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Monday, February 22, 2021


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Is this a question about warranted beliefs? Once one has given something an identity (and here I am assuming people have and use multiple hueristics [sp] to identify thing) when is there sufficient warrant to reconsider? Imagine a heist movie in which a famous painting is replaced by a near perfect forgery. Upon seeing a known theif milling about, a suspicious collector might try to reassure himself of the safety of the original by reexamining the work. In this case, sameness is assumed until there is warrant to consider otherwise. The issue arises only when there is a potential cause, like a theif, capable of effecting a change.

Mr. Vallicella, I have been following your blog for about a month now and greatly enjoying it. I graduated with an undergrad degree in philosophy last spring and you have been helping me continue the life of the mind (and the life of meditation) while working in the trades.
May I offer a thought or two in answer to your provocative questions? I do not have any conclusive answers, just some thoughts worth considering. First, it seems possible to me that we do directly perceive change in one arena (though not necessarily with sense knowledge), namely in self awareness. I think therefore I am, and I think new thoughts therefore I change. Second, while I would certainly hesitate to make change a transcendental category, I do think that our awareness of change is intrinsically bound up with our ability to remember. While I do not consciously compare the properties of the remembered banana with the features of the current banana, my judgement “this is the same banana as the one I remember” is only possible because of memory. And, while it might be possible to partially fool someone in certain circumstances with constant annihilation and replacement with replicas, I find it hard to believe that would be possible with something like my experience of unity with my body. That experience is continuous in away which I think impossible to break up into discrete parts. Finally, I have always found interesting the thomistic thesis that the act of judgement corresponds to an aspect of reality which is not captured by concepts. If we cannot conceive how we judge that this tree is the same one across time, perhaps that is because our judgement is not reducible to a concept. One of the traditional properties of the “being” known by judgement is unity. Perhaps that includes unity across time.

As I said, merely food for thought. I don’t have any more answers than you do.

Thank you for your friendly comment, Mr. Paul.

>> First, it seems possible to me that we do directly perceive change in one arena (though not necessarily with sense knowledge), namely in self awareness. I think therefore I am, and I think new thoughts therefore I change.<<

Indeed, the case of the self is very different from the case of a physical thing in the external world. How do I know that the tree is not a diachronic bundle of temporal parts with no underlying unity? I do seem to know that I am not such a transtemporal bundle.

Suppose I hear successively three separate notes of a simple melody. But now suppose for reductio that the acts of hearing occur in the same subject, but that this subject is not a unitary and self-same individual but just the dischronic bundle of these three acts, call them A1, A2, and A3. When A1 ceases, A2 begins, and when A2 ceases, A3 begins: they do not overlap. In which act is the hearing of the melody? A3 is the only likely candidate, but surely it cannot be a hearing of the melody. For the awareness of a melody involves the awareness of the (musical not temporal) intervals between the notes, and to apprehend these intervals there must be a retention (to use Husserl’s term) in the present act A3 of the past acts A2 and A1. Without this phenomenological presence of the past acts in the present act, there would be no awareness in the present of the melody. But this implies that the self cannot be a mere bundle of perceptions externally related to each other, but must be a peculiarly intimate unity of perceptions in which the present perception A3 includes the immediately past ones A2 and A1 as temporally past but also as phenomenologically present in the mode of retention. The fact that we hear melodies thus shows that there must be a self-same and unitary self through the period of time between the onset of the melody and its completion. This unitary self is neither identical to the sum or collection of A1, A2, and A3, nor is it identical to something wholly distinct from them. Nor of course is it identical to any one of them or any two of them. This unitary self is given whenever one hears a melody.

The unitary self is phenomenologically given, but not as a separate object. Herein, perhaps, resides the error of Hume and some Buddhists: they think that if there is a self, it must exist as a separate object of experience.

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