Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Logic and the principle of excluded middle

To: Bogdan P.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Logic and the principle of excluded middle
Date: 26th February 2010 12:25

Dear Bogdan,

Thank you for your email of 16 February, with your essay for the University of London BA Logic module, in response to the question, 'Are we right to regard the principle of excluded middle as a universal truth, a law of logic?'

You start off by giving two versions of the law of excluded middle (LEM). In the predicate version, a given object x is either P or not-P. In the propositional version, either P or not-P for any given proposition P. You correctly distinguish the LEM from the principle of bivalence, according to which any given proposition P is either true or false.

You say, 'With the principle of excluded middle we are not so much interested in the truth or falsity of a statement, but whether a given object satisfies a predicate.' I think this is misleading. The predicate version of the LEM is the traditional (Aristotelian) version. In modern logic, the contrast would be between the law, P or not-P, and the principle that every proposition P is either true or false. Now, if we consider alternatives to two-valued logic, a case can be made for the LEM where in addition to truth or falsity, P can have a third value. This would be sufficient to show that the two principles are not identical.

However, there is more to say about this: as Dummett has argued with regard to anti-realist theories of meaning, the principle of bivalence, as a semantic principle, requires justification through the appropriate theory of meaning, such as a theory of meaning in terms of truth conditions. This is an important point, which you do not cover in your essay, although you do mention Dummett's example of bravery from his paper, 'Truth'.

Why are laws of logic important, anyway? Because you can use them to prove things. The most spectacular example of this is the use of LEM in classical mathematics, which enables the proof of many theorems which cannot be proved in intuitionist mathematics. Crucially, intuitionists reject the LEM but accept the double negation of the LEM, not-not-(P or not-P). As you note at the end of your essay, if we grant the law of double negation, not-not-P |- P, then the LEM becomes equivalent to the law of non-contradiction.

In your essay, you consider three cases which are considered to pose problems for the law of excluded middle (LEM): vagueness, dispositional properties and future contingents. I shall look at each of these in turn.

Probably the most discussed account of vagueness in recent times is Timothy Williamson's theory that vagueness is a 'form of ignorance'. Take Fred, who is losing his hair. We would say, that at some indeterminate point, it is no longer possible to say whether Fred is bald or not. But Williamson would say, for the sake of preserving classical logic, there *is* an answer, a definite answer as each hair is pulled, only it is an answer we don't know.

This is a classic case of a philosopher 'saying what you've got to say' in order to protect a principle. There's no logical objection. The problem is, if this is 'ignorance' then I no longer know what it means to be 'ignorant'.

You take the case of colour predicates and offer a possible way to deal with the LEM. Colours, you say, are vague only because there are many shades of colour. If we had a name for each shade, then 'The apple is green or the apple is not-green' would always be true. Here, you say something rather strange: you claim that when we say, 'The apple is green' what we mean is that the apple is a precise shade of green, call this Gn. So what we mean is that The apple is Gn or the apple is not Gn. But that is a different claim from the claim that the apple is green or the apple is not green.

What you should have said is that, if there is a precise number of shades of green, then when we say, 'The apple is green or the apple is not green,' what we mean is that Either the apple is G1, or the apple is G2.....or the apple is Gz (the very last shade of green) OR the apple is none of the above shades. This approach can be found in theories of vagueness which involve the idea of successive 'sharpenings'. The problem is that you have made an unjustified assumption right at the start: that the shades of green can be enumerated. This is false if, as seems intuitively correct, there is always a shade of green in between any two given shades of green.

The case of dispositional properties is a good example of how the LEM can be used to prove statements whose truth is dubitable. Take Fred, who has never encountered danger. If we say, 'Fred is brave or Fred is not-brave', meaning, 'If Fred encountered danger he would act bravely or he would not', then we have to consider what it would take to make each of the conditional statements, 'If Fred encountered danger he would act bravely' or 'If Fred encountered danger he would not act bravely' TRUE. As Dummett argues in 'Truth', conditional statements cannot be 'barely true'. In conjunction with the LEM, this enables us to prove that there is in fact a state of Fred, either physical or mental, which his bravery (or the lack of it) consists in. We just don't know what that state is, but it IS there and we can prove it by the LEM!

One response would be to say that LEM is OK, but we should reject the claim that subjunctive conditionals have truth conditions. The attribution of dispositional properties is equivalent to the acceptance of certain subjunctive conditionals, but accepting a subjunctive conditional is not the same as asserting its truth. In which case, the LEM doesn't apply.

There is a way to save the LEM if one accepts Aristotle's claim about future contingents. This is in some ways analogous to what we did with the range of shades of green. The future may not be determinate, but there is nevertheless a determinate range of possible futures, those in which (e.g.) a city is built here, and those in which a city is not built here. Then the statement, 'A city will be built here or a city will not be built' here is true in every possible future. A statement which is true in every possible future is true, period.

In his article, 'The reality of the past', Dummett contrasts this approach to statements about the future, to one which rejects the idea of truth conditions, along the lines of a semantics for intuitionist logic/ mathematics. If Dummett is right, then the LEM cannot be applied to future contingents. We have to make do, as in intuitionist mathematics, with the double negation of the LEM.

I recommend that you read a bit more about the realism/ anti-realism debate, as this is an important issue bearing on the question of whether the LEM should be considered a law of logic.

All the best,


Knowing what one believes as inner perception

To: Alistair L.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Knowing what one believes as inner perception
Date: 18th February 2010 13:13

Dear Alistair,

Thank you for your email of 9 February, with your essay for the University of London BA Epistemology module, in response to the question, 'Is our ability to know what we believe based upon a form of inner perception?'

In your email you raised a question regarding your previous essay, 'Did Descartes succeed in proving the existence of God?' How are you supposed to answer it?

What the question asks for, in effect, is *how good* is Descartes' argument, or arguments. Given that there are two arguments, the argument from the idea of perfection and the ontological argument, there are three ways to answer the question:

1. Say you think the argument from the idea of perfection is stronger and give your critical evaluation.

2. Say you think Descartes' version of the ontological argument is stronger and give your critical evaluation.

3. Critically evaluate both arguments.

In 1. and 2. you can get away with making a brief statement as to why you think the argument in question is stronger. The examiner will accept this.

Whichever path you choose, the primary question is, to repeat, 'how good the argument is'. If there appear to be missing premisses, then you can supply them. Imagine you had the chance to dialogue with Descartes: if you put to him certain objections, how would he reply? The principle of charity operates here, in that we are looking for the best argument that can plausibly be attributed to a philosopher.

You are right that modern versions of the arguments (e.g. Plantinga's or Norman Malcolm's versions of the ontological argument) are not really relevant to answering this question, if they involve notions which it is implausible to imagine that Descartes might have considered.

However, it is equally irrelevant to consider Descartes' influences, such as his training in the scholastic philosophy of the Jesuits, except insofar as this sheds light on a contested interpretation of what Descartes actually says.

In short, be prepared to consider the possibility that the argument is valid (even if you 'believe' or 'know' in advance that it isn't). Give it a good run for its money. In a similar way, if you get into an argument with a bar-room marxist who says, 'You only believe that because you're a member of the capitalist class', your reply should be, 'Don't tell me why I believe what I believe, respond to my argument!'

Your essay.

After considering objections to the idea of the Cartesian Theatre, you give an account of two opposed positions -- Armstrong who holds that awareness of what we believe is a form of inner perception, and Shoemaker, who offers a telling objection, in the concept of 'self-blindness'.

I think that the key question here is what is so special about the concept of belief, as opposed to knowing what you desire or want or feel about something. It is accepted that we are in a privileged position with regard to our own mental states, while at the same time (as you illustrate with your example of the romantic comedy, where the two protagonists are unaware that they love one another), there are plausible cases where we fail to know what we desire or want or feel about something.

Wittgenstein remarks somewhere, in response to the idea that love is a kind of 'feeling', 'Love is put to the test, pain is not.' You can think you love someone, but when 'put to the test' you realize that you don't. Or you can think you don't love them, but then discover that you do. Love is not just a subjective sensation but is about what you are prepared to do, and you can't always be sure of this through introspection.

On the other hand, if someone asks me what I believe, or, rather, whether I believe that P, the question for me is simply, 'What is my view regarding P?' You're not asking me whether in the past I believed that P but whether I believe that P now. I may or may not have considered the question regarding P in the past but that is all water under the bridge. Of course, it is perfectly possible for me to answer, 'I just don't know, I'll have to think about it more.'

It could be objected that there are cases where I 'know' or 'believe' something in a way that requires a rehearsal of behavioural moves, or the calling up of perceptual cues. 'Is the central library second on the left and first on the right?' I think I know the way to the library but I can't picture the route in my mind: I have to 'follow my nose' and then I will be able to tell you. However, in this case, I really don't at this moment have a belief either way about whether the library is 'second on the left and first on the right'.

Well, how about, 'Do you believe the ice is safe to walk on?' This looks superficially like the love example, in that I might say, 'Oh yes its definitely safe', and then, as I put my foot down I unexpectedly hesitate. Would you say, 'I didn't really believe that the ice is safe to walk on although I thought I did'? I wouldn't. I would say, 'I believed that the ice was safe to walk on but I've changed my mind.' Changing your mind is something you can do without being presented with new evidence. In this example, the stakes are raised, and so you think again.

You raise the question whether, 'the person as a whole can form beliefs through emotional and lower level unconscious mental processes that are not necessarily immediately available.' It would have been nice to have seen some examples. If it's like the route to the library case, then I don't really have the belief in question, even implicitly. The route to the library is something I believe or know (one has to allow the possibility that I am mistaken) but I don't believe or know it in that way or in those terms.

Can you see the problem here? We are looking for an example where it is the case that you already believe that P, but you discover this by introspection rather than by forming a judgement here and now about the question whether P.

Language is crucial, not just as Shoemaker says so that we can communicate our beliefs to others, or engage in rational discussion of our beliefs, but because there is a whole class of beliefs which cannot be understood in behavioural terms -- beliefs involving the past or future, or generality, or negation. In effect, that is the argument why language is needed for thought (see Jonathan Bennett 'Rationality' in the RKP Studies in Philosophical Psychology series).

The crucial point to make is that the process that we describe as 'introspection' is essentially and not merely accidentally verbal. It is the ability to say what is 'on one's mind'. This applies to all mental states not just beliefs.

In this regard you could look at what Daniel Dennett says about mental states and language in his book 'Consciousness Explained'. Dennett offers a powerful account of the nature of self-knowledge which recognizes that we have two different levels of 'awareness', depending on whether or not our 'language centre' is engaged. (As in the familiar example where you are driving along, thinking about philosophy, and realize that you stopped correctly at three red lights but have no recollection of doing so.) Dennett proposes a 'multiple drafts' model of the self, which is more radical than merely removing the ghost from the Cartesian Theatre of Consciousness. There is no single, self-aware 'I' as such, only autobiographies in progress, constructed to meet the needs of the moment.

All the best,


Socrates' slave boy experiment in Plato's Meno

To: Craig S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Socrates' slave boy experiment in Plato's Meno
Date: 16th February 2010 13:30

Dear Craig,

Thank you for your email of 7 February, with your essay for the University of London BA Plato and the Presocratics module, in response to the question, 'What exactly is Socrates' examination of the slave boy in Meno meant to show?'

According to you, the examination of the slave boy shows four things:

1. The Socratic 'elenchus' can really work, provided the interlocutor is sufficiently willing (!).

2. The method can lead to positive knowledge, not merely to the recognition that one didn't know as much as one thought.

3. That 'learning is recollection' (whatever that means).

4. The special status of geometrical truths as 'paradigmatically certain knowledge'.

I like the fact that you cite 1. which generally gets skipped over in treatments of this example, in particular, the difference between the lazy Meno and the keen slave boy. It's not a big point, but it's worth mentioning.

With regard to 2. I think that you make things harder for yourself by the fact that you consider the paradox of inquiry to be a 'poor argument', which it admittedly is on the face of it, but it has in fact survived 2500 years to take the form of G.E. Moore's 'paradox of analysis'.

There is a problem here, to which the subsequent point about a priori knowledge and 'recollection' is relevant. In order to define 'virtue', one must have some prior notion of what virtue is, so that one can reject proposed definitions as inadequate. But if you already know, why can't you say?

You say that the paradox 'evaporates if we recognize that partial knowledge allows us to proceed with acquiring more'. This is fine for empirical inquiry, say the hunt for the Holy Grail. We might have very wrong ideas about what the Holy Grail is (cf. the Da Vinci Code), but the knowledge we have is a start, and enables us to 'acquire more'. It gives us an idea where to look, or at least how to conduct the research. In the case of knowing what virtue is, by contrast, the reader of the dialogue is expected to know *all* that it is necessary to know in order to critique proposed definitions. It's all there. But how can that be?

Plato's answer: it's 'all there' in the same way as the truths of geometry are 'all there', because it is (in some sense) a priori.

I have my doubts about the success of the experiment. The case of geometry clearly looks very different from the procedure of Socratic inquiry, and Plato's saying that they are basically the same amounts to little better than a pious hope.

But let's move on to recollection. Here, I think, your reference to contemporary innatism and evolution muddies the waters to some extent, although we have to blame Plato for this. It is probably true that the slave boy does so well because of his evolutionary innate knowledge. However, if the truths of Euclidean geometry are provable, then surely someone who lacked this innate knowledge would still be able to prove them, albeit more slowly and with greater effort. (Human beings differ with respect to their capacity for mathematical 'vision', hence talent in mathematics is not just a matter of IQ or brute brain processing power.)

How does the idea of recollection or a priori knowledge carry over to the definition of virtue, or knowledge, or justice? Surely, there is a huge gap here which needs to be filled -- but Plato does say a lot about this elsewhere. For Plato, the universe itself has a teleological structure which is mirrored in the structure of the human mind or soul (cf. the similes of the sun, line and cave in the Republic). That's the cash value of the idea of 'recollection'. Virtue and justice are definable, through Socratic inquiry because the universe itself, ultimately, is 'virtuous' and 'just', or, rather, because aligning our human purposes to the 'order' of the universe is what virtue and justice ultimately are.

As we don't share Plato's view about the ultimate nature of things, there are limits to what one can carry over to the contemporary view of the nature of philosophical analysis. The idea that one is bringing out the innate knowledge of the average English (or French or etc.) speaker is these days regarded as naive and passe, especially since Quine's attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction. Yet a philosopher these days analysing the notion of 'knowledge' or 'causation', or offering a 'theory of justice' proceeds in an a priori fashion, considering thought experiments, putting forward 'hypotheses' for the reader's consideration. Isn't it remarkable that one can do that?

My view of this would be basically Humean: appearances to the contrary, all this is basically logic. One puts forward hypothesis (just as Plato said) and considers what would follow from those hypotheses. Of course, a fair bit of creativity is also required along the way, in inventing/ discovering ways to 'regiment' (Quine) ordinary language.

With regard to 4. your point about non-Euclidean geometry is well taken. But what does it show? I referred above to Plato's metaphysical description of the universe and our relation to it. If human minds 'naturally' reason in Euclidean terms, and the universe is non-Euclidean, then that is indeed a body blow for Plato's perfect picture.

All the best,


Coherence theory of knowledge

To: Anna H.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Coherence theory of knowledge
Date: 16th February 2010 12:22

Dear Anna,

Thank you for your email of 5 February, with your essay for the University of London BA Epistemology module, in response to the question, 'Critically assess the claim that if you believe that p and p coheres with everything else that you believe, then you know that p.'

Note that the correct thing to say is, 'Tom believes that p,' and not, 'Tom believes that 'p'.' Quotes are used to indicate direct discourse, as in, 'Tom said, 'it is sunny today',' while indirect discourse dispenses with quotes, as in, 'Tom said that it is sunny today.'

This essay is a good length for an examination answer, so if you can write this much in an hour, then you would be doing well.

In your essay, you raise a number of valid points regarding the correspondence theory of knowledge. However, the most important point doesn't get a mention, so I will discuss this first.

You start off by alluding to the discussion of knowledge and belief by Plato in the Theaetetus. Although the passage you quote leaves the answer unresolved (210 a-b), by taking this dialogue together with the Meno, Plato is generally credited with the definition of knowledge as 'true belief with an account' or 'justified true belief'.

What is so noticeable about the coherence definition of knowledge quoted in the question, is that neither truth nor justification is mentioned. You go on to say that 'a belief is justified 'if and only if' it coheres with a system of beliefs, but you don't say anything about truth.

If all coherence does is provide justification for a belief, then surely the question will arise whether you can have a coherent set of beliefs, many or the majority of which are false. That is a characteristic of persons suffering from paranoid delusions. However, we can also travel back in time to when rational, knowledgeable people 'knew' that the earth was flat, or that the sun goes round the earth. How can you 'know' something that isn't true?

With this question in mind, it makes more sense to raise the issue that you raise, concerning the threat of infinite regress or circularity. Why do we seek justification for our beliefs? In order to have the highest possible assurance that they are indeed true. However, if A justifies B and B justifies C... and so on up to Z, and Z justifies A, then it would be perfectly possible for all the beliefs in the 'coherent set' to be false.

The objection that 'a coherent set can be false' is usually levelled against the coherence theory of truth, but it is still telling here.

So far as the coherence theory of knowledge is concerned, there is a response: some coherent sets are better than others, the goal being, as you say, a 'maximum of explanatory coherence'. As one approaches the maximum, one might suppose, the chance that a large number of beliefs are false is, one hopes, reduced.

However, as you also note, another factor to take into consideration is experience. It is much harder to hold a 'false' coherent set of beliefs in the face of contradictory experience. Here, you need to note that coherence theorists differ in how they deal with experience. To suggest that experience is an external check on a system of beliefs would be to fall into the illusion of 'the myth of the given', as Sellars calls it. We never encounter 'raw experience' as such, but rather make experiential judgements, which are sensitive to our prior beliefs. So experience is important, but it must be viewed as an intrinsic part of the coherent structure, not extrinsic.

You go on to quote the foundational account. That there is an alternative account is not, as such, a criticism of the coherence theory of knowledge. If I am criticizing your theory, whatever theory that may be, it is no good my saying that I have a different theory. I have to pick holes on your theory in order to justify my preference for my theory!

What you say towards the end of your essay, with regard to the question of seeing an apple, does leave me in some doubt as to whether you are arguing for or against the coherence theory of knowledge. As noted above, coherence theorists do not regard it as acceptable to allow the factor of experience to be extrinsic to the coherent set of beliefs -- the result would no longer be a coherence theory of knowledge but rather a foundational theory of knowledge. So how is experience special?

I give you an apple, and you are in no doubt that it is an apple. It looks and feels like an apple, it has an apple smell. However, I am a practical joker who loves to give people fake apples then see their surprise when they try to bite them. What are you going to say at this point? That at least you can see something round and green? Would you be prepared to redefine perception in terms of judgements made about sense data? The objections to that idea are every bit as strong as the objections made against the coherence theory.

All the best,


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why be moral?

To: Andy R.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Why be moral?
Date: 12th February 2010 12:59

Dear Andy,

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

You start off by describing morality as a 'theory' which offers a 'universal' and 'naturalistic' response to questions of behaviour and value.

This is quite a claim in itself:

A 'theory' would normally be understood as a consistent system of moral rules or laws, which one uses in order to make a moral judgement in a particular case (i.e. you see what rules or laws apply, how the individual case fits the theory). As you go on to talk about Sartrean or existentialist ethics, I'm not sure that this is what you believe. Existentialist ethics takes particularist view of every moral challenge: each situation is unique, so there is no general moral recipe for being good.

The claim that morality is 'universal' is also contentious. Here, you make a rather surprising leap from Sartre to Kant, and the idea that moral judgements are universalisable. But what, exactly, are we universalising, given the uniqueness of every situation? Let's say that you decide to tell a lie to one of your lecturers in order to get yourself out of a difficult situation where you promised something you could not deliver. (The classic case: 'The dog ate my homework.') You tell yourself that this is morally justifiable when ALL the circumstances are taken into account, even though lying is prima facie wrong. (Kant would of course reject this outright, but we are not being Kantian about this.)

It is trivial to make your judgement consistent with the principle of universalisability, simply by including every single detail. If ever the exact circumstances were repeated, then the same action would be morally right. By the same token, you do not have to allow that it would be right for your lecturer to lie to you, because the circumstances are different.

Is morality 'naturalistic'? That's one of the big debates in ethics. G.E. Moore is famous for his contribution to this debate: the 'naturalistic fallacy' is the idea that you can define what is good, or a morally right action, in terms of empirical (natural) facts. Existentialist and Kantian ethics are both non-naturalistic, because they recognize that from a given factual description, one cannot deduce what is the right thing to do. That effectively sets the problem of 'Why be moral?' Hume started it all with his famous example, ''Tis not against reason that I should prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.'

Well, does existentialism have a sufficient answer to the question, 'Why be moral?' Why couldn't Hitler be 'moral', on the existentialist view, provided that he was consistent in applying his 'moral' beliefs? This is not a pointless speculation given that the existentialist Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party, accepting a professorship while his Jewish colleagues were being removed from their posts.

To bring this down to more practical questions, consider how one responds, e.g., to a destitute beggar in the street. Some people take the view, 'There but for the grace of God go I' and drop a few pennies in the hat. In other words, the universalised proposition is, 'When someone is destitute and begs for money, they ought to be given some.' In that way, should you ever find yourself in the position of the beggar, you could accept money from passers by with a clear conscience. 'Do as you would be done by.'

On the other hand, suppose that you are strongly opposed to begging, and brusquely walk on without turning your head. If challenged on your behaviour, you would say, 'I would expect the same treatment if I were in his position.' In other words, on a point of universal principle, you think begging is wrong, whether someone else does it or you do it.

OK, you will say, people do have different ethical views. All that matters is that you are consistent, i.e. are prepared to 'universalise'. But we have already seen that there are no limits to how one frames the 'universal' propositions in question, in other words, no limits to what you can (permit yourself to) do, while formally satisfying the requirement for 'being moral'.

There is a great short book by Iris Murdoch, 'The Sovereignty of Good' which tackles the existentialist view, arguing for the need for a more Platonic view of moral values, which I can strongly recommend. Murdoch traces the connection between existentialism and English-speaking moral philosophers such as R.M. Hare who make universalisability the central feature of their account of ethics. (Murdoch later wrote a much longer book, 'Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals', which is a lot harder going.)

All the best,


Analysing ordinary talk of the will

To: Siobhan M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Analysing ordinary talk of the will
Date: 11th February 2010 12:36

Dear Siobhan,

Thank you for your email of 1 February, with your third essay for the Possible World Machine, in response to the question, 'Describe a variety of situations in which one would naturally talk of 'the will'. How is such talk to be analysed from a philosophical standpoint? Does your analysis show that we are right (or wrong) to think and talk of 'the will' in the way that we do?'

This is a really good piece of work, which starts off with an excellent first sentence. There undoubtedly is an issue about the subtle effects of language on 'the way we think', and it is important to mention this.

Let's first look at the question of 'want', 'shall' and 'will'. Here are three statements that I could make, each of which might be true:

1. I want to review two essays this morning.

2. I will review two essays this morning.

3. I shall review two essays this morning.

(1) is simply a statement about my present needs and desires. If I get two essays done this morning, then I can spend the afternoon doing some more web design, and also have time for lunch. 'Would like' is an acceptable paraphrase. Other things being equal, this is the outcome I would like.

(2) is an expression of intention, or as you put it, 'dedicated intention'. That's what I have decided, so that's what will happen. Intention is, in this sense, a form of knowledge of the future. However, as such, it is not infallible. 'I intended to review two essays this morning, but a long telephone call interrupted me.' My statement of intention was appropriate and true, but in this case the outcome was not what I had reason to expect.

(3) is a little bit forced in this example. I am making a prediction rather than stating my intention. Perhaps better would be, 'I shall receive two essays this morning.' We can make predictions about our future behaviour which are different from intentions (and different again from statements about what we want or would like). This leads into a tricky philosophical issue about 'predicting and intending'. The capacity to form intentions depends on our knowledge of ourselves to a large extent. And sometimes, it is not clear whether we are expressing an intention which is different from merely making a prediction about what we will do.

What you say about promising is, in view of the above, not quite correct. To continue with the example, on Tuesday I wrote to say that I intended to respond to your essay 'tomorrow'. I did not promise to do so because I am not in control of possible interruptions. As it turned out, I had to take the day off work, in order to escort my middle (17 year old) daughter to school. (It's a long story!) So I would plead that strictly speaking I didn't 'break my promise'. (But sorry, anyway!)

Again, there's a grey area where it is not clear whether one merely expressed an intention or made a promise. If I express an intention in circumstances where others would naturally assume that I had promised, then I can be held to account for giving them to understand that I had promised, even though it was not my intention to do so. What I should have said is, 'It is my intention to do X, but I can't promise to do X because...'.

I've gone into this in some detail, because it is important to see how finely tuned ordinary language is (English, anyway) in enabling us to make important semantic distinctions. Sometimes, in philosophy, one finds the need to invent special terminology in order to express a precise meaning, but not here.

However, this still leaves the question of 'the will' undecided.

In a ground-breaking book 'The Will: a dual aspect theory' (2 volumes) published in 1980, Brian O'Shaughnessy argued against the currently accepted view in philosophy that the concepts of desire and intention are sufficient in order to account for human behaviour. O'Shaughnessy thinks that in fully accounting for an action, something else needs to take place, the actual moment or aspect of 'willing' the action. I get out of bed. At that moment, something occurs which is not wanting or intending. I wanted to get out of bed and I intended to get out of bed. But some extra psychic push was needed to actually get me moving at that precise moment. This harks back to earlier times when 'the will' was taken as a psychological faculty, before analytic philosophers chopped it up with their knives.

My own view, as you will gather from the unit, is more in agreement with the analytical philosophers.

What, then, about will power? My gut feeling is to agree with you (and the traditional view) that will power is an important phenomenon, and that persons can suffer from weak will power and also learn to develop their will power. But as a philosopher I'm bound to try to look more closely at just what this means. Assertiveness is one aspect, where one expresses one's will power in one's dealings with other people, and this is something that one can 'train'. Another aspect is the ability to endure pain or discomfort, which is the reason why marines are sent out in winter to the wilds of Dartmoor and made to fend for themselves in the freezing cold. Indifference to pain or discomfort is something you can acquire through training.

In both cases -- assertiveness and endurance -- what one acquires could be described as 'mental techniques', although these are not necessarily techniques that could be written down in a book.

Then again there are other things like self belief, which is not so much a matter of technique but rather hard-won knowledge. Then there's strength of character, which some will say you either have or you don't, although it's said that difficult circumstances can strengthen your character ('What does not kill me makes me stronger' as Nietzsche says). Not forgetting 'the power of positive thinking' (Norman Vincent Peale), which I suppose you can learn from a book, at least millions did.

My conclusion would be that it would be very difficult to make a case that ordinary language (or English) embodies a dualist view of the mind. Ordinary language distinctions are valid, and do not imply a dualist view, though neither do they give any support to materialism.

All the best,


Laws of nature vs. accidental generalizations

To: Chris M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Laws of nature vs. accidental generalizations
Date: 9th February 2010 13:54

Dear Christian,

Thank you for your email of 31 January, with your essay for the University of London BA Logic module, in response to the question, 'What is the difference between an accidentally true generalization and a law of nature?'

This is a good answer to the question, which would score in the mid- to high-60s. You have canvassed various positions that can be taken on the question of the status of scientific law as as opposed to accidental generalizations, and found both Humean and necessitarian accounts to be inadequate. Your own suggestion is that we 'bite the bullet' and give up the idea that scientific laws are exceptionless. 'Why not assume that no two electrons have exactly the same charge e and over time -- very long time frames -- the charge of a given electron will change (slowly, but somehow randomly).'

This conclusion seems to be based on what you perceive to be a fatal weakness in Hume's account, 'There cannot be anything additional to the mosaic of discreta out of which world history is composed.' If the history of the world is just a regular mosaic, why not allow that here and there the pattern changes randomly, as in a mosaic floor made by slightly drunk builders? What difference would it make?

I heard Nancy Cartwright give a paper at a conference (I can't remember where) where she gave the example of a tumbling leaf and the classic view that the movements of the leaf have a precise explanation in terms of the forces acting on it, even though it would be impossible to determine this in reality because of necessary limits on our powers of observation. Cartwright wanted to deny the classical view. There is no precise cause for the movements of the leaf. I thought she was stark raving mad. Surely, we don't know exactly why the leaf moves as it does, but the reason had better be that the laws of nature are what they are, and the leaf and its surrounding environment are what they are.

However, now I come to think of it, I can see that *if* one is prepared to allow, in a Humean spirit, that laws of nature are not required to be exceptionless, then Cartwright's view of the leaf follows. Whoa!

Hume is a bit difficult because he doesn't really emphasize the consequences of his own view. There are restricted generalizations, such as, 'All the coins in my pocket are silver' and unrestricted generalizations such as, 'All ravens are black' or 'All electrons have charge e' (your examples). What do we mean by an unrestricted generalization? We mean a generalization which applies to ALL places and ALL times, now and forever -- to infinity.

Hume's interest in these generalizations concerns our grounds for making them, our 'rational warrant' for believing them. And here he finds a foundational, and ultimately insoluble problem, to do with the justification for induction. However, apart from the question of what we can know, or what we are justified in believing, there is the question of what it is that we believe. The content of our belief is a proposition. A proposition has a truth value, true or false. To say, or to suppose that there are 'truths' of this kind, true unrestricted generalizations is a huge claim in itself. Forget about the fact that we have already given up on knowing their truth. The sheer possibility that they are true is something to wonder at, and surely would be the final word on the difference between accidental and genuine generalizations.

When we intend a generalization as a genuine generalization, we are aiming, in effect, at a target which is situated infinitely far away. An objection to this comes from the 'anti-realist' about truth and meaning. If you took two communities of investigators, one of which 'aimed' their generalizations at an infinitely far away target, and the other which merely claimed that we will never discover an exception, even though exceptions might still exist, there would be no difference in their scientific practice. The mental picture of an infinitely far away target is just that, a picture, or in Wittgenstein's words, 'a knob which turns, even though nothing turns with it.'

In practice, as Lewis says (he wasn't the first to say it), genuine generalizations have a place in the axiomatization of science. We treat them differently when we make investigations, test theories etc. In other words, the difference is structural, to do with our practice and the nature of science, rather than a difference 'in reality'. There really isn't much to say about 'how things are in reality', where this goes beyond accounting for what we actually do in carrying out our investigations.

All the best,


Meaning of 'Zeus was a Greek god'

To: Bogdan P.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Meaning of 'Zeus was a Greek god'
Date: 9th February 2010 12:49

Dear Bogdan,

Thank you for your email of 1 February, with your essay for the University of London BA Logic module, in response to the question, ''Zeus' does not refer to anything. So the claim 'Zeus was a Greek God' is neither true nor meaningful.' Discuss.

You have taken a very definite line on this case, arguing that objects have different kinds of 'existence'. Bill Clinton is a real human being, an inhabitant of the physical world, and his properties are the kinds of properties that you expect to find in physical objects and/or human beings. Sherlock Holmes is a character in the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes as the properties of a physical object and/or human being *in the novel*, but what these amount to in reality is information which can be gathered from the pages of Conan Doyle's collected works. 'Sherlock Holmes played the violin' is true if and only if there is some reference to Sherlock Holmes paying the violin in at least one of Conan Doyle's novels or short stories about Holmes. (From recollection, I believe that Holmes does play the violin -- badly.)

Actually, what I've just said is not strictly correct, because novelists sketch their ideas for characters which don't always end up on the printed page. So, for example, if asked, Conan Doyle might explain why Holmes plays the violin by the fact that Holmes' father was a noted violinist. In that case, 'Holmes' father was a noted violinist' is true by virtue of Conan Doyle's character sketch of Holmes, even though it is false if we restrict the domain of investigation to the published works.

I don't know if you can see a problem with this -- because I can. Let's look at Zeus. There is a sizeable body of literature about Zeus, from various sources, and it is not at all clear how we should rate the authenticity of these various sources. A scholar studying the myth of Zeus, or the history of the Greek gods, will take a balanced view, putting more reliance on one source, and less on another.

Unlike the case of Holmes -- at least if we agree to restrict our inquiries to what Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes in his published works -- there is room for genuine disagreement between scholars over whether a particular property belongs to the mythical being Zeus, or not. One way around this is to qualify the statement, 'On one tradition, Zeus has a golden chariot, on another tradition he does not have a chariot.' (I don't know if this is true, I'm just inventing this for the sake of an example.) So what is the truth about Zeus, or Holmes for that matter?

Real objects, objects in the real world have more properties than we will ever discover. It is possible for a large number of our beliefs about a real object to be false, because we have failed to gain a sufficiently good look at it. By contrast, a fictional or mythical character has all and only those properties which it is stated -- on a page, or in an oral tradition -- that it has. A fictional or mythical object is a construct of the things that are said about it.

In that case, statements about fictional or mythical objects lack at least one of the important hallmarks of truth. I think this is what Russell objected to in Meinong's theory. You need a robust sense of reality. You have to understand that 'Bill Clinton was President of the USA' is 'really' true, while 'Holmes played the violin' or 'Zeus rode a chariot' are merely 'true' because someone has made a statement to that effect.

Of course, if we're doing semantics, and looking for a truth conditional explanation for the combinatorial powers of language, then at one level it doesn't really matter that statements about Holmes or Zeus are not 'really' true. You just stick to a minimal account of truth according to which the term 'is true' is the correct substitution for 'is T' in Tarski's schema.

However, if you go that way, you had better make sure that you give some account of your domain of reference which is not completely trivial. At some point, you are going to have to flag the difference between 'real truth' and 'ersatz truth', 'real existence' and 'ersatz existence'. In the case of real truth, you go to the object and compare the object with the predicate that has been applied to it; in the case of ersatz truth, you collect together the various statements that have been made about the object and determine whether or not these are consistent with the predicate which has been applied to it. That's surely a big enough difference to warrant saying that there are no *truths* about Zeus, only things that, at one time or another, have been 'held to be true'.

All the best,


Monday, May 20, 2013

Reducing truths about the past to present tense facts

To: Mark S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Reducing truths about the past to present tense facts
Date: 5th February 2010 13:00

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 29 January, with your essay for the University of London BA Metaphysics module, in response to the question, 'All statements about the past are true or false in virtue of our present evidence of how things were in the past.' Discuss.

You have made a heroic effort to cover a wide span of views relating in one way or another to the question of truths about the past. All the various nuanced positions, however, in your view rendered unnecessary by the simple expedient of rejecting A-theory and being a B-theorist about time.

Looking at this question, I have difficulties even making sense of what is being asserted. You discuss the notion of 'presentism' and go off on various tangents including the idea of a Laplacian Supermind who is able to take in all 'present' (in the Newtonian sense) facts and deduce past and future on the basis of deterministic laws of nature. But this has got nothing to do with evidence. The Laplacian Supermind doesn't need evidence. It 'sees' the facts as they are now, directly. (Hence, questions arising from chaos theory are irrelevant because in a deterministic universe the only problem is the fact that all observations are necessarily approximate, plus or minus a given value, and the slightest degree of inaccuracy gets magnified a la Lorenz.)

You object to RAT on the grounds that, 'The major part of the past would simply vanish. For example, the dinosaurs for whom we have fossils would be the only ones that existed.' What on earth does that mean? How much of the 'truth' about a given dinosaur can you deduce from its bones?

The problem is that 'present evidence' is just that, evidence. When we 'deduce from evidence' what we are doing is induction, or abduction (inference to the best explanation). It is always possible that Martians manufactured and planted those bones.

This makes reductive 'anti-realism' a very different kind of animal. (I'm using quotes because I prefer Dummett's usage according to which any theory which delivers truth conditions is 'realist'.) When the RAT theorist says 'dinosaurs existed 500 million years ago', the meaning (=truth conditions) of that statement has nothing to do with flesh and blood creatures pictured in school books. We are talking about what we can find in the world around us, bones and stuff, and the various scientific procedures for determining their age such as carbon dating. That's what we mean. The pictures we may have in our heads have nothing to do with what we mean.

On this view, one doesn't get too fussed about how one defines 'the present'. 'Present evidence' is evidence which is more or less to hand, or 'present', in the sense that it is here, in a museum somewhere or dig-uppable. (Obviously, one can raise problems here. If the stuff is too far underground, then maybe it isn't 'present' -- however, there are different views possible here, for example, one can talk about what beings with superior technology could uncover etc. etc.)

You don't need to be a metaphysical 'presentist' in order to (be motivated to) hold RAT. I'm not rejecting your hypothesis that RAT is based on Presentism + Truthmaker Principle + Historical Truths Principle. That would be one kind, a rather obtuse kind, of RAT theorist. However, it seems to me much more plausible that RAT is motivated simply by verificationist scruples.

On the non-RAT view, statements about dinosaurs have a truth value which can never be conclusively verified. It's beyond our grasp. According to RAT, when we make statements about dinosaurs, either we are aiming our thoughts at truth -- at existing facts -- or we are just telling stories. Truth can only belong to verifiable statements. And what cannot have truth in this sense has no semantic meaning (even if it has 'meaning in our heads' or 'picture meaning'). If we are aiming our thoughts at existing facts, then these facts better had be accessible to investigation.

This view is one of the upshots of a once-powerful tradition in philosophy (logical positivism and the verification principle). In other words, this isn't so much about the metaphysics of time as the nature of truth and meaning.

Dummett's famous 1969 paper takes the argument to a new level. The motivating intuition is the same -- that semantic meaning isn't the same as 'picture meaning'. However, for Dummett grasp of semantic meaning is necessarily exhibited in rule-following behaviour, such as knowledge of verification or falsification procedures (the 'manifestation argument'), and in order to represent this knowledge we have to abandon the idea of a truth conditions theory of meaning in favour, e.g., of a 'verification conditions' theory.

Dummett would therefore reject the statement, 'All statements about the past are true or false in virtue of our present evidence of how things were in the past.' The statement implies the law of excluded middle: every proposition about the past has a truth value, and that value is determined by the existence of present evidence. When we say 'dinosaurs' what we really mean is 'dinosaur bones' (as it were). In any case, most historical statements are false. Whereas on Dummett's view we cannot meaningfully say, of any given statement about the past, that it is 'either true or false'.

On a historical note, discussion of these issues took up a considerable portion of my D.Phil thesis. What has survived of those historically distant investigations can be found in my book (ch.16), and also in the Pathways Metaphysics program.

All the best,


Objections to Berkeley's theory of immaterial substance

To: Matthew M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Objections to Berkeley's theory of immaterial substance
Date: 4th February 2010 13:33

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your email of 28 January, with your essay for the University of London Modern Philosophy: Descartes et. al. module, in response to the question, 'Berkeley's belief in immaterial substance faces the very objections he levels against the materialist's belief in material substance.' Discuss.

You have gone about this the right way. You've looked at the arguments which Berkeley deploys against material substance, and you have tried to see how they work, mutatis mutandis, against the idea of spiritual substance. It appears that you are prepared to defend Berkeley, on the grounds that his view of spiritual substance is derived from Descartes' cogito: our idea of the soul or spiritual substance is concrete because we perceive our own being as such.

I think you have missed something here. There are actually two lines of argument that I would deploy. The first, deriving from Hume, directly challenges the Cartesian claim. The second is more controversial, engaging with the idealist strategy of describing our experience without recourse to the notion of matter.

Here is a famous quote from David Hume, from Book I, Part 4, Section 6 of A Treatise of Human Nature:

'When I turn my reflection on myself, I never can perceive this self without some one or more perceptions; nor can I ever perceive any thing but the perceptions. Tis the composition of these, therefore, which forms the self. We can conceive a thinking being to have either many or few perceptions. Suppose the mind to be reduc'd even below the life of an oyster. Suppose it to have only one perception, as of thirst or hunger. Consider it in that situation. Do you conceive any thing but merely that perception? Have you any notion of self or substance? If not, the addition of other perceptions can never give you that notion.'

This looks to me like a direct challenge to Berkeley, using Berkeley's own strategy. When I look into my mind, I see my ideas but I don't see the spiritual substance in which those ideas inhere.

In 'Three Dialogues' one of the arguments Berkeley deploys against materialism is that we have no notion of how material 'causes' can produce material 'effects' -- echoing Hume's own destructive analysis of the naive idea of causation. Yet Berkeley contrasts this with the causation involved in willing an action. When I form the idea of moving my arm, which is followed by my experience of my arm moving, I am directly aware of the causal link between my desire or intention, and an event. Hume, of course, rejects this, for the same reason as he rejects the idea that we can 'see' causal links in the external world.

So, why do we need spiritual substance? Why do we need substance, period?

This question takes us into an examination of the coherence of Hume's radical empiricist philosophy. However, we can bypass Hume and just consider what are the minimal 'ingredients' for an idealist account of reality.

The idea of defining the world purely in terms of sense data was the project undertaken by phenomenalists, in the early part of the 20th century, under the general banner of 'logical positivism'. A.J. Ayer's earlier writings are a notable example, following the lead of Rudolph Carnap. The world can be completely described in terms of hypothetical statements about sense impressions. Selves are 'constructions' out of sense impressions, no less than the 'physical objects' that selves perceive.

The project failed. Berkeley had already put his finger on the weakest link: the idea that a subjunctive conditional statement, or rather a whole set of subjunctive conditional statements, can adequately stand proxy for a statement about the external world. For we are still left with the question of what it is, by virtue of which, the statement or statements in question is or are *true*.

For Berkeley, hypothetical statements about sense data or experiences are true
by virtue of how things are in a reality consisting of God and finite spirits.

The second of the two lines of argument which I mentioned earlier bears on idealism generally, as opposing account of reality to materialism (i.e. mental monism versus material monism).

It does seem very plausible that if one can give an account of your entire life in terms of your experiences, and hypothetical statements about those experiences, then the notion that there is 'something else' in reality is redundant: because you never get to see it, hear it, touch it.

However, there is an exactly parallel argument which is used by materialists, specifically Armstrong and Smart (so called 'Australian materialists') which goes as follows. A red sensation can be defined in physical terms as the state of an individual which renders that individual capable of, e.g., sorting out red tomatoes from green tomatoes. We don't know exactly how material bodies are able to perceive -- exactly how the brain processes visual data -- but we don't need this knowledge in order to state the materialist view: All statements about mental states and phenomena can, in principle, be given a 'topic-neutral analysis'.

Hence: 'If one can give an account of your entire life in terms of your physical movements and responses to the physical conditions in your environment, and hypothetical statements about your physical states, then the notion that there is 'something else' -- mental states -- is redundant, because it serves no function in a complete description of the material world.'

All the best,


Role of Plato's Form of the Good

To: Harri K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Role of Plato's Form of the Good
Date: 4th February 2010 12:43

Dear Harri,

Thank you for your email of 24 January, with your essay for the University of London Plato and the Presocratics BA module, in response to the question, 'What is the role of the Form of Good as characterized in the analogies of Sun, Line, and Cave?'

This is a really great essay, which had me searching in Google for a quote from the Ridley Scott's film 'Gladiator' (2000) starring Russell Crowe. The scene is where Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) tells his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) that he is not naming him as his successor as Emperor of Rome:
Marcus Aurelius: Are you ready to do your duty for Rome?

Commodus: Yes, father.

Marcus Aurelius: You will not be emperor.

Commodus: Which wiser, older man is to take my place?

Marcus Aurelius: My powers will pass to Maximus, to hold in trust until the Senate is ready to rule once more. Rome is to be a republic again.

Commodus: Maximus?

Marcus Aurelius: Yes. My decision disappoints you?

Commodus: You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, courage, perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage. Devotion, to my family and to you. But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then it was as if you didn't want me for your son.

Marcus Aurelius: Oh, Commodus. You go too far.

Commodus: I search the faces of the gods... for ways to please you, to make you proud. One kind word, one full hug... where you pressed me to your chest and held me tight. Would have been like the sun on my heart for a thousand years. What is it in me that you hate so much?
Socrates taught the 'unity of the virtues'. The Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is derived from Socrates. Possession of the virtues is what makes you a good person. But what is 'good'? What are the virtues good for?

What Plato saw is that in pursuit of the question what makes a man good, or what is the good life, it isn't enough merely to list the desirable character traits. Ambition is a desirable character trait, but it is not good in itself. An evil man can have ambition no less than a good man. Ambition is 'good for' something else, namely the achievement of something you have set your heart on. Socrates would say that ambition is not a virtue, because it doesn't form a unity with justice, temperance etc. But this explanation threatens circularity. Perhaps there are alternative unities, and Commodus, ambitious schemer, is an example.

You are absolutely right that Plato gives us no positive information about the Good. Indeed, it seems that he is asking us to have faith or belief -- which is strange given the role he assigns to mere belief in the analogy of the line.

What information can we gather from what Plato says about the Good in the analogies of the Sun, Line and Cave? As you remark, for Plato reality has a teleological structure. Everything has its purpose in the order of things, and this is reflected in the structure of the Forms themselves. This is a positive claim in itself, and Plato could perhaps argue that he doesn't need to say anything more about the Good: by claiming that there is a hierarchy with Good at the pinnacle he has defined the Good. The Good is the purpose that the universe serves. We serve the good when we align our actions to that purpose.

The idea that the cosmos has a teleological structure was not Plato's invention or discovery: it is implicit in the philosophies of the Presocratics right back to Thales. (The only notable exception to this is the atomism of Leucippus and Democritus.) There is a universal 'mind' or 'nous'. The very distinction between 'cosmos' and 'chaos' depends on this. This leads to a view about ethics: Heraclitus talks about the difference between the 'dry' soul and the 'wet' soul, the good soul which makes itself as much like the Logos as possible, and the evil soul which allows its fire to be extinguished.

There are three things one can say about the Form of the Good, or the idea of a unique teleological structure to reality, in relation to Plato's dialectic and his conception of the Forms, although it might be stretching things a bit to claim that this can be found in the analogies of Sun, Line and Cave:

1. The Socratic method, as illustrated in the Socratic dialogues, never seems to lead to any positive result. We learn that we don't know as much about 'virtue' or 'courage' or 'temperance' as we thought, but be never get to the point of achieving a 'Socratic definition'. But did Plato really think that these forms can be explicitly defined? Or did he think, on the contrary, that practicing the dialectic, engaging in dialogue brings the philosopher eventually to a vision of virtue, courage etc. which cannot be fully articulated. It is knowledge by acquaintance (indeed, 'recollected' knowledge).

2. In the practice of philosophical analysis, it is important to realize that we are not just looking to define a concept in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. Another way of approaching the question, 'What is knowledge?' or 'What is free will?' is to ask *why we have* that concept in our language, what purpose it serves. In other words, there are implicit teleological assumptions built in to the very practice of philosophical analysis or Socratic 'dialectic'. A table isn't just a slab of wood with four pieces of wood attached at the corners; it is a flat surface raised above the surface of the ground at the right height to enable etc. etc.

3. The soul is itself designed or set up to perceive things, both in the world of phenomena and the intelligible realm. Just as Plato describes an analogy between the soul and the ideal state, so reality itself, the cosmos, possesses a structure which is mirrored in the structure of the soul. That's the 'cash value' of the myth of recollection. Just as our eyes are designed to see the things that we need to see in order to navigate successfully around the world, so our minds, when properly employed -- i.e. when engaged in dialectic -- must inevitably lead to the ultimate source and explanation of all that exists, the ultimate purpose which we pursue when we act virtuously.

Admittedly, some of this is conjectural, and it is not clear to me how much the examiner wants, or what exactly they are looking for. On the face of it, the question simply asks for exposition, which you have supplied (and more besides). Problem is, it doesn't tell us what we want to know. This leads to a wider examination of Plato's philosophy.

All the best,


Death anxiety and existentialism

To: Paul M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Death anxiety and existentialism
Date: 3rd February 2010 13:19

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your email of 21 January, with your fifth and final essay for Pathways Introduction to Philosophy, Possible World Machine which you have titled, 'Death anxiety: An existential based solution'.

Well done for completing your program! What now? For the Associate you will be sending me essays of 2000-2500 words. I expect you to do a substantial amount of reading and your own research. Essays should have a bibliography of works mentioned, and, optionally, also works consulted in the writing of the essay.

Perhaps the first thing to do would be to write me a short proposal outlining topics that interest you together with reading that you have done or intend to do. It is important that essays have a sharp focus rather than cover a topic in a very general way. For example, if you are writing about death, then the title of your fifth essay would be fully acceptable. Whereas, the title, 'Death' would be less suitable.

Have a look at some of the essay portfolios archived at

I didn't find your essay very Heideggerian. You say a number of things which come from the philosophical tradition long before existentialism: Your remark that 'an individual's conscious subjective experience is all that one has and as such the immediate moment of experience is of primary significance' reminded me of Marcus Aurelius 'Meditations' (a classic work of Stoic philosophy which I can strongly recommend that you read), and also Wittgenstein's remark in the Tractatus that 'eternal life belongs to those who live in the present' (6.4311).

In the same paragraph Wittgenstein also asserts that 'death is not an event in life' which looks superficially like a rejection of the view that you attribute to Heidegger that death is 'an inevitable part of life'. However, there is no real inconsistency. Finite beings, such as ourselves, are mortal by definition. Even if you could 'cheat' biological death, you will not escape the 'big crunch' when the universe itself comes to the end of its 'life'. Death is the 'limit' which defines a human life. That's why it is not an 'event in life'.

The big question, however, is what difference it makes if one acknowledges this fact. Why should it make any difference? Why should I do anything differently or live in a different way just because I recognize the inevitability of my death?

You say that 'the reality of death completes us giving individuals a certainty which nothing else can'. What difference does that make? How does this certainty motivate an 'authentic' existence by contrast with an 'inauthentic' one?

One could make this easy for oneself by simply defining 'inauthentic existence' as any kind of life or activity which is motivated by the avoidance of the subject of death, or denial of our mortality. But why is that so bad? All I can see here is the thought that in doing so we are deceiving ourselves, and self-deception is a bad thing in itself. We are refusing to face 'the truth' about what we are.

I don't think it's enough to say that. There has to be something that death makes possible, in itself, which a person who lives an authentic existence is able to achieve, while the person who lives an inauthentic existence is not able to achieve.

A human being is a 'life history in the making'. When someone has died, their life is complete, nothing can be added or taken away. When we 'tell the story' of someone's life, we thread the various incidents that made up their life together in a way that makes sense. Of course, there can be different interpretations, up to a point. Apart from the fact that no biographer ever has full access to all the facts, there are different ways of telling the story.

However, when I think of my life as a potential 'life history', or a life history in the making, I have a responsibility for how things will turn out, for 'what I make' of my life. The very task of doing this is defined by the 'limiting condition' of death. The life of an immortal being, supposing that one could exist, would not be a life but a mere soap opera, without shape or form.

The crucial point, for Heidegger, is that I am living my life. My life isn't something that 'happens', a sequence of events in the objective time order but rather the continual expression of my freedom. I will be a 'sequence of events in time' when I die, when I acquire a 'life story'. While I am alive, others make make whatever provisional interpretations that they may, but I am not bound by any such view. I, not they, am the one writing the story.

All the best,


Monday, May 13, 2013

Anaximander's theory of the 'Apeiron'

To: Richard K.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Anaximander's theory of the 'Apeiron'
Date: 3rd February 2010 13:17

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your email of 24 January, with your first essay for the Ancient Philosophy program, entitled, 'Seeking the arche of the world: Anaximander's modest response.'

Your argument that the Apeiron of Anaximander is a philosophical advance over the water of Thales or air of Anaximander is summed up in your final paragraph: 'By seeking to make the ultimate cause intelligible and itself the object of explanation, we run the risk of making its ability as an explanatory cause of all that exists unintelligible. Anaximander's contribution was to introduce metaphysical restraint and [circumspection] in trying to understand what it is that makes up the basic stuff, the arche, of the world.'

I like this thought, because it takes what is at face value a criticism of Anaximander's theory and turns it on its head, so that it becomes its chief virtue.

Jonathan Barnes remarks pungently of Anaximander's 'hinting darkly of a huge primordial tohu-bohu... supported by a sketchy argument... It is no diminution of his genius to say that his contribution to metaphysical philosophy was of less moment' (Presocratic Philosophers, p.37). Barnes is consciously reacting to a tradition of over-enthusiastic commentary on Anaximander, in effect putting the case for a revisionary view of the relative merits of Anaximenes and Anaximander more in line with the way these philosophers were viewed by their contemporaries.

What Anaximander has been (wrongly, in Barnes' view) praised for is the supposed depth or profundity in the notion of an unlimited, indescribable, unknowable source of all that is. But there is nothing meritorious in this. Modest scepticism is one thing: but to take the very thing that cannot be known or described and make it into your primary explanatory principle reduces science to mystery-mongering. Everything you see around you is a manifestation of 'the unknowable force' -- whoooo!

On your alternative take, Anaximander is critiquing the notion that the arche is something that we can readily identify in the world around us. There's nothing wrong, when we formulate a theory, in admitting that our knowledge of the primary explanatory principle is limited. In contemporary terms, that is the whole point of hypothetico-deductive explanation. If there is a substance such as Anaximander describes, then it would behave like THIS. Of course, that does not rule out that we will find out more about this hypothetical entity or substance when we do further investigation.

Why is it so bad to hold that we can identify the arche in the world around us? As you say, physics and cosmology for the presocratics was about describing the reality that accounts for appearances. Thus, for Thales, Water is 'reality' while wood and fire are mere 'appearances' (of water). But that seems rather odd. As Aristotle in the passage you quote remarks, heat and cold, wet and dry etc. are 'opposites'. Imagine a cosmos consisting entirely of water; what possible reason or mechanism could account for the emergence of fire?

However, I think that this criticism has less force against Anaximenes. That is because his theory of condensation and rarefaction effectively demolishes the 'old' (pre-philosophical) notion of opposites as existing as substances or entities in their own right. Cold-hot, wet-dry are points on a continuum defined by the mechanical process of condensation and rarefaction. Things appear to our senses as opposites, but the reality is different.

Your case for Anaximander can also be interpreted as an argument for the necessity of a metaphysic. Anaximenes' theory is physics, pure and simple. Why do we need a metaphysic? What kind of problem or question does metaphysics solve that physics does not? I think this is the bit that is possibly missing from your argument.

The subsequent history of philosophy has exhibited the contrast between physics and metaphysics in various forms: for example, in Plato's theory of forms, or Kant's theory of the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. And of course in Aristotle's account of 'Being qua being'. One of the things that is so attractive about Anaximander (and which was less attractive to his contemporaries who were more impressed with Anaximenes) is the fact that his theory lends itself to a metaphysical reading, even though he does little more than supply a 'hint'.

Anyway, this is a good effort. I can see that you have put in some deep thought here and come up with a interpretation of Anaximander which is both simple and plausible.

All the best,


J.S. Mill on pleasure and happiness

To: Scott B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: J.S. Mill on pleasure and happiness
Date: 28th January 2010 13:49

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your email of 22 January, with your essay for the University of London Ethics Historical Perspectives module, in response to the question, ''By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain.' Does Mill retain that conception of happiness? If not, what does he replace it by?'

This is a good essay which covers a lot of ground.

You start by describing Bentham's version of hedonism, according to which pleasures are evaluated by the criteria of duration and intensity. Mill, by contrast, wanted to allow for a distinction between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures. This raises serious difficulties with the hedonist interpretation of Mill's account of happiness. How can you genuinely be a hedonist while allowing that pleasures differ by other criteria than the degree to which you are pleased? On the face of it, it looks like a contradiction in terms.

There is a significant omission in your short sketch of Bentham. There is a third criterion which Bentham considers, which relates to the causal properties or consequences of a particular state of pleasure, which Bentham calls 'fecundity'. Some pleasures drive us to do, or involve, actions which give pleasure to others, while other pleasures do not. Bentham gives the example of the pleasures of playing pushpin (a pub game of the day) and writing poetry. Writing poetry gives pleasure to indefinitely many others, while playing pushpin only gives pleasure to the participants and immediate onlookers.

This provides a rationale for promoting poetry over pushpin, which does not require that we relax our account of the intrinsic nature of pleasure in any way. It's a neat solution. (You do in fact mention 'a possible answer' to the question of why for Mill higher pleasures are preferable, that they 'may be more likely to be beneficial to others'. This is very close to Bentham's position, if not identical with it. It only needs to be added that the objective measure of 'benefit', for Bentham is in the same coin as all pleasures, namely intensity, duration -- and fecundity.)

Mill's thought, as you observe, takes an Aristotelian direction in allowing for different levels of pleasure. I can be blissfully 'happy', enjoying the maximum amount of lower pleasures and thinking to myself how wonderful life is, when all the while an observer would say that I have failed to attain the potential for 'happiness' available to a human being. I'm less 'happy' than I think I am.

However, there is still a significant gap between Aristotle and Mill on this point. Aristotle would say that a man who lives a full life, up to the highest standard of which a human being is capable, fully exerting all his powers and deriving pleasure therefrom, can still be 'unhappy' if circumstances in the external world are significantly different from what he believes them to be. For example, if unknown to him, people laugh behind his back, or if his wife has for a long time been unfaithful. He didn't die happy because he was not truly 'happy'. He had not attained eudaimonia. He is to be pitied rather than admired.

What this shows is that Aristotle is not a hedonist, period, while Mill remains a hedonist, or tries to be.

The problem with this position, as you correctly observe, is explaining why the 'value adding' aspects of higher pleasures cannot simply add value on their own. Oughtn't we to say that the preferability of higher, noble pleasures is due to the fact that they are pleasures and they are noble, rather than saying that they are special kind of pleasure, incommensurable with less noble pleasures?

You also make a good point questioning the validity of Mill's distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Where does Mill stand on sport and dance? How indeed would he respond to de Sade or von Masoch who sought to raise the erotic to an art form?

There's still something more to say on the topic of happiness and pleasure. At the beginning of your essay, you note the strong dependence of Mill's moral psychology on his empiricist, associationist view of the nature of the mind. Isn't this the limiting parameter? How should we view the nature of pleasure, if we cast aside the associationist theory in favour of a more realistic view of the nature of feeling and emotion? Then again, is the distinction he draws between higher and lower pleasures even consistent with the associationist view?

Worth noting also is that, although most of what Mill says about happiness and pleasure can be derived from his book Utilitarianism, he also has important things to say in On Liberty, about the 'value of individuality'. Perhaps expanding on this idea would lead to a more realistic notion of happiness which is not defined in purely hedonic terms.

All the best,


Parmenides' case for the proposition 'It is'

To: Ruy R.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Parmenides' case for the proposition 'It is'
Date: 28th January 2010 12:50

Dear Ruy,

Thank you for your email of 20 January, with your essay for the University of London BA module, Plato and the Presocratics, entitled, 'On Parmenides'.

In your essay, you set out to give an exposition and interpretation of Parmenides' argument for the proposition, 'It is.' It would have been helpful if you had found an examination question to respond to, because this will help you when you come to take the exam. I would like you to do this in future, whenever possible.

You have really made an effort to get into the world of Parmenides. I particularly liked your observation that Parmenides is trying to say something which it is almost impossible to say in language, or possibly cannot be said. In this respect, his thought stands comparison with a philosopher who took a very different view of reality, Heraclitus, who speaks in metaphors and riddles because his vision of the Logos cannot be literally described.

Your observation that the story of the Goddess recalls the myth of the cave in Plato's Republic is something that had not occurred to me. Scholars have noted the strong influence of Parmenides on Plato's conception of the unchanging Forms (as well of course as the influence of Heraclitus on Plato's conception of the world of becoming) but I have not seen a connection made between the images of an ultimate reality -- Parmenides' One, Plato's Form of the Good -- communicated in a vision from 'on high', which the philosopher seeks to articulate discursively through dialectical argument.

You put forward an interpretation of Parmenides which makes his views seem less paradoxical then they appear to a reader who comes upon Parmenides for the first time. The One is, you say, 'the fact of being'. In other words, the distinction between the Way of Truth and the Way of Opinion, is the distinction between what one can say about Being, as such, and what there is to say about particular beings.

What can we say about Being? It is not the mere totality of particular beings, because particular beings can change in any number of ways while Being, or the fact of being, remains the same. Nor, for the same reason, is it 'all that is the case' (Wittgenstein Tractatus 'The world is all that is the case.') Parmenides' momentous discovery, on your view, is that there IS such thing as the fact of being, or Being as such.

Were his predecessors not aware of this? Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes have a lot to say about the cosmos, its constituents and structuring principles. But they never once raise the question of Being. On the contrary, everything they say about physics and cosmology, merely relates to 'the totality of beings' or 'all that is the case'.

This is a Heideggerian reading of Parmenides. On this view, Parmenides made a great discovery which the succeeding history of Western philosophy has allowed to be 'covered up'. We have forgotten the importance of Being.

My problem with this interpretation is that it makes it hard to see what Parmenides' successors -- Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus and Leucippus -- were arguing against, or how they thought Parmenides' strictures on what can be said about 'what is not' affected their theories.

You acknowledge the fact of being, that there is such a thing as Being, then what? Where does that lead? Parmenides offers his own version of a physics and cosmology in the Way of Opinion. In what way, if any, has the game changed from pre-Parmenidean physics to post-Parmenidean physics? If the answer is, 'in no way at all' then this would seem to diminish Parmenides' historical importance, notwithstanding Heidegger's enthusiasm.

Similar considerations apply to Plato's two-world theory. As with Empedocles, Anaxagoras and the atomists, Plato recognizes a distinction between the unchanging and the changing, between Forms and phenomenal particulars. However, to say that the fact of being, or Being as such is 'unchanging' is close to being a tautology. On any theory, including that of Heraclitus in which the only unchanging element is the Logos, the fact of being IS the fact of being.

For these reasons, I personally would look for a more challenging and paradoxical interpretation of Parmenides. Perhaps along the lines of seeing that any possible theory of the cosmos has these two components, the changing and the unchanging, but then realizing that this just can't work. That if the unchanging is truly unchanging, then there is no way that the changing can arise out of it. In other words, if we are talking about the truth of how things are, there cannot be a 'theory of the cosmos'. There is only the statement, 'It is.'

On this view, subsequent thinkers saw the challenge as giving a plausible account of the unchanging aspect which allows for an aspect of change. So they tinkered with Parmenides' argument, just enough to allow for a theory which 'saves the phenomena'.

That's just another theory about Parmenides, another interpretation. You show in your essay that you have done some reading about Parmenides and that you are aware that there are different possible interpretations. In an examination, even if you have a strong preference for a particular view, it is a good idea to show that you are aware of the alternatives.

I liked this. I am pleased that you have got off to a good start. Well done!

All the best,


Philosophical considerations on the practice of dissent

To: Corinne M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Philosophical considerations on the practice of dissent
Date: 27th January 2010 13:59

Dear Corinne,

Thank you for your email of 18 January, with the revised version of the first in the series of your projected four essays, 'A Philosophical Consideration of the Practice of Dissent' for the Associate Award.

First, I want to say that I am beginning to see the point about talk of 'opposition' in contrast to 'debate', and also the significance of the idea of 'meaning attribution' and the contrasting perspectives from which one evaluates a given position, depending on the meaning that one attributes to it.

I'm not absolutely certain, but I think I was the one who first mentioned Mill's 'harm principle'. A reader might get the impression from what you write that Mill's harm principle applies to the 'liberty of thought and discussion'. This is emphatically not the case.

Mill states clearly that 'no-one expects actions to be as free as opinions' (or words to that effect). Mill does not regard potential for harm as a legitimate ground for silencing the expression of opinions, except in the case where the intention is clearly to, e.g., incite a riot. He argues this point on the basis of the dilemma: either that the dissenting opinion is true and therefore we have something to learn, or that the dissenting opinion is false, in which case we will have strengthened our reasons for the beliefs that we hold by subjecting them to the fiery cauldron of debate.

What is very clear is that present day democratic societies fall far short of Mill's vision of free discussion and debate. Is this a defect, or do we see something that Mill missed?

And what then of your assertion that, 'Mill's aim never extended to the more ambitious goal of maximization of society's enjoyment of the benefits of dissent'?

The harm analysis in respect of actions, is well illustrated by Mill's relationship with Harriet Taylor. (There are various accounts of the influence of Harriet on Mill's philosophy. According to one, it was Harriet who impressed on Mill the importance of liberty, as a condition for the possibility of full human flourishing.) Mill would say, that the benefits of dissent arise from the clash of opinions leading to the best (i.e. most strongly, rationally supported) belief, and hence the belief which has the best chance of being true.

What this ignores, arguably, is that the 'opinions' do not necessarily have the same meaning to the different parties. Mill's model assumes that meaning is the same for everyone, and the only point at issue is truth. The most glaring example of this is where Mill says, or implies, that the belief in God ought to be thoroughly debated so that the best argument wins.

Let's start by asking: what has Mill missed? One glaring omission from Mill's model of free political debate is that the different parties have competing interests. In the real world, people do not engage in debate with the aim of 'attaining the truth' in some objective sense. There are class interests, economic interests, religious interests at stake.

Of course, there are cases where both sides are very clear about 'meaning'. A powerful trade union is in dispute with a company and calls a strike. The company responds by attempting to use the law to restrict the union's activities. Or they call in 'blackleg' labour to break the strike, leading to battles at the picket lines. The workers know exactly what the bosses want, and the bosses know exactly what the workers want. This is not a debate, it is a contest, war.

On the other hand, there are cases where the two sides simply do not 'see' one another and their interests as each side sees themselves. This is where the question of 'meaning attribution' comes to the fore.

You've said more about Whitehead and 'symbolic perception', but I find it rather obscure. Maybe this will become clearer in subsequent essays.

I'm still not persuaded that equality or inequality is always the essential feature, but perhaps I have the wrong picture of equality. Two forces can be equally balanced, even though the forces themselves are 'unequal'. Consider a magnet pulling a piece of iron which is attached to a steel spring. At some point the system reaches an equilibrium where the force of magnetism is balanced by (equal to) the force exerted by the spring. But the forces themselves are different, i.e. 'unequal'.

By contrast with Mill's view of free debate, in the real world there is a complex and sometimes hard to decipher interaction between argument and power struggle. Words are used as weapons (propaganda) as well as tools of rational persuasion. The parties involved do not see their clash as a disinterested observer would see it (supposing the idea of a disinterested observer even makes sense). I think that all this (and more) is comprehended by your notion of 'oppositional activity'.

All the best,


Thursday, May 9, 2013

What it means to state that Zeus does not exist

To: Damien B.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: What it means to state that Zeus does not exist
Date: 27th January 2010 12:36

Dear Damien,

Thank you for your email of 19 January with your essay for the University of London BA Logic module, in response to the question, 'Can one meaningfully say that Zeus does not exist? Justify your answer.'

There is some useful exposition here. I especially like the fact that you note Russell's 'clever' point that 'When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet you have come to the end of him.'

I think this deserves fuller treatment because it relates to a very important distinction which lies behind the Kripke/ Evans view of names. But more of that in a moment.

Russell would say that, without doubt, you CAN meaningfully assert that Zeus does not exist. But I'm not sure from what you say that you've got this point.

For Russell, the name 'Zeus' in, 'Zeus does not exist' is taken as shorthand for a description, or rather set of descriptions. I'm not too well up on Greek mythology, so I'll just follow Wikipedia: 'Zeus is King of the Gods (K), the rule of Mount Olympus (R) and the god of the sky (S) and thunder (T).'

The statement, 'Zeus does not exist' will then be equivalent to:

'Either there is no object which has properties K, R, S and T or more than one object does.'

Obviously, you can 'tweak' your definition of Zeus so that satisfaction of three out of the four descriptions would suffice for an object to be Zeus. Or, you can construct a more complex set of descriptions.

Intuitively, when you make a negative existential statement, the question arises which are the pertinent properties or descriptions whose satisfaction would suffice for the entity in question to exist. Sometimes there can be debate about this. Did Robin Hood exist? Suppose historians identify a historical character who a few of the things attributed to Robin Hood. For example, he won an archery competition, and he liked to wear a hood. Some people would be satisfied with this as proof of Robin Hood's existence, while others would feel that there is too much distance between the historical character and the man of legend. Would you say Robin Hood existed, if the champion archer never robbed anyone but merely gave some money away to the poor? What if he lived in Scotland rather than England? And so on.

This is the so-called 'cluster of descriptions view' of proper names associated with Russell and John Searle. (Frege is somewhat ambivalent about names, regarding the fact that some names in ordinary language lack bearers as a defect.)

On Kripke's view of names, if a name lacks a bearer, then no thought is expressed. Robin Hood is a good example to illustrate Kripke's theory: The name 'Robin Hood' refers to the individual who was originally 'baptised' with that name. Subsequent users of that name *intend* to use it for that individual. So it would be perfectly possible to discover that Robin Hood did exist, but that none of the things that are believed about Robin Hood are true. All that matters is that the link between the name and the object is preserved.

On the other hand, consider the name 'Zues' (from the title of the .doc file you sent me!). Can I meaningfully say that Zues does not exist? If no object was ever been baptised with the name 'Zues', then the statement, 'Zues does not exist' has no meaning. Perhaps someone started the 'chain of communication' as a rumour. Various things are believed about Zues, but none of it adds up to anything.

Then what about Zeus? As a matter of historical fact, no entity was baptised with the name 'Zeus'. But in this case, we have a lot of historical material which adds up to a great deal. What Kripke should say is that when we say 'Zeus does not exist' we are not using 'Zeus' as a proper name. In which case he can simply help himself to the Russellian analysis. No existing object uniquely satisfies the descriptions associated with the term 'Zeus'.

The most interesting question, however, relates to the idea of different 'domains of discourse': the real world, mythology, fiction etc. I think Russell has a point, which can be expanded using Locke's (and Kripke's) notion of 'real essence'. Napoleon is an existing entity with a real essence. He is more than the sum total of all the things believed about him. Whereas Robin Hood (supposing that he is merely a character of legend and nothing more) has no 'real essence' but only a 'nominal essence', i.e. a cluster of descriptions.

In view of this, it is misleading at best to talk of 'existence in the real world' as on a par with 'existence in mythology' or 'existence in fiction'. Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Santa Claus do not exist. No real object with a real essence corresponds to the descriptions associated with each of these three characters. To say that they 'exist' in legend, or fiction or etc. is just a manner of speaking.

All the best,


McTaggart's proof of the unreality of time

To: Mark S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: McTaggart's proof of the unreality of time
Date: 26th January 2010 13:30

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your email of 17 January, with your essay for the University of London BA Metaphysics module, in response to the question, 'Does McTaggart have a convincing argument for the unreality of time?'

This is a well-argued essay whose conclusion I happen to disagree with -- but more of that later.

I spent too long puzzling over your Tolstoy quip (I do recall the original quote, about families being unhappy in different ways but can't remember where it's from). The question says 'convincing'. It is important to note that the terms 'valid/ invalid', 'sound/ unsound' have a precise sense in logic, to which one has to defer in philosophical writing:

An argument is valid if and only if, by virtue of its form, it is impossible for its premisses to be jointly true and the conclusion false.

An argument is sound if and only if it is valid, and the premisses are jointly true.

It follows from this that an argument can be unsound in just two ways:

a) It is formally valid, but one or more of the premisses is/ are false.

b) It is formally invalid.

This increases to four ways if we consider the possibility that the conclusion is, as a matter of fact, true, or is as a matter of fact false, either in case a) or case b).

The problem with applying the term 'valid' to philosophical arguments is that ANY argument can be rendered formally valid (you just adjust the premisses). Nor is it a criticism of a philosophical argument that it is formally invalid -- most are.

Can a sound argument be unconvincing? Yes, arguably, if we consider the conclusion to be a paradox.

It seems that you want to say (at least) that McTaggart's argument is unsound, but the conclusion is true. But you also want to say that McTaggart has (partly) succeeded in putting his finger on what is wrong with the conception of time according to which the A-series is real. The idea of 'partly putting one's finger on' is one which isn't captured by the four-fold classification above. -- So much for the limitations of logic.

The way you go about your task, considering objections from Mellor and Lowe is illuminating. I think you could have said more about Mellor's version of the B-series theory, which includes an explanation of why we use terms such as 'past', 'present' and 'future', by considering the perspective of the agent. It looks as if Mellor has accounted for everything.

I would like to offer a perspective on this, which places the argument over the 'reality' of time in a wider context.

It does seem that in considering whether McTaggart's argument is 'convincing' or not, one ends up in a futile debate about whether time, as described, is 'real' or not. Evidently, Mellor thinks so and so do you. Whereas I would regard it as evidently false. In other words, one philosopher says, 'It's real enough for me!' while the other says, 'It isn't real enough for me!'

What is at stake, is, as you observe, the present. I am now typing these words which will later be pasted into an email. That statement has truth conditions, and the truth conditions refer only to B-facts. Yet so far as I am concerned, that statement is already false. I am not now typing those words. Every time is a 'now', but one time, and one only, is *now*.

What is the underlying assumption behind Mellor's view? It is the claim made by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus: 'The world is all that is the case.' There is nothing more to reality, or what is real, than what can be stated truly. Nothing escapes the web of propositions. All possible facts are contained within the compass of 'what can be said'.

Lowe offers truth conditions which apparently 'save' intuitions about A-facts, but the response of the B-theorist would be to say that token-reflexive 'truth conditions' are only such by name.

In Naive Metaphysics (an early version of which was read by Lowe), I describe a 'reality' which allows room for both views about time, which link to parallel views about the self or 'I'. All facts about GK are facts about 'I', but there is one additional fact about 'I', which is that 'I am GK' (cf. Nagel's discussion of 'I am TN' in 'The View From Nowhere'). The theory amounts to the claim that solipsism is both true and false. The world IS my world (the subjective world) and it is also true that the world is not my world (the objective world).

This is a 'contradiction' which I am prepared to tolerate, for the sake of 'including everything'. (A theory which does not include everything isn't a 'metaphysic'.) Conclusion: reality is contradictory.

What Mellor says about time and agency is valid for the objective world. Anything I state regarding 'now' or 'the present' can be understood in terms of the formal requirements for agency in relation to the temporal series. But there is one fact which this does not capture, namely that *I* am the agent in question.

It's fair to say that I stuck my neck a long way out in writing that book. I would now propose a slightly more modest view, that reality cannot be captured in its totality, from whichever direction one considers it. Science rightly emphasises the objective (B-series) view of time. But that's not the whole of reality. In addition, there is something that cannot be 'said' but only 'shown'.

All the best,