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‘.

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.

Julian Young on Schopenhauer

Every so often I read (or start reading) a book that makes me read more by the same author. It”s not always because I agree with the writer, in fact recently it more often goes the other way… Julian Young’s The Death of God and the Meaning of Life was my most recent book like this… In fact it might be a very good addition to an IB philosophy reading list…

Both in this book, and his Schopenhauer, Young provides a seriously clear and useful definition that would be of use to any IB student reading Nietzsche for paper 2 or for anyone that would like to write something ‘a bit off the beaten track’ in their core theme question. I always encourage my paper 2 Nietzsche students to mention Schopenhauer in their answers and this book and that chapter explain very clearly why.

There’s an excellent section on what ‘will’ is and why it matters which may seem familiar to students of Freud. Best, perhaps is the description of Schopenhauer’s case for pessimism. I’ll return to both these books later but for now here is Young quoting Schopenhauer making a case for the creulty of nature. This point could also find a home in a philosophy of religion essay…Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 09.07.01

*Young, Julian Schopenhauer (New York: Routledge, 2005) 84.

Every year…

Every year I get at least one email from a student that shows me they have really ‘got’ what we have been studying. Last year a guy found Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons and was adamant (completely correctly in my view) that the philosophy described a sort of Christian ‘Platonism’, an idea of the human’s essence that was rejected by Jean-Paul Sartre (this was what we had been studying).

Anyway there’s more about that on my ib philosophy page, but the email I got this year was about the experience of doing philosophy. IB philosophy is a wonderful course with an emphasis on doing philosophy rather than just learning about it.It takes two years and the entire structure of the course is about helping the students to become the IB learner profile rather than just gaining some knowledge in order to repeat it. It is far more academically challenging and philosophically useful than any of the courses I have encountered that are taught elsewhere in Scotland or England. Those students that choose to take the ‘higher level’ (HL) version of the subject complete and exam paper on the question of ‘What is Philosophy?’, reflecting upon their mounting experience of studying it, and all students of both HL and Standard levels are required to complete a unit on ‘what makes a person?’

Of course this question is central to almost every other philosophical foray and it has always astounded me how certain exam boards think they can simply ‘miss it out’ of their syllabi. What’s nice about the song the student above emailed me is that it includes both of these elements:

Imagine if the life that you thought you shared
Wasn’t really there.
It was made up in your mind,
Could be anyone/anywhere


As the dust clears and it all starts to disappear,
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.
And wherever you are, land on another star!
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.

religion and intellience…

two ways of looking at things in True Detective

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so much going on here that I don’t have time to write about it all yet… but coming soon… watch the whole series – it is amazing!

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Richard Linklater’s ‘Waking Dead’

Okay, so perhaps this is slightly out of place on this blog as I’m not sure how many non-philosophers would persevere with it. On the other hand, the viewer is addressed by real life philosophers in a medium that is accesible to most, so I guess it’s okay… We’ll be watching this in class at some point…

Click below for discussion questions: