Skip to main content

Samuel Alexander (1859-1938)

Samuel Alexander

I mentioned Samuel Alexander last week in the course of discussing the semantics of emergence.

At one time, I considered Alexander to be an important and impressive philosopher. I'm afraid I've outgrown his appeal, but he is certainly worth a blog entry of his own. 

He is the author of Space, Time, and Deity (1920). If you are interested in the social history of academe, you might also want to know that he was the first Jewish fellow of an Oxbridge college. 

The book named above is one of the early expressions of metaphysicians' efforts to incorporate Einsteinian physics into their own speculations. Space and Time are named separately in the title, but the book is suffused with the idea that they are one, and that this one thing, spacetime, is not merely (as many philosophers have thought and still think) a matter of relationships among objects or events, it is a directly intuited substance.

What is more, spacetime is THE substance for Alexander. Over the course of the book it becomes clear that spacetime is substance itself. Matter consists simply of the properties of spacetime, life is an emergent from matter, mind from life, and deity will in time emerge from, is even now in the process of emerging, from mind. All of these levels of reality are spacetime, though none of them are "nothing but" spacetime. Emergentism is distinct from reductionism. 

Alexander has been said to have combined in an idiosyncratic way both of the great philosophical "tides" affecting the British isles a century ago, the outgoing tide of Hegelian idealism and the incoming tide of realism, conceived of as naturalism.  

I outgrew my own Alexander phase as I came to see the ambiguities in the word "emergence," and grew dissatisfied with the magic I was allowing the word to perform on my behalf.

At any rate, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good write-up.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

https://sites.google.com/site/francescoorsi1/

https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/3

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …