Perhaps the biggest radically unsolved problem about Part II of the Ethics is something that occurs in Part I, namely the definition of ‘attribute’ as ‘that which intellect perceives of substance as its essence’ (1d4). The term ‘intellect’ brings in just one of the attributes, namely thought, raising the question: A. What special privilege does thought have that entitles it to figure in the explanation of the..
Although we never made time to talk it out thoroughly, Margaret Wilson and I shared an interest in, and enthusiasm for, the tenth chapter in Locke’s Essay IV, entitled ‘Of Our Knowledge of the Existence of a GOD.’ In the present paper, written in sad tribute to her work and her person, I shall expound that deep, subtle, intricate, flawed chapter. While I shall evaluate its arguments as I go, I chiefly aim just to make clear what happens in those (...) nineteen sections, which I shall refer to by their numbers alone. They aim to show that ‘we are capable of knowing . . . that there is a GOD’ by cogently inferring this from secure premises. A god is any being that is ‘eternal, most powerful, and most knowing;’ given such a being, Locke adds laconically, ‘it matters not’ whether we call it God. This line of argument will be my topic in sections B through E. Two subsidiary themes in the chapter concern matter. One is this: given that there is a god, is it (or he) material or immaterial? Although he argues at length for God’s immateriality, Locke remarks in 13 that this in itself is of little moment. Someone with an otherwise correct theology is in good shape even if he wrongly thinks God to be made of matter - except, Locke adds, for a risk that he runs. Philosophers who are ‘devoted to matter,’ if they think God to be material, will comfortably conclude that everything is matter and will then ‘let slide out of their minds’ their theology, i.e. their view that the material world includes ‘an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being.’ Section 13 also argues that if the materialists do thus drift into atheism, ‘they destroy their own [materialist] hypothesis.’ This is too clever by half; it is neither well done nor instructive, and I shall not expound it. Some of the Chapter’s richest treasures concern God’s immateriality.. (shrink)
About thirty years ago I began studying Spinoza’s philosophy, especially as expressed in his Ethics. In these pages I shall describe some aspects of his thought, in the hope of making him sound worth the intermittent labor of three decades. The best reasons for finding him so absorbingly interesting lie in hard, technical details which cannot be presented here, but I hope I can say something from which an impression may emerge.
Great knowledge, skill, and judgment have gone into Allen Wood’s extraction from Kant’s texts, and partial defence, of a certain theory of freedom (see preceding essay). I shall later mention one respect in which I am not sure he has got Kant right, but otherwise the interpretation is flawless. I shall argue, however, that although it is worthwhile to identify Kant’s theory of freedom as Wood has helped us to do, the theory itself is worthless. I shall not list the (...) reasons that Wood anticipates being brought against the theory. I do have those too, being unconvinced that the concepts of noumenon and of timeless agency are really intelligible. When Kant says of a noumenon that “nothing happens in it” and yet that it “of itself begins its effects in the sensible world” (B 569), he implies that there is a making-begin which is not a happening; and I cannot understand that as anything but a contradiction. Kant himself has trouble relating timeless choices to the temporal world. On the one hand, “at the point in time when I act, I am never free” (KPV 94g 98e); on the other, “In the moment when he utters the lie, the guilt is entirely his” (B 585). Never mind. For present purpose I concede noumena, timeless agency, non-Humean causation - the lot. With all of that granted, the theory is still worthless. According to the theory, a free choice by my intelligible character causes me to have empirical character E. How can this be so, if there is also a deterministic causal explanation for my possession of E? How can a free choice cause this part of the natural causal chain without breaking the chain? Wood answers on Kant’s behalf that my intelligible choice causes not only my possession of E but also a complete natural causal history for my possession of E. Kant didn’t ever actually say this but Wood thinks that Kant’s theory “must” be construed in this way. I’m not sure that it must, but in the meantime I shall assume that it is. One significant fact about my character E is that I have beliefs about the Holocaust.. (shrink)
In his New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz presents an extended critical commentary on Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Leibniz read some of Locke’s work in English and then, a few years later, the whole of it in French, a language in which he was more comfortable. Over a period of about two further years, on and off, he wrote his New Essays, which he finished at about the time Locke died and which was not published until about half a (...) century after Leibniz’s death. (He left them unpublished partly because they had been motivated by a hope of getting Locke to reply, and Locke’s death put an end to that; though his character made it a forlorn hope in any case.) The New Essays has been an important work: for one thing, Kant read it on its first appearance, and scholars say that this was a decisive event in his philosophical development. Anyway, given that this is one of Leibniz’s only two philosophical works of substantial book length, in all the torrent that poured from his pen, and given also that it is focused - critically but with respect and careful attentiveness - on the greatest classic of English philosophy, it is surprising that the New Essays had to wait until 1981 for a usable English translation.1 In 1896 there was published a sort of translation by A. G. Langley;2 but it is inaccurate far beyond the bounds of normal incompetence, as well as being grimly unreadable for stylistic reasons. As Chesterton once said about The Origin of Species, it is surprising how many people think they have read it, but I'll bet that nobody alive has slogged through the Langley version from cover to cover. It is a pity that the work was not decently available in English for nearly three centuries, because even for those who can read the French of, say, Descartes, Leibniz’s French is difficult. He reserved his native German for writings on history and politics, using French and Latin for philosophy and mathematics; presumably French was chosen for the New Essays because Leibniz wanted to respond to a popular work by a popular work.. (shrink)
The topics to be covered in this chapter are as follows. (1) Locke’s acceptance of Descartes’s view that there is a radical separation, a perhaps unbridgeable gap, between the world’s mental and its physical aspects. Locke’s view of (2) the cognitive aspects and (3) the conative aspects of the mind. (4) What Locke said about the possibility that ‘matter thinks’, i.e. that the things that take up space are also the ones that have mental states. (5) The question of whether (...) all thought could be entirely caused by changes in the physical world. (6,7) What it is for a single mind to last through time. (8) What it is for a mind to exist at a time when it is not doing anything. (shrink)
Leibniz insists that any bodily event can be explained purely in terms of ‘mechanism’, meaning impact mechanics. The latter’s laws are all quasi-causal (Sleigh’s label) rather than causal; they describe patterns among events that are embedded in the universal harmony, and do not imply that any body acts on any other. When declaring how things must go in physics, Leibniz does not often remind us that his topic is quasi-causation, not real transeunt causation; but that is always his view. Similarly, (...) in those contexts he seldom reminds us that bodies are phenomenal rather than basically real; but in the mature years that is always his view too. (shrink)
Descartes bequeathed to his successors what he and they thought to be a sharp, deep split between the mental and the material. He thought it was a split between things, with every thing belonging to one of the two kinds and no thing belonging to both. According to him, a human being is a pair, a duo, a mind and a body; or, more strictly, a human being is a mind that is tightly related to an animal body. The exact (...) nature of that relation was one of the problems that Descartes never solved to his own satisfaction, let alone to anyone else’s. Not all of those who took over the split thought that it was a split through things. It was possible to hold - as I am sometimes inclined to - that material properties are radically different from mental properties, neither being reducible to the other, and yet there are single things, not pairs or duos or small committees, that have properties of both kinds. In the language of the 17th century, that is the belief that matter can think, i.e. that an item that bumps and shoves its way through space can also be the subject of thoughts and experiences and perceptions. In that century an impressive amount of intellectual energy went into debating whether matter could think. I’m going to pick out of that debate certain strands that I hope are still of interest today. They certainly interest me. Such understanding as I have of the philosophy of mind - I mean of what is actually true about mentality, not merely of the history of men’s opinions about it - has come from tracking some of the 17th century writers as they beat their way through the undergrowth. I don’t mean that they eventually led me to true conclusions, which I gratefully swallowed. They got most things wrong, I believe; but there is a lot to be learned from working out where they were wrong and why. (shrink)
When it is wrong to bring into existence someone who will be miserable, what makes it wrong is not the threat of misery hanging over the possible person, but rather the fact that if one does it there will be real misery for an actual person. This belongs in the same category as the wrongness of making a happy person miserable, or of failing to make a person less miserable than he is. These arc all matters of the (dis)utilities—the ill-fare (...) and welfare—of present and future actual people. (shrink)
In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke hints that he could explain how God may have created matter ex nihilo, but refrains from doing so. Leibniz, when he came upon this passage, pricked up his ears. There ensued a sequence of personal events which are not without charm and piquancy, and a sequence of philosophical events which are of some interest. In this paper we tell the tale.
In these notes, unadorned page numbers under 350 refer to Dennett (1987) - The Intentional Stance, hereafter referred to as Stance - and ones over 495 refer to Dennett (1988) - mostly to material by him but occasionally to remarks of his critics. Since the notes will focus on disagreements, I should say now that I am in Dennett’s camp and am deeply in debt to his work in the philosophy of mind, which I think is wider, deeper, more various (...) and more fruitful than mine or anyone else’s. Still, I have some ideas and emphases that I think he could profit from. In the final chapter of Stance Dennett compares his work with that of several others, including me. He sees me as having a position like his, the main difference being that I think (as he doesn’t) that our attributions of mental content can always be highly determinate (pp. 347f). In fact, there are differences between us but this isn’t one of them. I want to get this straight, so as to clear the decks for the positive points I am going to make. There is some indeterminacy and there could be lots of it; Dennett’s case for that is unanswerable. As for how much there actually is: I don’t know and don’t even suspect; there is simply no declared issue between Dennett and myself on that. Nor do we disagree on a related matter. If there is no evidence that settles whether the animal believes that P or believes that Q, should we say that nevertheless one of these is right, and it’s just that we can’t know which it is? Dennett says No. I perfectly agree. (shrink)
Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is primarily a display of conceptual interrelationships of the same logical kind as might occur in an academic work of analytic philosophy. Its pyrotechnic show of jokes, puns and cross-purposes consists mainly in sparks thrown off by the underlying conceptual exploration. That philosophical insights are closely connected with jokes is a fact which Carroll exploited in Through the Looking Glass, a work which is brim-full of small-scale philosophy. Stoppard, unlike Carroll, works intensively at (...) a small cluster of intimately connected concepts. The central one is the concept of reality, and grouped around it are identity, memory, activity and death. One source of the play’s power - to move and disturb, as well as to amuse - is that these concepts are so important in our thinking about ourselves; but the power derives also from the sheer pertinacity and complexity and depth of the conceptual exploration. Although this can be felt by someone who does not fully realize what is going on, one’s experience of the play can be heightened, and the play made more illuminating and memorable, if one becomes consciously aware of its underlying structures. My aim here will be to make such an awareness available - both as a service (I hope) to readers who will subsequently encounter the play, and also as a defence of my judgment about what kind of play it is and how good it is of its kind. I shall write as though for readers who are ignorant of Stoppard’s play but not of Shakespeare’s. All quotations are from the Faber editions of the play. There will be no omissions within anything I quote, so any rows of ellipses in my quotations are Stoppard’s own. The chief personages are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and “the Player” - the leader of the band of tragedians who perform for Hamlet the play within the play.. (shrink)
This thousand-page book contains one third of the text of Samuel Pepys's diary, along with maps, a chronology, a glossary of archaic words, and an unusually helpful index, The diary, written in commercial short-hand, spans the 1660s, a decade in which power passed from the Roundheads to Charles II, London was ravaged by plague and then by fire, the English repeatedly fought the Dutch, and Pepys grew to be one of the most important civil servants in the land ("the father (...) of the English Navy", according to some). The diary, which I know only in this abridged version, has given me more sheer pleasure than any other book I have ever read. Writing for himself alone, Pepys had no sense of posterity looking over his shoulder with judgments about public, historic importance. He selected things for inclusion in the diary purely on the basis of how they struck him. This grand subjectivity would be fatal in a dull or passive or insensitive writer, but in Pepys it makes the work fresh and vibrant, constantly surprising, unlike anything else in literature. Even when describing an "important" scene, he is still his natural self and gives touches of his own behaviour, like this at the King's coronation: But so great a noise, that I could make but little of the Musique; and endeed, it was lost to everybody. But I had so great a list to pissse, that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies.... Not just his behavior, but also his reactions. (shrink)
The only way to settle conclusively what any part of a language means is to discover the circumstances, both linguistic and non-linguistic, in which the speakers of the language are prepared to use it. This is not a new doctrine, but Wittgenstein gave it new life by dramatising the following question: If someone used an expression in a radically non-standard way, could anything he said about his state of mind convince us that he nevertheless meant it in a standard way? (...) To answer ‘No’ to this, and to generalize that answer, is to say that the last-resort criteria for what something means lie in the way in which it is used - a fairly plain statement which I shall call ‘the behavioural theory (of meaning)’ and with which I shall here have no quarrel at all. What I wish to do in the following pages is to consider the relationship between the behavioural theory and some aspects of the concept of proof. It is beyond dispute that one can be led, by one’s acceptance of certain premisses, to accept a certain conclusion. There is, though, a problem about the nature of this ‘leading’. On the one hand, it is usual to think of it as sometimes having the nature of a forcing: ‘If you say that, you are committed to admitting this also; you cannot accept the one and reject the other.’ On the other hand, the behavioural theory of meaning makes it difficult to see how there can possibly be such a relationship between the premisses and the conclusion of any proof. There are many ways of bringing out the apparent clash between the behavioural theory and the notion of logical forcing or committal. Perhaps the clearest of them arises from asking how there can be room for a concept of committal in a purely behavioural study. In this spirit, we might grant that our knowledge of some of the ways in which the parts of a language are used may lead us to expect to find certain sorts of further use and not others; and we could compare such expectations with those of an anthropologist who finds that a certain society has a matriarchal system of authority and then proceeds to investigate its inheritance laws.. (shrink)
Mickelsen’s site also has translations of the texts by Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant, and of Leibniz’s Discourse on Metaphysics and his Monadology. These may be the best in the public domain (and thus the best available on the internet).
It has been thought that the meanings of some utterances might be explained or defined through their roles as responses, or through their roles as stimuli. I shall use the label ‘SRM’ - for ‘stimulus-response meaning-theory’ - to name a certain disjunctive view about this. One disjunct, speaker’s SRM, says that in some natural language L there are many values of E whose meanings can be expressed in the form: whenever any mature L-user undergoes a stimulus of kind S, he (...) utters E by way of response. The other disjunct, hearer’s SRM, says that in some natural language L there are many values of E whose meanings can be expressed in the form: whenever any mature L-user hears E uttered, he does something of kind A by way of response. (shrink)
I am interested in what main differences there are between Homo sapiens and other known terrestrial species, or (for short) between man and beast. We have a sense that we differ vastly from all the rest in some respect that is mental rather than grossly physical, but we are not agreed on what respect it is. This is my topic today. I shall bring in some work done in recent years by ethologists and animal psychologists. It is relevant less because (...) it provides news about the beasts than because it spurs our thinking about what we already think or intuit about the beasts and how they differ from us. That is really my topic: although we don’t agree in what we say about what mainly differentiates us from the other animals, I think we have the same picture of the difference, the same sense of what it is; and I want to know whether that shared picture, or intuition, can be parlayed into an agreed description. One proper study of humankind is ourselves; that includes our thoughts, which include our thoughts about what makes us special. I shall go on talking as though the question were: What is the difference? But really it is: What difference do we already think is there? Or, anyway: What difference can be known to obtain between us and them, on the basis of what we already know about us and about them? I am interested in differences of kind rather than of degree. If the final story is merely that we are more intelligent than the beasts are, that means that our common picture of how we relate to them is false. Mortimer Adler, in his book The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes argues for a fundamental intellectual difference of kind between humans and other animals. Having identified me in that book as an ally, on the strength of my book Rationality, he wrote to me about the matter. During the correspondence that followed, I wrote that while I agreed with his conclusion, I didn’t hold it with such passion as he did, perhaps because I was sure that the difference between kind and degree is itself a difference of degree.. (shrink)
The furniture of the world includes planets and pebbles, hopes and fears, fields and waves, theories and problems, births and deaths. As metaphysicians, we want to understand the basic nature of these and other kinds of item; and my topic is the basic nature of births and deaths - more generally, of events. If events are things that happen, what differentiates them from sticks and stones, which are things that exist but do not happen? Do events constitute a fundamental ontological (...) category, or is our event concept just a way of organizing material that could be handled without its aid? With questions like those in the background, I ask: what sort of things are events? Locke and Leibniz knew the answer to this; then Kim rediscovered it; but his rediscovery did less good than it might have because it was ambushed by an error. I shall explain. A sparrow falls. That fall of that sparrow is a particular, located in space and time. It occurs where the sparrow is when it falls, and it occurs just then. It is, then, closely linked to the sparrow, and even more closely to the fact that the sparrow falls there and then. Witness the opening of this paragraph, where I said that a sparrow falls, and went straight on to speak of “that fall”. That the fall exists (= occurs) is a logical upshot of the fact that the sparrow falls. Every event results logically from some such underlying fact: there was a fight because some animals fought, there was a storm because wind and water moved thus and so. In section 12, I shall discuss the rival view that some animals fought because there was a fight. What metaphysical categories have a role in the fact that a certain sparrow fell? Can any of them be identified with the sparrow’s fall? I shall consider five candidates: a fact, a thing, a temporal part of a thing, a property, and a property-instance. (a) The fact that the sparrow falls. One simple reason why an event cannot be a fact is that events have positions in space-time, whereas facts do not.. (shrink)
A set of eight mini-discourses. 1. The conceivability of the physical world's running in the opposite temporal direction. 2. Augustine's reason for thinking this is not conceivable for the world of the mind. 3. Trying to imagine being a creature that lives atemporally. 4. Memory's need for causal input. 5. Acting in the knowledge that how one acts is strictly determined. 6. The Newcomb problem. 7. The idea that all voluntary action is intended to be remedial. 8. Haunted by the (...) strangeness of the idea of the past qua past. (shrink)
Conditional sentences are among the most intriguing and puzzling features of language, and analysis of their meaning and function has important implications for, and uses in, many areas of philosophy. Jonathan Bennett, one of the world's leading experts, distils many years' work and teaching into this Philosophical Guide to Conditionals, the fullest and most authoritative treatment of the subject. An ideal introduction for undergraduates with a philosophical grounding, it also offers a rich source of illumination and stimulation for graduate students (...) and professional philosophers. (shrink)
Jonathan Bennett engages with the thought of six great thinkers of the early modern period: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume. While not neglecting the historical setting of each, his chief focus is on the words they wrote. What problem is being tackled? How exactly is the solution meant to work? Does it succeed? If not, why not? What can we learn from its success or its failure? These questions reflect Bennett's dedication to engaging with philosophy as philosophy, not as (...) museum exhibit, and they require a close and demanding attention to textual details; these being two features that characterize all Bennett's work on early modern philosophy. For newcomers to the early modern scene, this clearly written work is an excellent introduction to it. Those already in the know can learn how to argue with the great philosophers of the past, treating them as colleagues, antagonists, students, teachers. -/- Volume 1: In this volume Jonathan Bennett examines the views of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz on matter and space, the foundations of physics, atomism and alternatives to it, causation, knowledge of necessary truths, how mind relates to body, the nature and significance of human desires, our perception of the material world, and other topics. While exhibiting and celebrating the wonderful breadth, depth, and boldness of the thinking of these philosophers, Bennett also tracks them into the details, where the life is, evaluating their doctrines and arguments on their own merits and in relation to current philosophical problems and interests. (shrink)
Jonathan Bennett engages with the thought of six great thinkers of the early modern period: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume. While not neglecting the historical setting of each, his chief focus is on the words they wrote. What problem is being tackled? How exactly is the solution meant to work? Does it succeed? If not, why not? What can we learn from its success or its failure? These questions reflect Bennett's dedication to engaging with philosophy as philosophy, not as (...) museum exhibit, and they require a close and demanding attention to textual details; these being two features that characterize all Bennett's work on early modern philosophy. For newcomers to the early modern scene, this clearly written work is an excellent introduction to it. Those already in the know can learn how to argue with the great philosophers of the past, treating them as colleagues, antagonists, students, teachers. -/- Volume 2: In this volume Jonathan Bennett examines the views of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume on thought and sensation, meaning, language, classification, innate ideas and knowledge, our knowledge of necessary truths (bringing in Descartes and Leibniz as well), the basis for our belief that we live in a world of material things, causation, the fundamental difference between colours and shapes, the passage of time and our ability to live through it. While finding much to criticize, Bennett shows that we can learn much about these and other topics under the guidance and inspiration of the energy, courage, and insight of these three great British philosophers. (shrink)
In this illuminating, highly engaging book, Jonathan Bennett acquaints us with the ideas of six great thinkers of the early modern period: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. For newcomers to the early modern scene, this lucidly written work is an excellent introduction. For those already familiar with the time period, this book offers insight into the great philosophers, treating them as colleagues, antagonists, students, and teachers.
When they’re offered to the world in merry guise, Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will. For he who’d make his fellow-creatures wise Should always gild the philosophic pill. - Jack Point to Sir Richard Cholmondeley, Lieutenant of the Tower, in an employment interview in Yeomen of the Guard. W. S. Gilbert..
This paper argues that Locke often used "ideas" to stand for qualities, and used the quality-word "mode" to stand for ideas, because of a substantive conflation in his thought; not because of a mere superficial ambiguity in his use of the word "idea." Suggestions are offered as to the possible sources of this conflation.
In this major new book, the internationally renowned thinker Jonathan Bennett offers a deeper understanding of what is going on in our own moral thoughts about human behavior. The Act Itself presents a conceptual analysis of descriptions of behavior on which we base our moral judgements, and shows that this analysis can be used as a means toward getting more control of our thoughts and thus of our lives.
Descartes propounded the allegedly "strange", "peculiar", "curious" and "incoherent" doctrine that necessary truths are made true by God's voluntary act. It is generally held that this doctrine must be kept out of sight while other Cartesian topics are being discussed. This paper offers an interpretation of this Cartesian doctrine under which it comes out as reasonable, consistent with the rest of his philosophy, and possible even true. According to this interpretation--which is more respectful of and close to Descartes's text than (...) is the customary one--Descartes equated the alethic modalities with facts about human intellectual limitations, somewhat in the manner of Wittgenstein. Thus, God created modalities creating humans in the way he did. (shrink)
I have recently been collaborating with my colleague Stewart Thau in teaching a 200-level course on early modern philosophy. The students are given a "Guide to Reading" for each class's reading assignment, along with about six questions on the assignment, one of which is then selected as a mini-quiz in class at the start of the next lecture. Failures and no-shows in the quizzes have an effect on the final grades.
The first chapter of Judith Jarvis Thomson's "The Realm of Rights" includes a defense of moral realism, in which much weight is rested on the idea that some moral judgments are necessarily true. This paper argues that the uncontroversial premise to which Thomson in entitled is that some moral judgments are necessary, which can be understood in a manner that does not bring in truth and does not support realism.
This paper will present a negative result—an account of my failure to explain why belief is involuntary. When I announced my question a year or so ahead of time, I had a vague idea of how it might be answered, but I cannot make it work out. Necessity, this time, has not given birth to invention. Still, my tussle with the question may contribute either towards getting it answered or showing that it cannot be answered because belief can be voluntary (...) after all. Most of the paper was written while I expected to get the question answered, and I have chosen not to hide that fact by revising the tone. I offer the paper as an essay in the ‘analytic’ manner in Descartes’s sense of that term. It is the manner of the Meditations—a presentation in the order of discovery or, in my case, of non-discovery. (shrink)
In his paper “Quotation”, Donald Davidson contrasts three theories about how quotation marks do their work, that is, about how tokens like this one: "sheep” refer to the type of which the following is a token: sheep. He rejects the “proper name” and “spelling” theories, and propounds and defends a new account of quotation which he calls the “demonstrative theory”. I shall argue that the truth about how quotation works has points of resemblance with both the spelling and demonstrative theories, (...) though it is not a mere combination of elements from those two. It is closer to Davidson’s theory than to the other, and I have reached it by developing the pioneering start that he provided. (shrink)