2010 Fall Proseminar Class Notes2

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September 21

Background on Nagel

Ok, so here is a brief background on Nagel. Please add if you think that i left anything important out. . .

-Nagel is a professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU.[1] HIs work mainly deals with questions of consciousness and objectivity versus subjectivity. He has been described by his peers as being a Rationalist, and ethical Kantian. Because we will be focusing on his Philosophy of Mind perspective in " What is it Like to be a Bat?", it would probably be a good idea to get a general sense of what he thinks about the subject as a whole.

  • Nagel is mainly a proponent of the subjective experience. It seems that he would say that the way humans view the world cannot be divorced from the way that they perceive it as individuals. As a result, his theory of mind perspective has been cited in multiple other dialogues amongst people in the field. Particularly, his theory of subjective understanding appears in the Atheism/Religion debates of Dawkins and Hahn.
  • Since he focuses and advocates for human subjectivety, it makes sense that he also is regarded for his views of whether objectivity is possible. For Nagel, it isn't a matter of whether something is or isn't objective. Nagel believes that objectivity exists in a matter of degrees. Objectivity can be obtained, but only to the degree that an individual is willing to subjectively choose wider perspectives outside his own immediate one. While this would seem problematic given the subjective nature of choosing a wider perspective, his view is still quoted widely. One place i have located his theory in use is the the field of Journalism Philosophy. Here is the address to a pdf article containing references to Nagel in this area. [www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/PDF/1218.pdf]

please feel free to add stuff...

Background on Dennett

Here is a brief summary of "Why we should listen to" the man, the myth, the legend- Daniel Dennett.

Dan Dennett: Philosopher, cognitive scientist

I would have compiled some of this background information myself but this seems to have been written by someone whose job it is to write these types of things and is probably much more informative and interesting than something I could have written given my limited time.


An Interview with Daniel Dennett in the Atlantic Monthly. All I can say is this guy is legit.

On why he never met a robot he didn't like... The article that this interview is linked to is also exceedingly interesting :))))))


BIO: Daniel Clement Dennett was born in Boston in 1942. He attended Philips Exeter Academy (a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire known as the setting for the novel, A Separate Peace) and then Harvard, graduating with a degree in Philosophy and where he was a student of H.V. Quine. He is a philosopher and cognitive scientist. He says his philosophical emphasis on philosophy of mind has remained the same since his time at Oxford where he studied under Ordinary language philosopher Gilbert Ryle. He is also a noted atheist and secularist and a professor at Tufts University in the greater Boston area.

Dennett calls himself a Bright and autodidact, that is, someone who is mostly self-taught as opposed to learning in a school-setting or a university. He is a philosopher commenting on some of the most cutting-edge science of our day so this makes sense, but perhaps autodidactism is a trait shared by many philosophers. My parents call me a dilettante, but I think I'll have to correct them from now on and let them know that term is terribly passe--I am an autodidact.


-a brief side note, Dennett is referred to in some academic circles as one of the "Four Horsemen." (the term was coined for a group of four very prominent atheists) I read about this in another class and thought it was interesting...

Philosophy free science

-In Dennett's Italic textIs Nothing Sacred He writes "there is no such thing as philosophy free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination." The reason he argues that Darwin had such a revolutionary idea was because he challenged the world view of his time. Dennett characterizes science as thinking it self as hard and objective. However he goes on to say that "there is no future in sacred myth ... (and that) truth is surely a central element in the meaning we find in our lives." I think what I am having the most problems in reading this is that he seems to be inconsistent; in one line he praises the Darwin for his brave if unscientific leaps into thought and in the next we see him scoffing at the ideas that came before for blindly excepting tradition. Why be disparaging about the past religions and world views, is this not just the evolution of human understanding? All these perspectives have something valuable to say, if it is just that we are constantly striving to understand our surroundings. In an crude summery a point of Nagel's, however, there comes a point we must decide to swallow the horse pill of a world view. He gives the example of matter and energy. We are told that they are the same, we except this yet almost none of us can tell exactly why this is. We simply lack the understanding of physics needed. So in a sense is this not the "future in sacred myth"?

I wish they still did philosophy like this: [2]

Dennett and Nagel on Consciousness

(Dennett, "Explaining Consciousness" and Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?" and Dennett's take on Nagel in the excerpt from Csness Explained, p. 441-448)

Here's a link with Dennett explaining why we don't understand our own consciousness... he believes that consciousness and free will are the result of a physical process, pretty cool stuff. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_dennett_on_our_consciousness.html

Nagel - What is it like to be a bat?

  • Two main goals
    • Define consciousness
    • Argue against a reductionist approach to consciousness (reductionism - the practice of analyzing and describing a complex phenomenon, esp. a mental, social, or biological phenomenon, in terms of phenomena that are held to represent a simpler or more fundamental level, esp. when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.)
  • First Argument
    • Subjective character of experience is what it is like to be an organism
    • A reductive view of this argues that for the absence of the subjective character of experience. Therefore, reductionism cannot comprehend the subjective character of experience
  • Second Argument
    • Physicalism - physical theories can full explain every phenomenon of the world
    • Physicalism is false because it cannot explain subjective phenomenon
  • Third Argument
    • To know the consciousness of the subject is to know what it is like to be the subject
    • We are limited in our physical ability to actually be a bat, therefore we cannot know the consciousness of bats.
  • Fourth Argument
    • Experiences should not be viewed through reductionism because reduction is a move towards objectivity, and the real nature of things, and we cannot get closer to the real nature of human experience if we leave behind our human point of view

Dennett on evolution in philosophy (Dennett, "Tell Me Why?")

Dennet asks about the effects of Evolution on our intuition that life somehow matters (that,as we are told as children 'god has made each one of us special' or that life has a point) especially in a religious manner: He says that the theory of evolution, although there are still some remaining controversies surrounding it, is supported with evidence from so many different scientific disciplines and so many different kinds of evidence it is not open to a lot of flat-out opposition. Dennet uses theories that this seems to conflict with from before Darwin's era to represent most theories that people use instead of evolution with Locke and Hume's assertion that mind must precede or at least come at the same time as life. Locke justifies this with the idea that essentially nothing can come from nothing, and so mind cannot have come from something that is not mind. Hume argues with Locke's ideas and what Dennet calls an 'argument from design', that parts of nature are too complicated and work too well to have been chance, the famous example of which is that throwing cogs and hands together do not ever make a watch, showing flaws in every version of an argument that would link God to Science, but in the end says that he cannot imagine anything but a God or Mind that was the first cause of creation. This is like many scientists today, Dennet points out-- it is difficult to give up the idea of God just because we have rational explanations for how things work.Hume even approaches an idea of evolution with a theory of a God that has been trying many different combinations of worlds until he has reached one he likes the best, like Dennet points out many philosophers have done before Darwin but never went any farther. He says that Darwin has made the greatest breakthrough in scientific thought because of this thought.


Just a little side note, not really related to the topic at hand, but I have always thought it interesting that so many thinkers, like Dennett, have said that Darwin had made such a breakthrough and that he changed history. I totally agree that Darwin changed the way that people had thought about science, philosophy and religion. It just seems interesting the different way that people view these thoughts. It seems that people are more likely to criticize Darwin than to completely understand his meaning. Just an interesting idea that crossed my mind.