Introduction to Philosophy

Context: Notes saved from the course I took in Philosophy

Introduction: What is Philosophy?

By taking our ways of thinking about things out into the world and testing them against the world we can be prompted to change and revise them. Philosophy is the activity of working out the best way to think about things. Philosophy isn't just a subject. It's an activity that we have to engage in. Its something that we have to do.

Think of philosophy as the activity of working out the best way to think about things. Whatever we're doing or thinking about, we can always step back and try and articulate and justify the presuppositions that we're employing. So the philosophers ask more and more questions, always demanding that we step back further and further.

Speculation about how things work together requires the ability to draw out conceptual distinctions and connections, and the ability to argue. But speculative views, however interesting or well supported by arguments or insightful, are not all we need. We also need what the philosopher Myles Burnyeat called 'vision' and I take that to mean vision as to how to live our lives, and how to order our societies. Philosophy needs vision and argument. There is something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains arguments, however good, which were not inspired by some genuine vision. And something disappointing about a philosophical work that contains a vision, however inspiring, which is unsupported by arguments.

Trying to work out the right way of thinking about things with the help of engaging with arguments and positions that other people, other philosophers, have put forward. Arguments in the context of philosophy, we just mean evidence and change of reasoning that try to demonstrate the truth of some conclusion or another.

The Status of Morality

Kant tried to argue that the rules that govern the way that our mind works are also the rules that govern the way the world has to work.

  • emotivism: that we're expressing our emotions towards the world when we make these judgments
  • relativism: the idea that we're describing some kind of cultural or personal relative practices when we make these judgments.
  • objectivism: The idea that we are representing objective facts when we make moral judgments

Are we depicting some element of the universe out there? The moral facts. Are we expressing our emotions toward things?

Objectivism, Relativism and Emotivism

What are we doing when we make such judgments? Are we representing objective facts of matter? Or are we describing our personal or cultural practices? The status of morality and in particular, three questions.

  1. are our moral judgments the sorts of thing that can be true or false? Or are they mere opinions?
  2. if they are the sorts of things that can be true or false, what makes them true or false?
  3. if they are true, are they objectively true?

Emotivisim: our moral judgments are not the source of things that can be true or false, neither objectively true or false, nor true or false relative to some, person's feelings or some culture. They are the direct expression of our emotive reactions to the world

Subjectivism: Our moral judgments are indeed true or false, but they're only true or false relative to the subjective feelings of a particular person, the person who makes them basic idea behind relativism is that our moral judgments are indeed the sorts of things that can be true or false, but they're only true or false relative to something that varies from person to person or culture to culture

Objectivism: our moral judgments are the sorts of things that can be true or false, and what makes them true or false are facts that are generally independent of who we are or what cultural groups we belong to. They're objective moral facts

The Basic Constituents of Knowledge

Ability Intuition: the idea that when you know, your knowing is down to you in some important way and the exercise of your cognitive abilities, that is your abilities which are relevant to the formation of true beliefs. They've formed their belief in a way which is a good route to the truth.

Anti-luck intuition: So when you know your true belief is not merely a matter of luck.

The second basic constituent of knowledge that everybody agrees upon, is that if you know a proposition, then you must at least believe that proposition

The Classical Account of Knowledge and the Gettier Problem

Two basic constituents of propositional knowledge: The first of these is truth. That if you know a proposition, then that proposition must be true

the Classical Account of Knowledge: This is the idea that when one knows one has a true belief, one gets it right, and in addition one has a justification. That is, one can offer good reasons in support of what one believes.

Knowledge is justified, true belief. The view is often called a tripartite analysis of knowledge, because it has three parts to it. It's very simple. Truth, belief, justification the anti luck intuition first. That says that if you know then your true belief is not simply a matter of luck.

Do We Have Any Knowledge?

  • Ability intuition: the claim that if you know then your true belief is down to your cognitive abilities in some important way.
  • skeptical hypotheses: these are scenarios which are indistinguishable from normal life, but where one is radically in error. One of these scenarios that we looked at was the brain-in-a-bat hypothesis
  • Radical skepticism: the view that we know very little. In particular we know very little, if anything, about a world that is external to us. in it's strongest form, skepticism, radical skepticism says that knowledge is impossible

Do You Have an Obligation to Obey the Law?

the difference between complying with the law which is doing what the law commands and obeying the law which is doing what the law commands because it commands it.

Gratitude and Benefit

Political philosophy: Examines philosophical questions about the relations between states and their citizens.


the benefit theory of political obligation: the claim that citizens are obliged to obey the state because of the benefits that the state has bestowed upon them. But, it only generates obligation if one is able to withhold consent. Where there's no possibility of withholding consent, there is no effective consent.

Consent theory of political obligation: we have an obligation to obey the state because we've consented to the state and to having such obligations to it

Fairness: Citizens are a part of cooperative enterprises that are mutually beneficial and fair. Because they're part of such schemes, such enterprises, they have an obligation to obey the rules of those schemes or enterprises.

Political anarchist typically think that states are illegitimate, and should be overthrown. By contrast, philosophical anarchist simply hold that we don't have an obligation to obey the law

Introduction: Hume on Testimony and Miracles

Assumption that you should only trust testimony when you've got evidence that the testifier is likely to be right. It's just another way of putting that assumption that the more unusual the event testified to is the less trusting you should be of the testimony.

Kant, the Enlightenment and Intellectual Autonomy

To trust someone else's testimony on some matter is to allow your own understanding to be guided by that other person. And Kant clearly thinks that not being guided by another person, that was not trusting other people's testimony, is in some sense a virtue. Contemporary philosophers have called this virtue, a related virtue, intellectual autonomy.

The Value of Intellectual Autonomy

"sapere aude": Which means literally "dare to be wise". Better translation would be "dare to know"

Descartes' Substance Dualism Theory of the Mind

we can think about things. I can evaluate my own thoughts. Descartes thought that for every human being, there were two bits of stuff

Physicalism: Identity Theory and Functionalism

Multiple Realisability: the physical state that realizes the psychological state of pain can be very different, depending on the type of organism that we're looking at. Psychological states, thoughts, feelings, sensations, pains, for example, can be reduced to particular physical states in the body. Type identity is saying that particular types of physiological states, say pains, are identical with particular types of physical states.

If we're saying that psychological states are identical with physical states, then we're going to have to explain whether we mean token identity or type identity. Token identity would be something like this. We could say that for every psychological state that a human being is in, there is a corresponding physical state for it.

The three different ways that there are...

  • logical behaviorism
  • identity theory
  • functionalism

Identity theory says that thoughts, such as a thought, my thought that I'm going to go to Paris next week, is identical with a particular physical state of my body and brain.

substantialism posited two types of stuff, immaterial stuff and physical stuff. And the problem with causation says, well how can this immaterial stuff interact with the physical stuff

Functionalism: What is crucial is how it functions. It says that we should tell mental states apart. We should think about mental states, not by what they are made of, but by what they do. what it is to have a mind is to have a certain level of functional complexity, to have a certain level of psychological states that function in very complex ways dependent on perceptions of the environment.

Minds vs. Machines: The Turing Test and the Chinese Room

Semantic properties are what that symbol stands for. minds are like computers, that minds take inputs, manipulate the, and send out outputs. Then where does the meaning come in.

The problem with the Turing Test is that it doesn't take into account the inner states of the machine.

When we are testing for human intelligence, and surely, it seems very chauvinistic to think that the only intelligence worth studying is human intelligence

It's language based, so all the testing is for an intelligence that can communicate via language.

The Aim of Science: Saving the Phenomena vs. Truth

On one view, science aims to be accurate to provide us with a good description and analysis of the available experimental evidence in whatever field of inquiry there is. In other words, we make expect science to save the phenomenon. On a different view, we make expect science not to just save the phenomenon, but to provide us with a true story about these phenomena. How they came about, what sort of mechanism were involved in their production

A partially correct, partially incorrect account of a given object is replaced by a better account of the same object

Scientific realism says that the aim of science is to provide us with theories which literally construed we believe to be true

how abstraction and idealization enter into the construction of models so that although the models are very useful and explanatory tools in everyday practice, they may not necessarily be the true of states of affairs in the world, if not in a very idealized sense or in very idealized circumstances.

constructive empiricism would insist that scientific theories not to be true in order to be good, they only need to be empirically adequate. And a theory is empirically adequate if whatever the theory says about observable things and events in the world (past, present, and future) is true.

an empiricist position, in believing that our knowledge should be confined to the available experimental evidence, as opposed to going beyond the available evidence and claiming to discover truth about the unobservable.

Inference of the best explanation is a powerful tool in the scientific realist toolkit.

we are justified to believe in unobservable entities because the inferential path that leads us to such unobservable entities is one and the same inferential path that leads us to unobserved observables

science doesn't need to be true to good. And the aim of science is simply to provide us with theories which are empirically adequate

scientific realists believe that truth is the home of science and that we should believe our best theories in science to be true or at least approximately true

What is Determinism?

Causes work in a deterministic way. Everything about the effect is explained by the nature of the cause, that something that we accept about the physical world. It seems that if we're part of the physical world, it applies to us too. In that case, we're not free and if we're not free, it seems hard to make sense of moral responsibility

What determinists say is that there's no genuine chanciness in the world, that the way things are going to happen is determined by everything that's happened before

  • Libertarianism: libertarians argue that we really are free, that we really do have free will
  • Compatibilism: Compatibilists say that there are features of our acts, the way that we behave, the way that we are that matter, and they matter to moral responsibility, and they matter even if we don't have metaphysical free will.