Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Anscombe Debate and the Anscombe Legend

I think some notes need to be made with respect to the relationship between the Anscombe debate and the Anscombe legend. It seems to me that one can maintain that the exchange between Anscombe and Lewis must, in the last analysis, be adjudicated in Anscombe's favor, without subscribing to what I have been calling the Anscombe legend. The legend says that, as a result of his debate with Anscombe, Lewis realized that he had been completely wrong and gave up on Christian apologetics. Further, this caused Lewis to abandon the "adult" world of rational discussion of religion in favor of the emotional, childlike world of Narnia. It was the legend that Philip Pullman was alluding to in the interview I quoted.

John Beversluis, in the first edition of his book on Lewis, wrote that "the arguments that Anscombe presented can be pressed further, and Lewis's revised argument does nothing to meet them." In a later paper reviewing A. N. Wilson's book, he took Wilson to task for overestimating the psychological impact of the Anscombe incident but his comments did not indicate a change in his views on the success of Lewis's actual argument or the philosophical effectiveness of the Anscombe critique. So he withdrew his previous acceptance of the Anscombe legend, but not the Anscombe critique.

In the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe essay appeared, Lewis presented an argument against naturalism which he thought could meet Anscombe's objections.
I think the Anscombe critique is decisive only if certain Wittgensteinian doctrines that she presupposed are true, doctrines that I consider to be highly counterintuitive, to say the least, and which would be rejected by most people on the naturalist side. But even if pursuing Anscombe's points further completely refutes Lewis's arguments, the Anscombe Legend would still be completely bogus.


Christopher said...

This is an important distinction, and I might suggest that it shows Lewis felt philosophy only went so far toward explaining reality. His discussion of people who presuppose the destruction of first principles (read: "is decisive only if certain Wittgensteinian doctrines that she presupposed are true") as those that can't really be argued with, might be a way into understanding his reticence to continue the debate. Just a thought. I've always seen him as sort of shrugging and saying, well, this really isn't worth me arguing further because we're talking a different language. Thoughts?

Jason Pratt said...

His rejoinder in the Socratic Digest (shortly post-Anscombe rebuttal), doesn't seem predicated so much on shrugging off the topic because of a uselessness in discussing matters with people who presuppose the destruction of first principles; as it does on acknowledging certain conceptual critiques Anscombe leveled concerning his use of the term 'irrational' and redirecting/rephrasing his argument thereby. The material of his rejoinder is very close to the revision he eventually got published in MaPS 2nd edition.

I think he sincerely believed that Anscombe had caught him on a valid point (which would have been annoying in any case) but that he had found the proper revision by following out her own rebuttal. One could, of course, critique that subsequently (as Anscombe did, though with some cautious and provisional acceptance this time), but that wouldn't change what Lewis himself thought of the revision.


stunney said...

I think that reasons being also causes of behavior is or should be irrelevant to the AfR.

The claim that reasons are causal with respect to behavior could be true and it could be simultaneously true that reasons are not nauralistic entities. I'm sure, for instance that Aquinas, Descartes and Kant held that reasons are causes of human behavior and that reasons for acting which are actual (tokens of) causes of human actions are not naturalistic (i.e. physical) entities.

The challenge for Victor Reppert and other proponents of the AfR is to show, not that reasons aren't causes, but that they aren't the sort of causes that can be explained in terms of naturalistic ontology. The correlative challenge for the naturalist is to explain how a cause can cause its effect by justifying it, since the relation of justification seems as different from other causal relations as the phenomenal properties of consciousness are from all physical properties.

Christopher said...

Thanks Jason. Is there somewhere online where one can read these Socratic Digest posts?

Jim Slagle said...

Regarding the Anscombe Debate: I think Lewis was arguing that if naturalism is true, beliefs could not arise; if they could, they could only be true by chance; and if they were true, they still wouldn't be justified. So every aspect of having justified, true belief is thereby challenged. Anscombe's argument essentially said that these issues can be safely ignored by looking at it from a Wittgensteinian perspective. Lewis did not know much about Wittgenstein, so was unable to answer this claim directly. He was only able to say that something's gone wrong if our belief that something is true is not a result of the fact that it is true.

Regarding the Anscombe Legend: Lewis himself ironically refutes those who try to explain why his writings in the 1950s were different from those of the 40s. In "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism" (also called "Fern-seed and Elephants"), he argued that he witnessed people trying to reconstruct such motives with his own writings and those of his friends. As far as he could remember, they never got a single thing right.

Jason Pratt said...

Hey, Stunney!

{{I think that reasons being also causes of behavior is or should be irrelevant to the AfR.}}

That might be true in regard to some versions of the AfR; but Lewis obviously thought it was highly relevant to his version of the AfR (thanks to the Anscombe critique, if I recall correctly!), and I agree. (Though I think he was more concerned along the line of reasons being caused effects, not causes of effects. But neither could he deny that reasons were causes of effects, either.)

{{The claim that reasons are causal with respect to behavior could be true and it could be simultaneously true that reasons are not nauralistic entities.}}

Actually, Lewis agreed with this conjunction in the 2nd edition of MaPS. (And doesn’t he introduce this as a distinctive correction and/or expansion compared to the 1st edition?)

Consequently, AfR proponents following Lewis’ lead shouldn’t be having to try to show that reasons aren’t causal (or effected either) anyway.

{{The challenge for Victor Reppert and other proponents of the AfR is to show... that they aren't the sort of causes that can be explained in terms of naturalistic ontology.}}

Add “or effects” after “of causes”, and I don’t see that I would have any disagreement at all. (Not that I disagree with this as it stands; I’m just pointing out that it should be fleshed a bit further topically as to scope.)

{{The correlative challenge for the naturalist is to explain how a cause can cause its effect by justifying it}} [original emphasis]

That seems to be one core challenge at least. The alternate challenge (which Lewis also recognized) would be to explain how justifications turn out not to be necessary for reasoning.


Jason Pratt said...


{{Is there somewhere online where one can read these Socratic Digest posts?}}

I half-recall Victor having a link to it once. I could be misremembering, though. (I just did a site search and didn’t turn it up. Which is a little weird, because I also half-recall being the one who initially brought it to Victor’s attention during an early debate, long ago. {g})

The material is presented, as a summary by the club reporter, and as a brief statement from Lewis himself, at the end of “Religion Without Dogma?” in the collection God in the Dock, pages 145-146 in my edition. It also gives a very brief summary of topical interchange between Lewis’ address (“Religion Without Dogma?”) through Price’s rebuttal and Anscombe’s own subsequent rebuttal provided in parallel. (The material in “RWD” was partially based on MaPS 1st ed, so the parallel rebuttal attempt was apt.)

The whole exchange from “RWD” onward (but I don’t know whether Prof. Price’s preceding address, “The Grounds For Modern Agnosticism” is found in this volume--it’s certainly reprinted in a Phoenix Quarterly though), can be found in The Socratic Digest, No. 4, 1948. However, a bit paradoxically, Lewis had presented a revised version a couple of years earlier for formal publication in Phoenix Quarterly--not revised in accord with Anscombe’s rebuttal yet, so far as I can tell. GitD reproduces an emended version combining both texts.

It’s hard to get a timing sequence because of the haphazard way the addresses were eventually collected for publication. But it is certain that MaPS 1st edition was published in 1947; the “RWD” reply to Professor Price (currently collected in GitD) functions as a kind of synopsis to that book’s material (but it may have preceded the book’s publication by a few years); and the Anscombe address at the Club was given Feb 2, 1948. MaPS itself (in the 1st edition) can be more-or-less reconstructed from various papers and articles printed by Lewis in those days (many of them included in GitD); but seems to have been suggested to Lewis as a project by Dorothy Sayers after an interchange of correspondence she had with an initially abrasive atheist. It’s possible Lewis basically collected some papers he had previously published (or delivered as addresses) and stiched them together lightly for MaPS, including the material of “RWD”, itself a bit of an amalgamation of material. (But I’d need to study the timing and source-provenance better before I felt comfortable with that conclusion.)

Anyway. The two entries are not long, and I don’t mind reproducing them here. They probably count as less than 4% of GitD, so I should have some plausible copyright defense. {g}

A: [being the Socratic minute-book account of Lewis’ reply to Anscombe the night of Feb 2, 1948, after Anscombe delivered her critique of MaPS chp 3, 1st edition] In his reply Mr C. S. Lewis agreed that the words ‘cause’ and ‘ground’ were far from synonymous but said that the recognition of a ground could be the cause of an assent, and that assent was only rational when such was its cause. He denied that such words as ‘recognition’ and ‘perception’ could be properly used of a mental act among whose causes the thing perceived or recognized was not one.

Miss Anscombe said that Mr Lewis had misunderstood her and thus the first part of the discussion was confined to the two speakers who attempted to clarify their differences. Miss Anscombe said that Mr Lewis was still not distinguishing between ‘having reasons’ and ‘having reasoned’ in the causal sense. Mr Lewis understood the speaker to be making a tetrachotomy thus: (1) logical reasons; (2) having reasons (i.e. psychological); (3) historical causes; (4) scientific causes or observed regularities. The main point in his reply was that an observed regularity was only the symptom of a cause, and not the cause itself, and in reply to an interruption by the Secretary he referred to his notion of cause as ‘magical’. An open discussion followed, in which some members tried to show Miss Anscombe that there was a connection between ground and cause, while others contended against the President [Lewis] that the test for the validity of reason could never in any event be such a thing as the state of the blood stream. The President finally admitted that the word ‘valid’ was an unfortunate one. From the discussion in general it appeared that Mr Lewis would have to turn his argument into a rigorous analytical one, if his notion of ‘validity’ as the effect of causes were to stand the test of the questions put to him.


B: [being a written reply given by Lewis at some time shortly subsequent to the discussion on the night of Feb 2; all italics original] I admit that valid was a bad word 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 proposition are distinct. Since English uses the word because of both, let us here 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 the conclusion 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 hand, our thinking the conclusion is [itself] an event and 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 of its grounds but only because CE certain previous events have happened. If so, it does not seem that the GC sequence makes us more likely to think the true conclusion as not. And this is very much what I meant by the difficulty in Naturalism.

JRP: Readers familiar with MaPS 2nd edition should be able to immediately recognize many themes developed out of this material (in some cases ported over almost verbatim for expansion), dating back to the night of Feb 2 1948 or very shortly afterward.

Hope this is helpful!