2013 Fall Proseminar Class Notes A
Return to Philosophy Proseminar
- 1 September 11, 2013
- 2 September 18, 2013: Science and Philosophy
- 3 September 25, 2013
- 4 October 2, 2013
- 5 October 9, 2013
- 6 October 16, 2013
- 7 October 23 2013
- 8 October 30, 2013
- 9 November 7th 2013
- 10 November 13
- 11 November 20
September 11, 2013
First Post By:
When I read Hadot's "Spiritual Exercises," I rediscovered the origin of my passion for philosophy in one simple phrase, "Know thyself" (90). Throughout the reading, the phrase takes on multiple meanings that are encompassed by the need for spiritual exercises with the goals of "self realization and improvement" (102). To me, philosophy is a journey to discover the best way to live life, while opening my mind to new perspectives that could help me improve myself. Also, it delves into other fields of study that involve contemplating, understanding, and changing human nature (history, psychology, sociology, etc.). I agree with the definition that philosophy is "a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way" (107).
However, this contradicts Deleuze’s "What is Philosophy,” when "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts" (2). Present day philosophy strays from spiritual exercises and improvement of human nature by becoming more cynical of philosophy itself, becoming lost in all the complexities of self-realization. Current philosophy has lost its own ability to enrich human nature because its modern principles are unable to correspond with humanity’s new set of ideals and beliefs, rendering the ideas of the past irrelevant or ineffective. As Deleuze notes, "Those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life are the plague of philosophy" (28). There is no dialogue and truth being fought out; philosophy has become a petty subject of arguments with no real world impact. The ancient followers of Stoicism and Epicureanism developed and answered that philosophy is meant to be lived and experienced because "there are some truths whose meaning will never be exhausted by the generations of man" (Hadot 108). Concepts within philosophy don't always have to be new; they can be practical and simple to evoke self realization. Philosophy has strayed from its roots and I hope that we can one day return philosophy back to its original spiritual exercises.
I find the criticisms of modern academic philosophy that Hadot describes to resonate very much with what I see in my own reading. The simple and unadorned language that many of the stoic philosophers use, makes memorization and internalization much simpler than sifting through the complicated, and roundabout language of many modern philosophers. The stoics also focused heavily on recognizing the scope of one's existence relative to the universe, in order to act in a way that befits a being of little significance. Modern western philosophy is much more a theoretical pursuit than it was at the time of ancient stoic philosophers, focused more on changing perspective on specific arguments, rather than influencing a complete change in a persons practice. I strongly agree that philosophy should shape one's actions rather than bolster one's pride.
However, I believe Hadot demonstrates the weaknesses of modern philosophy in his discussion about the use of spiritual exercises. He begins by rejecting the language that people are familiar with and understand well, in favor of spiritual. His argument is that the other words people would commonly use are too narrow to fully describe what the exercises are doing, but he fails to critique his use of spiritual to the same level. Spiritual seems to be an especially bad choice because the preconceptions of spiritual that most people hold are vastly different than the idea he is trying to convey. For the use to make any sort of real sense, the definition must be so vague that it fails to say anything definitive at all. At best people will have to guess at how exactly a change in spirit will practically effect their life, and at worst it might cause a person to wholly misinterpret the meaning of the exercises Hadot describes. He seems to equate the differing ideas of philosophers of very different schools of thought as all engaging in spiritual exercise, but does not provide much evidence in most of the cases. He tries to connect what appear to be people on opposing ends of the philosophical spectrum with out thoroughly explaining the ties and without providing much critique of his claims.
These passages seems to be written by different people, because of how significantly Hadot's style varies between.
I found that the "Philosophy as a Way of Life" reading by Pierre Hadot was very similar to the ancient philosophers of Xenophanes of Colophon and Heraclitus of Ephesus that I read for my Ancient Philosophy class. All three philosophers exert an enormous amount of emphasis on the value of "wisdom". Xenophanes seems to be one of the first to reject the common belief in the Greek Gods and that a man should be valued only his strength and his skill in battle. He writes, "...these ways are misguided and it is not right to put strength ahead of wisdom." It is amazing to me that nearly two thousand years latter philosophers are still preaching the same idea.
Like Alynna wrote, this text was a refreshing reminder of why I enjoy reading philosophy. From the get-go, Hadot discusses the lost art of "the community" and how we have lost our sense of responsibility to each other. A general concern for the "universal commonwealth" seem to be all but missing in our culture and philosophy today. I was deciding whether to use the word culture of philosophy in that last sentence and I realized they are very much similar. According to Hadot a Philosophy is a way of living, just as a culture can be. Our culture/philosophy has become inherently more selfish and self centered. This may be due to the fact, as Hadot points out, that our philosophy has changed and become a "construction of technical jargon reserved for specialists." We need to again center philosophy around the art of living. At a time when people's morals and principals aren't in accordance with virtue, we need practical, lifestyle philosophy.
Pierre Hadot's descriptions of ancient philosophical schools of thought in Spiritual Exercises represented how far our culture has fallen from the roots of philosophical practice. Hadot’s Philosophy As A Way Of Life proceeded to illustrate the direct changes seen from ancient philosophy through the Middle Ages and beyond 18th century thinkers, leading to the acceptance of a modern day interpretation of philosophical practice.
The drastic change in the treatment of philosophical practices seems to intertwine with the increase of materialism. Hadot explains the evolution (or de-evolution) of the philosophical lifestyle into a university practice. The description of nearly universal philosophical ideas such as being virtuous and ignoring what one cannot control shows that it is the people who have pushed away the lifestyle. We are far removed from the advice to "take flight every day". There is stark relevance of this concept today, as materialism and perceived image dominate society while study of philosophy has become fairly unpopular, with philosophical living hardly even discussed outside of the classroom. Alynna pointed out how modern philosophy is dangerously far from its roots and I could not agree more. A philosophy for life needs to embody one's "entire psychism". Discourse cannot be the only means towards living a good life. We must practice the discourse, for without it spiritual exercises will not be nearly as effective.
Hadot’s discussion of elevating the soul towards genuine intellect and, ultimately, a holistic view (or One) brought me back to Forms in Human Nature. Specifically, a Form of the soul's freedom. While we pursue the detachment of passion and desire from our soul, is it feasible to achieve? We are told through Stoic and Epicureanism beliefs to strive towards said detachment and imagine oneself experiencing material death. The feasibility of a mortal achieving this can be questioned, as can the feasibility of a mortal understanding Forms.
Some questions for group discussion
- Why should philosophy be a "way of life" or "spiritual exercise"? Consider case against and for.
- How can the academic study of philosophy intersect with this more traditional model of the ancients (according to Hadot)?
- What does it mean for the identity of philosophy that it could be thought of so differently at different periods of time?
- Is philosophy of a form of culture?
September 18, 2013: Science and Philosophy
It seems safe to say that science is a distinct field of study that separates itself from all other forms of disciplines due to its systematic nature that is induced by the scientific method. The scientific method, as put exceptionally well by Schick and Vaughn in "Science and Its Pretenders,” “The scientific method is self-correcting, and as a result it is our most reliable guide to the truth. Undoubtedly, it is significant enough to question what the nature of science, namely, the scientific method wishes to accomplish. Surely, “Science seeks to understand the general principles that govern the universe.” Scientist’s employment of the scientific method helps to eliminate any confounding or misguided errors that could impair the knowledge of such principles. The scientific method strengthens the argument that true knowledge exists outside our senses or “faculties” that supplement our understanding of the world, for our senses aren’t infallible. What makes the scientific method an essential component to the success and validity of science? The vital aspect of the scientific method and of the pursuit of knowledge is a hypothesis that is both testable, and falsifiable. In all scientific inquires, such inquiries must be guided by a hypothesis that Schick and Vaughn agreeably maintain that without a hypothesis, there is no way of attaining the goal of identifying principles that are both explanatory and predictive. In addition, the hypothesis must be falsifiable. It is plausible to distinguish scientific theories from non-scientific ones, based upon the nature of a hypothesis’ ability to be falsifiable, for there is no way to assume a hypothesis to be correct if it doesn’t have the ability to be proven wrong. According to Sir Karl Popper, a falsifiable hypothesis is an essential component to a competent hypothesis and scientific theory. Interestingly, these are only a few insights about the nature of science, and how it is distinct from all other branches of knowledge or study.
The first two readings here seem to be broad descriptions of scientific reasoning. From both of them, it is easy to draw parallels between philosophical deductive reasoning and scientific reasoning. However, the concept of scientific reasoning and general inductive reasoning sometimes seems blurry by the account of both Schick and Giere. For example, Schick claims that, "In general, any procedure that serves systematically to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt can be considered scientific." (166) I would say that a large majority of philosophers are attempting to eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt in order to defend their thought. I am not wholly convinced that what Schick describes, at the purely rhetorical level, is necessarily "scientific". Of course, the scientific method does necessitate physical empirical data for justification, which I believe does separate it from philosophy.
But it is possible that my own drawing of parallels between the scientific method and philosophical argumentation is partially due to the historical effect of one on the other. This, at least, is a thought that formed after I read the two chapters by Barnes. Taken together, it seems to attempt to show the growth of scientific reasoning and its effect on the philosophers of the day. Taking in mind the prevalence of scientific reasoning of our own era, its not hard to suppose that science has had a similar effect on my own philosophical thinking.
Of course, I would still maintain a healthy distance between science and philosophy in practice. What Schick and Giere demonstrate as science may overlap with philosophy (particularly when they talk about inductive reasoning) but, as I see it at least, philosophy approaches problems in a radically different way then science.
I found this website a few weeks ago while discussing with my friend who's major is better (chemistry and biology or philosophy and classics). I thought it is nice to take a gander at considering parts of our discussions last week and the articles this week are on both science and philosophy.
I liked explanation given by Schick and Vaughn in "Science and Its Pretenders" for the scientific method. With that being said I do believe that it has some serious limitations when applied to philosophy. For example, the scientific method deals with sense experience, so if something cannot be measured it cannot be dealt with. One of the best examples of the limitations of the scientific method is God. There are many different views on God, but two extremes are people that believe in the existence of God and those that do not believe that God exists. Science has no answer to these questions. A scientist can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God therefore the scientific method is useless when dealing with topics such as these.
In defense of the scientific method it does offer a structured approach. It offers empirical data to explain its hypothesis. In addition it offers people, in theory, unbiased information.
In summary, the scientific method is very useful for certain areas of study, but in my opinion it is not helpful in answering some of the most important questions asked by philosophers. Science, for example, cannot attempt to answer ethical questions such as, what is the right and wrong thing to do.
September 25, 2013
I like the contrast of last week's science and philosophy discussion with this week's short anthology of philosophic non-fiction. As we move away from the technical language of science, we can clearly see how much a talented author can make a reader think. When I finished reading the first few pieces of the anthology I knew the texts initiated a response and caused me to think and consider its message; however, I was skeptical if it was technically "philosophy." Normally when I think of the moral of a story I don't think of it as a philosophical message. However after further contemplation, I have realized that is exactly what it is. The process of us challenging our currently held beliefs with that of the authors, is philosophy.
It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is one not worth living for man. Isn't that exactly what some of these deeper pieces of fiction do? They cause us to relate a message to our lives and force us to reexamine our actions, attitudes, and/or beliefs. In my opinion, fiction may even be the better, more convincing avenue to try and convey one's message. It is one thing for a philosopher to write down and spell out his beliefs in a book, full of evidence, but is entirely more effective to weave a message into a story that the reader can discover for themselves. In the movie Inception it is constantly stressed that humans can tell when an idea has been purposefully planted for them to know. The most effective way for someone to hold onto the idea is to aid their journey towards it, while at the same time letting them have some freedom to discover and develop the idea for themselves. Even something as abstract as "Death of A Moth" can be used to think about death, how close we are all to it, and how we are such a small part of this planet.
I think this also opens up film and other styles of narrative/non-fiction to be considered sources of philosophy. I was recently watching an inspirational speech on a tv show that caused me to examine certain aspects of my life.
E.B. White’s Once More to the Lake I thought was really interesting and stuck in my head more than the others. What I drew from this selection is how cyclical life is and it even seems to support the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same. When White returns to the lake and finds that the only thing that has changed is the tar road and when he transposes his younger self onto his son and himself into his father it shows a similarity between the events and a pattern between the generations. White uses his surroundings to prove this point by writing, it was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and there had been no years. Later at the diner he again says there had been no passage of time, only the illusion of it again arguing the repetition in history. He talks of certain events in our past that are worth holding onto and keeping close like treasures. I think he might even be saying that there is a limit to how far we should progress; maybe there is such a thing as too much or going too far. White’s last two lines in this selection really show this cyclical idea. White, watching his son, realizes that while his son is growing up he is beginning to come closer to death. At some point his son will be a father with his own son and the cycle will continue. White uses a personal experience to show that there will always be a cycle of life and death. I think this is his main point in writing this selection but there are others in there as well.
I really enjoyed this style of writing. I think, in general, these stories were a lot easier to understand than say Kant who has a technical and complicated writing style. These stories have a point and meaning in them that is a little more subtle but far easier to wrap my mind around. However, I think I would agree with what Evan has said above. There is clearly a meaning in all of these stories but they seem to be more like moral or absolute truths like life and death. Maybe, because it is such a new style of philosophy than I am used to but it seems weird to call them philosophical works.
The really interesting thing about philosophy, that the short anthology illustrates, is that it isn't only about arguments and pushing the limits of understanding. For example, This Too is Life encourages a change in perspective softly, without stating explicitly what it is the reader is supposed to learn. This is very different than what traditional philosophic writing aims to do. Rather than stating a position, or prodding one along towards some end position with logical challenges, This Too is Life simply places one in a situation where a change in perspective develops organically. The feeling of disconnect with everything is something everyone can relate to, and so it isn't any sort of shock or challenge to join the narrator on the mental journey. There is no forcing the change. A person only needs to follow the writer down the path to see new things about reality.
To Shoot an Elephant uses setting to bring about a new understanding. As Orwell continues to develop the setting, the reader is slowly given enough information to recognize the reality of the situation. The short anthology is full of examples of philosophy done in a more comfortable way. Where traditional philosophic writing challenges one outright to look at things in a new way, or to make some change in their own life, these short writings simply encourage. Both are suited to different problems, and different readers.
One of the pieces that I found intriguing was George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant." At first, the reader would not consider this a story involving philosophy. Several themes presented are cultural differences, peer pressure, and how imperialism is wrong. Philosophy is hidden well within the story by disguising itself within the thoughts and action of Orwell shooting the elephant. Orwell describes how the crowd of over 2000 people blocked the road; willing him to shoot the mad elephant in order for the Burmans to attain some meat. He realizes that he is at the crowd's bidding and gives them the entertainment they seek. After seeing the agonizing and prolonged death of the elephant, he has mixed emotions. Philosophy utilizes contemplation about humanity and an individual's actions. In the words of Socrates, "to live practicing philosophy [meant] examining myself and others" (Apology). Orwell examines himself and is left feeling uneasy and anxious. He is at a crossroads internally because shooting the elephant can be interpreted as the legally right or the morally wrong action. He alone knows that he shot the elephant to avoid looking like a fool in front of the natives. Philosophy tries to understand human nature looking through morality, reasoning, etc, to find truth and wisdom. Philosophy grapples with cultivating virtues and well thought out actions to prevent rash decision making such as shooting an elephant due to peer pressure.
I prefer these stories because they seem to stay more grounded to actual human experience and have more meaning to them. Most people learn and through reading, observing, and following the examples of people whether they are fictional or real; rather than reading a thesis of pure academic philosophy that states how to view reality or live your life. Stories provide context and build connections between the reader and character that make philosophy easier to attain and can encourage more people to examine their lives and their souls.
In Dennett's, "Is Nothing Sacred," he opens with a childhood memory and song to captivate interest and give meaning as to what he will discuss further on about Darwin and God. The philosophy he will later discuss melds both storytelling and academic philosophy to presumably engage not just academics but regular folks into why his philosophical problem has importance, his stance, and debate on his chosen topic.
A Casual Sampler of Great & Modest Openings to Philosophical Work represented a quite common characteristic of philosophical writing (and philosophical thinking for that matter). The majority of the pieces introduced a question or something to be called into doubt as the primary jumping point. Following this, it would be addressed how the dilemma at hand was rather complex, leading to a specific form of designing the question in order to see through an answer (likely found at the end) that fits the criteria. This critical means of thinking is described in a brief (yet incredibly accurate when related to philosophical thinking) quote from Historical Introductions. "It is better to understand that something is so difficult that it simply cannot be understood than to understand that a difficulty is so very easy to understand." It is hard to accept something that seems simple, thus we hold it in doubt and discuss the possibilities.
I found the Willard Gaylin piece "What You See Is The Real You" to be very applicable towards the importance of acting upon philosophy. Gaylin does not acknowledge the existence of an "inner man", instead disregarding psychoanalytic data while focusing on the outer man. The outer man is what one displays and how one portrays the self. The inner man "serves your purposes alone". I found this to work well with the previously discussed notion of philosophical importance only being found in universities (or in our case, the basement of a campus building). While having inner dialogues and conversations with other philosophers is vital, one mustn't forego the act of genuinely living his or her philosophy, as this is what impacts others.
on behalf of Sam W
Among the differing stories within the anthology, I found myself drawn to two pieces in specific. First was George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” piece and second was Aldo Leopold’s piece, “Thinking Like a Mountain.” To avoid unnecessary summary of each piece I’ll just jump right in.
Orwell’s piece reminded me of the many discussions I’ve had with friends or in the classroom about morality. In the story, Orwell battles with an internal moral decision to act. He states, “As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him.” Right there, Orwell knows what he ought to do. He looks at the animal and realizes, this is worthy piece of “machinery.” He then goes on to justify that the animal must have overcome his “must” because he is no more harmful than a grazing cow. But then, as he has settled on a thought, a crowd challenged his justification. This is where it was interesting to me, and reminded my of my Ethics class and Haidt. Orwell hated imperialism. He stated that opinion at the beginning of the story. So when it comes to his duty to potentially take care of the animal, he is already finding ways around it, without stating that verbally in the piece. Why would he shoot the animal if he could find a way around it? So from his emotions, he then looks at the animal, and justifies from what he sees that the animal not ought to be shot. But, and this is a big but, his justification is challenged, and he is to go back to his original emotional being, because as Haidt claims, in the “righteous mind,” logical thinking stems from emotions. At that point, Orwell is faced with a new moral dilemma – act upon the crowds emotions or his own gut instinct. Who’s moral thinking is more just, more right? Is Orwell right for not wanting to kill the elephant? Are the Bermese people right for wanting the elephant dead? Is this a case where you assume a utilitarian stance? How do we come to a consensus? These are all the questions that came into my mind. Perhaps I’ll leave it there for discussion and quickly talk about Leopold.
I won’t put too much here only because I think that the majority of discussion can stem from Orwell’s piece, but Leopold’s piece reminded a lot of my Human Nature class. We talked about a current philosopher of the name J. Baird Callicott. Callicott is an environmental philosopher that has stemmed a good chunk of his thoughts from Leopold. An interesting topic of discussion could be our connectedness with the environment. Callicott argues that we ought to preserve the earth as best we can because we depend so heavily on the earth. That is a basic and very simple statement, but like Leopold in his piece, Callicott observes the connection and importance of the environmental world around us. We all stem from the same web of energy, so we ought to respect that.
October 2, 2013
Singer's argumentation is rather straightforward and easily accessible to non-philosophy readers (aside from maybe some of his terminology about different ethical positions) and that probably explains the popularity of the first piece and Singer overall. I have to say, I do believe the ends he is trying to reach are worthwhile. But I hold a long standing disdain for Singer. I find much of his ethical posturing to displace any sort of change. Singer's ethics are minimalist in action, which once again is probably a contribution to his popularity, in that it does not require the ethical subject to change their positions really. Maybe if your ethics are extremely conservative. But, and Singer attempts to show this in Rich and Poor, any ethical position should find giving foreign aid as an ethically important action. In other words, any decent person would really not have a problem with his argument, especially assuming one is only holding him to the full essay which ends saying that a small contribution is ethically positive. (I also have an aversion to his quantifying ethics, but his book is about "practical" ethics)
My biggest trouble with his argumentation is that he never reaches for a systemic examination of what is causing the poverty he wants to alleviate. Having been unacquainted with One World, I was hopeful that he would have a more in-depth or stronger ethical position within it. I was disappointed. I would say, from what I read, Singer is only attempting to strengthen the argument he made oh so long ago in Rich and Poor. (And like I said, it is an agreeable aim) His argument against preferring the nation state is fine, but I think he position becomes weak within his own examination. He easily dismisses the favor of the nation state when he finally arrives to it, but before that he takes up the question of family members and other, closer cohorts and his position on those considerations are vague. I'm tempted to say his own views are stronger, but in order to maintain a broader audience he once again sticks to minimalism.
But, I have been aware of Singer for some time now and so I came into the readings having already rejected a number of aspects of Singer's thought. Perhaps his arguments are more powerful when they are first read?
In any case, here is a video clip of Peter Singer giving a broad explanation of his position in the film The Examined Life by Astra Taylor, for those of you who might want to hear more about him:  I would highly recommend watching The Examined Life if it ever returns to Netflix, or if you are inclined to look it up online. It has a number of prominent philosophers (Cornell West, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek among others) discussing different aspects of their philosophy, and is a short and accessible primer to them that might be easier to sit through than reading something by them.
In Singer's chapters of One World he mentions in both chapter 1 & 5 that nation leaders focus only on the interests of their citizens. He observes that there is an ethical obligation to not only those in our nation but all those considered human. On page 7, Singer says "We need to extend the reach of the criminal law there and to have the means to bring terrorists to justice without declaring war on an entire country in order to do it." The implications with this is determining what is universally moral. In the eyes of the terrorists their actions could be seen as been righteous. Considering that most everyone believes that terrorist acts are wrong then as humans we abide by a "higher" law that is universal over all.
If we as humans abide by a "higher" law, where did the law come from? It brings to question if there is a higher entity and if it created the univeral "higher" law. But then how do we as humans know about this law? It could've been ingrained into our heads OR we could run into the same problem that we do with science--Everything that we know came from our own understanding and thoughts, therefore nothing is outside of our own foundations that we've built. This means that somewhere in history a group of people could've thought up moral laws (i.e. killing is wrong) and enforced it onto people until it becomes a universally recognized concept, like the idea of the tooth fairy.
Continuing with looking at law and our obligation as citizens, I ran across Thomas Aquinas's explanation of law. In summary it says that law is an ordinace of reason that is communicated for the common good issued by one who has the interests of the community in mind. This explanation would explain the first line that I mentioned from Singer about how selfish nation leaders are by focusing only on their communities needs. Maybe it is in our nature to focus on our own nation's needs and safety before turning to look at helping others in need. Just like a successful law keeps in mind the interests of the community then so must nation's leaders in order to keep their nation and their people thriving.
Indeed the piece written by Singer is both explicit and compelling. It is also very critical in the sense where judgment is passed onto those who do not work to help others in extreme need. Singer, from a logical stand point works to illustrate how absolute poverty is something bad, and people without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance should do all they can to help cease it. However, the argument fails to end here, for Singer argues that it is rather immoral for people to choose not to help out and allow absolute poverty to not only exist but continue to worsen. What is absolute poverty? Singer employs McNamara’s’ definition of absolute poverty, namely, “a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to beneath any reasonable definition of human decency,” to draw a distinction between absolute poverty from relative poverty. Surely, absolute poverty is most profound, and is an extremely unfortunate aspect of life that most people in affluent nations, such as the U.S. that have never experienced. How might have Singer come to draw the inference that it is immoral for people who can help, choose not to help put a stop to absolute poverty? Firstly, Singer asks the question of whether or not there is any moral distinction between killing someone and allowing them to die. Singer then gives a great deal of possible explanations that can distinguish the two acts, however, for Singer they both have the same result: which is the death of a person. Thus, Singer proposes that people should have an obligation to help those in need by donating either money or their time to help those living in absolute poverty. He further strengthens the applicability of this obligation by arguing that people ought to help fight against absolute poverty, unless doing so would involve the person of sacrificing something of comparable moral significance. But what is anything that is of comparable moral significance? For Singer, if a person would actually be committing more harm for himself, that is contributing to his own debt, thus causing him to live a life of absolute poverty, by donating to those in need, then that person would be morally justified in choosing not to contribute to the fight against absolute poverty overseas. However, in most affluent and developed nations, such cases are rare. In the attempt to argue his position, namely, the obligation of people to help cure absolute poverty, Singer discusses the principle where people must do all they can to do good and prevent bad things from happening. Singer argues that if this principle is applied, then it follows that people should prevent the continuation of absolute poverty since absolute poverty too is bad. Thus, the logic behind Singer’s argument is as follows: people must prevent bad things from happening, but not at the cost of anything of comparable moral significance. Absolute poverty is bad. Some absolute poverty can be prevented by anything of comparable moral significance. Therefore, we ought to prevent some absolute poverty. As a logician, Singer understands that to strengthen his argument, he must incorporate counter-arguments, that is, he must reply to the objections of his proposed obligation to help vanquish absolute poverty. Indeed, Singer does so exceptionally well. He includes the objections that may discredit the strengths behind his argument. A couple objections that I would like to highlight are the arguments of an ever increasing population, and an essential elimination of a good life that all work to prevent people from giving help. Surely, these objections can have the power to motivate anyone not to contribute their wealth to help end absolute poverty. Though, these reasons are insufficient in the rejection of his proposed obligation to help those in need. And in response to the objection concerning the idea that if people were to help fight against absolute poverty, then these people would have to give up the many things that enable people to live good lives, I agree with Singer and believe that a life filled with interesting things and activities may be upheld by those only who have had a chance to experience it in affluent regions, however, for those in other parts of the world who are suffering from absolute poverty may not uphold those same lifestyles. Overall, Singer’s is quite convincing. What’s important to note is his employment of logic and reasoning, for it is the logic which serves to strengthen the validity and applicability of his argument.
I have been interested in Peter Singer since I first read him in my Critical Thinking class. I do find his arguments interesting, but as I think about them over time I have become more skeptical. I think he oversimplifies the issues.
Think about it if all we had to do was feed and clothe everyone wouldn’t that be easy to do? In Spokane, for example, no one should starve. I say this after volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission for a few years. There is an abundance of food in this town, but people still starve and are homeless. The main reason for this is they will not stop their substance abuse. So, if we truly wanted to stop poverty in this country would not we force them into programs that would not allow them to abuse drugs and alcohol? And to follow that line of reasoning would we not keep them locked up in these facilities if they could not or would not stop this abuse? This just raises more and more ethical questions instead of solving any. The problem becomes much more complex when we carry this argument over to other countries.
Also, I believe his idea of what it means to be poor is too narrowly defined, but that is an easier position to defend. One can pull up statistics and show economic poverty, but that begs the question what does it mean to be poor? If we are talking about economic poverty that is easy to define and in my opinion easy to solve, but the problem with this is if we define poverty in a broader sense that encompasses the whole human experience then the problem becomes much more complex. If we have food, but no hope are we not poor in spirit?
I believe Singer’s arguments are strong at first glance, but not nuanced enough to be “practical.” It is nice to say I want to end world hunger if you are running for Miss America, but we need a more in depth understanding of what it means to be a “poor” individual and how to solve it.
Thomas (Nha) Tran
Singer describes very effectively what is going on in today’s world concerning poverty and famine. People that live in the Western world tend to have greater availability to food when this shouldn’t be the case. Peter Singer says that there is plenty of food to go around to feel everyone in this world, but the West wastes much of it. This theory makes sense in that the western countries do tend to be more prosperous and therefore can afford import large amounts of produce, sometimes more than needed. Coming from the third world country I know how hard it is to find three meals a day for a family with ten members. The third world countries are left with whatever they can afford and even then, it does not suffice the whole population. They do not have a lot of natural resources even through they work so hard. I remember in 1985, in Vietnam, I was about 8 at the time. The country was in famine after the communist took over the country. As a kid, I had no idea what was going on, but there was one thing I knew, that was we did not have food to eat or clean water to drink. Look at the world around us. Famine is widespread in Africa. I think that the problem of famine will never be resolved to our expectations. There will always be an inequality because that’s the way our world functions. The imbalance is what keeps our world stable.
In this article, Singer brings to light the harsh reality concerning poverty facing this planet. He points out that a fifth of this world’s population live in absolute poverty where there is not enough income to provide for food, clothing and shelter. Singer then provides reasons why most people believe that it is not immoral to continue living without attempting to help the needy. I think most of Singer’s argument makes sense logically and that we should be helping out the poor. But this results in a socialist society because we would be obliged to donate “what we consider to of comparable moral value to the poverty we can prevent.” For a moral person this would mean to donate everything until we are reduced to just the basic necessitates. Even someone like Mother Teresa dedicates her life for the sake of the poorest of the poor. I have the opportunity to work with the men homeless shelter in downtown Spokane. I am so impressed to receive the generous gifts, donations, times and talents to the poor and the needy.
October 9, 2013
In their piece, “Laboratory of the Mind,” Schick and Vaughn present ideas, which in my opinion will be widely accepted by our entire class. Let’s be honest about it. We are on our way to becoming philosophy majors (so does that automatically make us future philosophers, like can you call me Philosopher Sam Wyss when I graduate?) and we, for the most part; understand the importance of having concepts backed by evidence. So it’s not like we are talking about a revolutionary idea, but rather, an essential and vital idea. We are sold on the fact that philosophy isn’t as subjective as it can sometimes appear, there are logic steps to follow, but where philosophy becomes interesting, and artful, is when the argument ends from an interpretation of the results. There are valid and sound arguments all around us, but it’s what we do with that knowledge that allows defines the argument. For example, Schick and Vaughn talk about abortion. A part of their essay discusses how Callahan argues that at no point in the development of the fetus is it a human being. He gives his evidence and defends his claim. But the problem with such a topic, is that there are subjective definitions of what a human is, and what they are capable of doing. There also will never be an objective definition of what a human is. All we have is a theory, and a pretty solid understanding. So with that, this essay has allowed me to think that creating a sound/valid argument is possible, but it is the interpretation that follows that sparks controversy and heated discussion, and this is where philosophy becomes subjective. But isn’t that the beauty of it. We can always dig deeper and stretch our thoughts. But in my opinion, Philosophy also runs the risk of becoming sales pitches. For some time now, I have always had that fear. Think about it. You start with a valid argument. It clearly seems to prove what you are trying to say. It is solid evidence that supports your claim, but it all fringes on how you and someone else reads into the evidence. To me, the interpretation shouldn’t be subjective, but to me there is no way that an interpretation can be objective. That is essentially where I stand on the matter. Let’s discuss!
Though many of Thompson’s analogies work well to prove his point, there is one in particular that is a false analogy. This occurs in the situation in which Thompson separates what may or may not be right to do and what you are obligated or not obligated to do. To explain this difference, he uses a metaphor of a famous violinist being on his death bed and you have the opportunity to save his life. All that is required of you is to lie in bed (surgically attached to him) for nine months. Thompson proposes that you are abducted (against your will) and surgically merged overnight. You were one of the only matches for his blood type so they chose you. This is the beginning of the error in his analogy. The process of being put into that situation (having a specific blood type and not adequate home security) is not a consequence or result of an action taken by you. You did not choose your blood type and you did not volunteer to be abducted in the middle of the night. In addition it did not happen by accident.
In many instances of abortion, the pregnancy was a result of an action willingly taken by the mother (consensual sex). This willing action has consequences; though they may not be certain, they are consequences none the less. I can prove this in analogy of my own: a man enters a casino and bets on black at a roulette table. He is entering that bet (taking a certain action) with the known risks that he may lose (a negative consequence). When a woman willingly commits to having sex, she is entering her own bet that she will not become pregnant. She, like the man at the casino, is committing an action that may result in a negative consequence, which makes them responsible for that action and whatever negative consequences directly stem from it.
The responsibility aspect is lost in Thompson’s metaphor. He makes no parallel in which you somehow caused the violinist’s kidneys to fail. If you were responsible for causing the kidney failure of the violinist, the situation changes. Let’s say you hit this man either on purpose or accidentally with your car (this would be most accurate because pregnancies occur purposefully and accidentally). You are the cause of his necessity to be attached to you. This, one could argue, would make you obligated to lie in bed for nine months to keep him alive. The violinist did nothing to deserve his kidney failure, and he is attached to you because of your own actions.
Though I do not identify as Pro-Life I find this specific argument/metaphor to be a poor and deceiving one. While Thompson is trying to make a distinction between what is morally right and what you are obligated to do, he did not achieve this. I think this case can be made a different way. I do, however, think this case would be more appropriate if it were drawing the analogy from a situation in which the mother was raped. This would cause the responsibility aspect to disappear because it was not her action that caused the fetus to develop.
Trying to keep personal opinion out of it and only looking at the argument I do not think Thompson's argument is a very strong one. It might be that I am just not be able to see the connections but I think she uses a lot of weak or completely false analogies. The first one is when she relates a fetus to an acorn. An oak tree is a fully developed acorn and an adult is a fully developed fetus. I can see the analogy working there but not planting an acorn is not in any way similar to aborting a fetus because one is of greater severity than the other. Not planting a tree and killing a fetus, which she said at the beginning she was going off the premise life begins at conception, are hardly comparable. Also, to say a "clump of cells" is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree I also think is false. Those cells have the genetic makeup of a human. An adult's body is just a more sophisticated ordering of those very same "clump of cells".
The violinist argument is not any stronger. Someone who consents to sexual relations is accepting the possibility of getting pregnant. We all know how babies are made, there are no surprises; pregnancy is a possibility of sex. Someone who is kidnapped and hooked up to the violinist to save his life did not give consent to the action. It is not possible that there is only one person in the world that can help save a violinist's failing kidneys so she could say no and find someone else to help the violinists but once the fetus has been conceived the mother is the only one that can take care of it.
Last, Thompson argues that if someone threatens you with death unless you torture someone else to death you do not have the right to do it. I think this statement works more against her argument than she thinks. Based off abortion stories I have read and heard about there are cases where these aborted babies have felt pain. Abortion in these cases can be considered torture. If a woman is faced with death unless she torture someone else to death and is not allowed to do so as Thompson says then she is not allowed to have an abortion. Again, I might be that I'm just not be seeing the connection in these analogies but as it stands I do not think she had a very strong argument and some of her analogies hurt more than they helped her.
Laboratory of the Mind and thought experiments address the question of what a thought experiment is, and what a thought experiment can do. In Laboratory of the Mind, Schick and Vaughn argue that thought experiments are like physical scientific experiments. They argue that one can discover new data through a thought experiment, but I don't think they have provided sufficient evidence to support that conclusion. Any sort of new discoveries that one finds while entertaining a thought experiment seem to be the result of classical reasoning applied to a thought experiment, rather than the result of the thought experiment itself. Thought experiments seem to be a way of organizing one's thoughts in order to reason the outcome of new possibilities. If one doesn't have all the required background knowledge of all of the the variables in a thought experiment, it is unlikely for someone to come to any new accurate conclusion. Thought experiments are certainly useful, but to give them all of the same credit that reasoning deserves for the same discoveries, I don't think is reasonable.
An example of the limitations of a thought experiment can be demonstrated with a thought experiment: If one were to ask a child what they would see if they were on a train traveling at the speed of light, while looking out the window. It is very unlikely that the child would respond that they would see time moving very quickly, or that they wouldn't see anything at all because light would not be able to reach them. This is because a child probably wouldn't have enough knowledge of the subjects required to accurately predict the outcome of all of the variables, most of us probably don't, but this is a commonly referenced thought experiment. Thought experiments are only starting points for reasoning. They allow one to reason through collections of variables that people are unlikely to run into under natural circumstances, or that one might run into at some other inconvenient time. Unlike an actual experiment, where the outcome is completely dependent on the physical variables, a thought experiment is contingent on a persons understanding of the variables and the way that those variables are likely to interact with one another. The accuracy of the conclusion of a thought experiment is entirely dependent on the accuracy of the experimenter's model of the universe and reality.
The topic of abortion becomes murky and growingly complex in a philosophical light. The moral action of terminating a fetus raises the question of whether purposeful murder is justified and under what circumstances. Most people can agree that abortion is alright and acceptable if the mother life's is in danger or that she was forced into having intercourse. But other than those exceptions, the abortion debate rages onward. In philosophy, we are being taught that before we can even ask and raise the question of whether defending abortion of a fetus is morally just, we must be like Socrates and have definitions of abortion, fetus, and a person. There is a clear definition of abortion from the dictionary that is "an operation or other intervention to end a pregnancy by removing an embryo or fetus from the womb." Defining a fetus and a person are where the complexity and difficulties arise. Socrates would deem that the abortion debate should begin at coming up with clear definitions. Of course, people do not have the same or similar definitions of these two terms because there is no consensus of where life begins. There is no debate on where life ends, but only on where it begins. Pro life and pro choice all stem from differing variations of what is a fetus, and a person, and where life begins. In the Schick and Vaughn piece, "thought experiments serve as an objective check on philosophical theorizing. When there is disagreement, it usually focuses on the interpretation of the results rather than on the results themselves" (51). Interpretation is where the abortion debate is fueled just as Sam mentioned. Further along in the piece, I read that: even people who support abortion agree that even if fetuses are not persons, they are valuable forms of life that should not be destroyed without good reasons. This made me realize that I did not catch the following perspective and reasoning in any of the readings we had, but I thought it would be worth a mention. So here begins the thought experiment: a woman is debating on whether to terminate her pregnancy, in attempting to make a decision, she contemplates on deciding to have an abortion. She asks herself how she would feel years later; would she wonder about how the developing baby would grow up and turn out to be? Would there be any regrets or guilt in deciding to have an abortion? There is no emotional perspective present in the readings on the stance of abortion. Although, people make plenty of decisions based on emotions and feelings.
Thought experiments are one of the primary mechanisms towards developing logical ideas. Yet, I fear we see far too many of them causing disputes due to lack of direct correlation. This is not to say I find thought experiments to be a useless tool, as I see them necessary for innovative real-life experiments. When looking at the abortion case study and following thought experiments seen in Thompson’s piece, it is not difficult to for an individual to logically poke holes in the relation between thought experiment and relating application. As a result, one’s argument may be found weak despite having a solid foundation. I also wanted to throw a quick question out there: how does everyone feel regarding the question posed of computer simulations being thought experiments?
The right to life argument crosses over between abortion and genetic engineering. The abortion argument is very clearly presented by Thompson, while Glover did not get into specifics regarding a child’s right to a free and unaltered life, something that is taken away through genetic engineering. That said, I personally do not see an issue with negative engineering and very, very basic aspects of positive engineering. Negative engineering seems straightforward and helpful, though the moral dilemmas are in your face regarding a genetic supermarket. An IQ increase seems simple enough, as I would assume everyone would agree with human nature being designed to have humans evolve into more intelligent beings. However, beyond this I cannot think of many reasonable genetic improvements that could be viewed as positively accelerating the process of human nature.
On the topic of abortion, I was pleased to see the very relevant dispute of killing and letting die included. I have always been extremely interested in health care ethics, specifically assisted suicide, where there are many arguments surrounding killing vs letting die and how one goes about a morally acceptable assisted suicide. Jack Kevorkian, commonly referred to as Dr. Death, tip toed (or completely shattered, pending on how you look at it) the line regarding assisted suicide while sparking a very controversial movement in the 90s. Here is a few pieces on him in case anyone is interested. Kevorkian 60 Minutes Interview:  Hosseini analysis of assisted suicide and Kevorkian's role: (full text PDF link on the page) 
October 16, 2013
This is actually a tough one to think about. At first glance, I would say that it seems Kant is engaging with the same questions as the majority of the modern philosophers. The targets of his critique, the rationalists, empiricist, and idealists are the primary positions (for his time at least) of the question, "How do we know what we know?" In many ways, I think that Kant is the first philosopher to heavily address the prerequisite question of "Can we know anything?" and the trying idea of getting to the Real so to speak. The strain of modern philosophy, at least from what I am gathering in this reading, assumes that reality is there and this is what we are trying to engage with. They each take a novel approach to how we actually gather information, so to speak, but each one finally reaches the idea that what we are getting at is reality. Kant takes a step back, and looks at our presumptions as a self-made framing to what we are looking at. He challenges the very idea that we are engaging reality. I am possibly (even probably) exaggerating his ideas, but it seems fairly important to stop and say "Does reason get us closer to the real?" Of course this is a survey of Kant, so I might just be misconstruing some of his thought. I also have read some contemporary ideas that engage with this debate, and therefor retrospect might be corrupting how I think about Kant.
However, I suppose the use of Kant's endeavor is fairly obvious. Trying to ground what exactly we can take for granted in our thinking in a rigorous and analytic way is of great use for any philosopher to think about. And having a consensus on this question would make philosophical debates all the more clear, but I find it hard to believe that the philosophical community will reach a consensus on something that essential to their subject any time soon.
Kant also seems to be the last major philosopher outside of the analytic/continental divide if I am not mistaken, but that topic is on the docket a few weeks forward...
The reading assignment this week is a tough one. It is long and hard to read in my opinion as an second language reader. Anyhow, I found a few things valuable that we all can learn from.
Kant “The Critique of Pure Reason” dealt in a systematic way wit the entire field of epistemology and metaphysics. It was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason, concerned with ethics, and the critique of Judgment, concerned largely with aesthetics. Theory of “synthetic” is saying something substantial about the empirical world. the “analytic” is true by virtue of the meanings of the words used to formulate them. How is synthetic a priori knowledge possible? Kant compared his answered with “transcendental idealism.” epistemology becomes the secondary to metaphysics; for without metaphysics the deliverances of the senses become impossible to describe. Kant refers to this unity as the “transcendental unity of apperception,” ‘apperception’ meaning self-consciousness, and the word ‘transcendental’ indicating that the ‘unity’ of the self is not known as the conclusion of an argument but as the presupposition of all self-knowledge. The transcendental idealism is a form of ‘empirical realism’ and appends to the second edition of the Critique a chapter called ‘The Refutation of Idealism.” Kant’s important distinction between ‘phenomenon’ and ‘noumenon.’ Kant’s theory of the synthetic a priori depends crucially upon the element of empiricism in his philosophy – the view that knowledge comes through the synthesis of concept and ‘intuition.’ Kant’s theory of the synthetic a priori and his refutation of skepticism are meant to establish the reality of the phenomenal world (the world of appearance). “It is impossible to advance from the concept of God to the existence of God” Kant argued.
Chapter 3: From Descartes to Kant
“For Descartes, a human being is a thinking substance and man’s whole essence is mind. In the present life our minds are intimately united with our bodies but it is not our bodies that make us what we really are. Moreover, mind is conceived in a new way: the essence of mind is not intelligence but consciousness, awareness of one’s own thoughts and their objects.” P. 113 “Descartes said that knowledge was like a tree, whose roots were metaphysics, whose trunk was physics, and whose fruitful branches were the moral and useful sciences.” P. 114 The Cartesian doubt and the “Cogito” is Descartes’s conclusion that he is a thing that thinks, a conscious being. “I think, therefore I exist,” “Cogito ergo sum” with these few words he brings his doubt to an end, and from these few words he seeks to discover the nature of his own essence, to demonstrate the existence of God, and to provide the criterion to guide the mind in its search for truth. “I think,” it is clear that any form of inner conscious activity counts as thought. For Descartes, to think is not always to think that something or other. For him, it is consciousness that is the defining feature of thought. Thus, all the operations of the will, the intellect, the imagination and the senses are thoughts. p. 117 John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he talks about ‘ideas’. His ‘ideas’ are very similar to Descartes’s ‘thoughts.’ Locke says that an idea is ‘whatever it is which the mind can be employed about’, which can mean either what the mind is thinking or (the object) or what the mind is engaged in (the activity). P.129
There two kinds of freedom: one is called “liberty of indifference” is the ability to choose between alternative; the other is called “liberty of spontaneity” is the ability to follow one’s desire. P. 119
In his book Meditations Descartes seeks to show God’s existence from the content of the idea of God. He thought that theorems could be proved about triangles, whether or not there was actually anything in the world that was triangular. One such theorem is that God is a totally perfect being, that is, he contains all perfections. But existence itself is perfection; hence, God, who contains all perfections, must exist. P. 124 Are animals machines? Does the soul always think? Can there be space without matter? Are there innate ideas? P.129
Berkeley offers to prove the existence of God from the bare existence of the sensible world. The world consists only of ideas, and no idea can exist otherwise than in a mind. P. 145 Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy is his monism: the idea that there is only one substance, the infinite divine substance which is identical with Nature: Deus sive Natura. ‘God or Nature.’ Mind and matter were not substances; thought and extension, their defining characteristics, are in fact attributes of God. Because God is infinite, he must have an infinite number of attributes; but thought and extension are the only two we know. P.147 David Hume, in his book The Treatise ho Human Nature begins as follows, “all the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, the impressions and ideas. The impressions include sensations and emotions; ideas are what are involved in thinking and reasoning.” Hume tells us that there are two ways in which impressions reappear as ideas: there are ideas of memory and ideas of imagination. Ideas of memory are more vivid than idea of imagination, and memory, unlike imagination, must preserve in its ideas the order in time and space of the original impressions. P.16
Surely, it is important to note some of the major distinctions between medieval and modern philosophy, and the path that lead to these distinctions. The first interesting distinction is the language in which philosophers chose to write in during the medieval and modern time periods. Kenny reminds us that during the medieval period, philosophers wrote in Latin, whereas during the modern era, philosophers wrote in their own national languages. Undoubtedly, one is compelled to consider why the shift in language for philosophies during the medieval and modern eras. Namely, did modern philosophers intentionally wish to change the way philosophy was to be written; that is, did they intentionally wish to change the way philosophy was done in the medieval period? Kenny also discusses the change in influences between medieval and modern philosophers. He maintains that during the medieval period, philosophers mainly wrote in a manner that, even though they were expressing their own ideas, they did so in a manner that complemented their predecessors. Could one be validated to assume that much of medieval philosophies were done out of fear of engaging in dissent to what was conventional and orthodox? On the contrary, modern philosophers wrote openly and on subjects they felt most imperatively on. This difference can too lead readers to question what the motivations were that lead modern philosophers to make a shift in the matters in which they wrote on. Was it because modern philosophers believed that the ways of doing mediaeval philosophy was too biased, in the sense that it was derived much from church dogma? Was it because many of modern philosophers believed that the methods and teachings of scholasticism were inadequate in the pursuits of genuine knowledge, such as how Francis Bacon proposed? For it was Bacon who believed that the thought of scholasticism focused too heavily on Aristotelian science which he thought proved nothing new, or discovered anything that guided us to finding out the truth of reality. In response, Bacon wished to develop a new method which would help humans attain true knowledge about the world in which we live: namely, induction. Indeed it is critical and important that we seek to understand answer these questions regarding the differences between medieval and modern philosophies. Could one propose that modern philosophers were genuinely seeking to find the truth concerning knowledge and the existence of god, even when as Kenny notes the Counter Reformation in Europe were much more “rigid’ and regulating during the modern period than they were during the medieval period, thus considering them to be brave in the sense that they were willing to be penalized for their pursuits even if it meant engaging in dissent? Indeed, the article and summary by Kenny was thorough and influential. The depiction of transference from medieval to modern philosophy was executed exceptionally well in the sense that it was very informative and easy to follow. In addition it was very thorough. It also challenged me to question many of the reasons why medieval and modern philosophies were so different. It certainly made me appreciate the two fields of thought much more, and resect both kinds of philosophy.
I found Scruton’s interpretation of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction interesting, since this has always been one of the most difficult concepts of Kant’s to understand. Scruton explains how like Descartes Kant starts, “from an examination of an aspect of self-consciousness.”(p.137) In contrast to Descartes Kant uses his arguments to tear down of, “the priority of the first person.”(p.137) Scruton points out that the direct affect of this reasoning is that, “epistemology becomes secondary to metaphysics.” (p.137)The reason for this is if that we would not be able to understand sense experience without metaphysics.
I find Kant complex and hard to understand at times. Ok a lot of the time. I like how in response to Hume’s radical skepticism Kant, arose from his, “dogmatic slumbers.”(p.135) Philosophy’s central purpose, Kant’s eyes, should start with the question, “How is metaphysics possible?” Ican't wait until I get to read Kant in Moderns. Yippee!
October 23 2013
I am having trouble buying into the argument that the self doesn’t exist. Perhaps it is because I wish to expel some sort of ownership over who I am, but to claim that there is no self is very hard to follow. As I read both pieces, I found myself very confused with the argument, so perhaps what I’m saying here could be simply answered with the text, but my hope is that I understood the material enough to craft this stance. Buddha argues that there is no self. No feelings, perceptions, volition or sense of consciousness can be determining factors in the self. I can agree that feelings and perceptions, although seemingly valuable in determining who we are, are not ways at which we define the self. And this ties into the idea that Marshall presented in the class last. If we were to subtract perceptions or feelings, then is there still a self? Well, we would most likely argue, that you know what, sure, there is still a self, because there are those who are physically limited but still have some sort of identity. But how is it that you can’t have a self that is dependent on volition or consciousness? Buddha argues that not only is perception and feelings, variables that I believe we can already rule out, are transitory but so is volition or consciousness. At that point, I would like to put my foot down and say, woah now, how is that possible? It appears to me that Buddha wants a consistency in life in order to identify a self, and because there is form of control or consistency in volition or consciousness you cant argue there is such a thing as a self. But how is that possible. Perhaps your body just simply responds to the environment. Your body can say, obtain food, obtain water, and so on, but a stream of consciousness, can’t be as easily dismissed as volition. Consciousness is the glue to identity. Although consciousness simply defined is being awake, you also have to be aware, and that is where I disagree with Buddha. Being aware asks someone to respond to the world around them. Not everyone will respond to the world around them the same way. That right there, has to be some sort of proof that there is a self. There is something inside us that will respond to a situation differently. The fact that people are asked to be aware of the world allows me to think that there must be a self. I’m not sure where you would locate the self, and I understand that argument, but let’s think of it this way. Although we can’t locate the self, which then makes my opinion weaker, what would we be if there was no self. We would simply be moving matter performing tasks of absolutely no importance what so ever. If there was no self, then that would imply that we are agents moving only by forces that compel our minds and body. Perhaps this is my cry for having a purpose in life, and perhaps it’s a fear, but it seems so far off to claim that we don’t have a self in this life, if we have people aware of what is happening and reacting to the world. I feel compelled to say that people have different passions and dreams, all of which will differentiate themselves, thus implying a self, but those could be argued as products of the environment. So my question is this: who is shaping the environment, who is it being shaped? The world is being shaped by those who are aware of their surroundings, and acting on them in a way that will impact who they are, thus implying a self.
Buddhists believe that all sufferings comes from belief in a self and seeking to possess and desiring impermanent things. I agree with Sam that there is a self but I think the other part of the idea of suffering is really interesting. Denial of material goods or possessions seems to be a common theme in all religions so I could follow pretty well their understanding of suffering. Even though I do not think all suffering comes from the loss of a pleasure I thought it was really insightful when in chapter two it mentioned even after getting the thing one desires he or she fears losing it and so still suffers. Like when someone gets a brand new car and they wax it every weekend and try to take great care of it and they are horridly afraid of that first ding they can't fully enjoy the car because it is causing internal worry and suffering. But what the chapter didn't address well, I think, are the ideas of reincarnation and nirvana. I am still confused by these. If I am understanding the chapter right, what happens to a person in their next life is dependent upon their actions in their previous life. So the person one is now is creating the life and outcome for his next self? Would that make Buddhism sort of deterministic? Something else I don't think was addressed well is what happens after one reaches nirvana. One gets to nirvana through enlightenment which would happen through meditation and following Gautama's teachings. But how does a deeper understanding of suffering, meditation and believing there is no self all the sudden take someone out of a repetitive cycle of reincarnation to nirvana? For example, in Christian faiths one can only reach heaven through death; death is the end. Even after reaching enlightenment a person can still continue to live so how does this deeper understanding take one out of a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation because, it seems to me, that the mind has no control over any part of that cycle. I don't think I quite understand what nirvana is either. The only answer given was that a person is not "utterly non-existent" and there is no more suffering. How does that cash out? Nirvana is, I think, a mindset so what happens when one dies but they are not utterly non-existent? But chapter three argues that there is nothing permanent or lasting about the self so how can there be anything after exiting the reincarnation cycle?
This reading reminds me of a quote I heard from the comedian Louis C.K.:
"It’s true, everything that makes you happy is going to end at some point, and nothing good ends well. It’s like, if you buy a puppy, you’re bringing it home to your family’s saying, hey, look, everyone, we’re all gonna cry soon. Look at what I brought home. I brought home us crying in a few years. Here we go. Countdown to sorrow with a puppy."
Though this is a comical quote, it does address a sad fact that is also brought up by the Buddhists: most of our happiness and pleasures we experience are impermanent. The Buddhists stress the deceptive nature of pleasure and happiness because we are made to believe that these states can endure. Only when we are deprived or separated from these states do we see the whole picture.
This reading also offers a clear description of the purpose of meditation: the act of stopping a vicious cycle of ignorance, by controlling the mind. This control helps us evaluate and inspect our own “mental processes” and change those processes that cause suffering and ignorance. For Buddhists, meditation is the way in which the vicious cycle of ignorance can be dealt with and overcome. However, meditation alone does not cure ignorance. Philosophical thought must also be present to complete the process. This seems very similar to the Socratic idea of self-examination that we have talked in great deal about in our Ancients class. One major difference, however, is that Buddhist chose to examine their lives through solitude and meditation, rather than open dialogue. One question I would pose to the Buddhists is: what is the point of preparing for a better life, if all you are going to be doing in those better lives, is preparing for better lives? If all you are doing in all of your lives is prepare for better lives, then aren't all your lives the same? It seems to neglect the importance of the "here and now" or the present moment. It would be as if a student were to go to school his entire life to become a doctor, yet never became a doctor because he was to busy training to become the best doctor he could be. I think the importance of morality (without re-birth) is to understand the finite time we have on this planet, therefore forcing us to not prolong or forgo our enjoyment indefinitely.
The two readings had a difficult format to trace the arguments and points about Buddhism. I understood that the author demonstrates the teachings of Buddhism while interpreting them. I found that I had to keep asking myself whether this or that interpretation of certain aspects of Buddhism was going to be rejected in favor of something else. To me, he was not as clear as he could have been on identifying objections and opposition of conflicting interpretations. Besides the reading being slightly confusing, Chapter 2 explains how Buddhist wisdom follows a similar philosophical path that we are learning in our philosophy classes; "In the context of the Buddhist path, 'wisdom' means the practice of philosophy: analyzing concepts, investigating arguments, considering objections" (24). This is just an affirmation that philosophy can be practiced throughout many aspects of life.
When I read Chapter 3, there was some more clarity offered on the point of having no self. There is an argument presented in six points. Focusing on the sixth point, "If there were a self it would be permanent... just what do 'permanent' and 'impermanent' mean here?... 'permanent' would mean eternal, and 'impermanent' would mean anything less than eternal" (39). From the definition I quoted above, I could understand how we have no self because it does not last forever. But, that reasoning did not completely explain and convince me that there is no self. While reading the foot notes, there is a clarification point that would be extremely useful in understanding why the self does not exist from a Buddhist perspective; "Buddhists deny the existence of the mind. But they affirm the existence of mental events, such as feeling and perception, as things that are distinct of the physical" (45). After reading this little foot note, if the mind does not exist, then the self does not exist. This follows in the opposite direction of Descartes where he believes that our mind exists, we have self with the famous phrase, "I think, therefore I am." If the Buddhists believe that a person's mind does not exist, then a person's self cannot exist either.
The existence of self is something that I spend a lot of my time thinking about. To some degree, I find it very difficult to shake the notion of a me. However, when I try to pinpoint what my self is, I have extreme difficulty. It certainly isn't my physical body, because, even to my perception, my physical body is very different now than it has been in the past. Beyond my perception, it is also clear that the physical aspect of what I call me is also not lasting. The atoms from my body are being constantly lost and replaced with new atoms. I am uncertain what percentage of my body, at my death, will have existed inside of me throughout my life, but it will certainly only be a percentage. If I existed as part of my body in some way, then am I only the parts of me that began as me? This is why I don't think I exist in any sort of physical way. As far as my mind is concerned, it also seems plagued with the same problem as the body. Everyday I behave in different ways, I see things in different ways, and I believe different things. I certainly am not my beliefs and behaviors because they are never the same. If my self were these things then my self is different from moment to moment. This would lead to an indefinite number of selves, all with differing interests in the world and existence, and all with extremely fleeting periods of existence. This is more difficult to accept than a lack of a real self. Finally, it doesn't seem that my self is my experiences, because beyond what is happening in the exact moment, my knowledge of my experiences is contingent on my memory. Various experiments have been done, though, that bring the accuracy of our memories into question. This means that if I am my experiences, I'm unable to know accurately myself. If I am not able to know myself accurately, then it would be difficult for me to even assert my sentience. Of course, it would be silly to say that because I can't figure out what my self is, my self doesn't exist. It does seem to be the case that the only evidence of my self, apparent to me right now, is my perception.
On the the paradox of desire and and the path to enlightenment, it seems to me that what would be necessary for enlightenment is something similar to what Plato describes in the republic as a true philosopher. The true philosopher is one who seeks out wisdom for the sake of wisdom, rather than for the sake of the philosopher's interest.
As far as the other ideas of Buddhist teaching, I believe there is a gap in their claims. I can grasp that there is certainly suffering, and that everything is unchanging, and, if I take an nontraditional approach, I can even start to accept some form of reincarnation, centered around the fact that the atoms and molecules in my body will likely end up an some other beings. What I do not understand is what leads the Buddhist to assert that there is only one path to enlightenment. It also seems odd that there could be a description of enlightenment. I don't think I grasp fully, however, what Buddhist teachers believe about these and the other ideas. I think that the short description in the passage probably oversimplifies the true ideas of Buddhist teachers and philosophers.
“It is our false belief in a self that Buddhists identify as the core of our ignorance.” (Ch.2) Along with this, ignorance is believed to be the root of suffering. Thus, it is our false belief in a self that leads to suffering. Contemplating this argument, I have to say it is valid. My minor alteration would be that I have what appears to be an inherent belief in self. I am fully aware that my acceptance of a self stems much, if not all, of my suffering. The very idea of one’s self not existing causes unease and I believe it to be the root of existential suffering. This is where I find Buddha’s argument puzzling, as existential suffering stems from the uncertainty of self and importance, or frustration in impermanence. Let’s say we definitively discover that there truly is no self. What would be the repercussions? Certainly, suffering would ensue due to individual despair and a feeling of hopelessness. Suffering would also stem from a seemingly inherent belief unraveling.
The executive function says that the five skandhas make up an individual and control one another. Similar to the chariot example given, a causal series of these skandhas may lead to a false idea of an entity (aka the self). In The Question of King Milinda, Nagasena described his name as a “convenient designator”, while Milinda calls it a “mere empty sound” (52). Following this passage, I proceeded to sit and just stare at my computer for a few minutes. Applying this idea to the self, as stated earlier, would completely crush a belief that I find to be inherent in nature. A self is what (supposedly) makes me the person that I am. I am not just a combination of parts, instead there is something in me that transcends the idea of skandhas.
To go along with the confusion these chapters brought, I found the idea of “physicalism” to be an interesting notion (despite wanting to have a self). Everything existing is physical, with thoughts and emotions being complex brain events. The prospect of this might actually have some merit considering the insanely fascinating things that go on inside our brain.
Siderits reconstruction of Buddhist position on no-self
- Key points:
1. Buddhist claims there is no self because: 1. self is impermanent and 2. we do not have complete control of a self.
2. Support from analysis of the Five Skandhas (lit. "bundles")
- Rupa: anything corporeal or physical;
- Feeling: sensations of pleasure, pain and indifference; (only, other emotions under volition)
- Perception: those mental events whereby one grasps the sensible characteristics of a perceptible object; e.g., the seeing of a patch of blue color, the hearing of the sound of thunder;
- Volition: the mental forces responsible for bodily and mental activity, for example, hunger, attentiveness, and
- Consciousness: the awareness of physical and mental states. (Siderits 35-36)
- There is no more to the person than the five skandhas (the exhaustiveness claim).
Maybe the "I" is an executive function
- problems with this view.
- An entity cannot operate on itself (the anti-reflexivity principle).
- Could just be shifting coalition. (sounds like Bloom?)
- Support for this view: Questions of King Milinda - nominalism -- words as "convenient designators" vonentional vs. ultimate truths.
Summary of Siderits view: "We are now in a position to return to the dispute over the exhaustiveness claim and the Buddha's two arguments for non-self. Both arguments relied on there being no more to the person than the five skandhas. The opponent objected to the argument from control on the grounds that our ability to exercise some degree of control over all the skandhas shows that there must be more to us than the five skandhas. The response was that there could be control over all the skandhas if it were a shifting coalition of skandhas that performed the executive function. But the opponent challenged this response on the grounds that there would then be many distinct I's, not the one we have in mind when we say that I can dislike and seek to change all the skandhas. We can now see how the Buddhist will respond. They will say that ultimately there is neither one controller nor many, but conventionally it is one and the same person who exercises control over first one skandha and then another. This is so because the controller is a conceptual fiction. It is usefiil for a causal series of skandhas to think of itself as a person, as something that exercises some control over its constituents. Because it is useful, it is conventionally true. This is how we have learned to think of ourselves. But because this person, this controller, is a conceptual fiction, it is not ultimately true that there is one thing exercising control over different skandhas at different times. Nor is it ultimately true that it is different controllers exercising control over them. The ultimate truth is just that there are psychophysical elements in causal interaction. This is the reality that makes it usefiil for us to think of Ives as persons who exercise control. Our sense of being something that exists over and above the skandhas is an illusion. But it is a usefiil one. " 64
October 30, 2013
Scruton has thinly veiled disdain for a number of the continental thinkers he talks about, but he seems to recreate the common interpretation of these major thinkers' work. Of course, the complexity and obscurity that continental philosophy tends towards makes greatly nuanced argument common within them, so I would say his reduction, naturally, misses some of their strength.
Before I get into my major analysis of the Nagel and Dennet readings I will say this: I really do not enjoy Dennet. I find him to be rather pompous at times, and he is, along with his colleague Richard Dawkins, probably one of my least favorite public intellectuals. And I believe that he completely obfuscated the eventual conclusion in Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" by emphasizing the thought experiment without engaging in Nagel's later introduced ideas. I also believe that there is a core problem with Dennet's argumentation about how we understand what it is like to be another being/species.
First off, I find the important point of Nagel's piece is that, even as a physicalist, we do not have the resources to explain the origination of mental events even if we can find the corresponding physical event. Dennet seems to reduce mental events to their physical correlate, cutting off the importance of Nagel's ideas. In fact, I would say Dennet himself explains the problem but misses the point. We can agree that when a bat receives the sonorous signal returning to him, during echolocation, his brain does act exactly like the receiving portion of the police officer's radar gun. This is the physical event. Now, at this point Dennet merely moves onto more physical events: the processing done by the bats brain, the maneuver that follows from the newly received information, etc. But what he misses the phenomenological (and I hesitate to use this word, I do not intend to use it in any precise sense) quality of the mental event. In fact, it appears Dennet abolishes the possibility that a bat could even have a mental event. There are two problems with this move in Dennet's description. First, it falls into the same problem that Nagel describes a la trying to act like a bat. We could probably draw certain parallels between bats' and other animals' brain functions, even humans', but that does not describe the mental experience of being a bat. More importantly, this anthropocentric move that Dennet dismisses, even glorifies, underlies the more major problem in Dennet's reductionism.
The major problem I have with Dennet's thinking comes about when he talks about studying bats in the same way we objectively study humans. If we are to study the two in the exact same way then there are two routes: to admit Nagel is correct, we cannot know what it is like to be a bat, or (as this is clearly not a possibility for Dennet) we must accept studying humans through the eradication of their subject. (At least for the duration of the experiment. The word eradication is probably stronger than it needs to be; obviously the subject is never actually destroyed, so to speak) This is because if we are going to study bats and humans in the same manner we must pay attention to the common ground between the two: the physiological facts that we can empirically record. Now here is the real trick: if we are treating humans as completely physical along with the bats, then who is running the experiment? This will at first seem like a ridiculous objection; I just admitted the subject is never actually eradicated. But how can one seriously approach physicalism if they cannot account from mental events? The interpretation of our information gathered in physical experiments are only interpreted in actions that could be described as mental events. Here we move from the problem of anthrocentrism (only humans can think/have mental events so we should just treat them as a slightly special case) to a transcendental scientism (there is a transcendental subject of science who is interpreting the physical occurrences through its mental events). The Kantian terminology here is purposeful: For all the vainglorious posturing of someone like Dennet (and I believe most other analytic philosophers are more humble) they are still stuck in the logic of the transcendental subject. Dennet has left the “Audience in the Cartesian Theater” only to become a “Spectator in the Kantian Stadium”. He can only make his arguments based on reason but his physicalism reduces the mental capacity of reason to a physical event.
This is not to say that Dennet's scientific observations are not sound; I am not saying that bats might be reasoning creatures. I am merely pointing out a disjunction in his stance and the very philosophical tools that he uses to come to these conclusions. I believe that Nagel's position is much more faithful to its own ontological presuppositions. This argument is also rather unrefined, so I am sure it will be pretty unclear.
The Jones reading focuses on the philosophical view of Phenomenology as described by Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology is the act of getting back to the things themselves as they are presenting themselves to me. Descartes separates everything into matter, extension or mass, and to minds, immaterial. Husserl denies the dualism between immanence and transcendence or the idea and the object and tries to fuse them together. According to Husserl, Descartes moves too fast in automatically believing that I exist by thinking that experience happens within the mind. Husserl believes that the experience is outside of the I and the object and only through expericane do I emerge. This is supported by his thinking that the mind interprets the experiences instead of having them itself.
If I see the tree, according to Husserl, I need to bracket off and doubt the I and the tree. What is left is the act of seeing or the experience. Because the experience is happening outside the mind and being interpreted and perceived by the mind we can believe we exist. To understand objectsd we must allow them to appear in their full essences and since experience puts us in direct contact with things and essences can only be given to me through perspective, we need to get back to the experience and alllow things to emerge from themselves.
In my Phenomenology course, Professor Bradley had the class go out to Manito Park to do a study of the essences the Japanese Gardens and the English Gardens give us and how it is presented in each. Our class came to a few unified conclusions that the English garden relies on sight to give off its essence of harmony and order where as the Japanese garden uses both sight and hearing (hearing from the pond) to give off harmony also but less order. You can get a small glimpse of this just google searching generic English and Japanese gardens. Professor Bradley forced our class to step back and allow the gardens to appear to us.
What is it like to be a Bat?
In “what is it like to be a Bat?”, Nagel argues that consciousness had essential to it a subjective character, a what it is like aspect. He states, “An organism has conscious mental state if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism – something it is like for the organism.” His critics have objective strongly to what they see as a misguided attempt to argue from a fact about how one represents the world (trivially, one can only do so from his own point of view) to a false claim about the world, that it somehow has first personal perspectives built into it. On that understanding, Nagel is a conventional dualist about the physical and the mental. This is, however, a misunderstanding: Nagel’s point is that there is a constraint on what it is to possess the concept of a mental state, namely, that one be directly acquainted with it. Concepts of mental states are only made available to a thinker who can be acquainted with his own states; clearly, the possession and use of physical concepts has no corresponding constraint. Nagel is most widely know within the field of philosophy of mind as a advocate of the idea that consciousness and subjective experience cannot, at least with the contemporary understanding of physicalism, be satisfactorily explained using the current concepts of physics.
While Nagel is sometimes categorized as a dualist for these sorts of remarks, he is more precisely categorized as an anti-reductionist. Nagel writes: “ … I believe that there is a necessary connection in both directions between the physical and the mental, but that it cannot be discovered a priori. Opinion is strong divided on the credibility of some kind of functionalist reductionism side of that debate. Despite significant attempts by a number of philosophers to describe the functional manifestations of conscious mental states, I continue to believe that no purely functionalist characterization of a system entails 0 simply in virtue of our mental concepts – that the system is conscious.”
What is consciousness? Is it the ability to think or speak, think or feel pain? Surely, much has been discussed about the nature of consciousness and how we as philosophers are to perceive it. The article by Thomas Nagel elaborates on the complexity of conscious analysis. Moreover, that consciousness exhausts all the accounts of it by those who have sought to explain or provide a logos of what consciousness entails. Reductionism, as Nagel argues cannot adequately provide a satisfactory account of consciousness as reductionists aren’t infallible enough to not mistakenly exclude any significant information regarding consciousness. I find this, one of the examples given by Nagel to be of great interest. If reductionists seek to reduce complex organisms into the sums of their parts, and if they are to provide accounts of the causality of those parts, that is, to explain how certain precedents are followed by certain consequences, how then are they to thoroughly explain consciousness if consciousness is intangible and immaterial? If I am understanding Nagel’s criticism correctly, this is an interesting point to consider about consciousness and how difficult it is to understand it. I too agree with Nagel, and how “consciousness exhausts their analysis,” specifically because there is more than one way to view and analyze consciousness. One of the significant theories that has helped me understand consciousness is the one by William James; namely, his stream of consciousness. Within this theory, readers can apprehend that consciousness is always changing, just as Heraclitus proposed that everything in the world is changing. It makes no sense to try and analyze consciousness by analyzing only its parts because it is a whole which must be examined phenomenologically
November 7th 2013
Initially, I felt it necessary to apologize at the beginning of this post on the lack of my understanding on this material, but I decided to stray from that, because hopefully my questions, and desire for clarity, will help spark further discussion. Other than that, I have no opinion on the matter, simply questions. So here it goes. Modernity is obsessed with the idea of accuracy and precision of knowledge obtained by science and reason. In post-modernity, have we strayed from that idea in the sense that we believe knowledge can be derived from something other than science and philosophy? Or is more along the lines that we might say that meaning and clarity that we once thought were so obtainable are not nearly that simple? In my outside research on what postmodernism is concerned with, it appears that the way we look at the world, from the enlightenment on, is skewed, it is fraud. There are some truths that can be derived from the fruits of philosophy, but meaning is only a construct of our subjective consciousness. Is that right? If so, where does that place philosophers in the world? Do they have any value? How do we obtain knowledge in an objective way? Is that a possibility? Another piece that sparked my interest and my question was the quote that Alfino references, which is that of Derrida regarding differences and traces of things. If I understand that piece right, Derrida is saying that no “element” can stand by itself, because everything can be traced to something else. So, that would imply things are an illusion. In regards to that idea, is there every a chance of trusting something to be one-hundred percent true, or is this life a narrative that we create from our consciousness, and all we do is play a long in the narrative? (Truly, I hope I am not getting this wrong and creating questions that aren’t related to the subject matter.) If the presence of meaning is nothing more than an illusion, we can never place meaning in something, right? That seems a bit scary and disheartening. Okay, I don’t want to run on with a list of questions, especially if I do not understand the material fully. Thanks everyone!
In the Grenz reading, the post modernist philosopher, Rorty, clearly made philosophers less significant than his predecessors. In the Republic, Socrates describes the ideal state using philosophers as kings and rulers. Rorty would reject Socrates belief that philosophers should be placed on a high pedestal. He voices that philosophers are not that special and great after all; "The post modern philosopher can only decry the notion of having a view while avoiding a view about having views" (159). The significance and importance of philosophers has vanished because postmodernists like Rorty, abandon the philosophical goal of searching for a universal theory of knowledge in favor of an ongoing discussion ; philosophy goes from knowledge to interpretation- from epistemology to hermeneutics. In hermeneutics, there are countless ways to view and understand the world and how we should live life. All these ways to live life are in conflict with one another. There is no unity or coherence in how we view the world. Plato, Marx, Kant, and many other philosophers have conflicting views on meaning, morality, and living. Rorty goes further to say that philosophy "is not endowed with the ability to decide issues of ultimate significance for human life, that the philosopher is no super scientist" (160). The quest to find meaning and answers to life's biggest questions through philosophy has ended because all it can do in a postmodern world is have well informed opinions and debates.
One thing I find troubling about postmodern philosophy is that language becomes insignificant in the sense that that "a word has no intrinsic meaning, that it is merely a convention, the regular use of a mark or noise. Language, in turn is a tool- human beings using marks and noises to get what they want" (Grenz 154). If everyone believed that language is condensed and had no intrinsic meaning, there would be no articulate and meaningful civilization. This reminded me of George Orwell's 1984 novel where vocabulary is increasing becoming limited and shortened to the point where people in this society would be expected to speak in quacks and noises. Postmodernists really make what people use to express value and meaningfulness trivial and insignificant.
Dr. Alfino describes Post Modernism as a methodological strategy and has post structuralist (culture understood in terms of abstract sets of opposition) views of meaning. Post Modernism holds that all effort and understanding comes from one's use of the contents of their own consciousness and that consciousness is only has meaning pre-linguistically (outside of language). When things change language is used to express and explain it. So it is not the words that have meaning. I think, what it being said is that words are only a convention, a way to point at, the meaning in our own consciousness. Post Modernism moves away from a system of language and meaning where one person codifies and sends the message and the other person decodes it. In Post Modernism, what makes something what it is is its place in a system and meaning is distributed within the system of signification. This is mostly what I got out of the lecture but Dr. Alfino also makes a distinction between a signified and a signifier. However, on this point and on a few others I could use a little more explanation before I try to write about them here.
I thought the Grenz article was very interesting. The short summaries of the origins of Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, and Jacques Derrida were informative and really helped to frame their ideas and philosophy. The most interesting of these ideas for me were those of Foucalt relating to knowledge. There is a very strong feeling in contemporary scientific communities of objectivity. Science is viewed as the highest form of human thought, and the discoveries made by science are considered the most accurate, and nearest to truth forms of knowledge. Foucault's claims about the biased and self serving nature of science and history are very controversial. In someways it is clear that science is always hampered by the subjective nature of our interest. In scientific studies, it is impossible to be completely exhaustive in your data collection, and similarly data is not collected at random. There is always some outside force directing the collection of data and information. This outside force is human focus and interest. Human focus and interest, however, is easily influenced by outside pressures of society, and the desire to better one's own personal position. In this way, I believe that Foucault is right in claiming that there is a weakness in science.
I find Derrida's claim that there is nothing beyond the text a bit difficult to grasp. I'd like to discuss this topic in class.
Having never been formally introduced to postmodernism, I found the idea of rejecting the autonomous self to be very intriguing. It feels as if much of the philosophy in Gonzaga’s core curriculum (at least in my experience) rarely touches on this denunciation, as we strive towards become holistic individuals.
I was particularly interested in one section of Alfino’s presentation, where he stated that “postmodern thought as a form of cultural criticism… shows us insightful things about how we represent ourselves in a cultural sense” and the lack of access to the conscious outside of language. The communication between the conscious and the self seems pretty unanswerable at this point. Alfino’s notes correlated with Foucault’s perspective, as Grenz said that he would ask, “how has the concept of human nature functioned in our society?” rather than “what is human nature?” I have always had the idea that the human conscious was somewhat inherent. Postmodernism challenges this, as not only is the conscious shaped by culture (not too radical of an idea), but human nature is something that can be altered by culture as well.
Grenz described that both Derrida and Foucault were certainly against our “logocentric quest for meaning” (150). This is genuinely new territory for my philosophical thought process and to be honest, it is pretty awesome. I look forward to discussing this more in class, as there seems to be a lot of stances in postmodernism worth talking about. Discussing in class will help my understanding of some of the thought processes involved, as I also struggled to fully grasp some of the ideas that Grenz went over.
I found the Badiou reading very challenging and confusing at times. He made very bold statements, but seemed to back them up with common critiques of society like "materialism, commercialism, etc." without clearly stating how these things have harmed the things he says it has harmed. Nevertheless I will try and sum up what I think he is trying to argue. I believe Badiou is taking issue with the fact that philosophy is somewhat giving up on the questions posed by early philosophers about knowledge and truth. He thinks contemporary philosophy is "too strongly committed to the equivocalness of meaning and the plurality of languages." I think the key word Badiou has a problem with is "equivocalness," which can be defined as open to two or more interpretations. Multiple interpretations does not sit well with him. Badiou wants to bring philosophy back to the days of competing ideas, where one or the other could be right, not both. The "desire" seems to be gone from philosophy since everyone seems to be content with differing opinions. Badiou goes on to suggest a new system of thinking. He denounces language as a tool to be used by philosophers, and agrees with Plato that it is the "things" we should be concerned with, not necessarily the language.
Surely, many in of those in favor of creationism oppose Darwin’s theory on the account that the theory diminishes the idea of a world created with order and a purpose. However, are those who seek to condemn Darwin’s theory of evolution doing so with motivations that are too rigid or too biased? Can’t creationists participate as one of the intellectual sects who consider the idea of God being able to exist, coincide, and still be eligible to receive praise even within a pluralistic society, as Dennett discusses? As Dennett elaborates on the possibilities of those associated with non-secular schools of thought being able to find a rationale for believing and praising god, even with the consideration of Darwin’s theory of evolution, I find his ability to shed light on this area very encouraging. That is, I’m compelled to seek how or why religious individuals can manage to hold their faith even with the influence of a very promising scientific theory like that of Darwin’s. It is interesting to note what Rudolph Bultmann proposes to be true concerning faith and science. Bultmann argues that there is no conflict between science and religion. He further strengthens his argument by saying that science and religion are separate disciplines that have different roles. For Bultmann, Religion has do deal with the message that God creates to teach people how to be human, whereas science works to provide a world view of reality that reveals how the earth works. Undoubtedly, Bultmann would qualify as one of the prominent religious intellectuals who are still able to have their faith exist and remain strong even with many of the scientific theories that may disqualify many of the traditional arguments for God and the world that was created by God. Galileo, a very successful pioneer who made a tremendous amount of scientific breakthroughs concerning astronomy and the heliocentric theory, and the telescope understood that it was possible to do and believe science, all the while being able to be a strong catholic. Why was this so? Galileo understood that everything in the universe was created by God. He maintained that we could do science because science studied the courses of nature, which too was a gift from God. He sacrificed a great deal of his efforts to defend his faith as a catholic, and an equal amount to his scientific work. It is possible I believe to practice your faith even with the many influences of modern science that may or may not refute the ideas of God’s existence, and the teleological end of the universe. These are the ideas that quickly came to mind while reading the article by Dennett. I don’t find it reasonable enough to disqualify religion or religious beliefs simply because of what science says, but rather because of the message religion conveys and a person’s intentional rejection of such a message.
To begin with, I was not a fan of this reading because it talked about science (I have yet to take my required lab class) then algorithms were added (once again not a good subject) and a mention of computer science (I am technologically inept). Instead I tried to focus on things that I was able to pick up without spacing out. What I noticed may seem something small but it gives a different view point to Aristotle. Chapter 1, page 23, the Greek word aitia is universally translated, while talking about Aristotle, as causes. I learned to translate it as blame, guilt, accusation, charge, and my personal favorite-responsibility. I feel that responsibility give the What, Where, When, Why questions a slightly different take on the way things exist. Instead of having a cause in the world, they have a responsibility. Things are forced to have an interaction with the world around it and be apart of the harmony of its community. Darwinism made me question if there is a realm of forms and what is the true nature of something. At first I never gave thought to it but I liked the idea that there was truth in what something is and all those somethings had to have a similar quality in that truth. But with evolution it makes me wonder what if in 50 years tigers evolve out of their stripes but our culture still calls them tigers. Would they still be a tiger? I believe that science is able to dispell religion because much of what Christians believe in (especially in the bible) is myth. I don't understand how to believe in something that actually didn't happen, unless everyone a Jeffersonian Bible. For those who don't know what that is, it's a bible from Thomas Jefferson who cut out all of the miracles and actions of Jesus and just focused on the words directly from him. This type of bible would convey the message directly without the mythology involved. (For further inquiry read, Zealot by Reza Aslan).
Darwin’s Dangerous Ideas: Evolution and the meaning of life
Dennett begins the account with John Locke's late seventeenth-century Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where Locke answers the question, "Which came first, mind or matter?" Locke's answer was that mind had to come first, because "it is impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being." David Hume mounted some powerful skeptical arguments against this mind-first principle, but in the end he couldn't come up with a solid alternative. Darwin did not set out to overturn the mind-first picture of reality, but to do something much more modest: to explain the origin of biological species, and the wonderful adaptations that enable those species to survive and reproduce in diverse ways. The answer Darwin came up with was that these adaptations, which had seemed to be intelligently designed, are actually products of a mindless process called natural selection. Dennett says that what Darwin offered the world, in philosophical terms, was "a scheme for creating Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind." When the Darwinian outlook became accepted throughout the scientific world, the stage was set for a much broader philosophical revolution. Dennett explains that
Darwin's idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers-- welcome or not--to questions in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If [the cause of design in biology] could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn't that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own "real" minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin's idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding.
I found the ethical dilemmas presented in Redesigning Morality very interesting. The most important thing of note for me was the complicated nature of real human decision making. It almost seems silly, when confronted with the nature of real decision making, to argue that any one rule or principle should govern the process. It seems to me that rather than focusing on a principle and arguing the value of that principle, a better idea would be to focus more on processing many variables, and sorting through necessary and unnecessary variables efficiently. It also appears to be that with so many factors involved with a difficult decision, evaluating motive becomes more critical. To follow any single principle for every given circumstance would surely lead to some rash decisions. It would also pose a serious challenge to try and decide what others would or should do because of the same complicated nature of each moral dilemma in the first place. Also, because it is impossible to process every aspect of any given decision, no dilemma posed in a thought experiment could accurate convey the true nature of a real decision. They are always limited by the maximum amount of variables a person can track at a time, which is below the quantity of variables in real decisions.
The Cognitive Science of Religion article was an interesting read but the short section about Cognition and Gods I did not agree with. When comparing faith in God to an over sensitivity or hyper awareness humans have developed from the time when a noise from the bush had to be assumed as a tiger and not the wind otherwise the person would end up the tigers lunch is used to disprove or show as irrational a belief in God. The noise from the bush was most likely the wind and not a tiger. But, in order for someone to think that it was a tiger in the bush wouldn't they first have needed to have some sort or experience of what a tiger is? One cannot just make up what a tiger is they would have had to have had some sort of experience of a tiger or been taught about it but the person who taught them would have had to have that experience. So if belief in the tiger requires some sort of truthful knowledge about what it is and its danger to the human wouldn't there also have to be some sort of an experience of God to assume he is there to begin with? I just don't think this is a good enough of an example to weaken the rationality of a belief in a God.
I found this rebuttal by Mill to be very useful when thinking of the criticism of the impractical use of utilitarian decision making in "Redesigning Morality":
"Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this- that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. The answer to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time, mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, are dependent. People talk as if the commencement of this course of experience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when some man feels tempted to meddle with the property or life of another, he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder and theft are injurious to human happiness. Even then I do not think that he would find the question very puzzling; but, at all events, the matter is now done to his hand."
I find Dennet's argument very complex and unhelpful. It seems that he is complicating something that he admits is already too time intensive and complex. I think it is fair to argue that in real world situations we can roughly use the principle of utility and make a well educated guess on the factors affected by our decision. In addition, I don't think it depends so much upon the intelligence of the person making the decision, as Dennet suggests, but rather on the bias or prior experiences the person has toward others or toward a certain topic.
Frans De Waal's piece was one of the more interesting ideas I have read this semester. This may stem from my lack of ideological exposure to the evolution of morality, but I found both Huxley and Darwin's ideas to be fascinating before de Waal destroyed everything Huxley stood for.
There were a couple of quotes that stood out to me. De Waal opened by introducing the idea that "solitary confinement is the most extreme punishment we can think of" outside of the death penalty. Solitude causes us to go mad, for lack of a better term. Health deteriorates and erroneous thoughts begin to take over our mind. Our *inherent* desire for company has driven us to the point of punishment through a deprivation of others.
Adam Smith, the famous economist, had a passage on page 15 that discussed gaining happiness solely through the experience of other's pleasure. Later, on page 38, de Waal made the note that "seeing another's disgust or pain is very much like being disgusted or in pain". I am in the school of thought that being morally conscious was and still is necessary in Darwinism. Learning how primates act, as well as witnessing my own dogs display a wide range of emotions (including comforting others, whether or not it was empathetic) has led me to believe there is some moral code (potentially lying in emotions) experienced by non-human animals.
Here is a link to a 60 Minutes segment about the morality found in babies through a type of "baby lab" experiment. 
A thought I have had time and time again, is in which group, what world, what department do we place our time, energy, and commitment? As Dennet puts its, “every day, while trying desperately to mind our own business, we hear a thousand cries for help, complete with volumes of information on how we might oblige.” The next question that follows with certainty is this: how the hell do we prioritize such “cacophony”? According to Dennet, and simply put I might add, the ethical world is a demanding world, full of hard to decide facets, all in which ethics seems to be applied, but is actually a variable that runs the risk of being a matter of subjective taste because of the way in which it is preached, but hard to practice. This idea lends itself nicely to the way in which Dennet believes you can redefine morality. Dennet argues that we could redesign morality by permitting an utterly “indefensible” set of defaults to shield our attention from all about our current projects. However, my quarrel with this proposition is the fact that the call for ethical behavior in regards to specific variables of life, such as environmental ethics, health care ethics, and so on, becomes a matter of advertisement – a business proposition so to speak. Although I do agree and find Dennet’s proposition incredibly convincing, it feels as if morality is reduced yet again to a subjective matter. Who should we donate to today, honey? Well, who had the best advertisement? Which one appeals to your senses the most? And unfortunately, that is the truth. I have a hard time agreeing with Dennet because something inside me wants to think that morality can be extended past the subjectivity of advertisement, but at the end of the day, how is it an earthly possibility to filter through all the cries, and arrive at an educated and well thought out delivery plan? It feels like, at this point, our morality is nothing more than a reduced idea, dependent on selfish interests. Although it is a big jump, I do see a connection in how Dennet explains morality, and how de Waal helps to explain the Veneer Theory, stating that morality is essentially nothing more than a veneer. That jump is huge from Dennet to de Waal in the sense that Dennet isn’t saying we are bad at our core, but the common theme seems to be that morality isn’t some deeply profound intuitive idea where we juggle with the idea of what’s right because we feel pulled to what is right, but rather, what we feel pulled toward in a selfish manner.