Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Causal explanation in ethics and nature of moral education

To: Mark H.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Causal explanation in ethics and nature of moral education
Date: 7 February 2008 14:04

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 25th January, with your two essays towards the Associate Award, 'The Need for a Causal Element of Morality' and 'The Implications of Moral Education'.

I'm going to give you two more goes on this, because although I'm satisfied that neither essay is pursuing a dead-end, both need a lot more work -- in fact re-thinking from scratch.

I find both essays difficult to follow. Perhaps an analogy would help. Reading these essays I feel like someone who has walked into a room where a discussion is well in progress, who struggles to work out what is being discussed and why.

Let's look at each essay in turn:

'The need for a causal element of morality'

There are two issues here, which you need to unravel:

The first issue concerns the distinction between causal explanation and justification in relation to the question, 'Why be moral?'

David Hume is perhaps the best known proponent of a 'naturalist' theory which rejects the possibility of an ultimate rational justification in favour of a causal account of human sympathy and how this gives rise to moral attitudes.

On the other side would be a philosopher like Kant who argues that the only legitimate question to ask is one of rational justification.

However, within the context of his sympathy theory, David Hume is fully able to accommodate the giving and accepting of reasons for action. In Kantian terms, all moral reasons are, according to Hume, hypothetical imperatives.

The second issue -- which is the issue which you are evidently attempting to address -- is how to deal with the problems and paradoxes which arise when we describe the model of a rational agent.

The solution to these paradoxes, in broadest terms, takes the form of reasons for being the kind of person who would not attempt to rationalize every decision. Herein lies the 'causal element' in morality.

Consider the criticism often levelled at Kant, that identifying moral action as action motivated by the thought of the Moral Law devalues actions done from sympathy, such as visiting a sick relative. Your aunt doesn't want to be told that you only came because it was your duty. You ought to want to visit her, because you care.

Kant would read this as offering a moral reason for seeking to become the sort of person who would act out of sympathy rather than the thought of duty. Kant's worry -- which he expresses in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals -- is that not everyone is capable of doing this. It is contingent whether you will ever succeed in making yourself a more sympathetic person. Whereas the Moral Law applies to everyone, without exception.

The main problem seems to me that talk of a 'causal element' is just too vague. You could be arguing in favour of virtue theory against other approaches to ethics. Or you could be looking at the paradoxes of moral rationality which Parfit describes, seeking the best solution. Or you could be arguing against Kant and in favour of Humean/ subjectivist 'attitude theory' which distinguishes between first-order and second-order intentions (wanting to become a more sympathetic person would be a second-order intention).

Any one of these alternatives would be fully adequate for an essay. You need to choose one, and make it clear from the start which line you are pursuing.

'The implications of moral education'

I take it that the problem you are addressing here is, How can there be moral education which is not indoctrination?

Different moral theories suggest different approaches to moral education. A Kantian would adopt a different method of imparting moral knowledge to a Utilitarian.

One question which arises is whether we are viewing 'moral education' as imparting a theory of morality -- so that someone brought up by a Kantian would become conversant with Kant's theory, or someone brought up by a Utilitarian would become conversant with the theory of Utilitarianism -- or, on the contrary, viewing moral education as merely the imparting of moral beliefs or rules, which the recipients take on trust without needing to know how these rules were derived.

R.M. Hare is a good example of a moral philosopher to takes a two-tier view, arguing that it is better that the general populace *don't* make decisions on the basis of preference utilitarianism (Hare's favoured theory), so that only the educators -- the philosophical elite -- know the why and wherefore.

However, this still leaves a very important element out of the picture. Morality is not something you learn in Primary school. Children acquire a sense of right and wrong much earlier, though the process of learning language and becoming part of family unit, interacting with siblings and parents, being punished when 'naughty'.

This fits in with Strawson's view that we acquire a sense of morality as we learn the language of folk psychology. Human beings are the kinds of entity to which certain kinds of 'reason' apply, reasons which imply the possession of attitudes and feelings, and this inevitably gives rise to a sense of right and wrong.

Why indeed do we need 'moral education'? I can't remember ever receiving one.

Once again, my difficulty with this essay is trying to work out what you are really arguing for. You need to come down from the level of high generality and state, clearly, what is the problem, what is your objective, what are the views you are against or the views you agree with, in short, what you are trying to do.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Space, time and gravitation after Einstein

To: Katie H.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Space, time and gravitation after Einstein
Date: 5 February 2008 12:20

Dear Katie,

Thank you for your email of 23 January, with your first essay towards the ISFP Associate Award, entitled, 'Space, time gravitation and the world after Einstein.'

I take it (from the first sentence of the fifth paragraph) that this is intended as an article, and from the content I would assume that the article is written for a physics publication.

Throughout the piece you speak to an audience who are assumed to be fully conversant with the General Theory of Relativity. The aim of the article, so far as I can gather, is to describe an illuminating perspective on the theory, one which someone who knew the bare bones of the theory might not fully appreciate.

Although you mention philosophy early on, I could find much evidence of any real engagement with the philosophy of space and time, or the philosophy of physics. This is written for physicists rather than philosophers or students of philosophy.

However, I am trying to see how I can be most helpful to you. There are issues here which are worthy of being brought out, if you have a mind to do so.

Let's start with a plain assertion of fact. General Relativity is an empirical theory. As you state early on, there was a spectacular confirmation of the theory as long ago as 1919, and further confirmation has been obtained more recently. Einstein was first inspired to formulate his Special Theory of Relativity in response to the extraordinary results of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which was originally intended to measure the 'ether flow'.

What is the significance of the assertion I have just made?

Empirical propositions are logically contingent. That means that there is no logical contradiction in the supposition that an empirical proposition, P is false.

There is no logical contradiction in the supposition that no bending of light might have been observed in the solar eclipse experiment. There is no logical contradiction in the supposition that the Michelson-Morley experiment might have succeeded in measuring the ether flow.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that it would be extraordinary if Newton turned out to be right after all, and space and time are Newtonian not Einsteinian. What an ugly setup! Nevertheless, we have to accept that the 'best', i.e. most elegant and economical explanation is not *necessarily* true. It usually is, but not always. We don't have all the facts because we are not God. So we have to infer to the best explanation on the basis of the evidence available.

Einstein remarked that God does not play dice with the universe. He might also have said that you can't 'second guess' God. We rely on your 'God given' sense of what explanation is the best, but at the end of the day what laws of nature actually obtain is a matter of fact, not of necessity.

What complicates this picture is that the pioneers of 20th century physics often talked as if relativity could be deduced purely from a priori, epistemological considerations. This must be wrong, because you can't 'deduce' an empirical theory without making empirical assumptions.

Suppose you could deduce all the laws of physics simply through a pure mathematical derivation from the concept of symmetry. There is one, and only one set of laws that is symmetrical from every possible point of view. This idea describes an exciting research project which, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet reached any definite conclusion. Even if it did, it would still be necessary to *assume* that perfect symmetry does in fact hold in the real world.

You say at one point that Einstein's 'best idea' was that 'there is no way for an observer to distinguish in a local frame of reference between gravity and acceleration'. This led him to pose the question: how would the universe have to be if there was, in fact, no difference? We could be living in a Newtonian world where only God, observing the whole of space and time, was able to distinguish between gravity and acceleration. But we don't. The experiments show otherwise.

Important consequences follow from this. Insofar as it is possible to discover anything through philosophical inquiry -- in other words, by reasoning a priori -- we have to consider possible worlds where the laws of nature are different from what we believe them to be in the actual world.

If (a big 'if') there is room to debate the question which Newton's student Samuel Clarke and Leibniz grappled over, concerning the absolute vs the relative view of space and time, then it must be possible to do this, *bracketing* the question whether the universe is, in fact, Einsteinian or Newtonian.

One philosopher who is helpful on this point is Richard Swinburne in his book, 'Space and Time' which is still one of the best texts available. (The version I have is the 2nd edn. 1981. There might be a more recent edition.)

Supposing that there is still room for a priori inquiry into the absolute vs relativist views of space and time, how do we apply this to the current scientific theory? In what way, if any, can we raise the question of the validity of a Leibnizian-relativist view within the context of General Relativity?

I don't know of any philosopher who has done this adequately -- that is to say, to the complete satisfaction of physicists and philosophers. Swinburne doesn't go into the physics. However, it would be a very worthwhile task for you to try to find out.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Other minds and the challenge of solipsism

To: Anthony K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Other minds and the challenge of solipsism
Date: 31 January 2008 12:59

Dear Anthony,

Thank you for your email of 21 January, with your second essay for Possible World Machine, entitled 'Lost in Logical Solipsism'.

Regarding your question about Philosophy Pathways e-journal. There is nothing in particular that I look for, other than quality. Target length is 2500 words, but I have published pieces as short as 1000 and as long as 4000.

Essay

This is quite effective in inducing a state of 'aporia' (not knowing what to say) in the face of the problem of other minds.

I am not going to give you a lecture on my view of the other minds problem, but there are two points I would make in response to what you have written which you perhaps have not considered.

The first concerns your hypothesis that other persons are 'programmed drones', or 'robots'.

You can buy toy dogs which are pre-programmed with a wide variety of doggy-like responses. But human technological ingenuity only goes so far. Pretty soon, the child learns all the responses and then it's just routine, nothing to be surprised about.

Similarly, super-intelligent Martians could build a pre-programmed 'toy human' with many, many more responses. Serving coffee in a bar is simple. Responding to chat-up lines is also simple. How many 'original' responses does a girl need?

This suggests a science-fiction scenario as the basis for a sceptical hypothesis. All my empirical knowledge is not sufficient to disprove the sceptical hypothesis that I am 'conversing' with a 'human toy' made by super-intelligent Martians. Say, I am the last surviving human being after a nuclear holocaust. Kindly Martians have made a 'world' for me, to stop me from getting lonely.

But this is *not* the other minds problem. It is merely a version of inductive scepticism, the same variety as, 'How do I know that I am not dreaming in the Matrix?'

What does raise the other minds problem in an acute way is the widespread belief that a human being is ultimately a biological organism, whose brain is naturally constructed to 'run a program', and it is by virtue of its running a program that we are able to say that the subject has 'thoughts', 'feelings', 'sensations'. These are just terms which refer to the behaviour of an entity which has the capacity to process information in the way human beings do.

And I am just one example of this kind of entity.

The problem is that I know -- or seem to know -- that there is 'something extra' in me. I don't just exhibit pain behaviour, I feel *pain*. This term *pain* (with emphasis) is not a term in the public language we all use, because its intended referent is an object which only I can know, what Wittgenstein calls a 'private object'. A large part of the 'Philosophical Investigations' is dedicated to refuting the idea of the private object. (Start at paragraph 243 and read forwards for a 100 paragraphs or so, then go back to paragraph 202 and read to 243.)

This brings us to my second point.

You said that you 'know' that you have a mind. But do you? How do you know this? Suppose I suggested that you were only 'given' a mind five seconds ago. (Don't worry about how this happened. It doesn't need God. Just suppose that you mind just 'sparked' into life and before that you were a zombie like all the others.) All that you 'remember' before that was given to you at the same time.

I mean, if we are seriously considering that you have a 'private object' that no-one else has, then we have to consider the possibility that the 'you' which existed six seconds ago was just like the girl in the coffee shop so far as *your* (the present 'you') knowledge is concerned.

Hence, the claim that solipsism 'shrinks to solipsism of the present moment'.

Another way of looking at the problem is this. Define a 'zombie' as an individual which biologically has all that is required to have 'thoughts, feelings and sensations', in the sense in which these refer to brain processes and observable behaviour. Then, the problem of solipsism can be stated as follows: I know that I am not a zombie but I don't know that other persons are not zombies.

The difficulty is, by hypothesis, your *zombie double* would say this too. You have identical body and brain states. The only difference is that you have the 'private object' while your zombie double doesn't. Then why is it that your zombie double insists that he has? And if he can insist that he has a private object when he doesn't then maybe you should consider the possibility that your insistence has a different explanation than the one that first occured to you.

This is not a refutation of solipsism, but rather makes it an even more uncomfortable theory to believe. On the other hand, you might rebound from the absurdity of the notion that you did not have a mind six seconds ago, and come to the conclusion that speculation about whether others 'have' a private object like yours is absurd.

This seems in fact to be your conclusion: I can't 'prove' that others have minds, and yet I 'know' that they do.

But this still doesn't defeat the problem. So long as you believe that 'pain' etc. ultimately refers to a private object you are stuck in the solipsist's predicament, any assertions of confidence that you may make in your 'knowledge' of other minds is just bravado.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is justified true belief the same as knowledge?

To: Mark S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Is justified true belief the same as knowledge?
Date: 29 January 2008 13:26

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 18 January, with your University of London Epistemology essay written under examination conditions, in response to the question, 'Can you have a justified true belief that you are sitting an exam without knowing that you are sitting an exam? What consequences does your answer have for the analysis of knowledge?'

I am amazed that you hand wrote over 2000 words in an hour. I have been telling my UoL students that they are doing well if they can write 1000 words! In fact, I would go further and state that I 'knew' that it was impossible to write 2000 words.

(Mmm... that's two seconds a word. Thinking about it in those terms, I guess it can be done. But I've never taken the trouble to think about it in those terms.)

You give a great deal in this answer, which should earn you a good mark.

I have to say, however, that imagining myself in the position of an examiner, I would assume from the length and coherence of the essay that a large part of this was memorized. In fact everything from two thirds the way down on page 2 to the end of the essay could be plugged in to any number of similar questions.

My strong impression is that examiners don't *like* memorized answers. However, you will only be scored down on the basis of irrelevance. In other words, if, by purest chance, the portion that you memorized precisely fits the question, then you should not lose any marks.

As a revision strategy, however, I tend to advise my UoL students against this approach. It is better to stay loose and be 'prepared for anything'. The student who has not memorized stands a better chance with a question which has an odd dink or twist, than one who has. But that's my view. It could be argued that it is up to the examiners to devise questions which can't be answered by a pre-memorized essay.

Another point in favour of the non-memorizing approach is that an examiner can see that you are thinking on your feet and will give you allowances for infelicities of expression, or even wrong turns in the argument.

You do tackle the particular example, the 'belief that you are sitting an exam' and this is a plus. It would have added to the credibility of your answer -- as a live answer rather than pre-memorized -- if you had managed to keep the exam example going the rest of the essay, using it as the peg on which to hang the various offered solutions.

I like your conclusion, which adds significant depth to the standard Wittgensteinian 'family resemblances' point. In this connection, you might find it useful to look at a paper by Colin Radford, 'Knowledge: By Examples' which I recall is on a similar theme. Radford's point is that our concept of knowledge is determined by the paradigm cases of knowledge -- and this plugs nicely into the idea that there are various paradigms because the concept of knowledge does the kind of work that you describe.

About your Gettier example. The question says, 'belief that you are sitting an exam' and your point (I take it) is that in order to 'sit an exam' you have to sit the right exam. To sit down at a desk in a room where other people are sitting an exam, and write answers to the questions in the exam paper, is not to sit THAT exam, because you are not registered for that exam, nor (obviously) is it to sit the exam you did register for. Therefore you are not 'sitting' ANY exam. (It is irrelevancy that the exam you barged in on is a mock exam.)

I wonder whether this answer was in the examiner's mind. I have the suspicion that the examiner might have been thinking along the lines of 'Can you have a justified true belief that you are sitting at a desk writing an essay without knowing that you are sitting at a desk writing an essay?'

At least, it would have been worth making this point, and examining what the consequences would be for your answer. The only way (it seems) that you can have the justified true belief that you are sitting at a desk etc. and not know that you are sitting at a desk etc. is if there really is a possibility that you are not sitting at a desk etc. Examining this would lead to questions of the 'brain in a vat' or 'evil scientist' variety.

Or, maybe there could be a non-sci-fi case built around the scenario of someone who has very vivid exam dreams (I'm thinking on my feet now). The night AFTER the exam, you have your first vivid exam dream. When you wake up, it occurs to you that the dream was SO real that HAD you been dreaming that you were sitting at a desk etc. when you thought you really were sitting at a desk etc. you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference...?

Why doesn't that work? Or does it?

Imagining myself as the examiner, if I had a script to mark where the candidate was wrestling with this question -- even if it ultimately led nowhere -- I would give a lot of credit for trying, possibly more than simply for writing a model answer on 'responses to the Gettier problem'.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Scientific method: indisputable truth or real hoax?

To: Edoardo S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Scientific method: indisputable truth or real hoax?
Date: 29 January 2008 12:11

Dear Edoardo,

Thank you for your email of 17 January, with your essay towards the Associate Award, 'The scientific method: an indisputable truth or a real hoax?'

I enjoyed reading this essay. It's main strength is that it explains the development of ideas about scientific method in the twentieth century in a clear and simple way, which newcomers to philosophy, or the philosophy of science, would be able to understand and appreciate.

I did, however, have some difficulty in determining exactly what question you are trying to answer. The title of the essay is obviously one clue, but even here there seem to be different ways of understanding the question.

There are three issues -- maybe more, but I will focus on three:

1. What is the correct scientific method? This is a normative question, which assumes that there is, in principle, a way of distinguishing 'correct' science from 'incorrect' science, or 'good' science from 'bad' science. As such, it belongs to epistemology.

If you are answering this question, then Francis Bacon is a figure who has to be considered, because Popper's work is largely in opposition to Bacon's view that the correct method consists in formulating general propositions on the basis of induction from observed instances.

2. How has science, in fact, progressed, in, say, the last 300 years? This is a question for the history of science and the history of ideas.

Kuhn's argument in 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions' is largely based on the observed discrepancy between, e.g. Popper's falsifiability model and the actual historical progression of science.

It would still be possible for Popper to assert, in response to Kuhn, that, according to his falsifiability theory, the majority of scientists have done science in an 'incorrect' way. In other words, the debate here is over the significance of these historical facts. Do they show that Popper's view of how science should ideally be conducted is wrong? Or do they show that Popper is right, but that much of science fails to fully live up to this ideal?

Feyerabend merely takes Kuhn's ideas one step further. It is a waste of time even trying to formulate the 'correct method'. All that matters is the results. Is this a reductio ad absurdum of Kuhn's approach? A critic of Kuhn would argue that 'lucky' successes in science (i.e. discoveries which did not arise out of the 'correct' use of scientific method) do not show that scientific method is useless, any more than beginner's luck in Poker shows that it is unnecessary to be a skilled Poker player if you ultimately want to succeed as a Poker player.

3. A third question, which comes into your essay when you consider Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, is the question of the nature of truth, as such, as distinguished from what human beings can know through scientific investigation.

Popper is a full-blooded realist about truth. He believes that there is a 'third world' out there which is the way things really are, but we cannot make direct epistemic contact with this world. The only way that we can approach the truth is indirectly, through the method of science, which only yields conjectures which stand the test of falsifiability. We never attain the 'truth as such'.

Much of what Popper says would remain unchanged if we was an anti-realist about truth -- indeed, the same applies to Feyerabend and Kuhn. So there is an issue here about the relevance of raising the question of realism in the context of an examination of scientific method.

Here are two further points, one minor and one major:

On page 2, you accidentally switched 'deduction' and 'induction'. Induction passes from the particular to the general. E.g. I observe several white swans and conclude, by induction, that 'all swans are white'. Deduction passes from the general to particular. E.g. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The latter is not a good definition of deduction, however, as there are many cases of deduction which do not fit this model. E.g. P or Q. Not P. Therefore Q.

There is also a serious unclarity in your account of the verification principle and Popper's falsifiability criterion.

The verification principle is a criterion of meaningfulness. Any proposition which fails the test of verifiability is meaningless. By contrast, Popper's falsifiability criterion is a criterion for whether a proposition is scientific.

You unsuccessfully try to cover up the gap by saying, 'From a scientific point of view, a theory which cannot be contradicted is devoid of any sense.' However, this is clearly wrong. Astrology is a prime example of a belief system which is not scientific, but it is not meaningless. I agree that if you take the side of science then Astrology is a 'senseless' thing to believe, but astrological beliefs are not, literally, devoid of sense. Rather, they are irrational, and (to our best knowledge) false.

I should also mention that a complicating factor is that there are two versions of 'verificationism':

a. Verifiability principle, which we have been discussing.

b. Verification theory of meaning, according to which the meaning of a proposition can be given in terms of its verification conditions.

For the purposes of the present discussion, version b. can be ignored. In the 1970's the idea of a verification theory of meaning underwent a revival through the work of Michael Dummett and his 'anti-realist' account of the form of a theory of meaning.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Frege's puzzle about identity

To: Graham C.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Frege's puzzle about identity
Date: 25 January 2008 12:36

Dear Graham,

This is my feedback on your University of London Logic essay, in response to the question, 'Does Frege's puzzle about identity show that there is more to the meaning of a proper name than its reference?'

I will say right out that this is an excellent piece of work. I would have liked to have seen a bibliography, but apart from that you have written a model essay in response to this question. If you can keep this up, that puts you in a very select group of three UoL students, well ahead of the rest of the field.

However, my job is to pick holes, where I can!

The question is quite specific, asking whether Frege's puzzle about identity is sufficient grounds for positing Sinn in addition to Bedeutung. It is clear from the original article, 'Uber Sinn und Bedeutung' that Frege does not rest his case on this example alone. So statements to the effect that there is 'no need' for Sinn need to bear this in mind.

Frege remarks at one point in the article that to 'know' the Bedeutung one would have to know everything about the entity referred to, 'but to this knowledge we never attain'. This is part of his broader argument, aided by the identity puzzle, that knowing the Bedeutung is necessarily knowing it via a mode of presentation, through a particular way, by a route or however you want to put this.

Mathematics gives very nice examples of this, e.g. 2+3=6-1. Here the route to reference is crucial to understanding what knowledge this equation expresses: what happens if you perform the functions + and - on particular natural numbers. Frege gives an example from geometry to illustrate the same principle.

More about this in a minute.

Another point to make is that the question does not say, 'succeed in showing that a proper name has Fregean Sinn in addition to its reference'. Although you show awareness of this, your case is centred on the peculiarness of Sinn. Anything else which is not Sinn is merely Vorstellung, and thus irrelevant.

Couldn't there be something which qualified as 'more' which is neither Sinn nor Vorstellung?

That depends to a significant extent on what is meant by 'its reference'. Here we do need to use English because the question largely turns on the nuances of the expression 'having a reference'. In his 'Principles of Logic', Mill claimed, notoriously, that the meaning of a name IS simply the object named. That is one meaning of 'having a reference'. There is nothing to consider except whether an object corresponds to the name or not.

However, it is from Frege that we learned to raise the question what it is for a speaker to know the meaning of a term, or to be fully competent with its use, a question Mill did not consider. (Dummett in his book 'Frege: Philosophy of Language' is very good on this.) You say at one point, 'it seems more intuitively correct to say that what is grasped is the Bedeutung.' That may be the right thing to say, but Frege's response would be one of incredulity. Of course one doesn't 'grasp the thing named', not even if you pick it up and hold it. You grasp it in a particular way, through a route etc.

What is weird about names in natural language is that there is nothing corresponding to the precise functional definition of 'mode of presentation' which you find in mathematics. Natural numbers are defined by the successor function, and so on. What you need to say is that you are not denying that there is an interesting account to be given of what it is to 'grasp the Bedeutung' of a name in natural language. This is what, e.g. Evans attempts to do in his 'Varieties of Reference'. There is something to say here, a theory to give. It is not sufficient to rest content with Mill.

I fully agree with you about the artificiality of examples like 'Hesperus=Phosophorus' and 'Afla=Ateb' (Frege's example of the mountain seen from different sides). I like the idea that an error analogous to misnaming has taken place when someone doesn't know that two individuals which they refer to are in fact one and the same individual, so that an assertion of an identity statement is more like correcting an error than stating a fact.

However, I do also have a bit of a suspicion that pushing this point too hard is driven by ideology rather than a desire to account for our knowledge of natural language. Consider Police work, where a criminal is identified, say, 'The Ripper', and various suspects considered as possible candidates for identity. Ideally, we would like an account of proper names to take into consideration the fact that we can deliberately 'name' an individual fully aware that we don't know (in a sense) know enough to be able to NAME them.

We don't need Sinn to do this. But we need something, a philosophical account of proper names and how they work.

I thought your discussion of 'Italy is Italy' was on the borderline of relevance. Wittgenstein remarks at one point in the Investigations where he is discussing the problem of private language, about the mistaken idea that we have a 'paradigm' of identification in the identity of a thing with itself, that 'War is War' is not intended as an example of the law of identity.

All the best,

Geoffrey

The challenge of moral dilemmas

To: Scott B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: The challenge of moral dilemmas
Date: 23 January 2008 14:04

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your email of 21 January, with your University of London Introduction to Philosophy essay in response to the question, 'In what way, if any, are moral dilemmas a problem for moral desires?'

Correct me if I'm wrong -- as I don't have time to get out all the past examination papers to check -- but I'm pretty sure that the question is, 'In what way, if any, are moral dilemmas a problem for moral THEORIES?'

Your version of the question doesn't make much sense to me. Is a 'moral desire' the desire to be moral? or is it a desire for the good of another person? or is it the desire to do X, where X is consistent with the demands of morality?

It is a not a philosophical problem if you have conflicting desires, as you have indicated. If you want two incompatible things, then you just have to decide which you want the most. If morality is simply having moral desires, then you simply decide which moral desire is strongest and go with that.

The problem arises, as you indicate, with the fact that moral demands are expressed in terms of 'ought', or obligation. On the face of it, if you are 'obliged' to do two incompatible things then such an obligation is unfulfillable. And that is a problem.

Distinguishing 'must' from 'ought' -- as Lemmon does -- arguably does not get us very far. If an 'ought' is not a 'must' then what is it? A motivation? a consideration? a desire? It doesn't matter what you call it, the real question is how there can be conflicting moral *demands*.

The key term in this question (whichever way you take it) is the qualification, 'if any'. You are being given two choices: You can either argue that moral dilemmas ultimately are not a problem, or that they ultimately are a problem.

In your essay, you do recognize that there is an issue about whether there 'really are' moral dilemmas, given as soon as a method of resolving the dilemma is proposed (taking advice, thinking more about the problem, applying the greatest happiness principle) the dilemma, in a sense, no longer exists.

It was a little bit unclear to me where your essay was going. You spend rather a lot of time discussing Mill's utilitarianism, while it seems clear that for a utilitarian there are no moral dilemmas. In other words, on the utilitarian view moral dilemmas are not a problem.

One question which is central can be put in this way: Is it desirable that a moral theory show itself as capable of resolving (apparent) moral dilemmas? or, on the contrary, given our strong pre-theoretical conviction that some moral dilemmas are 'real', should we expect a moral theory to explain how real dilemmas are possible, to offer a way of interpreting the situation in which one is faced with a dilemma?

In the latter case, the 'theory' would be one which does not fulfil one of the requirements of a moral theory, namely to yield a decision procedure which enables us to cope with any situation in which we have to make a moral choice. -- So much the worse, a defender of this kind of moral theory would say, for the stated requirement.

To do well on this question (I am assuming that I am correct that the word is 'theories' not 'desires') you need to show an awareness of the consequences of taking either position.

In the first case, where we have moral theory which we believe is capable of pronouncing on every situation of moral choice, the challenge is to explain why it is that we seem to find ourselves faced with a moral dilemma. A possible response to this is to put forward an 'error theory', claiming that when we think we are faced with a dilemma, we are in fact under an illusion, based on our own ignorance.

In the second case, where we are defending a moral theory which allows moral dilemmas, the problem is not realism (correspondence with our pre-theoretical intuitions) but rather coherence. Is it, in fact coherent to claim that there can be real moral dilemmas? What exactly would this mean?

For example, suppose you hold that moral judgements are capable of truth or falsity. In that case, a moral dilemma would, in effect, be recognition that two inconsistent judgements can be 'true' which is a logical contradiction.

If moral judgements are not 'true' then what are they? Are they justified? Then is it true that they are justified? And in that case, can it be true that two inconsistent statements are equally justified?

You may be interested in a piece I wrote recently on the topic of moral dilemmas in a business context. The article is entitled, 'Varieties of Ethical Dilemma' and can be found in 'Philosophy for Business' e-journal, http://www.isfp.co.uk/businesspathways/issue40.html.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Monday, July 23, 2012

Locke's account of persons and their identity

To: Scott B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Locke's account of persons and their identity
Date: 23 January 2008 13:05

Dear Scott,

These are my comments on your University of London Introduction to Philosophy essay, in response to the question, 'Outline and evaluate Locke's account of persons and their identity.'

You have given a very full and careful exposition of Locke's account of personal identity, which takes into consideration Locke's view about the identity for different kinds of material body.

The interesting point, which you successfully bring out, is that the conditions for the identity of a living body are functional, in terms of continuity of organism, allowing for the possibility of significant change over time without loss of identity. While the conditions for the identity of a person are defined in terms of memory and continuity of consciousness.

In principle, as Locke's thought experiments show, these criteria could give divergent results, when, e.g. by some mysterious process the consciousnesses of a prince and a pauper are exchanged. A significant point here is that the identity of the soul, as defined as a non-physical entity, has no part to play. We may suppose that the souls of the prince and the pauper are exchanged with no corresponding change in memory/ consciousness, or that memory and consciousness are exchanged while each soul remains in the body to which it was originally assigned.

This is, in effect, a devastating critique of the notion of a soul, which shows that as a metaphysical entity it has no function or purpose. Further proof that souls do not, or cannot exist is not needed.

This answers half the question.

The other half of the question concerns the evaluation of Locke's account of personal identity.

Locke claimed that his theory was 'forensic', in the sense of being determined by the point of the concept of a person, as an individual whom we hold accountable for his/her deeds, whether good or bad. Holding someone to account presupposes that they are aware of what they have done.

There is, however, a serious problem in principle with the way Locke separates the identity of an individual qua organism and the identity of a person in terms of consciousness/ memory.

This problem is illustrated, e.g., by claims that persons can be hypnotised into 'recalling' their past lives. Let's say that as a result of undergoing hypnosis you become convinced that in your past life you were a mass murderer. Wracked with guilt, you surrender yourself to the police explaining the circumstances in which you discovered your 'true' identity.

The Police would be naturally sceptical, but there are questions which they might put to you in order to 'confirm' your story. Let's say you 'remember' where one of the bodies is buried, and, true enough the body is found just where you said. And so on.

This is evidence for a remarkable parapsychological gift of knowing what the murderer did; it is not, and cannot be evidence that you are the murderer.

In short, what is missing from Locke's account is a way of distinguishing between veridical and non-veridical memory. Veridical memory that 'I buried the body in location X' entails not only that the body is in location X, but that *I* was the one who buried it there.

What would be sufficient to show this would be evidence of the continuity of the *causal source* of continuity of consciousness/ memory. For example, you were not born but grown in a vat, and given the transplanted brain of the murderer.

This is by no means a solution to the vexed problem of defining personal identity. What it shows is that a purely psychological criterion cannot be defended. However, there are those who defend a modified version of Locke's account, as outlined above.

There is a remaining difficulty, pointed to by your initial remarks about the notion of identity not being capable of being many-one or one-many.

Sydney Shoemaker originally put forward the thought experiment of a man whose brain is split in two, with each half given to a different recipient. Each of the recipients is firmly convinced that he is the original owner of the brain. Continuity of all that is necessary and sufficient for continuity of consciousness/ memory does not require identity.

Today, we are familiar with the idea that the same 'program' can be uploaded into any number of devices capable of running that program. If the 'function' of the human brain is correctly described in terms of running a program, as AI theorists believe, then the possibility would arise of an unlimited number of 'me's, each satisfying the modified Lockean account.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Why be moral?

To: Namet I.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Why be moral?
Date: 22 January 2008 14:30

Dear Namet,

Thank you for your email of 9 January, with your first essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Why be Moral?'

This question is capable of more than one interpretation: it invites you to consider why, in fact, persons are moral -- i.e. what is it that motivates them to perform moral actions -- or the question can be considered as a challenge: 'Why should *I* be moral?'

By the end of the essay, it was becoming clear that your primary concern was the second question, rather than the first. Thus you come to the (correct, in my opinion) view that the first three reasons for being moral -- that it is necessary for the stability of society, that God commands it, and that moral behaviour leads to happiness -- all fall under the heading of hypothetical imperatives which appeal to given desires, while the fourth, Kantian reason is the only one which does not appeal to given desires.

1. Suppose I accept the claim that society will perish if people are not moral. There are, as you point out, problems with defining 'moral' as 'that which is necessary and sufficient for the stability of society'. A dictatorship can be very stable.

I wondered whether there might be a better example than your island of homosexuals, of a scenario where a society perishes as a consequence of being moral. We want a case where society perishes as a result of a decision to be moral, rather than to do an immoral act.

However, leaving those issues aside, it is clear that the individual who asks, 'Why should I be moral?' is not going to be satisfied with any argument which establishes that it is necessary for 'people' to be moral. That merely gives the amoralist reasons for wishing that other persons will be moral, but no incentive to follow suit.

2. There is a radical theological view according to which 'God' is, in effect, a synonym for 'the Good'. The main point of religious practices is to affirm our commitment to the Good. The claim would then be that it is, in some sense, a requirement for having a meaningful life that one's attitude to the world is not merely functional or exploitative but contains at least an element of the 'religious'. There must be something in your world, the person advocating morality might argue, that has 'sanctity'.

The problem with this is that it still relies on a disguised hypothetical imperative. It seems wrong to assume, a priori, that the life of an amoralist cannot be meaningful. This is begging the question, assuming the thing that is to be proved.

3. There is an unclarity in your account of happiness. You seem to be confounding two rather different arguments: the Platonic/ Aristotelian view that morality is necessary for happiness, and the utilitarian theory that the morally right action (for someone who *is* convinced of the necessity for being moral) is the one which leads to the 'greatest happiness of the greatest number'.

The first view is the one that should be considered as a candidate reason for being moral. As you point out, it assumes something which arguably is contingent, not necessary. And in any case, it relies on a hypothetical imperative, 'If you want to be happy then....'.

4. You say, 'an example of comparative imperative is the Golden Rule'. I don't know whether you mean to say 'categorical imperative' or whether you meant that the Golden Rule is close to being a version of Kant's categorical imperative.

In 'Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals', Kant in fact criticizes the golden rule at one point, arguing that it does not suffice to capture the essence of the categorical imperative but is merely a disguised hypothetical imperative, 'If you want people to treat you as you would like to be treated then you should treat them as they would wish to be treated.' -- Maybe Kant is being a bit unfair here.

The problem of conflicting imperatives has been advanced as an objection generally to 'deontic' theories of ethics. The standard response is to talk of 'prima facie' duties (e.g. as in Ross). It is a prima facie duty not to lie, and a prima facie duty not to steal. In the event of these two duties clashing in a particular case, there would be an 'all things considered' duty to do X, whatever X may be, taking into account the circumstances of that case.

Kant seems to have believed that a complete and careful formulation of our moral duties would not lead to conflict, although it is not clear what his reasons were. The formula, 'Act as a lawmaking member of the kingdom of ends', which is the final formulation of the categorical imperative, implies that we formulate the categorical imperative in the light of all the imperatives that guide our conduct, so the situation would be analogous to a state formulating laws which are not inconsistent.

Alternatively, it could be argued that Kant, unlike the deontologist, is not seeking to establish general moral laws but rather offering a formula which ONLY applies to a particular case. So, in the case of the would be axe-murderer, the maxim to be considered is, 'Is it acceptable to lie to a would-be axe-murderer in pursuit his victim?', and his answer is, 'No'. He is not arguing that lying is wrong, therefore it is wrong to lie to the would-be axe-murderer, but rather, arguing directly that it is wrong *in this case* -- which is not an easy thing to prove, as you observe.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Consequences of rejecting qualia

To: David T.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Consequences of rejecting qualia
Date: 22 January 2008 13:26

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your email of 9 January, with your fourth essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question:

'If there are no such things as qualia, that means that human beings do not really experience feelings or sensations, they only talk and act as if they do.' -- Discuss.

Reading your essay, my impression was that you were straining to find the appropriate hook to get into this question, and that you settled finally for stating what is the 'right thing to say' about feelings and sensations in the light of the critique of a private language.

There is no single correct way to approach this question dialectically. However, two possible approaches would be Wittgenstein's 'beetle in the box' argument, which addresses specifically the worry that the 'important thing' is being left out of account; and the controversy on 'disjunctive' theories of perception, which deny that there is a common element in, 'X perceives a pink elephant', 'X is under the illusion that he/she perceives a pink elephant', 'X is hallucinating a pink elephant'.

Is Wittgenstein's response, 'a nothing would serve as well as a something about which nothing can be said' adequate to satisfy the person who is provoked into making the statement quoted?

Does disjunctivism give a correct account of perception, or is there an overlooked alternative between viewing qualia as the common content in perception and denying any common element?

I hadn't thought much about disjunctivism until I had a rash of essays by my students taking the BA via the University of London external system. I've always assumed that disjunctivism was perfectly adequate to explain the difference between perception and illusion/ hallucination. In the latter cases there IS nothing that you *see*, you only 'seem-to-see'.

A few days ago I came across a piece I wrote in 1999 about the beetle in the box in my online notebook at http://sophist.co.uk/glasshouse/notebook/page6.html, which reminded me how the argument still makes me dizzy. There is something about this question that leaves one perpetually unsatisfied.

My paper 'Truth and subjective knowledge' http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/shap.html goes some of the way to alleviating the sense of vertigo, by recognizing that there are 'objects' which exist objectively, like your example of Nelson's Column, but which are (necessarily, I would argue) 'encrypted in the brain' in such a way as to be accessible, in principle, only to the owner of that brain.

These 'subjective objects' belong amongst the entities you allude to in talking of the 'many things involved' in the causal chain from object to perception. I don't know whether or not to say that they constitute an alternative to disjunctivism. At least the notion goes some way towards recognizing the uniqueness of the situation of the agent/ subject in relation to his/her own experiences, an acceptable rendering of the idea that there is indeed a 'something' about which 'nothing can be said'.

On the other hand, there is a more superficial reaction to this question which would simply assert that the meaning of terms such as 'experience', 'feeling', 'sensation' is 'given in the language game.' These are concepts associated with 'criteria' in Wittgenstein's sense, such that when those criteria are satisfied, there is no further question as to whether the subject in question is 'really' experiencing, feeling or sensing. There are indeed cases (the criteria-theorist) would go on to say, where the appropriate thing to say is that the person 'talks and acts as if they do' but these situations too have criteria.

Some lesser expositions of Wittgenstein attribute this view to Wittgenstein. Crispin Wright (in 'Truth and Objectivity') would be an example of a philosopher who has attempted to revive a theory of criteria which has some point of contact with what Wittgenstein said (I don't know whether his concern is really to expound Wittgenstein). But it is not Wittgenstein. The whole point of the extended dialectic in the Philosophical Investigations is to recognize the sense of 'unsatisfaction' and deal with it, rather than put forward a neat and tidy theory.

The 'common sense' view, so far as it is possible to ascertain it, is not the correct view, in this sense. It is the view that implies, e.g. that I don't know whether 'my blue' is the same as yours. There is ample evidence for this. It is implausible to argue that this view is a legacy of the history of metaphysics or epistemology. We find it 'natural' -- at least, when provoked -- to think in these terms, i.e. to believe in qualia/ private objects. Which at least partly explains why the problem is so gripping.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Zombies in philosophy and Wittgenstein's Blue Book

To: Melvin F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Zombies in philosophy and Wittgenstein's Blue Book
Date: 18 January 2008 12:46

Dear Mel,

Thank you for your email of 8 January, with your first essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, 'What is the philosophical significance of the idea of a zombie?' and your notes on Wittgenstein's 'Blue Book' in lieu of comments on unit 3.

Idea of a zombie

As you point out, there is a problem here about the question of onus: is the onus on the zombie supporter to prove the logical possibility of a zombie, or is the onus on the zombie detractor to prove its logical impossibility?

Let's take your invisible pink elephants. If someone believes that pink elephants exist then the onus is clearly on them to establish their existence. On the other hand if they merely believe that invisible pink elephants are logically possible, where does the onus lie?

Surely in this case, with the detractor. If I say, 'There is an invisible pink elephant on the streets of Sheffield,' this statement, although neither verifiable nor falsifiable is made up of words which have a meaning. Some things are invisible, some things are pink and some things are elephants. The only difficulty is how something can be pink and invisible at the same time. But we can stipulate an answer. E.g. 'pink on occasions when the elephant becomes visible.' No contradiction there.

On the other hand, 'There is a philosopher in Sheffield who writes emails to his students, but who does not have any thoughts or experiences,' is prima facie self-contradictory. To 'write' or to 'philosophise' implies thought of some kind. So according to this the onus is on the zombie supporter to establish logical possibility.

What turns the debate is the idea of qualia. The zombie supporter claims that the words 'think' and 'experience' have two meanings, a behavioural (3rd person) meaning and a 1st person meaning accessible only to the subject. Hence the idea of a subject who behaves normally but for whom there is 'darkness inside'.

If you say, 'There might be something non-physical which ultimately explains consciousness' this isn't a possible defence for the zombie supporter, so long as the 'non-physical something' is conceived merely as an entity which escapes the net of physical law. Maybe there are such entities, and maybe that is what makes me conscious. But now I can perform exactly the same thought experiment as before. I can imagine someone like me physically and 'non-physically' for whom there is darkness inside. Why is that not logically possible?

One other point I wanted to make is that there is some unclarity about the claim that physical facts 'explain' consciousness.

In order to be a material monist, it is not necessary to hold out the possibility of any kind of reductive explanation of consciousness. Maybe there are things which are intrinsically inexplicable. Davidson's argument in 'Mental Events' claims to establish material monism on the basis of a denial of reducibility. Connectionists deny that the brain works by 'running a program'. And so on. The minimum required for material monism is supervenience, and it is this claim that the zombie argument must refute.

My own argument against zombie supporters is simply, 'A zombie would say what you are saying' which at the very least poses a difficult paradox even if this is not an outright self-contradiction.

Blue Book

Wittgenstein was unhappy about publishing Philosophical Investigations, which we now regard as his major work, because he thought it was unfinished. And most commentators agree that the first third or so is more tightly argued than the rest.

The Blue Book, although only intended for circulation amongst his students, nevertheless represents a stage in the development of his thought (as the Brown Book, which is composed in a style much more reminiscent of the Investigations). Therefore, I would read the Blue Book with the working assumption that this was Wittgenstein's best attempt to express his views at the time. Having a particular audience in mind (as I have found, with Pathways) is a great way to help one focus one's thoughts.

You have picked up on two strands of Wittgenstein's thought, one concerning the metaphysics of solipsism/ idealism/ realism and one concerning epistemological scepticism. Wittgenstein does distinguish these, although in discussing 'solipsism' his focus is very much on the metaphysical variety.

The best book to read for Wittgenstein's epistemological views is 'On Certainty', his last book and one of the most accessible. Wittgenstein's response to scepticism argued for on the basis of the kinds of thought experiment you cite (I might be alone in a world populated by robots, I might be a brain in a vat) is not to deny the 'logical possibility' of the hypothesis but rather to point out that more is needed. At one point, in the Investigations, in response to the question, 'Aren't you shutting your eyes to scepticism?' Wittgenstein answers simply, 'They are shut.' Circumstances could arise which would prompt us to raise meaningful sceptical questions (e.g. the appearance of strange anomalies, as in the Matrix). But they haven't, so we don't. This is a point about meaning, not merely an observation of fact.

Wittgenstein's standard argument against the solipsist or idealist is that none of the words that the solipsist or idealist uses succeeds in expressing what they 'mean'. For example, the solipsist wants to say that only my pains are real pains. OK, says Wittgenstein, so now instead of saying 'I am in pain' I can say, 'There is a real pain'. So what?

In the Metaphysics program, I develop an extended dialectic in which what the solipsist and idealist 'mean' can be expressed, and argued against. So I am not in full agreement with Wittgenstein here, although I do take the point that (once again) we are dealing with a question of onus. Mere statements like, 'I believe XYZ' are not enough to 'prove' that you are -- or 'make' you -- a solipsist or idealist.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Monday, July 16, 2012

Does pragmatism subvert the fight against corruption?

To: Wolfgang O.
From: Geoffrey Klempner?
Subject: Does pragmatism subvert the fight against corruption?
Date: 17 January 2008 14:01

Dear Wolfgang,

Thank you for your email of 8 January, with your second submission for the Ethical Dilemmas program, entitled 'Does Pragmatism Subvert the Fight against Corruption?' and your email of 10 January with your comments on unit 3.

I am hoping to send unit 4 to you early next week. I am still recovering from the backlog of work which accumulated over Christmas/ New Year.

Next Monday, I am being honoured by a visit by Tom Veblen (who has contributed several articles to Philosophy for Business) and his wife. They are spending a week in London and are taking the train up to Sheffield for the day. I will let you know how our talks went.

Unit 3

Your point about doping amongst professional cyclists is well taken. The fact that the majority take the view that doping is OK, does not make doping OK. It is as simple as that. The majority can be wrong. This is so, whether one's foundational view of ethics is subjectivist or objectivist.

The more difficult question is what criterion one applies to determine whether we are dealing with a case where something is right and is judged to be right, or a case where something is wrong despite the fact that it is sincerely judged to be right.

Consider the case of slavery. The great philosophers of Ancient Greece never said a word against it. It would have been considered perverse to question the institution of slavery. It is all about ownership and the rightful spoils of war. Or they would point out the conditions that many human beings exist today in countries which claim to have abolished slavery. What is the difference?

The question how one decides rights or wrongs wasn't the main theme of unit 3. However, it is impossible to avoid the question, as soon as one looks at explanations of why a person 'fails to do' the right thing. You can do wrong, and 'know' you are doing wrong. Or you can do wrong and sincerely believe you are doing right.

As I have explained in earlier units, I don't accept that the aim of ethical theory is to provide a criterion for judging rights and wrongs which can be applied in every case. (That's why I am not, for example, a utilitarian.) Rather, it is a contribution to making us better at making these judgements, through thought and reflection and the practice of the Socratic art of 'dialectic'.

Pragmatism and the fight against corruption

Your essay raises two fundamental questions: what is a realistic, achievable target, in fighting against endemic corruption? and does a person who wishes to do the right thing decide how to respond, e.g. when they are asked to pay a bribe?

The two questions are closely linked, because if we don't have an answer to the second question, then the chances of a realistic target in the fight against corruption seem pretty hopeless.

As you suggest, there has to be some middle ground between straightforward refusal to give a bribe under any circumstances and acquiescence: some action that the individual inspired by the principles of organizations like Transparency International can perform with a reasonable chance of success. The possibility of middle ground does not, however, imply that it is always present in every case.

You cite the example of the Muscovite workers demanding money for cigarettes and alcohol. You could only say, 'Yes' or 'No'.

However, I can think of some further alternatives:

- Say 'Yes' and give the supervisor and his workers a strong lecture on the evils of bribery (I agree, not much point, but it is better than simply acquiescing).

- Say 'Yes' and later blow the whistle - write a strongly worded letter to the Government Department involved, or publish an article, etc. (in effect, this is what you have done).

- Say 'No' and threaten to blow the whistle (this might work in some cases where the corrupt practice is not deeply engrained and you can rely on the law to punish any corruption which is brought to light).

- Say 'No' and drive the lorry to the front of the Ministerial Building, then explain to anyone who asks why you did this (again, it might work, e.g. in the UK where the power of the press can be harnessed by a planned 'publicity stunt').

It is all about strategy and tactics. I would not call this 'pragmatism' because this implies a mere willingness to do the expedient thing, whereas we see ourselves as fighting for something we believe.

Doing the right thing has a cost. If it didn't, everyone would do the right thing. On the other hand, we do not demand that individuals sacrifice themselves, or their ability to provide a livelihood for their families.

Consider this analogy: if a bank robber points a gun at you, then you have to hand over the money in the till. You have done nothing wrong in handing over the money. One should look at the worst examples of bribery as the equivalent of having a gun pointed at one's head. But not all examples are like this. Whenever there is a better choice available, one is under an ethical obligation to make that choice.

This suggests that one thing that TI can do to improve the situation is give detailed practical advice on how to deal, e.g. with demands for bribes in particular countries. Write manuals or handbooks for people doing trade e.g. with Nigeria or Libya. It is not enough just to have a strategy for overcoming corruption, or to make inspiring speeches or give awards, if there are no tactical resources available to call upon when the need arises.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Accounting for the truth of 'Santa Claus does not exist'

To: Mark S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Accounting for the truth of 'Santa Claus does not exist'
Date: 17 January 2008 12:49

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 8 January, with your University of London Logic essay in response to the question, 'Is there a satisfactory account of the truth of the sentence "Santa Claus does not exist"?'

Your admiration for Naive Metaphysics puts you in a very small and exclusive club. The book was written by a 'Geoffrey Klempner' who no longer exists. I admire the work too, but the author and I are two different people.

About this essay: my first reaction was to wonder how much of this you would be able to reproduce if the question came up in an exam. It is an excellent piece of work.

But my job is to disagree, if I can.

I haven't studied much of Meinong but I like his theory, perhaps with a positive spin of my own. (If you can get to see a copy, Edo Pivcevic 'The Concept of Reality' Duckworth develops this spin into a full-blown theory.)

The idea that one is being objectionably 'Platonist' by admitting mythical entities, fictional entities, etc. just seems to me wrong. There are objections to Platonism but this has nothing to do with it. Any object or thing you can make true statements about about exists. I think you hold this too, although you come up with a complicated story of two different kinds of 'intentions' etc. etc.

I don't see that this is necessary.

First, the fallacy imputed to Meinong (wrongly, I would guess, since Meinong was not a fool) regarding the meaning of the statement, 'Santa Claus does not exist'. We are assuming that there is only one kind of existence - namely, if you can make a true statement about a, then a exists.

When I say that SC does not exist, I am not making a statement about SC the mythical individual but rather a negative existential statement, quantifying over spatio-temporal particulars.

Similarly, 'There is no Green Gertha,' could be used in an appropriate context to make a negative existential statement, quantifying over mythical individuals. (Imagine that you falsely believe a story you read on the internet and I am setting you straight.)

(Yes, I agree that we usually use 'exists' to imply that the domain is that of spatio-temporal particulars but that is just a pragmatic feature of language. Perhaps in a Meinongian spirit one would wish for another term -- such as 'subsists' -- to signal that one has shifted the domain from the default one.)

I kind-of like Kripke's account of initial baptism and preservation of the chain of reference, and think that neither Dummett's nor Searle's criticisms are sufficient to refute the theory. Gareth Evans was finally persuaded of the 'tape recorder' point -- which tells against his earlier version of the 'causal theory' -- but I would question whether he was right about this.

It is about intentions, and nothing but intentions. Kripke fully accepts this. His theory is that when I use a name I *intend* to use it with the same reference as the person from whom I acquired the use of the name used it.

The argument is over whether such kinds of intentions can be successful, in the case where it there is no decision procedure which can be applied which yields the answer, yes or no. This is standard Dummett territory. In order to see this as a criticism one has to accept Dummett's strictures against a 'realist theory of meaning'. As you will discover in NM, I don't accept that the debate between the realist and anti-realist has anything to do with theories of meaning. Dummett is on the wrong track, period.

But (this is a big but) I also would not accept that there ultimately is a correct or incorrect 'theory' here. We can (and I would argue do) intend things Kripke's way but we can also have different intentions, which would be explained in terms of the cluster of descriptions theory. It all depends on the particular case. And many cases will indeed be undecidable. Philosophers of language are on soft ground; there is no 'fact of the matter', only a range of alternative interpretations.

That is why I would favour the approach which starts with the standard Davidsonian setup, asking what are the kinds of considerations that a radical translator would appeal to. They are many and varied, and depend crucially on the context in which the radical translation is carried out (as Putnam says, 'explanation is relative to interest'). McDowell's 'On the Sense and Reference of a Proper Name' would seem to be saying something along similar lines, but I am not claiming to expound McDowell.

You can deduce a lot from the choice of example. Santa Claus is a good example for massaging one's intuitions in favour of Searle. Imagine the newspaper headlines, 'Santa Claus does exist!' and the various possible scenarios which would prompt this. Other examples are more favourable to Kripke. A thousand years from now, I would wish it to be the case that when people talk of GK they mean the son of Paul and Edith Klempner and not the individual who satisfies some cluster of descriptions, who might either be the person writing these words or someone else. (I leave it to you to work out how to reconcile this with my earlier remark about GK.)

Finally, the proffered formal theory. I'm not a good person to comment on this, as I generally don't like formal theories when offered as 'solutions' to philosophical problems. Any deviation from classical logic and semantics requires a very strong argument and I don't think that such a deviation is warranted in the present case. But that's just my prejudiced view. Don't let it put you off, if formal semantics appeal to you.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Leibniz's account of the relation between soul and body

To: Francis M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Leibniz's account of the relation between soul and body
Date: 15 January 2008 11:52

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your email of 17 December, with your University of London Modern Philosophy essay in response to the question, 'What account did Leibniz give of the union of soul and body? How satisfactory is it?'
You have given a clear and useful summary of the problem of mind-body interaction which Leibniz attempts to solve by developing a better alternative to the occasionalism put forward by Malebranche.

I agree that there is a question about how much Leibniz's theory is indeed a genuine advance on occasionalism, as opposed to a tweak. The main point here is that, by contrast with the clockmaker who keeps a close eye on his clocks and adjusts them when they go out of sync, God being omniscient is never going to be taken by surprise by any event A, which requires his intervention in order to bring event B in sync. Everything is taken care of in advance.

Indeed, the very idea of God 'bringing about that X', for any event X has to be understood in the light of the fact that God's view of the universe is atemporal. 'God brings about that X' is how the event would be described by subjects who exist in time, but this is not how things ultimately appear from God's point of view.

If Malebranche had put forward occasionalism as a theory which only governs mind-body interactions but not body-body interactions, then there would be a serious objection that the theory is ad hoc. But this is not his view; only God, according to Malebranche, can act as a cause.

So one question about the satisfactoriness of Leibniz's account would be whether it is, in fact, any improvement on Malebranche. One possible response would be to say that occasionalism, consistently thought through, leads inevitably to monadism. If no finite entity stands in causal relation to any other finite entity, then every entity is, in effect, 'windowless'.

I liked your attempt to illustrate Leibniz's theory in terms of the systems of communication within your organization. It doesn't quite come off, although it got me thinking about how your example could form the basis of an adequate model.

If I send a piece of paperwork to A, and A's response is partly dependent on the existing rules within the organization for responding to a piece of paperwork of that kind, then if something goes badly wrong, management is faced with the question who was to blame. Was it A, for not reacting correctly to the piece of paperwork? or was it the existing rules, which A followed, or attempted to follow?

This predicament is one which courts of law face everyday. The problem is one of identifying the 'cause' amongst the multiple conditions which lead to a particular event, e.g. a car crash. J.L. Mackie put forward a theory of the INUS condition - 'the' cause of an event X is an insufficient but necessary part of an unnecessary but sufficient condition for X.

All of which adds up to saying that this is not an illustration of Leibniz's pre-established harmony. A better example to illustrate Leibniz's theory would be one where people in an organization were under the *false impression* that they were communicating with one another and altering one another's behaviour as a result, whereas in reality they are all responding to direct orders from Management. In this case they are being tricked, treated as mere puppets (to what purpose, one can only speculate)

Your second, throwaway suggestion that mind-body interaction might be compared to 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' would probably not earn a nod of approval from the examiner. Having said that, there is a substantive question about how very different kinds of physical entity can causally effect one another's states. The point here would be to contrast the problem of mind-body interaction, which arises from the metaphysics of cartesian dualism, with problems of causation which arise when we depart from the simple 'action by contact' model. E.g. how can a magnetic field causally interact with a lump of iron is a question for physics and also for philosophy.

You do also raise the important question of what the union of soul and body consist in, or what it is that makes it the case that my body is mine. The question does say 'union' and not 'interaction'. You can cap this point by explicitly referring to the question and showing that you have grasped the point of using the term 'union' rather than 'interaction'.

All the best,

Geoffrey,

Friday, July 13, 2012

The disjunctivist account of perception

To: Mark S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: The disjunctivist account of perception
Date: 7 January 2008 12:55

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 22 December, with your University of London Epistemology essay in response to the question, 'Does the argument from illusion show that there are no differences between the visual experiences involved in veridical perception, illusion, and hallucination?'

McDowell is difficult to read -- even for professional philosophers. It helps to be acquainted with the positions that McDowell attacks. It also helps to have read Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations several times!

There is lots that I agree with (especially the critique of Austin) in this very good essay. As usual, I will only comment on points that I have questions about or problems with.

(I note that some of the occurrence's of 'Austin' have been mis-typed 'Austen'. Interestingly, Austen is one of Austin's favourite authors. I wonder if this subliminal knowledge had anything to do with the error, given that 'e' and 'i' are on opposite sides of the keyboard?)

My first reaction was to applaud your decision to bracket sense data in Ayer's version of the argument from illusion in 'Problem of Knowledge'. According to you, the core claim we should be considering is whether 'one has the same visual experience' in illusions/ hallucinations and veridical perception, never mind whether visual experience does nor does not consist in apprehending objects known as 'sense data'.

By the time I got to the end of the essay, where you cast doubt on externalism and also claim that 'the problem of qualia has not been solved' I wondered whether you really have a defensible position which rejects both Ayer and disjunctivism.

I fully agree that such a position is worth looking for, given the (alleged) counterintuitiveness of disjunctivism and the threat of scepticism which dogs the argument from illusion.

Disjunctivists accept that there is a common *propositional content* in, 'Macbeth sees a floating dagger' and 'Macbeth seems to see a floating dagger'. In veridical perception, it IS the case that-Macbeth-sees-a-floating-dagger, while in the case of illusion, it SEEMS to be the case that-Macbeth-sees-a-floating-dagger, although it IS NOT the case that-Macbeth-sees-a-floating-dagger.

I have hyphenated the that-clause, in order to emphasize that we are not assuming any particular analysis (e.g. an analysis which implies a relation to an entity referred to by 'floating dagger').

On the disjunctivist view, a condition for the truth of 'Macbeth-sees-a-floating-dagger' is that there exists, an object, a floating dagger which Macbeth perceives. Whereas in the case of 'It seems to be the case that that-Macbeth-sees-a-floating-dagger', the truth of this statement is accounted for in a way which does not imply the existence either of a floating dagger, or of any object (e.g. a mental object) resembling a floating dagger. In other words, disjunctivists reject the claim that there is a common *perceptual content*.

I have yet to be persuaded that there is a sufficiently interesting difference between belief in sense data and belief in qualia. Perhaps the difference only amounts to the fact that sense data theorists are prepared to come out and state what they take qualia to be, whereas defenders of qualia are a bit shy of making any positive statement, resting on the claim that there is a 'something I know not how to describe' which makes the difference, e.g. between GK perceiving this computer screen as he types, and zombie-GK 'perceiving' this computer screen as 'he' types.

The core idea, however, is that there is something in me when I perceive or hallucinate, a 'mental object' as you refer to it in your penultimate paragraph.

The problem is that any 'object' that we include in our ontology is an 'entity with an identity'. What are the identity conditions for 'mental objects'? What, indeed, are they? The error theory which I subscribe to (and McDowell, and Dennett and many others though not all) is that these are 'private objects' in the egregious sense, viz. in the sense rejected by Wittgenstein's arguments against the idea of a 'private language' in Philosophical Investigations.

McDowell's 'transcendental argument' derives from Kant's 'Refutation of Idealism' (from the 2nd edition of the 'Critique of Pure Reason'). In essence, Kant's argument is that the only 'objects' which we can form judgments about are objects placed in space and time, objects concerning which there can be such a thing as error. Perception is an act of simultaneously forming a hypothesis of how things are in the world, and a hypothesis concerning the spatio-temporal path which I trace through the world. If we start with the assumption that 'one is' aware of a stream of mental objects, there is no basis for forming a notion of 'I' which is capable of recognizing a given mental object as 'the same again'. (There is a good explanation of this argument in Strawson's 'Bounds of Sense'.)

Kant's idea is that if one grants Descartes' premiss, that I cannot doubt that I am aware (e.g.) of this red, then it necessarily follows that I am perceiving objects in a world - which is the conclusion that Descartes is only able to establish with the help of a veracious deity.

I would argue that Kant does not go far enough, and that in his conception of 'the given' (which can only be conceptualized in terms of objects in space and time) there is something that a Wittgensteinian externalist would reject.

So far as the intentionality of perception is concerned, I don't see (from what you say) why a disjunctivist cannot happy incorporate this into the disjunctive account. To say that there is something intentional (a propositional content) in common between perception and hallucination seems to be fully consistent with the disjunctivist view that there is no common 'object' in the two cases.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Criticism of the coherentist theory of knowledge

To: Christian M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Criticism of the coherentist theory of knowledge
Cc:
Bcc:
X-Attachments:

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your email of 16 December, with your University of London Epistemology essay, in response to the question, 'My beliefs could form a coherent set even if none of them is true, so the coherence account of knowledge must be wrong.' Discuss.

This is a solid essay.

There is more to say about the question. My first response to the question is that the hypothesis which it puts forward is utterly fantastical. We are talking about the totality of 'my beliefs', not just some set of beliefs. And the claim put forward is that they could ALL be false. Is that really credible?

Consider the belief that 1+1=2. Or, as an example of an empirical belief, 'If you put something somewhere, it stays there until it is moved.' It is very difficult to see how one could even begin to make sense of a person's belief system if it were really claimed that every single belief in the system was false.

I think it is legitimate to attack the question in this way, even though the question can easily be re-formulated in order to meet this point. In my experience, examiners will give you credit for questioning the precise wording of the question, because it shows that you are able to think 'on your feet', and are not just trotting out an essay which you memorized beforehand.

The assumption is that my beliefs are consistent. For most persons this is probably not true: we just don't have the time to compare all our beliefs and determine whether they are all consistent. Logicians give the name 'omega inconsistency' the existence an inconsistency which one is unable to track down: it is not the least bit irrational to admit that one has omega-inconsistent beliefs.

On the assumption that my beliefs are consistent, however, one may hypothesize that very many of my beliefs -- or the most important of my beliefs, such as, 'I am a human being', 'the earth has existed for more than 5 minutes' -- may be false, even though the set as a whole is consistent, and also coherent in the way that beliefs support and explain one another. My beliefs that 1+1=2 and that objects stay where they are unless moved are 'important' in the sense that very drastic consequences would follow if these beliefs were denied, but for this very reason lie in the background. In the foreground are my most consequential beliefs, the beliefs which account for my behaviour (e.g. my belief that I am being pursued by agents of the CIA).

The claim is that my foreground beliefs, my most consequential beliefs could 'all be false', while my belief system as a whole is coherent.

Is this hypothesis acceptable? Here, we need to distinguish between the use of the hypothesis to cast doubt on the coherence theory of knowledge, and the use of the hypothesis to cast doubt on the coherence theory of truth.

If you were defending the coherence theory of truth, then you would have to show that the hypothesis does not describe a logically possible state of affairs. Because the claim is that coherence IS truth. For the purposes of defending a coherence theory of knowledge, on the other hand, one can (for the sake of argument) accept that the hypothesis describes a logically possible state of affairs. It is possible, but extremely unlikely, for the reasons that you articulate.

The next question is, What does this show about the nature of knowledge, as viewed e.g. by a defender of the coherence theory of knowledge?

Knowledge is not absolute certainty. We can be wrong about what we think is 'knowledge'. The test for attributing knowledge to a subject is not so high that any possibility -- even the slimmest logical possibility -- that things might not be as the subject believes shows that his/her belief is not knowledge.

Having relaxed our requirements for knowledge to this extent, the question only remains to show how the coherence view gives a sufficiently credible account of how knowledge claims are justified. As you show, the role of perceptual knowledge is crucial: we don't want to go down the road of foundationalism, yet we do want to recognize the special role of perception in serving not only as a main source of knowledge but also as a main constraint on the formation of beliefs. Stating this, however, requires not a little delicacy.

All the best,

Geoffrey

The road to analytic philosophy

To: Gordon F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: The road to analytic philosophy
Date: 27 December 2007 13:46

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for your email of 17 December with your essay towards the Associate Award, 'The Road to Analytic Philosophy' Part 1.

Of course you are right that the attempt to make mathematical proofs more rigorous and plug the 'gaps' which call for intuition or imagistic thinking, had a very significant impact on the career of analytic philosophy in the 20th century.

To cite one obvious example, Russell's logicist program in the philosophy of mathematics linked closely to his conception of the nature of philosophy as logical analysis, inspired in large part by Frege's 'Die Grundlagen Der Arithmetik'. From the 'Begriffschrift' onwards, Frege saw his task as primarily to make mathematical reasoning more rigorous, and in this respect his work is complemented by mathematicians such as Peano and Hilbert.

Rudolph Carnap is probably the greatest exponent of the conception of philosophical analysis as the task of constructing a formal system. E.g. his book 'The Logical Structure of the World' (the 'Aufbau').

One of the most important upshots of Carnap's approach was his recognition of the difference between 'internal' and 'external' questions, questions which one seeks an answer within the system (e.g. how to prove Pythagoras' theorem) and questions which are external to the system (e.g. which system of geometry describes the actual physical world).

An analytic philosopher who has followed Carnap's footsteps in distinguishing between questions which are answered within a framework and questions which involve the choice of framework is Stephan Korner ('Categorial Frameworks' and 'Metaphysics: its Structure and Function').

There are in fact multiple points of influence on analytic philosophy. Even the later Wittgenstein, who strongly repudiated the conception of philosophy as systematic analysis and theory construction, often speaks, in the 'Philosophical Investigations' of the influence (almost always pernicious) of imagistic thinking in our attempt to puzzle out the logic of our language. (E.g. 'It was a picture that held us captive' Philosophical Investigations para 115 -- Wittgenstein is talking about how he himself was held captive by a certain 'picture' of the nature of language.)

My main concern (as always) is to steer you towards writing an essay or essays which will be suitable as submissions for the Associate Award. At over 4000 words, the present essay is already considerably longer than the target length of 2000-2500, and you have hardly started on talking about philosophy. This is all history of mathematics.

I think that an essay on the influence of mathematics on analytic philosophy would be acceptable. However, you first need to sharpen the question you are asking. Philosophy is not the same as history of ideas. You are not just explaining how this thought followed from that, but rather concerned with justification, and the clash between different conceptions of the nature of philosophy, and in particular the nature of philosophy as analysis.

I would suggest that Carnap is a major figure here. If you have not looked at much by this philosopher before, you could start with the magnificent volume dedicated to Carnap, 'The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap' (Library of Living Philosophers, Volume XI), edited by Paul A. Schilpp (1963). Any good university library should have a copy.

While the Vienna Circle is perhaps the greatest milestone in the history of analytic philosophy, the philosophies of Russell and the later Wittgenstein each deviate in a very marked way from the work of the other members of the Vienna Circle. Then you have the American pragmatic tradition which synthesized with the analytic tradition in the work of W.V.O. Quine and subsequent philosophers.

There are so many directions. You need to find a single thread that you can follow -- perhaps picking on a single philosopher whose work is strongly influenced by mathematics, like Carnap, or Reichenbach in the USA, or Russell. And then there is the strange case of A.N. Whitehead. How could a philosopher who collaborated with Russell on Principia Mathematica end up producing a work ('Process and Reality') which is so far off the main track of analytic philosophy (to the extent that philosophy departments in the US identify themselves as 'process philosophers' or 'analytic philosophers')?

At any rate, what you have written here suggests very strongly a connection with Carnap's work, and I therefore think that this is the philosopher who it would be most fruitful to look at.

All the best,

Geoffrey

Essay on carers and society

To: Rachel C.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Essay on carers and society
Date: 19 December 2007 13:45

Dear Rachel,

Thank you for your email of 9 December, with your essay towards the Associate award, 'Is it wrong for someone to devote themselves to caring for another (sick, disabled or vulnerable) person at the expense of their own self-development?'

This is a good start. The first point I would make is that the wording of your question implies that we have just two alternatives to consider:

A. It is wrong for someone to devote themselves to caring for another person at the expense of their own self-development.

B. It is not wrong for someone to devote themselves to caring for another person at the expense of their own self-development.

I find myself wanting to say that there are at least two further alternatives: 'It depends on the circumstances' and 'It is not a question of "wrong" and "right".'

The big problem here is that it is not clear where the claims of 'self-development' fits into ethics. Kant argued that it follows from the categorical imperative that I have a duty to develop my talents. This of course has to be understood against a background of my duties towards others. As Kant would not allow that there can be irresolvable conflicts of principle, there must be in every case -- depending on the particular circumstances -- an answer to the question whether I should pursue my self-development or care for another.

On the other hand, moral theorists have recognized that the claims of self-interest cannot be accommodated into a strictly ethical view. Here is a passage from Henry Sidgwick, 'Methods of Ethics' which I had occasion to quote yesterday to one of my Pathways Moral Philosophy students who had written an essay on the 'dialectic of self-assertion and self-sacrifice':
I do not mean that if we gave up the hope of attaining a practical solution of this fundamental contradiction, through any legitimately obtained conclusion or postulate as to the moral order of the world, it would become reasonable for us to abandon morality altogether: but it would seem necessary to abandon the idea of rationalising it completely. We should doubtless still, not only from self-interest, but also through sympathy and sentiments protective of social well being, imparted by education and sustained by communication with other men, feel a desire for the general observance of rules conducive to general happiness; and practical reason would still impel us decisively to the performance of duty in the more ordinary cases in which what is recognised as duty is in harmony with self-interest properly understood. But in the rarer cases of a recognised conflict between self-interest and duty, practical reason, being divided against itself, would cease to be a motive on either side; the conflict would have to be decided by the comparative preponderance of one or other of two groups of non-rational impulses.

Henry Sidgwick Methods of Ethics Book IV, Ch VI, 5


The ethics of consequentialism (e.g. utilitarianism) is, in effect, an ethics of altruism. While we are permitted to do actions which benefit ourselves, we must always remember that each person, including our own self, counts for one and no more than one in the utility calculation. It follows that the only acceptable ground, within utilitarian ethics, for neglecting another person's needs for the sake of one's own self-development would be that the fruits of one's labours will be more beneficial to humanity than caring for that one person.

Rebounding (as many people would do) from this austere picture, the obvious alternative would be to accept that moral claims have reasonable limits. We are not all required to be saints or Mother Theresas. You can be a moral person, a fully paid-up member of the moral community, while setting limits on how far you will go to take the desires and needs of others into consideration.

However, it seems to me that this is not your question. You are more interested in whether we can see caring for another person in a positive light from the point of view of a wider notion of self-development or self-realization which recognizes the value *for the self* of the nurturing/ caring role. On such a view, caring for another is not self-sacrifice but rather a worthwhile vocation. This puts a very different complexion on things.

Society recognizes that some persons have a vocation to care for others -- nurses, doctors, teachers etc. -- yet at the present time there seems to be a strong bias (as I suppose you would want to say from our previous exchanges) towards professional carers, at the expense of the army of mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, wives, husbands who see no acceptable alternative than to devote themselves to caring for their children, or parents, or partners.

The keyword seems to be 'vocation'. You can be a non-professional carer who does what they do out of a sense of vocation: but 'not seeing an acceptable alternative' is not the same as having a vocation. The life of someone who acts because they see no acceptable alternative is grim. It is a life of self-sacrifice. It is no compensation to be told how heroic you are or how much we admire your moral courage.

But isn't the same true of the soldier, who offers him/ herself up as a target to be shot at for Queen and country? There are those who regard with disdain the sacrifice of members of the armed forces. I would strongly disagree. The point, however, is that the soldier does not die for the sake of glory. They die because it is necessary to put oneself in the line of fire in order to do the task that we ask them to do, because that is what they are professionally trained to do.

Those who have traded their life for the lives of their comrades by an act of heroism, would say (if they had time to reflect, which is usually not the case) that 'there is no possible life for me' if I do not do this. To know that your comrades died because you valued your life more is an intolerable burden, or, at least, it is for the one who chooses the heroic course.

Pursuing the line of what we expect from the state and society, one could indeed make the parallel (given recent highly publicized cases) that we do not sufficiently show our appreciation for the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces.

How far does your discussion of Hegel, Sartre, Marx illuminate these issues? As I mentioned to you, Bradley in 'Appearance and Reality' develops further the idea of 'my station and its duties' to recognize that different persons may legitimately see their 'station' on a spectrum of possibilities between extreme self-assertion and extreme self-sacrifice.

Marx's view -- at least, the young Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts -- was not simply that we should throw ourselves in to the pursuit of the social good, but rather that we should all get the chance to be artists and poets and philosophers, as well as lending a hand in the factory or the field or the hospital. He would be strongly against the idea of 'vocation' which leads to the division of labour between self-asserters and self-sacrificers.

I haven't mentioned the feminist view about the 'traditionally male' and 'traditionally female' qualities, but I sure this point could be developed further too.

As you can see from my comments, there are several strands of argument which could be explored here; indeed, enough for a portfolio of essays should you choose to do so.

All the best,

Geoffrey