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Philosophy 1A

Writing Assignment 3

Drawing on the reading and your own sound reasoning and good judgment, write an open memorandum to others in the class stating simply and clearly in your best and most humble philosophical view of the matter how you would answer two of three of the following questions.

Each memo should be about a half a page to a page in length, preferably typewritten. Memos are due on Friday, April 14th, in class, with an extension (upon request) on Monday, April the 17th, Tuesday, April the 18th or Wednesday, April the 19th (at the latest) in the RABB 305 by 5:00 PM.

1. The Disappearing Lamb Chop: Does It Really Matter?

I open my eyes and see. What precisely do I see? I stretch out my hand and touch. What precisely do I touch? What precisely do we see and touch, when we see and touch? That is our question. We have many names in ordinary life for the myriad things we see and touch: shoes, ships, sealing wax, apples, pears and plums; those names are precise enough for action, but they are not precise enough for thought; thought is concerned with common features and resemblances, more than with differences and distinctions. Now, when I see ships and shoes and apples and so forth, what precisely do I see that is common to all those sights? I see colors and shades of color, light and its modes, illuminated points and lines and surfaces. Those are the things I actually see, and I call them inclusively visual data; they are the elemental objects of the sense of sight. And when I touch shoes and ships and apples and so forth, what precisely do I touch that is common to all those touches? I touch hard, soft, solid, fluid, resistant, yielding, and (in the wider sense of "touch" ) hot, cold, warm and tepid. Those are the things I actually touch, and I call them inclusively factual data; they are the elemental objects of the sense of touch.

The theory of matter . . . requires us to hold that in every instance of senseperception there are two factors to be recognised and distinguished, viz. the actual object of sense, the sensedata, actually perceived by eye or ear or hand or other sense organs, and the material substance, itself unperceived and unperceivable, that supports the sensedata. The case against the theory is, in outline, that the theory postulates an intolerable division, based on an improbable guess. It is not a theory reasonably distinguishing homogeneous parts in a thing, like shell and kernel, pea and pod. It is a theory requiring us to break up the one homogeneous thing into two heterogeneous and inconsistent parts, and, incidentally, to pin our faith to the existence of material substance, for which there is not the slightest evidence in fact.

Let us take an instance, and see how the theory of matter works out. See yonder mahogany table. Its color is brown, in the main, though it is veined and grained in lighter colors. Its touch is hard and smooth. It has a smell and a taste and a sound; but I hardly ever need to bother about them; for I know the table ordinarily by its colors and by the cut and shape of its lines of light and its shading, and if I am in doubt, I can handle it and feel it and lift it up. It is a sensible table. It is a sensible table through and through. I can bore holes in it, can plane away its surfaces, can burn it and reduce it to ashes; and I shall never come on anything in it that is not an actual or possible object of sense; it is composed entirely of sensedata and sensibilia.

Now the theory of matter brings in totally different considerations; it asks me to believe that all these sensedata and sensibilia do not constitute the real table. I am asked to believe that beneath the table I see and touch stands another table, a supporting table, a table of a totally different nature that cannot be seen or touched or sensed in any other way, a table to be taken on trust, and yet a highly important table, because it is the real, invariable, material table, while the table I see and touch is only apparent, variable, inconstant and volatile. The visibletangible, sensible table has color and hardness and the other qualities by which things of sense are known and distinguished. The real table has none of these.

What an impossible duality! Yonder mahogany table proves to be two tables. It is a sensible table, and it is a material table. If I take the theory seriously, and go through with it, I am bound to believe the same of everything else around me; wherever I look, I am condemned to see double, and to grope my way through life with divided aim and reduced effficiency.

Some say that the "real table" is the cause of the apparent table, but how the cause works is a mystery. Some say that the "real table" is the original, and the apparent table a copy; but what would be the use of a copy that is totally unlike its original? And who, or what, does the copying, and how? The two tables are left there, juxtaposed, unrelated and unexplained. They are not two aspects of one thing; they are not two parts of one thing; they have nothing in common; they are not comparable; they could not stem from one stock; they are heterogeneous; they are at opposite poles of thought; they differ as light from darkness; if the one, is, the other is not. No mixing of the two is possible; they cannot be constituents of one and the same thing; for they are contradictories; if the table is really colored, then it is not matter; if the table is really matter, then it is not colored. The supposition of two heterogeneous bodies in one and the same thing is selfcontradictory, destroying the unity of the thing....

Then consider the question of evidence. What evidence is there for the existence of matter? What evidence is there for nonsensible matter? Why should I believe in the matter of materialism? Set aside the misunderstanding that confuses matter with the sensible; set aside the prejudice that would identify matter with the chemistry of atoms, or the subatomic objects of nuclear physics; set aside the legend of the constant sumtotal of energy from which all springs and to which all returns; set aside mere tradition and the voice of uninformed authority. And what philosophical evidence is there for the matter of materialism? There is no evidence at all. Writers on matter appeal to prejudice and ignorance in favor of matter; they take it for granted that everyone accepts the existence of matter; they never attempt to prove its existence directly. There is no direct evidence to be had. They try to establish it indirectly. There could not be an external thing, they say, unless there were matter; unless there were matter, they say, there would be no cause of change in the external world, nor any test for true and false. . .

The onus of proof is on the materialist, and the immaterialist can fairly challenge him to produce his evidence. If there is matter, produce it. If there is evidence for matter, produce it. Neither matter, nor valid evidence for matter, has ever yet been produced.

Let me clinch the argument with an appeal to observable fact in a concrete case. If matter is, I ask, where is it? If matter is, it is in things, and in all extemal things, and the type of external thing selected is neither here nor there. I will choose a homely, explorable thing that we can know through and through, a mutton chop. If matter is, it is in this mutton chop. I ask, where? Where is it in this mutton chop? Where could it be? Take away from this given chop all its sensedata, including its obtainable sensedata. Take away those of the outside and those of the inside, those of the meat and the bone, those of the fat and the lean, be it cooked or uncooked. Take away all that we do sense and all that we might sense, and what is left? There are its visual data, its browns and reds and blacks and whites, and all the other colors and hues of its surface and potential surfaces and center. There are its factual data, its rough and smooth, hard and soft, resistant and yielding, solid and fluid, and those varied palpables that admit my knife or hinder its easy passage. It has auditory data; its fat and lean and bone make different sounds when struck by knives and forks. Many smells go into its composing, raw or cooked. Air and moisture link it to its sensible context, and show as steam and vapor under heat. The chop has sensible shapes that may concern artists and even geometricians; it has sensible contents and sensible forms that are specially the concern of chemists and physicists; they are no less sensible and no less real than those contents and forms that are of importance to the butcher and the cook. Take them all away in thought. Take away all the sensa and the sensibilia of this mutton chop, and what is left? Nothing! Nothing is left. In taking away its sensa and sensibilia you have taken away all the mutton chop, and nothing is left, and its matter is nowhere. Its matter, other than its sensedata, is nothing at all, nothing but a little heap of powdered sentiment, nothing but the ghost of the conventional thing, nothing, [nothing], and [more nothing].

from A. A. Luce, Sense Without Matter or Direct Perception, Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., London, 1954.

2. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: You Can Never Really Know

We begin by arbitrarily choosing something concerning the external world which might conceivably, we suppose, be known, in one way or another, e.g., that there are rocks or, as we will understand it, that there is at least one rock.

Now, first, if someone, anyone knows that there are rocks, then the person can know the following quite exotic thing: There is no evil scientist deceiving him into falsely believing that there are rocks. This scientist uses electrodes to induce experiences and thus carries out his deceptions, conceming the existence of rocks or anything else. He first drills holes painlessly in the variously colored skulls, or shells, of his subjects and then implants his electrodes into the appropriate parts of their brains, or protoplasm, or systems. He sends patterns of electrical impulses into them through the electrodes, which are themselves connected by wires to a laboratory console on which he plays, punching various keys and buttons in accordance with his ideas of how the whole thing works and according to his deceptive designs. The scientist's delight is intense, and it is caused not so much by his exercising his scientific and intellectual gifts as by the thought that he is deceiving various subjects about all sorts of things. Part of that delight is caused, on this supposition, by his thought that he is deceiving a certain person, perhaps yourself, into falsely believing that there are rocks. He is, then, an evil scientist, and he lives in a world which is entirely bereft of rocks.

Now, as we have agreed, (1) if you know that there are rocks, then you can know that there is no such scientist doing this to you, [i.e., deceiving you to falsely believe that there are rocks. But (2) no one can ever know that this exotic situation does not obtain; no one can ever know that there is no evil scientist who is, by means of electrodes, deceiving him into falsely believing there to be rocks. That is our second premise, and it is also very difficult to deny. So, thirdly, as a consequence of these two premises, we have our skeptical conclusion: (3) You never know that there are rocks. But, of course, we have chosen our person, and the matter of there being rocks, quite arbitrarily, and this argument, it surely seems, may be generalized to cover any external matter at all. From this, we may conclude, finally, that (4) nobody ever knows anything about the extemal world.

An attempt to reverse our argument might proceed like this: (1) According to your argument, nobody ever knows that there are rocks. (2) But I do know that there are rocks. This is something concerning the extemal world, and I do know it. Hence, (3) somebody does know something about the external world . . . And so, while I might not have known before that there is no such scientist, at least (4) I now do know that there is no evil scientist who is deceiving me into falsely believing that there are rocks. So far has the skeptical argument failed to challenge my knowledge successfully that it seems actually to have occasioned an increase in what I know about things.

While the robust character of this reply has a definite appeal, it also seems quite daring. Indeed, the more one thinks about it, the more it seems to be somewhat foolhardy and even dogmatic. One cannot help but think that for all this person really can know, he might have all his experience artificially induced by electrodes, these being operated by a terribly evil scientist who, having an idea of what his "protege" is saying to himself, chuckles accordingly.

Suppose you were this person. Now, suppose [too] that the electrodes are removed and that your experiences are now brought about through your perception of actual surroundings, and you are, so to speak, forced to encounter your deceptive tormentor. Wouldn't you be made to feel quite foolish, even embarrassed, by your claims to know? Indeed, you would seem to be exposed quite clearly as having been, not only wrong, but rather irrational and even dogmatic.

It seems much better, perhaps perfectly all right, if you are instead only confident that there is no such scientist. It seems perfectly all right for you to believe there to be no evil scientist doing this. If you say, not only that you believe it, but that you have some reason to believe this thing, what you say may seem somewhat suspect, at least on reasoned reflection, but it doesn't have any obvious tint of dogmatism or irrationality to it . . .

Largely because it is so exotic and bizarre, the case of a deceiving scientist lets one feel acutely the apparent irrationality in thinking oneself to know. But the exotic cases have no monopoly on generating feelings of irrationality.

[For example,] you may think you know that a certain city is the capitol of a certain state, and you may feel quite content in this thought while watching another looking the matter up in the library. You will feel quite foolish, however, if the person announces the result to be another city, and if subsequent experience seems to show that announcement to be right. This will occur, I suggest, even if you are just an anonymous, disinterested bystander who happens to hear the question posed and the answer later announced.

This is true even if the reference was a newspaper, The Times, and the capitol was changed only yesterday. But these feelings will be very much less apparent, or will not occur at all, if you only feel very confident, at the outset, that the city is thusandsuch, which later is not announced. You might of course feel that you shouldn't be quite so confident of such things, or that you should watch out in the future. But you probably wouldn't feel, I suggest, that you were irrational to be confident of that thing at that time. Much less would you feel that you were dogmatic in so being.

It is hard for us to think that there is any important similarity between such common cases as these and the case of someone thinking himself to know that there are rocks. Exotic contrast cases, like the case of the evil scientist, help one to appreciate that these cases are really essentially the same. By means of contrast cases, we encourage thinking of all sorts of new sequences of experience, sequences which people would never begin to imagine in the normal course of affairs. How would you react to such developments as these, no matter how exotic or unlikely? It appears that the proper reaction is to feel as irrational about claiming knowledge of rocks [in the case of the evil scientist] as you felt before, where, e.g., one was apparentry caught in thought by the library reference to a State's capitol. Who would have thought so, before thinking of contrast cases? These cases help you see, I suggest, that in either case, no matter whether you are in fact right in the matter or whether wrong, thinking that you know manifests an attitude of dogmatism. Bizarre experiential sequences help show that there is no essential difference between any two external matters; the apparently most certain ones, like that of rocks [in the case of the evil scientist], and the ones where thinking about knowing appears, even without the most exotic skeptical aids [in the case of being wrong about a State's capitol].

from Peter Unger, Ignorance, Oxford University Press, London and New York,1975.

3. President Clinton Takes The Stand: So What's The Truth?

BAILIFF: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?


DERSHOWITZ: Objection, Your Honor.

JUDGE JUDY: But the witness has not even taken his seat.

DERSHOWITZ: Defense objects, Your Honor, on grounds that the witness has perjured himself.

JUDGE JUDY: Perjured himself? Why, he hasn't even answered a question yet.

DERSHOWITZ: Defense humbly begs to differ, Your Honor. The witness has sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Defense contends that the witness, President Clinton, is in no position to meet that oath, since he knows nothing of the truth of which he speaks.

JUDGE JUDY: Knows nothing of . . .

DERSHOWITZ: To put it simply, Your Honor, Bill Clinton doesn't know the truth from a hole in the ground.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Oh, yeah? You want to step outside and say that?

JUDGE JUDY: The witness will contain himself. Can Defense prove this contention?

DERSHOWITZ: Defense can and will, Your Honor.

JUDGE JUDY: Then proceed.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you, Your Honor. Now, Mr. Clinton, you have just sworn a holy oath before God Almighty to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Is that correct?


DERSHOWITZ: Presumably, you have sworn this oath knowing full well what it means.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, I have. It means I'm going to tell the truth.

DERSHOWITZ: The whole truth and nothing but the truth.


DERSHOWITZ: Now, Bill, ‹ may I call you "Bill?" ‹ what in your opinion is the truth?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: The truth? The truth is the way things are.

DERSHOWITZ: The way things are. All right, "The American Flag" ‹is that the truth?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: What about the American flag?

DERSHOWITZ: Oh, I must say something about it?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, sure. How else would you know if you got the truth or not?

DERSHOWITZ: I see. So what you're really saying is that the truth refers not so much to the way things are as it does to a statement about the way things are. In other words, it would be silly to say "American flag" is true. But it would make perfect sense to say "There's a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom."

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now you've got the truth, buster.

DERSHOWITZ: You mean that statement is true?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You bet your life it is.

DERSHOWITZ: And tell the court, Bill, ‹ can I call you "Bill?" ‹ how you know the statement "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom" is true.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because I see that flag right over there.

DERSHOWITZ: Because you see it. Tell me, Bill, does everything you see lead you to make a true statement? PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't get you.

DERSHOWITZ: Let me illustrate. You've no doubt seen a pencil resting in a glass of water.


DERSHOWITZ: How would you describe such a pencil?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You mean that it looks bent?

DERSHOWITZ: It looks bent. Your eyes report it as bent.


DERSHOWITZ: No, it's not. Consequently, the statement "That pencil is bent" is not true, is it?


DERSHOWITZ: And yet your eyes report it as true, don't they?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: But it's different here with the flag. The flag is actually here, the way you said it was. The pencil isn't. That's the difference.

DERSHOWITZ: The flag is actually here, the way I said it was. Your Honor, the Defense wishes to call from the gallery for one question only a Mr. Charles.

KENNETH STARR: I object, Your Honor. Counsel's line of questioning has no purpose except to rattle, confuse, and intimidate the witness.

JUDGE JUDY The irregularity of his request forces me to warn Defense that for his and his client's sake, the Bench hopes all this has some constructive end.

DERSHOWITZ: I assure the Bench it has.

JUDGE JUDY Will Mr. Charles please rise?

DERSHOWITZ: Mr. Charles, will you please tell the court whether the following statement is true: "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this room"?

MR. CHARLES: 1 don't know.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: What! He must be blind!

DERSHOWITZ: I compliment you on your powers of deduction, Bill. Mr. Charles, Mr. Ray Charles, is, in fact, blind.

JUDGE JUDY: What's the meaning of this demonstration, Mr. Dershowitz?

DERSHOWITZ: Your Honor, the purpose of this exercise is to show the court that what the witness, President Clinton, thinks is truth is in fact nothing but hearsay. Indeed, what the witness thinks is truth consigns truth to the very dubious area of shared understandings. Such shared understandings must be purely subjective and need not have anything to do with the way things actually are. There is no one truth and there is no such thing as "the whole truth." There are many "truths" depending on your point of view. And each "truth" is equally valid.

KENNETH STARR: Your Honor, I have sat here patiently while the Defense has made a mockery of this court. I submit that he has gone beyond the role of court-jester and is now showing open contempt for the Bench itself!

DERSHOWITZ: If the court will allow, the Defense would like to call from the gallery Mr. Bart Peabody in order to prove the sincerity of Defense's cause.

JUDGE JUDY: With great reluctance, the Bench asks Mr. Bart Peabody to rise.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Peabody, will you tell the court whether the following statement is true: "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom"?

PEABODY: Well, if you want to know the truth, what you say is so and it isn't.

DERSHOWITZ: Would you explain to the court why my statement is true and not true?

PEABODY: First, you do have a flag, all right. Any fool can see that.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: There! What did I tell you?

JUDGE JUDY The witness will restrain himself.

PEABODY: But it's not a red, white, and blue flag. It's red, white, and green.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Green! He must be colorblind!

DERSHOWITZ: Must be? Why? Because he disagrees with you?

KENNETH STARR: Your Honor, how long will the Bench allow this travesty to continue?

DERSHOWITZ: On the contrary, Your Honor, the court is hardly witnessing a travesty. Rather, in a matter of minutes, the court has heard three persons report different "truths" while supposedly observing the same object at the same time. Yet the witness, President Clinton, would have us believe that the truth characterizes that statement which reports an actual fact. I respectfully submit, Your Honor, that we can never know how things really are, because the only way we can come to such knowledge is through different perspectives, which I have just demonstrated to be unreliable insofar as we wish to establish the truth and this holds true of each and every fact, including the facts before this court, that is, we shall never be able to know the truth whether President Clinton had a sexual liason with Monica Lewinsky or whether he lied about it under oath or whether he encouraged anyone else to lie about it or whether he obstructed justice. And therefore I move that this case be dismissed..

JUDGE JUDY: Is Defense suggesting that in this case the testimonies of a blind and a colorblind person are equal to that of a normally sighted person?

DERSHOWITZ: Your Honor, may I respectfully answer with another question? Just what constitutes normal sight? Is it not a convention, a standard that the majority sets? Would the court submit the question of truth to a head count?

JUDGE JUDY: On the question of whether there is in fact a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom, the court might seriously entertain such a proposal.

DERSHOWITZ: So be it, Your Honor. I submit the question to the gallery. Let a show of hands determine the truth of the statement "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom."

JUDGE JUDY: Nobody? Not a single hand?

KENNETH STARR: I object, Your Honor! The Defense has obviously stacked the gallery as a card shark would a deck of playing cards.

DERSHOWITZ: The Prosecution's powers of deduction are as astonishing as President Clinton's, Your Honor. True, the defense has stacked the gallery, but only to demonstrate that when we insist that truth is an agreement between a statement of fact and the fact itself, we play the game of life with a stacked deck

JUDGE JUDY (Swinging her gavel): CASE DISMISSED!

- adapted from Manuel Velasquez, Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California, 1997

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