Lectures on Philosophy

If you want to listen to lectures on philosophy, there is a set of lectures given by Hank Green which are as good — if not better — than those given in a college. One reason for their quality is that these lectures have been edited, so they come off as polished presentations. [This can be appreciated by looking at some of the outtakes.]

Here is the Crash Course Philosophy List. There seem to be 46 lectures.


However, just because these lectures are good or even better of their kind — I mean as lectures; classroom lectures are better in one respect. They allow the audience to ask for clarification and allow for criticism.

And, indeed, these internet lectures need clarifications and are subject to criticism.

I will offer one such criticism of the lecture on compatibilism.

Compatibilism is the thesis that determinism and free will are compatible claims. However, before even offering to clarify what is meant by “free will,” the lecturer moves rather quickly to the question of responsibility. These, as I see it, are distinct issues. By not offering a clarification of “free will,” the lecturer muddles the issue.

Doing something freely (or of one’s free will) is to be contrasted with being forced to do something by another person. This is the kind of freedom which is sought by all human beings, and is dramatically illustrated by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart, screaming for freedom:

My primary concern is to stay alive, and I can do this if I am free (from someone) forbidding me from taking up subsistence land.

Imagine a person, Friday, on an island foraging for food. He is free from the commands, whims, and brute force of another person.

Then comes Robinson Crusoe who subdues Friday and shackles him to a tree. Friday is no longer free. He is shackled so his limbs are not free, and he is no longer free from the dictates of Crusoe.

What does this predicament of Friday have to do with whether all of this or any of this situation is determined by natural forces? Whether you are a determinist or an indeterminist in science, is irrelevant to Friday’s plight. In this sense, free will is compatible with both determinism and indeterminism because whether Friday is free from the whims of Crusoe is a different question.

Incidentally, this question of the freedom of some people from the dictates of others (which is at the bottom of the capitalist, socialist, and anarchist debates) is for some reason excluded from these internet lectures.

Responsibility

As to the question of responsibility, one could start with actual legal law. Take a case of one person being accussed of killing another person. In law this is called manslaughter, but whether this manslaughter warrants to be called murder is a complex matter. Even with murder the law makes a distinction of degrees.

There are two very enlightening articles on this topic written by John Austin: “A Plea for Excuses” and “Three Ways of Spilling Ink.”


Objection to my position

Someone may justifiably object to my criticism by claiming that it is an evasion from the problem as stated. Well, what is the problem as stated? In terms of the Friday/Crusoe situation, the question is whether Friday — before the entry of Crusoe on the scene — acts freely, in some other sense.

OK, I did not address myself to making sense of this question, and if the term “compatibilism” is used as an answer to this question, then when I used the term “compatibilism,” it was to answer a different question. Let us, then distinguish, “compatibilism (1)” for the former, and “compatibilism (2)” for the latter.

Dangers of Human Overpopulation

Ever since Thomas Malthus, we know that population growth is exponential, while the source of food from using the land is arithmetic. At the site worldmeter, it is reported that the world population in 1800 was 1 billion, in 1930 it became 2 billion, in 1974 it became 4 billion. Currently in 2021, it is nearly 7.9 billion.

The main and imminent danger from overpopulation and its effects is the destruction of the ecosystem. This means a disruption of climate, sea rises, pollution, species extinction.

Another effect is a depletion of resources — primarily food and water. And, as Jared Diamond noticed, the killings in Rwanda were not just due to ethnic hatred, but also due to a scarcity of subsistence land. [See, Jared Diamond, “Malthus in Africa: Rwanda’s Genocide,” Collapse, 2005]

Adding overpopulation and scarcity of resources to war and violence, the result is massive migrations of people into Europe and into the United States.

Today, on facebook, I was reminded of experiments done with mice and rats in overpopulated conditions (with adequate food and water) on behavior patterns which lead to extinction. I remember reading in the Scientific American in 1962, John Calhoun’s article “Population Density and Social Pathology.”

The one that today caught my attention is the experiment of John B. Calhoun; variously called “mouse utopia,” “behavioral sink,” and “universe 25.” Here is the account of the experiment:

See also: What Humans Can Learn from Calhoun’s Rodent Utopia

Who to read in philosophy concerning knowledge and what exists?

I would read a dialectical philosopher. By this I mean a philosopher who has examined the claims and arguments of previous philosophers and has come to his own conclusions. If you had lived at any time up to the 16th century, you should and would have read Aristotle and his commentators, such as Aquinas, Maimonides, and Averroes. But after the discoveries of Galileo in the 17th century there occurred a scientific revolution in physics and astronomy culminating in the work of Newton. And the philosopher to read then was Locke in England, and Descartes in France. The former was an empiricist; the latter a rationalist, whose position was developed by Leibniz. And Hume had presented a major challenge to empiricism. Well, these two strands of empiricism and rationalism were critically examined and readjusted by Immanuel Kant. So, contemporary philosophy (i.e., epistemology and ontology) must now take into account Kant and any advances in science.

So, the question is: which author has competently taken into account this stream of philosophy? My first stab would be to read Bertrand Russell, especially his The History of Western Philosophy (1945). But a second, and an improved reading would be to read everything written by C. D. Broad. Why? Because Russell remained an empiricist, while Broad had absorbed Kant, while still critically having surveyed the history of philosophy. [See my: Philosophical Alternatives from C.D. Broad]

There is an outstanding philosopher — Wilfrid Sellars. [See my: Problems from Wilfrid Sellars] But I would not recommend reading Sellars to a novice because he is too technical. He assumes a knowledge of current technical philosophical literature. He can be appreciated only by professional philosophers. However, several books have now been published with the intention of making him more accessible to a wider audience. Wilfrid Sellars was trying to come to grips with Kantian themes, as have many other Kantian scholars.

One such outstanding Kantian scholar is Robert Paul Wolff, who published his findings in the book Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity (1963). His lectures on Kant, given in 2016, are available on youtube, and I recommend them. Here they are:

Lecture 1

Lecture 2

Lecture 3

Lecture 4

Lecture 5

Lecture 6

Lecture 7

Lecture 8

Lecture 9

As a caveat, I just want to point out that neither Sellars nor Wolff had available to them C. D. Broad’s book: Kant. The reason is that Broad had written out his Kant lectures in 1950-52, and this manuscript was only published by C. Lewy in 1978.

Also see: Kant and Building a Robot

Controversial subjects should be learned through dialogues and debates

Reflecting on my own learning experience, I do not remember learning much of anything (with exceptions) about controversial matters such as politics, religion, or ethics from listening to lectures. But I have learned more from participating in and listening to dialogues and debates.

Listening to a lecture — given either to a small audience such as in a typical classroom, or to a large audience such as in a public lecture — at best, one learns the opinions of the lecturer; but one does not learn the merits of such opinions unless they are subject to criticism by a person of at least equal competence. I, therefore, recommend that all controversial matters taught in schools be conducted by two competent persons with incompatible positions.

Historically, such an approach was dramatically illustrated by Plato’s dialogues, as well as by Aristotle in some of his writings, and more so by Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. But these are imaginary or opinionated dialogues. What is needed is to witness real disputes.

As illustrations, let me offer the following debates available on the internet as examples.

The first one is a BBC radio debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston in 1948:

Here is a transcript of the debate: A Debate on the Argument from Contingency

The second debate is between Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz at Democracy Now in 2003 on the Palestine-Israel conflict:

Here is my take on this debate and its aftermath: Andrew Chrucky, Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities, 2007.

The third debate is between Richard Wolff and Gene Epstein on Socialism vs Capitalism in 2019.

Here is my partial commentary: Richard Wolff’s failed definition of capitalism

The fourth debate is between Tucker Carlson and Cenk Uygur on immigration in 2018.

Here are my Comments on the Cenk Uygur and Tucker Carlson “debate”

The fifth: Sir Roger Penrose and William Lane Craig: How to combine the physical realm, the mental realm, and the abstract realm?

My last illustration is the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph on the merits of capitalism: Andrew Chrucky’s annotated commentary on the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement about the free market system, which took place on September 23, 2013.

Immanuel Kant and Building a Robot

Every time I read about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, I keep thinking that what Kant is describing is a set of problems to be dealt with in building a robot; although, of course, he is talking about human beings.

As I was looking for anyone else who has a similar outlook, I came across the following video:

Here is a link in Wikipedia to: Richard Evans


And below is a talk which I think is also relevant: Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | Anil Seth

Philosophy as philosophizing

Recently I was introduced by Jacob Feldman to a video and a corresponding article by Eric Dietrich who poses the question: “Is there progress in philosophy?” And his answer is that there is not.

He does not tell us what philosophy is, though he selects some allegedly philosophical problems and some metaphilosophical positions as examples of unresolvable philosophical disputes.

I want you to listen to him and read his article. Afterwards I will give you my commentary.

Erich Dietrich, “There Is No Progress in Philosophy, Essays in Philosophy, 12:329-344 (2011).

Commentary:

The first thing that I would like to say is that his view of philosophy is too narrow or myopic. The broader view is that philosophy is really “philosophizing.” It is an activity whose goal is to resolve disputes and hopefully to come to agreements. This activity is called by Mortimer J. Adler “dialectic.” See his book: Dialectic (1927). A related approach can be called “critical philosophy,” as presented by C.D. Broad in “Critical and Speculative Philosophy,” Contemporary British Philosophy (1924): 77-100.

See also my: The Aim of Liberal Education (2003)

As with any activity, a critical discussion can be done with various degrees of proficiency. In this sense, there can be progress in the acquisition of such a proficiency.

As to solving problems, I will mention some which have been solved.

The first is the clarification that existence is not a predicate. This solution has been attributed to Kant, but there are better modern expositions. And since this matter is relevant to an argument for God’s existence, see: C. D. Broad, “The Validity of Belief in a Personal God,” Hibbert Journal 24 (1925): 32-48.

The second concerns the credibility of miracles. See: C. D. Broad, “Hume’s theory of the credibility of miracles,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 17 (1916-1917), pp. 77-94.

The third concerns the problem of a free will and determinism. The solution consists of reframing the problem as contrasting doing something freely with being coerced to do something. This solution is referred as “compatibilism.”

In short, there has been progress in philosophy in discarding superstitions and the cobwebs of language.

Further Commentary:

1. He takes Aristotle as a “paradigm?” philosopher. But is Aristotle a philosopher because he has scientific speculations? Aristotle, qua scientist was wrong about many things. And, Aristotle qua philosopher has also been criticised by other philosophers, and if these other philosophers are correct, then philosophical speculation has indeed advanced.

2. As an example of philosophy not having resolved any philosophical problems, he assumes that as to the question whether there is a God or not, there is no solution. Here he is wrong. The fact that there are people who disagree, what does that show? Can their reasoning be evaluated? Yes, relative to some agreed to standards, such as non-contradiction and compatibility with the findings of science. I pose to you the problem of finding fault with the reasoning of C. D. Broad, “The Validity of Belief in a Personal God,” Hibbert Journal 24 (1925): 32-48.

3. On the assumption that philosophy does not progress, he cites three philosophers who try to answer why this is so: Colin McGinn, Thomas Nagel, and James Sterba. By my lights, the assumption is wrong. But it does not exclude the intractability of some sorts of questions.

John Locke on escaping from bullshit

“. . . The commonwealth of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty designs, in advancing the sciences, will leave lasting monuments to the admiration of posterity: but every one must not hope to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge;– which certainly had been very much more advanced in the world, if the endeavours of ingenious and industrious men had not been much cumbered with the learned but frivolous use of uncouth, affected, or unintelligible terms, introduced into the sciences, and there made an art of, to that degree that Philosophy, which is nothing but the true knowledge of things, was thought unfit or incapable to be brought into well-bred company and polite conversation. Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard and misapplied words, with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge. To break in upon the sanctuary of vanity and ignorance will be, I suppose, some service to human understanding; though so few are apt to think they deceive or are deceived in the use of words; or that the language of the sect they are of has any faults in it which ought to be examined or corrected, that I hope I shall be pardoned if I have in the Third Book dwelt long on this subject, and endeavoured to make it so plain, that neither the inveterateness of the mischief, nor the prevalency of the fashion, shall be any excuse for those who will not take care about the meaning of their own words, and will not suffer the significancy of their expressions to be inquired into…..”

(John Locke, Epistle to the Reader, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689)

The Social Contract and Its Mismanagement

The social contract is the idea that morality and political arrangements are to be justified by social agreements. And I totally agree with this. This is the ideal of anarchism.

I suppose that the original historical source of this idea is from the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in which the Hebrews make a covenant (agreement) with God. God gives them 10 rules by which they are to live, and if they do so, they will be rewarded in heaven. Except if the deal is not accepted, they go to hell. Not quite a free agreement, ey!

For the heyday of social contract theories, see the Wikipedia entry for: Social contract

In an earlier blog, I pointed out the mismanagement of the social contract by John Rawls: Too much amnesia in the Original Position of John Rawls.

And in a still earlier blog, I pointed out the mismanagement of Rousseau’s social contract by Ian Shapiro: (2) Further commentary on Ian Shapiro’s course: “Moral Foundations of Politics”.

In this blog I will point out how Immanuel Kant mismanaged the social contract.

There has been a great deal of effort (exegesis) to tease out of Kant a coherent proposal for grounding morality — with no positive results. And the reason for Kant’s failure is easily explained, but the reason for this failure has, as far as I know, eluded everyone.

What has not been noticed is that the social contract is between “rational beings.” And these “rational beings” are God, angels, and the human noumenal self (=soul). And besides being rational beings — and this is the missed part by all commentators: they are all IMMORTAL!

And whatever the rules which are agreed to by these immortals, must apply to all of them. The fact that the (human) soul is attached to a human body is a peculiarity of interest only to humans. If a universal rule is to be adopted for all concerned, it cannot be a rule serving only a particular interest of humans, such as not to die.

I could go on and point out the consequences of this line of thinking, but I will not. I will simply say that Kant’s ethics is grounded in science fiction.

Philosophy as Hermeneutics

As Curt Ducasse pointed out in Philosophy as a Science (1941), there are many conceptions of the nature of philosophy. And there is one which I would like to focus on: philosophy as hermeneutics.

The conception of hermeneutics which I want to focus on is the techniques for the interpretation of the Christian Bible. It is taken for granted (assumed) that the Bible is the word of God, revealed to some individuals. As such, because God is conceived as not a liar, everything in the Bible is taken to be true. However, there are passages which seem to say falsehoods and seem to be contradictory. So, techniques of interpretation are introduced in such a manner as to make the Bible speak only the truth. Look at the Wikipedia articles: hermeneutics and Biblical hermeneutics.

When I read philosophical writings, many of them seem to be written in the same reverential manner as the writings of theologians. They want or assume that the author wrote in a sensible manner and wrote the truth, and they do hermeneutical acrobatics to make it so.

The curious fact is that the authors chosen for such hermeneutical exercises are authors who are on the face of it totally esoterically obscure. And the authors who are clear are ignored. See my discussion at: C. D. Broad: The Default Philosopher of the Century.

On Richard Wolff and worker-owned enterprises

Richard Wolff focuses on the issue of what is called, “exploitation.” This is the fact that, for example, a factory owner, or a CEO of some corporation receives an income many times greater than an employee. This greater income is due to receiving the “surplus value” or “profit” from an enterprise.

Wolff’s proposal is to legally convert private enterprises [I take it of some large size] into worker-owned enterprises on the model of the Mondragon enterprise in Spain.

Wolff is trying to satisfy a principle of equality in outcome.

I, in contradistinction, am not driven by any principle of an equality of outcome, but rather I am driven by a principle for an equality of opportunity. I want a universal right for access to subsistence, and I see this demand being satisfied by allowing everyone a right of free access to subsistence land.

Thus, I do not propose barring free enterprises, nor exploitation, nor surpluses, nor profits. In my arrangement, a private entrepreneur could actually be beneficial to those who cannot help themselves, i.e., those who cannot survive independently, but can do so by being directed.

And concerning those who can help themselves independently, the entrepreneur will have to lure them with a reward which is greater than that which they could eke out by their own efforts, or efforts of those who have combined in some co-operative manner. In other words, he will be compelled by the circumstances to minimize his profits. Thus, Wolff’s desire for eliminating “exploitation” in factories will tend to be achieved by my proposal.

In my thought experiment with Crusoe and Friday on an island, I imagined that they agreed to a division of the island into two equal parts, but that Crusoe possessed a rifle with bullets, and that the island had many feral pigs. Crusoe would let Friday use the gun on the condition that Friday share his kills with Crusoe.

Since this arrangement was better than what Friday could manage on his own without a rifle, he agreed to the deal. This is an example of an agreed to exchange where Crusoe is “exploiting” Friday. But this is not an example of capitalism because Friday is not forced to accept the deal at the cost of starvation (by not having free access subsistence land), because, after all, he still can hunt pigs with a spear, a bow, or some form of trap. It is simply that he can more easily shoot two pigs in a much shorter time than it would take to get even one pig by an alternative method.

We can generalize from this example to say that Crusoe will be “rewarded” if he can come up with some appealing invention or idea — including some form of entertainment. [As does Wilt Chamberlain in Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974)] But the reward will tend to be short-lived. For example, Friday could — hypothetically speaking — make his own rifle and bullets. And someone else can become more entertaining than Wilt Chamberlain.

In our current society, there are patent laws, which ensure a monopoly and profits. On the island, there are no patent laws.