With regard to empathy, what exactly is the simulation theory? What are the major arguments in favour if it being the central method of understanding other people?
Greg Currie, at the Flinders University of South Australia has written an excellent short account of his research into 'simulation theory' and its rival 'theory theory' which you will find at http://wwwehlt.flinders.edu.au/philosophy/research.html.
According to Greg Currie, simulation theory 'says that I put myself in another's
shoes by running my own mental processes "off-line", disconnected from sensory inputs and behavioural outputs. Instead of applying a (rough and ready) psychological theory to the other person, I take on pretend or imagined versions of the beliefs and desires I would have if I were in that situation, and then I just observe what decision I make.' Whereas, on the alternative view, 'we theorize about others, and about ourselves, on the basis of the behaviour we observe, and the theory we arrive at is a theory of mind. We then apply the theory to people so as to make predictions about their behaviour, just as we apply scientific theories to stones and planets.'
It seems to me that there is a third, more fundamental approach to understanding others which both simulation theory and theory theory presuppose. This is when I don't use any means or method of interpreting another person's behaviour. I don't formulate a 'theory' on the basis of 'evidence'. I don't first go through a routine of imagining what it would be like to be in their situation. I simply see their action for what it is. In the vast majority of cases, people would be very perplexed if you asked them how they knew about the mental states of others, or how they knew why another person did what they did.
I am not putting this forward as the overlooked 'third alternative' between the two theories which Currie describes. There are times when one has to make a positive effort to 'put oneself in another person's shoes'. Imagination is an intellectual capacity that needs to be exercised, and some are more proficient at it than others. It is the skill possessed to a high degree by the novelist, who succeeds in drawing us into an imaginary character's world. There are other times when the focus is rather on making sense of a person's actions in relation to their situation. The more we find out about that situation the more evidence we will have for our 'theory'. It is an empirical question at just what point empathizing ends and theorising begins or vice versa.
One of the characteristics which marks the autistic child is the lack of a capacity or concept of how things appear from another person's point of view. There are psychological tests, which most children are able to pass by the age of four or five, to determine whether they are able to attribute false beliefs to a real, or imaginary individual. 'Noddy has put his chocolate bar in the tin, but when Noddy wasn't looking, Lucy took the chocolate bar out of the tin and put it under the bed. Where will Noddy look for the chocolate? The child who answers, 'Under the bed' has not yet grasped the idea of 'how things are so far as Noddy's state of belief is concerned'. There is only 'how things are', full stop.
Exactly what capacity does the autistic child, or the child under a certain age, lack? Do they lack the emotional capacity for empathy? or the intellectual mastery of a psychology theory whose inputs are what another person wants and what they believe? This is a murky area.
But there is a prior, strictly philosophical question, concerning how it is possible to make sense of another person's actions at all. Suppose little green aliens landed from Mars. It does not seem impossible that we could learn to communicate, and to make sense of one another's actions. Yet there would be crucial areas where we simply could not see how things were for them, or they with us, with our radically different 'nature'. For all that, there would necessarily be something we had in common. There would be things we needed in order to live, even if they were different things, there would be things that gave us pleasure, even if they were different things, and so on. Most importantly, we would each possess a language where actions could be explained by giving reasons.
It is the capacity for language, for reason, that makes me, myself the instrument that perceives the meaning of another person's actions, just as the eye is the instrument for perceiving objects. In an important sense, what the autistic child lacks is a crucial constituent of rationality. To say that, however, does not make the phenomenon of autism any less puzzling, or go any way towards resolving the clash between 'simulation theory' and 'theory theory'.
John Keats wrote in his poem 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' that 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' I believe that beauty is not truth and that this is quite evident in modern society. What are your thoughts on this issue? Are there any philosophical greats who would agree with me?
When Plato called the Sophists 'panderers' and accused them of purveying appearances in place of truth, he was responding to the same fault that you see with modern society. 'Everything is style but no substance,' is a familiar cliche. Iris Murdoch has written a book The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists about Plato's low estimate of art in The Republic.
Why can't we value truth for truth's sake, and beauty for beauty's sake? To assume, as Keats apparently did, that the only way to defend aesthetic value is to equate it with truth is to concede the argument to Plato.
In my online notebook page for 16th April I challenge one half of Keats' assertion, focusing on the narrower claim that 'the value of pictorial representation in art is a species of truth'. Possibly, that's what prompted you to ask your question. I won't try to repeat the argument here.
Instead, I shall look at the other, more controversial half of the assertion, that 'truth is beauty'. Is that true?'
I could be clever and say that the fact that Keats' remark is 'beautiful', i.e. poetic, does not make it true. If I wrote, 'Every sentence consisting of eight words is true,' it would be reasonable for you to point out that, even if by its own criterion of truth that sentence is true, I have given you no grounds for believing that criterion to be true.
In science we seek the best explanation for a given phenomenon. What makes a hypothesis win out against all competitors is its elegance and simplicity. These are undoubtedly aesthetic attributes. Does it follow, then, that the most elegant and simple theory is true? It is reasonable to assign the higher degree of probability to the more aesthetically attractive theory, but that is all. Some times the long-shot wins the race. Ugly theories can be true.
I suspect that what I have just written would be judged superficial, and that there is more to Keats' remark. In that case, I wish someone would enlighten me.
Who discovered that the world is round? When and how did it happen?
I looked up the answer to your question in the Grolier 97 Multimedia Encyclopaedia. Here's an extract from the article, Earth, size and shape of:
The shape of the Earth was considered to be a sphere by ancient Greeks such as Pythagoras and Aristotle. The first accurate measurement of the Earth's size was made in the 3rd century BC by Eratosthenes of Cyrene. He knew that at the summer solstice, the first day of summer, the noon Sun was reflected in a well dug at Syene (modern Aswan). This fact indicated that Syene was approximately on a direct line between the Sun and the Earth's center. Simultaneously, Eratosthenes determined that the Sun as observed at Alexandria (which he assumed to be on the same meridian as Syene) was south of the vertical by about 1/50 of a full circle. Because the rays of the distant Sun striking Syene and Alexandria can be assumed parallel, the angle of shadow at Alexandria is equal to the angle between there and Syene, as measured from the center of the Earth. The Earth's circumference would thus be 50 times the north-south distance between the sites. No way existed then to determine this distance accurately, but Eratosthenes' value was correct probably to within 15 percent.
That's the historical facts sorted out. I'm still puzzled by how Pythagoras or Aristotle could have accepted that the earth was spherical, in the absence of a theory that accounted for the observation that 'Things generally fall down' in terms of a notion of gravitational attraction.
Children are taught in school that the earth is round, and most accept this, in the face of apparently conclusive evidence to the contrary. If the earth was round, then surely the people in Australia would fall off? Or, if some kind of glue is holding them on, why doesn't it feel to them as if they're hanging upside down?
Or suppose the teacher is sufficiently smart to discuss the round earth theory along with Newton's theory of gravitation, and how Newtonian mechanics accounts for the orbits of the planets in the solar system. Aren't they worried about how physical action can occur at a distance?
Then, of course, there are those like a student I once taught who have never 'learned' this lesson, who believe that the round earth theory is a gigantic conspiracy perpetrated by the scientific community.
In the name of free speech and democracy, isn't it time we insisted that children are given lessons in both the flat earth and round earth theories, so that they can decide for themselves which theory to believe?!
If a visiting alien were to land in your garden and asked you what it meant for human beings to have a mind, how would you answer? How would you decide whether the alien had a mind or that it exercised mental functions? Would you need to posit a mind-entity to explain its behaviour?
Ah! I must have been subconsciously thinking about your question when I responded to Mark's, above. But there are some interesting angles here.
The first thing to say is that if the alien succeeded in making it understood that it wanted to know 'what it meant for human beings to have a mind', then you would presume that it had a mind. Of course, there's always the initial possibility that you are listening to a tape recording, but if you manage to continue an intelligent conversation, that can be ruled out. Then there's the possibility that your 'alien' is merely a mechanical probe responding to instructions from real aliens in their orbiting space ship or back on Mars, and relaying their questions to you. In that case, you are dealing with real minds, at one remove.
However, that misses the real point of the question. With an alien being, we lack all sorts of basic evidential cues. We can't tell the difference between a 'smile' and a 'frown', or between different tones of voice. There's little to empathize with. Or we might be faced with the more extreme Star Trek scenario of a being made of pulses of incandescent energy. Does that pose an insuperable problem?
The mathematician Alan Turing proposed a famous test which could be used to determine whether an individual at the other end of a computer terminal had a mind. The test is to see whether you can keep up an intelligent conversation. In other words, there's sufficient evidence going by speech alone to make a decision. Going by that test, it is irrelevant how physically different the alien is from us.
For anyone who has doubts about the sufficiency of the Turing test as I have the question remains open. Suppose that someone suggested that the aliens were intelligent, but unfeeling machines. So it was morally acceptable to use the aliens as tools, enslave them, put them to whatever purpose we liked. The question is whether there is a philosophical argument to show why that attitude would be wrong.
Who said, 'Even if there is no God, it is a social necessity that we create one'?
I don't know who said it. My concern is rather with whether the proposition expressed is true.
There are two different things that you might mean by the claim that something is 'a social necessity'. You could be saying that as a matter of sociological law, that thing always obtains wherever human societies are to be found. Or you could be making the evaluative judgement that the thing in question is necessary for a society to attain some desirable feature, like order, coherence, stability.
It could be claimed that as a matter of psychological and sociological law, there will always be a 'god' or 'gods' wherever human societies are to be found. Success, power, money are the 'gods' that people choose in the absence of any other. One argument that has been given for religious belief, is that the 'One God' of the monotheistic religions is a far more suitable subject for worship. If we believe in the existence of a Deity, we may be self-deceived. But we are more self-deceived if we make success, power, or money our 'god'. The question posed for the non-believer is whether it is possible for human beings to do without gods altogether.
'Even if there is no God...'. One other thing that I would point out is that there is a pragmatic incoherence in the judgement, 'It is necessary for me to believe P, even though P is false.' And if that is true for me, then it is also true for 'we'. We cannot worship a Deity while simultaneously recognizing that it is only a phantom of our own creation. The judgement is therefore one that can only be made from outside, by an on-looker. 'It is a social necessity for you to create a God, yet in asserting that fact, I also recognize that your God cannot be a God for me.'
Could you evaluate the view that deontology has no practical value?
Deontology? What's that?
Here's how the Oxford Companion to Philosophy defines deontological ethics:
Moral theories according to which certain acts must or must not be done, regardless to some extent of the consequences of their performance or non-performance (the Greek dei= one must). According to teleology or consequentialism, as commonly understood, the rightness or wrongness of any act depends entirely upon its consequences. Deontology is seen in opposition to consequentialism in various ways.
In the light of this opposition, one question to ask is which view, the teleological or the deontological, is the correct view to take of the foundation of moral judgements, what theory best accounts for the validity of the moral decisions that we make. But that is not the question you have asked. Your question is whether deontology has practical value, in other words, whether an ethical theory setting out 'those acts which must or must not be done' can be of any use to us in making ethical choices, irrespective of whether or not that theory does in fact provide the correct philosophical account of the ultimate foundation for those choices.
I wonder if it has occurred to you that the very same question could be raised about consequentialism, or teleology. Suppose you believe in the consequentialist theory known as 'utilitarianism', according to which the best action is the action that leads to 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number'. Bernard Williams, a long-time opponent of utilitarianism, points out a very real dilemma for the consequentialist, that in order to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number, it is necessary that people do not base their moral decisions on a utilitarian calculation. In other words, if you are a utilitarian moral philosopher, your view is that, while utilitarianism provides the foundation that accounts for the validity of our moral judgements, for the majority of persons the utility principle has little practical value.
By contrast, it seems to me that deontology has considerable practical value. It is true that general principles like, 'Never tell a lie' do not always help us resolve the moral dilemmas that we face in real life. When principles clash, as they often do, you have to make a judgement in the light of the actual circumstances, a judgement that is not guided by any particular principle. However, I believe that those children who have been taught by their parents, and at school, that there are things which are right and wrong, that you must, or must not do are still better equipped to make those practical decisions.
I am Deputy Chief of the Criminological Research Department at the Lithuanian Institute of Law. While writing my PhD thesis, I have faced one problem I am not sure I can solve myself. So maybe you could just advise me the way of analysis. The problem shortly sounds as follows: I have to prove that two facts are just elements of the same process.
How do we decide whether we are dealing with one and the same process or two different processes? I kick a tin can, and as I do so there is a flash of lightning and moments later a clap of thunder. Unless I credit myself with supernatural powers, I must assume that my kicking the tin can was one process, and the thunder and lightning was another process. It was pure coincidence that they happened at the same time.
On the other hand, science teaches us that in the case of thunder and lightning what seem to be two processes happening at different times, are in fact one and the same process. We are seeing and hearing the electrical discharge of millions of volts from storm clouds. The only reason we hear the thunder after the lightning is that sound travels more slowly than light.
Then we have to consider the case where one process causes another, different process. The process of lightning striking the roof of the house caused the process of the house fire. However, the house fire was not part of the process of the lightning strike. There is a clear dividing line between one process and the other.
If you asked me how, in general, one proves that two facts, or two processes are causally related, I doubt whether there would be anything that one could usefully say in purely general terms. Establishing causes and effects is a matter of discovering the true, or best explanation for a given set of phenomena. Here's a concrete example. A worker in a plastics factory develops cancer and sues the company for criminal negligence, claiming that his cancer resulted from his handling carcinogenic substances. In court, the company might try to argue that there is no proof that the substances used in their manufacturing process cause cancer, or they might admit that the substances are carcinogenic but deny that they could have been the cause of cancer in this particular instance. There are familiar ways to test such claims in the courts.
But that was not your question. You asked how one proves that two facts are part of the same process.
When are we likely to raise the question whether facts A and B are part of one and the same process, rather than merely being causally related to one another? Here is where I wish you had given me a concrete example to work from. Try as I might, I just can't think of a legally relevant case where it matters whether we are dealing with one and the same process or not! In law, what matters are causes and effects, how one attributes responsibility for a given fact, not how one individuates processes.
Please help me answer this question: Identify and expound upon what effects Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have had on our lives within the past 50 years.
You haven't asked for much!
You have obviously been given this as an essay question. I can only guess at what sort of answer your instructor was expecting.
Take away Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and you take away the starting point of 2,500 years of Western philosophy. Imagine a possible world where philosophy met a dead end and the early speculations of the Presocratic philosophers were buried and forgotten. Or imagine a possible world where philosophy started out on an altogether different basis from the Socratic method, or the theories of Plato and Aristotle.
One can imagine these things in the abstract, the problem is that, as a working philosopher, it is simply impossible to subtract the influence on one's whole way of thinking that these historical facts represent, or imagine how one might have thought differently. Philosophers are always trying to think differently, trying to break out of the confines of starting points and assumptions. The difficulty is that one can never know how far one has succeeded, in the face of the suspicion that, given the historical point that we have actually started from, there may be ways of thinking that are impossible for us to comprehend.
Or you could be asking how important the influence of 2,500 years of Western philosophy has been in the West over the last 50 years. Undoubtedly, philosophical views are deeply ingrained in our culture. It is also true that over the last 150 years the increasing confinement of philosophical activity within the academic departments of universities has led to a situation where philosophy, as a branch of human inquiry, has had decreasing influence on our lives. Not so very long ago, a person who had not studied philosophy was considered uneducated. How little that is true today.