Monday, December 03, 2007

Steve the dice-man

A passage from my response to the Anscombe controversy, which shows up in several pieces of mine.

If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cogency for every position he held, you might be inclined to consider him a very rational person. However, suppose that on all disputed questions Steve rolled dice to fix his positions permanently and then used his reasoning abilities only to generate the best-available arguments for those beliefs selected in the above-mentioned random method. I think that such a discovery would prompt you to withdraw from him the honorific title “rational.” Clearly, we cannot answer the question of whether or not a person is rational in a manner that leaves entirely out of account the question of how his or her beliefs are produced and sustained.

It seems to me that how beliefs are produced and sustained is crucial to assessing whether someone is rational. If it is a consequence of the fact that everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate that reasons never really affect the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event, then there has to be something wrong with a world-view according to which everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brains are made of a fundamentally non-teleolgical substrate.

Happily, reason and thought survive the destruction of the brain.

Anonymous said...

Your analogy is quite flawed. The real reason for him deciding is the result of his rolling the dice. That is an irrational reason for making a decision.

I still don't see you undermining the validity of Anscombe's argument by the use of such analogies. As I mentioned earlier, she does deal with the fact that 'irrational causes' can undermine one's faith in another's reasoning process in her reply to Lewis.

Again, herre is what she 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. Even though he give good reasons, however, we may detect in him such passions or such motives of self-interest in saying what he does that we say that it is not really 'for these reasons’: these ‘real reasons’ being the kind of thing that I admitted as ‘irrational causes’. And we rightly suspect and scrutinize carefully the reasoning that he offers. Or we may think him so dominated by ‘irrational causes’ that it is not worthwhile to look at his reasoning at all: though the mere fact that he is actuated purely by these motives does not necessarily mean that he will not in fact be able to reason well.”

Anonymous said...

To the other anonymus,
Brains don't reason, people do.:-)

Anonymous said...

Our thought processes should be designed to produce certain beliefs?

Mike Darus said...

Victor,

There are several problems with the Steve scenario.
1) We need a clear definition of "rational." The term, "rational" seems to be used in many senses from "not insane" to "skilled in the use of logic and reason." If "rational" is a term of honor, then few will achieve it. I fear I would be left out.
2) I am also not sure what is meant by "disputed" questions. If Steve were to realize that some questions are not solved by reason, the coin flip may be an entirely rational alternative.
3) The process of coming to a belief needs to be evaluated differently than the method of sustatining the belief. A person rationally hold a belief even if he first arrived at the belief by other than rational means. The process of how the belief is attained is irrelevant to the issue of whether the person now holds the belief rationally. It may only be the person who concludes that the belief is irrational and determines to continue to believe regardless who can be considered irrational.

There is a difference between how beliefs are produced and how they are sustained. It is quite common for beliefs to be produced by other-than-rational causes among rational people. This does not diminish the rational basis that sustains them. It is common for people to attain beliefs before they are skilled in using reason. Some have rational beliefs without every attaining skill in logic constructing logical arguments. This lack of philisophical skill does not mean their beliefs are illogical or irrational.

T

Victor Reppert said...

If reasons are a sustaining cause for a belief, then of course the belief can be rational, even though it was caused by a not-so-rational cause to begin with. So if one becomes a theists because Mom and Dad say there's a God, and then one examines the pros and cons and decides that yes God does exist, the sustaining reason has now become the real reason for the belief.

Anonymous said...

If reasons are a sustaining cause for a belief,

This doesn't appear to me to be a reasonable assumption to make.
Can you provide me any reasons for thinking that a reason causes a belief?

By a sustaining cause, do you mean a causal condition?

Maybe it would be helpful if you delineated more clearly what you mean by cause as the concept can have various legitimate interpretations.

Anonymous said...

So if one becomes a theists because Mom and Dad say there's a God, and then one examines the pros and cons and decides that yes God does exist, the sustaining reason has now become the real reason for the belief.'

And if Mom and Dad had rolled dice to tell you which god to believe in, and then you had examined the pros and cons for that decision.

Joseph had a dream and as a result of that dream believed an angel told him to flee to Egypt.

Was that rational?

Does the Bible praise people for making irrational decisions?

Hans said...

The problem for Steve is not that his process is non-teleological.

His problem is that his chosen method is non-deterministic.

I'm sure Lewis could have come up with dozens of different analogies for non-rational thinking, but his chosen analogy is a really good one to illustrate that non-determinism and rationality are incompatible.