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Friendly Fire • More Than A Review, A Philosophy • Is Physicalism Wrong, Though? • Barking Up A Different Tree • Heidegger’s Hate Mail • Moral Guardians
Dear Editor: My reading Madigan & Gorlova’s article on Aristotelian friendship in PN 126 coincided with the visit of an American friend whom my wife has known for over sixty years. During her stay my wife and I purposefully avoided discussion of US politics, as we knew that our friend had voted for Trump. But then on the last day of her visit, as we were chatting about the six degrees of separation idea, our friend suddenly announced that she had been at school with Hillary Rodham and therefore knew ‘for a fact’ that ‘crooked Hillary’ had lied about her age. As we now live in a post-truth political environment, it was not clear whether this revelation was a ‘fact’ or an ‘alternative fact’. My heart sank further when our friend mentioned that she relied on Fox News to give a fair and balanced view of the Trump presidency.
Aristotle would probably expect a friendship of such longevity to be ‘of the good’. But I fear that Aristotle never imagined that divisiveness could become so incendiary in nature as it has as a direct result of Trump – so much so that certain subjects are off-limits for discussion, even within a friendship of sixty years. As noted in the article, Aristotle believed that part of what defines humanity is that we are social and political beings who cannot exist independently of everyone else. What would he have made of ideas like ‘America First’ or ‘Brexit at any cost’? I am reminded of the Oxfam marketing leaflet, where, above the proverb ‘Charity begins at home’, was the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photo taken from Apollo 17: a colour image of the planet Earth, our home.
Terry Hyde, Yelverton, England
Dear Editor: Gilles Deleuze, in an interview with Claire Parnet, made the point that friendship is a matter of knowing the other’s madness. It’s a kind of unpeeling, until one is able to observe the other’s absurdities – while still accepting them because they also know your absurdities, having been through the same process concerning you. And every unpeeling brings a new understanding of the other on the surface. What can result from that but knowing the other’s madness? And doesn’t it come down to being understood at your deepest levels? As Deleuze succinctly put it: “Unless they know your madness, they cannot be your friend.”
D.E. Tarkington, Nebraska
More Than A Review, A Philosophy
Dear Editor: Terri Murray’s exposition on the film L’Avenir (or Things to Come) in Issue 126 was much more than a film review. Rather it was an excellent essay on what makes life worthwhile. That turns out to be commitment – to principles, other people, and to one’s own subjective choices and decisions.
I hope to see the film some time; but I would also like to hear much more from Terri. She provides us with an antidote to deconstruction, lack of action, and the dry debate about the correct criteria for truth. Finally, and most importantly, her critique provides confidence in the whole enterprise of Philosophy.
Pamela White, Nottingham
Is Physicalism Wrong, Though?
Dear Editor: It is normal to speak of the brain as a physical object and to speak of our thoughts as mental processes. So then, I hesitate to take issue with the Editor of this magazine over Issue 126’s ‘Why Physicalism is Wrong’; but I cannot agree that the experiences which go on in my mind are not part of the physical properties of my brain. Mr Bartley uses an analogy to show that physical and mental properties are not in the same category: “It seems then that the only warrant for making experience a property of brains would be that experiences are generated by brains. But is water a property of a tap just because every time you turn on a tap you get water?… the water is not a property of the tap in the same intrinsic sense that ‘being metallic’ or ‘being curved’ is a property of the tap.” Now if the brain were indeed simply regulating a flow of thoughts having their origin elsewhere, I could agree with the analogy; but the brain itself produces thoughts. One might as well suggest that flames are not a physical manifestation of a fire. And so I would suggest that our mental processes can properly be said to be a physical property of the brain, however strange this may seem. Although in ordinary life we prefer the language of imagery or reason to describe our experiences, this does not mean that in doing so we provide evidence for the existence of a mental world which is somehow a world apart.
Paul Buckingham, Annecy, France
Dear Editor: Enjoyed Grant Bartley’s article ‘Why Physicalism is Wrong’ in Issue 126. He is surely correct. But the problem is even worse than he believes!
Grant hits the nail on the head when he writes “the only way physicalism… can be coherently expressed, is as asserting the patently false eliminativist proposition that there are only physical properties in the world.” On their side, physicalists have in their pockets the Causal Closure Principle (CCP), whose first two parts are: (1) Physics comes only from physics; and (2) Physics produces only physics. But every physicalist position other than eliminative materialism violates (2)! (As do some non-physicalist theories of mind, such as dual-aspect monisms.) Yet the problem goes deeper. There is a third leg to the CCP: (3) There is no purpose in physical mechanism. Many people recognize that purpose is quintessentially mental, and as Bartley well demonstrates, the mental cannot be physical. But panpsychism violates this. Nor can any of these theories accommodate free will without violating (1). In fact, no non-dualist theories of mind can accept the reality of mind and free will and avoid violating one or more of parts of the CCP.
Matthew Rapaport, USA
Dear Editor: In Philosophy Now 126, Grant Bartley offers arguments that physicalism – the thesis that mental states are a subclass of physical states – is mistaken. Here are three points Grant makes which are themselves mistaken:
(1) Grant says “Physicalists say all events can be explained completely by causal chains of previous physical events.” Not necessarily. A determinist might say this; but physicalists aren’t committed to determinism. Some, for example, appeal to quantum indeterminacy, others to free will. (Equally, a non-physicalist can consistently accept determinism: if all events have causes, then any non-physical events will also have causes.)
(2) Grant writes “if the mind were not distinctly different from the brain, we could never have come up with the distinct concept of mind.” The implication is that since we do have a distinct concept of mind, the mind must be different from the brain. Not so. Two concepts can be as distinct as you like and yet still apply to the same thing. The concepts ‘being married’ and ‘being a father’ are utterly distinct. Following Grant’s argument, one might as well say that we could not have come up with the two concepts of fatherhood and marriage unless fathers were ‘distinctly different’ people from those who are married.
Of course, if two concepts are incompatible they cannot both apply to the same object. For example, nothing can be both a prime number and green. So the conclusion that Grant needs is that the concepts of ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ are not merely different but incompatible.
(3) Grant writes “you do not conceive your experience of the sounds you hear as being the same sort of thing as… the activity of brain cells.” In a sense, yes; but that’s not to the point. If I am seeking an economic understanding of a rise in productivity, I won’t think of it in terms of molecules, but in terms of economic concepts such as labour inputs, capital investment, and so on. But that does not show that ultimately each rise in productivity is not identical with some distribution of molecules through space-time. Even less does it show that we ought to think of economics as a science of the non-physical. So the fact that we don’t think of experience in terms of brain activity does not itself show that experience must be something non-physical.
Nick Everitt, Seascale, Cumbria
Dear Editor: I’m grateful to Grant Bartley’s for his ‘Why Physicalism is Wrong’. For me it provides a persuasive and cogent account of the significance of mental states for our being in the world. As neuroscience and its related disciplines develop, it seems inevitable that more refined and precise physical correlations of our mental life and its contents will be described. This will be in the vocabulary of neuroscience. But the question arises as to whether such a vocabulary could adequately replace the one which represents the content of our mental experience. The physically causal explanations provided would not, as such, give the sense necessarily provided by my mental being – undoubtedly caused by my physical being, as Grant acknowledges: “the experiences created by brain activity are a totally different type of thing from the activity creating them” (p.29). The implications of this idea are far reaching, as is pointed out in the article: for example, the important difference between psychological problems caused by brain dysfunction and those that are “mentally-sourced due to traumatic experience”, with their necessarily different potential treatments. Equally significant but contrasting examples come to mind in the areas of ethics and aesthetics. In choosing morally correct actions, potential guidance would be lost if the choices made were reduced to the causal, physical brain processes producing the mental content. Rather, it is such content in itself that we need in order to have a grasp of what morality is about.
Next, if one visits the Wallace Collection in London, on opposite walls hang a self-portrait by Rembrandt and his portrait of his son Titus. They face each other, and the viewer can look between them and reflect on their relationship as paintings and on their represented relationship as father and son. It is a powerful and moving juxtaposition, bringing to mind so much, made profound and intense not least by the overwhelming talent, skill and insight of the painter. Yet if we only paid attention to the physical properties of the works, to the mere patches of paint, we would never even see them as portraits. I suggest that this is not an aesthetic experience to be missed or taken lightly; and certainly not one that could be subject, if ever, to ‘eliminative materialism’, without completely losing the significance of those moments.
“The brain is wider than the sky
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include,
With ease, and you beside.”
Colin Brookes, Leicestershire
Barking Up A Different Tree
Dear Editor: I very much enjoyed reading ‘The Sheep & The Dogs’ in Issue 125, and it reaffirms my faith in today’s teens. Like the writers Zac and Anuska, I too was once a high school student in Southern California – class of ‘74 out of La Mirada. Their thoughts regarding individualism echo my own at that age; but instead of Diogenes I probably would have gone with Hermann Hesse and/or Nietzsche.
As I read their article, I couldn’t help wanting to offer them some advice. Unsolicited advice – just what teens love! The opening words to Hesse’s novel Damien will foreshadow my advice: “I wanted only to live according with the promptings of my true self. Why was that so hard?” As a life-long contrarian I can attest to the truth of that line. The ‘Road Less Taken’ will be a very tough path. Not that it won’t be worth it, and not that I in any way dissuade them from it.
When I was about their age I first read the poet Charles Bukowski. While few associate him with philosophy, he was in fact influenced greatly by reading Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. In his poem ‘The Genius of the Crowd’ he offers a warning to Zacs and Anuskas as to how the ‘herd’ may respond to them going their own way (and with the ‘hemlock’ line, we have him referencing how the herd paid back Socrates, who wanted to live an authentic and truthful life). Allow me to share the last lines of the poem (I bet this is a first for Philosophy Now):
“Not Being Able To Love Fully
They Will BELIEVE Your Love
AND THEN THEY WILL HATE
And Their Hatred Will Be Perfect
Like A Shining Diamond
Like A Knife
Like A Mountain
LIKE A TIGER
David Wright, Sacramento, CA
Dear Editor: I felt happy to read in ‘The Sheep and The Dogs’ from someone seventy years younger than me the same point of view I had when I was in my teens – caused for me by reading Nietzsche’s Zarathustra at an age in which every page made me wonder what he was saying, but at the same time sinking into my memories ideas I had to test out. I went my own way, completed university, and was all my life independent from the ‘sheep’ (or ‘lemmings’) which constitute the great majority of those around us. This gave me an individually very satisfactory and good life. But it had one disadvantage: along the long years I have lived, they always considered me an outsider, a cynic and a know-all whenever I dared to express my opinion. But – and this is the great difference now, when only memories remain – my life was an original one and almost incredibly entertaining.
Henry Back, Flagler Beach, FL
Heidegger’s Hate Mail
Dear Editor: David Ashton (Letters, Issue 126) needs to take Martin Heidegger’s intellectual contamination with Naziism much more seriously. The problem is the possible untenability of beliefs when they seem to be betrayed by political action. In Issue 125 Shai Tubali reported that Hannah Arendt’s observation of the “profound lack of concern on Heidegger’s part – a self-immersion so remote from the actual world” led her to reject philosophy for politics. Ironically this parallelled Heidegger doing very much the same, which highlights the paradox of a great intellect placing absolute trust in a political movement – in Heidegger’s case, the Nazi Party.
Why did he do so? Because, it seems, he was a dreamer in the world. What better for a demoralized Germany than to be rescued through the implementation of a unique philosophical vision? So in 1933 when Heidegger became Rector of Freiburg University, he gave that notorious speech asserting the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism (which perhaps he believed he alone could truly understand). He hoped for a spiritual redirection of the German people through the policies of National Socialism as interpreted by himself – its self-declared intellectual leader. But he had read Mein Kampf at the insistence of his Nazi wife, and should have noted therein the anti-Semitism, the planned eugenics programmes, the underlying hatred of democracy, the contempt for modern art, and the aggressive plans for Aryan world domination.
John Greenbank, Beaminster, UK
Dear Editor: It seems a banal truism to say that Heidegger was one of countless millions who were sucked into the mass psychosis that took over in Germany during the thirties and forties. But this statement of the obvious raises the vexing concept of collective guilt. If Adolf Hitler reincarnated as a rock star, would I prove to be any more successful in resisting his allure than Heidegger was in relation to the first incarnation?
Carl Jung engaged with this psychological question at a very deep level. In his essay ‘After the Catastrophe’, written in 1945, he wrote:
“Since no man lives in his own psychic sphere like a snail in a shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his fellow men by his unconscious humanity, no crime can be what it appears to our consciousness to be: an isolated psychic happening. In reality, it always happens over a wide radius.”
(Collected Works 10: Civilization in Transition, para. 408)
It is also a truism that had Heidegger just been an average professor of philosophy we would not be exercised over his Nazi and anti-Semitic shadow. Also, had he been able to follow Bultmann’s advice and publically repent, he would have lived up to his own ideal of authenticity. His burden of the collective guilt would then have become his own guilt.
Fred Burniston, By Email
Hochverehrter Herr Lewis: Dr David Ashton (Letters, June/July) asks you to pass over Heidegger’s shameful past. I gave the final word on such embarrassing cases in my masterpiece, On the Genealogy of Morals (Third essay, para 4). The artist must always be separated from his work. He is no more than the womb, the soil, the manure, the dung heap which must be forgotten before the work can be enjoyed. Thus it was with Wagner with whom I broke when Bayreuth became the resort of shallow nationalists and anti-Semites: the music remained sublime, but Wagner became himself one of that abhorrent species of cattle, a Wagnerian. A woman with child must forget the repulsive and strange aspects of pregnancy before the child can be enjoyed, and so it must be with philosophers.
Beyond Good and Evil
To Whom It May Concern: The Arizona Department of Corrections has determined that your publication described below contains Unauthorized Content as defined in Department Order 914.07 and, as a result, may be released in part or excluded in whole for the specific reason(s) given below.
Publication Title: Philosophy Now
Volume/Number: n124 Feb/Mar 2018
Reason: DO 914.07 – 1.2.1 Nudity
You and/or the inmate subscriber may appeal the decision by notifying us via email or U.S. Mail within 30 calendar days after you receive this notice.
Arizona Dept of Corrections
Office of Publication Review
(Editor’s note: Issue 124 reproduced an early 19th century painting of conditions below deck on an Atlantic slave ship. We think that picture must have been the problem.)