A First Unmoved Mover?

The Atomists – Leucippus (if he existed) and Democritus – had this idea that there were a load of atoms zooming around a void, and sometimes they’d bump into each other, and as a result – occasionally – form compound substances.

Aristotle complained that the Atomists hadn’t explained the source of all this motion; basically, he didn’t much like that the idea that motion and the continuation of motion might not need an explanation.

So here’s an amusing thing (if you’re amused by things that aren’t amusing, that is). This is how Frederick Copleston handles this issue in Volume 1 of his (remarkable, actually) history of philosophy (pp. 74-5)

To us, indeed, it may well seem strange to deny chance and yet to posit an eternal unexplained motion…but we ought not to conclude that Leucippus meant to ascribe the motion of the atoms to chance: to him eternal motion and the continuation of motion required no explanation. In our opinion, the mind boggles at such a theory and cannot rest content with Leucippus’ ultimate; but it is an interesting historical fact, that he himself was content with this ultimate and sought no “First Unmoved Mover”.

Okay, well that’s pretty clear. Bad Leucippus. This is how Bertrand Russell handles the same issue in his History (pp. 66-7).

Aristotle and others reproached him [Leucippus] and Democritus for not accounting for the original motion of atoms, but in this the atomists were more scientific than their critics. Causation must start from something, and wherever it starts no cause can be assigned for the initial datum. The world may be attributed to a Creator, but even then the Creator Himself is unaccounted for. The theory of the atomists, in fact, was more nearly that of modern science than any other theory propounded in antiquity […] All causal explanations…must have an arbitrary beginning. That is why it is no defect in the theory of the atomists to have left the original movements of the atoms unaccounted for.

Copleston and Russell were both writing at roughly the same time, but they have a very different take on this issue. The explanation? Copleston was a Jesuit priest; Bertrand Russell, wasn’t.

(If you’re interested, you can hear them debating the existence of God here.)

Leave a comment ?


  1. F.C. Copleston also crossed swords with A.J. Ayer on the BBC “Logical Positivism – A Debate,” (1949). A full transcript was published in P. Edwards and A. Pap (editors), ‘A Modern Introduction to Philosophy’. I imagine it must also be on the web in full somewhere but I only managed to track down an excerpt:


  2. Since this seems to be “Remember Father Copleston Day”, his little book on Aquinas is excellent and makes Aquinas make sense.

  3. I think we should have a “Remember Father Copleston Day”. There’s enough celebration of Bertrand Russell – despite the fact he was (in some ways) a loon – let’s hear it for Copleston, I say!

  4. I read this somewhere, a long time ago.

    Bertrand Russell had a weekly (or at least regular) program on the BBC (in the late 40’s or early 50’s, I believe), in which he debated and defeated all comers.

    According to the testimony which I read, only one person equaled Russell, Father Copleston, S.J.

  5. Russell changed his point of view on causation. “Causation must start from something… (1945)” compared to:

    “As for things not having a cause, the physicists assure us that individual quantum transitions in atoms have no cause (1949).” and “I don’t think there is anything absolute whatever (1949).”

    Considering this, Bertrand Russell has the better argument. Copleston, on the other hand, is what might be called a believer in fundamental principles. I certainly cannot agree with Copleston’s vision of mixing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle with moral causes. These are two completely different meanings for “cause” and it is interesting that at this point the two agree to an impasse.

    In my opinion (and I think Russell’s), there is no initial cause. The most we can ascertain is a temporal or immediate cause. For example, gravity causes the apple to fall from the tree, if the falling of the apple is what is trying to be explained. Beyond that, there are an infinite number of causes. The error of the terms ‘fundamental principles’ is traceable to the ancient Greek concept of ‘a priori’ knowledge. For example, the Greeks believed in a basic substance from which everything evolves — the atom. Twentieth century scientists could smash the atom into smaller and smaller parts, with no end in sight. Likewise, there is no a priori knowledge except that dictated by an authoritarian. If there is an a priori knowledge, it is doubtful it has been discovered yet. There is a difference between ‘fundamental principles’ and current common knowledge.

    What does being a Jesuit priest have to do with this?

  6. @Amos – I quickly read the transcript of the debate. Copleston certainly has Russell on the defensive (I reckon) on the issue of the nature of evil.

    @Dennis – Well, presumably Copleston is attracted to the idea of God as a necessary being (to explain all the contingent stuff). So it’s the Uncaused Causer idea.

    Also, I’m not sure your argument contra the Greeks – and only some Greeks believed there was one basic substance, etc – actually works. The atom was just the Atomist’s word (or our translation of their word) for the indivisible entities that when aggregated constitute the visible world; the fact that 21st century scientists can split our atom (which is a very different beast to the sort of thing Leucippus and Democritus envisaged, anyway) doesn’t affect their basic point.

  7. I’ve been meaning to draw attention to this particular Youtube channel which is great resource for philosophers. It hosts, amongst other philosopher-in-conversation-on-tv gems, Bryan Magee’s ‘Men of Ideas’ and ‘The Great Philosophers’ (oh for the days when the tv would show two philosophers sat talking for an hour!). The link to ‘Man of The Moment’ Frederick Copleston is that he (rather graciously) appears with Magee on a discussion of Schopenhauer (of whom Magee is something of a disciple).


  8. @Jeremy
    If modern molecular disruption is a “very different beast,” then it must differ and affect the basic point of Leucippus and Democritus. Of course, there were undoubtedly other similar debates in ancient Greece over the existence of finite substance. Perhaps both ancient and modern views are completely wrong about the conception of the invisible atom, and a completely different description may be discovered to explain the many modern discrepancies.

  9. @Curious – Yes, thanks for flagging those up. It is a great resource (and I suspect under used).

    @Dennis – Well, yes and no. L & D could reasonably respond that the modern atom isn’t what they were talking about (precisely because it isn’t indivisible; and also because it isn’t solid).

    So the question then is whether physicists will discover fundamental particles that are more like what L & D had in mind.

    But, of course, modern physics falsifies the details of their theory.

  10. @Jeremy
    “Modern physics falsifies the details of their theory.” This comment is disconcerting. Did you mean this in a general sense, or did you have a particular theory in mind?

  11. @Dennis – I meant it falsifies the particulars of Leucippus and Democritus’s atomism. So, for example, they had this idea that “atoms” had little hooks that functioned to bind them together – that obviously isn’t true. They had the idea that the reason why some foods are sour is because they are made up of atoms with sharp edges – again that’s obviously not true.

    So in those – and other – sense, modern physics has falsified the particulars of their theory.

  12. Talking of great resources … The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on Leucippus.

    It notes that “little is known of Leucippus’ views and his specific contributions to atomist theory” but it does note the following:

    “One direct quotation preserved from Leucippus says that nothing happens in vain (matên) but everything from logos and by necessity (DK 67B2). This has been found puzzling, since the reference to logos might seem to suggest that things are ruled by reason, an idea that Democritus’ system excludes. Either Leucippus’ system is different in this respect from that of Democritus, or the reference to logos here cannot be to a controlling mind. Barnes takes there to be no grounds for preferring either interpretation (Barnes 1984), but Taylor argues that Leucippus’ position is that an account (or logos) can be given of the causes of all occurrences (Taylor 1999, p. 189).”

    SEP notes that “There is nothing in other reports to suggest that Leucippus endorsed the idea of a universal intelligence governing events.”

    But if, we put a lot of weight on Leucippus’ claim that “No thing happens at random but all things as a result of a reason and a necessity”, was Copleston wrong to think Leucippus wrong, or Russell wrong to think Leuippus right?

  13. @Curious – Ah, the consensus about this seems to be that Leucippus is just invoking The Principle of Sufficient Reason vis-a-vis the particular motions, locations, etc., of the atoms (in other words, he’s advocating a thorough going causal determinism); but that he wasn’t suggesting that there is a controlling mind or purpose behind the universe.

    There are all sorts of translation difficulties with that passage (as there often are with these dudes). Plus it is argued that if he had really been offering some sort of teleological theory, then there’s no way he would have been paired with Democritus in antiquity, since the latter explicitly disavows such a thing.

  14. Indeed so Jeremy – it is a lot of weight to put on one fragment – a somewhat idle speculation perhaps.

    Democritus (according to different reports) as SEP notes “ascribed the causes of things to necessity, and also to chance.” But, as SEP continues “probably the latter term should be understood as ‘absence of purpose’ rather than a denial of necessity.”

    So, causal determinism – and lack of purpose – do seem to be central.

  15. @Curious – Yes, causal determinism and lack of purpose.

    Some commentators – e.g., C.C.W Taylor – suggest that the idea of “chance” is actually code for “we don’t know how that happened”.

    This is Taylor, for example:

    In line with his famous dictum… Leucippus held that all events, including the formation of worlds, happen according to necessity but was unable to say what it is that necessitates cosmic events. It is then plausible that either he himself or Democritus said that such events may be said to occur by chance, in the sense that we are… ignorant of their causes.

    (“The atomists”, The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, p. 187).

  16. ‘Chance’ equates to “I know not what”, contra Russell, Democritus & Copleston, perhaps Everything has a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’?

  17. Copelston seems so utterly convinced by the unshakable self evident truth of the Principle of Sufficient Reason that he says:

    In our opinion, the mind boggles at such a theory and cannot rest content with Leucippus’ ultimate;

    It does? Does Copelston use the royal we simply to amuse us? Or is it a sign of arrogance? What boggles me is Copelston unshakable belief in his own argument, not the apparent (according to Copelston) incompleteness of Leucippus’ idea.

    Copelston seems to have lived in a world of either-or’s, which I think is what traps him in the thought that you cannot have causation itself without capital-letter Cause. In my mind, reason itself can demonstrate such a possibility through a thought experiment I have called Anything Goes. In short, the argument is as follows: Imagine if anything is possible, what would happen? If anything is possible, then there is a possibility that some things will be or become more possible than others. There is, of course, even the possibility that nothing is possible! But since I’m writing this and you’re reading this, that obviously isn’t the case. Something did in fact happen! The rest is just evolution, Anthropic Principle, Goldilocks zones and the rest.

    I will insert a little of my own arrogance here: Can we just accept true randomness (which the evolutionary principle necessitates) as a fundamental principle and not as a mere limit of our knowledge and move on? In my view, Bertrand Russell won this argument hands down. His views on the matter are to me the genesis of tomorrow’s philosophy whereas Copelston is just a quaint footnote in the Museum of Ideas.

  18. “Copelston is just a quaint footnote in the Museum of Ideas”

    (from his obituary in the Independent)

    Frederick Charles Copleston, priest, theologian: born 10 April 1907; joined Society of Jesus 1930; ordained 1937; Professor of History of Philosophy, Heythrop College, Oxford 1939-70; Principal, Heythrop College, London University 1970-74 (Emeritus), Professor of History of Philosophy and Dean, Faculty of Theology 1972-74; FBA 1970; Visiting Professor, University of Santa Clara 1974-75, 1977-82; Visiting Professor, University of Hawaii 1976; Gifford Lecturer, Aberdeen University 1979-80; CBE 1993; died London 3 February 1994.

    FREDERICK COPLESTON’s life is largely the record of his publications and of the many academic honours which his prolific publications deserved and received as a result. His nine-volume History of Philosophy (1946-75), together with his single-volume writings on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, his Darcy lectures, Philosophies and Cultures (1980), and his Gifford Lectures, Religion and the One (1982), are an impressive, still much-used and highly regarded account of the history of philosophy and philosophers from the Pre-Socratics to the present day. The esteem in which the learned world held Copleston was marked by his election as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1970, by his being made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford (his old Alma Mater), in 1975, by a much-prized Honorary D Litt from St Andrews University and finally in 1993 by his appointment as CBE.

    If only any of us here could aspire to being such a footnote.

  19. If you follow the debate to the end, you’ll see, as Jeremy points out above, that Copleston
    shows the inadequacy of Russell’s ethical subjectivism to account for the evil of Nazism.

    That seems to indicate that Copleston is not yet a candidate for the museum of the history of ideas.

    In fact, that we read and discuss the debate today, so many years later, suggests that there is something still relevant about it.

  20. If only any of us here could aspire to being such a footnote.
        Curious, February 12, 2011, 8:17 pm

    Yes, Curious, true indeed. Your comment made smile.

    Copleston shows the inadequacy of Russell’s ethical subjectivism to account for the evil of Nazism.
        Amos, February 13, 2011, 5:45 am

    Not knowing Copelston’s full oeuvre I should not have archived Copelston in his entirety in the Museum of Ideas. I still maintain that:

    [Russell’s] views on the matter [of causation] are to me the genesis of tomorrow’s philosophy

    The next part of my sentence should have included a possessive reference: whereas Copelston’s [views on the matter of causation] is just a quaint footnote in the Museum of Ideas.

    As an agnostic, it is not so strange that I should adopt a stance against accepting that a First Unmoved Mover is a necessity. But I believe I have come to call myself an agnostic in part because I cannot accept arguments like Copelston’s. In my view they are indicative of someone who thinks in black and white. In such a world things cannot have partial membership in a set. Either something was caused. Or it was not caused. In my world view causation is a mere observation of temporality and likelihoods. In such a world things can be uncaused, caused and partially caused.

    Saying that gravity “causes” the apple to fall is merely observing that in the presence of an extremely large stellar object an apple will move towards the stellar object 100% of the time. Now contrast that with “Tommy’s bellyache caused him to skip work”. By observing Tommy over time, we can determine that “bellyache” in 70% of the cases is followed by “Tommy skipped work”. To me clearly both gravity and bellyache are valid concepts of causation.

    If you accept uncertainty, that nothing is completely predetermined, as a fundamental principle, then the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) must be put in the Museum of Ideas. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study it just like we study feudalism and how it relates to the development of contemporary ideas around social contracts. And if we relegate PSR to a display case in the museum, then Copelston’s cosmological arguments must be placed there as well.

  21. Andreas,

    I think what riled me somewhat was the allegation of ‘arrogance’ on Copleston’s part. That is not a character trait I have heard associated with the man. Russell apparently described him as his most gentlemanly adversary and ‘courtesy’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘careful reading’ are phrases I have more commonly found associated with him.

    As for the royal ‘we’, I think you have to locate his language in the England of the 1940s when he was writing this part of his nine volume history of philosophy (completed some thirty years later without, I believe, secretarial or research assistance). You might want to locate his views historically too. Few people at that time, physicists, philosophers or laymen, would, I think, be satisfied with an unending chain of purposeless atomic interactions as the ‘ultimate answer’ (and whilst, unlike say Aristotle or Hawking, you and I may be satisfied with this – we certainly lack any proof to that effect or indeed much strength in numbers). Copleston admits his personal astonishment (and reflects the astonishment he reasonably assumes of his readers) but is not dismissive of what he calls “the brilliant hypothesis of Leucippus and Democritus”. Copleston does go on to insist that “the richness of the world cannot in all its spheres be reduced to the mechanical interplay of atoms”. But I think you can be a materialist and accept that – if you interpret it as a rejection of the physicalist doctrine that, all explanations can (in principle) be reduced to explanations ‘worded’ in the language of physics.

    As far as the debate with Russell goes, the Cosmological Argument was never going to persuade an atheist like me. Still, as for Russell’s insistence that it is illegitimate even to ask the question of the cause of the world, it is certainly possible to argue that the notion of the world having an explanation is a mistake, but I don’t think Russell so much argues for that here but asserts it. In that respect, as far as the debate goes, I have some sympathy for the analogy ascribed to Copleston: ‘If one refuses to even sit down at the chess board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated.”

    Regarding the Principle of Sufficient Reason what we don’t need is a proof that every particular event has a cause/can be explained, all we need to do is take it as a working assumption, one that is open not to proof but vindication – if anything is going to work that will. It seems to me that you can do that and be open to the idea that coincidence and randomness are true features of the world and the possibility that there may be no Ultimate Answer to be had. I see no prospect of that Principle going off to the museum, and however unpersuaded we two may be by it, the Cosmological Argument shows no sign of heading over there just yet either.

  22. Regarding the Principle of Sufficient Reason what we don’t need is a proof that every particular event has a cause/can be explained, all we need to do is take it as a working assumption, one that is open not to proof but vindication.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Any principle should have sound footing. If I am to accept an axiom with such far reaching implications as the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), I must be ready to accept it prima facie. And if I’m not ready to accept a statement prima facie (because it is immediately and analytically obvious), then it must be proven to me that it is so by basing the statement on claims I am ready to accept at face value.

    I have to admit that I find it puzzling that so many great minds have been so willing to defend PSR to no ends. But I believe I can explain it to myself by appealing to historical contexts (as you Curious suggest I should do in regard to Copelston’s use of the royal “we”). Even so, since as I see it PSR is the death knell of free will, I’m still left scratching my head. How anyone can deny themselves this aspect of their existence (i.e. the ability to choose) has always left me (nearly) speechless.

    I realize that PSR is as likely to be relegated to the Museum of Ideas as many contemporary religious beliefs. But this is squarely where I place PSR: in the domain of beliefs based on pure faith alone. And so I have understanding for why Russell refuses to play chess with Copelston in the end. I admit I have only heard excerpts of their radio debate. But based on these excerpts, it seems to me that Copelston is convinced of the self-evidence of PSR. Then how can you argue? It’s a little like arguing with someone who says God exists because they can feel the existence of God. Or being checkmated by someone claims their King, and their King alone, can move like a Queen.

  23. By ‘vindication’ I was alluding to a particular pragmatic approach to the problem of Induction. It is (digging out my Simon Blackburn ‘Dictionary of Philosophy’) an approach associated with Reichenbach and Feigl “that tries to show not that inductively based conclusions will be true, nor even that they will probably be true but instead that there can be no better strategy for predicting the future, or generalizing from evidence: induction will do well if anything at all will”. The analogy Blackburn gives is being stuck on a desert island with the opportunity to send off a message in a bottle – “it may not be knowable how probable it is that this action will be successful, but it may be known that it will be successful if anything is, and hence the strategy is rational”. It is on that line of thinking that I said “what we don’t need is a proof that every particular event has a cause/can be explained, all we need to do is take it as a working assumption” – as suggested I am myself “open to the idea that coincidence and randomness are true features of the world”. I was wanting to stand by the utility of (1) “every particular event has a cause/can be explained” as a working assumption without claiming it as a metaphysical certainity. That said PSR as a historical doctrine does not simply equate to (1) and I was wrong to imply otherwise, it IS a bolder and more controversial claim, as you are aware, and it is one I have already rejected by allowing for the possibility that “coincidence and randomness are true features of the world”. PSR rejects the possibility of brute facts and I do not want to do that.

    Your primary motivation for objecting to PSR seems to be based on your wish to defend Free Will. Thus I think your real target is determinism. And this may seem to follow from PSR (though I am uncertain PSR insists upon an efficient cause for every event as opposed to an explanation). Whilst randomness is an objection to determinism, it seems no advantage to think some of your actions are random. Personally I can make no sense of the notion of free will but for having the freedom to do what you will and that seems to me to be quite compatible with determinism and indeterminism. But I suspect you want rather more from Free Will than that.

  24. If you’re like me and prefer to read a text than to listen to spoken words, here is a transcript of what seems to be the entire debate.

    (There are some online transcripts of sections of the debate)


  25. Sorry. I sent the same link as Jeremy posted. I hadn’t realized that his link contained a transcript as well as audio.

  26. I have now read the full transcript of the debate. And yes, Russell’s arguments about the origin of morality leave something to be desired. He even admits that, unlike color perception, he cannot supply a rigid scientific model for how we distinguish good from evil:

    Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn’t been gone into in the same way and I couldn’t give it [to] you.

    I believe evolutionary biology, system analysis and political science has now provided the answer that Russell conjectures. Copelston indeed has Russell “on the defensive” as Jeremy points out. But yet again, Russell demonstrates his ingenuity through the accuracy of his conjecture. And to conjecture what is eventually demonstrated by others is no small feat (as many mathematician might attest to).

    Your primary motivation for objecting to PSR seems to be based on your wish to defend Free Will.


    My primary objection to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is that it is unsound because it denies a profound phenomenological experience: Not all events follow from what aught to reasonably follow. What does “all things have a reason” mean? If a person smashes a window for no to me apparent reason and I ask them why they did it and they respond “Because I felt like it”, does that count as a sufficient reason?

    An example I usually bring up is that of a person who is on their way to village and they have gotten lost. They ask for directions and are told to go straight down a certain path. After a few miles, the path divides and there is no sign, village or other person in sight. What do they do? And once they do what they decide, how do we determine what lead them to that decision? In other words, how do we provide a sufficient reason for their actions? Can we? We could argue that everything they ever did in their life leads them to take the left path. That they are righties and therefore go right. Or that because they always took the right path in life, they now decide to take the left path. Or perhaps the wind was just blowing a certain way. But all these reasons are pure constructs imposed by us. The only way we can know is by asking the person. What if they say “I don’t know. I had to choose one of the paths, no?” Are we to say, “Well, the person just doesn’t understand why they did what they did. We should put them in an MRI!”

    You could argue that I have provided a situation where there is no information for the person to act on and therefore there can be no reasonable course of action (which is kind of my point, but anyway). So let’s change the situation. When the person gets to point where the path divides, they see a farm further up the right fork. In the distance beyond the left fork they see a bell tower. About 50 yards down the left fork they see a farmer hoeing a field and some children playing tag. And about 50 yards down the right fork they can discern some old men playing backgammon. What does sufficient reason say about the eventual choice of the person? What if the person says, “I couldn’t make up my mind. The bell tower seemed to indicate a village, but I thought I should ask the old men. Then on the other hand I thought I could just as well ask the children or the farmer. I don’t know. I just made a choice in the end.”

    I want to point out that I have not relied on any “collapsing wave function” thingamajigs or such to indicate what I see as the basic fallacy of PSR. Thinkers have been privy to these arguments as long as there have been homo sapiens. These arguments are not modernistic arguments (which is why I’m by no means the first to question the basic soundness of PSR), and therefore by extension Copelston’s metaphysical arguments for the necessary existence of God. Copelston’s use of PSR is his claim that his King, and his King alone, can move like a Queen.

    I think your real target is determinism. And this may seem to follow from PSR (though I am uncertain PSR insists upon an efficient cause for every event as opposed to an explanation).


    Well, I think my lost person demonstrates that not all things can be explained (unless explained includes simply stating that it was done because it was so decided). My target is both PSR and determinism. Both are to me concepts as fabulous as God.

    Personally I can make no sense of the notion of free will but for having the freedom to do what you will and that seems to me to be quite compatible with determinism and indeterminism. But I suspect you want rather more from Free Will than that.

    What I want from Freedom is for is for it to be free. The way you explain Free Will seems to avoid the adjective “free” all together. If I understand it correctly, you see it as the capacity to will that which is willed. But as I see it, the question is how does anything get willed? Interestingly, the more we provide an explanation for how something gets willed, the more we restrict its Freeness. I mused about something similar once in the context of an absurd thought experiment: Complete Determinacy, The End of Life? My view is that Free Will is the ability to do what aught not to reasonably follow. Which is why I think PSR and Free Will cannot be disentangled.

    I understand the desire for scientists and philosophers to want to consider all things open to explanation. But there is no reason beyond faith alone to think that they are. Russell in his debate puts it quite well:

    [The] physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn’t he’s had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes.

  27. Andreas,

    I am uncertain what “profound phenomenological experience” occurs when you smash a window simply because you feel like it or when, unlike Buridan’s Ass, you have the wit to pick one of two equally attractive possibilities instead of just standing there. I also fail to see what ‘freedom’ is demonstrated by smashing a window for no apparent reason or from choosing one of two possibilities when there is reason to make a choice but neither choice ‘ought to reasonably follow’. We see some acts as ends in themselves and can shout heads or tails and we couldn’t function otherwise. If you want to call those abilities ‘Free Will’ that is your choice but I can see no reason for it and both abilities are perfectly consistent with causal determinism.

  28. I am uncertain what “profound phenomenological experience” occurs when you smash a window simply because you feel like it


    Well, how shall I put this without seeming like a vandal…It feels pretty good! No, seriously, perhaps I find myself in Copelston’s unfortunate situation vis-à-vis religious experiences with regard to this “profound phenomenological experience”. It’s precisely because I can choose at will between the hay and the water that I don’t feel like an ass. Perhaps a better example is overcoming a fear. I myself have vertigo. But I love hiking in the mountains. The rush from being several 1,000 feet up overlooking a precipice is… well, phenomenologically profound. My reason tells me that I should not be there. That I could fall. That as a software engineer I have no purpose in being at the edge of a cliff. That I have children. That if I injure myself I’m many, many miles from a hospital. And yet there I am feeling that rush of having overcome my own fears. I have willed myself to do something my mind and body tells me I should not do! It’s a profound experience.

    You could, of course, explain it all away with that it’s just me seeking endorphins that I have been programmed to know will be released when I reach the top of a mountain. But to me that seems as fabulous an explanation as saying that God told me to do it. Actually, I suspect they are synonymous (considering the possible version of God implied in Nick Cave’s lyrics “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”). I’m not saying it isn’t possible to conceive in some odd and abstract way that it is in fact so (the word God does have some form of intentionality for me). But I do contend that in actuality it is impossible to provide an explanation for every choice ever made by a human being. With other words, as you are already aware of, I reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason. And hence, since everything cannot be explained by human beings, rigid causal chains with 0% error cannot be built by us. So, I can but choose to be a strong agnostic on the issue of determinism just like I’m an agnostic in reference to a Supreme Personal Being. Everything I do in life, I do with the presumption that there is no God who will intervene. Similarly, everything I do, I do under the presumption that I have a degree of choice. I sort of see them as being two sides of the same coin.

    If you want to call those abilities ‘Free Will’ that is your choice but I can see no reason for it and both abilities are perfectly consistent with causal determinism.


    Fine, you could argue that human beings are pre-programmed to act irrationally and so to do what aught not to reasonably follow is in some sense predetermined. But somehow I feel that leaves out a partial meaning of the word ability. Ability has something to do with capacity, which has to do with potential. A capacity is not necessarily actuated. And herein is where I find free will. As I see it you continuously disregard the adjective free as used according to Merriam-Webster’s second definition:

    Not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself

    An agent’s freedom can be measured mathematically in terms of probabilities. There is the capacity to act. Whether that capacity will be actuated can be measured on a scale of 0 to 1 over time by analyzing similar circumstances, 0 meaning its impossible that something similar will ever happen and 1 meaning it’s inevitable that something similar will (i.e. it’s necessary). Everything in between represents a (fuzzy-logical) degree of contingency. Maximal freedom exists at a value of 0.5, right between the impossible and the inevitable. And in terms of human behavior, it’s a point that represents a form of insanity. It’s a point where its impossible to predict what someone will do. Absolute freedom is a sorry state of mind!

    Probability and determinism do not play well together. As previously mentioned I don’t buy the whole calculations in Hilbert space collapsing mumbo jumbo, yada, yada to circumvent a discomfort with the unknown. But, again, I don’t think we have to go that far. All we need is Buridan’s Ass, a person looking for a village or an elated software engineer on a mountain top (phenomena accessible on a so called “Newtonian” level). Strict determinism requires you to bind all free variables in your equations (i.e. your explanations) to a given value. Probabilities are not allowed! They must be resolved to a value of 0 or 1. Otherwise it is not predetermined. And superposing your states is just pushing the problem further down the line. Everything must be turned from contingent being into necessary being. The thought that someone could do this is akin to saying that they could become God. To me, determinism is just a code word for a non-interventionist God, an attempt at avoiding the Inquisition.

  29. Andreas,

    Certainly, I can appreciate that being “1,000 feet up overlooking a precipice” is a profound experience, one that inspires awe – admiration and fear in the face of the sublime. And willing yourself ‘to do something your mind and body tells you should not do!’ absolutely, a profound experience, the very zest of life.

    But is belief in determinism not entirely compatible with having experiences of exactly the same quality? And, if you think about what it is like when you make a decision, are you really presupposing the falsity of determinism? Surely the question does not even arise?

    I am not saying determinism is true, I am suggesting that it simply should not matter in the scenarios you give.

  30. I have always had a soft spot for Freddie Ayer. “Language Truth and Logic” was the first Philosophy book I read and I suppose got me interested in the subject. Nobody so far as I can see has mentioned Ayer and the Drogulus. This occurred in a confrontation between him and Copelstone in the 1949 Radio broadcast. cf http://www.drbilllong.com/2008WordsIII/RareVI.html
    Wittgenstein listened to this broadcast and typically for him, described Ayer as having something to say but is incredibly shallow. Copelstone he described as having contributed nothing at all the discussion. To attempt to justify the beliefs of Christianity with philosophical arguments was entirely to miss the point cf “Ludwig Wittgenstein” 1990 Biography by Ray Monk page 543.

  31. Don,

    Thank you for the Drogulus reference.

    I’d been trying to remember something about Wittgenstein and an invisible elephant recently. I can’t remember exactly why but it is was related to one of the threads on here. For some reason you prompted me to remember that it was a rhinoceros. This made tracking down the anecdote somewhat easier, though oddily I found it on the rhino resource center website… anyway:

    “One of the earliest encounters between Bertrand Russell and the young Ludwig Wittgenstein involved a discussion about whether there was a rhinoceros in their room. Apparently, when Wittgenstein ‘refused to admit that it was certain that there was not a rhinoceros in the room,’ Russell half-jokingly looked underneath the desks to prove it. But to no avail. ‘My German engineer, I think, is a fool,’ concluded Russell. ‘He thinks nothing empirical is knowable-I asked him to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room, but he wouldn’t”

    this is from

    MacDonald, J.F., 1993. Russell, Wittgenstein and the problem of the rhinoceros. Southern Journal of Philosophy 31 (4): 409-424

    which, oddly enough is available here:


    Now, I’ll have to try and remember why I thought this was important. Hmm.. I’ll raise a glass to Ayers in the meantime.

  32. But is belief in determinism not entirely compatible with having experiences of exactly the same quality? And, if you think about what it is like when you make a decision, you really presupposing the falsity of determinism?


    Njein, as they would say in German (a combination between the German word for yes and no). I’m not supposing the falsity of it based on the experience of choice. The experience is merely indicative of its falsity (but it is not strictly a proof). Which is why I suspect it’s like the religious experience many consider evidence of God. But it’s such strong evidence that, unless I can find proof that all my choices are in fact not choices at all but are instead something necessitated by the circumstances, I will choose to remain an agnostic on determinism. Wow, that’s sort of strange. If I was presented with such proof I would have no choice but to accept it since it would prove that there is no such thing as choice!

    Merriam-Webster defines to choose as follows:

    1 a: to select freely and after consideration

    Again, we return to the word free. Whether determinism and Free Will are compatible hinges on what free means. Compatibilists redefine free so that it is no longer a characteristic where action arises at least in part ex nihilo (out of nothing). They may be right (though I don’t know how we would determine that). This redefinition strips free of it’s meaning, thereby resolving the analytical incompatibility between Free Will and determinism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses a very appropriate term for this type of Free Will: hollow freedom.

    My point is that the truth or falsity of determinism is unknowable (hence my agnosticism). The unknowability combined with the phenomenological experience of choice leads me towards strong agnosticism and, in practice, adopting an indeterminist view point.

    Why is determinism unknowable? Let’s imagine that some apparition came to me and claimed it was “God, the First Unmoved Mover” and that it controlled everything and that everything was predetermined. I would ask for proof. The apparition would attempt to prove it to me by forcing me to do what I did not want to do. Indeed it would be very convincing. But I would point out that the apparition had not managed to make me want something I didn’t want. Ha! I was still free to think whatever I wanted! The apparition would comply and make me want something.

    “Well,” I would say, “how does that prove anything? That’s just what I suddenly wanted!”

    The apparition would point out, “Isn’t it strange that you suddenly want exactly what I want you to want?” The apparition would tell me I was about to want to do something I thought was absolutely impossible for me to want to do. Then I would suddenly do the previously seemingly inconceivable because I wanted to do it.

    “Wow,” I would say, “you are God! But, wait a minute, didn’t you just make me do something I would not otherwise have done? You changed the future!”

    “But I always intended to do that” the apparition would say.

    “How do I know that”, I would ask. “Hold on, if you intended to do that all along, then you cannot be God! You are as trapped by circumstance as I am”.

    “No, no, I planned it earlier,” the apparition would say. “Then I executed the program”.

    “Ah,” I would say, “then at least everything isn’t predetermined since you could have programmed otherwise. Too bad I’m just your pawn and not God myself. Wait, maybe you have no choice either. Do you yourself have a God??” I would ask the apparition.

    “Do I have a God? Hmmm, I don’t know. Tricky. I’ll get back to you on that,” and the apparition would vanish in a puff of smoke.

    I think the main objective for compatibilists is to solve the conundrum of how you can be held morally responsible. It is also the main challenge for indeterminism. If you don’t do what you do because of who you are (i.e. if it’s random), how can you be held responsible? And yet, as Galen Strawson points out, if you do what you do exactly because of who you are (i.e it’s not random), then you still can’t be held responsible. But in my view compatibilism does not resolve it. I also think the conundrum about the impossibility of moral responsibility along the lines of Strawson is false. It is a result of a black and white, non-evolutionary view. I have critiqued it here: Can you be morally responsible?

  33. Andreas,

    “experience of choice … is merely indicative of its [determinism’s] falsity”

    Sorry, but, again, I can’t accept that your experiences are indicative of anything – your experiences are perfectly consistent with the truth of determinism.

    “Let’s imagine that some apparition came to me…” The truth of determinism does not entail or presuppose the existence of any Unmoved Mover or make any claims about what God might be able to persuade you of if, contrary to our shared expectations, He exists. Sorry but I genuinely don’t grasp the significance of your imaginary dialogue with The Almighty.

    “My point is that the truth or falsity of determinism is unknowable.” – To the pair of us at least I think you may well be right.

    But does the world you live in appear fundamentally, and in principle, inexplicable? Does the scientific method appear to be useless? Do experiments with exactly the same starting conditions pan out differently all the time? Are you completely unable to make any predictions about what will happen next? I may be wrong, but is this not what a completely indeterministic universe would be like?

    If it is indeterminism that you want, how much of it do you want? A completely indeterministic universe? Completely indeterministic minds? Or just a small amount, small enough for the universe to remain explicable, but big enough to prop up some notion of Free Will that I honestly can’t grasp the possible meaning of? (The freedom to will what you will perhaps?) If it is an exception to the general rule you want, on what basis but wishful thinking can you assume it?

    You said earlier that you “understand the desire for scientists and philosophers to want to consider all things open to explanation. But there is no reason beyond faith alone to think that they are.” Ruling out the possibility of un-necessitated or un-caused events may be unwarranted. But ‘all things have an explanation’ does seem a useful working assumption, and it does seem to be consistent with experience. And there seems no reason but faith to presume that un-caused or un-necessitated ‘free’ events occur in minds or anywhere else.

  34. Curious, do you not think that what you feel matters in terms of the truth? And if you do, then I need to ask you if when you have selected between two viable options A and B, do you not feel afterwards as if you could have chosen the other? If you do not feel this way, I’m at a loss. I’m amazed you do not. I have a difficult time personally imagining what it would be like to feel that way. The only words that come to mind, and I really do NOT mean them disrespectfully, are mental paralysis. As I said, I even have a hard time imagining what the combination of those words imply. The closest I can get is compulsive thinking, such as when I’m trying to fall asleep and the same thought keeps preventing me from slipping into Dreamland. But the feeling for which I’m trying to find a metaphor ought to be more like feeling like an automaton. But automatons in my view are not privy to feelings. It is largely what distinguishes them from conscious beings. I have experienced involuntary movements, even involuntary thoughts. But they are the exception. Importantly, I have never experienced an involuntary mental choice (since these words form an analytical paradox).

    I understand how you can rationally argue that it might be an illusion, that even if you felt as if you could have done otherwise, you might consider that it is possible that you are simply deluding yourself. Things have happened to me where I thought I had a choice but it turns out I had none (because the options were in fact the same). However, these discoveries that I was inevitable headed in a specific direction are (like my involuntary thoughts) the rare exceptions. In my daily life I make endless small decisions that aggregate into the sum total of my condition. I have regrets about things I chose or chose not to do. In a strictly deterministic universe, I would be a fool to have such regrets. Perhaps I am a fool. But if I’m a fool my excuse is that the illusion of choice is so pristine I simply cannot help myself but to think that I have some degree of control over my destiny.

    But does the world you live in appear fundamentally, and in principle, inexplicable? Does the scientific method appear to be useless? Do experiments with exactly the same starting conditions pan out differently all the time?

    My answer to all those questions: not at all. The world does not appear fundamentally inexplicable if you by this mean that I’m at a loss to explain most of the things that happen to me. My critique of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) centers on the word ALL and MUST. If the principle stated “for SOME facts F, there is a reason” I would have no issue with the principle. I would even have no great contention with a principle that stated “MANY facts F have a reason”. This is obviously true. Consciousness is in part finding logically consistent reasons for the facts presented to us in our life world.

    Science is extremely useful. And sometimes extremely exact in its predictions. Drop a given mass from a given height and you will know almost exactly with what force it will impact the ground. Drop it in a vacuum and your precision will improve even further. However, sometimes it is extremely imprecise. Predict in what state the economy will be in 10 years and you might have a global economic melt down or a Lala Land where everyone lives in a Mc Mansion and has 3 cars. Is it simply because the complexity of macroeconomic events prevent us from running the calculations (too many billiard balls so to say)? Or is it because human decisions are partially unpredictable? If we run history over and over again, would we get the same outcome? Who knows, right? Can’t reproduce the experiment with the same conditions so that’s that. There is only one Andreas, one Curious and one human race. Interestingly, though, if you expose people to the same experiment twice, they will not behave like a ball rolling down a slope. Within the physical constraints of the experiment they will alter their behaviors. It’s sort of what distinguishes a rock from a person.

    If it is indeterminism that you want, how much of it do you want? A completely indeterministic universe? Completely indeterministic minds? Or just a small amount, small enough for the universe to remain explicable, but big enough to prop up some notion of Free Will that I honestly can’t grasp the possible meaning of?

    The answer in Swedish would be “precis lagom” which roughly translated means “precisely just enough”. Too much and you get constant decay and chaos. Too little and there will be no evolution, just endless stasis. Although I don’t yet have a definitive logical proof, it is this evolutionary principle that I see as the final smoking gun for favoring indeterminism.

    Granted, on page 145 of the Origin of Species Darwin writes:

    I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if variations were due to chance. This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of variation.

    And many have gone on to claim that because selection is the primary means for evolution, evolution is non-random. But to me this is pure nonsense. Whatever the case is, new variations are required for the process to occur. Even if the mechanism of providing these variations is straight forward and in part mechanistic, each actualization of a variation out of the potential mathematical combinations is new and hence ex nihilo (out of Nothing).

    I theorize that the same principles at work in biological evolution occur at much deeper, even metaphysical levels. The very Laws of Nature are thus culled out. And also at the very personal level, whereby the Self is culled out. Natural selection is a mere statement that what works will work! Evolution is the process of determining what works by actualizing what was previously only possible. Prior to that actualization, if something will work is indeterminate since what is to be tested against what already exists has yet to come into existence. We are, with other words, at this very moment caught up in the process of determination.

    Determinism, on the other hand, predicates that what works has already been determined. We are simply executing the software, so to say. Which is why some ask “But who determined that?” and the answer “God” then comes to mind. Of course, God may just be some Eternal Principles, which artificially solves the obvious question of who created God. It never had to be determined what works because it has always necessarily worked.

    The same way I experience infinity (i.e. indirectly, by extension), I can imagine a superposition of all possible worlds and all possible evolutionary paths. Presumably, there are only certain ones that work (that gain a more or less persistent state of being). If I lived like an eternally soaring eagle above this infinite-dimensional function space (whatever that means), I would maybe come to the conclusion that the Universe (the worlds and evolutionary paths that “worked”) were predetermined by the very structure of the infinite-dimensional function space. But here is the crux: I’m not an eagle soaring above the infinite-dimensional function space. I live in a little space somewhere amidst the actualizations of its endless possibilities. I’m just a little mouse scurrying along, trying to remain in existence as long as I can before the Mighty Eagle snatches me back into the Void.

    Some people believe that this infinite-dimensional function space can be seen through something I’ve called big m Mathematics. To some of them, this big m Mathematics exposes more about reality than the real phenomenal world we experience through our senses. To me this is like saying they can overcome the “illusions” of existence and view the world through the Eye of God. No doubt mathematics is an elegant expression of relationships we perceive in our lifeworld. But the mathematical descriptions are not to be equated with the phenomenon itself and Platonically elevated above it. I wrote a criticism of this two years ago: Illusions, the Scientific Copout.

  35. “do you not think that what you feel matters in terms of the truth?”

    It matters not a jot what I feel Andreas. The fact that I may suffer guilt or regret is not indicative of anything that should interest a metaphysician. The truth about the universe is not to be deduced from how I feel.

    Consider again your village seeker with no reason to prefer either of two ‘possible’ roads before him. You do not merely want the road taken to be, in practice, unpredictable. What you want is that your wanderer’s neural activity, experiences, and stimuli do not necessitate which road he takes. What you want is that the road taken is not necessitated by anything but ‘the will’ of the wanderer. And this ‘will’ – a notion of dubious utility in itself I think – you want to be ‘free’, not ‘forced’ by chains of antecedent cause or reason. What I suspect you want, inside your village seeker, is what Copleston wanted for the Universe, an Unmoved Mover. And what I suggest is this: you have no reason, sufficient or otherwise, to believe there is such a thing and, most certainly, no good reason to want it.

  36. It matters not a jot what I feel Andreas. The fact that I may suffer guilt or regret is not indicative of anything that should interest a metaphysician.


    If feelings do not matter a jot, I presume were are left with reason alone. Is this the only exclusive tool of the metaphysician? Should a metaphysician not use every phenomenological tool at their disposition to determine the nature of being? I am not one to deny the extreme importance of logical consistency. But is it the exclusive means to determine truth values? Even the metaphysician must stand on solid ground. If I say to you “I see red” is this true or false? Will logic help you determine the veracity of my statement? Life is filled with qualia. Are they all irrelevant when exploring the mysteries of our Universe?

    In my opinion, reason must be both rooted in and consistent with my phenomenal experiences. Otherwise reasoning is an empty pursuit. Logic has inner phenomenological truths. But until we assign a truth value to the facts presented to us, we cannot make any meaningful deductions. How do we assign those truth values? What about a simple statement like “I saw a car”? Or “I felt cold”? Is feeling not involved here? I presume that to a varying degree everything is of some importance in metaphysics. It’s not a neatly isolated problem domain like aerodynamics within the troposphere.

    It’s a little more complex to tackle a statement like “I felt I made a choice” (since the phenomenal is, unlike redness, internally directed). But to me there certainly is a qualia present in that moment of deciding between A and B that is just as worth exploring as “The evening sky was blood red”. And I do not think this qualia is irrelevant in deciding whether to give determinism serious credence. To ignore it is to ignore a crucial fact.

  37. Andreas,

    The metaphysican is not dependent on reason alone no. Physics may show the philosopher things which contradict some metaphysical
    assumptions (the Special Theory of Relativity seems to argue against the idea that only the present exists for example). Evidence from the other sciences and from experience may well be relevant to other metaphysical questions. But no, this qualia you speak of – what it is like to ‘choose’ – is entirely irrelevant when it comes to deciding whether to give determinism serious credence. Though I fail to see the gain, you can have your Free Will if you will it, but I think you must abandon reason and embrace faith.

  38. Physics may show the philosopher things which contradict some metaphysical.

    But what is Physics? Isn’t Physics reasoning about experiences with a certain type of intentionality, such as redness or time? Ibn al-Haytham founded modern optics (some say modern science) by contemplating common experiences in consciousness and experiences induced by consciousness through experimentation. Einstein figured out his Special Theory of Relativity almost exclusively through his famous gedankenexperiments. What you seem to have done Curious, is to isolate a certain portion of our experiences as a legitimate basis for metaphysics and allowed only reasoning involving this restricted set. But your criterion for what to isolate is unclear. But I surmise, since you mention physics, that it’s what would traditionally have been called “the material”.

    I presume you exclude all the “inner” experiences like love, choice, sadness, anger. That I personally experience these phenomena is not a matter of faith. They are facts in my lifeworld. It’s not like asking God for confirmation of His being, experiencing silence and yet still believing in His existence. If you do not have these sensations, then we cannot have a meaningful discussion. Then I understand why to you my phenomenological description of choice is akin to when someone tells me that they have “experienced the glorious presence of God”. I have not had any experience that I can direct those words to with any confidence that I am directing them to a phenomenon similar to that of the other person. Perhaps it is the same for you and choice.

    So what experiences are we allowed to use as facts? Anything that can be touched? That would leave out light. Anything that can be touched or seen? Would that still leave out temperature? Are hotness and coldness touchable? A plate can be hot but you do not have to make contact with it to feel the heat. Diathermy can be induced through the void by a distant microwave source. All scientific experiments are apprehended by our senses in consciousness. Clearly we must allow all our senses as legitimate data collectors (fact factories), no?

    The distinction then, I assume, must be the “inner” versus the “outer” experiences. Is pain then not a legitimate fact? Why? Because it does not “exist” separate of the nervous system? What about hotness? Diathermy only comes into being once microwaves hit a dielectric substance like ourselves. Is this heat “inner”?

    You seem to want to work from the “outside” to the “inside”. But does not all understanding start from here, from the Self and extend towards to the horizon of our lifeworld? What is more basic, physics or philosophy?

  39. Andreas,

    I did say that “Physics may show the philosopher things which contradict some metaphysical assumptions” yes (and some, I think wrongly, have taken this view with regard to determinism).

    But I also said that “Evidence from the other sciences and from experience may well be relevant to other metaphysical questions”. I am NOT claiming that sense experience is irrelevant to all metaphysical questions. Qualia and evolutionary theory (which you raised earlier in relation to indeterminism) ARE clearly relevant to a number of philosophical questions.

    The question of whether determinism – “the theory that absolutely everything that happens is causally determined to happen exactly as it does by what has already gone before — right back to the beginning of the universe” (as Galen Strawson puts it*) – is true is NOT one of those questions.

    Qualia and evolutionary** theory have NO bearing on the question of whether determinism is true whatsoever.

    If you can cite anybody who thinks otherwise please let me know.

    * Galen Strawson on ‘Free Will’:


    ** Daniel Dennet has argued that evolution generates ‘free will’. But he is not offering you the ‘free will’ you are looking for.

    Strawson on Dennet:


    Dennet in interview:


  40. Curious:

    Thanks for the reading matter.

  41. Amos,

    You are most welcome. Despite my respect for Daniel Dennet you are free to read something into the fact that I listed Strawson’s critique of his book first.

  42. As far as Galen Strawson goes, I have specifically criticized his Basic Argument for its false presumptions and erroneous world view here: Can we be morally responsible?

    Qualia and evolutionary** theory have NO bearing on the question of whether determinism is true whatsoever.

    If you can cite anybody who thinks otherwise please let me know.


    Having determined (no pun intended) by contemplation the importance of the experience of choice vis-à-vis Determinism, for a moment I thought that you might be right. Perhaps I was alone in considering this qualia of any relevance what so ever. But you caused me to discover that, like so often is the case and regardless of whether our views are correct, we simply stand on the shoulders of others. It took me only about 15 minutes to find a certain Charles Arthur Campbell (1897 – 1974).

    According to informationphilosopher.com, Campbell made an inaugural address at Glasgow University in 1938 entitled In Defence of Free Will. I strongly recommend following the link to the transcript and reading it in full. But, for those who don’t have the time, I have extracted some portions and summarized his argument.

    Early on in his inaugural address, Campbell frames the issue of Free Will as a metaphysical problem:

    It is in no way surprising that for centuries past [the free will problem] has exercised a fascination for thinkers both within and without the ranks of the professional philosophers that is probably not paralleled in the case of any of the other great problems of metaphysics.

    He then focuses in on the experience of choice as fundamentally important to the issue.

    Let us ask, why do human beings so obstinately persist in believing that there is an indissoluble core of purely self-originated activity which even heredity and environment are powerless to affect? There can be little doubt, I think, of the answer in general terms. They do so, at bottom, because they feel certain of the existence of such activity from their immediate practical experience of themselves.

    He points out that as we move through life there is a path towards which we feel compelled.

    [We] recognize a specific end as that towards which the ‘set’ of our desiring nature most strongly inclines us, and which we shall indubitably choose if no inhibiting factor intervenes.

    Campbell now takes an interesting direction. He argues that we have the ability to overcome our temptations (“the line of least resistance” as he calls it) and, by introducing a “new energy” and through an “effort of will”, act in a morally responsible way. This is free will according to Campbell. It is not quite the same argument I made, that free will is the ability to do what aught to not reasonably follow. But it is darn close. Campbell recognizes that we have a natural propensity to act in a certain way (determined by our present condition). Without interference from the “self”, we would just behave as dictated by these inclinations. I see these natural inclinations as in fact being what aught to reasonably follow. If we apply our reason in a moment of adversity, we aught to behave in a self-sustaining and Machiavellian way. Instead we often act in an altruistic and self-destructive manner. I see this as a subset of my view of Free Will, which is more general because it includes acts that we do just to see what will happen (like break a window when there’s no apparent benefit in doing so). Is this not in part the way we learn? Young children have little comprehension of consequence. Their whole day is spent experimenting, often in ways that to a grown up seem non sequitur.

    Campbell continuously returns to the experience of choice:

    For obviously [a ‘free act’] is, in the first place, an act which the agent believes he could perform in alternative ways. He believes that it is genuinely open to him to put forth effort — in varying degrees, if the situation admits of that — or withhold it altogether. And when he has decided — in whatever way — he remains convinced that these alternative courses were really open to him.

    Campbell recognizes all this could be an illusion:

    The vital question now is, is this ‘appearance’ [of freedom] true or false? […] If it is, then we have here a free act which serves as an adequate basis for moral responsibility. […] If, on the other hand, there is good reason to believe that the agent is the victim of illusion in supposing his act of decision to bear this character, then in my opinion the whole conception of moral responsibility must be jettisoned altogether.

    But, appropriately, he turns the table on those who assert that choice is an illusion:

    [The] onus of proof rests upon the critic who rejects this belief [that a free act is an act that could have been performed in an alternative way]. Until cogent evidence to the contrary is adduced, we are entitled to put our trust in a belief which is so deeply embedded in our experience as practical beings as to be, I venture to say, ineradicable from it. Anyone who doubts whether it is ineradicable may be invited to think himself imaginatively into a situation of moral temptation as we have above described it, and then to ask himself whether in that situation he finds it possible to disbelieve that his act of decision has the characteristics in question. I have no misgivings about the answer. It is possible to disbelieve only when we are thinking abstractly about the situation; not when we are living through it, either actually or in imagination. This fact certainly establishes a strong prima facie presumption in favour of the Libertarian position. Nevertheless I agree that we shall have to weigh carefully several criticisms of high authority before-we can feel justified in asserting free will as an ultimate and unqualified truth.

    Campbell proceeds with details of his argument. Having made his argument, he slaps the Determinist in the face, calling them perverse:

    [The Determinist’s] most likely move now will be to attack the value of that ‘internal’ standpoint, contrasting it unfavourably, in respect of its claim to truth, with the rational, objective, standpoint of `pure philosophy’. “I admit,” he may tell us, “that there is begotten in the self, in the practical experience you refer to, a belief in a self-causality which is yet not a causality exercised through the self’s character. But surely this must weigh but lightly in the balance against the proposition, which appeals to our reason with axiomatic certainty, that an act cannot be caused by a self if it has no ground in the determinate nature of that self. If the choice lies between either disbelieving that rational proposition, or dismissing the evidence of practical self-consciousness as illusion, it is the latter alternative which in my opinion any sane philosophy is bound to adopt.”


    What is required of the critic, of course, if he is to make good his case, is a reasoned justification of his cavalier attitude towards the testimony of practical self-consciousness. That is the primary desideratum. And the lack of it in the bulk of Determinist literature is in my opinion something of a scandal. Without it, the criticism we have just been examining is sheer dogmatism. It is, indeed, dogmatism of a peculiarly perverse kind. For the situation is, in effect, as follows. From our practical self-consciousness we gain a notion of a genuinely creative act — which might be defined as an act which nothing determines save the agent’s doing of it. Of such a character is the act of moral decision as we experience it. But the critic says “No ! This sort of thing cannot be. A person cannot without affront to reason be conceived to be the author of an act which bears, ex hypothesi, no intelligible relation to his character. A mere intuition of practical self-consciousness is the solitary prop of this fantastic notion, and surely that is quite incapable of bearing the weight that you would thrust upon it.” Now observe the perversity! The critic says, excluding the evidence of practical self-consciousness, the notion makes nonsense. In other words, excluding the only evidence there ever could be for such a notion, the notion makes nonsense! For, of course, if there should be such a thing as creative activity, there is absolutely no other way save an intuition of practical self-consciousness in which we could become aware of it. Only from the inside, from the standpoint of the agent’s living experience, can ‘activity’ possibly be apprehended. So that what the critic is really doing is to condemn a notion as nonsensical on the ground that the only evidence for it is the only evidence there ever could be for it.

    Ultimately, it should not matter whether I am alone in making the claim that the experience of choice is relevant to the metaphysical question of determinism. To argue this seems like some reverse partial fallacy of appeal to authority. Mike LaBossiere would know better. What should matter is my core argument. But nevertheless, I clearly am not alone. I’m sure I could find others to support my view except for the illustrious thinker C. A. Campbell to whom’s work I have now had the honor of being introduced.

    As for evolution being evidence against determinism? I have yet to search for others who support my view. Again, the issue aught to be whether my argument makes sense, not who supports it. But now I’m double curious, Curious, and I’ll try to look into it.

  43. Andreas,

    I am glad you picked up the glove.

    “…it should not matter whether I am alone in making the claim that the experience of choice is relevant to the metaphysical question of determinism…”

    To argue thus: ‘nobody but Andreas B. Olsson asserts that (p) “experience of choice is relevant to the metaphysical question of determinism” therefore (p) is false’ would be to commit the genetic fallacy. And you are quite right in the respect that: (1) “no relevant authority argues for p” does NOT entail (2) “x is wrong to argue for p” (represented more formally that would reveal what is – or is akin to – an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy yes). Indeed presumably most interesting claims that are now taken to be true, or at least worthy of consideration, were, at outset, only argued for by a solitary x and sometimes that x then went on to become a “relevant authority” himself.

    Still, evidence that (1) is true might reasonably be expected to give x pause for thought in some circumstances. If it were to become apparent to a layperson that a body of experts were, without exception, aware of some phenomena (the experience of making choices say) and that none of them seemed to be taking that same phenomena to be in any way pertinent to the question of whether a particular theory is true (seemingly because the truth of that theory does not presuppose, claim or entail the absence of that phenomena) a layperson (such as you or I) might reasonably pause for thought before continuing to assert (and deny) that the same phenomena is proof that that theory is false.

    And a pause for thought was part of what I was hoping for. If you suspect that somebody is not wrong but wrong-headed (and I do not mean to offend but that is the position I had got to but was reluctant to express) then a pause for thought on their part is one of the things you might think profitable. And if you suspect (again apologies but this is just how it is) that somebody’s arguments are, in conclusion wrong, but in substance not even that, what do you do? You might ask if there is anybody more qualified than the two laymen at the impasse who has reached the conclusions your ‘opponent’ has reached with a similar type of argument, but one that might prove easier to follow (and I am sorry but I have struggled to make much sense of your arguments).

    You might consider me to have been unfairly dismissive of you, and I am sorry that we did seem to reach the point where much of what I seemed to be doing was repeat “oh no it isn’t!” But you might also think that I am trying to allow for the possibility, despite my intuitions to the contrary, that you could be onto something that somebody better qualified than either of us could convince me was worth assenting to or was at least more revealing of how it could be profitably argued against. (You are on target when you say of your claim for “evolution being evidence against determinism” that “the issue aught to be whether my argument makes sense” – that is exactly the issue).

    Of course, there is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it, so the fact you have found a kindred spirit in my countryman C. A. Campbell does not of itself prove anything, as you are right to acknowledge, but it might offer us a way out of the impasse. I have only had time to skim through the lecture you have cited. On first blush it seems to me to amount to “it ‘feels’ like our wills are sometimes free and the burden of proof is on the determinist.” I will however give him further attention and endeavour to interpret his arguments – and yours – as charitably as possible. It would be a gain if it was shown to me that there was a coherent position that I had failed to grasp and it would be a gain to me if it was shown that I was wrong about something fundamental (as you think I am). This is not really, or should not really, be a matter of two opponents duelling by rhetoric. Rather we are both stumbling by candlelight through a dark cave looking for hints at the truth.

    Anybody out there got a lantern?

  44. I understand, Curious, that to you I am just some relatively new name commenting on a casual philosophy blog. And it is true that I am not a professional philosopher in the sense that I’m neither affiliated with any university, nor do I earn my shekels from publishing philosophical ideas. It’s something I do on spare time in a casual way. In this sense, I am certainly a layman. But I do engage in these discussions with serious intent beyond mere entertainment.

    I use philosophical tools in my daily work. I’m a software engineer who designs information consolidation and correlation tools (smart databases), which means that ontology, classification, taxonomy, mathematics, linguistics, etc. are part of my daily fabric. As said, this should not matter. My ideas should be what counts. But that’s not how any of us work. We all have limited resources and have to decide where we will expend our energy. Should we focus on understanding Heidegger or Olsson? Any reasonable person would opt for Heidegger unless there is some extraordinary reason to do otherwise. If my arguments appear obtuse to you, why should you invest energy in parsing the meaning of my sentences? The reasonable course would be to consider it Jabberwocky. Heidegger, now that’s a different story. If everyone walks around proclaiming someone a genius there would appear to be a benefit in struggling through their discourse. Which is why I said partial fallacy. In the end the onus is on me to prove that it is worthwhile to spend any time on my ideas.

    That C. A. Campbell in part supports my views is, as you point out, in no way proof of anything. I didn’t even myself know who he was until yesterday! Nonetheless, someone did bother to republish his speech 73 years after it was made, which is indicative of some possible relevance. Having discovered his work, what he says makes perfect sense to me. In my interpretation, he says something very similar to what I’m saying. It could be that we have the case of a fool meeting a similar fool and proclaiming “See! I was right!” Or perhaps, it is the case of a fool misinterpreting the words of a wise person. The fool does not recognize his foolishness. The problem for everyone who disagrees with the established views is that they have to confront the basic question of who is the fool, they or everyone else? Again, the onus is on them. Orthodoxy is not be confused with boorish stupidity. The orthodox may be the orthodox because it has triumphed against every challenge. It has, so to say, survived the test of time.

    What interest do I have in the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) and Free Will beyond mere curiosity? As far as PSR goes I build knowledge systems. Essentially, I build systems that are confronted with a bunch of claims and then have to figure out which are true and which are false. Not only that, but these systems have to figure out what claims are identical. Example: “Johnny is a man” and “John Christopher Depp II is an actor”. Are we talking about the same person? I’m also confronted with how to algorithmically determine what claims should be trusted. If Source A tells us “Johnny Depp owns an island” and Source B tells us “Johnny Depp does NOT own an island” then what is the truth? This is not limited to facts in the systems I design but stretches into causality (and hence determinism). If Johnny is sick and Johnny is acting in a movie being produced, can they continue shooting the movie? This is the stuff I do every day and have been for over 10 years (which is when I founded my current company).

    Again, this is proof of little. My company is not an IBM (though maybe it will be one day). I am merely asserting that I know something of the subject matter due to the skill sets I have acquired through over 10,000 hours of labor. Causal networks, Bayesian inference, statistics, and so on are all part of what I breath everyday due to my profession. I can tell you this: inserting that spark of making the right decisions in a virtual system is very hard work. Understanding even the surface of human consciousness is a phenomenally huge undertaking. Endowing even a glimmer of consciousness to a piece of silicon is even harder, some say impossible. I happen to think it is possible – not just because of mere faith but because I think I see a path that is leading in the right direction. My current guess (due to the evidence presently available) is that it will not be by programming a bunch of facts into a system and simply interconnecting them and applying some procedural algorithms. I’m convinced (in part because of arguments I have made here and elsewhere) that it will require what is called evolutionary computation and the use of pseudo-random generators to emulate something much deeper. And here I have to concede something. I don’t engineer hardware. I only design systems that run on hardware. This does, however, brings me into close contact with the physical systems. And I can see that engineering systems with the type of true randomness I believe to be present in the very fabric of spacetime is easier said than done!

    And Free Will? Well, I happen to think what sets the stage for Free Will – degrees of randomness between the impossible (0) and the inevitable (1) – is what’s at the core of consciousness. If we don’t confront what Free Will is rather than dismiss it as a pseudo-problem, I don’t think it will be possible to endow a human produced configuration of substances with consciousness except through some variation of the good old way (gamete + gamete = zygote…you get my drift).

    Now back to the ideas themselves…

  45. Andreas,

    You are not “just” some anything, you are an individual with genuine philosophical interest and passions and I believe you do indeed engage in these discussions with serious intent. And it is not obviously true to me that it would be more profitable for me to be reading Heidegger than conversing with your good self.

    I am not a professional philosopher, I’m not affiliated with any university, and I do not earn my shekels from publishing philosophical ideas either. I did take a philosophy degree many years ago and maintain an interest in the subject but do not presume that that slim ground makes me any kind of authority on anything. Sometimes I can be guilty of judging an argument to be incoherent and obviously wrong when it is just following from an unfamiliar mode of thinking. At least I have some awareness of this fault. I do not think it a waste of my time to try to tease out what might be useful in a ‘difficult’ argument that might initially strike me as wrong-headed. Questioning the orthodoxy is exactly what made the Great philosophers ‘great’ (and, prior to the last century, few of them were Philosophy Professors). Certainly I do not presume that you are ‘unqualified’ to speak, you have experiences and knowledge I do not. We are both laymen and it may prove difficult to communicate clearly our respective viewpoints on issues that have perplexed far greater minds than ours. Still it does seem worth a shot.

    I will look into evolutionary computation and the other ideas and reading matter you have brought to my attention and leave you with this thought from Arthur Schopenhauer:

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    best wishes and, indeed, back to the ideas..

  46. Andreus I am impressed. Two submissions by dated 25 Feb ran to 1005 words and 1629 words respectively and there are others of similar length. Additionally you blog on Monoxus and have also found time amongst many other philosophical interests to read Galen Strawson on Free will and write a critique thereon. (I was incidentally tutored by Galen for a year on The Philosophy of mind. A fascinating year, with a man of surprising erudition) Notwithstanding your philosophical interests and large output thereto, you are also a software engineer and you refer to Your own Company in this connection. I am just wondering what you do in your spare time. Don’t tell me you are married with a family I would not believe it. So far as Heidegger goes with the encouragement of AMOS I have been reading him of late and am still of the opinion that he is taking the obvious and disguising it as something recondite, deep, esoteric, beyond all normal thoroughgoing human understanding. By comparison I can make more sense of what you say provided I can set time aside to read it all.

  47. Don,

    Are your Heidegger studies a penance of some sort? It’s just that I feel guilty about my prejudice against ‘Continental philosophy’ sometimes and I do keep meaning to redeem myself by attending to it properly. Never do get round to it though…

    Regarding the, err, ‘word count’ thing. I know I have myself made a few ‘extended’ posts from time to time (actually personally I’ve made a few rants about ESP and such where I should have heeded the ‘why use one word when none will do?’ dictum). Sometimes we can get carried away with enthusiasm and post undergraduate-length ‘essays’ where shorter contributions would be more profitable.


    You are, of course, free to write what and how much you like until Jeremy says otherwise (it’s not even really my place to tell you that). You are obviously serious and very passionate about your ideas, and keenly want people to engage with them. Giving purely tactical advice, shorter posts are more likely to be read. You probably won’t get a detailed critique of an essay-length posting. People are more likely to engage with shorter posts. It is better perhaps to present a few thoughts and have them usefully responded to, and for a discussion to flow from that than to present a thesis, however cogent it might be, and find it doesn’t get the attention or engagement you hope for. This is meant entirely constructively, and the fact I am hypocrite lacking in any authority on such matters should be ignored. Btw, I did find your last more ‘biographical’ post interesting. Sometimes giving something about where you are ‘coming from’ can be quite fruitful. It’s not a matter of proving your credentials (is “proof by ‘post-grad-ship’” recognised as a fallacy?) but it can be illuminating in terms of context.

    I’ll get back to you on Campbell. There is more to what he is saying than (as I put it earlier) “it ‘feels’ like our wills are sometimes free and the burden of proof is on the determinist.” It seems he is saying something like: the will is free when, and only when, it is making moral ‘decisions’ that accord with duty but run contrary to our baser instincts or passions. There’s something Kantian going on I gather and I’ll try to look into that. But I am reminded, rightly or wrongly, of a doctrine associated with the Stoics. Digging out my Oxford Companion of Philosophy:

    The ‘freedom of goodness and reason’ is “the view that a good and reasonable man is free, even though he is a slave… if “freedom” can mean the opposite of “enslaved”.. then it is at least meaningful to describe it as threatened by enslavement to bad or unreasonable desires. With the conception of freedom as the capacity to will what is reasonable and good, the problem of freedom and determinism disappears, since if one is caused to act reasonably and is free in virtue of that, having the capacity to act otherwise, in the indeterminist sense, is otiose.”

    Truth be told, I had to look the last word up,‘superfluous or useless’ is the relevant sense – I think. ‘Otiose’, hmm, possibly I’ll get that on my gravestone…

  48. Re Curious: 27.02.11

    Thanks for your comments. I have made several attempts to tackle Heidegger and find it something like being confronted with unlimited barbed wire through which one has to cut one’s way somewhat painfully in the hope of reaching a land of clarity. My main interest is in the Philosophy of Mind and its association with Neuroscience. In this connection my sympathies are with Physicalism that is everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical. That said however I do not dismiss the possibility that there may be lurking out there something, of which we presently know not what, but once grasped may well alter our whole view of existence. Reading Heidegger I constantly want to throw him aside and pick up my book on Neuroscience and read something interesting which for me, maybe not others, may clarify the many problems I have concerning this fascinating place In which I find myself.
    Some Continental Philosophy I can usually manage Sartre, Camus and the influence Heidegger had on Sartre but it is more the wish to have some idea of what these influential people were up to and the results thereof.
    I find this website very useful as since blogging here I Have found the necessity to enquire into areas and departments of Philosophy I would not normally read not being a professional philosopher, although I do have a BA hons and MA in Philosophy lost momentum on a Phd due to a leg injury playing tennis.
    Since I was a student I have never failed to be dismayed and perplexed by the prolixity and obscurity of many those, both ancient and modern, who purport to be philosophers of note. “Whenever is he/she going to reach the point?” I have often asked myself; and when the point is, at great length reached, it is again often, no more than the ‘bleeding obvious’, to quote Basil Fawlty. Not only that, but the main thrust of the argument has yet to be developed, and when that is accomplished, somehow or the other, all is stifled by its own language. We find another appalling characteristic; sentences running to hundreds or words, not to speak of parentheses, which by the time one has ploughed through them, one has lost the gist of what was being said in the first place.
    I appreciate that philosophy often deals with abstract and profound problems and one must be thoroughgoing. However it is of no help if the language and sentential structure is not abundantly clear and concise, conveying the writer’s meaning unambiguously. That said however, I am not maintaining that the style of writing I am criticising, has never been the vehicle of great philosophical insight. There are philosophers who do write in a clear, educated and learned manner, which is a pleasure to read. Whether or not one agrees with their findings, one is left in little doubt concerning what is intended. Out of this I think the usefulness of philosophy is greatly threatened by those who cannot, or will not, write it attractively. A degree of conciseness and clarity would surely draw a larger more sympathetic readership.
    517 words here I think that’s enough.

  49. Hello Don:

    I think that it was I (among others), who recommended reading Heidegger to you.

    As I recall, I noted that Heidegger is probably not a philosopher in the sense that the word is used in analytical philosophy. I compared him to the Nietzsche of Thus Spake Zarathustra, without Nietzsche’s wit and without his music, the music of poetry.

    That being said, when I read Being and Time (about 15 years ago), I found it to be insightful about many things: authenticity; the role of “they say” (public opinion and chatter); being unto death; and anxiety, among others.

    Many of those insights have been incorporated into received, middle-brow opinion, thanks to Heidegger and to other existentialists, whom, like you, I prefer to Heidegger, especially Sartre and Camus.

    However, in the sense that “philosophy” means “love of wisdom”, I feel that Heidegger, whose clarity, as you point out, leaves much to be desired, should be considered a philosopher.

  50. Amos & Don,

    At Edinburgh, where I studied (and picked up my analytical prejudices), there remained chairs in ‘Natural Philosophy’ (Physics) and my own subject was still formally titled ‘Mental Philosophy’. I think some of the other older British universities still maintain that tradition. (And, of course, in a wider context, a person holding a PhD – in whatever line of enquiry – is, necessarily, a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’.) This usage at Edinburgh traces back to the times when ‘philosophy’ in academia was all that was not law, medicine or theology but reflects the relatively late usage of the word ‘science’ (from a Latin word for ‘knowledge’) to refer to a further distinct field of enquiry that grew out of ‘natural philosophy’ in the wider sense.

    This may well seem digression. But, with all due deference to Amos, and I do tip my hat to learning and good sense, I suppose this hints at the thought that etymology is not, perhaps, sufficient to define ‘philosophy’. There are, of course, arguments about what constitutes science as opposed to, say, pseudoscience. But Philosophy is a field where what should properly be considered part of that field has perhaps been a matter of deeper debate and discord. It is not I think, merely one of making arbitrary definitional ‘boundaries’ between the subject and the overlapping fields of science, theology and, indeed, literature. Like “what is science?” and “what is art?”, “what is philosophy?” is perhaps itself a difficult philosophical question. And, harking back to the ‘pseudoscience’ issue, what to some are the most profound philosophers are, to others, not philosophers at all. Without presenting a lengthy essay, perhaps all I can say is that philosophy is not ‘purely’ aesthetic expression or ‘purely’ matters of science, law, medicine or theology but is that, or part of that, which has as its motivating force, to nod again to Amos, a genuine love of wisdom.

    I have no doubt, in my more serious and sober moments, that Heidegger and the other ‘continentals’ that followed on from Nietzsche were possessed of such a love. And what is wisdom? That, perhaps, which no man can possess whilst he thinks he does so?

  51. Curious:

    Most of the world outside the Anglo-Saxon countries considers Heidegger to be a great philosopher. It may possibly be the case that they have been duped by his charms, as was Miss Arendt or it may be that they are working with another concept of philosophy than that used in Anglo-Saxon academic philosophy.

    Here’s a definition of (practical) wisdom that I take from Philippa Foot: wisdom is knowing what matters and the means to obtain it. (not an exact quote).

    Philosophers generally ponder over
    what matters, and thus, I might categorize philosophers as those who love or seek what matters. I don’t claim that they find it.
    Heidegger, in my opinion, could be considered as one who sought and loved what matters.

  52. Indeed so Amos.

    In case I was misunderstood, the thought that thinking you are wise precludes you from being so was a general pondering not aimed at Heidegger et al. And by saying that he and his ‘school’ were lovers of wisdom was my way to acknowledge that analytic prejudices are just that: prejudices, and that, on calm reflection, it seems Heidegger should indeed be honoured with the title of ‘philosopher’ as should many other continental thinkers.

  53. And, to adopt use your phrasing, Anglo-Saxon academic philosophy, however clearly written, has at times been very far removed from “what matters”.

  54. Here’s the exact Phillipa Foot quotation:

    Wise men know the means to ends and know what those ends are worth.

    (She’s speaking of practical wisdom.)

  55. “The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing” – Socrates

  56. I prefer the Phillipa Foot definition of wisdom.

    In any case, Socrates (in the Apology) is not speaking about knowing nothing per se, but about knowing nothing about “anything really good and beautiful”, which is quite different.

  57. Many thanks.

    ‘Wisdom as Epistemic Humility’ doesn’t get a good write up by the SEP no – and, of course, I can hardly claim I’m wise enough to know better ):

  58. Don’t tell me you are married with a family I would not believe it.
         Don Bird

    Well, I am in fact married to a wonderful educational entrepreneur (founder of The Lang School). And I do have two quirky and wonderful young sons. All three have helped me better understand the metaphysics of consciousness (assuming that I do in fact understand even the slightest bit about it). Forgive the parenthetic comment, Don!

    As for the number of words, I tried to be as succinct as possible given the available time. As Blaise Pascal, to whom my profession is deeply indebted, said in Lettres Provenciales:

    Le peu de temps que j’ai eu a été cause de l’un et de l’autre. Je n’ai fait celle-ci [lettre] plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

    The little time I had has been cause of this and that. I only made this [letter] longer because I did not have the spare time to make it shorter.

    À oui, Monsieur Pascal. He would have been a great software engineer. His code would have been a few exquisite lines of seeming self-obviousness. I can only aspire to his excellence.

    Giving purely tactical advice, shorter posts are more likely to be read

    True. I did not initially set out to be so dissertative, Curious, but my fascination with the subject at hand got the better of me.

    292 words, 1716 characters (including these and formatting)…

  59. Re Andreus B Olsson 28.02.11

    Thanks for more details on what is obviously a very interesting and worthwhile life. I love that quotation from Pascal. I was familiar with it but had forgotten the author. There is in fact some truth in it as I am sure you will know. Simplifying stuff and expressing it succinctly is no easy task. I remember my time at University when essays of Max 2000 words turned out to be something like 2350 words. Getting rid of the excess was difficult if one were not to loose valuable information. It could be done however, and the final result was almost always more ‘punchy’ and clearer than the original, but it took time.
    I was interested in the Lang school. My son was badly afflicted with Dyslexia but with hard work and determination, and dare I say support/assistance from his parents he eventually obtained a degree in Physics and a higher degree in Psychology. He now teaches at school and is head of the department of IT and Science. One never knows what one can do until one tries.

  60. It seems [Campbell] is saying something like: the will is free when, and only when, it is making moral ‘decisions’ that accord with duty but run contrary to our baser instincts or passions.

    That’s roughly how I interpret what he says as well. A criticism that seems to be common against this argument is that it’s somehow contra-causal. But one can defend against that by saying that our nature, our passions, do not necessitate action but inclines us strongly towards them. Free will is the ability to deviate from those inclinations. Of course, you could argue that moral obligation causes that deviation, so again we have sufficient cause.

    But Campbell puts emphasis on the experience of choice as indicating that we could have done either: follow our instincts OR act according to our moral responsibility. The only one who determines which one we do is the one experiencing the need to choose. And as I understands it, he points out that the only possible evidence this is the case and that choice is not an illusion is the personal experience of choice itself.

  61. Andreas,

    I think I should refine my claim that Campbell is saying something like:

    ‘the will is free when, and only when, it is making moral ‘decisions’ that accord with duty but run contrary to our baser instincts or passions’.

    “Accord with duty” – acts may ‘accord with duty’ but not be ‘done from duty’. For Kant it is necessary that an act is done from duty for it to be to morally worthy (and the presence of ‘contrary’ baser instincts or passions inclining us to do otherwise seems necessary too). So (assuming a Kantian ‘turn’ to Campbell) a better formulation is perhaps:

    ‘the will of an agent is free when, and only, when that agent is acting from duty and contrary to his baser instincts or passions.’

    As you say, if you do not read this in something like the Stoic ‘freedom of goodness and reason’ way, a criticism will be that it’s somehow contra-causal (such objections will crop up whenever anybody proposes that we have souls or wills that are, as it were, ‘little first causes’). You say:

    “But one can defend against that by saying that our nature, our passions, do not necessitate action but inclines us strongly towards them. Free will is the ability to deviate from those inclinations. “

    You would have to do more than ‘say’ that – you would have to argue for it. If you go down a Kantian road you might be able to argue that the ability to deviate from those inclinations stems from our possession of a Rational Will which “must be regarded as autonomous, or free in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it”. According to Kant, as the Stanford Encyclopaedia entry on his Moral Philosophy puts it: “The fundamental principle of morality… [the Categorical Imperative ] … is none other than the law of an autonomous will. Thus, at the heart of Kant’s moral philosophy is a conception of reason whose reach in practical affairs goes well beyond that of a Humean ‘slave’ to the passions.” Perhaps you will find a kindred spirit in Kant, I’d certainly suggest you look up the ‘Categorical Imperative’ on Wikipedia:

    “That choice which can be determined by pure reason is called free choice. That which can be determined only by inclination (sensible impulse, stimulus) would be animal choice (arbitrium brutum). Human choice, however, is a choice that can indeed be affected but not determined by impulses..” – Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, 6:213-4

    Kant provides further arguments against determinism which I suspect may well chime with your own intuitions. As you anticipate, I would myself say that the (caused) ‘sense’ of moral obligation can cause us to deviate from what our (caused) baser passions incline us towards yes. My thoughts on the ‘experience of choice’ are on record, but I will try to give matters more thought. In any case, I hope pointing you in the direction of Kant helps.

  62. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative#Freedom_and_autonomy


    I had all but forgot about Kant’s moral philosophy, shame on me – I suppressed the memories of those painful lectures I guess. Imagine if everybody else did that?

  63. Re:- AMOS and Curious

    Whilst I have been somewhat scathing of Heidegger which is in many ways unwarranted as I am really not sufficiently read in him to make pronouncements. I must say that the following, extracted from Michael Inwood’s (Past Masters) book “Heidegger” sums up something which has great appeal to me.

    “74 Heidegger ETHICS AND TRUTH ( from “Introduction to Research”) Phenomenological

    “Heidegger himself was resolute in the pursuit of philosophy, but this is not something that he could recommend to everyone or even to those who are equipped for it. Heidegger always declined to write a work on ethics. A ‘concrete moral code’, he implies, does not depend on our possession of an ‘ethic as an absolutely binding science’ (xvii. 85). We all know, without the help of philosophy or ethics, that we should, in normal circumstances, pay our debts and keep our promises. But when it comes to momentous choices about the conduct of our lives, a concrete moral code is of little help. Either it gives no unequivocal answer to our problem or it is itself open to question. But an ‘ethic as an absolutely binding science’ would be no use either. It too leaves the matter undecided or is open to question. Heidegger’s atti­tude to fundamental choices is similar to his view of truth. There is no truth in the sense of correspondence to the facts nor are there, in the most fundamental cases, any criteria for telling whether a view is true or not. The best one can do is to be ‘primordial’, to go back as far as one can towards the source, disregarding the current wisdom of the they. So it is with choice. There are no objectively correct answers to life’s basic problems nor any decision procedure for discerning them. The best one can do is to be resolute, to withdraw from the crowd, and to make one’s decision in view of one’s life as a whole. One’s choices, like one’s assertions, are always made in a spe­cific situation. What looks good to me in this situation may not look so good to others now or later, or even to myself in a later situation. But there is no remedy for that. The only guar­antee that what I do now, writing this book for example, will meet with my approval twenty years hence is to postpone it for twenty years.”

    I can appreciate Heidegger’s idea of Dasein “Being there” as some sort of free state i.e. My Being, where chatter and public opinion and the opinions of “They”are not admitted. Authenticity in this connection is being in its own measure where it does not have to justify its existence as compared with anything else.
    This state seems restricted by Heidegger to Humans alone on the grounds that no other animals are conscious of their own existence and no other animals bury their dead. There is now currently a considerable amount of work available to suggest that self consciousness is not restricted to the human animal. For instance they wash THEMSELVES and some Higher Primates Recognize THEMSELVES in a Mirror, also Machiavellian behavior has been documented in respect of monkeys and other higher primates. I do not think this is a great onslaught on the concept of Dasein so far as I can see, but it may suggest that the human is not so exceptional as Heidegger thought. I think I will continue reading him time permitted. but I will say beyond any doubt he can be considered a Philosopher for the following reason.
    I suggest that Philosophical thinking is an innate propensity we all do it. Some are better at it than others and they call themselves first and foremost Philosophers. Everybody has opinions and beliefs and will respond to questions about God, the hereafter, is stealing good or bad, and so on. Philosophy is in fact embraced by what you call living. Possibly some professional Philosophers are more adept at the so called critical thinking and communication, and background knowledge but they are far from fool-proof. I suggest that nobody of normal mental ability could really be described as Non-philosophically appraised any more than they could be described as unable to run; we can all do it but vary in our ability that is all.

  64. Don,

    I have in the past been somewhat scathing of ‘Continental’ thought generally, without the warrant earnt by proper attendance to it. I applaud you for making the effort to tackle Heidegger, and have resolved to trust in the assertions of Amos and many others that this will prove rewarding. Regarding my own lack of efforts, I shouldn’t blame environmental factors – education within the ‘analytic’ Anglo-Saxon tradition – when really I am just ‘otiose’ (my word of the week) in the sense (this time) of being of indolent or lazy.

    Russell wrote ‘In ‘Praise of Idleness’ advocating a four-hour working day as being conducive to “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia”. I can’t pretend to have a philosophical rationale for my indolence, but trust frayed nerves, weariness and dyspepsia would indeed prevent me from ever grasping the wisdom of ‘Being & Time’. Indeed, truth be told, I lack not only only the work ethic but the native wit to tackle it head on.

    I should try to pick up something of it though, if only by looking more seriously at (introductory) secondary sources. On a a note, that is not necessarily entirely unrelated, have you ever seen ‘Being There’ with Peter Sellers? One of my favourite films. I too am but a simple gardener.

  65. Curious:

    Here’s a passage from Nietzsche (the Gay Science: 42) which seems appropriate.

    “Their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom, as much as work without pleasure; they actually require a lot of boredom if their work is to succeed. For thinkers and all ‘sensitive spirits’, boredom is that disagreeable ‘windless calm’ of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and wait for its effect on them. Precisely this is what lesser natures cannot achieve by any means. To ward off boredom at any cost is vulgar, no less than work without pleasure.”

  66. Anyone who despises himself nonetheless still respects himself as the one doing the despising.

    Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.

    (Beyond Good and Evil, Part Four, Aphorisms and Interludes 78 & Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Pt1, Zarathustra’s Prologue 5)

  67. coming to power, or attention, through Atomist.

    The Idea is still Idea, and no explanation is necessary for it to be Idea.

  68. Talking of Nietzsche, I note in Beyond God & Evil 21 he has this to say on free will:

    The desire for “freedom of will” in the superlative, metaphysical sense, such as still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated, the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society therefrom, involves nothing less than to be precisely this CAUSA SUI, and, with more than Munchausen daring, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the slough of nothingness. If any one should find out in this manner the crass stupidity of the celebrated conception of “free will” and put it out of his head altogether, I beg of him to carry his “enlightenment” a step further and also put out of his head the contrary of this monstrous conception of “free will”: I mean “non-free will,” which is tantamount to a misuse of cause and effect … The “non-free will” is mythology; in real life it is only a question of STRONG and WEAK wills.

  69. Curious:

    What do you think that Nietzsche means by “the man who can no longer despise himself”?

  70. Perhaps you will find a kindred spirit in Kant

    What Kant says about the categorical imperative makes sense at first glance. My reaction is, “Ah yes, very true!”. But ultimately it’s rationality gone haywire. He attempts to remove all gray zones and replace it with the blinding light of rational certitude. In the end he is forced to agree with the absurd proposition resulting from his own clever logic, that lying to a known murderer is morally unjustified. Again, the moon is made of cheese and God exists necessarily.

  71. Amos

    If I can go back to your ‘Gay Science’ reference.

    When Nietzsche spoke of those whose “idleness is resolute” it seems he is showing some esteem for a ‘rare breed’ of men. Not only but especially the “artists and con-templative men” who would rather perish than work “if the work itself is not the reward of rewards”.

    Whilst appreciating the point that there can be a noble idleness, I did not want to claim this for myself. I am, as it were, one who applauds mountaineers, trusts the air is invigorating and that the view is sublime but is too indolent to make the difficult climb myself. Sometimes I am content to question the reports more noble souls may bring down from the mountain (and I think there is some good in this) but sometimes I recognise my indolence is contemptible. Pointing to Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ aphorism (which doubtless I misunderstand) I was admitting that I sometimes find some respect for myself in the fact that I at least know that this indolence is to be despised.

    As for “the man who can no longer despise himself”, and I would be quick to defer to you on this and all of the above. Nietzsche is speaking of the Ultimate Man of the ‘brave new world’ in which none will climb and none will even despise themselves for failing to do so. Where work is entertainment, where nobody grows rich or poor, where there is no herdsman and one herd, where everyone wants the same thing. This is the picture that should horrify but most will find inviting. In such a world, I like to think I would go voluntarily into the madhouse.

  72. Andreas,

    No, I didn’t think you would want to buy the whole Kantian picture. But I wondered if you might find something in his arguments against determinism, and might salvage something from his notion of a Rational Will that is not a slave to the passions. I also suspect Campbell has to be understood in light of Kant.

  73. Re Curious March 1st

    I looked up the film “Being There” on Wikipedia, was impressed and accordingly have sent for the CD of it. I had forgotten the meaning of ‘otiose’ and had to look that up.
    “Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he who is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man”
    I think we can point to many men both living and dead, who should, so far as our judgements go, despise themselves but by their judgements, obviously do not.
    This is not quite what Nietzsche was saying if I understand him correctly, in the final analysis man was some sort of sterile creature without the ability to self criticise.

    In this connection I am trying to form some sort of opinion of the mind set of Colonel Gaddafi who so it seems, does not indulge in self despite.

  74. “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished…

    Nietzsche, as one might quote him on a Christmas card (: it continues thus:

    ..I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.”

    (The Will to Power, p 481)

    The capacity to despise oneself, to suffer, is, in his account necessary for there to be any enhancement of man, and thus, in this spirit, one might at new Year toast to a future

    “more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been..”

    (but, of course, he wouldn’t approve of the drinking and we might not be very popular at parties)

  75. We’ll never run out of great Nietzsche quotes. Here’s another:

    Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brings with it, in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by
    some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer.
    Nor can he go back to the pity of men.

    Beyond Good and Evil: 29

  76. When it comes right down to it I’d much rather have been a Basel Professor than God; but I didn’t dare be selfish enough to forgo the creation of the world.

    January 6, 1889: Letter to Jacob Burckhardt

  77. A thinker sees his own actions as
    experiments and questions–as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.

    The Gay Science 41

  78. the nietzsche ‘talk’ – where is profundity?

  79. As we seem to be doing favorite quotes from Nietzsche here are two which appeal to me. His “On the Genealogy of Morals” is also for me, packed with most arresting stuff which I cannot be bothered to sort out at the moment. No doubt you are familiar.

    “Physicists believe in a ‘true world’ in their own fashion … But they are in error. The atom they posit is inferred according to the logic of the perspectivism of consciousness – and is therefore itself a subjective fiction. This world picture they sketch differs in no essential way from the subjective world picture: it is only construed with more extended sense, but with our senses nonetheless. The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann, s. 636”

    “We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live — by
    positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form
    and content; without these articles of faith nobody now could endure
    life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of
    life might include error. – ‘
    The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, s. 121”

  80. After you discovered me, it was no great feat to find me. The problem now is how to lose me…

    The Crucified.

    -January 4, 1889: Letter to Georg Brandes

  81. Curious:

    That’s the winning quote.

  82. Once you’ve “found” Nietzsche, it’s not easy to “lose” him.

  83. but what is beyond Nietzsche? Is the World even enough of an impress to write of it as an intellectual occurrence? for philosophy to repast as a sole descriptor of cultural laze and intellectual uninvolvement with itself. the death of American study.

  84. I wondered if you might find something in [Kant’s] arguments against determinism

    You have sent me into the rabbit hole of synthetic a prioris. I’m trying to wrap my head around Kant’s notion of freedom as unbound by time (if I understand him correctly).

    It seems to me that Kant is desperately trying to extricate himself from mechanistic 18’th century notions but in the end is treading water. Had Kant been born after Pierre-Simon de Laplace I think his philosophical framework would have been very different. Kant’s fascinating intellect might have found some interesting synthetic a prioris in the rigorous study of probabilities as applied to knowing. He might have torn the Laplacian demon to shreds once and for all.

  85. “The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well…”

    I am indeed the rabbit, but I stayed put and merely pointed. I did not mean to add confusion but saw, from the surface, some reflections that I thought might prove useful to you.

    RE: “Kant’s notion of freedom as unbound by time (if I understand him correctly)”. I am presently unable to guide you on whether that is a correct understanding and, if is, how it is best understood. I would say though that time for Kant is not IN experience (or things-in-themselves which we can never grasp) but something the mind imposes on experience (along with space and causation). Does that help in any way? Even if you haven’t become aware of this, I doubt it.

    Watch out for the well Andreas…

  86. Ah, yes… you need to get to grips with the notion of the ‘noumenal’ self which is not subject to time or causation. Ultimately Kant grounds human freedom in that…

    Or you could try and scramble you way back out of the rabbithole…

  87. Nietzsche wrote in a letter from 1866 that “three things afford me relief, rare moments of relief from my work”. He concluded his list with “the music of Schumann, and solitary walks”. But the first item he lists is “my Schopenhauer”.
    So, my fellow thought-miners, should we now onto Nietzsche’s ‘relief’ as a source of aphoristic wisdom, wit and abject pessimism?
    “Human life must be some kind of mistake” – THE VANITY OF EXISTENCE.

    “Even though Leibnitz’ contention, that this is the best of all possible worlds, were correct, that would not justify God in having created it. For he is the Creator not of the world only, but of possibility itself; and, therefore, he ought to have so ordered possibility as that it would admit of something better.” – ‘ON THE SUFFERINGS OF THE WORLD’

  88. Ah, yes… you need to get to grips with the notion of the ‘noumenal’ self which is not subject to time or causation.

    Here’s my attempt at getting a grip on it:

    Kant rejects the knowability of the thing-in-itself, including the Self. I cannot through categorization deepen my understanding of my inner core. But he posits a noumenon, an unknown something, as a limiting concept. The noumenon is merely the idea that there is “something” that my understanding extends itself towards. So the noumenal self is unknowable though it can be known that X is there (whatever X is).

    A lot of people seem to think the idea of a noumenon is a paradox or a pointless idea. Hegel claims knowing the limit implies knowing what’s beyond. This is partial nonsense. Take, for example, a very dark room. Shine a concentrated light from above. On the floor is a trickle of water that extends beyond the cone of light. Where does it come from? Do we know? No, we don’t. It could be a leaky pipe. Or a bucket of water that tipped over. Or even the overflow of a vast river! All we can do is guess. A fair guess would be some type of water source. However, that’s all it is: a guess. And why guess at all if it is truly beyond our grasp? Why not just assume the water appears mysteriously at the edge of the cone of light? That is, after all, what is experientially happening from our perspective. It is, so to say, sourceless. Hegel seems to think Kant is a copout. If a limit is known, it implies we can at some point, so to say, step over the border. Pure nonsense. As Kant realized, the intrinsic structure of consciousness prevents us without preventing us from knowing that we can’t transgress. It’s what I refer to as knowing the intrinsic ends of epistemology.

    The noumenal self serves us well as a limiting concept. It acknowledges a fundamental unknown, something that Rumsfeld might have called a known unknown rather than an unknown unknown. It establishes to the Self that there is always something in itself that must be taken for granted. By establishing that we cannot redirect the light in the dark room and illuminate the source of the trickle, we come to realize that our assumption about the origin of the water, our consciousness, are but pointless guesses. The constant trickle will constantly tempt us to believe we can somehow transcend the cone of light. But Kant’s Grenzbegriff (limit-concept) reminds us of this impossibility, without nonsensically rejecting ourselves as “magical illusions”. We don’t misinterpret insubstantiality with triviality.

    Now, Kantian time, as I understand it, is a fundamental structure (a synthetic a priori) of consciousness itself. There would be no apprehension of experiences without time. Freedom is also a fundamental structure of consciousness. We would not be able to practically reason without freedom. Moral obligations and accountability could not exist. We cannot categorically understand time and freedom except as they present themselves since that would require us to categorically understand the noumenal self (which we can’t). But why freedom is not bound by time I continuously fail to completely understand. Because freedom is somehow understood as the ability to reason across time, through our memories and predictions about the future?

    Kant seems to slip into dualism here. He wants pure unbound freedom but also that the phenomenal remains strictly causal. We end up with two selves, the phenomenal self and the noumenal self. This is not strictly a dualism in Kant’s book because everything can be considered to have a limiting concept. But if one is strictly causal and the other not, then a freaky dualism is the inevitable result. Talk about antimony! The only resolution to this freaky dualism is some kind of weird and frankly absurd contra-causal mechanism. He resolves the antimony by simply claiming it is resolved. He could have resolved it by rejecting the strictly causal nature of the phenomenal. But that must have been agonizingly difficult in the 17’th century.

    Unless I have missed something crucial there’s no well to fall into. The rabbit whole narrows until the only choice is to back out again. And assume that the phenomenal is not strictly determined.

  89. But that must have been agonizingly difficult in the 17′th century.

    I mean the 18’th century. Same difference. Apparently it’s only marginally easier at the beginning of the 21’st century!

  90. In my opinion all we can ever contemplate are our own ideas. We are somehow therefore locked in and the key turned on our further understanding. I am not a Kantian scholar by a long way but my understanding of him in this connection does seem compatible with what I mention above.
    Kant is in agreement with Hume, and the empiricists, that our knowledge of the world comes from sensory experience. However embracing a rationalistic point of view to include reason i.e. the a priori, he argues therefore, that there are in our reason, decisive factors, that determine how we perceive the world around us. There are therefore certain conditions in the human mind contributing to our understanding and conception of the world. This has been described as permanently wearing red-lensed spectacles which modify the way reality is perceived. Thus we all wear the spectacles of reason which affects all experience. To pursue the spectacle analogy Kant in effect declared there were two different kinds of spectacles. Firstly there are “Forms of Intuition” which are time and space. All our sense impressions are subject to time and all those which come to us from outside, to space. The result of this is time and space pervade everything we know of the external world. Kant said these were given to us a priori and were not empirically established. When we experience the external world what is actually given to us is what Kant calls, its matter. The stuff of matter, crude, formless timeless, is apprehended under the forms of intuition and as a result of which things we perceive appear to us to be related together in time and space, so that everything we know is here or there, and then or now. Space is according to Kant nothing but the form of all phenomena of outer sense.
    In the second case, so far as spectacles are concerned, are the Categories or Principles of Understanding. Examples of these are quality, quantity, substance, and especially causality. When we apprehend the raw material of experience under the forms of the Categories the mind combines what comes to it from without with contributions from itself. Thus it invests things with quantity and quality. In addition to this it interposes connections and relations between them.
    Between them the Forms of Intuition and the Categories have made it such that raw material has been modified and shaped into something we can not only know but recognise. It can be seen basically that space time and causation, all according to Kant known a priori, are prerequisites of human understanding. Thus Kant was arguing that space and time do not characterise things as they are in themselves, they are merely inescapable modes of existence for us and do not exist independently of us and our experience.
    Kant distinguished between the world as it is in itself, i.e. things in themselves, and appearances. A thing in itself is an object considered transcendentally. Consideration of the object is such that it is outside all the conditions under which a subject can gain knowledge of it. The object is in itself by definition, unknowable. This is not to deny the existence of the object, but to deny that we can have knowledge of its real attributes whatever they might be. Appearances on the other hand relate to objects viewed from the transcendental perspective. Put very simply, our common view of things which is subject to the strictures of the synthetic a priori. Thus perceiving subjects cannot but bring certain predispositions to bear, and only what fits in with those predispositions can be experienced cf. the aforementioned analogy of the red-lensed spectacles. Thus we have on the one hand The thing in itself sometimes called The Noumenon and the world of appearance sometimes called the Phenomenon.

  91. Andreas,

    On reading your post, I found myself at something of a disadvantage. For I had not gone down the rabbit-hole, I merely pointed you in that direction. You came back out with reports and questions about what you had found there, and courtesy seemed to demand I go look. Damn and blast myself for pointing. Still some justice has been served.

    Having gone, if only briefly, down that darkened hole, I regret to say that my position is no better than the one Herman Andreas Pistorius found himself in 1794:

    “I readily confess that this double character of man, these two I’s in the single subject, are for me, in spite of all the explanations which Kant and his students have given it, particularly with respect to the resolution of the well known antinomy of freedom, the most obscure and incomprehensible in the entire critical philosophy.”

    Herr Pistorius was, undoubtedly, a wiser man than me and, I believe, one who was able to attend to Kant (in the original German) in the rigorous scholarly fashion that a genius such as Kant is deserving of. It is no surprise that I can offer you nothing better than he.

    Kant thought that while world of phenomena was governed by strict causal laws but that freedom exists and that it must have a trans-phenomenal source. Strawson says of this: “I cannot understand his answer and neither, to do him credit, did Kant claim to understand it himself. The most he claimed was that we could comprehend its incomprehensibility.”

    Truth be told Andreas, I am unable even to comprehend Kant’s incomprehensibility.

  92. The only response that properly captures my reaction to your post, Curious, is an old forum classic: ROTFL. Twice over! I found myself laughing a good 10 minutes after reading what you and my hitherto unknown namesake Herman Andreas Pistorius had to say about Kant. Very true!

    Kant is an odd phenomenon, no pun intended. He’s so darn clever that when he lapses into absurd strangeness people desperately try to make sense of it. I wonder how many pieces have been written about the antinomy of freedom since Kant’s phenomenal self went missing. I’ve been considering sending off my noumenal self to ask Kant directly what the heck he was talking about but I’m afraid he might get lost.

  93. In the ‘Critique of Judgement’ (1790) Kant asks us to suppose we are told this story:

    An Indian at an Englishman’s table in Surat saw a bottle of ale opened, and all the beer turned into froth and flowing out. The repeated exclamations of the Indian showed his great astonishment. “Well, what is so wonderful in that?” asked the Englishman. “Oh, I’m not surprised myself,” said the Indian, “at its getting out, but at how you ever managed to get it all in.”

    “At this” says Kant “we laugh, and it gives us hearty pleasure” because:

    “the bubble of our expectation was extended to the full and suddenly went off into nothing”.

  94. Dennis Sceviour

    Re: Posted by Don Bird | March 7, 2011, 5:10 pm
    “In my opinion all we can ever contemplate are our own ideas.”

    Could you expand on this comment? I am not sure how you arrive at this conclusion. When you comment on Kant, or someone else’s posting, are you not contemplating someone else’s ideas?

  95. Re Dennis Sceviour 9th March.
    I was using the word Ideas as per John Lock’s use of the word, which I agree can be misleading if mentioned out of context. What I mean is all conscious or potentially conscious mental states. This includes concrete sensory images, abstract intellectual concepts, and everything in between. The colors and shapes I see before me right now are ideas, and so are my hunger, my memories of the ocean, my hopes for my children, the multiplication tables, and the principles of democratic government.) Ideas, then, are the immediate objects of all thought, the meaning or signification of all words, and the mental representatives of all things.
    cf http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/4l.htm
    I accordingly do not have immediate access to the ideas or conscious states of others (using the word ideas in its present day meaning) although I do of course understand whatever it is they are explaining. In the Lockean sense my understanding is the idea which I contemplate.

  96. I was using the word Ideas as per John Lock’s use of the word, […] all conscious or potentially conscious mental states. This includes concrete sensory images, abstract intellectual concepts, and everything in between.
          Don Bird

    There is a disease among software engineers called GOO (Generalized Ontology disOrder). The GOO is very contagious because software engineers spend years developing special receptors called AHA (Amplifying Harmonic Abstractors). Without AHA receptors they can’t do their work very well. When on occasion the AHA receptors get clogged, they start excreting long tangled strings of code – dense, unreadable and slow to execute. The AHA receptors are crucial to producing clever, spiffy and versatile programs.

    The success of the GOO virus lays in stimulating the AHA receptors to create more copies of both themselves and the virus. You won’t notice anything wrong until about the third month of infection. In fact, until then you may notice and increased productivity. The software engineer might start talking more and drawing impressive diagrammatic explanations of how things are interconnected. Then, one day, they might say something like “everything is interconnected” or “we could build a single function for all of this”. This is the first warning sign. From there on things begin to collapse. The engineer will seclude themself and start rambling continuously about closures, improved loop structures, optimized quiglimogs, what have you. Finally, they will emerge with a single word spelled out on a digital tablet. They will tell you that this function not only can calculate the derivative of a function, it can also boil coffee. When you ask them for a demo they will just blankly stare at you and say “Exactly”.

    The goo is a very virulent and contagious disease indeed. If you come in contact with someone who has the GOO, smile, be polite and then repeatedly cleanse your mind.

  97. Dennis Sceviour

    @ Don Bird 9th March,
    Some time has passed since I last read Locke, so it was interesting to review Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Locke’s position was that All ideas are not innate, as opposed to Descartes theory that All ideas are innate. The topic of free will versus determinism is still as lively today as it was in 1690.

    It now appears as if sometimes ideas are innate (predetermined), and sometimes ideas are judgmental (willed). It can be quite a task to separate one definition from the other. The situation is like looking at a ray of light. When we do not pay attention, light seems to act like a wave. However, on very close inspection, light seems to act like a particle. The two phenomena are inconsistent with each other.

  98. Dennis,

    I think it is problematic to say Descartes held that ‘all ideas are innate’. Not necessarily wrong as such it depends on what you mean – but in need of clarification. He used “innate” in different senses in different texts. There are passages that support what you say in a certain sense but as far as origin is concerned I think his view is that some are innate, some are derived from experience and some are ‘invented’.

  99. Perhaps this can help clarify matters somewhat:


    Your innate ideas would be predetermined (by God or nature) but your non-innate ideas (or acts of will) could, of course, be entirely determined too.

  100. Dennis Sceviour

    @Curious 10th of March,
    To re-quote your Stanford article on Descartes’ Theory of Ideas “…in his earlier works Descartes was inclined also to refer to various images in the brain as ideas. And though he abandons this use in his later work…”

    Philosophers change their points of view, probably far too often. Descartes abandoned the study of metaphysics (or the study of letters as he called it) and pursued science and deterministic rationalism for the remainder of his career. He did not like to study a problem that revealed no answer.

  101. – better to give the passage you quote in full don’t you think?

    “Descartes was inclined also to refer to various images in the brain as ideas. And though he abandons this use in his later work, that’s not so much a change of view as a clarification.”

  102. And the ‘study of letters’ is (as the phrase suggests) the study of books (or writings).

    “.. as soon as my age permitted me … I entirely abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of the great book of the world. I spent the remainder of my youth in travelling…and, above all, in making such reflection on the matter of my experience as to secure my improvement” -‘Discourse on Method’ Pt1

    He abandoned “the study of metaphysics” only in the sense that he stopped studying the metaphysical works of previous philosophers (along with their non-metaphysical works). He concerned himself to come to the truth through reason and experience – not by reading and deferring to the established ‘authorities’. You are right that Descartes did not rest content in establishing knowledge of ‘metaphysical’ matters as such (which he thought he did reveal the important answers to), but saw it as the groundwork necessary to secure knowledge in what we now refer to as ‘science’ and that he did indeed pursue studies in that regard.

    Descartes reacted against the fact that philosophers had not changed their points of view from those of the Ancients but had instead been content to rest on those authorities. And whilst philosophers do not, of course, maintain the same allegiance to Greek or Church authority as in previous generations, if anything they remain too reluctant to change their views, as is the case with many scientists, in the face of good opposing arguments. After all, only the most noble of minds are quick to accept and be grateful for the fact that they have been shown to be wrong.

  103. s.wallerstein (ex Amos)


    Only saints are grateful when they are shown to be wrong, but the best of us are happy when we ourselves discover that we have been wrong and are willing to
    change our beliefs accordingly.

  104. Of course, being canonized is somewhat indicative of the fact you refused to acknowledge the fallibility of your important beliefs and your authorities for them.

    But yes, I do know what you mean. We work to ‘win’ arguments against each other instead of working together towards the truth. Such is our wretched condition. I am too proud of the fact that I know I am despicable.

  105. s.wallerstein (ex amos)


    I only know you from this online space, but from what I can glimpse of who you are, I would hardly call you “despicable” in terms of online behavior.

    Of course, you may have some Christian concept that being human is somehow fallen or lacking perfection, but that’s not my point of view.

    For me, there’s no standard outside of what is human. We can only compare ourselves in ethical terms to other people.

  106. A Christian concept of being fallen? Dear God no. In more strident moments I even take issue with the idiomatic association of virtue with saints. We are not fallen, we were never high.

    Indeed so: “there’s no standard outside of what is human”. But to admit that “we can only compare ourselves in ethical terms to other people”? I don’t know Amos. There seems risks in that: the ‘holier than thou’ mentality, and the risk of unachievable (or too easily achievable) benchmarks. Better perhaps that we each contrast ourselves with what we could be?

    Do that and you will rise or despise yourself.

  107. Of course, being canonized is somewhat indicative of the fact you refused to acknowledge the fallibility of your important beliefs and your authorities for them.

    I’m not a Christian and I know very little about the Catholic church. But aren’t people canonizes by others, most without their knowledge after their death? Do you mean that just the act of having been a Catholic is what damns you to the sin of hubris?

  108. You are only canonized after your death yes. Canonization is an assertion that you are indeed in heaven. (Only the thief on the cross was given this assurance before he died I believe.) There is a list of saints, but no formal list of the damned funnily enough.

    I did say “being canonized is somewhat indicative of the fact you refused to acknowledge the fallibility of your important beliefs and your authorities for them” yes. If you are ascertained by the Catholic church to be in heaven you are most unlikely to be somebody who ever openly doubted the fallibility of your authority (the Church) or your important beliefs (as told to you by the Church). To be a saint is to be obedient, and to believe what you are told you must believe.

  109. Andreas,

    I would want to be VERY clear – there was no intention to mark out those in communion with Rome as deserving any special criticism. Indeed as far as the possibility of hubris goes, pride is a sin, perhaps the worst of the seven deadly ones in Catholic theology.

    I can be strident in my atheism at times. But there are many men of faith I admire, including those of the Catholic faith. Indeed I believe our conversations began with my rising to the defence of Father Copleston against charges of ‘arrogance’..

  110. s.wallerstein (ex amos)


    An interesting reflexion.

    No, I prefer to compare my behavior with that of my peers than to what I could be, the notion of “what I could be” being very permeable to a strong superego or to self-esteem, which is either too generous or too niggardly.

    And, in order to see into the working of my superego or to diminish my excessive self-esteem (or vice-versa, to augment my insufficient self-esteem), I have to compare myself with others, so why not start with a realistic vision of how my peers, neither victims nor executioners (although often more closely related to the victims), live?

    Since my peers are not “holier than thou”, if I live as they do, I doubt that I will become so myself.

    That is, choose your peers well and you will choose your self well.

    All of which indicates that there must be some independent criteria for choosing my peers or a least a complex feedback process.

  111. ‘The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray.’ (Proverbs 12:26)

    Your suggestion that if you “choose your peers well .. you will choose your self well” does indeed seem to have wisdom in it. You concede it does *seem* that you must adopt some independent criteria for choosing your peers. Still, I am uncertain that my own suggestion that I should contrast myself with ‘what I could be’ (rather than others) does not have problems of its own.

    They do say, that unlike, your family, you can choose your friends. I don’t know. Sometimes our friends are very much the result of accident and we do stick by them despite failings we are quicker to condemn in others. What is friendship? There is a question. It seems, in common thought, a friend will want for your happiness even if he will hold you to account when need be. But for Nietzsche (we cannot lose him can we?) it seems a friend is one who wishes only that you are tested but endure. On friendship, I welcome your thoughts, dear friends.. and foes.

  112. s.wallerstein (ex amos)

    I choose some friends; some choose me; and some just happen.

    However, it still seems that I am looking for ethical qualities, among other things, in them, in the people around me.

    At times, an ethical quality, which first lead me towards another, becomes less important to me, as I observe it more closely or live with it longer, for example, authenticity, which was more crucial to me when I was younger, while another quality, say, hospitality, has grown in value with time.

    However, I have only learned my values from others.

    Hospitality, as presented in a book, is always only a pale shadow of the nuances and subtleties of hospitality in another. Perhaps one could learn hospitality (or courage) from Homer, but I learn values from others.

    The fact that someone, say, Kant, “proves” that we have a certain duty has never convinced me at all.

    Now why I seek certain values in others is an issue that I can not easily resolve. It seems that I have a vague concept of what I am seeking for before I seek it.

    I suppose that perhaps what I seek has something to do with my own psychic or inner needs.

  113. I offer only unfocused musings, vague thoughts spoke ‘out loud’.

    But it is interesting (to me at least) that you refer to ‘ethical’ qualities rather than ‘moral’ ones. The two terms are often synonymous, of course, but there seems some scope for distinction. The latter term seems more readily associated, with systems of ‘duty’ (good and evil acts?). The former can, perhaps, connote a wider range of practical ‘virtues’, good and bad character traits. This wider sense seems more in tune with what may form and maintain friendships.

    Authenticity seems a valuable good in the wider ‘ethical’ sense (less obviously described as a moral obligation). Hospitality can perhaps be a moral duty – a duty to aid travelling strangers is found in some moral systems I think. But that is not, I think, the hospitality you value, rather it is the free and joyous ‘breaking of bread’, sharing of wine and stories. There is virtue in play there I think.

    ‘I have only learned my values from others.’ I suppose you can read that in two ways. You learned what it is that you value from interaction with others, or you were ‘taught’ what to value by others. There seems some truth in both.

    Your musings on Homer and Kant are interesting. There seems more ethical ‘learning’ to be had in literature and myth than there is in Kant’s system. Kant puts Reason where we should put Compassion. Literature can provoke fellow feeling. And that is the motivating force I think we value when we are rendered assistance – that our helper was moved by a trait of compassion not by subscription to some ‘moral’ system, some fear of punishment or a trust in reciprocation.

    And we value compassion and other practical virtues in friends. We seek kindred spirits, not subjects of morality for company. We want ethical people we can travel with, not moral leaders to follow. At least as far as friendship is concerned. As I say, I merely muse…

  114. Just rambling myself.

    I hardly ever use the word “moral”.
    I was stuffed with too much “morality” myself as a child.
    It was always preached or inculcated by the worst people.

    Why did I consider them to be the “worst” people if I had no criteria of morality? I guess that as a child, I had a primitive sense of honesty, integrity and authenticity. Maybe of good taste too.

    By “hospitality”, I don’t only mean the “free and joyous breaking of bread”. I mean also the discipline of welcoming even non-welcome others when they come to be welcomed and even stay needing their welcome to be confirmed.

    Perhaps I’m strange, but I never refer to rules in guiding my behavior. I guide myself by the example of others, perhaps at one time by historical or fictional characters, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I have absolutely no idea of what George Orwell (the person) would do in the same situation and that it is not wise to assume that I do from reading his books.

    I also guide myself by compassion or empathy, as you mention above. I don’t wish to hurt others or to make them suffer or to oppress them or to exploit them but that’s not due to any rule or any rational principle, but to putting myself in their place.

  115. Indeed so, you often find the worst people amongst the preaching moralists. To reject their ‘morality’ may deprive you of the right to freely bandy around words such as ‘evil’. Still, you can still call (some) preachers and their systems ‘bad’ in nature or consequence. I am unconvinced you need a ‘criteria of morality’ for this. You may only need an ethical ‘taste’ for what is virtuous or an understanding of what is useful. By ‘primitive’ we may not mean to emphasize ‘crude’ or ‘unsophisticated’ – we may mean only to denote primary, basic or not derived. Does this suggest your youthful sense of ‘honesty, integrity, authenticity’ was innate? I merely speculate.

    I do not think it strange that you do not refer to rules for guidance. Perhaps rules and rote ‘morality’ can serve a socially useful role – a necessary evil?. But to learn that you were aided by one who was acting only in obedience to a rule is surely a disappointment. What we want is that they act from a sense of compassion and as Schopenhauer contended: “only so far as an action springs there from, has it moral value”. We might prefer to say ‘ethical value’ but the point is made, I think, regardless. The ethical ‘education’ provided by literature is not, I think, that of learning rules or finding role models, rather it is in the exercising our of compassionate ‘muscles’. Fiction can help us empathize and to understand ‘what it is like’. ‘Ethical’ engagement with fiction is a matter of ‘putting thyself in their place’. And the discipline of welcoming even ‘non-welcome’ others may be learnt from ‘putting thyself in their place’ too I think.

    Clearly we agree that it is good to be guided compassion or empathy. But should we guide ourselves by the example of others? Not, I suggest, in the sense of having role-models, fictional or real and by speculating on what so-and-so do would do ‘in our boots’. We learn from others, but we do so from examples both good and bad. To stay within the company of the good may certainly strengthen or bring about good habits. And it may help us reveal to us what is best for, and in, ourselves.

    Certainly, the relationship between friendship and ethical behavior is intriguing. Perhaps we learn, or learn better, to forgive, to empathize, to be charitable whilst we are amongst friends and we take with us these ‘lessons’ into the wider world? The solitary man is perhaps at an ‘ethical’ disadvantage in this respect. And, of course, we see and are attracted by the broadly ‘ethical’ virtues of our friends. Perhaps the ‘intentionally’ solitary man fails to find – or recognize – these virtues in others? There seems poverty and blindness there. I only speculate but perhaps, as you say, there is indeed some ‘feedback loop’ between ethical virtue and friendship? And this seems a question, like other important ones, that we cannot answer in solitary reasoning. We can only explore it in dialogue with friends…

  116. s. wallerstein

    A few points:

    I don’t consciously follow ethical rules, but what Freud calls the superego may be seen as a set of rules, and if it is seen that way, I do follow lots of them, without questioning although sensing the force of their presence: for example, always be punctual.

    Authenticity is a virtue especially prized by young people, not because it is innate, but because young people
    first need to find their way around the city, before they can
    act effectively. Thus, they need to cut through the hypocrisy and dishonesty (often well intentioned and/or diplomatic) of daily life in order to see where is where and who is who.

    I agree with you that the role of fiction is not to provide us with role models, but I certainly took many of my adolescent ethical role models from fiction and from the movies, and that is not uncommon.

    I am as introverted and as solitary as they come, but in reality, no one is intentionally solitary to the degree that there are no significant others in her life. Solitary people tend to be, not those without significant others in their lives, but those who feel more centered alone than with others: they need to mix their moments of company with
    large doses of solitude.

    However, they have the same need to form bonds as do those who are more gregarious.

  117. Re S Wallerstein March 11th:-
    Perhaps it is possible to draw up ethical codes of behaviour in business which are inflexible and must be obeyed. Even so they might not be advocating the kind of behaviour by which everybody would wish to be bound. Like you I do not ‘do ethics’ other than to study it from time to time as an intellectual exercise. I cannot see how any ethical system can possibly cater for all contingencies, every difference makes a difference. As you say compassion and empathy go an immense way towards guiding one how to behave, but I would not say that even there they will provide the answers of all states of affairs in which we are likely to find ourselves with the need to make a decision. I remember some long while ago you said under no circumstances, could you kill a child or words to that effect. I wondered at the time how you would act if a child were on the point of killing a child of your own, and you had the opportunity, provided you acted promptly, of killing the child before he accomplished his murderous intent.
    Again you say “I don’t wish to hurt others or to make them suffer or to oppress them or to exploit them but that’s not due to any rule or any rational principle, but to putting myself in their place.”
    By and large this seems pretty sound, but for the case where if you do not cause certain people to suffer and oppress and exploit them, they will do it to you and your loved ones. Moral dictates are OK when one is warm, well fed, and in one’s comfortable arm-chair but on the ‘shop floor’ of life, things are so often very different.
    The only conclusion I can come to out of all this is that in any situation in which one finds oneself just do what in all the circumstances, seems best. Sometimes this will be to one’s own disadvantage and sometimes to one’s advantage.
    I think that for the foregone reasons I have more sympathy with Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics which asks what does it mean to be a good person. This avoids looking at actions in isolation and asking if they are right or wrong as is broadly the case in Deontology and Cosequentialism.
    I do not wish to appear impertinent but I was wondering why you had changed your name.

  118. ‘Always be punctual’ … ah good manners. I fear more for them than I do the whales. Once I hitch-hiked, jumped trains and lived in squats. Now I find myself disapproving of short skirts on young girls. I wonder: was I ever young, authentic?

    I raise a glass to good company and fine living. But solitude and mortality are great comforts.

  119. s. wallerstein

    Hello Don:

    I have an armchair, so I speak from where I sit, not from the shop-floor where I’m not sitting.
    I have no doubt that if I were someone else somewhere else, I would have different opinions.

    I’ve never claimed nor do I claim to emit judgments or rules which the rest of humanity need follow.

    I didn’t change my name. As a result of a situation in another blog, one known to some who participate in this blog too, in which someone with an online alias began to harass and insult the blogger, I began to use my last name and first initial here, to assure that I would never say things online which I would not dare to say or which I would be ashamed of saying to your (collective “your”) face.

    If I had to choose between Aristotle, the deontologists and the consequentialists, I would opt for Aristotle myself. No argument there.

  120. s. wallerstein


    By the way, I never said that I never exploit or oppress anyone, but that I don’t wish to do so.

    Every time I buy a new computer, I indirectly contribute to the exploitation of the Chinese labor force.

    I’m sure that many more of my privileges are due to the fact that others are exploited or oppressed “for my benefit.”

    I think that I would be willing to live with fewer privileges and with a slower computer in exchange for a juster world, one in which as a bare minimum, everyone was paid a decent wage for a day’s work.

  121. Man does at all times only what he wills, and yet he does this necessarily. But this is because he already is what he wills.

  122. Re Curious 14th March:-

    Can you explain what exactly you mean by the expression “What he wills”? For instance is it being used in the context of our day to day common communication and language or alternatively perhaps, in a more sophisticated sense, as per Schopenhauer.?

  123. Schopenhauer is indeed the source Don.

    Schopenhauer set out to answer a question set by Norwegians (and of concern to certain Swedes): “Is it possible to demonstrate human free will from self-consciousness?”

    In short his answer was: ‘No’. He was quite a strict determinist at the phenomenal level.

    Still he seemed to maintain, commitment to some version of Kant’s ‘transcendental freedom’. And the underlying ‘thing-in-itself’ he did, as you hint at, term ‘will’. He thought (contra Kant) that we could get some ‘veiled sense’ of the thing-in-itself (he thought Kant was wrong to refer to ‘things’ in the plural) through inner experience of our ‘wills’ in action.

  124. Bringing things somewhat full circle. I posted a link at the beginning of this thread to a Youtube channel hosting a discussion between Father Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer. Its actually a very good site for a number of television discussions including Martha Nussbaum on Aristotle and JP Stern on Nietzsche amongst others.

  125. Schopenhauer set out to answer a question set by Norwegians (and of concern to certain Swedes): “Is it possible to demonstrate human free will from self-consciousness?”

    Those pesky Scandinavians who think that they can change their environment at the whim of an arbitrary thought. Maybe it’s all that arctic air. I mean, who in their sane mind would colonize Gällivare rather than Bermuda? Ah, right, precious metals, the most sufficient reason throughout the ages…

  126. Re Curious March 15th Coplestone and Magee:-

    In the event that you, or anyone else for that matter, may not be familiar with Bryan Magee’s book “The Great Philosophers:- An introduction to Western Philosophy” I draw attention to it here. The book is based on a series of programmes first transmitted on TV by the BBC in 1987, There are in all 15 dialogues between Magee and one of the leading authorities on every philosopher. The book keeps close to the original dialogues but has been where thought necessary, enlarged upon and clarified by Magee and the particular leading authority. An excellent book, I referred to it frequently as an undergraduate to clarify many things which puzzled me and on occasions still consult it. It is still available on Abe Books at very small cost.

  127. Hi Don,

    I had the Bryan Magee books years ago. There were actually 2 tv series and 2 corresponding books: the one you mention and an earlier series ‘Men of Ideas’ – which has been republished as ‘Talking Philosophy’ (which seems fair enough seeing as it has Iris Murdoch in it).

    I thoroughly recommend both of them too.

  128. Andreas,

    Pesky Scandinavians indeed, especially the Swedes. I’d never forgiven Sweden for causing dear old Descartes to die from his early rises in your cold weather.. but now it seems there may have have a more sinister cause..

  129. Re Curious
    Thanks for your reply. I have the other book somewhere here but cannot find it. Infuriating I need more shelf room.

  130. Oh, Bertrand Russell, how can such wisdom have resided in one mind?

  131. Ah Andreas,

    I did wonder if your mention of ‘free will’ might lead you back here somehow…

    This was a good thread, I miss the days when taxation was rarely mentioned, I’m sure I was of better humour then…

  132. Andreas,

    I’ve been reading about Jonas Salk, the chap that came up with the polio vaccine. I noted the following in an interview with and thought it might intrigue you. (I don;t know that the interview is a whole is central to your concerns but I’ll add a link). Hope all’s well with you. J

    “I judge things from an evolutionary perspective — “How does this serve and contribute to the process of our own evolution?” — rather than think of good and evil in moral terms. I see the triumph of good over evil as a manifestation of the error-correcting process of evolution. It is an attempt to get some distance from whence we have come and recognize that as we move into the future, it becomes necessary for us to think the way nature thinks. That’s why I speak about universal evolution and teleological evolution, because I think the process of evolution reflects the wisdom of nature. I see the need for wisdom to become operative. We need to try to put all of these things together in what I call an evolutionary philosophy of our time.”

  133. Re Curious 29th April:-

    I am very sympathetic with this viewpoint. However when Salk says “rather than think of good and evil in moral terms.” I cannot cannot help but remember Tennysons In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850. Canto 56

    “Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation’s final law
    Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”

    Evolution plainly does not do morals good or evil. Survival, that alone it does, at any expense.

  134. Hi Don,

    Evolution does not do morals no. Though I suppose the conversation as a whole might give a more charitable imporession of Salk’s thinking, I am not myself swayed by evolutionary ethics. I know Andreas is enthusisatic about that approach to moral thinking though and just thought I’d point him in that direction in case it was of interest…

    I came across Salk in the course of some disputes about the charming Ayn Rand on another thread.. I wouldn’t point anybody there…

  135. Re Curious:-
    Just arrived home to find Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” in the post box it looks formidable.

  136. Evolution plainly does not do morals good or evil.
          DON BIRD

    What in goodness name does this mean, Don? Does evolution do eyes? Brains? Hunting in prehistoric society? Where does what evolution does end? Social interactions? Religion? Curtseying?

    Let’s asume I had an atrocious moral framework where sacrificing all my children is required to bring fertility to the fields. What evolution dispense with this moral framework or is it completely irrelevant to its continued perpetuation?

  137. Dennis Sceviour

    Perhaps Don meant, “Evolution does not consider morals such as good or evil as essential to the theory.” You may be confusing Darwinian Evolution with Olsson’s Imperative Evolution. Darwinian Evolution is about the scientific observation of biological adaptation. Darwin distanced himself from evolutionary ethics. Darwin’s theories cannot be conflated with other definitions at random. Was not this discussed before?

  138. Re Andreus May 8th.
    Actually the full quotation was- “Evolution plainly does not do morals good or evil. Survival, that alone it does, at any expense.”
    I think there can be two stances to this, and I am looking at Evolution in its connection with, as Dennis has said, “ Evolution is about the scientific observation of biological adaptation”
    1/ It could be argued that Evolution is responsible for Good, Evil, Moral codes, and any number of patterns of human belief and behaviour. That is to say were it not for Evolution, such concepts or events would not exist, as Humans would not exist. This was not the stance I was taking when I made the quotation in question.
    2/ When I said Evolution plainly does not do Morals Good or Evil I had in mind that Evolution does not in itself make any plans; it is for want of a better expression, an Insensate Process. Thus it may happen that a man can thrive better than others because he performs acts which others call Evil. The possibility exists that these evil traits have a genetic component and can accordingly be inherited by the man’s offspring. We have therefore a clade of individuals who have better survival value than others. Substitute for Evil if you wish, Good, Benevolent, Intelligent, Charitable, etc. etc. The above does not purport to be a thoroughgoing scientific explanation It is merely to make my point somewhat roughly maybe, but not I think inaccurate.
    So Survival is the keynote nothing more. This can also be seen in the inanimate world. For instance Granite lasts longer than Limestone because it has greater survival value in that is it far less erodible. Due to their atomic structure the Inert gases never combine naturally with any other element; it seems their unadulterated survival is secure.
    I am inclined to think it could be argued that in the absence of evolutionary principles there could be absolutely nothing at all.
    You have asked- “Let’s asume I had an atrocious moral framework where sacrificing all my children is required to bring fertility to the fields. Would evolution dispense with this moral framework or is it completely irrelevant to its continued perpetuation?
    I Think survival here is embedded in the fields. As long as you keep sacrificing your children it will have survival value for the fields but obviously not for your genetic structure which with every death is being eroded. Finally when your genes are extinct presumably the fields will begin to suffer. Evolution is nothing like a benevolent God seeking what is best and stamping out what is worst. In fact Evolution is really an abstract noun it is just a description by human beings of certain states of affairs in Nature which are apparently conducive to survival.

  139. Don, I’m glad that we seem to agree on some fundamentals about evolution. No, indeed, evolution is not a process that has a hidden moral agenda (i.e. it is not a pseudonym for God or Logos). It is simply a statement that variation exists and that what will work will work, hence reenforcing workable variations. Of course, what causes such variations at a fundamental level is a legitimate question that theists have a right to ask.

  140. Andreas,

    There’s been some talk of Galen Strawson and free will on another thread and I thought of yourself. You’ve been quiet of late, how are you?


  141. Hey James,
    I’ve had some other spare-time projects beyond solving the mysteries of life in the last few months that have kept me quite busy. And it’s the summer and I have a preteen and a 7 year old.

    Thanks for the pointer. I’ll try to check the Galen Strawson thread out as soon as possible. You know I’m a poor sucker for that elusive “illusion” of freedom…

  142. Freedom Does Not Exist « Triptychon - pingback on November 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm

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