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These are answers that babthrower has provided in Philosophy

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 05/09/03 - Faith and Reason

I was wondering just how people who think that faith is on a par with reason (with the use of evidence and logic in the way Clifford urges) decide what to have faith about. Can an Iraqi Baath party member have faith that, despite the evidence, Saadam was a good and kind ruler? Can someone have faith that the Holocaust never occurred, despite the evidence? Suppose there are conflicting views; how is it decided, in the absence of evidence, which to believe?
Are there any restrictions on what you can "believe on faith alone?" as people like to say.

babthrower answered on 05/10/03:

I would guess that the tenets of one's original faith in the truth of some metaphysical system might be accepted by the subject simply because it was taught by an authority of some kind. Some people never question these tenets because they have been taught they are beyond questioning.

But if one later changed one's faith, then reasoning must come into it. Reasons might be any of these:

1. If I don't change my faith, 'they' will kill me. Maybe their faith is the true one anyway. Can't be proved one way or the other. So I'll accept this new faith. (One decides what to believe.)

2. What was that! A flash of lightning! Just after I prayed for a sign! And it fell upon the (pick one: dome of the mosque, fertility fetish, statue of Mary, or something entirely different)
Reasoning: I believed in one metaphysical statement but a personal experience of revelation has been sent, so now I'll accept the belief which the revelation points to. (One is convinced that one has received a personal message which points to the truth.)

3. I think it makes more sense that A is an explanation of the universe and everything than B was. A says there are two ruling forces in the universe, one which causes good, and one which causes evil; B says there was only one, viz. good. But I see that evil exists, and I don't buy the rationalizations explaining how evil can come from good. So I'll follow the teachings of A, because they are more consistent with my experience of the world. (One selects the less/least irrational of different metaphysical beliefs.)

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 05/08/03 - Countries That Oppose American Policies

I have a negative opinion of the countries who have decided to try to form an alliance of sorts against American(hyperpower) Policies because I have seen not a single POSITIVE policy put forth. All the talk has been against against against. Are there any positive policies or agendas? (I'm referring to France, Germany, Russia, and the Middle East)

babthrower answered on 05/08/03:

Choulx, you're not going to see positive policies, because to you positive policies are necessarily pro-American.

It is not France's nor any other nation's job to forego its own self-interest in favor of some other nation. Nations always (historically) have formed alliances against stronger nations.

It's part of the policy called the 'balance of power'. It's goal is to prevent the outbreak of wars. When wars break out, unpredicted events can occur. Look at the totally unexpected result of a different terrorist attack:

1. Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Bosnia by Serbian terrorists. He was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

2. Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia in retaliation for the murder of the heir to their throne.

3. A week later Australia, Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom had joined on one side or the other, and World War I had begun. It ended four years later after the deaths of eight million people. It changed the social fabric of Europe irrevocably. It changed the world.

So that was one time when the 'balance of power' strategy did not work to deter Austria-Hungary's attack. Austria-Hungary felt that its moral position was so strong, its royal family having been the victim of terrorism, that there would be no consequences. Sadly, it was wrong.

More often than not, however, it does work. Nations fear to invade other nations because of the alliances they have formed. It's not unusual for a great nation to stand alone, with basically everyone else allied against it.

So though their stand is not POSITIVE from the U.S. standpoint, it is POSTIIVE from the standpoint of those who are allied together.

Why do these nations believe it is in their best interests to form an alliance? They are alarmed by the U.S. decision to enter a sovereign country contrary to the U.N. security council's stand on the matter. They have economic and security reasons to want to avoid war in the middle east.

Opposed to them are Italy, Spain and Great Britain, and of course the U.S.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 05/06/03 - Is there a God?

What would happen if we could prove beyond doubt that there is no god? How would it affect us and the way we live?

babthrower answered on 05/07/03:

" How would it affect us and the way we live?"

I suspect there would be a lot of psychological casualties. There would be panic attacks, depression, disorientation, and other symptoms on the part of some theists.

But most people would adapt in time, and discover that without gods there can still be morality, civil order, love among friends and family members, cherishing and nurturing of children, and so forth.

It's interesting to look at what happens when events shake a particular world-view. What is seen is that some are utterly destroyed by the shock, and retreat into themselves and become hostile to all other people. Others dust themselves off after an adjustment period, and carry on.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 05/07/03 - Words and Thought: "Imperialism"

The dictionary informs me that:

"Imperialism" is:
The policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence.

But, it cannot tell me whether, in a particular instance, such of an "extension of power and dominion" is a good thing or a bad thing. It is a fact, of course, that in the 19th and early 20th century, much of imperialism was bad for the people at the time, although it is not clear that it is bad for the progeny of those people. For instance, it is unlikely that India would now be a democracy and be a leading center of computers had not the British introduced the kind of administration they did, and instilled a parliamentary system of government in India.
But, be that as it may, it seems to me that even supposing that imperialism, "the extension of the power and domain" of a nation or a culture into other nations or culture has in the past been a bad thing, is it necessarily something bad? Cannot this extension of power and domain be for the good too? It is that, not the connotations of a word, which counts. We have to look at what the effects of this extension of "power and domain" does, rather than worry about what it is called. Thought and facts should lead our views of what is happening, not words.
If the influence and power of the United States is for the good, then call it what you like.

babthrower answered on 05/07/03:

Good thing:

Imperialism always brings technological and administrative advances, because the imperialist nation is always more powerful and militarily adept than the subject peoples. That's why it became an imperialistic nation.

Bad thing:

Imperialists always demean the subject people. The technological backwardness of the conquered is the overt basis for the contempt. The need to justify the aggression is the motive for the degradation.

There is always collusion between the imperialist nation and some of the conquered and degraded people. There is always a Quisling. This is no doubt a survival strategy, since warfare is a characteristic of human behavior. But it further demeans the conquered.

It may well be that after a few generations, when the empire has collapsed, the degradation experienced by the defeated generation is offset by the technical advantages gained by the descendants.

It is not possible to generalize about advantages to future generations. The caste system set up by the Aryan invaders of northern India lasted for millennia. They brought the horse, the wheel, and written language. The descendants of the conquered were too poor to own horses or learn to write, but they did use wheels on their ox-carts. I won't presume to say that this advantage made it all worth while.

It really doesn't matter. There is no mechanism in place which can stop an imperialistic aggressor in our time. If a time ever comes when imperialistic aggression can be stopped, then the morality of the issues can be sensibly debated.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 05/07/03 - Logic Rules.

On another board, someone (from Australia, I think) made the following objection to Descartes' _Cogito_: He said, that Descartes says, I think, therefore I am.
But that's wrong. Does that mean that chairs or table don't exist?

Of course, the Australian who wrote this, was confusing what Descartes wrote, "I think, therefore I am" with its logical converse, "I am, therefore, I think" Descartes held that all who think exist, not that _only_ those who think exist. (It is like confusing "All apples are fruit" with "All fruit are apples," and arguing that the former is false, because their are fruits which are not apples.

This is an excellent illustration of how logic applies to philosophy (as well as to everything else) and how important logic can be.

Comments?

babthrower answered on 05/07/03:

You are too quick to conclude that the Australian critic committed the fallacy.

If all he/she read of Descartes was that famous statement, (and that's all many people have heard or read of Descartes), then it is not clear that the Aussie knew that what Descartes was really saying was that thinking happens.

The Aussie might have interpreted Descartes
'I think therefore I am' as a causative statement, cf.

'I overeat, therefore I am fat'.

If a hearer could think of one person who overeats and is not fat, the hearer might say, "Charlie overeats, yet he is not fat."

Out of context, the Aussie's follow-up remark is not necessarily a sign that he/she made a mistake.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 05/05/03 - Are you a philosopher? answer there few questions

1. Define reality. Give two (2) examples.
2. Using only basic first order logic, develop a rational foundation from which to prove the truth of radical relativism.
3. Analyze the fundamental nature of being. Introduce new distinctions and obfuscatory neologisms.
4. Escape the hermeneutic circle with only fishing line and a Swiss Army knife.
5. Demonstrate the validity of the fallacy of composition.
6. Evaluate the following argument: "If conventionalism is true, it must be true by convention. We do not believe in conventionalism. Therefore, we should change our beliefs because conventionalism is self-evident."
7. Translate Heidegger's Being and Time into Latin and Aramaic. Provide an analysis of the nature of translation which explains why neither translation makes sense.
8. Assume solipsism to be correct. Explain why more people aren't solipsists.
9. Explain the Cartesian distinction between res cogitans and res extensa without going into any intentional states, e.g. thinking of Descartes.
10. List three beliefs held by eliminative materialists.

babthrower answered on 05/05/03:

Too funny! Good one, D.C.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/29/03 - Moral and Non-Moral Reasons

What is the difference (if there is one) between a moral reason for doing something, and a non-moral reason? For instance, if I exercise to be healthy, is that a non-moral reason (I don't think it would be an _immoral_ reason.) or a moral reason? Of course, why?

babthrower answered on 04/29/03:

Issues are classed as moral or not depending on (1) whether the divine being has passed an opinion on it , or (2) whether a choice is required beyond the urges of one's bio-needs.

When a dog scoffs a cookie when the owner is not looking, he's satisfying a bio-need, hunger. If his owner were present, he would not scoff the cookie. It may be immoral in human eyes because he is disregarding the will of his 'divine being', or owner. But it's not immoral for the dog, because we're asking too much of his doggie mind to expect him to concern himself with anything except the hope of escaping detection.

Let's concentrate on (2), because if all you have to worry about is whether you are obeying divine commands or not, your moral choices are pretty well laid out.

The non-theist may make moral choices. Any choice we make defines what we consider 'good'. If I select to eat a liter of HaagenDas, and ignore the healthy lunch option, I'm choosing pleasure (sensual gratification) over health.

Even if I choose the healthy lunch, I might be doing it because
(1) I want to be sexually more attractive
(2) I want to live till somebody kills me, and be active as long as possible
(3) I believe I owe it to the state to be healthy; this keeps medical costs down, makes medical resources available to those with problems that are not self-induced, and
makes me a more productive citizen.
When we make a choice that is a 'moral choice', I think more has to be involved than that the choice 'feels good' in the biological sense
(4) I don't care about any of the above, but I want to be admired by those who do care about one or more of them (I want status).

So if I am presented with only one food item,and therefore have no option, and no one else wants the food, then to choose to eat or not to eat would depend on my appetite. I merely have to make a practical choice, and my choice is determined by my bio-needs: is not a moral choice.

But if a starving beggar comes along, I may have to make a moral choice: Is satisfying my bio-need 'better' than feeding someone whose need is greater? Should I act altruistically?

If I act altruistically, I may get an instant reward: empathetically, I can enjoy watching the hungry person scoff down the snack; or, I may think about the pleasure of describing my selfless act to someone who admires altruism, and whom I am trying to impress.

Or, I can feed him/her because I think that everyone should share food. Why? Because when I need food and don't have any, I will have the right to ask someone else to share with me: I can cite the norm, that sharing food is 'a good thing' it is a 'higher value'.

So in the long run, I think moral values are 'higher values'. 'Higher values' have less immediate pay-backs. They require more imagination to envisage. For the non-theist, the reward may simply be that he/she can think of his/her world in a different way.

"I'm not just an animal," he/she may say, "I am able to delay gratification. I can even sacrifice my impulses in order to build a more humane world. If everyone did this, it would be a better world."

And before anybody jumps all over me for begging the question by using the word 'humane', I think that the word 'humane' simply means the attribute of empathizing with other humans. He/she who would have a more humane world simply wants to see 'higher values' honored and expressed.

Why? We would all feel more secure if we believed that we live in a humane world.

Question/Answer
Choux asked on 04/29/03 - More on the Slippery Slope

I guess the argument that if a person smokes pot it will lead eventually to the use of heroin and crack. However, as I recall(from studies), heroin and crack users almost all started with pot.

But, not all pot users went on to any other drugs.

I think that in this example that smoking pot is a good indicator of future hard drug use.

Am I correct to assume that the role of critical thinking on the issue of drug use is a tool used by pro-drug addiction proponents to rationalize the use of illegal drugs. (I'm against the use of illegal drugs). Is there too much opinion in my question?

Thanks, Chou

babthrower answered on 04/29/03:

There are two different views here:

(1) a statistical argument

e.g. "Fifty heroin users were interviewed and stated that they had first used pot."

(2) the more traditional argument, which is more like 'slippery slope', that starting with minor vices desensitizes the conscience, which leads to major vices.

I think it's a matter of the character type.
Some people are not authoritarian, and want to try things for themselves. They are not much influenced by cautionary tales.

These people will try pot, and later may or may not try heroin.

If they later try heroin, it is because they are both anti-authoritarian and reckless.

If they don't try heroin, it is because they are non-authoritarian, but not particularly reckless.

That's the problem with the statistical approach. It's too simplistic.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/28/03 - Political Ju Jitsu

I wonder whether you have noted a new and peculiar technique of the left concerning the Iraq war. It is a kind of political ju jitsu. The idea is to begin by conceding that Hussein and his regime were terrible and brutal, and then adding a "but." That "but" signals strangely cavalier attitude towards freedom and democracy. Here is, for example, a quote from a member of the British Parliament who asked, "Is an alternative to Saddam Hussein," queried the man who has condemned Tony Blair as a war criminal, "really preferable? How can we be sure that post-Saddam Iraq will not descend into civil war along religious and tribal lines - like the north of Iraq?"

As I have pointed out, the same people will often shield themselves with one half sentence about Saddam's 'appaling human rights record'. But this is a phrase invoked as a defence against the reality of that record. Constructed against the reality of what it actually means to be living in such circumstances, afraid ever to speak. The constant suggestion is that the 'human rights record' is bad, but whatever the Americans do or will happen as a result of American action, is far, far worse.

Here is another instance: A year ago one of those international peace delegations went to Baghdad. According to Agence France-Presse they had a march in the city, holding banners saying, 'No to sanctions, no to war', and 'Palestine is Arab, down with Zionism'. Among them was a white-bearded New Zealand Quaker called Tony Maturin. When he returned from Iraq he gave an interview on a local radio station. One part went like this:

Interviewer: 'And did the people you spoke with indicate they felt free to tell you anything they wanted to?'

Maturin: 'I didn't ask them that. I didn't ask them that because I know very well that that government has a horrendous human rights record. What we don't know, they're also a very benevolent government as far as the country goes. They've done tremendous things for that country. And the people I spoke to, they all say, "If they bomb us again we'll rebuild again. And we have a country that our government is doing their best to make a strong country again."'

Stupid man.








babthrower answered on 04/28/03:

Jon, you harp on the civil rights abuses of Iraq, which are well known. Your point seems to be:

"How can people condemn U.S. landing in Iraq when before us we see evidence of Iraqi brutality and venality?"

Yet again and again in these threads, myself and others have asked:

"Must we invade every country with a terrible civil rights record? If not, why not?"

You have not replied.

The war in which the U.S. emerged not only victorious but covered in honor and with accusations of empire-building coming from only one bloc (the communist bloc, which everyone knew had its own agenda) was World War II.

The U.S. did not join the confederacy which was at war with Germany and its allies to save the French, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, Swedes, or the subjects of the German empire abroad, from German oppression. They did not attack Germany to free the prisoners of war, or save anyone from genocide.

The U.S. didn't join the war until 1942, at which time the British and Commonwealth had been fighting the Germans for three years.

When we look back, the world does not blame the U.S. for waiting. The U.S. waited until its territory was attacked.

Now the U.S. is saying to the world, "See? We have found these human rights abuses, just as we said we would."

But everyone knew the abuses were going on. Not everyone believed that was justification for going to war in the powderkeg that is the Middle East.

Here is a far-from-complete list of countries in which severe human rights abuses are currently prevalent:

-the Philippines
-Nigeria
-Sudan
-China
-Bali
-Congo
-Cuba
-Timor
-Romania
-Viet Nam
-Tajikistan
-Columbia
-Angola
-Argentina
-Brazil
-China.....

etc.

The abuses range from detention and torture of dissidents to police murder of street people to slavery including child slavery all the way to genocide.

Will the U.S. invade them all? If not, why not?

The U.S. has made a clean, 'surgical' invasion of Iraq and there were it seems minimum civilian casualties. Good that the casualties are low - though we don't know what they are, they are obviously lower than many - including U.S. advisors before the invasion - feared. The U.S. is now making moves to improve the lot of the suffering people - fresh water generators, etc. Good.

All these factors help to ease the anxiety which the nations feel about the intentions of the U.S. in the Middle East and throughout the world.

Does that mean that any intervention in any sovereign nation is now justified?

And the question remains:

Why Iraq?

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 04/27/03 - Senator Rick Santorum's(sp) Logic

I have been trying to follow the argument that the Senator has been making regarding homosexuality, I guess it is. He has been on the news in the last several days. This is the best I can make of it, perhaps others can add comments.

Senator Santorum is saying that if we allow homosexuals to engage in certain sexual acts(Sodomy) in the privacy of their homes that it is the same as allowing people to engage in polygamy and incest and other crimes/acts ....in their own homes.

What about this argument is illogical if anything?

babthrower answered on 04/27/03:

We allow people do perform many acts in their own homes. But there are certain acts we do not allow even in people's own homes.

Murder, tax evasion, selling drugs, etc.

So what is it about these act that causes us to allow the invasion of the 'castle' of the citizen?

We have declared them crimes.

Why have we declared them crimes?

Because we think that they harm others either directly or indirectly, and the fact that they are done in a private home does not mitigate the harm. In fact, that these acts are committed without penalty means that each of us is unsafe if they are permitted - even if the harm to us is only that our state is deprived of money by tax evasion which would be used for the benefit of the state and indirectly for our benefit.

So we think the child should be protected from abuse in the parent's home, and that the citizen should be protected anywhere from murder.

Who is being protected when we prosecute consenting adults who perform sexual acts in their own homes? In what way is their freedom to perform these acts a threat to every one of us?

Since their acts are not a threat to us, then what is it that such laws would protect?

Only the sensibilities of those who dislike these acts which they believe to be inherently wrong.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/25/03 - Liberal and Conservative philosophy

Someone please tell me, what is the difference between Liberal and Conservative philosophy. I mean I naturally have some idea, but it seems no one is altogether one or the other, or are they?

babthrower answered on 04/26/03:

Traditional conservative views:

- strong military; high social status for senior military personnel
- strong police system under only high-level control
- class system
- state support for religion to maintain conventional morality
- individual freedom for privileged, conformity for lower classes
- government: less is more
- "When in doubt, do nothing."

Traditional liberal views:

- military for protection only
- police subject to public scrutiny, accountable, powers restricted by law
- erase class distinctions
- religious tolerance
- individual freedom extended
- government involvement in solving social problems
- "When in doubt, appoint a committee."

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/26/03 - Education and Intelligence

Is education mistaken for intelligence? ie Does having a plethora of degrees and so on, suggest that another that does not have such qualifications lacks intelligence in this sense? Or is the education one receives at variance to the intelligence one possesses?

babthrower answered on 04/26/03:

We need to distinguish 'intelligence' from 'notions people have about what intelligence is', in a general sense.

Obviously someone who identifies education with intelligence is overlooking a lot. For example, it leads to the question 'does intelligence exist in non-literate cultures?'

Here are some facts that only muddy the waters.

- Intelligent people benefit more efficiently from education. So because education becomes a hard slog for unintelligent people, many drop out. So probably there are more intelligent educated people than unintelligent educated people.

This may cause us to generalize too quickly, and think that all educated people are intelligent.

- Unintelligent but well-educated people may be able to avoid detection (as unintelligent) by keeping a low profile, and by being dogmatic.

We could solve this problem by designing education so that only intelligent people can obtain a particular qualification. The easiest way to do this is to pile on the work, and make qualifying courses much tougher. That would cause a lot of dispute over human rights issues, and that in turn makes it a 'hard sell' in a democracy.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/25/03 - Much Ado About Nothing

The other night there was some jewelry in a box, and my wife asked me to remove it. Then, when I had, she asked me whether there was anything in the box, and I said there wasn't, that the box was empty.

Now my conscience is bothering me. Because I read some place that someone, I think he was called Buddha or something that sounded like that, suggested that nothing existed. So, if Buddha (is that his name does anyone know?) is right, I lied to my wife when I said the box was empty because nothing was in the box.
So I really need to know. Was I lying to my wife because the box really had nothing in it and it was not empty?

Please let me know, so if I was lying I can 'fess up and clear my conscience.

Thank you in advance.

babthrower answered on 04/25/03:

Hey, Jon, just confess and get it over with. Obviously you feel a strong need to confess SOMETHING, can't imagine what, and you are trying to rationalize the need.

Your wife, however, will understand this need, perhaps only too well.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/25/03 - Intelligence - Does it exist?

I have an obsessive interest in this subject, but it's all curiosity I promise. So my question is -
Does pure intelligence exist? And if so, do intelligence tests measure it fairly?

babthrower answered on 04/25/03:

I admit that I have hired, all other factors being about equal, on the basis of I.Q. score.

An industrialized nation needs an all-purpose tool for measuring a person's ability to understand written material; to work under pressure; to have a reasonable idea about what his/her culture is about; to reason 'reasonably' well. I.Q. tests measure something of the sort.

We can't really trust the schools any more, can we? In some cases, high school graduation means about the same as the information on the candidate's birth certificate.

And job history can be either meaningful or not. Whistleblowers can be fired, as can be those who arouse the jealousy of co-workers because of their hard work and ability. Employers can give glowing references to those whom they would rather no longer have in their employ, just to help move them along without having to pay severance.

So the employer needs all the help he/she can get.

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Question/Answer
JeffreyBryson asked on 04/24/03 - For your reading


I just read this article which once again brought home to me the brutality that was Sadam's.

Of course, renovating a government is very difficult work, but, really now, can there be any doubt that Iraq is suddenly in a better state to be so extricated from such future acts and that the Coalition (regardless of its place of priority) has given a huge gift to the Iraqis?









The ‘Abu Earless’ Brigade
Saddam Hussein’s ear-amputation campaign went on for three days, May 17-19, 1994, in every city in Iraq. Some of the estimated 3,500 men who lost their ears are now telling their stories

By Rod Nordland
NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE


April 23 — They’re among the saddest of the sad, in a land full of sadness. They push forward from the crowd of beggars and supplicants that gathers wherever they find foreigners, whether soldiers or journalists or aid workers.

MOST, LIKE AHMED Hussein, have no words in English, but they don’t need them. Outside the HQ of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in An Nasiriya yesterday, Hussein only had to turn his head to show his profile, and utter a single word, “Saddam,” as he pointed to the stump where his right ear used to be. He wasn’t begging for money, though he had none, or asking for a bottle of water or a telephone call abroad, like so many others in a place where the water doesn’t run and the phones don’t work. He just wanted to tell his story.
The story of Iraqi men with amputated ears is becoming a depressingly familiar one as people grow more convinced that Saddam Hussein and the Baathists will never come back. Finally, they can talk freely. This will probably not be the greatest atrocity committed by Saddam’s regime, but with its clinical brutality and its echoes of Nazi medical mutilations, it stands out.






Hussein was among those arrested in a crackdown on Iraqi Army deserters in 1994; he had left his unit because, he said, “I didn’t want to invade Kuwait again.” The same day that he was arrested, he was taken to an operating room in Saddam General Hospital in An Nasiriya and blindfolded. A surgeon gave him a local anesthetic, but it was still severely painful when he severed the ear nearly to the bone with a long-bladed scalpel. “I wanted to kill myself right away,” he said. “How can a man live without his ear?”
Afterward, sentenced to 25 years, he was thrown into prison and tortured on a daily basis in an effort to get him to confess that he was plotting against the regime—which would have meant a death sentence. He has deep knife gashes and bones that were broken and healed improperly in his arms and legs. A general amnesty four years later brought little respite; his ear stump was his red letter D for deserter, and it made him unemployable. “I could not get married while my ear is off,” he said. “No woman would want me.”
The ear amputation campaign went on for three days, May 17-19, 1994, in every city in Iraq. It was unknown to the outside world, as was so much that went on inside Saddam’s Iraq. No one knows how many men lost their ears, but it must number in the thousands. One victim said his guards told him the total nationwide was 3,500. In Basra alone, 750 Iraqi soldiers were imprisoned at a police lockup called Seryat Dhowaria al Shirta, near the marketplace in downtown Basra. They were all taken in groups of 10 to each of the city’s three major hospitals, where rotations of surgeons were set up to perform the amputations over that three-day period. All surgeons were obliged to participate; a few managed to flee the country, and one, at the Al Joumariyah Hospital, refused to pick up his scalpel and was executed on the spot, according to doctors there. There’s little doubt that the order came down from the top; in Basra, victims said that they saw both Abdul Bakr Saddoun and Noori Saddoun, the two top Baath Party officials in the city, at one of the hospitals just before their amputations. “Why are you deserters?” Noori Saddoun allegedly said to Anwar Razak. “I said, ‘I’m not,’ and he hit me himself.”
Anwar was one of many victims who were caught up in the sweep, even though they weren’t deserters. He had been granted leave by his officer for the weekend, but didn’t have his papers with him when he was stopped at a party checkpoint near his home and recognized as a soldier. They refused to check with his unit, probably since party cadres who caught deserters were paid a handsome bounty. In some cases, the bounties paid were as high as 200,000 dinars, according to Baath Party documents: roughly 18 months’ average salary. After the beating from Saddoun, Anwar was taken to an operating room where he managed to lift his blindfold enough to see and recognize the surgeon. But he won’t name him. “He was apologizing and said they forced him to do that,” he said. “It wasn’t his fault.” They were not given painkillers, only tied down to their gurneys. “We were all crying, all of us,” he said. Anwar lost both his ears; other victims only one. Why isn’t clear.
Anwar Razak, like Ahmed Hussein and the other victims, was imprisoned afterward and tortured routinely. The guards taunted them. “They called us Abu Thanat Mabtura,” he said. It’s Arabic for Abu Earless, or Father Earless. Released after two years, his fiancé broke up with him rather than marry a disfigured man with no job prospects. None of the earless men were able to find work, since the party controlled employment in most sectors of the economy. All of the earless men know numerous others who suffered the same fate. “I know at least 50 just here,” said Hussein of Nasiriya, a small city.



Anwar’s cousin, Nabil Abdul Razak, similarly was picked up in Basra for being away from his unit, though he says he had no intention of deserting. He was just AWOL for a couple days to finish his accounting exams. He was lucky, though. An accountant in a Pepsi firm owned by one of Basra’s richest men, Ghareb Kubba, Nabil was also an old friend of Kubba’s. Kubba managed to pay a million dinars in bribes to soften Nabil’s mutilation. Nabil was allowed to give blood first, in case he needed to replace what he lost in surgery. He’d get painkillers. And most importantly, the doctor would only slice half his right ear off. “He kissed me and said he was really sorry but he had to do this.” Other victims weren’t so lucky. “Many of us bled to death in prison afterward,” says Anwar Razak. Some were even branded with a hot poker at the hospital, with the Arabic word for coward scorched across their foreheads.
It’s striking that none of the victims seem to blame the doctors who had to perform the operations. Many of the surgeons still seem racked with guilt and shame over it, and few will talk openly about it. “They wanted to make us complicit,” said a surgeon at the Basra Teaching Hospital, who maintains he managed to evade the duty by calling in sick when his rotation came up. “And they wanted everybody to know about it.” Afterward, doctors didn’t dare try to help the disfigured men. “It was such a dirty business,” said Dr. Abdul Khalik Zater Benyan, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the teaching hospital. “No one would dare do plastic surgery.”
Plastic surgery is what these men all want most now. Many of them suffer hearing loss, and infections from poor aftercare in prison often caused inner ear problems, as well. Anwar Razak says he’s had tinnitus ever since the amputation. Rebuilding the outer ear, using skin and cartilage from elsewhere on the patient’s body, is well within reach with modern plastic surgery. “We’re just hoping that some NGO from America will come and give us our ears back,” says Nabil Razak. For men who have suffered so much, it’s a modest request.

babthrower answered on 04/24/03:

This pattern of unspeakable abuse is typical of dictatorships at all places and in all times. With no one to control the impulses of the dictator, and in a climate of terror which has consciously been fostered, who will protest?

In the middle ages, whole towns were devastated by the witch-hunters, who would systematically torture anyone accused until to end the pain the victim would name others at random. There are records of mayors, notaries, even priests who protested, but were then themselves accused of complicity with satan.

In the last century we had the unspeakable horrors of Cambodia, Germany, Ruanda, and Serbia.

It is to be hoped that these survivors can salvage their lives.

It is also to be hoped that organizations such as the U.N. and Amnesty International can work to bring conditions to light, and the slow work of making the survival of such regimes difficult/impossible can continue. It is slow work, and we will not see the end of the task in our lifetimes.

In Iraq, for example, sanctions by outside nations failed because it was the people who suffered. Saddam and his sickening crew of relatives and sycophants lived in luxury.

If you live next door to an abusive family, and you know the children are being treated with horrible cruelty, and the authorities delay or do not uncover the abuse, you may well wade into the home and rescue the children. But legal consequences aside, you are then responsible for the children. Are you prepared for this responsibility?

It might in the long run be better to go call the reporters and go picket city hall, and publicize the official neglect.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/24/03 - Education

Hi babthrower,
What do you think should be an ideal education for a person, in the sense of academic subjects? I ask because I am soon going to university and I am not sure what I should study, as I have many interests. If you could please give me some guidance that will be great. By the way what did you study at university out of interest?
-Jade

babthrower answered on 04/24/03:

I'm writing this answer completely ignoring pragmatic factors, such as -- will you make much money in your chosen field?

The first choice is the major area:
-- humanities
-- science
-- applied science.

To answer that, you need to establish what your basic orientation is. That can be hard for people who are generalists. But basically do you like data, the evidence trail, finding fairly certain answers?

If so, you may prefer science.

The humanities don't provide answers. They explore human experience. Emotion is important, for example, in the arts and in literature.

The social sciences fall somewhere in the middle. Archaeology is probably the most scientific. Psychology speculates a lot, and the experimental and statistical data is tricky to interpret. Economics and political science are also quite speculative, but they do have some hard data from which you can draw conclusions about which theories you can accept.

Applied science is good if you like to be involved in practical things.

What I'm saying is that if you take a good look at YOU, you will have a better idea of what will sustain your interest and motivation on the long haul.

My 'guilty pleasure'? Philosophy!

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Question/Answer
captainoutrageous asked on 04/23/03 - Anti-American? Not!

To Choux and Tomder,

You apparently misunderstood my response to the "hyper-power" question. I am definitely not anti-American, nor am I pro-French. I do, however, lament the way the US is viewed by the rest of the world. My response was an effort to demonstrate why other nations may view us the way they do. Perhaps my choice of the word aggressor was not the best, but was not the US an aggressor in invading Iraq, even if it was justified?

babthrower answered on 04/23/03:

This reminds me of the debate over capital punishment.

The opponent says 'Capital punishment is legalized murder.'

The defender says "Murder is to kill a human being unlawfully with malice aforethought. 'Legalized murder' is an oxymoron."

First I think we all agree that every aggressor (he/she who attacks another) tries to justify his/her actions.

The question is always, are these justifications adequate?

Hitler justified attacking Czechoslovakia because the Sudeten Germans were being oppressed.

Hitler used the harsh limitations that were set against Germany in the Versailles Treaty as his second justification. Versailles was the rest of Europe 'ganging up on' Germany, and it wasn't fair.

Uneasy with this justification, at Munich the European nations 'went along with' Hitler to avoid another terrible war, just 20 years after WWI.

It didn't work. Next he grabbed Poland.

The U.S. is undeniably the aggressor. The U.S. invaded Iraq.

The question is, for many both inside and outside of the U.S., are Bush's justifications adequate?

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/22/03 - Are we are in a religious war

Are we are in a religious war [which Bush understands] which few Americans understand, because religion in America is treated differently than it is in much of the Arab world?

I will quote Stanley Fish: “--- America's "Civic Religion," a faith (if that is the word) founded on the twin rocks of Locke's declaration that "the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth" and Jefferson's more colloquial version of the same point: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty Gods or no Gods; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Jefferson's further contribution is the famous "Wall of Separation," a metaphor that has lent constitutional force to the separation of church and state, even though it is not in the Constitution. In combination, these now canonical statements give us the key distinction between the private and the public, which in turn gives us the American creed of tolerance. It goes like this: If you leave me free to believe whatever I like, I'll leave you free to believe whatever you like, even though in our respective hearts we regard each other's beliefs as false and ungodly. We can argue about it or privately condemn each other, but our differences of belief shouldn't mean that we try to disenfranchise or imprison or kill each other or refrain from entering into relationships of commercial and social cooperation. Let's live and let live. Let's obey the civil, nonsectarian laws and leave the sorting out of big theological questions to God and eternity.”.

And again here: “All of that is precisely what adherents of the Al Qaeda version of Islam hate and categorically deny, which is why the question "Is this a religious war?" will make no sense to them, or, rather, will make only the sense of a question issuing from an infidel who is by definition wrong and an enemy. Not only do Bin Laden and company fail to make the distinction between religious and civil acts; they regard those who do make it as persons without a true religion. If you're really religious, you're religious all the time, and no act you perform--even the act of having or not having a beard--is without religious significance and justification. It is the dividing of one's life into the separate realms of the public and private that leads, say the militants, to a society bereft of a moral center and populated by citizens incapable of resisting the siren call of excess and sin.
This refusal of Al Qaeda-style Islam to honor the public/private distinction is the essence of that faith, and not some incidental feature of it that can be dispensed with or moderated. Commentators who pronounced on the question "Is this a religious war?" tended to see this and not see it at the same time. They noted the fact but then contrived to turn it into a correctable mistake, either by using words like "criminal," "fanatic," and "extremist" or by implying that the non-emergence of the public/private distinction is some kind of evolutionary failure; they want to be like us, but they don't yet know how to do it. Thus R. Scott Appleby, a professor at Notre Dame and an expert on religion and violence, notes (in the November 2001 issue of Lingua Franca), with an apparently straight face, that "Islam has been remarkably resistant to the differentiation and privatization of religion that often accompanies secularization ... and has not undergone a reformation like the one experienced by Christianity, which led to a pronounced separation of sacred and secular." ("What's the matter with these guys? Why can't they get with the program?") But of course there is nothing remarkable in a faith's refusal of a transformation that would undo it. Privatization and secularization are not goals that Islam has yet to achieve; they are specters that Islam (or some versions of it) pushes away as one would push away death.”.

babthrower answered on 04/23/03:

It is a war over economic issues. On both sides, there are political agents who will drum up support by tapping into fundamentalist religious emotions, or patriotism, or any other emotion. As usual.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/23/03 - Extraordinary and Genius

How do you distinguish talent of a very high order and that of genius?

babthrower answered on 04/23/03:

Does it matter?

Genius is defined as native intellectual power of an exalted type; extraordinary capacity for imaginative creation, original thought, invention or discovery. These also seem to be characteristics of talent of a very high order.

We seem to apply the term 'genius' very liberally. The poet Byron was considered a great genius in his day and later. But though his poetry was imaginative and extraordinarily inventive and fluent, what has it actually contributed to the Western canon? He was an atheist and an enemy of shibboleth codes; but before he wrote, many had broken the ground: Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Godwin and others. He was a popularizer of ideas which were current before his time. The only thing I can think of that sets him in any way apart is that he lived by his reformed opinions while many did not. But then, so did Voltaire and Godwin.

"Genius" seems to be the tag which the intelligentsia of the day attach to their favorites.

Mensa considers me a genius. I don't think so. If it exists, is it of major importance?Where is my contribution to my culture or to the science of my day? (P.S. My views are not popular at Mensa meetings.)

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/22/03 - "Might not be true" as a reason.

Is the fact that some statement might not be true (or might be true) a good reason, or, in fact, _any_ reason, to think that it is not (or that it is?)

For example, given all the evidence I have, it still might not be true that I am sitting on a chair before a computer. As Descartes argued, after all, even given all my evidence, I might be dreaming, or my senses might be deceiving me, or the Father of Lies might have me in his grip.

But (to take my example) is that a good reason, or _any_ reason for thinking I am not (in fact) sitting on a chair before my computer?

Is, it might not be true any reason for thinking it isn't true, or, even, doubting it is true?

I pose this because so many people seem to think that if some proposition might not be true, then that is a reason for thinking that proposition is problematic in some way or not believing it is true.

babthrower answered on 04/22/03:

That some statement might not be true is no reason for deciding that it is not true.

But in pragmatic human commerce the following might happen:

J - We have to go to war against Burma. They have shaved out profits too long.

B - How do you know that Burma has shaved our profits?

J - I read it in the New York Times.

B - Well, it might not be true.

J - Are you saying that we don't have to go to war with Burma because the report in the New York Times is not true?

B - The New York Times report might not be false.

J - Now you're making me crazy.

B - I'm saying that in order to justify war with Burma we have to confirm that they have shaved our profits.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/20/03 - What does philosophy "involve?"

If philosophy, as Tonyrey "involves" (what a blessedly vague word! It can mean whatever you like it to mean.) current affairs, then philosophy involves anything. Why not? Should I post a piece on water engineering then? Or on chess tactics in the opening phase of a game? What, then, is irrelevant to this board?

Now, Tony, that is a philosophical topic. Namely, what topics are relevant to a board that discusses philosophy? Just anything at all?

Are there irrelevant topics for this board.

Now that does involve philosophy, which is to say, critical thinking.



babthrower answered on 04/20/03:

Jon, you have answered your own question already. When I asked what is real philosophy, you said:

"So, then, what, according to you is a "real" philosopher? "Real" as contrasted with what: "Artificial" ? "Toy"? "Fake"?
And, you might consider this question too: could there be a real philosophher who was bad at it?
Perhaps you meant; do those you named philosophize? I guess so. They don't discuss stamp collecting or architecture. I think you ought to think about what you are asking before you ask your questions."


Question/Answer
Choux asked on 04/20/03 - Philosophy of Foreign Policy?

French Intellectuals have named America a "HyperPower" a step above a super power. They feel it is necessary to put forth opposition to the hyperpower by forming alliances and working against America. How do you feel about this philosophy, is it philosophy?

(I would like to see discussions of the Philosophy of Foreign policy instead of constant attacks on America; getting a little boring.)

babthrower answered on 04/20/03:

It is only to be expected. Throughout history, there has been a tendency for nations to form alliances for the following purposes:

1. Self-defense

2. In order to crush a common enemy

3. In order to maintain a 'balance of power' so that no powerful state will simply walk over one smaller nation after another, like knocking over a row of dominoes.

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 04/20/03 - U.S. Democracy (only for those who believe philosophy involves current affairs)

Give us back our democracy

Americans have been cheated and lied to on matters of the gravest constitutional importance

Edward Said
Sunday April 20, 2003
The Observer

In a speech in the Senate on 19 March, the first day of war against Iraq, Robert Byrd, the Democrat Senator from West Virginia, asked: 'What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?'
No one bothered to answer, but as the American military machine currently in Iraq stirs restlessly in other directions, these questions give urgency to the failure, if not the corruption, of democracy.

Let us examine what the US's Middle East policy has wrought since George W. Bush came to power. Even before the atrocities of 11 September, Bush's team had given Ariel Sharon's government freedom to colonise the West Bank and Gaza, kill and detain people at will, demolish their homes, expropriate their land and imprison them by curfew and military blockades. After 9/11, Sharon simply hitched his wagon to 'the war on terrorism' and intensified his unilateral depredations against a defenceless civilian population under occupation, despite UN Security Council Resolutions enjoining Israel to withdraw and desist from its war crimes and human-rights abuses.

In October 2001, Bush launched the invasion of Afghanistan, which opened with concentrated, high-altitude bombing (an 'anti-terrorist' military tactic, which resembles ordinary terrorism in its effects and structure) and by December had installed a client regime with no effective power beyond Kabul. There has been no significant US effort at reconstruction, and it seems the country has returned to its former abjection.

Since the summer of 2002, the Bush administration has conducted a propaganda campaign against the despotic government of Iraq and with the UK, having unsuccessfully tried to push the Security Council into compliance, started the war. Since last November, dissent disappeared from the mainstream media swollen with a surfeit of ex-generals sprinkled with recent terrorism experts drawn from Washington right-wing think-tanks.

Anyone who was critical was labelled anti-American by failed academics, listed on websites as an 'enemy' scholar who didn't toe the line. Those few public figures who were critical had their emails swamped, their lives threatened, their ideas trashed by media commentators who had become sentinels of America's war.

A torrent of material appeared equating Saddam Hussein's tyranny not only with evil, but with every known crime. Some of this was factually correct but neglected the role of the US and Europe in fostering Saddam's rise and maintaining his power. In fact, the egregious Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam in the early 80s, assuring him of US approval for his catastrophic war against Iran. US corporations supplied nuclear, chemical and biological materials for the supposed weapons of mass destruction and then were brazenly erased from public record.

All this was deliberately obscured by government and media in manufacturing the case for destroying Iraq. Either without proof or with fraudulent information, Saddam was accused of harbouring weapons of mass destruction seen as a direct threat to the US. The appalling consequences of the US and British intervention in Iraq are beginning to unfold, with the calculated destruction of the country's modern infrastructure, the looting of one of the world's richest civilisations, the attempt to engage motley 'exiles' plus large corporations in rebuilding the country, and the appropriation of its oil and its modern destiny. It's been suggested that Ahmad Chalabi, for example, will sign a peace treaty with Israel, hardly an Iraqi idea. Bechtel has already been awarded a huge contract.

This is an almost total failure in democracy - ours, not Iraq's: 70 per cent of the American people are supposed to support this, but nothing is more manipulative than polls asking 465 Americans whether they 'support our President and troops in time of war'. As Senator Byrd said: 'There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered ... a pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.'

I am convinced this was a rigged, unnecessary and unpopular war. The reactionary Washington institutions that spawned Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams and Feith provide an unhealthy intellectual and moral atmosphere. Policy papers circulate without real peer review, adopted by a government requiring justification for illicit policy. The doctrine of military pre-emption was never voted on by the American people or their representatives. How can citizens stand up against the blandishments offered to the government by companies like Halliburton and Boeing? Charting a strategic course for the most lavishly endowed military establishment in history is left to ideologically based pressure groups (eg fundamentalist Christian leaders), wealthy private foundations and lobbies like AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. It seems so monumentally criminal that important words like democracy and freedom have been hijacked, used as a mask for pillage, taking over territory and settling scores. The US programme for the Arab world has become the same as Israel's. Along with Syria, Iraq once represented the only serious military threat to Israel and, therefore, it had to be smashed.

Besides, what does it mean to liberate and democratise a country when no one asked you to do it and when, in the process, you occupy it militarily while failing to preserve law and order? What a travesty of strategic planning when you assume 'natives' will welcome your presence after you've bombed and quarantined them for 13 years.

A preposterous mindset about American beneficence has infiltrated the minutest levels of the media. In writing about a 70-year-old Baghdad widow who ran a cultural centre in her home that was wrecked by US raids and who is now beside herself with rage, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins implicitly chastises her for her 'comfortable life under Saddam Hussein' and piously disapproves of her tirade against the Americans, 'and this from a graduate of London University'.

Adding to the fraudulence of the weapons not found, the Stalingrads that didn't occur, the artillery defences that never happened, I wouldn't be surprised if Saddam disappeared suddenly because a deal was made in Moscow to let him, his family, and his money leave in return for the country. The war had gone badly for the US in the south, and Bush couldn't risk the same in Baghdad. On 6 April, a Russian convoy leaving Iraq was bombed; Condi Rice appeared in Russia on 7 April; Baghdad fell 9 April.

Nevertheless, Americans have been cheated, Iraqis have suffered impossibly and Bush looks like a cowboy. On matters of the gravest importance, constitutional principles have been violated and the electorate lied to. We are the ones who must have our democracy back.

· Edward Said is Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York


babthrower answered on 04/20/03:

What is not in doubt is that there is a great deal of well-meaning idealism in America.

How is it channeled? Through the nation's leadership.

Bush has played up the suffering of the Iraqi people to justify a war fought, as usual, on economic principles.

But the suffering of the Palestinian people is almost unknown in America.

A few years ago, in 1979, a British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, did a film about that very thing. It was called 'The Palestinians'.

Even though she had previously done very significant work for various causes (she's a compulsive do-gooder - nuclear disarmament, opposition to the war in Vietnam, independence for northern Ireland, freedom for Soviet Jews (the 'refusniks', whose emigration restrictions were later eased in the 1980's), aid for Bosnian Muslims and other victims of Serb aggression, apartheid in South Africa); and even though she had starred in a holocaust movie sympathetically depicting the courage and suffering of Jews during the holocaust, her act inflamed the Jewish Defense League.

- in 1980 she was burned in effigy outside CBS studios in Hollywood and Philadelphia
- snipers fired shots into one of the buildings, and station KNXT-TV in Los Angeles reported "numerous bomb threats"
- actor Theodore Bikel, then president of Actors' Equity, said that in the film PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had called for the liquidation of Israel and Redgrave had agreed. This is not in the film, but the slander spread.
- in 1982 the Boston Symphony Orchestra canceled a sold-out performance of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex," with narration by Vanessa Redgrave, because some financial supporters of the orchestra claimed her
appearance would offend the Jewish community
- because of her sympathy for the Palestinians, she was accused of being a terrorist (sound familiar?)
- In the New York Times, as late as 4/4/97, she was called "an ardent supporter of the P.L.O."

The International Jewish Peace Union has depicted her much more fairly. Of course, the Zionists call the Peace Union members "Jewish Anti-Semites". That is the price one may have to pay if one tries to see both sides in a dispute involving one's own people.

Hauntingly reminiscent of those Americans who out of conscience questioned the U.S. attack on Iraq and, in other times, Vietnam?

American idealism has been invoked time and time again: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, VietNam and elsewhere. In each case, the idealism was prompted by an appeal to the sympathy of Americans toward the suffering civilians of those nations. But in each and every case the real motive was economic. In many cases the U.S. has propped up, for economic reasons, dictatorships every bit as brutal as the one they have now overthrown.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/19/03 - Grasping Reality

Those who would rather have a grasp on reality than listen to what pundits and others say who have never been near Iraq ought, really ought, to read the reporting of John Burns, the top reporter of the New York Times who has written a long piece on the "Last, Desperate Days of a Brutal Regime" in The New York Times of April 20 which you can read online now just by going to the New York Times (NYTimes.com)You can then read about what Iraq was really like and make up your own mind

babthrower answered on 04/20/03:

I have searched back through my answers looking for my previous posts on the Iraq war, all the way back to February. Can't find 'em.

The reason I wanted to quote myself was that in my arguments against the invasion I was not relying on what people who had never been near Iraq said.

My objection was that no nation (particularly a powerful one whose citizens are literate, wealthy and command a high technology) ought, in these times, to invade a sovereign nation without U.N. sanction.

That Saddam was a monster was never in doubt. That his demise was cowardly and ignominious is not the point. There have been many cruel dictatorships allowed free reign since World War II which have tortured, murdered, imprisoned and 'disappeared' their own citizens. Yet for economic reasons we did not invade the countries and depose the leaders.

Whether the Iraq war was a change of policy, and from now on individual nations or coalitions will invade all such countries to free the people, whether in Africa, Asia, the Philippines, South America, or the Middle east,

- OR -

the war was fought for economic reasons, and the descriptions of Saddam's regime are merely justification,

remains to be seen.

At any rate, the invasion of Iraq was a most dangerous exercise, and we have yet to see the longer-range results.

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 04/16/03 - What is truth?

What is truth?

babthrower answered on 04/20/03:

Hi, Tony,

You said, "If the only reality of truth is measured in the degree of satisfaction emoted by human beings upon hearing a particular statement the success of science is due to emotion rather than insight into reality!"

Is that so absurd?

When A,B,C...n agree that a scientific statement is 'true', is it not because by whatever mechanisms which they trust, they have 'satisfied' themselves as to its truth?

We all know the sense of satisfaction that accompanies a well-reasoned argument. We all also know that we can use reason, but we cannot show or demonstrate, except by axioms, why this particular string of statements leads to a 'satisfactory' or convincing 'proof'.

All we know for sure about reasoning is that most sane people agree that it works.

How do we know that it works?

In the long run, it comes down to the agreement of most sane people, and the success of the scientific method in a lot of cases as measured by mankind's increasing power over the material world.

Convincing, but not compelling evidence that reasoning works to find 'truth'. It certainly supports the belief that the scientific method is somehow conducive to reliable results.

But it doesn't prove how, or to what extent, reasoning arrives at 'truth'.

We observe that the fulfilling of any biologically-driven act yields pleasure or 'satisfaction' to the higher organism.

Could 'reasoning' be simply a hard-wired set of requirements whose utility is its survival value? If it is, or could be so, then how do we know that there are not better, more powerful, means of arriving at 'truth' which are simply beyond our biological capability?

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/19/03 - moral criteria to describe their nation,




Has anyone noticed the language leaders of their nation use to describe their own nation?

What other nations use goodness terminology as often as American leaders (of both political parties) do.

What other nations use moral criteria to describe their nation, be they Despotic or Democratic?

I don’t believe they do, any idea why only in America this is happening?

Does the rhetoric that leaders use to describe their nations tell you anything about those nations?



babthrower answered on 04/19/03:

DArk Crow, in your response you say "America, since its inception, has been concerned more with the value of human rights than any other nation."

I realize that Americans are taught mostly American history. But still, here are some points you ought to consider:

* Hobbes 1588-1679 (English phil.)
All human law derives from natural law; when human law departed from natural law, disaster followed;
All monarchs ruled not by the consent of heaven, but by the consent of the people.

* Descartes 1596-1650 (Fr. phil.)
Skepticism about received knowledge

* Locke 1632-1704 (English phil.)
Government and authority is based on natural law. Natural law dictated that all human beings were fundamentally equal; he derived this argument from his theories of human development.

* Philosophe movement (High point 1748 through 1751; more inclusively 1748-1800)
which argued that a monarch's job is to see to the rights and welfare of the governed. The movement also believed in:

1. Progress: Human beings progress by a) developing a knowledge of the natural world and the ability to manipulate the world through technology; b) overcoming ignorance bred of superstitions and religions; c) overcoming human cruelty and violence through social improvements and government structures.

2. Deism: a) religion should be reasonable and should result in the highest moral behavior of its adherents; b) the knowledge of the natural world and the human world has nothing to do whatsoever with religion and should be approached completely free from religious ideas or convictions.

3. Tolerance: A fair, just, and productive society absolutely depends on religious tolerance of varying Christian sects and of non-Christian religions as well.

* Political changes that occurred in Europe as a direct result of Enlightenment thinking before American was a nation:

Maria Theresa of Austria undertook a number of reforms to increase the quality of life for Austrian peasants. In particular, she severely reduced the amount of work that a landholder could demand of a peasant.

Joseph II of Austria abolished serfdom as a legal status entirely. In addition, he granted a number of new liberties to the peasant population: the right to learn skills, the right to marry, the right to educate their own children. He also took many of the privileges that landlords held over peasants away. In 1781, he declared the Toleration Patent, which declared that all Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, and Calvinist churches could freely worship without harassment, and eased the oppression of Jews.

Catherine the Great of Russia (ruled1762-1796) abolished judicial torture and increased religious tolerance somewhat. She began economic reforms, eliminating trade barriers such as taxes and tariffs, built up the Russian middle class, and granted rights to individual towns in an effort to spur productivity and the growth of wealth.

England radically reduced the power of the monarch and developed an alternative state in which the powers of the monarch became subsidiary to the power of the branches of government. England introduced in 1628, by the Petition of Right, the first statement of the rights of those outside of the nobility and the clergy:

- No funds could be borrowed or raised through taxes and tariffs without the explicit approval of Parliament
-
- No free person (Britain had slavery at the time) could be imprisoned without a reason;

- No troops could be garrisoned in a private home without permission of the owner.

When the king, Charles II, went back on this law, the English by revolution seized power and executed him for treason.

When his successors also insisted on the Divine Right of Kings, Parliament drew up a Bill of Rights, expelled the King, and invited another king and queen to rule, provided they would sign the bill. They accepted.

This Bill of Rights severely restricted the power of the monarch over Parliament and over individuals and would become the fundamental basis of the American Bill of Rights over a century later. Two important provisions:

No monarch could assume the throne without the express approval of Parliament;

The monarch would be subject to all the laws of the realm.

And two other points need to be made:

1. Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1772. Slave trade was abolished throughout the Empire in 1807. America abolished both in 1865.

2. Votes for women were granted as follows:

New Zealand (1893)
Australia (1902)
Finland (1906)
Norway (1913)
Soviet Russia (1917)
Canada (1918)
Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (1919)
Great Britain (1918 and 1928)*
The United States of America and Hungary (1920)
Burma (now Myanmar; 1922)

*(In England women aged 30 and over were enfranchised in 1918; women over 21 in 1928)

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 04/17/03 - What do you think?

America lets history go up in smoke
By MAUREEN DOWD
THE NEW YORK TIMES

LAST WEEK, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was leaning towards believing that Saddam Hussein was alive and Osama bin Laden was dead. This week, it is leaning towards believing that Osama is alive and Saddam is dead.

Unless, of course, Saddam is not dead.

Even though US commander General Tommy Franks claims to have Saddam's DNA, American forensic experts have not been pawing through the rubble of the Baghdad safe house and restaurant where Saddam and his sons were targeted on April 7 - a pretty good clue that they don't expect to find any traces of Saddam there.

And on Tuesday night, rumours were flitting through the intelligence community that Saddam may be on the run, after plastic surgery. The man is known to be an aficionado of cosmetic enhancement. He requested liposuction, teeth-whitening and hair-transplant equipment through United Nations officials in 1998 as humanitarian 'essential medical supplies'. Maybe the reason no weapons of mass destruction have been found is that all that botulinum toxin he stored wasn't to make biological weapons, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, but Botox.

What if Saddam never intended to defend Baghdad? What if he plotted a Body Heat-style ending, where a lookalike would be blown up while he escaped to a secluded tropical beach?

It wouldn't have been so difficult. While he went under the knife in an underground operating room or in Syria, he could have put old videotapes on Iraqi television and sent doubles on walkabouts and the information minister on lie-abouts.

It always seemed suspicious that at the height of the bombing campaign, with US forces ringing the city, Saddam strolled around Baghdad with relatives and top aides.

Whether he is dust or has a new face, he's gone. And the US now owns his country, for the bargain down payment of US$79 billion (S$141 billion). America broke away from the British empire, and now it's building its own British-style empire. America is, as Niall Ferguson, the author of Empire, put it, 'an empire in denial'.

Americans obviously have some things to learn from the British. When they carted off the treasures of the nations they conquered to the British Museum, they at least preserved them for future generations to fight over.

The coalition forces were guarding the Iraqi Oil Ministry building while hundreds of Iraqis ran off with precious heirlooms and artefacts from a 7,000-year-old civilisation. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blew off the repeated requests of scholars and archaeologists that the soldiers protect Iraqi history in the museum as zealously as they protected Iraqi wealth in the oil wells.

Mr Rumsfeld made it clear on Tuesday that he was not too worried about a few old pots. He said it was 'a stretch' to attribute the looting of the museum to 'a defect' in the war plan.

'We've seen looting in this country,' he said at the Pentagon briefing. 'We've seen riots at soccer games at various countries around the world... To the extent it happens in a war zone, it's difficult to stop.'

The government should have taken 20 seconds, when it was awarding the Halliburton reconstruction contract, to protect art, books and hospital supplies.

Even when they had the museum as an awful example, the war planners let more of Iraq's priceless intellectual history be destroyed, as looters and arsonists gutted the National Library on Monday.

Just because the US didn't go to Iraq to bring artistic treasures home doesn't mean it has to be utterly indifferent to their fate.

Just because America doesn't want to be an empire doesn't mean it has to be utterly lacking in grandeur.

Just because the leaders who prosecuted this war were oil men doesn't mean they have to prosecute the war like oil men.

Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf's husband, was sent to govern part of Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) in the early 20th century and resigned, discouraged by the difficulties of occupation. The most an imperial administration could hope to do, he said, was to 'prevent people from killing one another or robbing one another, or burning down the camp'.

And that's the least America must do.


babthrower answered on 04/18/03:

When I heard of the destruction of ancient and priceless objects from the museum, my first 'take' on it was that the Americans had been given orders to minimize civilian casualties.

Therefore their priority was not to stop looters and vandals. As we know from our own rioters, some will not stop until someone else starts shooting.

The opposition press would have had a field day, reporting 'innocent unarmed citizens shot down while carrying heavy loads, and thus unable to defend themselves'. Too bad. It's just the nature of propaganda, which both sides use ruthlessly.

War always costs dearly in material terms, although the emphasis is usually placed on human life.

How many lives would have been lost if the soldiers had tried to stop the looting and vandalism?

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/18/03 - Excuses

When people make excuses, like, "it was an accident," or "it was a mistake," or "I am sorry, I didn't know that I was interrupting," what are they doing? (I am supposing that the excuses are valid excuses)

babthrower answered on 04/18/03:

A sincere apology is a submissive social gesture that reaffirms the value of the broken rule.

It is as if the apologizer were saying, "I know it's rude to be late, and I respect you and all those whom I disturbed, and I'm saying this so I will not be penalized by your disapproval, because I did not plan to be late: some accidental event prevented me."

But there's another form of apology, not at all a sign of social submission, insincere and formal, that seems to say "I don't care if I have bothered you. My preference, such as flirting with someone in the hallway for ten minutes, was more important than your inconvenience. Nevertheless, I will say the magic words, and I expect that saying them will deflect any social consequences."

One can usually tell from the manner of presenting the apology which kind it is.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/16/03 - Peirce on Descartes

C.S. Peirce, probably the greatest of American philosophers, wrote the following about Descartes' famous skepticism and method of doubt:

"We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophyÖ.[Descartes'] initial scepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given upÖ.Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts."

And about Descartes' view of certainty that " The test of certainty (if it is to be found at all) is to be found in the individual consciousness" Peirce writes,

"To make single individuals absolute judges of truth is most pernicious. We individually cannot reasonably hope to attain the ultimate philosophy which we pursue; we can only seek it, therefore, for the community of philosophers. Hence, if disciplined and candid minds carefully examine a theory and refuse to accept it, this ought to create doubts in the mind of the author of the theory himself"

Any comments?

babthrower answered on 04/16/03:

I think Pierce was being a little hard on poor old Descartes. It's obvious to me that Descartes was not pretending that he was actually in a condition of complete doubt. He was saying, 'Suppose we doubted everything', or 'Let's try and doubt everything; what remains that it would not be possible to doubt?'

I don't think that Descartes was self-deceived at all. Of course, we have terms today that were not available to Descartes, such as 'thought experiment'.

Does the scientist who says 'Suppose light is a wave; what would follow? Suppose light is a particle; what would follow?' deceive himself?

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 04/16/03 - What is truth?

What is truth?

babthrower answered on 04/16/03:

"Truth" is a theoretical condition. Humans ascribe it to a situation in which words or images represent an actual state or condition or attribute.

But humans know that though theoretically possible in human imagination, truth is not found in nature.

The scientist says

"I have in this test tube a chunk of phlogiston which weighs precisely 1 gram.

"In this second test tube I have a chunk of phlogiston which weighs precisely 1 gram.

"Therefore I can truthfully say that the contents of these test tubes are precisely equal to each other."

But he's lying. As a scientist, he knows that the contents will almost certainly be unequal by many billions of molecules.

Or take this conversation:

"What do you see?"

"I see a chair."

"Is that true?"

"Yes, I'd swear to it."

But what's true is that he (probably) sees portions of a tree which have been modified by human(s) into a shape which humans have named 'chair'. But what is a chair? Is it a functional artifact, or an art object, or a status symbol, or the result of a woodworking project and will be reduced to its constituent parts right after "Parents' Day" without ever being sat upon?

So all statements are highly conventional, and the convention is language. So it suits us to think of a theoretical correspondence, but that is absurd. How does a collection of bits of wood "correspond" to a certain excitation of certain of the glial cells in one or more human skulls?

But still we may talk of 'correspondence', humbly acknowledging that humans go around naming things, and this is a useful thing for humans to do. Just what it is we name, we do not exactly know. Still, the same object may elicit the same verbalization in two or more people: "chair"! (Loud cheers!)

It's a kind of approximation. A portion of our sensory input causes us to conclude that there is a discrete object out there; but that's a problematical thing to conclude. The 'chair' may have chewing gum stuck to its underside; still we call it a 'chair' Two lovers may scrape and remove some material from it so that they may proclaim their joined initials to an uncaring world; still, it's a 'chair'. We may even call it 'the same chair'.

And if we agree that it is a chair, then we say that 'this is a chair' is true. If we don't agree, then the opposing view is called 'false' or 'a damned lie' or 'reason enough to be sent to the stake', depending on how political the disagreement is.

So we should put the concept of 'truth' into its context. It's a convenient classification for statements made by human beings. It's only reality is measured in the degree of satisfaction emoted by human beings upon hearing a particular statement, which, no doubt, might be measured by an EEG machine or some other fiendish device.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/15/03 - the language of the mystical



According to Wittgenstein we cannot ask meaningful questions to 'the mystical' and so we cannot expect meaningful answers.The only recourse is silence.
Things un-say-able are thus radically cut out by Wittgenstein’s razor, but is it not the sole object of the discipline of metaphysics to say the un-say-able? Is it not the duty of the philosopher to enlighten where no light seems to survive?

The mystical never left philosophy, it's there if you look for it. When the day or night is over and the philosopher stops writing and talking about philosophy, sits and sips his brandy, the mystical is there, in the twilight, inspiring with barely a word said or written. Any language is the language of the mystical.

babthrower answered on 04/15/03:

What you say very well be true, D.C., but there seems to be no point in trying to communicate the mystical experience.

The mystical experience may be very real to the subject, in fact it may be the subject's only reality. But the experience cannot be conveyed to others. Something is lost.

I have read the reports written by St. Theresa of Avila describing her mystical revelations, and found them to be sexually masochistic, using imagery which is only too clear (since Freud).

Is that what she wanted to convey? I doubt it. Is that what it 'really meant' -- that she was both sexually repressed and innocent? Who knows?

That's the trouble with mysticism. It's either impossible or very difficult to describe, and impossible to demonstrate or prove.

It's a private experience.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/15/03 - philosophical beliefs

It seems that much of what we believe start as philosophical questions and end up as psychological problems. Our core beliefs are arrived at not through conscious and deliberate review of reality and various philosophical considerations, but through our childhood experiences in our families of origin and, so on.
For most people who actually do start re-evaluating their own core beliefs from a more explicit and philosophical standpoint, the starting place is psychological or spiritual in nature.

Such philosophical beliefs include judgments about human nature, about what values are worth pursuing, the validity of emotions, and so on. I know that I have many such implicit philosophical beliefs.

So what I question is philosophies ability to be effective in altering core beliefs, without causing psychological problems.

babthrower answered on 04/15/03:

Would this be an example, D.C.?

Core beliefs which an infant might learn by interaction with loving protective parents might be that the world is a safe place and others are trustworthy.

Later evidence to the contrary (death of a parent, a cruel teacher or step-parent) might cause the child to question the core belief and even reject it.

The result might be either that the child becomes distrustful of all others, or that the child is slower to trust strangers.

I'm not sure this is psychological damage, since being too trusting is not a good survival strategy. But let's agree that it is damaging.

Then the reconciliation, if it comes, comes when the child accepts the real-world fact that not all people are trustworthy.

Psychological damage would persist if the child reached adulthood trusting no one, regardless of the other's behavior.

The cognitive approach may in such a case actually assist the adult to overcome the trauma. (You see that I class cognitive therapy as a type of philosophical activity.)

I don't think we can conclude that all examination of core beliefs are traumatic. Some are quite fun, actually.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/15/03 - Uplift or Understanding?

Apparently some people think that like women's bras, philosophy should provide uplift I am not one of those. I think that philosophy should provide understanding of key concepts like knowledge, belief, emotion, causation, and so on. The great philosophers are (and were) on the side of understanding. As Samuel Goldwyn replied when he was asked by his films did not provide BELIEF in something, "When I want to send a message I will use Western Union." The same for philosophy.

babthrower answered on 04/15/03:

I think the uplifting emotions or sensations, if that is what one is seeking, are best sought in mysticism.

I think it's been pretty well established that meditation and asceticism can give rise to pleasurable emotions such as a feeling of one with the universe, or the all-pervading love of a divine being. Other routes are: deprivation of food and/or water, self-inflicted pain, severe physical exhaustion, prolonged sleep deprivation, and of course drugs.

Mind you, when I clarify even a mundane point that has been irking me, expecially when I do it by correcting my own faulty thought process, or someone else shows me my error, I feel quite satisfied, even happy about it! But I doubt if my emotions are on a par with the ecstasy which some mystics have reported.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/15/03 - the private world, in which we live;

What is it about “belief” that makes it so powerful, such a force of energy?

We each, truly create the private world, in which we live; and it is through this thing we describe as “belief”.

Can Analytic Philosophy tell us anything about this?

Can Enlightenment Philosophy tell us?

babthrower answered on 04/15/03:

'We each...create the private world in which we live; and [we create it] through this thing we describe as “belief”.'

This implies that belief is innate. Do you mean belief in things we cannot sense? Or do you mean all beliefs, e.g. the world is (roughly) spherical?

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/15/03 - Aphorisms/Quotes

Aphorisms from the great thinkers in history have special meaning to us for a number of reasons. What are some of your favourites and why?

Here are some of mine:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it". Aristotle

"There is no end to our searchings. No generous mind stops within itself. Its pursuits are without limit; its food is wonder, the chase, ambiguity".
(Montaigne; Essays)

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius".
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom".
Bertrand Russell

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand".
Frank Herbert

"Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself".
Chinese Proverb

babthrower answered on 04/15/03:

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work ... I want to achieve it through not dying.
-- Woody Allen

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/13/03 - War on Terrorist

It's interesting that people have still not caught onto the new phase that entered into US foreign policy the day of Sep 11, and how it has redefined the world, terrorism and war; and how we have all, for some unknown reason, continued to debate what 'international terrorism' is.

babthrower answered on 04/14/03:

It's possible, isn't it, that some people who do understand terrorism can still conclude that selecting a sovereign nation to target for military attack because it supports terrorism is not the best response?

The reason: the domino effect. After nation #1 is destroyed, the surviving terrorists flee to a nearby safe haven; this nation in turn must be destroyed.

At some point there may be a backlash of world opinion (not just Muslim opinion). What the consequences of that may mean perhaps remains to be seen.

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Dark_Crow asked on 04/14/03 - annoyed by analytic philosophy?

Jon inspired this question by asking if I was annoyed with analytic philosophy.

I am not annoyed by analytic philosophy; I do, however question its usefulness, aside from history where it could be covered quite well.

Or am I missing something here, or it might be ask if maybe I should just question the usefulness of philosophy all together, instead of analytic philosophy. Is continental philosophy more useful? If so how? Ancient philosophy? Medieval? Enlightenment philosophy?

babthrower answered on 04/14/03:

Ummm, I think the non-analytic philosophy that first springs to mind is very metaphysical: it involves speculation about statements which can not be tested or proved, and conclusions which can not be proved or disproved, except to one's own satisfaction. It involves the acceptance of the validity of ways of knowing which cannot be demonstrated to others in a compelling way.

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Dark_Crow asked on 04/13/03 - onus is on the author to make his meaning clear?

Somewhere I have read that the onus is on the author to make his meaning clear. But I wonder if the reader too must be accountable; and attempt to help [even in a creative way if necessary] understand that meaning, isn’t that the civilized way? For instance, I thought it was quite clear, as Andri pointed out, I quote, ---philosophers rarely _talk_ about creativity.”, it was not whether philosophers exhibited creativity.

I have yet to read a paper, or arguments, asking the nature of creativity; from Academic Philosophy Professors. If anyone knows of them, please refer me. Although some Post-Moderns have touched on it in what I can only say sounds more Mystical than analogical.


babthrower answered on 04/13/03:

DC, you are right to reprimand me. I read the question carelessly.

You say: "Although some Post-Moderns have touched on it in what I can only say sounds more Mystical than analogical."

I think that the problem is that creativity is not clearly defined. In general, it means the ability to originate. And perhaps we can agree that originality is a hallmark of what we call creativity.

But we all know that creativity is variously defined. To one person, it is to represent an idea never before represented. To others, it is to act or say or represent something in a new way. To yet others, it might mean to be outrageous, to challenge traditional thinking and values.

So perhaps the task of talking about creativity belongs more to psychology than to philosophy.

And, as you know, until quite recently (late 19th C.) psychology was merely a branch of philosophy. Psychology today has the advantage of applying (when it chooses to) the methods of scientific experiment and data analysis, whereas within philosophy it limited itself to introspection, inference and analysis.

But even a cursory glance at psychology sites shows that it's a very hot topic indeed in that discipline. Judging by the titles I have seen it is also a lucrative one; there are as many books and seminars and videos on the subject as there are diet books among the general press offerings.

This suggests something else: there is a 'trendiness' about the subject that probably did not resonate in previous cultures to the extent that it does in contemporary times. It may well be that creativity was formerly seen as a human attribute, such as ingenuity, and was therefore taken for granted.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/12/03 - scholarly philosophy

Creativity is a word scholarly philosophy has seemed to have had little use for; or have I missed something? Is there some particular reason for this ?

babthrower answered on 04/13/03:

There is creativity in science, and it may be manifested, for example, in the selection of a model of a process observed in nature, as an aid to understanding. Such insights occurred with Watson and Crick when after many had tried to figure out the structure of the DNA molecule, Watson 'got' it by means of a 'visualization' which came to him spontaneously.

Another occurred when von Kekule, in 1865, fell asleep and had a dream that the benzene molecule was a snake biting its tail while in a whirling motion. His concept of the six-carbon benzene ring resulted in to the idea of a closed structure for certain organic molecules.

So creativity and analysis of data work hand in hand; but I'll grant that the analytic side is preponderant.

Similarly in philosophy creativity and analysis work hand in hand; perhaps it would be better to say that they fuel each other!

Creativity often results from combining images or ideas that appear to be quite dissimilar. This can lead to inspiring insights in any application.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/11/03 - a paralogical conversation

Is a paralogical conversation something philosophy should adopt as a means for answering the questions of philosophy?

paralogy- a stimulating conversation that generates ideas without necessarily resulting in consensus. These new ideas emerge, in large part, because paralogy allows us to define the rules of language terms locally and provisionally. That is, in a local conversation we might say, "I am using the word in this sense." (Of course, there are many terms that will not be defined locally even in a paralogical conversation.) This is Lyotard's term; however, Lyotard conceived of paralogy involving agonistics, and after much conversation on this topic in PMTH [PostmodernTherapies NEWS] , most feel that it can and does take place without agonistics, or at least without aggressive agonistics. Most people on PMTH look for a different metaphor or social poetics to describe the way in which one comment links to another in paralogy.

Should we restrict our vocabulary to terms that everybody already knows?

babthrower answered on 04/11/03:

"Should we restrict our vocabulary to terms that everybody already knows?"

No. That would be immoral. At least according to some definitions of morality. We ought to ask: "What would result if everyone did this thing" when deciding on the morality of an action.

Because if everyone had always restricted vocabulary to terms that everyone already knows, then instead of having half a million words in English, we would have only grunts.

Dewey used the example of the squirrel going 'around' the tree. "It depends on what you mean by 'around'," he said. He was a pragmatist. He said this casually, off the cuff. He said this many years ago. He did not make a big deal of it. He thought it was self-evident. So do I.

We assume people are using words in the usual 'dictionary' sense of the word. Sometimes weird things follow from what people say, and when that happens, we might ask "Is the speaker using words in their usual sense? Or is he using them metaphorically? Or is he perverting their meaning from the usual meaning in order to express an image or thought for which no word exists?"

But it is the speaker's duty to alert hearers to this quixotic or neologistic use. It should not be the hearer's duty to guess what the speaker means.

The practice of coining or appropriating a new word is commonplace in philosophy. The Germans, bless 'em, are particularly fond of the practice. That's no doubt because of the of the way German words are constructed. You just add on more particles until a word represents an entire complex definition. Mind you, the word may well be 14 syllables long.

In fact many commonplace English words have this kind of extended meaning. We say our skin is 'inflamed' by a burn. This was once a metaphor, but now, because the word has been used so commonly to represent the tissue condition, it is one of the definitions of 'inflamed'. But 'inflamed' originally meant, 'to set on fire'.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/09/03 - Rationalism in Politics

In 1947 Michael Oakeshott published his great essay, "Rationalism in Politics" in which he described the heirs of 17th century Continental Rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, as well as the 19th century Hegel and Marx) as what we now call "ideologues" who have a preference for ideas and intellectual constructs over custom, habit, and tradition. Like the ideologue and the revolutionary, the Rationalist thinks little or nothing has been done before his time. Skeptical and optimistic, he brings all issues before his intellect as though he is the first to have considered them, as though starting with a tabula rasa. The rationalist views the world more through the veil of ideas than with his five senses.

I was thinking of Oakeshott as I was watching the amazing television images of Iraqi's jubilating in the streets of Baghdad, and about the topple the statue of Saadam in the center square. And as I saw a sign carried by Iraqis telling the Human Shields that their services not only were no longer required, but had never been required. And I was also thinking of Oakeshott as I remembered how, only a few weeks ago our attack was described as having "bogged down" and Peter Arnett said (on Iraqi television) that our intitial efforts had been defeated). And, last, but not least, how we had prevented Saadam from destroying the oil fields as he had intended, and from launching missiles at Israel.

And, finally, I had been wondering when we would hear anything from the hand-wringers on this board and elsewhere, who were the most persistent of all political Rationalists.

babthrower answered on 04/10/03:

We see news camera footage showing small groups dancing in the streets, and passers-by assaulting a poster bearing Hussein's picture, and a small crowd abusing a statue.

I don't think that translates into nation-wide rejoicing. If my country were invaded and its rulers toppled, after I had been fed an undiluted diet of propaganda that the invaders were fiends, I would be keeping a low profile, too.

The real outcome will be seen within the next five years. Will the Iraqis elect a man who is committed to democracy, or will they elect another general or religious fanatic as leader? Will the hoped-for economic improvement occur? If not, who will they blame?

After the French Revolution, the people elected a weak democracy. Napoleon seized control of the French government. A new constitution overwhelmingly approved by the French people replaced the Directory with a three-member Consulate, dominated by Napoleon as dictator. Clearly the French wanted a strong leader.

So the success or failure of the Iraq war remains to be seen. But Arab nations are now wondering, who's next? Syria? Iran?

This story is not over.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/08/03 - interpreting the private language argument

What exactly is the private language argument? Is it an argument at all? If so, what does it say?

There are many ways of interpreting the private language argument. What do you think it is?

babthrower answered on 04/08/03:

Good site, Jon, thanks.

It could be argued that symbol system that

"can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand [it]"

is not a language at all. By definition, language is

"the whole body of words and of methods of combining them used by a nation, people or race; a 'tongue'" (O.U.D.)

So communication is implicit. Sticking the word 'private' in front of it generates an absurdity, like 'the sound of one hand clapping'.

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 04/08/03 - Re: English Changing Rapidly

Two years ago, I read the book, "The Year 1000, What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World by Robert Lacey. The book was so fascinating that I began to read history books (for pleasure, I'm obviously not a scholar)from the year 900-approximately 1300 plus stuff about the plague in the late 1300's.

Anyway, at that time was when I read that vernacular English changed from Old English to Middle English in the relatively short period of time of 30 years or so. I tried to memorize the info about this stunning statement, but alas, no short time memory! As I recall, the evidence was written material. Perhaps, poetry unearthed. Sorry, I don't remember.

Anyway again, I was thinking that American English has been predicted to be unreconizable from English English by the year 2025.

So, my question is, what kind of impact would a quick change in a vernacular language of a country have on Philosophy, a talking "science"? Would there be a separate language for educated people? I thought this was interesting!

Any comments? I would like to talk about this if anyone is interested in cogitatin'. Chou

babthrower answered on 04/08/03:

Again, I would question your source.

"Has been predicted" is a little vague. Predicted by whom? What are his/her credentials in (1) language (2) predictions?

Language has changed very, very dramatically since the year 1900 A.D. Most of the changes have resulted from an increase in technical words, due, in turn, to a change in our intellectual environment. These technical words are generally the same in British English as in American English, though the pronunciations may be different.

"But when two lovers woo
They still say 'I love you',
On that we can rely."

Those words would be as intelligible to a Victorian Britisher as they are to you or I.

Grammatical rules have not changed except for the unmourned demise of the use of the subjunctive.

But how would American English of 2025 become unintelligible to Brits? That would require some very strange conditions:

-Brits can now read and understand American English (if you ignore the 'tut-tut's). They can do this because they have kept up, as we have, with increasing technical vocabulary. They watch American movies and re-broadcast American television programs. And vice versa. Remember the Beatles and Monty Python?

As part of the world body of scientists, they communicate with their peers around the world before they issue press releases, so new technical phenomena tend to be assigned the same names by both Americans and British, no matter who discovers or invents it. The Brits invented television, the Americans developed and marketed it, and everybody calls it 'television'. (Though the colloquial use is 'telly' there, 'TV' here.)

-Brits for some reason would need to stop reading American literature, stop watching American television and movies, and begin deliberately naming new technological phenomena according to a different convention.

I wonder why they would do that?

It would require a political motive, and virtual cultural isolation. The French have of course tried to do something of the sort. They call a computer an 'ordinateur' because some language purists with political clout decided they were sick of 'the American influence'. But it's failed in France, bacause the French people (as distinct from their government) love American music and movies and television.

So I doubt that the British would try something that's failed so obviously in France, even if they had a motive.

Remember that the British, while decrying the 'American influence', still never resorted to censorship in order to prevent it. The British have a long and fiercly-protected history of freedom of speech. It would take a fascist dictatorship in Britain to put an end to that tradition, and it would take several generations to suppress the underground 'intellectual freedom' movement, because of the prevalence of computers, the internet, radio and television. Censorship didn't even work in the U.S.S.R., and they WERE a dictatorship with NO tradition of freedom of speech.

But that is not answering your question, it's just questioning some of your assumptions.

If two dialects become so different that the speakers are unintelligible to each other, then they become in fact two separate languages.

To answer your question, we need to look at the past. German philosophers are intelligible to us because their works have been translated. So the contemporary works of philosophers in 2025 would need to be translated into the other languages that exist at the time, whatever they may be.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/07/03 - In all possible worlds?

In theThe Oxford Companion to Philosophy it say’s: We often talk about what might have been the case, about what is possible. I might have been a vicar - that is, although I am not actually a vicar, my being a vicar is possible. Philosophers have become accustomed to talking of such possibilities in terms of the idea of a possible world: to say that I might have been a vicar is to say that there is a possible world in which I am a vicar. A possible world is a world which differs in some possible way from our 'actual' world: e.g. a world in which tigers have no stripes, or in which no people existed.
So what are these possible worlds? The most striking answer is David Lewis's idea that other possible worlds are real: they exist in just the same sense as the actual world exists. What makes worlds distinct is the fact that they are spatio-temporally separated from one another. And what makes the actual world actual is simply the fact that we inhabit it - other speakers in other worlds who utter the words 'the actual world' will be referring to their world. 'Actual' therefore becomes an indexical.

The idea of a possible world can be put to use in other areas of philosophy. Two examples: first, Lewis and Robert Stalnaker have explicated the idea of a proposition as a set of possible worlds. The proposition expressed by the sentence 'Pigs fly' is that set of worlds in which 'Pigs fly' is true. Second, Lewis has argued that we understand the idea of a property, such as redness, not as a universal, but as a set of possible individuals: all those individuals, in this world and others, to which the predicate 'is red' truly applies. Lewis argues forcefully that we cannot make adequate sense of the applications of the notion of a possible world unless we accept worlds as real. This idea has met with much resistance. Others think that we should rather explain possible worlds in terms of sets of sentences, or as constructions out of the inhabitants of the actual world, or think with Kripke that possible worlds are stipulated rather than 'discovered'.
My question is simple, what can this kind of talk contribute to knowledge of the world we do live in?

babthrower answered on 04/08/03:

Could we just agree that when we make statements it is understood that the context is our own universe, unless we specifically include other possible universes in our frame of reference?

E.g.

(1) Chicago is a city.

(2) In other universes, there is no city named Chicago, as far as I can tell.

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Question/Answer
rosends asked on 04/06/03 - knowledge

It seems to me that there are different categories or types of knowledge, and the use of the word "know" across all categories belies a subtle distinction. This glossing over of specific meaning seems to cause confusion.

Knowledge, to my ear, can be broken into two groups:

1. that which is known by definition (I create the rules of a system, and therefore, I can be sure that something following the rules of that system is, well, known to follow those rules...

example: I have an understanding of the number system. I have rules which state what à" is, or ൜" or addition. Therefore, according to the rules I have accepted, 20+1 can be "known" to be 21. Laws of science are the codification of what we understand about the world around us and the application of these laws allows us some predictive ability. Things will continue to follow the laws and exist in the system of laws we have created. 20+1 will be 21 tomorrow, the speed of light won't change and our understanding of biology will keep dogs having puppies and not kitties.

2 Knowledge by experience (sensory knowledge) - I put on blue socks, so I know I am wearing blue socks. Pretty clear, unless I am colorblind. Then my knowledge, based in MY experience is local. I KNOW that I put my keys around here somewhere. When they get found elsewhere, this shows that what I said I "know" was wrong, even though I said it with certainty. The first girl I "knew" was 'the one' obviously wasn't, but my senses and mind said that I "knew" that she was. We can convince others of the knowledge of our own experiences by communicating so convincingly -- I describe the pancakes so in detail that you are sure I ate them. I tell about George Washington and the Cherry tree with such sincerity that it MUST be a "known" fact. Sometimes, I can confirm this knowledge with outside evidence -- I know the Mets won yesterday -- I can read the box score which is someone else's written expression of the agreed upon experience. Five people can watch golf and have different ideas of who won. I know that he "won" this hole, you "know" that she won the round, he "knows" that he won the match, and they "know" that the other guy got the highest score and must have won. The last player beat his own personal best and got that girl's phone number. Each defines winning differently and each has sensory knowledge of the win.

I "know" I wasn't speeding, regardless of what the cop says he "knows". Can we both be right, or both wrong? There is an objective truth to the event, and yet each of us sincerely claims to have access to that truth. It almost seems that objective truth and knowledge are not fully connected. Same with "proof" as proof means satisfying either the sensory/intellectual capacity to know, or defining terms in which the subject at issue is true by definition. Can it be said, then, that anything can be fully proven with certainty if terms are not absolutely agreed upon, and a "measurement" of experientila knowledge isn't devised to make all experiences equally valuable and useful?

What do we mean when we say we "know"?

Just wondering.

babthrower answered on 04/07/03:

If you think of knowledge as a continuum then you can talk of degrees of certainty.

I know I exist (100%)

I know that Chicago is an American city.
(99.9999999999999999999 %)

I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.
(99.99999999999999 %)

I know that cholesterol is bad for you.)
(63%)

I know that the war in Iraq will be decisively won by the U.S.
(43%)

We only have time in our lives to validate a small percentage of the things which are taken as certainties by a good segment of the population.

Still we long for certainty in all things. Certainty makes us feel secure. Therefore many people convince themselves that they are certain about various things when in fact they cannot be truly certain of them at all.

"I know deep in my heart that we will be in love forever," says the lust-crazed teen.

"I know that god exists," says the devotee.

"I know that some day humans will colonize other planets," says the science-crazed nerd.

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 04/06/03 - Meaning of Words

Dark Crow's question reminded me of something astounding that I read when I was doing readings in the period of 900-1300 CE in England.

In the course of about 30 years ending with the Canterbury Tales, the English language went from the largely unrecognizable(to us)English of Beowulf to the largely recognizable poetry of Chaucer.

I'm curious, how do you think of this fact in relation to discussions on knowledge and meaning and understanding of words? Or whatever your thoughts about this.

babthrower answered on 04/07/03:

I agree with Andiri. There's something wrong with your source.

Conquest: 1066
The Normans parcelled out England among the warlords who came over from France. The court would have spoken French, and had clerics as translators for a generation.

Intermarriage: (Note, 1177)
A text of that date says:

"Now that the English and Normans have been dwelling together, [intermarrying], the two nations have become so mixed this it is scarcely possible today, speaking of freemen, to tell who is English, who of Norman race."

By the end of that century, contemporary texts say that some children of the nobility spoke English as their mother tongue.

Some historians think that as little as 2% of the population was Norman by blood. So it is likely that the Normans learned English more readily than the English learned Norman French. Translators are all very well, but it's nice to understand the original words spoken, especially if you're surrounded by people you have conquered and who may not love you.

The conflict between England and France (the Hundred Years' War, the loss of Normandy) led to French being less esteemed.

In the 13th century, English is increasingly seen in letters, sermons, songs, etc. French was still the language of administration, law, and literature. Of course Latin was used in church, foreign relations and education.

English was first used in parliament (after the Conquest) in 1362.

(Chaucer's dates: 1345-1400).

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 04/05/03 - Is mathematics certain?

A lot of people seem to believe that certainty can be achieved in mathematics. But this seems wrong for two different reasons: First, people make mistakes in mathematics all the time. Try adding up a long list of numbers. And even computers contain bugs; And, second, "garbage in, garbage out." In any deductive science, any certainty to be achieved depends on the certainty of the premises themselves. If the premises are not certain, then how can the conclusions reached even by impeccable deduction be certain? They cannot be. Can we assure that the premises are, themselves, certain?

So, how can the ideal of certainty be reached even in mathematics (or other kinds of deductive knowledge for that matter)? Or can it be? A related question is whether if certainty is not to be achieved even in the deductive sciences, then how can it be held up as goal for philosophy as some experts seem to believe.

babthrower answered on 04/05/03:

Humans devised mathematics. Its rules are written in conformity with that-which-conveys-a-sense-of-certainty to humans. There is no other proof of the validity of the laws of mathematics than that they satisfy humans that they yield true statements. (The progress of science does support the idea that they are reliable, though.)

A better illustration is science per se. Here, the scientist deals with the data provided by the outside world. (That he/she uses mathematics in the process is beside the point.)

People make mistakes analyzing data all the time. That is why the replicability of an experiment is intrinsic to the scientific method. Important experiments are replicated. If the results conform to those in the initial experiment report, the results are supported. If the results fail to conform, the tests continue until the initial experiment's results are either confirmed or denied.

Particularly now in astronomy this process is rigorous. The reasons:

1 The data is hard to gather; light pollution, the limitations of instruments, thesis-bias -- all these factors require very hard scrutiny of the results of data gathering and analysis - and harder scrutiny of the experimental method and its underlying assumptions.

2 The theoretical framework is in disarray. There is evidence that individual astronomical objects are older than the universe (measuring its age as the time since the 'big bang'). This problem has not been really resolved yet, although some recent experiments done in Antarctica claim to have refined the estimates of the age of the objects so that there is a bit of overlap - barely sufficient to salvage the theory.

Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 04/04/03 - Guns

The debate over whether certain guns should be banned usually covers the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" assertion. So, should certain guns be banned and if so why? If not why not?

babthrower answered on 04/04/03:

What is a gun?

If you agree that a gun is a tool, then the next question is, "What does this tool do?"

Here are some possible answers:

1. It is a hobby tool. I like to practice my marksmanship.

2. It is a hunting too. I need meat.

3. It is a tool for killing people.

Let's examine answer #3.

Who do you want to kill?

Home invaders? They usually creep into your house when you're asleep. So an alert perpetrator, intent on, at the very least, robbery, creeps into your house and enters your bedroom. In spite of his/her stealth, you awake. You can reach for your phone or your gun. In either case, you're half asleep. You need to (1) wake up enough to realize what is happening (2) assess your risk: should I run, phone, or shoot? (3) decide to shoot (4) reach for your gun (5) check the safety (6) aim and fire.

All the perp has to do is jump on you, and clobber you.

Which do you think will happen first?

Undortunately, statistics show (god, how I hate that phrase!) that the way this particular household tool is used is by an irate family member who is extremely pissed off at another family member.

But the nice thing about non-firearms-weapons is that you have to be up close to do it (except for poison). If my spouse is really ticked, I can run from a knife or a garotte, but a bullet can run faster.

I would rather let an armed (with anything) attacker take my money than resist. Hey, I'm insured.

I would really, really rather not have other drivers own and legally carry hand guns. Sometimes I cut people off in traffic.

I own a .22 caliber rifle. I target shoot and shoot varmints on my property. A gun is a tool.

I keep that tool locked up, and the ammunition is separately locked up. If I want to shoot a raccoon (I live in a rural area) I know I can plan ahead.

I feel safest when I know that if a cop stops someone who is prowling late at night, and that person is armed, the cop has a right to ask to see a permit to carry; and that the permit is extremely hard to earn. I feel less safe when I know that anyone can carry a firearm anywhere, no questions asked.

I ought to add that I live in Canada. We have had severe restrictions on handguns since the 1930's. Military-style weapons are strictly prescribed. Hunting and target shooting weapons are readily obtained, but must be kept at home or carried with some specific intent to use, e.g. hunting. We can't just have a firearm in a car just in case.

We have been taught that crime control is the responsibility of the police.

Our murder rate is one-tenth of the American rate. I believe this is largely due to firearms being less readily available on impulse. I don't believe it is due to our being by nature a better people.

I have seen American statistics that show that in states where gun control is looser, violent crime has decreased. But in Canada, where gun control is tending to increase, violont crime has also decreased since 1991. So the good skeptic asks, is there an overall trend of decreasing violent crime?

In 2002, in Toronto, population 2.58 million, 28 people were killed by guns. Gun homicides accounted for more than half of all homicides in that year in that city.

From 1985 to 1995 inclusive, the average firearm homicide rate per 100,000 population was 0.7 in Canada, compared to 5.6 in the United States.

More Canadian statistics:

In 1996, 49% of all solved firearm homicides involved acquaintances, 18% involved a spouse, 22% involved other relatives, and 11% were killed by strangers.

In 1996, 34% (27) of all spousal homicide victims were killed by firearms.

So what is the tool, in fact, used for?

Killing acquaintances, relatives, spouses -- 89%; and 11% were used for killing strangers. And not all of the strangers were aggressors or intruders.

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Question/Answer
ethical_reason asked on 04/03/03 - I wrote this in the last post by Jon1667

Sorry about the repeat posts recently, I'm on a new copmputer and there is something wonky about it.

I repost what I said to Jon but it's only relevant for reference.

SO, MY QUESTION IS!!!!!!

Does anyone want to try to create a new system with me. A scientific method for philosophy that would allow for actual conclusions to be reached?

babthrower answered on 04/04/03:

It's an exciting challenge, but i'm afraid the difficulties are insurmountable.

If we were to use our best mental tools,we would still have to work with data.

Unfortunately, measurable, palpable data has already been grabbed by scientists.

So what remains for philosophy is to wonder and question and analyse those things for which hard, measurable data is not available.

For example, how do we know that the system of logic yields true conclusions from true premeses, even if the rules of logic are followed? Just because it feels right? ARe the rules of logic merely a matter of consensus? If so, how do we know whether concensus about the correct way to reason is the best way to reason? Can we figure out other ways to draw conclusions?

How do we know that our sensory data is reliable?

How far can we trust the conclusions of others, even if their logic is impeccable, if we have no access to the data?

What is wrong with language? How can we re-design it so that it expresses our thoughts more precisely?

If questions such as these cause an unpleasant buzzing sensation in your brain, then science is where you should be spending your time. And it pays better.

On the other hand...

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Question/Answer
valkyboy asked on 04/03/03 - on knowledge


how can there be knowledge if our knowledge claims must always be subject to skeptism? is there no way out?

babthrower answered on 04/04/03:

"Is there no way out?"

I think this means, is certitude possible.

The answer depends on the believer. Some people cling to belief in spite of much evidence that the belief is false or undetermined.

Others hold all their beliefs in abeyance; they believe them pro tem, but if some important evidence comes along that casts some doubt on the belief, they will assign the belief a certain probability.

The sense of certitude is, after all, a subjective thing. You, a resident of the village of Seeum, New Hampshire, believe without a doubt that the village exists; you have been to town meetings, you voted for the mayor. I, however, have never heard of Seeum, and would not assign to the belief in its existence a great deal of certainty, even though you told me it exists. After all, I hardly know you.

I believe with 100% certainty that I exist; I believe with 90% certainty that you exist, otherwise I would not be posting this reply. But are you an individual, or are you posting under an alias? So my belief that you are a unique individual is only held with 55% certainty.

The person who holds all his/her beliefs with 100% certainty is rare, and is probably also in custodial care of some sort.

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Question/Answer
valkyboy asked on 04/03/03 - morality and ethics


is morality merely illusion? how can ethics and morality be reconciled?

babthrower answered on 04/04/03:

Morality is often ascribed to a consensus, or group standard, whereas ethics is either a personal code or a code of a subset, such as a profession.

So clearly morality is not an illusion. It can be measured by a poll.

The attempt to reconcile morality with ethics creates an ongoing tension in a society. For example, some individual may take the ethical position that war is always wrong except in defence of one's homeland, at or within one's native land's boundaries. Some other individual may believe that one ought to fight for one's nation's supremacy against any enemy, at any place in the world. The different ethical values can create tension within a nation in time of war or when war is being considered.

Question/Answer
valkyboy asked on 04/03/03 - equality and the theory of state


relate the concepts of equality and right to the theory of state. are these concepts inherent to any conception of state?

babthrower answered on 04/03/03:

The concepts are inherent to all conceptions of state.

Members of peer groups are equal to each other. Peers of England have traditionally had the right to sit in the House of Lords. (This peer group was composed of members of certain ranks of the nobility.)

No state has universal suffrage for all citizens. In modern democracies, for example, there is an age distinction. If you are under the age of majority (which varies slightly from one state to another) you have not the right to vote.

The only peerless person in any state is an absolute monarch or a total dictator. The queen of England, for example, is just another citizen in law, (with certain privileges) because England is a constitutional monarchy, not an absolute monarchy.

The distinguishing question is whether there are peer GROUPS depending on birth status. If there are, then you have a class or caste system.

Peer group distinctions on other than birth status may or may not be indications of a class system.

For example, members of an elected body have the right to vote on legislation directly, and average enfranchised citizens do not. But since they are elected, we consider this not a privilege of birth, but a condition bestowed upon the members of the legislature by the electorate, and we call the system representative democracy.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 04/02/03 - What is Philosophy about?




Is it just about studying, thinking, discussing, arguing, debating .....the exact same subjects and issues that people have been studying, thinking, discussing, arguing, debating about since the first ape stood upright on the African plains ............AND NEVER REACHING ANY CONCLUSIVE RESULTS.



I wonder if Wittgenstein had something like this in mind when he said "Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity."

babthrower answered on 04/03/03:

I came across this comment on consciousness made in the 19th century by a really obscure philosopher, Sir William Hamilton:

"Consciousness cannot be defined: we may be ourselves fully aware what consciousness is, but we cannot without confusion convey to others a definition of what we ourselves clearly apprehend. The reason is plain: consciousness lies at the root of all knowledge."

Maybe what philosophy boils down to is trying to understand and analyze consciousness. After all, consider all the ways that philosophy does that:

1. Logic. Why do some statements connect in a satisfactory way, that is, lead to a conclusion we feel is valid, and others don't? What is it we are agreeing on, when we say that a conclusion is logical?

2. Metaphysics. What reality is there outside of subjective awareness? If any?

3. Epistemology. What is knowledge? Is knowledge possible?

4. Values. Why does one behavior or piece of artistic or other work please the mind, and another does not?

If that is the case (that philosophy is trying to understand consciousness) then we may discuss ideas with others, but only the answers that we find for ourselves, and which convey a degree of certainty to ourselves, are meaningful. So philosophy is a lonely road. Some are nevertheless bound to take it. If philosophy is a science, it is the science of introspection. But there is no way to submit the research results for peer review. Language is a pragmatic tool, and hardly up to the job.

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Question/Answer
rosends asked on 03/31/03 - Paradox

I was playing a word game this weekend and it provided a definition for relativism as "the belief that nothing is absolute". Is it my imagination or is that somehow problematic. Does Moral Relativism believe in non-moral absolutes (whatever they might be)? Is it possible to say "never make blanket statements"?

babthrower answered on 03/31/03:

Hi, Rosends,

There's nothing wrong with saying 'Never make blanket statements'. "You must" is understood. Like a lot of advice, it is meant for the hearers, and the speaker is not following his/her own advice. :)

Even if the speaker says "No one ought to make blanket statements" then the value statement could still be 'true'. The speaker is a sinner, that's all.

But if the speaker says 'All blanket statements are false' then there is a paradox because if the statement is true then the statement is false.

Have a nice glass of wine, and forget about it.

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Question/Answer
valkyboy asked on 03/30/03 - theories in science

how can theories in science be possible since they are neither verifiable nor falsifiable? science contributes much to what we know.how much of this statement is true?

babthrower answered on 03/30/03:

Theories in science lead experimentation in a productive way, and that is their pragmatic role.

To devise a theory creates a conceptual 'framework' into which data fits. This structure helps us to understand the data. The theory will continue to be accepted as a useful conceptual tool as long as further data conforms with the theory.

A theory may be falsified if data does not conform to it, or if observations which supported it cannot be replicated. It may never be completely verified.

So if further data does not conform, then the theory is discarded. Science is full of discarded theories.

Newton built such a conceptual framework to explain the motions of the solar system. It was an accepted theory for many years, because it generated better predicions of planetary motion than any previous theory.

Then further research showed that the behavior of sub-atomic particles did not conform to Newton's theories.

This revealed that the universe is much stranger than people ever dreamed.

How could Newton's theories be perfectly reliable and applicable in large-scale systems, and not work in small systems?

Terms like 'force' are being analysed and re-defined even as we speak, because of ongoing observations made by science.

That's the point. Scientific knowledge is cumulative. There is no question that the methods of science, groping and stumbling though they are, make very real progress in understanding and controlling our environment. That is what science is for.

There is no clear demarkation between science and the philosophy of science. Considerations of the role of theory in science are continually discussed.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 03/30/03 - Ethics of Identifying an Accused Criminal Part 2

For some reason I am unable to post a follow-up question on my first post, so I'll continue it here.

Babthrower, You put a strong argument forward and I agree with much of what you have to say. But I would argue that most people, even though public trials are transparent, don't get to see a full trial, but rather an edited 30- second version on the television or an ideologically slanted report in the newspaper. Newspapers, especially the "yellow press" variety tend to sensationalize to the point of making the accused appear to be guilty, without giving a fair account of court proceedings. I think we have two issues here, the issue of a transparent and open trial system and freedom of the press. How can we reconcile inequitable reporting of a trail within the criminal justice system or should we?

babthrower answered on 03/30/03:

I understood from the outset, ChekhovToo, that you had in mind trash journalism when you posted originally.

The trouble with democracy is that like it or not we are stuck with the 'lumpenproletariat' mind-set present in a significantly large subset of the populace.

It is to these sensation-seekers (whom Plato railed about in his day) that this press caters.

They (the publishers and readers and watchers of this trash) fill a thoughtful person with nausea.

Should we then 'protect' these uncritical minds by censoring the press, or changing our judicial system?

That would be to embark upon a hazardous voyage, the destination being to either sacrifice some critically important aspects of our system or to exclude certain members of our society from responsible positions as jurors or as voters.

A person of average intelligence can be a good citizen. Many people of less-than-average intelligence can be led by responsible and intelligent people. Thus the judge directs and cautions the jury, reminding them they must consider only the evidence before them in reaching their decision. If a juror remarks during deliberation some such: 'He's guilty. He was found at the scene of the crime, covered in blood, though the court didn't present that evidence,' the result can be a mistrial.

We know that democracy is not perfect, nor is our legal system perfect. We ought where possible to improve the systems. Perhaps we need to accept a certain irreducible imperfection of these systems, because to try and patch them up would weaken the entire structure.

Here in Canada we have stricter laws, and a greater tendency, to forbid the release of certain pre-trial information.

A Canadian case several years ago is interesting. Our courts put a ban on the releasing of certain information during the trial of one defendant, because the other defendant's trial was upcoming. The publication ban was to preserve the integrity of the potential jurors in the second case.

The case was very sensational: a married couple, serial killers, had raped, tortured and killed several teenagers.

The Canadian press complied with the ban, but the U.S. press did not. U.S. reporters relayed information daily from inside the courtroom. As a result, Canadians could read about the case on the internet, or buy American publications and read about it.

I am quite sure that any call to control the American press in similar cases would be met with an outraged response in America by civil libertarians.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 03/29/03 - Ethics of Indentifying an Alleged Criminal

Should a person that is charged with an alleged crime, have his/her identity made public ie Their identity shown on the television news and in the newspaper?

babthrower answered on 03/29/03:

Yes.

There are two reasons why the identity of those charged with a crime should be made public.

1. The knowledge that the charge has been made can lead to further information to develop the investigation. Someone might come forward and say, for example,

'He could not have done the crime. I was with him that day in another city,'

or,

'He sold me a watch, really cheap. I wonder if it might be part of the stolen boodle? I still have it, if anyone wants to check it out.'

2. Trials are public (usually) and ought to be. Secret trials are hallmarks of a dictatorial state, not of a democracy.

If we say 'charges cannot be made public,' then at what point do we reveal the name of the suspect? Only if and when he/she has been convicted?

So jurors, witnesses, courtroom spectators, court employees, law firms and their employees, prison staff (where the person charged would be detained awaiting trial), and the relatives and friends of the charged person would then be required to take further oaths never to reveal the name of a suspect later found not guilty.

And so that this requirement is obeyed, all those classes of persons mentioned above who reveal the name at any time in their lives must themselves be charged and tried.

There are already too many laws in place which target those who do not commit violent crimes or serious property crimes.

Laws should focus on making society safe, not on preventing embarrassment.

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 03/27/03 - Thoughts on War

Do you think that the worst thing in a person's life is to die? (I don't).

Perhaps the above conviction is a roadblock to communicating about the War on Saddam and his men.

Chou

babthrower answered on 03/28/03:

I'm not sure it's the worst, but it's right up there. Definitely top ten.

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Question/Answer
valkyboy asked on 03/25/03 - existentialism

why is existentialism considered a philosophy?

babthrower answered on 03/27/03:

What could be more philosophical than existence-theory?

Question/Answer
Choux asked on 03/25/03 - Heard this on the Radio

I heard the following(or something like it, rather)on the car radio when I was out today, but I didn't write it down soon enough. I would like to discuss this.

It went something like: "We are not living life, we are mediating it.

What do you think of this one-liner?

babthrower answered on 03/27/03:

I looked up 'mediate' and the a propos definition had to do with 'reconciling'. So I have to go with Jon on this one.

What is it that we mediate? Probably conflicting urges and possible consequences. So rather than acting instinctively or impulsively, we weigh options, then act, and by the time we have considered the options, the opportunity may have been lost.

Clearly the speaker thinks this is 'a bad thing'.

The Greeks had two (at least two) views of the approaches to experience: Dionysian and Apollonian. The Dionysian were devoted to the impulse; the Apollonian to reason. (This is a gross oversimplification, but, what the hey, this site is not suited to lengthly analysis.)

In the Western European tradition, we have Classicism vs. Romanticism. The Classicists chose rationality. The Romanticists chose impulse and emotion. But some psychologists say we are driven by the limbic brain, and the rest is rationalization.

Still, we know that one of the characteristics of those incarcerated is 'an inability to imagine consequences'.

So I would suggest that you think about the quotation, but think about it carefully. Don't impulsively follow it from now on.

(Oops!)

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/26/03 - Innocent?

Is it true that in Anglo-Saxon law the accused is "innocent until proven guilty"?

The following really did happen. A criminal lawyer (and that phrase is ambiguous)defended a man accuse of forcible rape and got an acquittal. It turned out that at the time of the trial the lawyer knew that his client was guilty of the rape. Subsequently, the rapist raped again, and this time, murdered his victim.

When it came out later that the lawyer defended his client (successfully) even while he knew that his client had done the rape, the lawyer defended his behavior by arguing that since the accused had not been convicted, the accused was innocent at the time of the trial, for he was "innocent until proven guilty".

Comment?

babthrower answered on 03/27/03:

It used to be in Scotland - and it may still be, for all I know - that three possible verdicts were: guilty, innocent, and not proved.

But here we have: guilty or not guilty.

'Not guilty' suggests 'innocent'. But in fact it means 'not proved'. It is the state's job to prove guilt. If it fails, the verdict is 'not guilty'. The verdict should be 'not proven guilty'.

The lawyer must provide the best possible defense for his client. If the client tells the lawyer he is guilty, the lawyer's duty is to advise the client to plead 'guilty', and throw himself on the mercy of the court, and plead mitigating circumstances, if any. His 'guilty' plea has, after all, saved the state time and money.

But do lawyers do their duty?

Also consider: supposing the accused tells his lawyer that he did the crime. The lawyer, doing his duty, tells the accused to plead guilty. The accused is free to fire the lawyer and get another, and does so. This time round, the accused tells his new lawyer he is innocent. The first lawyer is duty-bound to hold the confession confidential. But he's lost a client.

So next time, the lawyer's client tells him he is guilty. The lawyer knows what will likely happen if he gives unwelcome advice. So he short-cuts the procedure in order to keep the client, and asks the client if he will plead guilty. When the client says, "Are you nuts?" the lawyer pleads him 'not guilty'.

It's a principle of law that any accused is entitled to the best possible defense. You and I should be very glad of that.

It is unfortunate that some guilty are acquitted. It is unfortunate that some innocent are convicted. We can only hope that the system works most of the time.

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Question/Answer
Choux asked on 03/26/03 - What are the purposes of Philosophy?

This question doesn't seem to be worded correctly, but I am curious, what is the future of philosophy. What purpose does "Philosophizing" serve in the new millennium. What I have thought is that studying law is the primary method of learning how to think clearly; that "how to think logically" is taught in law school. How do you evaluate these two methods of critical thinkng? Their relationship to each other if any.

Thanks, Chou

babthrower answered on 03/27/03:

This question is quite interesting.

'Professional' philosophy - i.e. that at which you could make a living - began in ancient Greece as training for the law courts - 'rhetoric'.

The idea was that with training, one could present arguments before other citizens in ways which would convince them of the point of view of the rhetorician or 'lawyer'.

Cases were won or lost based upon the rhetorician's ability to sway the opinion of the hearers.

Of course the same approaches were used that we see in the courts today:

- appeal to common human emotions e.g. love of family: 'This aged man, who has been a good citizen and fought in many wars, now has a son who demands....', or 'Could this man, who fought so bravely in defense of his country, have stooped so low as to have accepted bribes, as the plaintiff alleges?'

- appeal to common sense e.g. 'Could this fine young man, who has never been in trouble before, have incited the rowdy behavior which resulted in the burning of the plaintiff's shop? No, because you have heard the testimony of his three friends, also fine young men of good family, testify that at the time of the fire, they were in the temple, making sacrifices to the gods.'

The study of rhetoric was thus a pragmatic study.

But it raised questions which had perhaps never before been asked.

-How do people reason? Are there some common patterns, which mark true reasoning from false reasoning? What are the signs of true reasoning?

-What is justice? How do we weigh the arguments of the plaintiffs and the defendants so as to arrive at the best judgment for the participants, and also for the precedents we set? What is best, justice for the individual or justice for the group (society)?

To what extent should we be influenced by the status of the participants?

Obviously the courtroom was not the place to discuss these greater issues. So they adjourned to the 'coffee houses' or 'wine shops'. (Shut up. I know they didn't have coffee. But they had wine.)

So philosophy was broader than law, and still is. It became the intellectual hobby of bright people with too much time on their hands, and slaves to do the real work.

Somehow it has persisted. Philosophers are not well paid. But they love their work.





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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/21/03 - Does anything answer to that definition?

Babthrower:
So, the issue is _not_ whether I "define" Santa as an elf who lives at the North Pole. Suppose I do. So what? The issue is whether anything _answers_ to that definition. That is to say. _is_ there an elf who lives at the North Pole? As Sam Johnson said, "Words are the daughters of men; but things are the sons of God."

babthrower answered on 03/23/03:

Jon, you say "...The question still is the difference between the meaning of a term and its referent (if it has one)."
... meaning and reference must be different..."

Jon, our issue is about what one may permit a referent to be. Your position seems to be that the referent must be concrete and at least one of which must exist in the world.

Mine is that a referent may be an abstract noun, or an image or a cultural icon, just as long as it is possible for the speakers to come, if necessary after some examination, into agreement so that any statements they make may have mutually understandable meaning.

If I speak of the goddess Hera, although I do not believe she exists as a goddess, I expect that my hearers will not think I am claiming that she exists as a goddess. I expect my hearers to know that my referent is a mythical being, familiar to all through our cultural experience.

I would be very surprised, in our culture, if someone replied 'What is a Hera? The word means nothing at all, because goddesses do not exist.'

I would be more than surprised. I would suspect the speaker of being a clever-boots, trying to make a meaningless (in the context) point: if he believed the word means nothing at all, what would induce him to add the comment about goddesses?

e.g.

1. 'Santa Claus owns reindeer.'

The speaker believes that the elf exists. The speaker is usually under the age of six years. We hear the statement, and we know what the speaker means. We respond either by entering into the fantasy:

"Yes, and the elves feed them reindeer moss," (a dishonest answer, welcomed by childish smiles)

or we say

"Santa Claus, an elf who bring gifts, does not exist. Santa Claus, a powerful icon in Western thought, whose image is that of a red-suited elf, does not bring gifts or own reindeer; Santa Claus is a construct, the result of a collusion between doting parents and commerce. The image of Santa Claus is everywhere at this time of year. Nevertheless, there will be gifts under your tree." (an honest answer, welcomed first with dismay, then tentative childish smiles)

or we say

"'Santa Claus' means nothing at all.""

Of course if we give the latter response, the hearer will not stay to hear more; he/she will be flying in tears to the arms of a comforting parent.

2. 'Santa Claus is too big for the sleigh.' As it happens, this speaker does not believe in tiny elves. This speaker is a window dresser in a department store. He knows that 'santo claus' is a cultural icon and its image in his window will likely boost sales.

The dresser does not say "The imaginary Santa Clause is too big for his sleigh."

If he said that, he would really confuse his assistant window-dresser.

The reason he does not speak of 'the imaginary Santa Claus' is because he is not talking about the imaginary Santa Claus.

He is talking about an object, a realization before him of a cultural artifact, recognizable by all as 'santa claus'.

3. 'Santa Claus' means nothing at all, because elves don't exist in the real world.' The speaker here is Jon.

Oddly enough, when someone says 'Santa Claus', Jon begins to rant about elves not existing, which makes one wonder how he jumped from 'nothing at all' to 'elf'.

It's almost as if he knew what Speaker #1 and Speaker #2 were talking about.

But how can that be, if the word has no referent at all?

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/21/03 - Does anything answer to that definition?

Babthrower:
So, the issue is _not_ whether I "define" Santa as an elf who lives at the North Pole. Suppose I do. So what? The issue is whether anything _answers_ to that definition. That is to say. _is_ there an elf who lives at the North Pole? As Sam Johnson said, "Words are the daughters of men; but things are the sons of God."

babthrower answered on 03/21/03:

The way a speaker defines a word is a pointer to others who want to interpret a statement made by the speaker.

If I say 'You need a cuff' you don't know whether to duck or to call your tailor unless you know what I mean by 'cuff'.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/22/03 - Santa

It depends who uses the term 'Santa Claus'.

If someone who believes that Santa Claus exists uses the term, then he/she uses the proper noun conventionally.
___________________________________________
Since you do not explain what "using conventionally" means, I can only guess. Surely you cannot mean, "uses it to refer to an elf" since there is no such elf. So how can the person refer to him?



A quibble arises, though, when someone (who does not believe that Santa Claus exists as a person) uses the proper name conventionally to refer to the cultural icon which we all recognize.
_____________________________________________
Santa Claus is not believed to be a person. The name "Santa Claus" may refer to what you call a "cultural icon" just as "The American Flag" refers to a cultural icon. But the latter also refers to an object.

Similarly, I may refer to Jupiter. I do not believe that the god Jupiter exists. But I believe that the Planet Jupiter exists. So don't call me a theist when I talk about Jupiter, at least until you have made sure that I mean what you may think I mean.
__________________________________________
I suppose there is what is called 'speaker's meaning" so that I may use the expression "black cat" to refer to my cat, Tabby. But that is not what the expression, "black cat" means. It does not seem up to individual people to decide what a term means. People could not communicate if each person has a private meaning for the terms he uses.

Returning to the case of the name 'Santa Claus', it may mean

1. A natural or supernatural being who exists and lives at the North Pole, as some believe, or

2. A cultural icon which we all recognize.

When the words are used among those who refer to the cultural icon, the usage does not cause confusion.

The confusion arises only when a person who believes (1) and a person who believes (2) are communicating, and each is unaware of the definition which the other is applying.

Both believe that 'Santa Claus' is real enough.

Example: Grandfather and Grandson stand looking at a billboard, on which is a depiction of a jolly old elf in a red suit. Grandson is fourteen years old, and grandfather assumes that grandson defines 'Santa Claus' as in (2) above.

Grandfather: "This Santa Claus business is going to drive me to the poorhouse this year, since the triplets were born."

Grandson: "So what does that have to do with you, Gramps?"

Each has used the name correctly based upon a different definition. But after some further clarifying discussion, only one of them will go home in tears, and bitterly accuse the parents.
__________________________________________
The question is whether the sentence "Santa owns reindeer" is true or false. Cultural icons (whatever they are) do not own anything, and neither do elves.

babthrower answered on 03/21/03:

Sorry I didn't resond sooner. I became bored with the topic, but on reveiwing my unanswered questions I found it and got interested again.

The statement 'Santa owns reindeer' would only by made by someone whose definition of Santa is definition #1 above.

The response of someone whose definition was also #1 might reply, "You are right. And I petted one in the mall last year."

The statement, if heard by someone whose definition of Santa is #2 above, would interpret it as coming from someone whose definition is #1, and so, although the statement is absurd to this hearer, would either enter into the fantasy and reply, "Yes, Virginia, Santa owns reindeer", or explain that Santa is a cultural icon and does not exist as a real person or a corporate person and therefore cannot be said to own anything.

Only a curmudgeon would reply to a little child, or to someone with a childlike mentality, 'Santa? What is a Santa? I have no idea what you mean.'

Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 03/20/03 - Leave it to Jon to ask the right questions. Thought is spirit

Leave it to Jon to ask the right questions.


Science tells me thoughts are not material objects; philosophy tells me material objects are not true or false, but it is thoughts that are either true or false. History tells me that which does not exist as a material object, is called spirit. Therefore, thought is spirit. If spirit exists, it exists as true of false, could we then say spirituality is the process of seeking truth; therefore God is truth?

babthrower answered on 03/20/03:

You'd better check that History source! Where does history tell you that what does not exist as a material object is called spirit?

No abstract noun represents a material object. That is why such nouns are called 'abstract'. They all represent concepts which have no material object counterpart in the real world. They are abstracted from another word, such as a verb:

laugh -> laughter
hate -> hatred

or another noun, in order to show states of people:

child > childhood

Or from an adjective:

poor -> poverty

Are laughter, hatred, childhood and poverty spirits?

They represent things which cannot be sensed as a material object. They are abstractions formed from our perceptions of material objects, and/or actions of material things in the world.

Spirit by definition refers to an incorporeal or immaterial being or intelligence distinct from 'body' or 'matter'.

So when you attempt to define anything abstract as 'spirit' you are certainly stretching things!

It is a quibble.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 03/15/03 - Worst Famous Philosopher’s In History.



The Worst Famous Philosopher’s In History.


Foucault, Derrida, Latour, Sandra Harding, Rorty, Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend et al.


Why you might ask? Multiculturalism, Relativism, Political Correctness, are all viruses of irrationalism.


What, if any, degree of truth is in this statement?

babthrower answered on 03/19/03:

"Multiculturalism, Relativism, Political Correctness, are all viruses of irrationalism."

Is this a quotation from someone else, or are they your own words, Dark Crow?

There is a rational basis for each of these beliefs. That the results are not as those who hold the beliefs might have hoped for at the outset does not obviate the rational basis for the belief.

For example, the first, multiculturalism: this is intended to unify a nation which is composed of peoples whose origins are diverse. The unification lessens conflicts among them, and strengthens the nation.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/15/03 - Self-Interest

If an individual (or a country) aids another individual (or country) while pursuing its own self-interest, or even (which is a different thing) in order to pursue its own self-interest, does that lessen, or even obviate, the value of what that individual (or country) has done?

babthrower answered on 03/19/03:

"If an individual (or a country) aids another individual (or country) while pursuing its own self-interest, or even (which is a different thing) in order to pursue its own self-interest, does that lessen, or even obviate, the value of what that individual (or country) has done? "

What value? Moral value? Strategic value?

If you mean the moral value of the decision to render aid, then yes, the fact that the agent aided the receiver out of self-interest does obviate the moral value of the act.

To treat the sick is one of the beatitudes. But if someone treats the sick purely for money, disregarding all other factors, it is not a moral act, but simply a self-serving act. The cure is 'useful' but not 'moral'.

If the motive was mixed: partly for self-interest, partly to aid an allied nation and its people, then the moral value of the act is pro-rated depending on the degree of the moral incentive and the degree of the self-interested incentive.

Of course if, as some have said, self-interest is a virtue then of course the self-interested motive is moral, and the other motive, to aid a friend or ally, (unless the friendship or alliance is seen as an asset to the agent and the aid would strengthen the alliance), would be immoral or amoral.

But perhaps out of prejudice I think an act, to be called 'moral', should involve some degree of loss or delay of gratification, or comfort, or personal well-being. Otherwise why would we call the act 'moral' at all?

Why would we not call it an act which the agent performed, as most of our non-moral acts such as eating our breakfast are performed, because it is something we desire to do in our own self-interest?

Animals always act in their own self-interest, motivated by the urgings of their biological needs. We don't call them moral for acting thus.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/18/03 - Spirituality?
Spirituality

This is prompted by Hank. What on earth is spirituality? Is it belief in God, or gods? Is it just belief in the supernatural? Would someone please explain? (I never even heard of it before this board)

babthrower answered on 03/19/03:

Umm, er... in spite of the injunction NOT TO, I will begin with:

Spiritual: of, pertaining to , affecting or concerning the spirit, or higher moral qualities, especially as regarded in a religious aspect. (O.U.D.)

So if your thoughts are frequently along these lines, it seems you are spiritual.

(By the way, what is a 'lower' moral quality?)

Merely thinking a lot does not make one spiritual, it seems.

So concern with moral issues is 'spiritual', and not necessarily in a religious sense.

But to me it seems to necessarily have a religious aspect. Theists speak of 'spirits', and of course the creator spirit. Non-theists usually speak of 'minds' or 'brains'. To the theist the 'spirit' is not identified with the brain.

I would prefer to be called 'morally aware' or some such.

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 03/19/03 - Rationality and randomness.

Andiri and I have been pursuing an interesting discussion on which others may like to give their opinions. My view is that rationality and randomness are incompatible. I believe (i) the power of reason cannot be the product of random events and (ii) random events do not play any role in the process of reasoning. To me they seem diametrically opposed.

Obviously random events can be the subject about which we are thinking – as we are doing now. That is quite different from being used in the methods by which we reach conclusions. In other words, nothing is left to chance in lucid reasoning because it is systematic and well defined.

It is true that the same person can examine the same facts twice and come to different conclusions but that does not show random events are an integral part of the process of reasoning. It simply shows there is error on the first or second
occasion. If one of us contradicted what we had concluded on a previous occasion we would quickly be reminded of the fact! Consistency is one of the hallmarks of rationality whereas irregularity is a feature of random events.





babthrower answered on 03/19/03:

"Randomness" is a word coined by humans to describe events that happen but not by design. Anyone's design.

"Randomness" does not exist as a 'thing-in-the-world'. It is the name of a purely subjective concept.

There are two views of randomness:

(1) There is a cause for a phenomenon which we call random, be we don't know what it is.

(2) There is no cause for the phenomenon. It is truly random.

So the theist does not believe in randomness. All is designed and caused by god.

The non-theist is usually a determinist. He/she believes that the universe is consistent, and there are forces at work which cause events to happen.

A frequent example cited as a case of randomness is nuclear decay. Radioactive elements have a 'life'*, during which it is probable that it will reach its lowest possible energy state for its nucleon number. But the jury's out on whether it will actually reach its lowest possible state in the 'life'. So it may be truly random. Or it may be that we don't understand nuclear decay well enough to say.

So I don't see any reason why the word 'random' cannot be used in reasoning.

For example:

Nuclear decay occurs at a rate proportional to the stability of the excited nucleus.

For nucleus A, this decay will be complete in x years.

This prediction is an estimate based on sampling.

We cannot predict when any individual nucleus will decay, therefore decay is apparently random.

* term usually used is 'half-life'

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 03/16/03 - Truth is such a tricky thing

One more question and I will give someone else the board for awhile.

I ran across this comment, anyone want to explain what the heck is meant by it.

Truth is such a tricky thing, isn't it?

Try looking at it this way:

"Mountains and water existed before human beings" is true.

"That there is a mountain" is true.

"That there is water" is true.

But what does

Mountains are true.

Water is true.

This mountain is true.

This water is true.

actually mean.

Or to be even more bizarre, change it the predicate from 'is true' to 'is false':

This mountain is false.

What does that mean?

babthrower answered on 03/16/03:

"Mountains are true" is a statement, but it is not well-formed according to the conventions of the English language.

It is acceptable to say 'Mountains exist'. Whether or not this is a true statement depends on the evidence that the speaker can marshall in support of the statement.

To say something is true (or false) is to say something about a STATEMENT. It is not correct usage (in English) to say that an object of perception is true or false; the object of perception is not a statement.

Compare:

"He says that he sees a mountain."

"It it true?"

with

"Look at the mountain."

"Is it true?"

In the first case, "Is it true?" asks "Does he in fact see a mountain?"

In the second case, "Is it true?" seems to ask "Is it a real mountain? Or an illusion?"

But the question itself is ill-formed. The questioner should ask "Is it a real mountain?" or "Is the speaker hallucinating?" or even "Do mountains exist?" depending on exactly what the questioner means by "Is it true?"

Here's an analogue:

"The sound of one hand clapping" has been used as an example of absurdity. Why?

"Clapping" by definition is the action of two hands striking together. So to speak of one hand clapping is to obviate the definition (in English). (Obviate: "to prevent by anticipatory measure")

Such statements are used in English. But how does one assess the truth of a statement such as 'I hear the sound of one hand clapping'?

One dismisses such statements as absurd.

(Absurd: plainly opposed to reason; ridiculous; silly)

Does that mean that the statement has no meaning to the speaker?

Not at all. But the statement fails to communicate anything meaningful to the hearer.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 03/10/03 - Torture of Terrorists

There has been some debate lately about the morality of torturing terrorists, and whether the benefits to our freedom outweigh the costs to our conscience. So my question is - Should terrorists be tortured in certain circumstances?

babthrower answered on 03/10/03:

I would have to say that torturing prisoners should always be considered a crime and always severely punished.

I say this not because torture usually yields unreliable results. Sometimes it yields reliable results, and the torturer's aims are achieved.

I say this because to allow torture as an information-gathering tool will inevitably lead to abuse of the practice. It is well known that torture of suspects was routinely done by police in North America until the middle of the last century (about 1950). Then public revulsion led to laws which ban the practice.

It was justified on the grounds that it kept the crime rate low, since to even be suspected of a crime could lead to torture: beatings, withholding of food and water, being forced to soil oneself because toilet privileges were denied, sleep deprivation until one entered an 'altered state' - and so forth. It certainly yielded convictions, which reinforced the public's belief that justice had been done and the bad and dangerous ones were in prison or hanged. Thus someone was convicted, and the public believed that the police force was doing a good job, and that society was safe. It therefore did not matter if the innocent were sometimes convicted; justice was served.

Abolishing torture was a hard fight for civil libertarians to win. To admit the practice again, justified, as usual, by the fact that a crisis exists, would be to dull the public consciousness of just what torture is; and the practice would become justified on flimsier and flimsier grounds.

It is very seductive to say 'We'll only do it this once, because we are in crisis, and then we'll never do it again.' But crises are readily perceived - and manufactured.

Take the bomb scenario.

If those who have charge of terrorists torture them to find out critical life-saving information, then they must be aware that they are subject to severe legal penalties.

The decision would therefore become a personal moral choice for the the potential torturer: like the soldier, he/she puts self at hazard for the public good.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/07/03 - Ad Hominems

What is an ad hominem argument? Is it always logically illegitimate? ("Ad hominem" means "against the person")
For instance, if I point out that someone is a known liar, so what he reports should not be believed, that is an ad hominem. But is it illegitimate to argue that way?

babthrower answered on 03/10/03:

Jon says, "… that some proposition is undetermined, does not show that it does not have a truth-value, but only that we may not know what that truth-value is. "

Precisely my point. If all statements which are a consequent must be forced into a binary (true-false) mold, then the category 'undetermined' disappears.

Jon says: "… I don't think you should jump to the conclusion that it is false that a white handkerchief shows that it is false that All crows are black. "

I'm not jumping anywhere. I simply do not accept as true that:

1. There is a white handkerchief.

2. Therefore either some crows are not black, or no crows are black..

because there is no relationship between the objects in the two statements other than that they are colored objects.

You don't like my attitude? Sue me.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/09/03 - Unacknowledged Assumptions

Alfred North Whitehead writes about:

"assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know
what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them."

Do you know of such assumptions, either held by others, or held by you (at least in the past)?

babthrower answered on 03/09/03:

I didn't question my assumption that other people perceived objects and other people in much the same way that I perceived them until I was in my teens, and had astonishing evidence that I had been wrong.

This disjunction was not so much about objects as about the relationships between them.

My sense organs had been tested from time to time during health checkups, so I considered my equipment 'normal'. What I had not realized until then was that the way one perceives the relationships between things is a different category of perception.

I found the experience shocking and frightening. It left me with a sense of the deep mystery of 'other people'.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 03/07/03 - Ad Hominems

What is an ad hominem argument? Is it always logically illegitimate? ("Ad hominem" means "against the person")
For instance, if I point out that someone is a known liar, so what he reports should not be believed, that is an ad hominem. But is it illegitimate to argue that way?

babthrower answered on 03/08/03:

We have to distinguish here between ad hominen attacks against testimony and ad hominem attacks against an argument.

Ad hominem attacks against testimony are reasonable because the character or the personal bias of the subject may well affect his testimony. He/she may either lie, because he/she is a pathological liar, or his/her bias may affect his/her perceptions: if a noted faith healer states that his/her patient is now 100% recovered from an illness which an entire medical team had declared fatal, I would point out the possible bias and request more information, e.g., did the medical team assert the patient would be dead in 6 months, or did they say that the prognosis for the type of illness, based on statistics, is death within 6 months?

On the other hand, ad hominem attacks in argument are always illegitimate because it is the reasoning that is important. We should disallow or ignore ad hominem 'arguments' in that case. The statements made are always subject to verification.

By that I mean, if one hears a well-reasoned argument based on the statement that all crows are black, one may agree with the conclusion subject to verification that all crows are black. Someone shouting out "I can prove you are a liar! You have lied before!" during the development of the argument is obviously illigitimate. Someone saying 'I have here a white crow' is germane.

So when the testator's character is attacked, it is to examine the validity of one of the attorney's arguments, whose ability to convince us relies on our belief in the testator's statement that all crows are black. If the accusation against the testator's character is supported by evidence, we may discount the statement, even if it happens to be a true statement. The point is, it is not reliable.

I hope I am clear here. For example:

Attorney: Did you see the victim and the accused together in the alley?

Witness: Yes.

Opposing attorney on cross-examination: Have you ever been convicted of perjury?

Witness: Yes.

This revelation comes not from an ad hominem attack on the witness, but from an attack on one of the arguments made by the first attorney, namely, that the victim and the accused were together at some critical time.

The overall argument that the accused did commit the crime must now stand or fall on other arguments, because the judge has discounted this one piece of evidence as unreliable.

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Question/Answer
ttalady asked on 03/04/03 - What is the meaning behind the Constitution?

The past couple of months I have started to wonder what the meaning is behind this documentation? I am very serious here and wondering if it really has harmed America or has improved America? If there is real meaning as of 2003 to what it was intended to be? "The freedom of speach", has not become more of "The freedom to spit on your country"? "The right to bare arms" has that not become more of "The right to bare arms illegally"? What is the meaning behind this Constitution and was it really intended for America 2003?

Your opinions please!:)

babthrower answered on 03/04/03:

The American constitution is an astonishing, creative, brilliant human artefact, created by the best minds of the day. It is a major benchmark in world history.

It needed amendments over the years, because circumstances change. It is the responsibility of the generations to whom it was handed to make sure the amendments are good ones.

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Question/Answer
Gguru asked on 03/02/03 - How far should Democracy go?

Its my thought,that democracy should result in a government,participating all parties preferably or as many parties as possible,with a minimum participation to be formulated in terms of percentage of people and/or parties.
Common practice is to seek for a majority government and I dont think,that this results in a truly democratic way of ruling the country.The disadvantage is the danger of neglecting minorities and at the othet hand the possibility of abuse of power leading to undesirable situations.
Note:Hitler was born out of democracy........
Other opinions?

babthrower answered on 03/04/03:

In the early stages of the computer age, there was much hailing of 'true democracy' - people could vote from their homes, via internet. Electronic verification systems would be used to make sure the vote was not abused.

But if we are too indifferent to get out to vote for representatives -- 'representative democracy' -- I think it's most unlikely that we would study each issue (issues of the sort that come before the elected representatives we have now) and vote intelligently.

Athens didn't even have democracy. Slaves and women didn't vote. (Slaves were mostly white Europeans, by the way.) But male landowners could go, be heard, and vote on all issues. In time of war they would sometimes vote a temporary dictator, for the sake of efficiency. But Athens was a small city-state.

This was not so much a democracy as rule by committee. And don't forget they exiled Themistocles and killed Socrates.

I must confess I tire of people who insist that a republic is not a democracy. A republic is a state in which the supreme power is vested in a president and elected representatives, as opposed to a monarchy or a dictatorship. The democratic aspect lies in this: that the people democratically elect their representatives. This saves the people from having to leave their farms and work-places each day to attend legislative assemblies.

Clearly a true democracy (one citizen - one vote on each piece of legislation) could not be capitalist: no one would ever get any work done.

I suspect that those who want 'true democracy' live in mountaintop enclaves in Montana and Wyoming, drive pickup trucks, are heavily armed at all times, and believe that sex is such a personal matter that it should be restricted to members of one's immediate family.

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 02/25/03 - Greetings!

I'd like to celebrate my arrival here by asking your opinion on the following questions:

1. Do genuinely random events ever occur?
2. Can it be shown beyond all reasonable doubt that they do (or don't)?

babthrower answered on 03/03/03:

What do we mean, exactly, by randomness?

'At haphazard; without aim, purpose, or fixed principle.' (Oxford Universal)

Both 'aim' and 'purpose' imply intent on someone or something's part, so would imply a god or other intelligence. So we might say "The flat tire was no random event. The perp slashed the victim's tires so he could rob him."

'Fixed principle' suggests something like 'the laws of physics' which require no guiding mind to legislate them, but are just our inferences drawn from observing how stuff works.

So randomness would be an event which is outside of the laws of physics, and is therefore a metaphysical concept.

Still, it's a useful concept. When writing a game program, to vary the course of the game and make it interesting, it is usual to 'seed' a random number into the process.

But how do you select a 'random' number? In ordinary conversation I may say, "Pick a random number." I simply mean it should not be picked with any aim or purpose. The point of its randomness is that it has no special meaning; it could be any number.

But there is no thing which is 'a random number'. I cannot show you a series of numbers and ask you to point out the random one(s) among them. So you 'pick a number' using a device such as checking the computer's clock, picking the number which represents the current minute, and insert that number or a factor or multiple of it. The number is a pseudo-random number.

From chaos theory and the concept of fractals there is the idea that behind an apparent randomness there's always ignorance and a problem of scale.

In QM the idea that the state cannot be observed but limits may be set for its location is irrelevant to the notion of randomness. Clearly the state is not random; it lies within limits. If I say that I owe you $5 while you insist it is closer to $10, that does not mean that I owe you a random amount. It means I owe you an amount which is yet to be determined. And if I have my way, it will be closer to $5.

Radioactive decay is the closest thing we have to truly random behavior. It is impossible to predict the point at which a particular atom will decay. The question remains, if physics fully understood the nature of matter (and it does not) would the point be predictable?

So I suggest a re-definition of randomness:

"without apparent aim, purpose, or fixed principle"

because otherwise we may conclude that there is such a thing as 'a random number' instead of 'a number picked at random'.

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Question/Answer
nel_cuore_della_vita asked on 02/27/03 - how do we control our impulses and what happens when we let them out? Basicly the animal instict wit

how do we control our impulses and what happens when we let them out? Basicly the animal instict withing us and how do we control it? How does it relate to good and evil?

babthrower answered on 02/27/03:

Our biological drives are not in themselves unethical. The problem arises when there is a conflict between our biological drives and our intellectualized goals.

It isn't a question of "letting them out". It is a question of suppressing one drive so that we may satisfy a preferred drive.

A university student who parties all the time may decide to suppress the desire to satisfy his/her immediate biological-social drives in order to achieve long-term goals.

The biological drives are urgent and immediate. The long-term goals are less immediately compelling.

The biological drives are toward the attainment of territory, sex, food, and so forth. Typical long-term goals might be to be physically fit, to respect the marriage vow, or to get into heaven.

I have a question for you in return. Why do you post in sets of three identical questions? Is it a superstition?

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Question/Answer
tonyrey asked on 02/25/03 - Greetings!

I'd like to celebrate my arrival here by asking your opinion on the following questions:

1. Do genuinely random events ever occur?
2. Can it be shown beyond all reasonable doubt that they do (or don't)?

babthrower answered on 02/25/03:

No one who has ever written a random-number-generator (program) believes for a moment that they are anything but a figment of human imagination.

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Question/Answer
rosends asked on 02/22/03 - Santa Claus -- nobler in the mind

Your answer to Jon's public q about ol' St. Nick had some interesting ideas but I wished to ask clarification on a couple of them:

"First, that Santa Claus is a proper noun is semantically trivial and is merely a product of grammatic rule."

I'm not sure what is trivial about a name or the fact that we use a name to refer to something that is human and recipient of a proper noun. This is no less "significant" than my name or anyone else's.

In your statement about the utterance of Santa Claus, you say it does not give any status to "its referent." Doesn't that argue that said referent exists in some sense, or else how could you refer to it in the sentence?

Your final statement that "it is a notion in the mind of one or more humans and that has a particular name" is exactly the point that Jon and I argue over. i say that the creation of this notion in a human brain makes something exist -- not in a meterial sense, but in some sense above that which I HAVEN'T though of.

I insist on an intermediary stage in the ranking of existence and Jon insists on a binary system even though there are notions which are non-tangible ('three') which he agrees exist. I just don't see how he can play both sides, or at least how he splits the categories to allow three to exist (not as a referent to three of something and not the numeral) but won't allow Santa Claus to exist, even though both seem to inhabit only the mind.

babthrower answered on 02/24/03:

(Pardon me if I omit the usual demarkations of the words 'Santa Claus', they are tedious.)

Some people believe that Santa Claus represents a person or an elf, real in the external world.

Some people believe Santa Claus represents a cultural icon.

Some people (not Jon for one, I think) believe that Santa Claus represents nothing at all.

So if I say to Jon, "What did Santa Claus bring you for Christmas?", what would he reply?

(a) 'A Red Ryder Sled'

(b) 'Don't be childish.'

(c) 'What, or who, is a santaclaus?'

Answer (a) would indicate that Jon believes a jolly old elf brought him the sled he found under his solstice tree.

Answer (b) would indicate that Jon has outgrown his belief in the existence of the jolly old elf, but knows what the words 'Santa Claus' signify.

The last answer would indicate that, to Jon, 'Santa Claus' has no referent.

So if, to Jon, 'Santa Claus' has no referent, why does he insist on comparing this 'nothing' to a particular elf whose name is Santa Claus, or to a particular cultural icon commonly called Santa Claus?

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 02/24/03 - Opinion Essay - War in Iraq?

America, it could be argued, is largely uninformed about the world it dominates. Indeed in the "US House of Representatives, barely one fifth of members hold current passports".

That said, we appear to be on the brink of a war in the Middle East that may destabilize the US and the Middle East for decades, if not longer. World leaders face a horrible dilemma. There can be no doubt that United Nations weapons inspectors have been able to return to Iraq only because of the threat of military intervention from the US and Britain, and if the threat is removed it is likely Saddam Hussein will resume his prescribed activities. However, it is far from clear that military action will lead to a democratic Iraq and a safe, secure, peaceful Middle East.

On balance, it is probable that war will lead to a coalition between moderate and fundamentalist Muslims. Israel will be at even greater risk, the "clash of civilisations" will continue, and terrorism will increase generally, including in our region. Either way, the UN is likely to be damaged - either by a conviction that Saddam has bluffed it, or that George Bush has coerced it.

One of the most worrying aspects of the potential conflict is the low level of understanding or experience of the Middle East by Western leaders, which results in complex issues being treated as if they were simple.

The world now faces an era of asymmetrical conflict: US v Iraq/al-Qaeda. There is one superpower. Which is No. 2? This is not clear - but it is certainly not Iraq or al-Qaeda. Instability/insecurity is caused by the breakdown of nation states, for example Afghanistan. Terrorist networks break all the rules; they are capable of selective attack against a superpower using, for example, domestic aircraft as bombs. But the superpower then responds in the only way it knows how: a full-scale attack, in this case not against the original target but against a substitute, Iraq.

There has been a civil war within the Muslim world: fundamentalists v modernizers. The fundamentalists support the sharia law, denounce infidels such as Saddam, oppose tolerance of other belief systems, refuse co-operation with the US ("the Great Satan") or the West, and support war to annihilate Israel. Modernizers recognize the significance of technological and social change and are prepared to co-operate with the West and recognize Israel, provided there is a land settlement with the Palestinians.

September 11, 2001, was a turning point in history. Americans, understandably shocked by the attacks on New York and Washington, have a deep psychological need to retaliate, somewhere. Some apologists for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq argue that the "leaders of the US, because of what they have been through, should not be judged too harshly for concentrating on the wrong target - if not Osama then Saddam, if not al-Qaeda then Iraq".

I feel more threatened by al-Qaeda than by Iraq because its sphere of operations is wider, more random and therefore not predictable - Nairobi and Dar es Salaam one day, New York and Washington another, the Red Sea and Bali yet another. Saddam's sphere has been far more limited and predictable - his immediate neighborhood, Iran, Kuwait, Israel and the Kurds.

The American case asserting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda is deeply implausible. I agree that Saddam is a monster, a cruel dictator who has committed unspeakable cruelties against his people. But he is not Robinson Crusoe in that. And he has been that way for more than 20 years, certainly in the 1980s when the Americans were supporting him when he was fighting fundamentalists in Iran. I would like to see him removed, but I am not convinced that 2003 is a better time than 2002, or 2001 or 2000 or 1999 - and we could scroll history backward to the 1980s. Furthermore, his scope is limited; he is a dictator of a failing state. Yet Iraq is caricatured as if it was a superpower that challenges the world. The truth is Saddam's power to exercise an impact is high in his immediate region, non-existent outside. (I acknowledge that Israel is within his range, and that has global implications.)

A pre-emptive US strike strategy against Iraq, without UN endorsement, would almost certainly reinforce the fundamentalist Muslim position ("you can't deal with the US"), uniting fundamentalists and modernizers in a common cause. This would be disastrous!




babthrower answered on 02/24/03:

A question such as this must be allocated to a discipline. Is it political or philosophical?

In the political context, the questions are about matters of strategy:

- If the U.S. acts without U.N. approval, what negative consequences may be expected?

- Will action against Iraq lessen or worsen the current hostile alignments?

- Will the U.S. public lose its nerve if there are heavy U.S. military casualites early in a war against Iraq?

- Would success in Iraq really significantly reduce the stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons which threaten world peace?

- If the U.S. attacks Iraq, and the war is not as decisive as the last war against Iraq was, it may come down to a land war fought in the streets of Baghdad, a city of four million people. (This is said to be the outcome which Saddam Hussein wants.) This will cost a hundred times the number of lives, both of U.S. troops and Iraqi troops and civilians, than the number of September 11th casualties. If the U.S. proceeds with the war, how might it afterwards justify the act of war as an act to prevent deaths by terrorism?


In the philosophical context, one would ask

- Why is war the first and favorite recourse of an advanced nation ?

- Why are U.S. citizens outraged over the deaths of some 3,000 Americans by terrorist action in 2001, yet are so accepting of the over 30,000 deaths EACH YEAR of Americans caused by Americans using weapons against each other, that they do not even ban assault weapons inside the U.S.?

Why do some deaths cause outrage and others are accepted? Is the outrage a response based on primal territorial instinct?

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/22/03 - How is it possible to say of something that it does not exist?

Here is a puzzle that comes out of Plato. Suppose I assert (what seems to be true) that Santa Claus does not exist. But, doesn't the use of the proper noun "Santa Claus" (in the words of one expert on this board) "confer some status" or imply the existence of Santa Claus? But, in that case, then, am I not contradicting myself when I state the Santa Claus does not exist, since am I not implying that there is a Santa Claus by using the name "Santa Claus" and, at the same time, stating that there is no Santa Claus?

babthrower answered on 02/22/03:

It depends who uses the term 'Santa Claus'.

If someone who believes that Santa Claus exists uses the term, then he/she uses the proper noun conventionally.

A quibble arises, though, when someone (who does not believe that Santa Claus exists as a person) uses the proper name conventionally to refer to the cultural icon which we all recognize.

Similarly, I may refer to Jupiter. I do not believe that the god Jupiter exists. But I believe that the Planet Jupiter exists. So don't call me a theist when I talk about Jupiter, at least until you have made sure that I mean what you may think I mean.

Returning to the case of the name 'Santa Claus', it may mean

1. A natural or supernatural being who exists and lives at the North Pole, as some believe, or

2. A cultural icon which we all recognize.

When the words are used among those who refer to the cultural icon, the usage does not cause confusion.

The confusion arises only when a person who believes (1) and a person who believes (2) are communicating, and each is unaware of the definition which the other is applying.

Both believe that 'Santa Claus' is real enough.

Example: Grandfather and Grandson stand looking at a billboard, on which is a depiction of a jolly old elf in a red suit. Grandson is fourteen years old, and grandfather assumes that grandson defines 'Santa Claus' as in (2) above.

Grandfather: "This Santa Claus business is going to drive me to the poorhouse this year, since the triplets were born."

Grandson: "So what does that have to do with you, Gramps?"

Each has used the name correctly based upon a different definition. But after some further clarifying discussion, only one of them will go home in tears, and bitterly accuse the parents.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 02/19/03 - Great Philosophers'

Who in your view, is the greatest philosopher of them all and what makes this person great?

babthrower answered on 02/19/03:

From my point of view it is Kant. He tackled some problems which had almost brought philosophy to a standstill (my own impression). He talked, in a very 'grown-up' way, about thinking and how the machine that is the brain works. I think he wanted to analyze not just the stream of perceptions themselves, but the underlying mechanisms.

It is as if he asked, "How does the nature of the brain reveal itself in the process of thinking?" (Again, my own impression.)

Descartes had explored very profound questions about what we believe we can know, and Hume had shown that we 'insert' into what it is we think we know. But it seems to me that Kant took one very important 'step back from' the immediacy of these examinations of our sense perceptions, and tried to show the ways in which our portals themselves affect the stream of perceptions.

I hope you will forgive this off-hand and very naive description of 'how I see it', because that is all it is: it is a description of how I personally see Kant's place in the development of our notions of how we perceive and know things about the world.

So if you come away with nothing else from this post, you can know that as you work your way through the early modern philosophers, you have Kant to look forward to.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/18/03 - "The image of Santa" and "Santa"

The image of Santa, whatever that is, is referred to by the term, "the image of Santa" it is not referred to by the proper name, "Santa", which, as I have said, and which everyone save small children believe, refers to nothing at all, since, I am sorry to break it to you, but, there ain't no Santa Claus. Just as pictures of unicorns are referred to by the term "picture of a unicorn" but not by the term "unicorn" since there are no unicorns. So there are two terms: "image (concept, etc.) of Santa Claus" and that, of course does refer to something. And, "Santa Claus" which, of course, refers to nothing at all.

babthrower answered on 02/18/03:

Sorry, you are in err. We do not say 'The card has a picture of the image of Santa Claus on the front'.

We simply say 'The card had a picture of Santa Claus on the front'. And when we say this, our usage is correct. (We are not using shorthand.)

To the child, Santa's picture may represent a real person. But to the adult, Santa is a cultural icon. And each speaker is referring to what HE/SHE means by the symbol 'Santa' when making the statement.

Guess we should close this topic now. We have, as they say, irreconcilable differences which no amount of nattering is likely to change.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/18/03 - Imaginary People

Santa Clause is an imaginary person. 'Imaginary' doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing. It means that it exists only in imagination; it is an 'image', a construct of the mind, which has no counterpart in external reality.

Some images have their source in the 'real' world, and some are constructs. I can imagine a horse's head on a cat's body very easily (a big cat!). So there is such as thing as this image-merely-in-my-mind.
____________________________________________
First, to say that Santa Claus is an imaginary person is not to say that I have a picture in my mind, or any image. I may never have heard of Santa, and yet understand very well what it is to say that he is an imaginary person. I may, for instance, tell you of a character in a novel you have never heard of, and mention that this character is an imaginary person. What picture or image would you then have in mind? Atlantis is an imaginary place. What picture have you in mind of Atlantis. If you have one, need it be the same picture I have in my mind, if I have any picture at all? These are rhetorical questions.

But, more important, when I talk of Santa Claus as an imaginary person, and say that therefore, Santa does not exist, I don't mean that people may not have images of Santa in their mind. I mean that an elf who, with his helpers, and who drives reindeer, and lives at the North Pole does not exist. So, telling me that Santa does exist because an image of him may exist in the mind is a non sequitur since when I say he does not exist I am not saying that there are no images of Santa. It would be like saying that unicorns exist because there are picture of unicorns on tapestries. What would that have to do with it?

I could draw it.

"What is that picture of?"

"Nothing at all."

That is ovbviously false. If it were a picture of nothing at all, the canvas would be blank.

Clearly it is not a representation of nothing at all. It is a representation of an image which has no couterpart in the 'real' world.

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babthrower answered on 02/18/03:

First we have to distinguish between
(1) an image of something, e.g. the cultural icon 'Santa Claus', and
(2) the concept you may have of what an 'imaginary' entity is.

So when I say that Santa Claus is an imaginary person, you may not have an image of Santa Claus (because you have lived in a cave for your entire life, perhaps) but you do have a concept of what I may mean when I say that some x is an 'imaginary person'.

So without any image in mind specific to Santa Claus, you have slotted the little elf into a category. Now, when I add details: "He wears a red suit; he is a jolly old elf," you can begin to build a mental image. Conceivably I could keep adding data until, if someone showed you a depiction of Santa Claus, you might say "That looks like the image I have of Santa Claus!' But you know he is imaginary, since that is the definition you were given, and you have no reason to doubt that the definition is correct, i.e. you have no reason to suppose that somewhere a human exists in the real world who has the exact attributes of 'Santa Claus'.

Jon says "I may, for instance, tell you of a character in a novel you have never heard of, and mention that this character is an imaginary person. What picture or image would you then have in mind?"

I would be busily constructing an image, as the human mind does, of a person, WHETHER REAL OR IMAGINARY, being described to me by someone.

If my friend says, "You must meet my sister. She has a wonderful sense of humour", I begin to imagine that she is a pleasant-faced women who looks somewhat like my friend. Of course, my friend may be quite insane and may have no sister (and judging by most of my friends this is entirely possible) but for the moment I accept that there is a real person in the world who is his sister, who is short and black-haired like him, and like him has a good sense of humor; I even ascribe to her his facial traits when he is being risible. Of course when I meet her I may find that she is red-haired and six feet tall, and if that happens I will modify my mental image, but for the moment, it is as I described.

If however my friend says "You must read this play. There is a character in it, Nora, who is absolutely compelling. Even though imaginary, she is so well-depicted you feel that you know her. She has brown hair, and up to this point in her life she has been very passive, but now she is beginning to question her status and her relationship with those around her." Hearing this, I accept that there is a play containing an interesting character, and I begin to build an image of her as a brown-haired woman whose manner is diffident but who is in conflict, and who is beginning to develop an identity of her own, and this is revealed by a certain tension in her face and bodily movements.

I may read the play, and my image may be modified or confirmed. But I attach to the name 'Nora' a set of attributes which include 'imaginary person'.

Let's suppose my friend's sister is coincidentally named Nora. My friend says 'Nora would like that.' I reply, 'Nora your sister, or the imaginary Nora?'

Jon says "Atlantis is an imaginary place. What picture have yo! u in mind of Atlantis. If you have one, need it be the same picture I have in my mind, if I have any picture at all?"

That is irrelevant. What picture do you have in your mind of George W. Bush? How do you know it is the same picture that I have in my mind? All we would agree on are certain statements about him: he exists in the external world, he is pres. of the U.S., etc. But there may be other statements in your mind or in mine about him upon which we would not agree, for example I picture him and a short person; you may not.

Jon says "...when I talk of Santa Claus as an imaginary person, and say that therefore, Santa does not exist, I don't mean that people may not have images of Santa in their mind...."

That is what I have been saying.

What I said was "Santa Clause is an imaginary person. 'Imaginary' doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing. It means that it exists only in imagination; it is an 'image', a construct of the mind, which has no counterpart in external reality."

Jon continues "... when I say he does not exist I am not saying that there are no images of Santa..."

I'm not saying there are images OF Santa. I am saying there are images CALLED Santa. That's what Santa is. "It ... is an image, a construct of the mind..."

Therefore it is false that Santa Claus is nothing at all.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/17/03 - REPLY

You confuse, I think, meaning with reference.
The *meaning* of the term, "The first female president of the United States" is clear. But the term (a noun phrase) surely has no referent. But it may, in the future. Not even an "imaginary object" Of course, imaginary objects are not objects at all. Nor are imaginary friends, friends. The point of qualifying the term "object" (or "friend") with the term "imaginary" is exactly to say that no such object exists, not that there is a new kind of object.("Imaginary" is not an adjective like "heavy". A heavy object is an object, but an imaginary object is emphatically not an object. To say of an object that it is imaginary is to say of it that while it might appear to be an object, it is not an object or anything at all. It is to misunderstand the "logic" of the qualifier "imaginary" to believe that it is.) "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of the intellect by language"

Of course I do not believe that the "it" in "it is raining" refers to a place. But I was pointing out that if I insisted on misunderstanding the use of "it" in that context (and assimilated it to the use of "it" in "It is near Moscow") then I could, with enough ingenuity invent something as a referent for "it" just as you have been inventing referents all over the map. E.g. "cold" refers to "condition of the weather" But that is just another example of the confusion of meaning and reference. I suppose the term "cold" could be said to mean "condition of the weather" (although that's hardly a felicitous phrase" but that does not mean that it *refers* to a condition of the weather. "Conditions" are not things.

"If "I" doesn't exist as anything in particular, then why should queen or cabbage? Why should questions?"

Of course you cannot mean what you say here. Certainly the *term* I exists, and when you write "I" you are talking about the *term* "I" But what you want to say is that the term "I" refers to something. Well, of course it does. When I say, "I am an American" I am referring to me. But, that would not satisfy you as an answer, would it. You want the term "I" to have an ethereal referent, not the person you would meet if you met me. You want it to refer to a self. But selves are not what we meet on the street, as I understand what you (or Descartes) might mean by "self" Selves are "ghosts in the machine" little invisible homuculi which somehow direct the machine or body, and march on like John Brown, when the body corrupts. No one has any evidence for the existence of such an entity, and, indeed, what evidence could there be?

babthrower answered on 02/18/03:

Thank you, Jon, for the attribution.

Santa Clause is an imaginary person. 'Imaginary' doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing. It means that it exists only in imagination; it is an 'image', a construct of the mind, which has no counterpart in external reality.

Some images have their source in the 'real' world, and some are constructs. I can imagine a horse's head on a cat's body very easily (a big cat!). So there is such as thing as this image-merely-in-my-mind.

I could draw it.

"What is that picture of?"

"Nothing at all."

That is ovbviously false. If it were a picture of nothing at all, the canvas would be blank.

Clearly it is not a representation of nothing at all. It is a representation of an image which has no couterpart in the 'real' world.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/17/03 - REPLY

You confuse, I think, meaning with reference.
The *meaning* of the term, "The first female president of the United States" is clear. But the term (a noun phrase) surely has no referent. But it may, in the future. Not even an "imaginary object" Of course, imaginary objects are not objects at all. Nor are imaginary friends, friends. The point of qualifying the term "object" (or "friend") with the term "imaginary" is exactly to say that no such object exists, not that there is a new kind of object.("Imaginary" is not an adjective like "heavy". A heavy object is an object, but an imaginary object is emphatically not an object. To say of an object that it is imaginary is to say of it that while it might appear to be an object, it is not an object or anything at all. It is to misunderstand the "logic" of the qualifier "imaginary" to believe that it is.) "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of the intellect by language"

Of course I do not believe that the "it" in "it is raining" refers to a place. But I was pointing out that if I insisted on misunderstanding the use of "it" in that context (and assimilated it to the use of "it" in "It is near Moscow") then I could, with enough ingenuity invent something as a referent for "it" just as you have been inventing referents all over the map. E.g. "cold" refers to "condition of the weather" But that is just another example of the confusion of meaning and reference. I suppose the term "cold" could be said to mean "condition of the weather" (although that's hardly a felicitous phrase" but that does not mean that it *refers* to a condition of the weather. "Conditions" are not things.

"If "I" doesn't exist as anything in particular, then why should queen or cabbage? Why should questions?"

Of course you cannot mean what you say here. Certainly the *term* I exists, and when you write "I" you are talking about the *term* "I" But what you want to say is that the term "I" refers to something. Well, of course it does. When I say, "I am an American" I am referring to me. But, that would not satisfy you as an answer, would it. You want the term "I" to have an ethereal referent, not the person you would meet if you met me. You want it to refer to a self. But selves are not what we meet on the street, as I understand what you (or Descartes) might mean by "self" Selves are "ghosts in the machine" little invisible homuculi which somehow direct the machine or body, and march on like John Brown, when the body corrupts. No one has any evidence for the existence of such an entity, and, indeed, what evidence could there be?

babthrower answered on 02/17/03:

Two questions:

1. Who originated that nice, pithy definition:

"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of the intellect by language"

2. What was the original question? We seem to be in medias res here.

Question/Answer
hmghaly asked on 02/16/03 - Why would anyone hate America?

Hi All,
My name is not "anyone" so don't worry :) My point is that so many people in the world hate America, why is that? Envy? Envy for what? Richness/standard of living, then wht wouldn't people hate countries like Switzerland and Sweden? Power? What is the meaning of power? I guess Russia (USSR) formerly, has(d) an arsenal as large as that of America and china is in the way. I can't think of any other reason for envy, but I don't think it is a reason for hate.
You may know what is the reason for this hate if you ask any of the millions of people who went to marches and strikes the past few days. I can simply say it is because of American foriegn policy, and its obcession with the power it possesses and not paying any respect to the world. I think these are better reasons, aren't they?

Hussein

babthrower answered on 02/16/03:

Some do hate America. But most don't 'hate', they just resent. Why?

Well, America is just so big and powerful. We in Canada say, when the U.S. economy catches a cold, we Canadians get pneumonia. That is because we are so dependent on the U.S. economy.

Any powerful country will throw its weight around. In the 1800's, when Britain was at the height of its power and the U.S. was 'in its teens', the British government decided to discourage the slave trade. Their ships would stop the ships of other nations on the seas, and search for slaves. If slaves were found, the British would land them on the nearest African coast, and the merchant vessel would lose its cargo! This policy caused immense resentment in America.

In the 1700's when France was the big cheese (le gros fromage) the French openly disdained the low cultural development of other nations. De la Mettrie, a French philosopher, said: "The English, who eat their meat red and bloody, show the savagery that goes with such food." Talleyrand said "I found there [in America] a country with thirty-two religions and only one sauce."

So when the U.S. intervenes in other countries, it causes resentment in almost ALL countries, because it conveys the message 'We are powerful and can do as we wish'. (When the Briish did it, it was called 'gunboat diplomacy.)

Not always. In a recent British newspaper, one correspondent wrote: "Britain and America are not what is wrong with the world, and Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East."

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/16/03 - Sluggishness

Why is this board so sluggish, at least as compared with Askme.com? Partly, I suppose, it is because college student have not got wind of it yet. But even so, not even one question about what the meaning of life is! Of course, Tonyrey and Dark Crow who used to be mainstays have, it seems, left.

babthrower answered on 02/16/03:

Ah, closed-board nostalgia strikes again!

I'm a veteran of AskJeevesAnswerpoint, AskMe.com, Answerpool religions threads, AllExperts, and WeTellYou. Those of them which have closed have been marked by sentimental teary goodbyes from members, even poems and songs of the 'she done gone and left me lonesome' genre - and, at the refugee site, eulogies and high praise -- for the defunct sites!. But I don't really see much difference. New sites are boring at the outset until they get up steam.

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Question/Answer
nel_cuore_della_vita asked on 02/13/03 - In the book Sophie' world there is one heading called thee philosopher' project.
as a philo

In the book Sophie' world there is one heading called thee philosopher' project.
as a philosopher what is our special project?

babthrower answered on 02/14/03:

Perhaps it's to try to think clearly.

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Question/Answer
nel_cuore_della_vita asked on 02/13/03 - if god did not exits, anything goes. WHat do you think about that? What does this phrase mean? Can t

if god did not exits, anything goes. WHat do you think about that? What does this phrase mean? Can there be morality without God.
Can you please fill me in in what you think about this phrase?

babthrower answered on 02/14/03:

It's just plain silly, obviously. There is already morality (or ethical values) without god. Those are the values held by non-theistic humanists.

Let's say tomorrow there is no more civil law. Will I go sneaking to my neighbor's house (the neighbor who doesn't like my gazebo) and shoot him through his window?

No. Because that would in no way make me feel better about him, me, or the world.

Most people are sensible enough to know that
uncontrolled impulsive behavior has many major drawbacks. I will not attack my neighbor because I don't want my other neighbor to attack me. And in a climate of lawlessness that is what would happen.

But I'll tell you what I would do. I'd try to get a group of neighbors together and agree on a code which we will follow, and agree to help enforce the code. We know there are some people who are unwise and impulsive, so that must be taken into account.

That is what people do. People are social animals with imagination.

The only behaviors that are anyone's business but yours are those that affect other people.

Lust away in your heart all you want. Covet your neighbor's goat all you want. Just don't take it unlawfully to make goat stew.

Consider crimes and criminals. Do statistics show that non-theists commit all the crimes? No. Crimes are committed by all kinds of people from all walks of life. For some reason theists sometimes ignore, forget or simply disobey the laws of god, and even the laws of mankind. For some reason non-theists sometimes forget common sense, and let their unregulated primate instincts run away with them, and steal someone's Mercedes.

I have been an atheist all my adult life - that's many years, by the way. I have no criminal record.

I help my neighbors. I contribute to charities. I have a fabulous work ethic. Am I unusual? Not morally. A little eccentric, maybe, but that's all.

So relax, the horrors you imagine will not
happen. The crimes that are committed in a godless world will be the same as those committed in a theistic world, with one exception: the so-called 'victimless' crimes are O.K. with non-theists.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 02/13/03 - College Philosophy

I haven't done any formal philosophy yet, but I am very curious of the world around me as you can tell from all the questions I have asked here. That said, I would like to study philosophy at college level, but I am ambivalent on what course I should take, so I am wondering if all the erudite minds here can give me some advice. There are three first year courses on metaphysics, ethics and a gereral history of philosophy course. There was one on critical thinking but it won't be offered this year. Can you please give me some information on these aspects of philosophy and what would be there best route to take. Thanks...

babthrower answered on 02/13/03:

I agree with Rhona. A general survey course will introduce you to the whole range of philosophy. It won't spend much time on modern stuff, but that's because there isn't time. The early stuff and the early modern stuff is really, really important.

Besides, the fields are all interwoven. You will get a better sense of this in a survey course than in a metaphysics course.

Then you will have a better idea of where you would like to concentrate your attention.

Remember that metaphysics will not tell you about reality, but will show you ways of thinking about reality; ethics will not tell you what values we should hold, but how do we examine values, and so forth. I say this because I heard a first-year student say once, "I took philosophy to find some answers, but all I get is more questions!"

Right. But better questions.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 02/12/03 - Learning

Do we learn for further understanding, or do we learn to acquire knowledge or a combination of both? And can we reason without knowledge?

babthrower answered on 02/12/03:

We can't help learning - it's hard-wired. So to ask why we learn is secondary to the fact that we learn in order to survive.

Big-brained animals' curiosity is a kind of instinct for learning. Like most instincts, the satisfaction we feel when we obey the instinct is pleasurable.

Learning is the result of data and deduction. Understanding is always relative. The first data from an object is without any but the most basic concepts:

You see a photo of a woman holding a blue object on her lap.

What is it? It is not recognizable based on your experiences of objects which one might place on one's lap.

What do you know?

- It is blue.
- It fits on a lap.

You can infer some other things:

- It is not uncomfortably hot or cold, if you can judge by the woman's easy posture.
- It is not incredibly dense and heavy; she seems to sit comfortably.

You get a magnifying glass. You observe:

- that her hands seem to sink into the object, so it is resilient
- that the woman smiles very pleasantly, even mischievously, so the object is not repulsive to her.

Still its amorphous shape gives no clue to what it is. So you have acquired a little knowledge, but no understanding.

So you phone the woman (whom, as it happens, you know), describe the photo, and ask her what the object was.

She tells you it was her first attempt at making a stuffed toy bear, and it was so lumpy and badly made that it was not even recognizable as a stuffed bear.

Now you understand her expression in the photo and why you could not identify the object.

Why did you pursue the matter? Curiosity.

At what point did knowledge become understanding? At the point at which you accepted her account of things as true.

Did you ever know any of your inferences were correct? No, not for sure.

Do you know for sure that your understanding is correct? No.

Is your curiosity satisfied? Yes.

So you see that there is a much different standard applied in an everyday matter such as this, than would be applied in a matter of great importance.

Can we reason without knowledge?

No. Reasoning requires axioms and statements. Statements are about something. Statements about nothing, or that are unverifiable, do not yield valid conclusions.

If I say:

All gomfs are iugs;
This is a gomf;
Therefore this is a iug,

I have a string of statements which fit the formal requirements, but because the words signify nothing, I cannot be said to have reasoned my way to a conclusion.

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Question/Answer
chekhovToo asked on 02/10/03 - Thinking

What is thinking?

babthrower answered on 02/11/03:

If humans are the product of evolution, then thinking has a developmental history.

1. An organism that responds to stimuli (e.g. light) has an advantage over one that doesn't sense the stimuli or doesn't respond.

2. An organism that learns to anticipate a second stimulus which follows a first stimulus (conditioned response) has an advantage over one which doesn't have an association.

Here we see for the first time an element (the association) which rests inside the brain. It is the proto-'idea'.

3. An organism which can co-ordinate the set of stimuli and associations in a productive way (relating them to current sensory input) has an advantage. This is the proto-'mind'.

The set (of recalled-stimulus and recalled-association) is no longer purely automatic; it is a proto-'idea'. The organism can distinguish between the 'idea' and actual present sensory input.

4. An organism which can form a secondary association based on the results of the prior experience, and that association is to 'seek' the stimulus if it is beneficial, or 'avoid' it if it was not, has an advantage. This is proto-'emotion'.


An organism which can recall certain proto-ideas WITHOUT present stimuli has an advantage.

e.g. the organism, a predator, randomly recalls the association 'small-thing-running-away' and 'pursue-and-capture' and 'full-belly-gratification'. But it perceives no 'small-thing-running-away'. This is not-good, which is an emotion. Not-good makes it restless. It moves about. This increases the likelihood it will encounter 'small-thing-running-away', and eat, and reproduce. It no longer catches only prey which happens to cross its path. This success, 'move-and-seek-and-eat', itself becomes an association in memory. This is proto-'imagination'.

5. An organism which can form an idea that one event necessarily predeeds another has performed proto-'logic'. This is an advantage.

Now we have to make a quantun leap, or this post will be 200 pages long. We can see that there are elements to brain function:

- perceptions (sets of sensory data)
- memories (sets of sensory data from the past which form a recognizable unity)
- imaginings (units of experience presented to the co-ordinating organ) which the organism 'knows' is not actually present
- planning (using memories and imaginings in order to fulfil a bio-need based on memory of such a need being fulfilled in the past)
- the notion that there are necessary connections between events

This kind of brain development, in minute stages, will always lead to biological success, because it makes possible more and more complex representations of reality.

Humans built the biggest and most efficient brains. Humans were both social and predatory. Inevitably it would be discovered that co-operative pack strategies give an advantage.

This would lead to need for communication using sight or sound. (Taste, touch and smell don't allow for long-range communication which hunters need.)

Communication was likely by signs at first but we know language was eventually invented. In turn, language was symbolized in writing, which added durability to the communication. This gives an advantage.

Thinking in humans is symbolic representation of associated-sensory-data, the memories of associated-sensory-data, the memories of reward-or-punishment associated with specific behavior-sets or associated-sense-data, the perception of states of arousal (emotion), and the recognition that certain events are necessarily connected to other events.

There is no reason why one would not invent a symbol so that we can talk about perceptions and memories represented to our consciousness. So we call them'ideas' or 'thoughts'.

So there is no reason we can't think about thinking.

Anyhow that's what I think.

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Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 02/09/03 - The difficulty of philosophy

I am not sure just how to ask this question, but here it goes:
Is philosophy ( and I mean philosophizing)difficult? Are certain ways of philosophizing difficult? Has being on this board changed or influenced your opinion on this matter?

babthrower answered on 02/09/03:

No, life is difficult. Philosophy helps. Traditional logic is easy. Symbolic logic is hard. Some of the German phenomenologists are not exactly hard, but require more patience than I have.

The basic things we learn from even a little serious reading in philosophy help make a cognitive map of human thinking:

-What do other humans think are the really tough questions?

-What do the ancient thinkers have to tell us? (Philosophical archeology)

-What methods do they use to analyze certain types of problems? What are the suitable methods for each type of problem?

-Do we know anything (apart from daily, pragmatic, walking-around-type knowledge without which we could not possibly survive)?

-How much faith should we put in science?

-How skeptical should we be?

-Is it worthwhile to speculate about metaphysical questions?

-Does it pay to be a smartass?

Qu. #2. No.

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Question/Answer
ttalady asked on 02/05/03 - It makes sense!

Politics I know but this whole proving a negative really has me thinking beyond the obvious. You can not see, hear a negative. As in it is all a mind game. With the "Weapons of Mass destruction" and proving it, it has already been proven! It is almost so clear to me now that I could slap myself in the face. The proving of something that one can not prove (negative) is all because we are looking beyond the answer. The "weapons of mass destruction" suppose to look like that of bombs, bio-logical war heads, ect. When if you look at the man himself you have the "Weapons of mass destruction"! Do you not?

He has killed thousands of his own people, killed members of his own family, tried to take over a peaceful country (Kuwait), and has ties with terrorists. Now as one person finds that a nuclear bomb would prove that of "weapons of mass destruction", does not the mind of one man prove that he alone is that? As I have said before, Saddam could never prove this negative of metal. But the US has proved the negative that it is not that of metal, bombs, ect. It is just the man himself, he is the "Weapons of mass destruction"!

They better take him out or we are all in trouble!

tta

babthrower answered on 02/06/03:

Iraq was never asked to prove a negative. It was asked to allow inspectors to look for evidence. It failed to co-operate.

If it had cooperated and no weapons had been found, the U.N. would have left in due time.

If the police come to your door with a search warrant, they are not asking you to 'prove a negative'. The onus is on them to find something of interest, or leave empty-handed.

And as a matter of fact one can prove a negative. I can prove I don't do illegal drugs by submitting urine samples, for example. Not that it's relevant to this case; I'm just making a point.

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Question/Answer
chekhov asked on 02/04/03 - Democracy

Is Democracy the best form of government and is it the best form of government in every circumstance?

babthrower answered on 02/05/03:

No. It's not efficient because the decision process is slow.

So in times of crisis, all sorts of people from generals to presidents and demagogues insist they should be given 'temporary' or 'emergency' powers.

Trouble is, once they become dictators, it is for them to decide when the emergency is over.

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Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 02/05/03 - Please explain

Does science use the deductive or inductive method? What method does mathematics use?

babthrower answered on 02/05/03:

They both use both.

Applied mathematics is mainly deductive. But statistics can make predictions whose accuracy is based on induction (and an important assumption, or axiom: that the universe is consistent).

Applied science also makes predictions that are deductions. e.g.

We have learned (by induction from measurements taken) that at this point on earth, the total rainfall for the month of July was .001 mm or less for each of the past 80 years.

This is July 15, 2002.

Therefore the rainfall today will be =< .001 mm.

Here the statement is expressing great certainty. But in real life this prediction would be given a probability-rating.

Here's another deduction example from applied science.

Nuclear reactors should be made of materials that do not readily absorb neutrons.

Zirconium does not readily absorb neutrons.

Therefore zirconium is a candidate material for nuclear reactors.

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Question/Answer
hmghaly asked on 02/03/03 - Meaning of time

I think it is irrelevent to say that the big bang happened 15 billion years ago. That's because our time unit (the year here) is only specific to our solar system, but there is no universal time, or what else can be?

babthrower answered on 02/04/03:

The conventional way of measuring time here on earth is by recurring solar-system phenomena.

When people talk about the 'big bang, this event is outside of that framework.

So they would use a different measure: the speed of light.

They would calculate the length of time it would take the universe to become the size it is, based on the speed of light. Then they would translate that into earth-years.

This translation neither creates nor destroys time.

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Question/Answer
keenu asked on 02/01/03 - For all of us: from "The Afterdeath Journal of an American Philosopher, The World View of William J

"...if a person's mind is given to philosophy - if the heart questions the head, and the head the heart - if the person seeks the answers to questions that rise like smoke from the fire of daily life, if mind and heart alike are united in their untiring search for what comes before and what after; then there is no recourse but to stand somewhat apart from the times. There is no recourse but to steadfastly refuse that concentration upon daily details that others find so fascinating. For such persons see alike life's flaming patterns and the ghostly ashes left behind, the hearths of one civilization built upon the cold embers of another, and question incessantly."

babthrower answered on 02/02/03:

Who was his ghost writer? Shirley MacLaine?

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Question/Answer
hmghaly asked on 02/02/03 - Big Bang

Do you find the theory of Big Bang plausible?

babthrower answered on 02/02/03:

Yes, it's plausible to me as an event.

So there must have been something before.

Maybe we are the other side of someone else's Black Hole!

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Question/Answer
chekhov asked on 02/01/03 - Philosophy

Is philosophy more important to study than history or literature or indeed politics? I would be interested in what you think and why.

babthrower answered on 02/01/03:

You can't make this kind of comparison because philosophy is a different KIND of study.

History - a social science (that's arguable, I know)

Literature - a study of society's representations of its experience

Politics - a tool devised by mankind to manage a social group.

But philosophy is unique. It is more fundamental than any of these specific subjects.

It has (traditionally) four aspects:

Logic (studying reasoning involving statements and inferences and necessary connections between them)

Metaphysics - what is the stuff that surrounds us? What are we?

Epistemology - How do we know anything?

Axiology - Values. How do we know the good?

So, since it is thinking about thinking, it is a good (some say necessary) preparation for the mind BEFORE studying any other subject.

Footnote:

You can soon tell if you're involved in a discussion with someone whether they have studied philosophy or not.

The person who has not studied will likely do one of these mistakes quite early on.

1. Quibble.

He: Those who believe X are communists.
You believe X. You are a communist.

You: Communists aren't people who believe X. Communists are people who believe (and here you list the dictionary definition of 'communist' as it relates to what they believe).

He: That's not communism. Communism is people like you who believe X.

2. Logical fallacy.

He: As soon as they brought in condom use, right away you see the number of cases of HIV increase.

You: But condoms have been around for hundreds of years. HIV has been around only for twenty years or so. And the number of HIV cases were increasing before the W.H.O. began to promote condom use.

He: Yeah, but now it's increasing faster.

(Post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy - "X preceded Y, therefore X caused Y."

3. What can be proved, and what cannot?

What kind of statements can be proved, and to what level of certainty?

What kinds of statements can not be proved (although they may be believed)?

AND SO ON.

If you study philosophy, not only will you think more clearly, and be able to organize your statements better, but you will NOT BE NAIVE about how you come to believe X and not Y.

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Question/Answer
chekhov asked on 01/27/03 - Evidence

How can one tell the difference between reliable and unreliable evidence and or argument?

babthrower answered on 01/28/03:

There is no way.

But there are general methods which depend on the subject matter.

For the rules of reasoning, traditional logic is good. But it will only take you so far. It will let you test a series of statements to see whether you can draw a conclusion from them, or whether a conclusion (which one of them claims to have shown) is justified.

We can't prove that the logic works as we would like it to work. We can only say whether or not it conforms to these generally-accepted rules. These rules are 'satisfying', as an axiom of geometry is satisfying.

Modern logic is a little like algebra. It uses symbols to represent statements, and examines whether a conclusion can be drawn. Again, the validity of the conclusion depends on our agreement on what valid conclusions are -- agreement on the rules.

But logic alone cannot tell you whether a statement (about the world) is true or not. It can only tell you what can be drawn from a set of statements.

When looking at statements about the world, the way to verify is to look at the data.

If you can't look at the data, then you have to look at the person making the statement.

If the statement is about something in a specialized field of knowledge, is the speaker an authority in the field? If so, is he a member of a sect of the field, and are there other schools of thought? How old is he/she? Perhaps there are newer or older observations on the subject?

There is a danger that one might take the opinion of a recognized authority too seriously. That's a fallacy.

Another danger in dealing with authorities is that we may accept their conclusion even if it is outside of their area of expertise, just because they are authorities.

Statements about things that cannot be tested by the scientific method are only opinions or highly personal perceptions, and cannot be imposed on others.

If the statement is based on statistics, how was the data gathered? How big was the database? Big enough? What is big enough? Was it gathered by disinterested parties? How were the inquiries formulated?

The conclusions based upon the data have to be just as carefully examined.

The inductive method yields true statements only if every last member of the set about which the statement is made has been examined.

Theories based on studying data and drawing inferences from the results can never be 'true' if the range of data is not accessible. Still, we can consider such conclusions to be 'facts' (if not 'truth') if the evidence is very strong.

Be very afraid of the statements made by scientists as they reach the perimeters of their expertise. For example, statements about 'what happened before the Big Bang' are pure speculation, even if made by the world's most eminent physicist, because we have no data from before the big bang.

Anecdotal evidence is unreliable: there should be data to back it up if it is to be believed.

And so on.

How deeply you go into each of these areas depends on how important the truth or falsity of the statement is to you.

Conclusion: We don't know much. We can't know much. But what little we do know, we ought to try and know with some certainty. It's hard work. But like any other art, you usually get better at it with practice.

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Question/Answer
chekhov asked on 01/27/03 - Philosophy

Why do we (you) study philosophy and what makes philosopher's such good thinkers?

babthrower answered on 01/28/03:

There's something wonderful about reading the words of people through the ages who have thought about the same things we do, and asked -- and tried to answer -- the same questions.

I guess you might call it the archaeological aspect of philosophy.

I do think that studying logic helps sharpen the thinking process. I can't prove it. At least it speeds it up. It enables to recognize and even name errors in reasoning which, before studying formal logic, you just recognized as wrong, but perhaps had no clear method of analysing.

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Question/Answer
stiamo_bene_insieme asked on 12/27/02 - Plato' importance

Why is PLato important to philosophy and to our world today?

babthrower answered on 12/28/02:

His concept of the form (or the ideal) was very influential because it was taken up by later religious philosophers in order to justify the position that souls are real.

His criticism of sense experience and his emphasis on reason (and on the importance of mathematics) was a factor in later philosophic thinking, and on our thinking about the scientific method. (I'm not saying his thinking was what we now call 'scientific'.)

From a cynical point of view, we could say that his importance is partly due to his being taken up by Christians, which caused many of his works to survive; while those of philosophers less amenable were not preserved.

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Question/Answer
stiamo_bene_insieme asked on 12/27/02 - Plato

was there a relationship between Plato' life experiences and his particualar philosophy?

babthrower answered on 12/28/02:

That is a question which can only be answered with speculation, because almost nothing is known about his life experiences.

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Question/Answer
ttalady asked on 12/27/02 - Cloning

I am so sickened by this and hope that the news is not true with having a cloned baby. In theory life does not create by just one person. As in taking a woman's egg and using her own genetics to produce LIFE. Granted this may be a breathing thing however how did we let science take over morals, beliefs, and most important the miracle of life? Are we not loosing humanity and becoming mear tissue, robots, just a living cell? That even in science on looses beliefs in the soul of a person?

I am so.. confused and feel such sadness in myself for the thought that our next generation will be that of duplicating a body. Let alone some business where a woman and man can decide on what "flavor" child they want. No sh** there is some company that will do this DNA stuff on a fertilized egg, well many, and say "this one is a boy with brown hair blue eyes, this is a girl with blonde hair green eyes, ect ect" then the parents "PICK-OUT" their child?

In any and all religions there is "the end". Where eventually we kill ourselves and become null and void. I see this as a major step in doing so! I do not believe for a minute that any God intended for humans to take advantage of human life. The soul that ones carries as well as the miracle of just becoming a Mother or Father. Somehow this has gotten out of control and now not only is selfishness taking over the world but as well the loss of belief.

Are as scared as I? This is way beyond that of common sense now, we have people taking life beyond what it is. I am a product of a miracle, cloning is that of a product of people which as you all know is almost 99.9% of the time not good. Are we not doomed to kill ourselves?

Respectfully,
ttalady

babthrower answered on 12/28/02:

I think you have to put cloning into perspective. First of all, it's horrifically expensive, which means few can do it. Secondly, manipulating the next generation is nothing new: in many societies, girl babies were/are destroyed in an attempt to produce a higher ratio of warriors, which are more highly valued than breeders; and also in many societies defective children are/were exposed or otherwise done away with. We have manipulated our own offspring by fixing their teeth or doing other 'unnatural' things to them so they will be more attractive as mates, and have higher status, as adults.

And, perhaps worst of all, we have saved many infants which carry serious genetic disorders by using high tech medicine. This is often seen as merciful and kind, but is it really so? Or is it just tampering with the system? They will reproduce, and in turn spread the bad traits throughout the human gene pool.

Some scientifically-minded people have visualized human society in the future as being composed of perfect beings; but in fact it will likely be a sad parade of people of whom most suffer some physical or mental disorder.

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Question/Answer
picassocat24 asked on 12/04/02 - Nature of Evil

Is evil due to lack of knowledge?

babthrower answered on 12/27/02:

No, some people do things which most people would call evil but they don't call it evil. We call them psychopaths (those who can't empathize with others) or scizophrenics (the don't share our common reality).

Those who do evil knowing it is evil are selfish. I suppose all evil among people with normal minds is selfishness.

"If I don't gas the prisoners as I have been ordered to do, I will lose my job."

Question/Answer
metacristi asked on 12/26/02 - about 'strong' atheism

1.Someone who think 'I believe that God does not exist' AND 'God (a certain model of God) does not (or cannot exist)' is an extremist 'strong atheist' who's position,of course,cannot be sustained logically or experimantally.

2.Someone who simply think 'I believe that God does not exist' (after carefully examining all existing data) whilst accepting that we do not have enough information to settle the problem either way,for the moment (remaining open to the possibility that God might exist) is still a 'strong' atheist,in my opinion.This position is logically defendable because it does not imply having certitude [but is rather weak because it can be labeled as simple 'belief'].

However during my wanderings on different [english language speaking] sites on the net I've seen many people that equate 'I believe that God does not exist' with situation 1 [some asked me something like 'is this plain english?;I think it's a nonsense'] when I presented 2 to them.
Or,I think they are totally distinct,english has nothing to do here.
Nor can I include those who think 2 in 'agnostic atheists' category.
Any comments?
PS:There is a dstinction between having sufficient reason to raise 'something' at the rank of 'objective knowledge' and having enough evidence in order to believe in that 'something' without having certitudes;'objective' knowledge and belief are separate things :-)

babthrower answered on 12/26/02:

Some people prefer to call themselves 'non-theists'. This means that the do not worship a particular god. They do not sense the presence of a particular god, or any god. But they keep an open mind as to whether there is a consciousness that is active in the universe.

It may well be that they want to avoid the perjorative term 'atheist'.

But I think that 'a-theist' -- 'without a god' -- is the same thing.

'God' implies worship and reverence by definition. So to be 'without a god' merely means that one has no religious faith.

To be an atheist is not necessarily to deny that some intelligence may exist. The atheist simply maintains that he does not worship such a being, if it exists.

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Question/Answer
walden asked on 11/25/02 - Freedom

Am I free to do as I choose?

babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

No one knows exactly what you mean by your question.

If what you mean is, "Is human freedom an illusion?" then to some extent it seems that it is.

We speak of 'freedom' in a political sense, yet no citizen is free to do whatever he/she wishes without risking becoming relatively unfree as a consequence of some possible behaviors.

We speak of 'freedom of choice', which one would suppose means that I am free to take my clothes off in public (provided I do it in a domain where this act is not illegal). But I may not 'feel' free to do it; I have been socially conditioned a certain way, and no matter how much I may feel as if I want to take off all my clothes in a public place, I find that in a sense I am not free to do it.

There are physical limitations to freedom. I may want to swim in your pool, and you may say, 'feel free', but if I cannot swim, then I am prohibited by common sense from doing what I want to do. Nor can I leap tall buildings at a single bound.

Maybe we could give better answers if you would clarify your question.

Question/Answer
walden asked on 11/26/02 - Death

Is there life after death?

babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

"Life after death" is contradictory. I think the question is, does our consciousness survive death?

From my experience with how dependent consciousness is upon the condition of my brain, I would have to say that I cannot imagine consciousness existing once the brain itself no longer exists.

The atoms that compose the brain will continue to exist, but can the brain function when its organization is completely disrupted, and the atoms incorporated into other compounds, even into the bodies and brains of many, many other living things?

Question/Answer
walden asked on 11/30/02 - Machines, Philosophy, Consciousness

If machines were made conscious, would they have rights?

babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

If machines were ever made conscious in a way that is measurable and definable, whether they would have rights or not would be a question for the appropriate legislature to decide.

Question/Answer
Dark_Crow asked on 12/10/02 - Reality

If human beings cannot understand the nature of reality, is there then no point in examining it?

Is the scientific method is the most logical and accurate process discovered so far by human beings to obtain factual information and true knowledge? Is the physical world that is empirically observable the only realm that exists.

babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

Dark Crow, I think the question behind your question is about 'knowledge' gained through pure insight or revelation or some such.

You ask "If humans cannot understand the nature of reality,..."

Does that mean that you think it's possible that humans MAY (perhaps someday) understand the nature of reality? Or is it your assumption that we do not, and can not?

Because if you assume that humans cannot understand the nature of reality, then it is quite pointless to ask humans whether the "physical world ..." is the only realm that exists.

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Question/Answer
stiamo_bene_insieme asked on 12/01/02 - solipsism

What are 2 examples of solipsism?

babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

You won't find solipsist writings or self-announcements because they don't think there's anyone to talk to. So solicism has no 'examples' in our culture.

Question/Answer
Jon1667 asked on 12/15/02 - Proving a Negative.....again

Logic is relevant! The following appeared in the New York Times on December 15. My letter (which probably will not be published) is appended. There are a lot of inaccuracies in the article, but I chose to comment only on one. Would be interested in your comments too.


SADDAM'S SWAN SONG
Iraq Makes a Philosophically Flawed Effort to Disprove a Negative
By EMILY EAKIN

December 15, 2002
How many pages does it take to prove a negative? Iraq is hoping 12,000 might do the trick. That, roughly, is the number of pages in the declaration it turned over to the United Nations in a last-ditch effort to convince the world that it has no weapons of mass destruction. For the moment, the United Nations and the United States are playing along, scouring the document page by page last week for signs that Iraq is lying or fudging the truth.

But while the exercise may make for good politics, as a philosophical proposition it is arguably deeply flawed. In fact, some scholars would say the task the world has assigned Iraq — to prove it has no weapons of mass destruction — is logically impossible.
The problem is not, as is frequently assumed, that proving a negative simply can't be done.
"If I say I have no coins in my pocket, you can just search me," said Colin McGinn, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, pointing out that people verify modest negative statements all the time with little difficulty.
But philosophically speaking, there's a big difference between claiming there are no coins in your pocket and claiming there are no coins in the pockets of New Yorkers, or, more to the point, no weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the nearly 170,000 square miles that make up the state of Iraq.
As the scope of the claim grows, so do the number of philosophical objections and practical obstacles to proving it. This is where the work of the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume comes in. In a dazzling insight that changed the course of Western philosophy, Hume demonstrated that the common practice of induction (inferring general rules from particular observations) is inherently circular and unreliable.
Philosophers like to explain Hume's argument using swans. Ronald J. Allen, a law professor and evidence expert at Northwestern University, put it this way: "Suppose somebody claims all the swans are white. He says, `I'll prove it to you.' He takes you to the zoo, and there are 20 swans there, all white. Well, he's merely showing you a finite set of swans. This can't establish that all swans are white."
Because no one can ever observe all the swans in the world, but only particular groups of swans, according to Hume it would be logically indefensible to conclude that all swans are white no matter how reasonable such an inference seems.
This same difficulty arises in trying to prove some large-scope negatives, Mr. Allen points out. "Suppose you assert that there are no black swans," he said. "You'd have to produce all the swans in the world to show there are no black ones" — an impossible undertaking.
This, he said, is the situation faced by Iraq. "You can see the perversity of it," Mr. Allen said. "The Iraqis have to show that there's no state of the universe inconsistent with the statement that they have no weapons of mass destruction."
IF Mr. Allen is right, weapons inspections that turn up nothing, and a 12,000-page declaration that discloses no violations, are of extremely limited value. Like groups of white swans, they might tell us something particular but nothing general. They certainly don't prove anything about Iraq's claim that it possesses no weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, it is possible to argue that Iraq's situation more closely resembles Mr. McGinn's single pocket example (a small-scope, easily verified negative) than it does Mr. Allen's black swan example (a large-scope, unverifiable negative).
"Iraq is big, but not that big," said Simon Blackburn, a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University and a leading authority on Hume. "There is no more difficulty to prove there are no weapons of mass destruction than to prove there's no rhinoceros in my sitting room."
But other scholars concede that the burden of proof placed on Iraq by the United Nations is so great that no amount of evidence is likely to suffice. The Bush administration has often spoken of Iraq's intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction, said Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Once intention becomes a factor, he said, Iraq's situation begins to look more and more like the black swan problem — an unverifiable negative.
"I'm willing to venture it's impossible for anyone to prove they don't have the intention to do something," he said, adding that placing such a burden on an American criminal defendant — who, unlike Iraq, is guaranteed a presumption of innocence — would be unthinkable.
If Iraq's task is demonstrably impossible, on what basis can it be justified? Ultimately, the best defense may hinge not on logic or law but on more nebulous concepts like experience and common sense.
"The thing we're asking them to prove, whether you put it positively or negatively, is so extremely hard to prove that we're almost rigging the outcome by the way we put the question," said Laurence H. Tribe, the Harvard professor of constitutional law. "But it doesn't follow that we're acting in a way that's contrary to all our conventional jurisprudential principles."
CITING Iraq's past use of weapons of mass destruction and long record of duplicity on the issue, Mr. Tribe argued that "we're acting in a preventative mode where we're not prepared as an international community to take the risk that potential mass destruction will go uncontrolled."
That's a statement that Hume might have found perfectly reasonable. A practical man, he realized that in the absence of certain knowledge, experience and common sense are often the best guides to judgment. The danger arises when fallible human judgments are confused with truth.
In the end, Hume argued, the inevitable uncertainty of knowledge requires, in response, a rigorous policy of "mitigated skepticism" — the constant application of "a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner."
___________________________________________________
It is true that we cannot prove with complete reliability that all swans are white by pointing to some finite number of swans ("The Logic of Proving a Negative" December 15) since a black swan may always pop up (as it did in Australia in the 19th century). But our background knowledge also informs us that color is a highly variable property in animals. But could we, for instance, not infer with great reliability that all swans have beaks or livers from the observation of a finite number of swans? Of course we could, since the possession of structural biological traits is not a variable quality in animals as biology and commonsense tells us. And, even if a beakless or liverless swan (unimaginably) did pop up, would we conclude that some swans were beakless or liverless, or rather that we had encountered a freak swan. The latter, I think.




babthrower answered on 12/24/02:

This is pretentious balderdash on the Times' part. This is a pseudo-point. You can't prove a positive, either, unless you examine every last instance that exists or ever did exist.

This kind of comment irritates me. It is similar to those who cite 'logic' and say
"This is the exception that proves the rule." There is no such rule in logic. In fact the contrary is the case: exceptions disprove rules, if by 'rule' you mean a law of science, or some such.

In fact that Iraq tried so valiantly to prevent any inspections tends to suggest that there is evidence all over the place.

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