Monthly Archives: April 2013

Eliminativism is a relatively new and controversial branch of philosophy of mind. This theory had its true start in the mid twentieth century. Eliminativism holds that there is no such thing as mental states as we commonly think of them. These theorists believe that folk psychology is wrong and will be proven false in the future.  

Eliminativism as a philosophy of mind is a form of materialism. The eliminativist purports that there is no such thing as mental events. One may think that by this they mean to say that there are only correlated neurological events, but they do not believe this either. Eliminativists believe that there is no correlation between neurological events and mental events, and that is simply because the latter do not exist. It is a hard idea to grasp, as it seems almost impossible to imagine that we do not feel, belief, or have any sort of emotions about what is going on in our life, but that is what the eliminativist suggests. 

Arguments for eliminativism draw mainly on contesting folk psychology.  Folk psychology is how we think of mental states of ourselves and other people. We draw conclusions based on past experience and knowledge, which is disturbing to the eliminativist. The eliminativist believes that folk psychology will be deemed wrong in the future, just as folk psychosis and medicine was. These ways of life (psychosis, medicine, etc.) may have been accepted at one point in history, but they were debunked as information proved them false.

Eliminativism is reminiscent of Dennett’s instrumentalist argument that mental states are just a way of handling with a complex system. Eliminativism holds this view too, but in a more extreme matter. Proponents of this theory of mind believe that mental states such as beliefs, desires, and emotions do not exist at all, and that we only hold onto such ideas as mental states because of the folk psychology.

Eliminativists believe however that to understand the true nature of reality, we must go beyond Dennett’s “intentional stance”, that of common sense, and “design stance”, that of mental events and sub-functions, and only worry ourselves in neuroscience or the “physical stance”. The eliminativist theory purports that there are no such thing as mental events, but rather only neurological events that do not correlate to the so-called mental events.

As said before, this philosophy of mind seems very hard to grasp, but if we look at past examples it becomes clearer. People used to believe that the Sun revolved around the Earth, which is where the phrases “sunset” and “sunrise” came from. Now, however, we know very well that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, but rather the opposite. To people during the time of this discover, it surely came as a shock the Earth was not the center of the universe, and that the Sun was. However, since scientific evidence showed proof for this fact, it was accepted as a truth. This is how it may be in the future with further neuroscience research. It may be discovered that the brain is just that, and we will have to say goodbye to psychology as a whole, including folk psychology. But just as we still say sunset and sunrise, semantically speaking, eliminativists realize that speak of the mind will not cease for a long while even if such a discovery is made.

Though the eliminativist philosophy of mind may be a hard one to accept or even attempt to accept, it does base its evidence on observation of the past and how folk areas of study have as a majority been debunked. There will most likely never be an extremely large following for eliminativism as it gets rid of what most humans believe makes us ourselves, and that is our minds.


            When contemplating one’s time here on Earth, the usual format is a linear span of time; that which includes a beginning, middle, and end. This is how most Western religions think of life, such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. The linear aspect of these religions emanates throughout their entire ideologies. Just as life has this straight chain of events, so does the religion itself, and deters connections made between different values and ideas. Hinduism is quite the opposite, speaking in terms of the time line of life and the religion itself. Hinduism is much more cyclical, and necessitates a deeper connection between certain aspects of life.

            The idea of a cyclical timeline is a rather foreign idea to Western thought. Growing up in a dominantly Christian country instills ideas of birth, living, and dying as being the three phases of one’s life. Hinduism brings this idea to a very strange spot, however. In a way, it does recognize that a human is born, lives, and dies with in one life span, but the words ‘born’ and ‘dies’ must be taken with a grain of salt. To be ‘born’ in a Hindu perspective is to be re-born, or reincarnated. And to ‘die’, leans more toward the essence of extinguishing, or moksha. A person’s life now, in this moment, is not their only life; they have lived before, and will live again. Not only do specific human lives not have a certain beginning, neither does the religion itself. The fact that Hinduism does not have a founder, but evolved organically, opposes the linear time frame that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism impose.

            The creation account itself is usually a very important part of religions, however in Hinduism, it is not. This fact fits very well with the fact that Hinduism, as stated before, is cyclical in nature, “Aruni said: ‘But how, indeed, could it be thus, my dear? How could Being be born from non—being? No, my dear, it was Being alone that existed in the beginning, one only without a second.’” (Upanishads, 2) By not having a creation account, it does not have a beginning, which reinforces its cyclical character. Though this does hint that there was, in fact, a beginning, it also states that there was something being before the beginning, which nullifies it being a beginning at all. The fact that there was no true beginning, according to Hinduism, pushes toward a closer relationship to Earth than a religion that does assert one. By declaring that there was no one person or being that created the Earth, sets it apart from dualistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.,) in that Being, not a being, but general being, was always present, and always will be.

            Another way in which Hinduism creates a closer relationship to the earth is that cyclical nature of life itself. By asserting that a person is an eternal soul on Earth, it follows that we as these souls must take care for the world we live in. We are all apart of the essential Being mentioned before. Everything that is truly being at this moment is apart of the Being, merely in different states. By recognizing this, the Earth and everything in and surrounding it takes on a reflection of oneself, “The wise man beholds all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.” (Upanishads, 1) This enforces the idea that if we were to harm anything on Earth, we would, transitively, be harming ourselves.

            By necessity, the Hindu people must keep Earth in top-notch condition, as they believe they are to be reincarnated on it essentially forever. By having this cyclical timeline of life, it necessitates that Hindus do good, and keep doing good through out their entire lives. This is because, essentially, to be reincarnated favorably in the next life, one must succeed and do well in this one. This is very different from the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish way of thinking about things, as if one does not live a good life, there are really only two (perhaps three) options; you will go to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Although Hell or Purgatory are both places people do not want to end up in the afterlife, this would be the end-all to a specific persons soul. A Hindu perspective is much more effective when contemplating Earth’s wellbeing, because if you wake up as an endangered animal of some sort, you are bound to feel the effects of the maltreatment.

            Incarnation is something that Hinduism and Christianity have in common. However, the way Hinduism incorporates incarnation is much more earthly. By having incarnation, rather reincarnation, apart of the cyclical life style of the Hindu people, it makes everyone equal. Contrary to the Christianity, where incarnation sets the common person apart from divinity, and also divinity from Earth, Hinduism strengthens the bonds between religious belief and it’s people, and also people’s bonds with Earth.

            Hinduism creates a very deep connection between Earth and man, by physically and mentally bonding man to Earth, it is essential for him to take care of it. This has an inherent notion to tend to the Earth’s needs and make sure it is fit for lifetimes to come. Christianity and other dualistic religions do not view Earth this way, as they do not believe they will be here for new lives. This is why Hinduism creates much more profound worldview and is very concerned with the environment.


Traditionally, while considering religion, one’s mind will drift to images of a white building with tall steeple, and a priest or other leader preaching to a congregation. However, the transcendentalists bring up other images, like being on top of a mountain in the Adirondacks, or spotting a deer off in the distance. While reading Thoreau, Emerson, and all of the lovely transcendentalists, I could not help but let my mind wander to similar thoughts of existentialisms and phenomenology. It seems to me that while there most certainly are differences between transcendentalism and existentialism, there are many parallels. 

Transcendentalists, such as Thoreau advocate finding religious clarity through experiences in the wilderness, truly connecting with it, and seeing God in nature. By experiencing nature, what transcendentalists believe to be God’s work, one can come very close to God. Unlike attending church and being told about God, you will be experiencing him and his work first-hand; contact! Contact is perhaps the most important aspect of transcendentalism; it pushes one to desert tradition and pursue a very personal encounter with God, rather than a universal one from church. As Thoreau trekked through the Maine woods, he encountered many phenomenological experiences, “I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandseled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, not mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor wasteland. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet earth” (273 Thoreau). Thoreau was awestruck by this seemingly undiscovered earth, and this is why his experience was phenomenological. Thoreau had a moment (and many others separate from this one) where he truly couldn’t think of anything except how he was encountering such a beautiful piece of nature, and how God made it perfectly. This is what he means when he promotes contact, as there would be no such experiences with out pushing yourself into the world as it was made originally, into the wilderness. 

This sort of phenomenological experience is where I find similarities between transcendentalism and existentialism. Both ways of thinking are very concerned with the individual, and focusing on one’s own experience in the world. Existentialism, however, is based on the individual’s experience in an autonomous manner, and does not easily coincide with the belief in God or gods. Whereas transcendentalism is based on the individual’s experience in relation to discovering one’s own divine experience, quite contrary to being autonomous. While these two ideologies differ concerning the divine, they both weigh the individual understanding of the self and self-consciousness very heavily.

In a way, transcendentalism is to Christianity as existentialism is to traditional philosophy, in that it calls for the individual to cast away conventional ways of making sense of life, and instead calls to investigate yourself to truly understand existence. Emerson advocates this clearly in his Divinity School Address, “Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, – cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity. Look to it first and only, that fashion, custom, authority, pleasure, and money, are nothing to you, -are not bandages over your eyes, that you cannot see, -but live with the privilege of the immeasurable mind.” (6, Emerson). Here Emerson, while giving the Harvard Divinity School Address, tells these graduates to essentially put behind them all they have learned, and to acquaint themselves “at first hand with Deity”. This is very similar to what Nietzsche, a German existentialist philosopher, would say about the process of understanding oneself, save the Deity. As Nietzsche said, “One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure, one’s own is the last to be dug up.” (Nietzsche). Both transcendentalism and existentialism promote ideas of shedding traditional authority of religion or society in general, and instead doing very in-depth introspection to find God, or one’s own autonomous self, respectively. 

Both ways of thought, in most cases, involve phenomenological experiences. This is because both bring the individual so close to the essence of being, ontologically speaking, whether the conclusion being that it is due to a God, or another means. No matter what one’s beliefs are, it is very common for both transcendentalists and existentialists alike to experience a phenomenological happening. To have such an experience does not necessitate a belief in divinity, but implies that the individual is completely awe-struck in what they conclude, which can be said of most schools of thought. 

Though transcendentalism and existentialism do differ in certain aspects, they also overlap in others. Both ideologies stress the importance of the individual and the contact with what they believe to be the ultimate truth. These philosophies especially correspond in that both encourage the straying away from norms of traditional ways of religion or life, and the deeper investigation of the self, be it connection to Deity or the autonomous self.

The way in which humans interact with animals seems to closely relate to how we treat fellow human beings. In order for our ethics to be carried out to the fullest, we must treat animals as if they were humans. Descartes and Kant had differing opinions on the role of animals in the world, and how we ought to treat them. The progression of compassion and fairness toward animals demonstrates the same compassion and fairness toward other humans over history.

            Rene Descartes had one of the more sinister outlooks on animals. Although he was in no way an advocate of animal cruelty, he believed animals were “automata”, or small robots. He did not believe that animals had a thinking mind separate from their instincts, and therefore believed animals were made for human use. Descartes did not believe in regarding animals as compassionately as we do humans, however, as Kant did. Unlike Kant, Descartes believed in some animals being better than others, “within a single species some of them are more perfect than others, as men are too. This can be seen in horses and dogs, some of whom learn what they are taught much better than others” (Descartes, 4).  This greatly contradicts many animal rights ideals of the present, however very much supports those in Descartes’ day.  Although animals were not seen as completely at human disposal, they were certainly seen as a possible means to an end. By looking at anything in this manner, the chances for abuse are very high. In Descartes’ era, animals were primarily used for farming, hunting, and meat, and this what Descartes believed; humans could use animals for what they deemed necessary or suitable.

            Kant has perhaps the most liberal view on the treatment of animals, especially considering he wrote about two hundred years ago. Contrary to Descartes, Kant believed in treating animals the way humans ought to be treated, with respect, dignity, and surely without violence. Kant’s main argument for this was that while hurting an animal may not be the absolute worst thing in the world, it is a gateway that allows for much worse and more evil thoughts and actions to brew. Kant even went so far to extend the right to grubs, “Leibniz put the grub he had been observing back on the tree with its leaf, lest he should be guilty of doing any harm to it. It upsets a man to destroy such a creature for no reason, and this tenderness is subsequently transferred to man” (Kant, 213).  Though it seems that Kant may have gone a bit overboard with using a tiny grub as an example, it demonstrates his point very well. What he is attempting to get across is that people need to stay sensitized to the harm of any person or animal, even if it is as small as a grub.  By staying in touch with this side of oneself, it is extremely hard to be involved in a violent act, as one does not want the guilt of doing harm to another living being. While Kant did believe that humans were superior to animals in many ways, he believed that by recognizing they too have feelings and to some extent, emotions, we could relate to them, and therefore better understand why we must treat them humanely.

            Descartes and Kant had differing views on the treatment of animals by humans. Though Descartes was not an advocate of animal cruelty, he was an advocate of using animals as he saw fit, as he believed they were automata, and to be used by the discretion of humans. Kant, on the other hand, believed in treating animals in a peaceful and kind manner, as it would better benefit humans as a whole. Kant’s ideology of animals is much more sough after, however, as it truly promotes the compassionate treatment of animals, and greatly coincides with the most accepted animal rights views today.

            The human mind seems to be an elusive concept in any area of study. The question of whether it is a material substance or something else is a perplexing and seemingly inexplicable matter. Descartes set the famous precedent of asserting that the mind is a mental substance, as opposed to material. Identity theorists, however, disagree with this notion. The Identity Theory holds that the mind is in face a material substance, and nothing more than the goings-on in the brain.

            That the Identity Theory is valid remains to be seen, however it certainly gives a more straightforward solution to the mind-body problem. Proponents of the Identity Theory purport that by proposing that the mind and the brain are identical (that mental events are neurological events) the complications of the “mental substance” dualists suggest is elapsed. Parsimony is the term Identity Theorists use to describe this aspect of simplicity that the theory brings to the philosophy of mind. The principle of parsimony suggests that the simplest way for something to work is the more sensible; as opposed to complicating our understanding of how the universe works with pointless additions to an already intricate reality, as dualists do according to Identity Theorists. These theorists believe it is frivolous to appeal to a non-material mind, especially when there seems to be no reputable plea to apply this idea to other lesser-minded animals. Why should human beings be the sole possessors of minds when other animals, while not self-conscious in the light of human consciousness, make decisions and carry out complicated physical and mental processes? Identity Theorists hold this claim to be futile, it only makes the causal interaction between the so-called mind and body more complicated.

            This theory of the mind is based upon the conjecture that mental occurrences are the goings on in the brain. Every mental state is identical to a material state. This is where the concept of strict identity is essential. To be identical in this sense is not the way identical twins are identical, but in the way water is identical to H2O.  For example, the state of depression is identical to a material neurological state. This does not mean that the state of depression corresponds with a certain brain-state, as something that is itself cannot be correlated with itself. The state of depression is a neurological state.

            There are apparent problems with the Identity Theory. It seems that mental states, feelings or thoughts, are very different in kind than material states of the brain. This is a very difficult theory to prove. To quote Heil, “Any object could be given multiple names; any object could be described in different ways. You could know an object under one name or description, but not under another” (Heil 76). This exemplifies the difficulty of truly knowing is one occurrence is, in fact, identical to another. As Heil says, it is possible to know an object by a different name or properties than another person knows it by, even if it is the same object. Thus, something may be described in different ways while being the same exact idea or entity. This can be applied to mental states and brain states, and perhaps in the future with more research, the theory that mental states are, in actuality, brain functions.

             Another aspect of this dilemma is that if neurological states of the brain are in fact mental states, then mental states should be as publically observable as the brain. Descartes’ dualism seems to better answer the quandary of private vs. public observational states. Since dualism proposes that the mind is a mental, rather than material, substance, it appears that the privacy of the mind is very apparent and makes sense. However, for the Identity Theorist, this seems to be impossible to answer. Though adherents of this theory believe that the more scientists investigate, the more intimately interwoven mental and neurological goings-on become.

            This is where U.T. Place’s “phenomological fallacy” proves helpful.  Place’s fallacy holds that the Identity Theory is often mistaken because many confuse the “properties of objects experienced with properties of experiences” (Heil 81). Place and supporters of the Identity Theory maintain that once the distinction is made between the properties of an object and the properties of the experience of the object, the idea that experiences are brain processes is more formidable.

            The Identity Theory may not be flawless, but it brings about eminent improvements to theories of the philosophy of mind.  It dissipates the problem of causal interaction between different substances, those being mental and material as dualists hold. By asserting that mental and material goings-on in the brain (or mind, used synonymously) are the same, Identity Theorists alleviate this large predicament, but also bring on new ones. Now the problem arises of how the privacy of minds is so apparent when they are truly physical things, specifically the brain. While it leaves many questions to answer still, it does develop new answers to the essential questions of the philosophy of mind.


            Existentialism is a discipline of philosophy that places great importance on individual existence, and the authenticity therein. This school of thought takes on the idea that human existence cannot all be explained as one, but rather must be perceived as individual experienced that each singularly have their own meaning, or perhaps no meaning at all. There are many aspects of existentialism, however, in Franz Kafka’s Before the Law and In the Penal Colony, themes of death and absurdity are employed most prevalently. In these two works, Kafka explores very different ways of dying, however both present an aspect of futility. He also explores absurdity; the vain attempt at applying meaning in a meaningless world.

            Awareness of death is significant for any existentialist, as this is part of the human condition. However, this lays much more importance on life, as it is the one thing all humans have in common; we all live, and we will all die. This ties the fear of death and the fear of life together strongly. One who fears death will most likely also fear life. Kafka presents the idea of this life and death dichotomy first in his parable, Before the Law. A man travels from his home, seeking admittance to the law. The man, very ambiguously described as “a man from the country”, is stopped by the doorkeeper, who says the man cannot enter now, but may be able to later, “The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by is importunity” (3). This is the first hint we have at the fear of life, thus fear of death, of the man from the country. The Law, though it has no clear definition, can be interpreted as a sort of meaning. The man has traveled to learn the meaning, most likely that of his life and existence. The man is so committed to having another person or entity, the Law, answer his questions, that he overlooks his own life. Thus, by waiting for the Law to answer his questions about life, the man renders his life meaningless.

            This pursuit for a meaning of life is thus futile. The man traveled to the Law presumably to learn the Law, or in my interpretation, the meaning of life. However, the man does nothing but sit and wait. The Law represents the futile quest for the meaning of life, as even if the man from the country were to get past the first doorkeeper, “there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last” (3).  Not only is sitting “Before the Law” futile in itself, but if the man were to get past this first obstacle, there would only be more to come. These obstacles serve to represent fear instilled in the man, and his acceptance of the fact that he will never see these obstacles or the law itself. His fear of not overcoming the said obstacles, none of which he is even sure exist, and therefore not reaching the Law, or the meaning of life, prove to be too much of a risk to jeopardize the man’s own peace of mind.

            When the man from the country is dying, after spending so much time waiting, he finally asks, “How does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?” (4). To which the doorkeeper replies, “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am no going to shut it” (4). Perhaps in this instance, right before his death, the man realizes he should have chanced running through the gate, as it meant for him only. The Law, and the obstacles before it, represent the struggle to find one’s own meaning to life. The man feared risking his well being too much to realize his life’s meaning.

            The idea of death is reflected on in a different way in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. The killing apparatus in this story takes its victims quickly and without warning, somewhat differently than the man from the country in Before the Law, as he was aware when he was dying. The killing apparatus however, allows no warning for one’s impending death until the condemned is attached to it and experiencing it. This deeply relates to the idea of absurdity, and no one person is exempt from like fate of any other person.

            Absurdity is another key theme to understanding existentialism. Essentially, absurdity is the utter meaningless of anything and everything is in the world, unless we, individuals, assign meanings of our own. In a way, absurdity is just the opposite of karma; absurdity does not treat people fairly, but completely at random. In Before the Law, Kafka employs absurdity in many ways. It is almost directly referred to when the man “curses his bad luck,” as luck itself does not exist. By doing so, it is obvious that this man has not realized what the Law truly is. It is not by luck that he is not getting in, but it is his own fault for not trying harder. 

            Kafka’s short story, In the Penal Colony also presents the existentially absurd idea of luck also. The entire novella revolves around the description of a killing apparatus, and how the characters view it. The really absurd aspect of the machine is how the condemned are sentenced. The officer explains that the condemned do not know they are being sentenced, and are often sentenced for very menial crimes. The explorer questions this, “He muse have had some chance of defending himself” (145), as any ordinary human would. It seems that since almost any minor or terrible crime could be “just” cause to sentence anyone to this killing apparatus, that the system to this terrible end is completely random. The condemned did almost nothing to deserve such a fate, and yet he could receive the same “just punishment” as a murderer.

            The sub-theme of justice is thus brought to light in this absurd justice system. The apparatus may be considered to be the justice system itself in the colony, as there is no other procedure to follow other than condemning any criminal to death.  The officer himself says, “My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted,” (145). This is completely absurd, as it yields any sort of justice meaningless. The fact that justice in this colony is the death sentence is by no means justice. There is no time for repentance or atonement, for once the criminal is attached to the apparatus, their fate is decided.

            The officer even reflects on the “justice” being served, “How we all absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of that sufferer, how we bathed our cheeks in the radiance of that justice, achieved at last, and fading so quickly!” (154). The officer acts as though justice is a point in time, rather than a lasting feeling. The officer makes the justice here fleeting, thus making it absurd in itself.

The concept of time in this parable is very ambiguous and absurd. There is almost no recollection of how much time has passed in this story, other than a mention of “days and years” passing. There is no saying how long his man from the country has been waiting to be granted access to the Law, but we do know that once he came Before the Law, he never left. This in itself is absurd, and renders the man’s life meaningless.

            Another aspect of absurdity in Before the Law is the charade of human relation. The doorkeeper and the man do not have a meaningful relationship, but rather interact in polite and socially-expected manner, “The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet,” (3). This demonstrates the idea that meaning can only be assigned; it is not intrinsic or necessary. In the more basic meaning of the word, these frequent conversations were absurd. This is because they served no purpose and did not further the cause of either the doorkeeper or the man.

            The absurdity of traditions and customs is existentially questioned In the Penal Colony. The idea of tradition, or something being set merely by precedence, is a rather trivial matter. However, so much of human life is filled with tradition, celebrating birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, etc. The tradition in this novella is that of the “Old Commandant” and the tradition of his killing apparatus. If we truly think about and analyze any sort of tradition, what meaning does it have? Does it have a meaning behind it that we assigned to it, or did others assign that meaning? This is precisely what existential absurdity refers to in questioning anything. Everything is essentially meaningless, unless one assigns a personal meaning to it, to put it simply. The officer can be seen as a martyr in his state, as he sacrifices himself to the apparatus in the end. The officer believed the meaning of his life was this killing machine, and thus was willing to die for it. However, not everyone was dedicated to this meaning, just as no singular person can have the same perceived meaning to his or her own life.

            Whether it is the country man standing Before the Law, or the explorer witnessing the terrible operations of a killing apparatus In the Penal Colony, Kafka gives a firm idea of existential ideas and perspectives on ideas such as death and absurdity. The awareness of death, and the fact that existence precedes essence, is largely what Kafka portrayed. The absurdity of fruitless ideas, traditions, and actions is a second existential theme Kafka depicts in both of these works of literature. Though Kafka may not be considered a strictly existentialist writer, he certainly brings many ideas of it into his work. His work may seem ambiguous at times, but it is meant to make the reader truly contemplate his or her own existence.

The logic of induction is what most science today utilizes in order to draw conclusions. Inductive logic is that which draws a conclusion that is probably (not necessarily) valid, given that the premises from which the conclusion is drawn are true. With the use of inductive logic, however come select problems. Carl Hempel was a philosopher of the twentieth century, who pointed out one of these problems, or paradoxes; namely, “The Raven Paradox”.

The Raven Paradox concerns with the problem of inductive generalizations and immediate inferences.  Hempel uses the example of a raven. Basic facts we know about ravens are that they are black birds. If we observe many instances in which this is true, and none that oppose it, then we usually use this knowledge as inductive support. Thus, all ravens are black birds. 

By the rules of contraposition we can therefore also say all non-black birds are non-ravens. To elucidate, contraposition is a kind of immediate inference in which you have a conditional statement “All S are P”, switch the subject and the Predicate, “All P are S”, and apply their complimentary, “All non-P are non-S”. Thus we have two claims:

(1) All ravens are black birds.

(2) All non-black birds are non-ravens.

At first glance, nothing seems wrong with this. In fact, many people use this logic in their daily life, that of immediate inference. To be clear, an immediate inference is an assumption that can be made by only one statement, just as (2) was derived from (1).  The two statements are logically equivalent, so there should be nothing wrong with statement (2).  So, each time I observe a raven that is black, it supports my first claim. Also, each time I observe something that is a non-black bird, it supports my second claim. 

However, when studied closer the paradox arises. The paradox of this inductive logic is that if (1) and (2) are equivalent, then any evidence to support (1) should also support (2), and vice versa. That is to say, anything that is a non-black bird is evidence to the first statement, that all ravens are black birds. Does this seem right? Is the fact that a cardinal is red, thus a non-black bird, support that all ravens are black birds? To go even further, does the fact that my computer is silver support the statement? The laws of immediate inference claim that these statements do, in fact, support the claim that all ravens are black birds. 

Hempel is merely demonstrating the potential problems of how we usually think. We make these sort of immediate inferences all of the time and see no problem with it, but when we think about the aforementioned paradox, this circular logic seems redundant. There is not a solution to the Raven paradox, or else it would not be a paradox, but it stands instead to exhibit that there is something “deeply puzzling about the nature of reasoning” (DeWitt 63). 

Hempel certainly points out a “flaw” of inductive reasoning (“flaw” is in quotes as it is not a true flaw). Logicians such as Hume and Sextus Empiricus have noted such problems in their work too. Hume agrees with Hempel in that there seems to be a certain disturbing circularity to induction. Hume’s main argument is the human justification for the future (namely that we believe the future will be same/similar to the past due to our experience in the past of this being true). He believes this to be a bit upsetting, as most of us do. The fact of the matter is, this is what inductive reasoning does for us. Not always, but in many cases circularity in inductive reasoning is very apparent.

Empiricus points out another flaw in this problem of immediate inference, not in response to the Raven Paradox, of course, but to the reasoning as a whole. Nonetheless, to compare it to the Raven Paradox, Empiricus points out that inductive reasoning draws universals from particulars, which simply cannot be with absolute certainty. If we do not observe all of the particulars, then we do not know all of them to be confirming evidence, but conversely, it would be impossible, or near it, to observe all the ravens in the world.

Another problem of this paradox seems to be the nature of kind. Surely non-raven-ness and raven-ness are not projectable properties onto any object other than ravens. This distinction does not solve the paradox, however, as the same problem can be applied to other situations with out this problem.

For me, this paradox does exactly what it should; it puzzles me. It makes me feel uneasy that we make such inferences even when they seem ludicrous when we look at them closer. I think it is a rather silly paradox, but I suppose that is the point. I find it disconcerting that this reasoning is valid, and I wish it were not a natural way to infer, but alas, it is. I think that Hempel makes a very good point in his paradox. People seem to unknowingly make these immediate inferences all of the time, and though it is logically sound, it certainly puzzles me when I think about the underlying meaning of saying that all non-black birds are non-ravens.

I do not believe that the paradox is of extreme importance in science. I trust Hempel did not take this as a true threat to the essential logic of science either. Merely because this Raven Paradox holds strong with out a true solution does not mean that contraposition does not work, or that we should abandon use of it.