Letters

Letters

Philosophical Zombification • A Theory of Animal Justice • Afflicted by Science • Deceived About Deception • Pragmatism In Practice • Heidegger Can’t Hide • Hi Literacy • Low Literacy • Tallis Through The Looking Glass • More Fallacies

Philosophical Zombification

Dear Editor: There is a flaw in Philip Goff’s analysis of the zombie threat to a science of mind in the last issue. The flaw comes from thinking within a conceptual model that implies determinism but then neglects deterministic logic.

Let me explain what I mean by that. Goff’s analysis requires determinism, because admitting free will rules his whole argument out of court. Suppose I had my own philosophical zombie whose behaviour was identical to my own but who lacked consciousness, and therefore lacked free will. Then the effect of my free will on my behaviour is clearly nonexistent, as the zombie is behaving identically without it, and a free will that has no effect is paradoxical.

So philosophical zombies cannot be discussed without the assumption of determinism. But the logic of determinism demands that everything that happens has to happen, and it is not possible for anything to happen if it does not happen. So on this logic, if there are in fact no philosophical zombies, there is no possibility of there being philosophical zombies, otherwise, there they’d be! In a deterministic universe the project of physicalism is to explain what is happening, not to explain what might have happened but didn’t.

In short, Philip Goff is discussing the implication of alternative possibilities within a model that logically excludes alternative possibilities. I believe the physicalists may proceed with their work undisheartened.

Dave Mangnall, Wilmslow, Cheshire


Dear Editor: Regarding the last issue, I first encountered zombies while reading David Chalmers’ The Character of Consciousness, where, as in Philip Goff’s article, ‘philosophical zombies’ (from here on called ‘zombies’) are proposed as a counter-example to the mind-brain identity thesis. This famous thesis comes down to consciousness being nothing more than some vastly complex interaction of brain-states: having the brain-states is equivalent to being conscious, and there is nothing ‘added’ to the collection of brain-states that is consciousness. If zombies are conceivable, goes the argument, then we can infer that consciousness must be additional to brain-states, and cannot be reduced to them in the way heaps of sand can be reduced to the grains composing them (Chalmers uses most of the book to make this case). Chalmers’ argument is well made, and I am not a mind-brain identity advocate, but I simply do not understand the value of a counter-example whose possibility is one of the very things at issue in the thesis being refuted. The mind-brain identity theorist must surely hold that if there is a duplicate me who has all my brain-states (duplicating mine moment by moment), then that subject will actually be conscious, just as I am. His propensity to report consciousness will not be an empty behavior, but indicative of real consciousness: every bit as real as mine. Whether this would be the case or not is the very issue in question. The mind-brain identity view is precisely the view that zombie exact duplicates are not conceivable: if the lights are on, somebody will, of necessity, be home. For the mind-brain identity advocate, the zombie counter-example can have no more force on our world than the conceivability of a green swan would have to a proposition about the actual color of swans.

Matthew Rapaport, by email


Dear Editor: Call me a physicalist if you like, but I’m struggling to imagine how a philosophical zombie can use its five senses to negotiate the world around it just as I do, yet lack consciousness. How can it use its sense of sight yet not have the sensation of seeing, use its sense of taste yet not taste the brains, etc? Using the senses without sensation would appear to be a logical impossibility. Having sensations without consciousness also seems to be impossible, unless there is some kind of zombie use of the five senses which does lack sensation. Perhaps with his knowledge of zombies Dr Goff could throw some light on this. However, if the philosophical zombie lacks the five senses, then it is not an exact replica of me, even if it mimics my behaviour perfectly. If the criterion for being a philosophical zombie is that it resembles me even down to having senses, then it must have consciousness, and so it ceases to be a zombie.

Sheila Lockhart, Inverness


A Theory of Animal Justice

Dear Editor: I enjoyed Ziyad Hayatli’s witty review of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice: The Musical! in Issue 95, alarmed though I was to see Nozick and Rand sharing a dance. Another thing that struck me was the description of Rawls’ veil of ignorance, behind which individuals “did not know who they would be (male or female, an animal, someone poor, part of the upper class, etc)” (emphasis mine). A major problem with Rawls’ work is that non-human animals are noticeably absent from his account. Martha Nussbaum’s impressive Frontiers of Justice (2007) considers this problem at length, attempting to address three issues that create difficulties for Rawlsian philosophy – disability, nationality, and species membership. I suspect that she will not have the last word on the matter, and that we will see non-humans considered in discussions of political justice more and more in years to come. So I suspect Rawls’ work will be ever more readily challenged for its apparent failure.

Josh Milburn, Lancaster


Afflicted by Science

Dear Editor: ‘Once a scientist, always a scientist’ seems to be an affliction I suffer from. Although I have recently gained a number of postgraduate qualifications in Philosophy, it seems that my initial training as a biochemist has embedded a pragmatism that ruins my ability to think more ‘philosophically’. A great recent example came whilst reading Peter Benson’s article ‘The Ontology of Photography’ in Issue 95. I found myself intrigued and fascinated as I pondered the difference between analogue and digital pictures – before my scientist head kicked in. More specifically the part of me that processes X-ray diffraction images collected on CCD detectors. Here I regularly find myself analyzing the distribution of pixels in order to distinguish between background levels and the intensity peaks that represent my data. As soon as you start performing analyses at this level, you quickly discover distributions of pixels in ‘real’ digital images that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fake, even with the best Photoshop skills. So although Peter Benson may not be able to distinguish a good ‘fake’ digital photograph from a ‘real’ one with his eyes, I’m pretty convinced I could distinguish it rather easily using a couple of histograms.

Here we have what I perceive to be a problem with philosophy, especially ontological arguments. Philosophers come up with some great ideas that catch the imagination; however, a weekend with a science textbook often seems to deflate such arguments rather depressingly. It’s one of the reasons I have moved into ethics, because here at least philosophical thinking can occupy its own space without making claims that can be ruined by some simple mathematics or inconvenient observations that everyone except the philosophers seems to know about.

Simon Kolstoe, Botley


Dear Editor: I would like to thank Anthony Moore (Letters, Issue 96) for his response to my article on photography in Issue 95. He puts his finger on the central question, which is whether the difference between analogue and digital photography is one of degree (as he believes) or of kind (as I contend). However, I would like to emphasize that my argument is not primarily based on any claim that analogue images are less malleable than digital, nor that they represent reality more precisely. My concern is with the nature of the relation (both causal and ontological) between reality and its images. An analogue photograph is produced by irreversible chemical changes in the film emulsion, caused by the light reflected from the object. A digital image, on the other hand, is a matrix of numerical values for colour and brightness at a large array of points. These may have been accurately measured by a digital camera, but could equally have been set ‘blind’ by a computer program. My claim is that this matrix of numbers, once recorded and stored, is cut off from its origin and retains no trace of its cause. Finally, it is ironic that Mr Moore should draw attention to the dangers of binary either/or thinking. Digitalisation performs exactly such a reduction of everything to binary, coding the whole world as zeros and ones.

Peter Benson, London


Dear Editor: I am astounded at some of the views expressed by Pamela Irvin Lazorko in her article ‘Science and Non-Science’, published in your last issue, containing highly critical comments against numerous people who have a God-given gift of being able to genuinely assist others by means of clairvoyance and/or astrology. Her deductions are simply predicated on personal statements that “there can be no independent test of their validity” and “the vagueness of predictions avoids falsification precisely because they are ambiguous.” I suggest that her personal experiences in these fields have been extremely limited and that she should now, with an open mind, seek wider knowledge and direct participation in the presence of experts, in order that she may test validity and ambiguity in a reasoned manner. I have no doubt that her views are likely to change considerably.

Michael Harris, Eastbourne


Deceived About Deception

Dear Editor: In ‘Lying to Mother Teresa’ (Philosophy Now, Issue 95), Derek Harrison convinces himself that his ‘diplomatic lie’ to Mother Teresa harmed no one and was an act of good will that may have achieved some benefit in the ‘connectivity’ it provided for her. I am no Kantian on the issue of lying, but why gratuitously lie when nothing of great moment depends on it? This is not a case like lying to Nazi soldiers as to the whereabouts of Anne Frank. On balance, the consequences may have been all to the good, as Harrison suggests; nevertheless, the lie treats Mother Teresa as an object of deceit and (very slight) manipulation, rather than as a person deserving an honest exchange that reflects the respect due a rational and autonomous soul. I suspect a simple, forthright statement (e.g., “I’m very glad for the audience, but I really don’t know what to say to you!”) would have elicited a more meaningful exchange.

Don E. Scheid, Arlington, Minnesota


Pragmatism In Practice

Dear Editor: In Issue 95, Tibor Machan makes an unconvincing argument about the impracticality of pragmatism. Generally, it is in the larger sphere of human affairs that pragmatism is practical, such as in open societies or democracies. Those pragmatic institutions, where long held principles don’t necessarily have to be abandoned but can coexist, are hard to argue against. Machan focuses on ethical pragmatism, saying that in practise it wouldn’t work. In doing so he is tossing out the enhancing qualities of pragmatism, like giving a second chance, or not destroying someone for the sake of a single indiscretion. In former times one would have been thrown in jail for life, on principle, for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a family, or have had one’s life destroyed by a foolish sexual encounter. Pragmatism takes into account extenuating circumstances. And because pragmatism deals with dilemmas and contradictions, it opens up issues for debate. The alternative attitude shuts discussion down.

Machan didn’t consider one ethical issue that is currently receiving the pragmatic treatment and is responding well – gay rights and same-sex marriage. America for one has become more pragmatic and open about gay issues. This has not necessarily come from a moral shift or an abandonment of core values: it has come from a greater sense of fairness and inclusion. More importantly, this pragmatism was born of economic sense. Gays and lesbians are good for business: they are creative, responsible, and make ideal consumers. Data also shows that people who live together in a union and share benefits as a couple (which same-sex marriages would extend) are healthier and less of a burden on the rest of society. This economic argument may sounds crass, but it does make pragmatic sense.

David Airth, Toronto


Dear Editor: If Pragmatism is impractical, as argued by Tibor Machan in Issue 95, what about the evidence of evolution? This has worked for thousands of millions of years, developing practical solutions without rules, and so Pragmatically. Or have I missed something?

Dr Martin Wheatman, by email


Dear Editor: I was disappointed in ‘Impractical Pragmatism’, Issue 95. It is astonishing to me this made it into your publication. That ‘pragmatism’ means one thing to the lay public, and another to (most) philosophers, is well known, and pretty basic. But there’s no comprehension of this difference in ‘Impractical Pragmatism’, and it makes his whole argument implausible. Is there anyone in their right mind who thinks William James would be stumped if presented with this critique of Pragmatism? James would be astonished at the notion that he, as a pragmatist, had to deny the value of ‘basic principals and axioms’! Absurd. Further, that Pragmatism is not a tool for all uses was a point made by William James. But we don’t say a hammer is not of value because it fails as a saw.

David Wright, Sacto, CA


Heidegger Can’t Hide

Dear Editor: Sir Alistair MacFarlane’s Brief Life of Martin Heidegger (Issue 94) is informative, but contains important errors of historical fact.

Sir Alistair states that Heidegger joined the Nazi Party “to allow him to be put forward for the rectorship of the University of Freiburg.” This suggests that Heidegger was reluctant to join the Party and did so only to become rector. In fact, Heidegger became rector and, in a grand public ceremony, joined the Nazi Party shortly thereafter. The point is that Heidegger was a vociferous supporter of Hitler and National Socialism before he became rector, or even joined the Party. Indeed, the inscription under his official rectorial portrait helpfully supplies the reason for his election: “ Im Zuge der allgemeinen Gleichschaltung” [As part of the general bringing into line]. The Gleichschaltung was a movement to bring all state institutions ‘into line’ with the requirements and ethos of National Socialism, and Heidegger was among its most enthusiastic prosecutors. Neither did Heidegger resign as rector because he refused “to support the removal of two anti-Nazi deans” as Sir Alistair asserts. In fact, Heidegger quit over the fallout from his appointment of Erik Wolf as Dean of the Faculty of Law. Wolf, a radical Nazi, was a disciple and friend of Heidegger’s. Wolf’s appointment as Dean and his subsequent political activism were opposed by other faculty members. The faculty opposition, and the alarm this caused within the local Karlsruhe government, caused Heidegger to resign. In other words, Heidegger resigned because the university was not radical enough and was resisting his enforcement of the Gleichschaltung.

Sir Alistair states that by autumn 1944 Heidegger “had fallen so far from favour with the Nazi hierarchy that he was humiliatingly drafted into the Volkssturm (a sort of Nazi Home Guard)…” This also is misleading. In October 1944, Hitler ordered the call-up of all men aged between 16 and 60 who were capable of physical labour. Heidegger was drafted along with myriad others. Unlike the others, however, a letter for Heidegger’s release from these duties was sent on his behalf by Eugen Fischer, Germany’s leading eugenicist. Further, it is worth noting that as late as mid-1943, Heidegger remained so much in favour with the hierarchy that the Ministry of Education sanctioned a delivery of paper to publish some of his lectures, and later that year, even authorised him to travel to Strasbourg on vacation.

Sir Alistair states about Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism that he “realised he had made a terrible choice [and] tried to recover from the consequences.” This is nonsense. In May 1934 – shortly after Heidegger’s resignation as rector – the Commission for the Philosophy of Law was established by Hans Frank. Members of the commission were chosen by Frank and included Heidegger, Julius Streicher and Alfred Rosenberg. Frank, Streicher and Rosenberg were all leading Nazis, and all were executed in 1946 for war crimes. Heidegger loathed Streicher, as did many Nazis, but he remained a member of the commission until at least 1936. It is further worth noting that Heidegger remained a member of the Party after promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws of September and November 1935. These laws institutionalised antisemitism and effected the complete disenfranchisement of Jews from German citizenship. In summary, then, Heidegger was still consorting with leading Nazis three years after his election as rector of Freiburg University and even after promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws. When these facts are set alongside Heidegger’s long-term party membership, his refusal to recant his Nazism, and his silence over the Holocaust, it is clear that Heidegger was a radical Nazi, not a reluctant one.

David Clarke, Hobart, Tasmania


Hi Literacy

Dear Editor: I was quite pleased to read, ‘I Re-Read, Therefore I Understand’ by Kimberly Blessing in Issue 94. As I am not a ‘student’ of philosophy, I was pleased to find that within Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy the steps one should take when reading philosophy are exactly what I have been doing: To read philosophy articles, published journals and philosophers’ writings over and over until they become clear. Little did I know I was following the advice of such a great philosopher as Descartes. Seemed like common sense to me. Descartes’ approach to reaching everyone has indeed reached me. If I can eventually ‘get it’, there is, without doubt, hope for everyone.

The author of this article rightly says ‘It’s not an easy, passive activity’. I have taken up reading philosophy because it is difficult. Somehow it helps organize my brain; and then I apply this better focus to all sorts of reading, accomplished through extreme concentration. And I have a whole new vocabulary and a list of philosophers’ ‘primary texts’ I enjoy reading. Philosophy Now has turned out to be my personal tutorial.

Cheryl Anderson, Kenilworth, Il


Low Literacy

Dear Editor: Reading Thomas Rodham’s views on Jane Austen’s ethics in Issue 94 was mostly interesting. I did however cavil at his view that Austen “doesn’t meet contemporary literary standards” as her characters “do not have the subtle psychological realism of modern novelists.” If this were true, neither probably do those of Tolstoy or Virginia Woolf. It’s a familiar modern moan, that only today’s standards have real value, often translated as ‘the Simpsons are more reflective of, and so more relevant to modern life, than Shakespeare.’ But even more off the mark is Rodham’s belief that plot in real/modern novels is driven by the characters. Even if true in some modern novels, this omits one of the cornerstones of real life, namely, the vagaries of chance that even fully expressed modern characters must sometimes put up with, even when they think they are driving the plot forward.

Howard Dewhirst, Burleigh Heads, Australia


Tallis Through The Looking Glass

Dear Editor: As Raymond Tallis discusses in ‘Draining the River and Quivering the Arrow’, Issue 95, in order to measure the flow of time we need something not caught up in that flow. The paradox is that to measure time, we need a device outside of time itself. Clocks are our attempt to achieve this, and they work using cyclical processes (the cycle of the planets, mechanical movements of pendulums, or the oscillations of atoms) whose repetitions are largely unaffected by the everyday flux of events.

If we now consider our subjective experience of time, we also need a component of our being unchanged by the flux of events processed by our minds. I only perceive the flow of time because I am not part of it. Or, what T.S. Eliot describes as “the still point of the turning world” is the essential rock of psychological stability about which the flux of events ebb and flow. This timeless being is not of course eternal, since eventually we are overwhelmed by the flux. However, while it is present, we have this stable timeless (and using similar arguments, spaceless) entity I call myself.

When the passage of time is derived from this perspective, the philosophical errors causing the issues described by Tallis are exposed. They have occurred because we have misplaced the actual source of time to an object called a clock, when the real source is me. Clock time now takes its subservient place as a projection of our interior timeless state onto the temporal world. The practical advantage of clocks is we can all coordinate our actions for our mutual benefit. The philosophical error occurs when we try to derive our subjective experience of time from what that is merely a socially useful projection of that experience.

Dr Steve Brewer, St Ives, Cornwall


Dear Editor: Regarding Raymond Tallis’s column on time in Issue 95: Time is a notion conceived from our observations of changes of condition: lightning, rain, puddles evaporating, sunrise – a host of different forms. Some events – pendulums, springs, atomic vibrations – we assume repeat invariably. This ‘fact’ provides us with the means to compare all types of changes in units accurately standardised to the distance light travels in them, although they themselves derive from the nearly-regular Earth cycles of rotation and orbit.

We detect our surroundings using sensory information. A clock bell chimes across the meadow but is heard significantly after the hammer strikes. The further away, the more delay. Visually, this applies to the clock face also, in nanoseconds. We each have a unique Temporama surrounding us: the further we look, the longer ago. What we view now is a stream of light-data about events elsewhere, providing no certain knowledge of the when of any event, unless we know how far away it occurred.

Astronauts’ radio messages from the Moon took just over a second to reach Earth: reception of our replies was similarly delayed. Doesn’t such symmetry suggest a common Now for both Earth and Moon? Doesn’t this also imply a Cosmos-wide Now? And if far-off galaxies shine anciently from their positions at the time their light we now see set out, in a Cosmic Now, what is happening to them Now (and where)?

Arthur Morris, Eastbourne


Dear Editor: I would like to respond to the article Raymond Tallis wrote on Damien Hirst in Issue 93. I can understand his frustration with Hirst’s art, and with the market such art is benefiting from. However, it looks to me as if Tallis misses the most important point – which is that fine art, as indeed literature, music, and any other form of expression, is the child of its culture. Thus in our History of Visual Culture we say that in the period from the end of the Roman Empire to the early Renaissance, for instance, human beings did not lose the ability to do art like the Greeks or the Romans; rather they were not concerned in making art like that, as they were under different cultural influences. However, in Renaissance times Classical culture re-emerged, for various cultural reasons.

Similarly, to me the art of today should be analysed as being a product of the culture of today. Ours is a culture dictated, one might say, by consumerism in general. That is what Hirst’s art/phenomena represents. In particular, the cultural trends of today (and perhaps of any era) are sponsored and so ‘imposed’ by the wealthy, who, having plenty of money, can decide what goes on paper, in books, into exhibitions, on TV, and so on. This happens while those who do not have money and time at their disposal watch opportunities to develop their talent disappear behind their day-to-day jobs, behind their struggle to survive. In fact, the latter will have few possibilities to do things against a culture that doesn’t represent them properly. But I guess that everybody reading this would agree that not everyone who writes best-selling books, for instance, are the best artists in their field. At the same time, not all those who do not influence culture, because of not having enough money and/or time, lack the talent to make good art. In fact their ideas may be better than those promoted by the rich. This is the paradox of human culture: sometimes those who have the teeth do not have the bread, and vice versa. But hey, perhaps this is just the sad reality: the wealthy are the ones who will impose culture, unless one is ready to fight cultural battles with little support. So I cannot really understand why Tallis is puzzled by Hirst’s success, when such an artist clearly adapts to, and is sponsored by, the whim-driven rich. It’s all part of the cultural milieu of our times.

Fabio Copponi, London


More Fallacies

Dear Editor: Oscar Pearson’s letter on the moral responsibility of individual versus collective carbon emissions in Issue 94 begs correction. His argument is a variation of the ‘fallacy of composition’. This fallacy is inferring that, since an individual component on its own is not a problem, then it isn’t part of a problem when all components are added together. Kudos to Pearson for pointing out an environmental obstacle invisible to BBC’s Total Wipeout producers in awarding him a free trans-Atlantic trip. But will St Peter deduct points for his accepting the trip, leaving him to ponder eternally the harm to future generations of carbon dioxide’s ‘long tail’, to which tail he has contributed by flying, even if his contribution is insignificant?

Peter Shepherd, Toronto

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