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Voorkant Boulter 'The rediscovery of common sense philosophy' Stephen BOULTER
The rediscovery of common sense philosophy
Hampshire-New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007;
ISBN-13: 978 02 3000 2463

(ix) Two tribes

"Our interest in Thales lies rather in a curious but revealing anecdote mentioned almost in passing in a Platonic dialogue, an anecdote in which our hero is humiliated by a common barmaid."(ix)

"But there can be no doubt that this anecdote is meant to illustrate Plato’s considered views on the nature of philosophy and philosophers. It also neatly captures the tone and tenor of the uneasy relationship that obtains between philosophers and the common run of mankind, an uneasiness stretching back from the very beginnings of the discipline to the present day. Between those two utterly distinct tribes of humanity, says Plato, there can be only mutual contempt."(x)

"After all, the common run of man is lost in a world of insubstantial shadows, while the philosopher alone sees the world as it truly is."(x)

"There have always been philosophers who have instinctively felt that the pre-theoretical views of the common man had at least some claim upon them. But relatively few have thought that a deep respect for such views was an essential prerequisite for success in one’s philosophical endeavours."(xiv)

Voorbeelden: Aristoteles, de Scottish School of Common Sense Philosophy (oa Thomas Reid), G.E. Moore

"A common theme running through these efforts is the attempt to capitalise where possible on the work of Aristotle, as well as developments in evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology."(vx)

(1) 1. The Metaphilosophy of Common Sense

CS-filosofen zijn vaak iconoclasten, scherpe standpunten, harde uitspraken. Maar wat is filosofie globaal?

"In the absence of very strong evidence to the contrary, it is safer to assume that there is at least a family resemblance to be uncovered here, and perhaps even a focal sense of the term “philosophy” on which various analogical senses are dependent. If there is no such focal sense or family resemblance, then the term “philosophy” is a mere flatus vocis."(3)

[Precies. Dit is toch een heel andere kijk op de activiteiten van de filosofie dan bij Williamson, die daar eindeloos moeilijk over zit te doen.]

"Surely one cannot say just anything one likes about the nature of philosophy. For all that “philosophy” is a contested concept, it is not an entirely subjective matter. Presumably some accounts are better than others, and the criteria by which such judgements are made ought to be identified and brought out explicitly. I begin then by taking what amounts to yet another step back from my primary task by sketching in a cursory fashion some purely formal criteria I think any plausible account of the nature of philosophy ought to satisfy."(4)

--Het moet in lijn liggen met waarover de grote filosofen hebben nagedacht.
--Het moet in lijn liggen met de actuele praktijk van wat die filosofen deden.
--Het moet niet te ver afliggen van de verwachtingen van de onderlegde niet-filosoof.
--Het moet bijdragen aan de algemene intellectuele ontwikkeling en economie:

"I have suggested, then, that an account of the nature of the philosophical enterprise is plausible if (a) it is largely consistent with the metaphilosophical insights of the discipline’s greatest practitioners; (b) it is consistent with the actual practice of the discipline’s greatest practitioners; (c) it is not wildly at odds with the expectations of educated non-philosophers and (d) it identifies a distinct role for the discipline within the general intellectual economy."(7)

[Tamelijk vaag, desondanks.]

"The account of philosophy provided here is based primarily on Aristotle’s remarks in the Topics, Posterior Analytics, Nicomachean and Eudaimon Ethics, and Metaphysics. But it also builds explicitly on the views of modern philosophers, such as Gilbert Ryle and Wilfred Sellars."(8)

"In accordance with my fourth criterion, namely, that any account of philosophy ought to be able to identify the, or at least a, distinctive role for philosophy in the general intellectual economy, I begin with the general aim of philosophical activity in its broadest sense. Trying always to avoid the twin dangers of pomposity on the one hand and undue understatement on the other, it is not implausible to suggest that the end of the discipline throughout most of its history has been to provide a description and explanatory account of the nature of the Universe and the place of human beings within it. It is this aspect of philosophy which forever ties it to the so-called “Big Questions” – much to the embarrassment of most professional philosophers and the delight of undergraduates. What distinguishes philosophy from religion and myth, which share similar aims, is (i) philosophy’s commitment to employing reason, evidence and argument alone in the pursuit of this goal, (ii) the level of abstraction attained in the descriptions and explanatory accounts and (iii) its desire for comprehensiveness."[mijn nadruk](8)

"... sub-disciplines are devoted to developing descriptions and accounts of (a) the kinds of things to be met with in the Universe, and their most general features (ontology and metaphysics); (b) the most general features of the mind and its relation to the body (philosophical anthropology and philosophy of mind); (c) how human beings come to know and understand something of themselves, the natural world, and whatever else the Universe may contain (epistemology) and finally (d) how human beings ought to comport themselves, and what we ought to strive for, both privately and collectively (theories of action, theories of the good, ethics and politics)."(8-9)

"In short, I am claiming that all genuine philosophical activity, in whatever form it takes, can ultimately be traced back to a co-ordination problem, and that it is these co-ordination problems that provide the focal sense of the term “philosophy”."(18)

"... surely grown men have more pressing concerns to attend to than proving, for example, that I know that I’m not an insect, and the like. Taking time to prove what no one has any reason to doubt is at best a waste of time, and at worst, the high road to philosophical disaster."(20)

"With these preliminaries in mind I can now present examples of common sense beliefs as I intend to use the term. These have been gleaned mainly from the works of Reid and Moore. The first ten are found in Moore’s first lecture in Some Main Problems of Philosophy entitled “What is Philosophy?”

1. There are in the Universe an enormous number of material objects (e.g. our bodies, other people, animals, plants, stones, mountains, rivers, seas, planets, tables, chairs, etc.)
2. Human beings have minds inasmuch as we have a variety of mental states, including acts of consciousness. We see, hear, feel, remember, imagine, think, believe, desire, dislike, will, love and so on.
3. All material objects are located in space inasmuch as they are located at a distance from each other.
4. Mental acts are attached to – contained within – certain kinds of bodies (human bodies and perhaps those of the higher animals).
5. Mental acts are ontologically dependent upon bodies.
6. Most material objects have no acts of consciousness attached to them.
7. Material objects can and do exist when we are not conscious of them.
8. There was a time when no act of consciousness was attached to any material body.
9. All objects and acts of consciousness are in time.
10. We know (1)–(9) to be true.

From Reid, the following set of beliefs can be extracted
11. I think, I remember, I reason, and, in general, I really perform all those operations of the mind of which I am conscious.
12. My well functioning memory is reliable if not infallible when concerned with recent events.
13. By attentive reflection a man can have a clear and certain knowledge of the operations of his own mind.
14. All the thoughts I am conscious of, or remember, are the thoughts of one and the same thinking principle, which I call myself, or my mind.
15. There are some things which cannot exist by themselves, but must be in something else, as qualities, or attributes.
16. In most operations of the mind there is an object distinct from the operation itself. I cannot see without seeing something.
17. We ought to take for granted, as first principles, things wherein we find a universal agreement, among the learned and the unlearned, in the different nations and ages of the world. (Among these he includes beliefs in material objects; that every effect has a cause; that there is a right and a wrong in human conduct; he also includes passages concerning the common structure of language as an indicator of commonly held beliefs.)
18. Moral judgements are true or false."(29-30)

[Hm, Moore is veel acceptabeler dan Reid. Ik vind die van Reid of niets toevoegen of op bepaalde punten discutabel en dus niet erg common sense.]

"The principal contention of this chapter is that any philosophical argument, thesis or system which is inconsistent with any of this set of common sense beliefs is almost certainly (perhaps quite certainly) wrong, and that no lasting philosophical achievement is to be expected if these beliefs are not accommodated within that philosophical effort. The defence of this contention is the business of the next chapter."(31)

(32) 2. The “Evolutionary Argument” and the Metaphilosophy of Common Sense

"But the tide may be turning. Now one increasingly finds appeals to what look like common sense principles and beliefs cropping up in respectable works in virtually all sub-branches of the discipline, although this move is usually employed quietly and with little fanfare, often cloaked in different terminology, and sometimes without complete conviction.[zie noot 8] But while the common sense philosopher will welcome this trend, important questions remain unanswered. If a respect for common sense has been rekindled in the breast of at least some philosophers, what has not emerged in the interim is a systematic justification of this sort of appeal to common sense. The stand-offs between revisionists and common sense philosophers remain without a principled resolution. And as recent history shows, when left to our own devises we philosophers have proved unable to break these stalemates decisively. Indeed it begins to look as though progress on this matter will be achieved only if an external arbiter is brought in. It is precisely in order to break these sorts of stalemates that I look to draw upon resources from outside the field of philosophy."(36)

Noot 8

"Frank Jackson (2000) makes frequent appeals to what he calls “the folk”, and the assumption that the folk are not badly confused. E. J. Lowe also takes common sense intuitions seriously when evaluating philosophical arguments and positions (2002, cf., pp. 48, 52). But it is clear that he is not entirely sure about this. For example, regarding essentialism he writes “ at least [it] has common sense on its side, for what that is worth” (ibid., p. 114). In his work (1997) Michael Devitt assumes that common sense is philosophically respectable and ought to be treated as a default position. Lawrence Bonjour’s (1991) also contains as clear an example of arguments exemplified by A2 and B2 as one could wish. Peter Railton in his work (1996) quite consciously and explicitly, and also without explanation, insists that philosophical theorising cannot stray too far from what common sense will accept, and that revisionism is to be looked upon with suspicion."(203-204)

"The gist of this early version of EA is as follows: Our ordinary, everyday, common sense beliefs, concepts and thinking strategies have proved their worth over the millennia in the work-a-day field of action. It is these beliefs, so the story goes, that made it possible for human beings to cope with the diverse and variegated ancestral environment in which our species first evolved. If these beliefs were not true, or at least approximately so, and these concepts not at least roughly adequate, then, we are told, human beings would have quietly slipped off this stage and into oblivion. The central claims here are that our belief formation systems and general cognitive apparatus are adaptive, and could not be so if their products, namely acts of perception, beliefs, concepts and thinking strategies were not at least approximately reliable, true, adequate and rational. And when used by evolutionary epistemologists, the conclusion drawn is usually rather strong, to the effect that natural selection more or less guarantees that most of our beliefs will be true, and most of our thinking strategies rational.
Very often the proponents of this version of EA are so confident of its virtues that they hardly bother to flesh it out any further. Indeed, the intuitive plausibility of the premises is felt to be so high that, as Stich (1990, p. 55–56) has complained, often very little in the way of argument is provided for them. Quine, for instance, appears quite happy to write, “creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die out before reproducing their kind” (1968, p. 126) and more or less leave it at that. In a similarly confident vein, Dennett writes that “natural selection guarantees that most of an organism’s beliefs will be true, most of its strategies rational” (1987, p. 75).11 And such confidence in evolutionary considerations is not confined to card-carrying naturalists like Quine and Dennett."(37)

"However, while some have been only too sure of the argument’s soundness, others have been quick to point out what they take to be its fatal flaws. For example, many have noted that our belief formation systems are far from “optimal”, a view backed up by numerous studies demonstrating that human beings are inveterately prone to making certain kinds of cognitive errors. The Wason 4-card test is a case in point. But the list of cognitively non-optimal behaviours is depressingly long. This line of attack forces one to recognise just how fallible human cognition is despite it being an adaptation. In another line of argument, it is alleged that some false beliefs are in fact adaptive, and consequently there is no logically safe inference from a belief’s being adaptive to that belief’s being true (Sage, 2003). There are also fears in some quarters that EA leads to unpalatable conclusions, for example dualism in the philosophy of mind, or realism in metaethics. But perhaps the most pressing concern for philosophers has been the charge that EA begs all the interesting question because it assumes precisely what is at issue in most philosophical contexts (Quine, 1975; Rorty 1979; Clark 1987; O’Hear 1997; Wright 2002). It is with thes objections in mind that I sketch a more fully worked out version of EA."(38)

"The claim here is that animals have cognitive systems and mental states in order to be able to act, and that a necessary condition of successful action is the having of cognitive systems and mental states. That action and cognition co-evolved in mutual inter-dependence is a central claim of this version of EA, a claim shared with a number of substantial ongoing research projects."(40)

Noot 14

"This assumption concerning the link between perception and action is taken as central to a number of research projects. It is central to Godfrey-Smith (1991) and Sterelny’s (2003) views on the evolution of human cognition in general. It is also a guiding assumption of Anderson’s cognitive psychology (1991). It is central also to a number of projects in the science of vision. The assumption that perception and action evolved together is found in Gibson’s ecological approach to vision (1979); in the biological approach of Maturana and Varela (1980, 1987); in the enactive approach to vision of Thompson, Palacios and Varela (1992); and Freeman’s view of brain processes (1975; Freeman and Skarda, 1985; Skarda and Freeman, 1987)."(205)

"... Godfrey-Smith’s highly regarded environmental complexity hypothesis ..."(41)

"13. Beliefs about the world that accurately represent those states of affairs in the world are, on the whole, better guides to action than are false beliefs."(42)

"There is an important implication here regarding the application of EA, particularly with respect to science and its often counter-intuitive claims. First, common sense intuitions have a restricted sphere of competence for the reasons just outlined, and so common sense must give way to science on matters outside this limited sphere. But it is also important to realise that science and common sense do not come into conflict as often as one might think. For example, while it is true that physics employs counter-intuitive views of space and time, there is no conflict here with common sense."(43)

"However, regrettable it may seem to some of us, human beings were simply not built for philosophical reflection, and philosophical reflection has never been the proper function of our cognitive apparatus. Philosophical ability is at best a by-product of belief formation systems which themselves were selected for reasons having little or nothing to do with philosophical concerns. A corollary to this is that neither philosophical ability nor philosophical incompetence per se influences positively or negatively one’s biological and social fitness. The consequence is clear.
18. There is no reason to expect that human belief formation systems will be reliable in the domain of philosophical research and reflection.

I now proceed to the desired conclusion.
19. If (1)–(18) are true, and the inferences drawn are valid, then in stand-offs between paradoxical and common sense arguments the burden of proof lies with those upholding paradoxical arguments."(44-45)

"In fact it is part of my claim that we must not place too much trust in our cognitive abilities, particularly those that have little adaptive value, such a philosophical theorising."(45)

"For example, Scott Atran has recently argued that, far from being adaptive, religious beliefs are very costly, demanding time, energy, material wealth, and sometimes even the sacrifice of one’s life. In fact his project is to explain precisely how such a maladaptive set of beliefs and mindset could emerge in an evolutionary context. In short, given that even the established existence of false but adaptive religious beliefs would not damage EA in any case, I will not waste further time on issues best left to treatises on the philosophy of religion."(48-49)

(53) 3. Towards a Taxonomy of Philosophical Error

(wordt vervolgd)

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