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On Philosophical Assumptions

Maarten Maartensz

> Sections (links to all sections)


This has been typed from the top of my head and is in no way final. What it is intended to show is what sorts of assumptions are required to start philosophy. Their is nothing final about what one starts with, for every assumption may be withdrawn, qualified or altered on the basis of experience or later judgments. This version is printed May 23, 95, and mostly written in 1992. Sections

On Philosophy

By a philosophy I shall understand in this essay a systematic, conscious, reasoned, linguistic attempt to answer the following fundamental questions:

  1. What is there?

  2. What should one do?

  3. How does one know?

These questions are fundamental in the sense that every adult human being must somehow answer them, if only by tacitly consenting to some existing philosophy in some form.

They correspond respectively to ontology, ethics and epistemology. The older definition "What are truth, beauty and goodness" is also not bad. In the given statement esthetics is left out that is included here, and the older def leaves out epistemology.

So one can alternatively say: "What are truth, beauty, goodness and knowledge?" and the reason I don't is that the answers to these questions tend to be criterions rather than theories (that give rise to such criterions).

There are other sensible characterizations of philosophy, like Whitehead's, but I shall not consider them. Sections

Why philosophy is important

Philosophy is important because it is concerned with problems and questions that must be answered somehow by any human being, if only by tacitly conforming to those philosophical ideas one has received during one's education.

In the end, it are philosophical ideas that divide or unite people, and philosophical ideas that shape one's life and inform one's judgments. Ordinary people are as a rule not much concerned with philosophical problems because they believe they know the answers, namely those provided by their political or religious leaders, or their favorite TV-programs. Sections

On ideology
  1. An ideology is a system of beliefs concerning what the world is like and what it should be like.

  2. All people have at least one ideology.

  3. People need an ideology to orient themselves, because human instincts are insufficient to orient themselves in human ways.

The basic point involved is that individual people and groups of people guide themselves by their ideologies and self-image, which is the central part of the ideology: Everybody acts and lives in terms of "I am a so-and-so in such-and-such a world where people like me ought to (not) do this-and- that", and it is this specification that is usually maintained even if it is embroidered i.e. changed superficially.

Ideologies and self-images once acquired (self-image around age 6; ideology around age 12, to pick approximations that may vary: In general, in childhood the self-image is basically fixed and in puberty the ideology) are maintained or else one experiences a conversion or mental breakdown. Sections

The problem of the starting point

One fundamental philosophical difficulty is that of one's starting point. This arises for any philosophy, because in philosophy, or at least when trying to articulate some answers to the above fundamental questions, any statement whatsoever, whatever its supposed obvious truth or value, may be doubted or denied.

It has been doubted or denied by philosophers (for many different reasons that do not matter here) that there is an independent reality; that colors exist; that there are things in any solid sense; that there is anything at all that is a thing; that all men have immortal souls; that all men are machines; that nothing is certain; that only death is certain; that everything that does happen must happen; that everything that happens might not have happened; that all knowledge is an illusion; that all knowledge is certain; that all knowledge is tentative; that all morals are divine instructions; that all morals are relative; that every moral rule is rationally incomprehensible and equivalent to a scream of anger or cry of distress; that mathematics is the only true and validable knowledge; that mathematics and logic are merely games without any truth or falsity; and so forth.

Within this welter of philosophical confusions, contradictions, unclarities and uncertainties, there happily is one thing nearly everyone agrees about:

These discussions do take place in some common world populated by people, who have been educated in some society, and share many experiences and a language to discuss their problems, appraisals, and conclusions in, and perhaps to write long and learned books that imply that, really and truly, there are no such things as books.

One may eventually come to the conclusion that the common world people seem to inhabit is manufactured on the basis of false assumptions, and in some respects is illusory, but in order to argue that conclusion to others one must at least start by again taking for granted hypothetically the sort of assumptions that lead people to postulate a world of things and people in which one may sensibly discuss the problem in what sense and why some of the assumptions that other people use to explain their experiences by would be correct or mistaken.

This means that I start with more or less accepting the world as I find it (and as others find it) when one starts thinking about one's experiences: An independently existing world of 3-dimensional things and people, that have enduring and non-enduring properties and relations, and about which people know a lot, at least in the sense that they have a number of beliefs produced in a certain ("scientific") way that, when acted upon, considerably more often than not lead to expected and desired consequences.

It also means that I start with a conviction or explicit assumption that there are facts, in some sense; that there are other people, whose experiences are like mine and can be reconstructed and understood by analogy to mine; that human beings possess a lot of knowledge about the world, and that much of this finds its expression in the sciences; and that some of the important philosophical problems concern science and the power it confers on humans: why has science so much more practical success than non-science, as testified by technology, and how is science, and more broadly, rational thinking and reasonable acting, to be applied by naked apes with a bodily and emotional constitution fit for survival by murder that is naturally adapted to beastly circumstances, and a technological box of Pandora, that embodies the destructive and constructive potential of some 50.000 years of thinking and experimenting by the best individual minds, and that enables the most stupid of a few generations in the future a power and influence that the most brilliant a few generations in the past could neither imagine nor comprehend. Sections

On basic questions

1. As everything can be questioned, the basic questions concern language and logic.
2. Any answer to any question involves assumptions.

These are two basic insights about reasoning, and therefore about philosophy. The reason for the first point is that all our questioning, whatever the subject-matter, either is in language already or can be put in language, as is true of any answer to them, and that all argument, whatever the subject-matter, involves logic.

These points also are relevant to skepticism, here taken in the sense of philosophical theories that claim that human beings cannot come to know anything, because a skepticism that supposes itself to be arguable is inconsistent, and one that is not arguable is not a philosophy. (This is not directed against what may be called methodical skepticism, that may be summarized as a counsel to be prudent with one's inferences and assumptions, but against what may be called contentual skepticism, that dogmatically insists there is no knowledge and there cannot be any, as if all possibility of knowledge were restricted to the knowledge one cannot know anything but knowing one knows not.)

The second point also undermines a common ploy in philosophical argument, which runs "But to conclude B you presuppose A!", with the tacit premise that presuppositions are improper. The fact is that without any presupposition no conclusion whatsoever is arguable, and that what matters is not the assumptions one makes, but the support they have in fact. (It is not suggested that the idea of factual support for an assumption is a simple, clear and unambiguous idea at present, but it is suggested that all sane people have some adequate intuitions concerning it, such as that an assumption is not factually supported if in contradiction with the facts, and better supported than before if it entails a fact that was not inferred or not explained without the assumption.) Sections

On a general assumption:

1. That by argumentation problems may be clarified and solved, questions answered and conclusions and assumptions found.
2. That all reasoning starts from assumptions.


On ethics

1. An ethic is a systematic set of beliefs about what people in a given society should and should not do.
2. A moral is a systematic set of beliefs about what people in a given group should and should not do.
3. Most people's ethics are morals: Their humane impulses are restricted to members of their own group.
4. There is a fundamental set of ethical postulates, that depends on (i) the natural capacities of human beings (ii) the necessary requirements to maintain a human society.

Morals are much more limited and partial than ethics as a rule, though most men pretend to act ethically and in fact act morally at best (because they don't guide themselves by their own ideas, but follow the group's mores, and the group's mores are maintained by punishment and reward by others, whereas ethics depend on oneself to maintain).

The third point is a simple lesson from history, including the fact that this is not invariably so but tendentially so.

The fourth point is important because it is widely denied, basically for moral and ideological reasons: To maintain any kind of human society certain acts and institutions are required, and what is required depends on what people really are and may and may not be. (Thus it may be said that e.g. the ideals of democracy and communism are based on assumptions respectively about the human capacities for intelligent social interest and on human benevolence and altruism that are not very realistic, whatever their value as ideals to orient and direct the design of human societies.) Sections

On what there is:

1. There is an independently existing reality, in which
2. there are things, which have
3. varying and unvarying properties and relations, and
4. there are persons, which have beliefs and desires, and who can express their beliefs and desires by language.

Note that one should not try to be too precise or complete here. The point is to articulate the key postulates involved in the everyday world and experience people widely assume or seem to assume.

But some further clarifications of what is meant are necessary:

  • a reality is simply a collection of entities of any kind about which one thinks and to which one's terms and statements refer if true, and fail to refer if false;

  • a thing is some unique entity with boundaries, a location in reality and properties and relations;

  • a property is some non-unique entity that characterizes unique things;

  • a relation is some non-unique thing that characterizes tuples of things;

  • persons are things, and beliefs and desires are some of their (mental) properties. It is possible to introduce more mental properties by assumption (e.g. willing, deciding, judging, feeling, inferring a.s.o.) but it seems best at least initially to restrict primitive attitudes to the two basic ones relating to representing and to choosing, perhaps supplemented by trying to cause, asserting, and feeling.  Sections

On how we know:

By making, finding and testing assumptions that represent adequate ideas about some independently existing subject-matter.

Here the "independently existing subject-matter" is what the assumptions state ideas about, and ideas are adequate to whatever reality they are about if they do represent them well enough for our purposes, and better than all known alternatives.

Note that self-knowledge is more complicated: It involves reference to some subject-matter that is not independently existing in the same sense as the rest of the world.

On models and simulations:

1. We know and understand by making - mentally or otherwise - models and simulations of the things we seek to know.

This is to be understood also as the ideal: We know and come to know through making adequate models, but often our knowledge is not or only to a limited extent a model, and mainly inferential (as when we prove something by deriving a contradiction from its denial, or by deriving it from a thesis we know and accept as true, without understanding it properly, as to what it does represent precisely). Sections

On the relation between knowledge and reality:

1. To know something is to have an adequate (mental) map or model of it.
2. A map or model is adequate (for given purposes P) iff it truly represents the features of the thing mapped that are required to realize P.

Here the basic points are the metaphor of the map and the notion of adequacy. The importance of the notion of adequacy is that we do not need completely and literally true ideas to understand and be effective in the world we think about: We need adequate ideas, but often the amount of adequacy required to satisfy our purposes is small (and for nearly all ordinary tasks we can do we have only very superficial ideas of the reasons why things work as we know they do). Sections

On the given:

1. Things are given to people from sensation and from memory and from fantasy. If and when given these are undeniably given as they are, though whatever is given may be judged.

Here the basic points are

(i) that there is something given to us in experience, and, moreover (ii) it is given in a certain mental mode: As sensation, memory, or fantasy.

So I claim our normal experience is given to us, and is given to us as sensation, memory or fantasy: We normally know whether what we experience is sense-experience of the external world or our body, or is memory, or is neither sense-experience nor memory, and so fantasy (which tends to be divided in those we believe or might believe and those we do not believe).

It is also worthwhile to notice that one reason for hallucinations is that these distinctions break down, for perfectly good physical reasons (like the intake of a lot of alcohol in a short period), and that, even though all human experience is strictly private and personal, the experience of all more or less sane humans seems to be similar in many respects (as is also supported by many spontaneous human reactions and psychological experiments).

And to me it is an interesting and important fact about humans that I can make sense of and appreciate the ideas and art of humans that were raised in completely different cultures a very long time ago, even to the extent that their ideas and values and art may seem to me to be more sensible or beautiful than what humans raised in my time and culture have to offer. Insofar as this is not completely based on self-deception, the reason must be that there are givens and invariants which are either the same or very much alike in all - sound and sane - human beings. Sections

On language:

1. Statements represent ideas
2. Ideas represent entities in an independently existing domain
3. Language is minimally adequate and repairable.

Here the main points are

  • Statements do NOT represent facts directly: Whenever we use a language the statements represent ideas, and the ideas represent or fail to represent some reality. NB that this entails that claims like "a statement is true iff it says what is the case" are quite seriously misleading.

  • The proper analysis should be: "a statement is true iff what it says represents what is the case" and "what it says" is an idea. Note also that the natural formalization is T(s) iff d(i(s)) <> 0 iff the denotation of the idea the statement conveys is not the empty set.

  • "an independently existing domain" may be any set of any kind of entities, as long as the set does not depend for its existence on the language used to refer to it. This excludes self-reference, at least initially, but that is as it should be, at least initially.

Being "adequate and repairable" amounts to something like

1. users of the language can use it to represent ideas in such a way that other users understand what facts are meant, and can decide whether indeed in reality there are or are not such facts; and
2. if users of the language find it cannot adequately represent certain ideas they do have, they can extend or alter the language (by adding new terms or rules, or altering or deleting old terms or rules), and can do so successfully, i.e. the revised language will be capable to represent the new ideas adequately.

This last assumption claims a lot, but it has a lot of inductive confirmation and can be illustrated quite clearly in the case of a simple language, by introducing new terminology and rules. And in fact this assumption is at the basis of language itself: We do use parts of speech with independent reference and combine them to statements with other independent references, all according to rules, and both the references and the combinations are arbitrary in the sense of depending on our decisions and wishes.

What does seem to be presupposed is (i) a notion of language, terms, rules and meaning, combined with (ii) the idea that all that may be done with these entities depends on our assumptions, which we may freely add to or retract. Sections

On reasoning

There are three basic kinds of reasoning:

1. Abduction: To find assumptions from which given conclusions follow
2. Deduction: To find conclusions from given assumptions
3. Induction: To confirm or infirm assumptions by showing their conclusions do (not) conform to the observable facts.

Normally in reasoning all three kinds are involved: We explain supposed facts by abductions; check the abduced assumptions by deducing the facts they were to explain; and test the assumptions arrived at inductively by deducing consequences we bring to bear on the assumptions by Bayesian reasoning. Sections

On argumentation:

1. To argue is to infer conclusions from given facts and assumptions. It proceeds by rules of reasoning that are either implicit in the language used, or explicitly stated as rules.

Note that what we know and believe we know and believe by argument, except what we know or believe instinctively, intuitively, or imitatively, and that people do argue with themselves to come to conclusions.

Note also that most people tend to use the ideological fallacy as soon as perceived possible conclusions appear to conflict with their ideology or self-image - that is, they rend to reason that something is so iff they desire it to be so. Sections

On assumptions

1. An assumption is an idea that is supposed to be true.
2. It is not necessary that an assumption is believed to be true.
3. There are several kinds of assumptions:

axioms : Assumptions that are known to be true.
postulates : Assumptions that are believed to be true.
hypotheses : Assumptions that are believed to be probably true.
guesses : Assumptions of any kind
supposals : Assumptions made to start an argument

Hence the minimal assumption is a supposition. In ad absurdum arguments one seeks to find a contradiction for a supposition, so as to prove its denial.

On definitions

1. A definition is an assumption to the effect that two expressions may be substituted for each other in certain contexts.
2. Most arguments depend crucially on definitions.

This is the best definition of definition, which, accordingly, has the more precise form "In context C and language L the terms D and E are inter-changeable".

The test of a definition is whether in all appropriate contexts all pairs of statements which differ only in having D where the other has E have the same truth-value. (If fishes are by definition cold-blooded, and whales are by definition fishes, there are problems as soon as one finds that as a matter of fact whales are warm-blooded.) Sections

On abstraction

There are two kinds of abstraction:

1. To abstract a thing, property or relation from a collection of things, properties and relations is to select that thing, property and relation and to disregard the rest.
2. To assume that a given thing, property or relation is a kind of some thing, property or relation, that has some of the properties the given thing, property or relation has.

That is: In the first case one disregards the context and in the second one imposes a (usually) not given context. The second case is more complicated, and depends on classificatory assumptions, as in "A cat is an animal, and being an animal it breathes", which involves (x)(Cat(x) ==> Animal(x)) and (x)(Animal(x) ==> Breathes(x)) and can be seen as {x: Cat(x)} inc {x:Animal(x)} and {x:Animal(x)} inc {x: Breathes(x)}.

Note that the actual abstraction-step does depend on their being the required abstract term as "{x:Animal(x)}" c.q. "the things which are animals", though one may stipulate a rule of abstracting a la (Ex)(Px) iff (Ey)(y={x:P(x)} & ~(y=0)) - say: there is something that is P precisely if there is a non-empty class of things that are P. (In set-theory this should be in general a proper class.) Sections

On truth

1. An idea is true in some reality R iff what the idea represents is in R.
2. The basic notion of truth is that of ideas correctly representing independent external facts.

This conforms to the classical correspondence definition of truth: A statement is true if what it says is so and false otherwise. The important thing is that truth requires a domain of reference for statements to be evaluated as true or false, and the simplest case is when that domain is independent of the statements and the person doing the evaluating.

The more complex case is when the domain does depend on the statements (self-referring statements) or on the person evaluating (self-reference) (as in "I believe that I believe that this statement says something about me and itself"). Sections

On falsehood

1. An idea is false in some reality R iff what the idea represents is not in R.
2. It makes sense to distinguish falsehood and non-truth: Non-truths are simply not so; falsehoods arise when the things the idea is about do exist, but are not qualified in the way the idea has it.
3. Also, falsehood and non-truth must be distinguished from nonsense and related notions: An idea is nonsense iff what the idea represents is not possible on the basis of the system of assumptions in the context of which the idea figures.

This is like the definition of truth, but (2) and (3) assert that falsehood is not mere non-truth, because statements that are not true may be nonsense for various reasons, ungrammatical, incomprehensible, or (im)probable or (im)plausible etc. to some degree.

Note how falsehood and nonsense are defined, and that both truth and falsehood are properties of ideas, and only derivatively of the statements which state those ideas. Sections

On possibility

1. An idea is possibly true if it is not nonsense and not false and not inconsistent with the system of assumptions in the context of which the idea figures.

This is the simplest sensible definition of possibility, and if taken extensionally is a - possible - case. Thus for all I know it is possible that there are dolphins that like music. Note this is not the standard modal notion involving possible worlds, which I think is usually either unclear or very odd or both. Sections

On necessity

1. An idea is necessarily true if it is not nonsense and its denial is inconsistent with the system of assumptions in the context of which the idea figures.

See under possibility and note that factual necessity is something else. I'd say that it consists in invariable regularity, and that contingency consists either in coincidence of earlier independent chains of events or else is real, if it exists (as in sub-atomic particles): something may happen or not, and there is no factual ground whatsoever for it to happen or not to happen, although the proportion and frequency of happenings may have a factual ground.

Again either notion of necessity is not the standard modal notion involving possible worlds. Sections

On rules

1. A rule is an idea or statement to the effect that in given circumstances one may or must do a certain thing.
2. There are two kinds of rules: Permissive rules and obligatory rules.

Note that inference rules combine permission and necessity: If "From A1,..,An, C follows" is a rule of inference one may but need not use it to infer C from A1,..,An but whether one does or not, C does follow from A1,..,An whether one actually infers C or not.

On methods

1. Whatever we know, we know because it has been produced by a certain method. It is the method that guarantees and produces the knowledge.
2. A method is a way of doing something, and is given by rules that stipulate what one may do in given circumstances.
3. Methods are judged by their internal consistency and success or failure.

It is important to stress that knowledge is methodically acquired and methodically identified and recognized as knowledge, and that generally the methods by which one finds or tests knowledge are more important than the knowledge they produce.

The best distinction between science and non-science is not in terms of knowledge but in terms of methods: scientific knowledge is any belief produced by logically correct reasoning and methodical experimentation. Sections

On observation

Observations are experiences guided by a method of acquiring experiences in a certain way.

That is: Observations are not mere experiences but methodically acquired experiences. Sections

On things

1. Things are bounded, located substances: They are located in space; have a boundary; and consist of matter, i.e. something that excludes other matter of the same and of similar kind to be on the same place and which is mass-like, i.e. its parts have the same characteristic properties as itself.
2. All substances (= matter) and all things have characteristic properties.
3. All things are unique.
4. All things have some properties that characterize them in the sense that in order to be a thing of that kind, it is required to have those properties.
5. All things have some feature(s) that are not properties, i.e. the thing may lack the feature(s) without ceasing to be a thing of the kind it is.
6. Things come in kinds, and kinds of things are defined in terms of properties and substances.
7. Things are known by and characterized by their effects on other things, in given conditions.

Here there are many important points, but I shall restrict myself to what seems to need comment the most:

  • Things interdepend with space and with properties and are made up of substance(s) c.q. matter, and are characterized by being bounded and taking place (to the exclusion of other things) and being unique.

  • Matter is mass-like: When you divide it (up to a point) its parts have the same properties (apart from size and weight a.s.o.) as itself.

  • Note here that things are made of matter, but are rarely mere lumps of matter: Normally a thing is a complex structure with several parts, containing diverse substances.

  • A thing per se (Ding an sich) is a mere abstract: We know things by what they do to other things and to us. NB that it is a fallacy to restrict these effects to observable ones: Things are theoretical constructs anyhow, so they may well have lots of effects we are not aware of or are not equipped to experience directly. Sections

On properties:

1. Properties are had by things and cannot occur without the things they are property of.
2. Properties are not unique.

Here only the essential points are made. However, you may well ask: What IS a property? Probably the best short answer is: That by virtue of which a thing has certain effects on other things, of which the property is the cause, or a necessary (and analytically separable) part of the cause.

Two difficulties about properties and relations in general are

a. There are very many of them, and they come in all sorts of kinds: One does need some categorical schema, i.e. a network of relations between basic properties and things, that also classifies all kinds of things, properties and relations, at least provisionally, and

b. There are some purported properties and relations that either are not real or are odd (in ways more typical real properties are not). Three examples are:
- properties depending (in part) on linguistic features
- indexical and coordinative properties
- properties that only seem to be there (hallucinations, colors etc.) but in fact are projected by our CNS. Sections

On relations:

As for properties.

Of course, with this difference that relations hold of tuples, not unique things. Note also that all or most properties are in fact relations: When we say "snow is white" this is short for "the reflected light of snow that is visible to humans appears white" or "the color-effect of snow on the human visual system is white" or something similar.

In general, when we attribute a property we have abstracted it from some - system of - relation(s). Sections

On systems:

1. A system is a set of interrelated things, where the relations are real, that have some of the features of a thing (is located; possesses properties and attributes; known by their effects).
2. Systems need not be unique.
3. Systems are not mass-like (i.e. their parts do not have the same features as the system they are part of).

Note the following layers or levels:

  • Substance is what things are made up of;

  • Things are made up of parts that are substances or things;

  • Systems are made up of things.

The difference between things and systems is that a thing is always unique, and a system is not. However, it may make sense to take things as the smallest systems (in some sense of "smallest"), with a unique identification and the required properties to make them unique.

The reason to say that systems are not unique is that one needs some way of and foundation for saying things like "these two entities are the same kind", for this now becomes "these two entities are the same kind of system, i.e. their parts are things of the same kind, related in the same ways, with - consequently - the same kinds of effects in the same kinds of conditions". Sections

On substances:

1. A substance is a something located and real the parts of which have the same features as the substance they are part of.

This was dealt with above already, under "On things". The basic point is that substances - "what things are made of", as yonder vase is made of glass that was formed into the shape of a vase - are mereological wholes in some sense. Sections

On reality

1. Reality is the class of all things.

As distinguished from nature, which is included in it. The term "class" may be understood here either as in mathematical set-theory or more naively, but if it is understood set-theoretically, the term "class" is used expressly to be understood as contrasted with "set", the difference being that sets themselves are always elements (of sets or classes) but classes are never elements. Sections

On nature

1. Nature is the set of living things.

As distinguished from reality. I think it is important to consider life as something special, and nature as one intricate interdependent system, at least where broad outlines are concerned. I also guess that biological laws involve more than physical laws or are a special kind of physical laws (feed-back, the creation of order from disorder and chaos).

In this sense the planet earth is special: Nature is there, and nowhere else, as far as we know, and if elsewhere different. (That is: There is a suggestion that Nature is itself an entity with its own laws to an extent making itself in a unique way.)

For the term "set" see "On reality". Sections

On time

1. Physical time is the rate of change of some feature with reference to the - number of - changes in some - standard - feature of some - standard - thing.
2. Subjective time is the sense of duration bound up with memory.

That is: Physical time in the ends is proportion between changes: So and so many standard changes or events to take one given event. Note this presumes regularity of the underlying process, but that is assumed in general: Immutable laws. (These also would be the basis for the arrow of time: Certain changes are followed by others, but not conversely.) Note that this does depend on whether the clock can be reached (seen, effected).

Subjective time is quite different, although the underlying ground seems the same: Possibly 7 or more internal clocks that are used to pace internal processes. Our experience of time depends on these. Sections

On space

1. Physical space is the set of places where things may be and move to.
2. Subjective space is the sense of extensiveness bound up with vision (usually) and with the movements one's body.

Note that a set of places is not necessarily a container or container-like. The simplest representation is as a set of coordinates, with this difference that places are real, and coordinates group places or events at them by associating numbers or names to them in some regulated way. Sections

On the structure of the world (levels)

1. The world as we experience and know it comes in levels, and that at least in two ways:

  • Things interdepend on and interact with other things of approximately the same size, and the size-classes form levels. E.g.: atoms, molecules, cells, organs, organisms, biotopes, ecologies. Levels have their own characteristic kinds of laws, i.e. regularities characteristic for the things of that level (and kind).

  • Things interdepend on and interact with other things but are also independent of and do not interact with yet other things. Thus they form clusters or systems.

Note that this amounts to a rather complex ontological hypothesis, adopted because it seems to be most adequate to the known facts:

There are at least the following distinct kinds of entities:

  • things

In telegram style: Things are individual, particular and made of substance(s), and may have parts. There is no thing without some substance, and no substance (except possibly space or time) without being some thing's substance. Things have properties (as it were relations in potential: Activated if a relatum is given) and relations, depending on the substances and the laws. The relation between things and properties and relations is as between things and substances: there is no thing without properties and relations, and there are no properties or relations (except possibly of space and time) without their being some thing's properties or relations. Laws are relations between relations and properties, and consequently between the things that carry the properties and relations. Structures are things that involve a set of lawful relations between invariably related things. Systems are sets of structures. Levels are sets of systems of a certain kind and size. There are laws proper to systems and to levels, and laws differ systematically depending on which level(s) they involve.

Note also that systems and things (i.e. the simplest kind of structures and systems) may be independent: Their effects do not reach each other c.q. are cancelled out. (There may be even things that e.g. emit waves in phases that cancel, and would have been noticed by each if the phases had been different - a kind of complementarity.)

Note finally in this context that things may be epistemologically independent yet ontologically dependent - pe(Y|X)<>pe(Y) and pr(Y|X)=pr(Y) - simply because e.g. in fact Y does depend on X but you know this already, or in general because pr() depends on cognitive grounds (what you assume you know and how these assumptions bear upon those you don't know, presumptively) while pe() depends on factual grounds (what if true in fact changes Y's chances of also being true, with statistics as best example of both: Born in such and such circumstances your income is most typically Y - whereas you know what your income is). Sections

On structures

1. A structure is a set of things all connected by some relation.

This is the minimal definition as it is not stipulated here that the structure itself is a thing (bounded and independently movable etc.) and it is merely suggested that the related things may carry laws and have properties of all kinds. Sections

On facts

1. A fact is what is the case in a domain of - presumed - facts.
2. NB that facts depend on what domain of facts one presumes: Presuming Greek mythology, it is a fact that the god Zeus killed his parents and had many extra-marital relations with mortal women.

See on truth, on falsehood and on possibility - for there are possible facts, in the sense that one might desire to catch a pike in yonder pond, that may or may not contain a pike for all one knows.

Note also that it makes no sense to speak of facts when there is no method of deciding whether a statement states a fact or not.

However, this last remark should not be read in a neo-positivist way, and there is an important difference between facts and truths: a truth is a fact A of a particular kind, called symbolical, and exemplified by statements, pictures, maps, diagrams, photographs, films etc. that informs anyone capable of understanding the rules of symbolization that were used that there is some fact B that is somehow symbolized or represented by A. Sections

On regularities

1. Natural laws are statements or ideas that represent - presumed - factual regularities, i.e. relations or facts that are - in the presumed conditions - invariant.

This is the basis of the Order of Nature, then: That there are regularities of fact - that a fact of this kind is invariably followed or preceded by a fact of that kind.

Note also that as stated this may comprise distribution-functions: That X happens may be undetermined intrinsically, but the pattern of X-happenings (frequencies, proportions) may be completely fixed. Sections

On changes

1. Two fundamental facts about experience and Nature is that they change all the time while also much remains the same, especially the patterns and ways of changing.

This is included because ways and means of changing are in many ways the basic facts about experience and reality - the unceasing flux. Sections

On causation

1. A causes B iff A is a system and B is a consequence of A's properties.

"Consequence" here in the sense that there is a law - immutable regularity - involving some of A's properties and B. This also explains the supposed necessity involved in causality - which is misleading, if B is caused by a chance-process A, which is possible by the present definition. (It is perfectly sensible to say that a gambler's ruin was caused by his ignorance of probability-theory and a completely fair and random roulette-wheel, even though we may assume, at least for the sake of the argument, that none could have predicted any one of the outcomes.) Sections

On subjunctives

1. What would be the case is what follows from assumptions about what is the case (if these assumptions are not the case).

The last part is bracketed to stress that what would be the case may be the case, though usually one does not say, then, that it would be the case but simply that it is the case. Note that this supposes prior assumptions.

What might be the case is more comprehensive: What is not incompatible with the assumptions about what is the case. Sections

On science

1. Science is methodically and rationally warranted knowledge, and consists of the best explanations (abductions) for given problematic - presumed - facts.

Note it is not said science is true, though I do hold that the best explanation must be adequate (and so must contain some factual truth, if not all, which is also the reason why real science can be used to design a real technology that satisfies some of our ends, whereas false, phony or very young science cannot be used to design effective technology).

The best explanation does not need to be a true explanation, and a true explanation need to be completely true to be adequate in practice, but the skeptical or relativistic notion that human beings do not (really, truly) know things seems to me both false and misleading.

A good likeness for the true position is that human knowledge is like human maps: incomplete, without all detail, not completely correct, always in need for being updated (with the most recent relevant knowledge and findings), and usually without present means to decide for each and every item on the map whether it does or does not adequately represent what is really there - but nearly always more informed and more knowledgeable with a map than without any. Sections

On the world:

1. The world is given to us in at least five different ways:

  • a. subjectively: All persons have their own experiences and ideas

  • b. commonsensically: There is a core of commonsense shared by all sane persons, and summed up by a version of Natural Realism

  • c. by the arts: In any culture there is a dramatized version of many aspects of reality that serves to map reality

  • d. by science: In any culture there is an undramatized version of many aspects of reality that serves to map reality

  • e. socially: In any society there is a core of - dominant - assumptions and values about what reality is; what society is; and what men are.

Here the point is that there are quite a few different versions and presentations of reality, which differ a lot in contents and source:

  • subjective experiences differ not only because different people have been in different circumstances, but also because they have different capacities (visualizers and non-visualizers, for example)

  • the common sense reality is contrived and theoretical, for it does presuppose all manner of non-experienced or non-validable constancies and regularities, but it is required for society: We need assumptions that make it a matter of course to make appointments, promises and agreements and contracts

  • in many ways the high arts - Shakespeare, Sophocles, Montaigne, Dante, Balzac, Hazlitt etc. - give us the best representation of what men are, may be, and are capable of, for it is the most concentrated, richest, complicated, and intellectually balanced and reasoned and informed version of what men are, may be and are capable of. The main reason this is so is that it need not concern itself with literal truth, but only with possibility and plausibility

  • science as used in society is common knowledge of things and procedures to make or get things (including avoiding and getting rid of things). Of course, to be knowledge it needs to be adequate, though ordinary knowledge tends to be mainly instrumental: One knows how to drive a car but hardly why it works as it works.

  • the social ideology may be and usually make-belief and false. What is important about it are: (i) it provides a background of shared assumptions, values and methods (ii) it provides a background of shared norms of behavior which makes it the basis of culture and tradition. Sections

On persons:
  1. Every person has a sense of self, and this comes in three guises:
    A. as what one is ......................... the self
    B. as what one believes one is .... the ego
    C. as one pretends one is ............ the personality

  2. The self is what one had made of oneself, and comes from one's capacities, and decisions to - believe to - be a so and so.

  3. Personality and ego depend on the self.

  4. The self can only be experienced in part.

  5. The self changes gradually, as it depends on learning.

That every person (if not insane or very extra-ordinary) has a sense of self is simply a matter of everyday experience, in the sense that one experiences one's self and others act, talk and behave as if they experience their selves.

I hold the self is far more comprehensive that the roles it plays, so to speak: What one believes oneself to be is one of the things the self does - basically, constructing a theory about itself, and adopting that, and one's self is created and built during one's life, and is normally far larger and comprehensive than one can be conscious of or show at any particular moment.

It is important to see that, at least in ordinary reality, people make themselves to a considerable extent - as is quite clearly possible if what they believe they are, is, like their other beliefs, a theory, which is continuously revised and updated.

And it is also important to see that one can only experience part of what one is at any time, and, moreover, that what one does experience is always in part effect of and in part representation of whatever caused the experience, and never the real thing, insofar as it is not a simple bodily pain or pleasure. (And even that is in fact a message of the kind "your toe requires attention").

It is also important to see that, in the terms of this remark, most people mistake their ego for their self; that every adult who is not thoroughly insane plays some role (father, mother, employee, Good Christian etc.) nearly all the time; and that very few adults dare to act, think or feel out of the characters they familiarly play. (This last fact, which may be named the lack of individual character, is one of the root causes of human history being by and large a "record of the crimes and follies of mankind" (Gibbon): Mass-murdering, genocides etc. are perpetrated by perfectly ordinary and average people on perfectly ordinary average people for perfectly ordinary and average human weaknesses. If ordinary human beings would be able to create a just society, they would have done so long ago.) Sections

On human beings:

1. Human beings are animals that can reason better than other animals because they can use language.

Here the points are that humans are animals (not demi-gods), and that their superiority to the other animals is due to language, in the first place, and also - as is implicit in language - in being a social animal, that lives in society, and cooperates with its fellows. Sections

On types of men
  1. There are different types of men, depending on their natural capacities, culture and training.

  2. Between men there are great differences in natural capacities, not only as regards accepted talents like musical or mathematical abilities but also as regards capacities to memorize, visualize, etc. These differences are at the basis of the different kinds of mental worlds different men may have.

  3. There also seem to be inborn moral differences: Most men do not rise above the level of adopting the mores of their own group as morals, and of regarding non-group-members as inferiors without rights;

  4. and intellectual differences: percentually very few people are capable to understand and work creatively with science or mathematics at a graduate level.

This deserves stressing. It also is the kind of fact that is unpopular in a "democratic society", where the majority of people believe, or pretend they believe, that one deserves to be discriminated if one remarks that as a matter of plain fact not all people are equal in capacity, development, intelligence, knowledge, facial beauty etc. This is unpopular in democratic societies because the majority of human beings know they have no special talents, and envy the minority of those who do have them. One consequence is that in truly democratic societies only average people get elected to positions of power. Sections

On the capacities of the human mind

1. Whatever men may know or be depends first and foremost on the capacities of the human mind.

For this is the basic human limitation and strength. (The Dhammapadda 1.1 says: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. All that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed on our thoughts.")

Sofar, the best approach to the human mind is an indirect one: through the study of its products, especially science, art, and human history. Sections

On psychology
  1. To know what men are and may be, it is necessary to know human history.

  2. Lesson from history: Nearly all men have been nearly completely deluded about nearly everything nearly all the time.

  3. "Most men are as fit to think as they are fit to fly." (Swift).

  4. People live by and for their self-image, which is what they believe they are and should do and are entitled to.

Points 1 and 4 reiterate earlier points. The important facts for the actual course of history are (2) and (3), and it makes sense to make an outline of common sense psychology without illusions based on La Rochefoucault, Mandeville, Chamfort, Lichtenberg, Nietzsche and some other epigrammatists. Sections

On history

1. To know what men are and may be, it is necessary to know human history.
2. Sofar, history was to a large extent the result of beastly impulses amplified by human ideas and its resulting technology.

The second statement is my appreciation to some extent, though factually correct - people much rather fuck and fight and sport than love and think and make art, on average, in actual fact (that rarely conforms to the self- images of the actors, which usually amounts to the thesis that the actor is at least as good if not better than anyone else, and willing to prove it by destroying whoever disagrees).

It is the first point that is important: Human beings are best known by their acts in varying circumstances, and not - merely - by their ideas about themselves at a given moment in a given society. Besides, the ideas most men have about most things tend to be false, uninformed, emotional, conventional and only interesting for who is interested in the people who hold them. Sections

On agreements and disagreements

There are two fundamental kinds of agreements and disagreements between people:

1. of beliefs and disbeliefs
2. of likes and dislikes

Agreements and disagreements bring men together or drive them apart. The basic points at issue are that (i) values are not facts, and that (ii) nearly all men make their ideas of what the facts are depend on what they like the facts to be while (iii) in the end what each of us can and cannot do depends on his or her agreements and disagreements - moral, intellectual, esthetical etc. - with his or her fellow human beings. Sections

On feelings

A feeling is a bodily reaction to a stimulus.

Here the main point is that feelings are bodily reactions, and not mental, or mental only. They also are personal, though not necessarily private: Though we can feel only our own feelings, we do seem to feel many feelings through sympathy: We feel sad when our fellows act as if they feel sad; elated when our fellows act as if they are elated; distressed if etc. and we can recognize basic feelings like anger, joy, fear and surprise from facial information.

(But see below for values and emotions). Sections

On values

A value is a generalized desire, that is, it has the form: For all persons p of type X, it is desirable/I desire that if Y, then p does Z.

Note that, consequently, values are tied up with personally felt states but can be endlessly theoretically elaborated, and also depend on the facts, namely what persons can and cannot do, and what does and does not happen in given contexts as a consequence of given acts.

Most ethical and moral theorizing tends not to make sensible distinctions between values, feelings and emotions, and to be either subjective or objective. The present position is subjective insofar as it locates the source of value in the beliefs and desires of a person, but objective insofar as what is desired is or is not compatible with the facts and human nature. Sections

On emotions

An emotion is a feeling caused by a value or an expectation or a memory.

Note that even highly complicated emotions, like being betrayed by a loved one, tend to have a considerable bodily component: You may feel angry, surprised, disappointed etc. and even if you believe that what you "feel" is best summed up by a Shakespearean monologue, there will be a strong and complicated mixture of bodily feelings connected with it.

Also, there are e.g. with love two kinds, one intellectual and personal, one sexual, and there is a definite feeling of joy when beholding a beautiful piece of reasoning or mathematics, music etc.

The point about emotions is that they depend on values in the end and thence mix ideas - beliefs, expectations/predictions a.s.o. - and feelings. See above under values. Sections

On culture

1. Culture is the set of beliefs, desires and ways of behavior that is transmitted by one generation to the next by education and example.

The beliefs and desires include an ideology, but tend to comprehend a lot more. The basic point is that people transmit ideas and values to others and especially (their) children, who are more prone to adopt ideas and values for lack of them or for lack of a strongly believed foundation for other ideas or values.

Note that "culture" as defined contains no value-judgment. Sections

On civilization

1. The degree of civilization in a society depends on
(i) its dominant beliefs : How rational?
(ii) its dominant desires : How humane?
(iii) its dominant practice: How artistic and just?

In contrast with culture (as defined) civilization does involve value- judgments. The criterions I use are as old as the Greeks.

Beliefs, desires and practices are dominant depending on the proportion and social power of the number of people and groups that live accordingly. Sections

On fundamental fallacies

There are two fundamental fallacies:

1. Reification: To assume that things do in fact have the properties one's ideas or expressions for them have.
2. Misplaced concreteness: To assume that the only kind of things there are are unique, local, bounded things.

See Whitehead's "Science and the Modern World". Sections

Colophon: last revised: October 17, 1999
             added " Sections" August 6, 2000

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