Monday, December 03, 2007

Anscombe's concession to Lewis

Anscombe: "It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something - then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him.

This seems to me to be a puzzling statement. To say that something is genuinely someone's reasons just is to make a claim about how those beliefs are produced and sustained. If the reasons have nothing to do with how one actually not only comes to hold but also continues to hold a belief, then we've got problems.

That means naturalists need a solution to the problem of mental causation, (a problem that has gotten a lot of discussion in the philosophical literature) or we can't say that the evidence for evolution convinced Darwin or Dawkins to accept evolution. This is why Anscombe rightly noted that the answer to this question is crucial.

CSL: But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief's occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?

Now suppose the only answer consistent with naturalism is "Nothing. Beliefs are strictly epiphenomenal. It seems to us that we hold beliefs for good reasons, but if we examine how these beliefs are produced and sustained, we find that reasons have nothing to do with it. We think they do, but this is just one more example of the 'user illusion.'"

If that were true, then naturalists would be implying that we are all, including naturalistic philosophers and scientists, are in the same boat with Steve the dice man. So when Anscombe says "We haven't got an answer" to Lewis's question, she is implying that her critique of Lewis's argument is incomplete, even though she might have some legitimate questions about how the argument was formulated in the revised chapter.

Anscombe's response is inconclusive as to whether, in the last analysis, Lewis's argument is good or bad. On the one hand she doesn't think Lewis has given a complete argument for the incompatibility of reason with naturalism. On the other hand, she doesn't think the naturalist has a successful answer for the central question that Lewis presents. She seems to think she won a battle, but not necessarily the war.

I am linking to the revised third chapter by Lewis.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

She seems to think she won a battle, but not necessarily the war.

As you know Anscombe was not a naturalist but a Christian theist, so I am not sure what war you think she is fighting here.
Another quote from the ending of her original reply to Lewis:

I do not think there is sufficiently good reason for maintaining the 'naturalist' hypothesis about human behavior and thought. But someone who does maintain it cannot be refuted as you try to refute him, by saying that it is inconsistent to maintain it and to believe that human reasoning is valid and that human reasoning sometimes produces human opinions.
A causal explanation of a man's thought only reflects on its validity as an indication, if we know that opinions caused in that way are always or usually unreasonable."



You also seem to be making the false assumption that by Anscombe acknowledging that there is still more to be learned about these issues that implies she believed that Lewis' position could be shown to be correct. Anscombe made quite clear in her foward that she thought Lewis' revised argument was still lacking.

This is the same kind of false assumption ID proponents make: simply because there are still unanswered questions about the origin of life and the multitude of species, that somehow increases the possibility that their theory will replace the current scientific theory of evolution.

Anonymous said...

“This seems to me to be a puzzling statement. To say that something is genuinely someone's reasons just is to make a claim about how those beliefs are produced and sustained. If the reasons have nothing to do with how one actually not only comes to hold but also continues to hold a belief, then we've got problems.”

If A believes that p and tells me the reasons he believes that p, then why do I need to know anything else to legitimately ascribe those reasons to A? Sure I could be mistaken; simply because A has told me what he has is no absolute guarantee that I am correctly ascribing those reasons to him. I don’t see a problem with that. I have to admit to having some difficulty understanding your puzzlement here.

Also, perhaps we should remember that most of the beliefs all of us hold are not the result of reasoning but a result of our particular cultural heritage, what we’ve been taught in school and, also, many things we have been told by people we trust. A great many of the beliefs each of us hold are simply taken for granted without much examination.

And when we do reason about things, it is usually about the practical problems we face in day to day life. That is not quite the same thing as the formal deductive, reasoning that you and Lewis seem to be talking about. In fact, most of the time when we are enquiring about someone’s reasons, its not some deductive syllogism supporting some particular belief we are after but the practical reasons for some particular action they have taken.

Victor Reppert said...

No, but the whole scientific enterprise relies on the existence of formal reasoning. If Einstein doesn't make mathematical inferences, we don't get the theory of relativity. Naturalists keep insisting the form their beliefs in accordance with good, scientific principles, as opposed to the flaky methods of belief formation used by those ID people.

It seems to me that at least you've got to support counterfactuals here. In many cases our beliefs are overdetermined by the evidence, but can I really be said to be persuaded by the evidence that OJ was guilty if I would have thought him guilty anyway, even if there had been no evidence.

If I infer one belief from another belief, isn't it that the presence of the mental state in which the reason is perceived somehow brings it about that I believe the conclusion. And let's take a good look at what Anscombe herself later concluded that causation amounted to in her famous essay "Causality and Determination."

If we go with a David Lewis-style counterfactual analysis of caustion, I don't see how you can say that you inferred a belief, but the reason didn't cause the belief.

Anonymous said...

"If I infer one belief from another belief, isn't it that the presence of the mental state in which the reason is perceived somehow brings it about that I believe the conclusion.

Reasons and beliefs are not mental states. There is no such thing as perceiving a reason. Leastways not in the literal sense of perceiving.

And again, reasons causing beliefs looks like an incoherent mess to me. How does a reason cause a belief? Are you going to lay out some kind of mechanical process in which the mind operates? I see little sense in talking about causation otherwise.

Anonymous said...

But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused.

What is a psychological event? How can a belief be an event?

Victor Reppert said...

Actually, it is the perception of the reason that causes the perception of the conclusion. Lewis writes "One thought can cause another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, a ground for it."

Suppose I trying to find out the hypotenuse of a right triangle whose legs are three and four. It seems like I have to have the thought that the legs are three and four, that adding up the square of the legs will get me the square of the hypotenuse. So since 3 squared is 9, and4 squared is 16, the hypotenuse squared must be 25, and hence the hypotenuse must be 5. If the thinking of the steps in the mathematical inference does nothing to bring it about that I reach the conclusion, I don't know how you could call it mathematical reasoning.

And why do you assume that causation is mechanistic. I would come at causation starting with a counterfactual analysis, and then we can see what we need over and above that.

SlagleRock said...

"It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something - then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him."

In my thesis, I pointed out that Lewis is specifically arguing that if naturalism is true, none of these conditions hold.

1. A man would not have reasons for a belief, since physical events cannot be "about" other physical events. So if physical events are all that occur, reasons (not to mention beliefs) would never take place.

2. Even if we ignore this and say he did have reasons, they would not be good reasons, since naturalism precludes the ground/consequent relation.

3. And even if we ignore this and say there were good reasons, they could not really be called his reasons, since they played no part in his coming to hold the belief in question, and if the reasons did not exist, he would hold the belief anyway.

Lewis didn't make the second point until he rewrote the third chapter of Miracles, but the first and third points were a part of his argument before the Anscombe debate ever took place. Her statement shows that she didn't really grasp what Lewis was saying; and I would suggest this is because her Wittgensteinian goggles kept her from seeing it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it is the perception of the reason that causes the perception of the conclusion. Lewis writes "One thought can cause another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, a ground for it."

We don't literally perceive reasons or their conclusion. And even if we did why would seeing them have any effect on our reasoning? Why would seeing a reason cause one to see the conclusion?
Looks like you and Lewis are assuming the Cartesian-empiricist conceptions of the mind are correct. That is a big mistake.:-)


Suppose I trying to find out the hypotenuse of a right triangle whose legs are three and four. It seems like I have to have the thought that the legs are three and four, that adding up the square of the legs will get me the square of the hypotenuse. So since 3 squared is 9, and4 squared is 16, the hypotenuse squared must be 25, and hence the hypotenuse must be 5. If the thinking of the steps in the mathematical inference does nothing to bring it about that I reach the conclusion, I don't know how you could call it mathematical reasoning.

If someone is given a mathematical problem to solve and they are able to solve it then I can reasonably assume they know how to reason 'mathematically'. That is, they understand the formula for calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle and are able to demonstrate their understanding by arriving at the right answer. After all, isn't that how math teachers determine that their students are capable of mathematical reasoning? I believe it is called 'testing'.:-)



"And why do you assume that causation is mechanistic. I would come at causation starting with a counterfactual analysis, and then we can see what we need over and above that."
I assume it because you speak about it in the way one would normally speak about efficient causation.
Your description of thinking through the mathematical problem sounds rather mechanical to me.

Anonymous said...

Anscombe clearly deals with this distinction, when she says

"So far I have only talked of a man’s reasons in a sense in which: “He thinks so-and-so because of such-and-such a chain of reasoning” is in no way a causal statement. There is a kind of statement that I have not yet considered, which is in some sense causal. Suppose I ask someone why he believes something, and he begins to produce reasons, I may say: “Sorry, I didn’t mean that – I know what reasons there are for believing as you do; what I meant to ask was what in actual fact, as a matter of history, led you to this opinion, what caused you to adopt it?” This is a quite intelligible question which anyone would know how to answer. It seems to me that you have not distinguished it, as it ought to be distinguished, from the question “what are your reasons?” – And that it is in virtue of his answer to the latter that a man or his opinions should be called rational, whatever his answer to the former."

In other words, she holds someone's belief to be rational, if he can produce valid grounds for holding it, regardless of how he came by it