Fall 2009 Philosophy of Human Nature Lecture Notes

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This page is primarily for notes for class lecture and discusion.

Return to Human Nature

9/2: Course Intro, Philosophy, and the Real

  1. Course Goals
  2. Roll Call
  3. Schedule, Grading Schemes, Wiki, Journals, Study Questions
  4. Philosophy

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is a discipline of inquiry directed toward a wide range of basic questions about the nature of the universe and our experience in it. It involves a turn toward "basic questions". It also involves meta-level cognition.

Logos, Mythos, and Theos

locating philosophy in relation to Mythos and Theos

Logos (Human culture associated with discovery of truths about a wide range of objects)

Associated with Philosophy, Interpretation, and Science
Requires belief in the truth on conclusions.
Aspires toward rational knowledge.

Theos (Human culture associated with our relationship to totality and to the divine)

Associated with Religion.
Commitment to truth of beliefs, but no longer typically asserted as rational knowledge.
Includes both individual and communal experience which produce insight and knowledge about important matters in life.

Mythos (Human culture associated with myth and story in drama, books, and other media.)

Typically associated with fiction, but includes dominant myths of the culture.
Does not require belief in the reality of objects in the story.
Claim to truth derived from indirect reference.

It is important to acknowledge that these three areas of culture interpenetrate each other extensively. There are stories and philosophies at work in religions. Philosophy attempts to purge itself of narrative, but some saying that is never successful. And story telling almost always seems to imply a view of life and a hence a range of philosophies.

What is Real? (1st Exercise)

We discussed some ways of identifying the "real". We'll pick this up briefly next class as we talk more about Plato's answer.


The Nature of Philosophy and Philosophical Method

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is a discipline of inquiry directed toward a wide range of basic questions about the nature of the universe and our experience in it. It involves a turn toward "basic questions". It also involves meta-level cognition.

Identifying the Philosophical

  • Turn toward basic questions
  • Meta-level cognition in general - theorizing
  • In the Structure of Knowledge -- Philosophy as queen of the sciences.

Other ways of identifying Philosophy

  • in relation to science
  • as speculative
  • as dealing with matters of direct importance to living
  • as dealing with matters of great uncertainty

Philosophical Methods

Rauhut Chapter Two
Go to Philosophical Methods

Main Philosophical Topics for the Class

Plato, Euthyphro

10: Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? What's at stake?

Plato, Apology

Image of Socrates as a Philosopher
Philosophy in Society - What's the lesson of Socrates' death?

What is Love?

getting ready for Symposium by constructing a preliminary philosophy of love.


Continued work on the Nature of Love

List of things we would want a good theory of love to do:

  • Explain how love emerges, what sustains it, and what destroys it.
  • Distinguish types or kinds of love; define the scope of the phenomena.
  • Explain the value of love in a human being's life.
  • Distinguish love from its cultural variations. Romantic love / arranged marriage /
  • Distinguish "lust" from love.

Next steps:

  • Venturing definitions (list)
  • Venturing hypotheses (list)

Introduction to Platonic Metaphysics

Plato's answer to the question, "What is Real?"

The real is what persists through all changes and manifestations.

Key Elements of Plato's Worldview

1. Essential Definitions

Through the project of giving essential definitions (relentlessly asking, "What makes all instances of X (horses) "X" (capable of having the word "horse" predicated of it), Plato is led to focus on form as persistent reality.

2. Mathematics and the structure of reality (Show parabola video, or first 1:38 of it. [1])

Plato holds that mathematics is a tool for seeing the deep structure of reality.

3. Hierarchy of reality in the process of enlightenment.

Following to some degree from the first two commitments, Plato recognizes that things "participate" in reality to different degrees. This applies to both reality and to the forms of intellectual we make of it. The two main images of the "hierarchy of reality" in Plato's thought are in the Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line.

Allegory of the Cave -- The Allegory of the Cave gives us an image of the implications of Plato's metaphysics for his view of human existence. We'll read the Allegory (Republic 514) and discuss it briefly in class.
Divided Line

Philosophical Methods

  • Review first three methods: Looking carefully at phenomena, Using rationales, and Giving Definitions.
  • Comment on other definition strategies aside from Plato's: Lexical defintions, stipulative definitions, precising definitions, extensional meaning and intensional meaning.


Note on Philosophical Method

From the list: Questioning Presuppositions.
Example from Plato: Plato's "two worlds view" is a consequence, not a presupposition of his view. However, his view that reality is intelligible is a presupposition of his view.

Two statements about the value of philosophy

Small Groups: If possible, mix group with Kant and Russell writers. From your group discussion, get a concise statement of each author's view and rationales. Compare and contrast and get ready to evaluate.



Some Notes on Greek History, or, How did we ever get to the Apology?

More Really Important Dates

2220 bc Creatan Minoan Culture
1000 bc Destruction of Mycenean Palace Culture
900-800 revival of population on Peloponesis, use of iron in tools and weapons.
750 city states growth.
750-550 period of Greek colonization.
480 Xerxes, ruler of Persia attacks at Thermopylae and Salamis
477, Athens governs Delian League
495-429, Pericles.
450-429, Period of "Periclean Athens" - democratic and legal reforms. great playwrights such as: Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides
431-404, Peloponnesian War, starting with Spartan invasion of Attica, ending with Athens surrender in 404
415, Alcibiades defects to Sparta.
404, Athens surrenders to Sparta.
404-403, Reign of Terror, 30 Tyrants.
399, Socrates trial.

More on Plato's Worldview

review of concept of Divided Line as model for enlightenment
Plato's psychology: Tripartite division of the soul: Rational, Appetitive, Vegetative.
-Need for rational element to control appetite.
-Connects need for harmony of the soul, harmony of the state (Brief mention of the Republic.)
-Harmony of the soul achieved through realization of virtues: Courage, Moderation, Justice, and Wisdom.
Plato and the Body


Beginning the Symposium

Setting: Drinking Party, Speeches on Love
Phaedrus: Love is a great God. There is One Love. Love motivates the lovers to virtue. No lover wants to look bad in front of their beloved. "In truth, the gods honor virtue most highly when it belongs to Love." 180B
Pausinius: There are two loves: Urania - Heavenly Aphrodite and Pandemos - Common Aphrodite. Love itself is neither good nor bad. Defends Greek practice. Love's character depends on the behavior it gives rise to. Potin of customs about love is separate the "wheat from the chaff," heavenly from common.
Erixymachus: Love is a broader phenomenon and force. Medicine "the science of of the effects of love on the body" Music - science of the effects of love on harmony and rhythm. But not all love is good. Love also at work in destruction.
Aristophanes: Story of first people, challenged the gods, split. Love is the search for your "other half". Interest in your partner not just for sex, but some kind of completion. Need to respect the gods or we'll be split again!


Beginning Epistemology

Types of Knowledge

Knowledge by acquaintance

Defining Knowledge as "true, justified belief"

Consider all three factors.

Skepticism, Empiricism, and Rationalism

global vs. local skepticism
Epiricism vs. Rationalism
Recall the parabola video, concept of "discovery" in mathematics, also this TED talk:
Garrett Lisi, A Beautiful New Theory of Everything note especially the way he mixes knowledge of particles and mathematics.


Descartes, Meditation 1

Neo's problem (Grau reading)
Brain's in Vats - Putnam's objection
Descartes' Approach in Meditation 1
"But I have sometimes found that these senses played me false, and it is prudent never to trust entirely those who have once deceived us. ...
But surely he's not wrong about the fact that he's sitting there . . .
"But in thinking about it carefully, I recall having often been deceived in sleep by similar illusions, and, reflecting on this circumstance more closely, I see so clearly that there are no conclusive signs by means of which one can distinguish clearly between being awake and being asleep, that I am quite astonished by it; and my astonishment is such that it is almost capable of persuading me that I am asleep now. "
composite things can be deceiving (note argument about painters, imagination), so "This is why perhaps that, from this, we shall not be wrong in concluding that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all the other sciences which depend on the consideration of composite things, are most doubtfuJ and uncertain, but that arithmetic, geometry and the other sciences of this nature, which deal only with very simple and general things, without bothering about their existence or non-existence, contain something certain and indubitable. ... I. For whether I am awake or sleeping, two and three added together always make five..."
It is possible that an all powerful God deceives me about even mathematics.
"This is why I think I shall proceed more prudently if, taking an opposite course, I endeavour to deceive myself, pretending that all these opinions are false and imaginary, until, ... my judgement may no longer be overpowered as hitherto by bad usage and turned from the right path which can lead it to the knowledge of truth.
"I shall suppose, therefore, that there is, not a true God, who is the sovereign source of truth, but some evil demon, no less cunning and deceiving than powerful, who has used all his artifice to deceive me.

Descartes, Meditation 2

Archimedian Point
I cannot be decieved into thinking that I am
Clear and Distinct ideas
Wax Example
Significance of Cartesian thinking in context of Enlightenment view of Subject and Object.

Part A: Socrates Questioning of Agathon in Symposium

Is Love love of something?
Does love desire that of which it is the love?
When we desire something, do we possess it? likely vs. necessarily?
IC: If something needs beauty and does not have it, it cannot be beautiful.
Love is not a possession, but the desire of the beloved. Or the desire of the continuation of the love.
philosophia vs. sophia


Legacy and Critique of Descartes

Cartesian solipsism -- If knowledge is based on "clear and distinct" ideas in a subject's mind, how does this establish a "real" (mind independent) reality?
The Cogito - mere subject of experience or complete intentional structure of the subject (complete with desiring, believing, hoping, thinking, doubting, etc.)
Cultural Importance -- Age of science sometimes called the age of representation. Knowledge is a represenation of reality to a subject. Would another kind of knowing subject create the same sort of knowledge we do?

Empiricism and Rationalism

Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, dates, timeline on Enlightment
Empiricism -- belief that the evidence of our sense is the source of certainty of objective knowledge. Great benefits is the inter-subjective certainty of observation. Problem: What is the relationship between our empirical representation of reality and "mind-independent" reality?
Problem: Establishing the "inferential structure" to get from sense experience to knowledge. Three possibilities:
  1. Naive Realism
  2. Indirect Realism - primary / secondary qualities (p: e size, shape, molecular texture, and motion S: taste, smell, texture, and felt temperature)
  3. Idealism - Is shape really primary (oval appearances of round objects)? Berkeley: Look carefully. All you see are sensory ideas.
Is the primary / secondary qualities distinction a solution to problem of naive realism? Is it a problem for the indirect that perception is no longer a source of certainty?

Problem of Induction

"The second major problem for empiricism stems from the fact that our experiences of the world can only confirm or disconfirm particular facts, but not general and universal claims." R1, p.70
P. l.All loggerhead turtles that have been observed in the past have laid eggs every two years.
P2 2. Nature is uniform; that is, regularities that have occurred in the past will also occur in the future.
C Therefore: All loggerhead turtles (past and future) lay eggs every two years.
principle of the uniformity of nature
Does the principle beg the question? What is the certainty of general laws in nature?


Hard cases: geometry, moral and political truths.
Critiques of the traditional (Plato or Descartes) position from Logical Positivists:
distinction between analytic and synthetic
Positivists: Analytic statements (including axioms of mathematical systems) are trivially true. Not new information about the world (recall Lisi).
Traditional response: There are contentful analytic claims: ex: "Every event has a cause" or "The shortest distance between two points in space is a straight line"


Diotima's Theory of Love

Note how she's introduced.
Picks up line of questioning from Socrates and Agathon, which was her original question to Socrates as a youth. (Note prophetic reference to Socrates later life later in the speech.)
Scolds Socrates for false dichotomy. Love could be neither ugly nor beautiful. Between mortal and god. Semi-divine force.
Origin of Love from Penia and Poros, description
Love is a lover of wisdom. Love is not just being loved, but being a lover.
What does the lover of beautiful things desire? - to possess the beloved, why?, (note substitution of "good"), to achieve happiness. 205A
Problem of the scope of the word love - like "poesis"
206B: Love is wanting to possess the good forever. ""This, then, is the object of love," she said. "In view of that, how do people pursue it if they are truly in love? What do they do with the eagerness and zeal we call love? What is the real purpose of love? Can you say?"
The purpose of love is to give birth in beauty, whether in body or soul. Note the kind of immortality we can have -- to participate in an ongoing process. (examples: education, accumulation of wealth and culture, philantrophy)
207E: interesting view of person through life span. Always changing. Body and soul. Studying is the answer! (208A) motivated by desire to be remembered. immortality of a sort.
Destiny of those pregnant in soul -- the Scala Amoris! 210B and following. "So when someone rises by these stages, through loving boys correctly, and begins to see this beauty, he has almost grasped his goal. This is what it is to go aright, or be lead by another, into the mystery of Love: one goes always upwards for the sake of this Beauty, starting out from beautiful things and using them like rising stairs: from one body to two and from two to all beautiful bodies, then from beautiful bodies to beautiful customs, and from customs to learning beautiful things, and from these lessons he arrives in the end at this lesson, which is learning of this very Beauty, so that in the end he comes to know just what it is to be beautiful. " 211B
"But how would it be, in our view," she said, "if someone got to see the Beautiful itself, absolute, pure, unmixed, not polluted by human flesh or colors or any other great nonsense of mortality, but if he could see the divine Beauty itself in its one form?"

Alcibiades' Entrance

Who was Alcibiades?

After much banter, Alcibiades is talked into giving an ecomium to Socrates (note the substitution for Love).
Describes Socrates as a Silenus statue.
216C: "My whole life has become one constant effort to escape from him and keep away, but when I see him, I feel deeply ashamed, because I'm doing nothing about my way of life, though I have already agreed with him that I should. "
story of failed seduction.
famous turn down lines: 218E


Comments on Locke and Hospers Readings

  • A few keys passages in Locke
  • Reminder of the problem of induction.

Some Background to Hellenistic Philosophy

Hellenism Dates and Map

399-323 Dispersion of "Post-Socratic Schools" - Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, Sceptics, Aristotelian, ... etc.

323 Death of Alexander - Division into Ptolemaic Empires

General Theses about the period:

Many of the post Socratic schools continue to make use of philosophical theories from earlier Greek thought, but focus on how to live well.
While the Roman Empire remains powerful during this time and engages in many wars of conquest and expansion, Romans admired Greek Philosophy and generally considered it superior to Roman thought at this time. (They do not approve of Greek pederasty.) Even much later, we find Roman statesmen such as Cicero taking leaves of absence to spend time with specific Greek philosophers. This was a time when philosophers were seen as sources of practical advice about life.


341-270 bc

Letter to Menoeceus:

  • Gods -- Should we be afraid of the gods?
  • Death -- Should we fear death?
  • Desire -- What approach should we take to desire? (note connection with Symposium) natural/groundless, necessary/unnecessary
  • Pleasure -- the "alpha and omega" of a happy life.
Distinction between kinetic and katastematic pleasures.

How much kinetic pleasure would a good Epicurean pursue? Virtue and the "measure of pleasure" -- Friendship and soiciability.

Bloom and Barrett on "Persons and Bodies"


-evidence from early chilhood and attention studies of the "duality of experience".

-Story of Brown Mouse

Barret, Ch.1

-reflective and non-reflective beliefs

-mental tools -- distinguish agents from objects

-operating on both RB and NRB levels.


Additional Thoughts on Epicurus

Tranquility vs. Quietism
Asceticism and the heightening of pleasure through mindfulness and savoring.

Introduction to Personal Identity

  • sameness makers -
  • change of identity: qualitative vs. numerical. (116 food for thought)

Major Theories of Self

  • Illusion
  • Substance: Body
  • Substance: Soul
  • Psychic Continuity

Tracking problems with each. What do we want a philosophical theory of identity to do?

initial group work on identity: Is our identity constructed by the mind (implication of Bloom, et. al.) or based on some deeper facts about the continuity or permanence or some reality (body, soul, memory)? What role might all of these candidates play?


Holiday: No notes


In-class notes on Epicurus and Epictetus


Exam- No notes


No Self: Buddhism

[There are two parts to this class. First, to see and evaluate (following Siderits) Buddhist arguments for rejecting the idea of the self. Then we'll look at two contemporary psychological theories of the self - general development psych view of the self and theory of multiple personalities. We're interested in comparisons with Buddhism as well as just building our best philosophical theory of personal identity.]

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)

Exhaustiveness Claim

  • 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

Lots of Selves: Cont. Psych

"I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another."

-modular view of mind.

-Fodor: "If, in short, there is a community of computers living in my head, there had also better be somebody who is in charge; and, by God, it had better be me!"

-"The multiplicity of selves becomes more intuitive as the time span increases. Social psychologists have found certain differences in how we think of ourselves versus how we think of other people—for instance, we tend to attribute our own bad behavior to unfortunate circumstances, and the bad behavior of others to their nature. But these biases diminish when we think of distant past selves or distant ftiture selves; we see such selves the way we see other people."

-dissociative-idnetity disorder - Sybil '73 and '76. therapists suit - 120 personalities, including a duck.

-fiction and self - openness to more selves. -imaginary friends.

-getting strategic with your bad selves. self-binding.

-"The theory of multiple selves offers a different perspective. If struggles over happiness involve clashes between distinct internal selves, we can no longer be so sure that our conflicting judgments over time reflect irrationality or error. There is no inconsistency between someone's anxiously hiking through the Amazon wishing she were home in a warm bath and, weeks later, feeling good about being the sort of adventurous soul who goes into the rain forest. In an important sense, the person in the Amazon is not the same person as the one back home safely recalling the experience, just as the person who honestly believes that his children are the great joy in his life might not be the same person who finds them terribly annoying when he's actually with them. "

-libertarian paternalism


Introduction to the problem of Free Will

1. Evoking the experience of free will

  • Situations in which free will seems especially prominent
  • Situations in which free will seems especially problematic

2. Presupposition in the discussion of free will: What would have to be true about the world for us to have free will?

First, define free will. Consider two possible starting points:
  1. Human agents act outside of causal influence...
  2. Human agents experience choice in a way that they characterize has "free"...
Notice the different "burdens" each of these starting points.
We'll come back to the various positions on this topic, but take notes on them as part of your own background preparation.

3. Basic Positions

  • Hard Determinism
  • Indeterminism
  • Soft Determinism (Compatibilism)
Traditional -- Action caused by agent and not forced.
Deep self. -- Action caused by agent's authentic desire.
  • Liberatarianism

Introduction to Meditation Exercise

I'll take a few minutes toward the end of class to kick off the self-guided meditation exercise for those of you who are doing it in your grading scheme.

Meditation Exercises


Introduction to Buddhism

  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
  1. Normal pain.
  2. Suffering from impermanence.
  3. Suffering from conditions.
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
Note the chain of causal connection advanced on p. 22 of Siderits: ignorance ultimate causes suffering, but the intermediate steps are important.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it.
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. importance of meditation (p. 24)

  • Problems and issues with suffering: What kinds of suffering are there? For Buddhists, for you. [Distinquish good/bad, nec/unnec, etc.]
  • Dependent Origin: what is it? Our cosmic and existential condition. Compare to alienation through original sin.
  • Cessation of suffering: meditation, (non)self-discovery. [Need to assess this more in light of Discourse on Mindfulness and the Eight Fold path (See wiki page Noble Eight Fold Path)
  • Paradox of Liberation

Stace's defense of compatibilism

1. Philosophers who deny free will don't act that way.

2. Thesis: Free will dispute is a verbal dispute. Example.

3. Free will shouldn't be define as "indeterminism".

"Language Analysis"

JONES: I once went without food for a week. SMITH: Did you do that of your own free will? JONES: No. I did it because I was lost in a desert and could find no food.

GANDHI: I once fasted for a week. SMITH: Did you do that of your own free will? GANDHI: Yes. I did it because I wanted to compel the British Government to give India its independence.

JUDGE: Did you steal the bread of your own free will? STACE: Yes. I stole it because I was hungry.

JUDGE: Did you steal the bread of your own free will? STACE: No. I stole because my employer threatened to beat me if I did not.

JUDGE: Did you sign this confession of your own free will? PRISONER: No. I signed it because the police beat me up.

What distinguishes usages in which we say someone is free from saying they are not free?

Criterion can't be determinism since there are causal influences in all cases.

124 "The free acts are all caused by desires, or motives, or by some sort of internal psychological states of the agent's mind. The unfree acts, on the other hand, are all caused by physical forces or physical conditions, outside the agent."


We need to go back and look at the Stace article on compatibilism for our work in free will.

Buddhist Ethics

1. The nature of nirvana

  • Arguments against the "ineffability of nirvana"
  • Arguments against the "punctualist" or "annihilationst" view.
The distinction between conventional truth (using "convenient designators") and ultimate truth.
  • Nirvana as an achieved and integrated awareness of the relative importance of each standpoint for truth. "unlearning the myth of self, while keeping good practices" -- grounding obligations to self / non-self.

2. The nature of obligations to others

Answer on three levels
First - we should obey moral rules because they reflect karmic laws. And we should do that to win release from rebirth.
Second - Doctrine of the three klesas - greed, hatred and delusion. negative feedback loop, therefore need for right speech, right conduct, right livelihood. Motivation to attain the liberating insight into the true nature of the self.
Third, we should be moral because all suffering is ultimately equal.


Free Will

Is moral responsibility compatible with determinism?

Harry Frankfurt, "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility"

1. Does the principle of alternative possibilities conflict with the view that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism?

Principle of Alternative Possibilities;

A person is morally responsible for an action only if they could have done otherwise.

Thesis: The principle is false.

Strategy: develop examples of situations in which a person may do something in circumstances which leave him no alternative and yet we would hold that person responsible for their actions.
1. Jones1 decides to do X and coincidentally is coerced to do it, though the coercion is not felt. (no coercion, moral resp)
2. Jones2 made an earlier decision to do X, but the fear of coercion is what he responds to in doing X. (coercion, no moral resp)
3. Jones3 decides to do X and is coerced to do it. J3 would have done whatever he was coerced to do. (coercion, moral resp)
4. Black and Jones4. Black is ready to defeat Jones4's initial preferences, but he never actually has to. Jones4 "could not have done otherwise" yet he is fully morally responsible for his act.
Even if a person could not have done otherwise, it doesn't follow that he acted because he could not have done otherwise.

Revised Principle of Alternative Possibilities;

A person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he did it only because he could not have done otherwise.

Frankfort claims this revised principle is compatible with determinism. As long as "some" of the reasons that explain the action allow for alternative possibilities,

2. Are freewill and moral responsibility diminished by environmental factors in a person's life and development?

  • Evidence from the article "Damaged"
  • Need to think through the relationships among free will, moral responsibility, and new knowledge about the causes of our behaviors.

Email from this class:


Good class yesterday. I felt the reading level was not as high as it should have been, but the participation showed skills that we're going for in philosophy, especially some of your skeptical challenges. Just right.

I did feel that I was not as clear as I should have been about (at least) one thing, though. It's reasonable to read the "Damaged" article as making the following argument: 1. Some of these criminal monsters we put away or kill are really messed up people. 2. They didn't have the range of options normal people have. C: We should think about their guilt in different ways.

To support this argument, you might want evidence that we are getting good at predicting criminal behavior from the general population. I think we are actually getting better at that, but Angela made a good point that Lewis' research doesn't support that since she draws her research pool from juvenille criminals.

I think I played into this interpretation a bit with my comment about Minority Report. But remember what Frankfort is saying in his argument: The presence or absence of coercion (in the form of limited alternative possibilities) may not be decisive for ascribing free will anyway. The fact that juvenile offenders with the three risk factors she identifies are very very likely to repeat offend suggests that they don't have many alternative possibilities, but Frankfort might give you a basis for saying that might not matter. Likewise, even if we could predict criminal behavior as in Minority Report, we could still assign moral responsibility to the ones to deliberately undertook the act. (In legal lingo, the condition of "mens rea" or a "guilty mind".)

The other lesson from Frankfort, though, is that he is saying that what DOES matter in ascribing free will is the thought process involved. The main defect in thought process we currently track is insanity, but if Frankfurt is right you might have ask whether some sane criminals still lack the thought process necessary to ascribe free will and moral responsibility. To explore this further, give yourself some analogies and thought experiments like the epilepsy case, or the heart condition example. When do we allow "excuses" for failure of cognitive function? What is the status of an excuse if the behavior is radically violent and separation from society is necessary? Does it matter (to justice) if we distinguish these cases from "normal" ones?

This made me think of a weird thought experiment to ask you on Monday, assuming it works out.

Enjoy your weekend.



The Nature of Religion and Religious Truth

Back to Logos, Theos, and Mythos

  • Theos typically requires belief in the truth of claims about supernatural processes or beings. Similar to Logos (Philosophy/science) in this respect, but contemporary religious believers vary widely in the way they hold their beliefs. Consider diverse claims of validity for religious knowledge.

Defining Religion

  • Religion -- "A religion is a system of human thought which usually includes a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power, deity or deities, or ultimate truth." basedn on Clifford Geertz.Religion as a Cultural System, 1973. Cited in Wikipedia
  • In Scot Atran's In Gods We Trust, a recent work on evolutionary explanations of religion:
"(1) a community's costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people's existential anxieties, such as death and deception. " p. 4

Faith and Reason - The problem and some solutions:

Need to bring reason into interaction with faith: either by testing truths of faith or explaining religion.
1. Reason justifies faith.
2. Reason "aids" faith.
3. Faith and Reason are fundamentally separate. (fideism)

Thought experiment, "God at JFK"

Begin Discussion of Proofs for the Existence of God

1. Arguments from experience
2. Cosmological Argument
3. Argument from Design
4. Ontological Argument


The Problem of Evil

Problem for faiths in which God is omnipotent and wholly good.

Pattern Argument for the Logical Problem of Evil:

1. Every good being tries everything in its power to prevent innocent

beings from suffering unnecessary evil.

2. If God exists, and if God is all-good, omniscient, and omnipotent, then innocent beings should not suffer from unnecessary evils (like land mines, diseases, or starvation).
3. But they do suffer from these evils.
C: Either God does not exist or he is not a wholly good being.

-the free will argument in response.

Pattern Argument for the Evidentiary problem of evil.

1. (concession) God's existence is compatible with unnecessary suffering.
2. The existence, kinds, and amounts of suffering in the world make the existence of (or our idea of) God highly implausible.
C: Either God does not exist or hi is not a wholly good being.

Possible "adequate solutions" according to Mackie:

1. You can qualify God's omnipotence.

2. Evil is an illusion.

3. Disorder is harmony misunderstood.

But solutions that do not remove the contradiction are pseudo-solutions for Mackie.

For example:

1. Evil is due to Human Free Will.

Can you coherently argue that it is better on the whole that humans should be free? Couldn't God have made it so that we freely choose the good? (If logically possible to freely choose the good in one case, why not every case?) Second, if men's will's are free, is God omnipotent? Maybe God refrains from controlling us even though he still could. But why?
Paradox of Omnipotence (Mackie, p. 456)

2. The Universe is Better with Some Evil in It

Two approaches: aesthetic analogy or progress dynamism. distinction between 1st and 2nd order goods. 1st order evil nec. for 2nd order good. pain for gain. sympathy (which opens us up to pain of others) for moral virtues like benevolence.
Mackie: But benevolence might be derivative good. We want it to help make us happy. Also, it follows from this approach that God isn't interested in minimizing 1st order evil. That might be disturbing. But the biggest problem is that we are left with no way to explain 2nd order evils like malevolence, cruelty, callousness, and cowardice.

3. Evil is necessary as a means to Good

Is God then subject to this necessity? If God can self-bind, then yes. But why would he?


More work on Proofs for the Existence of God

2. Cosmological Argument

principle of sufficient reason (modern critique of, Russell/Copleston, p. 180 R1)
but grant that, then there might be 3 options for explanation of cosmos:
1. Cosmos always existed (maybe Bang/Crunch)
but there are no actual infinities, are there?
Is it explanatory?
2. Cosmos begins with Singularity (Big Bang)
Why prefer God to a random event?
Contingent being / necessary being. What if?
3. God explains Cosmos

3. Design Arguments

Found object arguments. Paley's watch, memory chip. Counter arguments?
Can natural science explain the accumulation of design?
Creationism: Faith based arguments, arguments from ignorance, attacks on science.

4. Ontological Arguments

Denial of God's existence entails a contradition.
greatest possible .... plus existence?
Kant's argument against treating existence as a predicate (R1 p. 198)

Reflections on Proofs:

Are they proofs? Were they meant to be proofs or aids to reflection?
What do we mean by proof today in relation to knowledge of science? Mathematics again!
Importance of necessity in the proofs.

Putting Barrett's theory together

Chapter 1 -- mental tools
Chapter 2 -- MCIs and MCIs that spread, "do work in a culture"
Chapter 3 -- ADD and HADD
silo explosion story
ToM -recall from Ch. 1, p. 4ff, read ultimately informs our use of the term "person," but includes a nonreflective awareness of agency in general.
note on sex linked preference for religion.
interesting note on "God and Knowledge" - gen. tendency to posit God as possessing "strategic information"


More on Barrett:

Chapter 4 -- Factors supporting credibility of a belief in God
bodiless God supports inferences, connections with social life and moral judgement. Barrett suggests that our commitments to morality makes sense as an extension of our willingness to believe in God.
belief in a caring God comes easily -- tend to imagine God as possessing strategic information about us. high status object, deserving worship.
Biases in attribution of cause -- How do we explain surviving accidents or illness with high mortality?
It is natural for us to establish an exchange relationship with a high status object, such as God. (Costly signal theory -- mention Boyer's defintion)
Chapter 5 -- How Religious Actions Enhance Beliefs in God
mention the Wade article again.
Range of religious actions - "Religious actions, those inspired or shaped by belief in gods, come in various "forms, including worship services, prayer, rituals, ceremonies of various sorts, acts of charity, meditations, teaching, recitations, reading scriptures, dance, and musical performances."
cognitive dissonance theory -- p. 62 read.
evangelists aren't just spreading the faith, they are promoting their own piety.
innocluation effects -. 64
Features of Ceremony, Ritual and Prayer that make them "work" for us. "conceptual control" Which sorts of rituals are favored for our cognitive psychology?
Chapter 6 -- The Naturalness of Belief in God
We'll add this to next week's reading, but I'll give a brief overview of the chapter.



Defending Religion

Why does religion need defending?

  • rise of science, standards for objective knowledge - displacement of literal truth for many religious claims. (Examples hard to avoid.)
  • association of religion with extremism - loyalties that run deeper than commitment to civil government.

Major Strategies for Defending Religion

1. Strong traditionalist position

Religious truths are rational in just the same way that scientific truths are.
Warrants: Taking religion seriously means regarding it a true.
Problems: Hard to defend without some retrieve of Aristoteleanism, which most scientists and philosophers would find hard to fit with contemporary science. On scientific grounds we simply wouldn't find relgious truths to be qualified as true knowledge.

2. NOMA hypothesis

From Gould:
"NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."[1]
Also the position of the National Academy of Sciences since 1999.
Problems with NOMA -- need for a coherent cognitive psychology. How do the two magisteria interrelate? Are there two kinds of truth? Are facts and values really that separate? Don't truths about human development and health also indicate values and obligations, at least for a typical happiness seeking human organism?
Responses -- You might reply that "rational" believers today do separate their religion from science, so the position "fits" with the way people often do think about their religious and scientific knowledge. Most believers today (in the post-industrial west anyway) do not expect others to consider their religious beliefs to be true the way they expect other to accept their factual claims about the world (say, in a court of law).

3. Modifying NOMA: Naturalizing religion.

NOMA captures a number of distinctive aspects of religious vs. scientific thought that do suggest that the two cultural forms are separate. Many questions that religions try to answer are about ultimate values. Science doesn't initially seem like a form of knowledge about values. As we noted above, validity claims (for religious and non-religious truth) are understood differently by religious believers living in scientific cultures than they have been in traditional homogenous religious cultures.
But this still doesn't help us with the relationship between the two. What does it mean to understand religion as a part of the natural world. Does this understanding "reduce" religion to psychology?
  • importance of methodological pluralism -- recognition of the 1st person perspective.
  • the natural history of religion may not disclose any evidence for or against a particular religion, but might help explain how religion came to exist in the natural world. Neutral with respect to the necessity or truth of religion.
  • includes the possibility that religion has value to humans whether it is true of false.

Barrett, Later Chapters

Chapter 6 -- The Naturalness of Belief in God

:"In this chapter, I argue the somewhat controversial position that many basic aspects of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim theologies give these religions further advantages over some others." had just mentioned how religions vary in how they spread, how reproducible they are.

Considers Anthropomorphism argument for explaining child's facility in thinking about God, but claims ToM is stronger hypothesis -- more flexible (applies to all agents)

Argues that early childhood ability to think about God is not based on anthropomorphism, but rather, we don't orignially represent God as anthropos, we start with a pure ToM orientation toward agency and intentionality -- doesn't matter if it's a spider, mammal or divine agents. What we have originally is ToM not a God-as-man bias.

False belief test for 3-5 year olds -- Cracker box with rocks. Would Mom know it had rocks? 3-y 5-n. But culturally universal belief that God would know. Point: Child's facility in separating agency and humanity suggests child isn't starting with human concept. Supports a bias toward a superknowing God.

Repeats argument pattern using evidence of the facility of seeing God as superperceiving, all powerful, and as a creator.

Chapter 7: The Naturalness of Believing in Minds

Analog for Understanding Belief in God.
existence of minds neither verifiable or falsifiable. starts nonreflectively.
we think about minds separately from bodies, so the fact that God doesn't appear to have a body isn't a big problem cognitively.
simulation theory helps us figure out that others' have minds.

Chapter 8: Why wouldn't anyone believe in God?

tries to suggest difficulty of being an atheist.
some bad arguments on p. 112.
In "Fighting Back Theism", he argues that maintaining atheism requires active struggle or cognitive energy. Not sure that's true, or that he's in a position to judge that.

Point: If non-reflective mental tools are continually generating god-friendly thoughts, then atheism may require some energy to conserve. Or, you could simply enjoy these associations without crediting them with transcendental truth. On Barrett's theory an atheist can actually still invoke (or damn) God. The tools are still there.

[What other resources are there for the aetheist, however? Cultivation of good will, recognition of equality of other's happiness, experience of gratitude for good fortune, savoring, appreciating persons. Many of these things can be the product of philosophical reflection, as well as religious experience. Why? Perhaps they rely on the same mental tools.]