Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Further dialogue with anonymous on telology at the basic level

Anon: I disagree. With theism, you have teleology that God doesn't cause right there in God's nature. If we allow brute, bedrock order/teleology/functionality in *this* case, then why not for the universe?

VR: Yes, you could have an immanent teleology built into the universe. That would make you, um, an idealist, or maybe a pantheist. I'm not arguing against those positions.

Anon: It's not as though the claim that all order/teleology comes always and necessarily from minds is a synthetic a priori proposition. But if not, then we need a poseriori evidence for it. Unfortunately, this isn't what we see. Order/teleology is observed to come from minds, but it also comes from instinct (e.g., the functionality and order of spider's webs), and it is observed to come from prior internal principles of order (e.g., seeds give rise to rosebushes). So we have multiple observed causes of order/teleology.

VR: But are those cases of teleology part of the real world, or something nonteleological that mimics teleology. I would say that if you take that hard-core Darwinian position with no background teleology the purpose of your eyes is not to see, but the eye is placed in the head through trial and error in such a way that it does what it would do if it were designed, even though it isn't. If this is so, whose purpose is it pray tell me?

Anon: So what are the most fundamental causes of such *derivative* order? Well, the best we can do is reason from from the observed causes of order to unobserved, ultimate causes of order via arguments from analogy. But if so, then since there are multiple *observed* causes of *derivative* order, and some of these are non-intelligent in nature, then we have no principled way of ruling out that the *fundamental* causes of order are analogous to the *non-intelligent* causes we observe.

VR: But there are a lot of things left out here. Non-mental facts underdetermine intentionality, they underdetermine purposiveness, they certainly don't provide for the existence of a perspective that is different from another person's perspective (try getting indexical facts out of non-mental information), and they provide no norms in and of themselves. We look at something and decide that it does pretty well at fulfilling a purpose, but the poor dumb objects have no idea what is going on.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Why are you ruling out brute functional complexity that has no prior intelligent cause (well, it seems that you want to say that God gets a free pass here).

As far as I can tell, you think that the following exhaust the possibilities for fundamental causes and principles:

1. intelligent, mental causes
2. non-intelligent, non-mental, physical causes that have no intrinsic functionality
3. kooky idealistic and pantheistic theories

So you reason that since some aspects of nature can't be explained in terms of (2), then since (3) is implausible, they therefore must be explained in terms of (1).

But it seems to me that this argument turns on a false disjunction. why can't there by a fourth option, something like this:

4. brute non-intelligent cause with intrinsic functionality.

I'd be very interested to know what argument could be given for ruling out (4) -- about as much as I would be interested in thinking that (1) has the slightest epistemic advantage over (4).

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not sure what you mean by functional complexity. Are you inclined to accept a functionalist analysis of mental states, for example? Is the "functionality" a property physical things have over and above their physical properties, or is it just a "system feature" which describes the way in which they are arranged, much as the property of "being a brick wall" is not a property each brick has, but is a feature of all the bricks taken together.

Anonymous said...

I have no a priori problem with either. How about we think of it in this way. Consider the brute features of God's mind that you accept. Now suppose that those features, and the way they're configured, they way the operate, and their fundamental capacities and powers have no prior cause. Call that complex property 'brute functionality'.

Now the issue I'm raising is this. I take it that you allow brute functionality to exist in God with neither an intelligent nor a non-intelligent prior cause. If so, then what in-principle objection can there be to saying that an analogous, yet *non-intelligent* brute functionality analogous to that in the mind of a god exists at the fundamental level of reality. Is there some synthetic a priori basis for thinking that all brute functionality and its relevant analogues can only exist in minds? It doesn't seem so. What about an a posteriori case for the same claim? It doesn't seem so. In fact, the a posteriori evidence seems to go in the opposite direction: the functional complexity of minds comes from non-intelligent causes, and we see other non-intelligent causes of functional complexity and its analogues (e.g., internal principles of order, instinct, etc.). To quote Mackie quoting Hume, "We have... experience of ideas which fall into order of themselves, and without any known cause: But.. we have a much larger experience of matter doing the same."

Anonymous said...

(a different anonymous)

So, anonymous, you think that a property of intelligence (intrinsic functionality) can exist in the universe or in its emergence as a system?

This is, I think, the equivalent of at least partial pantheism (purpose and functionality as a part of the cosmos) and is really just a sophisticated philosophical analog to the personification of Nature or Evolution in the popular press. The blind watchmaker as not really blind, I suppose?

Anonymous said...

That's not quite the epistemic possibility I'm trying to carve out. I think it's question-begging to associate functional complexity exclusively with the mental. That has to be argued for. And I've pointed to the sorts of considerations that Hume and Mackie have suggested: that we seem to lack both an a priori and an posteriori basis for establishing such an exclusive association.

Apologists commonly associate naturalism with a sort of physicalism that has simple material objects and properties at the "base level" of reality, and then all other properties much logically supervene on that. But another epistemically possible version of naturalism -- distinct from idealism and pantheism -- is that there is non-intelligently caused brute functionality, including internal principles of order *at the base level*.

Anonymous said...

(other anonymous)

Okay. So is the property of purposefulness one of these internal principles of order? If so, you are close to pantheism, though I grant it is not ordinary pantheism. If not, I think you would have to show how it is you think the remaining properties of internal order you postulate are sufficiently "complex" to explain reality as we perceive it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how it's close to pantheism. It's no part of the hypothesis that all reality is "one" (whatever that means), or shares the same, divine essence, or anything of that sort.

All I'm doing here is pointing out that for the conceptualist argument, and for other arguments Victor has discussed (e.g., the argument from reason) to go through, he needs to rule out this sort of epistemic possibility as at least a bit less implausible than the theistic hypothesis. I don't think he's done that.

Anonymous said...

correction: "at least a bit less *plausible* than the theistic hypothesis".

Bill Snedden said...

I'm a bit disappointed that Victor hasn't responded to the further comment. I've asked virtually the same question previously and received basically the same silence in response. But I think it is a question that deserves answer (I certainly *do not* mean to imply that silence denotes an inability to answer, merely that coincidentally I had a similar experience).