Saturday, October 14, 2017

William Hasker's Principle C

In William Hasker’s essay, “Transcendental Refutation of Determinism,” he presents principle C, which says
            C) For a person to be justified in accepting a conclusion, the reasoning process must be guided by rational insight based on the principles of sound reasoning.
But if naturalism is true, physical laws govern the world, and people will think and conclude in accordance with the principles of sound reasoning only if physical law (or physical law combined with quantum chance), determine that they will reason soundly. Therefore, Hasker concludes, in a physicalist world, the principles of sound reasoning are inoperative, and condition C is not satisfied.20
Brain processes are physical events. They occur in accordance with the laws of physics, and the laws of reason and evidence do not explain brain processes as physical events. Our brains follow the laws of physics automatically, we obey the laws of logic or laws of evidence, when we do, only when the laws of physics (together with the prior facts) dictate that they do so. We may possibly act in accordance with reason, but never, as Kant would say, from reason. Given this, William Hasker's conclusion principle C applies: the laws of logic and evidence, or as he puts it, the principles of sound reasoning, are inoperative.


Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Obviously if logic is determined based upon chemicals and accidents then either it's random or illogical,.If it was tuned in to reasoning logically no one would ever reason fallaciously.

Either reason is not determinism or it has no real meaning.

World of Facts said...

Yet another way of stating, first, that Reason exists independently of the Physical, and then concluding that the Physical cannot explain Reason.

And yet another post falsely claiming that there are so called 'prescriptive' Laws of Nature, rather than correctly using them as 'descriptive' and approximate.

Atno said...


The problem is that logic IS prescriptive, not descriptive. And if laws of nature are descriptive only, and if your worldview can't accomodate for prescriptive laws of logic that are in relation to us in some way, then you have to either abandon prescriptive laws, or your worldview.

But you can't abandon prescriptive laws of logic.

World of Facts said...

Miguel, I don't see a problem with what you wrote. It does not contradict what I said I believe.

World of Facts said...

Actually, let me take that back. I am not so sure that logic is prescriptive to start with. Logic is what it is. It's not what it's not. It's not anything specific to start with. And we use logic because we observe that things are what they are. It then follows that we can deduce certain things; so most of it is prescriptive. Hum... not so sure after all.

World of Facts said...

Hal said...
"What is there about physical laws that prohibit or prevent people from acting for a reason?"

The answer is in what is implied when the Supernaturalist makes statements that include: "...the reasoning process must be guided by rational insight based on the principles of sound reasoning. But if naturalism is true...".

The process and principles of reason mentioned here are defined into existence as completely independent of the physical; they are non-natural, non-physical, to start with. It is thus impossible for the physical to emulate that which was defined as non-physical from the beginning.

The best we can do, under that framework, is simulate reasoning with physical processes, but never truly achieve non-physical reasoning. Something will always be missing because, according to supernatural worldviews, reason cannot ever be completely emergent from the physical; reason already defined as existing independently of the physical.

Steve Lovell said...

I always liked this paper of Hasker's, but I don't remember it well enough ... I'll have to dig it out of the filing cabinet.

Surely the obvious rejoinder is to ask why it is impossible for thoughts to be both "rational insight based on the principles of sound reasoning" and at the same time also "as required by physical laws"?

Hasker's wording seems to suggest he agrees that this isn't impossible, but then it isn't clear what it would mean to say that the laws of logic are "inoperative". What does it mean?

Steve Lovell said...

Re-reading, I guess we want to say that, on Naturalism, thinking might be in accordance with reason but not from reason.

I like that. However, it's not the clearest of distinctions. I've got an intuitive sense of it, but I'm not sure it would be enough to give me confidence in the argument.

World of Facts said...

I think you got that right Steve, from a Supernaturalist's point of view: on Naturalism, thinking might be in accordance with reason but not from reason, because reason is assumed to exist, on its own, regardless of the natural world. Therefore, from that vantage point, it looks like Naturalism is trying to explain something purely non-Natural using Natural processes. But from the naturalistic's perspective, reason is an emergent process that thinking beings are able to use to evaluate statements.

Atno said...


The claim that "from the naturalist's perspective, reason is an emergent process" cannot be a response to the AfR because the AfR is a transcendental argument. Call the naturalist view of reasoning X, and the "supernaturalist" idea of reasoning Y. The whole point of the AfR is that we MUST have Y. X won't do. X is not Y under a different name, X is different from Y, and X and Y are in complete disanalogy. And the naturalist cannot have Y in his worldview, having to choose between naturalism and Y; by the AfR, however, we MUST choose Y, and therefore we must deny naturalism.

It is a transcendental argument.

We cannot treat "reason" as just a relation between brain states and neurons firing; salts and electricity. We have to accept that we are somehow part of a non-physical relation with facts and propositions which generates changes in our beliefs and actions; and we can't just have reason if all we have are contingent, descriptive physical laws which are completely different from what we normally call "logical laws". If we turn "reason" into something else, we shoot ourselves in the foot, we end up speaking nonsense, we contradict ourselves and our own reasons for accepting anything like naturalism in the first place.

World of Facts said...

Yep, I think that's a great summary. I just disagree completely because there is no such thing as 'Y' in my opinion. I agree that it's not just a different name; you basically just repeated what I stated, but without understanding what we disagree on it seems.

So I must repeat that, to me, this is all about what it means to 'exist'. And I don't see how your Y can exist without X. That's why it's not convincing to me when one claims that there is such a thing as a Y, which is transcendental, or supernatural, or non-material, or whatever else you want to call it. The point is that you define that Y as something that exists no matter what, it is non-contingent as you wrote.

But I argue that reason is indeed contingent on the natural world. We cannot make sense of reason without some basic existence, which we can only experience as natural experience. Basically, we need something to reason about, and that has always come from the natural world, the place we live in. That's where we get our basic principles. In this world, things are what they are, they are not what they are not, they are something, or not something, but never neither and never both at the same time. Our ability to conceive of these principles is what yields reason.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not the most eager to bring the term "supernatural" into the discussion. I tell you what I think needs to exist in order for us to be able to reason. That is, something that acts for reasons at the most basic level of analysis. I don't care whether you call it natural, or physical, or even material. These are just words. They could even be used for God for all I care. But if I say that this is what has to be there and maybe science will discover that it is so, and make it part of science itself, it is the naturalists who yell "Pseudoscience!", "Creationism," "Illegal Skyhooks!" in other words, "Supernatural!" This suggests that the standard view of naturalism excludes the mental from the supervenience base.

Hugo, why do you suppose that the natural world might not really be God in the final analysis?

World of Facts said...

Victor Reppert said...
" Hugo, why do you suppose that the natural world might not really be God in the final analysis?"
I am not sure I understand the paragraph so my answer to this question might be off... it would be great to get what the paragraph meant exactly.

If you call the natural world God, then sure, I believe in God.

So let's start with God, i.e. nature exists. What do we find? Humans, capable of conceptualizing that natural world around them. They perceive things, see, hear, touch, etc... They form mental images of these things around them. They notice what they are, what they are not. But let's cut to the chase.

Do they use reason? What else is needed for them to use reason?

I don't see why not; it's really that simple. It does not exclude the mental, it simply shows the mental to be what humans do when they "think" about anything and everything. Sure, we can codify everything and use labels that make these concepts transcendental, necessary, eternal, infinite, non-contingent, or whatever you want to call that non-natural stuff today. These are just words as you said. But I don't see what else is used to prove that God exists...

Victor Reppert said...

The idea that science might discover God simply to say that we need some concept of science here. Words are just words until we get definitions for them. Some people have an automatic reaction "Ooh, that's supernatural, we can't have that," without having a clear idea of what that means. (Ghosts and goblins and God, oh my!).

David Brightly said...

Well, I'm afraid ordinary human reasoning X looks to me much more like something cobbled together by evolution and individual experience than the Platonic Reason Y. One has only to read an internet comment thread to realise this. Maybe Reason Y is an abstraction and idealisation from concrete fallible human reasoning X? We are able to stand back from reasoning X and see how far it falls short of the ideal Reason Y and this gives Y its prescriptive or normative aspect. And being an abstraction, Y seems quite disconnected from the physical. That Hasker finds principles Y inoperative on a naturalistic understanding of human reasoning is actually in naturalism's favour.

World of Facts said...

Victor, you got this backward. You're the one in the camp the 'supernatural' yet you will never give good definitions for what it means. As David correctly summarized, you're the one presenting some idealized 'Y', some special kind of reasoning that a mere physical thing cannot do, the 'X' kind of reasoning.

Steve Lovell said...

Thanks Hal,

That's a potentially illuminating example, which I'll need to mull over. "Rule-following" is a big topic in philosophy ... and one I'm not very familiar with. Back in my university days the Wittgenstein module was optional, and I chose something else. I've kicked myself about that many times since then!

Victor Reppert said...

No, Hugo. Suppose I just said this. Sure, I'll accept that the mind is a physical thing. What I find unreasonable is to suppose that laws of physics presently understood account for the activity of reasoning, because the laws of physics make no reference to reasons and logic. The laws of physics as we currently understand them do not include these in the fundamental laws of physics. There must be some laws that physics has not yet discovered which account for the activity of the mind.

Eventually we may find out the laws of physics that govern the activity of God. We just don't know what those are yet. But it's only supernatural from the point of view of present physics, in much the way that relativity is supernatural from the point of view of Newtonian mechanics.

I'm not putting an artificial wall up and say what science may or may not someday discover. If you want to say that in order to call something physical it has to be such and such, and what you are describing cannot be physical, then you have defined the supernatural for me.

World of Facts said...

Hi Victor,

The laws of physics do not describe our reasoning for 2 reasons, at least.

First, we used our reasoning to create them, so they describe what we observe, not the observers (us) themselves.

Second, they are approximations, and we thus don't go to a detailed enough level, right now, to describe the activity of reasoning. But it's possible nonetheless.

That second point is directly related to the comparison you made between Newtonian and Relativistic physics. The latter doesn't look supernatural to the first, it's just more accurate. On short distances, they yield the same models, the same predictions, but Newtonian laws start to miss the mark as we increase the distance, size, and mass of objects involved.

Modeling the activity we call reasoning might just be the same. We're just not there yet, but there's nothing non-physical about its origin.