Wednesday, November 17, 2010

J. P. Moreland and A. C. Ewing on the Argument from Reason

If reasoning is to be possible, there has to be a metaphysically identical being that entertains the premise-thoughts and the conclusion-thought, and perceives the relation between the premises and the conclusion.

JPM: If human beings are to function are rational thinkers who can engage in rational deliberation, then not only must there be a unified self at each time in a deliberative sequence, but also an identical self that endures through the rational act. Consider A. C. Ewing’s argument:
To realize the truth of any proposition or even entertain it as something meaningful the same being must be aware of its different constituents. To be aware of the validity of an argument the same being must entertain premises and conclusion; to compare two things the same being must, at least in memory, be aware of them simultaneously; and since all these processes take some time the continuous existence of literally the same entity is required. In these cases an event which consisted in the contemplating of A followed by another event which consisted in the contemplating of B is not sufficient. They must be events of contemplating that occur in the same being. If one being thought of wolves, another of eating, and another of lambs, it certainly would not mean that anybody contemplated the proposition `wolves eat lambs’…There must surely be a single being persisting through the process to grasp a proposition or inference as a whole.”
If the conclusion of a syllogism is to be grasped as a conclusion, it must be drawn from the experiences of each premise singularly and, then, together. As Ewing notes, a successive series of I-stages cannot engage in such acts; only an enduring I can. Moreover, if the rational agent who embraces the conclusion is to be regarded as intellectually responsible for his reasoning, it must be the same self at the end of the process as the self who lived through the stages of reasoning that led to drawing the conclusion. One is not responsible for the acts of others or of other person-stages. So intellectual responsibility seems to presuppose an enduring I. But on the naturalist view, I am a collection of parts such that if I gain and lose parts, I am literally a different aggregate from one moment to the next. Thus, there is no such enduring I that could serve as the unifier of rational thought on a naturalist view.


IlĂ­on said...

Exactly. This realization is one of the roots of my own version of the AfR (of which, trying to learn whether the general argument was a new thing in the world, lead me to discovering you).

Steven Carr said...

Is this a proof that God the Father and God the Son are one being?

Victor Reppert said...

Is there anything in the argument that says that it is?

Gregory said...

Here is what Hume had to say:

"'Tis indeed evident, that has the vulgar suppose their perceptions to be their only objects, and at the same time believe the continued existence of matter, we must account for the origin of the belief upon that supposition. Now upon that supposition, 'tis a false opinion that any of our objects, or perceptions, are identically the same after an interruption; and consequently the opinion of their identity can never arise from reason, but must arise from imagination. The imagination is seduced into such an opinion only by means of the resemblance of certain perceptions; since we find they are only resembling perceptions, which we have a propension to suppose the same."

--taken from Hume's "A Treatise of Human Nature" ed. Selby-Bigg's and Nidditch

Question: How is Hume able to make any argument outside the sphere of "fantasy" (i.e. "imagination")?

Perhaps we could rename this work "The Phantasies of David Hume". I think that's both fair and fitting.

JS Allen said...

Can someone elaborate on this argument? I don't get it.

We can swap out components of a computer's circuitry, and even hibernate its internal state in mid-inference and restore later, yet the computer is able to compute valid mathematical and logical inferences.

I assume that I've completely missed the point of the argument?

Anonymous said...

Computers are nothing more than glorified counting devices. They themselves don't "compute" anything. Humans do.

William said...

JS Allen:

Hume is saying that there is no absolute reason to know for sure that the computer you use remains the same computer from moment to moment, each time you press a key; we just think it must be because we have an inner propensity to believe in such 'object persistence' when we see the computer working as if it were the same object from minute to minute.

Not really much difference between dumb rocks and thinking people as far as Hume goes here.


Clayton said...

"But on the naturalist view, I am a collection of parts such that if I gain and lose parts, I am literally a different aggregate from one moment to the next."


So, what is your view of material objects? Are you a nihilist? The argument as formulated seems to assume that there are no material objects that can survive a change in parts. So, on your view, the car I started this morning to drive to work isn't the car I parked this morning when I arrived at work even though I never once left the car nothing terribly eventful happened during the drive.

I don't know. I think that's still my car, the same car, the very same car, I didn't undergo a car-snatching and replacement, etc... I suspect that you think the mistake I'm making is in thinking there are cars at all. Am I wrong?

JS Allen said...

@Anonymous - You're right, of course. The point of the computer analogy wasn't to say that humans are computers, but rather to point out that the "substance" of reason and inference need not be composed of physical bits. In the case of computers, we have some pretty complex mathematical inference that can "supervene" on the physical. Even in standard Christian theology, we believe that alternate consciousnesses can supervene on our physical bodies (demon possession). So I guess I still don't understand the point that Moreland is trying to make.

Unless Moreland can argue convincingly that the types of reasoning humans do is a completely separate category; rather than just a more complex version of what computers can do, then I don't see how this argument works.

A better response to the computer analogy might be to point out that computer are designed by people?

JS Allen said...

@William - Isn't is just a matter of convention; kind of like looking at a necker cube? I could say it's a different computer from moment to moment, and I could say it's the same computer, and we'd both be right. Depends on what you're trying to do with it.

William said...

The definition matters here only in so far as it affects our belief (and in Hume's case unbelief) in the causal efficacy of _anything_.

Moreland is arguing there must be a continuity in time of personhood for reasoning to take place. Analogously, there must be continuity in time for a computer to display a prior calculation's result. The precise relationship of causality and time (with things or persons) is not clear to me, and furthermore I don't think I understand what Moreland (as opposed to Hume) is arguing against here. Perhaps just the reductionist's scepticism as to whether consciousness exists?

Gregory said...

I'm not sure what tangential analogy computing offers, other than another reason to believe in God.

Computers don't make themselves rational. They need humans to design, build, program and maintain them....which requires a lot of insight, creativity and logic.

How much more, then, be it required to design, build, program and maintain human cognition? Quite a bit....certainly more than a computer.

Back to Hume:

The quotation I provided finds itself riddled with self-contradiction and lackluster self-reflection. It's as though Hume completely ignores his own precepts when he pontificates about so-called "objects of perception". It's no different, in kind, than Kant's own epistemic line of demarcation between "noumena" and "phenomena". In both cases, we find that their own statements are undermined by their conclusions.

It's sort of like saying something as ridiculous as,

"propositions have no 'subject/object' referents".

In Kant and Hume's epistemic world's, however, this statement could be "rational".

Yet we hear so much about so-called "contradictions" in the New Testament. I say that if anyone wants to go looking for contradictions, anywhere, then they could have a fabulous "Where's Waldo?" Fest with the "Enlightenment" philosophers.

Gregory said...

William wrote:

"I don't think I understand what Moreland (as opposed to Hume) is arguing against here. Perhaps just the reductionist's scepticism as to whether consciousness exists?

I think what Moreland is getting at is that the process of "reasoning" requires the self-same reasonor; which is impossible if "reasoning" were left up to the mere vagaries of quantum fluctuation and bio-chemical morphing (i.e. naturalist accounts).

I think the source of the quotes is from one of the middle sections of "Scaling the Secular City", where he tries to develop an argument for God from the existence of consciousness.

Dr. Moreland also provides a really good citation from H.D. Lewis' "The Elusive Self"....if I remember aright.