Saturday, April 16, 2016

Personal Identity

From Guest Blogger, Shiying.

Personal identity is a field of philosophy that studies the definition of persons and under what conditions persons persist. There are three main accounts of personal identity. The psychological approach claims that a person at a time t1 persists to be the same person at another time t2 if and only if the person at t2 is psychologically continuous with the person at t1. The biological accounts say that bodily or physical continuity is a necessary and sufficient condition for personal identity. The soul theorists maintain that personal identity is defined by soul. There is a large amount of literature about the psychological and biological accounts of personal identity. I will not discuss them in detail here.

But both psychological and biological approach face various objections. I have always had a hard time deciding which of these two theories are more plausible to me since I first learned about these theories. I have also been thinking about a possibility to combine these two views. If we combine the two views brutally and require both psychological and biological continuity for personal identity, we are going to face the objections for both theories. However, maybe the problem exists in our attempt to find necessary and sufficient conditions for personal identity. If we consider Alston’s examples of defining “poem” and “religion”, we may be able to use a similar approach to define personal identity. Personal identity is not defined by the strict criterion of psychological or biological continuity. Personal identity requires a certain combination of psychological and biological continuities each to a certain degree. A large amount of psychological continuity may be able to compensate a small amount of biological continuity, and vice versa. There may be many possible variants of this view. One can say that each component needs to reach a substantial degree in order for personal identity to persist. I can also anticipate many disputes about the weight of each component and/or what counts as substantial for each component. However, instead of adopting a singular account of personal identity, this pluralist account may help us define and understand personal identity better. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Some Thoughts About Personal Identity

From guest blogger, Tim. 

I’ve been thinking about personal identity and how we determine the continuity of an individual person’s existence. The mind theory and the body theory seem unsatisfactory to me.

One interpretation of the body theory claims that I am the same person over time if my body is the same body over time. But our bodies change. The cells that make up my body are constantly changing. That the body changes doesn’t show enough to dismiss the theory however. The body theorist could claim that the body only has to be numerically identical. Certain thought experiments show that the body theory is inconclusive, at best. Consider the teleporter example, in which my body is teleported between two points. As the process goes, my body is scanned and destroyed at point A. Then my body is reconstructed exactly at point B. Can we claim that, for the brief period after my body is destroyed and before it is reconstructed, that I cease to exist?

The mind theory encounters similar problems. John Locke holds a view that personal continuity is dependent on memory. I am the same person over time if I can reflect on these memories. An objection to this and broader mind theories when considering a person with amnesia. Assume that the person has no previous memories and none of their previous thoughts persist. The mind theorist would have to say that the person prior to developing the amnesia no longer exists and the person after just pops into to existence. If the amnesia is reversed, the original person would come back into existence.

These are just a few objections to these theories, but I think they highlight some concerns one might have with the theories. If we find these theories unsatisfactory, then we only have two options. We can accept that there is no personal continuity and that there is no self, or we must define personal identity in a different way. This could be a soul theory or a theory that combines the mind and body theories.  

Not-So-Funny Comic

Thanks to Dave Agronin for sending this comic along that relates to some of our discussion about God and embodiment.

Possibility from Conceivability

From guest blogger, TJ.

If I can imagine something, than that something must be possible.  For example, I can imagine myself watching over me as I die, therefore it must be possible.  Souls are conceivable and therefore possible.  Some might argue that surviving bodily death is a contradiction but not if the there is something beyond the body (for example the soul).  The soul is the part of you that is surviving bodily death.  Your identity is not constrained to your body.  Possibility can derive from conceivability, but possibility doesn’t necessarily imply actualization.  It seems that there are things that I can imagine that are also impossible.  So therefore not everything that I imagine is possible.  Also, what kind of possibility are we talking about?  Logical possibility, metaphysical possibility, or physical possibility?  That is another very important question.  Something that is logically or physically impossible might be metaphysically possible.  The only question is how to conceive of these metaphysical possibilities?  That is a very difficult question to answer.  One might argue that anything that we can imagine is metaphysically possible.  But how is that?  That would imply that a square-circle is a metaphysical possibility.  But it seems like that cannot be true.  This is why it is very difficult to conceive of metaphysical possibilities.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Religion vs. Religion

From guest blogger, John.

           Currently, there are twelve classical world religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism. So which one is right? Most of them have a book written by people, typically under the influence of their respective divine being. Take a Muslim and a Christian. Each believe their god to be the true god, the one who created the universe and everything in it. So which one is right? Are they both right? Are the both wrong? Could they simply be talking about the same being, who’s stories were manipulated by humans to better suit their needs? This argument could work for religions such as Christianity and Islam, which are quite similar. But, what about something like Taoism, which is drastically different from either of them.

I realized early on in my life the only reason myself and 90 percent of the town I lived in was Christian was because it was the only religion I was exposed to. Had I been born in the middle east, I’d much more likely have been raised as a Muslim.  It’s no secret that religion runs in the family. Very few people change their religion, as it’s been ingrained in them all through their childhood. So for sake of argument, let’s assume the religion of Christianity to be the one that got it right. Does then a Muslim go to hell because he was raised to worship a false god? I mean the first commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

If this were truly one of God’s wills, why would he allow false information and prophets? It creates a double standard. This is just one example of the many flaws of religion. In my opinion it is reasonable to believe in a divine god, but to assume one of the gods in the man made religions is the one true god, is asinine.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Penguins and Dualism

From guest blogger, Daniel.

An interesting point was brought up in class that everyone believes that there are not 50 penguins in the room for the obvious reason that our senses clearly showed us that there were not 50 penguins in the room. However, no one specifically thought this upon entering the room. It didn’t cross their minds. According to the divisibility argument for dualism it would seem that while the body can be divided, the mind cannot. That is to say that I can leave my thumb at home, or any other part of my body which is divisible, but I cannot leave parts of my mind in different places. It is interesting then to look at the penguin example and how it seems we cannot subtract from the mind but we can add to it. There are an infinite number of things that could replace the 50 penguins, say 100 horses, 3,000 shoes, one-million hamsters etc. that could have been brought up and become part of our active thoughts. So even though there were not 50 penguins in the room none of us thought of this because it was not poignant at the time, and thinking about the infinite amount of possibilities that could have been in the room would have been impossible. This might be an interesting foothold in the argument against dualism, or at least that the mind isn’t divisible. While it may be true that we cannot leave something we are actively thinking in one spatial plane and another thing we are actively thinking in another it does seem that the mind can indeed be prompted to think about what it would not have otherwise by things pointed out to it in the spatial dimension. There is an interesting argument here that while the mind is not divisible in any given moment it is divided in the fourth-dimension by potential additions that simply have not been added yet. Looking through the divisibility argument for dualism through a four-dimensionalist’s eyes it is clear that the mind is in fact divided, split, added to etc. throughout its existence.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Does Persisting Death Entail Cartesian Mind-Body Separation?

From guest blogger, Ezekial.

What might it be like to be dead or at least bodily dead? Either we persist in some way, or we do not. If an Epicurean stance is taken, death is the annihilation of our mind, we simply cease to exist. If this is not the case, it is not clear in what sense we can persist or what one should expect this experience to be like.

A good starting point might be what we know about our physical/psychological mind. Perhaps the assumption that psychological and physical states of one’s mind can both be explained physically is necessary in order to conflate the two ideas. In this way, our consciousness, or whatever it is to not be dead, is explained by neurons firing in the brain in certain ways, or physical brain-states that correspond with our psychological states of thought and emotion. If certain malfunctions or manipulations happen in the brain physically, there is a corresponding change in psychological state.

So it should follow by what we know of the physical (not necessarily metaphysical) world that when a person becomes bodily dead, and there are no brain states whatsoever, there should be no psychological states. But what if there is? If one persists in some way, as many people think one does after death, and have some semblance of consciousness – the soul – then it seems to be the case that no physical body or brain state is necessary to continue existing.

There are 2 concerns that come to mind if this is the case. First, all the life we have ever experienced has been a result of physical brain states. What reason would we have to think that we can live without these brain states, and what would non-physical existence even consist of? And second, if it is really the case that the soul or mind can persist without the body, whatever metaphysical or god-relying commitments may be necessary, then life after death will lack ontological parsimony. A Cartesian separation of mind and body requires more untenable metaphysical explanation than a purely physical explanation where death mean cessation of existence.    

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Some thoughts about the argument for Dualism

From guest blogger, Shiying. 

On a class about life after death, we discussed several arguments for Dualism proposed by Descartes. Dualism views are views about the relationship between the body and the mind that claim that the mind and the body, or the mental and the physical are both real and neither can be assimilated to the other. Here is one of the arguments:

(1)   My mind is essentially thinking.
(2)   My body isn’t essentially thinking.
(3)   Thus, my mind is not my body.

In order to examine this argument, I want to first look at the second premise which says
that bodies are not essentially thinking. One objection non-dualists can raise about this premise is to say that a well functioning body is essentially thinking. In reply to this objection, dualists use the thought experiment of the philosophical zombie to prove that a well functioning body is not essentially thinking. A philosophical zombie is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience. There are several types of philosophical zombies including behavioral zombies, neurological zombies and soulless zombies. But we can come up with a type of zombie that has a well functioning body, including the brain, but is not thinking, because it does not have conscious experience. There are some disputes about whether the zombies are metaphysically possible. Some argues that logical possibility does not entail metaphysical possibility. Thus, the philosophical zombies are either only logically possible or metaphysically possible.

Now let’s look at the first premise, saying the mind is essentially thinking. I think whether this statement is true largely depends on the definitions of the “mind”, and of “thinking”. If we use definitions of the “mind” and “thinking” so that the mind is not essentially thinking, then premise is not true and the argument fails. However, if we use definitions of the “mind” and “thinking” that enables the mind to be essentially thinking, then it is logically impossible for the mind to stop thinking. Therefore, the difference between the mind and the body is that it is logically impossible for the mind to stop thinking, but it is logically possible for the body to stop thinking, or it is metaphysically possible for the body to stop thinking. These are different properties and if Leibniz’s Law applies to these properties, the mind and the body are distinct entities that cannot be assimilated to each other. However, I think there can be disputes about whether these properties are important properties that we really care about and if Leibniz’s Law can be applied to these properties.

Some Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

From guest blogger, Shani.

The existence of evil in the world becomes problematic to theists since most theological texts claim that god is an all-powerful, all knowing and all good being (PKG). This assertion is problematic since if god is in fact PKG, then why would he ever allow gratuitous evils to occur? It seems to go completely against his nature. I would like to argue that the only way to remove the problem of evil is for theists to give up an absolutist approach to god’s capabilities. God cannot be PKG and be an omnipotent being who can do anything whether it be logically possible or not at the same time. Theists may not like the idea of giving up absolutism since they may think doing so undermines the idea that god is omnipotent and all-powerful. In my opinion it does no such thing. By removing the idea of absolutism we are not bringing gods capabilities down to a human level rather, we are simply purifying the definition of his being. If we take a non-absolutist approach and say that god can only do things which is possible for him to do, his possibilities and powers being beyond our comprehension, than we are still able to assert that god is PKG. Not only is he PKG but he is now also in his purest and most benevolent form. We can now take all gratuitous evils and place the blame on another entity that has the capability to create chaos and cause beings to suffer mercilessly. The blame can either be placed on humans or on Satan but either way god has not lost power. God has not lost power or authority since if god were PKG he would not be committing these horrific acts anyways, such gratuitous evils would be logically incoherent for him to commit. Therefore we have simply purified the definition of his being to one that is even more benevolent and merciful. In my opinion, giving up absolutism actually makes for a stronger and more praise worthy god than a god who can do anything but is not necessarily PKG. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Zabzebski's Argument on God and Ethics

From guest blogger, Jace.

Z's Argument
1. We can only rely on our perception, moral intuitions, and reason to acquire moral knowledge. (assumption)
2. If we only rely on our perception, moral intuitions, and reason, there will be a plurality of moral beliefs.
3. If there is a plurality of moral beliefs, then extreme moral skepticism follows.
4. If one is an extreme moral skeptic, then they are also in moral despair.
5. If one is in moral despair, then they are in a contradictory state of being.
6. Therefore, there must be something more than our moral intuitions which allows us to acquire moral knowledge. God serves such a function.

Premise 2 is clearly exemplified anytime two people have mutually exclusive beliefs about the right course of action. Her arguments from premise 2 to premise 3 fail, however. She claims that there exist disagreements which are not rationally decidable since there is no non-question-begging procedure for determining which side is wrong. According to Zagzebski, when disagreements occur they occur on one of the following four levels of moral belief: the broadest level of beliefs being metaethical, followed by fundamental moral values, then general moral principles, and then particular moral judgments. If a disagreement occurs at the level of particular moral judgments, it may be the case that both parties are rationally justified in their opposing views given that their broader level moral beliefs are different. If two individuals disagree on a particular moral judgment but have the same beliefs in all of the broader levels, then we may infer that there is a lack of information, communication, or reason on one or both sides of the argument.

The issue that Zagzebski points out is that there are many different sets of beliefs which are internally consistent. How can one know which internally consistent moral framework the true moral knowledge lies in? I would argue that it is entirely possible that true moral knowledge lies in both. She rejects this theory on the grounds that this sort of answer is "unhelpful in the extreme". To me this seems to be untrue and even if it were true, it would be irrelevant.

In Zagzebski's example, she has a woman contemplating whether or not to get an abortion and someone tells her that her position is rationally justified and that the contrary position is also rationally justified. This is not the full picture, however. To be rationally justified, one must have an internally consistent moral framework. So a more complete response would be to say that her position can be rationally justified and that the contrary position can also be rationally justified. The position which actually is justified depends on her moral intuitions about the relative values of life, bodily autonomy, quality of life, and many other factors. Given these moral intuitions she may use reason to construct an internally consistent moral framework. It is this framework that would be incredibly helpful in determining which choice is the right choice for her. Even if a complete moral framework were unhelpful in determining some particular moral judgment, that would not be a good reason to reject the theory that two opposing positions can both contain true moral knowledge.
She may object that the argument changes what is meant by "true moral knowledge" and so doesn't properly handle the issues that she raises. I actually agree, however, I think that this understanding of true moral knowledge is more rational and helpful and, if adopted, does resolve the issues that she's raised. I realize that this may not be satisfying, but I believe that it does a better job at solving the problem than her solution. On her view, a belief in god allows us to be rationally justified in our moral beliefs. However, this only pushes the issue back further on whether we can have a rational and non-question-begging procedure for determining which god to believe in. Given her criteria for becoming an extreme moral skeptic, it is inconsistent for her not to become an extreme theistic skeptic. Relying on intuitions about god leads to a plurality of theistic beliefs for which there is no objective criteria for determining which theistic belief to hold given that there are multiple internally consistent theistic beliefs.