Philosopher King or Junzi (“君子”):

Platonic or Confucian; who’s leader leads?   



The following Article represents a prolonged reading and re-thinking of the merits of the political leaders of antiquity. Asking the question: whose leader leads? I am comparing the Confucian concept of leader the Junzi translated into English as ‘exemplary individual’ who following Confucius has a reverence for tradition and who will be shown to have an important origin; being compared with Plato’s leader of the ideal city the Philosopher King in its Republic. The comparison I make centres around these two figures and whether or not they possess the necessary qualities for ruling. I will argue that there is a quality that makes the Confucian leader the Junzi superior to the Philosopher King. I will show and explain how the Chinese concept of familial piety (xiào孝) is a more important and realistic ideal that provides a good grounding in actual leadership. Rather than the emphasis placed on the development of one’s individual rational mind found in the training of the Philosopher King.


Key words: Leadership, Politics, Confucianism, Platonism, Junzi, Philosopher King.

I wish to ask a political question: if humanity had a choice between a traditionally eastern or western idea of a ruler which one should they choose? This question is not intended to be antagonistic but rather serves as the basis for my argument; that the Chinese philosopher Confucius’s “Junzi” would make a much better leader than Plato’s “Philosopher King”. I will endeavour to show that through reading Plato and Confucius’s texts and the accounts of the two leaders and then comparing them through the contemporary literature on this subject will show the superiority of the Asian leader over the Western counterpart. It is also important that this writing engages with a dilemma of comparative philosophy, that when arguing in favour of an idea or culture that is not your own how do you ensure that your perspective is accurate? Do you approach a comparison and maintain an obvious distinction between the thinking of Confucius and Plato or do the differences between them add greater quality to this analysis? A question that poses a methodological demand on existing research on this topic within the global academia.

Acknowledging this leads me to adopt the following method to show the premises that lead to the ancient Asian concept of a leader being superior and at the same time showing how comparative philosophy needs to maintain a self-critical stance. Starting with a detailed description of the two leaders will provide the reader access to the subject under discussion. Then after providing an accurate account of these ancient governors their beliefs and values will be assessed because this will make the reasoning explicitly clear as to why the Junzi should be seen in a more positive light. A conclusion that I believe will come to be more and more important as China exerts a greater amount of influence on our contemporary world. So, let us begin with this paper’s formal argument and then the portrayal of these ancient leaders by those philosophers who both recorded and created them. The argument against Plato’s philosopher King is as follows.

  1. Confucius has Familial piety and Plato does not have Familial piety.
  2. To lead a country one needs the capacity to see one’s family among other families.
  3. The concept of familial piety expands a person’s capacity to expand the family with inclusivity.

  1. Therefore, Confucius’s emphasis on Familial piety gives the necessary capacity one needs to lead a country.



  1. Who where this King and the Exemplary Individual?  


In Plato’s Republic, a complex discussion on how a state should be organised inevitably leads to a dialogue on how it should be governed and by who. Socrates is the voice whose ancient statement describes the philosopher king, “philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize”(Plato, The Republic, Book IX,5.473d). The argument against Plato’s leader begins with Socrates’s proclamation and how it immediately tasks philosophy itself with a kind of royalty and this is misleading. Socrates’s full speech tells us that the ideal state is unattainable unless it is categorically dominated by a philosopher; this ought mixes and confuses the genuine love of wisdom with an ideal amount and a definite standard. One initial objection to the accusation that Plato’s powerful dialogue imbues philosophy with a false sense of authority and a self confident rationality would be to defend philosophy as being unalterably political. Philosophy’s pursuit of truth is also a political act.

The defenders of Plato could well say that Socrates’s initial statement enacts this by way of the political conflict that is at at the heart and is the essence of leadership. Yet, this categorical “must” remains contradictory because of its multiple directions; either the philosopher becomes a king or the king transforms into a philosopher? Ambiguities are numinous, how are we to derive confidence that the philosopher king’s training in dialectics make him fit to rule? Is it not truer to suggest that all philosophers are kingly, or king like, but not kings? This then results in the dilemma of not being able to distinguish what exactly Socrates was envisioning when he uses descriptive language such as “genuine” and the “adequacy” of a philosophical process of thinking to mark and determine the ruler of the ideal city. This really only paints this Greek ruler with an overly illusory sense of governing; resulting in a criteria and standard driven governor: the philosopher king. Now, let us analyse how the Greek and Chinese leaders differ in how they are described and what beliefs drive them.


  • Confucius’s Junzi

In modern scholarship Roger Ames’s has successfully re-defined the Junzi as an  ‘exemplary individual’ rather than the older and common translation of ‘gentleman’. Ames’s achievement in re-translation is a good starting point from which to show the qualities the Junzi represents. Discussing very early Chinese ethics Ame’s directs us towards yet more evidence that being Confucian entails a set of beliefs that are unique. A good example is a specifically Chinese notion of themselves the daotong (道统) . We learn from Ame’s study that Confucius was more forthcoming in his debts to earlier ancient dynasties and does so in a spirit of transmission; we also discover the main quality that underlies the Junzi and indeed the Confucianism that nurtures this exemplary individual. In Chinese this is called Xiao (family feeling).

Next to the Importance of this feeling this argument builds upon what Ames also cited; writer David Keightley has usefully simplified, “contrasts a Chinese cosmology of ceaseless process with a classical Greek worldview in which a metaphysical transcendentalism guarantees an idealized reality”(Ames, 2011). Criticisms of Plato will always centre around this notion that our existence is anchored and determined by the existence of and our subsequent participation and engagement with the non-physical realm of the forms. Keightley’s description of a Chinese cosmology enhances the contrast between the beliefs Plato and Confucius would have had in a useful way. Looking at the cosmology of ancient China and Plato’s account the important difference becomes self evident. In Plato’s creationist dialogue Timaeus of Locri splits reality in two. Discussing the causal origins as a craftsman god: the demiurge and its relation to beauty as a kind of perfection.

“what is it that always is, but never comes to be, and what is it that comes to be but never is? The former, since it is always consistent, can be grasped by the intellect with the support of a reasoned account, while the latter is the object of belief, supported by unreasoning sensation, since it is generated and passes away, but never really is. Now, anything created is necessarily created by some cause, because nothing can possibly come to be without there being something that is responsible for its coming to be. Also, whenever a craftsman takes something consistent as his model, and reproduces its forms and properties, the result is bound in every case to be a thing of beauty, but if he takes as his model something that has been created, the product has bound to be imperfect.”(Plato, Timeaus, 28a) 

Here we can draw an important distinction a demarcation between Confucianism and Platonism. The latter of them is based upon a split that gives privilege to certain processes over others and the former observes a continuous process of processes; a flux the Chinese called qi or “Chi” an energy universally omnipresent, but shares a symmetry with the necessary causality of Timeaus. Yet, here the powerful connection Confucius drew to the family as a basis for a balanced state surfaces and makes the idea of perfection over imperfection less attainable. One appreciates the sentiment that Plato’s god (the demiurge) desired a cosmos to be as good as possible and so exists as a craftsman creating in a skillful way. But for an individual who has to rule a country and a given populace he is forced to work with and produce from something that has already been created.

The last part of the Timeaus quotation is in favour of the Junzi being prone to imperfection because this exemplary individual can not choose to craft perfection with geometric and mathematical certainty when faced with the earthly demands of changing social phenomena. Instead Confucius and the Junzi were in their own time forced to deal with imperfection, a period of Chinese history called The Warring States (戰國時代, Zhànguó Shídài). This is not to say that Plato and Socrates did not face conflict and imperfection but I believe that the reverence Confucius had for the rituals and traditions of an early peaceful period governed by men such as the Duke of Zhou who acted as a regent imbued his thinking with a practicality. A practice that would better enforce the possibility of attaining a balanced state within a chaotic reality rather than dismissing this chaos as irrational and being in favour of a belief perpetually in need of remeasuring?

This question begins to clarify how Plato’s idealism in his dialogues suffers from its own grandiosity and how Confucius’s idealization of the Zhou dynasty and its rulers is less destructive and distorting; a quality that has better chance of being preserved in a Junzi. An initial description of the Junzi is at the beginning of the Analects; in the words of Master You we begin to see how realism occupies a greater percentage of importance for the Junzi. Here we can start to develop an appreciation for this Asian realism and how it’s concepts are better suited for ruling. How the family acts as a natural regulator for the selfish nature of human intelligence and the larger governing structures that exist to facilitate peace and an abidance to the common laws of both the ancient and contemporary worlds.

“Master You said: “It is a rare thing for someone who has a sense of filial and fraternal responsibility (xiao 孝) to have a taste for defying authority. And it is unheard of for those who have no taste for defying authority. And it is unheard of for those who have no taste for defying authority to be keen on initiating rebellion. Exemplary persons (Junzi 君子) concentrate their efforts on the root, for the root having taken hold, the way (dao道) will grow therefrom. As for filial and fraternal responsibility, it is, I suspect, the root of authoritative conduct (Ren仁).”(Confucius, The Analects, Book I)

  • Plato’s Philosopher King

Socrates’s most detailed description of this lover of wisdom who would be king is found in book IV of the Republic. Plato begins by putting a trinity in place by insisting that even in an ideal state this city will also suffer from the very beginning with its citizenry being filtered into classes. The class with the philosopher king is also subdivided into subcategories: beneath the king is a general ruler and then the auxiliaries. Next to this split Plato has no qualms about the movement of children between classes and here myth is unfortunately used to support this selectivity. This is found in the language of book IV where the opening dialogue is littered with superlative descriptive language “the best”; the guardian (the philosopher king) has to be the best.

This then leads straight to the important Platonic concept of the Good and the belief that these guardians will unconditionally follow and enact the “best” and the Good as an omnipotent principle because they would only love the city and therefore care the most. All this is supposed to be a solution to other forms of collective government that Plato deems deficient; such as democracy as a system is too prone to corruption and therefore in need of one ruler. This solution has since its inception unintentionally invited criticism that is fixed around authoritarianism and a state of control. Reading how the Good is inherent to the Philosopher King I find it difficult to not be skeptical; especially when the dialogue mentions the voluntary and involuntary loss of belief. If beliefs are both voluntary and involuntary then this king guardian that is a philosopher is in danger of becoming a truth fanatic.

“But why? Surely you agree that men are always unwilling to loose a good, but willing enough to be rid of a bad one. And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived by the truth, and a good thing to possess the truth? For I assume that by possessing the truth you mean believing that things as they really are.”(Plato, The Republic, Book III, 413 a)

Although fanatic is too strong a word to use for the enthusiasm Plato has for placing authority and access to the truth in the hands of the one over the many. Our philosopher king does suffer from this Platonic schemata. Contemporary thinker Kenneth Dorter’s book The Transformation of Plato’s Republic (2006) features an important commentary on these dilemmas; the authoritarian control Plato exerts is translated into a compulsion to rule. Interestingly this is seen as originating in a fear of being ruled by inferiors. Even though Adeimantus and Glaucon object to this however Socrates insists that, “But once it is pointed out to them they will not refuse because ‘we shall be imposing just behavior onto just people”(Dorter, 2006). Here then is a barrier that other sections of The Republic fail to resolve and only furthers this leader’s problematic character.

It should not be a surprise that the Philosopher king suffers from within its own identity constantly striving in one direction only; to that which is the best. Having the natural qualities to rule in line with the Good. Reading about the philosopher as it has been described in Plato’s simile of the cave it could well read as an apology made on behalf of the human condition. Broken by our access and insight into truth that we are compelled to rule and this is firmly positioned in the domain of philosophy, “And we say that the particulars are objects of sight but not of intelligence, while the forms are the objects of intelligence but not of sight”, and “The sun is not identical with sight, nor with what we call the eye in which sight resides”(Plato, The Republic, Book VII, 514a-521a). The use of the sun to enforce the blinding potentiality of sensory perception may still underline the struggle we all face. But, if truth is indeed so blinding then why gaze at it in the first place? When applied to a ruler it is hard to fathom how many would rise to the challenge of returning to the site of imprisonment in Plato’s cave to free our fellows from illusion?

In the Analects there is not a direct discussion of imprisonment just discourse and it makes it difficult to not accept Dorter’s earlier criticism of fear as an equally strong motivator for human behaviour. Moreover is there anything that suggests that the philosopher would not be prone to irrational fear? Would not be susceptible to evil; and rather than free and aid his citizens not decide to keep them chained and imprisoned for their own good? These questions are the less common aporias Plato’s texts cultivate.

  1. What values do these two leaders govern by?


  • Li, Filial piety, and Ren

There are many Confucian values that the Junzi would possess but there are three that are particularly important. Beginning with Li (禮) meaning ‘rite’ or ‘ritual propriety’ with this respect for one’s family and especially elders and ancestors xiào (孝) . Then from these qualities a Confucian is also equipped with Ren (仁) an essence of being human. We can marginally suggest that Ren differs from the Western notion of essence by remembering the Chinese notion of Chi (universal energy) that is omnipresent in all things and is constantly energizing, moving, and never stationary. The Western essence differs in the work’s of Plato and his student Aristotle because Plato sees the essence as the form of a thing his student puts the form in the essence as a unified substance. One believes that the Junzi would if approached to define Ren choose to locate essence between this world and another.

When compared to Plato’s and Socrates’s good which I will soon show is conditionally defined by a dependency on dialectical thinking wedded to a higher  rationality; Confucius’s Ren is more fluid only dependent on the context of the agent and their capacity to intuitively behave in line with what is “a” good and not “the” good; and so being an exemplary individual a Junzi. This is made obvious if we read the collection of this Chinese philosopher’s words, “A person of Ren, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent. To be able to judge others by what is near to ourselves may be called the method of realizing ren.”(Confucius, The Analects, Book VI) This demonstrates directly the social implications of this Chinese essence that it is social and therefore both subjected and objected to change. This is why it is an accurate comparison of Ren to essence as being more plural rather than singular.

 This comment is divisive and the Junzi differs from the philosopher king in other ways. Confucius himself was not as Aristocratic as Plato and throughout his life did experience some setbacks in his attempts to bring about social change, yet remained positive towards the capacity of a ruler coming from any background; Plato was not so forgiving after his failures in implementing his political ideas and so as I will soon explain was forcefully against democracy; but, what about an ideology like capitalism? Referencing the well known study by German Max Weber, Thomas T. Lennerfors’s paper references Weber’s opinion that Confucianism can not be seen as an origin for Capitalism in the same way that Protestantism and Calvanism could be because the former lacks the transcendental and religious qualities of the later. The reason Lennerfors makes reference to Weber is because he wants to show how Western criticisms of Asian belief as uniformly supportive of capitalism are prematurely made. Take this quote, it shows that Plato is under equal scrutiny in current Asian discussions.

“Constant references were made to Plato’s warning that a democracy can indeed be a path to societal corruption. In opposition to liberal democratic values of alleged rugged individualism and one person-one-vote, the speakers …were inspired by Confucian ideas of harmony and meritocracy to promote the creation of an alternative society.”(Lennerfors, 2015)

Although a brilliant defense of Asian belief’s transformation under contemporary capitalism; overall this study moves the king and the gentleman closer together, and this is problematic for the argument of this paper. So, let us turn to the importance of ritual for Confucians. Specifically, Confucius would maintain and defend the notion that the people already have the ability to self-govern. In the Confucian literature it is ritual li that is the principle that organizes or orders; and how does it do this? It does so by enforcing rite behaviour through every member of a communities capacity to understand and to have already learned the inherited and well versed ways of behaving. Ritual Piety can be seen even in the process of naming when Confucius suggests, “when the name is not correct, then the words are not smooth; if the words are not smooth, then things will not be done”(Confucius, Legge, 1971). Far more than just a correct formal way of speaking li is directly connected to Ren, a uniquely pragmatic ethical structure that has this authentic and realistic character that comes into view in one answer Confucius gives to Lin Fang.

‘The master replied: “what an important question! In observing ritual propriety, it is better to be modest than extravagant; in mourning, it is better to express real grief than to worry over formal details.”(Confucius, The Analects, Book III) This reply brings us to ‘filial piety’ xiao (孝) a reverence and respect for the family. The idea that the Junzi is more realistic due to a more liberal appreciation of form is the distinguishing factor in the exemplary person and nowhere is this more evident and prominent than in filial piety. The family then is the one constant, humans even if they are orphaned or become hermit like never fully leave a family, and it is remarkable that rather than a religious reverence for Confucianism the Chinese venerate this way of thinking because of its longevity, and because of its aesthetic qualities. Confucianism was adopted because its a tradition of teaching and learning that is present in the family. Where every single human being takes its first steps, listens to sounds, sings songs, crys, laughs, dances, and encounters Ren.

This aesthetic quality of Confucianism does not negate the idea that individual expression is not important both the Greek and the Chinese adored music and in many ways the Junzi would have also had its own freedom toward idealization. Supporting  individuals being able to express themselves is found when Confucius invites his students to share their dreams. Dian or Ceng Xi literally dreams of happiness in returning home singing. Here music and an appreciation of string and air instruments unite the ancient world and the rulers that found themselves in power. But the power of the organic family supports a belief in a plurality of human relations that extends from within the very first and most simple of social structures: in the words of the Confucian scholar Ames we see the power of filial piety (孝), xiào.

“We might say that Confucianism is nothing more than a sustained attempt to ‘to family’ the lived human experience. For Confucianism, it is through discursive living in a communicating family and community that we are able to enchant the ordinary, to ritualize the routine, to invigorate the familiar, to inspire the customary habits of life, and ultimately, to commune spiritually, in the common and the everyday.”(Ames, 2011)

2.2 Justice, the Good, and Dialectic  

‘Justice’ (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosúnē) is Plato’s concept of human mind and it is to do with the idea of the sovereignty of reason; that the soul is affected by bodily appetites. For Plato the number three is important he splits our individual and collective being into three parts: appetite, spirit, and reason. In the Republic these correspond to the class system of this city those with appetite are the workers artisans and craftspeople, spirited individuals have the courage to serve in the military, and those under the influence of reason are to be governors, gaurdians, and philosopher kings. According to Plato when the human soul is able to act with reason it attains a greater level of virtue. Thus presenting Justice dikaiosúnē as the human mind and the process it goes through towards that which is good. The capacity to be self determining under the power of rationality and its access to the goodness of truth.  

Leading to the ‘the idea of the good’ (ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέα, i toú agathoú idéa) comes before Justice in the possible schematics of Plato’s thought. It is the most important because it gives rise to the contemporary use of the adjective Platonic. That is also called Plato’s ‘theory of forms’ the belief that things exist because behind the appearance or representation of them resides a truer mathematically precise formal basis for reality. Things as they appear to exist only exist in the extent that they participate in the formal version of themselves. Something can be said to be beautiful because it participates in beauty itself. We see Socrates discussing the Good in the Symposium describing its affinity and connection to love and eternity.

If one analyses the language of the quotations below this paper’s criticism of Plato should be becoming clearer. Although the idea of the Good is a powerful driving force throughout Western culture it suffers from a singular belief in truth being one. The Good being representative of this monolithic element of Platonism can not escape its placement and association with one’s own ownership and this is what stands in contrast to the Junzi who would not see truth so formally. In defence of Plato and his theory of the forms and the Good being the best of these forms; it should be noted that for Plato his theory works only to the extent that individuals and thinkers are able to participate in such forms. The Junzi, in my interpretation is closer to Pythagoras in that mathematical entities are identical to the objects they represent.

The philosopher king is different in being preconditioned to appreciate the truth of something in an unchanging structure related to thought and thought alone . Unfortunately, this is potentially corrupt-able, and dailectic fails rather than resolving opposing views through rational debate. If the king focused too much on what is Good how does the Philosopher King safeguard against such a negative possibility as his own thinking becoming overtly possessive and thus distorting his reasoning? Can we really fully trust that people do not fall in love with that which is bad as it is strongly argued in the Symposium below?         

‘ “But suppose”, she said, “someone changed the question, using the word

‘good’ instead of ‘beautiful’, and asked: ‘Now then, Socrates, the lover of good things has a desire – what is it that he desires?’

“That they become his own,” I said.

“I don’t think that each of us is attached to his own characteristics, unless you’re

Going to describe the good as ‘his own’ and as ‘what belongs to him’ and the bad as ‘what does not belong to him’. The point is that the only object of people’s

Love is the good – don’t you agree?”(Plato, The Symposium, 1999)

Discussing the ‘Dialectic’ (διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ) we can start by detailing how this is also split into three: geometrical, the mythical, and the pedagogical. The first is found in the form of a divided line, the mythical is expressed in the famous form of a similie of a cave, and the pedagogical being the time based plan for a potential philosopher to follow; this progresses from the necessity of military service and through dialectical training the philosopher is then ready to be of use to her or his state. Remember this is represented by a line from opinion to knowledge.

  1. Conclusion


  • The forfeit of the Platonic leader?

Unlike the Confucian exemplary individual a philosopher king has no such evidence to refute the claims that have been made against it and so is not a leader that carries a strong legitimacy. Instead, looking back into ancient history it remains a vague and lofty character both removed from its citizens and also if Plato’s texts are to be believed: this philosopher leader can be trusted to assess and hold such authority that they have the capacity to accurately determine what function a citizen may be best suited for. Thus removing citizens from their capacity to grow and choose for themselves? Supporters of this king might cite the vast experience this breed of philosopher may have already acquired that is before they completed twenty years of training in dialectics (rational and virtuous thought), but this just plays into a selectivity that is not organic but possessive and aggressive.

The Philosopher King and the Junzi have many similarities yet the differences are hard to ignore. Even though they both share an appreciation of the harmony that music represents the Greek leader is more war like and this is understandable if we look at the historical context of this King’s ancient time. Socrates and Plato lived in the heyday of Athens led by the general Pericles; and it is certain that Socrates and Plato would have gone through military service. This selectivity is precisely why the Philosopher King can not be trusted to be a just and balanced leader. I have shown how this is deeply rooted in ancient Greek Idealism found in the Republic where at childhood the “philosopher king” starts to be selected by some divisive criteria and the separated from their families; a structure that remains an abstract necessity. One that is far less supportive and indeed is not a cause of responsible leadership based upon an immediate and relative discussions found within those closest to us.

  • The Junzi a more real and relative leader?

One of the main arguments against the Junzi that is left to put to the reader is that this ‘familial piety’ that stands in favour of the Confucian leader is also shared with the philosopher king; because we understand that res Republica has supposedly more than one philosopher king then one can say that they would also possess this piety. This quality of being a member of a family however where is the evidence? If this were true then Plato’s great discourse would feature more than just a description of what qualifies a person to be a Platonic leader and the manner in which they govern. If this king of thought has a family Platonist’s will argue that this lack of family in the ideal republic is down to two things: 1) The philosopher king seeks the truth of the family; the form of the family that would be called humanity.

In this case and at this time I do not see how one can take this as sufficient enough reason to make the claim that the platonic king possesses ‘familial piety’. 2) Secondly, returning to the beliefs of these beings their similarities are not so similar. Both believe in a transcendental power bestowed on the ruler. But, the difference is found if you look at Plato’s theology he believes in a creator god. Confucius portrays his leader as developing an awareness of both the bad and the good including how easy it is to fall into corruption. The Junzi exemplifies this because it is not just a leader. In the Chinese state of Confucius’s time the Junzi attained its position in society due to the leader’s capacity to achieve not only harmony but to deal with a chaotic and corrupt boss. Confucius urged his people towards an awareness of their own behaviour and in what way the state is existing. If the leader is not leading the population to a greater state of well-being then the Confucian would encourage his countryman to actively revolt through civil disobedience instead of violent outbursts.

Such a capacity to naturally deal with oscillations between the positive and the negative, and the one constant (change) is honed and harnessed in the organic social forces of the family. A form that is diverse as the many possible ways of living humans enact. Throughout the Analects we have seen many examples of Confucian ideals merge together as they emerged from the hardships these political thinkers experienced in a violent period of the country’s history. Current Confucianism suffers when viewed from the Western perspective of being nationalistic, but the opposite is closer to the truth. The Confusian Junzi is a better ruler because its version of dialectic is more familiar to resolving conflict between people. I hope this paper makes this clearer to the reader for implicit within my conclusion is a challenge to Plato’s beautiful legacy: is it possible that Confucius’s Junzi be better equipped to govern because it was born and remained in that imperfect earthly form of the family?

‘when he is accompanied by other persons, somebody is certainly able to be his teacher.

(San ren xing, bi you wo shi yan 三人行,必有我師焉。).’


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Lennerfors, Taro Thomas. (2015), The Confucian Ethics of the Junzi in Contemporary Light Capitalism, Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies, December.
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(360.bc) Symposium, translated by Benjamin Jowett, online. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html
(1999). The Symposium, Penguin Books, Great Ideas, London.
(2008), Timaeus and Critias, translated by Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press.

Papers From My Peer’s

Philosophy @Leuven in Belgium; & a Necro-psychoanalyst

The following is a quick and too speedy review of the writings of some of the wonderful individuals I studied with in Leuven. Each person’s paper’s topic will be briefly explored; its ideas summarized and elaborated on so as to share and place this interestingly informed information into the streams of human energy traversing the internet. I hope they travel far…and feed the minds of others…

[I have linked to the original essays where possible otherwise if you wish to speak to the authors then the link goes to their Facebook profile’s]


#Ross Williams, (‘A Certain Kind of Sadness’)

A comparison of the thought of Arthur Schopenhaur and Eckhart Tolle. Starting by showing how a scholar called Warburton suggests this poodle lovers pessimism as not absolute only partial. According to Schopenhaur happiness in an unstable world is inconceivable when William’s quotes Schopenhaur’s Buddhist dependency this makes me smile.


‘“It must be pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that most of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other”

(Schopenhauer 1844, 169).

Schopenhaur is interesting because his fondness for Buddhism is a fondness for the oldest kind of Buddhism; the belief system that arose from within the womb of the Indian Brahman. Then, Tolle is referenced referring to how, ‘the dream of a symbolic world allows our consciousness to interpret or interact with the world’(Tolle, 1997, 128). This sounds like Tolle is an exponent, a supporter of the idea that our reality is holographic; After this the paper describes dangerous desire, wish fulfillment being a delusion, and then similarities between the two thinkers. The evidence that Schopenhaur’s pessimism is not absolute is taken from the writer Fernandez who describes it as conditional. Which is where the paper leaves us: as a part of a whole. Choosing to forgo the ‘will to life’ in favour of liberation through our very material suffering.



#Marlieke Bender (‘The Object “is” the Other’)

This writing explores the performance ‘Rhythm 0’ by Marina Abromovich and what it has to tell us about freedom, human nature and abstraction, violence, and their relations to Emmanuel Levinas and Jean P. Satre. I had heard of Abromovich before from a brilliant documentary film made for her retrospective at MOMA, in NYC, and I had understood that this was a very famous performance but I had no idea what it precisely entailed. Reason no.1 to have enjoyed reading this.

The artist was invited by a gallery in Naples Italy to perform “Rhythm 0”. The gallery was Studio Morra in which visitors to the performance where invited to do whatever they want to the naked being of Abromovich; perhaps encouraged by the 72 suggestive objects on the table. One of these objects was a handgun with a bullet. We all like to think that we are calm collected cultured animals, but given a smidgen, a filament of freedom, and we get a little weird.  The last few hours of the performance regressed into violent chaos with one visitor encouraging the artist to use the bullet. Of course (we are not all monsters) a fight with the guilty individual broke out. But, when the performance was over we are told that the moment the artist resumed active agency again and walked towards her audience everyone fled the gallery.

Bender’s interpretation is an interesting one she traces and mines some of the potential philosophical implications of the performance. Referring to Satre’s idea that we are always both subject and object; involving a wholesome process of becoming an object. Exemplified in Satre’s reflections on a waiter in a cafe. Including the pressure of not being someone, but of being an object for others? What is made apparent is the power of a gaze of perception itself. Especially of that of the creator; is this evidence of the artist possessing a gaze apart from others?

Next up is Levinas who suggests that a moment of contact between two beings, between one and the other, is not necessarily a connection between human beings but culminates in an “other”. Marlieke’s choice of thinkers and citations is telling and reveals the greatness of Levinas, ‘speech becomes serious only when we pay attention to the other and take account of him and the strange world he inhabits. It is only by responding to him that I can become aware of the arbitrary views and attitudes where my uncriticised freedom always leads me, and become responsible.’(Levinas…?). Leaving is considering the very nature of responsibility. Who is responsible when those in charge frequently relinquish responsibility?

Abromovich, judging by her words in Marlieke’s essay, does so; saying that her purpose in performing is to create a stage for people’s fears. Maybe her admission is that if we all perform more actively, more intently, with more vitality we may free oneself from our fears? Eventually, our lack of personal completion results in a kind of “involuntary debt”; we are indebted to an otherness that is wholly other to us as active subjects and objects. I enjoy attempting to use art to explore philosophy and visa versa philosophy to explore art; and you can clearly see the possibility of philosophy arising and being authored by art.



#Mathew Devine (‘Suffering the Eternal Remorse and Melancholia Through the work of Vladimir Jankélévitch’)


A masters thesis, reading of Bergson’s Padawan the French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch’s work distinguishing remorse from regret and melancholia and mourning in his phenomenology of psychopathology after Freud. Devine characterises these interestingly as experiences. In many ways Devine’s writing is a commentary on the impossibility of nothingness and how this impossibility is embroiled in processes of regret, remorse, despair, melancholia, and mourning. Questions that lurk at the beginning the Devine’s exploration: when does remorse tell us about the eternal within us? Is remorse really timeless? Devine begins by describing Jankélévitch’s own stance, ‘Consciousness is the moment by which the self splits into two. The “I” (le soi) becoming an object of an “I” (le moi )’, a kind of gap, and a drop of Kantianism, ‘perfect happiness would only be possible if one knew nothing of one’s happiness’. We should all make an effort to contemplate these things.

Moving on Freud’s thinking is referenced when he describes the phenomena of ‘mourning’ and this is used by Devine to situate the reader before he articulates remorse and melancholia. Freud saw how work itself can come to replace the searing pain of loss and mourning. Writing in On Transience describes how the loved and lost object is allowed to rest when work is seen as being successful. Furthermore, the individual suffering from melancholia may suffer more because of its a-temporality. Freud’s characterisation of melancholia as a disturbance of self-esteem is absent in mourning. Devine draws our attention to the harshness of Freud’s ego split and how one part goes after the other, ‘we can not easily judge the degree of correspondence between the two versions of the self.

This is also why remorse can be said to be a feeling and guilt as a state. If I have read the paper correctly than this statement may also be so: for Jankélévitch repentance creates a distance between the wrong doer and the wrong. This in turn creates this necessity to suffer the eternal that we can locate within ourselves, that part of each and every one of us that is indeed eternal. Turning remorse into a virtue is dependent on how true the remorse may be thought of? There are many virtues in this study but one I find particularly interesting is a struggle to locate and anchor suffering as a phenomenon; what is the relation between impersonal or personal suffering. Devine resolves this with the help of a different French philosopher called Levinas and his stripping away the (human) world. Does his ilya (anonymous being) lead to an exposure to infinite eternal existence? Jankélévitch’s answer to this is the same as Achille’s speaking to Odysseus, ‘what good is eternity if it is not for living?’ a very good answer indeed, and it is here that Devine concludes successfully arguing that choosing an existence in finitude over an inexistence in eternity.

Vladimir Jankélévitch_ 


#Jens Van Steerteghem

Next up we have the Flemish physics fiend. Studying with Jens and his (“Jensing” a kind of Lensing; a way of seeing”) is awesome and very rewarding always on hand to discuss any and all topics. He is originally trained in Biology and is currently engaged in the critical creation of the European Union’s scientific policy making. His essay I found very rich “Escaping Technology a Dissidents Perspective” is an essay written on the infamous American Unabomber; and his manifesto “Industrial Society and its Future” (1996). Van Steerteghem begins with a good question; as every essay should do: Why did the serial bomber want to escape technology and is such an escape even possible?

Unabomber believed in a power process only satisfied by living as primitive man. Under technological society this process was disturbed according to this terrorist manifesto writer. Steerteghem rightfully questions this and initially makes a connection to thinking of Heidegger. But, a writer called Bijker is also cited and it is here the criticism begins in earnest,  ‘the socio-technological ensemble, where technical success consists in tying together different preexisting artifacts with different preexisting social elements in productive ways.’ (Steerteghem, Ku Leuven, 2018). I think this is a good statement to begin resisting Unabomber in the face of his accelerated technological telos.

To counter act the glum view of the Unabomber’s thesis Steerteghem points us towards network theory and the mathematical structures of advanced connectivity; saying that manipulation of the hubs can lead to control over technology. Then Bruno Latour’s ‘Actor Network Theory’ is discussed. Taking a holistic view of ANT and this culminates in clusters of ‘”Black Boxes” that represent the successful integration and acceptance of new technology and/or a scientific theory. The conclusion of this paper takes Unabomber’s own notion of a ‘power process’ and using it to show how it supports the opposite of anti-technological reality. Technology is in itself a power process and therefore can not be separated from other such processes hastily deemed as natural.

But, this Flemish author has forgot his Marxist potentiality and in the concluding remarks succumbs to a notion of society (“the clusterscape”) that is still an imprisoning one, and overlooks the global revolution’s potentially technological heart.



# Albin Van Latum

Albin is a Dutchman and a dynamic thinker. I enjoyed the conversations we all had; with Jens, Anne, Peyton, Marlieke, Marren, Ross, Alirazor, Amin, and others.

Albin wrote his paper on a very interesting subject the antagonism between myth and science. Beginning with the ancient propensity of creation myths having order being a process of moving away from a prior chaos. Latum will argue that rather than the modern understanding of myths as “a miss-representation of truth.”, myth under Latum’s pen will be shown to be the fundamental bridge between humans and an otherwise chaotic reality and how Science’s modernism is itself a myth. After remembering how chaos is first born in Hesiod’s Theogony; we are then introduced to a beautiful ancient myth about chaos originating from ancient China. In the Zhuangzi Chaos (Hundun)  ) is seen as ‘the creative spontaneity that ceases to exist once one meddles with it by attempting to impose order’. So, in this Chinese myth we see Van Latum’s initial thesis clearly: myths help humans order Chaos into meaning. But, not via means of control rather appreciation.

In the discussion on the relation or development from mythos to logos an interesting point is made, ‘whereas both Plato and Aristotle concerned of different levels of mimesis of reality this plurality went through a process of reductio ad unum (an argument that rests on the absurdity of the opposing argument) the result of which is modern realism.’ It is with the reductio that one feels a kinship with this Dutch brother’s writing and thinking; I feel that many people would agree that this modern realism has a major problem in that it occasionally appears as mythless; leaving us a task to really nurture an cultivate the opposite. Such a line of thinking was also followed and developed by Mark Fisher in his Capitalist Realism (2009). Latum also paints a more useful picture of the philosopher of science Karl Popper; in that his ‘falsification theory’ is seen on preserving a mythical science. Instead of the Popper who unsuccessfully attempted to refute the work of Marx and Freud.

This paper really finds its rhythm when numinous Nietzsche is referenced as Latum starts discussing contemporary Chaos … some much needed Socrates bashing ensues… Overall, the claims of science to rule over the entirety of nature are shown to be unhelpful myths. These claims came into being as the Christian paradigm, or scientific dominance over western thinking began to loose its huge influence. That is why we are still learning from Nietzsche, ‘Truths are illusions about which it has been forgotten that they are illusions, warn-out metaphors without sensory impact’, and we readers are forced to admire this papers conclusions, ‘Chosmos is chaos, of interpretation on the back of a selective process’. Eventually we are left with one certainty if we embrace the myth making capacity of chaos we can see our openness to the pure potential of artistic creation.



# Juste Keturakyte (The Critique of Buddhism and Christianity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Philosophy)

In an ambitious dance with Nietzsche Keturakyte explores a supposed superiority of Buddhism over its Western counterpart Christianity. Nietzsche’s opinion is well expressed and articulated; as is his appreciation of Buddhism. Reading this text we encounter Buddhist Dukkha (suffering). Then its cause the craving after transient things Trishna; and also a path to the elimination of this suffering ashtanya manga. Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics is characterised as being one of revenge. That Christian Moralities explained as the one life is littered and scarred by revenge. That the mere essence of metaphysics is the denial of and revenge over becoming and time as the expression of decadent and declining life. So, Nietzsche’s admiration for Buddhism is written to be centred around its capacity to be truthful to the meaninglessness of human existence however he does not like its self denying aspects seeing them as too passive.


I find that Keturakyte’s elegant exploration of the Buddhist influence on Nietzsche to be accurate and refreshingly honest, and very well positioned for  future development. Especially the idea of ‘Euro-Buddhism’ but to offer but a small critical note. I think Nietzsche’s criticism of this passive nihilism of Buddhism is not thoroughly separated from Schopenhaur’s Indian reading and so does not do Chan Buddhism full justice. Keturakyte’s points about the a-temporality of Nietzsche’s ‘Eternal Return’ as transcending both Buddhism and Christianity is not quite attainable. For the reason that in Chan Buddhism especially its passivity is to explicitly do away with distinctions that seek to differentiate. Resulting in an appreciation of how things are: endlessly coming to be and passing away, manifesting and re-manifesting, and all is just inter-being including eternity and its return.

Nietzsche and Buddhism



# Sam Bunn & Grussgott, an artificial intelligence from the future (Imagining an Institute for eUtopia)

Sam along with this A.I have constructed an impassioned defence of how artistic practice can and ought to be used to build the “good place” in contrast to the non-place we so usually are confronted with. Bunn’s Master’s thesis is very interesting and eclectic, yet ordered in its creative energy. I like the format of the study, and the interplay between A.I and human really creates with the material and topic matter very coherently. Beginning by pairing off Sacral art and Fine art Bunn or Grussgott and showing how exactleeeeeeeeeeeeeee this sacral can be seen as a “twisted tear drop”; half a way. There are seven chapters in Sam’s study and I will list them before drawing out some of the highlights that caught my attention when I first read. The contents include; ART or art?, Stories make Sense making Sense, Grasping Utopia, Eutopia as a Tool, Re-imaging Infastructure, eUtopia Explored and Attempted, and the conclusion.

I am not sure about Art confirming the American Dream this feels like it gives to this particular dream too much. But, the conversation discussing the persistence of filmic ideology (ideology is persistent as film? Or, ideology is a film?) moving through this notion that American cannot separate the idea of liberty from liberalism. From this constitution to Adam Smith’s marketised version; here the A.I reminds the human that America is not just full of capitalists, ‘Remember Jameson (influential Critical Theorist) is American.’

Reading through the next section on storytelling and sense, I am reminded of Walter Benjamin’s texts and how this study is a little bit like a new project from the Arcades? Discussing the potentially vegetative state of humans if they fail to grasp Bertold Brecht’s reality shaping hammer. But, Bunn or Grisbott pick up this hammer with a sub-hypothesis, ‘what if this main residue of watching a film is: lasting images?’ This branch is interesting its difficult to interpret but it could be that film’s deep realism is like a hammering of images; like the way a blacksmith would gradually craft a refined metal. It is also interesting that this involves an element of forgetting and remembering: forgetting to remember is absolutely what I do…

Then an utopia lists many influential authors and Ernst bloch keeps the concept of utopia firmly in the everyday rather than just a literary form. I love Darko Suvins/Surins’s idea of a ‘novum’ and I skip Thomas More’s well cited definition of utopia; a non-place. Then we continue to move through the good places of some films and their lasting images.

On page 59 Gussbotts and its human friend find agreement and I think I have stumbled upon the essence of this text and its true purpose; what it really engenders and supports. The A.I asks, ‘you are talking about popularizing socialist politics in mass consumable story form, aren’t you? The answer is yes; we now need to find our second yes to affirm as indeed the true aim of this paper, the formal desire of this intellectually creative event. I like how part of this discourse throughout this study is its cautious character; it permeates an awareness of the pitfalls of over-stating content and one’s thinking.

This and the idea of “socialist politics in a mass consumable story” is really evident in one of the many artistic projects Bunn completed as part of his time in Linz. The project Reise in die Zuhunft a journeying into the future with today’s children, and art’s radical potentialities are immediately enacted as social reality is seen as uniformly and universally creative in the artistic sense. Such play is then carried on into a ride of sorts; the brilliantly named ‘Far-see-er’; a series of interconnected rooms exhibited together as a ride designed to be ridden, of course, at the Architektur Forum in Linz. Overall, one, everyone should journey through and re-experience this journey that Sam Bunn and the A.I took because this study is refreshingly in its diversity, honesty, and creativity. The Agent Author’s humility is constantly present in this study; a good example is the response to the dilemma that the discussion on eUtopia might be unresolvable and we may be forced to accept the Utopia the negative option.

‘perhaps one should just learn to live with the dust that is stuck to the word utopia and not to confuse people with this ‘eu’. Generally they just think that I make some kind of obscure comment about the European Union.’

I wish this creator and fellow lover of art all the best for his future eUtopian film making.


# Julie Reshe (Beautiful Monsters: On Destructive Plasticity)          

Julie Reshe is the necropsychoanalyst par excellence and one half of the directorship of a new educational model for the future. Operating within a Post-Lacanian landscape Reshe is constantly expanding on the richness of Freud’s brilliant Venetian verisimilitude. I am not entirely convinced the notion that humans are “living dead” can overcome the negative imagery of the Zombie; yet one thing is more certain Freud’s Thanos remains important as ever for today’s epoch. Below are some thoughts on Reshe’s essay on ‘Destructive Plasticity’.

The essay is written as a critical response to the great French philosopher Catherine Malabou; who years ago introduced me to the idea of epigenetics (how feelings encode meaning and trauma can be distributed across generations biologically via way of the genome). Homing in on the scientific neurobiological conception of synaptic plasticity Reshe wants us to reflect on the negative side; the formalism of synaptic connective via way of destruction; and in attempting to hastily attribute a “cure” to such a destructive plasticity, Reshe reminds us of Foucault’s insight: that, the concepts of illness and health are socially constructed.

Running, both with and against Malabou, Reshe reformulates the notion that the child, can be a little monster, and therefore after encompassing a kind of destructive plasticity or a Lyotardian ‘primordial susceptibility’ – the child that remains throughout life. Yet, this writing really on one level is very comforting considering the biographical and important personal references to real lived experiences. This is then complemented by the text’s desire to critically think through psychoanalysis. Freud’s idea and its Greek influence is referenced that, ‘Psychic traumatization is understood by the analogy of physical traumatization.’ A difference imposed by the foreign body entombed with the local body.

After rightfully questioning the ease at which a disorder may legitimate the presence of an illness. I find Reshe’s conclusion compelling and ripe for much more development. If we are all beautiful monsters then we are all still susceptible, still receptive to these powers that are both organic and inorganic; power that we still marginally understand. Yet if we join Reshe in refelecting on our beautiful little monstrosities then we may increase such a thing.


Philosophy of Science (Course Notes and exam prep.)

[I took a course in the philosophy of science this year and although the lecturers and professor are nice people – I did not like overall experience. I felt there was very little philosophy being done, more just a critical review of science and the information that it has generated. I am surprised that I passed this exam because I did not feel good writing my essay’s in those two hours… Yet, like I said the Lecturers and professors are good but the information contained in the curriculum needs a lot of work if it is to become a more enjoyable learning experience. Anyway, I wish the professors and philosophers of Science in Leuven the best of luck in this regard. I have collected the contents of my preparation for the exam so I do not loose the notes and can review at a later date. Perhaps they may be of interest to some…]


Construct an argument that either defends or critiques a statement below.

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  1. Philosophy of science is useless for the practice of science.

The science we know today would not have come into existence if there had not been what was widely called ‘natural philosophy’. A way of scientific inquiry which contained a process of questioning the world in its material nature. This has a very long history indeed the western centric textbook answer has it that this strand of philosophy that was ‘natural philosophy’ began with Aristotle (The Reader, as Plato called him) who was one of the first to systematically record his scientific explorations of the biological world. Then, we have been told to believe that the transformation happened under the guidance of Rene Descartes the father of Cartesianism. A dualistic belief that the body and mind are separate substances one is extended the other thinking. But, at this point in history science remained in the nurturing womb of philosophy and had yet to branch off into its current form.

This happened when towering figures such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Isac Newton showed how by using maths a human might offer an explanation for the way the world works to such accuracy that knowledge became wedded to science. Of course, this had an effect on philosophy no longer the sole proprietor of Truth. Being forced to observe this baby called science philosophy held it as an object of its reflections. One such example being the creator of Positivism the thinker Auguste Comte who wrote about how science was an inevitability in his somewhat Hegel inspired tripartite movement from metaphysics and theology to positivism construed as a study of the relations between a growing body of natural knowledge; such a system is pro-science, ‘When these different operations are sufficiently advanced to have assumed an irrevocable character, we shall see social education itself fall for ever into the hands of the scientists.’ (Comte, …) Words like this contain what many would like to believe, that science is a social education, progressing by way of shared research. There is no longer the need for individual greatness or of the speculative prolonged reflections philosophy offers – science now has a track record of knowledge production.

Such a situation where science has buried its parents might sometimes feel like it is the case or even desirable: in 2010 Stephen Hawking went on record as saying he believes philosophy to be dead. So, this leaves us at a contested position either philosophy still has something to add to the sciences or it is indeed useless? However, this misses an important part of the question: ‘useless for the practice of science’, so it is of course essential to leave behind the debate on the qualities of the two separate disciplines and focus on what they each have to say about one another’s practices. Philosopher of Science Samir Okasha explains the practice of science to contain two distinct features the experiment and the theory. Okasha hones in on the valuable role he thinks philosophy of science performs; it continues questioning when the scientist equipped with belief in the reproducibility of his experiment stops questioning. He mentions this in line with a problem science and philosophy both share how to differentiate between that which is pseudo- or just operating under the name of the practice.

I would argue that considering all of what one has just mentioned philosophy of science remains very useful for the practices of science. For the following reasons should suffice to support this: 1) Science often needs more ethical considerations – just think of the Manhatten project, nuclear power, and the future of DNA editing, 2) Occasionally science has discovered something remarkable but it may not know how to communicate precisely what the discovery is telling them – a perfect example would be quantum physics and the human mind. 3) Philosophy exerts parental rights over science as its history shows it was rationalist philosophers such as Leibniz and Descartes who inspired Newton’s breakthroughs in calculus and physics. A potential problem for this conclusion is that the practices of some philosophers who may habitually over question, or harbour questions that are unfairly weighted against science containing a prejudice will inevitably be disruptive. Yet, I would suggest that such a philosopher has not spent enough time reflecting and therefore in the rare event that they come into contact with the practice of science one does not imagine that the scientist would put up with such distractions for long. The probability of this is very low and controlled and well thought out criticism of both practices is obviously encouraged.

Finally, one last argument in favour of the usefulness of the philosophy of science:

  1. Let us say that a progressive scientific research programme is near a new discovery in Dark matter and energy.
  2. The scientific experiments provide certifiable and undeniable evidence for the But, the scientific community does not know what their results, the discovery actually means outside the context of the experiment. It refutes earlier theories but leaves questions unanswered.
  3. Therefore, science will greatly benefit from having a philosopher who used to questioning questions will bring new abstract interpretations to the table, and thus greatly improve the probability of agreeing upon what the discovery means and how it should be communicated.

  1. A better interpretation of probability could solve the problem of induction.

Let us begin with a clear definition of what induction is and why it has for so long been considered problematic. Induction is a form of argument that stands in contrast to deduction. Deduction is an argument that contains a conclusion deduced from its premises this makes it necessarily true because it follows that if the premises of the argument are all true then the conclusion must be true. Abduction, differs from this because the argument contains premises/inferences that do not necessarily support the conclusion an example of such abduction and its reasoning is below:

A large quantity of reports contain errors of calculation

All the reports were written by the same person.

Therefore, all the reports will have to be re-written.

Here it is evident that if we compare the first premise with the conclusion it follows that it is only contingently true that all the reports will have to be re-written because a large quantity is not ‘all reports’. Following Okasha we can understand why this way of reasoning is an issue for philosophy in that inductive reasoning is often found in everyday use. Okasha’s examples include the following, ‘when you turn the steering wheel of your car you assume that it will turn the way it turns because of past events’(Okasha…). Continuing thinking through inductive reasoning Okasha cites the Scottish Enlightenment thinker David Hume  who was the first to offer up an explanation for the dominance of inductive reasoning in our everyday experiences. Hume claimed that it was due to pure animal habit that we reason in such way and so when we induce that the sun will rise in the morning tomorrow we do so because of the Uniformity of Nature (U.N)(Hume, ). In short this is an assumption relative to objects we have or have not observed. Hume continued when considering if the U.N could be proven and he denied that it could stating that there could exist a universe where nature was not uniform and existed in a state of constant flux. Essentially, Okasha helps distill Hume’s point that: there is no way of empirically proving the uniformity of nature without trying to persuade someone who does not trust in induction is a process of induction thus committing the formal fallacy of begging the question.

You may say that it seems like one of those stereotypical problems that philosophers bicker over and you would be correct. But, many philosophers argue that induction is so essential to how we think that it is not something provable. Although there are the following responses to problem of induction:

  1. Peter Strawson’s analogy: ‘If someone worried about whether a particular action was legal, they could consult the law-books and compare the action with what the law-books say. But suppose someone worried about whether the law itself was legal. This is an odd worry indeed. For the law is the standard against which the legality of other things is judged, and it makes little sense to enquire whether the standard itself is legal.

Induction is a standard to which we decide whether or not our claims are justified.

  1. Inference to the best explanation (I.B.E)


Basic everyday induction takes the form of:  ‘all x’s examined so far have been y’,

and the conclusion has had the form ‘the next x to be examined will be y’, or sometimes, ‘all x’s are y’. In other words, these inferences take us from examined to unexamined instances of a given kind.

In I.B.E there can not be two events that infer the conclusion so we have a most probable one take the example argument below:

The left over curry in the fridge has been eaten.

The husband/wife arrived home from work late.

The Husband/Wife ate the left over curry.

Charles Darwin used Inductive reasoning in his theory of evolution saying that evolution or the development of species only makes sense if there is an observable relation a common ancestor (horses and zebras for example).

Okasha, explores a potential disagreement with (I.B.E) that it remains uncertain as to how to distinguish between possible explanations and the data present in the argument. The solution is that the explanation that is the best is also the most simple one. Yet, using simplicity and parsimony (…?) as solutions still does not resolve the problem because it does not say anything about the main issue that ‘the uniformity of nature’ makes problematic that the universe may be either simple or complex.

Part of the confusion surrounding how to resolve this is the problem of interpreting the word ‘probability’ some say that when we state the probability of something happening let us say the chances of me cooking a vegetarian dish tonight are 1/10 rather than an exact percentage or prediction it communicates a subjective interpretation.

[contrasting with the usual frequency interpretation of probability: If you read that the probability of an Englishwoman living to 100 years of age is 1 in 10, you would understand this as saying that one-tenth of all Englishwomen live to the age of 100. / But what if you read that the probability of finding life on Mars is 1 in 1,000? Does this mean that one out of every thousand planets in our solar system contains life? Clearly it does not. For one thing, there are only nine planets in our solar system.]

[The logical interpretation of probability rejects the idea that there are no objective facts about probability (subjective interpretation) by saying that there is true and false positions regarding events. Evidence for this Advocates of the logical interpretation think that for any two statements in our language, we can in principle discover the probability of one, given the other as evidence. For example, we might want to discover the probability that there will be an ice age within 10,000 years, given the current rate of global warming.]

{0.9 < maximum is one 1/10,1000 I.e once every ten thousand years}

  • Mendelian genetics, which deals with the transmission of genes from one generation to another in sexually reproducing populations. One of the most important principles of Mendelian genetics is that every gene in an organism has a 50% chance of making it into any one of the organism’s gametes (sperm or egg cells). Hence there is a 50% chance that any gene found in your mother will also be in you, and likewise for the genes in your father. Using this principle and others, geneticists can provide detailed explanations for why particular characteristics (e.g. eye colour) are distributed across the generations of a family in the way that they are. Now ‘chance’ is just another word for probability, so it is obvious that our Mendelian principle makes essential use of the concept of probability.
  1. (Okasha) “For John and Jack both accept the evidence that the sun has risen every day in the past, but Jack fails to realize that this evidence makes it highly probable that the sun will rise tomorrow, while John does realize this. Regarding a statement’s probability as a measure of the evidence in its favour, as the logical interpretation recommends, tallies neatly with our intuitive feeling that the premisses of an inductive inference can make the conclusion highly probable, even if they cannot guarantee its truth.”

As a statement in and by itself yes it is the case that a “better interpretation” may one day solve the problem of uncertainty surrounding inductive reasoning and arguments. However such an interpretation would seem to need to be inhumanely accurate to factor in the relation between chance and uncertainty. Maybe a future quantum computer may make advances in probability that will enable us to resolve this issue, but one remains highly sceptical of such a solution because it would imply the possibility of a world without uncertainty and irrationality and this one believes to be unattainable and undesirable for a science.

  1. Falsificationism rejects confirmation and verification, and thus can resolve the problem of induction.

Karl Popper Science: Conjectures and Refutations

  1. “Mr Turnbull had predicted evil consequences …, and now was doing the best in his power to bring the about the verification of his prophecies.”

-Anthony Trollope

  1. “The problem that troubled me at the time was neither, ‘when is a theory true?’, or ‘ when was a theory acceptable?’. My problem was how to distinguish between pseudo-science and science?”
  • Popper was thrilled with the affirmative experiment and confirmation of Einstein’s calculations for gravity by Eddington’s Eclipse Observations in 1919
  1. Popper had a problem with three theories: Marx’s ‘theory of history’ (Historical Materialism), Freud’s (psychoanalysis – unconscious), and individual psychology. He held a problem with their claims to science because of their lack of certainty or success when measured to the objective predictions they made… compared to the certainty of Einsteinian physics… For Popper these three theories resembled myths rather than science and astrology rather than astronomy.

Popper’s peers are impressed by these theory’s explanatory power, and that they seem to have evidence for their validity everywhere in the world. But this is not the case for Popper.

  1. Against Freud and Adler, Popper used this analogy, ‘Using two choices one human being is confronted with when a man pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning it, and another that sacrifices his own life to save the youth. Each of the cases can be easily explained via way of Freud and Adler’s theories. In the first instant ( The man suffered from repression/while the second managed sublimation). Secondly, in Adler’s language the first man suffers from inferiority produced due to a need to prove something, the second man is the same he needs to prove he can save the child, The theory’s always seemed to have a conclusive answer and conclusion regardless of the scenario.
  2. He says that Einsteins confirmation of the light of a star during an eclipse bends making it appear further away from the sun. Popper mentions the aspect of risk in these scientific predictions. If they do not match the reality of the world exactly then they are refuted.
  • A) For popper you should not be chasing after confirmations but good scientific theories are a prohibition they forbid certain things to happen. B) Irrefutability is not a good aspect of a theory it is a vice. C) Testability is a way of falsifiability (important). D) Occasionally a scientific theory is saved from refutation because there is an ad hoc auxiliary assumption or hypothesis. But, this destroys the viability and validity of the theory, lowering its status.
  • The Criterion of a scientific theory is its falsifiability, testability, and refutability.
  1. The Criterion of falsifiability is about drawing a line between theories with empirical evidence (science) and those without.
  2. The above is an answer to theproblem of demarcation… “because it says that systems of statements in order to be qualified as scientific… must be capable of conflicting with possible or conceivable observations.

… Imre Lakatos Science and Pseudo-science…


  1. “Blind commitment to a theory is not an intellectual virtue, it is a crime” Scepticism towards one’s own theories is essentially scientific… Belief’s role in formatting knowledge is suspended …
  • Objectivity is essential for science:

‘If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity, or school metaphysics, for

instance; let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concernig quantity

or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter

of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames. For it call contain

nothing but sophistry and illusion.’   

  • David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
  • Newton once confidently claimed he only produces proposals based upon facts, and especially Kepler’s facts about the movement of the objects in outer space. This was incorrect because Kepler’s facts stated that planets moved in ellipses. Newton claimed that planets would move in ellipses if they did not disturb each other in their motion. However they did so Newton was forced to develop a pertubation theory that states that no planets move in ellipses.
  • ‘inductive logicians’. Inductive logic set out to define the probabilities of different theories according to the available total evidence. If the mathematical probability of a theory is high, it qualifies as scientific; if it is lowor even zero, it is not scientific. Thus the hallmark of scientific honest) would be never to say anything that is not at least highly probab Probabilism has an attractive feature: instead of simply providing a black-and-white distinction between science and pseudoscience, it provides a continuous scale from poor theories with low probability to good theories with high probability. But, in 1934, Karl Popper, one of the most influential of our time, argued that the mathematical probability. of all theories, scientific or pseudoscientific, given any amount of evidence is zero.” If Popper is right, scientific theories are not only equally Inprovable but also equally improbable.
  1. Tom Kuhn, adistinguished American philosopher of science, arrived at this conclusion after discovering the naivety of Popper’s falsificationism. But if Kuhn is right, then there is no explicit demarcation between science and pseudoscience, no distinction between scientific progress and intellectual decay, there is no objective standard of honesty. But what criteria can he then offer to demarcate scientific progress from intellectual degeneration?
  • Now, how do scientific revolutions come about? If we have two rival research programmes, and one is progressing while the other is degenerating, scientists tend to join the progressive programme.

  1. Creationism is a science. (And what is the implication for whether it is rational to believe in creationism?)

Elliot Sober, ‘Creationism’ in Philosophy of Biology, (2000)

  1. Begins by discussing phrenology (measuring the human skull to distinguish behaviours of the mind… as a serious research programme in the past now regressive.
  2. WE must distinguish the people from the propositions they maintain.
  • The earth is flat but this does not stop there being ‘flat-earthers’
  1. Scientific (added to creationism to imply that it appeals to evidance for the existence of god. Creationism vs Evolution / A intelligent being a designer vs natural selection
  2. He assesses the logic both positions defend…
  3. He suggests that creationism has not developed a scientific research programme and still only makes one claim an appeal to God. Evolution on the other hand has grown with many hypothesis tested and grown into a progressive research programme.
  • Sober comments on the authentic intellectual background of the ‘design argument’ explaining that rational theology was a tradition that contained a lot of what was best of western philosophy due to its grounding in reason and rationality.
  • Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas wrote five reasons for the existence of god… the fifth of these arguments is ‘intelligent / argument from design; (1224-1274) building upon ideas developed by Plato and Aristotle.
  1. This argument from design met its heyday with Hume’s Scepticism Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) and was never believed in in the same way again. (compared to the Bridgewater Treatise)
  2. Abduction Logic of design argument laid out by William Paley, Natural Theology (1805) – An inference to the best explanation containing two possibilities: 1) God is an intelligent designer an engineer so he built organisms that would be well suited to their habitat. 2) Random lumps of matter where transformed by random physical forces into living things. Paley wants to show the former as being more probable.
  3. He uses an analogy of a complex object, a watch with moving parts that functions as a whole. Its success as an object is because it had an intelligent designer.
  • The Likelyhood Principle Edwards 1972.

Consider a statement we know to be true O. Then consider two explanations  (H1…H2...) for why O is true. The likelihood principle reads as follows: O strongly favours H1  over H2 if and only if H1 assigns a higher probability to O than H2 does…

In the notation of probability theory this says:

strongly favors H1 over H2  if and only if P(O/H1) >> P(O/H2).

Expressing the likelihood that hypothesis 1 has in light of observation but don’t confuse

‘It is likely’ and ‘it is probable’ P(O/H1) – P(H1/O) How are they different? Consider the following:

You are sitting in a cabin one night and you hear rumbling in the attic. We wonder what could have produced the noise. I suggest that the explanation is that there are Gremlins in the attic and they are bowling. You dismiss this as implausible. Observation over hypothesis is probable … Hypothesis then observation has a likelyhood but low probability.

Applied to Paleys argument:

A: The watch is intricate and well suited to the task of time keeping.
W1: The watch is the product of intelligent design.
W2: The watch is the process of random physical processes.

Paley claims that P(A/W1) >> P(A/W2) . He then says the same pattern of analysis applies to the following triplets of statements.

B : Living things are intricate and well suited to the task of surviving and reproducing.
L1: Living things are the product of intelligent design
L2:  Living things are the product of random physical processes.

Paley argues that if you agree with him about the watch then you should agree that

P(B/L1) >> P(B/L2) .   

Hume (analogy arguments) stronger or weaker according to how similar the two objects are:  Blood circulates in humans / humans are similar to dogs/plants / dogs plants blood circulates.

Object A has property P

Object A and property T are similar to degree

N _________________________________________

Object T has property P.


N measures the degree of probability two objects are alike n = o / n = 1

For Hume this shows that even as an argument of analogy the degrees of similarity between a living organism and a watch are not enough to make the argument feasible but Paley’s argument may stand alone.

Third use of the likelyhood principle consider we toss a coin a thousand times and note on each toss whether the coin lands heads or tails. We record the observational results in statement O below and wish to use O to discriminate between two hypothesis.

O:  The coin landed heads on 803 tosses and tails on 197
H1:  The coin is biased towards heads – its probability of landing heads when tossed is 0.8
H2:  The coin is fair – its probability of landing heads when tossed is 0.5

  • Inference in induction cause and effect based upon prior knowledge of the probable cause. – Hume

  • Problem with the Design argument and induction: Sample size “Suppose we have good reason to believe that the organisms in our world are the product of intelligent design, then we must have looked at lots of other worlds and observed intelligent designers creating organisms there. We have observed no such worlds so our sample size for postulating the design argument is 0

Darwin – Natural selection and the survival of the fittest… if it involves an element of chance as to the evolutionary selection of species and the survival of hereditary beneficial genetic traits. Then this makes it a random process NO

Natural selection includes unequal probability and for this reason it is not a random process. 1) variation must arise within the population, 2) natural selection goes to work selecting modifying the frequencies of the variants present.

  • Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker (1986)

Imagine a mechanical device that like a combination lock composed of series of disks side by side. On each side the 26 letters of the alphabet are placed. There are 26 possibilities on each disk and 19 discs giving  different possible sequences.

-one of these is: METHINKSITISAWEASEL… the probability of this being spun is 1/  a very small one … but the analogy applies to evolution because the device can be adapted so that when one of the target letters is viewed the device freezes it greatly increasing the speed at which the ordered whole can be attained. Natural selection works in a similar way.

Variation (not about usefulness – more about from the variants what can be retained)   and Retention.


Voltaire, satarized Leibniz’s God created the most perfect world… with DR. Pangloss in Candide


Jacob, natural selection is a tinkerer — argument via similarity / Vestigial Traits (

  • Panda’s boney thumb related to bears…

  • tree of life … common ancestor — all animals share a genealogical history…

DNA( amino acids )  RNA(messenger)

“Coding is arbitrary then it affects the likelihood argument… if the genetic code was the most functionary then we would expect all terrestrial life to use it regardless of origin.”

The problem of productive equivalence …



         O : Organisms are imperfectly adapted to their environment
        Dp: Species were separately created by a super-intelligent and omnipotent god
Who wanted to make organisms/ perfectly suited/adapted to their environment.
 Ev :  Species evolved from common ancestors from natural selection.

The observations are said to favour a hypothesis of evolution  over the perfectionist

Design hypothesis Dp: P(O/Ev) >> P(O/Dp).  But now consider a Trickster (Descartes god as perfect being / trickster)

hypothesis: D1 : Species were created separately by a god who made them look just the way they wood if they had evolved from natural selection.

Ev and DT are predictively equivalent… The Likelihood Principle is baced upon a comparison of competing hypotheses.

Creationism is not a scientific argument because it is un-testable … influenced by Karl Popper (Falsifiability is the hallmark of scientific questioning)


Popper used to believe that evolution was a metaphysical research programme… but changed his mind.

  1. Observation sentences (popper)

Poroposition P is falsifiable if and only if P deductively implies at least one observation sentence O.


Problem: Observation is often theory laden… our perception is not separable from theory.

Poppers Falsifiability Criterion has deeper problems:

1)Tacking Problem

Suppose that some proposition S is falsifiable then it immediately follows that S in a conjunction with another proposition N is also falsifiable. That is if S makes predications that can be checked observationally, then so does S&N. This is an embarrassment for Poppers theory because he wanted to distinguish between the scientific and the non scientific.

  • Strange relationship of a proposition to its negation.

Consider the statement of the form “ All As are B”. Popper judges this as falsifiable because you can observe a single A that is not B. Now consider the negation of the generalization, “There exists an Object that is both A and not – B” This statement is not falsifiable. No single observed object or finite collection of them can falsify the existent claim. Generalization is falsifiable, and the negation is not. Surely is a statement is scientific its negation is falsifiable suggesting that falsifiability is not a good criterion for being scientific.

  • Theories make testable hypothesis when they are conjoined with auxiliary assumptions T by itself does not deductively imply O, but rather T&A.

Peirre Duhems  thesis theory and auxillary hypothesis… Dinosaur and meteor … the theory said nothing about metal iridium being located in certain places so theory needed auxillary hypothesis … this metal has higher concentrations in meteors than found on earth.

  • Probability statements in science are unfalsifiable “ A coin toss is fair because of 0.5 probability” well what if you toss it five times?

[Evolution against Creationism… unscientific main arguments can not be tested

Creationism against Evolution … Scientific theories are often incomplete or are refuted.]

Examples of Poppers problems:


Faslification Verification

If T then O                                                                                 If T, then O

Not –O                                                                                          O

________                                                                                       __________

Then not –T                                                                                 T

(Deductively Valid)                                                                (Invalid)


If T&A, Then O                                                                          If T&A, Then O

Not-O                                                                                           O

_____________                                                                                 ______________

Not – T                                                                                            T

(Deductively Valid)                                                                (Invalid)


A vestige of Poppers asymmetry can be restored if we include the premiss that

The auxiliary assumptions (A) are true…

Falsification                                                                            Verification

If T&A, then O                                                                          If T&A, then O

A                                                                                                  A

. O                                                                                                O

_____________                                                                              _____________

Not- T                                                                                          T

(deductively Valid)                                                                   (Deductively Invalid)

To falsify we have to assume that A is true

Left argument asserts that if we cannot verify theoretical statements, Then we can not falsify them either!!




The Virtue of Vulnerability

Vulnerability appears to be a defect and not a virtue … of science. Why is important that our hypothesis be refutable and vulnerable?

The Liklyhood Principle helps answer these questions. A consequence of this principle is that If  O  favors H1  over H2 , then not-O would favor H2 over H1  .

Because P(O/H1) > P(O/H2) , then P(not – O/H1) < P(not -O/H2) For our beliefs to be supported by observational evidence. For, this to be possible there must be possible observations against them.

“Duheim’s thesis say the hypothesis in science makes testable predictions only when they are conjoined with auxiliary premises / assumptions. Creationists claims that organisms are the result of an intelligent designer is no different. The only distinguishing factor is that creationist auxiliary assumptions are not independently supported. If we can not choose test between auxiliary assumptions then the design hypothesis is not validated.

Sometimes creationists criticize evolutionary biology and philosophy as too naturalistic    

But science is commited to a methodology and not a substantive claim about the way the world should be…

Difference in arguments makes creationism un- falsifiable.



  1. Explanations should be arguments.


In this essay one will provide an argument in support of the statement, ‘explanations should be arguments’. One will do this by citing sources within the practices of the philosophy of science. An area of philosophy which does not seek to think like a scientist even though this often is the case, yet the philosopher who has science as the subject of their thought is faced with a maze of initial questions: the simplest would be what exactly is science? How are we to understand its qualities such as power (political/cultural), importance, and accuracy? Amongst these considerations there are the questions that could be asked surrounding the difficulty of placing or situating explanations and arguments. Both, are essential to science but considering them philosophically the two do not appear to be as clear and distinct as one might initially assume. To overcome the assumption that one understands these two component parts of science I will maintain a simple line of reasoning. Starting with the presumption that if arguments were not explanations than this would make the whole praxis of science a sad unsocial enterprise without its current relevancy.

Such a reality is not true and this is because of the explanatory power of arguments and vice versa the argumentative force of explanations. This is observable in texts by Samir Okasha in his introduction to this strand of philosophy (2016), and David Lewis discussing ‘causal explanation’ (1986). The later text begins with a consideration of an explanandum event, and the causal chain leading up to it ad infinitum. Implying that in the event of describing a phenomenon many causes may be found together or even as part of the explanadum. Lewis articulates in the reductive spirit of science the importance of information in explaining and how this is dependent on a causal history.

‘The why-question concerning a particular event is a request for explanatory

information and hence a request that an act of explaining be performed.

(Lewis, 1986. 218)’

What is forthrightly expressed here is the structural relation between information and an act of explaining; where the act is an argument and information is equal to explicans (premises) resulting in a conclusion or explanation of an event. This strikes one as being remarkably human in that we find ourselves in a world that demands explanation but in this very relation contains a necessary process of arguing for or against a number of causes – our success in this process is due to scientific causality.   

This notion is supported elsewhere in the text when Lewis expresses gratitude to David Velleman who told him that humans explain by way of analogy moving the unfamiliar towards the familiar. After discussing how its possible to explain in a bad or good way Lewis shows the shared interest we have in understanding by way of logical argumentation, ‘But credibility is not a separate merit alongside truth; rather, it is what we go for when seeking truth as best we can.(Lewis, 1986. 218)’ The idea that truth and credibility are to be taken on merit is then met with the capabilities of the human. The struggle to explain is just as important as the explanation itself and this is a big contributor to the power of science: it is an assumption to suggest that since our species first breath we have striven for the certainty the truth provides us because today some people desire to remain ignorant to the wonders that science may bring.

Philosopher Samir Okasha adds yet greater emphasis on the human component of science but just after discussing objects being ‘multiply realised’ at the physical level (how physical entities take different forms in the observable universe) he explains this notion of sciences incomplete reducibility by discussing the concept of a biological cell. But, this multiple realisability just deepens our need to understand explanatory arguments or argumentative explanations.

‘So the concept “cell” can not be defined in terms drawn from fundamental physics

There is no true statement of the form ‘x is a cell if and only if x is …’ where the

blank is filled by an expression taken from the language of microphysics.

(Okasha, 2016. 57)’

Okasha helps further one’s inquiry by allowing for an approach to the dilemmas at stake via way of language. Viewing the language of science is useful because it helps in honing in on the reasons for supporting our beginning statement and the following conclusion. Although you might say that adopting a position that views language as the main evidence in favour of explanations being arguments being invalid because it reduces the beauty inherent to the simplification that is necessary for scientific certainty, in the form of equations and formula for example. In other words one main disagreement is that arguments remain prone to linguistic uncertainty and ruin the simplicity inherent to science by adding unnecessary complexity by generalising separate instantiations of existence. This one believes is an interpretation that could be used to refute my positive conclusion. Viewed from Okasha’s discussion on the antagonism that philosophers and physicists debate that the laws physics builds upon with their assumed truth are not quite irreducible to a perfect description of physical phenomena. Another example of this conundrum can be observed in Bradford Skow’s paper on Physical Explanations of Mathematical Phenomena ( Skow. 2015).

However, although important and relevant such discussions move too far away from an everyday reality into the more abstract and formal discussion on apodictic qualities of physics and mathematics as such. To understand why these discourses should not be seen to effect our discussion on the co-dependency of logical structures within natural language (causal histories) and explanations (phenomenal events) then we should return to an idea mentioned by both Lewis and Okasha. The ‘covering law’ model first suggested by philosopher Carl Gustav P. Hempel states that if arguments are to provide causal information on an event then they need to appear in the form of a deductive nomological argument (containing only law premises and particular fact premises). The argument is deductive so if the premises are true then it is necessary that the conclusion is also true meeting the requirement of certainty science demands.

Yet, Lewis explains how Hempel also approached the different scenario of probability. Introducing a need to consider ‘the “specificity” of an act of explaining as being relative to the state of our knowledge; so that our ignorance can make correct an explanation that would be incorrect if we knew more.(Lewis, 1986. 232). This could bring in to doubt the belief in a human’s capacity to guarantee that there explanations can come in the form of an argument. But, there is one more contributory factor that I would argue supports an acceptance of the incompleteness of knowledge and that is the extremely relevant contemporary importance of information. Lewis also comments on information inviting us to consider its role in determining whether or not our explanations are of a good or bad quality – in fact information is the first on his list. I argue that this is structurally important for causal histories.

I have chosen to represent this by showing how the notion of a covering law argument also has to embrace a dualism or vulnerability seen as relevant to the physical state of our knowledge (information). In other words this necessary vulnerability in science pared with its certainty or inevitability of explanation are strong evidence for explanations being arguments. This is represented by two formal arguments below that show a certainty in explaining and then a vulnerability in whether our argument affirms or denies. I believe science needs its constructive dilemmas otherwise how would it continue to progress? One last consideration to further the scope of the essay is it important to avoid the trap of arguing for explanations under the guise of completed facts because these are always subject to change? So, subsequently it has to be the case that explanations should be arguments leaving the horizon of scientific discovery truly open to future human understanding[…] 


Argument one


  1. Explanations should be arguments using pre-given information.
  2. Scientists use a formal language (arguments that contain certain pre-given ) to explain a given phenomena. (1.2, explanans/explicands).

  1. Therefore it follows that there is new information produced

of the given phenomena needing explanation. (explanandum/explicandum).


Argument two


  1. If good information then an affirmation, and if bad information then a negation
  2. There is good information or bad information
  3. Therefore there is affirmation or negation








Lewis, D. (1986), ‘Causal Explanations’ in Philosophical Papers Vol. Ii. Oxford University Press.

Okasha, S. (2016), Philosophy of Science: Very Short Introduction, 2/e, Oxford University Press.

Skow, B. (2015), British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 66, 69-93.  


The No Miracles Argument is a Decisive Refutation of Antirealism

At the heart of science resides sceptical or radical doubt; inherited from its founders. Figures like Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Galileo all embodied movements of doubting what was perceived as real. Science has moved to a point where it appears trapped in a desire for absolute certainty in a set of physical laws affirmed in one equation and one mathematical proof (Hawking, Michio kaku, Thomas Nagel).

But, if we go back to the days of Descartes and Galileo there is a clear antagonism between free-thinking (doubting our understanding of the physical world) and the certainty of religious belief. Science has since seemed to be victorious in these disagreements. However, this success has come without physics being able to provide a completely certain explanation of the reality we exist in. This invites within science itself a physical reflection. Culminating in a contemporary debate involving those who support the idea that the conclusions science provides contain real facts that tell us something true about this world and its phenomena.

This stance is called ‘scientific realism’ and those in opposition  to such a perspective argue that science only provides “empirically adequate” descriptions of the unobservable phenomena; a position called ‘Ant-realism’.   The realists have used an argument called the ‘No Miracles Argument’ (N.M.A) to refute the Anti-realists. This argument supports what philosopher of science Hilary Putnam once expressed, ‘Realism is the only philosophy that does not make the success of science a miracle’, Putnam is supported by the vast evidence that science’s predictive force is highly successful (but, we should probably say reliable?).

Nevertheless, I believe the position of the realists and their use of the N.M.A does not provide a decisive refutation of Anti-realism. So, in this essay one will argue that a simplification of thinker Colin Howson’s thought on the N.M.A ; following Howson I propose, or put forward a position that expresses a simple model acceptance of miracles in science. In other words I think science does contain miracles suggesting that miracles can also be scientific. From this an argument against a realist use of N.M.A can be made: when realists reject miracles they also reject possibility and plurality in favour of necessity and singularity. I will now offer examples or contexts where evidence for this argument and conclusion can be observed.

Starting with the philosopher Colin Howson’s work on David Hume (Howson, 2015) we see how, ‘Hume inferred an extreme smallness of P(m) , from the definition of a miracle: as an event which violates the laws of nature.’(interesting “violates” the laws of nature)… It is possible to see Hume’s thought clearly: you don’t see a miracle everyday. But, this just remains trapped in observability which is too simple. Howson begins by showing that the N.M.A commits a ‘base rate’ fallacy, a fallacy that ignores or privileges one kind of information over another. He shows how the argument that supports N.M.A to be false it does not say anything about base rates or likelihood.

  1.  P(S/T) is quite large
  2.  P(S/¬T) is extremely small

  • Therefore, prob. (T/S) is large.

Where (t) is ‘substantially true’, and (s) is predictive success. This argument ignores the dependency of the posterior probability on the prior. That can be observed as necessary including likelihood (λ). Observing odds can be seen in ‘Bayes Theorem: odds (T/S)  = λ odds (t). Where odds are related to probabilities in the usual way, and (λ) is the likelihood ratio, so P(S/T)/P(S/¬T) , this then only shows Bayes factor in favour of P(t), and that likelihood is large; nothing about the or its odds. Thus being fallacious because as Howson points out P(t) does not have to be very large to generate a high probability value.


In contrast to this a separate thinker named Psillos who attempted to reformulate the N.M.A so that it would acknowledge or consider evidence (Psillos 2009).

  1. f =1
  2. f =< 1
  • f =0
  1. f is close to 0
  2. S is the case     /  Therefore, impact of S on P (T/S) > P ( ¬T/S)

I agree with Howson’s rejection of Psillos attempt to support and re-articulate the N.M.A. In short by referencing the fact that probability coherence needs consistency. Instead of being able to choose or hand pick agreement between (t) and a given observation Psillos shows that success tells more in favour of truth than falsity because what tells in favour of truth depends on the prior.

In response to these two related examples I would argue that the N.M.A can not be seen to refute Anti-realism: that is,

(rejecting miracles simultaneously rejects possibility and plurality in favour of necessity and singularity: ( ¬  ◊ (p) → □ (s)).)


Phlogiston Theory is simply false, because phlogiston does not exist, and has been entirely superseded by the theory of oxygen.

Let us question this statement and see what it can communicate. First, in this statement we see a negation the claim is that Phlogiston theory is “simply false”, and then two explanations: 1) it does not exist, and 2) it has been surpassed by the theory of oxygen. So, our question may initially be twofold does either the discovery and theorisation of oxygen by French scientist Lavoisier make Phlogiston theory false and does the fact that phlogiston does not exist today make the theory worthy of simple falsity? In our discussion it will be greatly beneficial if these questions could be asked in a way that clarifies both the truth and meaning of the above statement, its position, and relevancy to the wider practice of the philosophy of science.

We could begin by suggesting or adopting the most popular definition of Truth still used by science today. That Truth is one, and a continuation of this one (it holds true and remains true over a period of time: 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 …). Is it acceptable to suggest that the success of a theory is completely dependent on its truth preserving abilities? Here it would appear that if we take a science as a whole we see the legacy of the ancient Greeks Parmenides and Aristotle. The ‘Principle of Non-Contradiction’ in Aristotle is so influential it states that it is impossible for one thing to be true and false in the same way and at the same time. This could be easily taken as sufficient to affirm that indeed Phlogiston theory is simply false because oxygen clearly serves as a better explanation for a substance that when released enables bodies to burn.

But, let us look at this in an argument form:

  1. Phlogiston does not exist
  2. Phlogiston theory has been superseded by oxygen

  • Phlogiston theory is simply false

I see two discrepancies with the initial premises they do not appear to directly lead to a simple falsity. In that the first premise claims phlogiston as a material thing does not exist. The second premise says phlogiston as a theory has been transcended and replaced by oxygen. The problem here is somewhat obvious: 1) to what extent does a theory hold true to a reality subject to change? Or, do phlogiston and oxygen refer to the same object? Then, if we look at the conclusion we have assess the falsity of the phlogiston theory. If we were being very critical we could also add that the use of an adverb to describe falsity invites in an auxiliary line of questioning. However, let us keep “simply false” as meaning the simple definition that it is not true.

To conclude:Today, I will fall In line with Thomas Kuhn’s thought in that the discovery of oxygen represents a separate paradigm and therefore the frame of reference (the capacity for technical terms within a theory to correspond) is also cut. So, they are two separate objects (almost as if they exist in different worlds or universes of discourse). This though is not sufficient to say it is “simply false” rather a better conclusion would state it is necessarily false in this world and at this moment. Thus, expressing a complexity of negation essential to understanding the truth value or true value of oxygen.



Creating the Positives _with Alex Kneip

Creating the Positives
Paul Harrison on Alex Kneip’s photos of Tokyo.

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I can only imagine this collection of images. Alex has no way of showing them to me. In thefuture I hope to view them, but for now I can only imagine. Imagination then is precisely the point, the logos of any possible topos. A place which is only accessible through the process of capturing, reducing, and refining both light and time. A perfect synthesis of photons and their matching events, materialised into the two dimensions of photography. Photography is special for many reasons it allows us mortal, corrupt, confused, and potentially doomed animals to capture and prolong sections of our existence. The mystery of the still image, a picture in situ, is even now after so many centuries of development and practice. Still quite difficult to explain… we could sketch a quick geology of image making, it looks like this: picture/image – animation – film – virtual reality. You see how pictures are archaic. In the waters of our evolutionary origins, ancestral beings grew primitive sensors, what we now refer to as eyes. Photography then is always dealing with a kind of economy of visibility. Involving temporality, politics, and aesthetic categories. The advent of the I-phone and Instagram has made everyone a photographer… creating a new visual grammar? However, even these new digital platforms and mechanics are animated by reproducing reality. Let’s recite the words of the immortal Walter Benjamin, “technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. […]i ” Benjamin also describes very clearly how unhelpful valuations of cultural heritage are liquidated by the mechanics of the camera. In the epilogue the end of the idea, ‘art for art’s sake’ is thought as being related in some way to a Fascist Fiat ars – pereat mundus (Let technique – lost world).

This Latin phrase is framed between a change in sense perception brought on by the advances of technology. Which is indisputable… One then invites you to embrace this change because Alex has certainly succeeded in exploring the metropolis of Tokyo in a way which subverts and undermines this negative Latinate statement. Through his preference for the physical qualities of film, and his love of his instrument – a Canon A1 camera an object passed down to him from his father. One believes Alex let technique lose one world, an old world which had to bebleft behind. Making room for the new experiences the psycho-geometry of Tokyo’s culture freely offers. In a way this collection of photos shows Tokyo through a similar method of transmission. Alex is the father of these images… the one who exposed these events to scrutiny. People who may look at these pictures can now in line with Benjamin’s thought meet the original experience. One hopes some of these images were taken in 千川 Senkawa, a place where me and Alex met so many people from all walks of life. Translating this place’s name into English you have a ‘thousand rivers’. I would like to invite you the beholder of these images to use the name of our shared home as a narrative. This collection of photos not only represents the spirit of an important time in an individuals life. It should if you look carefully with an open mind and eager imagination. Articulate the potential for true subjectivity as a natural movement, a reduction of the negative into a positive. Or, in other words these images captured the photo-genesis of the moment of cultural assimilation. A year in which a German masterfully explored the urban oasis of this the most famous of Asian cities. May you the reader take inspiration from these photographs, and visit a place of consistent transformation.

深い川は静かに流れる。’Still waters run deep’ Ne?


i.Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,English trans. Harry Zohn in: H. Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, London, 1973. pp 219‐53

Originally published: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, V, no. 1, New York, 1936.