Monday, April 30, 2007

Why is there something rather than nothing?

An atheist response from Victor Stenger.

Wikipedia entry on actual infinities

This is a wikipedia entry on actual infinities. William Lane Craig defends his argument for the beginning of the universe by maintaining that an actual infinity is impossible.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fides Quaerens Intellectum: The slogan of...naturalism?

So says Bill Vallicella in an old post.

Why naturalism can't capture the good will

By Dallas Willard.

Kant on arguments from God

I. Kant on the Ontological Argument
Kant begins with the ontological argument. This argument was originally developed by St. Anselm, rejected by St. Thomas Aquinas, but adapted by Descartes.
He maintains that while the idea of God contains the idea of a necessary being, this idea does not tell me whether or not God exists. If a know that a triangle has three angles, I still don’t know whether there are any triangles.
Existence is not a property. If I think of a white cat sitting on my desk, and I think of an existing white cat sitting on my desk, I am thinking of the same thing.
Existence is not a predicate
Existence is not a predicate, that is, a property. (Obviously in grammar, the word “exists” is the predicate of the sentence “God exists,” but this is not what Kant has in mind.) If I think of a white cat sitting on my desk, and I think of an existing white cat sitting on my desk, I am thinking of the same thing.

II. The Cosmological Argument
As Kant understands the cosmological argument, it rests on the premise ‘Every event has a cause.” But this applies only to the world of experience as it appears to us, and can’t be applied to something we can’t experience.
Further it rests on the idea of a necessary being, and therefore only works if the ontological argument works, which it doesn’t.
This is a bit puzzling
Kant’s second response to the cosmological argument strikes me as a bit puzzling. If we can’t prove the existence of a necessary being by the ontological argument, does it follow that we can’t prove it some other way? If Kant had criticized the ontological argument in a way that showed that the idea of a necessary being made no sense (that would be Hume’s critique) then the statement would make sense.
What I think he is getting at is that even if you show that a necessary being exists, that being needn’t be the traditional God unless the ontological argument works. Though Aquinas’ fourth way is somewhat different from the OA, but it would reach the same conclusion if it were to be accepted.

III. Kant on the design argument
Considers it “the oldest and clearest and most accordant with the common reason of mankind of all the arguments for God.”
But it would only prove an architect of the world, not a necessary being or a perfect being. You need the ontological and cosmological arguments for that.
So the arguments for God fail
But so do the arguments against the existence of God. Theoretical reason just doesn’t work in this area. That’s not the fault of God, it’s a question of using the wrong tool.
Kant said he needed to deny knowledge to make room for faith. However, we need to take a close look at what philosophers (or theologians for that matter) mean when they use the word faith.

So do we commit metaphysics to the Humean flames?
No. We are burdened by questions that we as reasoners can’t ignore, but which we don’t know how to answer either.
The ideas help us regulate our thought. It is useful to act as if we knew there was a God, a self, and a cosmos.
Does he mean that these ideas are useful fictions, or does he mean that they are ideas we must presuppose as rational beings? Kant scholars are divided on this.

Rejoining the fold

Peter Kirby, a long time atheist, has, apparently, become a Catholic. See this post.
HT: Jason Pratt

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kant's three metaphysical concepts

I. Three metaphysical concepts
The Cosmos
We can’t really discover these by pure reason, because pure reason operates within experience. He calls these transcendental illusions, but it doesn’t follow from that that they don’t exist. They’re just not objects of theoretical knowledge.

II. The Self
Kant thought that every thought or judgment is preceded by the “I think.”
However, the self is not known as a substance. The self we discover in experience is the empirical self, the self as it appears to us. Psychologists can study this self.
The self as it is in itself is called the “transcendental ego” or “transcendental unity of apperception.” This is not known through experience, either introspective or through scientific investigation.

III. The World as a Totality
We can add up all the finite experiences of the world and call it a cosmos.
However, when we attempt to theorize about this as if it were reality as it is in itself, we end up with contradictions. Did the world have a beginning in time? Is it spatially limited? Can it be divided into basic elements? Are some events free and undetermined? Is there a necessary being?
If we think we know the world as it is in itself, we can reason ourselves to opposite answers on this, and these Kant calls antinomies.

IV. Kant’s sympathy for metaphysics
Kant thought that if there is no God and no free will, moral ideas lose all their validity.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can reason from the world to these ideas. This would be to use concepts designed to put experience together and extend them beyond the world of experience.
However, these ideas could be the product of “intellectual presuppositions and faith.”

Kant's transcendental method

I. Kant’s Transcendental Method
From experience to the conditions of its possibility
II. Hume in reverse
Hume goes from experience to what we can know about the world, and gets skeptical results.
Kant goes from knowledge of the world to how we could possibly have that knowledge.
III. Space and time
Most of us are inclined to suppose that space and time are just “out there.” Kant’s claim is that space and time are the “forms of intuition” generated by the mind.
For example, we can imagine a space with no objects, but not objects with no space. Space is one of the mind’s forms of arranging sensations.
Traditionally, God is thought of as being outside of space and time. So, Kant reasoned, space and time are the ways we put the world together, not a feature of reality as it is in itself.
IV. Geometry and Arithmetic
Geometry is the study of space and its relations.
Arithmetic is the science of temporality.
By saying that space and time are mind-dependent, Kant explains the possibility of our having synthetic a priori knowledge of these. Nevertheless it does give us knowledge of the world that science studies.

V. Categories of the Understanding
What concepts do we need to make experiential judgments? Kant thinks there are twelve.

Quantitative categories


Qualitative Categories
Relational Categories
Community or reciprocity


VI. The Category of Substance
Agrees with Hume: substance isn’t given in experience.
It’s not some metaphysical reality beneath appearance.
But it’s the way our mind puts the flow of experience together.
VII. Causality
Agrees with Hume that it’s not given in experience.
Not just a subjective custom or habit by which we put events together.
But rather the way our mind must put the world together in order to experience it.
VIII. The Kantian view of experience
If we attend to experience to see what is given in experience, we find that it is a jumble of loose and separate entities.
But we view that experience as organized.
Therefore our minds work like “glasses” to organize experience so that we can know it.
IX. Phenomena and Noumena
However, the world as experienced is the world as it appears to us, as our minds must put it together.
However, that doesn’t tell us how the world is in itself, but rather how the world as it appears to us must be.
Kant says that reality as it is in itself causes the world to appear to us in certain ways. This has been criticized because his notion of causation is supposed to relate events within experience.

Notes on Kant

Immanuel Kant
The Powers and Limits of the Mind
I. Kant’s significance
Philosophy is divided between pre-Kantian and post-Kantian periods.
He began as a rationalist, influenced by Christian Wolff, who wrote a book entitled Reasonable Thoughts on God, the World, the Soul of Man, and All Things in General.” This kind of reminds me of Douglas Adams’ book “The World, the Universe and Everything,” except Wolff was serious! Wolff was a follower of G. W. Leibniz, the third of the Continental Rationalists.
Was “awakened from his dogmatic slumbers” by the skeptical writings of David Hume. His plan was to combine the rational confidence of the rationalists with the insights of the empiricists without falling into either dogmatism or skepticism.

II. Kant’s key assumption
Kant’s key assumption is that we do have knowledge, found in math and in science.
Kant agreed with the rationalists that genuine knowledge must be universal, necessary and certain, but he knew that perception was essential to the operation of science.
He agreed with the empiricists that all knowledge begins with experience.
III. Difficulties with empiricism
Hume had pointed out that experience alone cannot give us universal, necessary and certain knowledge.
Connections between items of experience, for Hume, is a matter of psychological habit.
Thus Hume could find no grounds for believing that our minds conform to an objective, external world.

IV. Kant’s goals
To put science on a secure foundations and steer between rationalism and empiricism.
To reconcile mechanistic science on the one hand with religion, morality and human freedom.
To address the crisis of metaphysics. Rationalist metaphysics and theology had said we could know various realities that transcended experience, but they all disagreed with one another. Descartes was a dualist, Spinoza was a pantheist, and Leibniz was an idealist. But the solution is not to commit all books on metaphysics to the flames, indeed we can no more stop doing metaphysics than we can stop breathing. So getting metaphysics off the ground by, paradoxically, setting limits for it is another of Kant’s three goals.
V. Critical Philosophy
As opposed to dogmatic philosophy, Kant called his own philosophy critical philosophy.
His most important work is called the Critique of Pure Reason. He determined to find out what pure reason is capable of, and what it is not capable of. The pure reason he is talking about is theoretical reason rather than practical reason.
VI. Kant’s Copernican Revolution
Kant agrees with the empiricists that all knowledge begins with experience.
But it doesn’t all arise out of experience.
Copernicus’ revolution with respect to our understanding of the solar system was achieved by changing the center of focus.
The empiricists thought the mind was passive in confronting the world. On this picture, knowledge conforms to its objects. Kant turned this around and said that objects conform to knowledge. For sense data to be experienced as objects by us, our mind must impose a certain structure on them.
VII. Appearance and Reality
Kant makes a distinction between the way reality appears to us and the way it is in itself. The way it appears to us (the only reality we can know) depends on both the sense and the intellect, or mind. What we see is not what is there in itself, but what appears to us when we put our glasses on.
When we become aware of objects, the mind has already done its work.
VIII. Varieties of judgments
Analytic judgments are based on the principle of contradiction: All bachelors are unmarried.
Synthetic judgments give us new information about the world.
A priori knowledge is knowledge that can be obtained independently of experience.
A posteriori knowledge is knowledge obtained from experience
IX. Four combinations
Analytic a priori judgments, or Humean relations of ideas.
Analytic a posteriori judgments. No such thing. If it’s analytic we don’t learn it by experience. Hence a research study on the marital status of bachelors would be a waste of money indeed.
Synthetic a posteriori judgments. Humean matters of fact. Known through experience.
Synthetic a priori judgments. For Hume these do not exist, but this left big holes in Hume’s theory of knowledge which he had to fill with sentiment, custom, and habit. Kant, however, claims that there are indeed such judgments. For example, for Kant “All events have a cause” is synthetic a priori, as is (contrary to Hume), the truths of mathematics.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A good Vallicella post on explaining consciousness

The passing of Douglas Arner

I have just learned that, last year Douglas Arner, perhaps the best lecturer I have ever encountered has passed away. He was my professor at Arizona State University during my undergraduate years from 1973-1975 and during my graduate career there from 1981-1984. I still use his examples and arguments when I teach classes today. Most philosophy classes are pretty boring if only the teacher speaks. Douglas Arner's classes could be interesting even if there were no class discussion, because of his smooth and fascinating lecture style. But there usually was plenty of discussion, which he handled with extraordinary grace. He was a Presbyterian, a Christian philosopher before there was a Society of Christian Philosophers. He did more to generate enthusiasm for philosophical classics than anyone I have encountered before or since. His introductory philosophy classes managed to bring cover all the major issues in philosophy out of the middle dialogues of Plato. His other philosophical passion was Immanuel Kant, in particular Kantian ethics. There's a lot of Arner in, for example, my treatment of ethical relativism, and the phrase "It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement" is cribbed straight from his lectures.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Slow learner

After all this time as a blogger, I've finally figured out how to put together a blogroll. It's short right now, so if you blog isn't on yet, be patient.

A Thomas Nagel paper on conceiving the impossible and the mind-body problem

Kant on the cosmological argument

What sense does anyone make of Kant's claim that the cosmological argument rests on the ontological argument. The OA attempts to prove the existence of a necessarily existing God by definition, the CA by causal inference. The only thing I can think of is that the CA doesn't get you a perfect being necessarily, just a necessarily existing first cause, and you need another argument to establish God's perfection after that. Only, Aquinas' fourth way is a different way to establish God's perfection, which is different from the ontological argument. So I'm still confused.

Looking for a challenging read?

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Kemp Smith translation) is online.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spencer Lo's argument from evil

Spencer Lo has sent me a version of the argument from evil, to which I would like to get some reactions before commenting myself.

1. If there's a morally sufficient reason to not prevent instances of gratuitous suffering from occurring, then one ought not to prevent those instances from occurring (God's moral justification for allowing instances of gratuitous suffering).
2. When people are confronted with an instance of gratuitous suffering S, they cannot know whether or not there is a morally sufficient reason R that would make the prevention of S's prolongation morally impermissible.
3. Only God knows whether or not there is a morally sufficient reason R that makes the prevention of S's prolongation morally impermissible.
4. If one doesn't know whether or not there is a morally sufficient reason that would make preventing the prolongation of gratuitous suffering morally impermissible, but knows that moral agent P does know, one ought to yield the decision of whether or not to allow the prolongation of gratuitous suffering to P.
5. Although people do not know whether or not there's an R that would make the prevention of S's prolongation morally impermissible, they know that God knows whether or not there's an R that would make the prevention of S's prolongation morally impermissible.
6. Therefore, people are ought to yield the decision of whether or not to prevent the prolongation of S to God.
7. Therefore, unless God gives people clear indications that there's an R that would make the prevention of S's prolongation morally impermissible, people ought not to act so as to prevent the prolongation of S.
8. It can be reasonably assumed that God did not give the people who prevented the prolongation of the Holocaust clear indications that there exists an R that would make the prevention of Holocaust's prolongation morally impermissible.
9. Therefore, the people who prevented the prolongation of the Holocaust ought not to have prevented its prolongation.

God, the supernatural, and prior probabilities

I don't think the "supernatual" character of God is any essential part of Christian doctrine. So the fact that in some sense God could turn out to be a "natural" entity doesn't especially bother me. This is often put forward sa if it should be terribly embarrassing, but I've never been able to see why.

As for "laws of supernature," if we are talking about stict deterministic laws, we don't have those for nature either. If we are talking about probabilistic expectations, then it seems as if we can generate those based on what we take to be the character of the person we are talking about. It's not part of anything I believe that God is completely capricious in his actions.

I'm a subjectivist about antecedent probabilities, period. You don't have to "ground" them in anything. Attempts to provide an account of how you get "objective" priors have failed completely, so far as I have been able to tell. Frequency theory founders on the problem of the single case. Thge best we as humans can do epistemically is start from what we do believe and adjust our convictions based on the evidence. Bayesian confirmation theory helps us do that. What it does not do is tell us where to get the antecedent probabilities in the first place. There's an outstanding book by Howson and Urbach on this from about 1989.

I guess I would want to ask how much of a story you think you can tell, or want to, about the founding of Christianity. I think you're going to end up left with some pretty mysterious facts at the end of the day, whether you go hallucination, or legend, or theft, or swoon, or wrong tomb, or what have you. If "plausible" you mean more plausible than any alternative, including a supernatural alternative, given your own presuppositions as a naturalist" then that's not what I mean by plausible. I'm not claiming a refutation of naturalism based on the events surrounding the life of Christ. If naturalism constrains what you think is possible, then you can say with Sherlock Holmes, "Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth." But I am betting, based on my knowledge of the founding of Christianity, that your story will end up being improbable in various ways.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On the gnostic heresy

Let's get one thing clear. The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel. The media is sensationalizing the whole "discovery" of this gospel while providing no explanation for the doctrines that underlie this gospel. Back when I was in seminary, "Gnostic" was what you called someone when you wanted to call them a dirty name. One of my favorite lectures was one by theology professor Ted Runyon, who used the Hare Krishnas and the Late Great Planet Earth as examples of twentieth-century Gnosticism. (Great line about Lindsey: he cuts the Bible into little pieces and reads it like a fortune cookie).

I guess more recently, under the baneful influence of Elaine Pagels, the Gnostics experience something of a revival of reputation after my seminary days. But I stick by the Gnostic-bashers. The Gnostics had it coming.

Anyway, this link explains gnosticism.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


I. Gnosticism
A view that a special secret knowledge will save you out of this evil world.
It is the liberation of the spirit, because it is enslaved by its union with material things.
We are freed through knowledge of gnosis.
This is not just information but is a mystical illumination that results from revelation of the eternal.
Jesus, for Christian gnosticism, is the one who brings the mystical illumination and liberates us from our connection to matter.

II. Why Christian leaders objected to gnosticism
The doctrine of creation and the divine rule over the world
Doctrine of salvation
III. Creation
For the Gnostics, the world is not the creation of God, but instead is the result of an error committed by an inferior and evil or ignorant being. The things of this world are not just worthless, they’re evil.

IV. Salvation
Gnostics held that salvations consisted of saving us from our material existence.
Christians affirmed that the salvation included the human body, and the we will be resurrected physically.
V. Christology
Christians affirmed that Christ was God come in the flesh: the incarnation.
Gnostics said that Jesus only appeared to be a fleshly being, but was really a spirit-being who brought us the secret knowledge.
VI. Defenses against Gnosticism
Canon of Scripture
Apostolic Succession
Apostles’ Creed
VII. Canon of Scripture
Marcion had proposed a set of Scriptural books that fit with Gnosticism.
Hence, the Church put forward a canon of Scripture that, for example, included the Book of Matthew, which connects Christ to the Old Testament, or I John, which says that if anyone says that Christ has not come in the flesh, he should not even be bid Godspeed.
While Protestant Christians think that a biblical appeal would have been enough to defeat Gnosticism, it should be remembered that mass-produced Bibles were not available in that time. So this was not the sole weapon the Church used to defeat Gnosticism.
VIII. Apostolic Succession
Persons properly licensed to teach doctrine within the Church had to receive authority to do so in virtue of standing in a succession of authority from the Apostles. The teachers of Gnosticism could not claim this kind of authorization, so their teachings were rejected.
This is a Catholic approach to dealing with doctrinal conflict. With the doctrine of apostolic succession, the authority to reject doctrine comes from within the Church, and is not to be found in the written word of Scripture.
What if Scripture and Church authority (apparently) conflict? We have to wait over 1300 years to see this issue battled out between Catholics and Protestants?
IX. Apostles’ Creed
The church had a list of questions for people who were going to join the Church. Some Christian churches still say the Apostles’ Creed in Church. The “I believes” of this creed are the positive answers to the questions that were asked of those who wished to join the Church.
These statements were directed against the doctrines of the Gnostics. The Gnostics did not believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. The did not believe in a Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was raised bodily from the dead. Thus the creed was a third line of defense against Gnosticism.
X. Can’t we all just get along? Agree to disagree, you know?
Apparently not. What the Christian leadership maintained was that the very guts of Christianity were threatened by the Gnostics.
Orthodoxy is the term for correct belief. As a revealed religion, the Christian leadership believed that a correct understanding of salvation through Christ was sufficiently important that they felt they had to kick people out who were distorting it.
Heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy, and the Gnostics were condemned and kicked out of the Church for heresy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More dialogue with anonymous

My claim was, I hate to have to repeat myself, that no naturalistic reconstruction of the events surrounding Christ's life, death, and resurrection is likely to work. However, I am not attempting to prosecute irrationality charges against skeptics. That is not my point. You can, as a skeptic, absorb my point without being irrational. If one's conviction that nothing supernatural ever happens carries enough epistemic weight for you, then you inability to tell the story of Jesus shouldn't bother you a whole lot. When we think about issues like this, we have to take into account the totality of the relevant evidence and we have to not simply throw away our initial intellectual predispositions; our subjective Bayesian priors. Given my priors, I'm willing to give the miraculous a chance, and I think the evidence, all told, is sufficient for me to believe it. See this Infidels paper I published back in '98.
In particular I said:
If my foregoing discussion is correct, opponents of, say, the resurrection of Jesus cannot appeal to a general theory of probability to prove that anyone who accepts the resurrection is being irrational. It is also a consequence that different people can reasonably expected to have different credence functions with respect to Christian (and other) miracle claims. If you want to convince some people that Christ was resurrected, you have a much heavier burden of proof than you have in convincing others. It must be noted that there is no way, on the model I have presented, to show that everyone who denies the Resurrection is irrational, or engaged in bad faith. Of course, one can still believe that unbelievers disbelieve because of "sin" or "suppressing the truth," or what have you. But given the legitimate differences that can exist concerning the antecedent probability of the miraculous, I don't see how such charges can be defended. So the lesson here, I think, is that both apologetics and anti-apologetics should be engaged in persuasion, not coercion, and that the attempt to ground irrationality charges against one's opponents is a misguided enterprise.[22]
Nevertheless, if we have a phenomenon, and one side says "I wouldn't have expected this evidence, but based on my assessment of the total evidence, I'm going to assume that the explanation exists even though I don't know what it is, and the other side says "If we accept my position, then we do have an explanation," then if the second party is right, it scores a point against the mystery-maneuvering opponent. If that's the situation with the problem of evil, then I have no trouble saying that the atheist scores a point with that argument. A point, mind you, not game, set, and match.
I would further add that "supernatural" claims only contradict science if there is no hope of coming up with "laws of supernature" that govern the activities of God. I don't see why this is impossible in principle, though it may be difficult to come up with in practice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My response to Walt Brown III

Since Walt Brown III's inquiries about the argument from reason are subject matter for Dangerous Idea 2, the blog devoted to the AFR, I have put my responses to his comments over there.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Chalmers' discussion of the conceivability-to-possibility argument

Jesus and Founding of Christianity

Jesus and the Founding of Christianity
I. How do we find out who Jesus was?
Our sources of information are the four canonical Gospels, along with other Christian writings.
The textbook asks about Jesus’ personality and teachings, and spends little time on the issue posed in the debate, whether Jesus was actually raised from the dead. (Is this a way to skirt around a controversial topic?).
II. A Historical Jesus that Craig and Parsons can agree on
A. A skeptic like Keith Parsons has to deny all elements of the Gospel accounts that would require that Jesus be more than a Jewish carpenter who taught and had a following in Palestine in the first century.
B. So, presumably all the miracles attributed to Jesus, not just the resurrection, did not occur as reported. The raising of Lazarus, the feeding of the five thousand, the casting out of demons, the healing of lepers (unless all of this can be explained psycho-somatically), the walking on water, did not occur as reported.

III. But what about the non-miraculous elements?
I’m not terribly sure about that, either. Parsons points out a number of things Jesus said that make outrageous implications about him. Jesus claimed to have the right to forgive sins on his own authority. He claimed that he was Lord of the Sabbath, and could excuse people from their Sabbath responsibilities. He put his own words in the place of those of Moses. And he claimed that he would come to judge the world at the end of time.
The problem here is that Jesus, by his actions, implies, in essence that he is God. It is something that a sane person would not do, at least a sane person living in a Jewish monotheistic culture.
IV. Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote this:
“A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
B. This is, of course, highly debatable argument. The claim I want to make is that Jesus’ actions found in the Gospels are, almost across the board, hard to make sense of if Christianity isn’t true. That means either the sources are pretty thoroughly unreliable, in which case we know almost nothing about Jesus, or Christianity is the case.
V. Jesus teaching
Jesus accepted that authority of the Law and the Prophets.
However, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, he taught with authority. That is, he did not rely on the long chain of rabbinical interpretations, rather he presented his own views straightforwardly, sometimes even replacing the law of Moses with his own words.
VI. The emphasis on Love
Jesus taught universal love and compassion, not only for people who are like you, but for the people who are not like you. When asked “Who is my neighbor” Jesus responded by asking his listeners to imagine themselves the victim of a mugging, and then said “OK, if the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side, but the Samaritan helps you, who do you think your neighbor was.
VII. Jesus and legalism
Jesus was suspicious of the legalism that put following rules above human welfare. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” However he never denied the legitimacy of the Jewish Law.
VIII. Was Jesus a social activist?
Did not challenge social institutions such as slavery or the subjection of women.
However, he did not allow someone’s inferior status to affect the way he treated them.
IX. Did Jesus focus on the family?
He opposed easy divorce, which was a privilege assumed by men in his day. (Women were in an economically dependent position, and so would not be initiating divorce proceedings, since few of them would want to be put in a position being unable to support themselves except in the world’s oldest profession.) He said the marriage bond was given by God. But he also said it was certainly OK to be unmarried, and to the best of our knowledge (the Da Vinci code notwithstanding) did not himself marry. He also thought that family relations sometimes had to be sacrificed for the Kingdom of God. So the evidence for Jesus as a family advocate is mixed.
X. The Two Great Commandments
Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

Dialogue with Anonymous on issues related to the Trilemma

Anonymous wrote: Victor, I appreciate that you are not claiming there is a logical error. My point however was a procedural one. Unless you can prove a logical error, your statement that (in effect) "a naturalistic account of the NT is impossible [or implausible] from a naturalistic perspective" is about as meaningful as saying that "a Christian account of the NT is impossible [or implausible] from a Christian perspective".

VR: Not at all. I am saying that a naturalistic understanding of the Gospels will invariably impugn their reliability to the point of rendering them virtually useless. I do not think that a naturalist necessarily has to explain all of the religious texts that have supernaturalist implications. However, insofar as the documents otherwise show signs of reliability but are unacceptable within a naturalistic framework, this represents an anomaly for the naturalist. And if there are religious texts like the Qu'ran that otherwise show signs of reliability but contradict the Christian message, then this is an anomaly for Christians as well as for naturalists.

Anon: You are also [and I think this is an entirely unrelated point] placing an unwarranted burden of proof on naturalists if you demand that they "explain" the Biblical sources. Once someone has adopted a "naturalistic persepective" they have a logical obligation to reject all stories of "miracles" (that is, events that apparently contradict well-attested natural laws as we understand them), wherever or whenever they occur. This includes the miracles reported in Homer, the Bible, the Koran, the Mahabharata, and all the many Roman and medieval histories. Whether the accounts that remain, once all the supernatural stuff has been stripped away, are reliable or unreliable is something that only specialist historians can determine.

VR: I don't think history is such a specialized discipline that ordinary common sense arguments can't be used, and that we have to defer completely to specialists. History is not quantum mechanics. My claim is that a plausible and sensible portrait of Jesus that fits the facts and is psychologically plausible is probably not available, once the supernatural is denied.

Anon: And even if the accounts are considered to be reliable, no opinion on the psychological plausibility of these stories can have any epistemic purchase against naturalism. There are no laws of psychology that are comparable in scope or experimental support to the laws of physics (and their corollaries in the other sciences). To argue that X wouldn't do or say or write something unless the miracle stories were true is to ask a naturalist to abandon well-attested physical laws in favor of unattested psychological laws of your own devising. Obviously the naturalist will not do this, and this is where his or her epistemic obligation ends. The naturalist no more has to explain the (allegedly) odd behavior of the characters in (or authors of) the New Testament than the Christian has to explain the behavior of the characters in the Mahabharata.

VR: Except that we have the historical provenance of the characters in the New Testament. When know when and were they lived, and who they were, and we have good reason to suppose that they were not simply made up, unlike the characters in the Mahabarata or the Book of Mormon, who seem to me to be entirely mythical. Now I know that the mythicist position is out there, but it seems to be a minority report even on Internet Infidels.

I don't know that we have any more certainty concerning the laws of physics than we have concerning certain laws of psychology. Newton's laws, after all, had to be modified. The confidence I have in my beliefs concerning what my wife would do and what she would not do is far stronger than my confidence in, say, the latest deliverances of string theory. So I really think the "physical laws vs. psychological laws" dichotomy doesn't work.

Look, all I am getting out of this is an anomaly claim against the naturalist. I think the historical evidence is more like what we should expect if a supernaturalist story is true than it is like what we should expect if a supernaturalist story is not true. Hence, yeah, this is the basis of a "weak Bayesian confirmation" argument against the naturalist, and I do think the points that I am drawing out of the Trilemma contribute to this case. But that's it. I've thought it would be nice to write a book entitled "Evidence that Politely Asks for a Verdict: The Epistemically Modest Case for Christ." I don't know if it would be a best-seller, though.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The conceivability argument for dualism--if I only had a brain

From Edward Feser's Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introducion, presenting an argument for dualism he attributes to W. D. Hart, based on the conceivability of disembodied existence.

Imagine waking up one day and staggering groggily to the bathroom sink to splash some water on your face. As you gaze into the mirror, you notice, to your great horror, that where normally there would be two eyes staring back at you., you see instead two dark and vacant eye sockets—with the eyeballs completely missing! Frantic, you reach into the sockets to verify that they are empty and, sure enough, feel nothing but the stumps of the optic nerves. This would, of course, be impossible in real life. But you can certainly conceive of it happening, without contradiction—you can vividly imagine having an unsettling experience of this sort, in a way that you cannot conceive of a circular square or 2 = 2 adding up to 5. If you can conceive of this, you can also conceive that, being intrigued by your ability to see without eyeballs, and wondering if any other vision-related parts of your body are missing, you get out a hacksaw and remove the top of your skull, only to reveal an empty cavity where your brain should be. And if that’s conceivable, you can take the next step and imagine that instead of seeing empty eye sockets staring back at you, what you see is your own headless body—in which case you’d be conceiving of seeing without a head. Finally, following this exercise to its final, logical conclusion, you can imagine that what you see in the mirror is not even a headless body, but nothing more than the wall behind you and no body at all. Wondering whether someone has installed a trick mirror or if you’ve become a vampire, you look down at your torso, arms, and legs, but find that you can’t see them, only the floor under you, as you realize that your attempt to touch them has failed—there’s nothing there to touch! You would now be conceive of seeing without a body. But seeing is a mental process, as is the frenzied thinking you’d now be engaging in; which means that what you’ve conceived of is your mind existing apart from a body or brain. So again, it’s conceivable that the mind exists apart from the brain—in which case they are not identical.

Edward Feser, Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction, pp. 25-26.

Jeff G on the Trilemma

I had missed this post on Jeff G's site.
I’m a big fan of the blog Dangerous Idea. Whether it is in spite of or because of my disagreement with Vic on almost every issue he posts about, I just love to read whatever it is that he has to say.

Thanks, Jeff.
Recently, he posted on C. S. Lewis’ trilemma argument for the divinity of Christ and Richard Dawkins’ rebuttal to it. (Interestingly enough, my Dad sent me a copy of the argument quite independently about a week later.) While I think Vic brought up some good points regarding Dawkins’ arm chair speculations on the matter, I simply must put forth my own reasons for thinking the trilemma argument to be largely, if not entirely bogus.

VR: Although of course I'm well-disposed toward Lewis in general, I have some ambivalence toward this particular argument. I think there's some merit to it, but I have some ambivalence about what it proves. I've done a number of posts on the trilemma:

Here is the relevant passage from Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

“A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Let us first grant that the argument has significant intuitive appeal. If any person today were to call himself the Son of God, he would indeed be labeled a lunatic or a liar. Furthermore, I would certainly be disinclined to call such a man a great moral teacher, much less the actual Son of God. By the same reasoning it would seem that the infidel is thereby committed to seeing Jesus as nothing less than a lunatic, liar or both. Since most people are not willing to call Jesus a liar or lunatic, the Christian argues, we are therefore compelled to accept Jesus at his word; he was/is actually the Son of God.

The same reasoning, however, can be applied to a number of other people and the claims which they have made. All who reject the prophetic claims of Muhammad must also be committing to judging him a lunatic or a liar. The same can be said for all non-Mormons about Joseph Smith (the church’s founder) or Gordon B. Hinckley (the church current prophet). Either Hinckley is a liar, a lunatic or a prophet of God. (In fact, some Mormons actually do use this argument, but usually as it applies to Smith.)

An interesting and legitimate point. Of course the claim to be God Almighty, or the future judge of the world, goes considerably beyond what it takes, as a lifelong Mormon, to believe, after ascending to the Presidency, that one is indeed the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Mormon Church. I think many Christians would have no trouble seeing Smith or Muhammad as religious charlatans pure and simple. In any event for the most part I do not see Smith or Muhammad as great moral teachers.

Consider further the (in)famous case of Apollonius of Tyana. He was alleged to have been miraculously born, to perform miracles including healing the sick and raising the dead, to deliver divine teachings, to claim the power to foresee the future and at the end of his life to have ascended into heaven to live with the gods forever. Are we committed to calling this man a liar, lunatic or prophet? By what criterion to we condemn Apollonius but not Jesus? It would seem that we have no more and no less reason to attribute malevolence or insanity to this man than we do Jesus. The point is that something must be wrong with the trilemma argument for there are simply too many counterexamples.

I posted on Apollonius a few months ago, when I posted a quote from Richard Purtill.

One can escape the problem in this case by just saying that the Philostratus account is a legend. Yes, you can make the same case with respect to Jesus if you can defend the legend view. You aren't taking that route here, however. I think we have reason to think that the Apollonius story is legendary, and therefore not a genuine rival.

What exactly is wrong with the argument, however, is not so easy to put one’s finger on. I see at least three possibilities which are open to the infidel:

1. Jesus was a great moral teacher, was not a liar and was a bit insane.

2. Jesus was a great moral teacher, was not insane and was a liar.

3. Jesus was a great moral teacher, was not a liar, was not a lunatic and was simply wrong.

Of course C. S. Lewis would almost certainly be uncomfortable with each of these positions, but it must be admitted that they are all at least possible. Being a scoundrel or a little crazy does not necessarily preclude one’s being a great teacher of anything, morality included. In this post, however, I will not consider (2) so as to better engage the Christian claim. I will simply note that no matter how much the Christian does not like (2), it is nevertheless a possibility.

What impresses many about Jesus is not only his moral teaching but also his moral character and example. This is hard to square with somebody who has the false belief that he is God.

What I wish to focus on instead is the difference between being wrong and being insane. By what criteria do we draw a distinction between the two? Let us consider some examples of the claim “I am X”:

· I am the Son of God.

· I am King.

· I am able to foresee the future.

· I am a garbage man.

· I am a liar. (Gotta love the paradox.)

· I am the smartest person I know.

· (Shouting) I am not angry!

· I am a humble person.

· I am a good singer.

Let us suppose (hypothetically speaking of course! ;-P) that in reality I am none of the X’s which I have just claimed to be. Furthermore, let us assume that I sincerely believe each of the above claims to be true. It seems obvious that in many cases my being wrong does not entail my insanity or my malevolence. In other cases (the first three for example) such an entailment does seem to follow. But what is the difference between the two types?

But aren't there some pretty clear cases things which, if you believed them about yourself, you would have to be nuts. For example, Miracle on 34th St. notwithstanding, wouldn't you be insane if you falsely believed that you were Santa Claus? On the "merely mistaken" issue, there is a really nice exchange between Daniel Howard-Snyder and Stephen T. Davis, which can be found on the website

One possible response is that we judge some claims to be crazy due to their being so much less probable than those claims which are merely wrong. While this response seems to be pointed in the right direction, I suggest that it is not good enough. First of all, the Christian’s appeal to probability seems more than a little self-defeating. Second, and more importantly, such a response does not do justice to the question at hand. We do not call people crazy simply because their claims are/seem vastly improbable. If a man were to claim that it will rain in Sacramento, California on August 12, 2007 (an incredibly improbable claim) I would not judge him to be insane. Joe Namath’s prediction that the Jets would win the Super Bowl did not make him crazy either. There must be more to the story.

Another possible response is that we judge the crazy claims to be so due to their being more self-serving than the wrong claims. This, however, suffers from a number of counterexamples as well. For instance, the claim that I am the smartest person I know seems just as self-serving as is the claim that I am King, and yet the former does not seem near as crazy as does the latter. Furthermore, my claiming myself to be the devil incarnate would be seen as being just as self-serving as it would sane. In fact, it could be argued that Jesus’ claim was anything but self-serving, thereby undermining the trilemma argument. There must be more to the distinction between being wrong and being insane.

The difference, I suggest, lies in the reasons which we have for a given belief. I may believe that I can foresee the future based on a number of occasions when I have foreseen the future to some extent. I may also think that I am a good singer because my voice sounds fine to me and nobody has ever told me any different. Accordingly, Joseph Smith and Muhammad may have thought themselves to be prophets due to some very emotional experiences and Jesus may have thought himself to be the Son of God due to what he was told in a dream/vision. What makes some claims/beliefs crazy is not just what the claims are but our reasons for them.

All beliefs (at least those in question) are presumably held for one reason or another. Indeed, if there was no particular reason for a belief it is then that we would judge it to be insane. What I wish to argue is that this apparent exception is actually the rule. There are three necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for insanity:

I. The belief must be inappropriate in that it is not what a normal person believes due to its being improbable, unhealthy, immoral, etc.

II. The belief must be held with a significant degree of conviction in that the purported belief is not merely a hunch, a fa├žade or a lie.

III. The belief must not be appropriately supported by any or enough reasons.

Lewis’ argument can be reformulated as follows: Jesus claimed himself to be the Son of God, which meet condition (I). We can either claim him to be lying, in which case he could not be a great moral teacher, or we can believe that he sincerely believed himself to be the Son of God, which would meet condition (II). If we accept that he was not a liar, then his belief was either appropriately supported, in which case he would really be the Son of God, or his belief was not appropriately supported, which would thus meet condition (III) making him insane. Thus, given that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, we are forced to choose between him being a liar, a lunatic or Lord.

Notice, however, the large role which ‘appropriate’ plays in the definition of insanity. This is because insanity is not an objective feature which we read off of people or beliefs. Rather, it is a quality which we impose upon people, beliefs or reasons for their not being “normal” in some relevant way. The fact is that every individual deviates from the norm in some way and to some degree; the line which separates normal from insane is not only largely arbitrary but is also in constant flux across different cultures and different times. This arbitrariness and fluctuation in what is appropriate is exactly what Lewis’ trilemma argument is missing. Specifically, it is entirely possible that what we judge to be inappropriate may be radically different from what some other culture judges to be inappropriate.

Jesus’ belief and/or his reasons may have been completely appropriate within his cultural context. After all, it was not terribly unusual for mortal individuals to be called gods of some form or another. In fact, it is not at all clear what exactly the historical Jesus meant in claiming himself to be the Son of God, if he made such a claim at all. Furthermore, dreams, visions, divinations and the like were also judged to be legitimate or at least appropriate sources of knowledge. Neither of these things can be said for the individual who makes similar claims for similar reasons within our own cultural context.

The problem here is that consistently, on his own authority, if you take the Gospel records at face value, you find Jesus consistently claiming for himself not just the prerogatives of messiahship, but the prerogatives of deity. I mean when he claims to be Lord over the Sabbath, when he claims to forgive sins on his own authority, when he excuses people from fasting because of who he is, when he puts his own words in place of the law of Moses, when he seals his fate by calling himself the future judge of the world, what do you make of it? He came from a religious tradition that was ferociously monotheistic, and he took prerogatives that are attributed to God alone. In doing so he put himself on a path to being crucified. You can imply that you are God in India and mean that your atman is brahman, just like everyone else's. In Israel, no one will take you to mean that.

The problem with Lewis’ argument is that one man, Jesus, and his beliefs are being held to norms which never applied to him while he was alive. It is because the argument appeals to our own particular sense of appropriateness that the trilemma argument has such a strong intuitive appeal to it. Nevertheless, the infidel is not at all committed to seeing Jesus as a liar or a lunatic since the latter’s claims may have been far less inappropriate in his own cultural context than we judge such claims to be in our contemporary context.

The context is Jewish one. The most important thing that the Trilemma argument points out is the impossibility of peeling all the supernatural stuff off and leaving a "historical Jesus" whose life makes sense from a naturalistic perspective. When you read the New Testament you find a Jesus who, when he isn't performing miracles, he's doing all sorts of other things that strongly imply that he is far more than a Jewish carpenter. The idea that Jesus was a good guy who taught everyone to be nice and that the claims of Christianity are based on a misunderstanding is logically possible. It has, however, absolutely zero support from the records. "He did not leave that option open to us. He did not intend to." I won't say that this removes all the options from the infidel. I don't think it does. It just gets rid of the more attractive ones.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hume on religion

Hume on Religion
The Case for Agnosticism
I. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Hume’s most systematic work on religion was published after his death. This may have been because, earlier in the 18th century, someone did jail time for writing a book critical of Christianity.
This is the link to the text of that work:
II. The Three Characters in the Dialogues
Cleanthes, the defender of the argument from design.
Demea, a defender of cosmological arguments but sometimes sounds like a fideist (one who believes on faith).
Philo, a religious skeptic who, for the most part, speaks for Hume.
III. Why Hume reject a priori arguments
Reason alone can establish nothing concerning matters of fact.
You will remember that Aquinas overcame the “who made God” problem by saying that God is a necessary being, while other beings exist contingently.
But according to Hume, necessary existence has no meaning. What can be necessary are relations of ideas. Whatever we can conceive of as existing, we can conceive of as not existing.
IV. Causal arguments
Hume maintains that we cannot use the principle “Every event has a cause.” Causal inferences occur when we perceive spatial contiguity, temporal succession and constant conjunction. When these conditions obtain, our natural habits of mind lead us to conclude that there is a causal relation. But with God’s causing the cosmos, this doesn’t meet these criterion. So we are extending causal reasoning beyond its legitimate boundaries. We know only one universe, and we have not seen a constant conjunction between universes and the activities of universe-makers.
V. The argument from similar causes (the design argument)
One might argue for theism as follows:
Similar effects have similar causes.
The universe is similar to various things that have intelligent causes (like a watch).
Therefore, (probably) the universe has an intelligent cause.
Arguments of this type were very popular in Hume’s day, and they are sometimes used today.
VI. Hume’s first objection
From a finite effect you cannot conclude an infinite cause. So if the argument works it only proves the existence of a being powerful enough to create our universe, not an all-powerful being.
VII. Hume’s second objection
We can’t assume that the cause is perfect. After all, the cause of the universe didn’t produce a perfect universe, so on what basis do we say that the cause is perfect? There are lots of things in it that could be better (tornadoes, floods, terrorists, Bush, the Arizona Cardinals). Consider how we grade car manufacturers. We grade them on how good their cars are. So how should we grade universe-makers? And when we grade whoever or whatever made the universe by this standard, how does the universe-maker come out? Less than perfect maybe? (This is the basis of what is by far the most popular argument against theism, the argument from evil).
VIII. Objection three: What if the universe were perfect?
Even that wouldn’t prove that the universe-maker was perfect. After all, he could have honed his or her universe-making skills through eons of practicing.
IX. Objection four: Why only one God?
If we are going to use the analogy of human contrivances, then we must recognize that many human contrivances have many makers. So why not be a polytheist, and say that the universe was put together by a committee, or an assembly line.
X. What does the universe resemble?
A watch you say? How about a vegetable, which is not produced by intelligent design. Or an animal, which is produced by sexual reproduction. Let’s see, the universe is like an animal, like effects produce like causes, so….that would be the big bang theory now wouldn’t it?
XI. Hume and evolution
Hume, in one passage, considers the possibility attributing the complex, design-appearing features of the universe to an evolutionary process, though he does not endorse this explanation. Full-blown atheism was rare in Hume’s time, and Hume was not an atheist.

Contemporary atheist Richard Dawkins wrote:
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. -- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6

Hume on ethics

VIII. Hume’s Ethics
Hume complains that we don’t make the kind of progress in our ethical knowledge that we have made in physics and geometry.
Hume approaches ethics like a psychologist or a anthropologist rather than as a moral reformer or advocate.
IX. Limiting the role of reason
We can see that even in matters like cause and effect, reason doesn’t provide us with the rational justification that we would like to have. This goes doubly for ethics. For people like Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, it is irrational to be immoral. For Plato, the rational understanding of the good undergirds the moral life. For Aristotle, finding the mean between extremes is determined by reason, and Aquinas agrees with him. For Hume, reason is and ought always to be the slave of the passions.
X. What are moral judgments? How are they justified
Are moral judgments known a priori, that is, independently of experience? If that were so then they would be relations of ideas, and to deny them would be to contradict oneself. But do you contradict yourself if you say “It is perfectly OK morally to invite someone over for dinner, and then shove them into the oven and cook them as dinner.” It doesn’t look like that is true.
XI. Reason and moral judgments
Hume uses this argument against the claim that moral judgments are grounded in reason:
Moral judgments guide action and conduct.
Reason cannot guide action and conduct. It is used to discover truth and falsehood, not to guide action.
Therefore, moral judgments are not grounded in reason.
XII. What about matter of fact reasoning?
That won’t support moral judgments, either. Let’s take a cold-blooded murder. Add up all the facts that you possibly can concerning it: the physics of the murder, the chemistry, the biology of the death that it involved, the psychology of the murderer and the victim, the sociological facts about who is most likely to be murdered in this way and who is likely to commit such a murder—take all of these facts and put them together, and you will not be able to logically draw the conclusion that the action was morally wrong.
XIII. So What’s Wrong with, let’s say, killing you spouse for the insurance money?
Our sense of wrongness is found in our own breast, in the sentiment of disapprobation we feel when we are told, say, of the crimes of Ted Bundy or Hannibal Lecter.
Feelings, therefore, are the source of morality.

I. Plato in reverse
Plato: Reason should command, spirit and appetite obey
Hume: Reason is and ought always to be the slave of the passions.
Even empiricist predecessor Locke thought that we could reason from experience to what we ought to do. Hume says no.
II. Is there a universal moral sentiment implanted by God?
A. That’s what some British moralists thought. But Hume thought otherwise. As we are going to see, Hume is a religious skeptic who doesn’t base anything on the idea of God.
III. Are morals objective for Hume?
I’ve puzzled about this some myself.
Some moral principles are correct and other incorrect not in the sense that mathematical sums are true or false, but in the sense that some moral principles offend against desires that are universal in human beings.
IV. Two sources of moral duties
Social Utility
V. Social Utility
Some moral rules are go against our natural inclinations, but are nevertheless socially useful. Ex: promise keeping, allegiance to one’s government, and chastity. These are artificial virtues. They serve everyone’s interest if we follow them. I am better off for example, if everyone obeys the law and keeps their promises.
My calculating self-interest leads me to follow rules that benefit society as a whole. (Question for Hume: Even when people aren’t watching?)

VI. Sympathy
We feel more sympathy for those close than those far away. Thus, we felt more sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Katrina than for the victims of the Asian Tsunami, even though the tsunami claimed more victims than did Katrina.
But I can be disgusted by the actions of the Emperor Nero, even though he lived in the first century A. D. and I do not know any of his victims.
VII. Is sympathy for others really selfish?
Hume says no. If we observe human nature, we see that humans have a natural interest in the welfare of others. Of course we feel satisfaction if our actions succeed in benefiting others, but that does not mean that the satisfaction is what we were aiming at.
VIII. The moral bedrock
This feeling of sympathy is the moral bedrock, the basis of right and wrong. We need not look further to discover the basis of morality (to God or to reason, for example).
Question for Hume: What if our feelings of sympathy are weak, but other desires, such as lust, or desire for control, or just rank sadism, are stronger. On what basis do we prefer our sympathetic feelings to these other feelings that are stronger?

Hume on Induction

I. Hume on Induction
Causal inferences are essentially inductive inferences. They go from “constant conjunction” in the past to constant conjunction in the future. Hence, for example, we infer that the sun will rise tomorrow because we have seen it rising in the past.
Hence they will work only on the assumption that a resemblance principle, “The future will resemble the past,” is a good one.
II. The sun will come up tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, we’ll have sun.
The argument has to go something like this:
1) In the past, the sun has risen every day.
2) The laws of nature will continue to operate in the future just as they have in the past.
3) Therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow.
III. Justifying the resemblance principle
By what reasoning can we justify the resemblance principle? By relations of ideas? Is it a contradiction to say that although the sun has risen every day in the past, it won’t rise tomorrow? The past is, after all, the past, and we are talking about the future here. So it has to be based on experience.

IV. Why is this argument circular?
In the past, I have observed numerous cases where two events have been consistently conjoined together.
It has always been the case at a future time that these same pairs of events continued to be conjoined.
Therefore, the laws of nature will continue to operate in the future just as they have in the past.
V. Begging the question
Attempting to support the resemblance principle seems to be a doomed enterprise, once we grant Hume’s fork. Since it’s not contradictory to deny it, it can only be defended by an argument based on experience. But past experience is only relevant to the future if there is a resemblance between the future and the past.
VI. So do we stop making inductive inferences?
Hume says, of course not. First we can’t help making them. It comes naturally to us. Second, it is practical for us to continue to make them—we couldn’t guide our lives without making past-to-future inferences. So if a hot stove has burned us in the past, we are perfectly justified in supposing that it will burn us in the future, even though we have no argument in defense of the claim that the future will resemble the past.
VII. What is the great guide of life?
According to Hume, it’s custom. This reverses the idea many people have that we have to examine our customary beliefs to see if they can stand up to philosophical analysis.

Hume's Empiricism: More lecture notes

David Hume
Ruthless Empiricist
I. Hume’s Empiricism
There are, in essence two types of empiricism. You can be an empiricist about where we get our ideas, saying that they all come from experience. Or, you can say that all judgments, or a significant range of judgments, have to be justified by an appeal to experience. Hume was both.
II. Hume and Human Nature
Hume maintained that if you could understand human nature, we could resolve all the difficult questions in philosophy.
Isaac Newton’s huge success in physics led many people to hope that a similar success could be found in all areas of knowledge.
Hume starts off in his writings hoping to do in human subjects what Newton did in physics. But the effect of his work is to raise severe doubts about the rational foundation of many beliefs we all take for granted.
III. Hume’s Concept Empiricism
Hume maintains that the content of our minds, which he calls perceptions, can be divided into two categories:
1) impressions, which are sensations or the original contents of our psychological states.
2) The less forceful, remembered copies of our immediate experiences are called ideas.
B. Hume maintained that all ideas come from impressions. The previous empiricist Locke thought that the idea of God was given to us by God. Hume denied this. Even the idea of something like a “golden mountain” is derived from our impression of gold and our impression of a mountain.
IV. The Association of Ideas
Our minds associate ideas by means of three kinds of relationships.
1) Resemblance. One idea is similar to one another.
2) Contiguity. The perception of one thing is found near the perception of another thing
3) Cause and effect. One thing is known by experience to cause another.
V. Two Kinds of Reasoning, or Hume’s Fork
Relations of ideas include mathematics, are true by virtue of the meaning of the terms, and to deny them is to assert a contradiction. However these do not tell us what the world is like, only how our ideas are put together.
Matters of fact are based on experience, there is no contradiction in asserting that they are false. They do not enjoy certainty but can be known only with varying degrees of probability.
VI. Two Statements by Hume
DH: When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality.[1]
VR: In other words, if you have an idea that isn’t traceable to an impression, it’s a good bet that it’s bogus.

VII. The other statement by Hume
DH: When we run over our libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
VR: Slash and burn philosophy!
VIII. Substance: The Key to Reality, or an empty idea?
Clearly the latter for Hume. We find the sensible properties of objects when we look at our experience, but we don’t find substances.
Calls into question the existence of an independently existing external world. This common-sense belief cannot really be supported by experience.
IX. So you think you exist
According to Hume when we introspect we find thoughts, feelings, pains, pleasures, etc, but not ourselves. He might have appreciated this bit of humor: “I am out looking for myself. Should I come back, tell me to wait.”
What we call the self is just a bundle of different perceptions. The idea of a unified self that has all of these experiences is not an idea that can be supported by experience. Hume would have been one of the one’s criticizing Descartes for saying that just because there are thoughts, there is a thing that does the thinking.
X. Cause and Effect
What do we experience that leads us to conclude that one event produce another event?
1) Spatial contiguity. We see two things in physical contact with one another.
2) Temporal succession. The cause precedes the effect in time.
3) Constant conjunction. The contiguity and succession isn’t accidental, there are regularities in experience suggesting that these event-types are conjoined on a regular basis.
B. But do we experience a necessary connection between cause and effect? Hume says no. We don’t actually perceive one event producing another. What we experience is one event being connected to another in such a way that it becomes natural for us to believe that the one event produced another.

Descartes on dualism and the physical world

Justifying the physical world
Descartes’ argument for the reality of the physical world is this
We have experiences of various things which we take to be physical objects.
Either these experiences refer to real objects, or some powerful being is causing me to falsely believe them.
If some powerful being is causing me to believe these things, then that being is a deceiver and is not a good being.
However, I have proved that a perfect being exists and is all-powerful.
Such a perfect being would not deceive me, and would not permit a less powerful being to deceive me in such a massive way.
Therefore, the experiences are not deceptions, and physical objects really do exist.
Some questions about this
If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, then on the face of things God should not allow physical evil (suffering) as well as intellectual evil (error or false beliefs).
But there is physical evil and intellectual evil. Therefore either an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being doesn’t exist, or He (or She) has a good reason for permitting both physical and intellectual evil.
Therefore, either God does not exist, or God’s existence is compatible with the existence of intellectual evil.
But how massive a deception is possible if there’s a God?
Descartes perhaps thinks that God’s existence is incompatible with really massive and systematic intellectual evil, such as we would have if we were deceived about the existence of the physical world.
But there are some people down on 24th and Van Buren (the local mental hospital in Phoenix) who think they are poached eggs, or think that they are Napoleon, or think they’re Jesus Christ.

Our belief in the physical world
Descartes does point out that physical objects are not always as they appear to the senses.
However our minds have the ability to overcome the defects of sensory knowledge. For example, even though a straight stick in water appears to the eye to be bent, we nevertheless can figure out that it really is straight.
Descartes on physical things
Physical things “possess all the properties which I clearly and distinctly understand, that is, all those which, viewed in general terms, are comprised within the subject-matter of pure mathematics.”
Descartes and Galileo
A. Descartes is supporting Galileo’s view that the real nature of the physical world is mathematical. The objective properties of an object are the properties that can be given a mathematical description, such as size, shape and motion. Colors, tastes, sounds and all the other qualities of our experience are in the mind but not in objects themselves. The world as it is in itself is colorless, but it has the tendency to produce in our minds a sense of it being this color or that color.
The mind-body relation
Descartes accepts the medieval (and Aristotelian) conception of substance.
At first he defines substances as something that exists in such a way as to depend on nothing for its existence. This definition would mean that only God is a substance.
But other substances are call that by analogy.
There are two types of substances: mental substances and physical substances. This implies that the mind and the body are two completely different entities.
Why they are so different
The body can be doubted but the mind cannot be doubted.
Minds have complete different attributes than physical things
1. Bodies take up space and are move by physical forces.
2. Minds do not take up space and are a kind of nonphysical or spiritual reality.
3. Minds are not made up of parts and cannot be divided.
How are these types of reality linked together
The body is a machine made out of flesh and bone.
All animals but humans are just machines.
Thus you can’t really be cruel to animals, since they don’t really have any feelings. (This puts Descartes in the PETA hall of shame).
C. Your mind is the real you. You don’t have a mind you are a mind. You have a body.
Cartesian Dualism
Cartesian dualism is a metaphysical dualism. It is also a mind-body dualism. There are two irreducible types of realities.
By means of this kind of dualism, Descartes hoped to effect a compromise between religion and science. One part of reality, the physical part, can be analyzed by physical methods. It is an entirely clocklike mechanism, governed by the laws of nature, with no purpose whatsoever. The other part of reality, the mind, has freedom to think and will as we wish, and is not under the control of physical law.
In the physical realm, science is the authority and gives us the truth, but it tells us nothing about the eternal destiny of our souls, only about our bodies. In the spiritual realm, religion remains authoritative.
Relating the two realms
There remains, however the issue of how these two realms were related. If I commit a murder, I may begin with a homicidal thought, which presumably exists in my soul, but then that homicidal thought has to result in my brain sending a message to my trigger finger to go ahead and fire and leave my victim in a pool of blood. In order for this to be even possible, there has to be some kind of causation between the mental realm and the physical realm. Therefore, if Cartesian dualism is true, it is not quite the case the physics fully explains the physical. It fully explains the physical unless the mental interferes with it.
How do they interact?
Descartes further is faced with the problem of how the mental realm and the physical realm can interact, since they are so different. As Lawhead’s text says “The mind has no gears of muscles or chemicals by which to move other things or to be moved.”
Descartes’ solution makes things worse. He suggests that the pineal gland at the base of the brain, which at the time no one knew what it did, and that the pineal gland was affected by “vital spirits.” But this really doesn’t solve the problem.
An overrated objection?
William Hasker, who is a contemporary dualist (but a dualist of a different kind from Descartes) argues that this objection is overrated. He writes:

Hasker’s response
The hoariest objection specifically to Cartesian dualism (but one still frequently taken as decisive) is that, because of the great disparity between mental and physical substances, causal interaction between them is unintelligible and impossible. This argument may well hold the record for overrated objections to major philosophical positions. What is true about it is that we lack any intuitive understanding of the causal relationship between Cartesian souls and bodies. And there is no doubt that, other things being equal, a mind-body theory that allowed such understanding would seem preferable to one that did not. The reason this is not decisive is that, as Hume pointed out, all causal relationships involving physical objects involving physical objects are at bottom conceptually opaque. We find the kinetic theory of gases, with its ping-pong-ball molecules bouncing off each other, fairly readily understandable.
Hasker continues
This, however, is only because we have learned from experience about the behavior of actual ping-pong balls, and our expectations in such cases have become so habitual that they seem natural to us; we have no ultimate insight into the causal relations except to say, “That’s the way things are.” But equally and emphatically, “the way things are” includes the fact that our thoughts, feelings, and intentions are affected by what happens to our bodies, and vice versa, and to deny these palpable facts for the sake of a philosophical theory seems a strange aberration.
Keith Parsons disagrees (in a two-journal exchange with me)
It will simply not do for Hart (or Reppert) to take refuge in familiar Humean conundrums about causality. Much of the progress of science has been progress in understanding how things interact: Plate tectonics tells us how crustal plates interact to produce earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and other geological phenomena. Likewise, ecology helps us to understand the enormously complex interactions of organisms with their physical environments and each other. Molecular biology explains the interactions of complex molecules, e.g. enzymes and their substrates. Even at the rock-bottom level of quarks and gluons we have well-confirmed, mathematically precise theories that often make (as in Quantum Electrodynamics) astonishingly accurate predictions. These theories tell us how fundamental particles interact.
Another Parsons comment
Descartes took this objection seriously, and he should have. Surely dualists owe the rest of us some sort of account. After all they posit and entity that has no physical properties (and consequently is undetectable by any empirical means), but which is not an abstract entity since it somehow interacts with physical things—in a way that violates conservation laws, by the way. Souls could not have been produced by physical means, and their putative existence raises a host of unanswerable questions. (For example, at what point at the evolution of hominids did our ancestors acquire souls? Homo habilis or Homo erectus, maybe As Lycan notes above, Descartes took this objection ).

Alternatives to Interactionism (Descartes didn’t buy these)
Geulincx said that mental events and physical evens are independent processes that only seem to influence one another. But actually God arranges two parallel series of mental and physical events. This is parallelism
Malebranche said that each type of event is an occasion on which God produces correlated events in the other realm. This is occasionalism.

Monty Python's Philosopher's Drinking song: A Philosophical Classic

The Philosopher's Drinking Song

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'bout the raisin' of the wrist.
Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away,
'alf a crate of whiskey every day!
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
and Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am."

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.

-- Monty Python

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Descartes Lecture Notes

The Clear and Distinct Criterion
I am inclined to agree, even though some people don't, that Descartes successfully proves that "I think" and "I exist are immune from doubt. But then Descartes does something that strikes me as weird. First, he asks himself how he became convinced of the conclusion of the cogito argument and concludes that he accepts it because he clearly and distinctly perceives it to be good.
Justifying the criterion
Hey wait a minute Descartes? Didn't you just produce a self-refutation argument against the claims "I do not exist" and "I do not think." As a result he claims this supports his clear and distinct criterion. Then he considers whether or not God exists, and he does this in order to reassure himself that his clear and distinct perceptions are not Satanic deceptions. But to do this, it seems to me that the premises of his arguments have to be premises he can be sure of, even if Satan is controlling his mind. This argument, the argument based on the cause of his idea of God, fails to achieve this, even if it were a good argument (and I don't think it is a good argument).

The Circularity charge against Descartes
Critics of Descartes accuse him of arguing in a circle. They claim that the reason he can accept the existence of a nondeceptive God in order to believe be sure that ideas that seem clear and distinct are really true. But is his case for God based on the presupposition that whatever he clearly and distinctly perceives to be true really is.

A different complaint?
My complaint is a little different, in that it doesn’t rest on the idea that he is using the clear and distinct criterion to justify the premises of the argument.
I think my objection rests on the assumption that Descartes needs to refute demon-scenario objections to beliefs in order to have any justification at all for believing them. What is seems impossible to have is an argument for the existence of God that is based entirely on Satan-tested premises.

Descartes’ argument for God
At the very least Descartes can’t try to prove God with experience-based premises, which is what Aquinas did. Descartes has to work from the contents of his own mind. So his first argument is a cosmological argument, but what has to be caused are ideas in his mind, not the physical universe.

The Cartesian Cosmological Argument
1. Something cannot be derived from nothing. In other words, all effects, including ideas, are derived from something.
2. There must be at least as much reality in the cause as there is in the effect.
3. I have an idea of God (as an infinite and perfect being).
4. The idea of God in my mind is an effect that was caused by something.
5. I am finite and imperfect, and thus I could not be the cause of the idea of an infinite and perfect God.
6. Only and infinite and perfect God could be the cause of such an idea.
7. Therefore God (an infinite and perfect being) exists.

Criticisms of the Cartesian Argument
1. If Descartes is going to be so skeptical about everything he believes, why does he accept certain principles like that which is found in premise 1 or in premise 2.
Some things, Descartes thinks, can be believed because the “light of nature” guarantees that they are true.
He wants to distinguish between natural impulses and the light of nature, but how can he do this? What criteria do you use for making the distinction?
2. Why doubt this and not that?
Descartes used the demon conjecture to doubt whether basic mathematical truths like 2 + 3 = 5 were true, but did not doubt that the principle “there must be at least as much reality in the total efficient cause as in the effect” was true.
3. Could we have invented the idea of God?
Some theologians of Descartes’ time thought that we could build the idea of God ourselves without God having given it to us.
“I can surely take a given degree of being, which I perceive within myself, and add on a further degree, and thus construct the idea a perfect being from all the degrees which are capable of being added on.”

The second Cartesian cosmological argument
Descartes says that his own sustained existence requires an adequate cause. A being like himself who contains the idea of perfection could not have come from an imperfect cause. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes, so God must exist to cause his existence

Descartes’ Ontological argument
Descartes uses a version of the ontological argument for the existence of God, which was first introduced by St. Anselm but rejected by Aquinas.

The OA
1. I have the idea of a God that possesses all perfections (good qualities). Existence is a kind of perfection.
If the God I am thinking of lacked existence, then he would not be perfect.
Hence, if I have the idea of a perfect God, I must conclude that existence is one of his essential properties.
If existence is one of his essential properties, he must exist.
Therefore, God exists.
The Problem of Error
While he takes his argument to overcome the problem of demon skepticism, he must overcome the opposite problem
If God supports our rationality, why do we make so many mistakes.
“So what then is the source of my mistakes? It must be simply this: the scope of the will is wider than that of the intellect; but instead of restricting it within the same limits, I extend its use to matters which I do not understand. Since the will is indifferent in such cases, it is easily turned aside from what is true and good, and this is the source of my error and sin.”

Does the Burden of Proof Exist? A redated post

'And none of the extant theories (theft theory, hallucination theory, wrong tomb theory, evil twin theory, etc.) is satisfactory enough even for all the skeptics to agree on what might have happened, much less to persuade believers.'

Now there's a glorious switching of the burden of proof.

VR: That assumes that I am claiming that the absence of a good naturalistic theory proves the resurrection. I'm claiming a good deal less here. What I am claiming is that there is a substantial body of evidence which supports the claim that Christiaintiy had a supernatural origin, and that this body of evidence is not paralleled in religions like Islam or Mormonism. It's a body of evidence that, at the end of the day, one might decide is adequate or inadequate, but it is there. On my view it all depends on the individual, subjective, prior probabilities that you bring to the investigation of the miraculous (see the infidels paper I linked to below).

But this brings up a larger question. Is there such a thing as the burden of proof. I've got my doubts. OK, in court cases we want to avoid punishing innocent people and so we put the burden of proof on the prosecution. But in matters of ordinary belief-formation, is there a proper, objective, burden of proof?

Let's take belief in an objectively existing external world. The externalworldist says there has to be one. The aexternalworldist insists that the externalworldist prove that he is not a brain in a vat whose brain is being given the experience of perceiving the external world.