Category Archives: PhilPaper Survey

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question Three

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?

Accept or lean toward: objective 382 / 931 (41%)
Accept or lean toward: subjective 321 / 931 (34.4%)
Other 228 / 931 (24.4%)

I accept the objectivity of aesthetic values.

This is an important question for me. It is the question which by which I first realized my interests in philosophy. When I was a senior in high school I went with a couple of friends to see the movie American Beauty. After the film, I made the comment that I didn’t think that a plastic bag floating in the breeze was particularly all that beautiful. My friends both agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that if the boy in the film thought that it was beautiful, then he was entitled to that opinion. For some reason I vehemently disagreed and for the next four hours or so we debated the objectivity of aesthetic values. Of course I didn’t know we were debating such a heady metaphysical topic at the time. I just kept insisting that certain things were simply more beautiful than other things, no matter what the opinions of people happened to be. If everyone were to agree that Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is more beautiful than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I would say that they were wrong. I think there is an objective reality that grounds the judgment that the Ninth Symphony is the more beautiful work and those who disagree are insensitive to the reality of that objective beauty.

Beauty is one of the great transcendentals along with truth and goodness. Though they are transcendentals, I think they are as much objects of our senses as there are objects of sight, sound, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Admittedly there is a subjective component to these sensation, but the question is whether the “value” of these components is the subjective part. I don’t think so. If there is a red apple in front of me, it is objectively red. We might say that it ought to be evaluated as red, because its color-value is red. If I say that I see the apple as green, then my subjective experience of the objective reality is wrong. Likewise, if I see a hungry homeless man begging for food and do not sense that I ought to bring him something to eat, my subjective experience is off-kilter from the moral-value which ought to be impinging upon my moral sense. So also, if someone were to see Botticelli’s Primavera and not judge the work to beautiful, such a person must have a dysfunctional sense of beauty.

Now, it might be true that a person does not particularly like Botticelli’s Primavera. A person can freely admit that they enjoy Brittney Spear’s Hit Me Baby One More Time to O God Beyond All Praising. I don’t think aesthetic value has to do with whether one derives pleasure from an object. I could say that Botticelli’s Primavera is objectively more beautiful than Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm, but that I enjoy Pollock’s painting more. What I am admitting is that my feelings do not always accord with that which my senses ought to sense. So I want to distinguish between matters of taste and matters of aesthetic values. To compare back with the other two transcendentals, I might also prefer some moral evils to some moral goods, or falsities over truths. But my preferences do not change objective values.

So, I think it is possible to think a beautiful object is not beautiful by being insensitive to beauty. I also think it is possible to enjoy something less beautiful over something more beautiful because the passions do not always accord with reason. Ultimately, I would argue the following:

1. Truth, goodness, and beauty are eternally and essentially attributed to God.

2. God is simple, i.e. without component essential attributes.

3. Truth, goodness, and beauty must not be essential parts, but different ways of describing essentially the same attribute of God.

4. If something is an objective reality, it differs in its fundamental reality from something that is a subjective reality.

5. If beauty is essentially the same as truth and goodness, it cannot differ in its fundamental reality from them.

6. Truth and goodness are objective realities.

7. Therefore, beauty is an objective reality.

I think this argument would need to be developed and defended further, but I think this is sufficient to ground my belief in the objectivity of aesthetic values. How would you respond to this question?

Question 2: Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question Two

The Question:

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

Accept or lean toward: Platonism 366 / 931 (39.3%)
Accept or lean toward: nominalism 351 / 931 (37.7%)
Other 214 / 931 (22.9%)

How I’d answer: Other.

I take Platonism to be the position that abstract objects are not only real, but the most real things that exist.  Particular things are less real than the forms.

I take nominalism to be the position that abstract objects are names that we give to identify similarities amongst particulars.  The abstraction doesn’t really exist in the object and it is only a useful fiction that we use in order to speak of individual things as if they belong to sets of things.

This was a hard question to answer for me.  I do think too many abstractions are reified without good reason (The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness).  At the same time, I don’t want to say that ALL abstractions are mere names that we use as linguistic shorthand to refer to particulars.

In truth, I think I lean towards Aristotelianism, as a middle road between Plato and Ockham.  As Peter Kreeft puts it:

Forms exist in the world only in individual things, by they exist in our minds as universal concepts when out minds abstract them from things.1

It seems to me that if nominalism is true, then our way of speaking is almost always false–and that just doesn’t seem right to me.  Or, to put this a bit differently, if language is able to express truth at all, nominalism must be false.  But, we cannot swing out to the other extreme of Platonism!  I am satisfied with the idea that forms really are in particular objects and that they are abstracted into universals that are real mental objects.

How would you answer this question?

1 Kreeft, P. (2005) Socratic logic: a logic text using Socratic method, platonic questions, and Aristotelian Principles. 2nd ed. Ed. T. Dougherty. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine Press. 43.

Question One Continued: A priori knowledge, Gettier Problems, and Ayer

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question One

Is there a priori knowledge?
Current answer: Yes
Confidence in answer: 8 (on my subjective unjustified scale of confidence)
The question of whether there is a priori knowledge forced me to attempt to define knowledge. I defaulted to the position that knowledge is defined by a set of three necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. For there to be knowledge of some proposition p, 1) p must be believed, 2)p must be true, and 3) there must be some sort of justification by which p is believed to be true. Justified True Belief, or JTB, was the dominant epistemological model for the first 2,500 years of philosophy (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it gets to the point). Then Edmund Gettier wrote a short article in 1963 entitled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge”. Suddenly, it seemed that JTB was insufficient. Perhaps a fourth necessary condition was needed.

Last night, in preparation for coursework, I found an interesting wrinkle to this debate. Chapter 9 of Garth Hallett’s Linguistic Philosophy: The Central Story relates a debate between Bernard Williams and A.J. Ayer.1 Williams says,

What is necessary — and what represents the undoubted fact that knowledge differs from mere true belief — is that one or more of conditions should obtain, which relate the fact that A has this belief to the fact that, given the truth of p, it is no accident that A believes p rather than not-p. This formula is vague and over-generous, but it gets us, I think, on the right line.2

Ayer concurs with Williams that we need something like this vague “no accident” clause, but doubts that the vagueness could ever be fully resolved. He explains,

…that there are various different grounds on which claims to knowledge can be accredited, and I therefore suspect that if one is trying to define knowledge, in its personal aspect, on may have to be content with some such vague formula as my own “having the right to be sure.” If one ventures on anything more precise, one is likely to be faced with counter-examples… We are usually able to decide the question in particular cases, though even here there may be differences of opinion, but I have some doubt whether these particular decisions can be fitted tidily under any general rule.3

I myself attempted some sort of vague qualifier in light of Gettier examples, i.e. that there must be some sort of relation between the justification and that the belief is true. In other words, it can’t happen by accident. I agree with Williams that this vagueness heads us in the right direction for an account of knowledge. I am not quite in Ayer’s boat that the vagueness cannot be resolved. Perhaps we can allay the degree of vagueness without stumbling too far away from a true account of knowledge. Therefore, I am willing to stick to my definition of JTB as knowledge with the caveat that such a definition is admittedly vague and there may be borderline cases which prove JTB not fully adequate.

1 G. Hallett. 2008. “Wittgenstein versus Theoretical ‘Intuitions'” in Linguistic Philosophy: The Central Story. Albany: State University of New York Press.
2 Ibid. 74.
3Ibid. 75.

A priori knowledge: yes or no? An intuitive response

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students. (PhilPapers.org)

The PhilPapers Survey never asked me for my philosophical views, but that’s not stopping me. So here is my stab at the survey, one post at a time.

Question One

The Question:

A priori knowledge: yes or no?
Accept or lean toward: yes 662 / 931 (71.1%)
Accept or lean toward: no 171 / 931 (18.3%)
Other 98 / 931 (10.5%)

My Intuitive Answer and Whether I’m Confident in My Answer: Yes (8)


Well, the survey doesn’t start with an easy one, like “Does truth exist?” Part of what is interesting about this essay is that the questions are short and the terms are not defined for us. So a lot of the answer has to do with what we mean by knowledge and what we mean by a priori. Philosophers use these terms in different, albeit often related, ways. So with my intuitive answer comes my intuitive and unrefined definitions (we’ll see if I keep them over time). By knowledge, I mean a 1) belief that is 2) justified in such a way that the justification leads to my understanding that the belief more likely true than not true, and 3) the belief is true. As I am somewhat aware of the Gettier Problem, I attempted a qualification in 2 to make justification more explicitly a relational attitude between my having assented to the belief and the likelihood that the belief is in fact true. I have no idea if this is adequate… suggestions? As for a priori, I take this to be a kind of judgment made without reference to anything empirical.

So, my intuitive answer is yes. I think there is at least one “justified true belief” that is non-empirical. My intuitive examples would come from the laws of logic, like the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, the law of the excluded middle. These laws are not known empirically, but are preconditions for empirical things to be empirically known. How so? Any justification of some proposition P requires that 1) P ≡ P and 2) P v ~P. Otherwise,the justification could not lead us to understand P is true and ~P is false. To say the laws of logic require a posteriori justification would result in a fallacious begging of the question. So, if there is knowledge at all, then there must be a priori knowledge. Further, we can affirm that there is knowledge, since the denial of the proposition “There is no knowledge” could not be a knowledge claim. This alone may not be problematic, but then one would know that the proposition “There is no knowledge” could not be a knowledge claim. Thus, I think there is at least one thing which would count as knowledge and that if there is at lease one thing that would count as knowledge, then there must be a priori knowledge.

I am fairly confident in my intuitive answer and the “on the fly” argument that I provided to justify my belief that it is true. I would rate my confidence on a 1-10 scale (1 being very little confidence and 10 being 100% certain) at about a 8, since I am not positive that my definitions are free of problems (especially considering the Gettier Problems mentioned earlier).

As this is one of my first posts, I want to take a moment to give you an idea of how my future investigations will proceed. I will monitor the comment thread on this post to see if any good points and challenges are made. If so, I will update and revise as necessary.

Each question on this survey will receive an initial “Intuitions” post. I will then follow up over the weeks with posts under the following headings:

Good arguments for counter-positions

Reassessment of my intuitions in light of counter-arguments

Challenging the counter-arguments

Challenges to my own arguments

Concluding Remarks and “Final” Answer

How This Answer Effects Other Answers I Have Given So Far (i.e. if I finally conclude that there is a priori knowledge, and then later conclude that I accept “scientific anti-realism” I might consider whether the two beliefs conflict).

As this blog develops, I hope contributions from my readers will continue to spur updates, revisions, and reassessments. There are 30 or so questions on the survey and I anticipate that some of them will have to be treated in multiple parts. Should this blog gain momentum (and this was not just a fleeting idea I had yesterday night after reading a post on “Common Sense Atheism”) and I manage to get through all of the questions, I will try to come up with more to ask, or I will rely on my readership, if I gain any. I suspect that I could spend a life-time on just one or two of the survey questions if I really wanted to, so I am not worried about the short length of the survey itself. But, I also don’t want to limit this blog to just the PhilPaper Survey. It’s just a tool that I am using to start investigating my own world-view. Because, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Right?

Best,

Daniel

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