May I first say, Mr Chairman, that I regard it as a great honour to have been invited to take part in this Conference? I speak to you as a philosopher who happens to be interested both in religion and in psychical research. But I am afraid I am going to discuss some questions which it is ‘not done’ to talk about.
Epistemologists have not usually had much to say about believing ‘in’, though ever since Plato's time they have been interested in believing ‘that’. Students of religion, on the other hand, have been greatly concerned with belief ‘in’, and many of them, I think, would maintain that it is something quite different from belief ‘that’. Surely belief ‘in’ is an attitude to a person, whether human or divine, while belief ‘that’ is just an attitude to a proposition? Could any difference be (...) more obvious than this? And if we over-look it, shall we not be led into a quite mistaken analysis of religious belief, at any rate if it is religious belief of the theistic sort? On this view belief ‘in’ is not a propositional attitude at all. (shrink)
We must begin by asking; What exactly is common sense? No doubt the word was originally used as a translation of Aristotle's; κοί⋯νη αἴσθησις but that is not its modern meaning. When Reid or more recent philosophers speak of common sense, they clearly have something else in view. At the present day, it is perhaps most often used to mean a quality of a mind, as when we say that jurymen or Members of Parliament should be men of common sense, (...) meaning that they should show intelligence in the ordinary affairs of life; or again, we say that a little common sense would enable us to solve this or that political problem. But we are not concerned with that meaning either, though it would be interesting to discuss it. Common sense, as we are concerned with it here, means rather a body of very general principles commonly accepted by ordinary non-philosophical men in the ordinary affairs of life. These principles are really philosophical—that is to say, they belong to the proper subject-matter of philosophy—but, of course, the plain man who accepts or applies them at every moment of his life is far from being aware of this. Some of them are metaphysical, or epistemological, others are ethical; and whether or not there can be a common-sense theology, as a recent writer has asserted, it seems quite possible that there may be one or two among them which properly belong to the theologian's province. All these principles, taken together, make up what is usually called the common-sense view of the world. But in this discussion we shall confine ourselves to the metaphysical or epistemological ones, which are more frequently appealed to than the others, and which, besides, seem to be more interesting. But our conclusions, if valid, will apply to the others also. (shrink)
In ordinary life everyone assumes that he has a great deal of knowledge about other minds or persons. This assumption has naturally aroused the curiosity of philosophers; though perhaps they have not been as curious about it as they ought to have been, for they have devoted many volumes to our consciousness of the material world, but very few to our consciousness of one another. It was thought at one time that each of us derives his knowledge of other minds (...) from the observation of other human organisms. I observe that there are a number of bodies which resemble my own fairly closely in their shape, size, and manner of movement; I conclude by analogy that each of these bodies is animated by a. (shrink)
The subject of my lecture is an appropriate one for several reasons. The first is purely chronological. Hume's first and greatest work, the Treatise of Human Nature, was published in 1739, two hundred years ago. Its illustrious author was then quite unknown in the world, and as he tells us himself the book “fell dead-born from the press.” But by the end of the eighteenth century its reputation was securely established, and it has long been regarded as one of the (...) masterpieces of European thought, and as the classical statement of the Empiricist Philosophy. It is true that, like other classics, it has had its ups and downs. During the Absolute Idealist period, which ended early in the present century, Hume was the great bogey-man, and the duty of all self-respecting philosophers was to refute him. In our own day things are different. Empiricism, despite many obituary notices, is very much alive again. And this time it is in close alliance with Natural Science, and has equipped itself with all the technique of modern Symbolic Logic; it is more vigorous in construction and more formidable in criticism than it has ever been before. Consequently Hume is no longer the bogey-man. People now read the Treatise not as an awful warning, but as a source of stimulus and illumination. Incidentally, we can now enjoy his admirable style without any qualms. It is no longer thought that if a philosopher writes in clear and entertaining English, what he writes must therefore be either superficial or false. We regard obscurity and turgidity as demerits, not as signs of profound thinking. Moreover, we have learned to appreciate the eighteenth century, of which Hume was one of the most characteristic products. (shrink)
The founder of Psychical Research, though he has not yet received the honour due to him, seems to have been King Croesus of Lydia, who reigned from 560 to 546 B.C. He carried out an interesting experiment, recorded in detail by Herodotus,2 to test the clairvoyant powers of a number of oracles. He sent embassies to seven oracles, six Greek and one Egyptian. They all started on the same day. On the hundredth day each embassy was instructed to ask its (...) oracle, “What is King Croesus, the son of Alyattes, now doing?” The answer was to be written down and brought back. The oracle of Delphi replied as follows, in hexameters, as its custom was: “I know the number of the sands and the measures of the sea. I understand the dumb, and I hear him who does not speak.” Then it went on: “There comes to my mind the smell of a strong-shelled tortoise, which is being cooked along with lamb's flesh in a brazen vessel; brass is spread beneath it, and with brass it is covered.” As a matter of fact, this answer was perfectly correct. Herodotus tells us that “having considered what would be the most difficult thing to discover and to imagine,” Croesus “cut up a tortoise and a lamb, and himself boiled them together in a brazen pot.” What happened afterwards illustrates the difficulties of this sort of investigation, difficulties which still perplex us to this day. Croesus argued, reasonably enough, that if the Delphic priestess had clairvoyant powers, she probably also had the precognitive powers, she probably also had the precognitive powers which she claimed to have. But when he consulted the oracle later about his forthcoming expedition against the Persians, he received two answers, one of which was ambiguous—“When Croesus crosses the Halys he shall destroy a great empire”—and the other correct, but too obscure to be easily interpreted. (shrink)
I am very grateful to Professor R. W. Sleeper for his critical comments on my article, as also for the kind way in which he has expressed them. I should now like to make a few comments on his comments. May I first say that I have no objection to being metaphysical? I do not like the word ‘metaphysics’ very much, and wish that we could find a less provocative one. But still, I do think that the difference between the (...) reducible and the irreducible belief-in is a difference which there really is . Moreover, I fully admit that when we believe in God we are making a factual claim. It is, of course, a factual claim of rather a special kind. If it is a fact that there is a supreme Being, ‘The Lord of All’, this is not just one fact among others. It is not quite like the fact that there is a stormy north-westerly wind this morning. One could not just give a list of facts and add at the end, ‘There is also another fact which I had forgotten to mention: there is a God’. All the same, this factual claim, like others, does need to be justified; and how is it to be justified? I am afraid that the brief hint which I offered elsewhere on this subject is indeed ‘not good enough’ as it stands . To be even half good enough, it needs much more elaboration, and I agree that there is much force in Mr Gunderson's criticisms. (shrink)