Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The opening chapter of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea



Atno said...


Do you have any plans to revisit the argument and write more about it? Or do you feel like you're done with the AfR?

Victor Reppert said...

I have a new paper in the works in response to the debate I had with David Kyle Johnson that is in Gregory Bassham ed. C. S. Lewis's Christian Apologetics (Brill/Rodopi) 2015. In that volume, I thought that Wielenberg/Baggett exchange on the moral argument really got to down to the basic differences between them pretty well, but our debate I thought didn't, so I am sending a further response to Philosophia Christi to extend the debate.

Bilbo said...

If you don't want to subscribe to Christianity Today, you could just buy the book.

Victor Reppert said...

I'll sue the bastard.

Atno said...

By the way, Victor, have you read "The Waning of Materialism" (edited by Robert Koons)? They have a whole section discussing how issues of mental causation undermine materialism. Koons himself has an article there in which he argues (among other points) that the Gettier problem (the one about knowledge not being just "justified true belief") points to the necessity of some kind of causal nexus between ontological facts and beliefs, and that materialism can't accomodate that. The article is actually much more complex and features different arguments, so I hope I'm not oversimplifying or misrepresenting it here. But thought it would be interesting to you and your formulation of the argument from reason.

Atno said...


I wouldn't say Lewis assumes the mind works like a "mental mechanical device". It is not that he assumes "mental events" work in the same manner as physical events, only mental. The issue with the argument from mental causation goes much deeper than this: one way or another, there *is* some form of causation that is going on in our "mind" when we come to know things and make inferences. If you deny this, then you suddenly affirm the possibility that our thoughs and beliefs (however you take them to be, metaphysically) could all (indeed, *are all*) be occurring without any relation whatsoever to the world and propositional facts. The "evidence" has to, in one way or another, be responsible for bringing about changes in our understanding and behavior. Indeed, it has to be a "cause" of our understanding and our thoughts and conclusions, and this is how the word "cause" is used in language. This has to happen, as it does happen, and as we ourselves understand and talk about it -- as members of the linguistic community -- how certain facts caused us to consider a certain idea, how two misunderstood bits of evidence put together ended up causing us to incorrectly infer a wrong conclusion, etc.

And once this gets off the ground, it must then be said that it is apparent that "physical causality" and mechanistic explanations will not salvage our ways of talking about these things, and will end up invalidating our reasoning capacities.

I'm always interested in what Wittgenstein has to say about a number of things, but I don't really think his points undermine any argument from mental causation.

PS: Since you're interested in Wittgenstein and in the argument from reason, I have to recommend you to read Herbert McCabe's work -- the ones that deal with metaphysics and philosophy of mind, like "On Aquinas", for esample. McCabe was a "Wittgensteinian Thomist"; he was deeply influenced by Wittgenstein and used it in his own interpretation of Aquinas. In particular, McCabe actually makes an "argument from reason" with a wittgensteinian bent; he argues that the act of creating and understanding language -- words whose meanings are their use -- transcends any bodily organ, and as such that the human intellect is immaterial.

David Braine, another very interesting philosopher who was also heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, also argues that the use of language (true human language, with "grammar") cannot be accomplished by anything material.

Also, Peter Geach (himself a close student of Wittgenstein, married to G. E. M. Anscombe) has his own version of an argument from reason: he contends that "thinking", as humans do, is an activity that cannot have a determinate position in a physical temporal series, and therefore can't be carried away merely by bodily organs (ergo the human intellect is immaterial). His argument is quite complex and is presented in the article "What do we think with?", available in the book "God and the Soul"

Atno said...

I must also say that all the authors mentioned above -- McCabe, Braine, Geach -- were all fierce critics of any sort of "dualism". They all favored towards a more "unified" Aristotelean position, just as they all held that human thinking could not be fully explained by the operations of any bodily organs. There are many different arguments from reason, and many of their defenders do not consider themselves "dualists".

I'd also say that Lewis's argument does not really pressuppose anything like a Cartesian or semi-Cartesian dualism, though.

Atno said...

Thanks for naming all these authors; I haven't read some of them. I think a good name to add to the list would be Fogelin (his treatment of Wittgenstein's arguments is quite clear and interesting), and the previously mentioned McCabe and Geach. I also would not claim to understand Wittgenstein better than you, however, I still think his points do not undermine "lewisian-style" arguments from mental causation, at the very least if they are reformulated a bit.

I think Wittgenstein's legacy has been unfortunately tarnished by a confused association with people like Ryle and behaviorists in general, when Witt was clearly not a behaviorist.

The big issue, I would say, is that we cannot treat our changes of behavior in relation to what we call "evidence" as a mere game of correlations. For it is the evidence (and in particular, our understanding of that evidence) that has to somehow be responsible for our change in beliefs and behavior. There is something of a causal relationship in that, as the word cause is not limited to physical causation. After all, we say that we inferred X *because* (notice the "cause" embedded in the word "because"; curious etymology) of Y. We infer that "Socrates is mortal" *because* he is a man and all men are mortal. There is a causal relationship here, and we are somehow part of a causal relation with propositions and facts. However, as you yourself is willing to admit, we cannot make sense of it in terms of a physical relation of causes. Whatever it is, it is not what we can describe as "physical", and it is therefore not something that we can make sense of by reference to brain states alone. But that's pretty much Lewis's conclusion, and we cannot therefore treat human beings as what we'd call "chunks of matter"; in particular, there are immaterial aspects of human thought inasmuch as we come to conclude certain propositions because of certain facts and propositions, and not merely from physical causes and effects in our brains or anywhere else. I don't see how we can avoid this conclusion.

I am also inclined to agree that our mind is not properly the agent, but the human being is the agent. But the human person has this special power, this faculty of thought that is wholly immaterial and intrinsically (not extrinsically) independent of material organs. I think that would be Aquinas and Aristotle's position, as well. But this faculty implies that the human form (our "active inttellect" or "soul") does not cease to be in bodily death, but rather subsists. That would be taking it in the direction of Aquinas's argument for immortality, briefly.

Atno said...

As far as "dualism" goes, it depends on how we understand the word. We could very well say that hylemorphism is some sort of dualism, as David Oderberg does, because after all, a hylemorphist is denying that there is just one kind of "thing" in the world (matter, or "res extensa" or whatever); instead, the hylemorphist argues that there are two different "things" (taken in the broadest sense of the word, *not* meaning "substances"): matter and form; a principle of individuation and a principle of structure. I count myself as a hylemorphic dualist, in this case. Indeed, McCabe was a hylemorphist himself, and his argument from language is given in the context of an exposition of (his reading of) Aquinas's argument for immortality of the soul. David Braine was also a hylemorphist, he titled his book "The Human Person: Animal and Spirit" and provided his argument not only to show immaterial aspects of our thought, but also as a way to arue for the possibility of life after death. Geach gives his argument in the same book in which he's investigating different conceptions of immortality, etc.

So I think hylemorphism can be taken as some form of "dualism". The problem is that the word "dualism" is so closely associated with cartesian substance dualism, property dualism etc. that it can sometimes be unhelpful to describe a view like Aristotle's or Aquinas's, which were very different from those of Descartes's and many confemporary philosophers. But that's on the word.

As far as Reppert's argument goes, I think what he means by "explanatory dualism" is something that is noncommital, except for excluding materialism and its different (epiphenomenalist) iterations. That is, it could include both a cartesian dualism and the aristotelean-thomistic hylemorphism that has attracted many wittgensteinians over the years (such as the ones mentioned above)

Atno said...


I would like to continue this discussion another day. Recently I've gotten busy with other things so I won'r be able to give a satisfactory answer here, but maybe we can just continue the discussion some other day and in another one of Victor's post. I will say, however, that while I find your critique to be reasonable, I still think that we need to understand the relation between evidence, propositions and our thoughts through some kind of causal relation -- it seems quite inevitable to me, as causation is precisely the sort of concept that explains how E could not have occurred without C, and this seems to me to reflect pretty well the process of drawing conclusions based on arguments and evidences while we're engaged in the activity of thinking. I also think that the "cause" in "because" is not there as a mere coincidence, just as in Portuguese we often literally say that "eu pensei isso por causa disso" ("I thought this because of that", but literally something like "I thought this since it was caused by that"), the association is even stronger. Somehow there is a way in which our thoughts are being caused by other thoughts, and that this causation cannot be mechanistic is what this AfR states. It doesn't have to be in the sense thar 144 was caused by 12x12 itself, but somehow our reaching the conclusion of 144 was caused by our thoughts of math. I don't think Wittgenstein's remarks would contradict the argument from mental causation, at least not if we reformulate it a bit.

Anyway, I'd recommend you to read David Braine, McCabe, and also Geach's argument, I think you will enjoy them. We can resume this discussion on another day if you want. I thank you for the interesting thoughts and posts.