Tag Archives: 形上學

PHIL203 Metaphysics 形上學

Metaphysics 這個學期我修讀的是形上學(Metaphysics)﹐這課本來不是我的首選。一來上學期讀完Hume大肆批評形上學廢﹐二來上課時間在中午很不方便。不過晚上那班倫理進階滿額了﹐加上哲學部門的指導教授說我的根基未穩﹐建議我先在二年級的課中打好基礎﹐於我逢星期一三的午飯時間﹐便會從公司開溜回大學上堂﹐成為班中唯一一個邊吃飯盒邊抄筆記的人。

讀形上學的確沒有什麼實際的用途﹐它不像認知論背負起整個現代科學的基礎﹐也不像倫理學般關乎切身的社會問題。形上學研究超越這個世界﹐不在受制於現實的物理層面的東西﹐嚴格來說可以說是純吹水。不過這些看似吹水的題目﹐卻困繞了哲學家二千幾年也找不到答案﹐理論上亦不可能找到答案。形上學的課題主要有﹐體肉和靈魂的關係﹐人有沒有自由意志﹐時間是什麼﹐神存不存在﹐自我的身份問題﹐以及最重要的一個題目﹐人生宇宙的終極意義是什麼。形上學也不是完全沒有用﹐它的最大用途就是當宗教的解毒劑。很多人會往宗教處找這些問題的答案﹐而宗教也提供了一個很方便答案﹐人們也不再深究思考其答案的真偽﹐安心地被宗教利用答案去達到其他目的。

這課的教授很用心授課﹐指定課本只是薄薄的一本作為問題的導讀﹐該書的作者對各問題的答案有既定立場。教授把其他正反相方哲學家的文章﹐結集在比課本還要厚出許多的講義上﹐讓我們能夠更深入了解問題的本質。靈魂肉體問題和自由意志這兩個課題差不多用了半個學期去教﹐深入剖析各正反論點的優劣﹐雖然到最後也沒有一個肯定的答案﹐但正方的理據讓我更加深信靈魂和自由意志的存在。不過也有可能先入為主﹐因從小被灌輸的社會觀念﹐下意識地不斷嘗試推翻反方的論點。

在靈魂問題上最大的難題﹐就是肉體和靈魂的互動介面。不過哲學家對科技總是落後幾步﹐從電腦工程師的角度去看﹐靈魂就好像電腦軟件﹐肉體就是硬件﹐人的意識就是靈魂。我會相信電腦有可能有靈魂﹐但反而接受不到動物有靈魂。自由意志的問題﹐是因為它和理定律的必然性或全知神的屬性有矛盾﹐不過我很自然的引用量子力學中的隨機現像去反駁必然性這點。不過自由意志這個問題申延出的道德問題才是核心所在﹐因為所有的道德理論也是建立在人可自由選擇好壞的基礎上。完全不受控也是沒有自由意志﹐所以隨機論還是解決不了責任的問題。

時間課題給我的感覺是與時代俗節﹐大慨沒有多少人會懷疑時間的真實性。我的第二篇功課特別選了這個題目﹐用霍金的時間簡史和愛因基坦的相對論﹐去逐點反駁主張時間是不真實的上世紀哲學家。 我認為時間和萬有引力般﹐應該從哲學搬家到物理學﹐不用再齋講時間是什麼﹐做實驗去發掘是更好嗎﹖我原本以為神存不存會是個很熱門課題﹐不過竟然只有老掉牙的理論﹐大慨哲學家們對神早已有共識﹐只剩下宗教份子還會喋喋不休地說神。自我身份這個課題很有趣﹐除著科技發達﹐也許在不久的將來﹐我們會有腦袋移植﹐複製人﹐思想拷貝等技術。那候誰才是我的這個問題﹐也許就不再那樣抽像難以捉摸﹐變成和日常生活息息相關的事情了。

形上學最後的一個課題是意義的問題。我曾經和同事玩蘇格拉底式問答﹐用深入淺出的方法去告訴他什麼是形上學。結果最後一定會問到這個問題﹐人生的意義是什麼﹐人為什麼要存在。這個問題的答案是沒有得學﹐每一個人的也不盡相同﹐必需要自己去思索找出心中的那一個答案。不過這個課題不用考試﹐我到現在還沒有時間去好好地思考答案。我以前做過九型人格的心理測試﹐我是很少有的享樂主義者﹐幾十人一起做測試只有我一人。說不定我的人生意義就只是吃喝拉睡﹐說起來其實這也不算太壞。

修讀這課比起哲學入門吃力﹐可能要閱讀比較多的原著﹐加上在日間上堂。分數方便我依然是低空飛過僅僅及格﹐大慨我在文科上沒有什麼天份。寫文章雖然不太在行﹐但我自信可以明白這課中學到的理論的大部份。不過想果當一個哲學家﹐自己明白了問題找到答案是不足夠的。更重要是人家知道你找到答案﹐就算不同意也要至少知道你想講什麼。

哲學功課: On Fatalism

In this essay I will discuss the conflict between God’s foreknowledge and our freedom. I will first examine the problem of fatalism proposed by Richard Taylor. Then I will reproduce the resolution proposed by St. Augustine and William Rowe.

In chapter six of Taylor’s book Metaphysics, he has concluded determinism will logically lead to fatalism. Fatalism is a belief that whatever happens in the future is unavoidable. Normal people agree on the fact that the past cannot be changed. The fatalists take their belief one step further. They think that the future also cannot be changed. All events, from the past to the future, in the time line are static. We are just players acting out a predefined script; although we don’t necessary know what is going to happen.

One form of fatalism arises from religious beliefs. In this form of fatalism, there exists an omniscient God. This all-knowing, all-powerful God has foreknowledge about all events in the future. Therefore, although the future has not yet arrived, everything is already fixed in the eyes of God. Men may have illusion that their action can change the future, but nothing happen in the world is avoidable. In another words, it is impossible for us to have done it otherwise, according to the foreknowledge of God. There is another form of fatalism does not require the presence of God. The second form of fatalism is based on the law of excluded middle. Every statement about any event in any given time is either true or false, there is no middle ground. Therefore, there exists a set of true statements that describe every event that had happened, is happening or will happen in the world. Again, in another words, this also implies it is impossible for us to do it otherwise, according to that set of true statements.

In the dialog between Augustine and Erodins, Erodins questioned Augustine that the two propositions God has foreknowledge and we sin by free will are not compatible. Since men are inevitable to sin, men should be not judged nor punished. This question is essentially the same as the claim of fatalism, except that Erodins also brought the question of responsibility into the picture. Augustine responded by stating the distinction between will and necessity. He said that by definition the freedom of choices is not a will unless it is in our power. Therefore, the foreknowledge of God does not disprove our power to will anything voluntarily, as long as God also has knowledge of our power over it. Then Augustine further developed his argument claiming that due to we have free will, God’s foreknowledge that we will sin does not compel us to sin. Our sin is caused by our free will, so it is justified to punish those who had sinned. To summarize, Augustine provided an argument that free will is compatible with fatalism, as well as God’s foreknowledge.

In Rowe’s article on predestination, divine foreknowledge and human freedom, he tackled the problem from a different approach. First the he refuted Augustine’s definition of free will and the resolution by separating foreseeing the events from foreordaining the events. Rowe said power of will alone is not sufficient to justify human freedom; the other necessary condition is the power to do otherwise. He used growing old as an example. Say someone wants to grow old, although he indeed is growing old, but he still doesn’t grow old freely. Rowe clarity the problem by outlining the premise and the arguments that leads to the conclusion human has no freedom. The first premise is that God has foreknowledge. The second premise is that since God knows everything we will do, we cannot do otherwise. The third premise is that if we cannot do otherwise, then we don’t really have freedom. In order to dispute the conclusion, we have to reject at least one of the premises.

The first solution is to reject premise three, Augustine’s resolution, which already refuted by Rowe. The second solution is to reject premise two, deny God’s foreknowledge limits us to choose otherwise. Rowe cited the solution suggested by William of Ockham to classify statements about the past into two types: simply about the past and not simply about the past. Statements simply about the past are out of our power to control, however we may alter statements not simply about the past. God’s foreknowledge is statements not simply about the past, therefore God knows everything does not mutually exclude sometimes we have the power to do otherwise. The third solution is to reject premise three, deny God has foreknowledge. This resolution is adopted by many theologians such as Boethius and Thomas Aquinas. In short, this resolution claims God exists outside of time, therefore his foreknowledge does not affect men’s temporal passage. They claim that all events in all time are observed by God at the same moment. Therefore, there is no restriction from God’s foreknowledge limiting men’s freedom to choose otherwise.

To summarize this essay, Augustine made an unsuccessful attempt to solve the problem of fatalism. He made his argument from redefining the meaning of free will is shown too weak. This object is already addressed by Taylor in the end of chapter 5 of his book, Metaphysics. The second and third solution suggested by Rowe has built a much stronger case. Rowe had shown divine foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom by stating free will doesn’t involve altering the past. Taylor has no response to meet these two objects in his book and Rowe had successfully solved the problem of fatalism.

Lastly, the thesis of fatalism is built base on the premise that determinism is true. However from our latest philosophical understanding, determinism cannot be true due to the effect of randomness in reality. If there is no hard coded universal causal relationship between the past and the future, then the claim of fatalism that the future is unavoidable is vague. Therefore, there is no need to solve the problem of fatalism as the conflict between fatalism and free will is not valid in the first place.

哲學功課: Problems of McTaggart and the unreality of time

In this essay I will criticize the unreality of time proposed by McTaggart. First I will outline the arguments on the unreality of time by McTaggart. Then I will reject his premises and deductions one by one to show McTaggart has failed to conclude that time is unreal.

First we have to understand the A-series, B-series and C-series description of time proposed by McTaggart. Let’s start with C-series, which is not a temporal series. The C-series specify the order of events and the time between the events. The B-series adds the notation of direction of time to the C-series. In a B-series, each event is expressed in term of earlier than or later than other events. The A-series adds the notation of the present moment of time to the B-series. In an A-series, each event is either in past, at present or in the future. McTaggart stated that we can only observe time through the forming of either A-series or B-series.

McTaggart then said B-series is not sufficient to describe time. Events in a B-series indicate permanent relations. The earlier and later relationship of events in the B-series cannot describe changes, which is essential for time to exist. Therefore, we are only left with A-series to describe time. McTaggart then claimed that if the A-series is unreal, then time must be unreal. He answered two objections to the removal of A-series will destroy time. The first one deals with imaginary time-series, such as a time-line inside a novel. He dismissed it by claiming time only belongs to existent. The second objection deals with multiple time-series. He dismissed it by claiming the different time-series with multiple moment of present should be rejected because it is incompatible with the A-series.

Next, McTaggart went on to show A-series cannot exist by arguing the A-series is contradictory. He argued that the past, present and future of an event are incompatible determinations. Each event can be in all three incompatible states depending on the verb-from of the event. However using verb-form to explain the states of event induce a vicious circle of infinite A-series. Since A-series has no valid explanation, it is a contradiction and therefore time is unreal. McTaggart’s argument can be summarized in the following table.

  1. Time can only be observed by forming B-series and A-series
  2. Time involves changes, so B-series is out
  3. If A-series is unreal, then time is unreal
  4. A-series is invalid, so it is unreal
  5. Therefore, time is unreal.

Traditionally, there are two camps of philosophers trying to rejecting McTaggart’s claim by two different approaches. The B theorists think that B-series alone is sufficient to describe time. The A theorists accept McTaggart’s claim that A-series is necessary for the existence of time, but reject his claim that A-series is contradictory. Both A theorists and B theorists has their problem dealing with McTaggart, mostly due to they are trapped by framework defined by McTaggart when discussing time. In this essay, I will use a different approach. I will first examine and reject each line of McTaggart’s argument, from step 4 down to step 1 in the table above. In the process, I will uncover some fundamental errors in the McTaggart’s construction of the A-series and B-the series, and provide a new framework of time based on the scientific theories of time.

In step 4 of McTaggart’s argument, he claims that the A-series is unreal because it involves an endless regression of A-series. I am going to reject his claim in three different ways. 1.) An infinite series can also be a real series. All we have to do to take the integration. In mathematics, there are real numbers with endless regression, such as π, e, and irrational numbers. We can only claim that the A-series is not precise in describing the states of an event, but we cannot deduce A-series is unreal from the fact that it merely has infinite circles. 2.) McTaggart tried to solve the problem of time using verb-form is limited by semantic constructs of his language, English. There exist languages with verb-from common to all past, present and future, such as Chinese. The timing relationship of an event in such language is specified explicitly by a time qualifier, such as today, tomorrow, 3 hours ago, last year, etc. 3.) In Dummett’s article, he suggested that using token-reflexive expression, such as now, may refute McTaggart’s argument. He then subsequently claimed the token-reflexive expression of the observer introduce another time-series, hence the endless regression problem still exists. I would answer this by stating that the now event does not require a mind to be an observer. A computer can objectively apply the token-reflex expression to resolve A-series without any existence of mind, thus the now event is real instead of being subjective. Therefore with the help of a real now event, the infinite regression of A-series can be collapsed into a single real A-series with the now event at present.

In step 3 of McTaggart’s argument, he dismissed the objection from the theory of a plurality of time saying it is merely a hypothesis. McTaggart assume time is absolute for all observers. However his viewpoint contradicts with Einstein’s relativity theory, which is a scientific fact. According to principle of relativity, time experienced by an observer is a function of the speed of the observer and the speed of light, which is a constant real value. The faster the speed of the observer, the slower the time he will experience. The relativity of time is confirmed by the 1962 dual atomic clock experiment. In the experiment, two pairs of very accurate atomic clock are mounted on the bottom and the top of a tall tower and it is observed one clock is running slower than another. There is also the famous twins paradox. One of the twins travels in a spaceship near the speed of light. When he returns, he will be much younger than the other twin staying on earth. Each individual has his own frame of reference in time that depends on his velocity and his location related to massive bodies. McTaggart concluded time is unreal because he mistakenly assumed time must be absolute. If time is relative, then there exist many A-series and many instances of present in the universe. Therefore rejecting the A-series alone is not sufficient to prove the unreality of time. Moreover, since the speed of light is real and the speed of the observer is also real, time as a function of those two must also be real.

In step 2 of McTaggart’s argument, he claimed that the B-series indicate permanent relations. Therefore the B-series cannot describe the nature of change in time. McTaggart has made an assumption about the deterministic worldview of time. The B-series is only capable of describing past events. The very last event in the B-series is the now event marking all the possibilities are lying ahead in the future. Take McTaggart’s own example, the death of Queen Anne. Before the event actually happen, there are all sorts of possibilities that Queen Anne could escape death. She could be adducted by aliens preserved as a frozen specimen or she could ascend into heaven like Jesus. If N is earlier than O and later than M, it will only be so if all three events have already happened. If O is in the future, then there is no guarantee this event will exist in the B-series. Therefore, a growing B-series is sufficient to describe time, at least time earlier than the present moment. The becoming of an event is described by its position relative to the now event in the B-series. In this sense, a B-series is equivalent to an A-series after we apply some transform function between the two series using now as the operator.

At last, in step 1 of McTaggart’s argument, he claimed that we never observe time except forming both A-series and B-series and he also claimed that time can be subjective which cannot exists independent of human mind. Let’s try to imagine the following scenario. There is a third world war and every man on earth is killed by nuclear weapons. The earth is heavily polluted and will be inhabitable for the next several thousand years. However, there is a great scientist come up a plan to save humanity. He builds a modern version of Noah’s art safe keeping DNA of every species on earth, including human. The art is controlled by a super computer, which monitors the atmosphere. When the earth becomes habitable, it will populate man and animals from the art’s DNA database through cloning. It is obvious that computer would also keeps track of the time between the last man is dead and the first cloned man is born. During this period, there exists no human mind to subjective perceive time and yet time exists. This thought experiment demonstrated time exists independent of human mind. Moreover, we can also describe time through forming paths in light cones instead of forming the A-series and B-series. The future light-cone is the path of a light pulse from an event and the past light cone is the path of all the lights pulse that will pass through an event. For an event A to be affected by another event B, event A has to lie within the future light cone of event B, since nothing can travel faster than light. Therefore time can be described by the path of lights passing thought the light cones of events. If we use the framework of quantum physics, events change is just a secondary property of time. An event happens on the moment all the probability of the quantum wave equations collapsed into certainty. Then the becoming of an event can derives the change of an event. Therefore, change is not essential to time, instead becoming is essential to time.

In conclusion, in this essay I have rejected every single statement in McTaggart’s argument on the unreality of time. Therefore we have no reason to believe time is unreal based on his arguments. On the other hand, there are plenty of evidence in modern science showing time is real. Hence as a rational being, we should accept the reality of time instead of the unreality of time. In the matter of facts, the questions about the nature of time should no longer be a metaphysical question. It should follow the example of gravity, which moved from the department of philosophy to the department of physics.

References:
[1] J.M.E. McTaggart, “The Unreality of Time”
[2] Michael Dummett, “A Defense of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time”
[3] Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time”
[4] Stephen Hawking, “The Universe in a Nutshell”
[5] Wikipedia, “The Unreality of Time”, “Notes of McTaggart, The Unreality of Time”, “Philosphy of space and time”