1. Update Philosophical
This is about
an update for the letter C in my Philosophical
In the second
half of 2011 and the first third of 2012 I have made textual updates to
quite a few lemmas in my Philosophical
Dictionary, in an editor that I had tweaked wrongly, with the
consequence that the items I updated appear with very large or very
small fonts, and often both.
This does not look nice. Earlier I had returned the lemmas in the
letters A and B to what they should look like, at least, and today I
did so for the letter C.
In case you are not familiar with my Philosophical Dictionary, here are a few examples of
what you can find there:
The subordination of personal values, personality, honesty, integrity
and human decency for the personal benefits and profits of rising high
and earning much in a any bureaucratic
institution as a reliable conformist
in that group.
Although it is widely
denied by careerists, the above is both the norm and the common
practice in virtually every human institution:
men seem quite capable, as it were by empathizing with their role
(and its future expected benefits if played up to standard), to replace
themselves in a socially contrived
reality, that in fact is mostly fictional,
but which is shared by others who play roles
in the same group, and who all
together keep up the pretense that their game is reality itself
(from 9 to 5, or whatever the office hours may be), and who thereby
succeed, also as in ordinary children's games,
to really have - or to mock-"really" have: it depends - the
kind of feelings, desires and beliefs that are appropriate to the bureaucratic
specifications of their role
in the institution.
The better on is able to do
this, the better one's chances on a successful social career, and the
higher one's income.
And it should be noted that
a bit of this role-playing is necessary to
because a society keeps going only if most of its members keep agreements,
and keep up the pretenses that surround these - the real (very
widespread) human problem starts when persons
working in institutions start pretending, to themselves and others,
games they are playing in order to belong, make money, and seem a
decent person-in-their-own-institution (whether the Salvation Army, the
SS, or the late great Lehmann Brothers Bank) are not games at all; are
really real and as one should be, as a human being in that institution,
and anyway are
moral, as shown by their being rewarded in the institution.
Unfortunately, this is what
mostly happens, though with considerable personal variations. This can
be mostly explained by the gifts (whether moral, intellectual, or
artistic) that succesful institutional conformers have, that only very
rarely are large, and that explain their common lack of individual
character, intelligence, courage, or indeed human presence.
imperative: Kant's term for his basic moral
norm: "There is but one categorical imperative: Act only on that maxim
whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a
imperative may perhaps sound noble - formulated as it is in terms
of "categorical", "imperative", "maxim", "universal law" - but it is
nonsense, and remains so if reformulated with less pretentious terms,
say as "one's moral duty is to act according to principles all could
The problem is that this
forbids such perfectly natural acts or desires as scratching one's ass,
or making love to one's wife, to name just a few examples, at least
when the imperative is taken literally ("I wouldn't want everyone to
scratch my ass or make love to my wife, and I also wouldn't want
everyone to scratch his own ass or make love to his own wife if or
because I do") - and if it isn't, or can't, or shouldn't, it seems
useless to propose universal moral principles that cannot be acted on
as they are stated.
One problem for universal
moral laws is that what is good (or bad) depends much on the context
and the intention
of the act that is committed (or ommitted).
Are there then no universal
moral laws that hold for all human beings in all circumstances? Or if
not in all at least in most? There seem to be at least two reasonable
positive answers to this, one factual and one theoretical.
The factual one is that all
the major religions agree on several moral laws, including the
following important idea, surely more useful than Kant's categorical
imperative, if also not completely free from logical objections,
namely: 'Do not do unto others as you would not be done unto'.
Indeed, this has the great
merits of appealing to one's individual experience while presupposing
that this holds a valid clue to how other human beings feel and think.
The theoretical one is that
any moral law that is supposed to be of universal validity for
all human beings must be based on those needs and capacities all human
beings share. As human beings do have many needs and capacities
in common, it is quite easy for them to understand what would please
and what would hurt any other human being in very many circumstances,
and therefore one such possible general moral law might be: 'Do not
hurt others, except in self-defense'.
Also, one might propose
principles of cooperation
and consent, based on the notion that, in principle, every
human being is capable of harming or helping any other human being that
is near enough, and a principle to the effect that, at least, one
should not lie to one's friends, based on the notion that every human
being is capable of both lying and telling the truth about many things,
and that falsities, when believed and acted upon, tend to harm people.
And it may
also be observed that what is needed for morals
is not so much simple universally applicable rules, as general ends,
that are formulated in terms of human needs and capacities,
and what is required to keep a human society peacefully together, and
rules that further these in many circumstances.
In any case, Kant's
categorical imperative is useless for morals, and hardly better than
"if in Rome do as the Romans do", that I like to explain as "if among
cannibals, do as cannibals do".
What is definitely and without reservations the case.
There are few certainties
and to believe there are many tends to be a mark of stupidity,
ignorance, or fanaticism.
But there are some certainties, notably of a mathematical and logical
nature, which may be used to infer others, and also may be used to
infer mere probabilities.
And it is interesting to
note something many miss that yet is quite fundamental: Every human
being may be quite certain that there is much he or she is not certain
of. Indeed, these are a human beings greatest certainties: The
uncertainties he or she knows oneself to have.
Also, to infer any contingent
statement (one that is neither certainly true
nor certainly false)
one needs to accept some contingent statement, if only hypothetically,
provisionally, or until one has better evidence.
It should be noted that
everyone - who lives in some society,
at least - accepts at least pragmatically or hypothetically many
statements as certain that are not really certain in a
mathematical or philosophical sense, but without which life in that
society is hardly possible.
These pragmatic or
hypothetical certainties, as they were just styled, come in many
kinds and qualities, varying from practical, legal or moral ones, to
scientific or religious certainties.
Four useful moral rules
that relate to (un)certainties are:
(1) One's search for evidence
for the statements one believes in should be proportional to the
importance one attributes to them.
(2) It is almost certainly morally wrong to use violence for things one
knows one is not certain of.
(3) "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for
anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (Clifford's
(4) It is always right to try to think rationally and try to act
Finally, it should be noted
that anybody who is religious
feels or should feel morally certain that anybody who has a different
religion is mistaken - from which it at least plausibly follows that
religious certainties are almost certainly delusions,
whereas it is certain that untold many millions have been murdered
because of religious fanatics
What human beings have made of themselves,
given their circumstances, their needs, their talents, their
shortcomings, their beliefs and their illusions
There definitely is a personal
character that human individuals have and retain throughout their
lives, and it seems to be mostly based emotionally on one's basic
motives and temperament, and intellectually one one's general
intelligence and special talents and shortcomings.
All of these seem as
definite and recognizable as a person's
face, and as much related as one's face is to what is innate:
Apart from great trauma and
serious accident, our main outlines and forms are born with us, and are
what we try to make the best of in the circumstances and with events of
life as we find and meet them.
The public character
of the vast majority of men and women - the face they put on for
others, as 'person'
comes from 'mask' - is mostly intentional falsification: It is a
balancing act made up of conformism,
in which they pretend that they are and feel and believe what they know
they are and feel and believe not, because they believe, with some
justification, that pretending they are other than they really are and
feel and think will help or protect them.
This phoney 'character',
the false public
face, that most men and most women have is not one they are born with,
but one they acquire between ages 15 and 25, when they try to fit
themselves into society,
and soon learn that their native talents and courage are not large, and
that duplicity and conformism
are rewarded, and sincerity, individuality and thinking for oneself
punished, and that the prevailing standards in society, from elementary
politeness to politics
are in most men and women more based on pretense, acting as if,
make-belief, party-feelings and wishful
thinking rather than on sincerity, skepticism, independent
individual thought or reason.
The self-love of groups;
that part of the group's ideology
that tell the group's members that the group is great, the group's
leaders are best, the
group's members better than non-members; the group's territory the
Every group has some
chauvinism, just as every person has some self-love. Not all of it is
bad (indeed, a person without self-respect is a poor sort of person),
but it easily gets bad if - as usual - it is not based on facts
but on wishful
ergo sum: Latin for 'I think therefore I am'.
Briefly, the argument is also known as 'the cogito', and is an argument
for one's own existence. It is due to Descartes, who believed it was
Descartes believed the cogito is an irrefutable and
certain argument for one's own existence. St Augustine, more than
thousand years earlier, had a somewhat better argument, involving a
similar form and same principle: "Fallor ergo sum" - if I am
mistaken, then I still exist, even if I am mistaken.
Both Descartes' and St.
Augustine's do not really prove more than that human beings can argue
on the basis of definitions or meanings of words, and that they easily
can make mistakes while doing so, especially because of wishful
This can be shown by
several elementary arguments, all with the same sort of logic as used
by the arguments of Descartes
and St. Augustine. Thus, one may consider "I dream, therefore I am"; "I
think I am an illusion, therefore I am an illusion"; "I am an illusion
of something unthinkable, therefore I am not"; or "I am a
computer program that cannot think but that can generate grammatical
apparently valid conclusions, therefore I am a thinking genius".
And in this context here is
Ambrose Bierce for the edification of the reader
"...Descartes, a famous
philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum - whereby
he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human
existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito
ergo cogito sum - 'I think that I think, therefore I think that I am';
as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made." (The
Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, entry Cartesian)
As said, St. Augustine
argued similarly, and did so about 1200 years earlier. He argued, more
plausibly "Fallor, ergo sum" i.e. "I may be mistaken, so I am".
But in any case, such
arguments do not hold, however plausible they may seem to be. For if
Descartes may be misled by the devil in believing he sees a fair damsel
where there is none, there is no reason to believe that the devil may
not make an automaton - or some ape - that mistakenly believes itself
to be the philosopher Descartes, while being no such thing, and the
same may be replied to St. Augstine's more modest "If I am mistaken
about what I think, then at least I think": No, at best there is some
appearance that appears to say or think this: all that is logically
valid in either Descartes's or Augustine's arguments is to the effect
that if there is an experience of the so-and-so, there is an experience
- but one may be quite mistaken about what the experience is an
experience of, for there may be no so-and-so at all.
This is less fanciful or
hardheaded than the reader may believe (who might incline to "Come on!
I know at least that I exist, whatever you say, for whatever the
explanation, there are my feelings"), because, like a symphony, the
sense of self
a person has may be the product of many interacting contributors none
of which itself is or has a self. If so, the sense of self may still be
useful and important, or it may be a useless or even - as the Buddhists
and many mystics claim - a harmful illusion
(not so much an optical illusion as an illusion of the I),
but at least in that case what we hold to be our self is less of a unit
than seems suggested by simple pronouns.
Who wants to
know more about the cogito, I refer to my sections on Descartes and Russell. And whoever really desires certain
knowledge, should seriously consider logic and mathematics.
Conformism: To behave
according to the current social norms,
ideals and practices.
Conformism is the
basis of all social behavior and of all human groups:
acts no group and no society can
exist, whereas the great majority in any group
is not capable of developing rational ideas
about most problems by themselves.
The essence of
all real social conformism is the clear understanding of the conformer
that his conformism is a conscious lie, conscious role-playing,
intentional theatre, and that his conformism is mostly collusion and deception in cooperation
with other conformists, based on the same motives: fear and egoism.
What counts most in (almost)
any society - for those who succeed or live peacefully in and with it -
is the pretence and appearance of conformism and conformity, based on
the conscious effort to conform. The main problem with this is not that
this is so, but that many can't do much better than conform, and indeed
act wisely by following
others, since they don't have the wherewithall to lead themselves.
sense of values, that may help the person to do the morally or ethically approved
or good thing in some group
Since a conscience, as defined, is part of a person's consciousness,
and that person indeed may lie about the values
he holds in fact and works for (as salesmen invariably pretend to serve
your interests, in order to serve their own), it often is not at all
clear what a person really thinks, morally speaking: See Moral
norms - features of.
Then again, most adult persons have some sort of conscience, and indeed
cannot function in human society without at least acting according to
its dominant norms of behavior, whether they approve or not.
And a complicating factor is that the strength and content of
individual consciences differ considerably, while some persons - often
known as psychopaths, though this also tends to involve further
characteristics - have no conscience at all, and feel very little
empathy with others. This also allows them to rise high in any society,
group or institution,
if they are tolerably intelligent: They are capable of many things
others tend not to do.
Finally, it should be pointed out that much that seems or feels
inspired by one's own conscience is in fact mostly or wholly inspired
by the knowledge that one is being watched, and will get into
difficulties if those watching one disapprove of what one does. Then
again, there are persons who are capable of great heroism through being
a consciemtious human being, who keeps trying to do what he thinks is
the right thing, also in the face of strong opposition.
What one experiences
As defined, this seems the
simplest minimally adequate definition. It also does justice to a fact
noticed by Leibniz (long before Freud), namely that one has unconscious
experiences, as illustrated by the fact that one may be woken up by a
It seems not unlikely that human
consciousness differs from whatever experiences or experiences of their
experiences other animals have, because human beings use a natural
language for a considerable part of their conscious experience, which
is an extra layer of symbolical
next to the representing of parts of one's environment and body that is
involved in ordinary non-verbalized experience and that is presumably
shared with animals, at least in principle.
Indeed, it is well to
remark that it seems likely that the types of experience and
consciousness a species of animal is capable of is species specific:
The bandwidths different species are well-tuned to differ, as do their
capacities to make fine distinctions in what they do pick up, as may
their organs, like the sonar that comes natural to bats.
And in this context of capacities: The
stresses and capacities of organs that different animals share may
differ a lot between species: Dogs rely much more on smell than humans
do; birds may have far better eyes than humans do; and indeed compared
to the sensory discriminations other mammals may easily make, human
beings seem obtuse and limited in their abilities to perceive what goes
on in their environment.
Here is a sort of
simultaneous description and analysis of what seems to me to be
involved in the only consciousness I know directly, namely my own:
There are two sides to
conscious thought, since that happens in a dialogue, as it were
by an answering and an asserting entity. Also, there are a body-image,
of pain and pleasure, sensations,
memories, and fantasies
besides thought, that is mostly verbal in its two sides, but that may
go intentionally or come unavoidably with images of fantasy or memory.
By intentional fantasies I
mean that I can ask myself "what would this look like?" and get a
mental image, which I can alter or replace by another. So I am speaking
mostly of a capacity for picturing, imagining, rather than creating,
which is what the mind does, and which need not involve pictures, but
may come as text.
Of course, what I have been
saying is mostly metaphorical, but it seems fairly adequate. Also,
these faculties are distinguishable and are given and come with
fantasy creative formations and expectations
memory information about one's past and associations
senses information about environment and
body information about one's
body and feelings
Also there definitely is
knowing what one thinks before verbalizing it, which anyway seems more
by way of explicating and memorizing then the proper thinking it
verbalizes. Hence in fact there often are at least three layers
involved in thinking something:
1) the thought prior to
2) the words for the thought
3) the mental image for the thought
These also usually arrive
in that order, and always with the thought first: one knows what is
coming, one has an inkling, and there it comes.
As to thought: I do think
these are two departments, as it were, two sides, two halves, say the
producing and the judging part.
terms thinking and judging seem most appropriate, and
judging is the active part, so to speak: it chooses to believe,
desire and do. These are acts, mental and physical. There are
other mental acts: remembering,
in various ways; imagining,
Put otherwise, all that is
involved in consciousness are actions that may be phrased like so
thinking and judging
imagining and expecting
remembering and associating
sensing and orienting
being and feeling
By being I mean basically
bodily states or whatever it is that is one's body image, which is more
than feelings, supposing these to be positive and negative, and in the
ways of signals, for there tend to be many states that are more or less
indifferent if one is more or less healthy, say the feeling of one's
right foot, at the end of one's leg, without pains or pleasures of it.
It may be added, with
reference to Propositional
Attitudes, that the conception there adopted is to iterate the
- aKaKq is conscious
knowledge of q: a knows q and a knows that a know q
- aBaBq is conscious
belief of q: a believes q and a believes a believes q
- aCaCq is conscious
causing of q: a causes q and a causes that a causes q
Dirck Jansz. Coster. Dutch playwright and
author, i.a. of the following somewhat melancholic but accurate
Ach, waren alle mensen wijs
En deden daarbij wel
Dan was de aarde een paradijs
Nu is zij vaak een hel.
O, if only all men were wise
And also acted well
Then the earth would be a paradise
Now it often is a hell.
Jansz Coster, 1618
And that were
just a few bits from my Philosophical
P.S. My eye
leave the text on my eye problems for the moment as a P.S., to
clarify why I
use such colors as I do, and why I have, for the time being, mostly
stopped editing my site.
October 15, 2012: My eye problems
are the reason this page has the colors it does have: It is very
difficult to look at white and light backgrounds with such eyes as I
presently have. See also: Why
colors as they are?
The diagnosis is keratoconjunctivitis
sicca (possibly as a part of Sjoegren's
syndrome). It is less than it was, for months, but not as I should
like it to be.
settings of NOTEBOOK aka NB seem the best compromise between what my
eyes can handle, and what most readers like to see.
they have been
changed repeatedly, as have the links below to
change the background (but not the color of the text box).
of October 13,
2012, the standard setting for the text box is white
text on a
darkslategrey background while the standard background is maroon.
Version October 28, 2012:
Black text on #339999.
Version November 8, 2012: Changed background
(Background colors work no more.) I may changes this again, depending
on my eyes. I may even return to Nederlog!
November 10, 2012: Black text on #CCCCFF, changed background
fact, most of what is read in Nederlog is written in Dutch and - as far
as I can see - most of that got selected because I wrote about
something my readers are interested in, which means, as is indeed true,
that quite a lot of old Nederlogs are being read daily.
[**] Probably it will not
be a constant background, but it is a nice view and a nice memory for me, and indeed I do
intend to write some more about Dovre
and Norway, and in such contexts it will probably reappear.
necessary corrections have to be made later.