…locke, voltaire, hume, & reid on the self

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daniel rozen, self-centered mirror.

Locke gets the conversation going with the notion that the self is constituted with memory and consciousness. If we accept that memory is consciousness, this brings in the philosophical point that cognitive thinking is closely linked to memory. To be a conscious person is also to remember.

With Voltaire’s comments on identity, we mostly find a question of retributive punishment, and how we are held accountable for things we remember or forget. Surely his idea that the self is like an ever-changing river is something to consider given the changes we undergo in a lifetime are significant. As we mentioned, this is a problem of personal identity because if we cannot remember a crime, can you be punished for that crime (in this lifetime or the next)? Voltaire offers the slightly confusing example of a father who blames the Euphrates for drowning his son Xerxes. The river would reply that the waves responsible are far away and no longer to be blamed. Here we have the problem of responsibility that is similar to the problem we have today with people who commit crimes. People continue to pay the price for their past crimes long after the penalty has been met.

Yet once I write this down, I see the difference. With Voltaire, he’s seems to be critiquing Locke’s claim that personal identity is closely linked to memory, while simultaneously refuting the notion that a immaterial soul should be responsible for the sins of its body. With our example above, people have a hard time getting away from their past because they are required to ‘remember’ their past when filling out job applications and the like. Our problem is different than Voltaire’s in respect to memory. Voltaire wants to detach from this idea that we are our memories, and how does an immaterial soul hold responsibility for the sins of its former body? His two difficulties stay unresolved in this excerpt. It is implied that these notions are problematic and deserve adequate scrutiny. In light of our contemporary problem of responsibility, we do not want people to forget their past as an extension of their public identity.

Then going back to Hume, we must be clear to see that he was denying an identifiable self. For Hume the way we think is due to impressions of things as they appear to us via our perceptions—he is an empiricist. His empiricism is far more stringent than Locke’s with a heavy dose of skepticism. If the impressions we have of the world are looked at in any given moment, we cannot pull a self out of those impressions. For Hume there is not a self that coheres through each impression. This does not feel right for us though, we do have a sense of ourselves as cohering through all of the impressions we have from day to day. We, at the very least, have to account for the ‘bundle of impressions’ with have that persist through space and time are what constitute something we call a self.

Then we have to have some account of the body which is where Reid comes in indirectly. He doesn’t exactly state that the body is what constitutes the self—Reid places the self on existence. If it is not memory as Locke proposed, it must be based on a continued existence through time for Reid. Reid is also critical of Hume with regard to the self as not determinable from the ‘bundle of impressions’, whereby we can see that at the very least the self must be an accumulation of these impressions as moving somewhat beyond the impression themselves. There are other mechanisms of thought involved in the thinking of an individual person—namely reason, the appetites, space and time. No, we might not be a ‘bundle of impressions’ according to Hume, Reid expands the self to include more.

–aurelio madrid

…on deontology

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Fellow philosophers, thank you for the good thoughts on Kant’s deontology as it relates to Mill’s utilitarianism.

One problem that emerged has to do with the issue of happiness as it relates to Kant’s deontology. Always remember that Kant’s deontology is non-consequentialist, in other words, it is not promoting actions in favor of a happy consequence. As we talked about in class, if I decided to help the homeless in downtown Denver on my day off as a way to demonstrate a good action, which is rationally affirmed by asking myself if this action can be universal (according to the categorical imperative). I then quickly realize that the job of helping the homeless is not something that brings me happiness, this happiness (and its lacking) should not be a feature of my decision to do it to begin with. The good action to help others in need outweighs whether doing so will give me the consequence of happiness.

Another issue of note is in light of the problems with deontology highlighted by students. A few students proposed that a problem with Kant’s deontology is that it would be hard to determine what duties we should pursue. This is answered by way of a person deciding to do her duty as a rationally autonomous agent. That is to say, we decide how and when to do our duty in a rational way. And the duties we are deciding on are those which meet the standard of the categorical imperative—if the action can be universally applied, then the action is something to do. If it cannot be universal, then do not do it. It is our duty, according to Kant to rationally consider this while considering our moral actions in all cases.

And yet another issue to highlight also had to do with potential problems with deontology. This is the classic problem raised in the textbook (and by Kant) concerning lying. This is the scenario of a killer who comes to your house looking for a person you have hiding in your house. The point is that you should not lie and if you cannot lie you must reveal the person you have hiding to the killer. I say that we can easily think of a universal rule something like: ‘whenever a killer comes to your house looking for a potential victim you have hiding, it is alright to lie.’ I think most people would agree that it would be alright to deceive the killer in all cases like this.

…aurelio madrid

…aquinas, immortality, &c.

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…then to Aquinas and whether or not he considered the soul to be immortal, and the concurrent issue concerning whether or not the soul is separate from the body. I found an entry to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Richard Swinburne on this issue, http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Swinburne/Swinburne-Nature%20of%20Soul.pdf When we read the first few paragraphs, we get good synopsis of the problem. The issue rests on the transition from an Aristotelian version of the soul (psyche, Ψυχῆς) as intrinsically connected to the body. That is, Aristotle believed that the soul is the animating part of a person’s body–when the body died the soul dies with it. Given that Aquinas is Aristotelian, he mentions this very notion in the Summa Theologica, giving all of us the impression that he agrees with Aristotle, that the death of the body entails the death of the soul.

Yet it is not the case that Aquinas thought that the soul simply died with the body, or that the soul was not immortal. The easy way to think of this would be to recall that Aquinas is advocating a notion of resurrection. If a body is to resurrect with the body it once inhabited, the soul must live without the body until judgment day when the soul becomes embodied. Then according to Aquinas, the person resurrects from the dead to live on into eternity in heaven or hell. The questionable part comes with the notion of what the soul consists of while it is separate from its material matrix, its body. Does the soul lose its identity when it is not animating the body? As Swinburne indicates, Aquinas thinks that the soul is somehow “fitted” to its original body, perhaps like a key to a lock. The other point I am not sure of is what happens to the material body after it is judged.

…traditional & negative utilitarianism

trolley-dtoFirst I want to thank everyone for the critical examination of (traditional, classical) utilitarianism and negative utilitarianism and all the interesting points made thereof.

Be sure that whenever you are describing utilitarianism, that you present it as moral, &/or ethical. Classical, traditional utilitarianism is a consequentialist moral theory that is concerning with maximizing the happiness and pleasure for the most amount of people. The actions that produce the consequences are not moral in-and-of-themselves, therefore the happiness of the consequences are where the morality is empirically determined. That is not to suggest that the actions or the consequences are im/moral in-and-of-themselves. Although outside of the theory this might appear to be the case. For example, the “trolley problem” is meant to illustrate this point. If we let the trolley hit one person to save five people, then our action is still morally sound on utilitarian grounds. Yet we are inclined to think that the action is not morally sound, given that you still have to decide to let the trolley kill one person and this does not seem to be moral—hence it is a problem with utilitarianism.

Concerning the notion that the two moral theories are contradictory, or opposites, or something like that. Let’s see how the two are not contradictory. Right away we see that both theories are moral. The two theories are consequential. The two theories are also aimed at helping the most amount of people. As we noticed the two theories seem to complement each other. Whereby we posited that to increase happiness appears to be the same as reducing pain. Yet, we have to ask if it is the same to promote happiness over reducing pain. If I insist that the consequences of an action to increase the happiness of others rests on their pleasure, the pleasure of the majority might un/intentionally bring about the pain of the minority. We cannot make everyone happy, but we can try to make the most happy and making the most happy possibly decreases the happiness of others. For example, racism might want to appeal to the idea that one racial group is a majority, and to appease the majority is best while at the same time having the consequence of making others increasingly unhappy.

Another difference, of course rests on how each theory “helps”. With traditional utilitarianism we seek to help by increasing the happiness (or pleasure) for the most amount of people (to determine the rightness or wrongness of a specific consequence). Then with Popper’s negative utilitarianism we seek to help by reducing suffering (or pain) for the most amount of people (to determine the rightness or wrongness of a specific consequence).

Although I am tempted to agree that the two appear to extend into each other with the notion that to increase happiness implies the reduction of pain. I think the way to distinguish the two theories has to rest on the notion that one demands pleasure and happiness while the other does not. If on the battlefield a medic insists that she wants to bring happiness to the injured seems to be a misdirection of bringing no harm (her Hippocratic Oath) and seeking to relieve pain. Pain management does not necessarily bring happiness or even pleasure, but it does help to palliate pain as soon as possible, over and beyond a concern for happiness on the battlefield.

Perhaps the recent “Black Lives Matter” issue is another example of how negative utilitarianism is a useful position. In other words, the movement started in 2013 with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, extending into the protest and national discussion on the wrongful killing of black people (usually black men) by white law enforcement. Here we can easily see that the objective of the movement is not necessarily happiness, rather the objective is to call into question racial profiling and the killing of innocent black men. Both of these objectives are aimed at the reduction of suffering and the reduction of pain. In other words, happiness and pleasure are only potential byproducts of the aims. Yes, we will be happy if this type of racist killing is done away with. However, I argue that we attack the problem negatively, we wish to do away with the racist killings and profiling to begin with. We attack the problem on negative utilitarian grounds, we aim to reduce the suffering of black men at the hands of white police officers.

Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to suggest that classical utilitarianism is inherently flawed. No, that is not the message, rather I wish to bring in an alternative view to demonstrate that to insist on happiness is not always as beneficial or as realistic as we might imagine.

–aurelio madrid

…martin, james & proudfoot on religious experience

Martin: “Critique of Religious Experience.”

…religious experience under Swinburne’s scheme:

  • Experience of a public object as a supernatural being.
  • Experience of the supernatural being as a public object expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience (like number 2 above) without the public object expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience not expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience of a supernatural being without sensations (can be of either a public or non-public object).

Hypothesis #1 (H1), Religious experience is caused by something external.

Question: Can we verify that what is external is a supernatural being? Are there other things that can cause the experience that are external, but not a supernatural being?

Hypothesis #2 (H2), Religious experience is psychological (not something external).

“Black cat as the devil” example?

Mystical experiences are of type 4 above (experience not expressed in ordinary language).

Often these are cited as having common elements.

As with Stace: experience of a “non-sensuous” Unity.

Katz critiques this claim with the notion that this can be contested due to the inconsistency of objectivity between cases.

Swinburne’s “Principle of Credulity” (PC): “Allows one to infer from the fact that it seems to a person that something is present to the probability that it is present.”

What are the problems with this?

How does the “Negative Principle of Credulity” challenge Swinburne’s (PC)?

[Modified from above] “Allows one to infer from the fact that it seems to a person that something is absent to the probability that it is absent.”

[Conclusions?]

James: “Religious Experience as Feelings of Forming the Root of Religion.”

Religious Experience as a mystical State of Consciousness.

  • Ineffability:
  • Noetic Quality:
  • Transiency:
  • Passivity:

Other related elements of religious experience.

  1. Words and messages that suddenly “make sense.”
  2. Feeling of “having been here before.”
  3. …other dreamy states…
  4. Certain aspects of nature, out-of-doors, (…case of Malwinda von Meysenbug?)
  5. Yoga (union with the divine).
  6. Buddhist “higher contemplation.”
  7. Sufism “detaching the heart from all that is not God,” culminating in the ”transport” toward the “total absorption of God.”

The “incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of all mysticism. Mystical truth exists for the individual who has the transport, but for no one else.”

…mysticism is perhaps a type of sensuous knowledge rather than conceptual knowledge.

Significance of “orison” or meditation.

  • Serves to detach from other sensations.

The question is, can all of the above be a way to account for the “truth of twice-borness and supernaturality and pantheism?”

  1. Mystical States are authoritative for those who experience them.
  2. This authority is not something that should be accepted uncritically.
  3. The “supersensuous” quality of mystical experience is one type of consciousness and it is a type of consciousness that opens up to other possibilities.

[Conclusions?]

 

Proudfoot: “Religious Experiences as Interpretive Accounts.”

For Proudfoot, James make the claim that religious experience is more sensuous, rather than intellectual. Yet, a question remains whether or not this distinction is as clear-cut as James proposes?—are these just experiences simply other thoughts and beliefs?

Sensible authority:

Is there a difference between the “Authority of the experience for the subject” [vs the observer]?

The difference rests on the noetic quality of the experience for either the observer or the subject.

For Chisholm what is noetic is confirmed by “appear words”

…we report what “appears” to be the case as something in which we believe to be our sensory experience.

We also “compare” these experiences with how it appear with might (or might not) be the case.

When we extend this comparison to include an “inference to best explanation” (choosing the best possible theory), this is epistemic.

When we use this epistemic way to understand our perceptions, this looks a lot like James’ account of the noetic experience.

Therefore, [for Proudfoot] if we take this as a way to understand noetic experience, the line between sensual experience and intellectual/conceptual experience becomes blurry.

James seems to be pointing to Pierce’s account that we do not need to know the origin of a hypothesis in order to use the hypothesis.

The problem here is that the origin of the experience is in question when referencing a religious experience, i.e. what “caused” the hypothesis?–is somewhat different question from what “caused” an experience?

We still feel justified in asking what “caused” the mystical experience.

Think of Ryle’s “achievement verb” whereby when we suggest we have “seen’ something, it is customary to assume we have actually seen it.

Yet, we still must account for religious experience whether there is a supernatural entity that “caused” the noetic experience to begin with or not.

Religious Experience:

Recall that we might be concerned with whether such experiences are “real” but Proudfoot is only looking to “explicate the concept.”

Experience cover a wide ranges of possibilities not restricted to so-called” factual experiences, given that experience can also of dreams, fantasy, & so on.

What distinguishes a religious experience also need not be one of simply thinking things about or visiting religious places.

Religious, feelings, acts, and experiences are “religious” for people in “so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”

Key word here is “apprehend.”

The person who has a religious experience must make the judgment that the experience is in direct relation/confirmation to his/her religious beliefs. This, in brief, is noetic.

Explaining Religious Experience:

Ambiguity

  • How the experience seemed to that person at that time?
  • Is this the best explanation?
  • Experiences also rely in explanation and interpretation.
  • Then we need to also distinguish between descriptions and explanations.
  • A descriptive account of something usually needs to be backed up with the evidence of the specifics of the experience.
  • Therefore an explanation relies on descriptions.

Why are religious experiences not given a religious “explanations”?

  • “Apologetic protection.”
  • Phenomenological accuracy.

[Conclusions?]

–aurelio madrid

…from myth to philosophy

 

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Domenico Beccafumi, The Foundryman (Figure of Vulcan in the Metal Foundry), third plate from a series of ten scenes from the Practice of Alchemy, woodcut, 16th century.

The three questions were explained with good philosophical insight. I found problems with Archie & Archie’s so-called “criterion of potatoness.” The easiest way to think of this is by way of basic classification. Be careful to remember that our inclination to classify things is metaphysical, it is not forthcoming in nature in-and-of-itself that we need to classify thing into large, medium, and small. Yet this is not the only way in which we classify things. We might, just as well, classify the potatoes into bad potatoes and good potatoes. We might also classify the potatoes into clean and dirty, and so on. Recall that one characterization of metaphysics is that it is relational. Metaphysics works with the ways in which we see relationships between things, items, and ideas. So all this is to suggest that we often classify items by size, and our sizing might not include the category of medium, or extra-large, or too small, &c.

As for the transition from myth to philosophy, I want to encourage students to steer away from mere descriptions of the transition, and to focus more onto the philosophy at work within the transition. For example, it is a straightforward description to suggest that philosophy questioned accepted myth in a way that myth went unquestioned. This is true, philosophy is looking at the way we know the world in a far more inquisitive way them myth does. Both aim to know the world and both seek to explain the world. One framework questions, where the other framework does not.

The question remains as to how this happened, and what were the philosophical elements that are at play in the transition (metaphysical and/or epistemological)? When we take the epistemological sense of the transition we see an easy way to write of this. When we look to the myths for answers, we find stories of the gods that work to explain ways that things have happened or will happen. To say I am in love has a strong connection to the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Venus). To say the seasons are changing from summer to autumn, is to remember that Demeter’s daughter Persephone is taken back to the underworld by Hades and the transition from summer to fall is easily explained by the abduction of Persephone into the underworld.

Then to the philosophical outlook starting with Thales, for example, and the notion that everything can be traced back to water. This is similar to myth-making in that it seeks an explanation for something, so it is epistemological. It is epistemological because it is showing us a way to know and to understand the world as the myths do. Yet, as Nietzsche indicated, it was distinguished by its impulse to unify everything into one empirical explanation—that all things are one.

Here we easily see a crossover between epistemology and metaphysics, given that when we want to know about the world, we offer explanations, whether by myth or empirical evidence. Metaphysically, we are also working to see a broad-general way of understanding the world from the one to the many. In order to understand this transition from one to many, we have to make empirical leaps, say, when we seek to find a connection between a rock and its aquatic ancestry. When we take such leaps we must go beyond empirical evidence to fill in the blanks, &c. such steps of thinking are metaphysical. These are ways that reality is made up. On one hand, it is readily apparent, and on the other hand, we cannot tell where the connection is to be found.

Additionally, we see the direct ways in which Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle worked to dispel blind acceptance of mythic thinking in their philosophical methodologies. For Plato and Socrates this was accomplished dialectically. Through the art of dialogue, experts were questioned and made to feel uneasy with their alleged knowledge, their supposed expertise. Sure, Socrates was impelled to clarify the Oracle of Delphi’s claim that he was the wisest. But how was he wise, if he did not know anything? This matter had to be investigated in a rational way, by dialogue with those who, on the surface, claim to be wise. The Socratic grilling, the Socratic Method, is rational, it accepts no commonly held belief to get to the bottom of things—a.k.a. higher knowledge.

This rational methodology is different from the reason Hamilton writes of in relation to myth. Yes, the myths are rational, but they do not use rational thought to examine themselves. The myths do not cross examine their own reasoning, whereby Socrates does question the reasoning of the experts like Euthyphro, who claimed to know what holiness is, without realizing that he actually did not have a working definition of the very thing he was charging his own father with.

Then to take another example with metaphysics and Aristotle when we look at causation and his four causes. We see similarity to myth in that myths metaphysically deal with causation, i.e. what’s the cause of volcanos, perhaps Hephaestus (Vulcan) is somehow responsible, Vulcan is the cause. On the other hand, Aristotle is not just seeking the cause from one event to another, he is instead looking at causation itself. What’s the difference between someone making something, what the item is made of, what is the item’s use, what is the item’s ultimate use, and what is its goal, its telos?

Another interesting corollary is between the transition from Plato to Aristotle concerning Plato’s formalism, whereby the difference between Form and form is easily resolved with Aristotle’s rejection of Platonic formalism into the metaphysics of form and substance, which are both ways to think of items, yet Aristotle’s metaphysics is grounded in the objects rather the other-worldly Forms of Plato.

Keep in mind the best option is to work away from mere description and to focus on explaining the philosophical “how” of the transition.

–aurelio madrid

…on ethical relativism

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For the Lachs worksheet with Skowronski’s criticism that Lachs’s relativism is actually not very relative, most students got this right and a few did not. Essentially, this was an easy exercise because Lachs kept making claims that sounded remarkably universal and generally objectivist. For example:

“Values vary with the individual’s nature. The good, therefore is not a question of what we think or how we feel but of who we are.”

Here Lachs seem to be making an appeal to a universal good that is attached to human nature, “who we are.” This would be a violation of relativism, since it is suggesting that human-nature leans toward the good, rather than the bad.

“The greatest beneficiary of the universal acceptance of moral relativism would, without a doubt, be human liberty.”

Here again Lachs is explicitly using objectivist language with the key word “universal” in connection to “human liberty” which is yet another objectivist standard. If he were truly relativist, any universal claims would be contradictory to his relativist claim that there are no universal standards, or that there is not a universal human nature. This last claim is something Lachs tried to argue for in the opening arguments of the essay.

Then to the homework on how relativism relates to objectivity. First we must discern the distinction between ethical relativism and what we were calling epistemological relativism. The first type, ethical relativism is what is of interest to us here. The two are related in that epistemological relativism is calling into question objective truth, whereas, ethical relativism is calling into question objective morality. When we speak of objectivity in ethics class, we are usually referring to a standard of truth and/or a standard of morality that we can all agree on.

When we speak of objective morality, we are referring to morality that has normative features of correctness (and incorrectness), propriety (and impropriety), goodness (and not goodness) that can be widely agreed upon from person to person and from culture to culture. We cross-culturally agree, for instance, that people deserve common respect, or that we should not take what is not ours, or that we should be honest with one another. Often, moral objectivity is compared to scientific and mathematical objectivity. The melting point of silver is 1,763°F, there is no dispute over this objectivity, and we might compare this to moral objectivity, whereby we can for instance, safely say that shouting and confrontational behavior toward strangers is typically wrong. Yet, as we learned from Hume, morality does not come from something that “is”. Often such a similarity rests on intuition. In other words, the intuition that the melting point of silver is 1,763°F is assured by way of rational intuition. Similarly, the wrongness of shouting at random strangers is also something felt by conscientious intuition. The question is, are they the same intuition? I would be inclined to say no, they are not the same, given that conscientious intuition has variations of possibility that the melting point of silver does not. Imagine the context of a rock band who yells (shouts and sings) their songs to fans. Here we have an exception to the objective rule, therefore we can provisionally suggest that yelling at strangers does not have the same objectivity as the melting point of silver. So to compare the science/math to the moral is somewhat tricky. The rock band’s yelling could be warmly familiar to their fans who can also be strangers.

This is part of the problem with ethics. We often misunderstand that we are enacting our ethics by reason alone and as we have seen, ethics sometimes has an emotional component that becomes tough to ignore. It becomes tough to pin point at times and it is for this reason that the relativist seizes as a justification for the position that given that we cannot all agree on morality 100% of the time, morality must therefore be relative, or without objectivity.

This gets back to objectivity, we roughly define it as moral objectivity covering the idea that there are standards by which we all (for the most part) agree on as standards by which we can live and cooperate with one another. Sometimes these look like laws, sometimes these look like unsaid codes of behavior. As we noticed, every student walks into class, sits down, cooperates, thinks about, verbalizes questions, writes down and listens to the professor’s lesson. This is an unsaid rule that is also ethical, to not do it would be problematic from the vantage that erratic behavior would be potentially threatening and invasive. It also is problematic for the student who wishes to be absent, and so on. We cannot say that such things are 100% objective, but we can at least say that it’s best to stay close to keeping such things objective.

All this leads to part of the problem and counter arguments against relativism. In your essays, be sure that when you are writing about the problems and counter arguments with relativism that you are not merely ‘describing’ relativism. When a student writes that a problem for relativism is that we cannot agree about what is right and what is wrong. Yes, this is a problem, but it is simply describing relativism and not showing “how” it is a problem. When you place the words onto the page, be sure to show how relativism has counter arguments that expose its problems and how it works.

For example, when we wrote about Pojman threatening to give his students an F, most students immediately recognized that this was problematic because it is morally suspect to randomly give students an F regardless of their performance. In this case Pojman was hypothetically acting on relativism, so as to demonstrate to the students that they also adhere to the ethical standards of the classroom, even if they mistakenly thought they were relativists to begin with. We attend class under the presupposition that we will be treated fairly and that our work will be grading honestly and according to our earnest scholarship. If relativism were true, we would not think of Pojman’s arbitrary grading as morally suspect. This is a relativist position because it challenges the convention that we all objectively agree upon when we sign up to classes. The objective rules of the classroom are accepted ways in which we as students agree to be evaluated, so Pojman’s sudden challenge to this with the threat to award students with an F, and their flat refusal to accept this is a pretty good counter to relativism. It also shows us the intricate way in which we follow objective rules without ever examining the inter-workings of such seemingly straightforward ethical issues of the classroom we all agree to.

So the key is to avoid a description of moral relativism as the position that rejects objectivity, and stick to a way of writing about the counterarguments with the aim of showing “how” relativism is problematic.

…aurelio madrid