The Avuncular David Hume

Hume is on my mind especially in regard to my current work on Adam Smith. To this end, I’ve been re-watching Bryan Magee’s series The Great Philosophers from ’87. I’ve especially enjoyed the Hume discussion with John Passmore. Magee is an expositor second to none despite the fact that his expert guests are more intimate with- and have produced more distinguished work on- any of the target thinkers. In this Passmore interview (see below) one has the distinct sense that Magee is getting a great deal of pleasure by letting Passmore rattle on and then with utmost clarity and brevity restating the issue. This is not to put Passmore down – it is more to highlight Magee’s very special talent. I think Tony Quinton had that expository talent in writing but even he got flustered in his chat with Magee on Spinoza and Leibniz. Hume has a special place amongst my intellectual furniture. He speaks to me as the first modern: his discussion of personal identity, political philosophy, epistemology and ethics seem so germane to me as a so-called situated theorist. In any event, anyone who considers themselves a well-read person and who has not read Hume, is really quite impoverished, stylistically and substantively.

Moreover, what I particularly like about Hume is his even temperament and good nature along with his cutting wit. I’d have him by my side at my imaginary dinner party which wouldn’t be comprised by self-ascribed “intellectuals”: only people who love food, wine, conversation and laughter would be there.

He built a house in Edinburgh’s New Town, and spent his autumnal years quietly and comfortably, dining and conversing with friends, not all of whom were “studious and literary,” for Hume also found that his “company was not unacceptable to the young and careless.” One young person who found his company particularly “acceptable” was an attractive, vivacious, and highly intelligent woman in her twenties — Nancy Orde, the daughter of Chief Baron Orde of the Scottish Exchequer. One of Hume’s friends described her as “one of the most agreeable and accomplished women I ever knew.” Also noted for her impish sense of humor, she chalked “St. David’s Street” on the side of Hume’s house one night; the street still bears that name today. The two were close enough that she advised Hume in choosing wallpaper for his new home, and rumors that they were engaged even reached the ears of the salonnières in Paris. Just before his death, Hume added a codicil to his will, which included a gift to her of “ten Guineas to buy a Ring, as a Memorial of my Friendship and Attachment to so amiable and accomplished a Person.”

He also become the rage of the Parisian salons, enjoying the conversation and company of Diderot, D’Alembert, and d’Holbach, as well as the attentions and affections of the salonnières, especially the Comtesse de Boufflers. (“As I took a particular pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I met with from them.”)

From The Hume Society

Hume himself:

With regard to politics and the character of princes and great men, I think I am very moderate. My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representation of persons to Tory prejudices. Nothing can so much prove that men commonly regard more persons than things, as to find that I am commonly numbered among the Tories.

Cited in Ernest Mossner classic biography The Life of David Hume (Clarendon Press, 2001), p. 311.

Let’s give the final word to his dear friend:

Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.

Adam Smith

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Hayek’s Post-Positivist Empiricism: Experience Beyond Sensation

Here is Jan Willem Lindemans‘ intro and conclusion to his chapter:

The philosophical foundations of Hayek’s works are not beyond dispute (Caldwell, 1992; Gray, 1984; Hutchison, 1992; Kukathas, 1989): was Hayek a rationalist or an empiricist; did he follow Kant or Hume, Mises or Popper? Difficulties arise because these questions touch upon social theory, political philosophy, methodology, and epistemology. Moreover, on different occasions, Hayek (intentionally) gave different definitions and evaluations of already complicated views such as ‘‘rationalism’’ and ‘‘empiricism.’’

In this chapter, I try to shed some light on the rationalism/empiricism issue by focusing on epistemology, where this issue really belongs. The debate there is mainly about the sources of knowledge (e.g., Markie, 2008). Empiricists argue that experience is the source of all our knowledge. This view was held by John Locke (1632–1704) and David Hume (1711–1776), but its roots go back to Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and even further to the ancient Greek Empiricist school in medicine (founded in the third century B.C. by Philinos of Kos or Serapion of Alexandria) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.). In contrast with his teacher Plato, Aristotle believed in the ‘‘induction’’ (epago¯ge¯) of general knowledge from particular observations.

I will not have the space here to relate Hayek’s ideas to this long history of empiricism. But I will try to refer to David Hume now and then, because Hayek was a great admirer of Hume’s social and political philosophy and Hayek’s “Humeanism” is extensively discussed. I will also get back to the less well-known Empiricist school in medicine, because it has a very special conception of “experience,” which I believe to be useful to the discussion.

In contrast with empiricism, rationalism or “apriorism” is the idea that some knowledge is independent of experience or “a priori.” Traditionally, this meant that knowledge is based on rational intuition or embedded in our rational nature or the structure of the mind. If knowledge is embedded in our mind or nature, it is “innate,” which is why philosophers speak of “innatism” or ‘‘nativism.’’ Since this was Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) view, it is often called ‘‘Kantianism.’’ I will also use the term ‘‘Kantianism’’ rather than ‘‘rationalism’’ because Hayek most often defines the latter as the false view that social phenomena are rationally designed, which is a completely different issue. Kantianism goes back to the ‘‘innate ideas’’ of Rene´ Descartes (1596–1650) and the anamnesis of ideas in Plato’s philosophy (429–347 B.C.).

Many scholars have tried to position Hayek in the Kantianism/empiricism debate. Most scholars would probably agree with Connin (1990, p. 301) that ‘‘Hayek’s theory of knowledge is undoubtedly Kantian’’ (see also Feser, 2006, p. 300).However,many also understand that there is more to it (Caldwell, 2004, p. 273). Since ‘‘experience’’ is undeniably a basic concept in Hayek’s epistemology, some believe that his epistemology is a kind of synthesis between Kantianism and Humean empiricism (Horwitz, 2000, p. 25). De Vecchi (2003, p. 152) is less optimistic and says that ‘‘there is an unresolved tension between empiricism and anti-empiricism within the theory of the process of the formation of knowledge set out in The Sensory Order.’’ Moreover, some have made the link with ‘‘evolutionary epistemology’’ (Bartley, 1987, p. 21;Dempsey, 1996; Gray, 1984; Kukathas, 1989; Vanberg, 2002).

However, scholars have rarely wondered how Kantianism, empiricism, and evolutionism can be reconciled, and, more importantly, what ‘‘empiricism’’ and ‘‘experience’’ mean in such a context. Just as there are as many ‘‘rationalisms’’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘‘reason,’’ there are as many ‘‘empiricisms’’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘‘experience.’’ In this chapter, I will reconstruct Hayek’s epistemology based on a careful reading of The Sensory Order and some related writings. I will argue that Hayek’s epistemology is best characterized as a type of ‘‘post-positivist empiricism.’’

In the first paragraph, I review Hayek’s neurophysiological explanation of the mind in The Sensory Order. Hayek shows how the nervous system can perform the acts of classification characteristic of the working of the mind. Because the synaptic connections embody a kind of knowledge independent of ‘‘sense experience,’’ Hayek is not a ‘‘sensationalist empiricist.’’ The second paragraph discusses Hayek’s theory of the formation of synaptic connections. Connections are formed on the basis of what I will call ‘‘Hayek’s learning rule,’’ which boils down to the familiar idea that neurons that fire together wire together. Since this means that the knowledge embodied in the synaptic connections is in a sense the result of ‘‘experience,’’ be it ‘‘pre-sensory experience’’ rather than ‘‘sense experience,’’ Hayek is an empiricist after all, but one of the ‘‘post-positivist’’ kind. In the third paragraph, I analyze Hayek’s views on the evolution of the nervous system and the behavior it generates. There appear to be two kinds of ‘‘experience’’ Hayek’s Post-Positivist Empiricism: Experience Beyond Sensation at the basis of the synaptic connections: ‘‘experience of the individual’’ and ‘‘experience of the race.’’ Because Hayek denies that all knowledge is due to ‘‘experience of the individual,’’ he is not an ‘‘individualist empiricist.’’ However, since ‘‘experience of the race’’ is also ‘‘experience,’’ he is again an empiricist in the wider sense.

What Hayek failed to notice is that experience of the race is ‘‘postsensory’’ rather than ‘‘pre-sensory’’ and also in other aspects very different from individual experience. I will call it a kind of ‘‘selective experience,’’ which I contrast with ‘‘inductive experience.’’ Some links with Donald Campbell’s ‘‘evolutionary epistemology’’ are explored. In the last paragraph, I consider Campbell’s idea that all increases in knowledge are due to selection and make some suggestions for future research.

Very much like Campbell and Popper, Hayek should be read as an empiricist going beyond traditional empiricism, sensationalism, and positivism: with Hume beyond Hume. Rather than summarizing the whole argument from ‘‘sense experience’’ to ‘‘pre-sensory experience,’’ and from ‘‘individual experience’’ as ‘‘inductive experience’’ to ‘‘racial experience’’ as ‘‘selective experience,’’ I want to end, first, by taking Campbell’s evolutionary epistemology beyond Hayek and, second, by suggesting some possible lines of research. Hayek’s broad empiricism holds that knowledge is based on experience in the wider sense in which it includes individual sense experience, individual pre-sensory experience, and racial experience. However, from an evolutionary epistemological point of view, this empiricism is perhaps too broad.

Evolutionary epistemologists focus on the growth of knowledge and thus the source of increases in knowledge. The ‘‘Basic Selectionist Dogma’’ of Campbell’s ‘‘1960 model’’ (Campbell, 1997, p. 8) states that ‘‘A blindvariation- and-selective-retention process is fundamental to all inductive achievements, to all genuine increases in knowledge, to all increases in fit of system to environment’’ (Campbell, 1960, p. 380). The reason for this radical selectionism is that ‘‘real gains must have been the products of explorations going beyond the limits of foresight or prescience, and in this Learning rule + co-occurring impulses sense blind,’’ since ‘‘if such expansions had represented only wise anticipations, they would have been exploiting full or partial knowledge already achieved’’ (pp. 380–381). This basically means that ‘‘selective experience’’ is the source of all (increases in) knowledge. Hence, ‘‘evolutionary empiricism,’’ though also ‘‘post-positivist,’’ would be much stricter than Hayek’s broad empiricism.

Of course, this does not imply that Hayek’s pre-sensory experience based on the learning rule is nonsense from Campbell’s point of view. The second part of Campbell’s (1960, p. 380) Basic Selectionist Dogma says that ‘‘The many processes which shortcut a more full blind-variation-and-selectiveretention process are in themselves inductive achievements, containing wisdom about the environment achieved originally by blind variation and selective retention.’’ The evolution of Hayek’s learning rule itself is an ‘‘inductive achievement,’’ a ‘‘genuine increase in knowledge.’’ Hayek never reflects much on the fact that the learning rule is itself the result of the ‘‘experience of the race’’ and thus contains knowledge about (the regularity of) the environment. In contrast with the learning rule, the new connections that are the deterministic result of the learning rule are not (completely) ‘‘genuine increases in knowledge’’ since the knowledge was already achieved at the moment the learning rule evolved. Hence, the pre-sensory experience of the individual is still not the most fundamental kind of experience. The ‘‘experience of the race’’ that the learning rule works is a ‘‘pre-pre-sensory experience.’’

The empiricism/rationalism debate is not only about the sources of our beliefs and concepts but also about the justification of our knowledge. It is not only about how people do in fact acquire beliefs about the world but also about how they ought to acquire beliefs. Unfortunately, in The Sensory Order, Hayek was not particularly interested in the question whether knowledge ought to be based on experience. In contrast, Campbell’s evolutionary epistemology is clearly normative. While he sides with the skeptics against traditional epistemologists (Campbell, 1997, p. 12) and holds that ‘‘justification’’ is never complete (p. 13), he does construct a theory of ‘‘justification’’ on the basis of ‘‘Plausible co-selection of belief by referent’’ (p. 9). According to this theory, a belief – or a behavioral disposition other than a belief (cf. supra) – is ‘‘as justified as can be’’ if it is plausible that the belief has been systematically co-selected by the beliefindependent reality to which it refers. For instance, the beliefs we form about objects on the basis of seeing objects are justified if it is plausible that these objects were part of the environment that has selected the eye and the neural system that processes information coming from this eye. Campbell  calls this ‘‘competence of reference’’ selection (p. 10). If there is no such a plausible scenario, or if other co-selectors have probably been more influential, the belief is not justified. Campbell’s idea of co-selection by the belief-independent reality nicely illustrates that ‘‘selective experience’’ must be ‘‘immediate’’ (cf. supra).

Given what has been said, we can redefine ‘‘knowledge’’ as a behavioral disposition that has competence of reference because it was systematically coselected by its referent. Campbell’s theory is an externalist theory of justification because the knower does not necessarily have access to the grounds of justification. Campbell himself relates it to Alvin Goldman’s causal theory of knowledge (p. 9). Indeed, the referent causes the ‘‘belief’’ to survive. More specifically, Campbell’s theory is reliabilist because it claims that ‘‘competence of reference’’ selection processes are reliable sources of truth. Hence, Campbell also relates it to Goldman’s reliabilist theory of justification.

I believe that Campbell’s normative evolutionary epistemology is a welcome complement to Hayek’s epistemological ideas. Refining Hayek’s concept of ‘‘experience’’ and specifying the way in which we can call him an ‘‘empiricist’’ as well as what kind of empiricist he could have been are only the first steps, though. In this chapter, I have restricted the analysis to Hayek’s ‘‘empiricist’’ epistemology, that is, the theory of how people in general (should) acquire knowledge. The next step is to apply this epistemology to two specific classes of individuals, which are very important to Hayek: entrepreneurs and scientists. These are some questions that could be raised: What is the role of ‘‘experience’’ in Hayek’s market economics? Do (or should) entrepreneurs acquire knowledge on the basis of experience? What kind of experience? Can we use the concept of ‘‘selective experience’’ to justify entrepreneurial action? On the other hand, what is the role of ‘‘experience’’ in Hayek’s philosophy of science? Do (or should) scientists – psychologists as well as economists – acquire knowledge on the basis of experience? What kind of experience? Can we use the concept of ‘‘selective experience’’ to justify scientific theories? In that sense, I hope that this chapter is only the beginning.

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Smith on the death of Hume

Letter from Adam Smith, LL.D. to William Strachan, Esq.

Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, Nov. 9, 1776.

DEAR SIR,— It is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that I sit down to give some account of the behavior of our late excellent friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness.

Though, in his own judgment, his disease was mortal and incurable, yet he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the entreaty of his friends, to try what might be the effects of a long journey. A few days before he set out, he wrote that account of his own life, which, together with his other papers, he has left to your care. My account, therefore, shall begin where his ends.

He set out for London towards the end of April, and at Morpeth met with Mr. John Home and myself, who had both come down from London on purpose to see him, expecting to have found him at Edinburgh. Mr. Home returned with him, and attended him during the whole of his stay in England, with that care and attention which might be expected from a temper so perfectly friendly and affectionate. As I had written to my mother that she might expect me in Scotland, I was under the necessity of continuing my journey. His disease seemed to yield to exercise and change of air, and when he arrived in London, he was apparently in much better health than when he left Edinburgh. He was advised to go to Bath to drink the waters, which appeared for some time to have so good an effect upon him, that even he himself began to entertain, what he was not apt to do, a better opinion of his own health. His symptoms, however, soon returned with their usual violence, and from that moment he gave up all thoughts of recovery, but submitted with the utmost cheerfulness, and the most perfect complacency and resignation.

Upon his return to Edinburgh, though he found himself much weaker, yet his cheerfulness never abated, and he continued to divert himself, as usual, with correcting his own works for a new edition, with reading books of amusement, with the conversation of his friends; and, sometimes in the evening, with a party at his favorite game of whist. His cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements run so much in their usual strain, that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying. “I shall tell your friend, Colonel Edmondstone,” said Doctor Dundas to him one day, “that I left you much better, and in a fair way of recovery.” “Doctor,” said he, “as I believe you would not choose to tell any thing but the truth, you had better tell him, that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.” Colonel Edmondstone soon afterwards came to see him, and take leave of him; and on his way home, he could not forbear writing him a letter bidding him once more an eternal adieu, and applying to him, as to a dying man, the beautiful French verses in which the Abbé Chaulieu, in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation from his friend, the Marquis de la Fare.

Mr. Hume’s magnanimity and firmness were such, that his most affectionate friends knew that they hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as to a dying man, and that so far from being hurt by this frankness, he was rather pleased and flattered by it. I happened to come into his room while he was reading this letter, which he had just received, and which he immediately showed me. I told him, that though I was sensible how very much he was weakened, and that, appearances were in many respects very bad, yet his cheerfulness was still so great, the spirit of life seemed still to be so very strong in him, that I could not help entertaining some faint hopes. He answered, “Your hopes are groundless. An habitual diarrhoea of more than a year’s standing, would be a very bad disease at any age: at my age it is a mortal one. When I lie down in the evening, I feel myself weaker than when I rose in the morning; and when I rise in the morning, weaker than when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible, besides, that some of my vital parts are affected, so that I must soon die.” “Well,” said I, “if it must be so, you have at least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother’s family in particular, in great prosperity.” He said that he felt that satisfaction so sensibly, that when he was reading, a few days before, Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he could not find one that fitted him; he had no house to finish, he had no daughter to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself. “I could not well imagine,” said he, “what excuse I could make to Charon in order to obtain a little delay. I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do; and I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave them. I therefore have all reason to die contented.” He then diverted himself with inventing several jocular excuses, which he supposed he might make to Charon, and with imagining the very surly answers which it might suit the character of Charon to return to them. ” Upon further consideration,” said he, “I thought I might say to him, Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the public receives the alterations.” But Charon would answer, “When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat.” But I might still urge, “Have a little patience, good Charon; I have been endeavoring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.” But Charon would then lose all temper and decency. “You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue.”

But, though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of the conversation happened to require: it was a subject, indeed, which occurred pretty frequently, in consequence of the inquiries which his friends, who came to see him, naturally made concerning the state of his health. The conversation which I mentioned above, and which passed on Thursday the 8th of August, was the last, except one, that I ever had with him.

He had now become so very weak, that the company of his most intimate friends fatigued him; for his cheerfulness was still so great, his complaisance and social disposition were still so entire, that when any friend was with him, he could not help talking more, and with greater exertion, than suited the weakness of his body. At his own desire, therefore, I agreed to leave Edinburgh, where I was staying partly upon his account, and returned to my mother’s house here, at Kirkaldy, upon condition that he would send for me whenever he wished to see me; the physician who saw him most frequently, Dr. Black, undertaking, in the mean time, to write me occasionally an account of the state of his health.

On the 22d of August, the Doctor wrote me the following letter:

“Since my last, Mr. Hume has passed his time pretty easily, but is much weaker. He sits up, goes down stairs once a day, and amuses himself with reading, but seldom sees anybody. He finds that even the conversation of his most intimate friends fatigues and oppresses him; and it is happy that he does not need it, for he is quite free from anxiety, impatience, or low spirits, and passes his time very well with the assistance of amusing books.”

I received the day after a letter from Mr. Hume himself, of which the following is an extract.

Edinburgh, 23d August, 1776.

MY DEAREST FRIEND,—I am obliged to make use of my nephew’s hand in writing to you, as I do not rise today.

“I go very fast to decline, and last night had a small fever, which I hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness, but unluckily it has, in a great measure, gone off. I cannot submit to your coming over here on my account, as it is possible for me to see you so small a part of the day, but Doctor Black can better inform you concerning the degree of strength which may from time to time remain with me. Adieus” etc.

Three days after I received the following letter from Doctor Black.

Edinburgh, Monday, 26th August, 1776.

“DEAR SIR,—Yesterday, about four o’clock, afternoon, Mr. Hume expired. The near approach of his death became evident in the night between Thursday and Friday, when his disease became excessive, and soon weakened him so much that he could no longer rise out of his bed. He continued to the last perfectly sensible, and free from much pain or feelings of distress. He never dropped the smallest expression of impatience; but when he had occasion to speak to the people about him, always did it with affection and tenderness. I thought it improper to write to bring you over, especially as I heard that he had dictated a letter to you desiring you not to come. When he became very weak, it cost him an effort to speak, and he died in such a happy composure of mind, that nothing could exceed it.”

Thus died our most excellent and never to be forgotten friend; concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge variously, every one approving or condemning them, according as they happen to coincide or disagree with his own; but concerning whose character and conduct there can scarce be a difference of opinion. His temper, indeed, seemed to be more happily balanced, if I may be allowed such an expression, than that perhaps of any other man I have ever known. Even in the lowest state of his fortune, his great and necessary frugality never hindered him from exercising, upon proper occasions, acts both of charity and generosity. It was a frugality founded, not upon avarice, but upon the love of independency. The extreme gentleness of his nature never weakened either the firmness of his mind or he steadiness of his resolutions. His constant pleasantry was the genuine effusion of good nature and good humour, tempered with delicacy and modesty, and without even the slightest tincture of malignity, so frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men. It never was the meaning of his raillery to mortify; and, therefore, far from offending, it seldom failed to please and delight, even those who were the objects of it. To his friends, who were frequently the objects of it, there was not perhaps any one of all his great and amiable qualities, which contributed more to endear his conversation. And that gaiety of temper, so agreeable in society, but which is so often accompanied with frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.

I ever am, dear Sir,
Most affectionately yours,
ADAM SMITH

1405199938

What to Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues

Yet another strong Wiley title. David Coady also did a fine job of guest editing EPISTEME for a themed issue on Conspiracy Theories (aside from Harry Frankfurt’s little book where else would a title in mainstream academia have the word “shit” so prominent – see Pete Mandik’s paper).

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Intersubjectivity and Objectivity in Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl

This is a highly unusual collection worth checking out, co-edited by the very excellent Dagfinn Føllesdal - for the first time here is a work that seriously brings Adam Smith into the orbit of cogsci:

Contents

Preface

Introduction

Contributors

Can we have objective knowledge of the world? Can we understand what is morally right or wrong? Yes, to some extent. This is the answer given by Adam Smith and Edmund Husserl. Both rejected David Hume’s skeptical account of what we can hope to understand. But they held his empirical method in high regard, inquiring into the way we perceive and emotionally experience the world, into the nature and function of human empathy and sympathy and the role of the imagination in processes of intersubjective understanding. The challenge is to overcome the natural constraints of perceptual and emotional experience and reach an agreement that is informed by the facts in the world and the nature of morality. This collection of philosophical essays addresses an audience of Smith- and Husserl scholars as well as everybody interested in theories of objective knowledge and proper morality which are informed by the way we perceive and think and communicate.

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Locating Conscious Properties in a Material World

Two reviews of  Gerald Vision’s Re-Emergence: Locating Conscious Properties in a Material World

By Philip Goff

By Kevin Morris

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Hayek’s Post-Positivist Empiricism: Experience Beyond Sensation

The intro from Jan Willem Lindemans’ paper:

The philosophical foundations of Hayek’s works are not beyond dispute (Gray, 1984, Kukathas, 1989, Caldwell, 1992, Hutchison, 1992): was Hayek a rationalist or an empiricist; did he follow Kant or Hume, Mises or Popper? Difficulties arise because these questions touch upon social theory, political philosophy, methodology and epistemology. Moreover, on different occasions, Hayek (intentionally) gave different definitions and evaluations of already complicated views such as ‘rationalism’ and ‘empiricism’. In this paper, I try to shed some light on the rationalism/empiricism issue by focusing on epistemology, where this issue really belongs. The debate there is mainly about the sources of knowledge (e.g., Markie, 2008). Empiricists argue that experience is the source of all our knowledge. This view was held by John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776) but its roots go back to Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and even further to the ancient Greek Empiricist school in medicine (founded in the third century B.C. by Philinos of Kos or Serapion of Alexandria) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In contrast with his teacher Plato, Aristotle believed in the ‘induction’ (epagōgē) of general knowledge from particular observations. I will not have the space here to relate Hayek’s ideas to this long history of empiricism. But I will try to refer to David Hume now and then, because Hayek was a great admirer of Hume’s social and political philosophy and Hayek’s ‘Humeanism’ is extensively discussed. I will also get back to the less well known Empiricist school in medicine, because it has a very special conception of ‘experience’ which I believe to be useful to the discussion. In contrast with empiricism, rationalism or ‘apriorism’ is the idea that some knowledge is independent of experience or ‘a priori’. Traditionally, this meant that knowledge is based on rational intuition, or embedded in our rational nature or the structure of the mind. If knowledge is embedded in our mind or nature, it is ‘innate’, which is why philosophers speak of ‘innatism’ or ‘nativism’. Since this was Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) view, it is often called ‘Kantianism’. I will also use the term ‘Kantianism’ rather than ‘rationalism’ because Hayek most often defines the latter as the false view that social phenomena are rationally designed, which is a completely different issue. Kantianism goes back to the ‘innate ideas’ of René Descartes (1596-1650) and the anamnesis of ideas in Plato’s philosophy (429-347 B.C.). Many scholars have tried to position Hayek in the Kantianism/empiricism debate. Most scholars would probably agree with Connin (1990, p. 301) that “Hayek’s theory of knowledge is undoubtedly Kantian” (see also Feser, 2006, p. 300). However, many also understand that there is more to it (Caldwell, 2004, p. 273). Since ‘experience’ is undeniably a basic concept in Hayek’s epistemology, some believe that his epistemology is a kind of synthesis between Kantianism and Humean empiricism (Horwitz, 2000, p. 25). De Vecchi (2003, p. 152) is less optimistic and says that “there is an unresolved tension between empiricism and anti-empiricism within the theory of the process of the formation of knowledge set out in The Sensory Order”. Moreover, some have made the link with ‘evolutionary epistemology’ (Bartley, 1987, p. 21; Gray, 1984; Kukathas, 1989; Dempsey, 1996; Vanberg, 2002). However, scholars have rarely wondered how Kantianism, empiricism and evolutionism can be reconciled, and, more importantly, what ‘empiricism’ and ‘experience’ mean in such a context. Just as there are as many ‘rationalisms’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘reason’, there are as many ‘empiricisms’ as there are interpretations of the term ‘experience’. In this paper, I will reconstruct Hayek’s epistemology based on a careful reading of The Sensory Order and some related writings. I will argue that Hayek’s epistemology is best characterized as a type of ‘post-positivist empiricism’. In the first paragraph, I review Hayek’s neurophysiological explanation of the mind in The Sensory Order. Hayek shows how the nervous system can perform the acts of classification characteristic of the working of the mind. Because the synaptic connections embody a kind of knowledge independent of ‘sense experience’, Hayek is not a ‘sensationalist empiricist’. The second paragraph discusses Hayek’s theory of the formation of synaptic connections. Connections are formed on the basis of what I will call ‘Hayek’s learning rule’, which boils down to the familiar idea that neurons that fire together wire together. Since this means that the knowledge embodied in the synaptic connections is in a sense the result of ‘experience’, be it ‘pre-sensory experience’ rather than ‘sense experience’, Hayek is an empiricist after all, but one of the ‘post-positivist’ kind. In the third paragraph, I analyze Hayek’s views on the evolution of the nervous system and the behavior it generates. There appear to be two kinds of ‘experience’ at the basis of the synaptic connections: ‘experience of the individual’ and ‘experience of the race’. Because Hayek denies that all knowledge is due to ‘experience of the individual’, he is not an ‘individualist empiricist’. However, since ‘experience of the race’ is also ‘experience’, he is again an empiricist in the wider sense. What Hayek failed to notice is that experience of the race is ‘post-sensory’ rather than ‘pre-sensory’ and also in other aspects very different from individual experience. I will call it a kind of ‘selective experience’, which I contrast with ‘inductive experience’. Some links with Donald Campbell’s ‘evolutionary epistemology’ are explored. In the last paragraph, I consider Campbell’s idea that all increases in knowledge are due to selection and make some suggestions for future research.

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Hume and Wittgenstein

Born on this day

Hume [O.S.]

The most important philosopher ever to write in English, David Hume (1711-1776) — the last of the great triumvirate of “British empiricists” — was also well-known in his own time as an historian and essayist. A master stylist in any genre, Hume’s major philosophical works — A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), the Enquiries concerning Human Understanding (1748) and concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), as well as the posthumously published Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) — remain widely and deeply influential. Although many of Hume’s contemporaries denounced his writings as works of scepticism and atheism, his influence is evident in the moral philosophy and economic writings of his close friend Adam Smith. Hume also awakened Immanuel Kant from his “dogmatic slumbers” and “caused the scales to fall” from Jeremy Bentham’s eyes. Charles Darwin counted Hume as a central influence, as did “Darwin’s bulldog,” Thomas Henry Huxley. The diverse directions in which these writers took what they gleaned from reading Hume reflect not only the richness of their sources but also the wide range of his empiricism. Today, philosophers recognize Hume as a precursor of contemporary cognitive science, as well as one of the most thoroughgoing exponents of philosophical naturalism.

Wittgenstein

Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein played a central, if controversial, role in 20th-century analytic philosophy. He continues to influence current philosophical thought in topics as diverse as logic and language, perception and intention, ethics and religion, aesthetics and culture. There are two commonly recognized stages of Wittgenstein’s thought—the early and the later—both of which are taken to be pivotal in their respective periods. The early Wittgenstein is epitomized in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics, via language, he provided new insights into the relations between world, thought and language and thereby into the nature of philosophy. It is the later Wittgenstein, mostly recognized in the Philosophical Investigations, who took the more revolutionary step in critiquing all of traditional philosophy including its climax in his own early work. The nature of his new philosophy is heralded as anti-systematic through and through, yet still conducive to genuine philosophical understanding of traditional problems.