Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lewis's Three Arguments for Moral Objectivity

C. S. Lewis’s arguments for moral objectivity in Mere Christianity

First, an account of subjective vs. objective.

Something is objective just in case there can be real disagreements in which one party or the other must be mistaken. Both sides can’t be right. If I say O. J. killed Nicole and Ron, and you say he didn’t, one of us is mistaken. Even if, as the defense argued at the trial, there wasn’t evidence to settle the question beyond a reasonable doubt, the fact is that either O. J. did it, or he did not. So the question of O. J.’s guilt is an objective, not a subjective matter.

Something is subjective just in case there are no real disagreements and no one is really right or wrong. If I think McDonald’s burgers are better than Burger King’s, and you like Burger King’s better, we both can be right for ourselves. It’s a matter of what tastes good to us, and there is no grounds for dispute. As the Romans used to say “De gustibus non est disptandum” (in matters of taste there is no disputing).

Bertrand Russell said:

“The theory which I have been advocating is a form of the doctrine which is called the “subjectivity” of values. This doctrine consists in maintaining that, if two men differ about values, there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says “oysters are good” and another says “I think they are bad,” we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question says that all differences as to values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem to us more exalted than oysters.”

This is the position that Lewis is criticizing both in Mere Christianity and in the Abolition of Man.

Lewis's first argument is the argument from implied practice. People are, at best, inconsistent moral subjectivists. He writes:

"But the most remarkable thing is this. whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking on to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying taht the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there iis no such ting as Right and Wrong--in other words, if there is no Law of Nature--what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?"

1. If ethics is subjective, then we should expect people to recognize that actions which they are inclined to think of as "wrong" are only wrong from their point of view.
2. But invariably, people view wrongs against themselves as actions that are really wrong.
3. Therefore moral values are objective and not subjective.

Some examples may help:

1) A student once wrote a paper for a professor defending moral subjectivism. He made extensive use of anthopological and sociological evidence and the paper was well-written. He put the paper in a blue folder and gave it to the professor. The professor returned it with an "F" and said "I do not like blue folders." The student, of course protested, pointing out all the effort that went into the paper. the teacher replied "Your paper argues that moral values are subjective, that they are a matter of preference?" Yes, replied the student. Well, the grade is an "F" I do not like blue folders. Of course the student could say "But that's not fair," but to do so would, of course, compromise his subjectivist principles.

2) A fellow philosophy teacher, who was an opponent of abortion and relativism, was having trouble with her 14-year old daughter. The daughter said "I think abortion is OK. That's my opinion. And if you don't think so, that's your opinion." I suggested to her (this is better philosophy than parenting)that she tell her daughter, "So long as you are under my roof, you do not have a right to your own opinion on abortion. So, until you change your mind, you're grounded." Of course, the daughter can reply "But that's not fair...I have a right to my opinion" but to do so would, once again,undermine her subjectivist principles.

3) In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Calvin was proclaiming that he didn't believe in ethics, that it's a dog eat dog world, that if someone is in your way you have to push them out of the way to get ahead, and that the end justifies the means. All of a sudden, Hobbes shoves Calvin to the ground. Calvin yells WHY DID YOU DO THAT? Hobbes replies, " You were in my way. Now you're not. The end justifies the means."

By the way one way of defending objective moral values, which we have discussed earlier on this blog, is from the standpoint of rights. If we have rights, that means there is an objectively binding moral obligation on the part of others to allow you to exercise those rights. Otherwise, the idea of rights makes no sense. If I have a right to life, that only makes sense if you have a moral obligation not to kill me.

Lewis’s second argument is the Argument from Underlying Moral Consensus:

1. If morality were a subjective matter, we would expect to find sizable differences of fundamental principles amongst moral codes.
2. But there is, in general, agreement concerning fundamental principles amongst moral codes.
3. Therefore, morality is objective rather than subjective.

Yes, there are differences in moral codes. However, some differences in moral codes can be explained in terms of differences about the facts. People don’t burn witches today (Lewis’s example) not because using Satan’s supernatural powers wouldn’t a serious offense against humanity to warrant severe punishment, but because we no longer believe people actually have and use such powers.

Consider also the differences concerning human sacrifice. (Ollie’s example) The ancient Aztecs thought it was right to sacrifice humans, we do not. However, the Aztecs and ourselves both believe that we have a prima facie obligation not to kill people. The Aztecs, however, believed that there were gods who had the right to demand human sacrifices, and when they are demanded, the duty not to kill is overridden by the moral requirement to do what the gods command. The Abrahamic tradition, going back to, well, Abraham, maintains that the true God does not make those sorts of demands.

Other differences can be explained in terms of how widely we expand the concept of “neighbor.” Moral codes require that we treat our neighbor with respect, but we may limit the concept of “neighbor” to one’s fellow tribe member, or countryman, or a member of one’s own race, etc. It is Jesus’s contribution (in the parable of the Good Samaritan) to our moral understanding that we ought to assess the question “Who is my neighbor” from the bottom of a ditch.

“I only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of doublecrossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well imagine a country in where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.” (p. 19 in my edition).

The third argument for moral objectivity is the Argument from Reformers. There have been reformers in the history of the human race whom we believe to have improved our understanding of what is right and wrong. An example (mine) would be Rosa Parks. Parks challenged the principle that African-American people should acquiesce in being treated as inferiors and challenged the Birmingham bus system’s policy of requiring African-American riders to give up their seats. Because of her stand, and that of Martin Luther King and other leaders of the civil rights movements, laws were changed in such a way as to require equal treatment under the law.

But if you think that the laws of the state of Alabama are more just today than they were when Rosa refused to give up her seat, then you are applying an objective standard of justice. If on the other hand, you maintain that morals are just social conventions, then Rosa’s actions would have to be considered wrong, because they contravened the social convention of the time.

So the argument is:

1. If moral values are subjective, then moral codes cannot improve, since there is no objective standard by which to judge one code better than another.
2. But the work of people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks shows that moral codes can be made more just.
3. Therefore, moral values are objective rather than subjective.

Aristotle on the Unmoved Mover

I. The Unmoved Mover
For Aristotle, matter does not provide its own motion. It is a bundle of potentialities.
The entire universe could be motionless. Everything could have the potential to move but these things have to have their potentiality actualized by something else.
Motion, therefore, always needs explanation.
II. A temporally first cause?
A. For all the Greeks, the idea of a universe that was created out of nothing and had an absolute beginning made no sense.
B. But even if something had been in motion for all of eternity it would still need a cause.
III. The source of all motion
A. If Aristotle is right, then a basic strand must be responsible for all motion.
B. This basic strand must not itself be in motion
C. Therefore there must be something that does not move that causes everything else to move. This is the Unmoved Mover, Aristotle’s version of God.

IV. The Nature of the Unmoved Mover
A. This unmoved mover is not the personal God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
B. One well-known evangelical Christian tract, the Four Spiritual Laws, begins with the statement “God Loves You and has a Wonderful Plan for your Life.” Aristotle’s God doesn’t love you and has no plan for your life. To love would be to have an emotional life, to have needs and weaknesses. Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is just too great for that.
V. How the Unmoved Mover Moves You
A. As indicated earlier, the Unmoved Mover is not affected by anything
B. The unmoved mover cannot be an efficient cause.
C. The Unmoved Mover moves things in nature because all things (unconsciously) desire to be like the Unmoved Mover. Things in nature seek to fulfill their potentialities.
D. Just as you can be in love with someone and that someone can remain unmoved, all things in nature are moved by Aristotle’s God, but God remains unmoved.

VI. The Highest Sort of Reality
A. The Unmoved Mover is the Highest sort of reality. We are incomplete and never finished, but the Unmoved Mover is always complete.
B. It must be engaging in the highest sort of activity: thought, or more particularly, rational thought.
C. It cannot think about particulars of the changing world. So it must be thinking about thinking.
D. Despite obvious differences with the biblical tradition, this concept of God was influential with the medieval theologians, especially St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Uncredible Hallq: I wouldn't pay any attention to Ben Witherington

The Uncredible Hallq: I wouldn't pay any attention to Ben Witherington

Having looked at the comment Hallq is referring to by Witherington I'd have to say, yes it commits the ad hominem fallacy against Bart Ehrman. This is inexcusable and regrettable. However, Hallq goes on to suggest that Witherington can't be taken seriously because he has, at least once in his life, committed the ad hominem fallacy in the combox of a blog (his own, to be sure). So Hallq's argument must have the form (in order to make it valid)

1. Witherington once committed the ad hominem fallacy.
2. No one who ever commits the ad hominem fallacy can be taken seriously with respect to anything he or she says.
3. Therefore, Witherington cannot be taken seriously.

I'm afraid this argument itself commits the ad hominem fallacy. For those of us who inhabit the blogosphere, I'm guessing it isn't as easy as it looks to find much of anyone who, at one time or another, who hasn't committed the ad hominem fallacy in the combox of a blog. It is especially interesting that he was tipped off to this by Steven Carr, who, I think, (correct me if I'm wrong) at least once in his life at least or more often, has committed the ad hominem fallacy in the combox of a blog.

Witherington has presented a substantive critique of Ehrman's work, but this, of course, can't be taken seriously, because he committed the ad hominem fallacy against him in the combox of his blog.

There's no substitute for evaluating serious arguments on their own merits, even if they come from people who commit the ad hominem fallacy. Discrediting people is easier than refuting arguments, but it has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

I repeat, none of this excuses Witherington for committing the ad hominem fallacy.

Lecture Notes on Aristotle (revised and expanded)

I. Aristotle’s life
• Born 384 B. C.
• Originally from Stagira in Macedonia
• Student of Plato
• Teacher of Alexander the Great
• Organized a school in Athens called the Lyceum which rivaled that of Plato
• When an anti-Macedonian movement swept Athens he left to avoid being executed (different from Socrates).

II. Plato and Aristotle
A. While Plato’s philosophy is idealistic, inspiring, otherworldly and perfectionist, Aristotle’s is realistic, scientific, this-worldly and pragmatic.
B. Styles are different largely in virtue of what has survived. Plato’s dialogues survived, Aristotle’s lecture notes survived.
C. Picture of the School of Athens: Plato points up (to the Forms), Aristotle point down (at the world of our experience).
Plato vs. Aristotle on knowledge
• For Plato the model for knowledge is mathematics. For Aristotle it’s biology. What’s the difference? Biology relies extensively on observation. E. Example: Plato’s social/political philosophy defines an ideal society. He doesn’t care if it’s attainable, and even tells you how it will fall apart if it is achieved. Aristotle’s looks at actual societies to see which ones work the best. He surveys 158 constitutions and decides which ones work the best in what circumstances.

III. All men by nature desire to know
• Theory of knowledge
• A. All human beings by nature desire to know.
• Do they? Or do we only desire that knowledge that will bring us pleasure?
• Presupposes that language and thought are congruent to the structure of reality. How could we understand nature if there is no affinity between nature and our minds?
Aristotle the Common sense philosopher
• For Plato there can be no science (rational discourse) of particular things. For Aristotle there can be, in fact knowledge begins with the study of particular things. So the marker in my hand is not an object of knowledge, only belief. Aristotle found this preposterous.

IV. There are real physical objects, by golly
• Aristotle maintains that it is a mistake to study an abstract quality in isolation form concrete exemplifications. Thus Aristotle presumes that we can know particular things. In fact, while this seems like a pretty common-sense idea, philosophers from the Eleatics (those who denied motion) to the atomists (it’s all really atoms, not particular things) to the Sophists (there’s no knowledge) to Plato (all we can really know are forms), denied this common-sense notion.

V. The presuppositions of knowledge
• Aristotle presupposes that language and thought are congruent to the structure of reality. How could we understand nature if there is no affinity between nature and our minds? Otherwise, we coudn't negotiate traffic on 59th Avenue during rush hour.

VI. Aristotle’s ten categories
• 1. What is it?
2. How large is it?
3. What is it like?
4. How is it related?
5. Where is it?
6. When does it exist?
7. What position is it in?
8. What condition is it in?
9. What is it doing?
10. How is it acted upon?
Would Plato ask these questions, and expect an answer?

VII. Aristotle discovers logic
• Logic is the science of arguments. Aristotle discovered that you could distinguish the form of an argument from the content of the argument. Aristotle put statements into categories and show how you can determine, based on the structure of an argument, whether or not the argument is valid.

VIII. The concept of validity
• 1. An argument is valid, just in case, on the assumption that the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. If an argument is valid, the internal logic of the argument is solid. The argument can only be challenged externally, but attacking the truth of the premises. Aristotle’s key discovery is that arguments can be analyzed from the point of view of their logical form, as well as from the point of view of the truth of the premises.

IX. An example of a valid argument
• 1. All dogs are mammals.
• 2. No mammals are birds.
• 3. Therefore no dogs are birds.
• No matter how you change the premises of this argument you cannot get an argument that has true premises and a false conclusion.

X. Validity is a matter of logical form (repeat this ten times).
• Validity is a matter of logical form. A valid argument can be given in favor of a false conclusion, or even in favor of a stupid conclusion. (Also repeat this ten times).

XI. This argument, for example, is valid
• 1. The moon is made of green cheese.
• 2. If the moon is made of green cheese, then the moon is made of red cheese.
• 3. Therefore the moon is made of red cheese.
• The conclusion is false, but so are the premises. If you were to retain the logical structure but change the terms of the argument, you could never get true premises and a false conclusion.

XII. Invalid arguments
Other argument forms do not reliably get true conclusions if the premises are true. There are invalid arguments.
An argument can have true premises and true conclusions and still be a bad argument because the logical structure is faulty
Ex. All beagles are dogs.
All hounds are dogs.
Therefore all beagles are hounds.

Although this argument has true premises and a true conclusion, it is nevertheless an invalid (and therefore bad) argument, because by the same logic the same argument could just as easily support the conclusion “All beagles are hounds” a clear falsehood.

XIII. Sound Arguments
• A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises.
• If the premises are true and the argument is valid, and the conclusion is guaranteed to be true.

XIV. Inductive Arguments
• Some arguments don’t have to be valid to be good.
• 1) In the past, the sun has always risen in the morning.
• 2) Therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow.

XV. First Principles
• Aristotle maintained that there were certain fundamental principles in every discipline. Although some people would like to think they can, or should, prove everything they believe, Aristotle realized that you can demand proof for the premises every time proof is offered, and impose an infinite regress. Some things are so basic as not to require proof.

XVI. The Law of Non-Contradiction
• An example would be the law of noncontradiction in logic, the claim that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true. The trouble here is that any argument for the law of noncontradiction is going to assume the law of noncontradiction, and thereby be open to charge of being a circular argument. However, if someone doesn’t believe in the law of noncon, Aristotle will ask “Are you really saying that?” If the person says they are making a statement, then Aristotle will say that the person has implicitly accepted the law of non-contradiction. If the person says “No, I’m not really saying that,” then Aristotle says “Well, if you aren’t really saying anything, then I really have nothing to respond to,” and treat the person as a cabbage.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Plantinga's Latest

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on religion and science.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Notes to a Lecture of Biblical Judaism

I. A controversial history
A. The early history of Judaism is actually the early history of three monotheistic religion: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
B. This history, according to these three religions, is the arena in which God acted and spoke
C. The Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) purports to be a record of God’s dealings with human beings.

II. Three views of Biblical history
A. Biblical history can be seen as God’s inerrant revelation of how God revealed Himself to the Jewish people.
B. It can be seen as a record, from human points of view, of God’s revelation to the human race and God’s action in history
C. Or, it can be viewed as a purely human record of events some of which were thought, mistakenly, to have been caused by God
III. Two Phases In Jewish History
I. Biblical Judaism: Before the destruction of the Second Temple
II. Rabbinical Judaism: Since the destruction of the Second Temple
IV. The Hebrew Bible
Called the Tanakh
Thought to have been written between 900 B. C. E. and 200 B. C. E.
Traditional view is that Moses wrote the first Five books of the Bible, but this is no longer commonly held.
There are three major sections of the Hebrew Bible: the Torah (the first five books), the Prophets (named for those who spoke in God’s name to the people) and the Writings
V. Historically reliable?
A. Supported by some archaeological documentation
B. Probably much of what is written once a Jewish kingdom was established is based on royal court recordkeeping
C. Written from the perspective of the Jews themselves
D. Most scholars think some parts of it went through a period of oral tradition before being written down.
VI. Keeping it controversial
A. The Hebrew Bible records miracles which are supposed to have been performed by God
B. The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions all maintain that there is a God capable of performing miracles who had a vested interest in the establishment of the Jewish religion.
C. Did God part the Red Sea? This is an issue on which believers and skeptics are bound to differ

VII. In the Beginning: Stories of Origins
Creation story: Gen 1-2. In these accounts there is a similarity to Babylonian creation legends like the Enuma Elish, but there is a big difference. One God creates, not a committee
While most people today read the Genesis story and contrast it to Darwinian evolution, the people who first read it contrasted the Hebrew monotheistic account with the polytheistic creation stories of their neighbors
VIII. The Fall of man (or woman?)
1. In a paradise but forbidden to eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
2. Eve is tempted by the serpent (a walking talking snake, there is no direct reference to Satan in Genesis
3. Adam and Eve are required to live outside the Garden and must die
4. A basis for chauvinism?
IX. Noah’s Ark, or Ut-napishtim’s
1. The earth is filled with wickedness, and Noah builds an ark. Everyone thinks he’s bought oceanfront property in Arizona
2. It rains 40 days and 40 nights
3. God promises not to flood the earth again
4. Mesopotamian tale, the Epic of Gilgamesh is similar. But the difference between these two stories is huge and absolutely crucial. One God floods the earth in the Noah story, in the Ut-Napishtim story one of the gods warns Noah that the committee of the gods is planning a flood.
5. Noah is also more convenient for Sunday School teachers than Un-Napishtim

X. Are these guys for real?
1. For centuries Jews regarded these figures as historical
2. Now, many Jews regard them as symbolic figures
3. In pre-flood times these people are said to have lived for a long time. Methuselah was the longest: lived to the are of 969. 4. A literal adding-up of the genealogies would place the creation of everything at about 4004 B. C. If that is the case, then not only is evolution false, but also light from distant stars could not reach our planet, since they are a millions of light years away and light takes a year to travel a light-year.
XI. Abraham
1. When Abraham is introduced the books becomes more seemingly historical
2. Called by God out of Ur (in present-day Iraq, what was then called Babylonia). Moves to Haran in present-day Eastern Turkey, and then into Canaan
3. Enters into a covenant relationship with God. God promises to provide land, protection and descendants to Abraham. Abraham is to be circumcised as a sign of their exclusive relationship to God.
XII. Monotheism again
1. Was Abraham a monotheist who thought that other gods did not exist? Probably not. But an exclusive covenant relationship with God made him a monotheist in effect.
XIII. The Promise of Descendants
1. Abraham is promised descendants, which seems on the face of things incredible because Sarah was, shall we say, post-menopausal.
2. Sarah encourages Abraham to have a child with Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. He does, and Ishmael is born.
3. But Sarah does conceive and bear Isaac, and Ishmael is sent away.
XIV. The Sacrifice of Isaac
1. God then asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.
2. Abraham prepares his son for sacrifice, but God provides a ram.
3. After this point there are no more requests for human sacrifice.
XV. Jacob’s sons and the sojourn in Egypt
1. Jacob has 12 sons. One of the sons, Joseph, is a favorite of his father, whose jealous brothers sell him into slavery.
2. When Jacob’s family need grain they come to Egypt, not realizing that Joseph has become a top government official.
3. Joseph forgives his brothers and invites them to live in Egypt.
4. The book of Genesis ends with the death of Jacob.
XVI. Moses
1. A Pharaoh arises who sees the Hebrews as a threat and enslaves them.
2. Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s court. He sees a Hebrew being mistreated and kills the foreman. He then becomes a fugitive, and goes out to the Sinai desert in a white Ford Bronco (just kidding).
3. Meets God in the burning bush-wants to know this God’s name
4. Yhwh-I am that I am.

XVII. The Exodus from Egypt
1. Pharaoh refuses to let the Hebrews go.
2. God hits the Egyptians with ten plagues
3. Last plague strikes down the firstborn of Egypt, but the Hebrew firstborn are protected if the lamb’s blood is above the door.
4. This event is remembered annually at Passover (Pesach).
5. The Hebrews cross the Red Sea, though some people think they just went over the Reed Sea. If the latter is the case, then the real miracle was God’s drowning the Egyptian army in three feet of water.

XVIII. The Ten Suggestions
1. Only they’re not suggestions, they are commandments.
2. First three commandments focus on the relationship with God.
3. Last seven concern the relationship between persons
4. Why would you follow a God that was so bossy if you could follow some other god? The idea is that the people stand in a unique covenant relationship to God in virtue of God’s having brought them out of Egypt.
XIX. More detailed laws
1. In Leviticus there are more detailed laws concerning ritual purity.
2. Numbers gives the rest of the historical record
3. Deuteronomy (second law) records the death of Moses.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A good discussion on DI2

There is a very good discussion of Argument from Reason related issues at this post on DI2. The comment count is up to 45.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why did the exchange with Anscombe upset C. S. Lewis?

This is a follow-up on the post I did a couple of weeks back on the impact of the Anscombe exchange on Lewis. On the one hand we do have Lewis in various communications expressing discouragement about his debating experience with Anscombe, and also a certain amount of avoiding of apologetic controversy after that. And we even have some comments to the effect that he had been proven wrong at least reported by people like Sayer.

At the same time there is clear and overwhelming evidence that Lewis, at least from fairly early on after the exchange with Anscombe, did not consider his argument refuted. Of course there is the 1960 revision of the relevant chapter, in which he expanded the relevant chapter. It makes no sense to expand the very chapter of one's book which is thought to have been disproved.

But more importantly, Lewis's own response printed in the Socratic Digest later that year showed that he didn't think the argument itself refuted. He wrote:

I admit that valid was a bad for what I meant; veridical (or verific or veriferous) would have been better. I also admit that the cause and effect relation between events and the ground and consequent relation between propositions are distinct. Since English uses the word because for both, let us use Because CE for the cause and effect relation ('This doll always falls on its feet because CE its feet are weighted') and Because GC for the ground and consequent relation ('A equals C because GC they both equal B'). But the sharper this distinction becomes the more my difficulty increases. If an argument is to be verific it must be related to the premises as consequent to ground, i.e. the conclusion is there because GC certain other propositions are true. On the other, our thinking the conclusion is an event that must be related to previous events as effect to cause, i. e. this act of thinking must occur because CE previous events have occurred. It would seem, therefore, that we never think the conclusion because GC it is the consequent of its grounds, but only because CE previous events have happened. If so, it does not seem that the GC sequence makes us more likely to think the true conclusion than not. And this is very much what I mean by the difficulty in Naturalism.

The red-lettered passage suggests that Lewis actually thought that when you draw the Anscombe-type distinctions more sharply, you actually get more trouble for naturalism, not less. Although it would have seemed to the outside observers of the debate that Anscombe helped the naturalist defend naturalism against Lewis's attacks, what Lewis is saying that she did was actually provide ammunition for the case against naturalism.

Lewis also seems to concede some points to Anscombe that I am not sure he really should. For example, valid is a term that has more than one sense. In logic a valid argument is one that is structured in such a way that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true, but it also can be used to refer to reliability or legitimacy. Anscombe objects to the use of the term irrational causes to refer to non-rational causes, but actually in The Abolition of Man Lewis distinguishes between two senses of irrational; he writes: "It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational." In a previous post I looked up a dictionary and found that Lewis could not be faulted by the way he used "irrational" in the first edition.

The philosophical upshot of the exchange with Anscombe, as Lewis saw it, was that the argument surely needed some cleaning up, but after that cleaning up the argument was, if anything, in better shape than it was before Anscombe criticized it. Given all this, it is amazing to me that Lewis would have given so many signals to other people suggesting that this exchange was some kind of huge defeat for him. I have a distinct impression that there are parts of this story that are below the surface, maybe that we will never fully understand.

I have created a link to a search of my blog for "Anscombe," so that you can see my reflections on that controversy that I have put up here. See also the discussion by Ed Cook on the exchange.

Wikipedia entry on externalism and internalism

I'm on an e-mail chess server

Call It's Your Turn. I got on to play a couplle of games fellow philospher/Lewis scholar Steve Lovell. But if you want to challenge me, just join and look up my name. It's internet chess without the frantic pace (and sometimes bad manners) of ICC.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On the question for Buddhism (edited)

Anonymous wrote:


I don't think you are anywhere near being able to to understand Buddhism in anyway. Hallq is in a similar position or he wouldn't refer to Mahayana Buddhism as a popular religion for the ignorant masses.

To understand the anatta or anatman doctrine you have requires knowledge of the views of the atta (Pali) or atman (Sanskrit) before and during the Buddha's time. You cannot assume it is simply "soul or self" as you as a modern christian take those terms.

VR: I should point out that I too take issue with the claim that Mahayana Buddhism is a religion for the ignorant masses. Mahayana Buddhism has a very active philosophical tradition. It is very likely they have dealt with this issue. Nor am I doing this in order to bash Buddhism. I am wondering if the Mahayana tradition keeps the doctrine of anatta intact, or if they modify it. A good deal is modified in Mahayana; is anatta modified as well?

I do not think I am presupposing a Christian conception of the soul or self in posing this question. As some people never tire of pointing out, there are Christian materialists in the philosophy of mind, as well as Cartesian souls, Thomist souls and emergent souls. So there is no unified soul-concept that is universal amongst Christians. Nor do I think the question requires esoteric knowledge to ask. As I understand the anatta doctrine from numerous world religion textbook, anatta means no permanent identity. According to the Hindu conception of atman there are essential properties of each indvidual self such that, if a person is reincarnated, there can be a definite answer to the question of who that person was in a past life. Buddha taught that while there is samsara or transmigration, and certain elements of who a person was in a past life go on to the next life, it would be a mistake, for example, to say "George W. Bush was Abraham Lincoln in a past life." (For more than just the obvious reason).
So I am conceiving the question in terms of personal identity rather than in terms of any particular soul-concept.

If the traditional Buddhist teaching implies no numerical identity from one incarnation to another (and I take it it implies at least this), and Bodhisattvas reincarnated, then are they the same Bodhisattva each time they reincarnate? If yes, then it seems that anatta has been denied or perhaps modified. If no, then why do Mahayanists revere the same Bodhisattvas they did 700 years ago?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Is the doctrine of Bodhisattvas consistent with the doctrine of anatta?

According to Buddhism, there are three central facts of life that must be faced. 1) anicca, which is impermanence, 2) anatta, which is that there is no permanent identity such as the soul or self, and 3) dukkha, which is translated suffering. Although these three aspects of reality are identified by different terms there are, as it were, three sides of the same thing.

As best as I have been able to tell, Buddhists hold a modified doctrine of reincarnation. There is samsara, the cycle of birth and rebirth, but that which goes to the next incarnation is not the identical person that lived before.

The "official" teaching of the Buddha, (unless he secretly gave Mahayana doctrine to some disciples) is that devotion to anyone is useless in the pursuit of Nirvana. Either the being you wish to devote yourself to has achieved Nirvana, in which case the relevant being has no more desires, and hence no desire to help you, or else that being hasn't made it yet, in which case that being doesn't merit devotion.

Mahayana doctrine modifies this position by saying that some beings of great power have chosen not to enter Nirvana, but rather delay their entry in to nirvana in order to help everyone else make it. In so doing, they allow themselves to go through Samsara (being continually reborn), so that others can be helped.

The question I have is whether Mahayanists, in accepting this understanding of Bodhisattvas, also have to modify their understanding of anatta as well. A Bodhisattva like Guanyin, for example, is presumably the same being each time she reincarnates. Has this issue ever been raised by Buddhist scholars?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Argument from reason page and link to Nunley's dissertation

This AFR page from apollos.ws has link to Troy Nunley's dissertation at University of Missouri on the Evoutionary Argument Against Naturalism

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Uncredible Hallq: The Martian invasion fleet

The Uncredible Hallq: The Martian invasion fleet

I think Chris is overlooking the context in which I make use the Nagel quotation. However, I ought to be clearer, because I am suspecting that the quotation is used by others as an offensive as opposed to a defensive, apologetic. (Perhaps someone has some examples). If it an attempt to show that atheism is irrational, it commits the ad hominem fallacy. If it is an attempt to show that both sides in the theism controversy have possible irrational motives, it does its job.

People on both sides of the fence become "at home in theire universes, and as such, become accustomed to the psychological comforts of their own world-view. If someone on the other side is trying to explain my beliefs in terms of wishful thinking, then I will point out that wishes work both ways. We are humans, not machines. When C. S. Lewis says that he became a Christian even though he didn't want to be one, and certainly had no desire for life after death, and that he came to believe because he thought the evidence for Christianity was good, there is no good reason to psychoanalyze that away, even if you think Lewis's reasons weren't good ones.

Of course, Chris's point about the Martians is a legitimate one. I want to believe my wife is faithful to me, and I have good reason to believe it.

We should examine our motives in this controversy, and encourage others to do so as well. A kind of atheist apologetic is out there that makes all atheists out there out to be intellectual saints and theists out to be wishful thinkers. I'm sorry, but that atheist apologetic just doesn't fit the facts. I'm arguing against that atheist apologetic, not against atheism, when I use the Nagel quote.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Christian Physicist's blog

Why do I do these things?

I am in a bad mood today, so I jumped into an evolution blog debate.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reply to exapologist on evil

Exapologist wrote: Thanks for that link. Although I never quite make it to atheism, I see in Alan's post this curious link between atheism and some reductionistic kind of materialism that apologists often link together. So there's this sort of implicit conditional:

If atheism is true, then reductive materialism is true.

Or some similar claim lurking in its neighborhood. Does this seem right? If so, then I wonder what sort of reason one might offer on its behalf. I assume it wouldn't be something to the effect that it would be weird if there were necessary truths if the God of classical theism didn't exist.

It seems to me that the atheist is only commited to something along the following lines:

Whatever turns out to be on the catalogue of things there are, a theistic god isn't in it.

But this sort of claim is compatible with lots of things that go beyond reductionistic accounts of materialism. In fact, it's totally compatible with the view that, e.g., there are necessary truths (including necessary moral truths).

EXAP: I'm not at all sure that the claim that atheism entails reductive materialism is required for this argument. One could argue that nonreductive materialism has difficulty fitting moral truths into the world as well. Even if you admit that such truths can be admitted into one's ontology wihtout compromising naturalism, you still have the problem of how it is possible to come to believe that such and such is a necessary moral truth, at least in part in virtue of the fact that such and such is a necessary moral truth. That is, in my view, what it would be for us to know that something was a necessary moral truth, and all forms of naturalism undercut this possibility.

I happen to believe that if there are objective moral values, the theistic God is the best explanation for why these exist.

Many people do want to use the existence of evil as a reason for preferring naturalism to theism. However, if the statement "There is evil" is part of the argument (as opposed to just saying "there is something the theist is going to call evil), then this argument might raise a problem for theism, but on my view it is logically incompatible with naturalism.

The argument from evil, used as a stick to beat the theist over the head with, can easily turn into a rattlesnake that bites the atheist on the hand.

Lecture notes on the Buddha

I. Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism
A. Lived approximately 563 B. C. to 483 B. C.
B. He was a prince from Northern India
C. Married at 19 to his cousin
D. Apocryphal story of the Four Passing Sights
1. Whether this story is literally true or not has no bearing on the truth of Buddhism. Buddhism, like Hinduism (and unlike Judaism and Christianity) is a non-historical religion)
E. Renounced life as a nobleman and went out on a religious quest as a homeless wanderer at 29.
F. Attempted to find religious satisfaction through knowledge- this failed
G. Also sought enlightenment through extreme bodily asceticism
H. At 35, under a tree he discovers the secret—that his failure to achieve release from suffering was due to desire or craving-tanha is the Pali word for it, a concept also found in the Upanishads. However, the Upanishads connect this with eliminating earthly desires to as to desire only Brahman-atman, Buddha emphasized not a metaphysical solution but a practical psychological one.
1. Another apocryphal story about his being tempted by the Evil One.
I. At this point the Buddha achieved enlightenment; he had freed himself from the bonds of desire and had achieved a state of wakefulness.
J. Now he faced a problem: should he share the doctrine he had discovered?
K. Decided to advocate a middle way between self-indulgence and asceticism
L. Established the Buddhist order, the sangha
M. Ten Precepts of for Buddhist Monks-the first five are required of laity as well as monks
1. Refrain from destroying life
2. Do not take what is not given
3. Abstain from unchastity
4. Do not lie or deceive
5. Abstain from intoxicants
6. Eat moderately and not after noon
7. Do not look on at dancing, singing or dramatic spectacles
8. Do not affect the use of garlands, scents, unguents, or ornaments
9. Do not use high or broad beds
10. Do not accept gold or silver
N. The Buddha accepted women as nuns, but also said it would harm the longevity of his message.
O. Died of food poisoning at the age of 80.

The passing of Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins, the author of Shrub and Bushwhacked, passed away yesterday. A left-leaning Texan (hence a walking oxymoron), she was an entertaining writer that even conservatives could enjoy and appreciate. She will be missed.