Philosophy on the Hill


Back to main page

Aristotle's "Prime Matter" and Contemporary Physics

Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

The object of my talk is Aristotle’s conception of "prime matter" (prote yle), which has provoked a long-standing controversy among his commentators. The reason for the endless discussions has been the variety of ways in which Aristotle has tried to define matter. What did the Stagirite have in mind when he referred to a formless (omorfon), indeterminate (aoposdioriston stuff? Was prime matter an empty concept deprived of physical reality, or rather a real substratum (ypokeimenon) of all change in the physical world? What characterizes the defenders of Aristotle's prime matter, as the real, ultimate substratum of the physical world, is the fact that the main body of their argumentation is mainly derived from the depository of Aristotelian and/or scholastic philosophy. The issue, however, becomes far more challenging, if we try to relate it to recent discoveries in physics. For this reason, my first task will be the exploration of the inner bond connecting the various ways Aristotle tried to define prime matter, my hope being to conceive the nature of matter as the primary, undifferentiated, indeterminate real substratum of all change. This inner bond, I will argue, is the idea of potentiality, which will be shown to be the most essential feature of matter. Subsequently, my hope is to establish the conceptual relationship between Aristotle’s matter and the idea of matter emerging in physics of Elementary Particles. To this purpose, I will concentrate on two puzzling instances in the micro-world, the so called virtual particles and quarks. My claim will be that these two fascinating instances could serve as the best manifestation of the potential character of matter, considered as the ultimate substratum of all change, which offers the grounds for an anti-mechanistic dynamic model of nature.


Lukacs and Kant: A Praxical Critique of Kantian Practical Reason

Tim Hall, ACT

This paper is an elaboration and defense of Lukacs’ claim that a critical theory of society is best understood as a philosophy of praxis. Praxis is defined, provisionally and tentatively, as a form of thoughtful or knowing activity: a form of knowing indissociably tied to ways of acting. Praxis is not to be confused with an empirical theory. The tempering of theory with ‘experience’ is not what makes a theory a praxical one. This supposes that categories of action in terms of which we understand our practical agency (technical, prudential, moral) are really ways of acting on the world rather than ways of contemplating it. A praxical theory is one that overcomes the contemplative relation to world that characterises existing categories of thought and action. The concept of praxis is then introduced through a critique of Max Weber’s social scientific methodology. Through the concept of a practical interest Weber uncovers the primacy of the practical relation to world and thereby advances beyond ‘representational’ (i.e. realist) social theory. Despite this his social theory remains contemplative insofar as the fact/value dichotomy remains definitive for it. The latent transcendentalism of Weber’s social scientific methodology is then taken up and challenged at the level of the philosophy of history. Either history is the time taken to uncover ‘timeless’ objects or it is a series of discrete, discontinuous episodes in which, in the words of Leopold Ranke, ‘every age is equally close to God.’ In the first case the ‘meaning’ of history is discovered when it comes to an end: in the second case meaning is ‘imposed’ on history through a series of discrete ‘evaluations’. A praxical social theory is then presented as a mediation of this abstract opposition between ‘discovering’ and imposing a ‘meaning’ on history. It is us that impose a meaning on history but not before history first suggests the meaning that is to be imposed on it. The resulting social theory is a critically reflexive one - i.e. able to account for its own self -possibility and able to account for how the standpoint from which the social world becomes comprehensible is both particular and universal.


Vagueness & the Division of Reality

Vincent C. Mueller, ACT

In this paper, I shall investigate some problems that arise from the fact that all categories we use to describe the world are vague. One of these problems becomes apparent in the "vagueness paradox": from our beliefs that, for example, (1) "Some men are tall" and (2) "If a man is tall, then another man just 1 millimeter shorter than him is also tall" it follows that (3) "All men are tall", which seems absurd. Vagueness will be defined as the property of a category/predicate to have possible borderline cases, i. e. cases where the predicate neither clearly applies nor clearly fails to apply. Some predicates are more vague ("tall", "heap", "adult") and some less ("human", "Greek", "30 years old", "electron"). After reviewing some reactions to the vagueness paradox, such as the sharpening of predicates, vagueness of objects, epistemic accounts and "fuzzy logic", I shall investigate "higher order vagueness" and the vagueness of the predicate "vague" itself. Finally, an explanation of the metaphysical and epistemological/cognitive grounds for the existence of vagueness shall be proposed: facing the world which consists of continua and transitions we have to divide it into categories, abstracting from details, for reasons of cognitive economy. We realize the arbitrariness of our "cutting" the continua and thus conceive of our categories as vague. On the basis of this explanation, a proposal for an analysis shall be made.


Can philosophy be therapeutic?

Philip Kargopoulos, AUTh

Can philosophy be therapeutic? Some thoughts on Epictetus as a cognitive behavioral therapist There has been a recent interest in the U.S. in an application of philosophy in the field of the so-called Philosophical Counceling. The matter is not new, as there has been some traditional connections between the philosophical life and happiness. On the other hand, two recent and related approaches to psychotherapy (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy --Ellis' REBT-- and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy --Beck's CBT) acknowledge their debt to philosophy and especially to Epictetus. I shall look into the whole idea of philosophy as therapeutic and specifically on stoicism as proposed by Epictetus in his Enchiridion.


Εμπειρία και Ορθολογισμός

Aρης Στυλιανού, AΠθ

Στην ιστορία της φιλοσοφίας υπάρχει μια παλαιά ένταση μεταξύ της εμπειρίας και του λόγου. Ιδιαίτερα στη νεότερη φιλοσοφία, η ένταση αυτή μετατρέπεται σε αντίθεση και σύγκρουση μεταξύ του εμπειρισμού και του ορθολογισμού. Μάλιστα, για να σώσει τη φιλοσοφία από τη διαμάχη, ο Καντ θα φανταστεί ένα "Δικαστήριο του Λόγου" που θα απονέμει δικαιοσύνη.
Οι εμπειριστές υποστηρίζουν ότι η εμπειρία αποτελεί το θεμέλιο της αλήθειας και του νοήματος, και ότι δεν μπορούμε να γνωρίσουμε ή να μιλήσουμε λογικά για πράγματα που βρίσκονται πέραν της εμπειρίας. Αντίθετα, οι ορθολογιστές θεωρούν πως ο καθαρός λόγος μπορεί κάλλιστα να αποτελέσει πηγή γνώσης και αληθών ιδεών, καθώς και πως οτιδήποτε σκεφτούμε, που να έχει κάποιο νόημα, συνήθως υπερβαίνει τα εμπειρικά δεδομένα και δεν περιορίζεται από αυτά.
Πρόθεσή μου είναι να εξετάσω εάν η εμπειρία παίζει κάποιον ρόλο μέσα στον ορθολογισμό, και μάλιστα μέσα στον πιο "ακραίο" ορθολογισμό, τον λεγόμενο κλασικό ορθολογισμό του 17ου αιώνα (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz). Θα επιχειρήσω λοιπόν να δείξω ότι, παρά τα φαινόμενα, οι ορθολογιστές χρησιμοποιούν ευχαρίστως την έννοια της εμπειρίας, και μάλιστα βασίζονται ενίοτε σ' αυτήν με τρόπο που παρουσιάζει ιδιαίτερο ενδιαφέρον: η εμπειρία εμφανίζεται ως υποβοηθητική ή και ως απολύτως συμπληρωματική του λόγου.


Tα τελειοκρατικά στοιχεία στην ηθική φιλοσοφία του John Steward Mill

Φιλήμων Παιονίδης, AΠθ

(no abstract)


The Liar Paradox and Related Paradoxes: Quantitative Belief Systems and Fuzzy Truth Values

Kostis Vezeridis, ACT

In this lecture we explore the properties of iterative reasoning processes applied to the resolution of collections of self-referential propositions, with a particular interest in inconsistent collections, such as the Liar Paradox.

An iterative reasoning process can be implemented by a collection of agents, each agent computing the (Boolean or fuzzy) truth value of a particular proposition. The computation takes place in several time steps; at each step an agent updates the truth value of a proposition taking into account the truth values computed at the previous time step. The state of the reasoning process at a particular time step is described by the collection of time-evolving truth values. The term "quantitative belief system" refers to the time evolving collection of truth values and the associated update process.

We show by examples that quantitative belief systems can demonstrate a variety of behaviors, such as convergence, oscillation and chaotic patterns. We discuss some interpretations of such behaviors in terms of the evolution of the (possibly inconsistent) beliefs of an individual and the implications regarding phenomena such as decision making, value judgements, fixed ideas. We finally discuss some interpretations of fuzzy truth values in terms of measurement under uncertainty and their epistemological implications in the context of Philosophy of Science, in particular related to the ramifications of incorporating the measurement process in a scientific logical system; particular attention being given to the Tarski Principle.


The Εthics of Homer: Ontology and Meta-Ethics in a World Devoid of Egoism and Utilitarianism

Costas Athanasopoulos, Athens

It is of some history the idea that Homer has nothing to do with Ethics, as we, today, understand it. The root of this idea of course lies in Nietzsche’s Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887) There, the German philosopher notes “He [Hesiod] could only dispose of the contradiction, with which he was confronted, by the Homeric world, an age magnificent indeed, but at the same time so awful and so violent, by making two ages out of one, which he henceforth placed one behind each other- first, the age of heroes and demigods, as that world had remained in the memories of the aristocratic families, who found therein their own ancestors; secondly, the bronze age, as that corresponding age appeared to the descendants of the oppressed, spoiled, ill-treated, exiled, enslaved; namely as an age of bronze, as I have said , hard , cold, terrible, without feelings and without conscience, crushing everything, and bespattering everything with blood.” Using Nietzsche’s ideas as a subconscious motif many classicists and ethicists have lately claimed that Homer does not portray any concrete moral or ethical system, but he just describes in his epical poems and other surviving works a world devoid of ethics and morality, where the strong and aristocratic people were living off the poor and weak by habit or custom, or that at least the Homeric age had a morality different than ours (with the Homeric being a more egoistic one, while our “civilised” age being a more utilitarian one). My discussion shall analyse in detail specific texts from Homer’s main works (the Iliad and the Odyssey) and shall prove that both of these ideas are ill-founded and a perversion of what Homer was describing. I shall support the following theses:

Homeric Ethics cannot and should not be described in egoistic and utilitarian terms.

Homeric Ethics presents to us an alternative ethical theory and system, which has nothing to do with the modern and contemporary anthropocentric ethics, nor with the modern and contemporary disassociation of ethics from ontology and metaphysics.

Homeric Ethics can be associated with a version of existentialist ethics; one which emphasises the distinctively human conditions of the heroic agon, hubris and dike.

Η Ομηρική Ηθική: Οντολογία και Ηθική σε ένα κόσμο χωρίς Εγωισμό και Ωφελιμοκρατία

Έχει αρκετή ιστορία η αντίληψη ότι ο Όμηρος δεν μπορεί να συσχετιστεί με την Ηθική, όπως τουλάχιστον την αντιλαμβανόμεθα σήμερα. Οι ρίζες αυτής της αντίληψης βρίσκονται βέβαια στο έργο του Νίτσε Γενεαλογία της Ηθικής (1887). Εκεί ο Γερμανός φιλόσοφος σημειώνει: “Και άλλοτε έχω επιστήσει την προσοχή στο δίλημμα στο οποίο βρέθηκε ο Ησίοδος όταν φαντάστηκε τη διαδοχή των εποχών του πολιτισμού και θέλησε να τις εκφράσει με τους όρους χρυσό, ασήμι και χαλκό: δεν έβρισκε άλλο τρόπο να λύσει την αντίφαση που παρουσίαζε ο ένδοξος αλλά και συνάμα φοβερός και βίαιος κόσμος του Ομήρου παρά μόνο χωρίζοντας μια εποχή σε δύο που διαδέχονται η μια την άλλη –πρώτα η εποχή των ηρώων και των ημιθέων της Τροίας και των Θηβών, η μορφή με την οποία επέζησε αυτός ο κόσμος στη μνήμη των ευγενών φύλων που ήταν οι πραγματικοί απόγονοι αυτών των ηρώων. Έπειτα η χάλκινη εποχή, η μορφή με την οποία εμφανιζόταν ο ίδιος αυτός κόσμος στους απογόνους εκείνων που είχαν καταδυναστευθεί, λεηλατηθεί, βασανιστεί, συρθεί και πουληθεί σκλάβοι: μια εποχή του χαλκού, όπως είπαμε και πριν, σκληρή, παγερή, απάνθρωπη, χωρίς αίσθημα και συνείδηση, καταστροφική και αιματηρή.”

Χρησιμοποιώντας τις ιδέες του Νίτσε (υποσυνείδητα ή συνειδητά) πολλοί ιστορικοί της Ομηρικής Εποχής υποστηρίζουν ότι ο Όμηρος δεν επιδεικνύει στα έργα του κάποιο συγκεκριμένο ηθικό σύστημα, αλλά απλά περιγράφει στα επικά του ποιήματα και στα άλλα σωζόμενα έργα του ένα κόσμο χωρίς ηθική, όπου οι δυνατοί επιζούν χάριν της εκμετάλλευσης των φτωχών και αδυνάτων με βάση το έθος ή τουλάχιστον ότι η Ομηρική Εποχή είχε μια ηθική που ήταν τελείως διαφορετική από τη δική μας (με την Ομηρική Εποχή να παρουσιάζεται περισσότερο εγωιστική, ενώ η “πολιτισμένη” εποχή μας να παρουσιάζεται περισσότερο ωφελιμοκρατική). Η συζήτησή μου θα αναλύσει με λεπτομέρεια συγκεκριμένα χωρία από τα δύο μεγάλα έπη του Ομήρου (την Ιλιάδα και την Οδύσσεια) και θα αποδείξει ότι και οι δύο αυτές ιδέες είναι αβάσιμες και αποτελούν μια παραποίηση και παρερμηνεία αυτού που περιέγραφε ο Όμηρος. Θα υποστηρίξω συγκεκριμένα ότι:

Η Ομηρική Ηθική δεν μπορεί και δεν πρέπει να περιγραφθεί με εγωιστικούς και ωφελιμοκρατικούς όρους.

Η Ομηρική Ηθική μας παρουσιάζει μια εναλλακτική ηθική θεωρία και ένα διαφορετικό ηθικό σύστημα που δεν σχετίζεται καθόλου με τη σύγχρονη ανρθωποκεντρική ηθική, ούτε με την νεώτερη και σύγχρονη αποδέσμευση της Ηθικής από την Οντολογία και την Μεταφυσική.

Η Ομηρική Ηθική μπορεί να συσχετισθεί με ένα είδος της υπαρξιστικής ηθικής, ένα είδος που τονίζει τις ξεχωριστά ανθρώπινες συνθήκες του ηρωικού αγώνος, της ύβρεως και της δίκης.