Traditional Philosophy

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“If it’s asked how any knowledge is known to be true, proof may be provided. Yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that there are only three options in this situation:

The trilemma is the (perennial) decision among these three (unsatisfying) options.” [1]

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“In ordinary life, we encounter many representations ― signs and symbols that stand for something else, such as maps, blueprints, menus, stories ― the list is very long. In all these cases, the representation isn’t the same as what it stands for. We don’t literally drive on the map, nor do we eat the text on the menu.

Philosophers, computer scientists, and psychologists usually distinguish between two broad types of representations, the analogical and the symbolic. Analogical representations capture some of the actual features of what they represent. Symbolic representations, in contrast, bear no such relationship to the item they stand for.

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[2]

Consider a drawing of a mouse. The drawing consists, of course, of marks on paper, while the actual mouse is flesh and blood. In this sense, the drawing represents a mouse rather than actually being one. Even so, the drawing has many similarities to the creature it represents ― color, form, etc. This is an example of an analogical representation. In contrast, consider the word ‘mouse’. Unlike a drawing, the word in no way resembles the mouse. It’s an abstract representation, and the relation between those five letters and the little animal that they represent is entirely arbitrary. This is an example of a symbolic representation.” [Gleitman, Reisberg, & Gross]

“Though, an important exception to that principle of arbitrariness is onomatopoeia.” [3]

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[4]

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A priori can be thought to mean ‘discoverable from an armchair’.” [5]

For example, two a priori truths about chess are that neither player can move their queen on the first turn, and that no checkmate can occur when both players are down to only their kings. On the other hand, two a posteriori truths about chess are that “king’s pawn to e4 is the most commonly played opening move for white, and that the en passant capture rule was added in the 15th century.” [6]

Empirical:..based on observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic (in essence, a synonym for ‘a posteriori’)” [7]

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These two distinctions also mirror Hume’s fork:

[8]

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Induction can also be defined as generalizing about the properties of a class of objects based observations of particular instances of that class (such as the inference that ‘all swans we’ve seen are white, therefore, all swans are white’, before the discovery of black swans), or presupposing that events in the future will occur as they always have in the past (such as the inference that ‘the sun has risen every morning thus far, therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow’).”i[9]

“The truths of logic and pure mathematics are necessary, a priori, analytic, deductive, and certain. The truths of natural science are contingent (for the most part), a posteriori, empirical, inductive, and (highly) probable.” [10]

“The propositions of natural science are subject to revision according to new evidence or better interpretation of evidence (fallibalism). What’s perhaps the most famous example of this is Einstein’s transcendence of Newton. In this way, science tends to converge asymptotically on truth. [11]

“The scientific method itself is considered by some to be a priori.” [12]

“Perhaps the most important example of a priori knowledge that isn’t purely logical is knowledge regarding ethical value ― though, I’m hesitant to use the term ‘knowledge’ in this context.” [Bertrand Russell]

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“The only absolutely certain truths are true analytic propositions and the synthetic proposition, ‘Something exists.’” [11]

I’ve never heard anyone else say this before, and I’m not sure if I ultimately agree with it, but it’s always stuck with me. I like the idea that everything in one category has a certain property, but only one thing in the other category does.

Also, you’d think he would’ve said that the only certain synthetic proposition is, “I exist,” in the spirit of Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am.” However, he specifically rejects this idea, reasoning that, “The ‘I’ could be illusory.” 

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Category:  one of our basic conceptions ― the (broadest) classes into which things can be divided” [13]

“It’s widely supposed that every entity is either concrete or abstract. The distinction is supposed to be of fundamental significance, and yet there’s no standard account of how it should be drawn ― though there’s a great deal of agreement about how to classify certain paradigm cases. It’s universally acknowledged that numbers and the other objects of pure mathematics are abstract, whereas rocks and trees and human beings are concrete. Some more clear cases of abstract objects are classes, propositions, concepts, the letter ‘A’, and Dante’s Inferno. Some more clear cases of concrete objects are stars, protons, electromagnetic fields, the chalk letter ‘A’ written on a blackboard, and James Joyce’s copy of Dante’s Inferno.” [14]

“Ideas and concepts are considered to be either abstract objects and/or mental representations.” [15]

“Ideas exist materially as patterns of neural structure and activity.” [16]

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“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained inquiry.” [Voltaire]

“All truths are easy to understand once they’re discovered; the point is to discover them.” [Galileo]

“Like so many ideas of major importance, it appears obvious once stated, but had never been obvious before.” [17]

Popper’s Falsifiability Principle:  A theory can be scientific only if it’s falsifiable.” [18]

“All we can do is search for the inaccuracies of our best theory.” [18] And then revise it accordingly to try to improve it.

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“We’re tempted to say such things as, ‘The aroma of coffee is indescribable.’ But this is mistaken.

Is it true that we can’t describe the aroma of coffee? After all, we can say that the aroma in the coffee shop is fresh, well-roasted, rich, and delicious, that the aroma of the old coffee in the coffee-jar is faint and stale, or that the aroma of this coffee is fresher, richer, better roasted than the aroma of that coffee. Such a description may be insufficient to enable unerring identification, but that doesn’t imply that it’s not a description.

Of course, one might say that words can’t convey the quite particular character of the aroma of coffee. It’s true that words are no substitute for what they represent. In this case, a description of the aroma of coffee is no substitute for the aroma itself. It’s also true that a description is no substitute for acquaintance. No matter how well something is described, one can’t properly appreciate it unless one experiences it. But that’s no peculiarity of the smell of coffee or other analogous, supposedly ineffable sensations. Words can’t convey the beauty of van Gogh’s Starry Night or the horrors of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son ― you must see them for yourself.” [19]

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“Logical Positivism:..Meaningful propositions must be either logically provable or empirically verifiable.” [20]

Here’s how I think of the key insight of logical positivism. We understand what it means to talk about (and have a widely agreed upon decision procedure for determining) truth in both the realm of logic/mathematics and the realm of natural science. But for propositions outside of these two categories, it’s not clear what it means for them to be true or false, or that the notion of truth can even be meaningfully applied. And this has consequences for ethical, aesthetic, and certain unfalsifiable metaphysical claims.

“Logical positivism is considered by many to be self-refuting, since, ‘Meaningful propositions must be either logically provable or empirically verifiable,’ is held to true, even though it’s neither logically provable nor empirically verifiable.”i[16]

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“The good and the true are sometimes spoken of as independent kingdoms, the former belonging to ethics, while the latter belongs to the sciences.”  [Bertrand Russell]

In this context, ‘the sciences’ refers to the whole of logic, mathematics, and natural science.

“In ethics, a great deal of confusion results from the use of the one word, ‘good’, for both 1) the sort of conduct which is right (or ethical or moral or virtuous), and 2) the sort of things which ought to exist on account of their intrinsic value, and are desirable in themselves and not as a means to something else.” [Bertrand Russell]

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Hume’s Guillotine:  There seems to be a significant difference between factual statements (such as those of logic, math, and science) and ethical statements (those that invoke the notion of morally good/bad or right/wrong), and it’s not obvious what the relationship between them is.” [21]

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The Fact-Value Distinction:  a fundamental distinction between ‘statements of fact’, which are based purely upon reason and empirical observation, and ‘statements of value’, which contain an element of liking/disliking or approval/disapproval, and encompass ethics and aesthetics”i[22]

Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty. In the same way ethics studies the good, aesthetics studies the beautiful.” [23]

“The fact-value distinction is closely related to, and derived from, Hume’s guillotine.” [22] The fact-value distinction is more general, applying to matters of taste as well ethics.

“Virtually all modern philosophers affirm some sort of fact-value distinction, insofar as they distinguish between the sciences and valued disciplines such as ethics, aesthetics, and the arts.” [22]

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“No ethical system has ever achieved consensus. Ethics is completely unlike mathematics or science.” [Daniel Dennett]

[Pannenkoek] “So we have three data points: math, science, and ethics. What else is there?” You could include logic if you don’t already consider it to be included as part of math. You could also include aesthetics. Logic would fall under facts, and aesthetics would fall under values, alongside ethics. I think this relates to what Wittgenstein meant by, “Ethics and aesthetics are one.”

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Existentialism holds that moral thinking and scientific thinking together don’t suffice to understand human existence, and that some further set of categories is necessary to do so.” [25]

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“Perceived things in the world can be regarded as either physical or mental depending on whether one is interested in their relationship to other things in the world or their relationship to the perceiver. For example, a spot of red paint on a wall is physical in its dependence on the wall and the pigment of which it’s made, but it’s mental in so far as its perceived redness depends on the workings of the visual system.” [26]

“There’s a famous breach between two languages of discourse: the subjective language and the objective language ― for instance, the ‘subjective’ sensation of redness, and the ‘objective’ wavelength of red light. To many people, these seem to be forever irreconcilable. However, I don’t think so. The subjective feeling of redness comes from self-perception in the brain, inside the system; the objective wavelength of red light is how you see things when you step back, outside of the system.” [Hofstadter]

“The whole dichotomy of mental and physical is a mistake. There’s only one kind of ‘stuff’ out of which the world is made, and it’s called mental from one perspective and physical from another.” [Bertrand Russell]

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[Pannenkoek] “The difference between a physical and a mental view of reality reminds me of the difference between Cartesian coordinates and polar coordinates.

[27]

The Cartesian coordinate plane is composed of uniform squares, and so no point is regarded as special. This is much like how the physical view of the world regards the human mind as just a group of particles, no more special than any other group of particles.

In contrast, the polar coordinate plane is composed of radiating lines and concentric circles, and so everything stems from or revolves around the central point. This is much like how the mental view of the world regards the human mind as the central point, wherein all experience stems from and revolves around yourself. Furthermore, just like how the intersections between lines are more concentrated near the central point, your own perceptions and knowledge are more concentrated in the areas closest to you.”

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“From the third-person perspective, consciousness is reducible to relations between physical objects; and from the first-person perspective, physical objects are reducible to relations between different states of consciousness; and neither point of view is more ultimate than the other.” [28] This seems like a strange loop.

You could say that, more generally, materialism (that reality is ultimately physical) and idealism (that reality is ultimately mental/experiential) form a strange loop.

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“I haven’t yet defined the term ‘physical’. Obviously it doesn’t apply just to what can be described by the concepts of contemporary physics, since we expect further developments. Many people think there’s nothing to prevent mental phenomena from eventually being recognized as physical in their own right. However, perhaps mental-physical relations will eventually be expressed in a theory whose fundamental terms can’t be placed clearly in either category.” [Hofstadter]

“We all fluctuate delicately between a subjective and objective view of the world, and this quandary is central to human nature.” [Hofstadter]

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“Confusion of representation with the thing itself is the cardinal philosophical sin.” [29]

“Good philosophical thinking is a matter of proper use of categories.” [30]

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Citations

  1. Wikipedia’s Münchhausen Trilemma article
  2. KidArtX
  3. Noah Hermalin & various sources
  4. Brian Magee & Wikipedia’s Hume’s Fork article
  5. (source lost)
  6. Brian Magee & Wikipedia’s Inductive Reasoning article
  7. (original source unknown)
  8. Wikipedia’s En Passant article & various sources
  9. Wikipedia’s Problem of Induction article
  10. (various sources)
  11. Brain Holtz
  12. (source lost)
  13. Brian Magee
  14. S.E.P.’s Abstract Objects article
  15. (source lost)
  16. Wikipedia’s Self-Refuting Idea article
  17. (source lost)
  18. Karl Popper
  19. Peter Hacker
  20. Wikipedia’s Logical Positivism article & Brian Holtz
  21. Wikipedia’s Is-Ought Problem article
  22. Wikipedia’s Fact-Value Distinction article
  23. Wikipedia’s Aesthetics article & various sources
  24. (various sources)
  25. S.E.P.’s Existentialism article
  26. Wikipedia’s Mind article
  27. chegg.com
  28. T. S. Elliot
  29. Quine
  30. Itzik Basman

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