Today we wrapped up our consideration of David Hume. We saw that, like Berkeley, Hume thinks of himself as removing a key belief from the empiricist worldview, and then adjusting to the results. Just as Berkeley removed belief in matter, Hume removes belief in necessary connections. Hume thinks we are left with an ability to understand social life and to do experiments (to consider matters of fact), and to do mathematics (to consider relations of ideas). However, we are missing the key knowledge needed for metaphysics.
From the metaphysical point of view, all we are aware of is streams of what Locke would call simple ideas. We identify some of these ideas as ourselves, and others as bodies or other objects. Since we don't understand why the ideas fit together as they do, we're bundling them together in a way that is conventional and customary, but fundamentally arbitrary. Are there bodies? Hume thinks Berkeley's arguments show that we cannot be sure. Are there minds? Hume is not sure either.
Today we saw how Hume adjusts to a world in which he can find no necessary connection between cause and effect.
Although we cannot find an idea of necessary connection between causes and effects, Hume thinks we can be aware of a customary connection. This is to say that we recognize that what we receive in perception is a stream of ideas, it is up to us to arrange them as cause to effect. But once we recognize the role played by custom, we talk of what is plausible (it is more plausible that bread will nourish us than poison us, for example).
The orderliness of custom also, Hume thinks, shows us how to understand human freedom. There is such a thing as human nature - people are fundamentally the same everywhere - and our accounts of freedom should be located within that nature. Once we understand that our decisions are the products of our character and history (for what else could produce them?) we can see that there is no real problem of freedom. To be free is not to be a prisoner, drugged, or otherwise coerced. Hume is then a compatibilist, a soft-determinist. He sees no conflict between freedom and determinism (or as he might put it, the regularities we find in the world).
Hume also argues against miracles. We are constantly observing regularity, but no necessary connection. That means that miracles that conflict with natural laws are exceptions to those regularities, and, Hume thinks, contradict our previous experience. No wise person would ever believe reports of a miracle, Hume thinks.
Today we discussed David Hume's argument regarding necessary connections. Hume points out that our knowledge of cause and effect is knowledge that we have a posteriori, meaning that is knowledge we only get after we observe things in the world. What Hume means is that causal regularities are not logical laws; there is nothing contradictory about thinking that things function very differently from the way they seem to function in the world. This means that if we have knowledge of causality, it must come from our observations of the world.
Hume's copy principle states that every idea is a copy of an impression. So, Hume can ask, do we have impressions of causal power? Hume goes looking for causal power in a philosophically very robust sense, as a necessary connection between cause and effect. The question for Hume then is, do we (ever) observe a necessary connection between a cause and an effect? If the answer is no, then we have no impression of a necessary connection. Hume thinks that you can see that the answer is no by considering your own experience. You aren't aware of an impression of necessary connection between a cause and an effect, are you? If not, then the copy principle tells us that we can't have any ideas of necessary connection either.
Philosophers in Hume's time tried to support a necessary connection view in various other ways, and Hume attacks their accounts directly.
A mind-body dualist, like Descartes might say that the soul causes the body in a necessary way. Hume has three replies:
3-6 pp double spaced (~750-1500 words)
Due April 13, 2016, at 11:59 PM
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(1) How does David Hume use the copy principle to argue against the idea of a necessary connection between cause and effect? (2) Explain Hume's strongest argument against a Cartesian dualist. (3) Explain Hume's strongest argument against a Berkeleian or Lockean position. (4) Explain Hume's strongest argument against Malebranche. (5) Give a counterargument to one of the arguments you have presented (1-4), and evaluate the dispute.
Today we were introduced to David Hume. Hume distinguishes impressions from ideas: both are mental phenomena, but impressions are more vivid and forceful. When you see a cat, the seen cat is an impression. When you get angry, the anger is an impression. The memory of these things is an idea.
Hume's version of Empiricism is captured in his copy principle. The copy principle states that: Every idea is a copy of an impression. As we will see, Hume uses this principle as a weapon against his philosophical enemies.
However, Hume also allows for a very puzzling exception to the copy principle. Every distinct shade of colour is a different idea, Hume insists, and the copy principle applies. You can't just imagine new ideas of colour, you have to get impressions of them through experience - otherwise if you saw one colour, you could learn all the other colours by changing the colour very slightly again and again, without experience. And yet - even though this seems to contract what I have just written, Hume also thinks that someone familiar with pretty much every shade of blue but missing just one shade could generate an idea of it without an impression! Hume allows there will be a few other such cases, but in general he's not very worried about them.
We briefly mentioned the philosophy action figures. Unfortunately these have gotten a bit harder to find. You can check out the whole set here.
Today in class we considered several questions about the mind.
Are minds made of ideas?
No. The mind is a different thing from ideas. Ideas are dependent on minds, but minds are not dependent on ideas. Minds are substances, which exist independently of other things.
Do we have ideas of minds?
No. We have notions of minds. In Berkeley's ontology, there are two kinds of things, ideas and minds. In Berkeley's theory of knowledge, there are two kinds of things, ideas (ideas play a role in both metaphysics and epistemology), and notions (which are how we know and think about minds).
Can the mind act on ideas?
Yes. Minds act on ideas of imagination, and also on those ideas that we share with God. Remember that when we sense bodies, the ideas of those bodies that we perceive play a role both in our understanding of bodies, and also in the composition of the actual bodies. Similarly, we can act on ideas that we sense, and in this way influence the world.
Is the mind free?
Yes. The mind is free, because on Berkeley's view all causes are minds. Therefore there is no worry of a deterministic challenge. And since all causes are minds, talk of minds freely causing things is not any more obscure than any other causal talk.
Is Berkeley's account of mind compatible with the religious picture?
We talked about one sense in which it perhaps is compatible. Berkeley thinks that time is not absolute: your timeline consists of all the ideas you experience, and it does not necessarily map onto my timeline. That allows Berkeley to say that when we die, our very next moment is the Last Judgment - or at any rate, it allows him to address puzzles about souls waiting thousands of years until the end of history. More on Berkeley and religion next week!
3-6 pp double spaced (~750-1500 words)
Due March 30, 2016, at 11:59 PM
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Ideas, Atoms and Commonsense
Like Locke, Berkeley was an atomist. (1) What are atoms, on Berkeley's view? (2) How do Berkeley's 'idea atoms' make up bodies? (3) How does Berkeley preserve the distinction between real and imaginary bodies? Berkeley claims that his understanding of bodies is the most commonsensical way to think of them. (4) Give (a) the best reason you can think of (or find in our readings) in favour of this claim, and (b) the best reason to doubt it. (5) Evaluate the reasons that you have given: does Berkeley succeed or fail at defending commonsense, and why?
Today we saw that Berkeley sets himself the task of explaining everything making reference only to minds and ideas. We began with his account of bodies.
The task for Berkeley is to give an account of bodies using just minds and ideas. He thinks he can accomplish this by explaining bodies as collections of ideas. So what makes up a body like a chair is a collection of tiny ideas, what he sometimes calls ‘minima’ – the smallest perceivable ideas.
Like Locke, Berkeley thinks we understand bodies by forming collections of our own ideas. Now when it comes to sensing bodies, the ideas of sense are actually in both collections. They are in the collections that we form, and in the collections that actually make up bodies. Berkeley thinks this makes him a realist about perception.
Since minima play the role of atoms for Berkeley, he thinks he can avoid John Locke’s puzzle of the man with ‘microscopical eyes’. Locke worries that the man with microscopical eyes sees the truth while we cannot see truth because we cannot see atoms. But on Berkeley’s view, a single act of perception reveals idea-atoms (=minima) as well as bodies!
We then spoke about how Berkeley handles science and mathematics. Scientifically, Berkeley is an instrumentalist. He thinks science is a tool that is very useful, but the truth is to be found at the level of collections of ideas, rather than in scientific theories.
Today we encountered George Berkeley's 'immaterialism'. Berkeley's point is that there is no such thing as matter. Some philosophers think that perception is a three part event, involving a perceiver, who perceives ideas, which represent bodies. Berkeley aims to simplify this story, by proposing that bodies = collections of ideas. So on Berkeley's view, a tree or a desk is a combination, not of physical atoms, but of very basic ideas.
Berkeley offered at least two reasons for taking his view.
The first reason is an argument from a Lockean point of view. Locke thought that ideas of primary qualities resemble their objects and reveal an external world, while ideas of secondary qualities do not. Locke thought that we could see this because our ideas of secondary qualities vary from one perceiver to another, while our ideas of primary qualities don't vary. But Berkeley points out that our ideas of primary qualities vary also. For example, figure looks different from close up or far away, and from different vantage points something may or may not seem to be moving. Berkeley's point is that, for all the same reason that Locke thinks that ideas of secondary qualities are mind-dependent, he (Berkeley) can conclude that ideas of primary qualities are mind independent as well. For this argument, check out sections 14-15.
The second reason is what I call 'Berkeley's challenge'. If you disagree with Berkeley that there is no material world and only ideas, Berkeley challenges you, the reader, to imagine something that is not an idea. Isn't anything you might think of an idea? Berkeley thinks you will find the answer is yes, and if that is true, then you can't really present an alternative to his view. If Berkeley has a view but you don't, Berkeley thinks he wins by default.
Good luck on the midterm, everybody. If you have any questions, please try to get them to me earlier rather than later. I won't be in the country Wednesday.
Today we concluded our discussion of Locke's account of human freedom, or liberty. On Locke's view, liberty, or free action requires two things. (1) The action must be willed, and (2) the agent must have the power to do or not do the action. Now since the using your will is part of the definition of liberty, it doesn't make sense to ask if the will is free. However, Locke does think that the mind is determined by the greatest recent uneasiness - essentially by pain. Locke thinks that most of the time, we act to avoid pain, but sometimes we can suspend our thinking, allowing us to consider before we act. This, Locke thinks, is the heart of human freedom. As we discussed, Locke could be either a libertarian or a soft-determinist.
Next we looked at Locke's argument for the existence of a mind-independent world. If we perceive ideas, rather than directly perceiving the world, how can we be sure that there is an external, mind-independent world? Ideas, which are supposed to reveal the world, instead seem to block it from our view. Ideas are thus the 'veil of perception', the veil that obscures our ability to sense things directly. To put it another way, imagine that God annihilated the external world, but kept providing you with ideas. What would look different? Locke doesn't seem to be able to point to anything.
Locke does think we know that a mind-independent world exists. He supposes that we have a special sort of knowledge, sensitive knowledge, which we can trust because…
Have a good reading week, everybody. See you in two weeks. Remember, the mid-term is now on March 2nd, so we will have one more class before the test.