November 3, 2012

Back to Nederlog?

1.   Update Philosophical Dictionary
PS. My eye problems


This is about an update for the letter C in my Philosophical Dictionary.

1. Update Philosophical Dictionary

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:

Careerism: 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:

All ordinary 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 survive socially, because a society keeps going only if most of its members keep agreements, contracts, conventions 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, that the 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.

Categorical 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 universal law".

Kant's categorical 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 act on".

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".

Certainty: What is definitely and without reservations the case.

There are few certainties (see: Fallibilism), 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 dictum)
(4) It is always right to try to think rationally and try to act reasonably. 

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

Character: 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, hypocrisy, illusion and fear, 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 and religion, 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.

Chauvinism: 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 finest a.s.o.

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 thinking.

Cogito 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 certainly true.

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 thinking.

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: Without agreements in assumptions, ends and 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.

Conscience: A person's sense of values, that may help the person to do the morally or ethically approved or good thing in some group or society.

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.

Consciousness: What one experiences 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 loud sound.

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 representation, 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, feelings 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 capacities:

thought    thinking and judging
fantasy    creative formations and expectations
memory    information about one's past and associations
senses     information about environment and orientations
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 the words
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. 

In everyday 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, likewise.

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 attitudes:

  • 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


Coster: Dirck Jansz. Coster. Dutch playwright and author, i.a. of the following somewhat melancholic but accurate diagnosis:

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
also acted well
Then the earth would be a paradise
Now it often is a hell

Dirck Jansz Coster, 1618

And that were just a few bits from my Philosophical Dictionary.


Maarten Maartensz

P.S. My eye problems

I'll 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.
Version 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 are the 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.

The present settings of NOTEBOOK aka NB seem the best compromise between what my eyes can handle, and what most readers like to see.

And they have been changed repeatedly, as have the links below to change the background (but not the color of the text box).

As 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 to picture. (Background colors work no more.) I may changes this again, depending on my eyes. I may even return to Nederlog!
Version November 10, 2012: Black text on #CCCCFF, changed background picture.

[*] In 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.

                  PS: Any necessary corrections have to be made later.