Friday, September 30, 2011

Analysing the concept of 'concept'

To: Walter F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Analysing the concept of 'concept'
Date: 23 March 2005 13:04

Dear Walter,

Thank you for your email of 12 March, with your fourth essay for the Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question, 'What are concepts? How does analysing the concept of a 'concept' help to illuminate the way language works?'

I liked what you said about 'attachment' and the social aspect of language. Surely, whatever we have to say as philosophers of language about concepts must include the social dimension of language.

I am not so sure about what to say about autism. I was under the impression that at least some 'autistic' children have the power of speech. Of course, there are degrees of autism, but let's concentrate on one of the main defining marks of the condition, namely the incapacity to form the notion that 'A believes that P'. E.g. Johnny doesn't know how to respond to the question, 'How does the mountain look to Jilly?' but can only say how the mountain looks to him. So he is at a loss to explain the point of a story that depends on A's being unaware of a fact that B is aware of.

You ask the autistic child to describe what he sees, and he says, 'There is a mountain, with sheep and trees.' Johnny would not be able to say this if he lacked the concept of 'mountain', 'sheep', 'tree'. Yet it does seem that there are some very fundamental concepts that Johnny does lack, like 'person', 'belief'.

Wittgenstein's answer to the question, 'Where are concepts?' is that concepts are not in Plato's heaven, nor are they 'in the head' but rather that they are embedded in forms of life. Of course, this is not to deny that each of us internalises something when we learn 'how to go on' with words, but this knowledge is more like a practical ability than a picture which we carry around in our heads. The point about private languages is that no internal picture would suffice for following a rule, because the speaker still has to grasp how the picture is to be used.

The American philosopher Hilary Putnam, who is responsible for coining the phrase 'Meanings are not in the head', takes a view not unlike Aristotle's, that concept words name things in the world around us. E.g. the meaning of 'gold' is not 'yellow metal' or any list of properties we attribute to gold but *that thing there*. The more that science teaches us, the more we learn about the concept. This does not only apply to concepts of 'natural kinds' (determined by our interest in scientific explanation). As I argue in the program, an over-arching consideration is the *point* of a concept, the work that the concept does for us or the rationale for introducing the concept into the language, which in the case of natural kind concepts is our interest in a maximally explanatory classification but which might be significantly different in other areas of discourse.

Consider moral concepts. Would it be possible for a creature completely lacking in any sense of 'moral' obligation to acquire our moral concepts, as a means of predicting our behaviour? Such knowledge would surely be a great advantage to an amoralist. Some philosophers have argued (notably John McDowell) that a creature that was insensitive to the demands of morality would be incapable of acquiring the concepts. That would be a very good example of how a certain form of social existence was a prerequisite for acquiring certain concepts. In other words, no amount of observation or intellection would suffice to grasp the meanings of moral concepts in the absence of any motivation to be moral.

A basic consideration on semantic meaning which Wittgenstein famously expressed in the Tractatus is that it should be possible to understand what is meant by P without knowing whether or not P is true. It follows that however we define concepts, it must be in such a way as to leave room for the actual investigation of reality. The point of concepts is precisely to allow such room, while directing our view. This is how concepts serve as 'tools' of thinking.

Where do concepts come from? Do new ones come into existence? Of course, people have thoughts that no-one has thought before. Einstein is one example. But, again, of course, the thoughts that Einstein entertained didn't simply pop into his head from nowhere.

The more we learn about Einstein's intellectual biography, the more we understand how he could have come upon the thoughts that he expressed about, e.g., the nature of space and time. It is a truism that each generation of scientists (or philosophers) stand on the shoulders of those who went before. A new concept, e.g. 'space-time' embodies a new thought, but just as we can trace the roots of the 'new' thought, so we can trace the roots of the 'new' concept.

All the best,


Heraclitus: according to the Logos 'all things are one'

To: Vincent L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heraclitus: according to the Logos 'all things are one'
Date: 23 March 2005 12:03

Dear Vincent,

Thank you for your email of 14 March, with your essay in response to the University of London examination question, 'Listening not to me, but to the LOGOS, it is wise to agree that all things are one' (Heraclitus). Discuss. 2003 Question 1 (a).

This is a well argued and well researched piece of work, which would certainly gain a high mark in an examination. I would mark it borderline for a 'first'.

You correctly identify the three issues raised in the question:

The significance of 'listening to the logos'
The significance of the term 'wise'
What Heraclitus meant by 'all things are one'

I have a minor disagreement with your interpretation of what it means to 'listen to the logos'. An contemporary interpreter of Heraclitus might well advance the (Wittgensteinian) notion of a 'form of life in which this discourse belongs' as casting light on the notion of 'logos'. But Heraclitus surely did not intend to say, 'listen to the way the language works'.

The soul is constituted by the logos or rationality and this is what gives each person - or at least those with sufficiently 'dry souls' - the capacity to tune in to the universal logos. ('The dry soul is wisest and best.') The human soul exemplifies the universal order of the cosmos. We can understand the essence of the real - that 'all things are one' - because we are rational and reality is rational.

When you come to discuss the three elements of the 'all things are one' doctrine' the essay loses focus just a little. You are absolutely right to raise the question, what more the doctrine of unity is meant to accomplish than 'bind horses, spoons and stars into one system of matter'. However, what you go on to write looks more like an answer to the question, 'Heraclitus' doctrine of the unity of opposites denies the law of non-contradiction. Discuss.'

A good way to approach the significance of the unity of opposites is to contrast Heraclitus with Anaximenes, who proposed a not dissimilar view. According to Anaximenes, what we perceive as 'opposites', e.g. wet, dry, hot cold etc are merely positions on a continuum defined in terms of 'condensation-rarefaction'. It was a novel idea that 'the hot' and 'the cold' merely signal differences in degree. So what did Heraclitus add to this view? How did Heraclitus succeed in going beyond Anaximenes?

According to Anaximenes, underlying all change is an unchangeable stuff, air, whose transformations produce all the changes, all the 'opposites' that we see. By contrast, Heraclitus rejects the idea of an unchanging stuff. The only thing that is unchanging is the logos itself, the law of change.

Interpreting the 'river' example in this light, one might question the more modest interpretation according to which 'not everything is changing, but the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things'. On that view, rivers change but 'diamonds are forever'. All sorts of things are changing all the time, but some things, like diamonds, remain constant.

In that case, how could Heraclitus be saying anything more than what Anaximenes claimed, that horses, spoons, stars - and diamonds - are all made of air, or, in Heraclitus' case, fire?

An alternative interpretation is that a diamond is like a river. Both are stable images produced by an underlying process. Law is all you need - stuff is dispensable. The idea that every object is 'flowing' like a river was Plato's interpretation of Heraclitus, which has lost favour amongst some modern interpreters. Personally, I think Plato understood Heraclitus better.

In an examination, you don't have to express a preference for one view over another. You will gain credit for showing an awareness that there is an issue of interpretation here which remains unresolved.

I agree that 'Heraclitus should not be taken literally when he says, 'the World is fire'.' He is not saying what Anaximenes said, only with fire substituted for air. Fire is a 'symbol'. So, as we have seen, is the river. Both fires and rivers are images or shapes constituted by a constant process of change. So whatever 'fire' is symbolic of, must include more than just the change aspect. The difference is that fire destroys, transforms, creates. It does not merely embody or represent change but is the primary agent of change. That is the logos.

The notion that 'there is one supreme God which is neither personal nor transcended but wholly eminent in the world' is one scholar's interpretation. Personally, I am not convinced. The 'gods', as Xenophanes observed, are not 'God'. However much we may 'desire union' with them, ultimately they are finite, limited beings, like us.

All the best,


Thursday, September 29, 2011

'No-one ever does wrong knowingly'

To: David G.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: 'No-one ever does wrong knowingly'
Date: 11 March 2005 12:47

Dear David,

Thank you for your email of 5 March, with your first essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, ''No-one ever does wrong knowingly.' - Why is that a paradox? Explain the philosophical problem of weakness of will.'

The question is looking for an explanation of how the problem of weakness of the will raises difficulties for the Socratic maxim, 'No-one ever does wrong knowingly.'

You have approached this question well. Socrates' statement is paradoxical, you say, because it 'takes away a person's free will', and also because 'at first glance most people would not agree with the statement that knowledge of a moral [moral claim, moral rule, moral duty] is enough to stop an action from occurring.' Let's look at each of these objections in turn.

'If I really know what is the right thing to do then I must do it. I have no free choice in the matter.' This contradicts our intuitions that we do have a choice, even when we do know. As I explained in unit 2, the problem arises in the non-moral sphere too. I know I must give up smoking because of the dangerously high build-up of cholesterol in my arteries. I fully agree with the doctor when he shows me the test results. Yet the very next day I find myself lighting up. How is that possible?

You suggest a line of argument which could be used here. There is a difference between knowledge and awareness: 'It is not knowledge that is lacking but awareness.' How would this work in the smoking example? I know I must stop because the doctor told me and I believe him. At the time when he told me, I was fully aware of the significance of this knowledge. So what happened the next day to undermine my resolve? My answer - essentially along the lines that Socrates would give - is that a day's difference is enough to lessen the reality of my predicament for me, sufficiently to permit the thought, 'one more cigarette won't matter'. I still know what I know. I haven't forgotten the doctor's words. But this knowledge has somehow become less substantial, less real.

From what you say about the moral case, I am not clear whether you would fully go along with this.

The alternative explanation is that it is not my knowledge or awareness which is at fault but my 'will power'.

I think there are cases of failure to do what one knows one must do where it would be extremely implausible to blame the failure on lack of knowledge/ awareness. I am thinking of cases of raw, physical courage, the kind of thing that Marine and SAS recruits train for on Dartmoor. For example, in the days before anaesthetic, patients had to be held down on the operating table while the surgeon inserted the knife. But what if there wasn't anyone to hold you down? The surgeon just says, 'Whatever happens, DON'T MOVE!' Many people, perhaps most, would be incapable of preventing the natural physical reflex to extreme pain. With the appropriate training, however, we might learn the 'trick' of doing this. (Although one shudders to think what kind of training that would be.)

Could the smoking case be like that example? 'Some people just find their hands reaching for the offered cigarette, and there is nothing they can do about it, because their will power is just not strong enough.' I am not convinced.

The second objection relates to the claim that moral reasons by definition override all other considerations. You say, 'Knowledge of morals may have a motivating factor, but it is possible that morals are not an overriding factor but simply one more consideration amongst many that need to be evaluated and weighed. Sometimes morality is in the forefront and at other times economic or security issues are stronger.'

I disagree with you when you describe this as a case of 'weakness of will'. It looks to me more like plain confusion. The person who says, 'I know that the right thing would be to hand in the wallet but I need to pay my gas bill' has not thought things through. Or, perhaps what they mean is only, 'I know that others would say that the right thing would be to hand in the wallet but I don't agree because at this moment in time my need is the overriding factor.' That makes perfect sense. We have a duty to ourselves and those we care for, and this is one of the considerations to be taken into account in the overall reckoning. (Suppose I was starving and I found a loaf of bread.) But then that is not a case of moral considerations being overridden by other considerations.

I don't want to give the impression that this is cut and dried. A famous nineteenth century moral philosopher, Henry Sidgwick, concluded his work 'Methods of Ethics' with a problem which he found impossible to resolve, the clash between moral considerations and our right to consider our own interests. You will see as the program progresses why I disagree with Sidgwick's narrow definition of 'moral'.

All the best,


Why be moral?

To: Harry D.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Why be moral?
Date: 10 March 2005 11:53

Dear Harry,

Thank you for your email of 3 March, with your third essay for the Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Why be Moral?'

You have taken this question in exactly the way that I intended it, as a question concerning the justification for choosing to be moral (rather than as a question concerning the factual explanation of why human beings tend to be moral rather than immoral.) However, this idea of 'choosing to be moral' can still be understood in different ways. One can ask, 'When faced with the choice on a particular occasion between acting morally or not, why should I choose to act morally?' Or one can ask, 'Why should morality concern me at all, or at any time?'

There is an answer to the first question, which ought to be sufficient. When faced with a choice on a particular occasion, I do what I conceive to be right according to my moral view. The articulation of that moral view, into duties, prohibitions etc justifies - in the only sense in which talk of 'justification' makes any sense - the particular moral decision which I make. It is the second question, why be moral at all, or at any time which leaves one speechless.

As you recognize, the problem becomes particularly acute if one adopts a subjectivist account of ethics, according to which my judgement that to do A would be 'moral', whereas to do not-A would be 'immoral' is based purely on my own subjective attitudes. There is nothing in reality which the judgement corresponds to, in the way that 'This is a tree' corresponds to a tree existing out there which I perceive.

Why should I obey a law which exists purely in my own mind? What could 'obey' even mean here? Let's suppose that before I open the front door, I always switch the hall light on and off six times. You ask me, 'Why do you do that?' and all I can answer is, 'I just feel I have to'. What I have told you is not an 'explanation', but rather evidence of my obsessional neurosis.

Yet when we help the old lady who has fallen in the street, that is exactly what we feel: 'I just have to.' What is the difference?

As you observe, Aristotle has something to say here. The best way to make the case for Aristotle in the context of a subjectivist view of morals is to imagine that we could have the choice between different lives that we might lead, or different persons we might become. When comparing the moral life to the life of the person who rejects morality, we see, from our subjective point of view, that the moral life is 'better' in all sorts of ways.

Kant strongly repudiated a subjectivist view. For Kant, the ultimate ground of morality is not in our subjective attitudes, nor in 'facts' existing out there (like the tree) but in the basic structure of human reason itself. Kant argued that there is an inherent 'contradiction' in any intention towards an immoral act. So we can be immoral only at the cost of being irrational. Of course the big question now is how one establishes this claim. It is not at all easy to see how one could prove (rather than just stipulate) that morality is equivalent to rationality.

Now you say something about Kant which I do not altogether agree with. 'Kant argued that it was the painfulness of doing good that is the real mark of virtue.' What Kant actually said was that it can be very hard to discover the true motivation for a person's actions. For example, if you visit your ageing Aunt in hospital because you love her, that is not a moral choice according to Kant. However, it may very well be the case that you would have visited her out of duty even if she had been an unpleasant old hag whom you never got along with. So it is possible that when you visit your aunt you are in fact acting for a moral reason, even though it is very difficult for others, or even you yourself, to discern this. (However, your actions in other circumstances might give the clue to your true motivations.)

You make two claims at the end which did not seem to quite fit what you said before. 'Human conditioning has evolved to universal awareness of a concept of right and wrong,' and 'We act morally because the consequences of not acting in a moral [way] would result in a worsening of the human condition.'

There is a theory popular in some quarters that morality is based on evolution. We ought to behave in the way that evolution has programmed us to behave. The problem with this is that it is not at all clear that this entails being moral, as opposed to obeying the rule 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'.

If I am asking the question, 'Why be moral?' the fact that my not being moral would result in a 'worsening of the human condition' would only concern me if I already had a stake in morality. As an amoral man, I might be quite content to see a worsening of the condition of all human beings apart from myself.

All the best,


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bradley's dialectic of self-assertion and self-sacrifice

To: David S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Bradley's dialectic of self-assertion and self-sacrifice
Date: 10 March 2005 11:06

Dear David,

Thank you for your email of 25 February, with your fourth essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Describe the structure of the dialectic of self-assertion and self-sacrifice. Can the dialectic be resolved?'

This is a good essay, and I also agree with a lot of what you say.

The example of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics is an novel way of illustrating the pitfalls of a morality of pure self-sacrifice, although it could be argued that (as you point out) the fatal defect in the laws of robotics is their rigidity.

Total self-sacrifice by no means entails enslavement. It was surely a fatal error on behalf of the programmers to require robots to obey human orders. A human being, as a moral agent, obeys an order for a reason. For example, you obey an order because 'its the law', or because the person giving the order is your boss - or indeed the slave master wielding the whip. By contrast, Asimov's robots appear to suffer from an irrational compulsion, which fatally damages their capacity for moral agency.

A person who, inspired by strong religious faith takes up work in a leper colony could be said to have embraced a life of self-sacrifice. But this is a free choice, and not self-enslavement.

I think one problem may be that you have tended towards conflating the dialectic of self-assertion and self-sacrifice with a different issue: the question of fanaticism versus non-fanaticism, as raised by Richard Hare. The fanatic is one who holds a set of moral beliefs which he believes ought to be held by everybody. Anti-abortionism is fanatical, according to Hare's definition. But so is pro-abortionism. It turns out (as I argued in the program) that for Hare there is only one possible non-fanatical option: preference utilitarianism.

There is an echo of Hare's rejection of fanaticism in the ethics of dialogue, in my recognition of a duty to respect the values of others, including their moral aspirations and ideals even when these conflict with mine. The difference is that there is a necessary limit to this process. Ultimately, I cannot judge things from purely disinterested view. I have a capacity for judgement honed by my unique life and experiences, and it is this judgement which I exercise in seeking to do what I conceive to be 'right', recognizing all the while that others will not necessarily see things as I see them, and moreover that I myself, being fallible, sometimes decide on a course of action which I later realize was 'wrong'.

Bradley was very much aware that there is a spectrum of possible choices between the two extremes of self-assertion and self-sacrifice, and no 'correct' position on the spectrum. He was in fact responding to a problem raised by Henry Sidgwick, at the end of his 'Methods of Ethics', where Sidgwick deplored the fact that, recognizing that each person has a right to pursue his own self-interest, there appeared no way to square this with the demands of morality.

Bradley's solution is to recognize that morality is more complex than Sidgwick conceived it. There is no 'right' answer to how self-sacrificial or self-assertive one ought to be. It is a life choice. That is the point. Bradley saw this primarily in the context of higher human aspirations, towards the pursuit of knowledge, or art, or spirituality. For example, to live the life of a hermit who spends his day in prayer is an act of self-assertion. We don't condemn the hermit because we recognize the legitimacy of this kind of life choice.

You gave the example of Peter Singer arguing that we should all give 10 per cent of our income to help the poor. This hearks back to the tradition of 'tithes' (does Singer mention this?) once practised in many Christian communities and still practised by the Mormons today. It could be argued that tithes are a sound rule of thumb that everyone can agree on, regardless of whether some persons can afford to pay a larger amount. In the absence of this kind of structure, however, each individual has to make a choice for him or herself. But I do not see this as a choice between 'self-assertion' and 'self-sacrifice'. It is a question of economics: what is the best use I can make of the resources at my disposal.

I don't want to give the impression that there is no problem or conflict. The clash between self-assertion and self-sacrifice is one of the basic forms of moral dilemma, and as I argued at the beginning of the program we cannot require ethics to provide a formula for resolving all moral dilemmas. On the contrary, it is recognition of the reality of the moral dilemma which drives home the depth of ethical questions.

All the best,


What do Zeno's paradoxes tell us about motion?

To: Pat F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: What do Zeno's paradoxes tell us about motion?
Date: 25 February 2005 11:02

Dear Pat,

Thank you for your email of 15 February, with your University of London essay in response to the question, 'What, if anything do Zeno's paradoxes tell us about motion?'

There are good things about this essay which would impress an examiner. You show that you are aware of the difficulty of resolving Zeno's paradoxes of motion, and you demonstrate that you knowledgeable about contemporary physics and maths and the light that these cast on Zeno.

However, there is a lack of clarity in the argument, in particular, concerning the relation between the logical analysis of motion, and empirical discoveries which suggest that motion in the actual world is different from what it might have been in some other possible worlds.

Let me first deal with the point about Aristotle. Here is a quote from unit 9 of The First Philosophers (attached):

172. If Zeno's argument is not meant to be valid, where is the fallacy? As Aristotle comments there is no special difficulty with the idea of covering an infinitely divisible distance in a finite time, since the time itself may be thought of as infinitely divisible. The question is rather how we are to conceive of the infinite number of separate steps that need to be taken in order for Achilles to catch the tortoise; or, more generally, as Zeno shows in the paradox of The Stadium, the infinite number of steps that need to be taken if any object is to move any distance. Aristotle thought it sufficient to distinguish between 'actual' and 'potential' infinity: it is impossible for an infinite number of separate steps to actually take place in a finite time, but we may legitimately talk of a 'potentially' infinite number of steps; steps which do not actually exist as such, but still each have the 'potential' to exist if one were to direct one's attention to that particular step. Thus, the infinite series of ever tinier distances that Achilles has to cover in order to catch the tortoise exists only as the result of our being able to continue mentally dividing the total distance he has to run into ever tinier parts; the members of that series are not separate steps he has to take, one after the other.

172. Now is this an adequate response to the paradox? Let us agree that Achilles does not have to perform an infinite number of physical actions: all he does is take three strides, and he's there. The question is what would count, in principle, as a complete description of everything that actually happens in the process of his catching the tortoise. One might argue that the reality of the actual situation does go beyond any finite description that anyone could give of it. An infinite number of events do actually take place, an uninterrupted sequence of happenings corresponding to the infinite number of ever tinier distances that Achilles has to cover. If that is correct, then Aristotle's explanation is not adequate as it stands. Achilles does take an infinite number of distinct steps, in the sense that there actually occur an infinite number of events of his moving just that bit closer to the tortoise; even though we could never be aware of them as such. We must then say that the number of steps that can take place in a finite time is actually infinite, in Aristotle's sense. But it is one thing to know what one 'has to say', and quite another to know what one would mean in saying it. As in the case of Zeno's argument against the existence of a plurality of objects, the initial reaction that 'there must be a fallacy' gives way to the realization that a lot of philosophical work needs to be done in order to meet fully the challenge of the paradox.

If I was writing an answer to this question, the first thing I would do is attempt state what we perceive or think motion to be. The upshot of your essay is that Zeno has successfully shown that motion is different from what we thought; but this conclusion would be clearer if the reader was in a position to compare the two conceptions, the pre-reflective concept of motion and the reflective.

What exactly is the relevance of the quantization of time and space? In his paradoxes concerning divisibility, Zeno shows that he was aware of the alternatives, and designed his argument to cover both possibilities: that physical reality is ultimately continuous and that physical reality is ultimately discrete.

Take the paradox of the arrow. I couldn't quite make this out, but you say, 'This is a paradox and it in fact holds [in the sense that the] because it is true of the universe that the universe is inherently paradoxical because of its quantum nature.' Well, how exactly? If time and space are discrete then there is no such thing as 'motion' as pre-reflectively understood, full stop. What we pre-reflectively term 'motion' is merely a sequence of static states, like the frames of a movie which follow on from one another so rapidly that we are not aware of the discontinuity. How clever of Zeno, someone might think, to have anticipated quantum theory! But there is no necessity that things should have been this way. The conclusion to draw for a possible universe where time and space are continuous is that motion is more than just the occupation of different positions at different times. An object X could occupy different positions at different times and not be 'moving'; for example, if it occupied point A for an instant, then point B and so on. (Imagine a Star Trek set up, but where the arrow disappears and reappears continuously.)

I don't know what to make of the mathematical paradox which you cite (actually this is new to me). However, your statement, 'This is a fundamental paradox within mathematics as Zeno's paradox of the arrow etc. are fundamental philosophical paradoxes' would not, in my view, convince an examiner that this example was relevant to the discussion of Zeno. You can hardly claim that Zeno anticipated this mathematical paradox.

Again, I don't quite see from what you say in your essay how you are justified in drawing the conclusion, 'To embrace Zeno is not to say that there is no change but rather to say that we cannot fully express change as an objective quality that is separate and distinct from the way that we choose to measure it.'

If this statement means anything to me, it suggests what I said earlier, that there are 'pre-reflective' and 'reflective' concepts of motion and change. As in other areas where precise analysis and formalization replace pre-reflective notions, it is possible that we may be faced with a choice of alternative formalizations, alternative 're-definitions' of motion. In that sense, I can understand that there might be room for a 'choice'.

All the best,


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are we the best authority on our own mental states?

To: Derek S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Are we the best authority on our own mental states?
Date: 22 February 2005 10:20

Dear Derek,

Thank you for your email of 11 February, with your first essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, 'Is it true that we are always the best authority about our own mental states? What conclusions do you draw from your answer to that question regarding the distinction between the 'inner' and the 'outer'?

Your essay takes as its starting point a principled hostility to dualism and dualistic explanations. There is no 'I', only the whole physical person. Talk of 'mental' states is a (more or less misleading) way of talking about brain states.

On this assumption, as you point out, human being are, under normal circumstances, wired up in such a way that each of us is in the best position to report on our own 'mental' (in scare quotes) states. In a similar way, it would be silly to expect the temperature gauge on your car to report on the temperature of the water coolant in a different car, and there would be little point in designing one. One can go further to say, evolution has seen to it that our brain is able to monitor our own states, so that we can tell, e.g. when and where our bodies have been injured, by collecting pain data. (There is a lovely line in Terminator 2 when the young lad asks Arnie whether he feels 'pain' when he is injured, and he replies that his sensors 'collect injury data which you would call "pain".')

It is not inconceivable that creatures could evolve with physical gauges, which they used to monitor their physical states, rather than relying on 'feelings'. So I would know, e.g. that my body was injured by noticing the red light blinking on my injury gauge. But then, of course, the design requires 'awareness' of the red light. You could make a gauge for that, e.g. one which emitted sounds but then the same problem would arise.

At this point, one might wonder, what is it about the notion of 'feelings' or 'awareness' or 'sensations' which leads people down the blind alley of dualistic explanations?

Or, perhaps, first we should ask: what is a mental state? This is a legitimate question for the materialist no less than for the dualist. The difference between you and your car is that your car doesn't have mental states. It doesn't feel hot when the temperature gauge goes into the red.

Mental states are associated with persons who experience them. That I am in intense pain might be a plain fact for all to see - from my groaning and writhing - but I am the only person who actually feels it. That's what makes the pain 'mine'. One tentative definition of the mental, therefore, might be in terms of a special kind of 'authority' which a subject has concerning his own mental states. I know immediately, and without observation (e.g. of my behaviour, or of a pain gauge) that I am in pain.

This is the point which Descartes exploits in his argument for mind-body dualism.

As you correctly point out at the beginning of your essay, however, the domain of the 'mental' extends beyond immediate feelings like pain which we are 'actively aware' of so long as they obtain, to conditions or states regarding which (you could easily have gone on to note) are not always and on every occasion the best authority. I tell you I am not jealous that you are going out with Mary and I believe what I say. But everyone else can see from my despondent behaviour that I am self-deceived.

Here we have the beginnings of an argument against the Cartesian notion of the 'private theatre'. (This was in fact the sort of thing I was looking for in the essay question.) The case I am making here is that some sort of argument like this is what is needed. There is an illusion, or misconception concerning the 'mental' which needs to be identified, and shown to be illusory.

At the end of your essay, there is evidence that for all your materialist scruples, you are a little bit tempted by the Cartesian illusion. This is when you talk about the possibility of 'monitoring the brain by an electronic device'. Even if you could plug into my brain you would 'only see the red you usually see' when you see a red rose through my eyes. It follows that there is such a thing as 'the red GK usually sees' and 'the red DS usually sees' which might, for all we could ever know, be the same colour or different colours, a question which one could not resolve by any physical investigation of our bodies or brains.

This is the crucial point where we need to apply the philosophical critique of 'first person authority'. Unlike jealousy, red is the kind of feeling that you just know you have whenever it occurs, without inference. I just know the colour that red things have for me and you just know the colour that red things have for you, and this knowledge is, in principle, incapable of being physically measured or tested or compared.

What is wrong with that idea? - There had better be something wrong with it, otherwise we have no right to call ourselves 'materialists'.

All the best,


UK govt proposal to ban the use of the verb 'to know'

To: Harry D.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: UK govt proposal to ban the use of the verb 'to know'
Date: 20 February 2005 13:13

Dear Harry,

Thank you for your email of 9 February, with your second essay for Possible World Machine, in response to the question, ''In view of advice from the philosophical think-tank formed last year from six eminent professors, we shall be introducing legislation to ban the use of the verb 'to know' and its derivatives from all official documents.' - Comment on this imaginary extract from the Queen's speech at the opening of Parliament.'

I enjoyed reading this. I could almost believe that a Government minister might make this speech (although it sounds more like something you'd hear in the European Parliament).

How would a member of the Opposition respond? One way might be to deploy arguments against scepticism. The problem with this approach is that philosophers are still debating the pros and cons of scepticism. A law banning the use of the verb 'to know' and its derivatives might be seen as the safest option, given the possibility that the sceptics might be proved to be right after all.

This would be one way of developing the argument of the essay. However, there is another line of attack. It looks as if, in banning the use of a mere word, everything can carry on as before. What exactly has changed?

Suppose you ask me, 'Do you know if the number 25 bus runs today?' I reply, 'I believe that it does.' In normal conversation this would normally be taken to imply that I am allowing room for doubt. Maybe I've seen the number 25 on Sundays before, and have no reason to suppose that the schedule has been changed. On the other hand, suppose I say, 'Yes it does.' This implies that you can take it from me that the number 25 does run today. I do not entertain any doubts about the matter. I just know. If I did have doubts, then in making a categorical assertion I would be misleading you about my authority as a source of information.

However, the argument for scepticism in Meditation 1 applies to all beliefs equally. It follows that for all practical purposes, there will still be room for a distinction between the two cases where I inform you about the number 25 bus, between making a qualified assertion and making a categorical assertion. The only difference will be - as it were - that I tell you, 'I believe that it does,' or 'Yes it does,' with a wink, and you wink back showing that we are both fully aware of the impregnability of the sceptic's case.

So there will still be the need, in official documents, to mark the practical difference between qualified and categorical assertion, between, 'We think' and 'You can take it from us'. No-one is seriously maintaining that there is a real risk that we will wake up to discover that we have been dreaming etc. etc.

In this way, it looks as though the doctrine of philosophical scepticism is toothless. Having made the point about 'Know' with a capital 'K', there is no danger that any harm will be done by re-introducing the word 'know' with a small 'k'.

However, as proponents of scepticism have pointed out (e.g. Peter Unger in his book 'Ignorance'), it is far from clear that the sceptic will be happy with making his point, and then quietly accepting the status quo. The ancient school of sceptics who followed the philosopher Pyrrho (not to be confused with the General Pyrrhus who won a famous 'Pyrrhic victory') maintained that their doctrine did have practical consequences, and so they did not travel or undertake any projects which required assumptions which might turn out to be false, and instead lived a life of ease and spent their time debating philosophy.

If we accept the case for scepticism which Descartes makes in Meditation 1, then no-one ever has the *right* to make a categorical assertion about anything. One response is to say, 'We will still make categorical assertions but recognize that we do this even though we do not have the right to do so.' The alternative response is to say, 'We must no longer make categorical assertions.' On the first alternative, there is no practical harm in retaining the use of the word 'to know'. On the second alternative, it is not sufficient merely to remove all occurrences of the verb 'to know' and its derivatives. Every categorical assertion must also be removed, or rephrased.

Either way, the Government's case collapses.

All the best,


Monday, September 26, 2011

My subjective world can never die...

To: Marcus S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: My subjective world can never die...
Date: 19 February 2005 13:03

Dear Marcus,

Thank you for your email of 7 February, with your fifth and final essay for the Pathways Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, ''My subjective world can never die, can never cease to continue, for with every new moment it is as if it had never existed, and will continue no longer than that very moment.' Discuss.'

Congratulations on completing your program. Your certificate and report will follow shortly.

The quoted statement is taken from my book Naive Metaphysics (the end of Chapter 9, 'Attributes of my subjective world'). The important thing to bear in mind is that I am not talking about subjectivity as such, or the nature of subjective awareness.

Your essay does address the nature of subjectivity or subjective awareness. How does subjective awareness differ between a young child and an adult? How do we develop a sense of self? You also venture the thought (which occurs in Leibniz's theory of 'monads', and also in Whitehead's theory of 'actual entities') that every entity in the universe may be conceived as having a 'subjective side' inasmuch as there is such a thing as a perspective on the universe from that entity's 'point of view'. For example, we can tell the history of the universe from the point of view of the rock which came into existence in a volcano blast.

The rock may have a 'subjective' side but it is not aware. The infant is aware, but has no concept of 'self'. And so on.

How, in these terms, can we make sense of the strange idea that 'with every new moment it is as if it had never existed, and will continue no longer than that moment'? You draw the reasonable conclusion that, 'The man in his maturity... cannot honestly say to himself, 'My subjective world can never die.' This separates him from the immature mind, which does not know the meaning of 'subjective' and 'die.''

Yet, I envisaged the person making the claim as a philosopher, who has thought deeply about the problem.

In the world, viewed from the objective standpoint, there are entities each of which has a perspective on the world, some of which are aware, or conscious of themselves and of a world of other things, some of which are aware or conscious etc. Subjectivity as such, or subjective awareness is part of the objective world. The 'mature man' appreciates this, and realizes that his identity through time is an objective fact. He has a beginning in time and an end, he was born and he will die.

But I have argued that each of us must recognize an extra element, which cannot be incorporated into the objective world in this way. This is the unique fact, as I would express it, that 'I am GK', or, as you would express it, that 'I am MS'. The objective world remains the same, contains the same entities, the same rocks, animals, babies, mature men, whether I consider the fact that 'I' am in it, that one of these many possible perspectives is 'mine', or not. As a matter of objective fact, there will still be GK, whether I am GK or not.

This is the mystery that I have labelled the existence of 'my subjective world'. My subjective world cannot be constituted of subjectivity or consciousness as such because these are already incorporated into the objective world. It is not something 'extra', in the sense of another entity existing in addition to the objective world. The only remaining alternative is to say that it is just that very same world itself in its entirety, but with the additional quality of being 'this' or 'mine'.

It is this (I allege) that we fear to 'lose' when we contemplate the certainty of death. But this fear is baseless, because the 'this' only exists in the 'now'.

One way to express the same point which doesn't make it appear to depend on a dubious metaphysical 'theory' is to consider problem cases of personal identity.

Consider the case of symmetrical splitting which we've looked at before. If you think about the 'I' who says 'I am MS' as being 'in' this body, then the question arises what will happen to your 'I' at the moment of symmetrical division. Will it 'go right' or 'go left'? The illusion of two alternatives depends on viewing the 'I' as referring to an invisible nugget of individuality which resides 'in' your body, a 'soul'. My soul will go into body A or body B but I don't know which.

Objectively, there will be two MSs or GKs, each rightfully claiming identity with the MS or GK who existed before. But that still leaves the problem of what to do with the 'I'. I claim that it cannot be both, therefore it must be neither. It follows that whatever - at any time - the 'I' in this non-objective or metaphysical sense refers to cannot be an entity which persists from one moment to the next .

All the best,


Catherine Macaulay on sympathy, reason and virtue

To: Connie T.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Catharine Macaulay on sympathy, reason and virtue
Date: 11 February 2005 11:47

Dear Connie,

Thank you for your two emails of 3 February, with your latest essays on Catharine Macaulay, 'Sympathy, Reason and the Public Voice: Catharine Macaulay's Concept of Virtue', and 'An Education To Achieve Virtue'.

I read the two pieces with great pleasure. You have put a lot of work into these and it shows. This time I really feel that I know what Macaulay was about. I can appreciate the philosophical significance of her ideas on moral education.

However, you are looking for criticism, not praise. Yes, there is still room for improvement. I don't mean further polishing up, but rather thinking through the idea of an innate capacity for 'reason' which can be used well or misused; a capacity which can be cultivated with appropriate education, destroyed by inappropriate education.

I very much liked your treatment of benevolence and sympathy in the first essay. Then when you went on to discuss reason, I felt I was beginning to get a bit lost. Something seemed to be missing.

Again, in the second essay, there was a lot of talk about reason but its role seemed to be more negative than positive, enabling the student to resist the public voice and think and feel for themselves. Then, right at the end, you quote from Iris Murdoch (the word 'little' is not a word most moral philosophers would use about this important work), as if in recognition of the missing element - the vision of the Good.

For Macaulay, reason has nothing to do with a Kantian 'categorical imperative' as you note in your first essay. It is reason in service of the emotions, or, perhaps better, 'rational feeling' or 'intelligent feeling'. There is a philosophical point to be made here about the false split between reason and emotion in the tradition from Plato through Kant. A lot has been written about this: I don't have a particular reference in mind, but this is something you can follow up for yourself. (I am not saying that you need to add a philosophical discussion of reason and emotion to either of your essays: but maybe a footnote to show that you are aware of the issue.)

As you yourself seem to be aware, education for Macaulay seems to be very much along the lines of Humean association of ideas, countering the false, morally harmful associations with true and morally beneficent ones. The objection is not just that this process depends upon finding good teachers (which you acknowledge) but also that the whole notion seems in danger of circularity. One could imagine an 'anti-Macaulay' from twin earth putting exactly the same argument for training young people to resist the public voice which teaches the false doctrine of equality of the sexes!

What is missing? Not just the capacity to think clearly and rationally. If the twentieth century has taught us anything, it has shown just what havoc can be wrought by human beings and their capacity for 'reason'.

For Macaulay (reading between the lines of your essays) reason and rationality is not just the ability to avoid fallacies of follow an argument. (Assume the Germans are the master race and everything follows.) On the contrary, enlightened reason IS the capacity for moral vision.

It is moral vision which is suppressed by the public voice; the ability to *see what is there for what it is* - the suffering of the fox, for example.

Iris Murdoch, in the bit that you quote, is talking about our ability to be moved by exemplars of the Good - for example, the actions of a Mother Theresa or a Ghandi (but also 'great' works of art, literature, philosophy).

The idea here is Platonic. In Plato, the more we are aware of, able to 'recollect' the Good, the Beautiful, the True, the greater our capacity to recognize, and realize these concepts in the world of material things - the greater our capacity for moral vision.

Moral vision takes many forms. An example of moral vision would be the ability to 'read' a complex situation like a book and realize what has to be done. Or the ability to notice the small things, the tell-tale sign. Or the unwavering belief in an ideal which inspires the saint or the hero.

I would not be at all surprised if you found references to these ideas in Macaulay's writings. At any rate, the idea of moral vision seems to be the missing link which ties everything together.

As they stand, I like both pieces of work very much. Both are publishable (which is, I am sure, your intention). I would be very happy for versions (possibly a little shorter) of either of these to appear in the Philosophy Pathways e-journal, provided of course that this doesn't prevent you from getting them accepted elsewhere.

All the best,


Friday, September 23, 2011

Significance of Quine's ontological relativity

To: Walter F.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Significance of Quine's ontological relativity
Date: 9 February 2005 14:24

Dear Walter,

Thank you for your email of 30 January, with your third essay for the Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question, 'What is the significance of Quine's doctrine of 'Ontological Relativity'? How does it contrast with 'linguistic relativism'?'

You should have received your Certificate for the Moral Philosophy program by now. Please let me know if it hasn't yet arrived.

This is an interesting and perceptive essay. I didn't recall your telling me that you worked for ten years with the US Public Health Service on Indian Reservations. I agree with your point that Whorf's conjectures concerning the concepts possessed, or not possessed by the Hopi, 'would probably be difficult to distinguish from native scepticism about the motives of anthropologists'

Quine's famous thesis of the indeterminacy of translation - the claim that there is no such thing as a uniquely correct translation manual - can be interpreted, as Quine himself admits, in two distinct ways. The underdetermination of meaning, which Donald Davidson has emphasised in his writings, ultimately rests on impossibility, in principle, of factoring out the contribution made by beliefs and desires in explaining an agent's actions. The very same bodily movements can, in principle, be produced by different pairs of beliefs and desires. This inability to identify desire independently of belief or vice versa infects the very process of writing a translation manual, because our only handle on what the 'natives' mean by a certain utterance is our observation the circumstances in which we observe them using that utterance, or their response when we use it: in both cases, prior assumptions are necessary concerning their beliefs and desires.

Davidson calls this process 'radical translation'. Every radical translation is a 'theory' in which multiple simultaneous assignments of beliefs, desires and meanings are made. But, then, as a last finesse, Davidson recognizes that it is not only the anthropologist who finds themself in this predicament. Whenever two human beings communicate with one another, an implicit process of radical translation is necessarily involved. We are not normally aware of this, only because we already 'speak the same language', i.e. utter the same noises. This 'homophonic' translation (the same word for the same word) can break down, however. An example might be the conversation between an analyst and his patient, when the analyst begins to suspect that the patient is saying something very different from what he thought he was saying.

Quine's ontological relativity also involves translation manuals, but at a deeper level. In the 'gavagai' case, for example, where the native utters 'gavagai' and you are unsure whether to translate this as 'rabbit' or 'rabbit part' etc. we are envisaging a permutation of the logical apparatus for individuation and identity. So, for example, the sign 'equals' or the utterance 'is the same' which we use to express the observation, e.g. 'That's the same rabbit I saw a minute ago', might, in a different translation manual, mean, 'Similar', as in, 'That's a similar momentary rabbit stage to the momentary rabbit stage I saw a minute ago.'

Whenever we identify the meaning of a sign, e.g. "'hubshcub' means 'the same" we are doing this relative to our own language. There is no way of comparing a language 'to the world', we can only map one language onto another. That's Quine's fundamental point.

Quine's reliance 'on the old standbys Behaviourism and Pragmatism', as you put it, may look suspect because it seems to imply that there is something concrete which we can identify below the level of meaning - bodily movements, sounds, scribbles - which constitutes the real 'hard stuff' or bedrock of semantics. Yet workers in the field will testify to the fact that it is notoriously difficult to identify a purely physical 'bodily movement' or 'guttural sound' independently of hypotheses concerning the agent's beliefs, desires and intentions. Every observation, at whatever level, is infected by theory. In his metaphor of 'the net', Quine seems to recognize this.

The idea of linguistic relativism is also tackled by Donald Davidson, in his well known paper, 'On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme'. In the program, I try to go one step further than Davidson - who argues in his paper that the 'very idea' of the existence of a different, incompatible conceptual scheme ultimately has no real content - when I suggest that there is something which the worry about linguistic relativism *correctly* latches onto: this is the possibility that our own concepts might themselves be 'wrong' in some way, i.e. embody some kind of internal incoherence. This involves a particularly unsettling kind of scepticism, where the problem is not just that our most deeply held beliefs might be wrong, but rather the recognition of the possibility that we may think our words make sense when in reality they are nonsense.

It is difficult, as I explain, to give examples. Perhaps philosophy itself and in particular the language of philosophy is the area where there is the greatest danger of coining meaningless concepts, as many would agree!

All the best,


Plato on love

To: Julian P.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Plato on love
Date: 9 February 2005 13:05

Dear Julian,

Thank you for your email of 2 February, with your University of London BA essay in response to the question, 'For Plato, can people be loved for their own sake?'

This essay represents a tremendous amount of work, and is very impressive.

Your argument turns on a crucial distinction between loving X, where X is a terminal object of love, and loving X where one wishes for X's own good. Here, I think, things get a little unstuck. Although this is an important distinction to make, the examples you give obscure, rather than illuminate the point at issue, and spoil your case against Vlastos.

I am going to concentrate on this point, because this is where I feel you need to do more thinking.

I do have some sympathy with the view that Aristotle is talking about genuine love between two persons, while for Plato my love for you is ultimately not for you, in yourself, but rather for what you represent, an ideal which I strive to realize both in myself and in you. It sounds hard to call this 'selfish', because the acts which it demands are acts paradigmatically acts of selflessness and, if circumstances require, self-sacrifice. Yet there does seem to be a sense in which for Plato the wonder and greatness of 'love' lies precisely in the fact that it serves as a reminder, it aids the activity of recollection of something which is not only higher than the material world, but also higher than any individual soul: the world of the forms.

I won't dwell too long on your examples. Money (as I think you half see) is a paradoxical object of love, and so better avoided in giving examples. I love Sheffield (I came to love it, as a Londoner I never thought I would) and I love Sheffield 'for its own sake' rather for some further end. What does the difference amount to here? (I have chosen this example because Sheffield is not a 'person'.)

I might love Sheffield only for some further end if, for example, the people are very helpful, or there are nice parks where I can walk or relax, or if house prices are very cheap, or if the public transport is excellent. (Mostly true.) I could feel all this, while having no desire for the good of Sheffield (e.g. I am an Iraqi spy plotting revenge on the British people).

On the other hand, loving Sheffield for its own sake (as I do) I feel pride when Sheffield teams win sporting competitions, take every opportunity to tell people how great Sheffield is, avoid doing anything to spoil the local environment, sign petitions or go on protest marches when local services and amenities are threatened and so on.

If Sheffield is merely a means to my end, this can be a good end (something I love for its own sake, e.g. Islam) or not. But that is irrelevant so far as Sheffield is concerned. In either case, there is no genuine love for Sheffield.

When we come to Plato's discussion of love, especially in Symposium, two things need to be borne in mind. The first is the doctrine of the unity of virtues which always lies in the background. The second is the contrast between two very different kinds of 'feeling', the feelings which derive from the body and its urges on the one hand, and the non-discursive awareness of the forms, accompanied by feelings of wonder and awe.

Love is a wonderful thing which deserves praise because of its potential to connect us to something higher but also because of what it is in itself: the love of beauty is the love of the good.

What makes the Symposium so exciting - and dangerous - is the way Plato teeters on the edge between human passion (bodily feeling) and the inspiration that comes from above, as one gazes at the beautiful face and body of one's beloved. It is the most perfect anticipation of Freud's theory of sublimation. (I have no doubt Freud was influenced by Plato in this regard.)

People *can* be loved for their own sakes, surely that is the right answer to the question, because Plato has given an ample description of what this entails, as you explain at length in your essay. Yet at the same time this 'form of life' - the very fact that human beings are capable of being attracted erotically to other human beings, the physical excitement that beauty causes in us (try to imagine a cold-blooded Martian Plato) - exists for a higher purpose, to connect us to the world of forms.

All the best,


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why must others count in my deliberations?

To: David S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Why must other persons count in my deliberations?
Date: 9 February 2005 11:15

Dear David,

Thank you for your third essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Why must others count in my deliberations?' which you sent on 5 February.

In this essay you make a good attempt at summarizing the argument in the Moral Philosophy program. However, you also give a good, brief critique of the Humean answer to this question, in terms of 'natural sympathy'.

Your last point against Hume is that, 'Subjective morality, by itself, does not provide any basis for identifying the true values and needs of others so my good intentions are in any case liable to be misdirected.' I liked this. We are all familiar with examples of people whose 'good intentions' cause havoc because of the limitedness of their vision. I wonder what Hume would have said about this. Hume would readily allow that 'natural sympathy' can be found in the world of non-human animals as well as the human world. It is not, in itself, an intellectual capacity. Yet there is another sense of 'sympathy' which entails the kind of imaginative projection which only an intelligent being can do. In this sense, it could be said of someone that they were full of 'natural sympathy' but totally failed in their attempt to sympathise.

Moving to the idea of a disinterested view, you say, 'By attempting to make moral decisions based on an objective and fair assessment of external reality, my own individual values and those of everyone else are in danger of being ignored.' So everyone is forced into a straight jacket of standardised desires'.

This looks wrong to me. I don't think I intended to make this claim. I wanted to say, merely, 'By attempting to make moral decisions based on an objective and fair assessment of external reality, *my own* individual values are in danger of being ignored.' This is because the individual values of each person must necessarily have equal weighting in my moral calculation. This is how you get preference utilitarianism. The preference utilitarian does not deny that different people have different preferences, as a matter of objective, observable fact. The claim is that the moral standpoint is one where I do not give preference to my preferences.

But this sounds odd too. What is it to have preferences which one does not give preference to? For example, I prefer not to be starving. Other things being equal, if this condition threatens I will look for food. However, other things are not always equal, because there are other people starving too and their hunger is equally important from a moral standpoint. What I do about this depends on economic considerations, in the wide sense - the most efficient use of my energies in maximizing preference satisfaction.

Here's the original offending passage (from unit 4/84): 'The disinterested standpoint automatically renders all values invisible; or, to vary the metaphor, paints them all in a uniform shade of grey. And without an account of a basis for *rationally preferring* certain values to certain other values, there can be no acceptable proof of an objective basis for moral conduct.'

As the discussion of Anscombe and 'reasons for actions' shows, preferences are not just a brute 'given'. In order to meaningfully say that I 'want' a saucer of mud, I must have some conception of what makes a saucer of mud desirable to me, a 'desirability characterisation' which could be understood by any speaker of the language (without necessarily having to agree to it, of course). E.g. 'I want to fill my nostrils with the rich river smell.' How is this understood from the disinterested standpoint? We are not considering Nagel's 'view from nowhere', where there is no way to comprehend how anything can be desirable because of its smell (or even what a 'smell' is). The disinterested standpoint does not require this. It merely requires that I ignore the fact that one particular human being is 'I'.

What I should say is simply that accepting the necessity of the disinterested standpoint in this latter sense negates all preferences other than the purely bodily or sensual, i.e. all preferences which involve my projects, my personal relationships etc. (These are points Williams makes in his debate with Smart in 'Utilitarianism For and Against').

My other question relates to your final paragraph. In the program, the 'authority' of the other occurs at two points, in the theory of values and in the theory of conduct. My knowledge of what I want, my values, is not incorrigible. People can deceive themselves about what they want. So this is necessary one role for the other. However, the moral point of view is one where I recognize that the other has values too. The distinction between the theory of conduct and the theory of values (units 8 and 9) assumes the rejection of solipsism and anti-solipsism.

All the best,


Determinism, indeterminism and free will

To: Harry D.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Determinism, indeterminism and free will
Date: 28 January 2005 14:03

Dear Harry,

Thank you for your email of 21 January, with your first essay for Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Examine the claims that freedom of the will is incompatible with determinism, and also incompatible with indeterminism.'

This is a good, clear and accessible exposition of the problem of freewill and determinism with which I have few real disagreements.

It is worth making the point that when we talk of destiny and what we are 'fated' to do, this is a different concept than the concept of determinism. We will be looking at the question of fatalism in unit 9. We need, first, to distinguish two different varieties of 'fatalism'.

The 'fates' play a big role in Greek tragedy, Oedipus for example. Here, it seems that what we are 'fated' to do is out of our control because the gods have decided that this is how things are going to turn out, willy nilly. Oedipus flees the city in an attempt to prevent the events predicted by the Delphic Oracle from taking place - that he will kill has father and marry his mother. But the old man he meets on the road turns out to have been his father, the queen he marries turns out to have been his mother.

And what if he hadn't attempted to defy the prediction? Possibly the very same thing, but in a different way.

By contrast, the philosophical fatalist says that the future is the future, no matter what. If it is true that Oedipus will kill his father, then there is only one possible way - not several alternative ways - in which this can happen.

Oedipus is 'unfree' in a different way in the first version of the story, where he does ultimately have a real choice whether to stay or flee, than he does in the second version of the story, where the outcome of every process of deliberation is already decided before one makes the choice.

Philosophical fatalism is like determinism in that they each results in there being only one possible future. When we deliberate, it seems to us that there are several possible futures, which we have the power to choose between, but this is an illusion. The future is already fixed before we 'decide'.

How are they different? Wait for unit 9.

I liked the discussion of your wife Janet's decision to marry you. She was free to choose, yet her decision her character. Had her character been different, the decision might have been different.

It could be argued that we are free to 'choose' our character, inasmuch we have the power to reflect on the kind of person we have become, and seek to make ourselves better. Charles Dickens' 'Christmas Carol' is a classic example. Given the chance to see the consequences for his own life if he continues on his present path, Scrooge acquires the motivation, which he did not have before, to strive to become a generous person rather than mean. And yet, from the point of view of the minute examination of all the circumstances of each choice that Scrooge made, the determinist would argue that the very choice to act 'out of character' was itself determined by Scrooge's total character. Another individual in Scrooge's predicament might chase away the ghosts, and refuse to change.

This does seem to make it grossly unfair, from a 'cosmic' perspective that each of us has the 'total character' that we have. (The philosopher Thomas Nagel calls this 'moral luck'.)

Being predictable, acting in character, might seem like a restriction on our freedom. Here is an argument from F.H. Bradley. Suppose you find a twenty pound note, and hand it in to the Police station. A friend remarks, 'I'm surprised you did that.' You retort angrily, 'You should have known me better!'

How does Hume's view about the compatibility of determinism and free will relate to the question of the impossibility of knowing that day will follow night? I wasn't clear about what you thought here.

Hume attacks the belief in causality as 'necessary connection' on two levels. First, he denies that there is any 'connection' at all between cause and effect. If it is true that A caused B, then this truth consists in the truth of a universal proposition, of the form 'For all x, if Ax then Bx'. A universal proposition applies to all places and all times. That, and nothing else, is what 'causal necessity' consists in. However, there is one extra ingredient in this account. This is the psychological mechanism whereby we naturally come to expect B when A occurs. What happens, according to Hume, is that we somehow project this subjective feeling onto the things themselves, and this is the explanation for the erroneous belief in a 'necessary connection' between A and B.

The common sense view is that we can sometimes 'know' that A has caused B. This brings in the second level of Hume's critique. In order to know that A caused B, I have to know the truth of a universal proposition that applies to all places and all times! We can have good inductive grounds for this belief, but we can never be 100 per cent sure. But what is a 'good' inductive ground? According to Hume, it is merely a consideration which we find psychologically persuasive.

All the best,


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'? (2)

To: Michael S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'?
Date: 28 January 2005 12:37

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your email of 18 January, with your first essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'?'

This is a good piece of work. I like the strategy you have taken, of contrasting examples where our intuitions favour a 'disinterested' approach with examples where our intuitions go the other way.

Although I am pleased to see that we agree that 'moral' does not imply 'disinterested', I do not feel that you have fully made your case. In order to explain why, I need to make a bit of a digression.

One of the common accusations made against the moral philosophy of J.S. Mill is that of inconsistency. The defence of liberty in his essay 'On Liberty' comes into conflict with his advocacy of utilitarianism in his earlier essay, 'Utilitarianism'. Surely, there will be cases where, for the greater good, liberty to 'do whatsoever one likes so long as it does not cause harm to others' must be suppressed.

To bolster the accusation, critics point out that J.S. Mill's wife Harriet, who had very strong views of her own regarding liberty, had an increasingly powerful influence on his thinking.

I am the last person to attempt to defend Mill against inconsistency. Arguably, his distinction between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures in Utilitarianism is indefensible, given the premisses on which his moral theory is based. Bentham saw, as Mill seems to have missed, that our very preference for so-called 'higher' pleasures can only be justified on the basis of its consequences. In Utilitarianism, Mill attacks philosophers who think they can discern moral values by pure 'intuition'. Against the intuitionists, there is no basis for moral right or wrong other than the objective, measurable, consequences of an action for human happiness or misery. In that case, what possible ground, other than intuition, can be given for preferring the higher pleasures to the lower?

Bentham, the more rigorously logical of the two thinkers on this point, has a simple argument. The writing of poetry, for example, gives more pleasure to others than pushpin (a nineteenth century bar-room game). In themselves, the pleasures of writing poetry and playing pushpin are equal. So when it comes to making a choice, it is the fruitfulness of a given pleasurable activity in generating further pleasures that must be taken into account.

However, if we allow Mill the distinction between higher and lower pleasures (on whatever basis we conceive the distinction to be ultimately grounded) then Mill does have a way to resolve the conflict between liberty and utility. In the section of On Liberty entitled 'On Individuality', he paints a picture of the ideal of human happiness or flourishing which makes exactly the point that you make about happy slaves. This is not true happiness because it does not represent the highest form of human flourishing. Better to be Socrates unsatisfied, Mill famously argued, than a pig satisfied.

With this on board, the defender of the equation of morality with the disinterested view escapes. We are obliged to seek the maximum of happiness/flourishing. Although chess, philosophy are admirable activities which demand the application of our highest powers, that still does not suffice to defend *my* desire to play chess or study philosophy, given the urgent demands of others.

So we are left in the same predicament as before. Intuition tells me that it cannot be wrong to pursue philosophy. The disinterested view asserts that it must be. How, then, can that intuition be defended?

In your footnote, you raise the issue whether the utilitarian (e.g. Hare's) two-level account of moral decision making is inconsistent. I actually don't think that it is. The important point is that we are talking about two different kinds of people. It is only the people with high intellectual capacity - the philosopher rulers - who can safely apply utilitarian reasoning. In the hands of the non-intellectual masses, utilitarian thinking is a potentially dangerous weapon whose inevitable misuse would lead to all sorts of grief.

This is obnoxious, certainly. Ridiculous, arguably. But not inconsistent with the idea that the objectively right action is the one which leads to the best consequences from a disinterested point of view.

All the best,


Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'? (1)

To: Mark Q.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'?
Date: 21 January 2005 13:02

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 9 January, with your second essay for the Moral Philosophy program, in response to the question, 'Does 'moral' imply 'disinterested'?'

You say, 'The yes answer would seem to be predicated upon the natural goodness of mankind.' Is that necessary so? Certainly, that is one way in which people might be motivated to behave in a disinterested way. However, the claim that 'moral implies disinterested' is a claim about what being moral entails - what we have to do in order to be considered to be acting 'morally' - rather than a claim about the ultimate motivation or justification for being moral/ disinterested.

In other words, a philosopher who did not believe in the 'natural goodness of mankind' might still claim that to be moral is to act in a disinterested way.

I agree that 'being moral... goes against the grain at times'. If being moral implies being disinterested then arguably that goes more against the grain than if being moral makes (as I believe) less strenuous demands (at least in that respect).

What you say under points 1, 2 and 3 is relevant to the question whether moral implies disinterested. Let's consider each in turn:

1. According to you, the desire to do good is the desire to do the action which leads to the greatest good. That is the position taken by the utilitarians J.S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham. 'Always seek to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number.' However, there are other notions of 'disinterested', e.g. Kant's Categorical Imperative: 'Act only on that principle that is capable of being willed as a universal law'. But is it the case that someone who desires to do good necessarily desires to do either of these two things?

2. You make some good points here about the difficulty of knowing what is the morally right thing to do in extreme situations, such as Hitler's Germany. Wouldn't someone who set out to produce 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number' be totally at a loss to decide what to do, faced with the very real prospect that his or her heroic act of defiance might not produce any positive benefit at all? What good are your moral principles, if to achieve any good at all you have to go against everything you have ever believed - that it is wrong to murder, steal, lie etc?

3. It is one thing knowing the good and another thing doing it. Champions of the disinterested view of morality are led to the conclusion that no-one in the real world is ever really 'moral' - not even Mother Theresa. That might fit the Christian view that we are all basically sinners, but I find it deeply unpalatable.

These are all reasons for doubting that moral implies disinterested. However, it takes a stronger argument to prove that moral cannot mean disinterested. In the Moral Philosophy program, I attempt to show this - but I am very much aware that moral philosophers who take Mill's or Kant's line would strongly disagree with me.

To be moral, I would argue, is to be prepared to take the interests of the other into consideration at all times. Not as an impartial, disinterested judge, but rather in the way that someone engaging someone else in dialogue might do. We should not seek to impose our morals, our values on others without being prepared to consider their side of the story. This is the real predicament of humankind: that we are not all in agreement about the good life. The evidence is in the News every day. That is not an excuse for easy-going relativism, but on the contrary makes tough demands - demands which we can fulfil if we are prepared to enter into dialogue openly.

The ethics of dialogue recognizes the tragedy of human life. That there are no ultimate answers to our deepest ethical dilemmas. We can only do our best to 'do the right thing' by our lights, individually or collectively, conscious that even if we are praised for our actions, there will be many who condemn us.

All the best,


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sense datum theory and the reality principle

To: Joel S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Sense datum theory and the reality principle
Date: 21 January 2005 10:59

Dear Joel,

Thank you for your email of 8 January, with your first essay for the Metaphysics program, in response to the question, 'What are the attractions of the idea of a 'sense datum'? Can the theory of sense data be defended against criticisms based on the reality principle?'

Thanks also for your second email of 8 January with your extended question about the reality principle.

Sense datum theory

I will discuss the issue about 'questioning the validity of the reality principle' below. I have no disagreements with your account of the argument against the SDT based on the assumption of the reality principle.

Two main issues. The first concerns your characterization of SDT itself. You could have raised the question whether there is such a thing as 'the' sense datum theory. Instead, you assume a particular version of the theory which is not shared by all sense datum theorists.

Your version of SDT involves the causal theory of perception. However, not all SDT theorists accept the causal theory. For example, A.J. Ayer in his earlier days (when he wrote Language, Truth and Logic) argued for a version of phenomenalism, according to which statements about an 'external world' are logically reducible to statements about sense data. Critics of the classic version of the causal theory of perception point out that there is no possible way that one could make a valid inference, from the occurrence of sense data, to an external cause.

Sense datum theorists do hold that sense data have properties, such as colour, sound, odour etc. This distinguishes SDT from Kant's theory of 'concepts' and 'intuition'. Hegel's critique in the Phenomenology of Mind is in fact directed against Kant's notion of intuition, rather than at sense data as understood by the SDT. Hegel was hostile to the very idea that there is any component of reality which is not conceptual.

According to Kant's Refutation of Idealism (2nd Edition) it is a necessary condition for the possibility of experience that I apply objective concepts - concepts involving material objects in space - to what is (indescribably) given. Going by this argument alone (i.e. ignoring what Kant says about the need to recognize the existence of a noumenal world) it would be possible, as I argue in the program, to construct a transcendental subjectivist theory according to which all that exists is the indescribable 'given' of intuition and the concepts applied to it. It is possible to mount an argument against this theory based on the reality principle, but the argument is different from that against the SDT.

The other issue concerns your first argument against the SDT. 'If we can be certain only of what we find in our senses, how can we be certain of the SDT? One way to understand this is as a critique of the causal theory of perception. In which case the SDT survives in its phenomenalist guise. If you then went on to ask, On what basis is the phenomenalist claim held to be true?' then the sense datum theorist can resort to a doubly hypothetical claim: If it is true that there is a tree outside, then the truth of 'There is a tree outside' must consist (by logical inference from the assumption that all we know to exist are sense data) in hypothetical statements about sense data.

However it can also be argued (this is a line taken by Russell at one time) that the SDT bears the same kind of relation to beliefs about an external world as any other set of data to a theory constructed on the basis of that data. The sense datum theorist does not just say, 'this is the data', but rather puts forward a theory which gives the best explanation of the data. The theory is not held to be true, merely useful. (However, Russell also held that external objects are 'logical constructs' out of sense data which you might think is inconsistent with the claim about explanation.)

The Reality Principle

Later on in the program, we will be defending a version of 'anti-realism' against the reality principle. According to the anti-realist about truth, there is no such thing as cognitively inaccessible 'truth'. Common sense believes that the world is packed full of cognitively inaccessible truths. (E.g. shake a coin in your hand and shake it again: the question whether the first shake produced heads or tails can never be answered, no matter how far human knowledge progresses.)

Later still, both realism and anti-realism will be rejected along with the very notion of 'truth' as traditionally understood. The resulting theory is still (I will claim) fully consistent with the reality principle.

There is no ultimate proof of the reality principle. It belongs to a long line of metaphysical assumptions (like Descartes 'I exist' or McTaggart's 'something exists') which define an investigation.

'What if truth is merely a world for some kind of internal consistency we can witness in a conceptual structure?' What is consistency? If there is consistency then there is also inconsistency. How can any proposition be inconsistent P with any other proposition Q? 'At this moment in time, I just feel that I cannot hold P and Q,' 'It seems to me now that it cannot be the case that both P and Q.' Those are claims whose validity is itself up for question. Maybe it only seems to me now that it seems to me now that P is inconsistent with Q.

Well then, how about, 'I can only judge what I judge.' That sounds similar to, 'I can only see what I see.' E.g. I see a pink elephant. I may believe there is no pink elephant there, but I can't avoid the vivid impression of a pink elephant.

But judgement makes a claim. If you take the reality principle away from judgement, then there cannot be such a thing as making a claim. There can be no such thing as 'structure' because a structure binds, restricts, defines. - I don't know what else to say.

All the best,


Heidegger contra Descartes

To: Mary J.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heidegger contra Descartes
Date: 20 January 2005 14:28

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your email of 4 January, with your essay for the Associate Award in response to the question, ''Heidegger's notion of Dasein is not a solution to the mind-body problem posed by Descartes but a rejection of the question' - Discuss.'

This is an excellent piece of work which is fully up to the standard of the Associate award. Well done. I am glad that my selection of questions inspired you. Given that you have done so much work on this philosopher, why not tackle another?

The only issue to bear in mind is that the content of two Associate portfolio essays should not substantially overlap.

It occurred to me that John Macmurray's 'The Self as Agent' (the first of his two sets of Gifford lectures published as 'The Self as Agent' and 'Persons in Relation') makes an interesting contrast with Heidegger. Both Macmurray and Heidegger reject the Cartesian view of the self as primarily a subject of experience in favour of the self as primarily an agent in the world. However, the language is very different (Macmurray is a lot more accessible than Heidegger).

There are similarities also with the pragmatists, e.g. William James. However, it could be argued that Heidegger approaches the critique of the mind-body from a deeper analysis of the embedded subject than either Macmurray or James.

Then there is Wittgenstein's notion of the self as essentially a language user embedded 'forms of life'. I would put Wittgenstein and Heidegger on a par.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the rejection of the 'epistemology of the passive observer' is one of the most important themes of twentieth century philosophy. (So much so, that it became one of my main interests when I started my studies as a graduate student.) The issue in expounding Heidegger is to capture what is distinctive in his particular contribution to this debate.

Your question, 'But since one entity needs no other entity in order to be. how can these two entities relate?' is based on a misunderstanding, which I do not think is Heidegger's. Descartes defines substance *per se* as an entity which is in such a way that it needs no other entity in order to be'. In other words, a mental substance, such as your soul or my soul needs no other entity in order to be, and a material substance, such as this table or the tree outside my window, needs no other entity in order to be. (By contrast, the itch in my foot or the colour of my hair cannot exist other than 'in' the substances of which they are predicated.) It was this distinction which Spinoza latched onto in rejecting the 'substances' of Descartes in favour of monism. As Descartes acknowledges, you or I exist only as a result of the continual moment-to-moment creative power of God. So, Spinoza reasoned, only God is the true substance, and everything else in the universe, whether 'mental' or 'material' is just an attribute of this one substance.

Heidegger is on strong ground in picking on Descartes' explanation (or non-explanation) of the attribute of hardness. All Descartes can say on the subject is that two extended substances cannot, for geometrical reasons, occupy the same volume of space. It was Leibniz who pointed out the serious lacuna in Descartes account of material substance in failing to give an explanation of 'impenetrability'. This connects with a defect in Cartesian physics which allows a situation which is impossible on Newtonian principles, the change of the motions of 'animal spirits' in response to an impulse from a non-material soul. - It is worth asking the question what Heidegger's analysis adds to Leibniz's critique. (I don't think you need to go into this in your essay - I am just raising this as a point of interest.)

One more general point. Much of your essay read as a Heideggerian critique of Cartesian epistemology. As such, it would work perfectly well as an answer to the question, 'Heidegger's notion of Dasein is not a solution to the problem of scepticism regarding the external world posed by Descartes but a rejection of the question' - discuss! Obviously, you are free to change the question. If you want to keep the question, then one or two signposts or reminders might save the reader from beginning to wonder, 'How is this an answer?'

All the best,


Monday, September 19, 2011

Plato on knowledge and false belief

To: Julian P.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Plato on knowledge and false belief
Date: 20 January 2005 12:54

Dear Julian,

Thank you for your email of 7 January with your University of London essay, 'Why does Plato struggle with the impossibility of false belief? How does he resolve this?', and your email of 18 January, with your essay, 'What things does Plato say we can know? How can we know them?'.

I have just read the first essay and will comment on before reading the second essay - which is what would have happened in the normal course of events.

Plato and false belief

This is a superb piece of work. From a stylistic point of view, your essay does have a slightly breathless feel - you were clearly conscious of the need to avoid excessive length (for which I am grateful!) but this is not an important issue.

Were you aware of the famous piece by the sophist Gorgias, 'On What Is Not'? The piece must have made an impression on Plato.

If any criticism can be made, it is that your treatment of the texts is so thorough that it doesn't leave much room for a broader view of the problem of false belief. It is important to distinguish two issues which come under the heading 'false belief' which are really different problems altogether. You show awareness of this, in your treatment of Plato's arguments in the Theaetetus and Sophist. But examiners like to have things spelled out.

The first problem is the one that most deserves association with the sophist issue. This is the problem of false judgement. The possibility of objective (non-relative) truth can be understood as the problem of giving an account of how false judgement is possible.

The second problem arises more directly from Parmenides, the need to explain logically how there can be such a thing as a false proposition.

The solution to the first problem requires the establishment of an appropriate distance between the knower and the objects of knowledge, a distance which is yet capable of being overcome (otherwise we would end up knowing nothing). The main criticism of naive idealism is that the idealist, in the desire to overcome scepticism, attempts to abolish the distance between the knower and the known (cf. Kant's Refutation of Idealism, Critique of Pure Reason 2nd edition, also Wittgenstein's private language argument).

Contemporary anti-realism (Michael Dummett, Crispin Wright) presents a different challenge from the idealist, but one which has a similar structure - the oscillation between scepticism and the impossibility of truth - and which in many ways fits the sophist case better.

Plato confusingly gives two solutions to the second problem. The first is readily recognizable as the recognition that language is structured in a certain way. It is not too anachronistic to compare the account of the blending of forms with Wittgenstein's theory of language in the Tractatus. The crucial question for Wittgenstein, as for Plato, is how a proposition differs from a name.

That ought to be sufficient. But Plato introduces another idea: that whenever we state a false proposition, we are saying something which is 'different from the truth'. He doesn't just mean the truistic point that there are two truth values, each of which is necessarily different from the other. The suggestion is that there is a more fundamental notion than negation, in terms of which negation can be analysed. (There is an excellent article on this by David Wiggins with a ridiculously long name - sorry I don't have the exact reference to hand, but it is in an Anchor paperback of articles on Plato edited by Gregory Vlastos).

This is mind-boggling stuff, and you will certainly gain extra marks for showing a keener awareness of the issue. (It is certainly worth an afternoon's thought.) You do say in your penultimate paragraph, 'Nor does he give an account of true negation: 'Theaetetus is not flying' which would is puzzling given that the subject-predicate theory is all that is required from a logical point of view, but less puzzling from the point of view of the negation-as-difference theory. This needs to be spelled out a lot more. It is not inconceivable that this could be the main focus of an exam question on the Sophist.

Plato and the objects of knowledge

This essay reads more like a summary of notes, and to that extent is less successful than the previous one. I didn't get a strong enough sense of the problem of knowledge as Plato sees it.

I think you will be in a better position to answer this question after you have done more work on epistemology. Russell's point, that a true belief is not knowledge if deduced from a false proposition, seems to have been overlooked in discussions of the nature of knowledge until Gettier came along ('Is Knowledge Justified True Belief?'). Gettier give some compelling examples of true belief plus an 'account' which turn out not to be knowledge. (It was a student paper which made his career as a philosopher.)

In response to Gettier, Gilbert Harman, in his book 'Thought' (Princeton 1973) defines knowledge as true belief which 'doesn't depend on anything false', which seems to heark back to Russell. An impossibly exacting requirement, unless we restrict what is to count as 'dependence'. Every attempt to deal with this challenge which doesn't throw in the towel and embrace scepticism has to compromise at some point, as you will discover. Obviously, one is not saying that Plato saw all this. But it was a wise decision to stay out of the mud and concentrate on higher things!

The road to Larissa example shows the deep problem for any account of knowledge as 'true belief plus an account'. Any account that you can give is just another belief or set of beliefs, so the question arises what makes *that* knowledge. Suppose you walk the road to Larissa. It is not clear how that helps, in the face of the challenge how you know that your memory is reliable, or that there haven't been road works in the meantime, or etc.

The slave boy example shows knowledge arrived at by a method of proof, a priori. Plato's solution to Meno's paradox is to show how you can 'know and not know something' in terms of the native capacity to follow a proof and the exercise of that capacity. This still doesn't help when we are concerned with empirical knowledge.

The Phaedo gives an important clue, in Plato's account of Formal causation (which became one of Aristotle's 'four causes', the others being efficient, material and teleological). 'Theaetetus is clever because that's just what cleverness is', is an answer you would give to someone who persisted with the question, 'Is Theaetetus clever?' after you had shown them his breadth of knowledge, his amazing feats of deduction etc. etc. The form of Clever is the formal cause of Theaetetuses being clever. So what? As you recognize in the latter part of your essay, there are many cases where our primary concern is this kind of question. What is virtue, knowledge, beauty etc.?

The Russell/Gettier problem doesn't arise for 'formal' knowledge - or knowledge gained through the process of dialectic - in the same way that it arises for empirical knowledge. The search for a complete 'account' has an ultimate terminus (even if no-one has actually reached it yet). (It is worth making the point that science hadn't happened yet, so it wasn't difficult for Socrates in the Phaedo to pour scorn on his former interest in the speculations of the Presocratics.)

Plato was, as you acknowledge, is hampered by his failure to give a clear account of the difference between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. But this is not a story about how Plato failed to give an intelligible account of knowledge and belief because he didn't have this distinction readily at his disposal. The problems of empirical knowledge and the knowledge gained through the methods of philosophical inquiry are still with us today.

There is a lot of good work here. My criticism is that things just get too complex, with the result that the reader fails to see the wood for the trees.

All the best,