Question 2


In under the same subsection of the document previously mentioned, there is a sentence that reads as such ‘Essay questions [on reasons and causes] tend to invite you to expand on the various grounds for distinguishing reasons-explanations from mechanistic causal explanations’. This implies that we will be required to know reasons for differentiating reasons-explanations from mechanistic causal explanations. You have not included any such reasons on the document. Therefore we cannot fulfil our requirements. In order that we might fulfil our requirements, please may you post said reasons.


Hello David,

On the sheet of long notes for free will and determinism, under the section titled Reasons and causes, the question ‘Are reasons causes?’ is asked. Does this question mean ‘Are reasons causes in such a way that they fulfil the commitments of causes in the theories of Universal Causation and Causal Necessitation?’.

The Mackie Self-Adjusting R&E essay

I think (no, I’m sure) that I have said this before; but you will probably have forgotten so I am going to say it again.

We have had this A-level specification since 2009. The 30-mark answer under the Reason & Experience topic (Q2 in the Unit 1 paper) is essentially the same every single time. Here’s a list of past questions.

Jan 2009 How convincing is the view that we are born with at least some (innate) knowledge?

June 2009 Critically discuss the view that all knowledge comes from, and is justified by, sense experience.

Jan 2010 How convincing is the view that sense experience is the source of all knowledge?

June 2010 ‘Without a predetermined conceptual scheme our sense experiences would be unintelligible.’ Discuss the implications of this for empiricism.

Jan 2011 At birth the mind is a tabula rasa.’ Discuss.

June 2011 Assess the claim that all knowledge and ideas derive from experience.

Jan 2012 Assess the view that we have no innate knowledge.

June 2012 Assess the view that no significant claims about what exists are known a priori.

Jan 2013 How convincing is the claim that at birth the mind is a tabula rasa?


What do you notice?

I hope you notice that on every single occasion they are asking you to evaluate empiricism.

What differs from paper to paper is the aspect, or the version, of empiricism that they ask you to evaluate.


Sometimes they focus on the claim that the mind is a tabula rasa.
Sometimes it is the claim that all synthetic knowledge is a posteriori/derived from experience.
Sometimes it is the claim that no knowledge is innate.
Sometimes it is the claim that all knowledge AND all ideas (concepts) derive from experience.

But that’s it. It’s always one or another of these things.

What are the implications for you?

Obvious, I hope: you should be aiming to have a pre-prepared formulaic essay rather like the Molesworth Self-Adjusting Thank-You letter (see image, if you are unfamiliar with this. (Or in fact, if you are unfamiliar with this, go now and ask your parents in outraged tones what the bloody hell they were thinking. How DID you spend your childhood?)).

Molesworth-S-A letter-how-to-be-topp_london-max-parrish-1954_p105


Obviously the pre-prepared essay has to cover all relevant arguments relating to all relevant aspects of empiricism. And equally obviously you have to deploy some intelligence in the exam room in order to select the relevant arguments and to phrase things in a manner that demonstrates that you are answering the particular question set, rather than simply writing out something that you have memorised.

But all the same, the possible advantages here (and peace of mind) have to be priceless. You’d be mad not to, is my view…

Who, if anyone, wants me to talk about how such an all-purpose essay might go?


I’m sorry I’ve been a bit useless and slow for several days. If you have recently sent me something, I will try to reply properly in the next 24 hours.

I have successfully completed yet another orbit round the Sun, and the postman brought me the exciting items pictured, for Phoenix’s timing belt and tensioner change. For some reason there was no giant cake containing an under-dressed Judith Holofernes or any other girl. Perhaps someone could explain this lapse.


Volvo tool 9995284 (a crankshaft pulley counterhold tool) is expected to arrive from Sweden on Monday, which should enable me to get down to business with that job.

Then I am off to Paris on Wednesday, which I confess is making me feel oddly like this. (Betcha didn’t know I liked this kind of shit. Ha!)

Slave or slave?

I was asked, I think, why not aspire, within North Korea, to the ‘ruling class’.

I agree that it’s a toughie, but I think I’d rather be a peasant.

Obviously living conditions would, in many ways, be better at the ‘top’; but have you looked at pictures of Pyongyang? Have you read about the power outages? Frankly, it’s all just unbelievably hideous and uncomfortable – and that is just the beginning so far as ‘lifestyle’ is concerned.

It’s when you think about the obligation that there would be to toe the line, in constant fear that a minor failure to display appropriate sycophancy at the shrine of Kim Jong Whatever might lead to your being purged – and along with you, three generations of your family… that, I think, is when relative ignorance starts to look like a form of relative bliss.

And then if you were a member of the elite it would obviously be a major part of your job to peddle the rot – singing the praises of the regime etc etc – if not to others, at least within the structures of the state (again in constant fear that some colleague might scupper you for alleged lack of complete enthusiasm). Yes, there would be the positive that you would be in a position to know that you were talking rubbish; but I’m not sure that the ignorance of the brainwashed peasant would not actually be preferable in these circs.

Think of the appalling embarrassment experienced by the official guides on the trips that fools make to NK, when the fools imagine that they are somehow ‘getting somewhere’ when they harass the guides by challenging them on the manifest absurdity of their assertions. The guides know that what they say is a pack of lies; but it’s their job to lie; and they do in so in literal fear for their lives should they dare to step out of line. I honestly think I might prefer to farm ineffectively and hungrily.

And then imagine being a teacher in NK… being responsible for delivering a curriculum of absurd falsehoods… almost unthinkably awful from the perspective of anyone who actually likes teaching. Imagine if I had to read a script of nonsense, instead of telling you what I thought… just too ghastly to imagine. How would I sleep at night?

At least if I were a peasant farmer I would have the opportunity to indulge (these days) in a bit of free enterprise. (That’s something (again) that that useless idiot who did the recent waste-of-time BBC Panorama programme on NK failed to understand – making the childish assumption that he was being forbidden from visiting street markets because of fears that he would thereby witness poverty and need. That was never the issue: what the NK Govt doesn’t like about publicising the existence of street markets is the fact that it shows up the falsity of the claim that totalitarianism works, successfully supplying the populace with all the food and other goods that it needs.)

I was going to say ‘don’t get me started’ but you did.

Latest madness

Another beast

For Philosophy Show and Tell today, Eleanor brought in this example of a featureless material substrate, adorned with chocolate and marzipan bits, a full set of primary qualities and some pleasing colours, taste, and smell.


And then while Guillermo explained dark matter we flayed it and ate it. Possibly this was not the exact beast that I had in mind yesterday, but no matter (geddit?!).