This book combines an account of the autonomy of philosophy with a new theory of consciousness. The account of philosophy is rooted in the question of the meaning of life. This question, it is argued, is neither obscure nor obsolete, but rather reflects an ancient and natural concern to which all other traditional philosophical problems can be squarely related; allowing them to be reconnected with natural sources of interest, and providing a diagnosis of the typical lines of opposition to be (...) found across philosophy’s debates. The question of the meaning of life is answered with nihilism: reality is meaningless. But finding nothing pernicious in this, the author rejects the various strategies devised in the 20th century for evading or coping with nihilism. Nihilism would be false if there were a transcendent context of meaning. But in correctly retreating from this prospect, it is claimed, philosophy erroneously retreated from the concept of transcendence itself. For only in terms of this concept can the contemporary problem of consciousness be solved, thereby avoiding an untenable revisionism: either of our conception of consciousness or the physical world. In terms of the transcendence of consciousness (which has no scientific implications), the author explains how the ‘block universe’ account of time suggested by contemporary physics can be reconciled with a temporal present, and why commitment to universals seems irrevocable. The book concludes that philosophy’s cultural role is to maintain a rational discussion about transcendence, and that through greater self-awareness, it can regain its influence. (shrink)
The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers reveals how great philosophers of the past sought to answer the question of the meaning of life. This edited collection includes thirty-five chapters which each focus on a major figure, from Confucius to Rorty, and that imaginatively engage with the topic from their perspective. This volume also contains a Postscript on the historical origins and original significance of the phrase 'the meaning of life'.
This article defends a conception of philosophy popular outside the discipline but unpopular within it: that philosophy is unified by a concern with the meaning of life. First, it argues against exceptionalist theses according to which philosophy is unique among academic disciplines in not being united by a distinctive subject matter. It then presents a positive account, showing that the issue of the meaning of life is uniquely able to reveal unity between the practical and theoretical concerns of philosophy, while (...) meeting a range of desiderata for a typical specification of subject matter. After showing how recent analytic work on “the meaning of life” has conflated the traditional question with issues of social meaningfulness, it offers an explanation of why the traditional question has become marginalised in philosophy. The reasons are not good, however, so it concludes that philosophy should embrace its popular image. (shrink)
This paper is a critique of the new paradigm in analytic philosophy for investigating the meaning of life, focusing on Meaning in Life as the definitive example. Metz relies upon intuition, and reflection upon recent analytic literature, to guide him to his ‘fundamentality theory’. He calls this a theory of ‘the meaning of life’, saying it may be ‘the holy grail’. I argue that Metz’s project is not addressed to the meaning of life, but a distinct issue about social meaning; (...) and that by neglecting and sidelining alternative approaches, his results are rendered provisional. I then argue that there are a number of equally legitimate senses of a ‘socially meaningful life’; that Metz’s exclusive and unjustified focus on only one radically diminishes the scope of his project; and that what remains is undermined by cultural specificity. Finally, I argue that the Kripkean semantics Metz adopts runs counter to his interests. (shrink)
I begin by clarifying Tallis’s revisionary terminology, showing how he redraws the lines of the traditional debate about free will by classifying himself as a compatibilist, when in standard terms he is an incompatibilist. I then examine what I take to be the two main lines of argument in Freedom, which I call the Mysterian Argument and the Intentionality Argument. I argue that neither can do the required work on its own, so I ask how they are supposed to combine. (...) I then argue that a commitment to the ontological priority of everydayness, of the kind suggested in chapters 5 and 6 of Freedom, might combine the arguments in such a way as to secure Tallis’s conclusion. I conclude that the argument of Freedom requires positive metaphysical commitment of a kind Tallis has yet to provide. (shrink)
Theories that combine physicalism with phenomenal concepts abandon the phenomenal irrealism characteristic of 1950s physicalism, thereby leaving physicalists trying to reconcile themselves to concepts appropriate only to dualism. Physicalists should instead abandon phenomenal concepts and try to develop our concepts of conscious states. Employing an account of concepts as structured mental representations, and motivating a model of conceptual development with semantic externalist considerations, I suggest that phenomenal concepts misrepresent their referents, such that if our conception of consciousness incorporates them, it (...) needs development. I then argue that the ?phenomenal concept strategy? (PCS) of a purely cognitive account of the distinction between phenomenal and physical concepts combines physicalism with phenomenal concepts only by misrepresenting physical properties. This is because phenomenal concepts carry ontological commitment, and I present an argument to show the tension between this commitment and granting ontological authority to physical concepts only. In the final section, I show why phenomenal concepts are more ontologically committed than PCS theorists can allow, revive U.T. Place's notion of a ?phenomenological fallacy? to explain their enduring appeal, and then suggest some advantages of functional analyses of concepts of conscious states over the phenomenal alternative. (shrink)
I argue that Kant is a key figure in understanding Rorty’s work, by drawing attention to the fact that although he is ostensibly the principal villain of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, at the end of that book Kant provides the basis of Rorty's positive proposal that we view the world “bifocally”. I show how this idea was re-worked as “irony” in Continency, Irony, and Solidarity, and became central to Rorty’s outlook. However, by allowing this Kantian influence into his (...) thinking, Rorty made his position untenable. For Rortyan pragmatism undercuts the higher stance required by the concept of irony; and yet without this Kantian influence, Rorty would have been unable to justify his pluralism. Rorty could not live with Kant but could not live without him either. (shrink)
This essay comprises an overview of the plot to Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, followed by a more detailed examination of the three parts of the book. It begins by showing the importance of metaphilosophy to Rorty's project, while explaining the significance of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature for both Rorty's philosophy as a whole, and the history of philosophy. Then follows the overview, after which I explain the detail of Rorty's arguments, while developing a line of (...) argument to show that Rorty's final conclusion that there is no objective truth – because the world can be endlessly redescribed – undermines his argumentative strategy. Taking into account Rorty's standard response, according to which he was making a pragmatic social proposal, I conclude that Rorty's desire to avoid the nihilistic conclusion that life is meaningless, led him to transform existentialism into postmodernism; and that the result, however brilliant, is nevertheless unstable and badly motivated. (shrink)
Intentionality and phenomenal consciousness are the main candidates to provide a ‘ mark of the mental’. Rorty, who thinks the category ‘mental’ lacks any underlying unity, suggests a challenge to these positions: to explain how intentionality or phenomenal consciousness alone could generate a mental-physical contrast. I argue that a failure to meet Rorty’s challenge would present a serious indictment of the concept of mind, even though Rorty’s own position is untenable. I then argue that both intentionalism and proposals such as (...) Searle’s ‘Connection Principle’ fail to satisfy this explanatory burden. I conclude with the suggestion that only introspectibility may be able to unite intentional and phenomenal states whilst meeting Rorty’s challenge. (shrink)
Richard Rorty is one of the most influential, controversial and widely-read philosophers of the twentieth century. In this GuideBook to _Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature_ Tartaglia analyzes this challenging text and introduces and assesses: Rorty's life and the background to his philosophy the key themes and arguments of _Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature_ the continuing importance of Rorty's work to philosophy. _Rorty and the Mirror of Nature_ is an ideal starting-point for anyone new to Rorty, and essential reading (...) for students in philosophy, cultural studies, literary theory and social science. (shrink)
Consciousness and the Great Philosophers addresses the question of how the great philosophers of the past might have reacted to the contemporary problem of consciousness. Each of the thirty two chapters within this edited collection focuses on a major philosophical figure from the history of philosophy, from Anscombe to Xuanzang, and imaginatively engages with the problem from their perspective. Written by leading experts in the field this exciting and engaging book explores the relevance of the history of philosophy to contemporary (...) debates and therefore is essential reading for students and scholars studying the history of philosophy, contemporary philosophy of mind and consciousness, or both. ". (shrink)
I begin by comparing the question of what constitutes continuity of Personal Identity Online (PIO), to the traditional question of whether personal identity is constituted by psychological or physical continuity, bringing out the compelling but, I aim to show, ultimately misleading reasons for thinking only psychological continuity has application to PIO. After introducing and defending J.J. Valberg’s horizonal conception of consciousness, I show how it deepens our understanding of psychological and physical continuity accounts of personal identity, while revealing their shortcomings. (...) I then argue that PIO must also be understood against the backdrop of the horizonal conception, that this undermines sharp dichotomies between online and offline identity, and that although online psychological continuity might become necessary for the preservation of our personal identities, we cannot become our PIOs. Finally, I argue that if PIO is understood solely in terms of psychological continuity, any increasing identification with our PIOs assumes the form of a paradigmatic project of bad faith: a technological reduction of our self-consciousness, rather than the enhancement it should be. (shrink)
I begin by introducing the standoff between the transculturalist aim of moving beyond cultural inheritances, and the worry that this project is itself a product of cultural inheritances. I argue that this is rooted in concerns about the meaning of life, and in particular, the prospect of nihilism. I then distinguish two diametrically opposed humanistic responses to nihilism, post-Nietzschean rejections of objective truth, and the moral objectivism favoured by some analytic philosophers, claiming that both attempt, in different ways, to break (...) down the distinction between description and evaluation. I argue that the evaluative sense of a “meaningful life” favoured by moral objectivists cannot track objective meaningfulness in human lives, and that there are manifest dangers to treating social meaning judgements as a secular substitute for the meaning of life. I then conclude that the problems of the post-Nietzscheans and moral objectivists can be avoided, and the transculturalist standoff alleviated, if we recognise that nihilism is descriptive, and maintain a principled distinction between description and evaluation. (shrink)
In this paper I describe and provide a justification for the fusion of jazz music and philosophy which I have developed; the justification is provided from the perspectives of both jazz and philosophy. I discuss two of my compositions, based on philosophical ideas presented by Schopenhauer and Derek Parfit respectively; links to sound files are provided. The justification emerging from this discussion is that philosophy produces ‘non-argumentative effects’ which provide suitable material for artistic expression and exploration. These effects – which (...) are often emotional – are under-recognised in philosophy, but they do important philosophical work in demarcating the kinds of truths we want to discover, and in sustaining our search for them. Jazz-Philosophy Fusion can help to increase metaphilosophical self-consciousness about these effects, while also helping to counteract any undue persuasive force they may achieve. Jazz is a particularly suitable medium because it has independently developed a concern with philosophical ideas; because of strong parallels between jazz and philosophy which explain their mutual openness to fusions, and because improvisation very effectively facilitates the direct audience engagement essential to inducing these effects. (shrink)
In Sect. 1, I point out the tension in Rorty’s commitment to both pragmatism and materialism. In Sect. 2, I explain how Rorty sought to justify this combination, and argue that his account is not only implausible but incomplete. In Sect. 3, I explain what I think is the underlying reason for Rorty’s commitment to materialism, namely to promote the social utility of technology for eliminating extreme poverty. After showing how this stance fits into a standard discourse of scientific rationalism, (...) to which a strong opposing case can be made, I conclude, in Sect. 4, that Rorty’s notion of philosophy as cultural politics could be a very useful approach to new technological developments, capable of revitalizing philosophy’s public voice; but only if detached from Rorty’s anti-philosophical agenda. (shrink)
I begin with a defence of both Gyekye’s universalist and African metaphilosophies. In light of these metaphilosophies, I discuss the contemporary Western hegemony of materialist philosophy of mind and its origins in Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949), showing that the existence and nature of the traditional Akan philosophy, as elaborated by Gyekye, casts serious doubt on some influential founding motivations for materialism. I then argue that traditional Akan philosophy is best aligned with contemporary idealism. Gyekye’s endorsement of dualism (...) is shown to have not been intended as ontologically fundamental, while panpsychism is rejected on the basis of the resistance it offers to the Akan commitment to transcendence. Contemporary idealism, however, is able to accommodate all the main components of traditional Akan philosophy, making both experiential primacy and transcendence central to a metaphysical understanding of reality. Sunsum (spirit) and ōkra (soul) are understood in terms of the distinction between the phenomenal and horizonal conceptions of experience, with consciousness always requiring a distinction between the phenomenal world within an experiential horizon, and the independent being that transcends the horizon. (shrink)
This book offers a philosophical defence of nihilism. The authors argue that the concept of nihilism has been employed pejoratively by almost all philosophers and religious leaders to indicate a widespread cultural crisis of truth, meaning, or morals. Many religious believers think atheism leads to moral chaos (because it leads to nihilism), and atheists typically insist that we can make life meaningful through our own actions (thereby avoiding nihilism). In this way, both sides conflate the cosmic sense of meaning at (...) stake with a social sense of meaning. This book charts a third course between extremist and alarmist views of nihilism. It casts doubt on the assumption that nihilism is something to fear, or a problem which human culture should overcome by way of seeking, discovering, or making meaning. In this way, the authors believe that a revised understanding of nihilism can help remove a significant barrier of misunderstanding between religious believers and atheists. A Defence of Nihilism will be of interest to scholars and students in philosophy, religion, and other disciplines who are interested in questions surrounding the meaning of life. (shrink)
Drawing on work from a range of philosophers, including Heidegger, Spinoza and Hume, alongside Isiah Berlin, Roger Shattuck, John Gray, Tartaglia argues that rational discussion based around such traditional philosophical themes needs to be maintained, especially in our current circumstances, and that this can and should replace physicalism as the common sense of the secular world as we move forward in the 21st century.
There is an overt tension between Rorty’s pragmatist critique of philosophy and his apparent epistemological and metaphysical commitments, which it is instructive to examine in order to assess not only Rorty’s overall position, but also renewed contemporary interest in pragmatism and its metaphilosophical implications. After showing why Rorty’s attempts to limit the scope of his critique failed to resolve this tension, I try reading him as a constructive metaphysician who was attempting to balance a causal account of the language / (...) world relation with panrelationism. However, Rorty intended these commitments to be interpreted in light of his pragmatism about vocabularies, and relied upon a ‘social standpoint strategy’ to render his overall position consistent. I conclude that to the extent that this strategy succeeds, it removes almost all of the argumentative force from Rorty’s pragmatism. (shrink)
This chapter begins by asking why Rorty would endorse a physicalist agenda which, on the face of it, ran counter to his aims in philosophy; and concludes both that his motivation was confused, and that he failed to detach physicalism from metaphysics and scienticism. I begin by showing the importance of metaphilosophy to Rorty's position on consciousness, and the centrality of consciousness to his overall project. I then summarize Rorty's position, which was essentially derived from Ryle, but uniquely driven by (...) metaphilosophy. My assessment begins by disputing Rorty's thesis about the historical origins of the concept of consciousness, before following him into his favorite argumentative territory by talking about the social utility of first‐person reflection on consciousness, and his own motivations for wanting to undermine such reflection. I conclude that because of his obsession with religion, Rorty became entangled in a scientistic agenda he should have opposed. (shrink)
I begin by summarizing my view of the progression that occurred from the 1950s to the 1990s on the topic of physicalism and, in terms of this, present an overview of the reconciliation I was attempting in “Conceptualizing Physical Consciousness.” I then address Byrne’s two main arguments. In the case of the first, I show that his argument turns on a third-person conception of appearance which is not the one addressed in the debates in question, and argue that functionalism is (...) not relevant to physicalism about consciousness in the manner Byrne thinks. In the case of the second, I argue that Byrne’s attempt to prize metaphysics apart from science shows a misunderstanding of the physicalist agenda. In conclusion I indicate how my views have moved on. My misrepresentation thesis, like any form of conventional physicalism, ultimately entails eliminativism; and I reject eliminativism. (shrink)
Philosophical concerns are evidenced from the beginning of human literature, which have no obvious connection to philosophy’s mainstream epistemological and metaphysical problematic. I reject the views that the nature of philosophy is a philosophical question, and that the discipline is united by methodology, arguing that it must be united by subject matter. The origins of the discipline provide reasons to doubt the existence of a unifying subject matter, however, and scepticism about philosophy also arises from its a priori methodology and (...) apparent lack of progress. In response, I argue that philosophy acquired a distinctive subject matter when the concept of transcendence was introduced into attempts to gain a systematic understanding of the world and our place within it; philosophy thereby pursues the same aim of achieving a synoptic vision of reality as religion, but resembles science in its development and employment of rigorous methodologies. Philosophy’s subject matter explains why it must be pursued a priori, and it only appears not to have progressed when aims are neglected, and it is inappropriately assimilated to science. (shrink)
Paul Boghossian and Hilary Putnam have presented arguments designed to show self-referential difficulties within Rorty’s pragmatism. I respond to these arguments by drawing out the details of the pragmatic account of justification implicit within Rorty’s writings, thereby revealing it to be a sophisticated form of relativism that does not undermine itself. In Section I and II, I motivate my strategy of attributing a positive position to Rorty in order to respond to detailed, analytical arguments such as those of Boghossian, and (...) present an outline of this position, agreeing with Rorty’s critics that it can be justifiably classified as a form of relativism. Sections III to V concern the detail of Boghossian’s argument, in which I show that Boghossian’s contention that Rorty’s rejection of all absolute justification is inconsistent can be satisfactorily answered by explaining the differences between “epistemic systems” in terms of the different purposes they serve. Then in Sections VI to VIII, I further develop Rorty’s account of justification in order to answer Putnam’s charge that Rorty tries to say “from a God’s-Eye View there is no God’s-Eye View.” I reject Rorty’s own “social-reformer” response to this argument, but show that it can be satisfactorily answered by distinguishing two integrated components within Rorty’s pragmatism, one holistic and coherentist, and the other causal and social-evolutionary. (shrink)
This dialogue was produced by an email exchange, with each email limited to 200 words. The exchange took place between 21 January and 9 June, 2021. No edits were allowed once ‘send’ had been pressed and there was to be no other correspondence between the participants for the duration of the dialogue. The Call for Papers for this special issue of Human Affairs was the starting point and there was no other pre-planning.