Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wittgenstein's Tractatus: proposition 4.04

To: Alan L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Wittgenstein's Tractatus: proposition 4.04
Date: 9 July 2003 12:49

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your e-mail of 30 June, with your first essay for the Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question:

'A gramophone record, the musical idea, the written notes, and the sound-waves, all stand to one another in the same internal relation to one another of depicting that holds between language and the world' ('Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.04). - Discuss.

Lots of things to think about here.

You have shown considerable inventiveness in your use of the examples of a sound universe, and the graphical readout. But let's start with the idea that there is a fundamental *difference* between the language-world relationship (if we can call it that) and the relationship of 'depiction' which can hold between any two domains which exhibit a certain structural congruence, whether arising from a set of rules (as in written notes and sounds consequently produced by the orchestra) or a cause and effect relationship (grooves cut in the record in response to a sound input, which can then be used to generate the 'same' sound later).

Your explanation of the difference is that language is itself part of the world. You then explore this by considering what would happen if a musical score was itself 'part of the music', i.e. constructed out of sounds. Then you take this a step further by considering a universe consisting of only of sounds.

As it happens, there is a fascinating account of a 'sound world' in P.F. Strawson 'Individuals: an essay in descriptive metaphysics' Ch. 2. Strawson is concerned with the possibility of distinguishing between a sound-world subject's 'subjective' stream of impressions, and the 'objective' arrangement of sounds, and he raises some difficulties of principle (which actually I think can be surmounted). The aim is to exhibit the minimal experiential structure required for having a conception of oneself as a subject in relation to a world of objects. But let's suppose we could explain the distinction between experience and its objects in a sound world. Then I see no reason why there could not be a language consisting of sounds, which, as they were produced, became objects in the sound world, just as human utterances or writings are objects in our world.

Here is my explanation of the difference between language and other forms of 'depiction'. This will tie in with your claim that language 'summarises and abbreviates the world'.

The limits of musical notation, or any kind of non-linguistic depiction are determined by a circumscribed 'object' in the world - a musical performance, a geographical terrain, a machine-woven cloth. Language, by contrast, is the one and only species of depiction which is limited to 'whatever may (or may not) be the case'.

I look up at the sky and say, 'It is cloudy today.' That is a lot less than all that can be said, of course. In another sense, my statement is completely adequate, just as it stands. (It would be inadequate if 'being cloudy' was not a coherent concept.) Wittgenstein is insistent that the world IS all that is the case, and all that is the case cannot, in principle, go beyond all that can be truly said. That is consistent with the realization that I could die of old age before I had said *everything* that can be said about the cloudy sky.

A musical score, an ordinance survey map, a cloth weaving template are not 'propositions' of language, although they function in a manner in some ways analogous to language.

Your observations about the graphical read-out illustrate the nature of logic, and its connection with a given system of linguistic signs very elegantly. Wittgenstein at one point in the Tractatus considers the intriguing question of possibilities of different 'size of mesh' in his observations about Newtonian mechanics (6.341, 6.342). One might puzzle, though, about Wittgenstein's assertion that "What *does* characterize the picture is that it can be described *completely* by a *particular* size of mesh." If the 'mesh' we choose for our language determines what aspects of the world will become visible to us, how do we ever discover that the mesh is too coarse? Not by somehow bypassing language and making direct contact with the world. So what exactly happens when we come across a phenomenon that the existing language is not adequate describe?

Let's say that I am observing a graphical readout and need to communicate the results to you. I decide on one system of representation which seems to work well, but then run into problems because I encounter situations which my system is inadequate to describe. But this is a limited system of depiction, not language as such.

The case of your 'gentle curve' illustrates another difficulty. However fine the discrimination, there will still be borderline cases. It's not like, e.g. writing a notation for harpsichord music and then needing a new device for 'loud' and 'soft' when someone invents the piano. As I think you have realized, the question of vagueness is the Achilles heel of the whole Tractarian enterprise.

All the best,


Qualia and the private language argument

To: Tom M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Qualia and the private language argument
Date: 9 July 2003 11:15

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your email of 28 June, with your fourth essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question:

'But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right, and that only means here we cannot talk about "right"' (Philosophical Investigations Para 258). How effective, in your view, is Wittgenstein's Private language argument in attacking the notion of a 'quale'?

I mostly agree with what you say here, but there are some issues to discuss.

The first concerns the example of measuring blood pressure. I think you have missed the point Wittgenstein is making here. Let's quote the relevant extract from the paragraph (270) in Philosophical Investigations:

"Let us now imagine a use for the entry of the sign "S"" in my diary. I discover that whenever I have a particular sensation a manometer shows that my blood-pressure rises. So I shall be able to say that my blood-pressure is rising without using any apparatus. This is a useful result. And now it seems quite indifferent whether I have recognized the sensation *right* or not. Let us suppose I regularly identify it wrong, it does not matter in the least..."

Wittgenstein is happy to allow that we *can* introduce a term into the language, let's call it 'hypey'. Let's say that Doctors in Sheffield treating patients with chronic high blood pressure have discovered that patients are able to tell by introspection when their blood pressure is rising. Each patient is given a little kit, and told to measure their blood pressure every time they feel a bit 'hypey'. After a while, patients get very expert in making accurate judgements about their blood pressure. What is happening here? If you have never suffered high blood pressure then with regard to the term hypey you are like someone who is colour blind, aware that a distinction is being made, but unable to participate in the 'language game' with the relevant term.

'Hypey' is not a term in a private language. It is a perceptual term, like 'red' or 'tingle' or 'clang' which has a definition (remember that crucial fact about a term from a private language is that it cannot be 'defined').

If one of the patients said, "I know that I'm getting very good at judging my blood pressure", but I'm still not sure whether I'm correctly identifying that hypey feeling," that would be just like someone saying, "I know that I am good at judging when something is blue or not, but I'm still not sure whether I'm correct in identifying my subjective impression of blue."

There is a possible pathological state where a patient who was perfectly competent in making colour judgements suffered persistent doubts about their ability to identify colours, or about the constancy of their inner impressions. But the existence of such a state would not yet be evidence in favour of qualia. (This is relevant to the spectrum inversion thought experiment.)

Similarly, the response to what you say in your e-mail about fish in dentist's waiting rooms is that what we are talking about are peoples *feelings*, and these can be talked about precisely because they are associated with causes and effects, like blue or hypey. Feelings are not qualia, because (if you agree with the anti-qualia argument) there are no qualia. The concept 'quale' is a logically incoherent concept.

Near the beginning of your essay you say that there are two ways to judge the concept of 'quale':

1. Do statements about this concept have a truth value?

2. What consequences or potential consequences flow from its existence or non-existence?

It is important to see that 1. is not verificationism. Consider a statement about the past, 'A tree stood on this spot one million years ago.' An anti-verificationist would agree that the statement can be true even if it is unverifiable. Wittgenstein is arguing that statements about qualia cannot be true, and not merely that the cannot be verified. (If you look through the literature on the PLA, however, you will find that this claim has been disputed.)

Because you were misled by the manometer example, you seem to want to say that the existence or non-existence of qualia can have consequences (e.g. the blood pressure reading) even though true statements cannot be made about them. I hope you can now see that the possibility of making true statements and the possibility of their being consequences (verifiable or not!) go together. One of the essential aspects of truth is that a true statement can stand as the antecedent of a conditional statement. I.e. we can meaningfully say that statement 'P' has a truth value (true or false) if, and only if we can meaningfully say, 'If P then Q' for some statement 'Q' which can be meaningfully said to have a truth value.

All the best,


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Criteria for personal identity over time

To: Charles C.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Criteria for personal identity over time
Date: 30 June 2003

Dear Charley,

Thank you for your e-mail of 19 June, with your third essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, on the question, 'My Identity Through Time'.

The first question on the sheet of essay questions for units 7-9 states:

"Can one give adequate criteria for the identity of a person over time? Illustrate your answer with thought experiments describing 'problem cases' of personal identity."

I appreciate your claim that thought experiments describing problem cases might not be the best way to approach the question of personal identity. Not all philosophers are agreed that this is the best way to approach the question. But what exactly is your argument for dismissing the relevance of thought experiments?

We need to separate two questions: First, how do we, in fact, establish questions of personal identity? Sometimes this is not always possible. In a film, which (I think) was called, 'The Return of Martin Guerre' a man 'returns' to his wife, after fighting in the war. However, no-one, not even her, is sure that he is her husband, rather than an impostor. This could happen. The best knowledge available from all existing records, and human memory, might be insufficient to decide a particular question of personal identity.

I also remember once seeing a play with a similar theme, 'The Man in the Glass Case' about a Jewish man who pretends to be Eichmann, and is put on trial. At the climax of the play, his true identity is revealed.

The second question, is what personal identity *consists in*. In other words, what is the *question* we are trying to decide when deciding a person's 'true identity', as in the above examples?

Natural and social facts collude together to make a pretty robust concept of personal identity, though its robustness admittedly depends on the contingent fact that the only 'problem cases' we actually encounter are ones of limitations of knowledge - as in the above scenarios - rather than those described in the imaginations of science fiction authors.

We can go further and make the point that it is not just social *facts* that we are considering, but rather the moral implications of those facts. It is above all the moral nature of interpersonal relations that determines what 'persons' are. (I am only restating here the point made by John Locke that personal identity is a 'forensic' notion.)

I gather that you are against a 'neuroscientific' or 'neurophilosophical' theory of personal identity. However, you do not attempt to state how personal identity would be defined in neurological terms. How does a neurological account differ from Locke's 'memory criterion' of personal identity?

Thirty years ago, you were hurt in a sailing accident. Someone was hurt, the possessor of your social security number, the son of your parents, the man whose birth certificate bears the name 'Charles Countryman', and so on. These are all common facts that are hardly likely to be disputed. Today, genetics provides a pretty conclusive way of checking these things. But is that all there is to say about persons?

It would still be open for a philosopher, like Derek Parfit, to argue that we attach too much *importance* to the concept of a person, and draw the appropriate ethical conclusions.

I do take your point that our respect for persons, certainly our feelings of emotional attachment do not necessarily depend on an 'inner' identity being preserved. The car crash victim reduced to a human vegetable does not cease to be the object of feelings of 'love' despite the fact that all that remains is a living body. Switching off the life support machine without the proper authorization would still be murder.

However, for that reason I would emphasize the equal importance we attach to the first person perspective when addressing the problem of personal identity. Consider the case of the British Moors murderer Myra Hindley, who died recently in prison. Hindley participated in the torturing and killing of several young children. There was public outrage every time her case was discussed. Yet there were people convinced that she had totally reformed, found religion, become a 'different' person. I am not asking you to form an opinion on this question, one way or the other. The question is *what is at issue*? How do we decide, and on what principle? Shouldn't we be asking this kind of question when we address the philosophical issue of personal identity?

All the best,


Xenophanes' concept of God

To: Samuel T.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Xenophanes' concept of God
Date: 30 June 2003

Dear Samuel,

I apologize for taking so long to respond to your e-mail of 5 June, with your new third essay towards the Associate Award, 'Xenophanes' Concept of God'.

In view of the fact that all we know about Xenophanes' views about the deity derive from just a few remarks, it would have been a good idea to display these remarks clearly, so a reader could judge for himself, and thus be in a better position to evaluate your interpretation.

I have a few comments, which will be dealt with under your four headings.

1. What general conclusion should we draw from Xenophanes' criticisms of the Greek Pantheon? Why shouldn't gods be immoral? According to Xenophanes, immoral 'gods' are not worthy of worship. Today, people worship film stars and pop 'idols'. What argument can be put forward that these are false 'gods', which does not simply assume the point in question? What is the connection between 'worship' or 'piety' and morality?

Granted that a god worthy of worship ought not to exhibit human weaknesses, that still does not establish that such a deity must be morally exemplary. A view which was possible at the time - and still today - is that god is 'above' morality, having no concern with what human beings think of as 'right' or 'wrong'.

A more general point - whatever views we take about the implications of 'worship' - is that anything that is a god ought, by definition, to be worthy of worship. It is in fact on this basis that Xenophanes argues for his 'one god'.

2. I agree that there is an element of limitation and narcissism in 'Ethiopians having gods with snub noses and black hair'. It shows a certain lack of imagination, to say the least. However, it is worth while comparing Xenophanes' criticism with the view that 'We are made in god's image'. How would you express the difference between these two radically opposed views?

There is, arguably, another aspect to the 'snub noses' objection, which connects with Xenophanes' contribution to epistemology. This is the first recorded example of a knowledge claim being attacked through an observation about the psychological roots of the belief in question.

3. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence that Xenophanes thought of the one god as either spatially infinite, or, alternatively, non-spatial. Arguably, a being who meets all of Xenophanes' requirements could be finite, located at a point in space. Say, at the top of Mount Everest. Immovable, certainly. After all, if god has the power to 'shake all things by the power of his mind' then there is no need to move from one location to another.

Xenophanes' god is without doubt *like* the Judeo-Christian deity. But how 'like'? That is the question, to be decided on the basis of what Xenophanes actually says.

4. What about the other 'gods'? The textual evidence - which I don't think it is adequate to dismiss simply on the grounds that he lived a long time and could have changed his views, or that he was merely exercising his 'satirical wit' - suggests that Xenophanes did allow that there are 'many gods'. But why not? Perhaps Xenophanes was prepared to all that in addition to the one, all powerful god, there are other beings, much more powerful than us, who for good or ill have a great influence on the affairs of men.

- Not a bad essay, overall. A good choice of topic, which raises some interesting issues.

All the best,


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white

To: Max T.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: 'Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white
Date: 12 June 2003

Dear Max,

Thank you for your e-mail of 2 June, with your second essay for the Metaphysics program, in response to the question, '"Snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white.' Discuss.

The first thing one has to ask is why we are considering this question. In the program, the equivalence statement arises as a way of approaching the concept of truth. This is why we are interested in it. The predicate ' true' is the only predicate which, when attached to the name of any sentence, gives a true statement if, and only if that sentence is itself true. This identifies, but does not provide any further information about, the concept of truth.

In para 1 you say, 'To the left of "if, and only if" is a compound proposition and to the right is a simple proposition.' Is that true? A compound proposition would be one like, 'snow is white and grass is green', or 'either snow is red or grass is green'. In these two cases, we have simple subject-predicate statements of the form, 'a is F' (Fa) joined by a truth functional connective ('and', 'or').

On the other hand, the statement, "Snow is white" is true has the logical form, a is F. This is because "Snow is white" is treated as a name referring to an object, in this case a string of words which makes a sentence.

[For simplicity I have represented 'snow is white' as a subject predicate proposition, the subject, snow, being treated as an individual entity. An alternative way to represent this would be, 'For all x, if x is snow then x is white' or, (x)(x is snow -> x is white). In this version, 'snow' appears in the quantified proposition as a predicate.]

In para 2, you say that it would not be true that '"Snow is white" is true' could be substituted for 'snow is white' in a world where snow is pink. I disagree. In a world where snow is pink, the proposition 'snow is white' is false, and so is the proposition '"snow is white" is true'. HOWEVER, if we are considering the meanings of words, not as fixed in the actual world, but as relativized to the world being described, then in a world slightly different from the actual world, where the English language word 'white' refers to the colour pink, and 'pink' refers to white, then it would be true to say, in our language, that snow is white in that alternative world - because their snow is just like our snow - but false to say that 'snow is white' is true in that world, because the English speaking inhabitants of that world do not use 'white' to mean what we mean by 'white'. I have a feeling that this is what you might have meant.

Does '"Snow is white" is true' mean the same as 'snow is white'? someone might argue the meanings are not the same, because the first proposition explicitly refers to a concept (truth) which the second proposition does not refer to. However, there is a more basic sense in which the two propositions do mean the same, in that the truth conditions for 'snow is white' are the same as for ""snow is white" is true'.

Does 'It is true that the King is dead' suggests that the speaker has evidence, whereas 'The King is dead' does not carry this suggestion? I would be inclined to say that any assertion carries the suggestion that the speaker has grounds for that assertion. To assert that P implies that you believe that P. If you do not believe that P then you are telling a lie. If you do believe that P, then there must be something that counts for you as grounds for that belief. However, there does seem to be an implication of increased support for a belief when someone says, 'It is true that...'. I would explain this as simply a function of the fact that two heads are better than one. If someone believes the same thing as you, then each of you can cite the other's support as increasing the probability that the belief is true.

Why say, 'It is true that the King is dead', and not simply, 'The King is dead'? There are lots of things one can say: 'I agree', 'Yes', 'Yes indeed', 'that's true' and so on. All these replies have the same function, namely, to take whatever the first speaker said and signal agreement. Someone can make a five minute speech and you can say, 'That's true', or 'That's all true'. In other words, you don't have to repeat the speech.

That still doesn't prove that the 'redundancy' theorists are right, that *all* there is to the concept of truth is a useful device for indicating agreement.

This leads on to the substance of your essay:

If '"Snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white' merely serves to identify the concept of truth, then we may indeed be tempted to try to say *what it is* that makes 'snow is white' true. And you give various suggested alternatives. Let's look at these:

(a) "Snow is white" is true if and only if there is evidence supporting snow is white.

The objection here is that sometimes evidence can support a proposition, which subsequently turns out to be false. There was once evidence in support of the phlogiston theory.

(b) "Snow is white" is true if and only if the belief that snow is white is consistent with our other beliefs.

The objection here is a society where so many beliefs are false (say, a society ruled by paranoia and superstition) that the test of consistency merely yields more false propositions.

(c) "Snow is white" is true if and only if we can pair up the terms 'snow' and 'white' with real things in the world and those things are related in a way that corresponds to the way the words referring to them are related in that proposition.

The difficulty in explaining the guiding idea here - the idea of correspondence - is that the explanation easily collapses into a version of the original equivalence. All there is to 'correspondence' is the fact that 'snow' refers to snow and 'is white' refers to the property of being white. As Frege argued, the attempt to get a stronger notion of 'correspondence' leads to an infinite regress. If one said that the sentence 'snow is white' stands in relation R to the world, then one can still ask whether all sentences which stand in relation R to the world are true.

However, we *can* raise the question of correspondence in an interesting way by recasting the question of truth in terms of the debate between realism and anti-realism. But that is another story!

All the best,


John Searle and the mind-body problem

To: Charles C.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: John Searle and the mind-body problem
Date: 20 April 2003 13:32

Dear Charley,

Thank you for your e-mail of 9 May, with your interesting essay for units 4-6 of Searching for the Soul, 'About Identity: A Philosophical Discussion'.

This essay is really about John Searle's 'solution' to the mind-body problem. Although, the your own experience of the connection of the mental and physical suggests that they are not related as two separate substances, as Descartes thought, it would still be possible for a diehard Cartesian interactionist to propose an 'explanation' of how the physical brain in its interaction with non-physical mind is impaired by physical damage or disease, but is able to overcome this impairment with physical aids, such as drugs. Possible, though perhaps implausible given all the other information that we have.

There is a lot to say about each of the arguments which Searle refers to, Kripke's argument from 'Naming and Necessity' about rigid and non-rigid designators, Nagel's 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' and Jackson's argument for qualia.

However, as I understand his position, Searle has something to add to all these negative arguments, a positive conception of mind as a biological phenomenon. In the world of nature, wherever mind occurs, we are dealing with facts whose essential nature is to be approachable only from the 'inside'. Hence the claim that for consciously apprehended mental items, there is no distinction between the way they seem and the way they are. If there were a distinction to be made, then we would have to be in a position to describe or explain what *would* be a way of apprehending them as they really are as opposed to the way they merely appear. But Searle believes that such an approach is ruled out by the very nature of the mental.

When I wrote my paper 'Truth and Subjective Knowledge' (now on the Wood Paths at I had moved towards a very similar view, although at the time I did not associate it with Searle. In essence, my view is that it is of the very nature of the mind that there are things to be *known* which are accessible only to the subject, but not, however, in any way which would entail the possibility of a 'private language' in Wittgenstein's sense.

I do not know for sure whether Searle would go along with my view that these subjective 'things to be known' are simply brain states. However, the crucial point is that I also hold that these brain states cannot be apprehended objectively (e.g. by pointing a 'cerebroscope' at the brain as Richard Rorty once thought) but only 'by the subject whose brain it is'. In other words, the only way to literally *see* a brain state (in this sense) is. e.g. to feel a pain or a tickle, or to experience red or Middle C. There is no way of getting at these 'things' - identifying or classifying them - from the outside.

These subjective 'things' cannot in fact be *objects* of judgement because that is already to turn them into something which they are not. Whether I say, 'the post box is red', or 'The post box looks red to me', I am making objective judgements with objective truth conditions. The subjective 'object' or 'thing' which is given only to me (wrongly characterized as qualia) cannot be an object of 'judgement' in any sense of the word. (So there cannot be any room, e.g. for the speculation that what 'looks from the inside' red to you might 'look' green to me.)

You might think that the connection between the mind and biology, on this view, would be that anything that can be put together and formed through technology is capable of being apprehended objectively (because we would know everything there is to know about how it works). I am worried about this, however, because it leaves open the possibility that while one can't prove that the brain is 'running a program' as the IA theorists believe, one *also* cannot prove that the brain is *not* running a program. How can we be so sure?

The well known alternative to the AI view, also consistent with the view that the mind is a product of the brain, is that the mind essentially involves a 'connectionist' structure which cannot be dissected analytically. In a computer lab, you can set up a connectionist system, and give it the opportunity to 'learn' things (like pattern recognition). But you can't then analyse the 'rules' which the system is following in producing its results.

This leads to a picture of a physical universe which, by its very nature creates 'recesses' that cannot be penetrated (as it were) by 'folding over' itself. Some, but not necessarily all of these recesses are the home of the mental.

All the best,


Friday, June 24, 2011

Can the solipsist be refuted?

To: Natasha G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Can the solipsist be refuted?
Date: 20 May 2003 11:43

Dear Natasha,

Thank you for your e-mail of 8 May, with your fifth and final essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, "''The world is my world.' - Explain how the theory of Solipsism arises in the context of the Mind-Body Problem. Can the Solipsist be refuted?"

You have given a very clear characterization of solipsism. However, more needs to be said about how solipsism arises in the context of Descartes solution to the mind-body problem.

Descartes states, in Meditation 1, that his aim, in seeking to 'doubt everything' is to provide knowledge with an unshakeable foundation. Later in the Meditations, he uses the result of this exercise in his argument for mind-body dualism.

One part of the foundation is immediate experience, how things seem at this moment in time to myself, to the subject making the judgement. The other part of this foundation is the conviction (which Descartes tries to back up with proof) that not only is there *something* which gives rise to experience which is not just more of the same, but that this something is connected to experience in a reliable way, so that experience can be trusted as a guide to how things are in the external world. Hence the idea of a God who would not deceive me.

Descartes never in fact considers radical solipsism, of the kind we are considering, as a serious possibility. If you look at what he says in Meditation 1, he never doubts that there is *something* outside experience which causes experience. The problem is that this might be an evil demon who uses this power to deceive me, rather than a God who can be relied on not to deceive me.

However, we can be more radical than Descartes and raise the question why there has to be a 'cause' of my experience. Why can't everything just be my experience?

You say, 'The Solipsist needs some sort of private language in order for his theory to be confirmed'. The issue is not so much with confirmation of a theory (because according to solipsist, there is no other possible theory, no competitor to solipsism) but rather with the possibility of *stating* the solipsist theory.

The solipsist wants to be able to make the metaphysical statement, 'The world is my world', as well as being able to make empirical (non-metaphysical) statements like, 'I am now eating a sandwich', 'The sun has just come up' and so on, which he/ she re-interprets in terms of the solipsist theory.

In attacking the solipsist, it is not enough to say, 'But you don't have anyone to talk to because according to solipsism you are all alone.' There is no point in my talking aloud at this moment because there is no-one to hear me. But that does not prevent me from making sense.

The aim of using the private language argument against the solipsist is to show that the conditions necessary for words to have meaning cannot obtain in the solipsist's world. I think that it is possible by this means to prove that solipsism is internally incoherent.

By coincidence, this morning I answered an e-mail from Mike, one of my students taking the Philosophy of Language program who had raised a question about solipsism (Wittgenstein puts forward a version of solipsism in his early work, 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus'.) This is what I wrote:

"The solipsist is committed to finding an absolute epistemological foundation for truth and meaning in whatever is available to the first person perspective only. This leads to incoherence, because *there is no experience which guarantees its own interpretation*. There is always room for more than one judgement - more than one way to apply the rules, indeed more than one set of rules - given *any* amount of experience."

- The difficulty with saying this is that if we say that in addition to a first person perspective there is also a third person perspective, why doesn't that simply reduplicate the problem? Suppose I say that I am not a solipsist because I believe that you really exist, and you say that you are not a solipsist because you believe that I really exist. So now we have two subjects and their experiences instead of one. Why does that make things any better? How does that get you, or me off the hook? Suppose we agree that other people besides us exist? Why does that make any difference?

It seems that one say the very same thing as before, substituting 'we' for 'I' - "There is always more than one way to apply the rules...given any amount of experience."

To prevent this consequence, we cannot allow our confidence that our words have meaning to be undermined by the doubts which were legitimate in the case of solipsism. Wittgenstein, in his later work 'Philosophical Investigations' makes clear that he rejects the idea of seeking an absolute foundation for knowledge in the Cartesian sense. So when he says that 'following a rule is a practice', or that public language does not derive its meaning from a private language, he is not simply replacing 'my experience' with 'our experience'.

As this letter, and also my letter to Mike has reminded me, after thinking about these things for quite a while now, I still do not feel that I *fully* grasp what is going on here. However, I remain convinced that the question of solipsism and how to refute it is one of the most important pivot points in philosophy.

All the best,


Does thought entail possession of language?

To: Michael W.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Does thought entail possession of language?
Date: 29 April 2003 10:33

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your e-mail of 20 April, with your second essay for the Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question, 'Does thought entail the possession of language?'

You pose the question in the context of reflections about the impossibility of attaining a neutral standpoint. The idea of attempting to 'compensate' for your particular standpoint in the world - including, crucially, the fact that you are a language user rather than a non language user - seems a good one. The question is how one puts this into practice.

How are we to tackle the question about thought and language? One plausible approach is to consider what would be the minimum required to justify the attribution of thoughts to another subject. That is the appropriate methodological stance, if you are trying to 'compensate' for one's own subjective view.

Your strongest argument appears to be empirical rather than philosophical - Varley's study of the a-grammatic aphasic man. I don't remember if I told you that my father had a very similar language problem as the result of a stroke. For thirteen years, until his death in 1998, he continued to cope with things like accounts, remembering birthdays, giving advice (he had no difficulty in saying 'yes' and 'no'). And yet we were left speculating just how much he really knew or understood.

Could this be an empirical question? I have no difficulty with the thought that the acquisition of language wires the subject's brain up to cope with certain kinds of information processing tasks, which the subject is able to continue to do when the language function is impaired.

Connected with this, is your statement that 'At the physical level a thought is a state of the brain over a finite period of time...'. However, there is a difference between saying that thoughts are embodied or realized in brain states, and saying that a thought *is* a brain state. If a thought simply is a brain state, which sets the subject up to be able to perform certain tasks, then suitable experimental tests could settle the issue.

I would argue that this misses out the dimension of normativity. Judgements are true or false, or justified or unjustified. Anecdotal evidence bears this out. My father expressed views, you couldn't argue with him. You could reason out, from the yesses and nos what views he probably held, but you could never be sure. Nor was there any reliable indication of his reasoning.

Two things are linked here: the identification of a thought as being that particular thought, rather than some other particular thought, and the normative evaluation of the thought in question. As well as truth and falsity, and justification or the lack of it, when thoughts are expressed in language there is the possibility of raising the question whether words are being used in their correct sense, or indeed whether the subject really understands what they are saying.

In my argument against attributing thoughts to brute animals, the crucial step was the absence of a 'hook' with which to identify particular thoughts. It is not like hypothetico-deductive explanation where you posit an unobservable inner mechanism to explain given behaviour. In the case of a mechanism, we have a notion of what a particular mechanism is, what it would look like (e.g. under an electron microscope). Whereas the only handle that we have on a particular thought is through its linguistic expression. This is an argument, in principle, against the idea of a machine which could read 'brain writing', and translate it into, say, English.

The case of the aphasic man is especially challenging, because of the temptation to imagine 'what it would be like'. I could be writing this letter in my head even though I was totally paralysed. I would know what I was saying. I could be thinking just as I am thinking now. Realizing that such a move gets you nowhere, you have deliberately set out to assess the question objectively, and that is the correct stance.

We are both agreed that the fact that language is necessary for human development does not settle the issue.

It is interesting that you have brought in the language of the emotions, and body language.

Emotions reflect the natural life of human beings, but they are also anchored in our cultural life. You see that someone is upset, you read their emotion on their face. This looks like a way of identifying particular thoughts without need of conventional language. And in fact we do this all the time. The question one is led to ask is whether it could be done reliably, in the case of a subject who lacked language.

The problem is that we are dealing with an alloy of nature and culture, not the 'substance' in its pure state. It would be possible to imagine a disability (rather like tourette's syndrome) whereby a subject who was perfectly lucid in their ability to express themself verbally, gave the impression of being angry one minute, joyful the next, then despairing and so on. What we would say is that something had gone wrong with the 'wiring' to cause these natural signs of emotions to appear even though the emotions themselves were absent, as the subject was able to confirm to our satisfaction.

- I am impressed by the amount of work you have done for this essay. I do think that you could have assembled something resembling a conventional 'essay' more closely. But I accept that this is exploratory, rather than simply an attempt to 'argue a case'.

It would be helpful if you included references when mentioning sources (like Astington, Peterson and Siegal, Varley).

All the best,


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pythagorean theory of reincarnation

To: Tony S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Pythagorean theory of reincarnation
Date: 10 April 2003 11:07

Dear Tony,

Thank you for your e-mail of 31 March, with your second essay for the Ancient Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Critically discuss the Pythagorean theory of reincarnation. What issues does the idea of reincarnation raise concerning the nature of the self, and the definition of personal identity?'

There are two main issues to discuss here: whether reincarnation is inconsistent with the preservation of personal identity; and whether it is possible to have a form of reincarnation without personal identity.

It could be argued that what we are really concerned with is the identity of the subject, conceived as the ultimate nugget of individuality, whether the 'personality' is preserved in some way or not. This is how I understand the way 'Atman' is conceived in Buddhist philosophy. To illustrate this, in the philosophy of mind program there is an example of a drunk, 'Dirty Dick' whose memory of his former existence as a company executive Richard Bull has been obliterated by alcohol. There is still the physical continuity, but why should that interest us? The temptation is to think of individuality as detachable from all that the subject is consciously or subconsciously aware of, as something separate from the contents of consciousness in the way that a jar is separate from the jam inside. Deep inside, we imagine, there is the same *point of view*, the same mental eye looking out onto the world.

If this concept of a contentless point of view or spark of individuality could be sustained (I don't think it can) then we have all we need for a theory of reincarnation. It is not necessary for Pythagoras to remember who he was in previous lives. For even if there remains not a trace of memory of Euphorbus, the spark, the nugget of individuality which is now in Pythagoras was once in Euphorbus, whether anyone can ever know this or not.

In fact, clearly, no-one can ever know this. Because even if Pythagoras 'remembers' being Euphorbus, it is still possible for this memory to be false. In terms of the vital spark theory, nothing could count as verifying or falsifying a claim of identity in these circumstances. However, that does not show the theory to be false, unless you subscribe to a verificationist theory of meaning.

Interestingly, you raise as a problem for the memory criterion of personal identity, the example of 'Pythagoras with his whipped friend'. Suppose we reject the vital spark theory, which does not require memory, and go instead for a theory of personal identity which requires continuity of memory. There is, as I have already pointed out, a seemingly insurmountable problem of finding a criterion to distinguish between true and false memories. However, putting that aside, I don't see that it is a problem that the puppy cannot tell us what it 'remembers'. We still seem to understand what it is to have knowledge, yet be unable to communicate that knowledge. Imagine, for example, being paralysed by a stroke.

The problem of distinguishing true and false memory is the main objection to Pythagoras theory, as an account of reincarnation which preserves personal identity. But the objection is not fatal to all forms of reincarnation. This is where we enter interesting territory.

Arguably what makes the difference between a genuine memory and a false one is a causal link. If I seem to remember that I locked the back door last night, and the door was locked last night it doesn't follow that my memory is true. For example (as often happens) my wife locked the door and told me. It genuinely seems to me as if I was the one who locked the door, but in this case my memory has deceived me.

There is, of course, a causal link between the locking of the door and my apparent memory, namely, being given this information. But it is the wrong kind. Another example of the wrong kind of causal link is if someone found Bertrand Russell's brain miraculously preserved in a jar and injected some of the cells into my brain, so that I gained some of Russell's memories. That still would not make it true that I wrote 'The Problems of Philosophy' even if I seem to have the memory of having done so.

Is it necessary to have the same body in order to be the same person? Is that what it takes for the right kind of causal link between an action and one's memory of performing that action at a later time? If, as some AI theorists have argued, a human brain is ultimately nothing more than a computer running a program, then there could be such a thing as downloading the program onto disc and uploading it into another brain. Through that process, I could *be* Russell, or Hitler. Indeed (and this is an unavoidable consequence which all but wrecks the theory as a theory of identity) there could be hundreds of 'genuine' Russells and Hitlers.

As I point out in the unit, the relevance of these sci-fi speculations to Pythagoras is that he appears to have conceived of the soul as essentially a mathematical tuning or harmony, and this is just the image that AI theorists employ.

All the best,


Exploring the pre-philosophical idea of the soul

To: Charley C.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Exploring the pre-philosophical idea of the soul
Date: 4 April 2003 11:01

Dear Charley,

Thank you for your e-mail of 28 March, with your revised essay for Philosophy of Mind units 1-3 in response to the question, 'Explore the different facets of our ordinary, pre-philosophical idea of the soul, giving examples that relate to your own experience. What impact does philosophical inquiry have on those ideas?'

I am going to approach this by looking at the questions which you raise at the end of your essay. I have tried to be as faithful as possible to what I take to be your meaning:

1. Given that neurophysiology seeks to explain the mind and mental functions in physical terms, what remains of us that is distinctly 'mental' as opposed to 'physical'?

2. In what sense, if any, within the context of physicalism, can we speak of mental events causing physical events? (as when we form an intention to do X, and then carry out the action X, or when we bring about an improvement in our state of health by 'positive thinking').

3. How does our view about the relation between mental and physical impact on our view about how (or whether) it is possible to have knowledge of another person's mental states?

We need to think each of these questions through twice, because our interest is not just in coming up with the best philosophical theory, but also understanding how these questions appear to the , naive, unreflective, possibly culturally conditioned view of the mind or 'soul'.

When I call this view 'naive' I am not denigrating it. I agree with Wittgenstein that the way we normally speak of mind and mental acts does not contain any intrinsic error. The error comes on only when we begin to reflect.

The possibility of a physical explanation of consciousness certainly looks like a threat to the existence of 'mind'. Some philosophers too are quick to draw this conclusion. According to the eliminative materialist, we are only under illusion that there exists something called 'mind'. Our very language is riddled with error and illusion. 'Folk psychology' is not a source of knowledge but just a practical makeshift which does not yield genuine truth.

However, a distinction needs to be made between the language we use to talk about mind, and our uncritical, common sense 'philosophy' of the mind. These are difficult to untangle. Our culturally conditioned 'view' encompasses both. I want to say that the language can be right, can be an indicator of truth, even though the philosophy - naive dualism - is ultimately wrong.

Regarding question 2, there is a debate amongst philosophers of mind concerning the way we view causality. Even if mental processes are realized in physical processes, it remains an open question whether we view mental events as causally efficacious, or alternatively view them as mere by-products of physical processes which have no causal role. It may surprise you that within physicalism there is room for a view which says, e.g. that my decision to write this letter today is related to my typing these words as cause to effect. Looking at my brain processes, you won't see 'the cause' of these computer keys being tapped. The connection is only apparent at a much higher level, the level at which we conceptualise events using the concepts of intention, belief, desire.

Question 3 is really a lynch pin around which much of the discussion in this program revolves. It is crucial to our proper understanding of mental concepts that we grasp that they can be applied to yourself or to others, and that these two uses are finely integrated. It is only because you are able to apply these concepts to others that you are able to apply them to yourself.

One aspect of your essay which especially interested me was the idea that a sufferer of Parkinson's Disease 'looks out' onto the world in a way which almost mimics the Cartesian dualist view. Descartes notes in the Meditations that 'I am not lodged in my body as a pilot in a ship'. What he meant by that is that mind-body interaction is so seamless that we are normally not aware of issuing mental 'commands' and then waiting for the body to 'obey'. Descartes would be the first to draw the conclusion that the possibility of 'slippage', of failure of mind to connect with body in the expected way is proof of dualism. Yet, ironically, it is phenomena such as these, where physical conditions impair brain function, which constitute the strongest empirical evidence for physicalism.

All the best,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fichte and human agency

To: Jurgen L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Fichte and human agency
Date: 27 March 2003 12:11

Dear Jurgen,

I have just been struggling with your essay on Fichte (16 March). I thought that I would be able to say something intelligent about it (despite the fact that, as I warned you, I have not made any serious study of Fichte) but I can't.

This is just to warn you that what follows is going to be pretty unintelligent, or at best ignorant.

I understand Fichte to be grappling with the nature of self-consciousness, its 'reflexivity' or ability to become an object to itself. It would have helped me in my Fichtean striving to grapple with your essay and assimilate it into my world if I could have found a hook which related your exegesis to the reflexivity problem. But I seem to have missed it. So this puts me at an even greater disadvantage.

Let's start at the other end. It is possible to read the Tractarian 'the world is my world' into Kant's account of the spatio-temporal form of appearances. If we take a subject which is capable of making judgements and feed it a stream of data, there is no 'subject', no 'I' unless the data is structured so as to enable the construction of a *theory* in which percepts are located at places as well as times, while the location of the subject in relation to those places is itself part of that same theory.

Kant goes into great detail about the mental machinery which the self employs in constructing this theory (Strawson calls this aspect of the Critique the 'transcendental psychology of the faculties'). It is easy to dismiss this (as Strawson does) as irrelevant quasi-empirical speculation masquerading as metaphysics. For the essential point about the limits, or necessary form of experience, has already been established.

But there is a glaring metaphysical problem which Kant does not tackle at all. In the foregoing account, we have taken the terms 'self', 'judgement', 'theory' for granted, as if we didn't need to ask what it is to be a self, or what it is to make judgements. Kant starts at the point where a fully formed I is already making judgements, theorising, revising its theory in the light of new data, which are themselves interpreted in terms of that theory. In this picture, the I is just a point of view, possibly embodied, possibly not (the refutation of idealism only requires spatial location, not physical embodiment). How can the I ever become an object to itself? What is it to be an entity which is 'an object to itself'?

On the Kantian (or quasi-Kantian) view which I have sketched, of course no data are assimilated raw. We start with an on-going theory of a world of objects distributed in space. Perception slots new percepts into a pre-existing picture, or when, things go awry and the theory clashes with perception, both the theory and our originally unreflective interpretation of our present experience need to be revised. I am saying this as a challenge to you to explain how Fichte goes beyond that idea.

Or let's look at memory. Of course, the idea of memory as a data bank from which items can be retrieved is useless as an explanation of what it is to be a subject, to be conscious of one's self-identity. Did Fichte first point this out, or is what I have just said simply a consequence of Kant's assertion that time is the 'a priori form of inner sense?'

Action provides another angle, potentially the most illuminating way to approach Fichte. You only hint at this, but it seems that something is essentially missing from the model which I sketched above, of a possibly disembodied I, gliding around a world of objects which it 'encounters' passively as percepts which are recognized, categorised, slotted into a theory. What is missing is that the subject has the capacity for physical and not just mental agency. The subject physically grapples with objects. Its interest in objects, for example the mosquito, is formed by its physical needs and desires which determine which aspects of the world of its perception are important and which aspects to ignore.

This is an important point to make in relation to AI research. Some more enlightened AI theorists concede that if there were an intelligence program, it could only 'run' on a computer endowed with physical needs and the physical means - arms and legs, hands and mouth - to satisfy them. Why is that concession not enough? What are they still missing?

What is more important to you, to offer an interpretation of Fichte, or to make the point about the incompatibility of the AI model with our best knowledge of the structure of the human mind? If it is the former, then you haven't said enough (e.g. you all-too quickly withdraw from 'Fichtean dialectics' to the image of the lake). If the latter, then might it not be better to launch off with that and insert somewhere a section on Fichte - or even a long footnote - to show where these ideas originally come from?

I have a strong intuition that the notion of human knowledge as a 'theory' is fundamentally wrong, not just wrong in detail, in the way you might add extra bits to take account of the fact that the subject who constructs this theory also finds it quite useful. Any number of philosophers come to mind (starting with Schopenhauer, then Marx, James, Heidegger, Macmurray). Fichte, in looking at the primordial structure of the self, promises something deeper. I wish I could see what this is.

All the best,


Anti-realism and the idea that 'reality' is our own invention

To: Mary J.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Anti-realism and the idea that 'reality' is our own invention
Date: 25 March 2003 11:17

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your e-mail of 8 March, with your fifth and final essay for the Pathways Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question, 'Anti-realism about truth entails that 'reality' is our own invention. When it comes to deciding what to believe, anything goes, for according to the anti-realist there are no objectively right or wrong answers to our questions. It follows that there is no difference between reality and a mere dream.' - Comment on this attack on the anti-realist theory of truth.

This is a fine essay, which I enjoyed reading. You have expressed the main points - about the practical 'realism' of the anti-realist, the fundamental difference between belief and desire, and the authority of others clearly and cogently. You have thought a lot about this. I was left wondering whether, in fact, you would be happy to be described as an 'anti-realist about truth' or whether this is merely a superb display of 'playing devil's advocate'.

I am going to pick on one issue which I did find problematic. This is your treatment of radical scepticism. I will quote your paragraph in full:

'It may be true of course, that we are all deluded in our beliefs, that some evil demon is perpetuating mass deception on us, but all we have is the testimony of our communal experience, so for all practical intents and purposes, the evil demon drops out of the picture; we would live as we do in any case.'

*Who* is saying, 'It may be true...that we are all deluded in our beliefs...'? This is something that a realist might assert. According to the realist critic of radical scepticism, it may be *true* (and if so, a 'truth' which, ex hypothesi, we have no possible means of knowing) that we are being deceived by an evil demon, but such a supposition does not lead to any practical result. There is no action I can perform, nor any difference in the way I conduct my life, that would result from 'taking account of the possibility of an evil demon'. Here we have an argument against radical scepticism which consists in a challenge to the radical sceptic to justify the use of the concept of 'doubt', to explain how the attitude of 'doubt' differs from merely imagining a possibility. (As when, for example, I imagine the chair I am sitting on collapsing under my weight, but at the same time do not entertain the slightest doubt about the reliability of its construction.)

But what about the anti-realist? The anti-realist can happily say things like, 'It is possible that X even though there is no way we could ever come to know whether X or not-X.' In the mouth of the anti-realist, however, we have seen that this statement carries no implication that there is an unknowable 'fact' in virtue of which the X possibility or the not-X possibility is actually realized. According to the anti-realist, we are merely dealing with two alternative 'worlds'. So when the anti-realist says, 'It may be true...that we are all deluded in our beliefs...' the anti-realist does not *mean* the same thing as the realist. The realist is saying, in effect, 'There is a target out there which we might be missing' while the anti-realist is saying, 'Here are two alternative realities, both of which are equally 'real'.'

That is quite a claim, if you think about it: the evil demon possibility, given its unverifiability, is 'no less real' than the non-evil demon possibility.

In the mouth of this kind of anti-realist, the claim that 'for all practical intents and purposes the evil demon drops out of the picture' has a different meaning - arguably, no less cogent - than it has for the realist.

However, there is a caveat. Some philosophers who defend a version of anti-realism, notably Crispin Wright, would reject this version of the anti-realist's argument for rejecting radical scepticism, on the grounds that it concedes *too much*. Wright argues (and you may have some sympathy with this, given other things you say in your essay) that the 'evil demon possibility' is simply not intelligible as a possibility, given that the meanings of our words are anchored in publicly applicable 'criteria' (in Wittgenstein's sense). In that case, far from being merely a hypothesis which we can dispense with 'for all practical intents and purposes', the evil demon hypothesis is, in anti-realist terms, strictly unintelligible. It might as well be meaningless babble.

All the best,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kant's metaphysics: the end of the road?

To: Jurgen L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Kant's metaphysics: the end of the road?
Date: 14 March 2003 12:24

Dear Jurgen,

Thank you for your e-mail, with the second, shorter version of your essay for the Associate Award on Kant, 'Kant's Metaphysics: End of the Road or Unfulfilled Future?' - Will you be doing the same with your Fichte essay?

I found myself quarrelling with this essay. With a philosopher as difficult as Kant, I suppose that this is almost inevitable. Long ago, at Oxford, I had a term's supervision from P.F. Strawson (which was later judged insufficient to bar him from later being one of my examiners for my doctoral viva) where we met every other week to disagree about Kant. Strawson had the habit (extremely frustrating to an ambitious graduate student) of laying down the law: 'No, you're wrong about this. Go away and think about it some more.'

Well, I'm not going to do that!

But.. First, Are Kant's results 'obviously' the opposite to what he strove to achieve? Some would read Kant (taking him at his word) as seeking to lay down the limits of reason to 'make room for faith'. The noumenal world (which critics like Strawson would wish to dispense with altogether) is recognized as the ultimate reality, indeed a precondition of their being anything at all (as Schopenhauer later held). That is a metaphysical 'result' of the first order.

Or, if you prefer the Tractarian connection to the Schopenhaurian, there is the bold claim 'In this enquiry... I venture to assert...'. All metaphysical problems are solved. It may not be in the way we hoped (proof of god etc.) but still a result of the first magnitude - were it to be achieved.

Either way, then, the reader would view this prologue as tendentious. Having said that, you have a point - the major theme of this essay - and this is the place to introduce it.

A minor issue. You quote Adorno describing Kant's project to 'round objectivity in the subject as an objective reality'. To me, that reeks to much of the Cartesian cogito. The question is how reality must be *if* knowledge is possible, not how reality must be given that I exist as an objective reality. Adorno's reading appears inescapably 'idealistic', in a bad sense (cf. the Paralogisms).

Less picky. In the section, in response to the question of how we determine compulsory features of perception', you say, 'Perceptions must reflect reality; and this cannot be a simple one-to-one relation. The mind is a faculty, whereas percepts are objects of sentition with, to some extent, inscrutable features. Accordingly the impress of data must necessarily undergo transformation, to become representations in the mind.' But this doesn't yet give us what we need. For the possibility that has to be ruled out is the subjective idealist notion of the mind as a faculty of recognition which applies concepts to intuitions spread out in time. Hence, the Refutation of Idealism. Without the dimension of space, the crucial condition for such a faculty is missing. That is very far from obvious (and has generated libraries of textual exegesis). But without that transcendental move, nothing happens. The aeroplane does not get off the ground.

If you are going into this much detail, you can't 'exempt myself from going through the details' (next para). It all happens here, and the reader wants to know how!

You talk of 'bandwidths of our sensory modalities'. I am not aware of Kant even raising the issue of different sensory modalities, in the sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, although this becomes an issue (I seem to recall) in Hegel. Kant does speculate that there might be beings somewhere in the universe with different 'forms of intuition' to our own, but here he is collapsing all human modes of perception on the subject-object model of vision, and saying that there could be something completely different to 'all that'. Once again, the 'object-enabling' structure of experience is spatio-temporal. But why is space the pivot point?

(Turning the page, the quote that includes 'To scale this last elevation' does not have a citation.)

(Section V, first paragraph should be 'they facilitate the collection...')

Now the main issue. I was struck by your assertion, 'Imagination may strike Kant's readers as a highly precarious membrane to hold up such weighty freight as metaphysical judgements.' It occurred to me that there is a remarkable similarity with what Wittgenstein says in the Tractatus about 'pictures'. It looks as though Kant is saying that human imagination, the capacity to construct spatial pictures, is tied a priori to the necessity that experience should have spatio-temporal form. When I judge that I see a red car opposite, all kinds of conditional statements are implied about what I would perceive if the car were to change its location, how I would track it through space and time, and so on.

Newtonian mechanics involves a seamless correspondence between the possibilities of objects in space with the possibilities of representations of objects in spatial imagination. It is almost too good to be true. Of course, there is more to say: for example, why impenetrability is important, why Newtonian physics is true and Cartesian physics false. But just like Descartes, Kant believed that the basic propositions of physics can be proved a priori.

So, for Wittgenstein, we are only dealing with an analogy (the general form of a proposition is *logical* form). Whereas for Kant it is much more than a mere analogy.

This suggests to me that the revolution in physics which started in the nineteenth century, when the mechanical world view began to break down does put a crushing end to Kant's project. That is not to say that there might not be a similar project based on more sophisticated transcendental arguments. But that would not be Kant.

(Pause for light relief: When I turned the page and saw your list, 'Continuum hypothesis, Feigenbaum number...' I immediately thought of the scene early on in 'The Graduate': 'I have just one word to say to you...PLASTICS!!' I fear that the reaction from many readers will be the same as Dustin Hoffman's in the movie.)

If only we could have a Kant of quantum mechanics and string theory, and all the rest. The generally held view (amongst physicists) is that, once we leave Newtonian mechanics behind the human imagination is left gasping. So one gets by saying things like, 'Particle X does this, this and this...and forget about trying to picture how it does these seemingly impossible things.' What resources has metaphysics to offer? That's a good question.

All the best,


Is the fear of death irrational?

To: Colin A.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Is the fear of death irrational?
Date: 12 March 2003 13:29

Dear Colin,

I very much enjoyed your latest Pathways essay for Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Is the Fear of Death Irrational?', which you e-mailed me on 28 February.

On my bulldog clip for Philosophy Pathways, I have a weighty essay by Jurgen L. (who lives in Sydney, incidentally) on the subject of death. After struggling with Jurgen's taxing deliberations, your reminiscences came as a pleasant relief, although your essay is not without troubling barbs of its own.

You have approached this question in a way which might be taken to be psychological, rather than strictly philosophical (although you briefly express your philosophical credo). You have chosen to ask the question, 'When the crunch came, did I fear death?' The answer on each of the three occasions which you recount appears to have been, 'No'. Does that show that the fear of death is irrational? No, for two reasons:

First, it could be argued that you didn't have enough time to think about the prospect of death - because each time you were taken by surprise - and had you been given the opportunity for more extended reflection, the answer might have been 'Yes' rather than 'No'.

Secondly, even if the answer to the question of whether you would have feared death given sufficient time to reflect would still have been 'No', the basis for your considered judgement that death was not to be feared might turn out, on philosophical examination, to be irrational (as the atheist considers the believer's unquestioning belief in an afterlife).

What can we get out of this? Perhaps, a claim of the following form: "There is a truth which we see when we are *not* given time to reflect, which is easily obscured when thought is allowed sufficient time to weave its deceptive web." In other words, your immediate reaction *was* rational, based on a true perception, and the question is how to draw a general moral.

I would have liked to have seen some argument for this conclusion. I think - at the back of your mind - this was your idea, as you started writing. But somehow the quarry proved too elusive. (That's just a guess, I might be wrong!)

The closest we get to an argument is in the paragraph that begins, "In the words of Epicurus..." Interestingly, your interpretation of Epicurus is not the one standardly given. I would interpret Epicurus as saying that after death there is no 'I', no subject. But fear for oneself logically has no *target*, no object to latch onto where there is no self. Without a target, fear is necessarily irrational. This is the standard view. (At the time when this remark was taken was written, Epicurus would have been widely understood as arguing, on the basis of his version of atomism, that there is no soul which goes to Hades, so nothing to fear when the material body is dissolved into atoms. However, supposing one did go to Hades - i.e. supposing atomism is wrong - that would not be 'death' as we are treating that notion. I think that Epicurus did in fact intend the more general argument, rather than one that assumes the truth of atomism.)

If, on the other hand, as you claim, Epicurus is merely saying that "it's futile to fear something we can't experience with our conscious minds" then his argument would apply equally, for example, to my growing fear that my father (who passed away four years ago) was deeply disappointed in me, although he never showed it. Unless you deny the reality of the past, there *is* here a target for my fear. Something exists - or possibly exists - in the past, which I fear and dread. What is lacking in this case is a way of verifying or falsifying the belief upon which the fear is based (assuming that I am certain that my father did not keep a secret diary, and would never have taken the risk of confiding his feelings to anyone else).

In the same paragraph, you quote a line which you recorded in your philosophical notebook, "an indefinite but impending certainty possible at any moment". This is a very important idea, which marks death off as an absolute, rather than "something bad which might happen to you - or not". Both Heidegger and Levinas have in different ways tried to grapple with the recognition that death is simply *too big* for philosophy. In the words of my collaborator Brian Tee, according to Heidegger, death is the "possibility of impossibility", while according to Levinas, death is the "impossibility of possibility". - I'll leave you to ponder that.

All the best,


Monday, June 20, 2011

Berkeley's Dialogues: the problem of mind

To: Michael W.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Berkeley's Dialogues: the problem of mind
Date: 7 March 2003 16:09

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your e-mail of 25 February, with your first essay for the Metaphysics program, on the topic 'Berkeley's Three Dialogues: the problem of mind'.

This is a thoughtful piece of writing which raises serious issues for the key notions in Berkeley's metaphysics of 'spirit' and 'idea'.

As spirits, we are subjects of experience; we also possess the mental capacities of thought and deliberation. However, you are right to point out that these two attributes do not amount to the same thing. Some entities which we would not hesitate to call 'subjects of experience' do not have the capacity to think or deliberate. Does this imply that something can be a 'spirit' but not a 'mind'? or that the terms 'mind' and 'mental' are equivocal?

There are two possible positions that Berkeley can take, corresponding to the views about the nature of animal mentality of Descartes and Hume. According to Descartes, non-human animals have no souls. Their movements are result of inner physical mechanisms, comparable to clockwork. Hume, by contrast held it to be self evident that human beings and non-human animals of different species were at different points on a continuum, with respect to possession of an inner life.

Either position is consistent with Berkeley's metaphysics. If animals are not spirits, then they are merely part of the furniture of the world of our perception, i.e. the universe of ideas in God's mind. If animals are spirits, then just like us, animals are subjects, as well as objects of awareness. Berkeley appears to have taken the latter view, although I cannot recall the place where he actually comes out says that 'animals are spirits'. In criticizing Locke on abstract ideas, he accepts that animals have ideas: the question being whether, as Locke thought, they only differ from us in lacking the 'capacity to form general ideas'. Anything that has ideas must be a subject of experience, and hence a spirit.

Berkeley viewed the 'archetypes' existing in God's mind of the objects which we touch and see on the model of Plato's world of 'Forms' or 'Ideas'. For Plato, however, ideas are what we would term concepts, not particulars. It remains the case that Plato saw our lower-grade world of 'sights and sounds' as somehow generated from the forms, though in a less idealistic way than Berkeley. For Plato, the material and spiritual worlds remain two, not one.

It is well known that the empiricists were lax about the difference between 'concept', 'belief', 'sensation' and 'perception'. The question for us is whether this laxity fatally undermines Berkeley's version of idealism.

The question you have raised is whether Berkeley's model can accommodate the distinction between sensation and perception. What exists in God's mind are the correlates of spatio-temporal particulars, like a horse or a tree. Horses and trees are things which we perceive. I don't see it as a problem, however, that extra knowledge is required to interpret a given piece of sensory stimulation as perception of an entity of a particular kind. That the entity exists is a fact about the world of ideas/ archetypes existing in the mind of God. Whether or not in receiving a piece of sensory stimulation I am aware of what it is that my senses are registering is a contingent question which depends on my knowledge and experience, and my mental powers. Just as a human being does not see the whole of reality but only a tiny part of it from a particular point of view, so what it is that one sees from a given point of view depends on one's level of mentality. That which is there to be seen continues to exist, whether I am aware of it or not.

One note of caution, however. Although there is ample evidence that Berkeley held the full-blown theistic version of idealism, he does also talk in a way which seems to imply that what is essential to idealism is the possibility of describing experience in terms of conditional statements about experience. The latter view is more clearly recognizable as 'subjective idealism'. In that case, the problems you raise become more pressing. To say that an eagle swooped overhead is to say, in conditional terms that 'if one were to look one would see an eagle'. But some people would see an eagle and some would just see a shadow streaking across the clouds. Now it seems one has to talk in terms of what a fully knowledgeable observer would see. But how knowledgeable is fully knowledgeable? How can the existence of the eagle be an objective fact, if it depends upon the subjective state of the subject who perceives it, or indeed any number of such subjects?

A good first essay.

All the best,


'A computer can think and act but it cannot WILL'

To: Natasha G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: 'A computer can think and act but it cannot WILL'
Date: 28 February 2003 12:41

Dear Natasha,

Thank you for your e-mail of 22 February, with your 3rd essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question: "'A computer can think and act but it cannot WILL.' - Is that a convincing argument against a materialist view of the nature of the self?"

Let me first work on your intuitions by describing the following imaginary scenario of a chess game against a computer.

The computer responded to my opening move, pawn to King 4 with the same move. Over the next few moves, the computer tried to win control of the centre. As the positions equalized, the computer turned its attention to my King's side, where a bad pawn formation made my King vulnerable to a mating attack. In fending off the attack, however, I weakened my Queen's side. Now the computer relentlessly moved its Queens' side pawns forward. In the ensuing melee, one of the computer's pawns broke free and was two squares away from becoming a Queen. When I realized that I couldn't stop the pawn, I resigned.

Just as in your story of Fred, the objectives of the computer changed in response to changing circumstances. We can say that the computer has the ultimate goal of winning. It wouldn't understand deliberately losing a game for some other objective. Fred's ultimate goal is 'living the good life'. It is arguable, in a similar way, that we cannot understand what it would be to give up the goal of 'living the good life' for some other objective. Even acts of heroic self-sacrifice can be in terms of the agent's belief in what 'the good life' consists in.

If we are looking for a difference between human beings and computers, we have to look more closely. One, very important point that you make is that human beings evaluate their own actions and the actions of others in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. Above, I talked of 'the good life'. A precise definition can be given of what constitutes checkmate. But there is no precise definition of the good life, because there is an essential evaluative element.

I would argue that the notion of 'responsibility' is essentially linked to the possibility of 'making a response', of justifying our actions to another person, when challenged to do so. Human beings are responsible in this sense, whereas the chess computer is not. Once again, however, what is crucial is the evaluative element. Say, the computer makes a move that I cannot see the point of. I click a button on the screen which shows me the computer's analysis of the position. Looking at the analysis, I can now see how in four moves time against the best possible defence the computer will win one of my pawns. But this is just like looking at the printout from a calculating machine. The computer is not arguing with me or justifying its actions or explaining why it made the move that it did.

What exactly does that show? Here are some alternatives:

A. "The brain of a human being cannot function the way a present day computer functions."

B. "The brain of a human being cannot function the way any possible computer functions."

C. "The brain of a human being cannot function the way any possible physical setup functions."

To have an argument against physicalism, you need C. Let's agree on A. There are philosophers (Daniel Dennett is one) who believe that there is, or could be, a 'program' for a human brain, far more complex than any present day computer program, which in effect accomplishes the things I talked about above. It is able to reason, it demonstrates a sense of responsibility, it has values.

Opposing this view, are philosophers who are impressed by the very different structures of the brain and the computer. The brain works in a holistic, relational way, whereas computers process a series of commands, one after the other. The claim is that processing of series of instructions from a program can never be adequate for intelligence. I don't know whether this is true or not, but let's agree anyway.

That leaves B. The human brain is not like a computer. But it is physical all the same. The only way to 'construct' an intelligent subject is biologically, because of the intrinsic nature of the system involved.

How does considering the nature of will help us in deciding whether to go with B or C?

It is difficult to see how introspection as we go through the process of 'willing' an action can help. The materialist will say that, according to the physical story, we cannot be directly aware of the complext physical processes giving rise to our mental actions. It is part of what it is to be an intelligent subject that one has a sense of being able to 'will' to make decisions for oneself as opposed to following a series of instructions. But who is to say that this very sense is not the product of our brains following the biological 'instructions' preordained by nature?

All the best,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Heraclitus and Parmenides: the paradox of change

To: Jurgen L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heraclitus and Parmenides: the paradox of change
Date: 15 February 2003 09:31

Dear Jurgen,

Thank you for your e-mail of 14 February with your second piece on the Presocratics for the Associate Award, 'The Paradox of Change'.

First, a note about my comments. I will pick on any claim or argument which I disagree with or which seems to me to require a response. That is not necessarily a recommendation for change. You have to persuade me (or the examiner) that you have made a case. It is not necessary that I should agree with everything that you say.


I took issue with your two questions, 'Why the nature of things is what it is rather than something else, or nothing' and 'Which of the mediating agencies of the human creature, sense or thought, deserved priority if they clashed'.

The first question is far more sophisticated than any question raised by the Presocratics. A lot of philosophy has to happen before we reach this stage. Of course, we can trace what give rise to that question back to the Presocratics, but that is only because - as you have successfully argued - the roots of metaphysics can be traced back there. There is not the slightest inkling that the 'no more reason' (ou mallon) principle would give rise to the principle of sufficient reason as Leibniz applied it in his powerful proof that this world must be the best of all possible worlds.

The second question looks to me too much like a formulation of the clash between empiricism and rationalism. From Thales onwards, the Presocratics were united in their belief that thought can and should overrule the deliverances of sense perception: this is an idea which defines the stance of the philosopher. In particular, Parmenides and Heraclitus are united in their contempt for the unthinking multitude who do not see the truth of things for what it is.

There is an issue with regard to the interpretation of Heraclitus which you have neatly skipped over. This concerns the question whether Heraclitus actually held the doctrine Plato attributes to him, that all things, including a stone or a tree, 'flow' like rivers. Both Barnes and Kirk prefer a less extreme interpretation, according to which Heraclitus merely held that all things are constantly subject to change. I think they miss the force of Heraclitus' attack on the notion of 'enduring stuff'. According to Heraclitus, there is no substance, only the logos and the phenomena.

If the more extreme Platonic interpretation is correct, however, one still has to reckon with the language which we actually use, which relies on substantival expressions, both for individual 'substances' (in the Aristotelian sense) and different kinds of material, like clay or water. The theory of Heraclitus has nothing to say about 'identity through change' on this level (which Aristotle was later to account for in terms of accidental and essential properties). What Heraclitus says does imply, however, that we need to take a dual view of mundane discourse and metaphysical discourse. This is the same table that I sat at yesterday (mundane truth) yet at the same time there is nothing 'the same' in this table but the law of process itself (metaphysical truth).

What you say in the first paragraph on page 2 looks like an attempt to stretch the Heraclitean doctrine to explain 'identity through change' in the mundane sense. I don't think that this was Heraclitus' view. (This also applies to your (6)-(8) on page 3.)

It is worth noting that Anaximenes had a perfectly good explanation (in his theory of condensation and rarefaction) of why the so-called 'opposites', e.g. the hot and the cold are not really separate kinds of 'stuff'. Heraclitus goes one step further in rejecting the idea of a single underlying 'stuff' to account for the unity. The Logos does it all.


I was impressed by your original explanation of the Goddess. But is it true?

One paper which you should try to get hold of is G.E.L. Owen 'Plato, Parmenides and the Timeless Present' (cited in Barnes and in Kirk). The picture you describe fits perfectly the view of the Deity viewing the world in temporal process 'sub specie aeternitatis'. Here we have a sophisticated metaphysical theory seeking to account for the reality of both a world in time, and a timeless realm from the point of view of which our awareness of the passage of time is mere illusion. Owen traces this view back to Parmenides. But that does not require that Parmenides held this theory, nor is there any textual evidence to support that view.

Even with time removed, we still have variation in quality from one spatio-temporal location to another. This is explicitly denied by Parmenides in his deductions from 'It is'. It follows that the 'logic of locomotion' (Barnes) cannot be reconciled with Parmenides.

Is that so bad? Melissus had already set the trend for quibbling with the Parmenidean view, holding that the world is spatially and temporally 'infinite' (not spatially finite, not 'all at once', i.e. in one single time). Parmenides would not have accepted the views of his successors as capable of representing how things are *in reality*, because they transgress his fundamental principle. If you want to domesticate Parmenides, a better way (given the Way of Opinion) would be to read him as saying, 'Hey, you want a theory? I can give you a theory. But don't make the error of thinking that my theorising is any more than an interesting redescription of the illusory phenomenal world.'

All the best,


Moral judgement and the marks of truth

To: Kristine K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Moral judgement and the marks of truth
Date: 13 February 2003 16:05

Dear Kristine,

Thank you for your letter of 2 February, with your fourth essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, "Using several examples, compare and contrast the way moral and non-moral judgements exhibit the 'characteristic marks of truth'. What is the significance of that result for the claim that 'moral judgements are objective, not subjective'?"

This is a determined attempt to grapple with the question. You correctly note that in the realm of actual judgements, there is a difference between perceptual judgements like 'this apple is green' and judgements the determination of whose truth does not depend on assumptions about normal perceivers/conditions. In the terminology of measuring instruments, we do not use any instruments to determine the colour of an apple: for we ourselves are the instrument. If someone protested, 'You can't say that the apple is really green until you have confirmed your judgement with scientific tests' the proper response would be to say that they did not understand the meaning of 'green'. (Imagine someone producing an instrument that conclusively 'proved' that apples we call 'green' are in fact purple. Under what circumstances would such a claim make coherent sense?)

A proposition can be truth-apt without being true. This is an important distinction which needs to be made in your example of 'humans descended from apes'. We have a clear enough idea of what it would mean for it to be true that human beings descended from apes. The trouble is that investigators do not have sufficient evidence to convince those who refuse to accept their view. Worse than this, opponents of the theory appear to be in a position where no amount of evidence gathered from the fossil record would convince them. So what does it mean to talk here of 'investigators converging towards a single result'? There is a single 'result', the truth about the matter in question, both sides are agreed on that. They just disagree on what this is.

Given human limitations, we cannot *define* truth as that single result to which investigators will inevitably converge. For there is nothing inevitable in the resolution of the evolution dispute. However, we can say that there cannot exist two different and opposite 'truths', one for the evolution theorists and one for their opponents. This is one of the marks of truth. We can also go further and say that together with the idea of a unique truth, goes the idea that *in ideal circumstances* investigators would converge. For example, both sides can agree that *if* we had a time machine we could resolve the question once and for all.

One question to ask about moral judgements, therefore, is whether in order to make sense of moral judgements we need to assume the existence of a single truth. Another question to ask is what are the prospects of moral investigators who start off from a position of initial sharp divergence reaching agreement about what that truth is.

Let us consider your example of murder. I agree with you that 'bad' is far too general a term. However, from the context, the statement is understood as meaning that murder is morally bad, rather than 'not nearly as much fun as torture' or 'leaves an unpleasant mess for street cleaners to clear up' etc. Let's make it more specific. 'The person who committed the street murder deserves to be severely punished'. For all we know, there may be people out there who believe that the person who committed the murder deserves to be rewarded, but we feel fully confident in asserting that such a belief is *false*. Similarly with members of the mythical tribe who view murder as sport and the best test of ones manly prowess.

As before, there are two questions here. The first is whether the statement I just made about murder is truth-apt. Do we in fact have a clear idea of what would make it true. The second question is whether we can conceive of circumstances in which agreement would be secured about its truth.

It seems clear enough that there are problems with the idea of truth-aptness, even with as seemingly clear-cut example as murder, not to mention other far more debatable moral questions such as abortion, euthanasia, animal rights etc.

You say at one point, 'even if a moral judgement is found to be true that still does not necessarily imply that it is objective, although it should be true to be objective.' In other words, truth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for objectivity. I would agree that we can talk of 'truth' in the bare sense of agreement, in cases where one would hesitate to talk of objectivity. The moral subjectivist (as Simon Blackburn has argued) can happily allow talk of the 'truth' of this or that moral claim. However, I still believe that there is some scope for the idea of objectivity without 'truth' in the sense of a notion satisfying all the marks of truth. That is why I am not daunted by the examples of seemingly irresolvable moral disputes.

All the best,


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sources of metaphysics in Presocratic philosophy

To: Jurgen L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Sources of metaphysics in Presocratic philosophy
Date: 13 February 2003 14:28

Dear Jurgen,

Thank you for your e-mail of 9 February, with your essay towards the Associate Award, 'Sources of Metaphysics in Presocratic Philosophy' and other e-mails and essays (on death, Kant, Fichte part I and II).

My original, naively optimistic plan, was to respond to all four (five) pieces today. But after reading your fine piece on the 'Arche and Apeiron', I think it would be better to take one at a time. Tomorrow, I will look at your essay on death, then Kant and Fichte at the beginning of next week.

A note on length. The Presocratics piece is the only one that comes near to being within the word limit. Looking at the other pieces, I can't see what purpose would be served by forcing you to cut them down (generally, when 'students' write at too great a length, trimming can be relied on to produce a improvement). However, if you want to submit a portfolio for the Associate award, you must keep to an upper limit of 3500.

Arche and Apeiron

I suppose one can start with asking, What is the question?

Here are some alternatives:

- What did Anaximander mean by 'Apeiron'?
- What were his reasons and/or motives for introducing it?
- How was the idea received by his immediate successors?
- How has the idea subsequently been received in the history of philosophy?

There is a great temptation to attribute to Anaximander more finely worked or sophisticated reasoning for his arche than he himself recognized or intended.

Contemporary students of the Presocratics like Barnes are quite happy to take an idea and develop its logical ramifications far beyond what the originator could reasonably be expected to have conceived. I want to stress that I don't see anything wrong in this approach, which has become standard practice in English speaking academic philosophy. I would like to plead that there is still some value in asking the most accurate interpretation of a thinker's thought. Admittedly, very difficult, given the sparse evidence that has survived concerning the Presocratics.

When a philosopher has more than one argument for a theory, one begins to get suspicious. You give four:

1. The concept of the apeiron was 'initially devised as a means of defusing the risk of empirical refutation of a specific substance to represent the origin of things.'

2. An arche like water, 'having a determinate form, cannot undergo all the manifold transformations required of it...what is really required is a substance not determinate, not differentiated.'

3. '[A]s attributes are the constituents of both things and creatures, neither thing nor creature possessing attributes can be considered as the source of principle of creation.'

4. 'As a primal substance it must preserve neutrality, for the emergence of one element presupposes its natural animosity to all others: thus without the eternal justice which controls their expansionary drive, that element would long ago have acquired exclusive dominance.'

- I recognize 4. as an argument cited by Aristotle (Barnes §15, p.30). Interpretation 1. relies on a anachronistic (typically Popperian) notion of empirical refutation. Interpretation 2. also worries me, for historical reasons. Anaximenes proposed a mechanism for air (condensation and rarefaction), and so, apparently, the problem was solved. Did Anaximander simply fail to consider the possibility of Anaximander's elegant solution? Or would he (as I like to think) have rejected it on a priori grounds? Interpretation 3. looks like a non-sequitur: 'All things and creatures have attributes. The arche is not a thing or creature. Therefore the arche does not have attributes' (??). (If you change the first premise to *all and only* things and creatures have attributes, then you are simply restating the conclusion.)

Here are two suggestions of my own:

5. 'Making the material principle the Apeiron...coheres better with the centrepiece of Anaximander’s theory, his account of change in terms of time-governed processes of physical justice and retribution. The emphasis on justice implies that whatever oversees the processes and changes which occur in the world must itself be completely impartial, and so cannot be identified as one of the kinds of thing between which changes occur. If everything were ultimately made of water, there does not appear to be an equal reason for water giving way to fire, as there is for fire giving way to water.'

6. 'In line with Anaximander’s philosophical explanation for the stability of the Earth, one might simply argue that if one is prepared to discount the apparent evidence of sense perception and assert that air, fire, earth, water are in reality one substance, or formed from one substance, what reason could there be for that one substance to be water, rather than air, or fire, or earth?'

(Quoting from unit 2 of the Presocratics program.)

The 'no more reason' (ou mallon) argument seemed to have been very popular with the Presocratics.

Interpretation 5. raises another issue I wanted to discuss, concerning the famous quote, '...for they are answerable to and must atone for offending against the just decrees of time'. All the evidence points to Anaximander talking about *the opposites* here, not individual things. What you say about 'the protest of the emergent' looks much more like an idea provoked by Anaximander's concept than one that he ever intended.

My third (and last) comment concerns the reception of Anaximander's theory by his immediate successors. The Pythagorean philosopher Philolaus has an argument for a duality of 'limiters' and 'unlimiteds' which is heavily indebted to the notion of Apeiron. (For the fragments, see Barnes §277-9, p. 384-6.) Philolaus presents a picture of the universe as logically divided into two aspects, number and that to which number is applied. Neither can exist on its own (because any actual stuff, however diffuse or unformed has qualities which are more such than such). This is the perfect response to Anaximander's hypostatization of the unlimited as a separable and separate entity.

All the best,