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Friday, November 18, 2011

The major points of MML

Here is a summary of the major points of Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life.
-On the issue of freedom vs determinism: libertarian.
-On the issue of the immortality of the soul: immortality of soul.
-On the issue of realism, I believe that the question is irrational/nonsensical/misplaced for reasons having to do with theory of meaning/metaphysics.
-Is a logically perfect language possible? No.
- Who is more sophisticated, Plato or Aristotle? Aristotle.
-Locke or Leibniz? If you want to go on pure philosophical strength of argument: Leibniz.
-The Mind-Body Problem? Resolved by a dual aspect metaphysics akin to Schopenhauer.
-What is the 'third brain' argument? It's an argument to the effect that materialistic reductionism is necessarily uncertain. But, ultimately, for reasons having to do with meaning, I consider materialism to be meaningless.
-What is the relationship between a theory of meaning and a theory of metaphysics? Identity.
-Can evolutionary psychology explain human behaviors? It can never do so completely. See Manifold Rule.
-What is end of Western philosophy? Zen Buddhism or a Zen philosophy, i.e. no dependence on words or letters.
-Am I an empiricist? Empiricism as a doctrine is fundamentally meaningless.
-What is the Manifold Rule? It states that any theory that attempts to reduce reality to a single predicate is meaningless.
-What is the Inseparability Principle? Any statement that precludes the possibility of any knowing subject is meaningless.
-What is a brain paradox? It shows that attempts to reduce human identities to so-called brains ends up in paradoxes. It's basically a part/whole paradox. In general brain paradoxes are used as arguments against materialistic reductionism as a philosophical theory. See "third brain argument."
-What is the dissappearing mind effect? Brought up in the course of a discussion of evolutionary psychology, it refers to the fact that if one can imagine all behaviors explained as modifications of the so-called fixed action patterns of Lorentz, all behaviors can seemingly be explained without reference to "mind", and "mind" seems to dissappear.
-What is apprehension theory? See above.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Copleston, Metaphysics, German Idealism

Recently, I have neglected writing anything philosophical on here because I began to feel that whatever I was writing on here was forced and that it wasn't good, or that it was just little scraps amounting to not much, and I began to realize that I was not in a good place to write philosophy, so I stopped, and I was content to write a few book reviews. Boredom more than anything caused me to pick up volume seven of Copleston's history of philosophy (From the post-Kantian idealists to Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche)  in which, while introducing the German idealists, we find Copleston's following remarks.

Now, it is immediately obvious that what we think of as the extramental world cannot be interpreted as the product of conscious creative activity by the human mind. As far as ordinary consciousness is concerned, I find myself in a world of objects which affect me in various ways and which I spontaneously think of as existing independently of my thought and will. Hence the idealist philosopher must go behind consciousness, as it were, and retrace the process of the unconscious activity which grounds it.
But we must go further than this and recognize that the production of the world cannot be attributed to the individual self at all, even to its unconscious activity. For if it were attributed to the individual finite self as such, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid solipsism, a position which can hardly be seriously maintained. Idealism is thus compelled to go behind the finite subject to a supra-individual intelligence, an absolute subject.
The word 'subject' however is not really appropriate, except as indicating that the ultimate productive principle lies, so to speak, on the side of thought and not on the side of the sensible thing. For the words 'subject' and 'object' are correlative. And the ultimate principle is, considered in itself, without object. It grounds the subject-object relationship, and, in itself, transcends the relationship. It is the subject and object in identity, the infinite activity from which both proceed (Copleston p.4).
I can agree with the German idealists up to this point, and I can see the appeal of German idealism as a system of philosophy that does not operate on the level of empirical science, and hence cannot really be refuted by such science. The danger arises when you get someone like Marx who, both understanding and believing wholeheartedly in the German idealism, develops a political philosophy that, once applied, resulted in (more or less) a series of disasters. In that regard, we have to value a Locke over a Marx. One can also see the appeal of logical positivism, which attempts to show that this sort of non-empirical thinking is actually meaningless nonsense. But, that project was doomed, as well. It makes a difference to us whether there is an infinite subject behind all of our perceptions or if they are the result of dead atoms and molecules. The different senses may be captured simply: the world is dead and stupid vs. the world is alive and intelligent. At root, from the perspective of apprehension theory, both of these statements are meaningless because one cannot predicate anything of the world as a whole, except perhaps a predicate of philosophical logic, such as "the world is that which has reference."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Review of Auto Mechanics by Kevin L. Borg

In his book Auto mechanics: Technology and Expertise in Twentieth-Century America, Kevin L. Borg traces the history of the auto mechanic's profession from the early days of chauffeur and blacksmith mechanics to the present day mechanic who works on computer managed vehicles. While Borg for the most part sticks to straight forward historical research, the book itself is not without philosophical insight and questioning. Borg's book is quite obviously fueled by a passion for his subject. It is insightful and a delight to read.

Through Borg's work, we learn the twists and turns of this untold and unknown story, and deeper questions always lie right beneath the surface. For example, why is the skilled auto mechanic viewed as having a low social status, while other trades that require similar knowledge and manual dexterity are viewed as being of higher status? Part of the answer to this question may have its roots in the history of the profession. When automobiles first became popular in the early years of the twentieth century, automobiles were the toys of the wealthy, and the wealthy looked for someone on the model of the "coachman" who had taken care of the stables to likewise take care of the automobile. Thus the chauffeur mechanic was born. This turned out to be a mistake that put a great deal of stress on many an aristocratic head of household as the "chauffeur mechanic" proceeded to disobey the traditional role assigned to him and use his specialized knowledge to his own advantage. As a result, a whole series of events unfolded: legislation was passed, aristocrats began attending YMCA courses to learn about their own cars, etc., etc. Borg does not neglect racial issues in the early days of automobiles as blacks were systematically refused equal training and service, creating a need for them to open their own garages. Nor does Borg neglect the influence of World War II on the industry. If one pays attention, one can see how that first arrogant chauffeur mechanic played his role in the creating a more egalitarian America (as egalitarian as it can be said to be these days).

It was shortly after World War II that hotrodding and NASCAR began to take off in America. While telling the story of Smokey Yunick--a veteran of World War II and famous early NASCAR mechanic--Borg speculates: "Perhaps [the] need for excitement to replace the adrenaline of war helps explain the postwar spike in automobile racing generally." Little gems like this made the book a delight for me to read.

I will leave you with one more gem. Borg quotes sociologists Sennett and Cobb: "One of the saddest encounters we had was with a philosophically minded auto mechanic. A part of him recognizes that he is 'deep,' as his friend puts it; yet he cannot really accept the fact of his intelligence. . . . For, if he is intelligent, why is he a grease monkey? . . . [I]t is less painful [for him] to think he 'isn't much, just part of the woodwork' than to respect his own mind." A little melodramatic, slightly existential, but I'll take it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Review of Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk

Ludwig Wittgenstein is easily the most captivating character among the great 20th Century philosophers. Here was a man with little to no formal training in the subject and who really didn't want any formal training in it above and beyond the bare minimum. The general consensus is that he had some Schopenhauer and some Plato. But, the thing that got Wittgenstein involved in philosophy in the first place was reading Bertrand Russell's Principia. I think that, for Wittgenstein, the Principia was the basic text book for future philosophical work. What an enigma Wittgenstein was and still is. Here was a man who wrote on logic and philosophy of mathematics--needless to say, highly technical fields--but who never seems to have taken an actual logic course. When Russell tried to set him up with a tutor, the tutor quit in frustration. During his lifetime and afterwards, Wittgenstein was heralded as a genius.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk is an excellent biography on this captivating philosopher, written by a man who has both expert knowledge on Wittgenstein's life and his philosophy. The book is full of hidden gems from Wittgenstein's life. At center stage is the complex relationship between Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein's one time mentor and patron. Other characters of Cambridge and elsewhere make appearances, too, such as Maynard Keynes, Gottlob Frege, and the young geniuses Frank Ramsey and Alan Turing. Monk also treats Wittgenstein's complex and often tormented relationships with men and women, and treats these relations with the delicacy and honesty that they deserve. A highlight for me was Monk's treatment of Wittgenstein's views on religion. Wittgenstein was in some ways a simple Christian, who cherished and was greatly influenced by his copies of Tolstoy's Gospel in Brief and The Confessions of Augustine. Understanding how a sophisticated view of epistemology can combine with a rather simple view of religion in the same strenuous mind takes one far in understanding the character of Wittgenstein.

To cite but one of hundreds of incidents related in the book. Wittgenstein was taking a trip to some place or another, and a friend wrote him a note wishing well, and telling him that he hopes that he makes "a lot of friends." Wittgenstein's response: "How stupid to think that I would ever have a lot of friends."

Monk's biography is not an easy read, and it is not the sort of thing that everyone would enjoy because, unless you already come to the table with some understanding of 20th Century philosophy and intellectual history, a lot of the highlights will be missed. Still, I wouldn't discourage anyone from picking up a copy of this book that afforded me a great deal of intellectual pleasure.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Critical Review of Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft

A Critical Review of Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft
Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft is a philosophical investigation into the nature of work in America. It could be described as a polemic, but not in a strong sense, because it is not full of fire and brimstone. He does, however, have a point, and that point is his conclusion, based equally on his own experience and on intellectual investigation, that the skilled trades are undervalued in America. They are undervalued in the American educational system that has systematically eliminated shop class. They are undervalued in the collective consciousness that views them as lowly, “blue collar”, dirty, unprofessional. But, the funny thing is that there is one place where they are actually not undervalued at all, and that is in the marketplace, which has seen a greater and greater demand for the skilled craftsman, be he a carpenter, electrician, machinist, mechanic, and so on. On account of his being in demand, the skilled tradesman has his choice of jobs, needs answer to no one, and earns a living wage, perks that are not to be scoffed at in this economic environment. Crawford succeeds in showing us how things came to be this way, based on pipe dreams, visions of a future with no need of manual labor, and how these ideas were systematically implemented into the educational system. All in all, Crawford’s book is a healthy dose of reality given to us by a true philosopher.
Some of the best parts of the book are the parts in which Crawford describes the historical underpinnings of how work came to be the way that it is. In chapter two, he describes how, in the interest of increasing profits, it came to be in the best interest of managers to remove as much thinking as possible from the process of production, and, as a result, the skilled tradesman was systematically eliminated from the workforce. For Crawford, there is more at stake here than simply historical interest. Philosopher that he is, he forces us to ask ourselves: Is this all for the best?
Crawford is perhaps at his most entertaining when he takes aim. A philosopher through and through, he is skilled at cutting through bullshit. He roots out unclear thinking on his subject like a mechanic who can distinguish purely aesthetic components from functional ones. His opponents are numerous and ubiquitous, and, without exception, Crawford makes them look silly. He takes aim at Richard Florida, who extols how Best Buy “harness[es] the creative talents of each and every human being” to the betterment of the company. In the words of the Best Buy CEO, the stated mission is to “unleash the power of all our people as they have fun while being the best.” Crawford’s comment is flippant:
“It seems the unleashed power of all those mavericks in the Best Buy creative sector is fully compatible with near minimum wage. Bohemians live by a different set of rules; they aren’t money grubbing proles. ‘They have fun while being the best’, these aristocrats of spirit.”
In chapter six, Crawford takes aim at the ridiculous management doublespeak and the “team building exercises” that many of us have been unfortunate enough to experience. At times, Crawford had me laughing out loud.
Throughout, the work of the tradesman is placed as a simple, rational contrast. The skilled tradesman takes time to learn his trade. It must be built up from long experience. Once he acquires the skill, his work engages him mentally and physically, sustains him economically, and he also gains entrance into a community. In this community there is no need for all of the ridiculous add-ons that come with corporate culture or the living at home that would come with working at Best Buy.
I have a lot in common with Crawford. I spent some time in a philosophy Ph.D. program, I spent nearly seven years working as a supervisor in the highly corporate structure of Indian Gaming, and I have also been trained and worked as a diesel technician. I can testify first hand that a lot of what Crawford says is true. I don’t believe that Crawford is saying simply that “it is better to be (say) a mechanic than (say) a professor of philosophy.” If that were the case, I would disagree. When I come into contact with another person who has a strong interest in the liberal arts, we are able to speak on a certain level. These sorts of people, and the sorts of conversations we have, are simply different from the sorts of conversations I have working as a diesel technician. When I speak to “liberal arts” people, there is a lot more sarcasm, and there are broader issues being discussed beneath the surface. When I’m around diesel technicians, there’s a lot more raunchy humor, more razzing, and of course there is a lot of talk about the right way of doing things mechanical.
My experience in the job market has shown that what Crawford says is unequivocally true. My parents spent around, say 80,000 on my formal education in liberal arts, and I could not find a decent job afterwards. I found that the same was true of many of my college friends. Even before finishing my one year diesel tech diploma, there were companies showing up in class “recruiting” future technicians, and I had a guaranteed job in the field, making a living wage. One other perk is that I can travel just about anywhere I like in the United States and be able to find employment. How many “professionals” can claim that?
If I had a criticism to make of Crawford’s book, it might be that his view of the skilled trade is a little bit too influenced by the “speed shop” in which he first began earning his stripes as a mechanic. The speed shop specializes in aftermarket parts. It is the opposite, the antithesis of “factory” or OEM. In places, Crawford defends the raunchy humor of the speed shop as well as its social hierarchy. Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste, but I don’t really see a need for either in the workplace. The raunchy humor, which admittedly exists in the workplace to greater or lesser degree, probably serves in the end to keep women out of a profession that has historically and continues to suffer from a lack of females in the work environment. As for the social hierarchy, it is to my mind usually more pronounced in a less professional atmosphere. Take for example a group of (say) Ford factory trained technicians. Here, there is less of a need for a strict social hierarchy in which knowledge is retained by the most experienced and skilled mechanic because the technology is constantly evolving, and therefore sharing knowledge on a more egalitarian basis becomes of prime importance. A young technician, having been recently trained, might know important things about recent technologies that it would be good for an older tech to know.
But, here I am nitpicking. Like the Volkswagen manual that he admires, there are abundant traces of humanity interspersed through the book, and that is part of the charm. Throughout, Crawford reveals the sometime Orwellian sometime Kafkaesque realities of working life in the United States, and goes beyond them to provide a plausible solution. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give Crawford is that he has written a good and interesting philosophy book that can appeal to many.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Participatory Universe on PEL

On the Partially Examined Life they are talking about a Scientific American article which basically discuses metaphysics. This stood out to me because my whole philosophical position can be described as an exploration of the concept of what Wheeler calls the "participatory universe". I just call it "reality". The discussion is a mixed bag, but, as usual, Mark and Wes have fine things to say.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

IBM Builds Jeopardy Playing Supercomputer

IBM spent upwards of 20 million dollars developing Watson, a question answering supercomputer that was able to compete and win on Jeopardy. This technology will eventually be put to use making medical diagnoses for those Americans that have health insurance. Plans are also in the works for building a special robot that will swiftly end the miserable lives of Americans who lack health insurance.