Review, 2nd Exam - Human Nature and Epistemology

The Question of Immortality - why should we think we can live forever? (Rachels)

1. There seems to be evidence that we are more than our bodies (we have a soul; we are conscious)

a. The Socratic view of the soul:

(i) it is whole (has not parts); therefore it cannot de-compose
(ii) it is the seat of our identity; therefore if it lives on, we live on

b. Problems with the Socratic view of the soul:

(i) the soul might have parts (as Freud suggested; id, ego, superego); or may simply "fade away" even if it is a whole that temporarily survives death
(ii) we may be a unity of body and soul, even if there is a soul; therefore, if our bodies die at least a part of our unique identity also dies.

2. Considerations for and against life after death

Near-Death Experiences
For: Consistent descriptions of "near-death" Remarkable accuracy of a medium's communications Cases (ex: p. 50) in which people exhibit knowledge they could not have gained in their apparent lives.
Against: Alternate explanations of those descriptions Reasonable alternate explanations of the medium's successful communications Flaws (according to scientific standards of experimentation) in the supportive research (p. 51)

Religion and Science - Are they necesarily in conflict?

1. There is no conflict - Gould asserting NOMA - non-overlapping magesteria

  1. Basic idea: religion deals with morals (values and meaning) and science deals with metaphysics (fact). If so, no conflict is possible.
  2. Problems:
    1. Both religion and science might deny this (religion makes claims about events; science claims to explain morality through evolution)
    2. Religious believers take their claims to be true and not just inspiring

2. There is conflict - Dawkins focuses on the idea that at least some religious claims are true.

  1. either Jesus is in fact God, or Jesus is a morality tale
  2. secondary problem: our morals don't seem to be based in religious doctrine, since we judge religious doctrine as good or bad

Summary Chart

Gould - Differing Magesteria
Dawkins - Overlapping Magesteria
The Question:
Are the goals and doctrines of religion and science in conflict essentially - that is, by their very nature, not because of historical accident?
The Answer: No - Science deals with fact and religions deals with value/meaning Yes - both science and religion deal with fact and value, each in their own ways
Implications: Each domain should not be threatened by the other, regarding their doctrines and beliefs Either science or religion would have to change if a genuine dialogue were to take place among them
Problems:  Religions make factual claims and science makes claims about morality. The existence of evolutionary reasons for moral claims does not preclude religous reasons

Minds and Machines - what is consciousness? could a machine have it?

1. Dualism asserts that bodies and minds are made of different kinds of substances: the one material and mechanical, the other immaterial and purposive. The mind is used to explain why we have thoughts, emotions and other such mental/psychological abilities and experiences. Reasons to deny that such a mind exists:

a. it is difficult to define what a non-material thing is, in other than negative terms (i.e., it is not physical, not mortal, etc)
b. we don't know how the mind and body can causally interact

2. Materialism is a response to these problems. It holds that "mind" is nothing but an expression of matter functioning at a certain level of complexity. The question is, is "mind" reducible to matter, or not?

Searle argues it is causally but not ontologically reducible: brain functions "cause" thoughts, emotions, etc. to exist, but once these thoughts and such exist they are different in nature (ontologically different) from the brain events that caused them.

Churchland argues that it is too soon to know that minds are not also ontologically reducible to brain events, and that Searle contradicts himself when he says that the mind is material, but that it is ontologically different from the material brain.

Basic Claim Mental events are ontologically unique It is probable that mental events are nothing but physical events

1. Our current patterns of explanation replace appearance-based views with reality-based science

2. Appearance is reality, when it comes to minds

1. "Minds" are an artifact of "folk psychology"

2. A science of the brain is only just developing, and all signs point in the direction of understanding mind in physical, brain terms

Details: If our patterns of explanation change radically in the future, we may come to assert that minds are ontologically reducible to brains Searle confuses ontological issues with epistemological issues: just because mind is "known to us" as appearances (epistemology) doesn't mean that mind is identical to those appearances (ontology)

Knowledge - Are there foundations to knowledge, or must we be skeptics?

1. General comments:

a. "Knowledge" is a property of those beliefs that we have reasons to trust (and those reasons can be shared with/accepted by others)

b. Reasons to trust always involve one or more of three things (at least, for our purposes):

(i) based on evidence
(ii) delivered through logic
(iii) consistency with other well-established beliefs

c. The Epistemological Problem: what is the most reliable reason to trust? Secondary question: How strict must our standards be?

1. Foundationalism or Coherentism

a. Foundationalism is the common-sense notion that our beliefs should be justified either by other justified beliefs or by self-evident foundations

(i) the latter is necessary to avoid an "infinite regress" of explanations/justifications
(ii) self-evident foundations are "deliverances" that are generated by "reliable belief-forming mechanisms," such as having a perceptual experience, and that require no further justification themselves

b. Coherentism argues that even self-evident deliverances are rejected when they generate beliefs that conflict with other beliefs and experiences we may have. Thus the coherentist argues that:

(i) individual beliefs are justified by their place or "fit" in a larger tenable system of beliefs
(ii) Elgin uses the case of the missing Latin textbook to illustrate how we use multiple bits of evidence and claims to generate a belief that is supported by all those bits together (i.e., as a system)

c. Discussion of Coherentism

(i) Problem: a system of beliefs can be coherent and have no connection to reality (such as a novel or a movie)

(ii) Implication of problem: at some point, there must be some part of the system that is justified not by its relations to other parts of the system, but by its relation to something outside the system - namely, the very same foundations described above.

(iii) Elgin's response to this implication:

a. we can have an "initially tenable commitment" to perceptual deliverances
b. even perceptual deliverances can be over-ridden by "second order commitments" (beliefs and principles we have developed over time to help us deal sorting through the immediate data and beliefs) and "contravening considerations" (other bits of evidence or beliefs that give reason to reject some belief or experience)

c. Coherentism works

2. Skepticism

The basic argument for Global Skepticism (the claim that nothing could provide evidence that our beliefs are true):

Premise 1: Knowledge must be certain to count as knowledge. That is, if you have any reason to doubt that your belief, or some claim, is true, then you can't say you know it to be so.
Premise 2: No ways of justifying our beliefs are infallible.
Conclusion: We cannot claim to know anything (although of course we can have as many opinions or beliefs as we wish).

Contextualism - a response to skepticism, with critique

Cohen's Contextualism
Breukner's Response
Claim: We can know on the basis of non-entailing reasons (Fallibilism) Fallibilism is a practical, but not philosophically defensible, response to skepticism
Main Premise: Standards for knowledge vary by context (defined by our intentions/purposes, salient information, etc) In the philosophical context - in which contextualism is being developed - standards do not vary
There are no clear standards for defining an acceptable context
Semantic Considerations: The word "know" is like "flat" or "bald" - it allows for degrees (because justification comes in degrees) If the "degrees" are too extensive, the word "know" becomes virtually meaningless
Related Ideas: Deductive closure principle:
If I know P and P entails Q, then I know Q.
    Usually generates skepticism (ex: P = zebra; Q = it's not a mule)
    Contextualist response: P and Q should be interpreted as "known" in two different non-comparable contexts

Freedom and Responsibility - we feel free - but are we?

1. Common positions on the question of whether or not we are truly free (in the ontological, not political sense):

Claim: We have no freedom in a causally determined world. We are completely free from the causal relations that determine and govern our world. We are free even in a causally determined world.
Basic Argument: 1. Freedom demands "Ultimate Responsibility": the ability to control the reason for an action's occuring.
2. In a determined world, we do not have this control.
1. Some of our actions are not sufficiently caused by natural factors.
2. These actions are free actions.
1. We have "second-order" desires - i.e., desires about which desires we want to have.
2. Free actions are those which accord with our second-order desires, no matter how we aquired the latter.

While logically strong, this view seems to ignore the distinction between actions we know are unfree and those which seem to differ in important ways.

Uncaused agency is either "mysterious" or random; neither provides support for the idea of "self-caused" actions If ultimate responsibility is your criteria for freedom, this view acknowledges that we don't have this.

2. Comments on the freedom debate:

a. Note that freedom seems to require that we can make "self-forming actions" (SFA). This is important because we can always do what we want, baring external obstacles - but if we don't have control of those wants, then we are not ultimately responsible for the actions those wants generate. (ex: the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, in which a kidnapped victim comes to identify and sympathize with his/her kidnapper)

b. Compatibilists argue that we can be held responsible for our "second order" desires (those that reflect "who we want to be" and are thus those that would count as "self-forming" desires and actions) for historical reasons. These have to do with how, in the past and up to the point of action, we have assumed responsiblity for our desires and behaviors. Note: Fischer says (p. 121) that he's not sure he can actually support this claim logically; just that it seems reasonable to him.

3. Moral Responsibility

The freedom question arises in relation to ethics because you can only hold people responsible for actions that are under their own control. Yet determinism implies that "at any one point in time, there is only one possible future" - that is, given the exact set of inner and outer circumstances in which a decision is made, only one decision would be possible.

Yet as Dennet argues, social stability demands that we hold people responsible for their actions (when it is reasonably fair to do so). Thus we seem to have two choices: pretend that we are free for the sake of social stability, or show that moral responsibility is real, even in a determined world.

a. Moral responsibility is real.

(i) People can grow in their awareness of "...the factors that play a causal role in..." their behavior. (p. 157)
(ii) this awareness gives us some control over our responses to these factors and, thus, supports a sense of responsibility
(iii) Social institutions are such that we are "obliged" to become cognizant of these causal factors

b. Moral responsibility is not real, even if it is needed.

(i) Ontological v. Social Considerations

Ultimate justice (in matters of moral praise and blame) would require a libertarian free will (see "non-determinism" above); but we don't have this
Both social and moral practices require that we think of ourselves as a "Community of Responsibility."
Therefore, we cannot be "monists" regarding the question of freedom.

(ii) Justice and injustice in a nuanced worldview

Most people do have "compatibilist control" over their actions - that is, they are aware of right and wrong, exert some control over their impulses and so forth.
No one has libertarian control over their actions - that is, no one is self-forming; all are ultimately subject to determinist causes of their actions.

  • we incorporate pity as well as justice into our ascriptions of blame
  • compatibilism, while practically necessary, is ethically shallow