Archive for December 2005

Descartes, Hume, and God

December 15, 2005

In his Inquiry on Human Understanding, David Hume says that all mental events are either impressions or ideas.  Impressions are sensory experiences and emotions.  For instance, after you read my paper, you may drink from your blue cup of coffee.  While you do, you will see the cup – an impression – taste the coffee’s flavor – an impression – feel its heat – an impression – and upon drinking it, you will immediately feel some visceral satisfaction (before you even say “Mmmm”) with its taste – an impression.  Every impression happens instantly and in the moment.  You are not reflecting; rather, you are seeing or feeling, independent of thought.  So, impressions only happen in the present.  They are much more “lively,” as Hume says, than ideas, which are memories or reflections upon these experiences.

All ideas are either simple or complex.  Hume’s thoughts about simple ideas constitute the “copy principle.”  Simple ideas are not independent thoughts which we create ourselves; rather, they are mere copies of impressions.  For instance, you might recall the delicious taste of your coffee – that is a simple idea.  You might remember its taste, or its heat – these are also simple ideas.  You might also remember the satisfaction you felt when you drank the coffee – this, too, is simple.  These are all attempts to copy your past experience, to recreate the impression and enjoy it again.  Alas, these memories are nothing like the real thing.  They all happen in your mind, not in your eyes or in your mouth or in your heart.  Your sensory and emotional faculties are always registering what you feel here and now; they never play re-runs.  (If they did, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs!)

Complex ideas, however, are not mere attempts to copy impressions.  When you have a complex idea, you synthesize multiple simple ideas into a new and original thought.  For example, the thought “That was a good cup of coffee” is a complex idea because you aren’t just recalling the coffee’s taste; you are also assigning the property of goodness to it and stating that it had this property.  In fact, any sentence is a complex idea because it is an attempt to synthesize many impressions (in this case, coffee and satisfaction) into a single relationship and value judgment.  Just as complex ideas combine simple ideas in order to create sentences, so they can combine simple ideas into imaginary objects like unicorns and golden mountains.

What is most important to remember about Hume’s theory is that the human mind cannot make something from nothing.  All complex ideas are dependent on simple ideas, and these are dependent on impressions.  Even the person in the Missing Shade of Blue Exception, who produced a simple idea of a new tint of blue, had to be looking at an entire spectrum of other blues to make this observation.  All impressions are visceral and independent of thought; once we examine them with our minds, we are creating copies of the moment (simple ideas) and examining them (creating complex ideas).  A complex idea which does not have its basis in impressions is “chimerical,” as Leibniz would say.

In the Third Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Renée Descartes attempts to prove the existence of God.  He says that there are three different types of things which exist – “modes” (properties such as color, heat, etc.), physical beings (including humans), and God.  Of these three, God is the most perfect (and thus most “real”); physical beings are second, and modes are last.  No object can produce ideas which have more reality than they do; otherwise, they would be creating something out of nothing.  So a property cannot make us think about a human being or God, and a human being cannot produce in himself or in us the idea of God.  Because Descartes is a human being, he is finite and imperfect.  He should not be able to conceive of anything which is perfect and infinite, but he reflects on the Lord nonetheless.  Furthermore, this idea is not some mere fancy, like a square circle, because whereas a false object like a square circle is impossible to comprehend, Descartes claims to have a better and clearer idea of God than he does of anything else.  Therefore God, the only being who is on the same ontological plane as Himself, must have planted this idea inside Descartes.  Since this was never a sudden revelation on Descartes’s part, but rather, he had it all along, God must have imprinted this idea in him from the start, so it is an innate idea.  Because God has done these things, He must exist.

Would Descartes change his proof if he believed in Hume’s copy principle?  At first glance, Hume’s views comport with Descartes’s own.  Descartes’s assertion that an object cannot make us think about something which is on a higher ontological status than itself is similar to Hume’s claim that objects with physical existence must cause our simple ideas about these objects.  Ultimately, however, the copy principle and Descartes’s proof of God are inconsistent.  According to the copy principle, all simple and complex ideas are dependent upon impressions, and all impressions happen to us at a particular point in time.  Therefore, we cannot have innate ideas because these sorts of ideas are always inside us and are independent of any impression or sensory experience.  Descartes claims, however, that our idea of God is just such an innate idea.  Descartes’s conception of God must then be wrong.  Either his idea of God has its basis in actual impressions (which he denies), or it is a chimerical supposition which he invented.

Could Descartes amend his proof to agree with the copy principle?  Hume says that Descartes’s conception of God is a complex idea, a combination of all good traits (themselves complex ideas) and an extrapolation of them to an infinite degree.  Since complex ideas can include false ideas, if Descartes said he had such a complex idea, he would not be proving anything, his claims about the clearness and distinctness of the idea notwithstanding.  Furthermore, Descartes rejects this conception of his idea of God; he says that it is impossible for him to separate or remove any of God’s traits, so he must not have put them together in the first place.

Descartes could amend his proof and say that he had had a sudden, beatific vision of God with all his infinite properties, and it had a profound sensory and emotional effect on him.  Having this vision would be an impression; remembering it would be a simple idea, and explaining it to others would involve complex ideas.  The claim would be unfalsifiable, and it might not even be true, but it would at least agree with the copy principle.  To me, it seems possible that one could have such an impression of infinity.  I imagine it’s like the feeling one gets when one looks into an abyss.

Descartes could also say that God, because he is all-powerful, can make an exception to the copy principle.  If a mysterious shade of blue can thwart Hume, then an all-powerful being must be able to do so, as well.  Descartes’s claim is justified if God exists and is all-powerful, but this argument is not very sporting, and it is no longer a proof because the existence of God does not then follow necessarily from our ideas.

A Brief Discussion of the Tyrant

December 9, 2005

In Gorgias 466d-468e, Socrates argues that though unjust tyrants and orators can use their political influence to do whatever they wish, they do not actually have much power.  The argument is dependent upon Socrates’s teleological theory of ethics and his assertion that one must do the right thing under any circumstance.

P1. To have power is to be able to achieve what is good for you.

P2.  To hold their high social standing, unjust tyrants and orators must frequently engage in immoral actions.

P3. Each action is done not to achieve a specific purpose but to fulfill a larger goal.

P4.  Tyrants and orators do these actions because they think such deeds are good for them.

P5.  These actions damage their soul.

P6.  To damage your soul is the worst thing you can do to yourself.

P7.  These rulers are not achieving what is good for them.

Conclusion. Unjust tyrants and orators do not have much power.

Here are two potential objections which undermine the thesis:

O1. There is no such thing as a soul and no such thing as soul-damage.  So, people should do whatever will give them the most pleasure – in this case, maintaining high social standing.  (This is a strong argument especially for atheists who do not believe in punishments for wrongdoing in the afterlife.  Callicles uses it himself.)

O2.  Power is not the capacity to achieve a certain goal; it is the capacity to use certain means.  Because the tyrants and orators can use anyone in the city for their purposes, they are powerful, certainly more powerful than a morally just farmer would be.

I agree with Socrates that a demagogue is not as powerful as he seems, but I have different reasoning.  I think that Objection 2 is sound: power is neither a “good” nor a “bad” quality; it is neutral and measures a person’s capacity to affect others.  Rather, I believe that a demagogue is secretly weak because he is forced to commit these immoral actions again and again to hold his position.  This means that he does not have the same freedom of action as a legitimate ruler.  Furthermore, these evil acts, regardless of their effect on the tyrant’s soul, make enemies of the victim’s family and friends.  Eventually, a seething populace will repay these mounting debts in full.

Crito Revisited

December 9, 2005

In Plato’s Crito, Socrates argues that he ought not (and thus will not) escape from prison because doing this would cause him to harm others, and “one must never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him” (49c-d).  His arguments flabbergast Crito, but they do not impress me.  In this paper, I will first explicate his argument.  Then, I will add my own observations and critical examinations, both about the argument as a whole and about some of the specific premises.

Here is a schematic breakdown of Socrates’s argument:

Premise 1. If Socrates escapes from prison, he will harm others.

A. He will harm his friends because they will be put in danger of “exile, disenfranchisement and loss of property” (53a-b).

B.   He will harm the city of Athens.

……i. To break a just agreement with a person is to mistreat him (49e-50a).

……ii. Socrates has made a just agreement with the city of Athens.

…………a. The city has nurtured and educated him and has protected his parents with civic rituals like marriage (50d).

…………b. The city has given Socrates the opportunity to fight the charges against him in court (52a).

…………c. When Socrates came to adulthood, he made the free choice to remain in the city (50e-51a, 51c-e).  He clearly showed that the laws of the city of Athens were congenial to him; he never left it during seventy years of life, even on vacation, and he also raised his children there (52a-53a).

…………d. In return, Socrates must follow all of his country’s edicts and honor and obey them more than he honors and obeys his own parents (51a-52a).

……iii. Socrates will break his agreement with Athens if he leaves.

…………a. If Socrates leaves, he will be disregarding the city’s legal judgment against him.

…………b. As per condition P1.B.ii.d, he has an obligation to follow the city’s laws.

……iv. If Socrates leaves, he will destroy people’s respect for Athens’s legal judgments; none will follow the laws, and the city will perish (50b).

Premise 2. If Socrates stays in prison and accepts the penalty of death, he will not harm others.

A. He will not harm his children.

…… i. If his children remain in Athens, they will receive the same guidance and support that they would receive if Socrates were dead (54a).

……ii. If his children follow him on his journeys, they will be raised among strangers.  They are better off not being with him.

B.  He will not harm his friends.  Their reputations might damaged, but one should not worry about one’s reputation (47a-b).

C. He will not harm himself.

Premise 3. One must never harm others.

A. A person damages his soul when he harms others.

……i. Soul damage is the worst kind of damage a person can inflict on himself.

……(ii.) A person must always do what is in his own best interest.

(B.) In any moral choice, there must be some option which does not require harm to others.

Conclusion. Socrates should not escape from prison.

*Parentheses denote hidden premises.

Definitions of Terms. One general difficulty with Socrates’s argument is that he never explicates his most important terms, “doing harm” and “committing wrongdoing.”  As per 49b, to do harm, to inflict wrongdoing, and to mistreat someone are equivalent, but Socrates gives us no standards for evaluating an action to test for these things.  It is most certainly harmful to inflict soul-damage on a person, since it is harmful to inflict soul-damage on oneself, but what about bodily damage?  In Crito 47c, Socrates acknowledges that bodily damage is harm, but this contradicts Apology 41c-42a, in which he claims that “a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death” and that his impending death will not harm him.  These equivocations make the meanings of his arguments unclear.  Statements such as “Neither to do wrong nor to return a wrong is ever right, nor is bad treatment in return for bad treatment” seem tautological rather than profound (Crito 44d).  To do wrong is to do what one should not do, and vice versa.

Of course, it is not particularly surprising that we have these difficulties with the argument.  Socrates, after all, spends most of the early dialogues trying to precisely define similar abstract terms, like “justice” and “courage,” and not only failing but confusing his colleagues.  Whenever the philosopher desires specific moral guidance, he turns not to reason but to his “divine sign,” akin to a conscience, which warns him whenever he is about to do wrong (Apology 40a-c).  It is admirable that Socrates is so devoted to this conscience-like divine sign, but it is an emotional, not a rational faculty.

P1.A.  Since Athens has a democratic legal system, Socrates’s friends would presumably be put in danger because their reputations would be damaged.  This contradicts Crito’s argument that Socrates will damage his friends’ reputation if he does not escape (44b-c, 45e-46a).

P1.B.  This is a rather complex argument, and it could exist independently of the whole.  For this paper, we will relate it to soul-damage as per P1.B.i.

P1.B.i. Plato refutes this position himself in Republic I.  When Cephalus says that justice is repaying one’s debts, Socrates gives a counterexample of a sane man who loans weapons to his friend (331c-d).  This is a just agreement between two consenting parties.  The sane man then loses his mind, however, and while he is in his condition, he asks the friend to return the weapons.  The friend wants to avoid wrongdoing and to save both men from harm, so he does not honor his friend’s request.

Therefore, one is not always obligated to meet a just agreement.  There are times when doing so would lead to harm.  In this situation, Socrates could justifiably argue to himself and to potential students that the city of Athens was like the sane man.  While it was healthy, it entered into a just social contract with Socrates.  Under the influence of numerous military defeats and extended moral corruption, Athens then lost its mind.  Socrates, a wise man, sought to treat the ills of the people by teaching them philosophy, but he was too late to stem the tide.  Instead, blowhards like Miletus took control of the government, used oratory to turn the people against Socrates, and then, like the insane man who wanted his weapons returned, called in his debts.  Socrates could then refuse to honor his contract, thus preventing harm to the state (embarrassment) and to himself (death).

P1.B.iv.  This is a compelling argument because a legitimate state must preserve the rule of law, but the facts do not corroborate Socrates’s analysis of this particular situation.  Crito’s protestations that Socrates’s escape would improve his friends’ reputations and would come at a minimal monetary cost indicate that the Athenian legal system is already corrupt beyond repair (44e-46a).  Any state in which inmates are expected to escape from prison must not be serious about sentencing or criminal justice.  Is this the same Athens to which Socrates made his contract, or is that city dead?

Indeed, it never seems like the Athenians want to execute Socrates.  His death would be (and was) an embarrassment for the city.  True, they prefer his demise to a fine of thirty minas, but Socrates has already removed the most amenable options from them.  He will not accept imprisonment because he does not want to live in subjection to any man (37c).  He acknowledges that the jury would probably accept his exile, but he thinks it is unseemly for a man of his age to spend his life as a vagabond, wandering from city to city.  Nor does he desire to live in silence in the city because the god has called him to teach young men and to examine life, and he must do this as long as he is alive (Apology 22e-23b, 37e-38a; Crito 52c).  Socrates’s objections to imprisonment and exile are based on personal preference, not the desire to do right.  It is strange that a person so committed to helping others would have these reservations.

Socrates’s objection to the third potential punishment creates another problem with his argument: the god has commanded him to always seek after the truth; shouldn’t he continue to do so as long as possible?  By this standard, exile would be his best option.  Then he could take his message across the countryside and teach people from other cities about philosophy.  When people ask him why he left Athens, he could respond, like Aristotle did later, that the city had grown too foolish to appreciate his wisdom.  Nor should the philosopher worry about how unseemly it would look for an old man to be a vagabond.  Some Athenians, like Callicles in Gorgias, note that Socrates already cuts a ridiculous figure, creeping about city corners until the dead of night, speaking of philosophy with young boys (485a-e).  Besides, according to P2.B, one shouldn’t worry about one’s reputation, anyway.

P2.A.  This is a response to Crito’s argument that Socrates is abandoning his three sons, two of whom are children, even though he has an obligation to protect them (45d).  In my opinion, Socrates has a weak case.  He is quick to create an implied social contract with the state, so he should create one for his own family.  When he chose to marry and have children, he consented to do whatever he could to protect his wife’s and children’s health and well-being.  He owes his sons more than raw education; he also owes them support, both financially and emotionally.  He needs to be an authority figure in his household and to care for his wife.  Socrates may have great friends, but they are not directly related to his sons and thus will not feel particular compulsion to care for them.  His children will be worse off without a living, breathing father to watch over them.

P2.B.  This is a response to Crito’s argument that if Socrates does not escape, people will think Socrates’s friends are cowards (44b-c, 45e-46a).  The philosopher responds that this would be an important consideration for the common man, but the just man should not worry about them; instead, he should focus entirely on doing right.  The majority can inflict evils upon good men, but it cannot inflict soul-damage (44d).

This premise apparently contradicts P1.A, Socrates’s argument that his escape would damage his friends’ reputations and put them in danger.  Socrates could avoid this contradiction if he amends P2.B.  He could say that maintaining a good public reputation, though not as important as maintaining one’s soul, is still a desirable action which improves one’s happiness.  So, one should seek to improve one’s reputation when doing so does not conflict with improving one’s soul.  Besides, Socrates’s escape is an unjust action, so his friends will incur soul-damage if they are accomplices, and this is even worse than reputation damage.

P2.C. This is a problematic premise.  It seems reasonable to say that capital punishment harms the punished because a violent death is a terrible and painful thing.  Socrates dissents from this view; he argues in Gorgias that physical punishment is not harm if it is administered to correct an unjust person (475e-479d).  However, he does not believe that he is guilty of any of the charges in Apology, and he curses the jurists who sentence him to death (38c).  Thus, the sentence against him must not be just, and it must not correct him.  It is like the scene in Gorgias in which Socrates expresses his fears what he would have to suffer if he faced a jury of child-like men who listened to the best orator rather than the best argument (Gorgias 521d-522d).

In response to this objection, Socrates would say that he does not consider physical damage to be “harm.”  In Apology 41c-42a, the philosopher claims that “a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death.”  Though the jury thinks it is harming him, it is doing no such thing.  His divine sign has given him peace about the coming events, and so he should not fear anything which is to come (40a-c).  It is impossible to corroborate Socrates’s argument or to refute it because no one who is alive has experienced death.  Thus, no one can evaluate whether it is better than life (thus a “benefit”) or worse than it (thus a “harm.”)  Socrates has not experienced death, either, so this statement is an unfounded assumption based on intuition.  It is outside the grounds of philosophical argument.  The nebulous definition of “harm” (doesn’t this qualify as one?) further weakens the argument.

P3. Socrates takes an extremely strict interpretation of this premise.  Whereas most people would agree that one must never do wrong to another person willingly, Socrates says that it is “in every way harmful and shameful” for a person to wrong another, regardless of circumstances and regardless of intent (49a-b).

Common sense seems to invalidate this claim.  On an emotional level, people hurt each other people’s feelings every day without intending it; for instance, if a girl is in love with a boy, and he does not ask her to Prom, she will feel hurt, but this certainly is not the boy’s fault.  On a physical level, people, especially athletes, accidentally hurt each other often.  Socrates might respond that these cases are trivial, but he does not define “harm,” so this is an open question.

Furthermore, there is the problem of self-defense.  A cursory reading of the text implies that Socratic ethics do not allow self-defense because one cannot do harm under any circumstances, even retaliation.  This reading does not entail a contradiction, but it does have undesirable consequences for ethics.  If self-defense is not allowed, then we must abandon the world to aggressors.  Evil men would take over everything because good men could not stop them.

This reading is incorrect.  As Socrates notes in the Gorgias passage above, physical punishment is beneficial if it is inflicted to correct a wrongdoer.  Under this corrected ethical theory, a just man could attack, defeat, even kill an aggressor in order to cease his wrongdoing and bring him to justice.  This interpretation is quite reasonable.  It also evades problems with our own ethical theories such as the justification of collateral damage during war.

Socrates also faces assaults on his argument from “young lions” such as Polus and Callicles of the Gorgias and Thrasymachus of Republic I, all of whom claim that people should not worry about harming others; instead, they should attempt to gain as much for themselves as possible (Gorgias 470a).  These men argue that retaliation is the primary source of social stability; if people could do whatever they wanted, they would commit all sorts of atrocities with impunity.  A prime example is Gyges, the Lydian Shepherd who found a ring of invisibility and used it to terrorize his city and to overthrow the king (Republic II 359c-360d).  To these writers, there is no such thing as soul-damage, so a person’s actions will only harm other people, not himself.

Socrates would have great difficulty responding to this argument because ancient Greeks were egoists.  No matter how much he repeats his platitudes about how dangerous it is to harm the soul, his audience will be reluctant to believe him because the young lions’ theory sounds much more attractive (479e).  Socrates must not only prove that his moral code is correct; he must prove that it is the best one for people to follow.  He does not accomplish this goal in Gorgias, so he tries again in Republic.  There, he argues that an individual and a city are analogous.  A well-ordered city balances all its appetites and directs itself towards achieving the good.  If all the people in a city were simply concerned with taking whatever was best for them, the city would fail.  A person, as a microcosm of a city, must also order his life well and pursue the good.

This is a compelling argument, but it is still too abstract to be totally convincing.  The egoists might claim that they have only felt fulfilled when they were doing what was best for themselves.  (Socrates might then reply that their consciences must be deformed; he at least is able to appeal to Polus’s conscience (477b).)  Though I am sympathetic to Socrates’s point of view, I must admit that he reaches an impasse with these young lions.

P3.A.i. The philosopher’s contention that soul-damage is the worst kind of harm that one can receive is a beautiful sentiment, and people of many religions would agree with it.  By philosophical standards, however, it is an unfounded assertion.  If souls exist, and if they last forever as Socrates claims, then it would be sensible to say soul-damage is the worst because it sticks the longest.  There is no proof for the soul, however.  It is intrinsically immaterial and unobservable.  We don’t understand how it relates to the body.  Socrates often compares a person with a damaged soul to an athlete who is out of shape.  We’ll have to take his word for it.

This premise will strike a chord with people who already believe in souls, but Socrates does not compile any evidence to prove its veracity.  A criminal, who takes whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, already lacks piety and a sense of justice.  It is doubtful that he will be more sympathetic to souls, which he can’t see or feel or understand.

P3.A.ii. Socrates probably does not mention P3.A.ii because egoism was the default ethical system of Ancient Greek culture.  All Plato’s readers would assume this premise.  Deontologists would strike down this premise, arguing that one must do what is right no matter what the circumstances or the effect on self.  Utilitarians would argue that the greatest good for the community, not the greatest good for self, should be the goal of all actions.

P3.B. This is a hidden premise, but it is essential for the soundness of P3.  If Socrates can never harm others, but he has no available choices which protect all people from harm, then he is paralyzed, and his moral theory is a failure.  This is a necessary premise, but some, especially consequentialists, could justifiably call it unrealistic.  Given the vast number of choices people have to make each day, it is likely they’ll have to take the lesser of two evils once in a while.  Consider the now-famous “ticking time bomb” story.  If police are holding a terrorist who knows the location of a bomb which will destroy New York City in an hour, should they torture him to draw out the information?  Whereas torture (meant to gain information, not to correct) harms the terrorist, the explosion of the bomb would harm millions of people.  Yet, Socrates is committed to never doing wrong.  What shall he do?  No matter which route he chooses, someone is going to suffer – the terrorist or the citizens.  Socrates must step outside his ethics and say either that one must never do wrong willingly or that that one must do whatever constitutes the least harm to others.

In conclusion, all three of Socrates’s premises – (1) by escaping, he will harm others; (2) he will not harm others if he stays in Athens, and (3) one must never harm another, are quite problematic.  It seems to me that if he escaped, he would help both his enemies and his friends, and that he should revise his stricture against harming another to say that one must never willingly harm another.  If the philosopher had jousted with a thinker more advanced than Crito, well-meaning fool, he would have lived much longer.

Cambio en la vida de los ancianos

December 3, 2005

La vida ha cambiado mucho para los ancianos en los últimos veinte años.  Como la tecnología, el cuidado medico, y la sanidad pública han mejorado mucho, la expectativa de vida es la más alta en la historia del mundo.  Por eso, hay más ancianos que están viviendo hoy que en alguna época de humanidad.  Esta población es una minoría grande con influencia política y social.  Al mismo tiempo, nuestra sociedad ha cambiado mucho; ya no anima ni dedicación de la familia ni respeto para los ancianos.  En este ensayo, primero escribiré sobre la nueva situación de los ancianos.  Entonces, explicaré la condición de sus derechos y sus obligaciones.  Finalmente, trataré de las obligaciones de los miembros menores de la familia a sus abuelos.

Los cambios en la vida de los ancianos han influido sus estilos de vida y las instituciones sociales.  Como la calidad de vida de los viejos ha mejorado, pueden participar en más actividades con su tiempo libre, como viajar, ejercitar, mirar películas, leer libros, y participar en grupos cívicos.  Algunos, como el antiguo Presidente Bush, ¡saltan en caída libre!  En cuanto a instituciones, muchos negocios (especialmente de la medicina) comercian especialmente con los mayores porque tienen necesidades únicas y dinero para gastos personales.  Este cambio demográfico ha influido la política, también.  En los Estados Unidos, los activistas de la Asociación Americana de Personas Jubiladas, un sindicato para personas que tienen más que cincuenta años, luchan cada día para derechos humanos y leyes favorables para los viejos.

Aun así, la vida del anciano no es solamente divertimiento.  Muchos se sienten abandonados porque sus amigos han muerto y sus familias les han olvidado.  En otras épocas, los viejos vivían en la casa de sus hijos, pero ahora, muchos hijos no quieren sacrificar por sus padres.  En cambio, ponen sus padres en residencias de la tercera edad.  Algunas de éstas son lugares terribles para vivir porque la sanidad es mala, o los trabajadores son negligentes, o las familias de los abuelos nunca les visitan.  He visitado algunas de estas casas.  Huelen a muerte.

Los mayores tienen derechos importantes, como igualdad según la ley.  Merecen respeto de los jóvenes (cada persona menor debe llamar un anciano “Señor” o “Señora”) y cuidado de sus familias.  Si no tienen familias, el gobierno local necesite cuidarlos.  Las comunidades deben hacerlos sentir bienvenidos a los ancianos, y por eso deben establecer programas y acontecimientos para viejos.  Los ancianos tienen obligaciones, también.  Necesitan ser buenos ciudadanos; por ejemplo, deben votar, asistir a acontecimientos de sus comunidades, y dar su sabiduría a los jóvenes.  Tienen la responsabilidad contribuir a sus familias, también; les encantan a los nietos especialmente los regalos de sus abuelos.  Si viejos dice historias cómicas de su vida a sus nietos, los nietos las recordarán y las dirán a sus amigos e hijos.

Algunos hijos y nietos están reacios a comunicar con sus abuelos porque piensan que los aburrirán.  Por eso, no les visitan o les hablan.  ¡Es una tristeza!  Es la responsabilidad del hijo asegurar que las vidas de sus padres siempre son confortables.  Necesita cuidarlos en recursos financieros.  Debe amarlos y apoyarlos, también; el amor es más importante que el dinero.  Un anciano merece dignidad.  Su familia no debe dejarlo.

En todo, hay mucho a cambiar respecto a los abuelos.  Es bueno que haya más oportunidades para los viejos, pero es triste que muchos ancianos sean solitarios.  Merecen más deferencia.  Todas de las personas en nuestra sociedad, incluso humanitarios, estudiantes, y labradores, necesitan recordar que serán viejos en el futuro.  Influyen sus menores mucho, y si no respetan a sus mayores, sus menores no los respetarán tampoco.  Si hijos hubieran sacrificado más para sus padres, no habríamos necesitado ni Seguro Social ni residencias de la tercera edad.  Los ancianos todavía son miembros importantes a nuestra sociedad.

Berkeley and Extension

December 3, 2005

In Berkeley’s “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,” Philonous, speaking for Berkeley, argues that extension and all other properties of objects are mind-dependent.  Hylas, his counterpart, takes up the position that objects have two types of qualities: primary qualities, which are mind-independent (i.e. they are inherent to the object, and the object would have them if even if no one could perceive them), and secondary qualities, which are mind-dependent (i.e. they would not exist without the mind).  He says that extension (i.e. taking up space in the physical world) is a primary quality.  This conception is similar to Locke’s resemblance thesis, which states that our ideas of primary qualities resemble properties with mind-independent existence, but our ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble anything with mind-independent existence.  The two theories are not identical, however, because Hylas does not explain Locke’s definition of an idea: an idea is either any physical sensation or any mental reflection upon that sensation.  Locke agrees with Berkeley that all ideas are mind-dependent, but they differ about universals (i.e. ideas which many people can share).  Locke believes in them, and Berkeley does not.  This is an important distinction which Berkeley ignores in the p423-424 argument.

To explain that extension is perception-dependent, Philonous introduces a thought experiment centered on a mite (i.e. a very, very small animal with sensory organs).  For this animal to survive, it must be able to perceive objects in proportion to the size of its own body.  Because it is much smaller than a human, an object like a marble, which is tiny to us, would be gargantuan to the mite.  Furthermore, because the mite’s eyes are made of different material than a human’s, the world would also look different in other ways (color, texture, etc.).  To Berkeley, an idea is nothing but a sensory representation of a particular object from some particular point of view with respect to that object.  Thus, the human’s and mite’s ideas are similar because they are both sensory perceptions, but they differ because they come from different points of view.

Philonous then argues that Hylas’s opinions entail a contradiction.  He reminds Hylas that it is possible for water to feel warm to one hand and cold to the other, and an object cannot have contradictory properties, so the difference in heat must exist in the mind alone.  For this reason, “secondary” qualities are mind-dependent.  In the same way, an object can appear to have “little, smooth, and round” properties to one perceiver and contradictory “large, uneven, and angular” properties to another.  A human could even have both these ideas if he examines the object with a bare left eye and a microscope on his right eye.  Furthermore, an object appears small from far away and large from close up.  By the definition of an “inherent” property (see “primary” quality explanation above), one cannot change the property without changing the object itself.  Because the perceivers’ evaluations of extension are contradictory, and because an object cannot have contradictory properties, the difference in extension must exist in the mind alone.  Therefore, the mind is the measure of extension, and this property is mind-dependent.  Each perceiver has a different point of view; each person’s idea of an object’s extension is unique, and there is no “correct” or “real” extension.  The difference between primary and secondary qualities was in mind-dependence, and since both are mind-dependent, they are identical.

Berkeley’s argument refutes Hylas, but it does not refute Locke.  Since Locke believes in universals, he can say that general ideas which all people have, not specific ideas, define an object.  Perceivers may all have different opinions about the specific, determinate nature of the extension of a marble (how much space it takes up), but all people can understand that it has some determinable extension (that it takes up space).  Berkeley has proven that there are contradictions in determinate extension, but the determinable is what is actually inherent to an object.  (In response, Berkeley, in p425-426, denies the existence of determinables on the grounds that it is impossible to abstract a determinable quality out of an object.  Whenever we try to do so, we end up thinking about determinates, as well; since these two “different” traits always coexist, they actually are one and the same.)