Saturday, April 5, 2014

Questions for the Black Philosopher


Is the subject of race inescapable for the black philosopher? Must every black philosopher be expected to say something about, or be an “expert” on, the subject of race? Must philosophy for the black philosopher be self-reflexive, so that his/her blackness, and the meaning of that blackness in relation to society, must become the subject of his/her philosophy? What obligation does the black philosopher have to be socially and politically engaged? Must philosophy for the black philosopher entail political activism? Can the black philosopher only engage in “real” philosophy after he/she has discovered what it means for him/her to be black?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Dalai Lama visits the Washington National Cathedral, 2014


Last Friday, March 7, my wife and I were able to attend an address given by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. We were also able to shake hands with His Holiness afterward. It was a very moving experience.
      The occasion was entitled "Beyond Religion: Ethics for the Whole World," but the actual theme of the Dalai Lama's message was that all the major religious traditions share an emphasis on love and compassion, on tolerance and forgiveness. The theme of the message was also that, rather than being preoccupied with the differences between religions, cultures, and societies, we should affirm the values that we share as human beings.
      Here is a more detailed account, on the website of the Office of His Holiness, of what he said to the audience.


Photo by Sonam Zoksang. (Thanks, and thanks also to Tsewang Phuntso, Office of Tibet.)
  
      

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Seeing to it" as a Principle of Moral Conduct



Of what significance to moral conduct is the ability to see to (attend to, keep in mind) some task or duty that we’ve been assigned? To what extent does compliance with duty depend on the ability to “see to” some particular action’s being performed or some particular event’s taking place?
      If I say that I’ll "see to" some action A’s being performed or some event E’s taking place, then I acknowledge my responsibility to attend to the conditions that will lead to A or E, and I imply that I’ll act with a reasonable amount of care, attentiveness, and diligence in order to ensure that A is performed or that E takes place.
      If I say that I’ll "see to" something, then I also imply that I’ll follow through on "seeing to it," and that I’ll make sure, to the best of my ability, that it is actualized or brought to fruition.
      “Seeing to it” may therefore fulfill a promise, pledge, or vow to take care of something. It may also be a “seeing that” something is fulfilled or takes place.
      "Seeing to" something may represent a mode of "being addressed" to that thing. If we "see to" something, then we pay attention to it, and we address ourselves to ensuring its actualization or its coming into being.
      However, there may be a practical limit to the number of things that we can attend to within a finite time frame. If we are obligated to attend to many different things at the same time, then we may have to prioritize them, so that we can deal with our most pressing and most urgent obligations before we attend to less pressing and less urgent ones.
      “Seeing to it” that some action A is performed or that some event E takes place may also fulfill a directive or command that must in some cases be prioritized or structured in relation to other directives or commands.
      If I say to someone who has a right to expect me to be reliable that I’ll see to it that A is performed or that E takes place, then I may be held blameworthy if I fail to see to it that A is performed or that E takes place.
      Of course, I can only properly be said to have seen to something if I've acted in such a way that I've ensured its taking place. If I did nothing to ensure its taking place, then I cannot properly be said to have seen to it. The action or event in question need not have taken place solely due to my intervention, but I must have done something to ensure that it would indeed take place. I must therefore have been in a position of causal agency in relation to it, so that my seeing to it ensured, or could have ensured, that it took place.1
      Nuel Belnap, Michael Perloff, and Ming Xu (2001) explore the formal semantics of “stit sentences” (sentences in which a subject or agent sees to it that something is true) as a means of investigating the causal structure of agency and action. They explain that the stit sentence “α sees to it that Q,” where α is an agent and Q is any declarative sentence guaranteed to be true by a prior choice of action on the part of α, may be symbolized as [α stit: Q].2
      Similarly, they explain that the sentence “α is obligated to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Oblg:[α stit: Q], the sentence “α is forbidden to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Frbn:[α stit: Q], and the sentence “α is permitted to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Perm:[α stit: Q].3
      To these sentences may be added their corresponding negations, in order to express other deontic modalities of "seeing to it" or of "not seeing to it" that Q. Thus “α is not obligated to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Oblg:[α stit: Q], “α is not forbidden to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Frbn:[α stit: Q], and “α is not permitted to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Perm:[α stit: Q].
      To these sentences may also be added the sentence Ought:[α stit: Q] (“α ought to see to it that Q”), and its negation ~Ought:[α stit: Q] (“α ought not to see to it that Q”).
      Direct or indirect obligation and permission to "see to it" that Q may also be expressed by such sentences as: Oblg:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is obligated to see to it that α sees to it that Q"), and Perm:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is permitted to see to it that α sees to it that Q").  Similarly, the absence of such obligation or permission may be expressed by such sentences as ~Oblg:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is not obligated to see to it that α sees to it that Q") and ~Perm:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is not permitted to see to it that α sees to it that Q"). 

      Belnap, Perloff, and Xu explain that stit sentences may be used to express such deontic equivalences as

        Frbn:[α stit: Q]    ~Perm:[α stit: Q] 
and
        Perm:[α stit: Q]    ~Frbn:[α stit: Q].4
  
      In addition to these, we might take note of such equivalences as

      •  Oblg:[α stit: Q]    ~Perm:[~α stit: Q]

      •  Perm:[~α stit: Q]    ~Oblg:[α stit: Q]

      •  ~Frbn:[α stit: Q]    ~Oblg:[~α stit: Q]

      •  Perm:[α stit: P  Q]    
                Perm:[α stit: P]  Perm:[α stit: Q]

      •  Ought:[α stit: P  Q]    
                Ought:[α stit: P]  Ought:[α stit: Q]

       •  Oblg:[α stit: P  Q]    
                  Oblg:[α stit: P]  Oblg:[α stit: Q]

and such axioms as 

      •  [α stit: P  Q]  → 
                [ [α stit: P]  [α stit: Q] ] 

      •  [α stit: [P  Q] ]  →  
                 [ [α stit: P]  [α stit: Q] ]

      •  Perm:[α stit: P]  [ [α stit: P]  
                Perm:[α stit: Q] ]  Perm:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is permitted to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that P, α is permitted to see to it that Q, then α is permitted to see to it that Q”)

      •  ~Perm:[α stit: P]  Oblg: [ [α stit: Q]  
                 [α stit: P] ]     ~Perm:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is not permitted to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that Q, α is obligated to see to it that P, then α is not permitted to see to it that Q”), and

      •  Oblg:[α stit: P]  [ [α stit: P]  
                  Oblg:[α stit: Q] ]  Oblg:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is obligated to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that P, α is obligated to see to it that Q, then α is obligated to see to it that Q”).

      Interestingly, Belnap, Perloff, and Xu distinguish between “not seeing to it" that Q and “refraining from seeing to it" that Q. Refraining from seeing to it that Q entails not seeing to it that Q, but not seeing to it that Q does not entail refraining from seeing to it that Q.5   
      “Seeing to it that Q” may be paraphrased as “taking care that Q” or “taking the time to ensure that Q” or “exerting oneself sufficiently to make sure that Q” (to suggest just a few possible interpretations). Thus, the sentence “See to it that you knock before you open the door” may be paraphrased as “Be sure to knock before you open the door” or “Be careful to knock before you open the door” or “Take time to knock before you open the door.”
      The U.S. Constitution, Article Two, Section Three, says that the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.” Under the "Take Care Clause," the President is therefore obligated to see to it that all laws are faithfully executed, and he/she does not have the power to disregard laws or to allow them to be disregarded. Thus, the responsibility to see to it that the laws are faithfully executed may require some degree of care, attentiveness, and diligence on the part of the President.
      “Seeing to it” may be the basis of an “ethics of care.” If we see to the health, safety, and well-being of an individual, or of a group of individuals, then we attend to, are responsive to, and care for his/her/their emotional and physical needs. Our caring for an individual, or for a group of individuals, may be expressed by our “seeing to” the actualization of those conditions that promote his/her/their health, safety, and well-being.
      “Seeing to” something may thus require a kind of moral vision, which may be characterized by not only the capacity to perceive and appreciate the moral dimensions of human conduct, but also the capacity to feel and communicate a sense of moral responsibility, the capacity to honor and fulfill moral duties and obligations, and the capacity to promote moral and social understanding. Moral vision may be a vision of the way in which moral values can be reflected by individuals, institutions, and society.


FOOTNOTES

1Nuel Belnap, Michael Perloff, and Ming Xu
 explain that the assignment of moral or legal responsibility to an agent for doing something presupposes that the agent actually did something, and it also presupposes that the agent could have done otherwise. (Facing the Future: Agents and Choices in Our Indeterminist World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 256.) 
2Belnap, Perloff, and Xu, Facing the Future, p. 6.
3Ibid., p. 17.
4Ibid., p. 64.
5Ibid., p. 41.






































Saturday, October 12, 2013

Non-Propositional Language

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says, “The totality of propositions is the language” (Prop. 4). But it may be argued, to the contrary, that language does not consist exclusively of propositions, and that language includes both propositional and non-propositional expressions (take, for example, emotive expressions that express feelings or emotions, but not propositions).
      Interjections such as “Oops!”, “Holy cow!”, and “Wow!” may be examples of non-propositional expressions. Such expressions may be meaningful without being true or false.
      Non-propositional speech-acts include rote recitations of numbers, times, and dates, repetitions of filler words or phrases such as "uh" and "y'know what I mean," conventional greetings such as “Hello” and “Good morning,” expletives such as "Gee whiz!" and “Damn!", and questions such as “How are you?” and “What is that?”.1
     Can language be meaningful without expressing propositional attitudes or having a propositional content?
      While propositional attitudes2 such as believing, knowing, hoping, desiring, fearing, or remembering that p (where p is a proposition) take a stand or have a bearing as to whether p is or is not the case (or as to whether p ought to or ought not to be the case), non-propositional attitudes take no such stand and have no such bearing. Are there indeed such non-propositional attitudes? Are all cognitive attitudes propositional in form and content?
      Is all thinking propositional in nature? If not, then is there some non-propositional language capable of expressing non-propositional thought? Can linguistic signs or symbols express purely intuitive or non-conceptual thinking? 
      Consider Russell’s example of a non-denoting phrase, “the present king of France.”3 If the sentence, “The present king of France is bald,” is neither true nor false because the phrase “the present king of France” doesn’t denote or refer to anything, then the sentence doesn't express a proposition. But isn’t the sentence still in some way meaningful? Isn’t the sentence a counter-example to Wittgenstein’s thesis that “The totality of propositions is the language”?
      

FOOTNOTES

1Chris Code, “Speech Automatism and Recurring Utterances,” in The Characteristics of Aphasia, edited by Chris Code (Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991), p. 158.
2Bertrand Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth [1940] (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 18.
3Bertrand Russell, “On Denoting,” in Mind, 14 (1905): 479-493.


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [1922], translated by C.K. Ogden (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Recommended Philosophy Videos

Linda Martín Alcoff, 2012 Presidential Address, APA, Eastern Division

Mark Alfano and Abrol Fairweather, on virtue epistemology

Corey Anton, "Some Basic Characteristics of Language"

Corey Anton, "Language, Thought & Time"

Corey Anton, "Defining Language? Please Respond"

Corey Anton, "Boundaries between Books and Minds"

Corey Anton, "On Being a Reader"

Jacques Derrida, "What Comes Before the Question?"

Ronald Dworkin, "Law and Political Morality"

Miranda Fricker, "Moral Philosophy"

Paul Fry, "Introduction to Theory of Literature"
    1.  Introduction
    2.  Introduction (cont.)
    3.  Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic                  Circle
    4.  Configurative Reading
    5.  The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork
    6.  The New Criticism and Other Western                  Formalisms
    7.  Russian Formalism
    8.  Semiotics and Structuralism
    9.  Linguistics and Literature
    10. Deconstruction I
    11. Deconstruction II
    12. Freud and Fiction
    13. Jacques Lacan in Theory
    14. Influence
    15. The Postmodern Psyche
    16. The Social Permeability of Reader and                Text
    17. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory
    18. The Political Unconscious
    19. The New Historicism
    20. The Classical Feminist Tradition
    21. African-American Criticism
    22. Post-Colonial Criticism
    23. Queer Theory and Gender Performativity
    24. The Institutional Construction of Literary               Study
    25. The End of Theory? Neo-Pragmatism
    26. Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory                 Now?

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, "The Subject of Language"

Christopher Gauker, on Language

Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel, on implicit associations and belief

Elizabeth Grosz, Keynote Address at the 2007 Feminist Theory Workshop

Thich Nhat Hanh, "What is Nirvana?"

Rae Langton, "Fighting for Words: Why Race and Gender Slurs are Hard to Answer"

Charles Mills, "Does Race Exist?"

Charles Mills, "Liberalism and Racial Justice"

Authors@Google: Steven Pinker

Thomas Pogge, "Global Justice: What are the Responsibilities of Citizens?"

Thomas Scanlon, "Ethics of Blame"

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 1

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 2

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language: Section 3

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language, Section 4

John Searle, interviewed by Bryan Magee, on the Philosophy of Language, Section 5

Galen Strawson, "What is the Subject-Experience-Content Identity Thesis?"

Deborah Tannen, "That's Not What I Meant! - Signals, Devices, and Rituals"

John Turri, "Virtue Epistemology & Intellectual Character"

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Gyeke. Akan Concept of a Person"

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Hume. The Idea of the Self," part 1

Jennifer Lisa Vest, "Hume. The Idea of the Self." part 2

Edmond Wright, "Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith"