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Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Jonah Goldberg on Human Responsibility

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Noting that we’re all human beings can be worthwhile, but it can also be a verbal white flag for abject moral surrender. Put another way: All the great political and moral conflicts have been between human beings. To date, civilization’s greatest battles — rhetorical or otherwise — have not been with Styrofoam, dog hair, gerbils, or toe jam. Nazis are human beings. Murderers and pedophiles are human beings. To say that humanity somehow exonerates rather than confers accountability is to say that humanity is in fact meaningless. Joe Blow killed a child? Well, he’s just a human being — cut him some slack. Sure, Jack the Ripper was a rough chap, but he was a carbon-based life form.

Dallas Willard on Constructing Reality

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The “Midas touch” picture of consciousness, as I call it — is the view that to take something as our ‘object’ automatically transforms it in some essential way (possibly even making it ‘mental’). How, exactly, consciousness — or for that matter language, or culture — being what it is, could make a tree or block of ice what it is, or turn something that was not already a tree or block of ice into one, is truly hard to say. We actually know how trees etc. come about, and they are not made by consciousness. One can also safely say that the story about how consciousness supposedly does its transforming and productive work has never been satisfactorily told. The second interpretation plays off of the saying that one cannot escape consciousness — cannot, as it is often said, “step outside of one’s mind.” Certainly, to be conscious of anything one must be conscious. But it does not follow from this that one cannot compare a thought to what it is about and whether it “matches up” or not. Only confusion could make one think it does — a confusion probably based upon the “Midas touch” picture of consciousness. [Editor’s note: Midas, in Greek mythology, had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.]

Crispin Wright on a Rock and a Hard Place

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A central dilemma in contemporary metaphysics is to find a place for certain anthropocentric subject-matters — for instance, semantic, moral, and psychological — in a world as conceived by modern naturalism: a stance which inflates the concepts and categories deployed by (finished) physical science into a metaphysics of the kind of thing the real world essentially and exhaustively is. On one horn, if we embrace this naturalism, it seems we are committed either to reductionism: that is, to a construal of the reference of, for example, semantic, moral and psychological vocabulary as somehow being within the physical domain — or to disputing that the discourses in question involve reference to what is real at all. On the other horn, if we reject this naturalism, then we accept that there is more to the world than can be embraced within a physicalist ontology — and so take on a commitment, it can seem, to a kind of eerie supernaturalism.

Charles Taliaferro on Eliminative Materialism

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Eliminative materialism is not as popular as it was some decades ago. A major problem has been the task of developing a version of eliminative materialism that is not self-refuting or self-contradictory. Some eliminativists appear to be in the unenviable position of claiming to believe that there are no beliefs. Another difficulty is the problem of being able to accommodate human reasoning. A further worry still is that eliminativism is flatly refuted by experience.

Universals

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Things are particulars and their qualities are universals, but do universals have an existence distinct from the particular things? And what must be their nature if they do? This book provides a careful and assured survey of the central issues of debate surrounding universals, in particular those issues that have been a crucial part of the emergence of contemporary analytic ontology. The book begins with a taxonomy of extreme nominalist, moderate nominalist, and realist positions on properties, and outlines the way each handles the phenomena of predication, resemblance, and abstract reference. The debate about properties and philosophical naturalism is also examined. Different forms of extreme nominalism, moderate nominalism, and minimalist realism are critiqued. Later chapters defend a traditional realist view of universals and examine the objections to realism from various infinite regresses, the difficulties in stating identity conditions for properties, and problems with realist accounts of knowledge of abstract objects. In addition the debate between Platonists and Aristotelians is examined alongside a discussion of the relationship between properties and an adequate theory of existence. The book’s final chapter explores the problem of individuating particulars. The book makes accessible for students a difficult topic without blunting the sophistication of argument required by a more advanced readership. Universals provides an authoritative treatment of the subject for both student and scholar alike.

Time And The Metaphysics Of Relativity

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The larger project of which this volume forms part is an attempt to craft a coherent doctrine of divine eternity and God’s relationship to time. Central to this project is the integration of the concerns of theology with the concept of time in relativity theory. Unfortunately, theologians and philosophers of religion do not in general understand Einstein’s theories, whereas physicists and philosophers of science, under the influence of verificationism, have largely focused philosophical reflection on spatiotemporal concepts given by physics. There is thus a paucity of integrative literature dealing with God and relativity theory. The collapse of positivism and the rejuvenation of metaphysics have led to a renewed scrutiny of the metaphysical foundations of relativity theory and the concept(s) time found therein. This volume provides an accessible and philosophically informed examination of the concept of time in relativity, the ultimate aim being the achievement of a tenable theological synthesis. ~ Product Description

Naturalism: A Critical Analysis

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Craig and Moreland present a rigorous analysis and critique of the major varieties of contemporary philosophical naturalism and advocate that it should be abandoned in light of the serious difficulties raised against it. The contributors draw on a wide range of topics including: epistemology, philosophy of science, value theory to basic analytic ontology, philosophy of mind and agency, and natural theology. “This book provides a good introduction to work by some contemporary American theistic philosophers of religion. Moreover, it gives clear expression to the recent resurgence in polemical Christian philosophy of religion in American academic philosophy.” ~ Australian Journal of Philosophy

Carol Zaleski on Dualism

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As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man’s jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can’t his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.

From Metaphysics to Ethics

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Frank Jackson champions the cause of conceptual analysis as central to philosophical inquiry. In recent years conceptual analysis has been undervalued and widely misunderstood, suggests Jackson. He argues that such analysis is mistakenly clouded in mystery, preventing a whole range of important questions from being productively addressed. He anchors his argument in discussions of specific philosophical issues, starting with the metaphysical doctrine of physicalism and moving on, via free will, meaning, personal identity, motion, and change, to ethics and the philosophy of color. In this way the book not only offers a methodological program for philosophy, but also casts new light on some much-debated problems and their interrelations. ~ Book Description

Body & Soul

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While most people throughout history have believed that we are both physical and spiritual beings, the rise of science has called into question the existence of the soul. Many now argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence, indeed, identity, between mind and brain. Advances in genetics and in mapping human DNA, some say, show there is no need for the hypothesis of body-soul dualism. Even many Christian intellectuals have come to view the soul as a false Greek concept that is outdated and unbiblical. Concurrent with the demise of dualism has been the rise of advanced medical technologies that have brought to the fore difficult issues at both edges of life. Central to questions about abortion, fetal research, reproductive technologies, cloning and euthanasia is our understanding of the nature of human personhood, the reality of life after death and the value of ethical or religious knowledge as compared to scientific knowledge. In this careful treatment, J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae argue that the rise of these problems alongside the demise of Christian dualism is no coincidence. They therefore employ a theological realism to meet these pressing issues, and to present a reasonable and biblical depiction of human nature as it impinges upon critical ethical concerns. This vigorous philosophical and ethical defense of human nature as body and soul, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, will be for all a touchstone for debate and discussion for years to come.

Colin McGinn on the Emergence of Consciousness

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But in the case of consciousness the Darwinian explanation does not tell us what we need to know, for the simple reason that it is unclear how matter can be so organized as to create a conscious being. The problem is in the raw materials. It looks as if with consciousness a new kind of reality has been injected into the universe, instead of just a recombination of the old realities. Even if minds showed no hint of design, the same old problem would exist: How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang, so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it.

Mind in a Physical World

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This book, based on Jaegwon Kim’s 1996 Townsend Lectures, presents the philosopher’s current views on a variety of issues in the metaphysics of the mind — in particular, the mind-body problem, mental causation, and reductionism. Kim construes the mind-body problem as that of finding a place for the mind in a world that is fundamentally physical. Among other points, he redefines the roles of supervenience and emergence in the discussion of the mind-body problem. Arguing that various contemporary accounts of mental causation are inadequate, he offers his own partially reductionist solution on the basis of a novel model of reduction. Retaining the informal tone of the lecture format, the book is clear yet sophisticated. ~ Product Description • “Mr. Kim has long been a lone voice against the dominant functionalist orthodoxy, but the tide now seems to be turning in his favor. In this book he elegantly cuts through the baroque structure of recent philosophical debate, and displays the flaws common to the various sophisticated alternatives.” ~ The Economist

Colin McGinn on the Grammar of Scientific Explanation

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Can we gain any deeper insight into what makes the problem of consciousness run against the grain of our thinking? Are our modes of theorizing about the world of the wrong shape to extend to the nature of the mind? I think we can discern a characteristic structure possessed by successful theories, a structure that is unsuitable for explaining consciousness. … It there a “grammar” to science that fits the physical world but becomes shaky when applied to the mental world? ¶ Perhaps the most basic aspect of thought is the operation of combination. This is the way in which we think of complex entities as resulting from the arrangement of simpler parts. There are three aspects to this basic idea: the atoms we start with, the laws we use to combine them, and the resulting complexes … I think it is clear that this mode of understanding is central to what we think of as scientific theory; our scientific faculty involves representing the world in this combinatorial style.

Susan J. Blackmore on the Illusory Self

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Each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge. The ways we behave, the choices we make, and the things we say are all a result of this complex structure: a set of memeplexes (including the powerful selfplex) running on a biologically constructed system. The driving force behind everything that happens is replicator power. Genes fight it out to get into the next generation, and in the process biological design comes about. Memes fight it out to get passed on into another brain or book or object, and in the process cultural and mental design comes about. There is no need for any other source of design power. There is no need to call on the creative ‘power of consciousness’, for consciousness has no power. There is no need to invent the idea of free will. Free will, like the self who ‘has’ it, is an illusion. Terrifying as thought seems, I suggest it is true.

Phantoms in the Brain

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Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments — using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre neurological disorders has shed new light on the deep architecture of the brain, and what these findings tell us about who we are, how we construct our body image, why we laugh or become depressed, why we may believe in God, how we make decisions, deceive ourselves and dream, perhaps even why we’re so clever at philosophy, music and art. Some of his most notable cases: * A woman paralyzed on the left side of her body who believes she is lifting a tray of drinks with both hands offers a unique opportunity to test Freud’s theory of denial. * A woman who hallucinates cartoon characters illustrates how, in a sense, we are all hallucinating, all the time. Dr. Ramachandran’s inspired medical detective work pushes the boundaries of medicine’s last great frontier — the human mind — yielding new and provocative insights into the "big questions" about consciousness and the self. ~ Product Description

Paul M. Churchland on Commonsense and Cognition

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You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences. That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language. And each state is typically identified by way of a specific sentence in one’s natural language: one has the belief that P, or the desire that Q, for example, where P and Q are sentences. Human cognition is thus commonsensically portrayed as a dance of sentential or propositional states, with the basic unit of computation being the inference from several such states to some further sentential state. ¶ These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called “folk psychology” to acknowledge it as the common property of folks generally. Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.

Paul M. Churchland on Introspection

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But who, in that case, can be watching this pixilated show? The answer is straightforward: no one. There is no distinct "self" in there, beyond the brain as a whole. On the other hand, almost every part of the brain is being "watched" by some other part of the brain, often by several other parts at once.

Paul M. Churchland on the Brain

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Your brain is far too complex and mercurial for its behavior to be predicted in any but the broadest outlines or for any but the shortest distances in the future. Faced with the extraordinary dynamical features of a functioning brain, no device constructible in this universe could ever predict your behavior, or your thoughts, with anything more than merely statistical success. ¶ So one need not fear being reduced to a clanking robot or an empty machine. Quite to the contrary, we are now in a position to explain how our vivid sensory experience arises in the sensory cortex of our brains: how the smell of baking bread, the sound of an oboe, the taste of a peach, and the color of a sunrise are embodied in a vast chorus of neural activity. We now have the resources to explain how the motor cortex, the cerebellum, and the spinal cord conduct an orchestra of muscles to perform the cheetah’s dash, the falcon’s strike, or the ballerina’s dying swan. … On this matter of conceptual development there is especial cause for wonder. For the human brain, with a volume of roughly a quart, encompasses a space of conceptual and cognitive possibilities that is larger, by one measure at least, than the entire astronomical universe. It has this striking feature because it exploits the combinatorics of its 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion synaptic connections with each other.

Paul M. Churchland on Looking in the Mirror

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The religious hypothesis of mind-body dualism has been in trouble with evolutionary biology, and with several other sciences as well, for more than a century. It didn’t need any special input from artificial intelligence or neuroscience to make it scientifically implausible. I bring it up here only because it is a clear example of a popular and important belief currently under siege by modern information. And because its example may be repeated. The fact is, there is a much more intriguing area of current conceptual commitment, one more likely to be affected by emerging cognitive theory in particular. It lies even closer to home and is even more widespread, if that is possible, than mind-body dualism. It is our current self-conception: our shared portrait of ourselves as self-conscious creatures with beliefs, desires, emotions, and the power of reason.

Theories of Individuation

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The metaphysical problem of individuation requires an answer to two different but intimately related questions: 1) How are we to characterize individuality ontologically? To what ontological category or logical type does individuality belong? 2) What sort of distinction is there between the individuality and nature of an individual, e.g. a real distinction, a modal distinction, a distinction of reason, or some other distinction. My purpose in this article is to clarify a bare particular account of individuation and respond to objections that have been raised against bare particulars as individuators. ~ Abstract

Whatever Happened to the Soul?

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This collaborative project strives for greater consonance between contemporary science and Christian faith. Outstanding scholars in biology, genetics, neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and ethics join here to offer contemporary accounts of human nature consistent with Christian teaching. Their central theme is a nondualistic account of the human person that does not consider the "soul" an entity separable from the body; scientific statements about the physical nature of human beings are about exactly the same entity as are theological statements concerning the spiritual nature of human beings. For all those interested in fundamental questions of human identity posed by the present context, this volume will provide a fascinating and authoritative resource. ~ Product Description

What Do We Deserve?

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The concept of desert, which once enjoyed a central place in political and ethical theory, has been relegated to the margins of much of contemporary theory, if not excluded altogether. Recently a renewed interest in the topic has emerged, and several philosophers have argued that the notion merits a more central place in political and ethical theory. Some of these philosophers contend that justice exists to the extent that people receive exactly what they deserve, while others argue that desert should replace such considerations as rights, need, and equality as the basis for distributions. Still others argue that morality involves a fitting match between one’s moral character and a degree of happiness. All of these positions have encountered opposition from egalitarians, libertarians, and those who are skeptical about the coherence of the concept of desert. The first anthology of its kind, What Do We Deserve? is a balanced collection of readings that brings sharply opposing positions and arguments together and stimulates debate over the meaning and significance of desert in current thought. The book begins with eight classical readings on desert (by Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Smith, Kant, Mill, Sidgwick, and Ross), and later turns to contemporary interpretations of the issue. The selections examine the concept itself, analyze its relationship to the ideas of freedom and responsibility, engage in the debate between John Rawls and his critics on the merits of desert, and, finally, study the wider role and significance of desert in political and ethical theory. ~ Product Description

Thomas Nagel on the Insufficiency of Supervenience

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I believe that the explanatory gap in its present form cannot be closed — that so long as we work with our present mental and physical concepts no transparently necessary connection will ever be revealed, between physically described brain processes and sensory experience, of the logical type familiar from the explanation of other natural processes by analysis into their physico-chemical constituents. We have good grounds for believing that the mental supervenes on the physical — i.e. that there is no mental difference without a physical difference. But pure, unexplained supervenience is not a solution but a sign that there is something fundamental we don’t know. We cannot regard pure supervenience as the end of the story because that would require the physical to necessitate the mental without there being any answer to the question how it does so. But there must be a "how," and our task is to understand it. An obviously systematic connection that remains unintelligible to us calls out for a theory.

Dallas Willard on the Mental Life

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Now we need to understand that what simply occupies our mind very largely governs what we do. It sets the emotional tone out of which our actions flow, and it projects the possible courses of action available to us. Also the mind, though of little power on its own, is the place of our widest and most basic freedom. This is true in both a direct and an indirect sense. Of all the things we do, we have more freedom with respect to what we will think of, where we will place our mind, than anything else. And the freedom of thinking is a direct order to exercise it. We simply turn our mind to whatever it is we choose to think of. The deepest revelation of our character is what we choose to dwell on in thought, what constantly occupies our mind, as well as what we can or cannot even think of.