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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Abstract Entities

Rather than simply ask "Do abstract entities like numbers and properties exist," a metaphysicist prefers to ask in what way they might exist that is different from the way in which "concrete" objects exist.

Concrete objects can be seen and touched by our senses. They are material, with causal relations that obey the physical laws of nature.

Abstract entities are immaterial, but some of them can still play a causal role, for example when agents use them to decide on their actions, or when chance events (particularly at the quantum level) go this way instead of that.

Just as the mind is like software in the brain hardware, the abstract information in a material object is the same kind of immaterial stuff as the information in an abstract entity, a concept or a "non-existent object." Some philosophers say that such immaterial things "subsist," rather than exist.

Broadly speaking, the distinction between concrete and abstract objects corresponds to the distinction between the material and the ideal. Ideas in minds are immaterial. They need the matter of the brain to be embodied and some kind of energy to be communicated to other minds. But they are not themselves matter or energy. Those "eliminativists" who believe the natural world contains only material things deny the existence of ideas and immaterial information.

Some ideas may be wholly fictitious and nonsensical, whether mere possibles or even impossibles, but most ideas correspond to actual objects or processes going on in the world. In either case, we can usually specify the informational content of the idea.

Metaphysicists identify abstract entities with the information contained in them. They may be concepts that did not exist in the world until they were invented. Or the information may have existed in material structures and so we say they were discovered. For example, the idea of the moon includes the concepts of a distinct shape, color, and even the appearance of a face.

Many such ideas are mind-independent. Consider properties of the moon. Most observers agree the shape is round and the color is white. (Actually, the moon is blacker than most any terrestrial black object. It only appears white compared to the blackness of space.) Some metaphysicians deny the existence of a universal property such as roundness or whiteness. But metaphysicists see the information needed to specify circularity and the wavelengths of radiation that correspond to whiteness. And that information is embodied in the moon, just as a software program is embodied in computer hardware, and a mental idea is embodied in a brain.

Many ideas or concepts are created by human minds by "picking out" some of the information in physical objects. Whether such concepts "carve nature at the joints" (Plato, Phaedrus, 265e) depends on their usefulness in understanding the world.

Plato's Theory of the Forms held that Ideas like the circle pre-exist material beings, where Aristotle argued that the Ideas are abstractions from the most general properties in all the actual circles.

Information philosophy restores so-called "non-existent objects" to our ontology. They consist of the same kind of information that provides the structure and process information of a concrete object. What we call a "concept" about an object is some subset of the information in the object, accurate to the extent that the concept is isomorphic to that subset. By "picking out" different subsets, we can sort objects.

Information philosophy settles deep philosophical issues about absolute and relative identity. All material objects are self-identical, despite concerns about vague boundaries. All objects have relations with other objects that can be interpreted as relative identities. All objects are identical to other objects in some respects and different qua other respects.

In modern times, many philosophers distinguish a third realm beyond the ancient idealism/material dualism. Beginning with early analytic language philosophy, the apparently mind-independent ideas were described as "objective" or "intersubjective" by contrast with the purely "subjective." See the "triads" of Gottlob Frege, Charles Sanders Peirce, Karl Popper, and others.

For Popper, this third realm includes all human knowledge and culture, including human artifacts. We call this the sum of human knowledge.The ideas in our books are not the ink and paper they are printed on.

We could also widen the definition to include the biological realm. It would include the genetic content of all living things, the product of four billon years of evolution. The genetic information is not the nucleotides of DNA that carry it. Both kinds of knowledge, human and biological, are abstract entities.

Human knowledge (information) and biological knowledge are created, stored, and communicated by similar means. New information requires chance events. Storage requires embodiment of abstract symbols or patterns in material information structures.

Communication of those symbols requires transmission through a medium, via sound and sight at a distance, or touch, smell, and taste by contact. These all are evolutionary refinements of the chemical interactions inside living things. Assembled from arbitrary symbols, the syntax and semantics of messages from a cell nucleus to the ribosomes, or messages between cells, even hormonal signaling from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, are the progenitors of human prose and poetry.

Many centuries ago, the neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry asked what some called his "fateful question, "what is the existential status of the Platonic ideas?" Metaphysicists see ideas as the information they contain. They have no existence as material, although they might be embodied in material, as its organization. The information can be communicated in the form of energy to other material things.

Information as a Physical Cause
Information philosophy demonstrates that abstract information (ideas) can initiate new causal chains starting in the minds of agents. Although the ideas are embodied in the material brains of the agents, their content is not material.

Many philosophers of mind are "physicalists" or "eliminative materialists." The mind and mental events are described as redundant causes that can be excluded, since them material brain already provides physical events as the cause.

References
Abstract Objects in Wikipedia
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