What is the difference between A Priori and A Posteriori? What are analytic and synthetic statements?

What is the difference between A Priori and A Posteriori statements or arguments?

A Posteriori statements are statements or truths ‘post experience’. In other words, you have to have experienced something in order to make the claim. Remember it because ‘post’ means after – after experience.

A Priori Philosophical statements are based on logic

A Priori statements are usually ‘analytic’ in nature and A Posteriori statements are usually ‘synthetic’ in nature.

What is an analytic statement?

An analytic statement is one that is analytically true i.e. it is true within itself. An example of this is the term ‘bachelor’. A bachelor is an unmarried male. The term bachelor entails ‘maleness’ and ‘unmarriedness’.  If you told me ‘John is a bachelor’ I would not have to meet John to know that he was unmarried and that he was a man. That is because the term ‘bachelor’ itself tells me these things analytically.

What is a synthetic statement?

A synthetic statement is something that is true by the way it relates to the world. For example, ‘the cat is black’ is a synthetic statement.

Now, let’s say that ‘catness’ entailed ‘blackness’, and Timmy was a cat. He would therefore be black, and this would be analytic. However, not all cats are black.  Therefore, the statement ‘the cat is black’ is synthetic.

Is the statement ‘God Exists’ A Priori or A Posteriori?

This is a trick question, because the answer is both!

If we argue that ‘God exists’ from Design in the world (Paley), we are presenting a A Posteriori argument.  That is because I have to experience the design in the world to be able to present the argument for God as a designer.

If we say that ‘God’ exists arguing ontologically, we are presenting an A Priori analytic argument. This is because, according to Anselm, existence is a logical necessity for God.

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

The Ontological argument for God’s existence is often the most difficult to understand.  I would like to simplify the argument and break it down into easy understandable steps! The Ontological argument is a popular exam or essay question in AS, A-Level and degree level philosophy.

The Ontological argument was first asserted by St. Anselm. It is the only A Priori argument for God’s existence. That means that it derives from logic and reasoning rather than from experience.

The Ontological argument according to Anselm in 4 easy steps…

1. Anselm defined God as ‘a being than which nothing greater can be conceived’.

2. If we conceive of a God that has existence, and a God that does not have existence, which would be greater

3. If God with ‘existence’ is greater than God without existence, it follows that God must have existence in order to be ‘a being than which nothing greater can be conceived’.

4. Therefore, God must exist.

Get it?  No? Ok, imagine a Mars bar in your mind. If you look in the cupboard and find a Mars bar that actually exists, you can eat the one that has existence, but not the one in the mind. Therefore the Mars bar in reality is greater than the one in the mind.

Criticisms of Anselm’s Ontological Argument

In Anselm’s argument, God appears to have necessary (rather than contingent) existence. Whether or not necessary existence is possible is another matter. Also, it could follow that using Anselm’s logic, you could conceive of anything at all coming into existence! If you are interested in looking at the criticisms of the Ontological argument in more detail, have a look at Gaunilo. He criticised Anselm by saying that using this logic, he could think about the most perfect conceivable Island, and that the one in reality would be more perfect than the one in the mind, therefore it must exist!

Further Reading on the Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

An excellent book on the arguments for God’s existence is John Hick. For more further reading, click here.

All you need to know about the Teleological argument

The teleological argument is A posteriori, it uses our experience of ‘design’ in the world to argue for the existence of a designer – God.

Examples of this could be the sky, the human brain, even emotions – the concept would say that if things exist they must have a designer.

St Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas asserted that there were five ways to prove Gods existence, one of which is the teleological argument. He thought that the regularity in the universe shows design, which he referred to as ‘Design qua regularity’.

  • Beneficial order – things that exist work towards an end
  • Beneficial order – cant happen by chance
  • Many of the objects that work towards an end wouldn’t have the intelligence to do so by themselves
  • Therefore such objects must have been directed to do so – by God.

William Paley

Paley argues for ‘Design qua regularity’ and ‘Design qua purpose’. An example of Paley’s design qua purpose argument is the Watch Analogy. The watch analogy simply states that if you were to look at a watch and examine its inner workings so perfectly put together, in synchronicity you would never claim it just created itself – he therefore asks how on this premise could you assert the same about a human being or the world as a whole.

Modern versions of the Teleological argument.

Arthur Brown

Brown, in his 1943 book ‘Footprints of God’, examined the ozone layer and how it is the exact thickness for its purpose. He states that his shows evidence of a plan and therefore design.

F.R.Tennant

Tennant puts forward the Anthropic Principle, which states that it is highly unlikely that science or evolution alone is responsible for intelligent life.

No Designer = Chaotic world

He believes that Intelligent OrderSustained Life and Intelligent Progression provide evidence to support the design argument.

Tennant also puts forward the Aesthetic argument. The ability to appreciate aesthetics has no evolutionary value, such that the only explanation as to why we can appreciate creation must be that God gave us the ability as a gift.

Richard Swinburne

Swinburne also sees the complexity in the universe and cannot put it down to mere chance – stating that the most likely explanation would be that God is the creator.

Okham’s Razor: Holds that the simplest explanation is the most likely.

There are many arguments for and against the design argument. If you are for or against the principle please comment, let us know what you think of the teleological argument.

Problems with Descartes’ Philosophy: ‘I think therefore I am’

I think, therefore, I am

This is an interactive blog post, where the philosophyzer gives you a stimulus and questions, and asks you to provide the answers!

When Descartes said ‘I think, therefore, I am‘ what did he mean?

What are the problems with this aspect of Descartes philosophy?

Please check out this Descartes image and leave your comments on this blog.

Troll Philosophy

Voltaire

Who is he?

Voltaire (21st November 1694 – 30th May 1778) was a French Enlightenment thinker, his real name was Francois-Marie Arouet. He was famous for his plays and poetry as well as Political, Religious and Philosophical writings. He worked to defend Civil Liberties, he thought that the rich were favored by the political situation and that the poor were to ignorant to no any different.

The shaping of his views…

Voltaire had strong anti establishment beliefs, his criticism of the government landed him in prison. Whilst in prison Voltaire wrote ‘The Henriade’, a criticism of King Henry IV and an attack on extreme religionists, its publication after his release led to a violent dispute with Chevalier de Rohan (a french nobleman). Voltaire found himself imprisoned again without trial. Voltaire suggested an alternative and he was granted exile to England, where he stayed for three years. Voltaire grew to love Britain, he approved of the constitutional monarchy and of freedom of speech and religion.

‘Letters Concerning the English Nation’…

Voltaire thought that the British system could work for France and wrote about the changes he thought we necessary. Again his work was percieved as heretical which resulted in him fleeing to the French borders. It was at this point that Voltaire wrote plays and researched science and history.

Political views…

  1. Voltaire thought that the political system in France was corrupt and unfair, that it favored the Aristocracy and noblemen and the poor commoners had little rights.
  2. Voltaire was not a fan of democracy, he thought it was used to make the underclasses think they had rights.

Religious views…

  1. Voltaire was a Christian and thought that everyone had a right to religious freedom.
  2. He was not a fan of the Bible and was vigorously against the Catholic Church – The Church were gaining from been involved in politics by pocketing a religious tax, which is why Voltaire thought they had no place in politics, they were in politics for there own gain and were using fear tactics help suppress the lower classes.

Views on the Aristocracy …

  1. Thought that there was an unfair balance of power and taxes between royalty and noblemen and the commoners
  2. He saw this as corruption in the aristocracy, yet believes the poor were to ignorant to realise.
  3. He did however think that it was aristocracy that was the key to charge only if he had backing of a king would political change occur

Voltaire and change …

  • The introduction of laws that gave everyone the right to a fair trial
  • The Separation of church and state.
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion

If you would like to explore Volataire’s work here is a link to his book ‘Dictionnaire Philosophique’

 

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AI Persons: Can a Machine or AI (Artificial Intelligence) be a person?

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence are minded machines that display characteristics of personhood.

Can Machines be persons?

If you are studying AQA Philosophy, you mght study a module on ‘Can machines be persons?’ You may agree or disagree with the fact that AI/machines can be persons. However, in a philosophy essay, you will need to present an argument. Therefore, you will need to understand arguments for and against machines as persons.  Of course, it will depend on how you define ‘a person’, so as a philosopher, it is important that you get that straight first, before you attempt to answer such a question!

Weak and Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Philosophers differentiate between Weak AI (artificial intelligence) and Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence), If a machine could be a considered a person, that would be Strong AI. If a machine could develop some charateristics of personhood, but that an independant minded machine should not be created is Weak AI.

Can Machines be persons? Optimistic approaches

Alan Turing argued that if a machine could be indistinguishable from a person in terms of language, it could be regarded as being on the scale of personhood.

He developed the ‘Turing Test’ to try to demonstrate this. A human interrogator and a human volunteer were place in separate rooms and connected by a computer. The interrogator typed questions into the computer, and both the human volunteer and the computer answered.

If the interrogator could not distinguis netween the computer and the human, the computer passed the test.  Turing argued that if a machine could have a proper conversation with us, it would be sufficient to call it a person.

Kenneth Colby also devised a test by constructing a computer programme called PARRY. It was a simulation of a paranoid patient who thought that the mafia were after him. When psychiatrists questioned a real paranoid patient, and PARRY, they could not tell the difference. This implied that the machine had human characteristics, and passed Turings test.

Can Machines be persons? Pessimistic approaches.

Some people argue that machines cannot demonstrate the characteristics of personhood.

Daniel Dennett argued that the PARRY test was not a real test because it was flawed because of the ethical limitations of the test. Questioning of the psychiatrists was restricted because they realised that they would be questioning a real paranoid person, and didn’t want to confuse or upset him or her.  PARRY was pre-programmed with stock paranoid answers which seemed to be plausible to the psychiatrists because the subject was supposed to be a paranoid person.

American philosopher John Searle questioned Turings test and tried to undermine the idea of computer systems with human-like minds. He did this through the Chinese Room Experiment.  The experiment demonstrates that computers don’t understand the meaning of Chinese symbols, and therefore they are not thinking.

What do you think?

Remember that if you are asked this question as an extended essay question, you must give BOTH sides of the argument. What do you think?  Can machines be persons?  Do leave your comments on our blog!

Great DVD’s exploring AI Persons

I Robot (Will Smith)

I Robot (Will Smith)

Short Circuit

Short Circuit

 

Utilitarianism

What is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a type of normative ethics*. Put simply Utilitarianism aims to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people in a given situation. For a Utilitarian an act is deemed good or bad by the outcome or consequence not by the act its self. To put this in real terms – Robin Hood stole from the rich, the act of stealing is deemed wrong in modern society, however as Robin hood gave what he stole to the poor a utilitarian would deem this a morally just act as the consequence has helped the poor and maximised happiness.

*Normative ethics – This is typically the questions you may ask ones self when trying to make a moral decision.

Types of Utilitarianism

There are two types of Utilitarianism:

Act – maintains that a good act is one that creates the greatest good or happiness.

Rule – maintains that an act is good if it conforms to the rule that leads to the greatest good.

Utilitarian Philosophers

Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are the two main thinkers in Utilitarianism. Mill was Bentham’s student therefore they have the same grounding in Utilitarianism yet in practice they differ.

Bentham

During the 1780s Bentham wrote the book ‘An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation’ in which he highlighted his thoughts on Utilitarianism:

‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do’.

Principle of Utility – To determine if an act is moral, Bentham believed that you should consider how much pleasure and pain resulted, he referred to this as the principle of Utility. Bentham would deem the ‘usefulness’ of an act by how much pleasure or happiness is created, such that an act is right if it creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Hedonic Calculus – Bentham created the calculus to provide a fair and consistent method of deciding whether an act maximises good or evil, seven questions were formulated:

–       Intensity – How strong is the pleasure?

–       Duration – How long will the pleasure last?

–       Certainty/uncertainty – How likely or unlikely is it that there will be pleasure?

–       Propinquity/remoteness – How long will it take for there to be pleasure?

–       Fecundity – How likely is it that the action will be followed by more pleasure?

–        Purity – Probability of the action been followed by pain?

–       Extent – Number of people affected by the action?

John Stuart Mill

Mill thought that Bentham’s method was too simplistic so developed the concept of higher and lower pleasures. Mill thought that some pleasures were more desirable than others, such that intellectual pleasures were intrinsically better than physical pleasures. In his 1861 book ‘Utilitarianism’ Mill stated that:

‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied that a fool satisfied’

Mill noted that the even those who are capable of higher intellectual pleasure often become tempted by the lower physical pleasures.

Aristotle – Four Causes

Following on from Plato’s Theory of Froms, we will now discuss Aristotle’s Four Causes.

Who was Aristotle? 

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato. However, he did not agree with all of Plato’s Philosophies! Aristotle was interested in the nature of things and how we explain why things exist, just as Plato was.

What was Aristotle interested in?

  • Plato suggested that all things were an imitation of an ideal Form. Aristotle rejected this idea.
  • Instead he was interested in matter and why a particular piece of matter exists in the way it does.
  • If we look at a TV, for example, we can see that the TV is made of different materials, has a certain design and we know that people or machines put it together to become a TV. After all, having a pile of parts which make up a TV is not the same as having a real TV.
  • Hence, Aristotle observed that there must be more than one cause for things to exist. Aristotle believed there were four causes.

Aristotle’s Four Causes: 

  • The Material Cause – this is the substance that something is made from. For example, a TV is made from glass and metal and plastic.
  • The Formal Cause – this refers to what gives the matter its form. For example, a TV is not just a piece of glass but glass and metal arranged in a certain way and programmed to work as it does.
  • The Efficient Cause – this refers to the reason behind somethings existence. For example, a TV exists because someone has the idea to build one and put all the parts together to make it work.
  • The Final Cause – this cause is the reason why something is the way it is. This asks the question, what is the function of this object? Why does a TV have glass on the screen? So that we can watch it.
  • The Final Cause is the reason why a thing exists in the first place, what is its function.

Aristotle’s Four Causes Example: 

If we ask what caused a house to exist, Aristotle would give you the following answers:

Material Cause: It is made of bricks and concrete.

Formal Cause: The bricks and concrete have been assembled so that a structure has emerged.

Efficient Cause: A builder put all its parts together.

Final Cause: Its function is to be a place where we can sleep and be warm.

Plato’s Theory of Forms

Following on from Plato’s Allegory of the cave, we should discuss the Theory of Forms.

Plato suggests that the world we live in is a world of appearances but the real world is a world of ideas that he calls Forms.

The thinking behind the Theory of Forms

  • Plato believed that what we can see around us is a world of appearances, the material world.
  • He asks, what does it mean to be a tree or an animal?
  • In the material world, things like trees and plants and animals will all die out
  • The world of Forms, Plato suggests, holds the true Form of everything in our world and these cannot die

 The Forms

  • A Form is the idea about what a thing is
  • For example, there are many types of trees but when we think of a tree there are certain characteristics we assign to it – it has branches, it has leaves etc.
  • So, there must be an ideal tree in the world of forms. An ideal, which every other tree imitates.

For more information and help on Plato’s Theory of Forms this book is great!

Plato’s Forms

  • Plato was not concerned with trees, however, he was concerned with the ideal Forms of concepts such as Beauty, Truth, Justice and the Good
  • He observed that the term beauty may be applied to different objects and people.
  • However, there are many types of beauty
  • Plato suggests that underlying all of these is the real Form of beauty
  • And some part of the idea of beauty is imitated by all the different beautiful things.

 The Form of the Good

  • The most important form is the Form of the Good. In the material world we can label things as good, but this does not tell us what goodness is.

 The World of Forms

  • Plato says that there must be somewhere where these Forms exist
  • As a form is unchanging as it is not a physical object and it can never die, so it cannot be in the material world
  • Plato suggests that in our world there are only shadows and images of the Forms
  • When we are born, we have some recollection of what the Forms are – he suggests evidence for this is that we all have a basic understanding of what beauty is without being taught it
  • However, through our lives we lose the idea of the True forms
  • The Philosopher is someone who tries to escape the material world and see the Forms that lie behind it
  • In his book, The Republic, Plato suggests that it is the Philosophers who should rule in society.

 How does the Theory of Forms fit with the Allegory of the Cave?

  • Plato uses the Allegory of the Cave to demonstrate his theory of Forms
  • The trapped prisoners represent the regular people who can only see the shadows of the true forms
  • The escaped prisoner represents the Philosopher who is trying to reach the world of Forms
  • The outside world represents the world of Forms, where the true form of beauty lies
  • The sun represents the form of the Good, as it is the source of all other forms.