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shcromlet
I don't identify as an atheist anymore. I don't think I have for a while.

Since my identity as an atheist was just that -- an identity, not a set of arguments I could muster -- I don't think this is a shocking shift. I became an atheist as a teenager as a reaction to the hateful and irrational behavior and beliefs of every theist I met, and I have ceased to identify as an atheist due to the cockiness and anti-philosophical bent of contemporary atheist culture.

These sorts of shifts are interesting, especially as someone who claims to be invested in constructing belief systems reasonably. None of the important shift in my life have been on the basis of reason, or at least not primarily. Or rather, there are two tracks of my personality: what I identify as (no longer an atheist) and what I know (enough to get myself into trouble). This works for my politics also: I live on a commune not because I have some solid arguments I can bring to bear about communitarianism, but because I find the cultural contact stimulating -- I've grown more as a person and a thinker by being in contact with radical politics, and I've grown more as a person and a thinker by being in contact with theists.

So, I think there is something reasonable about this identity shift: I place a high value on not mentally stagnating, and atheism was precisely that. Encountering thoughtful theists over the past five years or so has been the sole reason I am humble instead of cocky. And probably, by proxy, the main reason I'm not a libertarian. Eesh.

I don't know that I identify as anything with regard to god. Hopefully I will again, one day, and hopefully on the basis of something more than an identity crisis.

The Groundwork
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shcromlet
My philosophy group is reading selections from Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, and we had a very good meeting tonight. I've never actually read much about Kantian ethics before, since I was waiting to get to it until after the first critique. So it was fun. Summary of points of dispute and further research:

First, the group was having a really hard time with the idea of it being a non-consequentialist system of morality. It took a while to (partially) shake off the idea that the acceptability of a maxim as a universal law has nothing to do with what you think of the resulting world. It's simply: 1) Is this maxim capable of being universalized (not self-contradictory), and 2) Is it capable of being willed in this new world? There is no talk of consequences here, and there's no way to sneak them in.

Second, can't duties conflict? I'm sure there's classical examples of this. We talked about Nazis at the door, since I've heard that one before. Do you lie about the hiding Jews despite the universal prohibition on lying? But then you're willing violence, and surely there's a universal maxim about violence. Conflict! This led to discussions about ranking maxims, and the problems with this (namely, on what do you base the ranking?), or about highly qualified maxims that allow for, e.g, lying to Nazis, and the problems with this (namely, these qualifications aren't discovered through the process of universalizing and willing a maxim).

Third, what constitutes appropriate subject matter for a maxim? One member wanted to will something like, "All humans must wear shoes," and this caused people to scoff. I wanted to say that whether to wear shoes or not is an appropriate subject for a Kantian maxim, given that, indeed, putting on shoes in an action, and actions are the subject of ethics.

There was other stuff, but that's what's coming to mind.

I swear I'm still reading the CoPR, it's just been a rough couple weeks (months?).

Judgements of Perception, Judgements of Experience
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shcromlet
While I'm waiting for a different edition of the first critique to arrive in the mail (and Allison's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, woo!), I decided to go back and read through the Prolegomena some more.

I am confused about the move from a judgement of perception to a judgement of experience, as outlined in the second part of the Prolegomena. Comprehending this move seems to be crucial to comprehending the role that the categories play in the understanding, and I am surely failing at this comprehension.

He gives the example, in a footnote, of perceiving the sun warming a stone. As a judgement of perception, this is simply the logical connection of two perceptions. (What sort of logical connection? A hypothetical judgement?) It has no objective validity. However, if this judgement is subsumed under the category of cause, it thereby gains objective validity. In this new concept, the shining of the sun is the antecedent event, and the warming of the rock is the consequent.

He is pretty scarce on explaining this step further, though he often restates this move from perception to experience, and the necessity of the categories for making this move. What is being explained here?

Is he saying that this move is necessary; that we cannot perceive two such related events outside of the concept of cause?

Is he saying that, since we're using the analytic method in the Prolegomena, that the example of the natural sciences (say, Newtonian physics) gives us a ready example of apodeicticity, and this apodeicticity cannot be explained without recourse to the categories?

I'm reading his example of the sun on the rock as being a conscious act: We touch the rock in the dark, and it's cold. We touch the rock in the sun, and it warms. We form a judgement of these two perceptions which is only subjectively valid; we then subsume this judgement under the category of cause, and it attains universality. But can we not make this move incorrectly? Isn't this universality only a possible universality? Certainly in our observations of nature we make incorrect causal judgements.
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shcromlet
I seem to have become the manager of the dairy farm here in the past week. The milk and beef needs of a hundred people are now in my hands.

This has caused knots of stress to replace my usual free time. My apologies for slow responses and such.

Transcendental Deduction Part II: Oh God What
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I am concerned that §12 is going to hurt me.
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Agh, parent visits all weekend means no study time. :-(

The philosophy group is growing! There were, like, seven of us. We started reading an article by James Rachels on ethical egoism. The article is a breeze; I had read it before when I took a 100-level ethics course at the community college years ago. It provides three arguments pro and con related to ethical egoism.

It struck me as a good first paper to read for someone new to ethics (especially someone who would be put off by Euthyphro). A basic question people ask themselves seems to be "do I have obligations to other people?" And this can be a good starting point for inquiry. Although Rachels is very clear to distinguish ethical egoism from psychological egoism upfront, at least one of the new members of the group got tripped up by this. The language he used about ethics was tangled up with his language about psychology, and it was good to see it unravel and be clarified as the evening progressed.

He said something at the end, which I've heard before, and always find surprising. He asked the question, "So, are you all saying that there is some outside thing, ethics, which compels us to do things?" (something like that). And when I tried to clarify that the history of ethical inquiry is, essentially, an attempt to answer that question in different ways (or deny its possibility), I could see the excitement (confusion? interest?) growing in him, as he started to grasp what sorts of questions philosophers actually try to answer. He told me today that he was still thinking about the paper, which is great!

I think folks who are not students of philosophy tend to see ethics as an exclusively religious thing: either god compels you to do something, or we make it up as we go. So the idea of there being a universal answer to questions of ethics sans god seems very odd to them.

Also there are so many people here who want to read random postmodern shit! They all hit adulthood and started reading anarchist punky shit (myself included), and apparently if you keep at this long enough you hit postmodern critiques of classical anarchism. I didn't stick around that long.

The Transcendental Deduction (part 1?)
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Kant on the Understanding
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I want to make sure I am not skimming Kant. This seems like a bad idea. So when even a slow reading seems to grind to a halt, as it often seems to, I make sure I understand every single word of the sentence, and if I am confused, I backtrack and clarify.

In this vein, I have found book one, chapter one, section one of the transcendental analytic to be very confusing, and it has taken me three afternoon study sessions to feel that I am now in a place to summarize it and ask questions about it.

In this section, he seems to be seeking to clarify what the understanding is, since it has been "defined...only negatively, as a non-sensuous faculty of cognition." He will go on to conclude that the understanding is defined as, simply, the faculty of judging. Okay.

Objects are those things which exist outside of us, of which appearances are given to us, as intuitions, by sensibility. An intuition is thus a representation, in this case, of an object. Another kind of representation is a concept. A concept is a product of thought; it represents either intuitions or other concepts. For example, we have various intuitions: of metal, wood, skin. We also have a concept, "body", which represents these intuitions, unified. This unification is called a function. Kant will provide a table of them in the next section. A judgement is a kind of function in which a concept is unified with another in a particular way. For example, "All bodies are divisible." In this judgement, the concept "bodies", which represents various other representations (of metal, wood, skin, etc), is unified with the concept "divisible" with the qualification "are" and the quantification "all".

I believe the qualification/quantification here is itself a function, in that they, for example, unify a concept ("bodies") with another ("all"). But in general I am a little confused about Kant's use of the word function here. He strictly defines it as "the unity of the act of arranging diverse representations under one common representation." This is a little difficult to grasp, but in the example of unifying the representations of metal, wood, and skin under the representation "body", the word "function" would signify this unification. I think.

Now, if all this is correct, we then have to consider whether or not 1) "The understanding cannot make any other use of these conceptions than to judge by means of them," and 2) "We can reduce all acts of the understanding to judgement." Does he elaborate on this later? Or have I missed something?
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A simpler restatement?
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shcromlet
If it is impossible to provide an adequate physical account of a given phenomenon, then physicalism is false (right?). The obvious question, then, is: What constitutes an adequate account of something? Is this concept of an adequate account local to physicalism?

I am unclear about how to proceed on this. Again, assuming that a given physicalist doesn't just deny qualia, how could a non-physicalist interlocutor establish that there is no possibility of a physicalist explanation of qualia?

What constitutes an adequate account of a phenomenon?
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shcromlet
My friend and I were discussing materialism. I claimed that the existence of qualia provides sufficient problems for materialism that it should be abandoned. Namely, that qualia are obvious events not characterizable (even in principle) by a description of material interactions. He denied this.

We talked about brain states, the obvious choice. I granted that two people with identical brain states experience the same thing subjectively, but I denied that such brain states themselves were identical with the subjective experience of the associated qualia. The brain states are causally connected, but we have very good reason to think that a description of a brain state is not identical with a subjective experience. I think the classical example is redness: If a person has never seen a red object, no description of redness, no matter how elaborate, no matter how long, can ever cause such a person to have an experience of redness.

He granted this, but did not see it as a failure of materialism. One, what constitutes a failure of materialism? Aren't qualia simply outside the bounds of materialist explanation? They can't be spoken of, perhaps, but that doesn't mean that materialism itself is problematic, any more so than the fact that materialism can't speak to the nature of events causally prior to the existence of the universe.

Secondly, what constitutes an adequate account of something? He brought up the example of gravity. Sure, we can describe gravity in terms of the attraction of objects with mass to one another in such-and-such particular ways, but this isn't understanding gravity-in-itself, whatever that is. Is gravity just such a description? If not, it is susceptible to the same problem as qualia, but nobody would deny that our inability to grasp gravity-in-itself constitutes a failure of materialism.

My instinct was to say that this was leading us astray. We aren't looking for some pure understanding of qualia, we are looking for the possibility of any material understanding of them whatsoever. Brain states just very simply aren't subjective experiences. They are different categories of things. Our understanding of gravity's affect on objects isn't subject to this category error, so the example fails.

I feel like there's a simpler way to put all this. But my mind is stuck on this idea of what sort of account materialism would have to provide, or what an argument for the possibility of such an account would look like.

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