Streams of consciousness

In an earlier post, in the context of drawing the distinction between observers and participants, I quoted Kierkegaard's statement that:It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.This remark also draws attention to the dimension of time and way in which this causes practical reasoning to engage with the flow of events in a different fashion from theoretical reasoning.We understand backwards because the evidence that confirms a theory must be something that is happening or has already happened. Theoretical reasoning has a formal…

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Reasoning from the inside

In this note, I want to look at the distinction between theoretical reasoning and practical reasoning and their relationship to subjectivity and agency, two concepts which focus attention on significant aspects of introspective individuation.Theoretical reasoning is the reasoning of an observer and comes to a conclusion in an explanation. The term theory comes from the same Greek roots as the term theatre, and conveys an idea of spectatorship, a level of detachment from what is being observed. Practical reasoning, on the other hand, is the reasoning of an engaged participant and comes to a conclusion in a course of action.…

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Concepts and schemas

In my last note I suggested that personal identity was the outcome of a particular mode of individuation. While everything is individuated in some way, only human beings are self-consciously individuated. Self-consciousness or introspective awareness is a form of individuation that is particular to human beings. However, this generates something of an ironic paradox. Conceptual thinking is the most distinctive component of introspective awareness and the basis of rationality. But conceptual thinking is driven away from the individual by abstraction and generalisation. In conceptual thinking, individuated entities become the instantiations of an abstract type and the idiosyncrasies of individuality are…

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Personal identity

1 John Locke (1632-1704) is generally credited with being the first western philosopher to consider the question of the diachronic identity of persons. What does it mean to be a particular human being? This isn’t a numerical and classificatory problem in the sense that you might ask how many people there are in a population. To answer that, you would implicitly answer another question, what does it mean to be a human being, and then, based on this conceptual model, count the number of people present. This is the synchronic aspect to the question of individuation. It applies not just…

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What do we see when we look in the mirror?

The sections below are taken from the slides I used for a talk at the Alliance Francaise de Penang in December 2019. I am grateful to the director and team at the AF for the opportunity to make this presentation. The fundamental question We have at least two different pictures of the cosmos and no obvious means of integrating them. We have no intuitive understanding of the micro-scale of physics and chemistry, only a set of mathematical models. But, at the same time, those mathematical models have nothing to say about the familiar world of our own experience of being…

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Escaping the mind-body dualism

In his book Mind and Cosmos, Thomas Nagel suggests neutral monism as a potentially better way of understanding the relation of the mind to the physical world than the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism and dualism.However, as Peter Godfrey-Smith pointed out in his review in the London Review of Books, Nagel has in mind here an interpretation of the idea of neutral monism that would:Explain the appearance of mental life at complex levels of biological organization by means of a general monism according to which the constituents of the universe have properties that explain not only its physical but also…

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The outer expression of an inner life

In his Journals, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) wrote:It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.The implication of this is that the person with the life to live has a point-of-view that is incommensurable with the point-of-view of, not just of the philosophers, but of theorists in any discipline. I see this as one aspect of the participant observer duality.Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) was one of the first philosophers to think about this and the distinction between the natural sciences and what is usually called…

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