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Letters

Letters

More Theology, More Falsification • Miraculous Coughs • Too-Many-Worlds Interpretation? • Death or Freedom? • Warhol Was First! • What is it Like to be You? • Is Philosophy Enough? • Idle Speculation

More Theology, More Falsification

DEAR EDITOR: John Champneys (Letters, Issue 30) asks why there was no mention of ‘agnosticism’ in my much reprinted article ‘Theology and Falsification’. The reason was that that article contained a challenge. My own response to the failure to offer any adequate response to that challenge has from the beginning been agnosticism.

David Muire is surely unfair to faith in his insistence that “faith and reason are not at loggerheads … the one has nothing to do with the other.” For it is possible rationally to believe that you have strong, but by themselves insufficient, evidencing reasons to establish some conclusion, but then to make a leap of faith to believing in that conclusion. For you, in that case, faith is not a leap in the dark but a leap towards the light. So for you while “faith and reason are ‘indeed’ not at loggerheads” the one is intimately connected with the other.

ANTONY FLEW
READING, BERKSHIRE


DEAR EDITOR: Perhaps the answer to Mr Farnworth (Letters, 30) is that the negation of “God exists and is invisible and intangible” is not “God doesn’t exist and is visible and tangible,” but “either God doesn’t exist or he is visible or he is tangible.” I think this lets Professor Flew off the hook.

Incidentally, in your brief biography of John Passmore you omitted to mention his best book, Philosophical Reasoning, the best chapter of which ‘The Two Worlds Argument’ contains arguments against dualism which have never been refuted.

CHRIS MCKNIGHT
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, BELFAST


DEAR EDITOR: Antony Flew’s article in the 29th issue of Philosophy Now, ‘Theology & Falsification’, is subtitled ‘A Golden Jubilee Celebration’. I would suggest that any celebration based on this article would be premature.

Like so many philosophers, Flew suffers from an off-handed attitude towards theology. He evinces an a priori commitment to the notion that theology has little to offer philosophy. He misrepresents the thinking Theist’s position, as he cannot bring himself to believe it could possibly be more substantial than the tale he quotes from John Wisdom’s ‘Gods’. In light of this, his tone of triumphant cynicism comes across to the thinking Theist as rather naive.

Let’s begin with his explorer analogy. This assumes that God, the ‘gardener’, is “invisible, intangible and eternally elusive,” and so differs in no substantial way from no gardener at all. Of course the Christian position holds that God has not been a remote, intangible gardener, but an active agent and an incarnate presence within the tangible world. Whether one is prepared to accept these claims or not, they add variables to the scenario for which Flew fails to account. Furthermore, Christian theologians are interested in the idea that God may actually be capable of making some kind of propositional revelation of Himself. Indeed, to fail to take these options into account when addressing Christianity is to completely miss the mark. One wonders to whom Flew can be speaking. One also marvels that he can evince such triumph at so vacuous a victory.

Flew’s article ends with the simple question, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?” The theologian responds, “If God had remained as you present Him, distant, invisible and uninvolved, then I might well have reason to doubt His love or His existence. But as a Christian, by definition, I believe He has not. Then let me answer your question directly: if God had not spoken, and if He had not been incarnate, and if He had not involved Himself physically with the issues of human life and death, then His existence and His love could not be matters of knowledge.”

Whether we agree or disagree, we are obliged to recognize that the theologian has a ready response to Flew’s supposedly devastating question. Certainly the theologian’s response opens up a great number of ancillary questions, all of which remain to be answered; but the negative proposition offered in the article is hardly the end of the discussion. It is not the final bell, it is merely the start of round one.

STEPHEN L. ANDERSON
LONDON, ONTARIO


Miraculous Coughs

DEAR EDITOR: JJC Smart (in Issue 30) can only claim that “if anything had been different in history then you would not have been you” if he believes absolutely in physical determinism. But it would have taken an uncaused event, a miraculous cough, to prevent Hitler’s father from procreating the little monster. Those damned genes could not have been stopped, the causal chain cannot be broken and only I could write this letter and be

Yours truly,
ROGER FARNWORTH
WARLEGGAN, CORNWALL


Too-Many-Worlds Interpretation?

DEAR EDITOR: Many thanks for sending the copy of Philosophy Now Issue 30. My little article has come out well – I like the picture of WG Grace! It is a very good number of your journal, with much of interest. Most of all, I think, the interview with David Deutsch. I do think that the matter of quantum computing is of much importance to philosophers, mainly concerning whether it depends on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. My gut feeling is that this interpretation is too ontologically extravagant. However, Deutsch could point to the controversy started in around about 1930 by Hubble and co., who held that the nebulae (as they were called then) were actually galaxies far away from our Milky Way system, not cloudy things within it. He would ask whether I would have balked at the ontological extravagance of many galactic systems. Actually I didn’t – as a schoolboy I was fascinated by Hubble’s The Realm of the Nebulae and Eddington’s The Expanding Universe. So maybe it is a result of advancing (and earlier, middle aged years) that makes me resistant to the many-universes interpretation of quantum mechanics. I am not so resistant to ideas of multiple universes or sub-universes as in the speculations of such as Guth and Lindei. I would hope that QM computing could be explained in terms of superpositions in the one and only universe. I am also suspicious of Deutsch’s view that the theory of evolution should be integrated into fundamental physics. My view is that the central (biochemical) core of biology is physics plus natural history, much as electronics is physics plus wiring diagrams. The theory of evolution is partly historical (using palaeontology) but integrated with chemistry via notions such as that of mutations in DNA. I don’t think that future changes in fundamental physics will have much or any effect on organic chemistry. Natural history has generalisations, not laws, and such generalisations are natural history even if the observations are done by people with white coats using electron microscopes and the like. I also have worries about the idea that consciousness must be mysterious. Nor do I believe in qualia, at least as the word ‘quale’ is used in the interview. (See my article ‘ “Looks Red” and Dangerous Talk!’. Philosophy 1995. No, it is not political philosophy about the dangers of McCarthyism!) In many moods I indeed feel that consciousness is mysterious but rationally I can’t see what is wrong with the account I give in the section on consciousness in my article ‘The Identity Theory of Mind’ in the Stanford Electronic Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mindidentity/) The section on consciousness owes a lot to ideas of David Armstrong, also to an idea of Ryle’s though his behaviourism handicapped him in dealing with consciousness.

Still, I’m grateful for your journal for doing the interview with Deutsch. I will try to get hold of his book.

I was interested to see in your journal a report of the death of Charles Hartshorne. I met him sometimes in conferences in USA, but saw most of him when he visited Australia more than half a century ago. He was disappointed to find no Australian philosophers who shared his interest in Whitehead. He was a great expert on bird song – he could say “the lesser spotted thrushcatcher doing tune number 7,” (or whatever). When he briefly visited Adelaide I took him for a drive to the neighbourhood of Mount Touens where he listened to birds in the bush. Australia was the only continent other than Antarctica, where he had not previously listened to birds. I didn’t have any interest in his philosophy, but he was a most likeable and admirable man.

JJC SMART
WHEELERS HILL, VICTORIA


Death or Freedom?

DEAR EDITOR: Responding to Terri Murray’s excellent article (‘The American Death Penalty’, Philosophy Now Issue 30) there is an inconsistency in the argument that convicted murderers should be executed on the basis of an eye for an eye. In order to be consistent, convicted rapists should be punished by being raped and muggers by being mugged. To my knowledge, no one has ever argued for that.

Juries are also more reluctant to convict when the penalty is death and as a result a guilty person could go free. There is no empirical evidence to support this claim but neither is there any evidence to support the claim that the death penalty acts as a deterrent.

GRAHAMWILLIAMS
MITCHAM, SURREY


DEAR EDITOR: Some crimes are so heinous that the public attitude towards the death penalty will not be changed by a rehash of the deterrence and retribution arguments. But below are some arguments which I have yet to see ‘argued’:

On balance, why is the condemned not allowed to commit suicide? Why would death penalty advocates not allow that option?

Isn’t calling something irreversible a ‘penalty’ a mere PR move, the purpose of which is to ‘sell’ something to the public which they might not otherwise buy?

What effect does the death penalty have upon children? Does it terrorize them or make them morbid? Families of crime victims understandably want retribution, but they might temper their requests if they thought that the death penalty harmed children.

MARK DAVIS
ATTORNEY AT LAW, KANSAS CITY


Warhol Was First!

DEAR EDITOR: I agree with Thomas Wartenberg (Issue 30) that the recent film Time Code is “less compelling as a story than it is as an experiment in the possibilities for film as an art form.” However, the film’s method is not quite as unprecedented as Wartenberg seems to suggest. At least two earlier films used a similar technique of juxtaposing completely separate images, and did so in far more intellectually challenging ways.

Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966) consists of a dozen separate half-hour segments, each filmed without any cuts or editing. These segments are projected in random order, two at a time, on twin screens. The projectionist can choose at whim between the two available soundtracks. (The DVD version of Time Code gives the viewer a similar choice among soundtracks.) Because there is no continuous narrative to guide our eyes, the viewer’s perception drifts back and forth from screen to screen, focussing on small details of the performers’ behaviour, or on momentary coincidences between the images. At times, the effect resembles the silkscreen diptychs which Warhol exhibited in art galleries at around the same time.

The other precursor to Figgis’ film is Jean-Luc Godard’s Numero Deux (1975). This wide-screen film shows, for most of its length, two video monitors on which the various members of a working-class family appear, discussing their social and sexual difficulties. The simultaneous images of different family members expresses both their isolation from one another (on separate screens, in different rooms of their house) and the contiguity of their lives and problems. Unlike Time Code, the form of this film expresses a specific philosophical and political attitude, in which there is never just one perspective on any situation. By contrast, Time Code uses its separate images (admittedly multiplied to 4 instead of 2) to tell a single linear story, melodramatic and conventional, in which the options narrow towards a predictably violent conclusion. The films of Warhol and Godard were far more adventurous than this.

PETER BENSON
LONDON NW10


What is it Like to be You?

DEAR EDITOR: I love the magazine thankyou, just the right pitch. I have been wondering about ‘qualia’ which is a new word for me that I picked up in your magazine (David Deutsch Interview, Dec/Jan, p.23). I find the interest of philosophy in this subject natural but am unsettled by the idea that this is a question for science. What it is like to be me is to wonder what it is like to be you. As science approaches the problem (since when and from what perspective is consciousness a problem?) it seems all it would require would be a mirror, wouldn’t it? I hope I am not being too simple minded.

CHRIS SHARPIN,
TIVERTON, DEVON


Is Philosophy Enough?

DEAR EDITOR: We will all agree with Lisa Kemmerer that we should usually think before we act, and probably that “thoughts without action are hollow”, but sadly philosophy alone fails to provide a basis for deciding on actions. The article on the next page, by Jane Forsey, is an excellent example: it describes philosophy’s failed attempt to justify morally the use of punishment in a society. We know that punishment is correct, and we will continue to act by punishing criminals, but unfortunately we can’t get philosophy to provide us with that conclusion.

Philosophy probably helps when converting principles for life into concrete actions. But it seems to me that these principles for life can only be provided by religion, which was the case for at least two of Kemmerer’s examples – Gandhi and King, or by our natural instincts.

Like many others, I became interested in philosophy because I was hoping for ‘answers’ or principles for life. In my case it was after giving up on Christianity. I feel that philosophy is actually at its most practical, in terms of changing how we live, when it is used to assess whether the various religions are broadly correct, and in what way. I have been surprised at how much a reasonable case for theism can be made within philosophy, despite the enormous problem of evil, and I’m still agnostic. I wonder whether other readers have found a more clear-cut impact of philosophy on their religious beliefs, in either direction?

ED ATKINSON
HENLEY, OXON


Idle Speculation

DEAR EDITOR: I am in the unique position of suddenly having a great deal of idle time available. I must contest some of the conclusions of Paul Western’s article on idleness (Issue 29), particularly “that work as intrinsically virtuous is a fiction.” I also must disagree with the value of a shortened work period. If everyone were to work a mere four hours a day such that all may work, I think I should go insane through excessive leisure! Do I ‘owe it to my fellow humans’ to keep them from suffering from too much leisure?!

Approximately three weeks ago I fractured my left fibula. I am normally a very active person and this initiated a sudden, major, though temporary, change in lifestyle (my normal part-time job is also quite physical, and this also is ‘on hold’ until my leg recovers). The following week was almost entirely spent sitting in a hospital bed without access to my school textbooks, and nearly all phone numbers. I have apparently become too dependant upon my cell phone’s speed dial option, and you aren’t allowed to activate a cell phone in a hospital.

Therefore I had a great deal of leisure time available to me. I took advantage of the opportunity to contemplate such universal questions as “I wonder if they’ll let me eat today?” or “Do they know my IV bag is nearly empty?” I must confess that boredom set in rather quickly. If I had had a pencil and paper at least I could have worked on my philosophical interests (who knows what the morphine could have said?), but alas I did not. Thank goodness your November issue arrived in time for my post-op outpatient idleness!

Idleness is certainly not something I am used to, nor is it something I especially enjoy in large quantities (to be sure, one must rest sometime). The balance seems more in favour of less idle time than time spent working. What though, of the professional philosopher, if defining her work as contemplation (among other things)? She will need to ask herself “when does the work end and leisure begin?” Even in sleep we contemplate our situations. If we do not recall these contemplations in the morning it does not transform into non-contemplation; it may sit in our subconsciousness for all we know. Just because work is ‘lost’ that does not make it non-work, just work that needs to be redone. The only way for work to not be something we value, is if we find work to be anything contrary to our enjoyment. In my case then, my ‘work’ could very well be ‘idleness,’ heartbreak, being penniless and getting around on crutches over Toronto’s December snowbanks!

But even these forms of work are necessary. I must be idle sometimes (as was my recent experience), but I do not enjoy sitting around my apartment all of the time, therefore there are times that I must get outside in the snow regardless of my wishes. In fact at those times I do derive some enjoyment from the mere fact that I am not being confined to my apartment, even if that means missing a good program on my shortwave radio!

Idleness may be underappreciated and I may be a prime example of this lack of appreciation. Perhaps what I am missing is the ‘fill’ of my idle time (shall I take up Morris Dancing once my leg heals?). Where does the essential difference lie between work and play?

A friend of mine, when I told her about this letter, suggested that the difference for the enjoyment lies in the fact that my idleness was not something I undertook by choice. She is probably quite right. It reminds me of the Monty Python argument sketch – “I could be arguing on my spare time!” So perhaps the difference lies in what I choose to claim as work.

AUBREY HARRIS
TORONTO, CANADA

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