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Ask a Philosopher: Questions and Answers 12 (2nd series)

When referring to an answer on this page, please quote the page number followed by the answer number. The first answer on this page is 12/1.

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

Ask a question Answer a question

(1) Tana asked

I just got done reading the book Black Like Me. I found it to be excellent but do not understand the relevance of Plato's quotes on page 55. Can you help me?


Yes, an excellent book. Now, why should I make the effort to find the exact edition and go to the page, and take the time to write out an answer for you when you can't be bothered to take the time to give me the quotes?

Steven Ravett Brown

(2) Valencia asked:

How can doubt be a positive force in the growth of a person?


Here's an interesting quote:

"Strong correlations between educational attainment and stage also provide support for the sequentiality of moral judgement stages. According to Kohlberg (1969), an important prerequisite of moral development is direct and repeated experience with moral conflict in social contexts."

It's in this paper, which I highly recommend:

Dawson, T.L. 2002. New tools, new insights: Kohlberg's moral judgement stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development 26 (2):154-166.

In other words, to advance morally, you need conflicts with your existing morality. Don't you think doubt is a type of internalized conflict?

Steven Ravett Brown

(3) Adam asked:

Why is the "argument from design" as evidence for the existence of god rejected by philosophers?


Because it's fallacious.

Go here:, and look around; here, and look around:

Go here for specific articles:; and here:

And on, and on, and on.

Here's a short quote from Pigliucci's longer article:

"Dembski maintains that Bacon and his followers did away with both formal and final causes (the so-called teleonomic causes, because they answer the question of why something is) in order to free science from philosophical speculation and ground it firmly into empirically verifiable statements. That may be so, but things certainly changed with the work of Charles Darwin (1859). Darwin was addressing a complex scientific question in an unprecedented fashion: he recognized that living organisms are clearly designed in order to survive and reproduce in the world they inhabit; yet, as a scientist, he worked within the framework of naturalistic explanations of such design. Darwin found the answer in his well-known theory of natural selection. Natural selection, combined with the basic process of mutation, makes design possible in nature without recourse to a supernatural explanation because selection is definitely nonrandom, and therefore has "creative" (albeit nonconscious) power. Creationists usually do not understand this point and think that selection can only eliminate the less fit; but Darwin's powerful insight was that selection is also a cumulative process-analogous to a ratchet-which can build things over time, as long as the intermediate steps are also advantageous.

"Darwin made it possible to put all four Aristotelian causes back into science. For example, if we were to ask what are the causes of a tiger's teeth within a Darwinian framework, we would answer in the following manner. The material cause is provided by the biological materials that make up the teeth; the formal cause is the genetic and developmental machinery that distinguishes a tiger's teeth from any other kind of biological structure; the efficient cause is natural selection promoting some genetic variants of the tiger's ancestor over their competitors; and the final cause is provided by the fact that having teeth structured in a certain way makes it easier for a tiger to procure its prey and therefore to survive and reproduce-the only "goals" of every living being.

"Therefore, design is very much a part of modern science, at least whenever there is a need to explain an apparently designed structure (such as a living organism). All four Aristotelian causes are fully reinstated within the realm of scientific investigation, and science is not maimed by the disregard of some of the causes acting in the world. What then is left of the argument of Dembski and of other proponents of ID? They, like William Paley (1831) well before them, make the mistake of confusing natural design and intelligent design by rejecting the possibility of the former and concluding that any design must by definition be intelligent."

(Pigluicci, M.,

You might also check out his shorter article:

Pigliucci, M. 2000. Chance, necessity, and the war against science. BioScience 50 (1):79-80. Here's a quote from it:

"What is the "design inference," and why, as evolutionists and scientists, should we care about the concept? The answer to the first question: a mix of trivial probability theory and nonsensical inferences. The answer to the second one: this book is part of a large, well-planned movement whose objective, I contend, is nothing less than the destruction of modern science and its substitution with a religious system of belief."

Steven Ravett Brown

(4) Louise asked:

I am writing my dissertation on a theory of art that asserts that art is linguistic and assumes Ayer's theory of language. What I would like to know is:

1) what exactly Ayer's theory of language is, and

2) whether it is influenced by Frege's theory of language and if so in what way ( I read somewhere that it was but now can't for the life of me remember where I read it).

3) Is it true that for Ayer the meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meaning of its constituent parts?


You're joking, right? You want us to *explain* Ayer's theory of language to you so that you can do your dissertation? If you want to know what Ayer's theory of language says, go read him. That's what you *do* in a dissertation: you go to the original sources... or good translations of them, at the very least. That's point one. Point two, whatever are you writing on this topic? "Art", whatever that is, is "linguistic"... whatever *that* is? So you have defined "art" in some way that is not viciously circular in respect to this question? Really? And how have you defined "linguistic"? If it's Frege and Ayer you want to deal with, you're back in the early 20th century as far as linguistic theories are concerned, and those latter have gone far, far, past those two.

I'll tell you what, go read some cognitive linguistics before you get mired in the impossible. These will get you started:

Bloom, P., M.A. Peterson, L. Nadel, and M. F. Garrett, eds. 1996. Language and space. Cambridge, MA: Bradford.

Coulson, S., and T. Oakley. 2000. Blending basics. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):175-196.

Fauconnier, G. 1995. Mental spaces; aspects of meaning construction in natural language. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Fauconnier, G., and E. Sweetser. 1996. Spaces, worlds, and grammar. Edited by G. Fouconnier, G. Lakoff and E. Sweetser. 1st ed. Vol. 2, Cognitive Theory of Language and Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Fauconnier, G., and M. Turner. 1996. Blending As A Central Process of Grammar. In Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language, edited by A. Goldberg: Cambridge University Press.

---. 1996. The many-space model of conceptual projection.

---. 1998. Conceptual Integration Networks. Cognitive Science 22 (2):133-187.

---. 2000. Compression and global insight. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):283-304.

---. 2002. The way we think: conceptual blending and the mind's hidden complexities. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Gibbs, R. W. 2000. Making good psychology out of blending theory. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):347-358.

Gibbs, R. W., and H. L. Colston. 1995. The cognitive psychological reality of image schemas and their transformations. Cognitive Linguistics 6 (4):347-378.

Grady, J. 2000. Cognitive mechanisms of conceptual integration. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):335-345.

Johnson, M., and G. Lakoff. 2002. Why cognitive linguistics requires embodied realism. Cognitive Linguistics 13 (3):245-263.

Lakoff, G. 1990. The Invariance Hypothesis: is abstract reason based on image-schemas? Cognitive Linguistics 1 (1):39-74.

Lakoff, G., and R.E. Nunez. 2000. Where mathematics comes from: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Lakoff, G. 1990. Women, fire, and dangerous things. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G., and M. Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. 1st ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

---. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. 1st ed. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Langacker, R. W. 1988. An Overview of Cognitive Grammar. In Topics in Cognitive Linguistics, edited by B. Rudzka-Ostyn. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.

---. 1991. Concept, image, and symbol: the cognitive basis of grammar. Edited by R. Dirven and R. W. Langacker. 1st ed. Vol. 1, Cognitive Linguistics Research. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

---. 1997. Constituency, dependency, and conceptual grouping. Cognitive Linguistics 8 (1):1-32.

---. 2000. A Dynamic Usage-Based Model. In Models of Language, edited by M. Barlow and S. Kemmer. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

---. 2001. Discourse in Cognitive Grammar. Cognitive Linguistics 12 (2):143-188.

Mandelblit, N. 2000. The grammatical marking of conceptual integration: From syntax to morphology. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):197-251.

Sweetser, E. 2000. Blended spaces and performativity. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):305-333.

Turner, M. 1996. The literary mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Turner, M., and G. Fauconnier. 1995. Conceptual integration and formal expression. Journal of Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 10 (3).

---. 1999. A mechanism of creativity. Poetics Today 20 (3):397-418.

Veale, T., and D. O'Donoghue. 2000. Computation and blending. Cognitive Linguistics 11 (3/4):253-281.

After you read these, in the originals, you might take another look at your thesis.

Steven Ravett Brown

(5) Michelle asked: What does it mean to be human? What are those qualities that define our humanity?


Mary Ann Warren (philosopher) attempted to clarify the concept of being a person like this:

1. Consciousness ( of objects and events external and/or internal to the being, and in particular the capacity to feel pain);

2. Reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems);

3. Self motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control);

4. The capacity to communicate, by whatever means, messages of an indefinite variety of types, that is, not just with an indefinite number of possible contents, but on indefinitely many possible topics;

5. The presence of self-concepts, and self awareness, either individual or racial, or both.

"What does it mean to be human?" You could rephrase that question to be "What does it mean to be different than other species of animals?" or "Why am I here?" Regardless of how you ask, it is an individual answer. No one can tell you the "right" way to be human or what it means to be human any more than they can tell you how to be "you". For some people being human is a religious experience in which their meaning is part of a greater plan by a divine being, for others it is that we are a complex organism with a need to reproduce that is no different than any other animal. Some believe both.

J. Gregory Jones

(6) Tracy asked:

Is there a famous Philosopher name Dontay or something close to this name? And if so...can you tell me a little about him? Thank you.


No doubt you mean Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321. He was also known more as a poet than a philosopher in his early years. He is best known for his books Divina Commedia Divine Comedy. He once said that Philosophy was a mystical lady whose soul is love and whose body is wisdom, she "whose true abode is in the most secret place of the Divine Mind".

The Divine Comedy is story of life after death, he wrote it "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity. In the book, Dante receives a vision where he passes through hell, purgatory, and paradise and speaks to the souls there. It is considered to be the last book of the Middle Ages and sums up man's accomplishments from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance and gives an excellent picture of Catholic belief at that time.

Dante denounced the religious corruption of his time and ridiculed most of the popes. His books have been burned, by order of popes. More recently he has been attributed with being the precursor to the Reformation. Our modern vision of hell is usually attributed to his works.

J. Gregory Jones

(7) Kelvin asked:

What is epistemological anarchy? what is the key point we should understand from this theory?


Whatever works. Anything goes.

For example: "We may advance science by proceeding against well-confirmed theories and/or well-established results."

- Professor of Philosophy Paul Feyerabend of the University of California, Berkeley.

"Just because a process follows a law of nature does not mean we have to follow the law of nature to find out more."

J. Gregory Jones

(8) Michelle asked:

What do you think is the purpose of sleeping and dreaming?


This isn't exactly a philosophical question, I hope you realize. There's a *lot* of work done in this area, i.e., sleep research, and you should really go to the appropriate journals to read it. However, first, sleep is pretty universal among animals, and even some fish seem to sleep. That argues for something very basic as it's purpose... nothing exotic at all insofar as anything Freudian is concerned. Now insofar as I've read recently, the current theories are either or both that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation in the nervous system, and to help the body process metabolic by-products. There's strong recent evidence for the first:

Balkin, T.J., A.R. Braun, N.J. Wesensten, K. Jeffries, M. Varga, P. Baldwin, G. Belenky, and P. Herscovitch. 2002. The process of awakening: a PET study of regional brain activity patterns mediating the re-establishment of alertness and consciousness. Brain 125:2308-2319.

Maquet, P. 2001. The Role of Sleep in Learning and Memory. Science 294 (2 November):1048-1052.

Shapiro, A. 1967. Dreaming and the Physiology of Sleep: A Critical Review of Some Empirical Data and a Proposal for a Theoretical Model of Sleep and Dreaming. Experimental Neurology 4:56-81.

Siegel, J.M. 2001. The REM Sleep-Memory Consolidation Hypothesis. Science 294:1058-1063.

Stickgold, R., J.A. Hobson, R. Fosse, and M. Fosse. 2001. Sleep, Learning, and Dreams: Off-line Memory Reprocessing. Science 294:1052-1057.

As to the second, you might note that the statin drugs are taken just before sleep because our liver metabolism alters then to process cholesterol.

Steven Ravett Brown

(9) Jon asked:

If I know something, must I also 'know that I know' that something?


No. There are at least two distinct traditions which emphasize the fact that knowing x does not imply knowing that one knows x, namely: Platonism and pragmatism.

Some pragmatists take the view that there would be no real sense in which I could be said to know x if this 'knowledge' of x made no difference to how I acted. One consequence of this view is that if one's actions show a series of practical differences associated with knowledge of x, then there is a sense in which I know x, whether or not I verbalize (or admit to myself) a knowledge of x. EG: Descartes continued appearances at the breakfast table (tardy, but consistent) shows that he knew food to be essential to holding his body and soul together, whatever he might have had to say about immaterial substance.

Plato, from a different (but not necessarily incompatible) angle, thought that most of what men count as knowledge is really only opinion, and that for precision the word 'knowledge' should best be reserved only for our relationship to the immutable 'Forms'. He thought that we all of us have (in a sense) knowledge of the good and the equal and so on, since according to his view of the matter ordinary experience would be impossible without these essential Forms underlying everything. The kind knowledge that we all have of these forms, or the sense in which we can be said to have that knowledge, must, however, be compatible with the fact that lots of people reject Plato's theory of forms, and claim not to know what he's talking about. And it is compatible: the kind of knowledge that we all have of the forms is knowledge by acquaintance (sometimes picturesquely imagined as acquaintance before now, ie, in the metaphor, before birth), whereas the kind of knowledge that Plato wants to cultivate is knowledge not only by acquaintance but also by analysis (EG in getting a slave to exhibit his innate knowledge of geometry in a more explicit form, in the Meno).

What is common here between Plato and the Pragmatists is that there can be different senses attached to 'knowledge', and that there are common-place senses of 'knowledge' available in which my knowing x by no means implies to my assent to the claim 'I know x'. What is also common is that both the pragmatists and Plato would think that the slave in the Meno *knows* his geometry, whether or not he thinks he knows it.

David Robjant

(10) Tana asked:

I just got done reading the book Black Like Me. I found it to be excellent but do not understand the relevance of Plato's quotes on page 55. Can you help me?


Yes, if you give an indication of the Plato quotes you find difficult. I do not have the book you sourced them in, but I do have Plato's works. What is it, on page 55 of your text, that is quoted from Plato? You can type it in, or give me a reference, such as a Dialogue and something called a 'stephanus' page number. These are usually three digits followed, on occasion, by a lower case letter, or a letter and some further numbers, eg: 'REPUBLIC 414a5' would take me to a particular line.

David Robjant

(11) Lennon asked:

In an era of increasing competitive pressures, the pursuit of strategic and fair human resource (HR) management practices inevitably raises myriad ethical dilemmas and conflicts of duties which are often complex?


In an era of increasing competition gobbledygook, the pursuit of strategic and rare intellectual resource (IR) management practice invariably raises myriad lexigraphical trilemmas and deployments of questions which are indecipherable?


Yes. Now, what's the question?

Further to that:

What is an "era of increasing competitive pressures"?
What is a "competitive pressure" like when it's decreasing?
When is a "human resource (HR) management practice" strategic?
What is a "human resource (HR) management practice"?
When is a "human resource" practice not a "management" practice?
What is the difference between a "human resource" and an employee?
When are ethical dilemmas "myriad"?
When is a dilemma not an "ethical" one?
What instance of "conflict of duties" isn't in some sense complex?
What instances of conflicts of duties do you have in mind?
What do you mean by "complex" here?
What, given the fact that questions do not raise themselves, do you mean by "raises"?
What do you mean by "inevitably"?

To cut this short, is what you mean to ask:

"Is managing people difficult?"

Or, is what you mean to ask:

"What are the difficulties with managing people?"

David Robjant

(12) Michelle asked:

What do you think is the purpose of sleeping and dreaming?


This is more of a scientific question rather than a philosophical one. But the answer is that we are not sure yet. Certainly if you don't sleep for 3 days or more you will start to hallucinate and be unable to function normally. So one idea is that sleep is needed for some vital biochemical functions to be carried out in the brain. We also know that electrical activity inside the brain is different when we are asleep but the significance of this is not fully understood yet. The problem with studying sleep is that we can't easily study fully what happens when you don't sleep because this would be cruel and potentially dangerous.

As far as dreaming goes we don't know either. I still like Freud's answer that the purpose of dreams is to protect sleep. This might make sense on the basis that we need to sleep and dreams are the brains way of coping with anything that might wake us up. However the existence of nightmares and anxiety dreams argue against this. Some people have suggested that dreaming is connected with solving emotional conflicts that cannot be solved in waking life. One of the important things that may happen during sleep is the transfer of contents from our short term memory to our long term memory. There lots of psychological papers on sleep and some universities and hospitals have special units which study sleep.

Shaun Williamson

(13) Jon asked:

If I know something, must I also 'know that I know' that something?


Well it depends on what sort of question you are asking. I you are asking a question about logic then here we are in the realm of modal logic and there are many different systems of modal logic. But in general given that by 'know' you mean 'being willing to affirm that B is true and having good evidence for B' then A knows that B is true implies that A knows that he knows that B is true. However in real life which is very different we say things like 'Fred already knew the answer to the problem although he hadn't realized it yet. Here 'know' is being used in the sense of being in possession of good evidence for B but not having realized its full significance. Also in real life people don't attach much meaning to sentences such as 'I know that I know that B is true. We could regard them as degenerate sentences. Logic has to take care of them however. Translating ordinary language into logic is a difficult area. But also consider sentences such as 'He believed that he knew that B was true but he was wrong' or 'He believed that he knew that B was true and he was right'.

Shaun Williamson

(14) Lennon asked:

In an era of increasing competitive pressures, the pursuit of strategic and fair human resource (HR) management practices inevitably raises myriad ethical dilemmas and conflicts of duties which are often complex?


No I don't think it does. What you mean is that in order to maximize the company's profits, employees may sometimes be treated in unethical ways. Ethics and Duties are concerned with the way we act towards other people. They have nothing to do with companies. People often talk about the duty they owe to their employer or doing the best thing for the company. But this is just so much cant. Your contract of employment implies even if it does not say that you will do the best job you can for the company. That is why they pay you. However this does not excuse you acting in unethical ways in your treatment of employees. A company is not an ethical being. However this question also looks like an essay question. I hope it isn't. The site was meant to be for people who had a real interest in thinking about the world and is not for the unethical people who merely want to get others to write their essays or term papers for them. So I hope you are not one of these people.

Shaun Williamson

(15) Eye asked:

What makes a philosopher significant?

Excluding the ancient Greeks through Aristotle, who are 7 most 'significant' thinkers in the history of philosophy?


What do you think makes a philosopher significant? Is it because he gets his name in the history books? Is it because he is a really good philosopher? Why just 7 philosophers and not 6 or 8? Is this connected with the Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs?

This is a site for asking philosophical questions. You will not find any history of philosophy that says 'And the seven most important philosophers were..'. Popularity polls are not part of philosophy.

Shaun Williamson

(16) Susan asked:

Do you think J.S.Mill agreed with homosexuality? I am writing a paper comparing his theory with the Biblical Tradition, that opposed homosexuality. Any suggestions?


I have never seen any mention of homosexuality in J.S. Mill so how can I say what his ideas would be on this subject. Why did you agree to write this paper when you know nothing about J.S. Mill? Who suggested that you write it? You might just as well write a paper about what J.S. Mill would have thought about the Marx brothers. In future only agree to write papers on things you already know something about and that you know have some chance of success.

Shaun Williamson

(17) Louise asked:

I am writing my dissertation on a theory of art that asserts that art is linguistic and assumes Ayer's theory of language. What I would like to know is:

1) what exactly Ayer's theory of language is, and

2) whether it is influenced by Frege's theory of language and if so in what way ( I read somewhere that it was but now can't for the life of me remember where I read it).

3) Is it true that for Ayer the meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meaning of its constituent parts?


I am amazed that you have agreed to write a paper that involves A.J. Ayer without knowing anything about him. Like most philosophers A. J. Ayer changed his views on things over time. So you cannot ask what were his ideas on language. However read Language, Truth and Logic which is a fairy clear,short book by Ayer expounding his early ideas about logical positivism. But like most works of philosophy it is not easy to understand and you can't expect an email to explain all of the things in it. You are going to have to do some hard work here yourself. Frege is even more difficult to understand. There is no way his views can be condensed into a short email. As far as I am aware neither Ayer or Frege ever discussed art or displayed any interest in it.

Shaun Williamson

(18) Sam asked:

If you have a large amount of money,and if you are immortal,and you have all the health all your life, what is the most important thing in the world that you can buy in order to have the power over people?


Philosophers are not really very interested in having power over other people so even if they are interested in shopping they are unlikely to be able to answer your question. If all that interests you is having power over people then you are likely to have an unhappy life. Only very frightened people want to have power over others because they think that then they will feel safe. Ask yourself why you are so frightened of other people that you want to be superman. It is understandable that children think in this way but not grownups. Buy a camera and look at the world and learn how to take good photographs.

Shaun Williamson

(19) Stephen asked:

Philosophical methodology is logical argument. Logical argument proceeds from a state one to a state two via necessary logic. Descartes' philosophy was overturned by Locke upon this methodology. Hume explicated consequences of Locke's's upgrading of Descartes' philosophy. Kant overturned Locke/Hume upon this methodology and provided a new system that did not fall foul of problems inherent with the philosophies of Descartes and Locke/Hume. This same procedure of, logical argument against Kant, and system building that did not fall foul of earlier logical 'traps', was performed by Hegel and Peirce. My question is what brain fart has caused contemporary philosophy to forego system building and wander mindlessly into logical traps already sprung? Or is it simply that contemporary academic philosophy has prioritized pumping out the 'qualified', and this agenda is compromised when the philosophy gets difficult.


Well I take it you are from NZ one of my favorite countries and like a second home to me but lets ignore that in favour of philosophy. The first thing is that I don't agree with any of the things you have said. I don't agree that Kant, Hegel or Pierce provided solutions to the problems posed by Descartes or Hume. The problem with philosophy is that it never arrives at any definitive solutions to anything.

If you wanted to draw up a list of philosophical problems which have definitely been solved by philosophers then that list would be empty. Philosophers have never managed to agree amongst themselves about anything and this in itself should make you suspicious about philosophy. At present the most successful philosophy in the Western world is Logical Positivism and the most influential philosopher is W. O. Quine. To me his views are nonsense and that is how philosophy is. You may very well have your favourite philosophers just as you have a favourite football team But others do not share your views. The only philosopher I have any regard for is Wittgenstein and he isn't even a philosopher.

Shaun Williamson

(20) Philip asked:

Dear Team Of Experts,

Can you please explain to this layman why the following are not acknowledged as self-evident truths:

1. There is no meaning except that supplied by an understanding, for Meaning is a concept, which only exists in a mind.

2. Understanding is the bestowing of meaning, which is the act of applying axioms to observations to reach a conclusion. (Where an axiom is any claim used as a basis for reason )

Kind regards,

Philip Atkinson


Because to many philosophers they are simply not true. In fact I would go further than that and say that they are nonsense. If any of these things were self evident truths then we would all know that they are true without having to think about it. But most people wouldn't even understand what they mean so how can they be expected to agree that they are self evident truths. They are in fact complex metaphysical propositions which are open to dispute. Meaning is not a concept which exists only in a mind. Understanding is not the act of applying axioms to observations. Maybe Kant thought it was but I don't agree with him.

Shaun Williamson

(21) Eye asked:

What makes a philosopher significant?

Excluding the ancient Greeks through Aristotle, who are 7 most 'significant' thinkers in the history of philosophy?


I would say Descartes who started the modern era by conceiving a vision of human reason that would supposedly eliminate all human ills; Locke who looked into Descartes' philosophy and found its shortfall and proposed a solution or solutions; Hume who clarified the real meaning of Locke's solutions; Kant who, repelled by the necessity of Hume's conclusions (which ultimately derive from problematics with Descartes' philosophy), entirely restructured Descartes' conception of how the mind works; Hegel who saw an internal contradiction with Kant's thesis; and lastly Charles Sanders Peirce who, like Hegel, saw the problems with Kant's conceptions and proposed solutions. Of these I believe Peirce is the greatest because he is the last in an unbroken line of deductive reasoning and therefore his arguments build upon the fallen arguments of his predecessors (a point seemingly lost upon contemporary philosophy). This is not true with respect to Hegel, as both Hegel and Peirce saw the problem with Kant's work and independently conceived similar redesigns of it, Peirce however, unlike Hegel, is a logician and refreshingly he doesn't not take advantage of not using double negatives.

Stephen Jones

(22) Nash asked:

"What is the meaning of the Copernican Revolution for Kant? How did Kant's Transcendental Philosophy change the conception of how knowledge is possible?"


Copernicus had concluded that the earth revolves around the Sun. The sun and the universe do not revolve around the spectator on earth. In other words, the world / reality does not exist as we perceive it. In its reality it is different. Likewise Kant concluded that our perceptions, concepts are not empirically deduced after experience. Our experience of the world is possible because our perceptions and concepts condition the possibility of experience.

Neither Metaphysics nor Empiricism

Kant articulated the limits for what can be classed as human knowledge. This is of paramount importance. For in Kant's time just as our own, people make claims to know something[s] which then gives them an authority to prescribe to other human beings how to live, to behave and the like. Kant addressed this issue of what human beings could and could not legitimately 'claim to know'.

Metaphysicians speculated about the nature of God, Freedom and the Soul amongst other things. Paradoxically, using the method of logical and cogent reasoning or Rationalism, their conclusions proved diverse and irreconcilable. In comparison to the tangible results of Natural Philosophy / science, Rationalists had been groping around in the dark. Their employment of pure reason had led thinkers to chase after phantoms, unable to agree on a method, unable to achieve a result. Kant does not dismiss Reason. It has proven very useful in applied mathematics and in deductions from hypothesis in natural science. Reason is productive when applied and restricted to human experience.

On the other hand, empiricism does holds that all human knowledge is derived from that experienced by the senses. Theology and speculative metaphysics ought to be committed to the flames. The works and insights of David Hume famously woke Kant 'from his dogmatic slumbers'. However, Hume took empiricism to its furthest conclusions leading to scepticism.

Empiricism cannot provide that what was experienced has universality and necessity. What was experienced five minutes ago has no guarantee of being the same again or in the next five minutes. Human knowledge is therefore contingent and fortuitous. Literally, if all knowledge is based on experience, arsenic that was poisonous yesterday might not be so today. If knowing is based on experience, there is no guarantee of necessity, that arsenic will be poisonous today, that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, that stones will fall to the ground when thrown and so on.

So neither pure reason in the guise of metaphysics nor empiricism provides the conditions for the possibility of knowledge.

Transcendental Idealism

Kant disagreed with the rationalist metaphysicians that a-priori analytic truths alone tell us anything about the world. Agreeing with the empiricists that human knowledge must be of a world we can experience he disagreed with them that this was sufficient. Kant developed the synthetic a-priori. That is, categories and concepts exist in our understanding and are synthesised with experience to provide human beings with knowledge of the world, themselves and others. Think of shapeless wax (experience) and a seal (categories). Both are synthesised to create a design (knowledge). Categories and concepts are transcendental. They are not deduced from experience nor refutable from experience — they transcend experience. Yet, they apply to and are the very conditions that facilitate experience.

Space and Time are a-priori forms of sensibility. Space is the form of the outer sense and time is the form of the outer and inner sense. They combine with experience to produce intuitions. Space and Time are the conditions or framework of intuitions. Knowing that I have the intuition of a table is due to the application of the Categories by the Understanding. Categories presuppose the knowledge we have. The categories are as follows:

Quantity — Unity, Plurality, Totality.
Quality — Reality, negation, Limitation.
Relation — Substance, Causality, Interaction.
Modality — Possibility — Impossibility
Existence — Non-Existence
Necessity — Contingency

Categories are schematised by the a priori imagination acting on the intuitions moulded by the forms of sensibility (Space and Time). So categories can only be applied to experience. Regarding the intuition, there is only one table (Quantity), existing before me (Necessity). It remains the same table despite being polished and scratched (Substance) and possesses a smoothness (Quality). The same holds for the phenomena of the world as conditioned by the categories.

The categories thus provide universal [every human perceives in the same way] and necessary [as conditioned by the categories] knowledge. Superior to the contingency of empiricism and the empty speculation of metaphysics.

Phenomena and Noumena

We perceive objects as they are created by the synthetic application of the categories to intuitions in space and time. We do not perceive an unmediated reality in itself — the noumenal. We perceive a reality created by the activity of the categories — the phenomenal. The nature of reality in itself, the nature of things in themselves [Ding an sich] beyond the activity of the categories, is unknowable.

Synthetic Unity of Apperception

Experiences of the phenomenal world are something for me. They are possible objects of consciousness because they have been connected by the categories and represented to the accompanying 'I Think'. The 'I think' must be capable of accompanying all connected manifold of intuitions and objects. If the 'I, Think' does not accompany intuitions, there can be no perception of anything. As I understand it, the 'I, Think' is the representation of spontaneous Pure Apperception [consciousness], which is the basis of human knowing. The unity of the synthetic unity of the manifold of intuitions and their representation to apperception is the highest and fundamental principle of human knowledge.

Limits of the possibilities of Human Knowledge

Only the synthesis of intuitions in space and time, with the Transcendental Categories create the conditions and material of human knowledge. What lies outside or beyond them is a matter for agnosticism. All talk of gods, goddesses, fairies, afterlives, previous lives are at best, matters of faith and/or belief, at worst nonsense. Nevertheless, according to Kant, they cannot be objects of human knowledge. That, according to Kant, is how human knowledge is possible and legitimate.

Martin Jenkins

(23) Carlos asked:

Please, what is nano technologia? it is for computer!


'Nano' (from the Greek for 'dwarf') means one-thousand millionth, so 'Nano Technology' is just about making useful things on a very small scale. I myself am engaged in some research on nanofoams — polymers containing myriads of very, very, tiny gas bubbles- but the term is usually associated with the construction of machine-like molecules by assembling individual atoms. This has resulted in the construction of, among other things, a tiny engine just 100,000th of a millimetre long, gear wheels and assorted types of engineering component. It is early days yet and little of practical worth has been built, but the possibility is there of making devices smaller than viruses which might, say, be introduced to your bloodstream to search out and destroy cancer cells, or which might work in hostile environments to build buildings or mine minerals. How would you make such tiny things? You wouldn't — you'd just have to make one, and it could then make copies of itself by collecting appropriate atoms from its environment.

Unfortunately all this has rather alarmed some people, largely thanks to Prey, a splendid novel by Michael Crichton (the author of 'Jurassic Park'), in which he suggests that self-replicating nano-robots might eventually take over the entire planet. Those who look to Mr Crichton as a source of fact, rather than fiction, ought, perhaps, to remember that our world already has microscopic entities which rapidly make copies of themselves by collecting appropriate atoms from its environment-they are called bacteria, algae, and diatoms. You will find out lots more at The Foresight Institute

Glyn Hughes

(24) Adam asked:

Why is the "Argument from Design" as evidence for the existence of god rejected by philosophers?


The argument from design is an argument from analogy. Philosophers who reject this argument do so on two counts: first, that the analogy is weak (and thus falls into question begging) and second, that the argument is based on selective observations.

The argument attempts to compare the universe to a man made machine. We know that man made machines (such as Paley's watch) are created by design. So, an analogical argument is used to try to show that the universe is also created by design.There are hosts of examples of man made design around us, but critics argue that this is not much help, for we have no further examples of designed universes, other than the existing universe which is the subject of this argument.

We would have a strong analogical argument at our disposal if we could compare this universe directly with other universes that we know to have designers, but we just do not have that knowledge. We cannot tick off the features of this universe against features in another designed universe, matching these features to the design; the situation is not like that at all.

Critics can point out that the argument from design does not follow the steps of a strong analogical argument; we have not included this universe in an observable type of designed universes by analogy. We cannot say that U (existing universe) has most of the features of DU (designed universes) therefore we cannot make a good inference that U is likely to be an example of DU.

The second problem in the Argument from Design is selectivity. Even if we allow that there may be some designer, this argument alone does not show what sort of designer this might be. There is plenty of evidence to show that a designer may not have created the universe especially for the benefit of humans. From the design argument alone, little can be shown about a designer without selecting features of the universe particularly favourable to whatever view we want to hold, which involves even more question begging.

Note: For further reading, Paley and Hume are definitive and Dawkins and Dennett are more recent.

William Woolliams