Questions on Philosophy

 Posted by on 5 July 2010 at 7:00 am  FormSpring, Philosophy
Jul 052010

Some FormSpring Questions and Answers on philosophy:

Would you agree with the Ancient Greek notion of the Dialectic, the idea that the only way to really grasp knowledge (at least of philosophy) is by a process of Dialectic intercourse?

No. (Dialectic is a somewhat fuzzy notion, but I’ll take you to mean that good philosophy requires discussion of those ideas with other people.)

Discussion is often helpful in philosophy, as with other intellectual work. However, the most crucial need is to put your ideas into some objective form, such as by writing them down. That also happens in discussing ideas with other people, with some other lesser benefits (and costs) too. That’s why discussion with other people is often so helpful to us. Still, it’s not the only means to the end, nor always the best.

Personally, I like to mostly write, then discuss when I hit some tricky part that I can’t quite sort out in my own head. Normally, Paul is my victim … er, the lucky man. I wasn’t able to use him in that way with my dissertation though. He wasn’t following my work, and my problems were simply too intricate for him to examine without tons of background context. So I did that whole work almost entirely alone, except with some occasional input from my advisor.

Now that I think about it … perhaps the ancients were such advocates of discussion because they weren’t able to write so easily as we are. For them, discussion might have been the best way making ideas objective during the process of refining and clarifying them. That’s pure speculation, of course. Maybe I’ll ask Robert Mayhew or John Lewis about that.

What is your opinion of Robert Kane from an objectivist perpsective?

I’ve read some of Robert Kane’s work, but not a ton.

My basic view is that he’s wrong about indeterminacy as the foundation of free will, but that he’s honestly trying to defend the fact of free will. Given the compatibilist nonsense that so fashionable in metaphysics these days, I appreciate that! Plus, if I recall correctly, some of his critiques of compatibilism and determinism are pretty good. Oh, and he’s a clear writer. That’s a huge bonus.

Do you expect that Harry Binswanger’s upcoming book is going to finally put the philosophy of mind issue to rest?

No. Like Leonard Peikoff, I don’t think that philosophy can give definitive answers to most of the thorny issues raised in philosophy of mind. At most, philosophy can rule out some false views, such as materialism or substance dualism.

[In the Facebook comments, a philosopher I know posted the following useful remarks:

a) Dr. Binswanger's book isn't really about philosophy of mind--it's about epistemology--so the main reason not to expect much from it on this topic is simply because it's not his focus. But, by the way, the few places where he does deal with "philosophy of mind" issues are, I think, clarifying and on the whole good.

b) If philosophy can't give answers to thorny issues raised by philosophy of mind, then those issues are of course not really philosophical issues, but scientific ones. Here I imagine you mean questions about what is the precise nature of the interaction between the body and the mind. I agree that this is not a philosophic question, but a scientific one. But in my study of contemporary philosophy of mind (of which I did a fair amount for my dissertation), most of the issues I encountered were philosophical. In my opinion, most contemporary philosophers of mind have distinctively philosophic confusions about the relationship between philosophy and science, especially about the role of science in understanding metaphysics. Just in case anyone's interested, I comment extensively on this topic in chapter 3 of my dissertation.

I'm glad to hear about (a) and I agree with (b).]

Why is measurement omission a necessary part of concept formation? If the first step is to group things by similarities, and the measurements are *not similar*, then aren’t the measurements already omitted by default? Why have a whole separate step?

What makes two things similar but not identical is a difference in measurements. So to see them as similar requires (implicitly) omitting measurements, and then that’s captured in the formation of the concept.

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