Combining Philosophers

All the ideas for Alexander, Richard Cumberland and Peter F. Strawson

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27 ideas

1. Philosophy / E. Nature of Metaphysics / 1. Nature of Metaphysics
Descriptive metaphysics aims at actual structure, revisionary metaphysics at a better structure [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Descriptive metaphysics (e.g. Aristotle and Kant) is content to describe the actual structure of our thought about the world; revisionary metaphysics (e.g. Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley) is concerned to produce a better structure.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], Intro)
     A reaction: This distinction by Strawson was incredibly helpful in reinstating metaphysics as a feasible activity. I don't want to abandon the revisionary version. We can hammer the current metaphysics into a more efficient shape, or even create new concepts.
1. Philosophy / E. Nature of Metaphysics / 6. Metaphysics as Conceptual
Descriptive metaphysics concerns unchanging core concepts and categories [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Descriptive metaphysics is primarily concerned with categories and concepts which, in their fundamental character, change not at all. They are the commonplaces of the least refined thinking, and the indispensable core for the most sophisticated humans.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], Intro)
     A reaction: This seems to be the basic premise for a modern metaphysician such as E.J.Lowe, though such thinkers are not averse to suggesting clarifications of our conceptual scheme. The aim must be good foundations for a successful edifice of knowledge.
1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 5. Linguistic Analysis
Close examination of actual word usage is the only sure way in philosophy [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Up to a point, the reliance upon a close examination of the actual use of words is the best, and indeed the only sure, way in philosophy.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], Intro)
     A reaction: Probably the last bold assertion of ordinary language philosophy, though Strawson goes on the defend his 'deeper' version of the activity, which he says is 'descriptive metaphysics', rather than mere 'analysis'. Mere verbal analysis now looks hopeless.
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 7. Status of Reason
If a decision is in accord with right reason, everyone can agree with it [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: No decision can be in accord with right reason unless all can agree on it.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.V.XLVI)
     A reaction: Personally I think anyone who disagrees with this should get out of philosophy (and into sociology, fantasy fiction, ironic game-playing, crime…). Of course 'can' agree is not the same as 'will' agree. You must have faith that good reasons are persuasive.
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 2. Correspondence to Facts
The fact which is stated by a true sentence is not something in the world [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: The fact which is stated by a true sentence is not something in the world.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Truth [1950], §2)
     A reaction: Everything is in the world. This may just be a quibble over how we should use the word 'fact'. At some point the substance of what is stated in a sentence must eventually be out there, or we would never act on what we say.
Facts aren't exactly true statements, but they are what those statements say [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Facts are what statements (when true) state; they are not what statements are about. ..But it would be wrong to identify 'fact' and 'true statement' for these expressions have different roles in our language.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Truth [1950], §2)
     A reaction: Personally I like to reserve the word 'facts' for what is out there, independent of any human thought or speech. As a realist, I believe that the facts are quite independent of our attempts to understand the facts. True statements attempt to state facts.
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / a. Tarski's truth definition
The statement that it is raining perfectly fits the fact that it is raining [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: What could fit more perfectly the fact that it is raining than the statement that it is raining?
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Truth [1950], §2)
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 2. Semantic Truth
The word 'true' always refers to a possible statement [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: It is of prime importance to distinguish the fact that the use of 'true' always glances backwards or forwards to the actual or envisaged making of a statement by someone.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Truth [1950], §1)
     A reaction: 'The truth of this matter will never be known'. Strawson is largely right, but it is crazy for any philosopher to use the word 'always' if they can possibly avoid it.
5. Theory of Logic / E. Structures of Logic / 1. Logical Form
There are no rules for the exact logic of ordinary language, because that doesn't exist [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Neither Aristotelian nor Russellian rules give the exact logic of any expression of ordinary language; for ordinary language has no exact logic.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950], §5)
     A reaction: This seems to imply that it is impossible to find precise logical forms, because of the pragmatic element in language, but I don't see why. Even more extreme modern pragmatics (where meaning is shifted) doesn't rule out precise underlying propositions.
5. Theory of Logic / F. Referring in Logic / 2. Descriptions / c. Theory of definite descriptions
'The present King of France is bald' presupposes existence, rather than stating it [Strawson,P, by Grayling]
     Full Idea: Strawson argues that in saying 'the present King of France is bald' one is not stating that a present King of France exists, but presupposing or assuming that it does.
     From: report of Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950]) by A.C. Grayling - Russell Ch.2
     A reaction: We have the notion of a leading question, such as 'when did you stop beating your wife?' But is a presupposition not simply an implied claim, as Russell said it was?
Russell asks when 'The King of France is wise' would be a true assertion [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: The way in which Russell arrived at his analysis was by asking himself what would be the circumstances in which we would say that anyone who uttered the sentence 'The King of France is wise' had made a true assertion.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950], §1)
     A reaction: This seems to connect Russell's theory of definite descriptions with the truth conditions theory of meaning which is associated (initially) with Frege. Truth will require some reference to what actually exists.
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 2. Abstract Objects / b. Need for abstracta
We need a logical use of 'object' as predicate-worthy, and an 'ontological' use [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: There is a good case for a conservative reform of the word 'object'. Objects in the 'logical' sense would be all predicate-worthy identifiabilia whatever. Objects in the 'ontological' sense would form one ontological category among many others.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Entity and Identity [1978], I n4)
     A reaction: This ambiguity has caused me no end of confusion (and irritation!). I wish philosophers wouldn't hijack perfectly good English words and give them weird meanings. Nice to have a distinguished fellow like Strawson make this suggestion.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 3. Individual Essences
It makes no sense to ask of some individual thing what it is that makes it that individual [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: For no object is there a unique character or relation by which it must be identified if it is to be identified at all. This is why it makes no sense to ask, impersonally and in general, of some individual object what makes it the individual object it is.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Entity and Identity [1978], I)
     A reaction: He links this remark with the claim that there is no individual essence, but he seems to view an individual essence as indispensable to recognition or individuation of the object, which I don't see. Recognise it first, work out its essence later.
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 4. Other Minds / d. Other minds by analogy
I can only apply consciousness predicates to myself if I can apply them to others [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: One can ascribed states of consciousness to oneself only if one can ascribe them to others. One can ascribe them to others only if one can identify other subjects of experience, and they cannot be identified only as subjects of experience.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], 3.4)
     A reaction: A neat linguistic twist on the analogy argument, but rather dubious, if it is actually meant to prove that other minds exist. It is based on his view of predicates - see Idea 9281. If the rest of humanity are zombies, why would I not apply them?
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 7. Self and Body / a. Self needs body
A person is an entity to which we can ascribe predicates of consciousness and corporeality [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: What I mean by the concept of a person is the concept of a type of entity such that both predicates ascribing states of consciousness and predicates ascribing corporeal characteristics are equally applicable to a single individual of that single type.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], 3.4)
     A reaction: As Frankfurt points out, merely requiring the entity to be 'conscious' is a grossly inadequate definition of what we mean by a person, which is typically a being that is self-aware and capable of rational decisions between alternatives.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 6. Meaning as Use
The meaning of an expression or sentence is general directions for its use, to refer or to assert [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: To give the meaning of an expression is to give general directions for its use to refer to or mention particular objects or persons; in like manner, sentences are for use to make true or false assertions.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950], §2)
     A reaction: The influence of Wittgenstein? I don't like it. The general idea that you can say what something is by giving directions for its use is what I think of as the Functional Fallacy: confusing the role of x with its inherent nature. Shirt as goalpost.
19. Language / B. Reference / 3. Direct Reference / c. Social reference
Reference is mainly a social phenomenon [Strawson,P, by Sainsbury]
     Full Idea: Strawson's early work gave a new direction to the study of reference by stressing that it is a social phenomenon.
     From: report of Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950]) by Mark Sainsbury - The Essence of Reference 18.2
     A reaction: The question is whether speakers refer, or sentences, or expressions, or propositions. The modern consensus seems to be that some parts of language are inherently referring, but speakers combine such tools with context. Sounds right.
19. Language / B. Reference / 4. Descriptive Reference / b. Reference by description
If an expression can refer to anything, it may still instrinsically refer, but relative to a context [Bach on Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: Strawson claimed that virtually any expression that can be used to refer to one thing in one context can be used to refer to something else in another context. Maybe expressions still refer, but only relative to a context.
     From: comment on Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950]) by Kent Bach - What Does It Take to Refer? 22.2
     A reaction: If there is complete freedom, then Bach's criticism doesn't sound plausible. If something is semantically referential, that should impose pretty tight restrictions on speakers. Why distinguish names as intrinsically referential, and descriptions as not?
19. Language / B. Reference / 5. Speaker's Reference
Expressions don't refer; people use expressions to refer [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: 'Mentioning', or 'referring', is not something an expression does; it is something that someone can use an expression to do.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950], §2)
     A reaction: That can't be whole story, because I might make a mistake when referring, so that I used the expression to refer to x, but unfortunately the words themselves referred to y. The power of language exceeds the intentions of speakers.
If an utterance fails to refer then it is a pseudo-use, though a speaker may think they assert something [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: If an utterance is not talking about anything, then the speaker's use is not a genuine one, but a spurious or pseudo-use; he is not making either a true or a false assertion, though he may think he is.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (On Referring [1950], §2)
     A reaction: This is Strawson's verdict on 'The present King of France is bald'. His view puts speculative statements in no man's land. What do we make of 'Elvis lives' or 'phlogiston explains fire'?
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 3. Predicates
The idea of a predicate matches a range of things to which it can be applied [Strawson,P]
     Full Idea: The idea of a predicate is correlative with a range of distinguishable individuals of which the predicate can be significantly, though not necessarily truly, affirmed.
     From: Peter F. Strawson (Individuals:Essay in Descript Metaphysics [1959], 3.4 n1)
     A reaction: Said to be one of Strawson's most important ideas. The idea is that you understand a predicate if you understand its range, not just a one-off application. So you must understand the implied universal, whatever that is.
22. Metaethics / A. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / d. Biological ethics
Natural law is supplied to the human mind by reality and human nature [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: Some truths of natural law, concerning guides to moral good and evil, and duties not laid down by civil law and government, are necessarily supplied ot the human mind by the nature of things and of men.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.I.I)
     A reaction: I agree that some moral truths have the power of self-evidence. If you say they are built into the mind, we now ask what did the building, and evolution is the only answer, and hence we distance ourselves from the truths, seeing them as strategies.
22. Metaethics / B. Value / 1. Nature of Value / f. Ultimate value
If there are different ultimate goods, there will be conflicting good actions, which is impossible [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: If there be posited different ultimate ends, whose causes are opposed to each other, then there will be truly good actions likewise opposed to each other, which is impossible.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.V.XVI)
     A reaction: A very interesting argument for there being one good rather than many, and an argument which I don't recall in any surviving Greek text. A response might be to distinguish between what is 'right' and what is 'good'. See David Ross.
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 1. Utilitarianism
The happiness of individuals is linked to the happiness of everyone (which is individuals taken together) [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: The happiness of each person cannot be separated from the happiness of all, because the whole is no different from the parts taken together.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.I.VI)
     A reaction: Sounds suspiciously like the fallacy of composition (Idea 6219). An objection to utilitarianism is its assumption that a group of people have a 'total happiness' that is different from their individual states. Still, Cumberland is on to utilitarianism.
The happiness of all contains the happiness of each, and promotes it [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: The common happiness of all contains the greatest happiness for each, and most effectively promotes it. …There is no path leading anyone to his own happiness, other than the path which leads all to the common happiness.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.I.VI)
     A reaction: I take this as a revolutionary idea, which leads to utilitarianism. It is doing what seemed to the Greeks unthinkable, which is combining hedonism with altruism. There is no proof for it, but it is a wonderful clarion call for building a civil society.
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 2. The Law / c. Natural law
Natural law is immutable truth giving moral truths and duties independent of society [Cumberland]
     Full Idea: Natural law is certain propositions of immutable truth, which guide voluntary actions about the choice of good and avoidance of evil, and which impose an obligation to act, even without regard to civil laws, and ignoring compacts of governments.
     From: Richard Cumberland (De Legibus Naturae [1672], Ch.I.I)
     A reaction: Not a popular view, but I am sympathetic. If you are in a foreign country and find a person lying in pain, there is a terrible moral deficiency in anyone who just ignores such a thing. No legislation can take away a person's right of self-defence.
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 6. Early Matter Theories / g. Atomism
How can things without weight compose weight? [Alexander]
     Full Idea: How could weight come about out of things composed of what is without weight?
     From: Alexander (On Aristotle's Metaphysics Book 2 [c.200], p.36.21-27)
     A reaction: This is obviously why Epicurus added weight to the features of atoms. Alexander seems unaware of this move.