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.


Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

I'm an occasional reader finding my way here through CADRE Comments, with an interest in the "Dangerous Idea" to a greater degree and the Lewis/Anscombe debate to a lesser degree, only as it relates to the larger question.

I have to say that, on review of the argument, I disagree with Lewis about whether a naturalistic universe necessarily leads to a distrust of mind.

I'm not what you would call a naturalist, more what you would call a Christian with a high view of material creation.

I was wondering if I could ask you one thing: if you had to state succintly the strongest version of that argument that you knew, if you were trying to show me logically that logic itself or reason itself falls apart in a naturalistic world, what would you say? What would be your opening move?

Are you interested in exchanging posts to explore a little more? I'm interested in hammering out the argument to see where it goes.

Take care & God bless

The Puddleglummer said...

I'll be most interested in seeing this discussed. I'm in sort of the same situation as you, weekend fisher: I don't think the fact that God created a physical univese that was capable of evolving rational critters like us should require us to distrust our mental faculties.
Best wishes,

Victor Reppert said...

There is a first step in the argument, which is getting a definition of a naturalistic world-view, the proper target for the argument. I have a definition for a naturalistic world-view: A naturalistic world-view has there characteristic:

1) At the level of the most fundamental particles, the universe is free of purpose, free of normativity, free of intentionality (aboutness) and fully describable from a third-person perspective. In short, there is a "physical" level which is complete mechanistic, not in the sense of being deterministic, but in the sense of being purposeless.

2) That level is causally closed. There is nothing at any other level of analysis the provides an independent cause of events over and above the physical level.

3) Whatever else exists supervenes on the physical. Given the state of they physical, every other level (chemical, biological, psychological, sociological), must be the way that it is.

Now the first thing I want to ask is that if the "naturalism" you have in mind to defend meets this description, or not?

I'm not sure I want to talk about distrusting reason. I vastly prefer Best Explanation versions of the Argument from Reason as opposed to Skeptical Threat arguments. There is reason, the question is whether the kind of universe I just described can explain it. (No skyhooks allowed, just cranes).

I have set up a special blog for discussing the argument from reason, If we pursue this, I'd like to move the discussion there.

Anonymous said...

I would only add that Lewis commented on himself (where?) that often after debate he would feel self-doubt. It seems that Anscombe pushed this to a high level within him. Another curious change is in Aquinas when he dropped his pen and stopped writing for all time.