March 18, 2014

Spoiler: I might swear.

I have a fairly liberal attitude to commenting here, and I don’t particularly police it that much. Dissenting views are utterly vital to being sure that you are warranted in your own beliefs and views.

Well, I got involved in a comment thread on the Possible Worlds blog of Randy Everist. My goodness. I have never seen such comment nazism. I was warned by the Thinker. It’s intellectually disgusting. I posted a really good-natured couple of posts, he posted something in response (a little snarky but generally fine) and I responded with a really normal post about realism vs nominalism, about William Lane Craig and the problem with circularity in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, undefended premises, causality, induction, Dennett and so on, and he came back with this:

Sorry, Jonathan, I don’t allow non-substantive rhetoric on my blog–that’s why the comment was not approved. :)

Oh the hell dear. I am genuinely so pissed off I am going to rant. Because I can’t even rant to him or complain since he moderates every comment officiously. Yes, people can do what they like on their own blogs. But if you are going to tagline your blog with:

Exploring issues in Christian philosophy, theology, apologetics, and life in general.

and refuse to genuinely explore issues, then you are wasting your time and, in this case, mine. Your whole effort at blogging is to reassure your own beliefs. Well, get the fuck off the net and massage your own beliefs in private. Because refusing to even engage with comments because you disagree with their content or don’t get them or love WLC too much is a waste of my time. That comment took me some 20 minutes to write (not that it was any great shakes, just pointing out a number of issues with the Kalam Cosmological Argument), time I’ll never get back because some dufus is too cognitively biased to understand how such dialectic works. Basically, Randy Everist, you can fuck off, and take your biases with you.

Mainly because you put a stupid fucking smiley on the end of your big brother comment. Dick.

I hereby renounce the Possible Worlds Blog. Do not go there.

[admission: this is me at my most rabid]
January 27, 2014

We had a Tippling Philosophers night the other night on beauty, and these are the quick notes I sent to someone who was unable to be there. Let me know what you think:

My belief is that:
  • Beauty is a word which all too often means “I like that”. In other words, it is shorthand for desirability, attraction etc. Stripping many of those meanings away leaves you with somewhat anaemic definition.
  • Beauty is a personal value statement ascribed to an object by the subject. It might be described as relational.
  • If there were no humans or rational agents in existence, then nothing would be beautiful, though they would still have the properties which were ascribed beauty.
  • In other words, it is dependent on perception.
  • I would think, in the ways that humans understand beauty, only humans presently have that conception, though other animals might have the same emotional reaction to some things which we might describe as beautiful.
  • The argument boils down to nominalism vs realism (see a link above) and I didn’t go into too much depth about it, but it is foundational to the debate.
  • If you think an object actually has the real properties of beauty, then these properties must exist somewhere. Either this means a platonic realm DOES exist, or that an object holds beauty like it does mass and so on. Either claim is victim to an array of problems.

Let’s say that we claim a volcano is beautiful. These questions should evoke the issues with objective beauty:

 

What about looking at the inside of the volcano? The outside?

Is half of the volcano half as beautiful?

What about where the volcano ends? If I included 2, 4, 9 miles outside the volcano?

Would different angles viewing the same object ACTUALLY hold different beauty values?

What about that same volcano but magnified to standing right in front of it? What about magnified under a microscope? What about at electron level? This same object, would it now have different objective beauty?

What about the volcano to an alien, monkey, bird?

What if it was erupting, smoking?

What if it was now causing widespread death and destruction? Global warming?

What if I kept chipping away at it, rock by rock? When would it go from being beautiful to not? Or is it gradual? If you were looking from afar, you wouldn’t see most of that gradual chipping, yet you would still claim that now different object had the same beauty value. At some point, though, there would be a tipping point.

 

etc etc

The point is, it is easy to claim that something is objectively beautiful, far more difficult to give a coherent account of how it works.

However, from a subjective stance, all the above questions pose absolutely no problems at all.

Of course, with different definitions and ideas (a grandmother being beautiful, to grandmothers as a generic concept being beautiful – visual vs abstract ideas of beauty).

In other words, it is difficult enough to establish abstract ideas as real in philosophy (nominalism vs realism) but to then assign a supposedly objective abstract concept (beauty) to an abstract idea (grandmotherness) is even more difficult.

Just my thoughts!

JP

January 25, 2014

So having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions were. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the sixth post after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

This post is about a the world which exists, or doesn’t, outside of our heads, so to speak (or more accurately, externally to our minds).

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)
Other 86 / 931 (9.2%)
Accept or lean toward: skepticism 45 / 931 (4.8%)
Accept or lean toward: idealism 40 / 931 (4.3%)

This is quite a fundamental question. Is there a real world which exists beyond our thought? Are we just living in some kind of Matrix style existence?

Idealism

Idealism is the position that everything which exists is just thought, and that there is no external reality. Thought is existence. Well, in actual fact, there are two slightly different ways of looking at idealism. One sense is anti-realist, that there exists only subjective mind, that existence is experiential and incorporeal. The epistemological approach is slightly different in that we should be skeptical of an external world, and that the mind has primacy. We cannot know things in themselves, as Kant claimed, since we are interpreting through our subjective senses and filters. Kant claimed, indeed, that idealism was “the assertion that we can never be certain whether all of our putative outer experience is not mere imagining”.[1] On the other hand,  Objective idealists make claims about a transempirical world, but simply deny that this world is essentially divorced from or ontologically prior to the mental.

Bishop George Berkeley was big on reviving this movement from the anti-realist stance. As wiki states in comparing the positions:

As a rule, transcendental idealists like Kant affirm idealism’s epistemic side without committing themselves to whether reality is ultimately mental; objective idealists like Plato affirm reality’s metaphysical basis in the mental or abstract without restricting their epistemology to ordinary experience; and subjective idealists like Berkeley affirm both metaphysical and epistemological idealism.

 

Skepticism

In this context, skepticism states that the world can never really be known in its true form, which is actually sort of what Kant was claiming. We cannot know things-in-themselves (dinge-an-sich). Now, it would be interesting to look in the meta-analysis of the survey to see how people defined this since skepticism as an epistemological approach to the world, is sound in a Cartesian sense. What I mean by this is if we take knowledge to be indubitable, then the only thing we know is cogito ergo sum, that the thinking entity exists. In that way, we are in some way warranted to be skeptical, to at least some degree, of everything else. This approach that we should abstain from dogmatic claims to knowledge was recorded by Sextus Empiricus and called Pyrrohnian skepticism in reference to the philosopher Pyrrho from about 300 BCE. As wiki explains:

Whereas academic skepticism, with Carneades as its most famous adherent, claims that “Nothing can be known, not even this”, Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold any assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. They disputed the possibility of attaining truth by sensory apprehension, reason, or the two combined, and thence inferred the need for total suspension of judgment (epoché) on things.[2] A Pyrrhonist tries to make the arguments of both sides as strong as possible. Then he asks himself if there is any reason to prefer one side to the other. And if not, he suspends belief in either side. According to them, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic. They thus attempted to make their skepticism universal, and to escape the reproach of basing it upon a fresh dogmatism.[3] Mental imperturbability (ataraxia) was the result to be attained by cultivating such a frame of mind.[3] As in Stoicism andEpicureanism, the happiness or satisfaction of the individual was the goal of life, and all three philosophies placed it in tranquility or indifference.[3] According to the Pyrrhonists, it is our opinions or unwarranted judgments about things which turn them into desires, painful effort, and disappointment.[3] From all this a person is delivered who abstains from judging one state to be preferable to another.[3] But, as complete inactivity would have been synonymous with death, the skeptic, while retaining his consciousness of the complete uncertainty enveloping every step, might follow custom (or nature) in the ordinary affairs of life.[3]

The point of interest here is that even if we are skeptical of the external world, all of our psychological mechanisms presuppose its existence. Pragmatically, we believve it is there. Try existing only mentally without sleeping or eating…

Non-skeptical realism

This is Greek for “That shit’s real. True dat.” The world exists, and we ain’t skeptical about it. It appears that, by a comfortable margin, most philosophers adhere to this position.

The creators of the survey included this commentary on the above question:

We asked this one partly because of its centrality in the history of philosophy, and partly because we were especially interested in data about how many philosophers accept the “old, dead” positions that supposedly no-one accepts these days. Skepticism and idealism are often treated as gateways to reductio in contemporary discussion, for example, rather than as serious contenders for the truth. We would have liked to have an option for a view on which the external world is somehow mind-dependent without this being idealism (e.g. social constructivism), but we couldn’t find a good accessible generic term here. Of course we expected a big majority for non-skeptical realism, but we were interested to see whether there would be a good number of skeptics and idealists out there

This is overwhelmingly the position of the respondents to the survey, and, it seems, most philosophers around. I suppose there is a difference between what one pragmatically believes and what one can prove (as knowledge). We pragmatically believe there is a real world out there, that the Correspondence Theory of truth is, well, true. But we can’t necessarily prove it, so in some ways, there is an element, however small, of skepticism.

Theists sometimes adopt this approach in what Stephen Law calls “going nuclear” in saying that thought, or rationality, has primacy and empiricism and science supervene on it, but that one cannot use rationality to prove the power of rationality since that is a circular scenario. Yeah, but you use it every day, so get over it.

Anyway, I’m now going to punch myself in the face to test whether the world is just constructed of thought and ideas from my mind.

Ouch! Jesus, mate, that fricking hurt….!

Notes

[1] Immanuel Kant, Notes and Fragments, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. by Curtis Bowman, Paul Guyer, and Frederick Rauscher, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 318

RELATED POSTS:

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

January 19, 2014

OK, it might take you a while to stop laughing. Now, these days, I don’t really get involved in evolution arguments with people who flatly deny evolution on such blatantly anti-intellectual terms. I see it as self-delusion, and having written before that such people are impervious to reason and evidence, and that showing such actually entrenches their views, I try not to be bothered by such positions. But often fail.

In this case, the commenter was replying to a video I made years ago which was responding to the oft cited claim that evolution is just a theory. Jeez, that one pisses me off. Anyway, these comments from one particular commenter can be found on my You Tube video below:

So, here are a selection of his (or her) comments:

Evolution doesn’t exist and has no facts to support it.  And it is due to absolute 100 percent knowledge that I know it does not exist. It has nothing to do with “not wanting to deal with this or that”  I know this for a fact, no theory involved.  At 1:40 you associated evolution with science.  There is no association. So that is a false argument.  You claim creationists are ignorant of science, yet you never proved nor has anyone that evolution is science.  So to appeal to “science” is simply a ruse.

When I hear evolution is a theory.  I know that I am being lied to.  The notion that “scientific community” is welcome to be debunked by the scientific method is another ruse.  Your whole argument is an appeal to perceived authority fallacy.  No facts are facts.  Falsehoods are falsehoods. That simple

By claiming naivete, you are pretending that evolution is science, and it that it requires high intellect to understand.  That is not true.  There is no reason to bring up what direction trees are facing.  Bacteria reproduce bacteria, so you gave an example of reproduction, that isn;t an example of evolution.  Ok lemurs exist.  That doesn’t prove evolution either.  Evolution makes predictions, affirming the consequent fallacy.   Creation predicts life will reproduce after its own kind.  But creationists don’t make arguments based on affirming the consequent because it is logically fallacious.

To say you need to read, is to pretend that evolution is academic again.  There is no association between evolution, science, academics, or the intellect.  It does not exist.

No its not cognitive dissonce I have absolute knowledge that evolution does not exist.  Not a shred of doubt.  There is no such thing as a phd in evolution because evolution does not exist.  You are merely observing life reproduce after its own kind, then calling reproduction evolution.  There is no such thing as en evolution expert or evolution phd, because it does ot exist.  Evolution is a simple con. Step 1 call evolution science.  Step 2 Logical fallacy proof,Step 3 repeat step 1.

Your trying to associate evolution with real science. You gave examples of one kind of animal reproducing after its own kind.  Animals don’t reproduce exact clones of themselves.  To say that since animals don’t reproduce clones of themselves is evolution is not true.  There are not millions of people who work on it, and it is not true.  Evolution doesn’t exist therefore has nothing to do with academics.  No I did not make that claim.  I simply made the claim that evolution is not science.  The claim that I must make predictions is not true.   A fact is simply true or not true.  Whether or not we can make predictions from the fact is not proper reasoning.  Its affirming the consequent fallacy.

Creation would explain ERV’s by simply stating they exist.  That makes no sense to phrase a question that way.  The term species is used by evolutionists to say that the same kind of animal is a different species.  So then they call speciation evolution.  Just a simple word game trick.  It’s all dependent on who defines the lexicon, the concepts stay the same.

I predict tomorrow that life will reproduce after its own kind, and nature will not create life.  This will be true.

The evolutionist con is to make predictions that have nothing to do with proving life can reproduce other than its own kind, or that nature cause mud to come to life.  This has to be observed.  We actually observe the claims from creation.

That makes no sense your argument of simply listing different things.

What about Boyle’s Law, the quadratic equation, etc simply listing things doesn’t prove anything.

Sexual selection exists because it exists.  All sorts of phenomenon exists.  How does that lend a hand to evolution.  No one is saying that life does not exist.

How does creation explain all those things – they were created, hence creation.

Evolution isn’t science.  People are simply conned in schools to associate evolution with science in their minds.  It doesn’t actually exist. Life reproducing after its own kind is all that has ever happened. It is not possible for some animal, not human to mate with another animals and a human being be reproduced.  This is simple biology.  Its a law of biology.

Poe’s law -logical fallacy appeal to ridicule

With all due respect (I mean that literally, the amount of respect due to such comments is…), it is hard not to ridicule such comments. But then I remember that people are the result of who they are in the situations they find themselves in. Perhaps I need to be more courteous in such situations. Perhaps.

What I usually start off by saying in these scenarios is “Have you read a book on evolution by an evolutionary biologist?” to which the answer is usually not forthcoming, question ignored (as in this case) or is simply “no”. This is the first hurdle. The very people who should know the most about this subject are the ones being ignored by the people who refuse to believe it. And that statement cuts to the heart of the matter. This is not a conclusion (the denial of evolution) arrived at after surveying all the proper information and arguments. This is a conclusion derived from presupposed ideals and does not take into account the vast amounts of data and evidence. It is, indeed, the classic case of post hoc rationalisation, with a heavy dollop of cognitive dissonance in dealing with subsequent argument and data.

Will this post change this person’s mind? No. When someone who has arrived at a position or worldview based on an a-rational or irrational process, and then scrabbles around to post hoc rationalise; and if they have vested personal interest in that position; and if that position threatens them with the worst possible consequence in human conception for not believing and rewards them for the best possible consequence in human conception for believing it, then no, this person is unlikely to change their mind in the face of good, solid, rational evidence. But hey, hope springs eternal and all that.

What next? Well, I will list a few points which I think are deal clenchers, which will all need explaining under creation. I mean explaining. Properly.

    1. Endogenous retroviruses. These viral fossils in the DNA of humans and primates show beyond any statistical doubt that we have common ancestors.
    2. Fossils. Loads of them. If just one fossil was out of place, in the wrong strata, evolution would be in serious doubt. Not one is. All fossils are found where predicted.
    3. Predictiveness. Evolution predicts findings. Biologists have predicted things on evolution and have found them to be true. Creation predicts jack shit. For example, the types of diversity of animals and plants between very old continental islands, continental islands and oceanic islands.
    4. Vestigial organs and atavisms. Parts of the body which no longer have use and that are leftovers of previous evolutionary processes. Humans have appendices, arrector pili, ear wiggling and suchlike. Many are born with coccygeal projections – stumpy tails from our ancestral heritage. These recapitulations of ancestral traits are reexpressions of ancestral functional genes. Whales have vestigial and atavistic pelvises and leg bones. they have leg bones of differing sizes which are unconnected to their skeleton. They have no use at all, no place in any perfect designer’s design book, but are fully explicable when we know whales evolved from land mammals back into the water.
    5. Embryology. Human foetuses start with tails and look like fish embryos. What’s up with that, God? Our blood vessel map and nerve map (as with other animals like the giraffe) show a clear ancestral heritage going all the way back to fish, hence Neil Shubin’s superb book, Your Inner Fish. Darwin saw embryology as the greatest evidence for evolution. If any of you have had babies, that fine downy hair called lanugo is also part of our ancestral heritage and has absolutely no explanation under creation. Evolution explains it just fine.
    6. Bad design. Oh yes, bad design. Evolution gets by. It does all it needs to to get adults to reproductive age, and promotes reproduction itself. A perfect designer? Well… one would imagine they would deign… perfectly? Flatfish, with eyes in stupid places, compared with the better evolved skate. The laryngeal nerve, hinted above, in humans and giraffes is very badly designed. Explicable in terms of evolution from fish. Creation says jack. Male testes (heritage from fish gonads) are explained by evolution. Creation must insist that God really dug whacking our bollocks on the outside. Also, our urethra is a bit troublesome too. Women giving birth through the pelvis – ouch. This had to remain a narrow opening due to human bipedality as evolved from earlier locomotion. The gap between human ovary and fallopian tube is just stoopid.
    7. Biogeography (BG). My favourite. Geographic isolation from the rest of the world or the ecosystem means that natural selection can take hold and mutations can branch out species which have travelled there, or who have been split off from tectonic movement or what have you, to form new species. Creation makes no sense of this – why would God put groups of distinct mammals only on separate islands? Darwin’s finches set off this understanding. Oceanic islands are a perfect example of this. They harbour incredible amounts of unique species. But larger places do this too. Why are marsupials only found in Australasia (also, ancient ancestral marsupial fossils were predicted to be found in Antarctica, and then were, due to tectonic plate movement)? Lemurs in Madagascar, but nowhere else?
    8. BG II. Why are there connected species in particular areas which are thousands of miles apart? Of course, this is predicted by evolution together with tectonic movement. Species of flora and fauna found in Eastern South America are connected to those found in Western Africa. Creation can say nothing about this.Geographic ranges of fossils
    9. BG III. A certain fossilised tree species, Glossopteris, exists in distinct locations, pushed down by glacial ice movement. Such movement always pushes trees forward in the movement of the ices, and this is always towards the sea. But there are some places around the world where this species is seen pushed towards the centre of the continent. Hang on! This makes no sense! Unless, of course, we see the tectonic plate movements from ancient Gondwana which shows directions to the coast now flipped inland. That’s science; it works, bitches.
    10. BG IV. Quote from Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True: “And, starting about forty years ago, we have accumulated information from DNA and protein sequences that tell us not only the evolutionary relationship between species, but also the approximate times when they diverged from common ancestors. Evolutionary theory predicts, and data support, the notion that species diverge from their common ancestors, their DNA sequences change in roughly a straight-line fashion with time. We can use this “molecular clock,” calibrated with fossil ancestors of living species, to estimate the divergence times of species that have poor fossil records. Using the molecular clock, we can match the evolutionary relationship between species with the known movement of the continents, as well as the movements of glaciers and the formation of genuine land bridges such as the Isthmus of Panama. This tells us whether the origin of species are concurrent with the origin of new continents and habitats.” Creation doesn’t even come close to having this explanatory power.
      The direction of the glacial scratches and the falling of the glossopteris trees fits with plate tectonics and biogeography.
      The direction of the glacial scratches and the falling of the glossopteris trees fits with plate tectonics and biogeography.
    11. BG V. Why would convergent evolutionary species only exist in particular habitats when they could simply exist in others, too? This shows three aspects of evolution: common ancestry, speciation and natural selection. If God created all animals, then what the heck would he be doing putting random species which would be adept at living in different places, only in certain habitats? Take Cacti and Euphorbs. These exist in very similar habitats and climates, and yet, they are thousands of miles apart. This is predicted by evolution by natural selection – that species with common ancestors would adapt to similar environments, but not necessarily in exactly the same way. And yet when you transport one to the habitat of the other, it thrives. Convergent evolution is what that is.
    12. BG VI. Oceanic islands again. The types of animals we would find on oceanic islands, as predicted by evolution by natural selection, would be those who could get there by wind, flight or rafts. Not mammals and the like. This is precisely what we find (until man popped along and brought mammals). Think Galapagos etc.
    13. Domestication is evidence of artificial selection, which is just natural selection harnessed by man. All dog varieties come essentially from wolves in only so many thousands of years. We know evolution works coz, like, we done it and all.
    14. Lenski’s experiments. Evolution in the lab creating bacteria with new abilities. Watch the video below.
    15. All of the fossil evidence to support human evolution from a common ancestor with primates.

So on and so forth. On Lenski’s experiments, see this:

http://youtu.be/vUhYGgtwNkE

Anyway, let’s get back to dealing with a few of the points the commenter raised.

“Evolution doesn’t exist and has no facts to support it. “

Mere assertion which is itself empirically false.

“And it is due to absolute 100 percent knowledge that I know it does not exist. It has nothing to do with “not wanting to deal with this or that”  I know this for a fact, no theory involved..”

Interesting epistemological assertion, again. Apparently he has some secret 100% knowledge no one else has access to. Of course, by interesting, I mean ridiculous. Are we talking indubitable, even though from a Cartesian point of view, all we can know 100% is cogito ergo sum? Everything else is probability. So we need to talk about what scientific fact is and how it is defined. On all definitions of scientific fact, evolution is one. It was developed 150 odd years ago, and has been verified every year since then. Even with no idea of a mechanism for heredity, Darwin nailed it. Genetics followed. Nice one, Charlie boy!

” I know that I am being lied to.  The notion that “scientific community” is welcome to be debunked by the scientific method is another ruse.  Your whole argument is an appeal to perceived authority fallacy.  No facts are facts.  Falsehoods are falsehoods. That simple”

This is just utter nonsense. As Andy Schueler would so beautifully say, word salad. Facts appear to be only the things that this commenter claims and adheres to. More later on the absolute stupidity in asserting that the scientific community is somehow in collusion… So one cannot appeal to the scientific fact to show that a scientific theory is valid? Wow! This person is GOOD! (By good, I mean uses unhinged arguments.)

“Creation predicts life will reproduce after its own kind.  But creationists don’t make arguments based on affirming the consequent because it is logically fallacious.”

This just gets better. Do you really want me to list the fallacies creationists use? Better still, watch this:

http://youtu.be/EXMKPvWqgYk

There is a rather circular and invalid aspect to his approach. (S)He asserts that evolution is unacademic and unscientific and when I ask him or her to read something by an evolutionary biologist, the reply is:

“To say you need to read, is to pretend that evolution is academic again. “

Wow, and then the commenter has the sheer audacity to claim:

“Evolution makes predictions, affirming the consequent fallacy.   Creation predicts life will reproduce after its own kind.  But creationists don’t make arguments based on affirming the consequent because it is logically fallacious.”

This is superb. Such amazing hypocrisy. The commenter does not realise that the sheer ad hoc nature of their approach is the best example of affirming the consequent. In fact, they START with the consequent as a presupposition, and then deny any contrary evidence. You literally can’t get any more fallacious than this!

And then, if that nonsense is not enough, check this out:

“Creation would explain ERV’s by simply stating they exist.  That makes no sense to phrase a question that way.  The term species is used by evolutionists to say that the same kind of animal is a different species.  So then they call speciation evolution.  Just a simple word game trick.  It’s all dependent on who defines the lexicon, the concepts stay the same.”

I am actually laughing at this. It is brilliant. To explain something (which is an actual usable piece of knowledge in virology) by claiming that creation merely states it exists is not onlywrong (creationists actually try to deny them in various ways and fail) but also has absolutely no explanatory value. Valid theories, plausible theories, must do (if they are to be preferred) the best job against rival theories to explain the data. As for speciation, we have even seen this taking place (examples can be found here).

The craziness goes on:

“Sexual selection exists because it exists.  All sorts of phenomenon exists.  How does that lend a hand to evolution”

To state something like this shows very clearly two things:

1) this person does not understand the philosophy of science and the creation of hypotheses.

2) this person does not properly understand evolution and what it entails. They really need to read that book… And we are back to “well, these phenomena just exist!” Brilliant, just brilliant. We observe phenomena and they have absolutely no explanation under creation, and yet are perfectly explained, even predicted by, evolution. and they settle for the theory with no explanatory value because an old book implies, under their particular interpretation, that this must be the case.

“Life reproducing after its own kind is all that has ever happened. It is not possible for some animal, not human to mate with another animals and a human being be reproduced. “

Wow. This is priceless. First, I suggest this person reads up on the Problem of Species, nominalism vs realism, and the Sorites Paradox. Of course, there is no delinaeation, truly , between species. We are, in some kind of abstract way, all one species in different transitional forms. However, we can’t all reproduce with each other, and so this allows us to have something more than an arbitrary time-defined method of demarcation. This commenter, however, seems so utterly unaware of such ideas that it is amazing that they can deny evolution, that they can deny something about which they have no grasp whatsoever.

My final point is to show that this person contradicts themselves so tremendously:

“Animals don’t reproduce exact clones of themselves.  To say that since animals don’t reproduce clones of themselves is evolution is not true.”

 Wowsers. This is again brilliant. OK, so this person accepts that animals do not produce exact clones. that’s a start. Of course, if you then factor in millions of years and multitudinous generations, we are starting to get somewhere like evolution. So perhaps this person doesn’t deny evolution (he can’t, we can see it in the lab, for real, in front of our eyes), perhaps it’s just time and tectonics…

The problem for such denialists is that they end up having to deny all sorts of other scientific disciplines and findings just to be able to ad hoc rationalise such denial. Carbon dating, radiometric dating, geology, genetics, biogeography, virology, anthropology, paleontology, archaeology etc; and, if a young earth is claimed, then cosmology and physics. Denialists jump through, no, thrust themselves headlong into massive ad hoc, Ockham’s Razor contesting, hoops of contrivance.

I remember listening to a Reasonable Doubts podcast where they were talking about the onerous idea of bothering to deal with such claims, claims which they saw as so banal and unwarranting of answer since they were so obviously problematic and false as to be a waste of intellectual effort. But then, they all started off believing in similar ways and that so many people are engaged in this battle, and are starting off their journey in a similar way that these efforts are not wasted and are not in vain. Well, I  hope the effort of putting this together is not in vain; that someone, somewhere might have their doubts piqued, and may deign to research further these fascinating scientific findings.

My last point is this. Millions of people, if not more, both work in and rely on these findings. I said this to the commenter and (s)he misread me to say that millions of people work in evolutionary disciplines. I did not mean that. I mean there are people who work in and benefit from our knowledge and understanding of evolution and all of the disciplines associated with it. This may be genetics, virology, immunology, geology or what have you. That the planet has been around this long with its plates slowly moving means that we need to properly understand those movements to properly work towards mitigating their effects. That so many people go to work each day in disciplines which either rely directly or indirectly on evolution being true, and that thousands and thousands people go to work directly in the field of evolution and its research, tirelessly logging data and doing field research, aggregating other research, synthesising conclusions and findings, is staggering in its scope. That someone can flatly deny these findings and hypotheses; that they can accuse these people of concocting a lie; that they can claim that all of those decades of meticulous research amounts to nothing but such a lie… is not only wrong, but is tantamount to a massive insult. It’s bloody rude. It is an insult not only to intelligence itself, but to the good and thorough work of these people and these disciplines. If this person ever needs gene therapy to treat their genetic blindness, upon which such work relies on application of work derived from evolutionary theory and understanding, then perhaps the scientists should deny such therapy to them.

It’s rather like a doctor or surgeon and their team who tirelessly work for days in saving a poor child’s life, using the best known scientific methods, expertise and understanding, only for the parents to turn around to the team and claim, “It’s a miracle! God has answered our prayers and saved our child’s life!”

Ah, bugger off. That’s thousands of hours of scientific learning and practice, built upon hundreds of years of application of the scientific method and building up of the body of knowledge synthesised by countless numbers of the finest human minds for the better of humanity, coming together through hard work and application, to save that life.

Yeah, that’s science. It ain’t no frigging miracle. It’s hard damned work.

Appealing to a two thousand year-old book written by unknown people in unknown places in unknown times for particular agendas to provide explanation for natural phenomena is easy (though intellectually very difficult and contrived). Anyone can bury their head in the sand.

Going out and doing the field studies and data collection which drive scientific work and understanding and theorising; writing the papers; getting peer-review; learning the scientific theories and knowledge; working on designing, carrying out, recording, and relaying results from experiments; and so on – now that’s hard. But it’s worth the effort. Properly understanding this effort and knowledge is the respectful thing to do, particularly if you have decided you don’t want to believe it in the first place. You know, just because some people in your church told you to.

November 26, 2013

So having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions were. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the fifth post after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

This post is about a justification of knowledge in philosophy and whether something can be justified internally by the agent or externally. Here are the results, favouring externalism, but still with a sizable internalist camp.

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

Accept or lean toward: externalism 398 / 931 (42.7%)
Other 287 / 931 (30.8%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism 246 / 931 (26.4%)

So, let us start the ball rolling. The first thing to say is that internalism and externalism can be applied to many areas of philosophy, from motivation to truth. However, the question here specifically related to justification of knowledge.

In basic terms, internalism refers to the idea that justification for a particular belief are available to the agent’s mind or consciousness. Externalism posits that factors outside of the agent’s mind can affect the justification of said belief.

Part of the problem, is the distinction between knowledge and belief. Can we have justified belief in something which is wrong?

First, some epistemologists understand externalism as a view that knowledge does not require justification while others think it should be understood as an externalist view of justification. Second, there is an important distinction between having good reasons for one’s belief (that is, propositional justification) and basing one’s belief on the good reasons one possesses (that is, doxastic justification).This distinction matters to the nature of the internalist thesis and consequently the I-E debate itself. Third, there are two different and prominent ways of understanding what is internal to a person. This bears on the nature of the internalist thesis and externalist arguments against internalism. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – IEP)

So we can distinguish, perhaps, between a true belief (say a superstition that just turns out to be true) and a justified true belief (JTB), which is something which is both true and justified with good reasons. However, Gettier’s famous problems showed that there were issues with the JTB thesis. For example:

Suppose that Smith possesses a good deal of evidence for the belief that someone in his office owns a Ford. Smith’s evidence includes such things as that Smith sees Jones drive a Ford to work every day and that Jones talks about the joys of owning a Ford. It turns out, however, that (unbeknownst to Smith) Jones is deceiving his coworkers into believing he owns a Ford. At the same time, though, someone else in Smith’s office, Brown, does own a Ford. So, Smith’s belief that someone in his office owns a Ford is both justified and true. Yet it seems to most people that Smith’s belief is not an instance of knowledge.

So in order to turn true belief into knowledge, there had to be, externalists posited, some causal or dependency relations between the belief and facts. Of course, this then raised the question as to whether externalists think that knowledge doesn’t require justification or that justification should be seen as external.

One must be careful. For example, I might believe that I may get a job at a company. This could be justified by good reasons, such as that I have the correct qualifications, they liked me in the interview and suchlike. However, I may in actuality just believe I will get the job (in spite of those good reasons) based on wishful thinking. Therefore, is my belief justified adequately or not? I am justified because there are to be accessed good reasons for the belief, but not justified because I base my belief on wishful thinking (some call this the difference between justification and well-foundedness).

Now the internalist believes that every condition which justifies a belief in internal. However, causal relations are generally external. As the IEP continues:

Since basing one’s belief on reasons is a causal relation between one’s belief and one’s reasons, internalists should not claim that every factor that determines doxastic justification is internal (see 1c below for further discussion of this). Accordingly, internalism should be understood as a view about propositional justification. Moreover, given that one cannot know unless one bases one’s belief on good reasons this implies that internalists will understand the justification condition in an account of knowledge as composed of two parts: propositional justification and some causal condition (typically referred to as “the basing relation”). This considerably complicates the I-E debate because there’s not a straightforward disagreement between internalist and externalist views of doxastic justification, since externalists typically avoid dissecting the justification condition. Common forms of externalism build in a causal requirement to justification, for example, one’s belief that p is produced by a reliable method. Nevertheless it is important to get the nature of the internalist thesis straight and only then determine the nature of the externalist objections.

Now there is great scope for making this post unnecessarily complex. Suffice it to say that internalism concerns itself with propositional justification and claims that this relies entirely on one’s “internal states could be one’s bodily states, one’s brain states, one’s mental states (if these are different than brain states), or one’s reflectively accessible states.” (IEP). There is argument over whether internal justification is simply reliant on (past or present?) mental states, or reflexively accessible states (mentalism and acessibilism) but we need not worry ourselves too much about that now. I will include this excerpt from quite a clear online essay to explain further:

Internalism is the thesis that knowledge or justification is gained by having good reasons for one’s true beliefs. Some examples of processes that one can use to form one’s current beliefs are perceptual experience, memory, and previously formed beliefs. It is important to note that a subject S’s reasons for believing a proposition p are not facts about p or p itself. Rather they are that p, or facts about p, are perceived by S in certain ways. For example, S does not form the belief that the tulips in the garden are red because they are red. Rather she/he forms that belief because it appears to her/him that the tulips in the garden are red. This is an internal factor in the knowledge requirement. For internalists, knowledge requires that one has a true belief with good supporting reasons or evidence. The good reasons/evidence requirement here becomes the justification requirement in the classical model of knowledge.

There are two branches of internalism, and they are known as mentalism and access internalism. The most common form of internalism is access internalism, which will be the focus of this essay. Within accessibility there are two branches: actual access and accessibility. Actual access is the idea that for every proposition p that one knows, one is also aware of the knowledge basis, or roots of p. Accessibility is the idea that for every proposition p that one knows, one can become aware of the knowledge basis, or roots of p. The actual access requirement seems to be too strong. It is implausible that one is always aware of where one learned a fact every time one uses it, especially facts learned long ago. In my opinion accessibility seems more plausible and is therefore a stronger claim. If one had to remember the basis for every piece of what we would like to call knowledge, most of our basic vocabularies would not count as knowledge, For example, I do not remember where, when or how I learned what a bus is, as I learned it a long time ago. However, it seems highly counter-intuitive to say that I do not therefore know how to recognise a bus. It would also have the absurd result that I ‘know’ a complicated philosophical concept that I learned about yesterday, more than I ‘know’ what a bus is, because of having memory of where and when I learned about the latter but not the former. Because of this, I will focus on accessibility.

Externalism is the thesis that knowledge does not require internal justification. There are different forms of externalism, but I will focus on process reliabilism, supposedly the most popular form of externalism. All externalists agree that in order to have knowledge, one must have a belief resulting from a process that reliably connects belief to truth. According to externalism, no support from any other beliefs or systems of beliefs is necessary. According to Alston, reliability requires that a process yields a high proportion of truths over a wide range of ordinarily encountered situations. This is known as process reliability. Alston admits that this definition is imprecise and that the already vague boundaries between what a typical and an atypical case is may shift over time. However, something that is intuitively pleasing about process reliabilism is that it rules out skeptical problems, by only focusing on facts that are directly relevant (or close) to the situation that one is actually in, and scepticism is assumed not to be relevant in most situations.

The author concludes:

In conclusion, I believe that internalism can be preferred to externalism on the basis that it rules out forgotten evidence as justification. There are arguments that forgotten evidence still justifies a belief, but I believe that this is only true from an objective basis, not a subjective basis. This is because I believe that a belief held without at least access to its evidence is not justified for the subject. I believe that because externalism seemingly treats justification as a purely objective phenomena, it fails to pick out what is important for human knowledge, which is, in my opinion, that truth be connected with belief not just because the world happens to be like that, but because the subject is aware and has evidence that the world is as it is. I believe that internalism is better able to do this.

Why this argument is important…

I actually think this argument could be important in terms of CS Lewis’ Argument from Reason whereby he claims that naturalists, being dependent upon causal relations of the world, cannot rationally hold to their own worldview, since external sources of epistemic justification cannot properly be rational, according to some.

As the IEP states:

Another issue with respect to naturalism in epistemology is its connection to naturalism in the philosophy of mind. The naturalist aims to understand the mind as a physical system. Since physical systems can be explained without invoking mental concepts a naturalist in epistemology is weary of using questionable mental concepts to elucidate the nature of epistemic concepts. Internalism in epistemology is not necessarily at odds with naturalism as a metaphysical view but the internalist’s preferred concepts tend to come from commonsense psychology rather than the natural sciences. Externalists, by contrast, tend to stress natural concepts like causation, reliability, and tracking because these set up better for a naturalist view in the philosophy of mind.

I haven’t done a particularly good job of explaining this because it just gets very confusing and intricate and its not a particularly fun (in my humble opinion) area of philosophy, though it is pretty fundamental to knowledge claims. For further reading, follow the links

RELATED POSTS:

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

May 28, 2013

So having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions were. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the third post after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

This post is about a distinction in philosophy about truths, namely the analytic or synthetic distinction, and whether such categorisation is coherent. There is a clearer majority for this question than we have seen in previous posts:

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?

Accept or lean toward: yes 604 / 931 (64.9%)
Accept or lean toward: no 252 / 931 (27.1%)
Other 75 / 931 (8.1%)

But it is still not a runaway victory for proponents of the distinction. The distinction is rooted in the analysis of propositions (often particular types of statements known as affirmative subject-predicate judgements).

An analytic proposition is one where the predicate concept is contained within the subject concept. In other words, it is true by virtue of its meaning regardless of the way the world is. For example, the classic one is “all bachelors are unmarried” such that the concept of the subject (bachelors) is contained within the predicate (unmarried). Other examples:

The circle is not a square

The vixen is female

A synthetic proposition is one where the predicate concept is not contained within the subject concept. They are true because of the way the world is. An example would be “All bachelors are unhappy”, or:

All children are naughty

All creatures with hearts have kidneys

So far so good? Nice. Some of you who read or know about the a priori / a posteriori debate (linked above) will notice a similarity. Analytic propositions look very much like a priori judgements and synthetic propositions look much like a posteriori judgements. Immanuel Kant thought that there could be four types of proposition as a result (courtesy of wiki):

Examples of a priori propositions include:

  • “All bachelors are unmarried.”
  • “7 + 5 = 12.”

The justification of these propositions does not depend upon experience: One need not consult experience to determine whether all bachelors are unmarried, nor whether 7 + 5 = 12. (Of course, as Kant would grant, experience is required to understand the concepts “bachelor,” “unmarried,” “7”, “+” and so forth. However, the a priori/a posteriori distinction as employed here by Kant refers not to the origins of the concepts but to the justification of the propositions. Once we have the concepts, experience is no longer necessary.)

Examples of a posteriori propositions include:

  • “All bachelors are unhappy.”
  • “Tables exist.”

Both of these propositions are a posteriori: Any justification of them would require one’s experience.

The analytic/synthetic distinction and the a priori/a posteriori distinction together yield four types of propositions:

  1. analytic a priori
  2. synthetic a priori
  3. analytic a posteriori
  4. synthetic a posteriori

Kant says the third type is self-contradictory, so he discusses only the remaining three types as components of his epistemological framework.

Mathematically, and possibly due to the confinement of logic at the time, Kant believed mathematical claims like 7 + 5 = 12 to be synthetic because he felt 12 is not contained in the concept of 5, 7 or +. There would have to be some synthesis of thought to arrive at this. This fell into the synthetic a priori camp for him.

Frege and others came along and refined Kant’s thinking. But why bother with all this semantic and linguistic musing? As the SEP states:

Why should philosophy be interested in what would seem to be a purely linguistic notion? Because, especially in the first half of the Twentieth Century, many philosophers thought it could perform crucial epistemological work, providing an account, first, of our apparently a priori knowledge of mathematics, and then—with a little help from British empiricism—of our understanding of claims about the spatio-temporal world as well. Indeed, “conceptual analysis” soon came to constitute the very way particularly Anglophone philosophers characterized their work. Many additionally thought it would perform the metaphysical work of explaining the truth and necessity of mathematics, showing not only how it is we could know about these topics independently of experience, but how they could be true in all possible worlds.

This slight change was a move brought on by the Logical Positivists:

The logical positivists agreed with Kant that we have knowledge of mathematical truths, and further that mathematical propositions are a priori. However, they did not believe that any complex metaphysics, such as the type Kant supplied, are necessary to explain our knowledge of mathematical truths. Instead, the logical positivists maintained that our knowledge of judgments like “all bachelors are unmarried” and our knowledge of mathematics (and logic) are in the basic sense the same: all proceeded from our knowledge of the meanings of terms or the conventions of language.

Such that definitions could be various:

  1. analytic proposition: a proposition whose truth depends solely on the meaning of its terms

  2. analytic proposition: a proposition that is true (or false) by definition

  3. analytic proposition: a proposition that is made true (or false) solely by the conventions of language

So why all the fuss? Well, it underpins truth values and that pretty much covers everything. It can get really bloody complex. I would refer to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy if you are that bothered. The most famous philosopher who has called the distinction into question is the great W.V. Quine who stated:

It is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extralinguistic fact. …Thus one is tempted to suppose in general that the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component. Given this supposition, it next seems reasonable that in some statements the factual component should be null; and these are the analytic statements. But, for all its a priori reasonableness, a boundary between analytic and synthetic statements simply has not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith.

—Willard v. O. Quine, Two dogmas of empiricism, p. 64

What he states is that analytic (think tautology) statements, being grounded in meaning, are independent of facts, but being synonymous, they inevitably lead to matters of fact, which is the realm, supposedly, or the more empirical synthetic philosophy. The problem, though, is that it all gets rather circular, such that:

All necessary (and all a priori) truths are analytic

Analyticity is needed to explain and legitimate necessity.

Robert Hanna (“The Return of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction”) claims that the distinction is vital to allow much of the rest of philosophy to work and be grounded in semantics and reasonable explanation:

…no one has yet explained how analytic philosophy itself can really be possible without adequate theories of

(i) conceptual analysis,

(ii) analyticity,

(iii) an intelligible and defensible distinction between (a) logical, conceptual, or analytically necessary truths(i.e., truths about the kind of necessity that flows from the nature of concepts or intensions), and (b) non-logical, non-conceptual,substantive, or  synthetically necessary truths (i.e., truths about the kind of necessity that flows from the  nature of things in the world),

(iv) a priori knowledge of logical truths and conceptual truths,

and finally

(v) a priori knowledge of non-logical, substantive, or synthetically necessary truths, especially including mathematical truths.

Equally without a doubt, the second greatest urban legend of contemporary philosophy is that the A-S distinction does not matter anyway. To most contemporary philosophers, it seems technical, tedious, and trivial. But on the contrary, if the A-S distinction were either unintelligible or indefensible, then the very idea of a semantic content would go down, and correspondingly the very ideas of logical understanding, logical reasoning, conceptual understanding, conceptual reasoning, intensionality, intentionality, thinking, belief, cognition, and knowledge would all go down too,since all these inherently involve semantic content. For example, how could there be an intelligible and defensible notion of belief, without the correlative notion of belief content? Then the very idea of human rationality would also collapse, and “it’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Hanna’s rather feisty defence of the distinction continues later with a list of valid reasons why such a distinction steers us away from “postmodernist anti-rational nihilism”:

First, if the A-S distinction is intelligible and defensible, then an adequate theory of it provides an explanation of

(1) necessary truth and a priori knowledge,

and

(2) contingent truth and a posteriori knowledge.

This is just the beginning of his long list. But you get the idea. Personally, I do find it a little dry. Horses for courses, though.

RELATED POSTS:

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

April 19, 2013

So having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions were. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the third post after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

This post is about aesthetic value or, in other words, beauty and the like. Is beauty a purely subjective notion, or do ‘objects’ actually have intrinsic aesthetic value?

Here are the results from the survey:

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?

Accept or lean toward: objective 382 / 931 (41.0%)
Accept or lean toward: subjective 321 / 931 (34.5%)
Other 228 / 931 (24.5%)

Which appears to be a fairly indecisive split.

If you remember my post on Plato, you might remember that he reckoned that there were ideal forms of everything which existed in some Platonic realm. Until a few hundred years ago, most philosophers concluded that beauty was objective, located in the object or the qualities of the object being evaluated. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry on “Beauty”:

In De Veritate Religione, Augustine asks explicitly whether things are beautiful because they give delight, or whether they give delight because they are beautiful; he emphatically opts for the second (Augustine, 247). Plato’s account in the Symposium and Plotinus’s in the Enneads connect beauty to a response of love and desire, but locate beauty itself in the realm of the Forms, and the beauty of particular objects in their participation in the Form.

Can you have the ideal form of something which is ugly, I wonder? Socrates, another subject of one of my factfiles, thought that beauty was instantiated in the object, rather than being represented by universals. In this way, however, it is objective and not entwined with the subjective response of the individual.

Subjectivists, on the other hand, believe that beauty is pretty much in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. As Hume said:

Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. (Hume 1757, 136)

The issue with this kind of position is that if beauty is indeed entirely subjective, then the whole concept is pretty meaningless by point of fact that the word has no real meaning other than stating a particular preference of the individual. It seems remarkable, then, that our aesthetic judgements do seem to coincide to such an extent. Denying the beauty of a wonderful sunset is a difficult thing to do.

Conversely,

Such aesthetic words as ‘beautiful’ and ‘hideous’ are employed … not to make statements of fact, but simply to express certain feelings and evoke a certain response. It follows…that there is no sense attributing objective validity to aesthetic judgments, and no possibility of arguing about questions of value in aesthetics. (Ayer 1952, 113)

The SEP continues:

All meaningful claims either concern the meaning of terms or are empirical, in which case they are meaningful because observations could confirm or disconfirm them. ‘That song is beautiful’ has neither status, and hence has no empirical or conceptual content. It merely expresses a positive attitude of a particular viewer; it is an expression of pleasure, like a satisfied sigh. The question of beauty is not a genuine question, and we can safely leave it behind or alone. Most twentieth-century philosophers did just that.

Put another way, as more modern thinkers often do, it is the pleasure, perhaps, that makes something beautiful. Empiricist thought sees, say, colour as a perception. Without the perceiving mind, there is no colour as understood by the way different people have different perceptions of the ‘same colour’ (think colourblindness), and also how colours of objects can change depending on the lighting.

However, philosophers such as Kant saw something being lost in such subjective perception. The fact that we argue over beauty in all of these contexts goes some way to showing that we, at least intuitively, think there is a right and a wrong to such evaluations. If beauty is completely relative to individual experiencers, it doesn’t qualify as an important value. It becomes unrecognisable as a value at all across persons or societies (ie objectively). Thus it seems that there are both objective and subjective aspects to aesthetics.

Hume claimed that:

“Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to found, is the true standard of taste and beauty” (“Of the Standard of Taste” 1757, 144).

If the best of the best seem to agree on their conclusions in evaluating aesthetics (why the classic works of art and literature persist) then this must indicate objectiveness or a close analogy to it. As the SEP states:

Though we cannot directly find a standard of beauty that sets out the qualities that a thing must possess in order to be beautiful, we can describe the qualities of a good critic or a tasteful person. Then the long-run consensus of such persons is the practical standard of taste and the means of justifying judgments about beauty.

Kant made some interesting points about disinterestedness. One must evaluate aesthetics without bringing any baggage to the table. This hints at intrinsic value and moves away from personal, subjective context. As he said himself:

if you are looking at a beautiful valley primarily as a valuable real estate opportunity, you are not seeing it for its own sake, and cannot fully experience its beauty. If you are looking at a lovely woman and considering her as a possible sexual conquest, you are not able to experience her beauty in the fullest or purest sense; you are distracted from the form as represented in your experience.

This needs to be qualified though. There is dependency on what sort of thing the object is. A beautiful horse does not make a beautiful ox. Some things are more abstract, such as, say, a particular pattern.

What this means is, if we can all divorce ourselves from our own baggage, we would all agree, so Kant reckons, on what would be beautiful. This is a universalisation of judgement. The SEP surmises:

In the case of aesthetic judgments, however, the judgment remains subjective, but necessarily contains the ‘demand’ that everyone should reach the same judgment. The judgment conceptually entails a claim to inter-subjective validity. This accounts for the fact that we do very often argue about judgments of taste, and that we find tastes that are different than our own defective.

BUT. An object cannot, perhaps, be beautiful if it gives no pleasure to anybody:

An object cannot be beautiful if it can give pleasure to nobody: a beauty to which all men were forever indifferent is a contradiction in terms. … Beauty is therefore a positive value that is intrinsic; it is a pleasure. (Santayana 1896, 50–51)

Aesthetics, as a discipline, declined in favour as people stopped seeing it on a par with other truths: moral, epistemological and so on. A recent theory is one that proposes that it is a relationship. SEP says of Sartwell’s work (this guy has a bunch of You Tube vids, so check him out):

Crispin Sartwell in his book Six Names of Beauty (2004), attributes beauty neither exclusively to the subject nor to the object, but to the relation between them, and even more widely also to the situation or environment in which they are both embedded. He points out that when we attribute beauty to the night sky, for instance, we do not take ourselves simply to be reporting a state of pleasure in ourselves; we are turned outward toward it; we are celebrating the real world. On the other hand, if there were no perceivers capable of experiencing such things, there would be no beauty. Beauty, rather, emerges in situations in which subject and object are juxtaposed and connected.

There are many theories abounding which target symmetry and other factors as underpinning beauty, both in concrete stimuli such as people’s faces, and in mathematical constructions and equations. The Triple Helix Online blog sums up the discussion adeptly:

The emerging discipline of evolutionary psychology is based on the idea that not only have our physical traits been shaped by our adaptation to our ancestral environment, but our behaviour and preferences have likewise been shaped by natural selection [1]. This has led to many studies investigating the evolutionary reasons for the human concept of beauty, and their results are often surprising. Mostly, these studies examine whether a particular trait – for example symmetry, colour, and facial hair– is correlated with perceived attractiveness, and in doing so they focus on the biological and evolutionary reasons why some faces are commonly judged to be more attractive than others. They show that despite the old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, there are a number of traits which are generally and cross-culturally perceived as more attractive than others. However, this approach has come under much criticism – not only methodologically, but also from those who argue that attractiveness should be studied as a cultural concept only, or those who argue that it should not be studied at all [2].

I would advise reading this piece in its entirety as it sums up all of the different works which are looking to ground attractiveness in adaption, neurology and psychology. The conclusion to the piece feeds into this particular debate about objectivism and subjectivism:

It seems that this expanding field will not stop growing in the foreseeable future. As more traits – not just facial, but in body and behaviour – are found to correlate with attractiveness, our picture of the biological basis of beauty will become more filled out, perhaps to the point where it can compete with the widely-held cultural view of individual, subjective aesthetics. This exciting new discipline is pushing the boundaries of what science can and cannot tell us about the way we see the world around us, telling us that beauty is not in the eye, but in the specific adapted cognitive modules of the beholder.

So do these theories (facial markers, symmetry, hormone levels, neoteny, biological mechanisms etc) mean that the ideas of beauty are based in concrete objects, that they are, indeed objective?

All told, it is no wonder that philosophers are split on objective vs subjective. It seems it might well be a case of being both, but without anyone being able to put their fingers on it!

What do YOU think?

RELATED POSTS:

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

NOTES

1. Swami V, Furnham A. The Psychology of Physical Attraction. London: Routledge; 2008.

2. Cartwright J. Evolution and Human Behaviour. 2nd ed. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan; 2008.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 SEP, BeautyFirst published Tue Sep 4, 2012

Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, in two volumes, Jonathan Barnes, ed., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984 [4th century BCE].

Ayer, A.J., 1952, Language, Truth, and Logic, New York: Dover.

Hume, David, 1757, “Of the Standard of Taste,” Essays Moral and Political, London: George Routledge and Sons, 1894.

–––, 1740, A Treatise of Human Nature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Kant, Immanuel, 1790, Critique of Judgement, J.H. Bernard, trans., New York: Macmillan, 1951.

Santayana, George, 1896, The Sense of Beauty, New York: Scribner’s.

Sartwell, Crispin, 2004, Six Names of Beauty, New York: Routledge

March 16, 2013

In doing the philpapers inspired Philosophy 101 series (found here and here, so far), touching on the questions asked in the largest ever survey of philosophers, I thought I would give some nice, basic factfiles explaining what some of the key philosophers have brought to the philosophical table. We hear so much about Aristotle, Plato, Hume and Descartes, but who the hell are they and what did they think (in a really short, easy-to-digest manner)?

Having already covered Socrates here, I am moving on to his protege, a certain Mr Plato.

Name: Plato

Location: Athens

Era: 427-347 BCE

Main area of philosophy: Epistemology (what is knowledge and how do we come by it?), rationalism (using reason as opposed to empirical evidence to ground knowledge)

How do we know: Apology (about Socrates), dialogues (thirty-six dialogues and thirteen letters have been ascribed to him), Republic, Symposium and other writing

Bio: Belonged to aristocratic family, well educated it seems, and a protege of Socrates. Founded one of the earliest known organised schools in Western world later in his life – the Academy which existed in one form or another until 529 CE when the Christians closed it down, seeing it as a threat. Go figure. Got into politics. Got sold into slavery. Got bought out by an admirer. He either died in his sleep, at a wedding, or in bed whilst a young girl played the flute. Who knows, could be a euphemism. If so, way to go! He was a massive influence on his pupil, Mr Aristotle.

Philosophy stuff:

Plato is known for his claims of Ideal Forms, which goes something like this:

1) The real world is the world of IDEAS which contains IDEAL FORMS of everything

2) We live in an illusory world, the world of our SENSES, which contains imperfect copies of the Ideal Forms

3) However, we are born with the concepts of these Ideal Forms in our minds

4) When we recognise things in the world it is because we see them as imperfect copies of the Ideal Forms in our minds.

5) Everything in this world is a SHADOW of the REAL WORLD of IDEAL FORMS

Socrates claim of the concept that virtue is knowledge was seen by Plato as raising the question as to what a concept was. Whether it be a physical thing or a concept like a moral concept, there must be a perfect version of it. Every object around us is recognisable because it has a ‘-ness’ to it. Dogs have in common a ‘doginess’, chairs a ‘chairness’ and so on. These are universal properties, or universals.

Reason, so Plato thinks, is how we find out about the world, such as with mathematical knowledge, using logical steps and imagining conclusions. We do not find this TRUE KNOWLEDGE, if you like, through our senses. It is this reason which allows the conclusion that the world of Ideal Forms must exist – that we are in a cave, facing a wall with a fire burning behind us. Other people hold up objects, but we cannot turn around (if we do, we will likely be confused and turn back to our comfort zone) and see only the shadows of these objects. We are prisoners in our shadow world. This “Allegory of the Cave” illustrates the way Plato saw the world.

Because much of our ‘knowledge’ only comes from these imperfect representations, the only way to access true knowledge is to studying the Ideas. The material world is subject to change, but this world of Forms is immutable. And this is not merely the case for concrete objects, but for abstract ideas like love and courage, moral goodness and so on.

Our conception of these Ideal Forms must be innate, he argues, to be able to access them through reason. As such, humans are divided into body (senses) and soul (reason) which is immortal and eternal. This soul inhabited the world of the Ideas before our birth and will return there after our deaths. Thus the recognising of these shadows in the sensory world is recollection of when our souls were in the world of Ideas.

It is the job of philosophers to discover this world of Ideal Forms and Ideas (and these should be the people in the ruling class).

So Plato wasn’t just about arguing about true knowledge itself, as others before him, but HOW one could and should get there.

Platonic philosophy influenced later Christian and Islamic scholars, such as St Augustine.

And crucially, Plato was a massive influence on the 17th century Rationalists, who axiomatically placed reason as the grounding of knowledge, and not evidence or observation, as opposed to the Empiricists.

How does this affect your life and philosophy?

Well, these days the debate is over what everything is made up of, or more accurately, what the existence properties are of concrete objects, natural kinds and abstract objects and universals. This has been explained a little by myself in Philosophy 101 (philpapers induced) #2 – Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism. Plato believed there was an extra realm where abstract ideas and universals existed. These days, this is less adhered to, and yet many are still realists believing that these abstracta are really real, in some way. As I asked God in The Little Book of Unholy Questions:

Many argue that there is no such thing as objective morality, because any idea is subjective, as I will set out. Abstract ideas (such as objective morality) do not and cannot exist objectively. It is anthropocentric to imagine they do. Imagine a more intelligent alien life-form comes to earth and sees a table. They have somehow not invented tables. This table is not a table to them. In other words, a table only has properties that make it a table within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items – i.e. tableness. Without humans existing on earth, for example, ‘tables’ would not exist. Thus the label of ‘table’ is a result of ‘subjectively human’ evolution. If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. For example, a ‘forqwibllex’ is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have ‘made-up’). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does – have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned ‘mental labels’, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A table, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely they same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker. Therefore, the question, God, is: do abstract ideas exist outside of the subjective mind of the thinking entity?

 Establishing the properties of everything that we can conceive is, to me, the most foundational philosophy that we can do.

February 20, 2013

I’ve been thinking. In doing the philpapers inspired Philosophy 101 series (found here and here, so far), touching on the questions asked in the largest ever survey of philosophers, I thought I would give some nice, basic factfiles explaining what some of the key philosophers have brought to the philosophical table. We hear so much about Aristotle, Plato, Hume and Descartes, but who the hell are they and what did they think (in a really short, easy-to-digest manner)?

I thought I would go back and start at the beginning. Though Thales is often thought of as the first philosopher, I am going to start with Socrates. Let me know what you think (as ever!).

 

Name: Socrates

Location: Athens

Era: 469-399 BCE

Main area of philosophy: Epistemology (what is knowledge and how do we come by it?)

How do we know: Nothing survives of his work. Only know about him through his protege, Plato.

Bio:

Son of stonemason and midwife, probably followed Dad. Went in the army. Fought a war, did well. Inherited money, retired early to think. Got known around Athens, had a following, got accused of corrupting young minds, sentenced to death by drinking hemlock.

Philosophy stuff:

Socrates is an interesting blokey. He was well-known for asking questions, not necessarily claiming he had a lot of knowledge, but being able to point out that others didn’t by using a dialectical method. This is working things out through discussion, which is kind of what we all do when arguing on the internet, or in person over a pint.

Eg, Socrates might say:

Q Do you think that the gods know everything?

A Yes, they’re gods.

Q Do some gods disagree with others?

A Yes. You know gods, always fighting.

Q So gods disagree about what is right?

A I suppose so.

Q So some gods can sometimes be wrong?

A Er, yeah, I suppose so.

Therefore, sunshine, the gods cannot know everything!

It was with this dialectical method that Socrates became well known for discussing stuff with people. He used this method to examine people and himself. He was famous for believing that “the unexamined life is not worth living”:

1) The only life worth living is the good life

2) I can only live the good life if I know the difference between good and evil

3) these are absolutes, not relative, and can only be discovered from questioning and examining and reasoning

4) Therefore, morality and knowledge are inextricably linked

5) An unquestioning life is one of ignorance without morality

6) An unexamined life is not worth living

A good life, he thought, was achieving peace of mind by doing the right thing, which can only be discovered by examining oneself and others. He saw virtue as the most valued possession – no-one wants to do evil, it makes them feel uncomfortable (we want peace of mind). It all comes down to gaining knowledge. This is a virtuous goal – it is why we exist. The key to this is self-knowledge.

Socrates was interested in love, loyalty, justice, good and evil, amongst other things.

Socrates’ dialectical method which produced knowledge from a starting point of ignorance – merely questioning – was actually the seed for the inductive method, which became the scientific method. In this way, he set the foundation, not only for Western philosophy, but also for the empirical sciences.

Well done, old chap!

Socrates: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

Green Day: “All I know is that I don’t know nuffin’, all I know is that I don’t know nuffin’ now!”

January 3, 2013

So the philpapers survey of philosophers is somewhere I often go to see what the general trend is for modern philosophers. Not so much as an argumentum ad populum – quite a number of the results are evenly split – but to get an idea of which positions are deemed most tenable by those in the know. It really is fascinating reading. I might start doing a series on what each question means. Yes, that’s a good idea. Done. Aah, these good ole streams of consciousness out of which good ideas spout forth.

 

 

A priori knowledge: yes or no?

Accept or lean toward: yes 662 / 931 (71.1%)
Accept or lean toward: no 171 / 931 (18.4%)
Other 98 / 931 (10.5%)

 

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

Accept or lean toward: Platonism 366 / 931 (39.3%)
Accept or lean toward: nominalism 351 / 931 (37.7%)
Other 214 / 931 (23.0%)

 

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?

Accept or lean toward: objective 382 / 931 (41.0%)
Accept or lean toward: subjective 321 / 931 (34.5%)
Other 228 / 931 (24.5%)

 

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?

Accept or lean toward: yes 604 / 931 (64.9%)
Accept or lean toward: no 252 / 931 (27.1%)
Other 75 / 931 (8.1%)

 

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

Accept or lean toward: externalism 398 / 931 (42.7%)
Other 287 / 931 (30.8%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism 246 / 931 (26.4%)

 

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)
Other 86 / 931 (9.2%)
Accept or lean toward: skepticism 45 / 931 (4.8%)
Accept or lean toward: idealism 40 / 931 (4.3%)

 

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

Accept or lean toward: compatibilism 550 / 931 (59.1%)
Other 139 / 931 (14.9%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 128 / 931 (13.7%)
Accept or lean toward: no free will 114 / 931 (12.2%)

 

God: theism or atheism?

Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
Other 117 / 931 (12.6%)

 

Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?

Accept or lean toward: contextualism 373 / 931 (40.1%)
Accept or lean toward: invariantism 290 / 931 (31.1%)
Other 241 / 931 (25.9%)
Accept or lean toward: relativism 27 / 931 (2.9%)

 

Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?

Other 346 / 931 (37.2%)
Accept or lean toward: empiricism 326 / 931 (35.0%)
Accept or lean toward: rationalism 259 / 931 (27.8%)

 

Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?

Accept or lean toward: non-Humean 532 / 931 (57.1%)
Accept or lean toward: Humean 230 / 931 (24.7%)
Other 169 / 931 (18.2%)

 

Logic: classical or non-classical?

Accept or lean toward: classical 480 / 931 (51.6%)
Other 308 / 931 (33.1%)
Accept or lean toward: non-classical 143 / 931 (15.4%)

 

Mental content: internalism or externalism?

Accept or lean toward: externalism 476 / 931 (51.1%)
Other 269 / 931 (28.9%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism 186 / 931 (20.0%)

 

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?

Accept or lean toward: moral realism 525 / 931 (56.4%)
Accept or lean toward: moral anti-realism 258 / 931 (27.7%)
Other 148 / 931 (15.9%)

 

Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?

Accept or lean toward: naturalism 464 / 931 (49.8%)
Accept or lean toward: non-naturalism 241 / 931 (25.9%)
Other 226 / 931 (24.3%)

 

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?

Accept or lean toward: physicalism 526 / 931 (56.5%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 252 / 931 (27.1%)
Other 153 / 931 (16.4%)

 

Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?

Accept or lean toward: cognitivism 612 / 931 (65.7%)
Other 161 / 931 (17.3%)
Accept or lean toward: non-cognitivism 158 / 931 (17.0%)

 

Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?

Other 329 / 931 (35.3%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism 325 / 931 (34.9%)
Accept or lean toward: externalism 277 / 931 (29.8%)

 

Newcomb’s problem: one box or two boxes?

Other 441 / 931 (47.4%)
Accept or lean toward: two boxes 292 / 931 (31.4%)
Accept or lean toward: one box 198 / 931 (21.3%)

 

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?

Other 301 / 931 (32.3%)
Accept or lean toward: deontology 241 / 931 (25.9%)
Accept or lean toward: consequentialism 220 / 931 (23.6%)
Accept or lean toward: virtue ethics 169 / 931 (18.2%)

 

Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?

Other 393 / 931 (42.2%)
Accept or lean toward: representationalism 293 / 931 (31.5%)
Accept or lean toward: qualia theory 114 / 931 (12.2%)
Accept or lean toward: disjunctivism 102 / 931 (11.0%)
Accept or lean toward: sense-datum theory 29 / 931 (3.1%)

 

Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?

Other 347 / 931 (37.3%)
Accept or lean toward: psychological view 313 / 931 (33.6%)
Accept or lean toward: biological view 157 / 931 (16.9%)
Accept or lean toward: further-fact view 114 / 931 (12.2%)

 

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Other 382 / 931 (41.0%)
Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 324 / 931 (34.8%)
Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 133 / 931 (14.3%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 92 / 931 (9.9%)

 

Proper names: Fregean or Millian?

Other 343 / 931 (36.8%)
Accept or lean toward: Millian 321 / 931 (34.5%)
Accept or lean toward: Fregean 267 / 931 (28.7%)

 

Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?

Accept or lean toward: scientific realism 699 / 931 (75.1%)
Other 124 / 931 (13.3%)
Accept or lean toward: scientific anti-realism 108 / 931 (11.6%)

 

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

Accept or lean toward: survival 337 / 931 (36.2%)
Other 304 / 931 (32.7%)
Accept or lean toward: death 290 / 931 (31.1%)

 

Time: A-theory or B-theory?

Other 542 / 931 (58.2%)
Accept or lean toward: B-theory 245 / 931 (26.3%)
Accept or lean toward: A-theory 144 / 931 (15.5%)

 

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?

Accept or lean toward: switch 635 / 931 (68.2%)
Other 225 / 931 (24.2%)
Accept or lean toward: don’t switch 71 / 931 (7.6%)

 

Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?

Accept or lean toward: correspondence 473 / 931 (50.8%)
Accept or lean toward: deflationary 231 / 931 (24.8%)
Other 163 / 931 (17.5%)
Accept or lean toward: epistemic 64 / 931 (6.9%)

 

Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?

Accept or lean toward: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 331 / 931 (35.6%)
Other 234 / 931 (25.1%)
Accept or lean toward: metaphysically possible 217 / 931 (23.3%)
Accept or lean toward: inconceivable 149 / 931 (16.0%)
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