Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The False Anscombe Legend Again

kbrowne: While I would agree that, as a result of his exchange with Anscombe, Lewis came to believe that his formulation of his argument was flawed, the claim that he believed the argument to be fully refuted is an urban legend, which I have dubbed the Anscombe legend. Anscombe herself attributed reports of Lewis's dejection over the exchange to the psychological phenomenon of "projection." Lewis in fact produced a short response to Anscombe's argument that appeared in the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe's own essay had appeared. In 1960, the Fontana edition of Miracles appeared, in which Lewis produced a revised and expanded version of the third chapter of Miracles, which he wrote in response to Anscombe, and which expanded on the ideas in his short response that appeared in the Socratic Digest. Anscombe thought that this effort was considerably improved, but pointed out a couple of areas where the argument needed further development if it were to succeed.

My own efforts, starting with my 1989 doctoral dissertation, through my book C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea and the Blackwell Companion article, has been to defend Lewis's overall argument. I think as an attempt to refute Lewis's overall argument, (as opposed to showing that it had been inadequately formulated) relies on some assumptions, popular amongst Wittgensteinians (that explaining the reasons for someone's belief can be done in a way that is completely separate and independent from the question of how that belief is produced and sustained), that most people, naturalists or otherwise, would not endorse, and which have unacceptable consequences.

It is of some interest to note John Beversluis, who is the leading critic of Lewis's apologetics, concludes that Lewis did not consider his argument refuted and did not give up apologetics after the exchange, as biographers such as Humphrey Carpenter and A. N. Wilson have claimed. He differs from me with respect to the merits of Lewis's argument, and does think it can be refuted on broadly Anscombian lines, but he has completely abandoned the Anscombe Legend with respect to the psychological impact of the exchange.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Is there a link to a consise summary of
1. Original argument
2. Anscombe's response
3. The revisions he made to original argument.

I've seen you discuss this many times, but don't recall seeing the actual arguments.Was it specifically the argument from reason?

kbrowne said...

I have read your book, with great interest although I am not sure I followed it all. I have also read the 1960 version of Miracles;indeed that is the only version of Miracles I have read.

I know you think the argument from reason is a good argument and I know that Lewis thought he had produced a valid version.

But I am thinking of how Lewis felt after the debate with Anscombe. His friends said that he was very deeply disturbed by what happened. One of them told him he had 'come to the foot of the cross'. That is rather an extreme way of describing a discussion where a few faults are found in an argument.

I suspect that Lewis did think that his argument was refuted though he changed his mind later.

But the argument with Anscombe took place some years after his conversion. He did not want God to exist then but I expect he did want the whole of Christianity to be true later on. And maybe he did consider giving up Christianity because of Anscombe's arguments. That would explain why he was so depressed.

Btw, I don't think Anscombe is any authority on Lewis' feelings. They were not close friends, I don't believe they were friends at all. He would not have shown her how he felt.

Jason Pratt said...

Hmmm... I can't remember seeing a concise summary of the development either. Victor's chapter on the topic in DangIdea is the briefest I've seen it put.

I will add that the reply from Lewis in the Socratic Digest is even more important than Victor indicated, because the reply shows strong continuity with how Lewis eventually rewrote and revised MaPS chapter 3. (In that sense, the SocDigest reply itself functions as a concise summary of the development of the argument.)

I think a very brief way of putting it would be that Lewis didn't distinguish well enough between senses of "irrational" and "non-rational" in his original chapter (and related standalone articles from the time); and after Anscombe nailed him on this Lewis revised his argument to focus not so much on the technical problem of accounting for human rationality supposedly coming from only non-rational behaviors, but rather on the formal problem of having to answer such conceptual challenges.

Put another way: the first version was ultimately about the difficulty in accounting for human rationality in a reality that is fundamentally non-rational. The second version was ultimately about how this difficulty is both a necessary result of hypothetically proposing the option of athiesm (though Lewis called it "naturalism") and how this necessarily leads to either trying to justify justification ability or else trying to justify that justification ability isn't necessary--options which must both necessarily fail regardless of the details of the attempts either way.

More briefly: the first edition was about assessing the details of defenses of human cognition against the sceptical threat of atheism (so to speak), and trying to show how such defenses come up short. The second edition was about trying to show how it doesn't matter what kind of defense of human cognition is attempted, or what the details might be--any such defense attempt is necessarily bound to fail (yet due to the character of the case such defenses have to be tried anyway.)


Jason Pratt said...

Kbrowne: {{I suspect that Lewis did think that his argument was refuted though he changed his mind later.}}

He most certainly (on the evidence of the Socratic Digest reply) believed Anscombe had refuted his 1st edition argument. He also most certainly (on the evidence of that reply) very quickly accepted the refutation, made adjustments and refinements, and saw the direction he would eventually take when-if-ever given an option to publish a new edition of the book.

I doubt any of this amounted to a religious faith crisis (well-meant pious rebukes from friends notwithstanding.)

That any author who had had articles published and even a whole book turning crucially on Argument (A), should have Argument (A) subsequently shot down, would be naturally and understandably disturbing to that author even if he quickly recovered. It would even naturally be persistently disturbing from what amounts to a professional standpoint; maybe especially to someone like Lewis who on the one hand (as he often attested) had a bit of an ego problem regarding his own cleverness, and on the other hand (as he also occasionally attested) felt like he was trespassing a bit in a professional province outside his jurisdiction (he wasn't a professional theologian or philosopher by scholarly trade)--something he had an (equally attested) extremely low opinion of when he found other people doing it, including in his own paid-professional field.

In other words, he had made this argument the cornerstone for (in effect) justifying why he, as not a professional philosopher or theologian, should be attended to when speaking in those fields; and people had followed him in doing so; but his argument had turned out to be faulty. That would have to be personally disturbing at numerous levels. (Though notably this argument never seems to have mattered so crucially in Lewis' own religious belief!--so it would be surprising if its refutation mattered so crucially to his religious belief now.)

The situation can be compared with what happened when his wife died. And the moment that's done, I think there is no real comparison to be made. That really was a major challenge to his faith (though an emotional one, not a logical one per se).


Victor Reppert said...

I had something like Lewis's experience when I presented a paper at Notre Dame on eliminative materialism. My commentator was Bill Ramsey, a UCSD graduate who actually did most of his work with Steven Stich rather than the Churchlands. In the exchange that ensued, I think the general consensus was that he had gotten the better of it. Did that tempt me to become an eliminativist? Certainly not. Did I ever cease to think that some kind of self-refutation argument could be made to work against eliminativism? No. But what it did show me was that I had failed to get fully "inside" the eliminativist perspective to be able to bring up objections that would draw iron. Ramsey subsequently published his reply in Inquiry, and I responded to that, I thought, reasonably well in that same journal. I also wrote another paper which came out in Metaphilosophy examining the eliminativism debate in light of an analysis of the fallacy of begging the question.

The overall reaction in the Oxford community might have been embarrassing and hard on Lewis. Lewis has said that one thing he didn't like about these Socratic sessions was that the credibility of Christianity seemed to hang on his performance in some particular debate. The fact that his adversary was young, female (Oxford in 1948 was less than fully converted to gender equality), and hitherto unknown didn't help. I take it when he later says "She obliterated me as an apologist" what he was saying was that he thought she had damaged his reputation amongst people who went to the Socratic meetings.

I know there was a subsequent discussion of the exchange between Lewis and Anscombe at the home of Lewis's physician Havard, who knew both of them. I'd give my eyeteeth for a record of what was said at that meeting. I also know that Lewis published a rebuttal in the Socratic Digest that same year. So if there was a time when he thought he actually thought the argument might have been refuted, it didn't last long.

Lewis came to reject naturalism in favor of absolute idealism as a result of an argument of this type in the course of his disputations with Owen Barfield. However, if you read Surprised by Joy (and there is even more to the story than he recorded there), there were lots of factors in his conversion. It's unlikely that this would have triggered a crisis of faith.