Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Materialist Strategies

Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.

However, it is important to notice something about materialist philosophies. They not only believe that the world is material, they also perforce believe that the truth about that material world can be discovered, and is being discovered, by people in the sciences, and that, furthermore, there are philosophical arguments that ought to persuade people to eschew mentalistic worldviews in favor of materialistic ones. They do think that we can better discover the nature of the world by observation and experimentation than by reading tea leaves. Arguments from reason are arguments that appeal to necessary conditions of rational thought and inquiry. Thus, they have what on the face of things is an advantage over other arguments, in that they have a built-in defense against error theory responses. If there is no truth, they cannot say that materialism is true. If there are no beliefs, then they cannot say we ought to believe that materialism is true. If there is no mental causation, then they cannot say that our beliefs ought to be based on supporting evidence. If there are no logical laws, the we cannot say that the argument from evil is a good argument. If our rational faculties as a whole are unreliable, then we cannot argue that the religious beliefs are formed by irrational belief-producing mechanisms. Hence, arguments from reason have what I call a transcendental impact — that is, appeal to things that, if denied, undermine the most fundamental convictions of philosophical materialists.

"The Argument from Reason" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2009), p. 350.


Trav said...

Great post.

Steven Carr said...

So still plugging the magic minds that think by themselves without any laws of cause and effect applying to them?

Meanwhile, in the real world, scientists continue to discover what parts of the brain are responsible for what parts of the mind, although the picture is hardly complete.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you read the work of some real scientists to see what they actually do Carr. "Phantoms in the Brain" by Ramachandran is a good starting point. What they do is find functional properties of brainareas. Without many further assumptions this has nothing to do with subjectivity or qualia. These further assumptions though are not something scientists work on, it's the area of philosophy.

Steven Carr said...

I've read that book.

Almost every finding is totally inexplicable on Victor's theory that he no more needs a brain for thinking than this imaginary God does.

Alphonsus said...

Steven, you might want to read this series on dualism by Edward Feser:

J said...

VR raises a few decent points, which at least suggest Mind, and the anomalous nature of ...language (including logical/mathematical language), but that doesn't necessarily imply substance dualism (or theological orthodoxy)....immanence of some form another possibility...

The Truth most likely resides somewhere between the Uncle Meat materialists, and the Cartesian spook (which even Feser upholds via his theological readings of Aristotle)---

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I am constantly amused by laymen (not genuine scientists - they never talk like this) who latch onto the latest studies in brain function and say, "Aha! this proves that there is no actual consciousness or free will. It can all be explained away by structures and activities within the brain!" Such a conclusion is akin to my saying, "Aha! I have an eye, and I can show what it's made of and explain how it operates - therefore, there is no such thing as light!"

J said...

Anny, does that mean that theologians--like Edvard Feser, a specialist in pre-Gallilean, pre-Copernican thought of Aquinas (Aristotle, et al)-- do have some insights into neurology and brain science? Quoting the latest Sci-Am article on brain research could hardly be less scientific than quoting St. Thomas, believer in witchcraft, astrology, so forth.

Neither a dogmatic dualist nor uncle meat materialist be.

Alphonsus said...

J, Feser is, as far as I know, a philosopher and generally argues based on philosophical principles. In the posts I linked to, he expressed annoyance at the way certain contemporary philosophers deal with starwmen arguments for things like dualism and theism rather than the arguments defenders of those positions actually use. Indeed, one of Feser's points is that very often past discussions of these issues already dealt with many of the questions raised by recent philosophers who know less than the think they do. Feser hardly says "Aquinas locuta, finita est."

J said...

J, Feser is, as far as I know, a philosopher and generally argues based on philosophical principles.

Well, he's rumored to be one. And his writing seems vaguely philosophical, yet...not exceptionally logical. For instance, one of the hallmarks of analytical philosophy consisted in the distinction between analytical and synthetic truths--broadly speaking, a distinction was made (at least until Quine) between a priori truths of mathematics and logic, vs the truths (or at least propositions/knowledge) of natural sciences and history, economics, so forth, which were subject to verification, or a matter of probability, etc.

Feser generally completely disregards that entire tradition (going back to way, Kant? Leibniz??). Even in regards to Mind, he offers something like a grand synthetic proposition, ie Mind cannot be identified with brain/neurology. Then he gives you the ancient jargon, but in effect it IS an empirical issue (certainly not axiomatic), subject to verification, or at least "who has the better inferences."

Ultimately Feser claims, since brain science cannot apparently account for cognitive activity, language, higher level thinking,etc. immaterial souls therefore exist--really a type of ad ignorantium (and he does the same with evolution, final cause, etc). That said, Im opposed to behaviorist-like reductionism as well, and QuineCo (at least the rightist variety). That doesn't mean one agrees that soul-ghosts exist, or that a monotheistic G*d necessarily exists either (and those who invoke Aquinas's Five ways might check with Kant's counterarguments thereof, and others).

Anonymous said...

J's just upset that he got banned over at that blog for weird anti-semitic rants and generally being nuts, not to mention poorly versed in philosophy. Just as he got banned on here, but he'll keep coming back with so many alts for so long a period that eventually, it seems, people just give up and let him stay.

J said...

Not exactly. Feser the neo-con censors people, as his repub. cronies at Right Reason did as well, merely for dissent, regardless if it's civil or not. ""What? You dare question catholicism, of the Pat Buchanan/Rudy Guiliani sort? Blocked....""

You're poorly versed in philosophy, Anny, at least the few sections that still matter--like logic. Feser's not a Bertrand Russell or a Wm James or brain scientist anyway but usually sounds like a priest, not a logician. (Tho' I don't think he's even a real priest, ala fluent in latin...res ipsa loquitur).

Having memorized a few pages of ancient soothsayers does not a philosopher make--for that matter, this concerns his claims (ie empirical, subject to verification, confirmation, evidence, etc--) about brain functions and Mind (and his supposed critique of evolution--hah), not the history of western civilization as a whole.

And the point holds: Feser routinely makes unsubstantiated assertions regarding dualism (substance dualism, as philosophasters of the supernatural claim)--they are a type of sophisticated ad ignorantium (and ad auctoritas) but most of the dogmatists are too ignorant to understand that.

Blue Devil Knight said...

J: why bother responding to an anonymous poster slinging irrelevant ad hominem? The best way to deal with a troll is to not give him attention he wants from daddy.

At least Ilion would sign a name so we could hold him accountable for the accumulation of silly things he said.

J said...

Yes, BDK, but it's sort of enjoyable to checkmate 'em in under 20 moves or so.

That said, I don't think Feser-o-sophy should be taken to represent all religious people, or even catholic tradition, unless one identifies the Church with like Vichy france

(you may think I jest, but Feser at times quotes clerics who supported the vichy, if not nazis...a few bishops blew kisses at the panzer divisions...and concentration camps)

Ilion at least was an entertaining bozo.

araybold said...

"Arguments from reason are arguments that appeal to necessary conditions of rational thought and inquiry. Thus, they have what on the face of things is an advantage over other arguments, in that they have a built-in defense against error theory responses."

On the face of it, maybe, but the problem is that arguments from reason, by their very nature, are no better than their axioms. For a defense against error, one needs a way to verify axioms. Science has that, indirectly, in its ultimate preference for empirical evidence over argument, and that is why, I believe, science has become by far the most successful branch of philosophy.