Friday, 17 November 2017

World's first human head transplant is successfully carried out

Head transplants do not belong to the realm of science fiction any longer. Telegraph reports: "The world's first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse in China in an 18-hour operation that showed it was possible to successfully reconnect the spine, nerves and blood vessels."

I think this head transplant operation will have a decisive impact on the philosophy of mind and body? Now the philosophers will have to revise their view of human life and human mind. This is another instance where technological development is driving philosophy.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

On Duns Scotus

“Looking back on the Middle Ages, we may tend to see in the system of Duns Scotus a bridge between the two centuries, between the age of St. Thomas and the age of Ockham; but Ockham himself certainly did not see in Scotus a kindred spirit, and I think that even if Scotus’s philosophy did prepare the way for a more radical criticism his system must be regarded as the last of the great mediaeval speculative syntheses.” ~ Frederic Copleston in A History of Philosophy (Volume II)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Aquinas and Aristotelianism

Thomas Aquinas did not reintroduce Aristotle to Europe. Aristotle was known to European scholars from the time of the Roman empire. Aquinas contributed by completing the process of absorbing Greek philosophy which had begun during the Roman period—he substituted the neo-Platonism in Christian thought with Aristotelianism and a few other elements.

Here’s an excerpt from Frederic Copleston’s A History of Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus (Volume II) (Page 561):
“In a sense we can say that neo-Platonism, Augustinianism, Aristotelianism and the Moslem and Jewish philosophies came together and were fused in Thomism, not in the sense that selected elements were juxtaposed mechanically, but in the sense that a true fusion and synthesis was achieved under the regulating guidance of certain basic ideas. Thomism, in the fullest sense, is thus a synthesis of Christian theology and Greek philosophy (Aristotelianism, united with other elements, or Aristotelianism, interpreted in the light of later philosophy) in which philosophy is regarded in the light of theology and theology itself is expressed, to a conservable extent, in categories borrowed from Greek philosophy, particularly from Aristotle.”
... Thomism is a synthesis of Christian theology and Greek philosophy, which might seem to imply that Thomism in the narrower sense, that is, as denoting simply the Thomist philosophy, is a synthesis of Greek philosophy and that it is nothing else but Greek philosophy. In the first place, it seems preferable to speak of Greek philosophy rather than of Aristotelianism, for the simple reason that St. Thomas’s philosophy was a synthesis of Platonism (using the term in a wide sense, to include neo-Platonism) and of Aristotelianism, though one should not forget that the Moslem and Jewish philosophers were also important influences in the formation of his thought.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?

The major philosophers in history— Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant and Hegel—have not given a name to their philosophy.

The trend of philosophers giving a name to their philosophical system is less than two hundred years old—it took off in the 19th century and became a widespread phenomenon in the 20th century when almost every popular philosopher and his sidekick were bestowing a name to their system.

Auguste Comte coined the name “Altruism” for his philosophy in the 1850s. C. S. Peirce used the word “Pragmatism” for the first time in the 1870s. Later on Pragmatism was developed into a philosophical system by William James and John Dewey. In the 1920s and 1930s, the philosophical system of “Logical Positivism” was developed through the efforts of philosophers like Moritz Schlick, Hans Reichenbach, Kurt Grelling, Walter Dubislav, Karl Menger, Kurt Gödel, and a few others.

In the early 20th century, there was the rise of the “Analytic Tradition” of philosophy due to the efforts of Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and the Logical Positivist philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard, who is generally regarded as the first Existentialist philosopher did his work in the 19th century, but Existentialism became popular in the 20th century when Jean-Paul Sartre appropriated the term “Existentialism” to describe his own ideas.

The fiction writer Ayn Rand started using the term “Objectivism” in the 1960s to describe her philosophy of reason and individualism. In the 1980s, Jacques Derrida coined the term “Deconstructivism” to describe his postmodernist ideas of art and culture.

The most important quality of these 19th and 20th century philosophies, which have a unique name, is that they evoke the feeling of cultism. Auguste Comte had initially conceived Altruism as a spiritual movement—he even planned to build churches to propagate the altruist doctrine. Pragmatism under James and Dewey had a cult like atmosphere. In Logical Positivism and the Analytic Tradition the key philosophers were treated like some kind of omniscient God.

In the heydays of Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre was treated as an intellectual pope of the world whose every word must be regarded as the gospel truth. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has been charged by several intellectuals of having a cult like environment in which the top Objectivist philosophers are deified. Jacques Derrida’s Deconstructivism has worsened the problem of cultism in the postmodernist movement.

The question that I ask in the title of this article is: "Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?"

My answer is that it is wrong to give a name to a philosophical system. A philosopher has the copyright to the books and essays he writes and the lectures that he delivers, and that is enough to safeguard the integrity of his work and his legacy. The philosophy that distills out of his works, is in essence, his way of describing man’s place in the world—it does not need a name. If a philosopher gives a name to his philosophy, he is essentially starting a cult.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

You Don’t Have The Right to be Wrong

Freedom of belief is seen as an important value in our society—it is interpreted as the right not to be coerced into believing something. This is correct. But many people believe that freedom of belief grants them a right to hold a false belief, and that they have the right to be wrong. They think that the freedom of thought necessitates the freedom to make mistakes.

In his article, “Is There a Right to be Wrong?” David Oderberg shows that there is nothing called the right to be wrong and no one has the freedom to make mistakes. He writes: “Morality itself demands that we seek and believe only the truth, since only the truth satisfies our rational nature. It is the truth that sets us free, not error. Of course knowing the truth is not always easy, especially in times such as these when diversity of opinion is prized as a great social value.”

Freedom does not mean the freedom to hold false belief because if you hold a false belief you are in essence a slave to your ignorance. Oderberg rightly says that “as the lost man wandering the desert without a map is free to explore any direction he likes but is in reality a slave to his ignorance. It is the man with a map who is truly free.”

Oderberg ends his article with these lines:
The ‘right to be wrong’ is, I conclude, a myth. There is an obligation to weigh evidence and to assess argument, and you may be blameless in your embracing of a falsehood as long as that embrace occurs despite the proper use of your intellect rather than as a consequence of its misuse. To say or imply, however, that a person has the right to embrace falsehood is to assist in the spreading of the sort of indifferentism and syncretism that is one of the hallmarks of contemporary society.
People have the right to believe in the truth, which means that they do not have the right to believe in falsehoods. The right to be wrong is a modern myth.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Aristotle and Contemporary Science

Routledge has released a new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science, edited by William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons, and Nicholas J. Teh.

This book has essays by Xavi Lanao, Edward Feser, Nicholas Teh, Robert Koons, Alexander Pruss, William Simpson, Tuomas Tahko, Christopher Austin, Anna Marmodoro, David Oderberg, Janice Chik, William Jaworski, and Daniel De Haan, and a foreword by John Haldane.

The book's description says:
"Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science aims to fill this gap in the literature by bringing together essays on the relationship between Aristotelianism and science that cut across interdisciplinary boundaries. The chapters in this volume are divided into two main sections covering the philosophy of physics and the philosophy of the life sciences. Featuring original contributions from distinguished and early-career scholars, this book will be of interest to specialists in analytical metaphysics and the philosophy of science." 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Aristotle’s Truly Happy Man

Frederic Copleston on Aristotle’s eudaemonistic ethic:
Aristotle’s ethic was thus eudaemonistic in character, teleological, and markedly intellectualist, since it is clear that for him contemplation meant philosophical contemplation: he was not referring to a religious phenomenon, such as the ecstasy of Plotinus. Moreover, the end (telos) of moral activity is an end to be acquired in this life: as far as the ethics of Aristotle are concerned there is no hint of any vision of God in the next life, and it is indeed questionable whether he believed in personal immortality at all. Aristotle’s truly happy man is the philosopher, not the saint. 
(Source: History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus by Frederic Copleston; Chapter 29, “St. Thomas Aquinas: Moral Theory”)

Jordan Peterson: What Advice Would You Give Your 16-Year Old Self?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Aristotle and Common Sense

Here’s an excerpt from Edward Feser’s article, “Aristotle, Call Your Office”:
To untutored common sense, the natural world is filled with irreducibly different kinds of objects and qualities: people; dogs and cats; trees and flowers; rocks, dirt, and water; colors, odors, sounds; heat and cold; meanings and purposes. A man is a radically different sort of thing from a rose, which is in turn no less different from a stone. The warmth of the stone and the redness and fragrance of the rose are features no less real than their shapes or movements; the function of an ear or an eye and the meaning of a human thought or utterance are no less a part of objective reality than a man’s height or weight.  
Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition that built on his thought took the view that common sense was essentially correct. It needed to be systematized and refined, and when its implications were drawn out they would lead to metaphysical conclusions far beyond anything the man on the street is likely to have dreamed of, or even to understand. But a sound philosophy and science would nevertheless build on common sense rather than radically undermine it.  
The founders of modern philosophy and science overthrew Aristotelianism, and common sense along with it. On the new view of nature inaugurated by Galileo and Descartes, the material world is comprised of nothing more than colorless, odorless, soundless, meaningless, purposeless particles in motion, describable in purely mathematical terms. The differences between dirt, water, rocks, trees, dogs, cats, and human bodies are on this view superficial. 
Indeed, at bottom these are all just the same kinds of thing”arrangements within the one vast ocean of physical particles, the differences between the arrangements ultimately no deeper than the differences between waves on the same sea. Color, sound, odor, heat, and cold”understood in the qualitative way common sense understands them”are relegated to the mind, existing only in our conscious representation of the natural world, not in the world itself. Color, sound, and the rest as objective features would be redefined in quantitative terms”reflectance properties of physical surfaces, compression waves, and the like.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Carolingian Renaissance

In A History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus, Frederick Copleston offers an insight into the Carolingian Renaissance which flowered during the reign of the Carolingian ruler Charlemagne and was the first of the three medieval renaissances. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter II, “The Carolingian Renaissance”:
Charlemagne’s renaissance aimed at a dissemination of existing learning and what it accomplished was indeed remarkable enough; but it did not lead to original thought and speculation, except in the one instance of John Scotus’s system. If the Carolingian empire and civilization had survived and continued to flourish, a period of original work would doubtless have eventuated at length, but actually it was destined to be submerged in the new Dark Ages and there would be need of another renaissance before the medieval period of positive, constructive and original work could be realized.
Copleston’s description of the reasons behind the Carolingian Renaissance and its impact on mediaeval European society provides an answer to the important question: Why didn’t the Arabs have a Renaissance when they had several Aristotelian scholars like Avicenna and Averroes?

The Arab Kingdoms could not have a renaissance because they didn’t have a 1000 year long history of arguing for or against Aristotle. The Arab society’s contact with Aristotelianism was at a superficial level, with the discussion being confined to a few scholars like Avicenna and Averroes.

The situation, with respect to Aristotle, was markedly different in Europe, where Aristotelian ideas were being actively debated by a wide range of scholars for almost 1000 years before Aquinas. In fact, Averroes’s work was very widely read and discussed in Europe, but it did not evoke any interest in the Middle East.

Thomas Aquinas did not rediscover Aristotle in the 12th century—Aristotle was never forgotten in Europe and he didn’t need any rediscovery. The contribution of Aquinas is that his works made Aristotle's ideas dramatic and accessible to a wider public. Before Aquinas, Aristotle was known only to a fringe group of scholars, but after him Aristotle started acquiring the intellectual centerstage.

According to Copleston, historical factors outside the sphere of philosophy led to the collapse of the empire of Charlemagne and with that the Carolingian Renaissance came to an end. Here’s an excerpt:
In addition to the internal factors which prevented the fruit of the Carolingian renaissance coming to maturity (such as the political disintegration which led in the tenth century to the transference of the imperial crown from France to Germany, the decay of monastic and ecclesiastical life, and the degradation of the Papacy), there were also operative such external factors as the attacks of the Norsemen in the ninth and tenth centuries, who destroyed centers of wealth and culture and checked the development of civilization, as also the attacks of the Saracens and the Mongols. Internal decay, combined with external dangers and attacks, rendered cultural progress impossible. To conserve, or to attempt to do so, was the only practicable course: progress in scholarship and philosophy lay again in the future. 
The Europeans could recover from the failure of the Carolingian Renaissance because the Aristotelian ideas were deep rooted in their society. In the 10th century they had their second renaissance which was the Ottonian Renaissance, and when that too failed, they had their third renaissance of the 12th century. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

On Teleology and Self-Perfection

Here's an interesting quote from David S. Oderberg’s essay, "The Great Unifier: Form and Unity of the Organism":
For the many philosophers who reflexively recoil at talk of teleology and final causes, the idea can be put in a different yet familiar way: organisms act for their own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Their parts all serve the overall goal of the organism’s flourishing. The organism, unless it has reason, does not set itself this goal; and even rational animals such as ourselves do not set every element of our goal of flourishing as human beings: much of what we do is no more than what happens to us or consists of the processes we inevitably undergo for our own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Yet the goal is there, however we got it and however any organism of any kind got it. Using more traditional terminology, I claim that organisms display immanent causation: causation that originates with an agent and terminates in that agent for the sake of its self-perfection . By ‘self-perfection’ I do not mean that there is some ideal type that every organism strives to reach. The idea is far more modest—namely that every organism aims, whether consciously or not, at the fulfilment of its potentialities such that it achieves a good state of being, indeed the best state it can reach given the limitations of its kind and its environment. Immanent causation is a kind of teleology, but metaphysically distinctive in what it involves. It is not just action for a purpose, but for the agent’s own purpose, where ‘own purpose’ means not merely that the agent acts for a purpose it possesses, but that it acts for a purpose it possesses such that fulfilment of the purpose contributes to the agent’s self-perfection.
The essay is published in the book, Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Science), Edited by William M.R. Simpson,‎ Robert C. Koons,‎ and Nicholas J. Teh

Saturday, 4 November 2017

On The Role of The Arab Aristotelians

Frederic Copleston is of the view that the Arab philosophers like Avicenna and Averroes propagated a neo-Platonic version of Aristotelianism in medieval Europe.

In his book, A History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus, Copleston points out that a more authentic version of Aristotelianism was being propagated by Christian scholars like Boethius. He says that by coming up with several Latin translations of Aristotle’s works, the Christian scholars popularized Aristotelian logic and metaphysics in medieval Europe. He holds the Arab philosophers (mainly Averroes) responsible for fueling opposition to Aristotelianism.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6, “Islamic and Jewish Philosophy Translations,” of Copleston’s A History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus:
The Arabian philosophy was one of the principal channels whereby the complete Aristotle was introduced to the West; but the great philosophers of medieval Islam, men like Avicenna and Averroes, were more than mere transmitters or even commentators; they changed and developed the philosophy of Aristotle, more or less according to the spirit of neo-Platonism, and several of them interpreted Aristotle on important points in a sense which, whether exegetically correct or not, was incompatible with the Christian theology and faith. Aristotle, therefore, when he appeared to medieval Christian thinkers in the shape given him by Averroes, for example, naturally appeared as an enemy of Christian wisdom, Christian philosophy in the wide sense. This fact explains to a large extent the opposition offered to Aristotelianism in the thirteenth century by many upholders of the Christian tradition who looked on the pagan philosopher as the foe of Augustine, Anselm and the great philosophers of Christianity. The opposition varied in degree, from a rather crude dislike and fear of novelty, to the reasoned opposition of the thinker like St. Bonaventure; but it become easier to understand the opposition if one remembers that a Moslem philosopher such as Averroes claimed to give the right interpretation of Aristotle and that this interpretation was, on important questions, at variance with Christian belief. It explains too the attention paid to the Islamic philosophers by those (particularly, of course, St. Thomas Aquinas) who saw in the Aristotelian system not only a valuable instrument for the dialectical expression of Christian theology but also the true philosophy, for such thinkers had to show that Aristotelianism did not necessarily involve the interpretation given to it by the Moslems; they had to dissociate themselves from Averroes and to distinguish their Aristotelianism from his.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Slivers of Light in The Dark Ages

Boethius teaching his students
What was the level of darkness in the so-called Dark Ages? If we take the knowledge of Aristotelian ideas as one of the barometers for there being intellectual light in a civilization, then it seems that the European Dark Ages were not as intellectually dark as most popular historians describe it to be.

I am currently reading A History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus by historian Frederic Copleston. The inference that I draw from the chapters that I have read thus far is that the interest in Aristotle never came to an end in Europe. There was almost a continuous line of scholars from the days of the Roman Empire to the 13th century, when Thomas Aquinas arrived on the scene and took Aristotelianism to a much wider audience, who were taking active interest in Aristotle’s teachings.

Copleston offers brief introduction to several scholars in the Middle Ages who were studying Aristotle and commenting on his ideas.

One of these scholars is Boethius (AD 480—524/5) who, according to Copleston, transmitted to the mediaeval Europeans the knowledge of Aristotelian logic. Boethius wrote several works on logic and translated Aristotle’s Organon into Latin. He has also commented on the Isagoge which was written by Porphyry in Greek during the years 268-270. The Isagoge is an introduction to Aristotle’s Categories. Boethius may have translated other works of Aristotle, because in his extant works he mentions several salient Aristotelian doctrines.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 10, “Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isidore,” of Copleston’s A History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus:
Boethius, then, was of very considerable importance, for he transmitted to the earlier Middle Ages a great part of the knowledge of Aristotle then available. In addition, his application of philosophical categories to theology helped towards the development of theological science, while his use of and definition of philosophical terms was of service to both theology and philosophy. Lastly we may mention the influence exercised by his composition of commentaries, for this type of writing became a favorite method of composition among the medievals. Even if not particularly remarkable as an original and independent philosopher, Boethius is yet of major significance as a transmitter and as a philosopher who attempted to express Christian doctrine in terms drawn, not simply from the neo-Platonists, but also from the philosopher whose thought was to become a predominant influence in the greatest philosophical synthesis of the Middle Ages.  
Boethius’s work was carried forward by his two pupils, Cassiodorus and Isidore. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has lot of interesting information on  Boethius’s life and works. 

Monday, 30 October 2017

On Elizabeth Anscombe’s Modern Moral Philosophy

Elizabeth Anscombe, in her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” argues that the secular approaches to moral theory, like Mill’s utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, are without any foundation.

She holds that utilitarianism leads one to endorsing evil deeds, while Kantian ethics, with its notion of self-legislation, is incoherent. At the essay’s outset she says: “Concepts of obligation, and duty — moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say — and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought," ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.”

She suggests that unless there is a divine entity, the concepts such as “morally ought,” “morally obligated,” “morally right,” cannot be justified. A moral theory, she holds, requires a legislator to legislate what is morally right. In her view the modern ethical philosophers are making a mistake when they talk about actions that are “morally right or morally wrong,” but fail to define the entity which promulgates the moral law.

According to Anscombe, without the idea of divine, the concept of “morally right and morally wrong” is meaningless. She posits that the secular philosophers should use terms such as “untruthful,” “unchaste,” “unjust.” Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“I should judge that Hume and our present-day ethicists had done a considerable service by showing that no content could be found in the notion "morally ought"; if it were not that the latter philosophers try to find an alternative (very fishy) content and to retain the psychological force of the term. It would be most reasonable to drop it. It has no reasonable sense outside a law conception of ethics; they are not going to maintain such a conception; and you can do ethics without it, as is shown by the example of Aristotle. It would be a great improvement if, instead of "morally wrong," one always named a genus such as "untruthful," "unchaste," "unjust." We should no longer ask whether doing something was "wrong," passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust…”

However, Anscombe is not saying that only religious thinkers are entitled to talk about what is morally right and what one morally ought to do. Her view simply is that the “morally ought” is often used by secular philosophers in a way that makes no sense. She says that it will be better if the philosophers use the word “just.”

Anscombe's “Modern Moral Philosophy” has influenced the development of virtue ethics in the past few decades. It is noteworthy that the term "consequentialism" was first coined by her in this essay. She uses this term to describe the central errors in secular moral philosophies, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.

Friday, 27 October 2017

The Cradle of Western Thought: Ionia

Frederick Copleston, in A History of Philosophy (Volume I: Greece and Rome), represents early Greek philosophic thought as the ultimate product of the ancient Ionian civilization. Here's a quote from Chapter II, "The Cradle of Western Thought: Ionia":
"Although it is undeniable that Greek philosophy arose among a people whose civilization went back to the pre-historic times of Greece, what we call early Greek philosophy was “early” only in relation to the subsequent Greek philosophy and the flowering of the Greek thought and culture on the mainland; in relation to the preceding centuries of Greek development it may be looked on rather as the fruit of a mature civilization, marking the closing period of Ionian greatness on the one hand and ushering in on the other hand the splendor of Hellenic, particularly of Athenian, culture."

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism

Quine has argued that Aristotelian essentialism is a "metaphysical jungle," and it is incapable of being made into a sensible doctrine. He posits that the essence of a thing depends on the point of view of the perceiver—there can be as many essences of an object as there are points of view from which the object can be examined.

Douglas B. Rasmussen, in his article, “Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism,” offers a criticism of Quine’s concerns regarding Aristotelian essentialism. Rasmussen holds that the criteria in terms of which the essence of an object is determined consists of these three elements:

1. An essence is that without which a being cannot exist.
2. It is that which differentiates a being from other beings.
3. It is that in terms of which a being can be grouped with other beings into a class.

According to Rasmussen, Quine’s “Kantian turn” is responsible for his wrong notion of Aristotelian essentialism. Rasmussen writes: “Quine holds with Kant that our knowledge is structured by our conceptual system and thus we cannot know what things really are.”

Rasmussen notes that Quine’s rejection of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is based on his conceptual pragmatism whereby he expands the idea of truths based on meaning to truth itself being determined by one’s conceptual system.  In other words, truths based on fact become dependent on the interpretation that a conceptual system provides. Truth understood in this manner can tell us only about reality as interpreted by us, not reality as it is.

In contrast to Quine’s Kantian view, the Aristotelian view holds that there is a “difference between the mode of human cognition and the content of human cognition, and it is not necessary that the two be identical in order to claim that such cognition can know what things really are… [S]imply because concepts/words must be employed when we know or talk about X does not mean that we cannot know what X really is or that talk of what X really is is (somehow) meaningless.”

Rasmussen argues that knowledge of the world that exists can be attained. This knowledge is attained through awareness, and it is not confined to “inner states” of  awareness. “There is no Cartesian question regarding the existence of an “external” world or doubt as to our ability to know it.” Therefore it is possible to identify what features of an entity are essential and what are not. An object’s essence can be expressed on basis of the knowledge that is available. 

A Comparison Between Quine and Russell

W. T. Jones offers an interesting overview of Willard Van Orman Quine’s philosophy in Chapter 13 of his A History of Western Philosophy (Volume V: The Twentieth Century To Quine and Derrida). In the last section of the chapter, he compares Quine with Bertrand Russell.

Here’s an excerpt:
There are many close affinities between [Quine’s] position and that of Russell. They were not only both leading figures in the development of modern logic, they also both employed the methods of logic to deal with fundamental philosophical issues. In particular, they both employed logical analysis as a device for eliminating—as far as possible—unwanted abstract, or otherwise peculiar, entities. In this respect, Quine’s “On What There Is” can, in a large part, be read as a continuation of the project launched by Russell in “On Denoting.”  
But even if Russell and Quine often make a similar use of logical methods in dealing with ontological issues, their positions are profoundly opposed in other important respects. Most significantly, they have opposed views concerning meaning. Along with other classical analytic philosophers, Russell thought that it made sense to inquire into the meaning of a specific proposition. Propositions expressed in ordinary language may be vague or ambitious, and their grammatical form may disguise their logical form, but, still, there was nothing wrong in asking what an individual proposition meant, and it was the business of the philosopher to answer just such questions. Logical atomism is the clearest example of philosophy operating under these assumptions.  
Quine, in contrast, is wholly opposed to an atomistic conception of propositional meaning. The logical atomist believed that, down deep, determinate meanings can be found. The persistent theme in Quine’s writings is indeterminacy—indeterminacy of reference translation, indeterminacy of  translation, and so on. In place of the radical atomism found in the writings of Russell and the early Wittgenstein, Quine embraced an equally radical version of holism.  
According to W. T. Jones, the innovation that Quine brought to philosophy consists of his combination of momism (with its strong indeterminist implications) with austere commitments to an extensionalist logic and a physicalist ontology. Jones says that no other analytic philosopher before Quine has thought of developing such a combination. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Henry Veatch on the Notion of Analytic Truth

Henry Veatch, in his book Intentional Logic: A Logic Based on Philosophical Realism, gives several arguments to challenge the notion of analytic truth. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3, "Mathematical Logic and Intentionality," in which Veatch is trying to show that the analytic propositions, which are certified by reference to the meanings of the terms used and require no reference to experience or to matters of fact, cannot be defended:
Everyone is familiar with Kant’s celebrated examples of the two different types of propositions. Thus, as he thought, “Every body is extended” is clearly analytic, whereas “Every body is heavy” is just as clearly synthetic. Unfortunately, in contemplating these examples, we cannot but wonder whether, if Kant were a successful teacher of philosophy, as no doubt he was, he actually followed the now current practice of the profession of ever inflicting upon his students his own ideas and theories. It has been my experience that although professorial expositors of Kant do not seem to have too much difficulty with his examples of analytic and synthetic propositions, students, particularly if they be comparatively unsophisticated, almost invariably do. 
Thus they will insist that to them “heaviness” is just as much a part or what they mean by “body” as is “extension.” If the professor counters with the suggestion that they would never have known that heaviness pertained to physical bodies, had they not observed them to be heavy simply as a matter of fact, the recalcitrant students are likely to respond that they would never have known that extension pertained to the very notion of body without having observed physical bodies to be in fact extended.  
In short, however sound the distinction between analytic and synthetic may happen to be in principle, it would seem to be extremely difficult to apply in practice. Nor will it do to try to make the distinction clearer by suggesting that analytic propositions are those which are a priori, whereas synthetic propositions arc empirical. As we have already noted, it is the distinction between the analytic and synthetic which is usually offered as a criterion pf the distinction between the a priori and the empirical. Other wise, how can one be sure that a given proposition really is a priori and not based on experience? To be sure, one might have a sort of feeling or “hunch” that certain propositions are a priori. But hunches, particularly among philosophers, are notably unreliable. Hence there would seem to be no other definitive criterion of a priori certainty than the fact that in any a priori proposition the predicate must be presumed to be contained analytically in the subject.

"Fight of the Century": Keynes vs. Hayek Rap Battle Round Two

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Teleology: Inorganic and Organic

In his essay, “Teleology: Inorganic and Organic,” David S. Oderberg examines the extent to which teleology can be found in the inorganic world. He argues that while there is no immanent causation in inorganic world, the non-living things follow the concept of function, which in the broadest sense is “any natural specific activity of a power or capacity of a thing."

Oderberg points out that while the idea of teleology in the world of non-living things may seem bizarre, the alternative viewpoint is even more so. It is not logical, he says, to believe that “there should be full-blooded teleology in the organic world, while the rest of the universe was a blooming, buzzing realm of wholly non-functional events.” His argues that teleology in the organic world should be regarded as a basis for there being teleology in the inorganic world.

Overall, this is a valuable article for understanding the ongoing philosophical discussion on the scope of teleology. Oderberg offers several plausible arguments for there being teleology in the inorganic world and he also tries to provide the answers to the possible objections to his arguments.

The essay is written in a rather combative mood. Here's an excerpt:
The banishment of teleology from the natural world during the early modern period is something from which philosophy has still not fully recovered. This period saw the almost wholesale rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics, and with it the ‘final causes’ that are a central part of that worldview. It is not merely that final causes were replaced by a mechanistic picture of nature bolstered by newtonian physics and general corpuscularianism, but that final causes and the Aristotelian ‘baggage’ associated with them were shunned with an almost visceral distaste bordering, it seems to me, on the pathological.  
One need only look at the hostility shown by Thomas Hobbes, at the end of Leviathan, to the ‘barbarisms’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘darkness’ of the ‘vain philosophy’ that allegedly permeated the schools, serving no other purpose than to maintain and enhance the power of the ‘Roman clergy’ and the Pope at the expense of the civil government. No less hostility, though expressed in slightly more measured tones, is found in Locke, Hume and Descartes. ‘Occult’ qualities and mysterious ‘substantial forms’ are out; law-governed mechanism is in. The idea that all objects have a natural tendency to some kind of motion or behaviour characteristic of their essence is interpreted as illicit mentalism: material objects do not ‘endeavour’ to go to the centre of the earth when dropped, ‘as if stones and metals had a desire, or could discern the place they would be at, as man does’. That this was an egregious misreading of Aristotle did nothing to dampen the re of animosity towards all things teleological.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Hayek, Popper and The Causal Theory of The Mind

In his essay, “Hayek, Popper and The Causal Theory of The Mind,” Edward Feser presents an account of F. A. Hayek's and Karl Popper’s philosophy of mind.

Hayek has a mechanistic conception of nature, but he brings evolutionary biology in his theory of the mind. Therefore his worldview cannot be regarded as strictly mechanical. But Karl Popper rejects the mechanical worldview. He is a Cartesian dualist.

Towards the end of his essay, Feser offers an alternative to the mechanistic worldview. Here’s an excerpt:

“There is also the question of what alternative view one ought to take if one rejects Hayek’s causal theory of the mind and any other essentially materialist position. Popper’s response was to embrace Cartesian dualism. Putnam’s (1994, p. 69) is to opt for pragmatism, though he acknowledges that the considerations he raises against the causal theorist are ‘‘grist for the mill of a possible latter-day Aristotelian metaphysics.’’ My own view is that this is precisely what is called for – that the mind-body problem, whose origins lay in the early moderns’ anti- Aristotelian revolution, can only be resolved (or dissolved) by a neo-Aristotelian restoration. Naturally, I am talking about a return to Aristotelian metaphysics, not Aristotelian science. Unfortunately, not all writers on these issues are careful to make this distinction.”

In his essay Feser is essentially making a case for going beyond the Humean theories and embracing some kind of Aristotelian conception of causality. Overall, this is a good article for understanding Hayek's philosophy of the mind.