In this essay I shall offer a brief appreciative overview of the philosophical system of British philosopher Timothy L.S. Sprigge (14 January 1932—11 July 2007). In so doing I shall be emphasizing the importance in that system of subjectivity—of the existence of centers (he writes “centres,” but here I follow the US spelling convention) of consciousness, sentience, and experience, characterized essentially by the fact that thereis ‘something that it is like’ to be them.
Sprigge had adopted this way of talking about subjectivity—as involving what it is “like” to be something—before it was made famous by Thomas Nagel in his 1974 paper “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” Subjectivity was a theme of Sprigge’s philosophical work from the very beginning, well before he had fully worked out his mature views. Indeed, “The Importance of Subjectivity” was the title of his inaugural lecture upon his appointment to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and was chosen (by his friend, colleague, former student, and literary executor Leemon McHenry, at the suggestion of Pierfrancesco Basile) as the title of a posthumously published collection of his papers.
My aim is to provide, for interested readers, a short and accessible (though of course very far from complete) account of the main lines of Sprigge’s system in a way that will provide a quick and ready grasp both of the overall unity of that system and of the fundamental and far-reaching importance of subjectivity within it.
solution of the problem of evil, like most of his other popular
doctrines, is logically possible, but not very convincing. A
Manichaean might retort that this is the worst of all possible
worlds, in which the good things that exist serve only to heighten
the evils. The world, he might say, was created by a wicked demiurge,
who allowed free will, which is good, in order to make sure of sin,
which is bad, and of which the evil outweighs the good of free will.
The demiurge, he might continue, created some virtuous men, in order
that they might be punished by the wicked; for the punishment of the
virtuous is so great an evil that it makes the world worse than if no
good men existed. I am not advocating this opinion, which I consider
fantastic; I am only saying that it is no more fantastic than
History of Western Philosophy,
Simon & Schuster (1972), p. 590
Greetings, brother Zead.
Greetings, brother Zigur. May our lord Malus curse you and smite you
on the Day of Pain!
(Muttering:) Yes, I certainly hope so...
You hope so?!
That is precisely the reason I came to see you, brother Zead. I am
starting to doubt my faith, and have come to you for assurance and
I am glad that you have come to me, Zigur. I will do whatever I can
to strengthen you, and keep you in the Dark One's fold. Speak then,
and tell me of the cause of these doubts.
Well, we are told that the lord Malus is most evil, are we not?
Indeed, brother Zigur; lord Malus is supremely evil, the first cause
of all misery and despair. Not only is he the most evil being in
existence, he is that than which no fouler can so much as be
Yes, that has been my instruction from the earliest age, and
reflecting upon it has been the chief source of my doubt. If the lord
Malus is as wicked as you say—omnimalevolent, as our Daemonologists
put it—why do we see so much good in the world? In every nation
there are some who thirst after righteousness, and they are not
smitten. There are some who help the disadvantaged and fight for the
freedom of the oppressed, and our lord does not strike them down. I
know of some who go so far as to treat their enemies as well as
their friends, and yet they prosper. And not only is all this the
case, but the virtuous even outnumber the vicious! Why would the lord
Malus allow this mockery of his unholy name? For we are taught that
he is not only omnimalevolent, but omniscient and omnipotent. Does he
not know of goodness? Then he is ignorant. Is he willing to suppress
goodness, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able to suppress
goodness, but not willing? Then he is beneficent. Is he both able and
willing? Then from whence comes goodness? Is he neither able nor
willing? Then why call him a Daemon?
These are natural questions, brother Zigur, but they have natural
answers. Have you not been taught them as well, as a part of your
instruction? Do you not know that the lord Malus, though he is
wickedness itself, allows there to be some good men and women, so
that they may suffer? Some of them receive their due punishment in
this life, but in the next they will all receive the greater
condemnation. Though all suffering is bad, the suffering of the
virtuous is a far worse thing than the suffering of the vicious,
because the vicious deserve to suffer and the virtuous do not. This
is why the lord Malus, our most beloved Daemon, allows his human
creatures free will. Virtue is not truly virtue unless it is freely
chosen, and the same is true of vice. This is why he suffers anything
good to exist; that out of it, he may bring a greater evil. This too
is why we worship him: We also will suffer to satisfy his malice, but
not as much as those who are good, for when the vicious receive less
punishment than they deserve it is an offense against justice. Let
this consul you, brother Zigur.
All that is well said, brother Zead; so indeed I have been taught,
and O how I wish it to be true! But I am afraid that my doubt is
greater than you may fear, and extends not only to the wickedness of
Malus, but to his existence as well.
Your doubt is exceedingly great, Zigur! Yet I have in my power the
means to dispel it. Surely you can conceive the lord Malus to exist,
or you would not have come to me to help strengthen your faith?
Yes, I can conceive it.
And surely you agree that we understand Malus, The Dark One, to be
that than which no fouler can be conceived?
Certainly, brother Zead.
Excellent, brother Zigur! It is now within my power to prove
to you that our lord Malus exists.
How is that?
I shall tell you, brother Zigur. Suppose that what you fear is true,
and that Malus does not exist. Then, since we have acknowledged him
to be that than which no fouler can be conceived, does it not surely
follow that that than which no fouler can be conceived also does not
Most surely, brother Zead.
Now consider this: Doesn't that than which no fouler can be
conceived, though we suppose it not to exist in reality, exist in our
understanding, since we can conceive the lord Malus to exist, and he
is that than which no fouler can be conceived?
But then, brother Zigur, it follows that one can conceive of that
which is fouler than that than which no fouler can be
conceived, a contradiction!
How so, Zead?
Like this, Zigur: We suppose that Malus, that than which no
fouler can be conceived, does not exist. But we've agreed that that than which no fouler can be conceived can be conceived to exist in
reality, which is fouler. But then that than which no fouler can be
conceived can be conceived to be fouler than it is—since it would be
fouler if it existed in reality—which is absurd. Therefore our lord
Malus, the great Daemon and source of all evil, who on the first day
created darkness and saw that it was bad, most assuredly exists in
reality, and not in the understanding alone!
Your argument is wickedly excellent, brother Zead; too excellent, I
fear, to be sound. Could one not argue for all manner of other evil
things, in much the same way? Consider the foulest possible island,
adorned with volcanoes, deserts, and thickets of thorns, and replete
with the greatest possible number of inhabitants in the worst
possible agony. Surely this island exists in our understanding. Now,
if we suppose it not to exist, we can still conceive it to exist in
reality, which is fouler. But the island than which no fouler can be
conceived surely cannot be conceived to be fouler than it is, whence
it follows that it exists in reality as well. Nice as it would be to
know that it exists, I have heard no reports of such an island from
any corner of the known world, and even if it were discovered, it
seems to me that we shouldn't believe in it just on the strength of
the argument I have just presented.
Surely we should not, Zigur. But there is a flaw in your reasoning:
We cannot conceive of an island than which no fouler can be
conceived, any more than we can conceive of a number than which no
larger can be conceived. We can always conceive of a bleaker, more
desolate and larger island, with a larger number of miserable
inhabitants in greater agony, and for a longer amount of time. If our
imagined island grows too large for the Earth's oceans, we can
imagine it to exist on another, larger planet. You have already
admitted that the existence of an omnipotent
Daemon is possible, and so
we may suppose that there are possible circumstances where he does
exist, and as there is no limit to the foulness of an island which he
could create, there is no limit to the foulness of an island which
even if it could not come to exist by natural means. So
there cannot be a foulest conceivable island,
while you have already
admitted that there can
be a foulest conceivable being.
An excellent reply,
brother Zead! I must admit
that my objection is vanquished, but my doubts live on. I
have another worry: Couldn't one give a similar argument for a most
perfect possible being, that than which no greater
can be conceived? For it
is surely greater if it exists in reality than if it exists in the
understanding alone, and can it thus not be proved to exist by an
argument exactly analogous to your own?
Ingenious, Zigur! But
nevertheless, mistaken. I will tell you a secret: Those of us in the
inner circle know a great truth; namely, that goodness, and hence
“greatness” of the sort you have mentioned, is nothing positive,
nothing existent in its own right, but is a mere privation, a lack of an evil which rot
to be present in a thing.
to be present, brother Zead?
Yes, Zigur; the perverted, those who seek justice and love the good,
think that good is positive and that evil is negative; but their
minds have been clouded, and the truth is just the opposite. They
would say that what is evil or bad ought not to be present in a
thing; which, though true, is not the proper mode of expression, for
it can make one think that evil is merely negative, an opinion most
abhorrent to us. Thus, we
in the inner circle say that that which is evil or bad rot to be
present in a thing, and that that which is good rot not to be present
I see. But isn't happiness
good, brother Zead? And happiness is something positive, which exists
in its own right.
Happiness is certainly
good, but it is not an instance of goodness itself. That is, while
happiness is something positive, its goodness
being the lack of a
misery which the happy creature rot to be suffering instead.
Interesting. But how does
that answer my objection?
In this way, Zigur: If
a good is nothing but the lack of an evil which rot to be present,
and a “perfect being” is one which is supremely good, it
is one which must needs
also be supremely non-existent. To be, is to be evil; to be good is
to be, in a certain respect. Whence it follows that to be perfectly
good is not to be in any
respect. So this being cannot be conceived of except as being unreal,
while just the opposite is
true of our lord. Does
this satisfy you, brother Zigur?
Indeed I am satisfied brother Zead; you have convinced me at last
that there is a Daemon, and that I must have been a fool for my heart
to say otherwise!
Now that The Hobbit has come out on video, I feel it's appropriate to re-post my lyrical review: "Song of the Lonely Tolkien Fan, Or: There and Back-Before-it-Ended Again (Extended version)": It drove them, greedy ambition bold/ To seek out treasure, as dragons did of old/ They slave away, both night and day/ To pile up stores of, ill-gotten gold/ Fans began feeling, that something wasn't right/ Their groans resounding, in the night/
The film was bloated, the story's soul was lost/ The movie tickets, had not been worth the cost/
The news would spread, it was a dread/ Those who like halflings, should read the book instead!/
post I want to introduce the idea of a higher-order modal logic—not
a modal logic for higher-order predicate logic, but rather a logic of
higher-order modalities. “What is a higher-order modality?”, you
might be wondering. Well, if a first-order modality is a way that some
entity could have been—whether it is a mereological atom, or a
mereological complex, or the universe as a whole—a higher-order
modality is a way that a first-order modality could have been.
First-order modality is modeled in term of a space of possible
worlds—a set of worlds structured by an accessibility relation,
i.e., a relation of relative possibility—each world representing a
way that the entire universe could have been. A second-order modality
would be modeled in terms of a space of spaces of (first-order)
possible worlds, each space representing a way that the entire space
of (first-order) possible worlds could have been. And just as there
is a unique actual world which represents the way things really are,
there is a unique actual space
which represents the way that first-order
modality actually is.
though, should we adopt a framework like this? To
motivate it, consider the fact that people have mutually conflicting
intuitions about what the
space of all (first-order) possible worlds is like. Does
God exist in all, none, or only some worlds? Or
consider the famous dispute between Platonists and nominalists
concerning predication. Platonists
think that at least some predications can be true only if objects
exemplify properties, and nominalists deny this. They
think that there are no properties, but that predications can still
be true. For the one party, some predications essentially
involve properties, and for the other none do. Platonism, if true, is
necessarily true, and if false, is necessarily false. The
same goes for nominalism. Either
some predications essentially involve properties or none do. On
the face of it, this is problematic for the view that conceivability
implies possibility: Platonism and nominalism have both been
believed, and by many very able philosophers at that. What is
believed is conceivable in some sense, otherwise such “beliefs”
would have no content. So both positions are conceivable, but only
one is possible. Either way,
conceivability doesn't imply possibility.
maybe that's not quite true.
Perhaps, though only one of these positions is actually true, and
hence first-order possible, both views are second-order
maybe conceivability does
some order or other. Related
considerations might apply to semantic content and possibility: If we
can coherently mean something, it can be the case—at some order or
what is the accessibility
relation itself like?
Presumably it is reflexive, but
is it also symmetric, or transitive? And
whichever of these properties it may or may not have, could
that itself have been different? Could at least some rival modal
logics represent ways that first-order modality could have been?
be clear, the claim is not
just that some things which are possible or necessary might not have
been so, but rather that the
nature or structure of actual modality could have been different.
Even if the accessibility
relation is actually both symmetric and transitive, maybe
it could have (second-order) been otherwise: There
is a (second-order) possible space
of worlds in which it is different, where it fails to be symmetric,
or transitive. We must,
therefore, introduce the notion of a higher-order
accessibility relation, one that in this case relates spaces
of first-order worlds. The question then
arises as to whether that
relation is symmetric, or transitive. We can then consider
third-order modalities, spaces of spaces of spaces of possible worlds, where
the second-order accessibility relation differs from how it actually
is. I can see no reason why
there should be a limit to this hierarchy of
higher-order modalities, any
more than I can see a reason why there should be a limit to the
hierarchy of higher-order
accessibility relation is not the only thing that might be
thought to vary between spaces of worlds: Perhaps the contents of the
spaces can vary as well. While I presume that the contents of the
worlds themselves remain constant—it makes doubtful
sense to suppose that in one space an object o exists in w_1 and in
another space o doesn't exist in w_1—we
may suppose that the spaces differ as to which worlds they
might have a higher-order analogue of a variable-domain modal logic.
do not expect this kind of framework to settle the issue of how
modality at any order actually is—no more than I expect ordinary
first-order modal logic to
settle (aside from first-order necessary truths) what
is actually the case. What
goes for the actual world goes for the actual space of worlds, and
for all higher-order spaces of spaces. What
I do hope for is that it will, if it proves to be coherent, help
to clarify the terms of the
debate about the way modality is—to help us to state the issues,
and to see their interrelations, as clearly as we can.
think that's enough for this time. I'll leave the further
such a framework for another occasion--or occasions—provided that
you, my readers, think it merits further development.
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Incompatibilism is the view that free will is incompatible with determinism; compatibilism is the view that it is compatible with it. Libertarianism is the combination of of incompatibilism with the view that determinism is false, hard determinism is the combination of incompatibilism with the view that determinism is true. Hard incompatiblism
is the view the free will is compatible neither with determinism nor
with indeterminism. By considerations of symmetry, there ought to be a
sixth view, hard compatibilism, which holds that free will is
compatible both with determinism and with indeterminism, though as far
as I know it has not found any defenders. But it seems to me to be a
view no less plausible than any of the others, and a good deal more
plausible than hard determinism and hard incompatibilism. My
own view is that the debate over the compatibility of free will with
determinism would be better construed as a debate over the
compatibility of moral responsibility with determinism, because
I think that free will and moral responsibility might come apart;
incompatibilists might be right about free will, but moral
responsibility can still be taken to be compatible with determinism.
However, if someone disagrees with me about that, they could say that my
view on what's necessary for morally responsible choice applies to free
will as well, and so that both free will and moral responsibility are compatible with both determinism and indeterminism. What
is it that's required for morally responsible choice? There may be many
things, and what's specifically required might vary between
circumstances, but I think it primarily includes an agent's being able
to deliberate, and to do so without coercion, to clear-headed and
rational, to understand the difference between what's morally right and
what's morally wrong, and to have the ability to do as they wish. The
important point is that none of these things seems to require the truth
either of determinism or of indeterminism. Granted, they require that if
a possible world is indeterministic it can't also be massively irregular
in its behavior, but I don't know of any good reason to think that an
indeterministic world would have to be. Thus for all I can see a priori,
some possible worlds may be deterministic and others indeterministic,
and there may be morally responsible agents in both kinds of worlds. I
will close, then, with two questions: First, has anyone defended hard
compatibilism in the free will literature? Second, even if they have,
why does it seem to have found so few defenders? For it seems to me to
be a position eminently worthy of defense, and if it's not, I'd like to