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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Teleology: Inorganic and Organic

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hayek, Popper and The Causal Theory of The Mind

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Adler’s Cartesian Argument for Refuting Artificial Intelligence

In How to Speak How to Listen, Mortimer J. Adler offers a good exposition of two aspects of communication that are often ignored by our education system—speaking and listening.

He also offers in the book a perspective on several controversial areas of philosophy. For instance, in Chapter 14, “Conversation in Human Life,” Adler uses Descartes’s idea that only human beings can hold a conversation to counter the arguments of the exponents of Artificial Intelligence. Here’s an excerpt:  
This century has also seen the production of computerlike machines that are eulogistically referred to as artificial-intelligence machines. Their inventors and exponents claim for them that they will soon be able to do everything that the mind enables human beings to do. Their claim goes further than predicting that these machines will someday simulate characteristically human performances of all sorts, such as reading and writing, listening and speaking, as well as calculating, problem solving, and decision making. It predicts that the machine performance of these operations will be indistinguishable from the human performance of them.

Three centuries ago, a famous French philosopher, Rene Descartes, countered this prediction by asserting that there would always remain at least one thing that would separate the performance of machines from that of human beings. This one thing, which machines would never be able to simulate so successfully that machine and human performance would be indistinguishable, Descartes said, was conversation. For him that was the acid test of the radical difference in kind between humans and brutes as well as between men and machines.

In Part V of his Discourse on Method, Descartes conceded that intricate machines might be constructed to simulate successfully the performance of other animals—brutes by virtue of their lack of intellect, reason, or the power of conceptual thought. If there were machines possessing the I: organs and outward form of a monkey or some other animal without reason, Descartes agreed that "we would not have any means of ascertaining that they were not of the same nature as those animals." And in another place he wrote:

It is a very remarkable fact that there are none so depraved or stupid, without even excepting idiots, that they cannot arrange different words together, forming of them a statement by which they can make known their thoughts; while, on the other hand, there is no other animal, however perfect and fortunately circumstanced it may be, which can do the same...
This does not merely show that the brutes have less reason than men, but that they have none at all, since it is clear that very little is required in order to be able to talk...
 
A central thesis in the philosophy of Descartes was that matter cannot think. It was, therefore, quite consonant with the whole tenor of his thought to use machines—purely material mechanisms—as a challenge to his materialistic opponents. Here is the passage in which he hurls that challenge at them. I quote only the first part of it.

If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our body and imitated our actions so far as it was morally [i.e., practically] possible to do so, we should always have two very certain tests by which to recognize that, for all that, they were not real men.
The first is that they could never use speech or other signs as we do when placing our thought on record for the benefit of others. For we can easily understand a machine's being constituted so that it can utter words, and even emit some responses to action on it of a corporeal kind, which brings about a change in its organs; for instance, if it is touched in a particular part, it may ask what we wish to say to it; if in another part, it may exclaim that it is being hurt and so on. But it [could] never happen that it [would] arrange its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything that may be said in its presence, as even the lowest type of man can do.
What Descartes is here saying, as I understand it, stresses the almost infinite flexibility and variety of human conversation. If over a long period of time two human beings were continuously engaged in two-way talk with one another, interrupted only by brief periods of sleep, it would be impossible to predict with certainty what turns such conversation would take, what interchanges would occur, what questions would be asked, what answers would be given. 
It is precisely this unpredictability that makes human conversation something that programmed machinery will never be able to simulate in a manner that renders it indistinguishable from human performance. The twentieth-century revision of Descartes's dictum, that matter cannot think, is as follows: all the wizardry of man's technology will never be able to shape matter into truly thinking machines.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science
Armand Marie Leroi 
Bloomsbury

Aristotle is known primarily as a philosopher, but in The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science Armand Marie Leroi shows that he was also a great scientist who has illuminated almost every facet of our science. Aristotle’s main scientific contributions are in the field of biology.

The idea of Aristotle being regarded as a scientist may come as a surprise to some readers because past thinkers like Francis Bacon have portrayed Aristotle as a major obstacle to science. Even modern scholars like Peter Medawar (who is a Nobel Laureate in physiology and medicine) have held Aristotle’s science in scorn. Medawar credits (and celebrates) Bacon for having contributed more than anyone else towards the destruction of Aristotle’s reputation.

But Leroi points out that Bacon had a complex agenda for propagating the idea that Aristotle is intrinsically anti-scientific. Here’s an excerpt:

“[Bacon], wanted to paint the Philosopher in the colors of the quarrelsome scholastics, contrast their intemperate disputations with the new, civil kind of scientific discourse that he envisioned (but that his own writings hardly exemplify) and indict Aristotle for injustice towards the true scientific heroes of antiquity the phisiologoi.”

There was another reason behind Bacon’s aversion to Aristotle and Aristotelianism. His view of the purpose of science and its proper object of study was different from the view held by Aristotle.  Bacon demanded a new, mechanistic natural philosophy underpinned by a unified physics that would explain the movements of both natural and artificial objects.

Bacon saw no value in the complex theories of biology which Aristotle had developed—he preferred a mechanistic model of life. The idea of mechanistic view of life was further developed by Descartes, who, unlike Aristotle, held that animals and plants are merely machines.

In his book, Leroi makes it wonderfully clear that Aristotle has developed the method and the rules which continue to dominate philosophy, politics and natural science till this day. He credits Aristotle with inventing the science of biology. However, Leroi has nothing nice to say about Aristotle’s teacher, Plato. He says,“Plato’s science is barely distinguishable from theology.”

But there is theology in Aristotle too, and Leroi acknowledges it. In the chapter, “Kosmos,” Leroi writes, “I have kept Aristotle’s theos in the shadows. It may even be that I have done so deliberately; that I have been reluctant to reveal the degree to which my hero’s scientific system is riddled with religion. Yet it is.”

Leroi’s standpoint on the aspects of the Aristotelian corpus that he is willing to explore in his book is understandable—he wants to keep the concentrate on Aristotle’s biology and therefore he is keen to avoid Aristotle’s theology. In many respects Aristotle’s writing on biological issues is anachronistic but Leroi provides the historical and cultural context behind what Aristotle is saying.

The focus of Leroi’s book is not so much on Aristotle’s specific biological theories but on his method of exploring the natural world. Aristotle loved the facts that he derived through a direct observation of the natural world. He dissects all kinds of birds and animals to learn about their internal organs. From fish to birds, to hyenas and elephants—Aristotle is interested in everything.  

Much of Aristotle’s science is not descriptive—rather it consists of his answers to hundreds of questions. “Why do fishes have fills and not lungs? Fins but not legs? Why do pigeons have a crop and elephants a trunk? Why do eagles lay so few eggs, fish so many, why are sparrows so salacious? What is it with bees, anyway? And the camel?”

It is clear that Aristotle’s method is different from that of Plato, who believed that transcendental truth can only be discovered when we learn to ignore our natural observations. Aristotle rejects the Platonic idea of transcendental truth. For him, the ultimate truth is what he can observe with through the means of his own senses.

Aristotle developed his biological ideas mainly during the two years that he spent on the lagoon on the island of Lesbos. However, in his works he also uses the evidence that he gathers from other scholars, fishermen and many others. According to Leroi, Aristotle has made 9,000 distinct empirical claims in the Historia animalium.

Leroi offers a fascinating comparison between Aristotle’s method and that of Darwin. He points out that the struggle of existence between different creatures that Aristotle has described is almost Darwinian in its essence. In the chapter, “The Stone Forest,” Leroi spectates why Aristotle did not come up with some kind of a theory of evolution because it is obvious that he is struggling towards such a theory.

According to Leroi, there is a fundamental difference between Aristotle and Darwin. Aristotle’s view of the creatures in the natural world is not evolutionarily; it is static. When he talks about nature making small steps he means it in a static sense—that one can observe fine gradations between forms. Whereas, Darwin asserts that species can dynamically transform in a gradual sense.

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science is a good appreciation of the Aristotelian tradition. The book offers an interesting and detailed account of Aristotle’s biology. In the first chapter, “At Erato,” Leroi writes: “Ask Aristotle: what, fundamentally, exists? He would not say – as a modern biologist might – ‘go ask a physicist’; he’d point to a cuttlefish and say – that.” It is worth noting that Plato, with his focus on transcendental truth, would never have said something like this.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aristotle on The Position of The Heart

Aristotle’s teleology is riddled with value judgements. He uses the concept of "honor" to explain why the heart is located in a certain region of the human body. Here’s an excerpt from Armand Marie Leroi’s The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science:
[Aristotle] says that the position of the heart in the middle of the body is dictated by its embryonic origins. But it is also located more above than below and more before than behind, ‘For nature when allocating places puts more honourable things in more honourable positions, unless something more important prevents this’ — the language suggests the seating plan at a dinner. One may wonder why, then, the human heart (actually its apex) is located on the inferior left, but Aristotle has inserted a caveat — ‘when nature does nothing…’ — and gives a patently ad hoc explanation that it’s needed there to ‘balance the cooling of things on the left’. He thinks, of course, that the right hand side of the body being more honourable, is hotter than the left, and that this is especially so in humans, and so the heart has to shift to compensate for the left’s relative coolness.
Leroi points out that Platonic influence is most obvious when Aristotle considers man. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why Did Aristotle Leave Plato’s Academy

Why did Aristotle suddenly leave Athens in 348 or 347 BC? In his book The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science Armand Marie Leroi says that there are at least two accounts which attempt to explain why. Here's an excerpt:
In the first he leaves out of pique. For twenty years he’s worked in Plato’s Academy. His colleagues call him ‘The Reader’, but he’s original too. Perhaps too original. Plato, with a hint of asperity, called him ‘The Foal’ — he meant that Aristotle kicked his teachers as a foal kicks its dam. Aelian, writing centuries later, tells a story that isn’t particularly to Aristotle’s credit and hints of a power-struggle at the Academy. One day the elderly Plato, doddery and no longer that sharp, is wandering in the Academy’s gardens when he comes across Aristotle and his gang who give him a philosophical mugging. Plato retreats indoors and Aristotle’s posse occupies the garden for months. Speusippus is useless against the usurpers, but Xenocrates, another loyalist, finally gets them to move on. Who knows if this is true; but it is certain that when Plato died the top job didn’t go to Aristotle but rather to Speusippus and that, coincidently or not, this is when Aristotle heads east.  
In another version, politics rather than pique causes Aristotle to flee. Aristotle has close connections to the Macedonian court. Amyntas’ son, Philip II, is flexing his military muscles in the Greek hinterland. He’s just razed Olynthus, an ally of Athens, to the ground and sold its citizenry — along with a garrison of Athens’ soldiers — into slavery. In Athens, Demosthenes is rousing the citizenry to new heights of xenophobia; Aristotle gets out while he can.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Rediscovery of The Mind

The Rediscovery of The Mind
John R. Searle 
The MIT Press

In The Rediscovery of The Mind, John Searle elaborates the arguments against the materialists and the dualists that he has been making for more than two decades. In the course of the book, he shows that both materialism and dualism are profoundly mistaken and we need a new approach for explaining the nature of the mind.

The problems in materialism and dualism, according to Searle, start with their acceptance of a certain vocabulary and with it a set of assumptions. He points out that the vocabulary is obsolete and the assumptions are false. His arguments are directed against materialism, because he believes dualism is no longer relevant. He says that it is now widely accepted that dualism is inconsistent with a scientific worldview. However, he has argued extensively against dualist doctrines in his earlier works.

He identifies seven propositions which, he says, form the foundations of modern materialism. Here’s the list:

(1) Where the scientific study of the mind is concerned, consciousness and its special features are of rather minor importance. (2) Science is objective. (3) Because reality is objective, the best method in the study of the mind is to adopt the objective or third-person point of view. (4) From the third-person, objective point of view, the only answer to the epistemological question 'How would we know about the mental phenomena of another system?' is: We know by observing its behavior. (5) Intelligent behavior and causal relations to intelligent behavior are in some way the essence of the mental. (6) Every fact in the universe is in principle knowable and understandable by human investigators. (7) The only things that exist are ultimately physical, as the physical is traditionally conceived, that is, as opposed to the mental."

Searle shows that each of these seven propositions is false and the total picture that they present is not only unscientific, it is also incoherent.

He offers a simple solution for the mind-body problem: “Mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological processes in the brain and are themselves features of the brain.” Therefore he believes that while consciousness and mental are real, they are caused by biological, neurological, and so physical processes. This sounds similar to epiphenomenalism, but Searle tries to avoid the use of this term. He prefers to call his theory “biological naturalism.”

While attacking the materialist arguments, he challenges the view that consciousness does not exist as a private and subjective phenomena. He finds the idea that consciousness must be an observable third-person phenomena unacceptable.

If this book is right, then the greatest motivation of the materialists is their terror of consciousness. Searle asserts that the materialists cannot accept consciousness as just another material property among others. He writes, “The deepest reason for the fear of consciousness is that consciousness has the essentially terrifying feature of subjectivity. Materialists are reluctant to accept that feature because they believe that to accept the existence of subjective consciousness would be inconsistent with their conception of what the world must be like.”

He says that consciousness can be illustrated through examples—“When I wake up from a dreamless sleep. I enter a state of consciousness, a state that continues as long as I am awake. When I go to sleep or am put under a general anaesthetic or die, my conscious states cease.” He sees consciousness as an on/off switch—which means that a system is either consciousness or not. Also, there are degrees of consciousness, and one can’t be just conscious, because consciousness is always consciousness of something.

This is how Searle explains the place of consciousness within our world view: “Consciousness, in short, is a biological feature of human and certain animal brains. It is caused by neurobiological processes and is as much a part of the natural biological order as any other biological features such as photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis.”

I think one of the highlights of this book is the arguments that Searle offers to show that the mind as a computer program theory is not just imperfect, it is totally absurd. He gives two main reasons. Firstly, all mental phenomena are ether actually or potentially conscious. But the materialists are unable to deal with conscious experience—so they either ignore it or identify it with something (like a computer program) which has no consciousness.

Secondly, in essence the computers (which do not have mind) are machines which run programs, process information, manipulate symbols, answer questions, and so on because they have been constructed by human beings, who have minds, and are capable of interpreting the operations of the computers. But when we claim that the brain is a computer program, we are implying that a mind can interpret what a brain does—therefore the idea of explaining mind in terms of a computer program is incoherent.

In the book’s final section, Searle says: “In spite of our modern arrogance about how much we know, in spite of the assurance and universality of our science, where the mind is concerned we are characteristically confused and in disagreement. Like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, we grasp onto some alleged feature and pronounce it the essence of the mental.” I think in The Rediscovery of The Mind Searle is unable to clear the confusions and disagreements—but he provides a good account of the issues which give rise to the confusions and disagreements. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

7 Good Literary Insults

“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.” ~ William Shakespeare in King Lear 

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake

“I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.” ~ Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest

"I feel like getting married, or committing suicide, or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know.” ~ Albert Camus in A Happy Death

“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!” ~ John Kennedy Toole in A Confederacy of Dunces

“I told him he didn’t even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row or not, and the reason he didn’t care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. He hated it when you called him a moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron.” ~ J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye

"Thou wretch! - thou vixen! - thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding, "thou witch! - thou hag! - thou whipper-snapper! - thou sink of iniquity - thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! - thou - thou-“ ~ Edgar Allan Poe in Loss of Breath

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand

In the epilogue to The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism (titled “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,”), Nathaniel Branden says that the followers of Ayn Rand have a very poor understanding of real world and psychology.

Many Objectivists think that Ayn Rand’s “fiction novels” are a perfect guide to living on earth. There is certainly a lot of good ideas in Rand’s fiction, but Branden points out that these works encourage emotional repression and self-disowning, and often deepen the readers’ sense of self-alienation.

The problems in Objectivism that Branden has identified in his article are real. Objectivism is not 100% correct—for instance, its understanding of human nature and society has some critical flaws. It is also not a complete system of philosophy—there are many issues in philosophy for which Objectivism has very little to offer. 

Here are 12 thought provoking quotes from Brandon’s article:

1. Another aspect of her philosophy that I would like to talk about—one of the hazards—is the appalling moralism that Rand practiced and that so many of her followers also practice. I don’t know of anyone other than the Church fathers in the Dark Ages who used the word “evil” quite as often as Ayn Rand.

2. Of all the accusations of her critics, surely the most ludicrous is the claim that Rand encouraged people to do just what they pleased. If there’s anything in this world she did not do, it was to encourage people to do what they pleased.

3. She taught that “Man’s Life” is the standard of morality, and your own life is its purpose; but the path she advocated to the fulfillment of your life was a severely disciplined one. She left many of her readers with the impression that life is a tightrope, and that it is all too easy to fall off into moral depravity.

4. In other words, on the one hand, she preached a morality of joy, personal happiness, and individual fulfillment. On the other hand, she was a master at scaring the hell out of you, if you respected and admired her and wanted to apply her philosophy to your own life.

5. The most devastating single omission in her system, and the one that causes most of the trouble for her followers, is the absence of any real appreciation of human psychology and, more specifically, of developmental psychology, of how human beings evolve and become what they are, and of how they can change.

6. Rand’s novels leave you with this picture of your life: You either choose to be rational, or you don’t. You’re honest, or you’re not. You choose the right values, or you don’t. You like the kind of art Rand admires, or your soul is in big trouble.

7. Let’s suppose a person has done something that he or she knows to be wrong, immoral, unjust, or unreasonable. Instead of acknowledging the wrong, instead of simply regretting the action, and then seeking, compassionately, to understand why the action was taken and what need he was trying, in a twisted way, to satisfy—instead of asking such questions, the person is encouraged to brand the behavior as evil and is given no useful advice on where to go from there.

8. Enormous importance is attached in Rand’s writings to the virtue of justice. One of the most important things she has to say about justice is that we shouldn’t think of it only in terms of punishing the guilty, but also in terms of rewarding and appreciating the good. Her emphasis of this point is enormously important.

9. To look on the dark side, however, part of her vision of justice is urging you to instant contempt for anyone who deviates from reason or morality, or who may appear to deviate. Errors of knowledge may be forgiven, she says, but not errors of morality.

10. But even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt. You do not make people better by telling them they are despicable. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when religion tries it, and it doesn’t work when Objectivism tries it.

11. Besides, people are not forever damned by errors of morality. They can and do change every day. They learn, they evolve, they make different choices, they grow. The bank robber becomes an upright citizen. An out-of-context contempt for the former bank robber is not rationally justifiable.

12. In the Objectivist frame of reference… there is the assumption, made explicit in John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, and dramatized throughout the novel in any number of ways, that the most natural, reasonable, appropriate response to immoral or wrong behavior is contempt and moral condemnation. Psychologists know that that response tends to increase the probability that that kind of behavior will be repeated. This is an example of what I mean by the difference between a vision of desirable behavior and the development of an appropriate psychological technology that would inspire people to practice it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes

The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes
Mortimer. J. Adler
Fordham University Press (Fifth printing, 2005) 

In The Difference of Man and The Difference It Makes, Mortimer J. Adler offers a philosophical analysis of the problem of human nature and defends the thesis that human beings differ in kind rather than in degree from animals. He also explores the legal, political and social consequences that will follow if this thesis is not accepted.

Adler demonstrates that the study of man’s nature needs both scientific and philosophical methods of investigation and that the answers can only be found through cooperation between the scientists and the philosophers.

The thesis that he is defending was developed much before the Industrial Revolution—the roughly sixteen hundred years between Aristotle and Aquinas. Though Aristotle had a hylomorphic view of man, he believed that the attribute of sense perception is a function of the body while the power of “intellect” is immaterial in its origin. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Efforts of the Philosophers to Resolve the One Issue That Remains”:

“The one striking exception, according to Aristotle, is the power of understanding or intellection—the power of conceptual thought. This one power (distinctive of the rational soul that is the form of the human body) belongs to the living or besouled man in exactly the same way that his power of digestion or his power of perception does; but unlike all his other powers, this one power is not the power of any bodily organ. It alone is an immaterial power; its acts are not the acts of any bodily organ; yet its acts never occur without the acomapainment of sensory or perceptual acts, especially acts of imagination and memory, that are themselves acts of corporeal power, i.e., acts of the sense organs and of the brain.”

This shows that Aristotle believed that human beings, because they possess the power of intellect or conceptual thought, differ “in kind” from every other creature on this planet. This view, which in some form or other, was held by most major philosophers in history, is now facing a challenge because of the advances in science, and the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man.

According to the Darwinian theory, man differs from animals only in degree—which in essence entails that man is an animal capable of conceptual thought in the same way in which a blue whale is the heaviest animal or a leopard is the fastest animal. But if we accept such a view of man then what will be the implications for our way of life?

If the difference between man and animals is only of degree then the idea that man should be treated differently from animals cannot be defended. Adler points out that the argument that man is more intelligent and therefore deserves a different treatment can lead to absurd and dangerous political consequences because the same logic can be used to defend the idea that it is morally justified for advanced human cultures to overtake and even obliterate inferior cultures.

“Why, then should not groups of superior men be able to justify their enslavement, exploitation, or even genocide of inferior human groups, on factual and moral grounds akin to those that we now rely on to justify our treatment of animals that we harness as beasts of burden, that we butcher for food and clothing, or that we destroy as disease-bearing pets or as dangerous predators?” (Chapter 17: “The Consequences for Action”)

The advent of the computer age has given rise to the idea that scientists may at some point of time be able to create a so-called Turing machine, or a robot which is capable of producing propositional speech, or hold a conversation like human beings. If such a robot gets built then it can be said that since the robot exhibits conceptual thought despite being entirely material in its constituents, no immaterial factor is required either for the robot’s performance or man’s.

The creation of a conceptual robot and the acceptance of the idea that man differs from animals only in degree will bring about a fundamental transformation into mankind’s moral beliefs. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 17:

“If man were just another animal, different only in the degree to which his rudimentary instinctive mechanism needed to be supplemented by learning, the pursuit of happiness would not be the peculiarly human enterprise that it is, nor would there be any ethical principles involved in the pursuit of happiness. There can be an ethics of happiness only if men can make mistakes in conceiving the goal that they ought to pursue in life, and can fail in their efforts by making mistakes in the choice of means. Lacking the power of conceptual thought, other animals cannot conceive, and hence cannot misconceive, their goals; only man with the power of conceptual thought can transcend the perceptual here and now and hold before himself a remote goal to be attained.”

Adler patiently takes the reader through a wide range of scientific and philosophical argument before developing the thesis that man differs from the animals in kind—that man represents a massive jump over everything on this planet. He offers valuable perspectives on critical issues like man’s rights, animal rights and the nature of the environment in which we live. The section on footnotes, of almost 70 pages, is insightful and like a book on its own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Leonard Peikoff: Philosophy is a Continual Misery

I had been under the impression that Leonard Peikoff is a happy man. I believed that since Objectivism is the philosophy for living on earth, someone whose life has been spent in talking and writing about Objectivism must be happy.

But Objectivism has not brought happiness to Peikoff. It has been the cause of his misery.

In his podcast for October 25, 2015 (which I found yesterday), he answers the question: “Are you yourself happy?” This is a strange podcast. In his 8 minute long rambling response Peikoff seems confused and dejected.

He does not sound like an Objectivist philosopher. He speaks like an ordinary man. He sounds pathetic.

The worse thing is that Peikoff blames philosophy for his failure to achieve happiness. He says, “In the morning, when I am writing philosophy, I dread getting to the desk and having to put more hours on it.” He also says that “philosophy is a continual misery.”

However, he points out that he did find some kind of happiness “for the first time” in his life at the age of 81, but that is because he gave up philosophy and started writing fiction. But before he began his tryst with fiction writing, there are two other activities that he tried. Here’s an excerpt from my transcription of his podcast:
“I knew when I retired that there were three arts that I always loved… that I wanted to try. I started with sculpture—the instructor very nicely said that I don’t think you are going to get it. Then I went to piano. After I had practiced a piece for many months I asked the instructor to tell me whether I can play it. Just say: ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He paused and said, “You are close”… But I realized that I didn’t have it and I got disillusioned with piano. My last hope was fiction, which I had stayed away from because it is language and words… And I thought it was writing and I don’t want to get into language and words. But I tried. I started with short stories because even I can’t imagine going with something as big as a novel. I made up three short stories, and when I read them after sometime, I disliked each one.” 
Towards the end of his podcast, Peikoff says:
“I am really enthusiastic about this part of my life. And I wonder how happier life would be if I just started out writing fiction and that’s it, but I probably won’t because… what I wanna know is what is true about the world first. So maybe it is in right order. In any event, I am happy to say that this time the answer to the question is yes.”
This really is a strange podcast from Leonard Peikoff. I am still trying to make sense of it. 

How to Grow the Middle Class



Politicians are always talking about growing the middle class. But what policies can actually accomplish that goal? Watch this short economics video to find out.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nathaniel Branden: Why I Am A Neo-Objectivist

Nathaniel Branden, in his Power of Self Esteem lecture, suggests that he prefers to call himself a Neo-Objectivist because his past experience with Objectivism has made him aware of the flaws in Objectivist ethics.

He remarks (in a dismissive manner) that the general Objectivist environment has always been plagued with moral problems, and therefore a Neo-Objectivist ethics is needed to inspire rational, moral and life-serving behavior.

Here’s an excerpt from his lecture (Power of Self Esteem, Episode I):
I prefer to call myself a Neo-Objectivist, “because having had considerable experience with one way of trying to produce moral behavior and seeing the disastrous consequences to which it led I really was forced to deal with the question—either my concepts of desirable behavior were in error or my concepts of how to produce desirable behavior were in error. As it turned out I decided that in some respect both were in error, but while my concepts of what was moral behavior was sometimes mistaken, a great deal of the time in my judgement it was quite valid. But the greater error by far lay was in my notion of how to encourage the development of moral behavior or rational behavior or life-serving behavior.”
In the epilogue section of The Vision of Ayn Rand, “Benefits and Hazards of The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," Nathaniel Branden offers a detailed presentation of why his differences with Objectivism’s morality leads him to refer to himself as a “Neo-Objectivist."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hannah Arendt On The Significance of “God is Dead”

It is generally believed that Nietzsche had the traditional God in mind when he pronounced that “God is Dead,” (in The Gay Science and in Thus Spoke Zarathustra). But Hannah Arendt observes that Nietzsche is talking about the end of something other than the traditional God.

Here’s an excerpt from Arendt’s The Life of The Mind:
No one knew this better than Nietzsche, who, with his poetic and metaphoric description of the assassination of God, has caused so much confusion in these matters. In a significant passage in The Twilight of Idols, he clarifies what the word "God" meant in the earlier story. It was merely a symbol for the suprasensory realm as understood by metaphysics; he now uses, instead of "God," the expression "true world" and says: "We have abolished the true world. What has remained? The apparent one perhaps? Oh no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one" 
She notes that the concept of God’s death is not Nietzsche’s unique position because Hegel, in his Phenomenology of Spirit, has said that the "sentiment underlying religion in the modern age [is] the sentiment: God is dead.”

What Hegel (and Nietzsche) meant by the “God is dead” statement is that theology, philosophy and metaphysics have reached an end.

If we wish to trace the idea of God’s death (or the end of theology, philosophy and metaphysics) further back, we can look at the work of Immanuel Kant. Kant has not specifically pronounced the God’s death, but he talks about the end of traditional metaphysics even though he loved the subject. Here’s an excerpt from The Life of The Mind:
Kant in his pre-critical writings, where he quite freely admits that "it was [his] fate to fall in love with metaphysics" but also speaks of its "bottomless abyss," its "slippery ground," its Utopian "land of milk and honey" (Schlaraffenland) where the "Dreamers of reason" dwell as though in an "airship," so that "there exists no folly which could not be brought to agree with a groundless wisdom." 
Arendt points out that at a later stage in his life, Kant prophesied that “men will surely return to Metaphysics as one returns to one's mistress after a quarrel.”

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Ayn Rand has called Immanuel Kant the most evil man in mankind's history. She and her Objectivist followers assert that some of the worst philosophical and political problems of our age have been inspired by Kantian ideas.

But Fred Seddon, in his article, “Kant on Faith,” shows that Rand’s position on Kant is outrageous and is the outcome of sloppy thinking and ignorance of Kant’s texts.

This sentence from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is often quoted in Objectivist literature:

“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

In Kant's original German writing, this is how this sentence appears:

"Ich mubte also das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen,..." 

Seddon says that the Objectivist philosophers have misunderstood the ideas which Kant wants to communicate by the words “knowledge” and “faith.”

Here’s a look at the line of arguments that Seddon uses in his article to clarify the meaning of the above quoted sentence from Kant:

1. The sentence occurs in the preface to the second edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In the time of Kant it was generally believed that the preface is not the right place for making important philosophical points. The important points are generally made in the chapters that follow the preface.

2. Before writing that sentence Kant posits that knowledge is either scientific or “a merely random groping.” He holds that metaphysics is in the latter category, while logic, mathematics and science are in the former category as they follow the path of science. He wants metaphysics to be science rather than a “merely random groping.”

3. Kant points out that logic, mathematics, and physics are secure sciences because their domain of inquiry is limited. Rand has berated Kant for saying that the sciences are limited. But her criticism is not valid, because Kant is simply saying that science is valid only so long as it deals with the world.

4. Kant makes a distinction between general and special metaphysics, and between reason in its speculative versus reason in its practical employment. In context of this discussion, the most important distinction Kant makes is between knowledge and thought. By examining the sentences in which Kant has elucidated his view of knowledge and thought, Seddon conjectures that Kant’s intention may have been to use the word “Gedanke” (which means “thought”), but for some reason he ended up with“Glaube” (which means “faith” or “belief”).

5. Even if we accept that Kant’s original intention was to use the “Glaube” in the sentence, it is clear that there is a fundamental difference between what he means by Glaube/faith and what the Objectivists mean by “faith.”

6. For Ayn Rand “faith” is a claim to a strange kind of knowledge which is not based on evidence or proof, but that is precisely what Kant is trying to deny.

7. The German word “Glaube” has been translated in English in two ways: “belief” and “faith”. It is noteworthy that for Kant there is only one word, “Glaube”, but his translators have rendered that word into two English words: “belief” and “faith”.

8. In the later section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant divides belief into that having to do with skill versus that having to do with morality. For instance, a doctor uses his skill when he diagnoses a patient’s diseases by observing his symptoms. An example of a moral belief will be the doctrine of the existence of God. However, Seddon points out that Kant does not mean by “God,” a substantive or constitutive concept, but rather a merely regulative one.

9. Kant does not believe in God. He places God in the service of science by positing that God orders things systematically and human beings can hope to find that system.

10. According to Kant, all knowledge is a product of both the sensory and the rational. For example, we cannot know God, even though we can think him.

11.Kant’s sentence is: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Seddon posits that if we take into account the idea that Kant is trying to communicate, we can rewrite this sentence as: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for thought.”

12. What are the idea which Kant is trying to counter in this sentence. Seddon says that the dogmatists (the rationalists) are one of the groups that Kant names in the same page where the sentence occurs in his book. Metaphysics, Kant believed, is a playground for the rationalists because it is not based on science. But if we reject metaphysics, then we must jettison any belief in free will and hence morality

13. Kant’s aim in the Critique of Pure Reason is to save morality by critiquing pure reason. However, his conclusions undercut both the rationalists and the skeptics.

--------------------------------------

Fred Seddon’s “Kant on Faith,” is published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7, no. 1 (Fall 2005), Page 189–202

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trump Nailed it On Socialism At UNGA



"The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented."

"Wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure."

~ Donald Trump speaking at the UN General Assembly. Here's the link to the full speech.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lord of The Objectivists

In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies a British airplane crashes into an uninhabited tropical island. The only survivors are boys between the age of 6 to 12. The island is peaceful and gorgeous, food and water are easy to find, and it seems that the stage is set for the boys to have a great time.

But the boys are unable to govern themselves. Disagreements breakout between them and soon they are indulging in savage violence. They discover in themselves the urge to inflict pain on their rivals and realize that they enjoy dominating others.

I wonder what will happen if instead of young boys a group of Objectivists get stranded on a tropical island. Will the Objectivists be able to cooperate with each other to ensure that they have a good time on the island? Or will they start indulging in acrimonious arguments about issues such as: Who is moral and who isn't—Who is loyal to Ayn Rand and who isn’t?

What if the Objectivists, like the boys in Golding’s novel, get divided into two warring camps which will eventually try to settle philosophical disputes through violence! The boys fought for material dominance of the island, but the Objectivists may fight for overcoming the rationalizers, compromisers, moral monsters, and the enemies of Rand.

Was the British Empire a good or bad thing for the world?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Greg Nyquist on The Legacy of Leonard Peikoff

In his article, “Future of Objectivism 8,” Greg Nyquist says that Leonard Peikoff’s legacy is in tatters due to his heavy handed, narrow-minded, and sometimes philosophically-unsound and even hypocritical methods of dealing with the issues concerning Ayn Rand’s life and philosophy.

Nyquist's article opens with these lines:
"How will Leonard Peikoff be remembered by future Objectivists? Will even the orthodox remember him all that fondly? Will he continue to be influential? Rand's most steadfast and controversial protege casts a long shadow over orthodox followers of Ayn Rand. His legacy is definitely of the questionable, perhaps even dubious, variety. While he exhibited some skills as a teacher, lecturer, and expositor of Objectivist orthodoxy, whenever he attempted to stray from the Randian straight and narrow, and take flight on his own intellectual steam, the consequences were often deeply embarrassing. The man simply has very little in the way of independent judgment. Couple this with an over-sensitivity to criticism and a deep-seated distrust of anyone who refuses to defer to even his most outlandish ideas, and you have the perfect recipe for the paranoid ideologue, separated from the world by his own political and moral delusions. His apologists describe him as a man who does not well suffer fools; which is an overly kind way of saying that Peikoff is not a nice man.
I will not pass an opinion on what Nyquist has to say about Peikoff’s legacy. But I think Nyquist’s articles offer some kind of an explanation for why the world is full of people who are inspired by Ayn Rand’s literature but feel alienated by her philosophy of Objectivism.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wittgenstein Thought that Darwin was Wrong

Maurice O'Connor Drury in Conversations with Wittgenstein, ed. Rush Rhees (Oxford, 1984), pp. 160-161:
One day, walking in the Zoological Gardens, we admired the immense
 variety of flowers, shrubs, trees, and the similar multiplicity of
 birds, reptiles, animals.

 
Wittgenstein: I have always thought that Darwin was wrong: his
 theory does not account for all the variety of species. It hasn't
 the necessary multiplicity. Nowadays some people are fond of saying
 that at last evolution has produced a species that is able to
 understand the whole process which gave it birth. Now that you
 can't say.

      
Drury: You could say that now there has evolved a strange animal
 that collects other animals and puts them in gardens. But you can't
 bring the concepts of knowledge and understanding into this series.
 They are different categories entirely.

   
Wittgenstein: Yes, you could put it that way.
Source: Maverick Philosopher

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Kelley on John Searle’s Philosophy of Mind

David Kelley's review of John Searle’s Mind: A Brief Introduction is worth reading. As the review’s title, “Still Deferring to Descartes?”, indicates, Kelley’s main point is that even though Searle is a prominent critic of Cartesian dualism, he is not fully free of Cartesianism. Some kind of dualism is there in Searle’s philosophy of mind.

Kelley points out that several contemporary thinkers, who reject Cartesian dualism, accept an amended dualistic view which is called “property dualism.” Property dualism “holds that while there is only one entity in the equation—the brain or, in some versions, the person—that entity has both mental and physical properties, and those properties are as radically distinct as Descartes alleged.”

In his book, Searle says that mental states are ontologically irreducible to neural states, but they are causally reducible. But this can lead to the conclusion that consciousness is simply a byproduct of brain's evolution—consciousness is real but it is causally inert. However, Kelley clarifies that this is not Searle’s position.

In several chapters of his book, Searle discusses “the nature of deliberate rational action, the possibility of free will, and the nature of the self, and in each of these areas he seems to attribute a vital causal role to consciousness.”

Searle’s argument is that when people choose between alternatives, make decisions and take action, they act with a sense of “I.” They have a first person awareness of themselves as subjects of experience and as agents of action.

Kelley says that he is impressed by Searle’s argument that consciousness plays a causal role in human action. Here's an excerpt from Kelley's review:

“The unity of a person’s field of awareness, which allows him to bring rival goals and diverse information to bear on a decision, is something the person himself experiences but is not observable from the outside. The same is true of the difference we experience between our sense of agency when we act for a reason and the sense of passivity when we are moved by outside factors or by inner compulsions. Yet Searle also holds, as we saw, that the causal role of consciousness is nothing over and above the causal role of the neural substrate.”

Even though Kelley does not directly say that Searle is a property dualist, it is clear that Searle’s ideas are very close to property dualism. Kelley ends his review with praise for Searle’s work:

“Searle’s work in the philosophy of mind is at once a major contribution to philosophy and a crucial framework for interpreting neurobiology. Across a wide range of issues, Searle is insightful, well-informed, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Mind: A Brief Introduction can be read with profit by anyone studying mind and brain from the perspective of virtually any discipline. It is an introduction that will open doors.”

Like Kelley, Edward Feser also finds some kid of dualism in Searle’s philosophy of mind. In his paper, “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist,” Feser argues that Searle’s anti-materialist arguments in philosophy of mind entail property dualism. According to Feser, property dualism is unavoidable in the way in which Searle describes his theory of biological naturalism. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche and John Dewey Contrasted

John Dewey
It is difficult to think of any commonality in the ideas of Nietzsche and Dewey. I think Nietzsche’s Übermensch is poles apart from Dewey’s pragmatic man.

But historian W. T. Jones offers a convincing contrast between the two thinkers:
“Dewey’s anthropological and psychological analysis of metaphysics is obviously similar to Nietzsche’s. Both philosophers agreed that the object of metaphysical thinking are “fictions” that function to allay the insecurity people feel in the presence of change, decay, and death. But they differed sharply in their attitudes towards this discovery about the basic insecurity in human nature, as is shown not only by what they said but by the very styles in which they wrote.  Nietzsche’s writing was metaphorical, contentious, and highly personal. He shared the underlying insecurity that others experienced and differed from them in choosing to face it rather than flee from it. He felt, as they did, that humankind is hanging precariously on the edge of an abyss; his response was too affirm life despite its terror. In contrast, Dewey’s exposition of the roots of metaphysics was calm, detailed, and scholarly. Since he did not experience any abyss within himself, since he did not feel divided and alienated, he was not personally involved in the discovery that most people experience deep insecurity. Rather, he looked at the situation from the outside, as a physician and psychiatrist might. He believed that the cure for insecurity was not (as Nietzsche had held) to bite the snake that had bitten one—to Dewey, this was a truly desperate remedy. The cure was to become involved in the day-to-day task of improving humankind’s estate. Hence, though Dewey too affirmed life, he did not feel this affirmation to be particularly difficult or heroic. Further, the life that he affirmed did not involve a quantum jump to a level “beyond good and evil”; it consisted in a gradual, even “prosaic,” advance to more-intelligent practice.”  
A History of Western Philosophy (Volume V), The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida by W. T. Jones; Chapter: “The Nature of Reality: Experience” (Page 46—47)