A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes

A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes

NICHOLAS RESCHER
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt155jp5n
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  • Book Info
    A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes
    Book Description:

    Nicholas Rescher presents the first comprehensive chronology of philosophical anecdotes, spanning from antiquity to the current era. He introduces us to the major thinkers, texts, and historical periods of Western philosophy, recounting many of the stories philosophers have used over time to engage with issues of philosophical concern: questions of meaning, truth, knowledge, value, action, and ethics. Rescher's anecdotes touch on a wide range of themes-from logic to epistemology, ethics to metaphysics-and offer much insight into the breadth and depth of philosophical inquiry. This book illustrates the various ways philosophers throughout history have viewed the issues in their field, and how anecdotes can work to inform and encourage philosophical thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8044-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. THEMATIC CLUSTERS
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    WHICH CAME FIRST, the chicken or the egg? All origins are obscure. In the history of primates, just who was the firstHomo sapiens?And when that baby started babbling, just when was that sound considered its first actual word? In its Greek originphilosophyliterally means “love of wisdom.” But even as people spoke grammatically before there was such a thing as grammar, wisdom had its lovers well before there was any such thing as philosophy. Early on there were various tentative groupings in these directions, but by the time of Plato and Aristotle the discipline was in full...

  6. PART 1. ANTIQUITY TO 500 AD
    • 1 THE TOWER OF BABEL
      (pp. 7-10)

      IT IS FITTING TO begin any survey of philosophical encounters with the biblical allegory of the Tower of Babel:

      And the people said, Go, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing...

    • 2 AESOP’S DONKEY
      (pp. 11-14)

      A CANON IS NOT only a contraption that goes “boom” and projects shells—or an official in a cathedral church—but also a list of works accepted as authoritative in a certain field. And while the tales of the Greek fabulist Aesop (ca. 640–ca. 560 BC) do not figure on the established canon of philosophical books, they are nevertheless full of instructive philosophical ideas and lessons and in consequence not infrequently cited in philosophical discussions.

      A splendid instance of the philosophically instructive stories we owe to Aesop is his fable about “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey.” It...

    • 3 XENOPHANES’S ANIMAL THEOLOGIANS
      (pp. 15-17)

      THE EARLY GREEK SAGE Xenophanes of Colophon (ca. 575–ca. 490 BC) is known to posterity only through a small handful of brief quotations. The following stands prominent among them: “If oxen and horses and lions had hands and would use them to produce works of art as we men do, then horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and would make their bodies in the image of their own different kinds.”¹ This little story has many instructive aspects. It marks the introduction of a new conceptual device—a new thought tool—into...

    • 4 PYTHAGORAS’S NUMBERS
      (pp. 18-19)

      THE GREEK PHILOSOPHER PYTHAGORAS (ca. 570–ca. 490 BC) placed mathematics front and center in the field of philosophical deliberation. Aristotle tells us that the “Pythagoreans, seeing that many structures of numbers characterized sensible bodies, supposed real things to be numbers…. For the attributes of numbers are present in the musical scale and in the heavens in many other things.”¹ As Pythagoras and his school saw it, the ultimate realities of nature are not the transitory sensible items that figure in our everyday experience but the stable and unchanging quantitative regularities that characterize their operations. On such a doctrinal approach...

    • 5 HERACLITUS’S RIVER
      (pp. 20-21)

      THE GREEK PHILOSOPHER HERACLITUS of Ephesus (ca. 540–480 BC) was famous even in his own day for the obscurity of his aphorisms. While only some hundred of his dicta survive, they have forever secured his reputation as the prophet of change, transiency, and the impermanence of things. Diogenes Laertius reports on his ideas as follows:

      Fire is the element, all things are exchanged for fire and come into being by rarefaction and condensation; but of this he gives no clear explanation. All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things flows like a stream....

    • 6 ANAXIMANDER’S EARTH
      (pp. 22-23)

      THE ANCIENT GREEK THEORIST Anaximander of Miletus (ca. 510–ca. 450 BC) was among the founding fathers of the geocentric theory of the universe. But of course if—as he and most ancients came to believe—the earth is at the center of things in space, the question at once arises: What is it that keeps it firmly fixed in place? Already available here was the old Indian theory that the earth was supported by resting on the back of a large cosmic elephant. But what then of that elephant itself? Some apparently suggested that it stood on a tortoise,...

    • 7 ZENO’S RACES
      (pp. 24-26)

      ZENO (CA. 490–CA. 420 BC) was a leading member of what has become known as the Eleatic school of early Greek philosophy (named after the town of Elea, Zeno’s native place). A central teaching of this school was that reality is something very different from the realm of appearance, as we have it in everyday experience. And in particular they held that change and process as we experience them are mere illusions and ultimate reality is itself something fixed and unchanging.

      In support of this view, Zeno developed a series of ingenious arguments to the effect that motion is...

    • 8 THE ATOMISTS’ NATURE
      (pp. 27-28)

      THE GREEK PHILOSOPHER LEUCIPPUS of Miletus (ca. 470–ca. 380 BC) and his younger contemporary Democritus of Abdera (ca. 460–ca. 370 BC) were the founding fathers of Greek atomism, the theory that all that there is in the physical world is nothing but atoms and the void: a vast manifold of imperceptibly minute and hard material particles moving about in empty space. And, as the ancient Greek philosophical historian Aetius tells it, these thinkers taught that, while various theorists conceded reality to the things of the world of sense, the atomists regarded all this as a matter of human...

    • 9 THE ATOMISTS’ WORLDS
      (pp. 29-30)

      WITH DEMOCRITUS (CA. 460–CA. 370 BC) most prominent among them, the so-called atomists of ancient Greece envisioned infinite space containing an infinitude of diverse worlds. On this basis they propounded a radicaldissolutionof the problem of unrealized possibilities. On their teaching, unrealized possibilities are an illusion—the “unrealized” possible sun twice as large as ours does in fact exist, albeit in another world located elsewhere in infinite space. There are no nonexistent possibilities: all possibilities are somehow extant, and reality accommodates all possibilities for such alternatives through spatial distribution in different regions: “There are innumerable worlds, which differ...

    • 10 SOCRATES’S DISAPPOINTMENT
      (pp. 31-33)

      IN PLATO’S DIALOGUEPHAEDO, Socrates (450–399 BC), Plato’s primary spokesman, tells the following story:

      I learned that a book by Anaxagoras said that mind is really the arranger and cause of all things. I was delighted with this explanation, and it seemed to me in a certain way to be correct that mind is the cause of all, and I thought that if this is true, mind arranging all things places everything as it is best … I thought he would show me first whether the earth is flat or round … and if he said it was in...

    • 11 EUBULIDES’S RIDDLE AND EPIMENDES’S LIE
      (pp. 34-35)

      I CANNOT COHERENTLY MAINTAIN “my belief thatpis the case is a false belief” because the second part of this statement contradicts the first. But I can assuredly and unproblematically maintain “Jones’s belief thatpis the case is a false belief.” My having the false belief is not just a possibility but doubtless an actual fact. Yet nevertheless the predicate “————— is a false belief of mine” is something I cannot possibly instantiate with respect to a specifically identified belief.

      Concern for logical problems of self-reference first originated with the liar riddle (pseudomenos) of the Greek...

    • 12 PLATO’S REPUBLIC
      (pp. 36-37)

      THE REPUBLICOF THE great Greek philosopher Plato (428–347 BC) is not only the first really substantial philosophical work but also one of the very greatest. It covers an impressive array of topics: the nature of justice and virtue, truth and knowledge, the realm of ideas, the good of persons, the proper organizations of public affairs.

      In relation to statecraft, Plato was unabashedly a paternalistic elitist. As he saw it, the public affairs of a city-state should be managed by a carefully trained and selected class. As Plato saw it inThe Republic, good government is less a matter...

    • 13 PLATO’S RING OF GYGES
      (pp. 38-40)

      IN BOOK II OFThe Republic, Plato uses the story of a magic ring to illustrate the benefits of moral comportment:

      This licence I have spoken of is much the same as the power which the shepherd Gyges had, the ancestor of Gyges the Lydian…. It was the custom among the shepherds to hold a monthly meeting, and then report to the king all about the flocks; this meeting he attended wearing the ring. As he sat with the others, he happened to turn the collet of the ring round towards himself to the inside of his hand. As soon...

    • 14 PLATO’S DEMIURGE
      (pp. 41-43)

      IN HIS DIALOGUETIMAEUS, Plato envisioned four key factors as functioning in the constitution of the cosmos: a primalChaosthat operates in an anarchic (literallylawless) way under the aegis of a constrainingNecessity, and a rulingCreative PowerorCraftsman(Demiurge) that operates under the direction ofIntelligence(nous, Reason). This last, Intelligence gradually over the course of time “persuades” (!) Necessity to admit the lawful regularity needed to transform Chaos into an orderly cosmos. On this basis it transpires that the Intelligence that guides the operations of the creative demiurge

      is the supremely valid principle of becoming...

    • 15 PLATO’S KNOWLEDGE
      (pp. 44-47)

      THE SOCRATES OF PLATO’S dialogueTheaetetusconsidered the theory that to know something is defined by two requirements: (1) that the claim at issue be true, and (2) that its putative knower be able to provide an account for how this is so. Socrates proceeds to reject this theory by embarking on a course of reasoning marked by the following exchanges:

      SOCRATES [to THEAETETUS]: [You hold that having] a true belief with the addition of an account is knowledge? THEAETETUS: Precisely.

      SOCRATES: Can it be, Theaetetus, that, all in a moment, we have found out today what so many wise...

    • 16 ARISTOTLE’S SEA BATTLE
      (pp. 48-49)

      AS PLATO’S PRIZE PUPIL Aristotle (384–322 BC) saw it, the future is a blank page, awaiting the writing of unfolding history. In line with this view, he wrote as follows in chapter 9 of his studyOn Interpretation:

      A sea-fight must either take place to-morrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place to-morrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place to-morrow. Since propositions correspond not with facts, it is evident that then in future events there is a...

    • 17 ARISTOTLE’S PRECEPT ON PRECISION
      (pp. 50-53)

      HOW IS IT THAT we are content with rough forecasts in medicine or meteorology but demand precision in chemistry and physics? Why employ different standards in different areas of deliberation? On this, as on many other key issues in human affairs, Aristotle had some well-developed views. At the outset of hisNichomachean Ethicshe wrote:

      Precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts…. We must be content, then, in speaking of various subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly and in general terms, and...

    • 18 ARISTOTLE’S GOLDEN MEAN
      (pp. 54-58)

      ARISTOTLE TAUGHT THAT A guiding standard of human “virtue” or excellence is constituted by a proportionate intermediation between opposed extremes of insufficiency and surfeit. As he put it in hisNicomachean Ethics:

      [In matters of conduct] as in everything that is continuous and divisible, it is possible to take a lot or a little or a middling amount, the proper amount is something intermediate between excess and insufficiency. [And accordingly] virtue (arête) is a mean (meson) between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency, being an intermediary in relation to which the vices respectively fall short that which...

    • 19 PILATE’S TRUTH
      (pp. 59-60)

      PONTIUS PILATE (CA. 20 BC–50 AD) was the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judea, serving from 26 to 36 AD, and was famed as the official who authorized the execution of Jesus. St. John’s gospel features him in the dialogue: “Pilate thereupon said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him,What...

    • 20 ARCHIMEDES’S LEVER
      (pp. 61-62)

      THE GREEK MATHEMATICIAN, PHYSICIST, and astronomer Archimedes (287–212 BC) is famously reported as saying, “Give me a place to stand, and [with a lever] I will move the whole world [Dos moi pou sto kai kino teal gael].”¹ Reacting to this claim, Mark Twain joked as follows:

      “Give me whereon to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the earth.” The boast was a pretty safe one, for Archimedes knew quite well that the standing place was wanting, and always would be wanting. But suppose he had moved the earth, what then? What benefit would it have been to...

    • 21 THE SHIP OF THESEUS
      (pp. 63-65)

      IN HIS STORY OF the ship of Theseus, the Greek historian and moralist Plutarch (ca. 48–125 AD) propounded a puzzle that soon split philosophers into rival schools:

      The ship whereinTheseusand his young Athenians returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this rebuilt ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of the identity of things; one side...

    • 22 TERTULLIAN’S ABSURDITY
      (pp. 66-67)

      QUINTUS SEPTIMUS TERTULLIAN(US) (ca. 160–ca. 225 AD) was a prolific Christian theologian from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. Counted among the founding fathers of Catholic theology, he wrote both technical philosophical explanations of Christian doctrines and apologetic polemics in their defense. He inaugurated its Trinitarian creedal expression of God as being “Three in person but one in substance.” In one of his Christological works, Tertullian wrote “And buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible [Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile].”¹ On the basis of this statement Tertullian has been (mis)credited throughout the ages with...

    • 23 ST. AUGUSTINE’S TIME
      (pp. 68-70)

      SPACE AND TIME HAVE preoccupied philosophers from their subject’s very start, but they found the former—time—to be something that is especially baffling because virtually the whole of it just does not exist at present—or indeed ever, at any particular juncture. Thus St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote:

      For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of...

  7. PART 2. THE MIDDLE AGES, 500-1500
    • 24 AVICENNA’S PLANK
      (pp. 73-74)

      MAN,HOMO SAPIENS, IS an amphibian who lives in a world of nature but also in a world of thought. And the two aspects can readily fall out of step, with thought coming to be at odds with the reality of things. In particular, many is the time we exaggerate the magnitude of the obstacles that confront us.

      The Persian philosopher Avicenna (980–1037) projected in his encyclopedic treatiseKitâb al-shifâa story that ran roughly as follows: “A man was challenged to cross a deep chasm on a solid wooden plank fixed securely on the opposite side. He balked...

    • 25 BURIDAN’S ASS
      (pp. 75-78)

      CAN A REASONABLE AGENT choose a course of action or select an object in the absence of any preference? It certainly appears on first view that this question must be answered negatively. For by the very concept of a “reasonable agent,” it is requisite that such an individual havereasonsfor their actions. And when a reasonable choice among alternatives is made, this must, it would seem, have to be based upon apreferencefor the object actually chosen vis-à-vis its available alternatives. Where there is nopreference, it would appear that noreasonfor a selection can exist, so...

    • 26 OMAR KHAYYÁM’S FINGER
      (pp. 79-80)

      A FAMOUS QUATRAIN FROM the Rubáiyát of the Persian poet and polymath Omar Khayyám (1048–1131) reads as follows:

      The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

      Moves on: not all thy Piety nor Wit

      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

      Nor all thy Tears wash out a word of it.¹

      The underlying fatalism of this Muslim sage not only sees the past as beyond change but the future as well: whatever is to be is written in the book of fate. This view is vividly encapsulated in the classic story of “The Appointment in Samarra,” which, in...

    • 27 KING ALFONSO’S BOAST
      (pp. 81-83)

      KING ALFONZO X (1221–1284), called “The Learned” (El Sabio), who ruled Castile (and much else) in the middle of the thirteenth century, was a scholar at heart. And upon studying the Ptolemaic system of astronomy with its profusion of cycles and epicycles, he remarked: “If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on his creation, I would have recommended something simpler.”¹

      In this regard, however, the way forward is not as easy as it may seem. For what most fundamentally stands in the way of any conjectural improvability is the all-pervasive interconnection of things.

      Suppose that we make...

    • 28 SCHOLASTICISM’S OMNIPOTENCE PERPLEX
      (pp. 84-85)

      THE SCHOOLMEN OF THE Middle Ages, who loved theoretical puzzles, confronted a really big one with regard to theistic theology. It was posed by the following line of thought: “God is omnipotent: his power is unlimited—he can do literally anything. But if God can doanythingat all, then he can set limits to his powers, and perhaps even resign and forgo them altogether. Conceivably he could even annihilate himself—or turn himself into a frog.”¹ This sort of thing is clearly inappropriate, and yet it’s baffling.

      The cleverest among the Scholastics—Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) for one—had...

    • 29 AQUINAS’S PROOFS
      (pp. 86-87)

      IN HIS MAGISTERIALSUMMATheologiae the great Italian philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) considered a series of “proofs” of the existence of God that have become known as the “Five Ways” (Quinque viæ). Like his master Aristotle before him, Aquinas viewed Euclid’sElementsas the very model of demonstrative reasoning. Cogent demonstration so regarded is a matter of logical deduction from self-evidently obvious premises.

      What this meant in the present case is that the argumentation will take some such line as maintaining:

      That God, now by definition seen as the perfect (supreme) being, could not fail to...

    • 30 AVERROES’S TRUTH
      (pp. 88-91)

      THE HISPANO-MUSLIM PHILOSOPHER AVERROES (1226–1298) has the distinction of being credited with a philosophical theory he did not actually hold. The doctrine of Averroism—so called by its opponents—was reputed as a theory of double truth. For it supposedly maintained that “there are two distinct and discordant bodies of truth: that of religion (with its Old Testament doctrine of a world created in time) and that of a science (with its Aristotelian doctrine of any world).”¹ Like the doctrine of solipsism, to the effect that all that actually exists is oneself and one’s ideas about things, this too...

    • 31 MACHIAVELLI’S PRINCE
      (pp. 92-94)

      FROM PLATO’SREPUBLICTO Thomas More’sUtopia—with a considerable “education of princes” literature in between—theoreticians dealing with the governance of states have viewed the matter from the angle of idealization. ButThe Princeby the Italian statesman and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) put a stop to all that and revolutionized the orientation of European political thought.

      Written in the form of counsel to a ruling prince, Machiavelli advocates the hard line:

      A ruler who does not involve himself in military matters will not have the respect of his soldiers and so will not be able to...

  8. PART 3. EARLY MODERNITY, 1500-1800
    • 32 THE VALLADOLID DEBATE
      (pp. 97-99)

      AS SPAIN WAS COLONIZING the New World in the time of Philip II (1527–1598) there arose a bitter discord between the lucre-hungry conquistadors and the pious friars who, on orders of the king, always accompanied their explorations. The object of dispute was the status of the local natives, the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Were they—as the friars maintained—human beings with souls to be saved and lives to be integrated into the community of the church? Or were they—as the conquistadors preferred to think—like some of the larger hominids of Africa, sophisticated mammals available for...

    • 33 MORE’S UTOPIA
      (pp. 100-102)

      THOMAS MORE (1478–1535) WAS an English lawyer, statesman, and philosopher—as well as martyr owing to his clash with Henry VIII’s divorcement plans. Canonized as a saint by the Church of Rome, More’s claim to lasting fame also rests on his imaginative workUtopia—an imaginary state where people thrive in well-being, virtue, and fulfillment. His ingenious speculation added a new word to European vocabulary.

      While More’s utopia retained the hierarchical structure of the old regime in its Renaissance version, it incorporated a system of noblesse oblige, where subordination from below is softened by paternalistic consideration from above. In...

    • 34 DR. FAUSTUS’S BARGAIN
      (pp. 103-105)

      THE STORY OF DR. FAUSTUS and his bargain with Satan was launched on a promising literary career in the play of that name by Christopher Marlowe (1564—1593). In briefest outline its plot ran as follows: Distressed with the limited range and utility of human knowledge, and urged on by an inner yearning for greater power, Dr. Faustus, a great German scholar, sells his soul to the Devil to overcome these limitations. But even this yields no real satisfaction of spirit and in the end Faustus not only regrets but also retracts and finds pardon from an accepting God for...

    • 35 HOBBES’S LEVIATHAN
      (pp. 106-109)

      THE VALIDITY OF STATE power has been an issue on the philosophical agenda since Plato’s day. And here fact and fiction alike confront us with the social skeptic’s question: “Why should I conform to the accepted ways and obey the established rules? Why should I not do as I please and be a law unto myself? Why should I concede to others the right to ‘lay down the law’ to me, acknowledging their authority to circumscribe what I may or may not do?”

      The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is especially prominent among those who have grappled with these...

    • 36 DESCARTES’S DECEIVER
      (pp. 110-112)

      IN HIS QUEST FOR a factual claim of whose truth is absolutely certain, René Descartes (1596–1650), the French thinker often called “the father of modern philosophy,” had the ingenious idea of beginning at the other end, not with truth but with falsity and not with knowledge but with deception. Thus in hisMeditations on First Philosophy, Descartes envisioned a wicked and powerful deceiver whom he supposed to dedicate his powers to deceive him and to upset the entire applecart of his knowledge and convictions:

      I shall then suppose, not that God who is supremely good and the fountain of...

    • 37 DESCARTES’S ERGO
      (pp. 113-115)

      DESCARTES BECAME ETERNALLY FAMOUS for his dictum “I think therefore I am” (Cogito ergo sum). He had much work for this dictum to do: “I noticed that even when I wanted to think all things false, it was absolutely essential that the ‘I’ who thought this should be somewhat, and remarking that this truth ‘I think, therefore I am’ was, so certain and so assured that all the most extravagant suppositions brought forward by the sceptics were incapable of shaking it, I came to the conclusion that I could receive it without scruple as the first principle of the Philosophy...

    • 38 DESCARTES’S FIRM FOUNDATION
      (pp. 116-117)

      IN HISDISCOURSE ON METHOD, Descartes depicted philosophizing as a construction project. He wrote:

      [Sometimes] the houses in a town are rased to the ground for the sole reason that the town is to be rebuilt in another fashion, with streets made more beautiful; but more commonly people cause their own houses to be knocked down in order to rebuild them, being forced so to do where there is danger of the houses falling of themselves because their foundations are not secure. From such examples I argued to myself that. … as regards all the opinions which up to this...

    • 39 CALDERON’S DREAM
      (pp. 118-121)

      THE IDEA THAT THE entire life we take ourselves to be living might in reality be only a dream has origins that are lost in the impenetrable mists of antiquity. The thought is adumbrated in the Hindu belief that this world of ours ismaya, a mere illusion. And it recurs in Plato’s allegory of the cave,¹ whose cave dwellers—we denizens of this world—must come to realize that what they experience is not reality but a mere seeming—a “meaningless illusion,” a world of shadows. The idea subsequently gained considerable traction in the seventeenth century, being prominent in...

    • 40 PASCAL’S WAGER
      (pp. 122-124)

      DURING THE LAST FIVE years of his brief life, the French philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) wrote a collection of notes for a projectedApology for the Christian Religion. And here in a famous passage he wrote:

      Let us examine this point and declare: “Either God exists, or He does not.” To which view shall we incline? Reason cannot decide for us one way or the other: we are separated by an infinite gulf. At the extremity of this infinite distance a game is in progress, where either heads or tails may turn up. What will you wager?...

    • 41 SPINOZA’S WORM AND LEIBNIZ’S LEAP
      (pp. 125-127)

      IN WRITING TO A fellow scholar, the Judeo-Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza (1632–1677) offered a highly instructive illustration:

      Suppose, he wrote, that a parasitic worm living in the bloodstream tried to make sense of its surroundings: from the point of view of the worm, each drop of blood would appear as an independent whole and not as a part of a total system. The worm would not recognize that each drop behaves as it does in virtue of the nature of the bloodstream as a whole. But in fact the nature of the blood can be understood only in the...

    • 42 HUYGENS’S PLANETARIANS
      (pp. 128-130)

      IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, the Dutch scientist and scholar Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) posed questions about extraterrestrial intelligences that had to wait for almost three hundred years to gain real traction in the world of thought. He wrote:

      For ’tis a very ridiculous opinion that the common people have got among them, that it is impossible a rational Soul should dwell in any other shape than ours…. This can proceed from nothing but the Weakness, Ignorance, and rejoice of Men; as well as the humane Figure being the handsomest and most excellent of all others, when indeed it’s nothing but...

    • 43 LOCKE’S LOCKED ROOM
      (pp. 131-132)

      THEORETICIANS WHO DELIBERATE ABOUT freedom of the will often have it that an action is done freely and voluntarily only if the agent could have done otherwise. But this idea is undone by a clever counterexample already offered many years ago by John Locke (1632–1704). His account ran as follows:

      Suppose a man be carried, whilst fast asleep, into a room where there is a person he longs to see and speak with; and be there locked fast in, beyond his power to get out: he awakes, and is glad to find himself in so desirable company, which he...

    • 44 LEIBNIZ’S TEXTUAL LIMIT
      (pp. 133-135)

      IN 1693 THE GERMAN philosopher, mathematician, and polymath G. W. Leibniz (1646–1716) launched into a series of studies of issues of eternal recurrence with a draft that was submitted to the Académie des Sciences in Paris and sent to its president, the abbé Bignon. Pursued under the heading of “palingenesis” orapokatastasis,¹ these studies afford an instructive insight into Leibniz’s view of the human condition with regard to the limits of our knowledge.²

      Leibniz saw it as a key aspect of intelligent beings that they are symbol users, and that their propositional knowledge of matters of fact (in contrast...

    • 45 LEIBNIZ’S WINDMILL
      (pp. 136-138)

      THE QUESTION OF HOW—if at all—the human psyche is to be accounted for in terms of material nature’s physical operations has long figured on philosophy’s agenda. The issue became particularly critical in the wake of René Descartes’s dualistic division of existence into disjoint sectors of mental and material being. In this context, Leibniz addressed the issue in one of the most oft-quoted passages of his classicMonadology:

      Perceptionand what depends upon it isinexplicable on mechanical principles, that is, by figures and motions. In imagining that there is a machine whose construction would enable it to think,...

    • 46 LEIBNIZ’S MYTHIC GODDESS
      (pp. 139-140)

      LEIBNIZ NOTORIOUSLY TAUGHT THAT this is the best of possible worlds. To be sure, he acknowledged its numerous negative and unfortunate occurrences and conceded that it is not perfect. But he held that no other realizable possibility will, on balance, be superior to it. In this context he sketched in his magnum opus, theTheodicy, the myth of Theodonis to whom, in a dream, a goddess reveals the book of fate describing the entire manifold of possibilities from among which Jupiter chose the best for actualization. And when the question arose why there exists a Sextus, who is both cause...

    • 47 ALDRICH’S BOX PARADOXES
      (pp. 141-142)

      THE ENGLISH LOGICIAN, THEOLOGIAN, architect, and polymath Henry Aldrich (1647–1710), who was vice chancellor of Oxford University in the early 1690s, was fond of puns and puzzles. In the field of logic he inaugurated the idea of box paradoxes with the following simple example:

      The paradox is obvious here: If the sentence in the box is true, then it is false; but if it is false, then it is true.

      In an attempt to avert the problem, the suggestion is sometimes made that the sentence in question is meaningless and thus neither true nor false. But at this point...

    • 48 MANDEVILLE’S BEES
      (pp. 143-145)

      INITIALLY TRAINED IN MEDICINE, Sir Bernard Mandeville (1670–1733) revolutionized social theory when he published his “Fables of the Bees” in the early 1700s. His tale contrasted two hives, the denizen of the one, having all the usual civic virtues, being frugal, abstemious, and dedicated to modest simple living; while those of the other hive were wasteful, profligate, high-living squanderers, devoted to material goods and intent on “living it up.” But considered from an economist’s point of view the “good” hive was impoverished and struggling with poverty and underemployment, while the “bad” hive thrived with its excess-supportive activity. Personal profligacy...

    • 49 HUME’S SELF-SEEKING
      (pp. 146-147)

      THE SCOTTISH PHILOSOPHER DAVID HUME (1711–1776) was a dedicated empiricist who taught that our knowledge of matters of objective fact cannot possibly reach beyond the limits of our experience. This stance impelled him into various sorts of skepticism. For, as he saw it, we experience various particular and specific items but never the abstract relations and connections that obtain among them—so that relatedness in all its forms is in trouble. We experience occurrences in the world but not connections among them, thereby plunging the very idea of causality into trouble. We experience particular occurrence but never general (let...

    • 50 HUME’S SHADE OF BLUE
      (pp. 148-150)

      DAVID HUME HELD THAT the only conceptions that could figure meaningfully in our thinking were those that were to be grounded in perceptions—in matters of factual cognition, the human intellect had nothing to work with save for what is inherent in the material that the human senses put at its disposal. Thus in hisEnquiry Concerning Human Understandinghe wrote: “We shall always find, that every [conceptualized] idea which we examine is copied from a similar [sensory] impression. Those who would assert, that this position is not universally true nor without exception, have only one, and at that an...

    • 51 KANT’S THINGS IN THEMSELVES
      (pp. 151-152)

      AS THE GERMAN PHILOSOPHER and polymath Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) saw it, our sense-perceptive capacity—“sensibility” he called it—enables us to perceive the appearance of things under certain corresponding modes of apprehension. Our sensibility does not give us access to how things are in themselves but only to how things appear to beings equipped with our particular sort of sensory apparatus:

      Even if we could bring our perception to the highest degree of clearness, we should not thereby come any nearer to the constitution of objects in themselves. We should still know only our way of perceiving, that is,...

    • 52 KANT’S ERRAND BOY
      (pp. 153-154)

      IN HIS CLASSIC MONOGRAPH onThe Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant drew the subtle but important contrast between acting morally on the one hand and merely doing what morality requires on the other. His line of reasoning ran as follows:

      It is easily decided whether an action in accord with duty is performed from duty or for some selfish purpose. It is far more difficult to note this difference when the action is in accordance with duty and, in addition, the subject has a direct inclination to do it. For example, it is in fact in accordance...

    • 53 KANT’S PEACEFUL VISION
      (pp. 155-156)

      IN 1795 KANT PUBLISHED his much-discussed essay “Toward Permanent Peace” with the firm of his Königsberg friend Friedrich Nicolovius. In it he wrote: “If it is a duty to realize the condition of public right, even if only in approximation by unending progress, and if there is also a well-founded hope of this, then the perpetual peace that follows upon what have till now been falsely called peace treaties (strictly speaking, truces) is no empty idea but a task that, gradually solved, comes steadily closer to its goal (since the times during which equal progress takes place will, we hope,...

    • 54 KANT’S STARRY HEAVEN
      (pp. 157-158)

      ONE OF THE MOST quoted of Kant’s notable passages comes from the concluding section of hisCritique of Practical Reason: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” This passage reflects the eighteenth century’s evolving preoccupation with the philosophy of artifice rather than nature and in particular with the aesthetic idea of the pleasing, the beautiful, and the more than beautifully sublime.

      And it was this last conception—that of the sublime—that particularly fascinated...

    • 55 KANT’S REORIENTATION
      (pp. 159-160)

      AT THE OUTSET OF hisProlegomena to Any Future MetaphysicsKant made an observation that is all too rarely cited by later German philosophers: “There are scholarly men to whom the history of philosophy (both ancient and modern) is philosophy itself…. Such men must wait till those who endeavor to draw from the fountain of reason itself have completed their work; it will then be the turn of these scholars to inform the world of what has been done. Unfortunately, nothing can be said which, in their opinion, has not been said before, and truly the same prophecy applies to...

    • 56 CONDORCET’S PARADOX
      (pp. 161-163)

      THE IDEA OF MAJORITY rule forms part of the core of the democratic ethic. But unfortunately there are some serious obstacles to its implementation—and not just as a matter of practical procedure but as one of theoretical feasibility.

      Suppose that three voters are asked to rank three options, with the following result:

      No resolution available here will please everyone. But, even worse, since bothAandC—a majority—prefer (3) to (2) it seems that the preferable ranking should be (3) > (2). But by exactly the same token regardingAandBwe have (2) > (1). And again...

    • 57 HEGEL’S REALITY
      (pp. 164-165)

      IN HISCRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, Immanuel Kant had maintained that the human mind’s natural impetus is to insist upon systematizing our knowledge of facts in a way that elucidates their interconnections. And he took this to mean that in the final analysis, the rational order of nature relates not to nature as such but rather to nature-as-we-understand-it, with the rational order we discern in the scheme of things thus rooted in the human mind’s mode of operation. As he saw it: “Man is the lawgiver of nature.” In Kant’s wake, the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831)...

    • 58 SCHOPENHAUER’S ANNOYANCE
      (pp. 166-168)

      ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER (1788–1860) WAS an independently wealthy German philosopher whose massive study of “World as Will and Idea” was designed to realize the grand systemic aspirations of his place and time. While this work earned him enduring fame, he also achieved ongoing infamy through his negative view of women.

      When a rooming house neighbor with whom he had quarreled with repeatedly over noise finally annoyed him beyond endurance, he gave her a push that caused her to fall. In doing so she injured her arm and thereupon sued him for damages. She was awarded a payment of fifteen thaler...

  9. PART 4. THE RECENT PAST, 1800-1900
    • 59 J. S. MILL’S EPIPHANY
      (pp. 171-173)

      IN HIS CLASSICAUTOBIOGRAPHY, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) recounted an episode of his twentieth year that revolutionized his entire outlook for life.

      Trained by his utilitarian father to see the aim of life as fostering the general welfare by promoting the greatest good of the greatest number, Mill now had second thoughts:

      It was in the autumn of 1826. I was in a dull state of nerves … the state, I should think, in which converts to Methodism usually are, then smitten by their first “conviction of sin.” In this frame of mind it occurred to...

    • 60 DARWIN’S APE
      (pp. 174-175)

      THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION is inseparably bound up with the investigations and writings of the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882). His work represents one of the great scientific revolutions that transformed the tenor of the Western world’s philosophical and intellectual culture. Darwin’s overall position is set out in lucidly transparent prose:

      Thus we can understand how it has come to pass that man and all other vertebrate animals have been constructed on the same general model, why they pass through the same early stages of development, and why they retain certain rudiments in common. Consequently we ought frankly to...

    • 61 SAXE’S PUZZLING ELEPHANT
      (pp. 176-178)

      THE AMERICAN POET AND journalist John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887) was the nation’s most notable humorist before Mark Twain. A Washington hostess regarded him as “deserving capital punishment for making people laugh themselves to death.”¹ He earned lasting fame with his poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” which tells the story of certain blind sages, those

      Six men of Indostan

      To learning much inclined

      Who went to see the elephant

      (Though all of them were blind).

      One sage touched the elephant’s “broad and sturdy side” and declared the beast to be “very like a wall.” The second, who had...

    • 62 HERBERT SPENCER’S IMPATIENCE
      (pp. 179-181)

      IN HIS INTERESTING AND readableAutobiography, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) narrated the following episode:

      [In my youth I encountered] a copy of a translation of Kant’sCritique of Pure Reason, at that time, I believe, recently published. This I commenced reading, but did not go far. The doctrine that Time and Space are “nothing but” subjective forms—pertain exclusively to consciousness and have nothing beyond consciousness answering to them—I rejected at once and absolutely; and, having done so, went no further…. It has always been out of the question for me to go on reading a...

    • 63 LORD KELVIN’S SUN
      (pp. 182-183)

      THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE affords some rather embarrassing situations of conflict and discord. For example, consider the following case: Adopting the stance of the physics of the 1890s, the eminent English physicist William Thomas, Lord Kelvin (1824–1907), regarded the sun as a thermodynamic burning process. Although this set the age of the solar system at a great many years, nevertheless looking to the geological strata led geologists and developmental biologists to require a timespan of at least ten times that length. Traditional Averroism had envisioned a conflict between two branches of thought: according to one (monotheistic religion), the universe...

    • 64 THE LADY OR THE TIGER
      (pp. 184-185)

      A PROVOCATIVE STORY TITLED “The Lady or the Tiger” was published in theCentury Magazinein the 1870s by the American essayist Frank R. Stockton (1834–1902). In brief outline it ran as follows: Once upon a time, a cruel and despotic king had a beautiful daughter who was head over heels in love with a suitor knight whom the king regarded as altogether unsuitable. He sentenced the suitor to a trial by ordeal; requiring him to open one of two doors. Behind the one was a ferocious, starved tiger. Behind the other a beautiful countess, known to admire the...

    • 65 WILLIAM JAMES’S FREEDOM
      (pp. 186-187)

      THE HARVARD PSYCHOLOGIST AND philosopher William James (1842–1910) addressed the classic problem of freedom of the will on the basis of two premises:

      1. As far as we can tell, free will is a possibility: no available evidence and no theoretical considerations rule out the possibility of free will.

      2. Whenevercognitiveconsiderations leave an issue undetermined, its resolution by a decision on the basis of “practical” (life-facilitating) considerations is a rationally acceptable and appropriate proceeding.

      Accordingly, James purposed to reason as follows: “[For aught the cognitive considerations can venture the will is free and undetermined.] If, meanwhile, the will is...

    • 66 WILLIAM JAMES’S SQUIRREL
      (pp. 188-190)

      IN HIS CLASSIC 1896 lecture on “What Pragmatism Means,” William James recounted the following episode:

      Some years ago, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find everyone engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. Thecorpusof the dispute was a squirrel—a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree’s opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the...

    • 67 KROPOTKIN’S COOPERATORS
      (pp. 191-193)

      PETER KROPOTKIN (1842–1921) WAS an odd duck, to put it colloquially. Born a prince before the abolition of serfdom in Russia, he became a leading figure in that country’s anarchist movement. His claim to philosophical fame, however, lies in his bookMutual Aid: A Factor of Evolutionpublished in 1902 during his exile in England.

      In the wake of Charles Darwin’s landmark work on evolution by natural selection there arose a school of social Darwinists eager to apply the biological ideas of “survival of the fittest” in the social and political arena. They saw biological evolution by rational selection...

    • 68 NIETZSCHE’S REVALUATION
      (pp. 194-195)

      IN CULTURAL HISTORY, EVERY china shop has its bull, and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was eager to take on this role in philosophy. Historically, philosophers had always used reasoned argumentation as a method; Nietzsche proposed to abandon this in favor of bombast. Historically, philosophers had sought to induce a reluctant humankind into the paths of civility and virtue; Nietzsche thought us to be insufficiently dedicated to selfishness and power. Historically, philosophers generally had good things to say for morality; Nietzsche took a different line. In hisEcce HomoNietzsche began the section “Daybreak” by saying “My campaign...

    • 69 NIETZSCHE’S LONG RUN
      (pp. 196-199)

      ESCHATOLOGY IS THE DOCTRINE of the long run—of how things will work themselves out in the end. In the history of philosophical speculation there have been three main theories on the subject—alterationism, progressivism, and recurrentism. They run roughly as follows:

      Alterationismis the doctrine of “ever more and different.” Its principle is that of ongoing novelty—there will be ever new sorts of occurrences and the past affords no guidance to or prediction of the future.

      Progressivismis the doctrine of “ever more and better.” Its principle is that of progress—that the new occurrences of the future...

    • 70 LASSWITZ’S LIBRARY
      (pp. 200-201)

      THE GERMAN PHILOSOPHER Kurd Lasswitz (1848–1910) was also one of the founding fathers of science fiction writing. In his 1901 story of “The Universal Library” (“Universalbibliothek”) he contemplated a total library of infinite scope, somewhat along the following lines: There is to be a special, elaborate symbolic “alphabet,” variegated enough to serve for any conceivable language. Texts of every combinationally possible sort of expressible means of this alphabet—and thus everything expressible in any possible language—are to be gathered together in one infinitely vast library, a storehouse of everything sayable in matters of fact and of fiction. The...

    • 71 FREGE’S MORNING STAR
      (pp. 202-203)

      THE GERMAN MATHEMATICIAN AND logician Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) did much to make the basic ideas of mathematical discourse and reasoning clear and precise. One of his significant contributions related to the distinction between thesenseandreferenceof discourse. Frege explains the idea as follows: “It is natural, now, to think of there being connected with a sign (name, combination of words, written mark), besides that which the sign denotes or designates, which may be called thereferent[Bedeutung] of the sign, also what I should like to call thesense[Sinn] of the sign, wherein the mode of...

    • 72 DURKHEIM’S SUICIDES
      (pp. 204-207)

      THE FRENCH SOCIOLOGIST ÉMILE Durkheim (1858–1917) gave a new twist to the way in which statistical information shapes our understanding of humans’ relationship to social affairs. It emerges from the tenor of his analysis of the statistics of suicides, which is conveyed by the following composite quotation:

      Every page of this book … [substantiates] the impression that the individual is dominated by a moral reality greater than himself: namely, collective reality….

      The social suicide-rate can be explained only sociologically. At any given moment the moral constitution of society establishes the contingent of voluntary deaths. There is, therefore, for each...

    • 73 THE MONKEY’S PAW
      (pp. 208-209)

      IN A CLASSIC 1902 novella of this title, the English writer W. W. Jacobs (1863–1943) projected a macabre story that, in briefest outline, runs as follows: A man acquires a monkey’s paw, a magic talisman that gives its possessor the chance to realize three wishes. He proceeds to exploit this opportunity. But his first two wishes, though realized, are achieved in so horrendous a way and at such a terrible price that his third and final wish was simply for the whole thing to go away.

      The first lesson here relates to the complexity of human desire. We not...

    • 74 WELLS’S NEOMEN
      (pp. 210-211)

      CHARLES DARWIN’S THEORY OF evolution revolutionized thought about man’s place in nature. As a scientific theory geared to the observational facts, it had, of course, to be based on the history of past developments. But it also invited speculation about the prospects and possibilities of the future. For here, the prospect of genetic manipulation at the personal and social level raises a host of philosophically laden sociopolitical and ethical issues regarding justice, ethical obligation, and the nature of the good life for humankind.

      The thinker who took up this invitation most notably was the English writer and polymath H.G. Wells...

    • 75 BOREL’S MONKEYS
      (pp. 212-213)

      IN HIS 1914 BOOKOn Chance(Le hasard), the French mathematician Émile Borel (1871–1956) projected the image of an array of typing monkeys, proceeding along the following lines: Suppose there be a vast office with a thousand rows each with a thousand work desks, all of them equipped with a typewriter. And suppose that a million monkeys are seated at these typewriters, each of them pecking away randomly for ten hours each day for years on end. It would still remain unlikely that their efforts would yield a meaningful book. And it would be unlikely to the verge of...

    • 76 RUSSELL’S KING OF FRANCE
      (pp. 214-216)

      THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER AND logician Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was entranced by the puzzle of meaningful discourse about things that do not exist—and perhaps even cannot possibly exist. This problem had already figured in Plato’s dialogues,¹ and had recently been reactivated by the Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong (1853–1920). After all, it would seem that meaningful discourse must beabout something—and how can this be if the thing purportedly at issue just isn’t there? Russell accordingly protested:

      [Meinong’s] theory regards any grammatically correct denoting phrase as standing for anobject. Thus “the present King of France,” “the round...

    • 77 RUSSELL’S CHICKEN
      (pp. 217-218)

      INDUCTIVE REASONING EXHIBITS OUR inherent tendency to expect the patterns of past occurrence to continue in the future. And here Bertrand Russell urged a skeptical perspective: “Expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”¹

      We may put aside for the present the question of how the chicken would have profited from this knowledge, as well as the old joke about the man who fell from...

    • 78 ANGELL’S ILLUSION
      (pp. 219-220)

      ONE OF THE MOST widely admired and discussed works of the early twentieth century was a booklet by the English economic theorist and political philosopher (and Nobel Prize laureate) Norman Angell (1872–1967). Published in 1910 and titledThe Great Illusion, the book had a simple and telling thesis, which ran roughly as follows: The principal modern industrial powers have economies whose effective functioning is extensively interconnected and interdependent, and the means of modern warfare are so destructive that war among these nations makes no possible sense. No power will gain from it—all will lose out: no one will...

    • 79 RICHARDSON’S COASTLINE
      (pp. 221-222)

      THE ENGLISH MATHEMATICIAN AND scientist Lewis Fry Richardson (1881–1953) posed the seemingly innocuous question “How long is the coast of Britain?,” and he arrived at a seemingly paradoxical answer: No finite quantity can possibly afford an adequate measure here. The distance must be adjudged infinite. For between any two points, there will be zigs, zags, squiggles, and wiggles that constantly increase the apparent distance of those points from one another.

      In fact even the preliminary question “Just where is the coast of Britain?” would seem to be unanswerable. Not only are there those uncertainly shifting tides, but every splash...

    • 80 DUCHAMP’S URINAL
      (pp. 223-224)

      IN 1917 THE FRENCH art theorist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) had a peculiar inspiration: Duchamp purchased a urinal made by the T. L. Mutt iron works, signed it R. Mutt, and submitted it to an exhibition organized by the Society of Independent Artists in New York. TitledFountain, it was to be laid flat on its side rather than mounted in its standard upright position. And its inclusion in the exhibit created an uproar.

      Intended as a work of provocation, Duchamp’s urinal has rightly been termed “the practical joke that launched an artistic revolution.” There was, however, method in Duchamp’s...

    • 81 WITTGENSTEIN’S POKER
      (pp. 225-227)

      FROM THE SKEPTICS OF classical antiquity to the scientistic positivists of the nineteenth century and the logical positivists of the twentieth, there has been an ongoing chain of thinkers drawn to the idea that all (other) philosophizing is a futile and misconceived endeavor, seeing that a cognitive enterprise that does not issue in consensus thereby manifests its illegitimacy. In this regard, a brief argument between two major twentieth-century thinkers has had substantial repercussions in the philosophical arena. On the evening of Friday, October 25, 1946, the Cambridge Moral Science Club, a philosophy discussion group, met to hear a general lecture...

    • 82 COLLINGWOOD’S PRESUPPOSITIONS
      (pp. 228-230)

      ARISTOTLE MAINTAINED THAT KNOWLEDGE begins in wonder, and in this spirit it is often said that all knowledge issues from questioning. The inverse thesis that questions always issue from beliefs—that every question has some prepositional presupposition—is also in prospect.

      Following in Aristotle’s footsteps, the British historian and philosopher R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943) maintained that “Every statement that anybody ever makes is made in answer to a question.” But he also went on to maintain that “Every question involves a presupposition,” seeing that, after all, it cannot but presuppose—among other things—that it indeed has a meaningful...

    • 83 COLLINGWOOD’S HISTORY TRAP
      (pp. 231-233)

      IT SEEMS THAT PHILOSOPHERS, like politicians, fall into warring tribes. In antiquity we have Aristotelians and Platonists, Stoics and Epicureans; in the Middle Ages, Thomists and Augustinians and Scotists; in modern times, Rationalists and Empiricists, and so on. Or so it seems. However, some theorists have argued that these appearances are misleading. What seem to be conflicting philosophical doctrines are in fact—so they contend—totally separate positions that neither agree nor disagree but are actually incomparable or incommensurable. Such discordant positions—so these incommensurability theorists maintain—simply cannot be brought into contact with one another; they cannot be compared...

    • 84 TEILHARD’S OMEGA
      (pp. 234-236)

      THE FRENCH SCHOLAR AND scientist Teilhard de Chardin (1898–1955) had an unusual mix of interests and talents, being at once a paleontologist, a philosopher, and a theologian.

      A priest and member of the Society of Jesus, Teilhard’s theological ideas were disapproved of and condemned in official Catholic circles during his lifetime, but the grandeur of his vision and the sincerity of his Christology posthumously gained him respect and admiration at the highest levels.

      Teilhard’s grand conception is that of the Omega Point, a teleologically concerned end state of cosmic evolution in which there is an ultimate merging of man,...

  10. PART 5. THE CURRENT ERA, 1900 TO THE PRESENT
    • 85 SCI-FI PSYCHOLOGY
      (pp. 239-241)

      THE LARGE AND DIVERSIFIED literature of science fiction raises a host of curious brain manipulation issues along the lines of the following scenario: A perverse operative—mad scientist or wicked governmental agency—devises a brain wave transfer apparatus that interchanges the memories, tastes, likings, longings, or even total knowledge of one individual with that of another.

      Given this situation, the issues that now arise are which is which and who is who? The very concept of personal identity is thus brought into question. For example, does sameness of person depend on physical or on psychic continuity?

      With this sort of...

    • 86 AYER’S NONSENSE
      (pp. 242-243)

      THE LOGICAL POSITIVISTS OF the 1930s were unabashedly scientific ideologists for whom the observational verification of our factual claims was not just a determinant of their truth but an indispensable prerequisite standard of meaningfulness. In the Anglophone realm, A. J. Ayer (1910–1989) was their prime spokesperson and he framed the matter in stark terms as follows: “If a putative proposition fails to satisfy this principle [of observational verifiability] and is not a [mere] tautology, then I hold that it is metaphysical, and then being metaphysical it is neither true nor false, but literally senseless.”¹ Observational verifiability was held to...

    • 87 POPPER’S FALSITY
      (pp. 244-246)

      RATIONAL INQUIRY HAS GENERALLY been characterized as the quest for truth. However, some thinkers have sought to turn this idea upside down by prioritizing not the attainment of truth but the avoidance of falsity.

      Foremost is the Austro-British philosopher Karl R. Popper (1902–1994) who held that rational investigation, and scientific inquiry in particular, is a matter not of determining truth but of eliminating falsity:

      Science is not a system of certain, or well-established, statements; nor is it a system which steadily advances towards a state of finality. Our science is not knowledge (epistémé): it can never claim to have...

    • 88 BOULDING’S MENACE
      (pp. 247-248)

      IN AN INTRIGUING 1965 paper titled “The Menace of Methuselah,” Kenneth Boulding (1910–1993), an influential American economist, social theorist, and reformer, contemplated the social and economic implications of a substantially increased human life span. And here his analysis made it clear that what looks from the angle of individuals to be an unqualified plus—the increase in our expectation of life—can from the angle of society at large prove to be a decided negativity.

      Specifically Boulding’s thought proceeded along the following line: Let us suppose that the life expectancy of humans were somehow swiftly increased from roughly seventy...

    • 89 AUSTIN’S VERBS
      (pp. 249-251)

      THE OXFORD PHILOSOPHER JOHN L. AUSTIN (1911–1960) was a leading member of the school of ordinary language philosophy, which sought to extract philosophical lessons from careful attention to how language is used by educated speakers in everyday communication. The guiding idea was that in philosophical deliberations, “we must pay attention to the facts ofactuallanguage, what we can and cannot say, andpreciselywhy.”¹

      Austin complained that philosophers are fixated upon factual assertions and claims to knowledge to the exclusion of the great variety of other things we do—and can do—with language. And accordingly he complained:...

    • 90 AUSTIN’S EXCUSES
      (pp. 252-253)

      J. L. AUSTIN’S “A Plea for Excuses” is a classic attempt to extract philosophical lessons from careful heed to ordinary linguistic usage. Consider the following:

      When I return the money to the lender’s identical twin, I do so “by mistake”—but one that is “only natural” and should be deemed virtually blameless.

      When I knock you down because I have slipped on a banana peel, I do so inadvertently “by accident” and am not at fault.

      Many is the case when I blamelessly do something I should not do—and certainly would not do if the world were a more...

    • 91 TURING’S TEST
      (pp. 254-256)

      CAN MACHINES THINK? An interesting question! But before addressing it, one had best ask another: Just what is it that betokens the presence of thought? By what standard are we to judge that thinking is at work and that an intelligent being would be at issue with an ingenious product of scientific artifice?

      The English logician, mathematician, and cryptanalyst Alan Turning (1912–1954) proposed a simple-sounding test here. As he saw it, we should be prepared to credit machines with intelligence if and when we cannot distinguish in interrogatory situations between their operation and that of humans. The resulting Turing...

    • 92 URMSON’S APPLES
      (pp. 257-259)

      THE OXFORD PHILOSOPHER J. O. Urmson (1915–2012) is usually classed as a member of the school of ordinary language philosophy, although he himself never endorsed a particular method of understanding, believing that “the philosopher sees what needs doing and does it.” One of the things Urmsom thought needed doing was defending the rationality of evaluation in opposing those who, like A. J. Ayer and the logical positivists, saw it as meaningless verbiage or who, like the University of Michigan’s C. L. Stevenson, saw it as a purely personal “matter of taste” preferentialism, with “xhas value” as amounting to...

    • 93 SIMON’S SATISFICING
      (pp. 260-261)

      ECONOMISTS ARE GENERALLY EXTREMALISTS: for most of them, the name of the game is maximizing (for example, cost-effectiveness) or minimizing (for example, effort). But the American information theorist and Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon (1916–2001) proved to be the crucial exception here. He propounded the idea that real-life decision makers do not strive for optimal and maximally effective solutions but rathersatisficedones in opting for solutions that are merely good enough to meet the needs of the situation. Where others saw economic rationality as requiring an optimization striving for the realizable best, Simon saw as critical abounded rationality...

    • 94 THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA
      (pp. 262-264)

      IN THE LATE 1940S the mathematicians Merrill Flood (1908–1991) and Melvin Dresher (1911–1992) of the RAND think tank in California framed a problem in decision theory to which the Princeton mathematician A. W. Tucker (1905–1995) subsequently gave the format (and the name) of a “prisoner’s dilemma.” It envisions the situation of two now separated but then collaborating culprits caught up in a situation where if neither confesses, only a minor charge can be proved against them, while if both confess, a heavy penalty will be imposed. But if one has state’s evidence and the other not, then...

    • 95 A STREETCAR NAMED DISASTER
      (pp. 265-267)

      IN A 1967 ARTICLE, the English philosopher Philippa Foot (1920–2010) posed a widely discussed ethical conundrum that ran essentially as follows:

      You are standing by the side of a track when you see a runaway streetcar hurtling toward you. Clearly the driver has lost control. Ahead are five people, tied to the track. If you do nothing, the five will be run over and killed. Fortunately you are next to a signal switch: turning this switch will send the out-of-control vehicle down a side track, a spur, just ahead of you. But there is a snag: on the spur...

    • 96 PUTNAM’S TWIN EARTH
      (pp. 268-269)

      THE IDEA OF A Twin Earth was projected in a 1973 paper by the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam (1926– ) to make a far-reaching point in the philosophy of language. In effect, his example is based on the following supposition: Imagine a hypothetical planet, Twin Earth, just like the Earth but with one salient difference, namely, that what is universally acknowledged as “water” on Twin Earth (filling its lakes, storage tanks, bathtubs, and so on) is actually not H2O but some other like-water-behaving stuffW. Then it is clear that by “water” those Twin Earth inhabitants do actually mean something...

    • 97 DR. PSYCHO’S PRESCRIPTION
      (pp. 270-272)

      THE PRESENT AUTHOR’S DR. PSYCHO paradox affords yet another instructive example of the intricacies of rational decision.¹ Consider the problem posed by a somewhat eccentric friend of yours, Dr. Psychic Psycho, an otherwise intelligent, serious, reliable, and generally sagacious and self-assured biochemist who fancies himself a clairvoyant psychic and actually has a good track record for oddball predictions. After you have just eaten apples together, he proceeds to astonish you with the following announcement:

      I have interesting news for you. You must seriously consider taking this pill. As you know (since we have recently determined it together), it contains substance...

    • 98 VAGRANT PREDICATES
      (pp. 273-275)

      MANY LOGICIANS STAND COMMITTED to the so-called intuitionist doctrine that something of a certain description can properly be claimed to exist only when one can actually provide an instantiating example of this. And building on this idea, various positivistically inclined metaphysicians assert that existential claims are only appropriate where substantiating instances can be adduced. There is, however, a serious impediment in the way of this “show me” approach, namely, the frailty and weakness of the human intellect and the limited scope of our knowledge.

      The fact of it is that an item can be referred to obliquely in such a...

    • 99 SEARLE’S CHINESE ROOM
      (pp. 276-278)

      COGNITIVE THEORISTS OFTEN HOLD that to know a fact is to be able to give correct answers to questions about it. But this plausible idea does not work. Consider the following question-and-answer exchanges.

      Q: When will Jones arrive here?

      A: When he gets here.

      Q: When next will it rain?

      A: The next time raindrops fall from the sky.

      Q: What is the square root of 2?

      A: That number which, when multiplied by itself, yields 2 as a product.

      In these and all other such cases, the response is quite correct but nowise informative. Accordingly, the ability to provide...

    • 100 THE BELL CURVE’S SLANT
      (pp. 279-281)

      THE 1994 BOOK BY Herrnstein and Murray onThe Bell Curveachieved an imposing success by scandal.¹ For its deliberations pivoted on one prime consideration that ran roughly as follows: There is a statistical discrepancy in IQ test results between whites and blacks that evidences a discrepant capacity to benefit for training and education. The fact, however, is that any close inspection of the matter shows that this bugaboo of horrendous consequences is a very dubious proposition. To bring this to light clearly, it is useful to consider a case of substantially the same structure that carries a far lower...

    • 101 DERRIDA’S DEMOLITION
      (pp. 282-284)

      THE FRENCH PHILOSOPHER JACQUES DERRIDA (1930–2004) is best known for devising a method of text analysis that has become known as deconstruction. No small part of his notoriety is due to the deliberately contrived obscurity of his writing (and doubtless of his thought as well).

      Concealment by language is the watchword here. Thus Derrida writes:

      The primordial sexual difference is tender, gentle, peaceful; when that difference is struck down by a “curse” … the duality or the duplicity of the two becomes unleashed, indeed bestial, opposition…. This schema would come under neither metaphysical theology nor explicable theology. But the...

  11. INDEX OF NAMES
    (pp. 285-289)