Thursday, November 29, 2012

Manuel Velasquez's Philosophy: A Text with Readings (Book Review Part 6)

The manner in which Velasquez discusses Metaphysics is interesting because he uses a dialectal approach that is reminiscent of Socrates' dialogues, yet falls short of being Hegelian dialectals because Velasquez does not synthesize his thesis and anti-thesis. In fact, when discussing Metaphysics the good author is diplomatic because he is being impartial about whether he agrees with the new philosophies he introduces including: Idealism, the view that ideas explain how humans perceive reality; Pragmatism, the view that there is no "absolute view" on reality; Logical Positivism, the stance that language limits how reality is described; Phenomenology and Existentialism, perspectives that seek to describe nature through consciousness; Determinism, the belief that events are out of humans' control due to "pre-existing conditions" such as health and social class; and Libertarianism, the approach that combines deterministic aspects with free-will. What is amusing about how Velasquez discusses the aforementioned philosophies is the manner in which he describes them because even though he is impartial, the language Velasquez uses to present criticisms to the mentioned philosophies implies that he does not agree with everything that each philosophy posits.

Indeed, when Velasquez introduces Idealism he starts off in a benign manner that seems innocuous, but it is until he presents views rebutting Idealism that the reader starts to see some partisanship. The examples that Velasquez rebuts are George Berkeley's Subjective Idealism and Objective Idealism, where one stance promotes the world depending on the mind and the other claims that God makes an "ultimate intelligible system" (Velasquez 148). The first point that Velasquez makes about Berkeley's views on reality is that Berkeley is committing the anthropomorphic fallacy (Velasquez 150). What that means is that Berkeley is attributing human qualities to material and immaterial objects that are non-human. Moreover, the problem that Velasquez points out is that, "Subjective idealism claims that whatever I perceive is merely one of my perceptions or a collection of perceptions. But this is at least puzzling and suggests that subjective idealism is based on a mistake: the mistake of failing to distinguish between my perception of a thing and the thing that I perceive" (Velasquez 151). Clearly, Velasquez questions whether subjective idealism correctly describes reality because people can make mistakes based on what is tangibly observable and what the object perceived really is---for example, people who are color blind whose eyes do not perceive red may see red as gray. The problem with Subjective Idealism, then, is that perception limits how humans interpret reality. In fact, Velasquez is inclusive enough to say that reality is not just limited to one perception, but also a collection of perceptions; thus, the manner in which Velasquez rebuts is far from endorsing Subjective Idealism.

If Velasquez had plenty to say about Subjective Idealism, then he had about as much to say about Objective Idealism. On reading about Objective Idealism, what is hysterical is that Berkeley sought to disprove the materialistic view and replace it with Objective Idealism, however, what ended happening is that Berkeley accidentally introduced a philosophical stance---by the name of Skepticism---that was just as bad as materialism because, according to Velasquez, Skepticism claims that humans cannot know anything about reality (Velasquez 214). What Berkeley's mistake did is refute both materialism and idealism because by advocating ideas that humans cannot know reality, under the premise that God is reality, then transitivity argues that man cannot know God. More compelling to read are Velasquez's own words:
Recall your classroom experience. You perceive the classroom because some other mind, call it God, perceives it all the time, thus holding the classroom in place each time you happen to perceive it. But do we really need such an explanation? Won’t a materialistic explanation account for the composition of the classroom and of the things that you pass en route to it? And should they one day disappear, can’t materialism also account for that eventuality—they fell down, were torn down, or were blown up? Why do you need to involve the mind of God? (Velasquez 151)
What Velasquez is doing is asking whether humans need to invent God to explain reality. Moreover, Velasquez is wondering if Materialism explains reality just as well as Objective Idealism. If anything can be taken from Velasquez's words is that he comes off as Skeptic because he is not choosing one side, instead Velasquez is putting two opposing views in a dialectal manner for pedagogy's sake. What is also latent in Velasquez's writing is how he uses the Socratic method as a way to discredit an argument; the effects of doing so implies his power as a writer because as Socrates demonstrates, the person asking the questions is the person in control. Hence, the person in control of a conversation is the person in power (the way that Velasquez uses his authority as a writer is to berate philosophies with which he disagrees).

After discussing Idealism, Velasquez made a segue into Pragmatism wherein he discussed how Pragmatism does not waste time debating whether Materialism or Idealism are correct (Velasquez 153). Some key features of Pragmatism is that it is a pluralistic perspective that takes into account psychology, sociology, science, and the arts (Velasquez 154). Yet in his attempt in being impartial, Velasquez once again involuntarily choose sides when he describes criticisms against Pragmatism with, "Consider, finally, whether pragmatism erases the distinction between the mind and the universe, between our knowledge of facts and the existence of facts apart from our knowledge. When pragmatism emphasizes that multiple realities exist because of the mind’s capacity to have multiple interests, does this imply that there is no reality apart from the mind? Does it mean that there is no configuration of things aside from what we may think or desire?" (Velasquez 158). What is clear from reading Velasquez criticisms is that he brings to attention distinctions between the mind and the universe, however the manner in which Velasquez refutes Pragmatism is through series of gadfly questioning. Furthermore, in questioning whether there are multiple realities Velasquez is showing disdain for the matter because multiple realities imply that the mind is reality. Velasquez sums up his thoughts with a chilling question wherein he asks if reality is all thoughts and desires, thus showing how skeptic he is about Pragmatism.

Like a good writer Velasquez is organized because after finishing his discussion on Pragmatism, he transitioned into his section on Logical Positivism. The ideas that Positivism presents include Tautologies and Empirical Hypothesis which stand out due to the peculiar way in which both describe reality, that is, one puts forth axiomatic arguments and the other is verifiable by experiment, respectively. Although Velasquez does a great job in presenting Logical Positivism, the manner in which he criticizes is different:
Other critics have argued, in refusing to discuss metaphysical questions about reality merely because they do not meet their own unproved assumptions about meaning, the analysts have in effect pretended that our real human questions and problems do not exist. By taking this approach, logical positivists have avoided the many hard questions raised by materialists, idealists, and pragmatists. But that is playing ostrich. The problems, critics contend, are still there, and people still continue to think about them. But in failing to deal with these problems, logical positivists have turned away from dealing with some of the most profound and significant issues that human beings face. This, critics claim, is one of the most disappointing aspects of logical positivism: its failure to discuss the questions that really matter. (Velasquez 163)
Some of the problems inherent to Logical Positivism are nearly identical to the one that Pragmatism has---which Velasquez states when introducing Positivism, for example both Positivism and Pragmatism exclude problems that Idealism and Materialism face by ignoring the issues both raise like whether the immaterial can influence the material and vice-versa (Velasquez 159). Oddly enough, the manner in which Velasquez describes how Positivism fails to address the aforementioned issue is funny because Velasquez says that Positivists are playing the ostrich; an ostrich hides its head in the ground when in danger, so in saying that Positivists are playing ostrich Velasquez is saying that Positivists are intentionally being oblivious, hence, choosing ignorance instead of addressing issues that both Idealism and Materialism debate amongst each other. Finally, one technique that Velasquez is using to present his critiques is an appeal to authority---which actually facilitates claim making because Velasquez can hide behind an authority who could be making an incorrect statement, while preserving his credibility---thereby shifting attention from himself to other people. Yet, for all the appeals that the good author makes, his last sentence shows how Velasquez feels about Logical Positivism, that is, disappointed.

Even though Velasquez attempts to be impartial when discussing Logical Positivism, he is even less impartial when discussing Phenomenology and Existentialism. In fact, of all the stances that Velasquez presents it is Husserl's stance that is the most outrageous because Husserl argues that perception is false and all that a person can know is that he or she is conscious by a process of bracketing (Velasquez 174). What is problematic about Husserl's "bracketing" is that it fails to explain how a person is able to conceive what is around him or her, for example a person stung by bee will not know if he or she was stung by a bee because all a person can know is that he or she is conscious. In Velasquez's words, "What one sees when one brackets as Husserl recommended depends on one’s assumptions, values, language, and so forth. So, bracketing cannot reveal the same thing to everyone" (Velasquez 184). Velasquez took his argument further by not just saying that all there is conscious, but if people bracket incorrectly people will get different results. One of the concerns that Velasquez raises is if people are unable to successfully bracket, then how will people be able to know reality or if they bracketed correctly; the dilemma that results is in the question of how people will know what is real. Although Velasquez was partisan when discussing Phenomenology, this instance is forgivable because the concerns that Velasquez raises are agreeable because consciousness does not seem to be independent from reality.

In the same way that Phenomenology tries to explain reality through consciousness, Existentialism attempts to do the same. The Existential approach, however, is different in one aspect---which is that rather than reject the world around humans, Existentialism explains realities with what people experience. Furthermore, Existentialism stresses the importance on self-reliance and responsibility; that people are accountable for all decisions they make. Velasquez's thoughts on the matter are, "The idea of degrees of responsibility doesn’t seem to fit with Sartre’s view of morality. Sartre says humans are totally responsible because they are totally free. Because all of us could have made a world that excluded the Nazi massacre, we are all equally responsible. It’s true that in Being and Nothingness Sartre relaxes this view by speaking of the social restraints on individual freedom, but then one wonders whether this modification is consistent, or even needs to be, with his existential phenomenology" (Velasquez 185). Sartre's greatest logical error is in how he claims that individuals are completely responsible for their actions. Yet, Velasquez chose an unfair example that flips any statement on its head by using the ad Hitlerum fallacy because mentioning such an extreme example that shows the worst humans can achieve has the effect of saying that humans are responsible for perpetuating racism. Velasquez knew what he was doing when he chose to use the ad Hitlerum fallacy when he could have opted for a more benign example to refute Sartre's existential phenomenology, but regardless, this again, shows how passionate the good author is on some philosophies he introduces in his text because resorting to such a fallacy requires some contempt for that with which he disagrees.

Where Phenomenology and Existentialism reduces reality to consciousness, Determinism tries to explain reality in a depressing manner. For instance, Determinism simplifies reality with three axioms: all events and actions are causally determined by previous events and actions; causality rules out free-will and responsibility; and humans are not accountable for their actions (Velasquez 190). The reason why Determinism is depressing is because its axioms suggest that free-will is an illusion. Velasquez does a great job in criticizing determinism with his words, "The implications of determinism are disturbing. If determinism is true, then punishment, at least in the traditional sense, makes little sense. More broadly, if determinism is true, then it makes no sense to hold individuals responsible for their actions, whether for good or evil" (Velasquez 190). Clearly, Velasquez is saying that if Determinism is true, then rules and punishment are no longer valid in a society where individuals cannot control his or her actions. To illustrate his point Velasquez cites the Clarence Darrow defense---wherein the lawyer claimed the accused had predisposing factors that led them to commit murder, hence punishing the accused is nonsense. Some of the ramifying effects from Determinism is that it questions whether morality is necessary under a world where everything is predetermined by prior actions and events (Velasquez 187). In short, what Velasquez is doing is refuting by presenting another extreme example---morality and murder---where the philosophical stance in question fails to address reality.

While Determinism evades personal responsibility, Libertarianism is yet another philosophy that advocates personal responsibility. What differentiates Libertarianism from Determinism is that Libertarianism argues that although humans' past and present exist they do not determine what does not yet exist, that is the future (Velasquez 191). The fact that humans have the ability to shape their future means that humans are responsible for what they do, however, people have a choice to follow past behavior or to shape their future. Velasquez criticizes Libertarianism in the same way as he criticizes Sartre's existentialism, that is with an ad Hitlerum fallacy, so overall Velasquez shows as much contempt for Libertarianism as for Existentialism (Velasquez 185).

From Idealism, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Determinism, to Libertarianism Velasquez was critical to the point where the reader may ask the good author what stance he endorses. Yet, for all his questioning, Velasquez does not suggest a philosophy of his own---which might be the result of pedagogy because, perhaps, Velasquez does not want to influence his readers. However, in pointing out flaws in the philosophies he presents in his textbook he unconsciously rejects philosophies with which he disagrees. In conclusion, what Velasquez work does is bring into question whether professors should reveal their philosophical, political, religious, and social stances because that will help in clearing any biases professors have when presenting material to students.

Works Cited
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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