PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 91 13th September 2004
I. 'Teaching Philosophy' by Herdy L. Yumul
II. 'Dr Johnson and the Stone' by David Seaman
III. 'Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics: Call for Contributions' by
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In this issue
Herdy Yumul, one of a growing band of enthusiastic supporters of the ISFP at Trinity College, Quezon City, gives a gripping account of his experiences teaching Philosophy to nursing students in the Philippines, and his feelings of frustration over the numbers of qualified nurses who leave the Philippines attracted by the mighty Dollar.
David Seaman has just completed his Pathways Metaphysics program. In his final essay for the program, he gives a thoughtful appraisal of the famous incident when Dr Johnson allegedly 'disproved' Berkeley's idealism by kicking a stone.
Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is editing a new encyclopaedia, Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics, for Hodder. 'Unlike other such works,' he writes, 'this aims to widen the net for philosophical entries, seeking both to reassess the status of topics conventionally included, and offer consideration to those habitually excluded.'
I. 'TEACHING PHILOSOPHY' BY HERDY L. YUMUL
Dear Dr. Klempner,
I am one of the ISFP members in Trinity College, Quezon
City, where I teach philosophy and sociology.
Allow me to share with you a self-reflexive essay that I
wrote, inspired by ISFP's mission to make philosophy
meaningful to the everyman - in my case, the nursing
student who is so transfixed at abandoning our country for
Here is my own attempt. Hope it is worth your while.
Herdy L. Yumul
Teaching Philosophy Herdy L. Yumul
ALL right, my students are bright, as we boast of having one of the finest nursing programs in the country. Their training is rigid, and the selection process very tight. But, at the turn of the semester, I feared that my students would take my subject lightly. I took pains in urging them not to treat Philosophy as a "minor subject," for there must be some reason why it is a curriculum requirement.
After a month, my students submitted their phenomenological reflections. My heart broke when I discovered that many of them wanted to pursue something else, but were forced by their parents, who finance their studies, to take nursing instead. It is sad that our ailing economy kills the dreams of the young. Older people are infected with bitter pragmatism, and few of them are as supportive as the father in the PLDT commercial.
Our class had an engaging discussion on Martin Heidegger, who posits that when man confuses being with having, the origin of moods is located in external possessions: money, gadgets, or whatnot become the source of happiness; deprivations lead to feelings of sadness and frustration. In this case, the human-being has identified himself with its objects of care, and forgotten his own existence.
"At the moment, what essence do you find in your existence?," I asked them. It is not very difficult to figure out: e$$ence. It does not take a sociologist to understand why. Our government is a joke, our economy a disaster, and by the time my students go abroad, in 2007 at the earliest, Fernando Poe, Jr. would have spent three years in MalacaOang, and the peso would have dipped at over eighty to a dollar. No wonder that many professionals are now taking nursing-doctors, dentists, physical therapists, and, yes, lawyers. Some of them are my students, older than I am, and resigned to this nation's dim tomorrow.
Our school's thrust reads: Preparing for life through God-centered education and service. Here we anchored our discussion of Gustavo Gutierrez's Liberation Theology. Gutierrez proposes that what motivates Christians to participate in the liberation of the oppressed "is the conviction of the radical incompatibility of evangelical demands with an unjust and alienating society. They feel keenly that they cannot claim to be Christians without a commitment to liberation." The emphasis here is on praxis--action, for no self-respecting Christian can be a spectator to social unrest.
Many students seem to forget their fundamental mission. The line: "I want to be a nurse because I want to care for the sick and needy" we only hear of now in the question and answer portion of the Search for Little Ms. Philippines. Caring for the sick has been reduced to an incident to the quest for the good life. We do not need more nurses. We need more caring nurses.
My students showed an encouraging response. They pledged to offer their services in marginalized communities where medical practitioners are needed most. This they promised to do for at least a year when they earn their license. The pledge, of course, is not binding, and I cannot ask the foreign embassies to bar their visa applications if they don't comply. Such act, nonetheless, shows us a glimmer of hope.
I know that it is difficult to speak with finality. Ate Hedy, my sister, held the same convictions when she was a young nurse teaching at a university in Laoag City. Aware that many families have been destroyed because of overseas employment, she opted to stay, live a life of moderation, and build a happy family. Now, Ate Hedy is in New Zealand, away from her husband and her four year-old daughter, Kaka, whose future she is fighting for.
I look at nurses who have left, not with judgmental eyes, but with compassion. There's Ate Mona and Weng in California, Auntie Elsie and Uncle Gerry in Hawaii, Ate Joy and Jemy in New Zealand, and other relatives I hold so dear in more parts of the world. The Philippines is always in their minds, and they sent me nice presents last Christmas.
Many people say that I can afford to be idealistic only because I don't have children yet. The moment you raise your own family, they warned, you will abandon your youthful arrogance; philosophy cannot build you a home, it cannot send your children to decent schools.
Am I losing the crusade? I don't know, but when Kit, one of my students, fell in love with Friedrich Nietzsche, the feeling was ecstatic. Discussing the enigmatic German philosopher with his friends, even during night-outs, Kit's collection of Nietzsche's books puts to shame my own. Also, when I organized the Trinity Debate Society, most of those who joined were nursing and medical technology students. I learn a lot from these folks, and I grow with them. My friend Alona, a colleague in the faculty, reminds me to be thankful for having a job that allows us to earn a living while learning with amazing people.
There are a few bad times, though, such when I caught one of my students reviewing for his anatomy class while I was delivering a lecture on Marx. This prompted me to ask: "What good does it do to you when you find the parietal bone, and lose your own self?" And the message got across.
I sure have my own moments of weakness, too. Such when one of my students asked, "Sir, kuntento ka na ba sa ganyan? (Are you contented with your situation now?) "What do you mean?," I replied. "Yung ganyan, walang sariling bahay, padorm-dorm, walang kotse, (You live in a dormitory, not having your own house, your own car), he clarified.
I am not asking my students to be exactly like Socrates, who loved to go to the marketplace to see the things he is happy without. Neither am I leading them to the footsteps of Diogenes, a cynic, who lived in a barrel, and owned nothing but a cloak, a bread bag, and a stick, reasoning that in having very few possessions, his happiness won't be easily stolen from him. But, I urge my students to be steadfast in their search for meaning so that at the end of the day, they can look back with neither resentment nor regret. The way to meaning, of course, is not without a price. But it is the only way a truly existent man should take.
Now, I should stop evading the question. "Sir, kuntento ka na ba sa ganyan?"
The answer I cannot tell with enough certainty. But one thing I am sure of: I just love to teach philosophy, and I thank my students for the life I live now. I thank them for letting me wake up each morning, with a sweet smile on my face.
It is a business both daunting and rewarding to preach the gospels of Socrates, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Gutierrez, in a world facing the most difficult of times.
(c) Herdy L. Yumul 2004
Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences Trinity College Quezon City Philippines
"To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities - I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not - that one endures."
(Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, p. 481)
II. 'DR JOHNSON AND THE STONE' BY DAVID SEAMAN
James Boswell in his Life of Johnson described this conversation between himself and Samuel Johnson that happened towards the end of 1763:
"After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some
time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to
prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in
the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we
are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to
refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which
Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force
against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute
It is possible that Johnson was attempting to disprove immaterialism by the physicality of the stone and its action on his foot. But Berkeley would have had no problem countering this argument - to the immaterialist the stone and foot and the action between them were all mental perceptions and certainly no practical demonstration could show otherwise.
Instead maybe the clue to Johnson's meaning is in the nature of the refutation. Although a man of words he choose not to answer with more "ingenious sophistry" but instead demonstrated by action that man is a participant in reality and not primarily an observer. Such a philosophical stance has nowadays been labelled pragmatism, and was developed by the American's Charles Peirce (1839-1914) and William James (1842-1910) with Richard Rorty (b 1931) being a more recent supporter. Pragmatists believe that reality is discovered by active participation in the world. This means that the immaterialist vs materialist dialectic is bypassed by the claim that both subject and object are constituted from experience, and there is a bottom up approach to discovering reality compared with the top down "pure reason" approach of analytic metaphysics.
An important assumption is that we have direct access to reality and not just to a representation of reality (in particular Rorty is much concerned with the rejection of representationalism). There is a laudable aim here, the discovery of practical knowledge is an essential part of human understanding of reality and is the source of all scientific knowledge. However the lack of anything on which to base a system of values means that pragmatism is left with a sort of post-modern account of truth. Truth only matters as far as there are practical consequences of that truth (this is paraphrased from Peirce's "Principle of Pragmatism") or "Truth is just the property that all true statements share" (Rorty discussing pragmatism in the introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism). For a pragmatist there is nothing interesting to talk about in the concept of absolute truth and they claim that all metaphysical attempts to do so have failed. However the orderly nature of the world means that the discovery process can be undertaken with integrity, so it is still possible to talk about scientific or historic truths in a mundane but useful sense.
Berkeley would have supported the empirical aim of gathering knowledge but would have considered truth to be in the hands of God and certainly not have considered pragmatism to be a genuine attack on the intellectual basis of his metaphysic of immaterialism. If Johnson had wanted to succeed in his refutation of immaterialism he might have followed Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and combined a pragmatic approach to epistemology with a materialist metaphysics. A monist materialist believes that reality consists only of an actual volume of space that persists through time and contains at various places some actual substance labelled matter that obeys physical laws (the materialist will of course also have some a priori truths).
In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a practical difficulty in being a monist materialist since there appeared to be no place for God (Hobbes was attacked as an atheist although he clearly wasn't - in fact God was one of his a priori truths). There was also the substantial difficulty of accounting for how a world made out of only matter could contain the mind.
Moving forward to the beginning of the 20th century we come to Samuel Alexander (1859-1938) who in Space, Time and Deity gave a modern account of how the mind could emerge from the physical (Alexander even managed to introduce an emergent God in his metaphysics, but this is very different to the Judeo-Christian God). Emergence is the idea that higher laws and properties can be generated from the complexities of a lower layer, and that these laws and properties are irreducible to the properties of the lower layer. This is a commonplace in science, for example Boyle's Law, that describes the relationship between pressure and volume of a gas, emerges from the actions of the individual gas molecules but is not reducible to the properties of those molecules. Alexander argued that the properties of matter emerge from a physical substratum and eventually the mind emerges from the properties of matter. The irreducibility of emergence is central to this argument, although the mind is entirely made of physical matter it has completely new properties that are not related to the properties of the physical layer.
The claim that the mind can emerge from the physical is of course controversial. It seems unlikely that one could prove prove that it is logically possible for this to occur (science might come to the rescue, if something is shown to be scientifically possible it is sure to be logically possible). On the other hand several philosophers have tried to show it is logically impossible for some aspect of mind to exist in a materialist world: examples are Kripke and Jackson (see below - there is a useful summary in Chalmers). In a typical argument Frank Jackson attempts to show, through the example of a scientist who has always lived in a black and white world, that qualia (such as what it is like to see red) do not supervene on the physical. But it seems possible that these complex arguments underestimate the power of emergence. The irreducible laws and properties that appear in an emergent mind can be considered to generate something like a mind-body dualism whilst still maintaining the advantage of the causal connection between the mind and the physical layer.
So I will assume for now that it is possible to accept that the mind can emerge from matter (especially since this is surely no harder than accepting Berkeley's busy God, or Kant's noumena, or the teleology of Hegel's objective idealism). It is then necessary to ask whether materialism has an answer to immaterialism.
The central argument for immaterialism is that everything that is perceived is a perception and that there is no way of pinning these perceptions onto anything that can be defined as knowable matter. All descriptions of the properties of an object become descriptions of perceptions and the matter itself becomes redundant. In reply, the emergent materialist says from her point of view the matter is surely necessary since without it there would be no mind. And her description of perception is certainly coherent: the properties of an object emerge from the physical matter making up that object and are causally transmitted to the emergent mind by the physical laws (it could be suggested that the properties of the object emerge not in the object but in the brain or mind, but this does not alter the basic argument since the causal relationship with the object still exists). Finally when dealing with truth there are no extra problems with materialism. The space and matter exist and it is always possible to make judgements that are either true or false about the matter and its properties. And since mind emerges from matter it is also possible to make similar judgements about mind (even if many of these truths are unknowable in practice).
The conclusion here is that it is probably possible to construct a materialist metaphysics to rival immaterialism, but of course this in no way refutes immaterialism. In any case I suspect Dr Johnson would not have wanted to follow this road to its finish, but he would probably have not have been happier with all the consequences of pragmatism. Analytic metaphysics leads to several mutually incompatible outcomes with no apparent way of deciding between them. The alternative is to reject the premise that the ultimate nature of reality is open to the powers of logic and reason. Fortunately, this pragmatism does not lead to anarchy but to an ordered world that we can with integrity discover for ourselves. But if the pragmatic approach discovers an ordered world why cannot analytic metaphysics find the cause for this order? That is the tension between empiricism and reason.
References and bibliography:
Alexander, S. (1920) Space, Time and Deity (Macmillan) Berkeley, G. (1710) Principles of Human Knowledge (Penguin Classics) Boswell, J. (1791) The Life of Samuel Johnson (Penguin Classics) Chalmers, D. J. (1996) The Conscious Mind (OUP) Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan (Penguin Classics) Jackson, F. (1982) Epiphenomenal Qualia (Philosophical Quarterly, 32:127-36) James, W. (1904) What is Pragmatism (from Writings 1902-1920, Library of America)
Kripke, S.A. (1980) Naming and Necessity (Harvard University Press) Rorty, R. (1992) Consequences of Pragmatism (University of Minnesota Press)
(c) David Seaman 2004
III. 'ESSENTIALS OF PHILOSOPHY AND ETHICS: CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS' BY MARTIN COHEN
Philosophers both inside and outside academia are invited to contribute to a new encyclopaedia of philosophy and ethics, to be published by Hodder Education* in the autumn of 2005.
Unlike other such works, this aims to widen the net for philosophical entries, seeking both to reassess the status of topics conventionally included, and offer consideration to those habitually excluded. We are interested in identifying key philosophical issues and topics that may have been neglected due to prejudice, difficulty, or plain institutional inertia.
The proposed volume is aimed at a wide 'bookshop' market, as well as students and academic generalists. It will cover not only the central philosophical domain but include material relevant to politics, sociology, psychology and economics. Ethics, and ethical considerations, will be a thread running through the whole work.
In the interests of accessibility and usability, the number of topics is being kept to just over 500, of which about 120 will be 'key entries', that is short essays of between 400-1500 words; together making up just over half of the entire work. There will be two classes of 'minor entries', 200-400 words and 100-250 words respectively, and a fourth category of essentially 'dictionary' definitions, but these will be written by the editors although feel free to make suggestions!
A list of topics can be found at:
(Entries highlighted in green have already been 'taken'.)
There are some example entries here:
Submissions are invited for the major 'key' entries. Of these, about one quarter will be written by the editorial board of the encyclopaedia, another quarter will be written by philosophers and others specifically invited by the editorial board, and the remainder is being made open to the wider philosophical community in there interests of, as indicated, broadening and redefining the nature of the subject.
All contributors will be listed as such in the encyclopaedia, and will receive a copy of the work. Please understand that there is no guarantee that unsolicited material will be included and that the final selection will be based on need and quality.
*The educational division as a whole is called Hodder Education, although the actual imprint under which the books will appear is Hodder Arnold.
1. Submissions must be made by email, with a name, full postal address and contact telephone numbers. Please put 'submission for Hodder Encyclopaedia' in the message header.
2. All submissions become property of the publisher. Do not submit material that is copyright protected or has been published elsewhere already. Nor should you submit material if you are concerned to protect your 'rights' to it. (See point 3 below). This does not affect your rights to use the work elsewhere. All contributors must formally assign copyright to the publisher by signing and returning a declaration that we will provide.
3. Unsolicited submissions for the entries are accepted on the basis that the ideas and material included may be adapted, modified, plagiarised, 'cherry-picked', without reference to the author. Naturally the editor will endeavour to ensure fair recognition of contributors' work but there is likely to be much duplication between submissions and we cannot enter into any correspondence over claims of 'ownership'. So please only send material to us on this sharing basis.
4. Persons considering submission of a 'key entry' may however send a synopsis if they prefer (on the above basis) with a request to be invited to write the entry. In the case of invited contributions the author will be consulted over editing and related matters, and will be credited. However, such contributions still cannot be accepted if the author intends to claim any form of copyright over the material.
5. The editor will decide at what point someone becomes a 'contributor'. In general, anyone who is the sole author of a 'key entry' will automatically be considered such.
NOTE ON STYLE
In the words of the archivist of the Philosophy Society of England, whilst the expression of obscurity is pardonable, the reverse is not. The Society publishes The Philosopher, the oldest general Philosophy Journal in the world. It provides a forum for short, original, brilliant and accessible articles (and, it is true, space for a few rather less good ones!).
Authors are encouraged to study the sample entries here for style and literary conventions. The editor insists on a high standard of readability and transparency, more in line with Classical discussions than with the rationales of monographs or journals catering for the academic market.
(c) Martin Cohen 2004
E-mail address for contributions: firstname.lastname@example.org
[From The Philosopher Online website: