November 4, 2012

Update Philosophical Dictionary - D and E

1.   Update Philosophical Dictionary - D and E
PS. My eye problems


This is about an update for the letters D and E 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, B and C to what they should look like, at least, and today I did so for the letter D and the letter E.
 the letter C.

In case you are not familiar with my
Philosophical Dictionary, here are a few examples of what you can find there:

Death: Absence of life.

It is a curious fact that many religious persons have led lives guided by notions about what would happen to them, or their souls, after their deaths, where they believed themselves to be rewarded or punished for the deeds they committed while alive.

Even so, each could have known that there is no good evidence at all that there is anything left that experiences after the body that the experiences were associated with has died, which is a state of affairs quite similar for what was the case and where one was, if anywhere at all, before one's conception.

This is one instance of a very common human feature: That humans seek inspiration and motivation from theories they might know are based on wishful thinking - the decision to believe what one desires to be true rather than investigate rationally whether what one desires to be true might be false - rather than rational evidence. This human penchant for wishful thinking has caused the deaths of very many millions, and miserable and deluded lifes for many more millions.

It is a remote logical possibility that there is more to be experienced after death, but the probability seems small, and the probability that anyone knows it in this life even smaller, wherefore Epicurus seems quite correct:

"Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist, there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist."

: Belief in a falsehood.

There are more comprehensive definitions in psychiatric handbooks, that may refer to the difficulty of removing a delusion, but the core of it all is as defined: One believes what is not so, while not knowing and not believing one does, and the more fanatical or prejudiced one is, the more deluded one is. (See illusion.)

Note that there are several possible reasons for delusions, such as:

Sometimes several of these operate at the same time.

It is the fate of human beings to be deluded about many things, since one is born with very little knowledge, and there is very much to learn and to know, nearly all of which cannot be crammed in one human life. Besides, many delusions of very intelligent men and women were and are due to simply lacking the knowledge to arrive at true or adequate explanations

Dictatorship: Concentration of social power in a society in the hands of one man, the dictator. Derived from the Romans, who in times of military crisis elected a supreme military leader with many powers, for a limited time.

The relation between philosophy and dictatorships is that there have been several large atrocious dictatorships in the 20th C, next to quite a few equally atrocious smaller ones, all of which were claimed to be the result of specific philosophies and and specific philosophers from the 19th C: Fascism and National Socialism were much inspired by Nietzsche, and Communism by Marx.  See Ordinary men - and it is a moot question how much in communism and national socialism is due to the ideas of Marx resp. Nietzsche, and how much is due to the apparently innate totalitarian nature of ordinary men, who are not capable of generating their own philosophies but have turned out to be quite willing executioners of dictators, often from deep and sincere feelings of loyalty to the Party or the Fatherland.

: What one remembers to have fantasized while sleeping after waking up.

Dreams are interesting experiences that are not at all well understood. They are interesting especially because while dreaming - at least: so far as one remembers - one usually, though not always, does not know one is dreaming, and what seems to happen to one seems to be as real as ordinary life, except that dreams may incorporate many events one would not do or dare or care for when awake.

In any case: Those who dream a lot, know from their dreams a sort of parallel universe, presumably completely fantastical (since one usually can verify that while one dreamt in fact one slept, and nothing happened to one as one dreamt that happened), yet apparently as real as the experiences that make up ordinary life.

This is an interesting fact, and one that is interesting for philosophy and epistemology, since it easily leads to questions like: "How do you know ordinary life is not a dream, albeit one you haven't woken up from, so far?" and "Supposing dreams to be fantasies, what do they mean or imply about one's person?".

Chuang Tzu has a nice parable about dreams, and Wu wrote an interesting book about Chuang Tzu ("The Butterfly as Companion"), but the question I just posed, or the one Chuang Tzu posed - He dreamt he was a butterfly, and woke up. Now, how does he know he is not a butterfly who dreams he is a man? - is rather easily disposed of by noting that ordinary life is not like a dream, and to say it is or may be like it is to confuse a few things quite categorically, and that we have evidence about men dreaming they are butterflies, but no evidence at all about butterflies dreaming they are men.

Also, what dreams teach about the dreamer's person is a moot question as long as no one really understands what dreams are. What is certain, is that for ages interpreters of dreams have made a lot of money or got a lot of kudos by what were basically fraudulent fantastic explanations. (Freud is one example in a long list of frauds of this kind - and at least his name fits nearly perfectly: Nomen est omen.)

However, while the topic is interesting, I am no expert at all on it, even though I happen to have a degree in psychology: Personally, I dream very rarely.

This does not mean that I do not have the kind of brainwaves that neurologists have connected with the occurence of dreaming in people (which in fact I don't know, but I suppose I have them like almost everyone who was investigated), but that I rarely wake up with a memory of dreams.

Also, if I dream and wake up knowing I did - once in a few years, at most - my dreams are excellent 3-D full color movies, but not spectacular or strange, and indeed not much different of how I would behave or feel in real life, and are normally about persons I have known.

In any case, I know from girl friends whom I have asked that they dream often; that they may dream in black and white; and that they may dream that they dream, or be faintly aware that they dream while they dream. None of this is true in my own experience, but then I also never had a nightmare.

Drugs: In the present context: Mind-altering substances, like LSD, mescaline, psilocybine, hashish, opium and others.

There have been quite a few persons in the previous two centuries who have claimed that various drugs - like any of those mentioned above - were capable of providing insight and understanding that could not be otherwise achieved, or was far more difficult to achieve without drugs than with drugs.

Two notable such writers of the 20th Century are Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary; a notable writer of the 19th Century was De Quincey.

All I wish to observe here is that:

  • There is no good evidence for this at all - indeed, possibly apart from one poem by Coleridge, probably written in connection with opium, while Coleridge had a very good mind apart from drugs - there seems to be no work done either in art or philosophy with the help or under the influence of drugs that is of indisputable high quality.
  • There is excellent evidence that the use of the substances I mentioned is dangerous: Those who take them run an appreciably larger risk of psychosis and other psychological problems, or of addiction, than those who don't.
  • The best guess about the causal mechanisms that are at the basis of drugs with mind-altering properties are the same as for the mind-altering properties of alcohol: In sufficient dosage they alter one's perceptions and experiences, but for the largest part, at least, they do so by diminishing one's capacities, and with considerable risks for one's health.
  • If your desire is to reach mystical states of awareness, the message of those who really seem to know about these is simple: If you can't reach them without drugs, you certainly won't reach them with drugs, and what you will achieve will be mostly illusion and delusion, besides some possibly pleasant or also frightening hallucinations, all with the risk of psychosis.

And in any case, what the existence of mind-altering drugs including alcohol does show, so far at least, is (1) that ordinary experience depends on the presence, interaction and balance of rather large amounts of chemical substances, and (2) that where this balance is disturbed one's general capacities diminish, and one runs serious risks of making irrational judgments, or becoming subject of delusions, hallucinations or addiction.

Education: What one is taught, or also the manner in which one is taught

In general terms, one is taught by instruction or by example, and one is taught by one's parents and family; in one's place of work; and in special social institutions, normally called schools or universities. What one acquires when one is taught are generally beliefs and values.

It should be noted that it takes some fourteen to twenty years to educate a human being to the extent that he or she is capable of functioning more or less properly in society, and to play the common roles in it (as of: citizen, man, woman, doctor, lawyer, milkman, nurse).

There is a pseudoscience of education, called pedagogy: I call it a pseudoscience (i) because what I have read of it generally is ill-written ideology rathter than science and (ii) because there is nothing in the way of rational theory with empirical support that explains how the human brain learns (other than in trivial ways on trivial tasks).

One reason to add this explicitly is that the standard fare of school education, if not harmful for children in general, is certainly harmful for gifted children.

Entelechy: Entity that believes, desires and has ends, that is the basis of all believing, desiring an striving for ends that organisms do.

The entelechy is an Aristotelian notion, that also was picked up by Leibniz, whose monads are entelechies, and who believed absolutely everything - also what appears utterly lifeless - has some sort of entelechy that keeps it together to be that thing it is, and that keeps it doing the kinds of things entities of its kind do in given circumstances.

The most likely scientific hypothesis about animals and human beings is what corresponds to their entelechy is part of the functioning of their living brains, that is capable of representing some of the body and environment it is part of, in some ways.

Epictetus: c. 50 - c. 130: Stoic philosopher.

Epictetus was born the son of a slave-woman; was himself a slave until c. 68; was lame; was banished from Rome by Domitian around 90; and had a thriving school at Epirus, where the logic, physics, and ethics of Stoicism were taught.

Epictetus did not publish and what was handed down from him - the Manual (Enchiridon) and the Discourses, finely translated by Lady Elisabeth Carter in the 17th Century - are in fact the class notes of his pupil Flavius Arrianus.

Epictetus was lame for most of his life (which some say was caused by maltreatment while he was a slave) and insisted much on (the acquisition of) self-control to withstand the many ills and evils of life.

His motto was "Bear and forbear", but he insisted much on moral instuction and effort and he taught every man was fully responsible for his actions, since he always can choose or refuse, as Zeus had given man a free will.

His main aim was to help men to built their own prosopon i.e. proper character and personality, which he held that every man is both free to form, whatever his circumstances, and morally obliged to form, and to achieve autarkeia, that is the self-rule and independence from external circumstances that characterizes the truly free man in full self-control.

Modern men who read Epictetus will find that he demands considerably more in self-control, moral effort, and ability to bear pain and trouble than is taught in modern education and also than many modern men believe is possible.

He himself seems to have lived as he taught a man should live.

Epicurus: 341 BC - 270 BC: Greek philosopher, founder of Epicureanism. "Epicurus" is the Latinized form of Epikouros, "ally, comrade".

He was influenced by Democritus and influenced Lucretius. His school was known as "The Garden", and he taught that the greatest goods are happiness and pleasure, and that nothing can be rationally believed that is not based on direct observation or logical deduction, and was therefore one of the founders of the scientific method. His moral teaching emphasized that happiness is best reach by minimizing doing harm to oneself and others, while insisting that worthwile pleasures are those of the mind and of friendship with gifted and noble men. He followed Democritus in being an atomist, but insisted these may move subject to chance.

Most of his writings are lost, and Lucretius's "On the nature of things" may be the best summary of his teachings.

: Etymologically, from the Greek: A good death. Used in a modern medical sense for helping someone to die, in order to avoid the pain and misery related to some incurable disease, malfunction or unbearable situation.

Unless one's religion forbids it, there is quite a lot to be said for euthanasia, because there are quite a few mortal diseases, such as many forms of cancer, which are very painful or very degrading, and may take a lot of time to die from.

There are, though, quite a number of problems related to euthanasia. I treat some, and start with a mistaken and perverted notion of euthanasia.

1. Euthanasia under national socialism: Hitler abused the term 'euthanasia' as a rhetorical move to sanction the murder of mentally ill and otherwise handicapped people, rather like he abused the classical brief expression for justice - 'to each his own' in German 'Jedem das Seine' - as a cynical justification for mass murder and terrorism in concentration camps.

The reason to start with this abuse of the term and the idea is that some religious opponents of euthanasia, notably some Catholics, have pretended that all ideas and practices of euthanasia are on a par with Hitler's abuse of it. This is simply dishonest. (See also: religion)

2. Religious objections to euthanasia: If your religion forbids euthanasia - and e.g. Catholicism forbids both suicide and euthanasia - it seems fair, if perhaps horrible, if the faithful of that religion refuse to commit or refuse to help others commit euthanasia.

This seems to be implied by the freedom of religion or the freedom of conscience. However, by the same token, religious people have no right to deny non-religious people who desire to avoid a painful death to commit euthanasia, or to help qualified medical people who do not belong to their religion to help them die in a less painful or degrading way than without help.

3. Legal problems with euthanasia: There is a fundamental problem with helping someone else to commit euthanasia, and that is that it easily falls under the legal definition of 'murder', which is forbidden by civilized law, and rightly so.

The solution is fairly obvious in principle: Rewrite the law so that euthanasia becomes possible and does not necessarily become a murder, in the legal sense, but a permissible medical practice in some circumstances.

The problems here, though, are considerable if not insurmountable, for it is obvious that if euthanasia becomes permissible in principle, that right may be abused, also by qualified medical people, and what may be styled 'euthanasia' nevertheless may be murder (see euthanasia under national socialism).

Furthermore, while there may be no problem in ethical principle with a sane 80-year old who has a painful and mortal form of cancer, and desires to be saved from a painful and horrible and slow process of dying, there are quite a few cases that are less clear: What if the person is demented, and has left no last will in which he declares he is in favor of euthanasia? Or what if it is not an 80-year old, but a neonate with an incurable and very painful form of skin cancer that will end in death, but in a few years, and after great suffering? Or what if it concerns a person with a horrible and painful or degrading disease, such as serious epilepsy, that is not directly life-threatening, but that involves conditions of living that the patient finds unbearable? Or what about persons who are sane and not mortally ill but who desire to cease living, because they have nothing to live for?

These are serious legal problems, and there are more like the ones stated - but it seems to me they can be mostly solved, and even if some of these are difficult to solve, this does not constitute an argument against euthanasia in principle, if based on the consent and desire of sane adults, who do have some incurable and painful disease.

Besides, there is a related point that I deal with next.

4. Medical practices surrounding death
: That people may die in slow and horrible and predictable ways has been known to medical science for a very long time, and for a very long time part of the medical answer has been more or less the same: One gives the patient pain-killers - morphine, for example - to dull the pain, and indeed eventually in such quantities (since strong pain-killers tend to be addictive, so that for the same effect more and more of it must be administered) that the patient dies in fact from the medically provided pain-killers before he dies from the disease.

This practice is and has been common, and helps medical people and their patients and family to avoid a trial and verdict of murder while helping their dying patients to escape greater  misery. The fact, and the - legal - problem, is that this is in fact a kind of euthanasia, in that a doctor may know that what he prescribes for a patient will kill the patient - and know that when he does not prescribe it, the patient will also die, but more slowly and with much more pain. 

5. Euthanasia and ethics: There also is a strong positive argument for euthanasia, in some cases at least: That there are, in medicine, ways to help someone die in a fairly painless way, and that in some cases it would amount to willfull cruelty not to help someone in this way, simply because the alternatives may be, and quite often are, quite stark and clear for medical people: Either you help someone to die relatively painlessly and decently or you do not and the person will die somewhat later after a time of great and constant pain, that could have been avoided.

This is, in part at least, the case outlined in the previous section, and it seems to me that, in ethical principle, if it is a moral duty to help persons to avoid or mimimize pain and misery, that it may well be a moral duty to help them with such medicines as effectively will kill them.

6. Euthanasia and suicide: There also is a notion that people should have the right to kill themselves by painless medical means, which presently do exist, simply as a kind of human right.

This also seems to me to be correct in principle, at least for those - of which I am one - who believe that human beings do have the practical right and should have the moral right to commit suicide if they do not want to live anymore. One example might be someone who is ill and cannot take care of himself, and lost all his family, and does not know what to live for, and is otherwise sane. Another and more radical example is someone who is paraplegic from the neck down, without any realistic medical hope for a cure, but who may have 20 more years to live that way, tied to a bed, dependent on others, and with no way of doing anything interesting, useful or pleasant, possibly also in considerable pain.

The basic argument is as outlined in the previous section: The medical means exist, and the alternative, at least in some cases, merely amounts to the prolongement of suffering.

One problem here is that some people who are incurably but not mortally ill may want to live as long as they can, and may also want not want to be pressurized into what others might style as 'euthanasia', but what may be in fact a means to save money and trouble.

It would seem to me that in the last case, in a civilized society, and for sane persons, it should be a matter of personal choice, and it is the moral duty of the healthy members of the society to help such persons, if they can, whatever their personal choice. Some may be able to live with a disease others may find unbearable, and it seems not ethical if others impose their own point of view or their own interests on such persons, and especially not if this happens because the healthy, strong or powerful find it cheaper, more convenient or more pleasant for themselves if the ill, weak or powerless do not live if they wish and can.

Evidence: A statement S is evidence for (against) a theory T iff S is known to be true and there is a theory T' that is not known to be false and T' implies that T is more (less) probable given S.

Put otherwise, and with less appeal to probability theory: Any statement S is evidence for or agains a theory T if and only if theory T becomes more or less probable, plausible, credible or supported once it is known S is t

An example is with T = a is honest, S = a is nouveau riche T' = if a is nouveau riche, a is not honest. The last may be (and fairly should be) a probabilistic claim, to the effect that the nouveaux riches tend to grow rich with dishonest means, without insisting this is invariably so.

Note this is a probabilistic characterization of what counts as evidence for or against a theory T and that it depends on there being another theory T'. That is formally: S is evidence for T iff (ET')(p(T|T'&S)>p(T|T'), while S is evidence against T iff (ET')(p(T|T'&S)<p(T|T')

This also covers the cases when T'&S implies T is true or T is false, i.e. the cases of deductive proof and deductive refutation. (Consider T = s is a straight line, T' = s is inspected and S = s contains a bend.)

If S is not (yet) known to be true, then S is at best potential evidence for or against T. And if T' implies that T given S is just a bit more or less probable than T when not given S then S is weak evidence for or against T. If S makes T much more or much less probable than when not given S then S is strong evidence for or against T. Finally, the strength of the evidence of S for or against T depends on the probability of T': The more probable T' is the better the support S gives to T, and the less probable T' is the worse the support S gives to T.

Hence the better sort of evidence one can provide for a theory T is by means of strong evidence from a theory T' with good support, and the best sort of evidence one can provide is from a true theory T' that entails a statement that directly proves or refutes T deductively. 

A classic on the importance and proper use of evidence is W.K. Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief". This expounds a simple but adequate theory that is summed up by Clifford's dictum:

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".

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.