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Philosophy: Book Review

Philosophy: Everything You Need to Know to Master the Subject (Peter Gibson). Organized by topic rather than period of specific philosophers. This was a different perspective and worth summarizing.

Chapter 1: What is Philosophy? Continental school, France and Germany, allies philosophy with literature and psychology. The analytic school is predominant in the US and UK, more focused on physical sciences and logic. Much of it is based on the framework for understanding. The Enlightenment (1620-1800) or Age of Reason. David Hume, a pessimist; Isaac Newton, mathematical science of physics; Immanuel Kant, rational theory of morality. Britain: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), George Berkeley (1685-1753); John Locke (1632-1704); David Hume (1711-1776). France: Rene Descartes (1596-1650); Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Germany: Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716); Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Ancient Greece: philosophy studied through conversation. Medieval Europe focused on ancient texts, especially Aristotle, plus Christianity. The Age of Science split philosophy into those embracing it and those interested in abstractions. Formal logic, the analytic tradition, runs from Aristotle. Catholicism focused on faith and good works. Luther and the Reformation focused on faith. Focus on nature of God and materialism. The Scientific Revolution started with Francis Bacon and experimental science using the scientific method. Judicial principles and democracy are values discussed in philosophy.

Chapter 2. Truth. Important in a law court, useful in politics. Important to Socrates and Spinoza. Nietzsche doubted its value. Science demands accuracy. Definition: a relationship between a mind and facts. Relativism suggests rival doctrines, featuring emotion (persuasion) over objectivity. Nietzsche noted cultures built on mythologies and powerful people don’t worry much about truth.

Coherence theory: truth is fitting into a conceptual scheme, like a jigsaw. Correspondence theory relates truth to ingredients of facts it asserts. American Pragmatists believe correct beliefs guide our actions and normal behavior. Socratic method (dialectic): speakers are challenged and must justify or admit they are wrong. Socrates: philosophers should study how humans should live their lives. Plato added theory of forms: ideals such as goodness, beauty and truth are unchanging foundations of nature.

Chapter 3: Reasoning. Dialectic is a process of repeated exchange of views and objectives, which started with Socrates. Aristotle developed rules for formal logic, beginning with a syllogism (a pair of statements is presented and a third is inferred from them). Presumably true premises leads to a true conclusion. Truth tables: P and Q are true only if both are true. P or Q are true if at least one of them is true.

Math logic: a,b,c are fixed objects; x,y,z are variable objects; F,G,H are properties of objects. Repetition in nature to universal is induction; should be related to prediction. Paradoxes are breakdowns in reasoning.

Fallacies in reasoning: Ad hominem fallacy if you attack my character rather than my views. If an explanation requires continuing explanation: infinite regress. Though experiment: potential scenario leads to consequences. Counter example undermines something given.

Chapter 4: Existence. Ontology: the study of existence. Being is the essence of existing. Aristotle assumed that every object has an essence associated with unity, causal powers, and distinctive behavior. Universal: a word that can apply one concept to many instances: red. Ontology treats objects, properties and categories as static and timeless, but in reality they change. Reality can be made up of processes rather than objects. Modal profile: what has to be true; what might be true; what can’t be true.

Epicurus focused on happiness in life, based on sensible rational pleasures. A proponent was Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Stoic school founded by Zeno, a virtuous person is happy as long as s/he remains virtuous.

Chapter 5: Knowledge. Epistemology is the study of knowledge: the basis and reliability of what we think we know: from belief to understanding to explanation and prediction.

Solipsism: not knowing if other minds exist or reality. Idealism: reality can be no more that the totality of experiences. A priori knowledge must be true, like mathematics and logic; therefore, not affected by experience. Tabula rasa, a blank page. A posteriori knowledge comes from experience. Experience usually relies on perception. Rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz): turning beliefs, concepts and experiences into knowledge is a judgment. Empiricists claim knowledge is based on perceptions and judgment of experiences (like David Hume and John Locke). The mind sifts patterns of experiences.

Infinite regress: requires endless justifications of beliefs showing that knowledge is impossible. Descartes: I think, therefore I am. Coherentism: experiences must fit with reason to be knowledge (beliefs must depend on reliable connections to facts). Global skepticism: all knowledge is impossible.

Plato idealized the Form of the Good, identified with the mind of God by the Neo-Platonists. Plotinus moved Plato’s Form of the Good to The One. Thomas Aquinas developed a theology based on Aristotle.

Chapter 6: Mind. Is mind: a distinct entity or process; consciousness or more? The mind is private, so proving other minds is a puzzle. Part of the body or separate? Is mind entirely physical, a physical activity? Dualism: mind is non-physical. Behaviorism: the mind can be understood by observing public behavior. Functionalism: mind is a system of behavior. Descartes: rationalist. Was he certain of anything? I think, therefore I am. Spinoza: accepted ontological argument for God but developed a pantheist view; embracing determinism and rejecting free will. Leibniz: there is reason for everything and God chose the best world from all possible worlds.

Chapter 7: Persons. The law needed it for legal responsibility. John Locke’s person: conscious, rational, intelligent, self-aware, continuous, and capable of choice. Self: Buddhists: there is no self. Immanuel Kant: we cannot detect it, but infer it based on experience and reasoning. David Hume: there is no self, only mental events. Perceived causation a mere pattern of events. Nietzsche: we are driven by unconscious desires and there is no fixed entity “me.” Sociology: self as a social construct (ditto: Hegel, understand self through relation to other minds). Existentialism: self can be molded in multiple ways. Chain of memories.

Free will: full control over actions; required for moral responsibility. Supreme being: must dominate nature, not subject to its laws. Determinism: every event has a prior cause. Spinoza: people only think they are choosing freely. Hobbes: no free will or idealistic moral values; social contract is needed and monarchy enforcing social agreements.

Chapter 8: Thought: vague term covering emotions, following rules, attitudes, judgments, beliefs, perceptions, imagination, memories, reason, motives, and decisions. AI successful at rule-based thinking like chess; poor at the frame problem (appropriateness). Kant wanted to find boundary between rational speculation and emotional doubts, assuming reality is unknowable. Hegel wanted thinking to work toward reality, using dialectic (with “self” found in social relationships).

Chapter 9: Language. Approaches to meaning include sense and reference, plus speakers’ intentions, usage, and verification. Linguistics explores meaning. Some meaningful sentences are unverifiable. Distinction between syntax (structure) and semantics (meaning). Wittgenstein: language is rule-following requiring conformity.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) focused on how we should live. Human essence driven by desires; pessimism and denial of self. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): self is a fluctuation of ethical conflicts and anxiety and choice; introduced leap of faith. Positivism of Comte: truth requires measurable and observable facts (e.g., statistics). Karl Marx (1818-1883) used dialectic historical and social forces, focusing on economic life, wanting to change the world; power conflict of capitalists and workers. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): domination of will to power, valuing elites and ambition. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) utilitarianism and defender of liberal individualism. Charles Pierce, living by what works.

Chapter 10: Values: general concepts that attract and motivate, including personal moral values (basic ethical system) and civic values (important to society), and aesthetic values (what’s attractive). Art: ideas, intention, imagination of the artist; form and content, view by the audience, art’s social role.

Values of human affairs: nature of humans, customs of society, individual concerns. Consequentialism: ends justify the means. Expressivism: morality is approval. Supreme value is The Good. Greeks valued the harmony of the universe. Aristotle: flourishing or happiness. Hedonism: pleasure is supreme value.

Chapter 11: Ethics, includes metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Socrates thought virtue can be taught using right reason. Aristotle focused on virtue (good character, excellence) or intellectual virtue (good reasoning). Virtues motivate appropriate behavior. Virtues are on a scale and Aristotle stressed the golden mean: courage is between recklessness and cowardice. Common sense is critical. Kant stressed universal duties (deontology).

Deontology stresses moral duty, rational consistency from pure reason. Resulting in categorical imperatives based on universal laws.

Utilitarians on welfare and happiness and moral actions achieve best possible utility (maximize happiness or satisfaction). Rule utilitarianism like never torture approaches deontology. Maximizing welfare has problems with fairness. Cooperation can involve contractarian morality, stressing self-interest based on contracts. This does not seem altruistic, can be abused, plus the free rider problem (exploiting good will of others).

Game theory studies the rules of co-operation, confirming that one-off contracts between people are precarious and hard to enforce. The most case is the prisoners’ dilemma. There is the potential for unintended consequences. Abortion is a common example of applied ethics. Euthanasia is another.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1880) developed the ide of self as freedom, leading to existentialism. Michel Foucault was pessimistic about existential freedom: we are subject to social pressures.

Chapter 12: Society. Political principles used to organize a state, presumably to make people happy, perhaps requiring freedom. Thomas Hobbes developed the social contract as an agreement between people and rulers; in his case protect people from violence. Democracy assumes direct choice of citizens (minority are spectators). A large democracy requires representatives (a delegate form to present people’s views or a trustee as a person to think for themselves). Critics of liberalism: freedom to make contracts puts citizens in weak positions to be exploited.

How much power should a government have? Autocracy is a government by one, which leads to quick decisions. Technocracy is government by experts which should protect those who need help through welfare. Democracy is government by many, which should restrain government powers, but decisions are slow. Plato wanted a technocracy.

Three political ideas are freedom, justice, and equality. Justice: is the power to punish justified as retribution, deterrent, prevention, or reform? What is a just war? Permissible to restrain aggression, proportionate, a last resort, not futile, and had full authority of the state. Freedom can be “self-ownership;” or autonomy which includes certain protections (e.g., full equality of women). Anarchism means the state has no right to exist and no legitimate power. No social contract.

Conflicting freedoms: freedom of speech versus insults, lying. Weapons. Free markets versus abuse. Rights include duties. How absolute is freedom of belief. Are all citizens equal? When and why? Equality especially in rule of law.

Justice: John Rawls: fairness which concerns opportunities and needs. People should start with free and equal lives and subsequent inequalities must be justified. Justice then should focus on the most disadvantaged and their basic needs and opportunities. Utilitarians want maximum benefits. Robert Nozick: what you are entitled to. Martha Nussbaum: fulfill individual capabilities. Legal rights in a society versus natural rights. Libertarians such as Nozick emphasize keeping contracts, presumably emphasizing individual freedom.

Chapter 13: Nature. Regularity happens in nature, but is it causation? David Hume was doubtful, observation but cause is not observed. Aristotle: material cause, efficient cause, formal cause. Laws of nature started early with modern science, like Newton. Instrumental view holds that laws are mathematical descriptions. Laws are descriptions of regularities.

Time. Newton took space as an absolute. Einstein saw space and time as relative. Quantum theory deals in processes, where waves collapse and quantum particles leap, all occurring in real time. Life described by science; no evidence of extra forces, implying that physics is closed. Darwin theory of natural selection, genetics tests relationships. Ecology encourages people to live within nature. Mind as a physical brain activity. Thomas Kuhn: science juggles results to fit theories and problem of theories shift their meaning.

Chapter 14: Transcendence. What lies beyond nature? Consciousness, math and logic, laws of nature, and moral ideas. Mind as substance dualism into the spiritual realm. Mathematical patterns in chemicals and structures. Theology assumes God: existence of nature (cosmological argument), order of nature (teleological argument), necessity of this being (ontological argument), personal experience, and faith.

Cosmological argument: first cause must be outside of nature, requiring a supreme mind. Does everything have to have a cause? Teleological argument (design argument): ordered structure of nature requires ordered and purposeful mind. What about bad side (Hume asked: does God make mistakes or were there a team of gods?). Ontological argument relies on a priori thought, a being that which no greater can be conceived.

Deism: God exists (cosmological argument) but no involvement in human affairs. God remote and unresponsive. Spinoza proposed pantheism seeing no reason to believe in spiritual substances—but the awesomeness of nature. Thus God and nature are one and the same.

Agnosticism focuses on direct evidence and sees little to support God’s existence or not. So, no opinion.

How does God relate to time? Does God have an unchanging past and unknowable future? The problem of evil, the contradiction to benevolence. Human evil and natural evil.

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