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Archive for January, 2013


Kant re-introduced us to a very interesting version of the ontological proof in his consideration of the a priori grounds of our moral sensibility. But does this then negate the epistemological conclusions of the first critique? I don’t think so. I do so wish that Freud had kept this in mind when he re-created the rationalist mind in his own image! As ego transference. As will to sex.



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An ontological proof


The question of freedom or free will often comes up in connection with a behavioral account of mind and body. The claim is that by reducing mind to body (i.e. seeking a neurophysiological account of thoughts, feelings, needs, desires) we are denying free will, freedom of choice. In this way, the so called reductive approach is painted in the colors of fascism, absolutism, nihilism or just plain stupidity. But the so called reductive approach is actually no reduction at all. Think of it this way: I walk into a restaurant that has steak and salmon on the menu. I desire salmon. The desire is in my brain. Where else could it be? It’s not in the salmon or the menu. It’s not in the mouth that orders the salmon (the mouth is not an automaton, it’s controlled by the brain). So the brain configures a desire. One second it has no desire, the next it does. The desire is now a part of the universe. Is that reductionistic? Not so far. What else does the behaviorist say about the situation? Well, certainly I could have chosen steak. In which case the universe would have a different configuration because the brain would have a different configuration. Each one of our desires has a configuration, a state of affairs of the universe at any given moment. And each desire has a performance (i.e. an actual ordering of the steak or the salmon according to our desire) which is also a configuration. The first configuration is a desire, the second the satisfaction of the desire. A third configuration may be the conditions of satisfaction of the desire. Whatever. The point is that in between these states of affairs (the desire and the performance) is some time, during which the universe is in a configuration called “freedom.” This is the gap between the desire and the performance. It’s where choice is configured. It’s where choice or free will is part of the state of affairs of the universe. It’s a real part of the universe because the universe is real during that time (how could it be otherwise?). It’s where my ability to choose otherwise corresponds to a configuration of the universe in which I can still choose otherwise. It’s where the conditions of satisfaction satisfy the experience of freedom realized in my brain. So really, by saying that the mind is a feature of the brain, have we committed any sort of reduction at all? And hey, if you want to call the conditions of satisfaction of freedom something special like Sally, or Fred or God—be my guest!

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The Undivided Line: A spectrum model of mind

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My Tractatus (pace Wittgenstein)

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is science antithetical to poetry? western philosophers have been debating this question ever since plato. in his most famous dialogue, the republic, he outlaws poetry as a false representation of a lie and seems to set up philosophy as the true calling of the educated and (he hopes) ruling class elite. but is poetry really antithetical to science? or is this based on a false nihilism that starts with the assumption of ignorance, leading oh so nicely to the necessity of knowledge, and thence to the primacy of science (philosophy). and yet, if we start somewhere else, perhaps with the assumption of wisdom, can we not embrace the authenticity of art as an equal “truth?” and give up the utility of truth altogether? and replace it with ….what….?


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another thought: philosophy for me also provides an important compliment to science. if we accept for the moment kant’s observation that absolute truth is unachievable, then we can easily progress to kierkegaard’s model of human existence as characterized by multiple “modes of being,” neither one more necessary or true than any other. what matters is what he called “inwardness” or the capacity to live authentically, to build a life worth living (to use DBT language) or to live with courage and love (FAP model). in such an approach to life the subjective truth is just as valuable as the objective. in fact the subjective / objective dialectic breaks down entirely, since there is no such thing as objective truth any longer. so all we have are what rorty calls redescriptions or what skinner calls verbal behaviors, at least as far as our cognitive processes are concerned. but poetry can elicit different experiences, and i think to ignore this wellspring of creativity is ineffective. just as i think we need to look to alternative cultural traditions for the “biodiversity” that may help us solve our most entrenched problems, i think we need to look to creative writing (philosophy being one form of that) for awareness and love in the face of a violent world. in difficult times, i believe we need the courage of poetry.

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From one perspective, one could see the entire western epistemological tradition as having been founded on nihilism: the story that Socrates was the wisest man in all Greece because he knew that he did not know. From this perspective, ignorance as a heuristic test of knowledge and a spur to dialectical investigation might be viewed as highly suspect, as being contrary to a vigorous and vital existence. Because we do know things. Our daily survival is living testament to our knowledge. So why affirm the opposite? Why, indeed, assume that life is elsewhere?



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