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I seem to remember there was a medieval philosopher--maybe Russell mentions him

I seem to remember there was a medieval philosopher--maybe Russell mentions him in his History of Western Philosophy--who talked about peer influence or what a social scientist today might call regression toward the mean. He advised that, to live a saintly life, one should surround oneself with saintly people. Who was he? Did he write anything available today? Any pithy quotes?

Blaise Pascal, though not a medieval philosopher but an early modern one, did recognize that his famous wager was not always sufficient to cause an unbeliever to believe. Thus he recommends spending time with believers, performing the rituals with them, and, eventually, one would come to believe. He says:

"You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness. "But this is what I am afraid of." And why? What have you to lose?" (Pascal, Blaise, 1670, Pensées, translated by W. F. Trotter, London: Dent, 1910; #233)

Did Plato and Aristotle have economic philosophies? Or were they smart enough to

Did Plato and Aristotle have economic philosophies? Or were they smart enough to avoid the dismal science?

Sometimes when you discuss ancient philosophers it’s allright to be a little anachronistic. Sowe can discuss Aristotle and technology, even though what he would have known as technology was close to nothing compared to what we find in the modern world. Or we talk about Plato and democracy in spite of the huge differences between the democracy that he lived in and the representative democracies of the past few centuries.

There are other times when such tolerance for anachronism comes to an end, and I’d say that talk of economics is one of those times. No economic philosophy occurs in either one’s work, or in the work of any near-contemporary of theirs; and the most important reason must be that the economies they lived in were nowhere near sophisticated enough to make state economic policies possible, or to let such phenomena as employment fluctuations be studied.

Look at a city like Athens,one of the largest populations in Greece and probably the wealthiest. Its economy was based (as all ancient economies were) on farming, with food produced for mostly local consumption; but such durable commodities as olive oil were also produced in quantity, and added to the city’s wealth. For a long time Athens had been the most prestigious exporter of high-quality pottery as well. And on top of these exports, the city had its own silver mines. Then the league of allies that Athens put together after 479, before Socrates was born, brought hefty annual payments from the allies pouring into the local economy.

Even given all this substance and wealth, however, the city did not operate as even the most rudimentary modern economies do. There is no indication that it drew up a budget in advance, or borrowed money to pay for future infrastructural developments. Rather the city spent the money it had each year, until there was nothing left. Sometimes money was left over and was kept in reserve; often it was not.

Under these circumstances, an economist could not begin to study monetary policy, unemployment, inflation, or any other very elementary economic phenomenon – not to mention the more sophisticated phenomena (productivity, leading indicators) on which modern economic theories are based. And it is no surprise that, in the absence of most aspects of what we call an economy, the ancient philosophies we know of are absent most aspects of what we call economic theorizing.

You do find comments, here and there. As Socrates turns, in Book 2 of the Republic, from the primitive “first city” he has described to the more complex city that Glaucon asks him to investigate, he adds occupations and activities to the hypothetical city until it becomes rather large. At this point, he says, the city can no longer support itself on the farmland it started out with. War becomes inevitable. And there seems to be a general principle in Plato’s mind as he writes this, to the effect that any sufficiently large society will need to generate more wealth than it has just to maintain itself.

(Forget that most modern economists would say that the additional wealth is generated by a growing economy. Plato has no conception of a growing economy besides the act of seizing wealth from another city. Yet again, he’s not an economist.)

There is at least this much of interest in Socrates’ observation. The complexities of an economy are perceived as bringing about a pressure on existing wealth that can only be relieved by some collective (usually state) action, in this case war. I would call this something of an economic observation.

Another passage from the Republic: Socrates warns against leaving incomes unregulated among the good city’s large productive class. Their incomes cannot be permitted to grow too large, lest the city create an oligarchic class within its productive class; but also not too small, lest a permanently impoverished group come into existence that destabilizes the society in other ways. These may be good recommendations, even if they occur without any accompanying suggestion of how the city’s government will observe and enforce such policies.

Such observations do not add up to a philosophy of economics or a practical economic theory, but they begin to describe the subject that will later be known by such names.

I'm finishing Augustine's Confessions. At a certain point, he argues that

I'm finishing Augustine's Confessions. At a certain point, he argues that "shapeless" (I'm not reading an English translation; the Latin word is "informis" ("informitas" as a noun)) physical entities are possible. I didn't understand his argument and anyway can't imagine how some physical body could be shapeless. Perhaps an infinitely large or infinitely small body could be shapeless, but infinitely small things are hardly conceivable. Would you explain me how could some physical body be shapeless? Or perhaps Augustine is talking about something else I didn't get? (it's in Book XIII).

Book XIII is tricky; it is often skipped when people teach Augustine. He is trying to read the opening verses of Genesis in several ways simultaneously. First, to stress the utter dependence of all of creation upon God; second, to integrate into Christianity the basic metaphysics of Plato and Plotinus; third, as a metaphorically compressed history of the church and its organisation.
So, creation occurs in two steams -- the spiritual and the corporeal (XIII.2) -- and in each stream in three phases -- original creation, conversion, and formation. The original creation is of that which is formless (shapeless as you translate it); conversion is when the first creation 'hears' the Word of God (that is, it returns to the call of its creator; this is passive for the corporeal, but active for the spiritual); formation is the result. The primary concern of Book XIII is spiritual creation; whereas corporeal creation is dealt with more fully in Book XII.
The first phase of corporeal creation is unformed matter, the Earth prior to it being made up of things (XII. 3-4). But, just like you, Augustine finds he cannot really understand unformed matter (XII.6). Our intelligence or reason deals with or thinks with forms, and thus that which is unformed seems impossible. By unformed does not just mean changeable (most forms are), nor does it simply mean ugly or misshapen (although Augustine uses these as metaphors frequently enough). The closest he can get (again in XII.6) is that the unformed is the stage between forms.

Does Quine's critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction also apply to

Does Quine's critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction also apply to circular definitions? For example: a 'bachelor' is an 'unmarried male' seems analytic, and 'bachelor' and 'unmarried male' are synonyms. But consider: 'condescension' means a 'patronizing' attitude. Of course, 'condescension' and 'patronizing' are defined in terms of each other. Are all definitions that are circular in this way still susceptible to Quine's critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction, because they trade on the synonymy of the definiens and definienda?

This question reflects what I think is a widespread conception of Quine's critique, which is that it applies to ordinary colloquial language. Quine actually went much further than that. He was fundamentally skeptical of synonymity as well, and thought he could cast doubt even on the idea that you could stipulate synonymity, by setting up, say, an axiom system or, on a less formal basis, local "meaning postulates." You can regiment all you like, but you can't control what becomes of your regimentations; the most eloquent recent articulation of this view, in endlessly fascinating scientific detail, is Mark Wilson's work (see esp. his book Wandering Significance). So the answer to the question is "yes."

Quine didn't think in the local "circularity" terms in which the question is posed; he considered all human knowledge, starting with the most elementary common-sense knowledge and reaching to the most abstract representations of theoretical physics, to be one gigantic reciprocally-supportive circle.

I think it's hard to argue with Quine's case where colloquial language is concerned, even if you take away the behaviorist viewpoint he brings to bear, most notoriously in his demand for a "behavioral criterion" of synonymity. But where stipulations are concerned I'm less convinced. Almost any contract, for instance, contains a list of defined terms, and these stipulated synonymities are universally upheld by courts in the sense that they are practically never questioned. The legal profession might thus be held, by Quine's criteria, to accept an analytic-synthetic distinction along with a robust form of stipulated synonymity, and indeed to require such a distinction as a constitutive tool of its practice, just as Einstein said, in his lecture on "Geometry and Experience," that it was constitutive of his discovery of relativity.

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5 people or switch the tracks to kill only one ?

Great question, and one that is rarely discussed in the over-worked trolley problem literature, mainly because the cases are set up to illuminate a conflict between the utilitarian response that seems to suggest killing 1 to save 5 regardless of the means of doing so and the Kantian response that seems to allow switching the track to save 5 (with a mere side-effect of allowing 1 to die), while disallowing pushing 1 intentionally as a means of saving 5. But what would a virtue theorist like Aristotle, or the originator of the trolley problem Philippa Foot, say?

Well, there's no simple answer since virtue theory is (intentionally) open-ended and detail-driven. It would say that right thing to do in each case is what a virtuous person would recognize as the right thing to do, given the specific details of the case. Personally, I think the virtuous person would say it is morally required to switch the track in that case and morally wrong to push someone to stop the trolley in the other case. In part, that's because a virtuous person will recognize that the agent in the 'push' case is not justified in believing that it will work to save 5 people (hence it risks killing 6), while she is justified in believing that switching the track will save 5 at the cost of 1.

But one worry is that I may be justifying my intuitions about the cases by ascribing them to the virtuous judge.

Is evolution a problem for Platonists? Can there be a form for organisms that by

Is evolution a problem for Platonists? Can there be a form for organisms that by there nature change, even if individual examples of species do not? Another way of saying it is that species are organic processes, and I have difficulty imagining an essential, unchanging process.

The problem you describe is obviously a threat to Aristotle's view of nature and of the species of plants and animals (which may be why Aristotle argues against Darwin in Book 2 of the Physics). As you say, "species are organic processes" -- although you ought to recognize that this conception of biological species is our shared conception of species after Darwin. Darwin has indeed made many elements of the ancient theory of nature hard to imagine, even if the ancients found their view of nature extremely easy to imagine.

Plato differs from Aristotle, however. For one thing, Plato expects to find much less order in the natural world than Aristotle does. If you confront Plato with the spectacle of constant change in nature, he might be inclined to agree. In this particular case, a lot depends on whether or not Plato thought there were Forms for species -- a Form of human being, of dog, of oak. In some of the dialogues that speak of Forms, the description of them does not seem to include biological species; however, an open-ended discussion in the Parmenides suggests otherwise, that Forms would have to include species. The textual evidence is inconclusive. And if there are no Forms for dog or willow, the changes in dogs and willows that we see are no threat to Platonic metaphysics.

It's possible to go a bit further than this, though not to the evolution that we know after Darwin. Plato's Timaeus proposes one kind of evolution that ancient author sometimes found acceptable, namely a "devolution" to a worse kind. This is a version of the idea that humans couldn't come from apes, but that thoughtless, brutal human beings could degenerate into apes. (Mind you, the distinction makes no sense in modern biology, because the theory of evolution does not consider us higher than gorillas, or even higher than plankton. I am trying to speak as the ancients would have spoken.) And in the Timaeus, we find something like a cross between degenerative evolution and reincarnation. Male human beings who do not comport themselves virtuously enough are turned into women, and humans are turned into animals. You can't make yourself a better creature on your own, but through vicious thought and action you might be made into a worse species.

For a dozen or so reasons we are likely to find this proposal unacceptable -- morally, scientifically, metaphysically. But it does sound something like evolution. And it is Platonic. So maybe it's the best evidence for the conclusion (in response to your opening question) that evolution as such is not a problem for Platonists.

I'm particularly concerned with this question and response:

I'm particularly concerned with this question and response: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4636 I'm not necessarily interested in the theological ramifications, but in terms of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene and Lawrence Krauss's cosmology in The Universe from Nothing, it feels like these are very real issues that have not been addressed by philosophers. Is there serious philosophy that has kept up to date on science? Or are these thinkers simply interested in claiming that Lawrence Krauss' "nothing" is different than the philosophical conception of nothing? Are there philosophers at all that deal with science post-Newton?

Speaking for my own response to Question 4636: I offered two quotations of Krauss from his online interview with Sam Harris (in which Harris gave Krauss ample space to clarify his positions) in order to show how advanced training in science doesn't guarantee even minimal competence in philosophy.

All three clauses in the first quotation are stunningly false: First, modern science hasn't "changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'"; arguably, science couldn't completely change our conception of those ordinary-language words. Krauss seems to think that science has somehow made the word 'something' synonymous with 'something material' and 'nothing' synonymous with 'nothing material', but if that were so then those two-word phrases would be pleonastic (i.e., redundant), which clearly they're not. The set {2} contains nothing material, but it contains something; it's not the empty set. Second, the statement "Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not" is so silly, so confused, that it would take me too long to spell out its defects. Third, "'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy" repeats Krauss's first error.

The second quotation is no better: "our universe arising from precisely nothing, embedded in a perhaps infinite space, or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be." Here again, Krauss uses 'nothing' idiosyncratically to mean 'nothing material'. Various critics have faulted him for a bait-and-switch in which he promises to explain how something arose from nothing but delivers, at most, a theory of how something material arose from something nonmaterial. It's not the difference between a "philosophical conception" of nothing (there isn't one) and some other conception of it; it's the difference between using the word 'nothing' in the standard, ordinary way and using it in an idiosyncratic, Pickwickian way.

I doubt that philosophers would bother to point out Krauss's obvious blunders if it weren't for the fact that Krauss is highly visible and (was for a time anyway) eager to tell folks that science has made philosophy obsolete.

Is there any general concern among academic philosophers that Richard Dawkins'

Is there any general concern among academic philosophers that Richard Dawkins' amateurish treatment of philosophy in 'The God Delusion' might be giving the false impression to the general public that complex debates in the philosophy of religion can be knocked down in a few pages of popular writing? Surely this is highly misleading, and obscures deep debates in academic philosophy.

Or even after a difficult day doing theoretical cosmology, to judge from what physicist Lawrence Krauss says about his new book, A Universe from Nothing, in an online interview with Sam Harris. Choice quotations:

"Modern science...has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing'. Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and 'something' and 'nothing' are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy."

"[D]o we have any physical reason to believe that such nothing was ever the case? Absolutely, because we are talking about our universe, and that doesn’t preclude our universe arising from precisely nothing, embedded in a perhaps infinite space, or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be" (my italics).

Those assertions are so confused it's hard to know where to begin. Even fellow physicists have lambasted Krauss for talking out of his hat.

I'm struggling to reconcile David Hume's critiques of science and religion. On

I'm struggling to reconcile David Hume's critiques of science and religion. On the one hand, he suggests that our application of cause/effect to natural phenomena is problematic since it ammounts to simply equating the present with the past. On the other hand, he warns us against believing in second-hand accounts of miracles since they are interruptions of natural law. Isn't our use of causal reasoning the way we determine the characteristics of natural law? Is this an inconsistency in his argument and, if so, does he address it anywhere?

If I may complicate things a bit: I don't question the scholarly accuracy of Prof. Baxter's reply on behalf of Hume, but I'd point out that he attributes to Hume a handful of inductive claims, for example: "We instinctively make and believe...predictions, anyway. We can't help it"; "People who rely on experience in this way tend to be happier and longer-lived than people who rely on other ways of coming to belief." Those are claims about human tendencies: not simply historical reports about how things have gone but inductive generalizations about how things (will) go under normal circumstances. If they were merely historical reports, we'd expect them to use the past tense rather than the present tense ("make," "believe," "rely," "tend"). Since they're inductive claims, by Hume's own lights we have no good reason to believe them. So it would seem, on this reconstruction of it, that Hume's argument for the practical rationality of our relying on induction contains premises he thinks we have no reason to accept. Maybe there's a tension in Hume's view after all?

What would Plato say about terrorism, specifically Al Qadea? What would he say

What would Plato say about terrorism, specifically Al Qadea? What would he say about the role of religion in terrorism, as well. Thank you

As far as the use of force goes, I would be surprised if Plato would have had much to say about what we call terrorism. This is not because he would approve of the tactic of singling out civilians as targets, in the hopes of demoralizing an enemy; but simply because he would take a lot of such tactics for granted.

The histories of the time indicate two distinct forms of engagement between enemies. On the one hand, a lot of battles on land and sea were fought formally, with arranged battlefields and times to fight (mostly in the summer); on the other hand, when one state besieged another one the attackers would subject everyone within the city walls to the deprivations that were intended to drive the city to surrender. Soldiers frequently distinguished between civilians and members of an army, but there were plenty of instances in which they did not. (See the Athenian attack on the island of Melos, as described in Book 5 of Thucydides, chapters 85-113.)

You seem to have something else in mind, though. It's not just terrorism conceived as the attacks on randomly chosen civilians, but more specifically terrorism as a tool of fundamentalist religion. And here the problem is that Plato registers views toward the religion of his time as apparently contradictory as he does. He defers to religion, especially in the sense of practicing traditional rituals and consulting the oracle at Delphi. He also finds most religious stories, with their slanders about the gods' shabby personal lives, offensive to a believer. His would be a religion purged of its anthropomorphism and its suggestions that the gods ever bring undeserved harm to human beings. No more lying and adulterous gods, only wise beneficent ones. And religious motivations for acts of force might be acceptable, if -- a big "if" -- the religion they are based on is a morally acceptable one.

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