Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugh Chandler responds to the puzzle about Puddlglum

In the passage you quote, Puddleglum doesn't say that he is going to BELIEVE that there is an Aslan, etc. or that he is going to have faith that there really IS grass, etc. He simply announces that he is going to live AS IF those things were real (whether they are or not).

I have often thought something similar. I mean that we ought to live as if there were a God -whether or not there really is one. Is that foolish?

Kant, as opposed to Puddleglum (apparently), urges us to BELIEVE in God, even though there is no good argument for the claim that there really is one.


How does one, in practice living as if P is true while at the same time believing not-P?


Anonymous said...

Victor: Your question at the end seems to conflate two quite different issues: not believing P is not the same as believing not-P. It's impossible or at least very difficult to act as if P is true when one believes not-P, but generally quite possible for one who is merely agnostic on the matter.

A side point about HC's comment about Kant: it's false, taken unconditionally. While Kant denies the existence of good arguments from the realm of pure reason (leaving aside the antinomies, which are undermined by their counter-antinomies), he does think taking the moral stance transcendentally implies the existence of God.

Don Jr. said...


Victor's question doesn't conflate those two notions. It's a simple question not containing any hidden assumptions. It merely asks what it asks. Moreover, the passage from Puddleglum contains the statement, "I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it." And as Chandler points out, Puddlegulm "announces that he is going to live AS IF those things were real (whether they are or not)" (emphasis mine). Thus, even if Puddleglum were to believe not-P he says he would live as if he believed P. So the question is even a relevant follow-up to the Puddleglum passage. But even if it weren't, the question itself isn't confused. It's a valid question.

Jason Pratt said...

Okay, before we go much further with the Puddleglum thing, let's go back and check the story contexts.

First, Lewis has to make do with the limitations of the characters. He can't have them defeating the Witch by metaphysical dueling in any specially complex way: they're only some prep school kids, a young man who was kidnapped as a child and has spent most of his time in a mentally crippling enchantment since then, and... um... Tom Baker. {g} (A Tom Baker who has spent all book being clownishly pessimistic anyway.) They aren't, in short, C. S. Lewis.

Second, these people believe they have had the experiences the Witch is arguing against (including the children with Aslan), and not for sporadically patchy bits of time. (In fact, she has been having to drug them--and maybe seducing them!--in order to make her assertions and arguments have any headway at all. Heck, she herself took Caspian's son out on jaunts to the surface world she now says doesn't exist!)

So when Puddleglum makes his pragmatic stance, it isn't in the teeth of clear reason and tons of experience to the contrary. It's in the teeth of an overtly mind-crippling enchantment, in favor of nearly universal experience on his (and their) parts. And being long established as a super-pessimist, he _has_ to put his stance in those terms, or it wouldn't be in character.

Okay, now y'all can debate Kant and such. {g}

Jason Pratt

Anonymous said...

Don Jr.,

Of course it can be taken as a regular old question, but in the context of what came before it was a switch from a weaker point to a stronger one.

One way to not believe that something is true is to believe it's false, yes, but it's not the only way. It follows from

(1) I believe that not-P


(2) I don't believe that-P

but the reverse implication does not hold. So there is a switch in topic from what was going on in the post before Victor's question to the question itself. That doesn't mean his question is illegitimate, but it doesn't really flow from the previous discussion. In any case, the two questions ought to be distinguished.

Jason: I wasn't addressing the actual story, but only Victor's question. {s} {g} {b} {p} {l} {$} {*} Also, thanks for granting us all permission to debate Kant and such.

Jason Pratt said...

Dennis: I know. I wasn't replying to _you_. I was replying to Victor's original question, as to why Lewis would be anti-pragmatic in many places, while also being (apparently) hyper-fideistically pragmatic at the theological crux of _The Silver Chair_.

Puddleglum, and authorial character design, and Lewisian theology, I know enough about to comment on. Kantian theology/philosophy, not so much (which is why I'm sitting that out and watching instead. Which is what I meant by "now y'all can debate Kant and such".)

Or, put another way, I agree with Joshua's comment back in Victor's original post; I just added more detail--which I think is necessary for helping to answer Victor's original question about reconciling the passages.

For what it's worth, though, I agree with you that 'not believing P' is not the same as 'believing not-P'; and I agree with Don that Puddleglum testifies himself ready to do P even if he also is forced to believe not-P. For someone to say they're on Aslan's side, however, implies some kind of faithfulness to (thus some kind of faith in) Aslan, even if the declarer doesn't use the verb 'believe'.

To that extent, then, it is Puddleglum's example which has (tacitly) introduced the conflation. (Which I find to be a result of character/plotting logic, not a position Lewis himself would have normally advocated.)