Friday, August 18, 2017

The intuition behind anti-realism




How could there be truths totally independent of minds or persons? Truths are the sort of things persons know; and the idea that there are or could be truths quite beyond the best methods of apprehension seems peculiar and outre and somehow outrageous. What would account for such truths? How would they get there? Where would they come from? How could the things that are in fact true or false propositions, let's say-exist in serene and majestic independence of persons and their means of apprehension? How could there be propositions no one has ever so much as grasped or thought of? It can seem just crazy to suppose that propositions could exist quite independent of minds or persons or judging beings. That there should just be these truths, independent of persons and their noetic activities can, in certain moods and from certain perspectives, seem wildly counterintuitive. How could there be truths, or for that matter, falsehoods, if there weren't any person to think or believe or judge them?

From Alvin Plantinga's "How to be an anti-realist." 

16 comments:

Hal said...

If one knows that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago, one can be said to know a truth. But that doesn't entail that that particular truth also enjoys some sort of independent existence. What existed are the dinosaurs and the earth they roamed upon millions of years ago.

Kind of silly to think that there is some true proposition floating around in some sort of platonic realm waiting for humans to discover it millions of years after the extinction of dinosaurs.



Stardusty Psyche said...

OP Truths are the sort of things persons know; and the idea that there are or could be truths quite beyond the best methods of apprehension seems peculiar and outre and somehow outrageous. What would account for such truths?
--Reality.

Define truth, first of all.

If truth is an assertion that is realistic then there can be no truths without an asserter by definition.

If truth is that which is real then reality is truth independent of any human conception of it.

John Moore said...

Yes, we're using two different definitions of truth:

1) Truth is that which exists.
2) Truth is a symbol pointing to something that exists.

Don't confuse the symbol for the thing it's pointing at.
Symbols can't exist without minds or persons.
Propositions are symbolic things.

Steve Lovell said...

So, what about abstract truths concerning, say, numbers? It certainly seems appealing to say it has always been true that 1 + 1 = 2. If this was true before humans existed, then on this account we need to say there is something which "exists" (and existed before humans) which this proposition is about.

I guess there are several moves the naturalist might make at this point. Rather than rehearse them here and attempt to answer them in advance, let's see what you've got.

Hal said...

"1+1=2" is a mathematical rule. Rules are neither true nor false, they are either correct or incorrect.

Such a rule is atemporal and aspatial.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Steve Lovell said... August 20, 2017 3:45 AM

" So, what about abstract truths concerning, say, numbers? It certainly seems appealing to say it has always been true that 1 + 1 = 2."
--Indeed. But as I am sure you realize, mere appeal does not make it so.

" If this was true before humans existed, then on this account we need to say there is something which "exists" (and existed before humans) which this proposition is about."
--Exists how? Where? Made of what?

Is it possible to have 2 of precisely the same things? How is a determination made such that 2 objects are considered similar enough to be in the same set such that they can be added as though they are identical. How is the determination made that the one object and the other object belong to a set of two objects, as opposed to being considered separate or grouped with other numbers of objects?

Numbers are an abstraction. Adding numbers is an abstraction. These sorts of things are not really things as real existent objects, rather, they exist only as brain processes.

John Moore said...

Numbers are symbols. They may point to things that actually exist in the real world apart from people. On the other hand, numbers didn't exist before people. People created numbers as symbols to point to the real world. Certainly the real world exists apart from whatever people might think, and this is the first definition of truth, but numbers are symbols, which means they're in the second definition of truth.

Steve Lovell said...

Hal, I'm not sure how you think shifting terminology like that helps.

John Moore, your comment about numbers being symbols seems very reasonable, but it doesn't give any account of the truth of 1 + 1 = 2 (in the "first definition").

SP, clearly I'm suggesting that numbers and/or propositions exist as abstract objects in something like the Platonic sense. I'm happy to admit that that's somewhat mysterious and problematic. But what's the alternative? That numbers are abstractions? I'm at work, and don't have time to comment at length just now, but I don't see how this helps. How does it differ from John Moore's position? If it's the same, then you still need to say what it is in the world which corresponds to these abstractions to make them "true". If it's different, and the abstractions somehow constitute the truth here, then you're an anti-realist as the OP suggests. Is that how you regard your position here?

Joe Hinman said...

Physical laws are regarded as descriptions of the way things work not prescribed as laws made by legislature. But what is described but a law-like regularity. Reducing prescriptions to descriptions is an attempt to take God out of the picture, yet the concept still fails to make sense without appeal to a mind or some kind of authority.


physical laws: beyond the prescriptive/descriptive dichotomy

Joe Hinman said...

I see a parallel between the issue with numbers and laws of physics in that the concept of descriptive laws of physics is a problem because without the idea that what is being described is law-like there's no point in calling it a law. It is law-like regardless of how we explain it. The assumption of regularity makes no sense. Yet it can't be denied. The only way make sense is to impose the motion of some kind of mind upon the order.

I assume a point is being made that the numbers are there weather we call them numbers or not but that just invites the same,kind of ordering principle assumed with the laws of physics.

Hal said...

Steve,
Seems to me there is a significant difference between the idea that 1+1=2 is an eternally existing abstract object and the idea that it is a rule to help us describe things in the world. After all, rules can be changed. And because we can use numbers to describe things that existed prior to our existence does not entail that numbers existed at that time.

I wonder what your view is of false propositions. Do they also exist in this platonic realm?

I have to admit that I have a very strong intuition that a Platonic realm does not really exist. Seems to me like reification gone crazy. So it makes it difficult for me to understand why others think there is such a compelling reason for it.

Joe Hinman said...

Steve Lovell said...
So, what about abstract truths concerning, say, numbers? It certainly seems appealing to say it has always been true that 1 + 1 = 2. If this was true before humans existed, then on this account we need to say there is something which "exists" (and existed before humans) which this proposition is about.

I guess there are several moves the naturalist might make at this point. Rather than rehearse them here and attempt to answer them in advance, let's see what you've got.

this is one version of the correspondence theory, truth is a concept corresponding to what is,one can embrace thatas either a theist or materialist.

Steve Lovell said...

Apologies for the delay in coming back, I wrote a comment on my phone during my train commute yesterday but it got lost when I tried to post it going through an area with poor signal.

----

Hal,

I share some of your misgivings about Platonism. My position isn't very developed, but I believe it has the main strengths of both Platonism and anti-realism. I hold that the "creative" powers which anti-realist schools attribute to humans, are only rightly attributed to God. His "concepts" and "thoughts" are the Platonic Heaven to which our thought approximates. Add to this the idea that we are "made in the image of God", and you've got a rich explanatory system which I don't see matched elsewhere.

One of the problems with bare Platonism is that it isn't obvious why abstract objects and human minds have got anything to do with one another. On theism, the two share a common source.

I apply essentially the same model to moral theory.

Joe H,

When I was studying philosophy of science (now about 20 years ago) the two dominant theories of laws of nature were (a) the "Humean" approach and (b) the "realist" approach.

According to the former laws are simply regularities in nature. Laws do not explain the regularities, and apparently nothing does. According to the latter, laws are what explain the regularities and are really some kind of connection between "universals".

I've always found the Humean view absurd, at least on the assumption of naturalism (which I reject). G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy nicely shows why that view is not sustainable. Meanwhile, the main articulations of the "realist" approach simply seemed unintelligible.

My position is either "Humean-ism" supported by theism, or an alternative realism according to which rather than describing behaviour, laws describe "innate" tendencies, powers and liabilities of things. This assumes the existence of "natural kinds" into which things are separated. Things behave as they do because they are what they are. The nominalism to which modern thought is prone will of course struggle with this. So much the worse for nominalism.

Hal said...

Steve,
"His "concepts" and "thoughts" are the Platonic Heaven to which our thought approximates. Add to this the idea that we are "made in the image of God", and you've got a rich explanatory system which I don't see matched elsewhere."

So, if I understand you correctly you still attribute these abstract concepts and propositions to a mind: the mind of God. Not sure why you think that adds any explanatory power to the claim that they are formed by the human mind.

I would still be interested if you think false propositions also inhabit this Platonic Heaven.


"Things behave as they do because they are what they are."

Looks like we agree on this.

Steve Lovell said...

Hal, the benefit of the position I roughly outline is that it gives a robust realism about these things with respect to human thinking without making it mysterious why the Platonic Heaven has got anything to do with us mere mortals.

As for false propositions, I'm not sure. Unless the theory is further developed, I guess they'd exist in so far as God "entertains" them. I haven't thought or read much on that question, but my hunch would be that either God "entertains" all false propositions or none of them. Alternatively, it might be possible to develop the picture I sketch to allow humans as "sub-creators" (I borrow the term from Tolkien) within the framework established by God, and this may be what allows for the existence of false propositions.

I've done quite a bit of reading of pragmatists such as Nelson Goodman and Catherin Elgin, and find their work very persuasive. My approach is to apply their reasoning only to God, and then in a somewhat restricted fashion to humanity.

I'm not overly concerned to commit myself to any of these ideas. The existence of the logical space is enough for me (for now).

Notwithstanding the above, to be honest I've always felt less comfortable with the existence of propositions than with other many other types of abstract object.

Hal said...

Steve,
Thanks for sharing your views. Had never heard of Goodman and Elgin before now. Hopefully, someday soon I will have a chance to take a closer look at what they have to say.

I am heavily influenced by Wittgenstein and such philosphers as P.M.S Hacker, Bede Rundle, and Hans_Johann Glock. I questioned you about false propositions because it was the relationship between true and false propositions and what is the case that influenced Wittgenstein's conception of intentionality. Was curious to see what role they played in your views.

Doubt we can reach an agreement on whether or not this Platonic Heaven really exists. Not sure it is all that important as long as we both recognize the importance of trying to act in a rational and reasonable way.

However, it looks like we can agree that Tolkien was a great writer. Every few years find myself going back and re-reading LOTR.