Tuesday, September 4, 2018

World Congress of Philosophy

One of the high points of the recent World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing was hearing Hans Sluga talk through the PowerPoint slideshow I blogged about here. Unfortunately I didn't get to ask him any questions, but I did have a couple of new thoughts about it. On slide 19 he talks about metaphysics as a "stage of development" that is to be overcome, according to Schopenhauer. I don't know of anyone else who reads Schopenhauer like this, but it's an exciting suggestion. (Reminiscent of j's suggestion here, if I'm remembering correctly, that the four books of The World as Will and Representation might correspond with the four noble truths of Buddhism. These aren't just (meant to be) truths, they are something like stages on life's way. If Buddhism is right then we escape the first truth (suffering) and end up in the fourth (Nirvana).) I hadn't really noticed this before.

My second new thought is about the idea of a world ethics (see slide 41). Since the world is not (at all) the same thing as the planet, I don't quite see how we get from a world ethics to environmental ethics. It feels as though there could be a route from one to the other, but I'd be interested to know how far Sluga has mapped this. After all, say my world ethics is that whatever happens I should accept it, letting God's will be done. Then if the planet is destroyed this will be just another thing that I (believe I ought to) accept. A world-accepter will not be likely to destroy the planet, but also won't have any obvious reason (qua world-accepter) to try to prevent environmental destruction. So it looks as though there is work to be done here.

After Sluga's talk was one by Ruth Chang on three dogmas of normativity. I'm not quite sure how to characterize the second dogma, but the three dogmas are something like this:
  1. goodness is a property
  2. all states of affairs are comparable with regard to their goodness, so that each must be as good as, worse than, or better than any other. Incomparability (with regard to goodness) is not an option
  3. values are discovered, not created
I think what I've written for 1 and 3 are direct quotes (albeit from a talk rather than from a fully polished written work), but I'm not sure about 2. Anyway, Chang (if I understood her rightly) rejects all three. Very interesting stuff.


  1. You say Ruth Chang's talk limited #2 to questions of goodness, but I've read bits of her work where she talks more generally. I would say I agree with her in most respects except for my own quibble over #2.

    I have been meaning to write Ruth Chang and see if she notices the difficulty I think I've written to you before about which differentiates measures from the things measured. If a thing can be BOTH a measure at one time and something measurable at others do we escape incomparability the way she seems to suggest? Any chance she mentioned this problem?

    It is basically the Procrustes myth where humans are enticed to sleep at Procrustes' inn with the guarantee that they will fit the bed precisely. Usually we are the measure of a bed's fit, and the bed would either shrink or expand to fit perfectly. But in Procrustes' case it is the bed which remained fixed and the people who were either stretched out or chopped down to size.

    Can a measure be compared with 'itself' as a thing measured? To understand a measure AS a measure we have to be using it as a measure. As soon as we change it from this role to something empirical it is itself no longer a measure. The act of measuring it changes what the thing IS (for us).

    The whole of On Certainty seemed to be an attempt to come to grips with this difference, and that even if some things are more fluid in changing from one version to the other, it is important to recognize the distinction and not simply assume (as W accuses Moore of) certain things mistakenly providing 'evidence' of some kind when they are in fact the 'hinges' that hold all our questioning together. If doubt, knowing, testing all happens only against a fixed background, is it possible that comparisons only do so as well, and that the fixed things and the comparable things are of a fundamentally different order in our lives?

    Any of that make sense?

    1. Thanks. It sounds like you know her work better than I do, so I doubt I can be of much help. I don't think she did mention this difficulty, but I'm not sure that I really understood what she was saying about #2 and I'm also not sure what the difficulty that you're referring to is.

      I do see that there can be problems when a thing can be both a measure and thing measured at different times. What I don't see is how this relates to her ideas about #2. Quite possibly because I don't have a good idea of what her ideas about #2 are.

      Which, if it needs saying, is my fault, not hers. I need to find and read the relevant paper(s).

  2. Here's more on #2: https://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices. This helps me understand the idea better, but I'm going to have to read her work to understand it properly.

  3. for me this is the key quote “I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.”
    and Sluga's focus on environmentalism as conservation misses the point, better to go with a kind of environmental psychology by way of folks like JJ Gibson that looks to unpack "the inherited background"

    1. Could be. I'd like to see what he unpacks and how he does it. Conservation doesn't obviously have much to do with the world as in world picture, but then there's no reason why what he's saying has to be obvious. (Not that you're saying it is or should be.)