1. Update Philosophical
Dictionary - D and E
This is about
an update for the letters D and E 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, 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:
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
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
This human penchant for wishful
thinking has caused the deaths of very many millions, and miserable
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."
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.
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
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.
Dreams: 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
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
- 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
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
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
The entelechy is
an Aristotelian notion, that also was picked up by Leibniz,
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.
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
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.
341 BC - 270
BC: Greek philosopher, founder of Epicureanism. "Epicurus" is the
Latinized form of Epikouros,
He was influenced by
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.