Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Quiz Jan 19

Write your answers down on a sheet of paper, we'll go over this in class. You can claim a base on the scorecard for each correct answer, and a run for every four bases (up to 5 runs per class). Also claim a base for each posted alternate quiz question, discussion question, comment, or relevant link. Keep track of everything you post in a dated personal log that will be collected later. Claim a RUN for posting a weekly 250+ word essay on the relevant topic of your choice.

1. What approach to the story of philosophy does Anthony Gottlieb say he aims to take in The Dream of Reason?

2. When was western science created?

3. How did William James define philosophy?

4. What's distinctive about philosophical thinking?

5. What is the sequel to The Dream of Reason?

DQ (Discussion Questions):
  • What's your definition of "philosophy"? 
  • Do you have a favorite philosopher? 
  • Can you summarize your current, personal philosophy of life? 
  • Russell * says philosophy occupies the No Man's Land between science and theology (xiii). Are scientists and theologians not philosophical? Or are they philosophical in a way different from Russell's? Do you like his definition of philosophy? Are you philosophical, by his definition?
  • Is your duty to God more imperative than your duty to the state, to your fellow citizens, or to humanity? xvi
  • Does Copernican astronomy influence your personal philosophy? How? (Or, why not?) xviii
  • Do you acknowledge the authority of any individuals or institutions to interpret the truth for you? WHy or why not? xx
  • [I invite you to post your comments on these, and to post your own DQs as well. Keep track in your personal log of everything you post. You get to claim another base on the scorecard for each posted comment, DQ, relevant link, or alternative quiz question you can document.]

Also recommended: Look on the This I Believe website for essays you like, and post links to them; TIB II William James, Pragmatism lecture 1; WATCH:What's Philosophy for? School of Life (SoL). LISTEN: What is Philosophy?and Who's Your Favourite Philosopher?(PB Philosophy Bites)
* "Philosophy" is a word which has been used in many ways,
some wider, some narrower. I propose to use it in a very wide sense, which I will now try to explain. Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something inter- mediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable ; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge so I should contend belongs to science ; all dogma as to what surpasses definite know- ledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so con- vincing as they did in former centuries. Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers ? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal ? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order ? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet ? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet ? Is he perhaps both at once ? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valuc'd, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving toward? death ?

-Russell's History of Western Philosophy
An old post:

Who's your favorite philosopher?

That's the Philosophy Bites question we take up today in CoPhi. If you think it puts Descartes before the horse you can visit What is Philosophy? first. (That was the first bad phil-pun I heard, btw, from a perky Scot called Cogan on my first day of Grad School back in 1980. Not the last. It was already an old joke.)

We don't all agree on what philosophy is. Not even we "Americanists," amongst ourselves. But we try to disagree agreeably. A little post-HAP 101 exchange between a pair of students once threatened for a moment to become disagreeable (unlike the class itself, which was thrilling in its impassioned civility). Almost made 'em watch the Argument Clinic. "An argument isn't just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes," etc. etc. But I don't want to argue about that.

Maybe a round of Bruces would be welcome today, simultaneously introducing several stars of philosophy, teaching us how to pronounce "Nietzsche" (and mispronounce "Kant") and disabusing anyone who falsely presumes our subject to be overly sober and serious about itself. If any doubt about that persists, just drop in on the Philosophy Club's Thursday Happy Hour - not that I'd want to reinforce the spurious conceit that philosophers are drunks. G'day.

I don't have a "favourite"... but my favorite (as I've already told my classes, on Day #1) is of

course William James.I don't always agree with him, but I almost always want to know he'd say about the topic du jour.

Philosophy, beginning in wonder, as Plato and Aristotle said, is able to fancy everything different from what it is. It sees the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar. It can take things up and lay them down again. Its mind is full of air that plays round every subject. It rouses us from our native dogmatic slumber and breaks up our caked prejudices. SPP

My favorite living philosopher is John Lachs. He came for a visit last year, to my CoPhi classes.

It's no surprise that David Hume outpolls everyone on the podcast, given its Anglo-centric tilt, or that Mill and Locke pick up several votes. They're all on my short list too, as is Bertrand Russell (who definitely knew the value of philosophy).

I notice that my Vandy friend Talisse is one of the handful of Americans here, and he, like Martha Nussbaum, picks Mill. Sandel picks Hegel.) Other big votegetters: Aristotle, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein.

No surprise either that James, Dewey, Peirce, Santayana, Rawls, and other prominent Yanks don't win wide favor across the pond. (But I hear the Rawls musical has been a hit with the Brits.)

I did hear an English philosopher praising James once, on the BBC's excellent "In Our Time." But generally they prefer William's "younger, shallower, vainer" (and more Anglophilic) brother Henry, who lived most of his adult life in Sussex.

The British roots of American thought do run deep, and the branches of reciprocal influence spread wide. Stay tuned for info on our Study Aboard course, as it moves from drawing board to future reality.

Why do I find WJ so compelling? Hard to put my finger on a single reason, there are so many. I was first drawn to him through his marvelous personal letters. Then, his essays ("On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life," "What Makes a Life Significant") and lectures-cum-books (Varieties of Religious Experience, Pragmatism, A Pluralistic Universe). His warm, charming, playful, disarming, sympathetic personality shone through all. He was so great at tossing off wit, profundity, and practical wisdom with seeming effortlessness and concision. A born tweeter. But his health, physical and emotional, was a lifelong challenge. He expended vast effort to become William James.

Honestly, the best explanation for why I became a lifelong student of, and stroller with, WJ may just be that little moment in the Vandy bookstore back in my first year of grad school - the moment when my new mentor John Compton noticed me browsing the McDermott anthology o fThe Writings. John's warm and enthusiastic familiarity with "Willy James" hooked me. Thank you, John.

The thing James said that's stuck with me longest and made the most lasting impression, I think, is the little piece of youthful advice he once wrote to a despondent friend. I'm not quite sure why, but it lifts my mood every time I think of it:

Remember when old December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached. I am sure that one can, by merely thinking of these matters of fact, limit the power of one's evil moods over one's way of looking at the cosmos.

Is this true? Maybe. Is it useful? Definitely.

We're also looking today at Nigel Warburton's introduction to Philosophy: The Basics.(5th ed., 2013), in which he quite rightly points out that while philosophy can help you think about who you are and why you're here - about the meaning of your life - it isn't an alternative to other fields of study. "It is important not to expect too much of philosophy," to the neglect of literature and history and science and art, et al.

That's right. But it's equally important not to expect too little of yourself, and to think you're not up to the challenge of an examined life. To repeat Professor James's empowering declaration: "I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in your several worlds." If you don't all know that yet, CoPhilosophers, we'd better get to work. Serious fun, dead ahead. 8.27.14

Monday, January 16, 2017


Let's introduce ourselves, Spring 2017 CoPhilosophy collaborators. (I'll tell you in class why I call my version of the Intro course "CoPhilosophy." But maybe you can guess, from the William James quote in the masthead.)

I invite you all to hit "comment" and reply with your own introductions, and (bearing in mind that this is an open site) your answers to two basic questions: Who are you? Why are you here? (in this course, on this campus, in this state, on this planet...)

Our first class meeting will consist mainly of introductions and a heads-up that this is an unconventional course in ways I hope you'll find delightful, instructive, and rewarding. If you don't like to move, breathe, and converse in the open air on "nice" days, this may not be the course for you. But if you don't especially like the conventional lecture-style academic model in which I talk and you scribble silently in your seats, it may be just what you're looking for.

We'll not go over the syllabus or get bogged down in the nuts and bolts of course mechanics on Day #1, there's plenty of time for those details later. But do peruse the blogsite and syllabus (linked in the right margin) before next class and let me know what's unclear. Meanwhile, read your classmates' intros and post your own.

I'm Dr. Oliver, aka (despite my best efforts to discourage it) "Dr. Phil." I live in Nashville with my wife, Younger Daughter (a HS Senior), a dog (Angel) and a cat (Zeus). Older Daughter is a college Senior in another state.

My office is i300 James Union Building (JUB). Office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays 11-1, & by appointment. On nice days office hours may be outside, possibly in front of the library (in the "Confucius" alcove, if it's available) or at another designated location. I answer emails during office hours, but not on weekends. Surest way to get a quick response:come in or call during office hours.

I've been at MTSU since the early '00s, teaching philosophy courses on diverse subjects including atheism, childhood, happiness, the environment, the future, and bioethics.

My Ph.D. is from Vanderbilt. I'm originally from Missouri, near St. Louis. I was indoctrinated as a Cardinals fan in early childhood, so I understand something about religious zeal. My undergrad degree is from Mizzou, in Columbia MO. (I wish my schools weren't in the SEC-I don't approve of major collegiate sports culture or football brain injuries, as I'm sure to tell you again.)

My philosophical expertise, such as it is, centers on the American philosophical tradition of William James and John Dewey. A former student once asked me to respond to a questionnaire, if you're curious you can learn more about me there.

What you most need to know about me, though, is that I'm a peripatetic and will encourage you all to join me in that philosophical lifestyle as often as possible during discussion time. (If you're not sure what peripatetic means, scan the right sidebar or read the syllabus or ask me. Or look it up.)

I post my thoughts regularly to my blogs Up@dawn and Delight Springs, among others, and to Twitter (@osopher), and am continuing to experiment with podcasting as a classroom tool this semester. Follow me if you want to.

But of course, as Brian Cohen said, you don't have to follow anyone. (Extra credit if you get that reference... and real extra credit if you realize that my "extra credit" is usually rhetorical.) However, if a blog or podcast link turns up with the daily quiz (which will always be posted on this site no later than the night before class), you might find it helpful to read or listen.

Enough about me. Who are you? (Where are you from, where have you been, what do you like, who do you want to become,...?) Why are you here? (On Earth, in Tennessee, at MTSU, in philosophy class)? Hit "comments" below and post your introduction, then read your classmates'... and bear in mind that this is an open site. The world can read it. (The world's probably busy with other stuff, of course - Drumpf and Kardashians and cooking shows and other examples of what passes for "reality" these days.)

Please include your section number in your reply, and in all future posts on this site:
  • 8-TTh 9:40-11:05, JUB 204
  • 9-TTh 1-2:25, JUB 202
  • 10-TTh 2:40-4:05, BAS S330

From a distance, philosophy seems weird, irrelevant, boring...
and yet also – just a little – intriguing.
But what are philosophers really for?
The answer is, handily, already contained in the word philosophy itself.
In Ancient Greek, philo means love and sophia means wisdom.
Philosophers are people devoted to wisdom.
Being wise means attempting to live and die well.
In their pursuit of wisdom, philosophers have developed a very
specific skill-set. They have, over the centuries, become experts in
many of the things that make people not very wise. Five stand out:
There are lots of big questions around: What is the meaning of life?
What's a job for? How should society be arranged?
Most of us entertain them every now and then, but we despair of trying
to answer them. They have the status of jokes. We call them
'pretentious'. But they matter deeply because only with sound answers
to them can we direct our energies meaningfully.
Philosophers are people unafraid of asking questions. They have, over
the centuries, asked the very largest. They realise that these
questions can always be broken down into more manageable chunks and
that the only really pretentious thing is to think one is above
raising big naive-sounding enquiries.
Public opinion – or what gets called ‘common sense’ – is sensible and
reasonable in countless areas. It’s what you hear about from friends
and neighbours, the stuff you take in without even thinking about it.
But common sense is also often full of daftness and error.
Philosophy gets us to submit all aspects of common sense to reason.
It wants us to think for ourselves. Is it really true what people say
about love, money, children, travel, work? Philosophers are interested
in asking whether an idea is logical – rather than simply assuming it
must be right because it is popular and long-established.
We’re not very good at knowing what goes on in our own minds.
Someone we meet is very annoying, but we can’t pin down what the issue is.
Or we lose our temper, but can’t readily tell what we’re so cross about.
We lack insight into our own satisfactions and dislikes.
That’s why we need to examine our own minds. Philosophy is committed
to self-knowledge – and its central precept – articulated by the
earliest, greatest philosopher, Socrates – is just two words long:
Know yourself.
We’re not very good at making ourselves happy. We overrate the power
of some things to improve our lives – and underrate others.
We make the wrong choices because, guided by advertising and false glamour,
we keep on imagining that a particular kind of holiday, or car, or computer
will make a bigger difference than it can.
At the same time, we underestimate the contribution of other things –
like going for a walk - which may have little prestige but can

contribute deeply to the character of existence.

Philosophers seek to be wise by getting more precise about the

activities and attitudes that really can help our lives to go better.
Philosophers are good at keeping a sense of what really matters and what doesn't.
On hearing the news that he’d lost all his possessions in a shipwreck,
the Stoic philosopher Zeno simply said:
‘Fortune commands me to be a less encumbered philosopher.’
It’s responses like these that have made the very term ‘philosophical’
a byword for calm, long-term thinking and strength-of-mind,
in short, for perspective.
The wisdom of philosophy is – in modern times – mostly delivered in
the form of books. But in the past, philosophers sat in market squares
and discussed their ideas with shopkeepers or went into government
offices and palaces to give advice. It wasn’t abnormal to have a
philosopher on the payroll. Philosophy was thought of as a normal,
basic activity – rather than as an unusual, esoteric, optional extra.
Nowadays, it’s not so much that we overtly deny this thought but we
just don’t have the right institutions set up to promulgate wisdom
coherently in the world. In the future, though, when the value of
philosophy* is a little clearer, we can expect to meet more
philosophers in daily life. They won’t be locked up, living mainly in
university departments, because the points at which our unwisdom bites
– and messes up our lives – are multiple and urgently need attention -

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Chapter Two Summary of Stephen Mumford's Metaphysics

       In chapter two of Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Mumford poses another question similar to his start in chapter one. What is a circle? Not to be confused with the mathematical definition of a circle, Mumford challenges the reader to seek a deeper meaning as to what a circle is.
If we continue our thought process from chapter one of properties and particulars, we can say that circularity is a property in many different things, i.e.. a coin, a wheel, the circumference of a ball, the rim of a cup, as Mumford points out on page 14. A property can be thought of as a feature or quality of a particular. For example, a pen is a pen, a particular pen. It may be owned by someone, located on that persons desk at a certain time. Circularity, however, appears many places at many different times. “The fact that circularity appears in one place at one time does not stop it appearing in other places and times.” (p.15). Thus, there are two ‘entities’ as Mumford defines, particulars (ie. pens, tables, sheep, etc.) and properties or universals (ie. circularity, tallness, redness, etc.).
Now, suppose there was a way to eliminate all things that had a certain property. Mumford continues to use circularity as an example in his text. If all things circular were destroyed, smashed, bent, broken, etc. would that in turn destroy circularity? Or just the existing cases of it? We could argue that even if this were possible, circularity would still ‘exist’. So where then? Plato seems to have an answer for us. Plato believes all the “Instances of which we are acquainted are all imperfect copies of the true versions” (p.17) and that the true versions of properties and relations (ie. redness, tallness, circularity, taller than, harder than, etc.) reside in a heavenly realm. This realm cannot be seen or touched, but reached only through ‘pure intellect’. Due to their perfect nature, Plato called these true versions of properties and relations Forms. Now, because in his theory there is a division between what we see in the world v. what resides in this heavenly realm, there has to be some sort of relation between the two in order for there to be a difference between them (worldly circles are imperfect in relation to the Form circle). Yet, relations belong in the heavenly realm according to Plato, thus creating an infinite regress, a never ending resemblance causing a problem with his theory which Plato is never really able to solve.
Next, Mumford introduces us to a theory where the idea of things being split into two entities, properties and particulars, is rejected. The argument here is that if these two are separated, then at some point they have to be brought together. For example, in his text Mumford points out, “We would have to get roundness and greens, as properties, united with the physical things in the world, such as an apple. But that is when we have to start speaking of the apple…” (p.19). Instead for there being two entities of properties and particulars, the theory of only particulars existing is presented. This particulars-only view, or nominalism, shows how we feel we can be sure about the existence of things, like a table or a coin, where as we are less sure about abstract ideas like circularity existing outside of our perceived world. Nominalist would say circularity is just a word to describe a group of particulars, i.e.. a coin, a wheel, a ball. Particulars are groups of things that resemble each other in this view. Te issue with this view is if the objects listed have another thing in common, for example not only are they all circular but they are all made out of metal, these things now have two resemblances bringing back the fact that being circular and metal are different which implies properties. This problem also does not seem to ever get resolved.
In an opposing view, Mumford explains the Aristotelian view where properties exist here with us. Circularity exists in all things circular, regardless of whether they are perfect or imperfect and regardless of the time they existed in (the present, the past, the future) thus including all circular things that will ever be.

It is here Mumford leaves us hanging a bit as he transitions into the next chapter titled Are wholes just the sums of parts? where I hope he explores these topics from chapter two more.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Chapter One Summary of Stephen Mumford's Metaphysics

       In Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Mumford tries to explain this branch of Philosophy in a simplistic and easy to understand fashion. By exploring different theories and presenting some opposing views on metaphysical ideas, the reader is allowed to not only dive in head first into this sometimes intimidating topic, but is also challenged to think critically on points and ideas brought to light.
In chapter one, Mumford asks a simple enough question, “What is a table?”. Most of us can picture a table in our minds, but what makes a table a table? Was I taught what a table was as a child and therefore I am using my past experience to label this thing a table? I can see it and touch it therefore I know it exists as Mumford points out however, am I just using cues to help me recognize this thing to be a table, four-legs, brown color, wooden, etc., but these are the ‘qualities or properties’ (p.3) of the table and therefore I do not know the object itself, merely its properties. Let us dive in deeper.
Still using our table as an example, imagine now that I painted the table red. Does this change the table? or is it the same table? Here Mumford explains one of the most important ideas to keep in mind in philosophy, “We can say something has changed qualitatively even though it has remained numerically the same.”(p.5) It is indeed the same table and not a different, separate table. Building off of this thought, I can see it is the same table even though one of its properties has changed, therefore when I label a table a table by using its properties, four-legs, redness, woodenness, I am observing its properties and not the table itself. Thus, what is a table if not its properties? Here is an example of what is meant by properties.
Imagine a pin cushion. The cushion holds in many different pins. Some pins can be removed, there are places where pins may be added and some pins can even be replaced. Yet that does not change the fact that the pin cushion is what is holding them all together. So, we can think of the cushion as a particular, ie. table, and the pins as properties, ie. color, hardness, etc. This is known as a substratum view of particulars. By taking away all the properties, abstractly of course, we can begin to try and view the particular for what it is. Herein lies the problem, once the properties begin to go away, it seems we may be left with nothing or a non-thing. No color, no wood, no hardness, no four-legs, etc. leaving nothing. Thus, this issue with substratum view.
Another view is the bundle theory. Instead of thinking in properties as singles, perhaps a bundle of properties is more appropriate. If our thing cannot be more than its properties, meaning once we stripped them away there was nothing left, then obviously the particular is not greater then its properties. Then a bundle of properties may be the answer. However, there is a problem with this theory as well. It cannot survive change. If properties are bundled together then if one were lost and/or replaced with another, it would no longer be the same bundle and therefore would no longer be the same particular. So let us expand this and imagine a bunch of bundles make a particular. In this example, it is possible to create change while still maintaining the particular. Painting the table only changes one particular in one bundle, its hardness, four-legs, etc. are not involved in the change in color. Therefore, a thing must be a series of bundles of properties, united by a degree of continuity (p.8).
Then what of identical twins? Ah, a problem with bundle theory is it does not account for multiples of something. There is more then one tennis ball in the world. So if they have the same properties, thus the same bundles, we have the same thing, not two different. One obvious argument for this is one may say no two objects are exactly the same. There problem solved. However this does not address the ‘philosophical theory’ we are examining (p.9). So, let us take another look. One suggestion is spatiotemporal location. Basically, no two things can occupy the same space at the same time. Two identical tennis balls can be placed on a court, one a foot away from the net and the other five feet from the net. In relation to the net, we can see they are in fact two different things. This opens up a new problem, “There is no guarantee that distinct things really will have different relational properties unless we reintroduce particulars into our metaphysics. Should we think of position in space and time as an absolute or relative matter?” (p.10) If an absolute, then a space would be a particular and not be a part of a bundle of particulars, which we earlier decided would not work. Then relative it is. However Mumford points out that there is a least the possibility that the universe is symmetrical, thus showing we could have two particulars that are identical and could not be distinguishable based on location (p.12).  

So, what is a table? A particular that is the sum of its bundle of properties? Or just the properties themselves? Or can a thing ever really be known? Only implied by its particulars? And if change is apart of what makes a thing a thing, at what point does change over take what the thing is, making it a completely different thing? There seem to be some properties that hold a particular together more so then others. For example, painting the table has less of an impact on the table then cutting off two of its legs. Or, is it still a table but just can no longer preform its function as a table? If a car stops working, is it still a car? Or is it just an expensive pile of particulars? But isn’t that what it was to begin with, it just moved and now it doesn’t? Does function and or purpose matter more than particulars? Or are they particulars themselves? They are not physical particulars like color I can see or hardness I can feel. And what about living things? Is a cat still a cat after it passes away? It has just lost its particular labeled life? Perhaps there are different types of properties, physical and abstract?