Philosophy of Human Nature Lecture Notes

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Go to Lecture Notes for Part Two of the Course

We'll use this page to post supplemental material to our class sessions. - Alfino

1/13/2009: Course Intro

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

Identifying the Philosophical

  • Turn toward basic questions
  • Meta-level cognition in general - theorizing
  • In the Structure of Knowledge

Note to Class

Thanks for a good first class. Please go through your "to do" list from class and let me know if you have any difficulties.

Also, here's your first journal assignment: For Thursday: After reading the excerpt from the Apology, summarize in one or two paragraphs the main charges against Socrates and his defense. Select a detail or two that you find particularly interesting. Then make a brief (one paragraph) assessment of Socrates defense. End with one or two questions you still have after reading the passage. 1 - 1.5 pages, typed, double spaced.


What is Real? (1st Exercise)

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

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

Go to Philosophical Methods


Introduction to Platonic Metaphysics

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

The real is what persists through all changes and manifestations.

Rationality and the Project of Essential Definition

Through the project of giving essential definiutions (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.

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.

Divided Line



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.


Part One: Initial Three Speeches of Symposium

The main focus of today's class will be the three speeches on love by Phaedrus, Pausanias and Eryximachus, from the Symposium.




What kind of thing is love, should it be praised, and if so, how? For motivating us to virtue? Is love about intimate relationship (sexual or not) or is it a broader force in the universe?

Exercise: Beginning your theory of the value of love.

Part Two: Introduction to Epistemology

Types of Knowledge

Propositional, Know-how, Knowledge by acquaintance

Defining Knowledge as "true, justified belief"

Skepticism, Empiricism, and Rationalism



--Review terms in Epistemology


Could There be another world "behind" or "alongside" this one, as in the Matrix?
Could I be radically wrong about my knowledge of this world?

Love: Aristophanes, theorizing without Plato

Aristophanes' speech: summary
Try leaving Plato aside and start theorizing about love from your current knowledge and reasonable inferences.

A naturalist starting point for love
Love as a "quasi-universal," but variable product of human culture, based in our organic drives and evolved cognitive and affective structures.
Consider theoretical possibilities, Could I be radically wrong about this? What questions does it answer or leave unanswered?
The "normativity" of reason.

Show parabola video if there is time.[1]


-study question review, roll call question, grading schemes.

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 soemthing needs beauty and does not have it, one cannot be beautiful.

Love is not possession, but the desire of the beloved. Or the desire of the continuation of the love.

philosophia vs. sophia

Part B: Scepticism and Foundations of Certainty

review of Descartes' 1st Mediation, looking to Meditation 2.


Empiricism and Rationalism

Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, dates, timeline on Enlightment.
Classifying knowledge, compare items on 62, 63, and 74. What makes something empirically vs. rationally known.
Empiricism -- belief that the evidence of our sense is the source of certainty of objective knowledge.
Problem: Establishing the "inferential structure" to get from sense experience to knowledge. Three possibilities:
  1. Naive Realism
  2. Indirect Realism
  3. Idealism
Primary / Secondary qualities as solution to problem of naive realism.
problem of induction


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.


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.
Origin of Love from Penia and Poros, description
Love is a lover of wisdom.
What dos the lover of beautiful thinks desire? - to possess the beloved, why?, (note substitution of "good"), to achieve happiness.
Problem of the scope of the word love - like "poesis"
206B: Love is wanting to possess the good forever.
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)
Destiny of those pregnant in soul -- the Scala Amoris! 210B and following.



Introduction to Personal Identity

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

Major Theories of Self

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

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


Letter to Menoeceus:

  • Gods --
  • Death --
  • Desire -- natural/vain, necessary/unnecessary
  • Pleasure --
add distinction between kinetic and katastematic.

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


No Class today.


-Refresher and questions about Personal Identity theories (R1)

-Mixing theories - "inflationary" vs. "deflationary" philosophical theories.

-Parfit: Brown and Robinson, Psychological Continuity (explicated by "q-memory") [note on method]

secular resurrection, club thought experiment.

-Dennett: Story recall. Philosophical point. deflationary theories ("good" and "bad" reductivism)

-Small Group work (12:20 or so.)

-Last 20 min. for transition to Stoicism and early discussion of Epictetus:

contrast Stoics and Epicureans on theology, ontology, human nature, and the good life.
Getting into the Enchiridion.


Advice about Papers

Reading the Enchiridion

We'll get some of the basic distinctions and issues on the table for exploring the Enchiridion. This will set up group work in which you probe these ideas further.

Personal Identity

Cognitive Pscyhology research related to personal identity.

  • research on infant sociability, face recognition.
  • experiments which demonstrate attribution on agency and intentionality.
  • Bering and Bjorklund story about Alligator and Mouse.
  • theorizing a "duality of experience" from this research.

I'll ask you to follow the Perry dialogue on your own.


No Self: Buddhism

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

"I" as executive function

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


No notes. Mid-term exam today.


Review of 1st part of the semester.

  • Defining Philosophy: Logos, Mythos, and Theos.
  • Philosophical Method
  • Plato's Model
  • Love
  • Knowledge
  • Personal Identity

Coming Attractions.

  • Last major historical study: Buddhism
  • Meditation experiential exercise.
  • Free Will
  • The Nature of Religion

Reminders for philosophical work in the second half of the semester.

  • Philosophy as the why language.
  • When representing a view, identify it succinctly by its main claims.
  • Be sure to "step back" from critical analysis of specific arguments, to assess the larger questions.

Papers and Mid-terms returned.

Old Material: