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A compelling introduction to philosophy

by Simon Blackburn
eVersion 3.0 / Notes at EOF
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"Blackburn has produced the one book eery smart person should read to understand! and
een en"oy! the key #uestions o$ philosophy! ran%in% $rom those about $ree &ill and
morality to &hat &e can really kno& about the &orld around us." '' (alter )saacson!
Time Magazine
"*his is a &onder$ully stimulatin%! incisie and '' the &ord is not too stron% '' thrillin%
introduction to the pleasures and problems o$ philosophy." '' +ohn Banille! Irish Times
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*9)S BOO: 2-E( F-O< years o$ &restlin% &ith the problems o$ tryin% to interest
people in ideas. ) hae done this as a teacher! but also as someone &ho has tried to
e4plain the alue o$ the humanities in %eneral! and philosophy in particular! to a &ider
audience. )ndeed my $irst debt is to the climate o$ the times! &hose scepticism about the
alue o$ hi%her education made it eident to me "ust ho& ur%ent this task is. 8 second!
more serious debt is to all the students o$ many years! &hose nods and $ro&ns eentually
shaped the book. ) also o&e a debt to teachin% assistants here at the /niersity o$ North
3arolina! &ho had $irst'hand e4perience o$ en%a%in% students in earlier ersions o$ the
&ork. ) &ould neer hae taken the plun%e! ho&eer! had it not been $or the %enerous
encoura%ement o$ 3atherine 3larke and 8n%us 1hillips! at O4$ord /niersity 1ress.
8n%us has closely monitored the pro%ress o$ the &ork! and ) o&e much to his support and
Earlier ersions o$ the material hae been read by 9u& 1rice and -alph (alker!
&ho each proided inaluable su%%estions. 0uri Balasho and .an -yder %ae me help
&ith speci$ic topics. For the sake o$ breity ) hae not included a %lossary o$
philosophical terms! &hich &ould in any case hae echoed de$initions $ound in my
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.
*he superb editin% o$ <aura 9i%h and 8n%ela Blackburn %ae me an
uncom$ortable sense o$ my shortcomin%s as a &riter! &hile happily dis%uisin% them $rom
the &ider public. 8n%ela! o$ course! had also to su$$er the usual burdens o$ hain% a
&ritin% husband! and &ithout her support nothin% &ould hae been possible.
Simon Blackburn
>. :no&led%e
5. <ind
3. Free (ill
C. *he Sel$
F. 2od
6. -easonin%
E. *he (orld
D. (hat to .o
*his book is $or people &ho &ant to think about the bi% themesG kno&led%e! reason!
truth! mind! $reedom! destiny! identity! 2od! %oodness! "ustice. *hese are not the hidden
presere o$ specialists. *hey are thin%s that men and &omen &onder about naturally! $or
they structure the &ays &e think about the &orld and our place in it. *hey are also
themes about &hich thinkers hae had thin%s to say. )n this book ) try to introduce &ays
o$ thinkin% about the bi% themes. ) also introduce some o$ the thin%s thinkers hae had to
say about them. )$ readers hae absorbed this book! then they should be on better terms
&ith the bi% themes. 8nd they should be able to read many other&ise ba$$lin% ma"or
thinkers &ith pleasure and reasonable understandin%.
*he &ord "philosophy" carries un$ortunate connotationsG impractical! un&orldly! &eird. )
suspect that all philosophers and philosophy students share that moment o$ silent
embarrassment &hen someone innocently asks us &hat &e do. ) &ould pre$er to
introduce mysel$ as doin% conceptual en%ineerin%. For "ust as the en%ineer studies the
structure o$ material thin%s! so the philosopher studies the structure o$ thou%ht.
/nderstandin% the structure inoles seein% ho& parts $unction and ho& they
interconnect. )t means kno&in% &hat &ould happen $or better or &orse i$ chan%es &ere
made. *his is &hat &e aim at &hen &e inesti%ate the structures that shape our ie& o$
the &orld. Our concepts or ideas $orm the mental housin% in &hich &e lie. (e may end
up proud o$ the structures &e hae built. Or &e may beliee that they need dismantlin%
and startin% a$resh. But $irst! &e hae to kno& &hat they are. *he book is sel$'standin%
and does not presuppose that the reader has any other resources. But it could be
au%mented. For e4ample! it could be read alon%side some o$ the primary source materials
$rom &hich ) $re#uently #uote. *hese are readily aailable classics! such as .escartes7s
Meditations, or Berkeley7s Three Dialogues, or 9ume7s Enuiry !oncerning "uman
#nderstanding, or his Dialogues !oncerning $atural %eligion. But it can e#ually &ell be
read on its o&n &ithout the te4ts to hand. 8nd a$ter $inishin% it! the reader should pick up
the classics! and other thin%s like lo%ic te4ts or &ritin%s on ethics! &ith a mind prepared.
9ere are some #uestions any o$ us mi%ht ask about ourselesG (hat am )H (hat is
consciousnessH 3ould ) surie my bodily deathH 3an ) be sure that other people7s
e4periences and sensations are like mineH )$ ) can7t share the e4perience o$ others! can )
communicate &ith themH .o &e al&ays act out o$ sel$'interestH <i%ht ) be a kind o$
puppet! pro%rammed to do the thin%s that ) beliee ) do out o$ my o&n $ree &illH
9ere are some #uestions about the &orldG (hy is there somethin% and not nothin%H (hat
is the di$$erence bet&een past and $utureH (hy does causation run al&ays $rom past to
$uture! or does it make sense to think that the $uture mi%ht in$luence the pastH (hy does
nature keep on in a re%ular &ayH .oes the &orld presuppose a 3reatorH 8nd i$ so! can &e
understand &hy he @or she or theyA created itH
Finally! here are some #uestions about ourseles and the &orldG 9o& can &e be sure that
the &orld is really like &e take it to beH (hat is kno&led%e! and ho& much do &e haeH
(hat makes a $ield o$ in#uiry a scienceH @)s psychoanalysis a scienceH )s economicsHA
9o& do &e kno& about abstract ob"ects! like numbersH 9o& do &e kno& about alues
and dutiesH 9o& are &e to tell &hether our opinions are ob"ectie! or "ust sub"ectieH
*he #ueer thin% about these #uestions is that not only are they ba$$lin% at $irst si%ht! but
they also de$y simple processes o$ solution. )$ someone asks me &hen it is hi%h tide! )
kno& ho& to set about %ettin% an ans&er. *here are authoritatie tide tables ) can consult.
) may kno& rou%hly ho& they are produced. 8nd i$ all else $ails! ) could %o and measure
the rise and $all o$ the sea mysel$. 8 #uestion like this is a matter o$ e4perienceG an
empirical #uestion. )t can be settled by means o$ a%reed procedures! inolin% lookin%
and seein%! makin% measurements! or applyin% rules that hae been tested a%ainst
e4perience and $ound to &ork. *he #uestions o$ the last para%raphs are not like this. *hey
seem to re#uire more re$lection. (e don7t immediately kno& &here to look. 1erhaps &e
$eel &e don7t #uite kno& &hat &e mean &hen &e ask them! or &hat &ould count as
%ettin% a solution. (hat &ould sho& me! $or instance! &hether ) am not a$ter all a
puppet! pro%rammed to do the thin%s ) beliee ) do $reelyH Should &e ask scientists &ho
specialiBe in the brainH But ho& &ould they kno& &hat to look $orH 9o& &ould they
kno& &hen they had $ound itH )ma%ine the headlineG "Neuroscientists discoer human
bein%s not puppets." 9o&H
So &hat %ies rise to such ba$$lin% #uestionsH
)n a &ord! sel$'re$lection. 9uman bein%s are relentlessly capable o$ re$lectin% on
themseles. (e mi%ht do somethin% out o$ habit! but then &e can be%in to re$lect on the
habit. (e can habitually think thin%s! and then re$lect on &hat &e are thinkin%. (e can
ask ourseles @or sometimes &e %et asked by other peopleA &hether &e kno& &hat &e
are talkin% about. *o ans&er that &e need to re$lect on our o&n positions! our o&n
understandin% o$ &hat &e are sayin%! our o&n sources o$ authority. (e mi%ht start to
&onder &hether &e kno& &hat &e mean. (e mi%ht &onder &hether &hat &e say is
"ob"ectiely" true! or merely the outcome o$ our o&n perspectie! or our o&n "take" on a
situation. *hinkin% about this &e con$ront cate%ories like kno&led%e! ob"ectiity! truth!
and &e may &ant to think about them. 8t that point &e are reflecting on concepts and
procedures and belie$s that &e normally "ust use. (e are lookin% at the sca$$oldin% o$ our
thou%ht! and doin% conceptual en%ineerin%.
*his point o$ re$lection mi%ht arise in the course o$ #uite normal discussion. 8 historian!
$or e4ample! is more or less bound at some point to ask &hat is meant by "ob"ectiity" or
"eidence"! or een "truth"! in history. 8 cosmolo%ist has to pause $rom solin%
e#uations &ith the letter t in them! and ask &hat is meant! $or instance! by the $lo& o$
time or the direction o$ time or the be%innin% o$ time. But at that point! &hether they
reco%niBe it or not! they become philosophers. 8nd they are be%innin% to do somethin%
that can be done &ell or badly. *he point is to do it &ell.
9o& is philosophy learnedH 8 better #uestion isG ho& can thinkin% skills be ac#uiredH
*he thinkin% in #uestion inoles attendin% to basic structures o$ thou%ht. *his can be
done &ell or badly! intelli%ently or ineptly. But doin% it &ell is not primarily a matter o$
ac#uirin% a body o$ kno&led%e. )t is more like playin% the piano &ell. )t is a "kno&in%
ho&" as much as a "kno&in% that". *he most $amous philosophical character o$ the
classical &orld! the Socrates o$ 1lato7s dialo%ues! did not pride himsel$ on ho& much he
kne&. On the contrary! he prided himsel$ on bein% the only one &ho kne& ho& little he
kne& @re$lection! a%ainA. (hat he &as %ood at '' supposedly! $or estimates o$ his success
di$$er '' &as e4posin% the &eaknesses o$ other peoples7 claims to kno&. *o process
thou%hts &ell is a matter o$ bein% able to aoid con$usion! detect ambi%uities! keep
thin%s in mind one at a time! make reliable ar%uments! become a&are o$ alternaties! and
so on.
*o sum upG our ideas and concepts can be compared &ith the lenses throu%h &hich &e
see the &orld. )n philosophy the lens is itsel$ the topic o$ study. Success &ill be a matter
not o$ ho& much you kno& at the end! but o$ &hat you can do &hen the %oin% %ets
tou%hG &hen the seas o$ ar%ument rise! and con$usion breaks out. Success &ill mean
takin% seriously the implications o$ ideas.
)t is all ery &ell sayin% that! but &hy botherH (hat7s the pointH -e$lection doesn7t %et
the &orld7s business done. )t doesn7t bake bread or $ly aeroplanes. (hy not "ust toss the
re$lectie #uestions aside! and %et on &ith other thin%sH ) shall sketch three kinds o$
ans&erG hi%h %round! middle %round! and lo& %round.
*he hi%h %round #uestions the #uestion '' a typical philosophical strate%y! because it
inoles %oin% up one leel o$ re$lection. (hat do &e mean &hen &e ask &hat the point
isH -e$lection bakes no bread! but then neither does architecture! music! art! history! or
literature. )t is "ust that &e &ant to understand ourseles. (e &ant this $or its o&n sake!
"ust as a pure scientist or pure mathematician may &ant to understand the be%innin% o$
the unierse! or the theory o$ sets! $or its o&n sake! or "ust as a musician mi%ht &ant to
sole some problem in harmony or counterpoint "ust $or its o&n sake. *here is no eye on
any practical applications. 8 lot o$ li$e is indeed a matter o$ raisin% more ho%s! to buy
more land! so &e can raise more ho%s! so that &e can buy more land. . . *he time &e take
out! &hether it is to do mathematics or music! or to read 1lato or +ane 8usten! is time to
be cherished. )t is the time in &hich &e cosset our mental health. 8nd our mental health
is "ust %ood in itsel$! like our physical health. Furthermore there is a$ter all a payo$$ in
terms o$ pleasure. (hen our physical health is %ood! &e take pleasure in physical
e4ercise! and &hen our mental health is %ood! &e take pleasure in mental e4ercise.
*his is a ery pure'minded reply. *he problem &ith it is not that it is &ron%. )t is "ust that
it is only likely to appeal to people &ho are hal$'coninced already '' people &ho didn7t
ask the ori%inal #uestion in a ery a%%ressie tone o$ oice.
So here is a middle'%round reply. -e$lection matters because it is continuous &ith
practice. 9o& you think about &hat you are doin% a$$ects ho& you do it! or &hether you
do it at all. )t may direct your research! or your attitude to people &ho do thin%s
di$$erently! or indeed your &hole li$e. *o take a simple e4ample! i$ your re$lections lead
you to beliee in a li$e a$ter death! you may be prepared to $ace persecutions that you
&ould not $ace i$ you became coninced '' as many philosophers are '' that the notion
makes no sense. Fatalism! or the belie$ that the $uture is $i4ed &hateer &e do! is a purely
philosophical belie$! but it is one that can paralyse action. 1uttin% it more politically! it
can also e4press an ac#uiescence &ith the lo& status accorded to some se%ments o$
society! and this may be a pay'o$$ $or people o$ hi%her status &ho encoura%e it.
;et us consider some e4amples more prealent in the (est. <any people re$lectin% on
human nature think that &e are at bottom entirely sel$ish. (e only look out $or our o&n
adanta%e! neer really carin% about anyone else. 8pparent concern dis%uises hope o$
$uture bene$it. *he leadin% paradi%m in the social sciences is homo economicus &&
economic man. Economic man looks a$ter himsel$! in competitie stru%%le &ith others.
No&! i$ people come to think that &e are all! al&ays! like this! their relations &ith each
other become di$$erent. *hey become less trustin%! less cooperatie! more suspicious.
*his chan%es the &ay they interact! and they &ill incur arious costs. *hey &ill $ind it
harder! and in some circumstances impossible! to %et cooperatie entures %oin%G they
may %et stuck in &hat the philosopher *homas 9obbes @>FDD'>6E?A memorably called
"the &ar o$ all a%ainst all". )n the marketplace! because they are al&ays lookin% out to be
cheated! they &ill incur heay transaction costs. )$ my attitude is that "a erbal contract is
not &orth the paper it is &ritten on"! ) &ill hae to pay la&yers to desi%n contracts &ith
penalties! and i$ ) &ill not trust the la&yers to do anythin% e4cept "ust enou%h to pocket
their $ees! ) &ill hae to %et the contracts checked by other la&yers! and so on. But all
this may be based on a philosophical mistake '' lookin% at human motiation throu%h the
&ron% set o$ cate%ories! and hence misunderstandin% its nature. <aybe people can care
$or each other! or at least care $or doin% their bit or keepin% their promises. <aybe i$ a
more optimistic sel$'ima%e is on the table! people can come to lie up to it. *heir lies
then become better. So this bit o$ thinkin%! %ettin% clear about the ri%ht cate%ories &ith
&hich to understand human motiation! is an important practical task. )t is not con$ined
to the study! but bursts out o$ it.
9ere is a ery di$$erent e4ample. *he 1olish astronomer Nicholas 3opernicus @>CE3'
>FC3A re$lected on ho& &e 'no( about motion. 9e realiBed that ho& &e perceie motion
is perspecti)al* that is! &hether &e see thin%s as moin% is the result o$ ho& &e our'
seles are placed and in particular &hether &e ourseles are moin%. @(e hae mostly
been sub"ect to the illusion in trains or airports! &here the ne4t'door train or aeroplane
seems to moe o$$! and then &e realiBe &ith a "olt that it is &e &ho are moin%. But there
&ere $e&er eeryday e4amples in the time o$ 3opernicus.A So the apparent motions o$
the stars and planets mi%ht arise because they are not moin% as they appear to do! but
&e obserers moe.
8nd this is ho& it turned out to be. 9ere re$lection on the nature o$ kno&led%e '' &hat
philosophers call an epistemological in#uiry! $rom the 2reek episteme, meanin%
kno&led%e '' %enerated the $irst spectacular leap o$ modern science. Einstein7s re$lections
on ho& &e kno& &hether t&o eents are simultaneous had the same structure. 9e
realiBed that the results o$ our measurements &ould depend upon the &ay &e are
traellin% compared to the eents &e are clockin%. *his led to the Special *heory o$
-elatiity @and Einstein himsel$ ackno&led%ed the importance o$ precedin% philosophers
in sensitiBin% him to the epistemolo%ical comple4ities o$ such a measurementA.
For a $inal e4ample! &e can consider a philosophical problem many people %et into &hen
they think about mind and body. <any people enisa%e a strict separation bet&een mind!
as one thin%! and body! as a di$$erent thin%. (hen this seems to be "ust %ood common
sense! it can be%in to in$ect practice in #uite insidious &ays. For instance! it be%ins to be
di$$icult to see ho& these t&o di$$erent thin%s interact. .octors mi%ht then $ind it almost
ine)ita+le that treatments o$ physical conditions that address mental or psycholo%ical
causes &ill $ail. *hey mi%ht $ind it ne4t to impossible to see ho& messin% &ith someone7s
mind could possibly cause chan%es in the comple4 physical system that is their body.
8$ter all! %ood science tells us that it takes physical and chemical causes to hae physical
and chemical e$$ects. So &e mi%ht %et an a priori! armchair certainty that one kind o$
treatment @say! dru%s and electric shocksA has to be "ri%ht" and others @such as treatin%
patients humanely! counsellin%! analysisA are "&ron%"G unscienti$ic! unsound! bound to
$ail. But this certainly is premised not on science but on a false philosophy. A better
philosophical conception o$ the relation bet&een mind and body chan%es it. 8 better
conception should enable us to see ho& there is nothin% surprising in the $act o$ mind'
body interaction. )t is the most commonplace $act! $or instance! that thinkin% o$ some
thin%s @mentalA can cause people to blush @physicalA. *hinkin% o$ a $uture dan%er can
cause all kinds o$ bodily chan%esG hearts pound! $ists clench! %uts constrict. By e4trapola'
tion there should be nothin% di$$icult to comprehend about a mental state such as cheer$ul
optimism a$$ectin% a physical state like the disappearance o$ spots or een the remission
o$ a cancer. )t becomes a purely empirical fact &hether such thin%s happen. *he armchair
certainty that they could not happen is itsel$ reealed as dependent on bad understandin%
o$ the structures o$ thou%ht! or in other &ords bad philosophy! and is in that sense
unscienti$ic. 8nd this realiBation can chan%e medical attitudes and practice $or the better.
So the middle'%round ans&er reminds us that re$lection is continuous &ith practice! and
our practice can %o &orse or better accordin% to the alue o$ our re$lections. 8 system o$
thou%ht is somethin% &e lie in! "ust as much as a house! and i$ our intellectual house is
cramped and con$ined! &e need to kno& &hat better structures are possible.
*he lo&'%round ans&er merely polishes this point up a bit! not in connection &ith nice
clean sub"ects like economics or physics! but do&n in the basement &here human li$e is a
little less polite. One o$ the series o$ satires etched by the Spanish painter 2oya is
entitled "*he Sleep o$ -eason 1roduces <onsters". 2oya belieed that many o$ the
$ollies o$ mankind resulted $rom the "sleep o$ reason". *here are al&ays people tellin% us
&hat &e &ant! ho& they &ill proide it! and &hat &e should beliee. 3onictions are
in$ectious! and people can make others coninced o$ almost anythin%. (e are typically
ready to beliee that our &ays! our belie$s! our reli%ion! our politics are better than
theirs! or that our 2od'%ien ri%hts trump theirs or that our interests re#uire de$ensie or
pre'emptie strikes a%ainst them. )n the end! it is ideas $or &hich people kill each other.
)t is because o$ ideas about &hat the others are like! or &ho &e are! or &hat our interests
or ri%hts re#uire! that &e %o to &ar! or oppress others &ith a %ood conscience! or een
sometimes ac#uiesce in our o&n oppression by others. (hen these belie$s inole the
sleep o$ reason! critical a&akenin% is the antidote. -e$lection enables us to step back! to
see our perspectie on a situation as perhaps distorted or blind! at the ery least to see i$
there is ar%ument $or pre$errin% our &ays! or &hether it is "ust sub"ectie. .oin% this
properly is doin% one more piece o$ conceptual en%ineerin%.
Since there is no tellin% in adance &here it may lead! re$lection can be seen as
dan%erous. *here are al&ays thou%hts that stand opposed to it. <any people are
discom$ited! or een outra%ed! by philosophical #uestions. Some are $ear$ul that their
ideas may not stand up as &ell as they &ould like i$ they start to think about them. Others
may &ant to stand upon the "politics o$ identity"! or in other &ords the kind o$
identi$ication &ith a particular tradition! or %roup! or national or ethnic identity that
inites them to turn their back on outsiders &ho #uestion the &ays o$ the %roup. *hey
&ill shru% o$$ criticismG their alues are "incommensurable" &ith the alues o$ outsiders.
*hey are to be understood only by brothers and sisters &ithin the circle. 1eople like to
retreat to &ithin a thick! com$ortable! traditional set o$ $olk&ays! and not to &orry too
much about their structure! or their ori%ins! or een the criticisms that they may desere.
-e$lection opens the aenue to criticism! and the $olk&ays may not like criticism. )n this
&ay! ideolo%ies become closed circles! primed to $eel outra%ed by the #uestionin% mind.
For the last t&o thousand years the philosophical tradition has been the enemy o$ this
kind o$ cosy complacency. )t has insisted that the une4amined li$e is not &orth liin%. )t
has insisted on the po&er o$ rational re$lection to &inno& out bad elements in our
practices! and to replace them &ith better ones. )t has identi$ied critical sel$'re$lection
&ith $reedom! the idea bein% that only &hen &e can see ourseles properly can &e obtain
control oer the direction in &hich &e &ould &ish to moe. )t is only &hen &e can see
our situation steadily and see it &hole that &e can start to think &hat to do about it. <ar4
said that preious philosophers had sou%ht to understand the &orld! &hereas the point
&as to chan%e it '' one o$ the silliest $amous remarks o$ all time @and absolutely belied
by his o&n intellectual practiceA. 9e &ould hae done better to add that &ithout
understandin% the &orld! you &ill kno& little about ho& to chan%e it! at least $or the
better. -osencrantB and 2uildenstern admit that they cannot play on a pipe but they seek
to manipulate 9amlet. (hen &e act &ithout understandin%! the &orld is &ell prepared to
echo 9amlet7s responseG " 7Sblood! do you think ) am easier to be played on than a pipeH"
*here are academic currents in our o&n a%e that run a%ainst these ideas. *here are people
&ho #uestion the ery notion o$ truth! or reason! or the possibility o$ disinterested
re$lection. <ostly! they do bad philosophy! o$ten &ithout een kno&in% that this is &hat
they are doin%G conceptual en%ineers &ho cannot dra& a plan! let alone desi%n a
structure. (e return to see this at arious points in the book! but mean&hile ) can
promise that this book stands unashamedly &ith the tradition and a%ainst any modern! or
postmodern! scepticism about the alue o$ re$lection.
2oya7s $ull motto $or his etchin% is! ")ma%ination abandoned by reason produces
impossible monstersG united &ith her! she is the mother o$ the arts and the source o$ her
&onders." *hat is ho& &e should take it to be.
Cha"ter One
1E-981S *9E <OS* unsettlin% thou%ht many o$ us hae! o$ten #uite early on in
childhood! is that the &hole &orld mi%ht be a dreamI that the ordinary scenes and ob"ects
o$ eeryday li$e mi%ht be $antasies. *he reality &e lie in maybe a irtual reality! spun
out o$ our o&n minds! or perhaps in"ected into our minds by some sinister Other. O$
course! such thou%hts come! and then %o. <ost o$ us shake them o$$. But &hy are &e
ri%ht to do soH 9o& can &e kno& that the &orld as &e take it to be! is the &orld as it isH
9o& do &e be%in to think about the relation bet&een appearance and realityG thin%s as
&e take them to be! as opposed to thin%s as they areH
(e mi%ht sayG it all be%an on >0 Noember >6>?.
On that date! in the southern 2erman to&n o$ /lm! the French mathematician and
philosopher -enJ .escartes @>F?6'>6F0A shut himsel$ a&ay in a room heated by a stoe!
and had a ision $ollo&ed by dreams! &hich he took to sho& him his li$e7s &orkG the
un$oldin% o$ the one true &ay to $ind kno&led%e. *he true path re#uired s&eepin% a&ay
all that he had preiously taken $or %ranted! and startin% $rom the $oundations up&ards.
O$ course! it didn7t! really! be%in in >6>?! $or .escartes &as not the $irst. *he problems
.escartes raised $or himsel$ are as old as human thou%ht. *hese are problems o$ the sel$!
and its mortality! its kno&led%e! and the nature o$ the &orld it inhabitsI problems o$
reality and illusion. *hey are all raised in the oldest philosophical te4ts &e hae! the
)ndian Vedas! stemmin% $rom about >F00 B.3. *he %eneration immediately be$ore
.escartes had included the %reat French essayist <ontai%ne! &hose motto &as the title o$
one o$ his %reat essaysG "Kue sais'"eH" '' &hat do ) kno&H
Nor did .escartes come to his enterprise &ith a totally innocent mindG he himsel$ had an
intense education in the preailin% philosophies o$ the time! at the hands o$ +esuit
teachers. But by .escartes7s time thin%s &ere chan%in%. *he 1olish astronomer
3opernicus had discoered the heliocentric @sun'centredA model o$ the solar system.
2alileo and others &ere layin% the $oundations o$ a "mechanical" science o$ nature. )n
this picture the only substances in space &ould be material! made up o$ "atoms"! and
caused to moe only by mechanical $orces &hich science &ould eentually discoer.
Both 3opernicus and 2alileo $ell $oul o$ the %uardians o$ 3atholic orthodo4y! the
)n#uisition! $or this scienti$ic picture seemed to many people to threaten the place o$
human bein%s in the cosmos. )$ science tells us all that there is! &hat becomes o$ the
human soul! human $reedom! and our relationship &ith 2odH
.escartes &as smart. 9e inented standard al%ebraic notationI and 3artesian coordinates!
&hich enable us to %ie al%ebraic e#uations $or %eometrical $i%ures! are named a$ter him.
9e himsel$ &as one o$ the leaders o$ the scienti$ic reolution! makin% $undamental
adances not only in mathematics but also in physics! particularly optics. But .escartes
&as also a pious 3atholic. So $or him it &as a task o$ %reat importance to sho& ho& the
un$oldin% scienti$ic &orld '' ast! cold! inhuman! and mechanical '' neertheless had
room in it $or 2od and $reedom! and $or the human spirit.
9ence his li$e7s &ork! culminatin% in the Meditations, published in >6C>! "in &hich are
demonstrated the e4istence o$ 2od and the distinction bet&een the human soul and the
body"! accordin% to the subtitle. But the subte4t is that .escartes also intends to rescue
the modern &orld ie& $rom the char%e o$ atheism and materialism. *he scienti$ic &orld
is to be less threatenin% than &as $eared. )t is to be made sa$e $or human bein%s. 8nd the
&ay to make it sa$e is to re$lect on the $oundations o$ kno&led%e. So &e start &ith
.escartes because he &as the $irst %reat philosopher to &restle &ith the implications o$
the modern scienti$ic &orld ie&. Startin% &ith the medieals or 2reeks is o$ten startin%
so $ar a&ay $rom &here &e are no& that the ima%inatie e$$ort to think in their shoes is
probably too %reat. .escartes is! comparatiely! one o$ us! or so &e may hope.
*here is a dan%er in paraphrasin% a philosopher! particularly one as terse as .escartes. )
am %oin% to present some o$ the central themes o$ the Meditations. *his is in the spirit o$
a sportscast sho&in% only the "edited hi%hli%hts" o$ a %ame. 3loser ac#uaintance &ith the
te4t &ould uncoer other hi%hli%htsI closer ac#uaintance &ith its historical conte4t &ould
uncoer yet others. But the hi%hli%hts &ill be enou%h to illuminate most o$ the central
issues o$ subse#uent philosophy.
*here are si4 Meditations. )n the $irst! .escartes introduces the "method o$ doubt". 9e
resoles that i$ he is to establish anythin% in the sciences that is "stable and likely to last"
he must demolish all his ordinary opinions! and start ri%ht $rom the $oundations.
For he has $ound that een his senses deceie him! and it is "prudent neer to trust
completely those &ho hae deceied us een once". 9e puts to himsel$ the ob"ection that
only madmen @"&ho say that they are dressed in purple &hen they are naked! or that their
heads are made o$ earthen&are! or that they are pumpkins or made o$ %lass" '' madmen
&ere eidently pretty colour$ul in the seenteenth centuryA deny the ery obious
eidence o$ their senses.
)n ans&er to that! he reminds us o$ dreams! in &hich &e can represent thin%s to ourseles
"ust as conincin%ly as our senses no& do! but &hich bear no relation to reality.
Still! he ob"ects to himsel$! dreams are like paintin%s. 8 painter can rearran%e scenes! but
ultimately depicts thin%s deried $rom "real" thin%s! i$ only real colours. By similar
reasonin%! says .escartes! een i$ $amiliar thin%s @our eyes! head! hands! and so onA are
ima%inary! they must depend on some simpler and more uniersal thin%s that are real.
But &hat thin%sH .escartes thinks that "there is not one o$ my $ormer belie$s about &hich
a doubt may not properly be raised". 8nd at this sta%e!
I will suppose therefore that not God, who is supremely good and the source of truth, but rather
some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order
to deceive me. I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all
external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my
*his is the Eil .emon. Once this $ri%htenin% possibility is raised! his only de$ence is
resolutely to %uard himsel$ a%ainst beliein% any $alsehoods. 9e reco%niBes that this is
hard to do! and "a kind o$ laBiness" brin%s him back to normal li$e! but intellectually! his
only course is to labour in the "ine4tricable darkness" o$ the problems he has raised. *his
ends the $irst Meditation.
*he second Meditation be%ins &ith .escartes oer&helmed by these doubts. For the sake
o$ the in#uiry he is supposin% that ") hae no senses and no body". ButG
Does it now follow that I too do not exist? o! if I convinced myself of something then I certainly
existed. "ut there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly
deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me# and let him deceive me
as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am
something. $o after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this
proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my
*his is the $amous "3o%ito! er%o sum"G ") think! there$ore ) am."
9ain% saed his "sel$" out o$ the %eneral seas o$ scepticism! .escartes no& asks &hat
this sel$ is. (hereas $ormerly! he thou%ht he kne& &hat his body &as! and thou%ht o$
himsel$ by &ay o$ his body! no& he is $orced to reco%niBe that his kno&led%e o$ his sel$
is not based on kno&led%e o$ his embodied e4istence. )n particular! he is %oin% to meet
problems &hen he tries to ima%ine it. )ma%ination is a matter o$ contemplatin% the shape
or ima%e o$ a corporeal thin% @a body! or thin% e4tended in spaceA. But at this sta%e! &e
kno& nothin% o$ corporeal thin%s. So "ima%inin%" the sel$ by ima%inin% a thin or tubby!
tall or short! &ei%hty bodily bein%! such as ) see in a mirror! is inade#uate.
So &hat is the basis o$ this kno&led%e o$ the sel$H
%hinking? &t last I have discovered it '' thought# this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist ''
that is certain. "ut for how long? (or as long as I am thinking. (or it could be, that were I totally
to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist. . . I am, then, in the strict sense only a
thing that thinks.
*he in#uiry no& takes a sli%htly di$$erent course. .escartes reco%niBes that a conception
o$ onesel$ as an embodied thin%! liin% in an e4tended spatial &orld o$ physical ob"ects!
&ill come back almost irresistibly. 8nd he realiBes that the ")" he is le$t &ith is pretty
thinG "this puBBlin% ) that cannot be pictured in the ima%ination". So "let us consider the
thin%s &hich people commonly think they understand most distinctly o$ allI that is the
bodies &e touch and see". 9e considers a ball o$ &a4. )t has taste and scent! and a colour!
shape! and siBe "that are plain to see". )$ you rap it! it makes a sound. But no& he puts the
&a4 by the $ire! and lookG
)*I*+he residual taste is eliminated, the smell goes away, the colour changes, the shape is lost,
the si,e increases# it becomes li-uid and hot# you can hardly touch it, and if you strike it, it no
longer makes a sound. "ut does the same wax remain? It must be admitted that it does# no one
denies it, no one thinks otherwise. $o what was it in the wax that I understood with such
distinctness? .vidently none of the features which I arrived at by means of the senses# for
whatever came under taste, smell, sight, touch or hearing has now altered '' yet the wax
.escartes %losses the result o$ this e4ample as sho&in% that there is a perception o$ the
&a4 that is "pure mental scrutiny"! &hich can become "clear and distinct" dependin% on
ho& care$ul he is to concentrate on &hat the &a4 consists in. So! by the end o$ the second
Meditation, he concludesG
I now know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination
but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen
but from their being understood# and in view of this I know plainly that I can achieve an easier
and more evident perception of my own mind than of any thing else.
9o& are &e to read a piece o$ philosophy like thisH (e start by seein% .escartes tryin%
to motiate his method o$ e4treme doubt @also kno&n as 3artesian doubt! or as he
himsel$ calls it! "hyperbolic"! that is! e4cessie or e4a%%erated doubtA. But is the motia'
tion satis$actoryH (hat e4actly is he thinkin%H 1erhaps thisG
The senses sometimes deceive us. $o for all we know, they always deceive us.
But that is a bad ar%ument '' a $allacy. 3ompareG
Newspapers sometimes make mistakes. $o for all we know, they always make mistakes.
*he startin% point or premise is true! but the conclusion seems ery unlikely indeed. 8nd
there are een e4amples o$ the ar%ument $orm &here the premise is true! but the
conclusion cannot be trueG
Some banknotes are forgeries. $o for all we know, they all are forgeries.
9ere! the conclusion is impossible! since the ery notion o$ a $or%ery presupposes alid
notes or coins. For%eries are parasitic upon the real. For%ers need %enuine notes and
coins to copy.
8n ar%ument is )alid &hen there is no (ay && meanin% no possi+le &ay '' that the
premises! or startin% points! could be true &ithout the conclusion bein% true @&e e4plore
this $urther in 3hapter 6A. )t is sound i$ it is alid and it has true premises! in &hich case
its conclusion is true as &ell. *he ar%ument "ust identi$ied is clearly inalid! since it is no
better than other e4amples that lead us $rom truth to $alsity. But this in turn su%%ests that
it is uncharitable to interpret .escartes as %iin% us such a sad o$$erin%. (e mi%ht in'
terpret him as hain% in mind somethin% else! that he re%rettably does not make e4plicit.
*his is called lookin% $or a suppressed premise && somethin% needed to buttress an
ar%ument! and that its author mi%ht hae presupposed! but does not state. 8lternatiely
&e mi%ht reinterpret .escartes to be aimin% at a &eaker conclusion. Or perhaps &e can
do both. *he ar%ument mi%ht beG
The senses sometimes deceive us. We cannot distinguish occasions when they do from ones
when they do not. $o for all we know, any particular sense experience may be deceiving us.
*his seems to be a better candidate $or alidity. )$ &e try it &ith banknotes and $or%eries!
&e &ill $ind that the conclusion seems to $ollo&. But the conclusion is a conclusion about
any particular e4perience. )t is no lon%er the conclusion that all our e4perience @en bloc!
as it &ereA may be deceiin% us. )t is the di$$erence bet&een "$or all &e kno& any
particular note may be a $or%ery" and "$or all &e kno& all notes are $or%eries". *he $irst
may be true &hen the second is not true.
Still! perhaps at this sta%e o$ the Meditations the &eaker conclusion is all .escartes
&ants. But &e mi%ht also turn attention to the second premise o$ this re$ined ar%ument. )s
this premise trueH )s it true that &e cannot distin%uish occasions o$ error '' thin%s like il'
lusions! delusions! misinterpretations o$ &hat &e are seein% '' $rom othersH *o think
about this &e &ould &ant to introduce a distinction. )t may be true that &e cannot detect
occasions o$ illusion and error at a glance. *hat is &hat makes them illusions. But is it
true that &e cannot do so gi)en time, On the contrary! it seems to be true that &e can do
soG &e can learn! $or instance! to mistrust ima%es o$ shimmerin% &ater in the desert as
typically misleadin% illusions or mira%es '' tricks o$ the li%ht. But &orse! the $act that &e
can detect occasions o$ deception is surely presupposed by .escartes7s o&n ar%ument.
(hy soH Because .escartes is presentin% the $irst premise as a place to start $rom '' a
kno&n truth. But &e only 'no( that the senses sometimes deceie us because $urther
inesti%ations '' usin% the ery same senses '' sho( that they hae done so. (e $ind out!
$or instance! that a #uick %limpse o$ shimmerin% &ater misled us into thinkin% there &as
&ater there. But &e discoer the mistake by %oin% closer! lookin% harder! and i$ neces'
sary touchin% and $eelin%! or listenin%. Similarly! &e only kno&! $or instance! that a
#uick! o$$'the'cu$$ opinion about the siBe o$ the Sun &ould be &ron% because $urther
laborious obserations sho& us that the Sun is in $act many times the siBe o$ the Earth.
So the second premise only seems true in the sense o$ "&e cannot distin%uish at a glance
&hether our senses are deceiin% us". (hereas to open the &ay to .escartes7s ma"or
doubts! it &ould seem that he needs "&e cannot distin%uish e)en o)er time and (ith care
&hether our senses are deceiin% us". 8nd this last does not seem to be true. (e mi%ht
try sayin% that the senses are "sel$'correctie"G $urther sense e4perience itsel$ tells us
&hen a particular sense e4perience has induced us to make a mistake.
1erhaps anticipatin% this kind o$ criticism! .escartes introduces the topic o$ dreams.
")nside" a dream &e hae e4periences &hich bear some resemblance to those o$ ordinary
liin%! yet nothin% real corresponds to the dream. )s .escartes7s idea here that the &hole
o$ e4perience may be a dreamH )$ so! once a%ain &e mi%ht use a distinction like the one
&e "ust madeG perhaps &e cannot distin%uish immediately or "at a %lance" &hether &e
are dreamin%! but usin% our memory! &e seem to hae no trouble distin%uishin% past
dreams $rom past encounters &ith reality.
Still! there is somethin% troublin% about the idea that all e4perience mi%ht be a dream.
For ho& could &e set about determinin% &hether that is trueH Sometimes people "pinch
themseles" to ensure that they are not dreamin%. But is this really a %ood testH <i%ht &e
not "ust dream that the pinch hurtsH (e mi%ht try $rom &ithin a dream to discoer
&hether it is a dream. 0et een i$ &e think up some cunnin% e4periment to determine
&hether it is! mi%ht &e not "ust dream that &e conduct it! or dream that it tells us the
ans&er that &e are a&akeH
(e mi%ht try sayin% that eents in eeryday li$e e4hibit a scale and a sheer coherence
that dreams do not e4hibit. .reams are "erky and spasmodic. *hey hae little or no
rhyme or reason. E4perience! on the other hand! is lar%e and spacious and ma"estic. )t
%oes on in re%ular &ays '' or at least &e think it does. 9o&eer! it is then open $or
.escartes to &orry &hether the scale and coherence is itsel$ deceptie. *hat takes him to
the Eil .emon! one o$ the most $amous thou%ht'e4periments in the history o$
philosophy. )t is a thou%ht'e4periment desi%ned to alert us to the idea that! so $ar as truth
%oes! all our e4perience mi%ht be "ust like a dreamG totally disconnected $rom the &orld.
)t is important to seiBe on t&o thin%s at the outset. First! .escartes is per$ectly &ell a&are
that as actie! liin%! human a%ents &e do not bother ourseles about such an outlandish
possibility. )n $act! &e cannotG as many philosophers hae pointed out! it is
psycholo%ically impossible to keep doubt about the e4ternal &orld alie outside the
study. But that does not matter. *he doubt is &orth botherin% about because o$ the task he
is en%a%ed upon. *his is the task o$ $indin% $oundations o$ kno&led%e! o$ ensurin% that
his belie$s are built on a sound $ootin%. .escartes7s in#uiry is made $or purely intellectual
reasons. Second! .escartes is not askin% you to +elie)e in the possibility o$ the Eil
.emon. 9e is only askin% you to consider it '' en route to %ettin% clear ho& to dismiss it.
*hat is! he thinks @not unreasonably! surelyHA that unless this possibility can be
dismissed! there remains a challen%e o$ scepticism* the possibility that &e hae no
kno&led%e! but that all our belie$s are entirely delusie.
(e can appreciate the thou%ht'e4periment by remindin% ourseles ho& ery "realistic" a
irtual reality can become. 9ere is an updated ariant o$ the thou%ht'e4periment.
)ma%ine an adance in science that enables a mad scientist to e4tract your brain! and then
to maintain it in a at o$ chemicals that sustain its normal $unctionin%. )ma%ine that the
scientist can delier inputs to the normal in$ormation channels @the optic nere! the
neres that transmit sensations o$ hearin% and touch and tasteA. Bein% %ood'natured! the
scientist %ies in$ormation as if the brain &ere lod%ed in a normal body and liin% a
reasonable li$eG eatin%! playin% %ol$! or &atchin% *V. *here &ould be $eedback! so that
$or instance i$ you delier an "output" e#uialent to raisin% your hand! you %et
"$eedback" as i$ your hand had risen. *he scientist has put you into a irtual reality! so
your irtual hand rises. 8nd! it seems! you &ould hae no &ay o$ kno&in% that this had
happened! since to you it &ould seem "ust as i$ a normal li$e &as continuin%.
.escartes7s o&n ersion o$ the thou%ht'e4periment does not cite brains and ats. )n $act!
i$ you think about it! you &ill see that he does not need to do so. Our belie$s about the
brain and its role in %eneratin% conscious e4perience are belie$s about the &ay the &orld
&orks. So perhaps they too are the result o$ the Eil .emon7s inputtin%sL 1erhaps the
.emon did not need to %et his hands @HA dirty messin% around in ats. 9e "ust inputs
e4periences in &hateer &ay is made appropriate by the real reality. Brains and neres
themseles belon% to the irtual reality.
*his thou%ht'e4periment does not cite actual illusions o$ sense! or actual dreams. )t
simply sets e4perience as a &hole a%ainst a ery di$$erent and potentially disturbin%
reality. Notice as &ell that it is not obiously use$ul to ar%ue a%ainst the Eil .emon
hypothesis by citin% the coherence and scale o$ eeryday e4perience. For &e do not
kno& o$ any reason &hy the .emon could not input e4perience as coherent as he &ishes!
and o$ &hateer scale or e4tent he &ishes.
So ho& could &e possibly rule out the Eil .emon hypothesisH Once it is raised! &e
seem to be po&erless a%ainst it.
0et! in this sea o$ doubt! "ust &hen thin%s are at their darkest! .escartes $inds one certain
rock upon &hich he can perch. "3o%ito! er%o sum"G ) think! there$ore ) am. @8 better
translation is ") am thinkin%! there$ore ) am". .escartes7s premise is not ") think" in the
sense o$ ") ski"! &hich can be true een i$ you are not at the moment skiin%. )t is
supposed to be parallel to ") am skiin%".A
Een i$ it is a irtual reality that ) e4perience! still! it is ) &ho e4perience itL 8nd!
apparently ) kno& that it is ) &ho hae these e4periences or thou%hts @$or .escartes!
"thinkin%" includes "e4periencin%"A.
(hy does this certainty remainH ;ook at it $rom the .emon7s point o$ ie&. 9is pro"ect
&as to deceie me about eerythin%. But it is not lo%ically possible $or him to deceie
me into thinkin% that ) e4ist &hen ) do not. *he .emon cannot simultaneously make both
these thin%s trueG
I think that I exist.
I am wrong about whether I do.
Because i$ the $irst is true! then ) e4ist to do the thinkin%. *here$ore! ) must be ri%ht about
&hether ) e4ist. So lon% as ) think that @or een think that ) think itA! then ) e4ist.
) can think that ) am skiin% &hen ) am not! $or ) may be dreamin%! or deluded by the
.emon. 9o&eer! ) cannot think that ) am thinkin% &hen ) am not. For in this case @and
only this caseA the mere $act that ) think that ) am thinkin% guarantees that ) am thinkin%.
)t is itsel$ an e4ample o$ thinkin%.
Outside the conte4t o$ the doubt! the ")" that thinks is a person that can be described in
arious &ays. )n my case! ) am a middle'a%ed pro$essor o$ philosophy! &ith a certain
personality! a history! a net&ork o$ social relations! a $amily! and so on. But in the conte4t
o$ the doubt! all this is s&ept a&ayG part o$ the irtual reality. So &hat is the ")" that is
le$tH )t seems ery shado&y '' a pure sub"ect o$ thou%ht. )t mi%ht not een hae a bodyL
*his takes us to the ne4t t&ist.
0ou mi%ht try peerin% into your o&n mind! as it &ere! to catch the essential "you". But!
rememberin% that the "you" @or the ")"! $rom your point o$ ie&A is here separated $rom
normal marks o$ identity @your position in space! your body! your social relations! your
historyA! it seems there is nothing to catch. 0ou can become a&are o$ your o&n
e4periences! but neer! it seems! a&are o$ the ")" that is the sub"ect o$ those e4periences.
Or you can try to ima%ine the sel$! to $rame a picture o$ it! as it &ere. But as .escartes
remarks! ima%ination seems %ood at $ramin% pictures o$ thin%s that hae shape and siBe!
and are $ound in space @"e4tended thin%s"A. *he sel$ that remains as the rock in the seas
o$ doubt may not +e an e4tended thin%. For &e can be certain o$ it &hen &e are still
uncertain about e4tended thin%s! since &e are takin% seriously the possibility o$ the Eil
One reconstruction o$ this point o$ the ar%ument presents .escartes thinkin% like thisG
I cannot doubt that I exist. I can doubt whether things extended in space !bodies!" exist.
%herefore, I am not a body.
)n a nutshell! souls are certain! bodies are doubt$ul! so the soul is distinct $rom the body.
)$ this is .escartes7s ar%ument! then it is super$icially plausible! but can be seen to be
inalid. For consider the parallelG
I cannot doubt that I am here in the room. I can doubt whether a person who will get bad news
tomorrow is in the room. %herefore, I am not a person who will get bad news tomorrow.
8 nice proo$ &ith a &elcome resultL *he $allacy is o$ten called the "masked man $allacy"G
) kno& &ho my $ather isI ) do not kno& &ho the masked man isI so, my $ather is not the
masked man.
) mysel$ doubt i$ .escartes committed this $allacy! at least in this Meditation. 8t this
point he is more concerned &ith the &ay in &hich &e kno& anything about souls and
bodies. 9e is not concerned to proe that they are distinct! but more concerned to sho&
that kno&led%e o$ the sel$ is not dependent upon kno&led%e o$ bodies. Because the one
can be certain! een &hen the other is not. Neertheless! &hat are &e le$t really kno&in%
about the sel$H
)n the $ollo&in% century the 2erman philosopher 2eor% 3hristoph ;ichtenber% @>EC5'
??A remarkedG "(e should say! 7it thinks7 "ust as &e say! 7it thunders7. Een to say 7co%ito7
is too much! i$ &e translate it &ith 7) think7." @;ichtenber% liked pithy aphorisms! and &as
an important in$luence on a yet later $i%ure! Friedrich NietBsche M>DCC'>?00N.A
*he idea is that the apparent re$erence to an ")" as a "thin%" or sub"ect o$ thou%ht is itsel$
an illusion. *here is no "it" that thundersG &e could say instead "ust that thunder is %oin%
on. Similarly ;ichtenber% is su%%estin%! at least in the conte4t o$ the doubt! that
.escartes is not entitled to an ")" that is thinkin%. 8ll he can properly claim is that "there
is a thou%ht %oin% on".
*his seems a ery biBarre claim. For surely there cannot be a thou%ht &ithout someone
thinkin% itH 0ou cannot hae thou%hts $loatin% round a room &aitin%! as it &ere! $or
someone to catch them! any more than you can hae dents $loatin% around &aitin% to
latch onto a sur$ace to be dented. (e return to this in 3hapter C. But then &hy isn7t
;ichtenber% ri%htH )$ .escartes cannot con$ront a sel$ that is doin% the thinkin%! cannot
e4perience it! cannot ima%ine it! then &hy is he entitled to any kind o$ certainty that it
e4istsH )ndeed! &hat can it mean to say that it e4istsH
.escartes adroitly puts this problem to one side! by raisin% a parallel di$$iculty about
"thin%s &hich people commonly think they understand most distinctly o$ all" '' ordinary
bodies! or thin%s met &ith in space. *his is &hat &as aimed at by the ball o$ &a4 e4'
ample. 9ere is a possible reconstruction o$ the ar%umentG
#t a particular time, my senses inform me of a shape, colour, hardness, taste that belong to the
wax. $ut at another time my senses inform me of a different shape etc. belonging to the wax. %y
senses show me nothing but these diverse &ualities which we can call !sensory &ualities!, since
our senses take them in". I nevertheless make a 'udgement of identity( it is the same piece of
wax on the earlier and the later occasion. So, it is the nature of the ball of wax that it can possess
different sensory &ualities at different times. So, to understand what the wax is I must use my
understanding, not my senses.
)$ this is a %ood reconstruction! &e should notice that .escartes is not denyin% that it is
by means o$ the senses that ) kno& that the &a4 is there in the $irst place @assumin% &e
hae %ot rid o$ the Eil .emon! and are back to trustin% our sensesA. )n $act! he %oes on
to say as much. -ather! he is su%%estin% that the senses are like messengers that delier
in$ormation that needs interpreting. 8nd this interpretation! &hich is here a #uestion o$
identi$yin% the one ob"ect amon%st the many successie appearances! is the &ork o$ the
understandin%. )t is a matter o$ employin% principles o$ classi$ication! or cate%ories!
&hose credentials &e can also inesti%ate.
So! all &e can understand by the &a4 is that it is some elusie "thin%" that can take on
di$$erent bodily properties! such as shape! siBe! colour! taste. 8nd &e understand by the
sel$! the ")"! "ust some e#ually elusie "thin%" that at di$$erent times thinks di$$erent
thou%hts. So maybe the sel$ should not be re%arded as especially mysterious! compared
&ith eeryday thin%s like the ball o$ &a4. 1erhaps seles are no harder to understand
than bodies! and &e only think other&ise because o$ some kind o$ pre"udice. (e return to
the &a4 in 3hapter E.
*he $irst t&o Meditations desere their place as classics o$ philosophy. *hey combine
depth! ima%ination! and ri%our! to an e4tent that has ery seldom been paralleled. So one
is le$t &ith bated breath! &aitin% $or the story to un$old. 9ere is .escartes le$t perchin%
on his one minute rock! surrounded by a sea o$ doubt. But it seems he has denied himsel$
any &ay o$ %ettin% o$$ it. ;i$e may still be a dream. *o use the metaphor o$ $oundationsG
he is do&n to bedrock! but has no buildin% materials. For the ery standards he set
himsel$! o$ "demon'proo$" kno&led%e! seem to $orbid him een $rom usin% "sel$'
eident" or natural means o$ reasonin%! in order to ar%ue that he kno&s more than the
3o%ito. *here is nothin% di$$icult about the .emon deceiin% us into listenin% to delusie
pieces o$ reasonin%. Our reasonin%s are apt to be een more $allible than our senses.
3uriously! he does not see it #uite like that. (hat he does is to re$lect on the 3o%ito! and
ask &hat makes it so especially certain. 9e coninces himsel$ that it is because he has an
especially transparent "clear and distinct" perception o$ its truth. )t is %enerally a%reed
that .escartes! the mathematician! had a mathematical model o$ clarity in mind.
Suppose! $or instance! you think about a circle. )ma%ine a diameter! and dra& chords
$rom the opposite ends to a point on the circum$erence. *hey meet at a ri%ht an%le. .ra&
others! and they al&ays seem to do so. 8t this point! you mi%ht hae a not ery clear
sense that perhaps there is a reason $or this. But no&! suppose you %o throu%h a proo$
@dra&in% the line $rom the centre o$ the circle to the ape4 o$ the trian%le! and solin% the
t&o trian%les you createA. 8$ter that you can "ust see that the theorem has to hold. *his
may come as a "$lash"G a blindin% certainty! or insi%ht into this particular piece o$
%eometrical truth. *his is "ust a random %eometrical e4ample o$ a procedure that can
make you "see" somethin% that you mi%ht only dimly hae %rasped. But i$ only &e could
see the rest o$ reality! mind! body! 2od! $reedom! human li$e! &ith the same rush o$
clarity and understandin%L (ell! one philosophical ideal is that &e can. *his is the ideal
o$ rationalism* the po&er o$ pure unaided reason. For the rationalist can see $rom her
armchair that thin%s must be one &ay and cannot be other &ays! like the an%le in the
semicircle. :no&led%e achieed by this kind o$ rational insi%ht is kno&n as "a priori"G it
can be seen to be true immediately! &ithout any e4perience o$ the &ay o$ the &orld.
*rustin% clarity and distinctness! .escartes indul%es a piece o$ reasonin%. ;ookin% into
his o&n "sel$"! &hich is all that he has at this point! .escartes discoers that he has an
idea o$ per$ection. 9e then ar%ues that such an idea implies a cause. 9o&eer! the thin%
that caused it must hae as much "reality"! and that includes per$ection! as the idea itsel$.
*his implies that only a per$ect cause! that is! 2od! &ill do. 9ence 2od e4ists! and has
le$t the idea o$ per$ection as an innate si%n o$ his &orkmanship in our minds! like a
cra$tsman leain% a trademark stamped in his &ork.
Once .escartes has discoered 2od! the seas o$ doubt subside in a rush. For since 2od is
per$ect! he is no deceierG deceiin% is clearly $allin% short o$ %oodness! let alone
per$ection. 9ence! i$ &e do our stu$$ properly! &e can be sure that &e &ill not be the
ictims o$ illusion. *he &orld &ill be as &e understand it to be. .oin% our stu$$ properly
mainly means trustin% only clear and distinct ideas. (hat are &e to make o$ the
"trademark" ar%umentH 9ere is a reconstructionG
I have the idea of a perfect being. This idea must have a cause. # cause must be at least as
perfect as its effect. So something at least as perfect as my idea caused it. Therefore such a
thing exists. $ut that thing must be perfect, that is, )od.
Suppose &e %rant .escartes the idea mentioned in the $irst premise. @*here are
theolo%ical traditions that &ould not een do that. *hey &ould say that 2od7s per$ection
de$ies understandin%! so that &e hae no idea o$ it! or him.A Still! &hy is he entitled to the
premise that his idea must hae a causeH <i%ht not there be eents that hae simply no
causeH Eents that! as &e mi%ht say! ""ust happen"H 8$ter all! sittin% on his rock!
.escartes cannot appeal to any normal! scienti$ic! e4perience. )n his bare metaphysical
solitude! ho& can he deny that eents mi%ht "ust happenH 8nd i$ he thinks the contrary!
shouldn7t he then &orry &hether the .emon mi%ht be &orkin% on him! makin% him think
this althou%h it is not trueH
9o&eer! it %ets &orse &hen &e arrie at the ne4t step. 3onsider my idea o$ someone
&ho is per$ectly punctual. .oes this need a per$ectly punctual causeH Surely a better
thin% to think &ould be this. ) can simply de$ine &hat it is $or someone to be per$ectly
punctual. )t means that they are neer late @or perhaps! neer early and neer lateA. *o
understand &hat it &ould be $or someone to be like that! ) do not hae to hae come
across such a person. ) can describe them in adance. ) understand &hat condition they
hae to satis$y &ithout any such ac#uaintance! and indeed een i$ nobody is eer like
1robably .escartes &ould re"ect the analo%y. 1erhaps he thinks o$ it more like this. .o )
hae an idea o$ a per$ect mathematicianH (ell! ) can start by thinkin% o$ a mathematician
as one &ho neer makes mistakes. But that is hardly ade#uate. 8 per$ect mathematician
&ould be ima%inatie and inentie as &ell. No&! &ith my ery limited kno&led%e o$
mathematics! ) only hae a ery con$used understandin% o$ &hat that &ould be like. )n
%eneral! ) cannot clearly comprehend or understand inentions be$ore they come alon% ''
other&ise! ) &ould be makin% the inentions mysel$L So perhaps it &ould take a per$ect
mathematician to %ie me a %ood idea @a "clear and distinct" ideaA o$ &hat a per$ect
mathematician &ould be like.
(ell! perhapsI but no& it becomes doubt$ul &hether ) do hae a clear and distinct idea o$
a per$ect mathematician! and analo%ously! o$ a per$ect bein%. 2enerally! &hat happens i$
) $rame this idea is that ) think more as ) did &hen thinkin% o$ someone per$ectly
punctual. ) think o$ an a%ent &ho neer makes mistakes! neer behaes unkindly! neer
$inds thin%s he cannot do! and so on. ) mi%ht add in ima%ination somethin% like a kind o$
%lo&! but it is clear that this &ill not help. )t surely seems presumptuous! or een
blasphemous! to allo& mysel$ a complete! clear! comprehension o$ 2od7s attributes.
)n $act! else&here in his &ritin%s .escartes %ies a rather loely analo%y! but one &hich
threatens to undermine the trademark ar%umentG
)/+e can touch a mountain with our hands but we cannot put our arms around it as we could put
them around a tree or something else not too large for them. %o grasp something is to embrace it
in one0s thought# to know something it is sufficient to touch it with one0s thought.
1erhaps &e can only touch 2od7s supposed #ualities by &ay o$ de$inition! but cannot
comprehend them. )n that case &e cannot ar%ue back to an ideal or archetype that
enabled us to comprehend them.
So! the trademark ar%ument is one that strikes most o$ us as $ar $rom demon'proo$ '' so
$ar! in $act! that it seems pretty easy to resist een i$ &e are not at all in the %rip o$
e4treme doubt. 8t this point some suppressed premises su%%ested by the history o$ ideas
may be used to e4cuse .escartes. 9e &as undoubtedly more optimistic about the
trademark ar%ument than &e can be because he inherited a number o$ ideas $rom
preious philosophical traditions. One ery important one is that %enuine causation is a
matter o$ the cause passing on somethin% to an e$$ect. 3ausation is like passin% the baton
in a relay race. So! $or e4ample! it takes heat to make somethin% hot! or moement to
induce motion. *his is a principle that sur$aces a%ain and a%ain in the history o$ philoso'
phy! and &e shall encounter it more than once. 9ere it disposed .escartes to think that
the "per$ection" in his idea needed to be secreted into it! as it &ere! by a per$ect cause.
But this principle about causation is scarcely demon'proo$. )n $act! it is not een true. (e
hae become $amiliar &ith causes that bear no resemblance to their e$$ects. *he
moement o$ a piece o$ iron in a ma%netic $ield bears no resemblance to an electric cur'
rent! but that is &hat it causes. )n $act! it seems as thou%h .escartes @once more
in$luenced by ideas $rom preious philosophical traditionsA may hae slipped into
thinkin% that an idea o$ , actually shares ,. So an idea o$ in$inity! $or instance! &ould be
an in$inite idea. @(ould an idea o$ somethin% solid be a solid ideaHA Similarly an idea o$
per$ection &ould be a per$ect idea! and &ould re#uire a per$ect cause. But a%ain! it mi%ht
be the .emon that makes you think any such thin%! and a%ain there is no %ood reason to
$ollo& him.
.escartes coninced himsel$ that the ar%ument &as %oodG eery step in it &as "clear and
distinct". So no& he has 2od! and 2od is no deceier. Still! remember that to do this he
had to trust his clear and distinct ideas as sources o$ truth. Neertheless! isn7t there an
a&$ul hole in his procedureH (hat happened to the .emonH <i%ht not een our clear and
distinct ideas lead us astrayH *o close o$$ this possibility! it seems! .escartes turns round
and uses 2od '' the 2od &hose e4istence he has "ust proed '' as the %uarantor that &hat
&e perceie clearly and distinctly must be true.
)t &as one o$ his contemporaries! 8ntoine 8rnauld @>6>5'?CA! &ho cried "$oul" most
loudly at this point! accusin% .escartes o$ ar%uin% in a circle! the in$amous "3artesian
circle". .escartes seems committed to t&o di$$erent priorities. 3onsider the ie& that i$
&e clearly and distinctly perceie some proposition p, then it is true that p. ;et us
abbreiate this to @3.p &O *pA! readin% that i$ p is clear and distinct @"3."A! then it is
true @"*"A. 8nd suppose &e symboliBe "2od e4ists and does not deceie us" by "-".
*hen the circle is that at some points it seems that .escartes holdsG ) can kno& that @3.p
'O *p. only i$ ) first kno& -. But at other points he holdsG ) can kno& that - only i$ )
first kno& @3.p 'O *pA. )t is like the $amiliar impasse in the mornin%! &hen you need to
hae some co$$ee to %et out o$ bed! and you need to %et out o$ bed to $i4 the co$$ee.
One or the other has to come $irst. *here is a &hole literature tryin% to understand
&hether .escartes actually $alls into this trap. Some commentators cite passa%es in
&hich it seems that he does not really hold the $irst. *he ma"or su%%estion is that - is
necessary only to alidate memory of proo$s. So &hile you actually clearly and distinctly
perceie somethin%! you do not need to trust anythin% at all! een -! to be entitled to
assert its truth. But later! &hen you hae $or%otten the proo$! only - under&rites your
title to say that you once proed it! so it must be true.
Other commentators su%%est that .escartes does not need the second. 9e sees that 2od
e4ists! clearly and distinctly! but does not need a %eneral rule! o$ the kind @3.p 'O *pA! to
under&rite this perception. 9e can be certain o$ this instance o$ the rule! &ithout bein%
sure about the rule itsel$. *his is itsel$ an interestin% $orm o$ su%%estion! and introduces a
ery important truth! &hich is that ery o$ten &e are more certain o$ particular erdicts
than &e are o$ the principles that &e mi%ht cite &hen &e try to de$end them. For
e4ample! ) mi%ht kno& that a particular sentence is %rammatical! &ithout bein% sure o$
any %eneral rule o$ %rammar that allo&s it. 1hilosophers hae o$ten been rather hard on
this possibility. *he admired character Socrates! in 1lato7s Dialogues, is in$uriatin%ly
$ond o$ %ettin% his stoo%es to say somethin%! sho&in% that they cannot de$end it by
articulate %eneral principles! and concludin% that they didn7t really hae any ri%ht to
claim &hat they did. 9o&eer! the case o$ %rammatical kno&led%e su%%ests that this is a
bad in$erence. 3onsider as &ell ho& in perception! ) may reco%niBe somethin% as a
1omeranian! or a member o$ the -ollin% Stones! or my &i$e! &ithout kno&in% any
%eneral principles that ""usti$y" the erdict. <y perceptual system may operate accordin%
to some %eneral principles or "al%orithms" $or translatin% isual input into erdicts! but )
hae no idea &hat they are. So ) couldn7t ans&er a Socrates &ho asked $or %eneral
principles underlyin% my reco%nition. ) could only $lounder and splutter. But ) reco%niBe
the 1omeranian! or -ollin% Stone! or my &i$e! $or all that. Socrates7 procedure is only apt
to %ie philosophers a bad name.
Still! &e are bound to ask (hy .escartes thinks he can be certain o$ this instance o$ the
rule. (hy is his "seein%" that 2od e4ists clearly and distinctly also a clear and distinct
case o$ seein% the truthH Some o$ us may hae the dark suspicion that it is because
mention o$ 2od clouds the mind rather than clari$yin% it.
For our purposes! &e can leae this issue. (hat remains clear is that there is a distinct
&hi$$ o$ double standards here. *he kind o$ sceptical problem embodied in the Eil
.emon is someho& #uietly $or%otten! &hile .escartes tries to en%ineer his &ay o$$ the
lonely rock o$ the 3o%ito. 8nd this mi%ht su%%est that he has put himsel$ on a desert
island $rom &hich there is no escape.
*he %reat Scottish thinker .aid 9ume @>E>>'E6A criticiBed .escartes like thisG
%here is a species of scepticism, antecedent to all study and philosophy, which is much
inculcated by Descartes and others, as a sovereign preservative against error and precipitate
judgment. It recommends an universal doubt, not only of all our former opinions and principles,
but also of our very faculties# of whose veracity, say they, we must assure ourselves, by a chain
of reasoning, deduced from some original principle, which cannot possibly be fallacious or
deceitful. "ut neither is there any such original principle, which has a prerogative above others,
that are self'evident and convincing. 1r if there were, could we advance a step beyond it, but by
the use of those very faculties, of which we are supposed to be already diffident. %he 2artesian
doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature 3as it plainly is not4
would be entirely incurable# and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and
conviction upon any subject.
)$ .escartes7s pro"ect is to use reason to $end o$$ uniersal doubt about the truth$ulness o$
reason! then it has to $ail.
9ume7s challen%e seems conincin%. )t looks as thou%h .escartes &as doomed to $ailure.
So &hat should be the outcomeH 2eneral scepticism! meanin% pessimism about &hether
there is any harmony at all bet&een the &ay &e beliee thin%s to be and the &ay they
areH Or somethin% elseH Other possibilities need introduction.
One &ay o$ thinkin% '' 9ume7s o&n '' accepts the ie& that our system o$ belie$ needs
some kind o$ $oundation. 9o&eer! it denies that that $oundation could hae the kind o$
rational status that .escartes &anted. *he eracity @truth$ulnessA o$ our senses and
reasonin%s is itsel$ part o$ the $oundation. )t cannot itsel$ be demonstrated by standin% on
some other "ori%inal principle". For all o$ us! outside the philosophical study! it comes
naturally to trust our common e4perience. (e %ro& up doin% so! and as &e %ro& up &e
become %ood at reco%niBin% dan%er areas @illusions! mira%esA a%ainst the back%round o$
natural belie$s &e all $orm. *he sel$'correctie nature o$ our systems o$ belie$! mentioned
aboe! is all &e need. (e could call this approach non'rational or natural
$oundationalism. @Not o$ course implyin% that there is anythin% irrational about it. )t is
"ust that the thin%s in the $oundation do not hae the demon'proo$ &ay o$ "standin% to
reason" that .escartes had hoped $or.A 9ume himsel$ %ae a number o$ ar%uments $or
side'linin% any appeal to rationality! and &e isit some o$ them in due course.
*he emphasis on natural &ays o$ $ormin% belie$ chimes in &ith another strand in 9ume
and other British philosophers o$ the seenteenth and ei%hteenth centuries! &hich is their
distrust o$ the po&er o$ unaided reason. For these philosophers! the best contact bet&een
mind and the &orld is not the point at &hich a mathematical proo$ crystalliBes! but the
point at &hich you see and touch a $amiliar ob"ect. *heir paradi%m &as kno&led%e by
sense e4perience rather than by reason. Because o$ this! they are labelled empiricists,
&hereas .escartes is a card'carryin% rationalist. *he labels! ho&eer! conceal a lot o$
important detail. For e4ample! at some points &hen he %ets under pressure! .escartes
himsel$ appears to say that the really %ood thin% about clear and distinct ideas is that you
can7t doubt them &hen you hae them. *his is not really a certi$ication by reason! so
much as the ery same kind o$ natural potency that 9ume himsel$ attaches to basic
empirical belie$s. 8nd soon &e isit an area &here the champion o$ British empiricism!
+ohn ;ocke @>635'>E0CA! is as rationalist as the best o$ them. 2reat philosophers hae a
disturbin% habit o$ resistin% labellin%.
On this ie&! .escartes7s problem &as that he relied too much on the po&ers o$ reason.
)nstead! &e can appeal to nature! here meanin% our natural propensities to $orm belie$s
and to correct them. 8nd &hat o$ the Eil .emonH On this story! the true moral o$
.escartes7s stru%%les is that i$ &e raise the #uestion &hether our e4perience and
reasonin% @en blocA accords &ith the &ay the &orld is @en blocA! it &ill take an act o$ $aith
to settle it. "2od" simply labels &hateer it is that ensures this harmony bet&een belie$
and the &orld. But! as 9ume says in the passa%e "ust #uoted! &e do not $ind a need to
raise this #uestion in normal li$e. *he hyperbolic doubt! and the ans&er to it! is in this
sense unreal.
*his may sound sensible! or it may "ust sound complacent. But to blunt the char%e o$
complacency! &e can at least notice this. -e%ardin% the doubt as unreal does not hae to
mean that &e simply turn our backs on the problem o$ harmony bet&een appearance and
realityG ho& &e think and ho& thin%s are. (e can approach it $rom (ithin our normal
$rame&ork o$ belie$s. )n $act! &hen 9ume himsel$ approached it in this &ay! he became
oer&helmed by di$$iculties in our ordinary &ays o$ thinkin% about thin%sG di$$iculties
stron% enou%h to reintroduce scepticism about our ability to kno& anythin% about the
&orld. *his is the topic o$ 3hapter E.
9o&eer! one piece o$ optimism is aailable to us! t&o centuries later. (e mi%ht thus
suppose that eolution! &hich is presumably responsible $or the $act that &e hae our
senses and our reasonin% capacities! &ould not hae selected $or them @in the shape in
&hich &e hae themA had they not (or'ed. )$ our eyesi%ht! $or e4ample! did not in$orm
us o$ predators! $ood! or mates "ust &hen predators! $ood! and mates are about! it &ould
be o$ no use to us. So it is built to %et these thin%s ri%ht. *he harmony bet&een our minds
and the &orld is due to the $act that the &orld is responsible $or our minds. *heir $unction
is to represent it so that &e can meet our needsI i$ they &ere built to represent it in any
&ay other than the true &ay! &e could not surie. *his is not an ar%ument desi%ned to
do a&ay &ith the Eil .emon. )t is an ar%ument that appeals to thin%s &e take ourseles
to kno& about the &orld. /n$ortunately! &e hae to isit in time the area o$ 9ume7s
doubts! &here thin%s &e take ourseles to kno& about the &orld also sere to make that
kno&led%e seem doubt$ul.
8 rather di$$erent response shru%s o$$ the need $or any kind o$ "$oundations"! &hether
certi$ied by reason! as .escartes hoped! or merely natural! as in 9ume. *his approach
%oes back to emphasiBin% instead the coherent structure o$ O/- eeryday system o$
belie$sG the &ay they han% to%ether! &hereas the sporadic e4periences or belie$s &e %et in
dreams are $ra%mentary and incoherent. )t then points out an interestin% $eature o$
coherent structures! namely that they do not need $oundations. 8 ship or a &eb may be
made up o$ a tissue o$ interconnectin% parts! and it deries its stren%th $rom "ust those
interconnections. )t does not need a "base" or a "startin% point" or "$oundation". 8
structure o$ this kind can hae each bit supported by other bits &ithout there bein% any
bit that supports all the others &ithout support itsel$. Similarly! i$ any one belie$ is
challen%ed! others can support it! unless! o$ course! it turns out that nothin% else supports
it! in &hich case it should be dropped. *he 8ustrian philosopher Otto Neurath @>DD5'
>?CFA used this loely metaphor $or our body o$ kno&led%eG
/e are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start
afresh from the bottom.
8ny part can be replaced! proided there is enou%h o$ the rest on &hich to stand. But the
&hole structure cannot be challen%ed en bloc! and i$ &e try to do so! &e $ind ourseles
on .escartes7s lonely rock.
*his approach is usually called "coherentism". )ts motto is that &hile eery ar%ument
needs premises! there is nothin% that is the premise o$ eery ar%ument. *here is no
$oundation on &hich eerythin% rests. 3oherentism is nice in one &ay! but dissatis$yin%
in another. )t is nice in &hat it does a&ay &ith! namely the elusie $oundations. )t is!
ho&eer! not clear that it o$$ers us enou%h to replace them. *his is because &e seemed
able to understand the possibility represented by the Eil .emon '' that our system o$
belie$ should be e4tensie and coherent and interlockin%! but all completely &ron%. 8s )
said in the introduction to this chapter! een as children &e $all naturally into &onderin%
&hether all e4perience mi%ht be a dream. (e mi%ht sympathiBe &ith .escartes7s thou%ht
that i$ the options are coherentism or scepticism! the more honest option &ould be
)t is %ood! then! to remember $our options in epistemolo%y @the theory o$ kno&led%eA.
*here is rational $oundationalism! as attempted by .escartes. *here is natural
$oundationalism! as attempted in 9ume. *here is coherentism. 8nd broodin% oer all o$
them! there is scepticism! or the ie& that there is no kno&led%e. Each o$ these has had
distin%uished de$enders. (hicheer the reader pre$ers! he or she &ill $ind %ood
philosophical company. One mi%ht think that .escartes %ot almost eerythin% ri%ht! or
that he %ot almost eerythin% &ron%. *he ba$$lin% thin% is to de$end &hicheer ans&er
commends itsel$.
Scepticism can be raised in particular areas! as &ell as in the %lobal $ashion o$ .escartes.
Someone mi%ht be coninced that &e hae! say! scienti$ic kno&led%e! but be ery
doubt$ul about kno&led%e in ethics or politics or literary criticism. (e $ind particular
areas shortly &here it does not take hyperbolic doubt! only a bit o$ caution! $or us to
become insecure. 9o&eer! there are other nice e4amples o$ hi%hly %eneral areas &here
scepticism is ba$$lin%. *he philosopher Bertrand -ussell @>DE5'>?E0A considered the
e4ample o$ time. 9o& do ) kno& that the &orld did not come into e4istence a ery $e&
moments a%o! but complete &ith delusie traces o$ a much %reater a%eH *hose traces
&ould include! o$ course! the modi$ications o$ the brain that %ie us &hat &e take to be
memories. *hey &ould also include all the other thin%s that &e interpret as si%ns o$ %reat
a%e. )n $act! Victorian thinkers stru%%lin% to reconcile the biblical account o$ the history
o$ the &orld &ith the $ossil record had already su%%ested much the same thin% about
%eolo%y. On this account! around C!000 years a%o 2od laid do&n all the misleadin%
eidence that the earth is about C!000 million years old @and! &e can no& add! misleadin%
si%ns that the unierse is about >3!000 million years oldA. *his &as neer a popular
moe! probably because i$ you are sceptical about time! you #uickly become sceptical
about eerythin%! or maybe because it presents 2od as somethin% like a lar%e'scale
practical "oker. -ussell7s possibility sounds almost as $ar'$etched as .escartes7s Eil
9o&eer! there is one hi%hly intri%uin% thin% about -ussell7s scenario. *his is that it can
actually be ar%ued to be scienti$ically more pro+a+le than the alternatie &e all beliee
inL *his is because science tells us that "lo&'entropy" or! in other &ords! hi%hly ordered
systems are more improbable. )n addition! as physical systems like the cosmos eole!
entropy or disorder increases. *he smoke neer returns into the ci%aretteI the toothpaste
neer %oes back into the tube. *he e4traordinary thin% is that there &as eer enough
order in thin%s $or the smoke to be in the ci%arette or the toothpaste to be in the tube in
the $irst place. So! one mi%ht ar%ue! it is "easier" $or a moderately disordered &orld! such
as the &orld is no&! to come into e4istence! than it is $or any lo&er'entropy! more orderly
ancestor. )ntuitiely! it is as i$ there are more &ays this can happen! "ust as there are more
&ays you can %et $our'letter or $ie'letter &ords in an initial hand o$ seen letters in
Scrabble! than there are in &hich you can %et a seen'letter &ord. )t is much more
probable that you %et a $our'letter &ord than a seen'letter &ord. Similarly! the ar%ument
%oes! it is as i$ 2od or Nature had less to do! to make the &orld as it is today out o$
nothin%! than to make the lo&er'entropy &orld as it is supposed to hae been some
thirteen billion years a%o out o$ nothin%. *here$ore! it is more probable that it happened
like that. )n a strai%ht competition $or probability bet&een -ussell7s outlandish
hypothesis and common sense! -ussell &ins. ) leae this $or the reader to ponder.
9o& then should &e re%ard kno&led%eH :no&led%e implies authority* the people &ho
kno& are the people to &hom &e should listen. )t implies reliabilityG the people &ho
kno& are those &ho are reliable at re%isterin% the truth! like %ood instruments. *o claim
kno&led%e implies claimin% a sense o$ our o&n reliability. 8nd to accord authority to
someone or some method inoles seein% it as reliable. *he unsettlin% scenarios o$ a
.escartes or a -ussell unseat our sense o$ our o&n reliability. Once &e hae raised the
outlandish possibilities! our sense o$ a reliable connection bet&een the &ay thin%s are
and the &ays &e take them to be %oes dim. (e could re%ain it! i$ &e could ar%ue that the
scenarios are either impossible! or at least hae no real chance o$ bein% the &ay thin%s
are. *he di$$iculty is that it is hard to sho& them to be impossible! and in these abstract
realms &e hae no ery %ood sense o$ probabilities or chances. So it is di$$icult to ar%ue
that they hae no chance o$ bein% true &ithout relyin% on the ery opinions that they
#uery. 9ence! scepticism permanently beckons! or threatens! us. (e may be trackin% the
&orld reliably! but &e may not. *o reert to the en%ineerin% analo%y ) used in the
)ntroduction! the structure o$ our thou%ht seems to span lar%e %apsG here! the %ap bet&een
ho& thin%s appear and ho& they mi%ht be. (e hand ourseles the ri%ht to cross those
%aps. But i$ &e do this trailin% no ery %ood sense o$ our o&n reliability or harmony &ith
the truth! then that ri%ht seems ill'$ounded. 8nd this is &hat the sceptic insists upon. 8ny
con$idence in a harmony bet&een the &ay &e take thin%s to be! and the &ay they are!
&ill seem to be a pure act o$ $aith.
.escartes le$t us &ith a problem o$ kno&led%e. 9e also le$t us &ith seere problems in
understandin% the place o$ our minds in nature. 8nd $inally the entire scienti$ic
reolution o$ &hich he &as such a distin%uished parent le$t us &ith pro$ound problems o$
understandin% the &orld in &hich &e are placed. (e hae seen somethin% o$ the problem
o$ kno&led%e. *he ne4t chapter turns to problems o$ mind.
Cha"ter T#o
S/11OSE (E 1/* ON ONE S).E the %eneral problem o$ harmony bet&een the &ay &e take
the &orld to be and the &ay the &orld is. (e shall keep our $in%ers crossed! supposin%
that &e do really kno& &hat &e naturally take ourseles to kno&. But ho& &ell do our
ie&s han% to%etherH .escartes le$t us &ith our o&n seles and our o&n minds as
special! intimate! ob"ects o$ immediate kno&led%e. Or rather! each o$ us is le$t &ith his or
her o&n mind as a special! intimate! ob"ect o$ immediate kno&led%e. For een i$ ) can
climb out o$ the seas o$ doubt onto the 3o%ito! ) cannot climb out onto the nature o$ your
mind. So ho& then do ) kno& anythin% about your mental li$eH 9o& do ) kno&! $or
instance! that you see the colour blue the &ay that ) doH <i%ht it be that some o$ us $eel
pain more! but make less $uss about it! or that others $eel pain less! but make more $ussH
9o& do &e be%in to think about mind and body! brains and behaiourH
(e hae seen ho& .escartes7s strate%y led him to re%ard kno&led%e o$ our o&n minds as
more secure and certain than kno&led%e o$ the rest o$ the &orld. But .escartes &as also
a scientist. 9e made $oundational discoeries in optics. 9e practised dissections! and
kne& a $air amount about the transmission o$ impulses throu%h the neres to the brain.
9e kne& this took place by means o$ a physical transmission! a "pull" or "iolent
motion" o$ the neres! or as &e &ould no& think! an electrochemical impulse transmitted
throu%h the nerous system. *he ordinary senses o$ si%ht! touch! taste! smell! and hearin%
actiate the nerous system! &hich transmits messa%es to the brain. *he brain is not! o$
course! an undi$$erentiated lump. Bits o$ the brain transmit si%nals to other parts o$ the
brain and back to the bodyG &hole patterns o$ actiation %et set up. 8ll this is part o$
neurophysiolo%y. *hese eents can in principle be seen in publicG &ith the ri%ht
instruments! the patterns o$ actiation can be sho&n to a classroom.
And then (hat,
(ell! then there is the ma%ic moment. *he "mind" @the thinkin% thin%! or "res co%itans"A
%ets a$$ected as &ell! and the &hole &orld o$ e4perience opens up. *he sub"ect sees
colours! hears sounds! $eels te4tures and temperatures! and has sensations o$ taste and
smell. *his &orld o$ e4perience is composed o$ mental eents or eents &ithin sub"ectie
consciousness. *hese eents in the sub"ect7s consciousness cannot be seen in public.
*hey are priate. *he &hole classroom may see some neurones $irin%! but only the one
person $eels the pain. .escartes actually located the place &here the ma%ical eent takes
place. For #uite sensible neurophysiolo%ical reasons he thou%ht that the pineal %land! a
structure lyin% centrally &ithin the brain! must be the place &here messa%es &ere
conducted $rom the realm o$ physics to the realm o$ the mental.
For .escartes it is not only that mental eents are distinct $rom physical eents. *hey
also belon% to a distinct kind o$ substance '' immaterial substance '' a kind o$ %host'stu$$
or ectoplasm. Strictly speakin% i$ ) say! ") thou%ht o$ the Kueen and ) saluted!" there is a
kind o$ ambi%uityG the ")" that is the sub"ect o$ the thou%ht is not the ")"! the body! that
salutes. *hou%hts and e4periences are modi$ications in one kind o$ stu$$I moement and
position belon%s to the other. *his part o$ .escartes7s doctrine marks him as a "substance
dualist". )t is not "ust that there are t&o kinds o$ properties @mental properties and
physical propertiesA and that persons can hae both. )t is that there are t&o kinds o$
bearers o$ properties as &ell. O$ course this is theolo%ically conenientG it opens the &ay
to the immortality o$ the soul! since there is no reason $or soul'stu$$ to hae the same li$e
span as anythin% like a physical body. But substance dualism is not compulsory. One
could hold that mental and physical properties are ery di$$erent but that the one
or%aniBed body has them both '' a$ter all! mass and elocity are t&o ery di$$erent kinds
o$ property! but pro"ectiles hae them both. 1eople &ho hold that there are t&o kinds o$
property @mental and physicalA but that they can belon% to the one kind o$ stu$$ @&hateer
lar%e animals are made o$A are called property dualists.
.escartes leads us to the ie& neatly summed up by 2ilbert -yle @>?00'E6A as holdin%
that the human bein% is a "%host in a machine". Eents in the machine! the physical body!
are like other eents in the physical &orld. *hey consist in the interactions o$ $amiliar
kinds o$ stu$$G molecules and atoms! electrical $ields and $orces. Eents in the %hostly
part! the mind! are alto%ether di$$erent. 1erhaps they are eents in some kind o$ %host'
stu$$ '' ectoplasm! or the non'physical stu$$ that spirits and an%els are made o$. Spirits
and an%els do &ithout the physical embodiment alto%ether! in the popular mind. But in
the normal human bein% there is a close correlation bet&een eents o$ the one kind and
those o$ the otherG stickin% a pin in someone makes physical chan%es! but it also causes a
mental eent o$ $eelin% pain. 8nd ice ersaG the mental eent o$ rememberin% a blunder
may cause physical eents such as %roanin% and blushin%. So eents in the one realm
may a$$ect those in the other. But in principle the t&o realms are entirely distinct.
O$ course! this ie& is not peculiar to .escartes. )t is the ie& presupposed by many o$
the &orld7s %reat reli%ionsG it is part o$ any doctrine holdin% that &e can surie bodily
death! or that our soul can %o one &ay &hile our body %oes another. 0et it is a ie& that
$aces enormous! and ar%uably insurmountable! problems.
*he $irst $amily o$ problems is epistemolo%ical. ) "ust said that in the normal human
bein% there is a close correlation bet&een eents o$ the one kind and those o$ the other.
But ho& are &e entitled to beliee thatH 9ere is one &ay thin%s mi%ht beG
The Zombie Possibility. *ombies look like you and me, and behave like you and me. Their
physical natures are indistinguishable. If you opened a *ombie brain, you would find that it
functions exactly the same way as your brain or mine. If you prick a *ombie, he or she will go
!ouch!, 'ust like you or me. "ut *ombies are not conscious. There is no ghost within.
$ecause *ombies look and behave 'ust like you and me, there is no way of telling which of us
are *ombies and which are conscious in the way that you and I are. +r at any rate, in the way
that I am. ,or now I have raised the *ombie possibility, I see that I can-t really be sure about you
or anyone else. .erhaps consciousness is an extremely rare correlate of a complex system of
brain and body. .erhaps I am the only example of it( perhaps the rest of you are all *ombies.
9ere is another &ay thin%s mi%ht beG
The Mutant Possibility. %utants look like you and me, and behave like you and me. Their
physical natures are indistinguishable. If you opened a %utant brain, you would find that it
functions exactly the same way as your brain or mine. If you prick a %utant, he or she will go
!ouch!, 'ust like you or me.
/nlike *ombies, %utants are conscious. There is a ghost within. $ut the events in the %utant
ghost are not like those we expect. # %utant who is pricked, for instance, may experience a
mental event like hearing middle 0 on a clarinet. She still goes !ouch!, for, since her brain
functions like ours and she behaves like us, being pricked with a pin starts processes that cause
changes that eventually end up with her saying !ouch!, 'ust like the rest of us. .erhaps when she
does instead hear middle 0 on a clarinet, she feels awful pain, but it only makes her smile
beatifically. # %utant who sees $ritish post1boxes may see them as yellow2 one who sees
daffodils may see them as blue. 3vents in the %utant-s consciousness bear no relation to the
events in your mind or mine. +r at any rate, no relation to the events in my mind. ,or now I have
raised the %utant possibility, I see that I can-t really be sure about you or anyone else. .erhaps
the rest of you are all %utants, compared with me.
*he point about these possibilities is that they seem to be &ide open! on the 3artesian
dualist account o$ mind and body. *hey are unnerin% possibilities! and ones &e do not
normally consider @althou%h ) suspect that they cross our minds more o$ten than the
outlandish possibilities o$ the $irst chapterA.
One &ay to react to them is to bite the bullet. 0ou mi%ht sayG all ri%ht! let us suppose
these are &ide'open possibilities. 1erhaps ) can neer really kno& &hat the mind o$
another person is like! &hat mental eents occur &ithin it! or een &hether there is any
mental li$e %oin% on at all. But can7t ) still suppose that other people7s mental lies are
much like mineH 3an7t ) reasonably use mysel$ as a model $or all the restH )t &ould be not
so much a case o$ 'no(ledge as o$ a hypothesis or con/ecture, but it perhaps it is a
reasona+le con"ecture to make. *his is called the ar%ument $rom analo%y to the e4istence
o$ other minds.
*he problem &ith this ar%ument is that it seems incredibly &eak. 8s the %reat 8ustrian
philosopher ;ud&i% (itt%enstein @>DD?'>?F>A dismissiely askedG "8nd ho& can )
%eneraliBe the one case so irresponsiblyH" *he mere $act that in one case '' my o&n ''
perhaps as luck has it! there is a mental li$e o$ a particular! de$inite kind! associated &ith
a brain and a body! seems to be ery $limsy %round $or supposin% that there is "ust the
same association in all the other cases. )$ ) hae a bo4 and it has a beetle in it! that %ies
me only ery poor %rounds $or supposin% that eeryone else &ith a bo4 has a beetle in it
as &ell.
1erhaps &orse! it %ies me ery poor %rounds $or denyin% that there are beetles any&here
else than in bo4es. <aybe then thin%s that are ery different $rom you and me physically
are conscious in "ust the &ay that ) amG rocks or $lo&ers! $or e4ample.
0ou mi%ht be inclined "ust to "shru% o$$" the Pombie and <utant possibilities. 0ou mi%ht
re$lect that they are pieces o$ philosophical $antasy! unreal or at any rate uneri$iable. But
that is not an intelli%ent reaction. *he possibilities are indeed uneri$iable.
Neurophysiolo%ists! $or instance! cannot $ind conscious e4perience in the &ay they can
$ind neurones and synapses and patterns o$ brain actiity '' as &e put it! they cannot
display it on the screen to their students in the lecture theatre. But then! on 3artesian
dualism! the possibilities &e all naturally beliee in! namely that other people are not
Pombies! and not <utants! are themsel)es uneri$iableL *hey amount to blind articles o$
$aith. Someone holdin% the Pombie possibility is no &orse o$$ than the rest o$ us in that
)n $act! i$ our conception o$ mind allo&s the Pombie and <utant possibilities! &e mi%ht
een suppose them #uite probable! or at least as probable as anythin% else. For i$ it is not
a priori $alse that other people are Pombies! &hy should it be a priori less probable than
that they are conscious like meH
(hy do philosophers talk so much about biBarre possibilities that other people happily
i%nore @one o$ the thin%s that %ies the sub"ect a $orbiddin% look and a bad nameAH *he
reason is that the possibilities are used to test a conception o$ ho& thin%s are. 9ere they
are bein% used to test the conception o$ mind and matter that %ies rise to them. *he
ar%ument is that if mind and matter are thou%ht o$ in the 3artesian &ay! then there &ould
be &ide'open possibilities o$ a biBarre kind! about &hich &e could kno& nothin%. So!
since this is intolerable! &e should rethink the conception o$ ho& thin%s are @this is called
the metaphysicsA. 8 better conception o$ mind and its place in nature should $oreclose
these possibilities. *he aim is not to &allo& in scepticism! but to dra& back $rom any
philosophy that opens up the sceptical possibilities. (e &ould sayG accordin% to
3artesian dualism the Pombie possibility and the <utant possibility are both &ide open.
But that "ust sho&s there is somethin% &ron% about 3artesian dualism. *he mental and
the physical "ust aren7t as distinct as it is claimin%. Because it really is not possible that
@sayA someone &ho has "ust stubbed their toe and is ho&lin% &ith pain is doin% so
+ecause they are in a mental state like that &hich ) %et into by hearin% middle 3 on a
clarinet. That mental state "ust cannot be e4pressed by ho&lin% or %roanin%. *he tie
bet&een the intrinsic nature o$ the mental state '' &hat it $eels like '' and its e4pression is
closer than that. (e 'no( that someone &ho has "ust stubbed their toe is not ho&lin%
because they hae an e4perience "ust like the one ) hae &hen ) hear middle 3 on a
clarinet. (e kno& that they are e4periencin% somethin% ery like &hat ) e4perience &hen
) stub my toe.
*he ar%ument $rom analo%y to other minds &as the particular tar%et o$ (itt%enstein.
(itt%enstein7s main ob"ection to the "ar%ument $rom analo%y" is not simply that it is so
&eak. 9e tries to sho& that i$ you learned about mental eents entirely $rom your o&n
case! it &ould not be possible $or you een to think in terms o$ other peoples7
consciousness at all. )t &ould be as i$! &ere ) to drop a brick on your toe! there is simply
no pain about '' ) $eel none '' and that is the end o$ it. But since &e do think in terms o$
other minds and their e4periences! &e hae to conceptualiBe them some other &ay.
On this account! the &ay $or&ard is to re"ect the picture o$ mind and body %ien to us by
3artesian dualism. 8nd &e should be encoura%ed to re"ect 3artesian dualism by
metaphysical as &ell as epistemological pressures. 3an &e really %et a possible picture o$
ho& the &orld is $rom 3artesian dualism! neer mind about &hether &e kno& it is like
thatH 3onsider the Pombie a%ain. 9is physical $unctionin% is identical &ith ours. 9e
responds to the &orld in the same &ay. 9is pro"ects succeed or $ail in the same &ayG his
health depends on the same ariables as ours. 9e may lau%h at the ri%ht places! and &eep
at appropriate tra%edies. 9e may be %ood $un to be &ith. So &hat is the lack o$
consciousness doing, Or! puttin% it the other &ay round! &hat is consciousness
supposedly doing $or usH 8re &e to conclude that in us! non'Pombies! mental eents
e4ist but do not do anythin%H )s consciousness like the &histle on the en%ineG no part o$
the machinery that makes thin%s happenH @*his is the doctrine kno&n as
epiphenomenalism.A But i$ minds do not do anythin%! &hy did they eoleH (hy did
nature %o in $or themH 8nd i$ mental states really don7t do anythin%! ho& do they enter
memory! $or e4ampleH
*his is the problem o$ brain'mind interaction! as it presents itsel$ to 3artesian dualism.
*he issue here is beauti$ully summed up in a debate bet&een +ohn ;ocke and his
contemporary! the %reat mathematician and philosopher 2ott$ried (ilhelm ;eibniB
@>6C6'>E>6A. ;ocke &as another seenteenth'century thinker &ho &orried about the im'
plications o$ the modern scienti$ic ie& o$ the &orld. )n particular! he &orried about the
point o$ causation! at &hich the motions o$ particles in the brain %ie rise to ideas! such
as those o$ colour! in the mind. )n the $ollo&in% passa%e he is talkin% o$ the &ay in &hich
bombardments o$ small atomic particles %ie rise to thin%s like smells! tastes! sounds!
and coloursG
5et us suppose at present, that the different motions and figures, bulk, and number of such
particles, affecting the several organs of our senses, produce in us those different sensations,
which we have from the colours and smells of bodies, v.g. that a violet, by the impulse of such
insensible particles of matter of peculiar figures, and bulks, and in different degrees and mod'
ifications of their motions, causes the ideas of the blue colour, and sweet scent of that flower to
be produced in our minds. It being no more impossible, to conceive, that God should annex such
ideas to such motions, with which they have no similitude# than that he should annex the idea of
pain to the motion of a piece of steel dividing our flesh, with which that idea hath no
;ocke shared the ie& &e hae already met in Ne&ton and .escartes! that some causal
processes &ere relatiely intelli%ible! notably those in &hich one #uality! like motion! is
passed on $rom one particle to another by impact. But the moment o$ body'to'mind
causation! in &hich motions in the brain produce somethin% entirely di$$erent! the
sensations o$ smell or colour! or pain! &as entirely obscure. )t is "ust an amaBin% $act that
the mental eents occur &hen they do. )t is due to &hat ;ocke else&here calls the "ar'
bitrary &ill and %ood pleasure" o$ 2od! "the &ise architect" &ho "anne4es" particular
modi$ications o$ consciousness to particular physical eents. )n .escartes7s terms! ;ocke
thinks &e hae no "clear and distinct" idea o$ "ust &hat kinds o$ system 2od mi%ht
choose as suitable places $or him to superadd consciousness. )t &ould "ust be a brute $act
that the unierse is or%aniBed so that some kinds o$ system do! and others do not! possess
consciousness. 8nd it is "ust a brute $act that their conciousnesses chan%e and ac#uire
de$inite properties at the time that their physical seles chan%e and ac#uire particular
properties. *he contrast is bet&een a rational and intelli%ible connection! such as &e $ind
in the priori discipline o$ mathematics! and the $act that certain "motions" "ust do produce
the sensations in us that they do. *his is the brute $act! the conse#uence o$ 2od7s %ood
8ctually ;ocke is not so $ar here $rom the doctrine kno&n as occasionalism, &hich &as
embraced by another contemporary! Nicolas <alebranche @>63D'>E>FA. 8ccordin% to
this! physical eents do not strictly cause or brin% about mental eents at all. -ather! they
proide the occasions upon &hich 2od himsel$ inserts mental eents o$ appropriate kinds
into our bio%raphies. Strictly speakin%! our bodies do not a$$ect our minds! but only pro'
ide occasions on &hich 2od does. ;ocke himsel$ does not say this! but &e mi%ht re$lect
that there is precious little di$$erence bet&een! on the one hand! 2od interenin% at his
%ood pleasure to make it that the diidin% o$ the $lesh by the steel brin%s about a
sensation o$ pain! and! on the other hand! 2od directly in"ectin% a sensation o$ pain into
the soul &heneer there is a diidin% o$ $lesh by the steel.
;ocke7s doctrine deeply upset ;eibniB. )n the $ollo&in% passa%e $rom his $e( Essays,
&hich are a blo&'by'blo& commentary on ;ocke! 1hilalethes is ;ocke7s spokesman! and
*heophilus is ;eibniB7s. Note the direct #uotation $rom the passa%e $rom ;ocke aboeG
67I5&5.%7.$. ow, when certain particles strike our organs in various ways they cause in us
certain sensations of colours or of tastes, or of other secondary -ualities which have the power to
produce those sensations. *It being no more impossible, to conceive, that God should annex
such ideas )as that of heat+ to such motions, with which they have no similitude# than that he
should annex the idea of pain to the motion of a piece of steel dividing our flesh, with which that
idea hath no resemblance.*
%7.167I58$. It must not be thought that ideas such as those of colour and pain are arbitrary
and that between them and their causes there is no relation or natural connection! it is not God0s
way to act in such an unruly and unreasoned fashion. I would say, rather, that there is a
resemblance of a kind '' not a perfect one which holds all the way through, but a resemblance in
which one thing expresses another through some orderly relationship between them. %hus an
ellipse, and even a parabola or hyperbola, has some resemblance to the circle of which it is a
projection on a plane, since then there is a certain precise and natural relationship between what
is projected and the projection which is made from it, with each point on the one corresponding
through a certain relation with a point on the other. %his is something which the 2artesians have
overlooked# and on this occasion, sir, you have deferred to them more than is your wont and
more than you had grounds for doing. . . It is true that pain does not resemble the movement of a
pin# but it might thoroughly resemble the motions which the pin causes in our body, and might
represent them in the soul# and I have not the least doubt that it does.
(here ;ocke sees only "2od7s %ood pleasure"! ;eibniB seems to be insistin% there must
be a rational connection. *he eents in the soul must bear some #uasi'mathematical
relationship to the "motions" in the brain and body that brin% them about.
(e can put the issue like this. )ma%ine 2od creatin% the unierse. 9o& much does he
hae to doH One attractie doctrine &ould be thisG he has to create the physical stu$$ and
the la&s o$ physics! and then eerythin% else $ollo&s. On this ie&! by $i4in% the
physical state o$ the unierse at all times! a creatin% 2od $i4es eerythin% at all times. )$
he had &anted to make a &orld in &hich somethin% &as di$$erent '' say! one in &hich
pinpricks &ere not pain$ul '' then he &ould hae to hae tinkered &ith the physical $acts
so that this did not come about. 9e &ould hae had to $i4 up di$$erent neres and
path&ays in the body and brain. *here is no independent ariation &hereby the physical
could stay the same! but the mental be di$$erent. *his is ;eibniB7s position! at least as it
appears in this passa%e. @8 di$$erent interpretation o$ ;eibniB has him thinkin% that there
is independent ariation but 2od has! o$ course! chosen the +est &ay o$ associatin%
mental and physical eents.A
;ocke! on the other hand! thinks that 2od has t&o di$$erent thin%s to do. First! $i4 all the
physics and la&s o$ physics. But second! decide ho& to "anne4" mental eents to
physical eents! $i4in% up psycho'physical relations. )t is as i$ the &orld has t&o di$$erent
bio%raphies! one o$ its physical happenin%s and one o$ its mental happenin%s! and 2od
had to decide ho& to relate them. On this account! there could be independent ariation.
2od could hae kept the physics "ust the same! but decided not to anne4 pain to pin'
3onsider no& a person @yoursel$A and a physical duplicate o$ that person @a t&inA. )$
;ocke is ri%ht! then it is in principle possible that the t&in is a Pombie or a <utant.
8lthou%h his or her physical sel$ is "ust like yours! it &ould be an arbitrary e4ercise o$
2od7s bounty to make their mental li$e similar as &ell. *his is especially obious on the
"occasionalist" ersion o$ the ie&G perhaps $or his o&n inscrutable reasons 2od treats
my stubbin% my toe as an occasion on &hich to insert pain into my mental bio%raphy! but
not so $or you. On the other hand! i$ ;eibniB is ri%ht! there is no such possibility. )$ you
and your t&in both stub your toes &ith the same $orce! and react physically in the same
&ays! then the "e4pression" o$ the physical eents in your minds must also be the same!
"ust as the $i%ures pro"ected by t&o identical shapes on a plane at an an%le must be the
)t is interestin% that ;eibniB uses a mathematical analo%y. )t is not "ust that he &as an
een better mathematician than .escartes! and amon%st other thin%s inented the
calculus. )t is rather that $or ;eibniB the &hole order o$ nature must eentually be
transparent to reason. (hen thin%s $all out one &ay or another it is not "ust that they
happen to do so. *here must be! i$ &e could only see $ar enou%h! a reason &hy they do.
*hin%s hae to make sense. (hen ;eibniB says 2od does nothin% in an arbitrary or
unprincipled &ay he is not really e4pressin% a piece o$ theolo%ical optimism! so much as
insistin% that &e ou%ht to be able to see &hy thin%s are one &ay or another. *his is his
"principle o$ su$$icient reason". )n .escartes7s terms! &e ou%ht to be able to achiee a
clear and distinct idea o$ &hy thin%s $all out as they do. (e should be able to %ain insi%ht
into &hy the &ay thin%s are is the &ay they must be. )t is this con$idence in &hat ou%ht
to be possible to reason that makes ;eibniB! like .escartes! a "rationalist".
)n the philosophy o$ mind the ;eibniBian must deny the possibility o$ Pombies and
<utants. )$ the physical bio%raphy is $i4ed! then the mental bio%raphy is $i4ed thereby.
*here is no independent ariation! actual or possible. *he philosophical pro+lem is that
o$ understandin% &hy this is so. )t is a #uestion o$ ho& to understand the (ay in &hich
the entire physical story makes true the mental story.
;ocke thou%ht he could leae it open &hether it is an immaterial "thin%" @a %hostA &ithin
us that does the thinkin%! or &hether it is the physical system itsel$! since 2od can
superadd thou%ht to anythin% he likes. But he is abundantly clear that it takes a mind to
make a mind. )t takes a special dispensationG thou%ht cannot arise naturally @or! as
;eibniB has it! in a rationally e4plicable &ayA $rom matter.
(or unthinking particles of matter, however put together, can have nothing thereby added to
them, but a new relation of position, which it is impossible should give thought and knowledge to
)t is this kind o$ a priori certainty about &hat can and cannot cause other thin%s that
marks ;ocke! like eeryone else o$ his time! as $undamentally a rationalist! albeit one
&ho is more nerous about our po&ers o$ reason than .escartes and ;eibniB.
*hinkers about mind and matter hae not %ot much beyond ;ocke and ;eibniB. *oday as
&ell there are thinkers @sometimes called "ne& mysterians"A &ho think &e shall neer
understand the relationship bet&een mind and matter. )t remains as ;ocke le$t it! a
rationally ine4plicable matter '' 2od7s %ood pleasure. *here are een philosophers &ho
think that some kind o$ 3artesian dualism is true! and that the mind really is
epiphenomenal '' neer causes any physical eents at all. *hey say this because they
reco%niBe that the physical is a closed system. )$ there is a process that be%ins &ith a pin
bein% stuck in you and ends &ith a &ince! then there is an entire physical chain $rom pin
to &ince that e4plains the &ince. So! they think! it has to be false that you &ince because
you are in pain. *his bit o$ common sense has to be %ien up. 0ou &ince because o$ the
physical path&ays! not because o$ a mental add'on. *hese thinkers are in $act stuck &ith
the same problem o$ interaction that $aces ;ocke. (e discuss it more in the ne4t chapter.
But there are other thinkers &ho think that a rational relationship can be made out. ) shall
introduce t&o broad approaches. *he $irst tries to %ie an "analysis" o$ the mental! in
terms that enable us to see it as a ;eibniBian e4pression o$ the physical. *he second tries
$or a scienti$ic kind o$ reduction or identity o$ the mental to the physical.
8nalysis! as philosophers aim at it! attempts to say &hat makes true some mysterious
kinds o$ statement! usin% terms $rom some less mysterious class. 8nalysis is easily
illustrated by a homely e4ample. Suppose someone becomes perple4ed by that icon o$
modern (estern li$e! the aera%e man! &ith his 5.C children and >.D automobiles. 9o&
can this "oke $i%ure be o$ any real interestH *he ans&er is %ien by sho&in% &hat makes
true statements couched in terms o$ himG here that! across $amilies! the total number o$
children diided by number o$ pro%enitors is 5.C! and automobiles diided by number o$
o&ners is >.D. *his in$ormation is succinctly presented in terms o$ the aera%e man. 9e is
&hat -ussell called a "lo%ical construction" out o$ a%%re%ates o$ $acts. @*his does not
mean that all statements about the aera%e are sensible or use$ulG as has been said! the
aera%e person has one testicle and one breast.A 1hilosophers also talk o$ a reduction o$
statements o$ one kind to those o$ another. 8nalyses proide the reductions.
8nalysis tells us &hat is meant by statements made in one $orm o$ &ords! in terms o$
statements made in other &ords. )ts credentials as an intellectual tool hae themseles
been the topic o$ a %reat deal o$ philosophical controersy! and its status has aried oer
the last hundred years. Some! such as -ussell and 2. E. <oore @>DE3'>?FDA! thou%ht o$ it
as the essential %oal o$ philosophy. ;ater! its prospects &ere #ueried by the leadin%
8merican thinker o$ the mid't&entieth century! (. V. Kuine @>?0D' A! and by others! and
their pessimism &as %ien some credibility by the depressin% $act that ery $e&
philosophical analyses seemed success$ul. 3urrently analysis is en"oyin% somethin% o$ a
cautious reial. But $or our purposes these methodolo%ical #uestions can be set aside.
*he point is that i$ &e can analyse mental ascriptions in physical terms! then the
;eibniBian dream o$ a rational or a priori &ay o$ seein% ho( the physical %ies rise to the
mental is indicated.
;et us take pain as an e4ample o$ a mental state. Suppose no& &e try to analyse &hat it
is $or someone to be in pain. (e identi$y pain primarily in terms o$ &hat pain makes us
do @&hich is also &hat it is for, in eolutionary termsA. 1ain makes us do a ariety o$
thin%s. )t demands attention! it causes us to immobiliBe parts o$ the body! distracts us
$rom other thin%s! and o$ course it is unpleasant. Suppose &e can sum these
conse#uences in terms o$ tendencies or dispositions to behaiour. *hen the su%%estion is
that to be in pain "ust is to be disposed in these &ays. *his is the analysis o$ &hat it
means! or &hat makes it true! that a person is in pain. *his result &ould be an a priori
e4ercise o$ reason! brou%ht about by thinkin% throu%h &hat is really intended by
statements about this kind o$ mental eent. *hen the mystery o$ consciousness
disappears. 0ou and your t&in! since you share dispositions @you eri$iably tend to
behae the same &ayA! share your sensations! because this is &hat sensations are.
*his doctrine is called lo%ical behaiourism. ) beliee there is somethin% ri%ht about it!
but there are certainly di$$iculties. (e mi%ht ob"ect that &e are $amiliar &ith the idea that
people can share the same sensation althou%h they react some&hat di$$erently. One can
stub one7s

toe one day! and make a $ear$ul $uss about it! but do the same thin%! and $eel
the same pain! another day and braely smile and carry on. Behaiour is not a transparent
%uide to sensations! thou%hts! or $eelin%s. @*hat is the point o$ the "oke about t&o
behaiourists in bedG "*hat &as %reat $or you! ho& &as it $or meH"A So! at the ery least!
complications must be added. 1erhaps &e could sala%e the analysis in terms o$
dispositions to behaiour by pointin% out that een i$ you braely smile and carry on! you
are still in some sense disposed to more e4pressie demonstrations o$ pain that you are
suppressin% $or one reason or another. )t is almost impossible to suppress tendencies to
pain behaiour entirely! and other parties are ery %ood at noticin% the di$$erence
bet&een! $or instance! a child &ho has not hurt itsel$! and one &ho has but &ho is bein%
brae. )t seems essential to pain that it disposes in this &ay. But een this much is
sometimes challen%ed by cases o$ people &ith certain kinds o$ brain dama%e! &ho
apparently sincerely say that some pain is still present! but that they don7t mind it any
more. (e should notice! ho&eer! that it is #uite hard to make sense o$ that. )$ you %ie
yoursel$ a nice sturdy e4ample o$ pain '' touch a hotplate! or s&in% your toe into the &all
'' it is ery hard to ima%ine that ery mental state &ithout ima%inin% it as incredibly
unpleasant. 8nd it is hard to ima%ine it &ithout its tendency to cause typical
mani$estations in behaiour.
3ontemporary thinkers tend not to pin too much $aith on behaiourism o$ this kind. *hey
pre$er a sli%htly more elaborate doctrine kno&n as $unctionalism. *his too pays prime
attention to the $unction o$ the mental state. But it identi$ies that $unction in a sli%htly
more rela4ed &ay. )t allo&s $or a net&ork o$ physical relationshipsG not only dispositions
to behaiour! but typical causes! and een e$$ects on other mental states '' proidin%
those in turn become suitably e4pressed in physical dispositions. But the idea is
essentially similar.
1ain is a mental eent or state that lends itsel$ $airly readily to the pro"ect o$ analysis! $or
at least it has a $airly distinctie! natural! e4pression in behaiour. Other states &ith the
same kind o$ natural e4pression mi%ht include emotions @sadness! $ear! an%er! and "oy all
hae typical mani$estations in behaiourA. But other mental states only relate to
behaiour ery indirectlyG consider the taste o$ co$$ee! $or e4ample. *o taste co$$ee %ies
us a distinctie e4perience. *here is somethin% that it is li'e $or us to taste co$$ee @not $or
PombiesA. But it doesn7t typically make us do anythin% much. 3ontemporary thinkers
like to put this by sayin% that there are ualia or ra& $eels or sensations associated &ith
tastin% co$$ee. 8nd $riends o$ #ualia are o$ten $airly %lum about the prospects o$ reducin%
#ualia to dispositions in behaiour. 8s $ar as that %oes! they are back &ith ;ocke. 8s it
happens! these #ualia are superadded to arious physical eents '' in my case! i$ not in
yours '' but it could hae been other&ise. But then scepticism &hether you are Pombies
or <utants a%ain threatens.
One distinction the contemporary debate is $ond o$ makin% is important to notice. So $ar!
&e hae presented ;eibniB as opposin% the element o$ brute happenstance in ;ocke! in
the name o$ a rational #uasi'mathematical relation bet&een mind and body. )t is possible
to su%%est that there is a middle routeG one that opposes the happenstance! but does not
%o so $ar as a mathematical or rationally transparent relationship. *his is usually put by
sayin% that perhaps there is a metaphysical identity bet&een mental and physical $acts or
eents! but that it is not necessarily one that can be kno&n a priori.
8 common analo%y is this. 3lassical physics identi$ies the temperature o$ a %as &ith the
mean kinetic ener%ies o$ the molecules that compose it. So in makin% hot %ases 2od has
only one thin% to $i4G $i4 the %as and the mean kinetic ener%y o$ its molecules! and this
thereby $i4es the temperature. *here is no independent ariation. *here can7t be Pombie
or <utant %ases! in &hich the kinetic ener%y o$ the molecules either issues in no
temperature at all! or issues in di$$erent temperatures $rom those associated &ith the same
ener%y in other %ases.
On the other hand it is not simply reason or thou%ht or mathematics that enabled
scientists to e#uate temperature &ith mean kinetic ener%y. *he breakthrou%h &as not a
priori! armchair analysis o$ &hat is meant by temperature! but took e4periment and
obseration! and %eneral theoretical considerations. *he result &as not purely a priori!
but at least mostly a posteriori. *he relation is not one that could be &orked out in
adance "ust by mathematics or by "clear and distinct ideas"! like the $act that a circle on
a tilted plane casts an ellipse.
)n %eneral! in science! &hen one theoretical term or property! like temperature! becomes
identi$ied &ith another @here mean kinetic ener%y o$ constituent moleculesA! the link is
%ien by brid%e principles that are part o$ the theories o$ the sciences in #uestion. So! $or
e4ample! the current identi$ication o$ %enes &ith bits o$ .N8 happens because in
classical biolo%y %enes are de$ined in terms o$ their $unction in makin% characteristics
heritable! and no& in molecular biolo%y it turns out that bits o$ .N8 are the thin%s that
hae that $unction. Notice that analysis is not entirely absent. (e hae to kno& &hat
%enes are meant to do be$ore the e#uation can be made. But the bi% discoery is the
contin%ent! scienti$ic discoery o$ &hat it is that does &hat they are de$ined as doin%.
)$ &e modelled our approach to the mind'brain problem on scienti$ic reductions o$ the
kind "ust described! &e &ould $ind some physical state characteristic o$ people sharin%
some mental state. So! $or instance! &e mi%ht $ind that all and only people in pain share
some brain state @o$ten indicated a%uely by sayin% that their "3'$ibres are $irin%"A. 8nd
then it &ould be proposed that this then is the state o$ bein% in pain! "ust as some bits o$
.N8 are %enes. Once a%ain! there &ould be a complete reduction o$ the mental to the
*his &ould be &hat is called a psycho'physical identity theory.
Opponents sometimes say that you can only beliee this theory at the cost o$ $ei%nin%
permanent anaesthesia. *he complaint is that eerythin% distinctiely mental has been
le$t out. *he correct rebuttal to this is to ask the challen%er "ust &hat he thinks has been
le$t out! and &atch him s#uirm on the di$$iculties o$ dualism. But there are other
di$$iculties in $ront o$ this kind o$ psycho'physical identity theory. One is that in the case
o$ mental eents! one7s o&n consciousness rules! in the $ollo&in% sense. From the
sub"ect7s perspectie! anythin% that $eels like pain is pain. )t doesn7t matter i$ it is 3'
$ibres! or somethin% #uite di$$erent. )$ someone had a mini'transplant! in &hich or%anic
3'$ibres &ere replaced by somethin% silicon! $or e4ample! then i$ the silicon brin%s about
the same results! it is still pain. Our kno&led%e o$ our pain is not hosta%e to the #uestion
o$ &hether &e hae 3'$ibres inside us! or any other particular kind o$ biolo%ical
en%ineerin%. *here is a $irst'person authority. E#ually! althou%h &e mi%ht kno& &hether
mar%inal candidates $or $eelin% pain! such as perhaps shrimp! do or do not hae 3'$ibres!
&e mi%ht be uncom$ortable in declarin% them to su$$er pain or not purely on that
account. So the identity does not seem #uite so strai%ht$or&ard as in other scienti$ic
cases @this could be challen%edA.
(e &ould be pleased enou%h i$ &e could come to see the relation bet&een mental eents
and eents in the brain or body as clearly as &e can see the relation bet&een temperature
and mean kinetic ener%y in %ases. 1erhaps it &ould not matter much to us &hether the
result &as achieed more by "pure thou%ht"! or more by e4periment. So &e can
appreciate ;eibniB7s ob"ection to ;ocke &ithout entirely sharin% his rationalism. Still!
&hen &e try to think hard about the relationship bet&een brain and body on the one hand
and mind on the other! it usually seems to be our thinkin% rather than mere scienti$ic
i%norance that is lettin% us do&n. -ecently many scientists hae turned their attention to
consciousness! and a ariety o$ brain states hae been identi$ied as implicated in normal
conscious $unctionin%. For e4ample! electroma%netic &aes in the brain o$ a particular
lo& $re#uency hae been thou%ht to be ital. But it is not clear that this kind o$ truth is
adapted to solin% the problem '' to enablin% us to side &ith ;eibniB a%ainst ;ocke.
From the ;ockean point o$ ie&! all the scientist may hae discoered is that (hen the
brain is in some speci$ic state! &e %et symptoms o$ consciousness. But that mi%ht "ust
tell us &hat consciousness is anne4ed to! by happenstance. )t does not make the
combination intelli%ible. 8nd it also presupposes a ri%ht to shoe the Pombie and <utant
possibilities out o$ si%ht! $or other&ise the scientist could neer establish the correlation!
e4cept at best in his or her o&n case. But accordin% to ne& mysterians! neither science
nor philosophy &ill eer %et us to a point &here thin%s are better. (e &ill neer be able
to side &holeheartedly &ith ;eibniB a%ainst ;ocke.
*he case o$ colour o$ten seems especially to open &ide the possibility at least o$ <utants
'' people physically identical &ho neertheless perceie colours #uite di$$erently. *here
mi%ht een be <utants &hose colour spectra are completely inerted &ith respect to each
other! so that the e4perience one %ets $rom li%ht at the red end o$ the spectrum is the ery
e4perience that the other %et $rom li%ht at the blue end. 8nd there &ould be nothin% to
tell them that this is so.
3artesian dualism opens the possibility o$ Pombies and <utants. But perhaps it also
opens an een more $ri%htenin% possibility. )$ &e think in the dualist &ay! &e are apt to
$eel secure that at least &e kno& &hat our o(n e4perience is like. *he minds o$ others
may be a bit con"ectural! but our o&n minds are &ell kno&n to us. But is een this trueH
3onsider no& not the minds o$ others! but your o(n past experience. 8re you sure that
the &orld looks to you today the same colour as it looked yesterdayH 8re you in $act sure
that it looked any colour yesterday '' in other &ords! that you actually receied the
conscious e4perience that you remember yoursel$ as hain% hadH
By askin% these #uestions you are applyin% the Pombie and <utant possibilities to your
o&n past. No& o$ course! at $irst si%ht the possibilities are een more outlandish and
absurd than applied to other minds. 8nd &e are inclined to retort that o$ course &e kno&
per$ectly &ell that colours looked much the same yesterday as they do today. (e &ould
surely notice it i$ &e &oke up and the sky no& looked like %rass did yesterday! and ice
) a%ree o$ course that &e (ould notice the chan%e. But is this security %uaranteed! %ien
3artesian dualismH )t depends on &hat &e think about memory and mental eents. (hy
should &e be sure that mental eents '' thou%ht o$ as entirely distinct! remember! $rom
anythin% physical '' leae reliable traces in memoryH ) can chec' that my memory o$ the
physical &orld is reliable enou%h. ) remember puttin% the car in the %ara%e! and lo and
behold! &hen ) %o do&n! there it is. ) remember the &ay to the kitchen! and lo and
behold! %et there &ithout any e$$ort or any mistake. But &hat &ould check that my
memory o$ the mental &orld is accurateH )n ;ocke7s terms! &hy should it not be "2od7s
%ood pleasure" to anne4 certain mental modi$ications to me today! to%ether &ith the delu'
sie memory that similar ones &ere anne4ed to me yesterdayH (itt%enstein saidG
&lways get rid of the idea of the private object in this way! assume that it constantly changes, but
that you do not notice the change because your memory constantly deceives you.
*his is the heart o$ the 7anti'priate'lan%ua%e7 ar%ument in his Philosophical
In)estigations @published posthumously in >?F3A! one o$ the most celebrated ar%uments
o$ t&entieth'century philosophy. (itt%enstein tried to sho& that there could be no
si%ni$icant thought about the nature o$ one7s past @or $utureA mental li$e i$ that mental li$e
is diorced $rom the physical &orld in the &ay that 3artesian dualism proposes. )t
becomes! as it &ere! too slippery or %hostly een to be an ob"ect o$ our o&n memories or
*he <utant and Pombie possibilities! applied to our o&n pasts! are certainly unnerin%.
But really they ou%ht only to unnere us about the dualist picture. Once more! can &e
recoil $rom ;ocke to some ersion o$ ;eibniBH ;eibniB! remember! &ants there to be a
"rational" relationship bet&een the physical and the mental! so that the mental eent o$
seein% a colour is some kind o$ rational expression o$ &hat is %oin% on physically! not an
accidental anne4ation to it. 9o& could this &ork in the case o$ coloursH *he ;eibniBian
idea is that i$ ) and my t&in @&hich no& mi%ht be mysel$ as ) &as yesterdayA are
$unctionin% physically in the same &ay! then there is no possibility that our mental lies
are di$$erent. 9o& can &e $lesh out this su%%estionH 9ere is a sketch o$ an ans&er.
<any o$ the physical chan%es underlyin% colour perception are $airly &ell understood.
3olour perception is the result o$ the stimulation o$ the cones that pack the central part o$
the retina. *he current best theory su%%ests that there are three di$$erent kinds o$ cone! ;!
<! and S @lon%! medium! and shortA. ; cones "spike" or send messa%es do&n the optic
nere more readily &hen li%ht o$ lon%er &aelen%th hits them! < cones %et e4cited more
&hen li%ht o$ medium &aelen%th does! and S cones &hen li%ht o$ shorter &aelen%th
does. *he colour &e perceie then depends in the $irst place on a comparison bet&een
the leels o$ e4citation o$ these three kinds o$ cone. So! $or instance! i$ S is much more
e4cited than ; this codes $or blue! the colour at the short &aelen%th end o$ the spectrum.
)$ ; is much more e4cited than S! this codes $or yello&. )$ ; is more e4cited than < &e
%et red! and i$ < is more e4cited than ;! &e %et %reen. )t is as i$ the channels are
"opponents" and the result depends on &hich o$ the opponents oercomes the other.
No& consider the $act that colours hae a lot o$ interestin% properties. 9ere are someG
you cannot hae a sur$ace that is yello&y blue. 0ou can7t hae one that is reddish %reen.
0ou can on the other hand hae sur$aces that are bluish %reen! or yello&ish red @oran%eA.
0ou can7t hae a bri%ht bro&n. 0ou cannot hae a bri%ht %rey @it is di$$icult to ima%ine a
%rey $lame or a bro&n $lameA. 0ello& is a li%hter colour than iolet. 0ou can hae a
transparent red or blue or %reen %em! but you cannot hae a transparent &hite %em '' the
nearest &ould be a milky &hite! like an opal. 0ou can hae &hite li%ht! but not black
8ll these mi%ht seem to be brute $acts about the 3artesian realm o$ the mind! &here
colours are supposed to hold their residence. But &e can be%in to see them as e4pressions
o$ arious physical $acts. (e can7t see a sur$ace as yello&y blue! because yello& and blue
are produced by mathematical oppositesG &e %et yello& &hen ; Q S! and blue &hen S Q
;. Similarly $or red and %reen. (e cannot hae bri%ht bro&n! because bro&n is darkened
yello&. 8 sur$ace is seen as bro&n &hen it &ould be coded $or yello&! e4cept that there
is only a lo& oerall ener%y leel compared &ith that o$ other sources o$ li%ht in the
conte4t. Similarly $or %rey! &hich is darkened &hite. 0ello& is li%hter than iolet because
yello& li%ht @; Q SA is also nearer the $re#uency at &hich our isual systems are ma4i'
mally responsie. By comparison both red at one end and blue at the other end o$ the
isual spectrum are takin% us to&ards the dark! &here &e cannot respond at all. 0ou
cannot hae transparent &hite because somethin% is only seen as &hite &hen it scatters
8ll this o$ course only scratches the sur$ace o$ colour science. But it %ies us a
%limmerin% at least o$ the &ay in &hich thin%s "make sense". (ith enou%h $acts o$ this
kind in $ront o$ us &e mi%ht be less enchanted by the inerted spectrum possibility. ;et
us take $irst the simpler case o$ monochromatic @black'and'&hiteA ision. Suppose it is
su%%ested that someone mi%ht be a physical duplicate o$ me! but see as dark &hat ) see as
li%ht! and ice ersa. )s that possibleH Our snap "ud%ement mi%ht be that it is. 1erhaps &e
ima%ine the &orld appearin% to him as it appears in a photo%raphic ne%atie. But this
does not really &ork. )$ ) make a piece o$ %rey %lass li%hter! ) see better throu%h itI i$ )
make it darker! ) see less &ell throu%h it. Since he is a physical duplicate! this has to be
true o$ my t&in. But $or him! &hen &e clear the %lass it "seems" as thou%h &e added
soot! since it becomes sub"ectiely darker. 8nd &hen &e add soot it "seems" as thou%h it
is becomin% clearer. But then &e hae to ima%ine that $or him! as a plate o$ %lass
becomes darker he sees throu%h it better and better! and as it becomes li%hter he sees
throu%h it &orse and &orse. 8nd that "ust doesn7t seem to make sense. )t doesn7t mark a
coherent possibility.
No& consider someone &ho is physically identical &ith me! but supposedly sees yello&
as ) see blue! and ice ersa. )t is no& not #uite so easy to ima%ine him. 9e has to
respond in the same &ay as ) do! so he cannot %o round sayin% that yello& is a dark
colour! $or e4ample. *hat di$$erence in response and behaiour &ould be a physical
di$$erence. So &e hae to ask ho( he sees blue as bri%ht! and yello& as dark. )$ he really
sees yello& as dark! as ) see blue! ho& does he see bro&nH 9o& does he see oran%eH
Bro&n is darkened yello&! but $or him yello& is already dark. So it is di$$icult to ima%ine
ho& his physical discriminations could match mine! %ien this complete disparity in
mental e4perience.
)n short! the possibility becomes a %ood deal less clear! and &e may $eel our &ay to
denyin% that it is a possibility at all. (e &ould be en%ineerin% a conception o$ the mind
that closes the %ap bet&een the physical and the mental! that is! bet&een the $ully $unc'
tionin% and responsie isual system in the brain and the apparently superadded
"sub"ectie" #ualia o$ colour e4perience. Such a piece o$ en%ineerin% &ould be a
indication o$ ;eibniB7s position. Sub"ectie colour e4perience becomes not "ust a #ueer
addon! but the ineitable! rationally e4plicable! expression o$ the kinds o$ physical
$unctionin% o$ the creatures that &e are. )$ the same can be done $or all the elements o$
our consciousness! the problem is soled.
(e no& turn to a sli%htly di$$erent aspect o$ consciousness. *his chapter has
concentrated upon sensations and #ualia. But our consciousness is also lar%ely made up
o$ thou%hts. *hou%hts are stran%e thin%s. *hey hae "representational" po&ersG a thou%ht
typically represents the &orld as bein% one &ay or another. 8 sensation! by contrast!
seems to "ust sit there. )t doesn7t! on the $ace o$ it! point to&ards anythin% beyond itsel$!
such as a $act or putatie $act. @Some thinkers deny this. *hey think! $or instance! that a
sensation o$ pain is a perception o$ bodily in"ury! and that this perception represents the
body as in"ured! "ust as the thou%ht that tomorro& is Friday represents tomorro& as bein%
Friday. ) leae the reader to ponder ho& plausible this is.A *he representatie nature o$
thou%hts! sometimes called their intentionality or directedness! is itsel$ hi%hly puBBlin%.
)$ &e ima%ine thou%hts as kinds o$ "thin%" present in consciousness! the #uestion
becomes ho& a "thin%" can in and o$ itsel$ point to&ards another thin% @a $act or state o$
a$$airsA. 3ertainly a si%npost! $or instance! can point to&ards a illa%e. But that seems to
be a matter o$ the &ay it is taken. 8 si%npost doesn7t in and o$ itsel$ represent the &ay to
the illa%e. (e hae to learn ho& to take it. (e could ima%ine a culture in &hich the
same physical ob"ect! &hich is to us a si%npost! had a #uite di$$erent $unctionG a display
board! or a totem! or a piece o$ abstract art. (e see this &ith animalsG &hen you point at
somethin%! do%s typically pay attention only to the pointin% $in%er! to their o&ners7
irritation. (hereas it seems incoherent to ima%ine a creature &ith the same thoughts as
us! but &ho hasn7t learned to take those thou%hts in the &ay that &e do. )t is the "take"
that ma'es the thou%ht.
1robably the ri%ht reaction to this is to deny that thou%hts are thin%s at all. *he mistake
o$ supposin% that to eery noun there corresponds a "thin%" is sometimes called the
mistake o$ reification. *hinkers $re#uently char%e one another &ith mistaken rei$ications.
)t is people &ho think! and their doin% so is not the matter o$ some kind o$ blob bein%
present either in the brain or the mind. *his is true een i$ the blob is thou%ht o$ as a
small sentence &ritten in the brain. *hinkin% is a matter o$ takin% the &orld to be one
&ay or another! and so takin% it is a matter o$ our dispositions rather than a matter o$
&hat thin%s are han%in% out inside us.
1erhaps it ou%ht to be no more puBBlin% that &e can think about absent states o$ a$$airs ''
distant states! and past and $uture states '' than that &e can pay attention to the &orld at
all. 0et it is a $eat that sets us apart $rom other animals. 8nimals can presumably perceie
the &orld! but &e are nerous about supposin% that they can represent to themseles
distant and past and $uture states o$ a$$airs. 0et &e can certainly do so.
*he most popular current approach to this is to concentrate upon the &ay in &hich &e
can attribute thou%hts to the &ell'$unctionin% person. )t should be somethin% about a
person7s behaiour that enables us to interpret him or her as thinkin% about yesterday! or
concentratin% upon the &eather predicted $or the &eekend. *hou%hts are e4pressed in
both lin%uistic and non'lin%uistic behaiour! and perhaps &e can hope $or some kind o$
reductionG ", thinks that p0 i$ and only i$ ,7s plans or desires or behaiour are someho(
in line &ith the &orld bein% such that p. *he trick &ould be to $ill out the "someho& in
line". )t is $air to say that nobody has success$ully done that. But there are su%%estions
about ho& to %o. (e say that an intelli%ent system! such as a %uided missile! thinks that
there is a plane a mile a&ay and t&o hundred $eet up i$ its systems point it in a direction
that is appropriate to there bein% a plane in that place '' %ien its aim @or $unctionA o$
brin%in% do&n planes. Similarly &e mi%ht say o$ a person that she thinks the &eather
&ill be $ine at the &eekend i$ her behaiour is appropriate! %ien her aims @or $unctionsA!
to that bein% the &eather at the &eekend. *he di$$iculty &ould be to $ill out this thou%ht
&ithout relyin% in other &ays on other mental states o$ the sub"ect! and this is &hat
nobody kno&s ho& to do.
) leae thinkin% aside $or the moment. )nstead! in the ne4t t&o chapters ) consider t&o
more elements in our ie& o$ the &orld that also nourish 3artesian dualism. *he $irst is a
ran%e o$ thou%hts about our o&n $reedom. *he second is a ran%e o$ thou%hts about our
o&n identity.
Cha"ter Three
.ree Wi$$
&gain, if movement always is connected,
ew 9otions coming in from old in order fixed,
If atoms never swerve and make beginning
1f motions that can break the bonds of fate
&nd foil the infinite chain of cause and effect
/hat is the origin of this free will
6ossessed by living creatures throughout the earth?
4ucretius, De :erum atura
O-! )N 8 S;)29*;0 ;ESS eleated toneG
There (as a young man (ho said, 0Damn,
It is +orne upon me that I am
A creature that mo)es
In predestinate groo)es &&
$ot e)en a +us, +ut a tram.1
*he last chapter had us thinkin% about &hat the brain producesG elements o$
consciousness such as thou%hts! or sensations! or #ualia. But &hen &e think about
ourseles! &e are conscious o$ other thin%s as &ell. (e don7t only re%ister the &orld! as
&e take it to be. (e act in it. (e concentrate on alternaties. (e deliberate and do thin%s.
(e take control. 9o& should &e think about thatH
(e usually re%ard ourseles as $ree a%ents. (e lie our lies &ithin an open space o$
possibilities. (e deliberate &hich ones to pursue! and hain% deliberated! &e choose. )
&ent to the mountains this year $or a holiday! but ) could hae %one the seaside. )t &as
my choice. ) could not hae %one to the <oon! because it &as not $easible.
(e seem to be conscious o$ our $reedom. 3onsciousness o$ $reedom seems closely allied
to any kind o$ consciousness at all. (hen &e thou%ht o$ Pombies in the last chapter! &e
probably ima%ined "erky! robotic! Frankenstein creations! slaes to particular pro%rams!
actin% in$le4ibly and unintelli%ently. But &e are not like that! are &eH
Sometimes &e are proud o$ our $reedomG &e are not mere creatures o$ instinct and desire.
(e can pull ourseles to%ether and $i%ht to control our obsessions or addictions. (e
desere praise &hen &e succeed. )$ &e $ail! &e may desere and sometimes receie
punishment. Freedom brin%s responsibility! and people &ho abuse it desere blame and
punishment. But nobody deseres punishment $or $ailin% to do somethin% i$ they could
not do it. )t &ould be most un"ust to punish me $or not hain% %one to the <oon! or to
punish a man in prison $or not keepin% an appointment outside the prison! $or e4ample.
9ere the obstacles are beyond the a%ent7s control. *hat means! he or she is not to blame.
So our moral reactions as &ell as our ordinary thinkin% seem to presuppose that
sometimes! een i$ &e acted badly! &e could hae done other&ise.
But mi%ht this consciousness o$ $reedom be an illusionH 3ould &e eer really hae acted
other&ise than &e didH
;ucretius and the youn% man at the be%innin% o$ the chapter can be %ien an ar%umentG
The past controls the present and future.
5ou can-t control the past.
#lso, you can-t control the way the past controls the present and future.
So, you can-t control the present and future.
)n $act! you can7t control anythin% at all! past! present! or $uture.
*he $irst premise o$ this ar%ument is a thumbnail ersion o$ the doctrine kno&n as
determinism! &hich can be put by sayin% that eery eent is the upshot o$ antecedent
causes. *he state o$ the &orld at any moment is the result o$ its state immediately be$ore!
and eoles $rom that precedin% state in accordance &ith unchan%in% la&s o$ nature. *he
second premise looks certain. *he third reminds us that &e cannot control the la&s o$
nature '' the &ays in &hich eents %ie rise to one another. 8nd the conclusion certainly
looks to $ollo&.
1eople &ho accept this ar%ument are called hard determinists! or incompati+ilists, since
they think that $reedom and determinism are incompatible.
1erhaps to restore human $reedom &e should deny determinismH (e mi%ht be optimistic
about doin% this! because the best current science o$ nature! #uantum physics! is
standardly interpreted as postulatin% uncaused eents. )n the #uantum &orld! there are
microphysical eents that ""ust happen". On these interpretations one system can be in
exactly the same state as another '' there are no "hidden ariables" '' and yet in one
system a #uantum eent occurs! and in the other it does not. Such eents hae no causeG
they "ust happen! or do not happen. Kuantum physics %ies them a probability! but
cannot determine! $rom the state o$ play at one moment! &hether such an eent &ill
happen or not in the immediate $uture.
But this is not #uite &hat &e &antedG it is introducin% an element o$ randomness into
thin%s! but not an element o$ control or responsibility. *o see this! think o$ the $ull
neurophysiolo%ical state o$ your brain and body. Eents $ollo& their causes. )$ sometimes
little $its and starts occur at a micro leel you can hardly be held responsible $or any
di$$erences that do arise $rom the $its and starts. 0ou can7t control electron "umps. )$ they
are %enuinely indeterministic! nothing can control them. )t is "ust as much bad luck i$ one
"umps the &ron% &ay! as i$ your %ood intentions &ere $rustrated by outside accidents
beyond your control. 1uttin% the accident into your brain does not restore your
)$ anythin%! physical indeterminism makes responsibility and the "ustice o$ blame een
more elusie. *his is sometimes called the dilemma o$ determinism. )$ determinism
holds! &e lose $reedom and responsibility. )$ determinism does not hold! but some eents
""ust happen"! and then! e#ually! &e lose $reedom and responsibility. 3hance is as
relentless as necessity.
)n the 2ospel accordin% to <ark! >>G>5'>C! 50'>! there is a stran%e storyG
&nd on the morrow, when they were coming from "ethany, he was hungry.
&nd seeing a fig tree far off, having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon#
and when he came to it he found nothing but leaves# for the time of figs was not yet.
&nd ;esus answered and said unto it, o man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. &nd his
disciples heard it. . .
&nd in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
&nd 6eter calling to remembrance, saith unto him, 9aster, behold, the fig tree that thou cursedst
is withered away.
;et us i%nore the disturbin% social! economic! and ecolo%ical problems &ith this story!
and concentrate on the apparent in"ustice to the $i% tree. )t is true that +esus did not curse
the $i% tree $or not bearin%! say! apples! or plums. )t &as $i%s he &as a$ter. 8nd $i% trees
do sometimes bear $i%s. But it still seems un$air on the $i% tree. )t is as i$ +esus is ar%uin%
"0ou sometimes bear $i%s! so you could be bearin% $i%s no&". *o &hich is seems a
completely ade#uate de$ence $or the $i% tree to point out that it bears $i%s in the summer!
but it is no& &inter! or at any rate "the time o$ $i%s &as not yet". )t takes a certain set o$
circumstances $or a $i% tree to bear $i%sG een the best tree does not do so out o$ season!
any more than it bears plums.
*he $i% tree mi%ht not be a&are o$ this. 1erhaps i$ it &as a thou%ht$ul $i% tree it &ould
hae $elt bad because it &as itsel$ una&are o$ the precise causes necessary $or it to bear
$i%sG perhaps it only remembers that it sometimes does so! and then $eels bad about not
doin% so on this occasion. But that is "ust i%norance. )$ the $i% tree $eels bad about not
bearin% $i%s in &inter! then that is irrationalG the time &as not ri%ht! that is all.
0ou mi%ht think like our ima%ined $i% treeG ) "ust kno& that ) am $ree. ) stand here! able
to raise my arm or not! "ust as ) please. Suppose ) do it '' thus '' then ) hae $elt mysel$
controllin% the &ay eents un$olded. <y consciousness reeals my $reedom to me.
But here is the 2erman philosopher Schopenhauer @>EDD'>D60AG
5et us imagine a man who, while standing on the street, would say to himself! *It is six o0clock in
the evening, the working day is over. ow I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club# I can also
climb up the tower to see the sun set# I can go to the theater# I can visit this friend or that one#
indeed, I also can run out of the gate, into the wide world, and never return. &ll of this is strictly
up to me, in this I have complete freedom. "ut still I shall do none of these things now, but with
just as free a will I shall go home to my wife.* %his is exactly as if water spoke to itself! *I can
make high waves 3yes< in the sea during a storm4, I can rush down hill 3yes< in the river bed4, I
can plunge down foaming and gushing 3yes< in the waterfall4, I can rise freely as a stream of
water into the air 3yes< in the fountain4, I can, finally, boil away and disappear 3yes< at certain
temperature4# but I am doing none of these things now, and am voluntarily remaining -uiet and
clear water in the reflecting pond.*
)n this parable! the &ater is not conscious o$ the causal setups necessary $or it to boil!
make &aes! and so on. )t only remembers that it sometimes does these thin%s. 9ence! it
thinks! it can do them. So it attributes its calm to its o&n oluntary decision. But in this it
is mistakenG i$ it "tries" to boil &hen the temperature is &ron%! or "tries" to make &aes
&hen there is no &ind! it &ill soon discoer that these thin%s do not depend on its o&n
decision. *o make the same point! (itt%enstein ima%ines the lea$ $allin% in the autumn
&inds! and sayin% to itsel$! "No& )7ll %o this &ay! no& )7ll %o that."
Schopenhauer denies that our o&n sel$'understandin%! our sel$'consciousness! displays
our real $reedom. (e can interpret him as criticiBin% this ar%umentG
I am not conscious of the causal background needed for me to do 5.
I know I sometimes do 5.
$o, I am conscious that there is no causal background needed for me to do 5.
9is point is that this ar%ument is inalid. Bein% unconscious of something cannot be
parlayed into bein% conscious of its a+sence. (hen ) speak ) am not conscious o$ the
incredible causal structures that make it possible $or me to speakG the musculature! the
coordination o$ muscle and breath control! the moement o$ the ton%ue and palate! the
con$i%urin% o$ my "a&. But all these thin%s are necessary! as ) &ould #uickly discoer i$
"ust one o$ them &ent &ron%.
8t this point one mi%ht start thinkin% somethin% like thisG
.erhaps if we confine our thoughts to the physical world, we seem to have no option but
determinism or random indeterminacies, and we lose sight of real freedom. $ut suppose there is
another level. $ehind or above the evolutions of brain and body, there is the 6eal %e, receiving
information, and occasionally directing operations. There will be times when left to themselves
the brain and body would move one way. $ut with direction from the 6eal %e, they will go the
other way. I can take over, and interfere with the way things would otherwise have gone. This is
where my freedom lies.
*his conceptualiBes the relationship bet&een me on the one hand and my brain and body
on the other in terms o$ a t&o'&ay interaction. *he brain and body brin% the -eal <e
messa%es! and this -eal <e then issues them instructions. *he -eal <e sits in the control
room! and the &hole person behaes $reely &hen it is in command. )$ it is not in
command! the brain and body %et on &ith their @"mindless"A physical eolutions.
*his is mind'body dualism a%ain. *he -eal 0ou dictates eents. <essa%es come in!
perhaps throu%h the pineal %land. 8 breath o$ soul then $ans neurones and synapses into
action! and initiate ne& causal chains. *here is a %host in the machine! and the machine
behaes $reely &hen the %host is in char%e. No&! &e hae already seen somethin% o$ the
mystery o$ mind'brain interaction on this picture. But here &e can raise a di$$erent
ob"ection. .ualism tries to understand human $reedom by introducin% an e4tra
in%redient! the controllin% soul. But ho& do &e understand the $reedom o$ the soulH
;ook a%ain at the dilemma o$ determinism. 9o& does a %host or soul inside the machine
escape the same problemH 8re there la&s %oernin% ho& %host'stu$$ behaes! so that i$ a
%host is in one state at a particular time! there is a la& determinin% &hat its ne4t state &ill
beH )$ not! then is %host'stu$$ sub"ect to random $its and startsH 9o& does that help me $ree and responsibleH -emember as &ell that there is no 2od'%ien correlation
bet&een an eent bein% "mental" and the eent bein% under my $ree controlG ) cannot
&ish a&ay pains! desires! obsessions! un&elcome thou%hts! and con$usions! "ust like that.
*he dualist approach to $ree &ill makes a $undamental philosophical mistake. )t sees a
problem and tries to sole it by thro&in% another kind o$ "thin%" into the arena. But it
$or%ets to ask ho& the ne& "thin%" escapes the problems that beset ordinary thin%s. (e
meet this kind o$ mistake a%ain in 3hapter F! on the philosophy o$ reli%ion. )n $act! i$ you
think about it! you &ill $ind that you surreptitiously think o$ the $reedom o$ any non'
physical soul! any %host in the machine! on the model of human freedom. *hat is! $ar
$rom helpin% to understand human $reedom! the idea depends upon it. For the %host is
really a kind o$ ethereal little human bein%! a "homunculus" that takes in in$ormation!
deliberates! &ants arious thin%s! is s&ayed or in$luenced or %uided by di$$erent pieces o$
in$ormation! and that in the li%ht o$ all that does somethin%. )$ &e cannot understand ho&
human bein%s are $ree! &e cannot understand ho& such a homunculus can be $ree either.
8nd o$ course there is the &hole problem o$ mind'brain interaction! &hich is so
intractable %ien 3artesian dualism. *he physical system is a closed system. )t takes a
physical cause to produce a physical e$$ect.
*o try to reconcile $reedom &ith a deterministic unierse composed o$ small! hard!
indiisible atoms in motion! the 2reek philosopher Epicurus @3C>'5E0 B3A had already
su%%ested that the spirit o$ a person could step in and make the atoms "s&ere" in di'
rection. )n $act! ;ucretius! &ho is interpretin% Epicurus in the passa%e at the be%innin% o$
the chapter! %oes on to talk o$ a minute s&erin% o$ the atoms! and the &ay in &hich
"that M&hichN the minute s&erin% o$ the atoms causes is neither place nor time de'
terminate". /n$ortunately! the la&s o$ motion are not ery hospitable to this "s&ere".
*he la&s that &e actually $ind tell us that linear momentum! a "oint $unction o$ motion
and direction! is physically consered. )t &ould shatter the la&s o$ motion "ust as badly i$
the -eal <e could make the <oon chan%e direction by "ust thinkin%! as i$ the -eal <e
could make it speed up or slo& do&n.
8s an aside! it is &orth noticin%! ho&eer! that the 2reek and -oman atomists! includin%
Epicurus and ;ucretius! &ere better o$$ in one respect than .escartes. For they thou%ht!
as he did not! that the spirit itsel$ must be understood in mechanical terms. *he mind or
spirit! they held! &as composed o$ particularly $ine! small! and e4ceedin%ly mobile
mechanical particles! so there is no reason in principle &hy these should not in$luence
the directions and elocities o$ the lar%er particles o$ the body. ;ucretius e4plains the
&ay in &hich this subtle stu$$ is "o$ seeds e4tremely small! throu%h eins! $lesh! sine&s!
&oen". *he soul has to be made o$ thin stu$$! $or "dreams o$ smoke and mist can moe
it". Such dreams are presumably made o$ much smaller particles than een smoke and
mist themseles. But ;ucretius un$ortunately $ails to reisit the #uestion o$ ho& the
motions o$ een tiny particles can break the bonds o$ $ate and $oil the in$inite chain o$
cause and e$$ect. 8ncient atomists liked to compare the action o$ the soul on the body
&ith the action o$ the &ind on a ship! but o$ course the &ind is part o$ the in$inite chain
o$ cause and e$$ect. )t is not somethin% standin% outside it! and neither! on this model! is
the soul.
)s there any better &ay o$ breakin% the ar%ument $or incompatibilismH
*he ar%ument $or hard determinism does not talk o$ the 'inds o$ causal in$luences in play
as an a%ent per$orms a %ien action. No& sometimes the causal routes are totally
independent o$ &hat &e think. *he causal route that leads $rom my bein% irreersibly
under &ater to my dro&nin% is one o$ them. *he same outcome is ineitable $or Einstein
and $or a donkey. But sometimes the causal routes only %o ia hi%h'leel neural
processes. *his is no more than to say that &e o$ten moe as &e do because our brains
are $unctionin% properly.
So let us try a primitie model. *hink o$ the brain in "so$t&are" terms! as hain% arious
"modules". One @a "scanner"A takes in in$ormation about a situation. 8nother @a "tree
producer"A deliers options $or behaiour in the li%ht o$ &hat the scanner says. 8 third
@an "ealuator"A ranks the options in the li%ht o$ concerns that it has pro%rammed into it.
)t may &ork by attachin% emotional indicators such as $ear or "oy to the di$$erent paths.
Finally a $ourth @a "producer"A $i4es on the option ranked best by the precedin%
processes! and outputs neural si%nals that moe muscles and limbs. 9ere is a schematic
= scanner = tree producer = evaluator = producer =
-emember that all this is supposed to be "ust a "so$t&are" description o$ parts o$ the
brain. No& suppose a decision is the upshot o$ these modules $unctionin%. Suppose it is
one o$ your decisions! and these parts $unction to produce it in the &ay that they
normally do. )$ &e call these modules! "decision" modules! and i$ these modules are
en%a%ed in producin% the output! then &e can say that you chose the output. )t &as not
$orced on you! in the &ay that dro&nin% is $orced on the trapped s&immer.
Suppose the decision &as to do somethin% really bad. 0ou come into my room! and
chuck my peaceable old do% out o$ the &indo&. ) am outra%ed! and minded to blame
you. Suppose you try to de$end yoursel$ by inokin% the incompatibilist ar%ument.
4ook, this action was the result of the way my scanner7producer system had been !set!. .erhaps
events in my childhood, &uite outside my control, !set it! so that making the environment dog1free
has for me the highest priority. %y tree producer told me it was an option, after my scanner had
told me that there was a dog present and a window nearby. %y evaluator immediately selected
that option, and my producer smoothly initiated the action of chucking the dog out of the window.
Why blame me8
Surely ) am not likely to be ery impressed. ) mi%ht reply somethin% like thisG
I am not all that interested in how you came to be !set! like you are. What bothers me is that this
is your set. I don-t care how it came to be your set, or what deterministic forces brought you to
have these systems set that way. #ll I am concerned about is that now, at the end of the day, you
are a nasty piece of work, and I am going to thump you. %aybe it was indeed bad luck your
getting to be like you are. #nd now it is doubly bad luck, because you are going to get thumped
for it.
8t least ) hae the consolation that! $ollo&in% your o&n ar%ument! you cannot blame me
$or thumpin% youL )t7s "ust the &ay ) am setG ) react badly to people &ho do this to my
peaceable old do%.
*humpin% you may hae a point '' in $act! seeral points. )t mi%ht read"ust your
ealuator. Ne4t time round! this module may rank thro&in% the do% out o$ the &indo&
belo& puttin% up &ith its presence. )n a more comple4 picture! &e could ima%ine this
happenin% by means o$ a number o$ other mechanismsG perhaps it attaches a risk'o$'
bein%'thumped $la% to the do%'thro&in% option. Or perhaps my an%er shocks you into a
more %eneral re'ealuation o$ strate%ies o$ behaiour. 8nd een i$ thumpin% you does not
succeed in chan%in% you! it sends a si%nal to other &ould'be do%'chuckers. )t also
reliees my $eelin%s.
*his is di$$erent $rom blamin% someone $or dro&nin%! &hile not blamin% him or her $or
bein% trapped in the &ater. *he causal route there lies throu%h basic animal physiolo%y
that cannot be altered by education or the attitudes o$ others. 1raise and blame cannot
"reset" it. *he causal route does not lie throu%h modules that are elastic, or $le4ible!
capable o$ bein% reset by an%er or blame. But do%'thro&ers can be deterred and chan%ed
and &arned a&ay.
Schoolteachers sometimes say thin%s like thisG ") don7t mind a stupid pupil! but ) do
dislike a laBy one." )n the %rip o$ the hard determinist ar%ument! you mi%ht think that this
is "ust pre"udiceG some people are born stupid and pitied $or itI &hy should those born
laBy not be similarly pitied $or thatH )t is "ust tou%h luck! either &ay. But the
schoolteacher7s attitude &ill hae a point i$ laBiness responds to incenties in a &ay that
stupidity does not. )$ respect $or the teacher7s opinion can make you &ork harder!
&hereas it cannot make you smarter! then there is one "usti$ication $or the asymmetry.
*he teacher is in the business o$ resettin% your ealuatin% module. )t is an empirical $act!
a $act to be learned $rom human e4perience! ho& $ar modules do %et reset by interactions
&ith others! includin% the unpleasant ones in &hich the others display their an%er or
contempt $or us.
(e hae here the be%innin% '' but only the be%innin% '' o$ the pro%ramme o$
compati+ilism, or the attempt to sho& that! properly understood! there is no inconsistency
bet&een ackno&led%in% determinism and our practices o$ holdin% people responsible $or
their actions. 3ompatibilism is sometimes called "so$t" determinism! in opposition to
"hard" determinism. *his is not a ery %ood label $or t&o reasons. First! it is not really a
di$$erent kind o$ determinism. )t accepts determinism in "ust the same sense as anybody
else. *here is no %hostly po&er steppin% in to inter$ere &ith the natural causal order o$
eents. Second! in moral or political terms! the "so$t" determinist may actually be pretty
hard! in the sense o$ harsh. )$ you come to her &ith the heartrendin% e4cuse that your
biolo%y or your enironment made you the &ay you are! she turns dea$! and ents her
an%er on you "ust the same. Not $or her the $acile e#uation bet&een crime and illnessG
people can pull their socks up! and i$ it seems appropriate! she &ill use punishment or
any other appropriate reaction to make you do so too.
O$ course! a compatibilist can accept some kinds o$ e4cuse. )$ you &ere constrained in
some situation so that no matter ho& &ell'$unctionin% your "modules"! no %ood upshot
&as possible! then you are not to blame $or eents. *his is the case o$ the dro&nin%
s&immerG no matter ho& %ood their character! there is nothin% they can do about it.
E#ually! i$ an action is #uite "out o$ character"! $or instance! because you hae had to
take some medications &hose result is to disorientate you or depress you! then perhaps
you can be $or%ien! &hen you are yoursel$ a%ain.
(e mi%ht think at this pointG &ell! the reaction to the illainous do%'thro&er &as natural
enou%h. 1erhaps it is een "usti$iable in terms o$ its conseuences. 1erhaps blame and
associated reactions hae a $unction! and &e "ust need thin%s &ith that $unction. But all
the same! isn7t there a hint o$ in"usticeH Because &e hae done nothin% to sho& that the
do%'chucker could ha)e done other(ise. For on any occasion! the modules &ill be set
one &ay or another! so the outcome is determined. 3ompatibilists! so $ar! seem to blame
someone $or eents! &hen the person could not hae done other&ise. *o this they may
reply by distin%uishin% di$$erent senses o$ "could hae done other&ise". )$ the causal
route to the a%ent7s action lay throu%h the decision modules! then she "could hae done
other&ise" in some sense! and maybe re%arded as bein% $ree. *o %et at the ri%ht sense o$
"could hae done other&ise"! &e mi%ht o$$er &hat ) shall call the first compati+ilist
# sub'ect acted freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. The sub'ect could
have done otherwise in this sense provided she would have done otherwise if she had chosen
8nd! says the compatibilist! that is all that is needed to "usti$y our reactions o$ holdin%
people responsible! and perhaps reactin% to them &ith blame and an%er.
*he %hostly response to determinism posited a kind o$ interention $rom outside the
realm o$ natureG a "contra'causal" $reedom! in &hich the %host is distinct $rom the causal
order o$ nature! yet mysteriously able to alter that order. (e could call that conception!
inter)entionist control. )t is sometimes kno&n in the literature as a li+ertarian conception
o$ $reedom! althou%h this is con$usin%! since it has nothin% to do &ith political or
economic libertarianism! &hich is the ideolo%y o$ $ree markets and minimal %oernment.
) shall stick &ith callin% it interentionist control. 3ompatibilism on the other hand
substitutes a ie& o$ you as entirely situated inside the causal order o$ nature. 0our
$reedom lies in the &ay action $lo&s out o$ your co%nitie processes. So ho& does the
compatibilist respond to the ori%inal ar%ument about controlH 9e mi%ht su%%est that the
ar%ument is no better than thisG
The past controls the present and future.
9 # thermostat cannot control the past.
# thermostat cannot control the way in which the past controls the present and future.
$o, a thermostat cannot control the future.
*here has to be somethin% &ron% &ith this! because a thermostat can control the $uture!
in respect o$ temperature. *hat is &hat thermostats do. 8 thermostat controls the
temperature by bein% part of the (ay in &hich the past controls the present and $uture.
8nd accordin% to compatibilism! that is ho& &e control thin%s. (e are inoled in the
causal order. (e are part o$ the &ay in &hich the past controls the $uture. 8nd therein lies
our responsibility. (e can call this conception o$ control! inside control! control $rom
inside nature. (hen &e e4ercise inside control! the compatibilist holds! &e are
responsible $or arious eents. 8nd i$ &e e4ercise that control badly! &e may "ustly be
held responsible $or the upshot! and held to blame i$ blame is an appropriate reaction.
But is this compatibilist $reedom &hat &e really &antedH (e do not attribute any
$reedom to the thermostat. 8nd compatibilism can seem more like a dismissal o$ the
problem o$ $reedom! rather than a solution o$ it. *his is ho& it seemed to the %reat
)mmanuel :ant @>E5C'>D0CA! &ho dismissed it as %iin% us only the "$reedom o$
clock&ork" and called it nothin% better than a "&retched subter$u%e".
9ere is another &ay o$ sharin% :ant7s &orries. *he modules and comple4ities o$
in$ormation processin% complicated the causal picture. But do they alter it
$undamentallyH )ma%ine counsel $or the $i% tree! pointin% out that it &as &inter rather
than summer. *his is a complete de$ence o$ the tree. (ell! i$ ) acted badly! then does not
that sho& that it &as &inter tooH *he modules had been badly set! presumably by eents
belon%in% to causal chains that stretch back be$ore my birth. )t may be that i$ you are
an%ry &ith me that &ill alter my decision'makin% system for the future, but it does not
sho& that ) could hae acted di$$erently in the past.
8s &e come to learn about causal re%ularities lyin% behind actions and other mental
states! &e are apt to s&itch into less moralistic modes. (e mi%ht blame someone $or
bein% depressed all the time! until &e learn a chemical story e4plainin% it. (e mi%ht be
an%ry &ith someone $or bein% unable to stir himsel$! until &e learn that he has
mononucleosis. But accordin% to the determinist! there are al(ays thin%s like this to
learn. Kuite apart $rom increasin% neurophysiolo%ical eidence! &e may think o$ cases
&here &e learn o$ "brain&ashin%" or "conditionin%". 1arents may be inclined to blame
their teena%e dau%hter $or spendin% time! ener%y! and income on alueless cosmetics! but
a better reaction &ould be to understand the social and commercial pressures that
paralyse her better "ud%ement and brin% this state o$ a$$airs about.
*hin%s %et &orse $or compatibilism i$ &e indul%e in a little science $iction. )ma%ine the
inasion o$ the mini'<artians. *hese are incredibly small! or%aniBed! and mischieous
bein%sG small enou%h to inade our brains and &alk around in them. )$ they do so! they
can set our modules pretty &ell at &ill. (e become puppets in their hands. @)$ this kind o$
e4ample sounds too $ar'$etched! re$lect that there actually e4ists a parasite that lies by
coloniBin% the brains o$ ants. /nder its in$luence! the ant climbs blades o$ %rass. *his
makes it more likely to be in%ested by passin% sheep! &hich the parasite then in$ects Mthe
particular indiidual in the ant7s brain itsel$ perishes! but others hitch'hikeN. For all one
kno&s! the ant $eels $ree as air as it climbs its blade o$ %rass.A O$ course! the mini'
<artians mi%ht set us to do &hat &e &ould hae done anyho&. But they mi%ht thro& the
chemical s&itches so that &e do #uite terrible thin%s. *hen let us suppose that!
$ortunately! science inents a scan to detect &hether the <artians hae inaded us. (on7t
&e be sympathetic to anyone &ho su$$ered this mis$ortuneH (ouldn7t &e immediately
reco%niBe that he &as not responsible $or his &ron%doin%sH
But! says the incompatibilist! &hy does it make a di$$erence i$ it &as mini'<artians! or
causal a%encies o$ a more natural kindH
*his kind o$ reply takes issue &ith the compatibilist ersion o$ "could not hae done
other&ise". )t is all ery &ell! it points out! to say that someone &ould hae done
other&ise i$ he or she had chosen di$$erently. But suppose they &ere set so that they
could not hae chosen di$$erently. Suppose at the time o$ actin%! their choosin% modules
&ere locked into place by mini'<artians! or chemicals! or &hateer. (hat thenH *he
compatibilist &e hae so $ar shru%s the #uestion o$$ '' he is not interested in ho& the
sub"ects %ot to be as they are! only &hether the outcome is %ood or bad. *he ob"ector
$inds it important! and at least some o$ our reactions! &hen &e $ind more about causal
routes! sho& that &e a%ree &ith the ob"ector.
) think the best line $or compatibilism! $aced &ith this counterattack! is to #uery the &ord
"set"! &hen there is talk o$ the modules bein% set to produce some outcome. *his in
e$$ect repeats a similar moe to the one he made to distin%uish decision'makin% $rom
dro&nin%. *here! he introduced a de%ree o$ $le4ibility into the causal process! by
hi%hli%htin% modules that are capable o$ bein% tuned or set di$$erently. (hen the ob"ector
claims that in that case the sub"ect is a mere ictim i$ the modules are "set" &ron%! the
reply ou%ht to be to introduce another leel o$ $le4ibility. *rue! &e can say! in the case o$
the brain&ashed teena%er! or the mini'<artians! the modules may really be set. (e are
ima%inin% the modules badly fixed by chemical or other processes. But these cases are
special! precisely because once they are in them sub"ects become in$le4ibleG immune to
ar%ument! or to additions or chan%es in the decision'makin% scenario. But normally
a%ents are not so set in their &ays. *heir $reedom consists in the $act that they are
responsie to ne& in$ormation! and ne& di$$erences in the situation. *hey are not drien
or bound to chuck do%s out o$ &indo&s or to stand all day at the cosmetics counter.
(e mi%ht pursue the idea &ith somethin% like this! that ) shall call the re)ised
compati+ilist definition*
The sub'ect acted freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. This means that she
would have done otherwise if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other thoughts
or considerations, she would have chosen differently.
O$ course! on an occasion! it may hae been bad luc' that the ri%ht thou%hts did not arise.
(ell! says the compatibilist once more! that is indeed bad luck. But perhaps my an%er
and the $act that ) am %oin% to thump you &ill preent it recurrin%.
Some philosophers @Baruch SpinoBa M>635'EEN is the most $amous e4ampleA like to
associate $reedom &ith increased kno&led%e and understandin%. (e are $ree! they say! in
so $ar as &e understand thin%s. *his is in many &ays an attractie ideaG it ties $reedom o$
the &ill to thin%s like political $reedomsG $reedom o$ in$ormation and $reedom o$ speech.
(e are only $ree in so $ar as &e hae opportunities open to us! and lack o$ in$ormation
denies us opportunities. (e could add this thou%ht to the reised compatibilist de$inition!
by speci$yin% that the "other thou%hts or considerations"! $irst! are accurate
representations o$ the a%ent7s situation and options! and second! are a)aila+le to the
a%ent. *hat is! it is not much use sayin% that under the impact o$ other thou%hts or con'
siderations she &ould hae chosen di$$erently! i$ those other thou%hts and considerations
&ere simply not in the landscape. *hus! suppose ) set about to poison you and cunnin%ly
put arsenic in your co$$ee. 0ou drink it. )t is not much use sayin% that you &ere $ree not
to do so. For althou%h it is true that you &ould hae aoided the co$$ee i$ you had chosen
di$$erently! and true that the thou%ht or consideration that perhaps the co$$ee &as laced
&ith arsenic &ould hae made you choose di$$erently! neertheless! since there &as no
reason $or that thou%ht to enter your mind! you &ere a ictim rather than a $ree a%ent. (e
mi%ht incorporate that into a reised reised compatibilist de$initionG
The sub'ect acted freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. This means that she
would have done otherwise if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other true and
available thoughts or considerations, she would have chosen differently. True and available
thoughts and considerations are those that represent her situation accurately, and are ones that
she could reasonably be expected to have taken into account.
(hat o$ the person to &hom the thou%hts or considerations "ust didn7t occurH )s she a
ictim rather than a responsible a%entH *his introduces a ne& t&ist to thin%s.
So $ar &e hae talked as i$ "$ree choice"! either o$ some mysterious interentionist kind
or o$ some substitute "inside" or compatibilist kind! is necessary $or responsibility. But is
this ri%htH ) said aboe that it mi%ht be "ust bad luck that some crucial consideration does
not occur to someone at a moment o$ decision. But sometimes &e do not treat it as
"mere" bad luck. (e say that the thou%ht should hae arisen. *he a%ent is liable to
censure i$ it didn7t. Someone settin% $ire to buildin%s $or $un cannot seriously plead that
"it neer occurred to him" that someone mi%ht %et hurt '' not unless he is a child or
mentally de$icient. Een i$ it is true that it neer occurred to him! so there &as no $ree
choice to put people at risk! he is still responsible. -ecklessness and ne%li%ence are
$aults! and &e can be held responsible $or them! "ust as much as &e are $or more con'
trolled decisions. Some philosophers hae $ound it hard to accept that. 8ristotle rather
desperately held that ne%li%ent people hae actually chosen to make themseles
ne%li%ent! perhaps in early childhood! and that this is the only reason they can be held
*here is actually a &hole ran%e o$ interestin% thou%hts that open up here. Some kinds o$
bad luck are really incidentalG thin%s that do not a$$ect our relationship to the a%ent. But
others in some &ay cast a re$lection on the a%ent. )ma%ine a %ol$er. Suppose on day one
he hits a $ine ball! but! amaBin%ly! a passin% sea%ull %ets in its &ay and spoils the shot.
*hen on day t&o he hits an e#ually $ine ball! but a little breeBe blo&s it o$$ course and
a%ain spoils the shot. (e mi%ht say each o$ these is bad luck. *he $irst is pure bad luck.
But the second is not #uite so simple. )t is bad luck! yes! but the kind o$ bad luck that a
really %ood %ol$er is e4pected to $oresee and play around. )t should be &ithin the player7s
purie&. (hereas the sea%ull represents a pure act o$ 2od. Enou%h bad luck o$ the
second kind! and &e start to think less &ell o$ the %ol$er! and it is the same &ith a%ency.
9ence the reply made by a pianist &hose admirer %ushed about ho& lucky he &as to
hae so much talentG "0es! and the more ) practice the luckier ) %et."
*he conceptual en%ineerin% &e are doin% at this point is supposed to tease out or make
e4plicit real elements in our thinkin%. (e &ant to hi%hli%ht and try to encapsulate thin%s
like thisG &e do make a distinction bet&een chan%in% the past @cannot doA and actin%
di$$erently than &e do @sometimes can doAI &e do hae discriminatin% practices o$
blameI &e do make a distinction bet&een bein% ill and bein% badI &e do allo& some
e4cuses and disallo& others. *he philosophical analysis is supposed to %ie us intel'
lectual control o$ all this. )t is supposed to e4hibit it all! not "ust as an irrational "umble o$
disconnected habits! but as the application o$ a reasonable and de$ensible set o$ concepts
and principles. )t is because it is hard to do this that the philosophy is hard. *he
compatibilist account is a piece o$ en%ineerin%! either plottin% our e4tant concepts! or
desi%nin% improed ones. )t has to ans&er to the &ays &e o$ten think! or think &hen &e
are best in control o$ the problems that $ace us. <ysel$! ) beliee that the reised reised
compatibilist de$inition does that pretty &ell. But others take :ant7s ob"ection more
seriously. *hey think that our "interpersonal reactions"! &hich include the &ays &e hold
each other and ourseles responsible $or thin%s! do depend upon some lin%erin% a$$ection
$or interentionist $reedom. So i$ that is metaphysically bankrupt! our attitudes ou%ht to
chan%e. *he philosophical problem &ould be that interentionist control is untenable!
and inside control inade#uate.
Sometimes an analysis &ill settle hard cases. But sometimes it leaes %rey areas! and this
may not be a bad thin%. -eturn to the teena%e %irl spendin% an incredible amount o$ time
and money on cosmetics. 3an she do other&iseH )$ &e run the reised reised de$inition!
&e may $ind that the issue hin%es no& on &hat other thou%hts and considerations are
"aailable" to her. )n one sense! &e mi%ht &ant to say! it is possible that she should start
realiBin% that her popularity or attractieness is not %reatly improed by cosmetics @it
&ould increase more i$ she %ot a decent mind! perhaps by readin% a book like thisA. *his
may be a true and potentially aailable thou%ht. But in another sense! perhaps it is not.
1erhaps people sub"ected to the in$luences she is sub"ected to "ust cannot %et themseles
to beliee this. *he culture is a&$ully %ood at blindin% teena%ers to this truth. So it &ould
not be reasonable to e4pect her to beliee it. <ysel$! ) &ould incline to this dia%nosis!
seein% her as a ictim rather than an a%ent. But the point is that een i$ the reised
reised analysis does not settle this issue! it certainly pinpoints it. 8nd this is itsel$ a step
to&ards %ettin% the issue o$ responsibility and $reedom under control. But it must in
$airness be added that there is still a road to trael. 8n incompatibilist! $or instance! mi%ht
insist that thou%hts are only aailable i$ they are themseles the ob"ects o$ $ree
@interentionistA selection! and this &ould put us back to s#uare one.
3ontemporary culture is not ery %ood on responsibility. 3onsider the notorious 7*&inkie
de$ence". One day in >?ED! an e4'employee o$ the city o$ San Francisco! .an (hite!
entered the 3ity 9all &ith a %un! eadin% metal detectors by %oin% throu%h a basement
&indo&. 9e &ent upstairs! and shot and killed <ayor 2eor%e <oscone and a superisor!
9arey <ilk. )n court a de$ence psychiatrist! <artin Blinder! testi$ied that (hite had
been depressed! &hich led to his eatin% too much! and in particular the hi%h'su%ar "unk
$ood kno&n as *&inkies. 8ccordin% to Blinder! this $urther deepened his depression!
since (hite &as an e4'athlete and kne& that *&inkies &ere not %ood $or him. Blinder
claimed that the emotional state (hite &ould hae %ot into &ould hae meant it &as
impossible to hae acted &ith premeditation or real intent! both o$ &hich &ere necessary
conditions $or $irst'de%ree murder. *he "ury &ere impressed by the ar%ument! and
ac#uitted (hite o$ murder! $indin% him %uilty instead o$ the lesser crime o$ "oluntary
3ali$ornia later reised its la& to close the space $or this kind o$ de$ence! and on the $ace
o$ it the state &as ri%ht to do so. (hite o+)iously acted &ith intention and premeditation!
since that is &hy he procured a %un and &ent in throu%h the basement. 8nd &e can see
that the reised reised analysis is not at all hospitable to the *&inkie de$ence. 8
de$endant &ould hae to &ork a&$ully hard to sho& that enou%h su%ar literally takes our
behaiour out o$ the ran%e o$ our decision'makin% modules and our thou%hts. )t does not
seem to be true that &ith enou%h *&inkies inside us &e become literally incapable o$
certain thou%hts! so that &e could not reasonably be e4pected to realiBe that murderin%
people is a bad idea! $or e4ample. Een a lot o$ su%ar does not tend to do that. @But then!
contemporary "uries are not ery %ood on causation either. )n <ichi%an recently a man
&on a la&suit $or substantial dama%es because! he claimed! a rear'end collision in his car
had made him a homose4ual.A
Be$ore leain% compatibilism! it is &orth noticin% a di$$iculty in $ront o$ all the
de$initions. 3ompatibilism tries to %enerate the ri%ht notion o$ control out o$ the
re$lection that under di$$erent circumstances the a%ent (ould hae done other&ise. *here
are nasty cases that su%%est that these notions do not $it to%ether #uite so ti%htly. *hese
are called "causal oerdetermination" cases. )n such a case somethin% does control some
outcome! althou%h the outcome &ould hae been the same any&ay because o$ a "$ail'
sa$e" mechanism. *hus! a thermostat mi%ht control the temperature een i$! because o$ a
$ail'sa$e mechanism! the temperature (ould hae been the same een if the thermostat
had mal$unctioned. )$ the thermostat had mal$unctioned! somethin% else &ould hae
clicked in to keep the temperature at its proper leel. Similarly an a%ent mi%ht do
somethin% bad! be in control! be actin% &ith intent and responsibility! een i$ (ere he to
choose to do other&ise unkno&n mechanisms &ould click in to ensure that he does the
bad thin% anyho&. )ma%ine the mini'<artians sittin% there not actually inter$erin% &ith
thin%s! but ready to do so &heneer the outcome looks set to be one that they don7t &ant.
*hese cases are surprisin%ly tricky to handle. But the compatibilist can re$lect that they
make it no harder to de$ine the ri%ht sense o$ control $or human bein%s than they do $or
thermostats. Since the problem must hae a solution in the case o$ mechanical control! it
must hae one $or people as &ell.
)s there anythin% else to &orry aboutH One mi%ht think like thisG
The compatibilist vision describes the operation of organic beings with brains in terms of
decision1making modules. $ut all this is 'ust describing things in terms of what happens. It is not
describing things in terms of agency, or of my doing things. It is therefore leaving out something
essential to my humanity, and essential to my human regard for others, which is that we are not
'ust passive patients and victims, but active agents.
*his is ho& &e re%ard ourseles! and re%ard other normal people! and normally it is ho&
&e &ant to be re%arded.
*he $ear is that somethin% essential to human liin% is bein% lost. )t is essential to us that
&e think o$ ourseles as a%ents! not "ust as patients. 8nd it is essential to us that other
people so re%ard us. )n a $amous paper the philosopher 1eter Stra&son @>?>?' A contrasts
an "ob"ectie" or impersonal attitude to other people &ith a "personal" or human attitude.
On the ob"ecti$yin% track! other people are "ust there like blocks to our pro%ress! needin%
to be "mana%ed or handled or cured or trained". *hey are not the ob"ects o$ personal
attitudes. 1eople are looked at as i$ they &ere mad! rather than intelli%ent a%ents &ho can
be understood.
*here is an interestin% "%estalt s&itch" in Stra&son7s picture. 8t $irst! it mi%ht seem that
the moral attitudes associated &ith blame are hard and harsh! and &e mi%ht think that it
is an improement i$ &e can %et past them to more liberal and understandin% attitudes to
such thin%s as crime or "deiant behaiour". *reatin% people as patients rather than as
criminals looks to be a step in a humane! decent direction. Stra&son asks us to con$ront
&hat is lost in this chan%e. 9e su%%ests that a lot o$ &hat makes human relationships
distinctiely human is lost. Suppose! $or instance! that ) hae behaed in a &ay that )
&ant to e4plain. But ) $ind other people listenin% to my story &ith a look in their eyes
that su%%ests that this talk is "ust another symptom. )t is "ust another si%n that ) need to be
mana%ed or handled or cured or trained. *hen ) hae been dehumaniBed. ) &ant my
decision to be understood! not patroniBed. ) &ant other people to "hear my oice"! &hich
means appreciatin% my point o$ ie&! seein% ho& thin%s appear to me! rather than &on'
derin% &hat causes a human or%anism to behae like this. *his kind o$ ob"ecti$ication
concerns us a%ain in 3hapter D! &hen amon% other thin%s &e con$ront the therapy
industry &ith it.
*he ri%ht response to the hi%hli%hted complaint! takin% account o$ Stra&son7s point! is
this. *he compatibilist is not intendin% to deny a%ency! but to %ie a particular account of
it. *he account is in terms o$ modular brain $unctions! in &hich data are taken in! and
alternaties %enerated and ranked! until eentually an output comes "on line" and
initiates action. *rue! these eents are all thin%s that ""ust happen" @passiely! as it &ereA
but! accordin% to the compatibilist! they are the thin%s that happen! and all that happens!
&hen you! the person! do somethin%. .escribin% you as doin% somethin%! and $or a
reason! is a description at the personal leel o$ the upshot o$ these multiple micro'leel
Some thinkers like to say that there are t&o perspecties on all o$ this. *here is the
deliberatie! $irst'person stance you adopt &hen you yoursel$ are makin% a choice. 8nd
there is an "ob"ectie" or third'person stance! one that a scientist mi%ht take! seein% you
as a comple4! determined! neurophysiolo%ical system. *he problem lies in reconcilin%
the t&o stances.
)$ the problem is put this &ay! then the ri%ht solution is surely this. *here &ould only be a
di$$iculty about reconciliation i$ &hat is disclosed in the deliberatie stance is
incompatible &ith &hat is disclosed in the third'person stance. But the deliberatie
stance discloses nothin% about causation. *hinkin% other&ise is makin% the mistake that
Schopenhauer7s &ater madeG mistakin% absence o$ a&areness o$ the $unctionin% o$ brain
and body $or a&areness o$ the absence o$ such $unctionin%. *he $irst is uniersal! but the
second is impossible! $or &ithout the $unctionin% there could be no a&areness.
So! since nothin% is seen $rom &ithin the deliberatie stance that con$licts &ith the
scienti$ic &orld'ie&! perhaps there is no need to $ind the problem o$ reconciliation at all
di$$icult. (hat &e may be le$t &ith is "ust a moral problemG one o$ makin% sure that &e
approach one another not &ith the ob"ecti$yin% stance! but &ith $ull human
understandin%! enriched! rather than undermined! by kno&led%e o$ the conditions that
brin% about the decisions o$ other people.
) kne& an old man &ho had been an o$$icer in the First (orld (ar. 9e told me that one
o$ his problems had been to %et men to &ear their helmets &hen they &ere at risk $rom
enemy $ire. *heir ar%ument &as in terms o$ a bullet "hain% your number on it". )$ a
bullet had your number on it! then there &as no point in takin% precautions! $or it &as
%oin% to kill you. On the other hand! i$ no bullet had your number on it! then you &ere
sa$e $or another day! and did not need to &ear the cumbersome and uncom$ortable
*he ar%ument is sometimes called the "laBy sophism". )$ ) am %oin% to %et cancer! ) am
%oin% to %et it! says the smoker. 0ou cannot aoid your $ate. 8nd i$ determinism is true!
isn7t the $uture $i4ed already! by the inde$inite chain o$ states o$ the &orld already
passedH *hese %ie birth to the $utureG it un$olds ineitably $rom the &omb o$ the past.
8nd i$ the $uture is $i4ed shouldn7t &e "ust resi%n ourseles to our $atesH .oesn7t action
become pointlessH )s it not better to &ithdra&! and perhaps sit in an oran%e sha&l sayin%
"Om" all dayH
*here are many stories remindin% us that &e cannot aoid our $ates. 9ere is a ersion o$
the $amous )slamic parable o$ .eath in SamarkandG
%he disciple of a $ufi of "aghdad was sitting in an inn one day when he heard two figures
talking. 7e reali,ed that one of them was the &ngel of Death.
*I have several calls to make in this city,* said the &ngel to his companion.
%he terrified disciple concealed himself until the two had left. %o escape Death, he hired the
fastest horse he could, and rode day and night to the far distant desert city of $amarkand.
9eanwhile, Death met the disciple0s teacher, and they talked of this and that. *&nd where is your
disciple, so'and'so?* asked Death.
*I suppose he is at home, where he should be, studying,* said the $ufi.
*%hat is surprising,* said Death, *for here he is on my list. &nd I have to collect him tomorrow, in
$amarkand, of all places.*
*he disciple seeks to eade his $ate! but it oertakes him all the same. *he story o$ the
$utile $li%ht resonates &orld&ide. )n Sophocles7 tra%edy Oedipus %ex, :in% ;aius o$
*hebes &as told that his son &ould murder his $ather and marry his mother. (hen he $a'
thers a son! Oedipus! ;aius seeks to aoid his prophesied doom by cripplin% the baby!
and leain% it to die on a hillside. Oedipus is saed by a shepherd and %ro&s up in
3orinth! beliein% himsel$ to be the son o$ the kin% o$ that city. 9e learns rumours o$ his
destiny! and consults the oracle at .elphi! &ho con$irms it. So he $lees in the opposite
direction $rom 3orinth! &here he takes his $ather to be. 8nd thus! at a place in the
&ilderness &here three roads meet! he encounters ;aius. . . *he t&o$old attempts at
th&artin% destiny are e4actly &hat make the doom un$old.
<y $riend7s soldiers thou%ht that takin% precautions &as as pointless as Oedipus7s $li%ht
$rom his doom. But there is a crucial di$$erence. Oedipus is supposed to kno& his $ate!
but seeks to aoid it in any case. On the other hand! the soldiers did not kno& &hether
they &ould die that day or not. *his leaes them open to the proper reply! &hich is that
&hether a bullet has your number on it or not may ery &ell depend on &hether you
choose to &ear a helmet. 8 bullet that &ould other(ise hae had your number on it may
be kept un&ritten'on by this simple precaution. 8nd since you do not kno& &hether any
bullet has your number on it! and you &ould like none to hae it! you had better take the
precaution. .oin% nothin% '' $ailin% to put on a helmet! puttin% on an oran%e sha&l and
sayin% "Om" '' represents a choice. *o hae your choosin% modules set by the laBy
sophism is to be disposed to&ards that kind o$ choice. *he laBy sophism can be
represented as this ar%ument $or a course o$ actionG
The future will be what it will be. Its events are already in time-s womb.
$o, do nothing.
But &hy is it better to be impressed by this ar%ument than by this oneH
The future will be what it will be. Its events are already in time-s womb.
$o, get cracking.
*he $irst mi%ht be a better ar%ument i$ &e kne& that! as eents un$old $rom time7s &omb!
human actions make no di$$erence. )t &ould be as i$ &e &ere &atchin% a %ame! behind
one'&ay %lass &alls! spectatin% eents in &hich &e can neer participate! and &hose
players are dea$ and blind to us. But it is not normally like that. Eents do un$old $rom
time7s &omb! but in #uite predictable se#uences. *he eent o$ someone eatin% an
omelette is al&ays preceded by the eent o$ someone breakin% an e%%. *he eent o$
reachin% the top o$ the mountain is al&ays preceded by the eent o$ startin% out. .oin%
nothin% is inariably $ollo&ed by no omelette! or no summit. (hich eents un$old $rom
time7s &omb depends on &hat &e decide to do '' this is &hat the inside control o$ a
person or a thermostat means. Our choosin% modules are implicated in the process!
unlike those o$ mere spectators.
)s this response to the "laBy sophism" $inal and conclusieH
) think it is! i$ the laBy sophism is taken as an ar%ument $or actin% one &ay or another.
*here is no conceiable reason $or pre$errin% the "do nothin%" conclusion to the "%et
crackin%" conclusion. 1uttin% it another &ay! in this practical sphere! acceptin% one ar%u'
ment is e#uialent to admirin% or desirin% to be someone &hose modules hae a certain
shape. *he shape &ould be achieed by acceptin% this adiceG on thinkin% about the
$uture and the &omb o$ time! do nothin%. But &hy should one admire anyone &ho %en'
uinely $ollo&s that adiceH *hey are simply %ood'$or'nothin%sG people &ho do not make
omelettes and do not reach summits! nor een set out $or them.
But perhaps the line o$ thou%ht bears a di$$erent interpretation. Fatalism is usually
thou%ht o$ as dissol)ing choice rather than recommendin% one kind o$ choice oer
another. )t is supposed to sho& that choice is an illusion.
But &hat! in turn! is that supposed to meanH (e hae already ar%ued that one conception
o$ choice is an illusion. *his &as interentionist choice! or the $ull'scale uncaused
interention o$ the -eal <e into the physical and neurophysiolo%ical order o$ eents. (e
hae retreated into thinkin% o$ the $le4ible choosin% modules that are implicated in our
doin%s. 9o& could thou%hts about the passa%e o$ time sho& that their operations are
unreal or illusoryH )t seems no more plausible than su%%estin% that because o$ the
passa%e o$ time! the operations o$ computers! or thermostats or chainsa&s are illusory.
(hen you don7t kno& &hat &ill happen! and you think eents &ill respond to your
doin%s! you deliberate about &hat to do. (e hae seen that $atalism a$$ords no ar%ument
$or conductin% that deliberation one &ay or another. 8nd it a$$ords no ar%ument that the
process itsel$ is unreal! unless the process is construed in the outside &ay &e hae
considered and re"ected.
But suppose you don7t kno& &hat is %oin% to happen! but it is kno&n! perhaps to 2od. Or
"ustG it is kno&able. (e think! as &e deliberate! that the $uture is open! but the past $i4ed.
But suppose the $uture is as $i4ed as the past is. *hus &e think like thisG
'' &here the arro&s represent open possibilities! spreadin% out $rom no&. But perhaps this
&ay o$ thinkin% is illusory. 1erhaps the truth is only seen $rom a "2od7s eye ie&"! or
&hat has been called the "ie& $rom no&hen". From this perspectie! time is laid out like
a celluloid moie $ilmI a $rame o$ the $ilm corresponds to the eents at any one time.
2ien the &ay the &orld &orks! &e can be a&are only o$ past $rames @sometimes people
think that prophets can 7see7 $uture $ramesA. But there is no metaphysical asymmetry be'
t&een past and $utureG
)$ that7s the truth! &e mi%ht think! surely it is as useless tryin% to in$luence the $uture as it
&ould be to try to in$luence the past. )$ 2od has this ie&! he must be lookin% at our
e$$orts! and lau%hin%. *his is the implication o$ the Su$i story. .eath has already &ritten
his list. 8nd this is &hy my $riend7s soldiers used the metaphor o$ a bullet "hain% a
number on it"! &hich implies "already hain% a number on it" '' re%ardless! that is! o$
&hat &e do.
But &hy is 2od or .eath lau%hin%H Suppose 2od has the timeless ie&. 9e still does not
see omelettes at one date! &ithout people breakin% e%%s at a sli%htly earlier date. 9e
kno&s &hether &e &ill hae an omelette in one $rame o$ the $ilm. But then he also
kno&s &hether &e &ill set about preparin% the omelette in a sli%htly earlier $rame. *here
is no reason $or him to kno& that the $uture &ill be &hat it is &hateer &e do! any more
than he kno&s that the tree &ill blo& do&n &hateer the &ind does. From the timeless
anta%e'point! all that is seen is the &ind! and the destruction. 2od is not, as $ar as this
%oes! like a medical practitioner &ho kno&s that a cancer &ill kill us &hateer &e do.
*hat &ould mean that there &ould be $rames in &hich people behae in a &hole ariety
o$ &ays! but die $rom the cancer anyho&. *he "ie& $rom no&hen"! $rom outside time!
sees our doin%s! and their upshots! but it doesn7t see upshots &ithout doin%s. 2od sees us
eatin% omelettes! because our choosin% modules set us to break e%%s. 8nd he only sees us
eatin% omelettes &hen he sees! in the preious time $rame! us breakin% e%%s.
*he implication o$ the Su$i story is that .eath had the disciple on the list +efore the
disciple decided to $lee. So! it seems! it &ould hae come $or him &hereer he had been
'' in Ba%hdad! or in Samarkand. *his is &hy his $li%ht &as $utile. But perhaps .eath only
had him on his list because o$ his $li%ht '' i$ he ran under a bus! hain% arried in
Samarkand! $or e4ample. -unnin% then brou%ht him to his $ate! but this does not tell us
&hether the disciple behaed reasonably. )$ .eath &as hain% a $ield day in Ba%hdad! $or
instance because there &as a pla%ue there! then the $li%ht mi%ht hae been #uite rational!
althou%h unlucky in the eent. )t could hae been that .eath did not hae him on his list!
"ust because o$ his $li%ht.
(hat about the asymmetry bet&een past and $utureH )$ they are symmetrical in 2od7s
eyes! &hy is it rational to try to chan%e the $utureH 9o& can it be any more rational than
tryin% to chan%e the pastH (ell! as ) hae said! een 2od does not see us settin% about
makin% omelettes! &ith a sli%htly pre)ious eent o$ eatin% one @unless he sees us %reedily
preparin% and deourin% second omelettesA. So in $act! it is useless to try to in$luence the
past. *hat ho&eer leaes open a hu%e and intractable philosophical problem. For is it
"ust a matter o$ $act! a contin%ency that mi%ht hae been other&ise! or mi%ht be
other&ise in di$$erent re%ions o$ space and time! that &e cannot in$luence the pastH )$ it is
only a matter o$ the patterns seen $rom the timeless point o$ ie&! it seems that it should
be. <i%ht the patterns be di$$erent else&hereH
For the moment ) leae this is an e4ercise @an e4tremely di$$icult oneA. But returnin% to
$atalism! the truth! then! is that there is no %eneral philosophical or rational "usti$ication
$or it. )t corresponds to a mood! a state o$ mind in &hich &e $eel out o$ control! and $eel
that &e are indeed "ust spectators o$ our o&n lies. *his is not al(ays un"usti$ied. 1eople
are sometimes lar%ely po&erless! politically! or een psycholo%ically @because &e are not
$le4ible! but are indeed brain&ashed! or in the %rip o$ stran%e obsessions that &e cannot
shakeA. (hen &e are po&erless! $atalism may be a natural $rame o$ mind into &hich to
relapse. )$ our best e$$orts come to nothin% o$ten enou%h! &e need consolation! and
thou%hts o$ un$oldin%! in$inite destiny! or 'arma, are sometimes consolin%.
But not appropriate &hen &e are actin%. (e cannot sa$ely think! &hile driin% a car! that
it makes no di$$erence &hether &e turn the &heel! or hit the brake. Our best e$$orts do
not come to nothin%.
*he ideolo%y o$ mind'body dualism runs ery deep. By an ideolo%y! ) mean not a
speci$ic ar%ument or set o$ ar%uments! but rather a $rame&ork o$ thou%htG a re$erence
point or a %uidin% idea. .ualism is o$ten supposed to make possible $reedom! di%nity!
human e4perience itsel$. )t under&rites the bi% &ordsG the kinds o$ &ords that %et on
banners. )n the last t&o chapters ) hae tried to disconnect these thin%s $rom dualism. But
people $ear the alternatie. 8re &e reducin% people! in all their liin% colour$ul
comple4ity! to drab monochrome machines! conditioned into bein% this &ay or that! or
&orse! passie ehicles $or our sel$ish %enesH 8bsolutely not.
*he problem here is that the alternaties are posed as i$ they e4haust the $ieldG either a
$ree spirit! bliss$ully $loatin% apart $rom the natural order! or a determined machine like a
bus! or een a tram. (e shall meet this $allacy o$ misrepresentin% the alternaties a%ain
in subse#uent chapters. )t is not the philosophy o$ compatibilism that deni%rates human
nature! but this &ay o$ puttin% the alternaties. *his &ay o$ puttin% the matter supposes
that nature is so a&$ul that it takes a ma%ical moment! a diine spark struck $rom the
%host in the machine! to make it sin%. )t is either clock&ork @PombiesA or 2hosts. But
that is the ie& that deni%rates nature! includin% human nature. (e must learn to think
&ith (itt%enstein &hen he &roteG
It is humiliating to have to appear like an empty tube, which is simply inflated by a mind.
*he key &ord to catch hold o$ is "$le4ibility" @remember those in$le4ible! pro%rammed!
Pombies a%ainA. 8nd you cannot tell a priori ho& $le4ible human behaiour is. Our
biolo%y! let us say! %ies us the modules. But then! ho& the modules turn out '' ho& they
are pro%rammed i$ &e like! di$$erently in di$$erent enironments '' is another thin%. By
comparison! biolo%y %ies us the structures! &hateer they may be! &e need to learn
lan%ua%e. (e hae themI no other animal has them to any remotely similar de%ree. But
&hich lan%ua%e &e then learn is not determined by biolo%y! but by enironment! as
in$ants imitate the lan%ua%e o$ their mothers and their kin.
Similarly our a&arenesses! our capacities to think o$ alternaties! our ealuations o$
them! and our eentual behaioural routines might hae been hi%hly in$le4ible. But the
eidence su%%ests that they are the reerse. 1eople can #uite naturally %ro& up carin%
about a &hole ariety o$ thin%s. )t is #uite di$$icult to detect any uniersal pattern at allG
$le4ibility rules. 9uman bein%s can %ro& to make killin% $ields! and they can %ro& to
make %ardens.
*heorists and %urus like to make a patternG people are all sel$ishI people are only
in$luenced by class interestsI people hate their parentsI people can be conditionedI men
are a%%ressieI &omen are %entleI people cannot help themseles! and so on. But this is
not so much a matter o$ follo(ing the eidence! as o$ imposing an interpretation on it.
;ike all stereotypes! such interpretations can be dan%erous! $or people can be caused to
con$orm to them! and o$ten become &orse as a result than they mi%ht hae been
other&ise. *he "ob o$ conceptual en%ineerin%! here! is to supply a clearer outline o$
alternatie structures o$ thou%ht! and there are many.
Cha"ter .our
The !e$f
(E 98VE ;OO:E. 8* consciousness o$ the contents o$ our o&n minds. 8nd &e hae
looked at a%ency and $reedom '' our actiities in the &orld. But &hat about the sel$ itsel$G
the ")" that ) amH (e sa& that .escartes sala%ed this alone out o$ the &recka%e o$
uniersal doubt. ;ichtenber%! &e also sa&! #ueried his ri%ht een to do that. (ho &as
ri%ht and ho& are &e to think about the sel$H
9ere are some actual thin%s &e think about ourselesG
1 4IST :
I was once very small.
$arring accident or bad luck, I will become old.
When I get old, I will probably lose &uite a lot of my memories. I will also change, for
instance in wanting to do different things. %y body will change too.
The organic material of my body except my brain" changes roughly every seven years.
If my body suffered as a result of an accident, for example by losing some parts, I would
have to cope with the result.
No& here are some possible thin%s to think about ourseles. (hen ) say that they are
possible! ) only mean that &e seem to understand them! not necessarily that &e beliee
them. *he possibilities may strike us as #uite outlandish, but that is not at present to the
1 4IST >
I might have been born at another time and place.
I might survive my bodily death, and live another kind of life as a spirit.
I might have been blessed or cursed with a different body.
I might have been blessed or cursed with different mental capacities 11 a different mind.
I might have been blessed or cursed with both a different body and a different mind.
I might be the reincarnation of some historical personage.
I might have to live life again, e.g. as a dog, unless I behave well.
)n $act! there are people &ho beliee! or say that they beliee! such thin%s! and indeed
&hole reli%ions may hold some. 3hristianity holds the second on this list to be actually
true! and 9induism holds the last. 8nd een i$ &e don7t accept any! still! &e seem to
kno& &hat is meant.
*he di$$erence bet&een these t&o lists is this. *he $irst list is compatible &ith a
strai%ht$or&ard ie& o$ &hat ) am. ) am a lar%e! human animal. <y bio%raphy is like that
o$ other animals! be%innin% &ith a natural birth! includin% natural chan%es! and endin%
&ith a natural death. ) am $irmly located and bounded in space and time. ) surie
arious natural chan%es! such as a%ein%. But that is all.
*he second list su%%ests that ) am somethin% much more mysterious! somethin% that is
only contin%ently "$astened to a dyin% animal". 8ccordin% to the possibilities on the
second list! ) am somethin% that can chan%e shape and $orm! body and mind! and that
could e4ist een &ithout a body at all. *he bio%raphy o$ the ")" could span centuries! and
it could span endless chan%es o$ character! rather like an actor.
8s &e sa& in the $irst t&o chapters! .escartes thou%ht &e had a "clear and distinct"
perception that the sel$ &as distinct $rom the body. 8nd the possibilities &e contemplate!
$rom the second list! may seem to support him. )t is as i$ there is somethin% '' my soul! or
sel$! or essence '' that does endure throu%h #uite a lot o$ chan%es @;ist >A and couId
endure throu%h een more remarkable eents @;ist 5A. But &hat then is this sel$H 9ere is
.aid 9ume a%ainG
(or my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some
particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I
never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but
the perception. /hen my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I
insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. &nd were all my perceptions removed by
death, and could I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate, after the dissolution of my
body, I should be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is further re-uisite to make me a
perfect nonentity.
9ume is pointin% out that the sel$ is elusie. )t is uno+ser)a+le. )$ you "look inside your
o&n mind" to try to catch it! you miss because all you stumble upon are &hat he calls
particular perceptions! or e4periences and emotions. 0ou don7t also %et a %limpse o$ the
")" that is the sub"ect o$ these e4periences. 0et &e all think &e kno& ourseles &ith a
#uite peculiar intimacy. 8s &e sa&! .escartes thou%ht that this sel$'kno&led%e suried
een "hyperbolic" doubt. *his nu%%et o$ the sel$ has seemed to many philosophers to
hae another remarkable property. )t is simple. *he sel$ is not composite. 9ere is one o$
9ume7s contemporaries! the "common'sense" Scottish philosopher! *homas -eid @>E>0'
& part of a person is a manifest absurdity. /hen a man loses his estate, his health, his strength,
he is still the same person, and has lost nothing of his personality. If he has a leg or an arm cut
off, he is the same person he was before. %he amputated member is no part of his person,
otherwise it would have a right to part of his estate, and be liable for a part of his engagements. It
would be entitled to a share of his merit and demerit, which is manifestly absurd. & person is
something indivisible. . . 9y thoughts, and actions, and feelings change every moment# they
have no continued, but a successive existence# but that self or I, to which they belong, is
permanent, and has the same relation to all the succeeding thoughts, actions and feelings which
I call mine.
*his simple! endurin% ")" is the thin% &hich 9ume complained he could neer stumble
upon. -eid ban%s the table! and announces its e4istence.
*he simplicity o$ the soul coneniently opens the door to a traditional ar%ument $or its
#ll change and decay is the coming together or falling apart of composite things.
$o, anything that is not composite cannot change and decay.
The soul is not composite.
$o, the soul cannot change or decay.
8s it stands! the $irst premise mi%ht not look all that compellin%. )t &ould re#uire some
kind o$ de$ence. *he idea &ould be that in any natural @physicalA chan%e! &e can detect
somethin% that is conser)ed. )$ you break a biscuit! the matter o$ the biscuit is consered.
)t used to be thou%ht that atoms are consered! so that chemical chan%e &ould be simply
the rearran%ement o$ atoms in a substance. No& &e mi%ht think &e hae to di% deeperG
perhaps it is ener%y that is consered! or sub'atomic particles &hose rearran%ements are
responsible $or chan%es in composite stu$$. )n either eent! it is only the compositions
that chan%e. *he real "stu$$" @$undamental particles! ener%yA "ust keeps on.
)$ you could really de$end the $irst premise as an a priori truth! and i$ you think -eid has
%ien %ood %rounds $or the second premise @the soul is not compositeA! then the
ar%ument looks pretty %ood. O$ course! it is e#ually an ar%ument $or the e4istence o$ my
Sel$ be$ore my natural birth! &hich mi%ht be a bit de$latin%.
<i%ht all these thou%hts be illusionsH Should &e really accept that ;ist 5 %ies us een
bare possibilitiesH Neer mind! $or the moment! &hether these possibilities actually
obtain! as arious belieers hold. ;et us ask instead &hether they are een coherent.
)t is %ood to re$lect ho& stran%e some o$ the belie$s on the second list are. *hey prise the
sel$ a&ay $rom e)erything that seems to %ie it an identity! &hether body! history!
memory! or een mind. .oes this make any senseH *o approach this! let us turn our
attention a&ay $rom ourseles and think about the identity o$ other thin%s. (e can turn
a%ain to +ohn ;ocke! &ho made an interestin% obseration about e%etables or plantsG
%hat being then one plant which has such an organi,ation of parts in one coherent body
partaking of one common life, it continues to be the same plant as long as it partakes of the
same life, though that life be communicated to new particles of matter vitally united to the living
plant, in a like continued organi,ation conformable to that sort of plants.
;ocke points out that &e can hae the same oak tree! $or instance! throu%h a period o$
time! althou%h the constituent "atoms"! or cells or molecules! chan%e. (hat is re#uired is
"partakin% o$ the same li$e"! or in other &ords &hat &e mi%ht think o$ as an
or%aniBational or $unctional unity. )t does not matter &hether the bits remain the same! so
lon% as this unity o$ $unction is maintained. 8nd so lon% as it is! &e talk properly o$ the
same oak tree. So &e hae the same oak tree as a saplin%! and as a mature tree! a$ter
some branches hae dropped o$$! and so on.
;ocke can use this insi%ht to e4plain &hy &e identi$y the same human bein% throu%h the
normal chan%es o$ li$e. "Same man or &oman" is like "same tree" or "same monkey". )t
accommodates %ro&th and chan%e! so lon% as there is continuity o$ $unction! or o$
or%aniBed li$e. So $ar then! so %ood. ;ocke has %ot a %ood hold on &hat enables us to
reidenti$y the same human bein% @thou%ht o$ as a lar%e mammalG &hat you see &hen you
look in a mirrorA or same plant throu%h time. (hy should anythin% chan%e &hen &e
come to the sel$H
)$ &e look at the second list o$ thin%s &ith &hich ) be%an this chapter! &e &ill see that i$
&e con$ine attention to plants and animals! none o$ the thou%hts there %ets a $oothold.
*hey make no sense at all. (e do not think o$ a particular oak tree! "9ey! that tree mi%ht
hae been a maple!" unless this means that &e could hae planted a di$$erent tree! a
maple! &here &e actually planted the oak. But then it &ould hae been a different tree. )t
&ouldn7t hae been that ery oak dressed up! as it &ere! as a maple. Similarly! &e do not
ima%ine trees suriin% or%anic death! so that the ery same tree mi%ht come back! $or
instance! as a da$$odil. So i$ there is nothin% di$$erent to bein% the "same sel$" than bein%
the "same human bein%"! and i$ &e settle the identity o$ human bein%s throu%h time
rather as &e settle the identity o$ animals! then it looks as i$ none o$ the thou%hts on ;ist
5 should make any sense.
*he same oak tree! at t&o di$$erent times! need not be the same a%%re%ate o$ identical
molecules! at the t&o di$$erent times. *he same is true een o$ inor%anic thin%s. 3onsider
the cloud that streams o$$ the summit o$ Eerest. *o the mountaineer the same cloud may
dri$t o$$ the summit $or hours or days. But it is chan%in% its composition eery second! as
the &ind tears &ater molecules throu%h it at a hundred miles an hour. )t is the same cloud
$or all that. (e tolerate di$$erences o$ constitution! at least up to a point. (e think like
this &hen &e think o$ human %roups! such as clubs or teams. (e think o$ ourseles as
supportin% the "same team" year in! year out! althou%h the membership o$ the team @and
possibly its mana%ement! and its %roundA chan%es. *he %lorious history o$ the re%iment
&ould not be nearly so %lorious i$ &e could only identi$y the same re%iment as $ar back
as its present membership. (e also think like this &hen it comes to inanimate thin%s &ith
a $unction. )t is still the same computer! althou%h ) add to its memory! chan%e the screen!
update the system! and so on.
(e are o$ten #uite careless about ho& much chan%e to tolerate &hile still re%ardin% it as
the same "thin%"G &itness the "oke about the )rish a4e &hich has been in the $amily $or
seeral %enerations! althou%h it has had three ne& heads and $ie ne& handles. Some'
times &e %et con$usedG an illustration is the case o$ the "ship o$ *heseus". *heseus %oes
on a lon% oya%e! and in the course o$ it bits o$ his ship need replacin%. )n $act! by the
end! he has tossed oerboard used sails! spars! ri%%in%! planks! and replaced them all.
.oes he come back in the same shipH (e &ould probably say so. But suppose some
entrepreneur %oes round behind him! pickin% up the discarded bits! and reassembles
them. 3an7t the entrepreneur claim to hae the ori%inal shipH But surely &e cannot hae
t&o di$$erent ships each o$ &hich is identical &ith the ori%inalH
!OU&! AN( E&A!TIC BA&&!
So perhaps to make sense o$ the thou%hts in ;ist 5 &e &ould inoke an "immaterial
substance" '' the mysterious! simple! soul o$ <e. )t mi%ht een seem that these thou%hts
are sound enou%h to %ie some kind o$ ar%ument $or 3artesian dualism! it only bein%
&ithin that $rame&ork that they make any sense. But then ;ocke makes an e4tremely
interestin% moe. (e hae seen that plants and animals surie chan%e o$ material
substance. So &hy shouldn7t persons @me! youA surie chan%e o$ soul substanceH
"ut the -uestion is, whether if the same substance, which thinks, be changed, it can be the same
person, or remaining the same, it can be different persons?
&nd to this I answer first, this can be no -uestion at all to those who place thought in a purely
material, animal, constitution, void of an immaterial substance. (or, whether their supposition be
true or no, 0tis plain they conceive personal identity preserved in something else than identity of
substance# as animal identity is preserved in identity of life, and not of substance. &nd therefore
those, who place thinking in an immaterial substance only, before they can come to deal with
these men, must shew why personal identity cannot be preserved in the change of immaterial
substances, or variety of particular immaterial substances, as well as animal identity is preserved
in the change of material substances, or variety of particular bodies.
;ocke7s &onder$ul moe is to point out that een i$ &e are ery &orried by personal
surial throu%h time and chan%e! inokin% "immaterial soul substances" (on1t help.
(hy notH Because "ust as &e count plants throu%h time re%ardless o$ chan%e o$ material
elements! so &e count persons oer time &ithout any re$erence to "immaterial
substances". *here is a nice illustration o$ his point %ien by :ant. )n this #uotation $rom
his masterpiece! the !ritiue of Pure %eason, 0representations" are thin%s like
e4periences or thou%hts '' &hat .escartes &ould hae lumped under "co%itationes" ''
contents o$ the mindG
&n elastic ball which impinges on another similar ball in a straight line communicates to the latter
its whole motion and therefore its whole state 3that is, if we take account only of the positions in
space4. If, then, in analogy with such bodies, we postulate substances such that the one
communicates to the other representations together with the consciousness of them, we can
conceive a whole series of substances of which the first transmits its state together with its
consciousness to the second, the second its own state with that of the preceding substance to
the third, and this in turn the states of all the preceding substances together with its own
consciousness and with their consciousness to another. %he last substance would then be
conscious of all the states of the previously changed substances, as being its own states,
because they would have been transferred to it together with the consciousness of them.
*he point is that &e don7t kno& anythin% about "immaterial substances". 1erhaps our
immaterial substance %ets replaced eery eenin%! like the chan%e o$ disk drie in a
computer that preseres all the so$t&are and $iles.
8ll this is #uite enou%h to put %rae doubts in $ront o$ the ar%ument $or immortality that
&e considered. 8s :ant continuesG
(or we are unable from our own consciousness to determine whether, as souls, we are
permanent or not. $ince we reckon as belonging to our identical self only that of which we are
conscious, we must necessarily judge that we are one and the same throughout the whole time
of which we are conscious. /e cannot, however, claim that this judgment would be valid from the
standpoint of an outside observer. (or since the only permanent appearance which we
encounter in the soul is the representation *I* that accompanies and connects them all, we are
unable to prove that this *I*, a mere thought, may not be in the same state of flux as the other
thoughts which, by means of it, are linked up with one another.
(e can summariBe the ne%atie point by sayin% that nothin% in our inner musin%s about
"mysel$" licenses thinkin% in terms o$ a permanent inner substance! capable o$ suriin%
een the most remarkable chan%es and possibilities. But each o$ ;ocke and :ant has a
more positie point to make.
;ocke says that it is "the same consciousness that makes a man be himsel$ to himsel$" ''
and neither the sub"ect nor third parties lookin% on care &hether that consciousness is
"carried" by endurin% substances! or by a succession o$ di$$erent ones. 9e himsel$ %oes
on to e4pand the emphasis on consciousness by claimin% that a person 8 at a time is the
same person as person B at an earlier time only in so $ar as 8 is conscious o$ B7s
e4periences. )n other &ords! 8 must remember thinkin% &hat B thou%ht and remember
sensin% and $eelin% and actin% as B sensed and $elt and acted.
*he su%%estion has some conse#uences that &e mi%ht #uite like. )t rules out! $or instance!
the possibility that ) am 3leopatra! reincarnated! since ) am not conscious o$ hain% done
or $elt anythin% that 3leopatra may hae done or $elt. *he memory &ipeout destroys
personal identity. Similarly! ) can be sure that ) &ill not lie another li$e as a do%. For no
do% could remember doin% thin%s ) didI i$ it did remember them @but think o$ the neural
comple4ity re#uiredLA it &ould not be a do%! but at best a do%%i$orm human bein%. But
do%s are not do%%i$orm human bein%s.
On the other hand! the su%%estion has some conse#uences &e mi%ht not like so much. )t
means that ) cannot surie complete amnesia! $or instance! since &hateer person
remains a$ter such an eent cannot be me. But it also has problems &ith partial amnesia.
Suppose ) commit a crime! but then! perhaps because o$ the unto&ard rush o$ blood or
adrenalin! retain no memory o$ the time in #uestion. *hen it seems to $ollo& $rom
;ocke7s theory that ) am not the person &ho committed the crime. ) am the same human
bein%! but not the same person. )t seems that the one human bein% is inhabited by
multiple successie personalities! as memories come and %o.
*homas -eid presented a ersion o$ this problem! as the 7brae o$$icer ob"ection7G
$uppose a brave officer to have been flogged when a boy at school for robbing an orchard, to
have taken a standard from the enemy in his first campaign, and to have been made a general in
advanced life# suppose, also, which must be admitted to be possible, that, when he took the
standard he was conscious of his having been flogged at school, and that, when made a general,
he was conscious of his taking the standard, but had absolutely lost the consciousness of his
flogging. %hese things being supposed, it follows, from 9r. 5ocke0s doctrine, that he who was
flogged at school is the same person who took the standard, and that he who took the standard
is the same person who was made a general. /hence it follows, if there be any truth in logic,
that the general is the same person with him who was flogged at school. "ut the general0s
consciousness does not reach so far back as his flogging# therefore, according to 9r. 5ocke0s
doctrine, he is not the person who was flogged. %herefore the general is, and at the same time is
not, the same person with him who was flogged at school.
)n $act! ;ocke himsel$ &as per$ectly a&are o$ this problem. 9is reply is simpleG
"ut yet possibly it will still be objected, suppose I wholly lose the memory of some parts of my
life, beyond a possibility of retrieving them, so that perhaps I shall never be conscious of them
again# yet am I not the same person, that did those actions, had those thoughts, that I once was
conscious of, though I have now forgot them? %o which I answer, that we must here take notice
what the word I is applied to, which in this case is the man only. &nd the same man being
presumed to be the same person, I is easily here supposed to stand also for the same person.
"ut if it be possible for the same man to have distinct incommunicable consciousness at different
times, it is past doubt the same man would at different times make different persons.
8 &ay o$ reconstructin% his point is this. Either "same person" "ust %oes alon% &ith
"same human bein%" or it does not. )$ it does! &e all a%ree that &e hae the one human
bein% $rom in$ancy to death! re%ardless o$ mental capacities. 8nd none o$ the thou%hts on
;ist 5 make any sense. *he reason $or sayin% that "same person" does not %o &ith "same
human bein%"! $or ;ocke! is that &e allo& that i$ one man has "distinct incommunicable
consciousness" then &e hae di$$erent persons! successiely inhabitin% the one body @&e
mi%ht also think o$ multiple personality disordersA. But in that case! it is surprisin%! but
correct! to say that the senile %eneral is not the schoolboy.
;ocke7s reason $or his ie& is! in a &ay! the ery thin% -eid disliked. 9e thou%ht that &e
primarily need a notion o$ the "same person" throu%h time in order to "usti$y claims o$
responsi+ility. 9e thou%ht that personal identity &as a "$orensic" notion! meanin% one
&hose home is in courts o$ la&. (e can see the point o$ his idea by considerin% cases
&here a dodderin% ei%hty'year'old is suddenly char%ed &ith crimes! say! $rom the &ar
some si4ty'$ie years a%o &hen he &as a naie conscripted teena%er. )s this $airH
Suppose he %enuinely retains no memory o$ his crimes. *hen to him! it is as i$ he is bein%
condemned $or deeds done by a completely di$$erent person. 8nd this seems un"ustG i$ the
person has no consciousness! then he cannot "repent" o$ his deeds "ust because they are
not part o$ his o&n sel$'consciousness. *hey cannot &ei%h on his conscience.
;ocke &as a&are! o$ course! that &e do not conduct our o&n courts like that. 8mnesia is
not a alid e4cuse! a$ter all. But he thou%ht this "ust re$lected our suspicions! since it is
too easy to claim amnesia. )n 2od7s eyes! real amnesia really e4cuses. 9e &ould treat the
%enuinely amnesiac ei%hty'year'old as a di$$erent person $rom the one'time &ar criminal.
*his mi%ht sound attractie! but not #uite so %ood in the case o$ the crime committed
because o$ the rush o$ blood to the head! &here &e mi%ht say that it is neither here nor
there that the a%ent has $or%otten it. (e mi%ht &ant to distin%uish de%rees o$ memory
(hat o$ -eid7s char%e that ;ocke7s theory contraenes lo%ic itsel$! inolin% a
contradictionH *he contradiction is called "$ailure o$ transitiity" o$ identity. *ransitiity
is the lo%ical la& that i$ 8 S B and B S 3! then 8 S 3. 9ere the schoolboy S the o$$icer!
and the o$$icer S the %eneral! but $or ;ocke it is not the case that the schoolboy S the
%eneral. *his is &hat -eid calls a contradiction.
*his certainly seems odd! but perhaps the oddity comes $rom abstractin% out "identity"
&hen &hat &e are really talkin% about is "is the same person as". 3onsider a%ain any
composite! such as a bicycle or a ship. Suppose a%e o$ ships matters! $or instance to
&hicheer ta4 bracket they %et into. 1erhaps anti#ue ships oer $i$ty years old are ta4ed
less. (hen is the later ship! then! a %enuine anti#ueH @9ere &e can ima%ine *heseus and
the entrepreneur &ho picked up the ori%inal pieces each tryin% to claim the ta4 break.A )$
these tiresome entrepreneurs became common! &e mi%ht hae to pass a la& sortin% out
&hich is the ori%inal ship. 8 la& mi%ht say somethin% likeG
# ship must be registered every year, and to count as the same ship as on any particular
previous year, a vessel must contain at least ;; per cent of the material making up the ship on
the first day she was registered that previous year.
*hen &e can reproduce -eid7s structureG you can easily eri$y that under this code Argos2
mi%ht be the same ship as Argos3, and Argos3 the same ship as Argos4, but 8r%os2! not the
same ship as Argos4. But the la& itsel$ seems #uite sensible! rather like la&s &hich
speci$y &hat somethin% has to contain to count as butter or to count as corn'$ed. 8nd
surely a sensible la& cannot %ie rise to a contradiction,
(ell! ships are composite thin%s! made up o$ parts! and that seems to be &hat %ies rise
to the problem. So perhaps -eid7s ar%ument that you cannot hae 8 S B! B S 3! but not 8
S 3! only %oes throu%h i$ each o$ 8! B! 3 is simple! not composite. No&! as &e sa&! -eid
himsel$ held that the soul &as simple! but ;ocke did not! so perhaps the ar%ument does
not count a%ainst him.
THE !E&. A! BUN(&E
(e sa& 9ume pointin% out that &hen you re$lect on the contents o$ your o&n mind! you
$ind indiidual memories! thou%hts! passions! e4periences! but no you. 9ume himsel$
thou%ht that i$ you did not @and could notA encounter somethin% in e4perience! then you
had no ri%ht to talk o$ it. 0our mind could not embrace it! or een "touch" it. 9ence!
consistently! he held that the sel$ &as nothin% but an a%%re%ate o$ its "perceptions" or
e4periences! to%ether &ith &hateer connections there are bet&een them. *here &as
content! but no container. *his is sometimes called a "no o&nership" theory o$ the sel$! or
the "bundle" theory o$ the sel$. For 9ume! like ;ichtenber% in the $irst chapter! &e hae
"it thinks"! or rather! "thou%hts %o on". But &e do not hae an o&ner or possessor or ")"
doin% the thinkin%.
*he standard problem &ith this is that it re#uires that &e can make %ood sense o$ the idea
o$ an uno&ned e4perience. But it is ob"ected that this is incoherent. )t treats e4periences
as "ob"ects" or thin%s in their o&n ri%htG the kind o$ thin% that mi%ht $loat around!
uno&ned! &aitin% to be scooped into a bundle &ith some others! like sticks lyin% in a
$orest. But! the ob"ection continues! this is a mistake! $or e4periences are parasitic, or
ad/ecti)al on persons &ho hae them. (hat does this meanH
3onsider a dent in a car. (e can talk about dentsG this dent is &orse than that one! or &ill
be more costly to repair than the dent &e su$$ered last year. But it is lo%ically impossible
that there could e4ist an "uno&ned" dent! a dent &ithout a sur$ace that is dented. .ents
are! as it &ere! the shado&s o$ ad"ecties. )n the be%innin% there is a sur$ace! the sur$ace
is chan%ed by becomin% dented! and then &e abstract out a noun! and talk about the dent.
*he noun "dent" is lo%ically do&n&ind o$ the ad"ectie! "dented". Similarly a %rin is
do&n&ind o$ a $ace that is %rinnin%! &hich is the "oke behind ;e&is 3arroll7s 3heshire
cat! &hich disappeared leain% only its %rin behind.
So the ob"ection to 9ume is that "e4periences" are in the same &ay parasitic on persons.
0ou cannot ima%ine a pain! $or instance! as a "thin%" $loatin% around &aitin% to be cau%ht
up in a bundle o$ other e4periences! so that it mi%ht be accidental &hether it! that ery
same pain! attaches itsel$ to one bundle or another. )n the be%innin% there is the person!
and the onset o$ a pain is "ust the eent o$ a bit o$ the person be%innin% to hurt! "ust as the
onset o$ a dent is a bit o$ a sur$ace becomin% dented.
:ant puts this point by talkin% o$ the ") think" that accompanies all my representations.
)n other &ords! my e4periences come billed as "mine". ) do not $irst become ac#uainted
&ith the e4perience! then look round $or the o&ner! and then @proided! a%ainst 9ume!
that this last search is success$ulA announce that the e4perience is one o$ mine. -ather!
$or me to $eel a pain is in and o$ itsel$ to be a&are that ) am in pain.
But ho& is this possible! i$ 9ume is ri%ht that &e are neer a&are o$ a "sel$"H )t is all
ery &ell comparin% pains to dents! and it is certainly true that &hen ) am a&are o$ a
dent this is only because ) am a&are o$ a dented sur$ace. But at least &e are a&are o$
sur$aces! dented or not. (hereas i$ 9ume is ri%ht &e do not seem to be a&are o$ our soul
or sel$.
1erhaps the &ay $or&ard has to be to deny that the "sel$" is the kind o$ thin% o$ &hich
a&areness is possible. (itt%enstein talks o$ cases &here &e describe ourseles as
sub"ects o$ e4perienceG ") hear the rain" or ") hae a toothache". 9e points out that in this
kind o$ case "there is no #uestion o$ reco%niBin% a person". ")t is as impossible that in
makin% the statement 7) hae a toothache7 ) should hae mistaken another person $or
mysel$! as it is to moan &ith pain by mistake! hain% mistaken someone else $or me."
0ou cannot misidentify the sub"ect as yoursel$. (itt%enstein thinks this %ies rise to an
/e feel then that in the cases in which *I* is used as subject, we don0t use it because we
recogni,e a particular person by his bodily characteristics# and this creates the illusion that we
use this word to refer to something bodiless, which, however, has its seat in our body. In fact this
seems to be the real ego, the one of which it was said, *2ogito ergo sum*. *Is there then no
mind, but only a body?* &nswer! the word *mind* has meaning, i.e., it has a use in our language#
but saying this doesn0t yet say what kind of use we make of it.
(e should try thinkin% o$ sel$'consciousness some other &ay. (hat &ayH
)ma%ine the problem in terms o$ arti$icial intelli%ence. )ma%ine a robot! e#uipped &ith a
ideo camera! and able to motor around a room in &hich arious ob"ects are arran%ed.
Suppose our plan is to %et the robot to delier an output describin% the arran%ement o$
the ob"ects in the room. (hat kind o$ thin% &ould &e need to doH )$ the robot simply
directs its camera at an ob"ect! pi4els $ire up. )t has the kind o$ "inner %lo&" that people
sometimes link to consciousness. But i$ that is all it has! there is only &hat :ant called a
"rhapsody o$ perceptions"! or &hat the pioneerin% 8merican psycholo%ist (illiam +ames
@>DC5'>?>0A later called a "bloomin% buBBin% con$usion". )n other &ords! the robot still
has to or%aniBe its data! in order to interpret the scene. Suppose the screen sho&s a round
shape. )s it near to a small round ob"ect! or $ar a&ay $rom a lar%e round ob"ectH )s it
lookin% slant&ays at an elliptical ob"ectH *o sole these problems the robot mi%ht moe!
and obtain a ne& picture. But it then has to "synthesiBe" the arious pictures to%ether! to
build up a three'dimensional representation o$ the room. (hat abilities &ould be
inoled in this synthesisH 9o& is it to uni$y the di$$erent pictures obtained at di$$erent
*he minimal in%redients &ould seem to be these. )t needs some &ay o$ tellin% &hether it
is itsel$ moin%. )n particular it needs some ability to distin%uish &hether it is moin%!
and %ettin% ne& ie&s o$ stationary ob"ects! or &hether it is still! and the ob"ects around
it are moin%. *o do this! it needs a memory o$ &hat the scene &as like! to compare to
&hat it is no& like. )t needs to be able to represent the order o$ di$$erent appearances!
and then it needs some &ay o$ inte%ratin% the past scenes and the present scene. )n other
&ords! to sole $or the position o$ ob"ects in space! it has to sole $or its o(n point of
)ie( and $or elapsed time durin% &hich it can lo% its o&n moements.
(hat this su%%ests is that a minimal sel$'consciousness is a structural re#uirement on
any kind o$ interpretation o$ e4perience. )$ the pro%rammer can sole this problem $or
the robot! it cannot be by %iin% it "ust another in%redient on the screen @as i$ the camera
al&ays cau%ht a %limpse o$ one o$ its &heels! do&n at the bottom o$ the screenA. *hat
&ould "ust be more "input". )t &ouldn7t be part o$ the pro%rammin% needed to turn input
into a description o$ the room and o$ the robot7s place in it.
)n $act the robot need neer catch any %limpse o$ itsel$. *he camera can be ri%idly
pointed at the scene in $ront o$ it. *his is &hy 9ume &ould hae been no nearer catchin%
himsel$ een i$ &heneer he turned his eye in&ard he cau%ht a continuin% element o$
e4perience! like a back%round drone. (hat the robot does need instead is a &ay o$
trackin% its o&n route throu%h the space! and the time order o$ the appearances it %ets. )t
is a re#uirement o$ the solution that it has an "e%ocentric" point o$ ie&! or in other
&ords presents the space as centred upon "itsel$". 2ien that it can no& interpret a scene
as containin% a table three $eet a&ay! it can also say "the table is three $eet $rom me0 &&
yet it need hae no ac#uaintance &ith its bodily shape! or lon%'term history. 8nd it most
certainly needs no ac#uaintance &ith an internal e%o or immortal soul.
)$ the room is chaotic enou%h! the problem mi%ht become insoluble. For e4ample! i$ &e
unkindly put the robot into a kind o$ :eystone 3ops enironment! in &hich ob"ects come
and %o at random or &ith amaBin% rapidity! then it &ill be stuck &ith an insoluble
problemG "ust random pi4els $irin%! but too little continuity $rom one moment to the ne4t
$or any pro%ram to %et a %rip.
So thinkin% in terms o$ an ")" no& looks like a $ormal or structural re#uirement on
interpretin% e4perience in the &ay &e do '' as e4perience o$ a three'dimensional &orld o$
continuin% ob"ects! amon%st &hich &e moe. *he ")" is the point o$ ie& $rom &hich in'
terpretation starts. )t is not somethin% else %ien in e4perience! because nothin% %ien in
e4perience could sole the $ormal problem $or &hich an ")" is needed. But a point o$
ie& is al&ays neededG to represent a scene to yoursel$ is to represent yoursel$ as e4peri'
encin% it one &ay or another.
*he line o$ thou%ht ) hae "ust introduced is due to )mmanuel :ant. )t is one o$ the %reat
moes in philosophy! e4plodin% in all kinds o$ directions! some o$ &hich &e return to
later. But $or our purposes its present interest is that it su%%ests a dia%nosis o$ the
thou%hts in ;ist 5! at the be%innin% o$ this chapter.
*hese thou%hts arise because ) seem able to ima%ine mysel$ in di$$erent shoes! includin%
the shoes o$ historical characters! do%s! or an%els. 8nd ) then think! ) must hae
transported the mysterious sel$! my ery soul! into the ima%ined scene. 8nd the soul
becomes somethin% ery stran%e! because part o$ my ima%inin% may be to ima%ine
mysel$ at a di$$erent time! &ith a di$$erent body! or di$$erent mental properties! &ith
di$$erent e4periences! and so on. )n other &ords! ) abstract out $rom eerythin% that %ies
me my identity as a human bein%! but still suppose that there is somethin%! the essence o$
<e! le$t. 9ence! .escartes7s "real distinction".
But suppose instead ) am not transportin% anything in my ima%ination. 8ll ) am doin% is
representin% to mysel$ &hat it (ould +e li'e to see the &orld $rom a di$$erent point o$
ie&! at a di$$erent time! or &hateer. )$ there is no essence o$ <e transported to the
di$$erent scenes! then the $act that ) can ima%ine them %ies no eidence that ")" mi%ht
hae e4perienced them! or mi%ht surie to e4perience them. By &ay o$ illustration!
consider the $irst on the listG ) mi%ht surie bodily death. (hat ima%inin%s lie behind
thisH (ell! perhaps ) can ima%ine lookin% at the $uneral! &ith my co$$in! and the $amily
mournin%. 1erhaps ) am skulkin% at the back o$ the church. 1erhaps ) am mi$$ed that the
con%re%ation does not seem all that upset. 1erhaps ) &ould like to tell them that it is not
so bad a$ter all. 1erhaps bein% dead ) hae ,'ray ision! so ) %ie mysel$ a %limpse o$ my
body lyin% inside. 8ll ery sad. 9o& old ) look. But &aitL 9ere are the pearly %ates and
there is %randmother &aitin% to %reet me. . .
)n ima%inin% all this! ) rehearse $or mysel$ the e4perience o$ lookin% at my co$$in and so
on. 8nd this ) can surely doG ) can understand &hat it &ould be like to see it! a$ter all @not
unlike seein% other co$$insA. ) can understand &hat it &ould be like to %limpse inside it ''
a %ruesome si%ht. But! and this is the crucial point! these e4ercises o$ understandin% do
not transport a "me" &ho is doin% the seein%! &hilst the human bein% Simon Blackburn is
dead. )t is ) here and no& &ho am doin% the ima%inin%! but there is no I &ho is bein%
ima%ined doin% the ie&in%. *he only relic o$ me in the scenario is the dead body.
*he point can be put like this. :ant7s line o$ thou%ht su%%ests that there is an e#uialence
bet&een ") can ima%ine seein% ," and ") can ima%ine mysel$ seein% ,". But because this
is a purely $ormal e#uialence there is no substantie sel$! no soul o$ <e! inoled in
either ima%inin%. 9ence! it is &ron% to take such ima%inin%s as supportin% any "real
distinction" bet&een you as sub"ect! as sel$ or soul! and the animal that in $act you are.
So the ima%inin%s o$ , do not support the possibility that your bio%raphy might outrun
the bio%raphy o$ that animal! "ust because , is somethin% that the animal &ill not see.
Similarly! suppose ) do &hat ) mi%ht call "ima%inin% me bein% 2en%his :han". ) picture
riders and battle$ields. ) am short! and cra$ty! and a &onder$ul horseman. 2od! the
steppes are cold. 8ll this politics sometimes %ets me do&n. "8nother helpin% o$ $er'
mented mare7s milk!" ) call. (hoops! ) am supposed to speak <on%olian! and not
9ere it should be more obious that there is no soul o$ <e transported into the 2en%his
$i%ure. )n $act! in so $ar as there is anythin% o$ me le$t in the ima%inin%! such as the lapse
into En%lish! the ima%inin% is a $ailure. )t is e4actly as i$ an actor takes on a historical
character! but brin%s to it anachronisms '' 9enry V))) looks at his &atch or talks about
&hat is on at the cinema.
(hat ) really do is to isualiBe battle$ields! the cold steppes! and so on! as i$ ) &ere
seein% them! and doin% &arrior'like thin%s! like commandin% eents and "umpin% on
horses. ) mi%ht be more or less success$ul at doin% thisG some people are better at
ima%inin% the &orld $rom di$$erent points o$ ie&! "ust as some people are better actors
than others. )$ my 2en%his :han is still speakin% En%lish! ) haen7t %ot ery $ar.
.oes this proe that all the thou%hts on ;ist 5 are illusionsH )t undermines the support
that simple ima%inin%s proide $or them. )$ they hae some other support! &ell and %ood.
But it is healthy to re$lect ho& much the list depends on $irst'person ima%inin%s. )$ ) try
to suppose that you &ere once 2en%his :han! not much seems to happen. 5ou,
slau%hterin% people $rom a horseH /na&are o$ supermarkets! motor cars! and aeroplanesH
5ou &ith a di$$erent %ender! a%e! mind @$or it is ery unlikely that you think as 2en%his
didAH 8ll ) succeed in doin% i$ ) try to think throu%h this possibility is to substitute
thinkin% o$ 2en%his :han $or thinkin% o$ you. )t is like replacin% thinkin% o$ the oak tree
&ith thinkin% o$ a da$$odil! &hich is certainly not thinkin% that the oak tree mi%ht hae
been a da$$odil. ) do not mana%e to think any kind o$ identity.
)n short! ) hae to think o$ you "ust as a lar%e human animal &ith a personality. Other
human animals &ith other personalities are not you! and you could not hae been one o$
them. 9o& much o$ your personality could you lose and still be youH (ell! that may be a
bit like the problem o$ the ships. 1erhaps &e allo& #uite a lot! but eentually &e say
thin%s like "(ell! he7s not the person he used to be". On the ie& su%%ested by ;ocke and
:ant! this may literally be true.
*here is a curious di$$erence bet&een the past and the $uture! &hen &e think o$ our o&n
Suppose &e lied in a &orld in &hich human bodies and brains &ere easier to a%%re%ate
and disa%%re%ate than they are. (e could take them apart and reassemble them as &e can
&ith computers or automobiles. Suppose that these operations are called scramblin%
operations. (e can crank up the psycholo%ies o$ people a%ain a$ter these operations!
rather like copyin% the so$t&are and $iles on a computer. Or! &e can chan%e the
dispositions! by chan%in% the so$t&are or $iles! retainin% some old and addin% some ne&.
Scramblin% operations are re%arded as bene$icial and healthy.
Suppose in such a &orld you &ere told that tomorro& you &ould %o into a scramblin%
operation. 8nd you are %ien a %limpse o$ &ho &ill emer%e. 1erson 8 has a lot o$ your
stu$$ in him! and a lot o$ your #ualitiesG he or she remembers thin%s as you no& do! looks
much as you do! and so on. 8nyho&! person 8 is %oin% to be sent to the 8rctic @perhaps
you are army personnelA. 1erson B is also a %ood match &ith you! a%ain incorporatin%
lots o$ your actual physical stu$$ '' brain and cells '' in him! and hain% a lot o$ your
#ualities @so$t&are and $ilesA. 1erson B is %oin% to the tropics.
From our standpoint this is a bit like the ship o$ *heseus. (e need not make a bi% issue
o$ &hether you become person 8 or you become person B. (e mi%ht $ind ourseles
re%ardin% one o$ the ne& people! or een both o$ them! as you && or &e mi%ht $ind our'
seles re%ardin% them as ne&borns. 8n analo%y used by the contemporary philosopher
.aid ;e&is is &ith a road that splits. (e do not think it is a bi% metaphysical issue
&hether &e say that "ust one branch is the old *urnpike (ay! or &hether both are! or
&hether neither is.
But $rom your standpoint! it mi%ht seem the truth is crucial. Either you &ill spend ne4t
year in the cold! or in the heat! or you &ill not surie at all. *here are "ust three crisp
options. 0ou can7t &rap your mind around a%ueness and indeterminacyG ")t &ill be a bit
as i$ you are in the tropics and a bit as i$ you are in the 8rctic" makes no sense. *here is
nobody at the later time $or &hom there is some kind o$ mi4ture o$ tropic and 8rctic!
heat and cold. 8 is cold! and B is hot. *here is nobody $or &hom it is hal$'and'hal$.
E#ually! ")t &ill be a bit as i$ you don7t e4ist and a bit as i$ you do" is "ust as bad. Either
you &ill be in the one place s&eatin% it out! or in the other place $reeBin%! or you &ill
hae "oined your ancestors. "0ou &ill be there as both o$ them" "ust sounds like cant! as
i$ someone consoled me $or neer hain% seen Venice by sayin% "0ou &ill be there as
your son %oes". Blo& that. @8s (oody 8lien said o$ a similar consolationG ") don7t &ant
to achiee immortality throu%h my &ork. ) &ant to achiee immortality throu%h not
*he #ueer thin% is that &e lose this sense o$ crispness &hen &e think o$ the past. Suppose
in this &orld you learn that you no& are the result o$ a scramblin% operation that
inoled t&o persons! 3 and .! &ho each contributed this and that to the person &ho you
are. *hat is interestin%! but it does not %ie you the same &renchin%! ur%ent need to
kno&. )$ you learn that 3 spent 3hristmas >??0 on a ship and . spent it up a mountain!
but you can7t remember either! you need not obsess oer the #uestion "(here &as I on
3hristmas .ay >??0H" )$ the scramblin% %ae you a%ue a&areness o$ +oth e4periences
that is $ine tooG you are someone $or &hom it is a bit as i$ you climbed a mountain that
day! and a bit as i$ you &ent sailin%. )t is chillin% to realiBe that at the later time there
need be nobody &ho is upset about identity. 1erson 8 in the 8rctic has a partial
continuity &ith you no&! and so does person B in the tropics. Each o$ them can look
back &ith nostal%ia on some o$ your doin%s. 8nd i$ they like they can &ish $or more or
less o$ your parts or your psycholo%ical traits and memories! "ust as &e can look back
&ith nostal%ia on our earlier seles! and &ish to be more or less like them. (e can %riee
oer lost po&ers and memories! or re"oice oer %ained kno&led%e and maturity!
accordin% to taste.
Some people think there are de$inite solutions &hen &e look to the $uture. *hey mi%ht
pin their $aith on their identity suriin% so lon% as the actual brain that they currently
hae suries! in &orkin% order. ;ocke! o$ course! denied this! since continuity o$ a $unc'
tionin% brain by no means %uarantees continuity o$ consciousnessG the brain mi%ht be
"repro%rammed"! or recon$i%ured so that memory and personality all chan%e entirely.
8nd in any eent! &e mi%ht ima%ine that some scramblin% operations pick and choose
&here bits o$ the brain %o. Other people mi%ht pin their $aith on a ;ockean continuity o$
"so$t&are" rather than hard&are. But they $ace the di$$iculty that in a scramblin% &orld
&e mi%ht be able to copy the so$t&are at &ill! creatin% many $uture people &ith identical
"memories" and personality traits.
)n short! there seems to be no metaphysical match bet&een the simplicity &e ima%ine
&hen &e look to the $uture! and the comple4ities and a%ueness that scramblin% can
brin% about.
Some thinkers %et impatient &ith this kind o$ scenario. *hey say that our notions o$
identity are tailored to the real &orld! &here! perhaps $ortunately! "scramblin%"
operations are impossible. *hey say &e should let identity look a$ter itsel$ in these
biBarre! inented cases. <y o&n opinion is that this is &ron%. ) a%ree &ith these thinkers
that &e should lose interest in #uestions o$ identity &hen biBarre possibilities are
introduced. But ) do not think &e should lose interest in this $eature o$ our thinkin% about
ourselesG that the options in $ront o$ us seem to hae a crisp determinate nature
(hate)er the a%uenesses that beset our animal $eatures and parts. ) suspect it is a $eature
that $uels many peoples7 thou%hts about problems o$ li$e and death. )t motiates hopes!
and $aiths. )t motiates some people to %et their brains put into $roBen suspension! in the
hope that one day they &ill un$reeBe and be%in a ne& li$e! &hen technolo%y permits. )t
motiates -eid7s belie$ that the soul is simple. 8 simple soul! that could not be diided! is
"ust &hat is needed to presere the three crisp options. )t %oes one place or another.
1erhaps ho&eer our attachment to the crisp options rests on illusionG the same kind o$
illusion as the ima%inin%s &e considered in the last section. *here &e insisted that no ")"
&as trans$erred into the ima%ined scenarios. 9ere &e &ould hae to insist that no de$inite
")" is to be introduced into these $uture scenarios. Once the $acts about &hich current
liin% human animal is %oin% to be present %o a%ue and indeterminate! then $acts about
(ho no( is %oin% to be present then %o a%ue and indeterminate as &ell. Our propensity
to think other&ise is an illusion. )t mi%ht help to dispel the illusion to remember the
reason &hy 9ume could not $ind his "sel$"! and &hy the :antian e4planation o$ the need
to think in terms o$ a sel$ at all %ies us a purely structural motiation. 8 nu%%et or atom
o$ me! ho&eer simple! cannot do &hat &e need the sel$ $or.
But ) think ) can promise the reader that the idea o$ those three crisp options is ery hard
to suppress. *hinkin% can help! but it is hard $or it to destroy the illusions o$ the sel$.
So the "real distinction" .escartes thou%ht he had proed '' 3artesian dualism '' does not
die easily. *he reader is $ree to try to protect it a%ainst the line o$ thou%ht o$ this chapter
and the precedin% t&o. For &hat it is &orth! :ant himsel$ tried to leae room $or the
immortality o$ the soul. 9is rather $eeble reason is that &e need to suppose that %oodness
brin%s happiness! and since it does not do so al&ays or een reliably in this li$e! there had
better be another li$e in &hich it does. *hen people %et their "ust deserts. <ost
philosophers think that this is not :ant at his best. But the reli%ious dimension certainly
a$$ects the thinkin% o$ many people on this matter. So &e shall turn to look more directly
at that.
Cha"ter .ive
FO- SO<E 1EO1;E! thinkin% about the soul is ne4t door to thinkin% about reli%ion. 8nd
thinkin% about reli%ion is $or them one o$ the most important o$ li$e7s occupations. For
others it is almost a complete &aste o$ time. )n this chapter ) introduce some o$ the ar'
%uments that surround this area. *he ar%uments! at least! are not a &aste o$ time! $or they
introduce important principles o$ thou%ht.
Belie$s are supposed to be true. ") beliee that p0 and ") beliee that it is true that p"
come to the same thin%. 0ou cannot say! ") beliee that $airies e4ist! but ) don7t think it is
true that $airies e4ist." 8nd reli%ious people apparently beliee arious thin%s! &hich
other people do not beliee.
But it is not actually obious that reli%ion is a matter o$ truth! or that reli%ious states o$
mind are to be assessed in terms o$ truth and $alsity. For perhaps reli%ion is not a matter
o$ belie$s! and these states o$ mind are not belie$s. 8cceptin% a reli%ion may be more like
en"oyin% a poem! or $ollo&in% the $ootball. )t mi%ht be a matter o$ immersion in a set o$
practices. 1erhaps the practices hae only an emotional point! or a social point. 1erhaps
reli%ious rituals only sere necessary psycholo%ical and social ends. *he rituals o$ birth!
comin% o$ a%e! or $unerals do this. )t is silly to ask &hether a marria%e ceremony is true
or $alse. 1eople do not %o to a $uneral serice to hear somethin% true! but to mourn! or to
be%in to stop mournin%! or to meditate on departed li$e. )t can be as inappropriate to ask
&hether &hat is said is true as to ask &hether :eats7s ode to a 2recian urn is true. *he
poem is success$ul or not in #uite a di$$erent dimension! and so is 3hartres cathedral! or a
statue o$ the Buddha. *hey may be ma%ni$icent! and moin%! and a&e'inspirin%! but not
because they make statements that are true or $alse.
Some think that this is all there is to it. So i$ someone says "2od e4ists"! it is not like
sayin% "8bominable sno&men e4ist" @&here it is an empirical #uestion &hether they doA
or "1rime numbers bet&een 50 and 30 e4ist" @a mathematical #uestionA. )t is more like
e4pressin% "oy! or e4pressin% $ear @or! more sinister! e4pressin% hatred a%ainst outsiders
or in$idelsA. Because o$ this! &hat is said is immune $rom criticism as true or $alse. 8t
best! &e mi%ht scrutiniBe the states o$ mind inoled! and try to see &hether they are ad'
mirable or not.
But this &ay o$ understandin% reli%ion has not been common. (hile admittin% the
emotional and social side! people hae taken themseles to be makin% de$inite claims
about the &orld '' literally true claims! $or &hich there is ar%ument! and eidence. On
this ie&! reli%ious belie$ is like other belie$G an attempt to depict &hat the &orld is like!
&hat thin%s it contains! and &hat e4plains the eents in it. On this ie&! a $uneral serice
is not true or $alse! but some o$ the thin%s said in it are! such as that &e &ill rise a%ain
$rom the dead. On this ie&! people sincerely sayin% that they &ill be resurrected are not
choosin% a metaphorical! or poetical! or emotionally resonant &ay o$ sayin% somethin%
else! or o$ puttin% a certain colour on the ordinary &orld. *hey are announcin% somethin%
they e4pect! as literally as they mi%ht e4pect to take a "ourney! or e4pect the appearance
o$ a $riend.
)n this chapter! ) shall discuss reli%ious belie$s in terms o$ ar%ument! reason! and
eidence. (e suppose them to be intended as true! and there$ore to ans&er to our best
&ays o$ %ettin% at the truth. )t is only &hen they are taken in this sense that they hae in'
terested most philosophers! althou%h some moral philosophers! notably Friedrich
NietBsche! hae railed a%ainst the moral attitudes and emotions @humility! sel$'
abasement! and compassionA that they think certain reli%ions encoura%e.
*o "ump the %un a little! ) am %oin% to present a $air number o$ reasons a%ainst supposin%
that anythin% reco%niBable as reli%ious belie$ is true. Some readers may $eel threatened
by this. *hey can take some com$ort $rom the tradition in theolo%y that the more unlikely
a belie$ is to be true! the more meritorious is the act o$ $aith re#uired to beliee it. But at
the end o$ the chapter! the restless spirit o$ re$lection &ill cause us to look at that ie& as
&ell. ) start! ho&eer! by considerin% the classical philosophical ar%uments $or the
e4istence o$ 2odG the ontolo%ical ar%ument! the cosmolo%ical ar%ument! the desi%n
ar%ument! and ar%uments $rom reelation and miracles. (e end by thinkin% more about
the nature o$ $aith! belie$! and commitment.
*here is a story o$ a %uru &ho attracted a lar%e audience to a stadium &ith the promise o$
a de$initie proo$ o$ the e4istence o$ 2od. (hen all &ere assembled! he dramatically
reealed the Oxford English Dictionary, and sho&ed that it contained the &ord "2od".
Since the &ord &as there! &ith a de$inition! there had to be somethin% ans&erin% to it. )
do not kno& ho& the audience $elt! or &hether any o$ them mana%ed to re$lect that the
dictionary also mentions Santa 3laus and $airies! althou%h admittedly #uali$yin% them as
mythical or ima%inary. But it is interestin% to think ho& there can be meanin%$ul &ords
&ith nothin% ans&erin% to them.
*he reason is that you can de$ine a concept! but it is #uite another #uestion &hether
anythin% ans&ers to the concept you de$ine. 0ou can de$ine &hat you &ant $rom a
partner! i$ you are minded to adertise in the datin% columnsG
Thoughtful person in search of fun1loving, vegetarian, ban'o1playing soccer fan, must be non1
*his de$ines your dream partner '' let us call him or her .reamboat. But there may
un$ortunately not be any $un'loin%! e%etarian! non'smokin%! ban"o'playin% soccer $ans.
0ou can decide &hat you &ant to put into the description! but the &orld decides &hether
anybody meets it. .reamboat may not e4ist.
*he description is per$ectly intelli%ible. )t de$ines a condition that in principle someone
could meet. )t is "ust that as it happens! nobody does meet it. One &ay o$ puttin% this is to
say that the terms hae a sense, but no reference. 0ou kno& &hat you mean! but you
don7t kno& &hether there is anythin% that ans&ers to it. 0ou cannot ar%ue $rom the sense
to the re$erence! because &hether there is a re$erence is a #uestion o$ ho& the &orld is!
not to be settled in the study! or by consultin% a dictionary.
)t mi%ht irk you to realiBe that there mi%ht be nobody to ans&er to your description. But
you mi%ht hit on a plan to %et round the problem. (hy not add a postscript! speci$yin%
that the dream person should e4istH So no& you adertiseG
Thoughtful person in search of fun1loving, vegetarian, etc. who exists.
8nd no&! you mi%ht think to yoursel$! ) hae soled my problem by de$inition.
(ell! it is certainly true that nobody is %oin% to call you to e4plain that they meet all the
conditions e4cept the last one. But then! anybody &ho called you a$ter the ori%inal
adertisement also e4istedG ") call! there$ore ) am" is "ust as %ood an in$erence as ") think!
there$ore ) am". 8nd your addin% the clause cannot hae altered one "ot the chance o$
someone meetin% the other conditions '' the ones you started &ith. So you hae &asted
your money on the last t&o &ords. 1uttin% "&ho e4ists" is not $urther speci$yin% the
dream partner! and nor is it improin% your chances that he or she in $act e4ists.
1hilosophers sometimes e4press this by sayin% that "e4istence is not a predicate"!
meanin% that addin% "and e4ists" is not like addin% "and likes 2uinness". 0ou are in
char%e o$ senseG you can add &hat you like to the "ob description. But the &orld is in
char%e o$ re$erenceG it says i$ anythin% e4ists meetin% your conditions.
(ith this properly understood! &e can no& turn to the ar%uments. (e hae already met
one ar%ument $or the e4istence o$ 2od! in 3hapter >G .escartes7s "trademark" ar%ument.
)t did not seem all that stron%! and in $act at a later point in his book! Meditation 6!
.escartes supplemented it &ith another. *he second &as a ersion o$ a much older
ar%ument! the ontological ar%ument o$ St 8nselm @>033'>>0?A. 8nselm de$ines 2od as a
bein% "than &hich nothin% %reater can be conceied". 8nd he addresses himsel$ to "the
$ool" @$rom 1salm >CA &ho has said in his heart that there is no 2odG
"ut when this same fool hears me say *something than which nothing greater can be thought*,
he surely understands what he hears, and what he understands exists in his understanding#
even if he does not understand that it exists 3in reality4. . . $o even the fool must admit that
something than which nothing greater can be thought exists at least in his understanding, since
he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood, exists in the understanding.
&nd surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist only in the understanding.
(or if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is
greater. . . )%+herefore, there is no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought
exists both in the understanding and in reality.
*he notable thin% about this ar%ument is that it is purely a priori. )t purports to proe
2od7s e4istence simply $rom considerin% the concept or de$inition o$ 2od. )t is like the
specimen proo$ in mathematics! that deduces $rom the concept o$ a circle that chords
dropped $rom a point to opposite ends o$ a diameter meet at ri%ht an%les. *he ar%ument
re#uires no empirical premises '' no measurin%! or results $rom e4perience. 8nselm7s
ar%ument could be presented in t&o sta%esG
The concept of )od is understood. Whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. So )od
exists in the understanding.
8nd thenG
$uppose )od only exists in the understanding, and not in reality. Then a greater being than )od
can be conceived( one that exists in reality. "ut )od is defined as that than which nothing greater
can be conceived. $o no greater being can be conceived, by definition. $ut now we have a
contradiction. $o our original supposition was false.
*his is an ar%ument $orm ) describe more $ully in the ne4t chapter! called reductio ad
a+surdum. 8nselm has us make the ori%inal atheistic assumption! but only en route to
sho&in% that it is $alse! $or it implies a contradiction.
.escartes7s ersion o$ the ar%ument trades on "per$ection" rather than %reatness! but the
structure is similar. 2od is de$ined as per$ect! but it &ould be an imper$ection in
somethin% &ith 2od7s other #ualities not to e4istG "e4istence is a per$ection". So
e4istence belon%s to 2od7s essence! and 2od cannot be conceied as not e4istin%.
8 monk named 2aunilo attacked the ar%ument in 8nselm7s o&n time. 2aunilo pointed
out that i$ the ar%ument &ere %ood! it could be used to proe all sorts o$ conclusions that
are too %ood to be trueG $or instance! that there e4ists a per$ect island than &hich none
%reater can be conceied. Stayin% &ith .reamboat! &e can &ork it throu%h like this.
Suppose you care$ully added to .reamboat7s speci$ications that he or she must be not
only a %reat loer! but also as %reat a loer as can be ima%ined. *hen you can ar%ue in a
parallel $ashionG
The concept of <reamboat is understood. Whatever is understood, exists in the understanding.
So <reamboat exists in the understanding.
8nd thenG
$uppose <reamboat only exists in the understanding, and not in reality. Then a greater lover
than <reamboat can be conceived( one that exists in reality. "ut <reamboat is defined as that
lover than which no greater can be conceived. $o no greater lover than <reamboat can be
conceived, by definition. $ut now we have a contradiction. $o our original supposition was false.
.reamboat e4ists in reality. (onder$ulL But do not re"oice too #uickly. 0ou mi%ht also
un$ortunately proe by the same means that you hae as dan%erous a rial as can be
ima%ined! $or .reamboat7s a$$ections. *he crucial premise &ill be that real rials are
more dan%erous than merely ima%ined ones '' &hich they surely are. 8nd the ontolo%ical
ar%ument looks set to proe the e4istence o$ the .eil '' de$ined as that than &hich
nothin% &orse can be conceied. For i$ somethin% is to be that than &hich nothin% &orse
can be conceied! it had better not e4ist only in the ima%ination! $or then somethin%
&orse can be conceied! namely a bein% that is that bad but also really e4ists @notice that
e4istence in a deil is an imperfection* it makes him &orseA.
<ost philosophers hae reco%niBed there is somethin% $ishy about the ontolo%ical
ar%ument '' as $ishy as tryin% to make sure that .reamboat e4ists by &ritin% the ri%ht "ob
description. But they hae not al&ays a%reed on "ust &hat the mistake must be. 1art o$
the problem is the moe o$ treatin% "e4istence as a predicate". *hat problem is resoled
by the theory &e meet in the ne4t chapter! called #uanti$ication theory. But it is hard to
be sure that this moe introduces the $atal $la&.
)n my o&n ie&! the crucial problem lies in an ambi%uity lurkin% in the comparison o$
"reality" and "conception". )n the ar%ument! thin%s "in reality" are compared &ith thin%s
"in conception" @i.e. accordin% to a de$inition! or in ima%ination or dreamsA! $or such
properties as %reatness! or per$ection. *his sounds simple! as i$ &e are comparin% thin%s
in t&o di$$erent %eo%raphical re%ions! and &e kno& that those in one re%ion are %reater
or lesser than those in the other. )t &ould be like askin% &hether chickens in 2ermany are
heaier than chickens in France. But in $act it is not at all like that. 3onsider this
6eal turkeys are heavier than imagined turkeys.
*here seems to be a sense in &hich it is true. )n that sense! ima%ined turkeys &ei%h
nothin% @a$ter all! you cannot make een a small meal $rom oneA. But there is also a sense
in &hich it is $alse! because you can ima%ine a turkey heaier than any real one '' a $ie'
hundred'pound turkey the siBe o$ a small barn! $or e4ample. )n the ontolo%ical ar%ument!
"2od" in ima%ination is compared &ith 2od in reality! like the ima%ined turkey
compared to the real turkey! and $ound to &ei%h less. )n the ar%ument aboe! .reamboat
in reality is compared to ima%ined .reamboat! and thou%ht to be betterG $or surely een
#uite mediocre real loers are %reater loers than ima%inary onesL 8nd this is supposed to
contradict the de$inition. But that kind o$ comparison does not in $act sho& anything
contradictin% the de$inition.
)t is as i$ a schoolteacher re#uired you to ima%ine a turkey heaier than any actual turkey.
0ou do soG you ima%ine a $ie'hundred'pound turkey. But the teacher then complains that
since ima%ined turkeys al&ays &ei%h less than real turkeys! you hae $ailed to ima%ine
&hat she asked $or. 0our ima%ined turkey &ei%hs nothin% @you can7t eat itA and so you
hae "contradicted the de$inition" and you %et no marks. 9ere you &ould be ri%ht to $eel
a%%rieed. )t is not you &ho &ent &ron%! but the teacher.
*his su%%ests that &e must not think o$ "ima%ined turkeys" or "turkeys in the
understandin%" as kinds o$ turkey that can! in principle! be &ei%hed a%ainst real ones but
are al&ays $ound to &ei%h less. 0et the ontolo%ical ar%ument re#uires "ust this kind o$
comparison. )t is here that it $ails. For een i$ 2od only e4ists in ima%ination! like
.reamboat or the $ie'hundred'pound turkey! it does not $ollo& that a %reater bein% can
be described or ima%ined. 8$ter all! the description had the superlaties put into it. But
unhappily $or 8nselm7s proo$! that does not settle the #uestion &hether anythin% ans&ers
to it.
*he ontolo%ical ar%ument has al&ays seemed $ishy. St *homas 8#uinas @c. >55F'ECA! the
%reatest medieal theolo%ian and philosopher! did not accept it. 9e pre$erred to ar%ue
that 2od is needed in order to explain the &orld or cosmos as &e apprehend it. *his
ar%ument! the cosmological ar%ument! has a much stron%er appeal to the ima%ination.
*here are arious ersions o$ it. *hey all re#uire identi$yin% a &ay in &hich thin%s in the
physical unierse! thin%s as &e kno& them by touch and si%ht and the other senses! are
dependent +eings. 8nd it is then ar%ued that dependent bein%s eentually presuppose a
bein% that is not itsel$ dependent upon anythin%! as their e4planation. One ersion o$ this!
and perhaps the easiest to understand! is the first cause ar%ument. 9ere is the character
.emea! $rom 9ume7s Dialogues !oncerning $atural %eligion @these Dialogues, $irst
published a year a$ter 9ume7s death in >EE6! are the classic philosophical analysis o$
traditional theolo%ical ar%uments! and ) shall #uote $rom them e4tensiely in &hat
/hatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence, it being absolutely impossible for
any thing to produce itself or be the cause of its own existence. In mounting up, therefore, from
effects to causes, we must either go on in tracing an infinite succession, without any ultimate
cause at all, or must at last have recourse to some ultimate cause, that is necessarily existent!
ow, that the first supposition is absurd, may be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession
of causes and effects, each single effect is determined to exist by the power and efficacy of that
cause which immediately preceded# but the whole eternal chain or succession, taken together, is
not determined or caused by any thing! &nd yet it is evident that it re-uires a cause or reason, as
much as any particular object which begins to exist in time. %he -uestion is still reasonable why
this particular succession of causes existed from eternity, and not any other succession, or no
succession at all. If there be no necessarily existent being, any supposition which can be formed
is e-ually possible# nor is there any more absurdity in nothing0s having existed from eternity, than
there is in that succession of causes which constitutes the universe. /hat was it, then, which
determined something to exist rather than nothing, and bestowed being on a particular
possibility, exclusive of the rest? 3xternal causes, there are supposed to be none. 0hance is a
word without a meaning. /as it nothing8 "ut that can never produce any thing. /e must,
therefore, have recourse to a necessarily existent "eing, who carries the reason of his existence
in himself# and who cannot be supposed not to exist, without an express contradiction. %here is,
conse-uently, such a "eing '' that is, there is a Deity.
*he ar%ument is po&er$ully presented! but is it alidH
-ussell is supposed to hae remarked that the $irst cause ar%ument &as bad! but uni#uely!
a&$ully bad! in that the conclusion not only $ailed to $ollo& $rom the premises! but also
actually contradicted them. 9is idea &as that the ar%ument starts o$$ $rom the premise
"eerythin% has a Mdistinct! preiousN cause"! but ends &ith the conclusion that there must
be somethin% that has no distinct! preious cause! but carries the reason o$ his e4istence
in himsel$. *hen the conclusion denies &hat the premise asserts.
-ussell7s dismissal is a little %lib. For the point o$ the ar%ument! $rom the theolo%ical
perspectie! is that althou%h eerythin% material or physical has a distinct preious cause!
this ery $act dries us to postulate somethin% else! that has none. )n the theolo%ical "ar'
%on! this &ould be a thin% that is "necessary" or "causa sui"G a thin% that is its o&n cause.
8nd since this is not true o$ the ordinary thin%s that surround us! &e need to postulate
somethin% e4traordinary! a .eity! as the bearer o$ this e4traordinary sel$'su$$iciency. )n
9ume7s Dialogues the problem &ith this is #uickly e4posed.
It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily existent being# and this necessity of his existence is
attempted to be explained by asserting, that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should
perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist, as for twice two not to be four. "ut it is evident
that this can never happen, while our faculties remain the same as at present. It will still be
possible for us, at any time, to conceive the non'existence of what we formerly conceived to
exist# nor can the mind ever lie under a necessity of supposing any object to remain always in
being# in the same manner as we lie under a necessity of always conceiving twice two to be four.
%he words, therefore, *necessary existence*, have no meaning# or, which is the same thing, none
that is consistent.
9ume7s spokesman at this point! the character called 3leanthes! %oes on to say that $or all
&e kno&! the material &orld or unierse as a &hole itsel$ mi%ht be the necessarily
e4istent bein%! in spite o$ the &ay in &hich parts o$ it depend upon other parts. For it
must be "unkno&n! inconceiable #ualities" that make anythin% a "necessary e4istent".
8nd $or all &e kno&! such unkno&n inconceiable #ualities may attach to the ordinary
physical unierse! rather to any immaterial thin% or person or deity lyin% behind it.
)t is important to remember here that as $ar as eeryday e4perience %oes! minds are "ust
as much in need o$ e4planation! "ust as much dependent bein%s! as physical ob"ects.
1ostulatin% a mind that is someho& immune $rom dependency on anythin% else &hat'
soeer is "umpin% a&ay $rom e4perience "ust as iolently as postulatin% a physical thin%
that is so.
*he $irst cause ar%ument speaks to &orries that are natural! and indeed accordin% to some
philosophers! notably :ant! ineitable. (hen &e think back to the "bi% ban%" our ne4t
#uestion is &hy that eent! thenH (e are not happy &ith the ans&er "no reason"! because
&e are not happy &ith eents ""ust happenin%"G the drie to e4planation %rips us. So &e
postulate somethin% else! another cause lyin% behind this one. But the drie no&
threatens to %o on $oreer. )$ &e hae cited 2od at this point! &e either hae to ask &hat
caused 2od! or cut o$$ the re%ress by arbitrary $iat. But i$ &e e4ercise an arbitrary ri%ht to
stop the re%ress at that point! &e mi%ht as &ell hae stopped it &ith the physical cosmos.
)n other &ords! &e are in the position o$ the )ndian philosopher! &ho asked &hat the
&orld rested on replied "an elephant"! and asked &hat the elephant rested on! replied "a
tortoise"! and asked &hat the tortoise rested on! be%%ed to chan%e the sub"ect.
*here are ersions o$ the cosmolo%ical ar%ument that are not concerned &ith the $irst
cause! in time. -ather! they consider the on%oin% order o$ the unierseG the uni$ormity o$
nature. )t can seem an amaBin% $act that la&s o$ nature keep on holdin%! that the $rame o$
nature does not $all apart. One can think that these $acts must be "dependent" and re#uire
a necessary sustainin% cause @like 8tlas proppin% up the &orldA. But once more! there is
either a re%ress! or a simple $iat that somethin% has "unkno&n inconceiable properties"
that make it sel$'su$$icient. *his &ould be somethin% &hose on%oin% uni$ormity re#uires
no e4planation outside itsel$. 8nd that mi%ht as &ell be the &orld as a &hole as anythin%
else. But &e return to the uni$ormity o$ nature in the ne4t t&o chapters.
*he same 3leanthes &ho is %ien the "ob o$ re$utin% the cosmolo%ical ar%ument is the
spokesman $or a di$$erent attempt to proe the e4istence o$ a deityG the ar%ument to
design && the ie& that heaen and earth declare the %lory o$ the creator. *his ar%ument
&as the sho&piece o$ ei%hteenth'century theolo%y! and still e4erts a po&er$ul in$luence. )
shall $ollo& the classic discussion %ien in 9ume7s Dialogues. 3leanthes presents the
5ook round the world! 2ontemplate the whole and every part of it! ?ou will find it to be nothing
but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit
of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. &ll
these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an
accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. %he curious
adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds,
the productions of human contrivance# of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence.
$ince, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy,
that the causes also resemble# and that the &uthor of ature is somewhat similar to the mind of
man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which
he has executed. "y this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once
the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind and intelligence.
*here are t&o important points about this ar%ument. First! it is an ar%ument by analogy.
*he &orld resembles the ob"ects o$ human desi%n. *here$ore! "ust as it &ould be
reasonable! comin% across a &atch! to postulate a human desi%ner! so it is reasonable!
comin% across the entire $rame o$ nature! to postulate a %odly desi%ner. Second! the
ar%ument is "a posteriori". *hat is! it ar%ues $rom e4perience! or $rom &hat &e kno& o$
the &orld as &e $ind it. )t is here that the eidence $or desi%n shines out.
8$ter .ar&inism had be%un to o$$er a natural e4planation o$ the &ay in &hich comple4
biolo%ical systems become ad"usted to one another! the ar%ument be%an to lose some o$
its lustre. But in $act 9ume @and :antA makes the ri%ht points &ithout relyin% on any
alternatie e4planation o$ such thin%s as biolo%ical adaptation. 8nd that is "ust as &ell!
$or the ar%ument is not essentially about biolo%y! &hich %ie us "ust one kind o$ instance
o$ the ad"ustments o$ nature. 3osmolo%y a$$ords others. @For instance! on one current
authoritatie estimate! the chances o$ the arious cosmolo%ical constants bein% ad"usted
so that or%aniBed li$e became possible any&here in the unierse! are > in >0 to the >0
an unima%inable number '' a%ainst. So perhaps it took a &ise architect to ad"ust them.A
So ho& does 9ume! in the persona o$ 1hilo! his spokesman in the Dialogues, attempt to
rebut the ar%ument to a desi%nerH 1hilo points out that the ar%ument takes one o$ the
operations &e encounter in nature! the operation o$ thou%ht! as a "rule $or the &hole".
"ut, allowing that we were to take the operations of one part of nature upon another for the
foundation of our judgment concerning the origin of the whole 3which never can be admitted4, yet
why select so minute, so weak, so bounded a principle as the reason and design of animals is
found to be upon this planet? /hat peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we
call *thought*, that we must thus make it the model of the whole universe? 1ur partiality in our
own favour does indeed present it on all occasions# but sound philosophy ought carefully to
guard against so natural an illusion.
8r%ument by analo%y re#uires certain conditions in order to be reliable. First! the bases
$or the analo%y should be e4tremely similar. Second! &e should hae e4perience
coerin% the likely e4planations. *hat is! &e should kno& as much as possible about the
kind o$ cause that produces this kind o$ e$$ect. For e4ample! a hole in a tree is #uite
similar to a hole in a human body. But to suppose "by analo%y" that since the human is
apt to die $rom the one! the tree is apt to die $rom the other! is to stretch our reasonin%s
too $ar. (e need more obseration! more re$ined understandin% o$ the &ay thin%s $all out
be$ore &e &ould be &ise to make any such in$erence. )t is this second kind o$ e4perience
that is sadly lackin% in theolo%y! $or &e hae no inklin% o$ the kinds o$ "thin%" that cause
entire physical unierses to come into e4istence.
Furthermore! resemblances are #uite easy to come by! and 1hilo has a %reat deal o$ $un
inentin% them. First! een i$ the unierse resembles a clock! still more it resembles a
%he world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable, than it does a watch or a knitting'
loom. Its cause, therefore, it is more probable, resembles the cause of the former. %he cause of
the former is generation or vegetation. %he cause, therefore, of the world, we may infer to be
something similar or analogous to generation or vegetation.
O$ course! a theist is %oin% to ur%e that this %ets us no&here! $or it &ould only take us
back to another e%etable'like cause! &hose ori%in &e &ould then ask about. But the
same is true i$ &e are taken back to somethin% resemblin% a mind. )$ 3leanthes!
de$endin% the ar%ument! stops the re%ress there! he cannot blame 1hilo! opposin% the
ar%ument! $or stoppin% the re%ress &ith a e%etable. 8s 1hilo saysG
If I rest my system of cosmogony on the former, preferably to the latter, it is at my choice. %he
matter seems entirely arbitrary. &nd when 2leanthes asks me what is the cause of my great
vegetative or generative faculty, I am e-ually entitled to ask him the cause of his great reasoning
principle. %hese -uestions we have agreed to forbear on both sides# and it is chiefly his interest
on the present occasion to stick to this agreement. ;udging by our limited and imperfect
experience, generation has some privileges above reason! for we see every day the latter arise
from the former, never the former from the latter.
*his $inal point is #uite deastatin%. 3leanthes prides himsel$ on the "scienti$ic" nature o$
his reasonin%G an ar%ument by analo%y! $rom e4perience. But then e4perience sho&s us
ho& $ra%ile! and dependent upon other thin%s! the e4istence o$ intelli%ence is. )n our
e4perience minds re#uire brains &hich are $ra%ile! dependent! late! and unusual arrials
in nature. "2eneration"! that is! animal or e%etable %ro&th $rom preious animal or
e%etable li$e! is by contrast common! and as $ar as &e eer obsere! necessary $or the
e4istence o$ intelli%ence. So! ar%uin% $rom e4perience! it is much less likely that there is
a sel$'sustainin% mind than some other physical cause responsible $or the &hole sho&.
Since 1hilo7s point here seems unans&erable! it is %ood to speculate a little about the
allure o$ the ar%ument to desi%n. (hy do not people appreciate 1hilo7s counterH ) suspect
the root cause is the same as that responsible $or some o$ the problems o$ $ree &ill. (e
think that it is more satis$actory to halt the re%ress &ith "intelli%ence" rather than
"%eneration"! because &e think that in our o&n e4perience &e hae an e4ample o$ an
uncaused mental eent! say! my decidin% to initiate an action! %iin% rise to a physical
eent. So &e take that as a model $or the arbitrary creation o$ a unierse by an intelli%ent
deity. (hile &e think like this &e $or%et Schopenhauer7s point @see 3hapter 3AG
sometimes &hen &e act &e are not conscious o$ causation! but it does not $ollo&! and is
not true! that &e are conscious o$ the absence o$ causation. *his interaction bet&een the
desi%n ar%ument and the interentionist conception o$ $ree &ill has an interestin% moral
aspect. 8r%uably! the t&o ima%es o$ 2od as supernatural! and o$ our "seles" as e#ually
outside nature! $eed o$$ each other. 8nd each leads people to deny the soerei%nty o$
nature. )t leads people to see the &orld as somethin% that "&e" hae dominion oer! "ust
as 2od does. (hereas the truth is that the &orld is somethin% o$ &hich &e are a ery!
ery small part.
) said that resemblances are cheap! and 1hilo has a $ield day &ith another kind. Suppose
&e &aied all these ob"ections! and allo&ed 3leanthes a "desi%ner". (hat thenH .esi%ns
are sometimes the product o$ one mind. But more o$ten! and in the case o$ ery %reat
desi%ns! like ships! they are the product o$ many minds actin% to%ether. Some are the
product o$ better desi%ners than othersG
In a word, 2leanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able, perhaps, to assert or
conjecture that the universe sometime arose from something like design! "ut beyond that posi'
tion he cannot ascertain one single circumstance, and is left afterwards to fix every point of his
theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. %his world, for aught he knows, is very
faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard# and was only the first rude essay of some
infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance! It is the work only
of some dependent, inferior deity# and is the object of derision to his superiors! It is the
production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity# and ever since his death, has
run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. . . &nd I
cannot, for my part, think that so wild and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect,
preferable to none at all.
8nd this takes us ineitably toG
<ost systems o$ reli%ion &ant more $rom their %ods than the ery abstract #ualities o$
"necessary e4istence". *hey &ant loe and concern. 8 %od that created the &orld and
then &alked o$$ the site leain% it to its o&n deices is not a $it ob"ect o$ &orship! nor a
source o$ moral authority. So the traditional attributes o$ 2od include moral per$ection.
2od is to be all'po&er$ul! o$ course! all'kno&in%! but also all'carin%. But then there
arises the classic ar%ument a%ainst the e4istence o$ 2odG the problem that! in the &orld
that he @or she! or theyA created! this care seems sadly lackin%. 8s 1hilo saysG
7is power, we allow, is infinite# whatever he wills is executed! "ut neither man nor any other
animal is happy# therefore, he does not will their happiness. 7is wisdom is infinite# he is never
mistaken in choosing the means to any end# "ut the course of ature tends not to human or
animal felicity! %herefore, it is not established for that purpose. %hrough the whole compass of
human knowledge there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect,
then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?
.picurus0 old -uestions are yet unanswered.
Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is
he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?
3leanthes7 problem is that the &orld as &e hae it is at best mi4ed! in terms o$ the
happiness o$ its creatures. ;i$e is tou%h! and $or many it is short! brutal! $illed &ith &ant
and pain. *he &ell'bein% o$ many creatures depends on the disease and death o$ others.
But it is absurd to ar%ue $rom a mi4ed creation to a per$ect creator. Een a moderately
%ood parent does not &il$ully choose to put his or her children into a brutal enironment
i$ at no cost they could choose a better one. *he ery analo%ies that 3leanthes priBes
speak a%ainst him here.
Suppose you $ound yoursel$ at school or uniersity in a dormitory. *hin%s are not too
%ood. *he roo$ leaks! there are rats about! the $ood is almost inedible! some students in
$act stare to death. *here is a closed door! behind &hich is the mana%ement! but the
mana%ement neer comes out. 0ou %et to speculate &hat the mana%ement must be like.
3an you in$er $rom the dormitory as you $ind it that the mana%ement! $irst! kno&s
e4actly &hat conditions are like! second! cares intensely $or your &el$are! and third! pos'
sesses unlimited resources $or $i4in% thin%sH *he in$erence is craBy. 0ou &ould be almost
certain to in$er that either the mana%ement doesn7t kno&! doesn7t care! or cannot do
anythin% about it. Nor does it make thin%s any better i$ occasionally you come across a
student &ho declaims that he has become priy to the mind o$ the mana%ement! and is
assured that the mana%ement indeed kno&s! cares! and has resources and ability to do
&hat it &ants. *he oer&helmin% in$erence is not that the mana%ement is like that! but
that this student is deluded. 1erhaps his ery depriations hae deluded him. Nobody
eer in$erred $rom the multiple in$irmities o$ (indo&s that Bill 2ates &as in$initely
beneolent! omniscient! and able to $i4 eerythin%.
Similar remarks apply to the belie$ that this &orld is a "ale o$ tears"! &hich is a kind o$
proin% %round $or that &hich is to come. *he inhabitants o$ my dormitory mi%ht beliee
thisG the mana%ement is lookin% to see ho& they behae in order to sort them into better
or &orse '' indeed! per$ect or hellish '' dormitories ne4t year. *his mi%ht at a stretch be
true. But they hae no shado& o$ a reason to beliee that it is true! based on &hat they
hae %ot. 8ll they hae to %o on is &hat they see o$ the mana%ement. 8nd i$ he! she! they!
or it does not establish %ood conditions here! &hy suppose that they do so any&here elseH
)t &ould be like supposin% that since it is &arm here! there must be a dormitory
some&here else &here it is per$ectly hot! and another &here it is per$ectly cold. *he
in$erence is craBy.
3leanthes is especially ulnerable to this! because he attempted a reasonable in$erence!
based on analo%y! $rom the &ay o$ the &orld to the nature o$ the creator. But een puttin%
aside the other di$$iculties &ith the desi%n ar%ument! $rom a mi4ed and spotty &orld he is
bound to be le$t &ith at best a mi4ed and spotty creator. OrG
%he true conclusion is that the original source of all things. . . has no more regard to good above
ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy.
.emea '' the character &ho sympathiBed &ith the ontolo%ical and cosmolo%ical
ar%ument '' has a di$$erent problem. 9e is not attemptin% to reason $rom the &ay o$ the
&orld to his deity! so he is not ulnerable in the same &ay at this point. *he di$$erence is
that since 3leanthes is ar%uin% $rom the &orld as &e hae it! to the nature o$ 2od! he
needs to sho& that the &orld is (hat you (ould expect $rom the assumption o$ an all'
kno&in%! all'po&er$ul! all'carin% 2od. 9e needs that the &orld fits the idea o$ such a
bein%. .emea can admit it is not #uite &hat you &ould hae e4pected! but claims only
that it is compati+le &ith his deity. )t does not refute the idea o$ such a bein%.
Still! he has to $ace "Epicurus7 old #uestions". *he strate%y he $ollo&s has become eer
more popular in the succeedin% centuries. )t is to take re$u%e in the mysterious and
incomprehensible nature o$ the diine mind. .emea is opposed to impious attempts to
understand 2od7s %oodness on the model o$ human %oodness! or 2od7s intentions or
perceptions or understandin% on the model o$ human intentions or perceptions or
*he problem then becomes one o$ e4plainin% ho& it should hae any conse#uences
&hether &e beliee in an incomprehensible 2od. 8s (itt%enstein &as to say later! in a
di$$erent connectionG
a nothing will serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said.
Een 9ume! the "%reat in$idel"! is #uite happy &ith leain% mysteries. 8t the end o$ the
Dialogues, 1hilo! the sceptic! is per$ectly prepared to allo& oneG
If the whole of atural %heology, as some people seem to maintain, resolves itself into one
simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at least undefined, proposition, That the cause or causes
of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence( If this
proposition be not capable of extension, variation, or more particular explication! If it affords no
inference that affects human life, or can be the source of any action or forbearance! &nd if the
analogy, imperfect as it is, can be carried no further than to the human intelligence, and cannot
be transferred, with any appearance of probability, to the other -ualities of the mind! If this really
be the case, what can the most in-uisitive, contemplative, and religious man do more than give a
plain, philosophical assent to the proposition, as often as it occurs, and believe that the
arguments on which it is established exceed the objections which lie against it? $ome
astonishment, indeed, will naturally arise from the greatness of the object! $ome melancholy
from its obscurity! $ome contempt of human reason that it can give no solution more satisfactory
with regard to so extraordinary and magnificent a -uestion.
.emea7s problem is %oin% to be that hain% %ot himsel$ to an utterly mysterious deity! he
cannot reap any conse#uences. 0ou can check into the <ysterious <ist! i$ you so &ish!
but you cannot check out carryin% any more than you took in &ith you. -eli%ious belie$!
reduced to its respectable core! turns out to be completely inert. )t has no conse#uences.
*his is surprisin% to people '' so surprisin% that many commentators hae puBBled at
len%th oer &hether 9ume &as really a theist or an atheist. <any people think that the
di$$erence bet&een bein% a theist! beliein%! and an atheist! unbeliein%! is incredibly
important. But i$ nothin% does as &ell as somethin% about &hich nothin% can be said! it
anishes. )$ all &e can reasonably beliee is that the cause o$ the unierse probably bears
some remote inconceiable analo%y to the other operations o$ nature! then &e are %ien
no usa+le comprehension! no real understandin%! that &e can brin% back $rom these
misty re%ions. (e mi%ht say! $ollo&in% (itt%enstein7s remark! that 9ume here
"deconstructs" the apparent di$$erence bet&een theism and atheism.
)n particular! i$ "2od7s %oodness" is not to be understood in the same terms as &hat &e
think o$ as %ood @so that! $or instance! it mi%ht be "%ood" o$ 2od in this di$$erent sense to
unleash bubonic pla%ue on de$enceless in$antsA then it has no implications $or ho& ) am
to lie my li$e. )t %ies me no &ay o$ decidin% &hether to pre$er pleasure to pain! or
turnin% the other cheek to takin% an eye $or an eye! any more than it tells me to pre$er
heat to cold. But reli%ion is supposed to do these thin%s. )t is important! because people
take it to make a di$$erence to ho& &e act. 0et no& &e $ind that i$ &e $ollo& the
traditional ran%e o$ ar%uments! it makes no di$$erence &hatsoeer.
*heodicy is the branch o$ theolo%y that attempts to cope &ith the problem o$ eil. One
moe is to point out that some alues seem to presuppose pains. (e can cheer up people
in the mi4ed and spotty dormitory! by e4tollin% the irtues o$ patience or $ortitude ''
%oods that re#uire depriation and di$$iculty to $lourish. *he di$$iculty &ith this is that
&e ourseles think that thin%s are %oin% better &hen the situations re#uirin% those irtues
lose some o$ their ed%e. *he imper$ections o$ (indo&s hae no doubt led to irtues o$
patience or $ortitude! but een <icroso$t hae neer used that to de$end the per$ection o$
the product! and indeed that is &hy they continue to try to improe it.
8%ain! people sometimes de$end belie$ in a %enuinely %ood deity! %ood in a sense &e can
understand! a%ainst the problem by &hat is kno&n as the "$ree &ill de$ence". *he idea is
that 2od created a %ood unierse! and out o$ his %oodness created us &ith $ree &ill. But
by misusin% the $reedom thus %ranted! &e ourseles brou%ht eil into an other&ise
per$ect &orld. *he myth o$ the Fall and the e4pulsion $rom the 2arden o$ Eden embody
the idea.
*here are many ob"ections to this de$ence. First! it seems to depend upon a conception o$
$ree &ill that seems to be incoherentG the interentionist conception accordin% to &hich
somethin% that is not part o$ the natural order @the -eal <eA occasionally inter$eres in the
natural order. For &ithout this! i$ $ree &ill is understood in a compatibilist &ay! my
decision'makin% is done &ith a natural endo&ment &hich is ultimately! $or the theist! due
to 2od. )$ 2od had not &anted Stalin to slau%hter millions! he should not hae created
the nature that eentually %ae rise to the decision'makin% modules o$ such a person.
Second! it is "ust not true that all! or een many! o$ the ills that a$$lict human bein%s are
due to human decisions at all. *hey are due to disease! pain! &ant! and accident. *hey
a$$lict the animal creation as &ell as human bein%s! and did so lon% be$ore there &ere
human bein%s.
*hird! een i$ the metaphysics o$ $ree &ill &ere accepted! a %ood 2od mi%ht be e4pected
to protect some o$ the &eaker $rom the misuses o$ $ree &ill o$ the stron%er. 8 parent
mi%ht reco%niBe the alue o$ lettin% children make their o&n choices! and %ie them
some liberty. But i$ some o$ the older children sho& alarmin% tendencies to murder and
mutilate the youn%er! the parent &ould be &ise to put them under superision! or to
protect the youn%er by diertin% the older $rom their plans. /nhappily! 2od does not do
this in the &orld as &e hae it. *here are no natural playpens! in &hich the &eak are
se%re%ated $rom the stron%. (e hae to try to create our o&n sa$e areas.
<y o&n ie& about this is that reli%ious traditions are at their best &hen they back a&ay
$rom the classical irtues o$ 2od. 2od is eleated in some traditions to bein% aboe %ood
and irtue! or in 9ume7s do&n'to'earth phrase! has no more re%ard to %ood aboe ill than
heat aboe cold. )n other traditions! he is by no means omnipotent! but sub"ect to $orces
not o$ his o&n makin%. Each o$ these at least a$$ords some kind o$ theodicy. But i$ &e
really &ere concerned to puBBle out the nature o$ 2od7s mind $rom the nature o$ his
creation! &e mi%ht look seriously at the idea that he @she! they! itA is a 2od &ith a t&isted
sense o$ humour. 8$ter all! as the +e&ish "oke %oes! he led the chosen people round the
desert $or $orty years "ust to drop them on the only part o$ the <iddle East that has no oil.
1erhaps the core ar%uments &e hae looked at $ail. But many people suppose that
reli%ious $aith is &ell supported by the occurrence o$ miraculous eents. 8 prophet may
establish diine credentials by $oreseein% the $uture! or by miraculous healin%! or
appearance a$ter death! or other such si%ns.
<ost o$ us are not directly priile%ed to see such eents. -ather! &e take our belie$ $rom
other reports o$ themG testimony. (e read o$ them in the Bible! or the :oran! or the 7i)es
of the 8aints, or een the $ational Enuirer. (e don7t personally &atch! $or instance! an
amputated limb %ro&in% back to normal! but &e may hae heard that some&here oer
the hills there is an absolutely unshakeable con$irmed si%htin% o$ such a thin%. 1eople
may not personally hae been abducted by aliens! but they may beliee &holeheartedly
other people &ho tell them that they hae! or that their brothers or cousins hae. Een i$
&e hae not recently si%hted the lon%'buried Elis! &e may read and beliee that some
people hae.
9ume asked the tellin% #uestionG &hen is it reasonable to beliee such testimonyH
Suppose &e leae on one side the "miraculous" element '' the #uestion o$ &hether any
such eent is due to inisible po&ers! or diine interention. Still! any candidate $or a
miracle has to be not only surprisin%! but totally surprisin%! the kind o$ thin% that! in the
normal course o$ eents! "ust neer happens @&e are not talkin% here about the sense in
&hich the &hole creation is miraculous! since that &ould take us back to the
cosmolo%ical ar%umentA. *o establish diine credentials! it is not enou%h $or someone to
be the hero o$ unusual eents. 9e needs really incredible eentsG people eleatin%
themseles in the air! lead $loatin%! &ater turnin% into &ine! the dead comin% back to li$e.
*he challen%e to the putatie miracle'&orker isG %o on! amaBe me. So &hen is it
reasonable to beliee testimony $or such outlandish! totally out'o$'the'ordinary eentsH
9ume be%ins by makin% a strai%ht$or&ard enou%h claim about human sayin%s. )t is! &e
beliee! a $act that they are mostly true. 9ume claims that i$ &e in$er $rom a premise o$
the kind "*his person is tellin% me that p" to a conclusion "So! p is probably true"! &e are
doin% the same kind o$ thin% as i$ &e in$er $rom one eent! say "*he baseball is $lyin%
into the &indo&"! to another! "*he &indo& &ill break." *hese in$erences are empirical @a
posterioriA and are $ounded on the &ay &e e4perience the &orld to behae. *he truth'
$ulness o$ human testimony is a matter o$ $act! and $ounded on e4perience. 8nd &hen
thin%s %o &ron%! &e do not in $act rely on it. *here can be a "contrariety o$ eidence"! or
in other &ords! some thin%s pointin% one &ay! and others a di$$erent &ayG
%his contrariety of evidence, in the present case, may be derived from several different causes#
from the opposition of contrary testimony# from the character or number of the witnesses# from
the manner of their delivering their testimony# or from the union of all these circumstances. /e
entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact, when the witnesses contradict each other#
when they are but few, or of a doubtful character# when they have an interest in what they affirm#
when they deliver their testimony with hesitation, or on the contrary, with too violent
asseverations. %here are many other particulars of the same kind, which may diminish or destroy
the force of any argument, derived from human testimony.
)n other &ords! e4perience itsel$ sho&s us &hen not to be too %ullible. But no& suppose
that &hat is testi$ied to is absolutely amaBin%! approachin% the miraculous. *henG
%he very same principle of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance in the
testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in this case, another degree of assurance against the fact,
which they endeavour to establish# from which contradiction there necessarily arises a
counterpoise, and mutual destruction of belief and authority.
Be$ore pausin% to analyse the line o$ thou%ht! &e should see &here it leads. 9ume dra&s
a $amous conclusionG
%he plain conse-uence is 3and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention4, *%hat no testimony
is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood
would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish# and even in that case
there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable
to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.* /hen any one tells me, that
he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more
probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates,
should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other# and according to the
superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If
the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates# then,
and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.
*he ar%ument can be analysed in a number o$ &ays. )t can use$ully be thou%ht o$ like
Suppose somebody tells me o$ a hi%hly surprisin% or improbable eent! m. )n $act! let m
be an eent about as improbable as you can ima%ine. So my eidence $or m is that "this
person is sayin% that m happened". ) no& hae a choice bet&een t&o ie&s o$ the matterG
@aA *his person is sayin% that m happened. But m did not.
@bA *his person is sayin% that m happened. 8nd m did.
No& each o$ @aA and @bA contains one surprisin% element. Vie& @aA contains the surpriseG
this person spoke $alsely. Vie& @bA contains the surprise o$ m occurrin%. So ) hae to
balance &hich is more surprisin% or improbable! and then re"ect "the %reater miracle".
*he problem! as 9ume %lee$ully points out! is that it is #uite common $or testimony to be
$alse. *here are the obious cases o$ deliberate lies. *here are cases o$ delusions. *here
are notorious lapses o$ memory. (here there is a transmission o$ in$ormation! errors %et
introducedG mistranslations! misunderstandin%s! people takin% thin%s intended
metaphorically $or literal truth! and so on. So @aA does not inole the same kind o$
improbability as @bA.Vie& @bA inoles the miracleG an eent about as improbable as can
be ima%ined. Vie& @aA only inoles the kind o$ thin% that &e kno& happens anyho&G
people %et thin%s &ron%. *here$ore the hurdle that "no testimony is su$$icient to establish
a miracle! unless the testimony be o$ such a kind! that its $alsehood &ould be more
miraculous! than the $act! &hich it endeaours to establish" is an incredibly di$$icult
hurdle $or any piece o$ testimony to cross. 8nd een then! all &e are le$t &ith is a kind o$
con$usionG not kno&in% &hat to beliee! so that the &ise course is to suspend "ud%ement.
)n $act! 9ume %oes on to ar%ue that no eidence bein% used to establish a system o$
reli%ion eer comes at all close to crossin% the hurdle. 9e makes a number o$ pointsG
reports o$ miracles tend to come $rom remote and barbarous times and placesI $rom
persons &hose passions are in$lamedI $rom persons &ho hae an interest in sellin% a
%he wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favours the passion of the reporter#
whether it magnifies his country, his family, or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his
natural inclinations and propensities. "ut what greater temptation than to appear a missionary, a
prophet, an ambassador from heaven? /ho would not encounter many dangers and difficulties,
in order to attain so sublime a character? 1r if, by the help of vanity and a heated imagination, a
man has first made a convert of himself, and entered seriously into the delusion# who ever
scruples to make use of pious frauds, in support of so holy and meritorious a cause?
9e points out the &ay people loe such reportsG
%he passion of surprise and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a
sensible tendency towards the belief of those events, from which it is derived. &nd this goes so
far, that even those who cannot enjoy this pleasure immediately, nor can believe those
miraculous events, of which they are informed, yet love to partake of the satisfaction at second'
hand or by rebound, and place a pride and delight in exciting the admiration of others.
/ith what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travellers received, their descriptions of
sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adventures, strange men, and uncouth
manners? "ut if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common
sense# and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority.
8nd he makes a more subtle point! concernin% the relation bet&een di$$erent reli%ions!
each o$ &hich has its bud%et o$ miraclesG
)5+et us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary# and that it is
impossible the religions of ancient :ome, of %urkey, of $iam, and of 2hina should, all of them, be
established on any solid foundation. .very miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in
any of these religions 3and all of them abound in miracles4, as its direct scope is to establish the
particular system to which it is attributed# so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to
overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those
miracles, on which that system was established# so that all the prodigies of different religions are
to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong,
as opposite to each other.
*his &ould also be 9ume7s ans&er to the protest that so many people cannot be &ron%.
(hicheer &ay the cake is cut! a hu%e number o$ people hae to be &ron%.
9ume7s ar%ument here is &onder$ully economical. 8 less subtle philosopher mi%ht hae
tried to sho& a metaphysical conclusion! such as the absolute impossibility o$ miracles.
9ume neither needs such a conclusion! nor tries to ar%ue $or it. 9e allo&s the meta'
physical possibility o$ an interenin% deity. *here might +e a deity &ho might on
occasion let someone &alk on &ater! or $eed $ie thousand people on a $e& loaes and
$ishes. Still! e4perience is our only %uide as to &hether such eents occur. )$ &e are to
beliee that they do because o$ testimony! then the testimony has to be %oodG ery %ood!
and! in $act! miraculously %ood. But &e neer $ind testimony o$ the ri%ht kind.
1eople ne& to 9ume7s ar%ument sometimes suspect that it is unduly cynical, e4pressin%
some kind o$ mistrust$ul! suspicious attitude to the reports o$ other people. ) do not think
this is true! or at least! that the suspicion is &orse than is &arranted by people7s
tendencies. 8$ter all! you hae to be e4tremely innocent to deny! $or instance! that it is
&ise to be suspicious o$ reports that $latter the passions o$ the reporter. 9ere is a
#uotation $rom the British ne&spaper the Independent, commentin% on a report by the
-oyal 3olle%e o$ 1sychiatristsG
&ccording to the :oyal 2ollege of 6sychiatrists, one in six of us are neurotic. %hey must think
that @AA per cent of us are gullible as well. "ring out a report '' the politically correct way to
advertise your service. /hat next? %he Institute of "uilders says seven in ten houses need to be
rebuilt, or the &ssociation of Garage 9echanics that thirteen out of twenty cars need servicing?
)n $act! the discussion in the second part o$ 9ume7s %reat essay is an ancestor o$ a &hole
academic study. 1sycholo%ists no& inesti%ate common co%nitie mal$unctionsG $ailures
o$ perception! o$ memory! the in$luences o$ other people! the in$ectious #ualities o$ con'
$idence! and the loe o$ the marellous! as in$luences that inter$ere &ith people7s
capacities to tell truth $rom $alsehood. (e are mostly #uite %ood instruments $or
re%isterin% truth and dismissin% $alsehood. But &e are not as %ood as &e like to beliee!
and &e are o$ten not ery %ood at all.
9ume7s ar%ument can ele%antly be put in terms o$ Bayes7s theorem! &hich ) e4plain in
the ne4t chapter. *he reader may &ant to return to this &ay o$ puttin% it a$ter absorbin%
the e4planation there. )n Bayes7s terms! &e let h be the hypothesis that a miracle oc'
curred! and e be the $act that some person or persons say that it occurred. *hen the prior
probability that the miracle occurred is ery! ery small. *he "base rate" is near Bero.
*hat is because miracles are the kind o$ thin% that either neer happen! or almost neer
happen. (hen ) leae $or the o$$ice in the mornin%! my &i$e mi%ht &arn me a%ainst the
cold! or the tra$$ic! or my collea%ues. But she doesn7t &arn me a%ainst $lyin% elephants!
bein% taken into se4ual slaery by <artians! or conersations &ith the liin% Elis. But
no& consider the $act that someone or some te4t is sayin% that the miracle occurred.
(ell! this is unhappily ery much the kind o$ thin% that happens. *he antecedent
probability o$ such eidence comin% into bein% is neer so ery small! because there are
lots o$ other! natural! hypotheses that e4plain it. *hese are the common human $railtiesG
deception! delusion! in$lamed passions! mistakes! and so on. Een the de$enders o$ one
$aoured set o$ miracles hae to beliee in these $railties! in order to rule out the
impostors. *he -oman church has a &hole department deoted to unmaskin% $ake
miracles. 3hristians had better not beliee that <uhammad took his ni%ht $li%ht $rom
<ecca to +erusalem since his credentials as a miracle'&orker contradict those o$ +esus.
But this means that the prior probability o$ e is relatiely hi%h. *here are many &ays in
&hich "$alse posities" are %enerated. Bayes! as &e shall see! re#uires us to compare
these prior probabilities in order to assess ho& probable the hypothesis is! %ien the
eidence. *he ideal &ould be a hypothesis that is not all that improbable! and eidence
that cannot easily arise e4cept i$ the hypothesis is true. But in this kind o$ case the prior
probabilities are e4actly the &ron% &ay round. *he hypothesis is immensely improbable!
and the eidence can easily arise $or other reasons. So the Bayesian calculation al&ays
comes do&n a%ainst the truth o$ the testimony! and in $aour o$ the uni$ormity o$ nature.
*his is not to say that reports o$ thin%s hitherto #uite outside our e4perience hae to be
$alse. Science proceeds by $indin% such thin%s. But &e reason ri%htly &hen &e maintain
a sceptical attitude! until such time as the ne& phenomena are repeated and established!
becomin% part o$ the uni$ormities o$ nature.
Once &e think o$ the theolo%y o$ miracles! thin%s become een &orse. For a deity that
sets the la&s o$ nature into motion and neer relents at least has a certain di%nity. One
that occasionally allo&s hiccups and intermissions! %lori$ied con"urin% tricks! is less
impressie. (hy "ust those miracles! "ust thenH )t is not &hat you &ould hae e4pected.
8 little miracle or t&o snu$$in% out the 9itlers and Stalins &ould seem $ar more use$ul
than one that chan%es &ater to &ine at one particular &eddin% $east. )t is no doubt ery
%ood o$ 2od to let St 2iuseppe leitate in $ront o$ pictures o$ him! but other thin%s bein%
e#ual! one &ould hae pre$erred! say! the miraculous #uarantine or destruction o$ the
8ids irus. )t is &hat one mi%ht hae e4pected antecedently! kno&in% that the &orld &as
under the re%ime o$ a %ood 2od. But the &orld as &e kno& it does not con$irm it. (e
soon see ho& this piece o$ reasonin% too can be analysed in a Bayesian &ay. 9ere the
&eak card is the de%ree o$ $it bet&een the eidence and the hypothesis! the second o$ the
three crucial $i%ures in Bayes7s theorem.
None o$ the metaphysical ar%uments &e hae considered do much to con$irm the
hypothesis that the unierse is the creation o$ a traditional 2od. 8nd 9ume7s analysis o$
testimony $rom miracles destroys their alue as eidence. Faced &ith these blanks!
reli%ious $aith may try to $ind other ar%uments.
8n interestin% and in%enious one is due to the French mathematician and theolo%ian!
Blaise 1ascal @>635'65A! and is kno&n as 1ascal7s &a%er. /nlike the ar%uments &e hae
been considerin%! it is not presented as an ar%ument $or the truth o$ reli%ious belie$! but
$or the utility o$ beliein% in some ersion o$ a monotheistic! +udaic! 3hristian! or
)slamic! 2od.
*he ar%ument is this. First! 1ascal con$esses to metaphysical i%noranceG
5et us now speak according to natural lights.
If there is a God, he is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts, nor limits, 7e has
no affinity to us. /e are therefore incapable of knowing either what 7e is, or if 7e is. . . /ho then
will blame the 2hristians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a
religion for which they cannot give a reason?
)t is not too clear &hy this e4cuse is o$$ered $or the 3hristians! as opposed to those o$
other $aiths! as &ell as belieers in $airies! %hosts! the liin% Elis! and ;. -on 9ubbard.
Still! suppose the choice is bet&een reli%ious belie$ and a li$e o$ reli%ious doubt or
?ou must wager. It is not optional. /hich will you choose then?. . . 5et us weigh the gain and the
loss in wagering that God is. 5et us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all# if you
lose, you lose nothing. /ager, then, without hesitation that 7e is.
(ith %reat clarity 1ascal realiBes that this is rather an odd reason $or choosin% a belie$.
But he also says! perceptiely! that
your inability to believe is the result of your passions, since reason brings you to this, and yet you
cannot believe. . . 5earn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their
possessions. . . (ollow the way by which they began# by acting as if they believe, taking the holy
water, having masses said, etc. .ven this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your
8$ter you hae "stupe$ied" yoursel$! you hae become a belieer. 8nd then you &ill reap
the re&ards o$ belie$G in$inite re&ards! i$ the kind o$ 2od you beliee in e4ists. 8nd i$ it
does notH (ell! you hae lost ery little! in comparison &ith in$inityG only &hat 1ascal
calls the "poisonous pleasures" o$ thin%s like playin% %ol$ on Sundays instead o$ %oin% to
*he standard &ay to present this ar%ument is in terms o$ a t&o'by't&o bo4 o$ the
2od e4ists 2od does not
) beliee in him T in$inityL 0
) do not beliee in him ' in$inityL 0
*he Beros on the ri%ht correspond to the thou%ht that not much %oes better or &orse in
this li$e! &hether or not &e beliee. *his li$e is o$ anishin%ly little account compared to
&hat is promised to belieers. *he plus'in$inity $i%ure corresponds to in$inite bliss. *he
minus'in$inity $i%ure in the bottom le$t corresponds to the traditional "ealous 2od! &ho
sends to 9ell those &ho do not beliee in him! and o$ course encoura%es his $ollo&ers to
%ie them a hard time here! as &ell. But the minus'in$inity $i%ure can be so$t'pedalled.
Een i$ &e put 0 in the bottom le$t'hand bo4! the &a%er looks %ood. )t &ould be %ood
een i$ 2od does not punish disbelie$! because there is still that terri$ic payo$$ o$
"Tin$inity" crankin% up the choice. )n decision'theory terms! the option o$ belie$ "domi'
nates"! because it can &in! and cannot lose. So '' %o $or itL
/n$ortunately the lethal problem &ith this ar%ument is simple! once it is pointed out.
1ascal starts $rom a position o$ metaphysical i%norance. (e "ust kno& nothin% about the
realm beyond e4perience. But the set'up o$ the &a%er presumes that &e do kno&
somethin%. (e are supposed to kno& the re&ards and penalties attached to belie$ in a
3hristian 2od. *his is a 2od &ho &ill be pleasured and re&ard us $or our attendance at
mass! and &ill either be indi$$erent or! in the minus'in$iinity option! seriously
discombobulated by our non'attendance. But this is a case o$ $alse options. For consider
that i$ &e are really i%norant metaphysically! then it is at least as likely that the options
pan out like thisG
There is indeed a very powerful, very benevolent deity. =e or she or they or it" has determined
as follows. The good human beings are those who follow the natural light of reason, which is
given to them to control their beliefs. These good humans follow the arguments, and hence avoid
religious convictions. These ones with the strength of mind not to believe in such things go to
=eaven. The rest go to =ell.
*his is not such a $amiliar deity as the traditional "ealous 2od! &ho cares aboe all that
people beliee in him. @(hy is 2od so "ealousH 8las! mi%ht his "ealousy be a pro"ection
o$ human sectarian ambitions and emotionsH Either you are &ith us or a%ainst usL *he
French sceptic Voltaire said that 2od created mankind in his ima%e! and mankind
returned the compliment.A But the problem $or 1ascal is that i$ &e really kno& nothin%!
then &e do not kno& &hether the scenario "ust described is any less likely than the
3hristian one he presented. )n $act! $or my money! a 2od that punishes belie$ is "ust as
likely! and a lot more reasonable! than one that punishes disbelie$.
8nd o$ course! &e could add the 9umean point that &hilst $or 1ascal it &as a simple
t&o'&ay #uestion o$ mass ersus disbelie$! in the &ider &orld it is also a #uestion o$ the
:oran ersus mass! or ;. -on 9ubbard ersus the S&ami <aharishi! or the 8#uarian
3oncepts 3ommunity .iine Ne& Order 2oernment ersus the First )nternet 3hurch o$
8ll. *he &a%er has to be silent about those choices.
(e can no& brie$ly consider the "$ideistic" line! that althou%h the ar%uments are
ne%li%ible! neertheless people at least hae a ri%ht to beliee &hat they &ish! and there
may be some merit in blind $aith! like the merit attachin% to the mother &ho re$uses to
ackno&led%e her son7s %uilt in spite o$ damnin% eidence.
1hilosophers pro$essionally &edded to truth and reason are not apt to commend this
attitude. *he $aith that de$ies reason mi%ht be called a blessin% by others &ho share it!
but credulity and superstition by those &ho don7t! and distressin%ly apt to brin% in its
&ake $anaticism and Bealotry. 3hapter 5 o$ the $amous essay On 7i+erty by +ohn Stuart
<ill @>D06'E3A talks memorably o$ the atmosphere o$ "mental slaery" that sets in &ith
the absence o$ the #uestin% critical intellect. Een the truth! <ill says! &hen held as a
pre"udice independent o$ and proo$ a%ainst ar%ument! "is but one superstition the more!
accidentally clin%in% to the &ords &hich enunciate a truth". One classic discussion @by
the late'nineteenth'century En%lish &riter (. :. 3li$$ordA compares belie$s held on
insu$$icient eidence to stolen pleasures. 8n apt #uotation is $rom Samuel *aylor
7e who begins by loving 2hristianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or
2hurch better than 2hristianity, and end in loving himself better than all.
But althou%h these ie&s are attractie! it is actually #uite hard to sho& that the habit o$
blind $aith is necessarily so ery bad. )$! hain% %ot to 9ume7s inert proposition! &e then
inest it &ith hopes! $ears! resolutions! and the embellishments o$ our o&n particular
creeds! &here is the harm in thatH )s not simple piety a 2ood *hin%H
Some people certainly think random belie$ is a %ood thin%. ) hae in $ront o$ me the
adertisement $or a company callin% itsel$ "your metaphysical superstore". )t specialiBes
in Ne& 8%e books and music! $lo&er essence! essential oils and aromatherapy! ma%netic
therapy! li%ht balance therapy! astrolo%y and numerolo%y! tarot and rune cards readin%s!
crystals and %emstones! and at the end! like a rue$ul note o$ somethin% approachin%
sanity! healin% herbs. (hy should thinkers mock the simple pieties o$ the peopleH
O$ course! there are simple pieties that do not %et this %eneral protection. )$ ) check into
the <ysterious <ist and come back coninced that 2od7s messa%e to me is to kill youn%
&omen! or people &ith the &ron%'coloured skins! or people &ho %o to the &ron% church!
or people &ho hae se4 the &ron% &ay! that is not so %ood. So &e hae to use our human
alues! our o&n sense o$ %ood or bad! or ri%ht or &ron%! to distin%uish an admirable
return $rom the mountain $rom a lunatic one.
(e seem to be irretrieably in the domain o$ ethics here. 8nd it &ould be impossible in a
brie$ compass to assess the harms and bene$its o$ reli%ious belie$! "ust as it is hard
@althou%h not impossibleA to estimate the bene$it or dama%e done by belie$ in ma%netic
therapy or Fen% Shui or &hateer. )t clearly $ills some $unction! ans&erin% to some
human desires and needs. Some o$ the needs may be a common part o$ the human lotG )
hae already mentioned the need $or ceremonies at crucial parts o$ li$e! or the need $or
poetry! symbol! myth! and music to e4press emotions and social relationships that &e
need to e4press. *his is %ood. /n$ortunately some o$ the desires may be a little less
admirableG the desire to separatism! to schism! to imposin% our &ay o$ li$e on others! to
$indin% moral "usti$ications $or colonialism! or tribal or cultural imperialism! and all
made %uilt'$ree because done in the name o$ the ;ord. For eery peace$ul beneolent
mystic! there is an army chaplain! conincin% the troops that 2od is on their side. <ysel$!
) hae neer seen a bumper sticker sayin% "9ate i$ you ;oe +esus"! but ) sometimes
&onder &hy not. )t &ould be a %ood slo%an $or the reli%ious -i%ht.
)t is! perhaps! surprisin% to $ind the issue here turnin% into a kind o$ practical or moral
issue. )t mi%ht seem to be a purely intellectual case o$ -eason @%oodA ersus Faith @bad!
or at least suspectA. But 9ume himsel$ is responsible $or cloudin% the picture. For reasons
&e are about to meet! there seems to be #uite a lot o$ brute trust or $aith in many
eeryday elements o$ common sense. (e already met in 3hapter > our "$in%ers'crossed"
$aith in the e4ternal &orld or past time. 8nd in the ne4t t&o chapters &e come across
other places &here 9ume &as the $irst to see that eeryday con$idence seems more a
matter o$ $aith than reason.
Obiously the attitude one takes to the "$ideism" that simply lets particular reli%ious
belie$s &alk $ree $rom reason may depend heaily on &hat has recently been happenin%
&hen they do so. 9ume &as born less than t&enty years a$ter the last le%al reli%ious
e4ecutions in Britain! and himsel$ su$$ered $rom the enthusiastic hostility o$ belieers. )$
in our time and place all &e see are church picnics and charities! &e &ill not be so
&orried. But enou%h people come do&n the mountain carryin% their o&n practical
certainties to su%%est that &e ou%ht to be.
<aybe some day somethin% &ill be $ound that ans&ers to the needs &ithout panderin% to
the bad desires! but human history su%%ests that it &ould be un&ise to bank on it.
Cha"ter !i5
*9)S 3981*E- 2)VES us an ac#uaintance &ith some basic cate%ories to use &hen &e
think about reasonin%. (e &ant our reasonin%s to be %ood. (e &ant to $ollo& reliable
methods $or si$tin% truth $rom $alsehood! and $ormin% belie$s about our &orld. But &hich
are these reliable methods! and &hat are their credentialsH )n this chapter &e take a ery
brie$ %lance at $ormal lo%ic! and then &e come upon the problems o$ inductie reasonin%!
and some o$ the elements o$ scienti$ic reasonin%.
*he &orkin% parts o$ an ar%ument are! $irst! its premises. *hese are the startin% point! or
&hat is accepted or assumed! so $ar as the ar%ument is concerned. 8n ar%ument can hae
one premise! or seeral. From the premises an ar%ument deries a conclusion. )$ &e are
re$lectin% on the ar%ument! perhaps because &e are reluctant to accept the conclusion! &e
hae t&o options. First! &e mi%ht re"ect one or more o$ the premises. But second! &e
mi%ht re"ect the &ay the conclusion is dra&n $rom the premises. *he $irst reaction is that
one o$ the premises is untrue. *he second is that the reasonin% is in)alid. O$ course! an
ar%ument may be sub"ect to both criticismsG its premises are untrue! and the reasonin%
$rom them is inalid. But the t&o criticisms are distinct @and the t&o &ords! untrue and
inalid! are &ell kept $or the distinctionA.
)n eeryday li$e! ar%uments are criticiBed on other %rounds a%ain. *he premises may not
be ery sensible. )t is silly to make an intricate ar%ument $rom the premise that ) &ill &in
ne4t &eek7s lottery! i$ it hasn7t a do%7s chance o$ happenin%. )t is o$ten inappropriate to
help ourseles to premises that are themseles controersial. )t is tactless and tasteless in
some circumstances to ar%ue some thin%s. But "lo%ical" is not a synonym $or "sensible".
;o%ic is interested in &hether ar%uments are alid! not in &hether it is sensible to put
them $or&ard. 3onersely! many people called "illo%ical" may actually be propoundin%
alid ar%uments! but be dotty in other &ays.
;o%ic has only one concern. )t is concerned &hether there is no (ay that the premises
could be true &ithout the conclusion bein% true.
)t &as 8ristotle @3DC'355 B3A &ho $irst tried to %ie a systematic ta4onomy o$ alid and
inalid ar%uments. 8ristotle realiBed that any kind o$ theory &ould need to classi$y
ar%uments by the patterns o$ reasonin% they e4hibit! or &hat is called their form. One o$
the most $amous $orms o$ ar%ument! $or instance! re"oicin% in the title "modus ponendo
ponens"! or modus ponens $or short! "ust %oesG
)$ p then 9
8o, .
9ere p and stand $or any piece o$ in$ormation! or proposition! that you like. *he $orm
o$ the ar%ument &ould remain the same &hether you &ere talkin% o$ co&s or
philosophers. ;o%ic then studies $orms o$ in$ormation! not particular e4amples o$ it.
1articular ar%uments are instances o$ the $orms! but the lo%ician is interested in the $orm
or structure! "ust as a mathematician is interested in numerical $orms and structure! but
not interested in &hether you are countin% bananas or pro$its.
(e &ant our reasonin%s to be alid. (e said &hat this meansG &e &ant there to be no
(ay that our conclusion could be $alse! i$ our premises are true. So &e need to study
&hether there is "any &ay" that one set o$ thin%s! the premises! can be true &ithout
another thin%! the conclusion! also bein% true. *o inesti%ate this &e need to produce a
science o$ the (ays thin%s can be true. For some ery simple &ays o$ buildin% up
in$ormation! &e can do this.
*he classical assumptions are $irst that eery proposition :p, . . .A has "ust one o$ t&o
truth&alues. )t must be either true or $alse! and it cannot be both. @"But suppose ) don7t
%rant thatH" 1atience.A *he second assumption is that the terms the lo%ic is dealin% &ith
'' centrally! "and"! "not"! "or"! and ")$. . . then. . ." '' can be characteriBed in terms o$
&hat they do to truth'alues. @"But suppose ) don7t %rant thatH" 1atience! a%ain.A
*hus! consider "not&p". Not'p! &hich is o$ten &ritten ;p, is the denial or ne%ation o$ pG it
is &hat you say &hen you disa%ree &ith p. (hateer it is talkin% about! p! accordin% to
our $irst assumption! is either true @*A! or $alse @FA. )t is not both. (hat does "not" doH )t
simply reerses truth'alue. )$ p is true! then ;p is $alse. )$ p is $alse! then ;p is true.
*hat is &hat "not" does. (e can summariBe the result as a truth&ta+le*
p ;p
* F
F *
*he table %ies the result! in terms o$ truth or $alsity! $or each assi%nment o$ truth'alue
to the components @such an assi%nment is called an interpretation.. 8 similar table can be
&ritten $or "and"! only here there are more combinations to consider. (e suppose that
"and" con"oins t&o propositions! each o$ &hich can be true or $alse. So there are $our
situations or interpretations to considerG
p p U
* * *
* F F
F * F
(e are here %ien the truth'alue $or the oerall combination! the con"unction! as a
$unction o$ the combination o$ truth'alues o$ the componentsG the $our di$$erent
interpretations o$ the $ormula.
*he $act that &e can %ie these tables is summed up by sayin% that con"unction! and
ne%ation! are truth&functional, or that they are truth'$unctional operators. Elementary
prepositional lo%ic studies the truth'$unctions. Besides "not" and "and"! they include "or"
:p or , re%arded as true e4cept &hen both p and are $alseAI and a ersion o$ ")$ p then
"! re%arded as true e4cept in the case &here p is true yet $alse. )$ &e &rite this latter as
"p 'O "! its truth'table isG
p p 'O
* * *
* F F
F * *
F F *
*hese are also called Boolean operators. 1eople $amiliar &ith databases and
spreadsheets &ill kno& about Boolean searches! &hich implement e4actly the same idea.
8 search $or &id%ets oer $ie years old held in the &arehouse in 0ork returns a hit &hen
it $inds a &id%et meetin% +oth conditions. 8 search $or customers not paid up on >
.ecember returns "ust the reerse hits $rom a search $or customers paid up on >
.ecember. 8 search $or customers &ho either bou%ht a &ashin% machine or a
la&nmo&er turns up those &ho bou%ht one and those &ho bou%ht the other.
(e can no& see a rationale $or some rules o$ in$erence. 3onsider the rule that $rom "p U
" &e can derie p @or e#ually .. 0ou cannot thereby %et $rom truth to $alsity! because
the only interpretation @the top lineA that has "p U " true also has each in%redient true.
So this is a %ood rule. (e can also see &hy modus ponendo ponens! introduced aboe! is
a %ood rule. )t has t&o premises! "p"! and ")$ p then ". 3an &e $ind an interpretation @a
"&ay"A in &hich both these are true &ithout bein% trueH No. Because %ien that p is
true! the only interpretation o$ p 'O that allo&s it to be true also displays as true.
*here are some interestin% animals in this "un%le. One is that o$ a contradiction. 3onsider
this $ormulaG
p U ;p.
*his e4presses a contradiction '' the ultimate no'no. 8nd &e no& hae a precise sense in
&hich it is a no'no. For it is easy to sho& $rom the t&o tables &e hae! that (hate)er the
truth'alue o$ p! the truth'alue o$ this $ormula comes out as F. *here is no (ay it could
be true. Because &hen one o$ the con"uncts is true the other is $alseG there is al&ays a
$alse element. 8nd the truth'table $or con"unction sho&s that in that case the oerall
$ormula is $alse. No& suppose &e complicate thin%s by ne%atin% itG
;@p U ;pA.
*he brackets here sho& that the outside ; ne%ates the &hole thin%. *hey act like the
brackets in 3 4 @C T 5A! &hich sho& that the result is to be >D! rather than &hat &e &ould
%et i$ &e had @3 4 CA T 5! &hich is >C. *his bracketin% is e4tremely important in lo%ic! as
it is in arithmeticG many $allacies in $ormal and in$ormal reasonin% can be aoided by
kno&in% &here the brackets $all. *his is called kno&in% the scope o$ operation o$ the
ne%ations and con"unctions and the rest. )n this e4ample the outside ne%ation has the
&hole o$ the rest o$ the $ormula to operate upon. 8 #uite di$$erent readin% &ould be %ien
by ;p U ;p! &hich simply con"oins ;p to itsel$! and! incidentally! is $alse in the case in
&hich p is true @sayin% somethin% $alse t&ice does not make it any betterA. One o$ the
terri$ic irtues o$ $ormal lo%ic is that it sensitiBes people to scope am+iguities, &hich
arise &hen it is not clear &here the brackets lie! or in other &ords &hat is %oernin%
&hat. (ithout kno&in% this! you do not kno& in (hat (ays your premises and your
conclusions mi%ht be true! and hence &hether there is any (ay your premises mi%ht be
true &ithout your conclusion bein% so.
*his ne& $ormula! ;@p U ;pA! reerses the truth'alue o$ the old contradiction. So it is
true! &hateer the truth'alues o$ its components. )t is called a tautology. *his is an
important notion. )n prepositional lo%ic i$ &e hae premises blah'blah'blah and con'
clusion yadda'yadda! &e &ant it to be true that ")$ blah'blah'blah then yadda'yadda" is a
tautolo%y. *here is no interpretation @no &ay o$ assi%nin% truth'aluesA that is to make
the premises true! &hile the conclusion is $alse. (hen this is so! the ar%ument is alid in
e4actly the sense &e hae been talkin% about.
One &ay o$ discoerin% &hether an ar%ument is alid is common enou%h to desere a
name. 0ou can $ind &hether ")$ blah'blah'blah then yadda'yadda" is alid by addin% "not
yadda'yadda" to "blah'blah'blah" and seein% i$ you can %et out a contradiction. )$ you
can! the ar%ument &as alid. *his corresponds directly to there bein% no &ay that the
premises could be true and the conclusion $alse. *here is no interpretation or no model
$or that state o$ a$$airs. 3ontradiction bars the &ay. *his is called "assumin% to&ards a
contradiction" or "assumin% to&ards a reductio"! $rom the ;atin name $or this kind o$
procedureG the reductio ad a+surdum, or reduction to absurdity. 8nselm7s ontolo%ical
ar%ument in 3hapter F had that $orm.
)n mathematics &e can hae not only 5 T 5! but also 3 4 @5 T 5A and @@5 T 3A 4 @5 T 5AA '
F! and so on $oreer! and so it is &ith in$ormation. )n so $ar as comple4 bits o$
in$ormation are produced by applyin% and reapplyin% truth'$unctional combinations! &e
can keep per$ect control o$ the interpretations under &hich &e hae truth and $alsity.
So lo%ic studies the structure o$ in$ormation. )ts aim is to e4hibit that structure! and
thereby also e4hibit &hat $ollo&s $rom &hatG &hat is su$$icient to proe p and &hat
$ollo&s $rom p, $or p o$ any comple4ity. *he connection bet&een structure and proo$ is
"ust thisG the structure sho&s us i$ there is no (ay that the premises can be true &ithout
the conclusion bein% true. Because to understand the structure o$ in$ormation is to
understand the &ays it can be true.
So $ar! &e hae looked at comple4ity o$ in$ormation arisin% because propositions are
ne%ated or con"oined! or connected by implication. But &e hae not broken inside
propositions. 8s $ar as the analysis so $ar %oes! "Some persons are philosophers" and "8ll
persons are philosophers" &ill come out lookin% alike. Each is "ust an e4ample o$ a
proposition! p. But &e cannot %et inside the proposition! and understand ho& these mean
di$$erent thin%s.
*he breakthrou%h that cracked this problem created modern lo%ic. )t &as made by the
2erman mathematician and lo%ician 2ottlob Fre%e @>DCD'>?5FA! in his seminal
<egriffschrift @"concept &ritin%"A o$ >DE?. 3onsider this ar%umentG eery in#uiry stops
some&here! so there is some&here eery in#uiry stops @it is sometimes supposed that the
$oundationalists &e met in 3hapter > adanced somethin% like thisA. Somethin% must be
&ron%! $or a parallel &ould beG eeryone has a mother! so there is someone &ho is
eeryone7s mother. Or! eeryone ties his o&n laces! so someone ties eeryone7s laces.
/ntil Fre%e! people could see that there &as somethin% &ron%! but! lackin% any
understandin% o$ ho& this kind o$ in$ormation is built! they could not say &hat it &as.
*he key to understandin% Fre%e7s achieement is to think in terms o$ t&o #uite di$$erent
kinds o$ in$ormation. *he $irst is ery $amiliar. )t corresponds to attachin% a term to a
name or other e4pression that re$ers to a particular person or thin%G Bill is rich! *ony
%rins! this is an oran%e. 9ere &e hae a sub"ect term @the names "Bill" and "*ony"! and
the demonstratie "this"A! and thin%s are said o$ &hat they pick outG "is rich"! "%rins"! or
"is an oran%e". *hese terms stand $or conditions that thin%s mi%ht meet. *hey are called
"predicates"G the rich thin%s satis$y the predicate "is rich"! and other thin%s do not. *his is
the basic sub"ect'predicate $orm o$ in$ormation.
No& &e can do somethin% surprisin%. Suppose &e delete the term that stands $or the
sub"ect. (e are le$t &ith only a %appy sentence! or predicateG "is rich"! and so on. (e can
better si%nal the %ap by the e4pression called a ariable! usually &ritten x, y, z. . ., as in
al%ebra. So &e hae "x is rich". *his is no lon%er a sentence carryin% a piece o$
in$ormation! because nobody is bein% said to be rich. )t is a sentence &ith a hole in itG a
predicate! or an open sentence! in lo%icians7 "ar%on.
No&! here comes the ma%ic. Suppose ) ask you to take an open sentence into a particular
domain! such as a classroom! or Ne& 0ork 3ity! and come back %iin% me some
in$ormation. 0ou could "ust reconstruct a piece o$ in$ormation like the one &e started
&ith! namin% some particular indiidual! and sayin% that he or she is rich. But you don7t
hae to do this. 0ou can do a $undamentally di$$erent kind o$ thin%. 0ou can come back
and tell me about the uantity o$ times the predicate is satis$ied. 8nd you can tell me this
&ithout tellin% me &ho satis$ies it. )t is as i$ you use the open sentence by pointin% the
"x" in it at all the di$$erent people in the domain in turn! and note ho& o$ten you %et a hit.
Suppose &e symboliBe the predicate by @the 2reek letter "phi"A. *hen you askG ")s this
, is this " o$ each o$ the members o$ the domain in succession. *hen you can tell me
&hat happened.
1erhaps the simplest kind o$ thin% you could tell me is that at least once! some&here! you
%ot a hit. *his is e#uialent to "Somethin% is ". Or you mi%ht tell me that some&here
you %ot a missG "Somethin% is not' ". 3ontrast this last &ith %ettin% a hit no&hereG
"Nothin% is ". Or it mi%ht be that eery&here you %ot a hitG "Eerythin% is ".
"Somethin% is " is %ien by a ne& piece o$ symbolismG the existential uantifier. )t is
&ritten as : x. x @the $act that the ariable comes a$ter the predicate in " x" &hereas in
En%lish predicates usually $inish sentences and thin%s like names start them is
irreleantA. )$ you neer %et a hit! you can enter ;: x. xG nothin% is . )$! some&here!
you %et a result that is not a hit! you hae the ery di$$erent : x.; x. )$ you no&here %et
a result other than a hit! you hae ;: x.; x *his says that no&here is there anythin% that
is not . Or! in other &ords! as $ar as this domain %oes! eerythin% is . *his last kind o$
in$ormation is su$$iciently important to hae its o&n symbol! the uni)ersal uantifier,
&ritten as @ 4A 4G "Eerythin% is !.
;eibniB thou%ht that i$ &e had a su$$iciently lo%ical notation! dispute and con$usion
&ould cease! and men &ould sit to%ether and resole their disputes by calculation. *he
inention o$ the #uanti$ier did not brin% about this /topia! but it does an astonishin%
amount to&ards it. )ts $ull po&er is e4hibited &hen &e %et multiple #uanti$ications. *his
is in$ormation built &ith more than one #uanti$ier in play. (hen &e hae more than one
#uanti$ier! &e use di$$erent ariables @x, y, z. . .A to indicate the di$$erent %aps to &hich
they correspond. *o illustrate the idea! &e can see ho& easily it dissects the inalid
ar%umentG eerybody has a mother! so someone is eeryone7s mother. )$ &e &rite "x is the
mother o$ y" as "x<y" &e symboliBe the $irst by @ y" x" x<y. *he second is x"@ y"
x<y. 9o& are these di$$erentH
Start &ith a sentence claimin% motherhood bet&een t&o di$$erent peopleG Beth is the
mother o$ 8lbert. :nock out re$erence to Beth! and &e hae the open sentence x<a
@&here 7a7 abbreiates 8lbertA (e kno& that this predicate is satis$ied @it is satis$ied by
BethA! so &e kno& @ xA x<a. Somebody is 8lbert7s mother. No& knock out re$erence to
8lbertG @ xA x<y. (e hae a %appy! or open! sentence a%ain! &ith y markin% the %ap. )t
corresponds to the predicate "hain% someone as a mother". (e can take this into the do'
main and point the ariable y at each in turnG does this person hae a mother! does
this. . .H )$ &e %et the ans&er "yes" on each occasion @&hich &e doA! &e can uniersally
#uanti$y @ yA@ xA x<y. Eeryone has a mother.
No& look at the second $ormula. *o %et this! &e similarly start &ith Beth @bA bein% the
mother o$ 8lbert. But no& &e knock out re$erence to 8lbert $irstG +<y. (e take this
round the domain. If &e could @as in the real &orld &e cannotA &rite @ yA +<y, this
&ould be because Beth is the mother o$ eeryone @&hoeer you point the ariable y at! it
turns out that Beth is their motherLA. (hat has "ust been supposed o$ Beth! mi%ht be
supposed true o$ someone @i$ not BethAG in that case you can knock out re$erence to Beth!
take the predicate "bein% mother o$ eeryone"! or in other &ords @ yA x<y, round the
domain! and $ind eentually someone %iin% the ans&er yes. )n that case you &ould be
able to &rite @ xA@ yA x<y. But the point to notice is that this is an entirely di$$erent
procedure. )t %ies an entirely di$$erent kind o$ in$ormation @$alse o$ the domain o$
human bein%sA. 8nd the #uanti$icational structure sho&s the di$$erence on its $ace!
because the strin%in% out o$ the #uanti$iers sho&s ho& the in$ormation is built.
)n the real &orld! nobody is the mother o$ eerybody. Be$ore &e understood
#uanti$ication! that mi%ht hae sounded &eird! as i$ the human race sprun% out o$
Nothin%. *his mi%ht hae seemed a creepy metaphysical thesis. But no& it is tamed. )t
"ust means that ;@ xA@ yA x<y. 8nd this is a simple truth. 8t least! unless you use the
relation "mother" to include more remote kinds o$ ancestry! in &hich case you mi%ht
&ant to claim that there is someone! biolo%ical Ee! the $irst $emale homo sapiens, &ho
is the mother o$ eeryone. But ) &ould re%ard that as an ille%itimate or metaphorical
usa%e. <y %randmother is not literally my mother.
(e can %ie more precise in$ormation about the #uantity o$ times some condition is met
in a domain. (e mi%ht say that there is exactly one thin% satis$yin% the condition. *his
means that any time you %et a hit! i$ you %o on pointin% the ariable at the rest o$ the
thin%s in the domain! &heneer you %et a hit it turns out to be the same one. *here are no
t&o distinct hits. *his is the core o$ -ussell7s $amous theory o$ de$inite descriptions. For
it to be true that the uni#ue kin% o$ France has a beard! there &ould need to be someone
&ho rules France and no other person &ho rules France! and it should be true o$ &hoeer
does rule France that he has a beard. Other&ise! the claim is $alse.
Kuanti$icational structure is "ust one thin%! but a ery important thin% to be a&are o$.
Ordinary lan%ua%e is %ood at %eneratin% ambi%uities that it easily resoles. "8ll the nice
%irls loe a sailor" said the son%. *here is some lucky sailor they all loeH *hey all hae
one! but perhaps a di$$erent sailor that they loeH *ake any sailor! then all the nice %irls
loe him @or herAH Very di$$erent thin%s! true in ery di$$erent circumstances. 8 related
ambi%uity is responsible $or some thirty thousand deaths a year in the /nited States. "8
&ell're%ulated militia bein% necessary to the security o$ a $ree state! the ri%ht o$ the
people to keep and bear arms shall not be in$rin%ed." Each personH Or the people as a
collectie! as in "*he team can hae a bus"H )$ the $oundin% $athers had been able to
think in terms o$ #uanti$icational structure! a lot o$ blood mi%ht not hae been spilt.
*he lo%ician studies the $orms o$ in$ormation that &e hae "ust described! and o$ course
such other comple4 $orms as come to li%ht. But there is another side to the &ork o$ the
philosopher! &hich is to decide &hen in$ormation couched in the idioms o$ ordinary
speech indeed displays one or another o$ these $orms. *his proes a surprisin%ly $rau%ht
3onsider! $or instance! the di$$erence bet&een "She &as poor and she &as honest"! and
"She &as poor but she &as honest". *he $irst clearly illustrates the $orm "p U ". But
&hat about the secondH )t certainly suggests somethin% else! alon% the lines that it is
surprisin% or note&orthy that someone poor should be honest. But does it actually say
thatH 8 simpler su%%estion mi%ht be that it strictly says only &hat the $irst says! but says
it in a &ay to insinuate or su%%est that the combination is surprisin% or note&orthy.
1erhaps only the simpler in$ormation is strictly %ien! but it is %ien in a &ay that carries
its o&n su%%estions @&hich may! as in this e4ample! be seriously unpleasantA. So
philosophers o$ lan%ua%e are led to distin%uish &hat is strictly said or asserted '' the
in$ormation carried by the utterance! called its truth&condition && $rom &hat is su%%ested
or implied! not as a strict lo%ical conse#uence! but by the &ay thin%s are put! called the
;an%ua%e is such a $le4ible and subtle instrument! that there is almost no limit to the &ay
nuances in the presentation o$ in$ormation a$$ect the implicatures. 8 $amous e4ample is
the &ay in &hich simply not sayin% somethin% can hae &ei%hty oertonesG
!What do you think of the new professor of logic8!
!They tell me he is famous for his tomatoes.!
9ere &hat is strictly said has little or no bearin% on &hether the ne& pro$essor is
competent. But the $act that this response is all that is %ien sho&s unmistakably that the
respondent thinks the pro$essor is no %ood. 3hoice o$ terminolo%y can hae its o&n im'
plicaturesG consider the di$$erence bet&een
>ohn is ,red-s brother.
,red has a male sibling, >ohn.
9ere! the second &ay o$ puttin% &hat is in $act the same in$ormation su%%ests some kind
o$ si%ni$icance '' sinister psychoanalytic oertones! perhaps. Order o$ tellin% also carries
implicatures about the order o$ eents. )t &ould be misleadin%! althou%h &hat is said is
strictly true! to report the li$e o$ a child &ho learned to read and then &rote poetry! by
sayin% that she &rote poetry and learned to read.
*he &ay in &hich implicatures are %enerated is part o$ the study o$ lan%ua%e called
pragmatics, &hereas the structure o$ in$ormation is the business o$ semantics.
3onsider the dreaded la&yer7s #uestion! used to discompose married male &itnessesG
"9ae you stopped beatin% your &i$e '' yes or noH" *he &itness cannot ans&er "0es"!
&ithout admittin% that he once didI he cannot ans&er "No"! &ithout %iin% the stron%est
impression that he still does. So he is embarrassed! and the trick &orks. 9o& can &e do
betterH (ell! suppose &e analyse ", stopped doin% 0" as a con"unctionG ", once did 0 U
, does not no& do 0." *his e4plains &hy sayin% "0es" to the la&yer is badG it $ollo&s
that you once did beat your &i$e. Sayin% "No"! on the other hand! is interestin%. )$ &e
look at the truth'table $or con"unction &e see that a con"unction can be $alse in three
di$$erent &aysG p true! $alseI p $alse! trueI and both $alse. 8nd each o$ these three
&ays are &ays in &hich the ne%ation o$ a con"unction can be true @ne%ation reerses
truth'alueA. No& in the la&yer case it is ital to the innocent husband to establish that
his is the middle caseG $alse that he once did it! and true that he does not no& do it. *he
trouble is that the one &ord "no" is insu$$icient to establish &hich &ay it is! and the risk
is that the "ury thinks he hasn7t stopped because he continues @true that he once did! true
that he does it no&! so $alse that he stoppedA.
*he innocent &itness needs enou%h &ords to speci$y &hich combination describes him.
So he cannot stick &ith the one'&ord ans&er "No" @true thou%ht it isA. *he ri%ht thin% $or
the &itness to say is @in one breathA "No ) haen7t stopped because ) neer started"! or
&ords to that e$$ect. )$ &e handle the la&yer7s #uestion this &ay! &e can say that it
"presupposes" that the &itness once beat his &i$e! but only in the pra%matic sense! that
anyone askin% that #uestion &ould normally be takin% this $or %ranted. /ncoerin% the
hidden presuppositions behind #uestions and opinions is an important part o$ thinkin%.
Some presuppositions een raise #uestions about the assumption &e made &hen
interpretin% "and"!"not"!"or"! and especially ")$. . . then" as truth'$unctions! ade#uately
described by the tables. *hey sometimes seem to do more comple4 thin%s. For instance!
consider a party to &hich Fred is inited! but to &hich he in $act does not %o. Suppose
t&o assassins are tryin% to establish Fred7s &hereabouts. One says! ")$ Fred %oes to the
party! he &ill %o by ta4i." *he other says! ")$ Fred %oes to the party! he &ill %o by
elephant." )ntuitiely! at most one o$ these is true '' in the (est! probably the $irst. But i$
&e look at "Fred %oes to the party 'O. . ." &e &ill see that +oth o$ them are true. Because
it is $alse that Fred %oes to the party! and the table $or 'O %ies the outcome true!
&hateer the truth'alue o$ the other proposition. 1hilosophers used to ar%ue a %reat deal
about &hether this sho&s that the En%lish conditional ")$. . . then" means the same as the
truth'$unction 'O. No&adays there is o$ten a sli%htly more rela4ed attitude! it bein%
conceded that at any rate 'O %ies the core o$ the notion! and the rest can be handled
either semantically or pra%matically.
Be$ore &e leae this brie$ sketch o$ $ormal lo%ic! &e mi%ht pause to consider one kind o$
reaction it sometimes prookes. 1eople sometimes think that lo%ic is coerci)e
@"masculine"A or that it implies $aourin% some kind o$ "linear thinkin%" as opposed to
"lateral thinkin%". Both these char%es are totally mistaken. Formal lo%ic is too modest to
desere them.
First! &hat could be meant by the char%e o$ coercionH Formal lo%ic enables you to
determine &hether a set o$ propositions implies a contradiction. )t also interprets
contradictions as $alse. <ost o$ us &ill &ant to aoid holdin% sets o$ propositions that
imply thin%s that are $alse! because &e care that our belie$s are true. )$ someone is not
like that! then &e may indeed be minded to moraliBe a%ainst them. But &e are not
&earin% the hats o$ $ormal lo%icians as &e do so. *he &ork o$ the $ormal lo%ician &as
$inished &ith the result.
1erhaps someone mi%ht $eel coerced by the assumption mentioned ri%ht at the outset ''
that eery proposition is true or $alse! and no proposition is both. 1erhaps &e ou%ht to try
more comple4 assumptionsG $or instance! &e mi%ht &elcome a%ue propositions that are
true to a de%ree! or propositions that are neither true nor $alse but hae some third status.
*hat is $ine tooG these are respectable ideas! and there are alternatie lo%ics that deelop
them. But it is $air to &arn that! $or arious reasons! they become a&k&ard and
uncom$ortable. )t is usually &ise to be %rate$ul $or the simple "t&o'alued" assumption.
8 third source o$ the $eelin% o$ coercion introduces &ider issues. )$ someone oices a
number o$ ie&s! or comes up &ith a piece o$ reasonin%! it can be crass and coercie to
insist on seein% them as o$ such'and'such a $orm and there$ore contradictory! or there$ore
inalid. *his may &ell be insensitie to the other $actors &e hae mentioned alreadyG
presuppositions! suppressed premises! and so on. But this &as not the $ault o$ the lo%ic!
but o$ the uncharitable &ay o$ takin% &hat &as said. By itsel$ lo%ic is indi$$erent! een to
sayin%s that look as i$ they embody direct contradictions. )n the short story "*he ;ady
&ith the 1et .o%" by 3hekho! 8nna Ser%eyena tells her husband that she is %oin% to
<osco& eery so o$ten to isit a doctor! "and her husband belieed her and did not
beliee her". Formal lo%ic does not tell us to "ump up and do&n on 3hekho $or this
blatant contradiction. (e kno& that 3hekho is su%%estin% somethin% else! &hich is that
her husband hal$'beliees her! or alternates bet&een con$idence and mistrust. )t is the $lat
contradiction that prompts us to look $or other interpretations.
(hat o$ the char%e that $ormal lo%ic priile%es "linear" thinkin%H *his too is nonsense.
Formal lo%ic does not direct the course o$ anyone7s thou%hts! any more than mathematics
tells you &hat to count or measure. )t is %loriously indi$$erent bet&een propositions that
arrie throu%h speculation! ima%ination! sheer $ancy! sober science! or anythin% else. 8ll
it tells you is &hether there is a &ay in &hich all the propositions in a set! ho&eer
arried at! can be true to%ether. But that can be a pearl beyond price.
Formal lo%ic is %reat at enablin% us to aoid contradiction. Similarly! it is %reat $or tellin%
us &hat &e can derie $rom sets o$ premises. But you hae to hae the premises. 0et &e
reason not only to deduce thin%s $rom %ien in$ormation! but to e4pand our belie$s! or
&hat &e take to be in$ormation. So many o$ our most interestin% reasonin%s! in eeryday
li$e! are not supposed to be alid by the standards &e hae been describin%. *hey are
supposed to be plausi+le or reasona+le, rather than &aterti%ht. *here are &ays in &hich
such an ar%ument could hae true premises but a $alse conclusion! but they are not likely
to occur.
Neertheless! &e can %o a little $urther in applyin% some o$ the ideas &e hae met! een
to plausible reasonin%s. (hy is it silly! $or instance! to be con$ident that my bet at
roulette &ill be a &innerH Because my only in$ormation is that ) hae placed my bet on
x, and most (ays that the &heel mi%ht end up do not present x as the &inner. (hat &e
are dealin% &ith is a space o$ possibilities! and i$ &e could sho& that most possibilities
le$t open by our eidence are ones in &hich the conclusion is also true! then &e hae
somethin% correspondin% to plausible reasonin%. )n the roulette case! most possibilities
le$t open by our eidence are ones in &hich the conclusion that x is the &inner is $alse.
-oulette and other %ames o$ chance are precisely little $ields desi%ned so that &e kno&
the possibilities and can measure probabilities. *here are $i$ty't&o outcomes possible
&hen &e turn up a card! and i$ &e do it $rom a $reshly and $airly shu$$led pack! each
possibility has an e#ual chance. 1robabilistic reasonin% can then %o $or&ardG &e can
sole! $or instance! $or &hether most dra&s o$ seen cards inole t&o court cards! or
&hateer. Such probabilistic reasonin% is precisely a matter o$ measurin% the ran%e o$
possibilities le$t open by the speci$ication! and seein% in &hat proportion o$ them some
outcome is $ound.
(hat underlies our assi%nments o$ probabilities in the real &orldH Suppose &e think o$
our position like this. 8s &e %o throu%h li$e! &e e4perience the &ay thin%s $all out.
(ithin our e4perience! arious %eneraliBations seem to holdG %rass is %reen! the sky blue.
(ater re$reshesI chocolate nourishes. So &e take this e4perience as a %uide to ho& thin%s
are across &ider e4panses o$ space and time. ) hae no direct e4perience o$ chocolate
nourishin% in the ei%hteenth century! but ) suppose it did soI ) hae no direct e4perience
o$ it nourishin% people tomorro&! but ) suppose it &ill continue to do so. Our belie$s and
our con$idence e4tend beyond the limited circle o$ eents that $all &ithin our immediate
$ield o$ ie&.
9ume puts the problem this &ayG
#s to past 3xperience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information of those precise
objects only, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cogni,ance! but why this
experience should be extended to future times, and to other objects, which for aught we know,
may be only in appearance similar# this is the main -uestion on which I would insist. . . &t least, it
must be acknowledged, that there is here a conse-uence drawn by the mind# that there is a
certain step taken# a process of thought, and an inference, which wants to be explained. %hese
two propositions are far from being the same, I have found that such an ob'ect has always been
attended with such an effect, and I foresee, that other ob'ects, which are, in appearance, similar,
will be attended with similar effects. I shall allow, if you please, that the one proposition may
justly be inferred from the other! I know in fact, that it always is inferred. "ut if you insist, that the
inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire you to produce that reasoning.
E4perience stretches no $urther than limited portions o$ space and time. )n particular! all
our e4perience belon%s to the past and present. )$ &e make in$erences to the $uture! then
these are in$erences! and 9ume &ants to kno& the "chain o$ reasonin%" that they employ.
*he in$erence $rom &hat is true o$ one limited re%ion o$ space and time to a conclusion
true o$ di$$erent parts o$ space and time is called inductie in$erence. (hat 9ume is
bothered about has become kno&n as the problem o$ induction.
9ere is a science $iction. 0ou are disembodied spirits! inhabitin% a kind o$ 9eaen. ) am
2od. ) tell you that ) am about to embody you! to %ie you lies to lead in a physical
unierse that ) hae prepared $or youG Earth. 8t the end o$ your period in this unierse!
you &ill return to 9eaen. /nlike normal human li$e! you &ill all lie the same periodG
nine acts! let us say.
*o make thin%s interestin%! ) am %oin% to o$$er you a kind o$ lottery. Each o$ you &ill %et
a ticket. *he tickets correspond to the colour o$ the clear midday sky $or each o$ the nine
acts. ) coenant &ith you! as %ods do! that ) &on7t chan%e the colour at any time other
than the be%innin% o$ an act. +ust one o$ you is %oin% to hae a ticket that corresponds to
the actual colour o$ the sky in eery act. ) also tell you that this person! the &inner! &ill
%et the 2olden 9arp &hen you come back to 9eaen. *his is a ery aluable priBe.
9eaen is %ood! but 9eaen &ith the 2olden 9arp is een better. So a ticket mi%ht look
like thisG
oran%e 5
yello& 5 5
%reen 5 5 5
blue 5 5
iolet 5
*ime > 5 3 C F 6 E D ?
*his ticket corresponds to the sky startin% blue! %oin% %reen! then yello& and oran%e!
be$ore darkenin% back to blue and een iolet. 3all the person &ith this ticket! (ay.
Some o$ you @si4 o$ youA %et strai%ht ticketsG
blue 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
*ime > 5 3 C F 6 E D ?
3all this ticket! Strai%htie.
)$ there is %oin% to be "ust one ticket $or each o$ you! there need to be 6
o$ you!
&hich is a ery lar%e number indeed! to hae a ticket correspondin% to each possible
distribution o$ the colours. 8nd correspondin%ly! your chance o$ bein% the &inner is only
! &hich is a ery small number.
9ume insists that &e cannot kno& anythin% ri%ht $rom the be%innin% in this
situation. (e cannot hae a priori kno&led%e &hich ticket &ill &in. 8ntecedently! &hile
&e are still e4citedly discussin% tickets! there is no reason to pre$er one to another. For all
&e kno& 2od may $aour &aes! or strai%ht lines. Or he may $aour :inkieG
yello& 5 5 5 5
blue 5 5 5 5 5
*ime > 5 3 C F 6 E D ?
*he clear midday sky starts o$$ blue $or the $irst $ie acts! and then turns yello&! and stays
like that $or the rest. So in heaen! be$ore &e %et any e4perience o$ the &orld 2od is
about to put us into! no ticket has any better chance than any other. (ell! no& &e %o to
)mmediately! F/6 o$ us can thro& our tickets a&ay. 8ny ticket not sho&in% blue in
the $irst s#uare is a loser. 8nd similarly! on the $irst day o$ each subse#uent act! F/6 o$ the
suriors can thro& their tickets a&ay! until at the be%innin% o$ the ninth act! only si4 re'
main. 8nd a day a$ter that! there is a sin%le &inner.
No& let us dra& the curtain back to&ards the end o$ the $i$th act. Each o$
Strai%htie and :inkie has been doin% &ell. *hey hae seen their competitors $all a&ay! on
$ie preious occasions. )n $act! the number o$ suriors in the lottery has dropped $rom
do&n to 6
! and their chances o$ bein% the &inner hae risen accordin%ly.
But suppose they %et into an ar%ument &ith each other. Suppose Strai%htie ur%es
:inkie that his ticket is $ar the more likely &inner! so that he &ill s&ap it &ith :inkie but
only $or a terri$ic price. (e &ould probably side &ith Strai%htie. But suppose that :inkie
resists! ur%in% that there is no reason in &hat has happened so $ar to bet on Strai%htie
rather than on him. (hat can they say to each otherH
Each can point to their track record o$ success. But it is the same track record $or
each o$ them. *hey each hae their $ie hits. 8nd there is nothin% else to %o on. 8$ter all!
neither o$ them can peer into the $uture. ;ike us! they are stuck in time! and cannot peek
out o$ it.
(hat Strai%htie &ould like is an ar%ument in $aour o$ the uniformity of nature. )n
other &ords! an ar%ument sayin% that since 2od has started o$$ &ith a blue sky! and stuck
&ith it so $ar! probably he is %oin% to %o on stickin% &ith it. But :inkie can point out that
2od has started o$$ &ith an as'per':inkie sky! and by e#ual reasonin% ur%e that he is
probably %oin% to stick &ith that.
Strai%htie &ants the ar%ument that 9ume says he cannot $ind. But! as ) said! in our
bones &e all side &ith Strai%htie. (hat7s &ron% &ith ar%uin% that since nature has been
uni$orm so $ar! it &ill probably %o on bein% uni$ormH
It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this
resemblance of the past to the future# since all these arguments are founded on the supposition
of that resemblance.
O$ course! 9ume kno&s that &e all learn $rom e4perience! and that &e all rely
upon the uni$ormity o$ nature. 9e thinks &e share this natural propensity &ith animals. )t
is "ust that this is all it isG an e4ercise o$ nature. )t is a custom or habit! but it has no
special claim in reason. (hen &e reason inductiely there is a &ay in &hich our premises
can be true and our conclusion $alse. Nature can chan%e. )n $act! there are many &ays!
since nature can chan%e in many &ays. *here is no contradiction in ima%inin% this. 8nd
no&! it seems! &e cannot een ar%ue that such chan%es are impro+a+le. (e only think
that because they hae not occurred &ithin our e4perience. But takin% our e4perience to
be representatie! in this re%ard as in any other! presupposes the uni$ormity o$ nature. )t
seems that &e en%ineer a brid%e bet&een past and $uture! but cannot ar%ue that the brid%e
is reliable.
9ere is a problem #uite a lon% &ay $rom the problem o$ induction! but that
introduces an incredibly use$ul tool $or thinkin% about many thin%s. )t is a problem most
people %et &ron%.
Suppose you decide to check yoursel$ out $or some disease. Suppose that this
disease is #uite rare in the populationG only about one in a thousand people su$$er $rom it.
But you %o to your doctor! &ho says he has a %ood test $or it. *he test is in $act o)er ==
per cent relia+le> Faced &ith this! you take the test. *hen '' horrorsL '' you test positie.
0ou hae tested positie! and the test is better than ?? per cent reliable. 9o& bad is your
situation! or in other &ords! &hat is the chance you hae the diseaseH
<ost people say! it7s terribleG you are irtually certain to hae the disease.
But suppose! bein% a thinker! you ask the doctor a bit more about this ?? per cent
reliability. Suppose you %et this in$ormationG
:" If you have the disease, the test will say you have it.
?" The test sometimes, but very rarely, gives !false positives!. In only a very few cases 11
around : per cent 11 does it say that someone has the disease when they do not.
*hese t&o to%ether make up the better than ?? per cent reliability. 0ou mi%ht
think that you are still irtually certain to hae the disease. But in $act this is entirely
&ron%. 2ien the $acts! your chance o$ hain% the disease is a little less than >0 per cent.
(hyH (ell! suppose >!000 people take the test. 2ien the %eneral incidence o$ the
disease @the "base rate"A! one o$ them mi%ht be e4pected to hae it. *he test &ill say he
has it. )t &ill also say that > per cent o$ the rest o$ those tested! i.e. rou%hly ten people!
hae it. So eleen people mi%ht be e4pected to test positie! o$ &hom only one &ill hae
the disease. )t is true the ne&s &as bad '' you hae %one $rom a > in >!000 chance o$
disease to a > in >> chance '' but it is still $ar more probable that you are healthy than not.
2ettin% this ans&er &ron% is called the $allacy o$ i%norin% the base rate.
9o& should &e think accurately about chances in a circumstance like thisH
(e should start &ith a $ormula $or the probability o$ one thin% %ien another.
Suppose &e ask &hat the probability is o$ @aA some random person in a class &earin%
;ei "eans. 1erhaps 50 per cent. 8nd &hat is the probability o$ @+A some random person
&earin% a ;ei "acketH 1erhaps 50 per cent also. So &hat is the probability o$ a random
person both &earin% the "eans! and the "acketH 0ou mi%ht think 50/>00 4 50/>00 S C per
cent. But that &ould be &ron%. For the t&o eents are not necessarily independent. *hat
means! the chance o$ someone &earin% the "acket is ery likely di$$erent i$ they are
&earin% the "eans. 1erhaps nearly eeryone &ho &ears those "eans &ears those "ackets
and ice ersa. )n that case the probability o$ @aA and @+A both bein% true o$ a random
person &ould itsel$ be 50 per cent. Or perhaps the $ashion %urus say that you must ne)er
&ear both. )n that case the chance o$ @aA and @+A both bein% true mi%ht be Bero.
*o %et this ri%ht &e need an e4pression $or the probability o$ someone &earin% the
"acket gi)en that he is &earin% the "eans. *he probability o$ @aA %ien @+A is &ritten 1rob
@a?+A. *he probability o$ @+A %ien @aA is 1rob @+?aA. *hen the ri%ht $i%ure is thisG
.rob a @ b" B .rob 3a4 x .rob bCa",
or e#uallyG
.rob a @ b" B .rob b" x .rob aCb".
*he $irst e#uation says that the probability o$ &earin% "eans and "acket S the
probability o$ &earin% the "eans 4 the probability o$ &earin% the "acket gi)en that you are
&earin% the "eans. *his last is called a "conditional probability". *he second says it is also
e#ual to the probability o$ &earin% the "acket 4 the probability o$ &earin% the "eans gi)en
that you are &earin% the "acket. *hese hae to be identical! by symmetry @since a U + is
the same proposition as + U aA.
8n En%lish cler%yman called *homas Bayes @>E05'6>A looked hard at this result.
Since each o$ them is e#ual to 1rob @a U +A! each o$ these is e#ual to each otherG
.rob a" x .rob 3bCa" A .rob b" x .rob aCb"
So &e can &rite do&n an e4pression $or the probability o$ + %ien aG
.rob bCa" A .rob b " x .rob aCb "
.rob a"
*his rather $ri%htenin%'lookin% e#uation is a simple ersion o$ &hat is kno&n as Bayes7s
*he application o$ the result comes like this. Suppose no& that &e hae some
hypothesis! and a piece o$ eidence $or it. (e are interested in the probability o$ the
hypothesis h, %ien the eidence e. (e can &rite this as 1rob @h?eA. *his is called the
posterior probability o$ the hypothesis '' its probability a$ter the eidence comes in. *hen
the theorem tells us thatG
.rob hCe" A .rob h " x .rob eCh "
.rob e"
*his directs us to three di$$erent thin%s on &hich the posterior probability
.rob 3h4. This is known as the prior or antecedent probability of h.
.rob eCh4. This is the probability of evidence e, given h. It is a measure of the fit between
the hypothesis and the evidence.
.rob e4. This is the prior or antecedent probability of the evidence itself.
)ntuitiely it can be thou%ht o$ like this. *here are three $actors. First! ho& likely
is the hypothesis $rom the &ord %oH Second! ho& &ell does the eidence accord &ith the
hypothesisH *hird! ho& likely is the eidence $rom the &ord %oH
)t is o$ten use$ul to treat this last $i%ure in terms o$ the different (ays the eidence
mi%ht hae come about. )t is a $i%ure that %ets lar%er the %reater the number o$ #uite
probable alternatie e4planations o$ the eidence. 8nd &hen it %ets lar%er! the probability
o$ the %ien hypothesis on the eidence %ets smaller. )t has too many competitors. So in
practice the $i%ure on the bottom measures ho& many other &ays there are in &hich that
eidence could be e4plained! and ho& likely they are. (e reco%niBe the importance o$
this intuitiely. (hen the call'%irl <andy -ice'.aies &as told that some member o$ the
aristocracy denied hain% had an a$$air &ith her! she replied! "(ell! he &ould! &ouldn7t
heH" She &as in e$$ect remindin% people that the antecedent probability o$ this particular
piece o$ testimony &as hi%h regardless o$ &hich hypothesis is true! and this undermined
its alue as eidence. 0ou could %uess in adance that &hateer their relations! the
aristocrat &ould hae said &hat he did. So his sayin% &hat he did &as &orthless as ei'
*he ideal &ould beG the hypothesis is antecedently #uite likely. *he eidence is
"ust &hat you &ould e4pect! %ien the hypothesis. 8nd there are not many or any other
pro+a+le &ays the eidence could hae come about.
)n the case o$ the disease! Bayes7s theorem puts the base rate up $rontG it is the
antecedent probability that you hae the disease! o$ > in >!000. *he ne4t $i%ure! the $it
bet&een the test result and the hypothesis that you hae the disease! is e4cellentG >! in
$act! since the test al&ays says you hae it i$ you do. But on the bottom line &e hae the
number o$ &ays that eidence could hae come about. )n$ormally! there is the > in >!000
chance o$ a true result plus the >0 in >!000 chance o$ a $alse positie. )t is this that results
in your oerall chance! %ien the eidence! bein% @appro4imatelyA > in >>.
*here is a nice &ay no& o$ representin% the impasse bet&een Strai%htie and
:inkie in the lottery $or the 2olden 9arp. Suppose S in the entire nine$old pattern '' blue
each time '' on Strai%htie7s ticket. 8nd suppose E is the part o$ it that is &ithin our
e4perienceG the $ie results o$ blue each time so $ar. *hen
.rob S73" A .rob S" x .rob 37S"
.rob 3"
*he antecedent or prior probability o$ S &as >/6
. *he second $i%ure is %ood!
ho&eer. )$ S indeed describes the &ay eents $all out! then the eidence E! i.e. the $irst
$ie readin%s! is "ust &hat &ould be e4pected. *heir probability is in $act >! %ien S. 8nd
the prior probability o$ EH *hat is "ust $ie readin%s o$ blue! &hich! %ien that blue is one
o$ si4 competin% possibilities! is >/6
. 3alculatin% out! &e %et that 1rob @S/EA is >/6
&hich is "ust &hat &e %ot intuitiely be$ore.
*he trouble is that e4actly the same $ormula %ies e4actly the same result $or
:inkie7s ticket! :. 0ou can easily see that the eidence has probability >! %ien :! and the
prior probability o$ the eidence is the same in either eent.
Notice that the problem is not one o$ "proin%" that S &ill &in! or that : &ill not
&in. )t is "ust one o$ $indin% some good reason to e4pect S rather than :. )t is a #uestion
o$ comparin% probabilities. 9ume7s position is that een this cannot be done in S7s $aour.
-eason remains entirely silent bet&een them. 8nd $ollo&in% Bayes7s analysis! he looks to
be ri%ht. *he debate bet&een Strai%htie and :inkie is as stalemated as eer. )n $act! i$
there &as no reason $or pre$errin% the ticket S to the ticket : in 9eaen! a priori! then
there is no reason $or pre$errin% it a$ter the eidence has come in. Or so it seems.
(e could no& reisit a number o$ areasG the Pombie possibility! the desi%n
ar%ument! the likelihood o$ a %ood 2od creatin% or allo&in% eil! and especially the
discussion o$ miracles! usin% Bayes7s theorem. )t is a tool o$ immense importance. *he
$allacies it %uards a%ainst '' i%norin% the base rate! i%norin% the chance o$ $alse posities
'' are dan%erous! and crop up eery&here that people try to think.
O$ course! ery o$ten it is di$$icult or impossible to #uanti$y the "prior"
probabilities &ith any accuracy. )t is important to realiBe that this need not matter as
much as it mi%ht seem. *&o $actors alleiate the problem. First! een i$ &e assi%n a ran%e
to each $i%ure! it may be that all &ays o$ calculatin% the upshot %ie a su$$iciently similar
result. 8nd second! it maybe that in the $ace o$ enou%h eidence! di$$erence o$ prior
opinion %ets s&amped. )nesti%ators startin% &ith ery di$$erent antecedent attitudes to
1rob @hA mi%ht end up assi%nin% similarly hi%h alues to 1rob @h?eA! &hen @eA becomes
impressie enou%h.
For interest! it is &orth mentionin% that there are #uite orthodo4 methods o$
statistical in$erence that try to bypass Bayesian ideas. <uch scienti$ic research contents
itsel$ &ith ascertainin% that some result &ould only occur by chance some small percent'
a%e o$ the time @less that F per cent! or less than > per cent! $or e4ampleA. But it then
in$ers that probably the result is not due to chance '' that is! there is a si%ni$icant causal
$actor or correlation o$ some kind inoled. *his prealent reasonin% is actually hi%hly
doubt$ul! and Bayes sho&s &hy. )$ the antecedent probability that a result is due to
anythin% else than chance is ery! ery lo&! then een enormously improbable results &ill
not oerturn it. )$ ) put my hand in a shaken ba%! thro& seen Scrabble letters $ace do&n
on a table! shu$$le them into a line! and turn them up! the actual result @1K8E-*/! sayA
&ill be ery improbable indeed. ) mi%ht do the same thin% $or a hundred years and not
repeat it. But it &as chance! $or all that. )n this setup any result is %oin% to be ery im'
probable! and &e should not be able to in$er back to say that anythin% other than chance
is responsible $or it. *hat is the ery kind o$ reasonin% that $uels lunatic attempts to proe
that the pattern o$ occurrence o$ o&els in Shakespeare7s plays is best e4plained by the
hypothesis that he &as &ritin% the Name o$ the Beast 666 times! or &hateer. )n short! it
is not "ust the $act that a result is improbable that should prompt us to look $or some
special e4planation. (e need some additional reason to think that the improbable result is
not "ust due to chance any&ay. 3hance is "ust as %ood at thro&in% up improbabilities as
)nduction is the process o$ takin% thin%s &ithin our e4perience to be
representatie o$ the &orld outside our e4perience. )t is a process o$ pro"ection or
e4trapolation. But it is only part o$ a &ider process o$ tryin% to increase our
understandin% o$ thin%s. )n the $inal section o$ this chapter! ) &ant to introduce some o$
the reasonin%s that this inoles.
Suppose &e hae a comple4 system. (e hae arious $eatures! &hich seem to
interact. (e can $ind the &ays in &hich they seem to interact! by noticin% chan%es and
ariations. (e mi%ht be able to plot these a%ainst each other! and $ind reliable
relationships. Boyle7s la&! that the pressure o$ a %ien mass o$ %as is inersely pro'
portional to its olume! at a %ien temperature! is an e4ample. *his is a purely empirical
la&. )t is $ound to hold &ithin e4perience! and &e take it to hold across the &ider &orld.
Some disciplines &ould be mi%htily pleased i$ they could %et that $ar. Economics! $or in'
stance! &ants to $ind the right $eatures o$ an economic system! and to be able to plot the
relationships bet&een them relia+ly. 8nd this proes ery hard. )t takes art and cra$t! and
most attempts crash in $lames. (e are apt to $or%et that the same &as true o$ physical sci'
ence. For e4ample! it took a century o$ e$$ort $or scientists to learn to identi$y the ener%y
o$ a mechanical system as its salient $eature! &hose conseration enabled them to predict
its behaiour. *his is a historical $act that science teachers should be made to &rite out a
hundred times! &hen they upbraid children as "dumb" because they do not cotton onto
the idea immediately.
)$ an economist has a story about the ri%ht ariables and the relationships bet&een
them! it can be called a model o$ the economy. But een i$ &e had such a thin%! &e mi%ht
still $eel &e did not understand &hat &as %oin% on. )saac Ne&ton @>6C5'>E5EA had a la&
plottin% the %raitational attraction bet&een bodies as a $unction o$ their masses and the
distance bet&een themG the $amous inerse s#uare la&. But both he and his
contemporaries $elt that this %ae them no real understandin% o$ (hy %raity operated as
it does. 8s &ith Boyle7s la&! &e can say that &hile it is all &e hae %ot! &e kno&
somethin% about the system. But &e do not really understand (hy it is behain% as it
does. (hy should pressure ary inersely &ith olumeH )$ it al&ays does! &hy does it
al&ays do soH 8nd &hy should constancy o$ temperature be importantH
*hese #uestions &ere ans&ered by proidin% a model in a more robust sense. *he
kinetic theory o$ %ases sees %ases as olumes o$ molecules in motion. 1ressure is the
result o$ the impact o$ these molecules on the &alls o$ the container. *he molecules speed
up &ith increased temperature. Once a %as is seen like this! &e hae a mechanism, and
%ien suitable assumptions! the empirical la&s such as Boyle7s la& can be deried $rom
the nature o$ the mechanism.
Findin% a mechanism does not bypass the problem o$ induction. *he continued
uni$orm behaiour o$ items in a mechanism is a pro"ection or e4trapolation $rom &hat &e
hae $ound so $ar! "ust as much as anythin% else. But it reduces the number o$ indepen'
dent assumptions &e need to make. 8 $e& stable $eatures o$ thin%s! and reliable
interactions bet&een them! mi%ht e4plain others. )$ &e take the stable $eatures $or
%ranted! &e can e4plain the others in terms o$ them. *hese represent the explanatory and
simplifying ideals o$ science.
But &hat kinds o$ thin% count as satis$actory "mechanisms"H *hin%s &hose
behaiour &e understand "clearly and distinctly"H Or somethin% elseH *he ans&er to this
#uestion opens one o$ the most e4citin% chapters o$ modern thou%ht. Nearly eeryone is
inclined to think that there are some kinds o$ systems that &e understand better than &e
understand others. *o most people! some kinds o$ causation! like shuntin%! seem
especially intelli%ible! &hereas others! like action at a distance! or the e$$ects o$ body on
mind! seem ery mysterious. )n $act until 9ume! almost eeryone '' both philosophers
and natural scientists like Ne&ton '' thou%ht this. *hey thou%ht &e had a priori
kno&led%e o$ &hat does cause &hat! and still more! o$ &hat could not cause &hat. (e
hae already seen this. Een Ne&ton thou%ht that it &as clear that %raitational attraction
could not be a case o$ action at a distance. 9e thou%ht that any idiot could see that i$ the
Sun e4erts an attraction on the Earth this must be because o$ a chain o$ some kind
bet&een them. 3ausation had to be a matter o$ pushes and pullsG
%hat gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to matter, so that one body may act
upon another at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and
through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an
absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking,
can ever fall into it.
Surely it "stands to reason" or is "clear and distinct" or "a priori" that a body
cannot act some&here &here it is notL (e still reason like this &hen! $or instance! &e
attempt to sho& by pure reason that the /nierse must be the creation o$ a %od. (e are
supposin% that &e kno& &hat kind o$ thin% must cause some e$$ect! and &hat could not
cause it. 9ume blo&s this rationalism ri%ht out o$ the &aterG
I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the
knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori2 but arises en'
tirely from experience, when we find, that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with
each other. 5et an object be presented to a man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities# if
that object be entirely new to him, he will not be able, by the most accurate examination of its
sensible -ualities, to discover any of its causes or effects. &dam, though his rational faculties be
supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity, and
transparency of water, that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire, that it
would consume him.
8s a %ood psycholo%ist should! he %ies an e4planation o$ the pre"udice that &e
can ar%ue a priori about cause and e$$ectG
/e fancy, that were we brought, on a sudden into this world, we could at first have
inferred, that one "illiard'ball would communicate motion to another upon impulse# and that we
needed not to have waited for the event, in order to pronounce with certainty concerning it. $uch
is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, but
even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest
9ume kne& that philosophers and scientists hankered a$ter an ideal o$ "insi%ht"
into the la&s o$ natureG somethin% like a %eometry or al%ebra enablin% them to see &hy
eents $all out in patterns that are necessary! mathematically certain. *hey &anted a
3artesian "clear and distinct" perception o$ &hy thin%s hae to be the &ay they are. But
9ume beliees that this %oal is an illusion. Nothin% the scientist does &ould accomplish
)t is %ood to remember here that &hen Ne&ton published Principia Mathematica
in >6DE! reealin% the la&s o$ motion! there &ere scientists o$ his time &ho &ere
disappointed. *hey &anted an insi%ht into &hat %raitational attraction is, but Ne&ton
only told them &hat it does. Ne&ton tells you ho& bodies accelerate to&ards each other!
and that is all. 9ume ar%ues that the kind o$ thin% Ne&ton did &as the only 'ind of thing
science can eer do. 9e holds that anythin% else represents an incoherent ideal. )n the
$ollo&in% #uotation "philosophers" are scientists! and "philosophy o$ the natural kind"
means &hat &ould no& be called natural science! and especially physics and chemistryG
"ence (e may disco)er the reason (hy no philosopher, (ho is rational and
modest, has e)er pretended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural operation, or to
sho( distinctly the action of that po(er, (hich produces any single effect in the uni)erse.
It is confessed, that the utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the principles,
producti)e of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resol)e the many par&
ticular effects into a fe( general causes, +y means of reasonings from analogy,
experience, and o+ser)ation. <ut as to the causes of these general causes, (e should in
)ain attempt their disco)ery9 nor shall (e e)er +e a+le to satisfy oursel)es, +y any
particular explication of them. These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up
from human curiosity and enuiry. Elasticity, gra)ity, cohesion of parts, communication
of motion +y impulse9 these are pro+a+ly the ultimate causes and principles (hich (e
shall e)er disco)er in nature9 and (e may esteem oursel)es sufficiently happy, if, +y
accurate enuiry and reasoning, (e can trace up the particular phenomena to, or near
to, these general principles. The most perfect philosophy of the natural 'ind only sta)es
off our ignorance a little longer.
(hat &e hae here is a splendid re"ection o$ the rationalist ideal. )n its place &e
seem to be le$t only &ith more or less familiar systems. 8t any time those &ith &hich &e
are com$ortable proide "paradi%ms"! or systems a%ainst &hich &e compare others. *hey
%ie us our sense o$ &hat &ould count as a satis$actory e4planation. But &ithout the
rationalist ideal! &e become a&are that this sense is perhaps itsel$ chan%eable. )$ &e
replace "reason" by "habit and custom"! then cannot our customs and habits chan%eH *he
$amous philosopher o$ science *homas :uhn @>?55'?6A ar%ued that indeed they can.
"Normal" science proceeds in the li%ht o$ a set o$ paradi%ms! or implied ie&s about &hat
kind o$ e4planations &e should hope $or. 1eriods o$ reolutionary science occur &hen the
paradi%ms are themseles challen%ed. Science is to be seen as "a series o$ peace$ul
interludes punctuated by intellectually iolent reolutions". 8$ter the reolutions! our
sense o$ &hat makes $or a com$ortable e4planation o$ &hy thin%s han% to%ether chan%es.
Some people %et #uite e4cited #uite #uickly by this kind o$ thou%ht. *hey take it
to su%%est a kind o$ "relatiism"! &hereby some people hae their "paradi%ms" and other
people hae others! and there is no "ud%in% &hich is better. But that is un&arranted. *here
may be better or &orse paradi%ms. ;ookin% at the sky as an opa#ue eil &ith holes in it
throu%h &hich &e see specks o$ the heaens beyond &as once a paradi%m or model o$ the
&ay the heaens are. (e beliee that &e kno& better! and ) hold that belie$ too.
1aradi%ms can be asked to sho& their &orth! and some o$ them do not stand up.
*hus! suppose it is true it is that &e ineitably approach the &orld &ith a
particular set o$ pre$erred cate%ories! partly set by our culture and history. )t still does not
$ollo& that all such sets are e#ually "%ood". Some sets hae been discarded $or %ood and
su$$icient reason. 8 scienti$ic enironment is @ideallyA an enironment in &hich the
constant process o$ e4perimentin%! predictin%! and testin%! &eeds out the bad ideas. Only
the ones that surie %o on into the ne4t %eneration. *his is not to say that actual
scienti$ic enironments are as ideal as all thatG at any time science can no doubt boast its
$air share o$ blinkers! pre"udices! and distortions. But the process contains &ithin itsel$
the mechanisms o$ correction. (e mi%ht remember here the discussion in 3hapter >!
&hen &e criticiBed .escartes $or not takin% account o$ the "sel$'correctie" nature o$ the
senses! &hereby illusions are detected as such. Science similarly contains &ithin itsel$ the
deices $or correctin% the illusions o$ science. *hat is its cro&nin% %lory. (hen &e come
upon intellectual endeaours that contain no such deices '' one mi%ht cite
psychoanalysis! %rand political theories! "ne& a%e" science! creationist science '' &e need
not be interested.
)n this chapter &e hae discoered some o$ the elements to notice in our
reasonin%s. (e hae seen the some o$ the ideas that underlie $ormal lo%ic. (e hae
distin%uished processes o$ inductie reasonin%! and seen ho& dependent &e are on brute
$aith in the uni$ormity o$ nature. (e hae a sense o$ ho& to reason about the probability
o$ thin%s. 8nd &e hae looked a little at processes o$ model buildin% and e4planation!
and been led to mistrust a priori reasonin%s about cause and e$$ect. 8ll these %ie us tools
to be used as &e %o on to think about the &orld and our place in it.
Cha"ter !even
The Wor$d
)N *9E si4 3981*E-S so $ar! &e hae isited si4 problem areas. *hese &ereG
thou%hts about our o&n %lobal reliability! thou%hts about mind and body! thou%hts about
$reedom and $ate! thou%hts about the sel$! thou%hts about 2od! and thou%hts about the
order o$ nature. *hese are each notorious areas o$ di$$iculty! &here the structure o$ our
thou%hts! or the &ay to think properly! are hard to discern. (e mi%ht hope! by
comparison! that thinkin% about the &orld around us is relatiely problem'$ree. )n this
chapter! &e isit areas in &hich a little thou%ht %enerates trouble about that! as &ell.
CO&OUR!+ !*E&&!+ !OUN(!+
.EE&!+ AN( TA!TE!
9ere is .escartes7s %reat contemporary! the physicist 2alileo 2alilei @>F6C'>6C5AG
ow I say that whenever I conceive any material or corporeal substance, I immediately
feel the need to think of it as bounded, and as having this or that shape# as being large or small in
relation to other things, and in some specific place at any given time# as being in motion or at
rest# as touching or not touching some other body# and as being one in number, or few, or many.
(rom these conditions I cannot separate such a substance by any stretch of my imagination. "ut
that it must be white or red, bitter or sweet, noisy or silent, and of sweet or foul odor, my mind
does not feel compelled to bring in as necessary accompaniments. /ithout the senses as our
guides, reason or imagination unaided would probably never arrive at -ualities like these. 7ence I
think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in
which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in the consciousness. 7ence if the
living creature were removed, all these -ualities would be wiped away and annihilated.
2alileo is here e4pressin% &hat has become called the distinction bet&een the
primary and the secondary #ualities o$ material thin%s. *he secondary #ualities are the
immediate ob"ects o$ the sensesG colours! tastes! sounds! odors! $eels. 8ccordin% to
2alileo they "hold their residence" only in the sensitie @i.e. perceiin%A animal. <ore'
oer! accordin% to .escartes! there is no reason $or supposin% them to "resemble"
&hateer in nature causes them '' the arrial o$ photons at the eye! in the case o$ colour!
$or e4ample.
.escartes similarly had a poor ie& o$ the senses as ehicles o$ truth @remember
the ball o$ &a4 in 3hapter >AG
(or the proper purpose of the sensory perceptions given me by nature is simply to inform
the mind of what is beneficial or harmful for the composite of which the mind is a pan. . . but I
misuse them by treating them as reliable touchstones for immediate judgments abut the essential
nature of the bodies located outside us.
8n e4ample he liked &as the perception o$ a pain as bein% in the $oot! a$ter the
"animal spirits" had conducted their ener%y! their ""et o$ $lame"! up the neres and into
the brain. 2od deised it that the mind receies the best sensation that it could @2od7s
%ood pleasure! a%ainA. *he particular motion o$ the brain could hae coneyed somethin%
else to the mind. 9o&eer! there is "nothin% else &hich &ould hae been so conducie to
the continued &ell'bein% o$ the body". )n other &ords! i$ 2od had brou%ht it about that )
interpreted the motions in the brain as! $or instance! "ust si%nallin% a perturbation o$ my
+rain, then ) &ould be slo& to moe my $oot! &hich is bein% in"ured! out o$ harm7s &ay.
(e mi%ht notice that .escartes7s position here contains a denial o$ epiphenomenalism. )t
is +ecause the mental eents are one thin% or another that &e moe our $oot #uickly. )$
the mental &ere inert! 2od could let it $all out ho&eer he &ants &ithout a$$ectin% our
.escartes7s #uaint lan%ua%e conceals a surprisin%ly modern point. )$ &e substitute
eolution $or 2od! &e can put it like this. For a creature to $lourish! it must %et
in$ormation $rom the enironment that tallies &ith its actual needs. 8ll that is necessary
$or this is that the in$ormation stimulates it to action in the ri%ht &ay. For instance! i$ a
predator is comin%! it needs some in$ormation that stimulates $li%ht. 9o&eer! $or this
$unction! it does not matter &hat e4perience it %ets. )$ the predator treads on a t&i%! then
the "motions" this induces in the ear could result in the creature hearin% a loud sound! or
a discordant sound! or a harmony! or a hi%h pitch! or a lo& pitch! or they could result in
"ust a bad smell! but so lon% as it senses somethin% that $ri%htens it! its senses are doin%
their "ob. *he senses proide us only "con$used" @as opposed to clear and distinctA data.
*his also lets 2od o$$ the hook. )$ &e ask &hy the senses sometimes deceie us!
makin% us think that colours lie outside us &hen they do not! then the ans&er comes in
t&o parts. First! he created the "best system that could be deised" $or producin% a
sensation especially conducie to the preseration o$ the healthy person. *he senses! as
&e hae seen! can deceie us. But .escartes insists that it is &e! not nature or 2od7s
desi%n! &ho are at $ault i$ &e misinterpret the data o$ the senses! uncorrected by use o$
intelli%ence. (e should not treat the data o$ the senses as strai%ht$or&ardly coneyin%
in$ormation about the real properties o$ thin%s. *his &ould be to treat con$used data as i$
they &ere clear and distinct.
(hen &e do use our intellects! abstractin% a&ay $rom the data o$ the senses! &hat
kind o$ &orld are &e le$t &ithH .escartes! the mathematician! belieed that the real
property o$ "res e4tensa" &as! as the name su%%ests! spatial e4tension. Eerythin% else
&as the possibly illusory! sensory "$illin%" o$ spatial olume by thin%s like colours and
$eels '' thin%s that! like 2alileo! he belieed to hae their real residence only in the mind.
So as &ell as openin% up dualism o$ mind and body .escartes and his contemporaries
open up a dualism bet&een the &orld as it is $or us @sometimes called the "mani$est
ima%e"A '' the coloured! &arm! smelly! noisy! com$ortable! $amiliar &orld '' and the
&orld as it is ob"ectiely or absolutely @the "scienti$ic ima%e"A '' the &orld that contains
nothin% but physical particles and $orces spread out across the boundless spaces o$ the
(hy is science thou%ht to drie colours and the rest into the mindH *he most
compellin% ar%ument seems to be one $rom perceptual relatiity. 1eople are apt to think
o$ "relatiism" as a particular threat! or temptation! in moral philosophy! &here &e are
uncom$ortably $amiliar &ith the &ay situations strike di$$erent people di$$erently. But a
more %eneral relatiism is here raisin% its head. (e can present an ar%ument $rom
relatiity concernin% tastes! odours! colours! sounds! and "$eels" like thisG
Suppose a part of the world or an ob'ect in the world displays a certain smell, etc. to one
observer +. =ow it smells, etc. will be a function of +-s particular sensory structures. So, there will
be or could be another creature +B with different sensory structures, to whom the same part of
the world or the same ob'ect would smell, etc. &uite differently. + and +B may each live e&ually
efficient, adapted lives. So, there is no reason for saying that 'ust one of + or +B has got the
smells, etc. right. So, there is no one correct distribution of smells, etc. in the world. So, smells,
etc. are better thought of as entirely mind1dependent.
*his ar%ument &as $amiliar in the ancient &orld! be$ore returnin% to prominence
in the seenteenth century. *here are a number o$ points to notice about it.
First! it does not depend on the actual e4istence o$ the di$$erent creature OR. )t is
enou%h that &e can see ho& there could +e such a creatureG one &hose colour receptiity
is #uite di$$erent! or &hose auditory apparatus sensitiBes it to di$$erent $re#uencies o$
sound! or to di$$erent kinds o$ ener%y alto%ether. O$ course the ar%ument becomes more
%raphic &hen &e come across strikin% instances. Nobody &ho keeps a do% can beliee
that the &orld o$ smells that do%s inhabit bears much resemblance to our o&n. 8nd some
o$ us can remember! $or instance! ho& di$$erently beer or dry &ine $irst tasted be$ore &e
%ot used to it. .i$$erent sensitiities clearly e4istG $or a start! all mammals e4cept some
primates are colour'blind. *here are substances @phenol thio'urea is an e4ampleA that
hae a pronounced bitter taste to a hi%h proportion o$ human bein%s! but no taste at all to
others. 8nd so on.
But #uite apart $rom such actual cases! &e can easily see ho& there could be
$orms o$ li$e that %et by per$ectly &ell &ith #uite di$$erent sensory "$illin%s". Some
people tune their *V sets so that the colours seem %arish and %larin% to others! but they
see the same scenes as a result.
*he second premise too seems incontestable. )t represents a piece o$ kno&led%e
&e hae about the &orld. (e kno& that certain kinds o$ condition! $or instance! can lead
us to taste thin%s ery di$$erently. (ith colds! &e lose much o$ our sense o$ smell. (e
kno& a %ood deal about ho& colour ision depends upon the particular sensitiities o$
three di$$erent kinds o$ receptors in the eye! as described in 3hapter 5. (e kno& that bats
nai%ate by acoustic means that are closed to us.
So the initial conclusion seems ineitable. 3ompare thisG t&o di$$erent teleision
sets may receie the same si%nal. 9o&eer! &hat picture appears depends on the
particular structure o$ the teleision. 9ence! there could be teleisions that delier
di$$erent outputs $rom the same si%nal @and o$ course there areA.
*he ne4t premise is crucial! and one that is o$ten $or%otten in discussions o$
relatiism in other areas! such as ethics. 8ny ar%ument aimin% at somethin% like the $inal
conclusion needs to %o ia this. )t is no %ood "ust pointin% out that di$$erent creatures
perceie the &orld di$$erently! i$ that allo&s the interpretation that "ust one set o$ them
has %ot the &orld right. *he analo%y &ith the teleisions makes the point. Sure! someone
mi%ht say! the &ay in &hich a teleision set sho&s a picture in response to a si%nal may
ary. )$ the teleision is the &ron% kind $or that si%nal! then it "ust sho&s sno&storms! $or
instance. But that "ust means that the teleision misses in$ormation that e4ists! that is
ob"ectiely there! carried by the si%nal. )t is no kind o$ ar%ument that the in$ormation is
not really there! independently o$ the receier! in the $irst place. )$ the transmitter is
beamin% the inau%ural speech! a teleision sho&in% a sno&storm is doin% &orse than one
sho&in% the speech. )t is not doin% "ust as &ell! but in a di$$erent &ay. But that is &hat
this ar%ument $rom relatiity is aimin% to sho&. So! there is a hole in it.
*here &ould be i$ it &ere not $or premise that the di$$erent creatures mi%ht lie
e#ually &ell'$unctionin%! adapted lies. *his plu%s this %ap! by askin% us to see the
di$$erent obserers as potentially e#ually &ell adapted to their &orlds. For .escartes! that
&ould hae been a belie$ &ith theolo%ical backin%. For us! it may hae an eolutionary
e4planation. 3reatures that cannot receie the kind o$ in$ormation they need to lie their
lies die out. So! unlike the teleisions! O and OR may be doin% as &ell as each other! but
liin% lies &ith di$$erent sensory e4periencesG seein%! smellin%! hearin%! tastin%! and
$eelin% di$$erently. )t is this e#uality that su%%ests! as -ussell later put it! that it &ould be
"$aouritism" to say that the &orld is better represented in one o$ these &ays than in any
*he premise about e#ual adaptation may not be enou%h ho&eer. (e may &ant to
think like this. 3ertainly! do%s! $or instance! are adapted creatures! &ith sensory systems
that meet their natural needs. But let us distin%uish the di$$erent dimensions o$ sensory
e4perience. .o%s hae marellous noses. So! let us admit that they can smell smells that
&e cannot. *hey are the "authorities" on the distribution o$ smells. On the other hand!
do%s are colour'blind. *here$ore! they are not "authorities" on the distribution o$ colours.
(e can make $iner isual discriminations amon%st ob"ects in a &hole ariety o$ di$$erent
li%hts than do%s can. *hat is &hat our colour ision is $or. So &hy not say that the real
colours are the ones that the creatures best adapted $or colour seeH 8nd the real smells the
ones that creatures best adapted $or smell senseH 8nd i$ &e can say this! then the
subse#uent conclusions &ill not $ollo&.
*his certainly points to a hole in the ar%ument as it is stated. *o repair the hole &e
&ould need some stron%er premise. 8 repair that &ould do the "ob mi%ht be to aim $or
each sensory dimension . @ision! touch! smell! sound! tasteA! one at a time. *here &ould
be $ie di$$erent ar%uments! and in each!o$ them the crucial premise &ould readG
+ and +B may each live e&ually efficient, adapted lives in respect of sensory dimension
)$ this is accepted! the rest o$ the ar%ument looks like plain sailin%. *he rationale
$or the $inal moe is obious enou%h. 3onsider phenol thio'urea. )t cannot in itsel$ be
both tasty and tasteless. Similarly! the &orld cannot be thou%ht o$ as containin% as many
smells as there are possible sensory apparatuses! adapted $or re%isterin% "ust some
molecules @or their absenceA in some combinations and concentrations. Such a &orld
&ould contain an in$inite number o$ coe4istin% smells! since there is no limit to the
possible arieties o$ detector.
*he upshot o$ the ar%ument is called "secondary #uality idealism". )t %ies us
2alileo7s result that the #ualities that are the immediate ob"ects o$ sensory e4perience are
drien "back into the mind".
'OO( !O&I( !EN!E
*his did not strike .escartes and many o$ his successors as too bad. .escartes
himsel$! as &e hae seen! still had "reason" to in$orm him about the properties ob"ects
really had. 9e did not mind the illusory aspects o$ the &orld o$ appearance '' the $act that
colours are! as it &ere! due to us! and not to the thin%s &e see. 9is position in this &as
canoniBed in En%lish'speakin% philosophy by +ohn ;ocke.
;ocke is ery e4plicit. *here are
original or primary -ualities of body, which I think we may observe to produce simple
ideas in us, vi,. solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, and number.
*here are also
such -ualities, which in truth are nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to
produce various sensations in us by their primary -ualities, i.e. by the bulk, figure, texture, and
motion of their insensible parts, as colours, sounds, tastes, etc. %hese I call secondary -ualities.
)n this picture there is the scienti$ic &orld! o$ ob"ects as they really are in ;ocke7s
time! a &orld o$ little particles clin%in% to%ether to $orm bi%%er bodies! each hain% the
primary! scienti$ic! properties. *his is the scienti$ic picture. *here is also the mani$est
ima%eG the coloured! smelly! tasty! noisy! &arm! or cold &orld &e think o$ ourseles as
inhabitin%. But the mani$est ima%e is either in or at least lar%ely due to the mind. *he
scienti$ic &orld is not.
8re ob"ects then not really coloured or smelly in ;ocke7s ie&H *here is a sense in
&hich they areG ob"ects hae the po&ers to produce colours and smells in us.
Neertheless! these po&ers are not the colours and smells themseles.
/hat I have said concerning colours and smells may be understood also of tastes and
sounds, and other the like sensible -ualities# which, whatever reality we, by mistake, attribute to
them, are in truth nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to produce various sensations in
us, and depend on those primary -ualities, vi,. bulk, figure, texture, and motion of parts# as I
have said.
*he arious sensations in us do not in any &ay resemble the po&ers that %ie rise
to them.
;ocke7s ie& is o$ten thou%ht o$ as a natural! common'sense! scienti$ic realism.
(e may substitute ener%ies! $orces and $ields! or sub'atomic particles $or his little
particles o$ matter o$ peculiar $i%ures and bulks. 9o&eer! the essential opposition
bet&een the &orld o$ science and the mani$est ima%e remains in many people7s minds
substantially as he presented it.
(ell! is there any problem &ith thatH
8 number o$ &riters in France had di$$iculties &ith .escartes7s &orld'ie&. )n
particular! i$ 2od &as! a$ter all! a kind o$ deceier @althou%h! o$ course! $or our o&n
%oodA &ith respect to secondary #ualities! mi%ht he also be one &ith respect to primary
#ualitiesH )$ it is %ood o$ him to make us see in terms o$ colours! althou%h seen colours
bear no resemblance to anythin% in physical reality! mi%ht it not be %ood $or him to make
us see in terms o$ ob"ects e4tended in space! althou%h physical reality is not actually
spatialH 3olours are here a kind o$ *ro"an horse &orkin% to reintroduce the %eneral Eil
.emon scepticism that .escartes thou%ht he had beaten do&n.
*his is an epistemolo%ical problem. 9o&eer! &e can become een uneasier i$ &e
think about the metaphysics o$ the scienti$ic &orld. *ry to think about &hat actually $ills
space. .escartes had banished all #ualities $rom physical reality e4cept one! e4tension.
But eeryone thou%ht that this &as untenable. "E4tension" is entirely abstract. 8 cubic
$oot o$ space is one thin%I a cubic $oot o$ space &ith a body in it #uite a di$$erent thin%.
(e must conceie o$ physical reality in terms o$ thin%s occupyin% space! not "ust space
(ell! &e may think! that is $ine. ;ocke has thin%s &ith properties like "solidity"
and "motion". <otion ho&eer &ill not help unless &e hae things moin%. So let us
concentrate upon thin%s. No& a olume o$ space &ith a thin% in it is kno&n by the
solidity or resistance the thin% o$$ers. *hat is the di$$erence bet&een a cubic $oot o$ space
$illed &ith %ranite! and a cubic $oot o$ acuum. So! &hat is solidityH ;ocke is ery keen
on itG
%he idea of solidity we receive by our touch! &nd it arises from the resistance which we
find in body, to the entrance of any other body into the place it possesses, till it has left it. %here is
no idea, which we receive more constantly from sensation, than solidity. /hether we move, or
rest, in what posture soever we are, we always feel some thing under us that supports us, and
hinders our farther sinking downwards# and the bodies which we daily handle make us perceive,
that, whilst they remain between them, they do by an insurmountable force, hinder the approach
of the parts of our hands that press them. %hat which thus hinders the approach of two bodies,
when they are moved one towards another, I call solidity. . . )I+f any one think it better to call it
impenetrability, he has my consent. 1nly I have thought the term solidity the more proper to
express this idea, not only because of its vulgar use in that sense# but also because it carries
some thing more of positive in it than impenetrability, which is negative, and is, perhaps, more a
conse-uence of solidity, than solidity itself. %his, of all other, seems the idea most intimately
connected with and essential to body, so as no'where else to be found or imagined, but only in
*he solidity o$ ob"ects seems to come do&n to their "po&ers" to e4clude other
ob"ects $rom the bit o$ space they occupy. But can &e rest content &ith a conception o$
the &orld in &hich there are only di$$erent re%ions o$ space &ith di$$erent po&ersH .o &e
not also need somethin%! some substance! to possess the po&ersH
8t least ;ocke allo&s that &e kno& about solidity! so perhaps its epistemolo%y is
in order. )t seems clear that &e kno& about solidity by &hat &e $eel. ;ocke actually
emphasiBes thisG
If any one asks me, what this solidity is, I send him to his senses to inform him! 5et him
put a flint or a football between his hands, and then endeavour to join them, and he will know. If
he thinks this not a sufficient explication of solidity, what it is, and wherein it consists# I promise to
tell him what it is, and wherein it consists, when he tells me what thinking is, or wherein it
consists# or explains to me what extension or motion is, which perhaps seems much easier.
8lthou%h ;ocke &as not particularly sensitie to it! the problem &ith this &as
%rumblin% in his time! and it erupted at the be%innin% o$ the ei%hteenth century in the
&ritin%s o$ 1ierre Bayle @>6CE'>E06A in France and the )rish philosopher 2eor%e
Berkeley @>6DF'>EF3A. Berkeley makes a number o$ deastatin% ob"ections to the
3artesian/;ockean &orld'ie&. 9is position is that it does not hold to%ether either
metaphysically! or epistemolo%ically. 9is case is comple4 and many'layered! but &e can
appreciate its %eneral stren%ths under t&o headin%s.
@>A ;ook a%ain at ;ocke7s ie& o$ ho& &e kno& about solidity. )$ this is all &e
can say! in that case ho& is solidity not on all $ours &ith colour! or $elt heat! or smellH )$
those sensations %ie us no real idea o$ the #ualities o$ real thin%s! bein% "ust e4cited in us
by the "po&ers" o$ real thin%s! ho& is it any better &ith solidityH 9o& can you %et $rom
the sensations o$ solidity in the mind! to any resemblin% property in the &orldH (hateer
solidity is "in the mind" it is not the same as solidity in the &orld. Our ideas are not solid!
so &hat is the sense in sayin% that they "resemble" solid thin%sH
8nd i$ solidity disappears $rom the real &orld! &hat is le$tH Berkeley7s o&n
ans&er to this is notoriousG nothin%. 9is &orld retreats entirely into the mind '' the
doctrine kno&n as sub"ectie idealism.
@5A *he ;ockean ie& seems to re#uire at least that &e conceie o$ a &orld in
purely primary'#uality terms! bleachin% out eerythin% that accordin% to him resides in
the mind. But can &eH Berkeley says! ") deny that ) can abstract one $rom another! or
conceie separately! those #ualities &hich it is impossible should e4ist so separated."
*hink o$ an ordinary physical ob"ect! say! a tomato. "8bstract out" its colour! $eel! smell!
taste! and the sensations you %et as you play your hands round it. (hat is le$tH 8n
inisible! intan%ible! undetectable tomato '' surely no better than no tomato at allL 9ume
puts this ob"ection superbly @in the $ollo&in% #uotation! "the modern philosophy" is
;ocke7s positionAG
%he idea of solidity is that of two objects, which, being impelled by the utmost force,
cannot penetrate each other, but still maintain a separate and distinct existence. $olidity therefore
is perfectly incomprehensible alone, and without the conception of some bodies which are solid,
and maintain this separate and distinct existence. ow, what idea have we of these bodies? %he
ideas of colours, sounds, and other secondary -ualities, are excluded. %he idea of motion
depends on that of extension, and the idea of extension on that of solidity. It is impossible,
therefore, that the idea of solidity can depend on either of them. (or that would be to run in a
circle, and make one idea depend on another, while, at the same time, the latter depends on the
former. 1ur modern philosophy, therefore, leaves us no just nor satisfactory idea of solidity, nor
conse-uently of matter.
Or in other &ordsG "M8N$ter the e4clusion o$ colour! sounds! heat! and cold! $rom
the rank o$ e4ternal e4istences! there remains nothin% &hich can a$$ord us a "ust and
consistent idea o$ body." Berkeley and 9ume deny that &e can really understand the
alle%ed properties o$ the alle%ed independent &orld! e4cept in terms dra&n $rom our o&n
e4perience '' our o&n minds. *he "modern philosophy" or scienti$ic &orld ie& re#uires
us to make sense o$ a "scienti$ic" or "absolute" conception o$ reality! thou%ht o$ in terms
o$ space'occupyin% thin%s! independent o$ us! &hose arran%ements e4plain all that can be
e4plained about the entire unierse! includin% us and our e4periences. But i$ this
conception is $la&ed at its heart! &e hae to look else&here.
.ORCE!+ .IE&(!+ AN( THIN'!
)n the #uoted passa%e 9ume asked &hat conception &e had le$t o$ the "bodies"
that are impenetrable to each other! and ar%ued that &ithout the "stu$$in%" a$$orded by the
secondary #ualities! there &as no ans&er. But this raises a more %eneral problemG &hat
conception do &e e)er hae o$ bodies! apart $rom their po&ers o$ interaction &ith each
other! and &ith usH
*his is not the place to enter into details o$ physical thinkin%! but &e can take up
the story in the &ords o$ one o$ the %reatest o$ physicists! <ichael Faraday @>E?>'>D6EA.
Suppose &e try to distin%uish a physical particle a $rom the po&ers or $orces m &hereby
it makes its in$luence kno&n! then! Faraday &ritesG
)%+o my mind. . . the # or nucleus vanishes, and the substance consists of the powers, or
m, and indeed what notion can we form of the nucleus independent of its powers! what thought
remains on which to hang the imagination of an a independent of the acknowledged forces? /hy
then assume the existence of that of which we are ignorant, which we cannot conceive, and for
which there is no philosophical necessity?
9ume7s protest about bodies apart $rom solidity is here taken on the chin! as it
&ere. (e "ust do not hae to think in terms o$ thin%s apart $rom their po&ers.
)n that case the &orld o$ physics! the "scienti$ic ima%e"! resoles itsel$ into a ast
$lu4 o$ $orcesG presumably such thin%s as %raitational $orces! electroma%netic attractions
and repulsions! or i$ &e turn up the ma%ni$ication! stron% and &eak interactions amon%st
elementary particles. But then there is somethin% ery uncom$ortable %oin% on. For
remember that the ar%ument is entirely %eneral! so that these "particles" themseles
resole into other "$orces". *his is a problem because normally! &hen &e think o$ $orces!
or o$ thin%s like %raitational or ma%netic $ields! &e take some notion like that o$ a
particle $or %ranted. (e understand the e4istence o$ a $ield or $orce at some point in space
in terms o$ the acceleration that (ould occur i$ some test particle &ere placed there. )$
there is a ma%net on the table! the e4istence o$ the ma%netic $ield around it is a matter o$
the &ay in &hich other "thin%s" @particlesA (ould tend to moe if they &ere put at arious
distances $rom it. )n the $amiliar school e4periments! iron $ilin%s take the role o$ test
But i$! $ollo&in% Faraday! &e resole particles themseles into yet $urther po&ers!
dispositions! or $orces! &e cannot be satis$ied &ith this kind o$ ima%e. (e hae to try to
understand &hat the cosmos contains &ithout the mental crutch a$$orded by "thin%s" o$
any kind &hatsoeer. 9ume7s complaint about impenetrability '' that &e need to kno&
&hat it is that cannot penetrate &hat '' then returns to haunt us. )t is as i$ the common'
sense conception o$ the di$$erence bet&een space occupied by a body! and space not so
occupied! has been displaced in $aour o$ space o$ &hich some ifs are true! as opposed to
space o$ &hich other kinds o$ ifs are true. But &e hanker a$ter somethin% to really occupy
space! &hose presence e4plains the di$$erences in i$s! the di$$erences in potentials and
(e can put the problem in the terms o$ 3hapter 5. )$ 2od creates the physical
unierse! ho& much does he hae to doH 3an he %et by creatin% only $orcesH )n that case
the unierse seems to resole itsel$ into a %iant set o$ ifs. Or does he also hae to create
ob"ects! both $or the $orces to act upon! and perhaps to e4plain ho& the $orces ariseH )$ &e
plump $or the latter! then &hat conception o$ those ob"ects can &e haeH *he $irst
conception seems to leae the unierse as some kind o$ hu%e potential! like a %i%antic
shimmer. 1erhaps .escartes! the mathematician! &as happy &ith this @it is a $ascinatin%
#uestion &hether he anticipated Faraday7s kind o$ isionA. But common'sense thinkin%
seems to demand somethin% @somethin% solidA to $ill the bits o$ space that hae matter in
*his is a problem that %reatly e4ercised :ant! himsel$ one o$ the pioneers o$ the
resolution o$ matter itsel$ into "$orces". :ant thou%ht that this conception o$ thin%s &as
the best &e could eer achiee. 9e thou%ht this partly because &e kno& o$ the &orld by
means o$ the senses! and the senses are essentially recepti)e. *hat is! all they eer %ie us
are the results o$ po&ers and $orces. *he senses are not adapted to tell us (hat in the
&orld underlies the distribution o$ po&ers and $orces in space. *hey simply brin% to us
the result o$ that distribution. 8nythin% underlyin% it &ould hae to be entirely
"noumenal" '' lyin% behind the ran%e o$ scienti$ic inesti%ation! and $or that matter
beyond the ran%e o$ human e4perience and thou%ht.
9ume thou%ht that his problem &ith impenetrability cast doubt on the &hole
metaphysics o$ "the modern philosophy"! althou%h he also thinks Berkeley7s o&n retreat
into sub"ectie idealism is entirely unbelieable. :ant too belieed that the problem
re#uired an entire rethink o$ the modern philosophy.
*here is another &ay o$ comin% to appreciate the problems raised in the last
section! &hich is to think about a di$$erent staple o$ scienti$ic understandin%! the concept
o$ a la& o$ nature. )t re#uires reisitin% somethin% &e met in the last chapterG the lottery
$or the 2olden 9arp.
8$ter considerin% that thou%ht'e4periment! &e mi%ht think somethin% alon% these
lines. *he thou%ht'e4periment is impressie! but perhaps it is also misleadin%. For it
represents the situation as i$ the state o$ the &orld at each interal is independent o$ its
state at any other interal. )t is "ust as i$ 2od tosses a si4'sided die at the end o$ each
period! so it is a > in 6 chance &hether one colour or another comes up. No& i$ that &ere
the situation! it &ould indeed be a $allacy to ar%ue that since one number @blueA has come
up $ie times! it is more likely to come up ne4t time. 8r%uin% like that is $allin% $or &hat
is called the %ambler7s $allacy. 9o&eer! in the &orld as &e hae it &e do not kno& that
there is this kind o$ lottery takin% place all the time. (e do not $ind the chaos that this
&ould lead us to e4pect. (e $ind only the uni$ormities. So it is much more probable that
there is somethin% that guarantees order through time. *here is no independent dice'
tossin% $rom time to timeG rather it is as i$ 2od made the one decision! and stuck to it.
*here must be a metaphysical solution to the problem o$ induction! een i$ there is no
purely probabilistic or mathematical solution.
*his may seem to help! but does itH
1art o$ the problem o$ course is that een i$ the unierse realiBes "ust one la&! like
one decision o$ 2od! it may hae been ";et7s hae pattern :" rather than ";et7s hae
pattern S". *he unchan%in% la& may hae the kinked character. 8$ter all! &e are con$ined
to kno&in% about the se%ments that hae happened so $ar. 8nd ar%uin% that because
nature has so far been uni$orm in some particular &ay! then it is likely that it (ill
continue to be uni$orm in that particular &ay! is makin% "ust another inductie in$erence!
as 9ume pointed out.
But a%ain! there is a metaphysical side to the problem. ;et us call &hateer
%uarantees order a 8traight/ac'et. 8 Strai%ht"acket is somethin% like a la& o$ nature
operatin% oer timeG a directie or %uarantee that $i4es the order o$ thin%s. *he idea then
is that it is because o$ this directie or %uarantee that thin%s keep on keepin% on! as &e
mi%ht say! in the old $amiliar &ays. No& the problem becomesG can &e hae any
conception o$ &hat such a Strai%ht"acket &ould be likeH
*he problem here is e4tremely similar to the problem &ith the cosmolo%ical
ar%ument! discussed in 3hapter F! and indeed can be seen to be a ersion o$ it. *he thin%s
&e meet in space and time! includin% such thin%s as human resolutions! are inherently
chan%eable. *hey may last $or a lon% time! but in practice they come and %o. 8
Strai%ht"acket is not to be like that. For i$ it is in principle chan%eable then its o&n
surial throu%h time re#uires e4planation! and &e are launched on a re%ress.
*he situation is that &e are hopin% to underpin the ordinary continuation o$
re%ularities by citin% "somethin% else"! somethin% that ma'es true the $act that eents
must $all out as they do. But then &e turn to consider the re%ular continuation o$ that
somethin% else. )$ this is "ust a "brute $act" then it is no more likely than &hat &e started
&ith '' the empirical order. )$ it needs a di$$erent kind o$ underpinnin%! then &e are
launched on a re%ress a%ain. )$ &e say that it is "necessary" or contains its o&n
e4planation &ithin itsel$! then &e $ace the same scepticism that &as directed at the cos'
molo%ical ar%ument. (e do not understand &hat &e mean by this! and hae no principles
$or sayin% to &hat kind o$ thin%s such a description mi%ht apply.
)n other &ords! i$ a Strai%ht"acket is the kind o$ thin% that comes and %oes! &e
&ill be le$t &ith no reason $or e4pectin% its continuation. But hae &e any conception o$
somethin% &hose e4istence is not sub"ect to time and chan%eH 3an &e een touch it! let
alone embrace it! &ith our understandin%sH 8ren7t &e once more le$t &ith (itt%enstein7s
dire sayin%! "M8N nothin% &ould sere "ust as &ell as a somethin% about &hich nothin%
could be said"H Or in 9ume7s &ords!
%he scenes of the universe are continually shifting, and one object follows another in an
uninterrupted succession# but the power or force, which actuates the whole machine, is entirely
concealed from us, and never discovers itself in any of the sensible -ualities of body.
)t seems that our understandin%s are ba$$led in this too. (e can hae no
conception o$ &hat it is $or a la& o$ nature to hold. (e can understand the &ays in &hich
eents do $all out! but neer obtain any %limmer o$ a conception o$ &hy they must $all out
as they do. )n the last section! $ollo&in% Faraday and 9ume! &e $ound that the "absolute"
scienti$ic conception o$ an independent reality ran into problems o$ thin%s ersus their
po&ers. (e no& $ind that our conception o$ those po&ers themseles! under&ritten by
la&s o$ nature! is as $rail as it could possibly be.
1roblems &ith the "modern philosophy" led Berkeley to retreat inside his o&n
mind. 9e decided that the unierse o$ our understandin% &as con$ined to our o&n ideas!
and our o&n nature as "spirits" or souls. Fortunately &e are not #uite alone in this sub'
"ectie unierse! $or &e can be sure @he thou%htA that our e4periences must be in"ected
into us by another %reater spiritG 2od @one can by no& anticipate 9ume7s snort o$ derision
at this a priori piece o$ causal reasonin%A. But nobody has eer held that Berkeley7s
solution &as satis$actoryG it sounds too much as i$ Berkeley7s 2od "ust plays the role o$
.escartes7s Eil .emon! puttin% us into an entirely delusie irtual reality.
One philosopher &ho a%reed &ith Berkeley7s dia%nosis o$ the situation &as :ant.
:ant thou%ht that ;ocke7s "modern philosophy" had attempted &hat he called a
"transcendental realism"! &hich is untenable. "-ealism"! because it insists on a real &orld
o$ independent ob"ects situated in space and time. "*ranscendental"! because this &orld is
outside our o&n e4perience! and only an ob"ect o$ in$erence. But :ant a%rees &ith
Berkeley that the in$erence is too precarious. On the ;ockean positionG
I am not, therefore, in a position to perceive external things, but can only infer their
existence from my inner perception, taking the inner perception as the effect of which something
external is the proximate cause. ow the inference from a given effect to a determinate cause is
always uncertain, since the effect may be due to more than one cause. &ccordingly, as regards
the relation of the perception to its cause, it always remains doubtful whether the cause be
internal or external# whether, that is to say, all the so'called outer perceptions are not a mere play
of our inner sense, or whether they stand in relation to actual external objects as their cause. &t
all events, the existence of the latter is only inferred, and is open to all dangers of inference,
whereas the object of inner sense 3I myself with all my representations4 is immediately perceived,
and its existence does not allow of being doubted.
For :ant the priority is to %et a&ay $rom this "inner theatre" model. (e already
met some o$ his approach in 3hapter C! on the sel$. *here! &e sa& that arious #uite
comple4 $eats o$ or%aniBation are needed $or sel$'consciousness. (e hae to or%aniBe our
e4perience not as &hat :ant calls a mere "rhapsody" or kaleidoscope o$ perceptions! but
in terms o$ a temporal and spatial order. Only so can &e %et a concept o$ ourseles as
moin% amon%st an independent &orld o$ ob"ects situated in a space. 9o& does :ant use
this insi%ht to surmount the impasse le$t by the tradition $rom .escartes on&ardsH
1art o$ :ant7s achieement &as seein% that ;ocke is inoled in an untenable
conception o$ understandin%. For ;ocke the paradi%m o$ understandin% &ould be to hae
somethin% in the mind that "resembles" the $eatures o$ thin%s that cause it! like a picture.
Berkeley shared this ideal. *rue! he thou%ht that the resemblance could not really obtain
@"8n idea can resemble nothin% but another idea"A. But he dre& the conse#uence that &e
only understand the &orld o$ our o&n ideas. :ant sees that &hen it comes to space and
time! siBe! shape! and the ob"ectie order! to hae a concept is not to hae a mental
picture. )t is to hae an or%aniBin% principle or ruleI a &ay o$ handlin% the $lu4 o$ data.
9ain% the same or%aniBin% principles or rules could %ie us the same understandin% o$
the &orld in spite o$ differences o$ sub"ectie e4perience.
*he implication then is that &e %ot into the problems o$ the last t&o sections
because &e &ere lookin% $or "thin%s" to play certain rolesG the role o$ ob"ects standin%
behind and apart $rom po&ers and $orces! or the role o$ somethin% responsible $or causal
and physical la&s. But i$ &e can &ean our understandin%s $rom this dependency on
thin%s! perhaps &e can do better. Suppose instead &e see thou%hts o$ causation and la&!
thin%s in space and time! and space and time themseles as necessary cate%ories o$
thou%ht. *hey proide us &ith a $rame&ork o$ principles &ith &hich to or%aniBe or
systematiBe our e4perience. *hey do not proide a set o$ thin%s &e "in$er" $rom our
e4perience. *he idea here is ery similar to the ideas about the "sel$" that &e took $rom
:ant! and indeed $orm the other side o$ the same coin. )$ &e try to understand the sel$ in
sensory terms! as an ob"ect o$ e4perience! &e meet 9ume7s problem! that it is no such
ob"ect. But i$ instead &e think o$ the &ay a personal or e%ocentric standpoint organizes
e4perience! the role o$ the sel$ as an element in our thinkin% becomes clearer '' and so do
illusions en%endered by that role.
:ant7s reolution is introduced in a $amous passa%e at the be%innin% o$ the
!ritiue of Pure %eason*
7itherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. "ut all
attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them apriori,
by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. /e must therefore make trial
whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects
must conform to our knowledge. %his would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it
should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to
them prior to their being given. /e should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of
2opernicus0 primary hypothesis. (ailing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of
the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried
whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to
remain at rest. & similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of
objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could
know anything of the latter a priori# but if the object 3as object of the senses4 must conform to the
constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.
*his is the element that :ant calls "transcendental idealism". 9e is ery keen that
it is not the "sub"ectie idealism" o$ Berkeley. 8nd obiously! it cannot be the
"transcendental realism" o$ ;ocke. So &hat is itH
)t sounds as thou%h in hain% e4perience &e thereby "create" a &orld that must
con$orm to it. *hat is a ery odd idea. )t is the unierse that created us a$ter some thirteen
billion years! not &e that create it. :ant is not intendin% to deny that. (hat he &ants is an
understandin% o$ the &ay in &hich concepts like those o$ thin%s! $orces! space! time!
causation determine the &ay &e think @and hae to thinkA about the &orld. *he intention
is not to deny some element o$ scienti$ic understandin%! or indeed common sense! but to
explain ho& those elements han% to%ether in our thou%ht. )t is those thou%hts that
structure &hat he calls the "phenomenal &orld"G the &orld that is both described by
science! and is mani$ested to us in sense e4perience.
:ant certainly did not think that all sensory e4perience someho& "creates" such a
&orld. 9e did not think this about secondary #ualities! $or e4ampleG
2olours are not properties of the bodies to the intuition of which they are attached, but
only modifications of the sense of sight, which is affected in a certain manner by light. $pace, on
the other hand, as condition of outer objects, necessarily belongs to their appearance or intuition.
%aste and colours are not necessary conditions under which alone objects can be for us objects
of the senses.
*he idea bein% that space! unlike colour! is a "condition" under &hich alone
ob"ects can be ob"ects o$ the senses. Space has more ob"ectiity %oin% $or it than colour.
*he central di$$iculty in interpretin% :ant here is &hether he actually adances as
$ar as he seems to think beyond Berkeley. Suppose Berkeley thanks :ant $or three
:" We must depart entirely from 4ocke-s sensory view of the understanding, and see the
concepts with which we describe the world in terms of rules, principles, and organiCing structures
rather than as mental images.
?" +ur experience has to be orderly in the phrase of the contemporary philosopher
>onathan $ennett, there has to be a !speed limit!" for us to be self1conscious at all.
D" ,or it to be orderly we have to think of ourselves as occupying a standpoint in space,
from which we perceive enduring ob'ects in space and time, whose behaviour falls into patterns
determined by laws of nature.
*his mi%ht all seem %rist to Berkeley7s mill. Berkeley himsel$ kne& that &e
interpret our e4perience in spatio'temporal! ob"ectie terms. But he thou%ht &e had to
"speak &ith the ul%ar but think &ith the learned"G in other &ords! learn to re%ard that
interpretation as a kind o$ fa@on de parler, rather than the description o$ a real!
independent! ob"ectie &orld.
8 $actor con$usin% the picture is that :ant says thin%s sho&in% considerable
sympathy &ith a position not unlike Berkeley7s sub"ectie idealism. *he "3opernican
reolution" leaes him sayin% thin%s like thisG
In our system, on the other hand, these external things, namely matter, are in all their
configurations and alterations nothing but mere appearances, that is, representations in us, of the
reality of which we are immediately conscious.
*he in%redient that sets :ant apart $rom sub"ectie idealism is that he thou%ht that
.escartes and his successors %ot hold o$ the &ron% end o$ the stick. *hey thou%ht that
"inner e4perience" remained rock'solid! &hile the outside &orld became problematic. *o
do better!
)%+he re-uired proof must, therefore, show that we have experience, and not merely
imagination of outer things# and this, it would seem, cannot be achieved save by proof that even
our inner experience, which for Descartes is indubitable, is possible only on the assumption of
outer experience.
"Outer e4perience" is here e4perience in &hich &e are immediately conscious o$ a
reality that e4tends beyond us. *he #uestion o$ &hether! and ho&! :ant is success$ul is
one o$ the %reat issues o$ modern thou%ht.
8 true realist or opponent o$ idealism &ants to contend $or $acts and states o$
a$$airs that are entirely independent o$ the mind. *he idealist constantly reminds us o$ the
&ork o$ the mind in selectin% and mouldin% our conception o$ the &orld &e inhabit. *he
mind! $or the idealist! creates the &orld &e lie in! the ";ebens&elt" o$ our thou%hts!
ima%inin%s! and perceptions. :ant! o$ course! is in this up to the elbo&s! since the entire
$rame&ork &ithin &hich &e think! our "conceptual scheme" o$ space! time! ob"ects!
causes! and seles! is due to or%aniBin% principles o$ the mind.
No&! &ithout bein% 3artesian dualists! &e mi%ht still sympathiBe &ith this
a&areness o$ the &ork o$ the mind in %eneratin% the only &orld &e understand. )n $act!
most t&entieth'century thinkers @$ollo&in% a nineteenth'century trendA hae picked up
:ant7s ball and run &ith it een more enthusiastically than he did. )n particularly! they
hae celebrated &hat &e hae already met under the headin% o$ "paradi%ms"G the idea o$
cultural and historically mutable lenses throu%h &hich &e see thin%s! or conceptual
palaces or prisons o$ our o&n en%ineerin%.
Once more! thou%h! ) shall introduce the moderns ia a classic! and once more &e
can start &ith Berkeley. )n the $irst o$ the Three Dialogues there is this celebrated
passa%e! &ith 1hilonous representin% Berkeley himsel$G
67I5118$. . . ."ut 3to pass by all that hath been hitherto said, and reckon it for
nothing, if you will have it so4 I am content to put the whole upon this issue. If you can conceive it
possible for any mixture or combination of -ualities, or any sensible object whatever, to exist
without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so.
7?5&$. If it comes to that, the point will soon be decided. /hat more easy than to
conceive a tree or house existing by itself, independent of, and unperceived by any mind whatso'
ever? I do at this present time conceive them existing after that manner.
67I5. 7ow say you, 7ylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time unseen?
7?5. o, that were a contradiction.
67I5. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of conceiving a thing which is unconceived?
7?5. It is.
67I5. %he tree or house therefore which you think of, is conceived by you.
7?5. 7ow should it be otherwise?
67I5. &nd what is conceived is surely in the mind.
7?5. /ithout -uestion, that which is conceived is in the mind.
67I5. 7ow then came you to say, you conceived a house or tree existing independent
and out of all minds whatsoever?
7?5. %hat was, I own, an oversight# but stay, let me consider what led me into it. It is a
pleasant mistake enough. &s I was thinking of a tree in a solitary place, where no one was
present to see it, methought that was to conceive a tree as existing unperceived or unthought of,
not considering that I myself conceived it all the while. "ut now I plainly see, that all I can do is to
frame ideas in my own mind. I may indeed conceive in my own thoughts the idea of a tree, or a
house, or a mountain, but that is all. &nd this is far from proving, that I can conceive them existing
out of the minds of all spirits.
67I5. ?ou acknowledge then that you cannot possibly conceive how any one corporeal
sensible thing should exist otherwise than in a mind.
7?5. I do.
67I5. &nd yet you will earnestly contend for the truth of that which you cannot so much
as conceive.
7?5. I profess I know not what to think, but still there are some scruples remain with me.
9ylas is probably ri%ht to retain some scruples! $or 1hilonous7s ar%ument has
attracted a %reat deal o$ criticism! and een contempt. (e mi%ht try applyin% to it some o$
the &eaponry deployed a%ainst the ontolo%ical ar%ument! &onderin% i$ 1hilonous is
surreptitiously misunderstandin% phrases like "in the mind". (e mi%ht also raise the
#uestion o$ the stren%th o$ 1hilonous7s conclusion. For althou%h he thinks 9ylas cannot
conceie ho& a house or tree should e4ist other&ise than "in" a mind! the ar%ument looks
e#ually set to proe the appallin%ly stron% conclusion that 9ylas cannot conceie ho& a
house or tree should e4ist other&ise than in 9ylas7s o(n mind. 8nd this is too radical
een $or Berkeley.
Neertheless! as usual &ith the %reat thinkers! &e mi%ht &orry that there is some
%rain o$ truth in 1hilonous7s position. 9ere is one &ay o$ sympathiBin% &ith it. Suppose
&e think o$ 9ylas as seekin% to sho& that he can understand the realist notion o$ an ob'
"ect "independent" o$ his actual modes o$ comprehension. 9e undertakes to "abstract"
a&ay $rom contin%encies o$ his o&n perceptual e4perience or contin%encies o$ his o&n
modes o$ thou%ht! or his o&n conceptual choices. *hen &e can see Berkeley! in the
person o$ 1hilonous! remindin% him that this $eat o$ abstraction is impossible. (hateer
he succeeds in ima%inin% or conceiin%! he is doomed to brin% his o&n perspectie to it.
For e4ample! perhaps 9ylas ima%ines his tree to hae a bro&n trunk and %reen
leaes. *hen it is open to Berkeley to insist that this is not meetin% the challen%e o$
ima%inin% an ob"ect $rom outside the human perspectie! since the colours o$ thin%s are
arte$acts o$ that perspectie. *he point is clearest &ith secondary #ualities! but by this
point in the $irst Dialogue Berkeley has so$tened the reader up $or applyin% it more
%enerally. 8 nice thou%ht'e4periment that illustrates his position is this. Suppose ) ask
you to ima%ine a room! &ith a mirror on one &all! and a table some &ay in $ront o$ it on
&hich there is a bo&l o$ $lo&ers. ) &arn you not to ima%ine yourself in this room. 0ou
beliee you can do it. No& ) ask you &hether the bo&l o$ $lo&ers is in the mirror. )$ you
say "yes"! then you are surreptitiously occupyin% one perspectie! and i$ you say "no"
you are occupyin% another @$or the $lo&ers &ill be in the mirror $rom some an%les and not
$rom othersA. 0ou can hardly say "neither"! and neither can you escape by sayin% that
they come and %o! since that corresponds to moin% your point o$ ie& around the room.
0ou seem to be trapped '' the point o$ ie& comes in all unbidden! as soon as you
e4ercise your ima%ination.
Berkeley is remindin% us o$ the uniersal in$luence o$ our o&n perspectie on
&hat &e ima%ine or comprehend. (e can see the stren%th! and the importance! o$ his
position i$ &e consider $or a moment a philosopher &ho i%nored it! namely 2. E. <oore.
<oore undertook to re$ute the idea that beauty lies in the eye o$ the beholder '' in other
&ords he undertook to de$end realism about beauty. 9e ar%ued $or it by an "isolation"
thou%ht'e4periment. <oore asks us to ima%ine t&o &orlds. One is $ull o$ $lu$$y clouds!
%reen trees! runnin% streams! and other pastoral deli%hts. *he other is a heap o$ cinders
and %arba%e. No& &e speci$y that there is nobody in either o$ these &orlds. *hey are
unobsered. But surely one is more beauti$ul than the otherH 8nd doesn7t that sho& that
beauty is independent o$ the eye o$ the beholderH
1hilonous inoculates us a%ainst this specious ar%ument o$ <oore7s. )t is &e &ho
accept the initation to think o$ these &orlds. 8nd (e brin% to them our o&n aesthetic
responses! &hich no doubt include a loe o$ the countryside and a dislike o$ cinders and
%arba%e. But &e haen7t %ot +ehind those responses or put them into abeyance as &e
respond to the ima%ined &orlds. On the contrary! it is these )ery responses that &e oice
in our erdicts. 8ll that <oore really succeeds in sho&in% is that &e can deem thin%s to
be beauti$ul re%ardless o$ &hether &e think they are actually seen! and this does not
re$ute the idealist or sub"ectie ie& that beauty neertheless lies in the eye o$ the
) suspect most people $ind <oore7s ar%ument $ishy! and thus $ar they sympathiBe
&ith 1hilonous. But then most people $ind 1hilonous $ishy as &ell. )$ &e &ant to re"ect
<oore and 1hilonous to%ether! &e &ill need to &ork hard to $ind a stable place to stand.
(e mi%ht think :ant points the &ay. 3oncede thin%s like beauty and secondary #ualities
to 1hilonous! but hold that the "eye o$ the beholder" is not #uite so inoled &ith more
important cate%ories o$ thou%ht! such as the notions o$ space! time! physical ob"ects! the
sel$! causation. But in the ne4t section &e %lance brie$ly at &ays een this promise o$ a
synthesis runs into choppy &ater.
*he idealist tradition in philosophy stresses the inescapable and ital place that
the shape o$ our o&n minds plays in "constructin%" the &orld as &e understand it. )t can
select di$$erent $eatures shapin% our minds. Berkeley and the empiricist tradition start
&ith the sub"ectie nature o$ sense e4perience! particularly e4perience o$ secondary
#ualities. )t is the $act that they "lie in the eye o$ the beholder" that proes so bothersome.
8t the present time! cultural and especially lin%uistic $actors are more prominent.
(e &orry not so much about the sub"ectiity o$ e4perience as the ariations o$ culture.
So! many contemporary philosophers applaud a line o$ thou%ht $ound in (itt%ensteinG the
so'called rule'$ollo&in% considerations. (itt%enstein considers the moment o$
understandin%! &hen some concept is e4plained to us! and &e realiBe "No& ) can %o on"
or "No& ) kno& &hat is meant". (e seem to hae %rasped a rule or principle that
separates correct application o$ a term $rom incorrect applications. *his is a real $eat.
Some people and animals are too dumb or di$$erent to catch on @&e hae already met the
e4ample o$ the &ay in &hich do%s cannot $ollo& the actiity o$ pointin%! and incline to
look at your $in%er insteadA. *he &ay &e per$orm that $eat! and the $act that su$$iciently
o$ten &e do so in "ust the same &ay is! as it &ere! a $act o$ natural history. )t makes
communication and shared understandin% possible. But it is not "ust a %ien! or to be
taken $or %ranted! that &e all do it in the same &ay! or in any one particular &ay. )t
re#uires that our minds are shaped the same &ay. But &hat shapes our minds one &ay or
*his is in $act the ancient topic! much pondered by 2reek philosophers! o$
uniersals. *o understand thin%s and describe them re#uires usin% concepts that are rule'
%oerned in the minimal &ay "ust described. But &hat is the "reality" behind these rulesH
*hree main positions are traditionally distin%uishedG
E 63#4IS% sometimes .l#T+NIS%". These rules have a real, ob'ective existence. They
determine the proper application of concepts over past, present, future, and possible instances.
We grasp them by some mysterious act of apprehension, which cannot easily be understood in
natural terms.
E 0+N03.T/#4IS%. These rules are the creatures of the mind. They are con'ured into
existence by our shared responses arising from our shared human natures, or perhaps our
educated and culturally shaped natures. In this way all concepts are !response dependent!(
artefacts of our own dispositions to respond to things.
E N+%IN#4IS%. There aren-t really any rules at all. There are 'ust human beings with
their dispositions to apply words or withhold them. There is no real !correctness! or
!incorrectness! in this, although as so often people whose applications diverge from those of the
herd will find themselves being called incorrect.
)t may help to think o$ an e4ample! &here each position mi%ht hae its attractions.
3onsider a rather doubt$ul concept! such as that o$ "hysteria" or "neurasthenia". 8 realist!
usin% the concept! &ill suppose that there is here a real phenomenon! &ith real boundaries
@some people &ho carry on are hysterics! and others notA. )n usin% the term &e "care
nature at the "oints"! to use a rather unpleasant metaphor. 8 conceptualist &ill re"ect the
metaphor. 9e may! ho&eer! embrace the concept o$ hysteria itsel$! supposin% that it
marks a use$ul principle or cate%ory &ith &hich to dra& the boundaries around a
particular kind o$ medical or psycholo%ical condition. )t classes to%ether cases that strike
us as similar! and that! at the end o$ the day! is all that any concept does. Finally a
nominalist says that the &ord is as %ood as any other. 1eople are disposed to use itI &ell
and %ood! $or that is all there is to the use o$ any term at all.
Naturally these positions come in sli%htly di$$erent $laours! and each has its
apparent stren%ths and &eaknesses. *o the realist or 1latonist! the others open the door to
the pit o$ idealismG the mind constructin% or makin% up its o&n reality @i$ hysteria is not a
real uni$ied phenomenon! &e hae no business describin% the &orld in terms o$ it. (e
cannot %et at ob"ectie truth that &ayA. *o both the 1latonist and the conceptualist!
nominalism is completely untenableG a denial that meanin% and concept'application! and
in $act thou%ht at all! are real. )t is a kind o$ "eliminatiism" or denial o$ the ery act o$
thinkin%. No mind is "ust as %ood as a mind that simply blurts out erbal responses to
stimuli! &ith nothin% %oernin% truth or correctness. But to the nominalist! 1latonism is
incredible! and conceptualism simply embraces the rhetoric o$ rule'$ollo&in% &ithout
delierin% on the substance. For &hat is the di$$erence bet&een rules that are
"constituted" by our dispositions or responses! and rules that &e make up as &e %o alon%H
8nd &hat is the di$$erence bet&een those and no rules at allH 8 conceptualist! on this
ie&! is "ust a nominalist &ho is too co&ardly to admit it.
)t is said that the students o$ medieal 1aris came to blo&s in the streets oer the
#uestion o$ uniersals. *he stakes are hi%h! $or at issue is our &hole conception o$ our
ability to describe the &orld truly or $alsely! and the ob"ectiity o$ any opinions &e $rame
to ourseles. )t is ar%uable that this is al&ays the deepest! most pro$ound! problem o$
philosophy. )t structures 1lato7s @realistA reaction to the sophists @nominalistsA. (hat is
o$ten called "postmodernism" is really "ust nominalism! colour$ully presented as the
doctrine that there is nothin% e4cept te4ts. )t is the ariety o$ nominalism represented in
many modern humanities! paralysin% appeals to reason and truth. "8nalytical" philosophy
plays 1lato to its sophistry! tryin% to silence its siren appeals.
)n recent years a kind o$ "naturaliBed" realism! aoidin% the mysteries o$
1latonism! has seemed plausible to some philosophers. 8ccordin% to this there really are
properties that thin%s hae! #uite independently o$ &hether &e re%ard them one &ay or
another. 8nd our minds are built in response to these properties. Eolution and success
shape us to be responsie to the real causal 'inds that thin%s $all into. (hile
conceptualists are ri%ht to stress the contin%ent shape o$ our minds! they are &ron% to
$or%et that those minds do not e4ist in a acuum. Our minds are naturally shaped by the
causal structures o$ the &orld &e inhabit. )n $aourable circumstances! &e all "%o on in
the same &ay" because! in the conte4t o$ the &orld! that is the ri%ht &ay to %o on. Such a
naturalism mi%ht! $or instance! make contact &ith the sketch &e %ae o$ colour science in
3hapter 5. )t &ould try to sho& that the &ay in &hich een secondary'#uality
classi$ications take place is $ar $rom arbitrary. 8nd i$ they re%ain some "realistic" status!
others ou%ht to $ollo& suit.
*his is a com$ortable ie&! and it ties in nicely &ith the "natural $oundationalism"
or eolutionarily inspired de$ence o$ harmony bet&een our minds and the &orld that &e
met at the end o$ 3hapter >. (e may indeed hope that it suries in the seas o$ thou%ht )
hae tried to stir up in this chapter. But it does re#uire con$idence that our troubles are
oer! that the scienti$ic or absolute ima%e o$ the &orld is com$ortably in place alon%side
the mani$est ima%e. (e &ould need to beliee! in e$$ect! that :ant or a sucessor has suc'
cess$ully steered us bet&een 1hilonous and <oore! or soled 9ume7s problem &ith "the
modern philosophy" &ithout %iin% too much to idealism. Not eeryone is coninced o$
Cha"ter Ei%ht
What to (o
So F8- (E 98VE BEEN concerned &ith our understandin% o$ the &orld. (e hae
been concerned &ith the nature o$ thin%s! and our kno&led%e o$ them! and &ays o$
reasonin% about them. But much o$ our reasonin% is not so much theoretical! or
concerned &ith ho& the &orld is, as practical! or concerned &ith ho& to act in it. (e
think about &hat to do! and muster considerations and ar%uments in $aour o$ one course
or another. 9o& are &e to think about thatH (hole treatises and encyclopaedias are
deoted to this sub"ect '' ethics and moral philosophy $orm its core! althou%h they do not
e4haust it! since practical reasonin%s are by no means e4clusiely moral in nature. (e
hae technical and aesthetic #uestions to address as &ell as moral problems. )n this $inal
chapter! ) hae no intention o$ coerin% the %round such treatises occupy. *hat cannot be
done in such a short space. But ) think there e4ist some buildin% blocks o$ ade#uate
thou%ht in these areas! and ) shall try to su%%est &hat these are.
<uch practical thinkin% is technolo%ical in nature. (e hae a %oal! and our
problem is ho& to meet it. (e try to adapt means to ends! &ith the ends %ien in adance.
*he end is setG &e &ant to $i4 the re$ri%erator or %ro& $lo&ers or build a brid%e.
Obiously &e can be more or less %ood at these thin%s. *here is no sin%le "&ay o$ think'
in%" that enables us to achiee our %oals across the board! any more than the person &ho
kno&s ho& to $i4 the re$ri%erator necessarily kno&s ho& to %ro& the $lo&ers or build the
brid%e. 8c#uirin% the necessary skills re#uires understandin% the system in #uestion! and
kno&in% &hich chan%es to e$$ect! and ho& to e$$ect them! in order to delier the desired
)t is commonly said that our %oals are $i4ed by our desires! so that means'ends
reasonin% is a matter o$ e$$iciently satis$yin% our desires. *his is o$ten true! at least as an
appro4imation. But it can be misleadin%. )$ desires are thou%ht o$ as states o$ enthusiasm
$or an end '' thin%s that put a %leam in our eye '' then &e o$ten act because &e hae
particular concerns, &hen desire is not the ri%ht &ord. 9ere ) am cuttin% the %rass &hen )
&ould like to be out sailin%. (hyH Not really because ) desired to cut the %rass. 1erhaps )
hate it. But it &as time to do it! or it had to be done. ) am concerned to %et the %rass cut. )
set about adoptin% e$$icient means to that end. 9ain% a concern here means bein% moed
by the thou%ht that the %rass needs to be cut. ) may think that it is my role to cut the %rass.
Or! ) may "ust think ")t is time to do it"! &ithout sel$'consciously thinkin% about my role
as householder or &hateer. Neertheless! ) typically reco%niBe that someone else7s %rass
needs cuttin% &ithout bein% moed to do it mysel$. So it is my role as householder that
has made me especially sensitie to the thou%ht that my %rass needs cuttin%! een i$ )
don7t sel$'consciously think about that role.
*he di$$erence bet&een actin% $rom some concern and actin% because you &ant to
do it is important. )t is sometimes deliberately i%nored &hen people ar%ue &ith one
another. )ma%ine a relationship that is in di$$iculty. 8nnie $eels bound to leae Bertie
because o$ some causeG perhaps a duty to others or a li$e plan that re#uires moin%. Bertie
can ratchet up the emotional temperature by insistin% that 8nnie &ould not be leain% i$
8nnie didn1t (ant to. "0ou must &ant to other&ise you &ouldn7t be doin% it." *hese are
hurt$ul &ords! since the accusation is that leain% Bertie puts a %leam into 8nnie7s eye or
counts as a positie $eature o$ her course o$ action. 8nd this may be entirely un&arranted.
8nnie may be completely de"ected at the thou%ht o$ leain% Bertie. But! like cuttin% the
%rass! it has to be done.
)t mi%ht be su%%ested that &hen &e hae a concern there must be somethin% in the
o$$in% that &e desire. )$ ) am concerned to cut the %rass! but do not &ant to do it! then i$ )
do it! this must be because ) do &ant somethin% elseG perhaps "ust peace o$ mind! $or
instance. *his introduces another ery dan%erous mistake! &hich is that o$ thinkin% that
&heneer a person has a concern! &hat she "really" desires is some state o$ hersel$! such
as her o&n peace o$ mind. 1sycholo%ists! especially! hae been apt to think o$ desire in
terms o$ a kind o$ build'up o$ tension! and &hat the a%ent is drien to do is to release the
tension. )t is then easy to think that the release o$ tension &as the real ob"ect o$ desire all
alon%. *his too can introduce hurt$ul &ordsG "0ou &eren7t really concerned about the
starin% children! you &ere "ust &antin% to $eel %ood." 8nd all behaiour is dia%nosed as
$undamentally sel$ish! as thou%h it is al&ays your o&n state that concerns you! &ith other
%oals and aims a kind o$ mask.
*his set o$ thou%hts @sometimes called psycholo%ical e%oismA is entirely &ron%.
Suppose you &ant $ood. Follo&in% the train o$ thou%ht o$ the last para%raph! ) interpret
you as &antin% relie$ $rom the tension o$ &antin% $ood. So ) punch you in the stomach!
makin% you sick enou%h to stop &antin% $ood. .id ) %et you &hat you &antedH Not at all
@een $or%ettin% that the punch may hae been pain$ulA. 0ou didn7t &ant any old relie$
$rom the tension. 0ou &anted $ood. Similarly a normal person aroused by se4ual passion
does not &ant any old relie$ $rom the passion. 8 bromide mi%ht %ie him that! but he
doesn7t &ant a bromide. 9e &ants se4.
3onsider more &ide'ran%in% concerns. Suppose ) am a <a$ia %od$ather and
beliee mysel$ to hae been insulted by ;ui%i. ) order you! my henchmen! to rub out
;ui%i. 0ou %o a&ay a little daunted by this dan%erous task. But! you re$lect! &hat ) really
&ant is relie$ $rom the tension that ;ui%i7s e4istence brin%s to me. 0ou can reliee me o$
that in another &ayG %ie me a completely success$ul delusion that you hae killed ;ui%i.
So this is &hat you do! by arran%in% conincin% appearances. .id you do &hat ) &antedH
3learly not. ) didn7t &ant to lie in a $ool7s paradise in &hich ) $alsely belieed that ;ui%i
&as dead @and "ust ima%ine the upshot i$ ) learned that this &as &hat you had brou%ht
aboutLA. ) &anted you to kill ;ui%i.
(e mi%ht sayG one o$ our concerns is not to be deceied about &hether our
concerns are met.
8%ain! &e here uncoer a central cause o$ stri$e and misunderstandin%. For
communication is o$ten a matter o$ addressin% one another7s concerns. *his is not done i$
one side has a concern! and the other re%ards that concern "ust as a kind o$ problem or
obstacle in itsel$ '' somethin% to be mana%ed or cured. Suppose 8nnie is concerned about
her career and sel$'deelopment! and Bertie responds not by thinkin% about &ays to
nurture her career and sel$'deelopment! but by thinkin% about &ays to damp that
concern. ".on7t %et upset! darlin%! you &on7t &orry about that i$ &e %o out to dinner/hold
my hand/hae a baby. . ." *he response is inappropriate in "ust the &ay that the punch in
the stomach remoin% hun%er &as inappropriate. But it is probably not #uite so o+)ious
that it is inappropriate! at least not to Bertie! and probably not een i$ 8nnie &alks out on
him. )n terms ) introduced in 3hapter 3! &e can put this by sayin% that Bertie has
"ob"ecti$ied" 8nnie7s concern! treatin% it itself as the problem! rather than seein% &hat it
&as that concerned 8nnie. But $rom 8nnie7s perspectie it is 8nnie7s career that is the
problem! not 8nnie7s concern &ith her career. )n so $ar as Bertie does not share that
perspectie! they are not on all $ours.
*his point has ast repercussions in connection &ith the &hole culture and
industry o$ "therapy". ) return to this a$ter puttin% one or t&o more pieces on the board.
) said that one o$ our concerns is not to be deceied about &hether our concerns
are met. 8 parallel point is that o$ten! but not al&ays! one o$ our concerns is not "ust to
lose our concerns. Suppose the %od$ather &ho really &ants ;ui%i dead is told that i$ he
&aits ten years this desire &ill pass oer @"So it &ill all be all ri%ht in the end"! someone
mi%ht sayA. *his is like tellin% the partner concerned about her career that i$ she &aits
until she has had a baby that concern &ill diminish. *he person doesn7t (ant the concern
to diminish. (e can e4press this by sayin% that the %od$ather identifies &ith his desire $or
reen%e! and the &oman identi$ies &ith her concern $or her career.
No& there are indeed cases in &hich &e do not identi$y &ith our desires and
concerns. (e mi%ht &ish ourseles to be rid o$ them by any means. 8 person crain% a
ci%arette mi%ht not only &ant the ci%arette! but &ant also to be rid o$ the crain% any &ay
he could. *herapy or a kind o$ sur%ical remoal o$ the state o$ mind &ould do $ine. )$ you
$ind yoursel$ "obsessin%" about someone or somethin%! you mi%ht also come to re%ard
your obsession as somethin% you need to be &ithout! and perhaps set about %ettin% rid o$
it. 3ate%oriBin% a desire or concern &ith &hich you hae been identi$ied as a crain% or
an obsession is a &ay o$ distancin% yoursel$ $rom it! and be%innin% the process o$
ob"ecti$yin% it! en route to seekin% some strate%y $or escape. *he &i$e &ith the concern
$or her career! in the e4ample aboe! might come to share her husband7s perception that it
is that ambition that is to be re%arded as the problem! and seek &ith more enthusiasm to
rid hersel$ o$ it by other distractions. But then a%ain she mi%ht not do this! and she mi%ht
make a mistake i$ she does! $or the concern may be more central to her identity than she
has been led to think.
*his sho&s that the di$$erence bet&een concerns &ith &hich &e identi$y! and
concerns that &e can ob"ecti$y! is not al&ays eident. (e may not kno& until &e try
&hether it is possible @or appropriateA to shake ourseles out o$ some concern! or &hether
it is only possible! or appropriate! to %o ahead and to try to meet it.
(hat then are concernsH ) said that to hae a concern is to be moed by a thou%ht.
Some aspect o$ thin%s en%a%es our motiations and becomes an aspect that (eighs &ith
us or that matters to us @it is interestin% that the natural metaphors are ones o$ &ei%ht! or
pressureA. 8spects o$ thin%s &ei%h &ith us &hen &e are decidin% &hat to do! obiously.
*hey can also &ei%h &ith us by in$luencin% attitudes! such as admiration or contempt! or
emotions! such as $ear or hope. -eadin% a &ork o$ $iction! $or e4ample! ) can $ind mysel$
repelled by some character! meanin% that the character is described in &ays that &ei%h
&ith me. ) am moed to admiration by the irtues o$ the hero or to loathin% by the ices
o$ the illain.
(hen &e hae concerns! the aspects o$ thin%s to &hich &e are sensitie can be
described as our reasons $or choosin% one thin% or another! or $eelin% some attitude or
emotion. <y reason $or cuttin% the %rass is that it needed it. 8nnie7s reason $or leain%
Bertie is that her career re#uires that she moes. Our reasons in this sense are those
aspects o$ a situation that &ei%h &ith us as &e deliberate about &hat to do! or ho& to $eel
about somethin%. )n a sli%htly &ider sense our reasons may outrun &hat &e call to mind
as &e deliberate. *hey can include aspects o$ situations that in $act a$$ect us! een &hen
&e are una&are or only hal$'a&are o$ &hat is happenin%. )n this &ider sense! 8nnie7s
reason $or leain% Bertie mi%ht be that he bores her! een &hen she does not admit this to
(hen &e talk o$ the reasons that moe other people! there is an important
distinction to notice. (e can speak descripti)ely, or normati)ely. *hat is! &e can describe
&hat it is about a situation that is moin% them. Or &e can say that &hat concerns them is
or is not really a reason! e4pressin% our o&n endorsement or re"ection o$ the concern. )t is
important to keep this distinction in mind. )$ &e say 8nnie had no reason $or leain%
Bertie! &e may be makin% a @probably $alseA remark about 8nnie7s psycholo%yG that she
acted entirely on impulse! &ithout thou%ht and &ithout any desires or concerns that she
&as tryin% to meet. Or! more likely! &e maybe re/ecting the concerns that actually
motiated 8nnieG she &ent because she &as concerned to pursue her career in the ballet!
but in the circumstances that &as a silly ambition or somethin% that should not hae
&ei%hed &ith her. (hen &e speak normatiely &e should si%nal &hat &e are doin% by
&ords like "ou%ht" and "%ood". But sometimes! instead o$ sayin% "She had no good
reason" &e say thin%s like "She had no reason at all"! and that can be misinterpreted.
On the $ace o$ it! our concerns can be a ery mi4ed bunch. *he death o$ an enemy!
the pursuit o$ a career! the state o$ the %rass! the &ell'bein% o$ $amily and $riends! are
common kinds o$ concern! as are many othersG the $act that you %ae a promise! the $act
that someone once did somethin% $or you! the $act that you are a spouse or a doctor or a
la&yer. 1eople hae di$$erent concerns! as many as there are di$$erent people and
di$$erent kinds o$ people. 8nd &e hae already re"ected one attempt to reduce this
diersity to some kind o$ unity. *hat attempt tried to see us as al&ays and only concerned
&ith our o&n states o$ mind @our o&n relie$ $rom the tension induced by hain% a
concernA. But that &as a mistake! and it rides rou%hshod oer the distinction bet&een
concerns &ith &hich &e identi$y! and ones that &e can indeed distance ourseles $rom
and &ish a&ay.
<any concerns are priate and optional. Suppose ) am interested in steam
en%ines. *hen the $eature o$ a place! that steam trains run there! &ei%hs &ith me. )t is a
reason! in my eyes! $or %oin% there. )t need not &ei%h &ith you. 8nd it need not bother
me that it does not &ei%h &ith you. ) mi%ht een be %lad that it does not! since ) %et a
better ie& &hen the cro&ds are smaller.
But there are other concerns that &e expect people to hae. *hat is! it is one o$ our
concerns that these thin%s should bother them in a certain &ay. *here are $eatures o$
thin%s that &e e4pect to in$luence their decisions and attitudesG the $act that doin%
somethin% &ould be deceiin% someone! or breakin% a promise! or behain% dishonestly
or manipulatiely! and so on. Similarly &e e4pect the $act that some course o$ action
&ould cause distress to &ei%h &ith people. (e &ould be surprised or een shocked i$ it
did not. *his brin%s us to the traditional domain o$ ethics. (hat are the concerns that &e
can e4pect $rom each otherH
(e can separate t&o di$$erent &ays o$ takin% this #uestion. One asks &hat are the
concerns that make up an ideal li$e. (hat is the &ay to lieH .i$$erent ethical traditions
ans&er this in di$$erent &ays. *he ideal li$e o$ a 9omeric hero is $ull o$ concern $or his
honour! status! and success in battle. *he ideal li$e o$ a 3hristian saint is $ull o$ concerns
that include the loe o$ 2od! the suppression o$ pride! and arious ideals o$ brotherly
loe. 8ccordin% to 3on$ucianism! the ideal li$e contains a lar%e dose o$ respect $or tradi'
tional &ays. 8ll these ideals can be $leshed out and painted in more or less attractie
colours. 0et there is somethin% uncom$ortable about them! i$ only because there is little
reason to suppose that there is any such thin% as the ideal li$e. Since di$$erent people hae
di$$erent tastes and interests! and di$$erent cultures encoura%e di$$erent concerns! it seems
likely that any "ideal li$e" &ill be heaily conte4tualiBedG ideal $or this person in these
circumstances! perhaps! but not much more. Een the components o$ a %ood li$e! rather
than an "ideal" li$e! are not obious. Some core components are pretty uncontroersial.
<ost people &ill put do&n health @and the means to secure itA! happiness @but o$ the ri%ht
sortG not as a result o$ liin% in a $ool7s paradiseA! achieements @but a%ain! only o$ the
ri%ht sortG not the $ul$ilment o$ ain or $oolish ambitionsA! di%nity! $riendships! loe!
$amily. Beyond that! thin%s like &ealth or leisure &ould be controersial! and some
arieties een o$ the core elements may count as a curse rather than a blessin%. 8 person
mi%ht hae had a better li$e i$! $or instance! he had not been blessed &ith such rude health
that he &as unable to sympathiBe &ith the $railties o$ others.
But somethin% more ri%id comes into ie& i$ &e take the #uestion o$ &hat &e can
e4pect $rom each other a di$$erent &ay. On this interpretation! it is askin% $or the ri%ht
boundaries on conduct. *his is the sense in &hich i$ &e $ail to lie up to e4pectations! &e
hae done somethin% (rong. (e hae $allen short! and become tar%ets $or arious kinds
o$ possible reproach. 1eople e4pect o$ each other that they should be honest! cooperatie!
sensitie to people7s needs! $air! &ell'meanin%! and so on! and i$ &e $ail in one o$ these
then &e hae $allen short and may receie censure. Other people hae a complaint
a%ainst usI they are concerned that &e should not be like that.
Someone mi%ht cha$e a%ainst that. One mi%ht try to shru% o$$ the ill opinion o$
others. (hy should it concern oneH (hy not be a $ree spirit! blithely unconcerned &ith
&hat the &orld may thinkH )n some cases there is somethin% admirable about thisG the
isionary or the saint or hero mi%ht hae to unconcerned &ith the &orld7s opinion &hile
they seek to chan%e it! perhaps $or the better. But the #uestion &ill be &hy &e are
attractin% the &orld7s bad opinion. )$ &e attract it because! $or instance! &e don7t care a "ot
about keepin% our promises! or don7t care about keepin% our hands o$$ other people7s
money! then it may be harder to shru% o$$ the censure o$ others. .oin% so '' bein% able to
look them in the eye and say that you don7t see &hat they hae to complain about ''
re#uires not only no concern $or promises or honesty! but also no reco%nition o$ the
concerns o$ others about these thin%s. 8nd in normal people that de%ree o$ insensitiity is
rarely $ound. )t is one thin% to be the common'or'%arden illain &ho says! ") don7t care i$
) hae &ron%ed you by breakin% my &ord or stealin% your %oods." But it is another to
achiee the rather e4traordinary pitch o$ illainy &hich says! ") don7t een reco%niBe that
you hae a complaint." )t is usually easier to take that up as a de$iant posture than to be
com$ortable in it! althou%h se4ual morality proides areas &here people &ho hae be'
haed badly sometimes cannot see &hat the other has to complain about '' thereby
makin% thin%s &orse. 8 society in &hich people &ere all incapable o$ reco%niBin% the
others as hain% a complaint! &hateer they do! &ould be one &ithout an ethic '' but $or
that ery reason it &ould be hard to reco%niBe it as a society at all.
*here are arious &ays in &hich thinkers hae tried to articulate these ideas.
")nternaliBin%" a set o$ alues is ery close to internaliBin% the %aBe or oice o$ others.
-eco%niBin% that they hae a complaint a%ainst you is re%ardin% yoursel$ as hain% $allen
short in their eyes! and to hae internaliBed their oice means $indin% that itsel$ &ei%hin%
&ith you. *he discom$ort comes out in sel$'reproach! or emotions such as shame and
%uilt. <ost systems o$ ethics hae some ersion o$ the 2olden -ule near their coreG ".o
unto others as you &ould hae them do unto you." Some thinkers stress the emer%ence o$
a "common point o$ ie&"I others stress the sympathy or empathy &hereby our ie& o$
ourseles resonates &ith &hat &e can take the ie& o$ others to be. *o sho& ho& easily
and naturally &e incorporate the ie&s o$ others into our concerns! 9ume %ies the
splendid e4ampleG "8 man &ill be morti$ied i$ you tell him he has a stinkin% breathI
thou%h it is eidently no annoyance to himsel$." (e see ourseles $rom the point o$ ie&
o$ others! and maybe com$ortable or uncom$ortable as a result.
(e can describe this aspect o$ our psycholo%ies in terms o$ takin% up one
another7s reasons. )$ there is a piano on your $oot! one o$ your concerns is to moe it
#uickly. )$ ) am a&are o$ this then ) &ill naturally share that concern '' and ) &ould be
$allin% short i$ ) did not. ) do not hae the same place in this situation! $or a$ter all the
piano is hurtin% you! not me. But ) am e4pected to sympathiBe! to take up your concern!
to help! and to treat your problem as mine also. (hat is a reason $or you to act! becomes
a reason $or me to help. Some moral philosophers like to think that there is a kind o$
imperatie o$ reason itsel$ here. *hey think that there &ould be somethin% de$ectie
about my rationality! or my understandin%! i$ ) did not take up your concern and make it
my o&n. ) do not counsel this &ay o$ lookin% at it. *he person &ho is indi$$erent in this
situation is bad! certainly. 8nd there may be thin%s &ron% &ith his reasonin%s! or his
&ays o$ understandin% the &orld. 9e may be a psychopath! unable to comprehend the
reality o$ others. Or he may make some de$icient calculation! about &hether it is %ood $or
you in the lon% run to su$$er. But in the more common case &here he aerts his %aBe! or
passes by on the other side! there need be nothin% &ron% &ith his understandin% o$ the
&orld! nor his reasonin%s about it. 9e is cold'hearted! not &ron%'headed. *hat is "ust as
bad! or &orse. But placin% the de$ect in the ri%ht place sho&s that &hat is needed to
improe him is a kind o$ education o$ the sentiments! rather than some kind o$ e4tra
insi%ht into the structure o$ reasons.
9o&eer! there is an issue here that diides thinkers into t&o camps.
3onsider this e#uationG
+ne of F-s concerns is to aim for7promote7endorse A F thinks is good7thinks is a
reason for action.
*he diision lies bet&een thinkers &ho read this e#uation "le$t to ri%ht"! and those
&ho read it "ri%ht to le$t". *hat is! there are thinkers &ho suppose that the ri%ht direction
o$ e4planation is $rom concerns! taken as understood! to "seein% somethin% as a reason"!
&hich is thereby e4plained. 8nd there are those &ho think the ri%ht direction o$
e4planation is $rom thinkin% that somethin% is a reason! considered as a pure belie$ about
the case! to concerns! &hich are thereby e4plained.
*he di$$erence is sometimes called that bet&een "non'co%nitiism" and
"co%nitiism" in the theory o$ ethics. *he idea is that i$ the e#uation is read le$t to ri%ht!
then talk o$ somethin% bein% %ood! or somethin% bein% a reason $or action! is a kind o$ re'
$lection o$ a motiational state o$ mindG the $act o$ somethin% &ei%hin% &ith you. *his
motiational state o$ mind is not a simple belie$. )t is not a representation o$ some aspect
o$ the &orld. )t is a reaction to representations o$ the $acts o$ the matter. )t does not itsel$
pick out some $act o$ the matter. 9ence it is not strictly speakin% a state o$ mind that is
either true or $alse! any more than a desire $or co$$ee is either true or $alse. *he non'
co%nitiist direction is beauti$ully e4pressed by St 8u%ustineG
)%+here is the pull of the will and of love, wherein appears the worth of everything to be
sought, or to be avoided, to be esteemed of greater or less value.
)$ the e#uation is read the other &ay! $rom ri%ht to le$t! then there is at the
$oundation a belie$G the belie$ that is a reason $or action. )t is a special kind o$ belie$!
because it picks out or represents reasons. But it is a belie$ that carries concern &ith it. )t
is o$ten said that 8ristotle belieed in this direction o$ e4planationG its slo%an is that to
desire somethin% is to see it as %ood. )t is as i$ desire ans&ers to a perceied truth.
*he issue here is important to many thinkers! especially on the co%nitiist side.
*hey $ear that &ithout the backbone in"ected by co%nitiism! all &e hae in practical
reasonin% are "mere" concerns! desires! and attitudes. (hereas i$ &e can someho& brin%
the &hole thin% under the control o$ *ruth! &e hae some kind o$ basis $or the claims o$
ethics. 3oncerns that correspond in the ri%ht &ay to these truths are the ri%ht onesI they
desere authority oer the others.
<ysel$! ) beliee this is one o$ these areas &here the adanta%e is de$initely on
one sideG the non'co%nitiist side.
*he principal reason $or this is that there is bound to be somethin% other than
belie$s or co%nitions '' representations o$ aspects o$ thin%s '' in the mi4. *here is also the
"pull o$ the &ill and o$ loe". *he person &ith a concern is someone $or &hom some
$eature o$ a situation matters in practical reasonin%s. *he &ei%ht attached to it is
measured in motiational stren%thG in its disposition to cause her to chan%e her actions
and attitudes. 3an "seein% that is a reason $or action" hae that &ei%htH
*here are arious su%%estions possible about &hat it is that is seen or co%niBed.
One &ould be that it is some purely natural $act. For instance "seein% that the piano is on
your $oot is a reason to take it o$$" mi%ht be construed as "seein% that the piano is on your
$oot is causin% you pain". But the trouble here is that it is obiously contingent &hether
this &ei%hs &ith the a%ent. )$ she is cold'hearted or an enemy or has too robust a sense o$
humour it may not &ei%h at all. So it is not e#uialent to hain% the motiation nor &ith
hain% the concern! &hich &ei%hs by de$inition. 2. E. <oore summed this up by sayin%
that &hateer natural $eatures o$ thin%s &e discern! it is al&ays an "open #uestion" in
&hat &ay &e think that they $orm reasons $or action. *akin% them to do so is takin% a step
'' the ery step that leads us into the domain o$ practice in the $irst place.
8nother tack &ould su%%est that &hat is co%niBed is a peculiar! non'natural!
"normatie" $act. *his &as <oore7s o&n ie&! and it mi%ht hae been that o$ 1lato. )t is
as i$ &e %et a %limpse o$ somethin% other than ordinary empirical or scienti$ic $eatures o$
thin%s. (e %et a %limpse o$ the normatie order.
*his sounds ery mysterious. *he e#uation read ri%ht to le$t! i$ this is &hat is on
the ri%ht'hand side! is alto%ether a stran%e thin%. Suppose the normatie order talked o$ is
conceied o$ on the model o$ human la&s. So it is as i$ you had come upon a la& sayin%
that pianos are to be taken o$$ people7s $eet. *he trouble is that it is al&ays up to us &hat
to $eel about a la&! "ust as much as anythin% else. ) could! in principle! i%nore the la&. )
could re"ect it outri%ht. *here is no necessary connection bet&een comin% upon a la&!
and hain% it &ei%h &ith me. So it is not clear that moin% in this direction %ies us any
e4planatory story at all. *he same! incidentally! is true een i$ the la& had "2od7s la&"
&ritten on it. ) mi%ht not care about that. )$ ) do not! the traditional &eapon to beat me
&ith is the Fear o$ 2od7s (rath. But the co%nitiist does not &ant to appeal to a
contin%ent emotional state like this! $or that is takin% the issue outside the domain o$
reason. She &ants &hat is discerned to be necessarily motiatin%! necessarily ma%netic.
Faced &ith this a co%nitiist mi%ht panic. She mi%ht respond by denyin% the
e#uation &ith &hich &e started. She &ould sayG "8ll ri%ht! ) concede that there is a %ap
bet&een truly perceiin% the normatie order! and bein% motiated. But that is $ineG it
takes a %ood &ill or a %ood heart to be motiated to do &hat you see you hae reason to
do." *he reason ) call this a panic is that it allo&s the co%nitiist to protect her cherished
inolement &ith the idea o$ *ruth '' but only at the cost o$ takin% its motiational $orce
outside the domain o$ truth. For on this line! &hateer it is that is &ron% &ith people
&ithout %ood &ill or %ood hearts! it is not that they see the &ron% truths. But the &hole
point o$ co%nitiism &as to brin% practical reasonin% (ithin the purie& o$ truth!
enablin% us to say that the person &ith the &ron% concerns or bad concerns is $lyin% in
the $ace o$ reason! %ettin% the &orld &ron%. )$ the co%nitiist cannot say this at the end o$
the day! there is no point in &innin% indiidual battles by concedin% it.
<y o&n ie& is that all these problems disappear i$ &e read the e#uation the
other &ay. (hen people hae concerns! they e4press themseles by talkin% o$ reasons!
and seein% the $eatures that &ei%h &ith them as desirable or %ood. *hey do this in the
"pull o$ the &ill and o$ loe". ) beliee &e inent the normatie propositions @"*his is
%ood"I "*hat is a reason $or action"I "0ou ou%ht to do this"A in order to think about the
concerns to demand o$ ourseles and others. (e talk in these terms in order to clari$y our
motiational states! to lay them out $or admiration or criticism and improement. *here is
no mysterious normatie order into &hich &e are plu%%ed.
So is no set o$ concerns better than any otherH 3ertainly they are. But their
superiority does not lie in con$ormity to an independent normatie order. *heir
superiority lies in the &ays o$ li$e embodyin% them. 8 set o$ concerns that leads to lies
that are loyal! $riendly! %rate$ul! prudent! sympathetic! $air is indeed superior to one that
leads to lies that are treacherous! suspicious! malicious! careless! hard'hearted! un"ust.
Our lies %o better &hen &e can be described the $irst &ay! than &hen &e are described
the second &ay. 8nd &e should be concerned that lies %o better.
'OO( BA( .EE&IN'!
<any &ritin%s on ethics introduce the sub"ect rather di$$erently. *hey introduce a
dualism. On the one hand there is the seethin% mass o$ desire. On the other hand! aboe it
and separate! there are the lordly principles o$ ethics! &hich e4ist to control it. ) beliee
nothin% but con$usion comes $rom this picture. )t makes the lordly principles o$ ethics
seem utterly mysteriousG thin%s that perhaps re#uire a diine ori%in or some kind o$
1latonic ability to resonate in harmony &ith the Nature o$ *hin%s. ) substitute $or this a
model in &hich there is "ust a plurality o$ concerns. But amon% these concerns are ones
that hae the kind o$ status that leads us to talk o$ irtue and ice! duty and obli%ation.
*hese are the concerns &e e4pect o$ each other! so that i$ &e do not share them! or &ei%h
them properly! &e are re%arded as hain% $allen short. (e can usually say that these are
the concerns that &e re%ard people as o&in% to each other. )$ someone does me a %reat
kindness! then ) o&e him a sentiment o$ %ratitudeG it is his due and it is my duty to $eel it
or e4press it. )$ ) am callous or careless! ) hae $allen short. ) &ill $or$eit admiration in the
eyes o$ others! and in so $ar as ) hae a oice &ithin mysel$ echoin% the oice o$ others! )
&ill $eel bad about mysel$. )$ ) do not! that itsel$ can become a cause o$ censure! and
sometimes a more important one than the ori%inal $ailin%. )$ someone oerlooks a debt o$
%ratitude! that can be bad. But i$ &hen it is pointed out! he shru%s it o$$ or doesn7t see
&hat the $uss is about! that can be more shockin% than the ori%inal $ault. 9ence the im'
portance &e attach to contrition and! in serious cases! repentance. *hese bad $eelin%s are
9ere &e mi%ht return to the complaint aboe a%ainst the contemporary obsession
&ith "therapy". )n our e4ample! 8nnie7s concern &as her career! and that concern &as not
met nor shared by Bertie! &ho took the concern itsel$ as the problem. <oral cases are
similar. Feelin% bad about ourseles or our conduct is indeed unpleasant. (e mi%ht &ish
such $eelin%s a&ay. But in cases in &hich they are "usti$ied! &ishin% the $eelin%s a&ay
inoles a sel$'alienation! and is not the ri%ht response. Suppose 8nnie kno&s she has
hurt or insulted Bertie. She mi%ht be %rate$ul to a therapist! &ho tells her that some neat
process can dissole a&ay her sel$'reproach. But it is not clear that she ou%ht to be
%rate$ul. )n the $irst place! her concern is to put thin%s ri%ht &ith BertieI to apolo%iBe or
make amends! or assure him ho& much it matters! and so on. Or her concern mi%ht be
&ith the depraity o$ her o&n character or conduct! &hich she &ishes &ere better. But her
concern is not &ith those concerns themseles. 8nd i$ a therapist could %ie her a pill that
took them a&ay! she is not necessarily helpin% 8nnie. She is not puttin% thin%s ri%ht &ith
Bertie! nor $or that matter improin% 8nnie7s character. )n $act! she is makin% 8nnie the
kind o$ person &ho attracted the e4tra de%ree o$ censure! not only $or behain% badly! but
also $or $ailin% to hae &ithin hersel$ the a&areness that she has. She is alienatin% 8nnie
$rom her a&areness o$ &hat she has done! and her &ish not to hae done it.
O$ course! in time or &ith bad luck there can indeed come cases in &hich the sel$'
reproach is $esterin%. )t is doin% no %ood! it is an obsession! and 8nnie could &ell &ish
hersel$ to be &ithout it. But the point is that this is not the typical or strai%ht$or&ard case.
)t is a case &hen thin%s hae %ot out o$ hand. (hen thin%s are in hand! it is not %uilt or
shame that is the problem! but the actions that inited them.
Our concerns &ei%h &ith us @that is a tautolo%yI that is &hat makes them
concernsA. But their &ei%hts are susceptible to chan%e! and one o$ the thin%s that can
sometimes chan%e them are discussions! ar%uments! and an a&areness o$ the direction o$
pull o$ other concerns. 9ence &e hae practical ar%ument! takin% the $orm o$ &onderin%
&hat is to be done! or &hat principles to endorse! or &hat $eatures o$ character to admire
or re"ect. 9o& are &e to think about thatH
8t the be%innin% o$ the chapter &e mentioned technolo%ical reasonin%s! in &hich
an aim is %ien and the problem is one o$ $indin% means to it. But o$ course much
practical reasonin% is concerned to alter people7s aims. (e seek to put the situation in a
di$$erent li%ht! so that they come to share aims &e approe o$! or abandon aims o$ &hich
&e disapproe.
8 %reat deal o$ such reasonin% is! o$ course! sheer persuasion. )ts arts are those o$
the salesman and the adertisin% a%ency. (e deploy rhetoric to e4cite people7s emotions
and direct them in the desired channels. *he preacher paintin% the horrors o$ hell or the
politician paintin% the irtues o$ his party and the ices o$ the other are not really seekin%
to improe anyone7s understandin% o$ anythin%. (e mi%ht say that the concern here is to
manipulate rather than to instruct. *heir aim to attach emotional &ei%hts to arious
courses o$ action! so leadin% people in a desired direction. 8t its lo&est leel this mi%ht
be a matter o$ attachin% penalties and threats to courses o$ conduct! rather than other less
oert kinds o$ persuasie pressures.
(hen &e take up this kind o$ stance to each other! &e are in e$$ect treatin% others
as means to our o&n ends. For some reason! &e &ant them to hae an aim. (e &ant them
to buy our product or ote $or our party or come to our church. )$ &e are prepared to pur'
sue any course &e can think o$ to %et them to do this! &e are treatin% them as &hat :ant
called "mere means" to our o&n ends. By manipulatin% them '' &hich mi%ht include
deception as &ell as other persuasie arts '' &e hope to diert their course! "ust as &e
mi%ht hope to diert any other obstacle to our o&n %oals.
8 lot o$ li$e may be like that! but not its best parts. For &e can take up a more
cooperatie and respect$ul stance to&ards each other. )$ ) am coninced that your li$e is
settin% out do&n the &ron% path! ) may not &ant to manipulate you into a di$$erent course
"ust by any old means. )$ ) had a ma%ic in"ection that &ould chan%e you in the direction )
desire! then unlike the salesman or the preacher! ) &ould not %ie it you. .oin% so &ould
be $ailin% to respect your point o$ ie&! or $ailin% to respect you as a person. ) &ant you
to come to share my understandin% o$ your situation in the right (ay, not by means o$
manipulation or subter$u%e or threats or brute $orce. So &hat is this ri%ht &ayH
-ou%hly! it is %oin% to be one &hich addresses and takes account o$ your point o$
ie&. *here are clearly thin%s this rules outG deception and manipulation. 8nd there are
clearly thin%s it rules inG improed understandin% o$ the situation! $or e4ample. )$ ) kno&
ho& thin%s stand and you do not! ) cooperate &ith you &hile seekin% to chan%e you i$ )
share that understandin% &ith you.
(e mi%ht think that this is all! so that reason as opposed to rhetoric must be
entirely con$ined to pointin% out the $acts o$ the situation. 8n ar%ument to that conclusion
&ould be somethin% like this. Suppose &e each understand the situation as it is! and in the
same &ay. *hen suppose ) hae a set o$ concerns that eentually resole themseles in
my hain% one aim. 9o& can you seek to chan%e me e4cept by some process o$
persuasion or manipulationH 9o&eer much you pro$ess a cooperatie stance! aren7t &e
really in con$lict! since my concerns de$ine my take on the situation! and you are &ishin%
one o$ them a&ay. 0ou can7t %et me to chan%e by addressing those concerns! since the
assumption &as that they issue in the direction you dislike.
Fortunately! there are t&o %aps in this ar%ument. *he $irst arises because our
concerns are not al&ays eident to ourseles. So your take on the situation may not
ade#uately re$lect eerythin% that in $act matters to you. (hen &e "turn thin%s oer" in
our o&n minds! &e are as it &ere pro&lin% round to see i$ there are aspects o$ thin%s that
&e haen7t brou%ht to mind! &hich en%a%e our motiations. 8nd &e are the same time
e4plorin% &hether there are unreco%niBed $orces at &orkG &hether &e care more or less
about one thin% or another than &e admit to ourseles. (e can be blind to our o&n
natures! as &ell as to aspects o$ the &orld around us. 8 conersation seekin% to uncoer
motiations that &e may hae suppressed or discounted is cooperatie! not manipulatie.
Second! een &hen you understand your situation properly! and your concerns are
su$$iciently transparent to yoursel$! ) need not be manipulatin% you or merely tryin% to
persuade you o$ somethin% i$ ) lay out my o&n take on thin%s $or you to consider.
3onsider the case in &hich there is a moral dimension. 0ou are bent on a course o$ action!
say! &hich in my ie& does not ade#uately re$lect the duty o$ %ratitude or loyalty that you
hae to some third party. ) tell you this. ) am puttin% my cards on the tableG there is no
manipulation or deception %oin% on. ) may chan%e you! $or i$ you respect me su$$iciently
my %ood opinion matters! and i$ you are likely to $or$eit that opinion by maintainin% your
course! this becomes a $actor $or you to kno&.
*his second mechanism is in a sense a &ay o$ presentin% to you another $actor in
your situationG that your course o$ action attracts my disapproal. But o$ course it is not
intended to stop there. )$ it did! then my disapproal &ould be $unctionin% as an "ob"ect"G
a mere obstacle to your pre$erred course! to be $actored into a cost'bene$it analysis. But
this is not &hat is intended. )n cooperatie moral discussion! it is intended that &e come
to common %round! &here that includes common approal and disapproal. <y disap'
proal is put on the table as somethin% $or you to share or undermine! but in either eent
as somethin% that you are to en%a%e on its o&n terms. Other&ise it is bein% ob"ecti$ied!
like 8nnie7s concern $or her career! in the e4ample aboe.
So discussion turns to &hether my insistence on the duty o$ %ratitude or loyalty
should be respected! or &hether it represents somethin% elseG perhaps a $etish to be
i%nored or brushed aside. *o ans&er this #uestion &e turn oer yet other thin%s that
&ei%h &ith us. (e mi%ht try to brin% to bear! $or e4ample! considerations o$ ho& &ell or
badly the &orld &ould %o &ithout people hain% that concern. Or &e mi%ht try to relate it
to other thin%s that matter to us! such as $riendship or honesty.
/nderlyin% the method here &ill be another $undamental concernG that our
practical stances should be coherent. 8nd perhaps they should be other thin%s as &ell!
such as ima%inatie and ob"ectie.
8 lot o$ practical reasonin% proceeds by lookin% $or the %eneral $eatures that
matter to us. (hen &e adance a reason or "usti$ication to one another! &e are tryin% to
sho& the $aourable li%ht in &hich the action or attitude appeared. Some &riters are
suspicious o$ any re#uirement that this process should be systematic or ordered. *hey
&ant to deny that practical li$e is a matter o$ "rules" or "principles". )t may be more like
aesthetics. (e can look at a paintin% and pronounce upon it &ithout any articulated!
%eneral principles that &e could cite to de$end our erdicts. (e mi%ht also remember the
e4ample! $rom 3hapter >! o$ our ability to reco%niBe thin%s and our ability to certi$y a
sentence as %rammatical! both o$ &hich seem to %o on &ith our usin% any %eneral
principles or rules! at least consciously.
But practical reasonin% is not in %eneral like that. *his is because &e need to
'no( (here (e stand. *he constraint is here the same as &ith a system o$ la&. )t &ould
be no %ood hain% a system o$ la& that re$used to articulate %eneral principles and rules!
but insisted on "treatin% each case on its merits". )$ it &ere not predictable in adance
&hat &ould actually count as the merits then &e could not re%ulate our lies by such a
"system". )t &ould be no la& at all. Similarly in ethics. (e need to kno& &here &e stand!
&hich means bein% able to discern $eatures o$ a choice situation or a scenario that count
in $aour or a%ainst practical decisions and attitudes. *his means that &hile our desires
and &ishes can presumably be as $ickle as &e please! the concerns &e e4act $rom each
other cannot be. *hey need to $all into some kind o$ de$ensible system.
(e sa& in 3hapter 6 ho& lo%ic priBes consistency aboe all else. *here has to be
a &ay in &hich our belie$s can be true. )n practical li$e! the e#uialent irtue is that there
has to be a &ay in &hich our alues could all be implemented. 8 system o$ la& is
inconsistent i$ it is impossible to obey its constraints @suppose! $or e4ample! that it $orbids
the consumption o$ alcohol on Sunday but also mandates attendance at mass! &hich has
to include &ineA. No& li$e thro&s up plenty o$ cases &here there is an apparent
inconsistency bet&een simple alues. 8l&ays tell the truthI neer hurt anyone. But on
this occasion the truth is hurt$ul. 8l&ays respect propertyI neer put the State in dan%er.
But on this occasion protectin% the State re#uires re#uisitionin% someone7s property. So a
%reat deal o$ practical thinkin% consists in ad"ustin% the simple obli%ations and
boundaries that &e are apt to re#uire o$ each other! to accommodate clashes and
comple4ities! and to %et some sense o$ &hich ad"ustments best &ork to&ards a
comprehensie and consistent system o$ liin%. *his is not an easy process! and the
results tend to be tentatie and proisional and hosta%e to ne& cases and problems.
Fortunately &e hae deices to help us. One is history! thou%ht o$ in terms o$ the
surial o$ the $ittest. *he ad"ustments and solutions embodied in our inherited $orm o$
li$e hae this much %oin% $or them! that they hae suried some test o$ time. (e hae to
be care$ul o$ the kind o$ conseratie &orship o$ inherited $orms that is associated &ith
thinkers like Edmund Burke @>E5?'?EA. But it is much less intelli%ent to lurch to the other
e4treme! and beliee that the test o$ time sho&s nothin%. 8t the ery least it %ies us a
datum point $rom &hich to think about chan%e. 8nother deice to help us is ima%ination.
(e do not hae to &ait $or crises to come alon%! &hen $iction and ima%ination and the
sheer resolution to thin' through our alues and their relatie importance can be had
more or less $or $ree. 8nd this thinkin% can occur &hen &e hae a relatiely ob"ectie
ie& o$ our situation '' &e can see ourseles as others see us '' &hen in the heat o$
passion or action this is much harder to achiee. (ith this kind o$ re$lection! &e can learn
some understandin% o$ our ideolo%ies and our dis%uises.
So at the end o$ the day is it ""ust us"H .o all our aunted moral imperaties and
alues come do&n to a contin%ent! situated! perhaps ariable set o$ concerns! that &e
happen to e4act $rom one anotherH
(ell! it is indeed us! but it may not be ""ust" us. *he ""ust" insinuates that other
solutions are e#ually %ood! or e#ually "alid" or aluable. )n particular cases &e may &ell
come to think this. *he British drie on the le$t and 8mericans on the ri%ht. Each has hit
upon an e#ually %ood solution to the essential problem o$ coordinatin% tra$$ic. .riin% on
the one side is ""ust us". But it is not "ust us that &e do drie e4clusiely on the one or the
other. .riin% at random or in the middle is not an e#ually %ood solution '' it is no
solution at all '' to the problem o$ coordination.
Once &e see a solution as one o$ many e#ually %ood solutions to some problem!
&e can appreciate that it is ""ust ours". 8nd &e are no lon%er minded to moraliBe a%ainst
the others. .i$$erent lan%ua%es hae di$$erent &ords $or di$$erent thin%s! and di$$erent
%rammars and &ord orders! but so $ar as that %oes they may all sere the purposes o$
communication e#ually &ell. .i$$erent customs! rites! obserances! social arran%ements
o$ all kinds can be seen as di$$erent solutions to problems o$ public e4pression!
coordination! and communication. (e do not hae to rank them. (hen in -ome! do as
the -omans do.
But suppose a society soles its problems in &ays that do %rate upon our
concerns. Suppose! like the *aliban in contemporary 8$%hanistan! they deny education to
&omen. Or suppose the a%es hae be#ueathed them a caste system that denies e#ual
opportunities o$ health! education! or een sustenance to &hole classes o$ people!
accordin% to their birth. Or een that the a%es hae be#ueathed them a system in &hich
some people are o&ned body and soul by others. *hese systems are some kind o$ solution
to problems o$ ho& to lie. But &e do not hae to see them as e#ually %ood @""ust
di$$erent"A or een as tolerable at all. (e can properly see them as trespassin% a%ainst
boundaries that matter to us. *hey o$$end a%ainst boundaries o$ concern and respect that
&e beliee ou%ht to be protected. 9ere it is natural to look to the lan%ua%e o$ "ri%hts"!
meanin% not only that it is %ood or nice o$ people to sho& concern and respect! but that i$
they do not! the in"ured parties may ri%htly $eel resentment and call upon the &orld to
recti$y their state.
)n sayin% these thin%s! &e oice our o&n sympathies and concerns and alues.
But that is &hat practical reasonin% is bound to be. *here is no reason to $eel %uilty about
it! as i$ it &ould only be &ith a certi$icate $rom 2od! or $rom the Normatie *ruth @&hat
1lato called the FormsA that &e hae any ri%ht to hold our opinions. Our ethical concerns
are &ell seen on the model o$ Neurath7s boat @3hapter >A. (e must inspect each part! and
&e hae to do so &hile relyin% on other parts. But the result o$ that inspection may! i$ &e
are coherent and ima%inatie! be per$ectly sea&orthy. 8nd i$! relyin% upon it! &e $ind
ourseles in con$lict &ith other boats sailin% in di$$erent directions! there is no reason to
lament that &e are not seated in some kind o$ dry dock! certi$ied by -eason or 2od. *hey
are not in any such place! either.
*his book has tried to introduce some o$ the %reat themes! and the thin%s to think
about them! and the thin%s other people hae thou%ht about them. ) hae not tried to
coerce people into one set o$ doctrines or ie&s. )n $act! the sensitie reader may hae
noticed that the upshot o$ the ar%uments is o$ten a kind o$ pessimism. *he harmony
bet&een our thou%hts and the &orld! the brid%e &e build bet&een past and $uture! the
sense o$ &hat the physical &orld contains and ho& our minds $it into it! are all topics on
&hich the $inest thinkers hae hurled themseles! only to be $rustrated. *here al&ays
seem to be better &ords! i$ only &e could $ind them! "ust oer the horiBon.
)t &ould be possible to be cynical about this '' pro$essional philosophers hae
been kno&n to be so '' as i$ the de$ence o$ critical re$lection ) tried to %ie in the
)ntroduction had been sho&n to be hollo&. ) do not think that &ould be "usti$ied. ) beliee
the process o$ understandin% the problems is itsel$ a %ood. )$ the upshot is &hat 9ume
called a "miti%ated scepticism" or sense o$ ho& much a decent modesty becomes us in
our intellectual speculations! that is surely no bad thin%. *he &orld is $ull o$ ideas! and a
becomin% sense o$ their po&er! their di$$iculty! their $railties! and their $allibility cannot
be the least o$ the thin%s it needs.
67 KNOW&E('E
>D "prudent neer to trust". .escartes! Meditations on Airst Philosophy, p. >5.
>? ") &ill suppose there$ore". )bid. p. >F.
>? ".oes it no& $ollo& that )". )bid. p. >6.
50 "*hinkin%H 8t last ) hae discoered it". )bid. p. >D.
5> "M*Nhe residual taste is eliminated". )bid. p. 50
5> ") no& kno& that een bodies". )bid. p. 55.
56 Brains in ats. *his thou%ht'e4periment is due to 9ilary 1utnam! %eason, Truth and "istory, ch. >.
30 ;ichtenber% is #uoted in +. 1. Stern! 7ichten+erg* A Doctrine of 8cattered Occasions, p. 5E0.
3C *he trademark ar%ument occurs in .escartes! Meditation 3! pp. 3>'3.
36 "M(Ne can touch". *his is $rom a letter to <arin <ersenne! re$erenced at Meditations, p. 35! $ootnote.
3D 8rnauld7s ob"ection is in the Fourth Set o$ O+/ections and %eplies, in Descartes* 8elected Philosophical
Britings, p. >C5.
C0 "*here is a species". 9ume! Enuiry !oncerning "uman #nderstanding, Section ,))! p. >C?.
CC "(e are like sailors". Neurath7s ima%e is presented in his Anti&8pengler.
C6 -ussell7s e4ample o$ scepticism about time occurs in An Outline of Philosophy, pp. >E>'5.
C6 *he issue o$ probability and entropy is discussed in 9u& 1rice! Time1s Arro( and Archimedes1 Point, ch.
87 *IN(
F0 For .escartes on the nerous system! see especially the si4th Meditation, pp. F?'60.
F> "%host in a machine". -yle used this phrase in his !oncept of Mind. )t ou%ht to be said that .escartes
himsel$ denied that on his account the soul &as lod%ed in the body "like a pilot in a ship"! so there is a
scholarly issue o$ &hether he &as reachin% $or a more sophisticated ie&.
FC "8nd ho& can ) %eneraliBe". (itt%enstein! Philosophical In)estigations, 5?3! p. >00.
FD ";et us suppose at present". ;ocke! Essay !oncerning "uman #nderstanding, )). iii. >3! p. >36. 9ere
and else&here &hen #uotin% ;ocke ) hae moderniBed capitaliBation.
60 "No&! &hen certain particles". ;eibniB! $e( Essays on "uman #nderstanding, >3>.
6C "For unthinkin% particles o$ matter". ;ocke! Essay, )V. 4. >6! p. 65E.
6F 8 %ood source $or the current cautious reial o$ techni#ues o$ analysis is +ackson! Arom Metaphysics to
EC "8l&ays %et rid o$ the idea". (itt%enstein! In)estigations, 1t )). 4i! p. 50E.
EF *he best source $or recent colour science is 3. ;. 9ardin! !olor for Philosophers.
97 .REEWI&&
D> "8%ain! i$ moement". ;ucretius! De %erum $atura :Of the $ature of Things., Bk. ))! )l.5F>'E! p. C3.
D6 ";et us ima%ine". Schopenhauer! On the Areedom of the Bill, p. C3.
?E "$reedom o$ clock&ork". :ant! !ritiue of Practical %eason, pp. ??'>0>.
>0> For SpinoBa! see Ethics, 1t. )V! p. >DEI 1t. V! pp. >??'55C.
>05 For 8ristotle! see $icomachean Ethics, ))). F @>>>C3CA.
>0E Stra&son7s point &as made in his celebrated essay! "Freedom and -esentment".
>>0 *he Su$i story is adapted $rom Shah! Tales of the Der)ishes.
>>D ")t is humiliatin%". (itt%enstein! !ulture and 6alue, p. >>.
:7 THE !E&.
>55 "For my part! &hen". 9ume! Treatise, ). i. 6! p. 5F5.
>53 "8 part o$ a person". -eid! Essays on the Intellectual Po(ers of Man, p. 505.
>5F "*hat bein% then one plant". ;ocke! Essay, )). 44ii. C! p. 33>.
>5D "But the #uestion is". ;ocke! Essay, )). 44ii. >5! p. 33E.
>5? "8n elastic ball". :ant! !ritiue of Pure %eason, 8 36C! p. 3C5.
>3> "Suppose a brae o$$icer". -eid! Essays on the Intellectual Po(ers of Man, p. 5>3.
>35 "But yet possibly". ;ocke! Essay, )). 44ii. 50! p. 3C5.
>3E "(e $eel then that in the cases". (itt%enstein! The <lue <oo', p. 6?.
>C0 :ant7s %reat moe. *he central passa%es in the !ritiue of Pure %eason are in the section entitled
"*ranscendental .eduction o$ the 1ure 3oncepts o$ the /nderstandin%"! B>30'B>E0.
>CD :ant. See precedin% note.
;7 'O(
>FC "But &hen this same $ool". 8nselm! Proslogion, pp. ??'>00.
>F? "(hateer e4ists must hae". 9ume! Dialogues, 1t. ?! p. FC.
>6> ")t is pretended that". )bid. 1t. ?! p. FF.
>63 ";ook round the &orld". )bid. 1t 5! p. >F.
>6F "But! allo&in% that &e &ere". )bid. 1t. 5! p. >?.
>66 "*he &orld plainly resembles". )bid. 1t. E! p. CC.
>66 ")$ ) rest my system". )bid. 1t. E! p. CE.
>6D ")n a &ord! 3leanthes". )bid. 1t. E! p. 3E.
>6? "9is po&er! &e allo&! is in$inite". )bid. 1t. >0! p. 63.
>E> "*he true conclusion is that". )bid. 1t. >>! p. EF.
>E5 "a nothin% &ill sere". (itt%enstein! In)estigations, 30C! p. >05.
>E5 ")$ the &hole o$ Natural *heolo%y". 9ume! Dialogues, 1t. >5! p. DD.
>ED "*his contrariety o$ eidence". 9ume! Enuiry !oncerning "uman #nderstanding, ,! 1t. >! p. >>5.
>ED "*he ery same principle". )bid. ,! 1t. >! p. >>3.
>ED "*he plain conse#uence is". )bid. ,! 1t. >! pp. >>F'>6.
>D0 "*he &ise lend a ery academic $aith". )bid. ,! 1t. 5! p. >5F.
>D> "*he passion o$ surprise and (onder". )bid. ,! 1t. 5! p. >>E.
>D> "M;N et us consider! that". )bid. ,! 1t. 5! p. >5>.
>D6 1ascal7s &a%er is $ound in his Pensees, pp. >C?'FF.
>?0 "is but one superstition". <ill! On 7i+erty, p. C>.
>?0 3li$$ord makes the comparison in "*he Ethics o$ Belie$"! collected in his 7ectures and Essays. See p.
>?0 "9e &ho be%ins". 3olerid%e! Aids to %eflection, 8phorism ,V! p. >0E.
50E *he notions introduced here &ere e4tensiely studied by 1aul 2rice. 9is papers are collected in
8tudies in the Bay of Bords.
5>5 "8s to past Experience0. 9ume! Enuiry !oncerning "uman #nderstanding, )V! 1t. 5! pp. 33'C.
5>E ")t is impossible". )bid. )V! 1t. 5! p. 3D.
55D "*hat %raity should be innate". *his is $rom a letter $rom Ne&ton to Bentley. )t is #uoted in :emp
Smith! The Philosophy of Da)id "ume, p. 6>.
55D ") shall enture to a$$irm". 9ume! Enuiry !oncerning "uman #nderstanding, )V! 1t. >! p. 5E.
55? "(e $ancy! that &ere &e". )bid. )V! 1t. >! p. 5D.
55? "9ence &e may discoer the reason". )bid. )V! 1t. >! p. 30.
530 :uhn7s master&ork &as The 8tructure of 8cientific %e)olutions, published in >?65.
=7 THE WOR&(
53C "No& ) say that &heneer". 2alileo! The Assayer, in Disco)eries and Opinions of -alileo, p. 5EC.
53C "For the proper purpose". .escartes! Meditation 6! p. FE.
5C0 -ussell raises the char%e o$ "$aouritism" brie$ly in The Pro+lems of Philosophy, ch. >! p. >0.
5C> "original or primary #ualities". ;ocke! Essay, )). iii. ? and >0! p. >3F.
5C5 "(hat ) hae said concernin% colours". )bid. )). ii. >C! p. >3E.
5CC "*he idea o$ solidity &e receie". )bid. )). i. >! p. >55.
5CF ")$ anyone asks me". )bid. )). i. 6! p. >56.
5C6 "*he idea o$ solidity is that". 9ume! Treatise, ). i. C! p. 55D.
5CE "M8N$ter the e4clusion o$ colour". )bid. ). i. C! p. 55?.
5CD "M*No my mind". Faraday! "8 Speculation touchin% Electrical 3onduction and the Nature o$ <atter". )
o&e the #uotation to ;an%ton! Cantian "umility, p. >0>.
5F3 "*he scenes o$ the unierse". 9ume! Enuiry !oncerning "uman #nderstanding,6II, 1t. >! p. 63.
5FC ") am not! there$ore! in a position". :ant! !ritiue of Pure %eason, 8 36D! p. 3CF.
5FF "rhapsody" o$ perceptions. )bid. 8>3E/B>?6! p. >?3.
5F6 "9itherto it has been assumed". )bid. 1re$ace to the 5nd edn.! p. 55.
5FD "3olours are not properties". )bid. 8 5?! p. E3.
5F? ")n our system". )bid. 8 3E5! p. 3CE.
5F? "MtNhe re#uired proo$ must". )bid. B 5EF! p. 5CC.
560 "But @to pass by all. . .A". Berkeley! Three Dialogues, .ialo%ue >! para. 3?D! p. 3F.
563 <oore7s isolation ar%ument occurs throu%hout Principia Ethica, ch.6.
56F *he rule'$ollo&in% considerations are presented in (itt%enstein7s Philosophical In)estigations, $rom
@rou%hlyG the discussion blends into other materialA V >3E to V 503.
5E3 1sycholo%ical e%oism. )t is di$$icult to $ind a pure psycholo%ical e%oist! but *homas 9obbes is
sometimes claimed to hae been one. *he classic discussion is %ien by +oseph Butler in his Aifteen
8ermons Preached at the %olls !hapel in >E56! especially Sermon ,). ) discuss the &hole issue $urther in
my %uling Passions, chs. F and 6.
5D> "8 man &ill be morti$ied". 9ume! Treatise, ))). iii. )! p. FD?.
5D3 "M*Nhere is the pull o$ the &ill and o$ loe". St 8u%ustine! The 7iteral Meaning of -enesis, Bk. C! ch. C!
para. D. ) hae sli%htly altered the translation.
5DC <oore7s "open #uestion" ar%ument is $rom his Principia Ethica, pp. >0'50.
5DF 1lato e4tols %limpses o$ the normatie and ideal order in terms o$ insi%ht into the "Forms". But there is
intense scholarly debate oer &hat he meant by this! and to &hat e4tent his opinions remained the same
$rom one dialo%ue to another.
5?0 :ant7s polemic a%ainst treatin% others as "mere means" is most easily accessed in the -round(or' of
the Metaphysics of Morals.
5?F Burke7s conseratism is e4pressed in his %eflections on the %e)olution in Arance.
5?D 9ume talks approin%ly o$ miti%ated scepticism in the Enuiry !oncerning "uman /nderstandin%!
,))! p. >6>.
8nselm. Monologion and Proslogion, trans. *homas (illiams. )ndianapolisG 9ackett! >??F.
8ristotle. $icomachean Ethics, in The Bor's of Aristotle Translated into English, ol. i4! trans. (. .. -oss.
O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >?5F.
8u%ustine! St. The 7iteral Meaning of -enesis, trans. +ohn 9. *aylor. 8ncient 3hristian (riters! ols. C>
and C5. Ne& 0orkG Ne&man 1ress.
Berkeley! 2eor%e. Three Dialogues, ed. -obert <errihe& 8dams. )ndianapolisG 9ackett! >?E?.
Blackburn! Simon. %uling Passions. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >??D.
Burke! Edmund. %eflections on the %e)olution in Arance. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >??3.
3li$$ord! (. :. 7ectures and Essays. ;ondonG <acmillan! >DD6.
3olerid%e! Samuel *aylor. Aids to %eflection, ed. +ohn Beer. 1rincetonG 1rinceton /niersity 1ress! >??3.
.escartes! -enJ. Meditations on Airst Philosophy, trans. +ohn 3ottin%ham. 3ambrid%eG 3ambrid%e
/niersity 1ress! >?D6.
.escartes! -enJ. 8elected Philosophical Britings, trans. +ohn 3ottin%ham! -obert Stootho$$! and .u%ald
<urdoch. 3ambrid%eG 3ambrid%e /niersity 1ress! >?DD.
Faraday! <ichael. "8 Speculation *ouchin% Electrical 3onduction and the Nature o$ <atter"! in
Experimental %esearches in Electricity, ol. 5. ;ondonG -ichard and +ohn Ed&ard *aylor! >DCC.
Fre%e! 2ottlob. "<egriffschrift, 8 Formula ;an%ua%e! <odeled upon that o$ 8rithmetic! $or 1ure *hou%ht"!
in +. an 9ei"enoort @ed.A! Arom Arege to -Ddel* A 8ource+oo' in Mathematical 7ogic, 2EF=&2=42.
3ambrid%e! <ass.G 9arard /niersity 1ress! >?6E.
2alileo 2alilei. Disco)eries and Opinions of -alileo, trans. Stillman .rake. Ne& 0orkG .oubleday! >?FE.
2rice! 1aul. 8tudies in the Bay of Bords. 3ambrid%e! <ass.G 9arard /niersity 1ress! >?D?.
9ardin! 3. ;. !olor for Philosophers. )ndianapolisG 9ackett! >?DD.
9ume! .aid. Dialogues !oncerning $atural %eligion, ed. -ichard 9. 1opkin. )ndianapolisG 9ackett!
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+ackson! Frank. Arom Metaphysics to Ethics. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >??D.
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:ant! )mmanuel. !ritiue of Pure %eason, trans. Norman :emp Smith. ;ondonG <acmillan! >?5?.
:ant! )mmanuel. -round(or' of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. 9. +. 1aton. Ne& 0orkG 9arper
*orchbooks! >?6C.
:emp Smith! Norman. The Philosophy of Da)id "ume. ;ondonG <acmillan! >?C>.
:uhn! *homas. The 8tructure of 8cientific %e)olutions @$irst published as the International Encyclopedia of
#nified 8cience, ol. 5! no. 5A! 5nd edn. 3hica%oG /niersity o$ 3hica%o 1ress! >?E0.
;an%ton! -ae. Cantian "umility. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >??D.
;eibniB! 2ott$ried (ilhelm. $e( Essays on "uman #nderstanding, ed. 1eter -emnant and +onathan
Bennett. 3ambrid%eG 3ambrid%e /niersity 1ress! >??6. ;ocke! +ohn. An Essay !oncerning "uman
#nderstanding, ed. 1eter 9. Nidditch. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >?EF.
;ucretius. De %erum $atura :Of the $ature of Things., trans. Sir -onald <elille. O4$ordG O4$ord
/niersity 1ress! >??E.
<ill! +ohn Stuart. "On ;iberty"! in On 7i+erty and Other Essays, ed. +ohn 2ray. O4$ordG O4$ord /niersity
1ress! >??>.
<oore! 2. E. Principia Ethica. 3ambrid%eG 3ambrid%e /niersity 1ress! >?03.
Neurath! Otto. Anti&8pengler. <unichG 2. .. (. 3all&ey! >?5>.
1ascal! Blaise. Pensees, trans 8. +. :railsheimer. 9armonds&orthG 1en%uin Books! >?66.
1rice! 9u&. Time1s Arro( and Archimedes1 Point. Ne& 0orkG O4$ord /niersity 1ress! >??6.
1utnam! 9ilary. %eason, Truth and "istory. 3ambrid%eG 3ambrid%e /niersity 1ress! >?D>.
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/nited States as Philosophy. Ne& 0ork (. (. Norton! >?5E.
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-yle! 2ilbert. The !oncept of Mind. ;ondonG 9utchinson! >?C?.
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Shah! )dries. Tales of the Der)ishes. ;ondonG +onathan 3ape! >?6E.
SpinoBa! Benedict. Ethics, trans. 8ndre& Boyle. ;ondonG +. <. .ent! >?E?.
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1ress! >?D5.
(itt%enstein! ;ud&i%. The <lue and <ro(n <oo's. O4$ordG Black&ell! >?6C.
(itt%enstein! ;ud&i%. !ulture and 6alue, trans. 1eter (inch. O4$ordG Black&ell! >?ED.
(itt%enstein! ;ud&i%. Philosophical In)estigations, trans. 2. E. <. 8nscombe. O4$ordG Black&ell! >?F3.
!can Notes+ a7?7e4?ook v97A: 1roo$ed care$ully! italics intact. *he author uses lots o$
italics and "#uotes"! in some cases rather poorly. 8lso! much o$ the %rammer is suspect!
but ) didn7t &ant to eer $rom the .* to the e4tent that ) $elt &ould be necessary.
3han%ed 7British Kuotes7 to "8merican Kuotes". .id not include the inde4 because o$ the
lack o$ pa%e numbers in this $ormat! but kept the "Notes" section in case re$erence is
needed. Because o$ the charts and use o$ mathematical characters in 3hapter Si4! please
be cautious &hen chan%in% this book to another $ormat.