“He who cannot draw on three thousand years

is living from hand to mouth.”—Goethe[1]

I.                WHY STUDY PHILOSOPHY?

A.               Philosophy Expresses Creaturely Wonder

“There are few human beings, who, when they think of themselves in relation to the universe, are without a sense of curiousity, of wonder, and even of awe; and in so far as this leads them into speculation, they become philosophers . . . surely the questions that rise to the lips of every child should always be remembered . . . if only as indications of the profoundest of all human needs.”[2]

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life.[3]

“The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder.”[4]

Wonder/questioning is a defining characteristic of childhood. Philosophy revives wonder and focuses it on questions fundamental to our lives as human beings.

“Philosophical thought usually begins when the world does not behave as we thought it must. The unexpected, the extraordinary—the paradoxical—invades our experience.”[5]

Wonder is part of creatureliness. The Scriptures tell us that even angels “long” to look into matters related to our salvation (I Peter 1:12c). Inquisitiveness is part of our creaturely longing after God Himself; we long to understand Him through His works and world.

"If she [Marjorie Reeves] had a vocational credo, it was this: 'Glory lies all around us in academic study.' But such glory, she believed, could only be appreciated by intellectual self-denial, by humility which acknowledged that there was 'largeness or mystery beyond our grasp.' Indeed, wonder was the aim of all her work: 'Wonder and awe are the alpha and omega of the activity of knowing.' Thus her learning ended in worship."[6]

True wonder is not satisfied with premature stopping places. In every philosopher’s heart, there is a gentle restlessness that animates and motivates.

B.               Philosophy Enriches our Lives

1.                  It helps us recognize presuppositions, value judgments, and migratory ideas in other disciplines.[7]

2.                  It clarifies issues, teases out unnoticed possibilities, and helps us make better decisions.

3.                  It locates our ideas and lives in an historical narrative.

4.                  It investigates (and often substantiates) personal convictions.

5.                  It provides powerful cross-cultural insights by giving us access to the heart of our own (western) culture.

6.                  It typically holds that there is truth and it can be known.


A.               Defining Philosophy                    

Literal definition:  philein (love) sophia (wisdom)

“An organized way of looking at the fundamental features of the universe”

“A relentless evaluation of assumptions and inferences”

B.               Questions Philosophers Ask

1.                  Normative (ought) questions

2.                  Questions regarding crucial concepts—e.g., “person,” “the good”

3.                  Questions regarding generally accepted procedures—e.g., scientific induction, logical inferences

4.                  Questions about the universe as a whole

“Philosophy is an attempt to ‘see the whole picture,’ to arrive at a resolution of its problems in the light of anything relevant, from whatever province of human experience it comes. Philosophy is the attempt to ‘get it all together’.”[8]

C.               The Major Fields of Philosophy

1.                  Epistemology:  “How Do We Know?”

Major issues: sense perception, scientific method

2.                  Metaphysics:  “What is Ultimately Real and What is Its Nature?”

Major concepts:  substance, causation, freedom

3.                  Value Theory:  “What is Good?” “What is Right?” “What is Beautiful?”

Sub-areas:  ethics, aesthetics, social theory, political theory

D.               Words, Statements, and Arguments: How Philosophers Do Their Work

“To philosophize—to identify assumptions, to clarify positions, to exchange meanings—we must concern ourselves with the use and abuse of words and with the way arguments are structured and evaluated.”[9]

“The main tool of philosophy is the argument. An argument is any sequence of statements intended to establish—or at least to make plausible—some particular claim.”[10]

“The work of philosophy begins typically with the identification of basic beliefs and assumptions. Key concepts are analyzed and defined; alternative positions are compared and critically evaluated. This is the starting point, the point at which fundamental questions are asked and a distinctive direction or perspective is given to the enterprise. Here, claims are made about the way to proceed so that conclusions may be reached.

     Once the broad foundations for the philosophical undertaking have been laid, supporting evidence is gathered and then criticisms and objections are carefully considered. Relevant arguments or evidence from different fields or experience are brought to bear in the effort to determine what can and cannot be incorporated into the eventual synthesis of ideas. The adequacy of a given philosophical proposal is then tested by submitting it to public review so that its structure can be inspected or its implications evaluated.”[11]

E.                Philosophy And Its Surprising Outcomes

According to Thomas Hurka, philosophy students outperform their peers from other fields in entrance exams to graduate programs in professional fields such as law, business and medicine. They even outperform those who studied these fields as undergraduates.[12]

Further, there is evidence that philosophy majors do very well after graduation, particularly in business. A much higher percentage of liberal arts graduates reach upper management in corporations than those trained in more technical fields. The reason for this mid- to late-career success seems to be the type of competencies developed in non-applied programs. Reasoning and problem-solving skills are best developed in highly abstract studies such as mathematics, theoretical physics, and philosophy. Those with strong skills in these areas seem to do better in applied fields. Further, the importance of specific technical training seems to decline the further along one goes in a career.[13]

For further information on the success of philosophy and other liberal arts graduates see Daniel Drolet, “Philosophy’s Makeover” at You may also wish to consult my article entitled, “Expected Outcomes for Humanities Students” at


F.      Philosophy as a Way of Life[14]

“[The philosopher is] the man who seeks to learn the meaning, nature and causes of every heavenly and human phenonemon, and claims to understand and put into practice the entire science of right living."[15]

"[A]lmost all ancient schools of philosophy were also organized ways of living, those who accepted their tenets being committed to certain distinctive modes of conduct."[16]

"We must discern the [ancient] philosopher's underlying intention, which was not to develop a discourse which had its end in itself but to act upon souls. . . . In other words, the goal was to learn a type of know-how; to develop a habitus, or new capacity to judge and to criticize; and to transformthat is, to change people's way of living and of seeing the world."[17]

"If philosophy is that activity by means of which philosophers train themselves for wisdom, such an exercise must necessarily consist not merely in speaking and discoursing in a certain way, but also in being, acting, and seeing the world in a specific way.”[18]

"[T]he dignity of philosophy is trampled into the dust; it has even become something ludicrous, it would seem, or a matter of complete indifference to anyone: so that it is the duty of all its true friends to bear witness against this confusion, and at the least to show that it is only its false and unworthy servants who are ludicrous or a matter of indifference. It would be better still if they demonstrated by their deeds that love of truth is something fearsome and mighty."[19]


I.                INTRODUCTION

Philosophers have been interested in sense perception since the time of the early Greeks. As they realized, the relation of perception to the world outside us raises fundamental questions about knowledge and the nature of physical objects.

The intellectual revolution occasioned by the shift from a geo-centric and geo-static universe to a helio-centric and, later, acentric, universe was deeply traumatic for the early modern (western) world. If the earth’s revolution (around the sun) and rotation (on its axis) were undetectable, could any sense experience be trusted? Were the senses ill-fitted for knowledge altogether?

How far, if at all, can sense perception provide knowledge of the world?

Several of the most philosophically-interesting views on the relation of sense perception to the surrounding world are described below.


Direct realism is the view that:[20]

1.                  Objects are straightforwardly confronted in experience. Objects disclose themselves to our awareness just as they are.

2.                  Objects are independent of perception.

3.                  Sensed qualities are the properties of objects.

Illusions, dreams, hallucinations, and sensory defects pose a fundamental problem for direct realism since it requires such a close relation between objects-in-the-world and perceptions-in-the-mind. Although these phenomena rarely delude us, they do challenge the straightforward equation between what is sensed and what is.

e. g., a coin appears round from one angle and elliptical from another. How can a single object possess contrary properties? What is the “real” shape of a coin? The inference from presented properties to actual properties is problematic.

e. g., Phantom Limb Pain

Illusions and dreams show that perception is never certain—it is not self-grounding. Even when tested by other means, our perceptions are not certain since all possible tests presuppose the veracity of perception itself.

Hallucinatory objects and their properties are private objects of awareness and yet they are indistinguishable from what we encounter in “normal” perception. That is why they are so terrifying.


“Things cannot really be just as they appear to our senses. We are forced to recognize a distinction between what the object is like (in itself) and the way it sounds or looks to us.”[21]

This theory “distinguishes between external material objects as the causes and ultimate objects of perceiving and private sensa which are the mental effects of brain processes due to the action of those objects on the sense organs.”[22]

This theory rejects direct realism’s reliance on the unity of the perceiver and the object perceived. 

“The essential point [for the indirect, causal, or representational realist] is that the perceiving proper is the direct awareness of sensa, perceiving external objects is redefined as perceiving sensa caused by them and so all of our awareness is strictly limited to sensa.”[23]

In this theory, real objects causally produce sensa of which the mind is aware. The mind can only be directly aware of its own contents.

External world àà Sensa or Sense Presentations ßß Mental Awareness

This view can accommodate illusions, dreams, defects in sense organs and defects in sensa interpretation.

We are only directly aware of our own private sense-data presentations; our knowledge of physical objects is inferred from these data.

The central problem with all realist theories: The status of the inferences from the perceived/interpreted sensa to the external world.


This account exploits the weaknesses mentioned immediately above. It was most clearly elaborated by Bishop George Berkeley.

Berkeley held that we immediately perceive only sensa or what he called, ideas. Sensa or ideas are objects of direct mental awareness. So-called physical objects are merely collections or families of sensa, typically found together.

The notion of an independently existing material substance behind these clusters of sensa is, for Berkeley, unnecessary and incoherent. “Things” in the so-called external world are no more than private or personal collections of sensa conventionally linked together by the language we learn.



1596[24]                         Born in La Haye (now, Descartes) France

1606-1614             Enrolled at the Jesuit College at La Fleche

1615-1616                 Studied law at the University of Poitiers

1618                           Joined the army of Prince Maurice of Nassau as a gentleman soldier

1619-1640                 Worked intently on “scientific” aspects of his mechanistic philosophy

1633                      Galileo is condemned by the Inquisition in Rome on 23 July 1633.

1640-1645             Writes his major works in metaphysics/epistemology, including his Meditationes.

1649-1650                 Descartes is invited to Sweden by Queen Christiana. While there he contracts pneumonia and dies on 11 February 1650.

In the generation prior to Descartes, the intellectual mood in France was one of “gentle” scepticism and toleration. The religious conflicts of the early 1500s had given way to a mistrust of all dogmatic claims. Henri IV, a Protestant-turned-Catholic, embodied in his own person the reconciliation of the violently antagonistic Catholic and Protestant factions. This period of repose ended on May 14, 1610 when Henri was assassinated in his carriage. The tentative peace of the late 16th century rapidly gave way to an all-out, 30-year, religious war (1618-1648).

Both Catholic and Protestant positions were increasingly hardened. Compromise was impossible. It was Descartes’ insight that perhaps there was a way to re-establish a common framework. If uncertainty, ambiguity, and pluralism led to an intensification of religious conflict, then a purely rational method for arriving at truth would be of great assistance.

It was Descartes’ contention that mathematical or geometrical reasoning was the only way out of the current political and theological chaos.[25]

According to Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes’ metaphysical and epistemological work was prompted by the condemnation of Galileo in 1633. The hardened orthodoxy of the Catholic Church (Descartes was a devote Catholic) no longer permitted him to work in the same mechanistic tradition as Galileo unless he could demonstrate that his science could be derived from theologically-acceptable first principles. Empirical evidence alone was no longer sufficient. Descartes needed a metaphysical/theological legitimization for his scientific work. If the grounds for his natural philosophy could be shown to be metaphysically certain then he would be able to continue his natural philosophy without being exposed to the treatment which Galileo endured.[26]


Francisco Sanches, That Nothing is Known, [1581][27]

“The fundamental experience underlying Cartesian doubt was the discovery that the earth, contrary to all direct sense experience, revolves around the sun. The modern age began when man, with the help of the telescope, turned his bodily eyes towards the universe, about which he had speculated for a long time—seeing with the eyes of the mind, listening with the ears of the heart, and guided by the inner light of reason—and learned that his senses were not fitted for the universe, that his everyday experience, far from being able to constitute the model for the reception of truth and the acquisition of knowledge, was a constant source of error and delusion.”[28]

Descartes’ great discovery in the winter of 1619 was that the method of mathematics (geometry) could serve as a universal science.

His Method:

1.                  To accept nothing as true which is not present to the mind so clearly and distinctly that it cannot be doubted.

2.                  To divide each problem into its essential parts, undoubtable “simples” which are grasped by intuition.[29]

3.                  To begin with those things that are easiest to know and proceed to the most complex via deduction.

4.                  To make sure that nothing is omitted.[30]


A.               Methodological Doubt (as opposed to actual doubt)

Descartes held that one must look first for some metaphysical absolute, that is, a self-evident and indubitable starting point. By properly ordering the various theorems which can be derived from this starting point, an absolutely certain science of reality will emerge.

Descartes believed that it was possible to doubt all sense perceptions, the character of God, and even the veracity of mathematics. Is there nothing that cannot be doubted?

B.               Cogito Ergo Sum

“Descartes proposed to turn the mind inward upon itself so that it could fasten upon some absolutely certain and self-evident truth.”[31]

Descartes’ quest for absolute certainty led him to the self—the existence of which became the premise for his whole philosophy.

To be aware of anything is to imply necessarily that I exist.


Since mind and body have incompatible properties, e.g., extension vs. non-extension, divisibility vs. indivisibility, they must be distinct substances.

Since mind and body are completely different kinds of things (res cognitans vs. res extensa), it is impossible for the science of minds/souls (theology) and the science of bodies (physics) to contradict each other. Just as the physical world (body) is free of spirit, so the spiritual realm is free from physical determinism.

A.               The Nature of Physical Things [res extensa (objects) = extended things]

Descartes defines material objects by their geometric properties, e.g., figure, extension, and number, which they present to consciousness. Their material “stuff” is of much less interest. For Descartes, rational physics is an absolutely certain science since it analyzes the universal relations which hold between the properties presented to the understanding.

B.               The Nature of Mind [res cognitans (the mind) = thinking substance]

1.                  The Freedom of the Mind

The faculties or powers of the mind, e.g., cognition, volition, perception, memory, imagination, understanding, etc., are absolutely free. This leaves the mind free from the deterministism of the physical world.

2.                  How Can the Mind Come to Know Material Objects?

Ideas serve as links between mind and body. Ideas are “modes of our thought.”[32] In another place, Descartes defines an idea as “all that is in our mind when we conceive a thing.“[33] An idea represents in the mind the object that is its cause.[34]

3.                  Doctrine of Innate Ideas

How do we obtain the idea of a triangle? It can’t be from sense perception since we never experience a perfect triangle. Furthermore, we could never identify a triangle in the first place unless we were acquainted with it prior to our first experience (a priori). According to Descartes, God has implanted the idea of a triangle in us.

“By innate idea, Descartes meant merely a mental modification which, existing in the mind antecedently to all experience, possesses, however, only a potential existence, until on occasion of experience, it is called forth into actual consciousness.”[35]


Descartes’ argument for God’s existence goes as follows:

1.                  All things, including ideas, have causes greater (more perfect) than themselves.

2.                  We find ourselves with the idea of a maximally-perfect God.

3.                  The only thing greater than the idea of a maximally-perfect God is an actually-existing, maximally-perfect God.

4.                  Therefore, the only thing that could cause the idea of a maximally-perfect God is an actually-existing, maximally-perfect God.

5.                  Therefore, God exists.

For Descartes the self’s innate idea of God is the next step (after the indubitable existence of the self) in his argument. From the idea of God Descartes deduces the existence of God (see the argument above) as well as certain aspects of the character of God, including His truthfulness and providential care of His creation. Furthermore, God’s providential care and moral integrity guarantees the general veracity of sense perception since a God of this type would not allow us to be systematically deceived. In other words, the character of God assures us that our clear and distinct perceptions are true. “[I]t is sufficiently manifest that he [God] cannot be a deceiver, since it is a dictate of natural light that all fraud and deception spring from some defect.”[36] The world of sense perception (and science) is thus rescued from uncertainty and given back to us after it has been rationally justified from first principles.

“With god as guarantee, one can then—and only then—justify sensations as a source of knowledge and accept a world as a subject for physics.”[37]


Descartes’ study led him to believe that certain physical states in our bodies yield ideas in our minds. Similarly, mental states produce bodily changes. How can these two distinct substances interact in this way or any way, for that matter?

According to Descartes this interaction occurs in the pineal gland, which is located between the two brain hemispheres.

The problem remains, however, as to how a material body which can only be moved by physical contact can be influenced by the mind which cannot move material bodies?

Unfortunately for Descartes, the deterministic world of physics and the world of free will met in the pineal gland. Descartes localized the problem and perhaps reduced its scope, but he did not resolve it.

This dilemma informs much of what is to follow in western philosophy as it attempts to deal with the implications of Descartes’ two substances.



There was much turmoil over competing claims to authority (tradition, divine will, Aristotelian physics, or experience) in seventeenth-century England. It was by no means apparent that experience alone could furnish an adequate basis for political and intellectual life.

John Locke’s (1632-1704) empirical mindset and training as a physician led him away from the “certainties” of Cartesian rationalism to that which could be reliably learned from experience.

In empirical science Locke found a model which provided dependable knowledge of the world but which began with experience. Locke’s theory of the understanding can be viewed as a Newtonian psychology of simple particles (ideas) and forces (mental operations and powers), the latter of which constructs idea particles into unified systems of knowledge.


A.               Introduction

Before men begin to speculate about ultimate realities, they ought to find out what kind of instrument the human mind is. In other words, what type of certainty is possible, given our mental apparatus?

Purpose of Locke’s Essay: “to Enquire into the Original [origin], Certainty and Extent of humane Knowledge.”[38]

Locke accepted the Cartesian dichotomy between mind and body as well as the view that minds can only know their own contents. For Locke, ideas “represent” the external world. Since we can only know our ideas, studying their origin and features is important.

“I shall enquire into the Original of those Ideas, notions, or whatever else you please to call them, which a Man observes, and is conscious to himself he has in his Mind (Essay, 44).”

“Whatsoever the Mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of Per-ception, Thought, or Understanding, that I call Idea (Essay, 134).”

Ideas are for Locke, as they had been for Descartes, objects of perception or contemplation which are immediately present to the mind.

B.               No Innate Ideas

The received opinion regarding innate ideas was that they were implanted by God and were therefore above critical scrutiny. Alleged innate ideas provided certified starting points for the deductive axioms of the rationalists. Innate ideas were also used to justify traditional political and religious authorities.

The received opinion regarding innate ideas held that certain speculative and practical (moral) principles were innate because they were universally agreed to upon first hearing.


In Locke’s analysis, the argument from universal consent is:

1.                  False: No idea is universally held or agreed to on first hearing. The increase in the comparative knowledge of other cultures in the seventeenth century dispelled the notion that there was a general consensus on any issue.

2.                  Logically inconclusive: Universality does not prove innateness especially when the generality of an idea can be accounted for in other ways.

3.                  Psychologically impossible: Since a general perception of any given idea has not occurred, for example, in children, innateness is unintelligible since it requires acknowledgment and perception.

For Locke, innate ideas are not needed to account for the speculative principles typically taken to be innate, e.g., “what is, is,” since these principles “carry their own Evidence with them” (Essay, 66).

Practical maxims, e.g., “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” have the following additional problem: Regularities of moral behaviour may not originate in a generally-perceived, innate, practical maxim, but may be nothing more than conventionality or practical necessity, e.g., the mutual “cooperation” of thieves.

“Men . . . may attain to all the Knowledge they have, without the help of any innate Impressions; and may arrive at Certainty, without any such Original Notions or Principles” (Essay, 48).

C.               Of Ideas in General and Their Origin(al)

All knowledge originates in experience. “There is nothing in the mind except that which was first in the senses.”—Aristotle

EXPERIENCE is a combination of SENSATION (ideas produced by the qualities of the object) and REFLECTION (the mind’s reflection on its own operations as it interacts with the ideas presented to it).

“These two, I say, viz. External Material things, as the objects of SENSATION; and the Operations of our Minds within [perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing], as the Objects of REFLECTION, are to me, the only Originals, from whence all our Ideas take their beginnings” (Essay, 105).

D.               Of Simple Ideas (cf. Newton’s particles)

Simple ideas originate in either sensation or reflection.

Simple ideas are uncompounded, uniform, and indissolvable.

e.g., solidity [touch], colour [sight] (from one sense alone)                

e.g., space, extension, figure, rest, motion (from either or both sight or touch)

e.g., perception/thinking, volition/willing (from reflection alone)

e.g., pleasure, pain, power, existence, unity, succession (from both sensation and reflection) These second-order, simple ideas attach themselves to simple ideas of sensation or reflection.

E.                Primary and Secondary Qualities

Objects have qualities—causal powers to produce ideas in the mind. A mind perceives the resultant ideas as immediate presentations in its “Presence-room” (Essay, 121).

1.                  Primary Qualities exist inseparably (essentially) within objects themselves. Whenever we perceive an object, the following ideas will necessarily also be presented to our awareness: solidity, extension, figure, mobility, rest/motion, number.

2.                  Secondary Qualities have no exact counterpart in the object. They exist only as powers (forces) arising from the undetectable interactions of  the primary qualities. Their varied “presentation” depends on the perspective or location of the perceiver. [Newton explained the appearance of white as the motions of invisible, colourless, minute particles. White is only the effect of a dissimilar (non-white) cause.]

e.g., heat, colour, taste

The distinction between primary and secondary qualities permits Locke to distinguish between appearance and reality. He can acknowledge the variability of secondary qualities while still maintaining that we can be certain about the primary qualities inherent in every physical object.

F.                Of Complex Ideas

“[E]ven large and abstract Ideas are derived from Sensation, or Reflection, being no other than what the Mind, by the ordinary use of its own Faculties, employed about Ideas, received from Objects of Sense, or from the Operations it observes in it self about them” (Essay, 166).

Complex ideas are constructed in three ways:

1.                  By combining simple ideas into a complex idea

e.g., quantity + quantity + . . . ® endless succession (= infinity)

e.g., duration + infinity [see above] ® eternity

2.                  By relating simple ideas through comparison and contrast

e.g., judgments of similarity, identity, relative size

3.                  By separating an idea from the other ideas that accompany it and assigning the remainder a general name: The process of abstraction

e.g., whiteness, Man, Animal

The mind can repeat and conjoin ideas indefinitely. Ideas which cannot be directly attributed to sensation or reflection can be related indirectly through a series of conjoinings and extrapolations.

Even the most abstruse ideas can be reduced to the interplay of mental operations on a particular set of simple ideas derived from sensation and/or reflection.


A.               If Locke is correct, all knowledge arises from experience; it cannot exceed the bounds of experience. Claims to natural (innate) authority are undercut. Knowledge is acquired through constructive labour. This “ergetic” account of knowledge rejects contemplative or discovery models. From now on most epistemologies will understand knowledge as the product of a proper form of intellectual labour; truth is the output of a rational method.

B.               Theological concepts such as ‘substance’ and ‘infinity’ are herewith discon-nected from their metaphysical moorings. These terms should not be mistaken for things. Metaphysical claims are simply linguistic claims, that is, summaries of certain types of experiences. They are not claims about reality itself.

C.               Knowledge derived from experience is given new status (cf. with Galileo’s treatment). It is laden with revolutionary possibilities as it encounters existing knowledge and authority structures. For example, the Enlightenment quest for independence from religious and political authority was greatly enhanced by Locke’s epistemology. It is therefore no wonder that Locke’s Essay is often used to designate the beginning of the Enlightenment.



I.                INTRODUCTION

George Berkeley was born in Ireland and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He is remembered for his attempt to found a college in Bermuda and for his contribution to the epistemology of empiricism.

For Berkeley, an explanation of the physical world in terms of interacting particles, e.g., Descartes, Newton, Locke, et al., was not an explanation at all. It merely described events that were co-occuring. For Berkeley, any genuine explanation must refer to intentional agents and their acts of will.[39]

For Berkeley, the concept of an independent, material stuff was at the heart of atheism and godless materialism. In his view, the atomism (“corpuscularianism”) of Descartes, Locke, Newton, et al. led directly to religious scepticism since it renders God as merely an outsider to the processes of an independent nature.

Berkeley’s enduring insight was that “the atoms, forces, and causes of the New Philosophy [modern science]—though more useful in building a scientific system—were also unduly deified fictions of the human mind.”[40]

Berkeley continues to draw out the implications of Descartes’ mind-body dualism and the theory of ideas.


Tangible “things” are not immediately (without inference) perceived by the mind. They are immediately experienced only as singular perceptions or, at most, collections of singular perceptions.

Various perceptions are observed to accompany each other, e.g., red + spherical + small + sweet. We learn to mark this entire collection of co-occurring perceptions by one name, “apple.” Over time this cluster of separate perceptions comes to be reputed as one “thing.” Language, not an underlying, mysterious, material “stuff” enables us to demarcate these clusters of ideas as “things.” 

The concept of “material substance” which had figured so prominently in Descartes and Locke is, for Berkeley, nothing more than an (illegitimate) inference from a collection of perceived qualities to a material cause or external substance. For Berkeley, there is no necessary connection between ideas and external objects, e.g., hallucinations, dreams.

When we do our utmost to conceive the existence of external bodies, we are all the while only contemplating our own ideas. But the mind taking no notice of itself, is deluded to think it can and does conceive bodies existing unthought of or without [outside of] the mind.[41]

The hypothesis that these presentations are representations of external objects (a la Locke and Descartes) is not warranted by the perceptions themselves. Their alleged “representation” is merely a theory or operation of reason applied to perceptions. A representational theory of perception requires a comparison between a given perception/idea and its object. This is not possible in the case of sense perception since all attempts to independently access or characterize the “object” of perception necessarily rely on what can only be known through and in ideas. In Berkeley’s view, reason rightly affirms that perceptions have causes, but it errors in attributing these causes to an external material substance.

Berkeley’s solution to the crippling Lockean/Cartesian dichotomy between ideas and the material world is to deny the existence of matter. Berkeley denies that causation (which is the only link between these qualities and their alleged source) is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of material substance. 


Berkeley argues that so-called material objects are absolutely unknowable since they cannot be identified with any particular idea present in the mind. We have the mental experience of many “families” of contiguous perceptions, but where, beyond all these individual ideas, is the idea or experience of the material substance itself? Berkeley believes that no such experience is possible. Therefore, the concept ‘material object’ is unintelligible (meaningless) since it does not and cannot produce a unique and corresponding idea in the mind.


If x is intelligible (meaningful), then x is present to the mind as an idea

Matter is never present to the mind as an idea

Therefore, the term ‘matter’ is unintelligible (meaningless).


The first premise in the argument above is the famous empirical criterion of meaning. As it turns out, the implication of this principle goes beyond Locke’s agnosticism regarding the nature of material substance. It claims that our language cannot make any meaningful reference to ‘matter’. ‘Matter’ is beyond the scope of meaning because it does not and cannot have a referent in experience.


For Berkeley, both primary and secondary qualities are dependent on a perceiving mind for their existence since any quality must be perceived in order to be an idea. Primary qualities can never be perceived apart from attendant secondary qualities and thus depend on secondary qualities (which even Locke conceded depended on the mind). For Berkeley, however, being perceived is the essence of any quality: esse is percipi.

Berkeley affirms that ideas can only be similar to other ideas. Therefore, only an idea can represent another idea. Furthermore, since only ideas are similar to other ideas, their causes must be other ideas (or minds).

The succession of ideas which are uniformly presented to our awareness, e.g., a desk at home, must be sustained by an external, nonmaterial substance since only an immaterial substance can cause immaterial ideas. This substance must be an incorporeal, active substance ®® Spirit. The ordered regularity of presented qualities cannot be linked to an ordered regularity of an external world of objects. The only account that can be made of this regularity is the causal relation between our ideas and the ideas/mind of God which provides our world of perceived ideas with order and regularity. The trustworthiness and seeming solidity of the perceived world is due to the faithful character of God.

By definition, all re-occurring ideas must subsist in a mind or minds at all times. God’s active contemplation of these ideas at all times explains their regularity, seeming durability, and continuity through time.

Poem, First Philosophy, 199.

Comment overheard in eighteenth-century Ireland: “Did you hear that George Berkeley died?” “No, what happened?” “His girlfriend stopped seeing him.”


1.                  Intersubjectivity—do other minds, which are not perceivable, exist?

2.                  Berkeley holds that self, mind/spirit are substances. But what can we say about them? How can terms such as mind, God, and Spirit be meaningful when they are perceptors and not objects of perception?

3.                  Is causation itself more than just observed regularities. Does causation imply any necessary connection between cause and effect? Berkeley thought so. Hume will not.

4.                  Is it the case that we only perceive ideas (Descartes, Locke, Berkeley) and not objects themselves?

DAVID HUME (1711-1776)


I.                INTRODUCTION

According to David Hume, neither Locke nor Berkeley were willing to rest their theories of knowledge on the premises they suggest. Each smuggled in ideas of “common sense” which they were not willing to give up.[42]

Hume set out, much like Locke and Berkeley, to provide a “mental geography” of the mind—a delineation of the distinctive parts and powers of the mind.[43] He desired to be the “Newton” of moral philosophy (the study of human nature and society). In fact, his first book, The Treatise of Human Nature, was subtitled, “An attempt to introduce the experimental method [Newtonianism] of reasoning into moral subjects.”[44]

In the introduction to his Treatise on Human Nature, Hume indicates why epistemology is at the centre of modern philosophy: “It is evident, that all the sciences have a relation, greater or less, to human nature; and that, however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another. Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since they lie under the cognisance of men, and are judged of by their powers and faculties.”[45]



A.               The Elements of Cognition

Hume rejected Locke’s distinction between ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection. He proposed, rather, a distinction between what he called “impressions” and “ideas.”



??? ® Perceptions ®®





(sights, sounds)









     Ideas ®®

¬¬¬Reflection on®®  ­

(hate, guilt, pride)


“Every simple idea has a simple impression, which resembles it; and every simple impression, a correspondent idea.”[46]

The two kinds of perceptions:

1.                  Impressions = more lively, forceful, temporally prior, with underived originality

2.                  Ideas = ”feeble” images of prior impressions. These ideas, in turn, give rise to ideas of imagination and memory

These two types of perceptions are distinguished, not by their origin or cause (of which we can know little), but by their forcefulness, liveliness, or vivacity. This distinction allows Hume to differentiate between ideas (copies) and impressions on strictly observable criteria, i.e., liveliness, vivacity, etc., rather than by origin.

Hume refuses to speculate on the origin of impressions and what accounts for the differences in their vivacity. [cf. Newton’s “ignorance” of the cause or mechanism of universal gravity]

“[W]e cannot go beyond experience; and any hypothesis that pretends to discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature, ought at first . . . to be rejected as presumptuous and chimerical. . . . As long as we confine our speculations to the appearances of objects to our sense, without entering into disquisitions concerning their real nature and operations, we are safe from all difficulties.”[47]

B.               Imagination and the Association of Ideas

All simple impressions are self-contained, atomic units which are separate from each other. Impressions and their subsequent ideas are independent entities (psychological atomism). “[E]verything in nature is individual.“[48]

“Since our simple ideas are loose and unconnected­ they provide imagination with plastic materials for its own synthetic [putting together] operations.”[49] The imagination dips into the stream of simple ideas and recombines them with other ideas.

“The gentle force of association inclines the imagination to make connections which . . . are often uniform and enduring, so that one idea naturally tends to introduce another in the mind. What the precise nature of this mental principle of association may be, Hume professes to remain ignorant.”[50]

“He [Hume] stated that he had discovered in the psychological principle of ‘association’ a ‘kind of ATTRACTION, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to shew itself in as many and as various forms’.”[51]

The mind’s associative habit reveals itself in three practices of mental operation: (1) resemblance; (2) contiguity in time or place; and (3) cause and effect.

These associative habits of the mind provide a “cement” to the otherwise loose atoms of impressions and ideas. What we experience has already been processed by these associative habits; it gives itself out in terms of associated wholes and a connected series of images rather than as an antic dance of detached impressions and ideas. 


A.               No Necessary Connection Between Cause and Effect

Prior to Hume there was widespread agreement that every event has a cause that necessarily produces it.[52] Hume investigated this so-called “necessary connection” between cause and effect.

He determined that a priori reasoning could not identify any necessary connection between a cause and its so-called effect. Without experience, it is impossible to predict what effect any purported cause may have. Given any “cause” the fact that its alleged “effect” does not occur is never logically contradictory. Effects cannot be rationally deduced from causes. It is always appropriate to ask, “Given the occurrence of ‘x’ (cause) did ‘y’ (effect) occur?

After having satisfied himself that no logical or necessary connection exists between any two events, Hume explores the psychological connection by which the mind associates events. How does the mind pass from one event (the “cause”) to another (the “effect”)?

Hume could only find three impressions that seemed to be associated with what is commonly called “cause and effect.”

1.                  contiguity—two impressions appear close together in space

2.                  priority in time—one impression always precedes the other

3.                  frequent conjunction—two impressions typically appear together

In keeping with what he claimed previously [section II.B in our notes], Hume argues that we can never observe any connection between impressions, let alone a necessary connection. All events are entirely loose and separate. They are only customarily unified as the imagination moves under the force of a habit towards a settled belief.

No “instance of the operations of bodies” can yield a single impression of the power between two events (Locke had defined cause as a power which leads from the cause to the effect). “The leap from factual conjunction to necessary-connection-in-virtue-of-a-causal-power is made by the mind, acting involuntarily under the force of habitual association.”[53]

Describing certain events as either “cause” or ‘effect” is unintelligible according to the empirical criterion of meaning [Hume basically follows Berkeley’s account] since we do not have an impression to which the term ‘causal power’ refers.

B.               Where Does The Confused Idea of Causation Originate?

“Thus, the whole experiential origin of this supposedly profound idea that there is a necessary connection between cause and effect amounts to no more than (1) a repeated sequence of impressions and (2) the expectation that on its next occurrence, the first impression of the sequence will again be followed by the second.”[54]

“Our idea of necessary connection is derived from something in us, not in the object. . . . it is grounded in the human imagination, not in the rationality of the universe.”[55] What does this do to the experimental science of Newton and others?

A “causal connection” is only a movement of the mind for psychological reasons, a feeling, if you will, of connectedness. When we report a causal relation we are simply reporting what we have come to expect.


Hume’s critique of metaphysics does not argue against the reality of the external world or the self, but only against claims that we have knowledge of them.

A.               Bodies in the External World

Hume didn’t doubt the existence of a world outside of man—it just could not be demonstrably justified. Hence he is properly called an epistemological sceptic. The mind is only aware of its perceptions—it cannot experience the relation between these perceptions and any “outside” reality. Perceptions cannot and should not operate beyond “the extent in which they really operate.”[56]

Why do we believe in an external world?

The notions of externality and independence are produced by the faculty of imagination which makes several almost imperceptible “leaps” between impressions.

1.                  The constancy of regularly repeating impressions induces the imagination to pass beyond these individual datum to a belief in the continued existence of a bodily counterpart.

2.                  Additionally, the coherence or patterning of certain data sets causes the imagination to “fill in” the intervals and thereby suppose that there is something invisible underpinning them.

The grounds for belief in the external world are not logical or even experiential, but rather, psychological.

B.               The Self

Most philosophers (especially the Cartesian rationalists) held that we are conscious of a self and its continuation in existence.

Hume asks, “From which simple impression could the idea of an enduring self be derived?”

It is impossible to experience anything like a self extended through time since every impression which could give rise to this idea is itself singular and not extended through time. Therefore, memory and imagination must fabricate the idea of a self as the persistent subject of ongoing perceptions. We do experience sequential mental operations at work within us; we do not, however, experience mind or self.

For Hume, the mind is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with incredible rapidity and perpetual movement . . . The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in a infinite variety of postures and situations.”[57]

Hume warns us not to think that the mind is a theatre—with a definitive place, a stage, etc.—it simply is the stream of successive perceptions and operations.


“It is as if, at the high noon of the Enlightenment, at the hour of the siesta when everything seems so quiet and secure all about, one were suddenly aware of a short, sharp slipping of the foundations, a faint far-off tremor running underneath the solid ground of common sense.”[58]

A.               Can thinking be distinguished from psychological association? Is logic itself subject to the empirical criterion of meaning?

B.               What is to become of an experimental science without a concept of causation free from the operations of the imagination? Similarly, what is to become of metaphysics without a concept of causation, self, or God, and no known referent beyond simple and individual impressions?

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)



According to the Continental Rationalists [Descartes’ followers]: (1) “clear rational principles . . . could be organized into a system of truths from which accurate information about the world could be deduced; and (2) the mind . . . is structured in such a way that simply by operating according to the appropriate method it can discover the nature of the universe.”[59]

The problem with Continental Rationalism: It was based on a geometric model and the analytic relation of ideas to each other. After Hume, many rationalist concepts—e.g., God, time, space, self—no longer seemed necessary or even warranted by experience. The relation between the mind’s operations and the world was undermined by Hume’s account of the mind’s habitual processes.

The problem with British Empiricism: Hume’s striking arguments against causality, self, and metaphysics strengthened the notion that we can only know our own ideas. Empiricism seemed unable to find any necessary ground for knowledge.

Neither Continental Rationalism nor British Empiricism could adequately account for the obvious gains of experimental science.

“Thus, in a curious way, by following very different paths, both the rationalists and the empiricists reached the same skeptical dead end: The former were confined to tracing out implicatory relations among ideas; the latter, to recording relations of coexistence and succession among ideas.”[60]


How is it possible to know a priori, that is, before turning on the television tonight, that Ben Mulroney’s shirt will exhibit various shades of grey?


Kant’s starting point was an analysis of the powers of human reasoning: “What and how much can reason know, apart from all experience?” The failure of realist hypotheses (which assumed that knowledge must conform to its objects) led Kant to propose a new hypothesis, namely, that objects must conform to our knowing capacities. He proposed that we possess mental faculties which bring experience into conformity with a priori (i.e., universal and necessary) mental structures?

“The fundamental thrust of Kant’s self-styled Copernican Revolution is that the things in the world owe their basic structure . . . to the noetic activity of our minds.”[62]


“According to his hypothesis, knowledge is a cooperative affair in which both mind and object make a contribution, and mind contributes the relations while objects contribute the relata.”[63]

“Kant’s hypothesis . . . was that certain standard forms are contributed by the mind, in terms of which the content of experience is organized. These standard forms ‘sort’ the content of experience into standard patterns. Though the materials that are thus organized into patterns are not necessary, the patterns themselves are necessary, for without them the variable contents would only be a chaotic jumble, not the well-ordered content we actually experience.”[64]

Space and time are necessary (because they are a priori) forms through which the mind experiences the world; they are ways in which it receives the world on its own terms.

Hume’s associative habits of the mind are not just psychological habits but logically necessary: they are necessary conditions for the very possibility of experience.

Even within Hume’s “stream of perceptions” space and time are presupposed as necessary conditions since we can only experience impressions as spatially and temporally related. Even Hume’s devastating analysis of cause and effect explicitly relies on categories of space and time—i.e., “proximity” and “priority in time.” For instance, the judgment, “The cat is on the mat” presupposes “all objects exist in space and time.” This latter claim cannot be justified by any appeal to experience, but only by an appeal to its status as a necessary condition of all experience.

“[T]he forms of space and time are the conditions under which we are capable of having experience at all—we can only undergo sensations (either perceived or imaginary) that are arranged in space, and spread out in time; anything else is just impossible for us.”[65]




A priori

“Husbands are married males.”

“Every change has a cause”

“1245 + 1589 = 2834”


A posteriori





“This husband is tall”


“But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.” [66]

“[I]t sounds strange at first, but it is none the less true when I say in respect of these laws of the intellect: The intellect does not derive its Laws from nature but prescribes them to nature.”[67]


Kant called his method of analysis a “transcendental deduction” because it “transcends” direct observation; it gets beneath experience and understanding to the necessary conditions which underlie them.

Human experience is organized according to certain universal forms, e.g., A causes B, or A is B. “[D]espite Hume’s attack, there does exist a ‘necessary connection’ among matters of fact—not a necessary connection between this particular fact A and that particular fact B but a necessary connection, or structure, that organizes experience into an ‘A-is-B’ type.”[68]

E.g., “All crows are black” contains an empirical component which is only available through experience. It also invokes the form “All _______ are _______.”  This structure is a priori, antecedent to all experience and a necessary condition of there being “empirical” knowledge of this sort.

Every judgment of the mind presupposes one of the following different synthetical operations or what Kant, following Aristotle, calls categories.








NEGATIVE: A is not B

INFINITE: A is non B










These categories are transcendental in that they underlie all empirical syntheses and are not derived from experience itself.


“The root of the trouble was not empiricism; it was the assumption that only what is given in sensation is real. In Kant’s view, the starting point of a true empiricism must be the empirical fact that men experience connections between matters of fact, for example, ‘objects.’ Since the connections are real, the conditions that make them possible must also be real, even though they are not themselves encountered, or verified, in experience.”[69]

A direct implication of Kant’s account of the operations of the mind is that the world-in-itself is not available for direct inspection. Kant calls the world as experienced (sense data + the operations of the mind) the phenomenal world. The world as it is in itself, apart from the operations of the mind, is inaccessible. For Kant, this noumenal world exists, is related to the phenomenal world, and reminds us of the limits of our knowledge.

“[Newton’s laws] are in reality, not descriptions of external nature, but of the proceedings of the human mind in contemplating or studying it. Being independent of all experience . . . they form a body of demonstrative truths.”[70]


·         The mind is the constructor/synthesizer of all knowledge.

·         Later thinkers will dispute the universality/immutability of the a priori categories.

·         Kant heralded the turn towards anthropology in theology and the emergence of the historical study of religion. Persons are now seen as ordering their religious world in terms of what they bring to the quest.

·         Religious language will now come to be understood in functional terms and not in terms of its external referent.

·         Metaphysics (the realm of the noumenon) is now effectively isolated from the realm of knowledge and it will be abandoned by many thinkers after Kant.

·         The Enlightenment belief that the world with its natural laws was rational and that man could align himself via reason with those basic principles is now mortally wounded. Reason itself is the source of all necessity and not the world.

·         The rise of pragmatism—the view that knowledge is characterized by the agenda of the agent deploying it. The mind has become a productive organ. Reality is constructed, not perceived or discovered.[71]




A.               Can Induction Be Rationally Justified?[73]

Can our belief in the uniformity of nature be rendered as a general law for which there are no possible exceptions?

“The only reason for believing that the laws of motion will remain in operation is that they have operated hitherto, so far as our knowledge of the past enables us to judge” (659).

“[I]nduction is not based on anything which can be observed as inherent in nature. . . . the order of nature cannot be justified by the mere observation of nature. For there is nothing in the present fact which inherently refers either to the past or to the future.”[74]

We must distinguish between the fact that past uniformities cause expectations of the future (cf. Hume’s mental associations) and how such expectations may be justified. 

“[T]he fact that two things have been found often together and never apart does not, by itself, suffice to prove demonstrably that they will be found together in the next case we examine” (661).

B.               Can Hypotheses Be Decisively Confirmed?

In Carl Hempel’s view, a given scientific hypothesis can be decisively rejected (discomfirmed) if its “test implications” do not hold.


However, if a test implication of a given hypothesis comes to pass, it does not follow that the hypothesis has been confirmed. Even if an hypothesis is seemingly verified by a set of tests, it is always possible that a broader hypothesis actually accounts for the success of this hypothesis. Note, for instance, the progression in the hypotheses accounting for childbed fever that moved from “cadaveric matter” to “putrid matter derived from living organisms” to even more recent hypotheses about bacterial infection. All of these different hypotheses are simultaneously “confirmed” by Semmelweis’ original findings. Therefore, his confirmatory tests do not give exclusive or decisive support to his original (cadaveric matter) hypothesis.


Discussion of modus tollens and the fallacy of affirming the consequent.


At best, confirmatory results only provide a provisional or partial corroboration of the hypothesis.


C.               Hempel’s Critique of Narrow (Textbook) Inductivism

Hempel argues that “the narrow inductivist conception” is committed to four stages of scientific inquiry: (1) observation and recording of all facts; (2) analysis and classification of these facts; (3) inductive derivation of generalizations from them; and (4) further testing of the generalizations (320).


He finds this standard account untenable for the following reasons:


1.                  Scientific investigation could not even begin if its facts had to be collected without the aid of one or more working hypotheses.

Scientific investigators must have some answer in mind to the problem before them if they are to determine which facts are relevant to the problem.


“Empirical ‘facts’ or findings, therefore, can be qualified as logically relevant or irrelevant only in reference to a given hypothesis” (320).


“[T]entative hypotheses are needed to give direction to a scientific investigation” (321).


2.                  Analysis and classification can only lead to an explanation of the phenomena if hypotheses are assumed.

Since working hypotheses are necessary, it is impossible that analysis, classification, and generalization about the phenomena under consideration only arise at stage (3).


3.                  Hypotheses are not derived directly from the phenomena under consideration.

Most hypotheses contain explanatory terms that do not arise from the data but are invented in order to help account for or explain the data, e.g., atom, electron, force, etc. These novel explanations cannot be derived methodically or mechanically from data alone.


4.                  The transition from data to theory requires creative imagination.

“Scientific hypotheses and theories are not derived from observed facts, but invented in order to account for them. They constitute guesses at the connections that might obtain between the phenomena under study, at uniformities and patterns that might underlie their occurrence” (322).


“[S]cientific objectivity is safe-guarded by the principle that while hypotheses and theories may be freely invented and proposed in science, they can be accepted into the body of scientific knowledge only if they pass critical scrutiny” (323).


A.               The Problem of Demarcating Scientific Theories

The young Karl Popper concluded that many powerful theories could account for every conceivable case in their domain, e.g., psychoanalysis, astrology. From the perspective of an accepted theory, the world is full of verifications.

How then can scientific theories, which may in the end be false and still be good scientific theories (e.g., Newton’s), be demarcated from non-scientific theories, which may turn out to be true?

Popper eventually concluded that only scientific theories offer “risky” predictions which threaten to decisively falsify the theory. In other words, a good scientific theory “forbids” some specific states of affairs from being the case. Astrology and psychoanalysis, on the other hand, forbid nothing.

According to Popper, even though scientific theories cannot be decisively confirmed (cf. Hempel), they can be decisively disproved or falsified.

“The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability” (333).

B.               The Traditional Inductivist Account of the Scientific Method

1.       Science begins with observations

2.                  Regularities appear in the data

3.                  Explanatory hypotheses are suggested and tested

4.                  Eventually an hypothesis is verified by confirmatory cases

Contrary to this view, observations are only relevant or irrelevant to a given hypothesis and a specific problem. Tentative or working hypotheses are needed to even begin observation.[76]

C.               Popper’s Non-Inductivist Theory of Scientific Method

Popper accepts Hume’s criticism of inductivism, that is, that general scientific laws cannot be deduced or induced from the observation of past regularities. Popper concludes that verification of any scientific theory is technically impossible. Any number of cases, e.g., the trillions of confirmations of Newtonian mechanics, cannot demonstrate that the theory is true. Competing and more-encompassing theories cannot be eliminated by any number of confirmatory cases. Any group of facts is subsumable under more than one theory.

Technically, theories cannot be decisively falsified by disconfirming cases either; they can be “rescued” by introducing “ad hoc [“for the particular situation or case at hand and for no other”] auxiliary assumptions (333).

Popper concludes that if we don’t and can’t induce general laws from particular cases, perhaps induction plays no role in science (or common experience, for that matter).

“Without waiting, passively, for repetitions to impress or impose regularities upon us, we actively try to impose regularities upon the world. We try to discover similarities in it, and to interpret it in terms of laws invented by us. Without waiting for premises we jump to conclusions. These may have to be discarded later, should observation show that they are wrong” (341).

For Popper, scientists proceed by the “method” of trial and error (conjectures and refutations) rather than induction (observations leading to confirmed theories). Popper notes that we can only notice “similarities” in our observations if we have previously “forced interpretations on the world” (341). Scientific theories are invented and only eliminated if they clash with observations (342).

“There are, then, no generally applicable ‘rules of induction’, by which hypotheses or theories can be mechanically derived or inferred from empirical data. The transition from data to theory requires creative imagination. Scientific hypotheses or theories are not derived from observed facts, but invented in order to account for them.”[77]

“[F]or the scientist . . . his theoretical interests, the special problem under investigation, his conjectures and anticipations, and the theories which he accepts as a kind of background [provide] his frame of reference, his ‘horizon of expectations’” (342).

“Thus science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths; neither with the collection of observations, nor with the invention of experiments, but with the critical discussion of myths, and of magical techniques and practices (cf. Newton). The scientific tradition is distinguished from the pre-scientific tradition in having two layers. Like the latter, it passes on its theories; but it also passes on a critical attitude towards them” (345)

“[T]here is no more rational procedure than the method of trial and error—of conjecture and refutation: of boldly proposing theories; of trying our best to show that these are erroneous; and of accepting them tentatively if our critical efforts are unsuccessful” (346).

1.                  “Induction, i.e., inference based on many observations, is a myth. It is neither a psychological fact, nor a fact of ordinary life, nor one of scientific procedure.

2.                  The actual procedure of science is to operate with conjectures: to jump to conclusions—often after a single observation.

3.                  Repeated observations and experiments function in science as tests of our conjectures or hypotheses, i.e., as attempted refutations” (347).

“So long as a theory stands up to the severest tests we can design, it is accepted; if it does not, it is rejected. But it is never inferred, in any sense, from the empirical evidence. . . . Only the falsity of the theory can be inferred from empirical evidence.“ (348).


A.               The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

In his famous treatise, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn [1922-96] argued that everyday or normal science operates within a set of unquestioned theoretical assumptions, or paradigms. Paradigms are “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”[78]

Only rarely are these paradigms questioned since the internal social structure and educational processes of “normal science” reinforce them. Research findings that challenge the dominant paradigm are often ignored until a crucial stage is reached when the pressures become so great that the anomalies cannot be ignored any longer and a paradigm shift or revolution occurs.

This shift or “conversion experience” to another incompatible paradigm is not made one step at a time nor is it forced by logic or simple experience. “Like a gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all.”[79]

“Perhaps science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions.”[80] Kuhn claims that the linear, progressive model of science is fabricated by textbook presentations of the history of science.

One of Kuhn’s most controversial claims is that there are no strictly rational decision-making procedures (algorithms) for determining which paradigm to adopt. Kuhn called this “the insufficiency of methodological directives, by themselves, to dictate a unique substantive conclusion.”[81] This means that the distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification [Popper, Hempel, et al.] collapses. Both scientific discovery and justification rely on subjective elements.

There is “[a]n apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident” that is always a formative ingredient in the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community.”[82] The criteria by which scientists decide on paradigms are infused with partly subjective elements.

Not only is there no purely objective method by which one can rationally prefer one paradigm to another, there is a fundamental incommensurability between paradigms such that those who subscribe to one literally speak a different language with different meanings than their counterparts who subscribe to another paradigm.

B.               Subjectivity and Theory [Paradigm] Choice[83]

Kuhn concurs with the consensus view that the following five criteria are characteristic of good scientific theories: (1) they should be accurate; (2) they should be internally and externally consistent; (3) they should have broad scope; (4) they should be simple; (5) they should be fruitful and produce new research findings.[84] 

These criteria, however, are imprecise and for that reason there can be legitimate disagreement about how they are to be applied to concrete cases. 

Further, these criteria can conflict with each other when deployed as a complete set. For instance, one theory may be better than its rival on one criterion but weaker on another. These criteria do not specify how they are to be applied in a given instance nor how each is to be weighted against the others if they yield contrary judgements.

Although these criteria are indispensable, “they are not by themselves sufficient to determine the decisions of individual scientists.”[85]

The choice of a scientific theory—in a period where viable alternatives are available—depends somewhat on subjective factors related to the experiences, social standing, and intellectual climate that surrounds the scientist. These factors play an irremovable role in theory choice. Later in the essay, Kuhn suggests that these criteria of theory choice “function not as rules, which determine choice, but as values, which influence it.”[86]

C.               Recent Developments in the Epistemology of Science[87]

1.                  There is now much more detailed study of the history [and sociology] of science (10).

2.                  There is no clear, simple relation between the results of experiments or observations and scientific theories (147). Even “contradictory” observations are not straightforward falsifications; they can be taken as research problems. “The decision as to how a discrepancy between theory and observation is to be handled requires a judgment by scientists” (147).

3.                  Rationality is no longer identified with universal algorithms which generate theories from observations but with a willingness to admit all relevant factors, including exceptional and conflicting cases, as fodder for the practical wisdom of the experienced scientist (148-49).

4.                  “[T]he ultimate decision on scientific questions rests with the scientific community, rather than an impersonal testing procedure” (154).

5.                  Since neither science nor any formal algorithmic procedure can be thoroughly “objective,” that is, free of human characteristics, subjectivity itself cannot be defective or deficient.




A.               The Monism of the Early Greek Philosophers

The question which launched the ancient Greek philosophical enterprise is: “What is the one out of which everything comes?” How can the “oneness” of this basic reality be reconciled with the change/flux that we see all around us? How can a multitude of different appearances (pluralities) be reconciled with the one? Prior to Socrates/Plato, philosophers theorized about the unchangeable One and the changing Many in the following ways:

1.                  There is nothing but flux or change. (Heraclitus)

2.                  Change is impossible; our senses mislead us. (Parmenides)

3.                  Reality = unchanging “a-toms” which are continually rearranged. (Democritus)

4.                  In light of this plurality of views, reason itself is suspect and can only serve private interests. (Sophists)

B.               Plato’s Theory of the Two Realms

Plato concluded that Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Democritus were all correct. Their ideas, however, applied to fundamentally distinct realms. The contradiction between these theories is removed when they are taken as referring to different things.

“Beyond the world of physical objects in space and time, but standing in intimate relation to it, is another world—nonphysical, nonspatial, nontemporal.”[88]

C.               The Forms

Our English word ‘idea’ implies a mind in which it exists. The term which Plato used, ideai, did not. Plato’s realm of the “Forms” is independent of any perceiving mind, although it is uniquely suited to mental apperception. The Forms, or real essences, are not derived from sense perception. They are known only in thought.

E.g., Triangle:  Its essential properties cannot be known in experience. What ontological (being) status does this mathematical figure possess?

For Plato, triangles can only be similar to the Form, or “real essence” of a Triangle. This or that particular triangle “participates” in the Form of the Triangle, which is only known in data-less thought.

Whenever we think, we are thinking about or with these Forms. Nothing other than eternal, unchanging Forms can qualify as objects of true knowledge.

1.                  The Divided Line (from the Republic)[89]

Notice the theories of ontology (being), epistemology (knowledge), ethics (morals) and aesthetics (beauty).

“Anything which makes something else intelligible is ‘higher’. That which is illuminated is ‘lower’. Since he [Plato] also held that it is the abstract and general that illuminates the particular, he thought of forms as ‘higher’ and physical objects as ‘lower’.” [90]

2.                  The Form of the Good

The Form of the Good stands at the apex of the pyramid of knowledge or reality. It gives truth, being, and reality to the objects of knowledge just as the sun gives physical objects their perceptibility.

The perception of this Form comes in the following way: (1) Our souls had direct perception of it prior to our birth; (2) We are able to recall its features via dialectical progress “up” the scale of knowledge/being.

Similes, myths, examples (means of causing recollection) are the best ways for coming to understand the Form of the Good.

3.                  The Allegory of the Cave

Movement from cave-shadows® actors, artifacts, fire® out of the cave® shadows of trees® trees® sun.

The realms of being and value coincide. The more being something has, the more beautiful it is, the more it is knowable.

True education is the process of turning the head of the learner away from the shadows of the cave toward the true light of the sun. Those who have been out of the cave have a duty to return to those who may violently resist any challenge to their ignorance.

Forms are objective (versus the Sophists). They are public and knowable.



A.               Critique of the Central Concepts of Rationalistic Metaphysics

Kant proposed to show that each of the three main concepts of rationalistic metaphysics—self, God, and being-in-general—illegitimately applied the categories (which apply only to experience) to these “things-in-themselves.”

1.                  The Self: The Transcendental Unity of Experience

For Kant, rationalist arguments regarding the self overlooked the distinction between the empirical self (which, like all experienced entities, was subject to the categories) and the transcendental Self—a set of a priori, synthetical operations that make experience possible. These operations cannot be directly experienced; rather, they are unifying functions implied within all experience.

a)                 All experience is a succession of a variety of contents. (Hume)

b)                 However, to be experienced at all, these successive data have to be combined, or brought together or unified within a single consciousness. Experience, by its very nature, is a unified and trans-temporal synthesis of various faculties: sensation, imagination, memory, anticipation.

c)                  This synthesizing process which makes unified experience possible implies an active unifier = the transcendental (but unexperienced) Self.[91]

The unity of experience does not issue from the unity of the external world. Kant recognizes that the operations of the Self provide the basis for the unity of experience. All of our synthesized experiences have their unity in a single, enduring Self, what Kant calls the ‘transcendental unity of apperception.’ The Self, as an a priori synthesizing process, is the necessary ground for the unity of experience.

2.                  God

According to Kant, there are only three possible ways of using speculative reason to prove God’s existence: the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument. If these arguments are invalid, rationalistic theology is impossible. (We will only discuss the first two arguments, since Kant believes that the teleological argument, or the argument from design, is a type of cosmological argument.)

a)                 Ontological Argument

The ontological argument attempts to prove the existence of God by analyzing the concept of maximal perfection. Anselm and Descartes thought that God’s existence could be deduced from the concept of maximal perfection. For them, existence is much like any other predicate which can be maximized to perfection.

For Kant, existence cannot be treated as just another predicate or property. To say that x exists is not to add any property to x, but only to indicate that there is an instance of x. The proposition “God exists” only denotes (points to) God as being actual; it does not denote a specific attribute of God. 

Arguments that treat existence like any other property that can be maximized fail since it is not analogous to other properties, e.g., goodness. To know that something exists requires experience; existence cannot be deduced from concepts alone.

b)                 Cosmological Argument

This argument from causation that moves beyond the realm of experience to the realm of the noumenon is fallacious since “the principle of causality has no meaning and no criterion for its application save only in the sensible world.”[92]

“[K]nowledge is limited to the spatiotemporal realm that the categories order.” [93]

In sum, a rationalistic metaphysic based on speculative reasoning is impossible.

B.               The Regulative Use of Reason

According to Kant, rationalists were wrong in supposing that self and God were objects. They tried to understand these objects by means of the categories that are germane to experience alone.

Kant suggests that much like a working hypothesis in scientific investigation, metaphysical concepts should be understood regulatively, that is, they should be “taken to represent not metaphysical beings or entities whose reality is supposed to be demonstrable, but rather goals and directions of inquiry that mark out the ways in which our knowledge is to be sought for and organized.”[94]

Regulative concepts serve as maxims guiding the tasks of classifying and unifying experience.

1.                  God and Self as Regulative Concepts

Regulative concepts, e.g., God, self, guide reason towards certain conclusions. They do not relate to metaphysical objects, but they do contribute to the extension of empirical knowledge.

The ‘Self’, as a regulative principle, postulates a unity in experience; ‘God’ postulates the systematic unity of the world.

Regulative principles permit Kant to retain concepts of great human interest and durability and account for their continued usefulness. They are not retained for theoretical reasons, but for pragmatic reasons.

“God is not a being outside me, but merely a thought within me.”[95]

2.                  Things-in-Themselves (The noumenal realm)

“the employment of the categories can never extend further than to the objects of experience.”

The concept of the noumenon can only be defined negatively with respect to what is known in experience. The nature of things-in-themselves cannot be known, i.e., objects, self, God. The concept of the noumenon serves a regulative function; it “curbs the pretensions of sensibility.”

C.               An Implication of Kant’s Metaphysic

“[W]e never have, and never can have, direct awareness of the self. Of the self viewed as the transcendental conditions underlying experience we have no experience at all. This self lies wholly beyond experience. Of the empirical self we do have experience, but, like our experience of every other object, this experience is not direct. It is mediated by space, time, and the categories. . . . the culture of the past two centuries has been increasingly dominated by a profound feeling of alienation, a sense of being forever at a distance from that which one longs, deeply and passionately, to be identified. This was one of the consequences to which Kantianism seemed to lead.”[96]



The upshot of Kant’s ingenuity
Is the object’s a mere ambiguity
It means ‘thing on its own’
Or else ‘object as known’
But between them there’s no Kant-inuity[97]


A.               The Collapse of the Enlightenment

"The Age of Reason [Enlightenment] was sustained by three basic assumptions: (1) that there is a rational order of eternal truths; (2) that man has a mind capable of understanding these truths, and (3) that he has a will capable of acting in accordance with them."[98]

"Taken as a whole, then, nineteenth-century philosophy can be characterized as a series of attempts to deal with the problems created by the collapse of the world view of the Age of Reason."[99]

B.               Romantic Hostility to Enlightenment Rationalism

E.g., Wordsworth, Keats, Goethe, Shelley, Beethoven, Schleiermacher, Emerson

According to the Romantics, Enlightenment rationality destroyed the unity of the living whole—it murdered by dissection. For them, the intellect as it operates in science and everyday life is an inferior faculty supplying useful but distorted fragments torn from a seamless reality. The highest form of intellect is, on the contrary, an “apprehension of the totality of things in their essential interconnectedness.”[100]

“The geometric spirit, though metaphysically bold, tried to subject all life to reason and thus to mechanize and demean it. Empiricism offended for the opposite reason, because it was too skeptical, because it severely limited human knowledge to the sense world of appearances."[101]

"Your thought can only embrace what is sundered."[102]

C.               Romantic Conception of Nature/Reality

"By linking human consciousness to God and nature by means of human feeling, the romantics were able to sustain the Cartesian tradition's faith in the self's ability to discover the truth. For Emerson, Schleiermacher and others of the age, what coheres within the self also corresponds in some way to the truth permeating nature and the divine consciousness. That truth permeating within nature, however, is hidden in hieroglyphic form and is in desperate need of interpretation."[103]

"Many of the Romantics saw themselves as Kant's successors, since Kant had established that there was a limit to what we can know of 'das Ding an sich.' On the other hand, he had underlined the importance of the ego's contribution to knowledge, or cognition. The individual was now completely free to interpret life in his own way. The Romantics exploited this in an almost unrestrained 'ego-worship,' which led to the exaltation of the artistic genius. . . . It was characteristic of the Romantic view in general that nature was thought of as an organism, or, in other words, a unity which is constantly developing its innate potentialities. Nature is like a flower unfolding its leaves and petals. Or like a poet unfolding his verses."[104]

D.               Theory Of Art And The Artist

“[Romanticism was] one of the most dramatic revolutions in the history of Western culture. It involved a change from the mimetic theory of art—which had held sway in Western culture for more than two millennia—to the romantic theory of art as expression. Rather than being a mirror held up to nature, art became a lamp illuminating an otherwise darkened world; instead of attempting to re-present reality, the artist now sought to express himself or herself—that is, to press out to the surface whatever was within the self."[105]

“The imagination, as depicted by the romantics, was obviously something more than human. . . . The human imagination was the vessel through which the Infinite or Eternal expressed and became conscious of itself."[106]

"Tired of the eternal efforts to fight our way through raw matter, we chose another way and sought to embrace the infinite. We went inside ourselves and created a new world."[107]

Knowing that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her; ‘tis her privilege,

Through all the years of this our life, to lead

From joy to joy: for she can so inform

The mind that is within us, so impress

With quietness and beauty, and so feed

With lofty thoughts.[108]


Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal

Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood

By all, but which the wise, and great, and good

Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.[109]


In the floods of life, in the storm of work,

In ebb and flow,

In warp and weft,

Cradle and grave,

An eternal sea,

A changing patchwork,

A glowing life,

At the whirring loom of Time I weave

The living clothes of the Deity.[110]


A.               Introduction: Sorting Out the Main Philosophical Options

Does the ‘free’ in ‘free will’ refer to conditions prior to or subsequent to willing?

The major philosophical positions on the issue of free will and determinism can be characterized as variants of the following argument:[111]

1.      All human behaviour is determined: that is, the state of the world at a particular moment entirely fixes the state of the world at every subsequent moment.

2.      If determinism [i.e., premise 1] is true, then human beings are not free to choose their actions.

3.      Therefore, human beings have no genuine free will (and may, furthermore, lack moral responsibility).

Strict determinism affirms premises 1 and 2 and therefore 3. 

Compatibilism accepts premise 1 but denies premise 2 and therefore 3.

Libertarianism accepts premise 2 but denies premise 1 and therefore 3.

B.               Strict Determinism[112]

The success of modern science rekindled the idea that all aspects of reality could be explained in strictly causal terms. “According to determinism, in every situation only one outcome is possible; the causal factors at work uniquely determine a particular result.”[113]

1.                  Hobbes’s Materialism (c. 1650)

Thomas Hobbes made a thorough attempt to interpret human nature and behaviour in accordance with the “science of bodies” (physics). He denied the existence of any immaterial soul or spirit. Ideas, sensations, and all psychological processes are simply and solely motions of matter in the brain. So-called ‘free acts of will’ do not arise without causes since nothing “taketh a beginning from itself.”

Hobbes believed that physical determinism [every event is causally determined] was consistent with human liberty since liberty is simply the “absence of all the impediments to action.” Any unobstructed moving body should be considered free—e.g., water flowing downhill. 

All allegedly free human actions can be accounted for by the competitive interaction of motives, desires, and aversions. Even deliberation (a purported model of intellectual freedom) is simply a struggle between several approximately equal appetites or desires. Deliberation ceases and issues in action only when one contender is able to dominate the others; this is what is commonly called an act of the will.

Hobbes concluded that even though all acts are externally caused, persons can be held responsible for their actions since the proximate cause of any act is within that particular person. Acts can be attributed to a specific person in that they pass through her body.

2.                  Baron d’Holbach[114] (1770)

D’Holbach, like many modern determinists, relied on Hobbes for his analysis of human behaviour. “The will is a modification of the brain . . . [It] is necessarily determined by the qualities, good or bad, agreeable or painful, of the object or the motive that acts upon his senses (404).

“Action always being the effect of his will once determined, and as his will cannot be determined but by a motive which is not in his own power, it follows that he is never the master of the determination of his own peculiar will . . . consequently he never acts as a free agent” (407).

“The errours [sic] of philosophers on the free agency of man, have arisen from their regarding his will as the primum mobile, the original motive of his actions; for want of recurring back, they have not perceived the multiplied, the complicated causes which independently of him, give motion to the will itself” (409).

Freedom, for D’Holbach and Hobbes, is not opposed to causation but to constraint. Moral responsibility for individual actions is roughly equivalent to the type of responsibility which we hold animals to.

3.                  Problems with Deterministic Theories

a)                 The disappearance of the self: the self is just an arbitrarily-isolated subset of causes leading to an action.

b)                 Does freedom as defined by Hobbes and d’Holbach adequately capture our concept of freedom or is their ‘freedom’ just a mere technicality? Our understanding of ‘free’ typically involves more than that it is in keeping with our motives, preferences, etc. Our understanding of freedom means something like a given action was avoidable or ‘substitutable’ (C. D. Broad).

“Power to produce any effect implies power not to produce it.”[115]

c)                  Does determinism ultimately collapse into what Henry Mansel calls “Asiatic fatalism”—that is, we are helpless to do anything except what we actually do


C.               Compatibilism (a.k.a. Soft Determinism)

1.                  Introduction

Compatibilists argue that free will, if it is to be morally significant, requires a type of determinism.

The libertarian (indeterminist or free will) argument to the effect that acts of free will are spontaneous (uncaused) faces a dilemma when ascribing moral blame or praise to a person. If free acts are not deterministically connected to an ongoing, stable character or, what Susan Wolf calls a “deeper self,” then it is difficult to see how we can attribute blame or praise to the agent. Moral praise or blame seems to require a strong causal link between an act and one’s character. Acts, insofar as they are moral acts, cannot be spontaneous or uncaused.

2.                  R. E. Hobart’s Argument Against Indeterminism[116]

“Now the position of the indeterminist is that a free act of will is the act of the self. . . . This volition of the self causes the physical act but it is not in its turn caused, it is ‘spontaneous.’ To regard it as caused would be determinism. The causing self to which the indeterminist here refers is to be conceived as distinct from temperament, wishes, habits, impulses . . . The self feels motives but its act is not determined by them. It can choose between them” (430-31).

“[I]f in conceiving the self you detach it from all motives or tendencies, what you have is not a morally admirable or condemnable, not a morally characterisable self at all. . . . You cannot call a self good because of its courageous free action, and then deny that its action was determined by its character” (432).

“Libertarianism . . . cannot provide an adequate account of moral responsibility because it is a theory in which decisions are not caused by the central mechanisms of the personality. If a person’s decisions do not spring from the personality—if they simply ‘pop’ into existence—then they are capricious . . . the person is a victim of chance, not a free agent.”[117]

3.                  Hobart’s Argument for a Hypothetical Account of Free Will

Hobart argues for a free will thesis that is hypothetical [“if—then”] in form. In this view, a person can choose more than one action in the sense that for each of these possible actions it is true that if she chooses it, then she will be able to do it.

“A free agent could have done otherwise, in the sense that nothing stood in his way of doing otherwise, if another choice had been made.”[118]

When we ascribe free will, we are not referring to freedom from determining causes—in fact, we must assume some type of deterministic relation between character and action—but to freedom from constraints. For example, if someone is imprisoned and wishes to go home, we say that she does not have free will, whereas someone who is at the mall and wishes to go home and nothing prevents her, we say that she has free will in this matter. In both cases our judgments of free will refer to the absence or presence of constraints on her behaviour and not the causal history of her desires.

4.                  Susan Wolf and the Sanity Condition[119]

Susan Wolf concurs with recent compatibilist accounts that hold that moral responsibility can only be attributed when a particular relation holds between “superficial selves” and their “first order” desires and “deep selves” and their “second order” desires or values. Freely-chosen intentions or volitions of the (superficial) self are not sufficient proof of the moral responsibility of the agent. Only if these intentions or volitions come from, are controlled by, and affirmed by a deeper self, can we say that the agent is free and thus responsible.

A fully responsible agent is able to govern her actions by her desires and govern her desires by her deep self (571).

This model accounts for why we don’t hold some people responsible for their behaviours, (e.g., if they are brainwashed or hypnotized), even though they are acting in accord with their first order desires.

Wolf argues that this deep-self’s relation to first order desires is a necessary but not sufficient condition for attributing moral responsibility. It cannot eliminate cases where both the superficial and deep selves are out of touch with reality and where we are, therefore, hesitant to ascribe moral responsibility. In Wolf’s example, the tyrannical JoJo acts in perfect accordance with both his superficial and deep selves’ wishes. He is the self he really wants to be. In what way is JoJo different from those who are clearly morally responsible for their behaviours?

In Wolf’s view, JoJo lacks a certain relation to the world as it really is. He lacks sanity, a form of cognitive and normative control which the world exerts over sane persons. To be morally responsible is to exercise certain types of control over the superficial self and its desires and to be controlled by the world in certain ways. In the absence of either of these characteristics, we do not normally attribute responsibility, praise, or blame.

The compatibilist purports to show that so-called free will, if it is to be morally praiseworthy, must be controlled by one’s own internal states of character (or deep self in Wolf’s account) as well as a particular relation to the surrounding world.

If so, in what way are acts of so-called free-will, free?

D.               Libertarianism[120]

1.                  Towards a Categorical Conception of Free Will

“The great difficulty of indeterminism [libertarianism] . . . is that it seems to imply that a ‘free’ or causally undetermined action is capricious or random. If one’s action is strictly uncaused, then it is difficult to see in what sense it can be within the control of an agent or in any way ascribable to him.”[121]

“[T]he act must be one of which the person judged can be regarded as the sole author. It seems plain enough that if there are any other determinants of the act, external to the self, to that extent the act is not an act which the self can be held morally responsible” (512).

Moral responsibility requires that there must be some type of moral “self-activity” which is suitably free from the important influences of environment, heredity or even human nature.

Some philosophers have reformulated the necessary condition for morally responsible behaviour into a hypothetical form such as, “X could have acted otherwise if he had chosen otherwise” (cf. Hobart). This, of course, is compatible with a strict causal determinism.

Campbell denies that this hypothetical conception captures what is necessary for moral responsibility. A free will conception that is compatible with moral responsibility requires more than the hypothetical “X could have acted otherwise if X had chosen otherwise.” It requires, additionally, an affirmative answer to the question: “But could X have chosen otherwise than he did?” (514).

“[A] man can be said to exercise free will in a morally significant sense only in so far as his chosen act is one of which he is the sole author, and only if—in the straightforward, categorical sense of the phrase—he ‘could have chosen otherwise’” (514).

2.                  Evidence for the Existence of a Categorically-Free Will

“Libertarians and Determinists alike have so often failed to appreciate the comparatively narrow area within which the free will that is necessary to ‘save’ morality is required to operate” (516).

“The intended implication seems to be that X [someone who is morally disadvantaged by environment and/or heredity] is just as morally praiseworthy as Y or Z if he exerts an equivalent moral effort, even though he may not thereby achieve an equal success in conforming his will to the ‘concrete’ demands of duty. And this implies, again, Common Sense’s belief that in moral effort we have something that is not effected by heredity and environment but depends solely upon the self itself” (516).

The self experiences its moral decision as a “creative activity” (517).

E.g., the experience of resisting moral temptation

“[T]he act of deciding to exert or to withhold moral effort, as we know it from the inside in actual moral living, belongs to the category of acts which ‘could have been otherwise’” (517). In Andrew Bailey’s phrase, “we can do what we ought to do as opposed to what we want to do.”[122]

“[T]he very essence of the moral decision as it is experienced is that it is a decision whether or not to combat our strongest desire, and our strongest desire is the expression in the situation of our character as so far formed. Now clearly our character cannot be a factor in determining the decision whether or not to oppose our character” (517).

“But if the self is thus conscious here of combating his formed character, he surely cannot suppose that the act, although his own act, issues from his formed character? I submit, therefore, that the self knows very well indeed—from the inner standpoint—what is meant by an act which is the self’s act and which nevertheless does not follow from the self’s character” (521).

[1]Cited on the frontispiece of Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy, trans. Paulette Moller (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994), [xi].

[2]Leopold Meyers, The Root and the Flower (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1934), 10.

[3]Matthew Arnold, “The Buried Life.” Cited in James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 3d ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 12.

[4]Gaarder, Sophie’s World, 10.

[5]Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., ed. Thomas Shipka and Arthur Minton (New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1996), 3.

[6]Albert Louis Zambone, "The Groves of Academe: Marjorie Reeves, 1905-2003" Books and Culture, July/August 2004, 6.

[7]Some of the material in this section is taken from Invitation to Philosophy, 6th ed., ed. Stanley Honer et al. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1992), xv-xvi.

[8]The Problems of Philosophy, 3rd ed., William Alston and Richard Brandt, eds. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1978), 9.

[9]Honer et al., Invitation to Philosophy, 14.

[10]Andrew Bailey, “A Brief Introduction to Arguments,” in First Philosophy, 6.

[11]The Problems of Philosophy, 7.

[12]Thomas Hurka, “How to Get to the Top—Study Philosophy” The Globe and Mail, January 2, 1990, A8.


[14]The photo below is of an original painting by Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection.

[15]Cicero, On the Orator,  Bk. I, in Cicero: On The Good Life, trans. Michael Grant (London: The Folio Society, 2003), 315.

[16]John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: MacMillan, 1944), 324.

[17]Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 274.

[18]Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, 220.

[19]Friedrich Nietzsche, "Schopenhauer as Educator," in Untimely Meditations, Daniel Braezeale, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 194.

[20]Some ideas in this section are taken from: John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 71-99.

[21]The Problems of Philosophy, ed. William P. Alston and Richard Brandt, 3rd ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1978), 705.

[22]“Realism,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards, 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan & The Free Press, 1967), 8:80.


[24]Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), xiv-xviii.

[25]Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 71.

[26]Gaukroger, Descartes, 352.

[27]Excerpted in Descartes’ Meditations: Background Source Materials, ed. Roger Ariew et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 10.

[28]Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (New York: The Viking Press, 1954), 54-55.

[29]This phrasing is suggested by Michael J. Buckley, At The Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 85.

[30]Historical Introduction to Philosophy, ed. Albert Hakim, 2d ed. (Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan, 1992), 299.

[31]W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4 vols., 2d ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975), 3:159.

[32]Rene Descartes, Meditations, in A Discourse on Method and Selected Writings (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1951), 107.

[33]Cited in A Discourse on Method and Selected Writings, 272.

[34]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 3:181.

[35]A. D. Lindsay, “Notes” to Descartes, Meditations, 282.

[36]Descartes, Meditations, 121.

[37]Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism, 261.


[38]Quotations are from Locke’s, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 43. Subsequent references to the Essay are from this source.

[39]See G. J. Warnock, “Introduction” to George Berkeley, The Principles of Human Knowledge [1710], ed. G. J. Warnock (London: William Collins Sons, 1962), 19.

[40]R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 25.

[41]Berkeley, The Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I, Section 23, 76.

[42]This point is suggested by Samuel Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy, 2d ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), 291.

[43]W. T. Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, vol. 3, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975), 299.

[44]Hume was not alone in his quest to be the Newton of his specialty. Many eighteenth-century thinkers aspired to this high office. See John Passmore, The Perfectability of Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), 201.

[45]David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 2 vols. [1739] (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1951), 1:4.

[46]J. Collins, The British Empiricists: Locke, Berkeley, Hume (Milwaukee: The Bruce Pub. Co., 1967), 104.

[47]Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon, 1888), xxi.

[48]Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Dutton, 1951), 1:27.

[49]Collins, The British Empiricists, 106-07.

[50]Collins, The British Empiricists, 108.

[51]I. Bernard Cohen, Science and the Founding Fathers (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995), 32.

[52]Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, 315.

[53]Collins, The British Empiricists, 119.

[54]Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, 319.

[55]Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, 319.

[56]Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, 312.

[57]Hume cited in Jones, From Hobbes to Hume, 305.

[58]Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932), 68-69.

[59]Samuel Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), 243-44.

[60]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:16.

[61]I owe the gist of this illustration to Merold Westphal, “Christian Philosophers and the Copernican Revolution,” in Christian Perspectives on Religious Knowledge, ed. C. S. Evans and M. Westphal (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 164ff.

[62]Alvin Plantinga, The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Calvin College, 1990), 15.

[63]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:20.

[64]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:26. Emphasis added.

[65]Andrew Bailey, “Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason,” in First Philosophy, 225.

[66]I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B1-2, in First Philosophy, 230.

[67]I. Kant, “Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics That May be Presented as a Science,” in The Philosophy of Kant, trans. Carl J. Friedrich (New York: Modern Library, 1949), 91.

[68]Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 21.

[69]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:50.

[70]John Robison, Elements of Mechanical Philosophy: Being the Substance of a Course of Lectures on that Science (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1804), 157.

[71]See Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 9.

[72]With the exception of subsection A., the material in this section is taken from Carl Hempel, “Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test,” reprinted in Bailey, First Philosophy, 314-24.

[73]Much of the material in this subsection is from Bertrand Russell, “The Problem of Induction.” Reprinted in The Problems of Philosophy, 3d ed., ed. William Alston and Richard Brandt (Boston; Allyn & Bacon, 1979), 658-63.

[74]Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World [1925] (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 51.

[75]Quotations in this section are from Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1989). Reprinted in First Philosophy, 330-52.

[76]Popper concurs with Carl Hempel, a fellow philosopher of science in this analysis. See the latter’s essay, “Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test” which is reprinted in First Philosophy, esp. 320.

[77]Carl Hempel, “Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test,” in First Philosophy, 322.

[78]Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), viii.

[79]Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 150-51.

[80]Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2.

[81]Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3.

[82]Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4.

[83]The material in this section is taken from Kuhn’s 1977 paper, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice,” which is reprinted in First Philosophy, 374-87.

[84]Kuhn, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice,” 375.

[85]Kuhn, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice,” 377.

[86]Kuhn, “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice,” 381.

[87]Much of what follows in this section is taken from Harold I. Brown, Perception, Theory and Commitment: The New Philosophy of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

[88]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 1:123.

[89]The graphic on the top of the next page is from D. Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 57, 61.

[90]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 1:130.

[91]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:37.

[92]Cited in Samuel Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre, 2d ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), 314.

[93]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 1:58.

[94]Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, “Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason,” in Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 18.

[95]Immanuel Kant, Opus Postumum, cited in Lewis W. Beck, “Kant’s Theoretical and Practical Philosophy,” Studies in the Philosophy of Kant (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), 51-52.

[96]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:53.

[97]Richard Aquila, Rhyme or Reason (Maryland: University of America Press, 1981), 75.

[98]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:100.

[99]Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 4:101.

[100]Lord Quinton, “Romanticism, Philosophical,” s.v. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 778.

[101]Franklin L. Baumer, "Romanticism," Dictionary of the History of Ideas, 4 vols., ed. Philip P. Wiener (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973), 4:199.

[102]Friedrich Schleiermacher. On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers [1799], trans. John Oman (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), 41.

[103]Roger Lundin, The Culture of Interpretation: Christian Faith and the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 71.

[104]Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World, trans. Paulette Moller (New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1996), 266, 270. 

[105]Lundin, The Culture of Interpretation, 51.

[106]Baumer, “Romanticism,” 202.

[107]Hendrik Steffens, cited in Gaarder, Sophie's World, 269-70.

[108]William Wordsworth, “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798.” Reprinted in Willam Wordsworth: Selected Poems, ed. Nicholas Roe (London: The Folio Society, 2002), 74.

[109]Byron, Monc Blanc.

[110]The Earth Spirit in Goethe’s Faust, trans. L. MacNeice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), 23.

[111]This argument is adapted from Andrew Bailey, First Philosophy, 490.

[112]Much of this section is taken from Richard Taylor, “Determinism” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vols., ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan/Free Press, 1967), 2:359ff.

[113]The Problems of Philosophy, 3d ed., Alston and Brandt, eds. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1982), 396.

[114]Quotations from d’Holbach in this section are from The Problems of Philosophy, 403-13.

[115]Thomas Reid, [1710-1796], Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind [1788], ed. Baruch A. Brody (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969), 35.

[116]Page numbers in this subsection refer to R. E. Hobart’s article, “Free Will as Involving Determinism and Inconceivable Without It” [1934] which is reprinted in Alston and Brandt, eds, The Problems of Philosophy, 429-45.

[117]Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., 221.

[118]Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., 221.

[119]Susan Wolf, “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility,” in First Philosophy, 564-75.

[120]The page numbers in parentheses refer to C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, Lecture IX, “Has the Self Free Will?” in First Philosophy, 511-22.

[121]Taylor, “Determinism,” 369.

[122]Andrew Bailey, “Introduction,” in First Philosophy, 509.