Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A simple statement of the argument from reason

You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. On that side, there can be no intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, or teleology. Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the right hand side, the "mental" side of the equation, where we do find intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, and teleology. There is always room for indeterminacy, or, for that matter, room for zombies. The physical works just fine, but there's just no there there. 

Yet the naturalist cannot deny that there is determinate reference. The arguments of the philosophers, the observational reports of the sciences, and the equations of the mathematicians must have determinate meanings. Otherwise, science is impossible, and the case for naturalism collapses. 

Therefore, if naturalism is true, the very things that are supposed to support it, such as argument and reason, aren't real. Only in a universe where the marks of the mental are metaphysically fundamental are these things possible. 


Dan Lower said...

So basically the only naturalist response is to say that everything that requires a separate mental realm must just be some illusion generated by physical processes? Or does not even that meet the standard of an adequate reply?

J said...

You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. On that side, there can be no intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, or teleology.

Debatable. Even primates and other higher-order mammals seem to show some evidence of intentionality (or sentience as they say). It's not to the level of humans, of course, but one might say higher-order mammals have a primitive type of decision-making ability, which is not strictly mechanical/stimulus response. A cat hunting birds does not act like a robot, exactly. Or the chimps which learn a bit of sign language. So, given a few million years, humans outpaced chimps--but are closer to chimps with high-powered CPUs than to, well, angels.

We might agree to the anomaly of humans in terms of language, mathematics, tool-making, "normativity' etc, but you haven't really shown the necessity of a religious explanation. And really, a lioness protecting her cubs might be said to show normativity of some basic sort as well.

J said...

That said, the argument from reason deserves some respect. One should engage in some reflection before putting Descartes into the tumbril-of-the-Mind....

The usual fundie-WASP- baptist or tends to be as far from Cartesian or even Aristotelian rationalism as a TH Huxley-worshipping bottlewasher, however.

Gregory said...

The AFR eliminates the "non-religious" explanations for cognition, subjectivity, intentionality and computational abilities.

So, if AFR is successful, then there's no longer a debate over whether a "religious" explanation is needed. Of course, a "religious" explanation is not only needed, but is also necessary, because there is no longer a viable "non-religious" explanation. The "non-religious" hypothesis will have categorically failed to provide any convincing reason to commend itself to thoughtful inquirers.

So, even if the details of the religious explanation are significantly lacking, that does not change the fact that the non-religious explanation has been falsified. Lacking the stringent, panoramic explanatory religious details, however high a standard the skeptic will unrealistically set for the religious hypothesis, is still not going to help salvage a bankrupt physicalist ontology. That's true, no matter how sparse the details involved in the religious hypothesis might be.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

"Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the right hand side, the "mental" side of the equation, where we do find intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, and teleology."


It doesn't _look_ as if there is no entailment. I don't see the absence of an entailment. I don't see the entailment, sure. I can't trace the logical relations from the left to the right or the right to the left, but that's a far more modest point. It's a point that is consistent with the idea that there are necessary connections between the propositions on both sides of the equation that can be known only aposteriori. Can this argument be updated to accommodate cases of aposteriori necessity?

Gordon Knight said...

J: What does the reasoning power, intentionality, and purposefulness of non human animals have to do with this case. It just adds more evidence to the anti-naturalist argument.

J said...

Only if you claim higher-mammals also have souls of some type.

Really, the AFR makes an ontological claim about Mind, but it's not really proven--that's why I say it's vaguely cartesian (or as a philosophaster says,say the "entailment" has not been established--intention -> soul/Mind).

It's not impossible (or contradictory) to say that people have intentionality, make decisions, use language, play chess,etc. AND that thinking is bio-chemical, neurologically based. Indeed looks like the case. Confirm by quaffing a few shots of cuervo, and then posting some philosophical reflections on your favorite JackHandy.com . The penal code is compatibilist (if not naturalist): over three drinks, and your Cogito no longer works, says the law.

Victor Reppert said...

Many dualists are also dualists about at least some animals. Human uniqueness is not an issue here.

J said...

Uniqueness or not, the argument does not suffice as a proof of dualism, at least of the full-blown Cartesian sort (intention may imply Mind, but it doesn't necessarily imply a Soul). It looks more like a case for, well, uniqueness.

Gregory said...

When speaking of Neurological processes, it's appropriate to speak of things like atomic particle distribution via nerve synapses, axon and myelin sheath, electron passage rates, PLP's, serotonin- norepinephrine levels, etc.

But when we speak of "reason", we speak of things like propositional truth-value, validity, soundness, deduction, induction, concluding inferences, modalities, signs/symbols, DeMorgan's rules, modifiers, logical "completeness" within a system of mathematics, etc.

When we speak of the nature of subjective awareness, we speak of things like qualia (i.e. the felt texture of experience), thoughts about thoughts or other things, creativity, the act of willing, elation, sadness, etc.

There is no analogue between neuro-biological processes and the acts of thinking and feeling. Biological processes are governed by the repetitive operations of uniform, static laws; whereas, the human mind and will are not. The "laws" which govern biological entity's, as well as the material makeup itself, could not care any less about premises, conclusion, validity, soundness, deduction, hypothetical propositions, truth-value, etc. And, most certainly, normative ethics, goodness and virtue have no bearing upon the actual physical operations and properties of material objects...including the human brain.

Therefore, we are left with 2 options here:

1) Monism is false
2) Reason, subjective awareness and freewill are false.

Since option 2 cannot be argued for, therefore, option 1 is true.

If reason, logic and inference were dependent upon, and/or originated from, physical and biological processes, then the laws of reason, logic and inference would be wholly malleable; subject to the mercy of whatever physical changes might occur in the brain. In that case, in respect to the laws of thought, such "laws" are not really lawful but, instead, are in complete flux.....to the extent that the physical makeup of the brain is in flux.

Unknown said...

intention may imply Mind, but it doesn't necessarily imply a Soul

What do you understand the difference to be?

J said...

Induction, truth value, verification, empiricism of whatever sort relate to perception. An eye-witness to a crime, say a theft, knows something about external reality. Without seeing the theft occur, he wouldn't (except maybe by braille in a book or something, but he certainly would not know it occurred). Perception depends on our visual apparatus. That visual apparatus is bio-chemical in nature (eyes, neurons, associated brain area); thus it is physicalist. So it's not that bio-chemical laws don't "care"; human thinking depends on those bio-chemical processes and physiological structure. We are conditioned by the cognitive and physiological givens (like the parameters of human eyesight). If you had eyeballs all around your head or covering your body, and you were 20 ft tall, or had wings, reality would be completely different--as would society, really.

Providing a physicalist account of logic/mathematics may be slightly more challenging, but not impossible. Humans extracted numbers, basic equations, and then geometry from experience, over centuries of trial and error. An abacus provides more evidence than does Platonic metaphysics. Through processes of abstractions, axioms take form--via the babylonians, to Euclid, pythagoras, et al--. Math was valued as a tool, obviously--it has agriculture, business, building, military uses; counting especially was needed by merchants. Most of those ancient babylonian clay tablets are related to some type of accounting.

An empirical account of mathematics, or logical axioms (say law of contradiction) is not impossible. It becomes a matter of competing explanations.

Blue Devil Knight said...

We also don't find hearts, digestion, respiration in physics, but that doesn't mean they aren't part of nature.

Clayton's comment seems to have been missed, so let me unpack it.

Just because two terms mean different things doesn't mean they are talking about different things. 'Lightning' and 'electrostatic discharge' have different meaning, but it turned out (as a result of empirical discovery) that they were identical.

Water, which people were all familiar with well before the advent of chemistry, turned out to be identical with H20. This is true even though the concept of 'water' and the concept of 'H20' are not the same, they have quite different meanings, and it could have turned out they weren't identical.

In sum, while I can agree that our theories describing neuronal events and mental events seem to be talking about different things, it is a mistake to infer an ontological difference from a semantic or linguistic difference.

We've been through this a lot at this blog, it seems we might have a fourth generation of commenters (first gen was me versus Derek Barefoot, second gen was JD Walters, third gen was Ilion et al, and now we seem to have new blood). Each generation the signal to noise has dropped dramatically but this new group actually seems to buck that trend (can't get much lower signal to noise than Ilion).

Victor Reppert said...

I was going to respond to Clayton as soon as I got the time. And the water=H20 example occurred to me when he wrote it.

But look at how the water case went historically. We started calling something water that had certain phenomenal properties. We were prepared to call anything water that had those properties. We figured out that the only thing that ever had those properties had a particular chemical structure. We melded the idea of water with the idea of having just that chemical structure. In other words, it looks as if when the discovery was made, language made a shift to the chemical structure conception. The class of objects now referred to as water changed intension but extension remained the same.

When we get to intentional matters, we are being told that we are not going to get a single brain-structure that will be present in all cases of, say, thinking about Obama. Correct me if I'm wrong about this, but if we examined everybody's brain who is thinking about Obama right now, neuroscience would not be able to go in and say "Aha. There it is. The Obama configuration. That's what he's thinking about. Hmmm. This looks like a Republican brain, since his endorphins drop every time he thinks about Obama. You don't get that with a Democratic brain."

So I'm not sure these water examples help at all.

And then you have the problem of non-normative information entailing something normative. If you don't think you can derive "morally good" from physical configurations, why do you think you can get "thinking about Obama" from those same configurations.

J said...

You're missing the point on dualism, BDK, even if we might agree with some of your conclusions. Water to H20 is inductive knowledge. The nomenclature is provisional (a fact overlooked by some bottlewashers). Yet other types of knowledge--say mathematics and logical axioms--are not a matter of induction.

I'm not agreeing with the dualists per se, but it's a mistake to say all knowledge works like Kripke's trite water = H20 example. What is the evidence which would confirm the law of non-contradiction? How was that established? Or even Peano's n + 1. Not readily apparent. Even Ayers granted a priori knowledge presented difficulties, perhaps unsolvable (at least until cog-sci advances a few centuries) to positivism/naturalism. That doesn't mean one thereby agrees its transcendent knowledge/Cartesian, but does seem to point at Mind.

Steven Carr said...

So how do souls think about things?

Is the answer always 'magic' or do dualists ever have any other answer?

There is a reason why dualism has proved to be utterly sterile as a way of finding out anything about anything.

Steven Carr said...

Many dualists are also dualists about at least some animals.

What do dualists look for when determining if an animal exhibits duality?

Genetic similarity to Homo sapiens? Possession of an amygdala?

Being breathed at by God? The ability to beat Garry Kasparove in a 6-game chess match?

I would be interested in how dualists worked out which animals were dualistic , unable to be explained by physical descriptions of their brain states.

Presumably a chimpanzee that can intelligently hit something with a stick cannot be explained by a complete description of its brain states, in stark contrast to a machine which can beat Gazza at chess.

Blue Devil Knight said...

J: I never said nor implied that all knowledge works like Kripke's water/H20 example. My point was that such examples kill any simple arguments from meaning/semantics to ontology.

J said...

In general it's best to avoid grandiose ontological claims. At the same time, Platonism (of various sorts) however quaint presents a formidable challenge, quite different than the dogma of a Billy Bob Baptist or altar boys (or temple boys)

Edwardtbabinski said...

Vic, Your argument proves nothing about the "metaphysical" in the sense of "supernatural" world.

Victor Reppert said...

Did I use the word supernatural anywhere in the argument?

Edwardtbabinski said...

Vic, you're trying to smuggle in something "more than natural" by predefining what "nature" can and cannot do. In your opinion electro-chemical reactions in a complex assemblage of neurons connected with accute sensory apparatus and plenty of memory (and self-reflexive recursion programs) cannot explain consciousness. But in the opinion of naturalists, it can.

You use the "nothing buttery" argument when you discuss "atoms and equations" as if they represented "nothing" but themselves, and you use the thought that "that is all there is" according to naturalists. So you cannot even imagine how a naturalist might get a "mind" out of such things.

Vic, ask yourself how do you get ANYTHING out of atoms and equations? Molecules? Organs? Colors? Sounds? Reproducing organisms with teeny brains and then larger and more complex and faster brains? None of that is inherent in atoms and equations if you want to press your initial premise. But naturalism does not begin and END with that premise of yours, naturalism may also include concepts like emergence in their philosophy.

WHAT YOU SHOULD ATTEMPT TO DO IS LOCATE AN UNCROSSABLE BOUNDARY BETWEEN TWO SPECIES EVOLUTIONARY RELATED ALONG A SPECTRUM OF DESCENDANTS, ON ONE SIDE OF WHICH THE BRAIN IS NATURAL, AND ON THE OTHER SIDE OF WHICH IT IS "BEYOND NATURE." Have fun attempting to discover such an inviolable boundary. I'd thought at one time that perhaps the ability of a species to recognize itself in a mirror might do. But that raises other questions, since that type of consciousness exists in some monkeys, but not all monkeys, and also in species that have evolved larger more complex brain-minds along separate evolutionary lines of descent, like dolphins and elephants.

Gregory said...

Human thought, creativity and acts of the will, are not "natural". Meaning, they are not predictable by any natural laws (or any subset of such laws). Nor do they find their source, therefrom. Rather, human thought, creativity and acts of the will happen to be the sorts of things by which we observe, analyze, philosophize and propose theories about, physical things.

If physicalism/naturalism were actually true, then one's beliefs about physicalism/naturalism would be due to one's physical/genetic makeup and the imposition of the laws of physics. Granting that one's theoretical vantage point is wholly determined by physical happenstance, then one could never know that physicalism was true or not. The physicalist beliefs are verisimilitudinous. They have the quality of seeming to be true, to be sure. But the same holds true for the religious believer's beliefs.

The perplexity of the physicalist situation is this:

The same physical modalities, configurations and causes that give rise to "naturalist" beliefs, likewise, give rise to "religious" beliefs. And, so, both parties beliefs are actually veridical, since they are both grounded in the same explanatory source (i.e. the "physical"). If a "naturalist" or a "non-naturalist" happens to change beliefs, the explanation for those respective "conversions" will be wholly anchored in the "physical". Even the criticism or commendation of such "conversions" are, in the final analysis, rooted entirely in one's physicality. Therefore, the ontology of physicalism generates an irreducibly incoherent epistemic state of affairs.

It is only by stepping outside the matrix of physical causation (i.e. natural law) that one is able to analyze, and pontificate about, the nature of physics, physical theory, logic and metaphysics. And the very ability to communicate, discuss and debate this issue is ontologically grounded on a non-reductive duality between "mind" and "matter". The notion that this debate is one of "science" vs. "superstition", or of "rationality" vs. "religion", is nothing but the same trite verbiage rehashed from the "Skeptics Bible of Oft Quoted Cliches".

So, what is paramount for the freethinker to understand is that physicalism collapses into an epistemic blackhole, from which no light can possibly escape.

Steven Carr said...

Another person who thinks the laws of the universe do not apply to them.

They work by magic, while the rest of the universe works by physical laws.

Gregory said...

To Steven Carr:

Another skeptic who can excuse poor argumentation...or even non-argumentation...by appealing to "natural law". It's like the naturalist version of the "devil made me do it" excuse. All behavioral sins are excused because...well, "nature" configured me this way.

Carr, don't hate me or my religion. Hate the "natural" processes which made us. I mean...how dare you blame "nature" for making me and my religion the way that we are. Can't you give poor old Evolution a break?

So, I guess you really aren't a naturalist after all. I guess you must have great contempt for the "natural" order and it's nomic processes. Well, that's just the way you were made, I suppose.

Or, are you now ready to actually deal with my ontological assessment, rather than emote and opine?

Anonymous said...

Physicalism and naturalism are not the same thing. Vic's blog and several comments here are confused about this, it seems.

Victor Reppert said...

Physicalism and naturalism are not the same thing. Vic's blog and several comments here are confused about this, it seems.

How are they interestingly different, Teague? In physicalism, the basic stratum is the physical, and something can't be physical unless it lacks intentionality, subjectivity, normativity, and purpose. Everything else is a system byproduct of physics, which has nothing in it containing those four characteristics.

Naturalists, I suppose, could refuse to call the basic level the physical if they wanted to. But where would that get us? At the end of the day, we have to either affirm or deny that the mental, as I have described it, is operating causally at the most basic level of analysis. There could be naturalisms, I suppose, that were distinct from physicalism, but they would have exactly the difficulty that I have been posing for physicalism.

Steven Carr said...

At the end of the day, we have to either affirm or deny that the mental, as I have described it, is operating causally at the most basic level of analysis.

What does 'the most basic level' mean?

You mean you don't need to analyse the mental to see if there is a brain somewhere?

To quote the article Victor linked to '... just as electrons can act on the brain and influence the mind...'

So how can the mental be 'the most basic level of analysis' when Victor praises ground breaking work which just assumes as taken for granted that we need to look at electrons to see what they cause the mind to do.