What is philosophy? A futile game! A quest for truths we rarely gain.
A A is for Anselm Anselm says, you might recall, ‘The atheist is quite the fool!’ For he who does say in his heart That God and being come apart Performs a wrongful self-deception, Or has in a mind a false conception. For God has every perfection; Existence is no exception So God, you see, could not just be A mere mental entity. B B is for Berkeley* There once was a man, Bishop Berkeley, Esse est percipi! he’d state starkly. Being a theist, Subjective idealist, Meant all disagreed with him sharply. *Published in Think, 35, 2013, p.93. C C is for Camus* (or ‘An Absurd Fate’) Let us proceed now and discuss The absurd fate of Sisyphus, A character who’d been condemned To (ceaselessly and without end) A rock upward a mountain roll (To reach the top, that was his goal) But whence, at last, he’d reach the summit, Downward again the stone would plummet! Since it would evade control, This burden of our tortured soul. Unvaried, devoid of meaning, This fate did have all the seeming Of the average human life To dear Camus, who did write, That man’s existence is the same As Sisyphus’ futile game. We rise, work, and return to bed And over same old paths do tread; Difficulties don’t give way, And pointless tasks fill up each day. So similar are both our fates, Absurd is each, make no mistake. But Sisyphus, we’re told, broke free: Accepting the futility Of the state which him confined Gave salvation to his mind; And we can likewise freedom gain By embracing our disdain. For ne’er is evil so unbounded That scorn for fate cannot surmount it. Happy, then, we should imagine, Sisyphus who turns to climb, Traverse, those steep and rocky slopes Repeatedly, for all of time. Ascend, descend, and re-ascend – An allegory, one quite sublime – Teaching us just how to bear, A life like yours; a life like mine. *Previous version published in Think, 35, 2013, pp.93-4.
And for Chinese Room
So dully in a darkened room With slow and measured speeds, A man of monolingual kind At semiotic deeds Was known to toil and toil away And shuffle to-and-fro – Symbols here and papers there By candle-light aglow.
And people near and people far Recurrently would come To bring unto him Chinese scripts (Though Chinese he knew none). And questions would the scripts contain Which through a slot they’d send And back the toiling man would post Some answers later penned.
Mechanically he’d shift about To work each query through (Yet, that questions these contained Is not a thing he knew). His task was simply “follow rules” – A pure syntactic aim: To symbols take, manipulate; And replicate again.
Recognising characters But only by their shape The man who toiled was toiling with Some documents opaque. But since he had a manual He knew just what to do For English was this fellow and The manual was too.
So rules were there he’d understand: “Whenever there’s a string Of symbols looking just like this” (And pictured there the thing) “Here are then the marks to pen And post back through the door” So input – output – input – output; Répéter, encore!
And many came from far and wide And all did come in hope With queries big and bigger still To ask this Delphic pope. And confident was one and all That wisdom there was given (For each reply was good and true, And hard the man had striven).
And yet while facts were here supplied And yielded by such antics The one who information gave Was lacking all semantics! Oh – confounded cruel deceit! This man was but a stooge A mere unlearned cog within Some simple subterfuge.
A far cry from an oracle And master of Chinese, The man knew not what would equate To English A B Cs. So computation did not here Suffice for understanding; Deciphering some elements (It seems) is more demanding.
Here is then the consequence: An “artificial mind” Is not a thing that’s possible To either make or find. Programme machines, programme them well, As fancy as you can But never will machine-like things Have thoughts to rival man.
D D is for Democritus* A paradox, one less well-known, Asks us to contemplate a cone: A figure with smooth sloping sides Which horizontally divides Into two halves so that have we Two surfaces: one ‘a’, one ‘b’. The bottom of the top we’ll say, Is denoted by the letter ‘a’, And ‘b’ denotes the upper side Of the half which did reside Directly underneath the top Antecedent to the chop. So let us turn now and reflect Upon the cone we did bisect. Something will be shown amiss, When we now consider this: Is the area of b the same As that of a (the surface plane At the bottom of the top we said) Or unequal is b instead? Either answer can’t be true, The reasons I will talk you through: If unequal is a to b Then, after all, cannot have we A cone with edges smoothly sloping (This is surely thought-provoking) But a pyramid – something stepped, This you will have to accept, For surfaces different in size, Lead us to the cone’s demise. And yet if b to a is equal To the cone this too proves lethal. For once we’ve chosen to profess That, indeed, we do possess Surfaces, stacked up high, The same in size (not just nearby) Then, somewhat paradoxically, The cone is not a cone you see, But a cylinder. *Published in Philosophy Now, October 2014, 104, p.12. E
E is for Epimenides Paradox
Fire-pants fire-pants The Epimenides Paradox baffled the Sages of old
A sentence called ‘Liar’ that Says it ain't true; should it Fail to be so then we Truth have been sold
Fiddlesticks, poppycock! Must it be therefore that Liar, the sentence, is Rightly deemed true?
Certainly not since it Self-referentially Verisimilitude Says to eschew
Trickery! Pickery! Oh so bamboozled here; Liar could rather be Nonsense and such?
Plausibly, but because Gib'rish ain't true, then this Way of responding here Won't help us much
And for External World Scepticism Round and round my mind it whirled, “Is there an external world?” Plagued by doubt - when to my head, Descartes appeared - from the dead! He said, “I’m here to help, call me René” “I have some wisdom to relay” And tried to make me feel at ease While he did my interest seize. “Your course of doubt is right and true, All you know exists is you!” Said René, smugly sipping a mojito, While relaying his cogito. Until a banging at the door: Knock, knock, knock! “It’s G. E. Moore!” This philosopher at once did shout, “There are some facts you just can’t doubt!” “Why, here’s two hands, I wave them thus!” (And doing so did cause a fuss). But boldly then I dared implore To our fellow G. E. Moore: “What you say’s no tour de force, You’ve put Descartes before the horse!” Descartes looked round expectantly, But no approaching horse did see, (On him it had not dawned upon He was but subject of a pun), For cart was indeed leading horse, But metaphorically of course. The question not up for deferral - The existence of a world external - Could not be answered in this way, Doing that time-old cliché: Turning one man’s modus ponens, Into his own modus tollens. So Moore assumed the point at hand, By so brashly raising hand, And proposing a defence, Of what he called ‘common sense’. So then Moore, and Descartes, Contending each himself most smart, Debated much each other’s views, Which left me no less confused: “If two philosophers can’t agree, What hope is there then left for me?!” And I banged my head against a wall, Which revealed that after all… Moore was right.
F F is for Frege* Thinking of the concept ‘horse’, Frege did strange views endorse. And, though he held these views sincerely, They taxed his intellect severely. So different, we should understand, Shall Begriff be from Gegenstand, That, Gottlob would swear on his mother, Nothing one could be the other. To objects – being complete things – Reference no problem brings. To concepts – being incomplete – Reference is quite the feat. The doctrine is debatable And what is worse, unstateable. ‘The concept horse’, the theory claims, An object, not a concept names. These problems of equinity Are with us to infinity. So, lest our thinking end up broken, ‘The concept horse’ should not be spoken! *Co-written with Thomas Brouwer. And for Fallacious Reasoning* Sir, I admit your general rule, That every poet is a fool, But from this fact you cannot know it, That each and every fool’s a poet. Further, it would be obtuse To suppose one can deduce That those who never write in rhyme Are not foolish most the time. But, we can say from our rule, That every person not a fool (I say this with great certainty) Does not practice poetry. So may I bid you from this verse: Please remember, and rehearse, What is valid, what is not So fallacies can be forgot. * The first two lines are from an epigram by S. T. Coleridge. G G is for Geach Relative identity Says that a can really be Numerically the same as b In terms of F, and yet not be Exactly the self-same G, Even though, apparently, a is G and b is G. And this, Geach says, is how we, Should understand the trinity. And for Gettier Cases* A corridor and down it walked A girl towards her twin Sister who was walking and Her actions mirroring And as she saw her sister there She waved so as to say ‘Hello’ to her counterpart Who also did convey A greeting by a wave of hand Immediately back So quickly it was just as if No moment had elapsed And so she laughed a mirthful laugh – Coincidence it seemed That as she smiled and said “hello!” The other likewise beamed. And so she formed the firm belief “My sister she is near”, And justified was this belief, Her vision – it was clear, And lighting – this was also good, Perceptual conditions right, We could just say that nothing was Defective with her sight. And yet not only justified This firm belief was true, Indeed her twin was really there – Was walking that way too. And yet here comes a sorry twist, An ending to this tale, But also one that teaches us No knowledge did prevail. For while her thought was justified She did not thereby know Her counterpart was walking near As further details show. ‘Cos when she saw an image there It was not of her twin, Rather it was of herself In mirror,shimmering! This meant it was mere happenstance Her firm belief was true, And although it was justified, Its truth was lucky too. Why? There was no causal link From facts that did obtain, About her sister's being there To that belief she'd gain. So what this tale unearths to us, Put in terms most brief: Knowledge it cannot just be True justified belief.
H H is for Hilbert’s Hotel I’ve heard there is a strange hotel, Whose rooms are filled with clientele, And yet – and this you’ll find bizarre – Without bidding an au revoir To any guest inside already, Queue then later may a steady Stream of late arrivals who Can be accommodated too. No end of lodgers may arrive, And have a place to stay inside. For when each newbie does appear To these rules the guests adhere: Guest of room one moves to two, And two to three, and so on through: Four to five; five to six, (And no new rooms need we affix) Six to seven – him to eight Never do we reach a state Where a guest cannot accede And to adjacent room proceed. For always there’s a room beside Each room that can be occupied So every room can be made vacant When guests all move to room adjacent. And since this method does repeat, It is not then much a feat To accept more people when Every room is filled again. This news surely will make the day Of anyone who needs to stay. But turn your thoughts towards the cleaner Who is never, ever, nearer To finishing, to being done: For every room, another one! Another room, another loo, Sadly, always, left to do. I
I is for Insufficient Reason* (or ‘Two Roads Not Taken: The Tale of Buridan’s Ass’) Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry he could not travel both And be one donkey, long he stood And looked down one as far as he could To where did lie the water trough;
Then saw the other, to be pursued, And having not the better claim, Though he was hungry and wanted food, Hay – though plenty there was lain, Hungry and thirsty – he felt the same.
And both that morning equally lay, Two paths – yet reasons not to choose. So he kept his thirst for another day! And hungry, lonely Ass did stay, For distance – there was none to lose.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I saw Donkey standing by, Static he has stood there since.
*This is a parody of R. Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’.
And for Induction (the problem of)
“I like the way they swim and soar” (You spoke to me of swans) “And how they very gracefully, As sunlight shimmers bronze, Reflect the whiteness of their forms As ghosts upon the lake.” (You said such a spectral beauty Kept you once awake.)
This snowy whiteness was, you thought, What made these creatures pure, Until one day I turned to ask “Tell me, what makes you sure That each and every swan does bear A same and simple likeness?” (That one and every swan possessed An achromatic whiteness.)
You said to me, replied at once, Incredulous your tone, Explained to me with surety That every swan you’d known – That each one that you’d seen before A snowy whiteness took, You said “recall past instances; Remember and just look.”
“Please clarify” I said to you, “I don’t mean to demur, But do you think experience Gives good grounds to infer That just as F all Gs have been, All future ones will be?; Can observations of the past Afford such certainty?”
“Elucidate”, you said to me, “What do you want to know? Is it whether, like the past, The future cases go?” “Yes” I said, “but more than that, I ask more generally, What gives assurance nature has A uniformity?”
“Well”, you said, “here is the thing” All that we need to do, Is turn to our inductions past: And these things then review.” “I think you’ll find”, you said to me “That more often than not When we infer from cases past Successes we have got.”
“But stop right there!” I said to you, “You lead me in a circle. That’s just what I want to know.” (It’s here we met our hurdle.) “How do we know induction should Lend our beliefs much credence? You answer with ‘induction’s good’ And *that* is our impedance.”
“Curses! Yes I see!”, you said, And joined in my distress, And all the day we pondered this To yield no fruitfulness. But that’s because just like this rhyme One never can be sure Whether patterns will repeat Or, just… end on a random SQUIRREL SMOKING A PIPE AND WEARING A BUMBAG.
Andfor Identity of Indiscernibles
Leibniz saddened, Leibniz maddened, Max’s balls were in the way, Stood there in a shimmer shining, Solid masses, coloured grey
Leibniz troubled, Leibniz struggled, What to do about these balls Stood there perfectly aligning Two, and yet, identicals?
Leibniz spluttered, Leibniz muttered, Variance this man had thought A certain feature for defining One from others of its sort.
J J is for Jackson Mary was a scientist, She knew about the brain She said “no fact could not be apt For physics to explain.” So all the facts of colour vision Mary claimed could be Accounted for by nothing more Than physical theory. Mary was a scientist, She was such a talent, There was no fact of physics that She couldn’t make transparent. And at the time when she did live, When physics was complete, She knew it all – facts physical, To her this was no feat. Mary was a scientist, She lived inside a room, Black and white, without much light, The walls did her entomb. So never once had Mary seen, The smallest hint of colour, Her life it seems, could not have been, Significantly duller. Mary was a scientist, They said she was ‘contrary’, Because of dualism she Was always very wary. “The mental is the physical!”, Mary would exclaim, When anyone would question that The mind is just the brain. Mary was a scientist, One day she was released, When suddenly a hidden door Burst open to the East. So picture Mary, quite contrary, Stepping foot outside, Into the world of colour where New light-rays hit her eyes. Mary was a scientist, Did she learn something new, When she for the first time gazed Upon the sky so blue? Or first set eyes upon green grass, Or saw a pinkish rose? Generally: were novel facts To Mary now disclosed? Mary was a scientist, We’ll call it a ‘quale’ The redness of a red wine, say, Drunk on an evening soiree; The ‘what it’s like to see’, In terms not more obscure, Did such things by our scientist, Mary now procure? Mary was a scientist, Does this tale reveal, Her monochrome environment Did formerly conceal, Some colour fact, or something that, Could not be explained, In terms of some physical laws, Or science wider framed? Mary was a scientist, If new facts now were known, Then for her former ignorance, We must now atone, For from this knowledge argument, We too learn something new: That for explaining mental facts Physics just won’t do.
K K is for Kant* There was a hand who’d never been As others were – it had not seen Another hand – nor other thing Seclusion did each moment bring. So other things were all forsaken – This appendage wasn’t taken – And used to later then affix, A human form which hand did miss. So lonely waved this hand sublime A pendulum to mark the time, Which passed and passed but not did yield An answer forever concealed To this question most perplexed Was the hand a right or left? – Was it left? Or was it right? To answer this: a futile plight. And yet, lest God be some deceiver, It certainly cannot be neither. And since, though which we cannot say, It must be one – a certain way, We must therefore ascertain, What does handedness ordain. Alone we’re told the hand exists Handedness then, not consists In relations brought to bear By other things existing there. So what else, then, might be the thing That handedness to hand could bring? Onwards quest, for good, or ill, This mystery which binds us still, A lonely hand of flesh and bone, It waved – but, ah – it waved alone. Instead we must then bring in view A different answer, one anew: The handedness of any hand Internal features do command So be the answer this simplistic: It’s how things stand with things intrinsic. But this, we see, it cannot be, (Made so by things internally,) For hands they do so often come – In pairs (though here a single one), And when these counterparts we see We find they faultlessly agree In each of their intrinsic ways (‘Features’ to use another phrase) All maintained under reflection (Let this not escape detection). So still we quest, for good, or ill, This mystery which binds us still, Our lonely hand of flesh and bone Which waved but, sadly, waved alone. A final answer then to mention, One which was Kant’s own contention: That space in its own right exists, Meaning handedness consists In relations born to space – That entity which gives us place – A substance of its own accord, Waiting there to be explored. Now this does not so crazy sound, For other answers not abound, And space could quite plausibly be Something fundamentally Not on other things dependent (Though perhaps it is transcendent) And so Kant tells us, resolute: “Space it must be absolute!” So if we like what’s said above, And not think it unworthy of, Dismissing with a wave of hand, (Please excuse this pun unplanned) Then from the lonely hand that waved, And company so often craved, We can thereby come to see, That space is its own entity. *Inspiration drawn from E. A. Poe’s ‘Alone’. L L is for Locke Flipperty flapperty, Liberalist Locke was with British Empiricist Leanings aligned.
“Author your soul” is a Slogan for he who thought Tabula rasa was True of the mind.
M M is for McTaggart* Jiggery pokery J. E. McTaggart thought – Contra appearances – Time was unreal. A curve of the spine Made him walk like a crab. One extra quirk which was Far from ideal. *Published in Think, 33, 2013, p.104.
N N is for Non-Existence
There are some things that don’t exist – To take some illustrations: The King of France; The Queen of Hearts; Ethical corporations. The Jabberwocky; Postman Pat; The purple bumble bee; The mountain gold; the lie untold; The Quangle Wangle Quee.
And this much seems innocuous; For why would we deny That each one of these claims is true – And none of them awry? Well, reason of this kind we seek And find it near, not far, For sentences the kind above Say non-existents are.
There are some things that don’t exist – However can this be? Here we seem to say at once Two things that disagree. An oxymoron if you like – Two terms are juxtaposed Like ‘random order’, ‘living dead’, And ‘is freely disposed’.
But of the King we wish to speak! The present King of France! We wish to say this monarch’s bald And likes to dalliance. Additionally, we have it that This noble isn’t real (The monarchy French citizens Did long ago repeal).
The task is therefore answering Of what object we speak – To say of what our terms refer (In words not too oblique) When of the things that don’t exist We say a fact holds true; Alternately, we’d have to shun The culprit claims in view.
Perhaps it is a predicate, This common term ‘exists’, Which some things have, and others lack – And differently subsist. We could then say that “There are F’s” The same thing doesn’t mean As “F’s exist”, a nearby phrase, But that sounds quite obscene.
So paraphrase and analyse – This sounds the thing to do: Recast the offending claims And straighten the askew. Quantifiers, general terms, These can surely bring Better sense, lucidity, To ‘non-existent thing’.
And so to take the case in point ‘The King of France…’ can be Amended when we noun remove And use identity. Hence: “It isn’t now the case That there is such a y – A single thing – exactly one – Where ‘French King’ does apply”.
O O is for Ockham’s Razor Postulate no entity Unless it’s really necess’ry. (And keep your poems short.)
And for Omnipotence
There once was a girl who did state “The power of God is too great! Can God bring to be A something that he Cannot shift: an unliftable weight?”
Said the girl “Just suppose that God could; Omnipotence then is no good. For then there’s a feat Our God cannot meet: That of lifting the weight as he should.”
Then said she: “Assume the reverse. Instead what our God can’t rehearse Is rather create Unliftable weight And that is equally perverse!”
Said the theist “I think that you’ll find, The problem you state needn’t bind. I contrary say Almighty God may Make a weight of exactly this kind!”
“God’s power, you see, has no bound. And so it is perfectly sound That God can well lift What he couldn’t shift; Though, yes, this will surely confound.”
P P is for Parmenides* (or ‘A Poem About Parmenides’ Poem’) Parmenides claimed “All is one!” – The Earth, the moon, the stars, the sun. But, this phrase is far too crude To show us what he did conclude: That this world we do extol Is homogeneous and whole, And never will it cease or perish – This universe we greatly cherish – For what is now, at once, together Shall remain unchanged forever. Timeless, uniform, unchanging; It has no parts for re-arranging. Indivisible and all alike; No less in one place which might Prevent from binding it as one, This which did not into being come. For, so says, the doctrine stated This whole is un-generated. Nothing prompted it to grow – No birth it had – Nor the future will it know. So it exists completely or not at all, And nothing to it will befall. You doubt this view could be commercial Just because it’s controversial? On the contrary dear reader! Let me make to you much clearer, Why this view our man proposed, When it appearances opposed. Now, ‘nothing’ can’t be by us thought: Such activity is fraught. What-is-not cannot be known This way of inquiry was shown To be a dead-end – That-which-is can’t not be; Being is of necessity! This you will soon comprehend, Just listen carefully my friend, From appearances deter, And from reason do not err. ‘The way of truth’ we’ll call this path Our Presocratic took to task. It is the one way of inquiry That shows us how things are precisely. Only say ‘it is, it is!’ When the nature of the world we quiz. But this way of his was painless not; Frequently was this fellow mocked. (Life is not easy to lead When obscure views are paid due heed.) His daily tasks were done in vain; No progress did this wise man gain. And troublesome was conversation, Greeted with hostile intimation. For example, let’s consider When Parmenides went to dinner. A conversation with his wife (Which commonly was met with strife): “Are you changed for tea, my dear? We’re late already – get in gear!” The sage replied in some confusion: “Darling, change is mere illusion!” *Published in Think, 37, 2014, pp. 103-4. Q Q is for Quine* Willard van Orman Quine Knew the number of planets was nine But it’s not necessarily true That the planets are greater than two And that contradicts what we know That ‘two’s less than nine’ must be so – Of mathematical necessity So the number of planets can’t be With ‘nine’ substituted you see In a manner which truth will sustain When the sentence involved does contain A term that is modal in kind – Whether box or a diamond we find. So Quine thought it then a mistake Since de re modal terms are opaque To think that there is such a thing As third-degree modalizing! But to Quine now we might well object That he didn’t have things quite correct Since the name and the description’s synonymy Depends on the facts of astronomy! *Co-written with Mike Bench-Capon.
R R is for Russell Does anything you’ve heard of thus Far to your mind cause greater fuss Or greater contradiction harbour Than the case of Russell’s barber? A man of whom we’re told behaves In such a way so that he shaves All and only people whom This description does subsume: A gentleman whom can’t be said, To shave their own beard (or head). Have you been left more confused lately Than when you wondered, non-sedately, How best a question you should answer, ’bout that fellow, Russell’s barber? Here it is, the mentioned query, That minds many does leave bleary: Does he shave himself or not? An answer to this can’t be got. For we’re led to contradiction, By staying true to his description. Begin assuming that it’s true – He shaves himself – this will lead you, To say he doesn’t, after all, Truly shave himself at all! For as we already agreed, The only ones he does indeed Shave are those who can’t be said To shave their own beard (or head). Assume instead then that it’s false: Here again we’re caused to waltz, To dance about a tiny loop, As us this paradox does dupe. For since the barber does behave In such a way so as to shave Gentlemen who can’t be said To shave their own beard (or head), We are thereby forced to state, Since he bears this very trait, That false indeed it cannot be, And so shaves himself does he! S S is for Solipsism* She wandered lonely as a cloud, The solipsist, in cheerless mood, When all at once she said aloud So to express her solitude: “How desolate my soul!”, said she, “The universe knows nought but me!” So lengthy was this sad lament, And inward-cast her selfish eye, That all throughout the long descent She failed to note she spoke to I. And so I snapped and said to she “Why ever are you telling me?!” *Parody of W. Wordsworth’s ‘I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud’. T T is for Third Man Argument Plato’s mind was full of things – Thoughts and claims and wonderings, And one such scheme he had in mind, One to which he was inclined, Concerned how things could be the same – ‘Alike’ to use another name. How different things could all be blue, And what did make this sameness true. Eternal, changeless, placeless Forms, Plato’s answer: these set norms. Giving us a fixed ideal For beings more corporeal To imitate, though not exactly, Gaining, thereby, features aptly. And all this works by a relation Known now as ‘participation’. E.g. the Form of Piety, Makes us pious, you and me, And by partaking in the Good, A person does just as they should. So multiplicities can be At onceone variety. Hence, the problem’s overcome: Over many there is one. Yet, the theory also claims, Every thing that each Form names, To that very Form applies, So obstacles do now arise. E.g. the Largeness Form is large, And Beauty rightfully we charge With being beautiful itself, And healthiness is had by Health. ‘The thesis of Self-Predication’ Call this extra postulation. To see the obstacle it poses, Follow all that it proposes: Beauty it is pretty too, And so must get its beauty through, Itself partaking in a Form, If we to this view conform. So let us get this theory straight: All the pretty things partake, In the ‘first’ Form, call it ‘Beauty’, (And dutiful partake in Duty), But something now together brings, The first Form and the pretty things, So a second Form is needed (Here regress must be conceded). For to the second Form we turn, And once again we come to learn, That this too bears the beauty trait, So, again, we need to make, Another form, this now our third, (The theory is clearly absurd,) To bind this ever growing group, As likeness we try to recoup. But, you’ve guessed, now here again, We’re forced to do the very same, For the third is pretty too, So posit must we now a new Form for Forms One, Two, and Three, And carry on indefinitely. And for Theseus’ Paradox Long ago there was unveiled A very handsome ship that sailed Several long years out at sea, And docked sadly at a quay. For rain and wind and waters rough - These had made the sailing tough And on the ship had took their toll, As wind did howl, and waves did roll, Causing many wear and tears, Meaning substantial repairs Needed on this day to be Sought with utmost urgency. Shortly then, crew members many Partook in a fixing frenzy And quick began a reconstruction, Following the same instruction: Choose a plank, one made of wood, And where it previously stood, Place a new one – made of steel, (Which has a much more robust feel) So exchanging old for new, Working thus the vessel through. And in this way all worked to save Trusty-ship from early-grave. This tiresome work was overseen By Theseus – this man had been Captain of the precious boat Which kept so many men afloat. And Theseus – this man was pleased By all the work so far achieved. “The vessel lives!” all heard him cry And saw him raise the sails high So they could set on forth to Crete Once the process was complete. But just before they did depart He felt a sadness in his heart “I fear my ship is not the same!” Theseus did now proclaim. “For though not any single metal Piece has power to unsettle – The boat considered as a whole, It brings sadness to my soul. For, all the brown and creaking timber Made the boat so light and limber, And though it did so often splinter It kept us going though each winter. But now I feel myself bereft – Nothing of the ship is left!” “It really seems you’ve lost your grip – Can’t you see this is your ship?!” A member of the Captain’s crew Said to change the doubter’s view. “When we changed a single part Did you feel it in your heart That your vessel ceased to be?” (The Captain did not disagree) “And so the ship with one steel plank – Allow me please to speak so frank – Would still be the same ship – yes?” “I do agree, I do confess.” “And so this ship, with but one change This is your ship – the very same, And so this too, it can endure A single change again?” – “For sure.” “So why is there then cause to claim That the ship is not the same? We never answer differently – When did there then come to be A new ship in the place of old?” “I cannot answer, truth be told.” “So while the old parts have now gone, This is your boat, the self-same one!” And Theseus did nod his head, Different now, he felt instead About the wood which at his feet Lay less sadly obsolete. But here our story takes a turn, For Theseus forgot to burn The pile of damp and rotting wood Which someone later deemed as good, And subsequently used to build A ship with help of people skilled. So later in the bright blue sea Stood proudly in that very quay A second boat had equal claim To also be the very same Ship that Theseus had sailed Whose masts he formerly had scaled. “Which one is my boat?!”, He cried, And looked at both stood side by side The wooden one it was composed Of all the bits that were transposed, And yet the metal one it was Equally his own because No single metal plank exchanged Caused the boat to be estranged. So when the two ships went to war Theseus he stood and saw Each one sink into the sea But with neither ship was he. For Theseus he never knew Which was old, and which was new. U U is for Unger He sat and he did ponder A cloud up in the sky And all the while there as he sat He tried to cast his eye Upon a thing, with boundary sharp, But none came into view, For clouds are vague and nebulous And from this fact he knew That where one cloud appeared to be There may well be many. For sets of water droplets there Were scattered like confetti. And each one of these objects had An equal claim to be A cloud up in the sky so blue (It’s hard to degree). But how can we say both are true: ‘There are one and many’? Unger says we cannot do, And so denies there’s any!
V V is for van Inwagen* (or ‘The Paradox of Free Will’) The dilemma of determinism Entails a certain pessimism. For, (so says this view’s adherent,) Free will’s just an incoherent Concept that we must reject When closer we do it inspect. For, if an action’s been dictated By what’s been necessitated, Through antecedent states, plus laws Of nature (a sufficient cause), For any human act there’ll be, No other possibility. Meaning that it then does follow, (Something we find hard to swallow,) Every person is un-free And lacks responsibility. And yet on the opposing stance, Where there is such a thing as chance, Where, so says this memorandum, Some things do happen at random, No-one is responsible For actions of theirs at all, For chance does bring our acts about And not us, so we must doubt, (From the reasons given thence,) That, once again, free will makes sense. And since these options seem complete, ‘Agency’ talk is obsolete. Therefore, says the foregoing motion, Reject this incoherent notion! (Well, you might as well; It's not like you have any choice in the matter.) *Published in Think, 33, 2013, pp.103-4.
W W is for Wagering Pascallian
Because we cannot halt our deaths – This is one certainty – A wager holds and one must wage For immortality
We die and I – and nor can you – Decide just not to choose To fail to wage’s no thing at all; So there's no time to lose
The question is: should I elect To live religiously? A choice on this reverberates Unto eternity
If God exists – and you don’t choose – To live as if God does, Eternal bliss is then denied And that’s not much a buzz
And yet if God does not exist – But one believes and prays – Earthly time is squandered on Ecclesiastic ways
But what is any likelihood That there’s a thing divine? As well as all the pay-offs we’ve The chances to assign
Crucial here it is to say We cannot know God’s not; (Not with any certainty Are odds of zero got)
And since the value is so large – The theist stands to gain – Even those who don’t believe Religiousness should feign
For if you duly multiply This by whatever size Chance we give to “God exists” Still infinite’s the prize
So even if we are more sure There is no godly thing Still it’s true that our best bet Is divine worshipping
And so – Pascal will tell us all – Who cares how small the odd – Practicality demands You go and bet on God!
(So quickly – go and place your wager – Careful, though – the gamble's major!)
And for Wittgenstein
I am a beetle in a box, and so can have no name; But when you say “Hey, Ludwig?” I answer all the same. I live inside your match-box and I stay in there all day; (Am I some kind of metaphor?) I’ll never get away.
You say that there are others, and others say to you: That they possess a match-box; they’ve a beetle in it too. You say that you believe this, but there’s no way to see; What lives inside each match-box might not be a bug like me.
You say that you inferred it; I say “It’s true, you did! Each one of these boxes, well, you can’t take off the lid.” I say to you “I’m sorry, we’re difficult to catch; And even I – your beetle, well, I could just be a match.”
You said “Oh not to worry! You really mustn’t mind; There’s lots of other beetles which I’m certain we could find. If we look inside each match-box to the place where beetles hide – We’ll surely find some beetles; we’ll write BEETLE on the side.”
You spoke to all the others who had acted just the same, Who on their boxes’ somethings had bestowed the ‘beetle’ name, But we are elusive beetles and our boxes they are closed, So each of our true natures they can never be exposed.
So use this term then ‘beetle’; but knowing it's applied To name that general something – the ‘you-know-not-what-inside’. Because it makes such little sense to think that it could mean Your single private something no-one else has ever seen.
*Parody of ‘Forgiven’ by A. A. Milne. Co-authored with Richard Caves.
X X is for eX falso quodlibet (or eXplosion) Co-written with Michael Bench-Capon
If Socrates is sleeping and He is also awake Then I'm a monkey's uncle and The Albert Hall’s a cake; Cleopatra spent her time Upon a carousel; And pigs with wings race jetskis on The frozen lakes of Hell
Is it unintuitive To argue in this way? Peculiar it is – and yet – It won’t lead you astray. For leading you astray entails You weren’t astray before, And “someone sleeps and doesn’t” breaks The contradiction law
The certain rule we speak of here’s Ex Falso Quodlibet – That any inconsistent claim Will any claim beget. But inconsistent premises Will oft go undetected Which ends in our accepting things That ought to be rejected
Is there then an easy way To quarantine our errors – To make our inconsistencies Not cause us any terrors? Well here’s a claim that can avoid Such falsity profusion: “The premises must somehow be Germane to the conclusion”
So let us not be satisfied With mere truth preservation – Demanding also Relevance Removes our consternation And when Ex Falso isn't in The logic we have chosen The pigs remain upon the ground And Hell remains unfrozen
And for Xenocrates There was a man from Chalcedon, Who by some estimation, Had with forms triangular A certain fascination. Three different types of being, And shapes with edges three, Which also come in triple form, Coincidentally. And what name had this fellow who Much liked his vertices To come always in three-way form? Why, t’was Xenocrates!
First we have the many gods, Which solar objects are – The bodies of the heavens like A galaxy or star. And third we have humanity – We mere embodied souls, Possessing imperfections and Pursuing futile goals.
And somewhat intermediate Between these beings deuce We have the daemons, angels, and The other things abstruse. And each one of these different kinds Xenocrates did bring Into association with-a Certain tripartite thing.
To start, mere men are scalene, For different is each length Making up this polygon To symbolise that strength And other kinds of attribute Us human forms possess The opposite of perfect are (Or so it is my guess).
And thus, to draw a contrast, To super-naturals turn: Deities could only with the Equilaterals earn A right for fair comparison, Equivalence, or bond; For only could the flawless with the Perfect correspond. And that just leaves the daemons which Are with isosceles Triangles identified By one Xenocrates.
“Oh triangles, yes triangles!” The ancient Greek did cry “Gods are equilateral!; Scalene are you and I!” But no-one then would listen, And neither will they now. For what could be more crazy than This hogwash, I avow? Indeed what could be weirder than To such a view rehearse? Perhaps there’s only write about This nonsense view in verse!
Y Y is for Philosophy Y is for Philosophy – That’s how it starts off. It’s also for youth – The corrupting thereof. Z Z is for Zeno* Zeno had discovered, much to our dismay, That to get from A to B, you first must go half way. But to make it to the middle, you'll have to go a quarter, And so divide the distances, each one ever shorter. However, as this process repeats ad infinitum, Zeno never came across a smallest spatial item, Which he could at first traverse, and so to his amusement, Zeno therefore showed us the absurdity of movement. Because a set of tasks, one infinite in number, We cannot ever finish, since it has no last member. Yes, a journey we can’t start, let alone complete, Is what we should accept, if space is not discrete. *Published in Think, 34, 2013, p. 85.