Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Naturalism

Written by well-known naturalist defender David Papineau. 

27 comments:

Zach said...

A very good entry: the distinctions he makes are useful and reasonable. He is right on to focus on the three fatal weaknesses of ontological naturalism: math, mind, and morality.

Dan Gillson said...

I have to disagree with Zach. I though that the entry was tediously concerned with metaphysical nonsense. But my opinion of metaphysics is very, very low. (Just for fun, I'm going to quote Charlie Peirce again: "[M]etaphysics is a subject more curious than useful, the knowledge of which, like that of a sunken reef, serves chiefly to enable us to keep clear of it.")

Heuristics said...

"The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning"

Ok then, but why not make it so that it has a precise meaning? Are the naturalistic philosophers so lazy that they have been unable to take a half hour out of their day to propose one for the last 300 years?

What really is so hard about doing this? Create a definition, collect counter arguments, modify the definition rinse and repeat and see what comes out of it.

As a first draft for a definition of naturalism I would do something like: "That which is the origin of all sense data only has the following types of properties: location and extension. The change in these properties always change the same way only being affected by other extensions in other locations".

Such a definition rules out miracles, ghosts, angels, makes it clear why mathematics is such a powerful tool in physics/chemistry and places empirical measurements in a very nice position as being able to show the value of every property.

Dan Gillson said...

Heuristics

Why does 'naturalism' need a precise meaning? I.e., why do we need to decide beforehand what goes into an idea before its meaning is precise enough for philosophical use? In my opinion, such an exercise is a waste of time. For instance, if we were to define beforehand what goes into the idea of a chair, we'd be debating the matter for 300 years, if not more: must real chairs have four legs, or can they have three or five? What sort of materials can chairs be made of? ... Etc., etc. It's much more convenient to have the term 'naturalism' be a shorthand for a network of loosely related ideas about 'Nature'. But I'm going to guess that you don't like the loosey-goosey nature of 'naturalism' because you'd prefer to pigeonhole the philosophical opposition.

Heuristics said...

Dan: 'N''a''t''u''r''a''l''i''s''m' does not need a precise meaning, it is a series of letters/pixels, it has no needs. What I am interested in is testing the concept that the letter combination points to. In order to test it _______I______ NEED a meaning for it. If I do not have a definition I cannot test it, without a definition I do not even know what it is, unlike a chair which I can see with my eyes and I can see people point to and say "that is a chair". I do not see anyone point to anything and say: "that is naturalism".

You apparently suck at guessing. Why would you even write something that would so obviously derail the conversation before it even began by throwing blood in the water in that way? Right off the bat here I have no faith at all that this would be anything buy a waste of my time.

Dan Gillson said...

Heuristics

You said: "Why not make it [naturalism] it so that it has a precise meaning?" To which I replied: "Why does naturalism need a precise meaning?" After which I proceeded with a line of questioning that was meant to challenge the usefulness of providing a precise philosophical definition for 'Naturalism'. How exactly does that derail the conversation? Or are you just in a snit because you don't have a rebuttal to my reply?

Heuristics said...

Dan: When I write that you suck at guessing I am referring to the part of your text where you write that you are going to guess.

I replied to what you wrote, naturalism has no needs, it is at this point just some letters/pixels. What people call chairs are not letters/pixels, they are physical objects that can be pointed to by usage of a finger. I have no confusion about what people mean when they say the word chair. I have MASSIVE confusion about what people mean when they say naturalism or nature or supernatural.

Dan Gillson said...

Heuristics

Your question about the laziness of naturalistic philosophers clearly portended an answer in the affirmative, especially since you followed your question with the following: "What is really so hard about doing this [viz., coming up with a precise definition for 'Naturalism']?" That just poisons the well from the start. However, I'll drop it if you do, and we can have a productive conversation from here on.

You may have replied to what I wrote, but you certainly didn't rebut it. I wonder if you feel the same way about 'Mathematics' as you do 'Naturalism', viz., that 'Mathematics' is just a combination of some letters/pixels. After all, what people call 'Mathematics' isn't a physical object which can be pointed at by usage of a finger: if I were to ask you to point to the 'Mathematics' in a book, could you point to the 'Mathematics', or would you just be pointing at the book?

Heuristics said...

Dan: My question about what is so hard about offering a definition is nothing other then a question asking what it is that is so hard about offering a definition. It was not aimed at you specifically unlike your insult and it is not ment to be an insult to anyone, it is more a cry in frustration then anything. And I really see no way for us to have a productive conversation. This is perfectly pointless and a waste of time.

Mathematical concepts are well defined. I can ask a mathematician what addition is and be given a definition. I can ask what the natural numbers are and be given a definition.

Dan Gillson said...

Heuristics

I took your question wrongly. I'm sorry.

You're moving the target. We aren't talking about mathematical concepts like addition, we are talking about the concept of mathematics itself. Similarly, I can point out which ideas or concepts are naturalistic, but that's different than pointing out naturalism.

William said...

The article claims that the difficulty with defining naturalism is that it is a popular term to label oneself in current academia, so it gets redefined by each philosopher so as to include their point of view. So it isn't that the definition _cannot_ be precise, it's that a precise definition is not (for popularity reasons) _agreed upon_ in the literature.

It would seem that everybody wants to define themselves as true Scotsman here :).

Dan Gillson said...

William

The article claims that the definition of Naturalism (that reality is exhausted by Nature and that the scientific method should be used in investigating all aspects of Nature) is expansive enough to accomodate a range of commitments. It also claims that setting down a more informative definition of Naturalism is beyond its purposes. It doesn't say anything about philosophers redefining Naturalism to fit their views, nor anything about how the issue's popularity interferes with the formulation of a precise definition.

William said...

From the article, Dan:

"
For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’.[1] This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher.[2]
"

Heuristics said...

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mathematics

The study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols.

(Mathematics) (functioning as singular) a group of related sciences, including algebra, geometry, and calculus, concerned with the study of number, quantity, shape, and space and their interrelationships by using a specialized notation

(used with a sing. v.) the systematic treatment of magnitude, relationships between figures and forms, and relations between quantities expressed symbolically.
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Finding definitions for mathematics is very easy. I can ask anyone in the western world what mathematics is and get a definition ("additions and numbers and such stuff")
---------
There is also a section on naturalism in this dictionary with some definitions. I really do not see what the problem here is supposed to be. Id people define it in many different ways then list the many different ways in which they define it.

William said...

May I offer a definition? Naturalism (in Western academia, as a least common denominator) is the denial of any form of disembodied consciousness (a vijnana life force, gods, ghosts, spirits, or a soul that survives the body).

im-skeptical said...

William,

"Naturalism (in Western academia, as a least common denominator) is the denial of any form of disembodied consciousness (a vijnana life force, gods, ghosts, spirits, or a soul that survives the body)."

That's pretty good, but I don't think it goes far enough. For example, if you claim that a god is some kind of physical being that has supernatural powers, that's something most naturalists would deny, too. The definition needs to be expanded to exclude that sort of thing.

Crude said...

William,

Naturalism (in Western academia, as a least common denominator) is the denial of any form of disembodied consciousness (a vijnana life force, gods, ghosts, spirits, or a soul that survives the body).

What about embodied gods (the greek pantheon, the God of mormonism)? Would those get chalked up as naturalistic entities, just ones that happened to be rejected (assuming someone does reject them)?

William said...

Ok,im-skeptical and crude. Adding the denial of supernatural powers:

Naturalism is the denial of any form of disembodied consciousness (a vijnana life force, gods, ghosts, spirits, or a soul that survives the body). Additionally, embodied consciousnesses cannot act beyond what their material bodies, as material things, are capable of doing.

Crude said...

William,

Additionally, embodied consciousnesses cannot act beyond what their material bodies, as material things, are capable of doing.

Alright. Here's the next problem: how do you determine what these bodies, as material things, are capable of doing? How do you tell the difference between act X being 'a case of supernatural powers' or 'a case of heretofore unrealized material powers'/'a situation that showed our previous understanding of the material to be wrong'?

William said...

Crude: yes, goalposts can be moved.

More importantly here, the argument from reason would claim, against this definition, that material bodies cannot do things for their own rational, logical reasons.

Victor Reppert said...

The problem with naturalism excluding the supernatural is that, at least in one sense, it's trivially true. Of course if everything is natural, then the supernatural is excluded. But that doesn't tell me, by itself, what is natural and what is supernatural. If God could be a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation, then we could say that whatever appears in a scientific explanation is natural, and therefore God is a natural entity. If you say God can't be a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation, then you have to come up with characteristics of God that require God's exclusion.

Papalinton said...

William
"Naturalism is the denial of any form of disembodied consciousness (a vijnana life force, gods, ghosts, spirits, or a soul that survives the body). Additionally, embodied consciousnesses cannot act beyond what their material bodies, as material things, are capable of doing."

I reckon that's pretty good. Because philosophy is very definition-sensitive, much of the pro and con discourse is centred around confusion or uncertainty about what should be ruled in or ruled out of the definition applied. Naturalism seems no more or less any clearer or more difficult to comprehend than any other conceptual POV.

As an example Heuristics note: "Ok then, but why not make it so that it has a precise meaning? Are the naturalistic philosophers so lazy that they have been unable to take a half hour out of their day to propose one for the last 300 years?
What really is so hard about doing this? Create a definition, collect counter arguments, modify the definition rinse and repeat and see what comes out of it."


Like much of philosophy, one could just as equally apply the same instruction for the religious to define 'God' or 'supernaturalism'. Even to this very day the prevailing definition of god is betwixt Personalist Theistic and Classical Theistic. Surely after 2,000 years one would imagine that sufficient time has lapsed for believers to "Create a definition, collect counter arguments, modify the definition rinse and repeat and see what comes out of it.". After 2,000 years mind you. And of course, to include in that definition the multitudinous differences not only within christian definitions but the extraordinarily wide variety of gods that are every bit as real and as substantial to their followers as jesus/god is to christians. Not to include these supernatural characters as a function of definition about the supernatural would be arrogance, ignorance and exclusivism in the extreme. One cannot blithely sweep away humanity's rich history of creating gods in the interest of one particular creative fabrication to the exclusion of all others without denying logic and reason at its most fundamental level.

There is no hole that christian theism can hide in when it comes to dealing with yawning gap of theological and philosophical credibility propagandizing the myth behind the story.

William said...

quoting Victor:

If God could be a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation, then we could say that whatever appears in a scientific explanation is natural

---
But, if we say in advance (methodologically) that all natural explanations must exclude the effects of any and all disembodied consciousness, then science that uses God as a factor is not (in that part of it) one of the _natural_ sciences at all.

That does not mean that God cannot be a true explanation for something in the world, but rather it means that the (purely) natural sciences do not properly explain certain things of interest to us.

This is not a surprise, since other areas of study, like economics, law, and mathematics, are not among the natural sciences.

im-skeptical said...

"If God could be a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation, then we could say that whatever appears in a scientific explanation is natural, and therefore God is a natural entity."

That would only happen if God's existence explains physical phenomena we observe. For example, we postulate the existence of something to explain the expansion of the universe beyond gravity. We call it dark energy, but nobody knows what it is. We don't ascribe any qualities to it that are not observable. So if God was similarly postulated as the best explanation for phenomena we observe, that God would necessarily be reduced to nothing more than an unknown force or some kind of entity that has no more attributes than would be necessary to explain the phenomena. In other words, it wouldn't be anything you would recognize as a God.

The God that is intelligent and benevolent and all may have had a place in our explanation of the world throughout the history of mankind, up to modern age. But now we have developed better ways of explaining things. You can be disdainful of science and naturalism, but face it, they work better than theism.

Victor Reppert said...

So, even if God created us, as scientists we would never be in a position to say that he did.

im-skeptical said...

The creation of our world is certainly subject to scientific investigation. If observable evidence shows that it was the act of some kind of being who must be omniscient and loving then we would conclude that such a being must exist. But there's no reason to think that. Even if it could be shown that a living being created the world, what evidence do we have to ascribe those god-like qualities to this being?

William said...

A scientist can testify in court without science being law, and can give a monetary estimate in a grant without the science being economics.

But yes, for any world that is created by actions that occurred beyond and prior to the regularities that science studies, there can be no creation science. We cannot peek beyond such a singularity.

What is left to science seeking God is like a biologist studying money by culturing the bacteria on the paper. Interesting, but ultimately a sideline.