Thursday, March 15, 2007

A post on a passage in Lewis's third chapter of Miracles that has always seemed to me problematic

In Dangerous Idea 2


Darek Barefoot said...

It seems to me that if there is in fact a weakness in the paragraph you cite, it is as follows. Lewis says that when confronted by his point about logical causes versus physical causes, the naturalist may respond by trying to reason that natural selection will preserve useful behavior, that our habits of inference are indeed useful and therefore they must reach truth. First of all, the naturalist is more likely to reason conversely that habits of sound inference are useful because they reach truth (true therefore useful, not useful therefore true). It doesn't matter greatly, however, because Lewis would reject either argument as already having been put "under suspicion." But the only basis for this suspicion is the argument from mental causation he has already presented.

Lewis raises the expectation that he is going to address a possible naturalistic rebuttal with some new thought or elaboration of what he has already said. But then he gives no further dimensions to his argument to justify that heightened expectation. This doesn't mean he is wrong; I don't think he is. It is just that his case continues to stand or fall solely by the argument from mental causation. He might as well have simply said that evolution in general, and natural selection in particular, are conceived by the naturalist to entail physical causes alone and that therefore his case from mental causation cannot be refuted by resorting to them. Or, as he does a few paragraphs removed, draw the distinction between behavior, which evolution (arguably) can explain, and the internal story of rational mental processes, which it cannot.

Jason Pratt said...

If this was the case, then the 'problematic' passage would be at worst only pleonastic; at best, only an example of previously established principles--and Lewis clearly means it to be illustrative of something, because this is how he introduces the passage.

But I think Lewis is aiming higher, or deeper, than this. Which is why there are _two_ portions to that passage, each of them being an example of a _type_ of expected rebuttal attempt. The passage doesn't stand without the prior pages of establishing discussion; but those pages of establishing discussion (important and useful as they are in themselves) are, I think, intended to lead _up to_ this point--that is, whatever point he is trying to get across by appeal to his two imaginary examples in this passage.

Which I think I blogged about, at length, over on DangIdea2, before I got sick last month. {g} (And which I am not yet recovered enough to re-engage with. {s} But I'm getting there.)