Keeping it Small and Simple

2008.04.10

Philosophy interviews on YouTube

For anybody who is interested in philosophy (and who isn’t?) and enjoys listening to philosophical discussions in addition to reading philosophy, I recommend user flame0430’s channel. Here you will find Bryan Magee discussing different philosophical topics with various famous philosophers.

You can watch Magee discuss Wittgenstein with John Searle, Hilary Putnam talking about the philosophy of science, and much more. I especially find the interviews with John Searle really interesting. I hope more of these interviews will be uploaded soon. I am particularly interested in the ones relating to Hume, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Heidegger.

I understand that these interviews were conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s amazing to see how much television has degenerated since. We are currently seeing this happen with the Internet. As soon as commercial interests begin to dominate, cheap entertainment is all you will be served, anything useful is cast aside.

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2008.03.14

IEP on the Gettier problem

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , , — Lorenzo E. Danielsson @ 00:24

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an example of the Gettier problem that I have a problem with.

From the article:

Consider an example. Suppose that the clock on campus (which keeps accurate time and is well maintained) stopped working at 11:56pm last night, and has yet to be repaired. On my way to my noon class, exactly twelve hours later, I glance at the clock and form the belief that the time is 11:56. My belief is true, of course, since the time is indeed 11:56. And my belief is justified, as I have no reason to doubt that the clock is working, and I cannot be blamed for basing beliefs about the time on what the clock says. Nonetheless, it seems evident that I do not know that the time is 11:56. After all, if I had walked past the clock a bit earlier or a bit later, I would have ended up with a false belief rather than a true one.

Why do I not know that the time is 11:56? As stated, (1) it is true, (2) I believe it to be true and (3) I am justified in believing that it is true. Getting to class just in time provides me we further evidence that the time was in fact 11:56 when I passed the clock.

If I had passed by a little earlier or a little later I would be early or late for class so my belief would not cohere with facts around me. That would lead to a conflict between my belief and the truth, and I would have to question the justification for my belief.

Let’s suppose that the clock gets repaired without me knowing it. Then I never have a reason to question my belief at the time I glanced at the clock. On the other hand, if I see the clock getting repaired or later get told that it was broken, then, again, the justification for my belief falls apart.

So, as far as I’m concerned, in the example above I have a justified true belief, hence knowledge. As it so happens, it is purely circumstantial that I have a justified true belief. But this particular JTB has been seasoned with that wonderful philosophical spice called “luck” or “fluke”.

2008.03.12

Atheist or Agnostic

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Lorenzo E. Danielsson @ 10:38

*Sigh*.. I ended up in a little discussion over here about atheism and agnosticism. Dealing with dogmatic people, whether Christian or atheists, is obviously not much fun at all. So I’ll make a few clarifications of my viewpoint here, instead of spamming another blog.

Atheism is the denial of the existence of a god, nothing more nothing less. This is stated well here. Obviously, in order to deny the existence of some entity E, whether divine or not, you have to claim that it is possible to prove that such entity absolutely does not exist, otherwise there is no basis for the denial.

Not being able to do so would have to lead you to conclude that you cannot prove the non-existence of E but you still do not believe in it, which is what (theistic) agnosticism is (also clearly explained in the SEP article). (That is not necessarily true. One could at least conceive the idea of an agnostic who does believe.)

So how would one go about proving or disproving the existence of the entity E? To (empirically) prove the existence of E one merely has to find it. As soon as one finds just a single example of E it has been proven to exist, at least in that point in time. It becomes a lot more difficult to disprove the existence of E, especially if we claim that E can be anywhere in the universe and is mobile. That would require divine powers indeed.

A little example: suppose I ask you is there a cup in the room?. How would you be able to know? Well, you start searching the room. As soon as you find a cup, you can tell me yes, there is. But you would have to search the entire room before you could conclude that there is no cup in the room.

That is fine, but now let’s suppose I instead ask, is there a cockroach in the room? Again, you would have to search the room. If you find one you have your answer. (If you find cockroach shit you can merely conclude that it is likely that a cockroach either is there or has been there recently.) But if you don’t find one, does that mean there is no cockroach in the room, or simply that it moved around so it was never at the particular place where you were looking at the moment?

One might try to use logic to disprove the existence of gods. This has been attempted many times, but as is common with pure mind games, they easily run aground (not to mention, put you in a straitjacket). It is all too simple for somebody to come up with a counter-argument, and since neither can be verified you get stuck.

Various inductive arguments are possible, but then they still run into that little problem that Hume wrote about. We cannot use an inductive argument and then claim absolute certainty. Without absolute certainty, how do you deny?

It is possible (but unlikely) that one can sit down and work out some grand scheme that absolutely rejects the existence of any divine being(s). But that would probably take a very long time. Since I do not believe in gods and religion plays no role in my life, it is not a task I’m ready to undertake. I have better things to do with my time. Hence, I stay a non-believing agnostic.

I think many people who claim to be atheists are, from a philosophical point of view, not really atheist. They are more anti-Christian, probably outraged at the never-ending attempts by Christians to force their ideas upon others. And I fully agree, it is fucking annoying when you tell a Christian that you are not religious and their response to that is to invite you to church or some similar bullshit. Nothing pisses me off more. They should learn to respect the words “I do not believe in gods” instead of drooling over the prospect of yet another tithe-paying church member.

Theism and atheism are both absolutist viewpoints. These are excellent breeding grounds for fundamentalism and intolerance of other ideas. Agnosticism rests comfortably with the notion that one cannot know for sure, so just a little bit of humility is in order.

Further Reading

As always, don’t take my word for it. Go and read for yourself. Here are some starting points.

Stanford Encyclopdia of Philosophy – Atheism and Agnosticism: A good introduction to the subject.

Bertrand Russell – Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?: Clearly indicates the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Read the section “Proof of God”.

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