Archive for the ‘Cosmology’ Category

Edmund Husserl: phenomenology and intentionality

husserlEdmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) was an Austrian philosopher best known as the founder of the school of phenomenology. At university, Husserl studied mathematics, physics and astronomy – he would eventually go on to obtain a PhD for his thesis in mathematics “Contributions to the Calculus of Variations”. During this time, Husserl would be mentored by a former philosophy student of Franz Brentano.

Husserl travelled to Berlin in order to pursue his career in mathematics but would become more interested in philosophy. After his superior fell ill, Husserl returned to Vienna and started attending the lectures of Brentano. It was at this point Husserl started to become interested in the intentionality of the mental aspects of reality.

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction towards an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. This intentional in-existence is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. We could, therefore, define mental phenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an object intentionally within themselves.
— Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, edited by Linda L. McAlister (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 88–89.

One can see in the above quote the clear influence of Aristotle’s four causes, particularly final causality. However, Brentano stops short of Aristotle or Aquinas, who insist that all natural things have immanent teleology – for Brentano this exists only in mental phenomena.

Husserl continues naturally from Brentano in developing an apparatus for the study of these intentional mental phenomena, which he calls phenomenology – a science of consciousness. Phenomenology drives the study of the mind away from the hard sciences, which for Husserl was the study of physical phenomena that lack intentionality, because the methods of hard science are simply inappropriate. The phenomenological method is rather to examine examples of mental activity without the rigorous sets of presuppositions that methodological naturalism brings, and to determine what is the structure of conscious acts. In this way, phenomenology is fully an abandonment of the Cartesian method of seeing the world as objects interacting with each other.

Bertrand Russell: the move from idealism to realism

23351-004-4286d6b7Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) was a British philosopher most famous for his work the Principia Mathematica, which he completed with Alfred Whitehead. Continuing in the footsteps of those such as Frege, this work was an attempt to establish a logical basis for mathematics. He is considered one of the pioneers of the analytic school of philosphy.

In his youth, Russell was heavily influenced by his teachers, who favoured idealism. There was a preference for Hegel’s idealism, but Kantianism was also prevalent. However, Russell began to find problems with his idealistic thinking, stating that he began to see an undue psycologicism in his work.

Russell comes to this conclusion through his study of mathematics. While retaining Kant’s distinction between the a priori and the a posterioriRussell goes on the reject Kant’s idealistic contention that is the categories of the mind that determine what is a priori. Russell’s reason for this is that he believes that if human nature were to change, the a priori truths of mathematics would then also change, which he believed was absurd. Russell calls this “psychologism” because it is the Kantian tendency to confuse what is true with what one is psychologically conditioned to think is true.

But where does this rejection of idealism based on the reality of mathematical truths leave Russell? In my next post I will examine how Russell turned to a type of realism, specifically Platonic realism.

Gottlob Frege and modern logic


Gottlob Frege (1848 – 1925) was a German intellectual whose work in the fields of mathematics and logic led to the development of modern predicate logic and sowed the seeds for contemporary analytic philosophy. Frege was largely ignored by his peers, but was to become influential upon and through the next generation of popular thinkers such as Bertrand Russell and Whitehead.

The importance of Frege’s work arises from the inadequacy of Aristotelian and Stoic logic in dealing with mathematical statements, for example Euclid’s theory of the infinite amount of prime numbers. This was a problem for Frege because he contended that all the truths of arithmetic simply were truths that were both logical and analytic. In this way, Frege’s work is more in the rationalist tradition of Leibniz than in Kant’s transcendental idealism.

Frege set about clarifying logic by doing away with the typical subject/predicate analysis and replacing it with function and argument. Many will be familiar with a mathematical function such as f(x) = x + 3, where the function is equal to the numerical value of x + 3. Frege radically applied the function to arguments, such as “all cats have tails”, expressing them as f(x), where x is a cat, then x has a tail.

Fregean logic allowed the dissolution of the problem of multiple generality. For example, prior to Frege the distinction between statements such as “every person loves some city” and “every city is loved by some person” could only be represented artificially.

Alfred Whitehead: process philosophy and scientific materialism

Whitehead_PaintingAlfred Whitehead (1861 – 1947) was an English thinker best known in his early life for his work in the logic of mathematics, and in later life for his contribution to the metaphysical school of thought of process philosophy. Whitehead co-wrote with his former student Bertrand Russell the largely influential Principia Mathematica, one of the 20th centuries most important works in mathematical logic.

Whitehead’s philosophical works were, like most great thinkers, a response to a crisis. The early 20th century saw the full throes of Enlightenment optimism, in which the development of metaphysical systems was regarded as futile due to their lack of subjectivity to the mechanistic scientific method. However, Whitehead contended that rather than abandoning metaphyiscs entirely, the thinkers of his generation had instead imported a type of Cartesianism that went unscrutinised. He called this “scientific materialism”.

There persists … [a] fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread through space in a flux of configurations. In itself such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call ‘scientific materialism.’ Also it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World

Whitehead’s primary criticism of viewing reality, in the mechanistic tradition, as discrete and independent pieces of matter was that under this schema knowledge of causation is impossible. Whitehead argues that two things that are separate from each other in space simply cannot bear a causal relationship between them. Whitehead says that knowledge of a cause will give full knowledge of all its effects, but this is impossible if pieces of matter are truly distinct from one another. In essence, Whitehead is arguing that efficient causality is unintelligible if scientific materialism is true.

While the Aristotelian tradition turns to final causality to solve this problem, Whitehead instead jettisons the relevance of static things such as substance, form and matter. Whitehead like Hegel envisions reality as a type of organism or process, which consists in its most primary form as interrelated events. For Whitehead, the universe just is a series of occasions that are causally affected by all other occasions and the idea that there could be objects existing separate and distinct in space and time is deeply mistaken.

A brief argument for dualism

dualism-2Athanasius proposes the following cosmological argument in The Incarnation:

If everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.

And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.

But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.

Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

I thought it would be interesting to adapt this very unique argument into a syllogism for dualism (a less lofty conclusion than Athanasius’).

1) Matter is differentiated in various ways.

For example, an oxygen atom or a carbon atom and etc.

2) This differentiation is contingent and therefore requires a principle of its being.

There is a plurality of material things – that they are one way but they could be another.

3) The principle of differentiation cannot be physical because a physical principle of differentiation would require a physical explanation ad infinitum.

I have argued elsewhere that an essentially ordered series cannot proceed infinitely.

4) The principle of differentiation is therefore not physical.

Therefore dualism is true.

Hegel: being, becoming and dialectical idealism

becomingThe first problem discussed on this blog and arguably the primary problem of philosophy is the dialectical tension between being and becoming. Recall that the classical solution Plato offered was his dualistic theory of the forms, where he combined Heraclitus’ dynamic theory of reality as becoming and Parmenides static world of being into one.

Following the seminal work of Plato and Aristotle, the tacit assumption of philosophers was that being and becoming were diametrically opposed. However, some two thousand years after Plato, Hegel offers a novel and radically different solution to the classical dialectic.

Like Plato, Hegel would make two worlds one. At first glance, the theses of Heraclitus and Parmenides seem irreconcilable when being and becoming are opposed. However, Hegel’s insight was that that antithesis of being was not becoming but rather “non-being” or nothing. Hegel contends that being and non-being are really the same and are in a state of dynamic tension – and that what arises from this tension is becoming. While Plato placed primacy on the world of being in his theory of forms, Hegel contrarily emphasises the higher reality of becoming.

According to Hegel the essence of nature is process. Hegel expresses his idea of dialectical progress in its fullest in the suggestion that the evolution of reality is the result of the thinking of the Hegelian god. For Hegel, analysis of a thing reveals its internal contradictions. Through the dialectical process of being-nothingness-becoming, the initial simple idea of a thing is recast into a more complex understanding that dissolves the contradictions. In this way, the Hegelian world is one that gradually unfolds through dialectical analysis, progressively leading to a fuller understanding of the cosmos.

Kant’s transcendental arguments

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420Previously discussed was Kant’s critique of the rationalists and empiricists, as well as his solution of transcendental idealism and empirical realism. So Kant has offered a new synthesis, but what are his arguments that support his claims? Kant’s proof rests on his ideas regarding how synthetic a priori claims can be made.

Kant’s method was to use what is now called a transcendental argument to prove specific synthetic a priori propositions. These kind of arguments proceed deductively from a mental act or aspect of experience which is supposedly undeniable, and then attempt to validate the conditions for which said act or experience are necessary.

Kant, in the Refutation of Material Idealism, uses the following example; “There are objects that exist in space and time outside of me”. Kant says that this statement cannot be proven either a priori and a posteriori while being a necessary condition for knowledge of one’s own existence. Kant goes on to assert that it would be impossible for him to know of his own existence if there were not something alien and distinct from him with which to distinguish himself.

For example, the argument could be written syllogistically:

1. I am aware of my own existence.

2. To be aware of my own existence requires something other and distinct from me.

Therefore, there is something other and distinct from me.

Using his transcendental method, Kant argues that he has managed to salvage empiricism without resorting to the questionable metaphysics of the rationalists. Kant successfully put the mind at the centre of his novel philosophical system, arguing that we cannot understand the external world until we understand the mind that makes understanding the external world possible.