I would like to know whether the following idea has already been formalized by some philosopher:

When we reason about questions for which we assume there is an objective or true answer, we rely epistemically on various basic notions; for example, material entities, causes, possibility and impossibility, probability, qualia, freedom and agency, notions of morality (good/bad, ought/shouldn’t), etc.

Depending on the kind of question we are trying to answer, we use a different mix of these notions.

Some examples of the types of question (maybe I should call them "areas of interest"):

  • Physical questions (as in natural sciences): we rely on material entities and causality.
  • Moral judgment: Since most people agree with Hume's guillotine, moral judgment is usually assumed to rely on a specific set of assumptions/notions (in addition to those belonging to physical descriptions).
  • The mind-body problem: it relies on the same notions as physical descriptions + qualia stuff, and everybody is trying to tie qualias to physicality in some way.
  • Decision making: when thinking about the best action to take in a given situation, we usually use a model of the situation that relies on a materialistic/causal view (for the purpose of predicting the outcome of our actions), with at least one agent involved (us). This agent choices are assumed to be (partly) free from causality (even if we do not believe in free will, we must do as if several choices are possible when deliberating).

It seems to me that several mind-twisting problems of philosophy could be explained by recognizing that some of the notions I listed are incompatible. I have only two examples in mind right now, but they are important ones, in my opinion:

  • the Newcomb paradox pushes the basic assumptions of decision-making to their limits: there is a clash between the assumed agency of the decision maker and the assumption that she belongs to the physical world and that her choice is hence predictible (agency vs causality).
  • the mind-body problem: all answers I have heard of do not stand up to analysis (in my opinion).

So there could be several possible stances: either "all models are false", or there is some hierarchy to establish between notions (in fact, some people answer to the mind-body problem by stating that either qualia or matter do not exist (eliminativist physicalists and solipsists, respectively), same for moral judgment: many people hold the view that morality is not objective).

Does this sound like something written by trained philosopher? Do you know authors that wrote about similar ideas? Especially about the incompatibilty of notions and there consequences?

  • you're probably thinking of some sort of logical pluralism, as in 'different contexts require different (possibly incompatible) logics'
    – ac15
    Commented May 5 at 22:26
  • It does sound very likely, according to my usual way of evaluating such questions.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 5 at 22:27
  • 1
    This is loosely reminiscent of late Wittgenstein's idea, shared by other Oxford philosophers, that many problems of philosophy come from pushing words out of the "language games" they belong to that give them meaning. Wittgenstein suggested his "philosophical therapy" as a remedy for exposing and dissolving those problems. However, that some notions are incompatible is often well-recognized. Mind-twisting debates do not thereby end because they are about which ones are 'right' for the purpose.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 5 at 22:56
  • Thank you for your answers; I'm not thinking of logical pluralism, the contradictions I'm thinking about arise because of incompatible assumptions, not different logics. Commented May 6 at 19:09
  • I agree that there is something common with wittgenstein's view: in both cases it suggests that language (even thoughts in my case) cannot reach some metaphysical definitive truth. I doubt that it is what I'm searching for but I will definitely search in that direction. @JulioDiEgidio can you elaborate? Commented May 6 at 19:18

1 Answer 1


If the philosophy you adhere to has subtly incompatible assumptions when approaching these problems (physical questions, moral judgment, the mind-body problem, decision making, the Newcomb paradox), then your philosophy is subtly wrong and needs revision.

Reasoning is the pursuit of a simple set of assumptions that produce consequences that cohere with each other and explain observations.

I'll tell you how I approach these problems in a unified way. Essentially I say that everything is a physical question, and all the problems can be answered from that perspective.

  • Physical questions: whatever exists in the universe obeys the laws of physics, that say when one event shall follow another. A physical question can ask about what is - how many pounds of flour are in the pantry? Or it can ask about what would be, under hypothetical circumstances. If we set this iron ball bouncing on this steel surface, how many bounces would it take to come to a rest? If we built a bridge according to these plans, how heavy a truck could drive over it before it collapsed? If this computer followed this algorithm forever, would it ever reach line 75?
  • The mind-body problem: the laws of physics are also laws of the mind, that say when one "thought" (mental event) shall follow another. There is only one substance, which we may call physical or mental, and even in its simplest forms this substance has the nature of subjective qualia. This perspective, called panpsychism, is simpler and more unified than the dualist perspective; instead of needing two kinds of fundamental thing in the universe, we can say there is only one.
  • Decision making: there is no need to talk about free will or make any special assumptions; we can simply use hypothetical reasoning, as we must do to answer any physical question. If a person decided to throw his computer in the river, would he regret the decision afterwards? This is no different in character from asking whether, if an 1cm iron ball were set bouncing on a steel surface, it would take less than or greater than 100 bounces to come to rest.
  • Moral judgment: I interpret moral questions as questions about what a person would prefer to do, if they were hypothetically allowed unlimited time to think and access to unlimited factual evidence and moral arguments. The person's mind is a system, of which we may form an idealized model (as we must do when analyzing any physical question). What belief state or moral preference state the system would eventually settle on is a potentially well-defined question, just like the question of whether a Turing machine will halt or how many times a ball will bounce.
  • Newcomb's paradox: This is a question about what someone should do under certain circumstances. So I interpret it the same way as I interpret moral questions: what would the person end up wanting to do, if they were allowed to consider the scenario as long as necessary?
  • Philosophy is not logic: and your answer (IMO) is just biased and in fact an example of unphilosophical. Commented May 5 at 23:01

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