Archive for December, 2017

Not All Philosophy is Stupid

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Anna Alexandrova in a series of posts at The Brains Blog about her new book ‘A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being’ does what philosophers *should* be doing! Thinking carefully about whether the terms they throw about have any real meaning – and looking for that meaning in the way those terms are actually used and understood.

I often sneer at the notion that philosophers are needed to tell scientists what they should be doing in order to further their purely scientific enterprise, but when it comes to using science “to establish an evidence base for governments, organisations, businesses, and individuals” to use in their political and personal decision-making, then I am much more sympathetic – but only to those philosophers who focus primarily on helping people clarify to themselves and to one another what it is that they are saying or doing, rather than on pretending to have any special expertise about what they “should” be saying or doing.

The use of “for” rather than “of” in Alexandrova’s title is particularly apt because I think it shows less inclination to interfere in the scientific process itself than to consider which scientific questions are of interest to the non-scientist and how the corresponding answers might be best used for personal and political guidance.


Why are Philosophers so stupid?

Monday, December 4th, 2017

On reading: What Do Philosophers Do? Skepticism and the Practice of Philosophy // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

it was not long before I came to this:

A ‘brain in a vat’ (BIV) is fed apparently normal perceptual experiences, just like you and I are having, by a computer simulation run by an evil scientist. Orthodoxy addresses the following skeptical argument:

For any person, S:

  1. If S is not in a position to know that she is not a BIV, then she cannot know that she has hands.
  2. S is not in a position to know that she is not a BIV.
  3. S cannot know that she has hands. (inferred from 1 and 2)

If you can’t even know that you have hands, then you can’t have any empirical knowledge at all.

The philosophical problem is that the argument is logically valid, the premises all seem true, but the conclusion seems false….

NO! The premises don’t “seem” true.. because they obviously aren’t  even close to being “true”. In fact #1 is obviously false! A BIV is just as sure that she has hands as I am  …. because she DOES! Her hands are to her just like mine are to me, ie aspects of her experience which she feels the ability to use for grasping and controlling other aspects of her experience. This is not a problem unless one interprets “knowing” that one “has hands” as something none of us can ever be sure of.