Truth suffers from too much analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Metaphysics’

Paradox of Knowability

Posted by allzermalmer on April 12, 2013

Theorem 5: If there is some true proposition which nobody knows (or has known or will know) to be true, then there is a true proposition which nobody can know to be true

“There are truths that cannot be known. For suppose that all truths can be known. Then all truths actually are known. Otherwise, we may suppose for some p that p but it is not known that p. Then it can be known that p but it is not known that p. But when it is known that thus and such, it is known that thus and it is known that such. So it could be known that p and known that it is not known that p. But what is known is true. So it could be known that p and not known that p. But that is a contradiction, and no contradiction can be true. So all truths are actually known.” W.D. Hart

(1) Assume that if X is true then possible to know that X is true. (2) Then, if X is true & do not know that X is true, then possible to know that both X is true & do not know X is true. (3) But, not possible to know that both X is true & do not know X is true. (4) Not both X is true & do not know X is true. (5)  If X is true then do not not know that X is true. (6) If X is true then know that X is true.

What if the World is non-omniscient? This would mean that nobody knows all truths, and nobody ever will. Therefore, there are unknowable truths. If some truth is unknown, then that it is unknown is itself unknowable; Because the world is non-omniscient, there is some unknowable truth. If there at exists at least one Truth, such that Truth is true and Truth is unknown, then there exists at least one Truth, such that Truth is unknown and Truth is unknowable. If there does not exist at least one Truth, such that Truth is unknown and Truth is unknowable, then there does not exist at least one Truth, such that Truth is true and Truth is unknown.

It is possible that it is known by someone at some time that both X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. It is possible that both It is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true (reduction ad absurdum)

Non-Omniscience: X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true.

Verdicality (KV): If it is known by someone at some time that X is true, then X is true.

Distribution (KC): If it is known by someone at some time that both X is true & Y is true, then both it is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is known by someone at some time that Y is true.

Non-Contradiction (LNC): It is not possible that both X is true & X is not true.

Clousure (CP): If X is true implies Y is true & it is possible that X is true, then it is possible that Y is true.

Knowability (KP): If X is true then it is possible that it is known by someone at some time that X is true.

(1) Assume that X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true

(2) It is possible that it is known by someone at some time that both X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. (By KP & (1).

(3) It is known by someone at some time that both X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. It is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is known by someone at some time that it is not known by someone at some time that X is true.

(4) It is known by someone at some time that both X is true & it is not known by someone at some time that X is true. It is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. (By Simp, VK, and Adjunction (and Transitivity implication))

(5) It is possible that both It is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. (by CP)

(6) It is not possible that both It is known by someone at some time that X is true & It is not known by someone at some time that X is true. (by LNC)

(7) It is necessary that not both X is true & X is not true.

*(8) X is true & It is known by someone at some time that X is true. (by Reduction Ad Absurdim)

Thus, If X is true, then it is known by someone at some time that X is true:: If it is not known by someone at some time that X is true, then X is not true.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Science Doesn’t Invoke Metaphysics

Posted by allzermalmer on November 1, 2012

All those things in italics come from Popper, and those that are in bold & italics  are my own personal emphasis and not Popper’s.

But before I get to that, I want to start out by making one big distinction. There is the distinction between statements that are logically necessary and those that are logically contingent.

Logically Necessary: For each x, if x is logically necessary, then x’s affirmation is logically possible and x’s negation is not logically possible.
Logically Contingent: For each x, if x is logically contingent, then x’s affirmation is logically possible and x’s negation is logically possible.

Popper thinks that things that are Logically Necessary are not in the domain of empirical science. Logically Necessary statements make no claim about reality or what exists, while those things that are Logically Contingent do make claims about reality or what exists. Logically Contingent statements are what empirical science deals with. But from within this domain of Logically Contingent statements, Popper is going to make a distinction.

His distinction is basically this: Not for every statement, if statement is logically contingent, then logically possible for humans to verify that statement is actually true instead of possibly true.

This is because it relies logical distinction between singular statements and universal statements.  “The raven is black in color” or “There exists at least one x, such that x is raven and x is black in color”, are examples of “Singular statements”. They are a proposition that asserts that a particular individual has (or has not) some specified attribute. “All ravens are black in color” or “For every x, if x is raven, then x is black in color”, are examples of “Universal statements”. They are a proposition that refers to all the members of a class. The members of class could have all sorts of particular individual things contained in them, like all ravens that have existed, are existing, or will exist. This can be logically infinite domain in time and space. Singular statements are at specific times and specific places, not all times and all places. So these are logically distinct from one another.

One of the basic points is that sense experience, or observation, is of particular things or individuals. We do not have sense experience, or observation, of all times and places, or all things that have existed, are existing, or will exist. In other words, observation only gives singular statements but science, or empirical science, seeks universal statements that apply to all particular things, for all times and all places. Empirical science is seeking universal statements that apply to singular statements, like universal statements that apply to all particular ravens.

“The fact that theories are not verifiable has often been overlooked. People often say of a theory that it is verified when some of the predictions derived from it have been verified. They may perhaps admit that the verification is not completely impeccable from a logical point of view, or that a statement can never be finally established by establishing some of its consequences. But they are apt to look upon such objections as due to somewhat unnecessary scruples. It is quite true, they say, and even trivial, that we cannot know for certain whether the sun will rise tomorrow; but this uncertainty may be neglected: the fact that theories may not only be improved but that they can also be falsified by new experiments presents to the scientist a serious possibility which may at any moment become actual; but never yet has a theory had to be regarded as falsified owing to the sudden breakdown of a well confirmed law. It never happens that old experiments one day yield new results. What happens is only that new experiments decide against an old theory. The old theory, even when it is superseded, often retains its validity as a kind of limiting case of the new theory; it still applies, at least with a high degree of approximation, in those cases in which it was successful before. In short, regularities which are directly testable by experiment do not change. Admittedly it is conceivable, or logically possible, that they might change; but this possibility is disregarded by empirical science and does not affect its methods. On the contrary, scientific method presupposes the immutability of natural processes, or the ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’.

There is something to be said for the above argument, but it does not affect my thesis. It expresses the metaphysical faith in the existence of regularities in our world (a faith which I share, and without which practical action is hardly conceivable).*1 Yet the question before us— the question which makes the non-verifiability of theories significant in the present context—is on an altogether different plane. Consistently with my attitude towards other metaphysical questions, I abstain from arguing for or against faith in the existence of regularities in our world. But I shall try to show that the non-verifiability of theories is methodologically important. It is on this plane that I oppose the argument just advanced.

I shall therefore take up as relevant only one of the points of this argument—the reference to the so-called ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’. This principle, it seems to me, expresses in a very superficial way an important methodological rule, and one which might be derived, with advantage, precisely from a consideration of the non-verifiability of theories.*2 (I mean the rule that any new system of hypotheses should yield, or explain, the old, corroborated, regularities. See also section *3 (third paragraph) of my Postscript.

Let us suppose that the sun will not rise tomorrow (and that we shall nevertheless continue to live, and also to pursue our scientific interests). Should such a thing occur, science would have to try to explain it, i.e. to derive it from laws. Existing theories would presumably require to be drastically revised. But the revised theories would not merely have to account for the new state of affairs: our older experiences would also have to be derivable from them. From the methodological point of view one sees that the principle of the uniformity of nature is here replaced by the postulate of the invariance of natural laws, with respect to both space and time.  I think, therefore, that it would be a mistake to assert that natural regularities do not change. (This would be a kind of statement that can neither be argued against nor argued for.) What we should say is, rather, that it is part of our definition of natural laws if we postulate that they are to be invariant with respect to space and time; and also if we postulate that they are to have no exceptions. Thus from a methodological point of view, the possibility of falsifying a corroborated law is by no means without significance. It helps us to find out what we demand and expect from natural laws. And the ‘principle of the uniformity of nature’ can again be regarded as a metaphysical interpretation of a methodological rule—like its near relative, the ‘law of causality’.

One attempt to replace metaphysical statements of this kind by principles of method leads to the ‘principle of induction’, supposed to govern the method of induction, and hence that of the verification of theories. But this attempt fails, for the principle of induction is itself metaphysical in character. As I have pointed out in section 1, the assumption that the principle of induction is empirical leads to an infinite regress. It could therefore only be introduced as a primitive proposition (or a postulate, or an axiom). This would perhaps not matter so much, were it not that the principle of induction would have in any case to be treated as a non-falsifiable statement. For if this principle— which is supposed to validate the inference of theories—were itself falsifiable, then it would be falsified with the first falsified theory, because this theory would then be a conclusion, derived with the help of the principle of induction; and this principle, as a premise, will of course be falsified by the modus tollens whenever a theory is falsified which was derived from it. *3 (The premises of the derivation of the theory would (according to the inductivist view here discussed) consist of the principle of induction and of observation statements. But the latter are here tacitly assumed to be unshaken and reproducible, so that they cannot be made responsible for the failure of the theory.) But this means that a falsifiable principle of induction would be falsified anew with every advance made by science. It would be necessary, therefore, to introduce a principle of induction assumed not to be falsifiable. But this would amount to the misconceived notion of a synthetic statement which is a priori valid, i.e. an irrefutable statement about reality. Thus if we try to turn our metaphysical faith in the uniformity of nature and in the verifiability of theories into a theory of knowledge based on inductive logic, we are left only with the choice between an infinite regress and apriorism.” The Logic of Scientific Discovery pg. 249-252

Popper is trying to make the distinction between a metaphysical principle and a methodological principle. He is trying to point out that science is a methodology without metaphysical principles. The line of demarcation between science and metaphysics is falsifiability or refutability.  He holds that “we must choose a criterion which allows us to admit to the domain of empirical science even statements which cannot be verified.” (pg. 18) Popper’s line of demarcation for statements that are allowed into science, or more specifically universal statements allowed into empirical science. “But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation.*3 In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.” (pg. 18)

We can verify singular statements, it is logically possible for us to find out if that statement is true. If we have not verified that it is actually true, we cannot infer that it is actually false. It is still logically possible that it is true. So we find out that we can, at least in principle, verify the truth of a singular statement. However, it is not logically possible for us to affirm a universal statement, like empirical claims of science. However, we can show that they are false. We cannot verify them but we can falsify them. We falsify these universal statements with one singular statement, or one observation, which the universal statement does not logically allow for, i.e. says is not logically possible to be true if the universal statement is true. This can be shown by simple modus tollens.

Universal Statement: All ravens are black.
Singular Statement: This raven is white.
Conclusion: Some ravens are not white.


Universal Statement: No ravens are not black.
Singular Statement: This raven is not black.
Conclusion: Some ravens are not black.


Universal Statement: For each x, if x is a raven, then x is black.
Singular Statement: There exists at least one x, such that x is a raven and x is not black.
Conclusion: Not each x, if x is raven, then x is black.

What needs to be kept in mind that the Universal statement has a logical equivalent as “No ravens are not black.” So it logically excludes a raven that is white, since white is the logical opposite of black, so it is not black.

Popper shows that if we do accept a metaphysical principle (i.e. a universal statement) which is logically contingent, then it means it is possibly true or possibly false. And if we choose to invoke a metaphysical principle in our science, and we derive another universal statement from it, then when that derived universal statement is refuted by observation, then the universal statement and the one it was derived from are shown to be false. For example, assume that “All ravens on Earthare black” is a metaphysical principle. We may derive that “All ravens on Earth in  in the United States are black”. When we observe that one particular raven on Earth in the United States is not black, which means that “All ravens on Earth in the United States are black” and “All ravens on Earth are black” are false.

Metaphysical Statement: All ravens on Earth are black.
Scientific Statement: All ravens on Earth in the United States are black.
Observation: This raven on Earth in the United States is not black.
Conclusion: Not all ravens on Earth in the United States are black & Not all ravens on Earth are black.

This means that if someone believes that science holds to the metaphysical principle of induction, then it was shown to be false by scientific theories that are false. Now as a methodology there is nothing wrong with holding to it, because methodology makes no truth claim itself. Also, the example of causality is an example, if we take it as a metaphysical principle that science is based on. So this would mean that science would hold to this metaphysical principle and derive other statements from this principle and test them with experience or observation. From this we find that one of our theories made a false prediction, which means that the metaphysical principle of causality has been shown to be false by experience as well, and all other theories that were derived from the metaphysical principle, but have not been shown false yet, would also by logical implication be false. The same thing would hold with naturalism, physicalism, materialism, dualism, or the world is parsimonious or simple, or determinism, or indeterminism, or presentism and eternalism, and etc.

Now science, or experience, would have never been able to verify these metaphysical principles in the first place. There would be no support for them to be derived from experience. It would still be logically possible for them to be true, but we cannot find out if they are actually true. Experience cannot help us to figure out if they are actually true or possibly true, no matter the amount of observations we make that are consistent with them. But science may use methodological principles in its activities, but holding to those methodological principles does not mean that one is logically obliged to hold to the metaphysical principles.

What is even more interesting is that if we do try to make some sort of inductive argument, we could argue that since science has used metaphysical principle x, and science continually comes up with false theories, or refuted theories, it will continue to derive false theories from that metaphysical principle. But of course, once something was refuted we have shown that it is logically impossible to be true. However, we can still use it and we may derive “true” theories, or theories that have not been shown to be false by observation, yet. This is because anything follows from a logical contradiction. This means you can derive both true statements and false statements. So it would not be surprising if the metaphysical principle also helped you to derive theories that have not been shown false by observation as of yet (even though still logically possible to be shown false with next observation).

Here is an example from basic logic which will rely on two basic rules of logical inference. These two rules are Disjunctive Addition and Disjunctive Syllogism.

Rule 1 – Disjunctive Addition: Given that a statement is true, we can infer that a disjunction comprising it and any other statement is true, because only one disjunct needs to be true for the disjunctive compound to be true.

Premise: It is snowing
Conclusion: Either it is snowing or it is raining

Rule 2 – Disjunctive Syllogism: Because at least one disjunct must be true, by knowing one is false we can infer that the other is true.

Premise: Either the New York Yankees will win the pennant or the Baltimore Orioles will.
Premise: The Yankees will not win the pennant.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Orioles will win the pennant.

For it can easily be shown that these rules permit us to deduce from a pair of contradictory sentences, for instance, from the two sentences,  ”  The sun is shining ” and “The sun is not shining “, any sentence whatsoever.  Let us take these two premisses (a) “The sun is shining”  (b) “The sun is not shining “.  We can deduce with the help of rule (1) from the first of these premisses, the following sentence:”The sun is shining or Caesar was a traitor “. But from this sentence, together with the second premiss (b), we can deduce, following rule (2), that,Caesar was a traitor. And by the same method we can deduce any other sentence. This is extremely important, for if we can deduce any sentence whatsoever, then, clearly, we can always deduce any negation of any sentence whatsoever: It is clear that instead of the sentence “Caesar was a traitor ” we can, if we wish, deduce “Caesar was not a traitor “. In other words, from two contradictory premisses, we can logically deduce anything, and its negation as well. We therefore convey with such a contradictory theory-nothing. A theory which involves a contradiction is entirely useless, because it does not convey any sort of information.”

Logically possible Affirmation: The sun is shining.
Logically possible Negation: The sun is not shining.

The sun is shining. Therefore, by rule 1, The sun is shining or Ceasar was a traitor. But now the sun is not shining. Therefore, by rule 2, Ceasar was a traitor; The sun is not shinning. Therefore, by rule 1, The sun is not shinning or Ceasar was not a traitor. But now the sun is shinning. Therefore, by rule 2, Ceasar was not a traitor. Rule 1 allows you to pull up any premise you want, and be able to affirms this premise and also negate this premise by using Rule 2. So if you affirm a logical impossibility, anything and everything you want follows. They contain no “content” or “information” for empirical science. This is because empirical science wants to eliminate theories because they said something cannot happen and it was found that it did happen. Since there is a contradiction, we know it is logically impossible for the theory to be true.

This process of elimination, though, does not tell you which theories are true. It just says what is not true. There are still many other logically possible universal statements that have not been eliminated by singular statements, or observations, as of yet.

(This will be updated at least 24 hours after posting or publication). Edits need to be done.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pyrrhonian Scepticism Against Time

Posted by allzermalmer on October 14, 2012

This comes from Sextus Empiricus, the Pyrrhonian skeptic, speaking out against conceptions of time. This comes from Against the Physicists II.

“Let this, then, serve as our account of the difficulties regarding the real existence of time which arise from the conception of it; but we can also establish our case by means of direct argument. For if time exists it is either limited or unlimited; but neither is it limited, as we shall establish, nor is it unlimited, as we shall show; therefore time is nothing.

For if time is limited, there was once a time when time did not exist, and there will one day be a time when time will not exist. But it is absurd to say either that there was once a time when time did not exist, or that there will one day be a time when time will not exist, for the statements that “there once was” and that “there will be” are (as I said before) indicative of different times. So, then, time is not limited.

-Nor, in fact, is it unlimited. For one part of it is past, the other future. Each of these times, then, either exists or does not exist. And if it does not exist, time is at once limited, and if it is limited the original difficulty remains- that there was once a time when time did not exist and there will one day be a time when time will not exist. But if each exists- I mean both past and future time,- each will be in the present. And as existing in the present, both past and future time will be in present time. But it is absurd to say that past and future are conceived as in present time. So, then, time is not unlimited either.

But if it is neither conceived as limited nor as unlimited, it will not exist at all. – Also, what is composed of non-existents will be non-existent- of the past which exists no longer and of the future which does not as yet exist; time, therefore, is non-existent.


Furthermore: if time is anything, it is either indivisible or divisible; but it cannot be either indivisible, as we shall show, or divisible, as we shall establish; no time, therefore, exists.

Now time cannot be indivisible, since it is divided into past, present, and future. And it will not divisible because everything divisible is measured by a part of itself; the cubit, for instance, is measured by the palm, and the palms, is a part of the cubit, and the palm is measured by the finger, and the finger is a part of the palm. So, then, if time too is divisible, it ought to be measured by some part of itself.

But it is not possible for the other times to be measured by the present. For if the present time measures the past, the present time will be in the past, and being in the past it will no longer be present but past. And if the present measures the future, being within this it will be future and not present.

Hence, too, it is not possible to measure the present by the other times; for, as being within it, each of them will be present and not either past or future. But if one must certainly conceive time as either divisible or indivisible, and we have shown that it is neither divisible nor indivisible, it must be declared that time is nothing.


Furthermore: time is tripartite; for one part of it is past, one present, and one future. And of these the past no longer exists and the future does not yet exist. It remains to say that one part exists, the present.

The present time, then is either indivisible or divisible. But it cannot be indivisible, for “nothing divisible is of a nature to exist in indivisible time,” as Timon says, – becoming, for example, and perishing, and everything of a similar kind. And if it is indivisible, it will neither have a beginning whereby it is joined on to the past, nor an end whereby it is joined on to the future; for that which has a beginning and an end is not indivisible. But if it has neither a beginning nor an end, it will not have a middle either; for the middle is conceived by way of comparison in its relation to the other two. And as having neither beginning nor middle nor end, it will not exist at all.

And if present time is divisible, it is divided either into existent times or into non-existent. And if it should be divided into non-existent times, it will no longer be time; for that which is divided into non-existent times will not be time. And if it is divided into existent times, it will no longer, as a whole, be present but one part of it will be past, another future. And for this reason it will no longer, as a whole, be [present and] existent, as part of it no longer exists and part of is not as yet existing. But if of the three times- past, future, and present- it has been proved that not one exists, no time will exist.


And those who assert that present time is the limit of the past and the beginning of the future,- thus making one out of two non-existent times,- making not only one but every time nonexistent.

– And further : if present time is the limit of past, and the limit of the past has passed away together with that whereof it is the limit, present time will no longer exist, if it really is the limit of the past.

– And again; if present time is the beginning of the future, and the beginning of the future does not yet exist, present time will not yet exist, and thus it will have most opposite properties; for inasmuch as it is present it will exist, but inasmuch as it has passed away together with the past it will exist no longer, and inasmuch as it accompanies the future it will not as yet exist.

But it is absurd to conceive the same time as both existing and not existing, and no longer existing and not yet existing. So, then, in this way too one must deny that any time exists.


One may also argue thus: if time is anything, it is either imperishable and ingenerable or perishable and generable; but it is neither imperishable and ingenerable, as shall be proved, nor perishable and generable, as this also shall be established; time, therefore, is not anything.

Now it is not imperishable and ingenerable, seeing that part of it is past, part present, and past future. For the day of yesterday exists no longer, that of to-day exists, and that of to-morrow has not yet come into existence. Hence one part of time (namely, the past) no longer exists antoher (namely, the future) does not yet exist. And for this reason time will be neither ingenerable nor imperishable.

– But if it is perishable and generable, it is hard to say what it will perish into and from what it will come to exist. For neither does the future exist already, nor the past exist any longer. But how can a thing (come into existence) from non-existents, (or how can a thing) perish (into non-existents)? Time, then, is nothing.


One may attack it also in this way; if time is anything, it is either generable or ingenerable, or partly generable and partly ingenerable. But time cannot be either generable or ingenerable or partly generable and partly ingenerable; therefore time is not anything.

For if it i were generable, since everything which is generated becomes in time, time too being generated will be generated in time. Either, then, it will be generated as itself in itself or as one time in another.

And if it is generated as itself in itself, it will be a thing which has come to exist before it has come to exist; which is absurd. For since that in which a thing becomes must exist before that which is generated in it, time also, as generated in itself, must have come into existence before itself; just as a statue is wrought in a workshop, but the workshop existed before the statue, and a ship is constructed in a certain place, but the place was existing before the ship, So, then, if time too becomes in itself, it will exist before itself; and thus, inasmuch as it becomes, it will not yet exist, since everything which becomes, while it is becoming, does not exist as yet; but inasmuch as it becomes in itself, it must exist beforehand. Time, then, will be at once both existent and non-existent. Inasmuch as it becomes it will not exist, but inasmuch as it becomes in itself it will exist. But it is absurd that the same thing at the same instant should both exist and not exist; therefore it is also absurd to say that time becomes in itself.

-Nor yet does it become as one time in another,- the future, for instance, in the present, and and the present in the past. For if one time becomes in another, each of the times will necessarily quit its own position and occupy the post of the other. If, for example, the future time becomes in the present time, the future as becoming during the present will be present and not future; and if the present becomes in the past, as becoming during the past it will certainly not be present but past. And the same argument applies if we reverse their order, making the past becoming in the present and the present in the future; for her again the same difficulties follow.

– if, then, time does not become either in itself or as one time in another, time is not generable itself or as one time in another, time is not generable. But if it is neither ingenerable nor generable, and besides these one can conceive no third possibility, one must declare that time is nothing.

Now the fact that it cannot be ingeneralbe is extremely easy to demonstrate. For if it is ingenerable and neither has become nor will become, one time alone, the present, will exist, and neither will the future, and the things therein, be any longer future, nor will the past, and the things done therein, be any longer past. But this is not so; nor, consequently, is time ingenerable.

Nor yet is it partly generable and partly ingenerable, since, if so, the difficulties will be combined. For the generable must become either in itself or in another; but if it becomes in itself it will exist before itself, and if in another it will no longer be that time but , quitting its own post, it will be the time during which it becomes. And the same argument applies also to the ingenerable; for if it is ingenerable, neither will the future time every exist nor the past, but one time only remains, then, to say that as time is neither generable nor ingenerable, nor partly generable and partly ingenerable, time does not exist.”

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Whatever Is Conceivable Is Possible

Posted by allzermalmer on September 27, 2012

I am going to quote one little section in a book called Hume’s First Principles by Robert Fendel Anderson. This first part of the book is on Perceptions, and the first principle gone over on Perceptions is “Whatever is Conceivable is Possible”.

“The principle of the possible existence of whatever is conceivable is one which Hume finds both an evident principle and already an established maxim in metaphysics[1]. The application of the principle is frequently restricted to that which is clearly and distinctly conceivable: “…nothing of which we can form a clear and distinct idea is absurd and impossible.”[2] Again: “To form a clear idea of anything, is an undeniable argument for its possibility…”[3]. The possibility of existence, therefore, is of the essence of whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived; that is, its possibility is included or implied within it: “ ‘Tis an establish’d maxim in metaphysics, That whatever the mind clearly conceives includes the idea of possible existence…”[4] and: “Whatever can be conceiv’d by a clear and distinct idea necessarily implies the possibility of existence….”[5]

A clear and distinct idea, according to Hume’s doctrine, is one which neither contains nor implies a contradiction: “Now whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction…”[6] Again: “How any clear, and distinct idea can contain circumstances, contradictory to itself, or to any other clear, distinct idea, is absolutely incomprehensible….”[7] In saying that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived is possible, therefore, it appears to be Hume’s intention also that whatever is self-consistent and noncontradictory is possible:

“Whatever can be conceiv’d by a clear and distinct idea necessarily implies the possibility of existence; and he who pretends to prove the impossibility of its existence by any argument deriv’d from the clear idea, in reality asserts, that we have no clear idea of it, because we have a clear idea. ‘Tis in vain to search for a contradiction in any thing that is distinctly conceiv’d by the mind.”[8]

The expression employed in the remarks thus far examined may lead the reader to suppose that there are some things clearly and distinctly conceived and some not- that some of our ideas are clear and distinct and some of them unclear and indistinct. Were this true, then it would follow that we have ideas of things the existence of which we must regard as impossible. There is evidence, however, that Hume considers all our ideas to be clear and distinct. He offers an argument to this conclusion, based on his doctrine that ideas are derived from impressions:

“…we need but reflect on that principle so oft insisted on, that all our ideas are copy’d from our impressions. For from thence we may immediately conclude, that since all impressions are clear and precise, the ideas, which are copy’d from them, must be of the same nature…”[9]

Since all perceptions are either impressions or ideas[10], we must conclude that there are no perceptions of any kind that are not clear and precise.

From the clarity and preciseness of all ideas, we may infer, moreover, that we possess no ideas of those things whose existence we must regard as impossible, but that any idea we may have is the idea of something the existence of which is possible. We find, indeed, that Hume does not always restrict the possibility of existence to that which is clearly and distinctly conceived, but extends it as well to everything that is conceived or imagined at all: “…whatever we conceive is possible.”[11] And: “…whatever we can imagine, is possible.”[12]Hume appears, indeed, to make no firm distinction between what is clearly and distinctly conceived and what is conceived or imagined merely, as is evidenced in his full statement of the metaphysical maxim: “ ‘Tis an establish’d maxim in metaphysics, That whatever the mind clearly conceives includes the idea of possible existence, or in other words, that nothing we imagine is absolutely impossible.”[13] We are thus again justified, apparently, in supposing that all our ideas are equally clear and distinct, and that all things conceived are possible. Things which are contradictory and therefore impossible, on the other hand, cannot be conceived or imagined at all: “We can form the idea of a golden mountain, and from thence conclude that such a mountain may actually exist. We can form no idea of a mountain without a valley, and therefore regard it as impossible.”[14] Again: “ ‘Tis in vain to search for a contradiction in any thing that is distinctly conceiv’d by the mind. Did it imply any contradiction, ‘tis impossible it cou’d ever be coneiv’d.”[15]

Knowing then that self-contradictory things are neither conceivable nor possible, and knowing that whatever is conceived or imagined is possible, we may next inquire what things are in fact conceived or imagined and hence possible. From certain of Hume’s remarks one might infer that we conceive only perceptions; for it is only perceptions that are “present to” the mind: “…nothing is ever really present with the mind but its perceptions or impressions and ideas…”[16] If this be true, then it is reasonable to suppose that we have clear and distinct ideas only of perceptions, as Hume sometimes appears to agree: “We have no perfect idea of any thing but of a perception.”[17] Now if we can conceive only of perceptions, then according to Hume’s principle it is only perceptions whose existence we may regard as possible. We may observe, moreover, that the remarks we have thus far examined do not imply that perceptions, as such, exist, but only that their existence is possible. Were there no further texts available to us from among Hume’s writings, we might justifiably conclude that what he calls “perceptions” are to be understood as a realm of mere essences which, taken together, comprehend all possibility, but which are not, of themselves, existence.”

[1] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), pp. 32, 250, Hereafter cited as Treatise.

[2] Treatise, pp.19-20. Cf> David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. and with an introduction by Henry D. Aiken(New York: Hafner Library of Classic, Hafner Publishing Company, 1948), p. 19, Philo speaking. Hereafter cited as Dialogues.

[3] Treatise, p. 89

[4] Treatise, p.32

[5] Treatise, p. 43

[6] David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding,” in An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding and an Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. and with an introduction by L.A. Selby-Bigge (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), p. 35. Hereafter cited as “Understanding.” Cf. Dialogues, p. 58, Cleanthes speaking.

[7] “Understanding.” P. 157

[8] Treatise p. 43.

[9] Treatise, p. 72; cf. p. 366.

[10] Treatise, pp. 1, 96.

[11] Treatise, p. 236.

[12] Treatise, p. 250

[13] Treatise, p. 32.

[14] Treatise, p. 32.

[15] Treatise, p.43. Cf. “Understanding,” p. 164.

[16] Treatise, p. 67; cf. pp.197,212.

[17] Treatise, p. 234.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Berkeley’s Immaterialism

Posted by allzermalmer on June 25, 2012

This blog is a paper that I had to do on George Berkeley. We had to talk about Berkeley’s “Immaterialism”. I received an A on this paper but this does not mean much.

George Berkeley was a Scottish philosopher who lived from 1685-1753. He was a philosopher of the empiricist type, which means that he believed knowledge of the world is based on experience, which is to say the human senses. He became famous for his stance of Immaterialism, which is the denial of a material substance and a mind-independent world. He is the philosopher who has become famous for the slogan of esse is percipi, or to be is to be perceived.

Berkeley starts out his book A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge by trying to go over a topic called Abstraction. It is from this that he believes that many problems have arisen and have misled people. One of the things he says in the introduction is “That we have first raised a dust, and then complain, we cannot see.”[1] Berkeley believes that abstraction has come about from an abuse of language, and he is going to try to rectify this problem. Berkeley does this by pointing out that when we come across a particular object, like an apple, we find that it has many qualities existing together. Abstraction is where we come to think of each of these qualities being separated from each other in this apple, and we come to hold that each quality can, or does, exist apart from the other qualities in which we originally found them. As Berkeley says, “the mind being able to consider each quality singly, or abstracted from those other qualities with which it is united, does by that means frame to itself abstract ideas.”[2]

We perceive particular objects by our senses, and we find that there is something alike, or different, between those particular things we experience when we make a comparison between them. We will find that there are certain qualities that these two objects have in common when we are comparing them, and find that they share the same quality, like the color red. We come to separate these qualities from those two objects and hold that they exist without the particular object itself.  Take an example of comparing Peter and James, two particular human beings. They are two particular human beings, and they have some different qualities and similar qualities. One of them is white in skin color and the other is black in skin color, but both have color; they both have different hair colors in that one is blond and one is black, but they both have colored hair; they both have hair but different styles of hair; they both have arms but different lengths; they both have legs but of different length; they both have a height but one is tall and the other is short. We can go on like this and find that the abstract idea of Human contains all of these qualities and none of these qualities. A Human is both white and not white, both 6 feet tall and not 6 feet all, both has two legs and no legs, and etc. Abstract ideas are not something that Berkeley can think of and does not find in experience. But we get caught up in taking abstract ideas as if they exist or represent something that exists.

When Berkeley is told to think of “human”, he thinks of something particular. He imagines that it is white in skin color, has red hair, has hair down to its shoulders, has long hairy forearms, is tall and has long legs, and etc. In other words, when he is asked to think about a human being he thinks of a particular human with particular qualities, not this “all and none” qualities that is found with an abstract idea of a human. This is the same when he does something like mathematics, which is supposed to be a very abstract science. He comes to think of a particular triangle, but a triangle in geometry can be either a right triangle, or acute triangle, or obtuse triangle, or equilateral triangle, or isosceles triangle, or a scalene triangle.

One thing about abstraction, which can be made a case and point with geometry, is that we do not find them in experience. One of the definitions for a line is a “breadthless length”. None of these things are found in experience. In fact, we cannot experience these things. When a line is drawn on a sheet of paper, it is not a line in geometry. We are calling something a line which is not a geometrical line. If triangles are built off of lines and lines are not experienced, then those triangles of geometry are not experienced either. But we apply this abstract idea to experience, or we apply something to its contradictory. We are applying a breadthless length to a line with breadth.

Once we clear up this problem with abstraction, Berkeley comes to deal with this idea that there is something that is primary qualities and secondary qualities. It was held by some people during Berkeley’s time, that we do not directly experience the “external world”. The position of perception was known as representational theory of perception. When the external world caused our perceptions, we indirectly had experiences of it. Primary qualities are said to be qualities of mind-independent objects, which are extension, figure, motion, rest, solidity, and number, and are the qualities that exist in the object itself. Secondary qualities are said to be mind-dependent objects, which are colors, sounds, tastes, and etc, and do not exist in the object itself. Matter, which is said to be mind-independent, has these primary qualities and when we have these mind-independent objects affect our senses to cause our perceptions, we only view a part of it that is the primary qualities and the secondary qualities are what our minds add on to the primary qualities. In other words, our perceptions both have something from the mind-independent world and something from the mind-dependent world. But what is key to keep in mind is that what we experience with our senses is not the external world itself. The experiences themselves are mind-dependent, which is our individual minds.

One way in it was said to be determined what qualities are from the external world, and those qualities from ourselves, was with the primary and secondary qualities distinction.  The primary qualities were supposed to be stable and did not change, much, if at all. It was to persist through change. And secondary qualities were said to change through time frequently, being in a sort of flux. There was one way to distinguish through primary and secondary qualities are with a simple argument. One of the things that was said to be a secondary quality was that of heat. Take the example of taking a bucket filled with water. “Suppose now one of your hands hot, and the other cold, and that they are both at once put into the same vessel of water, in an intermediate state; will not the water seem cold to one hand and warm to the other?…It will.”[3] But the heat of the water cannot both be hot and not hot, so heat is not part of the mind-independent world. These types of arguments were supposed to show that some of things we experience are not part of a mind-independent world, and arguments of the same kind were used to show what qualities were mind-independent and which qualities were mind-dependent.

What Berkeley does in this situation is to use the same type of arguments to show that even primary qualities are mind-dependent. Solidity, for example, is said to be mind-independent. Now take an example where an ant and a human come to touch a cherry. To the human, when they touch the cherry, they find that it gives way to them touching it, but when an ant touches it feels very hard. But the cherry, based on solidity, cannot both be hard and not hard. We also find extension is relative to different animals in that one animal will see one shape and another animal will see another shape, but one shape in a mind-independent world cannot be of two different shapes. This shows the relativity of different qualities that one human can experience from another, and the different qualities that one species experiences from that of another.

Berkeley shows that primary qualities fall to being mind-dependent as well, but he goes on to point out something else. Every time we experience a primary quality, it always is associated with secondary quality. So I may experience the primary quality of something with the shape of being round, but it will have a color of either being black or white, or blue or yellow. If it had no color, then I could not observe the object itself. When I pick up an object, I feel its shape in my hand but I also feel if it is hot or cold. Berkeley is pointing out that primary qualities are found to constantly have secondary qualities associated with them when we experience them. So not only are secondary qualities mind-dependent and so are primary qualities, but what we call secondary qualities and primary qualities are found to show up together and cannot separate one from the other without forming an abstract idea.

We find that primary qualities were of extension, shape, motion, rest, solidity and number. They were supposed to persist through change. These primary qualities were supposed to be of this substance called matter. Matter was supposed to be inert and a passive thing that was unthinking. Berkeley points out that this “matter” would be an abstraction. This is because the shape would be of neither a triangle, nor a square, nor polygon, or whatever else the mind can imagine, but all of them. Motion would be of one shape moving relative to another, and it would be at rest to another. It would be both at rest and moving. Matter turns out to be an abstraction, if not an outright contradiction. Now it is agreed that secondary qualities are mind-dependent, and Berkeley shows that arguments to show the mind-dependence of secondary qualities can also be used for primary qualities. Thus, all qualities that we experience are reduced to being mind-dependent.

Berkeley has left alternatives for matter, for it either is a contradiction, an abstraction, or something that we have no experience of. Being either an abstraction or having no experience of it is to make it meaningless by being a sign with no signification in experience, or being an empty term. So Berkeley believes that he has given enough ground to ignore matter as anything. He may ignore it if matter is meaningless and we have no experience of it, because one is just using words without anything signified by them. But Berkeley admits that even though it is meaningless in that no experience for it, it is still logically possible. But being logically possible is fine, but we cannot even think about it because it is an abstract idea. What is the point of using something that is possible that you cannot even think about it or experience it? He may also ignore it if it is a contradiction because it is a logical impossibility.

Now that Berkeley has dismissed of “matter”, he is going to go down a different route. One of the best ways to see where Berkeley is starting from, and part of what he is rejecting, deals with a certain passage from Renee Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy talks about particular bodies like a piece of wax. He says: “it has only just been removed from the honeycomb; it has not yet lost all the flavour of its honey; it retains some of the scent of the flowers among which it was gathered; its colour, shape, and size are clearly visible; it is hard, cold, easy to touch, and if you tap it with your knuckle, it makes a sound. In short, it has all the properties that seem to be required for a given body to be known as distinctly as possible. But wait—while I am speaking, it is brought close to the fire. The remains of its flavour evaporate; the smell fades; the colour is changed, the shape is taken away, it grows in size, becomes liquid, becomes warm, it can hardly be touched, and now, if you strike it, it will give off no sound. Does the same wax still remain? We must admit it does remain: no one would say or think it does not. So what was there in it that was so distinctly grasped? Certainly, none of those qualities I apprehended by the senses: for whatever came under taste, or smell, or sight, or touch, or hearing, has now changed: but the wax remains.”[4]

Berkeley holds the opposite. Descartes is holding that there is something that is this body below the sensible qualities that he just reviewed. Descartes said he did not find the “body” in the senses and moves on to the imagination, where he finds that a particular body does not derive from the imagination. Berkeley would say that anything beyond the sensible qualities that are supposed to be a particular body is an abstraction and not even possible to experience with the senses, or being in the imagination would need the sensible quality of color which is mind dependent. This particular body beyond the senses becomes meaningless, even if possible. When we use the sign of “apple”, it is meant to signify a pattern of sensible qualities found to be distinguished from other sensible qualities surrounding it, which happens to be red, have a certain shape, a certain smell, certain taste, and certain tactile sensations. In other words, a particular “body” is a specific pattern, and regularity, of sensible qualities found to go together, as distinguished from other sensible qualities.

Part of Berkeley’s position on experience is based on the Molyneux’s problem. This is based on a thought experiment of someone who is born blind and has tactile senses. This blind person has become accustomed with a tactile sensation that he calls a “cube”, and those with sight would understand to be a cube, and they are also accustomed to one of a “sphere”. Now imagine that the blind person has both objects before them on a table, and develop a sense known as sight. The person will not be able to pick out which object that he sees is associated with his tactile sensations that he knows as the “cube”. It shows that each sense is distinct from every other sense, but we eventually, through constant experience, begin associating one sense with another to form the idea of the “cube” or “bodies”.

When we are left with Descartes in some sort of solipsism, Berkeley has a way out. Berkeley finds that he has the ability to think and imagine things, like what he will do tomorrow. He also finds that when he wills to move his arm, his arm moves. He also finds that when he experiences sensible qualities, he is constantly associating one sense with another and associating sensory qualities in order to form what are known as “bodies”. He also makes connections to help form chains of cause and effect, as well as forming some understanding of what is going on to act. All of these things he finds to be a sign of activity or Mind. But he finds that when he closes his eyes, he cannot make whatever he wants to show up. It is against his will what he will see when he closes his eyes and then reopens them. These sensory qualities are forced upon him, or these flux of sensory qualities. He does not find the power for him to produce these sensory qualities, and so it means that there is something else besides Berkeley bringing about the experience he has. This shows a cause outside of Berkeley bringing about these experiences.

Now some might wonder how we can differentiate between reality and between dreams. Berkeley points out that “reality” is more vivid than that of a dream, and that dreams lack a coherence and vividness that we find with “reality”. This is, also, how we typically differentiate between “reality” and a “dream”. We find that what we are experiencing in a dream lacks a coherence from that which we have experienced when waking, and the experiences in reality are more vivid and stronger than what we find in dreams. We also find that we have a memory of things in the past while we have a tough time of remembering dreams and have a tough time fitting dreams into our experiences in a coherent way that we say that they are a dream. As Berkeley says, “The ideas formed by the imagination are faint and indistinct; they have, besides, an entire dependence on the will. But the ideas perceived by sense, that is, real things, are more vivid and clear, and being imprinted on the mind by a spirit distinct from us, have not a like dependence on our will. There is therefore no danger of confounding these with the foregoing; and there is as little of confounding them with the visions of a dream, which are dim, irregular, and confused. And though they should happen to be never so lively and natural, yet by their not being connected, and of a piece with the preceding and subsequent transactions of our lives, they might easily be distinguished from realities. In short, by whatever method you distinguish things from chimeras on your own scheme, the same, it is evident, will hold also upon mine.”[5]

The sensory qualities that he experiences as bodies, he observes them and finds that he does not see the power for one to move the other. He finds that those things he observes are passive, or that they are inert. Berkeley’s opinion of cause and effect is that we observe no necessary connection between these sensory qualities, but that we find one pattern of sensory qualities following another pattern of sensory qualities. There is no connection between these events or see one thing move another, and this makes them appear to be passive. One just follows the other, and do not see one making the other move or the other one to stop moving, or any necessary connection between them at all. Each event is distinct from one another and have no influence on one another.

From the position that he finds himself to be active and those sensory qualities that happen against his will to be passive, and that matter is either logically ruled out as being the cause or meaningless to assert it as the cause, so he finds that another mind to be the cause. This is because he cannot see how a passive thing can make itself show itself against his will or move one another, but he has found with himself that he can will his body to move and it moves. This shows that an active thing can move sensory qualities, and so another mind is the one that is giving Berkeley, and us, these sensory qualities. He finds that the active can move the passive with his own experience, and he is having experiences against his will and has ruled out “matter”, which leaves another mind moving and making these sensible qualities come against Berkeley’s will.

Berkeley finds that what he immediately perceives is from God, which means those sensory qualities that are forced upon him are from God. These are sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell which all come from God and giving them to Berkeley. Now Berkeley points out that we immediately perceive the sensible qualities, but we also mediate them. This mediation is a sign of activity, because we are making associations with our senses to form one “body” and observe a regularity in which “bodies” move amongst each other, and making judgments about them. We notice that when we come to predict these regularities that we can obtain food to nourish ourselves and predict when the water will flood to plant our food, and what to do to obtain pleasure and what not to do to escape pain. These regularities, by making the world predictable, show wisdom and providence of God to us and help show another mind.

Berkeley gives an example of mediation, or what he is talking about. “From what we have shown it is a manifest consequence that the ideas of space, outness, and things placed at a distance are not, strictly speaking, the object of sight. They are not otherwise perceived by the eye than by the ear. Sitting in my study I hear a coach drive along the street; I look through the casement and see it; I walk out and enter into it. Thus common speech would incline one to think I heard, saw, and touched the same thing, to wit, the coach. It is nevertheless certain, the ideas intromitted by each sense are widely different and distinct from each other; but having been observed constantly to go together, they are spoken of as one and the same thing. By the variation of the noise I perceive the different distances of the coach, and know that it approaches before I look out. Thus by the ear I perceive distance, just after the same manner as I do by the eye.”[6] He is pointing out that through constant association of different sensible qualities; we come to combine them into one thing called the “coach”. “Coach” becomes the sign for the sensible qualities signified by it. And the “Coach” is not in experience but something that we do with them. This helps form a basis for theory-laden observation, as the modern term goes, which shows a sign of activity of mind.

Now Berkeley has established an external world, which his that of God. He comes to discover other minds, or other finite minds like himself. Strictly speaking, we never experience other minds immediately by sensory qualities that we call “bodies”. That which is presented by immediate perception is passive and minds are active. So how does Berkeley come to other minds? Imagine that we are in a land that has “inanimate” objects. We find that these inanimate objects move in a regular fashion, like when I hold the rock in my hand and let go of it, it falls to the ground. We find that “inanimate” things in this world are works with regularity and move in a very predictable fashion. But in our experiences we find some “bodies” that do not move in a predictable and regular fashion.

“We experience certain ides of reality. These ideas exhibit a variety, order, and coherence far beyond anything that is within our ability to produce. Some other spirit must therefore produce them and this spirit must be supremely wise and benevolent. But among our ideas of reality there are some, those of the motions of animate bodies, which exhibit a degree of irregularity, inconsistency of purpose, greed, stupidity, and sheer perversity which is simply inconsistent with the notion that these ideas are produced by a wise and benevolent thing. One plausible way to deal with these phenomena is to postulate that there exist certain other spirits whose wills the divine spirit is disposed to indulge when moving animate bodies. Since the wills of these spirits are circumscribed to particular animate bodies and since their motions evidence a degree of reason and purpose, we may postulate further that they are finite, intelligent spirits, that is, beings “like ourselves”. It is in this way that we deduce the existence of other minds “from their operations, or the ideas by them excited in us.”[7]

The point becomes that when we notice certain sensory qualities known as “human bodies” and these do not move in the same way “inanimate” products. We notice a difference in their motions from one another. When we notice motion we come to infer a cause, and we notice that these motions do not match up with the regularities of “inanimate” objects, and these bodies appear to move with a purpose and greed. For only an active principle may move these “bodies” that we observe. We also notice that they look similar to our body and come to infer that there is another active agent besides that of us and God. The main point becomes that God’s actions are contingent, and we notice that the world works a certain way when there are no other finite minds. In other words, if it were not another finite mind, then those actions would have been different, which means it would have looked like a regularity of “inanimate” bodies.

Now Berkeley holds that all sensible qualities cannot exist without being perceived by a mind. This is because matter has already been eliminated and we are left with minds. So sensible objects are mind-dependent, which is that for them to exist, they must be perceived by a mind. This forms the slogan of “esse is percepi”, or “to be is to be perceived”. All unthinking things are dependent on being observed by some mind. This could either be myself, Berkeley, a group of humans/finite minds, or by God. This means that no sensible qualities exist outside of a mind. Now these sensible qualities may exist outside of human perception, but not that of another mind, like that of God. It may exist outside of the perception of all finite minds, but not that of the infinite mind of God. So the general rule of “esse is percepi” is true of sensible qualities known as “bodies”. For human being, sensible qualities are “esse is posse percepi”, also known as “to be is to be possibly perceived”. This means that for sensible qualities to exist for us finite minds known as humans, is that they be possible perceptions or actual perceptions. These possible perceptions might not be experienced by us, but they are at least experienced by God.

When Berkeley leaves a room with a desk and books, and no other finite minds perceive it, then the books and desk are still there because they are being perceived by God. But they are also a possible perception for finite minds, because if Berkeley were to enter the room, then he would perceive the desk and books. “The table I write on, I say, exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed, meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it…so long [as “bodies” are] not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit: it being perfectly.”[8]

Berkeley was, it seems, a concurrentist when it comes to causality and finite minds willing their bodies to move. “First, concurrentists maintain that God’s activity is not merely required to create the world but also to conserve it in its existence…Second, concurrentists insist that creatures are endowed with genuine active and passive powers, and that they exercise their powers in ordinary causal interactions…Third, and most distinctively, concurrentists maintain that although creatures are endowed with genuine causal powers, no creaturely causal power could be efficacious in bringing about its appropriate effects without God’s active general assistance, or “concurrence”.”[9] The point is that God, being wise and disposed to humor us, God allows us to do, or will, to do certain actions. We may say that there is a certain law on what bodies are allowed to do, and anything within those laws that do not violate are allowable for us to do by goods kind disposition to us. God gives finite spirits what can be called an allowance, and may do whatever they want to do within that allowance. God humors us in allowing us to do it what we will to do.


Berkeley, George, and Desmond M. Clarke. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Descartes, René, and Michael Moriarty. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.

Luce, A. A. Berkeley’s Immaterialism; a Commentary on His “A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge” London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1945. Print.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. Berkeley: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.

Foster, John, and Howard Robinson. Essays on Berkeley: A Tercentennial Celebration. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985. Print.

Falkenstein, Lorne. “Berkeley’s Argument for Other Minds.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 7.4 (1990): 431-40. Print.

Jeffrey K. McDonough. “Berkeley, Human Agency and Divine Concurrentism.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 46.4 (2008): 567-90.

[1] Berkeley, George, and Desmond M. Clarke. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Pg. 69

[2] Ibid. Pg. 70

[3] Ibid Pg. 162

[4] Descartes, René, and Michael Moriarty. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Pg. 22

[5] Berkeley, George, and Desmond M. Clarke. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Pg. 216

[6]   Berkeley, George, and Desmond M. Clarke. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Pg. 23

[7] Falkenstein, Lorne. “Berkeley’s Argument for Other Minds.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 7.4 (1990): 431-40. Print. Pg. 438-439

[8] Berkeley, George, and Desmond M. Clarke. Berkeley: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Pg. 84-85

[9] Jeffrey K. McDonough. “Berkeley, Human Agency and Divine Concurrentism.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 46.4 (2008): 567-90. Pg. 568-569

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Descartes and Skepticism

Posted by allzermalmer on March 4, 2012

This blog will be based on Renee Descartes and his writing of his Meditations on First Philosophy. I will be quoting some portions of his Meditations, which deals with some skeptical arguments or conclusions.

Descartes comes up with a certain quote to show how we can be lead to skepticism. He states, “Once the foundations of a building are undermined, anything built on them collapses of its own accord.” Now he tries to present three types of arguments, in the First Meditation, that would be good enough to collapse the foundation upon which we build up our knowledge.

Argument from Illusion

“Whatever I have up till now accepted as most rue I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.”

One thing to take notice of is when he says “either from the senses or through the senses”. Now the portion that says “from the senses” I take to be obvious, but it is the second part of “through the senses” that could be a little tougher. Now when I watch the news on TV, I have the sensory information of someone sitting behind a desk, and I hear words. These words are taken through the senses, and it could be something like “The Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks in overtime”. That is information through the senses. Or, take the example of someone you know who went to another country and told you what they experienced in another country. That is information through your senses, even though you never experienced it with your own senses.

Argument from Dream

“How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events-that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting by the fire- when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! yet at the moment my eyes are certainly wide awake when I look at this piece of paper; I shake my head and it is not asleep; as I stretch out and feel my hand I do so deliberately, and I know what I am doing. All this would not happen with such distinctness to someone asleep. Indeed! As if I did not remember other occasions when I have been tricked by exactly similar thoughts while asleep! As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I being to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep.”

Argument from Evil-Demon

“And yet firmly rooted in my mind is the long-standing belief that there is an omnipotent God who made me the kind of creature that I am. How do I know that he has not brought it about that there is no earth, no sky, no extended thing, no shape, no size, no place, while at the same time ensuring that all these things appear to me to exit just as they do now? Moreover, since I sometimes consider that others go astray in cases where they think they have the most perfect knowledge, may I not similarly go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square, or in some even simpler matter, if that is imaginable?…I will suppose therefore that not God, who is supremely good and the source of truth, but rather some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things…I am like a prisoner who is enjoying an imaginary freedom while asleep; as he begins to suspect that he is asleep, he dreads being woken up, and goes along with the pleasant illusion as long as he can.”

Now after he has gone through these three skeptical arguments, he comes to a certain conclusion, even based on that of the evil-demon.

“But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him device me as much as he can, he will never bring ti about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.”

Descartes points out that even if there is an evil-demon, or it’s all a dream, or it’s all an illusion, it is still something that is being deceived. This can’t be doubted that something is being doubted. To be deceived is for something to be deceived.

“I am a thing that thinks: that is, a thing that doubts, affirms, denies, understands a few things, is ignorant of many things, is willing, is unwilling, and also which imagines and has sensory perceptions; for as I have noted before, even though the objects of my sensory experience and imagination may have no existence outside of me, nonetheless the modes of thinking which I refer to as cases of sensory perceptions and imagination, in so far as they are simply modes of thinking, do exist with in me- of that I am certain…I am certain that I am a thinking thing.”

Now I need to point out one thing, which was that Descartes was one of the first philosophers, and other modern philosophers like John Locke and George Berkeley were to follow, would use the word “Idea” to mean his sense-perceptions.

“Yet I previously accepted as wholly certain and evident many things which I afterwards realized were doubtful. What were these? The earth, sky, stars, and everything else that I apprehended with the senses. But what was it about them that I perceived clearly? Just that the ideas (i.e. sense-perception), or thoughts, of such things appeared before my mind. Yet even now I am not denying that these ideas occur within me. But there was something else which I used to assert, and which through habitual belief I thought I perceived clearly, although I did not in fact do so. this was that there were things outside of me which were the sources of my ideas (i.e. sense-perceptions) and which resembled them in all respects. Here was my mistake; or at any rate, if my judgement was true, it was not because of any knowledge I possessed.”

“Thus the only remaining thoughts where I must be on my guard against making a mistake are judgements. And the chief and most common mistake which is to be found here consists in my judging that the ideas which are in me resemble, or conform to, things located outside of me. Of course, if I considered just the ideas themselves simply as modes of my thought, without referring them to anything else, they could scarcely give me any material for error…But the chief question this point concerns the ideas which I take to be derived from things existing outside me: what is my reason for thinking that they resemble these things? Nature has apparently taught me to think this…When I say ‘Nature taught me to think this’, all I men is that a spontaneous impulse leads me to believe it, not that its truth has been revealed to me…”

“although these ideas(i.e. sense-perception) do not depend on my will, it does not follow that they must come from things located outside of me…there may be some other faculty not yet fully known to me, which produces these ideas without any assistance form external things; this is, after all, just how I have always thought ideas (i.e. sense-perception) are produced in me when I am dreaming. And finally, even if these ideas did come from things other than myself, it would not follow that they must resemble those things. Indeed, I think I have often discovered a great disparity between an object and its idea (i.e. sense-perception) in many cases. For example, there are two different ideas of the sun which I find within me. One of them , which is acquired as it were from the senses and which is a prime example of an idea which I reckon to come from an external source, makes the sun appear very small. the other idea is based on astronomical reasoning, that is, it is derived from certain notions which are innate to me (or else it is constructed by me in some other way), and this idea shows the sun to be several times larger than the earth….All these considers are enough to establish that its not reliable judgement but merely some blind impulse that has made me believe up till now that thee exists things distinct from myself which transmit to me ideas or images of themselves through the sense organs or in some other way.”

Problem of Other Minds

“if I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I just happen to have done, I normally say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax. Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal automatons? I judge that they are men.”

All these quotes came from Descartes book, which I gave a link to, and are based on Meditation one, two, and three.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Metaphysics and Meaning

Posted by allzermalmer on January 17, 2012

This blog will be based on a paper done by W.T. Stace in the philosophical journal Mind, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 176 (Oct., 1935), pp. 417-438. The title of the paper was Metaphysics and Meaning.

A.J. Ayer published a paper called “A Demonstration of the Impossibility of Metaphysics” in the philosophical journal Mind in July of 1934. A.J. Ayer went over the basic principle of the Logical Empiricist, which was known as the Principle of Verification. This principle was suppose to give us a way of telling the difference between what statement was meaningful and what statement was meaningless. And Metaphysics was considered to be part of meaningless statements. These meaningless statements were also called pseudo-proposition.

Some of the metaphysical ideas that they would question, and say were meaningless, were those saying there is something behind the appearances. In other words, how there was something that was hidden from our senses. For example, the talk of an external world would itself be a meaningless proposition, for it would be stating that there is something behind the appearances, or what we experience with our senses.

One of the things about being a meaningless proposition is that it means that the contradictory of that proposition is also meaningless. For example, this means that metaphysical proposition A is meaningless, and means that ~A is also meaningless. Both propositions are also meaningless, and so they carry no meaning. These propositions don’t stand for anything. And this is all based on the Principle of Verification:

“the meaning of a statement is the method of its verification.”

This makes many of the statements of metaphysicians to be meaningless, or moral philosophers to be meaningless, some of our commonsense beliefs, and some scientific statements would also be meaningless. Verification is only possible of what is, but never what ought to be. One of the common examples of what is rendered to be meaningless by the Logical Positivist is “other minds”.

“It is, of course, quite senseless to ask whether one person’s sensations bear any resemblance to the corresponding sensations of another person, whether, for example, what I call ‘red” is anything like what you call “red”. for it is in principle impossible for me or anyone else to compare my red with your red or to verify either their likeness or their unlikeness.”

So to say that someone else has experiences, or is conscious of any experience, is something that would be meaningless to ask. We can’t verify this statement to say if it is true or false, and thus becomes meaningless. There is no experience we can have to verify such a statement. And along with this, it is meaningless to say that there is an external world or to say there’s no external world. This would also mean that if you do agree that there is an external world, which is meaningless, whatever you say that the external world is would also be meaningless.

Now Stace wishes to bring up a criterion for meaning that will allow for some of our previous beliefs that the Verifiability principle would have had us gotten rid of. But the point is that the Verifiability principle seems to rest on this idea.

“…the meaning of any statement which a man makes about the world, or about part of it, has to be interpreted, in the long run, in terms of possible experiences. If it has meaning, it must be analysable into statements each of which sets forth a possible or actual experience. Any part of it which is not so analysable cannot be said to have meaning.”

Now take the example of saying “This is a wooden table”. This statement will deal with certain things that we shall experience. For example, with the wood, it will deal with our observation of something that is oblong and colored. If you touch it, you will get a certain tactile feeling of resistance in the fingers, and will emit a certain sound if you tap on it, and if you cut it open you will get a certain white visual observation. And other people, in the same conditions, would have the same experiences as well.

“Thus the meaning of the statement consists in certain possible experiences. But these very same experiences would also constitutes its verification.” So the statement “This is a wooden table” is talking about possible experience, which can only be verified with actual experience. The statement was bringing up the possible experience you would have, which would be of the observation of something oblonged and colored, as well as when you touch it you feel some resistance in the fingers, and will emit certain sound if you tap on it, and if you cut it open you will get a certain visual observation. “Hence the verification of the statement would consist in bringing to actuality the very same experiences the assertion of whose possibility constitutes its meaning.”

Now take it that someone makes a statement that says “this table is cotilaginous”. Here is a statement that would need to be qualified with some possible experience that would help give it some meaning. We have the possible meaning of “table”, but now we need one of “cotilaginous”. We would wonder what the word stands for, and we would have to say that it deal with some sort of possible experience. For example, it would have to describe some possible experience in some possible circumstance to be received from the table, and that the experience in those circumstances is what is meant by being “contilaginous”. Now if I were to give such a specification based on experience, then you would understand the meaning of that word. When this can’t be done, this word carries no meaning.

“All meaning is clearly conceptual…The point I want to make here is that, whichever view we take, a concept is meaningless unless it has application in experience.”

So if we follow the empiricist, all concepts are abstracted from experience, then every concept must at least apply to experience from which it was abstracted. And this means that a concept that has no application to experience is meaningless. Say that we say that some part of experience is X, this would mean that x asserts something that is experienceable. It will say something verifiable in experience. And this should be obvious when the empiricist usually works with induction. We experience something that has X, and abstract that particular property from what we’ve experienced.

Now there is a Kantian view that we have some sort of a priori concept, but this is still consistent with the idea that Stace is bringing for for the empirical principle. These a priori concepts wouldn’t necessarily be meaningless. For they might not be derived from experience, but they are still applicable to experience. And being applicable to experience is what gives these a prior concepts their empirical meaning. “[a priori] concepts, although they are not derived from experience, would be empty and meaningless unless they had application in experience.” This means that a concept not derived from experience isn’t meaningless, unlike going with the inductive procedure of abstraction with the empiricist.

“They cannot be thought of except as potential or dormant forms which only spring into living actuality when the mind makes contact with empirical reality. They are the structure of experience. But structure cannot exist by itself. It must be the structure of something. And the categories cannot come to be, cannot come to consciousness of themselves, until they have become embodied in actual perception.”

This follows Kant motto of “concepts without percepts are empty”. This would also seem to form one of the foundations of what the Logical Positivist were trying to get across with their principle of Verifiability. This all helps to form what makes the verification principle so appealing. There seems to be something to it that we latch on to, and we see to carry something strongly appealing to it. It’s just that some problems arise from the way in which the Logical Positivist have taken some of this idea that takes it too far.

The Logical Positivist make half of our common propositions to be meaningless, and this seems to say something about about the criterion that they are using. Most people, in fact, actually seem to find many of these propositions that the Logical Positivist say are meaningless seem to be meaningful. We know that certain statements have meaning, but the logical positivist actually think that none of this has any meaning.

One example is statements of the past. Statements of the past would be meaningless under the verifiability principle. Some might say something like C.I. Lewis said: “At any date after the happening of an event, there is always something, which at least is conceivably possible of experience, by means of which it can be known. Let us call these items its effects. The totality of such effects quite obviously constitute all of the object which is knowable…The event is spread throughout all after-time.” And we can take this to mean that the past is verifiable in its present effect.

We can take the proposition that “Brutus killed Caesar”. How would we know this past event based on it’s present effect? We would know this that it is written in history books or written on some stone monuments, which are the present effect of that murder. But it would seem that knowing the present effects of the past event is the same as knowing the past event itself. So me reading a history book on the murder of Caesar would be the same as knowing that the murder took place. So “Brutus killed Caesar” would be the same as saying “It is stated in a book that Brutus killed Caesar.” For it could be that Brutus didn’t kill Caesar, and yet the history book says that Brutus did killed Caesar. And there’s another reason for seeing that we have a problem with the meaning of a proposition is based on the verifiability principle:

“And I cannot know that a present event had a certain cause in the past unless I have a knowledge of the past which, though the present may have been the clue which led me to it, is a logically distinct piece of knowledge from my knowledge of the present…Knowing B (an effect) is not the same thing as knowing A (its cause). For in the one case what I know about is B, while in the other case what I know about is A. It is impossible to get away from the fact that if knowing the past is simply identical with knowing the present, then the past is itself simply identical with the present. A proposition about the past has for its subject a thing or event which no longer now exists. A proposition about the present effects of something past has for its subject a thing or event which exists now. Therefore, since these two propositions have different subjects, they cannot be the same propositions, and the knowledge conveyed by the one is not the same as the knowledge conveyed by the other.”

So it seems that there is something appealing about the verification principle, but it also brings one objection that would follow from this principle. So we might try to get the good part out of the principle, while getting it to the point where this objection can be met.

When we go back to the statement of “this is a wooden table”, which means that when scratched it will look whitish, doesn’t mean anyone in the future or now has to verify it. The table could annihilated at this instant, and so verification would be impossible. And this would make the statement meaningless. But we just have to say that there should have been possible to observing it. “And it begins to emerge that what is necessary for meaning is simply that what is asserted in the statement should be something of a kind which is in general an experiencable character of the world.”And we would add on one more thing, which is based on Kant’s motto of “concepts without percepts are empty”, which carries that “a concept, to be meaningful, must have application in experience.”

So the Empirical theory of meaning, which is distinguished from the verification theory.

“either that any statement, to have meaning, must symbolize experiencable characters of the world; or, what is the same thing, that every concept employed in it must have empirical application.

Let’s go back to a statement of the past like “Caesar’s hat was red”. It is a meaningless statement under the verificanist principle, but it is meaningful under the empirical theory of meaning. Under the verification principle, the redness of the hat wouldn’t be verified because it was in the past, which can’t be experienced. However, with the empirical theory, it is meaningful because redness is of a general experiencable character of things, and is proved that you have had the experience of it before. But the concept also has application in experience as well.

Here is one of the other major differences between the verification principle and the empirical principle.

“On the verificational view, in order to give meaning to my assertion that a certain entity has a certain character I must be in a position actually to experience (if I want to) that very instance of the character in that very entity. I must be able to experience every particular example of the concept which I want to assert. That is what is meant by verifiability. But on the empirical theory, all that is necessary is that I should have had experience of some instance or instances of the concept. The concept then has application in experience and can be extended by me to other cases far beyond the horizon of my own limited experience. “

So take the example of other minds. Under the verification principle, it is meaningless to say that other people have minds. This means that they don’t feel pain, don’t feel pleasure, don’t have any sensory experience of things like blue, red, hot, cold, and etc. All we can say is that we see a body behaving in a certain way, but we don’t see them being in pain itself. The face is moving, but we can’t see pain or feel the pain. The empirical principle says that saying there are other minds is perfectly meaningful. This concept is experienceable because it has been experienced and so have one case. And this helps us form the concept and thus give it some application in experience to ‘other minds’.

Under the verificaton principle, it was meaningless to ask if someone elses experiences were similar to you. This would mean, if I saw a cat and a friend was next to me looking at the same place, we can’t say that we saw the same thing or anything similar to one another. This is because I can only experience my experiences, and can never experience another persons experiences. There’s no way to verify them. In other words, whether the sensations of one mind are qualitatively similar to the corresponding sensations of another mind, is meaningless for the verificationist. But it is perfectly meaningful under the empirical theory.

“It is true that the likeness or unlikeness of A’s green to B’s green is in principle unverifiable. This shows that we can never discover whether they are alike or not. But it has no bearing on the question of meaning. If A makes the statement “B’s green is similar to my green”, the statement is meaningful since both “green” and “similarity” are concepts which have application in experience (in A’s experience, and in B’s experience, and in that of other people.) Therefore the question is not meaningless, though the answer to it may be impossible to discover.”

The logical positivist, under their principle, also stated that questions of morality, or what we ought to do are meaningless. Under the empirical theory, this isn’t quite the case. The empirical theory is definitely open to the idea of oughts being meaningful. There are different ways in which one could do this, and Stace brings up one way in which it would be meaningful. But the logical positivist basically took that things should be sensuous, while moral statements were said not to be sensuous. But there is one way in which objective morals could fit into the Empirical theory.

“But the value of the thing might be a character of it actually experincible by an intuition of the mind. And the theory of value which I had in mind when I said that a meaningful theory of objectivity might be framed is that which asserts that value is a kind of quality directly experienced in intuition. If there is any such non-sensuous kind of experience, then this concept of the objectivity of value would be meaningful, since it would have application in that experience.”

“It is urged that what is not, but merely ought to be, cannot be experienced. But when any quality has been apprehended in experience, it is frequently possible to conceive a higher degree of that quality than any which has ever been actually discovered. For example, the idea of a perfectly elastic body has empirical meaning, though no perfectly elastic body has ever been found. For elasticity is an empirical character of things which admits of degrees. And the notions, first of a more elastic, and finally a perfectly elastic, object are reaching by an extension of degrees beyond what has been actually experienced. And if goodness were an experincible quality of things admitting of degrees, exactly similar considerations would be applicable. We could speak with perfectly clear meaning of a degree of goodness beyond any actual experience, and such a notion would yield a norm and an empirical concept of obligation.”

The same consideratiosn of morals could also hold with what have been deemed mystics. For they have an experience of some kind, and to have an experience of some kind is to to have a structure of experience. And this structure of experience can have applicability in communication. Now what the mystic might say might be nonunderstandable to the masses of people, but there are also a group of mystics that understand what the other said. This is because they would carry the same structure. But this would also seem to hold universally with any speaking community.

A question that could arise would be, “If a concept, to have meaning, must have application in experience, whose experience is here referred to?

“The first suggestion is likely to be that the experience referred to must be the experience of the mind to whom the concept is to have meaning; that a concept cannot mean anything to me unless it has application in my personal experience; and that similarly what is to have meaning for you must have application in yours. And in a sense I believe this to the correct answer.”

Now there are certain ways that this can be taken, so it would probably be best to clarify some of it in some way. Take the point of “having application in my experience”. Taking this too loosely would lead to the verification principle. But we need to keep in mind that it is necessary to assert that a for a concept to have meaning, it must have application within the experience of the mind which is to understand it. For all knowledge and meaning, is individual. It’s somebody’s knowledge, and so it’s somebody’s meaning. So when we ask if a proposition has meaning, we must ask whether it has meaning for some particular mind.

But this isn’t the only point. For if we follow just this part strictly, we are lead to the verification theory. Take, for example, the point of “dogs hear sounds which are inaudible to human beings”. This would be meaningless, because we can never have this experience, and I wouldn’t be able to have those experiences and so wouldn’t have meaning to me. However, we do have the experience of sounds ourselves, so the concept itself, like of “red”, dos seem to make sense and we do have experience of that. “The conditions for the solution of our problem seem therefore to be that, on the one hand, meaning must be solipsistic in the sense that no mind can understand any concept which has not direct application in its own experience; and yet, on the other hand, that it must somehow be possible for the mind to make available for is meanings the experiences of the other, even of non-human, minds. How can we combine these apparently irreconcilable conditions?”

“The solution of the difficulty lies…in a distinction which has been made familiar to us by the logical positivists themselves, the distinction between structure and content. One can put the essence of the solution in a few words by saying that concepts are structure, the structure of experience, and that what alone is necessary to render available for the mind’s meanings the experience of another is that this latter should possess the same structure as mine…If a concept is to be meaningful to me I must have personally experienced the structure which is that concept. I need not have experienced the content with which another mind fills that structure. It is correct then, as originally suggested, that a concept cannot have meaning for me unless it has application within my individual experience. But the phrase “having application within my individual experiences” must be interpreted so as to refer to structure only. The content of the experience need not be experiencible me.”

Now we might wonder what it means to say that “concepts are structure”. We can try to get a hand on this with an example. How could it be applied with the concept of “green”? It is usually understood that very general concepts like those used in categories, constitute the structure of experience. But a concept like “green” seems to be part of the senses, and so part of the sense content. Now imagine that A says to B, “This book is green”, and both share normal vision. So for B to understand A, it isn’t necessary to suppose that what A calls “green” is qualitatively similar to what B calls a green sensation. But we can assume that what A calls green is unlike what B calls green, and if A could experience B’s green, then A would call it a toothache. Even with all this, A and B can perfectly understand one another when the statement “this is green” is made. So they have the same concept of “green” but they have different content. Thus, they are constituted by structure and not by content.

Now we could wonder “what is this structure of the concept “green”? The answer, it would seem, would be that is consists in a network of relations. The concept holds between what is presently before my senses as “green” and those other within my experience of the past. Stace gives us one example.

“When A says, “This book is green” he is asserting a number of relations between his present experience and other past experiences, of which “similarity to one of the sensations received from grass” may be taken as a typical example. Now suppose that the green book gives B a sensation which A would call a toothache if he could experience it. B will still understand A’s statement about the book, provided that grass also gives B a sensation which A, if he could experience it, would call a toothache. For there will then still be the relation of similarity between the book and the grass in both A’s and B’s experiences. And it is this relation which (among others) is asserted by the concept of “green”. The structure of A’s experiences will be (to this extent at least) the same as the structure of B’s, not with standing their differences of content. They will have the same concept.”

So this means that when we talk about the structure of the concept of ultra-violet color has its relation to the colors that we do know. It stands in a definite relation to red, green, and blue of the spectrum. Thus, we can fill in the structural pattern with any imaginable sensory content that we like. But this does seem to bring up something interesting, which is that we can meaningful speak of salamanders, fairies, or ghosts. So how do we deal with this? Well, Stace does bring up a limiting example.

“The limit is set by the consideration that the experience of these remote minds, though its content may be unimaginable to us, must share the structure of our own. If not, there is no bridge of meaning by which we can pass over. The assertion of the very existence of a mind, or of experience, completely beyond these limits, is meaningless. It is utterly meaningless to say, therefore, that there might exist a mind whose experience should have absolutely nothing in common with ours. There must be structure in common.”

Now this helps make clear how we can understand something of a higher degree. For the concept does consist of relations that we have experienced, even though we have not experienced these higher degrees themselves. For example, you might only experience a dark green, but you’ve experienced green itself, but of a lower degree. And you can extend this to a higher and higher degree, even though you’ve never experienced these higher degree’s themselves.

So this means that the empirical theory does allow for some metaphysics. But the verification theory doesn’t allow for metaphysics, and many of our common beliefs. Thus, the empirical theory is friendly to certain kinds of metaphysics, while the verification theory wasn’t friendly to any kind of metaphysics. Stace gives an example of how it is friend to metaphysics or some structure of metaphysics.

“But the theory of meaning which we have now evolved shows that any statement is meaningful provided the concepts which it employs have application in experience; or in other words, provided what it asserts is an experiencible character of the world; and the experience which is thus the criterion of meaning may be that of any mind, human or non-human, provided that it share structure with our experience…The assertion of a reality which lies behind our experience, and which can never be experienced by us, may be meaningful provided it is conceived as the possible expeirence of some other mind wich shares structure with our own. Otherwise it will be meaningless…The mere facts that the thing-in-itself cannot be experienced by the human mind does not deprive its concept of meaning. If it is conceived as an entity which might be experienced by some other mind, say the mind of God, then it will have meaning (though it may of course be quite false). This, however, will only be the case provided its structure is conceived as in some way similar to that of human experience…The greater the amount of common structure, the greater the quantity of meaning. The less the common structure, the less the meaning. The less the commons structure, the less the meaning. The absence of all common structure is the absence of all meaning.”

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »