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  View the latest questions and answers at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com
pathways (ask a philosopher)

Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 7 (2nd series)

When referring to an answer on this page, please quote the page number followed by the answer number. The first answer on this page is 7/1.

The latest questions are distributed weekly to members of the Ask a Philosopher panel. If you would like to join the panel, please email askaphilosopher@fastmail.net, including a brief CV and statement of your academic qualifications.

Ask a question Answer a question

(1) Natalie asked:

"I have noticed that most, if not all, of the answers on this site show a certain degree of skepticism towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. Are religious faith and intellectual philosophy mutually exclusive? If so, why? If not, why is this skeptical standpoint so common?"

============

Steven Ravett Brown answered (4/5):

"[...] The difference between philosophy and religion is that philosophy has no dogmas. There is nothing which must be accepted, except perhaps that principle (and, really, that can be questioned also), as a basis for a philosophical system. To be religious you have to come to a stopping point, somewhere... "

David Robjant responded (6/7):

"Regarding SRB: There are always and everywhere claims that cannot be defended by argument, that are beyond justification — whether one characterises these claims as 'stopping points' or 'starting points'. SRB is correct that it is a key dogma of a certain kind of Philosopher that 'in principle' (whatever that means) everything is up for grabs. In practice it turns out to be impossible for everything to be questioned at once (how could you formulate the question?), and lately philosophers have taken the view that this impossibility is a kind of logical impossibility. Wittgenstein: the doubt must turn upon a hinge. What the hinge is may change over time — but that is not to say that their are no dogmas, only that dogmas can evolve, compete, replace one another.

"SRB's short account of the difference between Philosophy and Religion can be neatly reduced to it's proper absurdity as follows:

"1) Philosophical reasoning has no starting points (or "stopping points") 2) Arguments have starting points (or "stopping points")

"Therefore:

"3) There are no arguments in philosophy

"Which, needless to say, is false.

"My claim would be that what people do in Religion is the same activity as what they do in Philosophy, and that the claim of superiority made by secular philosophers would simply amount to the thought that they do this kind of activity (reflecting about the way the world is — thinking in closely examined metaphors with the goal of accuracy) better than the religious thinkers. Defrocked of the 'no-dogma' dogma, Philosophers are thus exposed as braggarts about their own special talents at the general game. But that, of course, doesn't exclude that they might have something to brag about. We should pay close attention to their arguments in order to discover whether this or that braggart is also mistaken."

Dave Robjant responded to my answer above, with a rather bizarre analysis of my response. He claims that it reduced to the following argument:

1) Philosophical reasoning has no starting points (or "stopping points")

2) Arguments have starting points (or "stopping points")

Therefore:

3) There are no arguments in philosophy

This is an obvious attempt to use sophistry to defend religion. Both of his points 1) and 2) above are quite clearly not what I said, claimed, or hold. This is therefore an ad hominem argument of the worst sort.

First, I make no claim that philosophical reasoning has no starting or stopping points. Quite the contrary. But to have a starting point does not imply that this starting point cannot be questioned, nor that this questioning somehow invalidates it as a starting point. All one has to do on this is to think about recursion. Does a recursive series, equation, or realized mechanism have a starting point? Does, for example, Bayesian reasoning have a starting point? Yes, of course. Yet that recursion enables modification of that very starting point. So Robjant would claim, then, that somehow that annuls that point, which is obviously incorrect. As for stopping points, I would merely cite the ongoing debates about, say, free will, which date roughly 3000 years at this point and show no sign of stopping yet. Are they thus not arguments? Of course they are; arguments in which the hypotheses are being reformulated on the basis of the ongoing arguments themselves, another concrete example of the utility of recursion in philosophy and argument in general.

Second, the claim about arguments above is also manifestly untrue. Again, we might look at the ongoing debate on free will. Where is the starting point for that? Lost somewhere in history. Yet we can take into account the effects of that starting point in the modifications of the continuing argument. The same holds for a "stopping point" for such arguments. To take another example: given a recursive process, even such clear-cut ones as we find in mathematics, there are no necessary stopping points. A recursively-generated series, to take just one example, goes to infinity, and may or may not converge to a particular value. Does this invalidate this branch of mathematics? I do not think so.

Thus both of Robjant's points, which he does not back up with concrete examples, merely being satisfied with unsupported assertions, are incorrect.

Therefore, Robjant's argument collapses.

Now let us look at the further "arguments" he claims to make. It is quite clear, if one looks at the phenomenon of religion in cultures, that it is manifestly not the same activity as philosophy. There is an enormous literature on religious "experiences", "insights", "mysticism", "conversion". Religion is in good part based on such intense emotional experiences. Philosophy, to the contrary, recognizes that such experiences 1) cannot be employed as the basis for argument or philosophical systems, 2) questions the basis of those experiences. So here is a specific, concrete example which refutes Robjant's general, unsupported claim.

As for Robjant's rhetoric about "formulating the question" above, I'll do just that: "doubt everything". Is there something that statement leaves out? As for the Wittgenstein quote, it is well known that his position on religion and philosophy is quite controversial, and throwing such a quote into this discussion without a long prelude is merely a smokescreen, i.e., quoting an "authority" in order to give credence to a spurious argument.

Steven Ravett Brown


(2) Leandro asked:

Why is suicide the answer for a lot of problems?

============

Is it really? We should analyze the act of committing suicide first, before saying it can solve problems, or even be a possible way of solving problems.

Sartre in his book Being and Nothingness analyses death by suicide by saying: "suicide, being an act that is part of my life, requires a meaning, that only posterior acts can give it; but being the last act, it refuses itself those acts, remaining undetermined" (Part IV, Chapter I, II). In fact he says that suicide is absurd because it cannot be analyzed as an act that belongs to the chain of acts that make up our lives. In the basis of this is the simple preposition that an act can only have a meaning if it can be analyzed after it happens. As death itself has no meaning, because there is no possibility of seeing the consequences of death, we cannot expect death to be a solution for any given problems. Sartre even denies that death can be the defining concept of human life, because by making choices, even being immortal, a human determines itself as a evolving project”, so being determined as not-infinite.

Some may say that for instance terminal hill patients could demand the right to die thus solving the problem of suffering. But one can see that the opposite of pain is not only the absence of pain, but the presence of a state of well being, that cannot exist in death (at least not in a scientifically proved manner). Death, as it cannot be analyzed by human tools, remains meaningless, absurd. One cannot look to death as an answer to the problems that are presented by life. Problems can only be solved by answers that work” in life, and not in death.

One could say that suicide can only solve human problems in one way: third party problems. Imagine that possibility of a dictator that commits suicide to avoid an horrible death by a strange disease. That man (or woman) would not solve his problem, but his suicide could solve the problems of many thousands.

Finally I would like to address Socrates. It's a famous suicide, maybe not exactly a suicide, but he did in fact choose to die for knowledge, and die to obey the laws of Athens as we can read in Plato's words. Did Socrates decision have a meaning? Well, maybe not for him. Although it certainly have a meaning for his disciples (Plato included). To die for a cause, can well be placed in those cases that suicide does find a meaning, not for the one committing it, but for others.

Nuno Hipolito


(3) Mateus asked:

I want to know about the "cogito" of Descartes. Is that a pure thing like the "desert of the real" of matrix?

============

If you want to know about Descartes, the best thing to do is read him. He wrote a series of essays called "Meditations" which are widely available. I highly recommend them.

Steven Ravett Brown


(4) Eman asked:

If philosophers base their reasoning on logic which is quite apparent from some of the answers I've seen, on logic, and absolutely no belief. Then 1) How do they explain the world's existence? 2) How do they explain the nature of a person? (the mind, the emotions, etc.) 3) How is it possible to be based solely on logic? Every new philosopher must have to start from scratch, or research the logic of thousands before him, to determine if what they say is true. Furthermore the nature of a philosopher, like everyone, has to have a purpose or meaning in life in order to TRULY live. Or is the philosopher's life merely satisfied by intellectual stimulation?

============

1) They don't. Why should they? That's an empirical question, and there are many astronomers and physicists undertaking to answer it.

2) They don't. That's also an empirical question, and many psychologists are actively researching it.

3) It isn't. But you are correct in saying that "Every new philosopher must... research the logic of thousands before him". At least, partly correct. There are many women who are philosophers. But aside from that... yes, and this is why philosophy is a difficult area to learn. You must first be reasonably aware of roughly 2500 years of writings, and then you can go do some on your own.

4) Do mathematicians, who are even more oriented to logic, have no purpose in life? What about computer programmers?

Steven Ravett Brown


(5) Brian asked:

Could you define the meaning of symbolism?

============

I'd recommend you start here:

Ogden, C. K., and I. A. Richards. 1968. The Meaning of Meaning. 8th ed. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. Original edition, 1923.

Steven Ravett Brown


(6) O asked:

How important is truth?

While Julie asked:

How is truth obscured by language?

============

To these questions John Brandon answered (8/6):

"...we should first establish what is meant by truth... Although truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs, they are properties dependent upon the relations of beliefs to other things. It follows from this that truth consists in some form of correspondence between belief and fact."

No. It doesn't follow. Readily admitting that "truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs dependent upon the relations of beliefs to other things", it still need not be the case that the form which this truth-determining relation between beliefs and other things must take is "correspondence between belief and fact".

I can give some for instances. Down the history of philosophy, various rival alternative characterisations of that "other" to which beliefs must relate in order to be true have included, besides 'facts', the following:

Sense data. Flux. Beauty. The Good. Practice. Success in our tasks. Corporate bodies of belief. Liberation from suffering. (to take but a few notable examples.)

This range of alternatives may prove useful, as when, for example, we see that characterising the true as "whatever corresponds to the facts" isn't particularly helpful. For how do we characterise "fact"? Well, a 'fact' is a statement (and thus by extension any state of affairs described in that statement) that is 'true'. Hm. That ought to worry us. If 'fact' and 'true' are linked by their grammar in this circular fashion, where what's true depends upon what's factual and what's factual depends upon what's true, an 'explanation' of 'true' in terms of 'fact' really doesn't take us very far.

Perhaps this difficulty invites the "very complex discussion exercising several controversial views in the philosophy of knowledge" that John Brandon spoke of so warily. It is a general danger, and joy, in philosophy, that progress in one area must often mean movement and progress in all areas at once.

David Robjant


(7) Naomi asked:

"What came first, dinosaurs or Adam and Eve?"

============

Implicit within this question are two premisses; that dinosaurs existed and that Adam and Eve existed. A meaningful response can only be provided if one accepts both premisses. Scientific rationalists (like the majority readership of this site) would almost certainly not accept the second premiss.

Somewhat unusually most "normal" people (ie non-subscribers to this web site!) also seem to find the first more easy to accept than the second despite the somewhat dubious scientific method utilised in "proving" that dinosaurs existed. So much of this form of historical conjecture is just that, ie conjecture, that it is hard to know what is meant when one says "dinosaurs existed". If you mean "dinosaurs as defined by Othniel Marsh and his peers and as depicted by various imaginative artists at the end of the 19th century" then they probably didn't exist at all. That's not necessarily a debunk of evolution as a process though...

The creation story in the Bible is one of many such stories explaining how we came into being (a more contemporary one being "big bang"). The additional weight added to this story is that many people say that the Bible is the revealed word of God. So this is bound to lead on to two further debates...Does God exist? and What is the revealed word of God? I'll leave the Does God exist? debate as it is a regular feature on this site and on any undergraduate Philosophy course.

Let's accept that God exists. How are we to accept the Bible? Does this mean that Adam and Eve existed?

Some say that the Bible is to be read literally, and hence Adam and Eve existed and preceded the dinosaurs (which seem to make an appearance in the book of Job). They would state that an omnipotent Creator could create a world with a fossil record, or may even suggest that the fossil record is a tool of satan designed to weaken people's faith. So their answer would be that Adam and Eve came first, and that although they know that it is counter-intuitive that doesn't stop it being true.

Others take a looser reading and would accept the 6-day creation in Genesis as being more allegorical, each "day" lasting eons and the method of God's creation being something akin to a Big Bang followed by an evolutionary process. They don't feel uncomfortable reconciling the Bible to Darwin's rationalist challenge. Adam and Eve existed, and were the first humans to become "people", but they were created after the beasts. This group would be much more likely to say that the dinosaurs came first.

Both of these last groups would accept the Bible to be the revealed word of God, but the latter would stress that it was written down by people, and some pretty primitive people at first, and so contains certain challenges to our understanding. The Bible, they would say, was inspired by God but written by people.

Thus the difference in their answers relates to the status given to the Bible and the location of the Truth within... Is the Truth to found in the words written down, or in the understanding in the mind of the reader? This is yet another philosophical question regarding semantics and the nature of meaning.

Clearly there are yet more people who may accept that God exists but do not place such a high status on the Bible. They may then reject either of your premisses. Perhaps they believe that "god" exists, not "God", or more accurately "YHWH". I have no idea how they would answer your question.

So in summary,

Naomi, scientific materialists would accept dinosaurs' existence but not Adam and Eve's so couldn't answer.

Some fundamentalists may accept Adam and Eve's existence but reject dinosaurs as being a satanic trick so also could not answer.

Creationists would say that Adam and Eve came first.

Non-fundamental evangelics would say that dinosaurs probably came first. As for me, I don't know, I wasn't there...

Clive Hogger


(8) Eugine asked:

"What is the role of God in Berkeley's epistemology?"

============

Berkeley maintains that human knowledge consists entirely of immaterial ideas. Ideas only exist for and through a Mind : Esse est percipi - to be is to be perceived.

Thus to maintain that ideas exist without a Mind is a contradiction. This view has the danger of ending in solipsism - that I can only know my own existence with certainty and that other minds cannot be known to exist.

However, Berkeley also writes that the furniture of the world continues to exist when I do not perceive it. This is because other minds perceive it. The problem of solipsism does not go away however. Bring on God. The furniture of the world will continue to exist when not perceived by finite, human minds as it is permanently perceived by the infinite and omniscient mind of God. The role God plays in Berkeley's epistemology is that his eternal perception guarantee's the permanent existence of the immaterial world, even when not perceived by myself or yourself. Hence as some commentators have said, Immaterialism comes close to the view of common sense realism.

However, on Berkeley's own criteria for knowing - esse est percipi, has anyone perceived God? If not, God cannot exist and his role in upholding a permanently existing immaterial worldwill not follow.

Martin Jenkins


(9) Sajjid asked:

"What is Natural? Is there anything un-natural?"

============

In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the essay On James Mill, Marx wrote that the natural essence of the human species - its gattungswesen - was that of a creative, reflective producer. It produces its means of subsistence, its means of life and eventually, its means of culture.

In this sense, anything a human being creates [or perhaps does], is natural. From creating a fire, building nuclear warheads and cutting down rainforest - it is all the natural expression of the human essence. What would be un-Natural, would be to prevent or deny this creativity.

Martin Jenkins


(10) Matt asked:

Is the meaning of purpose the purpose of meaning?

============

Sorry Matt but this is nonsense of the highest degree. Purpose can be attached to human actions. For example 'He did this because...'.

Meaning is an abstract concept not a human being and cannot have things like motives or purposes attached to it except in a poetic sense perhaps. You might just as well ask do angels wear wigs? Do invisible footballs bounce higher than visible ones?

Not every combination of words makes sense although if you drink enough they can seem to.

Shaun Williamson


(11) Naomi asked:

What came first, dinosaurs or Adam and Eve?

============

All the evidence suggests that dinosaurs existed at a time when there were no humans on the earth. There is no mention of dinosaurs in the bible and there are no cave drawings of dinosaurs. If you interpret the bible as a history book then you will never understand it.

Shaun Williamson


(12) Raquel asked:

Do you think that only heterosexual parents can give children a balanced upbringing, because they provide appropriate role models. do you agree or disagree and why?

============

Sorry Raquel but this seems like rather a dumb question. It really doesn't matter what I think about this or what you think about it. The fact is we know almost nothing about these things. Suppose the child is going to grow up to be homosexual would he or she find life easier if they had been brought up by homosexual parents? Probably.

Would a black child find life easier in Britain if he or she had been born white?

Certainly. Would a poor child find life easier if they had been born to rich parents?

Probably. The only thing we do know is that children brought up by adults who love them tend to do better in life than children brought up by adults who don't love them.

Shaun Williamson


(13) Leandro asked:

Why is suicide the answer for a lot of problems?

============

Suicide isn't the answer for any problem but it does stop you having or being aware of problems. Suicide is a refusal to face problems. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that but don't get confused. You solve a problem by determination and hard work. You avoid a problem by killing yourself. Not the same thing.

Shaun Williamson


(14) Maisha asked:

I am having difficulty with a year 6 girl. Although she has had problems with mathematics especially with the more abstract concepts, she has now been refusing to take part in physical education classes. When asked whether she has problems in certain areas she would say 'no'. When asked why she won't comply and would say something like 'its boring' or 'what for?' or 'it doesn't make any sense'. Her disinterest and non-compliant behaviour are beginning to have a negative effect on the other children in the class, in that those who want to work cooperatively are starting to shun her and making it clear that they don't want her in their group. As a result, she is becoming slowly but surely isolated from the rest of the class members. She appears to want to be involved while at the same time shows ambivalence regarding her work, her teachers, and others in the class.

============

Forget about her not being good at maths, some people are and some aren't. A six year old child can have problems that they can never express in words. Perhaps she doesn't want to do physical education because she has bruises on her body that she doesn't want anyone else to see. Maybe she is just different and doesn't regard physical things as important. All you can do is try to be her friend. Try to encourage her to talk about her problems. For a child the most important things are their parents and their home life. You may never be able to solve all her problems but keep trying. That is all you can do.

Shaun Williamson


(15) Kirstsy asked:

What can you do if someone is getting abused in their home and it is because of alcohol? Help me.

============

There are no easy answers to this question. If it is a child who is suffering you can contact the social services department of the local council and by being persistent force them to do something. If it is an adult there is very little you can do except try to be their friend and encourage them to leave the abusive situation. Good luck.

Shaun Williamson


(16) Stephanie asked:

Does age and gender affect the way we see optical illusions?

============

I would guess 'Yes it does'. But forget about guessing. This is a good topic for some scientific research. It is not a philosophical question. Do the research.

Shaun Williamson


(17) Luke asked:

Do you think that everything that we see and all that exists (physical things and ideas) are just states of mind? Do you think that there really isn't good and bad, but only our ideas of good and bad, that is something is only bad if we believe it is, and that this only depends on our instincts of survival? And that our senses create the objects around us, because without senses nothing would exist as we couldn't see, think, feel, hear, smell or taste anything?

============

A liar doesn't want other people to lie to him. A thief doesn't want other people to steal from him. A murderer doesn't want other people to kill him. If you walk on the railway track a train will mow you down even if you don't see it or hear it.

Shaun Williamson


(18) Ezekiel asked:

Hello Sir, I am looking for a school, very prestigious in there department of philosophy. I have studied it for a long time and I want to make it my profession. I thank you for your time and hospitality for responding. Have a blessed day.

============

Well in the UK this would be Cambridge University. Good luck.

Shaun Williamson


(19) Heike asked:

Dear ladies and gentlemen!

I`d like to know if it is possible to study philosophy in England without a school-leaving examination.

I hope you can help me on in this respect.

Thank you for your efforts.

============

Yes it's possible if you can demonstrate that you have some knowledge of philosophy and a genuine interest in the subject.Also you must be able to show that you have enough money to pay for the whole of the degree course.

Shaun Williamson


(20) Emily asked:

Can hedgehogs climb trees? Can you drown a fish?

============

No, hedgehogs can't climb trees. A freshwater fish will drown in saltwater and a saltwater fish will drown in freshwater.

Shaun Williamson


(21) Naomi asked:

What came first, dinosaurs or Adam and Eve?

============

Genesis tells us that before Man came into being God had already provided the means for his existence by providing first of all plant then animal life. That is if you believe the first chapter. In the second chapter the reverse obtains. Adam established in the Garden of Eden is seen by God to be lonely, hence he created animals for company and took them to Adam for naming. This proved to be not sufficient so God created the ideal partner, a woman called Eve. In neither case, however, either in chapter 1 or chapter 2 is there any mention of dinosaurs. One would have to presume that dinosaurs might have been a failed early experiment by God, when the animal was found to be a rather overwhelming presence in the Garden of Eden, and probably detrimental to the existence of Adam and Eve.

The scientific approach is rather different, and on what seems to be a much longer time scale, there appears to have been no humans around 65 million years ago when dinosaurs seem to have been the dominant form of animal life. As geology and associated sciences continue to push back the time for the origin of Man, who knows, we may yet find human fossil remains beyond the dinosaurs. As the extinction of dinosaurs is still an unconfirmed theory, we may yet be able to blame humans for their demise, as they have been for many other animal species!! By the way, very few people may be aware of the fact that a skeleton obtained from a ten million year old coal seam in Tuscany in 1958 was human rather than ape, (Sunday Times 12th June 1960. Report complete with photographs)

John Brandon


(22) Leandro asked:

Why is suicide the answer for a lot of problems?

============

Suicide is not the answer to any problem, it is actually a means of escape from facing up to problems.

John Brandon


(23) Naomi asked:

What came first, dinosaurs or Adam and Eve???

============

Dinosaurs. There was no Adam and Eve; that's a creation myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition. For other creation myths, you might take a look here:

http://www.dc.peachnet.edu/~shale/humanities/literature/religion/creation.html

Steven Ravett Brown


(24) Al asked:

Does blind faith hold us back from the truth? Truth of course being fact? If you know nothing about something, is it healthy to put 100 per cent faith in it? Something as important as life itself? Would we learn more about life, if we stop acting as if we know what it is, and why it is? Seeing is believing, or is it?

============

I suppose by 'blind' faith you mean faith which is totally unsupported in any way whatsoever. Does it hold us back from truth? Well there is a case for believing that where a person has convinced him/her self of the validity of some belief, and continues to pursue that conviction by seeking support based on additional flimsy belief, such a person could be completely misled. If such a person is not prepared to look in any other direction, then they are highly unlikely to encounter the 'truth' regarding that particular obsession. However, it should be borne in mind that genuine unbiased seekers after truth often start out from the basis of an unfounded belief. Instances are found in religion, psychic phenomena, political persuasion, etc..

I think your next question has a self evident answer. Putting 100 per cent faith into something we do not know the slightest thing about would obviously be very unwise, though it is not unusual. Putting faith in life seems to me somewhat necessary if we are to take an optimistic view of our future. Life is what we make of it, we can help ourselves towards enjoying a successful life, or we can relegate ourselves to a life of pessimism and failure. We can only learn about life by living it, we can learn some things by considering the lives of others, but attempted mimicry is a poor substitute for the real thing. If you are seeking reasons for life, then they rest within yourself, once you have convinced yourself what you are about, then you can get on with your living, and the attempted fulfilment of your dream. You refer to 'acting as though we know what life is'; I wonder if we are 'acting' ? Might this not be as near as we can get to reality?

Your final question seems to stand separate from the rest. Is seeing believing? I suppose it is if you are a disciple of the philosopher Bishop Berkeley, who believed that things only existed when they were being observed. However, I believe you mean: can we trust our senses? The short answer is not all the time, we are sometimes deceived by our senses. Much is written about this in psychology and the philosophy of perception. Far too big a topic to enter into here.

John Brandon


(25) Reggie asked:

David Lewis argues that we are committed to possible worlds by dint of our accepting that there are ways things could have been. Is he correct about this? I'm not sure. Are possible worlds as he says they are concrete particulars which exist in logical space? Modal realism is a concept I'm having trouble understanding.

============

The first reaction of many students to David Lewis (see his books Counterfactuals and On the Plurality of Worlds) is one of sheer incredulity.

The common sense view is that the actual is real whereas the possible, the way things might have been but (happily or unhappily) are not is unreal, a mere object of thought. Lewis rejects this. The 'possible' is just as real as the 'actual'.

Consider this. However bad things may get in this world, we can imagine worlds where things are a whole lot worse. Worlds where everyone undergoes gruesome torture all the time. According to Lewises theory, these worlds are just as real as our world. They exist 'out there', not in our space and time, but each in their own space and time. (This is what Lewis means by a 'concrete particular' in 'logical space'.)

However, Lewis has a strong argument for his view. When we talk about the way things might have been, we make statements which we regard as true or false. For example, 'If Bush had lost the election to Gore, the US would not have invaded Iraq'. Some people regard that statement as true, others think that the statement is false. A true statement corresponds to the way things are. But the way things are in our world is that Gore lost. So we can't be talking about our world. We must be talking about another world, or range of worlds, where Gore won. It is how things are in that world, or those worlds, which makes the statement true, if it is true, or false, if it is false. In order to have the power to 'make a statement true' or 'make a statement false' those worlds must be as real as our world.

Geoffrey Klempner


(26) Isotta asked:

Why do some people believe that Heraclitus' and Parmenides' thoughts are essentially equal?

============

On the face of it, the views of these two Presocratic philosophers could not be more different:

According to Parmenides, the only thing that can be truly said about reality is that "It is". All change, plurality, differentiation is illusory because if there were any distinction in quality between one part of reality and another, that would imply that something is not. For example, to say that the background of this page is white implies that it is not black. But there is no 'not' in reality. Everything just is.

According to Heraclitus, there are no static objects, nothing that simply 'is'. Everything in the world is in a state of flux, a state of 'becoming'. What appear to us as static objects, for example, a table or a chair, are in reality undergoing a continual process of change, like a flame or a river.

However, for Heraclitus there is one thing which is unchanging, and represents for him the ultimate reality. This is the Logos, the law which governs all the processes in the universe. Just as we believe today that even though things change, even though worlds and galaxies come into being and pass away, the laws of nature remain the same.

And here is the connection:

For Heraclitus, the Logos is what is in the truest sense. The world of constant change is a mere appearance generated by the Logos.

The philosopher who drew this conclusion was Plato, in his theory of the 'two worlds' of Forms and Phenomena.

Geoffrey Klempner


(27) Stephen asked:

How is the field of philosophy likely to alter (or progress?) during the 21st century?

Have any notable thinkers (especially those well-read in the history of philosophy, notably the last century or two) given any (credible) theories regarding this issue?

The reason I ask is that philosophy during the 20th century, in particular the Anglo-American analytic schools (which are prominent at universities in the UK and USA) has tended to become very abstract, emotionally detached, and consequently further detached from the human condition, in my opinion.

Is it likely that the prominence this form of philosophy now holds will decline in the coming century?

Especially with regard to the philosophical counselling movement, there may be a greater demand for more 'human' philosophy in the future, as opposed to abstract, self-referential, analytical theorising, which may be fine for a mental activity among intellectuals, but offers little in the way of comfort or consolation, or wisdom readily applicable to everyday life.

Although existentialist philosophy is more concerned with the human condition than the analytic school (and has consequently had a big influence on psychotherapy, both with regards to Vitkor Frankl's Logotherapy, and the Humanistic approach pioneered by Rogers and Maslow, and perhaps later philosophical counselling too), the book Spirituality for the Skeptic by philosopher Robert C. Solomon criticises both the Continental and Analytic schools of philosophy, the former for its "often cynical obscurantism". He calls for a return to the (often passionate) spirit of Hegel and Nietzsche, as a way of "liberating the soul of Philosophy".

Outside of academia, although traditional religions are on the decline in the Western world, New Age religions are on the increase, perhaps pointing to a disillusionment with rationalism and a desire for a more passionate philosophy of life (much as happened with the rise of Romanticism following the Enlightenment).

Is it possible that such a (neo-Romantic?) trend will occur in academic philosophy during the 21st century?

"Between the well-healed spiritual pundits on the media circuit", said Solomon, "and the brilliant technocrats locked away in philosophy seminar rooms, the throngs of humanity who are searching for that big picture find themselves with a pretty poor choice".

Perhaps such a new trend in philosophy could provide the 'missing link' between these two unsatisfactory alternatives, and this return somewhat to its original Greek meaning, "the love of wisdom".

How likely is this to realistically happen during the upcoming century?

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I don't know how philosophy is likely to develop during the present century, neither does anyone else. Philosophy is supposed to be about discovering the truth. It is not about designer labels or ordering a satisfying fast food designer meal. So I find talk about philosophy being more satisfying objectionable.

Philosophy is difficult. It makes your brain hurt. It's not a form of new age therapy or new age medicine. Of course people would like easy answers to life's problems dressed up in entertaining and striking concepts. They can get that from religion but leave philosophy alone. Being rational led to penicillin and aspirin. Both of these things work. They are not the answer to all of life's problems. But if you have a broken leg don't go to a herbalist or an aromatherapist. Try rational western medicine. Remember that every time you go into a dark room and reach for the light switch that you are a victim of analytic rationality.

I think that both the analytic and existential schools of philosophy are worthless but I make that judgement on the basis that the truths they offer are false and can be rejected rationally.

Shaun Williamson