SoPhiA

Students of Philosophy Association, Concordia University

Phosphorus

Volume 1 – 2009-10

On Human and Non-Human Animal Knowledge: From a Difference of Kind to a Difference of Degree

Cameron Brown

This paper unpacks implications of the too-often unmentioned fact that the project of naturalizing epistemology (a la Quine, Kornblith, and others) has not only given epistemologists a new method of inquiry, but has created an entirely new subject matter. I trace the origins in the history of philosophy of the view that human knowledge is different in kind from non-human knowledge, and expose how this unwarranted assumption has buttressed traditional analytic (read: armchair) philosophy. I show how in response to traditional analytic philosophy naturalized epistemologists have given an account of knowledge as a natural kind by drawing on the literature of cognitive ethology, and in turn how this account rebuts the analytic assumption of a fundamental divide between human and non-human animal knowledge. Finally, I consider whether or not such alternative accounts offered by naturalized epistemologists carry ontological consequences; that is, whether our knowledge is structured the way it is because The World is just so structured. I warn against drawing ontological conclusions from our epistemology, but I affirm the possibility of learning more about The World by observing how its non-human inhabitants interact with it.

Download article [PDF]

Against Rawls on the Moral Arbitrariness Claim

Tristan Rogers

The moral arbitrariness claim states that natural assets are morally arbitrary, and because of this, the economic distribution resulting from them should be balanced by the concerns of egalitarian justice. In this paper, I challenge this claim and the case for egalitarianism that leans on it. I begin by presenting Rawls’s argument for the moral arbitrariness claim that leads to the intuitive case for the difference principle and the construction of the original position. I critique Rawls’s argument on grounds that it doesn’t account for the important role played by effort and character in cultivating our natural assets. I also question whether, even if granted, the argument is strong enough to ground his egalitarian conclusions. From here, I consider an apparently successful argument for egalitarianism on the basis of the moral arbitrariness claim, but which, when examined closer, readily yields a contradiction. To conclude the paper, and in light of what is hitherto established, I respond to some strong points made by Thomas Pogge on behalf of Rawls’s treatment of moral arbitrariness.

Download article [PDF]

Consciousness in a Four-Dimensional Block Universe

Morgan Sutherland

The mind-body problem, despite repeated attempts over past millennia, remains without a decisive solution. Previous discussions, however, have not tended to acknowledge issues introduced by a four-dimensional conception of reality. This paper attempts to shed light on the problem by exploring some of the consequences of four-dimensionality. This is done by first making an argument for an ontologically four-dimensional world. Second, an attractive dualistic approach that follows intuitively from four-dimensionality is considered, but ultimately defeated by traditional arguments against dualism. Finally, time dilation is used to reveal some problematic implications of four-dimensionality for consciousness given a naturalist approach.

Download article [PDF]

The Problem of Linguistic Determinism

Carrie Stigge

The linguistic relativity hypothesis asks us to believe that language serves not merely as a means of communication, but also as informant of our perceptions and conceptions of the world around us. In essence, the hypothesis asserts that we must have language before we have knowledge. Put in these terms, it is easy to see why the acceptance of the hypothesis is problematic on many levels. The larger problem remains: why do so many still adhere to the belief that the linguistic relativity hypothesis is not only viable, but accurate?

In this paper, I present versions of the hypothesis on a spectrum from weak to strong relativism, unpacking the problem from a historic perspective starting with Wilhelm von Humboldt’s early research and moving through his most important successors – such as Franz Boas and Edward Sapir – and ending with Benjamin Whorf and the famous Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis. My research relies heavily upon the books and research papers published by each of these men and some of their modern detractors.

Through the careful examination of the problem’s inception – the weak end of the spectrum first put forth by von Humboldt – and explication of its un-checked growth leading up to Whorf’s problematic ‘Eskimo Snow’ hypothesis, I show that although the weaker end of the spectrum is plausible, the blind acceptance of this weaker relativism can lead via a slippery slope to the more pernicious acceptance of the strong end of the spectrum – linguistic determinism.

The Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis asks us to believe that our conceptions and perceptions of the world around us are specifically informed by the language our culture speaks, which make it a metaphysical claim subject to strong philosophic inquiry. Once put to the test, I find that the hypothesis can be negated definitively on many different levels. For example, under the hypothesis, it would be assumed that babies must first have language in order to generate knowledge – any knowledge – about the world around them, a view that is clearly false. Further, we must assume that something obviously learned becomes an informer. This is illogical and with any reflective thought, proven to be impossible.

My research proves conclusively that deterministic relativism is fallacious to a harmful degree, bringing into question our knowledge of how human beings learn about the world around us. Given this proof, it becomes necessary that we pay more attention to the methods we use to gather this knowledge, and can use the ‘Eskimo Snow’ Hypothesis as a warning for future researchers- blind acceptance of any theory can greatly undermine the breadth of human knowledge.

Download article [PDF]