Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Epistemology and the closure principle

To: Stuart B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Epistemology and the closure principle
Date: 27 March 2007 11:02

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your email of 13 March, with your University of London Epistemology essay, in response to the question, 'Is knowledge closed under known implication?'

I came back from Prague at the end of last week but it's take a while for me to get back into the working mood. There was a piece on the CSR Conference on the Czech Radio International Service which includes a short except from my presentation:

http://www.radio.cz/en/article/89393

I was certain that I'd sent you an email while I was away, regarding your question about the Early Greek course, but I can't find it. So, apologies if I am repeating myself.

There's no question of 'memorising a whole pile of relatively meaningless fragments'. You learn what the Presocratics said, just as you learn about any other philosophers, and this is the knowledge that you reproduce in the exam together with the views that you have developed on specific issues, so far as these are relevant to the question. It is not necessary to quote directly.

My advice would be to take account of relative frequency of questions, but also give yourself the chance to get 'into' the Presocratics. Heraclitus and Parmenides (I remember writing this last time) are particularly important for understanding the development of Plato's 'two world' theory. Pythagoras was also an important influence. To me, the Presocratics represent a wealth of material to enjoy - certainly, I enjoyed writing the program. (I believe I have sent you the fifteen units - if I haven't, remind me!)

Is knowledge closed under known implication?

This is another very good essay which would do well in an exam. However, I'm puzzled by the issues raised here.

I am sufficiently persuaded by Dretske's example, and others like it, to conclude that there is a serious incoherence in the concept of 'knowledge that', when understood as something that one possesses, or not, in a particular case, at least from an internalist perspective.

I am looking at the zebras in London Zoo. I have no doubt that they are zebras, my knowledge of zoology is sufficient to guarantee that I could not be mistaking them for black and white striped creatures which are not 'zebras' but closely related to zebras. There are no such creatures, and I know this.

When you ask me, 'How do you know that you are not looking and painted mules?', my first response is, 'How absurd! There's no possible way that London Zoo would allow such a thing.' Then you ask me have I heard the News this morning about an impudent hoaxer who has pulled off the most amazing stunts, including substituting painted zebras for mules at New York Zoo. As it happens, I was in a rush and didn't hear the morning News. Now, I have got to make a judgement: who is doing the hoaxing?

David Lewis, in a paper delivered at the Sheffield Department of Philosophy a few years ago (did I tell you about this in a previous email?) grasped the mettle and accepted that there are things we 'know', according to the JTB model of knowledge, until we are asked certain questions, or so long as those questions do not occur to us to ask.

I find this difficult. How can you 'know' something provided that you are not asked certain questions, or that certain questions don't occur to you? How can knowledge be that fragile?

My take on this would be the one I have expressed before, which seems close to the 'performative' view, at least insofar as it locates the concept of knowledge in the area of our interest in identifying persons who may be regarded as having the 'authority' to judge on this or that matter. 'Knowledge' is primarily a third-person concept. The assumption is that P is true, and we are not questioning how we know this or how confident we are in its truth. The question is rather whether to attribute knowledge (which we simply assume ourselves without question) to another subject whose beliefs agree with ours.

Questions of knowledge are not about what I believe but about what you believe. When it comes to myself, the only relevant question is, Is this true?

Such a view is, effectively, externalism although I don't like using this term because I am not a dogmatic externalist. I believe that the explanation in terms of our interest in 'authority' provides a sufficient rationale for understanding the concept of knowledge in this way.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Substituting 'Cicero' for 'Tully' in statements of belief

To: Pearl K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Substituting 'Cicero' for 'Tully' in statements of belief
Date: 27 March 2007 09:58

Dear Sachiko,

Thank you for your email of 16 March, with your University of London essay in response to the question, 'Given that Cicero is Tully, is it possible for Tom to believe that Cicero was a Roman Orator but not believe that Tully was a Roman Orator? Discuss.'

I came back from Prague at the end of last week but it's take a while for me to get back into the working mood. There was a piece on the CSR Conference on the Czech Radio International Service which includes a short except from my presentation:

http://www.radio.cz/en/article/89393

You have managed to get to grips with the basics of this problem, and present them with a reasonable degree of lucidity.

The only part where I put a question mark was where you said, 'However, it is possible to reduce the syntactically de re belief that 'Someone is such that Tom believes that he was a Roman Orator' into the semantically de dicto belief that 'Tom believes that someone was a Roman Orator', as both report essentially the very same belief and therefore statements such as the de re 6. above do not refute the Fregean claim that names have both sense and reference.'

On the face of it, 'Tom believes that someone was a Roman orator' merely states that Tom believes that there was at least one Roman orator, whereas, 'Someone is such that Tom believes that he was a Roman orator' implies, in addition, that there is a particular individual that Tom's belief is about. So I'm not quite sure what you were saying here.

Let me start by massaging your intuitions a little. Imagine the following conversation:

Bill: 'Did you know that Siss-roe was a Roman orator?'

Tom: 'Who was Siss-roe, I've never heard of him! Can you write the name down?'

Bill: 'There...'

Tom: 'Oh, you mean Siss-uh-roe...'

It seems plain daft to say (out loud) that Tom believes that Siss-uh-roe was a Roman orator but Tom does not believe that Siss-roe was a Roman orator.

Frege's solution is not meant to be applied to every possible case where there is potentially a break down in substitution in opaque contexts. That's the first thing. So now the question is, what is special about the cases where it does apply?

There seem to be two kinds of case, which are quite different in character. Frege's examples, of Hesperus and Phosphorus - or the mountain known from different sides as 'Afla' and 'Ateb' - are not at all common, in fact quite contrived. It is not often that we do find clearly distinct 'modes of presentation' where there is a clear physical or geographical difference between two different 'routes' to an object of reference.

Much more common is the kind of case where we use names like cards in a card index system. Tom has two mental cards marked 'Cicero' and 'Tully'. Information is collated on these two cards in a variety of ways. By some unfortunate accident, peculiar to the idiosyncratic way Tom's beliefs have developed, Tom has somehow failed to spot the duplication. By contrast with Frege's favoured examples, there is very little temptation in this case to posit a 'sense' for the names 'Cicero' and 'Tully'.

However, this would not bother Frege. His solution in this case would be to move from names to descriptions. The best representation of Tom's belief that Cicero was a Roman orator substitutes the description that Tom would most likely use for 'Cicero', whatever that may be. The content of Tom's belief about Cicero can thus be more idiosyncratic than, say, Tom's belief about Hesperus.

We've seen that it would be daft to say that Tom believes that Siss-uh-roe was a Roman orator but does not believe that Siss-roe was a Roman orator. So we are prepared to move a way from the criterion of what sentences Tom would assent to, when asked. The question is how much further we can, or should move.

The two cases above, the Frege case and the card index case suggest the principle that there has to be some substantial breakdown in the knowledge gathering process to justify the refusal to make the substitution. There are many other cases where we don't feel the slightest problem with reporting someone's belief about a person using a name which they themself would not recognize. In other words, in practice, much of our talk of belief is de re rather than de dicto. If one were looking for some sort of justification for this it would be that we are in the knowledge gathering game together, it is a co-operative enterprise.

However, this point focuses our attention on the difference between knowledge and belief. The case can be made (this is for epistemology) that belief is normally knowledge - unless something goes wrong. We are naturally constructed as knowledge gatherers. When the focus is specifically on an idiosyncratic belief, it is because our interest is in explaining the behaviour of an agent. For example, Alice is not afraid of Mack the Knife, the notorious serial murderer because she knows him as Mike the friendly neighbour who helps her carry out the garbage.

So, is it possible for Tom to believe that Cicero was a Roman Orator but not believe that Tully was a Roman Orator? My answer would be, maybe, if there is a sufficiently interesting/ relevant explanation of the breakdown. Otherwise, in normal speech we would not hesitate to make the substitution, in other words, to construe the belief as de re.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free will problem and the justification for punishment

To: David F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Free will problem and the justification for punishment
Date: 26 March 2007 08:55

Dear David,

Thank you for your email of 12 March, with your first essay for the Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'In the light of the critique of 'free will', can blame and punishment ever be rationally justified? Consider hard cases, such as brainwashing, crimes of passion, the influence of drugs, medical or psychological conditions etc.'

This is a good attempt to deal with a difficult question. You have distinguished different purposes that punishment might serve under 2. (a)-(d), with the addition of reparation which you later consider as additional option - although I don't see that this would necessarily be an alternative to retribution. Punishment which served the purpose of compensating the victim of a crime could be carried out in the context of a 'no blame' (as you put it) view of punishment.

I am less clear about the consequences that you draw from the distinction between B. which is basically the view of 'compatibilism', that free will is compatible with determinism, and C. the view that given determinism our actions are not free, full stop.

Any system of punishment must recognize the difference between actions which are immediately coerced - the case you give is the gun against the head - and those which are not immediately coerced. If we think of punishment purely in instrumental terms, society does not have to be protected against individuals who do bad actions only when a gun is put against their head, nor would individuals in such a situation be deterred from doing the same thing in similar circumstances.

There is a problem, however, with a purely instrumental view which might not have occurred to you. This was put vividly by F.H. Bradley in his book 'Ethical Studies', where he gives the example of the Master of Hounds who gives his dogs 'a good thrashing' before they go out on a hunt 'just to show who's boss'. Pre-emptive punishment might be very effective indeed at not only preventing offences that might otherwise have occurred but also as a deterrent to others. Yet, only a very small minority would embrace this view. It is not fair to punish someone for something that they might or might not do in the future. But why insist on fairness if our only concept of punishment is instrumental?

But what about blame? In his British Academy lecture, 'Freedom and Resentment' (reprinted in 'Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays') P.F. Strawson argues that the practice of blame is part of our 'reactive attitudes' which are necessary for viewing one another as persons rather than things. This is consistent, Strawson argues, with a compatibilist view. Margaret, in dialogue 2 of the second unit starts from Strawson's position and attempts to explain why we 'argue against' something that someone has already done, and what that could possibly mean.

A purely instrumental view of punishment gives up all talk of blame. But as we have seen, it is not so easy to adopt this view consistently.

The 'hard cases' arise whether one adopts view B. or view C. Either way, we have to find a principled way of deciding whether or not to punish, or whether in some circumstances punishment is to be reduced and by how much. This is assuming, of course, that we accept that punishment must be meted out 'fairly'.

I find this issue very difficult. Patty Hearst, the erstwhile heiress turned bank robber is a famous case where a jury convicted someone who had been brainwashed because they were convinced by the argument that they were dealing with the person standing before them in the dock, the unrepentant member of the 'Symbionnese Liberation Army' - who had originally kidnapped her. The same principle applies to your Muslim extremists.

If someone takes drugs which lead them to murder, then it was their fault that they took the drugs but this is a far lesser offence (unless of course it is widely known that these particular drugs lead one to commit murder). In the famous 'Twinkie defence' in the USA (where else) a man was cleared of murder on the grounds that the packet of Twinkies he had eaten shortly before led to a rapid increase in blood sugar which caused his violent behaviour. No-one can be blamed for eating a packet of biscuits. Subsequent attempts to use this defence have apparently failed, however.

The most difficult issue to deal with, however, is the clear correlation between childhood deprivation or abuse and criminal behaviour. We don't consider these mitigating circumstances, on the principle cited above - that we are dealing with the person as they are now. Yet it still offends our sense of 'fairness'. Thomas Nagel has coined a term for this, 'moral luck'. It is also moral luck which leads one drunk motorist to lose six points after being breathalysed while another equally drunk, equally irresponsible motorist kills a child and ends up in prison. No-one simply gets the punishment they 'deserve' because accidental circumstances contribute to the outcome of an agent's intention.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Hilary Putnam and brains in vats

To: Stuart B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Hilary Putnam and brains in vats
Date: 12 March 2007 13:31

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your email of 6 March with your latest University of London essay, on Hilary Putnam and the brain in a vat, and the rewrite our your previous essay on the coherentist theory of justification.

You needn't have pulled your hair out over my remark about tracking truth. It is a common complaint levelled against the coherence theory of truth that a maximally coherent set of propositions can still be false. But a coherence theory of justification is not the same as a coherence theory of truth. (I'm aware that I'm not telling you anything you don't already know!)

One's first reaction to the question (and this is something I should have said right at the beginning but didn't) is why should the possibility that a coherent set be false be an objection to coherentism about knowledge, if on the standard tripartite theory one happily accepts the fallibilist concession that the justification which we offer from a proposition might be false? For the coherentist, a coherent set is not logically equivalent to truth, but it is the best way to track truth. That's just how knowledge grows, by adding propositions to a coherent set.

My response to your essay might seem a little oblique, but you will see the point in a minute.

The first point I would make is that Putnam does himself a disservice with the motto, 'meanings are not in the head'. The first question one has to ask is why do we have natural kind terms? As Putnam recognizes, two things are required for meaning, an intention and the requisite causal link. But the reason why a causal link is required is because of the particular nature of the intention that we form when we coin a natural kind term. We are seeking a maximally explanatory theory, attempting to 'cut reality at the joints' to use Plato's phrase. That means that our intention is to capture a salient aspect of the world and link the term to THAT rather than to limit its meaning to whatever set of attributes we can think up.

That is why white gold is still gold, why graphite, diamond and charcoal are all carbon etc. etc.

The interesting question to ask is, Could our intentions be different? Why couldn't we deliberately 'pull in our horns' and refuse to coin any natural kind terms, confining language to nominal concepts? Our capacity for understanding the world would be greatly impoverished. But suppose the world was a lot more recalcitrant to understanding than the actual world is. Maybe in that alternative world attempting to divide things into natural kinds just doesn't get us anywhere.

(As a passing remark, for many, many years Aristotle's natural kinds theory was looked on with scorn by analytical philosophers, as dubious metaphysics - which indeed it was.)

A counter-argument would be that even if we give up natural kind terms, we still have to interact with objects. Giving up a causal theory of reference - or a more sophisticated theory incorporating a causal aspect as in Gareth Evans 'Varieties of Reference' - leaves one teetering on the edge of idealism.

However, the brain in a vat is not an idealist evil demon scenario. The vat-inhabitants believe that there exists a physical world in space and there is a physical world in space. They coin proper names and concepts with the intention of setting up causal links but the intention fails, or rather, catches on to different 'objects' from the ones they intended to catch onto.

In the real world, brains and vats are natural kinds (at least, vats are made of some metal which is a natural kind) but in the virtual world of the vat-dwellers, the objects they identify as 'brains' and 'vats' are not natural kinds. Anything can happen in virtual reality (as computer games amply demonstrate). Even if it doesn't, it might at any moment even though the vat-dwellers do not know this.

I think this is sufficient to show that vat-dwellers do not have false beliefs about brains and vats. With luck, their conditioning has set them up to be capable of conversing about brains and vats were they to be set free and put in living human bodies (this relates to one of your points), so they can truly say, 'We once had false beliefs about brains and vats,' but that is not sufficient to establish that they are were already conversing about brains and vats before they were set free. So I am partly agreeing and partly disagreeing with Putnam.

Your first objection is mistaken, in my view. The first premiss is not the premise of an or-elimination but rather a hypothesis set up for reductio. Assume I am a BIV. Now let's see what follows. What follows (or so Putnam claims) is a contradiction. Therefore, I am not a BIV.

However, your second objection had me stumped for a while. Is it really so easy to rejig the BIV scenario so as to be immune from Putnam's argument? I've already considered the possibility of freeing a vat-dweller. They would soon get along fine with the rest of us. But what about vat-imprisonment? I have my causally acquired knowledge of what brains and vats are, and now continue applying these not realizing that I am no longer in causal contact with the world. For reasons which I have already given, however, I don't think this works. My semantic intentions fail, they do not succeed. I don't have false beliefs about brains and vats. I don't have beliefs, period. I seem to express thoughts but do not.

To meet your third objection, it is sufficient to point out that accidental coincidence is not enough. In the vat-world, a tree can morph into a vat and vice versa at any time, even though for accidental reasons this has never happened so far. Ignorance of that possibility wrecks the semantic intentions of the vat-dwellers.

Having gone to such lengths to defend Putnam, however, I agree with you that his argument does not work as an argument against scepticism. Forget about vat-ish, let's assume a stronger claim than Putnam makes, that vat-dwellers do not 'speak' any 'language' although it seems to them as if they do. They do not express thoughts with a sense and a reference. This is in fact my view.

Now, as a sceptic I say, 'Maybe I'm a brain in a vat.' This is possibly true. If it is true, then I am not saying anything because I can't 'use a language'. So what? That merely makes my sceptical conclusion all the more extreme. Not only do I not know anything, I cannot be certain that my words mean anything. There is no cure for this except a leap of faith. Or, in the words of Wittgenstein, I am not shutting my eyes to doubt: 'They are shut.'

All the best,

Geoffrey

Monday, February 27, 2012

Musical perception and the nature of consciousness

To: Reiner L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Musical perception and the nature of consciousness
Date: 12 March 2007 10:30

Dear Reiner,

Thank you for your email of 5 March, with your second essay for the Associate program on musical perception.

This is not exactly what I expected. Where I thought you were heading is in the direction of a non-reductive understanding of the way the language of music works, both in composition and also in performance; in other words, what a composer grasps and a listener appreciates when he creates a musical composition, and what a performer grasps and a listener appreciates when the performer interprets a musical composition.

The question of ontological dualism doesn't seem to have anything to do with this, and in fact you barely hint at the metaphysical issue. I don't know what Chalmers thinks he means by a 'science of consciousness' but I suspect that he is simply taking a stand on the non-reducibility of psychological explanation. It is not necessary to be an ontological dualist in order to take this stand.

The starting point is that there is more to accounting for experience than everyday folk psychology. Human beings have developed elaborate and subtle methods of aesthetic criticism both in music and the visual arts. The fascinating question is, how far this can be developed into a science.

I do not feel the least bit of embarrassment in talking of 'science' here.

Clearly, from your account, the error made by investigators looking for 'science' is to assume, wrongly, that scientific explanation is essentially reductivist. However, if this was literally true, then there would be no such thing as a science of biology to give just one example.

I don't want to rule out that there might be interesting connections between a science of music and human biology, or even logic and mathematics. No science is completely separate from other sciences. But saying that is not making any claim about reducibility.

Let's start with something I find comparatively easy. I don't recall hearing a recording by Clara Haskill, but don't feel the least difficulty in accepting that to someone who appreciates music the badly recorded performance gives far greater pleasure than a lesser pianist recorded to perfection. You need to know what to listen to.

A Jew's Harp - a device with a metal spring that you place in your mouth and pluck - makes an ugly 'twang, twang' to those who fail to hear the beautiful, faint harmonics which carry the tune. Human beings respond to music at different levels, the greater the knowledge the greater the appreciation. A bad recording is like a dirty window - you can still see through it, and in fact so long as you are concentrating on what you see you are hardly aware that the perception is clouded and obscured.

It seems to me that applying Jackson's 'Fred' example to the phenomenon of perfect pitch is asking the wrong question. Ask yourself how you recognize the face of a friend. Or even, in the case of identical twins, how someone who knows them well is able to tell the twins apart even though there is no identifiable feature that one can point to that indicates which twin is which.

There are two kinds of answer to the question, 'How did you recognize X?' The first answer is, 'I recognized X by identifying that X had the feature Y.' The second answer is, 'I just did,' or, 'I just recognized it straight off.' We are tempted to add something to the second answer because we can't get over the idea that explanations come to an end. (This is familiar territory to readers of the later Wittgenstein - see the opening pages of 'The Blue Book'.) So, for example, in this deluded state we tell ourselves the story that we have an example of X in our minds and when we see an object which we recognize as X, what happens is that we compare the object with the mental sample. But this explanation threatens a vicious regress. How do you recognize your mental sample of X? If you were able to 'just know' that the mental sample was a sample of X, why can't you 'just know' that the object you are looking at is an example of X?

It is true that we do sometimes go through the motions of calling up a picture or experience in our minds before making a judgement. The error consists in thinking that this is something that must always happen, even if we are not aware of it happening.

Similarly, someone with absolute pitch simply recognizes that the note played is a perfect middle C, or that it is slightly above, or slightly below. End of story. Asking, 'What kind of experience is that?' is asking the wrong question. It might have been the case (or maybe is) that someone, somewhere is able to tell perfect pitch because the experience of the note is accompanied by a 'marker' - a fanfare of trumpets or the sound of applause. A film maker attempting to convey this ability might even use such a device to convey to the audience the mystery of the skill. But that does not mean that every successful recognition of perfect pitch has some mystery extra component which the subject themself is unaware of.

So, I remain unconvinced that this example is the key to a non-reductive approach to understanding music. There could not be a bigger difference between the ability to recognize perfect pitch and the ability to recognize the difference between a great or mediocre performance. In the former case, you either can or you can't. In the latter case, there is a lot to SAY. Not necessarily in highly technical language, but rather in terms of pointing to various aspects of the performance, raising questions about the ideas that the performer has in seeking to interpret the composition, or his/her skill in applying those ideas to the performance itself.

The fascinating question, for me, is whether, e.g. musical criticism as it is today is more or less as refined as it could be, or whether there will ever be a musical Newton who creates a new science of musical understanding, as a result of which music criticism is never be the same. What do you think?

All the best,

Geoffrey

Metaphor and knowledge in literature

To: Walter F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Metaphor and knowledge in literature
Date: 9 March 2007 12:11

Dear Walter,

Thank you for your email of 1 March, with your essay for the Associate program, 'Knowledge in Literature'.

My first impression, from reading this, is that you have combined together two completely separate essay topics.

There is the topic of metaphor, and the various theories that have been put forward to explain how metaphor works. Then there is the topic of knowledge through literature, responding to the sceptical challenge that literature is incapable of communicating knowledge which could not have been better conveyed in a more straightforward way.

One way of reading this essay is simply as a report of 'work in progress'. You have taken a lot on board, learned a lot about these two areas, and this is the result of your research to date. That would be absolutely fine, so far as it goes. Eventually, you might hope to produce two essays from this starting point, one on metaphor and one on knowledge in literature.

It occurred to me, however, that there is an interesting philosophical question here in the connection between metaphor and knowledge. More precisely, how is it possible to convey knowledge through metaphor? Surely, anything that can be said using metaphor can be better said in non-metaphorical language?

This seems to parallel Stolnitz's criticisms of the view that literature can be a source of knowledge (although there is no indication whether Stolnitz considers the specific question whether metaphor can be a source of knowledge). Could it be that an answer to the question about metaphor and knowledge might be used as the basis for a response to Stolnitz?

First, is it possible to convey knowledge through metaphor? One work which you haven't referred to is Lakoff and Johnson 'Philosophy in the Flesh' which argues that metaphor is pervasive in language, to the point where it is hardly possible to find any terms which do not have a metaphorical component.

Leaving aside that radical claim, it could still be argued that a significant portion, perhaps the most significant portion of human knowledge arises from conceptual innovation. The capacity to produce and understand metaphors is essential to the human ability to innovate conceptually, and indeed there is no other way to do this. We have to take the understandings that we have and use these - through various methods of metaphorical extension - to create new understandings. In a sense, there are no new ideas under the sun. Everything we discover, every new idea that we form, is based on ideas that we had before.

This presents the startling prospect that one might see the 'creativity' of such thinkers as Newton or Einstein, as the same kind of thing - from a sufficiently lofty perspective - as that of Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Henry James. This is literature as a source of 'new' insights, extending language in ways which could not have been predicted.

Your case for knowledge from or through literature is based on the idea that we can learn 'what it is like' to be in a given situation. Coincidentally, my wife was telling our youngest daughter Francesca, who is nearly 12 that she really ought to read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. The book has been wrongly smeared with the 'Uncle Tom' image, while it is in fact a deeply sympathetic and valuable document of a time that has now passed. This is the writer as reporter, picking up on aspects of reality that no-one else has taken the trouble to notice before, and conveying these to the sufficiently sensitive reader.

However, bearing in mind what I have suggested about metaphor, I would question whether this is the only way that knowledge can be conveyed through literature. This seems to emphasise the 'documentary' aspect of literature at the expense of the aspect which 'explores possible worlds' (for want of a better term). Exploring possible worlds is not confined to science fiction, although science fiction writers have undoubtedly contributed to human knowledge by this means.

The documentary author tells us, 'this is how it is' (or 'this is how it was') while the exploratory author tells us, 'this is how things might be'. A novel examining human relationships could belong in either of these categories.

It could also be argued that taking both of these categories together still leaves a large swathe of literature still unaccounted for. I am thinking of authors who indulge in flights of fancy which go well beyond the literal, whether it be literal documentation or literal speculation; literature which is closer to poetry, which exploits the human capacity to be gripped by a story, however improbable, to convey a vision whose meaning cannot be expressed in literal terms.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Objections to knowledge as justified true belief

To: Eric G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Objections to knowledge as justified true belief
Date: 9 March 2007 11:18

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your email of 2 March, with your University of London essay in response to the question, '"Knowing that P is at least a matter of having a belief that P which is both true and justified." Is this an adequate definition of knowledge? If not, how should it be improved.'

This is another well researched answer, which shows a good grasp of the issues.

If an examiner was being picky, they might raise a question over your ready acceptance that knowing that P is 'at least' a matter of having a belief that P'. The case of the nervous schoolboy has been cited as an example where knowledge does not entail belief.

Again, being picky, from the point of view of the logic of the question, 'X is at least a matter of ABC' cannot be an adequate definition, irrespective of X or ABC. A definition must give sufficient as well as necessary conditions. You would get some credit for recognizing this.

I do like the way you have avoided launching straight into the tri-partite account and considered instead the question whether justification is fallible or infallible. This sets the context for this question. However, given this context, it is not so clear that the central motivation for a definition of knowledge is to provide ammunition for someone challenged with 'How do you know?'

'I know because I believe, my belief is true and I have justification for my belief, and etc. etc.' (or, insert any account you like, e.g. Nozick's)? No. This is not how it works. If challenged, you can't appeal to the truth of your belief because that is one of the things being challenged. You are being asked by the challenger to provide a persuasive argument for your case; which might involve citing evidence, proof of your own authority as someone who has the right to make this kind of judgement, or etc.

Plato's interest (in Theaetetus, and also in the Meno) was very different from that of modern epistemologists. In his view, if you don't have a proper 'account', you are liable to be persuaded to give up your belief by dubious counter arguments, the belief has a tendency to 'run away'. It turns out that only philosophy is able to give a sufficient 'account' for its claims. As Plato argues in 'Republic', there is no such thing as empirical 'knowledge'. In other words, it is hard to see 'fallible justification' as having any merit at all from Plato's exacting perspective.

It is worth asking, why do we need a definition of knowledge? Assuming a fallible view of justification, we are clearly not seeking to refute scepticism; that task is conceived as already having been done, or something we can tackle separately. Human fallibility was the centrepiece of the sceptic's case, but we are not too bothered by that.

Knowledge presents a challenge to philosophical analysis. Like 'person' or 'cause' we feel we ought to be able to provide necessary and sufficient conditions, on pain of admitting that we don't really know 'what knowledge is'. It is essential to this exercise that the request for a definition is framed in the third person.

Given this framework, it is not at all clear however to what degree the subject whose knowledge we are considering needs to be aware of what we, from our superior vantage point, are aware of. Hence the clash between internalist and externalist accounts. Is it, in fact necessary for the subject to be able to provide any justification for his/her belief? why isn't truth enough? (provided the route is 'reliable'). This is another reason for questioning the 'at least' claim made in the question.

Another theory which fits the externalist view, apparently originally suggested by Russell (although I don't have the reference), is to require simply the absence of false assumptions. This view has been advocated by Gilbert Harman. Obviously the subject can't demonstrate this. Maybe we can't either. However, from an imaginary God's-eye standpoint, case of knowledge just are cases where there are no false assumptions anywhere along the line that leads to the subject's belief. In other words, belief is naturally knowledge - unless something goes wrong.

Remember, we are not trying to refute the sceptic but merely seeking to give adequate necessary and sufficient conditions. This is the analytical game we have chosen to play.

This kind of exam question is tricky, in that it seems to be fishing for how much you know about this issue. In order to fully answer the question, 'How should it be improved?' it is not enough to give your favourite account or to offer one or two alternatives. It looks like you need to sketch all the theories that have been put forward. I've suggested a couple that you have missed (reliabilism and the no false assumptions theory). I have to confess I didn't fully understand your explanation of Dretske's position. If I was answering the question I probably would have forgotten Dretske, which I suppose shows that one can't be expected to say everything, especially when you've only got one hour.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Primary and secondary qualities and Descartes' case for doubt

To: Anthony L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Primary and secondary qualities and Descartes' case for doubt
Date: 5 March 2007 12:49

Dear Tony,

Thank you for your two emails of 27 February, one resubmitting your essay which you originally tried to send in January, in response to the University of London Modern Philosophy question, ''There is no defensible distinction between primary and secondary qualities'. Explain and discuss,' and the other in response to the UoL Modern Philosophy question, 'What reasons does Descartes give four doubting all his former beliefs? Are they good reasons?'

Primary and secondary qualities

This is a hoary old question which you've had a good go at. You've managed to say most of the things that need to be said. However, there are two issues which you could have given more thought to.

The question is, 'there is no defensible distinction between primary and secondary qualities'. This should tell you something. You are not being asked specifically to examine the views of Locke and Boyle - which would be a perfectly good exam question - but rather make a judgement whether ANY distinction between primary and secondary qualities can be made to work, obviously with reference to Locke and Boyle, but also anything else that might be relevant.

Let's first look at Locke's view. Somewhere in the Essay, Locke remarks that if we had the sense organs of angels we would see the corpuscles of which all matter is composed. (Unfortunately, I have tried fruitlessly to locate the reference, after quoting this to another student who tackled this topic!)

If one were to ask, 'How do angels perceive?' obviously the mechanism is not going to involve the standard story of corpuscles interacting with corpuscles. However, Locke doesn't have to say. Tactile perception would do. Or maybe angels are simply not part of the order of nature. You are right, however, to emphasise that modern science has moved away from this view. The question, however, is what are the consequences for the primary/ secondary qualities distinction? In what sense, if any, does modern science vindicate Locke?

We can ask whether Locke's 'angelic' view is coherent. Is it logically possible that the universe might have been as described by the corpuscular theory? is there anything intrinsically wrong with the corpuscular hypothesis? I don't think there is. It is just false.

However, Locke is clearly wrong if he thinks that this is the ONLY basis on which the primary/ secondary qualities distinction can be drawn.

The next question, therefore, is how one can make this distinction without assuming the corpuscular theory. Is there a way to describe the difference between primary and secondary qualities which encompasses both Locke and modern physics?

In your last section you get close to it but I think you miss the essential point. Let's look at how one would define a typical secondary quality and a typical primary quality.

'An object is yellow if and only if it appears yellow to normal perceivers in normal lighting.'

This, I would claim, is the typical form of a definition of a secondary quality. What is notable is that the term being defined occurs on both sides of the biconditional. To 'appear yellow', subjects must be able to express the judgement, that 'x is yellow'. Agreement in judgements over what is yellow is the condition for the possibility (to express this in pseudo-Kantian terms) of there being objects which are yellow.

'A shape is square if and only if it has four equal sides and one right angle.'

In other words, 'square' is definable in terms which do not use the term 'square' while 'yellow' is not definable in terms which do not use the term 'yellow'.

Drawing the contrast in this way, paradoxically seems the reverse of the Lockean explanation. Locke would say that an object looks square because it IS square, whereas an object looks yellow because XYZ, where 'XYZ' is an explanation couched in terms of the corpuscular theory (or indeed modern physics) which does not mention 'yellow'.

An explanation of why these two ways of drawing the distinction are not inconsistent but in fact perfectly harmonious would be useful. I leave that for you.

Cartesian doubt

The question is what are the reasons Descartes gives for doubting all his former beliefs and are they good reasons, and NOT, what is Descartes' motivation four doubting all his former beliefs and is this motivation soundly based.

It is therefore strictly irrelevant to the question asked whether foundationalism is a good idea, what are the prospects of building the edifice of knowledge from scratch and so on. In an examination, with limited time, you would be better of giving a quick nod to Descartes' motivations, showing the examiner that you are aware that this is not the question being asked. You will lose marks as well as time if you answer a different question from the one being asked.

(Having said that, I can see that 'reasons for doubting all his former beliefs' might be seen as ambiguous. Arguably, it can either mean, 'reasons why all his former beliefs should be doubted', or 'reasons for attempting to put all his former beliefs in doubt'. In the latter case, your remarks about foundationalism would be relevant. Provided that you make it clear that you see an ambiguity in the question, you could get away with including those remarks.)

Essentially, we are looking at Descartes the sceptic and asking how good his sceptical arguments are.

The first thing to note is that 'all his former beliefs' covers a significantly wider range than modern scepticism of the 'evil scientist' variety. Descartes is prepared to be sceptical about the theorems of geometry or truths of arithmetic, he is even prepared to question whether there is such a thing as space.

You say, 'Descartes sometimes seems to be saying that it could be that all his beliefs are false (i.e. he might have no true beliefs at all), and at other times seems only to be saying that any one of his beliefs taken at random might be false. The latter is the conclusion that he eventually comes to, but this would still mean that no belief is indubitable.'

I puzzled over this. 'Some of my beliefs might be false but I don't know which ones' is consistent with most of my beliefs being true. Surely, on this basis I know a great deal which can be expressed in general terms. This is nowhere near sufficient for Descartes' purposes. On the other hand, 'all my beliefs might be false', is close to incoherence, if we consider that most people have 'omega inconsistent' beliefs, i.e. a set of beliefs which contain an unidentified inconsistency.

One could give a lot more space to consideration of mental disorder. At least while we are still in the first Meditation, it is a bit of a mystery why Descartes does not pursue this further. The reason is that it threatens the foundation of his epistemological theory, the notion of clear and distinct ideas. If I am suffering from full-blown paranoid delusions, then any 'evidence' which comes in will be reinterpreted in a way to save the theory. If I can't count on my own rationality, then there really is no way forward from that point.

When Descartes considers the possibility that an evil demon could deceive him even with respect to elementary arithmetical statements, one might well wonder whether we are still in the 'deception' scenario rather than the 'irrational' scenario.

Arguably, all the weight of Descartes' argument falls back on the evil demon scenario.

One needs to distinguish the 'evil demon' and 'evil scientist' hypotheses. With the evil demon, in effect, Descartes is saying that idealism of a Berkeleian variety MIGHT, for all he knows, be true, OR there might exist 'material objects' in 'space', but he cannot tell which of these theories is true on the basis of his experience. But in that case, is he asking an empirical question? Or is Berkeley right in drawing the conclusion that the very notion of a 'material object in space' makes no sense at all?

Recent discussions in epistemology have focused on the 'evil scientist' or 'brain in a vat' scenario. Hilary Putnam objects, in my view unpersuasively, against the argument for scepticism based on the brain in a vat scenario, on the grounds that if I am a brain in a vat then given semantic 'externalism', I cannot have the concept of a 'brain' or a 'vat'. You can get some mileage out of this.

More generally, there is room for discussion about the validity of the general line of sceptical argument:

1) If I know that I am sitting at my desk then I know that it is not the case that XYZ (e.g. XYZ=I am a brain in a vat).

2) Therefore, if I don't know that XYZ then I don't know that I am sitting at my desk.

How persuasive is that inference? See, e.g. the article in the Internet Encyclopedia on 'Epistemic Closure Principles'

http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/epis-clo.htm

Finally, I don't follow your argument for 'iii) Beliefs about how things are in reality are only open to doubt if in some sorts of cases you decide to assume, on the basis of past experience, that once you’ve concluded your belief was wrong, nothing will happen to upset that conclusion.'

First, it is important that Descartes doesn't formulate his evil demon argument in the way that one might formulate an evil scientist argument. 'I might be being deceived by an evil scientist' has content for me because I can imagine what it would be to discover this. Of course my 'discovery' can be wrong, in fact the scenario of 'waking up in a vat' could be the cleverly induced illusion, and my beliefs about my former life largely true. The point is that because there can always be new evidence, the evidence I have up to the present point in time is never enough to settle once and for all which theory is correct, although it might incline me to one theory rather than the other.

The evil demon scenario, by contrast, is not a possibility that I can represent in terms of a possible future experience. Any possible future experience is fully consistent with the evil demon scenario and also with the commonsense materialist scenario.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fatalism and determinism compared

To: Francis W.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Fatalism and determinism compared
Date: 2 March 2007 12:53

Dear Francis,

Thank you for your email of 25 February, with your third essay for the Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Compare the theory of fatalism with the thesis of determinism. Is there any way that one could consistently hold a determinist view while denying fatalism, or hold a fatalist view while denying determinism?'

I have to say that I am disappointed in the Stanford Encyclopedia definition of Fatalism. This is the first time I have found myself disagreeing with one of its articles.

What this highlights is that there is a 'wide' and 'narrow' way of understanding Fatalism. The 'wide' understanding includes all the possible ways in which we could feel powerless to have any effect on the future. So this includes belief in causal determinism.

The 'narrow' understanding, however, is the one which I would strictly identify with 'fatalism', which is a view about the nature of truth. According the fatalist, there are truths about the future. The fact that I have not yet taken the philosophy exam, scheduled in two week's time, has no effect on the question whether 'GK passes the exam' is true. Either 'GK passes the exam' is true or it false. I won't know until I get the results, but that is just because I can't see into the future. That statement HAS a truth value whether i know that truth value or not. It had a truth value a million years ago, and it will still have the same truth value in a million years time, when the human race has been annihilated. Truth is truth, it does not alter with time.

I hope you can see where this might be heading.

If 'truth is truth', then it is irrelevant whether determinism holds or not. If it is true that the subatomic particle will go left, then it will go left, irrespective of whether it was caused to go left or not. If it is true that it will go right then it will go right. Of course we won't know until it happens, but the truth is the truth.

This would be an argument for the view that 'one can consistently hod a fatalist view while denying determinism'.

But is it necessary to be a fatalist about truth? The alternative view (which was favoured by the Greek philosopher Aristotle) is that the future is 'open', not 'closed'. There are no facts about the future. A fact is something that only exists when the event in question happens or after it happens. So the statement 'the particle will go left' has no truth value, true or false, until the event happens.

It would be perfectly possible to hold that determinism is true, but still reject the fatalist view of truth. One way to see how this might make a difference is to imagine that the universe HAS always been determinist and IS determinist, but that at some time in the future there will be a cataclysmic event as a result of which the universe will CEASE to be determinist.

That would be an argument for the view that 'one can consistently hold a determinist view while denying fatalism'.

So what?

I you are a fatalist or a determinist, you don't have to be both. Either way, you have a problem reconciling your philosophical belief with your belief in free will. That is the topic for another essay.

There are one or two things more I would like to say about fatalism in response to what you said in your essay.

'Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother' said the Oracle at Delphi. When he heard this, Oedipus decided that the only safe thing to do was to run away, to get as far away from his father and mother as possible. What he didn't know was that his father and mother weren't who he thought they were. On the road he met a man whom he killed. That man turned out to be his father. He made his home in another city, and married the Queen. It turned out that the Queen was his mother.

In other words, just like the story in unit 2, the Black Box, the Oracle knew what Oedipus was going to do as a result of hearing its prediction, and included that fact in making the prediction. If he hadn't heard the prediction Oedipus would have stayed where he was and his father would have lived.

However, there is an alternative, 'cruder' version of fatalism whereby the Gods, having decided what will happen, arrange things so that the event happens no matter what we do. In this scenario, even if Oedipus had stayed where he was, the Gods would have fixed things so that he killed his father and married his mother.

Crude fatalism is not very interesting unless you believe in the existence of the Greek gods.

The argument, 'I might as well stay home and not go to work because if I am going to get my promotion I will get it no matter what I do' is sometimes known as the 'lazy sophism'. It is not implied by the truth of fatalism. The explanation why it is a 'sophism', i.e. invalid is interesting and you could do some research on the internet to find out why.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Descartes' argument that mind and body are distinct substances

To: Pearl K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Descartes' argument that mind and body are distinct substances
Date: 2 March 2007 12:08

Dear Sachiko,

Thank you for your email of 25 February, with your University of London essay in response to the question, 'Descartes argues that the mind and body are distinct substances. How well does he succeed?'

You have chosen to approach this question by considering Descartes replies to Arnaud's objections to the argument for the view that mind and body are distinct substances.

As in your previous essay, you have shown initiative by looking at the 'Objections and Replies' in addition to the Meditations. However, in the this essay the result has been that you have answered a different question from the one set, namely,

'How well does Descartes respond to Arnaud's criticisms of his argument for the view that mind and body are distinct substances?'

Who knows, this MIGHT come up in the exam. However, this is not the best way to answer the question that you have actually selected.

My view of Arnaud's criticisms is that they are interesting, but relatively 'picky' points. From your account, it seems that Descartes had little difficulty in brushing them aside.

There are more serious objections that could be made to Descartes argument than Arnaud puts forward. But, first, what is Descartes' argument?

I think here you have been hampered somewhat by over-reliance on the wording of the argument in Meditation VI. (OK, this is not THE wording because you are using Bennett's up-to-date version, but I'll let that pass with just a warning that in cases of doubt you should look at the standard translations.)

The key part of the argument is missing from Meditation VI. This is the evil demon scenario which Descartes considers in Meditation I, and the cogito in Meditation II. I don't know of any interpreters of Descartes who would disagree with this. Descartes assumes that the reader has taken the evil demon argument on board, so avoids repeating himself.

So, in place of the three step summary which you give, I would give something like the following:

1. I would still exist in a universe where all that existed was myself and an evil demon who is the direct source of my sense experience.

2. Therefore, I can exist in the absence of anything physical.

3. The essence of an substance S is defined as that without which S cannot exist.

4. Since I can exist in the absence of anything physical, it follows from 3. that no physical property can be part of my essence.

5. God exists, therefore physical things do exist because God is not a deceiver.

6. Therefore my mind/self and my physical body exist as distinct substances.

As it stands, there are more steps that one could insert to bring out all the assumptions - always a good exercise in interpreting a text. You might consider what additional steps are needed to make the argument watertight (or at least as strong as it could be, given that we do not agree with Descartes argument for mind-body dualism).

Where exactly does God fit into this picture? At the end of your essay, you suggest that if God does not exist then this argument would fail. However, it seems that one could construct an argument like 1-6 above which does not depend on the assumption of God's existence. 1-4 are the same. Instead of 'God exists therefore physical things exist', we just say:

5A. Physical things might exist, or then again they might not exist.

6A. If physical things exist then my mind/self and my physical body exist as distinct substances.

Now comes the philosophical work. Leaving the question of the existence of God aside, how good is the argument?

The general form of the argument seems to be: 'I know that A exists but don't know that B exists, therefore it is possible for A to exist in the absence of B.' Is that always true?

I know that there is water in my glass, but I don't know that there is H20 in my glass because (being a philosopher who is totally ignorant of everything else) I don't know that water is H20. Does it follow that it is possible for water to exist in the absence of H20?

What is possible is that there could be a world just like this one where the substance people call 'water' has a different chemical composition. But all that shows is that I don't really know what WATER is. I know that it is transparent, helps to soothe a thirst, you can dissolve sugar in it and so on. But I don't know it's essence. If I did, then I would know that water cannot not be H20, because that's just what water IS.

By contrast, if we take Descartes' line, the essence of my self is fully revealed to introspection. That's just the point about the evil demon scenario. An evil demon could transport you overnight to a world just like this one except that water is not H20 but D20 (deuterium oxide or 'heavy water', actually it's only very slightly heavier). You can't tell the difference, just by looking, between H20 and D20. But the self is different. I can know that my self even if nothing exists apart from me (and the evil demon). Therefore the case of 'self' and the case of 'water' are not analogous.

If you want to pursue this further, have a look at Kripke 'Naming and Necessity' (or have a look for texts which discuss Kripke's argument). Kripke gives an argument in defence of Descartes, or at least attacks the usual attempts that have been made to refute Descartes, so it is very relevant to this essay question. It is conceivable that you could get an examination question on this.

My line of attack would be that Descartes is wrong about what the cogito reveals, and this is why the argument fails and Kripke cannot help.

All the best,

Geoffrey

'The solipsist's world has no more substance than a dream'

To: Frank Z.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: 'The solipsist's world has no more substance than a dream'
Date: 1 March 2007 12:32

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your email of 22 February, with your second essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, ''The solipsist's world has no more substance than a dream, a story one makes up as one goes along.' - Discuss.'

You have provided an interesting take on the question of solipsism.

In the context of an investigation into ethics, one would expect that the question of solipsism relates to moral questions, and in particular to the question of how we recognize the value of other persons and their claim to have their interests taken into consideration when we act.

As the example of tyrannical political or religious leaders shows, some human individuals seem to have the need to make themselves 'the centre of the universe', effectively turning every other person in their orbit into a mere means for satisfying their desires or lust for power.

This situation is paradoxical as Hegel showed in his discussion of 'Master and Slave' in the Phenomenology of Spirit. The lust for power will not be satisfied with power over mere 'objects'. Power, to be power, has to be recognized as such by real subjects, who tremble at the tyrant's commands. However, by turning other persons into mere 'objects' to be manipulated at will, the tyrant deprives himself of that very power. The result is a predicament which is very much like that of the solipsist. The tyrant is reduced to a demanding child alone with his cupboard full of toys, whose voice no-one hears.

But is the tyrant a true solipsist? This is a crucial question. I want to say that solipsism cannot be true because it is incoherent.

Yes, it is possible that I am, unknowingly, alone in the universe. Imagine that over a period of time, super-intelligent aliens - the only beings that exist in the universe apart from human beings - have been quietly annihilating humans and replacing them with robots. Finally, only one non-robot is left, myself. Then the alien sun explodes, leaving me alone in the universe.

It is therefore an empirical question whether, in fact, other persons exist. However, the metaphysical solipsist claims that all that exists is my own mental state, not as a matter of contingency, but because the very notion of an 'object' which 'exists' apart from my own experience is, the solipsist holds, unintelligible. All I have are my own experiences. Every thought that I think, every action that I perform, takes place in the context of the world of my experience. It is impossible to conceive of there being anything else.

Why is that theory incoherent? The argument against that idea is that the metaphysical solipsist has surreptitiously imported the idea of 'truth' from our non-solipsist, common sense view of the world. In the world of my experience, some beliefs are still 'true' and other beliefs are still 'false'. It is true that in the world of my experience world war II ended in 1945 and false that in the world of my experience Paris is the capital of England. But where are these facts? The are all in my own head. It may seem to me that I am responding to something 'given' when I make these judgements, but in fact nothing is 'given', nothing is 'fixed', I can make any story I like and call it 'true'. That is why 'he solipsist's world has no more substance than a dream, a story one makes up as one goes along'.

So what?

I fully agree with you about the need for an 'element' of solipsism. This is why I reject the argument for morality which simply denies the reality of the subjective view. On the 'anti-solipsist' view which I reject, there is no difference between 'myself' and 'others'. We are all the same from the disinterested point of view. Hence the idea that, whenever we make a moral decision, we should discount ourselves as being in any way 'special' and just consider 'what needs to be done'.

On my view, the element of solipsism is countered by genuine recognition of the authority of the other. This is an asymmetrical rather than a symmetrical relationship. The ultimate, inexplicable truth is that I am GK. But as soon as I consider what is 'true' or 'false', I have to recognize that the very words which I use to express my thoughts only have meaning in relation to others. That is why the world does not collapse into my own dream.

As a consequence of this, I have to recognize that the claims of others are real, and have real moral force. That does not require I suppress myself and sacrifice myself for the good of others, but on the contrary, emphasizes that I have valid claims and other persons also have valid claims, and the moral life is one where one recognizes both.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Aristotle on akrasia and Moore's 'open question' argument

To: Pat F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Aristotle on akrasia and Moore's 'open question' argument
Date: 26 February 2007 14:26

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your email of 18 February, with your two timed University of London essays, in response to the questions:

'How in Aristotle's view can thought cause action? How on occasion may it fail to cause (correct or expected) action?'

'What force if any is there in Moore's 'open question' argument?'

Aristotle

The reason why Aristotle's discussion of akrasia is so important, is that he wants to salvage as much as possible from the Socratic doctrine that 'virtue is knowledge'. In the end, his view is not that far from Socrates.

The first question we have to answer is how can thought, any thought, cause action? Surely, thinking, 'such and such is the case' is one thing, doing is another.

Consider this example (which will be a bit more plausible when we come to consider akrasia):

1. Eating at least one portion of green veg a day is good for my health, and I want to be healthy.

2. I haven't had my green veg today, there is a portion of green veg on my plate, and I won't be offered any more food until tomorrow.

Therefore... what?

Aristotle wants to say that by contrast with a Universal syllogism, the conclusion of this 'practical' syllogism is an action. If I don't eat the green veg that is on my plate, I am acting inconsistently with the two premisses.

Well, I can think, 'I must eat the green veg.' But why should that thought lead to action? One answer is that, bearing in mind the meaning of 'I must...', to say, 'I must do X' and yet not do X is irrational.

OK, so what's wrong with being irrational? why is it necessary that any of our actions agree with our thoughts? Imagine someone whose actions do not agree with his thoughts. He doesn't do anything that he 'thinks' or 'decides' to do, but instead does a whole load of other things. The we would say that we are simply not dealing with an individual that one could recognize as an agent. It is an essential part of what it is to be an agent that one successfully executes practical syllogisms. The action component is not an extra bit added on, but a necessary part of the package.

I think that at the least what the examiner is looking for in the first part of the question is acknowledgement of this problem - the problem why any thought should issue in action. Aristotle's concept of a practical syllogism embodies the insight I have described above.

Because Aristotle is impressed with the core content of Socrates' view, the last thing he wants to do is allow that an agent can ever be faced with the choice between doing what the practical syllogism says, and simply 'acting out of passion'.

That's why Aristotle goes to some lengths to explain how we can 'know' something but not really KNOW it. For example, I 'know' that I should eat this green veg. My doctor's words to me last week are ringing in my ears ('serious iron deficiency, blah blah...') but faced with the unpalatable greens on my plate, I allow myself to dispute the very proposition I claim to know ('missing veg for one day won't hurt me' etc. etc.).

That is why I would question the second of the two alternatives that you offer at the end of your essay. Overriding passion can prevent a practical syllogism from taking place - as when a person acts out of 'impetuosity' - but when the agent does go through a practical syllogism, but fails to act, the explanation has to be in terms of a failure of his cognitive rather than affective capacity.

Hume famously remarked that reason is a 'slave of the passions', but by saying this he didn't escape the problem of weakness of will as such, as the greens example demonstrates. However, the problem of weakness of will is especially acute for anyone, like Aristotle, who holds that moral actions are dictated by knowledge and reason alone, and do not require an additional 'desire to be moral'.

Moore

I did struggle with this essay, although I won't chop your head off.

Perhaps your idea here is to question the validity of the analytic/ synthetic distinction as Quine does in 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism'. Let's see how this would work. All propositions are synthetic. 'X is good if and only if X increases pleasure' might be sufficiently embedded, in a given web of belief, to behave in every way as if it was an analytic proposition, the very last thing we would give up in the face of recalcitrant experience (like the laws of logic, which for the same reason are not immutable but ultimately capable of being revised - e.g. quantum logic).

In a world where everyone is a hedonist, the good IS pleasure. We don't ask whether pleasure is good because our only notion of good is what promotes pleasure, and no alternative has ever occurred to us.

Imagine a Nietzschean individual comes along and says, 'there is something is ultimately preferable to pleasure, which is overcoming oneself in the struggle to create values'. Maybe he is a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but if so this is only because his audience are too dim-witted to grasp his arguments. The fact that the good=pleasure equation is not questioned does not necessarily imply that it is beyond question.

What about the idea of 'simple concepts'? There is a way to define yellow - arguably the only way to define it - which far from showing that it is 'capable of decomposition ad infinitum' demonstrates why it is 'simple' in Moore's sense.

'An object is yellow if and only if it appears yellow to normal perceivers in normal conditions.'

This crude definition has to go through a lot of fancy refinements until it can be made reasonably secure against objections. But the point is that the term 'yellow' will always occur on both sides of the biconditional. You can't get rid of it. As soon as you start talking about wavelengths of light, you are changing the subject.

The term is 'good' is simple for a different reason. Anything can be good. There is nothing that good things have in common apart from their being good. However, the point of the term 'good' is not to describe an indescribable, in explicable quality which a thing either has or hasn't, but rather to state, to agents who are considering the possibility of different courses of action, 'this is to be preferred', or 'do this'.

In making his claim about 'Good', Moore is talking about the problem first given vivid expression by Hume - the gap between 'is' and 'ought'. This is pleasurable, but is it good? ought I to pursue it?

So let's now look at your water example, which could be interesting.

On twin earth water is XYZ. Therefore, intuitively, a la Putnam, what twin earthers drink, bathe in etc. is not water. It would be pointless to argue whether water IS H20 or XYZ because in referring to 'water' you are not referring to the same thing.

What about 'Good is what leads to happiness'? Let's say this is believed on earth while on twin earth the view is that good is 'overcoming oneself in the struggle to create values'.

Well, it's one thing to say that this is 'believed', but what could make it actually TRUE? In other words, how can this be seen as anything other than a philosophical disagreement about what things are good?

I assume that when, e.g. Nietzsche takes issue with utilitarians, both sides are concerned to persuade us to take a particular courses of action, make particular choices, prefer particular things. I certainly would not wish to rule out the possibility that an argument for a given moral theory could be valid, i.e. in the Aristotelian sense leading from thought to necessary action.

Moore is surely right that it can never be simply a natural 'fact' that such-and-such is good. But I would argue that it is fully consistent to hold this, while also allowing that there can be philosophical considerations which, when followed through, lead to the indisputable conclusion that actions of kind X, and only X, are 'good'.

All the best,

Geoffrey

On a criticism of the coherentist theory of knowledge

To: Stuart B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: On a criticism of the coherentist theory of knowledge
Date: 26 February 2007 12:05

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your email of 18 February, with your University of London essay in response to the question, ''My beliefs could form a coherent set even if none of them is true, so the coherence account of knowledge must be wrong.' Discuss.'

I liked the way that you related coherentism and foundationalism to ancient scepticism. However, there are two ways of using the sceptical argument as a way to motivate a particular internalist theory.

The first, most obvious way is to describe the theory of knowledge in a way which implies the refutation of the sceptic's arguments. The sceptic has overlooked a possibility, a possibility which the internalist epistemologist emphasises in his theory. Therefore, the theory of knowledge - whichever one it may be - refutes scepticism.

An alternative way is to leave open the question of how the sceptic is ultimately to be dealt with, but use the sceptic's arguments to determine the form of one's account of knowledge. At some point, it has to be recognized that a 'fully' justified belief - a belief justified to the highest possible standards of justification - can still be false, or that a 'fully' coherent set of beliefs - a set which exhibits the maximum attainable degree of coherence - can likewise still be false.

This implies an implicit element of externalism, as we will see later when we look at the 'tracking truth' question. However, it still seems to me legitimate to view these theories as primarily 'internalist' rather than 'externalist'.

In previous communications, I have given my reasons why I think that a more radical approach needs to be taken in order to specifically address the question of scepticism. This is not the same as the retreat to full externalism which claims, implausibly, that there never was a problem in the first place.

So I am sceptical about any epistemological theory which claims that it can defeat the sceptic, simply by tightening up the conditions for knowledge in such a way that scepticism is ruled out.

As in some previous essays, you have succumbed to the temptation to throw in other objections which are not implied by the objection given in the essay title. It may seem impossible to overlook such a potentially important objection as the claim that it is 'unrealistically demanding' to expect us to be aware of the 'totality of our belief-set', or the 'proposed rules of coherence'. There is room for argument here which would no doubt cast considerable illumination on the coherence theory of knowledge. But it is not logically part of the question. So I will just stress again that you must stick to the question at all costs, otherwise you will be marked down.

(Examiners can be very ruthless. They are looking a specific ability - the ability to respond to the challenge set by the question - and not interested in anything else that you know. Also, it is intrinsic to the evaluation of philosophical ability that one shows a just appreciation of the logic of a question. This is the way the game played. I realize, however, that these essays do double duty for you - as practice answers but also revision aids.)

Earlier, you describe 'a pair of additional challenges - ones that are implied by the essay title'. This is justified, although I would try to be much clearer about how they relate to the objection.

Obviously, it is relevant to the question how one defines 'coherence'. But, once again, the difficulty of defining coherence is not the objection we are looking at. You can talk about the difficulty of defining coherence, but only as a necessary stage in the argument which looks at the objection that a coherent set can still be false.

The question whether a coherent set can track truth is relevant because although this is different from the question whether a coherent set can be false, the two questions are closely related. You need to explain the difference. This is not such an easy thing to do, although we have an intuitive idea of what this would mean. Set A is Tom's coherent set because it is true. That is to say, the best explanation of why Tom holds this set assumes that it is true. However, set A can still be false, if we allow the possibility that one of the sceptical hypotheses might be true.

The sceptic will reply that the sceptical hypotheses render any notion of 'best explanation' empty, since this implies a notion of probability, and probability is relative to evidence. If the Matrix scenario is the truth, then all bets are off so far as 'best explanation' is concerned. But we are not trying to refute the sceptic, merely explaining how the coherence theory can allow room for a notion of 'tracking truth'.

I did get the impression - especially towards the end of your essay - that you forgot that there is a difference between the 'truth' objection and the 'tracking truth' objection. So long as we are not looking to refute scepticism, it is acceptable that a coherent set might conceivably be false if one or other of various far-fetched possibilities turns out to be the case, provided we are satisfied that a coherent set is capable in principle of tracking truth.

Anti-realism about truth is a response to scepticism which brings along its own problems, as you describe. However, a bell should have rung for you when you argued that 'the local set of some one individual may be coherent, yet still inconsistent with the broader vision of coherence truth'. The logically adept paranoid gives excellent reasons for his crazy beliefs. The fact that the beliefs in question are false does not diminish our admiration for the clarity and consistency of his arguments - at least up to a point. However, as a matter of fact (which if one allows the sceptical hypotheses could have been otherwise) we are tracking truth and the paranoid isn't. The paranoid's coherent beliefs are not knowledge because they fail the truth condition.

I haven't mentioned your point that coherentism ignores or underplays important differences between kinds of beliefs, e.g. the special role of perceptual beliefs. You do make an effort to relate this to the question, although once again I would have liked to have seen a bit more argument here.

All the best,

Geoffrey

What kind of freedom is worth fighting for?

To: Patrick A.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: What kind of freedom is worth fighting for?
Date: 21 February 2007 09:32

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your email of 12 February with your first essay for the Possible World Machine, with your own title, 'Freedom, fate and freewill - What kind of freedom is worth fighting for?'

This is an interesting essay, although it was not exactly what I had expected!

If you recall, we were discussing the question of free will vs determinism. I suggested that a good question to ask is what kind of 'free will' is 'worth wanting'. What I meant by this is that there is more than one possible definition of 'free will', and one definition might be more interesting or more desirable to us than another.

To take a key example, according to the compatibilist definition of free will, an action is free so long as the actor is not constrained or compelled by external circumstances (such as a gun at one's head) or hindered by internal psychological obstacles (e.g. a panic attack). This kind of 'freedom' is fully compatible with determinism. The fact that a chain of causes and effects can be traced from my birth to the present action of writing this email does not mean that I am being 'constrained' to write it, nor am I under the influence of an abnormal mental condition. I wanted to write to you and I am writing to you. If I had not wanted to write today I would not have written.

But is this kind of 'free will' worth wanting? Isn't there a residual feeling of despair at the very thought that if determinism is true, then every action that we do was already 'taken account of' by the big bang? I might have not written today, had I chosen not to. But given the way the big bang banged, there was no real possibility that I might not have made that choice.

So another form of 'free will' would be defined in opposition to determinism. If determinism is true then we cannot have this kind of 'free will'. Should we be upset at this thought? Is this kind of freedom worth wanting?

The topic of your essay is not 'free will' as this notion figures in the free will vs determinism debate, but rather the question of political freedom. I have no criticism to make of this. In fact, it is a very interesting topic in its own right.

The concept of negative freedom was championed by J.S. Mill in his essay, 'On Liberty'. Mill's argument is that we ought to be free to do anything we choose, so long as our action does not cause harm to anyone else. This freedom is 'negative' because it is defined in terms of a necessary - not causing harm to others.

The concept of positive freedom was developed by G.W.F. Hegel and figures in the philosophies of a number of continental philosophers of this period. The fundamental idea is that to be allowed to do 'whatever you like' is not true freedom. If you say to someone, 'Do whatever you like', but they don't have any clear idea what they want to do, then the poverty of real choices signals a lack of freedom.

The possibility of meaningful choices arises from culture and society, the political order within which individuals pursue their life plan. The idea was given powerful expression by F.H. Bradley in his essay, 'My Station and Its Duties' (in his book Ethical Studies). The lowly gardener who tips his hat at the Lord of the Manor as he drives by is aware of his station and the actions that are appropriate to it. That is his 'positive freedom'.

Critics of the idea of 'positive freedom' point out that it is a recipe for fascism, and even if not taken that far is decidedly undemocratic.

The things that you say in your essay about our 'abilities, limitations and potentials' actually sound much closer to J.S. Mill, where he talks in his essay 'On Liberty' about the value of 'individuality'. It could be argued that it is incorrect to describe Mill's concept of liberty as merely 'negative', because he in fact goes to great lengths to explain WHY it is best to allow people to do whatever they like - try all sorts of 'experiments in living' to quote Mill - because this is the best way to give each human being the opportunity to develop his or her potential.

Supporters of 'positive freedom' would say that there is no need to try 'experiments in living' because the structure of the state already lays out what the possibilities are. Each citizen has his or her function in the 'political organism'. If everybody was allowed to forget their 'station' and do whatever they wanted to do, the state would be destroyed and no-one would be better off in the resulting anarchy and chaos.

There are echoes of this in your essay where you cite Goethe's idea of 'freedom within limits'. It is true that novelty and creativity, whether in the arts or the sciences, presuppose a backdrop which sets the defining problem which gives the artist or thinker a reason to struggle and work. However, I don't think that Mill would deny this. Of course, when we consider our own lives and what we want to do, there are all sorts of structures already laid out. We don't have to invent ourselves from scratch. However, Mill would argue that the survival of society in the face of changing circumstances depends on people who are prepared to 'break the mould', reject assumptions made in the past and go off in a radically new direction.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Aristotle on the mean and the pursuit of happiness

To: Pat F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Aristotle on the mean and the pursuit of happiness
Date: 15 February 2007 13:00

Dear Pat,

Thank you for your email of 8 February, with your two University of London essays on Aristotle, 'Is Aristotle's doctrine of the mean an empty abstraction or a recommendation for mediocrity?' and 'In pursuing his own happiness, is Aristotle's man an egoist?'

Both these essays are quite short for prepared work. In the essays you write for me you should be aiming at 2000-2500 words. However, they are roughly the length you would be able to write in an hour in an examination.

In terms of quality, your arguments are for the most part pertinent. You have said the right things. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In terms of marks, both essays would fall in the upper 2nd bracket.

Aristotle's doctrine of the mean

I am not the only one puzzled by Aristotle's doctrine of the mean. I guess the first thing I would be looking for in this essay is a clear statement of the doctrine. You give one example, of courage as a mean between cowardice and rashness, but it would be useful to have some more. A range of examples would give you the opportunity to identify the mechanism that is operating in each case, that enables this kind of judgement tobe made. There is definitely more to say here.

It could be argued that whenever judgement is involved, in any activity not only ethics, we are attempting to reach a 'mean'. For example, my wife tells me to go and buy some potatoes for dinner, and I stand in the shop, adding potatoes to the bag or taking them out until I feel I have the 'right' amount. One pound would definitely not be enough but 20 pounds is too many.

Or I am designing a web page, trying to get the banner at the top to be in proportion to the rest of the page. 50 pixels is definitely too thin, but 500 pixels is too broad.

These were mathematical examples. One could have chosen being appropriately polite to one's bank manager, or wearing enough clothes to keep warm in the cold breeze without sweating, where in both cases it is difficult to quantify mathematically.

The ability to judge the right amount of potatoes, or pixels, or compliments, or clothes, exhibits a 'virtue', albeit not an ethical virtue. There is nothing special about ethical virtue in respect of making a judgement call which strikes a balance.

The claim made by Aristotle is that every ethical decision is a 'balancing judgement call' in this sense. Is that in fact a substantial claim, or is there always a way, logically, to represent an ethical judgement in these terms? If the answer to the latter question is Yes, then why is it not the case that the doctrine of the mean is an empty abstraction? Surely what is important in ethical judgement is what distinguishes it from other, non-ethical judgements and not what it has in common with them.

The question is posed as a dilemma. Suppose that the doctrine of the mean is not just an empty abstraction but makes a substantial claim. Then the worry arises that it can do this only by doing violence to our intuition that some kinds of excellence do not involve a balance but rather going for the maximum. For example, some would disagree that courage always involves a judgement call. Is it overly rash to put oneself in a predicament where one faces certain death? But sometimes this is required, nothing less will win the day.

(I don't think that Aristotle would necessarily disagree with this. He is not committed to saying that extreme acts of 'courage' are mere 'foolhardiness'. If in one's considered judgement nothing less than self-sacrifice is required, then that would not be correctly described as 'foolhardy'.)

The objection is not so much that the doctrine of the mean is a recommendation of mediocrity but rather that Aristotle has described a particular kind of ethical individual as the 'ideal type', ignoring the possibility of other, conflicting paradigms. Aristotle's man is measured in every respect. He never lets himself go. Even the emotions, like anger, are always measured to suit the circumstances. He is always in control. This is admirable, to be sure, but not the only kind of person we admire from an ethical standpoint; not the very definition of what it is to be an 'ethical' man.

This is not a bad essay. You have found a way to incorporate the point about emotions and the fact that there is a mean here too and not just one governing practical judgement, although I missed the argument against the 'Epicurean' view that emotions should always be suppressed when we make moral judgements. This is a very important aspect of Aristotle's ethics, as well as being essential to understanding the doctrine of the mean.

Is Aristotle's man an egoist?

The first thing one is looking for here is a clear statement of what it is to be an 'egoist'.

If 'egoism', as you claim, is 'the hypothesis that morality can be ultimately explained in terms of self-interest...' then the game is up. Aristotle is an egoist, because his arguments do appeal to self-interest. He is describing the 'good life', a life which leads to 'eudaemonia', and anyone convinced by this description will want to be the kind of man that Aristotle describes.

However, one has to distinguish between the 'intention to do X', where X is a particular moral action, and the intention to be the kind of man who would 'intend to do X' in the appropriate circumstances. In other words, the distinction between first-order and second-order intentions. This is a very important distinction in discussions of 'attitude theory' in ethics (and not to be confused with the Catholic doctrine of 'second intention').

An egoist is someone whose first-order intentions always involve an reference to the benefits that will accrue to oneself as a result of doing the action. For example, instead of, 'I will do X because X is the just thing to do', my intention is, e.g., 'I will do X because people will admire me for being a just person'.

The person that Aristotle is appealing to is attracted by the picture of the life that Aristotle represents. Part of this picture is having the appropriate capacities for judgement and emotional dispositions which lead, e.g. to doing acts because they are just. If you are motivated to do the action merely for self-interested reasons then you have failed to acquire the appropriate dispositions.

So while it is true that Aristotle does appeal to self-interest, by marked contrast to a philosopher like Kant who formulates a moral law whose binding character is completely independent of one's desires and interests, it is not correct to say that this is an appeal to egoism.

You do make a very interesting point with regard to the 'Homeric' origin of Aristotle's view of the good life or the good man. This is certainly relevant to the question and I would definitely include it in an essay on this topic.

However, I think that there is a positive way to see this, not just as unfortunate historical baggage that Aristotle was lumbered with but rather from a Nietzschean point of view as a necessary antidote to the Christian 'self-sacrificing' view of ethics. It is very much worth discussing whether pride is a virtue, as Aristotle and Nietzsche claim, or a sin as preached by Christianity. To call this 'egoist' is to beg the question in favour of the Christian view.

What we are looking for, in other words, is an alternative to the dichotomy, 'egoless or egoist'. Aristotle's moral philosophy emphasises self-respect, a justified sense of one's own worth and importance, but not in a crude 'egoist' way.

In terms of Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, a justified sense of one's own worth lies between the bad extremes of diffidence and vanity.

All the best,

Geoffrey

How do you know the author of these words has a mind?

To: Louis G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: How do you know the author of these words has a mind?
Date: 15 February 2007 11:04

Dear Louis,

Thank you for your email of 7 February, with your notes on unit 5 of the Philosophy of Mind program, and your second essay, in response to the question, 'How do you know that the author of these words has a mind?'

When is scepticism about another mind justified? It is a tragic fact about the human condition that we DO entertain scepticism regarding the motives and beliefs of others, and sometimes this scepticism turns out to be well founded.

Human beings exhibit the most remarkable ability to fake, act, pretend. Sometimes people are caught out, and sometimes they take their secrets to the grave.

What we have to rely on, in trying to determine whether a person is being honest with us or not, is not only 'generalisation from our own case', although this has a genuine part to play (as when we ask ourselves, 'What would I do in that situation?') but a host of factors based on our knowledge of that person's previous behaviour, human psychology, possible motives for deception and so on. Think of a police interrogation. Or a lover who doubts whether the person he or she loves is being faithful. Or great actors and actresses and their spellbinding ability to assume a character and personality which is not theirs.

Arguably, this is one of the most pervasive themes of human life.

It is the genius of philosophy, however, to have invented a whole new kind of scepticism. Just to give it a label, I'm going to call this 'metaphysical doubt about other minds', in contrast with 'real doubt about other minds'.

The best way to explain the difference is to consider a situation where we have some reason to question whether a person is being honest with us. 'Do you really love me, or are you just trying to get me into bed?' Of course, sometimes we don't know our own feelings for sure. But let's assume that we have a clear case where a person's words and actions can only be interpreted either as words and deeds of love, or else deliberate deception.

Real doubt can be occasioned by any number of things. As I indicated, there are circumstances which would confirm the doubt or help remove it.

But what about metaphysical doubt? The point about metaphysical doubt is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with a person's words or actions. 'How do I know that you are not a mindless zombie who talks and behaves in every way as someone with a mind would do?' is a question which cannot be answered by any words or actions - by hypothesis. If someone has real doubts about me, I can try to allay those doubts by the things that I do and say. But if someone has metaphysical doubts, then nothing I say or do will make any difference at all.

I am interested in the fact that it is possible to have metaphysical doubts about other minds. I would dispute what you say in paragraph 2 that the problem is 'more challenging for the materialist'. On the contrary, on the hypothesis of materialism, metaphysical doubt about other minds cannot even be entertained. If all the physical requirements are met, then there is no room for the hypothesis that nevertheless 'all is dark inside'. On the other hand, if mind-body dualism is true, then it does seem possible that there could be, e.g. a zombie double of GK who talks and behaves in every way like me. In fact, this is the argument David Chalmers gives in support of dualism, namely, the fact that we can conceive of the logical possibility that I have a zombie double.

Turing's Test is based on the commonsense principle that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck. Of course, we know that this is not true. A child's electronic duck does all of these things. But it doesn't have kidneys, heart, liver etc. If you dissect a duck and find that it has all the correct internal organs, then that's pretty good evidence that it is a duck.

We understand the difference between a 'fake' dialogue, as generated by the famous 'Eliza' program, and a genuine dialogue. But, thinking of the duck analogy, is the capacity for dialogue the only essential trait of intelligence? I am not satisfied that it is. The Chinese Room scenario gives one very good reason for doubt. To be intelligent is not just to generate the appropriate words in the appropriate situations, but to understand the words so generated. It is true hat we can talk about lots of things that we don't fully understand. But generating words none of which one understands is not 'talk' but merely making a noise.

I would argue that an entity cannot have beliefs unless it has desires, and cannot have desires unless it has needs, and the capacity to satisfy those needs through physical agency. This as a conceptual claim about the nature of what it is to be a 'subject'.

Regarding non-human animals, it is again a conceptual question what kinds of feelings or experiences it makes sense to attribute to a given subject. An earth worm cannot feel anguish, although maybe it does 'feel' something when you tread on it. A dog cannot feel despair at the destruction of its life's work, although it might be upset to be deprived of its toy ball. These are conceptual points. If someone said, 'You can never know for sure. Maybe a feeling of anguish is occurring in the earth worm and you would never know,' that is just plain nonsense (albeit a nonsense which dualism encourages).

One interpretation of the question, 'How do you know that the author of these words has a mind?' is in terms of metaphysical doubt, which I talked about earlier. If you are prepared to entertain metaphysical doubt, then it is possible that the author, GK, is in fact a zombie who talks and acts in every way like a human being.

It is also possible to entertain real doubts. There's a site on the internet where you can have fun generating 'post-modern' philosophy essays. A program throws seemingly meaningful words and phrases together in a passable imitation of a philosophy essay. So it is logically possible that for the second set of essay questions, I used one of these programs rather than taking the trouble to compose six essay titles. To someone who had no knowledge at all of philosophy, many philosophical essay titles no doubt do look like gibberish.

When will a computer be able to genuinely produce philosophy? How many years is it likely to be before the Director of Studies of Pathways is a computer running an AI program?

If AI is finally achieved then, as I indicated above, it would have to involve the creation of an intelligent entity which has needs and desires and not merely the capacity for generating words. In that case, there will be nothing to prevent us from saying that it has a mind.

All the best,

Geoffrey