Sunday, June 26, 2016

Jim Slagle's New AFR book

I've read his master's thesis and dissertation, and I like Jim's work. He also convinced me that Lewis was using the word "irrational" correctly in the first edition of Miracles, even though, under pressure from Anscombe's critique, he changed his term to "nonrational."

23 comments:

Steve Lovell said...

I take it it's this book The Epistemological Skyhook: Determinism, Naturalism, and Self-Defeat.

Looks very interesting ... though also rather expensive!

Jim S. said...

Thanks Victor! And yes Steve that's the right book, The Epistemological Skyhook. Chapter 7 is about C.S. Lewis and Anscombe. You can read most of the first chapter at the publisher's website, and a smaller chunk at Amazon. Sorry about the price: I won't be offended if you just get it via interlibrary loan.

John Moore said...

From Chapter 1: "If determinism or naturalism is true, belief in determinism or naturalism is not logically sound."

And yet, if determinism is true, the belief in it will indeed be true, despite being logically unsound. So you have to choose between truth or logic. The argument from reason suggests that logic is somehow alienated from the truth.

John Moore said...

Seriously though, the problem is with the AfR's concept of logic. Premise #1 (on page 3) baldly states that determinism is illogical. That's the end of the argument right there!

Does the use of logic really require free will? You can't just assume it does. And you can't just write off your philosophical opponents as illogical by definition.

Jim S. said...

Well, I guess I partially agree with you: immediately following the argument you mention, I write "As stated, this argument plainly fails. The first premise is manifestly contestable, and the second is simply false." So that version of the argument (which I attribute to J.B.S. Haldane) is unsuccessful.

The first ("manifestly contestable") premise doesn't actually state that determinism is illogical, but that if determinism or naturalism is true, then beliefs are not produced by logical processes. That's not the end of the argument by a long shot, since you have to add the second ("simply false") premise that not being produced by logical processes entails that a belief is not logically sound in order to get the argument going. This premise is false because properly basic beliefs are not produced by logical processes, they are simply given, but that doesn't say anything about whether they're logically sound.

B. Prokop said...

"Does the use of logic really require free will?"

It does. If we are compelled to come to a particular conclusion (i.e., we have no choice in the matter), then logic ultimately plays no part in what or how we think and/or believe.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Hal said...

B. Prokop,
Really? If a is greater than b and b is greater than c then it follows that a is greater than c. The rules of logic entail that conclusion - not free will.


Jim S.,
Do you explain what you mean by "logical processes" in your book?

B. Prokop said...

"The rules of logic entail that conclusion - not free will."

Not so. If you have no say in what you think or believe, you will believe whatever nonsense your deterministic brain tells you to, and it can make a being less than c seem completely "logical" to you.

And you would have no way of seeing that it wasn't.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Moore said...

Two different concepts of logic:

a) Christians seem to think logic exists on its own out there in the world and yet apart from the world's particular instantiation.

b) Atheists seem to think logic is what it is because of causal determinism. Logic is simply how the world actually works.

From the atheist's point of view, it's nonsense to say "if determinism or naturalism is true, then beliefs are not produced by logical processes." Determinism or naturalism are the very basis of logic.

Christians ask how a conscious person differs from inanimate rocks, if determinism or naturalism is true. There really is a difference! It's a purely physical and natural difference. It has to do with goal-pursuit, and evolution. Christians are too quick to jump to the conclusion that there's no important physical difference between people and rocks, if determinism or naturalism is true.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I'm an atheist and a naturalist. I don't agree or identify with your (b), at least not the first sentence. I agree with the second sentence, but I would add a third sentence: the laws of logic are necessarily true.

Jim S. said...

Jim S.,
Do you explain what you mean by "logical processes" in your book?


I use that precise term just with Haldane's argument. However, the last chapter uses the structure of Haldane's argument to present my own version, so what I substitute for logical processes there would pretty much answer your question.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Jim S -- Let's accept, for the sake of argument, your claim at face-value: if naturalism is true, then "beliefs are not produced by logical processes."

I'm sure your entire book answers my question, but here it is: "So what?"

I don't care (and I don't understand why I should care) if my beliefs are not produced by logical processes, so long as my beliefs are accurate. I should mention that I am not a determinist, but even if I were a determinist, I think I would still have the same question.

What have I missed?

B. Prokop said...

"but here it is: "So what?" "

That question may be asked of anything any atheist has to say. So what? We're all going to die. The Earth itself is going to be burnt to a cinder by the sun's inevitable turning into a red giant. And the universe as a whole will ultimately run down, all the stars will die, and there will be NOTHING and no one left to mourn its passing.

So what?

Jezu ufam tobie!

Jim S. said...

You missed that that's not my argument. It's J.B.S. Haldane's argument which (so I say) fails.

Now to address the broader issue, I like what C.S. Lewis writes: "The act of knowing has no doubt various conditions, without which it could not occur: attention, and the states of will and health which this presupposes. But its positive character must be determined by the truth it knows. If it were totally explicable from other sources it would cease to be knowledge, just as (to use the sensory parallel) the ringing in my ears ceases to be what we mean by 'hearing' if it can be fully explained from causes other than a noise in the outer world -- such as, say, the tinnitus produced by a bad cold. If what seems an act of knowledge is partially explicable from other sources, then the knowing (properly so called) in it is just what they leave over, just what demands, for its explanation, the thing known, as real hearing is what is left after you have discounted the tinnitus."

So the claim of Lewis is that naturalism explains reasoning and knowledge in a way analogous to the way that tinnitus explains hearing: that is, it explains it away as being nonveridical. Now of course that point has to be teased out more, and you're right, that's what the entirety of the book is about. But I think there's a valuable intuition there.

jdhuey said...

The statement by Lewis above seems to me to be a confused mess. Tinnitus does not explain hearing, the processes underlying how the ear works explains both tinnitus 'hearing' and external air vibrations hearing. Lewis seems to have reversed the direction of the explanation. Also, as with most human languages, the word 'hearing' is a vague fuzzy concept, so when Lewis says, "...the ringing in my ears ceases to be what we mean by 'hearing' if it can be fully explained from causes other than a noise in the outer world..." he is treating the word as if were a very precise specific concept and he is, simply, wrong. The ringing in the ear can be described as 'hearing' regardless of it's causal explanation.

Thus when he says 'If it were totally explicable from other sources it would cease to be knowledge...' he is also wrong. 'Knowing' and 'knowledge' don't change their underlying character because of a good explanation.

Miguel said...

Jeff,

"I'm sure your entire book answers my question, but here it is: "So what?"

I don't care (and I don't understand why I should care) if my beliefs are not produced by logical processes, so long as my beliefs are accurate. I should mention that I am not a determinist, but even if I were a determinist, I think I would still have the same question. "

So your beliefs cannot be justified and you can never be justified in being a naturalist, whereas theists can have justifications for being theists; since naturalism is an unjustifiable belief that implies that believing it is irrational, naturalism should be rejected. How much less reasonable would it also be to try to *convince* other people that naturalism is true or reasonable!

If naturalism is true, then your belief that naturalism is true is only *accidentally* true.

Jim S. said...

I don't find Lewis's statement confusing at all. He's using the word "hearing" in a pretty standard way. If the explanation for why I hear a bell ringing is not based in an actual bell actually ringing but in tinnitus, then it is an illusion. If the explanation for why I see an oasis is not based on an actual oasis, then it is a hallucination. In either case, what I seem to hear or see does not correspond or conform to an external reality. We'd put the verbs in scare quotes to show this: I "see" the oasis or "hear" a bell ringing. Lewis's point is that naturalism explains our beliefs in a way analogous to these explanations. In this case, all of our beliefs would be cognitive hallucinations. I'm not sure why you think these would be good explanations: hearing a ringing because of a bell ringing or because of tinnitus are both complete explanations. What makes the latter explanation problematic is that it is delusive.

Miguel said...

in other words, you would have NO REASON to believe that your beliefs are accurate. If all you care about is the accuracy of your beliefs, then you have to have a way to justify having accurate beliefs, or to reasonably conclude that your beliefs are accurate. Yet if your beliefs are not produced by logical processes, then that is not possible.

You can't even make a case for your beliefs being accurate about many things, unless you can reason logically.

Miguel said...

No determinate, universal, immaterial concepts = no math, no science, no philosophy, no valid thinking.

No mental causation by virtue of propositional content = no valid inferences, no justifiable beliefs (at least about a great many things, including science, philosophy, even naturalism)

No psychological relevance of logical laws = no valid inferences, no justifiable beliefs (at least about a great many things)

Just salts and electricity that aren't or may not be about anything at all producing, by virtue of physicochemical reactions, random things we call "beliefs" that may be accidentally true or false.

jdhuey said...

"What makes the latter explanation problematic is that it is delusive." This is an example of the confusion I was referring to: the "explanation" is not delusive. The medical condition of tinnitus is a real world condition - it create actual auditory signals that are transmitted to the brain where it is processed as a sound. The sound does correspond to an external reality, it just isn't the reality of air vibrations. Thinking the sound is a bell ringing is just a mistake, not a delusion.

What you are saying seems to mix up the explanation of a phenomenon (our belief) with the phenomenon itself (our perceptions). That our manifest reality - the reality produced our perceptions- is a cognitive illusion is not controversial. (although, I would use the term simulation.) Accepting naive realism is, well, naive. All qualia are generated by the brain. But what we believe based on this simulation is a different matter. It is the essence of science to test our beliefs to see if they represent reality or if we are mistaken that the tinnitus 'ringing' is a external bell. Science (naturalism) in no way just accepts the manifest reality as the one true reality.

Jim S. said...

The issue does not depend on the manifest image / scientific image dichotomy. The manifest image of someone seeing an oasis in the desert supervenes on the scientific image of what's happening. You can break down the manifest image into its corresponding scientific image: that's a veridical perception. You can also break down the experiencing of a mirage into its scientific image: that's a nonveridical perception. It's not a confusion between the phenomenon and the explanation of the phenomenon, it's that the phenomenon and its explanation have to fit together so as not to be delusive. You seem to be suggesting that all perceptions are equally delusive, since they are all of the manifest image. But I'll wager everyone reading these comments can see that there is a qualitative difference between the scientific description of someone actually seeing an oasis and the scientific description of someone "seeing" a mirage -- that is, seeming to see something that isn't actually there. The first description corresponds to its object, the second doesn't. The first is veridical, the second is delusive.

On a side note, I would say that within philosophy at least, the idea that the manifest image is a cognitive illusion is not only controversial, it goes in the opposite direction that you say. Sellars's whole point in making the manifest/scientific image dichotomy is that the scientific image is an extension of the manifest image. If you abandon the manifest image, you abandon the scientific image along with it. What makes it interesting is that the two are in tension. So if you take the manifest image to its natural conclusion -- the scientific image -- it seems to self-destruct. But you can't replace the manifest image with the scientific image because, again, the scientific image is only an extension of the manifest image. So the manifest image seems to fall apart, but there's nothing to replace it with.

Let me put it this way: if you think the manifest image is a bunch of cognitive illusions, then most of your beliefs about the physical universe are incorrect. This would include your scientific beliefs. That's why this argument often is portrayed as presenting a conflict between science and naturalism: if naturalism is true, your scientific beliefs are unlikely to be true. In order to accept science, you have to reject naturalism. So for you to equate science with naturalism in your last sentence makes me think that you're completely missing the point. Although I suspect you think I'm completely missing yours too.

jdhuey said...

Jim,

I want to thank you for the amount of civil engagement you have provided on this topic. Usually, by this point the discussion has devoled into flinging insults. I really wish that I had the time to respond to all the points that I disagree with but sadly, the real world is making demands on my time. So, instead on a single post that attempts at a coherent discussion, I'm just going to make a series of posts that picks a few of your points to object tol

So for you to equate science with naturalism in your last sentence makes me think that you're completely missing the point.

It wasn't my intent to equate science with naturalism but to indicate the deep connection between the two. Instead of parenthesizes I should have made some explicit comment - I got lazy. I'm aware that philosophically science only assumes methodological naturalism.

That I might be missing the point is entirely possible. But the statement by Lewis that you quote does not seem to be all that understandable and the analogy he employs to clarify his point is a muddle of inaccuracies. His basic statement - "If it (knowing) were totally explicable from other sources it would cease to be knowledge..." - strikes me as totally wrong and unsupported.

"...if you think the manifest image is a bunch of cognitive illusions, then most of your beliefs about the physical universe are incorrect. This would include your scientific beliefs."

WRT to the definition of 'manifest image' or 'manifest reality', I was unaware of Sellars coinage of the term, I had just heard the terms used in a talk by Daniel Dennet where he gave the terms a simplified definition: 'manifest reality' is just the reality that is appearance of reality produced by our brains as it processes our sensory information. This is the reality that appears on the cave wall in Plato's allegory. Our manifest reality is indeed a bunch of cognitive illusions but you say that as if it were a bad thing. If our brains didn't produce these illusions (again, I prefer the term 'simulation') then I don't know how we would process our sensory information to keep us alive. That there are sometimes errors and mistakes in our perceptions is the trade off for a fast processing time.

jdhuey said...

"... then most of your beliefs about the physical universe are incorrect. This would include your scientific beliefs."

This depends on what you mean by 'correct' and 'incorrect'. (And what you mean by 'belief') If I based my beliefs (left undefined) about the physical universe - say, about the tree across the street, on my manifest image of that tree, then yes most of my beliefs are 'incorrect' in the sense of being very approximate. I don't see the individual cells of the plant. I don't see the veins in the leaves. I don't see all the insects and bacteria living on the bark. I can only see a limited range of the EM spectrum, so I don't see how the tree interacts with UV light. But I am correct in that there is a big solid structure there that I don't want to hit with my car.

My beliefs about said tree based on the science that I studied are, as with all scientific beliefs, provisional. There is always the possibility that tomorrow, some one will come up with a new insight that completely revamps what we think is true. This again is not a bad thing. Science does not promise everlasting Truth, only escape from everlasting error.