How To Read Philosophy-Ethics 301

How To Read Philosophy-Ethics 301 - 32 PART I: TOOLS OF THE...

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Unformatted text preview: 32 PART I: TOOLS OF THE PHILOSOPHER How to Read Philosophy H O P E M AY Hope May {I 971— ) 2's 0 member ofthe Department afPhélasophy and Religion at Centrai Michi- gan University. --m......_ . _.._...n.r W' It is one thing to run your eyes over the printed words on a page, and it is quite another thing to under- stand what is signified by those words. Only the lat- ter activity constitutes reading. You are probably ac- customed to reading in a manner that requires little effort. For instance, when reading a newspaper ar- ticle, a work offiction, or even a textbook, your com- prehension is virtually automatic. Most likely, you rarely ponder each word, or even each sentence, in order to understand what you are reading. Typically, you are accustomed to reading as a passive activity. Reading a philosophical text, however, requires you to read actively and hence to think about, to con- template, and to scrutinize what you are reading. Properly reading a philosophical text will require you to stop and reread a sentence several times be- fore you fully understand it. Many times, you will have to reread an entire selection in order to com- ple tely grasp it. This in no way impugns your level of reading comprehension, however. As it happens, most professional philosophers also ponder over sentences and even individual words. On many oc- casions I have heard professional philosophers say things like “I have read it only once" in order to in- dicate that they have not mastered the material. One of the chief obstacles faced by students be- ginning to read philosophy is the completely differ- ent kind of reading style that it requires. So, when you sit down to read a philosophical work, do not expect to be told a story. Nor shouid you expect to be given a body of facts that you are to memorize. Properly reading a philosophical text requires you to stop and think, to step back from what you are reading. to look up words that you do not under- stand, and to reread certain passages. Reading a I would like to thank Dillon Moorehead and Joseph Salerno for their thoughtful comments and valuable criticisms on ear- lier drafts of this essay. philosophical text takes work, and is much more like writing a book than it is like passively reading one. Before turning to some specific strategies for reading a philosophical text, let me first give some preliminary remarks a bout the subject matter of phi- losophy. As you will see, philosophy demands extra eiTOrt from its reader because its subject matter is so very different from the subject matter of many of the academic disciplines with which you are familiar. FAMILIARIZING YOURSELF WITH THE TERRAIN How many electrons does an arsenic atorn have? What is the distance from the Earth to its nearest star? What is the length of the hypotenuse with sides of 3 and 4 inches? These are questions that can be answered, respectively, by performing experiments, taking measurements, and solving equations. What is communism? and When was the batue of York- town?, on the other hand, are questions that are not answered by resorting to scientific or quantitative methods but by consulting the relevant reference books. All of these questions, regardless of the dif- ferent methods used to answer them, have only a single answer. Philosophical questions are very dif- ferent. Philosophical questions are not answered in any of the aforementioned waysI and a single philo- sophical question has many possible answers. A philosophical question is answered by con- structing a point of view. Think of a point of view (P.0.v.) as a reasoned position on an issue about which there is disagreement, or, alternatively, as a reasoned answer to a question to which there are many possible answers. Importantly, a certain point of view is not the answer to a philosophical ques- tion but is rather a possible answer. Each philosoph- ical question has several possible answers that com- prise several possible points of view. Consider the It; .312 'Ix 4‘: 'flb'ibshlfi in}; ".."'r.-.'/v'.' MAY: HOW TO READ PHILOSOPHY philosophical question, What makes certain actions morally right? There are several possible answers to this question; three of them are: 1. An aetion is morally right if my religion says so. 2. An action is morally right ifit makes me happy. 3. An action is morally right if my society says so. Although all of these statements answer the ques— tion What makes an action morally right?. notone of them is a completely developed point of view. A point ofview is much more than a blunt assertion of some statement such as “an action is morally right if my religion says so." A P.o.v. is a reasoned answer. A reasoned answer is simply one in which reasons are given in support of that answer. Three reasoned an- swers to the question What makes certain aetions morally right? are: 1. An action is morally right if my religion says so. This is because the God of my religion is the true God, and an action is morally right if it conforms to the standards of rightness that are defined by the true God. 2.13.11 action is morally right if it makes an individ— ual happy. This is because the purpose of life is to be happy, and an action is right ifit helps an individual achieve that purpose. 3. An action is morally right if my society says so. This is because the standards of right and Wrong are determined completely by my society, and an action is morally right ifit conforms to the standards that are defined by one‘s society. These are all reasoned answers. but philosophers give reasoned answers that are much lengthier and developed than the ones above. The fact that an answer is reasoned does not mean that it is a good answer. Philosophers say that a point ofview is better than another ifit has superior logical properties. I will explain what this means more fully in a later section. For now. it is important to realize that the logical properties of a P.o.v. are ob- jective; they do not depend on one's mere taste. Be- ing invalid. being internally inconsistent, begging the question. having false premises, having undesir- able consequences. and being subject to counter— examples are all undesirable logical properties. On the other hand. desirable logical properties include being valid, being internally consistent. being an answer to the philosophical question, having true premises. having favorable consequences. and be- ing free from counterexamples. Whether a P.0.V. has desirable or undesirable logical properties is in- dependent of the feelings that you have about it. Selecting a P.o.v. from a number of competing points ofview. then. is 11m an arbitrary matter. Some points of view possess better logical properties than others. PhiloSOphers construct points of view as well as describe their logical properties. In fact. a philoso- pher will often try to "sell" you her 11.0.“ by arguing that it has better logical properties than its competi~ tors. This is why philosophy requires a heightened attentiveness from its reader. Philosophers are not simply presenting facts but are using ideas and logic to construct points ofview on concepts like morality, truth. and beauty. This is why understanding what is signified by the words in a philosophical text re- quires a very diEerent ability than the one that en- ables you to comprehend newspaper articles, for in- stance. For the words in a philosophical text denote ideas that comprise a sort of geometric structure— a conceptual space in which a point ofview on a cer- tain term such as "morality" consists. You cannot see the contours of this space by passively reading. Only when you reflect on what you are reading will you begin see the conceptual space created by the phi- losopher. And only when you see this space will you be able to understand the text thatyou are reading. Below. I describe some specific strategies that will help you to do this. GENERAL STRATEGIES There are three main obstacles that beginning phi- losophy students encounter. The first concerns the content of the philosophical workI the second con- cerns its argumentative structure, and the third con- cerns its evaluation. Let's look at these obstacles and some strategies for dealing with each. CONTENT Technical Terms in Philosophy Before you start reading. make sure you have a notebook, a writing implement ofsome kind. and a 34 PART I: Toocs oF THE PHILOSOPHER dictionary. For philosophy, just as any other disci— pline, has its own vocabulary. Just as the term "rnol- ecule" is peculiar to chemistry, and just as the term “hypotenuse” is peculiar to geometry, there are cer- tain terms that are peculiar to philosophy. In order to understand your text, you will need to look up these words (in addition to any nontechnical words that you do not understand). Often, a good dictionary will have entries for philosophical terms, but typically, these entries are not very helpful because the philosophical meaning of a term is different from the standard meaning. For instance, “a priori" and “a posteriori" are tech- nical philosophical terms that are used to describe statements and/or concepts. Philosophers distin— guish a pn'ort' statements that can be known in- dependently of sense experience from a posteriort' statements that can only be known through sense experience. Tints, philosophers say that the state- ment “0 = 0" is ajmiori because it can only be known through reason (we do not experience zero, or any other number, for that matter, with our senses), whereas the statement "fire is hot" is a posterioré because it can only be known through sense experience. You can see that the entries for “a priori" and “a posteriori" in Webster’s New Work): Dictionary do not help us to understand the philosophical meanings of these terms: a prion-i: 1. from cause to effect or from a general— ization to particular instances; deductively; 2. of such reasonings; deductive. 3. based on theory in- stead of experience or experiment. 4. before ex- amination or analysis. Opposed to A POSTERIORI. a posteriori: 1. from effect to cause, or from par- ticular instances to a generalization; inductive or inductively. 2. based on observation or experi— ence; empirical. Opposed to A PRIORI. None of these definitions informs you of the way in which philosophers use these terms. Only the third definition of “a priori" comes close to the philo- sophical meaning of the term, but philosophers do not generally regard a priori statements as being “based on theory." Rather, a priori statements are ones that are known through reason. It is true that the second definition of "a posteriori" comes close to the philosophical definition of this term, but there are two definitions offered of this term, and it is not made clear which definition is the philosophi- cal one. Because standard dictionaries often lack the philosophical definition of a term. it is most effec- tive to read philosophy with a philosophical dictio- nary (such as the Cambridge th‘losophical Dictionary). If you are using a standard dictionary, make sure that you write down the term and ask your instruc- tor about it in class. Because standard dictionaries often previde several definitions of a single term, you may not know which of these definitions is the philosophical one. Determining Your Author’s Point of View Now that you have a notebook, awriting implement, and a dictionary of some sort, the next thing that you need to do is to determine the focus and scope of your author’s P.o.v. Doing so involves first under- standing the questions that your author is trying to answer. Your author may be answering a general philosophical question such as, What makes an ac- tion morally right? or What is knowledge? If so, her point of view will have a relatively broad scope. On the other hand, your author may be answering a more specific philosophical question such as, Is a priori knowledge possible? and To what do theoreti— cal terms such as “atom” refer? If so, her point of view will have a relatively narrow scope. If you have a sense of the questions that your author is trying to answer, you will have a sense of what the text is about. And ifyou have a sense ofwhat the text is about, you will be in a much better position to interact with it. There are several things that you can do to help you understand the philosophical questions for which your author tries to provide answers. First, look at the title of the essay or the book that you are reading. Usually, authors title their works so that their readers have a general idea of the subject of the work. For instance, the title of one of David Hume’s works is An Inquiry Concerning Human Un— derstanding. Although somewhat general, the title lets us know that the focus ofHume‘s P.o.v. is human understanding or, in other words, human knowl- edge. One may reasonably c0nclude from this title that the question for which Hume prevides an an- swer is, What is knowledge? But there are other -l -'1 MAY! How To READ PHILOSOPHY 35 things that we do to get even more clarity on the questions that are important to your author. Usually, philosophers state the purpose of their essay in the first few paragraphs of their work and state their conclusions in the last few paragraphs. So, scanning the beginning and the end of your work can give you a more precise idea of the philosophi- cal questions that are important to your author. For instance, the final paragraph of Hume's Inquiry reads as follows; When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? Ifwe take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it con- tain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can con- tain nothing but sophistry and illusion. The passage clearly states that certain books contain false reasoning and consequently hinder humans from true understanding. This paragraph also tells us that Hume believes that true understanding in- volves "abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number" or “experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence." From reading just this single paragraph, we can realize that Hume believes that the subject of his essay, human understanding, can only be achieved by following these very specific methods. Ifwe look at the above in conjunction with the title of Hume’s work, we can reasonably con- clude that these elements indicate that the question that Hume is trying to answer is, By what methods can humans achieve knowledge? This is indeed a more precise question than the question that we for- mulated by looking at Hume's title alone. One last thing that you should do in order to help you understand the questions your author is trying to answer is to see if the text is divided into sections. Often, the author tries to aid readers’ com- prehension by dividing the work into sections: look- ing at the section headings can usually help you de- termine the scope of your author's P.o.v. You can usually determine what kinds of questions an author is trying to answer if you have some id ea of the scope of that author's P.o.v. Hume, for instance, divides his Inquiry as follows: Section 1: Of the Different Species of Philosophy Section II'. Of the Origin of Ideas Section III: Of the Association of Ideas Section IV: Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding Section V: Sceptical Solution of These Doubts Section VI: Of Probability Section VII: Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion Section VIII: Of Liberty and Necessity Section IX: Of the Reason ofAnimals Section X: Of Miracles Section X]: Ofa Particular Providence and ofa Future State Section XII: Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy We stated above that Hume seems to be concerned with the question. By what methods can humans achieve knowledge? If we consider this in conjunc- tion with the above sections, we have reason to be- lieve that Hume is asking whether certain methods can provide us with knowledge about “probability,” "the idea of necessary connexion," “liberty and ne- cessity," and so on. So the scope of Hume's 13.0.“ reaches out, it seems, to each of these particular is- sues. Moreover, Sections IV, V, and X11 use the word sceptical in their titles, and given this in conjunction with Hume’s last paragraph, which you read above, it is reasonable to conclude that Hume's P.o.v. in- volvcs "sceptical philosophy" (whatever that is). By looking at a text's title and section headings in con- junction with its first and last few paragraphs, you can determine a lot about the questions with which your author is concerned. Write down all of the sec- tion headings in your notebook. Once you think you have discovered the ques- tions that your author is trying to answer, write them down. Also write down why you think these are the questions. Was it the title that helped you? The sec- tion headings? The first few paragraphs? A combi- nation of these elements? Ifyou cannot discover the questions that your author is trying to answer, try re- reading the first and last few pages very slowly. Summing up our strategies dealing with content, then, make sure youhave a notebook and dictio- nary so that you can take times and write down the definitions of unfamiliar words as y0u are reading. Then, determine the questions that your author is .-u-:::.wwsr.mmvmmoem 36 PART I: ToOLs OF THE PHILOSOPHER trying to answerby (1) looking at the title of thework, (2) scanning its first and last few paragraphs, and (3) writing down the titles of the sections or chapters within that work. Consider all ofthese different ele- ments when trying to hone in on these questions. After you have found the relevant questions, write them down, in addition to the reasons thatyou have for believing that these are the questions with which your author is concerned. Recall that a P.o.v. is a reasoned answer to a question to which there are several possible reason ed answers. A reasoned answer to a question contains an argument for that ansvirer. An argument is notjust a dispute between two people but can also be un- derstood as one’s reasons for believing something. This brings us to our second obstacle encountered by students beginning to read philosophy—the ob- stacle concerning argumentative structure. ARGUMENTATIVE STRUCTURE Philos0phers construct points of view, and points of view contain arguments. Arguments, however, have structure. Some arguments have very simple struc- tures; other arguments have structures that are more complex. An argument that has a simple struc- ture has only one conclusion. Three difl'erent argu- ments with simple structures are G 1. The God of my religion is the true God. 2. An action is morally right ifit conforms to the standards of righ tness that are defined by the true God. An action is morally right if my religion says so. H 1. The purpose of life is to be happy. 2. An action is right ifit helps an individual to achieve his or her Mose. An action is morally right ifit makes me happy. S 1. The standards of right and wrong are deter- mined completely l)y my society. 2. An action is morally right if it conforms to the standards of rightness that are defined by one's society. An action is morally right if my society says so. All of these arguments have very simple structures. They have at most two premises and one conclusion (the horizontal line separates the premises from the conclusion; think of this line as meaning “there- fore”). On the other hand, an argument that has a complex structure has more than one conclusion. In an argument with complex structure, reasons are given in Support of reasons. To illustrate, look at argument G above. Note that there are no reasons given in support of prem- ises (1) and (2); these premises are just bluntly as- serted. But we can imagine someone arguing for premise (1) by claiming: (a) my parents told me that the God of my religion is the true GodI and (b) my parents never lie. Thus, one way of arguing for the claim that "the God ofmy religion is the true God" is P a. My parents told me that the God ofmy reli- gion is the true God. b. My parents never lie. 1. The God of my religion is the true God. The conclusion of argument P is the first premise in argument G. We say that arguments P and G form an argument chain P + G. The full argument looks like P a. Myparents told me that the God of my reli- gion is the true God. b. My writs never lie 1. The God of my religion is the true God. G 2. An action is morally right ifit conforms to the standards ofrightness that are defined Qy_the true God. 3. An action is morally right if my religion says so. It is clear that argument P -|- G has a more complex structure than argument G, for P + G has two con- clusions, whereas argument G has only one. Some points of view have argumentative struc- tures that are simple, whereas other points of view have argumentative structures that are complex. In order to understand a philosophical text, you need to understand its structure. And in order to un- derstand the structure ofa P.0.V., you need to do two things. First, you need to find your author’s main conclusion. Then, you need to find the premises that your author provides in support of that conclusion. Finding the Main Conclusion Philosophers try to convince their readers of certain statements. The main conclusion is the chiefstatement MAY: How To READ PHILOSOPHY 37 f”? 3":- it ’: of which your author is trying to convince you. Look at argument P + G above. Note that although this argument has two conclusions, one of the conclu- sions, statement (3), is the main conclusion. The main conclusion is the claim for which one ulti« mately argues; it is the statement for which one's reasons are ultimately offered. A philosophical P.0.v. is usually an argument with a complex structure. But no matter how com— plex the structure, every argument has one, and only one, main conclusion. In order to determine the argumentative structure of your author's P.o.v., you must first find its main conclusion. The main conclusion of a P.0.v. is always formulablc in one sharp sentence. Formulating a Hypothesis About the Conclusion In order to determine the main conclusion of a philosophical work, it is useful to first limit the pos» sibilities of what the conclusion may be. Doing so amounts to honing in the main conclusion. or, in other words, knowing in a general sense what kinds of claims for which you are and are not looking. You can hone in on the main conclusion by looking at the text‘s title, its first and last few paragraphs, and its section headings. Thus, using the techniques that help you to determine the questions with which your author is concerned can help you to get some sense of what her main conclusion is. For instance, from the title, the first and last and few paragraphs, and the section titles of Hume‘s In- quiry Concerning Human Understanding, we can esti- mate that Hume is concerned with the topic of hu- man knowledge. that he thinks that knowledge can be achieved only by following very specific methods, and that he discusses “scepticism.” It is reasonable to assume, then, that Hume's main conclusion will be about knowledge, rather than about the nature of morality or the existence of God (though he may discuss these issues in order to arrive at his conclu- sion about human knowledge). It is also reasonable to assume that Hume’s main conclusion will specify the methods by which knowledge can be attained. Of course, we have not determined Hume’s main conclusion with certainty (we need to read the whole text to do that), butwe do have a general idea of the kind of claim for which he will be arguing. And having a general idea of the main conclusion will surely help us in our search to find it. When you think you have a general idea of the main conclusion of your text, write it down. This is your hypothesis about the main conclusion. In addi- tion to writing down your hypothesis about the main conclusion, write down the reasons that led you to formulate this hypothesis. Forming Paragraph Summaries After you write down your hypothesis about the main conclusion, you then need to sharpen your fo- cus and to look for the main conclusion paragraph by paragraph. You do this by summarizing each para- graph and then looking at your paragraph sum- maries in order to determine the main conclusion. So, move on to the next paragraph only when you can state in a clear, concise statement the main point of the paragraph thatyou have Just read. If you cannot clearly state the main point of a paragraph, reread it until you can. Make sure you write down each of your paragraph summaries because you will need them in order to determine the argumentative structure of the text. These summaries will be very useful to you later, especially for the purposes of an exam or a writing assignment. Determining Argumentative Structure Often, a single paragraph of a philosophical text con- tains one or more arguments. These are subargu- ments of the main argument of the text. These sub- arguments may be simple or complex. As you read each paragraph, you need to determine whether the paragraph contains an argument. To do so, ask, What is the point of this paragraph? What is it asking me to believe? and Does the author provide a basis on which I am supposed to believe the main point of the paragraph? If you answer yes to this last ques- tion, then the paragraph has an argumentative structure. If you answer no, the paragraph does not. If your paragraph has an argumentative struc- ture, you need to determine whether it is simple or complex. Ifyou think that you have found a claim in your paragraph (call it “a") that is used to support another claim that is not the main point of the para- graph (call it "b"), but "b" is used to support the 38 PART I: TooLs oF THE.‘ PHILOSOPHER main point of the paragraph (call it "c"), write down "c" as the conclusion ofan argument, "b" as its prem- ise, and "a" as a premise for “b.” Separate the prem- ises from the conclusions by drawing a horizontal line between them—like so: 0 IlJ'ISJ In such a situation, your paragraph has a complex argumentative structure. If you find that your paragraph contains an ar- gument that is either simple or complex, write the argument down. The argument may or may not be the main point of the paragraph. If it is, your para- graph summary should include something about the argument. It will take you some time to summa- rize all of the paragraphs. I do not recommend su m- marizing all of them in one sitting. Give yourself at least two days to do this. Pinpointing the Main Conclusion When you are done summarizing each paragraph of your text, look for the main conclusion by looking at all of your summaries. As you are reading over these summaries. keep the question in mind: Given all of these summaries, what is the author's main conclu- sion? What is the author ultimately trying to show? Use the title and section headings to help you. Also use your hypothesis about the main conclusion. Write in a complete sentence what the author is try- ing to say. Make sure that the conclusion is clear and concise. If it takes you a large paragraph to express the author's central thesis, then you probably have not pinpointed it. The main conclusion should be formulable in one sharp sentence. Finding the Reasons for the Main Conclusion After finding the main conclusion, now you need to find the premises—the reasons— first your author ofiers in support of the main conclusion. The ques- tion to keep in mind as you are looking for the rea- sons for the main conclusion is, On what basis am I supposed to believe the main conclusion? If your text has sections, you maywant to look at them in or- der to answer this question because authors some- times devote a section to each of the premises in their overall argument; look at the titles that you have written down and after every section ask, What is the point of this section? How is it related to the main conclusion? Is this section used to support any other section? Another thing to do in order to find the rea- sons for the main conclusion is to look at your para- graph summaries. Look at each summary and ask, Is the author writing this paragraph in order to give support to the main conclusion? Is the author writ- ing this paragraph in order to give support to the pranises that are offered in support of the main conclusion? When you think you have found the reasons that your author gives in support of the main conclusion, write them above the horizontal line above the main conclusion and number each premise. For instance, if the main conclusion of your work is "an action is morally right if my religion says so,” and if the rea- sons used to support this claim are (1} the God of my religion is the true God and (2) an action is morally right if it conforms to the standards ofright- ness that are defined by the true God, then you would write: 1. The God of my religion is the true God. 2. An action is morally right if it conforms to the standards of rightness that are defined by the true God. An action is morally right if my religion says so. If your author provides reasons for any of her prem- ises, make sure you include these as well. So if your author argued for premise (1) by claiming (a) my parents told me that the God of my religion is the true God, and (b) my parents never lie, then you would write: a. My parents told me that the God of my religion is the true God. b. My parents never lie. 1. The God ofmy religion is the true God. 2. An action is morally right if it conforms to the standards of tightness that are defined by the tree GQd. An action is morally right if my religion says so. Once you have written down the reasons for the main conclusion, you have determined the argu- 'i .'i i _\l l t t l MAY: How To READ PHILOSOPHY 39 mentative structure of your work. The structure of the above argument is complex. Summing up our strategies dealing with argu- mentative structure, then, hone in on the main con- clusion by looking at the title, skimming the begin- ning and end of the text, and looking at section headings. Next, form a hypothesis about the main conclusion, and write it down. Then read the text one paragraph at a time. Determine whether a para- graph contains an argument by asking, W'hat is point of this paragraph? and Is this point argued for or is it bluntly stated? Summarize the main point of each paragraph in a clear, concise Statement. Use your paragraph summaries along with your other strate- gies and your hypothesis about the main conclusion in order to pinpoint the main conclusion. Once you determine the main conclusion, write it down and draw a horizontal line above it. Then, use seetion headings in conjunction with your paragraph sum- maries in order to determine the premises that your author uses in support of the conclusion. Write down the premises above the conclusion in addition to any reasons that are offered in support ofthese premises. I have provided some exercises below in which you can practice identifying the argumentative struc- ture ofa paragraph. Try to determine the argumen- tative structure of the following excerpts from some classic works of philosophy. Exercises for Finding the Main Conclusion Summarize the main point in the following excerpts from some classic works of philosophy. Ask yourself these quesdons about each. 1. What is the author trying to show? Can you formulate the main conclusion in one sharp sentence? 2. On what basis am I supposed to believe this claim? What are the reasons that the philoso- pher offers in support of his main point? Does the philosopher offer reasons for believing any of his reasons? All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation ofCause and Effect. . . . I shall venture to afiirm, as a general proposition, Which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from expe- rience, when we find that any particular objects are censtantly conjoined with each other. Let an object be presented to a man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities; if that object be en- tirely new to him, he will not be able, by the most accurate examination of its sensible qualities, to discover any of its causes or effects. Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could have not inferred from the fluidity and transparency ofwater that itwould suf- focate him, or from the light and warmth of fire that it would consume him. No object ever discov- ers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, un- assisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact. (Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Lhderstandtng) I shall further add that, after the same manner as modern philosophers prove certain sensible quali- ties to have no existence in matter, or without the mind, the same thing may be likewise proved of all other sensible qualities whatsoever. Thus, for in- stance, it is said that heat and cold are affections _‘ only of the mind, and not all patterns of real be- \ ings existing in the corporeal substances which ex- ' cite them. For that the same body which appears cold to one hand seems warm to another. Now, why may we not as well argue that figure and ex- tension are not patterns or resemblances of quali- ties existing in matter, because to the same eye at different stations, or eyes of a different texture at the same station, they appear various and cannot, therefore, be the images of anything settled and determinate without the mind? Again, it is proved that sweetness is not really in the sapid thing, be- _. cause, the thing remaining unaltered, the sweet" :1, ness is changed into bitterI as in the case of a fever or otherwise vitiated palate. Is it nor as reasonable to say that motion is not without the mind, since if the succession of ideas in the mind become swifter, the motion, it is acknowledged, shall appear slower without any alteration in any exter- nal object? In short, let anyone consider those argu- ments which are thought manifestly to prove 40 PART I: TOOLS or THE PHILOSOPHEH that colors and tastes exist only in the mind, and he shall find that they may with equal force be brought to prove that there is no extension or color in an outward object as that we do not know by sense which is the true extension or color of the object. But the arguments foregoing plainly show it to be impossible that any color or exten- sion at all, or other sensible quality whatsoever, should exist in an unthinking subject without the mind. (Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles ofHumn Knowtedge) The general opinion of men is supposed to be, that the natural vocation of a woman is that of a wife and mother. Isay, is supposed to be, because, judging from acts—from the whole of the present constitution ofsociety—one might infer that their opinion was the direct contrary. They might be supposed to think that the alleged natural voca- tion of women was of all things the most repug» nant to their nature; insomuch that if they are free to anything else—if any other means of liv- ing, or occupation of their time and faculties, is open, which has any chance of appearing desir- able to them—there will not be enough of them who will be willing to accept the condition said to be natural to them. If this is the real opinion of men in general, it would be well that it should be spoken out. I should like to hear somebody openly enunciating the doctrine (it is already im- plied in much that is written on the subject}—“It is necessary to society that women should marry and produce children. They will not do so unless they are compelled. Therefore, it is necessary to compel them.” The merits of the case would then be clearly defined. . . . Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other doors against them, lay themselves open to a . . . retort. If they mean what they say, their opinion must evi- dently be, that men do not render the marriage condition so desirable to women, as to induce them to accept it for its own recommendations. It is not a sign ofone‘s thinking the boon one ofi'ers very attractive, when one allows only . . . "mat or none." (Mill, 0n the Sutjem'on of Hbmm) Hume ’sLt'ne ofReasoning The conclusion of Hume ’s argument is "the cause —efi'ect relation is known only through sense experience." Hume is taking issue with those who believe that the cause—effect rela- tion is known a priori, that is, independently of sense experience. Hume states the conclusion in the beginning of this passage, and gives his reasons for this claim im- mediately afterward. Thus, every thing after the word Let is a reason that Hume gives for his conclusion. Paraphrased, his argument is that no matter how strong someone’s reasoning abilities, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes or effects of an object from the qualities of that object. Hence, the cause—effect relationship must be known through sense experience. Summarized, the argument looks like this: 1. No matter how powerful one's reasoning ability, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects of an obiect from its Qualities. The cause—effect relationship is known not through reason, but through sense experience. The above is a simple argument; it has only one conclusion. But look at Hume’s first premise. Do you think that he offers reasons for his claim that "no matter how powerful one's reasoning ability, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects of an object from its qualities”? He seems to. His remarks aboutAdam appear to support prem- ise [1). Ifone looks at the argument in this way, then Hume's argument is complex, because he ofl‘ers rea- sons for his reasons. Hume claims that Adam, even with perfect rational faculties, was unable to infer from the qualities offire thatitwould consume him. And because Adam could not infer the causes and effects of an object from its qualities, then no per- son, no matter how powerful their reasoning ability, could infer the causes and efiects of an object from its qualities. So Hume's argument stated in full is: 2. Adam had perfect reasoning abilities. 3. Adam could not infer from the qualities of fire, that it would consume him. 1. No matter how powerful one ’s reasoning ability, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects of an obiect from its qualities. The cause—effect relationship is known not through reason, but through sense experience. MAY: How To READ PHILOSOPHY 41 Berkeleyis Line gt Reasoning Berkeley's main conclu- sion is that “it is impossible for the qualities of an ob- ject to exist without the mind." Berkeley is taking is- sue with those philosophers who make a distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are qualities that belong to the object, and it was assumed that figure, motion, and extension were such qualities. Secondary qualities, on the other hand, were considered to be qualities that did not belong to the object but to the subject who was perceiving the object. The quality of sweetness, for example, was considered to be a secondary qual- ity because two individuals could disagree about whether an object was. in fact. sweet. Someone who eats an apple after drinking wine does not perceive the apple as sweet but as bitter. On the other hand, someone who eats an apple after drinking water might perceive the same apple as sweet. Philoso- phers reasoned that because there is disagreement about whether an objeCt is sweet or bitter, these qualities are secondary qualities, that is, they do not belong to the object but to the subject perceiving the subject. Berkeley claims that all qualities are sec- ondary qualifies. Crucial to Berkeley's argument is his reliance on a particular line of reasoning that “modern philoso- phers” use to "prOve certain sensible qualities to have no existence in matter.“ In other words, these philosophers use a certain method of proof to de- termine that certain qualities are secondary and hence are mind dependent. Berkeley's claim is that this method ofproof also establishes that it is impos- sible for any quality to exist without the mind and, hence, that all qualities are secondary. As mentioned above, philosophers reasoned that because the same thing can seem both sweet and bitter to two differ— ent people, these qualities do not belong to the ob- ject but to the subject and, hence, are secondary. This particular method ofproofis used when Berke- ley mentions "the same body which appears cold to one hand appears warm to another" and when he mentions "sweetness is changed into bitter, as in the case of a fever.“ Stated explicitly, this method to prove the existence of secondary qualities is: - 1. If there is disagreement about what qualities an object has, then those qualities are only in the mind (that is, are mind dependent). 2. People disagree about whether an object is cold or warm, sweet or bitter. Therefore. coldness, warmness, sweetness, and bit- terness are mind dependent. The same method of proof, according to Berkeley, establishes that all qualities are mind dependent. Even the quality of shape, for instance, which "mod- ern philosophers" believed was "primary" or mind independent. is also a quality about which there is disagreement. For, someone standing near a tree sees rounded edges, whereas someone standing far away does not. Ifwe accept the premises of the above argument. then we must accept the conclusion that all qualities are mind dependent. Berkeley's argu— ment is: 1. If there is disagreement about what qualities an object has, then those qualities are mind dependent. 2. People disagree about all qualities that an ob- ject has. All qualities are mind dependent. Do you think that Berkeley ofi'ers reasons for believ- ing either premise (1) or premise (2)? If not, can you think of any reasons that would support these claims? Mill’s Line of Reason-ing The conclusion of Mill's argument is "men believe that women would find marriage and motherhood undesirable, if women were to have other options." Mill takes the fact that women are forced into marriage as evidence for the fact that men believe that they must be forced to do so. But, claims Mill, this is at odds with men’s claim that the roles of wife and mother are the "natural vo- cations” of a woman. For if the roles of wife and mother are the “natural vocations" of a woman, then why do women need to be forced into these roles? According to Mill, the fact that men force women into these roles by denying them any other option (save death or ostracism), shows that men tacitly be- lieve that women find these roles undesirable. Mill assumes several premises in his argument: 1. If men force women into marriage and mother- hood, then men believe that women would find marriage and morherhood undesirable, if women were to have other options. 42 PART I: Toocs OF THE PHILOSDFHER 2. Currently, men force women into marriage and motherhood. Men believe that women would find marriage and motherhood undesirable, if women were to have other options. Premise (2) was a known fact of Mill’s day, and so he did not need to give reasons for it. Do you think that Mill gives any reasons for premise (1) , though? If not, can you think of any reasons thatwould support this claim? EVALUATION After you determine the argumentative structure of your author‘s P.o.v., the next step is to evaluate it. It is very important for you to formulate your own opinions on the topic on which your author‘s P.o.v. is focused. Do not be afraid or intimidated to do so Just because you are reading the work of a profes— sional philosopher! Maybe your gut is telling you that a certain claim cannot be right. If so, ask your- self, Why do I have this gut feeling? But ifyou do not have such an immediate reacuon to a philosophi- cal text, there are ways of evaluating your author’s P.o.v.. for whether a P.o.v. is good or bad depends on its logical properties. Below, I show how you can determine whether your author's P.o.v. possesses some of the more important logical properties. Determining Whether the Argument Is Valid Being valid is a desirable logical property. Being invalid, on the other hand, is an undesirable logi- cal property. Arguments, not premises. are valid or invalid. So. being valid and being invalid are prop- erties that belong to the argument—the P.o.v. as a whole—not the individual statements that com- prise it. It is crucial that you realize that a valid argument does not necessarily have true premises. Nor does an invalid argument necessarily have false premises. A valid argument could have false premises, such as All women are idiOts. I am awoman. 1am an idiot. {f the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. So the argument is valid. But the first premise is not true. So the argument is val-id with afalse pretre- z’ss. An example of an invalid argument with false premises is All men are six feet or taller. All gymnasts are six feet or taller. All gymnasts are men. The above argument is invalid because, even if the premises were true, the conclusion would not nec- essarily be true. Just because two groups have the same property (in this case, being six feet or taller), this does not mean that one group belongs to an- other. All dogs are mortal and all cats are mortal, but this does not mean that all cats are dogs. In order to determine whether your author's P.0.V. is valid or invalid. ask, {fthe premises are true, must the conclusion be true? If you answer no. then the argument is invalid. If you discover that your an- thor's argument is invalid, you may need to supply missing premises that your author is tacitly assum- ing. Adding missing premises can turn an invalid ar- gument into avalid one. For instance, look at one of Hume’s arguments from his Inquiry Concerm'ng Hu- man Understanding: 1. No matter how powerful one's reasoning ability, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects of an obiect from its Qualities. The cause—effect relationship is known through sense experience. Strictly speaking, this argument is invalid. just be- cause we cannot know the causal properties of an ob- ject by using reason, this does not mean that we must know these properties through sense experience. It could be the case that we know causal properties through some other method (this is. in fact. what Kant believed}. In any case, when Hume was writing, everyone assumed that knowledge either arises out of sense experience or is acquired through reason. Hume tacitly assumes this premise in his argument. If we add this premise, his argument is valid: 1. No matter how powerful one's reasoning ability. one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects of an object from its qualities. [2.] All knowledge comes from either reason or mimicry-— The cause—efl'ect relationship is known through sense experience. MAY: How TO READ PHILOSOPHY 43 Note how the second premise is bracketed. A prem- ise that is bracketed indicates that it is not explicitly stated in the text. If you think that your aumor is as- suming claims that are relevant for his or her argu- ment, make sure that you include these claims as bracketed premises in your argument. If you discover that your author’s argument is valid, then your author's P.o.v. possesses a desirable logical property. A P.o.v. that is valid is smwhet good but is by no means perfect, for a P.o.v. can si- multaneously possess desirable and undesirable log- ical properties. For instance. a P.o.v. could be valid but hensfalse maxim. Being valid is, as you know, a desirable logical property. Having false premises, on the other hand, is not. This brings us to another question that you should ask in order to determine some of the logical prOperties of your author’s P.o.v., namely, Are the premises true? Determining the Truth of the Premises Recall the argument mentioned earlier: 1. The standards of right and wrong are deter- mined completely by my society. 2. An action is morally right if it conforms to the standards of rightness that are defined by one’s society. An action is morally right if my society says so. The above P.o.v. is valid. but are the premises true? These premises are philosophical claims, and it is not immediately clear whether they are true or false. Nevertheless, there are techniques that one can use in order to determine whether premises such as these are false. One can argue that a premise is false by showing that it implies undesirable consequences, and one can argue that a premise is false by showing that there are counterexamples to the premise. Determining Whether the Premises Imply Undesirable Consequences In order to determine whether your author's prem- ises are false, then, first look at each one and ask, Does this claim imply any undesirable conse- quences? A consequence of a P.o.v. is just a state- ment that must be true if that P.o.v. is true. If, for ex- ample, the statement l'all men are mortal” is true. then it also must be true that "no men are not mor- tal." Thus "no men are not mortal" is a consequence of "all men are mortal." If one of your author's premises implies an undesirable consequence, then your author's P.O.V. possesses an undesirable logical property. If none of your author’s premises imply undesirable consequences, then your audior’s P.o.v. possesses a desirable logical property. Consider one of the premises of the above argu- ment, "the standards of right and wrong are deter- mined completely by my society." Let us determine whether this statement implies any undesirable con- sequences. Indeed it does. For if it is true that the standards of right and wrong are determined com- pletely by one’s society, then the standards of one’s society could never be wrong. For these standards define rightness and wrongness. But if this is true, then if a society states that child molesting is right, it is. But this, of course, is an undesirable consequence and is a good reason for thinking that the claim is false. Determining Whether There are Cow‘iterexamples to the Premises Another way of showing that a premise is false is by showing that it is subject to a counterexample. Con- sider the claim "all men are six feet tall." Are there any counterexamples to this claim? A counter- example is simply an instance that shows that some claim is false. Ifyou can findjust one man who is n0t six feet tall, you have found a counterexample to this claim. If you find that one of your author's premises is subject to a counterexample, then you have discovered that her P.o.v. has an undesirable logical property. Summing up our remarks on evaluation, then, when evaluating your author’s P.o.v., ask these ques- tions: Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Do they imply undesirable consequences? Are they subject to counterexamples?) Answering these ques- tions will disclose some of the logical properties of your author's P.o.v., thereby enabling you to evalu- ate it as philosophers do. Exercises follow to allow you to practice argu- ment evaluation on some classic works of philoso- phy. Answers are provided at the end of each section. “:3. spam _.;,-.-.---—<.s v'.‘ v.-~:.._~: a, - rum-H. fia-$- ua—nfi: l 'i 44 PART I: TOOLS OF THE PHILOSOPHER EVALUATION PRACTICE Look at the following arguments and ask yourself, Is this argument valid? Are the premises true? Evaluating Hume’s Line of Reasoning 3. Adam had perfect reasoning abilities. 4. Adam could not infer from the qualities of firel that it would consume him. 1. No matter how powerful one 's reasoning ability, one cannot use reason alone to infer the causes and effects ofan object from its qualifies. [2]. Facts can only be known through sense experi- ence or through reason. Therefore, the cause—effect relationship is known not through reason. but through sense experience. 1. Do you think premises (4) and (5) are good reasons for believing the conclusion (1)? If so. why? If not, why not? 2. Do you think premises (1) and (2) are good reasons for believing the conclusion? If so, why? If not. why not? 3. Do you believe that the premises are true? If so, why? If not, why not? Except for the argument that Hume uses to es- tablish his first conclusion, all of the above argu- ments contain premises that provide good reasons for believing the conclusion. Hume makes a gener- alization about the power of reason by looking at a single case wherein an individual's reasoning ability is supposed to be perfect. But one could object that. just because one person with perfect reasoning abil- ity could not infer the causal properties of fire, this does not mean that no person with sufficient ratio- nal powers could make the inference. Maybe there is something about Adam that is preventing his per- fect rational faculty from inferring the causal prop- erties of an object. One cannot infer something about all persons simply by looking at only one indi- vidual. One could object that Hume does not pro- vide good reasons for his first conclusion and hence that his first argument is invalid. Philosophers have disagreed with some of Hume’s premises. Immanuel Kant. for example, dis- agrees with Hume‘s implicit assumption that "facts can only be known through experience or through reason." According to Kant. there is another mode by which we apprehend facts. namely, the synthetic a prim. Kant, then, raises a counterexample to Hume‘s claim that “facts can be known only through experience or through reason." Evaluating Berkeley’s Line of Roasoning 1. If there is disagreement about what qualities an object has. then those qualities are mind dependent. “ 2. People disagree about all qualities that an ob- ject has. All qualities are mind dependent. 1. Do you think premises (1} and (2) are good reasons for believing the conclusion? If so, why? If not, why not? 2. Do you believe that the premises are true? If so, why? If not. why not? Berkeley’s argument is valid. If his premises are true, his conclusion must be true. However, issue has been taken with both of Berkeley’s assumptions. First, it has been noted that the fact that people dis— agree about what qualities an object has does not mean that these qualities are just “in the mind." At one point people disagreed about the shape of the Earth, but this does not mean that the shape of the Earth is mind dependent. The Earth has its shape regardless of what people think it is. This is a counterexample to Berkeley‘s claim. Second, philosophers have claimed, in response to Berkeley’s second premise, that people in the same condition will agree on the qualities of an ob- ject. Certainly someone who ingests orange juice upon waking will taste something different than the person who drinks orange juice after brushing her teeth. but this is because these two individuals are in difl'erent conditions. Ifwe put two individuals in the same conditions, it is argued, theywill experience the same qualities. If tw0 people brush their teeth after drinking orange juice, they will have the same sen- sation of bitterness. Similarly, if two people stand far away from a tree, they will see its contours as straight and so on. People in the same condition do not dis- agree about the qualities that an object has then. This is a counterexample to Berkeley‘s second premise. MAY: Howr To READ PHILOSOPHY 45 Evaluating Mill’s Line of Reasoning 1. Ifmen force women into marriage and mother- hood, then men believe that women would find marriage and motherhood undesirable, if women were to have other options. 2. Currently, men force women into marriage and motherhood. Men believe that women would find marriage and motherhood undesirable, if women were to have other options. 1. Do you think premises (1) and (2) are good reasons for believing the conclusion? If so, why? If not, why not? 2. Do you believe that the premises are true? If so, why? If not, why not? Mill's argument is valid. However, because men do not currently force women into marriage, Mill's second premise is false. He assumes the following principle in his first premise: "If A forces B into C, then A believes that B would find C undesirable, if B had other options." One might argue that this premise is false. Imagine, for instance, that a coach forces an Olympic athlete to train for twelve hours a day. This does not mean that the coach believes that the athlete would find this undesirable, if the athlete had other options. So, one may argue that Mill's first premise is subject to counterexamples. This objection seems unfair, however. The Olympic athlete chose to do so, and in so choosing. is “forced” to do things to achieve her goal. Women in Mill’s day, however, did not choose to be wives and moth- ers, so they cannot be compared with Olympic ath- letes. Mill could respond by stating that the objec- tion seems misplaced. SUMMARY This essay has given you strategies for conquering the three main obstacles that students encounter when beginning to read philosophy. Regarding con- 1 tent, make sure you have a notebook and dictionary so that you can take notes and write down the defini- tions of unfamiliar words as you are reading. Then, determine the questions that your author is trying to answer by (1) looking at the title of the work, (2) scanning its first and last few paragraphs, and (3) writing down the titles of the sections or chapters within that work. After you have found these ques- tions, write them down. in addition to the reasons that you have for believing that these are the ques- tions with which your author is concerned. Regard~ ing argumentative structure, hone in on the main conclusion by (1) looking at the title, (2) skimming the beginning and end of the text, and (3) looking at section headings. Next, form a hypothesis about the main conclusion and write it dovvn. Read the text one paragraph at a time. Determine whether a para- graph contains an argument by asking, What is point of this paragraph? and Is this point argued for or is it bluntly stated? Summarize the main point of each paragraph in a clear, concise statement. Use your paragraph summaries along with steps 1—3 and your hypothesis about the main conclusion in order to pinpoint the main conclusion. Once you determine the main conclusion, write it down and draw a horizontal line above it. Then, use sec- tion headings in conjunction with your paragraph summaries in order to determine the premises that your author uses in support ofthe conclusion. Write down the premises above the conclusion in addition to any reasons that are offered in support of these premises. Regarding evaluation, you should formulate your own opinion about the topic, and ask: (1) Is the an gument valid? and (2) Are the premises true? (Do they imply undesirable consequences? Are they sub- ject to counterexamples?) Finally, if you have trouble with any of these obstacles, reread the text. Professional philosophers often have to read something at least two times be- fore they fully understand it. A flowchart summariz- ing the above steps is provided here. How to Read Philosophy IE: notebook, dictionary. and writing implemefl Determine the philosophical questions that your author is trying to answer. Scan beginning and end often. Write down sections headings, if any. Determine argmentative structure of your author's point ofviaw. Hone in on main conclusion. Write down-the questions that you believe your author is trying to answer and the reasons that lead you to believe that these are the questions. Scan beginning and end of text. Read Frat paragraph oF text. Does paragraph contain argument? Write down. section headings, iF any. Use summaries to find author's reasons for main conclusion. Formulate hypothesis about main conclusion as well as reasons that led you to this hypothesis. Determine whether argument is simple or complex. Sum rn ariae rnaln Write down . author's point 01’ paragraph main and wrioe down summary. Write down argument. Determine whether argument is relevant to main point of paragraph. argument. Is this last paragraph? Go to next paragraph. Doom-nine main conclusion of text by looking at summaries and hypothesis about main conclusion, Is argument valid? Supply any missing premises that you believe your author assumes. Countemtamples to premises? Undesirable consequences? ...
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How To Read Philosophy-Ethics 301 - 32 PART I: TOOLS OF THE...

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