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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wittgenstein’s Hypnotic Absurdities

Brand Blanshard's Reason and Analysis is a good critique of Pragmatism, Logical Positivism and other linguistic philosophies.

Once you read this book you will feel surprised that even today there are many people who have some kind of high opinion of the works of philosophers like Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Bertrand Russell. Its seems most people are hypnotized by demented philosophers.

Here’s an interesting paragraph on Wittgenstein from Chapter V, “Theory of Meaning,” in Reason and Analysis:
“There must have been something hypnotic about Wittgenstein which made listeners accept as oracles what in other mouths they would have dismissed as absurdities. Fortunately or not, the present writer never fell under the basilisk eye. He has therefore no inhibitions in calling absurd, even in Wittgenstein, what plainly seems so. He is also free to express astonishment at the unoriginality of this view. For in essentials it is Hume over again—his solipsism without any vestige of his humor, clarity, or grace. Of course the difficulties of Hume have been discussed almost ad nauseam. They were discussed, for example, with monumental thoroughness by Green in the great ‘introduction’, now so seldom opened. If Wittgenstein had ever read a page of this or any other criticism of Hume, there is no indication of it.”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Veatch’s Survey of Popper’s Flawed Model of an Open Society

Karl Popper
In his essay, “Plato, Popper and the open society: Reflections on who might have the last laugh,” which was delivered at the Sixth Annual Libertarian Scholars Conference held in October 1978 at Princeton University, Henry Veatch has done a superb analysis of Karl Popper’s work on political philosophy, The Open Society and its Enemies.

Veatch agrees with Popper that the political program laid out by Plato in the Republic will lead to a closed society. But, according to Veatch, the particular line of attack on Plato in The Open Society and its Enemies is neither well-mounted nor well-executed. Popper claims that Plato was a historicist, but Veatch rejects the idea. He says, “I just don't believe that Plato was a historicist. Marx, to be sure, may well have been one. Yet Plato was no Marx, nor Marx Plato.”

Another mistake that Popper makes in his analysis of Plato’s ideas is that he does not consider Platonic theory of Forms worthy of any consideration. Veatch says that if Popper had paid attention to the theory of Forms he would have had the opportunity to analyze the Form, or the nature, of man.

Veatch writes, “In other words, what I am suggesting is that the philosophical legacy of Plato, that Popper chose to renounce, is just this notion that, by his very nature as a person or as a human being, a man has a job to do, a natural end or goal, a kind of natural fulfilment or perfecting of himself that he needs to aim at and strive for, that no one else-no, not any power under heaven or even in heaven-can achieve for him, and that he's simply got to do himself.”

The Book I of Plato’s the Republic begins with the question: “What is justice?” Veatch points out that in this question Plato is raising the question of justice, and more specifically he is raising “the question as to justice in the life of the individual.” Plato answers this question just after the beginning of Book II of the Republic.

Veatch suggests that we should reverse Plato's order and consider the ethical before the political. ”We first consider what it is that our nature demands of us as individual human beings, and only subsequently consider what may be required of us, or what it might be right for us to do, or how we need to live our lives considered as members of the political community and of society.”

Once Plato’s order of priorities is reversed, it becomes obvious that certain responsibilities are incumbent upon individuals, and at the same time “certain constraints are naturally imposed upon our fellow human beings and upon society to respect the natural obligations and needs and requirements that are incumbent upon us by our very nature as individual human beings.”

Thus we reach the conclusion that man’s nature demands an openness in and of society. Now the question is why didn’t Popper take cognizance of Plato’s inverted priorities? Veatch offers persuasive arguments to show that Popper’s flawed theory of science is to a large extent behind his decision to ignore such obvious problems in Plato’s theory.

Popper believed that scientific theories do not rest on observation and experiment—instead, the great scientific geniuses dream up or invent the scientific theories which miraculously correspond to reality. Science, strictly speaking, cannot tell us the way things are, and therefore it is not possible to discover the natural values of human life by scientifically examining human beings.

So what kind of values the people living in Popper’s “open society” must have? Instead offering people the freedom of choice, Popper resorts to preaching his own list of values which, he maintains, every member of his open society ought to follow. But if values have to be imposed on man, then why shouldn't people accept Plato’s values instead of Popper’s?

Here’s an excerpt from Veatch’s essay:

“It is a freedom, Popper thinks, that each of us has, simply to choose his own image or ideal of what a human being should be or of the good life for man and of what it ought to be. Not only that, but Popper immediately follows this up with his own recommendation as to what he thinks that image of man is that all of us ought to choose and thus freely embrace. It is the image of man as free, as rational, as altruistic, as a happy denizen of the Open Society, etc. All well and good! Yet still, do we not need to ask just why this particular image of man should be the preferred one?”

Veatch goes on to say that if people have to accept the values of any philosopher or leader, then they have countless choices. They can as well reject the values preached by both, Plato and Popper, and accept the values of Marx, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, or anyone else. “In other words, Popper's particular libertarian vision of man is not one whit better, and has nothing more going for it than let us say Plato's totalitarian vision.”

“Popper's faith in the Open Society—at least to judge by the logic of Popper's over-all philosophical position and even implicitly by his own admission—amounts to no more than a sort of child's game of "Let's pretend'-let's pretend that man should be free and fraternal and rational, let's pretend that man should be allowed to bask in the pure air of an Open Society; let's pretend that such is the way man is and ought to be-and let's pretend it, even as we admit that it is all only a fiction and not a reality at all, only a pretend game, and one that is not and cannot be anything for real.”

On the whole, in his essay Veatch conclusively proves that Popper believed that a free society can only be achieved when there is some kind of social engineering by the intellectual elite. While seeming to reject Plato, Popper accepts Plato’s worst political ideas. In essence, Popper is as much an enemy of freedom and open society as Plato is.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Philosophy of Language and Meaning

Some Questions About Language: A Theory of Human Discourse and Its Objects 
Mortimer J. Adler 
Open Court

In Some Questions about Language, Mortimer J. Adler conducts a philosophical examination of the subject of language. But his specific focus is on the theory of meaning.

He takes a systematic and structured approach and presents his arguments in a conversational format, as an orderly series of questions and answers which clarify the basic problems about language and meaning, while expounding the logical framework of Adler's own theory of meaning which serves as a solution to these problems.

In the first chapter, “Scope of a Philosophy of Language,” Adler explores the range of problems that philosophy is competent to deal with. He differentiates these problems from the closely related problems that are beyond philosophy’s scope, and, in addition, are incapable of being dealt with until the prior problems have been solved.

It is not possible for people to have a conversation unless the words which they are using are “meaningful.” The “meaning” is something which grants what would have been a meaningless sound the status of a “word.” Words have referential significance—they refer to or signify that which we apprehend, and the “meaning” refers to the relationship between a “word” and the “object” to which the word refers to.

Here are the four questions that Adler answers in the first chapter:

1. What is the primary fact that a philosophy of language should try to explain or account for? 2. What aspects of language should a philosophical approach to the subject not attempt to deal with? 3. What, specifically, should be avoided in developing a philosophical theory of language? 4. How are the philosophical problems of language related to the concerns of the logician and the grammarian dealing with language?

Answering the first question, Adler says, “The task of philosophy, as I see it, is to construct a theory that attempts to explain the reality or fact of communication which I have taken as its point of departure.“ His objective is to describe how men communicate by using natural language. He holds that philosophy is not concerned with the truth or falsity of a statement. He says, in his answer to the second question, “A philosophy of language, in short, is concerned with the communicability of statements that can be either true or false, but not with their truth or falsity.”

I think that the most interestingly worded question that Adler offers in the book comes in the Epilogue: “What is it that confers referential meaning on otherwise meaningless marks or sounds, thus making them into the meaningful words of a language?” This question, as he himself declares, is about the genesis of meaning.

Adler says that there are three different approaches to the philosophical consideration of language:

1. The syntactical approach
2. The “ordinary language” approach
3. The semantic and lexical approach

He rejects the first two approaches, and his own philosophy of language follows the semantic and lexical approach, which he says, “commits itself to ordinary language as a satisfactory instrument of both philosophical and everyday discourse.” This approach takes a philosophical view, and not a historical one, in offering the explanation of “the genesis of referential meaning by the voluntary imposition of meaningless notations on the objects of our apprehension.”

According to Adler, we voluntarily grant referential significance to meaningless notations when we impose these notations on objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, which we apprehend by means of ideas. He explains this point in chapter 3, “Solution of the Primary Problem,” while answering the question: “Can meaningless notations acquire referential significance by being imposed on ideas?”

Here’s an excerpt from Adler’s answer to the above question:

“The ideas in the mind of one individual are numerically and existentially distinct from the ideas in the mind of another. If a given individual ceased to exist, his ideas would cease to exist with him, for their existence is subjective in the sense that it is totally dependent on his existence as the subject who has them. Precisely because ideas are subjective in the sense indicated, making them the objects that are signified or referred to by the words which have been imposed on them as their names prevents language from being used as an instrument of communication.”

Adler’s point is that the acquisition of referential meaning cannot be explained in terms of an individual’s voluntary imposition of meaningless notations upon his own ideas as the objects to which they refer. The subjective ideas in our mind are never the objects which we apprehend when we perceive, remember, imagine or think.

The next question which he answers in chapter 3 is, “Why is it that meaningless notations can acquire referential significance in no other way than by being imposed on the objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thoughts?”

In answering the above question, Adler points out the basic fact that we can never apprehend our own ideas. This is because the ideas in our mind are not the objects which we apprehend, rather they are the instruments or means by which we apprehend objects. It not possible for any individual to inspect or be aware of the ideas that he has in his mind. You can only have inferential knowledge of the ideas. The ideas serve as the means by which we apprehend objects which we can name or designate by single words or descriptive phrases.

The definition of an idea which Adler offers in chapter 3 is worth noting: "The products of these several acts—percepts, memories, images, and concepts—can all be grouped together under the term "idea," just as all the acts by which they are produced can be grouped under the term "acts of the mind.”"

But how do we apprehend abstract nouns such as “freedom,” “justice,” “n-sided polygon,” and so on which cannot be perceived as particulars? Adler offers a solution for this problem in chapter 7, “Objects of Thought.” He says that in discussing freedom or justice, it is possible to give examples of the universal object that is before our minds by describing a man in a particular setting as being free or unfree, or by describing a man performing a certain act as being just or unjust. The ideas that cannot be described in a particular setting are apprehended by us through reference to the technical terms that go into the formulation of those very ideas. 

On the whole, Adler’s Some Questions About Language is an interesting book. It introduces the reader to a number of important issues in philosophy of language and the theory of meaning. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Searle says he is not a “Property Dualist”… but Feser insists that he is

John Searle
In his paper, “Why I am Not a Property Dualist,” John Searle declares that he finds property dualism unacceptable.

He says that “all of our mental phenomena are caused by lower level neuronal processes in the brain and are themselves realized in the brain as higher level, or system, features. The form of causation is “bottom up,” whereby the behavior of lower level elements, presumably neurons and synapses, causes the higher level or system features of consciousness and intentionality.”

As this view emphasizes the biological character of the mental, and treats mental phenomena as ordinary parts of nature, he calls it “biological naturalism.” In essence biological naturalism is a middle position between materialism and property dualism.

Here’s how Searle explains his objections to property dualism:
"The property dualist and I are in agreement that consciousness is ontologically irreducible. The key points of disagreement are that I insist that from everything we know about the brain, consciousness is causally reducible to brain processes; and for that reason I deny that the ontological irreducibility of consciousness implies that consciousness is something “over and above”, something distinct from, its neurobiological base. No, causally speaking, there is nothing there, except the neurobiology, which has a higher level feature of consciousness. In a similar way there is nothing in the car engine except molecules, which have such higher level features as the solidity of the cylinder block, the shape of the piston, the firing of the spark plug, etc. 'Consciousness' does not name a distinct, separate phenomenon, something over and above its neurobiological base, rather it names a state that the neurobiological system can be in. Just as the shape of the piston and the solidity of the cylinder block are not something over and above the molecular phenomena, but are rather states of the system of molecules, so the consciousness of the brain is not something over and above the neuronal phenomena, but rather a state that the neuronal system is in." 
Further, he says:
"I say consciousness is a feature of the brain. The property dualist says consciousness is a feature of the brain. This creates the illusion that we are saying the same thing. But we are not… The property dualist means that in addition to all the neurobiological features of the brain, there is an extra, distinct, non physical feature of the brain; whereas I mean that consciousness is a state the brain can be in, in the way that liquidity and solidity are states that water can be in." 
Edward Feser has written a paper, “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist,” in which he 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. “If the physical processes which cause consciousness are objective third-person phenomena, and consciousness and other mental phenomena are subjective or first-person in nature, it is reasonable to describe the latter as being of a fundamentally different kind than the former. That is, it is reasonable to say that there exists in the universe a dualism of properties,” Feser writes.

Here’s another interesting excerpt from Feser’s paper:
“If paradigmatically and uncontroversially physical phenomena are essentially objective, and paradigmatically and uncontroversially mental phenomena are irreducibly subjective, then it follows that they are of fundamentally different metaphysical kinds. It follows, that is, that property dualism – the claim that there are (at least) two metaphysically fundamental kinds of property in the universe – is true. Since Searle accepts the antecedent, he is committed also to the consequent, whether he realizes it or not and whether he wants to refer to that consequent by its usual label 'property dualism,' or instead by the label 'biological naturalism.'”
In my view, Feser offers very convincing arguments to prove that some kind of property dualism is there in John Searle’s thinking. I am convinced by Feser’s arguments.