Course Notes are at bottom of page
Introductory Philosophy (Course ID # 000052) T H 3:30-4:50
Winona State U. Spring 2015 Minne 104
Instructor: Ed Slowik/325 Minne/Office phone: 457-5663
Office Hours: T H 2:30-3:30 PM, and by appointment. The best time to talk to me is before or after class, but please feel free to set up an appointment.
Required: Introducing Philosophy, R. Solomon, 10th ed. (Oxford)
Optional: How To Think About Weird Things, T. Schick, Jr. & L. Vaughn, 5th ed. (Mayfield)
This course will examine basic concepts and problems in philosophy. In particular, we will examine issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion, mainly through contemporary and classic readings. We will be concerned with such important questions as: Do we have free-will, or are we determined to behave in certain ways? What is our personal identity consist in? What is the nature of morality? Does God exist?, etc. We will also examine the alleged difference between science and pseudo-science (e.g., ESP, astrology, etc.) as a means of introducing concepts critical thinking.
Course Structure and Requirements:
The breakdown of the grade is as follows: 4 Tests, which includes the Final Exam, and with the lowest score dropped: 33% for each of the three counted tests, but with class participation and attendance factored into that grade as well.
Midterm dates: Thurs., Feb. 5; Thurs., Feb. 26; Tues., March 24; Final Exam is on Tues., May 5 (but with an optional test day on Thurs., April 30).
Both the midterms and the final will consist of multiple choice and true/false questions. The final exam will not be comprehensive but only cover material since the last midterm. The tests will largely be based on the notes on the website. But, I will occasionally include material in class that is not in the notes, or give hints on what to expect on the upcoming test: so it is important to show up each day! If students prefer to take an essay exam (in place of the true/false, multiple choice), I will be happy to provide this option for all the exams in the class.
For extra credit, the lowest score of the four exams will de dropped, and there will be a further extra credit option through reviewing philosophy films shown in class
Phil 120 satisfies both the General Education and University Studies requirements in the Humanities category. Students can review the University Studies criteria satisfied by this course either by checking the WSU main web page or by stopping in the Philosophy Department (Minne 353).
As mentioned above, information on the course will be posted on a web page. The information will include class notes and the syllabus. The address is: http://course1.winona.edu/eslowik
We will often change the schedule on a day-to-day basis. So, it is important to show up for class to get the exact readings for each upcoming class and week. Below is rough outline of the general readings for each week from the text.
Week 1: Introduction, film (Jan. 13, 15)
Week 2: Logic (introduction chapter), start chap. 1 (Jan. 20, 22)
Week 3: chap. 1 (Jan. 27, 29)
Week 4: finish chap. 1, midterm (Feb. 3, 5) Midterm 1 (Thurs., Feb. 5)
Week 5: start chap. 4 & 6 (Feb. 10, 12)
Week 6: finish chap. 4 & 6 (Feb. 17, 19)
Week 7: finish chap. 4 & 6, midterm (Feb. 24, 26) Midterm 2 (Thur., Feb. 26)
Week 8: start chap. 5 (March 3, 5)
Week 9: finish chap. 5 (March 17, 19).
Week 10: midterm, start chap. 7 (March 24, 26) Midterm 3 (Tues., March 24)
Week 11: continue chap. 7 (March 31, April 2)
Week 12: finish chap. 7 (April 7, 9)
Week 13: (April 14, 16) No class this week: April 14, 16.
Week 14: to be determined (April 21, 23).
Week 15: to be determined, exam (April 28, 30) Optional Final Exam time (Thurs., April 30)
Final Exam: Tuesday, May 5, 3:30-5:30 PM (same class room)
The main point of most undergraduate philosophy papers is to present positions backed by reasons and arguments. Even if you are simply giving a philosopher's views on an issue, you need to be able to present the arguments he or she relied on. Indeed, mere opinions, whether your own or those of a well-known philosopher, are worthy of a serious hearing only when backed by reasons.
Thus a philosophy paper is not just a series of opinions spouted by its author, nor a straightforward reporting of events, nor a "book report" or capsule summary of some famous person's views. It involves giving, and weighing, arguments. If this seems intimidating, you should know that there are some easily understood tips and techniques for writing philosophy papers. They do not eliminate the work involved in writing the paper–nothing will do that for you–but they can help you systematically approach your topic. And with enough practice, you will find yourself applying them almost automatically. (Incidentally, the plain fact is that most people who are good at this kind of thing were not born that way, but got that way by practice.)
A common mistake made by undergraduates is choosing a very large topic, one that calls for much more discussion than can be provided in a paper of six, eight, or even twelve pages. In general, it is better to say a lot about a narrow topic, than to say a little about each aspect of a broad topic. (Thus, for example, it is more productive to discuss in detail a single argument for the existence of God, like the Argument from Design, than to run quickly but superficially over the many different arguments for the existence of God.)
Once you have found a suitable topic, formulate to yourself a claim about it that you wish to defend. For example, if your topic is the Argument from Design, then your claim might be that this argument does not succeed in establishing God's existence. Or, if your topic is the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, your claim might be that Locke was right about this distinction, and that Berkeley, who disagreed with Locke, was wrong.
Once you have formulated your claim, try to think of arguments that support it, and also arguments that seem to undercut it. This sounds hard, but recall that, if your topic was discussed in your philosophy class in the first place, then probably there was also some discussion of arguments for it or against it. Moreover, it is perfectly acceptable to use arguments drawn from other philosophers. You must, however, show that you understand these arguments and are not just "parroting" someone, and you must acknowledge your source for the argument. Failure to credit sources properly is plagiarism, and will result in a failing grade for the course.
One of the most impressive things you can do in a paper, besides giving good arguments in support of your claim, is to anticipate objections (the "arguments that seem to undercut it," mentioned above), and to show that they do not succeed. Moreover, it is a grave error to ignore or overlook undercutting arguments that have actually been presented in your class or in assigned readings. If you disagree with them, you should say why; but to simply omit them is to ask for a bad grade.
As for evaluating such supporting and undercutting arguments, that is a skill that cannot be imparted here in a paragraph or two. The way to learn it is to see how others do it (particularly in class, but also in philosophy books and articles), and to try to do it yourself. Some of the appropriate techniques are: (1) to assess whether the argument uses key terms properly; (2) to see whether the argument rests on one or more premises that are questionable; and (3) to see whether the argument, if accepted, leads to consequences which do not square with known facts or credible theories.
How do you show that you are not just "parroting" someone? The main way is to put things in your own words. It is all too easy to think that you understand something just because you can regurgitate some buzzwords. Real understanding typically goes hand in hand with formulating things for yourself, in your own words. Several rules of thumb are helpful here. One is to avoid jargon where possible; if you must use it, be sure to give a definition. Jargon, for our purposes, is wording that rarely or never arises in ordinary conversation, or that is being used in some non-ordinary way. Another rule of thumb is to write as if you were explaining something to someone who is intelligent, but is not a specialist in the subject, e.g. a favorite grandparent. Do not, in particular, write with jargon in the hope that your professor will like it better or will understand it better (even if you don't).
Another key technique for achieving, and showing, understanding is to come up with your own examples to illustrate key points. Many philosophical positions, though highly abstract and general, readily lend themselves to concrete illustrations. For example, Hume's ethical claim that no `ought' can be derived from an `is', comes alive when fleshed out as the claim that nowhere among the facts about what happens when I cut off Joe's head is there anything that tells me whether I ought not to cut off his head. (Hume himself knew this, of course; indeed, he gives even more hair-raising examples.)
Note, however, that examples illustrate and hence clarify, but that they do not take the place of arguments. Thus you still need to be able to explain the underlying principles in words–you still need to be able to explain why the example is an example.
Finally, do not leave things unclear or make sloppy statements and then say to the professor, "Aw, c'mon, you know what I meant!" Your professor can't read your mind, and will probably assume from previous experience with other students that you yourself do not know what you mean. The safest course is, naturally enough, to say just what you mean.
Writing with clarity.
It is crucial, not just to have something to say, but to say it effectively. The most effective presentation usually follows the old saying: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em; tell 'em; then tell 'em what you told 'em." That is, begin with an introductory paragraph in which you say what you take yourself to be doing in the paper; then, after you have presented your case, close with a conclusion which says what you have done. If you do not say up front, in the introduction, what you will be doing in the body of the paper, your reader will probably conclude that you do not know what you are up to in your paper. (This is an all-too-frequent situation, especially for students who put off papers until the last minute.)
This does not mean that you must write your introduction first. On the contrary, it is typically better to launch into writing the body of the paper first, since the writing process often brings insights and changes of opinion that you didn't expect. So it is prudent to wait until you are happy with the body of the paper, and then go back and write an introduction that spells out in a nutshell what you are doing in the body. The same goes for the conclusion, of course.
You may be tempted to avoid "tipping your hand" at the beginning of your paper, so that your reader is led suspensefully and dramatically to the eventual unveiling of your key points. Avoid this temptation. It is much more difficult to pull off than you might imagine, and your reader will appreciate much more the up-front approach, pedestrian as it may seem.
A final point about introductions and conclusions is that they should not include grandiloquent phrases. Avoid saying things like, "Throughout history, people have struggled with the question of what makes an action good," or "Aristotle was the greatest philosopher who ever lived, and his influence is still being felt today." Your reader, far from being impressed, will be thinking, "Cut to the chase." Remember, you're not actually writing for your grandparent; you should merely put things as clearly and simply as if you were.
Structure and grammar.
Proper structure at all levels of your paper will help immensely in getting your points across. Choose words in a way that avoids ambiguity. For example, if you use the word "it", be sure that it is clear to which "it" you are referring. It can help to have a friend read your paper, looking for ambiguities that you might have overlooked. Likewise, you should avoid run-on sentences or incomplete sentences, which can be very confusing to read.
Class Notes (Introducing Philosophy, R. Solomon, 10th Ed.)
Know the following definitions:
Inductive arguments, Deductive arguments
argument by analogy (an inductive argument)
necessary and sufficient conditions
reductio ad absurdum
fallacies, begging the question, slippery slope
Argument from Ignorance (fallacy): “You haven’t disproven X, therefore I have a reason to believe that X is true”—but, just because something hasn’t been disproven, that doesn’t mean that it is true (or, the fallacy can read: You haven’t proven X, therefore I have a reason to believe that X is false).
Law of Non-Contradiction (which is one of the basic “laws of thought”): Nothing can have a property and lack it at the same time and in the same way (or something can’t be both A and not A at the same time, and in the same way). If the law of non-contradiction were false, then how could you survive (or even act)? A car approaching you would, if the law were false, be both coming and not-coming, so you would step out into the street and get run over!!!
Objective truth: there is one truth that is the same for all. That is, things/facts/truths are a certain way regardless of what, or how, we think about them. Reality is thus independent of human thoughts/concepts (at least to some degree).
Relative truth: truth is not objective, but is relative to something; e.g., persons, societies, groups, etc.
Problems with relativism:
What can we say about the "truth" of the statement “all truth is relative” (or, "there are no objective truths")? Is it objectively or relatively true?
(i) If it is objectively true, then relativism is self-contradictory. (Why?: because the claim is objectively true, and this contradicts what the statement asserts—i.e., the claim states that there are no objective truths, so how could it be objectively true?)
(ii) If it is relatively true, then no evidence can support it: that is, whatever you believe to be true really is true for you (since truth is relative to individuals)—so why should you accept the claim at all? In fact, why would anyone try to convince another person of anything if all truth is relative?
CHAPTER 1: Religion
A. What is Religion?
Know the definition of: theist, atheist, agnostic.
John Wisdom claims that the essential feature of religious belief is a certain "attitude" that the religious person has toward his or her surroundings. For Wisdom, the gap between the religious "attitude" and that of the philosopher or scientist interested in explanation is unbridgeable, since religious belief is obviously different from the scientific quest for causal explanations. But should we separate science and philosophy from religion?
Albert Einstein argues that the great efforts of science have been inspired by a religious awe for the complex regularities of nature. He says science itself inspires a "cosmic religious feeling."
Keiji Nishitani claims that the distinguishing feature of religion is the personal meaning that each of us must give to the existence which we share with all other things in the universe.
B. The Western Religions
1. The Traditional Conception of God: all-good, all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and is everywhere at once (omnipresent). God's independence from the universe He created is the transcendence of God.
Problem 1: If God transcends our experience, how can we know that He exists at all?
Problem 2: Is the Western conception of God anthropomorphic? (That is, is God viewed very much like a human being, although stronger, smarter, etc.?) The scriptural emphasis on God's sense of justice and His concern for humankind also demonstrates anthropomorphic characteristics.
2. Can We Know That God Exists?
Three major arguments that attempt to prove God's existence. They are called (1) the ontological argument, (2) the cosmological argument, and (3) the teleological argument.
THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
The ontological argument tries to prove God’s existence based on the definition or concept of God.
Anselm’s version of the Ontological argument:
1) God is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being (GCB).
2) If God exists only in our minds, then it is possible for there to be a being greater than God, namely, a being like God that exists in reality.
3) But it is not possible for there to be a being greater than God.
4) Therefore, God must exist in reality.
Descartes’ version of the Ontological argument:
1) God is, by definition, a being that possesses all possible perfections.
2) Existence is a perfection.
3) Therefore, God exists.
Gaunilo, a fellow monk, suggested that Anselm’s argument could also prove the existence of an “island more perfect than any other”. That is, since the most perfect island would be lacking something if it didn’t exist (namely, existence), thus it would be contradictory for the most perfect island not to exist. (This is a “reductio ad absurdum” argument, because using Anselm’s argument leads to absurd conclusions—namely, that perfect islands exist.)
Anselm replied that the argument cannot be applied to islands or anything else whose nonexistence is conceivable. But, Anselm just assumes this claim, and does not try to prove it (so the nontheist can simply reject it). Charles Hartshorne’s article make a similar mistake, since a “perfect island” or a “perfectly evil being” is not, contrary to what he claims, a contradictory concept.
Kant’s objection to the ontological argument.
The problem with the argument, for Kant, lies in the argument's central idea: that existence is one of the essential properties or predicates of a thing, that is, part of its definition. But existence is not a property and cannot be part of a definition. "Existence" or "being," Kant argues, isn't a "real predicate" (such as the predicate "green") because it does not tell us anything more about whatever is said to have existence or being. Example: Is there any difference between “a table that lacks all properties” and “a table that lacks all properties except existence”? If not, then “existence” doesn’t add to or modify the concept of the object, and so it is not a real predicate that can make something “greater”.
Karl Barth argues that the ontological argument should not be understood primarily as a "proof" of God’s existence, but rather as an attempts to articulate the believer’s faith.
THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
The Cosmological Argument relies on our experience of causation, as well as types of beings, in an attempt to prove God’s existences.
Aquinas’ “First Cause” Cosmological Argument
1) Everything has a cause.
2) There cannot be an infinity of past causes in the world.
3) Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause.
4) God is the uncaused first cause.
1) The argument does not prove that the uncaused cause is the Western concept of an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God—it merely assumes it. (Maybe the uncaused cause is a purely physical process?)
2) An infinite set of past causes is possible (at least logically). That is, the possibility of set of causes extending infinitely into the past makes logical sense (since it is not self-contradictory), and thus it may be physically possible.
3) “Who caused God”? If one admits that there exists something which is uncaused (or caused itself), why couldn’t that be the universe instead? An uncaused universe is a simpler explanation than an uncaused God and a caused world—so, simplicity (as a guide to theory choice) would favor an uncaused universe as the better, simpler explanation (theory).
THE TELEOLOGICAL (or DESIGN) ARGUMENT
This attempt to prove God's existence argues that the universe shows a design, and thus there must exist a designer (God).
1) The universe and a watch are similar in that they are both complex things.
2) The watch is a designed thing.
3) Conclusion: the universe is also designed.
4) The designer of the universe is God (Western God).
St. Thomas Aquinas in his "fifth way" formulated one classic version of the teleological argument.
1) What about plants? Plants are very complex things, but we know that they don’t have designers (that is, they grow and generate on their own without any actual designer going around and constructing them each Spring and Summer). If complex things, like plants, can be natural, non-designed objects, then maybe the universe is also a natural, non-designed thing. In fact, the universe more closely resembles a plant than a watch (since it was born, is growing, and will die—all naturally and by itself, without intervention, like a plant).
2) Even if you accept the argument, it only gives you a designer, and not the Western God. In fact, since the world is so dangerous to humans, it would seem that the designer is not all-good (since an all-good God would have made a safer world for humans).
3) Modern science (in particular, evolution) shows how complex things can come about from more simple processes. That is, natural processes can explain how complex things and organisms come about through purely natural causes.
The “Fine-Tuning” version of the Design argument claims that the probability that a physical process could cause a universe like ours is very low, and thus a designer is needed to explain our universe. However, the probability that God would create a universe exactly like ours (from the set of all possible universes) is equally low, so there is no advantage to invoking a designer.
C. Religion, Morality, and Evil
1. Religion and "Practical Reason.
Kant allowed that belief in God is a matter of faith, but this is not an irrational belief. Since justice is not always delivered in this life, belief in God allows us to suppose that our good deeds will in fact eventually be rewarded and evil deeds punished.
Problem: Most non-believers are moral, and therefore Kant is just wrong to think that morality requires belief in a divine judge.
William James makes the pragmatic argument that believing in God is "rational" insofar as it doesn't conflict with our other beliefs and if it tends to make us lead better lives.
Problems: (1) Is the concept of God such that it really does not conflict with our beliefs? Many would claim the evidence shows that God doesn’t exist (i.e., it conflicts with our knowledge of the world, or the concept is contradictory, etc.). (2) Belief in God may also promote harmful effects; such as war, hatred, etc. (3) Is it possible for a person to believe in a claim (such as “God exists”) if the evidence is really insufficient (neutral)? Are you really believing in the claim, or are you just pretending that you believe?
Blaise Pascal admits that we can't know whether God exists or not. But if God exists and we believe in Him, we are entitled to an eternal reward. If He exists and we don't believe in Him, we will receive eternal damnation. Even if he doesn't exist, we are still better off believing in God because of the qualities faith brings to life.
God Exists God Doesn't Exist
Believe in God: Eternal reward little or no loss
Don't believe: Eternal damnation little or no loss
Problems: (1) One has to accept that God punishes non-believers, but many would reject this conception of God. (2) Would a God who sends people to Hell for not believing really be happy with a person who believes only because they see a profit in believing?
2. The Problem of Evil (“evil”, as used here, means “unnecessary human suffering”).
If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good (just), then how is it possible that there is so much unearned suffering and unpunished wickedness in the world?
Humans have the "free will" to create their own troubles (evil), is advanced by St. Augustine.
(1) The free-will defense doesn’t account for “natural evils” (the suffering caused by nature); rather, the free-will defense only accounts for “human evil” (suffering caused by humans).
(2) How could God have given people free will, knowing—as He must have—that they would misuse it so badly (much like giving a loaded gun to a child, for example)?
Response: God has allowed us moral latitude to provide a test of our virtue. Counter-response: Is the suffering that tests human virtue a just system (shouldn’t God have provided a better, more just way to test us, and thus not have used the suffering of people to accomplish this task)?
The world need some evil, so that we can recognize what good is.
Problem: God could have simply given us this knowledge, rather than having to experience it. Also, it isn't obvious that we need anything like the amount of suffering we have in the world in order to recognize what is good.
In Buddhism, the problem of evil is avoided entirely, since Buddhism abandons any conception of an anthropomorphic God. Yet Buddhism retains a belief in moral obligation and in reason. The highest form of Buddhism confronts human suffering by working to help others in need: the answer to the "problem of evil" is compassion.
D. Reason and Faith
Some thinkers respond to the problem of evil with the notion of "God's mysterious ways," arguing that we cannot possibly understand God's ultimate purposes.
Problems: (1) this sets up a discrepancy between the claims of reason and the claims of faith (“revelation”) that is difficult for many to accept. (2) If God is so mysterious, how can we claim to know anything about God?
Know: pantheism, deism
Mystics claim that religious experiences may well be indescribable and incommunicable (ineffable), but that they convey some sort of non-rational truth. William James argued for this form of religious experience.
Problem: Is mystical experience really a from of knowledge of reality? (1) Maybe it is just a natural experience, and not supernatural? (2) How can you verify that people have really had these experiences?
E. Faith and Irrationality.
For Soren Kierkegaard, Christianity is based on a series of irrational paradoxes. And truth for a Christian, therefore, could only be subjective truth, truth for the individual alone. Reason and evidence cannot prove God’s existence, belief in God is therefore a “leap of faith” across the borders of rationality and thinking to the passionate life of the fear and awe of God, with its accompanying spirit of "inwardness."
Christianity, Kierkegaard concludes, is suffering, the suffering that comes with the anticipation of our own death and our feeling of smallness and insignificance when we consider the eternal order of things.
Following Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich proposed a form of Christianity that gives up the traditional view of God and moves the focus of religion to purely personal concerns and commitments. For Tillich God is a symbol of "ultimate concern." The belief in God is now expanded to represent the fact that one finds his or her existence meaningful, thus making discussions about the existence or nonexistence of God meaningless.
F. The Attack on Religion: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Karl Marx argues that humans invent religion to escape their intolerable social conditions, since religion eases the pain of our earthly existence. Once we see this, he says, we should reject religion as an escape and turn instead to the correction of those conditions that make such an escape necessary. Problem: not all forms of religion side with the powerful against the powerless.
Friedrich Nietzsche accused modern Christianity of being nothing other than a rationalization of the valueless and meaningless state of modern life. Christianity, according to Nietzsche, had become life denying, rather than life affirming.
Sigmund Freud states that religion is mere illusion. It is the expression of a psychological need for a parent figure that we obtained in our youth and never got over. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God doesn’t exist.
Chapter 4: Self
A. Consciousness and the Self: From Descartes to Kant
Descartes: Descartes knows that he exists and continues to exist as long as he is a "thing that thinks." This consciousness that allows us to know that we exist composes our soul, which is a mental substance. For Descartes self-identity depends on this mental substance.
Locke: Locke believes that self-identity depends on our having the same consciousness and memories. He differs from Descartes because he distinguishes between a substance (the soul) and consciousness. According to Locke, memory provides an infallible link between what we might call different "stages" of a person.
Two objections: (1) we forget much of what we experience. (2) Our memories are not always accurate: “real” versus “apparent (or false)” memories.
Hume: Hume concludes that when we are self-conscious we are only aware of fleeting thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and that we do not have a sensory experience of the self (as a mental substance) or an unchanging consciousness. The “self” is merely a bundle of sense perceptions and thoughts. But Hume's argument "I can never catch myself" relies on a presupposition, he is presupposing that there is a "myself", or “I”, to be caught.
Kant: Kant agrees with Hume, since identity is not found in self-consciousness. The enduring self is not an object of experience. It is transcendental.
Transcendental: a necessary condition for the possibility of any experience.
If there was a different self at each moment of consciousness, we would not be able to perceive anything. Because we do experience objects, we must assume that we have a unified consciousness that combines all of these impressions into the perception of these objects. This is Kant's self.
Soul Theory: Your soul constitutes Personal Identity (PI).
Problems: How do you verify that you have a soul? Also, if you switch souls, then you switch PI, but you would not know that your PI has changed since you have the same mental content (memories, personality traits, beliefs, desires, etc.).
Body Theory: Your body constitutes PI.
Problem: Body-switching cases—where you exchange your mental content with another person’s mental content. The problem is that we think PI follows our mental content, and not our bodies.
Brain Theory: PI follows the brain.
Problem: What about split-brain cases? Where is the “self”?
The "Ship of Theseus" example.
There are two theories of the identity of material objects (which are not "persons", of course): (1) "same parts" criterion (so the ship that has the original parts is the ship of Theseus); (2) "continuous history" criterion (so the ship that has a continuous history as being called "Theseus" is the ship of Theseus.
B. Existentialism: Self-identity and the Responsibility of Choice
Existentialists believe that self-identity, in every case is a matter of choice. The self is created through choices.
Jean-Paul Sartre: Sartre argued that there is no such thing as "human nature", and what we are—and what it means to be a human being—are always matters of decision. There is no correct choice in choosing our self-identity, there are only choices. On Sartre’s account, each person chooses which facts are to be considered as essential to one's self-identity.
“Bad faith” is the possibility of refusing to accept responsibility for one’s choices. This results ultimately in avoiding responsibility for selfhood. Examples: The café waiter. The denial of homosexual actions.
C. The Individual and the Community
Self as social product: The Self is defined by society, such that we find ourselves acting according to an identity that was imposed upon us by other people.
Responses to the self as social product.
a) R.D. Laing looks at this problem as the cause of some of our most serious psychological breakdowns. We get the sense that our real selves are known only to ourselves, but at the same time we do not really exist except with other people.
b) Sartre, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard argue that we should break away from our social identities and develop ourselves as unique individuals.
Malcolm X argues that African-Americans' self-identities are largely defined for them by American society in which whites are the majority. Social roles have also been binding to other groups, like women. Some feminists claim that people can only develop individual identities if we establish a society without clear social and sexual roles.
Individualism versus the group: The individualist movement is the mainstream of western thinking.
Problems: We become too focused on individualism such that personal needs eclipse the needs of the group, and this can result in the destruction of the community.
D. One Self? Any Self? Questioning the Concept of Personal "Essence"
The self in literature:
Herman Hesse (in a novel) presents a character whose "self" is a multiple or pluralistic self: for example, one “self” is rational and well behaved, another “self” is beastly and wild. Human unhappiness stems from our oversimplified notion of self. Why do we have to regard the self as a single unit? He suggests that it is because we have one body, so we assume that we have one self.
Feminist notions of selfhood:
Luce Irigaray claims that the "essential" self is limiting and oppressive, particularly when applied to women. She claims that there may not be any natural masculinity or femininity at all in our plural "self".
Eastern religions have long criticized the notion of the unified "self." Some Eastern religions claim that the idea of the self is just an illusion which one accepts out of moral weakness or backwardness.
Chapter 6: Freedom
Fatalism, Karma and Predestination
The ancient Greek tragedies depend upon fatalism, the view that whatever a person's actions and circumstances, however free they may seem, his or her predetermined end is inevitable.
Predestination is the view that our every action is known, if not also caused in advance, by God. If God is all-knowing and created the world, then God knew what we would do—so, how can we be held responsible for our actions?
Determinism, and Freedom in Practice
Determinism is the thesis that everything that happens in the universe is determined according to the laws of nature. The problem is that human actions are also events in the physical universe. But if human action is just another law-determined natural occurrence, can it also be free?
Know: antecedent conditions, cause
Hard determinists believe that we are "matter in motion," physical bodies that are subject to all of the laws of nature. The philosopher-scientist La Place claimed that if he knew the location and motion of every object in the universe, he could predict everything that would ever happen in the universe, including everything that we would ever do (since humans are material and thus subject to the laws of nature).
Problem: “But, it doesn’t seem as if my actions are determined. Rather, my actions seem free.” This is the argument most often used against determinism—but, just because something “seems” to be a certain way, that doesn’t guarantee that it really is that way.
Indeterminism claims that not every event has a cause, which leaves room for free will. Indeterminists often appeal to modern science to justify their theory. That is, since many scientists now agree that the concept of "cause" does not apply to certain subatomic particles, the indeterminists hold that the hard determinist view is false.
Two objections to indeterminism:
1) Even if we accept the conclusions of modern physics, it is clear that determinism is of importance primarily for macroscopic bodies, and not subatomic particles (that is, humans and their brains are macroscopic things).
2) Even if indeterminism were true, indeterminism is not the same as freedom. Freedom means that we are free to choose what we shall do and that our decisions are effective. Therefore, indeterminism robs us of our freedom just as much as determinism. If indeterminism is true, it seems that chance or probability governs our actions—but that contradicts our concept of “free-will”.
Most philosophers believe in compatibilism, or soft determinism, the view that human freedom and determinism are compatible positions. The key to the "soft determinist" position is that an action or a decision, though fully determined, is free if it "flows from the agent's character," such that the action is not coerced or forced on the person. For example, if I am forced at gun point to do something I don’t want to do, then my actions are not free (since I’m coerced).
David Hume suggests that determinism is necessary if we are to make sense out of the notion of freedom of choice and responsibility. We can make sense of the notion of voluntary action only because there is a uniform connection between our motives, inclination, circumstances, and characters and what we do.
A) The coerced or forced action originates outside of, or externally to, the person, rather than internally. But in many cases where freedom is most in question, in cases of neurosis, brain washing, great passion, and chemical "influences," the distinction between what is "external" to the person and what is within his or her character is not clear at all.
B) compatibilism has not resolved the problem of determinism, it has merely redefined “free-will” to allow for us to have free-will. Yet, our actions are still determined, so free-will is still an illusion.
Because our personality is determined by forces outside of us and beyond our control (like education, upbringing, national origin, and gender), philosophers like John Hospers argue that all of our acts are compelled and not free. Skinner argues that we have foolishly made a fetish of freedom and we should replace this with an acceptance of determinism. Behavioral scientists can and should be given the power to "engineer" human behavior in accordance with an agreed-upon set of ideals (social harmony, individual happiness, and productivity).
In novels from George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Anthony Burgess, a determinist view of human nature is attacked, since it is seen as potentially creating the basis for oppresive societies. A similar argument is made by Catherine MacKinnon, who claims that advertisers, moviemakers, pornographers, and others in the media in our society make, control and determine men's behavior, making male treatment of women fundamentally violent.
Harry Frankfurt rethinks the meaning of free-will and coercion in terms of experience of the agent. He claims that people are free if they act on their second-order desires. A first order-desire is a desire towards an object (“I desire to drink the coffee”), whereas a second-order desire is a desire to have first-order desires (“I desire to have a desire to drink coffee”). Frankfurt uses this distinction to claim that people are not free if they do not have, or cannot act upon, their second-order desires (and that also explains why we don’t think animals have free-will, since they don’t have second-order desires either).
Two cases: (1) a drug-addict wants to stop being an addict, but can’t stop taking drugs: this person does not act freely because they cannot act upon their second-order desire to stop taking drugs. (2) The drug addict does want to keep taking drugs: this person is acting freely because they are acting on their second-order desire.
Radical Freedom: Existentialism
The existentialists accept determinism in science. But they insist that even if determinism is true, one must always view him or herself as agent as necessarily free.
Sartre argues that we are always absolutely free. This means that insofar as we act, our decisions and our actions cannot be viewed as having any causes whatsoever. We are "condemned to be free." Desires may enter into consideration, but only as a "consideration" because we can always act against a desire. There is no escape from freedom or responsibility.
Chapter 5: Mind and Body
A. What is Consciousness?
Dualism: mind and body are different substances. Substances are independently existing things that can exist apart from other substances. So, the mind can exist separate from the body, and the body can exist apart from the mind. For Descartes, the defining property of mind (soul) is thought, and not extension in space, whereas the defining trait of body is to be extended in space.
Problem with dualism: (1) How can two different substances causally interact? If they are so different, then how can minds control your body, and visa versa? (2) It is often claimed that minds have no spatial location, but our modern understanding of the mind often localizes mental functions to parts of the brain. (3) It is hard to describe the mind, and biological and material facts about the brain are needed to fully explain the mind, so maybe the brain is all there is, and the mind is just the operation of the brain.
B. Alternative Versions of Dualism.
Causal Interactionism: mind and body interact—but how?
Parallelism (Leibniz): mind and body are coordinated so that it seems as if they causally interact, but they really do not. Problem: you would seem to need a God to set up this system, but that means you first need to prove that God exists (which may be impossible). Also, this whole system seems far-fetched.
Dual Aspect Theory (Spinoza): mind and body are two aspects of the same thing, such that this same thing can be viewed from two different perspectives (as either mind, or as body). Problem: What is the “thing” that underlies both body and mind? It would seem that the body (brain) is the most basic thing, and not something at a deeper level of reality.
C. Rejecting Dualism:
Epiphenomenalism: the body (brain) causes the mind, but the mind does not causally effect the body (so the mind can be ignored in understanding the brain).
Behaviorism (B. F. Skinner): mental events (thoughts, sensations, etc.) cannot be verified through publically observable tests, so they should be rejected. Problem: this seems much too strong, since it is obvious that we have mental states.
Logical Behaviorism (G. Ryle): mental terms are defined using a dispositional account of human behavior. The causal interaction between mind and body is replaced by a causal interaction between a physical state (a disposition to behave in a certain way) and the actual behavior (the acting upon that disposition). Example: “pain” is “a disposition to jump around and yell if stuck with a pin” (and, similarly, love, anger, etc., are defined as what people will do if they have those traits). Problem: you can have the mental event (say, pain) without the behavior (jumping around and yelling, etc.) normally associated with that mental event, thus pain is not the same thing as the behavior we display when in pain.
Identity Theory: mental events are identical to brain events. Problem: “I see a red object” is not the same thing as “a brain event occurs (when I look at a red object)”, but, if the brain events and mental events are identical, then the two should have the same meaning. Counter-reply: the identity is not logical, but metaphysical (i.e., identical in what exists).
Eliminative Materialism: mental events are brain events, but there does not need to be an identity between brain events and mental events.
Churchland’s three arguments against Folk Psychology (which is the common view that our mental states are the cause of our bodily behavior): (1) the explanatory and predictive failure of folk psychology; that is, that folk psychology cannot explain the basic facts of the mind and brain (such as sleep, learning, memory, etc.). (2) folk psychology cannot explain why damage to the brain impairs or damages mental function. (3) folk psychology has never been challenged by a better theory since the brain is such a difficult object to study (and we have only recently begun to study the brain).
Arguments against Eliminative Materialism: (1) introspection seems to confirm that mental states are real; that is, when I examine the contents of my mind, it seems that my thoughts and sensations are real, and not brain events. Counter-reply: just because something seems to be the case does not mean that it is the case (example: it seemed to the Ancients that the earth was at rest, but that is not true given our modern understanding). (2) maybe mental states will not be eliminated, but simply changed to a better conception more adequate to brain science.
Functionalism: minds are not produced by the kind of material (brains), but by the relations between the parts of the material. Example: computer parts arranged in the right way may give rise to minds. Functionalism holds that it is the relations among the parts of the material thing (hardware) that gives rise to the mind (as the program or software), and so functionalism holds out the hope that other beings or computers can give rise to the same mental content (beliefs, pains, etc.). This is called “multiple realizability”.
Problems for Functionalism (J. Searle): (1) the brain is not just a computer, and the mind is not a program: the material of the brain determines the mental properties of the brain. (2) the “Chinese Room” Argument: manipulating the rules of a language is not the same thing as understanding the language, Thus, having the right output behavior given a certain input stimulus is not a guarantee that the being has consciousness.
Connectionism: functionalism is a top-down, software strategy of explaining the mind that does not do justice to the complexity of the brain, the hardware. Connectionists claim that the mechanical and physical interactions that occur in the brain determine human behavior, so just switching the brain for a different type of hardware will not work.
D. Problems of Consciousness.
Do we have immediate, certain knowledge of the contents of our minds (known as “incorrigibility”)? Answer: probably not, because we can be fooled by experience (example: expecting a hot sensation, and then momentarily confusing a cold sensation for a hot sensation). Also, what about the “unconscious”, which is mental content (drives, beliefs, etc.) that is unknown to the mind?
Privileged Access: only the individual knows the content, character, and qualities of their own mental states.
T. Nagel: we can never know what it is like to be a bat.
C. McGinn: consciousness is a mystery.
William James: consciousness is dispensable, since there is no such entity.
Chapter 7: Ethics
Moral Philosophy (Ethics): The study of moral concepts, and the rules for right actions, and the prohibition against wrong actions.
Morality is concerned with what “ought” to be the case, and not what “is” the case.
“Right” actions (permissible to do) are either “optional” or “obligatory” (you must do it). “Wrong” actions are those you must not do.
Teleological (consequentialist) ethical theories: The rightness or wrongness of an action depends on the consequences of the action.
Deontological (non-consequentialist) ethical theories: The rightness or wrongness of an act does not depend on the consequences of the action but on some intrinsic quality of the action.
What is the purpose of morality? To promote human flourishing and the survival of society.
Ethical Relativism: There are no objective, universal moral rules. All moral codes and rules are relative to either culture, or society, or individuals, etc.
Cultural Relativism: Different cultures have different moralities. This is not a moral theory but a fact about different cultures.
Ethical Absolutism (objectivism): There is a single moral code that is the same for all people (and thus ethical relativism is false).
A popular from of Ethical Relativism is that morality is relative to culture or society.
Problems: (a) You can’t criticize a culture's morality that you believe is morally wrong—e.g., you can’t criticize the Nazis. (b) Moral reformers are morally wrong because they go against the group morality—but, we often think moral reformers are morally right. (c) What “culture” do you belong to? Since we have associations with many different groups/cultures, and these often have conflicting moral codes, which moral code should you follow?
Problems with Ethical Absolutism: Which moral code is the “one true” moral code? How do we find out about this moral code? (Where does it come from?)
Ethical Egoism (a Teleological or consequentialist theory)
Psychological Egoism: We always act out of self-interest. This is a theory of psychology, not of morality.
Ethical Egoism: The action that increases your self-interest is the morally right action.
Problems: (1) What is in our self-interest? If we can’t make this decision, then we can’t decide what is the morally right action (e.g., Prisoner’s Dilemma). (2) Not all actions are motivated out of self-interest: e.g., self-sacrifice, etc. This is an objection to psychological egoism, which is often used to justify ethical egoism.
Utilitarianism (a Teleological theory)
Intrinsic goods: Things that are good or valued for their own sake, and not because they lead to something else (e.g., happiness).
Extrinsic goods: Things that are valued because they lead to other things we value (e.g., money).
Act-Utilitarianism (Act-Util.): the action that increases utility for the most people is the morally right action.
Utility: Usually defined as an intrinsic good, such as pleasure or happiness. Bentham favored pleasure as the intrinsic good, but this leads to the problem that we should desire only pleasure, and thus desire to be hooked up to a “pleasure machine” (which provides only pleasurable sensations). J. S. Mill thought utility was “happiness” which includes more intrinsic goods than mere pleasure (i.e., knowledge, honesty, etc.).
Problem with Act-Util.: It seems to lead to absurd moral consequences (which we may find immoral). Example: A doctor who has to kill one healthy patient to save 5 sick patients. That is, saving 5 is more utility than saving only 1, so the doctor is required by Act-util. to kill the 1 to save the 5—and this is an absurd requirement of any moral theory.
Rule-Utilitarianism: The rule which increases utility for the most people is the morally right rule. A “rule” is a general type of action. So, if the action is “I can kill patients whenever I want”, then the rule that governs (or is presupposed) by that action is “all people, or doctors, can kill patients whenever they want”. Now, when this rule is practiced by all doctors, will utility increase? No, because all people will fear doctors, which leads to a greater decrease in utility overall (since many will die of curable diseases, etc.). Thus, the rule is morally wrong, and the actions that are instances of the rule are morally wrong, too. This shows how Rule-util. is more effective than Act-util.
Problems with Rule-Util.
1) If the consequences of an action cannot be determined, then the morality of the action is also unknown. (This is also a problem for Act-util.)
2) Do you maximize the distribution of utility, or do you go for maximum effect? E.g., how do I distribute a million dollars to maximize utility? This is unknown, and thus a problem.
3) Some actions which we consider immoral are still acceptable (i.e., morally right) on Rule-util. E.g., “Enslave 5% of the population in order to benefit the other 95%”—if this rule really does increase utility for all the societies that use it, then it is morally right to enslave people.
Kantian Ethics (a Deontological theory)
Kant did not like consequentialist ethics since it might lead to immoral actions being sanctioned (as above) because they have good consequences. Rather, he wanted an ethics based on reason that would apply to all people at all times (universal and necessary).
Actions performed using the Categorical Imperative (CI), that is, which pass the test of the CI, are morally right. Actions which fail the test of the CI are morally wrong.
(The only thing that is good in itself, intrinsically, is a good will. A good will is one that consistently wills the morally right action; and the CI tells us what the morally right action is).
1st formulation of the CI
An action (maxim) which can be consistently willed to be an action that all people can follow is a morally right action. That is, if you will that all people do the action, and this does not prevent you from doing the action, then it is a morally right action. E.g., can you will that “all people can make lying-promises (where a lying promise is a false promise)”? Supposedly, if you will that all people do this, then very soon no one will make promises with other people since everybody knows that promises are never kept (e.g., by willing everyone do it, I create a situation where I can’t do it.). So, by willing that “all people make lying promises”, I am simultaneously creating a situation where I cannot make lying-promises. And, thus, I have created a contradiction in willing, and thus the action is morally wrong.
Problems with the 1st formulation of the CI:
(1) Some immoral actions would seem to pass the test of the CI. E.g., suicide—making it apply to all people (universalizing the action) does not lead to a situation where you are prevented from committing suicide, so the action is morally acceptable. (Many people would find this problematic because they believe suicide is morally wrong.) Other examples: “killing your parents”, etc.
(2) The CI (1st form.) still has to consider the consequences of actions to determine if the action can be consistently universalized. But, since the consequences of actions are hard to determine, applying the CI will often lead to uncertain conclusions.
(3) Since the CI tells you that an action is always wrong (and it is morally wrong for all people at all times), the theory leads to absurd consequences—E.g., since lying is always wrong, if you are hiding a person from a murderer, but the murderer asks you if the person is in your home, you have to say “yes” (because lying is always wrong)!
2nd Formulation of the CI
“Always treat people as an end in themselves and never merely as a means to an end.” In other words, never use a person to get something. For Kant, humans are beings who have an unconditional moral value, and thus their moral value must not be violated. This theory essentially amounts to a “rights-based” moral theory: that is, people are born with a "right" not to be mistreated.
Problems for the 2nd formulation of the CI:
(1) When are you “using a person as a means to an end”? This is hard to determine: E.g., does a doctor use her patients to make money?
(2) How have humans acquired this “right” not to be mistreated? Where did it come from, and why is it only limited to rational beings (which is how Kant defines humans)?
Divine Command Theory (DCT)
Morality comes from God. So, following God’s commandments is the morally right thing to do. (This theory is a Deontological theory of morality).
Problems with DCT:
1) Basing morality on God’s commands seems to lead to a very immature and self-centered morality. Why?: since the only reason you follow God’s commandments is because you want to avoid punishment and gain reward (or, because God said so, and you just trust God). Thus morality is based on selfish motivations (or the reason for the morality of actions is not thought about at all).
2) Which God is the “true” God? Since all religions have different moral codes, you not only have to prove that God exists, you also have to prove that only your God exists.
3) Even if one religion is singled out, which religious text, which passage in that text, and which interpretation of that passage do you choose?
Plato’s “Euthyphro” argument against the Divine Command Theory (DCT).
Are actions good because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good (i.e., morally good)? 2 options:
1) God commands actions because they are good.
Problem: God is no longer the creator or foundation of morality but is merely the messenger of morality. That is, the goodness of actions seems to be independent of God, but then we still need to determine why actions are good (and the DCT was supposed to have provided this).
2) Actions are good because they are commanded by God.
Problem: This means whatever God commands is good, so if God command that “murder is morally good”, then it is morally good to commit murder! So, this option leads to “might makes right,” which many people find morally wrong.
If someone responds by saying, “God only chooses actions which are based on reason when he determines their morality," then God is using reason to determine morality. But, God is then using a process (reason) that must be outside or separate from himself, and thus we are back in option (1), which has its own problems, of course.
Also, if “(morally) good” is defined as “what God commands”, then the statement “God is good” is really the statement “God does what God commands.” But, this is not what a person intends to say when they claim “God is good” (which is a statement that provides real information about God, and not a useless tautology like “God does what he commands").
Aristotle and Virtue Ethics
Ancient Greek morality focuses on virtue, which can be defined as admirable human qualities (or moral excellences). Aristotle's conception of virtue is based on the idea that man is a rational being. Thus, for Aristotle, virtue is a rational activity: activity in accordance with a rational principle. Aristotle believes that we fully exercise our rationality with respect to human actions when we seek the “mean between the extremes of the action”. For example, too much or too little heroism (where “heroism” is a virtuous action) is not productive for humans, since it leads to recklessness or cowardice, respectively. But, just the right amount of heroism not only produces the best results, but will also bring happiness to the individual and society (where happiness, or “Eudaimonia”, for Aristotle, is best translated as “human flourishing”). Virtue ethics is more concerned with developing admirable human qualities in people, rather than determining whether or not a particular action is right or wrong.