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(1) Dave asked:
I find other questions and answers unsatisfactory on this subject, so I hope you don't think I'm going over a topic already dealt with.
Whenever I hear a debate about freewill, it always starts in the middle of the debate. The first thing I would like clarified is what exactly people mean by 'freewill'. I am aware that until I scrutinized it, I believed that it made sense for someone (if one accepts the idea of some kind of spiritual moral authority) to be judged on their decisions. This was due to the fact that we are free to make these decisions and thusly accountable for them. This seemed obvious.
If the universe is completely causal - then we are being judged according to a chain of causality. Every single occurrence that has been part of the chain of occurrences was dependent on every link in the chain. In other words, my actions might be dependent on a raindrop 700 billion years ago. I would be judged on this.
If the universe is not at all causal, it is a completely random event and I am judged according to nothing and my actions/hopes/life are meaningless.
If it's a mixture of the two then I am being judged either according to actions dependent on a finite chain of causes (until the chain is broken by a random occurrence) or judged according to a spontaneous, uncaused event.
My question is, how can anyone possibly refute this?
Yes this is the essence of it. I know of no way to refute it, except for one possibility: to question our conception of causality. Remember that according to Kant, at least (and I believe him to be correct), we *impose* structure on the world, and part of that structure is the notion of (and inference to) causality. His response to the problem of free will took the three Critiques to elaborate, and it was pretty much this: that there is no way to know if we have free will, because "free will" implies that we somehow are *not* constrained by causal laws *and* that we are *not* behaving (thinking, etc.) randomly. Well, what can that possibly mean? All that Kant could come up with, and I think no one has done better, is that our behavior is governed by, in effect, something like "metaphor" in the most general sense, i.e. a structural matching with the universe which is nonetheless not rule-governed (see the sections on the "genius" in the 3rd Critique). That is, our thinking and acting can *correspond*, in rare cases, to the structure of the world without being explicitly governed or constrained by that structure. He could go no further than that in explaining the insights of the "genius" (and I'm using quotes because it's a technical term in Kant referring to a certain rare type of person and insight, and doesn't mean whatever vague meanings it has commonly today), and I can't either... and no one else, as I say, that I'm aware of has been able to either. This is, if we are being optimistic, a limitation on our ability to conceive of the structure of the world. I hope that's correct, because if it isn't, then your argument above *does* describe the situation exactly.
You might look at some of these:
Haggard, P., Clark, S., and Kalogeras, J. Voluntary Action and Conscious Awareness [WWW]. Nature Publishing Group, 2002 [cited March 2002]. Available from http://neurosci.nature.com.
Kane, R.H., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Libet, B. "Unconscious Cerebral Initiative and the Role of Conscious Will in Voluntary Action." The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8 (1985): 529-66.
---- "The Timing of Mental Events: Libet's Experimental Findings and Their Implications." Consciousness and Cognition 11 (2002): 291-99.
Libet, B., Freeman, A., and Sutherland, K., eds. The Volitional Brain: Towards a Neuroscience of Free Will. Edited by Goguen, J.A. Thorverton, UK: Imprint Academic, 1999.
Searle, J. R. "Consciousness, Free Action and the Brain." Journal of Consciousness Studies 7, no. 10 (2000): 3-22.
---- "Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology." Philosophy 76 (2001): 491-514.
Wegner, D. M. The Illusion of Conscious Will. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.
Wheeler, R.H. "Theories of the Will and Kinesthetic Sensations." Psychological Review 27 (1920): 351-60.
Brown, S.R. "On the Mechanism of the Generation of Aesthetic Ideas in Kant's Critique of Judgment." British Journal for the History of Philosophy 12, no. 3 (2004): 487-99.
Crawford, D. W. "Kant's Theory of Creative Imagination." edited by Cohen, T. and Guyer, P., 151-78. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Gammon, M. ""Exemplary Originality": Kant on Genius and Imitation." Journal of the History of Philosophy XXXV, no. 4 (1997): 563-92.
Johnson, M. Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. 1st ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Kant, I. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Pluhar, W.S.T. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.
---- Critique of Judgment. Translated by Pluhar, W. S. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1987.
---- Critique of Practical Reason. Translated by Pluhar, W.S.T. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2002.
Kitcher, P. "The Naturalists Return." The Philosophical Review 101, no. 1 (1992): 53-114.
Steven Ravett Brown
(5) Ramesh asked:
I am struggling from long time to search the meaning of life? Is life of has any meaning? What is real purpose for me in this world? I am seventy years old and tried my best in different field but every where I found out illusion. Can you guide me?
Of course I'll guide you. Here's rule #1, and that one is the only one you need: Never, never let yourself be guided by anyone except yourself, if at all possible.
Let's assume that the world has "meaning" or "purpose". Now, first, just what exactly do those terms mean? Well, from what you say, it seems that what they must imply is that you want "the world" to have been created and arranged by some entity, and for you to play some part in that structure, a part which also has been created by that entity.
When I see something like this, my first reaction is, "what gives this entity any authority?" That it created the world? Well, so what? That it created us? Again, so what? Because, at base, here's the scenario. There's an entity, some sort of creature, floating in nothingness or whatever, which then decides to create the world. Um... well, I guess I can't blame it, I'd want some company myself in that situation. Ok, it creates the world, and there it goes, running along... and now what? Well, it either runs along little tracks, metaphorically speaking, to some end, like little trains running around until they reach the little station, with the entity having a good time watching it, we assume... or it was just built to run by itself in order to provide some surprises for this poor bored being. Ok, fine. And we're part of that scene; little actors moving around according to some more or less structured plan. Well, you may like that picture and find it fulfilling, but I certainly don't. Why should we play our parts? Well, it could be the threat of removal from the game... doesn't seem like much of a threat to me, actually. I mean, who cares? It's all to alleviate the boredom of this creature, or to give it some illusion of companionship, or a surprise... or whatever. I guess you could say that the end of the scenario, the little train pulling into the station, or whatever, is the "goal" or "meaning" of life, etc... well, hooray for that. I'll create my own goals, thank you... and on my own scale they'll be just as fulfilling; more, really, since I have the whole created (I'm assuming for the sake of this discussion) world to understand, not to mention what's outside it (ugh. One bored creature sitting in a void somewhere?). You like this picture? Really? Suppose that this entity believed passionately that creating this little world was really meaningful, for whatever reason... a dedicated hobbyist. Ok... and so what? Some people like stamp collecting, and some people like building model trains. Does that make the model trains intrinsically good? What justifies all this? Where's the authority? The basis?
Now let's take it from another starting point. Suppose that there is *no* "purpose", that we're not sitting in some creatures dollhouse being dressed up, fed, or whatever. We're just here. Ok, how is that any worse than if we were that creature I've been talking about? It has to get *its* purpose from somewhere just as arbitrary as *we* do in this latter case, right?
The bottom line here is that who- or whatever is sitting on top of this pile, whether it's us or some "higher" intelligence, has exactly the same problem. There's no way around it. You make *your own* purpose, like it or not, and structure the universe according to that purpose. Sorry, but that's it. And if you decide that you want something *else's* purpose to supersede your own, then you've given up whatever bit of choice you're capable of having; you've tried to turn yourself into a prop in someone else's model railroad. So the best "advice" I can give you, as I said, is not to look to me or anyone for advice, and to go figure out and then realize your *own* purpose, meaning, and/or goal. You're no worse off, then, than whatever hypothetical entity has thought this particular game up anyway, assuming that there is such an entity (which I for one find *extremely* unlikely). And yes, maybe you're 70 and will die in ten years or less... well, we're all in *that* boat too, relative to any reasonable time scale.
Steven Ravett Brown
"What is your opinion of covering law model? Do you believe it doesn't illuminate the nature of explanation? For example, if someone wants to know why x happened under conditions y, it's not illuminating to be told that x is the sort of thing that always happens under y conditions. Would you agree?"
The laws we are talking about are not simply codifications of the observed facts, but rather pictures of a deeper necessity which accounts for the facts. And the questioner rather neatly puts her finger on this distinction when she says "if someone wants to know why x happened under conditions y, it's not illuminating to be told that x is the sort of thing that always happens under y conditions." Quite. It is one thing to be told that apples usually fall to earth, and quite another to be told that they fall to earth because of a force of attraction holding between any two masses, so that as the apple falls to earth, so, to a tiny extent, the earth falls towards the apple. The insight or picture of necessity that is contained in the latter claim permits all kinds of evaluative evidence to be taken into consideration in it's support, but it is not the case that the idea of gravity as a force between masses pops naturally out of the fact that apples fall to earth and the earth goes round the sun. All that follows from the fact that all apples fall to earth is that all apples fall to earth. All that follows from the fact that the earth goes round the sun is that the earth goes round the sun. All that follows from the fact that apples fall to earth and the earth goes round the sun is that apples fall to earth and the earth goes round the sun. And if we want to know *why* apples fall to earth or why the earth goes round the sun no amount of statistics will produce insight. The questioner is quite right: "if someone wants to know why x happened under conditions y, it's not illuminating to be told that x is the sort of thing that always happens under y conditions." Newton does illuminate here because he is able to point to a condition z explaining why x happens under y conditions, z being: the attraction of masses (not just the earth, but also an apple, the sun, etc). The explanation does not go all the way down as it were, but it is at least a kind of explanation - it is better than "all apples fall to earth because all apples fall to earth". The limits of the newtonian explanation become clear if instead of "why do apples fall to earth?" we now ask a different question such as "why do masses attract?" - physicists have been set this bit of homework for a few hundred years now without result. But if some result does come, it won't come by collecting data on lots of different cases of mass attracting mass. It will come by a leap of imagination: a new way to picture necessity.
(25) Nguyen asked:
I am taking "aesthetic philosophy" right now. But I am still confuse something in my subject. So can you kindly answer these questions for me. The question like this: 1. What is art? 2. How art is? 3. What is the theory of the "nature of art"? I am looking forward to hear from you.
Well, Vinh, you read the stuff below, then if you still want to know, write again. To put it another way, there are *no* simple answers to these questions; there are in fact *libraries* that have been written on each of them. The works below will hopefully start you off on being able to understand them and some different perspectives on the nature of art.
Arnheim, R. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974.
---- New Essays on the Psychology of Art. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986.
Barwell, I. "How Does Art Express Emotion?" The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 45, no. 2 (1986): 175-81.
Brower, C. "A Cognitive Theory of Musical Meaning." Journal of Music Theory 44, no. 2 (2000): 323-79.
Budd, M. "Music and the Communication of Emotion." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 47, no. 2 (1989): 129-38.
Davidson, R. J. "Darwin and the Neural Bases of Emotion and Affective Style." Annals of the New York Academy of Science 1000 (2003): 316-36.
Davies, S. "Kivy on Auditors' Emotions." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52, no. 2 (1994): 235-36.
Dempster, D. "How Does Debussy's Sea Crash? How Can Jimi's Rocket Red Glare? Kivy's Account of Representation in Music." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52, no. 4 (1994): 415-28.
Goodman, N. Languages of Art. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1976.
---- Ways of Worldmaking. 5th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988.
Guck, M. A. "Two Types of Metaphoric Transference." In Music and Meaning, edited by J. Robinson, 201-14. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Hanslick, E. On the Musically Beautiful: A Contribution Towards the Revision of the Aesthetics of Music. Translated by G. Payzant. 8th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1986.
Herz, R.S. "An Examination of Objective and Subjective Measures of Experience Associated to Odors, Music, and Paintings." Empirical Studies of the Arts 16, no. 2 (1998): 137-52.
Herzog, P. "Music Criticism and Musical Meaning." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53, no. 3 (1995): 299-312.
Jackendoff, R. S. "Musical Parsing and Musical Affect." Music Perception 9, no. 2 (1991): 199-230.
Kepes, G., ed. Education of Vision. 3 vols. Vol. 1, Vision + Value Series. New York, NY: George Braziller, 1965.
---- ed. Structure in Art and in Science. 3 vols. Vol. 2, Vision + Value Series. New York, NY: George Braziller, 1965.
Klee, P. Pedagogical Sketchbook. 8th ed. New York: Polyglot Press, 1977.
Kosuth, J. Art after Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991.
Krumhansl, C.L. "Music: A Link between Cognition and Emotion." Current Directions in Psychological Science 11, no. 2 (2002): 45-50.
Levinson, J. Music, Art, and Metaphysics: Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Maus, F. E. "Music as Drama." In Music and Meaning, edited by J. Robinson, 105-30. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Raffman, D. Language, Music, and Mind. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993.
Ridley, A. "Musical Sympathies: The Experience of Expressive Music." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53, no. 1 (1995): 49-57.
Robinson, J. "Musical Meaning and Expression." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54, no. 3 (1996): 307-09.
Saslaw, J.K. "Life Forces: Conceptual Structures in Schenker 'S Free Composition and Schoenberg's the Musical Idea." Theory and Practice 22-23 (1997-1998): 17-33.
Scherer, K.R., M.R. Zentner, and A. Schacht. "Emotional States Generated by Music: An Exploratory Study of Music Experts." Musicae Scientiae Spec Issue (2002): 149-71.
Scruton, R. "Analytical Philosophy and the Meaning of Music." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (1987): 169-76.
Sloboda, J.A. "Musical Performance and Emotion: Issues and Developments." In Music, Mind, and Science, edited by S.W. Yi, 220-38.
Seoul, Korea: Seoul National University Press, 1999.
Smith, L.D., and R.N. Williams. "Children's Artistic Responses to Musical Intervals." American Journal of Psychology 112, no. 3 (1999): 383.
Sparshott, F. "Music and Feeling." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52, no. 1 (1994): 23-35.
Tanizaki, J. In Praise of Shadows. Translated by T. J. Harper. New Haven, CT: Leete's Island Books, Inc., 1977.
Tervaniemi, M., and E. Brattico. "From Sounds to Music: Towards Understanding the Neurocognition of Musical Sound Perception." Journal of Consciousness Studies 11, no. 3-4 (2004): 9-27.
Tsur, R. "Metaphor and Figure-Ground Relationship: Comparisons from Poetry, Music, and the Visual Arts." PsyART: A Hyperlink Journal for Psychological Study of the Arts 4 (2000).
Turner, M., and G. Fauconnier. "A Mechanism of Creativity." Poetics Today 20, no. 3 (1999): 397-418.
Wollheim, R. "Art and Illusion." British Journal of Aesthetics 3 (1963): 15-37.
Steven Ravett Brown
(28) Megan asked:
we have been studying the universe in physics, and I was wondering whether it was possible that nothing does not exist, because if nothing isn't anything, then how can it exist? or could nothing be god? please help!
Stop and look at your question. What do you mean by the word "nothing"? In one sentence you give it at least two meanings, and you are confusing those meanings. If you say something like, "nothing isn't anything", then why does that imply that nothing is a **substance** of some sort? It's because of the way you confuse the notion of "substance" or "stuff" or "thingness", i.e., solid objects in space-time, with their absence. But their absence *isn't* another kind of *thing*, it's the *absence* of *any* thing. There's not anything there, which is *not* the same as there being a "substance" which we call "nothing" there. You see the confusion? If you cut a hole in a piece of paper, can you say that there's a type of paper, "un-paper", in the hole? No----.. there's just simply no paper. Well... there you go. If there's no thing, then there isn't a kind of thing called "no-thing". There's simply nothing.
Steven Ravett Brown
Do ghosts exist?
Alper, M. The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press, 2001.
Azari, N.P., Nickel, J., Wunderlich, G., Niedeggen, M., Hefter, H., Tellmann, L., Herzog, H., Stoerig, P., Birnbacher, D., and Seitz, R.J. "Neural Correlates of Religious Experience." European Journal of Neuroscience 13 (2001): 1649-52.
Barrett, J.L., Richert, R.A., and Driesenga, A. "God's Beliefs Versus Mother's: The Development of Nonhuman Agent Concepts." Child Development 72, no. 1 (2001): 50-65.
Blanke, O., and Arzy, S. "The out-of-Body Experience: Disturbed Self-Processing at the Temporo-Parietal Junction." The Neuroscientist 11, no. 1 (2005): 16-24.
Blanke, O., Mohr, C., Michel, C.M., Pascual-Leone, A., Brugger, P., Seeck, M., Landis, T., and Thut, G. "Linking out-of-Body Experience and Self Processing to Mental Own-Body Imagery at the Temporoparietal Junction." The Journal of Neuroscience 25, no. 3 (2005): 550-57.
Frazer, J.G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Third ed. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1951.
Giovannoli, J. The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions: Rosetta Press, Inc., 2000.
Hines, T. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988.
Langdon, R., and Coltheart, M. "The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Delusions." Mind & Language 15, no. 1 (2000): 184-218.
Laski, M. Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experiences. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.
Russell, B. Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays. Totowa, JN: Barnes & Noble Books, 1981.
Sagan, C. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1996.
Schick, T., Jr., and Vaughn, L. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995.
Shermer, M. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1997.
Young, A.W. "Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs." Mind & Language 15, no. 1 (2000): 47-73.
Steven Ravett Brown
(29) Kenny asked:
How do you relate atheism to business and professional ethics? are atheism and realism related?
Why are "business and professional" ethics in a different category than any other ethics? Why not just ask about atheism's relationship to ethics? Let me put it this way. You may have, or have had, a pet dog or cat sometime in your life, or you've probably read about animal training, correct? Suppose you want to train your dog not to make messes on the floor, or your cat not to jump on the kitchen table... or whatever. Well, what do you do, generally? If the dog, say, does something "bad", something you don't want it to do, you punish it, either by spanking it in some way or by speaking to it harshly... right? And if it does something you *do* want it to do, something "good", then you reward it, with food, petting, or whatever. Right? That's how animals are trained. Ok... As I understand most of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, people learn that if they behave "correctly" they will be rewarded, eventually, with "heaven", described as a pleasurable environment. Conversely, if people behave "badly" they will be punished by some form of "hell", which is described as a physically and psychically painful environment. Do we see similarities here...?
Now, once an animal is trained, is it "ethical"? "Moral"? Is it behaving "ethically"? Thinking that would be odd, wouldn't it. But *people*, in these religious traditions, are trained in *exactly* the same way that animals are (although the putative rewards and punishments are delayed rather than immediate, as is usually the case with animals - although there is an enormous literature on "delayed reinforcement" in animal training). So then, mustn't we ask whether *people* in these religious traditions are *also* ethical? Behaving morally? What's the difference? I must admit that I see none, myself. And so, as far as I can tell, people raised in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition are no more moral, if the basis of their behavior is fear of hell and desire for heaven, than their pet dogs or cats. Does this offend anyone out there? Oh, dear. Well, please, go ahead and refute the above argument. One might claim that people have more *choice*, in obeying or disobeying (although those people obviously have never had a pet cat)... even so, does that constitute the basis for calling the results of training identical to animal training "morality"?
Ok, then, what *does* constitute morality? Ethics? Clearly, given the above, it means that despite the fact that one must *start* with the kind of training I'm describing, with children, we must expect that at some point an adult *transcends* that training. How is that accomplished? Clearly, one must *question* it and *reason* about it. If that is not done, one remains trained... not ethical. Is this a radical, new, idea? Um... well, people, it's only about 2500 years old, going back to Aristotle. All I've done is indicated that one can support Aristotle with hard data, no more.
What then does atheism have to do with ethics? Well, not a lot, actually. Once one starts actually *thinking* about ethics, one realizes that whatever advanced alien races (or single creatures) there are out there, whether they've "created" the "universe" or not, we're all in the same boat, insofar as justifying our behavior. They may be able to send a fleet of spaceships to destroy the earth - or destroy us by thinking about it ("hell"), or give us technologies and/or philosophies to create a paradise here ("heaven")... maybe they know about some sort of "afterlife" too, however bizarre and unlikely that seems. Hey, who knows? But would we, should we, obey them just because they can destroy us? Well... that might be a *good* decision, just as obeying someone with a gun to your head might be a good decision. But it wouldn't be the *basis* for an ethics or a morality, would it.
I highly recommend the following:
Apostle, H. G. Aristotle's Nicomachean
Ethics. 2nd ed. Grinnell, IA: The Peripatetic Press, 1984.
Blasi, A. "Bridging Moral Cognition and Moral Action: A Critical Review of the Literature." Psychological Bulletin 88, no. 1 (1980): 1-45.
---- "Kohlberg's Theory and Moral Motivation." New Directions for Child Development 47 (1990): 51-57.
Dawson, T.L. "New Tools, New Insights: Kohlberg's Moral Judgement Stages Revisited." International Journal of Behavioral Development 26, no. 2 (2002): 154-66.
Flanagan, Owen. Varieties of Moral Personality: Ethics and Psychological Realism. 1st ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.
Gintis, H., Bowles, S., Boyd, R., and Fehr, E. "Explaining Altruistic Behavior in Humans." Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (2003): 153-72.
Johnson, M. Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. 1st ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Kohlberg, L., and Hersh, R.H. "Moral Development: A Review of the Theory." Theory Into Practice 16, no. 2 (1977): 53-59.
Piaget, J. The Moral Judgement of the Child. Translated by Cabain, M. New York: Free Press, 1997.
Sommers, C., and Sommers, F. Vice & Virtue in Everyday Life; Introductory Readings in Ethics. 4th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985.
Pavlov, I.P. Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex. Translated by Anrep, G.V. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960.
Rolls, E.T. "The Orbitofrontal Cortex and Reward." Cerebral Cortex 10 (2000): 284--94.
Skinner, B.F. The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. Edited by Elliott, R.M., The Century Psychology Series. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Corfts, Inc., 1966.
Wilson, F.A.W., and Ma, Y-Y. "Reinforcement-Related Neurons in the Primate Basal Forebrain Respond to the Learned Significance of Task Events Rather Than to the Hedonic Attributes of Reward." Cognitive Brain Research 19 (2004): 74-81.
Steven Ravett Brown
(31) Ralph asked:
Is there a truth-functional rendering of [S]:
[S] "He was brave, if not foolish"
The natural language interpretation of [S] seems ambiguous. In other words, it might be taken to mean (one could use it to say), relative to some action, that:
[A] What he did was brave, not foolish [B] What he did was foolish, not brave
I suspect that sentences like [S] challenge the completeness of truth-functional analyses of sentential operators.
I'm aware that the truth-functional analyses apply to logical operators (&, ~, V, ->, &c.) rather than to their natural language counterparts. But this, qua response to my question, seems like a fudge. The ideal was for the former to provide an unambiguous semantics for the latter.
Thank you for helping to clear this up.
Yes, I agree that the natural language
formulation of this is ambiguous. I think that a formalist (and I'm not one) would respond that sure, there are lots of ways to mess up the language, and all that means is that the goal of an "unambiguous semantics" is a good one because of this high possibility for error and ambiguity in natural languages. You've just found one of an infinite number of ambiguities, i.e., of reasons that natural languages need a formal semantics to analyze them.
Well. And the above is just why I'm not a formalist; I think the above rationale is a fudge, but not for the reason you seem to want. What I'm understanding from your question is that you *want* formal languages to be able to provide unambiguous analyses... and *my* response to that is: forget it. Natural languages are *not* formal languages, and the goal of the formalists is a futile one. First, it's not merely that ambiguous sentences challenge the *completeness* of formal analyses; they do challenge that, but in addition, they (and other types of expressions, e.g., metaphorical ones) challenge the very *idea* of how a formal system, which generates strings through working out a finite set of well-defined operations on a finite set of well-defined elements, starting with a finite set of well-defined axioms, *corresponds* to how the brain, and natural languages, work. It's not a matter of Godel; it's a matter of apples and oranges.
Why do I say all this? Look, I'm sorry but I just simply can't write the book here. You might look at Searle's rationale for the "background" as an example of a formalist's attempt (the "apples", let's say) to deal with this:
Searle, J. R. The Rediscovery of the Mind. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994.
But here are some of the "oranges", instead of the "apples", take on this:
Johnson, M. The Body in the Mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Lakoff, G. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. 1st ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999.
Coulson, S., and Oakley, T. "Blending Basics." Cognitive Linguistics 11, no. 3/4 (2000): 175-96.
Fauconnier, G., and Sweetser, E. Spaces, Worlds, and Grammar. Edited by Fouconnier, G., Lakoff, G. and Sweetser, E. 1st ed. Vol. 2, Cognitive Theory of Language and Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Sweetser, E. "Blended Spaces and Performativity." Cognitive Linguistics 11, no. 3/4 (2000): 305-33.
Turner, M., and Fauconnier, G. "A Mechanism of Creativity." Poetics Today 20, no. 3 (1999): 397-418.
Baddeley, A. "Working Memory and Language: An Overview." Journal of Communication Disorders 36 (2003): 189-203.
Bundgaard, P.F. "The Ideal Scaffolding of Language: Husserl's Fourth Logical Investigation in the Light of Cognitive Linguistics." Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3 (2004): 49-80.
Cariani, P. "On the Design of Devices with Emergent Semantic Functions." State University of New York, 1989.
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More, neurally oriented:
Agera y Arcas, B., Fairhall, A.L., and Bialek, W. "Computation in a Single Neuron: Hodgkin and Huxley Revisited." Neural Computation 15 (2003): 1715-49.
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Siegelmann, H. T. Neural Networks and Analog Computation: Beyond the Turing Limit. Edited by Book, R. V. 1st ed, Progress in Theoretical Computer Science. Boston, MA: Birkhauser Boston, 1999.
Steven Ravett Brown