Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Answers to some questions from Anonymous

Q: I'm curious: why is naturalism (i.e., the denial of the supernatural) committed to the causal closure of the physical? Or is it?

VR: I wouldn't simply treat naturalism as the denial of the supernatural, because there are world-views according to which are mentalistic in nature but maintain that reality is, in the last analysis mental and not physical. If that is the case, the natural/supernatural distinction breaks down. I prefer to ask a different fundamental question, are the basic causes operating in the universe mental or non-mental. If we analyze down to the bottom, as it were, and reasons are still in the explanation, then we have a mentalistic world-view, even if it is not traditional theism. If we analyze down to the bottom and the mental is analyzed out, then we have a non-mentalistic world view.

Q: Second, are *theists* committed to the causal closure of the most basic level of reality?

VR: Certainly not the causal closure of the non-mental.

Q: Finally, if abstract objects exist, then they are arguably a part of "the basic level of reality". If so, then wouldn't that mean that there's no violation of causal closure even if abstract objects and the physical interact? If you don't like causal-talk here (perhaps it's rejected that abstracta and concreta can't causally interact, although they must be related in *some* way), then replace such talk with "influence".

VR: No, the non-mental world goes on without reference to the abstract objects. For objects in the space-time manifold to pay heed to abstract objects would mean that they do something other than what the laws and prior facts would indicate that the will. Hence, something that "doesn't fit in" to the physical is breaking in to the physical. Lewis says that that is "supernatural", but it isn't spooky or weird or ghostly. It's just irreducibly mentalistic.


Johnny-Dee said...

I think one of the key issues in the causal closure debate is whether any immediate (or proximate) causes can be teleological or intentional or purpose-oriented. On first blush, the naturalist is committed to all immediate causes being non-teleological. This would seem to saddle the naturalist with a reductive or epiphenomenal account of the mind. Of course, this ties into William Hasker's criticisms of physicalism.

Anonymous said...

That's fine. Define things however you like. Still, the view that there is the physical world plus abstracta, where the latter can enter into relations with the former, is an interesting, apparently coherent view, whether or not it entails the denial of the causal closure of the physical (it does not necessarily deny the causal -- or influence -- closure of the most basic level of reality, if abstracta are basic).

Also, about teleological aspects of the basic level of reality: theism allows for brute teleology that God doesn't cause or explain (viz., the teleology of his own mind). If that's not a problem for the theist, then it seems to me that they have no decent complaint against non-theistic views of the world that allow for brute teleology.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,
What would the "mental being analyzed out" look like?

Not disagreeing, just trying to understand.

Mike Darus said...

I think anonymous has it backward. The theist has no problem explaining the mind of God since that is essentially what God is under this terminology (the theological terminology is spirit). The challenge is explaining how God as a non-physical mental (spirit) being interacts with the physical world.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. With theism, you have teleology that God doesn't cause right there in God's nature. If we allow brute, bedrock order/teleology/functionality in *this* case, then why not for the universe?

It's not as though the claim that all order/teleology comes always and necessarily from minds is a synthetic a priori proposition. But if not, then we need a poseriori evidence for it. Unfortunately, this isn't what we see. Order/teleology is observed to come from minds, but it also comes from instinct (e.g., the functionality and order of spider's webs), and it is observed to come from prior internal principles of order (e.g., seeds give rise to rosebushes). So we have multiple observed causes of order/teleology.

So what are the most fundamental causes of such *derivative* order? Well, the best we can do is reason from from the observed causes of order to unobserved, ultimate causes of order via arguments from analogy. But if so, then since there are multiple *observed* causes of *derivative* order, and some of these are non-intelligent in nature, then we have no principled way of ruling out that the *fundamental* causes of order are analogous to the *non-intelligent* causes we observe.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "I disagree. With theism, you have teleology that God doesn't cause right there in God's nature. If we allow brute, bedrock order/teleology/functionality in *this* case, then why not for the universe?"

Teleology (and, for that matter, functionality) points to intentionality, to a goal, to a purpose, to an end-result.

Definitionally, to speak of teleology is to speak of goal(s), purposes, end-results towards with something is striving ... which is, after all, implicit in the very word. And, to speak of a goal is to speak of an intention; for there can be no goal if there is no intention.

And, there is no such thing as an intention if there is not a *mind* doing the intending.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you want to argue that way, do you?

First, you beg the question when you assert that there can be no goal if there is no intention. And as I have pointed out before, there seems to be no good a priori or a posteriori basis for tying goal -- or at least parts working together to perform a function or bring something about -- to intention and mind.

Second, the principle would prove too much, as then the funtionality of God's mind would then require an intended goal by a prior designer.

Ilíon said...

Amazingly enough, I do generally mean to say exactly what I say. Do you not?