27 June 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: What is an idea?+ NEWS

Essays + NEWS

Dear Friends,

Please read the details for the Summer changes to our meeting below.

In the meantime this Sunday we are discussing: What is an idea? Despite
the popularity of this the term 'idea' in philosophy through the ages,
our understanding of the term 'idea' today is very much different from
that of the past. So what makes the 'idea' so important in philosophy
and for us? These are some of the issue I try to look at in my essay below.

Ruel has also sent us the link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,

Below is the link to what I wrote on Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic:


See you on Sunday,



In July (NOT this Sunday) we will be meeting on SATURDAY at the Centro
Seogviano at 6.30pm. The centro will be closed in August, we'll organise
meetings for drinks later, and in September we will also be meeting in


From David Butler - visit to the British Cemetery Madrid
If you are interested in the modern history of Madrid this is the place
to start with.
best Lawrence

Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el
objeto de comunicarles que llevo una visita guiada más antes de los
calores del verano
El punto de encuentro será la entrada del Cementerio y la hora será a
las 11.00 horas
La fecha:-
sábado, día 5 de julio y daré las explicaciones en español.
Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que
formen un grupo de un mínimo de 8 personas, avíseme a <butler_d_j@yahoo.es>
TOMEN NOTA DE NUESTRA PÁGINA WEB < www.british cemeterymadrid.com> donde
se pone la dirección.
I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to inform you that
before it gets too hot I will take one more guided visit round the
Cemetery, open to all who are interested
We will meet at 11.00 a.m at the Cemetery entrance
Saturday, 5th July : the visit will be in Spanish
If you would like a visit on a different date and you can form a group
of 8 persons or more, let me know at <butler_d_j@yahoo.es>
PLEASE TAKE NOTE OF OUR WEBSITE< http://www.britishcemeterymadrid.com/

-----from Lawrence

What is an idea?

If ever there was a term in philosophy that has changed its meaning and
subject matter over the millennia it must surely be "idea".

Plato's meaning of the term 'idea' was something what we might call
today a blueprint. However, Plato's perfect blueprint would have been
made up of a real object. A blueprint of a plane is not the same as a
constructed copy of that plane. Indeed we would agree that a blueprint
seems to be more perfect than the actual construction of the plane. And,
moreover, the very nature of constructing something from paper plans
introduces in the process natural errors, such as the accuracy in
cutting a metal panel, or just simple human errors, e.g. loose screws.
So the representation of the blueprint is never as perfect as the
blueprint itself.

An equally more modern analogy might be the DNA coding in a gene, which
at face value seems to be more consistent than human made blueprints.

But even early modern philosophers (Descartes, Locke, Hume, etc) linked
the term idea to mental imagery or mental reconstructions. What is
important for us here is that ideas are mental objects or experiences
and there is no hint that they are representations of things out there.
For example, we now accept that words themselves carry meaning, but that
the two are not a single entity. Indeed we distinguish language parts
into semantics and syntax, but what is clear is that the language we use
is very much in the public domain. But we all agree that ideas are in
our private domain and we now accept them to be in what some would call
our mind, although for pedantic like me it would be the brain.

Today we use the term idea as a semantic tool to convey the equivalent
mental states of beliefs, opinions, mental plans and even
representations of the world out there; for example, having a good idea
of the metro plan of stations, etc. But what is the difference between
ideas and these related concepts such as beliefs, opinions, mental
(memory) images of things out there, plans and so on?

Indeed the ubiquitous meaning and use of idea, which in
theFreedictionary.com (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/idea) is quite a
few screens long, suggests that this is a very versatile term for us.
Two things are immediately different about the term idea from some other
terms firstly, ideas do not seem to carry emotional effect, consider: I
believe I should visit the countryside vs my idea is to visit the
countryside. The use of 'idea' here is close to meaning I have a plan
and it seems like it is a good plan, whereas 'believe' carries the
emotional passion of a self aware person. The second difference is that
in the modern use of idea the prime meaning of the term is that it is a
mental event first. By analogy, the use of the term 'idea' is like using
the term "a can of cola" as opposed to "a bottle of cola" the word 'can'
defines the receptacle of the cola.

An equally important reflection is that when we use the term idea we do
not usually use it to reflect a long temporal endurance. For example,
when I say 'I have a good idea of the plan of the Metro in Madrid' this
would be relative to me being familiar with any changes the Metro might
make to the network. But when I say 'I believe that the Metro in Madrid
is a very efficient transport system' I mean this irrespective of
whether I use the Metro (often), whether I will ever use the Metro again
or even whether I will remain in Madrid for the rest of my life.

But as I said, an idea is always linked to a mental state or event, and
it is this feature of the term distinguishes the term since ideas always
belong and originate from us as self aware individuals, unlike say
believes that might be the influence of propaganda. People still believe
thing, even though they might never have originated a belief in their
life (maybe I exaggerate here) but most can generate ideas even if they
amount to nothing.

The surprise might seem that this term has quite a historical ancestry
and yet the meaning has changed more often than a wind vane. But there
is one consistent feature about the term 'idea' and it is that ideas
happen in the mind or brain.

Ideas also feature heavily in problem solving situations: I have a good
idea of the Metro plan is a solution on how to get from station A to B,
but I believe the Metro is a very good system, is not a solution to
anything. Similarly, 'my idea is to go from A to B which is closer to C'
is a solution that might need further investigation from my part, but
'my opinion is to go from A to B then C' is just that an opinion which
does not imply I any further action.

It seems that we are not only conscious that ideas are mistaken but that
they imply in their meaning "you might be mistaken" or "maybe you are
not 100% correct" whereas "I know the Metro plan very well" leaves not
margin of error, unlike "I have a good idea of the Metro plan...(but I'm
not necessarily up to date with all the stations)"

Maybe it is not surprising that the early philosophers interpreted the
term 'ideas' very close to images or mental representations since their
life was mainly one of visual sense perceptions. We can safely assume
that Plato did not come across such concepts saying "mind the gap" when
leaving the Underground train (the equivalent on the Madrid Metro is
more convoluted). Nor did Locke or other past philosophers for that
matter, have a smart phone, as our modern day philosopher, Alfonso
Vallejo, keeps reminding us. This complexity in our lives must clearly
reflect and influence our thinking and hence our ideas. I would
therefore contend that it is not surprising that the term 'idea' is a
very important one, given it direct reference to the brain, but that the
meaning should change given the increasing evolution of our experiences
into more knowledge laden experiences; mind the gap presumes how trains
and platforms function etc etc.

What I find most fascinating about the meaning of the term 'idea' is
this seemingly uncertainty built into meaning of the term. "I have a
good idea" does not imply I have the best idea! So how do we arrive to
this implied uncertainty? My inclination is to think that our
experiences are always consolidated with probabilistic certainty. Thus
unconsciously we include this important uncertainty into the meaning of
the word 'idea'. This is a factor that does not seem to exist in the
meaning of 'belief', 'I know', and 'opinion' and so on. But such ideas
are always subject to further confirmation.

Best Lawrence


tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.__com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: What is an idea?+ NEWS

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