Monday, March 26, 2018

Hume on Happiness Through Sharing of Life’s Experiences

David Hume believed that human beings have a natural urge to share their feelings, especially their good experiences, with each other. A life in the company of friends is more conducive to happiness than a lonely existence, according to Hume. Here’s an excerpt from Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature:
In all creatures, that prey not upon others, and are not agitated with violent passions, there appears a remarkable desire of company, which associates them together, without any advantages they can ever propose to reap from their union. This is still more conspicuous in man, as being the creature of the universe, who has the most ardent desire of society, and is fitted for it by the most advantages. We can form no wish, which has not a reference to society. A perfect solitude is, perhaps, the greatest punishment we can suffer. Every pleasure languishes when enjoy’d a-part from company, and every pain becomes more cruel and intolerable. Whatever other passions we may be actuated by; pride, ambition, avarice, curiosity, revenge or lust; the soul or animating principle of them all is sympathy, nor wou’d they have any force, were we to abstract entirely from the thoughts and sentiments of others. Let all the powers and elements of nature conspire to serve and obey one man: Let the sun rise and set at his command: The sea and rivers roll as he pleases, and the earth furnish spontaneously whatever may be useful or agreeable to him: He will still be miserable, till you give him some one person at least, with whom he may share his happiness, and whose esteem and friendship he may enjoy.
In his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume makes the point that a solitary life can be devoid enjoyment:
Reduce a person to solitude, and he loses all enjoyment, except either of the sensual or speculative kind; and that because the movements of his heart are not forwarded by correspondent movements in his fellow-creatures. The signs of sorrow and mourning, though arbitrary, affect us with melancholy; but the natural symptoms, tears and cries and groans, never fail to infuse compassion and uneasiness.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

John Dewey on Aristotle’s Naturalism

John Herman Randall, in his book Aristotle (Chapter: “Science as Right Talking: The Analysis of Discourse”), says that “the relations of the syllogistic instrument of science to the conception of science itself, and to the kind of world in which that instrument functions, are summed up in the following statement” from John Dewey’s article:
Aristotle was above all a naturalist. He asserted that the universal is united with particular existences, binding them together into a permanent whole (the species) and keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence. The species is the true whole of which the particular individuals are the parts, and the essence is the characteristic form. Species fall within a graded order of genera as particular individuals fall within the species. Thinking is the correlate of these relations in nature. It unites and differentiates in judgement as species are united and separated in reality. Valid knowledge or demonstration necessarily takes the form of the syllogism because the syllogism merely expresses the system in which, by means of an intervening essence, individuals are included in species. Definition is the grasp of the essence which marks one species off from another. Classification and division are counterparts of the intrinsic order of nature.
The above text is from John Dewey’s article on “Logic” (published in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, IX, 599). In a footnote on the same page of Aristotle where he offers the excerpt from Dewey’s article, Randall says that he sees a problem in Dewey’s view. Randall writes: “It is doubtful whether Aristotle thought of the universal as “keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence.””

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Immanuel Kant’s View of Genius

Paul Guyer, in his essay, “Exemplary Originality: Genius, Universality, and Individuality” (Chapter 10, Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, edited by Paul Guyer) talks about a subject that was of great interest to Immanuel Kant. Kant’s conception of genius as an instance of exemplary originality is markedly different from that of most other philosophers. Here’s an excerpt from Guyer’s essay:
At the outset of the eighteenth century, genius was characterized simply as exceptional facility in perception and representation, where the latter is the object of artistic production and the former its precondition. As the century progressed, and as long into the nineteenth century as genius remained a lively topic, it came to be characterized as a gift for invention, leading to originality in artistic representation. But only by a few, whom we might for this reason call philosophical geniuses, were the implications of the new conception of genius fully embraced. Immanuel Kant was the first to recognize that genius, as exemplary originality, would be a stimulus and provocation to continuing revolution in the history of art…
Guyer points out that Kant in his Critique of the Power Judgement defines genius as “the talent (natural gift)” or “inborn productive faculty” “that gives the rule to art,” or “through which nature gives the rule to art.” Further in the essay, Guyer says:
Analysis of artistic beauty entails that truly successful art must always possess what Kant calls “exemplary originality”: originality, because the successful work of art can never appear to have produced contingency or novelty; yet exemplary, because it must at the same time strike us as pleasing in a way that should be valid for all. Originality by itself, to be sure, is easy to achieve: just make something that departs from all known rules and models. Of course, in this way a lot of nonsense will be produced, so what Kant calls “original nonsense” is easy to come by. The trick is to produce exemplary originality, objects which, “while not themselves the result of imitation… must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard for judging,” or objects that strike us as original in appearing to depart from known rules and models but which can themselves be pleasing to all or a rule for all. Thus, in Kant’s view, all truly successful art must be the work of genius.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity

In his essay, “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity,” David S. Oderberg answers the objections that have been raised against the Identity thesis, the claim that the zygote and the embryo are individual human beings. He concentrates on the cluster of objections that are based on certain biological phenomenal and appeal to the modal properties of the zygote and the embryo—to what could happen to the immature human being in certain circumstances.

Here’s Oderberg’s explanation of the embryological terms:
The term 'embryo' comes from the Greek for 'to grow,' and simply means 'growing human being'; and 'foetus' comes from the Latin for 'young offspring.' Hence either term could properly be used to denote the human being at any stage of development. 'Zygote,' 'morula,' and 'blastocyst,' on the other hand, denote specifically cellular aspects of the early human-the first coming from the Greek for 'yoke,' and signifying the coming together of the gametes, the second from the Latin for 'mulberry' and signifying the shape of the cellular matter, and the third from the Greek for 'sprout' and 'bladder,' signifying the hollowing out of the cellular matter constituting the human being at this early stage. 
According to Oderberg, the status of the zygote and the embryo can only be understood when there is a proper grasp of the metaphysics of human identity and there is a determination to keep morality at the top of the scientific agenda. He argues that life starts at the stage of conception itself. Here’s an excerpt:
Conception is that event, typically involving the union of sperm and egg, which consists in a change in the intrinsic nature of a cell or group of cells, where that change confers on the cell (or its descendants in the case of division) the intrinsic potential to develop, given the right extrinsic factors, into a mature human being. Note that the concept of intrinsic potential employed here is not the same as that rejected earlier when discussing whether the zygote is a potential human being. It was claimed that the zygote is an actual human being, but the definition of conception just given appeals to the idea that it is an actual human being with the potential to develop into a mature member of its kind, as long as circumstances permit it. The intrinsic potential mentioned in the definition is, therefore, a property of its actual humanity. We can see that this definition excludes the possibility that the egg is a human being, since its nature would have to change; without that change, it does not have the intrinsic potential to develop into a mature human being. The definition includes the union of sperm and egg, however, since there is an intrinsic change of nature. Whether this change is in the sperm or the egg is irrelevant for metaphysical purposes—it could be the egg which is changed by the sperm, or vice versa. As a matter of brute biological fact, however, the sperm-egg union is best conceived of as a change in the egg: the sperm enters it from outside, disintegrates, and the nucleus in its head merges with the nucleus of the egg. The definition also includes parthenogenetic cells and cloned cells, both of which have undergone an intrinsic change of nature from mere gametes, somatic cells or whatever, to cells with the intrinsic potential, given the right environment, to develop into mature human beings. If one of these cells only develops for, say a few days and the embryo then dies, this is not because the cell lacks the intrinsic potential to develop into a baby, child, or adult, but because certain extrinsic factors are not present, such as important nutrients; and this is indeed the currently proposed biological explanation of why full development fails in the case of cloned or parthenogenetically generated nonhuman animals. 
Oderberg defines conception as the coming into existence of a human being, but if this is the case then the zygote has the moral status of a human being.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Power of Books

Matthew Stewart in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (Chapter: “The Dirty Little Screw of the American Revolution”):

“DO BOOKS MATTER? Do they change minds—or do we just read into them whatever we want to know? We live in the most literate age in human history, yet many people today find few things less useful than books, and no books as useless as those of the philosophers. Many scholars today take for granted that philosophy is a technical discipline concerned with questions that can make sense only to a cadre of professionals trained to a perfection of irrelevance. The wider public, meanwhile, tends to think of philosophy as a place to stash all the questions that well up wherever our knowledge runs completely dry: the meaning of life, why there is something rather than nothing, the existence of the supernatural, and all that. Of the many attributes that seem to mark America’s founders as residents of a foreign time and place, probably none is more astonishing today than their unapologetic confidence in the power of books—and in particular the books of the philosophers.”

Friday, March 9, 2018

On The Philosophy of Reason

Those who contend that their philosophy is the philosophy of reason have a poor understanding of philosophy and reason. The evolutionary way has firmly placed mankind in the province of reason, and for a creature of reason there is no alternative to philosophizing. Therefore, every philosophy, whether rational or irrational, is a philosophy of reason. You can’t conceive of a philosophy without using reason. Even if you want to undercut reason, you need to philosophize using reason.

In his 1893 book Appearance and Reality, F. H. Bradley says: “The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is wholly impossible has no right here to any answer. He must be referred for conviction to the body of this treatise. And he can hardly refuse to go there, since he himself has, perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena. He is a brother metaphysician with a rival theory of first principles… To say the reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is a claim to know reality; to urge that our knowledge is of a kind which must fail to transcend appearance, itself implies that transcendence.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why Did Early Stoicism Ignore Aristotle?

Zeno of Citium came to Athens around 300 BC and founded the School of Stoicism which formed a deep bond with the philosophical culture in ancient Greece. But we don’t find any sign of engagement between Zeno's Stoicism and Aristotle’s philosophy. David Sedley offers an answer in his essay, “The School, from Zeno to Arius Didymus” (Chapter 1; The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, edited by Brad Inwood). Here’s an excerpt:

"One apparent feature of early Stoicism that has caused controversy is the surprising rarity of engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle. Even some of the most basic and widely valued tools of Aristotelian philosophy, such as the distinction between potentiality and actuality, play virtually no part in Stoic thought. Although there is little consensus about this, the majority of scholars would probably accept that, at the very least, considerably less direct response to Aristotelianism is detectable in early Stoicism than to the various voices of the Socratic-Platonic tradition. It is not until the period of Middle Stoicism (see Section 7) that appreciation of Aristotle’s importance finally becomes unmistakable. Yet Aristotle and his school were among the truly seminal thinkers of late-fourth-century Athens and, in the eyes of many, Aristotle himself remains the outstanding philosopher of the entire Western tradition. How can a system created immediately in his wake show so little consciousness of his cardinal importance? One suggested explanation is that Aristotle’s school treatises, the brilliant but often very difficult texts by which we know him today, were not at this date as widely disseminated and studied as his more popularising works. But an alternative or perhaps complementary explanation lies in Zeno’s positive commitment to Socratic philosophy, of which the Peripatetics did not present themselves as voices. Either way, we must avoid the unhistorical assumption that Aristotle’s unique importance was as obvious to his near-contemporaries as it is to us."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cicero Versus Machiavelli

The Renaissance's humanist philosophers preached that the princes ought to keep their word and eschew force and fraud. They ritualistically repeated Cicero’s injunction in De officiis: ‘‘wrong may be done in either of two ways, that is, by force or by fraud; both are bestial: fraud seems to belong to the cunning fox, force to the lion; both are wholly unworthy of man.’’ Machiavelli, however, countered Cicero's philosophy with his own dictum which he presented in The Prince: ‘‘rulers who have done great things have set little store by keeping their word, being skillful rather in cunningly deceiving men.’’ Machiavelli asserts that a ruler must ‘‘know well how to imitate beasts . . . he should imitate both the fox and the lion.’’ The humanists used to preach that it's better to be loved than feared, and that cruelty can never profit a prince. But Machiavelli was of the opinion that for a prince ‘‘it is much safer to be feared than loved..." He preferred the governance model of Cesare Borgia. He says that Borgia ‘‘was considered cruel,’’ but that his ‘‘harsh measures restored order to the Romagna, unifying it and rendering it peaceful and loyal."