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Philosophical blindness: between arguments and insights.


PHILOSOPHERS MAY BE ARMED with valid and logically faultless arguments and yet remain entirely blind to meaningful possibilities whose philosophical significance is immense. Philosophical blindness may also concern physical or psychical phenomena as well as their meanings and significance. Some entirely valid arguments should be considered blind. Argumentatively and logically, such arguments are deemed faultless or good enough. Hence, in this respect, blind arguments should not be bad ones. Yet, they have greatly misled philosophers by shutting their eyes to realize, understand, and see deeply into crucial philosophical matters. The question is, what makes philosophers blind despite their valid, logically faultless, or even overwhelming arguments?

Analytic philosophy has greatly contributed to our philosophical thinking. Admirable analytic arguments have changed our thinking dramatically in all philosophical domains. In the name of the glorious tradition, arguably beginning with the Socratic elenchus, analytic philosophy has opened our eyes to realize, understand, and deepen innumerable philosophical possibilities of great importance. Most of all, analytic philosophy has provided us with excellent arguments as well as with subtle means to test the validity and soundness of arguments of whatever sort. Yet, as H. D. Price brilliantly showed already in the 1940s, "clarity is not enough," (1) and in addition to clear and sharp arguments we desperately need much more. Arguments are indispensable but by no means sufficient tools for philosophers.

We may choose A rather than B for reasons that rest on an argument, yet arguments are not what makes us familiar with the possibilities of A and B from which we can choose. We must first realize or conceive of these possibilities in order to choose between them. Insights contribute greatly to this seeing or conceiving. Arguments may compel one to acknowledge a point of view but never to see or to experience what can be seen or experienced from it. Arguments may serve those who cannot experience or see something (for instance, to infer or to establish the existence of subatomic particles), but no argument can replace any experience or understanding. Some arguments may greatly mislead us. Philosophers may argue, perhaps quite convincingly and compellingly, for some ideas that are entirely incompatible with facts and experiences that should be beyond any reasonable doubt. Insight is the ability to see beyond and behind what just meets the eye and to reveal the deep meanings and significance of what appears to us. Insights alone can draw our attention and awareness to some possibilities as well as to some facts and reveal their meanings for us. (2) Yet arguments are needed to establish our ideas and theories and to make them less susceptible to deception. Indeed, some alleged insights have turned out to be mere illusions. Like some experiences, such insights may deceive or mislead us. Philosophy without arguments may mislead, deceive, or delude. Yet arguments in themselves, however formally or logically faultless, may turn out to be completely blind. Indeed, it is their brilliance that may blind or mislead us.


There are a number of enlightening examples of philosophical blindness which occur despite logically faultless arguments. Before analyzing these examples in detail, I would like to introduce them. Relying on valid and logically faultless arguments, Parmenides and the Eleatics were blind to the indispensable reality of plurality, change, and movement. Armed with brilliant arguments, idealists shut their eyes to the irreducible reality of material objects. When Jonathan Swift wished to refute the idealism held by his old friend George Berkeley, he did not attempt to refute his arguments. On one occasion when Berkeley came to pay him a friendly visit, all Swift did was to refuse to open his door and let Berkeley in. Swift thus attempted to open Berkeley's eyes to what must be wrong or "blind" with his idealistic arguments. A similar reaction was demonstrated by Samuel Johnson who, having become furious because of the idealistic blindness of Berkeley, went out to the garden, kicked a big stone and, having relieved his feelings, exclaimed, "I refute him thus!" All G. E. Moore needed were his fists to demonstrate that he had two overwhelming proofs of the existence of the external, material world.

These three reactions to idealistic arguments and stances are not philosophically useless. The same holds for the alleged reaction of one in the audience listening to Zeno's refutation of the reality of movement. After all, Zeno's paradoxes concerning the impossibility of movement are still a philosophical challenge since they are so fine, subtle, and logically faultless. Yet that person in the audience, the story goes, refuted Zeno by simply walking in front of him in the middle of the lecture. He demonstrated to Zeno and the audience the irrefutable or undeniable reality of movement. But how can pointing out observable facts refute fine philosophical arguments? Pointing them out may refute the arguments themselves indirectly by showing that something must be wrong with them when confronted with the relevant facts or phenomena. To show this reveals that the arguments, though logically faultless and valid, are still not sound because they are blind to indispensable facts, phenomena, or possibilities. By kicking the big stone, Johnson did not refute Berkeley's arguments directly, but he may have opened one's eyes to see or realize that which must be lacking in the arguments, that to which the arguments are blind. What is lacking in them is beyond argument, however valid and faultless. What is lacking in them has to do with philosophical insight. The opponents of the Eleatic or idealistic arguments have attempted to show that the arguments do not explain away the facts, phenomena, or possibilities under discussion.

Suppose that the Eleatics or the idealists had answered their opponents who pointed out the facts or actual reality to refute the blind arguments. To show the opponents that the arguments were not blind in this respect, the Eleatics or the idealists respectively would have to demonstrate that they could deduce the phenomena, more precisely the illusions, of plurality, changes, and movement, or of material objects as if real, from the grounds of their own arguments. Parmenides would have to demonstrate how the phenomena of plurality and change as mere illusions could be derived or deduced from his ideas. He was unable to do so, however, for the second half of his poem, "The Way of Seeming," neither follows nor can be inferred from the first part, "The Way of Truth," and the Parmenidean dualism is insoluble. I will return to this point below. In any case, even from the Eleatic or idealistic points of view, the phenomena under discussion should be explained as illusions.

We are entitled to demand adequate explanations regarding why and how illusions occur or what necessitates their occurrence. Take, for instance, optical illusions. They are illusions, certainly, yet optical laws explain in detail what is precisely the optical basis for such illusions. Owing to optical laws, a stick looks broken through a transparent vessel containing water. Thus, optical illusions are "under" optical laws. By the same token, the epistemic illusion of material objects should be under the idealistic explanation. Idealists should explain why we witness material objects even though they do not really exist. Equally, the Eleatics should explain why we witness changes, movement, and plurality in spite of the fact, as the Eleatic arguments attempt to demonstrate, that there is nothing real about them.

Philosophical blindness is a detachment or dissociation not from actual reality or facts as such but primarily from the significance or meanings of actual reality or facts in respect of the arguments that exclude their real existence. The capability of integrating the explanation of the excluded facts or phenomena into the arguments exempts these arguments from blindness. Insights are needed to achieve that integration, for such an integration first requires understanding why such illusions occur and why other philosophers have not regarded them as illusions at all. Understanding, especially a deep understanding, requires insight. By contrast, those who rely only on their arguments against other philosophical views, easily detect the flaws in these views without seeing or understanding the reasons, some of which may be quite profound, leading to or serving as the basis for constructing these views. To refute idealism, for instance, one has to understand idealism deeply. The Eleatics had good philosophical reasons to exclude plurality, change, and movement as being mere illusions, but they had no real understanding of the views that considered them indispensably or irrefutably real.

I would not say the same about Berkeley. His view should not be considered blind since he explained that, because of our ability to abstract, once we follow the generality of words instead of the particularity of our ideas we give rise to the illusion about material objects' existing as if without the mind. Yet his explanation failed, and I will show below how Kant, deeply understanding Berkeley, refuted idealism, Berkeley's version in particular.


Philosophers, such as Derek Parfit, are armed with brilliant arguments to prove their views. Brilliantly, even overwhelmingly, Parfit utilizes sophisticated thought-experiments to make the reader realize what must be the case. Thought-experiments have to do not only with arguments but first and foremost with philosophical possibilities and insights. Thought-experiments are meant to open our eyes to see what otherwise we could not possibly realize. Hence, Parfit's philosophical way is worth special consideration in this paper.

Wittgenstein, too, was armed with sharp arguments and with a most creative and elegant philosophical theory about language-games, when he excluded the possibilities of landing on the moon, meaningful madness, and others. I will show below what precisely his blindness was regarding the first possibility. This example may help us see more deeply into the question of philosophical blindness.

Like Hilary Putnam, (3) but contrary to Putnam's total revision of this crucial matter, (4) Daniel Dennett employs extraordinary thought-experiments as well as overwhelming arguments to demonstrate that machines or robots can think. Is such a philosopher not blind to the undeniable, as well as unbridgeable, difference between persons who think and machines that cannot?

In what follows I will attempt to analyze these examples in order to clarify how philosophical blindness, relying on however logically faultless arguments or thought-experiments, can prevail owing to lack of insight or to blindness to some illuminating philosophical possibilities. The missing insights have to do with pure possibilities as well as actual facts; and the philosophical blindness involved is also about the meanings and significance of such possibilities or actualities.

Let us begin with Dennett. Consider the following:
 It is literally child's play to imagine the stream of consciousness
 of an "inanimate" thing. Children do it all the time. Not only do
 teddy bears have inner lives, but so does the Little Engine That
 Could.... Children's literature (to say nothing of television) is
 chock-full of opportunities to imagine the conscious lives of such
 mere things.... It's obvious that no teddy bear is conscious, but
 it's really not obvious that no robot could be. What is obvious is
 just that it's hard to imagine how they could be. (5)

Undoubtedly, children believe in monstrosities, witches, and magical beings or acts, and they are under many illusions. In the passage, Dennett proves nothing about the ability of robots or automata to think. To ascribe thinking or consciousness to machines may still be an illusion, no less delusional than ascribing it to teddy bears. At most, Dennett shows that it is possible to imagine a theory or belief such as his, but he shows no more. (6) Illusions are possible, as other mistakes are possible, but this proves nothing about their veridicality. Dennett's thought-experiments' attempts to demonstrate that robots can think and be conscious may be illusions carrying no philosophical force, just as children's magical fancies have no such force. Dennett writes that we possibly tend to confound imagining a conscious robot and imagining how a robot could be conscious, (7) but this makes no real difference insofar as both sorts of imagining may be epistemic illusions.

Such illusions can be defended by means of arguments, some of which would prove to be valid and logically impeccable. To distinguish illusion from veridical knowledge, valid arguments, even sound arguments, are not sufficient; at most they can be only necessary. To distinguish thus, our mature, sober experience and insights are essential. Children may lack such insight and, in many cases, such experience. They are naturally prone to mistake an illusion for a veridical piece of reality. Arguing the above, Dennett ignores our well-grounded experiences as well as our insight. Children may fail to see or to realize that what they imagine or fantasize about their dolls, teddy bears, and other toys is just a matter of blind illusion. Teenagers may make the same mistake with what belongs to cyber virtual reality, as if computers enjoyed the ability to think, feel, and wish. This blindness, however, should not be expected from sober and sane adults. To realize that one needs experience; to see that one needs insight.

Magical thinking consists of a similar illusion or mistake. Teenagers are prone to believe that everything is, literally, at their fingertips and that pressing some keys may create a new reality or change something real in the world. Not to distinguish wishful thinking from actual reality is at the heart of magical thinking. Not to realize this distinction is a sort of blindness. People are prone to believe their own eyes, to mistake images for actual, substantial reality, whenever they lack not only mature experience but most of all insight, which is the ability to see beyond and behind what merely meets the eye and to reveal the deep meanings and significance of what appears to us.

Yet one might argue against me that Dennett is entitled to deem such experience or insight as very slight, or as just a prejudice or bias. But such judgment demands a most heavy price, the price of dehumanization. If Dennett is right, no substantial difference is left between us and any machine, and this is a sort of dehumanization. Dehumanization, in turn, is a mistake, in which one mistakes what is human for what is essentially nonhuman or even inhuman. If we commit such a mistake, we become entirely incapable of explaining or understanding normal human psychology as well as of revealing its meanings and significance. After all, only under psychosis do people think and behave like machines; such machinelike or automatic phenomena do not take place under normal circumstances, and we should not consider them typically or normally human.

Could we attribute "machine-wise" psychical traits to machines, as much as we attribute "animal-wise" psychical traits to animals, without committing any dehumanization? No, for we are entitled to attribute emotions, volitions, and thoughts to animals, without committing any dehumanization or anthropomorphism, as long as such attribution does not ignore the substantial differences between animals and humans. Normally, we do not attribute human thoughts, emotions, or volitions to animals, despite some psychical similarities between some animals and humans. We are entitled to attribute such human traits only to beings with whom linguistic communication is possible, whether directly or by means of translation, and more importantly, to beings each of whom is a singular. By contrast, to attribute any psychical trait to machines means to ignore the substantial differences between both machines and humans, on the one hand, and machines and animals, on the other. Psychical beings, whether human or otherwise, differ substantially from any machine or automaton.

Anthropomorphism is the other side of the mistake or illusion in which one takes what is nonhuman, or superhuman, for what is actually human. Mistakes such as these do not commit an argumentative fallacy. The basis for such mistakes is falling into the trap of illusion in which one cannot tell the substantial difference between, say, God and human beings, or between machines and human beings. Every person who is free from such illusions or mistakes can surely tell the difference. To do so, one needs no argument whatsoever. The maturity involved in insight and experience need not rely on any argument. Children and immature persons may not lack argumentative ability. In most cases, arguments alone are unable to open our eyes to realize or to understand what is the great, unbridgeable difference between human thinking and mechanical behavior or the activity of machines.


Other examples of blind arguments are Parmenides' arguments or the Eleatic arguments (namely, "paradoxes") of Zeno that refute the experiential facts of movement, changes, and plurality. These arguments appear to be logically valid and faultless. As mere arguments they are indeed blameless. Nevertheless, they all lack something of critical importance: they are blind to the indispensable reality of those experiential facts (or to that of experiential facts in general) as well as to their meaning and significance. The post-Eleatics, Plato, and Aristotle considered these phenomenal facts indispensable, and each of these philosophers tried in his own way to "save the phenomena," that is, to save them from the argumentative blindness or the disavowal of Parmenides and the Eleatics.

The case of the Eleatic blind arguments makes a special sort of blindness, which is indeed a matter of detachment from a sober view of reality as well as from one's comprehensive and nonreductive thinking. By "sober view of reality" I do not necessarily mean a commonsensical view, for such a view may be as blind and as prejudicial as some arguments. Instead, a sober view of reality takes facts and actual reality seriously and does not ignore them. If what we consider actual reality were just an illusion, such an illusion would require serious and insightful explanation as to its causes or reasons. An insightful philosopher is not entitled simply to dispense with actual reality, whether it is illusion or not. In the case of the Eleatic philosophy, by "detachment or dissociation from one's comprehensive and nonreductive view," I mean a view that reduces all facts and phenomena to what is entirely compatible with the strict, unqualified logical laws, namely, the laws of identity, contradiction, and the excluded middle. Under Eleatic considerations, such compatibility renders change, movement, and plurality or ontological differentiation impossible. In the Eleatic view, only one totally comprehensive, homogeneous reality, exempt from any change or differentiation--only the Parmenidean One can strictly meet the laws of logic with no qualifications at all. (8) Such is the Eleatic reduction which, since Hegel's criticism of it in his Science of Logic, is quite familiar to philosophers.

The Eleatic blindness mistakes the strictly logical part of reality for reality as a whole. Were facts and phenomena, which belong to actual reality, merely illusions, then such illusions, as taking part in reality (if we were really deluded by them), should be integrated into a comprehensive view of reality. In other words, they deserve an adequate explanation within the Eleatic system, epistemological as well as ontological, an explanation which is not provided. To explain adequately such "illusions" one has to make a differentiation within the Eleatic One; one has to distinguish between an illusion and a real view, and such a distinction has to be true or real, which cannot be the case insofar as the Eleatic's rejection of ontological differentiation is maintained. For, according to the Eleatics, any epistemological differentiation relies upon an ontological one. Contrary to the Eleatics, Spinoza's insight opened his eyes to realize that mistakes, errors, illusions, and the like are necessarily parts of the whole truth as to reality as a whole. Contrary to the Eleatic blindness, Spinoza integrated these parts within the whole. In this way he could explain them, as much as optical laws explain optical illusions.

Philosophers may suggest quite valid arguments on the grounds of ignoring, denying, or disavowing various actual facts, such as change or movement. However, this does not render their arguments sound. Rather, as related to actual reality they may lose all their merit. Speculating about something, philosophers may build castles in the air whose formal validity is impeccable, and yet such a speculation may be found quite groundless and even counteractual (which renders it false). Such a detachment may result in their valid arguments' becoming blind and even stupid. We can tell reasonability or rationality from plausibility or sensibility. Arguments may be considered reasonable or rational, but this does not make them plausible or sensible. On the grounds of experience as well as insightful understanding we may find them groundless or void. A person may be smart enough, but this does not make him wise or, at least, wise enough. Wisdom relies not only upon our intellect but also upon our insights, emotions, feelings, sensation, and sense of reality (I would prefer "sense of actuality"). Wisdom thus has the nature of comprehensiveness, whereas blindness or detachment has something partial, fragmented, and lacking to it. Blindness mistakes a part or a fragment for the whole, while the whole has depth which blindness or stupidity must lack.

Good arguments that are not blind but clever and sensitive may support a philosophical thesis or stance, but never sufficiently. This is because philosophy is not a formal discipline. Philosophy and formal logic, for instance, are not the same. Were philosophy merely formal, it would be merely argumentative. Nevertheless, since philosophical content is no less essential than its form, arguments are not enough. It is the right combination of insight, a systematically comprehensive view, and clever arguments that is essential for philosophy. We should not ignore the fact that philosophy has much to do with theory, and, as we learn from classical Greek philosophers, theoria means viewing or beholding. However brilliant and overwhelming, no argument can replace insight. We seek philosophical understanding, that is, we would like to see into philosophical matters, to realize their meaning and significance. But alas, we do not see or understand by means of arguments alone but by means of insight and a comprehensive, synoptic view.

Arguments may disclose some illusions, mistakes, and errors owing to logical, categorical, or conceptual fallacies. Arguments detect the validity or the invalidity of the formal connection or relationship between propositions. Arguments deal with forms. One can quite easily discern the form of propositions without understanding them at all. Equally, one may discern a syntactical form or order in a language that one does not understand and that means nothing to one, for syntax deals with forms, patterns, and relationships, not with the semantics of their contents. These contents and their connotations, namely, meanings and significance, are beyond any mere syntax. Computers may detect the syntactical form of a text, but they cannot understand it. If arguments serve us as detectors of syntactical forms in the logical, conceptual, or categorical sense, they cannot serve us in understanding even one single proposition or statement. Defense, confirmation of a validity, even proof by means of arguments do not make us understand anything; they serve to support what we already understand, to increase our confidence that we are justified in understanding something in this way. Formal syntheses, which arguments detect, cannot stand for synopsis, the comprehensive view that is essential for understanding. As for the role of arguments in rebuttal, disconfirmation of a validity, or refutation, they serve to expose contradictions and flaws and thus to help us get rid of illusions, deceptions, mistakes, or wrong views and ideas. Yet exposing contradictions and flaws in itself does not replace or supersede insight or understanding.

As they expose contradictions, arguments deal with consistency and inconsistency. Nevertheless, arguments cannot enlighten us as to coherence or incoherence, for coherence has to do with the comprehensive view of the contents of a system, not with its forms alone. Not the general forms, not the rules or the patterns, but the particular details all together synoptically construct or undermine the coherence of a system of propositions as a whole. At most, consistency is a necessary condition for the coherence of a system, but it is not a sufficient condition. Yet, contradictions may construct a tension that (however paradoxically) may form a fruitful coherence of a special kind. Hegel's dialectic is a good example; the Kantian tension between opposing or contradicting interests of human reason is another. Such a sort of coherence cannot be revealed through arguments. By means of arguments alone we might conceive a fruitful tension in a philosophical work as if it were just a destructive contradiction, whereas an insightful understanding may consider or see it quite differently, as it truly is. If we do not understand Hegel's dialectical thought, or his idea of Aufhebung, such arguments will not enlighten us; indeed, they may confuse us even more.

On the one hand, strong beliefs may rest on alleged or false insights; on the other hand, strong beliefs and valid arguments may not go hand in hand. As Hume puts it well, "the sceptic still continues to reason and believe, even tho' he asserts, that he cannot defend his reason by reason; and by the same rule he must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, tho' he cannot pretend by any arguments of philosophy to mention its veracity." (9) Indeed, we may well believe in something, even if most compelling reasons lead to skepticism about it or to a plain disavowal. Some excellent idealistic arguments do not make us disbelieve in external, material reality. Equally, Hume's belief in actual determinism--although incompatible with his skepticism concerning necessary connections in general and causality in particular--and his belief in external, material reality provide excellent examples of this impotence ("inertness") of reasons and arguments, however valid and compelling. After all, Hume insists that our reason is the slave of our feelings or emotions, not their mistress or queen, and our beliefs consist of our feelings or impressions, namely, of our inner sense. In the same spirit, Hume has no doubts as to the veridicality or truthfulness of Newtonian physics in itself, yet all his arguments against the philosophical ground of our conviction in the idea of substance appear to undermine his strong belief in this physics. This interpretation of Hume's view, however, rests just on what meets the eye. As a matter of fact, Hume does not undermine the veridicality or veracity of this magnificent science; all he actually shows is that he cannot support or justify it by philosophical arguments under the principles and restrictions of his own philosophy. All that he says means that he cannot serve as a philosophical advocate utilizing good arguments for the philosophical defense or support of Newtonian physics. In the court of philosophy, no Humean advocate can defend it. Nevertheless, Hume himself does not believe that this science needs such defense or support in order to be well established. Humean skepticism does not stop us from living, believing, or making scientific reasonings. This skepticism has only philosophical, not scientific, meaning and significance insofar as justification by arguments is concerned.


What appear to be good, even brilliant, philosophical arguments can actually be totally blind. A fine example is Wittgenstein's On Certainty, section 286, where he sustains the view that "[w]e all believe that it isn't possible to get to the moon." (10) Even long before the time of the landing of astronauts on the moon, say, even in Newton's lifetime, it was surely possible to believe that such an achievement was yet possible, although the actualization of this possibility was impossible at that time or in Wittgenstein's. Getting to the moon was never shown to be logically or, from Newton onward, physically impossible. Technically, and only technically, such an achievement was impossible in Wittgenstein's lifetime. Nevertheless, actualities, not to mention just technical matters, cannot confine or limit the scope of possibilities, let alone of pure possibilities. (11) No actualist, behaviorist, or neobehaviorist acknowledges this truth and thus makes reductions that are entirely blind to some indispensable possibilities. Such philosophers reduce all possibilities to actualities, or any psychical reality to behavior or behavioral dispositions.

As Kripke puts it, Wittgenstein replaces truth conditions by conditions of justification. (12) As I see it, insights relate to truth conditions (especially to the corresponding truth behind what just appears to be the case), whereas arguments may ignore truth conditions and refer only to justification conditions. Wittgensteinian arguments consider how and under what circumstances such and such a language-game may justify such and such a use. Wittgenstein requires us to follow a rule or draws our attention to the language-game we are involved in. But the rules or the language-game according to which it is impossible to get to the moon are utterly blind to some possibilities as well as to the significance of some facts. They may blind us and arbitrarily, dogmatically, or unphilosophically confine our thinking.

What blind arguments can cause is not only a disregard of some crucial facts, experiential or phenomenal, but also arbitrary, even illegitimate, confinement of the horizons of possibilities which should be open to our thinking. To confine so must contradict what philosophy has persistently attempted to achieve. If some language-games, such as those to which Wittgenstein refers in On Certainty, do confine our philosophical thinking, so much the worse for them. If some of the human actions or behavior in Wittgenstein's time (to follow section 284 of On Certainty) indicated that their agents could not believe that getting to the moon was possible, these actions were simply indications of confinement and unreasonable, unnecessary limitation, which only have to do with arbitrariness or contingency.

Could Wittgenstein argue that to believe that getting to the moon was meaningless at the time of writing On Certainty? Again, it was indeed technically impossible, yet by no means meaningless or senseless. At that time, people could certainly ask, "Is it possible to get to the moon?", and the right answer should have been, "In principle yes, although it has been technically impossible so far." Only in the name of some blind or confined language-games could a philosopher venture to answer this question by, "Your question is meaningless." Everybody at that time could read H. G. Wells's fantasies, for instance, and could well understand them. They made sense, even though they were practically or technically impossible at that time. At that time, what people could both imagine and understand about landing on the moon was certainly possible. Following one of Hume's happy ideas, we can say that what is possible in fancy is also possible in reality (although, contrary to Hume, not always as actual). Yet, following Wittgensteinian neobehaviorism, to use Galen Strawson's term, (13) fancy is not an action at all. Having its own severe, even inexcusable, limitations, neobehaviorism cannot capture the meaningfulness of such a fancy. Neobehaviorism is totally blind to pure possibilities, which, regardless and independent of any actualization or actual behavior, are still meaningful and significant.


The case of Parfit's Reasons and Persons (14) appears to be quite different. Parfit's thought-experiments are meant to add more possibilities, however imaginative, to our actual ones. He pays a lot of attention to the beliefs that greatly influence our ways to conceive actual matters. Thus, contrary to Wittgenstein and Quine, Parfit follows the following presumption: "Though our beliefs are revealed most clearly when we consider imaginary cases, these beliefs also cover actual cases, and our own lives," (15) which I fully accept. In part 3 of his book, Parfit argues that some of these beliefs are false. Part 3 begins with a science fictional thought-experiment about the possibility of replicating an individual person, say, Parfit. A teletransporter machine may replicate him, as though he were a facsimile, and thus transport him to Mars. So transported, Parfit becomes a replica:
 At the beginning of my story, the Scanner destroys my brain and
 body. My blueprint is beamed to Mars, where another machine makes
 an organic Replica of me. My Replica thinks that he is me, and he
 seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed
 the green button. In every other way, both physically and
 psychologically, we are exactly similar. If he returned to Earth,
 everyone would think that he was me. (16)

A nice thought-experiment indeed, from which Parfit attempts, by means of a chain of arguments, to reach the conclusion that "being destroyed and Replicated is about as good as ordinary survival." (17) We may find a similar conclusion in Plato's Symposium, (18) except that Parfit refers to the exact similarity of himself to his own replica, while Socrates refers to such similarity or continuity of two persons, say, father and son, because of which the son succeeds or maintains the very being of the father. Such is the way, Socrates says, that mortals desperately attempt to perpetuate themselves in their offspring. Both views, Socrates' and Parfit's, go against some of our strongest beliefs, but this does not render these views false. Yet there is something wrong about them, especially about Parfit's. He excludes or ignores an indispensable possibility that should be saved, namely, that since each person is a singular subject or psychical being, no person can be replicated at all. Otherwise, what is the difference between persons and other beings that have nothing of the psychical or the subjective in them and that are replicable or exactly similar? Is this crucial difference not real? Is it false or just wishful thinking?

The possibility that I would like to save at this point, contrary to Parfit, is that it is true not only that persons are not exactly similar, but also that they are not intrinsically similar. Both Plato and Parfit, for greatly different reasons, assume that persons can be exactly similar. According to Plato's dialogues, the individual is insignificant, and only the general type, the Idea, that the individual imitates or embodies is what really matters. Parfit, by contrast, not adopting anything idealistic, let alone Platonic, is a materialist. As such, he thinks that if a physical replica can be made of him, then he, not only in body but also as a person, can be replicated. I do not see why it should be so. Even if Parfit's body could be replicated, this does not make him two exactly similar persons, let alone the same person. Although my mind and my body are most intimately united, my mind and my body are by no means one and the same thing.

Being in pain is a fine example to support this point. I may be most severely traumatized, and, although remaining fully conscious, I may feel no pain. I can look at my wounded leg, for instance, without feeling any pain, just as if it were another person's leg. The reason for this uncommon yet familiar phenomenon may be that my mind is entirely distracted by other, much more personally significant matters, and this distraction does not let the pain be felt or, to be more precise, to be. Unfelt, unconscious pain is a contradiction in terms. The phenomenon of pain is sufficient to show that mind and body, although intimately connected, are not one and the same. Another example to demonstrate this is the phenomenon of absent-mindedness at the time of actual presence. A person may be present at a particular situation at a particular time and place and yet, being entirely absent-minded, that person is simply witness to nothing, in spite of the fact that something actually happens there. In his mind he is actually in another place and even perhaps at another time, though his body is there and then, as other witnesses who see him can easily testify. His physical presence does not necessarily entail his psychical presence. Hence, mind and body, although intimately united, are not one and the same.

Physical replicating, therefore, does not entail personal, psychical replicating. None of us can meet one day his replica, double, or clone, for personal identity is a subject of inner reality, inaccessible from without. Each person consists of such inner, psychical reality, for each person is singular, and, unlike Parfit's view, no two persons can be intrinsically similar. Only their physical realization or actualization can be similar but, even in this case, never identical. This is not only a conclusion drawn from actual reality; it is the strongest conclusion one may draw out of the nature of pure possibilities. No two pure possibilities are identical, and when it comes to the psychical possibilities of a person, none is intrinsically similar to another person's, let alone exactly similar. (19)

Although Parfit is not an actualist, possibly unlike Wittgenstein and certainly unlike Quine, he excludes the possibility of personal singularity. His thought-experiment as mentioned above is necessarily lacking in this crucial matter. It is also at fault in reducing the mental to the physical, in adopting a reductively materialistic stance. All the arguments that rely upon this thought-experiment must be greatly deficient because of the blindness of the experiment itself. It is blind to the irreducibility of mind to body. It refers not only to an imaginative possibility; it refers to a false, wrong, mistaken possibility. What makes each of us a person, a psychical subject, is singularity, not similarity. It is this, not merely doing things for reasons, that makes persons what they really are, what no other possibility or thought-experiment can deny.


Yet, there are Fine, illuminating philosophical arguments and thought-experiments that, being grounded on insights, maintain a fruitful dialogic nature which may be an effective antidote to philosophical blindness. A thought-experiment and arguments by Immanuel Kant will allow me to demonstrate this.

"To understand a philosopher better than he understood himself" (20) is a fine Kantian idea concerning philosophical insights.

Declining any attempt at reification of the Platonic Ideas, Kant believed himself to understand Plato's intentions better than Plato himself, while aspiring toward his genuine aims. Kant's dialectic maintains various arguments against Platonic or other metaphysical transcendence, yet Kant invested much of his effort to understand deeply the metaphysical aspirations and tasks which, however dogmatic, are part and parcel of human nature, serving as anthropological truth. Such metaphysics, like that of Plato, is hence metaphysica naturalis. Despite the fact that he provided many arguments to show why such a metaphysics should fail, Kant manifested a deep understanding regarding it. His thoughts concerning the dogmatic dialectic, which is an attempt to transcend the bounds of human reason, indicates deeply insightful thinking. He well understood that his criticism of dogmatic metaphysics would not terminate it, for it is part of human nature to have such a metaphysics, to attempt to transcend the boundaries of our reason and not to follow "the given" (which is the opposite of reason). We have to channel our metaphysical aspiration legitimately, for instance, to the moral domain, in which we do not follow our "sensual nature," our given instincts, interests, and inclinations but rather the demands and laws of our practical, moral reason.

Equally insightful are Kant's treatments of Hume's and Berkeley's philosophies. Only on the basis of his profound and insightful understanding could Kant construct cogent arguments against their views. These arguments are deeply illuminating, clearly exempt from philosophical blindness. Let me demonstrate this in some detail.

Of course, Kant read in German philosophical comments, paraphrases, and descriptions regarding Hume's philosophy, and thus he could have an idea or impression of what it was about. We cannot assume, however, that he had any direct access to the following English passage at the end of the "Appendix" to the Treatise. Having discussed two principles, indispensable to his philosophy yet contradicting each other, Hume writes:
 For my part, I must plead the privilege of a sceptic, and confess,
 that this difficulty is too hard for my understanding. I pretend
 not, however, to pronounce it absolutely insuperable. Others,
 perhaps, or myself, upon more mature reflections, may discover
 some hypothesis, that will reconcile those contradictions. (21)

Like a mysterious echo, mentioning the Copernican Revolution, Kant responds:
 Copernicus ... dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but
 yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly
 bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view,
 analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique,
 I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to
 draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such
 a change, which are always hypothetical. (22)

In these words Kant actually introduces his thought-experiment, which is entirely different from the above-mentioned thought-experiments by Dennett and Parfit, for Kant does not attempt to destroy or exclude the ideas of his opponents. Instead, his arguments begin with the insights that, in their own inner necessity, direct the ideas that he opposes.

Hume clarifies that necessary connections, such as causality, are merely the associations of the observer who is accustomed to the ordinary, expected course of events, each following the other in the same way. To transfer such associations to the external world, which is entirely exempt of them, is groundless or mistaken, for whatever necessity we feel whenever we witness the uniformity of the course of events, this necessity is merely a matter of subjectivity alone. Subjectivity should not be considered objective at all. Kant deeply realizes what is so appealing and overwhelming in Hume's point. He is very far from blind to Hume's brilliant view and arguments. On the basis of a deep understanding of Hume's view and its ramifications, Kant suggests his revolution. Hume himself considered turning the merely subjective into an objectively necessary connection as an illegitimate revolution. Understanding this, Kant suggests rendering such a revolution strictly legitimate upon two necessary conditions. First, Kantian subjectivity is applied to the subject or human reason as constituting the forms of all phenomena. Second, we cannot know reality as it is in itself but only as a phenomenon. Upon these conditions, Kant is able to realize the grand epistemological revolution that Hume, even as a skeptic, did not dare to make. Hence, Kant's thought-experiment is by no means blind to Hume's considerations. On the contrary, he considered and understood them deeply. Kant's thought-experiment, which is the Kantian Copernican Revolution, saves more philosophical possibilities for us, which Hume excludes.

As for Berkeley, Kant strongly attempts to convince the readers that, quite unlike Berkeley, he should not be considered an idealist. This takes a lot of his efforts in the Prolegomena, (23) at the Preface to the Second Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, (24) and in the Refutation of Idealism. (25) Kant's refutation of idealism in all these passages begins with the common starting point of various kinds of idealism, beginning with the Cartesian cogito and ending with Berkeley. Interestingly enough, Hume is not forgotten at this point. Hume was not an idealist yet, as a skeptic, he could not exclude idealism but kept our impressions as possible building-blocks not only of our consciousness but, possibly, also of reality in itself. With idealism or apart from it, Descartes, Berkeley, and Hume ascribe temporality to our consciousness, namely, anything mental exists in time and is subject to temporal order. Anything mental takes part in a temporal stream of consciousness. Of course, Kant himself shares this starting point with these three philosophers.

At this point, the great novelty with which Kant refutes idealism appears. If anything mental exists in time, and if time is the form of our inner sense, in order to realize any mental change or even the stream of consciousness itself, we must compare any temporal passage with something stable and immutable. Against the background of spatial stability (we are dealing of course with Euclidean space), we are capable of realizing any passage of time and of measuring time as well. Time is not measurable, unless against the background of spatial stability. Thus, only space, the form of the external sense, the sense of material reality that no idealist acknowledges, lays the groundwork to the form of inner sense, which is time. Hence, idealists are incapable of explaining how temporal passage and temporal measurement are possible at all. In conclusion, the form of our sense of external reality thus precedes that of internal, mental reality and makes it possible. Idealism is thus refuted.

This Kantian argument is not blind at all, especially to idealism. After all, Kant maintains a special idealism of his own, namely, the idealism of the forms of intuitions, of space and time. Kant well realizes the inner necessity in the starting point of any idealism. But Kant proceeds from it toward an opposite direction. As mental, conscious beings, we have to begin with the starting point of our mental existence, which cannot do without time. Thus a kind of idealism is a starting point for the Kantian philosophy too. But, as he argues, such a starting point cannot do without the form of external sense, without the stable, immutable space. Since no space can exist within the mind, space must be the form of the external sense, which is applied to material reality alone. As a result, Kantian "idealism" cannot do without Kantian "materialism."

Entirely unlike the attempts of Jonathan Swift, G. E. Moore, and Samuel Johnson, considering all the differences among their views, Kant chooses quite another way to refute idealism. Instead of pointing out overwhelming or indisputable facts to compel the idealist to accept his view, Kant does not combat idealism. Instead, he maintains a unique dialogue in which he begins with understanding the inner necessity, the point, in the idealistic view. Having realized that point, he refutes idealism in a way similar to that in which the Socratic elenchus refutes the interlocutor's view in a dialogic search for a shared truth. Kant shares something of importance with the idealists, and only on the basis of this commonness does he refute their views. Thus, he shares idealistic insight in order to proceed well beyond idealism, to overcome its blindness to the materialistic significance of its own point of departure. Kant's accessibility to the idealistic insight makes it possible for him to overcome the idealistic blindness. This secures the exemption of his refutation of idealism from philosophical blindness. To see deeply, to realize insightfully, is to proceed beyond what meets the eyes and even from what we see after much consideration. If such is Kant's refutation of idealism, his argument does not destroy idealism; instead, it keeps something most insightful about it, without committing Kantian thought to it. Philosophical insights have to do with transcending the limitations of a view under criticism. Kant thus makes philosophical use of idealism. In refuting it, he does not destroy it. Idealism is an indispensable interlocutor in the Kantian dialogue.

So is Plato. Kant deeply and insightfully understands what drives Plato's philosophy, what its deep interests and motives are. He sees the clear philosophical advantage of this view. Opposing moral relativism, he shares with Plato the insight concerning the universal or categorical standing of moral values. Yet, the critical interest to which Kant commits his philosophy obligates him to put a limitation on Plato's philosophical ambition. Since we cannot transcend the limitations of human reason, we have to find the eminent Ideas within this reason, not without it. We have to transfer the sublimity of the transcendent Platonic Ideas to the moral imperatives of our reason or to its regulative ideas, serving as foci of systematization for our experiential, empirical knowledge. Excluding the reification or transcendence of the Platonic Ideas as moral values, Kant maintains, however, the universal or categorical standing of these values within human reason and autonomy. To keep the Platonic spirit, especially within the practical use of reason, namely, within morality, is a great philosophical insight which does not attempt to destroy Plato's philosophy but to maintain insightful dialogue with it in order to share something essential with it. In other words, such is Kant's attempt to understand Plato's philosophy better and more deeply than Plato himself.

In sum, I find Kant's arguments concerning Plato, Berkeley, and Hume not only exempt from philosophical blindness but also insightfully illuminating.


Arguments may compel a person to accept, acknowledge, or reject some view, but they cannot make that person see or understand anything from this or that point of view. People have to adopt or choose a point of view from which they are able to see, realize, and understand something. Nothing, let alone arguments, can make or compel them to see, realize, or understand something from their point of view. We may use arguments to show someone, for instance, that something must be wrong in his arguing or doing something, as arguments may reveal contradictions and inconsistencies in arguing or acting. Such arguments may call his attention to these contradictions and inconsistencies, but they cannot make him see, understand, or realize that what he does or says signifies, for instance, self-deception. To realize this, he requires insight or understanding. No argument can make him realize what is the meaning or significance of his saying or doing this or that. We see, again, that meanings have to do with insight and understanding, not with arguments.

If a person born blind attempts to argue about colors, he may assume that they are like certain sounds, smells, or tastes. Nevertheless, such a synesthetic analogy cannot enable him to see or understand anything about colors. No argument, whether it be his own or that of another person, can take the place of his missing sight. Equally, no philosophical argument can serve as a sight, an experience, or a phenomenal fact. Nor can it replace understanding. The same holds for philosophical insights: an argument can neither replace any of these insights nor serve as one. No argument, brilliant though it may be, can take the place of the relevant experience, facts, phenomena, or understanding. A person who has never experienced love, for instance, would know or understand nothing of it, however learned and intelligent he might be. Yet experience cannot stand for understanding. Insight alone, drawing our attention to and making us aware of some facts, phenomena, or experiences, may reveal and illuminate their meaning and significance for us.

Arguments exclude possibilities that are not compatible with themselves. The contrary is the case with insights. One insight does not exclude another, however opposing, just as no point of view excludes another point of view, however opposing. Opposing arguments cannot be compatible, whereas opposing insights complete one another. What you can see from one point of view you cannot see from another, but you can utilize the one to complete what the other is missing. The same holds for insights. They keep the realm of philosophical possibilities open as much as possible, whereas arguments help us to close off parts of it for this or that philosophical aim. Philosophy needs both guiding lines: on the one hand, opening the realm of philosophical possibilities as much as possible, and on the other, closing off parts of it. Liberty of thought, on the one hand, and strict restraint, on the other, are both indispensable for philosophy. Whenever illuminating philosophical possibilities are excluded, philosophical restraint may lead to philosophical blindness. By contrast, whenever good arguments exclude philosophical fallacies or mistakes, they enlighten us philosophically.


Some final words about philosophical violence or compulsion are necessary. Arguments, especially those described as "overwhelming," may be no less violent, combative, or compelling than brute force. They may force one to accept a point, however revolting it might be (Parfit has many wise thoughts about this). Insights force nothing; they simply offer us more possibilities for our free choice. They show us alternative possibilities: neglected, forgotten, overruled, denied, actual, or merely possible. No possibility can force itself on us. Not so with arguments. From time to time, we have nothing to say or argue against an overwhelming argument, although later we find some fine counterreasons. Often, one needs more time, experience, or maturity to answer such arguments. Compelling insights do not exist, whereas compelling arguments, in courts of law, in philosophical debates, or in everyday life, certainly do exist. One cannot dispense with this combative or polemic nature of arguments.

Instead, being free from polemics and combative interests, insights refer to possible points of view, each of which uniquely contributes its novelty. What can be seen from one point of view cannot be seen from another, yet no point of view excludes any other. Rather, each adds to the others. Such are insights; they add greatly to what we already know, yet not in a manner that is redundant or superfluous. Not so with arguments; one must decide between opposing arguments, each excluding or rejecting the other. One is forced to decide between them, but one is not forced to decide between contradicting insights. One would like to choose one of them for some purpose, without jettisoning the other, which may turn out to be useful, even indispensable, for other intellectual matters or purposes. If such is the case, insights open our eyes to see and understand many more possibilities than arguments do. Moreover, insights may contribute more to our liberty, mainly our philosophical liberty, more than arguments can contribute. In this way, insights may widen our philosophical horizon of meaningful and significant possibilities, and our liberty of thinking as well, even more than arguments can, however overwhelming they might be. As such, philosophical insight may be closer to the philosophical ideal of the love of wisdom, sometimes much closer than arguments, however indispensable they are for philosophy. Love and a combative or compelling nature are necessarily incompatible. Love and liberty may go hand-in-hand. Philosophy as a kind of love is also a very special kind of liberty. In this respect too, insight is closer than argumentation to the ideal of philosophy. (26)

Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Eshkol Tower, Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.

(1) See Hywel David Price, Clarity Is Not Enough: Essays in Criticism of Linguistic Philosophy, ed. H. D. Lewis (London: Alien and Unwin, 1963), 15-41.

(2) For instance, the facts concerning the mental unconscious as conceived by psychoanalysis from its very beginning, which is still under attack, philosophical and otherwise.

(3) Hilary Putnam, Mind, Language, and Reality: Philosophical Papers, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

(4) Hilary Putnam, Representation and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Bradford, 1988).

(5)Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1991), 432.

(6) Compare Putnam, Mind, Language, and Reality, 405-6.

(7) Dennett, Consciousness Explained, 432-3.

(8) Consult Samuel Scolnicov, Plato's Method of Hypothesis (Ph.D. Diss., Cambridge University, 1974).

(9) See David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Ernest C. Mossner (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1969), bk. 1, pt. 4, sec. 2, p. 238.

(10) Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979), 37e.

(11) See Amihud Gilead, Saving Possibilities: A Study in Philosophical Psychology, Value Inquiry Book Series, vol. 80 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999), and Singularity and Other Possibilities: Panenmentalist Novelties, Value Inquiry Book Series, vol. 139 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003).

(12) Saul A. Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982).

(13) Galen Strawson, Mental Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT--Bradford, 1994), xi-xiv, 29.

(14) Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

(15) Ibid., 200.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ibid., 201.

(18) Symposium 208a-b.

(19) See Gilead, Singularity and Other Possibilities.

(20) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1970), B370, 310.

(21) Hume, Treatise, 678.

(22) Critique of Pure Reason, Bxxii, 25n.

(23) Which was published after the appearance of the First Edition (A) of the Critique of Pure Reason and some years before the appearance of the Second Edition (B).

(24) See especially the very long footnote on Bxxxix, 34-6

(25) Critique of Pure Reason, B274-9, 244-7.

(26) I am grateful to Saul Smilansky for his helpful comments.

AMIHUD GILEAD University of Haifa
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Author:Gilead, Amihud
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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