Friday, February 29, 2008

Incompatibilism and the argument from cosmic justice

A redated post

My argument is going to be an argument from cosmic injustice. No matter how the "freedom" is described, in the final analysis you have to have a certain amount of cosmic luck to have that sort of freedom and to exercise it rightly. (Or maybe good predestination, if you are operating within a theological framework. On my view compatibilism turns the argument from evil into a really good argument). But still, the ultimate responsibility goes up the causal chain to the original source.

I don't know how you could develop a Frankfurt case that would dispel my sense of cosmic injustice that Jeffrey Dahmer is blamed for his bad actions, and Mother Teresa is credited with her good actions, in spite of the fact that Teresa and Jeffrey just happened to be on the end of causal chains that produced their respective actions.

I heard about Calvinism before I heard about compatibilism, but my objections to both are the same.

The Wikipedia on Libertarian Free Will

Hasker's critique of the case for determinsm

A redated post

Hasker consider the case for determinism

Two misconceptions about determinism

1) Determinism means that people do not make choices.

Determinists do not deny the existence of choices. They just maintain that actions are determined by past causes.

2) Determinism means that our choices make no difference.

My actions are causally effective even if determinism is true.

Arguments for determinism

1) Determinism is a necessary truth of reason. For every event that happens, there must be a sufficient cause. Otherwise the causes would be insufficient, and the event would not take place.
2) We always act on our strongest desire. Therefore, the strongest desire determines what we do. Our strongest desire is always the sufficient cause for our actions. Given our desires, we cannot do otherwise from what we do. (Psychological determinism).
3) Determinism is a presupposition of science. The scientists seeks to predict and control nature, this presuppose that nature is predictable and controllable. Science is the business of looking for and finding universal natural laws to explain everything. To deny determinism is therefore to oppose science.
4) Determinism is supported by the conclusions of the sciences.

Hasker, however, thinks that these arguments are not convincing.

1) Determinism is not self-evident. It can be asserted, but that doesn’t prove it.
2) There is no good way of deciding what one’s strongest desire is apart from seeing what motivates action. So “strongest desire” just means “the desire we act on.” Therefore the principle “We always act on our strongest desire,” just means “We always act on the desire we act on.” That’s trivially true.
3) Science seems to be getting along fine without determinism in physics. Quantum indeterminacy does not prove free will, but it does undercut the argument from presupposition for determinism.
4) The results of science also don’t support determinism. A good deal of behavioral science is statistical in nature. The existence of statistical laws is consistent with determinism, but also consistent with the rejection of determinism.

Therefore, Hasker concludes, the case for determinism is insufficient.

Another argument for determinism occurs to me. Suppose we assume a naturalistic or physicalistic world-view. If we do, then the physical world is a causally closed system. And everything else that exists, at least in space and time, is a necessary consequence of the state of the physical. Now it seems as if we don’t choose the state of the physical, since the physical is determined and determined only by other physical states. Nor are we responsible for the necessary consequences of the physical. But if our actions are the necessary consequences of the physical, then we are not responsible for our actions either.

Of course, one must be a physicalist in order to accept this argument, which Hasker is not.

Response to comments on Hasker

Also a redated post

Anon 1: These are interesting responses. Of course Max can't prevent what does happen. That isn't what libertarianism says. Libertarianism just says that when we act, we could have done otherwise.
Anon 2: He's not arguing against compatibilism because it has bad consequences. He's saying that the consequences of determinism is that moral responsibility is an illusion. That's an argument that could be used by hard determinists, who say that moral responsibility is an illusion, or by libertarians, who believe that determinism is false.
Libertarianism maintains that we are responsible for some actions, and does not require that we be responsible for all our actions.
Hasker doesn't deny that if determinism is true, we make choices. It is just that, if determinism is true, then our choices are determined and therefore we are not the ultimate causes of our actions. Therefore, in the final analysis, we aren't responsible.
Hasker is an open theist; so he does see a problem reconciling foreknowledge with free will. On his view omniscience is knowledge of all there is to know. God doesn't know the future comprehensively, according to open theism, because it depends of future free choices. Google "open theism" and find out what open theism is.
Hasker attacks the Frankfurt counterexamples of pp. 86-94 of the Emergent Self. Have these arguments been rebutted?
I don't see how, in the final analysis, I can be responsible for the logical consequences of thins I am not responsible for.
I think that if you take moral responsibility to involve a difference of desert based on a difference of conduct, I think Hasker's argument really is a slam dunk. However, there may be some concepts of moral responsiblity don't involve desert, and if we are using those concepts perhaps some sense can be made out of compatibilism. Nevertheless, I am convinced that if determinism is true then whether I am virtuous or not is a matter of moral luck.

More Hasker on free will: Hasker's refutation of compatibilism

This is a redated post also.

Hasker provides a definition of compatibilism or soft determinism

There is no logical inconsistency between free will and determinism, and that it is possible that human beings are free and responsible for their actions even though these actions are causally determined.

Of course, for it to be soft determinism, as opposed to compatibilism, it must be the case that determinism is true.

One thing a lot of people get confused about that they typically suppose that soft determinism as opposed to hard determinism is a different type of determinism—that our actions are determined in a different way depending on which type of determinism it is. That’s false. Soft determinism and hard determinism do not differ with respect to how the actions are determined. The difference is that hard determinists bite the “hard” bullet and accept the idea that moral responsibility is an illusion, while soft determinists do not.

The soft determinist position is an initially appealing one, and the textbook author (Thiroux) defends it. However, Hasker presents what I think is a powerful attack against it.

To get soft determinism off the ground, you need a concept of what it is to act freely which doesn’t conflict with determinism. According to compatibilism a free action has three characteristics:

1) It is not caused by compulsion or by states of affairs external to the agent. A compelled action would, for example, be an act performed at gunpoint. The robber says “Your money or your life!” and most people (Jack Benny excepted, who in the famous comedy sketch had to think it over), even though they desire to keep their money, give it to the robber to protect their own lives.
2) Instead the immediate cause of the action is a psychological state of affairs internal to the agent—a wish, desire, intention or something of that sort.
3) The situation is one in which it was in the agent’s power to have acted differently, if he had wanted to.

Hasker presents a refutation of compatibilism or soft determinism which to my mind is very forceful. He uses as his example the case of Max, a 17-year-old high school dropout, who was caught stealing hubcaps. He wasn’t forced to steal them, he stole them because he wanted new ones to replace his old hubcaps, which were scratched and rusty. There is, according to soft determinism a sufficient condition of his taking them—such that, given those events and circumstances, it is impossible that he should not steal the hubcaps. He calls these set of events and circumstances the proximate cause. In this case the proximate cause is his desire for new hubcaps and the belief that he could get them only by stealing them. Since these are internal states of Max, according to the compatibilist, this makes his action free and responsible.

But, Hasker says, this is an illusion. Soft determinism earns a appearance of legitimacy so long as we pay attention to the proximate cause and ignore what he calls the prior cause. The prior cause is the set of events a circumstances which together constitute a sufficient condition for the occurrence of the proximate cause, and if determinism is true, then there is a set of circumstances sufficient for the occurrence of the proximate cause all of which occurred before Max was conceived or born.

The problem if this: Max is clearly not responsible for two facts, which jointly entail that Max will steal the hubcaps.

1) The prior cause, which occurred at a time when Max did not exist.
2) The fact that if the prior cause occurs, Max will steal the hubcaps.

1) existed before Max did, and 2) is a necessary consequence of the laws of nature (or the eternal decrees of God, if God exists).

“The act of stealing is causally necessitated by the events and circumstances of the prior cause, to which Max contributed nothing at all. And given that the prior cause did occur, Max could not more prevent its inevitable outcome—the stealing of the hubcaps—than he could stay the planets in their courses or stop the crustal plates of the earth in their relentless march across the ocean floor. So determinism and moral responsibility just are incompatible, and that is that."

A Series on Freedom and Determinsm

This is a redated post.

My class in ethics will be covering the free will problem next week, so I am doing a series of posts on it. This is just to introduce a couple of the central concepts:

I’m somewhat frustrated with the textbook’s (Thiroux's) treatment of the freedom and determinism question, so I am going to present some of my own ideas on the subject. Well, for the most part I’m going to be following the chapter of William Hasker’s book Metaphysics: Constructing a World-View (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) ch. 2.

First of all, what kind of freedom is involved in the freedom and determinism problem? The answer has to be the kind of freedom that is necessary for moral responsibility. The idea of moral responsibility implies that we can deserve something bad for doing something bad, and deserve something good for doing something good. For example, it is a commonplace idea, which seems to make sense, that one should not be blamed for the color of one’s skin, and that it is unjust to give advantages to one person over another simply on the basis of race. What underlies this conviction? Is it not the fact that persons do not choose their race; that one happens to be black, or white, or red, or yellow, and that it’s impossible that one’s race could be either merited or demerited.

What at least appears to threaten this conviction is the thesis of determinism. I think that because the concept of causation is not as clear as it might be, the textbook's definition of determinism as the thesis of universal causation is inadequate. For example, we often say that smoking causes cancer, but it does not necessitate cancer. Smokers do sometimes live cancer-free lives. Hasker provides some more clarification when he defines determinism as follows:

Determinism: For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those previous events and circumstances, it is impossible that the event should not occur.

On the other hand, for Hasker, libertarianism is the thesis that:

Libertarianism: some human actions are chosen and performed by the agent without there being any sufficient condition or cause of the action prior to the action itself. (Thanks, Dennis for the correction).

Now the notion of a cause being sufficient is very important here. It is a necessary condition for me to buy your car that you offer it for sale. But your offering it for sale is not sufficient cause of my buying the car; I may choose not to buy it.

Keith Parsons thinks the objection isn't so overrated

A redated post.

Keith Parsons thinks the argument is not so overrated. See these comments in a two-journal exchange with me:

It will simply not do far Hart (or Reppert) to take refuge in familiar Humean conundrums about causality. Much of the progress of science has been progress in understanding how things interact: Plate Tectonics tells us how crustal plates interact to produce earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains and other geological phenomena. Likewise, ecology helps us to understand the enormously complex interactions with their physical environment and each other. Molecular biology explains the interactions of complex molecules, e. g. enzymes and their substrates. Even at the rock-bottom level of quarks and gluons we have well-confirmed, mathematically precise theories that often make (as in Quantum Electrodynamics) astonishingly accurate predictions. These theories tell us how fundamental particles interact.
Keith M. Parsons, "Further Reflections on the Argument from Reason" Philo (Spring-Summer 2000), 93.

As Lycan notes above, Descartes took this objection seriously, and he should have. Surely dualists owe the rest of us some sort of account. After all they posit and entity that has no physical properties (and consequently is undetectable by any empirical means), but which is not an abstract entity since it somehow interacts with physical things—in a way that violates conservation laws, by the way. Souls could not have been produced by physical means, and their putative existence raises a host of unanswerable questions. (For example, at what point at the evolution of hominids did our ancestors acquire souls? Homo habilis or Homo erectus, maybe).

Keith M. Parsons, "Need Reasons be Causes? A Further Reply to Victor Reppert's Argument from Reason", Philosophia Christi (Vol. 5, No. 1, 2003) pp. 72-73.

An overrated objection to Cartesian dualism

A redated post.

William Hasker, who is not a Cartesian dualist, thinks so.

The hoariest objection specifically to Cartesian dualism (but one still frequently taken as decisive) is that, because of the great disparity between mental and physical substances, causal interaction between them is unintelligible and impossible. This argument may well hold the record for overrated objections to major philosophical positions. What is true about it is that we lack any intuitive understanding of the causal relationship between Cartesian souls and bodies. And there is no doubt that, other things being equal, a mind-body theory that allowed such understanding would seem preferable to one that did not. The reason this is not decisive is that, as Hume pointed out, all causal relationships involving physical objects involving physical objects are at bottom conceptually opaque. We find the kinetic theory of gases, with its ping-pong-ball molecules bouncing off each other, fairly readily understandable. This, however, is only because we have learned from experience about the behavior of actual ping-pong balls, and our expectations in such cases have become so habitual that they seem natural to us; we have no ultimate insight into the causal relations except to say, “That’s the way things are.” But equally and emphatically, “the way things are” includes the fact that our thoughts, feelings, and intentions are affected by what happens to our bodies, and vice versa, and to deny these palpable facts for the sake of a philosophical theory seems a strange aberration.

William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Cornell, 1999) p. 130.

Obama doesn't want to be called a liberal

But should be be so reticent. Contrast him with JFK:

...if by a liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties..if that is what they mean by a "liberal" then I am proud to be a liberal.

Why the new atheism is illiberal

This is really an excellent piece, from the New Republic.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On hypocrites

I forgot to point out that this is a readated post, and that the first two comments were from people writing 2 and a half years ago.

Before I went offline, I went over to Maverick Philosopher's site and posted a comment which I really ought to put here.

What's very interesting about hypocrisy is that it is an inevitable by-product of having a high moral standard and rewarding socially behavior that lives up to that moral standard. If the bar is high, then you are always going to have some people who want the social benefits of appearing moral without actually being moral, and if that is the case then you'll get hypocrites. Thus it is an argument for being a member of a Christian church, and not an argument against it, that there are hypocrites in the church. If you dumb down your moral standard to the level that everyone can fairly easily satisfy, you'll get rid of the hypocrites, along with the high standard. Russell, for example, preached free sex and by golly, he practiced it! Does that say anything great about him?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Aquinas on ethics

VI. Aquinas’s teleological ethics
Similar to Aristotle, as you might expect
All events occur to achieve some end.
Humans have their own natural ends and inclination.
However, humans can choose how they will fulfill a given end.
Ethics concerns what ends are worthy to pursue.
Good fulfills our natural end, evil is a deficiency or privation, something that keeps us from fulfilling our natural goal.
VII. Are all actions either good or bad?
Aquinas distinguishes between the actions of humans and human actions. The former are voluntary, the latter are involuntary.
While the latter are neither good nor bad, the former are always either good or bad.
The will naturally desire what is good, but it needs reason to tell it what is really good and the appropriate means for achieving it.
VIII. Three features of an action
The object of the action.
The circumstances
The end that is sought.
D. All these features of an action are necessary to evaluate the goodness of an actions.
IX. Aquinas and Oprah
Consider Oprah’s giving cars away. In itself the action seems is beneficial.
However, the act can be wrong if, for example, the cars were stolen.
If the needs of the people were trivial, but the financial burdens of here family were greater, that would affect the quality of the action.
If she was just trying to get praise (or ratings) then the motive would not be worthy.
In order for an action to be truly good, the object, circumstances, and end must all be good.
X. Where Aristotle’s Moral Theory Falls Short
Aristotle’s ethics is purely naturalistic,
He treats humans as one more species in nature. He does not believe that humans have a special relationship to God. There is no sense that what is right is commanded by God.
The final end of human life is the happiness and self-fulfillment found in the appropriate development of all categories of human excellence, especially intellectual virtue.
This moral vision is good as far as it goes, but must be supplemented and corrected by a Christian understanding.
XI. The human good for Aquinas
We desire the good in its fullest form.
Any good found in the natural realm can only be a particular and finite good.
Nature does not provide us the means to fulfill our spiritual nature, but points beyond itself to what does fulfill us.
If the purpose of life is the possession of the supreme good, this can only be found in God himself.
This is not just knowledge about God, but acquaintance with God.
Perfect knowledge of God is impossible in this life, so it must be attainable in a (heavenly) afterlife.

Why Darwinian Ethics is a Screamin' Failure

This is a redated post.

This is an account of the life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The following item, in Jay's story, is what is interesting from the point of view of Darwinian ethics:

Hawkins left many children by many women. About 55 were known (or suspected) upon his death, and upon investigation, that number "soon became perhaps 75 offspring." [1]

Now from the point of view of Darwinian ethics, here is a screamin' success. This man passed on his genes 75 times! (I wonder what Wilt Chamberlain's numbers were?) But is this success? Was Hawkins even trying to pass on his genes? Or did he have more immediate goals in mind when these kids were conceived? Would Hawkins, an accomplished musician, even think that this was his own greatest accomplishment?

Yet, if Darwin's theory of evolution dictates moral norms, reproductive success would have to be the main goal of human existence. It's not, so Darwin's theory does not dictate moral norms.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More on psychological egoism

In order to affirm that all actions are really selfish, (and that is what you have to say if you're a p-egoist) we have to define a set of actions that would be unselfish if we were to perform them, and then argue that no, we never are unselfish in that sense. It is not enough to say that the desire in question is a desire that we have, and that we satisfy it by performing the action. Obviously that's the case. But it's can't be enough to say that Mother Teresa wants to comfort the dying, and therefore she does, so her action is selfish. What action of ours doesn't satisfy a desire, for crying out loud? This would be to define the word selfish in such a way as to trivialize it. What action could fail to satisfy a desire. What we have to argue is that the object of our actions is always some state of self and not some state of others. And once we define selfishness in that way, it seems that the evidence against psychological egoism just becomes overwhelming.

Consider someone who falls on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Do we have good reason to suppose that the soldier has no real interest in the safety of his fellow soldiers, and is really aiming at some good feeling he might have for falling on the grenade (for the few more seconds he's still alive?) Give me a break.

Butler on Psychological Egoism

This is an explanation of Butler's critique of psychological egoism.

Psychological egoism

A. Psychological egoism
1. Difference between psychological egoism and ethical egoism. Strong psychological egoism is the view that all of our actions are really selfish. Weak psychological egoism is the view that we often, but not always, act out of self interest. Neither doctrine support ethical egoism, the doctrine that we ought to act in our own self interest.
2. Psychological egoism is a descriptive, not a normative theory. It talks about what we actually do, not what we ought to do. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarian (thoroughly anti-egoist theory) was a psychological egoist.
3. Psychological egoism seems on its face to be false. Perhaps the easiest way to see this is to notices the sacrifices that parents make for the sake of their children.
4. Typically, however, the egoist has a response. The egoist says that all actions are really selfish because they are aimed at some state of, say, the child, the real goal is to satisfy oneself.
5. The 18th century philosopher and clergyman Joseph Butler argued that this defense of psychological egoism is based on a confusion. Invariably when we succeed achieving a goal, we receive some satisfaction. However, it doesn’t follow that the action is aimed at achieving that satisfaction. Rather, the act is aimed at a state of the child, and if it genuinely helps the child, then quite naturally some satisfaction will arise as a byproduct.
6. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of apparently altruistic actions that are in fact selfish. Take, my favorite example, Oprah Winfrey giving cars away. At least some of us might be inclined to suppose that the real purpose of her giving away cars is not the interests of the recipients, but, maybe, ratings???

Americans and C. S. Lewis: A podcast by Bruce Edwards

Bruce Edwards explains the continuing appeal of C. S. Lewis, especially amongst Americans, in this podcast.

John Depoe on Friendly Atheism

Sometimes, I wish present-day atheists would put their Dawkins down for an hour or so and read a classic essay like William Rowe's "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism."

Hasker on the problem of interaction

Since Mark Frank has raised the issue that dualism has a problem dealing with the possibility of mind-body interaction, I thought I should link to a passage from Hasker's book which was quoted on John DePoe's blog.

Frank Dilley's defense of Cartesian Dualism

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stanford Encyclopedia on Moral Relativism

Is there a secular argument against homosexuality?

This is a redated post.

When people say "the purpose of X is Y," what do they mean? Well, if what we are talking about was created by a human being, then we are talking about the intended purpose for the object. The purpose of glasses is to help you see something, the purpose of a baseball is to be used the game of baseball, the purpose of a car is to impress girls, etc. But what if the object is a natural object. The purpose of your eye is to see, but what does that mean. If you believe that they eye was intelligently designed, then we have an intended purpose. But what if you don't believe that natural objects were intelligently designed. Well, there is Darwinian function. Something exists because its performing a certain function allowed the thing to be selected for by evolution. The purpose of your eye is to see because it is the seeing capacity of the eye that permitted critters with eyes to survive.

Aristotle seems to have a concept of purpose that is neither an intended purpose nor a Darwinian purpose. It is a natural tendency of something to reach a certain goal. The metaphor here is that of the acorn and the oak tree. The natural progression of the acorn is toward an oak tree, and not toward a tomato plant. But although Aristotle believes in an unmoved mover, the unmoved mover does not intend for the acorn to become an oak, because the UMM is pure thought thinking itself and it is not even aware of the acorn.

Is this concept of natural purpose plausible? Sometimes people argue against homosexuality in virtue of the fact that it conflcts with the procreative natural purpose of sexuality. If "purpose" is intended purpose, then we are going to need some information from the one who has a purpose for us in order to know if that claim is correct. That would, of course, make the argument a religious argument. The fact that homosexuality is a Darwinian liability isn't much of an argument. After all, we have no moral mandate to reproduce as much as possible. So maybe what people have in mind is an Aristotelian sense. But is Aristotelian purpose plausible in the absence of intended purpose? I don't think so.

Theistic ethics

This is a redated post.

This is in response to some comments of Ed's.

Most theistic ethics is far beyond the "Becuase I said so" or even the "Because is said so and if you don't you're going to hell." That's an awfully crude and misleading picture of Christian ethics. The overall view that could be sketched goes something like this. God creates humans so that they will be able to get along for an eternity if they develop certain states of character. Certain states of character are reinforced by certain types of actions, and undermined by certain other types of actions. God then reveals to humans (slowly, over a period of evolving understanding) what kinds of actions will result in eternal flourishing. God creates you in such a way that your intended purpose and your inherent purpose are the same. You can only by happy forever by allowing yourself to be converted in to a person with a certain type of character.

It seems to me that, depending on some contingent features of human life, you might be able to be happier overall, by being a completely immoral, selfish SOB if it were really 70 years and out. With an eternity I think that's ruled out.

Purpose, morality, and God

There is a complicated issue as to whether a belief in a purpose for human existence commits you to some religious view or other. One ordinarily thinks of purposes as requiring a purposer. Aristotle was one philosopher who did not think in this way; there is an inherent purpose for human life but it is not a purpose intended by the Unmoved Mover (Aristotle's version of God) but is inherent in human nature itself. However, modern forms of atheism, such as materialism, tend to eliminate that kind of purpose as well. On these atheistic views we acquire certain behavioral propensities from nature, we are taught other in order to make us easy to deal with as members of the social groups of which we are a part, and it seems as if on these world-views the question is left open as to whether "being moral" is in our interests as human beings or not.

Behaving in ways that at least appear moral seems necessary for the fulfilment of the goals of many of us as social beings. But we also have social motivations for doing things that morality ordinarily considers to be wrong. You faced a lot of disapproval if you opposed segregation in the pre-civil-rights South, for example. We also have sympathetic feelings for other people, and those feelings often push us in the direction of socially praiseworthy behavior, with or without religion. But sometimes the sentiment of sympathy can lead us to act unjustly.

But if our makeup isn't terribly social and isn't terribly sympathetic, what motivation to we have to be moral?

Buddhism, of course, has no God, per se, put it has an ulitmate goal for human life: Nirvana.

Adding religion to the mix is also double-edged in the sense that if someone can convince themselves that what they want to do is what God wants, even though it isn't what most of us would call moral, how do you argue with them? How do you argue against God? But at least rationally, such religious position can be criticized from the standpoint of religion itself.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What is conservatism? Some reflections from Paul's ponderings

I was growing up in Arizona when Barry Goldwater ran for President. Back then I know what a conservative was. A lot of things go by the name of "conservatism" today and I am not at all sure we understand the term so clearly now. I do know this. Someone who lowers taxes but spends like a drunken sailor is not a conservative.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More clarification of causal closure

The causal closure principle is a doctrine designed largely to explain what a materialistic world-view must be committed to at minimum. In my analysis of what a philosophical materialist, and, I would say also, a philosophical naturalist must believe, there are three doctrines which comprise is:

1) A purpose-free physical level.
2) The causal closure of the physical level.
3) The supervenience of everything that cannot be captured in the language of physics upon that which can be captured in the language of basic physics.

(It gets a little more complicated when you want to bring in timeless entities like numbers, for example, or even sets. However, such entities, if they exist, are irrelevant to how events are produced in the world).

Now causal closure is consistent with epiphenomenalist forms of dualism, according to which there are mental substances that do not cause any effects in the physical world.

Yes, the AFR is an attack on the causal closure principle, in fact one of the classic defenses of it, chapter 3 of William Hasker's The Emergent Self, is entitled "Why the Physical Isn't Closed."

Why should we believe the causal closure principle? Well, for the reasons that are offered for being a philosophical naturalist of some kind. If the physical world is all there is, then nothing else exists.

So yes, my argument from reason is an attack on the causal closure principle. But I was simply trying to explicate what a contemporary naturalist believes.

There are some people who call themselves philosophical naturalists who deny the causal closure principle, though I think that position leads to incoherence.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Condolences to NIU

I spent a year teaching four Contemporary Moral Issues classes at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL (famous, and famous only, for the university and the flying ears of corn signs I have even seen in Arizona). So I was shocked to hear that a school shooting took place at that school. I am praying for all the wounded and for that university's community as well.

Beversluis, Lewis, and Jaegwon Kim on causal closure

Here is an interesting passage in Beversluis chapter on the argument from reason:

JB: Naturalists believe that everything that happens within the total system is caused by something internal to it, so that nothing is independent in a way that enables it to escape this vast interlocking causal web. In short, nature is a self-contained and closed system. By "closed" Lewis means causally closed. So defined, naturalism is a form of determinism--the philosophical theory that everything that happens, happens necessarily as a result of antecedent causes given which nothing could else could have happened. So by naturalism, Lewis means deterministic naturalism. thus, he declares, "no thoroughgoing naturalist believes in freee will (M1, 17). It is important to notice that his argument depends on the assumption that there are ony two alternatives: deterministic naturalism and supernaturalism. If other choices exist, the refutation of the former would not entail the truth of hte latter, as Lewis claims it does.

VR: So in this passage Beversluis commits Lewis to understanding naturalism as deterministic, with the implication that forms of naturalism that deny determinism are not naturalistic. Intereesing Lewis does discuss the denial of determinism through quantum-mechanical indeterminism and says that this would be a rejection of strict natruralism but not an affirmation of supernaturalism, since it would admit a Subnatural realm rather than a supernatural realm. I have discussed this in a couple of posts, but what I had not seen before was the fact that Beversluis seems to think that causal closure entails determinsm.

As defined by contemporary philosophers such as Jaegwon Kim, closure does not entail determinism. Kim writes:

JK: The first of these is the principle that the physical world constitutes a causally closed domain. For our purposes we may state it as follows:The causal closure of the physical domain. If a physical event has a cause at t, then it has a physical cause at t.
There is also an explanatory analogue of this principle (but we will make no explicit use of it here): If a physical event has a causal explanation (in terms of an event occurring at t), it has a physical causal explanation (in terms of a physical event at t).8 According to this principle, physics is causally and explanatorily self-sufficient: there is no need to go outside the physical domain to find a cause, or a causal explanation, of a physical event. It is plain that physical causal closure is entirely consistent with mind-body dualism and does not beg the question against dualism as such; it does not say that physical events and entities are all that there are in this world, or that physical causation is all the causation that there is. As far as physical causal closure goes, there may well be entities and events outside the physical domain, and causal relations might hold between these nonphysical items. There could even be sciences that investigate these nonphysical things and events. Physical causal closure, therefore, does not rule out mind-body dualism--in fact, not even substance dualism; for all it cares, there might be immaterial souls outside the spacetime physical world. If there were such things, the only constraint that the closure principle lays down is that they not causally meddle with physical events--that is, there can be no causal influences injected into the physical domain from outside. Descartes's interactionist dualism, therefore, is precluded by physical causal closure; however, Leibniz's doctrine of preestablished harmony and mind-body parallelism, like Spinoza's double-aspect theory,9 are perfectly consistent with it. Notice that neither the mental nor the biological domain is causally closed; there are mental and biological events whose causes are not themselves mental or biological events. A trauma to the head can cause the loss of consciousness and exposure to intense radiation can cause cells to mutate.

VR: In short, the causal closure principle doesn't imply that there are determining physical causes for every event, only that there are no non-physical causes for any event. The argument from reason, on the other hand, if successful, intends to show that there are non-physical causes for the mental states involved in rational inference. The causal closure principle that Kim presents is sufficient to generate argument from reason. If Lewis had had Kim's definition of causal closure to work with, he would not have saddled the naturalist with determinism, but the argument from reason would not have been effected, since if the AFR works, it requires not merely the denial of physical determinism but also of the causal closure principle as defined by Kim.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reply to Normajean's query

Normajean: You once summarized Quine stating that physical facts do not logically entail mental facts, just as physical facts do not logically entail moral facts. Getting an "about" from an "is" is just as impossible as getting an "ought" from an is, and for much the same reason.

VR: The analogy to the problem of getting an ought from an is is mine, not Quine's. But the idea is that many people argue, and I think they are right about this, that if you add up all the physical truths, broadly conceeived, you cannot get to any conclusion like "Jones ought to stop beating his wife." The physical facts are facts of the wrong type to entail any moral truths. Such truths, if they existed would, as J. L. Mackie puts it, be queer pieces of furniture in a physicalistic world.

At the same time, if you add up all the physical facts, it doesn't seem to me that what someone's thought is about is strictly entailed. Physical facts, by their very nature, are going to underdetermine mental states like beliefs, and even just the entertaining of propositions. Whatever the state of the physical world is, it is compatible with a multiplicity of mental states, or even, with no mental states at all (in which case we'd all be zombies). Physical states don't entail the existence of determinate mental states. But, whatever exists must be determined by the physical, then it follows that there is no fact of the matter as to what our thoughts are about, and that has all sorts of disturbing implications. For example, it means that we don't literally add, subtract, multiply, divide, or take square roots of numbers.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Case for God

This website offers links to treatments of arguments in support of the existence of God. I am represented twice here.

I fixed the link.

Friday, February 08, 2008

This will be my latest on the AFR

I wrote 87 pages of text, plus footnotes, for this sucker. I think it will be my best effort at explaining and developing the argument.

Beversluis interviewed by Infidelguy

This is available now.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A secular outpost discussion of some of my objections to the argument from evil

A redated post. I should say that I don't endorse the claim that "if no one gets unjustly damned then whatever God dishes out is OK." At least not in my present state of mind. But if I held to such a theory, how would you refute me?

Jeff Lowder responds in this and in a previous post to some discussion of mine on the argument from evil. It seems to be a matter of figuring out the "scope" of arguments. I suppose you can have one argument that says that consciousness itself is more probable on theism than on naturalism. You might have another that says the fact that consciousness depends on the brain as much as it does confirms naturalism over theism. And then you have another argument that says that, given that it exists, the degree to which our conscious life is unpleasant and painful is more probable on naturalism than on theism. I still maintain that important phenomena that give rise to the problem of evil are themselves deeply problematic for naturalism, including consciousness, objective moral values (and yes I know all about running it as a reductio without presupposing objective moral values--I still think subjectivism undercuts the argument), and rational inference (we couldn't argue from evil if we can't infer). I'm agnostic as to whether an argument from evil can be made that disconfirms theism to some extent. What I object to is the claim that the argument from evil is a single, overriding reason for rejecting theism, that justifies irrationality charges against believers in God. At best it's one piece of the puzzle that goes the naturalist's way. Why is it supposed to me more important than all the other pieces?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Richard Purtill responds to Everitt's argument

Actually, Purtill's entire Reason to Believe, an Eerdmans apologetics book that came out in 1974, is online. In the chapter entitled "The Accusation of Credulity" there is his version of the AFR, which I criticize somewhat in my Christian Scholar's Review paper on the Lewis-Anscombe controversy.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The other four spiritual laws

Attributed to a preacher named Steve Brown.

1. There is only one God.
2. You're not it.
3. Admit it,
4. And repent.

Is consciousness a brain process?

I don't know. This one stopped processing in 2000.