September 27, 2004

Penn HumanitiesForum/Class Schedule

A long overdue update on factors which will determine the content of my non-political postings over the next semester/year:

  1. The first meeting of the Penn Undergraduate Humanities Forum was today. I was awarded a year-long research fellowship with the Humanities Forum last spring after submitting a research proposal. This year's theme is "Sleep and Dreams" and I will be doing research on my favorite philosopher, George Berkeley to determine how his philosophy of immaterialism ("To be is to be perceived," roughly equivalent to Schopenhauer's "To be object is to be object for a subject," but easier to understand since he is an 18th century English philosopher instead of a post-Kantian German philosopher) can deal with the fact that we perceive things in dreams which we would like to say are not real. Here is the text of my proposal:
          In an attempt to rebut the atheism and skepticism of his contemporaries, the early 18th century British philosopher George Berkeley proposed a theory he referred to as “immaterialism” (others would later call it “idealism”) the physical world is made up not of matter as an independent entity but of ideas, and as such exists only so long as there is a mind perceiving it. This solves all sorts of philosophical problems, but raises several of its own. One of these is the question of false perceptions. In dreams, for instance, we perceive many things which we want to say are not actually real and, as Descartes had pointed out earlier, we often have difficulty distinguishing between dreams and waking life. Berkeley's answer to this, in brief, is that we would not even pose the question unless we somehow perceived the unreality of dreams, and this perception, like all others, is part of that stuff of which reality is made. Berkeley also suggests that the perceptions we have of the real world are ideas impressed upon our minds by God, whereas dreams might be considered to be internally generated.
          While this is the beginning of a solution, it is by no means complete. If we perceive a difference between dreams and waking life, what is that difference, what faculty of the mind is responsible for our perception of it, and why is it not always accurate? In those cases where it is not accurate, and we do not know correctly whether we are asleep or awake, what has caused this failure? How can Berkeley explain these failures within the framework of his immaterialism? Is he forced to concede that dreams have some degree of metaphysical reality? If so, what makes waking life more real than the world of dreams? Is it really even coherent to say that one thing is “more real” than another?
          These questions only scratch the surface of the inquiries required in order to create a complete philosophical theory of dreams consistent with Berkeley's metaphysics. To this end, I propose to delve further into this topic under the title “Are Dreams Real?” The intention of this research will be to examine George Berkeley's own philosophical writings and the writings of his contemporaries as well as those of later idealists in order to arrive at a functional neo-Berkeleyan metaphysics of dreams. By terming the theory I am looking for “neo-Berkeleyan” I understand a number of restraints to be placed upon it, in order to make it consistent with Berkeley's own principles. First, it must not posit matter as an inert, non-thinking substance existing outside of any mind. Second, it must be consistent with basic Christian doctrine and a simple, straightforward interpretation of the Christian Scriptures (however, my research will center on the writings of modern philosophers and especially Berkeley himself rather than on the Bible). Finally, the theory must be consistent with “common sense,” which is to say that upon having constructed our theory we must be able to continue speaking about dreams in the way people ordinarily do without contradicting the theory – when we dream we must leave reality, and when we wake we must return to it.

  2. My class schedule. I should have posted this sooner but didn't. I'm taking two philosophy class, Intro to Ancient Philosophy, and Formal Logic II. I'm also taking Greek and two courses in computer science, but it is unlikely (though not impossible) that these will inspire anything posted here. In fact, it's probably also unlikely that I'll post anything about formal logic. It is, however, quite likely that I will post on ancient philosophy periodically. For instance, right now I am posting the observation that Parmenides of Elea holds very similar views to Immanuel Kant and I don't understand how it could be possible that my TA doesn't see that.

Once the political season is over, these are the things that will likely be determining the content of my posting. Enjoy :)

Posted by Kenny at September 27, 2004 8:48 PM
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