Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why did Ayn Rand dump Kant for Spinoza?

Immanuel Kant initially had a favorable treatment in Ayn Rand’s We The Living (1936). But in the novel’s 1959 edition, Rand removed all references to Kant and his ideas.  In one instance, she went to the extent of replacing Kant with Spinoza.

Robert Mayhew has talked about the changes that Rand made in 1959 edition of We The Living in his book Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. Here’s an excerpt from Mayhew’s book:
The most interesting name change comes in the passage [from We The Living] describing the young Leo. One line in the original reads:  
“When his young friends related, in whispers, the latest French stories, Leo quoted Kant and Nietzsche.”

In the ’59 edition, “Kant” is changed to “Spinoza”. Rand had a mild respect for Spinoza’s egoism; but more important, in her mature philosophical writings she makes it clear that she regards Kant as the most evil philosopher in history, a view she did not hold in Russia or when she first got to the United States. (Later in the novel, when Leo is arrested, the ’36 edition has him uttering an arguably Kantian line to Andrei: “A tendency for transcendental thinking is apt to obscure our perception of reality.” The line was cut.) 
Mayhew’s explanation is unsatisfactory. He does not answer the critical question: How did Rand decide in 1959 that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history?

Obviously Rand didn’t regard Kant as the most evil philosopher in history when she was writing We The Living in the 1930s—that is why she placed Kant and Nietzsche in the same sentence. Why did her views on Kant change so dramatically in the 1950s? Rand has said that she didn’t read Kant’s original works, but then how did she decide that he is the most evil philosopher! What is the evidence on basis of which she has passed her judgement on Kant?

In her book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns makes a striking claim—she suggests that Leonard Peikoff and Isabel Paterson filled Rand’s mind with the idea that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history.

Here’s an excerpt from Page 186 of Burns’s book:
Rand’s attack on modern philosophy was inspired by Leonard Peikoff, who for years had been telling her it was still the age of “pre-reason.” This was not a message she wanted to hear while toiling on her rationalist novel. After its publication, however, Peikoff seemed to have a point. He identified Kant as the source of all error in modern thought, an opinion Isabel Paterson had also held. To Peikoff, Kant’s argument that the means of perception structured humans’ sense of reality undermined objective reality, reason and all absolutes. Kant’s idea had opened the philosophical gates to destructive ideas like relativism and existentialism, which created the atmosphere that greeted Atlas Shrugged. Rand began to listen more seriously to Peikoff’s opinions about philosophy.
On page 112, Burns says:
As she began to educate herself about philosophy Rand turned to Paterson for a durable frame of reference. In New York Paterson had ranted against Kant, Hegel, and Marx, quoting instead Aristotle and the dictum “A is A.” 
However, Burns does not cite any source to establish that Peikoff and Paterson are the original architects of the Objectivist doctrine on Kant. When Nathaniel Branden was asked to comment on Burns’s claim, he rejected the idea that Peikoff could have anything to do with Rand’s views on Kant. Branden said: “Rand was a grand master at determining who were the good and evil people in history; she didn’t require any pipsqueak assistance.”

On Thinkers in Ancient Greece Who Dreamed of Anarchist Utopia

Zeno of Citium
Bust in the Farnese collection
In his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin offers a brief description of the how the idea of anarchist utopia was developed in Ancient Greece by thinkers like Zeno the Stoic (Zeno of Citium).

Here’s an excerpt from the Chapter II, “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West”:
In Plato’s republic there is a rigid, unified hierarchy of three classes, based on the proposition that there are three types of human nature, each of which can be fully realized and which together form an interlocking, harmonious whole. Zeno the Stoic conceives an anarchist society in which all rational beings live in perfect peace, equality and happiness without the benefit of institutions. If men are rational, they do not need control; rational beings have no need of the State, or of money, or of law-courts, or of any organized, institutional life. In the perfect society men and women shall wear identical clothes and feed in a ‘common pasture’. Provided that they are rational, all their wishes will necessarily be rational too, and so capable of total harmonious realization. Zeno was the first Utopian anarchist, the founder of a long tradition which has had a sudden, at times violent, flowering in our time.  
The Greek world generated a good many Utopias after the city State showed the first signs of decline. Side by side with the satirical Utopias of Aristophanes there is the plan for a perfect state of Theopompus. There is the Utopia of Euhemerus, in which happy men live on islands in the Arabian sea, where there are no wild animals, no winter, no spring, but an eternal, gentle, warm summer, where fruits fall into men’s mouths from the trees, and there is no need for labor. These men live in a state of unceasing bliss on islands divided by the sea from the wicked, chaotic mainland in which men are foolish, unjust and miserable. 
Berlin says that the anarchist utopias that the ancient thinkers dreamed of resemble an earthly paradise which exists beyond the grave. The inhabitants of the utopia live in static perfection, their human nature is finally and fully realized. They are fully rational beings, and the environment in which they live is perfect and eternal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hume, Kant and Rand

Hume's Central Principles is an 8-part lecture by Dr. Peter Millican. Millican is sympathetic to David Hume, but in his lecture he is not defending Hume—he is explaining the key features of the Humean philosophy.

Hume is the originator of many of the ideas for which Ayn Rand blames Immanuel Kant. In comparison to Hume, Kant seems like a rational thinker.

Kant was motivated by good intentions. He wanted to develop a philosophy that would make the Enlightenment flourish. In his articles, he speaks in favor of free society, and he supports people’s right to determine their own life. He had a pro-science attitude. He believed that scientific knowledge is possible to man. Such ideas are not there in Hume.

The primary motivation for Kant was to find a solution to the philosophical problems that Hume had created.

In the Preface to the Prolegomena, Kant writes: “no event has occurred that could have been more decisive for the fate of this science [metaphysics] than the attack made upon it by David Hume.” In the later section of the Prolegomena Kant makes the claim that he is in possession of “a complete solution of the Humean problem.” But Kant didn’t have the solution to the Humean problem.

I think that without understanding Hume, it is not possible for anyone to understand Kant. One of the reasons for which Ayn Rand’s criticism of Kant is unconvincing is that she does not take into account the context of Hume’s work while talking about Kant.

Millican does not mention Kant and Ayn Rand in this lecture. His focus is only on Hume. Overall, this is an interesting lecture. One more lecture on Hume, by Millican is available on the Oxford website: Introduction to David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature Book One.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Did Kant Deny Knowledge to Make Room for Faith?

In The Life of The Mind, Hannah Arendt examines the three principal aspects of man’s mental activity: thinking, willing, and judging.

The insights that she develops in the book are, according to her, derived from the work done by Immanuel Kant. She says that Kant is the first major philosopher to see the decisive difference between reason and intellect, truth and meaning, thinking and knowing, essences and appearances.

Arendt offers an interesting perspective on a controversial line that Kant has written in his preface to the Critique of Pure Reason: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

Here's an excerpt from chapter 8,“Science and common sense; Kant's distinction between intellect and reason; truth and meaning,” of Arendt's book:
“As we have seen, [Immanuel Kant] stated that he had "found it necessary to deny knowledge… to make room for faith,” but all he had "denied" was knowledge of things that are unknowable, and he had not made room for faith but for thought. He believed that he had built the foundations of a future "systematic metaphysic" as "a bequest to posterity,” and it is true that without Kant's unshackling of speculative thought the rise of German idealism and its metaphysical systems would hardly have been possible. But the new brand of philosophers— Fichte, Schelling, Hegel—would scarcely have pleased Kant. Liberated by Kant from the old school dogmatism and its sterile exercises, encouraged by him to indulge in speculative thinking, they actually took their cue from Descartes, went hunting for certainty, blurred once again the distinguishing line between thought and knowledge, and believed in all earnest that the results of their speculations possessed the same kind of validity as the results of cognitive processes.” 
~ Arendt in The Life of The Mind (page 63—64)

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Saturday, November 18, 2017

What Is Enlightenment?

By Immanuel Kant (1784)

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind--among them the entire fair sex--should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown to like it, and is at first really incapable of using his own understanding because he has never been permitted to try it. Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use--or rather abuse--of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage. The man who casts them off would make an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. That is why there are only a few men who walk firmly, and who have emerged from nonage by cultivating their own minds.

It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. There will always be a few independent thinkers, even among the self-appointed guardians of the multitude. Once such men have thrown off the yoke of nonage, they will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable appreciation of man's value and of his duty to think for himself. It is especially to be noted that the public which was earlier brought under the yoke by these men afterwards forces these very guardians to remain in submission, if it is so incited by some of its guardians who are themselves incapable of any enlightenment. That shows how pernicious it is to implant prejudices: they will eventually revenge themselves upon their authors or their authors' descendants. Therefore, a public can achieve enlightenment only slowly. A revolution may bring about the end of a personal despotism or of avaricious tyrannical oppression, but never a true reform of modes of thought. New prejudices will serve, in place of the old, as guide lines for the unthinking multitude.

This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom--and the most innocent of all that may be called "freedom": freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: "Do not argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue--drill!" The tax collector: "Do not argue--pay!" The pastor: "Do not argue--believe!" Only one ruler in the world says: "Argue as much as you please, but obey!" We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one's reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.

On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By "public use of one's reason" I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call "private use" that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community--a world society of citizens--(let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions. This is nothing that could burden his conscience. For what he teaches in pursuance of his office as representative of the church, he represents as something which he is not free to teach as he sees it. He speaks as one who is employed to speak in the name and under the orders of another. He will say: "Our church teaches this or that; these are the proofs which it employs." Thus he will benefit his congregation as much as possible by presenting doctrines to which he may not subscribe with full conviction. He can commit himself to teach them because it is not completely impossible that they may contain hidden truth. In any event, he has found nothing in the doctrines that contradicts the heart of religion. For if he believed that such contradictions existed he would not be able to administer his office with a clear conscience. He would have to resign it. Therefore the use which a scholar makes of his reason before the congregation that employs him is only a private use, for no matter how sizable, this is only a domestic audience. In view of this he, as preacher, is not free and ought not to be free, since he is carrying out the orders of others. On the other hand, as the scholar who speaks to his own public (the world) through his writings, the minister in the public use of his reason enjoys unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak for himself. That the spiritual guardians of the people should themselves be treated as minors is an absurdity which would result in perpetuating absurdities.

But should a society of ministers, say a Church Council, . . . have the right to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable doctrine, in order to secure perpetual guardianship over all its members and through them over the people? I say that this is quite impossible. Such a contract, concluded to keep all further enlightenment from humanity, is simply null and void even if it should be confirmed by the sovereign power, by parliaments, and the most solemn treaties. An epoch cannot conclude a pact that will commit succeeding ages, prevent them from increasing their significant insights, purging themselves of errors, and generally progressing in enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature whose proper destiny lies precisely in such progress. Therefore, succeeding ages are fully entitled to repudiate such decisions as unauthorized and outrageous. The touchstone of all those decisions that may be made into law for a people lies in this question: Could a people impose such a law upon itself? Now it might be possible to introduce a certain order for a definite short period of time in expectation of better order. But, while this provisional order continues, each citizen (above all, each pastor acting as a scholar) should be left free to publish his criticisms of the faults of existing institutions. This should continue until public understanding of these matters has gone so far that, by uniting the voices of many (although not necessarily all) scholars, reform proposals could be brought before the sovereign to protect those congregations which had decided according to their best lights upon an altered religious order, without, however, hindering those who want to remain true to the old institutions. But to agree to a perpetual religious constitution which is not publicly questioned by anyone would be, as it were, to annihilate a period of time in the progress of man's improvement. This must be absolutely forbidden.

A man may postpone his own enlightenment, but only for a limited period of time. And to give up enlightenment altogether, either for oneself or one's descendants, is to violate and to trample upon the sacred rights of man. What a people may not decide for itself may even less be decided for it by a monarch, for his reputation as a ruler consists precisely in the way in which he unites the will of the whole people within his own. If he only sees to it that all true or supposed [religious] improvement remains in step with the civic order, he can for the rest leave his subjects alone to do what they find necessary for the salvation of their souls. Salvation is none of his business; it is his business to prevent one man from forcibly keeping another from determining and promoting his salvation to the best of his ability. Indeed, it would be prejudicial to his majesty if he meddled in these matters and supervised the writings in which his subjects seek to bring their [religious] views into the open, even when he does this from his own highest insight, because then he exposes himself to the reproach: Caesar non est supra grammaticos. 2    It is worse when he debases his sovereign power so far as to support the spiritual despotism of a few tyrants in his state over the rest of his subjects.

When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment. As matters now stand it is still far from true that men are already capable of using their own reason in religious matters confidently and correctly without external guidance. Still, we have some obvious indications that the field of working toward the goal [of religious truth] is now opened. What is more, the hindrances against general enlightenment or the emergence from self-imposed nonage are gradually diminishing. In this respect this is the age of the enlightenment and the century of Frederick [the Great].

A prince ought not to deem it beneath his dignity to state that he considers it his duty not to dictate anything to his subjects in religious matters, but to leave them complete freedom. If he repudiates the arrogant word "tolerant", he is himself enlightened; he deserves to be praised by a grateful world and posterity as that man who was the first to liberate mankind from dependence, at least on the government, and let everybody use his own reason in matters of conscience. Under his reign, honorable pastors, acting as scholars and regardless of the duties of their office, can freely and openly publish their ideas to the world for inspection, although they deviate here and there from accepted doctrine. This is even more true of every person not restrained by any oath of office. This spirit of freedom is spreading beyond the boundaries [of Prussia] even where it has to struggle against the external hindrances established by a government that fails to grasp its true interest. [Frederick's Prussia] is a shining example that freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community. When one does not deliberately attempt to keep men in barbarism, they will gradually work out of that condition by themselves.

I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters, because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian to their subjects in the arts and sciences. Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable. But the disposition of a sovereign ruler who favors freedom in the arts and sciences goes even further: he knows that there is no danger in permitting his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their ideas concerning a better constitution, as well as candid criticism of existing basic laws. We already have a striking example [of such freedom], and no monarch can match the one whom we venerate.

But only the man who is himself enlightened, who is not afraid of shadows, and who commands at the same time a well disciplined and numerous army as guarantor of public peace--only he can say what [the sovereign of] a free state cannot dare to say: "Argue as much as you like, and about what you like, but obey!" Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity. Nature, then, has carefully cultivated the seed within the hard core--namely the urge for and the vocation of free thought. And this free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.


1. Translated by Mary C. Smith.

2. [Caesar is not above grammarians.]

Friday, November 17, 2017

World's first human head transplant is successfully carried out

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On Duns Scotus

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Aquinas and Aristotelianism

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

You Don’t Have The Right to be Wrong

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Aristotle and Contemporary Science

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

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

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

Aristotle’s Truly Happy Man

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Aristotle and Common Sense

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Carolingian Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

On Teleology and Self-Perfection

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

On The Role of The Arab Aristotelians

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

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

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Slivers of Light in The Dark Ages

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

On Elizabeth Anscombe’s Modern Moral Philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Cradle of Western Thought: Ionia

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Comparison Between Quine and Russell

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

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Henry Veatch on the Notion of Analytic Truth

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

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 

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.