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Philosophy 1A

Drawing on the reading and your own sound reasoning and good judgment, write a letter in three parts or three letters home in which you make an argument for or against the following claims and/or conclusions about pennies, basketballs and balloons. Explain to whomever the letter is addressed why you believe what you do or why you think the way you do. Propose a possible objection to your line of thought and explain how you would address that objection. Assume that the person to whom you are writing, whether it be your mother or father or both or an aunt or an uncle or grandparent is likely to think that you can see a penny in front of you if you are not totally blind or sitting in the dark, that there is something more to a basketball than your subjective impression and that basketballs, whatever else might be said for or against them, are not "all in your mind," and, finally, that it is perfectly possible to see a pin make a balloon "pop."

The letter will be graded pass/fail or credit/no credit, although it will be possible to receive a "high pass" and/or "credit plus." In order to receive a "high pass" or "credit plus," which could improve your final grade in the course by half a grade, you must summarize in one paragraph what W. C. Salmon says in "The Problem of Induction" (pp. 230-51) and in another what Anscombe says in "Causality and Determination" (pp. 252-62) and write a second paragraph in each case, saying how each philosopher would address the conclusion in "'Pop' Goes the Balloon!"

The letters or letter in three parts should total about six (6) pages in length, or longer if you wish. They are due on Tuesday, November 20th, in class.

1. A Penny for Your Thoughs

The Penny Experiment: In order to perform this experiment, you will need a penny. Put a penny in front of you where you can see it clearly. Put it on the desk in front of you or on a table. Sit down near and/or next to the penny, take out a pad of paper and note down what you see. Look at is the penny. What do you observe? The penny?

Well, no, that doesn't seem to be quite right. Look at what you call the penny. Leave it on your desk or the table, or wherever you have set it down, and move it around a bit, all the while looking at the penny. Be careful when you do this. Do not trip over the wastebasket or knock over the lamp or trip over your chair. Now what do you observe; what do you actually see, as you move it about? What you see is a brownish, copperish expanse that constantly changes its size and shape as you move it, no? Most of your observations of this copperish expanse will - in all liklihood - be elliptical in shape unless you climb up onto the table or onto your desk and look directly down onto the penny.

But a penny is not the sort of thing that constantly changes it size and shape and that is elliptical or oval rather then round. So what you observe, what you actually see changes its size and shape, but a penny does not change its size and shape. A penny is a penny. It, therefore, follows that what you observe is not a penny.

Now here you might object. You may wish to note down in your notebook: "What I'm actually seeing is a brownish, copperish expanse from various angles and distances." You might wish to say that. But, in fact, if you consider carefully what you are observing, you are not observing a brownish, copperish expanse, simply, so. You are observing a brownish, copperish expanse that changes its size and shape. You do not see a brownish, copperish expanse that remains unchanged. What you see does change. So, it still follows, since the penny itself does not change, that what you see, whatever else it might be, it is NOT a penny!

How do you know that what you are looking at is a penny, if all you actually observe, all you actually see, all you actually experience are many different impressions?

Well, you might say that your belief that there is a penny there in front of you is an inference from what you observe, that is, an inference from your impressions to something that is distinct from your impressions that happens to cause them, i.e., the penny. But there's a problem with that line of reasoning. You never observe or are in any way in contact with anything that is distinct from your impressions. You never observe a connection between your impressions and the penny.

So how can you possibly claim that it is the penny that causes your impressions? Might it not, in fact, be more accurate to say that you have never met a penny, never encountered a penny "up close and personal," as some are wont to say, that the "reality" of a penny has always eluded you?

So much for the penny and for pennies.

2. What is a Basketball?

An Experiment with a Basketball: Let's try a slightly different tack. Perhaps there was something wrong with the penny. Let's try basketballs. You won't need a real basketball for this experiment; however, if you have trouble imagining a basketball, you may use a basketball. Now where does the idea of a basketball come from? It certainly did not spring sui generis into your head. Socrates never thought about basketballs. He did not even know that they existed; neither did Plato, or Aristotle or Aquinas or Descartes. Even Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were clueless about basketballs. And David Hume was smart. But he was not smart enough to think of basketballs before there were basketballs. It may be true that not all our ideas come from experience, but surel surely your idea of a basketball comes from your experience of basketballs, even though you may have never actually handled or dribbled a basketball.

Somehow, somewhere in the course of our living on the planet we - you and I - had a basketball experience. A basketball experience is not quite as vivid or migraine, but it's an experience. And without the experience of a basketball or basketballs, we would have no idea or ideas of basketballs dancing in our heads. A basketball is not an innate idea; it is not something you or I were born with; if it were, Socrates might have known about basketballs, too. (For all his claims that he was ignorant, Socrates seems to have known a lot; but we know he knew nothing about basketballs). But (Socrates aside) whatever you and I might wish to say about basketballs, our idea of basketballs comes from experience. No?

So now, think of a basketball. I know we're a long way from grand philosophical questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" but "What is a basketball?"

Well, a basketball has cerain qualities. We might also call these qualities "features." Whatever else a basketball is, it is not featureless or without qualities. It has a certain texture, a certain color, a given weight and when we handle a basketball we can feel these qualities. Just before taking a foul shot, you often see a basketball player, do all these things. He or she will weigh the basketball, holding the basket ball in such a way as to feel its weight or heft. Sometimes the basketball player will run his or her palms over the ball prior to taking a foul shot, feeling its texture and roundedness. Sometimes it almost seems as if the basketball player is trying to reassure himself or herself that the basketball exists.

In any event whatever these rituals might signify, John Locke has called such features as the "feel," color and smell of an object its secondary qualities, and basketballs, whatever else they might have going for them, have these qualities, i.e., they have a "feel." color, smell, and, when dribbled, make a satisfying "slap" against the floor. They can smell, especially after they have been used in a practice or in a game, and especially when they are brand new. Basketballs can have a nice or not so nice leathery smell. They also have a color, a nice brown color and sometimes a color that resembles the color of a penny. Before practice a basketball can also feel cool, that is, cool to the touch. But now are these qualities really "in" the basketball? "Of course not," you may very well say.

And that's exactly what John Locke said. These "secondary" qualities are not in the object. Thus, if all sentient creatures were removed from the vacinity of a basketball, there would not be brownness, a leathery odor, or coolness, although presumably there would be something. Our perceptions of a basketball's color and smell or the sound it makes when it is dribbled on a nice wooden floor, do not represent anything that is really in the basketball: its color and "feel" and the sound the ball makes when it hits the floor are just subjective qualities that only exist in our minds. Or so some, such as Locke, might argue.

And so when we watch a basketball game or take a gander, actually look, at a basketball, the so-called basketball that exists in the world and outside of our minds is only a shadow of our idea of the basketball. Indeed, if we take away all those things that we asscociate with basketballs, what's left? What's left would be an invisible, undetectable, intangible, unreachable, non-communicative, insensate something-or-other. And how is it possible to have an experience of something like an invisible, undetectable, intangible, unreachable, non-communicative, insensate something-or-other? Has anyone, ever? So basketballs, if basketballs there be, must exist only in our minds.

So much for the basketball and basketballs.

3. "Pop" Goes the Balloon

The Balloon Experiment: In the course of discussing how a person, any person, might get from his or her observations to the penny itself, I mentioned that you might wish to say that although you do not directly observe pennies in-and-of-themselves, your belief that is there, underlying your impressions, might be justified in light of your making a causal inference from what you observe, the penny, to your impressions of it, i.e., that the reasons you have impressions of a penny or of something penny-like, is due to the fact that a penny is causing those impressions. Now apart from the difficulties already raised with this line of reasoning, what about causation itself?

What is causation? Have you ever "seen" or observed causation in action?

Hold a balloon filled with helium in one hand. Hold on tight, we don't want it bouncing off the ceiling all night. Now hold a pin in your other hand. Now hold the balloon still with one hand and bring the pin slowly into contact with the balloon's surface, and do so with enough "umpf" to make the balloon pop. Did you see the pin make the balloon pop?

Perhaps you were not looking closely. Get another balloon. Perform the experiment again. Move the pin slowly towards the balloon's surface. Make it pop. Did you see? Did you see the pin make the balloon pop? You blinked? Don't blink. Try it again. Get another balloon. Move the pin slowly towards the balloon's surface. Don't blink this time. Perform this experiment over and over until you see the pin make the balloon pop. Or think you have seen it.

Now that you have seen the pin make the balloon pop, or think you have seen it, how would you answer someone who claimed that all you really saw was (1) the pin come into spatial contact with the balloon, followed by (2) the balloon's popping. How would you answer someone who said: "You never saw (did not see) the pin actually make the ballon pop."

Now this seems like an odd sort of thing to say and surely, one thinks, at first that it must be false. The swing of a golf club makes the golf ball sail down the fairway (or if you're new to the game or a bit of a clutz) into the rough). The cue ball moves the eight ball when it hits the eight ball into the corner pocket at the end of the game. What could be more obvious! Yet by paying close attention to what we actually experience in an instance of so-called causation, we never actually experience the cause producing the effect.

You don't really see the cue ball move the eight ball. You don't really see the golf club drive the golf ball. You don't really see the pin make the balloon pop.

What you see and all that you see is a sequence of events. First you see the pin in motion in your hand, then you see it touch the surface of the balloon, and then you see the balloon pop. And hence you can never be certain that balloons will always pop when they come into contact with pins addressed to their surfaces with sufficient "umpf."

You can never be certain that the future will resemble the past. That balloons will pop. That golf balls will sail into the distance when hit or that pool balls will roll when a cue ball is driven into them by the thrust of a cue stick. Or put another way: All we ever see are two events in regular spatio-temporal conjunction with one another and from this we infer that there is a binding relation between the two events, but we cannot see that they are bound together


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