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In December of 2011, I was invited to speak to the police concerning a former

In December of 2011, I was invited to speak to the police concerning a former roommate of mine who has been accused of murder (and posted a question concerning that here on the site). Just this week, I received a notification that I am to appear again, this time in court, to testify as a witness. Having heard horror stories of people with faulty memories being imprisoned for a year or more because they provided false testimony without knowing they did so, or because their testimony didn't overlap with what they told the police, I am now very worried (I am an expat living in Germany, and I've not yet been able to talk to a proper lawyer to determine how strict the laws concerning court testimony are). Perhaps that is somewhat narcissistic of me, given the circumstances, but the fact remains. I wonder, then, what kind of "truth" I am supposed to tell the court. The truth seems to be that I *believe* that my former roommate behaved in way X, spoke of topic Y and didn't speak of Z, with my only...

Yes, something the court has to take account of is the passage of time since the event and it is entirely reasonable for your memory to be an issue that has to be taken into account. You may be closely questioned on this and to be honest you will have to be frank on how reliable at this stage you think your memory is. You gave evidence in the past nearer the event, and if you still think that evidence was true the fact that you now no longer have the same relationship with it is not that relevant, I should have thought. It is what you said then that is probably most significant, even if now your memory of those events, or even if now what you then thought they were, is rather vague.

Nothing to worry about legally, although don't quote me if you are sent off for hard labor!

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us

I'm attending a lecture on the philosophy of science, and our professor told us yesterday that "we constantly rely on inductive reasoning all the time in our lives, such as when we assume that the floor won't suddenly collapse beneath our feet if we walk forwards." This struck me as odd. Is it accurate to say we "assume" such a thing? It seems to me that we don't even think about these things at all, much less try to justify any such assumptions - saying we're relying on some kind of argumentation seems like a stretch, but perhaps it isn't. Is everything we do, then, the result of certain processes of reasoning? Or are there things we just do without any reasoning to support them?

Hm, I wonder if you were in MY early modern class (where I use this example with Hume ....!) In any case I might only add to Stephen's reply that one small test that we are making an implicit assumption P is to imagine, for a moment, that we didn't believe the proposition P in question -- if we tell ourselves (if we assume) "the floor WILL give out if I walk forwards" then we pretty clearly wouldn't walk forwards, which suggests that the fact that we ordinarily DO walk forwards was relying on the assumption that the floor would NOT give out .... (And of course once we admit to ourselves our implicit assumptions, we might then examine the origin/source of the assumptions, such as some implicit process of inductive reasoning ....)


If thoughts depend on memories and memories are unreliable then how can we trust

If thoughts depend on memories and memories are unreliable then how can we trust any thought? I assume thoughts require memories because thoughts seem to require at least some time to compute, even with very simple thoughts we think thing one at a time - if it's not quite like that I think it's very close to something like that, maybe my whole doubt depends on a dubious connection between thought and memory, I don't know. I think the unreliability of memory is more obvious, memory seems to be something just given to us and we simply have to "trust" it but the possibility of doubt is still there. I recognize that there is some not inconsiderable paradox in doubting the very idea of being able to form a thought and using thought to achieve that doubt but alas... I wonder if this suggests that thought in its truest form is something more intuitive and directly related to a grasp of the present moment than reason as it is generally understand as a discursive process.

"I recognize that there is some not inconsiderable paradox in doubting the very idea of being able to form a thought and using thought to achieve that doubt". Well spotted! Suppose that your doubts about memory lead you this: "I cannot trust any thought, including this one". Where do you go from there? It doesn't look as though the paradoxical nature the thought undermines it in such a way that you can conclude that it is false, and proceed to trust some thoughts. It sort of leaves you with nowhere to go.

I agree with Stephen. Memory is not that unreliable. It is much less reliable than we think. When we seem to remember things our brains seem to do a lot of construction and interpretation, and present to us a partly made-up image of some past even as if it were a perfectly accurate representation. This can get us into trouble. But our short-term memory is pretty good and serves its purpose. It is not hard to keep track of the thoughts involved in a short line of reasoning. It also gets a lot easier if we write them down. We can the create longer lines of reasoning by understanding shorter ones and stringing their conclusions together, keeping track of the overall structure. Memory, combined with pen and paper (or today's equivalents) is good enough to support reason as a discursive process.

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--


Hello. This submission will include two questions. The panelist´s are of course

Hello. This submission will include two questions. The panelist´s are of course free to answer only one of them, if the other turns out to be of no interest. I´m no student of philosophy in the conventional sense, but lately it does consume much of my time. I remember reading Frege´s "The thought: a logical inquiry" a while back, and his answer to "an unusual objection" he thought he heard, puzzled me; "what if it were all a dream?" It seems to me that questions of this kind are unanswerable, and that Frege´s answer to this question is unsatisfactory. The (short) reason for this is simply that the question is one of fact, and one would have no possible way of empirically proving that one is not. What is your take on my objection? (I am aware that it is not one of the sections in the article that did the most impact on future philosophy) The second question relates to the distinction between analytic and extra-logical statements. After reading "Two dogmas of empiricism" by Quine, I am left wondering...

Thank you for these interesting reflections! As for your first point, there are a number of philosophers who address radical skepticism (e.g. can any of us know with certainty that we are not, as we seem to be, wide awake and acting in the world rather than, say, dreaming?) in the way you suggest. Arguably, life may continue just as it appears until one's death and yet there would be no decisive reason to rule out the possibility one was merely a brain in a vat. And because of this, some philosophers think that such radical skeptical hypotheses are idle or nonsensical or of no interest. I am somewhat of the other mind: I think we can imagine radical hypothetical states of affairs in which we are indeed systematically mistaken in almost all our beliefs about ourselves in the world (in brief, I think it conceivable that we might be in the matrix). While this does not have awesome practical consequences, I think it should humble us in our knowledge claims. As for the second point, Quine set out to dismantle the very categorical distinction between the analytic and synthetic. Today, some think he was spot on, but there are large numbers of philosophers (including myself) who believe the analytic category is sensible and intelligible. I think it is an analytic truth that 1+1 equals 2 --based on the principle of identity or A is A (because 2 simply is '1+1' and so 1+1 equals 2 because 1=1 equals 1=1. You ask about explanations. On that point, things get quite interesting. The concepts of necessity, impossibility, and possibility can be explained in terms of one another. So the statement '1+1 = 2 is necessary' is equivalent to '1+1=2 is possible and 1+1 is not equal to 2 is not possible. To many of this, explanations like this are acceptable, but to some radical thinkers, such explanations are considered insufficient. For a great defense of the analytic category and the concepts at issue, check out Alvin Plantinga's classic On The Nature Of Necessity.

Suppose I tell my friend that leprechauns don't exist. He responds: "Well, not

Suppose I tell my friend that leprechauns don't exist. He responds: "Well, not in THIS realm, they don't. But they MIGHT exist in some hitherto undiscovered realm." To what extent does the claim 'X exists' depend on its being discoverable, or knowable? As a curious person, this question has really bothered me the past few days. There's something comforting about having knowledge, and that there might be an infinite amount of unknowables is rather disconcerting to me. Does Ayer's position -- that for a claim to be meaningful it must either be tautological or empirically veriable -- apply here? If someone could shed some light on this quandary, I'd be immensely appreciative. I really don't know my I allow myself to be bothered my these types of philosophical questions.

While Ayer's verificationism has gone out of fashion (he and others could not settle on a formulation of it that did not rule out science or some such apparently meaningful discourse) there are forms of what is called anti-realism which define 'truth' in terms of warranted assertability, which would rule out the possibility of there being truths that are out of reach from what we can know (at least in principle). Alas, there is a good argument against such a position in Thomas Nagel's work The View From Nowhere.

One other idea to consider is that your friend may be right but in a way that has nothing to do with THIS (our) world. Some philosophers (David Lewis etc) have argued that there are indefinitely many POSSIBLE WORLDS. So, you might reply that, yes, leprechauns actually do exist but in a possible world not remotely related to ours! Check out Lewis's book on the plurality of worlds. It is awesome.

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3) This implies to me that God is omnipresent, through time and space. With that premise, what argument can be made for free will? If he can see every action we make, he knew the actions that Adam and Eve would make before their creation. Thanks, James

Just because God knows what is going to happen does not mean it has to happen, in the sense that human beings have to do what they end up doing. For example, I always have sugar in my coffee, if sugar is available, but that does not mean that I am incapable of having coffee without sugar. I used to smoke after a cup of coffee, but no longer do so, and here again I did not have to give up smoking. God doubtless knew what I was going to do before I did it, but the decisions to use sugar, and discontinue smoking all belong to me.

I have been reading some of the work done in the analysis of knowledge for an

I have been reading some of the work done in the analysis of knowledge for an epistemology course. Stepping outside the debates being had as to what the definition of knowledge is I find myself questioning the idea of the analysis of knowledge in general. Most arguments I have read seem to be focused on giving conditions of knowledge that describe cases in which we intuitively think that a person knows something. But what is the validity of appealing to such an intuitive notion of knowledge for the basis of analysis? Aren't our intuitions about knowledge too idiosyncratic and inconsistent to ever give a precise analysis of what knowledge is? Is the analysis of knowledge really a philosophically interesting industry?

Much depends on what you mean by "the analysis of knowledge." I assume that you mean the attempt to explicate the respect in which knowledge is more than mere true belief, an enterprise that goes back to Plato's Meno. It seems to me that you think that discussion that attempts to fill whatever condition is necessary for knowledge besides mere true belief fails to make contact with what we care about when we care about knowledge. But even that discussion, I submit, seeks to capture the respect in which knowledge is valuable. Apparently the methodology by which this investigation has been conducted doesn't appeal to you--you seem to have doubts about the appeals to intuition in this context. While much ink has been spilled about the philosophical significance of intuitions, it does seem plausible that if one is to try to capture what is distinctive about knowledge, it is at least helpful to begin with clear-cut cases of the phenomenon as a starting point. And it seems to me that the ultimate aim of the enterprise--determining the nature of knowledge--is valuable indeed. Perhaps it will help you appreciate what is at stake in such debates to reflect on the significance of knowledge, which I think ultimately underwrites them.

Suppose someone brings John a glass of tap water, which John watcher being

Suppose someone brings John a glass of tap water, which John watcher being poured from an entirely normal tap. Yet suppose that the water from that particularly tap was somehow laced with poison. When asked what the glass contains, John, not knowing of the poison, says "That's water." Let's put aside the issue of whether witnessing tap water being poured is sufficient grounds for knowledge that the substance is in fact tap water, and assume that, were the water not poisoned, John would have a justified true belief about the contents of the glass. Presented with the poisoned water, does John have knowledge about the contents of the glass? I ask because, normally, our tap water contains a great deal of things besides water, yet we would not intuitively say that calling the stuff that comes from taps "water" is incorrect. But if some of the stuff was poison, it suddenly seems that John's belief that the glass contains water is incorrect (despite, in a sense, being obviously true), because if he were to...

Questions should be understood contextually. In your story about John, we are led to assume that John is about to drink the contents of the glass, and not, for example, use it in a chemistry experiment requiring high levels of purity. The suggestion is that it is water and not e.g. orange juice or beer. A small amount of harmless impurities don't make any difference to its drinkability-as-water. A tiny amount of cyanide, however, makes all the difference in the world to its drinkability-as-water. It's not the amount of impurity that matters, its the difference the impurity makes to our intended use of the water. (This is a case that shows the pragmatic functions of language. Sometimes you miss things if you take language "too literally" i.e. devoid of context.)

do you think that there are certain knowledge that cannot be attained thru logic

do you think that there are certain knowledge that cannot be attained thru logic, and could only be attained thru other means like that of a meditation?

To begin with a slightly pedantic point: logic doesn't actually give us very much knowledge at all. Logic tells us things like that, if A is true and B is true, then A & B is true. But, in order for us to be in a position to draw that conclusion, we first need to know that A is true and B is true. And, for most ordinary As and Bs, logic isn't going to tell us that. We need to turn instead to our senses. We have five external senses -- sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste -- which tell us about the qualities of objects in our environment. And, if we use these in a cautious and regimented way, and maybe start to draw logical inferences once we do first have the raw data to work from, then we can achieve an awful lot of knowledge.

But now to turn to your question: can meditation give us additional knowledge, besides that which we can get through the external senses? Yes, it surely can. Meditation can teach us what it feels like to meditate. Indeed, it might enable us to know quite a lot about our own internal psychological states. We usually don't pay a whole lot of attention to our own psychology... except when we make a deliberate effort to meditate upon it.

But can meditation operate as some kind of 'sixth sense', to give us knowledge about things outside ourselves? Frankly, I doubt it. That's an empirically testable hypothesis, after all, and I'm not aware of any studies that suggest that meditation can do this.