Tag Archives: ontology

On Matthen’s Intelligibility Argument

Mohan Matthen’s post Teleology in Big Systems brought up two options explaining how someone — Tom Nagel in Mind and Cosmos — would choose a teleological explanation over a naturalistic one. The first, below, got me thinking:

First, he might be saying that though it is physically possible (by a fluke series of mutations, for example) for mentality to have come about, it would be better explained by teleology. (Let’s call this the “intelligibility” argument.)

Though Matthen was referring to doubts about Darwinism being sufficient to lead to consciousness, there is another way to understand this intelligibility argument. If we grant that consciousness is something very special, though not unphysical, someone might consider the laws of physics to be constructed, teleologically, to permit consciousness. This is to say that our physics is teleogically directed to account for consciousness. The claim is not that consciousness was necessitated by our physics, but that our physics must conform to allow the possibility of consciousness. What is one philosopher’s Nature is another’s Teleology.

Now, I can’t see any philosophical motivation for this outside of a very deep belief that consciousness is exceptionally special. But if we grant exceptional status to consciousness, then it wouldn’t be ridiculous to consider that our physics must somehow be subject to the requirements of consciousness instead of the other way around. Whereas there may be infinite other possible physics that do not allow for the possibility of consciousness, we live under a physics that does.

My immediate, knee jerk response to this sort of move is that it is just a semantic shift about the meanings of teleology and nature, nothing deeper. If what the teleologist means by teleology is what others mean by nature, then there is no difference of opinion, only word use.

However, this semantic response does not engage the motivation for the teleological argument. The motivation is that consciousness is exceptional. So, if the naturalist believes that consciousness is exceptional and entirely natural, then the naturalist is left with no natural explanation for why it is so exceptional. However the teleologist may say that consciousness is exceptional, subject to the laws of physics, but unsurprising, since the laws of physics itself are directed to allow for consciousness. Since the teleological account does a better job at explaining something as special as consciousness, it is preferable.

This conclusion about preferring the teleological explanation to the naturalistic one is based on the absolute assumption that consciousness is exceptional. But how exceptional must it be? Since we are making physics, and presumably the rest of science, subject to our assumption, then the reasons for our assumptions must then be ontologically more basic and more certain than our entire scientific understanding of the world.

Personally I do not have any basis for thinking consciousness is so special that all of science must be made to account for it. From my perspective, claiming that science must conform to consciousness is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, since I’d have to arbitrarily assume consciousness to be a fundamental substance and science to be constructed to allow for it.

However, there could be people who do have beliefs that strong. For them, they would not be arbitrarily assuming consciousness to be the more fundamental substance in the universe and hence it would follow that science should conform to it. Instead it would be a direct causal link: consciousness, therefore science that teleologically allows for consciousness. This kind of teleological naturalism is special in that it does not appeal to the unlikelihood or complexity of consciousness evolving, as is wont to happen nowadays, but is based on an ontological claim about consciousness. I don’t know if this is more defensible than the Intelligibility Argument based on likelihood, but, as it is different, perhaps it has a chance to fair better.

Posted in biology, design, evolution, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , .

A Priori Against Physicalism

I saw that Richard Brown is working to defend physicalism against a priori arguments.  He says that most (all?) arguments use the same intuitions found in the zombie-knowledge arguments.

This got me to thinking about a priori arguments against physicalism and I came up with something different:

If physicalism is, as Dr. Brown says, “… the view that only physical things exist. Physical things are those things that are postulated by a completed physics,” then I wonder who made physics king?  I’d have to assume that there is something within science that specifies physics as most fundamental.

However, science itself, or more specifically philosophy of science, is discipline agnostic.  There is nothing within the basic structure of science to specify physics as the foundation.  Maybe it is biology that is fundamental, maybe it is psychology, maybe something else; the point is that there is no a priori reason to prefer one over any of the others.  If there is nothing that distinguishes physics as a ground for the other sciences, then there is no reason that physicalism should be taken as a fundamental philosophy.

At this point the physicalist would want to find some grounds for the claim that physics is fundamental.  This is problematic though: nothing could be used from within physics because that would be question begging.  On the other hand, if we try to justify physics as fundamental by appealing to something outside physics, then isn’t that thing that provides the justification more fundamental than physics itself?  If we have to justify the claim ‘physics is fundamental’ by appealing to something even more fundamental, then physics is no longer fundamental because it needs an outside justification.  Therefore any justification for physicalism is inherently question begging or self-contradictory.

I know I haven’t disproved physicalism; at best I’ve indicated that justifications for it are bad.  And if any justification is bad, then the position is indefensible.  Since most philosophers don’t like to hold indefensible positions, perhaps this is sufficient.

Posted in biology, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , .

On Charitability

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If a philosopher is clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with such an experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach philosophy in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative comfort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even charitable ones) about what you are doing.

There is no such thing as a private reality.  By private reality I mean any portion of reality that you alone can experience, that no one else could possibly understand.

There is, however, reality that is yet unexperienced and unknown to you.  Others may have experienced it before you, like explorers who have been to a far away place.  If the philosopher was clever, it is possible that she found a way to imbue her words with that experience.  Since there are no private realities, it is also possible that you may be able to extract those experiences.

The allure of philosophy is then the allure of the unknown, the exotic and unexplored.  To be charitable is to approach a philosophical treatise in search of some yet unknown bit of reality.

Under these circumstances it is futile to give specific instructions on how to be charitable; each of us must understand how to prepare ourselves for adventuring beyond the relative confort of what we know.

If anything, have faith in yourself and do not make assumptions (even ones considered to be charitable) about what you are studying.

Posted in language, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

The Non-Reducibility & Scientific Explanation Problem

Q: What is a multiple star system?

A: More than one star in a non-reducible mutual relationship spinning around each other.

Q: How did it begin?

A: Well, I guess, the stars were out in space and at some point they became close in proximity.  Then their gravitations caused each other to alter their course and become intertwined.

Q: How did the gravitations cause the courses of the stars to become intertwined?  Gravity does one thing: it changes the shape of space-time; it does not intertwine things.

A: That seems right.  It is not only the gravities that cause this to happen.  It is both the trajectory and mass (gravity) of the stars in relation to each other that caused them to form a multiple star system.

Q: Saying that it is both the trajectories and the masses in relation to each other is not an answer.  That is what is in need of being explained.

A: You are asking the impossible.  I have already said that the relation is non-reducible.  I am not going to go back upon my word in order to reduce the relation into some other relation to explain it to you.  The best that can be done is to describe it as best we can.

Here is the problem: If you have a non-reducible relation (e.g., a 3-body problem or a logical mutual interdependence) then you cannot explain how it came to exist.  Explaining such things would mean that the relation was reducible.  But being unable to explain some scientific phenomenon violates the principle of science: we should be able to explain physical phenomenon.  Then the relation must not be non-reducible or it must have been a preexisting condition going all the way back to the origin of the universe.  Either you have a contradiction or it is unexplainable by definition.

What can we do?  You can hold out for a solution to the 3-body-problem or, alternatively, you can change what counts as explanation.  The latter option is the way to go, though, I am not going into this now.

For now I just want to illustrate that this problem of non-reducibility and explanation is pervasive:

Q: What is a biological symbiotic relationship?

A: More than one organism living in a non-reducible relationship together.

Q: How did it begin?

A: Well, I guess, the organisms were out in nature and at some point they became close in proximity.  Then their features caused each other to alter their evolution and become intertwined.

Q: How did the features cause the courses of their evolution to become intertwined?  Physical features do one thing: they enable an organism to reproduce; they do not intertwine things.

A: That seems right.  It is not only the features that cause this to happen.  It is both the ecosystem and the features of the organisms in relation to each other that caused them to form a symbiosis.

Q: Saying that it is both the place the organisms are living in and their features in relation to each other is not an answer.  That is what is in need of being explained.

A: You are asking the impossible.  I have already said that the relation is non-reducible.  I am not going to go back upon my word in order to reduce the relation into some other relation to explain it to you.  The best that can be done is to describe it as best we can.

As you can see, I am drawing a parallel between a multiple body problem and multiple organisms that live together.  Like the star example above, there is no way to explain the origins of organisms living together.  Even in the most basic case it is impossible.

Posted in biology, epistemology, evolution, independence friendly logic, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , , .

Of Duckrabbits and Identity

Of late I’ve become increasingly concerned with the meaning of identity.  When we say, ‘x = x,’ we don’t mean that the x on the left is exactly identical to the x on the right because the x on the left is just that, on the left, and the x on the right is on the right, not the left.  Since equality would be useless without having 2 different objects (try to imagine the use of a reflexive identity symbol, i.e., one that for whatever object it is applies to, indicates that the object  is identical with itself), there is something mysterious about the use of identity.

But what is the mystery?  It cannot be anything to do with the subjects being declared identical: these objects are arbitrary to the particular topic being discussed.  For example if I say ‘the morning star = the evening star’ then we are talking about planets, and if I say that ‘3 = y’ then I am talking about numbers.  The identity sign is the same in both, even though the objects being discussed are rather different.

It is easy enough to believe that by paying attention to the different objects being declared identical we can know how to act (some sort of context principle *cringe*).  But this doesn’t address the question specifically: although we can know how to use the identity symbol in specific instances, this tells us nothing about how identity works or what it means.

Take a look at this:

drthumb = drthumb

The picture is the same save for location on the webpage.

———–

But what if we call the one on the left a duck and the one on the right a rabbit: what is different?  The features obviously don’t change, only the way we are seeing (perceiving? apprehending? looking at? interpreting?)  the two images.

(Triple bonus points to anyone who can look at the two pictures at once and see one as a duck and the other as a rabbit. Hint- it is easier for me to do it if I try to see the one on the left as a rabbit and the one on the right as a duck… focus on the mouths.)

In this example, as opposed to the others discussed above, a decision was required to be made – to see one picture one way and the other another way – before the differences even existed.  Now, in the above examples it appeared that there was a difference of knowledge: at one point we didn’t know that the evening star and morning star were one and the same, or that y was equal to 3.  This isn’t the case when looking at identical duckrabbit pictures because there is nothing about the two pictures that is different; the difference is entirely in the mind.

Let me make a suggestion about how to describe the phenomenon of being able to see one image two different ways: the image can be instantiated in two different ways, i.e. it has an associated universe with a population of two.  There are two possible descriptions associated with this image and until we make a decision about how to describe it, the image is like an uninstantiated formula.

Identity, then, is an indication that the two associated objects are things that can be generalized to the same formula.  The picture of the duck and the picture of the rabbit can be called identical because they both have a single general formula (the duckrabbit picture) that can be instantiated into either.  The identity symbol indicates that the two associated objects are two instantiations of the same general thing, be it a number, planet or image (but not objects in space-time because that would be self-contradictory… space-time and instantiation, a topic for another day).

How identity works can now be identified: it is to instantiate and generalize.  Consider the mystery of how we see the duckrabbit one way or the other: no one can tell you how you are able to see the image one way or the other.  However, you are able to instantiate the image in one way and then another, and recognize that both the duck and rabbit are shown by the same image.

Instantiation and generalization are skills and the identity symbol between the two images above indicates that you have to use that skill to generalized both to one formula.  Most of the time it is non-trivial to instantiate or generalize in order to show two things (formulas) to be equal.  In the case of the duckrabbit it is trivial because the work went into the instantiation process (to see the images one way or the other); in the other examples the situation is reversed, such that we had the instantiations but not the general formula.  In all cases, though, only when we can go back and forth between different instantiations and a single generalization do we claim two things identical.

Posted in epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, wittgenstein. Tagged with , , , , .

Dismantling Fodor’s Argument

Fodor argued that the theory of evolution is not a legitimate theory of science because it is either vacuously true or wrong.  He accused Darwin of committing the intentional fallacy. (synopsis here)

Insofar as he made no logical mistakes in his reasoning, we need a different strategy to defend the theory of evolution.  In this post I will argue that his argument is an instance of gerneral underdetermination, and hence not a problem of evolution but of philosophy of science.

Underdetermination means that we can’t specifically identify the exact cause of scientific phenomena.  For example, given some phenomenon, say darkness during the day, there can be many possible explanations: an eclipse, an exploding volcano shooting ash into the air, the sun has gone out, the electric company has blocked the sun to make more money, it was the work of Claw Vipers, etc.  The exact cause of the darkness is underdetermined; sure we can research the problem and eliminate some of the possible explanations, but because of our limitations we will never be able to check everything.  So the cause of the darkness can be said to be underdetermined, i.e. there is just not enough determining evidence.

Fodor argues that the theory of evolution is vacuous becuase given any trait we identify as benficial to the fitness of the organism is arbitrarily selected.  Since there are too many factors to identify within an ecosystem or organism acting within that ecosystem, any hypothesis we propose about the fitness of that organism in that ecosystem will be trivially compatible with evolution.

For example assume there is an argument that having a certain trait, say longer legs, increases a zebra’s fitness.   We can recognize that this argument could be unfounded because it might not be the longer legs but something else that increases the zebra’s fitness.  It just happened that increased leg length was a harmless side affect of this truly beneficial trait.  Either way, if it is the longer legs or some other unidentified trait, evolution is always compatible with our theories, and so it is trivially vacuously true.

In short I would say that he is arguing the cause of natural selection is underdetermined.  The task is to identify whether this is a unique case of underdetermination or an instance of general underdetermination.  I will now show that this sort of underdetermination can exist in physics*:

Imagine we are doing physics and we want to know which of two metal ingots is the more massive.  We pull out our scale, place each object on one of the trays and wait for the scale to indicate which is the more massive.

Why does the scale tip in the direction of object A?  We could argue that object A has a trait, it is composed of iron, and that trait makes it more massive than some other object.  However, maybe object B is connected to a helium balloon.  Maybe there is a gravitational anomaly in the location where we are doing our experiment.  Maybe the iron is magnetized and there is another ingot with the opposite polarity under the table.  Maybe a God is tampering with our experiment with a noodly appendage.  Feel free to make up as many of these as you want.  There any number of reasons why one object could tip the scale in its favor, and being more massive is among them, though selecting this as the reason is arbitrary.

(One of the things that is wrong here is that we don’t expect General Relativity to predict which objects are more massive.  The mass of an object is the result of the history of its creation and ‘life’ up till the point we measure it.  We do expect Relativity to suggest methods for testing such claims, which it does.  Likewise Evolution should not be expected to predict which organism is fitter, but to suggest methods for testing fitness.)

If I now recast Fodor’s criticism into physical terms, in reference to the above thought experiment, this is the result: The theory of General Relativity (gravity) is vacuous because any given trait we identify as increasing the mass of an object is arbitrarily selected.  Since there are too many factors to identify within a physical system, any hypothesis we propose about mass of the object in that physical system will be trivially compatible with General Relativity.

Therefore physics suffers from the same kind of underdetermination that Fodor accused of evolution.  Anyone who persists in disbelieving evolution on these grounds should also deny General Relativity.  Of course this is excessive: since the underdetermination criticism goes to the heart of our scientific theories in general, it is a problem of philosophy of science and not a problem of biology or physics specifically.  Insofar as underdetermination remains an issue within the philosophy of science we still have to take it into consideration, but this should not be seen as a reason to think our current scientific theories are wrong.

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[EDIT:  I’ve put up a new analysis (24 March 2010) of Fodor’s argument here: Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo]

See a continuation of the argument against Fodor in What Fodor Got Wrong, and in Fodor’s Intensional Criticism of Evolution.

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* This is the argument I presented Fodor with during our brief conversation after his talk at CUNY.  He tried to block it by saying that Natural Selection is statistical, whereas General Relativity is not.  In my previous post, What Fodor Got Wrong, I argued that this position begs the question or is just wrong.

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, General Relativity, measurement, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

What Fodor Got Wrong

Jerry Fodor recently (4 March) gave a talk entitled “What Darwin Got Wrong” at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.  He accused Darwin of committing the intentional fallacy and hence said, straight out, that he didn’t believe in the theory of evolution.

So what exactly does Fodor think Darwin got wrong?

He believes that the theory of evolution is vacuously true (or just wrong) and hence not a worthwhile theory of science.

You can sink your teeth into the argument in this synopsis, but be forewarned, the argument is good: you may, depending upon your convictions, be forced to disbelieve the theory of evolution.  However, it doesn’t identify all the critical presuppositions that Fodor uses (this is no fault of the synopsis; it is accurate to the argument), and these are what are really necessary to show where Fodor is mistaken.

[The one day, the ONE DAY, a year that there is a talk specifically having to do with my work on philosophy of science and biology and I have an international plane flight to catch only a few hours after the talk.  I happily was able to catch the whole talk but I couldn’t stay for the question and answer session.  So I did the only thing I could think of and asked my questions during the break and ran out of the building (literally).  The following quote is accurate as far as I can remember, and, as far as I know, I am the only one who heard him say it.]

Fodor said,

“Natural Selection is statistical. It just is.”

What does this mean?

In my world Natural Selection is a force.  It is a force that changes species over time.  For example lets take some species of bacteria.  A few of the bacteria in that species adapt to be able to eat a novel sort of food and this gives them an advantage over the others.  Eventually these bacteria are able to replicate more often and eventually most of the overall bacteria population has this trait.  Hence the species has changed from not having a certain property to having a certain property.  If you ask me what caused this change in the bacteria population, I would say that Natural Selection was the cause or force behind the change in the species.

There are two ways I can think of interpreting Fodor’s statement: 1) Natural Selection is statistical and not a force.  2) Natural Selection is statistical and a force.

Taking the first interpretation that Natural Selection is statistical and not a force, how are we to understand my little story about the bacteria above?  Perhaps: “The change in the physiology of certain bacteria statistically increased their fitness over the other bacteria.  Hence those bacteria were able to replicate more readily and eventually outnumber bacteria without that trait.”  The thing that changed the species was the increased fitness, which was caused by the physiological change.  Natural Selection was the result of this change and can be observed statistically by seeing how individual organisms with that trait were able to fair better than their compatriots.  Therefore Natural Selection is a non-causal description or explanation of how species change.

This is immediately problematic because a description or explanation is always describing or explaining something that already exists: it will always be vacuously true, e.g. snow is white if(f) snow is white, or it will just be wrong, e.g. snow is blue.  Therefore, by assuming that Natural Selection is statistical and not a force, we have begged the question against Natural Selection.

Now let’s take a look at option 2: Natural Selection is statistical and a force.

As a force Natural Selection is the cause of things.  Causes can work directly, such as one object striking another and causing it to change direction, or as a field does, by creating an environmental disturbance of some sort which affects the object.  Natural Selection falls (more or less) into the latter category: the environment changes and this causes species to change, to adapt.

Is Natural Selection statistical under this interpretation? No.  If Natural Selection acts in the way a field does, by changing the environment which then affects things in that environment, then at every point there is some local interaction between the field and the object.  Otherwise we have a theory of action-at-a-distance, i.e. one thing is causing something to happen without any way for us to identify the underlying process: a theory of magic.  If something is acting statistically, then it is acting at different places with no known connection between them.  However, evolution comes with a ready made theory of local interactions: every organism is constantly struggling for survival.  The struggle for survival ensures that there is a connection between Natural Selection and the environment.  Therefore if Natural Selection is a force, it cannot also be statistical.

[I can confirm that Fodor believed that the struggle for survival was not critical because earlier in our brief conversation he said that the struggle for survival was merely a metaphor.  I responded by saying that Natural Selection is a metaphor then too, but he disagreed.]

In conclusion, by assuming that Natural Selection is statistical and ignoring the local interactions in the struggle for survival, Fodor has begged the question against evolution.  As a statistical non-causal explanation, Natural Selection cannot act as a force in evolution.  Once evolution has lost it’s driving force, it no longer can function as a working scientific theory.  However, believing that Natural Selection is a non-causal explanation is unfounded.  The theory of evolution provides a method – the struggle for survival – that explains how Natural Selection causes change in species via the environment, and ignoring this is what Fodor got wrong.

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[EDIT:  I’ve put up a new analysis (24 March 2010) of Fodor’s argument here: Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo]

See a continuation of the argument against Fodor in  Dismantling Fodor’s Argument, and in Fodor’s Intensional Criticism of Evolution.

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

Demise, the Fallen and Annihilation

In Being and Time Heidegger makes a distinction between death and demise: death is the ending of Da-sein, or Being, and demise is physical perishing. I think this is a good distinction and since I break up ontology into 3 sorts of things – commitments, objects & descriptions – I will have three ways to die:

  1. Fallen: the perishing of all commitments of a living person.
  2. Demise: the perishing of physical attributes of a living person (traditional death).
  3. Annihilation: the perishing of all descriptions that a person has made.

Now Heidegger’s use of death was meant to be a fundamental orientation that Da-sein ‘has’ towards its own end (Those are his quotes around has, not mine- see p. 247 of B&T, p. 229 of Stambaugh) and demise was as above. Hence death and demise are somewhat separate because demise is the physical end and death is the way we are oriented to the end of being.

My view is that demise is one kind, a subset, of overall metaphysical death. I am less concerned here with the existential questions about death (though these are important) and more concerned with the ontological relationship between demise and other sorts of perishing. What follows is the insight separating overall metaphysical death from the three particular ways of perishing.

I’m using fallen in a (only somewhat) technical sense to mean the loss of all commitments. If you lose all capability to have commitments, then you have fallen, almost as in ‘fallen off the map.’ “Gone” is similar- you may not be physically dead, but if you are gone (e.g. to some foreign place never to return) you are dead to those with whom you had made commitments. Comatose, but without physical symptoms, is another example. You’re body may still live and for all anyone knows your mind may be as sharp as ever, but you are incapable of keeping commitments and are therefore ‘dead to the world’.

Demise is death as is traditionally defined: when you have met your demise your body is destroyed. Of course there may be some afterlife in which you may keep your commitments (think Ghost, the movie) or your descriptions of the world may continue (Plato will live forever through his writings – I wonder if someone, somewhere is discussing Plato at every instant of every day), but you’re physically dead as a doorknob after your demise.

Annihilation is the destruction of a person’s descriptions of the world. Describing things is perhaps the most basic of human accomplishments – we reward babies (and philosophers) handsomely for accurate descriptions – and if this is taken away from a person, then that person will not have even achieved the simplest of human accomplishments. Annihilating someone is making the world forget that he or she is a person: it is to become nameless. Perhaps the way to think of it is as in Kafka‘s Metamorphosis: Gregor is changed into a vermin/bug that has a working body and (for a while) can fulfill some commitments, but eventually is unable to communicate how his/its world has changed. At this point any future that Gregor had has been annihilated: the thing he became could continue living, but its life would bear no resemblance to what was formerly Gregor. If all evidence of Gregor’s history was erased, even if the thing he turned into still lived, then Gregor would be completely annihilated.

So to completely metaphysically die, you need to be dead (traditional), gone and forgotten.

Posted in Heidegger, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

What is philosophy?

The question of what philosophy is always made me squirm. People would ask me what I do, I’d tell them, and then they would ask me what it exactly was that I do. But now I have a answer.

A while back I heard a quote attributed to Russell that went roughly:

Philosophy starts out with propositions that everyone would accept as true, and then ends up with propositions that no one would accept as true.

I thought this made philosophers sound like jerks, but there was something to it: we do end up in weird places for some reason. Here’s why:

Writing philosophy is like writing an instruction manual. You have some act or object or situation that you want to explain because it is hard to use or complicated or dangerous for some reason. So you set out to make a manual for the thing, starting from the most obvious and basic features. Now if you don’t know the thing perfectly, in and out, you end up having bad instructions, regardless of where you started. Then when you try to do something, or understand your object, when you follow the instructions you become hopelessly lost. Both your instructions and whatever the instructions were for are completely inscrutable. But if the instructions are good, then you can do things that were impossible for you to do before hand (program you VCR (or DVR), explain why mathematics is incomplete, that sort of thing). Philosophy is an attempt at writing instruction manuals for confusing things.

This answers the ontological questions of

  1. Whether or not philosophy is true: it is true if it accurately describes the phenomenon it is attempting to explain. However, since many times we are in the position of not knowing the phenomenon in question, philosophy is often of indeterminate truth.
  2. Why philosophy is inherently obscure: who ever reads the manual? (I do by the way)
  3. How best to characterize the strange layouts of philosophical treatises, a la manuals: the beginning is packed with warnings about what is wrong and and dangerous, then basic, most common functions are listed and the interesting and difficult features are buried in jargon somewhere towards the end.
  4. What are thought experiments: Thought experiments are to philosophy as visual aids/examples are to instruction manuals. They are not needed, but when you can connect the instructions to the actual objects you’re working with, everything becomes easier.

I’m sure this is somewhat silly but when someone presses me on what philosophy is, I’m telling them it’s pretty much writing instruction manuals for confusing stuff.

Posted in ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , .