Summaries of classes - Philosophy 391

Please note that these are summaries, not 'the notes' for the class. These have been prepared by students in the class, and I have posted them here, unchanged, as a ready reference for those who could use a quick idea of what topic(s) have been discussed. But there is no guarantee of accuracy (or even proper spelling)! Caveat lector!

September 9, 2014 - Hunter Carlson

Anglo-American is not to be confused with Analytical philosophy, although analytic philosophy today is the most predominant philosophical movement. It's widespread influence means it is a staple in nearly every Philosophy department in the North America and Britain.


One of the goals of this class is to improve one's philosophical writing. Analytical philosophy's methods will help to achieve this goal.


A lack of clarity with language is a problem in philosophy, particularly in writing. If you can't describe something with language is it real? An example is the human “soul”, how can you describe it? Another example is an infinite God? Could an infinite God or individual exist? The words infinite and individual suggest otherwise as they conflict. This is an example of how philosophical problems are sometimes caused by the abuse/misuse of language. If a problem is incoherent then you don't need to worry about solving it.


Where does our knowledge come from? Experience? Are there things we can know without having any experience? Does reason give us this ability? What is reason? How does reason work? Why is it that in some cases true premises mean the conclusion must be true and in other cases true premises only make the conclusion probable? What is proof? How can we prove something is true? Why should we believe the arguments and conclusions that philosophers have come to?


To answer many of the above questions an important place to start is by asking why a philosopher is writing something? It is to solve problems. This leads to two more important questions. What is the problem? And, who else is talking about it?


What something denotes is the object it refers to. What something connotes  is the definition of that objects but doesnt directly refer to object. Why does Bertrand Russel right a philosophical book about denoting?


Empiricist- All knowledge is based on experienc. Impressions on the mind (which come from our senses) lead to ideas. There are limits to human knowledge. For example, what is the last decimal in ∏? There are somethings that humans just can't ever know, so don't waste your time because it will just lead to nonsense. Empiricst believe that reality is fundamentally matter. What's force? Force is related to matter, it is the movement of matter. There are only natural (material?) things- nothing exists beyond the natural world. Therefore, God must be natural to exist. Consciousness must be a state of matter or material to exist. There are things we can talk about but that doesnt mean they exist or are possible.


Thomas Reid was a member of the Scottish School of Common Sense. A group of philosophers that put a strong emphasis on common sense. He said that “people naturally understand reality, the burden of truth falls on one to prove someone is wrong, not on the individual to prove something is true. In court the defendent doesn't need to prove that their story is true. The prosecuter must prove that the defendent is guilty.


How can I know something? How can I prove something? Descartes believed that the conclusion had to be reached deductively from the premises. Most science isn't deductive as it is often generalized on experience. The sciences are mostly based on induction, which means that even when true, the premises don't gurantee that conclusion is true.


John Stuart Mills argued that we can't expect science to follow deductive proofs because it can't produce them. As a result he opted to work on inductive probabilities. He began working on the Cause and Effect Method. Mills helped to fortify Darwin's arguments by asserting that the reasoning used in On the Origin of Species fits the methods of inductive proof used in the natural sciences and logic.


Even thinking, logic and reason are material processes


Associationism (psychological)- a link between ideas based upon impressions and forms. Things that are contiguous to others help one to form ideas of the other.


How does one understand the relationship between cause and effect?

Constant Conjunction- If i do one thing it results in another.


For empiricists there are three processes behind ideas.

1.      resemblence- one idea resembles another- I see a Yankees hat which I know to be a hat because it looks like my Jays hat

2.      Contiguity- things that occur near eachother in time and space are often associated together- if i see an x-ring i associate it with STFX

3.      Constant Conjuction/ Cause and effect- if i knock over a full glass of water, water will spill out

September 16, 2014 - Andrew Sharpe


Empiricism      Science           Mechanistic


Equality stemming from commonality of participating in laws of nature e.g. we all die. Control of nature leads to control of human activity. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein- taking non-living matter and giving it life.

Science has limits- rigorously define those limits.

Americans drew on Thomas Reid and Scottish philosophy for “common-sense philosophy”. They agreed that the empiricists are too narrow. There are things in life we can know that cannot be received from the senses.

Kant unified rationalism and empiricism. Hegel thought even less than Kant of empiricism e.g. his world-spirit.

Empiricism- only talks about things of use, not of value.

Coleridge- famous drug abuser of England.

Carlyle- writer and educational reformer.

Herbert Spencer- relation of material units not accidental. You could predict this organic model- whole better than parts. Coined “survival of the fittest” from Darwin’s “natural selection”, who adopted his approach from Mill’s inductive logic.



            Subjective idealism = Berkeley “esse est percipi” Existence of objects depends upon a subject. The German word for object even implies having a subject to view it.

            Transcendental idealism = Kant. Phenomena: we know objects as they appear. Noumena: but not how they exist in themselves (essence). E.g. Transubstantiation- accept this and you can accept Kant.

            Objective idealism = Hegel, Bradley. There exists a world apart from us but we interpret how we talk about it. The way we try to ascertain what a thing/ person is is all a matter of convention. We divide our reality differently. “Who are your people?” What is your background/ ancestry/ where are you from, etc?

Have to see all the relations. Without relations are you even human?

The Absolute- everything in all its relations to each other. Already here, or not completely absolute until the end of time. Anti-dualist: fundamentally we are related to each other. Only one reality and we are a part of it.

Our mind shapes reality; reality shapes our mind. Relational and monistic. Objective idealism breeds a sense of community; less autonomous individualism, less mere material desires and less social contract theory.

St. Louis Hegelians in America. Not really a philosophical movement (no strict academics, just journalists, intellectuals, etc.) Less able to intellectually reproduce. Even Reid’s philosophy too narrow- too cold, rationalistic, misses out on beauty, spirituality, the intuitive. Can only be free I communities… virtually went dead in America #JohnWayne

Excess of hairsplitting, vague sounding other wordly terminology with little practical import leads to pragmatism.

Problem solving, not wisdom.

The Holy Trinity of Pragmatism: Peirce, James, Dewey.

Philosophy had too many word problems which had little bearing on practical life. Philosophy needed to be about problem solving and making headway in life.

If something is meaningful then I know how to use it.

Lewis Caroll: Jabberwocky- nonsense poetry. No context = no meaning. You need to find a context/ use for something in order for it to be true or false + meaningful.

Truth- something you can do something with.

Quine does not go for analytic truths that last.

Truth- something that works. Like the horizon, always receding, you’ll never catch it.

September 18 -

September 23 - John Moore

October 21, 2014 - Andrew Sharpe


Subject matter of ethics: what is good? Good is a simple quality- indefinable.


The open-ended argument: The good is pleasurable. But are all pleasurable things good?

A lot of things are indefinable: “the desirable”, yellow, etc. Good has a lot of points of reference. Good has no sense/ meaning/ definition, but it does have references and denotations.

Moore wants language to be clearer. If you don’t know what a word means then you can’t argue concisely with it.

Gotlob Frege. Alexius Meinong. They wanted precision, to avoid ambiguity (fair- does that mean light colored, just, etc.)- a logically perfect language. Esperanto- invented language to replace vernaculars- neutral. A European attempt. Yolapuk- another invented language.

Some of our words are problematic cos their senses and point of reference do not line up. A disconnect between words that have sense and those that have reference.

Two “Andrew”s, the referents are in the room, but is there a sense, or two senses?

Morning star/ evening star/ Venus = same referent.

Water = H2O is not evident. I know P (water). P = Q (H2O). I know Q.

If you make it so there is no discontinuity between the two then every sense will have a referent.

Sense =  propositional function. There is a man in the room….. cue symbolic logic.

Russell wants to get rid of sense and bring in different kinds of denotation.

Law of Excluded Middle: A is B or A is not B.

The present king of France is bald or the present king of France is not bald. But there is no present king of France- so nonsense.

Russell does not like negative existentials- terms that have a sense but no referent.

Pegasus has wings. How big are Pegasus’ wings. Seems to be true but has no reference.

Russell: get rid of all sentences that have no referents. Get rid of discontinuity between the two- stop talking of sense.

Moore: yellow does not have a sense but has a reference.


Proper names

By making language more precise we are going to eliminate some things from our language. Denotation- what exists is important.

Pegasus is too big for my imagination.

We will use the propositional function of referents to denote.

Wittgenstein in Tractatus: also trying to arrive at a system which will bring clarity- what we can talk about.

Russell: Flashback to Hume- you have to know what impressions the idea of God comes from or else it is useless.

If Santa and no denotation then chuck ‘em.

If Kurtz and denotation then keep him.


To say Wittgenstein is eccentric is an understatement.

November 4th, 2014 --  Dominic Hughes

Wittgenstein’s Picture Theory

Q: What’s Wittgenstein aiming to do in the Tractatus?

v  Clear language up.

v  Establish the role of Philosophy as “elucidator”

Ø  For example, the solution to the problem of the relationship between soul and body is to get more precise with terminology; it is a language problem.

Ø  We usually understand when people are imprecise with their language (“the days are getting shorter” – “no they’re not, but I get what you mean”). Sometimes we get it, but the issue is that sometimes we don’t.

Ø  So, to what extent does language actually depict reality? Can we get it to depict reality perfectly?

v  There’s lots of depiction going on in the world

Ø  Depiction can be broader than language: maps, for example.

Ø  How marks on a page, or musical score, depict reality is interesting.

Ø  Talking about reality is always a depiction of it.

Ø  Picturing, imagining, and using signs; we’re always depicting.

v  Wittgenstein means “picture” in a larger sense – can really apply to anything that depicts.

Ø  We often think in terms of pictures. They are models of reality.

Ø  (2.151) Pictorial form: consists of the possibility that things are related to one another as the elements of the picture are.

§  Elements of pictures represent elements of reality, and there is a distinct correlation there.

Ø  Pictures must have a structure. (2.16)

§  There must be something in common with reality. If there’s no relationship, then there’s no use to it.

Ø  Pictures always display pictorial form.

§  [difference between display/depict and showing/telling]

§  How would you depict the Universe?

·         Normally you’d depict actual things in the Universe, such as space, stars, galaxies, etc.

·         Say, however, that you want to depict the Universe without objects. How would you do this? Wittgenstein’s answer is that you can’t depict it; can’t explain without the objects.

Ø  A picture cannot depict its pictorial form. Instead, it displays it.

Ø  Can you talk about Grammar without mentioning words?

§  Grammar involves relations between words (you need objects that exist in space). Once you get rid of words, you can’t really talk about any relationship.

§  Take away words and all you’re left with is space.

§  So, you can’t picture “grammar” or “the Universe”, but you can picture things within their space. You know them that way.

Ø  Need to be able to test for a fact’s existence. How would you test, for instance, the Universe’s existence?

Ø  When did logic come to exist? Not how we know logic, but logic itself? It is a necessity that it exists.

Ø  For Wittgenstein it’s not a fact that God exists. If the world is facts, then he is not part of the world.

Ø  If you didn’t have space, then you wouldn’t have the universe as we know it. If a thing can be shown, it exists, but can’t be talked about. Showing may not be stating a fact.

Ø  How do we know if a picture is true or false? Answer is that pictures agree or fail to agree with reality. Pictures must correspond to reality to be true.

Ø  (2.21): Pictures represent a sense. Well, what is a sense?

§  For example, what does a map mean? The map is telling you something about reality. You assume it’s an accurate picture. Meaning of picture is what it represents.

v  [note that up to this point we haven’t been talking about language]

Ø  (4): “A thought is a proposition with a sense.” It refers to a state of affairs.

Ø  Language is all possible thoughts, or all possible states of affairs.

Ø  There are no thoughts that we can’t express. If you can’t express a thought, then you don’t have a clear thought.

Ø  So what’s a proposition, then? Statement that is expressed in a sentence, which Wittgenstein refers to as a “propositional sign”.

§  For example, if you were to say “It is raining” and “Il pleut”, you have just mentioned two propositions but only one propositional sign. Both mean the same thing; that it’s raining.

Ø  Language disguises thought (problem of conventions, such as cultural conventions).

Ø  Everyday language doesn’t picture reality in the way we think it should.

Ø  Problems aren’t so much in the “big problems” of Philosophy; problem is getting clear about language and reality.

Ø  We think in confused ways. Everyday language is confused, and problems arise from these confusions. We’ve abused language in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

Ø  [true/false dichotomy doesn’t make any difference when the proposition is nonsensical – that is, we think it means something when it really means nothing.]

Ø  Philosophy’s job is to make language clearer. It is a critique of language. Everyday language is obscure, and we should clean it up.

Dominic Hughes  November 20th notes

(AJ Ayer and Wittgenstein’s Investigations)

Logical positivism [Not like legal positivism, where laws are “posited”]
Source of my knowledge is experience. What it is experience ‘of’ is up to debate. The “logical” part of logical positivism aims to structure experience.
Certain things I talk about can have grammatical sense, but this does not imply actual sense/meaning. There’s a kind of objectivity to logical positivism: objective in the sense that I’m not generating it, but what is actually outside of me is up to probability.
Necessary truths [analytic/tautologies; true by definition] / Contingent truths [synthetic/experience; happen to be true; experience can vary – could one day be false]
No experience corresponding to “soul”; no experience of the soul.
If statements aren’t empirically verifiable, then they do not mean anything.
Probable that there are actually books on the shelf, but could be mistaken. Empirical propositions could be false.
Only meaning statements are tautologies and synthetic statements.
What about ethical or aesthetic statements? “Good” or “Evil” only tell you how you feel about something. Ethical statements do not describe anything. They are expressions of the speaker; expressions of the speaker’s emotion, and maybe the hope of arousing the same emotion in others. Therefore, religious/metaphysical/ethical/aesthetic statements are emotive at best.
Can you prove to somebody with (demonstratively) that God exists? Can you prove demonstratively that Mother Theresa is a good woman? No and no. Not deductive certainty; if the statements are empirical (in these shady areas like ethics/religion) then they can only be probable. If not empirical, then meaningless; if meaningless, then can’t be true or false (so can be a theist or an atheist).
Question: What can we say about Ayer? How could we say his reasoning is false?
Answer: Whole argument hinges on his idea of meaning (and verifiability) and what constitutes meaningful statements. His standard (and not the implications) should be criticized and replaced. Alternative standard: is the verification a necessary truth or synthetic? True by definition or through experience? The standard cannot be analytic, and cannot be a tautology, so not a necessary truth. And, synthetic truths are only probably true (can be false). Therefore, Ayer’s principle of verification falls victim to his own standards. But, just showing that he’s wrong doesn’t solve anything. What’s the new standard?
If his statement is not necessarily true, and if it’s not verifiable, it’s meaningless. Again, huge inconsistency with Ayer. His intention was to clean up language. Ends up being pretty unsatisfying. Clever, but a dead end. All kinds of stuff is meaningless, etc.

Wittgenstein is partially responsible for Ayer (looking to separate sense from nonsense)
[Wittgenstein would always have disagreed with Ayer.]
Is logical atomism plausible? Well, atomism isn’t really plausible.
Wittgenstein thought that Augustine kind of inadvertently suggested a picture theory.
Continuity with Tractatus: Philosophy will help us see what is true, but will not give us new truths. Philosophy is an activity rather than a discipline. Philosophy does something; it is active.
(66): “Don’t think, but look.” Sometimes we over-rationalize things.
What is a game? If you start looking for essences, you’re bound to fail. Why look for essences of games? Solution: not game as “essence”, but game as “family resemblance”.
To be a member of that family, you share some traits with other members of that family. Range of properties. More properties you have, the stronger you feel about the game’s identity. Example: Might involve activity, competition, skill, chance, communication. But these things don’t tell you a lot about the game. No essence. Futile pursuit.
Difference in method here: “consider this”; “imagine how”; etc. Seems experimental. But, stems from a new understanding of language that Wittgenstein adopts.
Think about function of words and what words signify. Old, Tractatus view is that clarity is accurate 1-to-1 mapping. But, ordinary language is more complicated than this. In ordinary life there isn’t always correspondence. So, view of Tractatus is too narrow.
(23): “Speaking is part of an activity or part of a form of life.” Language isn’t just a means of passing on information. Does a lot of things (ex: jokes).
Tractatus only referred to a special case. Wittgenstein realized that he got it wrong the first time.