Phil 89: Review of Week 1

  1. We talked about the kinds of argumentative and investigative tools that philosophers make use of. These can be used in pursuit of mundane questions (who has to do the dishes tonight?), more serious practical questions (did so-and-so commit murder?), and fundamental questions that we may lack other ways of making progress on (does anyone ever make free choices about how to act? if not, can it still be morally fair to punish them?).

  2. We talked about different issues and questions that are sometimes placed under the heading of “my identity,” or “what makes me the person I am.”

    1. Some of these are about your image or understanding of yourself, what your fundamental values and beliefs and commitments are, what you consider most important to who you are, and how you organize the narrative or story you tell yourself about your life.

    2. Others are questions about “the nature or essence of a person.” How to decide whether some people you’re considering count as a single person or rather two (or more) people, who might however all inhabit a single body? What sorts of changes could a person undergo, and that same person still be around afterwards?

    This course will primarily be concerned with questions of type (b); but in a few places we’ll start to explore how our discussions of them interact with things you might want to say regarding questions of type (a).

  3. We saw examples of making conceptual distinctions, with the notion of a “mother,” and also with the notions of “sameness/identity,” on the one hand, opposed to “difference” on the other. In service of that second example, we introduced the philosophical vocabulary of “numerical identity” (being one and the same object) versus “qualitative identity” (being exactly alike). In an example we discussed, two children had qualitatively the same bikes, but numerically the same mother.

    The Perry reading we looked at last week, and the three philosophy readings for Tuesday, also all introduce this distinction (though their terminology varies a bit).

  4. Another example we discussed (“why are you a jerk?”) helped us pull apart and think about the difference between: (a) causal/historical questions (how did such-and-such happen? how can we engineer for it to happen/not happen again?) (b) epistemological questions (how can we know or tell that it’s happening? what counts as evidence for/against it?) (c) definitional questions (what constitutes or counts as being a jerk/being alive? what understanding of these concepts do we share?)

    The Perry, Shoemaker, and Sider readings also try to clarify the difference between (b) and (c).

  5. We talked about why, with definitional questions, it can be helpful and legitimate to consider fantastical thought-experiments, that aren’t practically achievable (at least right now). This is because it can be useful data what possibilities are even consistent with our concepts (for example, reviving people from suspended animation) and what possibilities aren’t (for example, “killing” people back to life).

    All four of the philosophy readings so far describe some fantastical cases. The Garrett reading talks more about why such cases can be useful. See also the webpages I link to in point #7 below.

  6. With definitional questions, we also distinguished between analyzing, investigating, or figuring out what definition we’re already sharing/understanding a notion to have (this can sometimes take a lot of work to identify and properly articulate); versus stipulating that we’re going to use some word in a specific way (which might not be the way other people use/understand the word in other contexts). We’ll see authors doing both of these in our readings, and we’ll be doing both of them ourselves.

    Some stipulative definitions we’ve already encountered are of “numerical versus qualitative identity” (new technical jargon) and of a philosophical notion of “surviving” (a familiar word used in a somewhat unfamiliar way, where it no longer has to involve something still being alive, or ever being alive). We’ll talk about this use of “survive” more on Tuesday.

  7. More technical jargon introduced in class and in some of the reading (though the underlying ideas should be familiar) is “necessary versus sufficient conditions” for something.

    The Shoemaker reading also discusses these notions. For more discussion of them, and of some of the other methodological ideas and tool listed here, have a look at my webpages on Philosophical Terms and Methods. The first two links on that page are relevant to the current point #7, and the fourth to points #4 and #5 above.