Looking at all of the various questions on this site is quite dizzying. Though I find philosophy to be an interesting and worthwhile subject, I can't seem to understand why or how people can ponder such unsettling questions. Sure thinking about these questions takes no small mind and is quite intellectually stimulating, but when you consider the subjectiveness and ambiguity of everything involved in philosophy, doesn't it seem a little wasteful? Anyways, the questions that I really wanted to ask, (which I am afraid to ask my philosophy teacher) is, what is your response to this quote by Karl Marx?:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it.
I'm only a graduate student, but I could imagine spending my working life doing philosophy, so the question you ask is a pressing one for me. I don't have an answer, but the Marx quote you mention indicates where I'm looking. You have to ask, change what? Interpretation and bringing about change shouldn't be two separate things. But how to put that into practice...
University of Oxford
What is wasted? And what makes efficiency a supreme edict? Surely many forms of "culture" can be regarded as superfluous, but often superfluity and abundance seem desirable.
Moreover, the fact that there are subjective elements in philosophy doesn't mean that is it merely subjective. There is a subjective aspect to running 100 metres in 9.8 seconds; but this doesn't detract from the achievement.
Karl Marx says that's the point of philosophy. Maybe he's wrong. Why not think of philosophy as a way of changing yourself, and the way the world seems to you, and then deciding whether or not you think there's more to be changed.
Friedrich Schiller University
(A) Not everything in philosophy is subjective and ambiguous. Some is, some isn't. To find out which is which, you have to pursue the issues! And by the way, what counts as "wasteful"? That's a philosophical question, and if you naively assume that you know the answer . . . is it wasteful to ponder what is worth doing in life, and why? What if you assume that the answer is "just subjective," but you're wrong? Think (that is, philosophize) about it!
(B) A philosopher's answer to Marx: "the point of philosophy is to understand the world, not to change it." If you wish to enter the political area and try to change the world, it is advisable that you first understand it! Which will probably take a while. And then figure out which changes would be good, and which bad, and which means are more likely to result in changes for the better instead of for the worse. In fairness to Marx, he did (perhaps contrary to what that isolated quote suggests) spend a good long time trying to understand the world. (Maybe not long enough, since it now looks like he misjudged a thing or two.) And only then did he try to change it, or at least he (in the Communist Manifesto) tried to inspire others to change it, which a good many Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et al. (for better or for worse??) did.
Philosophy and Religion Department
Eastern Kentucky University
The point of what? Of doing philosophy? Of life generally?
The world is certainly imperfect and it is, I believe, our duty to work to change it for the better. However unless we make some headway in "interpreting" it we are not going to be in a very good position to understand how it ought to be changed or how to work effectively for change.
Moreover, as I understand it the goal of change is to free people from the necessity of spending all their time scraping to get the necessities for survival, to minimize drudgery, and to give more people the opportunity to spend more time enjoying themselves by engaging in "wasteful" but pleasurable activities--like doing philosophy.
Department of Philosophy
University of San Diego
We expect politicians to change the world, and perhaps Marx was more of a politician. Philosophers are not as interested in economic and social change as they are in truth, personal identity, the concepts of morality, the nature of language, of mind and its relation to body and I could go on. I don't think this is "wasteful" because I wouldn't like to live in a world where such thinking didn't go on. It's not any worse than literary criticism, art history or film theory. What if economic and social change were the only things we could think about?
Why should philosophers try or even want to change things? Philosophy has no social, scientific or political obligation.
Of course, it is "intellectually stimulating", but if you have a very dry sense of humour, it can be funny too.
I attempt to answer this question on page 78 of my philosophical notebook at the Glass House Philosopher
What is empiricism?
It ās about time this question was asked. There is no empirical answer to the question, what is empiricism? That is a good thing. If there were we could find the answer by weighing or measuring something or by performing an experiment or solving an equation. But we can't. We could always go to a dictionary or to an encyclopedia but that would be easier than asking a philosopher.
Take stuff. For an empiricist, stuff is the sort of stuff you can kick or bite or taste or smell or see 'that sort of thing' and the world is mostly made of it. Or appears to be. Other sorts of stuff, meanings, beliefs, intentions you cannot really do that with. And there is another kind of stuff, even more remote than meanings and beliefs, etc., that you cannot bite or kick either and this is made up of things-in-themselves (ultimately real things, where our questions stop). Kant called these noumena and contrasted them with phenomena which we are able to rub up against or which manifest themselves directly through our sensory mechanisms.
If you try to see beyond the surface of a thing (by scraping the paint off, for example) you just run up against another surface, this time unpainted, which also refracts light which impinges on your retinas, optic nerve, cortex, and much more, but āt doesn't get you any closer to the real stuff, because the light refracted by the paint did the very same thing and you are no farther along. The real stuff cannot be got at by scraping the paint or peeling the banana. So you might as well have stopped there unless you want to eat the banana. Then it should be peeled.
Plato thought this was a bad thing. He derided sense experience as providing us with only bad copies of real stuff, the Platonic forms or eide. These you can't see or bite, etc. They are unchanging and timeless. Mere stuff, stuff in the world, depends on them. The world is constructed top down. In empiricism it is constructed bottom up, starting with sense data, or sense experience, and ending, perhaps, in abstract concepts, such as humanity, by a route that has yet to be convincingly explained.
I am presently studying a sociology degree at Portsmouth university! I am having several problems with finding relevant material in order to answer a question related to V.N. Voloshinov. I need to analyse his extract on 'What is Language'.
Can you help? Any ideas would be greatly received!
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University of Sheffield
A certain philosopher used a device to determine the sex of an unborn child. Who was this person and what device did they use? Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated.
and Jeff asked:
A philosopher had a theory that determined the best time to conceive a child of a certain sex. Who was the philosopher and what was the device used to determine the proper time to conceive?
Girls are more likely to be conceived than boys when the moon is on the wane according to Aristotle, or at least the Aristotle of 'Aristotle's Masterpiece'.
'Aristotle's Masterpiece' is a sort of handbook to midwifery composed in the late seventeenth century; there is a good discussion of it in Ch. 2 of Roy Porter & Lesley Hall's The Facts of Life (Yale, 1995). It was a popular work for many years, but it has confused and obscure origins: it is unclear when it was written, by whom it was written and even in what language it was written. But we do know that it had little or nothing to do with Aristotle. He might have actually said something along these lines, perhaps in his De Generatione Animalium, but I wouldn't attribute the view to him without further checking.
Dept of Logic and Metaphysics
University of St Andrews
St. Augustine, in the City of God, has a discussion of the Roman practice of timing conception to determine the attributes of offspring. He considers the practice, which was linked to astrological beliefs, to be without any factual foundation. However, since the differential motility of male and female sperm means that the timing of intercourse relative to ovulation does have at least a statistical influence on the sex of offspring, such a belief may not be entirely without foundation.
Ecology and Evolution Program
University of Oregon
Why is it that when people are asked whether they believe that one's response is either determined or a product of one's own free will the majority will lean on the side of determinism, but when those same people are asked if they believe that one should be held totally responsible for everything one does, the majority leans on the side of agreement? Isn't that contradictory, and what might account for this?
One easy fix to the free will problem, which enjoys continued popularity amongst the more hard headed (and generally clean shaven) analytic philosophers is the view that the attribution of responsibility is fully consistent with the belief that our actions are the product of our physical state at the moment of our birth, and all the things we have experienced and that have happened to us since that time. I chose to respond to your letter today, but my choice was already on the cards barring an inexplicable lapse in the laws of physics 49 years ago as I lay bawling in my hospital cot, alongside the couple of dozen or so other infants that had been produced by the baby factory that week. What kind of choice is that? And how can I be praised, or blamed, for making it?
Here's how the answer goes:
Rewarding people for actions which we approve of, or punishing people for actions which we disapprove of has a useful function. But reward and punishment do not always work. The promise of a reward is not going to deter the bank clerk from handing over the money when there is a gun pointed at her head. The threat of punishment sadly does not deter the kleptomaniac. Every human action is the effect of prior causes, but not all causes are the same. Only if the cause of an action is an agent's own choice, unconstrained by factors impeding their ability to make a rational choice, are we justified in calling them 'responsible' for that action, and treating them accordingly.
The best refutation of this picture is F.H. Bradley's example (in Ethical Studies 1876, Essay 1) of the master of hounds who gives his dogs a good thrashing before they go out on a hunt, just to show who's boss. If punishment is something that either works or doesn't work, if it is simply a matter of pressing levers to encourage good behaviour, then there would be nothing wrong in 'punishing' an innocent person if we thought it would cause them to behave in the future in the way we wanted them to behave. What's missing from this picture is the idea that punishment should only be given to those who deserve it. The problem is that if every action we do is the result of causes going back to our birth, then it seems that no punishment (and no reward either) is ever deserved.
You can look for more subtle ways of sorting out suitable cases for praise or punishment. So long as the talk is about selecting from different varieties of 'cause and effect', such moves seem pointless and futile.
The obvious alternative is not much better. If my decision to answer this question today was not determined by my prior states, then it is hard to see why that should deserve praise. To adapt another example from Bradley, say a friend offers to let you use an A-graded essay she wrote two years ago at another College to hand in as your own work. You refuse. She expresses surprise. You respond angrily, 'You should have known me better than that!' Knowing your upright character, she ought to have predicted that you would act in the way that you did.
My response would be to escape this dichotomy altogether by refusing to see the relationship of person to person in cause and effect terms. The human world, the world of persons in relation, is not the world of physics, even though what you and I are ultimately made of is nothing but physical stuff. When we engage with one another as persons we are interacting on an altogether different level, where one talks of reason and justification, right and wrong, freedom and responsibility. To see the world in these terms is part of what it means to be human, to inhabit the human world.
What are the main differences between what Heidegger and Sartre believe is the most fundamental aspect of human existence? Which is more plausible?
Sartre starts from the experience of man from the cogito. "Outside the Cartesian cogito all views are only probable." he writes in Existentialism is a Humanism. Sartre's subjectivism means, in his own words, on the one hand "that an individual chooses and makes himself" and on the other hand "that it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity." Heidegger starts from the Hegelian and neo-Kantian position that "nothing can be more harmful and unworthy of a philosopher than the vulgar appeal to an experience." (Intro to section 3 of The Science of Logic). Instead, like Hegel, Heidegger starts from logic, or more properly the philosophical logos. (Taking logos philosophically, not literalistically, we find in these two thinkers no reduction of logic to semantics, mechanics and algebra, which reduces philosophy, as Wittgenstein rightly saw, to a game.)
The most fundamental aspect of human existence for Sartre is the cogito, and for Heidegger, Being. Heidegger criticizes the cogito of Descartes. Descartes said "I think therefore I am" as if the one follows from the other, but my 'am-ness' (Being) comes first. I always already "am" to begin with, but the question of what this that I am is, has never been properly raised. Being and Time (1927) attempts a preliminary investigation of the question of Being.
In old fashioned onto-theological terms, Heidegger starts 'from above' and Sartre 'from below'. Sartre says existentialism is a humanism. Heidegger thinks humanism is an ontology which 'forgets' the question of Being (Seinsvergessenheit). As usual in this kind of philosophy, these are not questions or stances which one can look at as 'mere ideas', or from the outside as 'the philosophy of Sartre or Heidegger'. The point, as Heidegger says somewhere else, is not 'is what I am saying plausible?' The point is to follow the movement of the showing.
Matthew Del Nevo
Kant, as I understand him, claims that time does not necessarily exist as a thing independent of the mind, but rather as a property of the mind itself and its way of apprehending the world.
It seems quite obvious to me that for mind to exist, a state of change must first exist. Whether mind is material or spiritual, it must have form of some kind (only the metaphysical nature of the substance of mind seems to be in question as far as the idealism versus materialism, monism versus dualism debate is concerned). Thinking, as a process, requires a continual change in form. If time stopped, the form of the mind would necessarily cease changing, which suggests that mind would cease to exist, or at least all thinking as we know it would cease. Since time seems to be a necessarily pre-existing condition for the existence of mind, it must be more metaphysically fundamental than mind, and also independent of it. Mind exists in time, not the reverse.
For form of any kind to exist, space must exist. For change to occur, time must exist. Mind has form and is continually changing, therefore the existence of mind requires the existence of space and time, and mind is metaphysically less fundamental than space and time.
Does this refute the Kantian view of time? Or am I misunderstanding Kant?
Kant would accept that if time ceased to exist the mind would cease to exist not because time is metaphysically prior, simply because time is a way of apprehending the world. The end of time means the end of mind.
Any changes prior to the existence of mind would occur in the noumenal world of which we have no knowledge. Presumably, in the noumenal world there are conditions for change which we could not understand.
The form of the mind is not spatial. The mind is directed at the world, and space is a way in which we apprehend the world but is possible for the mind to exist without a body that occupies space: A non-spatial being like a ghost could have a mind.
To refute Kant you simply hold that time and space are not ways in which we understand the world but are actually out there, and this is proven by physicists. However, consciousness is outside the realm of physical space and time. There is space and time that physicists know, and how it appears to us.
Why does Marx think communism will ultimately supplant capitalism?
It is my question. Please answer me, Philosopher.
Marx thought that capitalism bore the seeds of its own destruction within it. This was the inequality within it that would lead the oppressed to rise up and revolutionize it and replace it for an economic system in which each would receive their due according to a system of equity and justice for all. Marx's communism was the vision of an anti-class society in which people would be valued for who they were not how much they earned or consumed or inherited.
Marx had a dialectical theory of history, as it is called. That means an economic interpretation of history which saw economics in political terms of relationships between people, commodities, labour and exchange. What marks a period of history is its economy. When the economy changes, Marx thought, (e.g. the change from feudal society to mercantile or bourgeois society), culture, religion, philosophy and everything else necessarily follows suit.
Economy for Marx had to do with power. New economies come in when new powers rise up. The Feudal society of Medieval Europe was overthrown and the power of the Church with it, by the new merchants from the new worlds (the Americas, Australia, the colonies) based on the new technology. History is not conservative, Marx thought, it advances. But he was less of a determinist than an idealist or utopian, because he thought the injustices of the Europe of his day could not be borne for long. Working men, women and children, whose labour was commodified, who had been turned into 'things' by their economic relationships, would (given the encouragement and education by intellectuals) rise up and take charge of the means of production and change things for the good of the many, not the preservation and gratification of the few.
Matthew Del Nevo
My family is pushing me to get married arguing that I'm old and I should find someone. Is there any philosophical solution to this problem?
I once wrote:
Commitment to moral dialogue binds us together as social, moral beings. Nothing, finally, exhibits that fact more starkly than the custom of two individuals solemnly agreeing to share the rest of their lives together, 'for better or for worse'. Between the partners of a marriage there is no accepted buffer zone of 'tolerant' indifference; arguably, an essential ingredient in the cement of human society at large.
I have to be prepared to justify each and any of my actions to you at least, those which impinge on you or the children, which is near about all as you have to be prepared to justify each and any of your actions to me. More than that, each of us must answer to what has become of our life the life we planned, or dreamed, dreams brought to fruition or which we sorrowfully failed to bring to fruition, a life racked and riven by painful adjustments and renunciations on both sides, coloured by the resentment over lost hopes and opportunities, periodically and continually thrown into question as if we were free to start with a blank sheet when in truth there seems precious little room for anything but the occasional marginal scribble. Yet for all that, you are my truest 'thou' (in the popular phrase, my 'significant other') and to break off our dialogue now, after all that has gone before, would be to choose a spiritual death. Is a form of human society conceivable that did not have choice of relationship at its core? Would it be possible for all moral dialogue to be conducted 'safely', at arms length? Such a society would surely be a society without a centre at all.
Pathways Program E. Moral Philosophy Reason, Values and Conduct Unit 10
Must we choose relationship? And, if we must, must that choice entail marriage?
It is a question I have agonized about. There was a time when I seemed to be heading for confirmed, contented batcherlorhood. My mother and father, my sister the Rabbi and my other sister the psychotherapist persistently, gently and not so gently, kept up the pressure. It would be wrong to say I caved in. I came to see that I was not so content with my self-sufficient life as I had thought. I met someone, and I chose relationship.
I am talking as if marriage (I include same-sex marriages) is the only possible form of relationship choice. But it is not. There are many parents who are glad that their grown up children continue to live with them, and that is a choice of relationship that can be positive and valuable for both sides. Yet there remains the very real fear on the parents' side of what will happen to their offspring after they have gone. If you have chosen to live with your parents, you still have to look to the future.
I have a number of students, male and female, who have made the firm decision not to marry. They have full lives. (They have a lot more time for activities outside work, which seems to account for the large proportion who have time to study philosophy!) They enjoy romantic relationships, but not permanent ones. In my heart of hearts, I cannot find fault with that solution.
Kierkegaard's advice, in Either-Or, to a young man contemplating marriage is, 'If you marry, you will regret it. If you do not marry, you will regret it.' If one is so inclined, one will always find cause for regret. The thing to do is decide, one way or another, with the determination never to look back.