International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 122 14th November 2006


I. 'Interview with Graham Priest' by Seher Yekenkurul

II. 'Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence: A Heideggerian Approach' by
   Archana Baruah

III. 'Explaining Explanation' by D.R. Khashaba



Tomorrow is UNESCO World Philosophy Day. Here is some news I have received of events taking place in London, Paris, Finland and Nepal:

In Paris, an international conference, 'Levinas, Blanchot: Thinking the Difference' started yesterday and continues to November 16, with sixty speakers from fourteen countries who will 'query aspects of the dialogue between these two major thinkers of the 20th century who were bound by an indestructible friendship and mutual admiration'. More details and conference program may be obtained from http:--- or http:---.

In Finland, the AIIPh Baltic Sea Net, along with the Finnish UNESCO Associated School Project, the Finnish Association for Teachers of Philosophy and Philosophy of Life, and Societas Philosophica Fennica are organizing a philosophical essay event for secondary school students in countries around the Baltic Sea. More information may be obtained from Elo Pekka at Pekka.Elo@OPH.Fi.

Philosophy Forum Nepal  is organizing a Talk on November 16 on the topic 'Nepal's National Problems in the Context of the Changing World Situation', at the Bishow Bhasha Campus in Kathmandu. More details from Avaya Sharma, email

Finally, in London, the London School of Economics Philosophy Society and Forum for European Philosophy are jointly organizing a one day conference on November 15, 'Philosophy in Europe Today' with speakers Guy Longworth, Andrew Bowie, Michela Massim, Jose Zalabardo and Chair Simon Glendinning. More information from Julian Cardinale email

In this issue we are very lucky to have an interview with Graham Priest conducted by Seher Yekenkurul, a student at La Trobe University, Australia who is planning to undertake a series of interviews with well known figures in philosophy. Graham Priest in a series of books has 'dared' put into question the Law of Non-Contradiction, arousing much controversy amongst philosophers and logicians.

Also in this issue, Archana Baruah raises the question how Heidegger would have viewed the growing research industry in Artificial Intelligence, and D.R. Khashaba looks at the not unrelated question of the different  meanings of 'explanation' in science and philosophy.

Geoffrey Klempner



Graham Priest is the Boyce Gibson Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University, and Professorial Fellow at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Graham's research interests are in logic and related areas, such as metaphysics and the history of philosophy (East and West). He is the author of a number of books including: In Contradiction, Beyond the Limits of Thought, Towards Non-Being, Doubt Truth to be a Liar, and An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic.

Seher: Your contribution to logic, particularly through your work In Contradiction has been the centre of controversy since its first release. What is Dialetheism?

Graham: Dialetheism is the view that some contradictions are true. The reason why Dialetheism is controversial is because it has been a sort of tenet of Western philosophy, really since the time of Aristotle with the Law of noncontradiction, where a contradiction cannot possible be true. So many people found it outrageous when some people started to say that some contradictions can be true, which was about thirty years ago. By contradiction, I mean what logicians usually mean, namely things that form A and not A, such as the 'sun is shining and the sun is not shining', or 'we are in Melbourne and we are not in Melbourne'.

Seher: In your wonderful book, Beyond the Limits of Thought, you claim that the limits of thought are Dialetheic, thus subject to true contradictions. Could you explain your thesis on the boundaries of conceptual processes that you argue we can cross?

Graham: There is a phenomenon that occurs when you start to think about the limits of thought, or the limits of language, or similar sorts of things, but whenever you want to argue that there are things which are on the other side, which cannot be thought of, or cannot be described, you seem to force yourself to doing the impossible and actually say something or think about something on the other side. So, the thesis in Beyond the Limits of Thought is that there are certain kinds of limits, that there is something on the other side which you cannot think about or describe. The very process of passing that the boundary is Dialethic, you cannot cross it, but somehow you do. That is the contradiction.

Seher: You allege that the problem of Dialetheism is not a rational one, but rather a sociological one. Can you further explain what you mean by this?

Graham: There are actually very few arguments in favour of the Law of non-contradiction. The classic defence is Aristotle in the Metaphysics, and the arguments are pretty terrible, at the very least unclear. So, why then have people been attached to the Law of noncontradiction, when the only defence in the history of Western philosophy is so poor? Therefore, there must be a sociological explanation. Certain characters, because of their position in philosophy, acquire phenomenal value and Aristotle is certainly one of them. The mere fact that Aristotle said something, or Wittgenstein, or Derrida, or whoever, makes people think that it must be true, just because these are big names. I think something is happening like that in the Law of noncontradiction. Here is this sort of magnificent philosopher and no one has bothered to challenge him, so then it must be the case. As I tell you this, it does not seem very plausible, but I cannot think of a better explanation.

Seher: It reminds me of something Aristotle said: 'Conscious of their own ignorance, most people are impressed by anyone who pontificates and says something that is over their heads'.

Graham: Yes, but everything else Aristotle has said has been challenged in the last 2,000 years. Ok, so perhaps this is the last episode of that kind, the last thing that Aristotle said that has not been challenged.

Seher: You state Hegel, above all philosophers, was the first to recognise the Dialetheic limits of thought, although (observably) his obscure literary style may make it difficult for many to comprehend. Can you briefly explain the history of Dialetheism from Aristotle to Kant and Hegel?

Graham: In that period of time, the straight orthodoxy is that contradictions can't be true, end of story. There are a few people who play around with the idea that contradictions are not true, on the fringes of philosophy like Nicholas of Cusa who was a medieval theologian. But, generally speaking, no one takes the idea very seriously. Things change a little bit when you get to Kant, because he comes very close to supposing that they are. There is a part of his book, the Critique of Pure Reason where he mounts arguments for the contradictory views, and says, 'Hey, they're both good arguments'. So, it looks as though Kant is going to say, 'Yes, some contradictions are true,' though he pulls back at the last moment, diagnosing a kind of subtle fallacy for both arguments. Intellectually, his successor was Hegel, and Hegel endorses Kantian arguments and comes to think that some contradictions can be true. So, he is a big exception to the cynical orthodoxy of Western philosophy, the one big exception. Once he has found these contradictions, these contradictions start to play a centrepiece in his philosophy. Hegel thinks of the world as developing through a series of contradictions, and officially these are contradictions of the P and not P kind. So, there are certain times when you want to be able to think beyond the limits of what is possible, and you do it, and Hegel has a discussion of this kind of phenomenon.

Seher: In the beginning of In Contradiction, you wrote a small note, 'To the end of exploitation and oppression in all its forms and wherever it may be.' Do you think philosophers play an important role in society?

Graham: Yes, I do, although philosophers in the English-speaking countries are not terribly good at it. They tend to sit in ivory towers like the one we are sitting in now. They are not often engaged in social and political matters, I mean if they are social and political philosophers they are to a certain extent, but philosophers are rarely active in social and political issues. There are some noted exceptions like Peter Singer, but they are exceptions. But, I think philosophers have a great deal to offer, because if you look at the intelligent discussions on really important matters in the media, it is hopeless. Philosophers have the general ability to clarify things, show that certain arguments are bad arguments, show people aspects they probably were not aware of. There are a number of philosophers who can address an academic audience and a public audience and feel equally natural in doing both, and the skills in philosophy are very important to raise the tone of public discourse about really important things like wars, minority rights and terrorism.

Seher: You have personally addressed the problem of the Australian Governments' inadequate support of the Humanities, including philosophy. Can you tell me more about this problem?

Graham: I'm English, and I arrived in Australia almost thirty years ago. I think every year since I have arrived, things have been cut from University. So, it is not just the current government. Over that period of thirty years, it has been spending less on universities. The absolute amount of money may have gone up, but if you look at the number of students to teach now compared with thirty years ago the per capita funding has gone way down. Tertiary education is not a big priority in Australia; it is not like the UK and the US where it seems to be really important. The Australian government wants to get what benefits it can out of it, they want the doctors and the engineers and so on, and they don't want to pay much for it. I think that a lot of people in government, I think a lot of Australians generally, think that the Humanities are fairly useless.

Seher: Do you think that this problem is only an Australian one?

Graham: No. There is a similar phenomenon in the UK and a number of European countries, and especially the state universities in the US. Private universities in the US are quite different. The universities that depend on the government in some sort, where governments always want to do other things with their money, spend less in education. The real value of education is only going to come out thirty or forty years down the track, and the value of education within a person is something that lives with them for their whole life. So it is a long-term investment, and the governments are not really interested in the long-term investments, because, hey, they're not going to be around in thirty or forty years time, they're probably not going to be around after another election, so they are really interested in what is going to win the votes. The paradigm is global warming, everyone knows that it is going to happen and that it is going to be disastrous, but because it is a long-term issue that has to be addressed, no one is doing anything, having their eyes on the next election.

Seher: And the money.

Graham: And the money, although, it is going to cost them more in thirty to forty years time from now.

Seher: What do you think is the role of Philosophy at University?

Graham: Well, there are many interesting philosophical questions, and part of the importance of philosophy is just pursuing those questions. Having said that, I don't think that is the main value of having a philosophical education at University. I really think that the most lasting thing anyone gets out of a philosophical education is the ability to think for themselves and the tools to help them do that. Now, I know that many humanities disciplines claim the same, but I really think that this is something very distinct about philosophy. I do not deny that you've got to think critically if you are a historian or a political scientist, but one of the things about philosophy is that it really is a critical discipline, and anything that anyone says is held up for deep scrutiny. Philosophers are not put-off at being criticised, because that is the life blood of philosophy. I don't think this happens so much in politics and history, I mean if you criticise someone in one of these contexts, you would appear to being rather rude to the speaker, but this is what philosophy is all about and there is hardly ever any animosity. It is very common, for example, for people to argue quite heatedly for half an hour, and then go down to the pub and have a drink. So, the disagreement is actually at an intellectual level, rather than on a personal level.

Seher: You have personally reached 3rd Dan in Shito-Ryu, which is an excellent accomplishment. Why were you attracted to Karate-Do?

Graham: Many years ago, I had a teenage daughter who was twelve at the time, and my wife and I decided it would be a good idea for her to learn to defend herself. So, we thought, ok, there is a karate club in the locale. She was not particularly a physical kid and she needed a bit of motivation, part of her motivation was her mother, and I later went along and thought we can all do this together. She did not last, and practiced for a couple of years and gave it away, but I discovered that I really loved this. I didn't really want to go along in the first place, because I didn't see anything attractive about punching people; I mean that is what you are trained to do in martial arts. My wife, well ex-wife now, said to me, 'No, you don't understand, it is not about hitting people. It is about not hitting people.' Well, that sounded really daft to me, but she was dead right. Certainly you practice techniques that are going to hurt people, if ever carried out, but the whole point of the training is not to carry them out. A sort of paradox, you learn to do all these things you hope you never have to do.

Seher: At the Philosophy and the Martial Arts conference held this weekend, you will be speaking about the important relationship between Buddhism and the Martial Arts. Can you give us an overview?

Graham: I could, if I knew what I was going to say! One thing that intrigues me is this connection between the Martial Arts - as a sort of physical and mental practice - and the spiritual side. I think a lot of that is due to Buddhism. So, what I want to do tomorrow is talk about the sorts of relationships I see between Buddhism and the Martial Arts, because I think both have an effect on the other. I mean, it's no coincidence that Shaolin Kung-fu is said to have been invented by the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism. I think that the exercises were designed not just to make you fitter; let me put it in this way, you do not have to sit down and close your eyes to meditate, there are forms of meditation that occur in Martial Arts. I think that some exercises in Martial Arts, when repeated, form that function.

Seher: Most people see the study of logic as painful and complicated. Do you have any advice to give to students of philosophy?

Graham: Not everyone likes doing philosophy, because not everyone likes to think for themselves. There is a nice line from Bertrand Russell when he says, 'Some people would rather die than think for themselves,' and they often do! I think training in philosophy is really useful, and if you really don't enjoy thinking for yourself then I don't think you are going to get much out of doing it. But, if you are sort of independent minded, then I think that philosophy is the kind of thing for you. I don't think that person needs much encouragement. Logic is very different, partly because you've got to have an unusual combination of skills, such as some mathematical skills. For that reason, it is going to be of minor interest, and if you try it and find that you just don't like it, I would give it away very quickly.

Seher: Finally, who is you favourite philosopher, and why?

Graham: Oh! I don't think I have a favourite philosopher. There are so many great philosophers. When I was young, really before I took up philosophy, I read Bertrand Russell. He has such a great style, and he was a mathematician and so that appealed to me. He saw philosophy very much like how I do; well for a start philosophy is not divorced from the rest of life. Let me put it in this way, Russell wrote two kinds of books. He wrote some strongly academic books, and he wrote what he called 'pot boilers', the things for the general public he used to make money. And, when he writes on the pot boilers, things on happiness or Christianity or politics, there is a whole string of these things, he writes it simply and he is always critical and likes to show his readers how silly some ideas really are. I've always liked that. He just seems to have such plain common sense. So, he certainly had a big influence on me. There are so many great philosophers, and they are all completely mad.

Seher: Yes, and you just love that!

Graham: I love that, how ideas are just completely mad, yet have a kind of depth. Doesn't matter whether it is Plato, or Kant, or Wittgenstein or whatever, there is something intriguing about their ideas. The mark of a very great philosopher, I think, is that generation after generation goes back and re-reads Plato or Kant or Wittgenstein, and every generation finds something new in the text, because the idea is just so rich.

Seher: Thank you, Graham.

(c) Seher Yekenkurul 2006




Humans as Da-sein

Heidegger formalizes human existence as being in the world. Dasein's closeness to any mode of robotic existence is evident from its mode of existing in this world. In order to survive, man has to have some innate understanding of 'how to cope in this world.' Man is basically defined in terms of his coping abilities. Man as Da-sein is a counter model to the traditional philosophical way of describing man. From Plato to Descartes, man is unique only as a 'thinker man', not as a 'doer'. Heidegger's Dasein is primarily a doer, one who is engaged in his skill based activities, and one who can excel in practical 'know how'. Man is essentially a Dasein, a being-there, one among those very familiar ones, the one who exists; his essence is also his existence. His most famous book Sein and Zeit tells us that man is essentially 'one who exists', that there is no basic difference between essence and existence, between Being and Time, between Time and Eternity. 'Da-sein, a being there, by querying the ontological, uniquely by means of language, merges in the concrete matter-of-factness of the world (human has in it humus, the Latin for earth).' [Steiner 78, p.85].

However this emphasis on the pragmatic and the practical Dasein is not just any other mode of robotic existence. Dasein is immersed in his work, he is just 'thrown into' a situation over which he has no control. That is the facticity of the human situation. But Dasein is not completely transformed to a mindless machine. Its forgetfulness is one aspect of its inauthenticity but that is not the way Dasein should exist in this world. Although the essential man is also the existential one, Dasein can very well be lost and immersed in his 'thing-like' existence, but then also man is torn between the two: between his actualities and his potentiality. Man as Dasein is a being of the present but is aware of his past and is drawn to his near future. His present mode of existence is a culmination of his 'just past' and the not-yet modes of possibilities.

This distinctive mode of human existence involves essentially two qualities 'being-in' and 'in-the-world'. 'Being-in' means Dasein's being accustomed to his environment and in relationship to the entities of his surroundings. Da-sein in its inauthenticity is forgetful of its own being: it exists in a way that is not the specifically human way of existing. It just exists without understanding the meaning of its existence, is not purposive. It exists as Das Man, the average man who exists in everydayness, the public and unreflective 'they' for whom 'Being' is not a question.

With this very brief presentation of some of Heideggerian constraints for what it is to exist the way a human should, I first offer some clarification about the meaning of authenticity and inauthenticity in relation to humans and robots. I will then make a comparison between the two, humans and robots, applying Heideggerian criteria for unmasking the specifically ontological and essential mode of any existence, human or robot. I will draw some consequences of Heideggerian hermeneutical philosophy that the meaning of Dasein, of human way of existing, is already understood in its ontological mode of existence. Disavowing a limited perspective, whether in politics or in art, involves establishing a broader understanding, not rejecting all structure. It is not just human frailty, naive habit, or social conditioning which causes us to impose categories and to stress certain aspects above others. Since our concern here is with inauthentic Dasein and robots, I find strong resemblance in the methods employed for understanding robots and Daseins, inauthentic or authentic, both are to be understood and interpreted.

Dasein and the Care Structure

Sorge, care, is apprehension and concern in its Kierkegaardian sense; this becomes the basic instrument for this transition from inauthenticity to authenticity. From the business of everydayness there arises a sense of homelessness when the familiarity of everyday shatters. It triggers key moments in which Angst (existential anxiety as dread), brings Dasein face to face with its freedom to be or not to be. Under stress of the uncanny, Dasein comes to realize that beyond being in the world and being with others, it must become Dasein for, Sorge, a being who is essentially caring, as to 'care for' is the only means of its transcendence. Care for the world, care for tools, concern for others, constitutes Dasein's ontological nature of 'caring for', an 'answerability to', that is also an accountability for Being that transforms beings.

This is how an authentic Da-sein is a custodian of Being, a free man who is caring and cares for, one who realizes 'I care, therefore I am.' This authentic, exemplary Da-sein, in its authentic caring state, is communal and related being who cares-for others. That which we create desires our care and responsibility. Our machines are our own extensions; with our care-based relations we must use them as tools with concerned care taking. This authentic relation between man and tools is beautifully disclosed in the portraits of Van Gogh as his painting is an opening-up of that which the tool, the pair of farmer's boots, in its essential truth is. It is this showing that is revelation of essence, in this Heidegger finds the craftsman, the artist, above the contemplator, one who would know by detached intellectual quest, by 'seeing' in the mind.

Care is the primordial disposition of Da-sein towards the world as it presents itself to us at any moment. Within our experience of being in the world, there is a pragmatic understanding of proximity or closeness, and this closeness precedes any notion of measurable distance. So that about which we care the most at any particular moment is the closest to us. By this reading, computer networks are interventions into the fluid 'networks of care' that already exist, though clearly each is implicated in the formation of the other. But even prior to the notion of caring for someone, or something, is the notion of care itself, as a disposition of Dasein. In this light the information age is characterized by a reforming of networks of care.

Daseins and Robots and common sense behavior

One of the strong advocates of the distinctiveness of Heideggerian use of the term Dasein, Hubert Dreyfus, makes a comparison between robots/ computers and humans, with special reference to the formalistic and skill focused isolated and disembodied mode of existing of virtual realities and the unique mode of understanding and interpreting the world by humans who are embodied, are specially privileged with innate a priori understanding that is practical rationality or common sense wisdom which cannot be formalized in any form of AI. In this perspective, the embodiedness and the common sense turns out to be a distinctive advantage of humans over robots. Despite the fact that embodied and situated humans are in a privileged positions than computers or robots, a mindless machine, the computer system dubbed 'Deep Blue' could win a chess game against a reigning world champion (Garry Kasparov) under regular time control. Which entity is more intelligent?

Herbert Simon, a professor of computer science, psychology and philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, concurred. 'Any computer thinks to some degree,' he said, 'when it brings to bear the element of problem solving -- that is, a sense of knowing where to look in its warehouse of information for its answer to a question.' Human thought, consists of 'first, a great capacity for recognition, and second, a capability for selective research.' Deep Blue has to be considered a thinker, he said, because along with its colossal ability 'to spin its wheels', the brute force calculation which is the traditional strength of computers, it also has a sophisticated evaluation system.

In other words, Deep Blue, like a human being, does not have to search out each and every possible chess move to discover the best option; it has the ability, programmed in its software, to recognize useless possibilities and discard them along the way, a function that increases its efficiency. There are different types of thinking, he added, 'but I would call what Deep Blue does thinking.' Roger Penrose [1994] analyses that the Deep-Blue has been programmed (the version of the Deep Blue discussed in the article by Seymore and Norwood) to calculate move after move to improve the material situation. It was not capable of understanding the pawn barrier, which the black powers would never be able to penetrate unless the white pawns allow them in.

This example illustrates that there are circumstances, which a human player with his common sense can identify certain patterns with ease, which opens up some new options for offence or defense whereas the chess computer may fail to identify and take advantage of them. Note that, however, in many other scenarios, the chess computer can defeat a human chess master. Let us assume that in the above example, the knowledge of pawn barrier is incorporated into the program of the Deep Blue. The next time the chess computer would not commit the same mistake for sure but then there could be some other pattern in which it may fail. Now the question arises: can all such common sense be incorporated into a computer program so that it would be as effective as the humans in all circumstances? For a game like chess, which has a finite dimension, it may be possible, but in a general scenario, the answer is a deep 'NO'. The reason comes from the Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

Common sense behavior as above could be incorporated into a computer program as special rules (or axioms). However, Godel has shown that there is no way of characterizing the properties of natural numbers (numbers in the set {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, ...}) completely in terms of such axioms. This phenomenon could be better seen from an example. Consider a school with a headmaster. The headmaster formulates a set of rules, which says what kind of punishment could be given to a student for such and such kind of offence (the punishment should be proportionate of course!). Thereafter, whenever a student commits an offence, the headmaster follows the rule book and decides on the punishment. And then a student commits a new kind of offence for which there is no rule in the rulebook. Then the headmaster inserts one more rule to the book relating the punishment criterion to this new kind of offence. And then a student commits another new kind of offence and a new rule is inserted.

According to Godel, at no stage this rulebook will be complete; i.e. there can be no such rulebook which can completely characterize the rules of assigning punishment in terms of a finite set of rules. Yet, all headmasters manage their schools effectively. The reason is that humans possess some kind of insight and awareness to make decisions in real time and such activities as beyond the scope of computational rules. Penrose takes the view: Appropriate physical action of the brain evokes awareness, but this physical action cannot even be simulated computationally [1994, p.12].

What problems can a computer really solve? A computer program usually involves a sequence of instructions, and each such instruction can perform a few elementary tasks. Such tasks are like: (a) perform the addition of two numbers, (b) negate a number (c) get a number from a memory location, (d) store a number in a memory location, and (e) execute the instruction stored at a memory location. Alan Turing, through his model of the Turing Machine, has shown that a problem can be solved by a computer only if the problem can be expressed in terms of the above elementary steps; such an expression (or encoding) is called an algorithm. He has further shown that there are problems which cannot be expressed in terms such elementary steps and such problems therefore cannot be solved by any computer. What Penrose says is that there are activities of brain which are not computational in nature; i.e. they cannot be expressed as an algorithm. However, whatever a problem may be, if it can be expressed as an algorithm, then humans are no match to computers. Because of their tremendous speed and accuracy, in solving an algorithm, they can push humans far behind.

Heidegger's response to technology is not an overall rejection but a critic of our tendency to use things and beings around us only as resources with an inherent blindness in us to experiencing things as they really are in their being and significance. In this process we ourselves are transformed into human resources, we as users are subjugated to those very technological devices that we have used to manipulate others according ourselves to the law of techno-cybernetic world harnessing our patience and time and thereby making us its own play things. This can potentially transform us and our distinctive mode of understanding things and beings not only with alienation from the real world but taking us away from our pre-logical ability to be purposive and goal directed that adds significance to our mode of knowing.

This can be better illustrated by the following example: because of advances in electronics and computer technology, performing complicated tasks like performing a surgical operation or driving a plane in auto-pilot mode amounts to manipulating a set of buttons. As technology advances, more and more tasks (which may be resulting in the occurrence of some events in remote locations) can be performed by manipulating fewer and fewer buttons. As this knowledge (of manipulating buttons) is transferred from humans and humans, over a period of time, people may be skillful in relation to the switches but there is the danger that they may get detached from the tasks and their contexts. There is the danger that syntactic knowledge may replace the semantic knowledge. This is a scenario when humans as Daseins can slowly degrade themselves to their inauthentic modes.

The above does not mean that the computers cannot have intelligence. A moving robot when its battery power diminishes moves to the nearest power supply and charges its own battery. The on-board computer in an aircraft can take the charge of the flight and the landing responsibilities in the auto-pilot mode. A child looks at the direction to which his/ her mother is looking; a child robot can imitate this behavior of a mother robot. A robot can drill a rock on the Martian surface. All such actions involve intelligence. In addition to the above, Robots can display many a characteristic of an authentic Dasein. Before taking a crucial decision, computers adopt democratic principles like voting. Several computers perform computations to solve the same problem, and then in a voting system their results are analyzed after which the final decision is made. Many computers in a distributed system sometimes perform some common task, and one is elected as a leader. If some reason the leader computer crashes, then another leader is elected. If a computer in a group dies (crashes), the remaining computers reconfigure themselves and carry out their work in a 'the show must go on' mode.


Are robots more like Daseins or like humans? What is the authenticity in the one that is inauthenticity in the other? My attempts at defining intelligence in terms of semantics and intentionality of meaning led us nowhere since there were cases of embodied Daseins who lacked purpose and semantics even in their embodied states and there is confidence in the minds of many that sophistication will be made in designing AI that the gap between humans and robots will be hoped to be bridged gradually.

To quote Patrick Suppes,

     'In particular, we look with skepticism on claims that
     there are fundamental differences in principle between the
     learning capability if artificial devices and biological
     organisms. At a given level of technological development
     actual differences certainly exist. Everyone agrees that
     current robots are pretty stupid in most respects, but that
     widely accepted conclusion is not a proper basis for an
     impossibility argument... Those philosophers most devoted
     to the uniqueness of the intellectual power of their own
     species are, however, unlikely to produce such fundamental
     impossibility arguments of a valid kind.' [Suppes 91, p.359]

'It was a watershed event, but it doesn't have to do with computers becoming intelligent,' said Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of computer science at Indiana University and author of several books about human intelligence, including Godel, Escher, Bach, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980. With its witty argument about the connecting threads of intellect in various fields of expression. 'They're just overtaking humans in certain intellectual activities that we thought required intelligence. My God, I used to think chess required thought. Now, I realize it doesn't. It doesn't mean Kasparov isn't a deep thinker, just that you can bypass deep thinking in playing chess, the way you can fly without flapping your wings.' Now, he says, the computer gains of the last decade have persuaded him that chess is not as lofty an intellectual endeavor as music and writing; they require a soul. 'I think chess is cerebral and intellectual,' he said, 'but it doesn't have deep emotional qualities to it, mortality, resignation, joy, all the things that music deals with. I'd put poetry and literature up there, too. If music or literature were created at an artistic level by a computer, I would feel this is a terrible thing.'

Heidegger strongly believes that they differ in kind. Hubert Dreyfus justifies Heidegger's position in a most decisive manner when he gives his reasons in support of Heidegger's claim that there is substantial difference between these two modes of knowing. 'The use of a rule in any practical activity', Dreyfus argues, 'requires a prior participation in the culturally specific form of life within which such activities take place. The attempt to fill in the missing 'background knowledge' through additional rules would suffer the same problem and thus introduce a fatal regress'.


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11. P. Suppes, (1991). Language for Humans and Robots. (LACKWELL, 1991).

12. BRUCE WEBER. 'Mean Chess-Playing Computer Tears at Meaning of Thought' The New York Times. February 19, 1996 http:--- (accesed 20 January 2005).

A preliminary version of the paper was presented at the European Computing and Philosophy Conference (ECAP-04) held at Pavia, Italy, June 2004.

(c) Dr Archana Baruah 2006

Department of Humanities & Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati Guwahati- 731089, India Fax:+91-361-2690762 E-Mail:



The ambiguity of the notion of explanation is responsible for much of the failure of understanding characterizing controversies between scientists and philosophers. Distinguishing clearly the various senses in which the verb 'to explain' and the noun 'explanation' are used or could be used goes a long way if not towards settlement then at least towards a clearer understanding of the issues involved in many such controversies. In this note I will try to do something in that direction.

In what ways do we seek explanation or speak of explanation? Leaving aside the case of 'explaining' a difficult piece of writing, where we may more properly speak of elucidating, clarifying, or simplifying, we can separate the other instances into two distinct classes: the class of cases where we seek to explain how and the class of cases where we seek to explain why. In my opinion, these are radically different and it is vitally important to be clear in our minds about the distinction since confusion between the two different meanings of explanation is responsible for much of the misunderstandings we encounter in dealing with scientific and philosophical questions and in discussing the relation between science and philosophy.

Let us look at some examples of questions leading to 'how-explanations' on the one hand and to 'why-explanations' on the other hand and try to see what kind of 'understanding' each of these classes yields: for the same ambiguity that envelops the term 'explanation' also envelops the term 'understanding' with similarly unfortunate consequences.

Recently physicists have been fighting among themselves about string theory[1]. For some two decades now prominent physicians have been promising to explain the universe in a limited number of complex equations. Some of them are now saying that all efforts in that direction have ended in a cul-de-sac. But I don't think that these any more than the ones who remain sanguine about the prospects of the theory have realized in what way the idea is basically flawed. (I am not qualified to discuss the debate between the two parties. I speak as a complete outsider.) They have not rid themselves of the illusion that it is theoretically possible to discover a single formula or group of formulae that will 'explain' everything. This is basically the same old dream of the Pythagoreans who, having discovered that the musical scale could be expressed in a mathematical formula, thought that numbers could yield the final explanation of everything.

Both Newton and Einstein were wiser than to think that they had explained anything by their wonderful equations. They knew that their equations were tools for managing the phenomena of the natural world but could explain nothing.

In the Principia Newton wrote: 'Hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses.' Again, in a letter to Bentley he wrote: 'That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum... seems to me a great absurdity.'[2]

It is the same story with neuroscientists and psychologists and pundits of the new-fangled theory of mind. They can (a) give descriptions of observed phenomena and processes and (b) produce theories that range observed phenomena in patterns that have intrinsic intelligibility. That is all objective science and all theory can do. The mystery, the reality, underlying the phenomenal processes and happenings, can only be grasped in the immediacy of living experience. Mind is just my inner reality; irreducible, unexplainable -- it cannot be spirited away.

Professor Pluhar, in the Introduction to his translation of Kant's Critique of Judgment[3] writes, 'John Locke [1632-1704] argued for the existence of a perfect God on the ground that the self-evident existence of oneself, as a mind capable of perception and knowledge (which cannot arise from mere matter), presupposes such a God. For "whatever is first of all things must necessarily contain in it, and actually have, at least, all the perfections that can ever after exist...".'

This is an aspect of Locke's thought that seems to have been overlooked, forgotten, willfully dumped away, or 'generously' excused by Empiricists, who make Locke the dean of their materialism. Nowadays evolution is seen as sufficient to explain all novelty. Nobody stops to consider that evolution may tell us in what manner, by what steps, things have come about, but it does not tell us how that was possible. They do not consider that the scientific study of evolution may give us information but cannot give us intelligibility.

For instance, evolutionists have attempted to 'explain' the beauty of bird-song as an evolutionary trait that helps survival. Granted that the beauty of the song of the male bird attracts the female and so helps reproduction. But what makes the female bird respond to the beauty in the song of the male? Let us say that the female's response to the more appealing song ensures mating and consequently the survival of the species. The question remains: What makes the song appealing? Perhaps we have to rest with the answer that the female bird just loves the melodious sound. But even if we say that the sounds of the song produce physical vibrations in the female that trigger certain chemical processes, etc., etc., we can still ask, what makes the song beautiful to us? What is the attraction of the skylark to a Shelley or of the nightingale to a Keats? The song is beautiful and that's that. We cannot go beyond Socrates' 'foolish', 'It is by Beauty that all beautiful things are beautiful.' This is no answer and yet it is the only answer that gives us understanding since it is the answer that puts us face to face with the idea of Beauty as an ultimate mystery.

Further in the Introduction to Kant's third Critique, Professor Pluhar writes that Kant said that 'it is inconsistent for Locke, as an empiricist, to argue to the existence of something beyond the bounds of all experience.' I think that Kant's criticism, though right in principle, does not do Locke full justice. Locke may have been guilty of thinking that his reasoning related to an existence 'beyond the bounds of all experience', but his reasoning had a profounder significance as the postulation of a ground for the intelligibility of experience. Hume's radicalization of Locke's position, by revealing the inadequacy of empiricism when taken as a complete theory of knowledge, called forth Kant's critical solution. But Locke's 'inconsistent' position was richer in insight.

It's the same with the ultimate mystery of the universe. The Big Bang may be described, may perhaps be captured in reflections of the remotest constellations or whatever, but all that will not tell us what it was that banged in the first place; and even if the Bang is reduced to an insubstantial equation, as all matter seems to have been reduced, that will only put us face to face with the ultimate mystery of Being, quizzing us with the ultimate question: Why should there have been anything rather than nothing?

At this point I have to address a possible perversion of my position. When I seek to limit the jurisdiction of science, it is not in the interest of theology or religion. Theologians can vie with the best of scientists in rationality and consistency of thought. Their sin is the hubris of believing that they possess the truth. It is a sin that many scientists share with them; but scientists are more fortunate in that their object of study, the observable world, has a habit of reminding the scientists that she is greater than their theories, while the hidden object of the theologians does not show any interest in correcting their errors.

Science, dealing with the world as objective, as external to the mind, as given, can work on nature, but cannot - in Kantian language - approach the noumenal. The mind, in itself and by itself, can examine its own ideas, disentangle them, clarify them: that is the realm of philosophy proper; it cannot yield facts of the objective world that can be discovered, observed, or verified. As I have been repeatedly affirming in my writings: Philosophy does not give us truth but gives us meaningfulness. On the other hand, science gives us facts, gives us truth, but no understanding.

Science and philosophy came into the world as Siamese twins, but they have to be separated if either is not to hinder and corrupt the other. It is in the best interest of both science and philosophy for scientists and philosophers to realize that theirs are two domains that are radically distinct, and that just as philosophy, by reasoning alone, cannot answer questions that are proper to science - questions that relate to the actual world - so also science, by the methods of science, cannot find answers to questions proper to philosophy, questions relating to meaning and value and the ultimate why.

Philosophical understanding proper can only be defined by Socrates' principle of philosophical ignorance: philosophical understanding is radically distinct from knowledge: we can only have philosophical understanding when, in relation to the question for which we seek philosophical understanding, we renounce any claim to knowledge. This does not mean that in philosophical understanding we are condemned to wander in a haze of mystic obscurity. What it means is that to enjoy a life endowed with meaningfulness, we have to seek that meaningfulness in ideas creatively engendered by the mind, within the mind. These ideas shed meaning on the objective givennesses of experience, but they do not have their existence in the objective world.

So, if we are to speak of explanation in connection with both science and philosophy, let us say that science explains how while philosophy explains why. Let us further say that only science gives us knowledge: scientists will love that, but let them then accept also the rejoinder: only philosophy gives us understanding.


1. Here are a few links to recent discussions:

http:--- http:--- http:--- http:--- http:---

2. Preserved Smith The Enlightenment 1687-1776, 1934, ch. 2, 'Newtonian Science', p. 47.

3. Immanuel Kant Critique of Judgment, translated, with an Introduction, by Werner S. Pluhar, 1987, p. lxxiv.

(c) D.R. Khashaba 2006


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