Category Archives: Philosophy

A philosophical turn of mind (By David at Popehat)

In a closed facebook group on analytic philosophy, someone asked a question along these lines: “How do you primarily criticize other people’s reasoning?”

Here’s the reply I gave. What are some other ways you approach the task of evaluating another’s reasoning?

There’s no definitive checklist or prescription for identifying an issue and diagnosing someone’s treatment of that issue. One reason such an endeavor cannot be reduced to an algorithm is that the complexity of any single issue can be daunting, and the product of interactions among such issues is of an order of complexity too high for even the best merely human mind to address synchronously or sequentially.

Instead, we have to use various troubleshooting heuristics until we’ve isolated a matter of interest that fits our capacity for analysis. At that juncture, we can go to town on it, and perhaps make (micro-)progress toward clearing away the underbrush of human cognition and laying out defensible assertions about how and why things are.

Typical questions in the area of fuzzy diagnostics applied to person P include (but are not limited to):

  • What is the general domain that P is addressing, and what general domain does P seem to believe P is addressing? Do these match?
  • What are the purposes of P’s discourse? To identify an assertion and rebut it? To identify a confusion and clarify it? To rant gracefully against a disfavored ideology? To note an oversimplification and introduce remedial complexity? Other?
  • What does P assume? Does P acknowledge that P assumes that?
  • When fluff and qualifications and mods and idiosyncratic terminology and other debris have been swept away, what is P’s argument? What conclusion does P claim to reach? Which premises does P offer as an avenue to reach it? What evidence does P adduce in support of them?
  • What kinds of evidence are actually relevant to P’s argument? What kinds of evidence does P employ? What kinds does P ignore? What kinds does P dismiss? What is the effect of this particular configuration of employment, ignorance, and dismissal on P’s endeavor?
  • Which alternatives to P’s affirmations and inferences does P explicitly consider? What does P prefer to them? Which explicit judgments account for P’s preference? Which unacknowledged factors constrain it?
  • Does P’s argument, taken as facially acceptable, pass the “So what” test?
  • If you find fault with P’s argument in its given context for reasons such as those suggested above, is there something about your own approach, your own assumptions, your own preferences, or your own commitments that prompt or guide you to object in that way?
  • Is P right?
  • What would you have to know or reliably believe in order to evaluate P’s discourse in each way listed above? Are you suitably positioned to evaluate it?

Note: this is not an exhaustive list– not even close. It’s also given not in a chronological or diagnostically relevant order; it’s given in the order in which I improvised the list while eating a bagel and superficially weighing your question.

The broad point is that there’s no formula for doing philosophy. Instead, there’s a set of habits of mind intermixed with some balance of generosity, skepticism, curiosity, and hope.

The Etymological Soul

For those who don’t know, Etymology is the study of words, their meanings, and their roots. I’m going to attempt to use it to define the soul. The earliest English version of the word “soul” shows up as early as the 8th century. Its roots are similar to the Germanic, Norse, and Lithuanian words of similar meaning. The oldest form of “The Soul” that I can find is in Greek, and goes back to Plato’s philosophy, and the word Psyche.

  • ψυχή (psūkhē), or Psyche as we would say it, is the Greek word for soul, translating to breath, or to cool/to blow.
    • Psyche in the English sense is the mind and personality of someone.
  • Hebrew has the word Nephesh, referring to aspects of human life, but is most commonly referring to “life” or the “vital breath”
    • However, the English translations of Nephesh encompass “soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion” (wikipedia)
  • Psyche (the Greek variant) was later translated to Anima in Latin
    • Latin’s Anima translates (similarly to Greek and Hebrew) as “a current of air, wind, air, breath, the vital principle, life, soul”
      • Anima became the etymological root for several words including: (wikipedia)
        • Animal – “Of or relating to animals”, “Raw, base, unhindered by social codes”, and “Pertaining to the spirit or soul; relating to sensation or innervation“.
        • Animatus (Animate) – “to fill with breath, quicken, encourage, animate”
        • Animus – “the mind: the rational soul in man, intellect, consciousness, will, intention, courage, spirit, sensibility, feeling, passion, pride, vehemence, wrath, etc., the breath, life, soul”
          • English Animus has 2 definitions worth noting.
            • The basic impulses and instincts which govern one’s actions;
            • and A feeling of enmity, animosity or ill will.

After looking it over and comparing a few examples, while noting the common points, the oldest form of the soul seems to be Breath, the Air, the Mind, and Personality. However, I’d like to take it a step further. Later versions, the Hebrew, and English, and Latin derivations all seem to suggest something else. The soul isn’t just the self, but emotion. The idea of Animus (Latin and English) could be more spot on, but there is conflict.

Animus in Latin means the Rational part of man, but later becomes basic impulses and instincts in English, similar to Animal (Latin). However, if we were to consider the Rational side of man as a survival instinct related to preserving oneself in situations (versus doing what they want), then we can understand the idea of soul as being basic instinct and emotion, raw and without hindrance. Another way to explain it might be with the Taoist concept of wu wei (a simplified understanding)

Wu wei (Chinese: 無爲; a variant and derivatives: traditional Chinese: 無為; simplified Chinese: 无为;English, lit. non-doing) is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing. In the Tao te Ching, Laozi explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. As the planets revolve around the sun, they “do” this revolving, but without “doing” it. As trees grow, they simply grow without trying to grow. Thus knowing how and when to act is not knowledge in the sense that one would think, “now I should do this,” but rather just doing it, doing the natural thing. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Laozi, the attainment of this natural way of behaving. (wikipedia)

With that in mind, I would say that etymologically, the soul is not what makes us who we are, but is actually the most primal form of human life, uncontrolled except by the desire for survival which we cultivate with societies. To risk my point and branch out, it could then be inferred that our passions are directed by the way society has forms around us, and thus we see people studying music, art, medicine, literature, culture, etc., as a means of survival, directing those passions to find a better place in the world around us. We are social creatures, because with those we find the idea appealing that we can band together. Friends can make us stronger, or at least out number the other guy.

However, we consider this innate desire for survival to be another instinct, and thus it makes it as wild as any emotion. What does that mean for my definition of the soul? It means it needs to be redefined of course. My new definition is that the soul is only the primal form of human life, acting and reacting with regards to our survival.