Category Archives: Book Reviews – Philosophy

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 6 – Thought Experiments in Political Philosophy


My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on thought experiments dealing with aesthetics. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
http://www.evphil.com/blog/what-i-learned-from-100-philosophy-thought-experiments

6. Political Philosophy

First off, how are we to treat one another. #44 Till Death Us Do Part shows that love of another person is rational, or it is not love. Personal interactions are best modeled by iterated prisoner’s dilemmas, which explains how cooperation evolves. More specifically, in #82 The Freeloader, we see how cooperators pay the price for all freeloaders, which is why we have powerful urges to discover cheaters and stop them. Rather than being tempted to cheat, better strategies over the long-term have been discovered. They are: 1) be nice – cooperate, never be the first to defect; 2) be provocable – return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation; 3) don’t be envious – focus on maximizing your own ‘score’, as opposed to ensuring your score is higher than your ‘partner’s’; and 4) don’t be too clever – tricks are eventually discovered. Cooperative groups then go on to develop cultures.

We see in #67 The Poppadom Paradox that culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration. Multiple cultures and the scientific method provide the means for purposeful variation, rational selection, and a retention of the ideas that aid the survival of all cultures of life.

#61 Mozzarella Moon shows how Elinor Ostrom’s eight design features enable groups to manage their common-pool resources successfully. This is particularly applicable to all of humanity and the common resource we share called Earth. Ostrom’s first criterion requires “strong group identity and understanding of purpose.” Evolutionary philosophy identifies life as all of our group’s identity, and survival as its purpose. From this, our required behaviors should be clearer. But still, as in #15 Ordinary Heroism, doing good requires difficult judgments, which ought to be encouraged. Such encouragement can come from mutually understood norms among individuals, but in order to grow large anonymous societies, they must be encoded in laws through the formation of governments.

Why governments? And how might these governments be organized? We see in #82 The Freeloader that even if every individual was committed to cooperating with their fellow citizens, there would still be things that we need centralized and collective action to address. We know that the invisible hands of the market will lead to market failures if they are left to act on their own. The purpose of government is to regulate the economic system by correcting these market failures. #10 The Veil of Ignorance shows we ought to organize our political economies to promote the long-term survival of life.

But as noted in #100 The Nest Café, the most cited definition for the purpose of government comes from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which goes like this (with some numbering added for ease of analysis): “We the People of the United States, in Order to (1) form a more perfect Union, (2) establish Justice, (3) insure domestic Tranquility, (4) provide for the common defense, (5) promote the general Welfare, and (6) secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The framers of the U.S. Constitution gave no guidance on how to prioritize among these six interests though, which often compete directly with one another. How do we choose between more liberty and more justice, other than by the democratic squabbling of the loudest groups or wealthiest interests? This vacuum of ambiguity has been filled by the Cold War Philosophy and the Washington Consensus to promote the liberty of individuals as the highest end goal, but that is entirely amoral. A much better way to prioritize among the six interests in the Preamble would be according to the way we ought to prioritize all moral decision-making: we ought to act for the long-term survival of life in general. If that means slower economic growth, so be it.

Clearly, the fastest economic growth is blowing up in our face, and it does not meet the wider needs of life on Earth. It’s only when our absolute highest priorities are concerned with the evolution of life in general that we can find ways for all of life to flourish together and ensure its long-term survival. This can even be proven mathematically, as seen in #55 Sustainable Development where any supply of “widgets” becomes vanishingly small whenever those things are deemed irreplaceable and individual. The cost of replacing irreplaceable things in this world essentially runs to infinity, and these infinite values cause a breakdown in the use of classical economics. In the case of businessmen calculating the return on their investment while trying to use up natural resources, we might, therefore, speak “their language” and still hope to persuade them to set some things aside, to hold some things as sacred.

Wealthy oligarchs howl against such restraints on their personal liberties, but in #87 Fair Inequality we see that societies are most productive where everyone works hard, has purpose, and cooperates fully. Although people are no worse off materially if their neighbors get rich at no financial cost to themselves, they can be harmed psychologically by their increased awareness of the wealth gap between them. Seeing equality and inequality solely in material terms could thus be a terrible mistake. Perfect equality is not possible, but extreme inequality is not sustainable. Extreme wealth is generated by the economic system and the rules that society has evolved over the course of its history. A large portion of extreme wealth is therefore owed to society. As a final warning against any all-too-certain authoritarianism, however, #92 Autogovernment shows we may get better at modeling complexity and acting towards agreed-upon goals, but we must never mistake such contingent knowledge for complete clairvoyance.

In the effort to create and enforce such a fair and well-aimed political economy, there will, of course, be some individuals who will give in to the temptation to gain rewards illegally. First, we ought to endeavor to show such people, as in #14 Bank Error in Your Favour, that crime doesn’t pay because we may always be caught. This will not always be successful though, so as in #34 Don’t Blame Me, despite the fact that there is always external causality for our actions, we must be held responsible for those actions. We cannot change the past, however, so any punishment and blame must be forward-looking.

To expand upon that, we see in #97 Moral Luck that moral factors are not always in our control. We can’t know the future. Our wider environments are out of our control. Who we are (nature x nurture) is substantially out of our control. Free will determinists would say everything is out of our control. Given all this uncertainty in the world, there really ought to be much less moralizing judgment.

Of the four types of punishments used for doling out justice — restoration, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution — only retribution is aggravated when we ignore the role that moral luck plays, but retribution should be ignored anyway since it is not forward-looking. Retribution is also pointless, as we see in #17 The Torture Option because torture does not work in the short-term since humans can obey internal motivations and deceive one another. Cooperation over the long-term is best gained by refraining from torture altogether. #36 Pre-emptive Justice shows that improving social conditions as a means of crime prevention works better than heavy-handed law enforcement, which often backfires.

We see why in #77 The Scapegoat because inhumane acts of justice can never be fully private. Such means will therefore always undermine the ends. The state is supposed to be that entity which possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. When justice systems are corrupted by individuals who think they can wield force outside of the rule of law, that is a necessary and sufficient ingredient for the failure of an entire state because the government will then no longer have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force.

It is far better, as in #79 A Clockwork Orange, to see that we are neither inherently good nor inherently evil—we are capable of both, a flexibility we must have in order to have the power to choose between alternate paths that are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. Understanding this leads to holistic approaches to social and criminal justice, which have been proven to work in other countries.

In addition to these economic and criminological elements of just societies,  #33 The Free-Speech Booth shows that free speech is necessary for society to explore ideas, but it can be curtailed by harm principles (not offense) and public nuisance laws. #29 Life Dependency explores why abortion is a difficult issue to deal with because of the fuzziness that exists around the definitions of life and individuals. Therefore, we currently compromise socially. What we should not compromise on is seen in #35 Last Resort where suicide attacks are infinite ends to finite lives, which demand 100% certainty to justify them. But since this is unobtainable, suicide attacks are never justified.

At the end of our lives, #53 Double Trouble shows that voluntary euthanasia could be good for the long-term survival of life by giving us control over our own death and helping us avoid personal pain and suffering. Voluntary euthanasia can also take away worry from loved ones, and it can free resources for better use. It allows us to lose some of the fear of death, which means death becomes less a topic we need to repress, and more one that can be looked at plainly in order to motivate better living.

Finally, what can we say about how to deal with those who are outside of the social contract of government, which can only be entered into through conscious consensual cooperation? For non-human animals, #5 The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten shows that animals can have higher purposes than being eaten. But in #57 Eating Tiddles, we don’t necessarily need to pull ourselves entirely out of the food chain to morally cooperate with the project of life. Harm to any individual stakeholders, however, ought to be eliminated or minimized when weighed against the benefits. It may be correct that in #72 Free Percy, the independent existence of rights is “nonsense on stilts,” but we as members of a society agree to grant them to one another. We can also agree to grant rights to non-human animals and plants even though these forms of life cannot now recognize or reciprocate such agreements. Respecting the billion-year-bonds we share with other forms of life is precisely what we need to help us recognize that the selfishness of human tribes is inane.

What about non-living things? #32 Free Simone shows that artificial intelligence can be accepted where it is forced to cooperate with life, just like the rest of us. But #4 A Byte on the Side cautions that computers cannot currently meet our psychological needs for love. (Even though I just spent a LOT of time gazing into mine…)

Phew! Let’s pause for a break and think about the many details of this broad view.

My brief reflections – I’m glad that Mr. Gibney discussed the prisoner’s dilemma at length as it is the key to understanding moral and political philosophy and many other things as well. (For more see “American Authoritarianism: Coming 2017.”) The desire to defect—to follow one’s own short-term interest at the expense of the group—may be the major problem of humankind today and it will (quite likely) lead to the destruction of the entire ecosystem on which life depends.

The question then arises as to how to deter egoistic behavior and encourage cooperative behavior. I advocate disablement strategies, that is making the selfish move impossible. Today this would involve enhancing human cognitive and moral functioning. We must re-engineer human beings or we will not survive. Radical as this may seem, I see no other option that is likely to be successful.

I also agree with Mr. Gibney about 1) limits to free speech, especially given the speed at which lies now spread quickly around the world; 2) the moral value of voluntary euthanasia; and 3) the need to include animals and AIs into the moral sphere.

Next up – Conclusion contrasting religious and evolutionary philosophy worldviews.

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 5 – Thought Experiments in Aesthetics


My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on ethics. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
http://www.evphil.com/blog/what-i-learned-from-100-philosophy-thought-experiments

5. Aesthetics

In #48 Evil Genius, we see now how ethics and aesthetics can be united. Beauty is good; it is that which promotes the long-term survival of life. Bad art, no matter how well it is executed, is blind emotion that purports falsehoods for truth. #37 Nature the Artist helps us understand that this idea of beauty is objective to reality, but the beauty of any object is subjective to the considerations of each specific observer. That is how we make sense of the confused and competing definitions of beauty and art that exist at present. But in #86 Art for Art’s Sake, we see that artistic objects have no intrinsic worth on their own; they are not a form of life. Art must provoke emotions in someone (even if it is just the artist) in order to be considered art. And therefore, as in #66 The Forger, a true connection to the emotions and knowledge of an artist undoubtedly adds an extra dimension to any work of art, and that dimension can even become priceless whenever such a connection is deemed irreplaceable and full of inspirational beauty. When such art impels us to grasp for good lives, we reach out to those around us in order to actually accomplish it. And that leads us to the final branch of philosophy in our worldview.

My brief reflections – I probably know less about aesthetics than any other branch of philosophy. Let me just say that there is something about beauty that is intrinsically worthwhile. Truth, beauty, and goodness are the 3 great ideas by which we judge things. Here I’ll quote from Bertrand Russell’s last manuscript:

“There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.”

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with political philosophy.)

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 4 – Thought experiments in Ethics


My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.” 

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on metaphysics. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
http://www.evphil.com/blog/what-i-learned-from-100-philosophy-thought-experiments

4. Ethics

The most commonly cited source for human ethics today is religion. This invention is understandable because it fills the void of our longing to know how to survive in our inherently uncertain universe. As seen in #58 Divine Command, when environments are filled with harsh adults who are unable or unwilling to explain themselves, children learn to obey to survive. This can easily lead to a perpetual cycle as these children also learn to dominate when they can, and they don’t learn to think clearly on their own.

However, #95 The Problem of Evil shows that Gods have all just been made up ideas, and the particular one invented and followed by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—the one that is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving—is a logical impossibility given the facts of the world. #45 The Invisible Gardner illustrates how scientific discoveries have made the gods of the gaps vanishingly small. Poof. In fact, according to #8 Good God, no gods tell us what is good; we determine it ourselves. In #78 Gambling on God, religious answers for epistemology and logic have been shown to be flat-out wrong and dangerous. They must be discarded. All of the good benefits of religion can be provided by a secular worldview.

So what are the secular sources of ethics? Traditionally, in philosophy, as in #60 Do As I Say, Not As I Do, we see how any morally considered human behavior has an intention, an action, and a result. That’s the way an event is described prior to, during, and after it occurs. It’s the way the past, present, and future are bound together by causality yet allowed to be looked at separately across time. Virtue ethics concerns itself with the intention behind an act. Deontology focuses on the action alone. [Kant’s deontology focuses on intention too.] Consequentialism focuses on the result. But all three may be evaluated individually for moral purposes. Also, #71 Life Support points out that neglecting to act is still an act that can be morally judged for intentions and consequences.

Exploring these philosophical options, deontological rules and universal virtues don’t work by themselves because sometimes, as in #7 When No One Wins, it’s possible to do long-term good by doing short-term bad. Even further, as in #99 Give Peace a Chance?, more deaths over the short-term may be preferable to more misery and death over the long-term, although empirically it’s not very easy to know the difference ahead of time, and I personally am very glad that my best course of action hasn’t involved such sacrifice. The most universally known deontological rule is #83 The Golden Rule, but the Golden Rule is simply calling for reciprocity, for empathy, for more cooperation. But this isn’t enough! Cooperation towards what? Putting a bagel on Saturn? Subjugating ladybugs? Spreading the message of Moses? It’s terribly misguided to focus on means without considering ends too.

Consequentialism or utilitarianism tries to focus on ends, but historically they have only considered well-being, pleasure, or avoidance of pain as the ultimate goal. #84 The Pleasure Principle, however, shows that pleasure or freedom from pain are not ends in themselves, they are means towards something else. They are signposts for how to act towards survival. #98 The Experience Machine says the best prospects for long-term survival and well-being lie in dealing with the real world. Pleasure or pain avoidance are merely proximate goals in service of an ultimate goal, they are not intrinsically or inherently valuable or costly on their own. This is partly why utilitarianism fails. In #89 Kill and Let Die, we see another reason is because human evolution, as well as the evolution of other advanced animals, is governed to a greater or lesser extent by a mix of genetic and cultural traits, so the practically unknowable value of one unique human to the cultural evolution of our species means we cannot weigh life and death trolley-problem decisions by using some simple rule such as “one human = one human.”

According to #96 Family First, the equal weighting of persons or sentient creatures in the theoretical mathematics of utilitarianism doesn’t hold up in the real-life decision-making of individuals because we are not indistinguishable widgets that can be perfectly substituted one for another. While all human beings originally have equal standing for moral claims, the actual force of their claims on us is variable depending on many things such as our ability to satisfy their claims, their reputation from prior actions, or their possibility of reciprocating aid over repeated interactions in the future. In other words, as in #22 The Lifeboat, moral concerns are a force that behaves somewhat like gravity with stronger pulls by larger bodies at close distances often overshadowing the background tugs of fainter objects far away, and moral actions get harder to determine the farther away their actions are directed.

So prior sources of ethics all have problems. It’s okay to discard these old values though since we see in #27 Duties Done that oughts must be derived from more than just current norms of oughts. In #50 The Good Bribe, we see that in order to truly consider “the big picture” of a moral decision, you must look at the largest and longest view of life. In #100: The Nest Café, we see that due to the deep interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all living things, hierarchies of needs ought to be considered for each and every form of life. This includes all seven areas of E.O. Wilson’s consilient view of life: 1) Biochemistry → 2) Molecular Biology → 3) Cellular Biology → 4) Organismic Biology → 5) Sociobiology → 6) Ecology → 7) Evolutionary Biology.

Thus, as described in #52 More or Less, evolutionary ethics are based upon a deontological rule — “good is that which enables the long-term survival of life” — and that gives us an objective and universal consequence towards which we ought to act using virtues derived from evolutionary studies that scientifically prove to us which traits are successful in leading life towards that goal. We may not be able to answer any ultimate questions now of why the universe and life exist, but maybe someone will be able to someday, and it is our job to do what we can to get to that day. Therefore, the number of people and the quality of their lives ought to exist within some range that balances scientific progress against existential robustness.

To clarify, in response to someone Questioning All This, too little life in terms of quantity, quality, or diversity is a fragile state, and too much life full of overcrowded, competitive, misery is another fragile state. Evolutionary ethics looks for robust optimization in the middle where well-being is also optimized, but this is only reached by recognizing that comfortably assured survival for life is the ultimate goal. The only position that contradicts this would be an argument for universal death, but that is an argument we living beings reject. Once you agree that any part of life ought to continue, then you agree that life, in general, wants to continue and we are then down to questioning the details of how that works, which is an empirical question. So, therefore: 1. Life is. 2. Life wants to survive. 3. Life ought to act to survive. By discovering this objective basis for morality, we can examine history and see how the moral values of humans have grown and changed over time and we can try to judge them using the meta-principles of what we see best survives over the long-term during evolutionary processes.

Okay. That is what “good” is, but how do we live a good life?  What does this mean for me, for individual flourishing, or for what the Greeks called eudaimonia? We want to be happy and to feel pleasure, but we must recognize, as in #26 Pain’s Remains, that pain in life is unavoidable, and may, in fact, be necessary for all of the wisdom and empathy it gives us. Pain is a useful signal. Further, #91 No One Gets Hurt shows how we carry a host of biochemical “side effects” from our evolutionary history. We have freedom and flexibility to overcome many of them, but they cannot be completely forgotten. When one knows that some part of their actions are bad they will be subject to feelings of guilt. In #76 Net Head, we see that these guilty feelings or other perpetual feelings of anger are sure signs that your worldview isn’t working. They come from cognitive appraisals that “something is bad and I need to do something about that.” That “something bad” is either the world or your worldview.

From #68 Mad Pain, it is obvious that we humans feel pain when flesh and bones are torn apart, but perhaps we can feel physical pain when neuronal connections are torn apart as well. This would explain the observations that any challenge of a basic assumption will release anxiety and defensiveness. Such challenges painfully tear our minds apart. But ripping off the duct tape that holds most worldviews together seems much more preferable than feeling the continual anxiety that seems to arise when most worldviews are faced with evidence from the real world. In #61 Mozzarella Moon, we see that speaking in a debate probably moves too quickly to change deeply held beliefs. Surprising validators can change some minds. But dysrationalia stops many minds from changing, and that is caused by cognitive biases (hardware), but also a lack of understanding of probability, logic, and scientific inference (software).

It may be difficult to turn your back on your past beliefs, but according to #69 The Horror, we must always accept that what is done is done, and we, therefore, ought to strive to live well from now on so as not to reach the end of our lives and have only shame and regret to look back upon things that can no longer be changed. This will not be easy. In #75 The Ring of Gyges, we see how our intuitive moral feelings are often in conflict because of the debates that rage within us regarding the self vs. society, or society vs. the environment, or the short-term vs. the long-term, or just the fundamental choices between competition and cooperation. This is what drives the two faces of humankind, but wise people can see this and act accordingly. When we do so, we may truly begin to love life, and even see, as in #20 Condemned to Life, that immortality is not a curse. It is the logical outcome of evolution, and we ought to be able to bear it. Such long good lives, or at least, for now, such a good long succession of them, would indeed be “beautiful.” But what exactly do I mean by that?

My brief reflections – Traditional religious beliefs are mostly nonsense. Moreover, the divine command theory is ridiculous as Plato demonstrated in the Euthyphro, the problem of evil devastating for classical theism, there is no invisible gardener, etc.

I’ve never found much to recommend Kantian deontology, although I think a modified utilitarianism has a lot to offer. Like Mr. Gibney I think that evolutionary ethics explains the origins of ethics and can also function well as a normative ethical theory. I would modify Mr. Gibney’s “good is that which enables the long-term survival of life” by adding “and flourishing of life.” Survival isn’t sufficient by itself for goodness. (Note that Mr. Gibney seems to recognize this later on in the essay.)

I would also modify Mr. Gibney’s “1. Life is. 2. Life wants to survive. 3. Life ought to act to survive.” While I think you can get is from ought I don’t think you can get it quite that easily. (Perhaps Mr. Gibney is just summarizing here.) For example, Schopenhauer would argue that life wanting to survive is just a will to live that perpetuates suffering. So again we must enter the picture and choose to try to survive well, live well, or flourish.

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with aesthetics.)

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 3 – Thought Experiments in Metaphsics


My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on thought experiments dealing with logic. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
http://www.evphil.com/blog/what-i-learned-from-100-philosophy-thought-experiments

3. Metaphysics

Traditional metaphysics seeks to answer the questions: 1) What is there?; and 2) What is it like? On the first question, we see in #90 Something We Know Not What, that there is an impossible barrier to break through at the core of a physicalist worldview, which requires a fundamental assumption to be made in order to act at all.

Then, in #63 No Know, we see that through the eons of the entire age of life, and overall the instances of individual organisms acting within the universe, the ability of life to predict its environment and continue to survive in it has required that ontologically the universe must be singular, objective, and knowable. If it were otherwise, life could not make sense of things and survive here. We may never know if that is TRUE, but so far that knowledge has survived. The objective existence of the universe may indeed be an assumption, but as a starting point, it now seems to be the strongest knowledge we have.

After this first assumption, we can (provisionally) bring into our worldview the entire accepted cosmology of scientific facts from the realms of physics and chemistry and their related offspring. But when we get to all the fields of biology and the social sciences, there are a few more mysteries left to uncover. Namely, the mind-body problem with its concerns about identity, consciousness, free will, artificial intelligence, and the rationality of emotions.

As for identity, #12 Picasso on the Beach shows that everything is ephemeral over long enough time horizons. #11 The Ship Theseus shows that identity is not a fixed, unchanging thing; all borders are fuzzy. In #2 Beam Me Up, we see that I am material, but not only this present material. That is because, according to #65 Soul Power, a full grasp of identity must be multi-level, it must take account of what the self knows as well as what others know, both of which change over time. #88 Total Lack of Recall expands on this by noting that according to Ubuntu philosophy, which has its origins in ancient Africa, a newborn baby is not a person. People are born without ‘ena’, or selfhood, and instead must acquire it through interactions and experiences over time. In John Mbiti’s words: ‘I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.’ This helps explain why #46 Amoebaesque shows that none of the four traditional locations of identity — body, brain, memory, or soul — can stand alone to explain who “I” am.

In fact, according to #38 I Am a Brain, our personal identity is some bundle of our purely physical body parts plus our mental parts that reside in our physical brains. As seen in #30 Memories Are Made Of This, the individual self can be regarded as the totality of a set of perceptions within a body. In #54 The Elusive I, it’s even more apparent that we are collections of mental states or events: “bundles of perceptions”, as Hume said. This bundle theory view of the self may take away some personal, religious notion of a lonely, individual, immortal “I”, but in return, it binds us together with all of the rest of life who are in the same boat as “we” are. This is comforting. For #56 The Total Perspective Vortex shows us that we are just another species of animal life on a single planet orbiting one of the 30 sextillion to 30 septillion stars in the universe. We should feel awe when contemplating infinity and extinction, and exposure to both of these concepts does aid our judgment and moral character in choosing actions that comport with the meaning of life.

Can we really choose? Do we have totally free will? Or has everything already been determined by prior physical states? From our subjective perspective, something in the middle makes the most sense. #9 Bigger Brother shows that observer effects lead to unpredictable actions in humans. In #21 Land of the Epiphens, we see how thinking can affect our choices, and so hard determinism is unproven. According to #31 Just So, however, there is nothing outside of our evolutionary history that influences us. And so we arrive, via #25 Buridan’s an Ass, at the conclusion that the chaos of small influences in a changing universe may have been required to cause some decisions, especially in early forms of life, but our evolved freedom to now choose influences from any past action ever known and any possible future ever imagined gives us practically infinite free will now, even if that freedom is ultimately constrained at the limits of what is possible.

Is artificial intelligence something we can include in this realm of possibility? Can we create metaphysical subjectivity in new forms of existence? The limitations of epistemology in a physical universe mean we’ll never know for sure, but according to #39 The Chinese Room, emotions, definitions for good and bad, and the ability to learn to meet a hierarchy of needs are probably enough to create strong artificial intelligence. They are all we have ourselves.

Psychology and all the related sciences of biology can then inform us about the physical basis for these mental things. In #18 Rationality Demands, we see that reasons and feelings are not separate, they influence one another. Further, according to #80 Hearts and Heads, there’s a bi-directional feedback loop between reasons and emotions. These connections aren’t always consciously known or personally understood, but the link is always there. Our job as philosophers is to improve the functioning of this system by improving the logic behind our evaluations so that our emotions motivate us in the right direction. But what then is the “right” direction? To answer that, we must have ethics and definitions for “good” or “bad.”

My Brief reflections – Again so much substantive material here. As for personal identity, I think that Hume’s bundle theory and/or Buddhism’s idea of no-self is about right. Clearly, we just don’t have identity the way most of us imagine; if indeed we have any real self at all. And there almost certainly is no kernel that is us.

As for free will, I’m not sure what Mr. Gibney means by ” practically infinite free will” but I’m skeptical. I’m not a hard determinist, but I think that to say we are genomes in environments is a nearly exhaustive explanation of what we are. Still, we are not rocks, and free choice (which needs to be defined carefully but which is very, very limited) is something that emerged along with consciousness. That is, unlike rocks which are completely determined (let’s forget quantum theory for the moment), we have some deliberative faculties because we are conscious.

As for strong AI, I see no reason whatsoever why consciousness can’t exist on substrates other than our biological brains. In fact, in an infinite universe, consciousness may exist in almost limitless forms.  Finally, I completely agree with Mr. Gibney on the interrelationship between reasons and emotions and that it is a moral imperative to improve our thinking. Quoting from Pascal:

“Let us endeavour then to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with ethics.)

Summary of Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Part 2 – Thought Experiments in Logic

My friend Ed Gibney has written on each and every one of the thought experiments in  Julian Baggini’s, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. He has also summarized his own 100 blog posts on Baggini’s 100 thought experiments in “What I learned from 100 Philosophy Thought Experiments.”

(Here is his summary of, and commentary on, Baggini’s thought experiments dealing with metaphysics. It follows from a previous post on thought experiments dealing with knowledge. I have added my own brief reflections at the bottom of the page.)

From Ed Gibney’s blog, reprinted with permission.
http://www.evphil.com/blog/what-i-learned-from-100-philosophy-thought-experiments

2. Logic

First off, as seen in #42 Take the Money and Run, logic puzzles alone don’t always teach us much. However, #6 Wheel of Fortune helps us see that our guts are bad at statistics. And to solve any paradox, like the one in #70 An Inspector Calls, you must carefully define unclear terms. #64 Nipping the Bud shows that simple answers to complex situations are always wrong in some way. And via #49 The Hole in the Sum of the Parts, it’s a “category mistake” to treat concrete things and abstract ideas as if they both existed as singular entities.

In #85 The Nowhere Man, we see that “meaningless statements” whose meanings seem clear is a contradiction in terms, but this is the kind of problem that was solved in mathematics by the invention of the concept of zero. Just as “the present King of France” or “the round square” don’t refer to anything, neither does the number zero, and so such linguistic oddities might, therefore, be labeled xero, as in, they are neither true nor false, but technically xero.

In another problem for the application of logic, we see in #16 Racing Tortoises that time cannot be slowed to a halt. This then shows us in #94 The Sorites Tax that the concepts of TRUE and FALSE were built on an ancient’s view of the universe as an unchanging and eternal thing. Once we discovered evolution in 1859, and the Big Bang was confirmed by background radiation in the 1960s, our cosmological revolutions should have led to logical revolutions as well. You cannot impose eternal and unchanging TRUE/FALSE logic on an evolving and expanding universe. I call this the Static-Dynamic Problem of philosophy. One can only apply logic to a static picture where TRUE or FALSE definitions can remain valid. Once you move to the dynamic realm, classical logic breaks down.

Nonetheless, as in #61 Mozzarella Moon, when mutually exclusive ideas mingle, they must either adapt or go extinct, and it would be much better for all involved if the changes didn’t have to come from violent conflict (might doesn’t make right), so it’s vital we figure out how to root out truly maladaptive thoughts by using logical reason alone. Sadly, as seen in #24 Squaring the Circle, irrational beliefs in gods are unaffected by rational arguments. And so we, therefore, must move to the subjective realm to understand emotions and other views about the nature of one’s reality.

My Brief Reflections – There is a lot here but I agree that as long as there is time, as long as there is a tomorrow, we cannot claim to know something definitively.  Still, I’d argue that if we can enhance our intelligence, merge with AIs, create a global brain, become transhuman, etc., then there is a possibility of adjudicating our disputes with reason alone.

(Next up – the thought experiments dealing with metaphysics.)