Homunculus Fallacy, personal Identity and Pancakes

Every so often I think of a new way of explaining something. Lately, most of these haven’t quite been as credible as I might like (Sartre on ‘facticity’ and Frozen, Mr Potato from Peppa Pig) and this one, I guess, isn’t much better.

The homunculus fallacy is an error in reasoning that rears it’s head regularly in the Core Theme of the International Baccalaureate Philosophy course. Put most simply, it is committed when one seeks to explain a thing but makes use of the concept that is being (attempted) explained.

The claim that Descartes does little more than describe the mind as a littler version of me (a homunculus) inside my head is common but student’s often fail to see why this is such a problem.

The other day I was making pancakes with my two-year-old, and after we had put the eggs ad flour in the bowl I asked her what we should add next. “Pancakes” came the answer. “Daddy put the pancakes in now”.

This is exactly the problem Descartes (and many others) are being accused of. A definition of pancakes that uses ‘pancakes’ as one of the ingredients is clearly a problem. Likewise a definition of mind calls apon a notion of the very thing it is trying to explain must be treated with suspicion.

For more examples check out this post from ‘Fallacy a Day‘.

Great Internal Assessment idea!

A pretty beautiful song that could well be the stimulus for an awesome IA on Nozick’s ‘experience machine’ thought experiment. Does it work? Should we not get in the machine because we truely crave a reality beyond our ‘expectations that…’.

A great online Critical Thinking quiz…

Critical thinking quizzes are usually rubbish. In fact in some countries even the material provided by exam boards are rubbish. And I’m saying this not without sympathy. One only needs to watch a single episode of Family Guy, The Revolution will be Televised or Brasseye to be reminded that though errors in reasoning can be hilarious, they are not always clearly a clear case of one error. Of course occasionally they are (“it’s not a drug it’s a drink” etc), but more often one could make a case that a number of mistakes have been made (eg. Peter Griffon’s incredible ‘Mark Harmon’ speech).

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Routledge’s companion website for Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp’s Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide is not like this. It is clear. It is constructive and it is helpful. I haven’t yet managed to read my inspection copy, but if it is as clear as this site I will be adopting it right away. You can find it here: Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide.

Also remember I have my basic introduction called Errors In Reasoning here.The best bit is that I have added a blog of real life (and usually funny) errors that you can use to test yourself.

Another Game of Thrones IA

DAARIO: Everyone has a choice. Even slaves have a choice. Death or slavery.

DAENERYS: So what else can I do?

DAARIO: Marry me instead.

DAENERYS: Even if I wanted to do such an inadviseable thing, I couldn’t.

DAARIO: Why not? You’re our queen, you can do as you like.

DAENERYS: No. I can’t

DAARIO: Then you are the only person in Mereen who’s not free.

Rereading Kierkegaard

I have this weird tradition, that when ever I head of on a multi-day trip skiing or climbing, and I think I might have a few hours down time, I take the same book in my pack. It’s happily called Sickness Unto Death and every time I read I start to think I missed much of the point the previous time. Anyway, this time I decided I need to put more Kierkegaard in the core theme section of my IB Philosophy course. This year I began to think a bit about the CAS part of the diploma, wondering if there was a way to help it delver the sort of end Kierkegaard would have hoped for. I wondered if we actually give students the opportunity to find a cause for which they would live and die. Obviously that’s a scary big goal, in fact it gets scarier the more you think about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what if…

Discounted by too many as a ‘religious’ philosopher, Kierkegaard has had a massive influence of the Western Philosophy that followed him. SK’s primary task is convince the reader she exists. Which sound obvious, right? But his concern is with what it means to truly exist, which is far less obvious. For the Dane, it has something to do with our freedom and what we choose to do with it. This freedom is difficult for traditional philosophy to access as it has tended to deal with the realm of deductive argument and reason. For Kierkegaard this, of course, relates to his belief that man is to be defined essentially by her passion, and not, as Kant, Hegel and Aristotle thought, by reason.
Kierkegaard CAS poster2
Going back to CAS, the implication is clear. CAS needs to be designed with the student’s passions in mind. Kierkegaard told us the truth is more complicated than we thought. That some how the way I act in response to what I believe is hugely significant. That if I don’t act as if I believe, then I must ask myself how true my idea of who I am is.
CAS should be all about this.
We know that students have a more profound CAS ‘journey’ when they undertake activities they care deeply about. It is here that the gap between reason and action in reality, the gap of which Kierkegaard warns us, is smallest and where reflection is most ‘real’. This is true in each of the strands.
The beauty of understanding ‘Service’ in the broadest sense is that it can allow students to discover a genuine passion and do what they can where they are.

Carter on Humean Ethics*

I just read a good article by Alan Carter on Humean Ethics. For a lot of students reading I guess that might seem a little bit of a juxtaposition as I know a lot of students leave A-Level or IB Philosophy thinking that Hume ‘didn’t think morality was rational or real’.
Carter’s exposition is particularly clear in explaining the ‘second tier’ of Hume’s account of morality. The first, as many students do know, deals with the way Hume claims that seeing suffering can cause an emotional response. Impressions are like sense perceptions and Hume call thinking about them having Ideas. What is remarkable about the human animal is that we seem to be able to move not only from impressions to ideas about them, but to go in the other direction too! Ideas, says Hume, can gather momentum, so to speak, until they give rise to things that might better be described as impressions.
When I think deeply about a previous experience and worry that it might happen again, say, then I can ‘feel’ various impressions as a result of this chain of causation.
Hume thinks that when I see someone torturing another, for example, I think about pain and how I dislike it and that leads me to feel some sort of repulsion to the act. This is projection. I am not accessing some metaphysical realm of right and wrong, and it is not a given that others will see or feel as I do. But what happens next is important.
Hume explains that groups of people, where a majority of people do agree, speak as though access has been gained to some objective order. Of course the feelings and perceptions are really unrelated, but when I learn my friend doesn’t like torture too we make the move to speaking as if we are seeing something ‘out there’ rather than projecting. This move, and those following like working out laws are rational not emotional. And it is this rational stage that Carter thinks is of great promise to environmentalists for it promises a potential consistency that is greater than any other normative theory.
I’ll leave exactly why for class but here are your questions:
*Carter, Alan ‘Hume and Nature’ in LaFollette (Ed.) Ethics in Practice (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002) 664-673.