Thursday, January 27, 2011

David Lewis' Improvement of Functionalism

David Lewis and the Hydraulic Brain.  Lewis proposes an improvement on functionalist theory.  He first identifies a problem with functionalism regarding multiple realization and proposes a solution to this problem.  Imagine a martian and human madman.  The martian acts just like us but it has a mechanical, hydraulic brain. Even though the martian has the same pain and has the same kinds of behaviors as humans have it, the physical states that cause the pain and cause the subsequent behaviors are different.  Now, imagine the madman.  The madman has all the same physical systems that normal humans have and he feels pain, but it is caused by different things and he reacts to it in a very different way.  His pain is not caused by cuts, punches and falls.  Rather, he pain is caused by light exercise on an empty stomach.  Also,  instead of groaing, screaming and using an icepack, he may think about math or cross his legs and snap his fingers. The madman is in pain but he neither exhibits behaviors that are typical pain behaviors for humans nor is his pain caused by the same conditions.

Here is the problem: Functionalism says that pain is a functional states.  On the one hand, the purpose of the functional state of pain is the same for us and the martian but it is different for us and the madman.  On the other hand, the physical brain state is the same for us and the madman but it is different for us and the martian.  Putnam’s version of functionalism can explain the martian’s pain but cannot explain the madman’s pain.

Lewis comes up with a version that can explain both the martian’s pain and the madman’s pain.   Lewis says that we must allow for different behaviors to be typical for different organisms or different populations who have the same mental state.  We must allow that there will be different sets of behavioral dispositions associated with mental states in different populations.  For example, in a population of normal humans, pain is associated with the behaviors of crying, yelling and cursing.  In a population of Buddhist monks, however, pain is associated with behaviors of maintaining physical composure.  The madman is so unique that he does not belong to our population.  This is why it is not a problem that his behavior differs so much from the behaviors that are typical to the human population.

Lewis' improvement means that (1) different organisms or different populations of people can have different behaviors associated with mental states that they share with us and (2) people who are as unique as the madman are not counterexamples for functionalism because they are not members of our population.

Sven noted that there may be a problem with defining a population.  Certainly we cannot give a species or biological definition because then the madman is a problem for functionalists still.  We can give a cultural definition, however.  For example, the set of behavioral dispositions associated with pain will be very different in the cultures of Buddhist monks, professional wrestlers and suburban Californians.  Likewise, the behavioral dispositions for love will differ between Mormons in the U.S. and native tribes in Africa.  

Functionalism: Basics and Benefits

Today’s lecture was all about functionalism.  Sven tried to explain what functionalism is and what the benefits of functionalism are by comparing it and contrasting it with two other theories: philosophical behaviorism and type-type identity theory.

First, let‘s think about functional terms. “Key” is a functional term because it is defined by the function that it serves.  The definition does not give the kind of matter, shape or size of the object.  Rather, the definition is given entirely in terms of the function that it has.

“Flask” is also a functional term because it is defined by the function that it serves: to hold liquid.  A flask can be made of plastic, stainless steel or deerskin.  These details are not part of the definition.  Flasks are defined merely in terms of the function that they have.  This makes “flask” a functional term.

In order to understand functionalism by comparing and contrasting it to philosophical behaviorism and type-type identity theory, let’s remember what these theories are and note what some problems or limitations of these theories are.

Logical, or Philosophical Behaviorism is the view that Sam has mental state, M, if and only if Sam would behave in certain ways when faced with the appropriate circumstances. One problem with behaviorism is that one cannot explain behavior by talking about emotions or other mental states.  This is because  behaviorists think that emotions just are behaviors.  They cannot use emotions to explain behaviors!  This is the problem of mental causation.

Type-Type Identity Theory is the view that Sam has a mental state, M, if and only if Sam is in a particular brain state.  This view rules out the possibility that organisms with different brains are able to have the same brain states as us.  In other words, identity theorists must deny that there is the possibility of multiple realizability.  For example, a monkey cannot be sad because a monkey has a very different brain.  Or a dog cannot be in pain like humans because dogs have different brains than humans.  This consequence makes some people reject Identity theory.  This is called the problem of multiple realizability.

Functionalism is the view that there is a tight connection between behavior and mental states.  Sam has a mental state, M, if Sam has some kind of internal condition (such as a mental state or an experience that causes Sam to exhibit certain behaviors in the right circumstances.  In other words, mental states are functional states.  Pain is the kind of mental state that serves a function.  When Sam gets punched in the face, for example, pain may serve the function of making him cry out, run away and put ice on his face.

In other words, pain is a functional term of functionalists.  Pain is defined by the function or purpose that it serves.

Functionalism is like a blend of identity theory and of behaviorism, because functionalism is the view that mental states are closely connected with behaviors; it defines mental states via the behaviors but the mental states are not identified as behaviors  There is a major difference: behaviorism and identity theory are both forms of physicalism.  Functionalism is not a form of physicalism.  Functionalism leaves it open what kind of internal state is causing behaviors.  Therefore, functionalism is not vulnerable to the possibility that physicalism could be disproven.  Philosophers have been concerned that if physicalism were disproven, then behaviorism and identity theory would also be disproven.

Another benefit to functionalism is that it allows for the possibility of multiple realizability of emotions.  In other words, the possibility that different kinds of organisms (like humans, puppies and crows) are capable of having the same mental states such as pain, fear, thirst or calm. Putnam notes that an identity theorist cannot say that an animal or alien is in pain unless we have identified the physical-chemical brain state that is associated with brains.

One more benefit to functionalism is that functionalism can explain mental causation.  Because a functionalist does not identify mental states as behaviors, they can explain behaviors in terms of mental states and emotions, which is an option not open to the behaviorists.

Identity Theory Approach to Mind-Body Problem

Mind-Body Identity Theory identifies mental states with brain states.  In other words, a mental state is really just a certain electro-chemical signal in the brain.  For example, remembering your first kiss is just a certain signal being passed through a certain neuronal passage.

There are two kinds of Identity Theory.  On the one hand, there is Type-Type Identity Theory.  Type-Type Identity Theory is not about specific mental states and specific brain activity.  Rather, there are kinds or types of mental states that can be identified as kinds or types of brain states.  Token-Token Identity Theory, on the other hand identifies particular examples (known as “tokens“)  of mental states with particular examples of brain states.

Smart identifies and responds to eight different objections to type-type identity theory.

In class, we only covered a couple of these.  Do not worry about the objections that Sven has not talked about!  You will only be expected to know what has been covered in lecture.

1st Objection to Type-Type Identity Theory:  One can understand mental states even if he or she knows nothing about neuroscience.  Smart’s Response:  The behaviorist claim is not that we cannot explain or talk about the experience or mental states in terms other than brain state  Rather, the claim is that when it comes down to what mental states really are, they are just brain states.

5th Objection.  My mental state of pain is throbbing but my neurons firing are not throbbing.  There are properties that my mental state has that the corresponding brain state does not have.  Smart’s Response: The problem here is that when someone says, “My pain is throbbing”, they are actually just talking about a brain state.  In other words, they refer to the brain state.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Upshot of the Super-Super-Spartan Counterexample

This photo is the upshot of the Super-Super-Spartan counterexample to Philosophical/Logical Behaviorism!

Objections to Behaviorism

Philosophical Behaviorism (AKA Logical Behaviorism) is the view that mental states such as emotions are just behaviors.  Love, for example, is just a behavioral disposition to smile and say, “I love you.“ when you are around the right person.  Hilary Putnam (who is a dude) had a famous objection to philosophical behaviorism.  He imagined a society of super Spartans or super stoics.  Stoics are people who try to suppress emotions.  Spartans were stoic warriors.  In this society that Putnam imagined, all of the people are able to completely suppress all outward signs of being in pain, even though they will at times admit to pain.  This stoic superspartan  still FEELS pain, though!  Putnam thinks that this clearly shows that pain is something else than just behaviors.

A behaviorist will respond that there is a behavior: saying they are in pain!

Putnam then came up with super-super Spartans, who suppress all outward behaviors of pain, including talking about pain.  In this case, there is absolutely no behavioral differences between someone in awful pain and someone in no pain at all.  A behaviorist would then say that there is just no pain in the person who is thinking about the awful pain but not showing any overt behaviors.  Putnam thinks this is ridiculous.  Someone can have a mental state like pain without showing pain-associated behaviors.  On the flip side, someone can fake pain behaviors when there really is no experience of pain!.

Another argument against behaviorism is that if mental states are just behavaiors, then someone else other than myself can be in a better position to know what my mental states are than I am.  Indeed, logical behaviorism entails the fact that outside observers are able to tell what your mental states and experiences are.  Logical behaviorism entails that an individual does not have special access to knowledge about his or her mental states.  If you are a logical behaviorist, you have to accept these consequences.  If you think these consequences are ridiculous, then you cannot be a logical behaviorist.

Putnam objects to logical behaviorism on other grounds, as well.  He says that behaviorists make a confusion similar to confusing symptoms for a disease.  A disease causes symptoms but the disease itself is something more than just a group of symptoms.  Similarly, a mental state such as feeling the emotion of love or having a desire to punch your little brother may cause certain behaviors.  Just because we know what the effects or consequences of certain mental states are does not mean that we know what the actual mental states are!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Behaviorism: The Basics

Behaviorism is a kind of monism.   There are two kinds of monists.  The first kind of monist thinks that the only kind of matter is mental stuff.  The second kind thinks that there is only physical matter.  The second kind is called Physicalism.    One version of physicalism is Psychological Behaviorism, which tries to explain mental states in terms of behavior.   For example, the emotion of anxiety is just the production of certain behaviors such as sweating, tensing muscles and grinding teeth.  Psychological Behaviorists think that we can know everything about mental states by observing behaviors that happen during that mental state.

Philosophical (or Logical) Behaviorists take things a step further.  They think that mental states just are behavioral dispositions.  When they say that mental states are behaviors, they mean that in the strict definitional sense; this means that there is nothing more to a mental state than just the behaviors.   A behavioral disposition is a behavior that you have the ability to perform but you only do perform them if presented with the right kind of situation.  For example, the mental state of pain would just be a set of dispositions (which are like tendencies) to exhibit certain behaviors like saying, “Ouch!” or pointing to where the pain is when asked.  Having a behavioral disposition to pain means that a person exhibits these behaviors in appropriate situations or contexts, such as being stabbed in the gut with a fork.  Logical behaviorists think that pain really is a set of behavioral dispositions.  

A dispositional account of a mental state is the way that a philosophical, or logical behaviorist will explain and identify a mental state, such as an emotion or a craving for chocolate.  e.g. Desiring chocolate is just (1) thinking about chocolate, (2) eating chocolate when offered chocolate and (3) feeling bodily pleasure while eating chocolate.

Dispositional accounts are always given in terms of inputs and outputs.  This means that if a person is given a certain input or stimulus, then they give a certain output, or behavior.  The outputs do not need to be actual but only potential.  Of course the behaviors will not be actual when a person is sleeping or perhaps very distracted by sports or sex or something.  The idea is that a person is, say, nervous if he or she displays nervous behaviors when it is appropriate.

Here is an example of how a logical behaviorist would talk about being sleepy: It is a tendency to have droopy eyes and yawn and fall asleep when one is comfortable and it is nice and quiet.  In other words, someone is sleepy if he or she has a behavioral disposition to have droopy eyes, yawn and fall asleep.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Descartes' Arguments for Dualism

First, after Descartes has discounted all the things that he cannot be sure about, he determines that there is one thing about which he can be sure: that he is thinking. In other words, he could be certain that he is a thinking substance, or the kind of stuff that thinks.

After Descartes has established that he exists and is a thinking thing, he then used Leibniz’s Laws of Identity to prove that he must be something different from his physical body (that his mind and body were not the same thing).  His basic strategy is to identify differences between himself (the thinking thing) and his physical body.  According to Leibniz’s laws, if two things have different properties, then they cannot be the same thing.

Leibniz’s Laws of Identity.  Principle of the Indiscernability of Identicals:  If two things are the same then we cannot tell them apart.  If two things are the same thing, then they have all the same properties or characteristics.  In other words, if two things are identical, then they are indistinguishable.   Principle of the Identity of Indiscernables: If it is impossible to tell two things apart, then they must be the same thing.  If two things share all the same properties, then they are the same thing.  In other words, if I cannot tell the difference between two things, they must in fact be identical.

Descartes uses the first principle (Principle of the Indiscernability of Identicals) to prove that the mind and body are fundamentally different substances or things.  Here is a version of Descartes’ Argument for Dualism from Doubt:

1. My body is the kind of thing that I can doubt exists.
2. My mind is not the kind of thing whose existence I can doubt.
3. Since I can doubt my body and not my mind, then I can tell the two apart from one another (I can distinguish one from the other).
4.  If two things are distinguishable (because they have different properties), then they are not the same. (Leibniz’s Law)
5.  Therefore, mind and body are not identical.  They are two different things.  Boom. Dualism proved.

Sven notes that the fact that something is able to be doubted is not the kind of property that Leibniz was thinking of when he defined the laws of identity.   Just because I can doubt one thing and not another does not mean that they are the same thing.  Perhaps I don’t doubt my dad’s existence but then if I see him in a Santa costume I do doubt that he really exists.   But this doesn’t mean that my dad is not the same person as the person in the Santa costume.  Similarly, I can think that Bruce Wayne is hot but I can think that Batman is fugly.  But Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person.

Here is a version of Descartes’ Argument for Dualism from Conceivability:

1. I can conceive (or think of) myself existing without a physical body existing.
2. Anything I can think of is logically possible.
3. If it is logically possible for something to exist without something else, then the two things are not identical.
4. Therefore my self (the thinking thing) is not identical to my physical body.

Sven notes that this argument presumes that just because something is conceivable then it is also possible.  On the one hand,  there may be things that are possible that we cannot think of.  On the other hand, there may be things that we can think of that are not possible.

Descartes’ Argument from Divisibility: Descartes’ also tries to say that there is another property that physical bodies have that minds do not have.  Namely, physical objects like our bodies can be divided.  The mental cannot be divided in the same way.  Because they do not share this property, they are not the same thing.

1.  Physical bodies are divisible.
2. The mind is not divisible.
3. Therefore, no minds are physical.

We can see that Descartes identified three properties that my physical body has that my thinking self does not have.  Because of this, he concluded that the two must be distinct from one another.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kinds of Monism and Kinds of Dualism

Sven went over a lot of different kinds of monism and dualism.  His main goal was to expose you to the variety of ways that people have historically solved the mind-body problem.  The details of the different views are not important for our purposes.  Still, I thought that some of you might want a little more explanation of the different categories!  Enjoy!

Monism vs. Dualism.  Dualists think that there are two basic kinds of substances or kinds of stuff that exist in the world (physical stuff and mental stuff).  Monists think that there is only one kind of thing.  Contemporary monists usually think that the one kind of thing is physical matter.  This theory is called Physicalism  There are, however, people who think that the one kind of substance is mental.   This theory is called Idealism.

Different Kinds of Physicalism.  Physicalists think that the only thing that exists is physical matter (physical objects).  A Behaviorist thinks that everything mental can be explained in terms of physical behaviors.  Identity Theorists think that everything mental can be explained in terms of the specific electro-chemical activity that happens in the brain when the “mental event” happens.  In other words, a mental state is just the brain activity that happened when a person experienced that mental state.  Functionalists think that the mental can be entirely explained in terms of the functions that are served by the activity in our brains and our physical behaviors.

Kinds of Idealism.  Idealists thing that only mental stuff, or ideas, exist.  Berkeley was an idealist who thought that the only thing that exists are our (and God’s) ideas of things.  A solipsist, however, thinks that the only thing that exists are his or her own ideas of things.

Kinds of Dualism.  It is important to note that many historical dualists thought that the mental substance was something like a soul, or something that was really just part of God.  Occasionalists think that the connection between the mental and the physical is that our physical bodies provide occasions for God (the mental substance) to act.  Leibniz thought that God had established a pre-established harmony where the mental stuff and the physical stuff were doing cooperating things at the same time because God designed them to act in this way.  Cartesian Interactionism is Descartes’ view that the mind and body interact with one another.  How this happens exactly is a little fuzzy on Descartes’ account.  Epiphenomenalism is the view that physical events cause mental events to happen.  Epiphenomenalists think that these mental events have no impact on the physical events.

Mind-Body Problem

A classic theme in the philosophy of mind is the mind-body problem.  The mind-body problem boils down to two basic questions.  The first question is whether dualism is true or false.  Dualism is the theory that there are two basic materials, or kinds of stuff that exist in the world: physical and mental.  The two are distinct and cannot be explained solely in terms of the other.  For example, a dualist thinks that mental experiences of consciousness cannot be explained solely in terms of physical sciences like biology, chemistry and neuroscience.

The second question is how the mental and physical are related.  How does my mind affect my body and how is my body related to my mind?  For example, how does it impact my mind when I treat my body poorly?  Answers to this question will depend on whether somebody thinks that the mind is a separate kind of stuff or material than the bodily stuff.  If you think that what goes on in the mind can be entirely explained in terms of physical material, then there is no problem explaining how the two are connected: the mind is just the brain!

Sven notes that there are epistemological benefits if it turns out that what we call “mental” is really just made up of physical stuff.  I can have more knowledge of physical matter than “mental stuff”.   I can spatially locate my arm but I cannot spatially locate the location of my experience of pain. Also, I have a different kind of knowledge of physical material than “mental stuff”.  My knowledge of physical stuff seems more reliable.  One reason for this is that the mental experiences we have are private.  Alternatively, physical materials are available for everyone to look at and learn about (in theory).  Several people can observe the same physical matter.  Only one person can have access to his or her own mental states and mental experiences.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Closure Principle II: Arguments for Closure and against Closure

Arguments for the Closure Principle.

Deductive Knowledge Argument:  We can always reason to new knowledge if we know our premises and we also know that our premises entail, or make necessary, other statements.   Deduction like this is a way of extending knowledge.  Deduction is the most secure way of extending our knowledge!  Because of this, the closure principle is also a good way to extend knowledge.

Knowledge and Assertion Argument:  Well, it just seems really silly that if someone says that they know (1) If it’s snowing, there is frozen water in the sky and (1) it’s snowing and yet denies (3) there is frozen water in the sky.  In other words, to deny the closure principle is to deny the basic laws of logic.  

Really, both types of arguments are just making the point that the closure principle is founded in basic laws of logic, so to deny the closure principle seems like the same thing as denying the laws of logic, which is irrational!

Arguments against Closure:

Regret Closure Argument:  Knowing is a way of relating to a statement.  Regretting is another way of relating to a statement.  Dretske thinks that if entailment doesn't work for some kinds of relating to propositions, then it does not apply to knowing, either! If Sam regrets getting a haircut and Sam also knows that getting a haircut entails spending money, then Sam must regret having spent money.  But this seems silly.  Another example of regret closure: If I regret eating a whole chocolate cake and I know that eating a cake means consuming calories, then under the closure principle it seems I must regret consuming calories.  But I know that I have to consume SOME calories in order to live!  So it seems silly that just because I regret eating a whole cake that I also regret consuming calories.  Dretske says that if the closure principle fails for regret then it also fails for knowledge.

Entailment Fails for Other Ways of Extending Knowledge: Dretske also notes that other ways of extending our knowledge are cases where the principle of closure fail.  Because of this, we have reason to think that the principle of closure also fails for knowledge.   Our memories, our perceptions or the statements of others are not instances where we can have knowledge under entailment.  This means that entailment should not hold for knowledge, either.

Some philosophers think that a result of the closure principle is that in order to know something (P), then we must know that P on only P really is the case.  In other words, we must exclude all other alternatives in order to know P.  For example, in order to say that we know that an animal is a zebra, we must know that it is not a painted mule, an alien changeling or a hologram.

RAT and Restriction of Closure.  RAT: Relevant Alternative account Theory.  Proponents of RAT think that the closure principle is too strict.  If in order to know P, then I must also be able to eliminate all alternatives to P, then it seems that we never have knowledge.  We never eliminate all alternatives.  But many times, skeptical alternatives (like holograms and aliens) are irrelevant.  According to RAT, in order to know P, one must only rule out relevant alternatives.  In this case, the closure principle does not hold in general (because the closure principle requires that we exclude all other possibilities).

Closure Principle

Wow.  Sven went over a lot about the closure principle today.  I have to admit, I myself was a little confused at times.  He uses a lot of technical language, doesn't he?  Fortunately, he did say that it's just most important that we understand the most basic form of the closure principle, known as Closure of Knowledge under Entailment:

1.I know P (I know that Roy is my brother).
2. P entails Q (If Roy is my brother, then Roy is a boy).
3. I know Q (I know that Roy is a boy).

This is the simplest version of the closure principle.  Sven also gave us a slightly different version known as Closure of Knowledge under Known Entailment, which looks like this:

1. I know P (I know that I ate a whole cake).
2. I know that P entails Q (I know that if I ate a whole cake that I consumed calories).
3. I know Q (I know I consumed calories).

What’s the difference?  In the first case, I do not need to be aware of the fact that P entails Q in order to also know Q.  In the second case, I must know that P entails Q in order to know Q.

The Belief Problem.  Here is an example where the closure principle is shown to be false:  Frank knows that it’s snowing outside (P).  He also knows that snow can make driving dangerous (he knows P entails Q).  However, if Frank is being thoughtless and doesn’t stop to think, he can fail to realize that the driving could be dangerous right now (he fails to know Q).  Because Frank does not believe currently that the snow will make his driving dangerous, the closure principle has failed.

C2 (Closure Principle 2): If Sam (1) knows P and (2) knows that P entails Q and Sam believes Q, then Sam knows Q.  Here is an example:

1. Sam knows P (Sam knows that it is raining).
2. Sam knows that P entails Q (Sam knows that if it rains, then the floors get slippery).
3. Sam believes Q (Sam believes that the floors are slippery).
4. Therefore, Sam knows Q (Sam knows the floors are slippery).

What’s the difference?  In the original version of the closure principle, someone does not need to believe the second proposition/statement.  They only need to know that the first statement (P) entails or makes necessary the second statement (Q).  C2 requires that a person also actively believes the entailed statement in order to know it.

Justification Problem.  There is also the claim that one not need just believe Q in order to know Q under entailment.  One must also have good reason to believe Q.

C3: If Sam knows P and knows that P entails Q and also has a justified belief in Q, then Sam knows Q.  here is an example of C3:

1. Sam knows P (Sam knows that I got my hair cut in a salon).
2. Sam knows that P entails Q (Sam knows that if I cut my hair in a salon, then I paid money for it).
3. Sam is justified when he believes Q (Sam has good reason to think I paid money for my haircut because I showed him the receipt or I told him how much it cost).
4.  Therefore, Sam knows Q (Sam knows I spent money).

Problem of Triviality.  In the new version of the closure principle, then we are just saying that if Sam knows P and Sam also has a justified belief in Q, then Sam knows both P and Q.  In other words, in order to know that Q because Q is entailed by P then I must have a justified belief in Q.  But if I must have a true, justified belief in Q then it seems that I would already know Q independently of whether it is entailed by P.

There is much more to say about the closure principle, but this post here includes the basics!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skepticism, Descartes and Dreams

Skepticism.  Skeptics doubt that we can have knowledge.  Actual skeptics are rare.  In spite of the fact that few people endorse skeptical theories, skepticism is important to philosophy because it is a tool for thinking about what knowledge really is.  There are many Types of Skepticism: 

Global Skepticism.  We don’t know anything!  We can’t know anything! Unfortunately for a global skeptic, he or she would not be able to know that global skepticism is true.

Local Skepticism.  I may be able to know some things, but there are other things that cannot be known.  In other words, there are fields of study about which we can have no knowledge.  For example, a local skeptic may think that we can have knowledge about math and science but not about whether things are beautiful.  

Skepticism about ability to know vs. skepticism about our ability to have a justified belief.  It is different to claim that we cannot know anything than it is to claim that we have no reason to justifiably believe.  The person who thinks that we cannot have justifiable belief does not rule out the possibility for knowledge.  Knowledge is still possible in principle.  The person who thinks we cannot know thinks that knowledge is in principle impossible.

Skepticism about the External World.  One has skepticism about the external world if he or she believes that there is insufficient evidence for our beliefs about the external world.  There are three presuppositions of external world skepticism: (1) Everything we know, we know through the senses, (2) The external world could be different than I experience it and I would not be able to tell the difference & (3) The external world is mind-independent.  A good example of skepticism about the external world is the "brain in a vat" scenario: Imagine that you are really a brain in a vat in the lab of a mad scientist.  This mad scientist is just making you think that you are having all kinds of experiences!  In this case,

Descartes’ “Dream Argument”.   In his work Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes divides his work up into six sections, called meditations.  In the first two, Descartes uses skeptical arguments to destroy the foundations of knowledge so that he can build a new, more solid foundation for knowledge.  In the first meditation, Descartes provides reasons for skepticism based on the similarities between dreams and waking life.  He notes that there are times when we think we’re doing something (like sitting and reading) but really, we’re dreaming.  He says that there are no “sure signs” that we can use to tell the difference between being awake and dreaming.  Because of this, we could be dreaming at any time!

Dream Argument Revamped.  Although Descartes himself only writes about the first two premises of this argument, we can expand on his thoughts on dreaming in order to construct an argument for skepticism based on the nature of dreams:

1.  Some dreams are indistinguishable from waking life.  Some dreams seem just like being awake.
2. So the way an experience seems cannot be used to decide if I am awake or asleep.  The qualitative characteristics of an experience are not good indicators of whether I am awake or dreaming.
3. If I can’t trust the way my experiences seem to me, then I can’t know that I’m not dreaming now.
4. So I can’t know that I’m not dreaming right now.
5. If I can’t know for certain that I’m awake now, then I can’t know for sure that I’m ever awake.
6. I can’t ever know if I am actually every awake.  I could be dreaming all the time!
7. If I could be dreaming all the time, then any belief based on an experience could be false.
8. Therefore, none of my beliefs based on experience can be counted as knowledge.

Challenges to the Dream Argument

Premise 1: Some philosophers claim that the first premise is false because there are indicators that we can use to reliably tell the difference between being awake and dreaming.  A skeptic would respond by saying that premise 1 is true even if there are only a few dreams where it is impossible to tell the difference between being awake and dreaming.

Premise 3: Some think that we can tell that we are not dreaming by using something other than the way an experience seems.  They think that if I can judge or have a reasoned opinion that I am awake, then I must be awake.  A skeptic would respond by saying that you could just be dreaming that you are judging!

Premises 4, 5 and 6:  Some say that there is a flaw in the logic of this argument, since premise 6 does not logically follow from premise 4.  They will say that just because any experience could be a dream does not mean that every experience could be a dream.  The skeptic would respond that because it is possible that I am dreaming right now, my memories about having been awake in the past are not reliable.  So I really don’t know if I’ve ever been awake!

Premises 6 and/or 8:  Some philosophers think that we can only be said to be mistaken if we are also sometimes correct.  We could only recognize dreams or deceptions if we had the ability to distinguish dreams and deceptions from reality.  In other words, it is only possible to decide if a belief is based on error if we already have a way of deciding if a belief really is based on error.  These views represent a view called Verificationism, which is the view that in order to know something, we must be able to verify it.  We cannot verify the skeptical thesis.  In other words, we would have no way to know for certain that the skeptical thesis is true.

Skeptical Hip-Hop

If you haven't heard of the Minneapolis Hip-Hop duo Eyedea and Abilities (RIP Eyedea), then you can thank me later.  Eyedea has sick flow with decent lyrics and Abilities can spin with the best of them.   These two songs off their album First Born, are examples of skepticism in music. The songs are in order on the album, so listen to "Birth of a Fish" before "Powdered Water Too" if you listen to both!  Enjoy!

Birth of a Fish

Powdered Water Too

Plus, Check and Minus

When you get back your questions from me, there will either be a plus, a check or a minus on the paper or in the email.  This is a way for me to assess your work and provide feedback without giving grades.  I owe this method to a teacher of mine in undergrad: Stephen Kellert. 

Plus  Means that your work not only fulfilled requirements but also did so in a thoughtful, creative way. 

Check  Means that your work fulfilled requirements.

Minus means that your work did not fulfill requirements.

Feldman and the No-False Premise Solution

Feldman thinks that the no-false premise solution to the Gettier problem fails.  Remember, the no-false premise solution (NFPS) to the Gettier problem is to say that the real problem with the Gettier cases is that people are forming justified and true beliefs based on false beliefs.  Someone who believes the NFPS will think that we can avoid the Gettier problem if we avoid forming beliefs on false evidence or false premises.    Feldman thinks that the NFPS does not solve the Gettier problem.  He gives us cases where someone has a justified and true belief that is based on all true premises yet is still not knowledge.

In the original Smith and Jones case, Smith forms his justified, true belief "The man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket." because he believes a false premise, "Jones gets the job."

In a Feldman-style version of this case, Smith would have the same justified and true belief "The man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket." even if he believed this based on all true premises:

1. My boss said "Jones has ten coins and he will get the job".
2. My boss is usually right and he is also really honest about this kind of stuff.

Both premises are true.  Smith has the same justified, true belief.  Still, this is not a case where Smith actually has knowledge.  Feldman attempts to show that the no-false premise solution is not restrictive enough because it does not exclude the possibility of all Gettier cases.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Definitions

Reductio ad absurdum is Latin for reduce to absurdity.  It is a philosophical way of arguing against a theory.  The strategy is to apply the logic and the principles of the argument in such a way as to reveal the ridiculous consequences of the view.

Qualitative Characteristic: this means how something is experienced from a first-person point of view.  The qualitative characteristic of a dream, for example, is how the dream seems to us or how the dream feels.

Beg the Question: An argument begs the question when one of the premises assumes the truth of the conclusion that the argument is attempting to prove. e.g.  "The Patriot Act is right because it's the right thing to do."

Particularism is one response to the problem of the criterion.  Particularism is the view that we must address questions about particular instances or examples of knowledge before we can formulate criteria or standards for knowledge.  It is called “Particularism” because particularists begin with particular examples of knowledge.  

e.g. Pat starts with a particular  instance of knowledge, "I know that my girlfriend is a wonderful woman."  Pat reasons that because this is a good example of knoweldge, it displays the characteristics of knoweldge: true, justified belief that is based on long period of close personal experiences.  Pat then determines that these must be the criteria for knowledge!

Methodism is another response to the problem of the criterion.  Methodism is the view that we must first address questions about criteria and standards for knowledge before we can identify specific examples of knowledge.  It is called “Methodism” because methodists begin with criteria for knowledge or a good method for creating knowledge.

e.g. Mat starts with what he thinks are good criteria for knowledge: justified, true beliefs that are formed without using false premises.  He then uses these criteria as a method for identifying examples of knowledge, such as his belief that his gf is awesome.

Skepticism is also a response to the problem of the criterion.  Second-order skeptics accept the problem of the criterion as an argument that proves that epistemology, or knowledge about knowledge, is impossible.  First-order skeptics believe that we can have no knowledge whatsoever.

In Principle means according to a universal or general law.  Something is impossible in principle if it is impossible in all cases, regardless of particular circumstances.

Luck.  In philosophy, we talk about luck as something that happens by chance.  We are not so much concerned with bad luck or good luck.  Luck is just that which happens by coincidence or random chance.

Reflective Equilibrium.  Chisholm thinks that when we reflect on a statement or proposition, we eventually reach a neutral standpoint.  In other words, if we think long enough about something in the right kinds of ways, we eventually are able to think about it in a non-biased way.

Entailment means that something necessarily follows (or is logically deduced) from something else.  The truth of “Obama the Christian is wearing a blue suit.” entails the truth of “Obama is wearing a blue suit.”  In other words, a statement  entails a different statement if the different statement is included in or is part of the original statement.

Second Gettier Case

Sven has not talked about this in lecture, but there is a second kind of Gettier case, called the disjunctive case because it refers to disjunctive beliefs, such as "I believe that Jones owns a Ford or Obama is a woman."

Second Gettier Case.  Imagine again Smith and Jones.  Smith has good reasons to think that Jones owns a Ford.  Smith then thinks he has good reason to believe statements like, “Either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona.”.  Smith is indeed justified to believe this, since the justified belief “Jones owns a Ford” entails the justification of the belief, “Either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona”(because disjunctive “or” statements are true if only one half of the statement is true).   Let’s say that Jones actually was leasing the Ford and actually now owns an Audi.  Also, let’s just say that Brown happens to be in Barcelona.  Smith’s belief is true, but only by luck.  Gettier thinks this is a case of a justified true belief that is not knowledge.

First Case vs. Second Case.  The first kind of case deals with conjunctive statements made by using “and”.  The second kind of case deals with disjunctive statements that use “or”.   This is the main difference between the two kinds of cases.  What they share in common is that they are both counterexamples to the traditional definition of knowledge!

The Problem of the Criterion

Chisholm contrasts the following pair of questions:

A.  What do we know?  What is the extent of our knowledge?
B.  How do we decide whether we know?  What are the criteria of knowledge?

The Problem of the Criterion: Both of these questions are the very foundation for epistemology.  The problem is that in order to answer question A, one must already answer question B.  However, one must also have answered question A in order to answer question B.  It seems like there is nowhere to start the inquiry into knowledge because (1) I can only identify instances of knowledge if I have a clear definition of knowledge and (2) I can only have a clear definition of knowledge if I have identified instances of knowledge.

The problem is this: we cannot answer either question.  This seems to make epistemology impossible.  The problem is that we are led to skepticism

Chisholm thinks that a natural response to this problem is skepticism.  Skepticism is the view that there is no knowledge.

Problem of the Criterion as Skeptical Argument:
1. We cannot know the extent of our knowledge until we know the criteria for knowledge.
2. We cannot know the criteria for knowledge until we know the extent of our knowledge.
3.  Therefore, neither question can be answered.


1. Criteria for knowledge are  prior to instances of knowledge.
2.  Instances of knowledge are prior to criteria for knowledge.
3.  Therefore,  neither instances of knowledge or criteria for knowledge are unattainable.

We can understand priority in two ways: temporal priority or conceptual/logical priority.  Temporal priority is when something is prior or before in time.  To say that criteria for knowledge is temporally prior to instances of knowledge, this means that the criteria must come before the instances in time.  Conceptual priority means that it is in principle impossible for something to exist without another thing already existing.  For example, to say that criteria are conceptually prior to instances of knowledge just means that it is logically impossible to have instances of knowledge without also having criteria for knowledge.  As Sven notes, the conceptual or logical priority argument is much stronger than if the argument uses the notion of temporal priority, since one can get around the temporal priority requirement by having both at the same time!

3 Responses to the Problem of the Criterion:
Skepticism: We cannot answer either question, since both questions require that the other already be answered first.  
Methodism:  We should answer the question about criteria first. We begin with a method that provides us criteria for knowledge in order to answer the question about the extent of our knowledge.  e.g. In order to know if I have knowledge about there being a barn on a hill, I should first decide on the criteria or standards I use to determine if I have knowledge.  Once I have a method that I know is a good way of getting knowledge, then I will be able to identify specific instances or examples of knowledge.
Particularism:  We should answer the question about particular examples of knowledge first.  We begin with an answer about what we know in order to answer the question about what criteria for knowledge are.  e.g.  I start with a good particular example of knowledge, such as "The sun is shining."  Given a particular instance of knowledge, I can then identify what features of this belief (such as the fact that it results from an immediate visual perception, perhaps) make it knowledge, which will then be my criteria for knowledge.  

First-order vs. Second-order Skepticism.  First-order skepticism (immediate skepticism) is skepticism about our perceptions and beliefs about the immediate surrounding world, such as beliefs about tables and chairs.  A first-order skeptic thinks that any kind of knowledge is impossible.  Second-order skepticism (reflective skepticism) is the theory that we cannot have knowledge about knowledge itself.  We can know things in a simple way, such as “This is a chair” or “The sun shines”, but we cannot have a theory of knowledge.  We cannot know about knowledge itself.  Second-order skepticism is the kind of skepticism that is the most appropriate response to the Problem of the Criterion, since the argument merely shows the impossibility for theorizing about knowledge.

Relationship Between Two Kinds of Skepticism.  If one is a first-order skeptic, it follows that they will also be a second-order skeptic. If one is skeptical about the possibility of any individual instances of knowledge, then it would necessarily mean that they are skeptical about a larger theory about knowledge.  But does second-order skepticism about theories of knowledge lead to first-order skepticism?  Not necessarily.  The second-order skeptic is skeptical not about simple truths such as "I have shoes on" but about general theories about knowledge, such as "Knowledge is justified true belief."  They will admit that we know some things, but admittedly they will not be able to specify what it means to "know" something.  Just because someone thinks that we cannot have systematic theories about knowledge does not mean that we cannot have simple knowledge about tables and chairs.

Chisholm is a Particularist.  He thinks that we should assume an answer about the extent of our knowledge.  He thinks we can identify instances of knowledge.  From these instances, he then builds arguments about the criteria of knowledge.  After reflecting on instances of knowledge, we reach a reflective equilibrium, which is something like a neutral standpoint.  From this neutral reflective position, we can generalize about the cases and formulate criteria for beliefs to be respectable, or good.

Problems with Particularism. Moser thinks that intuitive judgments and common-sense judgments are often based on arbitrary socio-economic conditions.  Why should we privelege certain intuitions over others?  Also, such intuitions can easily be false and are often based on the best possible evidence available.  Indeed, such intuitions can be at odds with our best science.

Is the Problem of the Criterion a Pseudo-Problem?  Some might think that because it is in principle impossible to solve the problem of the criterion, this makes it a problem that is not worth addressing.  Amico thinks that the problem of the criterion is like the problem of trying to make a square circle.  It is, in principle, impossible to answer.  This means that we should not waste our time trying to solve this problem.

Barney and the Barns

Here is another Gettier case.

Barney is driving through a countryside that has fake barns all over the landscape of rolling hills.  He sees one and believes that it is a barn.  He has a belief, "There is a barn on that hill".  Now, the barn that Barney saw was not a real barn, but it turns out that there is an actual barn behind the fake barn.  Barney has a justified true belief.  Gettier would say that this would, however, not be a case of knowledge.  First, it seems that he is only lucky that his belief is true.  Second, if circumstances were slightly different, such as if Barney had made his belief about the hill next to the hill that had the real barn, the belief would be false.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gettier Again

Traditional Definition of Knowledge:  a belief that is true and justified.  Sam knows P if (1) P is true, (2) Sam believes P and (3) Sam’s belief is justified.

Gettier.  Gettier is famous for providing counterexamples to the traditional definition of knowledge.  He provided examples where someone has a justified and true belief but where it is obvious that the belief is not knowledge.  There are two ways that justified true beliefs can fail to be knowledge.  First of all, the truth of the statement can be based on luck.  Second, under slightly different circumstances, the belief would either be (a) false or (b) not believed. 
Another Gettier Case of the First Kind (Conjunctive).  Poppy starts with a belief that is a conjunctive proposition, e.g. “I believe that Obama is wearing a blue suit and that Obama is a Muslim.”  Poppy is justified believing this because Poppy sees Obama in front of her and she sees that Obama is wearing a blue suit.  Also, Poppy reads and watches news from outlets that tell her that Obama is a Muslim.   From this conjunctive proposition, she infers a simpler version of the conjunctive belief: “I believe that a man wearing a blue suit is Muslim.”

Obama is not a Muslim.   He is a Christian.  However, say there is a man behind Obama that Poppy does not see, Mo.  Mo is Muslim and Mo is wearing a blue suit.  It just so happens that Poppy's belief “I believe that a man wearing a blue suit is Muslim.” is true, but only because she is lucky.  Her basis for the belief, which is the belief that Obama is wearing a blue suit and Obama is a Muslim, is false.  Gettier would think that this is a case where Poppy had a justified true belief that is not knowledge.

No-False Premise Solution to the Gettier Problem.  In the case above as well as in the case where Smith believes that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket, the justified true belief that is not knowledge is based on a false premise.  In the case where one believes that the man wearing a blue suit is a Muslim, this belief is based on the false belief that Obama is a Muslim.  In the case with Smith and Jones, Smith’s true belief that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket is based on the false belief, “Jones will get the job and Jones has ten coins.”  Some philosophers say that the real problem in the Gettier cases is the beliefs are being based on false premises.  They say that we can only get knowledge when we reason through true premises.

Feldman, who thinks that the no-false premise solution does not solve the Gettier problem,  proposes a case where a subject does not reason through a false premise but where still have a case of justified true belief that is not knowledge.

First Reason to Reject the No-False Premise Solution: The No-False Premise Solution Does Not Exclude All Gettier Cases.  People can still reason through all true premises and have justified true beliefs that are not knowledge.  This means that even if we avoid using false premises, we can still come up with Gettier-type cases.  e.g.  Smith believes the following:

1. The boss said, “Jones get the job and Jones has ten coins.”
2. The boss is usually reliable.
3. The person who gets the job has ten coins.

The premises (#1 & #2) are true and justified.  The conclusion  (#3) is also true and justified but it is still not knowledge.  In this case, Smith as reasoned through all true premises (in accordance with the No-False Premise Solution) but we still have a Gettier case.  Because we can still think of Gettier cases where the no-false premise requirement is met, the no-false premise solution is not restrictive enough.

Second Reason to Reject the No-False Premise Solution: A Case of Actual Knowledge that Withstands the No-False Premise Requirement.  This is meant to be a case where we have legitimate knowledge that is formed based on a false premise, in which case it would be too restrictive to say that we must always reason through all true premises. Sam knows a ton of stuff about marriage ceremonies.  After attending a wedding ceremony of two friends, he has justified belief that the two have been married before his eyes.   On the basis of this belief, he believes that the two people are currently married.  It turns out, Sam’s friends actually got married the day earlier in a private civil ceremony.  His original belief, that the two were married before his eyes, is false.  Still, this is a case where someone has reasoned through a false belief.  Sven presents this as an example where one can use a false premise to get a justified true belief that IS knowledge.  Because the no-false premise solution ends up excluding legitimate examples of knowledge, it is too restrictive.

Final Say on No-False Premise Solution.  Dr. Bernecker has given two reasons why we should reject the no-false premise requirement.  First, the requirement does not seem restrictive enough.  We can still come up with Gettier cases even if someone only reasons with true premises.  Second, the requirement also seems too restrictive.  He thinks that there will be times when someone reasons with a false premise and actually does end up with knowledge.  Whether we agree with these reasons for rejecting the no-false premise solution is a separate issue.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another Gettier Case: Smoking Partiers

Here is another example of a Gettier case taken from an actual occurrence.  While in high school, a friend of mine named Pat threw a big party when his parents were out of town.  His neighbor, a busy-body, took surveillance photos of the partying kids.  Some of the pictures showed party-goers smoking on the side of the house.  When Pat’s dad saw these pictures, he thought that he saw was a picture of kids smoking weed.  Based on what he saw in the pictures, he had justification to believe that kids at the party were smoking weed.

His belief that kids were smoking weed at the party was, indeed, a true belief.  However, the picture upon which this belief was based was actually a photo of kids smoking cigarettes.  Pat’s dad had a justified and true belief.  Pat’s dad did not, however, have knowledge.  First, it seems that his belief was true because he was lucky.  Second, if we imagine a close possible world where the camera used to take the pictures had a slightly better zoom lens or that the picture was taken from a better vantage point, it could be the case that the photo would show enough detail so that Pat’s dad could see that the pictures actually showed people smoking cigarettes.  The belief that kids were smoking pot would still be true but Pat's dad would no longer believe it.  The truth of the proposition stays the same but it is no longer believed!  Because truth and belief do not covary across possible worlds, this is not a proper case of knowledge!

One may argue that in this case, Pat’s dad did not have justification for his belief that kids at the party were smoking weed.  Indeed, the justification condition for knowledge is the most controversial and is difficult to agree upon.  However, if Pat’s dad’s belief was unjustified, this does not disprove Gettier’s main point.  All we have to acknowledge is that there are cases where one can have a justified and true belief that is not knowledge.

Imagine, for example, that instead of smoking cigarettes, the people in the photo were smoking tobacco out of a large water bong.  In this case, it would seem that Pat’s dad had really good justification to believe that kids were smoking pot at the party (it is very rare for someone to smoke tobacco out of a bong!).  In this case, Pat’s dad has a justified true belief that is not knowledge.  His belief is true because he happened to be lucky!    Gettier thinks that this means that Pat's dad's belief is not knowledge.

Epistemology: Gettier on Justified True Belief (First Case)

Knowledge and knowing are terms that we may use on a regular basis in our daily lives.  We say, “I know a lot of people who live in Irvine.”, “I know my boyfriend loves me.” and “I know how to drive a car.”  These statements display the diverse ways that we use the term in everyday speech.   In this class, however, knowledge is used as a technical term.

In the philosophical tradition, knowledge has been defined as justified true belief.  A statement (or proposition), is only knowledge, if (1) it is a belief, (2) that belief is true and (3) that true belief is justified.  In other words, these three conditions are each individually necessary and when combined together, sufficient for a proposition to be knowledge.

Gettier came up with two counterexamples to this definition of knowledge.

First Gettier Case.  Smith and Jones are competing for a job.  Smith has good reason to think that Jones will get the job and he has good reason to believe that Jones has ten coins in his pocket.  From this, he infers simply that “The man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket.”  It turns out, Smith gets the job instead of Jones.  Also, it just so happens that Smith also has ten coins in his pocket.  When Smith did not know yet that he himself got the job, he had a true and justified belief “The man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket.”, even though this true belief was based on Smith thinking that Jones would get the job.  Gettier says that we cannot call this justified true belief knowledge!

Gettier’s Assumptions.  (1) One can be justified to believe false propositions.  (2) If Smith is justified in believing P and Q can be deduced from P (P logically entails Q), then S is also justified in believing Q.

The Gettier Problem.  Gettier shows that justified true beliefs are not sufficient  for knowledge.  This is because one can have a justified true belief by mere luck.  If one only has a justified and true belief by luck, this is not knowledge (says Gettier)!  Another problem is that if we were to look across many possible worlds where minor relevant details are changed, such as a world where Jones has a hole in his pocket and so he only has nine coins because one has fallen out, it would not always be the case that both (1) Smith believes that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket and (2) it is true that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pocket.  In the possible world where Jones has a hole in his pocket, for example, Smith will still have the belief but the belief will be false.  Gettier thinks that a justified and true belief is not knowledge if in very similar possible worlds the belief is false or the belief is not believed.  This is what is meant by saying that the truth and belief fail to covary across possible worlds.

Think of the following situation.  A little boy named Timmy sees his mother kissing Santa Claus, or rather, his father in a Santa Claus costume.  Timmy believes he saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.  Because he has justified belief that Santa is a different person from his father, he is also justified when he believes that his mother is kissing someone other than his father.  Now, say that it just so happens that Timmy’s mom really is cheating on Timmy’s dad (with someone other than Santa who Timmy knows nothing about).  We would say that when Timmy believes that his mother is cheating on his father, he has a belief that is both true and justified.  However, because his belief is only true by chance, Timmy has no knowledge!

Some Definitions

Chances are, Sven may have used some confusing terms in class today.  Here I try to provide definitions for these terms in everyday, non-technical terms.

Linguistic Intuition:  Linguistic intuitions are the thoughts that you have about what words mean when you think about the meanings of words.  If you think and reflect about what words mean, you probably have some assumptions about what words mean.  These are your intuitions.  They may come from your family, friends, culture or country.  Usually by linguistic intuition we mean the thoughts and assumptions we have about meanings that we acquired accidentally.

Proposition: A proposition is what is meant by a statement that asserts or claims something.  (Some sentences, like many questions, do not assert or claim anything).  For example, if one utters (says), "Man, dat dude is hot.", one might be able to say that the meaning of this declaration, or the proposition, is something like, "I find that male to be very attractive."  The proposition of the statements, "Ich liebe dich." (German) and "Ti amo." (Italian) is the same as the English sentence "I love you."  These three difference sentences all express the same abstract proposition.

Beliefs are propositional attitudes.  In other words, they are relations to propositions.  Belief is the relation that you bear to propositions that you think are true.  To believe that Justin Bieber is annoying is to think that it is true that Justin Bieber is annoying.   An occurent belief is one that is thought about at a given moment in time.  When I am thinking to myself, “Tina Fey is funny.”, I have the occurent belief that Tina Fey is funny.  A dispositional belief is one that I believe in the background (subconsciously or unconsciously).  I may always have the dispositional belief that Tina Fey is funny even when I am not actively thinking, “Tina Fey is funny.”

Justification means that there are good reasons for a belief or claim.

Possible World.  In philosophy, we often imagine hypothetical possible worlds where some relatively minor but relevant things are different from our own world.  The idea is that by noticing similarities and differences between the real world and a possible world, we can better understand whether or not we have knowledge in certain instances.

Covary: to vary together or change together.  If the truth of a statement and belief in that statement covary across possible worlds, this means that they change in similar ways.  If truth and belief do not covary across possible worlds, this means that one changes and the other does not.

Conjunction.  Joining two propositions together with the word "and".

Disjunction. Joining two propositions together with the word "or".  

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions

Philosophers often want to define terms in very clear ways.  One standard that we will use in this class is requiring that there be a definition that gives both (1) necessary conditions and (2) sufficient conditions.

Necessary conditions are conditions or characteristics that must be met in order for the meaning of the term to be satisfied. e.g. For the word nun, it is a necessary condition that one must be a female.

Sufficient conditions are conditions or characteristics that when satisfied, they are sufficient, or adequate to fulfill the meaning of the term.  e.g. For nun, one must be a woman who has joined a Catholic religious order.

A definition that gives both necessary and sufficient conditions is often a goal for philosophers

For more on necessary and sufficient conditions, Wikipedia's first few paragraphs on the topics are a good start:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Philosophical Comedy and Maru Madness

Here is a link to a Monty Python clip that addresses the difference between an argument in the philosophical sense and the colloquial sense:

Here is a link to pure joy (Maru-style):

What To Do Before Section

I ask that you come to class prepared with questions that you would like to discuss.  You will type three questions before every discussion section.  You can email me your questions before class ( but if you are turning in a print version, you must have them typed out and printed.  You will turn in all three questions to me but will choose one that you are particularly interested in discussing.  Questions must cover three of the following four categories:

1. Question for Clarification.  If you are confused about a concept, term or argument, you can ask a question for clarification.  e.g. What does reductionism mean?

2. Issue for Evaluation.  If you think you know what the author is saying, then likely you have an opinion.  Perhaps you agree or disagree.  Either way, you can bring up your position in response to the text as an issue for evaluation. e.g. This author seems to say that our minds are nothing more than our brains as can be studied by science.  I disagree because this leaves out experience.

3. Connection to Other Material.  If you notice a connection to another class, a work of literature or other art or some real-life experience, please bring this to class. e.g. This book reminds me of Blade Runner because…

4. Personal Response.  Naturally, you will have emotional responses to the work we read.  Please feel free to note these and bring them to class.  e.g. Reading Kant made me angry because he is very hard to read!

These expectations are adapted from the teaching style of Dr. Stephen Kellert.

Logic Basics

Arguments are collections of sentences that prove a claim.  There are two kinds of statements in an argument: premises and conclusions..  An argument must have at least one premise.  Premises are statements that support the conclusion of the argument.   Conclusions are exactly what they sound like.  They are what that argument is trying to prove; they are the point of the argument.

Here is a sample argument:

1.  All undergrads read Facebook during lecture.
2. Simon is an undergrad.
3. Therefore, Simon reads Facebook during lecture.

In this argument, sentences #1 and #2 are the premises and #3 is the conclusion.  The argument is of this form:

1.  All X’s are Y’s. (If P, then Q)
2. S is an X. (P)
3. S is a Y. (Therefore, Q)

Because this argument has proper logical form, if all the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true.  In other words, the argument is valid.  A sound argument is a valid argument where all premises are true.  A valid argument  just has proper logical form.

Here is an argument that has true premises but is neither valid nor sound:

1.  When it rains, the sidewalk is wet.
2. This morning, the sidewalk was wet.
3.  Hence, it rained.

In this argument, both of the premises are true. However, because the logic is flawed, it is an invalid argument.  One way to test for validity is to ask the following question: if I assume that the premises are all true, is there a possibility for the conclusion to be false?  In the previous argument, it could be possible that the conclusion could be false even if all premises are true (sprinklers could have made the sidewalk wet).

Here is an argument that is valid but not sound:

1. All undergrads can breathe underwater.
2. Simon is an undergrad.
3. Simon can breathe underwater.

Premise #1 is obviously false.  This means that the argument is unsound.  However, because the form of the argument (the same as the first argument) is proper, the argument is valid.

Expectations Part II: What Do We Do in a Philosophy Class?

For many of you, this is your first philosophy class.  Some of you have never had a Humanities course, either.  This means that it is natural that many of you will not know what to expect from this class.  In short, you can expect, text-based, critical argument-based inquiry.

Text-Based.  Coursework will focus on assigned readings.  You will be expected to complete reading assignments before lecture.  Sections will be used to clarify and expand the issues that Dr. Bernecker discusses.  Although you will have some freedom to determine the content of our discussions in sections, knowledge of the texts themselves will help our discussions to be more focused, rigorous and productive.  Additionally, written papers will require familiarity with those texts and the arguments contained therein.

Critical & Argument-Based.  We will focus not just on topics and questions but also on the arguments that philosophers use to support their positions regarding relevant issues.  Arguments consist of two kinds of statements: premises and conclusions.  Conclusions are the statements that represent the point of the argument or what the argument is attempting to prove.  Premises are statements that support, or prove, the conclusions.  If an argument has all true premises and a proper logical form, the conclusion is logically proven.  For more on the basics of logical argumentation, see my other post on logic basics:

For a dated (but funny) exploration of arguments, visit this link:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I have two main goals in the class.  First, not to waste anyone’s time.  Second, to have fun.

My expectations for my students are simple.  There is really just one thing I expect: respect.  This one expectation does have a number of concrete behaviors associated with it.

Respect for others‘ ideas.  This means listening when others speak, including myself and other students.  It also means that when responding to what others say, you avoid personal attacks or other nastiness.  Disagreeing with someone is not disrespectful.  You can show respect for others by listening to their ideas and responding to them thoughtfully.

Respect for others’ time.  I will do my best to start and end on time.  I expect that you will respect my time and the time of your classmates by being on time to section.  When students come in late, it causes a distraction and can also waste time if these latecomers need to be caught up.

Respect for your own work.  I take the work you do in this class seriously.  I listen attentively and read carefully.  You should take your own work just as seriously.  Don’t half-ass in-class work or written homework.  Respect your own ideas by giving time and effort to your work.

With basic respectful etiquette in the classroom, we have a solid foundation for not wasting time and also an appropriate context for having fun.  I hope we can laugh and have fun when discussing the material but I do not want that fun to get in the way of a respectful environment!