One Last Question For The Reductive Materialists
December 5, 2011

Which is a more accurate picture of joy? This:

Or this:

This is only a hard question if you make it one. Or if you’re not into Sam Cooke.

Here is a Hand
January 23, 2011

poster for The Matrix
Image via Wikipedia

Pretty much anyone who’s thought about philosophical problems in any way is familiar with the skeptical argument. It’s right at the top of everyone’s list of All-Time 4 AM Dorm Room Shit, next to, “How do I know if, like, my green is your green? What if what you perceive is green is more of like a red to you?”

Descartes posed the skeptical argument as: “How do I know that anything I perceive is part of an external world, and not just illusions created by an evil demon to trick me?” You may have also heard it as: “How do I know I’m not just a brain in a vat?” Or, more recently, “Dude, what if, like, we’re all plugged into the matrix?”

When I blogged Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus late last year, I briefly noted that the great logical positivist was basically sympathetic to solipsism. More accurately, he proposed that one’s world is the entirety of one’s perceptions, and that death is nothing less than the end of the world. In his austere worldview, it didn’t make much sense to speak of an “external world.”

That’s early Wittgenstein. Later on he evidently became a big fan of G.E. Moore’s “Here is a Hand” argument, an argument against which I’ve been banging my head off and on for the past week. Here’s its basic structure.

  1. Here is a hand.
  2. Here is another hand.
  3. Therefore, the external world exists.

Yeah.
(more…)

A Priori Judgments
May 27, 2010

Portrait of René Descartes
Image via Wikipedia

Since commenter zosima used the term a priori I figured it would be worth giving a quick and dirty definition for those who are unfamiliar. It’s a concept that comes up a lot in philosophy, so expect to see more of it.

An a priori judgment is one you can make that is founded on nothing but reason. The best example of this is Descartes’ Meditations, which most of you are probably familiar with—in it, Descartes (pictured) tries to make as many judgments as he can starting from a position of total skepticism about the world around him, his own perception, and even his own existence. In other words, it is a work dedicated to testing the limits of his a priori knowledge.

A posteriori knowledge is the opposite: knowledge that can only be gained through external observation. All knowledge gained through scientific experimentation and empirical observation is a posteriori.

A large portion of epistemology—the philosophical study of the nature of knowledge—is dedicated to figuring out what knowledge we can have a priori and what can only be learned a postiori.

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