutions, and that you are writing to this forum, indicates that you can take action, and want to change. Go with that.
Here is a book just out which might also help:
Depression is a Choice: Winning the Battle Without Drugs by A. B. Curtiss Hyperion, New York. 2001
Steven Ravett Brown
Mark has my deepest sympathy, but I'm afraid that as a philosopher I am not competent to help him. I wonder, however, if he would consider a relevant philosophical question. He is attempting to find a means to an end, which is relief from depression. He emphatically does not want to try one more thing that fails. My question is: How does Mark know that suicide is not one more such inadequate means to his chosen end? My hope is that this question will induce in him enough agnosticism about "what comes next" to stave off his fateful decision, at least one more day. For after the first suicide, another is not an option, as might be another religious order or another antidepressant. Suicide is the unrepeatable option. (Should one ever find oneself saying, "Well, suicide didn't work. What shall I try now?," one is already in a state beyond any help that I know of.) So to the degree that rationality still commands the allegiance of one who is deeply depressed, to that degree it is rational for him to ensure that he is not about to go from the frying pan into the fire.
You did all those things! And you haven't given up hope? This is very inspiring. If only more people were driven to find happiness with such perseverance. I suggest you read the philosopher Seneca for wisdom, and Plato's Early Socratic Dialogues for amusement.
When I study the history of philosophy and try to understand the world I'm thinking and thus living in now, I seem always (no matter which philosopher or which time period I study) to come to the conclusion that we humans are asking the same questions over and over; just in new forms and in new aspects of reality (or non-reality). I do not mean that great thinkers have all been thinking about the same issues; rather that they (and we) have been in the same path just in different points in space-time. In the beginning I felt that we all are just improving and trying to ennoble the same questions that the the ancient Greeks and even human thinkers long before them asked about their surrounding world.
I'm not open minded enough to imagine what the questions complementary to today's (and yesterday's) questions would be, or if those questions even could be defined as "questions" but I do know that this reality we have created through our questions, i.e. our perception, cannot be the whole truth (if there is a "whole" or a "truth").
Why are we not creating instead of recreating?
That's a great question you posed! Perhaps you start looking at the history of art. Maybe that sheds some light on the history of philosophy as you see it.
The Greeks seem to have had a similar concept of art as we had at least up to the middle of the 19th century. But this is not exactly true, since there has been the art of the Middle Ages in between which is totally different from Greek and Roman "classical" art. But from about 1350 to about 1850 the classical ideal prevailed again. And this fading and reappearance of a special way to look at the world had it's parallel in the history of philosophy too: The selection of philosophical problems and the style of arguing has been very different in the Middle Ages from that in "classical" Antiquity and in Renaissance, and Modern philosophical thought.
And then there has been another great revolution likewise in the arts and in philosophical arguments starting from about the 1850s together with the rise of Industrial Society. You can mark two symbolic dates: The first "World Exposition" 1851 in London and the appearance of the "Communist Manifesto" in 1848 opening a year of revolutions swamping Europe. In those years, Turner and Corot and some other painters began to change the traditional way of painting, and this led ultimately to the wave of "impressionism" dominating the art-scene of Paris after the German-French War of 1870/71.
The main trait of Impressionism is a new "subjectivism" replacing the old "objectivism" of academic art. The academic art of the time was still mainly concerned with mythical and historical themes and with landscapes and townscapes and seascapes in a naturalistic fashion. The paintings look like remakes of the Netherlandic art of the 17th century or as remakes of renaissance art or even gothic. Not so the Impressionists: They ignored history and the past as subjects and the traditional way of painting altogether and tried to have a fresh look at the world around them. They painted coffee-shops and backyards with dancing people and "genre" and in this they still resembled the Netherlandish paintings of Hals and Vermeer in a modernized way. It was "painting of the people for the people" not for the cultivated upper classes with their knowledge of history and mythology. But that still only paved the way for the great revolution that was to come with the work of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and the Fauves and Cubists.
The revolution consisted in not only giving up the classical "great themes" of history and mythology but the values of "realism" and "naturalism" altogether. A picture is not a copy from nature, is not illustrating anything recent or past, be it important or unimportant, but a picture is a "work", consisting of colours and forms and of nothing else. The world may be "cited" in such an art-work, but it is not "represented" anymore. It simply is not the aim or the task of the artist, to illustrate or to represent anything but his own ideas. The whole concept of "representative" art dominating European art from Antiquity has been abandoned together with the traditional ideal of "beauty". The idea of beauty has changed from Rafael to Luigi Fontana, from naked goddesses arranged in a mythical scene to naked areas of colour arranged in a rectangle.
Now you ask what this has to do with your question concerning a new way of seeing the world with philosophical eyes. The answer is, that exactly what has changed in art has changed in the same years in philosophy. Cezanne said "Let us paint as if nobody ever has painted before!" In the same mood Husserl said "let us think as if nobody ever has thought before!". Cezanne said "Forget all themes, don't copy, don't illustrate, but construct a new world of artificial reality of it's own right!" Husserl and Wittgenstein said "Forget all classical problems and arguments, go back to what people experience and see how they use words to express those experiences!"
The years from about 1890 to about 1970 of European cultural history have been one of the greatest cultural epochs in the history of mankind, comparable only to the Golden Era of Pericles or to that of Florentian Renaissance. In this epoch the whole way we are looking at the world has changed fundamentally, not only in the arts, but in literature and music and in mathematics and physics and in the social sciences too and in philosophy. And that explains in part the trouble some philosophy-students have today with a strange modern "analytic" way of asking questions that seem to ignore all traditional questions and answers concerning God and morals and mankind and what is beauty and what is truth.
Your question is: "Why are we not creating instead of recreating?" As you may have got from the arguments above, we are trying hard to "create". But then people are conservative and resisting change. This must not be bad. The churches have resisted freedom of speech and thought with the argument, that it would lead people astray into the wilderness of strange ideas and far from the truth. The communists said likewise and the Nazis too. There are not too many people seeing in a liberal and multicultural society much more than a social and moral chaos. You have to respect that for a moment and think about it. Ask yourself how much real freedom you can accept and endure. One alway needs a minimum of rule and regularity in life, of reliability, trustability and predictability.
If you change the world by "creating" a new one, this new world too will have it's problems of reliability, trustability and predictability. You have to convince people that your new world is so much more lovable and livable that they dare to give up what they are used to. But then people have been cheated many times by false prophets like Hitler and Stalin and some more of that bunch. Why do you think people are shunning genetic engineering and PID (pre-implantation-diagnostics)? It's not that simple to create a new mankind! What will become of the family? How will we earn a living and pay our rent or get our pensions and social security? All those questions are natural and have to be answered if you want to create a new world.
Jesus has announced a new heaven and a new earth but what do you see in history? You see the churches and much superstition and bigotry and hypocrisy and moral repression. That was what Voltaire and Nietzsche and Marcuse fought against.
A new society and a new philosophy is like a new house. You can try to build that, but you must be sure that people will like to live there and that it does not collapse.
The philosophical house we are living in today has in part been built by Kant and Hegel on older fundaments laid by Plato and Aristotle and Augustine, but has been modified by Marx and Nietzsche and Freud, by Husserl, Heidegger and Wittgenstein and some more great philosophers of recent time. If you want to build a new philosophical house for mankind, you are not free to build anything fantastical. You always have to see the people living there. Try to see yourself and all those dear to you, and then some more until everybody has a room to live in and not a cell like a monk or a prisoner or a bee. To devise such a house is no small task but requires the greatest of architects.
What is your time-scale? The pyramids of Gizah were built at about 2600 BC, and the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens was built during the lifetime of Socrates some 2400 years ago. The gothic cathedrals are some 800 years old and the Eiffel Tower is from 1889. Is that pace of human history fast or is it slow? I think it is explosive! Think back to the year 1902: Who would have thought then of how we are going today? So you can't predict what will be in 2102, one hundred years from now. A new sort of cyborgs having replaced mankind? And you asked for "creating instead of recreating" and you think "that they the great thinkers (and we) have been in the same path just in different points in space-time!" Where should they have been? Maybe mankind will swamp the universe during the next 1000 years. There must be some traditions of thought and feeling holding mankind together, some language of mutual understanding and caring and respect. Don't be too impatient then. Things may get out of control otherwise. Be nice to humankind.
Can you please give me a basic definition for rationalists and empiricists?
A "basic" definition is no problem but not helpful either. In our context, the terms "rationalist" and "empiricist" are used in relation to philosophers only and not in relation to an everyday approach to life. The typical "rationalists" in the history of philosophy are Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz. Their style of philosophizing is what has later been dubbed "armchair-philosophy": You sit in your chair and think on "first principles" and "necessary conclusions" holding the world together. Then comes the empiricist down the lane and asks, if you ever checked your splendid ideas against the brute facts. How could Newton's "law of gravitation" of 1678 ever have made such an enormous impact on the whole of European thinking, if he had not shown that from his simple formula of gravitational forces sprang the elliptical form of the orbit of planets that Kepler had derived in his famous laws some 70 years previously. And who forced Kepler to formulate those orbits? That was Tycho Brahe with his extremely exact observations of those orbits which was of course empirical. Since Antiquity the idea has been that the orbits are circles, but Brahe's data excluded this possibility for the orbit of Mars definitely in the same way as Michelson some 300 years later excluded with his extremely exact measurements the possibility of the 'ether'.
Popper's concept of "falsification" sprang from his insight that Einstein's theory of General Relativity could be disproved by the measurements of Eddington in the 1920s, but the theories of the Marxists or the Freudians or the Christians could not. Many people do not even understand the concept of "falsification". It does not mean to show that a proposition or a theory is false, but that there could be devised an experiment (empirical!) that by its outcome conclusively "approves" or disproves the proposition or the theory. Even the word "approves" is correct here, since no experiment can "prove" a theory. Einstein's theories have up to now resisted all attempts to disprove or "falsify" them, but that does not prove them to be right.
In the late 50s Heisenberg devised a "world-formula" for particle-physics from theoretical considerations ("rationalist"), but then came the "quantum-chromo-dynamic" with its "quarks", and to get there one had to build the large colliders costing billions of dollars ("empiricist"). But of course one needs convincing theoretical concepts to make the investment of billions of dollars for the colliders plausible. Even Columbus needed his (false) convictions on the distance to "India" in the west to find support for his endeavour to get there. And the steam-engine of James Watt has not been the outcome of "practical engineering" either: He had to improve a demonstration model of some older type of steam-engine for the physics department of the University of Glasgow then one of the best universities of the world. There he chatted during the coffee-breaks with some of the most famous physicists and chemists of the time and made use of their hints and suggestions on latent heat etc. for his design of the new steam engine.
Locke and Hume are known as "empiricists" ("nothing is in the mind, what not has been in the senses"), but Kant who was well acquainted with the work of Descartes and Leibniz got to his decisive new insights by combining "rationalism" with "empiricism". It was Hume who got him up from his "dogmatic slumber" by the notion, that "consequence" is not and cannot be an "empirical" concept but must be a "postulate" of our thinking that transforms a mere empirical "sequence" into a theoretical "con-sequence". As the examples above with Einstein, Heisenberg, Kepler and Newton have shown, one always has to combine a theory and empirical data to get at useful results.
The rationalist approach had much to do with the remnants of christian Neo-Platonism in Occidental thought. If human intelligence and the laws of nature are both expressions of the creative wisdom of God, then by this common origin the workings of nature and human insight should fit by some sort of inspiration. But Kant didn't need such an assumption. For his christian contemporaries that was shocking, since then the old assumption of a unity of mankind and nature under god was not assured anymore. Nature became a mere object for human technical and economical interests, it changed from a world to live in to a mere resource to be explored and exploited. Since then the principle of "R & D" research and development prevails: Theory, experiment and application combined to the modern "instrument of progress" and the antagonism between "rationalists" and "empiricists" of the time from about 1630 to 1780 has become historical.
Rationalism was no sort of stupidity though! The great rationalists have been great mathematicians and logicians. They hoped to get at the core of the machinery of the universe by mere logical and mathematical thinking since they held God himself to be the great "watchmaker" and mathematician of the world. This was a great idea in the neo-platonic tradition. And then they were convinced in the same line of argument of a deep reaching unity of truth, beauty and goodness respectively of reason, sensitiveness and virtue. This unity has been the guiding idea of Spinoza (1632-77) and of Lord Shaftesbury (1671-1713) and their time. This explains why one expected from rationalism much more for the progress of mankind than we can imagine today. Even the slight contempt, with which continental philosophers look on the anglo-saxon "empirical", "pragmatist" and "analytical" tradition of thought springs from this "neo-platonic" and "rationalistic" concept of "the great order of things" (or The Great Chain of Being as Arthur O. Lovejoy has called it in his famous book of 1933, which is still available).
One last remark on the sort of "experience" the English "empiricists" are talking of. This experience is restricted to "sensual data" from which "concepts" and "theories" are derived. It's a strict methodological sort of problem to explain how "concept-formation from experience" takes place in the human mind. Therefore the sneering remark of a French writer, those tea-sipping English philosophers could not have the slightest idea of "real" experiences with deep love and deep faith and deep mourning, with doubt, despair and commitment, totally misses the point. Philosophy is about arguments, not about feelings.
I am doing my research over the positive aspect of sex: a hidden sin.
So I just want to know about sexual power over mind. Why this sex is so powerful that when a man knows that unsafe sex can led to death but still can't avoid it, because when sex comes into mind then any other thinking activity stops. Why is it so?
Wow, what a question. Offhand, everything you say above looks incorrect. First, sex is not a sin. Second, "sexual power" is one of those phrases that has been beaten to death. Just what, exactly, does it mean? Third, yes, unsafe sex can lead to death; so can driving a car, crossing the street, going swimming, and any number of other activities. So should we stop all those, also? Sex being "unsafe" is not a black-and-white issue, just as most other human activities are not. Fourth, just whom are you talking about when you say that when "sex comes to mind, all other thinking activity stops"? Not me, I hope, because I'd feel both insulted and amused at your naivete. Look at it this way: when one is a young child, and one smiles, what does that smile mean, and how much control does, say, a 4-5 year old have over it? It means pleasure or happiness, and there is very little control. As one ages, smiles become, if one wishes, controlled and imbued with many possible meanings. This is the result of education and experience. Well, it's the same with sex (and anything else). The more education and experience, the more control and the more subtlety in feeling and expression. To have the experience you describe above with sex, as an adult, indicates an appalling lack of education and experience with it, in my opinion.
I don't even know where to start to correct your misconceptions. Try the library; libraries have enormous resources of facts. Try a course in sexuality at a public university. The misconceptions above are some of the primary reasons for problems with sexuality in human cultures, in my opinion. If you doubt what I'm saying, just look at the statistics: the few cultures with good sex education (the Scandinavian countries, mostly), have the lowest rates of disease (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies in the world. The more sex education, the less unwanted pregnancies, disease, and, for that matter, emotional problems with sexuality. Look it up; all sorts of studies have been done on this.
Steven Ravett Brown
If you are doing research into this you have to read Freud. A Freudian account of the power of the sexual would be that the sexual instinct is an originary and primal instinct and as a child comes to develop a sense of self, an ego, and at the same time a relation to reality, the primal instinct towards sexuality is split off from the ego and it's relation to reality. So when a person wants to have unsafe sex, they are really driven by their originary sexual instinct, and not thinking of reality and the consequences. This is still to to be driven by the mind, but by the unconscious rather than the conscious mind. The conscious mind is concerned with reality. The unconscious is rather driven by primal instincts. The coming into being of the rational thinking social person has a repressive function on primal instincts, but the sexual drive, for Freud, is extremely strong since it has its root in our very nature, in the way we were as children before the social force took hold. This difference between the unconscious primal instinct and the conscious relation of thought and reality, given the strength of the sexual instinct, explains why thinking stops when sex comes to mind.
The sexual function is cross-species. But in male, there is perhaps a desire to demonstrate potency and giving and in the female there is desire for submission and receiving (simplifying and generalising here) and safe sex interferes with this. Potency cannot ultimately be shown, and submission is not complete.
But given all this, I would say that, basically, the desire for what you describe as "unsafe sex" comes down to the desire for true intimacy without barrier. And in terms of thought rather than desire, sometimes people have it in their conscious mind that certain risks are worth taking for the sake of physical intimacy.
"The limits of my language are the limits of my world."
Agree or disagree?
I disagree and think that in recent decades we have been made by philosophers who think language is of primary importance to the philosophy of mind, later Wittgenstein, and Lacanian psychoanalysts to think that entry into the world of the mind starts with language. And that may be so. I'm not at all sure it is. Kleinian object relations theory allows that we have affective relations with another prior to language ability and use and modern neuroscience is compatible with object relations theory. Even if language was the entry into the world it need not constitute its limits. It is the essence of art and poetry that it offers more than is represented or said. It is the point of metaphor that some things cannot be directly said and language has to be manipulated poetically in order for us to try to communicate beyond the limits of ordinary language. Further, as early Wittgenstein said, some things cannot be put into propositions, only shown.
Object relations theory which is about affective relations with others or emotionally coloured relations is particularly interesting here, and it is also true that the unconscious does not operate along the pattern of ordinary language and yet the unconscious is part of our world, our mental life, and our dreams. So much that is emotional seems to be reduced when put into language, such as "I love you". But even if behaviour is included as language, I don't think this is true, unless our imaginative engagement with a poem is behaviouristic. I would say not.
I would tend to agree to a certain extent. There are though, I believe, extensions beyond language which are very much part of our world. The thoughts and ideas we hold and express are dependant on language, however, there are sensations which we can hold and appreciate without the use of language. As I sit here on the lawn at the edge of woodland answering this question, I can feel the radiation from the sun on my arms, head and body; I can observe the different plants, the light and shade in the wood, and, somehow, I feel that I do not need any words, any language. Yes, I can name the daisies, the rosebay, the blackberry blossom, etc.; in fact I could describe the whole scene in words to someone, but what the personhears and what I feel are two very different things. Feelings are extremely hard to put into words, in the process the reality is lost and something more artificial is passed to the listener.
Sensations, then, are personal, they belong to the person experiencing them. Sensations of pleasure, love, sadness, joy and hope, cannot possibly be expressed in words, but to suggest that they are not part of our world would be a fallacy. Perhaps the inadequacy of words to express feelings is borne out by the more tangible idea of offering gifts, a legacy of our more romantic past is still observed in the gift of flowers, flowers seem to be able to illuminate someone's feelings far better than any words, in fact there is an old saying, still used in advertising, " Say it with flowers," which indicates that, for many, there is an inbuilt awareness of the inadequacy of language in certain situations. Does putting an arm around someone to comfort them mean more to that person than the blurting out of a few words?
Yes, we need our language, probably the most important and the most amazing attribute presented to mankind, yes, it would be a strange world without it, but let us not run away with the idea that it constitutes the whole of our world.
This may seem like a cop-out, but the book from which that claim comes, Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ends with another claim: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical." Agree or disagree? If you agree, why are you asking whether we agree with something you yourself admit is nonsensical? If you disagree, then how could Wittgenstein conceivably be mistaken or lying about how he wanted his readers to take his propositions?
T. P. Uschanov
Department of Philosophy
University of Helsinki
While I agree with the opinions of Browne and Brandon, I think the difference made between "feelings" and the world represented by language is not clearly drawn out. Of course Wittgenstein would not have denied that feelings and subjective impressions and experiences are part of your "world", but without a proper language they remain your private reality, you cannot share them with others, and then they remain even problematic with yourself, because you cannot "handle" them: You cannot formulate "second thoughts" if you cannot formulate "first thoughts" so to say. And in this way you really are trapped in some sort of cage which is defined by your language: You can look out of this cage and understand that reality is much more than what is in your language, but you cannot leave your cage.
Then there are two more points to be seen: Language on the one hand hides and distorts the reality you percive, but on the other hand it expands your experience. The Greek and Romans of Antiquity knew of no personal god in the way St. Paul or St. Augustine knew of HIM, and that difference was the work of language. How could the gospel have spread without language? Some feelings of a "higher being" or of "mana" are not "The Holy Bible" and are not "The Koran" or the pali-canon or other holy scriptures either. In this way language "creates" reality and feelings which without language would not be "there". One even has asked in this vein if our experience of love was possible before Sappho and other poets gave it expression in her lyrics. Of course there have been diffuse feelings of "being in love" before, but they became much more intensive when they were "formulated" in the words and images of a great poet. Those poets created "templates" for our feelings. Compare this to the effect of great films: Most people "see" Scarlett O'Hara as "being" Vivian Leigh and Rhett Butler as "being" Clark Gable. Once more you have both: A restriction on the one hand why Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable? There are other actors! and at the same time an intense imagination, an impressive imaging of persons and scenes of "Gone with the wind".
So once more: Language not only limits and distorts the way we see the world but it creates our world in large part. Look up for instance Nelson Goodmans Ways of Worldmaking (1978) on this. In just this sense we "dwell in the houses of language" or in "towns of language" or in "worlds of language" and are not only captivated in "cages of language". A house and a prison and a cage have in common, that they are "buildings", artificial constructs of men. And language is a sort of construction-set to build cages, prisons, homes, towns and worlds from it.
Given that life begins and ends on the Earth for every person, now and into the future, i.e. the possibility of an 'after-life' for the purpose of this question is nil, how does one overcome the sense of futility and instead obtain a sense of purpose for one's own life and others, knowing that ALL are destined for the same fate?
Many philosophers (including such polar opposites of each other as Martin Heidegger and Karl Popper) have suggested that, far from rendering everything futile, the finitude of life is in fact the only thing that can give it meaning. If there was too much life available, there would be inflation the way there is when too much money is circulating in the economy. Like money, life would be completely worthless if everyone had as much of it as he wanted you "couldn't give it away for free".
For a nice illustration of this argument, I can recommend the last chapter of Julian Barnes's novel A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, in which a man becomes mortally bored in the afterlife because his every wish is always instantly granted and he can't even be thrilled by the risk of dying in adventure or the like, as he has already died.
T. P. Uschanov
Department of Philosophy
University of Helsinki
Ian believes that that it matters whether one can overcome the sense of futility and obtain a sense of purpose, given his factual presuppositions, which he regards as "given" and "known." He wants to know how to make sense of this mattering. Now to the degree that Ian thinks that this is a real question, to that degree I would want to hear his reasons for presupposing what he does about our destinies. To the extent that skepticism about his reasons can be sustained, to that extent his problem loosens its grip. The question of the meaning of human life in prospect of the eventual heat-death of the universe is a serious one, but it is up to the one posing the question to make the case for its gravity, not for others to make it for him and then to answer their own construction. They risk misinterpreting his question in order to make an answer more likely. But the philosopher may have set up the question in a way that makes an answer impossible, and so he will probably not recognize his question in their interpretation of it.
The short answer is that perhaps one doesn't "overcome" or "obtain" if what Ian presupposes is true, but perhaps he has presupposed what is false. The feeling that this short answer is unsatisfactory should goad him to explicate and defend his presuppositions.
Yes, this is the position that every religion wants you to believe. But let's look at it. Suppose that you (and everyone) lived forever; we had "souls" (whatever those are) and our lifespan (never mind the body that's just "clay") was thus infinite. Ok... now, given that, why should we act morally, compassionately, etc., while we're alive on earth? Our lifespan here is literally an infinitesimal fraction, totally insignificant, of our total lives, which are infinite, right? So what difference do our actions over any finite time span make? None whatsoever. We could be the most vile tyrants for, say, 50 million years, but in an infinite span, that is precisely as long (relative to our whole span) as any other finite length: five seconds, for example. I'm not being metaphorical here. Given an infinite life span, if any finite part of that is removed, there is still an infinite length of time left (in fact, you can remove infinite amounts, if you do it in particular ways, and have infinity left also). So why bother? You have an infinite time left in which to change things or to act morally, however long you have been evil, however much pain you have inflicted.
It is, in fact, just when we realize that we have only a finite life span that we should realize that we must act ethically in that span. That's all we have; we can't correct for it in the next few billion years. In addition, although we do not know the consequences of our actions, we have evidence that "good" actions produce "good" (I'm not going to go into what these mean here) results. So, we will be dead, and indeed everyone else now living, in, say, 100 years, so what? The odds are good that humans will still exist, and human culture, and that our actions may have effects, which we cannot foresee (except, as I say, to expect that moral actions will have good results), for an indefinite length of time. Who knows? But it's possible that some act of ours may echo, even covertly, for weeks or for aeons. We just don't know, and indeed probably (given chaos theory) cannot.
As for purpose. Here's another one the religions love to seize on. God gives us purpose, right? Otherwise we'd have none. Poor us. Well, how about this: we can create our own purposes. Where does a god get its purposes, anyway... from its god? A nice regression there. How about your trying to come up with a purpose, and living that purpose, with the expectation that even though you will die, that purpose will have given your life meaning, may help others to find meaning, and may in addition, through your actions based on it, have beneficial consequences for the future?
Steven Ravett Brown
Can you please explain the view of time in the theory of special relativity? This is part of my philosophy 101 homework but as you can see I am very confused.
Think about rock sediments. Zillions of years ago, or whatever, little shells, etc., fell down through the ocean and built up layers. After that, the ocean dried up and trees grew there, died, and built up a layer of dead trees. Maybe after that there was a volcano which covered it all with a layer of lava. Then more trees, and we get dirt on top of all that.
So you cut through and look at those sediments. At the bottom, there are these little shells, compressed. Over that, there are the fossilized trees and their stuff... and so forth. So we have a record of time, sort of frozen and extended in space, through the sediments. Ok? Well, that's the view in special relativity. If you could look at any object, down through time, you'd see objects the way they were, say, an hour ago, overlaid gradually with their changes through that hour up to the present. So that total view of the object, including all those different times, would be like one object, extended through time. Get it? So if you cut that one object at some point corresponding to an hour ago, a week ago, or whatever, you'd see it, like the sediments, as it was then.
Well, the idea is that all objects really are like that... extended in time; we just can't see the "time" part of them, except bit by bit, because we're stuck in the present (which "moves" forward... never mind about the problems here...). So if all objects are like that, then everything is like that, and the whole universe is a kind of huge brick, but in 4 dimensions (since all the 3-dimensional stuff is extended in time), floating (roughly speaking), and if you just had the right perspective (a 4th dimensional one) you could peek into it anywhere and see us, birds, dogs, flying saucers, etc... sort of frozen but changing along their length (the time length).
That's pretty much it for the metaphysics of special relativity. Time is another dimension, not like space, but close enough that the above picture gives you an idea. It is not a very good metaphysics, as it stands, because of problems with mind and consciousness. There's a sci-fi book, October the 1st is Too Late by Fred Hoyle, which attempts, unsuccessfully, to deal with the metaphysics. Good book, though.
Steven Ravett Brown
What are the different types of philosophical inquiry?
How has the understanding of philosophy changed from the time of the Greeks to our modern understanding or common understanding of today?
These questions have been lying around for a while. I just saw them again today... I'm not going to tackle the first one.
The second one is more interesting, in a way. Let's do a little comparison. Suppose that you are a reasonably educated person, young, with a good, solid high-school (or the equivalent) education, or even the beginnings (2-3 years) of a college education. You read books, newspapers, etc., and you can think about, a bit, and talk about, a bit, topics like relativity: "Einstein showed that mass and energy are conserved" or "space is warped around stars" or something like that. Now, first, does this make you a physicist? No, of course not. Second, do you understand physics? No, not really; not until you can explain why these and many other statements are true (or not). Third, do you understand what it is to be a physicist? No. Not until you can explain how the explanations of the above statements, and others, were arrived at. In other words, understanding physics is one thing, far beyond playing with a few of its ideas. Knowing what doing physics is, is another thing, beyond understanding physics. And, finally, actually doing physics, being a physicist, is yet a third thing, beyond the other two. And then there's being a really good physicist, which is even harder.
Take an example. I mention "energy" above. What's that? Well, when you learn basic physics, you learn that to accelerate a mass, it takes a force proportional to that mass. F = ma. Clear so far? Now, if you know calculus, you can then derive E = 1/2mv2, if you integrate over time, because acceleration, which we started with, is the change in velocity over time, and energy is the integration of force over time. Or you can go the other way, start with simple motion, i.e., velocity is distance per unit time, v = d/t. You can then differentiate by time and get a = v/t, i.e., acceleration is velocity per time. Still following? So we have, from the first equation, F = mv/t, right? Multiply both sides by time (or integrate), and we have E = mv2, which is basically where we were above (I'm not going to bother with the constant here). Hey, relax, we're just starting basic Newtonian mechanics. We've got about 200 years to go yet before we get to Einstein... the rest of mechanics, optics, electromagnetics... then when it gets past "special" to "general" relativity, and on to quantum mechanics, the math gets quite seriously difficult. You still want to be a physicist, to "know" physics?
There's about 2-300 years of physics to learn, from Newtonian on up, from scratch, because it's all interdependent, and you can't understand relativity, not to mention do relativistic physics, without understanding the Newtonian physics on which it's based (sorry, but the idea that "paradigm shifts" made all earlier work irrelevant is garbage, as any physicist knows). Then, of course, you have to have the right kind of mind, to do the math, to think analytically. Not everyone has that. All in all, not easy, and far beyond playing conceptual games with "warped space", whatever that means when you read it in the newspapers. Yes, fine, you can take "non-major" courses in physics, with no or watered-down math, and simple concepts. At the end of those, if you're very bright and have a very good teacher, you might possibly know a bit of what you're missing, and that you're missing most of it. Sorry if this sounds negative, but this is just not simple stuff, not if you really want to understand it. It just may be the case, depressing as it sounds, that in order to really get the concepts, you have to start young, as in before high school, just as in order to become a good musician you have to start young. Or, if you start older, you have to be extremely dedicated.
Well, here's the shocker, people... philosophy is about 2-3 thousand years old, in the West. Physics, not to mention biology, engineering, most of math, and dozens of other fields are derived from concepts in philosophy. Now what do you think it takes to be a philosopher? Well, just look at the paragraphs above, and multiply by 10. Yes, that's about it (depending, actually, on where you want to go in philosophy... you can keep it simple if you want, and just learn the equivalent of physics... although I disapprove).
So... you want someone to tell you how "philosophy", that enormous, 3000-year collection of concepts, symbolisms, history, literature, logic, and on and on, has changed since the Greeks. Well, now you know why this question has been sitting around for so long. I could take a stab at telling you how physics has changed; I have a degree in that, and it's only a couple of centuries of work. Easy, haha. Philosophy? Forget it.
Steven Ravett Brown
I was just going through your website and was reading all the questions and answers people ask you! So, I decided to ask you a question myself and get your expert advice.
I like photography and I have an interest for learning more philosophy. Through examining your website I wanted to take a closer look into photography and philosophy, meaning looking at photography using philosophy and analyze it a bit!
I was wondering about your thoughts on abstract objects in photography and whether or not you feel photographs can depict Plato's forms? and whether or not they can depict abstract things of any type?
I was also wondering if you felt photographs can be used to depict a photographers' subjective impressions?
I have formed many opinions concerning this topic through photography and just wanted someone else's point of view from the philosophy angle. I know these questions are not straight forward but I thought I would just see a few of your views on the subject!
I would love to hear back from you concerning this topic. Thought it might give you something to think about and wrap your mind around!
I must confess that I am no expert on the subject of photography; like many others I enjoy using my camera, which is efficient and idiot-proof. I am, however, interested in art and spend some of my spare time painting in acrylics.
There was for some time a general feeling amongst art lovers that the camera could never replace the painter. In the beginning the box camera was nothing more than a gimmick for family entertainment, also a photographer was thought of as someone who took family portraits, weddings and school groups. However, developing quietly behind this banal facade was a highly efficient medium for communication, in fact, it was fast becoming a specialised form of art which incorporated not only a means of communication but was also a provider of instant records in time and space. Art, of course, always had something to say, it was never just a case of painting a picture, it has been used extensively in the past as a vehicle of politics and propaganda. Photography has proved that it is not only just as capable of carrying forward this commitment but has, in my view, enhanced this facet of the art world with its speed and accuracy.
All forms of art have always progressed hand in hand with developing technology, probably photography, more than any other form, and by its very nature, depends on this development. Perhaps where other forms of art pioneered the path of development by their demands on technology, photography lay somewhat dormant waiting to follow the inspiration and motivation in the developing technology. In other words, art said, "This is what we want, provide us with it." Whereas, technology said to photography, "This is what we have got, learn how to use it." Though the means to the end have been different both painter and photographer have achieved their objectives.
You ask if photographs can be used to depict a photographer's subjective impressions. I believe that this can be achieved in photographs just as successfully as in any other expressive art. A photographer, like a painter, will require to think about composition, both will have to decide on how to present meaningful subject matter, both will have to exhibit creative flair, both, by the skillful use of light and shadow will show that awareness of contrast and fine detail necessary to impart the personal content which brings the work alive. In this way the character and feelings of the photographer become the soul of the subject matter. A photograph, then, can contain the same form and meaning as a painting and the photographer, just like the painter, is recognised by his/her style. You will know more about the techniques of photography than I do, but I feel sure that other factors intrinsic within those techniques will contribute to the subjective talents of the photographer. When a painter is advised to paint what he/she actually sees, in a similar way the photographer must capture what is seen. In this the photographer has a definite advantage over the painter, for where the latter requires to remember how the scene was influenced by the light at the start, which could be some hours before, the photographer captures the scene instantly, what is seen in that instant the photographer secures.
Like a painter, then, a photographer can give a lot of him/ herself to the subject matter, and there is no reason why those conversant with the work of different photographers would not be able to recognise the style and individual talent embodied in the subject matter of a masterpiece.
A claim has always been made that a good artist can improve on nature by skillful use of artistic licence, the question arises, Can a photographer achieve the same? Well, a photographer certainly could not add an extra tree to a composition, or move a cathedral as Constable did. There would also be some difficulty in trying to produce the 'impressionist' effects of Turner. You will, no doubt, hold your own views on this, but, for what it is worth, I, personally, do not see any conflict here. Photography is a different form of art; there is no doubt that rugby and cricket are both games, but to suggest that cricketers are deprived of goal posts and could not, therefore, compete with rugby players would be a spurious and stupid argument, cricketers do not need goal posts to play cricket. Just as rugby and cricket are games within their own right and one is in no way reliant on the other, so with painting and photography. That photography is an art form in its own right is now universally accepted. Of course, public interest has itself increased with the availability of easy to use cameras and higher grade films. However, above all, it is well understood that pictures speak louder than words, and it is as a valuable communication medium that photography is unsurpassed, but the value of that communication depends on the skill of the photographer to impart the feeling and emotion into the subject to make it more than just a picture.
I was working at the library of the Viennese School of Photography and Graphic Design when I saw your question. It indeed is "something to think about and wrap my mind around". The only problem is, I do not know much about photography.
Probably the most frequently asked philosophical question concerning photography is, whether photography is art or not. More than 150 years ago the French history painter Paul Delaroche declared, "From today painting is dead." He saw it as a powerful new medium that could replace painting in representing and documenting the world much more precisely and in much less time than could be done with brush and pigments. This of course is a statement from a very "naturalistic" point of view and perhaps the invention of photography is partly responsible for further development of arts away from mere lifelike painting.
Nowadays Fine Arts and Photography don't seem to be in an "either ... or" relation any more, but in a "both ... and ... " relation. Photography is used by many artists as either an aid (such as Chuck Close who's work would be impossible without the aid of photography) or as actual artwork. Some artists use it so they can go beyond the boundaries of painting/drawing/sculpting etc. Man Ray paints "what he can't photograph, and photographs what he can't paint."
I think "photographs can be used to depict a photographers' subjective impressions", as there are many possibilities to go beyond "click and process":
- Like a painter a photographer subjectively looks for the perfect scene and can arrange it before depicting it
- Printing can be a long and intensive creative process if you wish to make your print 'perfect', and
- image manipulation by hand or computer requires a lot a time, effort and patience similar to a lot of artistic methods.
"To me it seems that a photograph of a pretty landscape simply is another natural phenomenon like a landscape a paper landscape or a fingerprint or footprint of a landscape.", I recently read in a magazine. Can you feel the wind, can you smell the flowers or feel the real surface on this "paper landscape"?
Still, most of us, me included, are fascinated by these paper landscapes. To me, looking at good photographs is like putting myself in the photographer's position and therefore a good way of travelling without actually being there.
I have already studied philosophy for several years, but I really can't make up my mind to say if it is possible to transfer this knowledge to anybody, i.e. to teach somebody philosophy. Have You ever had the same problem and how do You solve it?
As you can see, those of us on this website are attempting to solve this problem in a way involving your choice of questions, our interest, and modern technology. But that's a superficial answer, in a sense; I assume you're asking something more along the lines of detailed methodology, and detailed content. Well, then, there are of course always Socrates' methods. I won't go into them; if you have indeed studied philosophy you know them. Why don't you think they work? They did for Plato, Socrates' pupil.
What is philosophy, in terms of what can be taught? Is it primarily content or primarily methodology? If content, what is that content; if methodology, how can that be described and taught? Speaking of content, surely you can think of many methods to teach that?
What about methodology, i.e., techniques of thinking? Well, how do you teach methods of clear and effective thinking? How is mathematics taught, for example? First, it's learning by doing, right? Second, one critiques technique in process. One might think of teaching technique in terms of teaching a craft; and how is that done? Now, I'm not asserting that teaching is easy, especially teaching methodology, no indeed... but I am asserting that it is doable, given willing pupils (and that's yet another issue, isn't it). However, there are some characteristics of philosophy, in my opinion, that make it particularly difficult. First, it primarily deals with highly abstract concepts, and those are not usually easy to grasp clearly. In fact, accomplishing that understanding is part of what must be taught. I believe it is de-emphasized in our culture because of that difficulty, but also, I believe, because learning critical and clear thinking leads (hopefully) to questioning the beliefs of one's teachers and of one's culture, and who wants a pupil who does that? The more repressive a culture, the less philosophy is encouraged (and I do not count textual interpretation, per se, as philosophy). Further, in any culture, philosophers are somewhat like monks... they preserve learning, they reason and think abstractly, they produce systems of ideas, but they do not directly (although I believe and of course I'm prejudiced they do produce valuable products) produce "goods" which people can pay for (except as teachers... and there we run into the second problem, when the pupils go home and defy their parents). What we need is a culture in which philosophy is valued, and that in turn requires an attitude toward questioning oneself and others which is usually very difficult to tolerate.
So it seems to me that teaching philosophy must go beyond conventional teaching of methodology and content into the realm of the proper means of the philosopher interacting with others in order to influence them in a way that induces a kind of questioning which is almost inevitably threatening, without being threatening. A good trick, wouldn't you say? Oh well.
Now that we've got it analyzed (joke), why don't you come up with some solutions? Historically, as far as I can see, the best solution has been to keep philosophers in the "academy", where that type of thinking is tolerated because it is isolated from the rest of the culture... a kind of intellectual ghetto, if you will. Is that the best solution? Well, it has endured around 300-400 years, in this culture... not too bad a record. Then there's this forum, and some others like it, and in addition there is the new field of philosophical therapy, which I do not expect to do very well, precisely because of the above problems.
Steven Ravett Brown
How does one become a professional Philosopher? My writings seem to revolve around the Origins of life, of matter, of the universe but I don't know where to go from here. I've applied to Humanities programs, but if I don't get into University now I may not be able to go for a while. Is a degree necessary for a naturally intuitive, able minded Philosopher to succeed in this field? I want to be well known one day, how do I do it?
Do you want to be "known" or do you want to be a philosopher? Are the two the same? What is a "professional" philosopher? You might think about those a bit. Here's what's necessary to be a "professional philosopher" as I understand that phrase. 1) learn philosophy extremely thoroughly and well, 2) learn to think very precisely, 3) find some original problems, or at least, problems recognized as such by a community of philosophers, 4) publish some approaches to solving, or if you're very lucky, some solutions to those problems, 5) defend those against the inevitable attacks, 6) use the above to get a job teaching philosophy, or to write popular books (see below).
1) requires a great deal of reading, usually guided (i.e., a graduate education in philosophy, usually). 2) requires a great deal of writing, criticized in detail (i.e., a graduate education in philosophy... usually). 3) requires 1 and some of 2, plus creativity... which latter seems very hard to teach. 4) once you've got the above, just look at journals and see which ones might be sympathetic to your point of view. Send papers to them. 5) more of 3 and 4.
In the meantime, if "professional" implies being paid for what you do, you have to find a job "doing" philosophy, i.e., teaching it, usually (which isn't usually part of 1-5, above). Is a degree necessary? No... if you're exceptionally brilliant, motivated, you work at it continuously, and you earn money by some other means... no. Colin Wilson might be considered a philosopher who succeeded without all that (but he's also a novelist, who has tried, initially successfully, to combine the two). I don't know of any modern professional philosopher, without a doctorate, who is not a novelist and making money that way, who has succeeded in doing nothing but writing technical works in philosophy, for the simple reason that you don't get paid for those (unless you're already well-known as a philosopher... then popularizing your work can sell it; or writing textbooks can sell them). Now, there might be someone who inherited wealth and has only written, with no degrees... but I can't think of who that might be, offhand, except Wittgenstein, perhaps, in his early years (I can't remember whether he had a doctorate... I don't believe so... later on, however, he repudiated his family's wealth, and taught). Nietzsche inherited money, as I recall. You can go to the books and look up biographies, if you want... but now, I think, it is virtually impossible to teach without a doctorate, and how else are you going to eat and do philosophy, long-term?
Steven Ravett Brown
I am going R.E. course work at school and I can't find much information on my third piece. The question is:
"For a Christian to die for his/ her beliefs does not make sense. It is better to live for them."
Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer, showing that you have looked at both points of view.
I don't think there is any particular 'information' that can help you. It is your own reasoning that is called for. There are various ways in which things "make sense" or do not. The everyday way in which things "make sense" accords with common sense. The philosophical way in which things "make sense" is logical. The Christian way in which things "make sense" is 'theological' i.e. it presupposes God, an absolute value. Your question does not distinguish between these three, but you need to. Therefore, from a common sense point of view:
It does not make sense to die for your beliefs because then you are no longer around to be active on their behalf. If you die for your beliefs, you lessen them, because they have one less supporter, therefore, it does not make sense to die for them and in fact you should try not to die for them, but to live for them and make them live for you.
On the other hand, it makes sense to die for your beliefs sometimes, or people may not believe that this belief is serious or to be taken seriously. For instance, you may die for what you believe to show how seriously you hold it, and also how worthwhile such a belief must be if you are willing to die for it. Or you might die for someone else i.e. in trying to save their life because you believe that you can't live without them. From a logical point of view:
Beliefs which necessitate your dying on their behalf are self-contradictory, because while you believe x or y in order to live for it, to believe it "unto death" eradicates the very source of belief, which is oneself. The belief cannot live without you. Therefore the true believer will live for what they believe and live up to it.
On the other hand, it is not necessarily self-contradictory. If it is a matter of life and death, you may need to choose death in order to show how your belief works; for instance, if I believe in the 'right to die', in euthanasia, I do not die for my belief as such, but for the human right which it upholds, this makes my death right according to what I believe. Or I could die for a good cause, like the progress of mankind, because I would know, then, that my death, helped that progress, like the doctor who caught the virus his research helped to find a cure for. From a theological point of view: The question points to the central paradox of Christianity, that: "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (Jn. 12: 24). This is essentially your answer.
For a Christian to die and for a non-Christian to die are not the same thing. In general terms it is the same, but existentially (which is what counts from the Christian point of view) it is not. For a Christian to die and for a non-Christian to die are not the same thing because the Christian is assured of life after death. You need to make this distinction. For the Christian, therefore, "death" does not mean what it means ordinarily, either in common sense or logic. Death means "death to sin", that is, death to all those things in this life which lead the soul to perdition. In this way, for the Christian, to die, is a good thing, it brings virtue and thereby, the everlasting life of the soul. What, therefore, is ordinarily called 'death', for the Christian, is a departure from the bodily state and an entry into the promised life to come. For the Christian, to live for your beliefs, is to die. This is the paradox of which the Cross is the symbol. But "to die" in the foregoing proposition does not refer to an 'event' as a terminus of what is called "life". Life, in the Christian idea is only life if it is loving, that is, self-sacrificing and up-building in virtue; otherwise it is merely a form of death which though it looks like life, is not and leads to everlasting death at the end of it. To say, therefore, that for the Christian to live for her beliefs is to die, means that it is to die to sin and death, but dying to these means living for that to which or to Whom your beliefs point, that is, God. If you copy some of this for your essay be sure to cite your source or you may be plagiarising, which they are strict on in schools over here.
Matthew Del Nevo
I recently created an argument that I think might be an ontological disproof of god's existence, but every person I have presented it to has changed the subject, or said that they would think about it and get back to me and never did, and I would really like some critiques of it, especially if any of the premises have been proven to be false. here it is in a series of categoricals (except the second conclusion):
1. Everything that thinks, changes
2. Everything that changes, is destroyed
3. Nothing that is destroyed is eternal
4. Therefore, nothing that thinks is eternal
5. Therefore, the mind of god is (not thinking or not eternal)
This would have applications to all eternal entities if true of course, but I thought about it in relation to god first and so that is how I have been presenting it. Of course it could most easily be solved by appealing to god's immanence, but then how would god decide to make a changing universe to become immanent in? Mainly it would apply to judeo-christian theology anyway.
Thank you for any and all help you can provide me with.
Brandon I think there are two basic flaws to your argument. 1. The first is that you call this a disproof of God's existence, but that is not in fact what your conclusion relates to. A more precise formulation of the issue you address might be this: "Is it consistent to believe in a god who is both rational and eternal?" If your argument holds water, this would naturally be a problem for orthodox Christianity, but it would not be a disproof of God per se. Although "God" in the Jewish-Christian tradition is a rational and eternal being, it is quite possible to conceive of a non-rational god, and even a non-eternal one. In fact many people do believe in "gods" who are not "rational" in our sense of the word.
2. The second flaw concerns your second statement, "Everything that changes, is destroyed". Here you are attempting to make an absolute statement based on empirical evidence but this cannot be done. It may be true, in our experience, that everything that changes is destroyed, but our experience is limited. Empirical science deals not in absolute truths, but in hypotheses and probabilities. The very best it can achieve on any subject whatever is a statement to the effect that "judging by the currently available evidence in the currently observable universe, this would appear to be the case". Many of these hypotheses are obviously close enough to the truth for us to live by them: Turning on a light or starting a car assumes faith in a hypothesis about the behaviour of electricity which on the whole turns out to work. But there may be evidence which we have not yet uncovered, there may be parts of the universe that we have not yet observed, and there may be combinations of circumstances, even in the world we know, which have not yet arisen. There may also be aspects of reality which are impossible to observe directly. Emotional pain, say in a divorce, is not measurable or even observable, except by introspection. All we can observe is the behaviour of those affected. Does the pain not exist? Empirical data is therefore by nature incomplete, and this means that it is not possible either to prove or disprove your second statement. Our experience of the universe may have led us to a correct hypothesis, but there is no way of testing this in absolute terms. Since your whole argument rests on the truth of this statement, this means that the argument as it stands can be neither proven nor disproven.
Immanuel Kant came to the same conclusion: The existence and nature of god can neither be proved nor disproved. If God (in the Jewish-Christian conception) exists he is by definition not bound the "laws" of the physical universe, and that means that we cannot prove or disprove his existence by studying the universe. It is therefore a matter of a priori choice, not a matter or reason, whether you believe in such a God or not.
But you are welcome to disagree if you think my argument is flawed!
Paul M Waters
Most of Brandon's argument goes through:
1. All T's are C's
2. All C's are D's
3. All D's are not-E's
4. Therefore, all T's are not-E's.
But he further concludes:
5. Therefore, God is either not-T or not-E.
Unfortunately, 'God' does not appear in any of the premises. From them one can conclude to a denial of God's existence only if one assumes that God is both T and E. But why should one assume that? (Aristotle's divine First Mover is eternal and thinks, but doesn't change and can't be destroyed. [Metaphysics, Book Lambda, 1072-1073.] Was Aristotle confused?) Also, Brandon leaves the reader uncertain as to the meaning of to change (substantially or accidentally?) and destroyed (annihilated or merely decomposed?). So the truth of the premises is uncertain. His argument has the virtue of brevity, but brevity at the cost of clarity is no bargain.
The generic concept of God relevant to philosophical theology (pro and con) was best captured by David Ray Griffin: a personal, purposive being who is supreme in power and perfect in goodness, who created the world and acts providentially in it, who is experienced by human beings and is the ultimate guarantee for the meaningfulness of human life, the ultimate ground of hope for the victory of good over evil, thereby alone worthy of worship. (Religion and Scientific Naturalism, page 90) The relevance of Brandon's syllogism to that concept, and more importantly to the effort of human minds to wrap themselves around the issue of God, is not clear.
What do you think "god" refers to in these propositions? How can god be a term of a proposition in the first place if the conclusion is that He is unthinkable? If god is "thinkable" what is being thought? If god is "unthinkable" what is not being thought? god? But in that case you're stating a tautology. In the first place, why not ask yourself if what is being thought is what is customarily meant by "god", and if not, why not? And is it the "god" of the philosophers, i.e an abstraction, like x, that is thinkable? Why cannot this abstraction be G-d that is, "the God of our fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"? What is the difference between god and God and what difference to your propositions does this difference make? Is philosophy about smart games with words, ideograms, or is it a love of wisdom in which a real philosopher rather than sophistical playing with words is ever searching out the face of that which he loves, and in which 'knowledge' is relational heartfelt and irreducible to straight information and class book answers?
Matthew Del Nevo
I'll have a go at this. I find (1) unobjectionable. I'm not so sure about (2). What about the universe as a whole? Of course, it may be destroyed in the Big Crunch, but I don't think that it must be. (3) is almost tautological. If (2) is not (always) true, then your argument fails.
In any case, I'm not sure that matters for your argument, because I understand that 'eternal', in theological terms, is usually taken to imply being outside of time and hence unchanging. My understanding is that an eternal god is (as your argument shows) necessarily unthinking, unable to intervene in time as you say, an immanent god. Thus, god cannot be the sort of god that decides to make a changing universe. Rather, he is the Uncaused Cause, or the Unmoved Prime Mover of the universe. Of course, this does not fit with most people's idea of what god is like, but there are many judeo-christian accounts of god's nature, many of them incompatible.
If we photocopy a human (not genetically but atom by atom) the new individual will have the same characters and memories (memories are chemical compounds in the brain) but still he will not have the same consciousness...why?
If we make a copy of a man (by cloning or by another way), the new creature will be a duplicate of the parent creature both in character and in other qualities. So, what is individual? That is the question you mean. Is there any thing (character, experience, talent, outlook, style...) which can help us to differentiate one person from another. If you suppose that memory is a chemical compound in the brain, we should therefore conclude that our experience and ability to perceive any things and ideas and deny the others are the results of bio-chemical reaction in our brain too. Characters, addictions and talents are the effects of chemical activity of the human brain. Answering you question, I can say: yes, copied man will have the same consciousness, and the same way of thinking, and the same experience. Because all of these phenomena belong to our brain and there is nothing, which cannot be described by bio-chemical laws.
Moreover, love and faith, in this paradigm, are chemical effects too. If we consider that our choice of partner is determined by concrete scientific bio-chemical laws, we should agree that there is no mystery and enigma in love, as well as that there is no superior impulse which galvanizes the poets into rhyme. If you think that character and memories could be copied, so you should agree that predilections and habits could be copied too. That is why copied man will love the same things (and prefer the same partners) and believe the same gods, as the original man.
I understand that this answer cannot satisfy many inquiring minds. It is very heavy to agree that someone else can feel the same emotions, see the world by the same eyes, and write the poems by the same words, and it is impossible to agree that we are animals with identical minds, senses and souls. If so, this is the question about soul. If you believe that soul exists, you should agree that nobody could copy the soul.
Christians, Jews and Muslims believe that there is only one soul, therefore we cannot make a copy of soul. That is why the Pope declares that cloning contradicts to the ideas of ethics and religion. To believe that my soul is only mine and nobody can see my own world, nobody can feel the same emotions and nobody can write the same poem seems to be the more optimistic position. But it is the question of beliefs.
If we consider that all of us have our own (inner) worlds, we should agree that there could not be accordance between people. If we have different world outlooks, we never learn and never understand each other, and we doomed on permanent conflicts. If we have different (and endless) inner worlds, we can never understand even our beloved and very familiar friends and we can never reach accordance and consensus. We never even learn about or understand ourselves. I we consider that if all of us have endless inner worlds, we should agree that we can not describe and cognize it as well as we can not control and explain our behavior.
On the other hand, it could be argued that this independence of our soul from the power of mind is the basis of our permanent interest in communication, to meet and to love. If one see in his partner the permanent secret and permanent seduction, they can live together for a many years. Because if we can not cognize the other, we have an interest to the other, because s/he keeps to be dangle (and danger) unknown universe. We can never learn the soul of other man, but, according to Levinas, in dialogue we can see the face of the Other. We love (wo)man, because we do not know her(his) soul.
philosophos.org postcard 9
What do you mean by "same"? For a few moments, at least, before the two people's experiences diverge, they will have the "same" consciousness, in the sense that their memories, feelings, sensations (if they're both looking at the same object), and so forth will be identical to each other; and they will also have the "same" body, in just that sense. As their experiences diverge, of course, they will have divergent sensations, feelings, and memories... so they will not have the same consciousnesses, in that sense of "same", after a short time interval... nor the same body. If you mean, "will there be one consciousness sharing two bodies?", i.e., one self, one "center", one unified field of consciousness spread between two bodies, why should that happen, and how could it possibly happen, since their brains are not neurally united? Since you take the position (which I agree with) that consciousness is materially generated, then it follows that two separate bodies (brains) will generate two separate consciousnesses. If those brains are identical, then the contents of those consciousnesses, i.e., their potentials, their dynamics, their biases, etc., will be identical. But that's just saying that there will exist two identical neural (and bodily, to generalize) dynamics... for a while, at least. So answering this question depends on what you mean by "same".
Steven Ravett Brown
I am very happy to meet you.
My mind is full of unsolved matters which I pursue with eagerness. The complete I-ness is residing in the concepts like Nature, soul, god, meaningful-meaningless states, life, death, purpose of life. If the purpose here is an unsolved one then how best we can lead our life until we arrive the truth or if we are not fond of purpose of life, what next, where are the current philosophy standing about this context. I request you kindly to provide all available information throughout the search around the existing world.
These are big questions. A note at the beginning: One interesting thing about philosophy is that the really big questions have not been definitively and decisively answered though many philosophers have suggested answers. It is also an open question whether these questions can be answered at all. Hence the 'current' philosophical thinking is not necessarily 'better' regarding many of these issues than that of the most ancient philosophers. (This is an important difference to natural sciences).
You mention 'purpose of life'. The term 'purpose' in this context is somewhat ambiguous. It could indicate a choice you yourself make for your personal life, or it could mean that whether you agree with it or not, your life has a purpose, which is not chosen by you, but comes from elsewhere. I will now call the first kind 'personal purpose' and the second kind 'absolute purpose'. Someone who thought that there is no God and therefore no 'absolute purpose' to life, was Sartre. He thought however, that we can live a moral life by personal choice i.e. give our life a 'personal purpose'. Someone who thought that there is an 'absolute purpose' was Aristotle. He argued that every rational activity aims at something. (Example: I go to the doctor to get healthy, I want to be healthy to feel good. I go to work to earn a living. I want to earn a living in order to buy things I need. I need things in order to ... you get the drift.) To avoid infinite regress all these activities ultimately must aim at one goal the highest 'good'. This good is happiness, because happiness is the only thing we desire for itself, and not in order to get something else. To better understand what the good for man is Aristotle argues from function: As the foot has a function to support the body and the sculptor has a function to produce statues, so man has a function. This function can most clearly be understood in the capacity unique to man and distinguishing him from other beings the capacity for reason/rational thought. So the good for man is to perform this function and to perform it well i.e. in accordance with virtue. So the best life how to live and do well is the happy life, meaning a life of virtue and contemplation (exercising man's function). What do you think is there an 'absolute purpose' to life? And if that was true, would you be obliged to go along with it?
Truth that's another one. Is there such a thing as 'absolute truth' and if there was, could we know it? Plato for example seems to have believed in the existence of absolute truths (even in their reality, not just abstractions). However there is a lot of evidence to suggest that he did not believe such truths to be attainable in this life, but believed that the soul was immortal and contemplated the truths before and after our earthly life. Aristotle disagreed with this theory (and gave some very convincing reasons for this disagreement). Sceptics have questioned the possibility of knowledge of absolute truths: One argument goes like this: All our beliefs are based on input via the senses, sense perception. Now sometimes such beliefs turn out to be mistaken. Example: A stick partly immersed in water looks bent so I assume it is bent and find when taking the stick out that this was just an optical illusion. Now if such mistakes sometimes happen, then I can never be sure that at this particular moment I am not under an illusion. (Descartes famously suggested the following scenarios: What if I am dreaming? What if an evil demon is tricking me all the time, creating delusions for me?). Therefore I can never claim to have knowledge in the sense of absolute truths based on sense perception. I cannot even be sure of my body, that others exist, that there is a world outside my own mind etc. Do you think there is such a thing as absolute truth? Or is everything a dream or an illusion? Are there only personal, that is subjective, truths?
Some other big questions surround the mind/body problem (are they the same or of the same type, how do they interact, is there an immortal soul etc.etc.), personal identity (is there a self, and if so, how to define it, what constitutes personal identity over time), moral values (are there any absolute moral laws, are there 'rights') etc.
Sound like you are embarking on a fascinating trip through the whole of philosophy have fun!
What is the precise definition of:
Do we really need so many words?
What do you philosophers think?
We do need these words since they all signify different aspects of man, although the spirit and soul mean the same thing, both have religions connotations. Spirit and soul are the part of man which is supposed by some to survive the body's destruction. This is logically possible for the mind, but in this sense the proposition that the mind might survive the body is something to be considered when looking at the nature of mind and it's relation to body, whereas the proposition that spirit or soul survives the body is connected to belief.
The ego is 'I', the self, and could be identified with the mind, the mind and body, history, survival etc. There is a lot of philosophy about the self, some of which you can find on this site.
The ego is also a psychoanalytical term introduced by Freud to describe a particular conscious agency in the mind, in contrast to drives (the id) and the moral agency (superego). The ego is that part of the mind which represents reality, but this can't be equated with man's rational faculty, since there is nothing about the superego, and the ego also has the function of controlling and repressing unacceptable drives. The function of control and repression can lead to the setting up of defence mechanisms which prevent a person from pursuing goals successfully, forming stable relationships, and can lead to forms of neurosis which are treated by ego-psychologists. The term is a theoretical one and it is possible to deny the truth of psychoanalytical theory and also the existence of the ego.
Everyone believes that man has a brain and it is arguable whether this should be identified with the mind, since the mind is essentially conscious whereas the brain is a physical thing. Again, there is a lot of philosophical discussion about this and some of it can be found on this site.
Brain processes underlie conscious states, or the mind. Discussion here centres around the question whether a particular brain process determines a particular conscious or mental state. The nature of brain process is also the subject matter of neuroscience.
I haven't provided any precise definitions, because as far as I know there aren't any, which is why we manage to do philosophy.
I'm sorry having to tell you, that there is no precise definition of any of your mentioned terms. They all refer to something beyond physical existence and are subject of a branch of philosophy, the philosophy of mind. It includes philosophical psychology, philosophy of psychology and the area of metaphysics concerned with the nature of mental phenomena and how they fit into the causal structure of reality. As we cannot point at an entity "spirit", "soul" and so on, we have to describe them and we need different words to describe the different aspects of mental phenomena. When philosophers use one of these terms, they have to explain in what sense they use it. I'll give you some examples below.
The original idea of a spirit is of a disembodied agent, as an immaterial soul or a non-material intelligent power. In the seventeenth century and earlier there was a belief in spirits as gaslike substances intermediate between matter and mind. When we talk now of the spiritual we refer to neither of these but typically to the kind of emotion one might have towards God or some other factor beyond one's material life.
Ego is what 'I' stands for, the subject's essence. Plato and Descartes thought a person could exist disembodied. Locke imagined that a prince could swap bodies with a cobbler. It is hard to see how these stories could be intelligible without conceding the existence of an incorporeal ego, a subject for thinking, feeling, and willing, which makes each person who they are. In psychoanalysis, ego is the part of the mind that is closely in touch with the demands of external reality and operates rationally. It includes some motives (such as hunger and ambition), the individual's learned responses, and his (or her) conscious thought. It has to reconcile the conflicting demands of the id, the superego, and the outside world. The human soul is that which gives life to the human being. For Aristotle, the soul was simply the form of the body, which means the way our bodies behave, and cannot exist separately from it; plants and animals also had souls of their own kinds. For Plato, most Christian theologians of the first millennium AD, Descartes, and many others, the soul was the essential immaterial part of a human, temporarily united with its body. Aquinas also held this, while emphasizing that union with a body was the natural state for a soul. Most modern philosophers deny the existence of an immaterial soul. One strong argument for the existence of such a soul given in essence by Descartes is this: I am now conscious. But it is logically possible that my body should suddenly be destroyed and yet I continue to be conscious and so to exist. But a thing such as I am can only continue to exist if some part of the thing continues to exist. So I must now already have an essential non-bodily part, a "soul", if my continued existence is to be logically possible.
Most of us will say, that consciousness exists, but it resists definition. There are some criteria for saying of some organism or state that it is conscious. Consciousness involves experience or awareness. Human mental life undoubtedly has a phenomenal side, a subjective side that even the most sophisticated information-processing systems lack.
In your opinion has the post-modern trinity of Lacan/ Foucault/ Derrida been successful in their effort to destroy philosophy? What is your opinion about other post-modern thinkers such as Vattimo and Levinas and predecessors such as Baudrillard and Bataille? Finally I'm very interested in your opinion about Cioran and how you would classify him in relation to postmodernism.
First of all, nobody from this trinity tries to destroy philosophy. All of them proposed very different ways to put the question about metaphysics.
Lacan was a psychoanalyst and he did not deal with philosophy. Of course, he influenced philosophy also, because he was serious intellectual of his time. But we can find the marks of Lacan as both psychoanalyst and philosopher in philosophy, and in linguistics, and in semiotics, and in sociology and in many other spheres of humanities. So, I do not think that he had a down on philosophy. In my mind he was very serious psychoanalyst, first of all.
Of course, reading his texts we can find the image of culture as well as education as very destructive and aggressive forces. For example, reading his "Mirror Stage" or "The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis", we learn that culture and language brings us alienation. In his opinion, alienation is the basis point of human identification. In alienation the child receives the first experience of separation, which becomes the crucial operation of signification. [Lacan, Jaqcues The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1981 p.214].
We can find many examples in Lacan to prove that he describes culture, language and education as the form of alienation, violence and separation. In education, the child receives an external system, which is intruded by the (m)other. So, culture and language is the product of other, an external and aggressive power. To become a man, the child should decline his (her) own inner world and should follow the (m)other's edification and receive the external rules of the game: language and culture. "The alienation is not the specular alienation of the mirror stage but the alienation essential to signification and the subject's relation to language. As language becomes paramount, the alienation inherent in language also becomes paramount." [Oliver, Kelly. Witnessing. Beyond recognition Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press 2001 p.188]. Language, in Lacan, is alienation and the hidden violence of culture. So, I should agree that Lacan uses the rhetoric of alienation, but we can not conclude that he ties to show all human culture as violence and evil.
In my mind, Foucault was not a postmodernist, because he died in 1984 when postmodernism had just begun. He was rather a structuralist, who tries to conceive in human history, consistent patterns of its development and the phenomena of culture: clinics, prison, and writing. He accomplished a shift in historical sciences. Before him, history was the history of main events: wars, revolutions, reforms, as well as the biographies of great persons. There were many gaps, which were not considered important: stagnation and anticlimax. Before Foucault the historian supposed that the gaps are not the matter of history, but Foucault proved that in stagnation we can find the appearance of new ideology, he shows that history really is not the history of great events, but the history of development of human's ideology. And the key periods of appearance of new forms of ideology are the gaps. In my mind, he proposed a new dimension of history, a new historical outline.
Derrida proposed the deconstruction of metaphysics, but it is not the same as destruction. Of course, all of these thinkers try to shift the subject matter and make philosophy into something new. So, that is why Derrida as well as Heidegger tries to make a bridge across metaphysics. And Derrida reminds us that his own efforts are related to Heidegger's ideology: "Among other things I wished to translate and adapt to my own ends the Heidggerian word Destruktion or Abbau. Each signified in this context an operation bearing on the structure or traditional architecture of the fundamental concepts of ontology or of Western metaphysics. But in French 'destruction' too obviously implied an annihilation or a negative reduction much closer perhaps to Nietzschean 'demolition' than to the Heideggerian interpretation or to the type of reading that I proposed." [Derrida, Jacques 'Letter to a Japanese Friend.' Derrida and Difference ed. Wood & Bernasconi, Warwick: Parousia Press 1985 p.1-2]. So, the aim of deconstruction is not to destroy philosophy and deny classical metaphysics, but it is a form of criticism and of renovation of philosophy. That is why, in my mind, Derrida proposed a new form of criticism and tried to continue the Heidegger's tradition.
These are very brief ideas on the role and efforts of Lacan, Foucault and Derrida in contemporary philosophy. My own ideas on the role of postmodern philosophy you can learn from my article from Philosophy Pathways Issue 27 which you can also find on the PhiloSophos web site here:
Dmitry Olshansky Foundations of Non-Classical Thinking.
Urals State University
How is justice related to equality and how is equality related to the distinctive identities and other circumstances of individuals such as age, race, and disability?
One aspect of justice is fair or equal treatment of human beings. People who call for equal (political) treatment (practical maxim of equality) of human beings normally hold that all human beings, just because they are human beings have the right to equal treatment in certain areas like the right to vote, equal treatment in court but also equal opportunities e.g. regarding education and jobs, and equal distribution of necessary goods e.g. medical treatment.
As you can already see from this sentence there are a number of notions linked together (which is why justice/equality is such an interesting topic) in the following I will just try and give you some ideas you may want to explore ...
The notion of equality of human beings i.e. the factual statement that human beings are equal (as the basis of the request that human beings should be treated equal). The problem with that, as Bernard Williams has pointed out in 'The Idea of Equality', in: Problems of Self (1973), is that if you take it literally it is too strong i.e. wrong because there are numerous counterexamples where human beings are clearly not equal, e.g. our genetic make-up differs, we differ in talents, upbringing, social circumstances, physical strength and health etc. On the other hand if you interpret the statement in the weak sense it is too weak, because it is trivial to say that the only thing which is equal is the fact that we are all human beings. Williams suggests that between these two extremes the factual statement could be supported by the following considerations:
1. All human beings feel pain. Any society that discriminates certain groups using a criterion like colour of the skin does so either arbitrarily (because the criterion is irrelevant) or simply acts wrongly i.e. disregarding the capacity of these human beings for feeling pain. In fact according to Williams the latter is the case, demonstrated by the fact that people/societies who act like that normally rationalise the discrimination additionally i.e. they do not say that colour of skin is sufficient for different treatment but they attribute some character deficiencies or lack of intelligence or other weakness to the group they are discriminating against. This shows according to Williams that they in fact know and agree that all human beings are equal and have therefore a claim to equal treatment.
2. All human beings have moral capacities: Kant has argued that all men deserve equal respect as moral agents. Williams finds a problem with this as Kant in order to remove this claim from contingencies (i.e. he does not want to allow the capacity for moral action to vary like other talents or capacities vary between men) makes it a transcendental capacity; this results however in the problem that there is a conflict between this vague notion of equal moral agents and the practice of holding men responsible for their actions according to their capacities (e.g. taking into account mental illness, moment of extreme anger etc.). Williams however finds that something is left of this notion in that we can request for every man that his point of view is considered, what it means for him to live his life (i.e. empathy, putting oneself in his shoes). One point Williams makes is that we should bear in mind that society can influence our consciousness (i.e. extreme oppression can lead to the oppressed adopting the same point of view, that they deserve such treatment. Therefore lack of suffering is in itself no guarantee that the system is fair).
Considering the notion of equal opportunities in unequal circumstances: Equality is often discussed regarding the distribution of (limited) goods: Williams argues that in cases of need such need should be the sufficient and operative criterion for distribution. Example: Sick people have the need (illness) and should therefore receive medical treatment (the good). The practice where money becomes a major factor in the allocation of medical treatment (rich people receive better or earlier treatment, the poor delayed, less good treatment or none at all) is according to Williams irrational. The situation regarding goods that are allocated based on merit is somewhat different they may be desired by those that do not merit them or not desired by those who merit them: Example: University education. In these cases there may be a mechanism to allocate the good e.g. certain grades to be reached at the final exams qualify you to enter university. The problem with this is that the circumstances may give certain groups an unfair advantage so that opportunities are equal only in name. Consider for example that rich people can afford tuition, can send their children to better schools etc. In those cases the question arises whether these underlying circumstances should be altered to provide truly equal opportunities? Williams sees a problem regarding where to draw the line e.g. should one (if it were possible) use brain surgery, genetic modification to erase differences that give advantage to more talented/ intelligent children? Carried to the extreme the notion of equal opportunity collides (and threatens to obliterate) the notion of personal identity and also the notion of equal respect deserved despite existing differences.
Robert Nozick has criticised the idea of need giving a right to receive certain goods. He pointed out that e.g. in the case of medical treatment the doctor providing the treatment has a legitimate right to want to make a living out of his talent/skill, and that this is the important consideration in the distribution of medical treatment. Nozick thinks society should not interfere with unequal situations that have arisen as the result of legitimate actions. You can think for example of a situation where some people chose to save their money, and pay for a better education of their children, the children consequently get better jobs, they marry in the same social circle and due to good connections do even better etc. The resulting inequality is the outcome of normal and legitimate actions. Nozick holds that people are entitled to have and keep property that they have legitimately earned (notion of entitlement).
It is noteworthy that often people argue for certain rights (which in fact both Williams and Nozick do in this discussion) without explaining where these rights come from (are there natural moral laws and rights or not?).
Consider also this: Is my need to eat a cake a sufficient reason for you to give me your cake or a piece of it (Williams)? On the other hand is your having the cake legitimately a sufficient reason for me not to take it from you if I want it (Nozick)? Is it not after all a question of power to take or to keep the cake? And could one not argue that society is a finely-balanced system of power structures where for example the need of the poor for medical treatment is met not just because of the need but because all of us together have a mutual agreement where all pay tax so that such expenses can be met should we ever need them etc. Obviously we feel differently about need for cancer treatment than requests for luxury goods, so should society provide for basic needs of all? What are these basic needs? And is it ultimately not a case of what a society can afford, and therefore a question of wealth?
In a restricted sense of 'justice' consider justice in court in democracies people are supposed to be equal before the law, but the rich and famous can afford better counsel and can take their case if required through numerous appeals, which is much more difficult for the poor. Education might also play a role in whether you realise all the options you have to make your case. Again existing circumstances can give the advantage to certain groups as opposed to others.
This is more of a request for an opinion rather than a direct question. I have recently graduated with a BSc (computer science) and while at uni took a few philosophy (ethics, epistemology & metaphysics) and biology papers (evolution). I had always considered myself to be an agnostic but now after much study and contemplation can see no other alternative other than atheism. I am interested in the personal beliefs of philosophers regarding theism. I note that Geoffrey Klempner has stated he used to be an atheist. If anyone shares this view, can they please tell me what they believe now and why?
What immediately sprang to mind on reading this question were some appropriately irreverent items of philosophical graffiti:
God is dead but won't lie down.
On a scale of death, God is mostly dead.
God is not dead merely pining for the fjords ( The Python Defense).
All of which may seem a facetious response to one of the big puzzles of our century; what is it in our species that makes us re-invent God as a Central Organising Principal (C.O.P) or makes us vulnerable to G.O.D Corp. (God On Delivery Corp) in it's many guises?
I once attended a lecture by the physicist Pokinhorn who was talking to the teachers, of whom I was one, of a school in the village of which he was a famous son. He was advocating the 'God stirs the mix' conjecture but could not find a response to the Popperian charge of executing a metaphysical sleight of hand by representing an essentially irrefutable conjecture disguised as a theory of physics. I enjoyed the debate and felt that I had won the game of philosophical tennis even though I was denied the authority of institutional truth.
At an intellectual level I cannot justify the concept of 'faith' when it is based purely on the propositional concept of truth and knowledge. Yet statistically we can see that people move in and out, out and in, stay in, stay out of religious belief. So a scientific account of the world our species inhabits must take this fact into account. It also has to consider the feeling we can have at moments of life-threatening crisis that we want there to be a finger stirring up the probabilities or throwing the dice to shake up the cards in what may seem to be a certain hand expressing extreme prejudice towards us or our loved ones.
So when you have these experiences how do you reconcile the logically driven intellectual view of faith with the emotionally driven view? My personal solution is that I do not see these positions as separately haunting the devil's horns but as indiscernibly conjoined twins dancing on the devils nose, too close to be seen in focus.
At a deep and purely speculative level I believe there are finite logico-group like mechanisms in cells that are 'writ large' in the body of complex organisms and which operate on, in and through us of which we can have knowledge through their emergent works, i.e. what we do, what we know and what we want.
More specifically, I believe that humans have a high level cognitive system the products of which are what we call 'thought' of which the objects are vehicles for disjunctively joined propositional and value content. Education, experience, situations and disposition may dilate or inhibit either of the two passengers so that thought becomes mostly propositional or mostly value based but there is still, even in polarized individuals a residual channel in which the two are still twinned. Within this system there are two distinct units, one of which takes the world as it is as its objects and the second which acts on the objects in the world wants to change or maintain our world. This second unit is also a part of our world and so is subject to its own dynamic.
Within this highly personal and idiosyncratic view, 'faith' and 'hope' can be seen as the emergence of the deep and permanent working of our organism which in normal times may be skewed towards the opposite poles of rationalism and emotivism but in situations involving personal catastrophic crisis almost certainly will default to an unpolarised position in which both propositional and value channels of thought merge, mix and churn turbulently but within which there are created islands of calm from inside which we can reconstruct our world.
From a logical point of view I think our world is perceived within the flow control logic of a three valued classification system consisting of satisfaction, non-satisfaction and indifference the deep constituents of which are propositional and value channels carried in an expectation nucleus. In a crisis or when searching, our thoughts wander across all three states but we can default to an attitude of indifference towards a situation or consciously choose this position above satisfaction, dissatisfaction or frustration. Though most of us I believe default to the latter and become satisfied with non-satisfaction, a self-locking state of affairs.
As you can probably tell there is a theory about to jump up and bite you. While it is mostly developed I haven't as yet worked it through enough situations to offer you a well founded critical method that allows you to think about and retain your beliefs while systematically doubting them while at the same time offering you a vehicle sound enough to replace them.
But I am working on it.
Sgt Greene asked:
Regarding the question that was posed to Ray Kurzweil, concerning "an entity capable of suffering deserves moral consideration."
My question to you sir, if the above statement is true, is it fair to say that the killing of entities such as animals that support nutrients to the human race is wrong? If it is wrong, what is the basis for it to be wrong, in the areas of philosophy, values and beliefs sir?
Gunnery Sergeant Greene
United States Marine Corps
Singer's key argument that we ought to treat animals as morally important rests on the following argument:
1. An interest is an interest whoever's it may be.
2. Animals have interests.
3. We ought to consider the interests of all those affected by an action.
4. We should act in a way that is most likely to maximise the interests of those affected.
5. Therefore we are not justified in treating human interests as more important than animal interests.
6. Suffering allows animals to fit into this framework since, "A mouse does have an interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is" (Singer Animal Equality).
7. Therefore, it is not objectively wrong to kill an animal for food since there may be circumstances where the interests of the person(s) killing the animal for food outweigh the interests of the animal. Unfortunately for meat eaters there are ways of obtaining all our dietary requirements without the use of animals, therefore not to kill for food is better than to kill.
The basis of this sort of wrongness is in Utilitarian ethics which looks at the consequences of acts as opposed to the acts in themselves; Peter Singer is perhaps the most important utilitarian around.
I think that he is wrong for two reasons, first I think that utilitarian ethics is wrong and therefore don't accept arguments derived from it, I'll not go into this here. Within his framework I still think he is wrong, he moves from the proposition that animals can suffer to the proposition that they have interests, which is wrong. I offer as a counterexample a sadomasochist who actively seeks out suffering. Perhaps this is not what singer means, but here I believe he makes the mistake of confusing:
i. It is in the best interests of x that y
ii. x has an interest that y.
This distinction can be illustrated by comparing:
iii. It is in the best interest of Mike that he ceases smoking
iv. Mike has an interest that he ceases smoking.
It is clear that iii doesn't entail iv. Now given this distinction, the way to find out what interests an animal can have is not through attributing to them what we consider to be in their best interests, but through what they themselves consider to be in their interests. Unfortunately I don't think that animals are the kind of things that have interests since to have an interest that something you must be a rational animal, a requirement I think animals fail to meet. I'll not argue the point here but for reference see:
Davidson, Donald "Rational Animals" in Actions and Events, Le Pore, Ernest (ed), pp. 473-481
Well this is a dilemma which has puzzled people for thousands of years. Is it moral to kill animals for food? And various groups and societies have come up with various answers to this question. The classical Buddhist answer is that any human and animal (and I'm not actually sure how much the Buddhists separate humans from other animals) killing is wrong, and that we should all be vegetarians. Not unreasonable, especially these days, when you can eat a perfectly fine diet with a wide variety of meat substitutes, protein supplements, etc. Hindus have much the same answer, for similar reasons: if you kill an animal, you may be killing a human being in the process of working off their bad karma in an animal body. So you've interrupted someone, in a series of rebirths, potentially on the path to enlightenment. Christians don't seem to have qualms in this matter because of the Catholic Church's position (and I don't actually know whether Catholics still hold this; nor indeed which of the huge number of Christian sects hold it and which do not; but this was, at least, the Medieval position) that animals don't have souls, so you're not killing a being that can suffer in any deep sense.
So what we need to do, first, is to assume that animals can suffer. Is this so unreasonable an assumption? We share something like 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and quite a bit with the other apes. So neurally, they basically have the same structures we do. We can demonstrate that stimulation of various nerves, brain centers, etc., results in human suffering... can one then claim that stimulation of virtually identical brain structures in apes does not? I don't think so. The structures are the same, the resulting behavior is the same... what more do you want? That's about all you get from other people, right? As we go through the animals, then, we find that mammals, at least, have, again, virtually the same structures that we do... much smaller, with some alterations, etc... but the lower-level structures, responsible for emotions, remain very analogous to ours. I think that it's safe to say that they suffer pain, to some extent, and feel pleasure, to some extent. I'll stop with mammals and avoid the fowl/fish issue here for the sake of brevity.
So then the questions become: a) is killing animals immoral, b) is animal suffering immoral. These aren't the same, since it is possible to kill with virtually no suffering: by drugs, for example. But we can start by posing similar questions about human beings. I'm making, for the sake of this discussion, a distinction between humans and animals which is pretty hard to justify in any hard and fast manner, but given the strong prohibitions we have against eating humans, and the weak ones against eating animals, I think that in this context it's justified. Is killing humans moral? Is human suffering moral? Well, of course, the answers are not absolute. You're a soldier, and so you regard killing in war as moral (or so I assume). So there are circumstances, for you at least, in which human killing is moral, and, since suffering in war is inevitable, also circumstances in which human suffering is moral. I'll take your position to be correct, for the sake of this discussion (and clearly there are people who would disagree... but we'll ignore arguments claiming that any killing of humans is immoral, or that killing is an absolute last resort). But you (I will also assume) also hold that in many, indeed most, circumstances, killing humans is immoral. What justifies killing, then? The threat of being killed, right? If others are threatening you, your society (a group of people associated with you in various ways), etc., with death, then you regard killing them either in retaliation for past killings or to prevent future killings which you regard as highly likely, as moral.
Am I right? The threat or reasonable potential of death for you and/or people you regard as your society justifies killing those who you have reason to believe will carry out that potential threat. I'll take that as your position, since we can't discuss it directly to clarify it further. Ok? Now, when is human suffering moral? Clearly, in the above circumstances it must be, since suffering is inevitable in those circumstances. Are there other circumstances in which human suffering is moral? Well, if someone must suffer in order to avoid greater suffering later, then we usually take that to be moral; and if some few suffer in order to prevent either the killing or the suffering of many, then we usually assume that it is moral also. I am quite consciously ignoring the obvious problems with determining what the "amount" of suffering is, how to compare various peoples' suffering, and so forth.
So basically, the common position (and really, I haven't justified this in any deep way; I'm just taking more or less normal positions on killing and suffering as correct, for the sake of discussion) is that killing in order to prevent more killing is moral; suffering in order to prevent either more suffering or killing is moral. A sort of additive morality, which has lots of problems when we actually try to figure it out in the real world... but we need something to go on, right?
Now that's all with humans. What about animals? Well, I have taken the position, above, that animals can suffer. If you don't hold that, then we just can't go further: then you think that animals are little machines; they may behave as if they suffer, but that's just behavior. If you do, then just have at it; chopping up a dog is just like throwing a dish at your TV set, right? Descartes held that position... but I don't, and I'm not going to in this discussion, for reasons given above.
Since we have an additive position on morality and suffering, we take the same for animals. First, animals can suffer to different extents, similarly to humans (human/animal distinction again assumed). Now the big question: is animal suffering as bad, pain for pain, as human suffering? Whoops. How do we answer that? Let's take a little teeny animal that everyone acknowledges is really stupid: a porcupine (hedgehog, to Brits), say. Or we could take a cow... whatever you think is really the bottom of the mammals, insofar as intelligence, awareness, capacity for feeling, etc. (no offense to animal lovers here... I'm just trying to get to the far end of the spectrum from us, inasmuch as that's possible). So when we cut a porcupine, does it (the porcupine) hurt? Yes, by the reasoning above. Is its pain as bad, morally speaking, as the pain when we cut another person? No... you say...? Why not? Well, if it's not "as conscious" as us, then its pain is not as intense, or at least, its suffering is not as intense. Ok... not unreasonable, given other differences we see more clearly, like intelligence, neural structures, and so forth. I will assume this for the sake of our discussion. But really, how do we judge this? And also, notice that if we make this judgment, we are forced to make it within humans also. Not a very comfortable conclusion, right? But how do we escape it? On the other hand, putting everything, all animals, all humans, on the same level, insofar as feelings go also seems wrong. Is it really justifiable to claim that all mammals feel equally, given that there are clear differences in cognitive, linguistic, neural, etc., capacities? I will assume not, and that is the position normally held... but you can see the problems here.
But second, it really seems that we have to look at the consequences of feelings as well. That is, killing a human being (and/or human suffering) has, potentially at least, greater consequences for the world than the killing (or the suffering) of a porcupine, even at that latter's most influential. This is a strange and interesting consequence of looking at feelings, isn't it... that in order to evaluate the value of a feeling, we must go beyond the feeling to it's consequences. But really, we do that for all actions, don't we, and a feeling is at least a kind of internal action. So let's go with that, again for the sake of discussion. Well, if we go this way, then everything falls into place, in a simplistic kind of way. Animal suffering is bad (immoral), yes, but not as bad as human suffering. Killing animals is bad, but not as bad as killing humans. I've got to say that I personally am not unhappy with this conclusion; it does seem in line with normal moral reasoning, and indeed with reasoning as it applies to humans exclusively as well (but we have seen some of the problems with it, above). That is, we do, when we're making hard judgments about killing and suffering with respect to people, judge in just the above manner: it's hard and painful, but we have to try, on the basis of both the depth of feeling and the consequences of feelings (and other factors, obviously), to grade or rank the morality of various alternative actions. And we do that grading or ranking, I believe, in something like the above manner.
Now... yes, as I say, the above distillation and compression of morality into one easy-to-digest paragraph is pretty ridiculously simplistic... but I'm trying to answer a question here, and I've already written a huge amount for this forum. Enough.
So, then, to answer your question. Is killing animals to eat wrong? Not if you have to, to eat, since humans have more value than animals. Less, if the animals don't suffer. What if you don't have to, to eat? Well, you know, I just don't know the answer to that, and here's why: you go to a market, and there's dead animals. Will your not eating them help them? No. Will it stop other animals from being killed in the future? Maybe, depending, I would think, pretty much on where the market is, how much your not eating them is noticed, how much economic effect it has, etc. Should you avoid eating animals on the chance that it might stop them being killed? Probably yes, given a) that it might have that effect, and b) that your not eating animals will not cause human suffering. First, do you have alternatives available? Second, there are people who live by hunting, meat processing, and farming, etc., and they can't just walk away from that, even if they want to; they're part of huge social systems, not to mention having families to support. Not an easy situation, then, with easy answers. But the trend, I think, the way we should try to move things generally, should be towards not killing animals and towards not having them suffer unnecessarily.
Steven Ravett Brown
I think that the view "an entity capable of suffering deserves moral consideration," does not imply (as you seem to think) that animals should not be used for food. Some might think so, but to say that entities which can suffer should have moral consideration might imply only that they should not be treated cruelly, nor given pain for no reason. So, a person might hold that animals may be killed for food, or even for other purposes, as long as the killing is done with the least amount of pain practically possible.
Hope this helps.
What is memory? How important is it to my identity? Why is my short term memory getting worse as I age? Why am I starting to remember random things from my childhood that I haven't thought about since they happened? Along the same lines (I think), what is the current thinking on the phenomenon of deja vu?
An enormous question which has puzzled both philosophy and science for thousands of years. From a materialist point of view scientists, although admitting to being baffled by certain aspects, believe that they are now nearer to solving the problem, however, they have still a long way to go to convince most philosophers. In philosophy memory is a very important facet of philosophy of mind.
Both philosophy and science accept that the mind is daily bombarded with an enormous amount of information: this information is subjected to a very critical filtering process, links are made with already stored information and some of the new information is added to the store, the rest is rejected. However, some scientists claim that nothing is actually rejected and any piece of information could be recalled under the right conditions. For example, it is claimed that vital facts have been recalled by witnesses in legal arguments when subjected to hypnosis.
Because we can know ourselves only because we can remember, we are also involved with theory of knowledge (epistemology). When we investigate knowledge of ourselves, knowledge of our lives past and present, we are directly involved with memory. We are daily involved with two sorts of memory, short term (working) memory, and long term memory. Although it is common practice to identify the two types of memory as separate activities they are constantly interacting, and are totally interdependent. An impaired working memory means that we cannot learn anything new, and hence cannot pass new information into the long term memory. An impaired long term memory, on the other hand, means that the working memory is unable to retrieve information from the long term storage, and hence we would be suffering from dementia or alzheimer.
It is very much a fact of life that our minds are constructed to form habits. Careful analysis of everyday activity reveals the fact that we are very much dependent on habit. Further analysis discloses that habit and long term memory have a lot in common. Constant repetition eventually develops into habit, we progress from having to think about things to doing them automatically, seemingly without thinking. Consider the examples of learning to ride a bicycle, to drive a car, to play an instrument, knowing which way to turn when you leave your house to go on an errand or to work, talking to a passenger and driving, as though two separate minds are at work, etc.. The learning process is difficult, the working memory cannot retain much data, and only then for a short time, hence we have to repeat things over and over again until by some process or other a memory trapping mechanism transfers the data to long term memory. If this did not happen we would daily be in serious trouble, every event would have to be re-thought. Every important and necessary event in our normal everyday activity has been committed to memory; because we are so used to performing everything automatically we fail to recognise that we are relying on memory.
The memory is very efficient and once information is established within it, unless we are beset by some disease or accident to the brain we do not forget. Some claim that there is no such thing as a bad memory and that more people suffer from not being able to forget things that haunt them than do from not being able to remember. Also, how many people are unable to immediately repeat the alphabet when called on to do so?How many people would fail to be able to count to a thousand or more immediately?Say the nursery rhymes of their childhood? etc. Children of pre-war years and later who learned their lessons by rote were far more efficient in mathematics, spelling, poetry, literature, etc.. The decline came with the advent of calculators and other memory saving gadgets. There is no doubt that constant repetition, i.e. constant pressure on short term memory, eventually leads to transfer to long term memory. Also, as I used to tell my students, interest is the bedrock of memory. On the first day of the new academic year I would point to the door and advise that anyone not really interested in the subject ought to leave, as they were wasting both their own time and mine.
Having gone some way to answering your question on identity by saying that we can know ourselves only because we can remember, consideration of what has been said about long term memory should complete the picture. Memory ensures that we can locate ourselves in space and time. The bigger question is, What is the self that does the locating? If the self is not the memory but something that uses the memory, then your question about identity takes on a new meaning. Hume gave a great deal of thought to this problem and found that he could never identify a self observing events of memory, he was somehow just aware of memories.
Difficulties arise not with memory itself but the mechanism of recall; when we make mistakes the memory itself is not at fault if the wrong information is recalled. Also, the memory is not at fault if we find it difficult to recall something. As we age somehow or other, no one is quite sure how, our faculty of recall becomes less efficient. The memories are still there but we find it more difficult to locate them. Usually it is a slowing down condition, we need more time to recall events or names etc. It is noticeable when an elderly person meets someone in the street whom they know well but cannot instantly recall the name. This is not sign of a disease but a process of ageing. Dementia and alzheimer are diseases suffered by a relatively few people and should not be confused with the natural ageing process. Many people retain very efficient memories into very old age. The more we use the mind and exercise the memory the more likely we are to retain our faculties to the end of our lives, however long that may be.
I have no idea of your age, but remembering random things from childhood is not unusual as we get older. I am not claiming that this is true in your case, but very often as a person gets older nostalgia creeps in, they feel less to belong less to a modern world subject to values which seem less appealing than those that were instilled into them when they were younger. Also, children are more curious and learn more rapidly and more efficiently, memories strike home with greater impact and stay there, suggesting again that interest is the bedrock of memory.Your experiences are proving the point that we do not lose the memories established in long term memory, and that we are here involved with the recall system. Unless we are concentrating on something the recall facility becomes free ranging, and often in relaxation will wander into the long term memory and release random events into consciousness. Older people call this day-dreaming.
With regard to deja vu science has never relinquished its notion that this is a fleeting disorientation of the mind which happens to almost everyone during a lifetime. Scientists will never accept a mystic explanation. However, some philosophers, and others with an orientation towards mystic events might consider deja vu to have something to do with the continued survival of mind and the possibility of reincarnation. Most scientists are bent on proving that mind, memory and mystic events are to do with neuro electricity, proteins, hormones and genes.
Something is really bugging me and I have been arguing with two of my teachers. My english and philosophy teachers claim that we can have false knowledge. From what I have read, the definition of knowledge as "justified, true belief" has truth as a condition of knowledge. Then how can one know something false? If something that we knew turned out to be false, can it be said that we have known it? And do we still know it?
My philosophy teacher tells me that all that I have read regarding the fact that we can know only that which is true is crap. I can only accept his point of view if the definition of knowledge didn't include the word "true", therefore rendering justification enough of a condition for knowledge. After all do we really know what truth is? Please clarify this for me. Are my teachers right?
Your question makes a lot of sense. Is it possible to have knowledge about something that is not true? Theoretically, truth is part of the definition of knowledge. It seems senseless "to know" a falsity.
There are two ways to approach the question. The first is related to language; the second is related to temporality.
Let's start with language. A reflection on the use of "to know" is necessary. Suppose the following situation: someone complains about having a headache. You ask him a question: are you sure you have a headache? (Assuming he might be simply pretending to have a headache). His answer (a little offended perhaps) is: "I know I have a headache!" It makes sense, doesn't it? He used the verb "to know" to emphasize a trivial fact his headache.
Now does the phrase "I know I have pain" always makes sense? Let's see: suppose someone simply says "I know I have a headache" You might ask a question: "How come? In what kind of situation could you say that you don't know whether or not you have a headache?" See, Carmen, the use of "to know" is quite specific. It seems reasonably normal to say "I know I have pain" but to say otherwise "I don't know if I have pain" sounds weird. In fact, the use of "to know" in both cases proves to be an inappropriate use of language. We do it all the time; we use words or concepts in situations in which they don't fit exactly. In the case of knowledge, we can only say that we know something if also makes sense to say that we don't know something. It is appropriate, for instance, to say "I know it will rain tomorrow" because it is also appropriate to say "I don't know if it will rain tomorrow". To be short: knowledge is not related to the truth, but to the possibility of truth. Thus, it is possible to know something that is not true: forecasters are experts in it!
Another way to approach the question is from the temporality point of view. Some centuries ago, scientists affirmed that Earth was the center of the Universe. They "knew" it was true. Experiments proved that fact. It was scientific knowledge. Then someone realized that things were not quite so. It was discovered that Earth is not the center of the Universe. Moreover it moves around the Sun, not the other way around. It was a great scientific revolution, wasn't it? What now? Did the scientists that "knew" the Earth was the centre of the Universe know something?
The answer is yes. They knew, but they were wrong. That is quite different from saying that they didn't know. Their knowledge in due time proved to be mistaken. What was true in a certain period of time became false in another one. It may sound strange, but it's quite simple after all: what you know today is what is true today.
A more trivial example: Your name is Carmen. You know it as well as your family, your friends, and so do I. All of a sudden you come across a document proving your name is actually, say, Carmena. Does it mean you didn't know your own name all the time? Of course not. You merely had a wrong knowledge, in due time corrected.
If you combine the two approaches of knowledge, it becomes clear that is possible to know something that is not true. Such is philosophy.
I do not agree with your teachers; I think that their positions are derived from post-modernist writings, which thankfully are beginning to be severely questioned. Those writers take truth to be culturally and socially determined at best, and at worst completely undeterminable. Given that, one must of course revise a definition of "knowledge" so that truth as anything universal does not enter into it. Fortunately, as I say, there are many scientists today who are causing philosophers to reappraise that position. No matter where you are, in what culture, or whatever you may believe, when you flip a light switch the light comes on (and if it doesn't, you can easily find out why). There's a lot of physics behind that simple action, and it holds universally. This is just one example of phenomena which are rather hard to explain away as culturally biased truths. One may proclaim that physics is based on uncertainty, on "constructs" like virtual particles, etc... but those people are still faced with the problem of backing up a claim of cultural bias for science when machines like the electric light, the toaster, the automobile, the computer, and for that matter, the atomic reactor, a machine directly dependent on just such low-level "constructs", just keep plugging along, no matter what culture they're in, or whether the people around them understand them or believe they should or shouldn't work.
The postmodern anti-truth bias of course has its own problems in that very area: how can an assertion of non-universality be true, if there is no truth? But aside from that rather obvious paradox, claims that the lack of rigor in scientific methodology or theories, or the fact that such theories are incomplete and subject to revision, implies either that they are not true or that there is no truth to be found, is quite simply a misunderstanding of the scientific process and its dependence on induction and on extended processes of verification, both quite necessary, but disconcerting to those who want easy answers and absolute certainties.
One very simple argument against the postmodernists is to walk over to the nearest light switch, flip it a couple of times, and raise your eyebrows. If they still don't get it, well.... "Flippancy" aside, you might check out these modern and enlightened philosophers of science, who have extended arguments supporting the same points as mine: Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science; science without legend, objectivity without illusions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Giere, R. N. (1999). Science without laws. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Steven Ravett Brown
To start with, let's clear up an ambiguity: There is a distinction between knowing that a proposition is false, and knowing a false proposition.
In this case, what you are doing is knowing that it is true that a particular proposition is false. For instance, I know that it is false that the earth is flat, Which is to say, I know it is true that it is false that the earth is flat. So, if knowing what is false only means knowing that a particular proposition is a false proposition, that's fine.
But if your teacher really means that you can know about a true proposition that it is false, then that teachers is just contradicting himself. After all, when I say, "I know that London is the capital of the United Kingdom, I am just saying elliptically (or for short) I know it is true that London is the capital of the United Kingdom.
It is hard to argue against your teacher unless he/she gives an argument for his view or, as least, gives an example or two of "false knowledge." Sometimes people confuse the fact that I may think or believe I know something, when it turns out that the something I believed I knew turned out to be false. In that case, of course, I never knew it in the first place, but only thought that I knew it. As soon as I discovered that I was mistaken, I would have to concede I did not know, and withdraw my claim to know. That is one of the big differences between knowing and believing. When I believe something, even if someone shows I am wrong, I can still maintain that I did (at the time) believe it, although I don't believe it anymore. But, unless I was insincere when I said I believed it, then even if I believed what was false, I still believed it. The matter is entirely different with knowing. When I said (sincerely) that I knew, then I did think I knew. But when I find our that I was mistaken, I can no longer maintain I knew anyway, even if I was wrong. I have to concede I did not know in the first place. Very different from belief, don't you agree. And, of course, it is said that for thousands of years people "knew" the earth was flat. But notice the inverted commas around "know" in the above. Those inverted commas mean that the term "know" in being used in a deviant sense. That those people did not really know the earth was flat. How could they have if it was round? The fact, if it is one, that a great many people believe something is true does not mean it is true. History shows that there have been numerous cases when many people, perhaps a whole society, have thought they knew what was in fact false.
So, I think your teacher is simply wrong, and maybe he is wrong because he confuses:
1. Knowing that something is false, with knowing something false
2. Believing one knows something and really knowing it
3. A whole people or society thinking they know something, and their really knowing that thing.
What impact can philosophy have on politics and peace in the world today?
Philosophy can only have an impact if people are prepared to listen and to debate. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that those who wield great power in the world today would be disposed to listen to, or to debate, philosophical views pertinent to political attitudes or to world peace. It is highly unlikely that we would ever come across a political party, or government for that matter, indulging itself in a debate on the political views of Plato, Locke, Hume, and others, despite the fact that a basic conception arising from these sources underlies the idea of democratic government. This idea is based on the belief that politics constitute a two way agreement; a government assumes the right to lay obligations on its subjects, traditionally construed as a moral right:on the other hand, subjects are considered to have an obligation to comply with what the law requires, this too is regarded as a moral obligation. Locke puts forward the general view that government can have no other foundation than consent. Hume agrees with this, but at the same time observes that it fails to correspond to the realities of life in political societies. Political obligations are taken to consist of all those obligations we have as a result of laws to which we are subject. However, the focus of much controversy is how one person or group of persons could come to have such a right to the obedience of others.
Hume was right in his day and would still be right in this modern age, the reality of the political set-up is a long way from the naive theory put forward by Locke. There is still an underlying idea that somehow politicians are elected to to carry out the will of the people, certainly in Britain this is the notion implied during elections, however we always note a different outcome after the election, when the victorious party sets about to do virtually as it wishes.
The basic sense of politics is completely lost in the party system, where electors are deluded into the idea that they are making a real democratic choice, Sadly, if the elected party is failing the only real choice available for the electors is to reinstate the party they previously kicked out. Is it any wonder that interest in politics is waning rapidly. No work is ever done on changing the system, certainly the politicians themselves seem not to wish to do anything about it; this is because their loyalty is to the party rather than to the public who they are supposed to represent. this is certainly an area in which philosophy could have an impact.
Televising parliament has been a revelation for the general public and has gone a long way to creating disenchantment. Many times people are amazed to find that issues they consider of major importance are being debated by a handful of disinterested M P's of which half of them have nodded off. Often they find that their own representative has not even bothered to turn up. However, they will note that issues which are vital to the well-being of the party are extremely well attended. This forces the opposition to turn up in strength to try to make life difficult for their opponents. Is it any wonder that most people see politics as nothing more than a silly game which is costing the nation a fortune. Here again philosophy could have a massive influence.
Power seeking is still a major objective in politics. However, this situation has now become more serious owing to the fact that governments are not the only holders of power and influence in the modern world. Global capitalism is now causing great concern, and the access to governments by huge multinationals is very disturbing. Big business is progressively taking priority over human issues, and governments are not only turning a blind eye to what is going on but some often seem to be in collusion. We find very little being done to stop deforestation, global warming, over-fishing, whaling, climate pollution, etc..The excuse being that interference in these issues will "upset the economy." Philosophy could certainly have a lot to say in this area, and could certainly provide a close analysis and interpretation of what capitalists mean by "the economy."
With regard to peace in the world, politics rather than providing a solution is usually, along with religious extremism, the instigator of hostility. Moral philosophy and philosophy of religion could certainly provide alternative approaches, but again, who would listen? The answers will not come from philosophical intrusion but from increasing public awareness of what is going on in the world, and eventually something akin to a global revolution.
What is Paul Churchland's argument for eliminative materialism? What is 'eliminative materialism'?
What is the contribution or potential contribution, of pragmatism to the philosophy of science? What exactly is 'the philosophy of science'?
What part does empiricism play in Deleuze's philosophy?
Eliminative materialism doesn't reduce the mental to the physical, so you can be a realist about the consciousness as well as an eliminative materialist. Rather it is the view that psychology is to be eliminated in favour of a more scientific account of human behaviours, which doesn't mean we necessarily have to give up psychological talk, just that it is false. Churchland has a four part argument for eliminative materialism. Firstly, that we can't reduce psychological states to underlying neurological states because different types of systems can underlie functional states hints that psychological descriptions are false. Secondly, it is obvious that though we have used folk psychological description of behaviour in terms of belief and desire for thousands of years, we haven't advanced very far and have little understanding of memory and sleep, for instance, and thirdly, it doesn't explain abnormal cases of human behaviour. Finally, folk psychology isn't really a developing system of explanation, and remains primitive and although it seems deeply ingrained as part of our conceptual scheme, there is no reason why it can't be given in the same way as "caloric" and "phlogiston" have been. Furthermore, other theories such as an identity theory seek matches between intentional states and neurological states without developing probabilistically in terms of likely success, so it is plausible to take the position that there is no such thing.
The impossibility of inter-theoretic reduction may well be true. However, it is argued in favour of folk psychology and against Churchland that we are making psychological advances and that depth psychology which applies to abnormal human behaviours is an extension of folk psychology.
I'm afraid I don't know much about the philosophy of science but, according to my dictionary, it is the critical examination of the methods and results of the sciences. The pragmatist holds that a scientific theory is true if it helps explain the relations between our experiences, so it is anti-realist. The pragmatists Dewey and Peirce stressed the social nature of science rather than whether or not scientific theories adequately describe the way things are. The main contribution is that a scientific theory is accepted rather than true which justifies scientific induction and has allowed scientific methods to expand into non-physical realms such as psychology. Pragmatism is an approach to theorising that allows Deleuze, in analysing a cinematic image to say at one point "Knowing whether an image is subjective or objective no longer matters"
On the Deleuze question, British Empiricists hold that we acquire knowledge of the world from experience, which is not the sort of empiricist Deleuze claims to be. He calls himself a transcendental empiricist and introduces a level of immanence, or being as Life, which would be necessary for knowledge and so knowledge could not be simply built from Humean impressions and relations. Thought, for Deleuze creates the truth, shaping the way we see things, both empirically and aesthetically. Images come dominated by thought and separation and the empirical image has no priority over metaphorical understanding in this sense. So this is not British Empiricism, since while Deleuze says that the sensible comes first (as British Empiricists understand the basis of knowledge), for Deleuze, this is not simple Humean sense ideas or abstract Lockean ideas, since for Deleuze the sensible comes as something already actualised or differentiated by thought, determined by both movement (our bodies) and sense experience.
French empiricism, unlike British, is a form of naturalism, rather than an account of how we acquire knowledge and though it gives priority to sensory experience over the rational but Deleuze allows for a variety of enriched experiences which cannot be reduced to ordinary empirical experience which is why he is a radical empiricist. Searching the internet I find there is a book called Multiplicity and Becoming: The Pluralist Empiricism of Gilles Deleuze, Studies in European Thought XV which you might want to look at if you need background in European thought and empiricism.
Looking into how Deleuze is classified, I find that in the philosophy of the desiring subject, Deleuze is called a naturalist, yet in his theory of literature, he is called an idealist.
In his theory on literature, Deleuze has been called a "structural idealist" (see Literary and Theory and Poetry ed. David Murray) because of his creation of a de-territorialized "cultural space", and in his cinematic work he takes the medium to have it's own expressive space, differing from the empirical, and given his claim that the cinema contributes to the way we view the world, again Deleuze might be described as a non-empiricist but forces which give rise to cultural or a filmic space, give rise to a structured experience, even if the force is not directly from the objective world. There are different types of force giving to rise to our thoughts and ideas. The empiricism lies in the priority of the sensory or experiential, but this can be produced by any medium, forces creating different (but each equally real) systems of reference.
If God created logic, is a rational understanding of God possible?
The riddle "can an omnipotent God create a rock so big he can't lift it" implies that there is some type of contradiction in the concept of an omnipotent being. However, as the creator of logic, God would not be bound by logic. If God can transcend logic, then the contradiction above evaporates.
Is it possible to draw conclusions about a God that can transcend logic? For example, if assertions from religious scriptures about God are used as premises, would conclusions drawn from these premises be meaningful? Is it possible to form a valid logical argument relating to God if God can transcend logic?
If God created logic, then there was no logic before that creation, which therefore could not itself have conformed to the principle of contradiction. If God created logic, then the pre-logic God was absolutely incoherent and chaotic (in which case, why should we trust that inference?). If God created logic, then God would not be "bound by logic" but rather in bondage to illogic, which is how "transcends logic" sounds to my ears. Why speculate as to whether a "rational" understanding of such a God would be "possible"? What would "possible" mean here, anyway? Logically possible? What is logical possibility in a world in which logic is "created"?
Also, there is no such thing as the concept of an omnipotent being: some concepts of "omnipotent being" are internally consistent, some inconsistent. Resorting to the notion of a God who transcends logic is a high price to pay to solve a riddle. Why not just modify the notion? "If God can transcend logic, then the contradiction above evaporates" and so does "If . . . then . . ." (Why would we want contradictions to evaporate? Because we're "wired" to?)
Charles Hartshorne suggested, persuasively in my opinion, that logic and metaphysics ultimately do not differ. The principle that denies meaning to a contradiction is a principle of reality, not just of how our minds are structured. What he had to say bears directly on the theistic issue that Steven raised. Thanks in advance for indulging me:
"[W]e may divide knowledge as follows: mathematics, dealing with various 'possible worlds,' or better, various possible logical structures; natural and social science dealing with the one actual world; metaphysics, dealing with what is common and necessary to all possible states of affairs and all possible truths, including adjudication of the question whether 'there is no world at all' represents a conceivable truth or is mere nonsense or contradiction. Now God is conceived as the actual creator of the actual world and the potential creator of possible worlds . . .; hence divinity is not a mere fact or fiction of the actual world, but is either nonsense, in relation to all possible states of affairs, or a necessary reality, in the same relation, that is, the idea is metaphysical...
"Whether and how we can distinguish between metaphysics and logic is more difficult to say. I am not sure that they do differ. It seems easy to show that logicians today disagree on what are plainly metaphysical questions (referring to what is common to all possibility): such as, Is all truth eternal? Is there an a priori principle of causal connectedness? Is 'some world exists' true not merely in fact, but necessarily, or in any possible case? In this book I am trying to set forth the logic of basic theological concepts; but perhaps these are the same as the theistic implications of basic logical concepts. If only a few logicians could be induced to look into the matter! On one point, at least, I believe metaphysics can agree with contemporary logic: metaphysical truths, if valid, must, since they are to be necessary, be 'analytic,' if that means, 'certified by meaning alone.' I am confident that the theistic question will be rationally settled when .. . it becomes really clear to educated persons what are the possible consistent meanings . . . of 'supreme being,' 'absolute,' 'perfect,' 'necessary being,' and the like. To hasten that time is the main object of this study" (Charles Hartshorne The Divine Relativity (1948).
How can you distinguish the conclusion from the premises of an argument?
Explain why arguments with fallacies can still be persuasive.
An argument consists of at least two propositions, one of which is the argument's conclusion. The other proposition (or propositions) should entail the conclusion: one must be able to deduce the conclusionfrom the other proposition(s), called a premise (or premises). In a sound argument, ifevery member of the set of premises is true, then conclusion must also be true.
The "arrow" of implication is not always reversible. For example:
There are five animals in that telephone booth.
There are five elephants in that telephone booth.
I can deduce the first proposition from the second, but not the second from the first.
Any proposition can be deduced from itself. ("The dog barked," for example, can be deduced from "The dog barked," but so what?) The following is a bit more interesting:
Someone is a husband.
Someone is a wife.
Either proposition can serve as the conclusion an argument for which the other is the sole premise, but the two are not identical. "Husband" does not mean "wife," but if someone is a husband, then someone (else) is a wife, and vice versa.
Fallacies can persuade because (a) persuasiveness can depend on the state of mind of the persuaded one rather than on the argument's logical status; and, (b) not all fallacies are obvious. To spot a fallacy sometimes requires understanding that a logical operator ("Possibly . . .," "Necessarily . . .") can be distributed in subtly different ways with dramatically different results. For instance:
God knows today that I will choose to eat an omelet for breakfast tomorrow. Therefore [i.e., it necessarily follows that], I will choose to eat an omelet for breakfast tomorrow.
If the first of these two propositions is true (leaving aside the question of its verification), then necessarily the second is true. Generally, if S knows p, then necessarily p is true, because one cannot know what is false. Unfortunately, there are philosophers on both sides of the God question who have misinterpreted this logical necessity as causal necessity and hence a denial of freedom:
Therefore, I will necessarily choose to eat an omelet tomorrow; meaning, Therefore, I am necessitated to choose to eat an omelet tomorrow; meaning, Therefore, I am not free to choose to eat a bowl of cereal with bananas for breakfast tomorrow.
But knowing cannot turn free choices into determined effects. To know is not to cause! Put that way, of course, the fallacy has no power to persuade. But it is rarely put that way. Instead, the necessity by which a premise determines a conclusion is distributed over the non necessary fact to which the premise refers.
Is science the new religion?
Ostensibly it might seem so to many, but no genuinely religious person would accept it to be so. There is also a strong philosophical denial of the possibility. In fact many scientists themselves feel that the more progress they make the less secure their materialistic views become.
The philosophical challenge lies in the fact that scientists are not creators but discoverers; they discover things already in existence: therefore, science does not possess the qualification necessary for a religion. When they seem to be creative they are using already established natural laws and conditions, and are restricted within set parameters.
After seemingly establishing a sound materialistic basis for science following the advent of Newton, the scientific world was thrown into some confusion by the theories of Einstein, the ability to make secure predictions about the universe suddenly disappeared in the ramifications of the quantum theory; matter itself reduced to light and became known as rest mass energy. Some physicists began talking about the universe as a great thought rather than a great machine.
We live in a world that is still fundamentally religious; like science, religion continues to seek a meaning to life. Ironically religion does not succumb to scientific discovery but rather is able to use the facts provided to reinforce its own beliefs. Strangely, there is an intermediate ground of UFO's, meditation, the occult, scientology, etc., to which religion gives a mystic dimension, whilst science, though sceptical, feels bound to investigate what is considered to be natural phenomena.
When we consider that science has been responsible for producing the most horrific weapons of mass destruction known to man, the idea of it being a religion is contradictory to everything we understand about religion. On the other hand, we have to look for true religion beyond its institutionalized facade, its political attachments and its constant participation in violent conflict. Because the various sects and organizations fail to live up to the standards of morality, peace, love and virtue, this does not hide the fact that these are the underlying facets of true religion. Science does not have such a foundation, it can therefore never be considered a religion. Perhaps in this modern secular age some people may regard science as a substitute for religion; a materialist age may require a materialist religion, science is probably the nearest approach to this. Another point worth noting is that the received knowledge in developed countries indicates that science has done much more for the well being of the population than has religion, for example, drugs and advances in medical treatment generally has had greater effect than has faith healing and hoped for miracles. Most people are also unaware of where the border line is between science and technology, hence all good progress is put down to science.
Probably science will only replace religion when it can be proved beyond all possible doubt that God has nothing to do with physics, biology and chemistry; and that possibility still seems a long way off.
I must seriously call into question the previous answer.
First, I don't understand the claim that "no genuinely religious person would accept" that science is a religion. This claim seems always to leave a way out from refutations by saying "Well, that person might be religious and think science is a religion, but of course he's not genuinely religious" what is known as the "no true Scotsman fallacy".
Second, it is said that "many scientists themselves feel that the more progress they make the less secure their materialistic views become". This seems to imply that religion necessarily has to do with the supernatural. In Buddhism, for instance, there is no demand of allegiance to any supernatural being. And there are even Christian philosophers, like Don Cupitt, who claim that the Bible is not a document of a supernatural being's interaction with the world, but a metaphorical story. One can turn one's feeling of freedom from the supernatural into an idol, just like one can turn one's feeling of allegiance to the supernatural into an idol.
Third, it is pointed out that "scientists are not creators but discoverers". But the comparison of science to religion normally proposes to compare scientists to priests and not gods. What takes the place of gods in the science religion is not any being, but the whole of reality as viewed scientifically, with scientists as merely the priests entrusted with the task of interpreting it.
Fourth, there have been actual attempts to found an institutionalized religion which worships the achievements of science and scientific facts and laws. In fact, Auguste Comte, the founding father of positivism, founded one such in the 1840s, the Church of Positivism, which is still functioning in Brazil (and even has a web site).
Fifth, it is said that "science will only replace religion when it can be proved beyond all possible doubt that God has nothing to do with physics, biology and chemistry". It seems to me that if something like that were to happen, it would contrariwise take away any need for science to replace religion.
T. P. Uschanov
Department of Philosophy
University of Helsinki