Friday, September 6, 2013

Churchland on dualism, Part V


Paul Churchland has just published a third edition of Matter and Consciousness, his widely used introductory textbook on the philosophy of mind.  The blog Philosophy of Brains has posted a symposium on the book, with contributions from Amy Kind, William Ramsey, and Pete Mandik.  Prof. Kind, who deals with Churchland’s discussion of dualism, is kind to him indeed -- a little too kind, as it happens.  Longtime readers will recall a series of posts I did several years ago on the previous edition of Churchland’s book, in which I showed how extremely superficial, misleading, and frankly incompetent is its treatment of dualism.  Prof. Kind commends Churchland’s “clear writing style and incisive argumentation” as “a model for us all.”  While I agree with her about the clarity of Churchland’s style, I cannot concur with her judgment of the quality of the book’s argumentation, for at least with respect to dualism, this new edition is as bad as the old. 
    
As a public service for those hapless undergrads, grad students, and general readers whose knowledge of dualism might otherwise come entirely from Churchland’s inept treatment, I post below links to (and descriptions of the contents of) the four installments of my series on Churchland’s critique of dualism.  I will also make some brief remarks about the new material in the latest edition of the book.
 
Here are the original posts:

Part I: In this post I discuss how Churchland misrepresents the content of dualism, ignores the main arguments in its favor defended by dualists past and present, and overemphasizes weaker arguments that dualists themselves do not put much stock in in the first place.

Part II: Here I discuss how Churchland’s response to the argument from introspection is utterly fallacious, and indeed unwittingly gives support to dualism rather than undermining it.  His response to the argument from irreducibility is also fallacious, and superficial too, completely ignoring a rather obvious retort that has been raised by prominent philosophers.

Part III: Here I show how Churchland’s positive arguments against dualism are entirely without force, directed as they are at a crude straw man, and either completely miss the point of the key arguments for dualism or simply beg the question against them.  

Part IV: Here I discuss Churchland’s response (in some later papers reprinted in his book A Neurocomputational Perspective) to Frank Jackson’s “knowledge argument,” in which he attacks the same straw man version of dualism that was his target in Matter and Consciousness.  

Though Kind is complimentary toward Churchland, she does offer some criticism of the book.  She too laments the “misleading impression” Churchland is bound to give the unwary reader about the role religion plays in philosophical arguments for dualism.  She also laments Churchland’s failure to convey the force of more recent arguments for dualism, and his neglect of questions raised by recent philosophers of mind about whether we have a clear understanding of matter (never mind mind), and of views like Russellian monism which aim to present an alternative to both dualism and materialism.

Kind also allows that “one might well have hoped for greater updating” in Churchland’s recommendations for further reading.  That is putting it mildly.  One will find in Churchland’s book no passing reference even to the works, much less the ideas and arguments, of prominent dualist philosophers like John Foster, Richard Swinburne, W. D. Hart, Howard Robinson, E. J. Lowe, William Hasker, and Brie Gertler.  Not to mention the Aristotelian and Thomistic arguments of philosophers like David Oderberg, William Jaworski, and James Ross.

As Kind notes, “much of the argumentation of the chapter [discussing dualism] is retained from the previous edition.”  In other words, the old caricatures and fallacies remain.  Churchland does add some material on David Chalmers’ “zombie argument” and on the argument of Thomas Nagel’s famous article “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” but it is as superficial as the existing material was.  Indeed, the response to Nagel is just a rehash of the same straw man argument from A Neurocomputational Perspective that I discussed in Part IV on my series of posts on Churchland, linked to above.  And the response to Chalmers commits essentially the same fallacy as the response to the argument from introspection that I discussed in Part II.

The only thing more outrageous than Churchland’s persistence in superficiality and caricature would be the continued widespread use of his book as a main text for introductory courses in philosophy of mind -- at least if it were not heavily supplemented with readings that correct his errors, and actually bother to present the main arguments for dualism.  

[Some further relevant reading: Links to other posts on dualism, materialism, the mind-body problem, etc. are collected here.  Churchland is by no means alone among materialists in responding only superficially to Nagel’s argument, as we saw in my series of posts on Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  Churchland is also a proponent of eliminative materialism, a view I criticized in great detail in a series of posts on Alex Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears,” and in an earlier series on Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.]

76 comments:

Scott said...

I wonder whether anyone in history has ever had a more ironic name than Paul Churchland.

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"I wonder whether anyone in history has ever had a more ironic name than Paul Churchland."

J. Thomas Looney?

Scott said...

That one may just be accurate rather than ironic. And with Churchland, his first name is involved in the irony too.

Anonymous said...

Blind men, meet the elephant.

Neuro-philosophers are really almost as blind as all the other kinds, but they at least pay attention to the findings of science so there is a small chance they will actually be able to say something new.

Edward Feser said...

Neuro-philosophers are really almost as blind as all the other kinds, but they at least pay attention to the findings of science so there is a small chance they will actually be able to say something new.

'Cause, you know, dualists, Aristotelians, Russellians, et al. and indeed philosophers in general don't pay attention to science.

Attack straw men much? Do you have any knowledge of what philosophers actually say that didn't come from a quick glance at Wikipedia?

Anonymous said...

"Blind men, meet the elephant"

Let's hope they're able to come up with something as scientifically profound as the "blind men meet elephant" analogy. Dare to dream.

Eric

Scott said...

"Neuro-philosophers are really almost as blind as all the other kinds, but they at least pay attention to the findings of science so there is a small chance they will actually be able to say something new."

Aside from the fact that (as Ed has already noted) it's not at all difficult to find philosophers who pay attention to science, I'm not sure why you think novelty would automatically be desirable in philosophy, of all things—as though anything, in order to be true or wise, must never have been said before.

Scott said...

(Of course if all that's required is that a philosopher say something new to you, then I suspect pretty much all of them would qualify.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you think novelty would automatically be desirable in philosophy, of all things—as though anything, in order to be true or wise, must never have been said before.

Well, that is an interesting point. But if the truths of philosophy have all been uttered, why do we pay current thinkers to do philosophy? Why not just abandon the field? Why do we need those people around? If all truth is to be found in Aristotle and Aquinas, lets just read them, since they are out of copyright and don't require feeding.

Take mathematics for example: there are certainly plenty of well-established mathematical truths, and a need for people to teach them and reinterpret them. But the job of a professional mathematician is to come up with new truths -- if they don't do that, they are simply not living up to the standards of the field. What is the comparable standard of judgement in philosophy?

Anonymous said...

Come up with new truths? You mean discover new truths right?

Scott said...

"But if the truths of philosophy have all been uttered . . . "

How in the world did you manage to get that out of what I wrote?

—Music needn't be new in order to be good, and it isn't automatically good just because it's new. —Well, then, if all the good music has already been written . . . 

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser,

Off topic I know, but, not being from the US Id be interested to he which party you support and/or who should run the country.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It's not as if most scientists do anything worthwhile either....dear science fetishist Anon.

Anonymous said...

Come up with new truths? You mean discover new truths right?

That itself is a major issue in philosophy of mathematics -- one of the less useless branches of philosophy, again because of the proximity to and involvement with a more rigorous field of inquiry.

Anonymous said...

"That itself is a major issue in philosophy of mathematics -- one of the less useless branches of philosophy, again because of the proximity to and involvement with a more rigorous field of inquiry"

So it's less useless? I always thought using the word useless when describing something meant it was of no use.

So you're saying philosophy of mathematics can be useful in spite of being useless?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps describing philosophy of mathematics as more useful when compared to other fields of philosophy would have been a "less useless" claim.

Then again, that description would have detracted from your underlying claim that philosophy is useLESS.

David T said...

The charge against philosophy that it is useless is as old as Socrates and is, in fact, true.

But the best things in life are useless - love, delight, wisdom, justice, philosophy - because they are ends rather than the means to some further end, and so are useless in terms of utility.

The man who thinks everything must be of value as a means to some further thing, and can never rest in something valuable for itself alone, is doomed to a life of perpetual seeking and never finding...

Jeremy Taylor said...

The anti-philosophy anon appears to be trying to make the common Gnu appeal to some kind of crass empiricism - philosophy doesn't deal with what is useful, or is subject to endless, fruitless speculations about things we can never come to a conclusion about (because we cannot observe them), etc, etc.

This is a standard tactic to dismiss any position but scientistic naturalism.

Tony said...

Take mathematics for example: there are certainly plenty of well-established mathematical truths, and a need for people to teach them and reinterpret them. But the job of a professional mathematician is to come up with new truths -- if they don't do that, they are simply not living up to the standards of the field.

That's not true. I am a mathematician (applied) and it is not true of me, my job is simply to apply known math to concrete situations. And I know other mathematicians whose jobs are to teach students existing mathematics, not having been hired to extend the boundaries of math. What you are describing is the deformed, distorted, (and hated by significant numbers of professional mathematicians) world of "publish or perish" high pressure university departments. Which attitude is hardly the norm of over 25 centuries of mathematicians.

Anonymous said...

But the best things in life are useless - love, delight, wisdom, justice, philosophy - because they are ends rather than the means to some further end, and so are useless in terms of utility.


You must have weird definitions of those things if you think they have no utility. What kind of wisdom worthy of the name doesn't have a pragmatic component? Do we really pursue justice purely for its own sake and not to maintain social order?

And does philosophy really want to declare itself useless, just a kind of pleasurable hobby with no consequence? I don't think so. I've been bashing philosophy here but even I have more respect for it than that.

Scott said...

"Do we really pursue justice purely for its own sake and not to maintain social order?"

I certainly hope so.

That the pursuit of justice helps to maintain social order is a consequence of the kinds of being we are. We don't pursue justice in order to maintain a social order; we have a maintainable social order because (and to the extent that) we pursue justice for its own sake.

Scott said...

"And does philosophy really want to declare itself useless, just a kind of pleasurable hobby with no consequence?"

An end in itself is "useless" only in the sense that it's pursued not as a means to further ends but for its own sake. That doesn't mean it has no consequences, only that those aren't the reasons we seek it.

Nor—I wish it went without saying—is it true that when we pursue a good for its own sake, we're doing so only for the sake of the pleasure we receive from it.

Scott said...

Alternatively but equivalently, we could say that to the extent that we do appear to pursue justice as a means to maintaining social order, it must be because we care what sort of social order we have. We're not pursuing just any old social order; if we pursue justice as a way of maintaining social order, that's because we want to maintain a just social order. And that means we're really pursuing justice for its own sake after all.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

What kind of wisdom worthy of the name doesn't have a pragmatic component?

Traditionally wisdom was defined as knowledge with no pragmatic use. It was known for its own sake. Modernists are the ones who collapsed the distinction between theoria and praxis.

Jonathan Lewis said...

I have been making a list of the kinds of anti-philosophy arguments that atheists use:

The Lack of Progress Argument - philosophy cannot show us the truth because unlike science, philosophy has not made any progress over the centuries.

The Lack of Consensus Argument -
philosophical questions have been posed for thousands of years, but people have never come to any consensus about the answers. The questions of free will, unity, identity, mind, meaning, and morality are still being hotly debated today.

The Pragmatic Argument - science is practically useful and metaphysics isn't. Philosophy doesn't produce any technology.


The Scepticism Argument - the ultimate nature of reality is simply unknowable. Therefore we should stick to the scientific facts.

The Empiricism Argument - observations and experience are the only legitimate way to know about the world. Science is about getting your hands on real experience, while the purely rational philosopher is just sitting in his armchair and speculating about what is real.

The obvious fallacy in all of these arguments is that they are using philosophy to argue against the use of philosophy.

We could add Anon's Lack of Novelty Argument, and it of course commits the same fallacy.

Anonymous said...

Traditionally wisdom was defined as knowledge with no pragmatic use.

Reference please. That is not a component of any definition of wisdom I'm familiar with.

Maybe you are alluding to the aristocratic disdain for techne inherited from the Greeks. My attitude to that is, so much the worse for tradition. But even the Greeks had theories of practical wisdom in other spheres.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I do not know if it is best to say wisdom was defined as knowledge with no pragmatic use. I think the term pragmatic needs to be defined.

However, it is certainly the case that wisdom has not traditionally had technical knowledge, say of crafts, as a central component.

Though pre-moderns generally did not see ancient crafts in a simply utilitarian sense (indeed, they were often endowed with great spiritual significance and symbolism), still, the great potter was not usually deemed a wise man simply because he was a superior potter.

Jeremy Taylor said...

By the way, the doctrine that all that is worthwhile must be moral is a menance even when applied to art, it is just plain pernicious when applied to wisdom and fields of knowledge.

Anonymous said...

@scott -- your replies seem to me a perfect example of how philosophy gets itself snarled in tangles of words, rather than generating insight. "That the pursuit of justice helps to maintain social order is a consequence of the kinds of being we are." What a vacuous piece of nonsense, carefully crafted to shut down inquiry. Talking that way will make you stupider about both justice and humans.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- I meant to say that is worthwhile must be 'novel'.

Quite an important difference.

Tony said...

Re Scott's "That the pursuit of justice helps to maintain social order is a consequence of the kinds of being we are."

Anon, here's another way of stating what Scott was saying: you can't place "pursuing justice" in the category of "useful because it is a means to the common good", because justice isn't something used on the road toward a distinct achievement "the common good". Justice is, ITSELF, one of the goods that composes the common good. It is ITSELF PART OF social order as humans are designed. It is not distinct from the end we are aiming at, justice comprises one aspect of the end itself, it is not a means to the destination. So it would be wrong to characterize justice as part of the pathway toward the end, to be left behind when you get to the destination "social order".

Scott said...

@Tony:

Exactly. Justice is part and parcel of the social order we're seeking to maintain and so can't be regarded as a means to that order; it's part of the end itself.

So it's not right to say that we pursue justice not "purely for its own sake" but also to maintain social order, as though the second were a separate end to which such pursuit is merely instrumental. (Indeed, to say that we're pursuing justice partly as a way of maintaining social order is already to acknowledge that we're seeking to maintain a just social order; otherwise why would pursuing justice help?)

Then again, I think Anon could have gathered that from my own elaboration(s) of the point if he were serious. I don't think I was unclear about it.

Scott said...

"But even the Greeks had theories of practical wisdom in other spheres."

It's true that φρόνησις has been translated as "practical wisdom." However, it was carefully distinguished from Σοφíα, and even Aristotle, who acknowledged the importance of φρόνησις, still regarded it as essentially instrumental to Σοφíα. So even if we want to regard φρόνησις as a form of wisdom that has a practical end beyond itself, that practical end is still unambiguously wisdom.

Scott said...

By the way:

"Reference please."

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book VI.

Glenn said...

Some downtime here, so...

>>> Traditionally wisdom was defined as knowledge with no
>>> pragmatic use.

>> Reference please.

> Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book VI.

1. 'tis without a doubt that practical wisdom ought to mind its place, and not get too big for its britches.

For though it is true that...

o Practical wisdom is the quality of mind concerned with things just and noble and good for man[.]

...it is also true that...

o [Practical wisdom] is not supreme over philosophic wisdom, i.e. over the superior part of us, any more than the art of medicine is over health.

2. Nonetheless, though lug nuts are relatively cheap, driving one's car on the highway without 'em isn't necessarily a good idea.

o It is clear, then, from what has been said, that it is not possible to be good in the strict sense without practical wisdom[.]

o [E]ven now all men, when they define virtue, after naming the state of character and its objects add 'that (state) which is in accordance with the right rule'; now the right rule is that which is in accordance with practical wisdom.

o [V]irtue makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means[.]

o [T]he work of man is achieved only in accordance with practical wisdom[.]

- - - - -

Quotations culled from NE Book VI.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Thanks for posting the excerpts. Your selections are right on point.

Scott said...

And to summarize again, in order to bring out the salient point: phronesis, even regarded as a form of wisdom in its own right, is for Aristotle a means—an indispensible means, to be sure—not to something other than wisdom, but to sophia, a higher kind of wisdom.

Glenn said...

Scott,

I in turn thank you.

'tis true that man does not live on φρόνησις alone, or even solely on its particular level.

Martin said...

Jonathan Lewis,

>The obvious fallacy in all of these arguments is that they are using philosophy to argue against the use of philosophy.

When I bring that up to them, then they say "Well, you are just defining everything as philosophy, which makes it a useless term."

Trust me. They have their bases well covered. There is always an escape route for them.

George LeSauvage said...

I see Thrasymachus is here.

No one seems to have pointed out, explicitly, that there are many unjust ways to achieve social order.

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"I see Thrasymachus is here."

Heh.

"No one seems to have pointed out, explicitly, that there are many unjust ways to achieve social order."

Right you are, and that's a point very much worth making explicit. It's implicit in some of what's been said, though (as I'm sure you're aware)—notably my own observation that if we didn't care whether our social order was just or not, pursuing justice wouldn't be a way to maintain it. Thanks for bringing that out clearly.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Martin,

If they say that then they're not making a very good counterpoint. You are not saying everything is philosophy; rather, you are referring to a chain of reasoning that the Gnu has made about the place of philosophy as a method for human knowledge. This is a rational and philosophical topic of discussion. Therefore, his new point isn't much of isn't much of an escape route.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Besides, it should be added, when Gnus and their ilk criticise philosophy, they are really, at bottom, criticising reason or a reason and rational speculation that is not strongly tied to empirical observation, especially any use of it that would offer criticism or differing perspectives from their scientistic naturalism.

What the Gnu wants is to deflect any criticism of their naturalism not based in natural science (and they presume no serious criticisms will come from this quarter).

They will go a try and pull this off. Many are quite happy to make reason and even basic logic radically dependent on empirical observation.

Jeremy Taylor said...

-That should have been 'they will go a long way to try and pull this off'.

Anonymous said...

The original statement was Traditionally wisdom was defined as knowledge with no pragmatic use. . Nothing in the quoted Aristotle supports that, unless you give “wisdom” a technical and limited redefinition quite different from its everyday one.

How much confusion is generated by philosophers playing this particular game, of cleverly proving things about a technical term and then pretending they have proven something about the richer meaning of the everyday word? I’ve worked in artificial intelligence which has often pulled the same trick, but I didn’t have much tolerance for it there, either.

Re justice, apparently my remark didn’t register at all. The interesting question is why something like justice should be considered part of the common good. “Because we are so constituted” is a non-answer. Whether it is an end in itself or a means to an end is a bit better as a question, but still pretty stupid.

There is some research that suggests that a sense of justice might be evolutionarily adaptive, that certain aspects of it appear to be biologically hardwired and certain precursors can be detected in animal behavior. In other words, it may be possible to reduce justice to the workings of utilitarian natural selection, or IOW, we don’t have to invent mystical ends-in-themselves but can stick with sensible material ones. I’m sure that freaks you folks out, but it is a far more interesting insight than the kind of non-explanations you have to offer.

Anonymous said...

“Because we are so constituted” is a non-answer."

Why not?

"Whether it is an end in itself or a means to an end is a bit better as a question, but still pretty stupid."

Why is this a stupid question? Because science can't answer it?

"In other words, it may be possible to reduce justice to the workings of utilitarian natural selection, or IOW, we don’t have to invent mystical ends-in-themselves but can stick with sensible material ones."

I was unaware that natural selection had officially adopted a utilitarian philosophy. Good to know.

"I’m sure that freaks you folks out, but it is a far more interesting insight than the kind of non-explanations you have to offer."

Ha ha, now this is funny. Freak us out? Seriously? Why would that freak us out? Do you think we're freaked out by the idea of there not being a God? Grow up. If there's no God, I won't be complaining about his non-existence when I'm non-existent.




Anonymous said...

“Because we are so constituted” is a non-answer."

Why not?

FIRST DOCTOR:
Most learned bachelor
Whom I esteem and honor,
I would like to ask you the cause and reason why
Opium makes one sleep.

ARGAN:
The reason is that in opium resides
A dormitive virtue,
Of which it is the nature
To stupefy the senses.

CHORUS:
Well, well, well, well has he answered!
Worthy, worthy is he to enter
Into our learned body.
Well, well has he answered!

Jeremy Taylor said...

It is not a non-answer at all. It, at least, points to the fact that we must look to human nature as part of the foundations of justice.

Justice is inherently anti-utilitarian, in that it is based simply in utility, as that is usually defined. Although the tension is, ultimately illusory, justice by its nature defies a reduction to immediate utility or interest. Indeed, we wouldn't need justice if that is all that was meant by it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Damn, why do I never proof-read!

That should be 'in that it is not based simply in utility'.

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Anonymous wrote:

“There is some research that suggests that a sense of justice might be evolutionarily adaptive, that certain aspects of it appear to be biologically hardwired and certain precursors can be detected in animal behavior. In other words, it may be possible to reduce justice to the workings of utilitarian natural selection, or IOW, we don’t have to invent mystical ends-in-themselves but can stick with sensible material ones. I’m sure that freaks you folks out, but it is a far more interesting insight than the kind of non-explanations you have to offer.”

But here’s the problem with what you believe:

There is some research that suggests what you believe might be evolutionarily adaptive, that certain aspects of it appear to be biologically hardwired and – given that animals have brains and if we take Churchland’s and Rosenberg’s (and I presume your) position that all mind is brain activity – certain precursors can be detected in animal behavio(u)r. In other words, it may be possible to reduce what you believe to the workings of utilitarian natural selection, or IOW (yet again), we don’t have to bother with reason but can stick with believing what we are biologically hardwired to believe is useful to the invisible hand of evolution.

I’m sure you’re too stupid to freak out about that, but such self-defeating insight is the kind of non-explanation you have to offer. Seriously – “because we’re so constituted,” is a non-answer, but “it appear[s] to be biologically hardwired,” works for you? Must be the science-y aftertaste.

dover_beach said...

How much confusion is generated by philosophers playing this particular game, of cleverly proving things about a technical term and then pretending they have proven something about the richer meaning of the everyday word?

Surely the narrower, technical use of words brings precision and thereby greater clarity to discussions, as opposed to their broader, everyday usage. But, of course, it is likely to confuse lazy buffoons reading philosophical - or any academic - texts prone to mouth-off rather than ask for clarification.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Coward:

"How much confusion is generated by philosophers playing this particular game, of cleverly proving things about a technical term and then pretending they have proven something about the richer meaning of the everyday word?"

Philosophy is useless, blah blah, I do not have much tolerance for it, blah blah, it is all pretty stupid, blah blah.

If it is all so useless, boring and stupid, why don't you pack your things and get lost? If what we are discussing is "pretty stupid", and you, contrary to the rest of us, know it, then what a mental retard must you be to be wasting your time discussing these very things? Why don't you go back to whatever infested swampland you emerged from, and heckle your neanderthal buddys?

Scott said...

I'm tempted to refer Thrasymachus to Ed's own discussion of Molière's "dormitive virtue," but I doubt he'd profit from it.

I will summarize it briefly, though, for the benefit of anyone who hasn't already read it. Ed correctly notes that the answer, while of course far from complete (and who would ever have thought otherwise?), fails as satire precisely because it's not tautological: it tells us where to look for the causal explanation (namely in opium itself, which, the answer says, has some relevant causal power).

Scott said...

(Which, I see, is the same thing Jeremy Taylor has already said about the present instance.)

Anonymous said...

...fails as satire

OK, I give up.

because it's not tautological: it tells us where to look for the causal explanation (namely in opium itself...

Um...no. The causal explanation lies in the conformation between the shape of the opium molecule and the receptors of the nervous system. It’s analogous to a lock and key. A key doesn’t open your door by containing an “openative principle”.

Scott said...

@Thrasymachus:

"Um...no."

Um, yes. You give (part of) the causal explanation yourself. If you don't see how it fits the Aristotelian-Thomist account of causation, that's only because you don't understand it—and so far your behavior here doesn't induce me to waste any time explaining it to you.

Run along and play with your Neanderthal friends now.

Anonymous said...

If you don't see how it fits the Aristotelian-Thomist account of causation, that's only because you don't understand it

Who cares? Maybe we are saying the same thing or compatible things. But compare you:

It tells us where to look for the causal explanation (namely in opium itself, which, the answer says, has some relevant causal power)

with me:
The causal explanation lies in the conformation between the shape of the opium molecule and the receptors of the nervous system. It’s analogous to a lock and key

Which of these looks more like something a normal person would consider an explanation?

And keep in mind this was in response to your originally saying something like “the pursuit of justice is a consequence of the kinds of being we are”. Not so much wrong as utterly vacuous.

rank sophist said...

Thanks for clarifying my point, guys. Also, to Anon,

Nothing in the quoted Aristotle supports that, unless you give “wisdom” a technical and limited redefinition quite different from its everyday one.

Care to explain what wisdom is, then? Also, the "technical and limited redefinition" you're talking about is in fact its ancient definition, before the word "wisdom" lost all of its meaning from overuse.

Anonymous said...

Care to explain what wisdom is, then?

You may consult a dictionary, given that we are speaking English.

Wisdom is distinct from knowledge exactly in that it has an expressly pragmatic component; it is about how to proceed in the actual affairs of life, how to apply good judgement. It also has connotations of being able to see the big picture rather than the more narrowly focused and narrowly purposive forms of knowledge. It tends to be correlated with age and experience, or in other words, it is not something teachable.

For example, there is the sort of pragmatic knowledge that can tell you how to build a nuclear weapon, and the pragmatic wisdom that tells you you shouldn’t, or if you have one, how to avoid using it.



Anonymous said...

1 a : accumulated philosophic or scientific learning : knowledge b : ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight c : good sense : judgment d : generally accepted belief 2 : a wise attitude, belief, or course of action 3 : the teachings of the ancient wise men

Scott said...

@Thrasymachus:

"And keep in mind this was in response to your originally saying something like 'the pursuit of justice is a consequence of the kinds of being we are'."

Which, in turn, was very obviously a disagreement with your own claim that we pursue justice for the pragmatic reason of helping to maintain a social order, and very obviously not an attempt to provide what a "normal person" would regard as a complete "explanation" of justice. If you're having trouble seeing the difference, then you just haven't been keeping up.

The point, which should have been obvious from the beginning but which I and others have elaborated several times anyway, is that justice is not a mere means to a social order otherwise indifferent to it but part and parcel of the very order we're seeking.

Not so much wrong as utterly vacuous.

Apparently not, because you've gone on to disagree with it, at least by implication. As the grownups here seem to understand, the "dormitive virtue" answer to the opium question, though (very obviously, and I said so) not anything like a complete explanation, it also isn't a mere tautology; it has some positive content, however small, as even you acknowledged when you went on to treat it as a wrong answer ("Um...no") rather than just no answer at all. (And you were wrong about that too.)

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Thanks for clarifying my point, guys."

You're welcome. Thanks for making it.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Wisdom is distinct from knowledge exactly in that it has an expressly pragmatic component; it is about how to proceed in the actual affairs of life, how to apply good judgement.

That's the exact opposite of how wisdom was originally conceived. What you're talking about is praxis, or practical judgment. Wisdom is theoria: knowledge of the truth for its own sake. Feel free to endorse the modern definition of wisdom, but don't expect anyone to pay attention when you anachronistically read it back into ancient philosophy.

Anonymous said...

but don't expect anyone to pay attention when you anachronistically read it back into ancient philosophy.

Wat? That wasn't me, but you folks. I speak English, and it is you folks who are trying to mutate the meaning of a perfectly common and useful English word based on what some ancient greeks might have thought (and of course, described in their own words whose translation is controversial).

Since you people are thick, let me say it again: perhaps the Greeks had a concept of pure, utterly impractical contemplation of abstract truth, and called it theoria or omphaloskepsis or whatever. Good for them. That is by no means the only or best translation of the english word "wisdom".

I'll go further, because this go-round about definitions is very tedious: the greek privileging of that type of wisdom over more practical thought is a symptom (or possibly a cause) of what is most wrong about Western thought, and we are still in the business of trying to repair the braindamage it has caused.

Anonymous said...

but don't expect anyone to pay attention when you anachronistically read it back into ancient philosophy.

Wat? That wasn't me, but you folks. I speak English, and it is you folks who are trying to mutate the meaning of a perfectly common and useful English word based on what some ancient greeks might have thought (and of course, described in their own words whose translation is controversial).

Since you people are thick, let me say it again: perhaps the Greeks had a concept of pure, utterly impractical contemplation of abstract truth, and called it theoria or omphaloskepsis or whatever. Good for them. That is by no means the only or best translation of the english word "wisdom".

I'll go further, because this go-round about definitions is very tedious: the greek privileging of that type of wisdom over more practical thought is a symptom (or possibly a cause) of what is most wrong about Western thought, and we are still in the business of trying to repair the braindamage it has caused.

Scott said...

@Thrasymachus:

Yes, you've already made your disdain for the rational thought that founded Western civilization every bit as clear as you've made your inability to engage in it yourself. I think I speak for several of us when I say that we're still not sure why you bothered dropping by, but don't let the door hit you on your way out.

dover_beach said...

But compare you:

It tells us where to look for the causal explanation (namely in opium itself, which, the answer says, has some relevant causal power)

with me:
The causal explanation lies in the conformation between the shape of the opium molecule and the receptors of the nervous system. It’s analogous to a lock and key.


There is no problem with either answer because the first addresses a direction for further research, namely into the causative power of the opium molecule, while the latter is in fact the answer to that research which consists of the identification of that causative power, specifically, its shape, and that of the relevant receptors.

Which confirms the argument we are making that science presupposes final causation. If this were not the case, you would be suggesting that the power of opium to induce sleep/ sleepiness was only 'loose and separate'; that the shape of the opium molecule and receptors and the resulting sleep/sleepiness only 'seem conjoined but are never connected.'

Scott said...

@dover_beach:

Precisely.

Anonymous said...

I don't have disdain for rational thought; I have disdain for you. Big difference. Rational thought does not equate to being able to barf up chunks of Aristotle.

Anonymous said...

Which confirms the argument we are making that science presupposes final causation. If this were not the case, you would be suggesting that the power of opium to induce sleep/ sleepiness was only 'loose and separate'; that the shape of the opium molecule and receptors and the resulting sleep/sleepiness only 'seem conjoined but are never connected.'

The above reads like word salad. I'm afraid the braindamage has affected your ability to construct a meaningful sentence. Probably incurable. Maybe some opium would help.

Scott said...

That's a very nice hat, Thrasymachus. No doubt the cattle will be along shortly.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: >"it tells us where to look for the causal explanation (namely in opium itself…"
Um...no. The causal explanation lies in the conformation between the shape of the opium molecule and


Good grief. So the shape of the opium molecules isn't "in opium itself"! We've seen many excruciating anonymous attempts to avoid acknowledging the obvious around these parts, but this may be a new low.

Mr. Green said...

GRodrigues: Why don't you go back to whatever infested swampland you emerged from, and heckle your neanderthal buddys?

Well, the urge to philosophise is part of human nature (er, I mean, is an evolutionary biological imperative). But what are you gonna do when philosophy threatens to tell you something you don't want to hear? Why, you rationalise, of course! Barge in and call some philosophically-minded folks a bunch of names, and if they call you names back, then that just proves how nasty philosophy is! If they show unmerited patience and give you a short answer? Then complain that philosophy is too simple-minded! If they give you a complex answer? Complain it's a meaningless heap of verbiage! No matter what the response you can always come up with an excuse why everyone but you is a big dummy-head.

And if you reply to this, it will only prove how everything I say is right and everything you say is wrong. Even when you agree with me. So there!!! Times infinity!!!!!!!

dover_beach said...

The above reads like word salad. I'm afraid the braindamage has affected your ability to construct a meaningful sentence. Probably incurable. Maybe some opium would help.

No, no, outrageous slurs are beneath you, oh mighty one. Tell us, again, about the work you've done in AI and how frustrated you became with their technical use of words. That story is always good for a laugh.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anti-Philosophy Anon,

Your insults are not very witty or insightful, and your attempt to pass off bluster as argument is quite transparent. I cannot see the point of your comments as they stand.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

Here's another fun tactic! Mention the ancient Greek conception of "wisdom" in order to support your point, and then when people respond by discussing the 2,500-year history of an idea, claim that you were only ever interested in the current dictionary definition of a word! Loads o' laffs! Those silly buffoons! Yuk yuk!