Locke and Reid on Personal Identity

In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke considers the notion of personal identity. He offers an account of what it means to be a person and what it means to say that a at time t1 is the same person at time t2. According to Locke, a person is a rational thinking being. Identity of a person over time then consists in continuity of the consciousness which accompanies the person’s thoughts. “As far back as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person” (quoted in Personal Identity. Ed. John Perry. University of California Press. 2008. page 39). Thomas Reid criticizes Locke’s views in his essay called Of Memory (also quoted in Personal Identity). Reid writes that the only thing Locke could have possibly meant when he wrote about extending consciousness backward is memory. Reid attacks the view that memory makes it the case that personal identity continues over time.

Reid believes that Locke has confused the evidence we have for personal identity with personal identity itself. He writes that it makes no sense to say that a person’s memory of having performed an action makes it the case that he or she is the person that performed the action. To speak like that is to say that “the testimony is the cause of the thing testified” (116). Since memory is supposed to be the testimony of personal identity, it cannot cause personal identity.

Reid illustrates his point with an example. The only way that we can tell if a given horse is the same horse as one we have seen earlier is by similarity of appearance. But we would not say that the identity of the horse just is similarity of appearance. It being the same horse explains why it looks the same, rather than it looking the same explaining that it is the same horse. Likewise, my being the same person makes it the case that I can remember my past actions, rather than my memory making it the case that I am the same person.

Locke wants to say that consciousness or memory is a necessary and sufficient condition for personal identity. Reid says that it cannot be a necessary condition (because it can be the case that someone performed an action without remembering that they performed it), though it is a sufficient condition. Locke, however, would not want to give up the idea that memory is a necessary condition for personal identity because he thinks it is the only principle that allows us to assert that one person cannot inhabit multiple bodies throughout history. He thinks it is impossible to show that an immaterial substance cannot inhabit multiple bodies. But if memory is a necessary condition for personal identity, Locke can say that even if an immaterial substance were to inhabit another body, it would not be the same person because the person in the new body cannot remember actions performed in another body.

Locke might respond to this by saying that he never meant to say that memory causes personal identity. He could then say that something else causes personal identity, but it is still the case that memory is a necessary condition for personal identity. We just always see continuity of personal identity coinciding with memory even though there is no causation. This will not work though because he would have to say that it just so happens that personal identity is caused only when memory is present. This would be quite an odd situation and he would then have to give a story about why this is the case.

Or Locke might say that it does not make sense to talk about causation of personal identity at all. He could say that when we talk about personal identity, we are not talking about some thing or organization of things physically existing in the world. Personal identity is simply something we ascribe to a man and as such it is not caused at all. Locke’s theory can be understood as an attempt to bring forth a criterion that describes when we would attribute personal identity. He often appeals to our intuition by asking whether in a given situation we would call someone the same person or not. In this case, the ideas of testimony and thing testified don’t come up, so Reid’s objection is groundless.

I think this defense by Locke is on the right track. Personal identity is only ever an epistemological question, never a metaphysical one. At best, the discussion of personal identity is about the conditions under which we would judge personal identity to continue. So whatever criteria is offered needs to correctly predict the instances in which we have a clear intuition about whether personal identity continues in a specific situation. It also needs to give a clear prediction for cases in which our intuition is not so clear. According to the intuition of most people, a personhood continues through drunken and sober states. This intuition is useful when deciding that a person be punished for what they do while drunk. In the case of an accident that causes amnesia or severe mental damage, our intuition is not so clear. A prediction for this case would be useful in deciding, for example, whether the person is responsible for upholding a contract. The predictions based on the memory theory seem to coincide with our intuition in most cases, but it will need some fine tuning to get it where we need it to be.

However, even with this fine tuning, memory theory can only predict in cases where we know whether an individual has memory. Memory is currently inaccessible from third-person positions and it is not clear whether memory can ever be accessible that way. Memory is sometimes inaccessible even from a first-person position. Ideally, we want a theory that accurately predicts personal identity based on something we know to be accessible from a third-person perspective.

Posted in Papers, Phil 100: Methods | Leave a comment


In 1955, Nelson Goodman published his celebrated reevaluation of Hume’s problem of induction1. He argued that Hume never attempted to find deductively sufficient justification for inductive predictions. Rather Hume’s account of constant connection and the like was meant to specify the rules of induction as a new kind of reasoning distinct from the kind used in deduction. He then continued to say that Hume’s real problem was not only misunderstood, but also unsolved. Goodman rejected Hume’s generalization principle as an insufficient explanation of our predictive practices which it attempted to describe. The generalization principle equally supports intuitively unacceptable hypotheses, most of which contain what are called “goodmanized” or “ill-behaved” predicates. Goodman calls the problem of distinguishing ill- and well-behaved predicates the “new riddle of induction.” In the same publication, Goodman offered a solution to this riddle which involves a consideration of the entrenchment—frequency of use in prediction—of the predicates used in a hypothesis. Like Hume, Goodman saw a deep and interesting problem for which he offered an insufficient solution. In this paper, I argue that we employ something like the so-called law of parsimony to reject hypotheses with ill-behaved predicates which is the basis of why hypotheses with entrenched predicates overrule other hypotheses.

Hume’s generalization principle runs something like “Predicting the presence of anything A from another thing B is supported to the degree that A and B have been observed together so long as B has not been seen without A.” For example, we feel justified in predicting that the next emerald will be green, because we have seen many emeralds that are green and have never seen an emerald that is not green. This principle describes what we do in inductive practice. However, Goodman realized that it is not strong enough to rule out what we don’t do in inductive practice. What if we chose “grue” and not green to plug in for A in the formula above? Grue things are defined as either green and observed before some time t, or blue and not observed before time t. Based on all of our observations of emeralds and the generalization principle, we could correlate them with grue just as strongly as we can correlate them with green. The kicker is that if we did form the belief that all emeralds are grue, we would predict that the first emerald observed after t will be blue.2 Since it cannot rule out the prediction that the next emerald will be blue, the generalization principle is insufficient. We need to add something to our account of induction that rules out predictions we would not make.

Now, the new problem of induction lies in distinguishing reasonable hypotheses from intuitively unacceptable ones. The unacceptable hypotheses contain ill-behaved predicates, so we must say something about what makes them ill-behaved without reference to intuition. Goodman attempts to solve the problem by pointing to what he calls entrenchment of predicates. Entrenchment is given by the frequency with which a predicate has been used in prediction. A hypotheses is then ruled out if it uses a predicate which we could have replaced with a better entrenched one. At first, it would seem this account does not allow for innovations in scientific theories since all new terms will not be entrenched and thereby ruled out. Goodman then supplements the account by saying that a predicate may inherit entrenchment from parent predicates and all coextensive predicates have equal entrenchment. Thereby, an unfamiliar predicate may actually gain entrenchment before anyone ever uses it. Goodman shows his criteria to be effective in rejecting ill-behaved predicates in a variety of examples.3

Goodman’s solution may exactly distinguish ill- and well-behaved predicates, but it (intentionally) says nothing about why predicates become entrenched.4 In fact, he maintains that predicates are well-behaved because they are well entrenched rather than the other way around. Goodman would have us think that it just so happened that green is the entrenched predicate while it could have turned out that grue had been better entrenched and in that case we would think that green was a weird and unnatural construction. This conclusion seems as unnatural as the ill-behaved predicates themselves. It is that grue is less entrenched than green, but it only is so because grue never could have been as deeply entrenched as green is now. In fact, it can never become entrenched at all. We need a description of why grue seems as weird to us now as it would have to the first person ever to think to call something green.

This solution requires a correct understanding of how induction works. Induction is reasoning from something to whatever caused it, but we are not limited to the thing itself in the evidence we can use in inferring its cause. It is true that both hypotheses “All emeralds are green” and “All emeralds are grue” are equally supported by any set of green emeralds, but we use much more than the set of green emeralds to judge the legitimacy of any hypothesis we might generalize from them.5 We also take into account certain other concepts that we have devised from observation. In particular, we bring something like what is commonly called the law of parsimony in judging hypotheses. Should a new hypothesis require too many new assumptions, we are likely to reject it. With induction our explanation must account for any other observation judged to work in the similar way to the phenomena to be explained.

We also gain the concept of a mechanism from experience. Here mechanism is used to denote that which we posit to explain regularities in the world. We recognize some group of events as a regularity such as things falling to the earth and then we posit a mechanism that is supposed to have caused all these events. Broadly speaking, science tries to determine which mechanisms are best to use in describing regularities. For example, Aristotle posited a mechanism which he called earth that explained why things move toward the earth. Modern science has then replaced Aristotle’s earth mechanism with that of gravity. Scientific laws are meant to calculate and predict the way a mechanism works. Whether any mechanisms actually exist and whether our scientific practices are zeroing in on the correct mechanisms if they do exist are beside the point here. Since we are only trying to account for why we judge certain predicates to be ill-behaved, we only need to see that we use the concept of a mechanism when making that judgement.

By bringing in the concept of a mechanism to our judgements of hypotheses, we see that much more is implied by the hypothesis “All emeralds are grue” than we are willing to accept. In order for the set of emeralds to be a subset of the things that are grue, we must also accept the following: 1) Some emeralds are blue. 2) We will observe all green emeralds before t. 3) We will not observe any blue emerald before t. For 2 and 3, we must posit at least one mechanism that does not come into play with the hypotheses “All emeralds are green.” We would need this mechanism to explain why all green emeralds must be observed before any blue one can appear. For 1, given the current understanding of how we see color, we must posit at least one extra mechanism that affects the molecular structure, or the wavelength emitted by emeralds, or our perceptual organs.

At this point, this solution is basically identical to that of entrenchment. We judge grue as requiring too many mechanisms only in comparison to the mechanisms required for green. If the account were to stop here it would be vulnerable to the objection that if we account for acceptability of predicates based on the mechanisms involved, we could not argue that some predicates could never have been used. In that case, we would have only pushed the problem back a step, and we would now need to account for why we posit the mechanisms we do. Why couldn’t it have been the case that we posited the grue mechanism when we could have posited the green one? It might seem possible that, as Goodman implies,6 if we start with the concept of grue and its counterpart bleen, then green—as grue before time t and bleen otherwise—would seem like the ill-behaved predicate. Provisionally, we can say that we cannot define green in terms of grue and bleen because grue is already defined in terms of green and blue. But if it is somehow possible to come up with the definition of grue without reference to green or blue, say if someone could pre-theoretically pick out grue things without thinking or even knowing what green and blue are, this objection would have weight and entrenchment would be the best theory we can come up with.

It is not possible to understand grue without first understanding green and blue. Suppose we met someone who was able to pick out grue things pre-theoretically and put her in front of a table of green and blue things. She would pick out all things we call green and call them grue. If we showed her something we would call blue, she would have to say something like “You showed me that too early for it to be grue. That thing is bleen.” Assuming she thought t had not come about yet, all things we would call green, she would call grue. And all things we would call blue, she would call bleen. From this it is clear, even without knowing the words “green” and “blue,” she would still have to be able to distinguish things based on their visual appearances. She would also have to be able to compare the current time to t. Thus, it is impossible for someone to pre-theoretically distinguish grue things without being able to distinguish green and blue. This paper has focused on just the rejection of the predicate grue. The same comments could be made about any other predicate of the form X before t, or Y otherwise where X and Y are exclusive predicates. I suspect the same comments would also apply to any ill-behaved predicate.

Just as it is at least conceivable that someone could pick out all things falling into a category without explicitly defining the category, entrenchment may exactly predict the predicates we judge to be ill-formed, but the doesn’t mean it is the rule by which we judge them. Parsimony seems to more closely match the steps in reasoning we use in judging the legitimacy of hypotheses. Most likely, there are several inductive steps involved in such a judgement and other principles or concepts are employed along with the mechanism and the law of parsimony. Should the rules of induction ever be made explicit, some reference to parsimony of mechanisms would definitely be involved.

1 N. Goodman. Fact, Fiction and Forecast. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1955.

2 In this paper, I will only be concerned with this specific kind of prediction that we want to rule out, namely those involving some predicate defined as X before t, and Y otherwise. Application of this solution to other ill-behaved predicates is beyond the scope of the current paper.

3 Ibid. 101-119

4 Ibid. 98

5 Goodman also noticed this. See ibid. pages 84-85

6 Ibid. 79-80

Posted in Papers, Phil 122: Knowledge | Leave a comment

Hegel, Kierkegaard, Judge Wilhelm and Stewart on the Either/Or

Among things for which Hegel is famous is the (perhaps widely misinterpreted) mediation or sublation1 of concepts to a higher unity. Among things for which Kierkegaard is famous is his criticism of the role of sublation in philosophy. For both philosophers, the phrase “either/or” designates a situation such that out of multiple options, exactly one obtains. The either/or is generally seen as an opposite concept to that of sublation. The common view is that Hegel denies the existence of an either/or and Kierkegaard accepts it. Jon Stewart has reconsidered Kierkegaard’s relation to Hegel on this and other topics2. In particular he interprets a passage from Either/Or3 as an example of Kierkegaard’s reception of Hegel’s doctrine of sublation. The book is an exchange in the form of a treatise by a character known only as A, and a response by another character, Judge Wilhelm. Concerning this passage, Stewart writes: “I wish to argue … that despite what at first seems to be a polemical stance against Hegel’s principle of mediation, Judge Wilhelm ultimately sketches a position that is in harmony with Hegel” (Stewart, 195). I will briefly explain Hegel’s view of the phases of logic as explained in the first volume of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences4. Then I will consider the section that Stewart cites in which Judge Wilhelm compares A to the Hegelians of his time. Finally, I will look at Stewart’s comparison of these two points of view and show it to be incorrect. I hope to show that both Hegel and Kierkegaard would agree that Judge Wilhelm’s view is not compatible with Hegel’s. If all this succeeds, I will have shown that the general interpretation of these philosophers’ positions on the either/or is correct.

For Hegel, the either/or is an arbitrary construction of what he calls “the understanding.” Hegel’s logic consists in three phases: the Abstract, the Dialectical, and the Speculative. The understanding “invests its subject-matter with the form of universality” (EL, 113) and generally clarifies and disambiguates thoughts in the Abstract phase. The understanding proceeds by rules akin to those studied today under the field of Formal Logic. Although Hegel says “Philosophy can never get on without the understanding,” he goes on to say “understanding must not go too far” (EL, 115). He thinks that understanding goes too far when it “draws a hard and fast line between certain items and others opposite to them. We may see this clearly in the strict ‘either/or’” (EL, 52). Hegel thinks that formal logic begins with at least two contrary maxims, which ultimately give rise to the either/or. The maxim of excluded middle conflicts with the maxim of identity—e.g. x(x=x)because everything is defined equally by what it is and what it is not. The understanding similarly gets itself into trouble when it posits not-entities, which are defined as exactly the opposite of something. For example an object is said to be blue or not-blue, and exactly one of those properties applies to every object. The error here is that not-blue is merely a posited property. To be sure, blue is a posited property as well, but it is posited to describe the blue things we find in the world. There are no not-blue things in the world, only yellow things, green things, yellow and green things, etc. (EL, 172-173). By constructing these rules, the understanding prevents reason from proceeding to the other phases of logical development.

Unrestrained by such logical principles, reason continues on to higher truths. The Dialectic phase brings a view into opposition with itself and the Speculative phase “apprehends the unity of terms (propositions) in their opposition” (EL, 119). Hegel denies the existence of contradictions as the understanding would define them. He instead reserves the word “contradiction” for times when a view is unable to express its own beliefs due to misunderstood terms. (For example, when the view called Sense Certainty tries to say that we are certain of the ‘here’ and ‘now’ without the use of universals. This is contradictory because sense certainty uses the here and now as universals.) Hegel seems to have found what he thinks is the perfect word for the movement of the speculative stage: “aufheben.” He explains that this word has a double meaning. It can mean either “to clear away or annul” or “to keep or preserve.” He then says “This double usage of language … is not an accident.” It exemplifies “the speculative spirit of our language rising above the mere ‘either/or’ of understanding” (EL, 142). For Hegel, sublation is a necessary movement from two contradictory views to another, which retains some aspects from each view while rejecting problematic aspects. For Hegel any apparent contradiction either involves a mistaken not-entity or can be sublated to a “completer notion” (EL, 174).

In Either/Or, Judge Wilhelm acknowledges Hegel’s usage of sublation in “the spheres proper to thought” (EO, 174), but simultaneously maintains that in the world of freedom or choice, “there rules an absolute either/or” (EO, 175). Judge Wilhelm distinguishes two worlds: one for Hegelian philosophy and one for ethical choice. For the Judge, the either/or is present in any choice. To choose is always to exclude some other possibility that one could have chosen. By definition, a choice implies options. The Judge believes that by choosing, exactly one of these options obtains. It is impossible for us to ever choose all the options available to us at a particular time. Even if one decides to pursue each available option in turn, he or she has chosen to exclude the option of choosing any one option alone. Thus the Judge believes that although sublation has a proper place, there exists a situation such that sublation is invalid namely, in free choice.

Stewart believes that Judge Wilhelm has combined the concepts of sublation and the either/or in such a way that Hegel’s original view is not violated. “With the distinction between the sphere of thought and the sphere of freedom, both doctrines get their due without contradicting each other. Thus, there is no incompatibility between the doctrine that Judge Wilhelm expounds and Hegel’s philosophy on this point” (Stewart, 202). Although the Judge grants validity to Hegel’s doctrine of sublation, he does so by limiting its application. Hegel would have expressly rejected this compromise. To admit any instance of the either/or is to give precedence to it. If there were these two distinct spheres, we could say that for any situation either sublation is possible, or it is not. Each situation would fall under exactly one of these descriptions. Before we can use sublation, we must exclude the possibility that sublation is impossible for the given situation. We must exclude the possibility that the either/or could apply. This is why Hegel writes “Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract ‘either/or’ as the understanding maintains” (EL, 174). He must deny the either/or outright in order for sublation to have the role he wants it to. Thus, any view which seeks to combine sublation and the either/or is incompatible with Hegelian philosophy.

Kierkegaard also believed the either/or is utterly incompatible with sublation. This idea is expressed in many of his pseudonymous works, thus, it would seem,we may conclude he held this belief himself. Judge Wilhelm writes “The Either/Or I have advanced is, therefore, in a certain sense absolute, for it is between choosing and not choosing. But since the choice is absolute choice, the Either/Or is absolute” (EO, 178). The Hegelian system, built on the necessary movements of sublation and mediation, has nothing to say about individual choice. Similarly, in Concluding Unscientific Postscript5, Johannes Climacus, the pseudonymous author of that work, writes “Everyone is familiar with the fact that the Hegelian philosophy has rejected the principle of contradiction. Hegel himself has more than once sat in solemn judgement upon those thinkers who remain in the sphere of reflection and understanding, and therefore insist that there is an either/or” (CUP, 270). Climacus also offers a view similar to that of the Judge. He writes that the either/or is nullified when brought into abstract thought. He then says “On the other hand, Hegel is equally wrong when, forgetting the abstraction of his thought, he plunges down into the realm of existence to annul the double aut6 with might and main” (CUP, 271). Kierkegaard sees that it is important forHegel to deny any existence of the either/or anywhere. Even if Kierkegaard himself did not believe this, at the least, we can conclude that Judge Wilhelm meant his remarks as a criticism of Hegelian philosophy. The Judge did not intend to “sketch a position that is in harmony with Hegel” as Stewart claims.

Judge Wilhelm compared A, the actual target of his writing, with Hegelians and accused them of being “guilty of the same error” (EO, 170). A and the Hegelians are both unable to make choices. A refuses to choose because he thinks the choices don’t make a difference one way or the other. The Hegelians, on the other hand, are unable to make a choice. Hegel thought ethics was a mistaken field. For this reason, he considered the either/or only the abstract, logical sense. He also never claimed his system, with all its necessary movements, is able to predict or prescribe anything for the future. Kierkegaard offers ethical decision as a counter-example. It is an instance in which options arereally contradictory. Hegel can only deny this counter-example by overlooking ethics altogether. And this is Kierkegaard’s real objection to Hegel’s system. Even if a philosopher gains objective knowledge by means of sublation and mediation, “he wins the whole world and he loses himself” (EO, 176). Kierkegaard objects that the system is incomplete because it has not told us what we, as individuals, are to do. Hegel promises absolute knowledge as if from the viewpoint of eternity, but this is of no use to us as we are stuck in our subjective conditions in which we must choose how to live our lives. “What [we need] instead is precisely an explanation of how the eternal truth is to be understood in determinations of time, which even the worshipful Herr Professor concedes, if not always, at least once a quarter when he draws his salary” (CUP, 172). Hegel must think he has benefited mankind in some way by teaching his philosophy, but what benefit could it offer since it tells us nothing more to do than to sit and contemplate the past?

1 In both primary and secondary literature the distinction between sublation and mediation is not clear. The terms seem to be used interchangeably for what I call, in this paper, sublation. My definition of sublation is given in paragraph 3.

2 Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003.

3 Pages 170-6 of Either/Or: Part II, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1987. Hereafter EO.

4 Hegel’s Logic: Being Part One of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, translated by William Wallace. London: Oxford University Press 1975. Hereafter EL.

5 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, translated by David F. Swenson. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1968. Hereafter CUP.

6 The latin version if either/or is aut/aut.

Posted in Papers, Phil 181: Hegel | Leave a comment

Why Kant Was Not A Cognitive Scientist

Andrew Brook has recently tried to assimilate Kant’s project in the Critique of Pure Reason into the current model of cognitive science. Basically, he claims that Kant was quite ahead of his time in that he regarded the common philosophical issues of his time as dead-ends. “Like contemporary cognitive science but radically unlike other philosophies of his own time, Kant was blithely unconcerned about the great questions about knowledge of the external world, skepticism, solipsism etc.” Instead, Kant is reported to have proceeded with assumptions more closely related to those of cognitive science. “Unlike the [philosophical] tradition but like contemporary cognitive science, he simply took it for granted that we have knowledge: a priori knowledge about conceptual structures and perceptual knowledge of the world of space and time.” (Andrew Brook. “Kant and Cognitive Science”. In The Prehistory of Cognitive Science. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007: pp. 117-36) Actually, Kant wanted to prove the existence and justification of “a priori knowledge about conceptual structures” (the categories). In doing so, he sought to prove his own answers to the “great questions about knowledge” in a doctrine which he called transcendental idealism.

Transcendental idealism is founded upon Kant’s distinction between things as they appear to us and things as they are in themselves. He makes this distinction in the preface as part of his Copernican revolution which is the experimental hypothesis that things conform to our methods of representation. Things as they appear to us are things that conform to our ways of representation. To consider a thing in itself is to consider it such that our representations would have to conform to it. Thus, transcendental idealism holds that we cannot be certain about anything concerning things in themselves because we cannot be sure that our representations have really conformed to the thing. All we can really know is that which can or does appear to us in experience. And we can know about our way of representing by considering that which is presupposed in any experience we may have. In this way, Kant discovers that space and time are necessary for anything appearing to us at all. Kant argues for our knowledge of spacio-temporal structures rather than taking them for granted as Brook claims.

Kant distinguishes transcendental idealism from other kinds of idealism. Specifically, he denies problematic idealism and dogmatic idealism. Problematic idealism is the problem raised by Descartes concerning the existence of an external world. Kant argues against this by proving that “ever our inner experience, which for Descartes is indubitable, is possible only on the assumption of outer experience” (B275). Problematic idealism, attributed to Berkeley, is the doctrine that there is no matter at all in the world and that all of our experiences are illusions, or ideas existing merely in our minds and the mind of God. This view is closer to transcendental idealism, but Kant explicitly denies it. Appearances are not illusions according to Kant because, objects are “always regarded as something given” (B69), which means that they have their source outside us. In order to deny each of these other kinds of idealism, Kant shows that there must be some objective reality independent of us. So, contrary to Brook’s claims quoted earlier, Kant was quite concerned with skepticism, the external world, and other questions about knowledge of reality in general.

From transcendental idealism, it follows that there must be a priori concepts that we use in experience. As the Copernican hypothesis implies, these concepts are that to which objects must conform it order for us to have knowledge of them. An empiricist like Hume would agree that we have concepts that must be used in experience, but he or she would not know what to say about their origin other than to say they are phantoms of the brain or something like that. Kant on the other hand will say that these concepts must be a priori and precede experience since they are the conditions of having any experience at all. Kant takes the forms of judgements as his clue to discovering what these pure concepts might be. In judgements we apply a concept to a term so the basic ways in which we do that should bear some relation to the concepts we apply to objects in experience. Due to the several similarities between judging and cognizing, Kant concludes that there must be a concept of the understanding for each way in which we judge things in the world. This set of concepts is then called the categories, since Aristotle’s list of forms of judgement from which they were derived was also called that. If the account of the categories stopped here, then Brook’s claim that Kant takes them for granted might have been arguable. Just showing that we have a set of concepts that we use in cognizing objects, even if they are indispensable in that activity does not show that we are justified in using them or that we cannot have any experience at all without using them. And, Kant wants to make both of these claims.

One of the most important sections in the first Critique, and the section Kant said required the most labor, is the transcendental deduction. Kant has produced the categories which are the “subjective conditions of thought” for us. The transcendental deduction is meant to justify our usage of the categories, meaning showing how the categories are objectively valid. In contrast, Hume would agree that concepts such as causality are indispensable in our understanding of experience, but he denied that the kind of justification Kant seeks to provide in the transcendental deduction is possible. Kant thinks that there are some concepts, such as fate, commonly used in experience that are not justified. Thus, Kant wants to distinguish the categories from these folk concepts. Kant’s outlines his main strategy in the deduction: “If we can prove that by their means alone an object can be thought, this will be a sufficient deduction of them, and will justify their objective validity” (A96-7). Kant then goes on to argue that an object of experience must be subject to the categories if it is to be a unified experience at all. Regardless of Kant’s method of argument or even whether the argument succeeds, Kant was far from taking a priori knowledge about our conceptual structures for granted. Kant sought to show the origin and justification of this knowledge.

It seems that Brooks wants to say that Kant was only concerned with the contents and workings of our minds. But really he wanted to say quite a bit beyond that. He did want to discover the concepts we must use in any thought at all, but he did this only in order to say something about the world that we think about as well. In fact, in order to really justify the knowledge we have through the categories, Kant has to say that reality as it appears to us is also structured according to the categories. Thus we see how closely related these two parts of Kant’s project in the Critique of Pure Reason are. According to the transcendental deduction, objects can only become objects for us insofar as they conform to the conceptual structures with which we cognize objects. This claim would be quite meaningless if he had failed to prove–—or worse, if he had failed to address—the existence of objects independent of the way we think of them. Kant in fact argues for our “a priori knowledge about conceptual structures” and does so in close conjunction with his attempt to answer the “great questions about knowledge of the external world, skepticism, solipsism etc.”

Posted in Papers, Phil 178: Kant | Leave a comment

Kant: Mid-term Study Questions

1. Explain Kant’s claim in the introduction that although all knowledge begins with experience, it is not all derived from experience. What alternative views are ruled out by this claim? If Kant is right, how might this bear upon what is possible to have knowledge of?

Kant explains the importance of empirical intuitions by saying “Thoughts without content are empty” (B75). Without content our thoughts could not be said to be about anything. However, once we have knowledge in this way, we can derive a priori knowledge about that experience. This knowledge is then not derived from experience, but requires knowledge derived from experience. To say that “all knowledge begins with experience” is to deny a major claim of the rationalist movement, namely that we are bore with innate knowledge. To say “it is not all derived from experience” is to deny the opposing camp called empiricism, which states that we can only know that which we learn through experience. If Kant is correct with these claims, we cannot have knowledge except about that which can be given to us in intuition. This means that if we cannot even possibly have an experience of something, we cannot ever know anything about it.

2. What is synthetic a priori knowledge and why does Kant think the question of how it is possible important?

Synthetic a priori is a combination of the two kinds of knowledge previously discussed in modern philosophy. It is necessary and has strict universality like logical truths, but also combines logically unrelated terms as empirical truths do. Empirical truths combine these concepts in virtue of something other than the concepts in the sentence, namely experience. Thus arises a problem for Kant, the main problem of the Critique: If synthetic a priori truths are to be truly a priori they must express a connection between concepts in virtue of something that is neither the concepts themselves nor experience. Kant believes that synthetic a priori knowledge is not only possible, but necessary and totally pervasive. All of mathematics and any experience we can have at all both require synthetic a priori concepts and intuitions. Kant’s task, then, is to show how they are possible, that is to say, how they are justified. Kant also believes that the progress and reputation of metaphysics has been seriously impeded by its failure to use synthetic a priori principles. Without such, metaphysics cannot go about its business of “extend[ing] our a priori knowledge” (B18). Thus, “upon the solution of this problem, or upon a sufficient proof that the possibility which it desires to have explained does in fact not exist at all, depends the success or failure of metaphysics” (B19).

3. Why does Kant characterize his endeavor as bringing about a Copernican Revolution in metaphysics? What way(s) of doing metaphysics does the Copernican Revolution reject, and why? What does Kant hope to achieve through such a revolution?

The Copernican Revolution in astronomy constituted a change in the role that we (the earth) play in explanations of galactic movement as we observe it. It was no longer thought that we were merely passive in these movements. Likewise, Kant re-envisioned our role in explanations of reality as we experience it. We are, according to the Critique of Pure Reason, quite active in the construction of reality. However, there is an important dissimilarity between the Kantian Revolution and that of Copernicus. Kant wanted to in fact center us in his account of metaphysics, while Copernicus removed us from the center of his account. In this way Kant is quite similar to Hume in discussing reality, our experience is all we can ever really talk about. However, Kant’s Revolution also implies epistemological methodology that sharply differs from that of Hume. Hume assumed that we learn about the world by ensuring that our representation of it agrees with that which we experience. This led him into several problems that Kant thinks are avoidable if we assume that reality actually must “conform to our mode of representation” (Bxx). This move shifts our inquiry from the objects of our representations to the ways in which we represent objects in general.

4. How does Kant argue in the Metaphysical Exposition that space is a) a priori b) an intuition?

There are two arguments for the claim that space is an a priori representation in the Metaphysical Exposition. The first states that space cannot be an empirical concept derived from experience because it is presupposed in any representation of outer appearances. If we were not already able to represent spacial relations (objects within the representation of space), strictly speaking, we would not see anything. We would not be able to distinguish objects from each other, nor as objects at all. To even recognize a representation as an object requires that the dimensions of that object be represented with it, and spacial dimensions presuppose a representation of space. The second argument says, similarly, that space must be a necessary precondition for any empirical representation because “we can never represent to ourselves the absence of space” (B38). This is similar to an experiment Kant describes in the Introduction. “If we remove from our empirical concept of a body, one by one, every feature in it which is merely empirical, the color, the hardness or softness, the weight, even the impenetrability, there still remains the space which the body (now completely vanished) occupied” (B5). All of our representations are necessarily contained within the representation of space. Kant actually provided one more argument in the Metaphysical Exposition which appeared only in the first edition of the Critique. It argues that if space were derived from experience, then all the knowledge of geometry would be merely contingent, and we would not have any certainty that such propositions must be true. Kant may have abandoned this line of argumentation because a die-hard empiricist would have no problem with geometry being contingent or with saying that all of logic is not absolutely certain, but only has held up as we have experienced it thus far.
There are also two arguments for the claim that space is an intuition. In both cases, the argument concludes that space is an intuition because it is not a concept. Also, they both argue that the representation of space cannot be a concept because it is not instantiated like concepts are. The first argument says that space cannot be instantiated to produce multiple representations of space, or “spaces.” Any time we speak of diverse spaces, we can only be talking about parts of the greater, boundless space. Thus, these spaces are not instantiations of the concept of space, as they all rely on the general and most basic representation of space. The next argument makes a similar point. When we talk of spaces in this way, the spaces are to be understood an falling within the broader space, while instantiations fall under their general concept.

5. Explain Kant’s claim that space is the form of intuition. What consequences does Kant think follow from this conclusion, and why? Is he right?

To say that space is the form of intuition is to say that it is not a property of things, nor is it a relationship between things. Properties of things and relations between them could only be understood a posteriori, and Kant has already shown that space must be a priori. Space is the way in which intuitions are given to us. Space is a “subjective condition of sensibility, under which alone intuition is possible for us” (B42). From this it follows that it is only from the human standpoint that space exists. Were humans not to exist, space would not exist. One might wonder, then, how it is that we can ascribe objective reality to space, if objective reality means something like independent existence. Space seems dependent upon is for its existence if this account of space is true.

6. In what way does Kant think that the method of philosophy must be differentiated from mathematical method? Focus especially on Kant’s comments on the experiment of reason at Bxvii and Bxixa.

Kant believes that philosophy should proceed according to a method of experimentation similar to that of natural science. He thinks that both philosophy and natural science can only experiment upon those things which we can observe and experience. The experimental object of philosophy then is what could be given to us in experience. This method differs from that of mathematics in that mathematics proceeds with concepts that it has constructed itself, not with anything that is given from outside itself. Thus it is not the business of philosophy to posit some concept that cannot become the object of experience nor to analyze what such a concept could mean or imply.

7. Give an example of a question we raise that transcends the bounds of reason. Also give examples of principles which we employ in experience although they are not justified by experience.

Some questions that transcend that bounds of reason concern the existence of God or freedom of the will or the immortality of the soul. Kant thinks that we are naturally drawn to these and other metaphysical questions. “In all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to exist some kind of metaphysics” (B21). Kant also remarks that previous attempts to solve such questions have been deterred by “nature’s leading strings” (Bxiii). These questions transcend our powers of reason because they involve concepts and entities of which we cannot possibly have experience, and also, because up to the writing of the Critique there is no clear understanding of what can be concluded concerning things which we have not yet experienced. A principle we commonly use in experience which is not justified by experience is causality. Hume rightly saw that this is indispensable for us in understanding our experiences.

8. In what sense does the Critique of Pure Reason serve as a tribunal? What is the criterion for making claims about what there is?

Kant believed that many of the metaphysical notions of the time were posited dogmatically and have no actual grounding. However, he also believed that many notions of the same kind are in fact necessary truths not to be doubted. Thus, the Critique is meant to distinguish these concepts. It seeks to do this by providing a new kind of justification which some metaphysical concepts can provide, and those that can’t are then to be regarded as succumbing to the “charm of extending our knowledge” beyond experience (B8). Basically, Kant distinguishes worthy metaphysical concepts by whether they can possibly be the object of experience for us.

9. Why is arithmetic synthetic a priori according to Kant?

Basically, arithmetic must be synthetic according to Kant because we must appeal to intuition in solving mathematical problems. What he means here is easiest to see with operations on big numbers so that the solution is not immediately apparent. For example: 45353 + 92842. We know that there is a simple process to solve this, and that is exactly Kant’s point. The solution to this operation is not included in the concept of 45353, nor in that of +, nor that of 92842. Any process we use to solve this is ultimately reducible to counting. To 45353, we add 1 92842 times. Counting is a form of our intuition of time according to Kant, but all he needs here is that it is something other than the concepts in the original problem. If one were to argue that the answer is contained in the numbers then an infinite number of such solutions would be contained in any number, one for each number to which it might be added.

10. How can Kant hold both that knowledge begins with experience, and what is experienced is not things as they are in themselves? Focus both on the beginning of the Introduction and the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic.

Kant certainly believes that all empirical knowledge is not of things in themselves, but of appearances. These appearances exist within space and time which are subjective conditions of perceiving subjects such as us. At first, this belief seems to imply that all our intuitions of things are only dependent on us and therefore an illusion. Kant tries to avoid this conclusion in his conclusion to the Transcendental Aesthetic. He writes that he does not believe that objects of our experience are mere illusion. By illusion he means a mere seeming. “I am not saying that bodies merely seem to be outside me” (B69). Kant rejects idealism, in which space and time are in us and objects are then inside them, which would make objects in us in some way. Kant means that bodies really are outside of us and space and time are our method of intuiting them. This is not to say that space and time are “in” us, though they only exist from our point of view. Kant has proved that “Time and space, taken together, are the pure forms of sensible intuition” for us (B56). If this is true, then to ascribe space and time to things in themselves would commit him to the idealism described above. Only then would objects exist within us as being within our form of intuition.

11. In what respect does the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic make room for faith?

In the conclusion to the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant writes that God “can never be an object of intuition to us” (B71). If this is true, Kant must accept that we can have no knowledge of God. This has two equal and opposite consequences for theology: We can neither prove nor disprove anything about God, including whether such a being exists. Absence of proof against the existence of God may be the “room for faith” (Bxxx) that Kant believes he has made.

12. How does the Transcendental Aesthetic take the first step towards accounting for the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge? What does it suggest about Kant’s method?

“Time and space, taken together, are the pure forms of sensible intuition and so are what make a priori synthetic propositions possible” (B56). Earlier, Kant explained that intuition is required to account for arithmetic propositions. In the same way the intuition of space makes geometry possible. Geometry and arithmetic are then examples of bodies of knowledge which are completely comprised of a priori synthetic a priori propositions. These bodies of knowledge and others, such as metaphysics, are justified by these pure intuitions.

Posted in Phil 178: Kant | 2 Comments

Back, From The Future

Many phenomena we encounter seem to suggest that the future is determined by the present which is itself determined by the past. The physical sciences produce laws whereby events are causally sufficient to bring about other events. Also, people tend to only do that which they have seen or heard other people do. These seem to suggest that the present emerges as the product of the past and that the future will also continue this pattern. For these reasons, the general view of time prioritizes the past. This view basically says that the past is most important in defining who we are and how we understand the world. As one way this view manifests itself, people sometimes identify themselves and others by what they have done in the past “college grad” “award winning director”. However, there are also those who identify themselves by what they intend to do, by the future “aspiring writer” “student”. Even if we disregard all of those self-deceived “actresses” in the Hollywood area, some people honestly see themselves as essentially working toward a goal or way of life. These people present a difficulty for the traditional view. Heidegger’s authentic Dasein also somehow escapes the One and does something new. Heidegger posits that in order to account for these individuals we must understand that “the future has a priority in the ecstatical unity of primordial and authentic temporality” (378).

Dasein is special among those things in the physical world, because it is the “entity for which, in its being, that being is an issue” (236). This means that, unlike rocks and trees, we care about how our lives turn out. It may be true that all other things in the universe are completely causally determined. But an understanding of the universe would be incomplete if it did not account for that entity which each of us is. And to subsume Dasein into a theory that explains everything else would be to treat Dasein like everything else, that is as present-at-hand. Heidegger over and over argues that treating Dasein as present-at-hand is a mistake. Being & Time can be seen as trying to come up with a theory that includes Dasein and still holds it to have a greatly different kind of being from everything else we ever encounter. In fact, as it turns out, Heidegger accounts for everything in terms of Dasein rather than the other way around. In Being & Time, Heidegger claims that to understand the being of anything and in order to understand being at all one must start by understanding Dasein.

Based on the analysis he gives of Dasein and the its being (care), he believes we must prioritize the future. This understanding of time will explain the phenomena that have exceptional relation to the future and also account for those phenomena that suggest that the past is prior. Heidegger also thinks that the view that the ordinary conception of time is made possible by the fact that the future is prior. So, comparing the ordinary view of time and Heidegger’s view, we see an asymmetry of explanation. One is claimed to be prior because the other can be explained in terms of it, while it cannot be explained in terms of the other. This style of argumentation is common in Being & Time. Descartes’ story about substances with properties can be explained by Being-in-the-world, but not the other way around. The same is said about the ordinary view of death; it is a fleeing from the true understanding of death. An understanding of time in which the future is the most important better explains the ordinary conception of time than the other way around.

Dasein is the entity for which being is an issue. This means that Dasein always has to deal with what in means for itself to be. It has to deal with and somehow figure out and take a stand on its being, and this is done without Dasein having to explicitly think about it. Dasein is always taking a stand on its being because “As understanding, Dasein projects its being upon possibilities” (188). Understanding is the know-how Dasein has of tools and practices whereby those tools can be used to produce things. Part of understanding is knowing how these tools and practices refer to each other and how they refer to roles that Dasein can assume by using the tools to perform the practices. All of this means that in knowing how to manipulate things in the world to perform certain tasks, we know ways in which we could orient our lives in performing those tasks. For example, we know that wrenches and floor-jacks are used to fix cars and someone can make a living as a mechanic by fixing other people’s cars and charging them money. We know that we could be a mechanic, and there is any number of other roles that we could take. The point here is that these roles which are tied up in practices are possibilities for us. We take a stand on our being by assuming that role and performing the practices associated with it. Projection is thus grounded in the future, because Dasein is aware of different futures that it can have. However, this should not be taken to mean that the possibilities themselves necessarily lie in the future as in that which is to come or that by possibility Heidegger means some future possibility of oneself. “By the term ‘futural’, we do not here have in view a ‘now’ which has not yet become ‘actual’ and which sometime will be for the first time” (373). The possibility for being a mechanic is not ‘actualized’ in an event like gaining a mechanic’s certification or even in the event of calling myself a mechanic. Dasein deals with the issue of its being by projecting it onto possibilities.

The other side of our awareness of possible ways that we can be is that we are also aware that some of these possibilities do not seem as available as others. The possibilities that are available are not equally given by practices that we have heard about. We are limited even as we consider roles which we could assume. “In its projection [Dasein] reveals itself as something which has been thrown” (458). Thrownness is about how we already are in a certain way. In particular, there are certain aspects of ourselves that we did not chose. Thrownness is also called having-been. Our past contributes to our thrownness such that we are as having been the way we are. But once again this is not to say that our thrownness is simply the way that the past has deterministically put us where we are. In projecting, we do not become aware that we have been in some situation for some amount of time. It is not that there is some event that corresponds to our being thrown into some way of how we are.

Thus arises the way in which ordinary time arises from the more primordial phenomenon. Projection is an awareness of ways which one can be. And we can be aware of thrownness in the constraints that limit the possibilities that are available to us. These phenomena do not have to happen in time. I might, for example, decide to be a mechanic. In doing so, I would realize that my future will now entail working on cars and I would probably come up with a story about how my past has been an avoidance of my true calling in life but it put me into a situation where I can finally accept it. I could then interpret my current actions as transitioning into my role as a mechanic. All of this could be done right now which shows that projection and falling are not themselves based on time in the ordinary sense. Simply by assuming a role, I give myself a new future and past. In particular, my past is reestablished in terms of my future. Thus, projecting is connected with the future, but not because I would have to commit to certain actions that I will have to perform in the future or because I would be working toward some future possibility of myself. I am simply aware of a possibility that I could take up and be. The ordinary concept of the future then arises as that in which my possibility will be actualized. Likewise, thrownness is connected with the past, but not because my previous experiences have caused me to be what and where I am without the possibility that I could be something else. Thrownness is just that I always have preferences and aspects of myself that I did not chose which are determinate for my being. The ordinary conception of the past is then conceived as that in which I can place the origin of these determinations. The ordinary understanding of time is based on the more primordial phenomena, projecting and thrownness.

One possibility that is almost always available to us is to be as we already are. This “already” doesn’t refer to the past as in clock-time. By projecting onto the possibility one already is, we can then understand our past and present as constant continuations of how we are. This is what happens when Dasein is lost in the One. The only possibilities that seem available are those given by social norms. In projecting upon the possibilities given by the one (falling) Dasein would view its past as that which has conformed (or hasn’t) to what one is supposed to do. Heidegger writes that Dasein is essentially ahead of itself. “In each case Dasein has already compared itself in its being with a possibility of itself” (236). He also says that the ‘itself’ in ‘ahead of itself’ refers to the One-self (238). Falling Dasein is unwilling, due to social pressure from the One, to entertain any other possibilities than those given by the One. Rather than saying the One acts through some people, it would be more accurate to say that they have allowed the One to work through them. Those who conform entirely with social norms and thereby understand their being as tied up in the past as in that which determines one’s being are easily explained by Heidegger’s account of temporality.

Heidegger can also account for Dasein that does more than simply conforming to the One. Authentic Dasein “discovers the world in its own [eigens] way” (167). “Any entity is discovered when it has been assigned or referred to something” (115). So, authentic Dasein assigns equipment to other equipment and those to practices in some new way. It conceives of itself and its role as something other than how the One has presented it. This will result in Dasein that acts somehow other than how One does. For example, Kurt Cobain made music with his guitar and then he smashed it. The guitar was assigned to the work of performing in a new way. This can easily be explained by saying that Kurt was aware of the currently accepted possibilities of assigning the guitar to the practice of performing, but he saw and chose a new possibility of discovering the world rather than just repeating the past. It is true that Kurt only had access to this new possibility because of his awareness of the past way of discovering in the world. We can accept this diluted sense of the new while still maintaining that he did not simply let the past dictate how he would perform.

Heidegger’s system can also account for those who identify with the future. In fact Heidegger says that Dasein’s future is constitutive of its being. “Dasein is already its ‘not-yet’, and is its ‘not-yet’ constantly as long as it is” (289). Heidegger talks about the being of a fruit to explain the “not-yet”. The “not-yet” of a fruit is ‘ripening’. Ripeness is not like a property that we might use to say that “the ripe fruit is just like the unripe fruit except that it has ripeness.” The “not-yet” of the fruit refers to “the fruit itself in its specific kind of being”. And “The ‘not-yet’ has already been included in the very being of the fruit” (288). The “not-yet” is like the role that Dasein assumes. It is a possibility, but not one that simply hasn’t been actualized yet. And it constitutes the entity in its very being. Death is one “not-yet” that belongs to Dasein. It is Dasein’s uttermost “not-yet”. Epicurus thought that we should not be worried about death. He said essentially, death does not affect us because, by definition, we will not be here to experience it. But, Death is part of our being in that it orients how we live right now. Just like the example of assuming a new role, Dasein can right now assume a new future. This future then becomes a part of Dasein’s being.

Heidegger also gives an account for how the ordinary view of time, which he here calls “world-time”, originates. First it should be understood that our primary concern in dealing with time is not in order to know about time itself. World-time, he says, arises from using the sun as a guide for when to do things. Later, sundials and clocks were invented for more accurately keeping track of the sun’s position. However, all of these methods only tell us the time, which is not why we make clocks. They are methods for counting and measuring time rather than presenting to us time in itself. Our concern when looking at a clock is not the clock itself nor is it time itself. Our concern is the amount of time that we are able to allocate to specific activities. For example, I might be concerned with whether I can stop by and get a sandwich before class starts. This is to say that we ordinarily relate to time as windows in which we can perform tasks. Thus, a concept of time arises as units of measurement in which things can be done. Each unit is associated with some activity and they become “events” or “nows”. Then our memory and our expectations are regarded as what Heidegger calls a “sequence of ‘nows’”. The sequence forms a chain stretching infinitely in either direction. Each “now” in the chain is “pregnant with the ‘not-yet-now’” their familial relation being that of causation. Each “now” is always slipping into the past only to be replaced by a new one. So, when we project on to some possibility, we imagine a “now” which is not here yet in which the possibility will be actualized. And as we remember our past, it is in a “now” not here any longer. World-time arises from our contemplation on our concernful dealings in the world.

Heidegger’s analysis of world-time provides an explanation for many common philosophical mistakes. Often it is a mistake to relate to something constitutive for Dasein as an oncoming event. As noted earlier, roles are tied up in practices and activities, but we should not think that in the event of performing those actions one becomes that role. “He who is irresolute understands himself in terms of those very closest events” (463). Nor does one’s thrownness correspond to some event in the past that determines one’s character. “Thrownness, however, does not lie behind it as some event which has happened to Dasein” (330). Also, “The One concerns itself with transforming this anxiety [of death] into fear in the face of an oncoming event” (298). “Dying is not an event” (284). The notion of an event also leads to the view that Dasein has a self which is the subject of events. In general, Dasein should avoid understand things in terms of events.

So, although many of our experiences suggest that everything must emerge from the past, there are some remarkable phenomena, however rare, that cannot be explained except by prioritizing the future. Dasein is an entity that is essentially ahead of itself. This means that Dasein always has a choice in the role it assumes, though we usually choose the easy way. If an authentic individual is at all possible, then the future must play some role. The priority of the future is a condition for the possibility of authentic Dasein. Heidegger provides an account that can explain those phenomena that emerge from the past as well as those that emerge from the future. That account can be roughly summarized by projection, which is Dasein’s awareness of a multitude of possibilities for itself and by thrownness, which describes Dasein as already in some state and having certain possibilities show up different than others. Heidegger also provides a deeply insightful account of how the ordinary conception of time arises in our daily circumspective dealings. While the ordinary view is not outright wrong, Heidegger shows that many common mistakes come from it.

*All page references in this post refer to Being & Time Translated by John Macquairre and Edward Robinson.*

Posted in Papers, Phil 185: Heidegger | Leave a comment

The Background of “The Background”

In Intentionality, John Searle describes what he calls “The Background.” The Background is the set of non-representational pre-intentional beliefs or understanding which underlies and makes representational intentionality possible. The Background can also be described as the know-how that enables us to do all the things that we do while thinking about something completely different. “The Background consists of mental phenomena” (154). The Background helps to determine the particular conditions of satisfaction of any particular intentional state. To say “the members” of the Background are “beliefs” is misleading, because they are unarticulated and expressly not intentional states. These phrases seem to imply that the Background is made up of a definite number of implicit or unconscious intentional states. This is exactly what Searle doesn’t want to say. Our only way of describing the Background is in terms of intentional states that seem to be made manifest in certain situations. But, just because an intentional state becomes explicit through such an experience, it does not follow that that intentional state was implicitly held beforehand.

One example of the understanding that makes up the Background is that of our expectations in any specific situation. For example, Jones goes to take a drink from a mug and finds that the mug weighs a lot less than he expected. In such a case he may say or think “I expected the mug to be heavier than it was,” which is certainly the expression of an intentional state. However, this does not mean that the expectation was held unconsciously or implicitly before reaching for the mug. Imagine all the situations which would be surprising to find upon waking up in the morning. For example, it would be quite surprising to wake up under an elephant, or with a rock where a pillow once was, or in the body of a bug. The list of such surprises would hold an infinite number of situations. Each of those situations, if it should happen, could be followed by saying “I didn’t expect that to happen.” From this, it does not follow that every individual holds an infinite number of implicit intentional expectations about what their room will be like when they wake up in the morning. These experiences can be described as a breakdown of one’s Background understanding.

Another way the Background is made manifest is in our understanding of the meaning of sentences. We can understand a word, even with the same literal meaning, differently as we relate to various aspects of the world. So for example, take the word “add,” with the literal meaning “to join (something) to something else so as to increase the size, number, or amount.” In each of the following sentences, add has the same literal meaning yet calls for vastly different activities.

      1. John added a tip to his bill.

      2. Jack added sugar to the batter.

      3. Jane added 3 and 5 in her head.

The understanding that one adds a tip by writing on a receipt, adds sugar by pouring, and adds numbers by arithmetic is part of the Background. We can’t try to express our understanding of these three sentences by other intentional sentences like “A tip is the kind of thing one adds by writing on a receipt” or “Sugar is the kind of thing one adds by pouring.” Our understanding of the meaning of words is not to be described as a vast set of internalized rules. Another way of saying this is that we do not conceive of each of these things as objects with functional predicates. We can easily conceive of breakdown cases of our understanding of words analogous to the breakdown cases of our understanding of situations discussed above. If someone asked me to add sugar to a cake mix we were making and I scratched my chin in deep thought for a second and then said “Done”, I would seem crazy. The asker would probably say “I meant really add the sugar, not just in your head.” In such a case, it would become explicit that the asker thought that in the case of sugar adding literally means pouring it into something that contained whatever we were making. But, that thought was not an intentional state before it became explicit. It should be said that in the case of numbers, adding them in your head is really adding them.

One particularly important Background ability we must have in order to have the thoughts that we do is the “capacity to generate a lot of other conscious thoughts.” For any intentional state, we must have or be able to have an indefinite number of other intentional states which will explain that intentional state. Searle calls this ability and the accompanying intentional states “the Network.” Continuing the quotation from above, Searle writes “these conscious [Network] thoughts all require further [Background] capacities for their application” (Rediscovery, 190). So, the Network is all the Intentional states that give meaning to an Intentional state, all of which we would be able to formulate or at least assent to if we were to be questioned about the state.

Searle writes that these arguments are not “intended to be phenomenological.” They aim at “the logical structure of intentionality,” and “phenomenology, for the most part, is unable to access this structure” (Intro, 122). These arguments are also not intended to “demonstrate this hypothesis [of the Background] conclusively” (Intentionality, 143). These kinds of arguments Searle gives for the Background basically say in order to explain how we can do certain things that we in fact do, we must postulate a Network and a Background. Any explanation that does not include something like the Background will be subject to an infinite regress with intentional states explaining intentional states forever. In the case of literal meanings, without the Background, we will not be able to explain those instances in which we are certain of one and only one interpretation to the meaning of a sentence.

Note: I did not write a works cited page because all three texts which I referenced are written by the professor of the class for which this paper was written, and as such are required reading for the class. He, John Searle, is also the philosopher whose ideas I discuss in the paper itself. For convenience the titles are Intentionality, The Rediscovery Of The Mind, and Mind: A Brief Introduction

Posted in Papers, Phil 132: Mind | Leave a comment