Michael Hicks: What Is Thought? | Who Shaves the Barber? #48

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What is a thought? There are two ways to approach the problem, says philosopher Michael Hicks. One is as a question about introspective experience. The other – favored by Hicks – is as asking about the nature of interpersonal understanding. We do understand each other; and this is what constitutes the existence of thoughts. With this approach established, Hicks explains to what extent it does or doesn’t imply an “external” view of mind. We also compare this conception of thought to Gottlob Frege’s, and discuss whether it involves a commitment to a “third realm” of abstract objects.

Next week: Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought

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Video

Topics discussed

0:20 – Introduction to Michael Hicks
2:42 – What are thoughts?
14:15 – Internal or extended thinking
23:46 – Meta-ontology
35:03 – Frege and abstract objects

Sources

Michael Hicks (homepage)
The Thought” (Gottlob Frege)
The Extended Mind” (Andy Clark, David Chalmers)…

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Kit Fine: Metaphysical Ground | Who Shaves the Barber? #46

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Some things are true in virtue of other things. For example, the fact that it is either raining or snowing today is true in virtue of the fact that it is raining today (if, indeed, it is). Or consider another example, put in different terms: the fact that my cat Irene exists is sufficient to account for the fact that at least one cat exists. We might then ask: what is this being in virtue of, or accounting for?

Philosophers call this metaphysical ground. Thus, the existence of my cat Irene grounds the fact that at least one cat exists. But how does this grounding relation work? How is it related to logical entailment? To cause? To essence? Is it possible for there to be partial grounding? Can a fact ground itself? If not, does a vicious regress emerge? What is the role of ground in metaphysics? In this interview, metaphysician Kit Fine covers these questions and more before zeroing in on a logical puzzle of ground, related to the paradoxes of self-reference such as the Liar.

Next week: Left Market Anarchism

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Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro to Kit Fine
2:50 – Vagueness
6:44 – What is ground?
10:40 – Realism
16:15 – Two notions of necessary ground
19:10 – Relevance and ground
24:35 – Ground and philosophy, cause and science
28:00 – Ground and ontological reduction
35:18 – Regress, circularity, and weak ground
44:55 – Types of ground and the “source” of logic
52:50 – Ground of ground
1:03:02 – Essence and ground
1:09:10 – A puzzle of ground

Sources

Kit Fine (homepage)
Vagueness, truth, and logic” (Kit Fine)
A Guide to Ground” (Kit Fine)
Some Puzzles of Ground” (Kit Fine)…

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Against Rorty on the Usefulness of Ontological Debates

Rorty ontology
Richard Rorty, cover of Contingency, irony, and solidarity.

I’m a big fan of Richard Rorty. His book Contingency, irony, and solidarity (CIS) was one of the books that led me to inquire into philosophy more rigorously (ironically enough — sorry Dick!).

But there’s something that’s always bugged me about Rorty. He uses pragmatist insights to label entire subjects “not useful”. The following quote was recently brought to my attention:

The question that matters to us pragmatists is not whether a vocabulary possess meaning or not, whether it raises real or unreal problems, but whether the resolution of that debate will have an effect in practice, whether it will be useful. We ask whether the vocabulary shared by the debaters is likely to have practical value. For the fundamental thesis of pragmatism is William James’ assertion that if a debate has no *practical* significance, then it has no *philosophical* significance.

So my objection to the “realism versus anti-realism debate” is not that the debtors are employing sentences that are devoid of meaning, nor that they are using terms that do not designate substantial properties. Rather, that the resolution of these debates will have no bearing on practice. I view debates of this sort as examples of sterile scholasticism. I regret that such a large part of English-language philosophy in the twentieth century was devoted to questions of this type.

— What’s the Use of Truth? (Richard Rorty)

(An aside: for all his insistence on deflating these debates, Rorty’s not always consistent in whether his position is deflationary about the debate or withinthe debate.…

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