Monday, February 22, 2016

Hempel's Dilemma and the Via Negativa

Hempel's dilemma concerns how we define the physical. If you define the physical in terms of current physics, then anything that is not a part of present physics becomes non-physical. If one the other hand, if future physics is needed to give an account of the physical, then future physics might include anything, including God, and calling something physical doesn't exclude anything, and so it doesn't mean anything.
One might object that any formulation of physicalism which utilizes the theory-based conception will be either trivial or false. Carl Hempel (cf. Hempel 1969, see also Crane and Mellor 1990) provided a classic formulation of this problem: if physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, or at least no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entr...
Attempt to solve this problem usually say that a physical property is a property that, at the most basic level, is not mental. If, at the basic level, the mental is there, then it's not physical.

15 comments:

Gyan said...

All this talk of future physics is VR being nominal about physics. The reason why any future physics will exclude God, angels, ghosts etc is very simple and could be known just by paying attention to the very definition of physics.

But,apparently, for VR, being theist means to discredit sciences. Thus, the endless stream of idealism and talks about future God-including physics.

Physics is study of metrical properties of things. God is not a thing that can be said to have metrical properties. Ergo, God can never be a topic of physics.

But, idealism is confused and nominal about God too.

Joe Hinman said...

"Physics is study of metrical properties of things. God is not a thing that can be said to have metrical properties. Ergo, God can never be a topic of physics."

I agree, neither does it mean that there is not a proper discipline which should be talking about God.

jdhuey said...

The Proper discipline for talking about God: psychology, sociology, mythology

Crude said...

The reason why any future physics will exclude God, angels, ghosts etc is very simple and could be known just by paying attention to the very definition of physics.

Gyan, outlining Hempel's Dilemma is not an 'attempt to discredit sciences'. It's a pretty blind description about a problem metaphysics in relation to science. You, however, do a fantastic job of discrediting science by attempting to cast yourself as a defender of it, and offer up some weird cartoon version in the process.

jdhuey,

The Proper discipline for talking about God: psychology, sociology, mythology

I see Skep's got a slower, less wordy replacement around here. Convenient. The inane arguments were bad, but the verbosity is what was really the timewaster. ;)

Gyan said...

Crude,
What precisely is weird cartoonish about the definition of physics I have offered?

investigativeapologetics said...

Funny, but at the Secular Outpost I was discussing Hempel's Dilemma with Dr. K. Parsons; Dr. Parsons is not impressed with the dilemma and had some comments about it. I responded as follows:

Now, concerning Hempel’s Dilemma, I think you dismiss it much too easily, and I think that the problems that it causes for materialism are rather severe. To understand why I say this, let me explain the dilemma as I see it, but in a trilemma format, namely, the Materialist Trilemma.

First, if the materialist claims that materialism just is what physics tells us it is today (essentially, a ‘snapshot’ of our current physics), then, given the history of science, it is almost certain that something about our current physics is incorrect, and thus materialism, if defined by our current physics as it is today, would be false as well.

Second, if materialism is defined as being what some ideal state of future physics tells us exists, then materialism is essentially trivial, for who knows what some ideal future physics will tell us is the case. And note that, in my view, your point that science is only 400 years old plays in my favor, for who knows what science in, say, 3000 years or 10,000 year will tell us needs to be the case.

Furthermore, note that our theories do not need to be completely overturned or revised for Hempel’s dilemma to have force. For imagine that over the next hundred years, our best theories in physics stay relatively constant and do not change. However, the one change that scientists do make is that they now posit that particles of matter are in some way conscious (panpsychism). Now this would not entail a major revision of our scientific theories as such, but it would be a discovery which would clearly show that materialism, at least as we understand it today, would be false. So here we have one change to our science, a change would not require a massive revision of our scientific theories, and yet it would be a change that would make materialism, as we understand it, false.

Or say that, in the future, we show, scientifically, that people with Near-Death Experiences have veridical post-death sensory experiences (through some type of experiments). Such a fact would not change our physical scientific theories much, but it would show materialism to be false. So again, appealing to some future ideal state of physics comes with its own problems.

Con't...

investigativeapologetics said...

Con't...

Now, the third option seems to be the one that you endorse, which is to claim that our current physics is not perfect, but it contains enough of the truth, and will be complete soon without a major revision to our present scientific theories. Indeed, you say: "Rather, we can support an optimistic meta-induction that says that our current conception of physical reality, though incomplete, is not comprehensively false, and that significant elements of it will be retained in future science."

But now the problem is that what materialism is seems to become ad hoc, vague, ambiguous, and uncomfortably flexible that it seems unfalsifiable in any real sense. After all, questions can be asked, such as: How complete is our current physics? What elements will be retained and what discarded? What aspects are false and what are true?

What these questions show is that the materialist has given himself a type of ‘get of out jail free’ card, for he can move whatever materialism is around as he needs to no matter how much future science changes or does not change. In essence, with this definition of materialism, the materialist is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

And to see why this is a problem, imagine if a theist said that God is not omni-benevolent, and thus god does not necessarily wish to stop evil, but it is also the case that God is not necessarily malicious either, so it is not as if he is an evil god. Now, in such a situation, an atheist would be in his rights to ask: Just how benevolent is this god? Because if he is very benevolent (almost omni-benevolent), then we would still expect him to stop evil (or a great deal of it), but if he is nearly non-benevolent (say, 50%/50%) then we would not expect such a god to necessarily do anything positive for us. Thus, by leaving his claim vague and flexible, the theist is being, in a way, disingenuous, for in creating a vague, flexible, and undefined position, he has created a position that allows him to avoid the problem of evil on the one hand if he claims that god is indifferent, but it also always him to claim all the good things that god offers on the other hand. And this, I claim, is a highly suspect manoeuvre.

But this is precisely what the materialist is doing when he claims that materialism is kind of like the physics that we have today, but it still leaves room for change, adjustment, and improvement. Well how much change? How much adjustment is allowed before we can say that materialism is false? Is the materialist purposely leaving the definition of materialism vague so that it can just constantly avoid falsification?

And so, the Materialist Trilemma is indeed serious: either 1) materialism just is what current physics says it is and is thus most likely false, or 2) materialism is just what some future ideal physics says it is and is thus trivial (for than anything could be “materialism”), or else 3) materialism has to take some vacillating in-between stance that suffers from ad hoc-ness, lack of clarity, and a disingenuous nature.

Joe Hinman said...


February 23, 2016 4:03 AM
Delete
Blogger jdhuey said...
The Proper discipline for talking about God: psychology, sociology, mythology

February 23, 2016 10:58 AM


<>>>:do I detect a note of scorn for psychology? those disciplines are related but the real discipline is Theology.

I know without knowing jack about it you dismiss it completely because atheist mustcut off the church from it's evidence you must cut off the source of evidence.

Joe Hinman said...

Gyan, outlining Hempel's Dilemma is not an 'attempt to discredit sciences'. It's a pretty blind description about a problem metaphysics in relation to science. You, however, do a fantastic job of discrediting science by attempting to cast yourself as a defender of it, and offer up some weird cartoon version in the process.


In Heidegger world science is metaphysics.

Joe Hinman said...

I did not get to flesh that our sorry. Science is not the counter to metaphysics. in a Heideggerian sense science is metaphysics but even in a "normal" view scientific thinking when used s commentary upon religious belief ofte3n issues in many in many metaphysical assumptions. Many atheists think they disproving metaphysics when they argue for naturalism but metaphysics is not a synonym for supernatural. Supernatural is not a synonym for wired freaky unproven stuff.

Crude said...

Gyan,

What precisely is weird cartoonish about the definition of physics I have offered?

Exactly what I said: you regard what amounts to 'explaining what Hempel's dilemma is' as some kind of horrible theistic anti-science attack.

Gyan said...

Hempel's dilemma is a pseudo-problem created by being nominal about physics. Future physics could be anything--we have no means to know what physics is and could be. This is precisely what discrediting sciences mean.

Crude said...

Gyan,

Hempel's dilemma is a pseudo-problem created by being nominal about physics.

It's a philosophical problem, Gyan. And if the problem is 'created by being nominal about physics', then highlighting it is of the utmost importance: there's no shortage of nominalists in science. It ain't exactly an obscure position.

Which, to put it in your lingo, would mean that many scientists - including physicists - are anti-science. All the more reason to illustrate the problem, I suppose.

That's all working with the assumption that the problem is 'created by being nominal about physics'.

This is precisely what discrediting sciences mean.

I see you're a nominalist about definitions.

Joe Hinman said...

"Hempel's dilemma is a pseudo-problem created by being nominal about physics. Future physics could be anything--we have no means to know what physics is and could be. This is precisely what discrediting sciences mean."

hey the party says science is true not question anything.

Joe Hinman said...

This dilemma is more of a problem for physicalists than for scientists. This threatens their whole concept. One thing I found in doing history/philosophy of science, the people least aware of what's going on in that field are heavy science types, such a graduate students in physics. People who were bothered the most by those classes (graduate courses in history of ideas--philosophy of science were people must coming into graduate school studying some hard science. They seemed to have no concept that once could think to ask philosophical questions of science. Even professors of scientific disciplines were in the dark about people like Kuhn and Popper.