Archive for June, 2021

June 28, 2021

Musings about logic

by Neil Rickert

Logic has always come naturally to me. Perhaps that is why I went into mathematics. However, some people find logic to be quite difficult. Even some very creative people can have difficulty with logic. I guess it is just as well that we are all different and can benefit from that diversity.

For me, as a mathematician, the term “logic” is used for inference involving the strict following of rules. However, people seem to have varied ideas about logic. So this post will be a somewhat rambling stream of comments (musings).


It is sometimes said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, then before long every problem begins to look like a nail. And if the only tool you have is logic, then every problem begins to look like a proposition.

Logic is not the only tool that philosophers use. But, in my opinion, they do seem to give it too much emphasis. And, perhaps as a result, they do tend to put too much emphasis on propositions. We see this when they define knowledge as “justified true belief”, so as to have a propositional account of knowledge. But it has always seemed wrong to me. As I see it, the knowledge of a plumber is in his ability to fix the pipes; he does not need to give eloquent speeches about pipes.

Similarly, philosophers of science often describe scientific theories as belief systems. But this, too, seems wrong. A theory is much more a system of research behaviors than a system of beliefs.

Mr Spock

In the Star Trek series, Mr Spock was notable because he did everything with logic and avoided emotion. But here’s my question: if there was no emotion, why would he even care whether he got to logic right?

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June 21, 2021


by Neil Rickert

I skipped posting last week. I had planned to post about knowledge and belief, but decided to skip that post.

Conventionalism is interesting, in part because much of our life seems to depend on social conventions. And, in part, because philosophers seem to be strongly opposed.

According to Wikipedia, “Conventionalism is the philosophical attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on (explicit or implicit) agreements in society, rather than on external reality.”


It is usually agreed that a social convention is an agreement, perhaps implicit rather than explicit.

The rule that we should drive on the right side of road is often mentioned as an example of a convention. In some parts of the world, including Australia (where I grew up), people instead drive on the left side of the road. That there was a choice between driving on the left, or driving on the right, illustrates why conventions are said to depend on arbitrary choices. But those two choices (left vs. right) are not the only options. For example, there could be a system where people drive on the left on even numbered days and on the right on odd numbered days. This would be more confusing, with probably more accidents. But it serves to illustrate that there is often a degree of pragmatism in our choice of convention. Saying that a convention is an arbitrary choice does not rule out the involvement of pragmatism in the making of that choice.

Poincare proposed conventionalism for geometry. In his view, the axioms of geometry derive from our measuring conventions. I agree with Poincare on that.

Hilary Putnam argued against conventionalism in “The Refutation of Conventionalism”. One of his arguments was that under conventionalism there could be no matters of fact. I just measured the height of my desk as 74 cm. That’s a matter of fact which depends on the measuring conventions which define the centimeter. From the way that I look at it, all facts are relative to the conventions that we follow when observing those facts.

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June 7, 2021

Notes on consciousness

by Neil Rickert

In this post I will comment on the direction of my ideas about consciousness. However, it will not provide the reductionist account that some people seem to want.

The hard problem

David Chalmers divided the question of consciousness into what he called “the easy problem” and what he called “the hard problem.” Personally, I think the easy problem is actually quite hard. But I’ll discuss that later in this post. And I am inclined to doubt that the hard problem actually makes sense.

For Chalmers, the easy problem is the problem of getting information about the world or about our immediate environment. The hard problem is that of explaining conscious experience.


The hard problem is usually defined in terms of qualia. Here, “qualia” is a plural term that is said to refer to the qualities of our conscious experience. The corresponding singular term is “quale”.

I don’t much care for qualia talk. While I have a rough idea on what people want to discuss, it is always limited to a vague idea. There is nothing that I can pinpoint that I would call a “quale”. So I am not convinced that the qualia words actually refer.

I guess that makes me a qualiaphobe. That’s the term used to describe people who do not like qualia talk. It seems to me that qualia talk encourages us to see everything about conscious experience as objective, when it is really subjective.

Yes, I have conscious experience, as I assume others do. But I have only experience of my own conscious experience. I have not experienced that of anyone else. We can talk about our conscious experience because we share a language. But we do not share the experience itself. For all I know, the way that I experience red might be similar to the way that you experience blue. Our ability to talk about that experience is not sufficient for us to actually settle such questions.

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