Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Which Laws Govern?

I
t is not enough that one mental event cause another mental event in virtue of its propositional content. Someone who engages in rational inference must recognize the correctness of the principle of sound reasoning, which one applies to one's inference. Modus Ponens works, affirming the consequent does not. Our inferences are supposed to be governed by the rules of reasoning we recognize to be correct. However, can these rules of inference ever really govern our reasoning process? According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons. ¶ So we might ask this question: "Which laws govern the activity we call rational inference?" We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism. If however, the laws are the laws of physics, then there are no powers and liabilities that cannot be predicted from the physical level. If this is so there can be a sort of emergence, in that the basic laws governing a sleeping pill will not mention that the pills tend to put you to sleep. Nevertheless, the pill's soporific effectiveness can be fully and completely analyzed in terms of its physical powers and liabilities. If this is so, then we will be rational if and only if the physical configurations of matter guarantee that we are physical, and in the last analysis, the laws of logic do not govern our intellectual conduct.

"THE ARGUMENT FROM REASON" IN THE BLACKWELL COMPANION TO NATURAL THEOLOGY, WILLIAM 
LANE CRAIG AND J.P. MORELAND, EDS. (WILEY-BLACKWELL: 2009), PP. 379-80.

redated from 2011. 

13 comments:

Clayton said...

Hi Victor,

I think this post raises a number of interesting questions.

You said:
"According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons."

According to physicalists (not physicalism, mind you), I'm not sure this is right. The problem is the phrase "not governed by reasons". According to token physicalists, there will be processes that can be described using the language of physics and psychology. What governs these processes in the sense of determining their outcomes will be causes that can also be described using predicates from psychology and physics. In stating that they are not governed by reasons, you're either pinning on the physicalist the view that reasons aren't causes. They are if our descriptions of the agent's reasons pick out the physical events that cause the processes of reasoning to have the outcomes that they do. That might be an implication of their view, but it certainly isn't how the token physicalist describes her view.

You also say:
"We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism."

Again, this seems to go against the way some (many?) physicalists would describe their view. Aren't the laws of the special sciences distinct from the laws of physics? Don't events in the human nervous system conform to the laws of physics as well as the laws of the special sciences?

Victor Reppert said...

CL: According to physicalists (not physicalism, mind you), I'm not sure this is right. The problem is the phrase "not governed by reasons". According to token physicalists, there will be processes that can be described using the language of physics and psychology. What governs these processes in the sense of determining their outcomes will be causes that can also be described using predicates from psychology and physics. In stating that they are not governed by reasons, you're either pinning on the physicalist the view that reasons aren't causes. They are if our descriptions of the agent's reasons pick out the physical events that cause the processes of reasoning to have the outcomes that they do. That might be an implication of their view, but it certainly isn't how the token physicalist describes her view.

VR: Of course it can be described in both ways, maybe, IF mental state descriptions are physical state descriptions writ large. But certain types of causes are excluded in principle from physical explanations. If they are not physical state descriptions writ large, then I think this gets to be problematic.

For example, Fodor uses the example of Gresham's law. But that law is simply a law concerning human intentional behavior writ large, and so it is a sort of psychological generalization which inherits whatever problems there are in analyzing the mental in physical terms.

Clayton said...

"But certain types of causes are excluded in principle from physical explanations."

This is tricky. So, on token physicalism, every event is a physical event. Being a physical event is consistent with being a chemical event, biological event, psychological event, etc... and if we take the causal relation to be an extensional relation that holds between events, you can't consistently say:

(i) No physical event has a psychological event as a cause

unless you can establish:

(ii) None of the physical events that have causes have physical events as their cause that are identical to some psychological event.

So, when we talk about what governs what on a physicalist view, we have to take care. If some cause brings about an effect, is that governing or is governing some more refined notion? If governing is cashed out in causal terms, you can't say that the physicalist view is that various events lack psychological causes until you establish something like (ii).

Gregory said...

Clayton:

If psychological phenomena (i.e. having beliefs, thinking about beliefs, ect.) were entirely "caused" by events/happenings in the physical strata, then it seems that "logical-rational-inferential" assessment of any proposition is irrelevant.

Consequently, "physicalism", itself, will become something explicable solely in terms outlined by the natural sciences. But that's not quite right, either. For even here, the "terms" of the natural sciences would also be derived from some state of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So, not even beliefs about the sciences are left untouched by the machinations of the "physical".

But here's the rub: truth-values play no role in physical events. If that is the case, then all "beliefs" stand on equal footing....each having been derived from some "physical" state/event. Since physical states/events are neither true nor false, therefore, the psychological states that emerge from the "physical" can be neither true nor false. Therefore, there really can be no debate about "physicalism" vs. "dualism"....or, rather, the debate is shaped entirely by forces that do not possess mindfulness.

"Naturalism" is no more, or less, rational than "supernaturalism"...if physicalism were true. But we can say that "physicalism is true" precisely because it is not.

Clayton said...

"If psychological phenomena (i.e. having beliefs, thinking about beliefs, ect.) were entirely "caused" by events/happenings in the physical strata, then it seems that "logical-rational-inferential" assessment of any proposition is irrelevant."

That might be right, but do you think that that's self-evident or do you have an argument? I'm trying to find one in the passage in the post, but it's hard to put one together because it rests on some questionable claims about the commitments of physicalism.

Lots of assertions, but I don't see much argument against the physicalist view. You say that, for example, that truth-values play no role in physical events. Maybe, but you also seem prepared to concede that certain mental events are identical to certain physical events. Those events would involve someone taking a commitment to a proposition's being true or false, would be caused by facts that determine whether the relevant proposition is true or false, and so I don't see how you can assert that truth plays no role in these events without first establishing that no mental events could be physical events.

Anonymous said...

The cost of identifying mental events with physical events, if the entirety of mental events are contained rather than eliminated, seems to be to turn the physical into something far more than we typically consider the physical to be.

Sounds more like Thomism than physicalism, in fact. There's that explanatory dualism mentioned in the OP.

Steven Carr said...

' If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics....'

Yes they do.

Physicists claim that electrons obey the law of non-contradiction, as an electron cannot be both an electron and a positron at the same time.

Why Victor is peddling the myth that the laws of physics do not obey logical rules is beyond me.

Has he ever opened a physics textbook?

Steven Carr said...

I've just realised that my computer can't play chess, because it has no reason to move its Queen when I attack it.

It is so easy to beat these purely material things at any game with non-physical rules such as the laws of chess.

ozero91 said...

Is "modus ponens" part of a particle's physical description?

Victor Reppert said...

The laws of logic govern physical events. But that is not the same as mental processes following the principles of sound reasoning.

William said...

Beware of reality, Steven Carr. An electron is both a particle and not a particle at the same time, on some desciptions of quantum mechanics.

Zach said...

The physicalist should be fine with explanatory, but not ontological, dualism. The problem is that they cannot escape the latter without ignoring consciousness.

William said...

Zach:

As far as I know, when physicists use explanatory dualism to talk about electrons in complementary (wave / particle) ways, they don't claim something such as that only "particle-ism" is the correct ontology, and that wavelike behavior is just an explanatory alternative. Rather, they would tend to say both kinds of behavior would need to be equally entailed in the underlying ontology, whatever that turned out to be.

OTOH, I think that physicalism would generally tilt the priorities of explanatory dualism toward the physical explanations.