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March 26, 2014

March 19, 2014

Quote of the Day: Bayle on the Skeptical Consequences of Multi-Location

[If multi-location is possible] it follows that neither you nor I can be certain whether we are distinct from other men, or whether we are at this moment in the seraglio of Constantinople, in Canada, in Japan, and in every city of the world, under different conditions in each place. Since God does nothing in vain, would he create many men when one, created in various places and possessing different qualities according to the places, would suffice?

- Pierre Bayle, Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697), tr. Popkin, s.v. "Pyrrho," note B

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September 9, 2013

"Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'"

I've posted a new draft to my (recently reorganized) writings page, "Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'." This paper defends, in a relatively short space, some of the central conclusions which I defend at much greater length in my dissertation, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. Here is the abstract of the paper: To the great puzzlement of his readers, Berkeley begins by arguing that nothing exists other than minds and ideas, but concludes by claiming to have defended the existence of bodies. How can Berkeley's idealism amount to such a defense? I introduce resources from...
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October 4, 2012

A Linguistic Argument for Immaterialism

I think Berkeley would endorse the following argument: The rules governing a bit of language cannot tell agents to perform or refrain from actions in certain circumstances unless the agents can recognize the obtaining or not obtaining of those circumstances prior to the introduction of that bit of language. A word refers to an object only if the rules governing that word tell the agent to behave differently with respect to the use of that word depending on whether that object is present. (E.g. a necessary condition of 'rabbit' referring to rabbits is that the rules governing 'rabbit' specify that...
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June 21, 2010

Unrestricted Quantifiers and Fundamental Quantifiers

According to Ted Sider, ontology is concerned with determining what objects are in the scope of the 'unrestricted' universal quantifier. Sider argues that ontological questions thus have genuine objective answers, for there can be no vagueness in the meaning of the unrestricted quantifier. Suppose, says Sider, that there are two precisifications, ∀1 and ∀2 of the universal quantifier ∀. Then, he says, there must be some thing, x, that is in the extension of one, but not the other, of ∀1 and ∀2. But in that case, whichever of ∀1 and ∀2 lacks x in its extension will fail to...
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April 25, 2010

Quote of the Day: Turbayne on Alleged Refutations of Berkeley

The argument [for idealism] achieves [a proof of the external world] in a most ingenious yet simple way, by accepting the sceptical conclusion of one such as Hylas, that all we can ever know of the external world is certain ideas or appearances, and then admitting, as any consistent empiricist must, that these appearances are real. After all, it is a jest to hold, as do the philosophers, that the things we see and touch are mere illusions.[18] [18] This final step illuminates the irony inherent in Dr. Johnson's notorious ostensive refutation of Berkeley's 'ingenious sophistry', by exclaiming while 'striking...
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February 8, 2010

A Simple Argument for Idealism

One of Berkeley's key arguments for his idealism (his positive view that the only fundamental entities are minds and ideas) is something like the following: (1)The gardener is justifiably certain that he waters the cherry tree daily. (2)One can be justifiably certain only of facts about one's own mind and its ideas. Therefore, (3)The gardener's belief that he waters the cherry tree daily is a belief about his own mind and/or its ideas. (1) is a 'common sense' premise, which Berkeley thinks we ought to preserve. (2) is supposed to have been shown by the skeptical considerations of Descartes and...
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November 7, 2009

Subjunctive Phenomenalism and Logical Construction Idealism

Within the last week, I have seen the same mistake in two different recent books on the philosophy of perception: According to phenomenalism, objects are (in John Stuart Mill's excellent phrase) "permanent possibilities of sensation"; they are, in a more recent idiom, "logical constructions" of sense data. (Alva Noë, Action in Perception, 79) Berkeley observed that the philosophical conception that the objects of direct awareness are sense-data (or, in Berkeley's terminology, "ideas") is perfectly compatible with the commonsense conception that the objects of direct awareness are ordinary things (e.g., tomatoes). We can accept both, Berkeley argued, if we recognize the...
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November 2, 2009

Does 'The Desk is Black' Express a Proposition?

According to standard versions of subjunctive phenomenalism, such as the version developed by C. I. Lewis, sentences purporting to be about physical objects can be analyzed into long conjunctions of subjunctive conditionals having to do only with sense data and voluntary actions. It's very difficult to actually state these conditionals, but they are supposed to say things like 'if I'm in such and such a condition, and I do X, I will experience Y'. Alva Noë is not a phenomenalist, but he expresses some similar ideas about the nature of perception. Specifically, Noë argues that perception does not involve the...
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October 25, 2009

Speaking Loosely

Philosophers often use such phrases as 'strictly speaking' or 'in metaphysical rigor' before saying things that might sound outrageous. For instance, many philosophers have denied the existence of entities which everyone 'knows' to exist, such as chairs, or minds, or numbers. The philosopher will almost always prefix such a denial with this sort of modifier. The opposite of speaking strictly is speaking loosely. In early modern philosophy, the 'strict and philosophical' mode of speech was often contrasted with the 'loose and popular' mode. Other philosophers might use the modifier 'strictly and literally.' What is the point of making these qualifications?...
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September 17, 2009

Quote of the Day: Berkeley on Combining Ideas Into Objects

One of the big questions in Berkeley interpretation is how and by whom ideas or experiences get put together to form objects. (See, for instance, the end of Margaret Atherton's recent paper "'The Books Are in the Study as Before': Berkeley's Claims About Real Physical Objects".) I've just noticed an interesting passage in Berkeley that ought to be really important to this discussion, though I don't think I've seen it quoted in this connection: [I]t ought to be considered that number (however some may reckon it amongst the primary qualities) is nothing fixed and settled, really existing in things themselves....
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August 27, 2009

Reductivism, Eliminativism, and Berkeley's Theory of Physical Objects

In present-day metaphysical discussions it is common to distinguish between 'reductivism' and 'eliminativism' with respect to some class of objects, C. These can be thought of as two different ways of denying the (fundamental, metaphysical) existence/reality of the objects in C. Examples of classes discussed by philosophers in this way include minds, conscious experiences, and macrophysical objects. The two views may be given a linguistic formulation as follows: Linguistic Reductivism (LR): Sentences which appear to assume the existence of the putative objects in C are strictly and literally true, although, in metaphysical rigor, the putative objects do not exist. (The...
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December 4, 2008

The Reason for Berkeley's Anti-Abstractionism

In my post, Does Philosophy 'Trickle Down', I noted that "Berkeley thinks he has discovered two philosophical doctrines which are indeed 'the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences' and also 'the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion.' These are the epistemic/linguistic doctrine of abstraction, and the metaphysical doctrine of corporeal substance." In this post I want to examine how the doctrine of abstract ideas is supposed, according to Berkeley, to lead to "Error and Difficulty in the Sciences ... [and] ... Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion."...
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November 20, 2008

What Is Composition?

I am currently doing research for a term paper in which I will argue that composition requires a 'principle of unity'. That is (to a first approximation), that given some objects, the xs, there cannot be any y which has all and only the xs as parts unless there is some feature of the world which bestows some degree of unity or oneness on y. I hope to argue that this is a conceptual truth - that is, that it flows from what we mean by composition. I haven't finished reading up on the subject yet, so there may already...
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