Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The argument from reason and four categories of statements

The argument from reason, which I have defended, essentially maintains that if you maintain a consistently naturalistic view of human thought, you end up not describing our thought processes in a way that renders our belief in naturalism, or even the thought processes of natural scientists, justified. For any proposition, there are four possibilities.
                A) It is true, and we can have a justified belief that it is true. We believe, for example, that the world is round, and we have good reason to think so.
                B) It is true, but we cannot have a justified belief that it is true. Consider the proposition “No one believes anything for a reason.” If could be true, but if it were, you couldn’t possibly provide an argument that it is true, because if you did so, there would be no one could possibly be persuaded by your argument. If you did persuade someone, it would falsify your position. The self-refuting character of this position, is, therefore a good reason to believe that it is false.
                C) It is false, but we can have a justified belief that it is true. We had a justified belief that all swans were white, before they found a black one in Western Australia.
                D) It is false, and we cannot have a justified belief that it is true. The claim the universe is nothing but a turnip with whipped cream on top is not only observationally false, but if it were true, neither the turnip nor the whipped cream could infer that the universe contains nothing but a turnip and whipped cream.
Naturalists obviously want to claim that their belief that naturalism is true falls into category A. Naturalism is true, they say, because the natural sciences provide us with a great way of knowing things, (though theory formation, observation, experimentation, and mathematical calculation). But this involves inferring one thing from another. The reason is that the base level, which is typically called the physical, is mechanistic, meaning that it proceeds without reference to the mental. On a deterministic form of naturalism, at the basic level, given the condition of the basic particles at a time when no minds even existed, and given the laws governing those basic particles, every event that follows, including all the discoveries of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein, as well as the arguments of J. L. Mackie and John Rawls, are all inevitable results of a process that is, at the fundamental level, nonrational or even, at least in the dictionary sense of the term irrational. The indeterminism of quantum mechanics doesn’t really add anything rational, by itself if merely adds a factor of random chance. Causation on the naturalistic view is a mechanistic process that takes place at the physical level. Thus we have an apparent incompatibility between the claim that, say, Charles Darwin inferred natural selection from observations about finches in the Galapagos islands, and that Charles Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature and previous facts concerning Darwin’s brain and his environment. In defending the argument from reason, I have been arguing that this conflict isn’t just apparent, it’s real. If there is justified belief, then naturalism has to be false. Naturalism might fall into category B, that is, it could be true but no one knows that it is.  But any proposition that is a bad candidate for category A is best rejected as false.


39 comments:

Stardusty Psyche said...

" But this involves inferring one thing from another. "
--Which is not circular because it is a self-consciously provisional postulate set: the principles of logic and the basic reliability of the human senses.

"Thus we have an apparent incompatibility between the claim that, say, Charles Darwin inferred natural selection from observations about finches in the Galapagos islands, and that Charles Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature and previous facts concerning Darwin’s brain and his environment."
--There is no conflict. Darwin did go from one brain state to another as he observed and interacted with his environment in a way that allowed his brain states to progress to recognizing patterns of association others had not yet recognized as such.

" If there is justified belief, then naturalism has to be false. "
--Non-sequitur because justification does equal absolute certainty.

Hugo Pelland said...

Victor, is there a way that the argument from Reason can be used the other way around? i.e. is it just disproving Naturalism or is it proving Supernaturalism, or whatever you wish to argue for?

That has always puzzled me about this argument since, even if we are to grant you everything you wrote here (a simplified version of course) we still get to nothing more than 'Naturalism is probaly false' it seems. But what does it show then?

In other words, it seems to do nothing more but present an argument against a certain strict definiton of what Natural means. It proves nothing in a 'positive' sense, it inly argue 'against' a position. One which I would argue is a strawman but, even if it were not, it still wouldn't show something we should embrace.

Plus, it's important to note, again and again, the use of the term 'law' here, which refers to 'descriptive' laws, created by humans to describe the universe. These laws could be wrong... yet the argument seems to depend on these laws as being fixed in stone and thus contrary to Reason, which cannot be explained by these laws, pretty much by definition.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Stardusty Psyche said...

Correction

" If there is justified belief, then naturalism has to be false. "
--Non-sequitur because justification does not equal absolute certainty.
July 05, 2017 9:38 PM

Sam Harper said...

Stardusty, I don't understand your last point. You are right that justification does not equal absolute certainty, but what does that have to do with whether or not it follows that naturalism would be false if there were justified beliefs?

Miguel said...

Hugo Pelland,

I know you asked Victor, but allow me to answer with my own view. The argument from reason can be defended in multiple forms, and mr. Reppert prefers to defend a more modest one that they merely imply a kind of "explanatory dualism". This version of the argument from reason would refute naturalism, but would be compatible with either theism or, say, idealism (indeed C. S. Lewis didn't just jump into theism from the AfR; he first became an absolute idealist because of it, which was a position that was still rather popular among English philosophers at that time; remember Russell was arguing against idealists). However, idealism is not seen by most people today as a viable alternative, therefore for most people, if naturalism is false, some kind of theistic, supernatural, "explanatory dualistic" view would be true. To that, we can also add that 1- idealism is not really opposed to theism, and in fact the vast majority of idealist worldviews all include God, or would even require a God -- as the "mind that thinks of everything" --; it is only the late idealism that seems not to include God, altough that view in particular always seemed inconsistent to me (how is it that mind would really be fundamental if there is no primordial, omnipresent mind like God? Or at least some sort of pantheism?); 2- theism of course benefits from other arguments (cosmological, teleological, etc); 3- I would argue, theism itself really is made far more probable than idealism, because the AfR implies, even at its most modest forms, some kind of immaterial conception of the human mind, whose origins therefore could not be explained materialistic, and would therefore require a causal explanation in terms of another analogous mind that, for some reason, creates us. Theism looms very near.

As for other formulations of the AfR, there are, for instance, thomistic versions which imply that human beings have an immortal soul. Aquinas's classical argument for immortality is an argument from reason based on our grasp and handling of universal, purely immaterial concepts. The late James Ross gave a modern, analytic defense of it in his "Immaterial Aspects of Thought". Ed Feser defends Aquinas's and Ross's argument as well, and it's worth checking out.

Reppert's version, by contrast, focuses on the fact that naturalism cannot even in principle account for determinate intentional thought, mental causality in virtue of propositional content (causal rational inference), universal laws of logic and their relation to our thought process, the truth or falsity of our beliefs, the unity of all such processes, and, occasionally, the cognitive reliability of our rational faculties (an argument made famous by Plantinga).

John Joseph Haldane defends a thomistic version of the AfR, and in the book "Atheism and Theism" he defends an argument for God from man's rational and conceptual power. J. P. Moreland defends an argument for God from consciousness in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology; Swinburne defends an argument for God based on consciousness as well (sure, consciousness is a different issue, but the point is that Moreland and Swinburne's arguments are easily adaptable to proceed from "reason" instead of "consciousness").

Speaking for myself, I think the argument from reason is one of the most powerful argumets for theism. It is one of the main reasons why I personally believe in God, along with different cosmological and teleological arguments. I also think that the Argument from Reason has important implications for what Alex Pruss calls the "gap problem", which is the issue of showing that the prime mover in cosmological arguments is to be identified as a personal God.

Miguel said...

Karl Popper also defended a particular version of the argument from reason in "The Self and its Brain", the book he co-wrote with Sir John Eccles. He used it to attack materialist and computationalist views of the mind.

David Brightly said...

I'd like to suggest that the cogency of the AFR depends on an implicit dualism: there is the physical and physical causation and there is the mental and mental causation and these are independent and exclusive of one another. We can see that this can't be right if we consider, in the context of Darwin and his finches, in which domain the 'evidence' lies, for it turns out to be in both. On the one hand the 'evidence' is the shapes of the beaks of the finches and their geographical distribution, the light from these entering Darwin's eyes as he observes them, its effects on his optic nerves and brain, and so on. All very physical. On the other hand we have Darwin's thoughts, no doubt expressed in sentences, that summarise all this and give rise to his conclusions, also expressed in sentences. All very mental sounding. But which is the real 'evidence', ie, what is the word referring to? Victor says '...Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature...' In this fragment Victor is clearly thinking of 'evidence' as mental and mental alone. But the naturalist would say that Darwin's brain went from one state to another precisely because of the 'evidence', now seen in physical terms. Who is right? Why not say that they are both right, and abandon the implicit dualism.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Sam Harper said...

" Stardusty, I don't understand your last point. You are right that justification does not equal absolute certainty, but what does that have to do with whether or not it follows that naturalism would be false if there were justified beliefs?"

--On naturalism we are not capable of stating absolute truths beyond cogito ergo sum and some similar statements resting upon our self awareness.

Thus, if to justify a belief required establishing with absolute certainty the truth of an external reality then no such justifications could be made and there would be no justified beliefs beyond our self awareness on naturalism.

To justify beliefs regarding external realities on naturalism we must allow for degrees of evidence based on provisional postulates.


July 06, 2017 8:57 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Miguel said...

" Speaking for myself, I think the argument from reason is one of the most powerful argumets for theism."
--There is no argument from reason that withstands even a brief counter argument, so I guess you are right, it is as good as it gets.

" It is one of the main reasons why I personally believe in God, along with different cosmological and teleological arguments."
--All terrible arguments full of logical fallacies and various forms of unsound argument.


July 06, 2017 10:54 AM

Hugo Pelland said...

Thanks for your input Miguel,

It's still not clear to me what all of these difference usage of the AfR prove/show/support in a positive sense. It seems to always go back to stating that thr material cannot possibly be all there is, hence X. Whatever immaterial X one wants to prove.

Ross' paper "Immaterial Aspects of Thought" is one I am very familiar with for instance. I think it's not only a great summary of dualistic positions, but also a clear indicator of what I see as the biggest problem: the assumption of the primacy of consciousness.

I always go back to that as these are questions of existence, and one has to have some starting point for what it means to exist, some most basic existence to refer to. The problem of course if that we are all people trying to make sense of it all, and thus can never truly know what that basic existence is, or even whether it makes sense to search for that.

At the same time, we do know that we are limited in our thinking and that's why I have ti disagree with the concept of purely immaterial objects you mentioned. I am not convinced such things exist, and I am actually even more certain that we cannot know whether they exist at all. Infinity or nothing, for instance, may or may not refer to things that actually exist, and we have no way, and never will have any way, of knowing whether that's the case.

So basically my point is that I always see arguments such as AfR as assuming there are purely immaterial things or processes and then arguing that Naturalism is false because purely immaterial things exist. But that's what the underlying assumption starts with... Hence, these arguments don't prove something positively, they assume something and then claim that another position which doesn't make such assumptions is wrong.

Hugo Pelland said...

I had written that this morning, but had no internet connection, so it's interesting to see David and SP's responses that were inserted in the meantime. We use very different words, but the main concepts are the same. David mentioned that dualism implies an assumption that the mental exists, as something different from the material/natural. That's what I call the primacy of consciousness.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"I'd like to suggest that the cogency of the AFR depends on an implicit dualism: there is the physical and physical causation and there is the mental and mental causation and these are independent and exclusive of one another."

This is simply false. No matter how many times ignorant naysayers repeat it (e.g. I endorse the AfR, although in suitably modified variants, and reject substance dualism).

"But which is the real 'evidence', ie, what is the word referring to? Victor says '...Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature...' In this fragment Victor is clearly thinking of 'evidence' as mental and mental alone. But the naturalist would say that Darwin's brain went from one state to another precisely because of the 'evidence', now seen in physical terms."

Since evidence is a relation between propositions of course it is a "mental item", or to use a more neutral language, only rational thinking beings can think, cogitate or hold in their minds that something we call "evidence". Throwing around confused and muddled thinking about evidence "seen in physical terms" is not really helpful, unless sowing confusion *is* the purpose. In order to make your case you would have to argue that physical causation going on in the brain (plus the environment) "matches" the logical relationships between propositions in an appropriate way (e.g. not accidentally) -- that it does not and cannot *just* is the content of the various AfR's.

If you are a naturalist you will want to exert your power of wishful thinking and reduce the mental to the physical. As a Christian of rather orthodox and ultramontane temperament, I certainly will not object to anyone holding dearly to their dogmas. But then comes along people like Victor Reppert with an argument that basically concludes that no such reduction can be done and the predictable happens: dreadfully bad responses ensue.

Sam Harper said...

Stardusty,

Thus, if to justify a belief required establishing with absolute certainty the truth of an external reality. . .

I think this is where I was getting tripped up. I don't think that to justify a belief requires that we establish it with absolute certainty. It seems to me that a belief can be justified even if we're less than 100% certain about it.

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

" But then comes along people like Victor Reppert with an argument that basically concludes that no such reduction can be done "
--Victor has never made a sound argument from reason, nor has anybody else.

Richard Carrier did a lengthy, detailed, and generally very good refutation of Victor's AFR. Victor's response to the refutation was riddled with misunderstandings and poor reasoning just as his original AFR is.

For a Christian you do a lot of namecalling. I suggest you re-read John 8:7.


July 07, 2017 3:55 AM

grodrigues said...

@Stardusty Psyche:

"For a Christian you do a lot of namecalling. I suggest you re-read John 8:7."

Oh so cute, an atheist quoting me the scriptures. You know what you can do with your "suggestion"? Wrap it in cement and shove it where the sun does not shine.

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

" You know what you can do with your "suggestion"? Wrap it in cement and shove it where the sun does not shine."
--I'm not feeling the luv, grod, I suggest you read Matthew 5:44 and pray that the holy spirit moves you to be a more godly man as Jesus taught.


July 07, 2017 8:11 AM

grodrigues said...

@Stardusty Psyche:

"I'm not feeling the luv, grod, I suggest you read Matthew 5:44 and pray that the holy spirit moves you to be a more godly man as Jesus taught."

Don't you have nothing better to say or do than this puerile trolling?

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

" Don't you have nothing better to say or do than this puerile trolling?"
--Why would a PhD make such a basic grammar error? Normally, most of us ignore all the little typos on a blog, but this error of yours seems indicative of a basic lack of education on your part.

Miguel said...

Hugo,

I just don't see how the AfR would assume anything immaterial. On the contrary, what it does is that it shows that we cannot explain reason by material means. Hence why there are eliminativist materialists like the Churchlands, for instance, who think we're all zombies with no capacity for drawing logical inferences and having true or false thoughts.

I don't see how Ross's argument assumes the primacy of consciousness. What it does is it argues for immaterial thoughts based on their determinacy. The immateriality is a conclusion, not an assumption. Nothing material can be determinate with regards to content, just as nothing material can be universal.

In the thomistic version, for instance, we can find different arguments. From hylomorphism and our capacity to think of forms (and of course we do think of forms; we can form right now the concept of "man" or "dog", etc) it follows that our intellect must be immaterial, because if it were material then it would be in-formed by the form in question (because when matter receives a form, it is transformed into the according substance). This argument assumes hylomorphism. Other versions of the thomistic argument don't. For example, we can grasp universal concepts. We must agree that these universal concepts are real in some sense or another -- you cannot say that they simply don't exist; whatever they are, they are something. We have the universal concept "man" that we can express in language and thought. But because it is universal, it simply *cannot* be identified with any material thing. It cannot be any sort of mental image or representation -- and Wittgenstein has shown this enough for analytic philosophers; we would not be able to really "interpret" the mental image, it could mean any one thing --; every possible mental image or representation, being material, will have characteristics that are completely accidental to what we actually understood as being the universal concept "man". This concept is a different thing from a mental picture of a man (who can be tall or short, fat or slim, whatever) and from any material thing whatsoever that would always have any n number of physical properties that are completely accidental and different from the concept "man" and what we understand by it. This is why it is not only bizarre to suggest the concept "man" could be a specific kind of neuronal firing, but also outright false. We are talking of different things. And we *know* we are talking of different things because we understand fully well that nothing in the concept of "man" includes any specific meaning of salts and electricity and certain frequencies of neuronal firing or any other particular material substance. Concepts are universal, but all material beings are particular beings.

And of course, if we did not have universal concepts, we would not be able to reason validly.

Likewise, our thoughts must be caused not just by physical causes. I can't conclude that "Socrates is mortal" just because some neurons fired that "mysteriously" caused me to believe that "Socrates is mortal", but because the propositional content of "Socrates is a man" and "All men are mortal" logically entail the conclusion "Socrates is mortal".

Miguel said...

"All terrible arguments full of logical fallacies and various forms of unsound argument."

Too bad you can't really draw that conclusion in your own worldview. :^)


Also, m8, if you accept brute facts, you're not allowed to be cheeky with anyone.

David Brightly said...

Grod says that evidence is a relation between propositions. Well, yes, somewhere in the notion 'evidence' is the idea of a logical connection that justifies or induces movement in belief when the propositions are held in the mind. But the notion also allows us to speak of physical things as evidence. We say, Smoke is evidence of fire, and we talk about fingerprint evidence and DNA evidence.

If we read Victor's final paragraph carefully we can see that it is setting up a dichotomy between the physical and the mental. The sentence about quantum mechanics is very effective as it suggests that the rational is something that must be added to the physical rather than something whose possibility is inherent in the physical. In the sentence I quoted, the not because of the evidence contrasts with the physicalistic went from one brain state to another and emphasises the mentalistic aspect of 'evidence'. Since we are primed to accept the exclusivity of the physical and mental, the effect is to suggest that Darwin's conclusions arose from previous facts concerning Darwin's brain and had nothing to do with what he saw in the Galapagos, a travesty of the naturalistic view!

What I'm criticising here is just a brief summation of the AFR, of course. If what I've written makes any sense to you I urge you to keep it in mind when reading fuller presentations of the argument.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"Well, yes, somewhere in the notion 'evidence' is the idea of a logical connection that justifies or induces movement in belief when the propositions are held in the mind."

"Somewhere"? Honestly, are you pulling my leg?

It will be fun to see you pull the same paraphrastical stunt with, say, Perelman's astounding proof of the Poincaré conjecture, that every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.

"But the notion also allows us to speak of physical things as evidence. We say, Smoke is evidence of fire, and we talk about fingerprint evidence and DNA evidence."

For the love of God, of course "I see smoke" is evidence of "There is fire", and "smoke" and "fire" are physical things, at the very least on an ostensive definition of "physical". But there is nowhere in nature outside of rational minds this relation of "evidence", not on the naturalist's assumptions. On them even causes are in the mind and the mind alone, so to speak of physical causation (e.g. smoke causes fire) is itself a misnomer and has to be cashed out in different terms. To be completely fair, this is not accepted by all naturalists, so let me just invoke the holy name of Hume and his well-known arguments for why this is so. So the question becomes is the relation (and more generally, what we call the mental) reducible to the physical facts in the brain plus the environment and the natural laws, or is it not. The first thing to say it that if it is, *no one* has an *inkling* of how or why and we are no closer to finding it then Descartes or Hume were (despite all the fashionable neurobabble). But as I said, AfR, and its variants, just is the conclusion that it is not.

"Since we are primed to accept the exclusivity of the physical and mental, the effect is to suggest that Darwin's conclusions arose from previous facts concerning Darwin's brain and had nothing to do with what he saw in the Galapagos, a travesty of the naturalistic view!"

Since Mr. Reppert explicitly says "but because of the laws of nature and previous facts concerning Darwin’s brain and his environment" the travesty is in your own eye. I mean, it is *right there*.

grodrigues said...

I wrote:

"(e.g. smoke causes fire)"

Hmmm, there is something wrong with this...

David Brightly said...

Grod (if I may), you say that on the naturalist's assumptions, there is nowhere in nature outside of rational minds this relation of "evidence". You preface this with 'but', so I take it that you think it counts for your view rather than mine. Please tell me a bit more about what you understand by a relation existing inside a mind, and why, independently of the conclusion of the AFR, you think such a thing cannot be realised naturalistically.

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

" It will be fun to see you pull the same paraphrastical stunt with, say, Perelman's astounding proof of the Poincaré conjecture, that every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere."
--Wow, that makes you sound really super smart. Your copy and paste skills are just amazing.

"smoke causes fire"
--Ooops, not so much.

To be fair, after you completed your prattling you did catch your obvious mistake, too bad you probably have no clue as to why the AFR is not only unsound but so poorly reasoned as a modern argument that one should be surprised it is still asserted at all.

For a detailed critique of Reppert's AFR here is one thorough source.
https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/reppert.html

Here is a sort of response to Carrier, not so much a defense of the AFR as a call for Carrier to provide more details in areas of ongoing research.
https://infidels.org/library/modern/darek_barefoot/dangerous.html

Here Reppert replies directly to Carrier:
http://maverickphilosopher.blogspot.com/2004/10/argument-from-reason-reppert-replies.html

Reppert raises the old non-problems of the supposed is/ought problem and intentionality, still not realizing, apparently, that there simply are no such problems on naturalism. Naturalism does not need to derive an ought from an is in a logical proof. Our sense of ought is just an emotion, like other emotions, an internal signal that drives behavior.

When I wake up in the morning on a work day I get the feeling that I ought to go to work. My brain processes a variety of information streams, say, memories of bills to be paid, thoughts about my bank balance increasing when I get paid, thoughts about becoming homeless if my bank balance goes negative for an extended period of time. Presumably, most employed people have similar thoughts. So my brain generates an emotion, in this case the emotion of ought, as in I ought to go to work this morning.

There simply is no is/ought problem.


July 08, 2017 2:43 AM

SteveK said...

>> "There simply is no is/ought problem"

Wrong. There are no obligations to act on any particular brain generated thoughts/ideas/conclusions/memories/emotions/sensations/insights/feelings/urges/desires/goals. All of them are equally obligatory, which means none are obligatory.

Hugo Pelland said...

Miguel,

Most, if not everything, you write about assumes the primacy of consciousness:

- We cannot explain reason with material means? That's because you assume reason, which consious beings exhibit, exists on its own, regardless of the material

- Ross uses the determinacy of thoughts, but thoughts are daid to be determinate because he assumes they exist regardless of the material existence

- Nothing material can be determinate with regards to content, just as nothing material can be universal... because you assume such universals exist in the first place, regardless of the material world

- Yes I think we agree that universal concepts are real in some sense or another -- I call them objective though (same?) whatever they are, they are something. But concepts represent material things, or use combinations of other concepts which are themselves mapping to material things... unless you assume consciousness exists first and is able to think of concepts independently of the material world, somehow.

- Neurons firing is the means by which we can do the action of thinking. Nobody can pinpoint which arrangements yield which thought or experiences, but we can share these thoughts and determine what concepts are independant of our own thoughts: objective concepts. (Universals?)

- We share a common reality and it is thus not surprising nor confusing that we find that we are able to reason with consistency among ourselves.

- At the same time, the objective concepts or universals appear to be inaccessible directly. Humans would easily agree on deep philosophical questions if it were that 'universal'. Clearly, we don't...

- And yes, it's certainly possible that neurons firing is all there is to consciousness... unless you assume it exists in the first place, regardless of neurons firing.

Hugo Pelland said...

Btw, there's an interesting conversation going on on another blog that ends up touching on very similar, and linked, concepts:

https://findingtruth.info/2017/06/06/difficult-questions-for-atheists-part-1/

Stardusty Psyche said...

Hugo Pelland said...

Miguel,

" - We cannot explain reason with material means? That's because you assume reason, which consious beings exhibit, exists on its own, regardless of the material"
--Where would this so called reason reside if there were nothing material? Just sort of float around, not even in space, just in absolutely nothing at all?


" - Yes I think we agree that universal concepts are real in some sense or another"
--Name a few, or even just one and where do they exist?


July 08, 2017 3:14 PM

Hugo Pelland said...

- Right, I don't think it makes sense to talk abkut reason as disjoint from the material world. But it's assumed to exist independently of the matetial world. This is the weird part to me.

- Universals are just objective concepts to me, i.e. they are defined as not dependant on amy 1 specific mind. But they are always defined with references to the material world, even when one attempts to define them as immaterial. Humans just cannot do anything else.

Yet, because of the primacy of conciousness, a bunch of concepts are said to exist without any reference to our material reality, because they are assumed to exist. Then, it is claimed that these concepts cannot be expressed in material terms...

I remember Ross using the example od triangles I believe, as in we can think of perfect triangles but never see them in nature, which is imperfect. He then argues that this is an example of how some immaterial concepts cannot be expressed materially, in in a determinate way. This is backward in my opinion. Humans saw things that look like what we defined as perfect triangles and use the simplified concept to discuss these things. So it's the human mind that actually cannot perfectly describe the fullness of the material world. And I believe that's an example of a "universal"; triangles are 3-sided shapes, regardless of what we think of them. But of course, without any material reality to start with, triangles are meangingless... unless one assumes our thoughts exist on their own, as some aort of other existence, that exist regardless of the material.

The paper attempts to address that too I believe, but still falls back to the same assumptions. I should read it again...

Stardusty Psyche said...

SteveK said...

>> "There simply is no is/ought problem"

" Wrong. There are no obligations to act on any particular brain generated thoughts/ideas/conclusions/memories/emotions/sensations/insights/feelings/urges/desires/goals. All of them are equally obligatory, which means none are obligatory."
--Ok, so what's the problem then?

I agree, there is no absolute obligation. No problem.

Our sense of ought is just an emotion. No problem.

There is no need to identify a source of absolute obligation to love, or fear, or feel ought. These are just emotions, the result of mechanistic brain function.

So how is there somehow an is/ought problem? There just isn't any problem.


July 08, 2017 2:26 PM

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"Grod (if I may), you say that on the naturalist's assumptions, there is nowhere in nature outside of rational minds this relation of "evidence". You preface this with 'but', so I take it that you think it counts for your view rather than mine."

Then that was a misleading "but" of mine (pun not intended). I just did not want to deal with idealists, say, that reverse the naturalist's relation between mind and matter on its head.

What I said is pretty much uncontroversial: logical relationships are items of the mental, they are nowhere to be found in extra-mental reality, or I should add in the naturalist's conception of the extra-mental reality (they are there if you are say, some sort of Platonist), which is the bare reality of a sparse ontology of concrete particulars. After all, only rational minds can entertain logical relations, that is almost the *definition* of what counts as a rational mind. This by *itself* says nothing of real substance, since the naturalist still has plenty of moves at his disposal to either eliminate or reduce the mental to the physical. They all fail of course, but this has to be argued on more substantive grounds than mere difference.

I hope this answers the question you posed, but that I did not quote.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

Or to shamelessly borrow from Brandon Watson: "All evidence is evidence only in the context of some kind of causal *reasoning*." My emphasis on reasoning.

Hal said...

"Thus we have an apparent incompatibility between the claim that, say, Charles Darwin inferred natural selection from observations about finches in the Galapagos islands, and that Charles Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature and previous facts concerning Darwin’s brain and his environment."

I don't see any incompatibility.
"Charles Darwin inferred natural selection from his observations."
"Charles Darwin's brain activity did not violate any natural laws."

Why can't both of those propositions be true?

Miguel said...

Hugo, your objections are confused. No argument from reason -- which goes back to Kant, Aquinas, Aristotle and more -- does not simply assume "consciousness" to b fundamental. It has nothing to do with that. I am inclined to believe consciousness is completely material -- although that would not be possible on materialism, because the way I see it qualia can only be material/physical if you allow for the existence ot Aristotelean-like accidents in substances; it is completely natural in this picture, but far removed from the modern naturalism which assumes the cartesian view of matter.

Your last paragraph is quite telling: you say the universal concepts seem inaccessible, and that humans would easily agree on deep philosophical issues if they were really "universal". You are confusing things here, this is not the meaning of "universal" that is used in thomistic arguments from reason. The fact that we can *really disagree* on these questions itself requires us to have universal concepts -- shared, non-accidental concepts of "man", "dog" and so on. There may be a difficulty and a disagreement when it comes to defining such concepts, but they are not particulars, they are universal. It is from this question that arises Wittgenstein's discussion of ostensive definitions in the Blue Book -- itself a discussion that had already been made by Augustine many centuries ago --: how do we understand what "tove" means, if, when we see an object that is used to teach us that word -- a wooden pencil, for instance -- there are n number of things we could grasp instead of the intended idea? The shape, the particular location in space and time, the color, the use, the object, etc.

The fact that we know universal concepts does not imply that we all agree on everything and never disagree on deep and serious debates. It implies that we *can* actually disagree on definitions because we are, precisely, disagreeing on how to define certain terms, like "man", for example. Regardless of the definition, we share this common understanding of the concept which is expressed in language.

It is not a matter of "assuming" such universals "exist in the first place, regardless of the material world".

(1) For the record, I do not believe that we can reason without a brain. And I am no cartesian dualist; I affirm hylomorphic dualism, I believe human beings are unified substances of matter and form. But our form happens to have a power that could not even in principle be exercised by a physical or material organ, which is the grasping and use of universals. Also, just for the record, I also believe that whatever is in the intellect is first in the senses. All these views are actually thomistic and cohesive with the argument from reason.

(2) The universals are not merely "assumed". I *know* I can grasp universals, because I can have direct introspective evidence of the fact that I understand what a "circle" is; this concept of "circle" that I have is not relegated to any particular circle in the world or any particular mental image of a circle (which will always have features that are completely accidental to the concept of "circle": a certain circumference, size, color, etc).

Miguel said...

This concept applies to all circular objects I can see in the world, and to any mental images I might have of a circle: it is a universal concept, common to many *particular* instances, and *irreducible* to any one particular circle, or any set of circles. I know I have this universal concept, which I can even try to describe by Euclid's definition, which is irreducible to any particular instance of it, or any set of particular instances of circles. I am not just assuming anything, I *know* I have these universal concepts, and I use them to reason. And the problem is that the fact that they are universal -- irreducible to anything particular, as I explained --, they CANNOT be material, and cannot be reducible to whatever that is material, because matter is always particular.

(3) Moreover, you seem to be forgetting that the whole point of arguments from reason is to show that these features (universal concepts, mental causation in virtue of propositional content, truth and falsity of thoughts, modally universal logical laws and their relation to thoughts, etc etc), which cannot be squared with naturalism, are necessary for valid reasoning. Deal away with universal concepts, for instance, and you destroy mathematics, contradict yourself, and condemn any possibility of science (and, interestingly enough, even of disagreeing with me about *all these ideas we are discussing*).

(4) You agreed at universal concepts are something, that they are real in some sense. But then you went on to say that they "represent material things, or use combinations of other concepts which are themselves mapping to material things". But that is precisely what the argument from reason is saying universal concepts CANNOT be, if they are to be what they are, and if they are to be what valid logical reasoning requires. It is not because I assume "consciousness exists first and is able to think of concepts independently of the material world", but because of (2) and (3). And the whole point about arguments from reason is that they argue -- independently! -- that any kind of representationalism (which you mentioned, either directly or through "combinations (...) mapping to material things"), or computationalism, etc., will not, and cannot, work. *This is why there are eliminative materialists like Paul and Patricia Churchland, Dennett, etc*. They pretty much accept the AfR, they just happen to bite the bullet and contradict themselves,ndestroy truth and our capacity to reason, etc., in name of their materialist belief (which they admittedly cannot justify rationally).

Miguel said...

Universal concepts cannot be representations because any representation (mental representation, for instance) is always particular and never universal. A representation of a circle, for instance, will always include accidental characteristics, things that do not make up the essence or identity of the concept "circle": like a certain specific circumference, color, size, etc.; or it will be a conventional sign; or any other physical object/event which, by virtue of being physical, is always tainted with particularities that are not part of the concept. There are other grave problems with representationalism as well: we can have two very different universal concepts that would be necessarily mapped to the very same objects in reality, like triangularity and trilaterality. The concepts of "triangularity" and "trilaterality" are distinct from each other, but they would be mapped to the very same objects in the world, because necessarily what is a triangle is also a trilateral. We cannot differentiate the two concepts in representationalism, or by any kind of tinkering with representations. This problem is completely general for any concept, actually. It rules out any naturalist causal theory of concepts; John Haldane has written on this subject. And of course there is also the problem of interpretation, made famous by Wittgenstein; every mental image, representation, or physical symbol is in principle compatible with an indefinite number of meanings. We cannot base our understanding and grasp of concepts on representations; these themselves would have to be interpreted, which we would have to do by interpreting yet another symbol/representation/physical map, and on and on, in a vicious circle.

And of course there are all the other different arguments, like the one from mental causation. Our thoughts must be caused by the *propositional content* of other thoughts, and not just by physical events.

I'd suggest you to read more on the arguments.

Hugo Pelland said...

​Miguel,

​​​"our form happens to have a power that could not even in principle be exercised by a physical or material organ, which is the grasping and use of universals"​​​​
You stated that right after saying that it is not a matter of assuming such universals "exist in the first place, regardless of the material world", yet that is precisely what you imply by saying 'even in principle': the universals must have an existence that is independent of the material.​ Otherwise, they could be grasped/used by something purely material​​. Stating it the other way around makes it eve​n​ more obvious: if every concepts, ideas, thoughts, universals​ that​ we can think of, grasp​,​ and use is contingent on the material, then it follows that it is expected that we, with material brains, can at the very least 'possibly' do so just with a material brain.​

The next one is more obvious:
​​​​"I *know* I can grasp universals, because I can have direct introspective evidence of the fact that I understand what a "circle" is; this concept of "circle" that I have is not relegated to any particular circle in the world or any particular mental image of a circle"​​​
How can you possible say that without assuming that you are capable of thinking about things that may not exist materially? i.e. this is directly assuming the primacy of consciousness, it couldn't be more evident​. And I am not even saying it's wrong, I just find it weird you would not concede that this is what you are doing. Victor did before, and insisted that we must start with the mental as a base for existence. Basically, you​r quote​ ​show that​, to you,​ circles can exist, mentally, regardless of circles in the ​material ​world.​ But I don't believe you​;​ I don't think you can do that. You are a human who, just like any of us, construct mental images based on things you experienced, based on prior thoughts about these material things.​​

On the alternative, the primacy of material existence, circles are a concept which represent something material; they are an approximation of what we see, and a useful objective concept for all of us to do math, engineering, etc..​. Circles are​ thus​ a kind of 'Universal' in that sense, as an objective concept. But a​s​ SP was asking, can you name something like that which i​s​ truly independent of ​the material? I disagree slightly with him​,​ it seems, in the sense that he rejects that label completely; circles are not an example of a universal because they depend on that subjective experience that we have.
​He said: --Where would this so called reason reside if there were nothing material? Just sort of float around, not even in space, just in absolutely nothing at all?​ Name a few​ [universals]​, or even just one and where do they exist?​
Can you answer his questions without referring to anything material? I believe you cannot, and that's why I keep coming back to the notion of the primacy of the material.
​​

Hugo Pelland said...

And it's interesting you would use circles as this is something I thought of a lot, because I would argue that they don't exist. I make this weird statement because of the difficulty we have to truly define circles. Without Pi, ​we cannot do it, but what is Pi? Is it defined based on circles? Nope, ​​there are a few ways to compute it but it never involve circles directly, it's always some approximation of some shape built with smaller squared shapes​, or other discrete values based on real integers basically, which we do experiment directly with our senses​. I watch math proofs as a geeky hobby so I can point to some if you don't know what I mean...​ Euclid, who you named for instance, used lines if I remember correctly.

One last quote, this is too long already...
​​​​"There are other grave problems with representationalism as well: we can have two very different universal concepts that would be necessarily mapped to the very same objects in reality, like triangularity and trilaterality. The concepts of "triangularity" and "trilaterality" are distinct from each other, but they would be mapped to the very same objects in the world, because necessarily what is a triangle is also a trilateral. We cannot differentiate the two concepts in representationalism, or by any kind of tinkering with representations. This problem is completely general for any concept, actually."​​​
I don't think thid is a problem; it's again just a consequences of assuming that concepts have an existence of their own, somehow, and that this existence must be meaningful on its own. I see it the other way around: given that we can perceive things that we described as triangles, for simplicity and conventions purposes, it is no surprise that many concepts such as "triangularity" and "trilaterality" can come from the same real material thing. Just like real horses and real rhinoceros can yield concepts of unicorns and other imaginary beasts.

Finally,​ I have to insert a bit of commentary:
​On the one hand, I ​try to ​remain humble on such topics. I don't pretend to know about all the right labels to use, I won't be able to quote tons of books or philosophers to support my points, and some of the language is ​unfamiliar. I need​ed​ to go Google hylomorphic dualism to remind myself what it mean​t...​ At the same time, even though the discussions can be complex, the concepts we're talking about are fairly simple, and no, I am ​definitely ​not confused about anything here... I just disagree with you and, frankly, find your​ last​ comment to include some unnecessary smugness. Being able to quote people you agree with​,​ or use more complex words​ than I use,​ do not make you right, nor imply that I am confused. And more importantly, it doesn't make you less biased nor immune to making assumptions you refuse to acknowledge. Because yes, you do make assumptions about what existence is, at its most basic. And yes, such assumptions are the main reason ​why ​the AfR appears to work, for you​,​ or in general. ​ That's what I attempt to show with each quote. Yet, you insist that you don't assume such primacy... so there is a contradiction. Perhaps you can convince me that I interpreted your views​ by explaining how you define what it means to exist...?