What is objective idealism? (I understand that it is related to the world view of Plato.) What arguments are there in favour of this position and what arguments are against it?
Idealism, in terms of metaphysics, is the philosophical view that the mind or spirit constitutes the fundamental reality. It has taken several distinct but related forms. Among them are Objective and Subjective idealism. Objective idealism accepts common sense Realism (the view that material objects exist) but rejects Naturalism (according to which the mind and spiritual values have emerged from material things), whereas subjective idealism denies that material objects exist independently of human perception and thus stands opposed to both realism and naturalism.
As we experience ourselves as subjects (mind, consciousness) and objects (body, matter), it is no wonder that questions like 'How are mind and matter related?', 'Which is primary, consciousness or matter?', 'Which, mind or matter, is the source of the other?' are fundamental to all philosophy.
There are many philosophical positions trying to answer these questions. The spectrum of answers reaches from the extreme spiritual to the extreme material position and is usually divided into materialism and idealism.
Materialism holds to the primacy of matter, idealism to the primacy of consciousness.
Positions trying to avoid duality of matter and consciousness, are called monistic. They escape having to explain how mind and matter interact and therefore reduce one to another.
A justification of the idealist position is that that we only know for certain that our experience exists, while we never can be sure that matter exists. Hence, to explain mind by matter would be to explain the certain by the uncertain, which is a flawed form of explanation. This sounds quite clear, but how should we think of physical objects?
According to idealism a physical object is a cluster of properties such as color, size, weight, and texture, but there is no reason to think that those properties are caused by some non-mental stuff called matter. To treat an abstract concept as if it were something having physical reality is to reify that concept. Just because a noun "oddness" can be constructed from the adjective odd, doesn't mean that oddness really exists, there are only odd numbers. Likewise there is no good reason to think that matter exists. There are only objects with physical properties.
Plato can be said to be the earliest representative of metaphysical objective idealism. Dissenting from the view of Heraclitus that everything is in a state of flux and flow, he formulated, in the interest of ethics, his doctrine of eternal unchanging ideas. These ideas exist objectively in a supersensuous world and form the background and basis of the ever-changing phenomenal world. Reality is not inherent in the individual object, as, for instance, a horse or a tree, but in the general idea of horse or tree. The highest idea is the idea of the Good a self-realizing end. According to Plato, transitory and imperfect matter does exist by participating in eternal and perfect ideas or "forms". Matter can be perceived by our senses, while the forms are recognized by our souls.
So Plato's worldview was dualistic, therefore not truly idealistic.
Modern idealism tries to escape this dualistic worldview. I will pick out two kinds of modern metaphysical idealism: subjective idealism and objective idealism.
Subjective idealism denies the existence of objective reality altogether, except perhaps as illusory, as for instance in the views of Berkeley. Objective idealism, such as the system of Schelling, recognizes the existence of objective worlds while regarding the ideal world as the primary production and paramount: the external world has a relative and temporary reality.
An example for subjective idealism is Berkeley's theistic idealism. Berkeley said that it is God who causes us to experience physical objects by His directly willing us to experience matter avoiding the extra, unnecessary step of creating matter.
But isn't belief in God not even more problematic than belief in matter? Not at all, Berkeley would reply: We do not know what matter is like, but we do know what minds are like. Therefore we know what God is like, as it is a supreme mind. We may not understand God fully, as he is infinite and we are only finite, but God is still a mind.
How about common experience? According to Berkeley it is again God, who makes different people experience the same thing at the same time. So-called common perceptions is like copies of the same movie running in different theatres at the same time. God causes each of us to have such similar experiences that we can communicate about them, just as if we were really in the same situation.
In contrast to Berkeley's subjective idealism was objective idealism. Objective idealism is the view that the world out there is Mind communicating with our human minds. It is formulated by the three German successors of Kant. These were F.W.J. Schelling (aesthetic idealism), J.G. Fichte (moral idealism), and G.W.F. Hegel (dialectical idealism). Differences between subjective and objective idealism were not always clear-cut, however. For instance, Fichte's idealism was later called subjective in contrast to Schelling's objective variety, while Hegel's became known as absolute idealism. The term Objective Idealism was only sometimes used by Schelling, while the term Subjective Idealism was used by both, Schelling and Hegel, to put their own ideas in contrast to Fichte's position.
While Schelling's Objective idealism remained insignificant, the objective idealist with most influence is probably G. W. F. Hegel. Hegel agreed with Berkeley, that there is no such thing as matter in the materialist's sense, and that spirit is the essence and whole of reality. But he objected to the idea that God is separated from the world. Therefore reality is not God and the minds that God creates, but a single, absolute, all-inclusive mind, which Hegel referred to as "The Absolute Spirit" or simply "The Absolute". The Absolute Spirit is all of reality, no time, space, relation or event ever exists or occurs outside of the Absolute. As the Absolute also contains all possibilities in itself, it is not static, but constantly changing and progressing.
How the do we relate to the Absolute?
Finite individuals like human beings, planets and even galaxies are not separate beings, but part of something larger. Our relation to the Absolute is similar to the relation of cells or organs to the whole body. Like the cells, that constitute an organism continually emerge, make their contribution, die and are replaced, we as human beings come and go, while the Absolute continues.
Hegel had no problem in considering an objective world beyond any particular subjective mind. But this objective world itself had to be understood as conceptually informed, as it were it was objectified spirit.
A general objection to idealism is that it is implausible to think that there can be an analytic reduction of the physical to the mental. Hegel's system of objective idealism is under suspicion for substituting the Absolute for God, which doesn't make anything clearer in the end. And if we are forms that the Absolute is taking, it means that the Absolute gets headaches, all kinds of diseases and even thinks of committing suicide sometimes. Why should the Absolute inflict such things upon itself? If it does, or can't help doing so, is it worthy of being called "The Absolute"?
After we think, in a philosophy paper we only write one interesting question:
Does DESTINY exist?
We've been thinking, what is the thing that rules our lives and I didn't find a certain answer to that question, but that doesn't mean there are not possible answers it's just that I'm not sure about them. One of those was that a God rules people but who can prove that he exists? Nobody, nobody in the present time or 2000 years ago.
And Fernando asked:
I'm studying High School at ITESM and taking a course on philosophy and some questions came to my mind:
Is everything in this life meant to be?
Does destiny control our lives or is there something that people can do to change what's happening to them and, if they could, is it because they want or is it predestined? In the case that everything was "written" before we came to Earth, does life then make sense?
And Homero asked:
Are we owners of our destiny? Does destiny exist?
At the age of twenty-one I discovered philosophy. From that time, I have known, more or less continuously and with only occasional lapses of doubt, that it was my destiny to be a philosopher. How can a philosopher believe in such an ambiguous, questionable and misleading concept?
I am not interested in the standard, question-begging explanations of where the alleged false belief in destiny comes from. Of how and why we fall under the illusion that there are things we are destined to do, or the illusion that we possess a destiny. "There must be a reason why the world is the way it is, it can't just be an accident." Or, "There must be a reason why I am here, in the world, it can't just be an accident." So the explanation proceeds, we are led to invent a reason that exists 'out there' perhaps a reason that God knows all the while totally unaware that 'the reason out there' is merely a creature of our own imagination.
A more contemporary, but no less question-begging explanation is the idea that we are story-telling creatures, that we feel impelled to construct a coherent narrative that makes sense of the events and the decisions in our lives. As in the previous explanation, the sense of destiny is supposedly revealed as nothing but an illusion, an invention, a prop. The fact that you or I might find it difficult or impossible to live without that prop does not make it any less an illusion.
Both styles of explanation may be described as reductive: There is no such thing, in reality, as destiny. The belief in destiny has a cause. But the description of that cause does not involve the concept of destiny. In the same way, the belief, in the Middle Ages, that there were such things as witches who possessed supernatural powers derived from the Devil had a cause. Understanding that cause does not require that we believe in the actual existence of witches. The belief in destiny is false, just as the belief in witches is false.
The common assumption behind reductive explanations of the notion of destiny, I would argue, is a concept of belief which is altogether too rigid and simplistic.
I have heard it said that the logical difference between the concept of belief and the concept of desire is that in the case of belief, our intention and aim is to mirror the world. If the world is different from the way our belief represents it as being, then the belief is wrong, not the world. By contrast, with desire, our intention and aim is to change the world, to make it conform to our representation. If the world does not conform to our representation, then it is the world that is wrong, not our desire.
The belief in destiny or, better, the sense of destiny is not a 'belief' in this sense. Nor, on the other hand, is it a mere intention that I form, "I will act as if there were a destiny for me". Adopting the language of existentialism, to live with a sense of destiny is a way of being in the world. Just as to live without a sense of destiny is a way of being in the world. It is a choice that is 'mine' yet which I do not make, nor is it made for me.
My destiny is a real, objective feature of my world of the world as it spreads out from this unique point in time and space yet I did not find my destiny there, for nothing that can be found in the world could ever justify the belief that it possesses that feature.
The God Thing
I have a problem with the idea of God as an omnipotent being. Does it make any sense? For surely the whole essence of a being (or at least a major part of it) is to have a point of view. And what is a point of view? It is a very particular way of looking at the world consisting of desires, hopes, likes, dislikes, fears etc. And if this is so then surely any sort of being cannot be omnipotent, for the very idea of point of view which is so essential to the idea of being is one which necessitates privation of experience?
Does this make any sense?
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. (I Corinthians: 3:20)
Yes, Matthew it makes excellent sense. To be properly described as "omnipotent" a God would have to be capable of doing absolutely anything at all. This has traditionally led philosophers to have a bit of fun by trying to think of "fallacies of omnipotence" the things God simply couldn't, logically, do. These include, "Could God make another God more powerful than Herself?", "Could God make a stone too heavy for God to lift?", "Could God annihilate Himself?", and so on. The point is that, whether or not God has done these things, it is thought to be enough to have conceived of some impossible act for it to be shown that there are some things which God cannot do, therefore either an omnipotent God is a fiction, or the real God isn't omnipotent. Unfortunately, entertaining though these fallacies are, they only show that God cannot be illogical. And the idea of God being bound by the rules of logic is not something with which many believers seem to have difficulty.
However, the way you put the problem, centering it on the idea of 'point of view' is much more interesting. I think, though, the difficulties of personal experience are more applicable to the problem of God's omniscience than of his omnipotence.
Omniscience means "all knowing". In the traditional view of most monotheistic religions, God knows all things. Most especially, and central to much religious understanding, is the idea that God knows what I know. In other words, that God knows what each person is thinking, feeling, intending, understanding. As it says in The Book of Chronicles (28:9) "the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the mind", and in the Koran (Sura 6) "Allah knows your secret thoughts." This is a vital centre of belief, for without accurate knowledge of His people's thoughts and intentions, then He cannot stand in judgement over them without risk of error. But, as you have begun to see, this cannot be the case.
I know what I know, and I know that all my perceptions and beliefs are clouded by the limitations of my knowledge. Say, for instance, that I can't understand Arabic. If that is so, then if you show me a word in that language, then I simply cannot see, no matter how hard I look, anything other than a shape on paper, albeit a rather decorative one. On the other hand, someone who does know Arabic will find it equally impossible to see an Arabic word without putting a particular meaning on to it.
So, if God were able to somehow able to access the contents of my mind, what He saw there could never be the world as I see it it would always be clouded by God's own particular knowledge. If nothing else, His appreciation of my mind would be different to my own understanding in that He would know my mind at the same time as being aware of the contents of other minds. Now I have no such knowledge of other minds, so it cannot reasonably be said that God would know my thoughts as I know them. And what could 'knowing my mind' mean other than being able to think as I think? The best that God might be able to do is to read minds, to understand selves, in much the same way as you are reading a part of my mind, my self, by reading these words. No matter what care I take in writing, it is inevitable that our understanding of individual concepts will differ, because our reading of them is made up of our individual likes and desires and hopes and fears. And that is not omniscience.
I'm afraid the concept of God is far from logical, so that, any argument about the nature of His abilities will tend to lack logic as well. What we know of God we know by faith, emotion and tradition. As to whether some privation of experience is necessary to Being, by which I presume rational being, I am afraid I cannot know, for I am not omniscient.
You might care to have a look at:
If I understand what you mean when you write that the whole essence of a Being is to have a point of view, I am afraid I can't agree with you. After all, lots of things "have being" or exist, but do not have points of view since they don't have minds, and there cannot be a point of view without a mind. Desks or stars "have being" but don't have minds, and so, don't have points of view. In any case, it seems to me that omnipotence concerns the power of God, and has nothing to do with his point of view.
Is it possible for an event to be non-causal? If so, what are the implications of non-causal events?
According to quantum mechanics, there are uncaused events (such as the radioactive decay of an atom, for example, or the precise way in which the QM probability wave function collapses). But some people didn't like this idea ("God doesn't play dice with the Universe" Albert Einstein said), so they posited what were called 'hidden variables' which would be unable to be measured but which would cause quantum events. However, John Bell thought up an experiment that would distinguish whether an event depended on hidden variables or not, and Alain Aspect found a way to do it. The results showed that (on the assumptions made), there are no hidden variables.
Since all experiments rest on assumptions, we can look at them to see if there is a way out of the conclusion. One of the assumptions here is that causes precede effects. If that is false, then we can have backwards causation in time and the Aspect experiment does not show that there are uncaused events. Some people take this seriously, but others think backwards causation is logically suspect. In a way, you have to choose which you think is more impossible: backwards causation or uncaused events.
I would think that the scientific consensus at the moment is that some events are uncaused.
As to the implications, there are many. One I think is important is that it becomes not just practically but also theoretically impossible to predict the future in the way that La Place's demon could. The demon would know the exact state of the world at some instant, and then, using the strict causality of physical laws, be able to calculate the state of the world at some future time. If some events are uncaused, this is no longer possible.
Some people think that uncaused events can explain free will, because they allow us out of the sort of lock-step determinism that La Place argued for. I disagree. I want free will to mean that I choose what to do for my own reasons, not that science can't predict what I will choose because some uncaused events take place in my brain. If these events are uncaused, then they are not caused by me, and it isn't my decision any more.
Do you mean by "non-causal", "uncaused" or do you mean "not causing anything"? The problem, as I see it, is that no one really knows what to make of causation. Hume dealt with it in a very stunning and frustrating way (take a look at his Treatise if you haven't), and most philosophers, as far as I can tell, spend a lot of time listing types of causes and effects and taking cause more or less on intuitive grounds. I'll take your meaning to be "uncaused".
Here's an example: suppose that there were a machine that could "read" the positions of all the atoms, say, in a piece of matter (which are moving around or vibrating or whatever), and project holographs of them, magnified a few million times, into the room. So the hologram is caused by the lasers, which is caused by the reading mechanism, etc. Now clearly we don't want to say that the images of the atoms or quarks or whatever in that picture are causing each other's motion, right? Why not? Because our physical theories say they aren't; those are our physical intuitions. Let's take it one step further; suppose (and I'm extrapolating from an example of Tye's here) that this "piece of matter" is someone's living brain. Is the hologram conscious? Why not? Because it's "just pictures"? But they're interacting just like the elements in the brain are, so why can't they be conscious? Believe it or not, I've asked many people this question, and no one can really answer it; we just have an intuition that the hologram can't be conscious, because of "causality".
So to get back to your question, now that I've muddled the waters of causality somewhat (and I've only talked about linear causality here...). in quantum physics, the answer to your question is pretty unequivocally "yes". "Vacuum fluctuations" and "virtual particles" are the results of the uncertainty principle, roughly speaking. That is, given that there is a lowest level of energy below which nature cannot go, one filled with a kind of undifferentiated wave-function (which is a real entity, by the way) which is (effectively, but actually it's in many states simultaneously and changing the likelihood of sets of these) fluctuating very rapidly, the spontaneous production of particles and energy takes place all the time. The vacuum is not a vacuum, in other words, but there isn't anything quite there either, except occasionally. Are these events "caused"? Well, there's no simple and direct cause we know of. There's also a phenomenon known as "tunneling", where a particle is quite suddenly and spontaneously somewhere where it basically can't be, because it has a very low probability of being there. How does that happen? It just happens, with some finite probability. Is it caused? Well, it can be pushed in that direction, but no one can say that it will happen with certainty.
So the implications of these events are quite profound, actually. Whole electronic industries are built on the tunneling effect, and huge (and well-verified, for the most part) theories make use of virtual particles and vacuum fluctuations to explain, for example, the interactions of the quarks comprising other particles.
Steven Ravett Brown
If you mean by a "non-causal event" an event that has no effect then I don't see why it should not be possible. I agree with David Hume when he says that it is possible for an event not to have a cause, so why shouldn't it be possible for an event not to have any effect? Of course, whether it is true or even probable is another matter. I suppose that an event which had no effects would simply be some isolated happening; lonely as a cloud.
I have recently heard that during a war the proportion of male births increases. Statistics show a more than sensible augmentation of the male birth rate as if we had some "social compensating" organ. That would mean we are less individuals than we thought. If this is true which are the actual explanations or theories about it?
Aha! The supposed problem is this; if a population becomes embroiled in a war, many males will be killed, and so the ratio of males to females will fall. Yet, mysteriously, go and examine the same population a few years later and the ratio is back to normal. How can we possibly account for the apparent change in the birth ratio of males to females?
There are two famous explanations. The first is that God has intervened to alter the normal course of nature and correct the gender imbalance. By this, he not only restores His order, which foolish mankind had upset, but demonstrates His very real existence and His willingness to intervene in human affairs. I have heard exactly this explanation put forward by adherents of the Particular Brethren.
The other explanation is that during the earlier phases of the human female's monthly fertile period, the likelihood of conceiving males is equal to the likelihood of conceiving a female. But, later in the cycle, males are more likely to be conceived. As a female can only become pregnant once in a particular cycle, if a couple are having sex at fairly regular intervals it is likely that conception will occur earlier in the cycle. If, however, men suddenly appear on the scene, after being absent for some while, as happens when the menfolk return from war, then the chance of conception occurring later in the cycle is increased, resulting in more male births. The work of the geneticist Koltzoff is usually cited to support this one.
Convinced? I do hope not, because, with a little analytic application, we will see that the problem does not, in fact exist. And we don't even need to look at any empirical statistics.
It is often difficult to examine clearly those problems which are full of fiddly little numbers. So let's imagine an extreme case, and see what would happen there. Say that every man on earth, except one, was killed. That would leave 1 man to about 3000 million women, a spectacularly extreme sex ratio. Whether that one man was particularly sexually active or not, all the offspring of his unions would appear, as they always do, roughly in the proportion of 1 male to 1 female baby. Go and have a look at the population, a year later and we'd find that some babies had been born. Let us assume that he had been busy and sired 100 children, 50 males and 50 females. The sex ratio over the entire population would then have gone from 1:3000M to about 50:3000M, a fifty-fold increase in the proportion of males. This looks impressive, until you realise that to get there the proportion of male to female births was never anything other what we ordinarily expect.
As if that was not enough to damn the proposition, I'm afraid the "social compensation organ" couldn't exist either. For what use would be extra infant boys to an excess of women short of mates? Those boys would not become available as mates for 15 to 25 years, by which time the women would likely be to old to make use of them.
So, now we've done the analysis, let's, like good philosophers, check our results against the facts. I have the figures for Wales to hand, a small country which suffered great losses in the two world wars. The male-to-female birth ratio is typically taken to be 1.07:1, though it varies quite a lot. True, the ratio in Wales before the first world war was about 1.037:1, and after it rose slightly to 1.053:1, but even that was still very much on the low side. But before and after the second world war it remained the same at about 1.05:1. In fact the greatest male surplus was around war-free 1930 when it reached 1.147:1, and it has had upward 'blips' again in 1975 and 1996.
So, there's no need to invoke Godly intervention. I'm afraid the fertility-cycle-conception thing turns out to be nonsense as well, though that doesn't seem to have stopped some less-than-honest clinics trying to sell gender-selection services on the back of it, usually accompanied by an ingenious twisting of Koltzoff's discoveries.
So, are we less individual than we thought? You and I are as individual as we think we are, but when we're considering whole populations then individuality, of necessity, is lost. After all, we are only humans.
"They" had slavery around here once, and they liked it.
Whilst working at my job as a firefighter, many years ago, I coined this phrase. I spoke it in a response to my fellow crewmembers about the poor managers we had to cope with, as opposed to being supported and aided in my efforts on a day-to-day basis fighting fires, responding to first-aid calls, administrative and tedious tasks, etc. etc. It 'caught-on' by many, and discussions eventually evolved into the need to re-activate the long-gone Union, the International Association of Firefighters, Local 526.
Here's another example of what I mean:
Yesterday, my daughter returned home from her summer job at a local fast-food restaurant. In a fit of rage, she informed me that the manager (one of several supervisors, actually) told her coworker and herself that "I just wanted to see if you could do it."
"It," what the supervisor was referring was to the fact that instead of 3 persons being scheduled to work for the initial 4 hours of operations, 2 were scheduled. Yes, most of their tasks were done---but not without some extraordinary-efforts "demanded" from the employees. Energy expended by the employees was more than commonly given. Instead of comfortably accomplishing all the tasks with 3 persons within the time limits, 2 were worked overly-hard and nearly all tasks were accomplished and nearly all were satisfactorily done. Results? Both employees ready to quit.
Why only 2 employees instead of 3? Because of the capriciousness of the Supervisor? Or...."They had slavery around here once, and they liked it"?
This question intrigues me, but I don't really know what kind of answer you're looking for. Philosophy gives very general answers to abstract questions. Here's one of those: slavery is a very good economic system, for the slave owners. Think about it: what do you pay a slave? What kind of housing, food, etc.? Slavery is cheap. As long as you can keep revolts down, and you don't care about slaves as human beings, you're doing fine. How to keep revolts down? Well, why not educate a class of people to believe that suffering is good; that if you suffer in "this life" you will be rewarded in the "next"? A great philosophy for slaves, right?
Here's another answer: the supervisor was a sadist and enjoyed making people suffer.
Here's another answer: the supervisor was under extreme pressure from his boss to make the restaurant profitable, and was trying to cut costs, at the price of suffering. Was it worth it? Well, would there be more suffering if the restaurant went out of business, and the two remaining employees, and the supervisor, were out of jobs?
Here's another answer: when people do work which requires little skill, they are replaceable, since anyone can do the work. So unskilled labor, or labor requiring just a little education, has long lines of people just waiting to fill a few jobs, and employers can do just about what they want. If the workers don't like it, they'll find ones who will from a large pool of unskilled people. The answer? Educate yourself in some skill, preferably one you enjoy, and use that to earn a living. You will not be replaceable (or as replaceable) and so you'll be able to dictate your own work situation to a much greater extent. You have done that, as a firefighter. In the meantime, while you're educating yourself, you have no choice but to join the pool of unskilled labor (but that's not all or nothing; you can get better jobs as your education or skills increase).
I can tell you, from experience, that the latter works; I learned computer programming while working as a word processor, and the jump in status and pay was huge.
Steven Ravett Brown
It took me a while to cotton on to what you are saying here. There seems to be a direct analogy with something that is sometimes remarked about war. We all deplore the fact that wars take place. We investigate the economic, political or religious causes of war, and how these conditions might be changed. We look forward to a utopian time when there will be no more wars. Yet there is a major flaw, it is said, in this approach. It ignores the simple, brutal fact that men love war. Many of those who go out to war discover, sometimes to their horror, that they enjoy fighting and killing. Seasoned soldiers interviewed about their experiences in battle have described how they get a sexual high. My impression from what I have read is that this is common knowledge within the armed forces, however shocking it may seem to civilians who have fortunately never had to pick up a gun.
The claim made is that this is an unalterable fact about human nature. I am not going to dispute that claim here. If the claim were true, then one plausible explanation might be that it is part of our evolutionary inheritance. A capacity for aggression, in certain species, is necessary for survival. It follows that a race of intelligent beings who did not share our evolutionary inheritance Martians, say might never experience the pleasure human beings experience from mortal conflict.
I am not totally convinced by this, mainly because it leaves out the crucial issue of the thrill of killing. Natural aggression might lead us to fight, but must that fight be to the death? At any rate, the claim seems less plausible when transposed to the issue of slavery. Animals fight and kill, they wage 'war'. But to make a slave of another individual, as opposed to merely exerting one's force to bring about changes in their behaviour, requires a development of self-consciousness that only exists in the human world. The impulse to make slaves cannot, therefore, be part of our evolutionary inheritance.
The classic analysis of our love of slavery is in Hegel's famous section 'Lordship and Bondage' in his book The Phenomenology of Mind (1807). The section is difficult and obscure, but given your interest I would say that it is something you must read. Hegel argued that the dialectic of the relation between self and other plays a pivotal role in the development of our sense of self, and that the impulse to seek to make a slave of the other, is not contingent but universal. (In our terms, Martians would naturally succumb to the impulse just as we do.) Slavery is a solution to the problem of how to reckon with the existence of the other, but a failed solution, one that, as Hegel demonstrates, is necessarily self-frustrating.
Though you give examples from the world of work, our most immediate experience of this impulse is in personal relationships. It is universal. It is not an unfortunate 'deviation' that some persons suffer from while others remain immune. Those who would emphatically deny this, have merely failed to recognize the impulse for what it is.
I'm a grade eleven student who has a history question on one of the greatest philosophers that ever lived. I'm speaking of the Greek philosopher Socrates. I'm writing a 2000 word essay on how Socrates' death sentence of drinking hemlock on the charges of corrupting the young and not believing in the gods, was the biggest injustice that ancient Greece has ever seen. I've been reading books by Plato like the Republic, the Apology and Crito. I also searched the web and found few sites on my subject. I was wondering if you could help me with my research by sending me information on my subject or tell me where I can find info. I was also wondering if you could help me with a philosophical definition on the word "justice" because I was thinking of putting it in my essay.
Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press 1995) defines justice as "fairness". He states, "The intuitive idea is that since everyone's well-being depends upon a scheme of cooperation... the division of advantages should be such as to draw forth the the willing cooperation of everyone taking part in it..." (p. 15). And so forth, for about 583 pages. That's merely the introduction to a modern and very famous treatise on justice, if you want to wade through it.
Now let's take Socrates. What he was doing, very deliberately (as you have seen, having read the Apology), was being as intransigent as possible, without actually being violent. He was very consciously flouting some of the most deeply-held beliefs of his society, i.e., that the gods were the ultimate authority, and that their precepts (as interpreted, of course, by the priests) must be unquestioningly obeyed, by sacrificing his life (which he clearly foresaw would happen, given the laws of Athens) in order to make himself a martyr to the cause of reason (rationality, the dialectic) as the ultimate authority. And in the Apology, you see that he does not defend himself; in fact, he uses his "defense" to attack his accusers, and even more outrageously, all Athens. So in a sense there is no injustice at all in his death; Socrates knew the penalties for teachings against the state; has set it up, planned for it, and expected it from the beginning.
Now one can ask whether his society's viewpoints and laws were just. Well, by their (the Athenians') lights, they satisfied the definition above. They (i.e., most of the people of Athens) would have stoutly maintained that Athens' well-being depended on people obeying the laws of the state and of the gods, and indeed, given the vote against Socrates, the "willing cooperation" of at least the majority (if not of "everyone") was "drawn forth". Were they correct? Well, what if the priesthood had been overturned and the basis of law and education in Athens became the dialectic... what would have happened? Revolution? A just society? There's no way to know, is there. We would like to think that a real utopia would have prevailed... a nice thought, but who could maintain that with any certainty?
So, was Socrates' death unjust? From our point of view? Well, what is the position on the relative weight of some modern god's laws vs. rationality, for most people? I'm afraid that in the States, at least, the majority would side with the Athenians. But we do not (at this particular point in time) put people to death for disagreeing with the religious norm, fortunately. Thus the question becomes one of the degree of punishment. Remember, however, that Socrates could have accepted banishment; his friends were ready and set to get him out... but he refused. That would have been a very hard situation for him, at his age (ancient, for that time), with a wife and son in Athens... but he did have friends in another city who would have sheltered him, and perhaps his family would have joined him. He wanted to die, to make a point.
All in all, then, this becomes a somewhat more complex question, does it not? I actually think, myself, that the laws of Athens were unjust, if only because the penalty for disobeying them was too severe. But that was a much more brutal time than this (they just had less brutal weapons available than we do), and the penalty of death was a common one for illegal acts. In fact, Socrates was treated very well: he wasn't tortured, and his death was deliberately painless... unusual, for those days. I'm just making the point that times and customs differ, and to put your argument through you have not merely to define justice, but show that your definition holds universally... well, Rawls gives it almost 600 pages, and you've got 2000 words. I'd try to step carefully here, maybe take a somewhat more restricted topic... but good luck.
Steven Ravett Brown
Hello, how are you ? I hope you are fine!
Can you tell me:
- How does thought work?
- Is there any truth to sayings "thought creates reality" and "we are what we think"?
- Why are different people conscious of different things? how does consciousness work?
Hope you are fine! And I hope the following is the sort of thing you want to know.
It is generally held that the relation between thoughts is a function of the conceptual content. For example, if I think it will rain this afternoon it will be because I know the skies are clouded and I believe these are rain clouds. These thoughts, which are immaterial, will have an effect on my behaviour, such as picking up an umbrella. So a problem of how thought works, is how the immaterial acts upon the physical. We can try to give up the notion of cause, which is physical, or we can subscribe to a theory such as Donald Davidson's which identifies mental events with physical events so that for any thought there is a neural event in the brain, but this seems not to give enough force to the mental as it appears to us. We think it is our decision, not a neural event, which makes us pick up the umbrella.
Another problem is that, from our point of view, we don't seem to go through a process such as judging the nature of the clouds and consciously forming a belief these are rain clouds. We just have a quick look. But if it is simply the concluding thought that is causally efficient, the reasoning would have no causal effect, but my belief about rain clouds must have some bearing. The problem arises because we take relations between thoughts as based on clear cut conceptual relations and we think thought is linguistic. This has led artificial intelligence researchers to the quasi-scientific view that intelligence is unambiguously coded and that if a physical thing can manipulate codes, it can think. Since we believe thinking involves consciousness, this is highly counter-intuitive, because we also strongly believe that only biological organisms with brains are conscious. Furthermore, neuroscience has it that the language areas of the brain are not responsible for thinking so it is wrong to take thinking as a syntactic computational operation, as language itself is. Thought is prior to language, and although we have come to think linguistically it doesn't mean that being able to manipulate codes is sufficient for thought.
The example of the short train of thought above actually makes thinking look partially unconscious: We are only really conscious of our "having a look" and then picking up the umbrella. According to the neuroscientist Edelman in his recent book Consciousness: How matter becomes imagination, the stronger our knowledge becomes, the more it becomes unconscious, so eventually we don't have to wonder about the nature of the clouds. This is clear in the case of typing, for instance. As we learn, we are conscious of our fingers on the keyboards, but when we are proficient we are aware of what we write on the screen. The unconscious, then, has the function of providing us with an ability for intelligent development: We don't have to consciously think about everything and there is an enormous amount of activity going on in the brain at all times. My brain is guiding my fingers and thinking of what I am writing and I am perceptually conscious of what is around me.
It is difficult to say how consciousness works. The artificial intelligence view supposes that information is coded and can be programmed which assumes that as we perceive and learn language the brain learns new codes and signals and there be will be a determinate physical state for any particular thought or sensation. Edelman, on the other hand, says that the brain is active. Instead of being computational, the brain is creative, dynamic, associative and constantly changing. Essentially, a neural process is highly informational. A conscious neural process is associative and selectional, so that a thought is not isolated, and it can move in many directions. There is a "functional cluster" of relevant connections within the brain which changes all the time. It is difficult to summarise Edelman's theory, but the basic idea of a dynamic cluster reflects what thought and perception is like for us. We are never in a simple conscious state, such as "experiencing red". Rather, the mind is active and we perceive an enormous amount of visual information at any one time as well as experiencing bodily feelings and thoughts. Consciousness works because of our brain activities, though why and how our brain activities have the effect of subjective experience, we cannot really say.
It has long been held that "thought creates reality". Kant, for instance, argued that the way in which we perceive and understand what is given to us in experience moulds what we take reality to be. Actually, for Kant, "reality" itself is a concept introduced by our way of understanding, as is cause and effect. Concepts of the understanding, such as reality and causation, are needed for us to make sense of our experience. Our idea of the world as spatial and temporal, on the other hand, is held by Kant not to be imposed by our understanding, but is introduced by the very nature of experience. Our perceptual equipment must determine how reality appears to us. Because of our shared equipment, there are limits to the different sorts of things we can be conscious of. However, you cannot be conscious of things you don't know about. For instance, our grasp of concepts, such as clouds, say differs. You won't be conscious of rain clouds unless you know about rain clouds. Interestingly for me anyway! Edelman's claim is that no two informational states at the brain level can be the same. All your experiences of clouds have been different from mine so that when you think of clouds your informational neural process will be different. If you perceive differently, or more than another person, such as in listening to music, you are bringing knowledge and experience to bear.
I hope this is what you want. To find out more about the philosophical problems of thought and consciousness, there are accessible writers such as Colin McGinn (The Subjective View), Daniel Dennett (The Intentional Stance) and John Searle (Intentionality). The mind is generally described as intentional or relational between a subject and content which you might want to find out more about. You could, of course, send a new question, differently phrased!
Upon which assumption do we form the belief that "Much more is known now than 50 years ago?"
Also, what factors should we use when deciding the "level of advancement" within a given culture/ regional group? What constitutes an "advanced" culture and how will it differ from a "primitive" one?
This is really two interesting questions, which are fraught with "politically correct" emotionality, not to mention a variety of post-modernist deconstructive attacks on science. I'm a real fan of the philosopher of science Paul Kitcher, who was a student of Thomas Kuhn. Kitcher wrote the book, The Advancement of Science, which (in my opinion) Kuhn should have, but did not write. So, first, read Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, if you haven't. Then read Kitcher's book, above.
Roughly, some of the ideas in Kitcher's book are that science is not, nor should be, a huge consistent logical system, as the old philosophers of science believed (and on which many attacks are based). It is a set of practices and knowledge which attempt to find, imperfectly, truths about the world. Those truths are tested and retested, refined, revised... and in no real sense are they finished, polished, or necessarily consistent. Yet we do advance, slowly, and this is seen through various measures, such as our success at building machines, at causal explanation, at the scope and consistency of our theories, and so forth. It's not a simple nor error-free picture, and why should it be? So there is no single assumption upon which we believe that "more is known now than 50 years ago", no single nor simple test. There is a huge complex of theories, tests, experiments, ideas... various cognitive and experimental bases for concluding, not assuming, that we are making progress, in the sense of knowing more about the world. This is, actually, part of the problem that people uneducated in science have with it; in order to appreciate that, say, the "theory" of evolution is really much more than a theory, one must have knowledge in a variety of fields and in the experimental basis of science as well. It's just not simple.
See also: Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, Radner Science and Unreason, Hines Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.
The "culture" thing....here's the emotional issue. You might take a look at the book: Edgerton, R. B. (1992) Sick Societies: challenging the myth of primitive harmony (1st ed.) New York: The Free Press.
Edgerton really takes the bull by the horns; and just simply claims that societies in which the people are unhappy (they want to leave and do, given the chance), sick, poor (again, they leave when given the chance to make money), malnourished, etc., are societies which aren't working well. That doesn't sound unreasonable to me, but it's not very politically correct to say that, these days. You can claim that they are being exploited, etc., and that is certainly true in many cases, but the lifespan of humans, as we go back in history, decreases as a function of the time we go back, while disease and general misery increase, as far as we can tell. So it's not just the exploitation of societies in modern times that correlates with negative (and I would say that short life-span and disease, to name just two, are indeed negative) values and suffering. I'm afraid that I'm rather cynical about the "noble primitive" idea. I myself would have died of acute appendicitis at the age of 12 if it were not for modern medicine. That seems a pretty good criterion for progress to me.
So an "advanced" culture then has at least potentially a greater ability to ameliorate suffering, disease, starvation, than a primitive one. Whether and for whom such a culture actually does that is another question, isn't it? I would certainly say that the more the better....and many "advanced" cultures are certainly wanting in that respect.
Steven Ravett Brown
These are good questions. They are often dismissed as too simple to be worthy of much real attention in politics and social planning. However it is the failure to ask, never mind answer, these questions that allows society to wander so aimlessly into its future. The usual answers concern technological cleverness and economic growth, neither of which relate in any straightforward way to social improvement or genuine understanding of the world.
The real answer is that there is no agreement on these issues in general terms. It is perfectly reasonable to say that we know more 'facts' than we did 50 years ago. It is not so easy to say that we have a better understanding of the world. It could be argued either way.
Most anthropologists would say that 'advanced' and 'primitive' are not terms that we should used in relation to human society without great care. However almost everyone does use these terms, and think them, as value judgements without any care at all.
It may be unhelpful to you but I would say that until some real work is done on these issues, and some consensus is reached, your own answer will be as good as anyone else's.
I am not sure about an assumption. We can certainly give examples of what we know now that we did not know 50 years ago. Here is one. The existence of DNA and its structure. There have been significant advances in the treatment of cancer such as 3D radiation, which was not even thought about 50 years ago. And these examples can be multiplied. I suppose you can be asked the question, "On what assumption do you believe that we do not know now more than we did 50 years ago?"
Technically, the difference between a primitive and a non-primitive culture is that primitive cultures do not possess writing. Of course, more loosely, advanced cultures possess science, but primitive cultures do not.
I have a two-part question:
A good many years ago, I came to the conclusion that the universe is a purely natural system which creates intelligent life forms to play a functional role in its overall development, which is to say that our presence here will lead to a state of the universe or to an event of definitional significance in the scheme of things that could not occur without our being a part of the system..
In terms of a specific functional role, I have come to the conclusion that we will most likely turn out to be a required, purely natural link in the reproductive process of the universe.
I would like to know what philosophical precedents there are for such a positions.
What you have given is a pretty accurate account of the theory held by the twentieth century philosopher Samuel Alexander, in his monumental two-volume work, Space, Time and Deity (Macmillan 1920), based on his Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh 19161918. Alexander is a deep and original thinker, and also a fine writer. I recommend that work to anyone who is serious about metaphysics. Sadly, Alexander's work came to be eclipsed by A.N. Whitehead's Process and Reality published only a few years later. Whatever chance there may have been for Alexander to influence the course of British philosophy was snuffed out by A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic and the rise of logical positivism.
I was lucky. While I was a graduate student, I came across an approving reference to Alexander in a book by Leslie Armour Logic and Reality (Van Gorcum 1972). Then not long afterwards I found the two volume Macmillan 2nd edition, dating from 1927, in an Oxford second hand shop. By that time, the work had been out of print for nearly two decades. I have to admit it is a long time since I last read Alexander, though writing this answer has certainly whetted my appetite for giving the text a fresh look!
Alexander set the precedent, later followed by Whitehead, for a realist as opposed to an idealist theory of the nature of reality. His teacher, the idealist F.H. Bradley, author of Appearance and Reality (1893) was a strong influence. Alexander's achievement was to see that something like Bradley's Absolute could be reconstructed on realist lines: his solution was ingenious and original, as we shall see in a moment.
Incidentally, Alexander was one of the few philosophers of his day to make a serious attempt to understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. His anti-representationalist account account of perception within a realist framework was also way ahead of its time anticipating the work of Austin and Wittgenstein. It is fair to say though, that by the 60's, when the last copies of Space, Time and Deity left the press, metaphysical treatises that attempted to solve the great questions of Existence were out of fashion.
Now for Alexander's theory. Two key concepts for Alexander are those of an 'emergent quality' and the idea of 'evolution'. The task, as in any metaphysical theory, is to account for every aspect of existing reality on the simplest and most economical basis. Alexander's idea was to start with Space and Time each of which he regarded as inconceivable without the other. But how do we get from there?
Space-Time, the universe in its primordial form, is the stuff out of which all existents are made. It is Space-time with the characters which we have found it to reveal to experience. But it has no 'quality' save that of being spatio-temporal or motion. All the wealth of qualities which makes things precious to us belongs to existence which grow within it...It is greater than all existent finites or infinites because it is their parent...
Op. cit. Vol. I, p. 342
Out of pure space-time emerge through a process Alexander describes simply as 'motion', the stuff and matter that make up our material world. Then, at a later point in the evolution of the universe, Mind, or conscious awareness emerges from material structures that have achieved a sufficient degree of complexity. The final stage of this process has not yet been reached, however. At some point in the future history of Mind there will emerge the thing Alexander calls 'Deity', thus revealing the ultimate purpose and destiny of the universe.
Fully consistently with his revisionist theology, Alexander interprets the activity of prayer and worship as aimed at the future, rather than at something that exists in the present. Any metaphysical theory of a Deity, Alexander argues, must satisfy the requirement that the Deity so revealed should be worthy of worship. Alexander sincerely believed that his theory of the Deity who is yet to evolve satisfied that requirement.
I personally have my doubts. One can trace a direct line to another Jewish philosopher, Spinoza, who had a vision of a Deity as the one Substance in which all finite things inhere. Like Spinoza, Alexander offers a radical reinterpretation of the religious attitude which some may see as a defence of religion, while others may legitimately feel that what is essential to their faith has been thrown out in the process.
I am working on this subject as a project and will be privileged to hear your interpretations on the following questions:
The light coming from an object is transformed into electrical signals by the cells in the eye and then transmitted to the center of vision in the brain. And the electrical signals there are turned into an image. For example, you actually see this message in your brain. Then who is the one that sees and perceives the image of this message in the brain? How do you define the consciousness that can see this image in the brain without the need of an eye?
Brain is a piece of flesh composed of lipids, proteins and other various molecules. Could the consciousness that sees this image be this piece of flesh? Or could the brain cells make up a consciousness that sees these electrical signals as a sea view or an e-mail message?
No light penetrates the skull, which means the brain is entirely in darkness. Then how does such an illuminated, clear image is formed in this pitch-dark place? For instance how are the rays of the sun seen over the unlit brain cortex?
Also no sound enters the brain. This means there is deep muteness where the brain exists. However, people listen to all different sounds inside the brain. The sound waves are turned into electrical signals inside of the ear and then transmitted to the center of hearing. And the consciousness inside the brain listens to these for instance as a melody. Then who is it that listens to the loud music aired from powerful loudspeakers and how?
The image is formed inside a miniature spot in the brain. Then how is the three-dimensional image with depth is formed on this diminutive screen? For instance when I look at the horizon or the sky, how is such an image with vast depth formed at this tiny spot of center of vision just as identical to its original with the same depth and sense of distance? What is it that gives me the feeling of distance and space?
When a person sees a glass of water, in fact he does not see its real form but only a copy of it in his brain. The coldness that he feels when touching the glass surface is not the real coldness of the glass but only a copy of it. This means nobody is ever able to feel that he touches the real glass. Since it is not his fingers that feel the sense of touch, but merely the sense of touch in the brain. Should we not in this case conclude that people are never able to reach the reality of objects and can never touch the reality of a glass? But not every person knows this fact. Everyone thinks they touch and see real objects. Is it not strange that people are not aware of this and they never think about this?
Nothing changes when a person is hit by a bus or comes across a lion. Since, just like the image of the bus, the sense of collision or the fear while running away from a lion, all form in the brain. When I see a bus, I see it at the center of vision inside my brain. If I go and hold the door of the bus, I feel the coldness of the metal inside my brain. Then I cannot discriminate from this fact what happens when I feel pain if a bus hits or a lion bites. Then is it not very illogical when people say, "It shows I am in contact with the bus or the lion because I feel pain when the bus hits or the lion bites"?
We live the entire period of our lives inside our brains. In a similar way, we also have dreams in our brain. For instance when we touch a piece of ice in our dream, we feel it is wet and cold. Or, when we smell a rose, we get the wonderful scent of it. We again sense the feelings of fear, pain, anxiety and panic in a similar fashion. Then are the dreams and the real life the same in this sense?
The person's own body is also included in the images a person sees. So, a person only sees the copy of his own body. This means every person all through his life lives in the cave in his skull where he never knows what is outside, including his own body and other objects. Now think over this happening once more: Right now are you inside of the room you are present or is the room inside of you? Isn't the second alternative the right answer scientifically?
Let us imagine 5 different people who look at a garden of roses. Since every one of these people see the rose garden in his own brain, then aren't there 5 different rose gardens in the brains of every one of the 5 people? Is the color red that each one sees the same with the other's perception of red? Would there be any possibility to compare these?
We say that the original objects we see the copies of in our brain exist outside, but what if nothing exists outside? Because we never have the ability to test this or observe this. Then is it not dubious that the original objects are outside? At least there is a 50-50 percent possibility. Then how can we be sure that the original objects are outside? If there is no original object outside, then what is the entity that makes the images and the senses in our brain?
If we are living an illusion that has the possibility of not having any reality outside, then we may be existing in a very different place. For instance is it not possible for the entire humanity to exist right over a piece of crystal? Or is it not possible that the complete history of humanity has been experienced in a place not bigger than the head of a pin? Would there be anything to stop us thinking in such a broad extent?
Some people are incredibly afraid when these topics are discussed? What do you think the reason for this may be?
You don't see a message in your brain, you see what is in the world. A perceptual state is a relational state, the relata being the brain and what is perceived. It is necessary for the brain to be an informational state relating to what is perceived if there is to be consciousness or sense-experience. The fact that the brain is dark and mute is evidence for the perception being a relational state. How the brain gives rise to consciousness is a fundamental problem for philosophy and science.
You cannot "see" a message in your brain. The various transmitting mechanisms in the brain which process topographic maps of what is on the retina produce a brain state with a different description from the way we see, describe and know the environment, which is what we really see. Information from the visual environment outside the head will produce an image on the retina which is highly processed and abstracted from what is in the visual field. It bears no imagistic likeness and could not do so. Firstly, because the visual cortex uses information which does not come purely from retinal stimulation but from other sources, such as the tactile sense. For instance, if you see a mirage the sun shining on the road which looks like water you know you see a mirage because you are aware of the heat, an awareness which comes from a different neural source. Secondly, colour is the result of wavelengths of light on the retina and as coded in the brain it is not colour at all.
The "I" who perceives is the one who is conscious by virtue of undergoing a totality of information processing in the brain. For consciousness of oneself as "I", more than a brain is needed. We need to distinguish ourselves from things in the environment. You could not be a brain "looking" at some "diminutive screen" in your head and get any consciousness of yourself.
Consciousness cannot be flesh. This is the mind-body problem. The brain is essentially physical and consciousness is essentially mental and there can be no identity between these different kinds. It doesn't make sense to say consciousness is physical.
Three-dimensionality is something which we come to know through the sense of touch: I think this is Berkeley's view and it seems correct. The visual correlate, perspective, is not actually three-dimensional, although I have looked in Paul Churchland's book Matter and Consciousness and he does talk of "three-dimensional seeing" which occurs by means of "stereopsis" which is a comparison of images from each eye. You might do well to read this book.
Not many people would agree with you about reality. We are in touch with the reality of objects as they appear to us. The table may really be a bundle of moving molecules but given our perceptual equipment or the nature of our brain and its complex processing system, what we see is solid. This is our perceptual reality. A sense-experience is a feeling and when we touch something we feel a sensation in our finger. You cannot feel with your brain, your brain enables you to feel.
Dreams differ from ordinary intentional perceptual states which are relational. One of the relata the external environment is missing in dreams so although contentful, they are not intentional. When the brain is working on its own, as in dreams, feelings and sensations appear in the same way as when awake. I'm afraid I don't know what it is that physically stimulates the brain to work on its own, but dreamt pains and fears have been shown by Freud to have some connection with real anxieties and physical conditions. For instance, you may be asleep while your body is de-hydrated and you are likely to dream of drinking water. Real life anxieties can come out in dreams but the true nature of the anxiety will be hidden. In both cases, the content but not the feeling is out of touch with reality. You are not drinking water or really anxious that, for instance, the bridge is going to collapse. Dreaming is like being in an intentional state but there is no state of affairs outside the head responsible for content.
Although it is easily suggested that each person's sensation of red is different, the way the brain codes information may have the same patterning in all persons, and neuroscience may be able to show that this is so.
If we assume that intentional states such as perception are relational then we are assuming that there is a reality outside the head we get to this view by ordinary conceptual distinctions between states such as perception being environmentally related whereas dreams and imaginings are not so. However, we can imagine a brain in a vat being stimulated by scientists to have a sensation of red or to have a thought and it may be that is how for you or for me. The reason this is frightening to think about is that it involves a turning away from reality and you seem to be in the grip of this yet unafraid! There are reasons for philosophers to consider possibilities such as the brain in a vat, but to really believe in possibilities rather than actuality isn't what most people want to do.
Okay... first, there are HUGE sources for information on this issue. I recommend you start here:
That should get you started.
Now. Since there are enormous numbers of books, journals, etc., on these questions, all I'm going to do is skim them to give you some teasers instead of answers. For anything like real answers (as real as they get, anyway) you'll have to go to the sites I've given you.
"1. For example, you actually see this message in your brain."
Really? Do you? "Light" is electromagnetic radiation, and you have a subjective experience due to just one octave of the total spectrum of that radiation.
"Then who is the one that sees and perceives the image of this message in the brain?"
You see the image. One problem with your question is the term "message". It is a misconception that neural impulses are "messages"; then one starts asking, as you are, "messages to whom?" To whom, indeed. Try to conceive of an entity composed of, generated by, neural impulses, which reacts to itself, and you might have a better picture of the materialist conception of the mind.
"How do you define the consciousness that can see this image in the brain without the need of an eye?"
What do you mean by "define the consciousness"? And what good would it do, to "define" it? If all you want is a definition, try "self-awareness"; that's a perfectly good dictionary-type definition. But of course, you are not, and should not, be satisfied with that. Why not? Because what you want is not a definition but an explanation, and further, a reductive explanation. Good luck; no one has done that, but you'll find in the references above many attempts. On the other hand, if you want phenomenological analyses, check out the phenomenology links above.
Next... "see" "without the need of an eye"? You are assuming a great deal here; for a start, that there is an actual image to be seen, on a little movie screen, by a little man (a "homunculus") in our brain... but how does that little man see? Another little man in his brain? And that one? Whoops... See my discussions below.
"2. Brain is a piece of flesh composed of lipids, proteins and other various molecules. Could the consciousness that sees this image be this piece of flesh?"
"Be"? In what sense are you using that incredibly ambiguous word? Try this: consciousness is generated by and instantiated in the dynamics of the brain.
"Or could the brain cells make up a consciousness that sees these electrical signals as a sea view or an e-mail message?"
I simply don't understand this question. "Sea view"? Neurons do not receive email.
"3. No light penetrates the skull, which means the brain is entirely in darkness. Then how does such an illuminated, clear image is formed in this pitch-dark place? For instance how are the rays of the sun seen over the unlit brain cortex?"
They aren't. There is no image. You do not see the "rays of the sun". You are confusing your subjective experience of seeing the result of electromagnetic radiation, impinging on the retina, transduced into neural impulses which then become an aspect of an enormous system reacting to itself, with that objective radiation per se. Read Kant on this: we construct reality; we generate the experience of seeing. Who knows what there "really" is outside the box the skull (more accurately, the body) we live in. We assume that it is similar to our experiences, and, given that there is a world, we would certainly be dead if it weren't; so it is. But you must remember that what we experience, subjectively, is all a construction.
"4. Also no sound enters the brain. This means there is deep muteness where the brain exists. However, people listen to all different sounds inside the brain. The sound waves are turned into electrical signals inside of the ear and then transmitted to the center of hearing. And the consciousness inside the brain listens to these for instance as a melody. Then who is it that listens to the loud music aired from powerful loudspeakers and how?"
Same as 3 above. People do NOT listen to (objective) sounds; they construct the subjective experience of sound. As for who listens, see 1 and 3 above.
"5. The image is formed inside a miniature spot in the brain."
NO. See 3 and 4 above.
"Then how is the three-dimensional image with depth is formed on this diminutive screen? For instance when I look at the horizon or the sky, how is such an image with vast depth formed at this tiny spot of center of vision just as identical to its original with the same depth and sense of distance?"
You keep making the same mistake over and over. I'll just say it one more time: There is no image in your brain; your subjective experience bears no relationship that we know of except the most general structural relationships (see Kant, Palmer, etc.) to the reality "out there". There is no objective "light", no "sound", no "screen", no "depth". Zero, none, nothing. Those are subjective experiences. Neural impulses are reacting to each other, generating, we do not know how, those experiences. Period.
"What is it that gives me the feeling of distance and space?"
Now this is a better question, but one no one knows how to answer it. We do indeed have "feelings" or experiences of space, light, sound, etc. How are they generated, by neurons inter-reacting? We do not know. There are many studies showing what areas of the brain process what stimuli from various sensory inputs (to put it crudely), and you could say that those areas are "what" gives those feelings, but that's not really a good answer, is it. But it's about the best we can do right now.
"6. When a person sees a glass of water, in fact he does not see its real form but only a copy of it in his brain."
Not a copy, a construct.
"The coldness that he feels when touching the glass surface is not the real coldness of the glass but only a copy of it. This means nobody is ever able to feel that he touches the real glass."
That's better; now you're getting it.
"Since it is not his fingers that feel the sense of touch, but merely the sense of touch in the brain. Should we not in this case conclude that people are never able to reach the reality of objects and can never touch the reality of a glass?"
Good question, and some have. But if we assume that there's anything out there, we have to assume some degree of correspondence with what we construct; otherwise, as I say above, we'd be dead, because we'd be falling off cliffs, eating poison, etc, etc.
"But not every person knows this fact. Everyone thinks they touch and see real objects. Is it not strange that people are not aware of this and they never think about this?"
When you do, you're called a "philosopher" under the best circumstances, "insane" under the worst, and many in between. Also, to do this thinking to any reasonable extent, one needs leisure, food, shelter, as a minimum. If you're desperately trying to get those, you just don't have time, right? Also, it's scary... see 13 below.
"7. Nothing changes when a person is hit by a bus or comes across a lion."
Well, it sure hurts when it happens to me.
"Since, just like the image of the bus, the sense of collision or the fear while running away from a lion, all form in the brain. When I see a bus, I see it at the center of vision inside my brain. If I go and hold the door of the bus, I feel the coldness of the metal inside my brain. Then I cannot discriminate from this fact what happens when I feel pain if a bus hits or a lion bites. Then is it not very illogical when people say, 'It shows I am in contact with the bus or the lion because I feel pain when the bus hits or the lion bites'?"
This is the same question as 6, basically. However, it's not illogical, since it's based on the assumption (usually not stated) that there's a world out there. Given that assumption, the rest follows. Now if you want to question that assumption, fine... see the refs above for literature on this.
"8. We live the entire period of our lives inside our brains. In a similar way, we also have dreams in our brain. For instance when we touch a piece of ice in our dream, we feel it is wet and cold. Or, when we smell a rose, we get the wonderful scent of it. We again sense the feelings of fear, pain, anxiety and panic in a similar fashion. Then are the dreams and the real life the same in this sense?"
When I slept I dreamed I was a butterfly; now I think I'm awake... am I a butterfly dreaming I'm a prince, or a prince who just dreamed he was a butterfly? This is an old Chinese story, true, as far as I know. As you can see, you're not alone.
"9. The person's own body is also included in the images a person sees. So, a person only sees the copy of his own body."
"This means every person all through his life lives in the cave in his skull where he never knows what is outside, including his own body and other objects. Now think over this happening once more: Right now are you inside of the room you are present or is the room inside of you? Isn't the second alternative the right answer scientifically?"
"Scientifically" the first is correct, since science assumes that there is a world to be investigated. As to what is actually correct, see my discussions above.
"10. Let us imagine 5 different people who look at a garden of roses. Since every one of these people see the rose garden in his own brain, then aren't there 5 different rose gardens in the brains of every one of the 5 people? Is the color red that each one sees the same with the other's perception of red? Would there be any possibility to compare these?"
Now this is a much better set of questions, and one that is the subject of hot debate right now; see the refs above. First, there are indeed 5 different subjective experiences of the rose garden. Second, no one knows; but there are ways to compare certain aspects of the experiences of red: their relationship to the experience of blue, for example: how the colors fade into one another, how much light is necessary to see red. Stephen Palmer is more or less the expert on this at this point. But this is a very difficult and technical issue, and if you don't have background in cognitive science and perception, wait until you do before you tackle this literature.
"11. We say that the original objects we see the copies of in our brain exist outside, but what if nothing exists outside? Because we never have the ability to test this or observe this. Then is it not dubious that the original objects are outside? At least there is a 50-50 percent possibility. Then how can we be sure that the original objects are outside? If there is no original object outside, then what is the entity that makes the images and the senses in our brain?"
Wait, wait. "50-50 percent possibility"? No. How can you give any answer, any numbers, any definite statement of possibility on a question that you have absolutely NO data on? Answer: you cannot. See my discussion of 3, 4, 6, etc., above. This is basically the same question. Again, Kant tackled this issue head-on; many others have also. See the references above.
"12. If we are living an illusion that has the possibility of not having any reality outside, then we may be existing in a very different place. For instance is it not possible for the entire humanity to exist right over a piece of crystal? Or is it not possible that the complete history of humanity has been experienced in a place not bigger than the head of a pin? Would there be anything to stop us thinking in such a broad extent?"
Nope; go see the movie "The Matrix". Again, you're asking the same question as before. A more interesting question might be, "could humanity move into a virtual world inside a computer and be satisfied?" An interesting question indeed. I suggest that we aren't contacting alien life because they're all living in their computers, translated into conscious programs, having a much happier time in virtual universes than in the "real" one (And of course this one might be someone else's virtual universe... who knows? But for sure, it's not ours.).
"13. Some people are incredibly afraid when these topics are discussed? What do you think the reason for this may be?"
You've got to be kidding. Questioning one's entire basis for reality? For living? For believing what we see, feel, touch? The question is, why are those of us who do it not scared? Simple insanity, or what? That's part of the reason why philosophy is hard, and why people have to be introduced to it gently.
Well, have fun; you've got a lot of reading ahead...
Steven Ravett Brown
There is really one question here: how does the physical materialist account for reality? There short answer is: he does not. This kind of materialist thought scarcely begins to approximate reality, let alone question it. It is not "strange that people are not aware of this" [that reality is only "in the brain"] because for most people such questions fall short of the common sense which the grammar of ordinary language expresses and codifies. For instance, "brains" do not think and perceive in any language except the specialist technical language which belongs to areas of scientific research, which presuppose the dogma of materialism to begin with and to that extent is already sub-philosophical. It is persons who think, not "brains", not objects. And persons are not mechanisms either. Classical literature testifies to the fact that personal being, personality, is not purely mechanical or mechanistic, that thinking is not about "brains" and that "brains" do not have ideas; psychology, history, philosophy and common sense all attest to the same thing. The notions of human dignity, natural law and rights are all grounded in a sense of irreducible human spirit. The very word "spirit" evokes a whole vocabulary of words with acknowledged meanings and real sense, beyond the abstract understanding of materialist conception.
To interpret your questions Berk, as I expect other respondents will try to do, is (I would argue) to give tacit credence to the fallacies of the hard materialist position which they announce.
Matthew Del Nevo
Please Professor, explain me a way to teach Tarski's theory of truth for students who don't have a logical foundation.
Tarski's theory of truth without the logic? That's a tough proposition! In his famous paper, 'On the Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages', Tarski describes a potentially infinite hierarchy of 'meta-languages' each one of which is able to talk about the truth or falsity of sentences in the level just below it. The aim is to solve paradoxes like the following: You take a piece of paper and write, 'The statement on the other side of this paper is true'. Then on the other side, you write, 'The statement on the other side of this paper is false'. (See Answers 2, answer to Susan.)
I have never found this self-referential paradox particularly gripping, so I am not persuaded that Tarski's clunky contraption is really needed. However, the solution to the paradoxes about truth is not the philosophically most important part of Tarski's paper.
Tarski gives a deceptively simple test which you can apply to any proposed theory of truth to see if that theory is adequate.
First, we need to see that there are lots of things you can say about a sentence in a language. You can say that it is grammatical, or that it is poetic, or that it contains exactly eleven words, or that it is found in the King James Bible. But there is just one thing you can say about a sentence which has the remarkable effect of producing a result which is equivalent to the original sentence. And that is when you say that the sentence is true.
Let's forget about truth for the moment. We don't know what that is. Instead, Tarski says, let's just use the the letter 'T'. Suppose that someone produced a definition of a predicate, 'T', which applies to sentences of a language. And suppose that as a consequence of this definition, the following rule (Convention T) holds:
'Snow is white' is T if and only if snow is white
'Grass is green' is T if and only if grass is green
'Giraffes live on Mars' is T if and only if Giraffes live on Mars
'Freddie Starr eats hamsters' is T if and only if Freddie Starr eats hamsters...
...and so on for every sentence in the language.
Then we would be justified in saying that 'is T' is the same as 'is true'. In fact, we can say more than this. Convention T is all one could require of a theory of truth. It tells us what truth is, in the sense of distinguishing the predicate 'is true' from every other predicate that can be applied to sentences, like 'is grammatical', 'is poetic', 'contains exactly eleven words', 'is found in the King James Bible' and so on.
Just to see this working in practice, consider what is admittedly a pretty poor candidate for a theory of truth, the Biblical theory:
Biblical theory of truth: sentence x is true if and only if x occurs in the King James Bible
Does the Biblical theory satisfy Convention T? No. Consider, for example:
'Tony Blair is Prime Minister' is found in the King James Bible if, and only if Tony Blair is Prime Minister
But that is false. Nowhere in the King James Bible does there occur the sentence, 'Tony Blair is Prime Minister'. So the statement on the left hand side of 'if, and only if' is false. But Tony Blair is Prime Minister. So the statement on the right hand side of 'if and only if' is true. And the result of that is a false statement. It follows that the Biblical theory of truth does not satisfy Convention T.
Armed with Convention T, we can dispose in a similar way with the pragmatist, coherence and 'verification under ideal conditions' theories of truth. You might try it as an exercise.
Tarski, however, makes a stronger claim. He claims that Convention T is, in effect, a correspondence theory of truth. Why is that? Because in each of the examples given above, 'Snow is white', 'grass is green' etc. the left hand side talks about words and the right hand side talks about the world. If I say that 'Snow is white' is true I am talking about words. If I say that snow is white then I am talking about the world. Here we can literally see the 'correspondence' required between words and the world in order for there to be such a thing as truth.
I actually think that this is a logical mirage. No serious correspondence theorist would be satisfied with such a thin account of 'correspondence'. The real import of Tarski's Convention T is to undermine the possibility of ever giving an informative theory of truth. The proper conclusion to draw is the one that Tarski's predecessor Frege drew, and before Frege, Kant: truth is indefinable. However, that is another story.
What is the difference between order, balance, and harmony? I am a scientist considering a career change. Science seems to be mainly about order; the arts, which I am increasingly drawn to, seem to be more about balance and harmony. I sense the three are not mutually exclusive, but I think if I can figure out the difference between these concepts, I will be better able to design a career that meets my needs.
An interesting question... one is tempted to refer you to the Greeks, but then you'd just learn what they thought. My take on this issue, for what it's worth, is that when you refer to "order" you mean something like the marshalling and organizing of facts, data, into regularities, then possibly into laws. This is a classical picture of science, and it's probably mostly correct.
Balance and harmony... here you could be referring either to internal, i.e., subjective, feelings; or to some sort of objective standards, e.g., for the right kinds of structure in a work of art. Let's just explore the subjective, because that seems to be the general tenor of your question.
Feelings of balance and harmony come either immediately upon the "viewing" (I'm using the term more generally than just vision) of a work of art (and Kant has a lot to say about this also in the Critique of Judgement), or as a kind of general feel or orientation that one has when one does work, for example, that one loves. Now if you're referring to the second of these, this discussion is too specific for you, and my comment is merely that if doing art satisfies you and science does not, in terms of this general feeling of well-being, go do art (but I hope you have money saved up).
Let's take the first, however: the specific feeling that one has upon viewing a particular piece. How is this different from feelings that one has upon viewing a well-written, profound scientific paper? There may be no difference at all; or the difference might be due to your own preferences... we come here to either the issue in the above paragraph; or to the difference between art and science. That boundary blurs in either of their higher reaches, in my opinion, since both (again in my opinion) serve to reveal some aspect of reality to ourselves and others. But art usually emphasizes feelings, while science emphasizes objective knowledge. So what is revealed in the case of art, or better, the emphasis on what is revealed is some truth about one's own, or humanity's in general, feelings. While in the latter case what is revealed is some truth about facts... which can be very aesthetically moving, but does not deal directly with feelings, i.e., feelings are not the operators in science, although they can be the subject of scientific investigation, of course.
So it's beginning to seem as if what you might be moving toward is a desire to investigate and to manipulate feelings on a much more specific level than the general feelings of aesthetic satisfaction that you get from viewing a good paper. I've just got to throw in a plug here for the Jungian (simplistic as it is) four-part analysis of the personality; and his dictum that as we mature we move toward other areas of the psyche. This sounds to me like what's happening with you, and that's great, in my opinion.
Now... I haven't said exactly what "balance" and "harmony" are. One can talk about this and that being opposites and needing to be "evened out", so to speak; I'm afraid that I'm rather atypical in this area, since I have a rather profound skepticism about the validity of analyses purporting to dissect the human psyche (although Aristotle did this and so did Jung... and many others). But let's take the general point of feeling versus analysis, or the intellect versus the emotions... whatever categories you want to use here. There does indeed seem to be a separation here, and as you probably know, that separation is backed up by neuroanatomical data. Again, what you seem to be wanting is more emphasis on the emotions, and perhaps what you mean by "balance" refers to a very general evenness, let us say, between emotional manipulation and awareness, and intellectual operations.
The advantage of doing art is this direct manipulation of feelings. The disadvantage is that you can't really say anything specific... what does a sonata mean, or a piece of sculpture, etc.? On the other hand, the pros and cons of science are just the opposite, aren't they... you know what you mean, but not how you feel about it in any specific sense. You can say profound things about the world, but is what you're saying beautiful, not to mention how you're saying it? Not usually. Yet on the other hand, what do you get with beauty... besides very general, vague comments on the (subjective or objective) world? Yet, on the other hand, although, through science, you find out all sorts of specific things about the world... there's always the realization that there's got to be more than just the facts, right? Hesse addressed this issue rather directly in The Glass Bead Game. So far as I know, most of the literature rants and rails about the above separation, without (with a few exceptions, like Hesse) trying to synthesize art and science in any direct, specific way. Oh, there's plenty of art about science, or art that uses science in some way or another, but that's not the point, is it.
So, you can do both art and science, but remember that it takes about a decade of hard work, usually, to master something. You can continue with science, and gradually do more exploring of your feelings through viewing, reading about, etc., art, psychology, and so forth. That's the usual method. You can go the art route, take the 5-10 years to master an art form, be poor (unless you've got savings), and finally, if you're lucky and talented, find that you are exploring and manipulating feelings directly. That's the unusual method, and very few manage that... but some do. Or you can do something like become an art dealer or collector, after studying for the 5-10 years to achieve mastery. But then you're not an artist, although you're on the fringes, and being on the fringes is always a bit frustrating unless you're someone who is totally reconciled and satisfied with not being an artist, while still loving art.
Steven Ravett Brown
I am a recent graduate of a bachelor's degree in Philosophy. I studied some of the basic arguments of the free will/ determinism controversy of the great thinkers and the postings on this site. My current "allegiance" is toward a strict deterministic viewpoint because of the impression that science has given me, though I am not a professional scientist. I do not understand how so many thinkers say they are determinists and then talk about who should be punished. But more odd to me is how after just saying that everyone is under rigid causality they are now saying to not punish under certain conditions.
I think the most coherent angle is to say, "Punish...or don't..it doesn't really matter...it is the law of the universe that these things had to happen, even your attempt to talk about it, the philosophers to try to change it despite iron causality controlling them etc. It is also necessary that we should have spent time talking nonsense about it. A very great person is just as necessary as a base criminal. He has only tricked us into thinking he/she is great because we believe he/she could have done otherwise. In the material world which is us as well, there are no special people."
This seems to me the real last temptation of the philosopher, not pity as Nietzsche thought.
Let's assume for the sake of this discussion that the thesis of determinism is true. If it isn't, then we have the comfort of knowing that the future is not a foregone conclusion. But it doesn't make much difference so far as the free will debate is concerned. There is as little justification for punishing an act which has no cause, as there is for punishing an act that is determined by the agent's prior state.
In response to this challenge, the theory of punishment goes through several dialectical spirals:
Level 1 If it is determined that the agent acts, then it is also determined that we respond with sanctions. The force of calling this response 'punishment' can be explained in terms of its intended effects, as can the development of rules for deciding when it is, or is not, appropriate to punish. In the vocabulary of determinism, we learn to discriminate cases where punishment is effective from cases where punishment is not effective. Punishment is not effective for automobiles which fail to start, for infants who lose control of their bladders, for adults who are not in possession of their faculties, or for adults who, though in full possession of their faculties, did what they did as the result of physical coercion.
That primitive theory of punishment is refuted by the example cited by F.H. Bradley, of the Master of Hounds who gives his dogs a good thrashing before they go out on a hunt "just to show them who's boss". According to the Level 1 theory, there is no reason why we should not 'punish' those who have not committed any wrongdoing, but might possibly be deterred from doing so by being given a proactive thrashing.
Level 2 As an institution, the practice of punishment gains enormously in effectiveness from being combined with the natural, though in deterministic terms irrational, human desire to see the wrongdoer 'paid back' for their wrongdoing. This provides the motive for distinguishing cases where punishment would be effective, but not deserved, from cases where punishment would be effective and deserved. Rather than undermine this powerful institution, we forbear punishment of the innocent, even in cases where it would otherwise be very effective as a deterrent.
The problem with this theory is that distinguishing between the 'guilty' who deserve to be punished from the 'innocent' who do not can only be effective so long as those on whom punishment is administered do not reflect on the implications of the rationale supplied for making this distinction. For, if they do, if they realize that it was not possible, given the initial conditions, that either the 'guilty' or the 'innocent' should have chosen to have acted otherwise, they will refuse to accept that there is any real difference between the two cases.
Level 3 Punishment has to be seen within a wider framework of our interpersonal attitudes. The seminal paper is P.F. Strawson's British Academy lecture 'Freedom and Resentment' (reprinted in several places, including his collection Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays). For example, although you profess determinism, you submitted your question in the hope of a reasoned response. In pressing the 'submit' button you did not merely intend to bring about a certain effect (as would be the case, e.g. if the answers for 'Ask a Philosopher' were not produced by humans at all but by a AI program running on a supercomputer). The human world brought into being by our inter-personal attitudes a world where arguments are 'valid' or 'invalid', where actions are 'right' or 'wrong', where punishment is 'deserved' or 'undeserved' cannot be dismissed as an illusion merely on the grounds that it cannot be perceived from the fully objective standpoint. On those grounds, the passage of time, the world of our sense experience, consciousness itself are mere 'illusions'. An excellent book to read on these issues is Thomas Nagel The View from Nowhere.
That is not the last word on the subject, however. Even though we may accept the impossibility of discarding this 'double vision' of the world and our place in it the world seen from the subjective and and from objective viewpoints there remain reasons for metaphysical disquietude. We praise or punish people for the choices they have made. It is part of what it is to see a person as a person and not a thing that we do not try to 'get behind' the person to see the chain of causes leading back to the moment of their birth that accounts for their being the way they are, or for choosing the way they chose. Yet at the same time, we feel a keen sense of cosmic injustice that one human being has been 'chosen' by the world to do good, while another person has been 'chosen' to do evil.
However, cosmic injustice is the one injustice that cannot be righted by human efforts. To think that we can right it by refusing to make judgements 'good' or 'bad' is the illusion which, I suspect, continues to grip you.