(76) Martin asked:
It is fairly common to believe that a person can remain the same person perhaps for a lifetime while undergoing a lot of change. Can a satisfactory naturalistic account of this belief be provided?
The key to answering this question is recognizing that the things that we identify out in the world, the 'particulars' (to use a term of art) that we identify in the world, we identify only because we have a particular interest in identifying them. And their identity (but not their existence) depends on our identification of them. When you look at a nice green lawn, do you see the lawn, or do you see the blades of grass? How we draw the boundaries around what we perceive in the world depends on our current cognitive purpose. Do you see the stone, the pile of stones, or the hillside? Is that a house, a wall, or a brick I see?
So when we perceive a member of the human species, on what basis do we choose to draw the boundaries around what is and what is not the 'person' we perceive? What matters is not any particular property of the object we perceive. What matters is our cognitive purpose in drawing the boundaries. We draw the boundary around a 'person' so as to maintain the 'identify' over time of the moral agent, since that is what matters (most of the time) for our cognitive purpose.
We can assume, for the purpose of this exposition, that our cognitive purpose in dealing with other persons, is to compete or cooperate in the attainment of our goals. What matters to us is our ability to predict the behaviour of that other person. To do that we attribute to that person beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and other behavioural tendencies. We use that information to predict how that person will react to what we do. So what matters is to us is the ability to predict (however roughly) the behaviour of that 'person'. And means is that what is important in identifying a continuity of 'person' is the continuity of that ability to predict what I am calling here 'moral agency'. If we have a discontinuity in that ability to predict, we tend to identity a different person. Multiple personality disorder is a case in point. If we have a continuity in that ability to predict, we tend to identify a continuity of person, regardless of any discontinuity of physical characteristics. The Star Trek transporter being a case in point.
What does not matter is any property inherent in the object we perceive. Hence, it does not matter for our cognitive purpose that real physical boundary around the thing we identify as a 'person' is somewhat vague physical materials are constantly flowing into and out of what we identify as a 'person'. The person could loose a significant part of its physical boundary (like an arm and a leg, and so forth) and still remain the same person. The physical body could be completely destroyed and a new body recreated in a distant place (by, say, a Star Trek transporter), and still remain the same person. What matters for the identity of a person over time and change is the continuity over time of the same moral agent, not any continuity of the physical boundary.
By 'moral agency' in this context, I mean the integrated set of beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and behavioural tendencies that we attribute to what we are calling the other person. We learn to associate a particular set of these beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and behavioural tendencies with a particular perceptible exterior as a way of anticipating and reacting to the behaviour of that person. As long as we find that the particular set of these beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and behavioural tendencies remains sufficiently continuous to remain useful in dealing with that person, we will believe in the continuing identity of that person over time. Dr. McCoy remains Dr. McCoy as long as the surly, curmudgeonly medical expert that goes into the transporter comes out of the transporter even if the atoms that made up the input have no part of the output, and even if the output is far far away in space and/or time. Commander Data would remain the same Commander Data as long as the particular set of beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and behavioural tendencies that we attribute to him remains the same even if the only thing that got moved from one positronic brain to another was the information that caused us to attribute to him those particular beliefs, wants, needs, desires, and behavioural tendencies.
The same principle applies to every 'particular' that we pick out of the world. The tree in my yard is the same tree over the years, even though it changes from a small seed to a large towering maple. What matters for the concept of identity over time is not the physical boundary, it is the role that the tree plays in my cognitive purpose.
I have to add a caveat, however, lest I cause undue confusion. It is one of my cognitive purposes to understand the world well enough to predict well its future reactions. That requires that I include in my cognitive purpose the desire to 'cleave nature at its joints' (Carl Linnaeus). Which means that I find it in my best interests to draw boundaries around things that react as units within the world. So unless I have other over-riding interests, I do not identify the atoms and quarks out of which all things are made. I identify the chairs and tables and other such furniture of the world. This means that sometimes it is the pile of rocks and not individual rocks that are important, and sometimes the other way around. And it means that I have an abiding cognitive interest in trying to identify 'particulars' in the world in a way that best aids me in understanding and predicting how the world will react to my actions.
So, to answer your question, it is almost universal to believe that a person can remain the same person while undergoing a lot of change because what matters for our identification of the 'same person' is the continuity of moral agency, not any continuity of physical presence. And this is a thoroughly naturalistic account of this belief.
(84) Ruy asked:
Is it possible to embrace idealism and not to fall into solipsism?
I would like to know the difference between the idealistic philosophy and the realistic philosophy.
I've postponed this question long enough. I first tried an answer a couple of weeks ago, but abandoned it. You could say that solipsism is my Achilles' heel. But Ruy is one of my University of London students so I have to give it a go.
The starting point is a talk I gave to graduate students at The University of Hull in 1997 entitled The Partial Vindication of Solipsism. I had to apologize to my audience because the talk was only half-written. At the crucial point, I just ran out of things to say, so I had to extemporize. (We had a lively discussion I wish someone had taped it.)
Let's first get clear about some definitions. I'm not interested here in the realism/ anti-realism debate about truth and meaning, associated with philosophers like Michael Dummett and Crispin Wright. I've written about this you'll find it in the Pathways Philosophy of Language and Metaphysics programs, but I want to focus here on 'traditional' idealisms, like Berkeley's Immaterialism, Kant's Transcendental Idealism (with phenomena-noumena distinction) and, possibly, Bradley's (or Hegel's) Objective Idealism. These are all robustly non-solipsist theories, so in a way that answers Ruy's question.
But, of course, it doesn't because the next question is, can Berkeleian Immaterialism or Kantian Transcendental Idealism or Bradleian Objective Idealism (or etc. etc.) be defended? If you do some research on the internet you'll see that a 'case can be made'. Two notable books which I may have mentioned before are John Foster The Case for Idealism (1982) and T.L.S. Sprigge The Vindication of Absolute Idealism (1984).
You don't need to be an idealist in order to see the attractions of a 'partial solipsism'. In fact, as I argue in my book Naive Metaphysics it doesn't even help to be an idealist so far as contemplating the attractions of solipsism is concerned.
Here, I want to give my 'take' on why idealism is challenge to be reckoned with. I think that idealism can be refuted. But there wouldn't be much interest in its refutation if idealism wasn't worth taking seriously.
Science has moved on, since Berkeley attacked the idea of 'matter'. The distance between a Newtonian corpuscularianism (essentially, a modified Democritean atomism) and (e.g.) string theory is stupendous. Physicist David Bohm's notion of an 'implicate order' could even be described as a 'new idealism'. But I'm going to take a broad sweep and include any view that sees physics as giving the ultimate account of the nature of the universe as inconsistent with philosophical idealism. The universe might be much stranger than we supposed, but physics gives the final account. After that, there's nothing more, you've included everything that exists.
According to the idealist or at least my kind of 'idealist' physics can never give the ultimate or final account. Physical theories aim to tell us how the world works, at the most fundamental level. But there is something else, which physics doesn't and cannot explain.
It's easier to grasp this if you are a theist (which I am not). What there is, which physics doesn't account for, is, on Berkeley's version of theism, the super-mind within which all physical existence is enclosed. When you look out onto the world, you are merely looking at the inside of God's mind. All the physicist does is look deeper into it. The nature of the deity is a subject for theology, or, possibly, metaphysics, but not physics.
(You can of course, be a theist without embracing idealism. God did his God bit by 'making' things out of 'matter', the way a potter makes pots out of clay. Alan Watts has a great phrase for this theory in The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966): he calls it 'The Crackpot Universe'.)
If you asked me, 'How is it that the Earth is able to hang suspended in space?' and my reply was, 'Imagine the Earth resting on a tortoise. Now, remove the tortoise', you wouldn't think much of my answer. But I do contend that what I said about the tortoise is a valid way to think of idealism. 'Imagine the universe existing inside God's mind. Now, remove God.' The point is that nothing is explained by appealing to the nature of the deity. How can we know? But, equally, one can't simply say, with Wittgenstein, 'A nothing would serve as well as a something about which nothing can be said.' Serve what purpose, exactly? If you just mean 'serve the purposes of science', then you're just begging the question.
In short, for all its ambitions towards objectivity, science is confined to looking at the universe from the inside. That's what the idealist claims. There is something beyond science, for the same reason that anything that has a 'inside' must have an 'outside'. But as to what that 'something' is we can only speculate.
A student of metaphysics might notice that what I've said isn't very far away from Kant's theory of phenomena and noumena. Or maybe Schopenhauer's World as Will and Idea.
In objective idealism, the metaphor of 'inside' and 'outside' is replaced by the notion of part to whole. According to F.H. Bradley in his treatise Appearance and Reality (1893), thinking dismembers experience by means of the apparatus of terms and relations, resulting in irreconcilable 'contradictions' which are only 'overcome' in the Absolute although as finite beings we can have no positive knowledge of how this is possible. Even God is merely an aspect of the Absolute.
What's wrong with idealism? We can leave aside the usual objections, like P.F. Strawson's disappointingly weak reasons for rejecting the phenomena-noumena distinction in his otherwise excellent book on Kant, The Bounds of Sense (1966). Yes, talk of an 'unknowable ultimate reality' borders on the unintelligible. But that's precisely the point where we need to avoid the temptation to throw our hands up in horror (the way the old-time logical positivists used to do).
Commenting on Bradley's denial of the reality of spatial and temporal relations, Strawson's contemporary at Oxford J.L. Austin is said to have remarked, 'There's the part where you say it, and then the part where you take it back.' Space and time are 'real', for all practical human purposes, just not for metaphysics. Well, I know what Bradley meant, even if Austin (disingenuously, in my view) professes not to. If only philosophy were that easy!
I've not done much more than try to describe the idealist's vision, so it would be somewhat unfair to offer a refutation when I haven't really given an argument to refute. I have more to say about this in the Pathways Metaphysics program. However, there are two books which stand out for me as encapsulating what needs to be said if you want to resist the idealist's challenge.
The first book, or rather pair of books, is John Macmurray's The Self as Agent (1957) and Persons in Relation (1961) based on his Gifford Lectures, 'The Form of the Personal'. Macmurray identifies the key move that needs to be made as the rejection of a 'metaphysic of experience' in favour of a 'metaphysic of action'.
The second book is Richard Rorty's rightly celebrated Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) where the key assumption behind the panoply of idealist philosophies is identified as the view that human thought acts as a 'mirror' which serves to 'copy' or 'represent' an 'external reality'.
We are as agents bound up with the world too intimately to make a separation, even in thought, between experience, or thought, and its 'object'.
I suppose that this is, essentially, pragmatism. The American Pragmatist William James correctly identified this as the weak point in F.H. Bradley's idealism, the notion that human physical agency reduces to so much 'experience'.
It is the same point, again, as the famous incident when Dr Johnson, emerging into a church courtyard after hearing one of Berkeley's sermons, kicked a heavy stone and declared 'I refute it thus'. An idealist would say that Dr Johnson was being naive because 'of course' idealism can explain the experience of rapidly moving your boot, the judder of contact, etc. What Dr Johnson saw and Berkeley missed is that what makes reality real, and not merely 'virtual', is that actions are things we do rather than things we merely experience.
(89) Jarah jayne asked:
What is the nature of the universe? Where does it come from? Of what is it made? How did it come to exist? What is its purpose? By what process does it change? Is it evolving or devolving? Does it function by itself or would it degenerate to chaos without some kind of intelligent control?
Is there a Supreme Being? If so, what is His nature? Did He create the universe? Does He continue to control it personally and if so, at what level? What is his relationship with man? Does he intervene in the affairs of man? Is this Being good? If this Being is good and all powerful, how can evil exist?
What is the place of man in the universe? Is man the highest fruit of the universe or is he just an insignificant speck in infinite space or something in between? Does the spirit of man descend into matter from higher spiritual realms, or has it evolved from matter? Is the universe conscious or unconscious of man? If it is aware, is it warm and friendly to him, or cold and indifferent, or even hostile?
What is reality? What is mind; what is thought? Is thought real? Which is superior: mind or matter? Has mind created matter or has matter evolved mind? Where do ideas come from? Does thought have any importance does it make any difference in our lives or is it just fantasy? What is Truth? Is there a universal Truth, true for all men forever, or is Truth relative or individual?
What determines the fate of each individual? Is man a creator and mover of his life, or does he live at the effect of forces over which he has little control? Does free will exist or are our lives determined by outside factors and if so, what are those factors? How does life work: is there a Supreme Force that intervenes in our lives? Or is everything predetermined from the beginning of time? Or is life just random, full of coincidence and accident? Or is there some other control mechanism we do not perceive?
What is good and what is bad or evil? What is moral? What is ethical? Who decides good and bad, right and wrong; and by what standard? Is there an absolute standard of good and bad beyond ones the personal opinions? Should good and bad be determined by custom, by rational law, or by the situation? What if the decisions of others (society, authorities, laws, etc) determining good and bad are contrary to ones personal beliefs or freedoms? should you obey others or follow your own conscience? Moreover, if as an answer to FIVE, we do not have free will but are ruled by outside factors, what difference does good and bad make? we have no choice. If so, we have no responsibility for doing bad.
Why are things the way they are? How should things be ideally? What is the good life for the individual and for the many (society)? What would a Utopian society, a heaven on earth, be like? Is it even possible to create a Utopia? If so, how? Would not a Utopia assure personal freedom? What, then, should you do with those who don't cooperate and violate the Utopian system? If you control or punish them, is there no longer a Utopia?
What is the ideal relation between the individual and the state? Should the individual serve the state or the state serve the individual? What is the best form of government and what is the worst? When is a man justified in disobeying the dictates of the state? To what extent should the majority rule and thereby act against the freedom of the minorities? When is a man justified in rebelling against the established order and creating a new state? What are the relative merits of the different economic systems (capitalism, communism, etc.).
He who controls education controls the future. What is education? How should the young be educated what is important and what not? Who should control education: the parents, the student, the society or the state? Should a student be taught to think for himself or to adopt the beliefs of the society? Should man be educated to be free and live for his own interests; or to subjugate his desires to serve others or the state? see Question EIGHT.
What happens at death? Is death the end of everything or is there a soul in man that continues to exist beyond death? If so, is that soul immortal or does it too eventually cease to exist? If the soul does continue to exist after death, what is the nature of that existence? If there is an existence after death, is good rewarded and bad punished? If so, how do you reconcile this with the concept of predestination? And if there is a God of INFINITE LOVE and FORGIVENESS, how to you reconcile punishment?
Oh My!! This looks uncommonly like the syllabus for an introductory philosophy course designed for a student of education in a religious school. It is fairly obvious that you did not compile this list of questions on your own. And it is also fairly obvious that you really do not expect a detailed answer to them. The 'Ask a Philosopher' service is not intended to provide you with a course study guide, or to answer course examination questions. (I would be interested in discovering just why you did choose to post this long list.)
But I am going to provide you with some 'quick and dirty' answers. I am doing this only because your laundry-list of questions interested me as a neat compendium of philosophical positions in one place. I don't intend to provide you with any detailed arguments in support of these answers, just to provide you with an integrated set of responses from a particular philosophical position. (Its all a matter of fun on my part.) And given the religious tone of some of your questions, I do not really expect that you are going to like the answers I provide here. But if you might wish to discuss any of these answers in greater detail, I would be more than happy to oblige.
ONE The Nature of the Universe.
The Universe is (or at least may be) a four-dimensional spatio-temporal block of infinite extent in all dimensions. Therefore, the question of where it came from and how it came to exist are illegitimate. It has always been here. It will always be here. It didn't come from anywhere. It is made of energy (and it is an empirical question as to whether en grosse there the net energy balance of the Universe is zero or not). And it does not change. Change requires time, and the four-dimensional spatio-temporal universe is timeless (time is one of its dimensions, so it has time. But it is not in time.) Change is an illusion caused by the transit through this unchanging Universe of a three-dimensional wave-front that is our current awareness of the present. Since the 4-dimensional universe does not change, it neither evolves nor devolves, and would of course not degenerate into chaos. The Universe just is it does not have a purpose.
TWO Is there a Supreme Being?
No there is not. It should be obvious that whether one adopts the supreme being premise will affect what you consider to be evidence either way. But a philosophically rational approach would be to examine the issue in the absence of any pre-suppositions. And from that perspective, without a prior adoption of the premise of God, there is no rational foundation on which to base a belief in such a thing. In the absence of a pre-supposition of God, there is a surfeit of evidence that suggests there is no such thing. In the case of the hypothesis of a Supreme Being, absence of any of the evidence that should be there (if it exists) is adequate evidence of its absence.
THREE The place of Man in the Universe.
The Universe, not being sentient, is not aware of Man, and has no feelings towards him. Man is just an evolved organization of energy on an insignificant spec of dirt, in an insignificant corner of the Milky Way, which is itself an insignificant and mundane galaxy in an unremarkable corner of the Universe. Man's 'spirit' (whatever that word means) has to have evolved from matter, because there is nothing more to Man than matter organized in a specific way. Man is the 'highest fruit of the Universe' only in his own mind. To the e.coli bacteria in his gut, he is jus another warm place of residence.
The concepts 'reality' and 'dream [world]' refer to two distinctly different modes of experiencing 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. When experiencing life in one mode, we notice that things perceived are constant, persistent, consistent, and coherent. When experiencing life in the other mode, we notice that things perceived are dramatically less constant in form and character, often transient in existence, frequently mutually inconsistent both from thing to thing and across time, and far more frequently quite incoherent. One mode of experience draws the focus of our attention, is amenable to inquiry, and responsive to our reactions. The other mode of experience often drifts uncontrollably past our attention, is rarely subject to inquiry, and is often unresponsive to our reactions. On any scale of measure, the difference between the two modes of experience is dramatic and unmistakable whenever noticed. One of these modes of experience we call 'reality', the other we call a 'dream' (or hallucination, or illusion).
'Truth' is a predicate that we apply to propositions when the proposition correctly describes reality. The proposition 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white. Truth is evidence transcendent which means that propositions can be true (accurately describe reality) independent of whether we can judge or even know whether they are true. Propositions that are true, are true independent of what we think about them. Therefore, (timeless) propositions that are true, are true for all men in all times.
The 'mind' is what we call the observable consequences of the material of our brain in the process of dealing with the sensory inputs that it receives. Mind is matter in action, just like digestion is matter in action. In the absence of a material brain actively processing inputs, there would be no mind. Mind is an evolved feature of matter. There is no sense of one being superior than the other, besides the fact that mind is necessarily dependent on matter. Thought is how we process those inputs. All ideas are ultimately caused by, or started by, our sensory experiences.
The function of our mind, the purpose of our thoughts, is to navigate our way through reality and obtain from that reality the things we need. We have no fangs, no claws, we are not very fast at running, climbing, or swimming. What we are good at is learning how reality reacts, and planning ahead so that we get our next meal rather than becoming the tiger's next meal. So thought has a very great deal of importance in our lives. Without thought, we become the tiger's next meal either because we fail to think about the sensory evidence that indicates where the tiger lurks, or because we abdicate our thinking in preference for following someone else's dictates. (And someone else will almost always direct us towards the tiger rather than away from it, because that other person is more interested in avoiding becoming the tiger's lunch himself, than preventing you from becoming the tiger's lunch. In fact, it is often the case that giving you to the tiger as lunch is the way that he avoids being lunch himself.)
FIVE Free Will versus Determinism.
In the four-dimensional spatio-temporal block that is the universe, the life of any individual thing is just a worm that is threaded through all the other worms along the temporal dimension. But this does not entail fatalism. Man is both the creator and mover of his own life, and survives by the grace of his own mind through the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' the effects of forces over which he has little control. The Universe itself is (probably) deterministic (at least in its grossest manifestations quantum indeterminancy not withstanding). But saying that the four-dimensional universe is deterministic is not to say that everything is pre-determined. That the four-dimensional manifold contains a record of every choice you will make does not imply that your choices are not free, or that your choices are pre-determined in the sense that you are unable to choose otherwise. Man has free will even in a deterministic universe.
'Free Will' is just exactly that mental process that evaluates, deliberates, and chooses the most appropriate response to the current situation. Free Will is not represented by choices, decisions, or judgments that are undetermined or uncaused, or caused by random or indeterminate events. Free Will is represented by choices, decisions and judgments that are caused by your character, beliefs, values, and experiences, and the reasons and justifications that you perceive at the time. Given the character, beliefs, values, and experiences, and the reasons and justifications that are perceived at the time, you could not have chosen other than you did. But given any difference to this long list of inputs, and you might have chosen other than you did. You will make your free choices based on that laundry list of inputs, and the four-dimensional manifold that is the universe will record the choices you make.
SIX The foundation of Ethics.
Life is Action. 'Life' is characterized by the unique fact that living things change and move 'act' through the directed application of internally collected, stored, converted, and channelled energy. Life's Actions are teleological (goal oriented). At a very fundamental level, the goal of all living behaviour is the maintenance of the life that is behaving. The Gene is the unit of life. It is that (not necessarily contiguous) stretch of the DNA molecule that can be labelled as a Gene that is what must be recognized as the entity that survives and proliferates continuation of which is the goal of life's actions. The actually observed behaviour of Mankind, both in general and individually, is highly flexible and variable but it remains within the broad genetically defined limits of continued genetic survival. As an example of life, as an example of the species Homo sapiens, and as an individual consciousness, the ultimate goal of all human behaviour is to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. The pressures of ecological competition ensure that if we pursue any other goal, we will be out-competed by a species that does pursue that goal. The pressures of ecological competition over our several billion year evolutionary history have ensured that our current genes are those that have successfully managed to program our individual behaviour so as to have survived for this length of time. We, as individuals, are designed by evolution as survival machines for the genes that constitute the recipe for our construction.
To be properly labelled as 'Good' at anything is to do a quality job at fulfilling the designed purpose of that thing. Therefore a 'good' Human is efficient and effective, and fulfils with quality, the purpose for which the Human was designed ensuring the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. If any human is not a 'good' human by this standard, then the next generation will consist only of those who were 'good' by this standard. Over evolutionary time scales, failing to be 'good' by this standard is self-genocidal. 'Be Good or Die!'
What is 'good', therefore, is whatever action, behaviour, choice, circumstance, or opportunity that most likely will best contribute to the continued survival and proliferation of our gene-pool over the long term. And since it is your gene pool that is your standard of measure, it can only be you that decides what is good and bad, right and wrong. Ethics is more that personal opinion, however, because that which is best for you in these circumstances is an objectively determinable fact. Laws, social mores, religious commandments, custom, must all be regarded as 'rules of thumb' rules that collective experience has taught us have usually been more successful than not at identifying the best alternative; rules to apply in situations where lack of knowledge, time, or personal sense of self-worth prevents you from making an informed rational choice.
If you do have the knowledge, time, and personal sense of self-worth to make an informed rational choice, and the choice turns out to be contrary to the socially accepted rules, then you have to factor into your judgement the likely consequences of flouting those rules. But the existence of the rules does not make the rules right.
SEVEN Social Engineering
Given that the moral goal of every individual is to maximize the likelihood that one's own gene pool will survive and proliferate over the longest term manageable, each individual has a vested interest in a social environment that maximizes the opportunities to pursue this goal, and minimizes the interference from others. Also, given the fact that Homo sapiens is a social species, we are best able to achieve our own individual moral goals through processes of social cooperation, rather than social coercion. The historical evidence is overwhelming that individuals fair better on any scale of measure when there is more individual liberty and less institutionalized coercion.
Cooperation is based on voluntary fair trade. Coercion is based on the threat or use of force. Therefore, the ideal social environment would be one that maximizes the opportunities for all members of the society to engage in voluntary fair trade, and minimizes the resort to force or the threat of force by some individuals against others. Social sanctions should therefore only be employed against those who attempt to exploit others by means of fraud or coercion. Since we no longer have the option of expelling evil doers from our social groups, we are left with the only alternative of isolating the morally corrupt and insulating the rest of society from their immorality.
EIGHT The status of the State
The 'State' is not a moral entity in its own right. The 'State' consists of individuals. Throughout history, the 'State' has usually consisted of one or more individuals exercising coercive power over others pursuing their own moral goal at the expense of the freedom of others to pursue their own. The purpose of such a 'State' is therefore to steal the wealth of the many, and concentrate it in the hands of the powerful few.
Ideally, however, the 'State' is simply a collection of individuals that the rest of society has employed to govern those aspects of social cooperation that need central coordination. The purpose of such a government is therefore to serve the interests of the individuals of the society in the pursuit of their goals. Individuals employed by governments are no more morally justified in the first use of fraud or coercion than are any other individuals.
The proper function of Consititutions and Bills of Rights is to protect the individuals from the collective power of the majority. It is not enough to declare that it is immoral for individuals employed by the state to engage in the first use of force or fraud. That declaration must be accompanied by specific behavioural protections of the individual citizens against the coercive powers of those employed in government.
But any individual, regardless of their social situation, regardless of the 'State' under which they live, is free to make his own informed choices in the pursuit of his moral goals. All that rational judgement requires is that the individual take into consideration the likely consequences of his choices. This means that the potential rebel must factor into his decision making the likely response that the society will mount to any rebellious choices. Moral justification lies with the objectively determinable best long term interests of the individual's gene pool.
Education is the teaching of the next generation all the information, habits, rational thinking processes, and social mores necessary for the next generation to flourish within the social environment. What is important is equipping the young with the tools necessary to flourish in the environment they will find themselves. What is not necessary (except as derivative) is 'developing their character', or 'maintaining their self-esteem'. The social group as a whole has a vested interest in seeing to it that the education of the young covers certain minimal standards of acceptability. Uneducated (and unsocialized) young grow to become a drain on the social assistance network of the social group. The parents have a vested interest since it is the moral goal of the parents to ensure that their off-spring flourish well. The student has a vested interest, but only exceptionally will have the intellectual and emotional resources to make informed decisions in the matter.
[One of my own personal opinions is that education should be assisted by the government through vouchers, but should be managed by the parents and local school boards. Private enterprise education will be are more efficient and effective than any sort of government monopoly of education. I include this comment only because of the nature of some of the questions.]
One of the key things that should be explicitly taught, but is now only implicitly taught, are the moral principles around which the social group is organized. One of the greatest current failings of the educational systems in all western democracies, is that they make no effort to explicitly teach the moral principles that underlie democratic political organization and capitalistic economic organization. As a consequence, most young people grow up having absorbed by osmosis moral principles that are at odds with the fundamental principles that guide their society.
Death is the end. At least for you as an individual. The only thing that lives on is your genetic heritage, if you have managed to procreate. Punishment after death consists of the failure of your genetic heritage to flourish through time.
(90) James asked
Is it true that there is an infinite number of points of measurement between any two objects and travelling from one to the other I pass through all these points?
You are dipping your toe into the deep waters of maths and physics here. I'm not sure what a point 'of measurement' is as opposed to just a point. I suppose you mean any point at which a measurement (of the distance to one of the objects) could be made, at least in principle. This seems to include all the points, so let's leave out the 'of measurement' and stick with points. I'll try to keep things 'as simple as possible but no simpler' (as Einstein remarked) Yes, there is an infinite number of points on any line (between two objects or otherwise) and yes, you pass through them all in moving along the line. Why an infinite number?Because a point, by definition, has zero dimensions (absolutely no size at all) so that you can fit as many as you like on a (one dimensional) line without taking up any part of the line at all. How big is this infinite number?
Well, the first size of infinity is that of the counting numbers (1,2,3,4...unendingly). This is called a countable infinity because we can count off the numbers one by one without missing any out. Any collection that we can count off using the counting numbers (by one-to-one correspondence) is the same size as the set of the counting numbers. For example the even numbers (2,4,6,8...etc) can be counted off in this way (2 is no.1, 4 is no.2, 6 is no.3 etc). So the set of even numbers is the same size as that of the counting numbers. You'd expect that there would only be half as many since you left out all the odd numbers, but that's because you are used to finite collections where this would be the case. Similarly the set of prime numbers,or of every millionth number (1m is no.1, 2m is no.2, 3m is no.3 etc), is the same infinite size. Surprisingly,although you can fit in an infinite number of fractions (rationals) between any 2 counting numbers (eg between 1 and 2 we have 3/2, 4/3, 5/4..29/28, 29/27, 29/26...etc etc), we can set out all the fractions in ordered rows and columns and count them off by meandering systematically through them, missing none out. So the infinity of the rationals is no more than that of the counting numbers. So there is the first size of infinite countable infinity.
So, is this how many points there are on a line?. No, the number of points is a vastly greater infinity. In a 1-inch line we can think of one end as 1 and the other as 2. imagine each of the countable infinity of fractions between 1 and 2 is put at its appropriate point. Despite filling in this infinity of points,the line is still virtually empty. The uncountable infinity of unoccupied points remaining corresponds to the uncountable infinity of irrational numbers. No way can these be put into one-to-one correspondence with the counting numbers, there are vastly too many of them, the next size of infinity. You might think there are more points on a 10-inch line than on a 1-inch line. In fact there are no more on an infinitely long line than on a 1-inch line. But surely there are more on a 2-D plane (can be thought of as an infinity of lines side by side)?No, there are no more. What about a 3-D volume. Again no more. There are as many points on a 1-inch line as in all the space of the universe. After proving this, Cantor remarked to a friend, 'Je le vois mais je'n lecrois' (why in French I don't know, he being one German speaking to another) Amazing to think we move through such an impressive number of points every time we raise a finger. So much for the maths.
Enter Zeno (DOB 490 BCE), Aristotle and others Zeno, supporting Parmenides view that motion is impossible, formulated 4 paradoxes purporting to show this. Let's take the Stadium (logically equivalent to the Achilles). To walk across the stadium we must first cross half the distance. To do this we must cross half that distance. But first half of that half (1/4), but only after half of that quarter (1/8),but before that half of that eighth (1/16) and so on without end. We must perform an infinite number of tasks, which is impossible. We cant even start our journey. Now obviously Zeno knew perfectly well that people crossed stadiums with no trouble at all, and that nobody imagines Achilles is still running after that tortoise, but he invites us to find the flaw in his argument. To refute we must deny one or more of the following presuppositions in the argument: 1. To travel a distance we must cross each and all of the intervening points 2. A line (distance) consists of an infinite number of points 3. We can't complete an infinite series of actions (tasks) Aristotle denied 1. saying a line has a size and can't consist of points which don't. A point is potential, only becoming actual if we divide the line. So we don't cross an infinity of actual points in walking a distance Others denied 2.saying space is not infinitely divisible but consists of tiny discrete units so motion is a series of micromini jerks too small to feel in which we cross a finite number of space quanta. Yet others deny 3. saying that properly conceived, an infinity of actions (a supertask) is possible. Few find Aristotle convincing here.
But still lively debate about whether space (and time) are continuous or quantized (discrete, atomized), and about supertasks is a supertask possible, and does a walk constitute a supertask anyway smartass moderns often say the solution is that the distance covered is just the (finite) limit of an infinite convergent series e.g. 1 is limit of 1/2 +1/4+1/8+ etc. But this 'solution' just says in mathspeak what Zeno already told us, that the distance is finite, just infinitely divisible. It doesn't explain how we complete the task.
So is the uncountable infinity of points on a 1-inch line just a tale in the story of maths, more useful than medieval speculation as to how many angels can dance on a pinhead perhaps, but still a fiction? Is the world really like that?The jury is still out. Maybe we can never know. Some modern attempts at uniting relativity with quantum mechanics (an incompatible pair of theories) suggest the quantum of space is 10 to the power minus 135(cm), and the time light takes to cross this distance, 10 to the power minus 43(sec), is the quantum of time.Whether this is so is an empirical matter, but doubtful if we could ever probe such fantastically tiny distances the suggested space unit is as small in relation to a proton as a proton is to the entire universe.No wonder some physicists liken such theorizing to pins/angels, so far from being testable as not to count as science.
Well, you dipped your toe in, I've stirred the waters up just a little so you can see how deep they are. Plunge in if you fancy.
(94) Chris asked
When did time begin?
The standard view of the topology of time is that it is:
boundless (no beginning or end)
continuous (no gaps)
linear (not cyclic)
All these features can be disputed. Most commonly the first, and your question, indeed, supposes that time is not boundless but had a beginning.
You are in good company.
St Augustine was allegedly asked what God was doing during the indefinitely long time before He created the world. His reply 'preparing Hell for people who ask such questions' may have shut his questioner up, but was no real answer. In his 'Confessions' he wrestled with the problem and concluded that time only began with the creation of the world (God being eternal and outside time). This became a standard Christian view, and is compatible with scientific evidence indicating a 'Big Bang' start to our universe some 14 billion years ago. The Big Bang theory is enthusiastically supported by the Catholic Church.
So, there's one respectable answer to your question time began (along with the universe) some 14 billion years ago.
Kant felt that the idea of time having a beginning, and the idea of time not having a beginning, were both contradictory. He suggested time was part of our framework for grasping the world, we project time on to the world.
His argument that endless past time is contradictory is:
P1 If no beginning to time, then infinite time has already
P2 If so, then completion of an infinite series is possible
P3 This is not possible
C Infinite time has not passed (time had a beginning).
Of course we reject P3.
In Kant's day, there was no rigorous account of mathematical infinity. Nowadays we see that completion of an infinite series (not a series of tasks of course) is no problem (for example, a 1-inch line contains points corresponding to the uncountable infinity of real numbers between 0 and 1).
So Kant's argument fails.
There is no logical or conceptual barrier to the notion of infinite past time.
In a lecture Wittgenstein told how he overheard a man saying '...5, 1, 4, 1, 3, finished'. He asked what the man had been doing.
'Reciting the digits of Pi backward' was the reply. 'When did you start?' Puzzled look. 'How could I start. That would mean beginning with the last digit, and there is no such digit. I never started. I've been counting down from all eternity'.
Strange, but not logically impossible.
Eternal past time is popular with physicists. The earlier version was of an endless succession of Big Bangs/ Big Crunches so that one universe succeeds another indefinitely. More popular these days is the Multiverse idea of a boundless foam of universes endlessly budding off new ones which go on to do the same, with variations in the constants of nature and in natural laws from one to the next (perhaps random variation with natural selection of universes more fitted for budding). It's speculation but solves the 'fine tuning problem'(why our universe has constants and laws finely tuned for emergence of life) all possible variations can be 'tried out' in an infinite ensemble of universes and, naturally, we find ourselves in one of the rare ones suitable for life. Many find this a more plausible explanation for fine tuning than the non-explanations 'God made it that way' or 'It's just a brute fact'.
So there's another answer time never started.
Take your pick