July 31, 2006

Ah, Sweet Vacation!

Alright, now that the bar exam is over, it's review time baby! Check below the fold because I know you want to read my wonderful prose about comic books!

Secret Identity (Busiek)
This book is quite literally like reading excerpts from Superman's diary throughout several periods in his life, starting when he develops power in his teens until he reaches old age. If I had to pick one book as an example of my theory that there are no boring characters, only bad writers, this would be the book. The reason people don't like Superman is because people don't often write stories like this with the character. Rather than reading a story about Supes from the outside in, never pushing past that bullet proof skin, this story pushes from the inside out. We see the world through Superman's eyes and get a chance to see the conflicted, troubled, and thoroughly normal guy that he really is. It's not the powers that make comic characters interesting, it's how much they still remain like us despite their powers and here we see more of the "man" and less of the "super", which is criminally uncommon.

Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest (Meltzer)
The short review of this is: If you love Identity Crisis as much as I do, this is the book for you. Kevin Smith brought Green Arrow back just before this collection and his run on the book was great. The dialog was sharp and Smith managed to make a walking anachronism like Queen relevant to the modern reader. Meltzer takes that great start and makes Green Arrow real. In Smith's run Oliver Queen came back from the dead and after the brief adventures that followed is only now dealing with the implications of his resurrection. This book succeeds in exactly the way IC did: in looking back to the past it doesn't rewrite the history of the universe to make things interesting, it sheds a light on things we didn't know about which changes the way we think about the things we did know. Just as with Secret Identity, it's not the spandex outfits or trick arrows that make this an interesting story, it's that we can all relate to Oliver's struggle to prepare for his own death.

Supreme Power: High Command (Stracynski)
Truth be told, given the unusually high quality of stuff that I’ve come across lately, the fact that this book is just “good” is kind of a let down. Marvel continues their “what if the DCU happened in the real universe” story and while it’s interesting, I can’t help but think that, if you’re not following in individual issues, you’re better off waiting for the nice big hard cover volumes that give you a more full story arc. As it is, this volume addresses some threads that have been building for a little while but feels more like it’s a volume that builds things up more than it really pays them off. After a few more trades come out I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more, but I just wish I had that next one now.

Sleeper: Out In The Cold (Brubaker)
I know next to nothing about the Wildstorm Universe. I bought a few W.I.L.D.C.A.T.S. issues back when I was in high school and even at 16 I thought it was awfully juvenile. Given that history, you can imagine how surprised I was to find that this book is actually good. Well, I wasn’t *that* surprised because I’ve heard nothing but gushing about Ed Brubaker. Still, this book centers on a super powered government agent who has gone deep undercover within a super powered criminal organization. We’re not talking the Legion of Doom here. These guys are extremely organized and they play a long game of manipulation that even the resident superhero teams don’t see being played out. Brubaker gives us a rare insight into the villains’ side of the fence. Like so many great movies or TV shows about criminals it’s really great to catch yourself picking characters that you like from a group composed solely of killers and criminals.

Invincible Vol. 2 (Hardcover)
I think this book falls into what I call “The Success Problem”. So often in entertainment the creators don’t know if what they’re doing is going to be embraced by the audience so, even though they have big ideas for whatever story/movie/comic/whatever, when they get the green light to put something out they pare it all down to a nicely succinct story that ends on some nice closure. That way, if the trilogy of movies in their head never gets made or their comic gets cancelled after a dozen issues they can feel like they ended the project without too much ambiguity or hanging threads. Of course, as often happens these projects do take off and you’ve got to make sequels or making a second season of the TV show. Suddenly, though the Death Star is blown up we’ve got this new Emperor character to make things menacing. While sometimes this process of exploding the series back into vitality is a relatively seamless process, it’s a tough needle to thread and can often go wrong. There’s an afterward by Robert Kirkman in this volume that basically acknowledges that this is a series of stories that builds things up more than it pays them off. I’m sure that once we get past this portion of the book and things start cooking again I’ll be right back on board, but for now this set of stories doesn’t go much of anywhere, at least not that we’ll be able to see for a little while.

I've actually got even more books to read, so I'll probably have more reviews up in a couple days.

July 30, 2006

Nerdiness and the New Gender Gap

Shorter Sophie Theis: anecdote, anecdote, hasty generalization, backhanded compliment --

As a male peer of mine said, "School doesn't cater to girls; girls cater to school." Femininity is obedience to expectations, tolerance of hard work, and willingness to work for others, all qualities that when translated to the modern classroom enable academic success. With prideful graduation ceremonies and published matriculations, my community showers girls with praise and attention for fulfilling this societal role, which is now easily quantifiable with a simple transcript, test scores and list of extra-curriculars.

And, finally, a nod at feminism -- `On top of all this, there is the feeling that in order to be considered equal to males, us females have to be better than them. We have to prove our worth.' -- that's immediately undermined by putting the blame right back on women -- `It's all in the outlook.'

In which Dawn Eden fancies herself a tyrant

Yes, it's a bit petty, but I feel the need to record the events that have transpired recently at Dawn Eden's.

The saga starts in this thread, where Dawn trots out a piece she wrote as `evidence' to support a claim about Planned Parenthood. I respond by pointing out that the piece -- among several other problems -- does not actually provide any citations that would allow me to check her assertions. In particular, Dawn claims that a Planned Parenthood website targetting teenagers includes `An animation to educate children about sexually transmitted diseases—which depicts a naked couple copulating with a cow' and `Another animation about sexual preferences, depicting a man taking a pig for his sexual partner—while a narrator explains that such behavior is “normal.”'

This prompts her to compose this post, in which she attempts to argue that Planned Parenthood promotes bestiality by linking to the animations in question. (Amanda mentioned this yesterday, as have a few other folks throughout the feminist blogosphere.) I quickly point out that, of her three pieces of evidence, only one supports her case, and then only vaguely and indirectly -- it's not clear what the intention is behind those few seconds of animation. Discussion ensues.

Another commenter and fellow socially liberal thorn in Dawn's side, Ledasmom, compares the cow animation to having a cat in the same room when she (Ledasmom) and her husband have sex. Dawn removes the comment because she doesn't `wish to see anyone pick up ... [that] particular hairball and run with it'. When Ledasmom calls her out -- pointing out that the comment was relevant and didn't contain anything obscene -- Dawn retaliates by removing all of Ledasmom's posts from the thread, `Because I'm the blogmommy, that's why.'

During this fiasco, commenter CJ contributes to the on-topic discussion by asking several (rhetorical) questions:

It's the contraceptive mentality run amok. If sex is no longer about reproduction, then what's wrong with doing it with your neighbor's wife? Your neighbor's kids? Your neighbor? Your neighbor's dog?

I respond, and pose two questions of my own in return:

Now, here are two questions for you:
1. If sex is only about reproduction, then why is it permissible for infertile people to have sex?
2. If sex is only about reproduction, then what is the purpose of the clitoris and other erogenous zones that are not fully stimulated by vaginal intercourse?

I believe these questions to be relevant to the discussion, and there's nothing obscene about them. Note that Dawn leaves them intact (or they were as of this writing).
Rather than answering, CJ asserts that he has been misquoted. I have, of course, quoted him verbatim, but I speculate that he thinks I'm making an unfair presumption about his own position. I rephrase my questions as follows:

1. If the possibility of reproduction is necessary for sex to be permissible, then why is it permissible for infertile people to have sex?
2. If the possibility of reproduction is necessary for sex to be permissible, then what is the purpose of the clitoris and other erogenous zones that are not fully stimulated by vaginal intercourse?

Note that the wording is virtually identical to those given before. If anything, these are more relevant (because they're more precise) and certainly aren't obscene. Dawn edits them out.

I object, asking for an explanation. Dawn removes my objection and scolds the naughty child:

Noumena, because I'm the blogmommy, that's why.

Here's my response, which I do not expect to last more than a couple of hours:

Dawn, you're not my mother. You're the owner of this blog, which, as per the preamble to your precious Harris protocol, is a place for `logical and respectful argumentation and discussion'. Certainly, in that capacity, you have the power and duty to steer debate and weed out disruptive comments.

However, twice in this thread (and three or four times in the past week), you have used this power to denude the arguments of those who disagree with you. Notably, you have also done so erratically -- preserving comments made by commentors you agree with while eliminating responses made by those you disagree with rather than killing the whole line of discussion, or removing refined versions of arguments that have been preserved earlier in the thread.

When asked for explanations, you have not cited Harris protocol violations, nor appealed to unwritten standards for civil discourse or a desire to restrict the scope of the discussion. Rather, you have simply assumed a position of unquestionable authority.

I finish with a quotation:

laws may be unjust ... by being contrary to human good ... --either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory--or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him--or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community

Quesada On Colbert

Marvel Comics' EiC Joe Quesada appeared on The Colbert Report on Thursday. Colbert and comics coming together: my universe is at peace. They talk about the big Civil War crossover and give it a nice overview for an audience that may not be familiar with the series or comics generally.

July 28, 2006

Cephalopods are really cool

Why? Well, among other things, they have extremely complicated and sophisticated eyes, nervous systems (including brains), and manipulatory equipment -- it's fair to compare them to cats or birds of prey. And yet they evolved these features pretty much completely independently of terrestrial animals, so they give us tons of examples of convergent evolution.

For example, despite having no rigid skeletal structure, cephalopods eat the same way mammals do: they bring the food to their mouth using a (quasi-)articulated, multijoined arm.

I wish we had Stanford's seminar catering


Okay, it's true that we semi-regularly had wine and sushi at our colloquia this past year. But (a) it was grocery store sushi and the wine tended to be hit-or-miss, (b) only rarely was the sushi veggie, and (c) it was the grad students doing the catering those times. When food services does the catering, we get unpleasantly textured cookies and generic Hawaiian punch.

July 27, 2006


It takes some twists and turns of mind-blowing ignorance, but eventually we have this excellent piece of ethical and political reflection:

So why is the religious right so convinced that there is no possible moral code if not codified and handed down from on high? They can’t imagine how a person can act morally if left to “their own devices.” Their evidence is this: Those who believe like us - that there is an external moral code handed down by God - do no wrong. Those who do not believe like us - who get their moral code from other traditions, or from “natural law” - do no right. When presented with contradicting evidence, they ignore it.

And why? Why is it so important that they maintain this fiction? Simply because they themselves are incapable of acting according to an internal moral code other than self-interest - to the extent that they must adopt an external moral code.

I'm physically and mentally exhausted

so all you get is a link:

The Washington State Supreme Court just said no to gay marriage in this state.

Oh, okay, and an emoticon, too: :-(

'Tis Over

Well, I'm home from three hellish days of bar exam badness. I have no idea how I did, but I do know it's over, so that's good. This marks the capstone that is the real end of law school. Now it's all done. Whew.

It came from Mike Mignolia!!!

Seriously, a show about a mechanical screw-on head fighting evil during the time of Abraham Lincoln, and it's from the twisted mind of Mike Minolia, who brought the world Hellboy? And the lead character is voiced by Paul Giamatti and the main villian is David Hyde Pearce (Niles, of Frasier fame). And it's a comedy? How can we possibly go wrong?

Here's the link to the Sci-Fi channel's full pilot episode. Go and enjoy some Emperor Zombie goodness. It's creamy, like nougat.

July 26, 2006

Praise nothing!

Check below the fold, or try this.


Oh, and no naughty bits this time, though your coworkers might not appreciate it if you wander around singing that song.

July 25, 2006

What is false consciousness?

The Happy Feminist gives what we might call a good working introduction to the notion of false consciousness.

In sum, 'false consciousness' as a concept may have use, even a great deal of use. Certainly 'consciousness raising' sessions among feminists in the '60s and '70s were a valuable exercise for women working through the myriad ways in which they had taken for granted their own subordination or failed to recognize ways in which the values and institutions with which they lived were operating contrary to their best interests. On the other hand, 'false consciousness' should never be treated as a one-size-fits-all response to everyone who disagrees with feminist ideas or with one's particular feminist view point.

I say a working introduction because feminist epistemologists (especially Lynn Hankinson Nelson and Helen Longino) have views on the use of `assumptions' in knowledge claims and our experience of our lives that are far more subtle and nuanced than Marx's false consciousness. If you're not a professional pedant, though, you probably don't care so much about that.

July 24, 2006

Fear of Girls, etc.

"You want mercy?! I'm chaotic neutral!!!!" Seriously, watch this video.

A quiz on world leaders given to Bush in 1999.

July 23, 2006

In which our anti-hero considers making a very silly decision

My schedule for this coming semester:
seminars x 3 (that's a full load)
auditing French 101
TAing one section

And I'm wondering whether volunteering at PP a few hours a week is feasible.

Trailer for Fast Food Nation

on YouTube. where the hell else?

interesting that it's a drama, ie, fiction, not a documentary. question for the audience: do you think this is liable to help or hinder the film's message?

A Quick Couple Videos

An unnanounced next generation Star Wars game. Looks pretty cool.

Vader Remix.

Cubicle War 2006.

A "Banned" Mastercard commercial.

A video for the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game based on the upcoming TMNT movie (teaser).

The Dalek Song.

I heard about this on NPR. These guys have taken it upon themselves to make new episodes of the original series of Star Trek. Evidently, the shows have gotten good enough that they've attracted guest stars from the actual shows, including Walter Koenig, George Takei, Tim Russ, and Nichelle Nichols. I haven't watched any of the episodes yet though. You know...bar exams.

Say what you will about Tom Green, but an adult running onto a kids' soccer game and stealing the ball is funny.

Twisty trolls her own blog, again

The opening salvo:

But uh-oh, guess what. It’s not your right to ‘choose’ to be a sexay layday. Making traditional, patriarchy-approved, feminine submissive ‘choices’ is like spitting in the eye of every woman who has ever been raped, humiliated, harassed, denied birth control, abandoned, passed over, or beaten.

And just a few days after tekanji tried to call a truce...

So, are we going to sit here complaining about women and each other, or are we going to look into ways of changing the sexual culture so that the sex work industry can’t degrade, dehumanize, and traffic in the women unfortunate enough to not have a choice in how they work? Are we going to address pornography, not in terms of ban/not-ban, but rather in terms of critiquing content and treatment of the actors? What about looking at how popular culture feeds into and is influenced by sexual culture, and how that culture has a different standard for women than for men?

But, darn that Twisty! she actually addresses this in her final paragraph:

I assert that we’re choosing the path of least resistance. It’s much easier to acquiesce to a set of established conventions—social, aesthetic, political, sexual, sartorial—for which the rewards (dudely approval, other women’s satisfying jealousy) dangle brightly ahead, than it is to blaze forth in a fury of white-hot anti-feminine iconoclasm and risk ridicule, ostracism, and male reproach. Life’s rich pageant is much more accessible when you go with the flow. Patriarchy, as the Spice Girls and Paris Hilton can attest, rewards conformity. Which is why the new feminism must be sex-ay, and why the only freedom it promises is the freedom to enjoy the degradation.

In other words: Duh! Of course our sexual culture has ridiculous double-standards. The way to get rid of them is not to go along with them for fear of being labelled a prude and a bitch.

Already forty comments in the thread; you might want to take a glance now, before the count hits 150 later today and it would take way too long just to get an idea of what people are saying.

July 22, 2006

Aristotelean moderation and the angry feminist

Doing some secondary reading while studying, I come across the following paragraph discussing Aristotle's notion that virtue is found in the moderation of extremes:

It should be evident that Aristotle's treatment of virtues as mean states endorses the idea that we shouldsometimes have strong feelings—when such feelings are called for by our situation. Sometimes only a small degree of anger is appropriate; but at other times, circumstances call for great anger. The right amount is not some quantity between zero and the highest possible level, but rather the amount, whatever it happens to be, that is proportionate to the seriousness of the situation. Of course, Aristotle is committed to saying that anger should never reach the point at which it undermines reason; and this means that our passion should always fall short of the extreme point at which we would lose control. But it is possible to be very angry without going to this extreme, and Aristotle does not intend to deny this. (From Kraut's article on Aristotle's ethics in the Stanford encyclopedia, my emphasis.)

Because I had a conversation about it the other day, I was reminded of the familiar caricature of the angry feminist (or whatever other lefty activists you tend to hang out with): they're angry, they say mean things, they won't listen to my well reasoned apologies for oppression, and they won't laugh at my hilarious dumb blonde jokes, so they're wrong and don't have a sense of humour. Of course, the first and most important thing to point out is that feminists are nowhere near this dour -- there's plenty of empirical evidence of feminists putting forward rational arguments to defend their positions and enjoying such universal goods as jokes and fucking. Just watch a performance of The Vagina Monologues or flip through Katha Pollitt's new book.

But, secondly, there are lots of feminists who say angry, irrational things; the internecine
warfare of the feminist blogosphere, sadly, is the source of a ridiculous number of examples. And, inevitably, when the vitriol starts to fly (there's a mangled metaphor for you; maybe it's been gelatinized?), someone will start talking about civility and politeness. While well-intentioned, this only exacerbates things, because you end up with a meta-fight about the importance of anger in challenging oppression.

Ignoring his rampant sexism (Aristotle would actually say that women are emotional creatures whose highest good is not eudaimonia but making babies), how would Aristotle comment on the meta-fight? With the emphasized subordinate clause from the quotation above: It is entirely appropriate, even virtuous and praiseworthy, to be furious with injustice and oppression, but not to the point that one is unable to think and act rationally. In some situations it is unquestionably virtuous to lash out with heated rhetoric and a call-to-arms; but when, for instance, a certain blogger bans a fellow feminist until she can lay off the ad hominems, are we really in one of those situations?

July 21, 2006

Income inequality

Echidne gives a nice introductory lesson to income inequality. From her conclusion:

What has caused this increased income inequality? Have some people become smarter and harder working while others have just decided to rely on the teats of the welfare state sow? That would be the wingnut interpretation, I guess. A more realistic one would look at the changes over time in outsourcing and international competition in general, the failure of education to respond to the changed needs in the labor force after those changes, and the way taxes have been 'simplified' to fall less on the very wealthy and more on the middle class. And we don't yet know the impact of the repeal of estate taxes on income inequality.

July 20, 2006

Carl Sagan, Stephen fucking Hawking!!

Brilliant. (Warning: naughty bits)

The DI Research Lab can only be a place where the sit around, waiting for jellyfish to spontaneously grow eyes bacteria to spontaneously form flagella.

July 19, 2006

Daily Entertainment

One and two from Mr. Brottman.

You might think it's hyperbole

when PZ Myers tells us that the first comment in this post will make your jaw drop. But it's actually, tragically, completely true: my mouth fell open from reading the first 'objection', and didn't shut until I'd finished the whole thing.

My first reaction was that this simply has to be satire. No-one can be that spectacularly ignorant, right? But the follow-up comment makes it pretty clear that this person is completely serious.

July 18, 2006

A full day's supply of Vitamin C

The first season of Boondocks comes out on DVD one week from today. This first season was, I think, the best show produced for Adult Swim yet. I'm glad Aaron McGruder was able to find a network that gave him this level of freedom; I'd hate to think of what kind of mediocre piece of crap Fox, say, would've forced him into making.

Second, M Night Shyamalan's movies are objectively stupid. Don't go see Lady in the Water; you already know that it will be incredibly tedious and uneventful, and the inevitable twist will make you want to kick yourself in the face. Unless, of course, you're quite clear-headed, in which case you will want to kick M Night Shyamalan in the face.

Third, it appears the DVD release of Arrested Development season 3 has been pushed back to the end of August. I believe there are execs at Fox who simply enjoy inflicting suffering on those of us who actually enjoy good teevee.

Finally, if someone wanted to buy me the Kurosawa samurai boxed set, I would probably be their friend. (Though it doesn't have Rashomon. WTF?)

Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers Mislead Teens about Abortion Risks :: Committee on Government Reform, Minority Office

That's the title of a report issued yesterday by Rep. Henry Waxman's committee on government reform.

How I spent my summer vacation XVIII

Moore, `The refutation of idealism'

GE Moore is the third and final early Analytic philosopher on the reading list.
His fierce attacks on post-Hegelian and neo-Kantian approaches to metaphysics (in the `Refutation') and ethics (in Principia ethica) were highly influential, and are a significant factor in accounting for the disdain with which those philosophers have been regarded in English-speaking countries since the Analytic/Continental split.

Moore's target in the `Refutation' is the Idealist (Berkelean or Hegelean) thesis that esse [existence] is percipi [to be perceived], at least for material things and physical qualities (tables, apples, red and blue, and so on). (Note: I don't speak Latin; that translation is based on Moore's explanation of the terms.) To this end, he presents two arguments. The first is not a direct attack on the thesis -- and Moore bends over backwards to point this out -- but instead goes after the logic of one particular (and, he thinks, almost universally given, by Idealists) argument for the thesis. The second is Moore's own account of perception, and amounts to an argument for direct realism; this section is rather more obscure than the former, but we'll try dealing with that when we get there.

The argument Moore attacks in his first argument is presented by him most cogently as an appeal to `organic wholes'. It seems to run, in a paradigm case, as follows:

Consider the experience of seeing some yellow (say, looking at a notepad or a banana). While we might abstract the yellow from this particular experience, it would be a mistake to abstract yellow from experience entirely; for, even if yellow were some objective quality of the object in question, that yellow stands in a particular relationship to the subjective yellow in one's mind, and the two together form a certain organic whole that is, in fact, yellow. That is, yellow per se has an inextricably subjective quality, and hence the esse of yellow is percipi, its existence as a perception in some mind.

Moore's response is that this talk of `organic wholes' is simply nonsense, and a transparent ploy -- like a Hegelian denial of the law of contradiction -- for the Idealist to deliberately equivocate between two distinct definitions of yellow (as a property of objects and as a subjective sense-datum) while recognizing that the distinction is valid.

For the second argument, Moore lays out an account of perception -- in particular, sensation -- that he seems to believe is fairly modest and commonsensical, something Idealists are bound to accept; this account is then shown to be at odds with the esse is percipi distinction. On Moore's account, an act of perception has at least two identifiable components: the `object', `that in which one [sensation] differs from another', and `consciousness', `that which all have in common -- that which makes them sensations or mental facts' (446). Thus, for example, in the sensation of blue, there is the object, `blueness', and consciousness, whatever it is that is not particular to blue, but makes blue into a sensation; while, in the sensation yellow, there will be `yellowness' and that same consciousness. These terms are to be left deliberately vague -- Moore doesn't want to prejudice the theory by pinning down precisely what `the object' and `consciousness' are supposed to be.

But what Moore emphatically denies is that this is the matter/form model of cognition of the Mediaeval reading of De anima. Neither blue (the sensation) nor blueness (the sense-datum) is some sort of structure imposed on the mental substance of consciousness. Like Husserl, Moore believes that this model is radically inadequate as an account of intentionality: the mental substance arranged bluewise has no more intentionality directed towards the blue object than the chunk of marble arranged Mercurywise has intentionality directed towards Mercury; yet intentionality is what grounds the designation of `mental' at all. Thus, Moore concludes, that mysterious `consciousness' is actually identical to intentionality.

Recall Aristotle's analogy of the relationship between matter and form as predication: Socrates composition of flesh and bone arranged humanwise `is' predication of the form, is human, of the matter, Socrates' flesh and bone. On my reading, we can do something similar with Moore's account of sensation: the sensation blue is represented as the propositional phrase `directed at blueness' (eg, `my mind is directed at blueness'), and this can be decomposed into the object (the particular sense-datum), blueness, and consciousness or intentionality, directed at; similarly, yellow will be analysed as `directed at yellowness'.

With this account in place, Moore's next step is to point out that every perception always already involves something that is different from the subject having the perception and is separable from the particular experience qua experience, viz, the sense-datum (yellowness, blueness, and so on). (Note that `sense-datum' is a piece of terminology Moore develops later in his career, but I believe it is what he's trying to talk about here.) But then the sense-datum cannot be subjective `in itself', ie, its esse is not percipi. While this does seem to radically contradict our received understanding of `sense-data' (which are not unlike Lockean simple ideas), this is the best reading I can come up with for the following paragraph:

my analysis of sensation has been designed to show \ldots that whenever I have a mere sensation or idea, the fact is that I am then aware of something which is equally and in the same sense not an inseparable aspect of my experience .... `blue' is as much an object, and as little a mere content, of my experience, when I experience it, as the most exalted and independent real thing of which I am ever aware. There is, therefore, no question of how we are to `get outside the circle of our own ideas and sensations'. Merely to have a sensation is already to be outside that circle. It is to know something which is as truly and really not a part of my experience, as anything which I can ever know. (451, emphasis in original)

From this, Moore then somehow argues for direct realism: `I am as directly aware of the existence of material things in space as of my own sensations' (453).

To me, Moore's second argument cries out for comparisons, with Kant's argument in the Refutation of idealism in the first Critique, with Husserl's criticism of the `box-within-a-box' model of consciousness in the fifth of the Logical investigations, and with Heidegger's notion of Dasein, not to mention the sort of `direct realism' held by the latter two. I would, however, not be surprised in the least to learn that virtually no work has been done in this area: the fading but still pervasive biases of the Analytic/Continental split mean few tenured philosophers consider both Moore and Husserl worthwhile.

Husserl, Philosophical investigations, investigation V

In the early twentieth century, the German philosopher Edmund Husserl developed a radical philosophical methodology called `phenomenology' that, especially thanks to Heidegger, is today as fundamental to Continental philosophy as formal logic is to Analytic philosophy. Philosophical investigations is Husserl's first treatise on phenomenology, and is probably his most well-known work. The Investigations cover vast amounts of philosophical territory; our reading focusses on the fifth investigation, which is concerned with intentionality, the structure of the consciousness act, and the relation between subject and object.

Husserl's style is -- like most other native German-speaking philosophers -- dense, highly technical, and incredibly obscure on the first pass. Since this is my own first encounter with Husserl (in primary text; I've read a bit about his philosophy of mathematics and its relationship to Frege's work), the reader is advised to take a look at the entry on Husserl in the Routledge encyclopedia, especially the first two sections.

In the fifth investigation, Husserl's primary project is to elaborate (and criticism) Bretano's characterization of intentionality as `consciousness of something' or `direction upon an object': in a familiar picture, a thought is a mental representation (often, an `image') of some thing out in the world. This is the `box-within-a-box' model: the mind contains the object, which in turn contains its unknowable primary qualities (to borrow from Locke). Like Moore, Husserl argues that this is a thoroughly inadequate characterization of intentionality, though Husserl offers many more (and more sophisticated) inadequacies. Most importantly, Husserl argues that this model causes us to make two disastrous conflations. First, the intentional act or experience is regarded as a thing (the outer box) distinct and separable from its object (the inner box); and, second, the object of the experience is conflated and identified with the externally existing (or possibly not, in the case of, eg, hallucination) referent (the inner box `is' the object, containing its unknowable physical properties).

Husserl's solution to the second problem is to `bracket' the referent of an intentional act: intentionality is not the quality of a thought's being directed at an object, but the quality of a thought's being directed as if at an object. This is Husserl's famous epoché. In a Kantian vein, then, we can characterize Husserl's project as a synthetic, a priori investigation into the necessary conditions for our minds to be intentional.

Regarding the first problem, Husserl argues that the bracketed intentional object is literally constituted as a `concretion" of intentional acts: hence, the intentional object is identified with the intentional acts, not some proper (and hence separable) content of them. While this strikes me as well within the bounds of Kant"s sort of idealism, Husserl characterizes it as a radical direct realism, on the grounds that we have a direct acquaintance with objects qua objects of our knowledge. As with Moore, this begs for a comparison to Kant"s refutation of idealism; but now I would be surprised to find out that such a comparison has not been undertaken. It is also clearly the basis for Heidegger"s analysis of Dasein, the mode of human existence by which we are always already thrown into and involved with (ie, care about) the world that surrounds us: while Husserl does not arrive at the conclusion that our concerns are primarily practical, and only secondarily theoretical, we do see here the claim that objects, not their epistemological sense-data constituents, are primary for our experience. More perspicuously: when I see the banana, my experience is of the banana per se, not its simple ideas, nor even a bundle of its simple ideas (and thus, it seems, Moore parts ways with Moore and Russell).

Interesting philosophical link: A review of Paul Guyer's new collection of essays on Kant

I've finished the reading list. (At least, everything I'm going to read.) The total comes to about 2500 pages in about 6 weeks.
*happy dance*

July 17, 2006

Some Links While I Prepare To Fail The Bar

I'm trying to think of a reason why this is a bad idea, but it sounds like the best way to get folks to the polls.

Are you prepared? These people are.

The Immigration Debate.

I'm sure this link will get killed eventually, so you should all get it while it's hot.

Remember Captain EO? No? Now you can!

How I spent my summer vacation XVII

Frege, Über Sinn und Bedeutung [On sense and reference]

While technically a late-nineteenth century mathematician, Frege is usually lumped together with the early Analytic philosophers of the twentieth century, including Russell, Moore, and Carnap. This is mostly because Frege's work was not taken very seriously by the European intelligentsia of his own generation; in Carnap's autobiography (Carnap was a generation younger than Frege), he describes taking a course on formal logic from Frege with just two or three other students.

Über Sinn und Bedeutung presents Frege's basic theory of semantics. The best translation of the two critical terms -- Sinn and Bedeutung -- is an issue of some controversy among Frege scholars, and for the sake of charity I will follow the practice of using the untranslated terms here. Of the two, Bedeutung is the slightly more straightforward notion: the Bedeutung of a term is the object to which it refers, its denotation. The Sinn of a term is related to 'its mode of presentation', but is still objective and interpersonal. This is probably best illustrated with Frege's own example of 'Venus', 'the morning star', and 'der Morgenstern'. The Bedeutung of each of these terms is the same -- the particular planet. However, 'Venus' has a different Sinn from both 'the morning star' and 'der Morgenstern', while the latter two have the same Sinn. Furthermore, 'the morning star' and 'der Morgenstern' are distinct as signs -- one is English, the other German -- and each will be related to a different Begriff [concept] in the mind of each speaker who uses these terms. Thus, we can arrange this system of references in order of decreasing subjectivity:
  1. Begriff
  2. Sinn
  3. Bedeutung

Frege's primary concern is to sort out just what the Sinn and Bedeutung of sentences are. His reasons are logico-epistemological: How do judgements of the form 'a=b' work? Do they assert a relationship between mere signs, or between objects? If between mere signs, then, without the theory of Sinn and Bedeutung, there's nothing objective -- literally, no objects -- for the judgement to latch on to; but if between objects, 'a=b' is always equivalent to 'a=a', so that all truths would be analytic or logical truths. Frege's solution is that 'a=a' and 'a=b' have the same Bedeutung, but different Sinne. In particular, under normal circumstances, the Bedeutung of any sentence (if it has one) is its truth-value, either The True or The False. Hence, the Bedeutung of any sentence of the form 'a=a' is The True, as is that of true judgements of the form 'a=b'. It is the Sinne of these sentences that serves to differentiate them, and thereby differentiate the assertions a=a and a=b; while their objective truth-values ground the judgements as knowledge.

Russell, On denoting

Russell was British, and perhaps the most prominent of the early Analytic philosophers. On denotation presents a semantic theory which he contrasts with Frege's of Über Sinn und Bedeutung, though I don't understand the criticism (it seems to depend on identifying expressions with their Sinn, and many of what Russell seems to think of as great improvements over Frege can actually be found right in Frege). The only real difference between the two is that Russell distinguishes sharply between proper names, eg, Scott, and denotating expressions, eg, the author of Waverley. For example, consider the sentence 'Scott is the author of Waverley'. Frege's analysis would go as follows:

Let s denote Scott and w denote the author of Waverley. Then we paraphrase the sentence as 's=w'. The Bedeutung of this sentence is The True.

Russell's is more complex; 'the author of Waverley' is paraphrased into a conjunction of several predicate forms:

Let S be the predicate 'is Scott' and W the predicate 'wrote Waverley'. Then we paraphrase the sentence as (Ex)(Sx & Wx & (y)(Wy -> y=x)).

Note that one immediate consequence of Russell's analysis is (Ex)(Wx), ie, 'There exists someone who is the author of Waverley'. Russell believes his analysis works in the important case of non-existent entities, while Frege's does not. For example, take the sentences

(1) The present King of France is bald.

(2) The present King of France is not bald.

The former is analysed into something of the form (Ex)(Kx & Bx), and is false because it implies (Ex)(Kx), which itself is false. But the latter is ambiguous, and can be analysed into either of the following:
(2a) (Ex)(Kx & ~Bx);

(2b) ~(Ex)(Kx & Bx).

(2a) is false (because it implies (Ex)(Kx), which is false), while (2b) is true. Therefore, (2) has no truth value per se.

Interesting philosophical link: What actually IS 'design'?



July 16, 2006

One possible partial defense of Joss

Wandering around the blogosphere this morning, I happen across an interesting feminist blog on (mostly) comic culture, and in particular this post on Joss Whedon's Emma Frost. (Note that the author gets into spoilers for Astonishing X-men #12 and later pretty quickly.) I was going to write up a long response, but the points I wanted to make are already being hashed over in the discussion thread, so I'm just going to toss off a few paragraphs below the fold (and, yeah, spoilers there too, from Serenity and Buffy).

My reaction to the post is nicely summed up by Vesper's post in the discussion thread:

Joyce's passing was probably the single most meaningful death I've seen on network tv. It underscored the importance of the character to the series. It eschewed escapism and showed the characters grappling with the absurd, arbitrary events of "real life" (more than any episode of, say, e.r. ever has for me, at any rate). I haven't been able to watch that episode more than a couple of times, simply because I identify so strongly with it.

It was an artistic experiment that may have failed for some, but I hardly think it deserves the title of a WiR death.

One of Joss Whedon's greatest strengths as a writer is creating rich, complicated and exquisitely human characters who are utterly destroyed by a single, tragic twist of fate. Wash is the most recent and visceral example: his death is instantaneous, irreversible, random, and devastating. He won't bound happily onto the screen in Serenity II with some garbled explanation about a clone-spy created by the Alliance; he's dead. With a capital period.

These deaths -- and the lesser sufferings Whedon inflicts on his characters -- often serve plot purposes: Joyce's death forces Buffy to start to take some real responsibility for the lives of others, ie, to grow up; Tara's death turns Willow into Season 6's Big Bad; and so on. But they also often illustrate how fragile and unjust life is, how close we all are to suddenly dropping dead. Whedon's worlds are like Lovecraft's in more than just their populations: both showcase universes government by no true laws other than 'tragedy happens'.

But does this excuse Whedon from being classes in with the WiR writers? 'Excuse' is not exactly the right term. Whedon uses the suffering and death of his characters in far more complex ways than an archetypal WiR plotline; but he still seems to lack sensitivity to the WiR problem. So, as ever, we must eschew a simple dichotomy of praise and blame: instead, we praise Whedon for his ability to construct compelling characters of all genders while simultaneously identifying the places where he still ought to do better.

July 15, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation XVI

Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals, part I

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of my favourite philosophers; it should therefore not be a surprise that he is a post-Kantian German with a radical critique of his philosophical peers and a remarkably obscure writing style. This writing style -- deeply ironic, often indirect, and involving some fairly precise literary imagery -- makes translating Nietzsche even more of a artistic endeavour than usual, and a faithful synopsis quite a demanding feat. Still, I'm willing to give it a shot.

On the genealogy of morals is probably less well-known than Also sprach Zarathustra [Thus spake Zarathustra], but is much more familiar to Intro students because the former is significantly shorter and easier. Oddly (or perhaps not), the assigned reading is only the first of three parts, which presents the weakest argument and in which Nietzsche (ironically) comes off as the sort of raving anti-Semite the Nazis read him as. As in most of his other works, Nietzsche's purpose is polemical, and his target is the utilitarian/common-sense approach to ethics that spread from Britain through the rest of Europe during the nineteenth century. Nietzsche considers this `morals of mores' stifling and antithetical to virtue in the Classical, Greek sense of arete (recall from Aristotle that this word can be more aptly translated as `excellence').

In particular, Nietzsche argues in part I of the Genealogy that the fundamental moral dichotomy has become perverted and turned on its head by a `slave revolt in morals'. Superficially, this is presented as an etymological point: our moral language reflects an `aristocratic value equation' where `good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = blessed'; the Ancient aristocrats used the language of 'good' to describe themselves, while the language of 'bad' originally described the commoners. But the priestly castes -- themselves aristocrats, but only in virtue of their control over the commoners -- perverted this into 'good' and 'evil', where 'good' praises the submissive, mediocre, fearful, and impotent qualities of the commoners, while 'evil' is used to damn those who would refuse to submit to society's strictures, ie, the aristocrats. Pace Nietzsche's liking the aristocrats to predators and birds of prey, he doesn't have in mind a Hannibal Lecter sort of sociopath or stereotypical hedonist (Nietzsche is a fierce opponent of nihilism), but instead the Aristotelean virtuous man or great artist. While later existentialists would radically differ from him in this respect, Nietzsche is a fierce essentialist and apologist for aristocracy: the bird of prey is simply superior to the rabbit, and the virtuous man is simply superior to the mediocre commoner.

Interesting philosophical link: Prostitution and unemployment benefits

Total pages read: 2,337

July 14, 2006

Phat Beats

Oh, you liked the ytmnd Picard Song? Well you're in luck my friend, because that was just a tiny clip of a full length song! There are other crew themed songs as well, and THERE...ARE...FOUR...LIGHTS!

July 13, 2006

It's called the Golden State for a reason

Most people think it's because of the sunsets or the Gold Rush. But California is actually nicknamed the Golden State because -- much like Eastern Oregon and Washington -- throughout the state's interior, most native, drought-resistant grasses have been replaced with drought-sensitive European grasses which die off during the hot, dry summers. The growing season is actually inverted in the Central Valley from most of the rest of the world: summer is the harsh, inhospitable time of year during which plant life mostly goes dormant; it's our mild, wet winters that are the primary growing season.

In average years, there simply isn't enough water to keep ordinary grasses and other small plants green throughout the summer. In drought years -- which are not uncommon -- it's even more impossible. Thus, the maintainance of the ridiculous acreage of lush, green, non-native grass lawns consumes over half of residential water use in the most arid areas, which have seen the most development in the past few decades.

July 12, 2006

Comic Reviews

Over at Evil Avatar they have a weekly comic book discussion thread, and sometimes I post up some reviews there of comics that I've recently read. I was mentioning this to Dan Brottman, who then asked why I never post them here. Frankly, I didn't have a good answer, or really any answer that actually consisted of words. So here you go, I dug a bit and found some reviews of trade paperbacks for you all, below the fold.

Some spoilers ahoy probably, but they *are* all trades, so this is a bit like revealing the Vader family tree.

Ultimate Spidey (HC) Vol. 6 by Brian Michael Bendis :
Everyone said to watch out for this part of the run because this is where it gets a bit crap. While I don't think this series will ever get into crap territory, it's certainly the weakest set of the bunch. The Carnage arc at the begining just came out of nowhere and the death of (avert thee eyes, yee fearers of spoilers!) Gwenn Stacey seemed pointless. Could that be the point? Could Bendis be saying that not all characters get the dramatic death of being dropped from a bridge by the hero's nemesis? Certainly, and indeed that's what I'm going to assume because I like the series. Still, the death leaves Peter, May, and myself feeling hollow. The witty spark dies down from the book and the carefree fun that it's maintained for sixty issues carries on as a thin veneer over Peter's brooding.

This isn't to say that the non-Carnage stories aren't interesting. Johnny Storm and Wolverine make an appearances that were fun. And Doc Strange is always a winner for me, even though the plot was a bit thin. Overall though, no one in their right mind that hasn't read this series before is going to say, "You know where I'll start? Volume 6!" And if you've made it this far in the series you obviously know how good it is and this drop in quality isn't going to stop you from buying the next volume that comes out. I'm onboard for the next one, which by all accounts is much better anyway.

Alias Omnibus
by Brian Michael Bendis:

I love an Omnibus. It's just nice in the world of comics to have the entire book at your disposal, even if its large size makes it a little hard to balance and a little cumbersome to take to the bathroom. So yes, this 28 issues of Alias and it's a big mother. It's also really good.

The Marvel Universe feels alive in Alias. Yeah, the big innovation in the 60s for Marvel was making the world "real". Gone are fiction cities like "Metropolis" in favor of New York, and crash landing aliens with funky rings are replaced by science experiments gone wrong. But really, the Marvel Universe is as real as a PG movie. All the pieces are there, but nobody walks out of their house in the morning expecting to walk into The Mighty Ducks.

Jessica Jones swears, drinks, makes mistakes that are completely due to her unnecessary personal failings. She's a wreck, and compared to most other books she's the only one in all of 616. Some of shifts in the book, like her sudden relationship with Luke Cage at the end, seem a little rushed, and the breaking of the 4th wall by The Purple Man is never really adequately explained, but those were really my only gripes.

The art is, as Killgrave puts it, mainstream with a touch of indie. It's especially effective when the art changes styles to reflect the mood of the scene, with flashbacks given a much more mainstream carefree look, and the present much more brooding with shadows. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the Omnibus was the "What if...?" issue at the end. Perhaps it's that Bendis is such a good stand in for The Watcher. Anyone that knows what Bendis likes knows what I mean. Still, as the writer, and not a passive observer, and given the almost sacharine tone of the issue contrasted with the cynical view of the main book, his wistful comments have a certain wistful effect that affected me more that I thought it would, and by all rights more than it would have on its own.

I guess the best recommendation I can give is that as soon as I finished the book the first thing I did was look up trades of The Pulse (where Jessica went after the close of her own book) on Amazon.

100 Bullets Vol. 3: Hang Up On The Hang Low by Brian Azzarello:

I'm not sure whether I would recommend reading this series of trades individually, as I have, or to just buy a bunch at the same time like I know some are doing for Y: The Last Man. Each of the first three trades can easily be read on its own, so far, and the underlying plotline is subtle enough that I don't think you'll get much by having read them all in one sitting, but maybe you will. I dunno.

This particular trade is the story of Curtis and Loop Hughes: father and son. Jim Lee describes it in the intro as his favorite arc on the series and it's easy to see why. The characters are nearly all likeable, even though they're all horribly flawed and you just know that this book isn't going to let them all make it out unscathed. It's a hard knock life in 100 Bullets. Just ask the Hughes'. This series just keeps getting better and better.

Swamp Thing Vol. 5: Earth to Earth by Alan Moore:

I've said this on most, if not all, of my Swamy reviews: If you love Alan Moore's self-contained graphic novels, like Watchmen, you really should check out his work on this ongoing series. It's just brilliant to see a master carve out his own little chunk of the DCU, only to occassionally cross back over with some mainstream characters. Moore does it here, Gaiman would do it later, and I'm sure other writers have done the same since or at Marvel.

The last trade was really Moore dealing with the Crisis of Infinite Earths, so this is a nice, somewhat, of a comedown story, with Swamp Thing merely taking over Gotham instead of all the galactic importance of the Crisis. The book gets a little loopy at the end, with a couple issues that reminded me more than a bit of Doc Manhattan's Mars issues of Watchmen. Interesting, but a bit spacey. Still, this is some damn fine Moore writing here, and while I think the best of the series is probably past, at this point I'm too engaged to not finish the run by picking up the last book.

Young Avengers Vol. 1: Sidekicks by Alan Heinenberg:

I heard good things about this series here and they're right, even if this guy does write for the OC. Coming off a review of Swamp Thing it's hard to call this a "Great" series, but it's entirely good. Let's face it, only 10% of anything is going to be the best of the best and only 10% is going to be utter crap. Everything else is just hoping to be better than most and solidly good. That's Young Avengers to a "t". This series isn't going to blow you away with stunning deconstructions of its characters or of the medium in general. Hell, it's not even going to bring you to tears with its touching character drama. It's about fanboy kids with powers dressing up in homage to their (super)heroes and fighting crime in their absence. The dialog is crisp and funny and the plot is more than enough to keep the pace going.

This series is a love letter to the genre, which is also how I feel about Kirkman's Invincible, and while it won't be the first series you give to someone that you're trying to convert on the issue of comics, it will keep you smiling through till the end because it's just good.

She-Hulk Vol. 3: Time Trials by Dan Slott:

Ok, firstly know that I love this series. There aren't nearly enough Dan Slott's in the world to feed my need for superhero humor books, so I have to make due. That said, this is probably the weakest of the trades so far. Sure, it's still plenty funny, and I can't get enough of the superhuman law stuff.

The second of the titular time trials is actually a really pedestrian story about how much a person matters. It's "It's A Wonderful (Super)Life". Yeah, the jokes are still there, but I found myself *only* waiting for the jokes instead of interested in the story. The story after that is Jen Walters coming to terms with the fact that she destroyed a town. I'm assuming this was during the Avengers: Disassembled crossover, but I didn't actually read much of that directly, so I had to figure this out for myself. The story also isn't funny, which really made it important that the story was really compelling, but in the end it was just ok. Maybe a bit better than just ok, but nothing I really was impressed with. Thankfully, the rest of the book is great, with the introduction of The Two Gun Kid bringing Slott right back to the bread and butter of funny superhero antics.

Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol. 4 & 5 (Inhuman and Crossover) by Mark Millar and Mike Carey:

I love this series. Like Ultimate Spiderman, it just manages to make all these old characters and stories fresh. Yet somehow, the fourth book here feels a bit, um, blegh? It's not that the writers are hacks. In fact, I was ready to blame this on Mike Carey despite liking his Hellblazer stuff, but actually the story that I didn't like was "Inhuman" by Mark Millar.

All of a sudden I'm reading lines like "Black Bolt is the most powerful creature on the face of the Earth. If he utters a single word he could destroy an entire mountain range." Now, that may be true, but there's no reason one character who knows this would say that to another character who knows this. Thankfully, Vol. 5 picks things right back up with the much lauded and utterly fantastic "Crossover" to the Marvel Zombie universe. It's just great, and the Namor story is fun too, though I wish Ultimate books would stop declaring characters as the "most" powerful person around. I mean, how many "most" powerful people can there be? I mean, I would guess just one, but there appears to be several.

Ultimate X-Men (HC) Vol. 1 & 2 by Mark Millar:

I'm sad to say that this is my least favorite Ultimate book. Spidey and FF had the carefree sense of fun that made their harrowing adventures exciting. The Ultimates is like a series of epic movies, or possibly an action-based tv show with a strong season-wide arc. X-Men is somewhere inbetween and doesn't really have the strengths of either.

I mean, Wolverine is pretty much the same, as is Cyclops and pretty much everybody else. Sure, the Professor is a bit more manipulative, Beast a little more self-concious. Everybody's pretty much the same, as are the stories. There's nothing bad really, but I was left wondering why I was reading an Ultimate book instead of a 616 book. There is stuff to like here. Maybe it's just that it's the last story that I read, but I really like Ultimate Gambit. It's a shame that, from what I understand, he doesn't stick around long.

How I spent my summer vacation XV

Kant, Critique of pure reason, B ed., Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals, s. 1 and 2, and selections from Critique of practical reason

Immauel Kant, a German whose most well-known writings come from the late 18th century, is perhaps the single most influential Western philosopher since Aristotle. His most important works, called Kant's Critical philosophy, form a systematic and highly structured treatment of every area of philosophy, and it is only in the last few decades that Western philosophy has begun to move out from under Kant's shadow. Of course, since one of my philosophical hats is that of a Kant scholar, I might be a little biased.

The assigned reading covers the texts most fundamental to the Critical philosophy. The first Critique is concerned with epistemology and metaphysics, while the Groundwork and second Critique deal with meta-ethics. Unlike the other capsules, I am not even going to attempt to summarize Kant's thought here, even in these three areas. Kant is an incredibly dense and obscure writer, particularly in the first Critique, and there is radical disagreement among Kant scholars about virtually every aspect of his theory. Trying to capture the complexities of Kant's thought in a few hundred words is not just a daunting task for an apprentice philosopher, but a downright impossible one for the global expert. Thus, for a summary, the reader should peruse Paul Guyer's entry on Kant in the Routledge encyclopedia, especially sections 1, 4-9, and 11, and Karl Amerik's Interpreting Kant's Critiques. I will be considering Kant in the context of his predecessors -- as Guyer and Ameriks do not really do, and as we are asked to do on the exam.

While Hume and Leibniz* are usually identified as the biggest influences on Kant, I think Locke's Essay contains a number of themes that will see a more sophisticated development in Kant's first Critique. The first and foremost of these is undoubtedly metaphysical humility. For both Kant and Locke (and the early Moderns in general), a rigorous epistemology is a necessary prerequisite for any reliable metaphysics: without strict boundaries, we will constantly succumb to the temptation to engage in speculative flights of fancy, positing nebulous entitities and making invalid deductions from specious definitions. As a result, both philosophers posit aspects of reality that are absolutely unknown to us, and which we must treat as merely hypotheses we seem to be psychologically compelled to make. For Locke, these are substances and their primary qualities; for Kant, these are things-in-themselves or the noumenon. (The relation between things-in-themselves and the noumenon is somewhere between subtle and unclear; for the purposes of the exam, it is probably fair to treat them as synonymous.)

We also see a practical turn: recognizing that we can, at best, provide only compelling stories that rationalize our claims to knowledge, not secure them absolutely, we must eventually let pure, speculative philosophy go, and focus instead on our involvement with our world as agents. This is a feature of Kant that Heidegger and Levinas will pick up on in the twentieth century, but it is already present in Locke's answer to the challenges of scepticism about the external world in the Essay.

In the Paralogisms of the first Critique, Kant attacks Descartes' dualism, targetting the notion that one has a clear and distinct idea that one's own soul is distinct from one's body. Like Locke, Kant argues for the metaphysically humble thesis that this idea is a mere positing: we notice various mental activities, and posit a substance that has the power(s) needed to carry out those activities. But Locke is still a dualist, and the substance posited is still 'spirit', and thus distinct from 'matter'. For Kant, by contrast, the idea of one's own soul is merely the hypostasis of a formal' or 'logical' principle of one's thought; thus, positing a distinct, separable substance to 'explain' this principle would be like positing a distinct, separable substance to 'explain' the principle of contradiction. Kant is certainly inclined towards the view that we are more than merely physical beings -- he believes in freedom in the strongest possible sense, and often seems to be a determinist about the physical world -- but, he argues, we cannot know, in any strong sense, that our minds are not physical.

Leibniz, or at least the interpretation of him due to Christian Wolff and known as Leibniz*, was the principle rationalist influence on Kant; the views of Leibniz* certainly dominated continental European philosophy throughout the 18th century; and most of Kant's work prior to the development of the Critical philosophy was on natural science and in the Leibniz*-vein. In the Amphiboly of the first Critique, Kant targets several Leibniz*-ean doctrines, including the identity of indiscernibles, the principle of contradiction, the principle of sufficient reason, the identification of the simplicity of metaphysical atoms (monads) with the simplicity of thought, and the relationalist theory of space and time. Each of these is rejected in some way or another. Leibniz*-ean doctrines, broadly understood, are also those of the 'thesis' side of the four antinomies, and Kant's solution -- rejecting the 'transcendental illusions' about space and time that, according to him, give rise to these antinomies -- is also a rejection, in a sense, of these doctrines. See also Wilson's entry on Kant and Leibniz in the Stanford encyclopedia.

One question on the old exams asks about Leibniz and Kant's respective analyses of 5+7=12. Leibniz was, in several respects, a predecessor to the logicists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although it is not covered in the reading, Leibniz would have analyzed 5, 7, and 12 in terms of the following numerical definitions:
5 =def 1+1+1+1+1
7 =def 1+1+1+1+1+1+1
12 = def 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1
Then, assuming a few axioms, we have the following analysis:
5 + 7 = (1+1+1+1+1) + (1+1+1+1+1+1+1)
= (1+1+1+1+1+1) + (1+1+1+1+1+1)
= (1+1+1+1+1+1+1) + (1+1+1+1+1)
= 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1
= 12, qed

Thus, in Kant's terminology, 5+7=12 would be an analytic truth, ie, true by virtue of the definition of the terms. (In)famously, though, Kant argues that all substantial mathematical truths -- including, explicitly, 5+7=12 -- are synthetic a priori. This means that these truths can be known without appeal to experience, but are not simply truths of logic or by virtue of definitions. In particular, Kant says, our knowledge that 5+7=12 requires some use of intuition. Unfortunately, an adequate and charitable reconstruction of this claim is only in the preliminary stages; I believe Daniel Sutherland's is the best thus far, but the reader is encouraged to consider the work of Lisa Shabel and, going back a few years, Michael Friedman. Following Sutherland, then, it seems Kant requires intuition for the representation of the operation of addition -- a manipulation of pure quantities -- itself. In particular, the different quantities (1, 5, 7, and 12) are distinct wholes, and are to be combined as parts into new wholes through this operation. That is, we need intuition to ground the mereological relationships represented symbolically in the form a+b=c. Contra Leibniz, we cannot appeal to the ideas of these formal numerals and the operation of addition by themselves, because these formal representations are meaningless without the intuitive representation.

While Kant was not probably not terribly familiar with Berkeley, he knew enough to be furious with the early reviewers who lumped the first Critique in with Berkeley's radical idealism. Many of the revisions made to the B edition were clearly deliberately intended to distance himself from Berkeley; yet Kant never tackles Berkeley directly. Even the Refutation of Idealism and its accompanying footnote shrug off Berkeley, and go instead after Cartesian scepticism about the external world. Berkeley and Kant do make the common move of idealizing Lockean primary qualities of spatial and temporal extension: space and time, and the phenomenal objects that inhabit them, have no proper existence without a mind to perceive them; and both Berkeley and Kant posit an unknowable something that grounds this phenomal, material world. But Kant, consistent with his metaphysical humility, does nothing more than posit this noumenal foundation for the phenomenal world as a formal hypothesis: it might be Berkeley's God, or Leibnizean monads, or Spinozistic substance, or (most likely) something radically incomprehensible to our limited minds. Berkeley abandons this humility as soon as it's given him his idealism, constructing an elaborate and tenuous metaphysics of mental substances affected by the Christian God. Thus, although he is a 'material idealist', he is still a 'transcendental realist', believing the conditions the human mind requires of its experiences to be conditions binding on existence per se.

Hume, like Locke, is a master of metaphysical humility, and it was Hume's sceptical empiricism that caused Kant to develop his radical challenges to the continental, rationalist tradition. At the same time, Kant is concerned to secure certain claims to knowledge from Humean scepticism, most notably causation. To understand Kant's reaction to Hume, it is important to recognize that Kant's epistemology is essentially Humean in certain respects, and radically non-Humean in others. In particular, like Hume, Kant argues that all of what Locke would identify as our ideas are empirical in origin. Also like Hume -- and unlike Locke -- Kant argues, further, that there are certain nonrepresentational features of our cognition. In Hume, these are the instincts that compel us to believe in causal connections and sympathize with our fellow human beings; in Kant, these are much more significant, involving (at least) both the pure intuitions of space and time and the categories. Thus, space is not a representation of some feature of the world, some experience or collection of experiences; it is a structure we impose on our experiences as a way of organizing them into a coherent world. Similarly, the category of causation is not some experience or collection of experiences, or a representation of some feature of the world, but instead a structure we impose on our experiences so as to organize them into a coherent whole.

Thus, rather than holding universal causality and the regularity of natural laws to be characteristics we attribute of the world against our most rigorous rational judgement (as in Hume), Kant claims that we can show a priori that they are necessary and ineliminable components of human phenomenology: the idea of a coherent human experience without causal connections is literally absurd. This is the task of the Second Analogy.

Hegel, selections from Phenomenology of spirit

I don't understand Hegel at all. Go ask Natalia.

Interesting philosophical link: God and morality

Total pages read: 2302

July 11, 2006

Flash Cartoons

Here are a series of funny cartoons based on Marvel's big crossover from a few years ago, The House of M: 1, 2, 3, 4

#2. A video about Marvel's recent revisiting of the ten year old Age of Apocalypse crossover; a pretty obvious money grab.

#3. Jean Grey rises from ashes as the Phoenix again. Think there's any chance she'll go bad?

#4. The X-Men just can't stay alive, can they? Or dead I guess.

#5. It's hard to be a super villain and not end up tacky. I mean, these days the only costume that people will accept is some sort of black leather/trench coat combo. Come on though, what's wrong with primary colors?!

#6. Oh, and there's a cartoon about DC too! What happens when people know too much...

July 10, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation XIV

Hume, Enquiry concerning human understanding

Hume was a mid-eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, important as the last of the textbook British Empiricist Triumvirate (consisting of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), as a major influence on Kant, and of course in his own right. Hume was something of a prodigy, entering university with his older brother at age 12 and publishing his first book at 25 or so, but our selection focusses on more mature works written in his 30s.

The first of these is the Enquiry concerning human understanding. It is divided into twelve sections, but the single, continuous discussion of causality takes up several of these, and others are quite short and probably won't show up on the exam. Human understanding is concerned primarily with epistemology, providing a foundation for the discussions of metaphysics here and ethics in Principles of morals -- for Hume, as for most other early Moderns, epistemology is first philosophy, a prophylactic against the ridiculous (according to them) speculative metaphysics of the Scholastics. (I had a really terrible pun here. You should all be thankful I left it out.)

In particular, and as mentioned above, Hume is an empiricist, in much the same vein as Locke: we have impressions, including both the direct contributions of our sense organs and emotional states, and thoughts or ideas, divided into complex ideas and their simple components. Impressions are related to (simple) ideas by what contemporary Modernists call Hume's Copy Principle: simple ideas are nothing more or less than recollections and copies of the more vivacious and forceful impressions.

It is not entirely clear what status Hume gives the Copy Principle. Throughout the bulk of the book it is taken for granted, but Hume presents and fails to resolve a few challenges to its certainty early on. The most famous of these is the missing shade of blue: Consider, Hume says, an ordinary, sighted and rational adult human, who has simply never happened to encounter one particular shade of blue. Now imagine this human leafing through a large book of successive colour swatches, which also leaves out this particular shade of blue. It seems reasonable to believe the subject would notice the gap in the succession of colours; but then they would have the simple idea of that particular shade of blue, without ever having an impression of it. There are various ways to answer this challenge, such as arguing that the resulting idea is actually complex rather than simple, but Hume fails (omits?) to present one. In any case, it seems that the contentious ethical and metaphysical notions Humes is enquiring after could not arise in this way, and the missing shade of blue will not be a wrench in the empirical gears.

With the origin of ideas laid down, Hume argues there are three types of association between them, and two operations the understanding carries out on them. The three types of association are resemblance, contiguity of time and place, and succession; this last will be considered in more detail in the discussion of causation. The two operations are identifying a relation of ideas and establishing a matter of fact. Relations of ideas are absolutely certain and universal logical truths, including mathematical truth; this makes their epistemic content rather minimal, and hence they are only mentioned briefly. Matters of fact concern the contingent relations between our ideas and our impressions, ie, whether the world conforms to our ideas. Matters of fact are based on relations of cause and effect: if I do A, will I always get desired outcome B? Note that Hume applies this widely -- even principles that the mechanists presented as a priori (eg, conservation of momentum, transmission of motion by impact) are contingent and known only empirically.

Following Locke, Hume argues that we can have no knowledge of the primary qualities by which one thing necessitates another (in Locke's terminology). At best, all we can notice is that every time we have encountered A, we have also encountered B -- these two (kinds of) events are constantly conjoined in our experience. Thus, we have no rational, empirical basis for our idea of necessary connection. Yet we still seem to have this idea; so where does it come from? After spending three sections asking this question in slightly different ways, Hume argues that we must simply have some instinct by which we notice the constant conjunction of A and B on several occasions and connect the two in thought. Hence, Hume gives two definitions of causal connection:
1. A and B are causally connected if, whenever we encounter A, we also encounter B.
2. A and B are causally connected if, whenever we think of A, we also think of B.
Note that both definitions are highly subjective: they are descriptions of the situations where human beings say two things are causally connected, not accounts of real connection between A and B that explain why the one always follows the other. This is in line with the Lockean epistemic humility about primary qualities, but Hume goes further: not only can we not know the primary qualities of A and B that ground their necessary connection, but we have no idea of this connection except as we hypostatize our instincts into the things themselves.

The next metaphysical topic is liberty, by which Hume means free will. Here Hume points out that we presume a certain regularity in the actions, desires, and motivations of our fellow members of society: contracts will be followed through on, customers will generally wait patiently to pay for their items rather than shooting their way out of the store for a pack of gum and gallon of milk, drivers on the highway will not suddenly swerve across the median to ram us, and so on. This is precisely the same sort of regularity we encounter and presume will maintain among inanimate objects and other animals; if humans behaviour is generally less predictable in its particularities than that of, say, rocks falling, it's simply because humans are much more complicated machines than falling rocks.

On the other hand, our belief in free will comes about because that instinct that provides the belief in necessary connection in all other cases is absent when we consider our own actions. Rather than sounding like a thorough compatibilist, Hume finishes this discussion by arguing that belief in both regularity of human behaviour and free will are necessary for ethical theory: regularity accounts for appropriate incentives and punishments (how do you punish someone who enjoys being locked in a small room indefinitely?), while free will establishes that it is really the individual human being who is morally praise- or blameworthy.

The last two metaphysical topics are aspects of natural theology. Hume's scathing attack on miracles is famous -- miracles, by definition violations of well-established natural laws, are so outrageous that even the most trustworthy accounts ought to be dismissed virtually out of hand, and at best the rigorous thinker is obliged only to concede agnosticism -- but his criticism of natural theology in general is, I think, much more interesting. As background, recall Aquinas' solution to the problem of negative theology: rather than merely being content with describing God according to what God is not, Aquinas argues that we can make positive statements about God by analogy with properties of creatures. Thus, the creator whose existence is proved by the cosmological argument is infinitely just, infinitely loving, and so on. Hence, according to Hume, Aquinas (and like-minded theologians) start with some effects (the material world), infer a cause (a demiurge), and then draw out further effects (justice in the afterlife). Hume goes on to point out that the second inference is fallacious, or at best hypothetical: even if we concede the cosmological argument, all we have is the existence of some necessary creator, and no reason whatsoever to believe that it has the additional qualities Christians (and other theists) ascribe it. Indeed, this inference is extraordinarily anthropocentric, as it assumes that the demiurge has desires and motives similar to our own, ie, Aquinas is simply wrong to assume that the demiurge can be described in analogy with familiar creatures.

In the last paragraph of Human understanding, after defending his 'mitigated scepticism', Hume accuses all theology and metaphysics of being 'nothing but sophistry and illusion'.

Enquiry concerning the principles of morals

I'm not entirely sure why Hume's work on ethics is included on the reading list, though I suspect it may just come down to a crappy compromise. Locke (or Wollstonecraft) naturally contrast with Hobbes, but neither is a utilitarian; and Mill, I believe, does not address Hobbes so directly. Hume has a sort of proto-utilitarianism that explicitly rejects Locke's aprioristic method, and takes on Hobbesian egoism directly in one of the appendices. Of course, I think it would be far better to scrap Hobbes entirely in favour of Wollstonecraft and Mill, but I didn't get to make the list.

In any case, reconstructing Hume's precise position is rather difficult, as it's buried deep within the tedious list of examples that makes up the bulk of the text, and is often set down more in opposition to established views (those of Locke and Hutcheson, though rarely by name) than as a positive theory in its own right. Nonetheless, what we can get despite the complete lack of context is that Hume is trying to present a compromise position between Lockean rationalism and Hutcheson's theory of moral sentiments -- in particular, ethics requires both reason and feeling. Feeling -- including both our own self-love and our sympathies for our fellow humans -- provides the ends of ethics, establishing the various desires and aversions. Reason illuminates the utility of certain behaviours towards satisfying these desires and avoiding these aversions. Moral characteristics, such as justice or prudence, are therefore valuable in four possible ways:
1. Useful to society as a whole.
2. Useful to the individuals that possess them.
3. Immediately agreeable to the individuals that possess them.
4. Immediately agreeable to one's companions.
These four categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, wit is both useful to the witty individual, and is enjoyed by one's companions; on the other hand, honesty is not really immediately agreeable to anyone, but an honest individual prospers in an honest society. Hume presents his theory most explicitly in the first appendix.

In the conclusion, Hume discusses a certain problem case for his theory -- the 'sensible knave', a con artist who decides to be feign honesty, and tell the truth only when it is to his advantage. Hume's 'solution' is simply that the knave can rarely maintain the charade of honesty for long -- sooner or later he's bound to be found out. This case, and its solution, come remarkably close to Hobbes' consideration of the fool who denies the moral laws of nature, though of course Hume is diametrically opposed to Hobbes in almost every other respect.

Finally, questions on previous exams ask about Hume on 'ought and is' and 'ethical naturalism'. The former question concerns a passage in the Treatise -- a text not on the list. The reader is encouraged to consult Cohon's entry on Hume's moral philosophy in the Stanford Encylopedia for a discussion of it.

According to Wikipedia, ethical naturalism is a meta-ethical position that ethical terms ('good', 'virtue') can be defined using strictly non-ethical -- and, in particular, non-normative -- terms. However, the question of whether Hume is an ethical naturalist can only be answered once 'non-normative' is cleared up a bit. What Hume presents is, broadly speaking, a theory on which moral precepts explain how to satisfy a certain class of desires. If the satisfaction of desires is non-normative, then we might be able to call Hume a naturalist; but if not, then not.

Interesting philosophical link: To be a mother

Total pages read: 1816

Monday link dump

Cleaning out the 'To blog' folder on my browser's link bar:

Pandagon: Why don’t grown-ups believe in Santa Claus?

Chronicle of Higher Ed: Jesus is not a Republican.

Panda's Thumb: Target? TARGET? We don't need no stinkin' Target!, a nice introduction to genetic algorithms.

Majikthise: Massive white collar crime and the death penalty. The death penalty is classist, and ergo racist.

Alas, a blog: The real you vs A new creation. Structuralist and Christian notions of personal identity dovetail in interesting ways.

Feministe: Jill gives a nice summary/fisking of this piece from the NY Times.

Powells: Martha Nussbaum's review of Harvey Mansfield's Manliness. (Bonus: Mansfield on the Colbert Report.)

A conclusion for Cody's

Cody's Books, a Berkeley institution for fifty years, closes today. The store -- unlike Powells and The Seminary Co-op -- was simply unable to adapt to market situation created by Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

July 06, 2006

Haven't Posted Much Lately

It's not that I don't have the time it would take to find something and post it every day. It's just that when I start getting stressed I tend to shut down a bit and not do much of anything, let alone blog. Then I really start feeling the pressure and get some serious cramming in and break through to the other side.

In the meantime, my blogging might drop off a bit, but I'll probably still drop by every once in a while when I find links like this, and this, and this.

July 05, 2006

I hate my students sometimes

Apparently, when two people are walking towards each other, the following equation holds:
(speed of person A, measured in kilometers) + (speed of person B, measured in kilometers per hour) = (speed of person B, measured in kilometers)

And the semester was going so well up until now. Sigh. Maybe I should splurge on Indian food to improve my mood before grading any more ...

July 04, 2006

Quite possibly the best pic of the lot. Even people walking around were cracking up while we took this baby. My only regret is that I didn't get a picture of Spiderman on his own. He'd be great to Photshop into stuff. Who's that blue guy you ask? I have no idea, but I like to think the "S" is for Sam. Posted by Picasa

They're both hatching some kind of scheme. The Riddler's scheme is illegal; Jay's should be. Both plans are horrifying to people of concience. Posted by Picasa

Supergirl aka Superman's cousin,Kara Zor El. She came from Krypton to save us from overzealous fanboys with body order to the extreme. Posted by Picasa

Well, it's almost a month after Wizard World: Philadelphia *and* it's the 4th of July, so I figure I should wrap up this series of pictures. Why is Batman fighting the Wolfman? Because the bastard was walking by. Batman's just that bad. You can see the lady in the background knows Wolfman is in trouble. Posted by Picasa

Happy fourth of July

Drink yourself silly, eat some grilled animal carcass substitute, and celebrate the birth of your country by blowing up a small part of it.

And one day late happy birthdays to my dad and my friend Annie! (Neither of whom read the blog, so I'm not sure why I'm bothering.)

July 03, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation XIII

Leibniz, Discourse on metaphysics and The Monadology

GW Leibniz was a late seventeenth-century philosopher, and is often identified as one of the primary rationalist forerunners to Kant; certainly, during Kant's day a century later, Leibniz (as interpreted by Wolff) was the dominant mode of German philosophy. Leibniz is also notable in his own right for holding a number of unique metaphysical positions, not to mention being one of the developers of calculus.

Unlike other philosophers of the early Modern era, Leibniz does not begin (at least, in these two selections) with epistemological considerations; his aim is a system of metaphysics, and he begins with an analysis of the concept of substance. Put positively, Leibniz argues that all substances are 'monads', self-contained, non-interacting metaphysical simples that 'reflect' the cosmos as a whole from their own particular perspective. Thus, when I perceive the tree outside, this is not due to the tree exerting some influence -- direct or indirect -- on me. Rather, this perception is the reflection of the tree within my own essence, and a being that had a complete and precise understanding of the definition of my essence would be able to infer from it that I would have that perception. (This latter is actually the definition of substance Leibniz gives in the Discourse.) The coordination of the perceptions of all these non-interacting simples is guaranteed by God, defined as the most perfect (and thus most powerfull) monad and the only necessary being.

The dense selections also cover several other aspects of Leibniz' thought. In the Discourse, he defends the notion (ridiculed by Voltaire in Candide) that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds, because God has chosen to bring it into existence as the most perfect expression of God's will. The ontological argument is also criticized: Anselm's version shows only that, if God's existence is possible (ie, logically consistent), then God's existence is necessary. The antecedent is argued for in The Monadology. The Monadology also asserts Leibniz' doctrines of the identity of indiscernibles, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of sufficient reason; the PSR is also used to argue for the existence of God, as only a necessary being can provide the sufficient reason explaining the a posteriori fact of the existence of contingent beings.

Locke, selections from An essay concerning human understanding

John Locke would be the paradigm of British Enlightenment philosophy if not for the work of David Hume; still, as Hume was Scottish and Locke English, it would be fair to call Locke the paradigm of English Enlightenment philosophy. Locke was a contemporary of Leibniz, and only half a century or so younger than both Descartes and Hobbes. In this country, Locke is probably best known for his Two treatises on government, which the Declaration of independence clearly references; but our selection is from the equally important Essay.

The Essay is a monumental work, comparable in scope and complexity of content (but not, fortunately, complexity of structure) to Kant's first Critique. The two tomes also overlap in topic and positions defended -- but more on that when we get to Kant. Unlike Kant, who enjoys simply pulling an architectonic out of thin air and imposing it artificially on the subject matter, Locke is quite the taxonomer, and enjoys identifying the natural breaking points and divisions within a topic. This means the reader can sometimes lose the forest of a grand philosophical system for the trees of specific cases; thus, instead of pointing out the most prominent Wegmarken Locke follows, I'll provide a sketch of the entire forest.

The most important single idea in the Essay is that of 'idea' itself. Locke defines an idea as the immediately present contents of one's mind, whether this is as simple as or as complex as . Complex ideas (such as the latter) are built exclusively from simple ideas, and simple ideas in turn are the undefinable components of sensation (how do you give a useful definition of except by ostension?). Locke is thus a tabula rasa empiricist: there are no innate ideas, whether of God or my own mind or anything else; all we have is what we build out of sense-data (this would be a slightly controversial way of putting it, but I think it suffices for our purposes) and by reflecting on our own cognitive activities.

Locke goes out of his way to distinguish simple ideas -- the phenomenological contents of our minds -- from qualities -- the power subjects have to create those ideas in us. Qualities are divided into primary and secondary. Secondary qualities are things like colour and taste, that vary radically as the subject's interactions with the object change. Primary qualities are, Locke suggests cautiously, probably those mechanists identify as real or essential, and therefore stable: extension, figure, motion. This caution is because mechanism falls short of giving a completely satisfactory account in several ways -- for example, it cannot explain cohesion (why a solid object sticks together as one thing, rather than simply dispersing like a gas) -- but more fundamentally because, Locke argues, we can have no idea corresponding to the underlying causes of our sensations. We have the movie that's playing on the screen, but we aren't allowed to go up and investigate what's behind the hole with the light coming out of it.

A substance is posited as the substratum that binds all these different qualities together. As Locke repeats through the Essay, we have no positive idea of substance whatsoever, whether material or spiritual -- it is simply a je ne sais qua we must suppose exists to explain why these simple qualities always seem to go together. Locke mostly goes along with the mechanists here -- based on our best science, it seems like substances might be organized structures of atoms -- but this is tentative, and cannot explain free will (which, Locke argues, suggests we ought to be dualist about minds), and Locke ultimately adopts a principled agnosticism towards fundamental ontology.

Indeed, Locke's general attitude towards metaphysics is a principled agnosticism or universalism (in the theological sense), driven by his epistemological humility. Essential properties, for example, are cashed out as being matters of the definition of words -- if I am defined as a mammal, then it is an essential property that I have hair; but if I am simply defined as an animal, then this property is no longer essential. Scepticism is dealt with by turning towards the practical: while we cannot have absolutely certain knowledge that our experience of an external, material world is veridical, our judgement that it is so is necessary for us to live our lives and flourish. Thus, rather than wallow in the nihilism that (Locke believes) accompanies scepticism, we should pursue natural philosophy and the empirical investigation of our world, while keeping in mind the humble recognition that this investigation will only suffice for practical judgement, not certain knowledge (and even then, error is inevitable).

Berkeley, Principles of human knowledge, Introduction and s 1-33

George Berkeley was an Irish Bishop early in the eighteenth century and, other than Russell (and possibly Moore), the only philosopher on the reading list to visit the Americas. Berkeley's goal is to radically undermine mechanistic materialism; to this end, at least in the selection, he targets Lockean metaphysics, particularly the primary/secondary qualities distinction. That he has Locke in mind is clear: the first section of the Principles is a parody/homage to Locke's style, and Berkeley cites the Essay two or three times in the few dozen pages.

Berkeley gives three basic 'arguments' against the independent existence of material objects in the selection. The first depends on conflating sensible ideas with sensible objects:
1. Sensible ideas can only exist in the mind.
2. Therefore, sensible objects can only exist in the mind.

The second attacks the primary/secondary quality distinction, and presumes that all of our ideas are particular -- for example, that I cannot have an idea of a generic or general triangle, but instead I imagine some particular triangle to represent any triangle 'indifferently' in a proof. Thus, I cannot have an idea of generic, bare extension without imagining it to have some or another particular colour -- I cannot abstract away the secondary qualities to consider bare matter with only the primary ones. Hence there is no difference between primary and secondary qualities; and since the latter exist only in the mind, so must the former. Berkeley bolsters this point several times with explicitly Lockean relativity arguments.

The third argument is called the 'master argument' by Berkeley scholars, because Berkeley, in the paragraph introducing it, seems to think his idealism can be rejected if its challenge is met. Berkeley says the realist must imagine some absolutely unperceived material object -- say a tree, sitting in a deep forest, with no-one around to see it. The realist might imagine this to be easily accomplished; but, Berkeley points out, the realist is, at that moment, perceiving (thinking of) the tree that is, supposedly, not being perceived. As Downing puts it, "in order to conceive of [unperceived and unthought-of objects], we must ourselves be conceiving, i.e., thinking, of them".

In each case, Berkeley seems to be making the surprising move of identifying the represented (the sensible, material object) with its representation (the idea).

Total pages read: 1498

Interesting philosophical link: more dinosaurs!