On being Stoic

Stoicism 101

“The endurance of hardship without complaint.”

1.

Stoicism does not focus on complicated theories, it focuses on how one can overcome one’s own destructive emotions and act upon what one can actually act upon.

2.

Three individuals helped create and shape stoicism, they were: Marcus Aurelius, an emperor of the Roman Empire (he is said to have sat down each day to write himself notes about restraint, compassion and humility. Epictetus the Slave, who endured the horrors of being a slave but later went on to set up a school where he taught many of Rome’s VIPs and intellectuals. And another Roman great called Seneca the Serene.

3.

Stoicism’s key points: (a) it sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be (b), how brief our moment of life is (c), how to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself and (d), that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

stoicism--01

Logic

Greek | λογική | argument, idea, thought

Logic is one of the main branches of philosophy. It is the study of rational argument and inference. Logic is the study of arguments and their properties. It is claimed that it is the methodological core of all intellectual disciplines.

Logic investigates and classifies the structure of statements and arguments, both through the study of formal systems of inference and through the study of arguments in natural language. It deals only with propositions (declarative sentences, used to make an assertion, as opposed to questions, commands or sentences expressing wishes) that are capable of being true and false.

Logic covers core topics such as the study of fallacies and paradoxes, as well as specialized analysis of reasoning using probability and arguments involving causality and argumentation theory. (It is not concerned with the psychological processes connected with thought, or with emotions, images and the like.)

Logic asks questions like

  • “What is correct reasoning?”
  • “What distinguishes a good argument from a bad one?”
  • “How can we detect a fallacy in reasoning?”

Logical systems should have three things: consistency (which means that none of the theorems of the system contradict one another); soundness (which means that the system’s rules of proof will never allow a false inference from a true premise); and completeness (which means that there are no true sentences in the system that cannot, at least in principle, be proved in the system).

History of Logic

Modern logic descends mainly from the Ancient Greek tradition. Both Plato and Aristotle conceived of logic as the study of argument and from a concern with the correctness of argumentation. Aristotle produced six works on logic, known collectively as the “Organon”, the first of these, the “Prior Analytics”, being the first explicit work in formal logic.

Aristotle espoused two principles of great importance in logic, the Law of Excluded Middle (that every statement is either true or false) and the Law of Non-Contradiction (confusingly, also known as the Law of Contradiction, that no statement is both true and false). He is perhaps most famous for introducing the syllogism (or term logic). His followers, known as the Peripatetics, further refined his work on logic.

In medieval times, Aristotelian logic (or dialectics) was studied, along with grammar and rhetoric, as one of the three main strands of the trivium, the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education.

In the 18th Century, Immanuel Kant argued that logic should be conceived as the science of judgment, so that the valid inferences of logic follow from the structural features of judgments, although he still maintained that Aristotle had essentially said everything there was to say about logic as a discipline.

In the 20th Century, however, the work of Gottlob Frege, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell on Symbolic Logic, turned Kant‘s assertion on its head. This new logic, expounded in their joint work “Principia Mathematica”, is much broader in scope than Aristotelian logic, and even contains classical logic within it, albeit as a minor part. It resembles a mathematical calculus and deals with the relations of symbols to each other.

Types of Logic

Logic in general can be divided into:
1. Formal Logic,
2. Informal Logic,
3. Symbolic Logic
4. Mathematical Logic,


  • 1. Formal Logic is what we think of as traditional logic or philosophical logic, namely the study of inference with purely formal and explicit content (i.e. it can be expressed as a particular application of a wholly abstract rule), such as the rules of formal logic that have come down to us from Aristotle. (See the section on Deductive Logic below).

    A formal system (also called a logical calculus) is used to derive one expression (conclusion) from one or more other expressions (premises). These premises may be axioms (a self-evident proposition, taken for granted) or theorems (derived using a fixed set of inference rules and axioms, without any additional assumptions).

    Formalism is the philosophical theory that formal statements (logical or mathematical) have no intrinsic meaning but that its symbols (which are regarded as physical entities) exhibit a form that has useful applications.

  • 2. Informal Logic is a recent discipline which studies natural language arguments, and attempts to develop a logic to assess, analyze and improve ordinary language (or “everyday”) reasoning. Natural language here means a language that is spoken, written or signed by humans for general-purpose communication, as distinguished from formal languages (such as computer-programming languages) or constructed languages (such as Esperanto).

    It focuses on the reasoning and argument one finds in personal exchange, advertising, political debate, legal argument, and the social commentary that characterizes newspapers, television, the Internet and other forms of mass media.

  • 3. Symbolic Logic is the study of symbolic abstractions that capture the formal features of logical inference. It deals with the relations of symbols to each other, often using complex mathematical calculus, in an attempt to solve intractable problems traditional formal logic is not able to address.
  • 4. Mathematical logic is both the application of the techniques of formal logic to mathematics and mathematical reasoning, and, conversely, the application of mathematical techniques to the representation and analysis of formal logic.

    Computer science emerged as a discipline in the 1940’s with the work of Alan Turing (1912 – 1954) on the Entscheidungs problem, which followed from the theories of Kurt Gödel (1906 – 1978), particularly his incompleteness theorems. In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers predicted that when human knowledge could be expressed using logic with mathematical notation, it would be possible to create a machine that reasons (or artificial intelligence), although this turned out to be more difficult than expected because of the complexity of human reasoning.


Deductive Logic

Deductive reasoning concerns what follows necessarily from given premises (i.e. from a general premise to a particular one). An inference is deductively valid if (and only if) there is no possible situation in which all the premises are true and the conclusion false. However, it should be remembered that a false premise can possibly lead to a false conclusion.

Deductive reasoning was developed by Aristotle, Thales, Pythagoras and other Greek philosophers of the Classical Period. At the core of deductive reasoning is the syllogism (also known as term logic),usually attributed to Aristotle), where one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises), each of which has one term in common with the conclusion. For example:
Major premise: All humans are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
An example of deduction is:
All apples are fruit.
All fruits grow on trees.
Therefore all apples grow on trees.

One might deny the initial premises, and therefore deny the conclusion. But anyone who accepts the premises must accept the conclusion. Today, some academics claim that Aristotle’s system has little more than historical value, being made obsolete by the advent of Predicate Logic and Propositional Logic.

Inductive Logic

Inductive reasoning is the process of deriving a reliable generalization from observations (i.e. from the particular to the general), so that the premises of an argument are believed to support the conclusion, but do not necessarily ensure it. Inductive logic is not concerned with validity or conclusiveness, but with the soundness of those inferences for which the evidence is not conclusive.
Many philosophers, including David Hume, Karl Popper and David Miller, have disputed or denied the logical admissibility of inductive reasoning. In particular, Hume argued that it requires inductive reasoning to arrive at the premises for the principle of inductive reasoning, and therefore the justification for inductive reasoning is a circular argument.
An example of strong induction (an argument in which the truth of the premise would make the truth of the conclusion probable but not definite) is:

All observed crows are black.

Therefore:
All crows are black.
An example of weak induction (an argument in which the link between the premise and the conclusion is weak, and the conclusion is not even necessarily probable) is:

I always hang pictures on nails.

Therefore:
All pictures hang from nails.

Modal Logic

Modal Logic is any system of formal logic that attempts to deal with modalities (expressions associated with notions of possibility, probability and necessity). Modal Logic, therefore, deals with terms such as “eventually”, “formerly”, “possibly”, “can”, “could”, “might”, “may”, “must”, etc.
Modalities are ways in which propositions can be true or false. Types of modality include:


  • Alethic Modalities: Includes possibility and necessity, as well as impossibility and contingency. Some propositions are impossible (necessarily false), whereas others are contingent (both possibly true and possibly false).

  • Temporal Modalities: Historical and future truth or falsity. Some propositions were true/false in the past and others will be true/false in the future.

  • Deontic Modalities: Obligation and permissibility. Some propositions ought to be true/false, while others are permissible.

  • Epistemic Modalities: Knowledge and belief. Some propositions are known to be true/false, and others are believed to be true/false.


Although Aristotle‘s logic is almost entirely concerned with categorical syllogisms, he did anticipate modal logic to some extent, and its connection with potentiality and time. Modern modal logic was founded by Gottlob Frege, although he initially doubted its viability, and it was only later developed by Rudolph Carnap (1891 – 1970), Kurt Gödel (1906 – 1978), C.I. Lewis (1883 – 1964) and then Saul Kripke (1940 – ) who established System K, the form of Modal Logic that most scholars use today).

Propositional Logic

Propositional Logic (or Sentential Logic) is concerned only with sentential connectives and logical operators (such as “and”, “or”, “not”, “if … then …”, “because” and “necessarily”), as opposed to Predicate Logic, which also concerns itself with the internal structure of atomic propositions.

Propositional Logic, then, studies ways of joining and/or modifying entire propositions, statements or sentences to form more complex propositions, statements or sentences, as well as the logical relationships and properties that are derived from these methods of combining or altering statements. In propositional logic, the simplest statements are considered as indivisible units.

The Stoic philosophers in the late 3rd century B.C. attempted to study such statement operators as “and”, “or” and “if … then …”, and Chrysippus (c. 280-205 B.C.) advanced a kind of propositional logic, by marking out a number of different ways of forming complex premises for arguments. This system was also studied by Medieval logicians, although propositional logic did not really come to fruition until the mid-19th Century, with the advent of Symbolic Logic in the work of logicians such as Augustus DeMorgan (1806-1871), George Boole (1815-1864) and Gottlob Frege.

Predicate Logic

Predicate Logic allows sentences to be analyzed into subject and argument in several different ways, unlike Aristotelian syllogistic logic, where the forms that the relevant part of the involved judgments took must be specified and limited (see the section on Deductive Logic above). Predicate Logic is also able to give an account of quantifiers general enough to express all arguments occurring in natural language, thus allowing the solution of the problem of multiple generality that had perplexed medieval logicians.

For instance, it is intuitively clear that if:

Some cat is feared by every mouse
then it follows logically that:
All mice are afraid of at least one cat

but because the sentences above each contain two quantifiers (‘some’ and ‘every’ in the first sentence and ‘all’ and ‘at least one’ in the second sentence), they cannot be adequately represented in traditional logic.

Predicate logic was designed as a form of mathematics, and as such is capable of all sorts of mathematical reasoning beyond the powers of term or syllogistic logic. In first-order logic (also known as first-order predicate calculus), a predicate can only refer to a single subject, but predicate logic can also deal with second-order logic, higher-order logic, many-sorted logic or infinitary logic. It is also capable of many commonsense inferences that elude term logic, and (along with Propositional Logic – see below) has all but supplanted traditional term logic in most philosophical circles.

Predicate Logic was initially developed by Gottlob Frege and Charles Peirce in the late 19th Century, but it reached full fruition in the Logical Atomism of Whitehead and Russell in the 20th Century (developed out of earlier work by Ludwig Wittgenstein).

Fallacies

A logical fallacy is any sort of mistake in reasoning or inference, or, essentially, anything that causes an argument to go wrong. There are two main categories of fallacy, Fallacies of Ambiguity and Contextual Fallacies:


  • Fallacies of Ambiguity: a term is ambiguous if it has more than one meaning. There are two main types:

    • equivocation: where a single word can be used in two different senses.

    • amphiboly: where the ambiguity arises due to sentence structure (often due to dangling participles or the inexact use of negatives), rather than the meaning of individual words.



  • Contextual Fallacies: which depend on the context or circumstances in which sentences are used. There are many different types, among the more common of which are:

    • Fallacies of Significance: where it is unclear whether an assertion is significant or not.

    • Fallacies of Emphasis: the incorrect emphasis of words in a sentence.

    • Fallacies of Quoting Out of Context: the manipulation of the context of a quotation.

    • Fallacies of Argumentum ad Hominem: a statement cannot be shown to be false merely because the individual who makes it can be shown to be of defective character.

    • Fallacies of Arguing from Authority: truth or falsity cannot be proven merely because the person saying it is considered an “authority” on the subject.

    • Fallacies of Arguments which Appeal to Sentiments: reporting how people feel about something in order to persuade rather than prove.

    • Fallacies of Argument from Ignorance: a statement cannot be proved true just because there is no evidence to disprove it.

    • Fallacies of Begging the Question: a circular argument, where effectively the same statement is used both as a premise and as a conclusion.

    • Fallacies of Composition: the assumption that what is true of a part is also true of the whole.

    • Fallacies of Division: the converse assumption that what is true of a whole must be also true of all of its parts.

    • Fallacies of Irrelevant Conclusion: where the conclusion concerns something other than what the argument was initially trying to prove.

    • Fallacies of Non-Sequitur: an argumentative leap, where the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises.

    • Fallacies of Statistics: statistics can be manipulated and biased to “prove” many different hypotheses.



Paradoxes

A paradox is a statement or sentiment that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true in fact. Conversely, a paradox may be a statement that is actually self-contradictory (and therefore false) even though it appears true. Typically, either the statements in question do not really imply the contradiction, the puzzling result is not really a contradiction, or the premises themselves are not all really true or cannot all be true together.

The recognition of ambiguities, equivocations and unstated assumptions underlying known paradoxes has led to significant advances in science, philosophy and mathematics. But many paradoxes (e.g. Curry’s Paradox) do not yet have universally accepted resolutions.

It can be argued that there are four classes of paradoxes:


  • Veridical Paradoxes: which produce a result that appears absurd but can be demonstrated to be nevertheless true.

  • Falsidical Paradoxes: which produce a result that not only appears false but actually is false.

  • Antinomies: which are neither veridical nor falsidical, but produce a self-contradictory result by properly applying accepted ways of reasoning.

  • Dialetheias: which produce a result which is both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.

Paradoxes often result from self-reference (where a sentence or formula refers to itself directly), infinity (an argument which generates an infinite regress, or infinite series of supporting references), circular definitions (in which a proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises), vagueness (where there is no clear fact of the matter whether a concept applies or not), false or misleading statements (assertions that are either willfully or unknowingly untrue or misleading), and half-truths (deceptive statements that include some element of truth).

Some famous paradoxes include:


  • Epimenides’ Liar Paradox: Epimenides was a Cretan who said “All Cretans are liars.” Should we believe him?

  • Liar Paradox (2): “This sentence is false.”

  • Liar Paradox (3): “The next sentence is false. The previous sentence is true.”

  • Curry’s Paradox: “If this sentence is true, then Santa Claus exists.”

  • Quine’s Paradox: “yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation” yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation.
  • Russell’s Barber Paradox: If a barber shaves all and only those men in the village who do not shave themselves, does he shave himself?
  • Grandfather Paradox: Suppose a time traveler goes back in time and kills his grandfather when the latter was only a child. If his grandfather dies in childhood, then the time traveler cannot be born. But if the time traveler is never born, how can he have traveled back in time in the first place?
  • Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox: Before a moving object can travel a certain distance (e.g. a person crossing a room), it must get halfway there. Before it can get halfway there, it must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, it must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on. As this sequence goes on forever, an infinite number of points must be crossed, which is logically impossible in a finite period of time, so the distance will never be covered (the room crossed, etc).
  • Zeno’s Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise: If Achilles allows the tortoise a head start in a race, then by the time Achilles has arrived at the tortoise’s starting point, the tortoise has already run on a shorter distance. By the time Achilles reaches that second point, the tortoise has moved on again, etc, etc. So Achilles can never catch the tortoise.
  • Zeno’s Arrow Paradox: If an arrow is fired from a bow, then at any moment in time, the arrow either is where it is, or it is where it is not. If it moves where it is, then it must be standing still, and if it moves where it is not, then it can’t be there. Thus, it cannot move at all.
  • Theseus’ Ship Paradox: After Theseus died, his ship was put up for public display. Over time, all of the planks had rotted at one time or another, and had been replaced with new matching planks. If nothing remained of the actual “original” ship, was this still Theseus’ ship?
  • Sorites (Heap of Sand) Paradox: If you take away one grain of sand from a heap, it is still a heap. If grains are individually removed, is it still a heap when only one grain remains? If not, when did it change from a heap to a non-heap?
  • Petronius’ Paradox: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”
  • Paradoxical Notice: “Please ignore this notice.”
  • Moore’s paradox: “It will rain but I don’t believe that it will.”
  • Schrödinger’s Cat: There is a cat in a sealed box, and the cat’s life or death is dependent on the state of a particular subatomic particle. According to quantum mechanics, the particle only has a definite state at the exact moment of quantum measurement, so that the cat remains both alive and dead until the moment the box is opened.


References

Farmand, M (2015) Schrödinger’s Cat. Retrieved, mitrafarmand.com/comic/
Mastin, L. (2009). Logic. Retrieved, philosophybasics.com/branch_logic
Penguin (2007). The Penguin English Dictionary (3rd ed.). London: Penguin.

Epistemology

Greek | ἐπιστήμη | the study of belief/knowledge

Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyses the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as scepticism about different knowledge claims. It is essentially about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.

Epistemology asks questions like: “What is knowledge?”, “How is knowledge acquired?”, “What do people know?”, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge?”, “What is its structure, and what are its limits?”, “What makes justified beliefs justified?”, “How we are to understand the concept of justification?”, “Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind?”

The kind of knowledge usually discussed in Epistemology is propositional knowledge, “knowledge-that” as opposed to “knowledge-how” (for example, the knowledge that “2 + 2 = 4”, as opposed to the knowledge of how to go about adding two numbers).

What Is Knowledge?

Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of particular aspects of reality. It is the clear, lucid information gained through the process of reason applied to reality. The traditional approach is that knowledge requires three necessary and sufficient conditions, so that knowledge can then be defined as “justified true belief”:


  • truth: since false propositions cannot be known – for something to count as knowledge, it must actually be true. As Aristotle famously (but rather confusingly) expressed it: “To say of something which is that it is not, or to say of something which is not that it is, is false. However, to say of something which is that it is, or of something which is not that it is not, is true.”
  • belief: because one cannot know something that one doesn’t even believe in, the statement “I know x, but I don’t believe that x is true” is contradictory.
  • justification: as opposed to believing in something purely as a matter of luck.

The most contentious part of all this is the definition of justification, and there are several schools of thought on the subject:


  • According to Evidentialism, what makes a belief justified in this sense is the possession of evidence – a belief is justified to the extent that it fits a person’s evidence.

  • Different varieties of Reliabilism suggest that either: 1) justification is not necessary for knowledge provided it is a reliably produced true belief; or 2) justification is required but any reliable cognitive process (e.g. vision) is sufficient justification.

  • Yet another school, Infallibilism, holds that a belief must not only be true and justified, but that the justification of the belief must necessitate its truth, so that the justification for the belief must be infallible.

Another debate focuses on whether justification is external or internal:


  • Externalism holds that factors deemed “external” (meaning outside of the psychological states of those who are gaining the knowledge) can be conditions of knowledge, so that if the relevant facts justifying a proposition are external then they are acceptable.

  • Internalism, on the other hand, claims that all knowledge-yielding conditions are within the psychological states of those who gain knowledge.

As recently as 1963, the American philosopher Edmund Gettier called this traditional theory of knowledge into question by claiming that there are certain circumstances in which one does not have knowledge, even when all of the above conditions are met (his Gettier-cases). For example: Suppose that the clock on campus (which keeps accurate time and is well maintained) stopped working at 11:56pm last night and has yet to be repaired. On my way to my noon class, exactly twelve hours later, I glance at the clock and form the belief that the time is 11:56. My belief is true, of course, since the time is indeed 11:56. And my belief is justified, as I have no reason to doubt that the clock is working, and I cannot be blamed for basing beliefs about the time on what the clock says. Nonetheless, it seems evident that I do not know that the time is 11:56. After all, if I had walked past the clock a bit earlier or a bit later, I would have ended up with a false belief rather than a true one.

How Is Knowledge Acquired?

Propositional knowledge can be of two types, depending on its source:


  • a priori (or non-empirical), where knowledge is possible independently of, or prior to, any experience, and requires only the use of reason (e.g. knowledge of logical truths and of abstract claims); or
  • a posteriori (or empirical), where knowledge is possible only subsequent, or posterior, to certain sensory experiences, in addition to the use of reason (e.g. knowledge of the colour or shape of a physical object, or knowledge of geographical locations).

Knowledge of empirical facts about the physical world will necessarily involve perception, in other words, the use of the senses. But all knowledge requires some amount of reasoning, the analysis of data and the drawing of inferences. Intuition is often believed to be a sort of direct access to knowledge of the a priori.

Memory allows us to know something that we knew in the past, even, perhaps, if we no longer remember the original justification. Knowledge can also be transmitted from one individual to another via testimony (that is, my justification for a particular belief could amount to the fact that some trusted source has told me that it is true).

There are a few main theories of knowledge acquisition:


  • Empiricism, which emphasizes the role of experience, especially experience based on perceptual observations by the five senses in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate ideas. Refinements of this basic principle led to Phenomenalism, Positivism, Scientism and Logical Positivism.

  • Rationalism, which holds that knowledge is not derived from experience, but rather is acquired by a priori processes or is innate (in the form of concepts) or intuitive.

  • Representationalism (or Indirect Realism or Epistemological Dualism), which holds that the world we see in conscious experience is not the real world itself, but merely a miniature virtual-reality replica of that world in an internal representation.

  • Constructivism (or Constructionism), which presupposes that all knowledge is “constructed”, in that it is contingent on convention, human perception and social experience.

What Can People Know?

The fact that any given justification of knowledge will itself depend on another belief for its justification appears to lead to an infinite regress.
Scepticism begins with the apparent impossibility of completing this infinite chain of reasoning, and argues that, ultimately, no beliefs are justified and therefore no one really knows anything.
Fallibilism also claims that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible, or at least that all claims to knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. Unlike Scepticism, however, Fallibilism does not imply the need to abandon our knowledge, just to recognize that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as knowledge might possibly turn out to be false.
In response to this regress problem, various schools of thought have arisen:


  • Foundationalism claims that some beliefs that support other beliefs are foundational and do not themselves require justification by other beliefs (self-justifying or infallible beliefs or those based on perception or certain a priori considerations).

  • Instrumentalism is the methodological view that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments, and their worth is measured by how effective they are in explaining and predicting phenomena. Instrumentalism therefore denies that theories are truth evaluable. Pragmatism is a similar concept, which holds that something is true only insofar as it works and has practical consequences.

  • Infinitism typically takes the infinite series to be merely potential, and an individual need only have the ability to bring forth the relevant reasons when the need arises. Therefore, unlike most traditional theories of justification, Infinitism considers an infinite regress to be a valid justification.

  • Coherentism holds that an individual belief is justified circularly by the way it fits together (coheres) with the rest of the belief system of which it is a part, so that the regress does not proceed according to a pattern of linear justification.

  • Foundherentism is another position which is meant to be a unification of foundationalism and coherentism.


References

Mastin, L. (2009). Epistemology. Retrieved, philosophybasics.com/branch_epistemology
Penguin (2007). The Penguin English Dictionary (3rd ed.). London: Penguin

#00—Who am I?

pointless pleasurable ponderings

It is a valid question. But it is not one I, you or anyone else has yet to satisfactorily answer. I mean to say, if it was readily answerable, it wouldn’t be one that we see asked again and again and again. We aren’t just numbers—but as e.g., citizens, drivers, employees, students etc., &c. we are numerically referenced—we do have identities, but these identities are largely manufactured and, for the most part, made up in our heads. We are homo sapiens, we are fauna (i.e., not flora), we are a form of animal species and as animals we (but not all of us) are going to do, or have already done, certain things to replicate ourselves: to reproduce our (selfish)genes.

Here are some questions and topics that will first need to be considered before we can return to the vexed/complex and quite possibly pointless (but nevertheless, pleasurable to ponder) question of “Who am I?” You will notice the list is reflective of the zeitgeist of our times, trepidation with respect to man’s impact on the natural environment (because it is man isn’t it).

#01—Does life have meaning?
#02—What is truth?
#03—Is truth important?
#04—Superstition & scientific knowledge
#05—Is the mind an effect of the body?
#06—Theories on consciousness…
#07—If a tree falls in a forest…
#08—Rights for future generations?
#09—The deep ecology view…
#10—Climate change & moral responsibility

(I want to be free to speak my mind & I want to be free to wear what I like; this is what I am about and this is who I am.* *but I am not who I want to be and most likely I will never be.)

Obviously I am someone, but my identity itself, is of no consequence to answering this question; or to investigate the question as no clear answer will be provided (not least because until now, no convincing answer has been proffered).

#01—Does life have meaning?

pleasurably pondering pointlessly

To answer the question we need to consider what meaning means, does it mean purpose? Or, does it mean a deeper meaning? (whatever that itself is meant to mean! It is said that Plato once said (wo)man is “a being in search of meaning.”

Because in fact life has a very simple — prosaic — point and purpose and it is this:

As Burton (2018) confirms, historically and today also, many people believe that humankind is the creation of a supernatural entity… yet at Lawton (2016) points out, no one has proved that God exists, but then no one has proved there is no God. Is working out the truth a supernatural feat?

Human life may not have been created with any predetermined purpose, but this need not mean that it cannot have a purpose, nor that this purpose cannot be just as good as, if not much better than, any predetermined one.

And so the meaning of life, of our life, is that which we choose to give it.

As Hendricks (2018) argues, Dewey encourages us to stop looking at education as preparation for a job. Rather, it must be considered as a tool to help giving meaning to our lives. The contention was that this would not only improve a given country’s educational system (etc.) but would also allow its citizens to live more meaningful lives.

This is of course the foundational and seminal philosophical question, it is seemingly articulated somehow in the following works of art:


Clockwise, [1] The Venus of Urbino (1533) by the Italian painter Titian. [2] The Scream or The Scream of Nature (1893) by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. [3] Ascent of the Blessed (c.1510) and [4] The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1500) by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. [5] Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897) by the French painter Paul Gauguin.


References

Burton, N. (2018). What is the Meaning of Life? Psychology Today.
Hendricks, S. (2018). 5 American philosophers on the meaning of life. Big Think.
Lawton, G. (2016). Metaphysics special: What is the meaning of life? New Scientist. Retrieved, https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/metaphysics/
Metz, T. (2013). The Meaning of Life. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life-meaning/
Steed, E. (2018). Philosophy Illustrated. The New Yorker.
Wikipedia (2019). Meaning of Life. Wikipedia. Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaning_of_life

#07—If a tree falls in a forest…

pleasurably pondering pointlessly

This is a classic thing to consider (a question that may better be considered as a sort of infallible conjecture):

If a tree falls and no living thing with the ability to hear it fall hears it, did it actually make a sound?

Well, I’ll say yes! [yes it does make a sound] But it was a sound that no member of the fauna class heard. It is important to remember that sound is noise traveling along airwaves. The energy released from the falling of a tree would thus have created a sound (albeit a sound that no known listening device was around to hear).

As Wikipedia (2019) reveals, the magazine Scientific American corroborated the technical aspect of this question, while leaving out the philosophic side, “sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognised as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air.”

We could say then that “sound” is something within human experience. Outside of this it’s just vibrations in the air. Indeed, many argue (see, e.g., The Guardian, n.d.) that the definition of a sound is its detection, rather than the physical phenomenon.

Consider this, once we develop an instrument that can detect vibrations we couldn’t otherwise hear, a previously ‘non-existent’ sound comes into being.

So, if someone is there to hear the rapid movement of particles we can say it makes a sound, if no human is there to hear it fall, the fall will still cause the rapid movement of particles [i.e., what humans term: “sound”] but it will be one that falls on deaf ears (however! the hedgehog and the fox may/may not have been there to hear).*]

Scientifically-speaking, sound is sound and it is not contingent on humankind being around to interpret it. We are oh so anthropocentric aren’t we!

This question of the falling tree is really considering another question, do things that happen outside of our senses actually happen…

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

— Thomas Gray (English poet, 1716-1771)

In a poetic way, Gray is saying how many beautiful flowers bloomed without every being seen by a human’s eyes. We can’t know for sure that these beautiful flowers lived and died (because we or nobody else saw their rise and fall) but our instinct and knowledge of flora would lead us to assume that yes such beautiful blossomings happen irrespective of if we are there to see them or not.

The truth of the matter is this, thequestion of the tree falling out of earshot is really designed to hint to a more profound ethical question: if we are unaware of somebody’s suffering, does their suffering exist? (for us no, for them [and other’s who’ve guessed/been told] yes). It relates to the ideas of immaterialism proposed by George Berkeley some 300 years ago, who argued that the only things that exist are ideas and the human mind that is having/holding those ideas (BBC, 2015).

Subjective idealism | metaphysics | ‘only minds and mental contents exist’

Berkeley, in his book, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), argues that, “But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park […] and nobody by to perceive them.[1] […] The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden […] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.”

Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality.

Metaphysics studies questions related to what it is for something to exist and what types of existence there are. Metaphysics seeks to answer, in an abstract and fully general manner, these two questions:

  • What is there?
  • What is it like?

From terrestrial to lunar

Albert Einstein is reported to have asked a fellow physicist Niels Bohr whether he realistically believed that ‘the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.’ To this Bohr replied that however hard one may try, they would not be able to prove that it does. This is, according to Mendis (2009) a fine example of an infallible conjecture (i.e., it cannot be either proved or disproved; sound familiar? “Timber!” cried the mute lumberjack).


* “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes a thesis put forward by Isaiah Berlin regarding the philosophy of history. Although there have been many interpretations of the aphorism, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system.

Berlin’s extraordinary essay offers profound insights about Tolstoy, historical understanding, and human psychology (Kobo, 2019). According to Berlin, humans can be divided into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (he cites: Plato, Dante Alighieri, Hegel, Nietzsche and Proust), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be summed up into a single idea (he cites: Aristotle, Desiderius Erasmus, William Shakespeare, and James Joyce) (Wikipedia, 2019b).


References

BBC (2015). A history of Ideas. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved, bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02yq1b9
Kobo (2019). The Hedgehog and the Fox. Kobo
Mendis, M. (2009). Of Trees Falling in the Forest, on the anthropocentrism of philosophy. Big Think. Retrieved, bigthink.com/of-trees-falling
Steed, E. (2018, 25 June). Philosophy Illustrated. The New Yorker.
The Guardian (n.d.) Ethical Conundrums. The Guardian.
Wikipedia (2019a). If a tree falls in a forest. Wikipedia. Retrieved, wikipedia.org/wiki/
Wikipedia (2019b). The Hedgehog and the Fox. Wikipedia. Retrieved, wikipedia.org/wiki/


philosopy

#06—Theories on consciousness…

pleasurably pondering pointlessly

What is consciousness… Why’s the sky blue? (Chemistry and physics will know) How long’s a piece of string? (Engineers and mathematicians will know). But as to the question what is consciousness? Nobody really knows. Biologists can dissect us, cognitive scientists and psychologists can analyse us, but only really philosophers spend their lives pondering what exactly consciousness is.


References

Steed, E. (2018, 25 June). Philosophy Illustrated. The New Yorker.


philosopy