Monday, April 30, 2012

Heraclitus: we cannot step into the same river twice

To: Gerard M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heraclitus: we cannot step into the same river twice
Date: 26 July 2007 16:21

Dear Gerard,

Thank you for your email of 25 July, with your second essay for the Ancient Philosophy program, 'On the Assertion of Heraclitus that We Cannot Step into the same River Twice.'

Your essay highlights two problematic aspects of the things we normally think of as 'entities' or 'objects'.

The first problematic aspect is that things change over time. You give the example of a candle, which starts off twelve inches long and then after burning for a few hours is found to be only six inches long.

The second problematic aspect is that things do not exist independently of other things but as part of a complex interconnected causal network. If you took that surrounding network away the thing could not exist. Applying this to the candle: the candle was manufactured at such and such a time, out of pre-existing materials which themselves have an origin which is either manufactured or natural etc. etc.

I think that you are right in identifying the first of these two problems with questions raised directly by Heraclitus, e.g. in what he says about the river. I don't think it is all that Heraclitus wanted to say, but it captures a problem which exercised other Presocratic philosophers besides Heraclitus, namely, how there can be identity in change, and if we pursue this question it does lead us to the core of Heraclitus' philosophy.

It is fair to say that the majority of contemporary analytic philosophers would not regard the problem of explaining how there can be identity in change as an impossible challenge. Our conceptual scheme is founded on the identification of relatively permanent spatio-temporal 'objects' which are defined in terms of an 'essence' which does not change, and 'accidents' which do change. This is a distinction which goes back to Aristotle.

Consider an individual human being. It is part of the 'essence' of a human being to be alive. We say that 'John F. Kennedy no longer exists' meaning that JFK has died. His remains lie buried in the ground, but the remains of JFK are not JFK. By contrast it is not part of JFK's essence to be President of the United States, or the husband of Jackie, or have a full head of hair, or to be 40 years old etc. etc.

However, if we put this point to Heraclitus, he would respond that our 'conceptual scheme', whose basis is ultimately pragmatic, fails to get down to the ultimate root of things. It is in fact very difficult to say precisely what the 'criteria of identity' for a given thing, for example, a person. These are rough and ready distinctions but not reflections of ultimate metaphysical reality.

In order to maintain this view, however, it is not enough to point out something we know already, that there is a degree of vagueness in the way we distinguish between 'essence' and 'accidents' or the criteria of identity of an object. It is necessary to go further and claim that there is in fact a deeper, truer description of things which does not depend on our ordinary conceptual scheme. I think this is what Heraclitus believed. He believed that the true description of things is in terms of events rather than in terms of Aristotelian 'substances'. No-one can ever give this description literally, but one can hint at the ultimate reality by using analogies and paradoxes.

I said there were two problematic aspects and that only one of these can be attributed directly to Heraclitus. The other aspect seems much closer to what Spinoza maintained, when he said that there is only one substance, 'Deus sive Natura'. Taking the Cartesian definition of substance as something which does not depend on anything else in order to exist, Spinoza reasoned that what we term ordinary substances, like a candle or a tomato, or our own selves, do have a dependent existence, in just the same way that the red of the tomato or the white of the candle depend on the substance in which they inhere. What are ordinarily termed 'things' or 'substances' are merely properties of the one ultimate substance.

However, even if this view cannot be attributed directly to Heraclitus, I will concede that a case can be made that in a universe conceived as ultimately made up of events rather than Aristotelian substances, there must be one thing that exists which is not an event but rather that which the event ultimately happens TO. And that would be very close to Spinoza's 'one substance'.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Criticism of the sense datum theory of perception (2)

To: Christodoulos P.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Criticism of the sense datum theory of perception
Date: 26 July 2007 15:47

Dear Christos,

Thank you for your email of 4 July, with your first essay for the Metaphysics program, in response to the question, 'What are the attractions of the idea of a ‘sense datum’? Can the theory of sense data be defended against criticisms based on the reality principle?'

Please accept my apologies for unintentionally going over my two week response deadline.

This is a carefully written and well researched response to the question which gives a clear and persuasive explanation of the attractions of the sense datum theory. However, you have less to say about the second part of the question, namely, whether the sense datum theory can be defended against criticisms based on the reality principle.

To sum up your argument: The argument from illusion states that the very same subjective experience can be interpreted as veridical experience or as hallucination or illusion. In that case, the immediate object of the experience must be the same in both cases, i.e. a sense datum.

Furthermore, if we look at the scientific account of the process of perception, we see that there is a causal chain leading from the object perceived to a state of the subject's brain. But the very same brain state can be produced by different causal chains, as when we compare normal perception with the Matrix scenario.

Finally, science tells us that we do not, in fact, perceive objects 'the way they are'. As you put it, 'the properties that science attributes to the object, properties such as weight, electromagnetic forces and fields, chemical substances and more', leading to the conclusion that the 'objects' which are immediately given to perception - defined in terms of colour, shape etc. - are merely representations of objects existing outside us which science describes.

First of all, it is important to get clear about the difference between attacking the argument for a particular theory, and attacking the theory itself.

As it happens, I do not accept these arguments for sense data because I think there is another explanation available in each of these three cases which does not imply the existence of sense data. However, that would not be a 'criticism of the sense datum theory based on the reality principle'. To give an analogy, if I attacked your reasons for believing in God (suppose you believe in God) that does not amount to a proof that God does not or cannot exist, only that your reasons are not good reasons.

So how does the reality principle apply to sense data?

Let's say that I claim to have a red, round sense datum. According to the reality principle, if this is a judgement (as it purports to be) then it is possible for me to be mistaken in making this judgement. But according to the sense datum theory, I cannot be wrong in my identifying the sense datum in question as red and round.

This is a clear case of inconsistency, which requires that we either reject sense data (as described) or reject (or amend) the reality principle.

You do in fact concede that 'sense data are the objects that we are aware of before arriving at any belief or making any judgements'. In other words, in order for the red, round sense datum to exist, in order for it to be 'given' to me as a sense datum, it is not necessary that I make any judgement about it. The problem with this is that I have just called it 'red' and 'round'. But that is a judgement. I am identifying an object and applying the predicates 'red' and 'round' to it.

A helpful analogy in thinking about judgement is that of an archer shooting arrows at a target. When you shoot the arrow, you aim to hit the target, and if your aim is bad then you miss. Making 'judgements' about one's own sense data is like shooting an arrow (in any direction) then painting a target around wherever the arrow happens to fall.

However, even if this criticism is accepted, it does not completely get rid of the sense datum idea. It is still tempting to say (and this is perhaps what you want to say) that the 'something' that is given cannot be described by any predicates or concepts 'just as it is'. Nevertheless, it is still something and not nothing.

I believe that this is what Kant wanted to say about what he termed 'intuition' or 'anschauung'. Whatever concepts we apply must, according to his 'Refutation of Idealism' be concepts that identify objects 'outside' us, in a spatio-temporal framework, rather than objects that exist subjectively 'in' us. There are not two objects, the 'tomato' in the world and the tomato-shaped and coloured sense datum in my mind. There is only the tomato on the plate, which is given to me in intuition and to which I apply the objective (not subjective) concepts 'red', 'round' etc.

Was Kant right? I argue in the program that this leads Kant inevitably to the distinction between the 'phenomenal world' constructed by applying concepts to intuition, and the 'noumenal world' about which we can have no knowledge. This is the essence of the theory that Kant calls 'transcendental idealism'.

However, there is another possible way in which one can 'save' these 'subjective objects' which does not require transcendental idealism. I don't go into this in the program, but if you are interested in pursuing this further you can look up my article, 'Truth and subjective knowledge' at http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/shap.html

All the best,

Geoffrey

Friday, April 27, 2012

Criticism of the sense datum theory of perception

To: John D.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Criticism of the sense datum theory of perception
Date: 24 July 2007 12:05

Dear John,

Thank you for your email of 17 July, with your essay for the Metaphysics program, in response to the question, 'What are the attractions of a sense datum? Can the theory of sense data be defended against criticisms based on the reality principle?'

In response to your (implied) question, I would say that the epistemological problem of 'how we can be sure' that things are as we see them to me is exactly the same for realist or the idealist. Whether there really is a 'world' out there, or, alternatively the thing we call the 'world' is really the inside of God's mind (as Berkeley claimed), we can still be wrong about what we think we can see. The Matrix scenario (to take an extreme example) could be true in the realist's world or the idealist's world (where every possible scenario takes place within the God's-mind scenario).

The main question which you raise (although not explicitly) concerns the difference between a 'sense datum theorist' in the sense meant by the question (A.J. Ayer in 'Language, Truth and Logic' would be the classic example from the last century), and the Kantian idea that there is something inexpressibly 'given' ('anschuaang' or 'intuition') to which we apply concepts in forming our idea of a world of objects in space and time.

If you look up 'myth of the given' in Google you will find material relating to the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, which includes articles by my old doctoral supervisor John McDowell. Both (rightly, in my view) reject the idea of a 'something' which is given to us to exercise our judgements upon - which is in fact the surviving residue of the sense datum idea.

As you show, the classic argument for sense data - that there must be 'something' we are aware of when we undergo illusions or hallucinations - can be given an alternative explanation. Van Gogh didn't 'see' vividly colourful sense data. He saw the very same flowers and fields and the sky as we do. But he saw it differently. An idiosyncratic vision does not imply that the viewer sees a different object, but merely that their seeing of it is different from the rest of us.

This explanation, if generalized, can be applied to any putative example of a sense datum. Consider the extreme case where I seem to 'see' something which isn't there at all - such as a pink elephant (after my eighth pint of beer). What is true of the drunk is that his mind and senses are so confused that he 'seems to see a pink elephant'. But that does not translate into 'seeing a seeming pink elephant'. There is no object, 'seeming pink elephant' which the drunk successfully sees. He doesn't succeed in seeing anything.

However, an alternative explanation of illusions and hallucinations is not the same as a direct attack on sense data from the reality principle. Without the attack, all we would have would be two alternative explanations.

This is where the question of 'intuition' becomes crucial. Kant's Refutation of Idealism (2nd Edn Critique of Pure Reason) successfully demolishes the idea of a sense datum, because any object of judgement must be capable of being placed in a spatio-temporal framework. The problem is that Kant does not go far enough. He wants to keep the 'given'. The unfortunate result for Kant is that the application of supposedly 'objective' concepts merely creates a 'phenomenal' world in which we can be 'empirical realists' while all the time recognizing that there is something 'behind' the world of phenomena - the world of 'things in themselves' or 'noumena'. (Hence, 'transcendental idealism'.)

Contemporary philosophers who defend the idea of a 'given' (while rejecting the cruder 'sense datum' theory) would almost certainly repudiate the phenomena/ noumena distinction. And yet (I would argue) they are faced with the unpalatable choice of either being transcendental solipsists - what I call 'the world' is merely a structure woven together from intuitions and concepts - or hold that there exists a world 'beyond' the phenomenal world, which can only be conceived as a Kantian noumenon.

You say, 'And if we have different levels of awareness, then our interpretation of this thing called reality may also be relative, causing us to rely on so called norms to keep some kind of order, a process of judging, although sometimes incorrectly, which may occur as a result of a conflict between direct awareness and that of reality.' At first sight, this seems to require two objects, 'reality' and the object of our 'direct awareness'.

However, you provide the materials for an alternative account: There is only reality. There are norms of judgement which govern how we interpret reality or communicate our sense of reality, and it is these norms which each person strives to meet, or, sometimes struggles to overcome. When we align ourselves with the norms of judgement we 'see things as they are'. When we contravene the norms, we see 'hallucinations' or 'illusions' - or, sometimes, 'visions'.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is it rational to fear death?

To: Francis W.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Is it rational to fear death?
Date: 24 July 2007 11:05

Dear Francis,

Thank you for your email of 15 July, with your fifth and final essay for the Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Is it rational to fear death?'

I enjoyed reading this dialogue, which raises a number of interesting questions.

Asked to explain the fear of death, David offers Darwinian evolution. We are programmed by evolution to survive. The problem with this is that evolution isn't the least bit interested in individuals. They are merely disposable survival machines for genes (see Richard Dawkins 'The Selfish Gene'). Fruit flies live for just one day - long enough to reproduce.

The explanation would have to be along the lines of 'evolutionary baroque' - features which we retain which have no survival value, like the shape of our ears. It is easier to 'build' a human being which always fears death, than to build one which conveniently ceases to fear death when it is no longer able to reproduce, even though this would confer a survival advantage on your close relatives who share your genes (because you would be happy to sacrifice yourself to save them in a threatening situation).

So that's one possible explanation. However, if that were true then it does not count as an argument for the rationality of fearing death, any more than the argument that evolution has programmed the human ape (which left the trees in order to hunt other animals on the open plain) to enjoy fighting and killing. Suppose we had strong evidence that human aggression is part of our biological nature. Then a philosopher who believed in the rationality of pacifism would argue that it is our duty as rational beings to resist our natural impulses. A similar argument could be put forward about the 'natural' fear of death.

So what about the arguments? The argument of Epicurus focuses only on the question of the fear of 'death as such'. As Thomas Nagel argues (in 'Mortal Questions') it would still be perfectly reasonable to wish to live a longer life rather than a shorter one, because the things that fill life - love, friendship, pleasure - are good in themselves irrespective of the fact that life must eventually come to an end.

It is interesting (as you point out) that the Bible records Christ's fear at the moment when he faced death, while Socrates faces death with complete equanimity. Both believed that they were going to survive the 'death' of the body which is an extremely good reason for not being afraid. Maybe Socrates' belief was stronger - at that moment - than Christ's? Or could there be another explanation?

Even if we have 'immortal' souls, however, we are still finite. Anything finite has limits. There can be no 'for ever' for a finite being. But another thought that occurs to me is that no-one can ever be in a position to make a true statement about 'for ever'. This implies future infinite time. To be dead is to be dead forever. If you are resurrected in a hundred million years time, you didn't really 'die'.

What is Wittgenstein talking about when he compares life to the extent of the visual field? The visual field is limited, and yet we don't (cannot, as a matter of logic not merely a matter of empirical fact) see its limit. However, the analogy is not with 'seeing' death. Sometimes you can see death (when it stares you in the face, the terrorist waving his pistol, the bus bearing down on you in the middle of the road). What we cannot 'see' (because it is not there to be seen) is the state of 'being dead'. This sounds very similar to Epicurus, but I think that Wittgenstein is here expressing his 'solipsistic' tendency. My world is the only world I can know or conceive. That makes you a mere character in the story of my world, so far as I am concerned. How this 'coincides with pure realism' (as Wittgenstein claims) I find hard to see.

(In my book 'Naive Metaphysics' I argue that we have to recognize the existence of two worlds, the world of 'I' and the world of 'not-I' and that neither of these worlds can be 'reduced' to the other. This has important consequences for our view of death.)

Did Morgan 'die'? Faced with the prospect of a brain wipe or lethal injection (both equally painless) most persons would choose the brain wipe. But isn't this irrational? As you point out, 'I', or my 'consciousness' no longer exists in either scenario. The 'Morgan' who shuffles out is not a 'zombie', merely mentally subnormal. However, he is just 'another person' so far as the old Morgan is concerned.

So, yes, I agree with you that life is good and therefore it is rational to wish for it to continue. What I have tried to bring out in the Morgan story is that there is another, more 'metaphysical' fear lurking which is the 'fear of death as such', which is really nothing more than the terror at the thought of our own finitude. Maybe not all persons have this fear, but for those that do, philosophical arguments might serve as some kind of help or consolation.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Defining truth in terms of human agreement

To: Hamad A.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Defining truth in terms of human agreement
Date: 18 July 2007 11:18

Dear Hamad,

Thank you for your email of 7 July, with your first essay for the Metaphysics program, in response to the question: ''A statement is true if, and only if, the majority of persons of sound judgement would assent to its truth.' - How might tone criticise this definition of truth using the reality principle?'

This is a very good essay which states clearly and concisely all that is required to refute the definition of truth offered. However, you don't stop there but also offer an explanation of why one would be tempted to offer such a definition in the first place - as a misunderstanding of the principle that 'truth belongs to the public sphere' - as well as offering some insight into the nature of the reality principle itself.

I am glad that you found this topic difficult, because it should be. You could tried to give a 'knock-down' argument but that would have been unilluminating, as well as question-begging.

What I mean by a knock-down argument would be something like this. According to the reality principle, 'a thought, to have a legitimate claim to truth, must be prone to the possibility of being false'. However, if truth is defined as (is equivalent to) what the majority (etc. etc.) would believe, then provided that the majority believe that P then P cannot be false.

Is there any way to resist this refutation? One thing that a defender of the majority view could say is that it does not, in fact, preclude the possibility of a statement being false because it is always possible that the majority do (or would) not believe the statement. I believe that P. My question whether P is true is equivalent to the question whether the majority (I'll leave out the 'etc. etc.') believe that P. Well, maybe they don't. In believing that P I am claiming that the majority would agree with me, but it turns out that my claim is incorrect.

Your thought is that what is missing, in the majority definition, is recognition of 'a non-personal standard'. It is in relation to such a standard that the beliefs of one, or many, believers are evaluated. The intuition here (which you don't go so far as to state explicitly but which is implicit in your argument) is that, given any P, it is always possible for the majority to be wrong, i.e. for P to be false even though the majority believe that P is true.

Is THAT true?

We are talking about 'any' P, so that includes the case where P is a disjunction of a large number of beliefs which are held in common (such as, human beings live on the surface of the earth, 2+2=4, cows do not hatch from eggs, there is a country called the USA etc. etc.). Logically, we have to allow he possibility that all these beliefs are false - which requires giving a minimal degree of credibility to the Matrix scenario.

The majority in the Matrix believe that P, but in fact they are wrong. In this possible world, P is false, by virtue of an 'external standard'. We have to allow that the Matrix scenario might be true, in some possible world, in order to explain how the majority could be wrong about, e.g. cows, or the USA.

However, we are not done yet. The definition says, 'the majority... would assent'. But no upper bound has been set to defining the number of persons whose 'votes' are to be counted. In 500 BC the majority would have assented to the view that the earth is flat. But they do not constitute 'the' majority. If we take the same vote today, (I guess) the majority would assent to the view that the earth is round. But, again, that leaves out of consideration people who will exist in the future who might conceivably discover that we have been living in the Matrix all along.

In other words, a defender of the definition might say that the intention is not to draw an upper bound on the number of persons whose judgement we are considering, not just in this century or the next but now and forever more.

Would one still want to say that P is false (according to some external standard) even though now and forever more the majority will never cease to believe that P? I think you have to say this, to remain consistent with the position you have laid out. But its truth is not so intuitively obvious.

One other aspect of the question which we have not looked at is the question whether there can be any 'definition' of truth other than the truistic, 'P' is true if and only if P, or, equally truistic, 'P' is true if and only if it is a fact that P. For example, if the 'external standard' is the book of the Recording Angel, then we have to grant the Recording Angel infallibility or else allow that a proposition inscribed in that book can still be false.

When we come to the debate between the realist and the anti-realist about truth, you will see how hard it is to state what the realist 'means' in a non-question begging way.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Monday, April 23, 2012

Perception and the nature and limits of knowledge

To: Louis G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Perception and the nature and limits of knowledge
Date: 12 July 13:00

Dear Louis,

Thank you for your email of 2 July, with your fourth essay for Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'What is perception? Explain the role of perception in an account of the nature and limits of knowledge.'

This is a good piece of work which you have thought a lot about. You have found some good examples to illustrate your argument.

What is perception? There are two ways to focus on this, from the example of our organs of sensory perception as you do - seeing, hearing, smelling etc. - or more abstractly, in terms of what it means to say that someone 'perceives' that such and such is the case, or perceives an object as opposed to knowing discursively that such and such is the case or knowing of the existence of an object.

While knowledge implies some process of thinking or inference, in perception the fact is somehow 'given'. There is no process of reasoning involved, we just 'take in' the object, or the fact in question.

It could be argued that there has to be perception, otherwise we could never get started in acquiring knowledge. There has to be something to reason from - e.g. what we can discover just by looking.

Consider the role of perception in understanding what someone is saying. Normally, we perceive what someone else is saying. It is only in exceptional circumstances that we have to consciously think about the words and what they are, or might be intended to mean.

What is the difference between sensation and perception? The red that I see when I push my eyeball, or the pain I feel when I pinch my hand are sensations. Arguably, in perception there is always something 'given' - in the matter of sensation - which we 'take as' an object or fact of some kind.

To explain perception in terms of the physical processes involved, as you do in your first paragraph, might give the false impression that the biology is all that is involved in explaining perception. Yet organisms which have the capacity to sense their surroundings do not necessarily 'perceive'. They respond to stimulus but are not aware of the world as a world, or of spatio-temporal objects as objects.

The big problem for the empiricists, especially Hume, was how the 'given' - which they termed 'ideas' - could possibly generate knowledge of spatio-temporal particulars. In a notable passage in the Treatise of Human Nature ('Of Scepticism With Regard to the Senses') Hume asks how we could possibly form the idea of objects which exist continuously, and distinct from our perception of them, given that our experiences are non-continuous and do not exist apart from us.

While Hume resorted to a theory of 'fictions' - spatio-temporal objects as a kind of mental make-believe - Kant's contribution was not just, as you say, to reconcile empiricism with rationalism but also to demonstrate (specifically in the 'Refutation of Idealism' from the 2nd edition of the 'Critique of Pure Reason') that perception is, as a matter of logic, necessarily perception of objects in space. Without the a priori notion of space, there can be no experience, because there is no logical basis for a unitary self which has the experiences. Without a unitary world, there is merely a succession of momentary 'selves' each submerged in the sensation of the moment. The identity of the subject thus presupposes perception of an external world.

Perception raises fundamental questions for metaphysics as well as for epistemology. The clash between idealism and realism is a question primarily for metaphysics. Kant's metaphysical view turns out to be a form of idealism - the world of objects in space is merely the 'form' that our experience must necessarily take, while there remains a 'noumenal' world beyond all possible knowledge which ultimately accounts for the 'phenomenal' world. By contrast, Kant correctly describes his epistemology as 'empirical realism'.

One of the most interesting questions for epistemology is whether the considerations which you describe - the selective nature of perception, the difference between the ways that different persons perceive - raises questions about the objectivity of knowledge. Is there, despite all the differences, something that we can call the edifice of human knowledge, or are all 'knowledge' claims ultimately relative? How would you argue against the relativist? Surely, there has to be something indisputably 'given' in order to provide a foundation for knowledge. If there is nothing 'given', or if different subjects are 'given' things differently, then it looks like the edifice of knowledge has nothing firm to rest on.

Issues of 'foundationalism', 'non-foundationalism', 'coherentism', 'relativism' in epistemology all trace back to the view one takes of perception.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zeno's paradox of infinite divisibility

To: Katherine A.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Zeno's paradox of infinite divisibility
Date: 9 July 2007 13:09

Dear Katherine,

Thanks for your email of 1 July with your essay for the Ancient Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Analyze one of Zeno's Paradoxes'.

My impression of your Australian Tax Office's second method of calculating depreciation is that is consistent with the rejection of Zeno's argument from 'complete divisibility'.

With the first method, you cut the value of a capital item into five chunks, and remove the chunks one at a time leaving zero after five years. No problem. With the second method, you reduce the value by a fixed percentage each time, so that the value never reaches zero.

Although a fraction of a cent is not recognized as legal tender, this is not equivalent to 'nothing' as any company accountant will tell you. If I can save my company 0.01 cent per transaction on a billion transactions, I have saved 100,000 Dollars.

It is a simple matter, however, to add the rule that amounts should be rounded down to the nearest cent, so that as soon as the process of reducing by 40 per cent produces a value of less than a cent, then for tax purposes this is equivalent to zero.The challenge posed by Zeno is what happens if we attempt to conceive of a process of subdivision taken to infinity. Surely, at that point, there is nothing left? But adding lots of nothing gives the result, 'nothing'. On the other hand, as Zeno also argues - this is the other side of the dilemma - if the resulting infinite entities do each have a finite size, however small, then putting them together would create an entity of infinite size.

Modern mathematics does not have this problem, because it uses the notion of an 'infinitesimal'. Instead of talking of the 'result' of an infinite process of subdivision, one talks of an infinite series. The criticism you will hear most often against Zeno is that he was writing at a time before mathematics had found sophisticated ways of dealing with the notion of an infinite series.

A similar point applies to Achilles and the Tortoise. In this case we have a series of decreasing fractions, 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8... whose sum is 1. Again, no problem from a mathematical point of view.

In Zeno's defence, one might point out that he has highlighted a genuine problem with any attempt to talk of an 'actual' infinity, that is to say, outside the context of mathematics where an infinite series can be reduced to a finite rule (the simplest such rule is 'add one').

Suppose there really 'is' an infinite number of parts to an object, not merely in the sense that we can mathematically state a rule, 'divide by 2' which produces an infinite series, but rather in the sense of an 'actually existing' infinite number of parts. Then we really do face an impossible dilemma, just as Zeno said.

I am tempted to rise to the defence of Zeno's 'grain of millet' argument. It is easy enough to state that our senses have a minimum threshold sensitivity, so that above the threshold they are generally reliable but at or below the threshold cease to be reliable. What would Zeno have said in response to that argument?

To admit a threshold, I can imagine Zeno saying, means that we cannot equate a sound with the perception of a sound, or equate light with the perception of light (one can construct a similar argument for light). So now we have sounds that no-one hears and amounts of light that no-one sees.

From a modern perspective, this is no problem because we have a theory according to which sounds are vibrations of air molecules, while light is electromagnetic radiation from the visible spectrum. There is no problem in admitting that sometimes air molecules vibrate in such a way as to be undetectable by the human ear, or that there is electromagnetic radiation from the visible spectrum which is undetectable by the human eye. (Actually, I read somewhere that the eye can under favourable conditions discern a single photon, which is the smallest physical unit of light. However, conditions are not always favourable, and the point is that there is no necessity that our eyes should be this sensitive.)

By contrast, for someone who believes in the reality of sights and sounds, as entities in their own right not explained by some underlying physical process - as most Greeks did, at least until the atomists appeared - the grain of millet does pose a real difficulty, because it forces us to posit an unhearable sound which nevertheless 'exists' as a sound and nothing but a sound, which sounds fair nonsense.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Friday, April 20, 2012

Idealism and the nature of metaphysics

To: John D.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Idealism and the nature of metaphysics
Date: 4 July 2007 12:48

Dear John,

Thank you for your email of 26 June, with your essay for the Metaphysics program in response to the question, 'What is Metaphysics? Is there anything special about the methods of metaphysics, or about its subject matter? Illustrate your answer with one example of a metaphysical problem or controversy.'

This is an engaging piece which shows that you feel gripped by the grand project of metaphysics and its promise to give a deeper insight into the nature of reality than empirical science can provide.

You have chosen as your example the controversy over idealism, and in particularly the immaterialism of Berkeley and the transcendental idealism of Kant.

Let's look at Berkeley first.

The first question to ask is, what, according to Berkeley is a 'sheer illusion'? It is not sheer illusion that I am tapping the keys of my computer keyboard, or that it is cloudy outside, or that I was born in 1951, or that the Earth is the third planet from the sun. All these are true, for the Berkeleian idealist as much as for the materialist (thinking or otherwise).

In the language of unit 1, these are 'mundane' facts. The adoption of a metaphysic is, or ought to be, indifferent to mundane facts. That is why a metaphysical theory cannot be empirically confirmed or refuted.

Berkeley, rather ironically - or cheekily - claimed that he was defending common sense. How could that be?

The 'illusion' in question for Berkeley is a philosophical illusion, a false or incoherent philosophical theory. He would emphatically reject your criticism, 'in order to reject something, we must have some idea of what we're rejecting'. We reject the concept of 'witch' because we do not believe what the witch hunters believed, that there is such a thing as 'witchcraft', although there are men and women who call themselves 'witches'. Scientists reject the concept of 'phlogiston' for empirical reasons (e.g. Lavoisier's famous experiment with mercury). In both cases, we can say that there might have been witches, or if the laws of nature had been different, there might have been such a thing as phlogiston.

By contrast with these examples, Berkeley rejects 'matter' because, according to him, the notion of 'matter' is incoherent. We think we know what we are talking about when we talk of 'matter' but it turns out that we are just talking nonsense.

In arguing against matter, Berkeley took Descartes' speculation about the possibility of an evil demon who deceives us into thinking that there exists a world of objects in space outside our minds, and asked a very simple but devastating question: what difference would it make if now and forever more experience 'as of' an external world will be reliably produced in us by some unknown external agency? Assuming that a benevolent God would never deceive us, what can he actually DO to bring into existence a world of material objects in space corresponding to our experience? The Earth is the third planet from the sun on either view. The earth and the sun 'exist' on either view. Berkeley concludes that philosopher's talk of 'matter' is logically redundant. Or, as Wittgenstein would put it, 'a wheel which can be turned, although nothing turns with it, is not part of the mechanism'.

This kind of argument is one that you will come across repeatedly in metaphysics. In effect (as Wittgenstein noted) it is a version of Occam's Razor which, unlike the application of Occam's Razor to empirical theories where we are seeking the 'best explanation', depends on the principle that in order to have meaning, a concept must 'do work', it must have a valid role to play in our conceptual scheme.

It is true, of course, that Berkeley needs a sufficiently powerful concept to replace 'matter'. When we look out at the world, we are looking at the inside of God's mind. Why choose 'God' over 'matter'? Simply because God is defined in terms of something we are already given, namely subjectivity. God is the infinite subject, while we are finite subjects.

There is considerable room for debate over the question just how far Kant succeeded in distancing himself from Berkeley. He was stung by criticisms of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason into producing an additional argument, his 'Refutation of Idealism' (which will be discussed in unit 4). However, arguably, all Kant succeeds in doing is explain why our experience must take the form that it takes, of being 'as of' an external world of objects in space. Berkeley could happily agree to that.

Where Berkeley and Kant finally disagree is over what ultimately exists, in virtue of which we exist as subjects whose experience is 'as of' an external world. Attending more closely to the limits of meaning than Berkeley, Kant insists that there is nothing intelligible that can be said about the ultimate reality, or the world of 'things in themselves' which he calls 'noumena'. Noumena represent the far side of the limit of human understanding and reason.

In Kant's theory of the phenomenal world, space and time are a priori 'forms of sensibility' (not 'sensations') while the principles of causality and the permanence of substance are a priori principles which account for the possibility of experience. To repeat, there is nothing here with which Berkeley need disagree. It is only when Kant turns his attention to what exists beyond the world of phenomena that we find a sharp division of views.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Theology and the idea of an impotent God

To: Edoardo S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Theology and the idea of an impotent God
Date: 3 July 2007 12:36

Dear Edoardo,

Thank you for your email of 24 June, with your essay for the Associate Award, 'Theology of an impotent God and other reflections.'

This is an interesting and provocative piece which struggles with the concept of God's power and alleged 'omnipotence', without reaching a firm conclusion, although you do suggest a number of ways of re-thinking, from a philosophical standpoint the nature of God's 'power' which might tend to alleviate our sense of despair and disappointment that such an event as the Shoah could have been permitted to happen.

Isaac Luria's idea of the 'Tzimtzum' seems to answer one of the fundamental problems raised in theology - namely the question of the independence of the Creator from his creation. I think that to a large extent, your answer follows Luria's although you use different language to express it.

What is creation? What does it mean to say that God 'created' the universe? God could have imagined a universe in his own mind, and left it at that. The only difference between man and god, on this scenario, is that while man can only imagine a very small part of the whole (e.g. I imagine going for a walk in the park, or the expression on your face as you read this) God sees the whole thing. No question is left unanswered.

In Leibniz's famous picture, God sees all possible worlds - down to the finest detail - and then selects one as the 'best of all possible worlds'. But all this amounts to, arguably, is selecting your favourite imagined story, your favourite daydream. It is not enough to 'pick' the world you like imagining best, whether you are man or God. The work of creation requires something more.

If man and man's world is not merely the dream of God, then something extra must happen to give the world an independent existence apart from its creator. What can this be, but permitting a 'withdrawal' whereby the world goes its own way, while correspondingly God becomes less than 'all'?

This purchases the independent existence of the world, but at a price. God must, to some extent, relinquish control over what happens. He must permit things to occur which are 'evil'.

There is not a great distance between this solution to the problem of evil and the one proposed by theologians who argue that a greater good results from giving man 'free will'. Creation becomes fully independent of the creator only when creatures acquire the power to act according to their own view of good and evil. A universe where intelligent life never evolved might as well remain in God's mind. No further consequences follow from bringing such an image into reality.

Here is a point where, possibly, you are not completely clear. This relates to the 'three characteristics' you mention at the beginning of your essay, absolute goodness, absolute power and intelligibility. I would argue that there is one more attribute that needs to be considered, namely omniscience. God, being infinite, suffers no restriction to his powers of knowledge.

Omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience are traditionally the three attributes of God that need to be balanced, while God's intelligibility or unintelligibility are two alternatives that the theologian has to choose between in resolving the problem of evil.

Your examples of the woman giving birth to a child, or the farmer sowing his field are less than fully convincing because an omniscient creator must know how things will turn out. To use an anthropomorphic image, God shakes his head in sorrow at the thought of all the man-made evils that must necessarily follow if he permits the world to attain an independent existence. The Shoah did not take God by surprise.

Of course, to talk about a God 'in time' who is or is not 'surprised' is itself fatally contaminated with anthropomorphism. It is not as if God watched the Nazis' rise to power, not realizing what the consequences would be. But then again it is equally absurd to imagine God watching history play itself out like an audience of a play that they have seen before.

I liked your remark about 'puppets endowed with a brain'. This is just another way of expressing the thought that as creatures we have free will, we are independent of our creator. The most important thing that follows from this is that we must, as you say, take 'total responsibility' for our actions.

I also liked it when you said, 'If man becomes aware with his 'divine nature' he could act for the best without the support of 'God the Father'. And only in so doing he will really exalt the greatness of the Creator and His creation.' What you are saying is that the primary role of 'God the creator' can only be as an ethical idea, motivating moral action. We are not helpless children, dependent on our 'responsible parent' to see that things turn out well. It is in this light, that we therefore need to re-think what is involved in the activity of prayer and supplication.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Does Descartes succeed in proving that God exists?

To: Christian M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Does Descartes succeed in proving that God exists?
Date: 3 July 2007 10:33

Dear Christian,

Thank you for your email of 24 June, with your University of London essay in response to the question, 'Does Descartes succeed in proving that God exists?'

In response to your question about further reading, I would suggest reading some of the 'Objections and Replies' because these are fascinating. Just dip in. There is no need to start at the beginning and read through to the end. The complete works of Descartes can be found in the Haldane and Ross edition, first published in paperback with an up to date translation by Cambridge University Press in 1967. You should be able to find an inexpensive copy on Amazon.

You have written a very good exam answer on Descartes' proofs of the existence of God. If I was an examiner I would be impressed. You explain yourself clearly and marshal your arguments effectively, showing that you have a good understanding of Descartes' arguments and the questions that might be raised against them.

This is an open-ended question, like the other questions that you will come across in an exam. There is no final agreement amongst philosophers or scholars on how these arguments should be evaluated. You will even find attempts to defend versions of the ontological argument today. I am going to suggest some issues that you had perhaps not thought of, not in the spirit of criticism but rather in order to give you more to think about - and perhaps some extra ammunition too.

The main problem with the argument from the idea of infinity is presenting it in a way which makes it even seem plausible. One can hardly claim success in evaluating the argument if one presents it in a way which makes it seem obviously fallacious and therefore easy to refute (I'm not necessarily saying that you've done this). Why does Descartes put so much faith in this argument? It can't just be the fact that it came to him as a 'clear and distinct idea'. What is the idea?

A possible approach is to consider our concept of infinity, as such. The series of natural numbers 0, 1, 2, 3... is held to be infinite. Do we understand what that means?

Mathematicians have a neat way of defining an 'infinite' set which seems to circumvent the problem of getting one's mind round infinity. A set has infinitely many members if there is a function which maps these members onto a proper subset. The set of natural numbers is infinite because there is a function, 'times 2' which puts the set of all natural numbers into a 1-1 correlation with the set of even numbers.

While that approach works for mathematics, it does not help at all when it comes to the question, e.g. whether as a matter of empirical (though unverifiable) fact, the universe is infinite, either in extent or in time. What does someone believe when they believe this? Is there, in fact, a coherent content or we merely mouthing nonsense when we use the word 'infinite' in this context?

In the philosophy of language, you will come across the influential view, developed by Hilary Putnam and Saul Kripke, that so-called 'natural kind' concepts gain their meaning from their extension - pointing out objects in the world and saying, 'the same kind as that'. The concept 'gold' requires the actual existence of gold, it is not something that merely comes out of our own heads. Though this is not a view advocated by Descartes, it looks like the kind of thing he is talking about when he raises the question of what would be sufficient to explain the occurrence or use of an idea.

I liked your use of the example of the butterfly effect, because it helps to raise the question of the source of concepts in a precise way. A butterfly lands on a window pane and sparks an idea in the mind of a novelist which leads eventually to a magnificent novel of fantasy and adventure. However, not all concepts arise 'from our own heads'. The concept 'Gold' is not the same as the invented concept 'heavy yellow metal'. If there were no gold, we logically could not have a concept of it.

I hope you can see the pertinence of this to the question of our concept of infinity and God. I would say that Descartes does not, although he thinks he does, have an 'idea' of God or actual (non-mathematical) infinity.

A philosopher who has a very high opinion of Descartes 'idea of infinity' argument is the continental thinker Emmanuel Levinas, who argues that this structure applies to the problem of self and other. I won't attempt to summarize Levinas's view but this is something you can look up for yourself.

In criticizing the ontological argument, you say, 'You can formally attach the predicate 'necessarily existing' to any idea (e.g. a green angel that necessarily exists) but this does not entail its ontological existence.'

If by 'formally attaching' you mean merely writing down the sentence then of course this has no consequences for existence.

However, if I say to you, 'I have a concept of a green angel that necessarily exists,' then you should challenge me to produce a PROOF that my concept has the consequence of necessary existence.

Consider mathematics again. There is at least one set, the null or empty set. Leaving aside the question of what exactly 'exists' means in logic or mathematics, here we have an example of necessary existence. If you can form the concept of the null set then there must be a null set in every possible world, including this one. If the null set necessarily exists then a fortiori the null set exists.

Similarly, Descartes hasn't just attached 'necessary existence' to his favourite pet idea. He is claiming that he HAS the idea of God as a being which, because of its perfection, must necessarily exist. That is the claim that one needs to attack.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Can truth be defined?

To: Matthew M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Can truth be defined?
Date: 27 June 2007 10:46

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your email of 26 June with your third essay for Possible World Machine, which you first attempted to send on 19 June, in response to the question, 'Define truth.'

The original question for units 6-9 was, 'Can truth be defined? - If you think that it can, give a definition and explain its philosophical significance. If you think that it cannot, what conclusions should the philosopher draw from that?' I'm mentioning this because a possible response to the statement, 'Define truth' is to say, 'Sorry, it can't be done!'

You've said a lot of things about truth, but haven't in fact offered any definition apart from mentioning the correspondence theory in paragraph one. You go on to state that there is a difference between 'the idea of truth' and 'the valuation of proper ways of judging'. I'm not sure whether what you have in mind here is the difference between a definition of truth, which states what truth IS, and a criterion of truth, which gives a recipe for determining whether a given judgement is true. It is generally accepted that the latter would be extremely difficult to do, although there can be methodologies for particular branches of inquiry which help us to discover truth.

Let's stick to the correspondence theory for the moment. Clearly, it looks a lot easier to say what we mean by 'correspondence' when we are talking about ordinary empirical, contingent truths such as 'There's a turtle dove in the garden.' On one side is the statement or proposition, on the other side how things are in the world, by virtue of which that statement is true (if it 'corresponds') or false (if it fails to 'correspond').

With logical truth on the other hand, for example, 'If P then P', it is harder to see what could be meant by 'correspondence' since the statement is true no matter how things are in the world. That is one reason which led Wittgenstein in the Tractatus to deny that logical truths, or 'tautologies' say anything at all.

Kant proposed a third variety of truth, which he called 'synthetic a priori' which is concerned, as you rightly state, with 'the way that all humans have to view the world'. Actually, Kant's argument is not just intended to work for humans but for any beings who share our 'forms of sensibility', i.e. gain access to a spatial world through sensory perception. Very briefly, the argument is that there can be no experience at all unless we can interpret that experience as perception of a world of objects in space. Causality and the permanence of 'substance' are two synthetic a priori principles which follow (or which Kant believed to follow) from this. Here the 'truth' in question seems more meaty than mere logical truth. There is a sense, perhaps, in which one can say that the world of objects in space and time 'necessarily corresponds' to the a priori law of determinism (as Kant held).

In the unit on truth, quite a lot is made of the question of 'philosophical truth'. There are many forms of philosophical argument: transcendental argument (as Kant described his method of proof), philosophical analysis, phenomenological description and Hegelian dialectic - each claiming to establish some kind of necessary 'truth'. How are we to conceive of this truth? Is it out there waiting to be discovered, like ordinary contingent facts? Or is it invented? Would this truth still exist even in a world whose inhabitants were too busy with practical and technological matters to bother with philosophy?

It would be an interesting exercise to determine to what extent, if any, the notion of 'correspondence' gives a useful insight into these various (alleged) forms of truth. It could be argued that the notion of correspondence is really just a way of attempting to capture the 'realist' notion of a 'truth out there waiting to be discovered', by contrast with the 'anti-realist' view that truth is not discovered but in some sense created or brought into being as we question and probe.

Faith is another category of truth which, again, seems fundamentally different from contingent, logical or philosophical truth. Although one sometimes talks of 'faith' in things that are presupposed and never questioned - e.g. like my faith that the floor will not collapse under me, or my faith that induction is a valid way of acquiring knowledge - as you state, there is another important category of 'faith' where the subject makes a decision, takes an action to embrace a belief, which is not (as is normally the case with belief) seemingly forced on the subject by his/her perception of the facts but rather seems a matter of free choice and commitment. This was a very important idea for Kierkegaard, who was hostile to any attempt to 'prove' or find a factual basis for religious belief.

So what about truth? Can it be defined? In my view, the only possible definition of truth is that it is the predicate which satisfies the following 'Tarski schema':

'P' is T if and only if P

Where for the variable P one may substitute any sentence you like - contingent, logical, synthetic a priori or whatever. In other words, stating that 'P' is true, for any P, is simply a way of removing the quotation marks. To state a proposition IS to state that it is true. Of course that doesn't tell us what we really want to know - what it is that 'makes' any proposition true. But why should we assume that there could ever be an answer to that question?

All the best,

Geoffrey

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kripke on Wittgenstein on rules and private language

To: Yasuko S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Kripke on Wittgenstein on rules and private language
Date: 26 June 2007 11:41

Dear Yasuko,

Thank you for your email of 19 June, with your essay, 'Playing a role rather than following a rule', which is on Kripke's argument in 'Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language'.

Two things I liked about this essay were that you show that you are prepared to take a position in criticizing Kripke's account of Wittgenstein, and also that you give arguments for your view. This is the kind of thing that a university admissions tutor will be looking for in evaluating your essay.

As you probably know, Kripke's book has generated a huge amount of discussion. Other things being equal, your argument would carry more weight if you located your view in relation to what other participants in this discussion have said. John McDowell, for example, argues that Wittgenstein accepts a 'naturalized Platonism', i.e. the acceptability from Wittgenstein's point of view of talking - within what McDowell terms the 'logical space of reasons' - about meanings in a Platonist style, provided that we do not succumb to the metaphysical illusion of interpreting this Platonism as entailing the existence of 'superlative facts' about meaning ('Mind and World' p. 92 and footnote).

I would emphasize that you don't have to do this. I don't want you to start worrying if you prefer to do a 'clean' critique based purely on your reading of Wittgenstein and Kripke. However, if any other readings have influenced our view, in any way, then it would be better to cite them rather than leave the reader guessing.

Also, I should warn you that I am going to make some remarks based on my take of Wittgenstein, Kripke and my reading of your essay. I don't want you to take these as 'criticisms' which necessarily require a response in terms of changing what you have written. My views are not definitive. By all means go through what you have written again and improve it if you can. If you can't then it is better to leave it.

Crispin Wright has a view about rule following (see e.g. his book 'Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics') which sounds a lot more like what one would get if one pursued Kripke's analogy with Hume's'sceptical solution' to the problem of causality. According to Hume, a statement to the effect that A caused B entails the existence of a universal generalization - referring to all places and times - which in effect makes a causal claim a very powerful claim. Similarly, Wright's idea is that meanings can be defined in terms of community agreement, which in a similar way makes the statement that an expression means such-and-such a very strong claim. Who can ever speak for the entire community with any degree of confidence?

Kripke doesn't seem to go as far as this. I'm wondering, therefore, whether your criticism in 3. ('Kripke's Begging the Question') is really fair. But let's look at the crucial paragraph in PI, 201. 'If everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.' Wittgenstein goes on to say, 'It can be seen that there is a MISUNDERSTANDING here...'. Kripke seems to want to agree that there is no such thing as 'accord' or 'conflict' with a rule. The rule has no logical power to constrain what we do therefore we are free do what we like. 'Each new application we make is a leap in the dark.'

Wittgenstein's reply to this would be, 'There is a way of grasping a rule which is NOT AN INTERPRETATION.' In other words, there ARE rules, and we DO grasp them. We show that we grasp them by what we do 'in actual cases'. This is 'naturalized Platonism'. It is perfectly OK to talk about meanings - provided that one is not tempted by the illusion of 'superlative facts' lying behind our ordinary practice of discussing and criticizing one another's use of words.

I think that you and Kripke are both right about the private language argument. The point is that there IS no single argument which deserves the label, 'private language argument'. 202 is a version of 'the' private language argument, and so is 258 (sensation 'S'), and so is 293 (beetle in the box). AND all the bits in between.

There are rules by virtue of which a person's use of words is evaluated as 'right' or 'wrong'. These rules presuppose the existence of a community and a 'form of life'. The philosopher who falls under the illusion of the 'private object' believes that he/she has found an object which the mind is so 'close' to the subject to that it is impossible to be 'wrong' about it. But this is complete nonsense. If you can't be 'wrong' then you can't be 'right' either. It's as simple as that. The way to read what Wittgenstein says about 'private language' is as responses to numerous attempts to defend the vision of the private object - all of which fail, for different - and interesting - reasons.

You say at one point, 'It is not the denial of a private inner realm of phenomena but it is nonsense to take it into consideration. The essential thing about inner experience is that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else.' Wittgenstein would take that statement as an expression of the illusion that he is battling against (cf. the beetle in the box). Yes, he is not denying an inner realm of phenomena. He is not denying that we have pains, and do not merely exhibit pain behaviour etc. etc. But he would strongly reject the idea that I can never know whether my THIS (e.g. looking up at a blue sky) is the same or different (e.g. same or different colour - but we needn't stop there) from your THIS.

One possible reason why one might make this mistake is that Wittgenstein himself gives the example of sensation 'S'. So one is tempted to read his argument as saying that we 'have' S all right, but just can't talk about it, we can't introduce the term 'S' into the language game. Hence your example of the useless chess piece. However, this misses the point that this is a hypothesis which Wittgenstein is setting up for the sake of reductio ad absurdum. We do have sensations - including sensations we have never experienced before - but this is NOT how we refer to them.

I could go on, but I'll stop there. I haven't mentioned all the things I liked in your essay, so you might get the wrong impression. Overall, this is not a bad piece of work.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Free will, determinism and cognitive impairment

To: Kay M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Free will, determinism and cognitive impairment
Date: 18 June 2007 12:22

Dear Kay,

Thank you for your email of 11 June, with your first essay for the Possible World Machine, 'Free Will, Determinism and Cognitive Impairment.'

This is an interesting and well argued essay which raises some important issues.

In writing the essay, you may have had an eye on question 4. from the first list of essay questions, '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.'

The idea behind this essay title is to make apparent the different possible 'readings' of the 'determinism vs. free will' problem, depending on whether one is considering this in a purely metaphysical sense, or as a practical problem faced by law makers and the judiciary.

The majority of philosophers who have considered the metaphysical problem, take the view known as 'compatibilism'. Suppose (something which, at the present date is still not known for certain) that determinism is in fact true. One way to express this is if you 'ran the world again' from the big bang, exactly the same things would happen in the same order. Sarkozy would win the French Presidential election. You would enrol for this course. I would decide to write today (e.g. rather than tomorrow) etc. etc.

However, even if that is the case, human beings have an interest in distinguishing between the kinds of ways in which actions, as events, are 'determined'. No-one ever will be in a position to 'run the world again'. We have to make decisions for ourselves.

Thus, an agent who makes a decision, not under physical duress, in full possession of his/her mental capacities, is regarded as acting 'freely', and is held 'responsible' from a moral standpoint as well as under the law for the actions which he/she does. This is so, even though we recognize (from a metaphysical standpoint) that if you 'ran the world again' the individual would do exactly the same thing again, and again, and again.

Your interest, in writing your essay, is very much in the second of the two conditions referred to in the last paragraph: 'in full possession of his/her mental capacities'. What does this mean? When are we entitled to intervene, in a person's own interest, to make decisions to make decisions on their behalf, decisions to which they may indeed be adamantly opposed?

Twice in your essay, you cite a principle which seems very plausible. 'If X could express free will, then they would choose Y.' This implies that we sympathetically adopt the perspective of X, looking at the world (as it were) from X's viewpoint, taking into consideration issues which affect X's survival and quality of life - all the things, in fact that X would consider, were X capable of doing so.

The case of the child denied treatment seems straightforward. Let's say the family are Jehovah's Witnesses and refuse to allow the child to have a desperately needed blood transfusion. Australian Law says that the child gets the transfusion regardless of what the parents say. Indeed (this is something that needs to be aired) the child gets the transfusion, even if, because of the religious beliefs acquired from its parents it kicks and screams when an attempt is made to attach the blood bag. We are not prepared to allow the child to have a say in the matter of its own survival, as judged by the doctor in charge of the case.

There is indeed something (to non-believers) particularly obnoxious about the prohibition of blood transfusions, perhaps because if its sheer absurdity, the needless deaths that arise because of it.

But now suppose that an ambitious young parliamentarian hatches the idea of a new, much tougher law, which judges 'mental impairment' on the basis of 'brainwashing'. An adult who desires something which is clearly against his/her own interests, where the source of the desire is not merely an idiosyncratic view of the world but rather a clearly identified process of 'brainwashing' received from other individuals, is not considered to be capable of making decisions which affect their survival, such as whether to accept a blood transfusion or not.

Say the daugher of Jehovah's Witnesses survives to adulthood. Faced with the need for a life-saving blood transfusion she refuses point blank. Now, armed with the new law, surgeons can go ahead and force her to receive the transfusion.

If we now attempt to apply the principle, 'If X could express free will, then they would choose Y', we face the question whether the sincere belief that it is against God's law to 'partake of blood' even to the extent of recieving blood transfusions is in fact a 'freely held' belief. The individual in question has held her belief ever since she was old enough to express beliefs, and long before she was in a position to decide for herself whether the belief is rational or not.

I hope that the problem is clear to you. My strong intuition is that the proposed law would be reckless and ill-judged, and would indeed prove to be an uncontrollable monster justifying all manners of state intervention in matters of private belief and conscience. The philosophical challenge, however, is to explain, with reasoned arguments, why that is so.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Accounting for my unique place as self-conscious subject

To: Gordon F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Accounting for my unique place as self-conscious subject
Date: 18 June 2007 11:28

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for your email of 8 June, with your final essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, 'How successful, in your view, is the theory of subjective and objective worlds in accounting for 'my' unique place as a self-conscious subject in the world?'

Your idea of applying the analogy of invariance and conservation laws in physics to the problem of indexicality looks very promising.

I can think of two possible applications/ analogies. The first would be something which one might term the 'conservation of truth', the second would be the 'conservation of meaning'.

(CT) Conservation of truth: When any indexical is replaced by a descriptive phrase or proper name referring to the same individual or item, truth is conserved.

(CM) Conservation of meaning: When any indexical is replaced by a descriptive phrase or proper name referring to the same individual or item, meaning is conserved.

If the sole aim of an indexical expression, like 'I', 'he', 'this', 'now' is to pick out an individual and say something true about it, then it is hard to see how a the truth value of a statement can be changed by substituting a descriptive phrase or name.

However, we need to deal with a trivial counterexample. Over there is Fatso, so-called because of his gigantic size. However, while it is true that Fatso is so-called because of his gigantic size, we would not say, 'He is so-called because of his gigantic size'. That is because predicate, 'is so-called' implies that one is referring to an individual using a proper name with descriptive content.

However, if one expands the predicate, 'is so-called' one gets:

1. 'Fatso is called 'Fatso' because of his gigantic size.'

2. 'He is called 'Fatso' because of his gigantic size.'

Thus preserving the principle CT.

How about CM? Let's take a version of your example. Imagine that in a bar after drinking one too many, I brag, 'I am the International Society for Philosophers!' Of course, I would never do this, although it is conceivable that someone who was ignorant of how the society was founded could accuse me of inventing an imaginary organization called the ISFP in order to provide backing for the Pathways programs.

Assume (as seems plausible) that principle CT is preserved, so that the two propositions are either both true or both false, is there any change in meaning between, 'I am the ISFP,' and 'GK is the ISFP'? (I am assuming that this is a proposition which one may evaluate as true or false. For example, it is false if there really is a Board of the ISFP who really do have a say in how the ISFP is run - as is in fact the case.)

To get one irrelevant consideration out of the way, two propositions which have the same meaning can be asserted on the basis of different evidence. Unless one subscribes to the verification principle, the evidence for a proposition is not part of its meaning. My evidence (or seeming evidence, in my drunken state) for assertion 'I am the ISFP' might be very different from the critic's evidence for asserting, 'GK is the ISFP'.

It could be pointed out that in asserting, 'I am the ISFP' an additional act is performed which is not performed when someone says, 'GK is the ISFP', which one would indicate by saying, 'GK bragged.' Does this make a difference? Surely not. For the same reason as before, the content or meaning of the proposition asserted should not be identified with any additional 'acts' performed in making that assertion (unless one holds that the linguistic act performed is part of the meaning or content of a proposition).

However, I do want to draw a distinction between CT and CM. Meaning is not conserved when one replaces an indexical by a non-indexical, because indexicals fulfil a role which cannot be adequately fulfilled by any other means. If CM were true, then it would be possible to replace all indexical expressions with suitable description phrases without loss of meaning. (In semantics, this can be expressed as the view that all 'de re' judgements can be translated without loss of meaning into 'de dicto' judgements.)

Consider a statement about what is happening now. There has been very heavy rain the last few days (the day before yesterday Sheffield had five inches of rain!). But it's dry and sunny now. This fact is significant for me because it means that I can go out at lunch time and get some fish and chips and enjoy my lunch in the open air. In one sense, we may be able to 'capture' the significance in a report, 'It was dry and sunny on 18th June, so GK decided to go out for chips.' But this still fails to capture the actual meaning that the statement, 'It is now sunny,' has from the perspective of an agent deciding what to do. (I almost forgot: you call 'chips' French fries: again, a trivial point.)

In 'Naive Metaphysics' I call this the 'urgency of action'. What is a mere 'fact' from your perspective - or from my perspective in a day or a month's time - is now (and only now) a situation which calls for my practical judgement and decision.

This is just one aspect of the 'theory of subjective and objective worlds'. The theory is not about subjective STATES. Although (as lunch time approaches) you cannot feel my hunger, the fact that I am hungry is something I can tell you, and you can fully understand - grasp the meaning or content - of what I am saying. Nor is there any additional 'private meaning' which only I can access, which is 'what my hunger feels like for me'. This I take to be the upshot of Wittgenstein's private language argument. (I can't tell you everything there is to be told about my hunger, but then again I can't 'tell myself' either. This is just a feature of the inexhaustibility of psychological descriptions.)

In other words, the indexical terms 'I' and 'now' (together with the other indexicals which may be defined in terms of them) indicate perspectives which cannot be fully analysed from a perspective-less point of view. There is no 'view from nowhere'. That is just another way of saying that meaning is not conserved when one replaces indexicals by non-indexical referring expressions.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Friday, April 13, 2012

Heraclitus on the logos and change and Zeno on motion

To: Stuart B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heraclitus on the logos and change and Zeno on motion
Date: 13 June 2007 12:39

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your email of 7 June, with your three University of London Essays in response to the questions:

'What is the Heraclitean logos that people do not comprehend?' (Revised)

'In what sense, if any, does Heraclitus hold that everything is always changing?'

'What, if anything, can Zeno's paradoxes teach us about motion?'

I have to confess that I had a completely different picture of you, prior to seeing the photos from your Italian cruise. Reading your essays, your words seem to come across differently - such is the power of the image.

Heraclitus on the Logos

Your new work on this essay consists in the suggestion that the reason why people do not comprehend the Logos is because of their attachment to primitive animism.

This is not an implausible proposal, although it is not one that had occurred to me. Aren't all the Presocratics battling against primitive beliefs and superstitions?

I suppose you could argue that, e.g. Anaximenes has not fully expunged animism from his conception of air as Arche, likewise other theories where 'mind' is regarded as some kind of universal force. With 'logos' any trace of conscious intention is removed and all that remains is the bare conception of 'law'. Maybe.

The impression given by Heraclitus' fragments is that he is not just 'against' the ignorant multitude but also other philosophers who don't understand the true meaning of the Logos. He is not fighting on the side of philosophers against the non-philosophical, but rather on the side of the Logos against every other theory - every other philosopher. But this is a point where one can only speculate.

Heraclitus on change

I think I disagree with you about what are the two contrasting views of 'change' that can be attributed to Heraclitus.

Let us assume, on either view, that Heraclitus whatever else he was setting out to do, opposed the traditional view of the 'opposites' such as 'the hot' and 'the cold' in favour of the idea of 'determinable magnitudes, positions on a continuum.'

I've made the point before that this was not a novel idea, because Anaximenes with his single process, 'condensation/ rarefaction' in effect does this too.

So what is so new in Heraclitus? According to Kirk and Raven, Heraclitus believed that 'everything is changing' in the sense that, while some things are changing visibly and dramatically, other things change only imperceptibly. Take the most permanent thing you can think of, a gold medallion, if one could take a sufficiently close look - or, alternatively, wait a sufficiently long time, one would observe change.

Today, this would be regarded as unremarkable. Physics tells us that only atoms do not change (and even atoms can undergo changes in the energy level of their outer electrons). Things made up of atoms can never be permanent so long as there are any processes occurring around them. They will be affected in some way, if only imperceptibly.

The Platonic view I thought was opposed to this is the idea that there is no 'substance'. The appearance of relatively stable 'shapes' is a phenomenon which is explained in the way one explains the shape of a river or a flame. Hence, in Plato's world of appearances, there is nothing 'underlying' the sights and sounds that assail us. Permanence comes from the Forms. For Heraclitus, it comes from the Logos - which is perhaps not that very different (a point that Plato perhaps only grudgingly accepted).

You seem to want to propose a third explanation, that it is only our viewpoint that is 'constantly changing'. This, however, suggests a picture where on the metaphysical level there is, after all, permanent substance, and change exists only in our perceptions. It that case it would be true to say, in effect with Parmenides, that change is an illusion and that reality consists in unchangeable Being!

This is not to decry your strategy of seeking to focus on the correct interpretation via an examination of Heraclitus' view of opposites. This is the best clue we have as to his true intentions. However, as always, you need to make it very clear that you are going into this in order to answer the question. I would be much briefer in my account of the four ways in which opposites are related. You don't need to argue the case for your interpretation of the four ways - that would require an essay in itself.

Zeno on motion

This one has really got me beat. I can't think of any real criticisms to make. A thoroughly well-thought out and persuasive piece of work. Excellent.

However, just because this is my job, I'm going to try to ferret out something you might not have thought about.

You've mentioned a number of philosophers but not Bergson. Bergson saw the arrow paradox as illustrative of the false 'cinematographic' view of time as analysable into an infinite series of instants. In place of this he proposed his view of 'Duree', as the ultimate reality. You say that given duration, we have motion. But what is duration?

Taking our cue from Russell (see www.follydiddledah.com page 5), it can be argued, in Humean fashion, that the state of the universe at any given instant has no logical consequences for its state at any other instant. In that case, there is a possible world, experientially indistinguishable from the actual world, which does in fact consist in just that - a series of static states, like a movie film.

Taking this thought one stage further, if we start with the description of such a world, what does it take to put the 'duration' or the 'motion' back in? The mathematical notion of continuity comes as close as one is able to get, but arguably still only gives an ersatz notion of duration.

These thoughts are obscure, and I'm not a Bergson expert (you can look up the article in the Stanford Encyclopaedia). However, they suggest that Zeno might have embraced the modern mathematical analysis of the infinite as final evidence of the truth of the Parmenidean view of reality.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mind-body problem and the definition of identity

To: David T.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Mind-body problem and the definition of identity
Date: 11 June 2007 12:21

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your email of 3 June, with your second essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, 'What is identity? What is the relevance of a definition of 'identity' to the problem of the relation between mind and body?'

Kant says somewhere that a particular text would have been much shorter had it not been so short. I think this applies to the present essay to some extent.

In your email you say that you are 'ignoring epistemological questions completely' but it can be argued that it is impossible to divorce the concept of a sortal from the question of applicable criteria for identity over time. It is one thing to give the logical properties of a sortal concept in the abstract, but quite a different matter to establish that such a concept could actually be used to identify and individuate objects.

That is not to say that we cannot distinguish logical and epistemological questions with regard to identity. What, conceptually, must be the case - say, with regard to the question whether Lot's wife can be turned into a pillar of salt - is a different question from what, as a contingent matter of fact, I can come to know.

For example, according to the criterion of identity for the concept 'human being', it is not logically possible for me to change into a lizard. If you see me one moment, and a wriggling lizard the next then you know, as a matter of logic, that the lizard isn't me. However, this is a different question from how you know I am a human being. For all you know for certain, I may be an alien from the planet Zog which possesses the power to take on a range of forms. For Zogs, different criteria of identity apply than for humans, but, nevertheless, as a matter of logic, there must be applicable criteria of identity of some kind or other.

There is more on these issues in David Wiggins 'Sameness and Substance' (based on his earlier, 'Identity and Spatio-Temporal Continuity'). I think I have mentioned this text before.

Anything can be a Leibnizian object. Quine talks about objects as the 'logical minima, the result of distinguishing everything that can be distinguished.' For Quine, however, what 'can be distinguished' depends at any given time on science, on our network of beliefs, changing and developing in response to experience. He is talking about concepts as applied, not merely what might be a concept in some possible world.

You give the example of a moon-ear (see the quote from Kolakowski http://www.follydiddledah.com/image_and_quote_4.html !) taking this in the sense analogous to Goodman's Paradox, 'moon before T, my ear after T'. However, from the point of view of constructing Leibnizian objects one could just as easily regard the moon and my ear as physically parts of a single extended 'object'. Hence, when I scratch my ear I have a causal effect on the moon, conceived as part of object of which my ear is also a part.

There is something wrong with this concept, and it is not merely a matter of pragmatic inconvenience. There are no applicable criteria of identity for moon-ears, at least in the spatial sense. In the temporal sense, our criteria of identity for moon are trivially adequate for moon-ears so long as the time is before T, but arguably the diagnosis is the same.

Again, from the perspective of Leibnizian objects, we can happily define three classes of entities, minds, brains and mind-brains but this says nothing about the actual possibilities for identifying or distinguishing minds from minds or minds from brains (or brains from brains).

There were in fact to aspects to the question. You have concentrated on the question of identifying mind and body, but there is also a problem about identifying mind independently of body, hence the argument in the unit that the question of criteria of identity cuts both ways.

The mind-body dualist is saying, in effect, 'IF you give me my concept of mind as an entity with an identity, then there is nothing that you can do to establish an identity between the mind and anything physical.' If we were talking about Leibnizian objects then, of course, you can make mind-brains just as you can make Kolakowskian moon-ears. But if we grant the dualist's assumption (that mind is an entity with an identity) then the objection to unitary mind-brains is essentially the same as the objection to moon-ears.

Raising the issue of functionalism merely obscures the issue. The functionalist (e.g. Dennett) may talk of minds as 'immortal' (because a mind is essentially a Pythagorean-type formula which can be stored transmitted, uploaded and downloaded) but unless we are persuaded in the first place by Descartes arguments for immaterial 'substance', any form in which the formula is either preserved as data or implemented as a program will be physical. (In 'Consciousness Explained' Dennett says the uploading scenario gives far better prospects for immortality than having one's head or body stored in a deep freeze!)

All the best,

Geoffrey

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mind as extended: Descartes' response to Arnaud

To: Christian M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Mind as extended: Descartes' response to Arnaud
Date: 11 June 2007 11:14

Dear Christian,

Thank you for your email of 3 June with your University of London BA essay in response to the question, ''Although I clearly and distinctly know my nature to be something that thinks, may I not perhaps be wrong in thinking that nothing else belongs to my nature apart from the fact that I am a thinking thing? Perhaps the fact that I am an extended thing may also belong to my nature' (Arnaud). Does Descartes have a satisfactory response to Arnaud's objection?'

Thanks also for the second version of the same essay done under exam conditions. I will confine my criticisms to the main essay, you can apply these as appropriate to the exam version.

The main thing to point out here is that Arnaud is reacting, as you do, to the statement of Descartes proof of mind-body dualism in Meditation 6, where all the emphasis is on 'what I can clearly and distinctly perceive'. Descartes thinks he can clearly and distinctly perceive his mind as something which can (if only by the power of God) be logically separated from body. While Arnaud, effectively, counters that he doesn't share this perception. Maybe Descartes is wrong, has failed to 'perceive' that being extended is, in fact, part of the essence of mind.

In your exam essay, you come up with something approaching a clear formulation of the argument that Descartes is in fact relying on, even though this is not stated explicitly: 'He implies that... if I logically can imagine two things as contingent (mind and body) then they are contingent and hence necessar[ily] they are ontologically different.'

Now, Descartes repeatedly makes the point that imagination and conception are not the same thing. The ability to imagine is associated with our capacity for sensory experience and the ability to make pictures to ourselves of possible states of affairs.

Here is an example of an attempt to argue for mind-body dualism via the imagination: 'I can imagine looking in a mirror and watching my various bodily parts go out of existence until there is nothing of my physical body that remains, while my mind remains unaffected. Therefore, the fact that I can imagine a state of disembodiment proves that my mind can exist apart from my body.'

This doesn't prove anything. It would be perfectly consistent with materialism that a person underwent such an experience: there are various possible explanations which do not require the hypothesis of mind-body dualism.

Descartes' actual argument is based in the evil demon scenario. If I am the kind of thing that can be deceived into thinking that space and physical objects exist in a world where there are no objects and no space, then what 'I' refers to cannot be anything physical.

This can be and has been criticised. But Arnaud's criticism here doesn't pick up any of the essential points that one would have to make in order to make the criticism stick. He merely responds to the argument as given in Meditation 6, saying, in effect, 'In talking about what you clearly and distinctly perceive, you are expressing your intuition. I have a contrary intuition.' That is a perfectly valid criticism - if Descartes had not been thinking of the much more powerful argument which backs up the summary statement in Meditation 6.

I don't think that the Cartesian Circle is relevant to this question. This is not the objection which we are considering, and it applies equally to all of the things that Descartes sets out to prove in the Meditations.

You might think that if we concentrate solely on the argument in Meditation 6, and ignore the claim that it is backed up by a stronger argument based on the evil demon thought experiment, then it looks as if Descartes is placing very great weight on his ability to clearly and distinctly perceive, and this is undermined by the Cartesian Circle. However, this gets the logic of the argument wrong. Even if no-one had ever raised the problem of the Cartesian Circle (or, better, even if - counternecessaryfactually - it wasn't a problem) the assertion by Descartes that he can 'clearly and distinctly perceive XYZ' is not a convincing argument. It immediately invites the objection, 'I clearly and distinctly perceive UVW!'

The assertion is not convincing because it lacks the intuitive certainty that Descartes claims for the claim 'I exist'. It would be absurd to object to the Cogito, 'I am not certain that I exist!' (although one can of course take issue with Descartes assumption that 'I' necessarily refers to an entity with an identity over time).

You will lose marks - as well as valuable time - in an examination if you bring up issues or arguments which the examiner regards as not relevant to the question that you are answering. The same also holds, to some extent, to giving background information to a particular issue or argument. Thus, the discussion of Descartes method of 'hyperbolic doubt' can be shown to be relevant (as I have done above), but you need to make the case that this is so. It is better to jump right in and answer the question, with a suitable nod to the context, as required.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Free will and the justification for punishment

To: Foo Weng L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Free will and the justification for punishment
Date: 11 June 2007 09:58

Dear Foo Weng,

Thank you for your email of 3 June 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.'

In your essay, you show a good understanding of the question at issue. You pose a very simple and effective criterion for deciding whether or not an individual is to be held responsible, and if appropriate, punished for a bad action. The decision turns on our assessment of a person's 'ability to handle his reaction towards a particular circumstance.'

This formula contains two ideas: that human beings are naturally constituted to 'react to circumstances', which both humans and non-human animals are able to do, and the concept of 'handling' which in the intended sense only humans can do.

Behind this formula is the recognition that, even if determinism is true and everything that happens in our lives is a causal consequence of our physical state when we were born and all the influences that we have been subjected to from that moment in time, we nevertheless have a special power of causality over our own actions, which comes under the general title of the 'ability to reason' or 'ability to make rational decisions'.

This power of rationality is itself ultimately a causal consequence of our physical state at birth and all that has happened to us. Nevertheless, it provides the basis for identifying those persons, or those actions, which are considered to be 'responsible' and therefore fit for censure or punishment. This is known as the 'compatibilist' view of human freedom because it accepts that 'freedom' is in this sense consistent with causality.

'Why bother to set up laws for the sake of preventing crimes?' On a determinist view, punishment only 'works' on those individuals whose behaviour can be corrected with incentives. The shoplifter who suffers from kleptomania is not deterred by the thought of punishment, which is why treatment is considered a more appropriate response.

There are criticisms that could be made of this view of punishment, but that is not the primary concern of this essay. The question we are concerned with is how one resolves the 'hard cases'.

It is important to note that 'dealing with one's reactions' is not something that only humans do. If you train a dog never to jump up on the dining table and grab food while you are eating, then you have given it a behavioural inhibitor which conflicts with its immediate 'reaction' to the circumstance of smelling the delicious steak. However, teaching humans to be moral and respect the law is not the same as training a dog because reasoning is involved.

The special kind of 'dealing' that humans do is to think ahead and to reason about right and wrong. This is arguably the key to resolving the hard cases.

Consider the notorious 'Twinkie' murder case in the USA where the accused put forward the defence that he had eaten an entire pack of Twinkies (a sugary biscuit) just prior to the incident and his body was reacting to an abnormally high level of blood sugar. He got into an argument and killed two people (checking on Google, I find that this story is now described as a 'myth', as Twinkies were not the main issue in the court case, but that's not important for the point I am making).

Suppose it was true that in certain circumstances - and in certain individuals who are abnormally disposed to this reaction - it is possible for this to happen. Unlike the case of deliberate drug taking, we can't blame the individual for taking the sugar 'drug'. Some part of him knew that in pulling out his gun what he was doing was wrong, but in his physical state it was much easier to 'let go'.

Or consider the famous 'Patty Hearst' case where the kidnapped heiress was 'converted' to the cause of the Symbionnese Liberation Army and took an active and enthusiastic part in a series of bank robberies. The jury were convinced by the prosecution argument that although her change in attitudes and behaviour was 'caused' by the brainwashing she had received from her captors, the person in the dock was 'Patty Hearst as she is now', and not the innocent young woman who was kidnapped.

In both cases, what is significant is that reasoning is not absent. We are not talking about compulsive behaviour, or individuals who show any sign of mental illness. So are these cases where a reaction could have been 'handled' but was not? or cases where an individual's ability to 'handle' is fatally diminished by circumstances beyond their control?

It is an attested fact that normal people can do very abnormal things in a rage. 'Road rage' is now becoming increasingly common, with quite horrific crimes committed by people who under normal circumstances one would never consider to be criminal or have criminal tendencies.

In the Patty Hearst case, the opportunities for 'handling reactions' might have come during the time when she was being allegedly brainwashed by her captors. It is harder to see how this applies to the determined female terrorist who joined in the planning of the bank robberies.

- These are just some things to think about.

All the best,

Geoffrey