Hesperus is Bosphorus

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Archive for the ‘Thomas Reid’ Category

Conference at Dokuz Eylul University (Izmir): “The Scottish Enlightenment and Freedom” (May 28-30th, 2014)

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Dokuz Eylul University (Izmir) will be hosting a conference on “The Scottish Enlightenment and Freedom” from  May 28-30th, 2014. A facebook page for the event can be found here.


Details of the program can be found under the fold.
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Written by Lucas Thorpe

May 19, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Is “to immediately perceive” a split infinitive?

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Stylists and editors really don’t like split infinitives such as “to boldly go”. I’ve been revising a paper on Reid’s account of colour perception and I sometimes use the expression “to immediately perceive”. So, for example, I will talk about “the capacity to immediately perceive” certain qualities.  The editors have suggested that I don’t use “to immediately perceive” as it is a split infinitive.

I’m not sure, however, that “to immediately perceive” is a split infinitive. Here’s my thinking: We talk about immediate perception and indirect perception. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as indirect perception, but in order to deny the fact that there is such a thing as indirect perception, we have to allow the expression “indirect perception” into our language. So I have no problem with the expression. Anyway my worry is that if we think that “to immediately perceive” is a split infinitive, then we should say “to perceive immediately” and “to perceive indirectly”. This would suggest, however, that “perceiving p immediately” and “perceiving p indirectly” are two ways of doing the same thing. And this doesn’t seem right to me. I think these are two quite distinct types of attitudes towards p. So my thought is that there are really two quite distinct verbs here: “to immediately perceive” and “to indirectly perceive”. “Immediately” here is not really functioning as an adverb. We can distinguish between how and what questions. And I think the “immediately” in “to immediately perceive” is part of the answer to a what question, rather than the full answer to a how question? Q: What is he doing? A: He is immediately perceiving a particular quality. As opposed to: Q: How is she perceiving the quality? A: immediately.

So I’d to keep the expression “to immediately perceive”. Any thoughts here? Have I been living abroad for too long and lost my intuitions about what counts as correct English?

Written by Lucas Thorpe

October 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Epistemic Realism and the goal of Epistemology

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I’m teaching a class this Semester on ‘The British Realist Tradition from Reid to Williamson’, and I tell my students that I’m an ‘Epistemic Realist’ and this post is an attempt to work out what I mean by this. Anyway here’s a first, inadequate, stab at explaining what I mean by epistemic realism: “There is such a thing as knowing, and one central goal of epistemology is to understand more clearly what sort of thing it is”.  I think that knowledge is something like a mental natural kind (or perhaps a set of distinct natural kinds) and the task of epistemology is not primarily to get a better understanding of our concept of “knowledge”, but to discover truths about knowledge and to provide a better conceptualization of this aspect of the mental. A central question for an epistemic realist has to do with the relationship between our epistemic language and epistemic facts – and on this I’m sympathetic to Thomas Reid.

Following Reid: (1) I’m a believer in the defeasible authority of common sense. (2) I think that it is not immediately clear what belongs to common sense and what does not. And (3) I take the fact that a certain distinction is found in all natural languages to be a defeasible indication that the distinction is part of common sense. Thus I think that if a distinction is to be found in all languages, this is a good indication that it reflects a real distinction in the world. (I discussed this briefly in a previous post here)

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Written by Lucas Thorpe

March 11, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Common Sense and Seduction by Grammar.

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In the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche suggests that because, grammatically, every verb requires a subject we naturally think that every deed requires a doer. This natural belief he argues is a result of being seduced by grammar; we confuse the need for a grammatical subject with the existence of a real subject. Nietzsche’s argument here is reminiscent of Kant’s argument in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason that rational psychology is the result of confusing the need for a logical subject of thought with the intuition of a real subject. Similarly, in “On Denoting” Russell argues that philosophers need to look beyond the surface grammatical structure of natural language to discover the underlying logical structure. In my previous post (here), I suggested that many contemporary philosophers have been seduced by a contingent feature of the grammar of Indo-European languages.

My argument might suggest that I am sceptical of appeals to the way natural languages work in philosophy. Unlike, Nietzsche, however I am not, in general, a sceptic about appeals to natural language in philosophy. Like Thomas Reid I I am sympathetic to the view that we can use certain features of natural language as defeasible evidence for (or against) philosophical positions. Although Reid is often seen as a forerunner of ordinary language philosophy I think that it is more plausible to describe him as a “universal language philosopher”, for what has philosophical significance for Reid is the agreement of all languages on a certain point, not the contingent features of a particular language.

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Written by Lucas Thorpe

February 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm