Category: Uncategorized

Doing Well!

I have to say, I think you’re getting this Knowledge of the external world rather well, so far. But of course, I can’t be certain!

‘How the world looks to me is how the world is. It’s obvious. What I see out there is what’s out there.’

‘What about illusions?

‘Wot about them?’

Don’t they prove that how the world appears is not necessarily how the world is?

‘Do what, son? ‘s jus’ a trick o’ the light, or summint, innit?’

‘But, what about hallucinations or the problem of perceptual relativity. If you accept that even once your perceptions do not match ‘reality’ then subsequently it’s impossible to have ontological certainty, surely.’

‘Oo you calling Shirley? You cheeky muppet! I’ll give you homological (sic) certainty, you pranny, take that!

‘Ah, you are quite correct, sir, the impact of your fist upon my nose has caused me a direct and .. . to be continued …

A more coherent defence of a form of direct realism is given by J.L. Austin. The text book mentions him, but doesn’t do him justice. We must when we revise.

Explain as fully as you can how ‘Sense data’ theories attempt to resolve the problems of naive direct realism. (Draw a diagram if you feel it necessary)
You should probably use the following terms in your explanation:
intermediary / intermediaries, mediate / mediation, represents / representation, mind-dependent / mind-independent, perceptual error, perceptual variation, subjective, objective.
And read the rest of the Russell (especially the bit about his cat!)
I’m back on line and broadcasting from hick country! 
Hope you had a nice Christmas and will have a very happy and philosophically successful New Year! 
Here’s the happy homework in case you haven’t done it yet.

1. Explain Kant’s claim that ‘synthetic a priori’ knowledge is possible.  (plan below) 

2. Explain what is meant by a priori and outline one reason why the a priori is philosophically significant. (15 marks)
Here is the mark scheme to help you so your answer should be perfect!
Expect the following definitions:
A proposition or truth is a priori if it is known prior to and/or independently of experience.
A proposition or truth is a priori if it cannot be refuted without contradiction.
A proposition or truth is a priori if it is justly known through understanding one or more self-evident propositions. Descartes notion of ‘clear and distinct ideas’ may be used to illustrate the notion of self-evidence. 
And one of the following reasons why the a priori is philosophically significant:
A priori propositions or truths are philosophically significant because they are immune from sceptical doubts regarding the senses. Descartes’ methodological doubt and his deduction of the cogito could be used to illustrate this point.
A priori propositions or truths are philosophically significant because they constitute what we know innately and therefore are crucial in explaining capacities we possess that would otherwise be inexplicable.
A priori propositions or truths are philosophically significant because of what they reveal about the necessary structure of (our experience of) the world.
Unless a candidate answers both parts of the question they cannot achieve full marks.
3. ‘All ideas derive from the sense experiences which they copy.’ Discuss. (30 marks)
Expect the following discussion points:

• The claim sets a clear limit on thought and allows us to proceed without getting
distracted by empty metaphysical speculation.
• The claim reflects our experience of learning, where new ideas are acquired as we encounter new experiences.
• At least some ideas, (eg Hume’s example of a missing shade of blue, ‘4’) do not appear to derive from sense experience.
• Some ideas are best regarded as innate, (eg a Euclidean straight line, God).
• If all my ideas derive from my sense experience and all your ideas derive from your sense experience it follows that we can never share the same idea as we cannot have the same sense experience – reductio ad absurdum.
• If the claim is presented as a factual hypothesis then there is insufficient evidence to justify it.
• The theory implies that thinking involves the manipulation of mental images, sounds, smells, etc. This is psychologically implausible.
• The theory fails to appreciate the active power of the mind in shaping our experience.
• The theory inevitably degenerates into a solipsistic scepticism that it hasn’t got the resources to escape from.
• The theory has problems accounting for general terms or universals.
• The term ‘idea’ is ambiguous, (eg is ‘the cat sat on the mat’ one or more idea(s)?).

Candidates could usefully refer to individual philosophers, (eg. Hume, Locke,
Russell, Descartes) in order to illustrate their discussion.

Free Stuff!

If you go here, you can download loads of excellent summaries of all the stuff we’ve studied so far. Some of it I have given you (sometimes in edited form) but there’s loads I haven’t. Beware the powerpoints, some of which are a little confusing I think.

Lots of new stuff!

I’ve put lots of new stuff on here this weekend so please take the time and trouble to read it carefully.  Some comments would be nice also.  Even if you think you understand something it is ALWAYS worth reading about it and going over again in your mind. 

We saw how Locke’s views on primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities emphasise his belief in the physical world as grounding the sense data that empiricism relies on.
Locke’s famous snowball has primary qualities of ‘solidity, extension, figure and mobility’, in other words it takes up a certain round space in the world, you can see it and if it hits you, you’ll feel it! These qualities are in the snowball itself and will not vary according to the circumstances of the person experiencing it: they are what we might call (although I don’t think Locke does) objective qualities.
On the other hand the secondary qualities such as colours sounds and tastes vary as the circumstances of the person experiencing the snowball vary: the first snowball to hit you feels colder that than the fifth, the colour and sound it presents to your senses varies according to when, where and how you experience it.
So, if Locke thinks that the objects in the real world have primary qualities that are independent of observers then he is a ‘realist’. He thinks the world is, and is in a particular way.

Homework for Sam (mainly)

How does Wittgenstein’s ‘private language argument‘ show the problems with Locke’s view of language as naming sense impressions/ideas in the mind? 
I believe I’ve answered this below! But you may disagree.
This week, amongst other things and many interesting philosophical ramblings, we read from ‘Book 2, Chapter 1’ of Locke’s  An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and saw how he believed our minds come to be filled with ideas.  We saw that,  for Locke, all ideas come from two sources: 
   1. experience of ‘external objects’ received through our senses 
   2. experience of the workings of our own minds. 
As he puts it: 
Our understandings derive all the materials of thinking from [1] observations that we make of external objects that can be perceived through the senses, and [2] of the internal operations of our minds, which   we perceive by  looking in at ourselves. 
For Locke, those are the only ways that we get ideas. He says, ‘These two are  the fountains of knowledge, from which arise all the ideas we have or can naturally  have.’
    (‘Essay’ Bk ii Ch.1)
Locke goes on to distinguish between ‘simple‘ and ‘complex‘ ideas.
In Book 2, Ch 12, he says that the mind ‘exerts its power’ on simple ideas in 3 ways:

(1)  Combining several simple ideas into one compound one; that is how all complex ideas are made.
(2)  Bringing together two ideas, whether simple or complex, setting them side by side so as to see  them both at once, without uniting them into one; this is how the mind gets all its ideas of relations.

 (3)  Separating them from all other ideas that accompany them in their real existence; this is   called abstraction, and it is how all the mind’s general ideas are made.
He goes on to tell us that:
 ‘Ideas thus made up of several simple ones I call complex. Examples are ·the ideas of· beauty,  gratitude,  a man, an army, the universe.’
So, to make complex ideas we take simple ideas and mix them, put them side by side, or try to see them in isolation from other simple ideas that they may be muddled and confused with. 

Locke on Innate Ideas

We saw that Locke had several arguments against the notion of innate ideas and they went something like this:

If any idea were innate in all human minds then surely certain ideas would be universally accepted and agreed on. But they’re not.

Locke says that, 

to imprint anything on the mind without the mind’s perceiving it seems to me hardly intelligible. So if children and idiots have souls, minds, with those principles imprinted on them, they can’t help perceiving them and assenting to them. 

In other words it makes no sense to speak of an idea being in our minds without us being aware of it. How can we have ‘understandings’ that we don’t understand. Surely the whole point of an idea is that it is ‘had’. (As in, “I’ve just had an idea!” said Clive.)

Locke attacks saying this the argument that we only come to knowledge of these ‘innate’ ideas when we develop our ‘reason’, saying that it is non-sensical and seems circular’ because in order to know innate ideas we have to have reason, but the evidence that we have ‘reason’ is our knowledge of innate ideas. Doh!

This attack on innate ideas was revolutionary in Locke’s day and has profound implications: if a person is ‘blank slate’ then we can draw anything on it. This makes politics, education and the whole nature of a society fundamental to the kind of human beings it produces. This is the old nature/nurture debate which seems to rumble on forever without ever really getting anywhere, usually because the people debating it have political axes to grind and are not actually open to discussion. 

Three Minute Philosophy

Found a “Three Minute Philosophy on John Locke” on YouTube. Thought I’d post it on here…

A Priori Knowledge

We finished off Descartes (the first 3 Meditations anyway, which is enough for our purposes at the moment) and then got to grips with some of the important concepts they involve. 

The term ‘a priori‘ which translates as something like ‘before experience’ doesn’t really mean ‘before’ experience which makes it confusing. What it means is ‘independent of’ or ‘outside of’ experience, but the easiest way to think of it is as knowledge that you don’t need to go and check by having a look at the world – you don’t need ’empirical evidence’ – you don’t need to use your senses. So, you can know that the internal angles of a triangle add up 180º without having to go out and feel, sniff, see, hear or eat any triangles. 

Think about a perfect circle. Because that’s all you can do: think about it, that is, because a perfect circle does not exist anywhere in the real world (honest, Joe!) So you can only know a ‘perfect’ circle in an ‘a priori’ way. A problem with this kind of knowing is that it doesn’t seem very different to ‘imagining’. I can imagine a perfect circle then set out to try and build one and I might end up with something very useful for wheels and things. I can imagine a perfect society where everyone values learning, art and fairness, and I can set out to build one. So what’s the difference?  Mmm … I’ll stop there. 

Although you should be aware, that the term a priori is not uncontentious (some philosophers suggest the term has no real meaning or content: see Michael Devitt’s ‘No Place for the a Priori’  at
Unfortunately our exam board still seem to take the notion as a given (see Paper One, Q. 1, May 2009). I hope to point out their ignorance at a forthcoming meeting. 

Big, Important homework!

Explain how Descartes’ thoughts about the wax help him to understand more clearly:
a) his nature as a ‘thing that thinks’
b) his ideas about the separation of mind and body into two distinct ‘substances’: body and mind / physical and metaphysical. (Cartesian dualism) 
Due Monday 5th October (plenty of time – no excuses!) 

To Infinity and Beyond!

But surely that’s an incoherent statement, Buzz!

Yes, it’s time to clamber onto the shoulders of giants (Scott will help) and see new worlds (or at least the old world in new ways) ; it’s time to light fires of fascination and inspiration then cast buckets of cold doubt all over them! Vast lightbulbs of insight will illuminate in our small heads only for the fuse to go moments later, but …
… We will emerge much wiser, much more annoying and knowing far less than we knew before only in a much cleverer way:)

Welcome to ‘philosophybloglog’ the much anticipated sequel to the hugely successful ‘philsophylogblog’.

Results are coming in thick and fast: Sam & Georgie appear to have confirmed their status as rival intellectual giants of the MHS philosophy department! Nicola has struck a blow (small) for girl power, but the real interest now surrounds the rump of the remaining ‘students’ (I use the term loosely) … it’s all gone very quiet over there … Will … Luke … Connor … Victoria … Rebecca …. where are you? Let’s be having you!

Don’t worry / get over excited about your results, after all, who’s keeping score? (Apart from UCAS and potential employers that is.)

1. Research and explain the difference between substance and property dualism. (Use Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and others, do not simply copy and paste).

2. Summarise Ryle’s notion of ‘The Ghost in the Machine’ you could try this:

3. Explain why materialism and physicalism can be regarded as ‘reductive’.

4. Investigate the claim that Descartes’ substance dualism leads to solipsism.

5. Work out what P.F Strawson means when he claims that ‘the concept of a person is logically prior to that of an individual consciousness’.

6. Buy and read Daniel C Dennett’s ‘Consciousness Evolves

This is a fairly difficult text and represents a plunge into the middle of the various arguments around contemporary philosophy of mind. I’ll attempt to summarise shortly. But bear in mind that reading this kind of text with care and concentration is like aerobic training for the brain/mind: it makes it fitter.


I thought the questions were on the toughish side of my expectations, although the ‘sense experience’ one was ok.

You probably don’t care, but I am very annoyed that they used a command term ‘critically discuss’ that was not in the list of command terms they published: I will be having words!

Also the first question ‘Explain two ways in which it is possible to have a priori knowledge’ is, to be blunt, cobblers! It suggests what I feared, that the kind of people setting the questions were taught philosophy by people who learned their philosophy in about 1930 from people who learned theirs in about 1880!

The notion of ‘a priori knowledge‘ is regarded as highly contentious: an awful lot of the best philosophers think it’s a nonsense. After Wittgenstein and the so called ‘linguistic turn’ any kind of knowledge is seen as depending on the language that ‘forms’ that ‘knowledge’, therefore even ‘analytic’ truths depend on ‘experience’ of the language that expresses the concepts, unless we think we can ‘know’ that the angles of a triangle add up to 180º before we have language.

So to write a question that suggests its existence is a fact is pathetic. And makes me angry! GrrrHHH!! Wait ’til I’m in charge!!

Sartre & the Nazis

It is important to understand that ideas around free will and determinism have enormous political implications. If human beings are not autonomous – in charge of their own lives – then it becomes difficult to talk about morality or any conception of praise or blameworthy behaviour. It also becomes very difficult to say why human beings should have human rights as the whole notion of what a human being is seems to be in doubt. (See Pink & the Animals)

Sartre had a largely deterministic or materialistic (materialism is very similar to determinism, but is associated with Marx which is why I use it here) view of humanity: his politics were based on Marxism, but he rejected Marx’s idea that ‘life determines consciousness’ believing instead that we choose our lives through the power of our free will: ‘consciousness determines life.’

The context of Sartre’s philosophy is key to understanding his position. Sartre lived through the second world war and fought the Nazi invasion of France. For someone who was aware of the horrors of the holocaust etc. a view that allowed a human being to excuse their behaviour on the grounds that it was determined – caused by prior events and outside their control, was unnaceptable. (Many Nazis attempted to excuse their crimes by claiming they were only following orders.)

Sartre’s comment that anyone who claimed their actions were determined was ‘scum’ is best understood in light of this historical context.

This should be read in conjunction with the handout Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Section 8: Liberty and necessity Part 1.

Hume takes a compatibilist position on the free will and determinism question. He believes that although human behaviour is utterly regular and predictable, but because Hume denies the absolute necessity of cause & effect (as a law) but claims all we see is constant conjunction, he seems to open up the possibility of some kind of human agency: some kind of ‘autonomy’ over our lives.

However, Hume does believe that are actions and choices are the effects of prior causes. He says that although some behaviour may be hard to explain, if we knew all the details of a person’s life we would be able to work out why they did what they did. He gives the example of how a ‘peasant’ could not explain why a watch had stopped but a clockmaker could.

Below is a series of notes that I haven’t worked into sentences yet, but I’m posting them anyway and I’ll sort them out soon.

We think we have free will because we do not feel as if our choices are determined in the same way as the events that occur with inanimate objects.

choices must be connected to motives / circumstances. If not what would they arise from?

choices form part of ‘causal chain’

We are determined by prior events but our choices form part of those prior events.

Because Hume denies the absolute necessity of cause & effect (as a law) he seems to open up the possibility of some kind of human agency.

Finish the diagram for Libertarianism: this article will help you if you if you are stuck and a proper A-Level philosophy student

Also read to at least p.322. Read carefully and think about it. Make notes/highlight underline etc.

Below is the Easter Homework Which is also below under ‘Free Easter Eggs”:

1. (Some of you have done this one)

Explain and illustrate how Locke’s ideas about primary and secondary qualities use a distinction betweenontology and epistemology?


(a) Explain and illustrate two strengths & two weaknesses of Idealism.

(b) ‘How things appear to me is only my representation of the way the world is.’ Discuss.

Read handouts: innate ideas; beyond empiricism & Rationalism on Sensory experience.



Foiled by a Frenchman!

You may recall that I have a tendency to go on about the philosophical significance of the weirdness of quantum mechanics, well, some French bloke, Bernard d’Espagnat, (I’m not making this up!) has just won the 2009 Templeton Prize worth $1.4 million, for writing about exactly that! le porc sauvage! (The beastly swine!)

His book, On Physics and Philosophy (£24.49 Free Delivery Usually dispatched within 6-8 weeks from – I’m thinking about buying it) apparently re-examines many traditional metaphysical problems in light of quantum physics. If I hadn’t been so busy trying to teach you lot I could have writ it!! But I’m not bitter.

Just make sure you’ve done your homework.

Also only Connor & Georgie have acknowledged receipt of the powerpoints I emailed you all, so either the rest of you haven’t got them, can’t be bothered to reply or haven’t got them because you’ve changed your email address in a vain attempt to improve your self-esteem. I can feel a poll coming on.



This change is a result of an immeasurably long and complex chain of necessitated events stretching back to the beginnings of time. And I think you’ll like it more and be better at it.
There will still be test so make sure you read it. (It’s nearly twice as long as ‘Tolerance’, but won’t seem it.)
Apologies to Sam about not reading p. 176.

1. (Some of you have done this one)

Explain and illustrate how Locke’s ideas about primary and secondary qualities use a distinction between ontology and epistemology?


(a) Explain and illustrate two strengths & two weaknesses of Idealism.

(b) ‘How things appear to me is only my representation of the way the world is.’ Discuss.



Read handouts: innate ideas; beyond empiricism & Rationalism on Sensory experience.




The ‘Easter eggs for all’ thing in the heading was a lie.

Miserable Monday

Revise the following for hideously difficult test on Monday (No bunking for ‘urgent’ dentistry work!) N.B this is a ‘humorous’ comment and not intended to offend.
Also don’t forget the second part of the homework you didn’t hand in today, Connor, Luke, Will, Victoria, Rebecca,
· Innate ideas
· the a priori and a posteriori
· Descartes ‘Clear and Distinct ideas’
· Hume’s Fork
· Kant’s ‘Synthesis’ and ‘categories’

Is there anyone out there? An occasional comment, even something mildly abusive would be nice. ‘Hello sir, you sad …’ would seem warm and reassuring compared to the cold and silent desert that is this blog.

Revise the folowing for the appallingly tiresome philosophy test on Monday 16th March:

  1. Direct realism
  2. The problems of: perceptual variation / relativity.
  3. Indirect /representative realism.
  4. Sceptical questions (external world / other minds)
  5. The relevance of the argument from physics.
  6. The time lag argument
  7. The argument from causal dependency
  8. Primary and secondary qualities: (how Locke and Russell are representative realists, but in different ways.
  9. What is meant by the notion of an object being mind-independent.
  10. What is meant by the idea that sense data are mind-dependent.

  1. Government is not ʻnaturalʼ: discuss.
  2. Which should take precedence: individual conscience or the collective wisdom of the society accumulated over many years? (Burke & conservatism).
  3. Which is more important a) Autonomy / individualism or b) Social Utility / Utilitareanism?
  4. Does Millʼs view that there is no infallible truth justify his principle of free speech?
  5. Explain Millʼs ʻutilitareanʼ principle. Would a society which encouraged diversity and freedom of thought in its citizens have social cohesion, or would diversity lead to conflict?
  6. How far do you agree with Marxʼs description of the ʻalienation’ of workers? If he is wrong explain how. If he is right, why havenʼt there been more revolutions?
This homework requires you to think things through and try to come up with some views and ideas of your own about how effective or realistic or fair these ideas are. That’s quite difficult, but very good for you. If you are called Sam, try to avoid a) dogmatism & b) fascism.

Biscuits reinstated!

Due to your obsequious, but appreciated response to my poll there will once again be chocolate biscuits for all good philosophers! ‘Hurrah – three cheers for sir!’ they cried with one voice.

There will also be hideous amount of homework.

Sam, your assertion regarding Rousseau’s nationality is clearly more controversial than we imagined. See this: 

And you think I’m sad!

N.B. the Rousseau bit is now complete below!

Grid Alert!

The grid that we made comparing and distinguishing between the social contract theorists (and Plato) is now available to download from my web site in the ‘resources bit here,_Essays_%26_Links.html.

It should help with the essay.

Also, it occurs to me that my blog seems to have turned into a series of essays. i’m not sure if that’s good or bad: it’s good if you’re reading them, bad if you’re not. Either way it’s taking over my life so I must stop. Rousseau, Plato etc will be short. 

Get on with the homework.

I’m very disappointed / alarmed /worried that so many of you missed one or both of today’s lessons.  We do not have time to revisit this unit and one or two of you have missed a considerable part of it. If you don’t catch up and stay caught up your prospect of completing the course will be in doubt. If any of you have genuine reasons for your absence I apologise for the grumpy tone of this, although the previous sentence still applies. 

You will have to work very hard to make up what you’ve missed and be able to complete this homework to an acceptable standard.You will need to very carefully read the textbook p. 118-154,  and use the blog and website to download the appropriate texts etc. 

This must be completed by Monday 23rd Feruary. The questions/plan below can be downloaded from the website (Resources, Links & Essays page – ‘Social Contract Essay’.

Vital Half  Term Homework # 2.

This Homework is Vital to Your Success in the Philosophy Exam. Use the text book, use your notes, the grid, the blog, the web site, and in an emergency email for help. 

1. Describe and explain as fully as you can how the ‘contract theories’ of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Rawls hope to:

  • create ‘sovereign powers with legitimate authority
  • create a legitimate sense of obligation to the ‘soveriegn power’ on the basis of consent to the contract

2. Explain Hume’s criticism of the notion of contract and consent. (text book p.136-7 at least)

3. Explain how power can take different forms: give examples – people & institutions. (text book p. 138-9) 

4 .   (Probably the most important bit) Explain your view as to how government and the exercise of power and authority can best be legitimated

Lots to do.

The ‘Linguistic Turn’

Coming soon!

Message for victrizzo mcG-unit

I’ve deleted your panic-fuelled post as an act of mercy. Here is the question: 

Explain how the empiricism of Locke & Hume leads to problems concerning our knowledge of the external world and the use of language as a means of communication.

You should look at the post below called ‘The Problems with Empiricism Essay is Finally Set. It points you to the resources that are on my web site. There’s a link to it in the message and at the top of this page. It might be a bit slow but it works and is beautiful. Use the text book, especially pages 4 – 12, the extracts from Locke and Hume, and the quotations that are specific to this essay that I put on one handy sheet. All these things (except the text book) are at mrbrodie’s philosophy home. There are also several posts on this site that may help you. But make sure you get the ideas into your own head and into the world in your own words. 

You all came back for more! Hurrah! So I gave you two dull lessons, a Cadbury’s chocolate finger and a long difficult essay to write. It is: 

Explain how the Empiricism of Locke and Hume leads to problems concerning our knowledge of the external world and the use of language as a means of communication.

Remember, even though we planned a way through it, there isn’t any right or wrong way to negotiate your way through the various things that need saying. 

The IMPORTANT THING is you ‘struggling‘ to get the ideas straight in your own head, making the connections between ideas and then putting it all on the page in a way that makes sense and makes you look smart. This is more difficult than laughing at me in lessons, but it is what will get you an A Level that will impress everybody including the university you want to go to. 

Use all the tools for the job: the extracts from Descartes, Locke & HUme, the handouts/worksheets, the big plan, the quotation snippet bits, the text book, the podcasts, etc. 

MY WEB SITE has all the resources ready to download + some you haven’t had yet. 

Please remember to PROOFREAD as you write and again after you’ve finished.

Happy Half Term Holiday Homework

1.  Read Empiricism Handout: + complete exercises 

2.  Listen to & make notes on ‘Hume – Enquiry‘ from Philosophy the Classics podcasts by the lovely Nigel Warburton. Find this at

3. Listen to ‘Barry Smith on Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy‘ at ‘Philosophy bites Don’t make notes unless you feel the need. This is ‘proper’ philosophy stuff and you might find it hard to follow, but stick with it. (I’m not being patronising, anyone would find it hard to follow if they weren’t familiar with ideas). Don’t accept that others are cleverer than you because they’re not. Mostly anyway.

4.  Revise what we’ve covered so far by reading all the blog and making numerous comments (unless you are st4kb). 

5. Organise your folders and make sure you’ve got everything you should have by visiting (I’m still building the philsophy bit so give it a couple of days!)


See ‘Wittgenstein’s Beetle, The Private Language Argument & Solipsism (above 22 November 2008)