Spring 2010 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


  1. Course Goals
  2. Roll Call
  3. Schedule, Grading Schemes, Wiki, Participation 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.
Philosophy uses general tools of reasoning and knowledge to answer basic questions and to develop theories about the nature of reality, both as a whole and in parts.

Philosophical Methods

Go to Philosophical Methods
Go to General Overview of Critical Thinking Concepts

What is Real? (1st Exercise)

In small groups, generate a list of criteria or a definition for calling something "real". Then try to figure out if you can find reasons for preferring one set of criteria or definition over another.


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 of 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 directly comparable to forms of rational knowledge such as science.
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 say that is never successful. And story telling almost always seems to imply a view of life and a hence a range of philosophies.
Additional details/questions from R1: distinction between philosophy and science, branches of philosophy.

Plato, Euthyphro

  • Summary of the dialogue.
  • How does Socrates come across in this dialogue?
  • Euthytphro 10

Group Exercise on Objectivity

In your small groups, consider the nature of objectivity from Euthyphro 10. Begin my making a list of things that are what they are because we say so (subjective), as opposed to things that are what they are independently of what we think about them (subjective). At first, generate your list without raising any questions about the items. Then, after you have 15-20 items, go back and look at the list. What priniciple distinguishes the subjective from the objective items? Is the distinction clear in all cases. Try to say what is difficult about the mixed cases. Use your analysis to start coming up with a view about the nature of objectivity and subjectivity.

Philosophical Methods

We'll briefly highlight the philosophical methods we saw in the 1st group exercise on the "real" (lists, definition, using a principle to distinguish cases), and connect it with the methods we used in the exercise above.

Also, I will work in some review of argument theory since the next, and main, philosophical methods we will on are reconstruction or rationales and critical response to points of view.

We'll start with these concepts:

  • claim
  • rationale
  • argument
  • explanation


Review of Euthyphro Question and Participation Journal #1

Look at model student work on the wiki.
Review of what's at stake.
Going beyond identifying the issue -- a look at the argument: Euthyphro 11.
Digression ahead of our discussion topic today: Is Socrates a blashphemer?

Review of Apology

  • Main story, accusations, defense.
  • What is the image of Socrates in this dialogue? The image of philosophy.

Group Exercise

Today's group exercise doesn't involve doing philosophy. Rather, I'd like you to use the image of Socrates in the Apology to start a discussion about the nature of philosophy. Is Socrates a blasphemer by virture of his activity? Is Socrates a hero for you in Plato's depiction, a really eccentric crank who finally had to be put down, or something in between?

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. Independently of the search for essential definitions, one might reason that abstract relationships underlie 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 intellect we bring to 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 of Your own personal list of methods
Rauhut Chapter Two, "Philosophical Tools"
Don't forget Crtical Thinking review articles on main page. General Overview of Critical Thinking Concepts
Brief focus, if time permits: Assessment of Rationales & Critical Response.


More on Plato's Worldview: Form, Theorizing, and the Body

form and matter: Plato and Aristotle.
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

Greek homosexuality - Livius Article.
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!

Group Exercise

The first three speakers in the Symposium seem to illustrate constrasting starting points for thinking about love. While the speakers are not philosophers, it is reasonable to suppose that Plato thought they were examples of how people from different walks of life are groping toward a philosophical view. As we'll see, he sets up Socrates to deliver the main philosophical position. Here, at the start, we have a chance to look at the early speeches and do our own parallel philosophical work. We'll begin this together and then continue it in groups:

What resources do we have for understanding the nature of love?
  • phenomenal experience of love, including reflective awareness of cultural variation.
  • the biology of experience of love
  • religious accounts of love
  • evolutionary accounts of love
Consider the first three views. What kinds of theories are being offered? Can we come up with reasons for thinking of love as one things, two things, a narrow phenomenon, or a broad phenomenon.
Use your philosophical methods.
Today's new methods:
1. looking for implications that follow from initial commitments (in this case, on the nature of love).
2. Brainstorm: "Questions a good theory of _______ should be able to answer?"


Kant on the Value of Philosophy

Kant and Russell speak from very different places in the History of philosophy, so we'll need to consider this as we interpret his statement.

Introduction to Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of the grounds and nature of human knowledge.

Types of Knowledge

Knowledge by acquaintance

Defining Knowledge as "true, justified belief"

Consider all three factors.
Cases of having a good justification, but not truth.
Cases of having truth, but the wrong justification.
Gettier Cases [2]

Group Exercise

Look at the following list of knowledge claims from Rauhut and, for each, discuss the kind of knowledge involved (develop a vocabulary for classifying, but also consider vocabulary from your reading), the degree or type of certainty involved, and whether you could be proved wrong. Group similar knowledge claims.

  1. I know that I have two hands.
  2. I know that my parents will never get divorced.
  3. I know that other people experience the smell of coffee just as I do.
  4. I know that Joe Montana is a better quarterback than John EJway.
  5. I know that water is H,0.
  6. I know that all people are created equal.
  7. I know that dinosaurs have existed on E.arth in the past.
  8. I know that there are nine planets in our solar system.
  9. I know that Michael Jackson was an emotionally troubled man.

Skepticism, Empiricism, and Rationalism

global vs. local skepticism
global scepticism as self-refuting if claimed as a truth

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.


Catching up on Love - Aristophanes

  • the completion metaphor vs. ?
  • roll call question
  • ways that love can be realized in human culture given our biological design.
  • how to develope a faith-based philosophy of love.


  • Comparing and contrasting the Matrix, the Brain in the Vat, and Cartesian scepticism (Meditation 1)
  • Could dream and reality be radically confused? Is there a point of certainty?
  • Open discussion: Could we be in this situation right now?

Descartes, Meditation 1

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.

Group Exercise

Continue the discussion of the possibility of being radically deceived about your experience. Identifying each others' views and help members of your group to develop several discrete arguments on the question (please record these in notes). Then transition the discussion to "sources of certainty." Consider not only different ways (from simple to profound) that you could be wrong about the world, but also the different degrees of certainty you have about aspects of your world (from least certain to most certain). Where does the cogito fall?


Socrates Questioning of Agathon

Is love love of something?
Love loves that which he/she has need of.
You don't need something you already have.
C: Love is the pursuit of something we have need of.
Does our need of the Good cover all cases of genuine love?

Group Exercise

Has Socrates located a necessary starting point in thinking about the nature of love? Is love our pursuit of the Good? If so, what is the role of the lover?

Is this way of looking at love compatible with what we know about love from psychology and biology?

Advice about writing philosophy

  1. Get right to your task
  2. "It's about the rationales"
  3. Use your methods

Descartes' Meditation 2

  • Archimedian Point: Cogito. I cannot be deceived into thinking that I am, so my knowledge that I am is certain.
  • What else can I know with certainty aside from the Cogito? That I doubt, perceive, affirm, deny, will, imagine, feel.
  • Wax Example: establishing that knowledge of objects is "clear and distinct"
  • Comparing Descartes' problem of knowledge to ours.


Empiricism and Rationalism


--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?
Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, dates, check the Timeline: Timeline for locating Locke, Berkeley and Hume
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 realist that perception is no longer the sole source of certainty?
Problem of Induction (basic definition here, more discussion later)


--the belief that our knowledge is partly or chiefly constituted by that activity of pure reason.
classical examples: Pythagorean Theorem.
modern examples: Descartes and the developement of analytic algebra, probability theory, calculus, E8?
apriori/aposteriori knowledge
necessary/contingent truths
viewing of Garrett Lisi video
rationalism also in thought about the limits of consciousness (pentatonic scale video).
rationalism in political thought: rights intuited by reason?



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.
Scolds Socrates for false dichotomy. Love could be neither ugly nor beautiful. Between mortal and god. Semi-divine force.
Story of the Origin of Love:Origin of Love from Penia and Poros, description
Love is a lover of wisdom. Love is not so much 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, philanthrophy)
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

Group Exercise

Plato has made a case that love must be the active pursuit of beautiful and of wisdom. True lovers climb the Scala Amoris from ignorance to wisdom. By acquiring wisdom we become beatiful as well. Consider Plato's fundamental claim that love is focused on the Good. How might it compare to competing ideas (ex. that love is just enjoyment of friends, family and intimate company)? Does it connect with biological or theological approaches to love?


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. Many of these schools took adult students who say philosophical instruction as a means of achieving well being. Contemporary philosophers sometimes refer to philosophy in the hellenistic period as "therapeutic."
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.
The relationship between virture and pleasure in Epicurus.

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

Group Exercise

Make a preliminary assessment of insights and problems from Epicurus. Remember, this is just the beginning of your reflection on Epicurus, so try to pose questions about the ideas that seem most odd or challenging. I'll try to answer some questions when I visit your group.

Empiricism and the Problem of Induction

Major concepts from the Locke reading:
  • idea, sensation, reflection,
  • On the certainty of sensation: p. 95.
  • Primary qualities: solidity, extension, figure, motion/rest, number...
  • Secondary qualities: bulk, figure, texture, color sound, taste, ...
The Problem of Induction
Rauhut 1, p. 70-73.
Principle of the Uniformity of Nature
Hospers, nature of evidence (103) and "probable," pragamatic solution on 104.