Advanced Search

Are the concepts of 'panta rhei' (Heraclitus' river analogy) and hard

Are the concepts of 'panta rhei' (Heraclitus' river analogy) and hard determinism reconcilable, or are they mutually exclusive? One suggests a world constantly in flux and the other a world where all events are determined rigidly by prior ones. But surely even if 'everything changes', it is possible for all of those changes to be determined? Or am I interpreting Heraclitus wrongly?

You are taking claims and concepts from two traditions very far removed from one another. And yet your question makes good sense; for in some respect I believe Heraclitus would understand hard determinism, and the modern hard determinist would understand that panta rhei.

Indeed, as that first paragraph implies, I think the better question is not just whether the two positions are logically compatible, but whether they are intelligible to one another. After all, vegetarianism is compatible with belief in phlogiston. Nothing in a theory of phlogiston says you have to eat meat, and nothing about vegetarianism requires you to believe in the existence of oxygen. But this compatibility is surely a trivial one. There is a fuller sense, I believe – if I’ve understood your question – in which you want to know whether these two worldviews are mutually, shall we say, comprehensible not just compatible.

In one direction the mutual comprehensibility is not at issue. Unless hard determinists want to say that change is limited or does not take place (and I can’t see why they would), they would understand the panta rhei doctrine even if they did not often feel the need to announce it. After all, whom would they need to inform that the natural world changes?

But the other direction is the tough one. Would Heraclitus understand hard determinism?

I’ll begin at the end of your original question. You are not interpreting Heraclitus wrongly. But we need to interpret him a little further. According to one view of his theory that has many adherents today, the doctrine of Flux (everything flows; can’t step into the same river twice) is a supporting position in Heraclitus’s total view. It underwrites the more general claim of the Unity of Opposites (every object that has a property P has the opposite property not-P, whether at the same time or in some other respect). And that more general claim, in an obscure manner that hasn’t been fully reconstructed yet, underwrites the grand thesis that Heraclitus wrote his book to present, his Monism, the thesis that “All is one according to some logos or rational order.” Everything flows, to be sure, but everything flows in accord with this logos; and there is a pattern and a structure thanks to which things are identical with their opposites.

All we need right now is this idea of a logos, i.e. the idea that there is a rational order thanks to which things constantly change. For if things constantly change according to some such order, it seems more plausible that they change in determined fashion. Heraclitus could deny the determinism, but he doesn’t say anything that I see as such a denial. Indeed the ancient world was not really worried about determinism until after Heraclitus. Aristotle considers a certain kind of logical determinism; and after Aristotle, Epicurus revises the atomism of Democritus so that atoms not only move in straight lines but also sometimes swerve, thereby making some kind of freedom possible. With Epicurus we have genuine worry about hard determinism. But then Epicurus is writing long after Heraclitus, in whom I don’t see such a worry.

I have a question regarding referencing and I don't know where else to turn, the

I have a question regarding referencing and I don't know where else to turn, the quote: " Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another" is all over the net attributed to James, but I can not find a specific work of his which it is cited. Can anyone help?

That definitely doesn't sound like William James, on account of the use of the word "stress". The notion of stress, in what I take to be the relevant sense of the term, only really started to arise in the 1950s. But James died in 1910. That's the internet for you.

He did however say the following, which might perhaps have inspired whoever it was that made up that quotation:

"The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right."

That's from The Principles of Psychology (1890), ch. 4; and there's a corresponding passage in ch. 10 of Psychology: Briefer Course (1892).

Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance

Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance which remains continuous throught out time. Hume, was especially famous for making that point. What about the fear we experience in the face of certain fates? Any reasonable person would want to avoid being tortured and it would be no consolation to "know" that the person who will be tortured is not the same person as the person who dreads it. This is essentially why I can't agree with Hume. I know it doesn't sound like an argument but it still seems like a persuasive position. Have other philosophers offered that rebuttal to Hume? What could you say to refute or bolster this "argument"?

Thank you for your question. Without a doubt, if you told David Hume that 'I am going to be tortured' he would respond 'For goodness sake, run!' The question is, then: is this response incompatible with his philosophical analysis of the concept of substance?

I think we need to distinguish two ways of thinking about 'substance'. The first is substance as metaphysical, as something that exists permanently, without even the possibility of change, as the 'bearer' of properties (Hume has Descartes and Leibniz particularly in mind). The second is a pragmatic sense of substance, as our sense of the identity of things (including ourselves) across time. By pragmatic, I mean that for certain purposes we think of things as basically unchanging, while for other purposes we think of things as not unchanging. For example, if I buy a new car, I consider it unchanging for the purposes of driving every day, staying the same size, staying the same shape and colour. If, however, after a year I tried to return it to the dealership, they would say 'sorry, but this is not the same car, it is now a 'used' car'. Hume has a number of examples of this type in Treatise, Book 1, Part IV, section vi, including the example of a church being the 'same church' even though it has been rebuilt in a different material. The church is both the same church, and a completely different church, depending upon to what pragmatic use you are putting the word 'same'.

Clearly, Hume can deny the validity of an idea of substance in the first sense, while still maintaining the importance of a pragmatic sense. So, yes, it is no consolation to think that the person to be tortured is not the same person as me, because this lack of sameness is of the metaphysical kind. Pragmatically speaking, it is you, so run.

Where on the political spectrum are Aristotle's political views?

Where on the political spectrum are Aristotle's political views?

Aristotle is usually classified as a "classical republican," which is more misleading than helpful, given contemporary American political party names. A "classical republican" is typically contrasted with a "classical liberal," which only makes matters worse, given contemporary political (ab)uses of the "L-word."

So here is a quick-and-dirty (read: not entirely adequate) brief account of what these terms are supposed to mean. A classical liberal is one who tends to think in terms of maintaining limits on the government's power to interfere in individual people's liberties. (A term related here that is also important in contemporary rhetoric is "libertarian.") Classical republicans tend to think in terms of what would make the best and most effective (or most admirable or choiceworthy) constitution, such that the entire welfare of the community is the primary consideration.

Anyway, for better than a quick-and-dirty, look up these terms in the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy (see the lower right link on this page).

In contemporary political debates, no sides (right, left or center) map perfectly onto this distinction. In general, considerations of such things as "basic human rights" tend to fall on the classical liberal side. Some scholars have tried to find elements of such thinking in Aristotle, but that remains a very controversial position among scholars. As I say, most regard Aristotle as much more of a classical republican. In general, however, I would characterize most political discourse in American politics as mostly saturated with classically liberal elements and with attempts to shape governments with concerns for individual liberties prominently (if not always or even mostly entirely honestly, I suspect) on display.

OK, so you are probably trying to figure out how I have answered your question. So let me be more honest: I don't think there is any very clean answer to your question. The contemporary political spectrum is far too much a thing of the present to get any clear assessment of where Aristotle would fit. We could probably do a better job on specific issues, but even here, I think that many of the issues that drive contemporary politics are simply alien to the theories that Aristotle advanced, so that applications of his theories to those issues would be a matter of considerable speculation and controversy.

I saw a quote once by Nietzsche that was something like "When we try to examine

I saw a quote once by Nietzsche that was something like "When we try to examine the essence of a reflection in a mirror we see only the mirror, but when examining the mirror we see only the reflection." I would like to find the exact wording but have not been able to find a match with Google. Could you help me?

You are looking for aphorism 243 from Daybreak.Roughly, the mirror is the intellect, the 'things' the world. Nietzsche is making a double point. First, the neo-Kantian idea that all knowledge is mediated, including knowledge of the mediating activity itself. Second, a historical point about broad moves from certain necessary failures within natural science (investigation of things) leading inevitably to a focus on psychological science (investigation of the mirror) and because of necessary failures, back again.

What's the relationship between Greek Drama and the sorts of dialogues that

What's the relationship between Greek Drama and the sorts of dialogues that Plato wrote? What are the origins of the genre of philosophical dialogue?

This question is harder to answer than it might look, partly because of our incomplete information about Greek drama. Another problem is that many people who address the issue elide from laying out the factual information we have available to us, to interpreting that information into a theory of the Platonic dialogue. Your question does not ask for a theory of Platonic writing as such, and I won’t attempt to give one.

In a literal sense, Platonic dialogues began as other dialogues about Socrates did, with efforts by his friends to write down things Socrates had said. Socrates was not the type of philosopher to lecture, or to introduce a topic and develop a thesis about it. All the reliable evidence instead indicates that he would get involved with friends and strangers, query them about their beliefs, and perhaps defend positions of his own, but all in the context of ongoing conversation. It seems to have been clear to his friends that the written account of Socratic philosophy should respect this conversational form. According to later ancient traditions, then, friends of Socrates began writing down quotes from conversations with him while he was still alive. The earliest among them, according to the tradition, was Simon the Shoemaker, who had a shop at the edge of the Athenian agora that Socrates allegedly spent time in. Simon wrote up a number of (apparently very short) dialogues that reported the Socratic conversations from his shop.

Simon probably died while Plato was still a child, and before the death of Socrates. Phaedo, a character familiar from Plato’s dialogue of that name, also may have written his dialogues around this time. After Socrates died, dialogues were written by Antisthenes the Cynic and Aeschines of Sphettus, among others. Later authors quote from some of these works but they are almost entirely lost, so we can’t say to what degree they report the words of Socrates. What we do know is that all these dialogues appear during or soon after the time of Socrates, were written by people who knew him, and typically feature conversations that included Socrates. So the philosophical dialogue has its origins in reports about Socrates.

Plato was in his late twenties when Socrates died; so was Xenophon. They both wrote numerous dialogues about Socrates that survived. And by the time we get to these works we have a clear genre in existence that we may call the philosophical dialogue. Such dialogues can vary, some purporting to give brief factual transcriptions of actual and often pedestrian conversations, others – much too long to have been real conversations – expanding into philosophical theorizing.

If Plato found the genre of dialogue already starting to form when he began to write, what could the relationship be between that genre and Greek drama? Given that we can explain the genre in terms of notes on conversations that Socrates got himself into, why talk about tragedy? The answer is that Plato was an ambitious author, and specifically an author who tried to master the forms of literary writing he encountered around him. An old tradition, though not a reliable one, says that he originally aspired to write tragedies, until Socrates asked him probing questions about some of his verse, and Plato went home to burn everything he’d written. But even if this story is not true, we can see for ourselves Plato’s interest in how tragedy and comedy work, and funeral rhetoric, and courtroom rhetoric. He read and thought about the great prose works of history by Herodotus and Thucydides. In a word, he absorbed and responded to all the prose of his time and much of the poetry.

The dominant dramatic form was tragedy, of course. In a tragedy the Athenians could see people addressing an issue from different points of view, sometimes going back and forth in the pointed brief exchanges called stichomythia. But tragedy used all the blandishments of verse, presented traumatic or frightening situations, and often showed heroic people suffering unjustly or slipping into vice. Plato’s dissatisfaction with tragedy is well documented (see Books 3 and 10 of the Republic). Comedy fared slightly better. It seemed to induce less passionate identification between spectator and character; and the comedies that Plato knew, above all those by Aristophanes, could address political issues quite abstractly.

Plato drew from both genres, offering his dialogues as literary alternatives to them. Imagine these dialogues, he seems to be saying, as the dramatic art that children first read, rather than tragedy with its dubious moral implications or comedy that invites thoughtless laughter.

Finally we have mimes. The mimes were shorter plays, performed in private homes or other non-theatrical settings. They evidently featured domestic situations and had something of a light-comic tone. Aristotle’s Poetics clearly groups the mimes of Sophron with the dialogues of Plato as members of a single dramatic genre; so the dialogues’ relationship to this dramatic form had been noticed from an early time.

To say much more is to begin a theory of the dialogue. And these few paragraphs have already moved in that direction. So let me close by repeating points I already made. The philosophical dialogue probably began inartistically, with reports on Socratic exchanges. Some people who remembered Socrates would have stuck to this form, trying to record what their old friend said as accurately as possible. (In the Symposium, Apollodorus tells the story of that dinner party, saying he confirmed details of it with Socrates on the basis of an earlier report. In the Theaetetus, Euclides of Megara checked on details with Socrates before writing down the conversation in that dialogue.) Others however tried to make the dialogue something more than biography. Plato is our best example of this ambition, though one can say much about Xenophon’s ambitions as well. And in Plato’s case, the attempt to make the dialogue a literary form of its own involved drawing on elements of Greek historical chronicles but especially on elements of Greek drama, where that includes tragedy, comedy, and mime.

I am reading Neitzsch's "Human, All Too Human", in one of his aphorisms he

I am reading Neitzsch's "Human, All Too Human", in one of his aphorisms he states that logic is optimistic. Does he mean that it would be foolishly optimistic to trust logic or in its truth? Or does he mean something else I just can't seem to understand?

Thank you for your question. I'm guessing you are referring to aphorism 6 in the first volume. You are certainly right to call Nietzsche up here -- the reference to the concept of optimism is not at all clear. In fact, it goes back to an earlier book of Nietzsche's, The Birth of Tragedy. (If you want to look, the clearest -- which isn't saying much in this case -- treatment of this idea is found in chapter 18.) There Nietzsche argues that an important change took place around the time of Socrates, and that what we now think of as science, broadly speaking, was 'invented'. What characterises this Socratic science? Well, logic, first of all, broadly understood in its Greek sense as a rational enquiry into the nature of things. But also, Nietzsche says, a certain optimism. Science only makes sense if the world CAN be understood and that, once it is understood, it can be CHANGED for the better. Science, he says, is intrinsically optimistic about its own utility. Now, here in Human, All Too Human the tune has changed a little (this is still more clear in aphorism 7). Nietzsche now argues that particular sciences get along very well without a sense of utility, of a sense of what they are for. It is only philosophy, as the widest science, or as the 'whole' of science, that is still optimistic in that Socratic sense.

What are some books for a beginner to learn about Kant's critique of judgement?

What are some books for a beginner to learn about Kant's critique of judgement?

Well, I'm sure you can do BETTER than my book (with Edinburgh, 2000), but that's not going to stop me recommending it. More recent is a fine introductory commentary by Fiona Hughes (Continuum 2009).

Did Hume commit the genetic fallacy when he argued that one of the reasons we

Did Hume commit the genetic fallacy when he argued that one of the reasons we should not believe in miracles was because they derived from "ignorant and barbarous nations"?

Before I address your question directly, it would be worth just running through Hume's main argument in section 10 of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, for the sake of those readers who might not have come across it before. Hume is concerned with the credibility of testimony concerning miracles. When we receive such testimony (in any form, whether received orally from one of our own contemporaries, or read in an ancient book), Hume asks us to weigh up the credibility of two competing hypotheses. (1) That the testimony is true, the laws of nature were violated, and the miracle really did occur as described. (Hume regards the violation of the laws of nature as being an essential, defining feature of a miracle. Others would define 'miracle' in other ways, and Hume's argument might not apply to them: but he is concerned with miracles as he defines the term). (2) That the testimony is false (whether through deliberate deceit or just through honest error), the laws of nature were not violated, and the miracle didn't occur. But Hume observes that an entire lifetime of experience has constantly reinforced in us the belief that the laws of nature do not admit of exceptions: so hypothesis (1) is not looking very plausible. Whereas our experience of receiving testimony from other people, far from leading us to believe that it is never false, actually leads us instead to believe that it is quite often precisely that: so hypothesis (2) is very easy to accept. Weighing things up dispassionately, the only plausible conclusion is that (1) is false, (2) is true, and the miracle didn't occur.

As to the phrase you've cited in your question, it is worth just noting that this is only a tiny part of his overall argument. As you quite rightly acknowledge, it's only one of the reasons for not believing in miracles, just one among many other considerations that we might take into account when making that assessment of the relative credibility of hypotheses (1) and (2). It's also worth remembering that, at the precise point where he uses this phrase, he is limiting his discussion to the miracles recorded in the Pentateuch (i.e. the first five books of the Old Testament). And perhaps disbelief in individual cases could then lead on to a wider disbelief about miracles in general, which is certainly what the section as a whole is driving at: but, at this point, Hume is only concerned with the individual case. The reason why this is important is because, in the specific case of the miracles recorded in the Pentateuch -- as Hume himself observes in this very passage -- there is no corroborating evidence beyond the Pentateuch itself. If there was, and if we were to disregard it because of our prejudices about the source, then that might well compound any genetic fallacy involved in the case. But, in the absence of independent corroboration, all that we have to work with is the content of the testimony itself, plus what we know of its source, considered against the backdrop of our knowledge of how the world works. So the real question is whether we should treat what we know of its source (e.g. that they're ignorant and barbarous, supposing that we conclude that they are) as having any bearing on the credibility of the testimony itself, or else exclude it from our considerations altogether.

Now, you've asked about a conjunctive phrase, so it might be a good idea to break it down and consider the two parts separately. First, would it be a fallacy to disbelieve accounts of miracles on the grounds that they derived from barbarous nations? If by 'barbarous' we mean something like 'morally unrefined', then I can see that an argument could be made for that. When the content of the testimony has nothing to do with morality, it's not obvious that the moral character of its source should have any relevance at all... except perhaps in one respect. For the counterargument here would be this: we've already concluded -- by characterising it as barbarous -- that this source has several moral vices. So maybe that does give us reason to worry that, among their various other vices, they might well also have the vice of dishonesty. I don't think Hume himself would have drawn that conclusion about the author or authors of the Pentateuch: but it's a possibility that we should at least consider.

Second, would it be a fallacy to disbelieve accounts of miracles on the grounds that they derived from ignorant nations? Here, I'm much more confident in saying, no, it wouldn't be. Hume's argument is all about laws of nature, the kinds of things that scientists investigate, so the scientific sophistication of these sources is directly relevant to the credibility of their account. Less scientifically advanced people and nations simply aren't going to be in as good a position to make a reliable assessment what really happened. For maybe something amazing really did happen back then. But, for Hume, to describe this event as a bona fide miracle goes much further than just saying that it's amazing. If you describe it as a miracle, you are additionally asserting that the laws of nature have been violated. But then, if you have no idea what the laws of nature are, you're in no position to make that call. I suspect that Hume would allow that the authors of the Pentateuch were making an honest attempt to make sense of their experiences. But, because they were doing so from a position of scientific ignorance, they ended up mischaracterising events as miraculous when in reality they were merely unusual, and there was a natural, scientific explanation for them after all, one that these people just couldn't see. And so, however much we might still continue to regard these people as sincere, we shouldn't place our credence in what they're telling us about miracles, because we now know so much more than they did about how the world really works.

Descartes's argument: ''I think, therefore, I exist'' is an ontological argument

Descartes's argument: ''I think, therefore, I exist'' is an ontological argument? If Descartes said that It is, if he did (?), where (book) he says it? Thank you very much.

No, Descartes never called it an ontological argument. He wouldn't even have known what such a claim was supposed to mean, because the expression simply didn't exist in his time. The term 'ontological argument' was introduced (or at least popularised) by Immanuel Kant, more than a century after Descartes died.

But would Kant, at least, have called it an ontological argument? No, because Kant -- and effectively everyone else who's used the term since him -- opted to use that term to denote a certain class of arguments for the existence of God, specifically, and Descartes (by his own admission!) was not God.

So let's just put the terminology to one side: it's never a good idea to allow oneself to get hung up on jargon, when what we should really be looking at is the argument itself. Perhaps a better question to ask is this: does Descartes' "I think, therefore I exist" at least have a structure analogous to that which we find in those arguments for the existence of God that philosophers since Kant have taken to calling ontological. No, it doesn't. The defining characteristic of the so-called ontological arguments is that they seek to establish an existential conclusion (namely, that God exists) solely by reflecting on concepts (namely, the concept of infinite perfection). And Descartes' Cogito argument certainly does seek to establish an existential conclusion (namely, that I exist). But it doesn't purport to be doing this solely through reflection on concepts (e.g., the concept of thought). Descartes also needs an intuition, a conscious awareness of the fact that he is thinking.

And so the answer to your slightly puzzling question is no, I can't see any basis whatsoever for calling it an ontological argument, whether from Descartes' writings or from anything else. But then, equally, I can't see what philosophically interesting consequences would hang on that purely terminological issue anyway. Philosophy's about arguments, not about the taxonomy thereof.