Category Archives: philosophy

I love Kant, the later Wittgenstein, Derrida, post structualism, postmodernism and the philosophy of language.

Within the limits of a game of tennis is philosophy

Idealism suggests that there is the mind only. If this being the case then the world (things, space, and time) could and would be known without the senses (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin). Clearly, to know the world we need the senses and also a capacity for thought – the mind. Berkeley argued for a reason-only position. Again, the same problem can be pointed out against him or her.

Bu the materialist position is not any better. If there is only matter then how do account for knowledge? Obviously, we need the senses and reasoning of sense-experiences. Here, Kant is correct that we need to combine knowledge from the senses with interpretation from reasoning. But the reasoning should lead us to ontological question again of what exists, not only that we have only phenomena (representations) to work with. Ignoring what actually exists is to live a life not fully engaged with the world.

This is why I bring up a game of tennis as example. Tennis players, umpires, spectators all know the qualities and properties of the world and engage in competition, judgement and enjoyment of it. Without this trust of the world we would be forever wondering if the laws of the game would change, or will the ball disappear and reappear elsewhere on the court. And that would not be enjoyable for anyone involved.

The things and qualities of the world have been consistent in my life time. And my lifetime is not a particularly special or different one to any other person’s in any time or place. And if it is different, then, that is the reality, and that this difference must be accounted for. What remains is the thing, the body. What cannot be account for is the mind, soul, or spirit. If it not there to begin with, it wasn’t there then either.

And for this reason I argue the material monist position. What is called, in the least, the mind, soul, and spirit supervenes to the body. In all likelihood the mind, soul, and spirit does not exist, that is, they are illusions.

The structure of meaning and existence

There are things. And there are processes of things. The epistemological process of a body-thing is conceptualisation. The communicative/functional process of a body-thing is symbolisation. Let us label these meaning-structure words referent, concept, and symbol respectively.

Picture 1

The above diagram is the standard Ogden/Richard triangle of reference.

But it is possible to have:

  1. a referent with a concept and symbol for it;
  2. a referent with a concept but without a symbol for it;
  3. a referent without a concept or symbol for it;
  4. a concept without a referent or symbol for it, and;
  5. a concept with a symbol for it.

The symbol for a referent-less concept in (5.) is substituted for its referent. And it is here that often our understanding of the world breaks down.

For example, the process of invention usually begins with the conceptualisation something which does not exist (study case: iPhone). Eventually this is given a name and the physical product of the iPhone is manufactured and the referent iPhone is brought into existence. In other cases this creation process may not be possible (study case: Harry Potter). The only way it is brought into being is through the process of literature (writing and publishing a novel). Harry Potter only exists as a character in a novel, and not as a person as such. In this sense Harry Potter remains in (5.) never to become a real thing as in (1.). Only fiction about Harry Potter in the form of physical novels becomes (1.).

 

Innate ideas

Think about the innate idea of the iPhone. If we take innate ideas on face value, then the innate idea of the iPhone should have existed during Plato’s lifetime (or eternally according to the theory).

If this is true, then why didn’t we have the iPhone then, or even mention of it somewhere? Clearly this is nonsense. Innate ideas do not exist. We only have things as they come into existence and then known when experienced.

Space

Imagine pure space without a single object in it. Not even you, the observer, but nonetheless for some reason you are still able to “observe” this space.

In what way can you differentiate one dimensionless point in this space to another dimensionless point? By what means can you understand the distance these two dimensionless points? How do you discover the size of this space? Or else does this space have a size at all? And how do you differentiate between a point and space, when there is no way to differentiate between the two?

Democritus and Leucippus called this void, but only when compared or contrasted to atoms. In other words, void is defined by the things, or the absence thereof, not by any positive means.

Parmenides found this troubling. For then void cannot be truly void. Nothing must be “something”. He drew the conclusion that all is one, and that change as observed in the world is an illusion.

Einstein described with the equation E=mc2 the world as mass, space, time, and energy. For any one of these elements to have a value would mean the entirety is zero, nothing or void. But nothing seems to have zero energy. Atoms brought to near zero Kelvin slows motion but can never stop it. Everything is in flux as Heraclitus had concluded. So space is energy, and not empty void as such.

Space is likely a thing, but because of its nature as a “homogenous” thing it cannot be observed directly but only by indirect means or inferred through the relationship of things.

Differance and the metaphysics of presence

A is a because it is not b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

B is b because it is not a, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

C is c because it is not a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

And so on until z.

A does not have an inherent meaning, only meaning because it differs to the other symbols.  And by not having an inherent meaning it defers meaning. This is what Derrida had meant by differance. The choice of a different letter but identical pronunciation was to highlight differing, deferring and difference. The implication is that nothing has meaning present unto itself, only meaning via absence. He terms the mistake to think otherwise metaphysics to presence.

Metaphors we live by

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s important work Metaphors We Live By pointed out an aspect of conceptualisation and language – that we must resort literal physical meanings and relationships in order to talk about the abstract.

The employment of metaphors of the real is the only way we can talk about unreal.

Consider these sentences.

  1. He is in the kitchen.
  2. The concert starts in three hours.
  3. She is in the choir.
  4. They are in love.

All sentences employ spatial relation “in” to describe the concepts.

But only 1 is literal or real. Both “he” and “the kitchen” are real things. The person is located in a space. In 2 uses space to talk about time. And 3, and 4 use space to talk about membership and emotional state. While it can be argued that one can use non-space to describe things, it is neither easy, economical, nor natural. In other words, abstract or unreal concepts simply cannot be mentally, psychologically or conceptually manipulated without recourse to the real literal world.

Type and token things

There are things. Let us call each thing a token. Let us begin with the smallest unit – the atom.

There are unfathomable, countless multitude of atoms in the universe. Yet, as we look at each atom carefully we see similarities and differences between them. Let us call one a and another b. a and b are dissimilar, in fact, so dissimilar that we will continue to call them a and b.

We look at another atom but this one is similar to a and different to b. So maybe we shall call it a1. After a while we have a whole bunch of grouped together. Here, they can be called A to represent all of the tokens called a. This big A we shall call type that which is a general representation of all tokens.

This A, of course, does not exist in the world, only as a classification or categorisation within the mind of the thinker. It is a concept that becomes a thing by virtue of being the actual letter A. It is in the sign that we mistake it for being real. The concept until being turned into a sign had no reality other than being a process within the mind/brain. The sign makes it “materialise” so to speak.

Furthermore, the person who speaks has not seen all the tokens of a but generalises this to all the a. A is thus a “rough estimate” of any a mentioned. Even if we are talking about a specific instance of a we cannot help but be drawn into the estimation that is A.

This is the quality of language that is continually (dis)missed, in all language use, ordinary, philosophical, or otherwise.