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Philosophy Blog

Life at the thought-face.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Publishing in Philosophy

"(I hate writing the bit of a philosophy paper that is pitched at the referee and the referee only, and only aims to convince him (ever her?) that the question the paper addresses is worth an article. Hate it. But if I don’t do it, who knows if anything I write will ever be published.)"

This is from Brian Weatherson's philosophy Blog. I hate it too, so I don't do it. Obviously the problem here is the referees' conception of what deserves to be published, viz. something which advances a live debate which they already know about. True, some questions in philosophy can be addressed by teamwork, but this attitude seems to me to be an attempt to make philosophy safe: all you need to do to succeed is be clever and keep up with the literature.

It may be time to rebel, Brian.

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 9:08 AM

Monday, March 24, 2003

Substance and the Veil of Perception

When I was writing the Berkeley book, one of the readers for OUP suggested that I was, in a particular sentence, confusing the doctrine of substance with the veil of perception. I wasn’t, but I have been thinking about this recently and have come to the conclusion that the two are connected in Locke.

First of all we have the real-nominal essence distinction. By using the term ‘essence’ Locke is unavoidably connecting his discussion with 17th century, post-Cartesian discussions of substance: a substance is defined by its essential quality.

Secondly, we have the substratum, the ‘I know not what’ which underlies and supports the qualities of objects. For the Cartesians, this substratum is the substance defined by the principal attribute, or essence. Sometimes Locke talks as if the real essence is the corpuscular nature of the object, but at others he is sceptical about our ability to discover real essence. So it is not too implausible to interpret Locke as seeing a connection between real essence and substratum.

Thirdly, we have the matter which causes our ideas. While this is clearly a substance, most commentators think that to attack this notion of matter is to attack the veil of perception doctrine, not to attack the notion of substance. But I am no longer sure about this. After all, the real essence is the cause of the nominal essence, and the nominal essence can be identified with the phenomenal properties of the object. So, reading ‘appear’ very broadly, real essence (aka substance) is causing the appearances. If someone like Berkeley has an objection to objects having hidden real essences causing their nominal essences, and to qualities being supported by a mysterious substratum, then this objection may equally apply to unperceived matter causing ideas, which are after all the qualities which constitute the perceived world.

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 10:22 AM

Friday, March 21, 2003


David Efird has just reminded me of an interesting 'water cooler' (I wish!) argument I came up with last term. It being an argument in the philosophy of religion, I had not cared much for it, but others may:

1. Hell is the absence of God. (Definition)
2. If Hell is possible, then there is a possible world which consists of nothing but Hell. (Premise)
3. If Hell is possible, then there is a possible world in which God is absent (= does not exist). (1,2)
4. If God is possible, then God is a necessary existent. (Theology / Ontological Argument)
5. If Hell is possible, then God does not exist.

What is interesting about this argument is (a) the modal metaphysics required to make out (2), and (b) the fact that it gets to the conclusion that Hell is incompatible with God's existence without using a premise about God being benign. Or at least, without appearing to invoke anything about God being benign, since some of that may be built into the definition (1).

.: posted by Tom Stoneham 1:31 PM