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Metaphysical questions

I wanted to see a Cats of Transnistria gig at Tampere, so I hopped on a train. At Tampere I had some free time before the concert. After meeting friends I went to attend a philosophical discussion event. The topic of the discussion was metaphysics and its relevance for a human being. Put in a very classical way; in our daily lives we deal with physical stuff like pens and papers, tables and houses, food and drink. But what if one day all of this starts to seem somehow empty or insufficient, and we feel bothered by questions like "is this all that there is, or is there something more beyound the material world? What will happen to by consciousness when my body dies? Is life only about eating to stay alive and then eventually you die anyway - or is there some greater meaning to be found?". These questions, in a broad sense, can be called metaphysical questions. Or, at least, many of the answers to these questions often seem to involve heavy metaphysical assumptions like "In addition to material entities like plants and animals there also are non-material entities like angels and spirits who can offer protection and guidance to make your life easier." or "A sense of meaning comes from fulfilling a creater plan, so to see meaning in human existence it helps to assume that there is a Perfect Being who planned this all and decided to create humans to serve a spesific purpose in this greater plan."

Well, metaphysical questions have been bothering the human mind probably since the dawn of consciousness. And, somehow, I guess that for almost as old is the counter-movement, an attempt to deny metaphysics, a daring assertion that metaphysical questions can't be answered, they make no sense, are unnecessary or even harmful, or should be abandoned or banned. Just like metaphysical answers, the anti-metaphysical assertions come in a wide variety of flavours. Especially in the English-speaking academic philosophy of the 20th century anti-metaphysical mood was a widely adopted fashion, for the academic philosohpy was on the quest to eliminate all nonsense, to reject all questions which can't be answered, to not to speak of such things which can't be spoken of. We have empirical evidence, and we have logic and language. Those are things we can talk about, and if we have questions or statements which can't be translated into a series of empirical claims connected with logical reasoning, then such questions and statements simply make no sense. Well, one might ask what happens to questions and statements which do not make empirical nor logical sense? The strong answer is that such questions should be abandoned, for they arise from a confused way of thinking and get dissolved once we start to think clearly using only well-defined concepts in a logical manner. But a weaker answer says that such questions don't belong to scientists or philosophers, for such questions belong to the realm of poetry or religion.

So, what should we think of all this mess? Let's try it this way; Since the times of Isaac Newton the empirical science has been very succesfull in discovering the secrets of nature. Phenomenos which once were considered magical or supernatural can now be fully explained by physics and chemistry. So if science explains everything, then will there be any room left for religion? If all of our body is composed of molecules and atoms, and all the functioning of molecules and atoms can be fully explained by the non-personal, universal and unchanging laws of nature, then is there any room left for consciousness, free will, soul or mind? If our body is nothing but a heap of matter organized in a somewhat complex way, doesn't that mean that ultimately a human body is a mere machine? Should I value myself like I value a heap of gravel - a worthless bag or raw materials? Or is there something more hidden behind the material physics? Should all the sense of wonder and mystery be wiped away by the rigorous explanations of science, so that one day we will have a well-formulated set of coherent laws of nature explaining everything? When we have empirical science developed enough, can we just just run a computer simulation with right parameters to compute all the future events which are predetermined to happen?

Well, first of all, it must be noted that this kind of assumption that "eventually empirical science will explain it all" comes with a somewhat naive assumption that the notion of "empirical evidence" is non-problematical, self-evident, clear and free of all metaphysical beliefs. But that would take us to another thread of thought; for now it is enough to start with the assumption that we have empirical science based on empirical evidence and logic. For that empirical science has ventured far and reached areas where metaphysical questions can not be avoided. Science tells us that human bodies are composed of molecules, and molecules are composed of atoms, and atoms are composed of even smaller particles, and those small particles behave in such ways which force us to ask questions like "What is causality? What is time? Is matter made of waves or energy, or some sort of vibrating strings, or are there more dimensions than the ones we experience?". (Yes, I know, quantum physics has been a fertile source of all kind of spiritual and religious ponderings, and has often been used to promote the idea that somehow the act of conscious percecption has a dramatic efect on material reality. I might return to these question in another post.) And then there are cosmological measurements and empirical evidence which demand us to ask questions like "Is the universe mostly composed of unseen forms of matter and energy, but in such a way that those unseen entities have some observable effect on the seen portion of the universe? And what is time? Is there a time when time started, or is evertyhing just a repeated series of great cycles?" And so on. All in all, seems like metaphysics is not dead and can not be banned. If you ask me, the thing simply is that all empirical evidence is always based on a set of metaphysical assumptions - and most of the time we can pretend that those metaphysical assumptions are given as they are, self-evident, written in stone and therefore outside all meaningful inquiry - but occasionally we might encounter phenomena which aren't easily explained by our previous set of metaphysical assumptions and we are forced to re-align our views. A bit like a heavier version of the paradigm shift of Thomas Kuhn.

So, if metaphysics can't be replaced nor rejected by the hard empirical sciences, then isn't that a great victory to all the religious and spiritual movements? Can we now safely go back to asking questions like "What is the greater plan behind human existence? Is there a hidden layer of existence which offers comfort when contemplating ones own mortality? In addition to angels and guardian spirits are there also unseen evil forces which intentionally aim to harm us by sending tsunamis and volcano eruptions to punish us?" I don't know if there is anything like an official answer to this question, but at least in our discussion there was a sense of agreement that this kind of questions are different from the metaphysical questions they ask in natural sciences. A Finnish cosmologist Kari Enqvist formulated this by using a metaphor that if science builds houses, then religion and spiritual traditions are like decorations and paintings on the walls - if science provides a bare empty walls, spirituality makes it feel like home. If science tells us "what there is and how it works", we need to searh elsewhere for answers to questions like "why, and what is the purpose of this all?".

Why, and what is the purpose of this all? A lot of philosophers seem to think that a need to ask this kind of questions is written in the structure of human mind, so these questions are important for living beings, even if it might be that there are no final answers to these questions. Now, I don't know for sure but for me it seems like a lot of people have reacted like "oh, if there is not a final answer then it is all just opinions, and my opinion is as good as your opinion! Instead of discussing to reach concensus we'd better just form smaller groups of like-minded tribes and demand that a superior group can force their opinions down the throat of minor groups or individuals." Well, in this post I'm not going to argue against that line of thinking. Instead, after all these general ponderings I'll dive deeply into more personal stories, to think of my own personal history to see how philosohpical questions have shaped my own life.

I grew up feeling that there are final and ultimate answers to all the moral and religious questions. And just like bad behaviour needs to be corrected, a person should be punished for having bad ideas or wrong opinions. But around the age of five I started to question that maybe my parents just happen to have the wrong answers, and slowly as my own cognitive capablities grew more mature I embarked on the quest for the ultimate truth. Thinking that the wrong ideas can be rejected and replaced by the right ideas - and that the right ideas are proven to be right if they can be shown to be the final, ultimate truth. Around the age of 15 I was bothered by the classical questions of determinism and free will. The idea that ultimately there might not be an individual free will, but our actions and decisions are determined by some previous events we didn't choose. And for me that idea did not appear as a sad and depressive idea which would rob inviduals of all their dignity. I did not see this idea as reducing persons to mere machines - for in my eyes the material world already appeared somehow magnificient and wondrous. No matter if all the dance of autumn leaves in the wind is all predetermined by the laws of physics; that dance still is beautiful and great, nothing like a boring linear repetitive mechanical action we have in mind when we think of 'a mere machine'. For me the idea of determinism came as a liberation; suddenly I felt that human categories of blame, guilt and condemnation make only a very little sense. To explain this I have to repeat that I grew up feeling that a person who does wrong things is a bad person, a person who has wrong opinions should be condemned in a sense of "that should not exists!". Carrying on with that same feeling I more or less secretly hated a lot of people of my life, feeling that they are guilty of being bad persons. But when the liberation dawned on me, my feelings started to change in a profound way. Pretty much in the way of classical Christian sense of redepmtion I started to feel that instead of condemning people for doing thins I don't like, it might be wiser to try to understand what are the reasons behind their thoughts, ideas and actions. Instead of greeting those people with cold hatred and strict condemnation I could try forgiveness. Instead of merely thinking "that person SHOULD NOT be doing that!" I could start to think "Hmm, in which ways could me or other people help that person to find other ways?"

But, in retrospection, I have to admit that my idea of "In which ways could me or other people help that person to find other ways?" was still shaped by my belief that the ultimate truth is out there to be found. And once found, that ultimate truth could and should be spread to other people - indeed, to help them to find other ways seemed to be a lot about to help other people to find the ultimate truth. For finding the ultimate truth sounds like a good way to correct wrong beliefs, to abandon bad opinions. And if our actions are often guided by our beliefs and opinions, then to improve the actions one needs to improve the opinions and beliefs, right? So on I went, on my quest for the ultimate truth. I can't remember for sure but I was probably around 17 years old when I seriously encountered the tradition of Western philosophy. And even a brief study of the history of Western philosophy left my mind burning with one big question; "can we really find anything like the ultimate truth? And if not, does it mean that everything just collapsed into the endless swamp of relativism where any opinion is as legitimate as any other opinion?". Later on I went to study philosophy at The University, focusing mostly on that kind of questions.

As I might have written in some of my earlies posts, I eventually found innear peace with the idea of agnosism. The idea that final certainty can not be reached. That The Ultimate Truth will always be more than the tiny limited capability of the human understanding. And for me that was another of those liberating revelations. That there is no more need to walk around thinking that wrong kind of spiritual beliefs should be corrected by the right answers. Instead of condemnation I started to value respect and listening. Discussion instead of preaching. Trying to get along with people with different kind of opinions, instead of seeking a fortified closed group of like-minded people. Personally, for me, agnosism fully restores the sense of wonder and mystery. For example; if my mind and body are made of matter, and science can tell us a lot about matter but ultimately the question "what is matter?" is beyond human understanding, then the conclusion is that all material existence is an unresolved mystery. I can grab a fistful of sand, look at it on my palm and say : "Awesome! No amount of human cognition is ever going to explain away the mystery of this. Material existence! A conscious experience of a physical perception! Wow, just wow!". And for me this awesomeness comes with a sense of meaning. If there is a supreme being who has a greater plan behind all this, I really don't care for I feel that I can't know such things - for me it is enough to feel that material existence if wonderful and meaningful as such, in this very moment, in itself, in all the plain mundane day-to-day simplicity of green plants inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling ogycen and all the lazy and busy animal inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide - wow! What a network of mutual exchange, what a delicate beauty of things being the way they are!"

Well, now my academic background kicks in suggesting me to be more clear, to express my ideas in more formal way hoping to make them easier to understand. Let me picture it this way; on the other hand we have (1) paper dry philosopical theories, and then there are (2) meanings and values we experience as individual human beings living in this world. It is self-evident that the level 2 is true to any living human being - in our daily lives we are sometimes sad and sometimes happy about this and that, we make decisions and we set goals. And, traditionally, a lot of academic philosophy says nothing about the level 2, for the academic philosophy has been interested in theories for the sake of theories. But what happens if one pauses to ask if adopting a view X or Y on level (1) makes any difference on the level (2) ? If you ask me, the honest answer is that I don't know. But in my own life there have been those few moments when something on level (1) seems to make an impact on level (2), and some of those events could be described like "I feel that after adopting a philosophical view X my personal life has become more meaningul, more happy and more free." But, what exactly is the connection?

I'm well aware that views like "there probably is no free will after all" and "any attempt to reach a final and ultimate truth is bound to fall short of its goal" might appear as having a negative impact on level (2). But in my own life they have felt like liberating ideas bringing a long-lasting positive effect on the level (2) of my own personal existence. So, we must ask if personal or felt meanings of philosophical theories are purely arbitrary and coincidental, or can we find a way to reason like "because this theory X states that Y, and if you adopt theory X, you should feel like Y1 and act like Y2". As you might already guess, my answer is that maybe there isn't a strict way of saying "you should feel this way", and most likely the whole idea makes no sense. People feel the way they do, and feelings seldom are governed by logical calculations. Feelings arise from a deeper layer of human mind; cognition, logic and reason step in only later on. But, of course, reasoning ofter has a limited power of re-shaping feelings, and rationality is a powerful tool to regulate how feelings turn into actions. But if we really want to see a change in the way we feel before any reasoning takes place, then I'm afraid that logic and rationality are pretty powerless. So here we return to the purpose and the meaning of other forms of human experience. Poetry. Music. Meditation. Random little conversations with strangers. Or, instead of ready answers the very process of sitting down with other people to discuss the questions - maybe the process of discussions sometimes carries deeper meanings than the final answers. And if someone tells me they find deep personal meaning in talking with angels or in offering food as a sacrifice for local spirits of nature, then who am I to judge that? Actually I sometimes do leave food for the local spirits, even if I feel that I can't know if any spirits exists or not, but if the very act of gently talking to the spirits and giving them a gift makes me feel more connected with the mystery of existence, then why not?

Huh. Maybe it is time to go back to where we were at the level (2). Where was it? Ah, at Tampere, a philosophical discussion sparking these thoughts. I enjoyed attending the event - in addition to mere theories the discussion involved a lot of joking and laughter. After the discussion I headed to a bar, found a good seat and waited for the band to begin. Cats of Transnistria were good, as always. After their set I bought an LP and a CD, and just when I was about to get my coat some strangers asked me a question about the LP and that quickly turned into a deep and meaningful discussion. Which was nice (and the tiny voice of the rational observer in the back of my mind said: 'Look, Erkka, do you notice how effortlessly you are engaging in a meaningful discussion with these people? Do you remember how a few years ago you had a habit of writing a blog post almost every time you had a conversation with strangers, going deep into the details of how you find it difficult and how it feels to overcome the fears and other inner obstacles hindering your ability to meet other people? Obviously, something has happened, and some forms of social interaction are easier for you than they were a few years ago. Maybe write a blog post about this when you get back at home?').

After the suprise discussion with strangers I headed to see one of my friends from The University years. We had a nice discussion, I slept on their sofa and we enjoyed an unhurried breakfast with more nice, meaningful, personal discussion. ('Hey, Erkka, are you developing a habit of this? Having meaningful conversations just like that?'). After the breakfast I went to see another old friend, and there was more nice, meaningful, personal discussion about being a human being living this life. I took a train back to my village, and arrived at home at 6pm. I took care of the necessary householding stuff and realized that I feel extremely tired and sleepy. 'Sure, it might be that it is easier to enjoy some social situations, but I'm still a classical introvert - after all those enjoyable social situations I need time alone to recharge. About 24 hours of social life, and I feel an inresistible urge to sleep, to rest, to be quietly alone.' So I crawled to bed and fell asleep before 8 pm.

Cats of Transnistria
Cats of Transnistria
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Comments

Many different roads have led me back to a similar place, theologically/philosophically, that you have described here. I try to avoid dualistic thinking, such as 'right/wrong', as you seem to. However, there are virtues that I find personally 'valuable' (despite the the fact that applying 'value' is being somewhat judgmental, I suppose), such as honesty, acceptance, equanimity, and especially gratitude. I am grateful for your post today, and for all of your thoughts in general. Be well :)

I find your comment great and inspiring, thanks!

I've been thinking how to reply, and it feels like the question of "if we abandon right/wrong dualism, then how can we still prefer honesty over deception? Isn't that just another way of saying that we think honesty is right and deception is wrong?" is well worth a blog post or two =) So, instead of trying to formulate a short and sharp reply, I will let these thoughts simmer for a while, hoping to write a proper reply in another blog post. Not in the sense of "here comes mr. Lehmus educating other people, replying them to tell them what to think and what kind of opinions to have", but in a more humble way of "Maybe the internet can serve as a modern camp-fire, where individuals gather together to share their experiences and thoughts".

I'll give my own dogmatic answer to the problem of metaphysics (I'm influenced here by less dogmatic professor Amie Thomasson). Philosophy in general and metaphysics especially proceeds in three stages: (1) Conceptual analysis allows us to find out about functions and meanings of our words and concepts, and then (2) Conceptual engineering allows us to redesign our words and concepts to fulfil their functions better, after which (3) Conceptual ethics consists in discussion about which purposes and functions we should want to have anyway.After discussing conceptual ethics we can go back to engineering part, or maybe we can either invent a wholly new concept, or discard an old one.

Great! I think that this is a neat and decent description of philosophy as an academic discipline. This also sparked a series of more detailed questions, and I haven't yet decided if I'll reply with another blog post, or if I should try to fit my reply in a single comment.

So, maybe I'll just mention a few of the ideas which make me curious to hear more - what does either Amie Thomasson or MattiJ think in better detail, or is my initial understanding wholly misguided and before going to details I should be better educated about the basics. So here goes, my basic questions;

(1) Does that imply that "functions and meanings or our words and concepts" can be clarified by sitting alone, eyes closed, in an arm-chair doing conceptual analysis? Or, does "conceptual analysis" here mean something bit more empirical? That to figure out functions and meanings of words we need to go out to the real world to observe how human groups and societies use language whilst navigating their daily lives, and then - rather than measuring with a scale or a thermometer - we use conceptual analysis to further clarify the words and their functions?

(2) If we are to redesign some of our words and concepts, does that mean that a new concept (in order to be conceivable at all) needs to be explained and defined using the old words and their meanings? This, I'm afraid, is somewhat similar than the classical 20th Century question of commensurability; let's suppose that we already have a vocabulary V, and then a radical philosopher drafts a concept "x", which never was part of the V. Now, speakers of V would ask "Okay, dr. Philosopher, please explain us what does x mean?" - and if the philosopher manages the explain X using concepts of V, that automatically means that there is nothing profoundly new in x. And does the opposite case mean that the concept of "x" will appear as non-sense to the speakers of V, so that they can't even distinguish x from totally meaningless random noise? Or, if we aren't satisfied with these binary opposites, then how do we conceive the human ability to discover new concepts? Is it something like the romantic idea of a Creative Genius who using innate creative powers crafts something which didn't exist before, and then the audience goes "wow!" - or is it something more modest, like "discovering a rabbit in the foliage" (borrowing a metaphor from M. Merleau-Ponty) ?

(3) Oh, a discussion about which purposes and functions we should want to have anyway! In a way I feel that I always wanted to participate in that discussion, and felt disappointed when the human society around me seemed totally uninterested in having such a conversation. Although, I'm not quite sure what are the limits and boundaries of this discussion as imagined by AmieT or MattiJ; doesn't this contain the eerie possibility that in some theoretical cases we might find ourselves (as egalitarian humanists, which I suppose we both could be described as) having a discussion with fascists, calmly judging if fascists purposes and functions better serve a community than the purposes and functions based on egalitarian ideas? Well, I'm not going to go further into that topic now, so I'll finish with a short remark; actually, to me it seems that many of the functions and meanings of the Free Western Democracies (and the words and concepts they use to define themselves) still carry a lot of hidden structures which tend to re-create new forms of slavery and oppression. So, I mean, the taboo-like "never have a discussion with a fascist!" is probably not going to work, for we'd better keep on asking ourselves "Do our own concepts secretly carry tendencies of oppression? What if some further conceptual analysis is going to show how some or our concepts are actually harmful even when we sincerely believed them to good? What if there is a little shadows of a fascist lurking in the concepts and ideas we have adopted? Can we spot those shadows? What can be done to adjust our purposes and functions?"

(Well, but this is just me - a person who has deliberately withdrawn from a lot of social interaction. I don't any more have such a group that I could belong to and participate in the discussion of how that said group should want to organize itself using what kind of purposes and functions. No, instead, in my semi-hermit life I have this discussion as an internal dialogue with myself; "Look, Erkka - this and that way you tend to think and to behave - do those patterns really serve the purposes and functions you think they are good for? And, ultimately, what even are the purposes you should want to have anyway?")

I'm not a native speaker so excuse my english, but I'm also in a phase of my life in which I think about this topic a lot.

I was also very dogmatic as a teenager and thought that every question can be sufficiently answered through science and logic. I think the urge to believe this comes from a deep fear of difference: the thought, that there are *really* other people out there, thinking differently, people with a behavior you can't control or even predict, but whose mind is just as complex as yours, is more scary than anything else. And the believe in an absolute truth in ethics is the believe that people can be judged and valued through one and only one principle. Having such a principle makes it far easier to live with the radical difference of other people, because now you can reduce them to their value under that principle instead of having to deal with a being that has the same complexity you yourself have. This is not a liberating revelation for me, to the contrary: it is pretty scary. Now it can seem that judgement is consequently wrong in any circumstances.

But I think we still have a moral imperative to help other people: Understanding - even if you can't ever really do that - but at least trying to understand other peoples complexity not only humbles you to the point, where you don't want to make any judgement anymore, but it also gives you the task of treating these people in a way that respects their dignity. And our world in its current state just doesn't do that. You can't help repressed people by being humble and silent. Silence just enforces the status quo. But when we really believe only that: the dignity of all people. And every dogmatic narrative melts away because of relativism, than we HAVE to change the state of our world: The most difficult thing to learn is that being *only* respectful and nice is also just a way of protecting yourself from the radical truth that people as complex and human like you* are suffering every day in an unspeakable way through the hands of other people including you and me.
Really understanding that there is no absolute truth means putting aside all ideology, seeing the suffering of people without making up any excuses and establishing a way of living in which we all can live a humane life. And that can't be done through metaphysics and can't be done through analysis, that must be done through action and this action will and must sometimes be judgemental.

I think your English is pretty understandable. And I feel delighted by your thoughtful and personal comment.

I applaud your line of thinking - you seem to be willing to honestly admit the results of your philosophical inquiry, even when those results appear as non-liberating and pretty scary. (I don't know but I have a feeling that a lot of Western Philosophy, even when disguised as "radical" and "non-biased" actually starts with a naive assumption that "because this thing X feels unpleasant to me, it can't be true! And therefore I need to find a logical and rational arguments proving that X is false! So let's embark on a philosophical quest to prove my own non-questioned emotionally felt biases as the ultimate truth!" Needless to say, to me such an approach seems totally un-philosophical, and I could even describe such an approach as un-ethical =) )

I think there is something similar going on with a deeply felt will to establish a way of living in which we all can live a humane life. As, throughout the history of the mankind it has been a very common structure that a group B makes itself a convenient pleasurable easy living by oppressing a group C, exploiting the fruits of their labor, and giving back only the minimal compensation so that C doesn't starve to death but can carry on producing those fruits of their labor to make B live a luxurious life. And if we start from such a situation, it often is a painful realization for a member of group B to realize that in order to have a humane life for C, B must let go of some of the luxury they previously enjoyed without a need to toil for it. (Again, it could be easy to craft an ideology justifying why it is okay to let C to toil while B enjoys the luxury. To me, any such an ideology seems pretty scary =) )

Oh well. But on the philosophical side; yes I think that every action (or, equally, every non-action) can well be defined as a judgemental act, for we choose something instead of something else. But that is life, the way it is to co-exists in this world with everything else than exists out there. I mean, maybe the difference might lie in the way we see our own decisions. Basically, one of the fundamental questions could be phrased more or less like this: "Suppose we have two alternatives to choose from. 1) is going to bring 80 units of good stuff to me, and 20 units of suffering to others. Alternative 2) is going to bring 60 units of good stuff to me and 20 units of good stuff to the others. Which one should I choose and why?"

Personally, I think there isn't that much a rational answer to the question, simply because questions like these are beyond reason, beyond ideology. But, maybe, it might be possible (pretty much the way you describe) that the more one keeps questioning ones own ideologies - as the ideological constructions collapse, something else might emerge; a sense of wonder "wow, I don't have an explanation to all of this!", a desire to listen, a will to respect the Mystery of The World. And out of that respect emerges a will to be benevolent even when there isn't a rationally proven moral obligation to do so. (Naturally, there are other ways, too. But this is just one possible way. A way I often like to describe, because it runs contrary to the somewhat common assumption that if all the conceptual truths fail then chaos emerges, a swamp of relativism where no moral thrives but we will witness a selfish cynical decadence. I doubt that, for I find it a little bit scary if a person chooses to act benevolently only if there is some grand theory telling to do so. I think maybe benevolence is just written in the fabric of the world. We just need to listen to it. And, yes - like you say - then act motivated by the good will, instead of just remaining passive satisfied by some sort of inner neo-ideology =)

(2) and (3) open long and interesting conversations, so I don't pretend to answer them, maybe we'll get back to discussing those themes.

(1) is somewhat easier. There are different views about conceptual knowledge. My simple sketch of an meta-metaphysics leaves open how that knowledge comes about.

It's quite natural, if not inevitable, to think that a competent user of language like Finnish or English can sit back and reflect on their usage. Reflection like that made Frege realize that a verb "is" is used to express logically distinct concepts: is of identity, is of predication, is of set membership. This conceptual realization led him to develop a theory where these differences are made explicit in formalisim.

It's also commonplace to study concepts empirically: let's observe the japanese and try to figure out how and why they use the concept "komorebi". Let's observe the rich people to see what they mean when they call others "lazy".

Concepts can be studied in yet other ways. When I converse with a person I can ask them to explain their concept in other words of the same language. But when biologists observe a critter that sees and hears things we don't, they can describe their basic phenomenal concepts indirectly.

Erkka is asking this question because some philosophers believed that conceptual analysis comes before any knowledge about the real world, and thus serves a foundational role for other human pursuits. My view is that conceptual reflection helps us clarify our own commitments, and we do it as we go along.

Thanks for the clarifications!

Also, I think that the question regarding the nature of conceptual analysis has been a pressing matter for the self-understanding of Philosophy as an academic project. Like, if philosophy operates on the level of studying words and concepts, then how exactly does it differ from other studies like the study of literature, the psychological study of language, the cognitive science, the anthropological study of human populations using language to co-ordinate their practical lives etc. The classical fear of the classical philosopher; "If all these questions can be answered by empirical sciences, then what is left for us Philosophers to do? Or should we just focus on studying the history of philosophy?" But then, I'm not sure if that question is relevant to anyone who isn't personally involved in making decisions concerning the funding of science (or applying for a grant to fund ones own academic projects).

In case someone is interested in my own opinion - you might have guessed it =) Personally I don't believe in strict boundaries between sciences. There are different approaches, and every cognitive project contains a dose of philosophy. So I don't see such a need to define the field or methods of Philosophy as somehow totally different from the other sciences. Actually, I hope that different fields of science could co-operate more, sharing and exchanging ideas, insights and experiences.

Oh well. Maybe I'll finish with a piece of self-reflection, distantly related to the way Matti describes Frege's method. As, sometimes it seems to me that I use some words slightly differently than many of the other Finnish-speaking people I try to communicate with. For example, the simple word "jos", which would translate as "if" in English. When I was a child and a teenager (and a young adult) I deliberately avoided a lot of social interactions, not communicating my deeper thoughts with other people. So maybe that affected the way I use some words, as I didn't adopt their common function in spoken language, but instead developed my own versions or something. I started computer programming when I was 12 years old or something. And a common basic structure in computer code is an expression "IF A THEN X". And sometimes A is true, sometimes it is false, and we just define a logical condition expressing what happens in each case. I've noticed that I tend to use a lot of this kind of structures when I try to make sense of human interactions and social situations. And when I try to communicate my thoughts and feelings, I often use this structure "Well, if it is A then X", and get other people upset, for they hear me stating things like "Erkka wants A, Erkka believes that A is true" or something like that. So maybe it is that in the common spoken Finnish the word "jos X" somehow implies that X is very likely to be true, or that we want X to be true. I really don't know, for I often feel that I'm slightly alien to the common ways of using Finnish language, and there is this clumsy feeling that the way I use words doesn't quite align with the way my fellow Finnish speakers understand the same words. And, using only an arm-chair self-reflection I have no means of knowing if this is just me, or if this is a common feature of all human communication. (One of the reasons why I'm always a little bit reserved towards drawing conclusions based on mere self-reflection, for there lies the risk of claiming that one's own personal experiences somehow are universally true.)

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