Monday, November 06, 2006

More dialogue with Loftus

JL: If the AFR is successful, it doesn't necessarily lead to the Christian God. This you'll grant me. Maybe the argument leads us to rethink materialism, as you've indicated. Maybe matter is much different and more bizzare then we think? After all, to my knowledge no one yet had found the smallest particle in the universe. It must exist, or does it?

VR: The argument from reason is an argument against naturalism defined by three theses. 1) The physical world at the basic level of analysis is mechanistic. It is free of purpose and meaning. 2) The physical world is causally closed, and 3) whatever else is real, in particular at the “mental” level, is determined by the state of the physical. Our ordinary conception of “matter” makes it mechanistic and purpose and meaning-free. If that basic level isn’t mechanistic, then in essence we aren’t really talking about matter anymore. There are other “mentalistic” world-views which are not traditional theism which would not be targeted by the AFR, including the world-view Lewis himself converted to when he accepted Owen Barfield’s AFR, namely, absolute idealism.

JL: Furthermore, you do realize that some, if not all of the same problems that we have accounting for rationality and consciousness if God does not exist(or a non-material spirit), applies in similar ways to God himself, if he does. Surely you've seen the essays out there questioning whether God can think, and questioning whether God is a metaphysically free being. I think these are the problems one has wherever the buck stops, correct? You press the Euthyphro dilemna against me, and I press it against you.

VR: I’m unimpressed by these arguments, and I am equally unimpressed by the Euthryphro argument.

JL: The whole issue of consciousness, rationality and the mind/brain problem hasn't been satisfactorily solved in my opinion, on either side of the fence. But one thing seems crystal clear to me: there can be no causation from body to soul or soul to body unless they share some "point of contact."

VR: The mind has a special relationship to the brain, of course. The mind, in the ordinary course of things, doesn’t move my hand without electrical impulses from the brain. But there are good dualist theories out there that deal with these matters, see especially Hasker.

JL: But the main problem I see here, is that we are biological human beings, not merely matter, if this distinction can be made, and I think it can. As biological systems we have developed the rationality to know how to survive in this world. For instance, as we observe the drinking patterns of a deer we can hunt it down while it is drinking. Human beings who didn't draw such connections didn't survive, based on the theory of evolution. We also had to deal with other human beings in social relationships, and so in order to do so we had to draw conclusions about human behavior and learn to argue our cases to get our way. VR: There isn’t supposed to be any different kind of causation going on in biological systems than there is in other physical systems. If there is, then this is a fact that cries out for explanation and can be used in a case for theism.

JL: Compare the standards of acceptable reasoning in the ancient world, especially in the Bible with how the NT writers used the OT, then you know we have developed stricter standards for the acceptance of arguments. Socrates, for instance, could not get away with saying that if we know the good, we'll do the good, nor could Plato get away with his statements on the soul, since we would ask him to define what he meant.

VR: Socrates was very good at asking people what they meant. People today get away with all sorts of BS today in the academic community. It’s important not to underestimate the intellectual skills of our ancestors. They were not stupid. There are different styles of reasoning with respect to interpreting the OT text which were accepted then but would not be accepted today.


Anonymous said...

Vic, I don't want to be flippant here, but would you please tell me exactly where your mind is? Is it located in your heart, or your elbow? There is no way it can be located anywhere, much less your brain. If you have a mind then it is your biological system as a whole.

I remember learning a long time ago that the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not apply to biological systems, especially when they are first hatched or born. Biological systems are different because they have something called life which lifeless particles in the universe don't have. Life is purpose driven, with survival instincts and sex urges. These things make biological systems different from lifeless rocks. How did life get here isn't the issue, or we'd be dealing with a different argument. But given the fact that life exists, it's different in these ways. So unless you want to talk about how life got here, then I see no big difficultly explaining thought and rationality with the biological systems we humans have.

I'm also more impressed with certain arguments that apply to God than you are. Imagine that!?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I remember learning a long time ago that the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not apply to biological systems, especially when they are first hatched or born.

At first it seemed like you were saying that living things violate the second law. The second law says that entropy in isolated systems increases (where a system is isolated if it does not exchange energy with its surroundings). Living organisms are not isolated systems, as they exchange all sorts of energy with the environment. However, this isn't anything special about life. 'Lifeless particles' can also be parts of thermodynamically open systems (e.g., the earth which gets energy from the sun) in which entropy doesn't increase.

Getting to Victor's point: it is true that ultimately all causes are micro-physical in most naturalist perspectives. But biological kinds, which exist at higher levels of organization, also display regularities that cannot be predicted without knowing specific details about their spatiotemporal organization. E.g., sexual reproduction of flowers could be described at the level of quarks, but biologists describe it at the level of pollen, the stamen, etc..

While stamen are obviously composed of microphysical entities (electrons, etc), we don't understand them unless we understand how they relate to plant biology more generally. The mind is more like the stamen of the brain than it is like a quark in the brain.

Don Jr. said...


When you say that the mind is "more like the stamen of the brain than it is like a quark in the brain" do you mean than the mind is the brain? If not, then could you clarify. That is, if you view the mind as distinct from or not identical to the brain, then could you explain more exactly what you view it as?

Victor Reppert said...

However you would agree that the state of the mental, let us say, at the very least has to supervene on the microphysical state. There cannot be a difference without a microphysical difference. And, you would also agree that all causation, if you are going to be a serious physicalist, has to be microphysical causation. This doesn't mean that we can't from our limited point of view, find something illuminating in talking about the higher levels, but in the last analysis there has to be a reckoning of them mental states in terms of the underlying physical states. I wonder what BDK thinks of Jaegwon Kim's defenses of the Principle Of Explanatory Exclusion and his attack on Davidson-style non-reductive materialism as, in the final analysis, epiphenomenal.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Don: I tend to be either a functionalist or a type-identity theorist (or, actually, both: most of the literature is confused about functionalism, thinking it excludes type-identity theory based on lame multiple realizability arguments). Both are consistent with what I said. Some days I am a nonnaturalist, dual aspect theorist, but that view leads to epiphenomenalism.

Victor: I tend to agree with Kim's causal exclusion arguments. But, just as solidity is a real property that is not a property of any individual molecule, so might mental properties go. (Other examples: friction, temperature, brittleness. Note that all these physical properties are also multiply realizable, to explain my quip above about multiple realizability and type-identity theory being compatible).

Don Jr. said...


Thanks for the response; but if you wouldn't mind would you explain your view yourself rather than presenting a label, as (and you say) there are differing views of functionalism, so when you say you hold to functionalism it is not definite what you mean. Moreover, my view of functionalism might differ from yours. Is it your view that mental states are merely brain states? Could you clarify.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Don: I don't hold to functionalism or identity theory because there isn't enough evidence/good theory to decide between them. I used the stamen example because it also allows for various theories of what a 'stamen' is.

When I say functionalism, I mean various things:
1. Causal role functionalism. Mental states are defined by their causal role in the overall behavioral economy of the organism. This is the standard usage.
2. Teleofunctionalism. Mental states are defined by their biological function in the organism. For instance, mental states might function to inform the organism about feature X in the world and guide behavior with respect to X. (The reason people like this is because it allows for misrepresentation: while it may be the function of my visual system to tell me what is happening in the world, my visual system can malfunction (just as we can have deformed hearts that don't perform their function--to pump blood)).

Under both varieties of functionalism, it is unlikely that mental states are just brain states. We can have the same causal role or biological function via artificial means, just as we have artificial hearts that fill the right causal/biological role.

Obviously they are all composed of the entities described by physics (electrons, protons, etc.).

Now, whether what makes some state a mental state its functional role or its identity: I'm not sure. It is probably more complicated and we simply need more biology: having a strong opinion now would be like having a strong opinion about the biology of heredity in 1700. It's conjecture.

The only general committment I have is to naturalism, but even that isn't particularly dogmatic. As I said earlier, I sometimes opt for dual aspect, which I won't define here cuz I'm tired: I'm sure it is online somewhere.

Don Jr. said...


Thanks for the detailed clarifcation. It seems to me that that understanding (and pretty much any understanding) of functionalism renders it neutral on the dualism/materialm issue. (The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry, "Functionalism," says as much--see setion 1, "What is Functionalism?"). To put it into computer terms, as I saw one writer do, functionalism merely discusses the software of the mind, not the hardware. As such, it seems to be more relevant to discussions about human nature (as it seems to entail determinism and preclude free will) rather than philosphy of the mind (as one may be a dualist, it seems, yet hold to its thesis). This is how I see it, but I am no expert at all on functionalism. Am I missing something here?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Don: you are right, I think. Causal role functionalism is consistent with dualism. As long as the nonphysical state satisfies the right causal role, it can be mental. So it is logically possible, but I think not actual, for there to be nonphysical mental states defined by causal role.

Dualism is not as obviously consistent with teleofunctionalism: you'd have to say that nonphyisical states are biological adaptations that serve some biological function. This might be workable, but it would sure be strange!