Amaroq wrote:But that doesn't invalidate consciousness, and I don't think it even invalidates free will. Consciousness is, basically, the faculty of perception, and is one of the three Axioms of Objectivism.
It doesn't. You need to read Dan Dennett. And you need to throw out your Ayn Rand books (seriously. If you continue to study philosophy you will either become chairman of the Fed or you'll later be embarassed by the credence you places in her a rational natterings. 'Axioms of Objectivism'; tosh!). Try Freedom Evolves
to start with. There are many brands of compatibilism who deny the tension between determinism and free will (of which Dennett's is the most plausible being revisionary and hence not dismissive of those who think their is a conflict (unlike Strawson) and being based on actual psychology and not idealised selves coordinating their higher order desires (unlike Frankfurt).
The laws of physics, or any other laws we create, are not forces or entities that compel the universe to act as it does. They are descriptions to fit how the universe acts.
That's a standard Humean account of the laws of nature; the so-called laws are just generalisations we happen to have observed. Let me put to you then the standard contrary thought experiment; to what degree would you be surprised if you found a part of the universe where the laws did not hold. If you are earnest in your Humeanism it shouldn't surprise you at al; you've never been there before so if the laws are just generalities which hold true elsewhere there is no reason for them to hold true in that part as well. On the other hand if you would be surprised by this it suggests that contra- what you say you feel the tug of the contrary, universalist interpretation of the laws where the (true?) laws are seperate, hold universally and perhaps are constitutive of the universe rather than the other way around. Alex Bird and James Ladyman's introductions to the Philosophy of Science both deal with this question, if you're interested.
I'm actually not too familiar with utilitarianism. The impression my roommate has given me of it is that you basically choose your own utility function and then work to maximize that.
No. Like most normative theories utilitarianism insists that its prescriptions hold universally. Vanilla utilitarianism (act-utilitarianism) states that you should act always such that you promote the greatest happiness. Rule-utilitarianism recognises that the heuristic calculations for the above are too complicated and you should instead establish rules which you are able to follow which in general promote the greatest happiness, even if these rules sometimes fail to promote happiness in some specific instances. Motive utilitarianism (which seems curiously uncommon these days) says that because 'rules' don't tend to govern our behaviour you should instead inculcate the right motives or dispositions which will promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. 'Utilitarianism with side constraints' recognises that you can throw into your calculus some things which must not be broken even if failure to break them means a failure to promote the greatest happiness; rights are the standard side constraints. 'Utilitarianism as a criterion of judgement' means that you don't actually use utilitarianism to inform your actions but only as a tool for evaluating after the event which actions were good or bad (so if you wanted to write a history book with the word 'bad' in it, you would interpret this in a utilitarian - usually act-utilitarian) manner. Utilitarianism is a specific instance of a wider normative approach termed 'consequentialism' which seeks to prescribe or evaluate actions based upon the consequences of them as far as promoting a particular account of 'The Good'. 'The Good' for utilitarianism is of course the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But in a consequentialist theory you can in principle establish any 'The Good' you want; ordinarily it tends to be something like the greatest happiness as well as individual happiness, or something based on the heriarchy of needs or suchlike. But all the time the basic restriction on consequentialist theories is maintained that they are supposed to be universal in scope and so if you declare yourself to be 'a pigeon on the moon consequentialist' (tip of the hat to Hallvard Lillehammer) you implicitly demand not just that your own actions be evaluated according to how far they promote the goal of putting pigeons on the moon but that anyone else's actions, and all actions in general, be evaluated according to their tendency to promote this. This is why the onus is normally on the consequentialist to tell us a story about how they have analysed 'good' or the structure of moral discourse or something and they have 'discovered' consequentialist. Three of the most interesting developments in the defense of consequentialism in recent years are: A: Joshua Greene's claim that because fMRI data shows that higher cognitive faculties are brought more to bear in forming consequentialist judgements than in forming 'deontological' judgments, this shows consequentialism to be superior. B: Tim Mulgan's The Demands of Consequentialism
which argues that the counter-intuitively high demands (give all your money to the third world) which consequentialism appears to make, it doesn't after all and it's much less demanding when properly understood, C: Living High and Letting Die
by Peter Unger; a fascinating book in which he purports to show that while consequentialism is counter-intuitive in it's high-demands, common sense moral alternatives are incoherent and so you have to opt for consequentialism because at least it's rationally coherent.
His utility function is life. He views all human lives as of equal value.
Gibberish. Unless he spends all day at the sperm bank. Unless he has an argument as to why either of these should be compelling to me as a third party to 'his' utilitarian, then he isn't a utilitarian he just follows a strange code.
He thinks that this kind of thinking can result in nonviolence
If that was true, and if nonviolence was my and everyone else's overarching concern then he has an argument. But I think I care about other things more than non-violence. In a world with people saying they are willing to die for arbitrary plots of lands supposedly given to their ancestors by personifications of the natural forces, I suspect other people care about things other than non-violence too.
I'm not really familiar with Kant, beyond what Rand has written about him.
Wow. "I'm not really familiar with Marx, apart from what McCarthy has to say about him", "I'm not really familiar with Ford, apart from what Aldous Huxley has to say about him", "I'm not really familiar with the Palestinians, apart from what the Israelis have to say about him". Seriously guy; Ayn Rand isn't a philosopher, isn't a rational interlocutor, isn't a credible addition to the philosophical canon and certainly isn't a realiable source for the history of philosophy.
Leiter et al saying the same thing: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2 ... -rand.html
and http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2 ... mment.html
Rands view of Kant, in Cartoon form: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian ... e_exp.html
If I'm not mistaken, he believed in two different realities, correct? A phenomenal world of illusion, and a noumenal world as it actually is, but that we can never know about. We also apparently have a noumenal self separate from our phenomenal self, and doing your duty with no self-interest at all somehow benefits the noumenal self.
Broadly speaking, yes. It might be more plausible if it's wrapped up in an (early) Wittgenstein Tortilla for you though; there is the phenomenal world which is the one which we directly apprehend with our mental faculties (the world is divided into objects, there is space-time, there are colours and so on) and this is the world to which we refer with our language, which we use to coordinate our actions. This is the phenomenal world. But our ability to make sense of the world, of the sensory input we take from the world, is contingent upon us being able to process and apprehend particular features in a logically arbitrary fashion; it is the interaction of our mental faculties with the world-as-it-is-in-itself which creates the phenomenal world which we are able to apprehend. The world-as-it-is-in-itself however, the noumenal world, has no need to conform to our methods of cognizing it; maybe things aren't split into discrete objects; maybe it's multi-dimensional strings, maybe there are causal forces which we don't recognise like neutrinos which don't interact with us at all. We don't necessarily know anything about the noumenal world (unlike the phenomenal world which is 'given' to us by our senses); it might be like the phenomenal world, it might be completely different, we have no way of knowing. Kant was, however, (this might be controversial, but I think it's pretty clear) a realist about the noumenal world. He doesn't doubt it exists, he just thinks we don't have access to it. In the second critique he speaks of the will as operating in this world which I take to mean he thinks that the noumenal world is the one we interact with, which would suggest a pragmatic argument for thinking that the noumenal world is either like the phenomenal world or structurally similar. I suspect much of the intuitive pull of Kant's picture has fallen away as we've come to accept the more sensible elements (colours aren't in the-world-as-it-is-in-itself and with more advanced physics we think we now have a handle on the stuff we cannot see. But I think his work is still relevant to questions of scientific realism. To compare Kant with Rand however is to do a disservice to him. They aren't in the same league, by a long shot. Kant is one of the most profound, more careful and most rigorous philosophers in the history of civilization. Rand is anything but.
The accusation Rand levies at Kant is that he basically saved religion from destruction at the hands of reason. He removes ethics from reality and places them in a realm unknowable to us, so that the only way to justify our oughts is from faith, as opposed to deriving oughts from what is. And he was a big "our senses are invalid" guy.
Which is a surefire way to get a FAIL if I'm grading your papers. The only part of his ethics which are unknowable is what maxim you are actually acting upon (for reasons deeply obscure to me; in his discussion of friendship which he takes to be tied to maxims he remarks "you can never know if you have ever had a true friend" because you can never know they were truly acting on the maxim of friendship. I suppose the idea is a counterfactual one; you could only know if you have access to ways the world might have gone other than it did which you presumably don't. Actually Kant believed (perhaps mistakenly) in the validity of our senses for delivering the phenomenal world. And that's the world which counts as far as describing it is concerned. Kant's views on god are tricky and deeply complicated. Fair to say he was probably a deist. I've heard it claimed that he was secretly an atheist of sorts but I don't find that very plausible. His ethics have a religious flavour to them but are thoroughly secular, in so far as they are based upon what it is and what it is not contradictory to will.
I think that believing in an objective reality does necessitate rational self-interest.
Perhaps. But this doesn't entail selfish behaviour. I see the old lady wanting to cross the street and I feel bad for her. I help her across and I feel good about myself. I acted in a sensible manner to promote my own happiness by helping the old lady. There are many people much more naturally selfless than I am, and it makes sense that I encourage these tendencies in them, being as I might be the beneficiary. Go read Hume. This is all in Hume.
Life is self-sustaining, self-generated action. Every life-form is acting to keep itself going, taking what it needs from the environment around it to sustain its own body. If you look at reality objectively and recognize this aspect of life, including your own, it's not a far stretch to recognize self-interest as a requirement for life, and therefore rational self-interest as a requirement of human life.
This is prescription based on metaphor. Your horse provides locomotion and eats hay. Your car similarly provides locomotion. Therefore it similarly must eat hay. That 'life is self-sustaining' and 'takes what it needs' does not mean that you, as a conscious being, need to do so. That the promotion of the selfish interests of your genes have resulted in a creature which has unselfish motives and a capability to act unselfishly is perhaps interesting, but here your 'objectivism' is just making the move critics accuse Dawkins of making which he never does. That the evolutionary process is 'selfish' does not mean it's products are. Maybe some are, naturally, (psychopaths) but they have gone wrong and we can lock them up until we find out what. Most people would be made miserable if they behaved like psychopaths all the time because most people aren't. As to whether your
interests are served by encouraging other people to be selfish, I suspect the answer is obviously not.
I think that the only way you could argue for altruism is to actually support it with egoism. To say that being altruistic benefits you. But then it comes down to the degree of "altruism" you're practicing. If you're helping your friends and loved ones, you have a self-interest in their benefit, since they are valuable to you. Arguably, that invalidates any notion of it being altruism. True altruism would be to sacrifice for someone who you don't know/care about/have any reason to want to help.
No, I'm afraid you've confused yourself with technical terms here. If I jump on the grenade to save my comrades, I have acted altruistically. If I did so because my emotional evaluator was a bit wonky and decided I had to because I couldn't live with myself if I didn't does not make it not altruistic. That it might be a byproduct of natural selection favouring those who are willing to die for those they recognise as kin does not make it not altruistic. That it was done to, in the abstract sense, 'promote my own happiness' does not make it non altruistic, because 'happiness' is being used in a strange sense here simply to denote positive affect. That people might get positive affect from promoting the material interests of others rather than their own, and actions are governed by affect rather than material interests, does not mean this person is nonetheless an egoist. An egoist is someone promoting their material interests. Any definition of the antithesis of egoist as someone not moves by positive affect (or happiness) is incoherent; there couldn't be such a creature, anymore than there might be martians who enjoy being unhappy (in the trivial sense of 'unhappy' sure there could. In the negative affect sense, there trivially couldn't). If your definition of 'egoist' or anything else ('agnostic' comes to mind as a similar offender) does not meaningfully bifurcate the space of options because it only eliminates the impossible or the absurd then you have a lousy definition.
And I don't think it's actually too hard to consider non-life after death.
It's probably impossible, for the Berkleyan reason that you're imagining yourself viewing nothingness or something similar. Viewing the world without you in it from a perspective which is implicitly yours, as though watching on a video camera. That said, that it is impossible to imagine something happening does not mean it cannot, and certainly does not mean you should think it won't if there is compelling evidence to the contrary.
There's actually a poetic (and therefore non-philosophical, mind you) statement that Ayn Rand herself quoted once on TV. "I will not die; it's the world that will end."
A rare Randian aphorism subjectible to empirical testing and duly falsified. Ding dong, the witch is dead.
If I'm not mistaken, the uncertainty principle states that we can't know both the location and the velocity of a subatomic particle, but only because you have to hit it with another particle to measure it. Somehow, a lot of people took it to have a primacy of consciousness implication. They thought the statement "Observing a subatomic particle changes it" meant that our consciousness could affect reality independent of action from our body. Better philosophy could have quickly fixed or even prevented this.
The Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment was actually originally created to challenge the crazy notion, that science was pushing at the time, that something we haven't observed yet exists in multiple states simultaneously until observing it collapses the possibilities into one state.
As ever the overwhelming contribution of Feynman to philosophy of Science, despite publicly declaring to despise philosophy, comes to the fore: "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics" often rendered as it's corollary: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." The only safe generalization about the various 'theories' is that they're all bollocks. A more interesting thought was put to me by an Oxford philosopher of science recently; quantum entanglement is only a problem if you're unwilling to accept action at a distance. Wouldn't it feel better to accept action at a distance than to accept e.g. the many worlds or the Copenhagen interpretations with their branching universes or 'objective probability'?