Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Faces of Existence

Podcast. Added a late post-podcast insertion to this morning's post on Bierce and epiphenomenalism:
The word "epiphenomenon" is missing from Bierce's dictionary, but its flavor is there.
EFFECT, n. The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other—which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.
The post hoc fallacy does not necessarily lead to epiphenomenalism and the impotence of consciousness, but the latter inclines us to commit a reverse fallacy: detecting no cause where there might in fact be one.

That's what I was thinking about during this morning's walk-and-ride, when I looked up and found myself spinning down old grad school prof John Post's street and revisiting happy memories from many years past. He was the first Vandy prof I met after moving to Tennessee, at the very home I pedaled past this morning. He gave me my first book citation* and over-generous credit for pointing some small thing out to him, I forget what. (I'll look it up when I get back to the office.) It was from him that I first heard the phrase "distinction without a difference," which I've had innumerable occasions to use when describing the verbose public behavior of my fellow philosophers ever since.

Post was no epiphenomenalist, though he was a materialist (he preferred "non-reductive physicalist") and an exceptionally kind man who had an undeniable material effect on my own philosophical pilgrim's progress. Might even say he impacted my consciousness, gave me cause to reconsider some of my beliefs, and led me to act differently than I might otherwise have done... thus effectively and practically refuting epiphenomenalism.

The *book in question is The Faces of Existence: An Essay in Nonreductive Metaphysics. Again, it's at the office (and not on Google Books) so I can't offer a quote from John. But I'm happy to pass along this slightly-hyperbolic reader review, the reader being "Schopenhauer," no less!
John Post's THE FACES OF EXISTENCE (1986) is not among the most widely read or commented upon books in philosophy. This is due to a deficiency in the philosophical profession, not to a deficiency in Post's book, which may well be one of the two or three best books published in the second half of the 20th century... John Post may well be one of the last genuine philosophers.
You're too pessimistic, "Schopenhauer." But Post's definitely a good guy, and I'm delighted to be in his book. Whenever I think of it, and him, I'm reminded to resist the reductive aspirations of my more ideological peers. And I'm reminded that philosophy is supposed to make a difference.

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