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Help: Difficult passages

13 posts in this topic

Posted

Hello everyone,

I created this topic to discuss some short philosophical passages that prove especially difficult to interpret. I propose to narrow the discussion down to writings of contemporary analytic philosophers.

The first quote I am stuck on is this:

"I cannot think of a possibly lifeless universe without making it the object of my thought, but I do not thereby think of it as an object of my thought and thus suppose myself to be one of its inhabitants."

(M. J. Inwood, Husserl, Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

Could someone spell out what the author could possibly mean by these words? I am not a beginner in philosophy still I'm unable to interpret it properly.

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Posted

I could be wrong but this seems to be discussing the problem of presupposing life when talking about a lifeless universe. The more typical example is of course the question "why is there something rather than nothing?", to which the response is often that nothing cannot be and hence the question is meaningless (or perhaps improper or misguided rather than meaningless, since we seem to know what we mean). I read your instance as another form of this difficulty: can we ask what a lifeless universe would be like because only living things experience the sense of "what things are like"? Inwood apparently rejects this charge of self-reference and thinks such discussion can indeed be meaningful, but I haven't read him so without more context I'm just guessing.

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Posted

I think it might be a possible interpretation but in this context this is just an example of an important distinction between "making something my intentional object by conceiving it and conceiving it as my intentional object" (ibid).

So my problem is: why should it follow from my conceiving a lifeless universe as my intentional object (the object of my thought) that I must suppose myself to be one of its inhabitants? The latter must be intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the original setting, mustn't it?

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Posted

Yes, it seems that way. Can you give a longer quote to help establish context?

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Posted

OK. This is the relevant passage in full:

"Husserl (here) infers an idealist conclusion, namely that objects are constituted by consciousness and could not exist without it, from the true premiss that nothing can be conceived without being an object of consciousness. The error depends on either or both of two confusions:

1) between an intentional and a real object - in conceiving an object, I make it an object of my consciousness, but I do not thereby make it a real object, e.g. a tree; (2) between making something my intentional object by conceiving it and conceiving it as my intentional object - I cannot think of a possible lifeless universe without making it the object of my thought, but I do not thereby think of it as an object of my thought and thus suppose myself to be one of its inhabitants".

For me, distinction (1) is clear, but (2) is rather murky and the consequence indicated by the word "thus" does not seem to follow.

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Posted

There is another passage I have difficulty with, this time from M. Budd's paper "Wittgenstein on seeing aspects". I would need this for a project I am working on, but I am stuck.

"if I see a row of points that looks to me to be a row of equidistant points, and I then see the row as a row of pairs of points whose inner distance is smaller than the outer distance, I do not experience the illusion of seeing a row of points which looks to be organized in this way. And in general when I experience an aspect-an aspect of the kind that might be called 'aspects of organization' -the spatial/coloured elements of the object I am looking at are not misrepresented in my experience as being different from what they were, so that the organization of the object has apparently altered."

Pace Budd, I take the first part of the first sentence to be a description of a certain kind of illusion, because the points in question are either equidistant or not. So I do not understand why he says immediately after it that there is no illusion to it at all with respect to the organization of points. I must be mistaken in some way because either I see the points as equidistant when they are actually not or else I see them as grouped into non-equidistant clusters when they actually are equidistant everywhere.

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Posted

Okay, that makes more sense. If something is conceived then it must be the object of some consciousness. Therefore (for Husserl), things cannot exist apart from consciousness. This is an error (for Inwood) because of the distinction he makes: I conceive some possibility and then make it the object of my thought, but that does not mean that it is an object of my thought. That is, just because we can say nothing about a lifeless universe without making it an object of our consciousness, it doesn't follow (1) that it comes into existence and (2) that this existence depends on being an object of consciousness. The reductio implicit in his "thus" is that if the possibility of a lifeless universe depends - like everything else - on being an object of consciousness then there must be at least one person (or rather consciousness) in the universe and hence the lifeless universe is impossible.

If I understand this correctly (probably not), that's a pretty clever reductio.

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Posted

For your second passage, I think it may be as simple as saying that when an aspect changes and an object appears different from how our experience represented it, it does not follow that we mis represented it. Instead, it seems that somehow the way the object is organised has changed. Budd gives several examples at the start of his paper, including the famous duck/rabbit figure; seeing it we might insist that it is an image of a duck, but then later we see it as a rabbit. The question is: was it an illusion to see it as a duck to begin with? That would suggest that it no less an illusion to regard it now as a rabbit. Budd's point is to consider what happens (if anything) to an object when an aspect changes, since our representation of it was correct from the aspect we had.

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Posted

The reductio implicit in his "thus" is that if the possibility of a lifeless universe depends - like everything else - on being an object of consciousness then there must be at least one person (or rather consciousness) in the universe and hence the lifeless universe is impossible.

OK I think the Inwood passage is tricky and you have already helped me a lot in getting closer to understanding it. But I still don't understand the reductio implicit in "thus". I assume the possible lifeless universe must be numerically different from our own, so in talking about this possibility how could it matter how many thinkers exist in the actual universe? I won't be an inhabitant of this possible universe by thinking about it even if its existence depends on my thoughts - as far as I know the latter point is being debated under the heading "metaphysics of possibilia" in analytic philosophy too. So you may take a realist or an anti-realist stance on this issue.

As for the second quote, do you think the case of (non-)equidistant points is analogous to the duck-rabbit picture? I don't think so because there is an objective fact in the first case as to the distance between the points (which is why it may engender illusion in my view), while there is no objective fact about the duck/rabbit picture as to which animal is "really" represented by it.

I hope it won't seem hair-splitting, you know I am really curious about these quotes, so please help me with them.

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Posted

Yes, you raise a good point. Inwood's reductio seems to depend on there not being other possible worlds; i.e. he assumes that this is the only one.

As for the analogy, I merely picked one of Budd's examples. He also used a cube being seen from an angle or as a plane, etc, which satisfy your requirement for "objective fact".

It's not hair-splitting at all. I don't think Inwood's language helps very much in understanding him. I'll look again at both of these later.

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Posted

First, I observe that the author's English training is flawless. To quote myself, "Words are clothes for your thoughts. If you clothe your thoughts like bums, don't be surprised when people assume you have bum thoughts." What we have here is an example of the opposite: a bum thought perfectly dressed. The author may have had a valid point, but he has not communicated it with this statement.

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Posted

I have one, from Descartes' proof for the existence of God, it's along the same line of thinking as the exert below. I don't have the exact quote here, but I'll post it this weekend. I think it may also be a flaw in his argument. But I have yet to verify this with further study of the oppositions to Descartes' Meditations.

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Posted

f

There is another passage I have difficulty with, this time from M. Budd's paper "Wittgenstein on seeing aspects". I would need this for a project I am working on, but I am stuck.

"if I see a row of points that looks to me to be a row of equidistant points, and I then see the row as a row of pairs of points whose inner distance is smaller than the outer distance, I do not experience the illusion of seeing a row of points which looks to be organized in this way. And in general when I experience an aspect-an aspect of the kind that might be called 'aspects of organization' -the spatial/coloured elements of the object I am looking at are not misrepresented in my experience as being different from what they were, so that the organization of the object has apparently altered."

Pace Budd, I take the first part of the first sentence to be a description of a certain kind of illusion, because the points in question are either equidistant or not. So I do not understand why he says immediately after it that there is no illusion to it at all with respect to the organization of points. I must be mistaken in some way because either I see the points as equidistant when they are actually not or else I see them as grouped into non-equidistant clusters when they actually are equidistant everywhere.

Perhaps you're looking for more than is really here (yes, I understand the irony).

There are two types of optical illusions:

1. Those which are merely different ways of looking at an image, e.g. the wine glass/faces image. Neither is "correct."

2. Those which occur when the observer misinterprets (mis-perceives) what he is actually seeing. One day while driving on the freeway, I observed an illuminated billboard that was displaying a series of brite green fractal images. On closer examination, however, I realized I was actually "seeing" the sun reflecting off palm fronds waving in front of the black background of the sign.

So, in the second case, there was no "illusion ... with regard to the (actual thing)", but a misinterpretation on the part of the observer.

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