Sunday, June 28, 2009

Arguments from Reason and Arguments from Consciousness

A redated post, since someone asked.

One fundamental issue between myself and Richard Carrier (and his is not alone in this by any stretch of the imagination) is the difference between arguments from reason, which people like Lewis, Hasker, and myself have developed, and arguments from consciousness, such as we find in people like Swinburne and R. M. Adams. Here is the central difference. Suppose we look at an anti-naturalist argument from, say, objective moral values. The argument goes like this:

1. Probably, if there are objective moral values, the naturalism is false.
2. There are objective moral values.
3. Therefore, (probably) naturalism is false.

In J. L. Mackie's the Miracle of Theism he pretty much agrees with 1, on grounds that objective moral values do not fit well within a naturalistic world view. But he rejects 2, and says that he thinks objective moral values do not exist. Now, I have here argued that rejecting 2 would be a prett y costly move. You would, for example, have to accept the idea that we don't have the kinds of inalienable rights that the Declaration of Independence says we have; and that statements like "It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement' are not objectively true. But moral subjectivism isn't incoherent; it's not inconsistent with the possibility of science, or the possibility of argument.

Now let's try a plain vanilla argument from consciousness.

1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there is no consciousness.
2. There is consciousness.
3. Threfore (probably) naturalism is false.

Now, on the face of things, it looks as if the naturalist can respond by denying 2. Ah yes, what you think of as consciousness really doesn't exist. Or perhaps they will give you a definition of consciousness which eliminates salient features of what we common-sensically think of as concsiousness, while retaining the name. I take it that's what's going on in Dennett's Conscoiusness Explained, and that is why some have suggested the title should have been Consciousness Explained Away.

But we can make the AFC into a species of the AFR if we can use the following orgument:

1. If consciousness does not exist, then reason does not exist either.
2. Reason does exist.
3. Therefore, consciousness exists.

Now there is a "transcendental justification' for 2. The sciences, and the very process of argument that, say, Carrier and I are engaging in, presupposes that what we are really doing is supporting claims, instead of doing something that perhaps has the grammatical form of rational inference but is really not rational inference.

All arguments that block denial moves by using an argument like the above are arguments from reason. This is a strength that arguments from reason have that other arguments against naturalism do not have. Some things can't be eliminated without eliminating science and reasoning.

I wouldn't exactly call them transcendental arguments themselves; as I am thinking about it the various AFRs are straightforward arguments, but if the opponent wants to say that the object that I am claiming fails to fit in with a naturalistic view doesn't exist, then there is a transcendental argument saying that it does.


Edwardtbabinski said...

Who cares about the sentence, "Do moral values exist?" That sentence presupposes too many things for me to even get into. On the sliding scale of things we each know with relative certainty, I think we can most easily agree on the scale of knowability that people exist. And people have minds that can imagine the consequences of their future actions, i.e., based on a lifetime of imbibing knowledge about other people and how they react and what their consequences were.

That's about as far as I can see concerning the question of "whether moral values exist."

You can of course go ahead and postulate all you want about the "absolute" or "supernatural" nature of "moral values," but such postulates lay on the opposite end of the above mentioned sliding scale of certainties, on the fuzzier side.

Words are not things, and if you want to talk about moral values why not give it some flesh, some meat and bones, tell me precisely which values you are talking about. Most people certainly would agree that being loved by their fellow human beings was something to be sought after, a highly prized value in fact, as humans are social beings, raised to become human via social/shared knowledge of language and knowledege, and they can help each other in innumerable ways as each of us learns growing up, being dependant on others and seeing sickness or old age ahead when we may once again be quite dependant on others. So, being loved by them rather than hated by them certainly seems valuable.

But then again you don't want to seek everybody's love to the exclusion of other things you may also value, like expressing your own honest opinion about some music a friend may have forced you to listen to. *smile*

In reality each individual has a range of things they have grown to enjoy or despise, and we each also have multiple needs and wants and different friends, and sometimes all of those things can't be fulfilled, certainly not at once. We have to learn to make our own decisions, i.e., of what we are going to spend our time and money and efforts on. And that's always a bit confusing, trying to sort it out.

Notice what the British philosopher, Mary Midgley; the biologist, Frans De Waal, and the physicist/philosopher, Albert Einstein, had to say about morality.

First, Dr. Mary Midgley:

"Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect":

'Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection...Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.'(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

"That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible. These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt--though of course usually an unsuccessful one--to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most. If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we--being creatures subject to gravitation--could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin's idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention." (Mary Midgley, "Wickedness: An Open Debate," The Philosopher's Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001)

Second, Dr. Frans De Waal:

"Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or a religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates... Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order... When social animals are involved... antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human." (Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates)

Lastly, Albert Einstein:

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

Ross said...

Mr Babinski,

Are you interacting with Dr. Reppert's post, or just going on a rant against the moral argument against naturalism?

Dr. Reppert's post was his explanation of the superiority of the Argument From Reason (AFR) over other arguments against naturalism (like the argument from Objective Moral Value). So your post doesn't have anything really to do with Dr. Reppert's argument in this post.

JSA said...

I take it that's what's going on in Dennett's Conscoiusness Explained, and that is why some have suggested the title should have been Consciousness Explained Away.

My thoughts exactly.

@Babinski - I've spent a lot of time understanding what modern evolutionary biology has to say about morality, and I must say that your citations are hopelessly dated and stale. Nobody even talks like that anymore.

Anonymous said...

"1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there is no consciousness.
2. There is consciousness.
3. Threfore (probably) naturalism is false."

1. Probably, if the lottery isn't rigged, I'll lose.
2. I won the lottery.
3. Therefore, (probably) the lottery is rigged.

Victor Reppert said...

But the probability that creaturely consciousness will exist given the fact that the world is created by God seems reasonably high to me. Every rational creature I know has an interest in communicating with other rational creatures. So the probability that consciousness should arise given theism is high, the probability that it should arise given naturalism is vanishingly low, even if it is possible.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

"But the probability that creaturely consciousness will exist given the fact that the world is created by God seems reasonably high to me ... the probability that it should arise given naturalism is vanishingly low, even if it is possible."

Sure. The probability that I'll win the lottery if it is not a rigged lottery is low. The probability that I'll win if it is rigged by my mother is high. Still, this is a bad inference:

1. Probably, if the lottery isn't rigged, I'll lose.
2. I won the lottery.
3. Therefore, (probably) the lottery is rigged.

Don't we have to take into account the probability that my mother wants to rig the lottery for me and could rig the lottery if she tried?

There might be ways to fix the argument for the claim that naturalism is probably false, but as it stands I don't see that it isn't fallacious in just the same way my little lottery argument is.

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton: What you are posing is something I take very seriously, which is the total evidence problem. We can't consider everything at once, and so we have to consider each item worthy of consideration with respect to God separately. So an atheist can agree that consciousness makes theism more probable than it would be if there were no consciousness, while at the same time thinking that other evidence tips the scale in favor of atheism.

That's true for all the arguments on this issue. Atheists sometimes try to give the argument from evil a special status that gives it an exemption from the total evidence problem, but I have never seen any good reason for doing that.

In the lottery case, it is improbable that you will win it, but you know of nothing in existence that would have any interest and power to rig it in your favor.

I think if God existed, it's plausible to suppose that creaturely consciousness would probably exist as well. But how antecedently likely is it that God exists? People are going to disagree on that, of course.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

I don't think it's just the total evidence problem. The problem is with probabilistic modus tollens. Sober has discussed this in a few places, like here: