Missives from a fly bottle
barang dot sg
Last revised 31 August 2017
Philosophers say the strangest things

Nonsense, absurdities and unintelligibilisms.
When I agreed to this experiment, I did not know that A had a wooden leg; but now, after it is over, I find that I have this wooden leg, and I want the experiment reversed.
– Bernard Williams, ‘The Self and the Future.’

If Wheeler can cite the men’s room of the Pecan Café, I can cite Wikipedia.
– Tim Maudlin, ‘Time and the Geometry of the Universe.’

If the meaning of a name were identical with its bearer, then it would seem that everything that is true of the bearer must somehow be contained in the use of the name. On this view, when I say that ‘Napoleon died at St. Helena,’ I am implying also that he was born in Corsica, that he won the Battle of Austerlitz and lost the Battle of Waterloo, and all the rest of the infinite number of things that could truly be said abut him … This view, or something very like it, was indeed held by Leibniz, but that does not save it from absurdity.
– A. J. Ayer, ‘Names and Descriptions.’

The most ordinary things are to philosophy a source of insoluble puzzles … With infinite ingenuity it constructs a concept of space or time and then finds it absolutely impossible that there be objects in this space or that processes occur during this time … To call this logic seems to me as if somebody for the purpose of a mountain hike were to put on a garment with so many long folds that his feet become constantly entangled in them and he would fall as soon as he took his first steps in the plains.
– Ludwig Boltzmann, Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems.

I’m sick and tired of this block universe.
– Avshalom Elitzur, ‘Time in Cosmology’ conference

It is extremely difficult to get one’s mind around the picture I am suggesting. We are on the outer edge of the sayable. I can usually only focus on these ideas for a few minutes every month or so.
– Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame.

This paper argues that there are no people. If identity isn’t what matters in survival, psychological connectedness isn’t what matters either. Further, fissioning cases do not support the claim that connectedness is what matters. I consider Peter Unger’s view that what matters is a continuous physical realization of a core psychology. I conclude that if identity isn’t what matters in survival, nothing matters. This conclusion is deployed to argue that there are no people.
– Jim Stone, ‘Why There Still Are No People.’

Let us have a look, then, at the very beginning of Ayer’s Foundations—the bottom, one might perhaps call it, of the garden path. In these paragraphs we already seem to see the plain man, here under the implausible aspect of Ayer himself, dribbling briskly into position in front of his own goal, and squaring up to encompass his own destruction.
– J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia.

In a book published eleven years ago, I defended a thesis about Thomas Aquinas’s theory of cognition that has not been widely accepted … Alas, it has not even been narrowly accepted – unless one counts the sole, limiting case of myself. This is to say that, so far as I know, no one else has been persuaded that this reading of Aquinas is correct. A better man would at this point conclude he is wrong, but I (again alas) am not that man, and so I must confess to remaining persuaded of my original thesis.
– Robert Pasnau, ‘Id Quo Cognoscimus.’

It is widely believed among philosophers that, whatever Locke said about primary and secondary qualities, it is wrong.
– J. L. Mackie, Problems from Locke.

Rather than print the Ergänzungen [supplements] to make the book fatter leave a dozen white sheets for the reader to swear into when he has purchased the book and can’t understand it.
– Wittgenstein, Letters to C. K. Ogden, on the Tractatus.

This states a necessary condition for the continued existence of a physical object. Saul Kripke has argued, in lectures, that this condition is not sufficient. Since I missed these lectures, I cannot discuss this argument.
– Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons.

Every place can be called both ‘here’ and ‘there’, both ‘near’ and ‘far’, and every person can be called both ‘I’ and ‘you’: yet ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘near’ and ‘far’, ‘I’ and ‘you’ are incompatible. It would be no use for an objector to say that London is nearby far away, but far away nearby, or that it is ‘here’ there but ‘there’ here, since it can also be called ‘nearby nearby’ and ‘ “here” here’, and so on. Similarly, it would be no use an objector saying ‘You are “you” to me, but “I” to you’, because everyone can be called both ‘ “you” to me’ and ‘ “I” to me’.
– Michael Dummett, ‘A Defence of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time.’

The possibility of thought and talk where consciousness doesn’t include just retinas and the brain in a way thought of isn’t and doesn’t give us the conclusion that being conscious in this sense in fact isn’t somehow physical. That could be the fact.
– Ted Honderich, Actual Consciousness.

There is widespread agreement that the objects of experience are ordinary material objects such as chairs, books, and (most important from an evolutionary perspective) fruit.
– Kathrin Glüer, ‘In Defence of a Doxastic Account of Experience.’

Mr. Locke affirms very positively, that the ideas of external objects are produced in our minds by impulse, “that being the only way we can conceive bodies to operate in.” It ought, however, to be observed, in justice to Mr. Locke, that he retracted this notion in his first letter to the Bishop of Worcester, and promised in the next edition of his Essay to have that passage rectified; but either from forgetfulness in the author, or negligence in the printer, the passage remains in all the subsequent editions I have seen.
– Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man.

If I have an experience of a flower, I must experience an experience of a flower. But patently I cannot experience an experience of a particular flower unless I experience a particular flower …
There is another way to make the point I am making. Consider the experience of a loud noise. There is something it is like to have an experience of a loud noise. What it is like is the same as what it is like to experience a loud noise. This patently is not a coincidence.
– Michael Tye, Consciousness Revisited

The seeing by time t2 of the part of is constituted out of experiencing at any instant tx the completion of the experience of seeing the corresponding x-part of (where the x’s are a continuity). Then that in turn is constituted out of seeing the object O’s moving at any px tx as completing the x-sector of (in a truly perceptual sense of ‘see as’). Now this latter constituting element is not perceiving x (since the latter occupies t1–tx). And in fact it cannot be explicated any further. And that is to say that we cannot analyse the seeing of across the experientially differentiable time-interval t1–t2 any further.
– Brian O’Shaughnessy, Consciousness and the World.

I can think of a man without thinking of a man of any particular height; I cannot hit a man without hitting a man of some particular height, because there is no such thing as a man of no particular height.
– G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘The intentionality of sensation: a grammatical feature.’

Colors are the properties that objects appear to have when they look colored.
– Paul Boghossian & J. David Velleman, ‘Physicalist Theories of Color.’

It is possible that sensations are brain processes; and if sensations are brain processes, then sensations are necessarily brain processes.
– Wallace Matson, Sensations.

Intentionality, we have been told, is the mark of the mental. Which is little use in marking off the mental until we know what intentionality is.
– Charles Travis, ‘Is Seeing Intentional?’

In ‘A Defence of Common Sense,’ G. E. Moore attempted to persuade his reader of the existence of ‘sense-data’ by telling him to look at his hand and “pick out something … it is … natural … to take … is identical with … part of its surface … but … (on a little reflection) … it is doubtful whether it can be identical.” The inadequacy of such directions is one of the main disincentives to believing in ‘sense-data.’
– Brian O’Shaughnessy, ‘Seeing the Light.’

The painter has painted a picture of a unicorn. The picture painted is not a picture of an idea of a unicorn. The painter might be at a loss to paint a picture of an idea, especially if he is not familiar with conceptual art.
– Gilbert Harman, ‘The Intrinsic Quality of Experience.’

If someone just like Quine kidnaps Quine early on in Quine’s life and starts to act Quine’s role, we will falsely believe this man to be Quine.
– Christopher Peacocke, ‘Colour Concepts and Colour Experience.’

Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.
– Bishop Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel

The property of being three feet long does not itself have a length, and the relation that holds between two things when one of them is three feet away from the other does not occupy the space between them. If it did, it would be three feet long.
– Barry Stroud, The Quest for Reality

Most [people] will agree that the notion of the qualitative character of colour-experience can reasonably be taken for granted. And for present purposes, a sufficient reply to those who disagree is simply as follows. Consider your present visual experience. Look at the bookshelf. (Get out some of the brightest books.) There you have it.
– Galen Strawson, ‘Red and Red.’

Do things we see look to have properties of looking certain ways? If a given way, call it W, is the property of looking a certain way, that way had better be way W; it can hardly be the case that the way something looks is the property of looking some other way! But if way W is the property of looking way W, then the property will be the property of looking to have a certain property, namely itself! And, what might seem worse, the property W will be identical with the property looks W, which will be identical with the property looks to look W, which will be identical with the property looks to look to look W, and so on ad infinitum. (Footnote: An objection along these lines was presented to me by Zoltan Szabò; it took a while for me to feel its force.)
– Sydney Shoemaker, ‘On the way things appear.’

Consider some instance of its seeming to you as it does for it to look as if something is shaped and situated in a certain way, such as its seeming to you just as it does on a given occasion for it to look as if there is something X-shaped in a certain position. If it seems this way to you, then it appears to follow that it does look to you as if there is something X-shaped in a certain position.
– Charles Siewert, The Significance of Consciousness

By ‘consciousness’ I mean to express the concept ‘consciousness’ or ‘experience’ and thereby to refer to that property, consciousness, that all and only the experiences share.
– Benj Hellie, ‘An externalist’s guide to inner experience.’

In a camera, an image is focused on to the film. But of course the camera does not see. Suppose, then, we fix a further camera inside the first, so that it can photograph the image on the first film. No matter how many times this absurd procedure were repeated, the result could never be that there was vision.
– Robert Kirk, Raw Feeling

Hong Oak Yun is a person who is over three inches tall. And now you know who Hong Oak Yun is. For if someone were to ask you ‘Who is Hong Oak Yun?’, you could answer that Hong Oak Yun is a person who is over three inches tall, and you would know what you were saying. So you know an answer to the question ‘Who is Hong Oak Yun?’, and that is sufficient for knowing who Hong Oak Yun is. Getting to know who a person is may be easier than you think.
– David Braun, ‘Now you know who Hong Oak Yun is.’

All philosophers, from Plato to Mr. Hume, agree in this, That we do not perceive external objects immediately, and that the immediate object of perception must be some image present to the mind. So far there appears to be a unanimity rarely to be found among philosophers on such abstruse points.
– Thomas Reid, ‘Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man.’

There is something it is like to undergo punishment. Indeed, there is something it is essentially like to undergo punishment. So what it is like to undergo punishment is essential to it. It follows that not knowing what it is like to undergo punishment entails not knowing something essential to punishment, namely, what it is like to undergo it. So fully understanding the essential nature of punishment requires knowing what it is like to undergo punishment.
– Michael Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness

So that is what what it is like is really like. It is PANIC.
– Michael Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness

“Living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” So sang Madonna. She was right. We do live in a material world, and she is a material girl.
– Michael Tye, Consciousness Revisited

Position a familiar object (say, a camera) in the center of your field of view, then shift the fixation point of your eyes just a little to the right (to a magazine, say). You will find that your experience changes, and not only with respect to the positions of things relative to your point of focus. Certain letters on the camera—for example, ‘‘Canon Zoom Lens’’—will no longer be discernible.
– Michael Tye, Consciousness Revisited

Suppose we termed bridge building ‘easy’ just in case we had a rough idea of how to start, no matter how problematic the project, and ‘hard’ just in case we did not know how to start. Then an easy project might be the construction of a bridge across the Atlantic, and a hard project might be the construction of a bridge into the fourteenth century.
– O’Hara and Scutt, ‘There is no hard problem of consciousness.’

We should all agree the experience of, say, there looking to be something red in front of one represents that there is, in the world, something red in front of one.
– Frank Jackson, ‘Some reflections on representationalism.’

Could we not communicate our inner experiences in neurobiological terms, by saying something like “Imagine the Cartesian product of the experiential green manifold and the Möbius strip of calmness—that is, mildly K-314γ, but moving to Q-512δ and also slightly resembling the 372.509-dimensional shape of Irish moss in norm-space”?
– Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel

I raise my arm or hand. In doing so, I cause a body motion, the motion of my arm or hand. How do I do that? In raising my arm, I also (perhaps indirectly) cause certain brain events to occur. Or is it that I first cause those brain events to occur and then my arm rises? We certainly are not conscious of causing brain events to occur, but I do seem to know that I raised my arm.
– John Yolton, Realism and Appearances

If I tell you that the king in chess moves only one square at a time, it is no good your saying: “Well, you say it moves only one square at a time, but one evening I was looking at a chess board and I saw a king move two squares.”
– Isaiah Berlin

Take any way things may be said to look. Now take any way that things may fail to be what they would need to be to be what they thus look like. That is another way things may be said then to look: they look just the way they would if that, rather than the first thing, were the way things are. So this second way for things to be—for them not to be that first thing they may be said to look like—could, if it in fact obtained, make it the case that things were not the way they looked only if something made it so that it was only the first thing things looked like, and not the second, that mattered to things being as they looked full stop.
– Charles Travis, ‘The Silence of the Senses’

I say to you that I can tear a London phone directory in two with my bare hands. You are doubtful. So I do it, I tear the directory in two.
– J. J. Valberg, Dream, Death and the Self

This object, the object present to me when I look at the book, cannot be the book. It cannot be the book because it could survive the elimination of the book. So it, this object, is an internal object, something which exists only in so far as it is present in my experience. But wait, this object is a book. The object present to me when I look at the book on the table is the book on the table. There is nothing else there. Now I realize that, as a contribution to philosophy, thoughts of this sort may appear a trifle quick and simple-minded; yet it is precisely such thoughts that come over me.
– J. J. Valberg, The Puzzle of Experience

In defending a hypothesis, I may employ a subjunctive conditional even though I believe the antecedent to be true; I may say, “If this were so, that would be so; but, as you see, this is so …” It is said that detectives talk in this manner.
– Roderick Chisholm, ‘The Contrary-to-Fact Conditional.’

Robert Nozick in his [paper] applies decision theory principles to the problem and after a considerably lengthy discussion concludes that one should take both boxes. Without going into any of the details of his discussion let me state that I believe his whole approach to be misguided.
– George Schlesinger, ‘The Unpredictability of Free Choices.’

In a recent article George Schlesinger claims to have shown, using Newcomb’s problem, that free human choices are not predictable. In this paper I will show that there is a flaw in his argument and that the argument appears to be correct only because he has made use of a hidden premise. The hidden premise is that free human choices are unpredictable.
– Richard Grandy, ‘What the Well-Wisher Didn’t Know.’

Knowledge merely of the falsity of the conjunction confer on the question whether q a dependence on the question whether p which is quite lacking if knowledge of the falsity of the conjunction is itself based on knowledge of the falsity of p or of the truth of q (or both).
– P. F. Strawson, ‘If and ⊃

SCHOOLMASTER: Suppose x is the number of sheep in the problem. PUPIL: But, Sir, suppose x is not the number of sheep.
I asked Prof. Wittgenstein was this not a profound philosophical joke and he said it was.
– J. E. Littlewood

To say that a difficulty is not clearly insuperable is not to say that it is clearly not insuperable.
– P. F. Strawson, ‘Perception and its Objects’

Over the last thirty or more centuries, many things have undoubtedly been said about human beings.
– Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The World of Perception

Thus I confidently say that if I were to play in a Grand Masters’ chess tournament, I should lose every game. It could be argued that I should not be allowed to play in such a tournament unless I myself were a Grand Master; and in that case I probably should not lose every game.
– A. J. Ayer

That is to say, among the things we ascribe to ourselves are things of a kind that we also ascribe to material bodies to which we should not dream of ascribing others of the things that we ascribe to ourselves.
– P. F. Strawson, Individuals

Macbeth did not see a dagger. Not only did he not see a real dagger, he did not even see a non-existent or unreal dagger. What he saw was something that looked like (perhaps exactly like) a dagger. It is a trivial, but important, truth that daggers look exactly like things that look exactly like daggers; and some of these latter may not be daggers.
– A. D. Smith, The Problem of Perception