Saturday, June 28, 2008

Michelle's Philosopher's Challenge, Part 1

It's a big thing to say, "Well, today I'm gonna write out all my philosophical commitments in metaphysics, next week I'll do epistemology, etc. etc."

So I'm not going to take up your challenge directly, D. But I will take it up. Just in my own way. Because I'm not sure what I think about everything. I just know that doing this will help me to get at least some of what I think straight.

None of this gives any justification. This is a mere description of what I think. I figure that parsing out what I mean and getting down to what background concepts I hold to can be done in the comments and in future posts (I anticipate several will be needed). In other words, it's kind of folky for a philosopher. It's what I think not strapped up to principles and concepts. But I think I need to know what I think as part of the equation in figuring out what I should think. So, without further ado:

Today's post mostly focuses on ontology, experience and objects.

I believe in a universe, and all that that entails. (Believe and think are not used interchangeably here.) This universe has a world, where humans live. I think there is no such thing as what-it-is to have the objective experience of any given object or event, except for that of personal experience, because there is necessarily just one person doing that. The objective experience implies mind-independence, and we are all mind-dependent. Now, follow me closely here. Does the mind-independent experience exist? No. Do mind-independent objects exist? Yes.

I suppose that means that I'm an error theorist about objectivity broadly construed, with the possible exception of first-person experience. However, even that threatens to slip away with the dangers of routine. I think that the personal experience of the self is created through thought and action. Thought may come in the following formats: the formation of reasoning, the formation of belief, and the formation of desire. Thought does not consist in the reiteration of previously formed reasoning, belief, or desire. Thinking requires a synthesis of ideas. But when we repeat ourselves, this is memory recovery or the miming of previous thought action. It is possible, through the lack of new thought and the comfort of routine, to lose the robust first-person experience for an amount of time. But I believe such an amount of time would be miniscule. Perhaps it is better for me to say that I think our first-person experience may be more or less robust, as on a spectrum. Sometimes I definitely feel more conscious than other times, and I don't see any other way to explain such an experience other than positing consciousness to be on a spectrum.

How to define these mind-independent objects? I don't agree with functionalist definitions of objects, because hooker boots are not slippers, and if slippers are to escape being defined by hooker boots, the resulting definition would be gerrymandered into oblivion. To explain a bit further, some of us were discussing how hooker books are slippers for hookers, because they wear them in the bedroom, often right before getting into bed. Plus, functionalist definitions make it impossible to integrate features like the phenomenal experience of color into definitions. Plus, functionalist definitions are anthropocentric. But then, without functionalism, I don't think a reasonable definition is possible -- if anything, we might be able to point to some marks of what-it-is to be a mind-independent object, but I don't think we can have knowledge about them.

Next time, knowledge, justification, and rationality.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I knew I forgot something yesterday! OK, here's a link for now, I'll get a fully formatted version over here tonight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Philosopher's Challenge

It's summer, we're philosophers, so let's get to doing some philosophy. I heard some tales a while ago about a group of heroic young philosophers who sat down and decided to write out what they thought about everything. Well, not about literally everything, but about every major discipline of philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, metaethics, aesthetics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of science, philosophy of law, and so forth.

I want to do this. And I want to do this with other people. Here's what I propose: each week, each of us writes a brief essay explaining our position in one discipline and post it here. Y'know, metaphysics week, ethics week, etc. We post on Sunday, all ritual-like, it'll be great! Then we have all week to read others' work and comment on it, as well as compose our next piece. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." The point of this is not to discover any ultimate Truth, but to figure out just what the hell we believe (or at least make something up) in order to get it out there, get the question raised, and then start examining and refining those beliefs, opinions, and reasoning processes. And if you don't have a well-thought-out opinion on something, then write out your poorly-thought-out one, and then you can browse the opinions of others and even start looking into the subject more deeply - in other words, be not afraid of thinking stupid thoughts, but of letting them remain stupid.

The goal at the end will be to have a little piece of paper which, in principle, may be framed and hung above one's desk/bed/sink/etc. - in much the same fashion that an embroidered aphorism might be hung in more plebeian households - and whenever a tenet of your philosophy is altered, you update that little piece of paper. So who's with me? C'mon, everybody! It'll be fun! I promise!

Week 1: Metaphysics.
Due-or-Die date:
June 8th.

Let's rock!