Friday, August 18, 2017

The intuition behind anti-realism

How could there be truths totally independent of minds or persons? Truths are the sort of things persons know; and the idea that there are or could be truths quite beyond the best methods of apprehension seems peculiar and outre and somehow outrageous. What would account for such truths? How would they get there? Where would they come from? How could the things that are in fact true or false propositions, let's say-exist in serene and majestic independence of persons and their means of apprehension? How could there be propositions no one has ever so much as grasped or thought of? It can seem just crazy to suppose that propositions could exist quite independent of minds or persons or judging beings. That there should just be these truths, independent of persons and their noetic activities can, in certain moods and from certain perspectives, seem wildly counterintuitive. How could there be truths, or for that matter, falsehoods, if there weren't any person to think or believe or judge them?

From Alvin Plantinga's "How to be an anti-realist." 

Does secularism make you more tolerant?

Maybe not.

Mr. Beinart, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you. We often tie secularism to young people and to tolerance. Is that misguided?

PETER BEINART: It can be misguided. To be clear, I'm not talking about secularism per se in the sense that a lot of people I'm talking about do believe in God. But there's that percentage who regularly attend church or another religious institution has declined a lot. And what you see is that conservatives who don't regularly attend church may be more supportive of gay marriage and drug legalization than those who do regularly attend church.

But there's some evidence that they're actually more anti-immigrant and perhaps more racially resentful. And we know that it's - Donald Trump did best among conservatives who don't regularly attend church. In fact, I think that shift is part of the reason that he won the Republican nomination.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On ulterior motives, or Ezekiel Bulver rides again

Someone on Secular Outpost tried to explain away my arguments by saying I was just looking for reasons to hold onto my religion. I called this ad hominem circumstantial, and I went on to explain what is wrong with that approach. 

No, the problem with reading ulterior motives and less than reputable underground arguments is threefold. One, you don't know me personally, so your speculations about my motives are just that, speculations. I do know Keith personally, and I know his experiences with Christianity are different from mine, and this probably affects our prior probabilities. But it cannot be used as a basis for explaining each other away, and neither of us does that. Speculation about the other guy's motives is too damn easy. "You don't want to give up life after death, so you make up these arguments." "You are living in what Christians call sin, and you don't want to give that up. Besides, you don't want to admit the existence of someone who has the right to tell you what to do. That's why buy the argument from evil." It's like the Cold War, you get mutual assured destruction.
Second, this approach averts the serious and often useful efforts we make to understand one another when we have a deep difference. Instead of working on figuring out just why we differ, and how we differ, you just chalk it up to an ulterior motive. In so doing you avoid the hard work you have to do to understand one another. That is some of the most difficult work in philosophy, but it is also some of the most rewarding.
Third, when C. S. Lewis accepted this line of argument, he was not religious, and went from a form of naturalism to Absolute Idealism, which avoided any commitment to any particular religion or a personal God. Thomas Nagel accepts the argument from reason against standard naturalism but still rejects theism and, so far as I can tell, life after death. I don't think David Chalmers is a religious person, and Lawrence BonJour, who is a dualist, is one either. My undergrad metaphysics teacher, Ted Guleserian, was both a Cartesian dualist and an atheist or many years, fr philosophical reasons, and he also did not believe in life after death. I don't know in what ways he might have changed his mind later on.
This kind of psychological speculation always degenerates discussion. It has a lot to do with how debate and discussion on Debunking Christianity, for example, has gone from reasonably interesting to almost entirely unproductive over the past 12 years.

Angus Menuge responds to Keith Parsons

This part is incomprehensible to me:

It is not the abstract propositional content of, say, the statement of modus tollens that constrains or compels me to reason in accordance with that rule, but rather my physical act of recognition that modus tollens is a valid argument form that, in complex combination with other causal factors and conditions, determines my conclusion in accordance with that rule.

If my recognition of X leads me to do A, then we need an account of how it is that one recognizes X.  Like William Hasker, I find it unintelligible that someone properly trained in logic can derive a conclusion knowing it to be an instance of modus tollens without interacting with modus tollens itself.  But modus tollens is an abstract entity which cannot be reduced to the material world, because of its universality and necessity (Thomas Nagel realizes this).  To see that the conclusion follows as a result of a valid rule of reasoning is to see that it must be true in all possible worlds, a must that can never be justified by the contingent past material interactions of brains (either an individual’s or the whole human species') with their environments.  So our knowledge of logic is not materialistically possible knowledge, hence materialism is false.

This is one of the things I argue in “Knowledge of Abstract: A Challenge to Materialism” (attached), which is, really an example of the argument from reason and fits well, I think, with your whole approach.



Dr. Angus Menuge

More dialogue with Keith Parsons

KP: My claim is that the realization (cognitive sense) of, say, the cogency of Draper's argument, is realized (non-cognitive sense) in the physical operation of my brain. Indeed, I am saying that the mental act of recognizing the cogency of the argument IS a physical act executed by my brain. I understand propositional contents with my brain. That is HOW I do it. In this case the physical act IS the mental act, and this is the "is" of identity. IF this is a coherent suggestion, then the physical act is not "blind!" On the contrary, it is the very act of mental seeing! The act is a physical, bodily act just as much as singing or dancing, but what it accomplishes is the mental act of understanding the cogency of an argument. VR: Physics is a blind system, because the processes that existed when it was totally blind are supposed to be exactly the same as those currently in operation. If it is physical , but it has mental properties, and those mental properties are relevant to the conclusion you draw, then you have to account for this at least by positing emergent laws. Emergent properties without emergent laws are epiphenomenal. Why the laws of physics should change for our intellectual convenience is something that, to my mind, cries out for explanation, and intelligent design starts looking plausible. But there was a whole series of British Emergentists, and there was Henri Bergson, earlier in the last century. The meaning of physical needs desperately to be clarified here. Does physical mean, as I take it, nonpurposive at its base, or is spatial location sufficient? If all it needs is a spatial location, then it seems to me that a non-Cartesian soul could be physical in that sense.

The exchange with Keith is here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mental causation and a famous football play

What does it mean to say that you were persuaded by the argument from evil that God does not exist? Let us say, at one point, that you believe in God, then you read, say, Paul Draper's version of the argument from evil, and you conclude based on that, that you had been wrong about God and that really, there is no God.
To simplify matters, let's assume physical determinism. (The indeterminism of quantum mechanics is just going to introduce brute chance, which will not produce reason). Given the laws of matter, which render it quite possible for people to believe contradictions, and the facts of the universe at the Big Bang, which surely were not put there for your cognitive convenience, the present state of the physical world is guaranteed to be the way it is. If physicalism is true, that system is a closed system. Given the physical state of the world, the mental states of the world must also exist, via, if I understand you correctly, identity. You think you went from believing in God to not believing in God by reflecting on the content of Draper's argument and being persuaded. Even if your physical states realize a logical connection, it is not the realization of the logical connection that brings about the underlying physical state of your conclusion that God does not exist. No, it's the blind operation of matter in your brain that causes your conclusion, and the logical force of Draper's argument has nothing to do with it. If materialism is true, you think you were persuaded by the argument, but in so thinking you commit the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Only some aspects of an object are causally relevant.
Consider the following analogy. Let us say I have on my mantelpiece the very football that Mike Bercovici threw to Jaelen Strong in 2014 to defeat the USC Trojans. (It's August, time to talk about what's imporant!) And let's say I foolishly let some kids go outside in our front yard and play with it. The unlike Bercovici, the young quarterback throws an errant pass and hits the window and breaks it. Sure, the ball was the ball Bercovici threw, but it's being that ball did not determine that it would break the window. The physical characteristics of the ball, such as size, weight, and the speed with which it was thrown determine that. So even though the Bercovici ball hit the window and broke it, it did not break the window in virtue of being the Bercovici ball. In the same way, even if the brain state which is the thoughts of the premises of Draper's argument cause the conclusion in your mind that God does not exist, the appearance of being persuaded is just that, appearance, if physicalism is true. It is irrelevant to the real causal story concerning your beliefs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Can everyone now see that the issues surrounding Donald Trump are NOT right-left issues

People who follow politics are inclined to think that any and all issues are a matter of whether you are left or right. If you are left, you want the government to help out a lot to overcome economic disparity, if you are right you think the capitalist system should run its course. If you are left, you are pro-choice on abortion and support gay marriage, if you are right you don't. If you are right you think national defense should be strong, and we need to be proactive against the enemies of freedom throughout the world. If you are left, you are more inclined to give peace a chance.

But the issue surrounding Trump is not a left-right issue. The issue surrounding Russian interference in our election system is an issue surrounding our national security. They hacked the e-mails of the Democratic National Committee. They hacked into election databases. The intelligence community is unanimous on this. Whether or not it swayed the election is beside the point. What if both DNC and RNC e-mails had been published? Then we could have heard all the concerns from members of the RNC about the possibility of a Trump nomination, and we might have heard what a lot of Republicans thought of Trump before actually endorsing him. Would that have hurt Trump? I bet it would. But the Russians are attempting to harm our election process. It has to stop, and anyone who helped them do it, if there were Americans who did, have to be punished. This happened to help Republicans this time, but the Russians could just as easily turn against the Republicans next time. But Trump continues to mess with the investigation, firing the FBI director and turning against his own Attorney General because he recused himself from the investigation. I happen to think that, even without a case for collusion, his complete refusal to defend our country against enemies, foreign and domestic, and constantly pandering to Putin, is impeachable. Other countries fight back against messing with their elections. Our President has done nothing to protect the integrity of ours. He'd rather go on a wild goose chase about illegal immigrants who might have voted then deal with these very clear and present threats, to prove, contrary to all evidence, that he didn't lose the popular vote.

Someone using Twitter to engage in petty attacks on TV hosts is not engaging the the professionalism one expects of the manager of a restaurant, much less the President of the United States. I find him to be breathtakingly petty.

And now, trying to find equivalencies between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who opposed them is beneath contempt, as many conservatives recognize.

 You can be a conservative Republican and accept these points. Trump does not serve the interests of conservatism, any more than he serves the interests of liberalism. Sure he wanted to repeal Obamacare, but his shallow understanding of the issues surrounding health-care, but he started by saying he wanted everyone covered, which is what Democrats have been trying to do with the health care plans for decades, going all the way back to Hillarycare. He thinks that the art of the deal will give us a health plan that will make everyone happy. That's what I call delusional.

Real conservatives and real liberals treat women with respect. They might differ on what that respect should amount to, but they should agree that Trump's frequent degrading comments about women (it's not just Access Hollywood, what was on Howard Stern was bad enough) are unacceptable from anyone who hopes to be the leader of the free world.

Real conservatives (and real liberals too), respect military service. A man who never wore the uniform saying of a hero like John McCain, "I like people who weren't captured"is a man who does not respect basic conservative values, much less share them.

Saying "Hillary is worse" is not an answer. If the opposition to Trump reaches its ultimate conclusion, Mike Pence, a conservative, will be President. And Hillary, whatever her faults may be, understood government and how it operates better than any Presidential candidate prior to taking office. Instead, we have a kindergartner with his finger on the nuclear button, and lunatics like Kim Jong Un to deal with in the world. Does anyone now find this preferable? Conservatives and liberals should unite to get rid of Trump, then get back to all the issues they disagree about so intensely.

A Christian critique of Thomas Nagel

Here, by David Baggett.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Horgan on non-reductive materialism

Terence Horgan was one of the developers of supervenience theory as a way of developing a nonreductive materialist theory. I read his writings as a graduate student in the late 1980s. But he now has doubts about materialism, and he thinks supervenience as an unexplained brute fact is unacceptable. He also explains the British Emergentist position, represented today by Roger Sperry, and explains why this tradition's positions are unacceptable to present-day physicalists. Students of C. S. Lewis will note that the British Emergentist tradition is referred to by Lewis as Emergent Evolution.


How does a psychological event occur?

SP: -You passed over the nature of the psychological event. How does a psychological event occur? A psychological event is a brain process, which is dependent upon brain structure, which is altered by learning. Given an observed fact set X the brain will output Y prior to learning principles of sound reasoning and will output Z after learning principles of sound reasoning.

VR: I am afraid not. If physicalism is true, then the physical state of the world is determined by the prior physical state of the world, which contains nothing about learning (or by quantum chance, which provides nothing rational). And, given the weakest form of physicalism, the supervenience-determination thesis, the mental state is fully and completely determined by the physical state. The complete explanation for the mental state is fully given without referenced to anything like learning or any other form of mental causation. You can call it learning if you want to, but the process is completely nonrational.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

An interesting essay on supervenience by Lynch and Glasgow.

Problems for emergent properties

Emergent properties are deeply problematic. They either are reducible to physical states or they supervene on physical states. Is there a particular neuronal pattern that everyone is in when they are atheists, such that a neuroscientist could examine brains and determine whether someone is a believer or not? Science doesn't seem to be going that way. Or they are supervene. But either the supervenience is explainable, or it is a brute fact. If it is explainable, then there has to be an explanation for the explanation, etc. etc., and we have a regress. If it is a brute fact, then we have something other than the physical itself determining mental states, and that is inconsistent with the basic tenets of physicalism.

Slagle on abortion and straw men

Jim Slagle on abortion and the straw man fallacy.


Friday, August 11, 2017

It doesn't add up: A Reply to Keith Parsons

KP: Thanks for your patience. You have been over this territory many times before, I am sure, but something basic is dividing us, and, with your help, I want to see exactly what it is. So, please do bear with me. I doubt that we will agree, having been disagreeing for forty years now, but at least I, for one, hope to finally see EXACTLY where we disagree.
No, I do not think that the physical includes the mental at the "basic" level. At the basic level it is just quarks and leptons doing what they do without any teleology or guidance. However we know that some ensembles of quarks and leptons can run fade routes, sing arias, and dance Swan Lake. Fade routes, arias, and choreography are not physical things. They are abstract patterns of movement or sound that can have innumerable distinct physical realizations. The physics of quarks and leptons makes no reference to football, music, or dance, and nothing in that physics entails such an ability, and no one would expect that it would. However, we know it as a plain and non-mysterious fact, that various functional capacities only emerge with certain types of structural organization. There is no enigmatic "woo woo" emergence involved. It is simply a matter of (physical) form enabling function.
Innumerable examples abound. Merely having a protein with the chemical sequence of amino acid of an enzyme does not make that molecule an enzyme. It is only when it has folded into a particular functional three-dimensional shape that it is able to do the job of catalysis. At the basic level of quarks and leptons, there are no enzymes. At the far more complex level of folded proteins there are enzymes. Similarly, digestion is a function of the digestive system and the circulation of the blood is a function of the circulatory system. Digestive systems and circulatory systems are physical systems made of quarks and leptons that, at the basic level, cannot digest food or circulate the blood, but most definitely can when incomprehensibly great numbers of them are organized in very complex ways.
Therefore you must admit as a plain, commonplace, and undeniable fact that as things are organized they can acquire functions and capabilities of an entirely different sort than those evinced by their fundamental constituents. Again, quarks cannot do ballroom dance but Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers most definitely could. I guess then, what I need to know is why mental performances, in principle, cannot be among the capacities that vast ensembles of quarks and leptons can acquire when they are organized into brains. You need to tell me plainly why not. My cat can think. She can even do modus ponens. She often knows that if she does A I will do B, so she does A to get me to do B. Dammit, that is as good as my freshmen can often do! Are you saying that my cat's brain is not up to it? Sorry, I do not mean to sound flippant, but if you admit that a brain (a cat's or a human's) is up to modus ponens, then everything else follows. Using my brain to understand, say, the Axiom of Choice is just around the corner.

VR: Well, this is the fallacy of composition objection, that says that organization makes it possible for things which are not x by themselves are x in combination. But if it's ensembles of quarks, et al, then the governing laws are the laws governing quarks. Are you prepared to say a higher level of organization introduces new laws into physics?
It is true that if none of the bricks in a wall are six feet in height, the wall can be nonetheless. But in this case, it adds up. The brick-facts add up to close the question of the height of the wall. Going from the physical to the mental, the physical facts don't add up to mental-state facts. The underdetermine the mental. That is what Quine was getting at with the indeterminacy of translation, what Davidson was getting at when the attacked psychophysical laws, what is going on in Kripke with plus and quus.
There are four things that don't add up from the physical to the mental.
One of them is a first person perspective. If something has a first person perspective it affects what it does. If Trump doesn't know who he is, he might watch the news and think the President should be impeached. If he knows who he is, this will happen when hell freezes over. Yet how would science describe what Trump comes to know. "I am Donald Trump" is false for you and me (thank you Jesus!), "Donald Trump is Donald Trump" is a tautology that couldn't possible change anyone's behavior, so what is this truth, exactly?
The second is purpose. If the base level is purposeless, how do you get purpose at another level. You might get something that serves the purposes of a mind, but how can it have a purpose its parts don't have, especially if the laws governing the purposeless parts determine motions without purpose. (And quantum randomness is, well, quantum randomness).
The third is intentionality. How does that work? How the state of a set of particles be about an eternal object, or a nonexistent object. What you have is a set of particles in space, time, and causal connection. Add up the nonintentional facts all day, and you won't see an intentional fact. Given the physical, a person's thought could be about a rabbit, about undetatched rabbit parts, or about nothing at all, since the "person" could actually be a zombie without real mental states. Nothing follows logically from the state of the physical.
The fourth thing that is necessarily missing at the bottom level is normativity. Nothing happens at that level because it ought to happen. We were discussing earlier in this thread the idea that it seems pretty critical to an ethical theory that people are capable of doing some things because it's their duty. But, in that last analysis, everything that happens in the world happens, according to materialism, because of what happens at the basic level. Therefore, in the last analysis, no one ever does anything because it's their duty. They do it because of the state of the physical world.
And on materialism, the "thinghood" of the brain is questionable. Consciousness has a unity to it, but while we attribute a unity to the brain, in reality the "brain" is just a bunch of parts we CALL a brain. The real entities are the basic particles, the brain is just a bunch.
If a brain is literally what a brain is supposed to be on physicalism, a bunch of particles, then it is NOT up to modus ponens. Different parts do different steps, so what makes it modus ponens? If something provides a perspective, then, sure, even a computer can do modus ponens. But only considered as an extension of the mental states of its programmers, and only as a product of intelligent design.