Friday, January 26, 2007

Philosophical Misadventures

Today, on a philosophy mailing list I am subscribed to, someone raised a question about 'Philosophical Misadventures'. This is the term the poster used for "questionable statements by prominent philosophers". The poster also included some of his favorite howlers. Other list members then chimed in with their various favorites.

As some of these are quite silly, I thought I would share them with folks here. It is unfortunate that some of these comments also show some severe signs of both racism and sexism. I have arranged the comments in an approximately historical order. The original posts can be found here. This posts are in item 169 (so scroll down).

* Socrates believed that because he had bulgy eyes, and an up-turned nose (he was reportedly extraordinarily ugly), that he was able to see and smell better than others could.

* Aristotle thought women had less teeth than men and that males were conceived in a strong north wind; believed the heart was the centre of life and considered the brain merely a cooling organ for the blood. It also seemed to Aristotle that the heavier an object was, the more eagerly it would strive to achieve its proper place since the heaviness was the manifestation of its eagerness to return.

* Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali argued in The Incoherence of the Philosophers against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God’s hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smoulder because of the heat, but because God wants it to darken and smoulder.

* Rousseau thought fantasizing about someone was something akin to raping them (it did something like rape their concept).

* Kant thought children born out of wedlock were parasites on the state, effectively 'untermench', not subject to normal moral considerations. He considered masturbation was worse than rape. He also thought sex for anything other than procreation was immoral.

* Kant also claimed in the Critique of Pure Reason that Logic was pretty much a complete science. In the following century Boole, Peirce and especially Frege proved him wrong.

* Hegel thought Africa has no history.

* Wittgenstein, in On Certainty, sec. 286, remarked, "We all believe that it isn't possible to get to the moon; but there might be people who believe that it is possible and that it sometimes happens. We say: these people do not know a lot that we know. And, let them be never so sure of their belief--they are wrong and we know
it."

* Sartre on believed that pleasure has nothing to do with sex.

There are a number of other philosophical howlers, that I am aware of. I will save them for another occasion. Assuming that the claims made above are correct, then it seems Seneca was entirely correct, when he famously observed that, "There is no thought so strange, that it has not been held by a philosopher at some time."

The CP

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