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My question regards the existence and location of non-material entities.

My question regards the existence and location of non-material entities. An idea exists? color exists? When we open our brain, all we see is neurons/cells, etc. Using a scientific aproach, we can say that color, sound, taste (etc) don't have physical existence - that is well known. If all we can see is neurons connecting, where these kind of entities exist/happen?. By a scientific point of view all entities must have matter and have a location, or not? I'm particulary interested in the location is space of those entities I mentioned. Someone could say ''The are non-material entities'' and the problem would be solved. Also, I'm assuming things that probably no scientist agrees. I don't hope a conclusive answer, I just want some ideas.

Great question. But one other possibility is that some form of materialism is true: these 'non-material' things might simply be identical to various brain states. So, for example, it's not so much that 'red' (say) is identified with some pattern of neural firing -- but 'perceiving red' may well be, in which case 'perceiving red' would be located wherever those brain cells are. And what are 'ideas', beyond the events of our 'thinking' of them? If nothing, then 'thinking of an idea i' would just be identified with a certain pattern of firing, and located where those neurons are ... Now WHETHER such a materialism is viable or not -- well, that's a vexed and difficult question. And if you are inclined to dispute it (and there are good reasons to do so), then in a way you've taken away the force of your own question -- if you do believe that colors, ideas, thoughts, etc. are NOT to be identified with neural patterns, then you automatically believe in the existence of non-physical things -- in which case you're rejecting what you take to be the scientific view that everything has a location, and your worldview expands to admit non-physical, non-spatial things -- for which to ask after their location is as inappropriate as asking how much the number 3 weighs ...

But really the deepest issue in play here -- is the debate over whether materialism or dualism is the preferred position ...

hope that's a start!

ap

Great question. But one other possibility is that some form of materialism is true: these 'non-material' things might simply be identical to various brain states. So, for example, it's not so much that 'red' (say) is identified with some pattern of neural firing -- but 'perceiving red' may well be, in which case 'perceiving red' would be located wherever those brain cells are. And what are 'ideas', beyond the events of our 'thinking' of them? If nothing, then 'thinking of an idea i' would just be identified with a certain pattern of firing, and located where those neurons are ... Now WHETHER such a materialism is viable or not -- well, that's a vexed and difficult question. And if you are inclined to dispute it (and there are good reasons to do so), then in a way you've taken away the force of your own question -- if you do believe that colors, ideas, thoughts, etc. are NOT to be identified with neural patterns, then you automatically believe in the existence of non-physical things -- in which...

Everything needs a cause, right, or it couldn't happen, right?

Everything needs a cause, right, or it couldn't happen, right? But, if everything needs a cause, how could anything happen? Because the thing that would cause it to happen would also need a cause. So does that means the universe can't happen/could never get to now? Or is time a cause in and of itself? And "drags" things as time goes forward, like a replay in a video game? But then time would need a cause too, right?

A classic, important question that philosophers have grappled with for a loooong time .... Look up "cosmological arguments" on wikipedia or via google, you'll find LOTS of discussion of this sort of issue. Especially important for centuries in discussions of religious matters -- Just a couple quick thoughts. One possibility is that an infinite regress is fine -- the universe has always existed, and everything that occurs has a cause, which earlier had a cause etc., to infinity. If you don't think that's possible you need to offer specific reasons why it isn't. One famous one is hinted at in what you say -- for example, as presented by St Thomas Aquinas (in preparation for refuting it) the objection is raised that an infinite regress IS impossible: for since an infinite journey can never be completed, there could NOT be an infinite amount of time (or sequence of events) prior to the current moment -- for that just would mean that the universe HAS completed an infinite journey (from the infinite past to now ...) .... However Aquinas offers a fascinating response to this particular argument you might look up -- I think he holds that reason cannot determine whether the past extends to infinity or not, or whether the cosmos had a 'first moment' -- that said, there are various other kinds of arguments to the same conclusion, suggesting (e.g.) that the universe could not be intelligible if it extended back to infinity, so there must have been a first moment ....

Then, once you've convinced yourself there must be a 'first moment' (or a 'first event' or 'First cause') -- you can grapple with the question of what this implies for the idea that 'everything has a cause' ... One common move is this: if the 'first cause' is quite different in nature from ordinary things, then perhaps it might count as 'self-caused' or 'self-explanatory' -- e.g. if the first cause is a 'necessary being' of some sort (as opposed to 'contingent being') then the fact that it exists needs no further explanation, its own nature (as a necessary being) explains its existence -- so everything DOES have a cause: most ordinary finite things are caused by other finite things, leading back to a First Cause which is 'self-caused' or 'self-explanatory' ....

That's too quick a sketch -- but look up 'cosmological arguments' for more, especially as found in Aristotle, Aquinas, and Descartes (for classical sources) -- and then you can work your way up to contemporary versions ....

good luck!

ap

A classic, important question that philosophers have grappled with for a loooong time .... Look up "cosmological arguments" on wikipedia or via google, you'll find LOTS of discussion of this sort of issue. Especially important for centuries in discussions of religious matters -- Just a couple quick thoughts. One possibility is that an infinite regress is fine -- the universe has always existed, and everything that occurs has a cause, which earlier had a cause etc., to infinity. If you don't think that's possible you need to offer specific reasons why it isn't. One famous one is hinted at in what you say -- for example, as presented by St Thomas Aquinas (in preparation for refuting it) the objection is raised that an infinite regress IS impossible: for since an infinite journey can never be completed, there could NOT be an infinite amount of time (or sequence of events) prior to the current moment -- for that just would mean that the universe HAS completed an infinite journey (from the infinite...

If under possible world semantics one was to assert 'it is possible that there

If under possible world semantics one was to assert 'it is possible that there be an orange elephant'. Is one to be understood as saying that there is an object which does not exist in this world but does in another that is an orange elephant. Or is one to be understood as saying that an object in this world (presumably an elephant) is orange in another?

Of course actuality entails possibility too, so another reading would be consistent with there existing an actual orange elephant (in 'this' world, the actual world), whether or not there exists one in any other possible world. The most direct response to your question (I think) might be to say that the original english expression is ambiguous between the two readings you give (and the third I offer). Although I think even a fairly loosely speaking philosopher would be inclined to disambiguate, and use an expression such as this -- "it is possible that this object,t his elephant x, be orange' -- to indicate your second reading, leaving the original English expression to pick out the first reading you give ...

ap

Of course actuality entails possibility too, so another reading would be consistent with there existing an actual orange elephant (in 'this' world, the actual world), whether or not there exists one in any other possible world. The most direct response to your question (I think) might be to say that the original english expression is ambiguous between the two readings you give (and the third I offer). Although I think even a fairly loosely speaking philosopher would be inclined to disambiguate, and use an expression such as this -- "it is possible that this object,t his elephant x, be orange' -- to indicate your second reading, leaving the original English expression to pick out the first reading you give ... ap

There is a child that is

There is a child that is 5 years old, 4ft tall, likes toys, is of average intelligence, and believes in santa clause. 40 years pass and the child is now a man 45 years old, 6ft tall, doesn't like toys, is a physicist, and does not believe in santa clause. are the child and the man two distinct beings. or are they the same being? if they are two distinct beings then could the 5 year old child be classified as "dead" since he is now non existent (replaced by a completely different individual).

Good question, and space is of course too short for any serious arguments about it --BUT one classic line fo thought is that you decide whether entities x/y are identical by comparing their properties, and if they differ in properties they must be NON-identical ... This is the line you hint at in the way you frame your question: since the child and man are so different in their properties, they must be distinct. (Then whether the child must be declared 'dead' I don't address -- but that might just come down to how we choose to stipulate our use of the word 'dead'.) ... But now another line of thought, rather popular in recent years, is that we can think of an entity as having a set of time-indexed properties: i.e. it's not that you 'like toys', but that you 'like toys at time t'. On this view you can say that the child and the man are just two stages or parts of one entity, an entity who 'likes toys at age 5 and does not like toys at 45'. Note, this view need not quite identify 'man' and 'child', but could rather hold that they are distinct parts of one more encompassing entity (like your hand and foot are distinct parts of your one body). Or you might interpret this view AS identifying man and child, by recognizing that they are the same person (who timelessly has both time-indexed properties). This doesn't quite answer your question, but lays out the three main possible answers -- and then the arguments must begin as to which is the best answer ...hope this is a useful beginning ...

ap

Good question, and space is of course too short for any serious arguments about it --BUT one classic line fo thought is that you decide whether entities x/y are identical by comparing their properties, and if they differ in properties they must be NON-identical ... This is the line you hint at in the way you frame your question: since the child and man are so different in their properties, they must be distinct. (Then whether the child must be declared 'dead' I don't address -- but that might just come down to how we choose to stipulate our use of the word 'dead'.) ... But now another line of thought, rather popular in recent years, is that we can think of an entity as having a set of time-indexed properties: i.e. it's not that you 'like toys', but that you 'like toys at time t'. On this view you can say that the child and the man are just two stages or parts of one entity, an entity who 'likes toys at age 5 and does not like toys at 45'. Note, this view need not quite identify 'man' and 'child', but...

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena

Would a materialist and reductionist have to reject the phenomena/noumena distinction? I saw a clip of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson in which Hitchens seems to claim that one could reject the supernatural without rejecting the noumenal. To truly believe in a hidden "thing in itself" wouldn't you have to take a leap of faith, so to speak? You would have to assert that we should believe in something unprovable, which would seem to be the antithesis of Hitchens' normal position. Thanks!

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely within the phenomenal realm: one who rejects the supernatural so construed denies that the world-as-it-appears contains any beings or phenomean that override the various laws of that world .... So in both cases (where the p/n distinction is epistemic and where we restrict supernatural to the p world) we could reject the supernatural w/o rejecting the noumenal ....

hope that's useful--

ap

Very interesting question, but as a non-kant specialist I would answer this. It's not clear to me that the p/n distinction is a metaphysical one, i.e. one between two different kinds of objects, one 'out there in itself' and one 'in here, as perceived by our minds." Rather it seems to me more an epistemological one, ie two different ways of thinking about one and the same objects: there's the sun-in-itself, and the sun-as-it-appears, but that is one object (the same sun) thought about two different ways, not two distinct objects. (Perhaps Kant scholars interpret the distinction differently ....) But on htis understanding, the noumenal doesn't seem so exotic or supernatural or require a leap of faith, etc.; it just seems a reflection of the (perhaps obvious) fact that in thinking and perceiving about x we cannot but employ the cognitive apparatus we have, and that that apparatus will influence the process in various ways ... Moreover, "to reject the supernatural" could also be understood purely...

Is it a logical contradiction for something to come from nothing? I've heard

Is it a logical contradiction for something to come from nothing? I've heard that this causal principle is intuitive and something a rational person cannot deny. However, is it metaphysically possible for something to indeed come from nothing? Is that a logical contradiction concerning cause and effect? If we're not strictly talking about cause and effect, is it still possible for something to come from nothing? Is an event always contingent upon a cause?

Great question. I don't have an answer. But some thoughts depend on how you frame things. If by "causation" you have a certain model in mind (e.g. where something is transferred from cause to effect) then it does seem contradictory to say that 'something comes from nothing' -- if that is taken to mean 'nothing causes something to come into being' -- for that seems to require both that something be transferred from cause to effect (by the word 'causes') yet that there be nothing to be transferred (since 'nothing' is said to be THE cause) .... But who is to say that 'causation' should be understood on that model? And even that model would not rule out the metaphysical possibility of something coming from nothing, if what that means is 'something comes into existence uncaused' -- there does not seem to be a contradiction, or at least not an obvious one, in the latter, since no 'causation' is being implied .....

hope that's a useful start!

ap

Great question. I don't have an answer. But some thoughts depend on how you frame things. If by "causation" you have a certain model in mind (e.g. where something is transferred from cause to effect) then it does seem contradictory to say that 'something comes from nothing' -- if that is taken to mean 'nothing causes something to come into being' -- for that seems to require both that something be transferred from cause to effect (by the word 'causes') yet that there be nothing to be transferred (since 'nothing' is said to be THE cause) .... But who is to say that 'causation' should be understood on that model? And even that model would not rule out the metaphysical possibility of something coming from nothing, if what that means is 'something comes into existence uncaused' -- there does not seem to be a contradiction, or at least not an obvious one, in the latter, since no 'causation' is being implied ..... hope that's a useful start! ap

Is the concept of property a metaphysical concept?

Is the concept of property a metaphysical concept?

Hm, it's not quite clear where this question is coming from -- if by 'property' you mean something like 'attribute' or 'feature', the kind of thing that can be possessed by objects or substances, and if you mean by 'metaphysical concept' the kind of thing studied by people who say they are doing metaphysics, then yes! But that seems to simple an answer, as if you have some underlying issue that's motivating the question -- but I can't quite figure out what it is? What turns on answering this question yes or no?

ap

Hm, it's not quite clear where this question is coming from -- if by 'property' you mean something like 'attribute' or 'feature', the kind of thing that can be possessed by objects or substances, and if you mean by 'metaphysical concept' the kind of thing studied by people who say they are doing metaphysics, then yes! But that seems to simple an answer, as if you have some underlying issue that's motivating the question -- but I can't quite figure out what it is? What turns on answering this question yes or no? ap

What is an abstract concept, exactly? Is there any consensus regarding their

What is an abstract concept, exactly? Is there any consensus regarding their definition among philosophers? What would be an example of a non-abstract concept then? And why? Thanks for your time (Juan J.).

good question. I might rephrase it slightly: which concepts are concepts of abstract things? then we offer one kind of definition of an abstract thing: a thing which (say) isn't located (or isn't the kind of thing to be located) in any one particular time or space. On this definition many concepts would not be of abstract things, such as the concepts of a chair, or a tree, or a building -- for each of these is the kind of thing, of physical material thing, which does enjoy locations. There may also be "mental things", "minds", which fit this definition, but then that depends on just what your concept of "mind" is! (Some philosophers think the mental is ultimately physical in nature, others not, which might affect how to classify it with respect to the 'abstract.') Then lots of other things would fall into the abstract category: concepts of truth, justice, freedom, many mathematical concepts, for example. Or to get very philosophical here: there is much debate whether we can have concepts of "general" or "universal" things, as opposed to "particular" things. For example, it's one thing to think of a particular tree (say, the oak tree located in your yard); it's another to think of the category of "oak trees", which somehow encompasses every single particular oak tree without being identical to any one particular tree; it's another again to think of "trees in general", which somehow encompasses every single particular tree, oak and non-oak, past present and future ... The concept of the particular tree in your front yard is not abstract, by our definition; that of "tree in general" may well be (since "tree in general" must leave out many of traits which distinguish one kind of tree from another); and that of "oak trees", well that's somewhere in between.

that's a start, anyway!
best,

ap

good question. I might rephrase it slightly: which concepts are concepts of abstract things? then we offer one kind of definition of an abstract thing: a thing which (say) isn't located (or isn't the kind of thing to be located) in any one particular time or space. On this definition many concepts would not be of abstract things, such as the concepts of a chair, or a tree, or a building -- for each of these is the kind of thing, of physical material thing, which does enjoy locations. There may also be "mental things", "minds", which fit this definition, but then that depends on just what your concept of "mind" is! (Some philosophers think the mental is ultimately physical in nature, others not, which might affect how to classify it with respect to the 'abstract.') Then lots of other things would fall into the abstract category: concepts of truth, justice, freedom, many mathematical concepts, for example. Or to get very philosophical here: there is much debate whether we can have concepts of ...

Does anybody seriously believe that reality itself is merely a function of

Does anybody seriously believe that reality itself is merely a function of language, thought and social convention? Some postmodernists like to say this ("reality is socially constructed"), but I doubt any of them would be willing to drink arsenic that has been socially reconstructed into harmless water. Furthermore, if reality is a function of these other factors, then one could not expect anything unexpected to happen (in a reality that is a function of thought, why should a volcano suddenly erupt if nobody thought of it?); yet the unexpected clearly does happen. So why do people stick to extreme versions of anti-realism and constructivism, when more moderate positions that don't deny an external reality, yet still conserve the valuable aspects of postmodernism (understanding of culture, power structures, categorization and convention; deconstruction of beliefs & ideologies; interpretations of and assignment of meaning to natural phenomena; etc.), are perfectly reasonable and tenable?

Hm, you'd first have to specify who you mean by the proponents of "extreme versions" of anti-realism etc, and then ask them directly! (I'm not an expert here but I wonder if some very respectable philosophers (such as Goodman, Putnam, Quine etc) can often get reprsented in ways more extreme than are accurate ...) ... Even a classic idealist of the Berkeleyan variety (ie Berkeley himself), though claiming that all reality is mind-dependent perceptions (and the perceivers of those perceptions) does NOT hold that reality is arbitrary, up to us, constructed by us -- that it's in any sense 'up to us' whether a volcano erupts or whether arsenic kills us-- he holds (at least) that something external to our minds, namely God, controls all that good stuff. So, too, I imagine, contemporary anti-realists (don't know if anyone endorses Berkeleyan idealism/anti-realism any more) would hold that while everything we say about the world, everythign we think about the world, every proposition we utter, etc. is "constructed" or influenced by our cognitive structure or theory-laden etc., it needn't follow that what happens is up to us entirely and in every way -- rather the claim (as I understand it) is more that we can never perfectly reflect in our concepts and language etc. the way things are in reality, how things are in themselves, independent of our ways of conceiving them or interacting with them ... And this, I imagine is what you're calling the more "moderate" position here -- but it is, I think, much more what almost every "anti-realist" holds than the extreme position you are questioning ....

(I could be wrong on this, not being an expert on the literature; but, in short, I suspect you're attacking a straw man, as they say.)

hope that's useful--

ap

Hm, you'd first have to specify who you mean by the proponents of "extreme versions" of anti-realism etc, and then ask them directly! (I'm not an expert here but I wonder if some very respectable philosophers (such as Goodman, Putnam, Quine etc) can often get reprsented in ways more extreme than are accurate ...) ... Even a classic idealist of the Berkeleyan variety (ie Berkeley himself), though claiming that all reality is mind-dependent perceptions (and the perceivers of those perceptions) does NOT hold that reality is arbitrary, up to us, constructed by us -- that it's in any sense 'up to us' whether a volcano erupts or whether arsenic kills us-- he holds (at least) that something external to our minds, namely God, controls all that good stuff. So, too, I imagine, contemporary anti-realists (don't know if anyone endorses Berkeleyan idealism/anti-realism any more) would hold that while everything we say about the world, everythign we think about the world, every proposition we utter, etc. is ...

Is the expression "ex nihilo nihil fit" which means "nothing comes from nothing

Is the expression "ex nihilo nihil fit" which means "nothing comes from nothing" still widely accepted by modern philosophers?

I think the better question might be whether scientists accept it, and while I can't provide a genuinely empirical answer, my suspicion is YES -- otherwise there would be little motivation to pursue theories and explanations about the world ... It's precisely because we seek to explain "where" things/events come from and "how" they occur that we pursue science, and that seems to presuppose your principle -- and indeed my (shallow) understanding of contemporary physics suggests (a) on the surface they reject that principle, in holding (say) that empty space can spontaneously give rise to matter but (b) in fact they support the principle because empty space ends up being conceived to be or express a quantity of energy, which is not "nothing" -- so in fact there IS no such thing as purely "empty" space ....

Now there probably are philosophers who reject the principle -- if you're the sort who rejects the fundamental intelligiblity of the world (and there are those) then you probably are not attracted to the principle -- but then many philosophers surely do accept it, as a presupposition, even, of the very activity of philosophy.

hope that's useful

ap

I think the better question might be whether scientists accept it, and while I can't provide a genuinely empirical answer, my suspicion is YES -- otherwise there would be little motivation to pursue theories and explanations about the world ... It's precisely because we seek to explain "where" things/events come from and "how" they occur that we pursue science, and that seems to presuppose your principle -- and indeed my (shallow) understanding of contemporary physics suggests (a) on the surface they reject that principle, in holding (say) that empty space can spontaneously give rise to matter but (b) in fact they support the principle because empty space ends up being conceived to be or express a quantity of energy, which is not "nothing" -- so in fact there IS no such thing as purely "empty" space .... Now there probably are philosophers who reject the principle -- if you're the sort who rejects the fundamental intelligiblity of the world (and there are those) then you probably are not attracted to...

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