Suggested readings, #140

Vintage engraving of The Bench, by William Hogarth. 1758, depicts four judges listening to a case in the Court of Common Pleas.

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The philosopher and pain: the case of Rorty and Dennett. A couple of weeks ago, on the pages of this website, some critical comments on Richard Rorty’s general argumentative style were made, and, sympathetic to these comments, this inspired me to join the discussion with some criticism of Rorty of my own and, while I am at it, throw in some criticism of Daniel Dennett, for, as will be seen, they both have some mindboggling and implausible things to say about the experience of pain. This, in my view, stems from one of the things they have in common despite their many and substantial differences, namely, their deep animosity to anything Cartesian. … (3QuarksDaily)

We know how time will end, but not how it started. Take a movie of an everyday scene and play it backwards to an audience. People are sure to notice: rivers flowing uphill, broken eggs reassembling themselves, footprints washed into existence by the retreating tide… In daily life we have no trouble telling past from future, so it’s easy to spot the deception when sequences are reversed. The directionality inherent in natural phenomena is dubbed ‘the arrow of time.’ It is such a familiar part of experience that it often comes as a shock to learn that its origin is shrouded in mystery. … (IAI News)

Does law exist to provide moral order? In 1959, as a response to what was commonly known as the Wolfenden Report, Lord Devlin, an English judge, delivered the Maccabaean Lecture in Jurisprudence at the British Academy. The lecture that would later be published as The Enforcement of Morals. The Wolfenden Report was more correctly called the Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. Two years before Devlin’s lecture, the Committee had recommended by a majority of 12 to 1 that, in Britain, “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a crime.” Devlin’s objections to this recommendation would spark a passionate public debate between himself and H. L. A. Hart, Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University. … (JSTOR Daily)

Our innate ideas prevent us seeing what is innate in human nature. Remy, the Harvard Humanities cat, has an orange coat, a focused agenda, and a strong scholarly mission. He spends his mornings in the library, his afternoons at the physics lab, and he pulls all-nighters at the law school. No, Remy doesn’t investigate particle physics, or worry about free will and legal responsibility. Remy was born a cat, and this biological fact predestines him to see the world through the inborn prism of his feline cognition. Certain notions come to him naturally. Remy can reckon the trajectory of his chipmunk victims with exquisite precision. But it is doubtful he will ever show remorse for their misfortunes. … (Psyche)

The Republican axis reversing the rights revolution. The great divergence is rapidly expanding—and President Joe Biden’s window to reverse it is narrowing. Since the 1960s, Congress and federal courts have acted mostly to strengthen the floor of basic civil rights available to citizens in all 50 states, a pattern visible on issues from the dismantling of Jim Crow racial segregation to the right to abortion to the authorization of same-sex marriage. But now, offensives by red-state governments and GOP-appointed federal judges are poised to retrench those common standards across an array of issues. The result through the 2020s could be a dramatic erosion of common national rights and a widening gulf—a “great divergence”—between the liberties of Americans in blue states and those in red states. … (The Atlantic)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

4 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #140”

  1. Mr. Elgat is wrong if he thinks opposition to anything Cartesian is a “bad thing.” Again, though, Dennett stole that from his mentor Ryle, and others before him, re a non-Cartesian mind. Not sure where Rorty got his from. Second, opposition to Cartesianism does NOT logically imply opposition to qualia. All it means, to riff on Dennett, is that there is no **central and conscious** “qualia determination center.

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  2. Massimo, an update I thought of in the SoCal Starbucks (end of a fun, invigorating hiking vacation in low desert, high desert and mountains, then meeting friends) …

    Per your previous posting from Mr. Elgat on qualia, I noted that originally, I heard of qualia in the sense of color, as in Dennett’s “redness.”

    Well, now we’re going to go into evolutionary biology, and touch at the edges of Goodman, the new problem of induction … and that famous word of his.

    As you know, our primate ancestors long ago evolved a third cone cell and trichromatic vision. So, let’s talk about the qualia of “Greenness.” (Actually, given its peak frequency, it should more be yellow-greenness, and Photoshop will also tell you how much yellow many “greens” have.)

    So, in that sense, contra Dennett, we have evolved for a certain type of qualia, it would seem. (Ditto for bees in the ultraviolet, had they the brains to think of such things?) But, at the same time, per Goodman, maybe we should talk of “yellreen”?)

    More seriously, you’ve also probably read studies of anthropologists that show that in “primitive” societies, the first word they have for a color beyond black and white is “red.” I think “blue” is second, then either “Yellow” or “Green” about equal.

    So, we have a biologically driven concept of color, but degrees of how color is differentiated are driven by cultural evolution as well.

    But that’s not all.

    I said “words.” “Language.” Now, we’re also in linguistic philosophy. Insert women joking about how men can’t tell mauve from periwinkle. But, that ties back to cultural evolution, or sub-cultural evolution, and a perceived need to be that precise on distinguishing tints, like classical Greek putting five adverbial particles at the start of a word.

    But, perception is not adverbial nuance.

    Per the evolution of that third cone … men, of course, often suffer from red-green colorblindness.

    What I am getting at is that maybe the whole idea of qualia is framed too simply in general. It may not quite be p-zombies, but maybe its usefulness is less than some claim?

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    1. Socratic, all good points. But what baffles me about the whole qualia thing is this: are Dennett, the Churchland, & co. really denying that there is something that it feels like to perceive color? And that, as you say, this ability is the result of evolution, and is very useful?

      If that’s what they are doing, their ideology got control of their good sense. If that’s not what they are doing, what are, then, doing, exactly?

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  3. Agreed that I think qualia are “real” myself. I’m not Dennett et al. My thoughts on the “complexity” of them is more a challenge to them than other challengers OF them. But, on the other side, I don’t think qualia are a good demarcation line for consciousness issues. Discussion of how qualia function, though, may indeed fill that role.

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