Friday, September 18, 2020

Anscombe's final response to Lewis's revised chapter in Miracles

 This is a paper Anscombe did for the Oxford C. S. Lewis society, which I have not seen until recently. 

27 comments:

StardustyPsyche said...

OP
“‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”
Here Lewis repeats the classic error of anti-naturalists.

First I will categorically state, and can demonstrate at length if desired, that there is zero self-contradiction or circularity in naturalism, or materialism, or reductionism, when properly formulated and expressed.

Lewis conflates “reason” with “absolute proof”, demonstrating that for all his evident powers of rhetoric Lewis was a very shallow, simplistic, and irrational thinker. His writings have the form of elegant prose, but are vapid in content.

We have the reason of our senses to conclude that what our senses tell us is basically true. This is the provisional postulate of the basic reliability of the human senses.

If the conclusions of the senses were taken as absolutely proven to be true by the senses then there would be circularity in that view. That is a strawman view. No reasonable materialist holds that view. All reasonable materialists take the evidence of the senses to be strong evidence pointing toward an underlying truth.

One core reason to provisionally suppose the senses are basically reliable is that we are, by all appearances, alive. And yes, perhaps I am god and you are just a figment of my divine imagination, but putting that egotistical speculation temporarily aside, supposing I am a living being among billions of others.

What if ones senses led us to consider sand to be delicious food? Or that a tree makes a good sexual partner? Or that all I have to do is flap my arms to fly off a cliff? If such sensory perceptions prevailed there would be no human species. The senses must converge on some fairly realistic representation of reality or we would be dead in the harsh natural environment.

I honestly did not read the Anscombe lecture transcript in detail, only scanned the rest, as it seemed very diffuse, long winded, and tedious. Although, if I forced myself to wade though it I would probably find agreement within it.

Lewis does not require a long, tedious lecture to refute. His philosophical propositions are patently false and easily dispatched in a few pointed paragraphs.

Hal said...

Thanks, Victor, for posting a link to that talk. I had not heard of it before. Will take some time reading and thinking on it before posting my views.

StardustyPsyche said...

Hal,
You have the patience of Job :-)

Hal said...

FYI -

Anscombe's talk is reprinted in this BOOK
.

The link takes you to the kindle edition on Amazon.

StardustyPsyche said...

OP,
"Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true."
Here again Lewis fails to grasp fundamentals about human reasoning, sense experience, knowledge, and truth.

Anscombe, rather than correcting these fundamental errors of Lewis, makes what I consider a mistake made all too often by philosophers, which is to instead make a long and tedious set of arguments on Lewis's own terms, a hopeless path toward any sort of sound understanding, because the fundamental assumptions and terminology Lewis uses are so deeply flawed.

Human reasoning cannot be absolutely proved to be valid in general because we would have to use human reasoning to prove such validity, which is inescapably circular. The skeptic can rightly point out that the lunatic uses insane reasoning to deduce that insane conclusions are valid, so by logical skepticism how could we be sure we are not all insane relative to the true nature of the cosmos? Quite simply, we can’t be.

On naturalism properly expressed human reasoning is not proved to be valid, rather, certain postulates of logical relationships and logical reasoning processes are provisionally agreed upon by convention to be considered valid and true axiomatically.

That formulation removes the circularity of attempting to use human reasoning to prove the validity of human reasoning.

Science is not known to be absolutely true, rather, all science is only provisionally true with the self conscious qualifiers that reasoning itself is not proved to be valid, the basic reliability of the human senses is only provisionally accepted, the scientific method is merely a human convention, and all human endeavors including science are subject to errors that may well lead to future corrections.

We have the strong and vast evidence of our own existence to indicate that the human senses are basically reliable and must converge on some fairly approximate perception of a true excremental reality. Our manifest capability to survive and build and create is strong and vast evidence of the basic validity of human reasoning.

The philosophers and the religious may wish for absolute truth all they like, we naturalists have no need of it. Our system of philosophy is entirely free of circularity and self-contradiction absent any assertion of absolutely true knowledge of the extramental reality.

Lewis argues against a mere strawman that no reasonable naturalist holds, and Anscombe makes the mistake of engaging on his deeply flawed terms, rather then simply calling out the fundamental errors of concept of naturalism that the Lewis strawman is made of.

jon said...

What a great essay. Anscombe is always worth reading.

Hal said...

jon,
Anscombe is always worth reading.

Yes, I agree. Even if the position she takes is contrary to one's own.
I find her opposition to Britain entering WW2 and the use of the atomic bomb to be quite problematical.

Hal said...

Anscombe's essay really is quite interesting. I agree with her following remarks:

Lewis's philosophical education had imbued him with such a conviction of determinism about events that he says he can't believe that modern physicist's believe what they say - I think he's talking about indeterministic physics - he can't believe that they believe what they say. He can hardly believe it.
Now he's wrong about determinism and all causes necessitating their effects.


and:
...it is even false that seeing that something is a logical consequence of something that you already believe inevitably causes you to believe the new thing

I do have trouble following her discussion in the latter part of the essay. In that part she is trying to make sense of what Lewis was actually trying to say and ends up admitting that she can't:

This is the nearest I can get to an interpretation of this damnably obscure proposition, 'knowledge determined only by the truth it knows.' However, I hope to have shown that there is here in this chapter - Chapter III of the second edition of the book Miracles - material for serious discussion, material which is genuinely problematic. I don't mean problematic in the way in which what Lewis meant by 'knowledge determined only by the truth it knows' is problematic - problematic in the sense of the question 'what on earth did Lewis mean?'

oozzielionel said...

Lewis and Anscombe disagree fundamentally on the definition of truth. Lewis believes that truth corresponding to reality can be known. Anscombe describes truth is relative terms.

Hal said...

oozzielionel,

Can you elaborate? I don't understand your point.

oozzielionel said...

It seems to me they talked past each other because they had a different view of truth.

Hal said...

That's interesting. Has been sometime since I read the original debate. Lewis did improve his argument in response to her critique, so there must have been at least some shared understanding of the subject.

Will have to take a closer look at it again when I get a chance. Am still puzzled about the different views of truth. Hopefully will clear up after that second look.

David Brightly said...

This appears to be Lewis's second edition chapter 3.

Hal said...

David,
I do have Lewis' book on my kindle. The page you linked to does appear to match the text in that 2nd edition. So despite the 1947 date given at the top of the linked page, I believe you are correct.

I also have Anscombe's book "Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind: Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 2" which contains her original critique of Lewis. Unfortunately even used copies of the paperback edition are over $40.

There are so many assumptions that Lewis makes in his critique of naturalism that I find mistaken or ill-conceived that I have a great deal of difficulty taking his argument seriously. For example he seems to assume a conception of the natural realm being one gigantic mechanism with every causal interactions linked by necessity like the workings of a cuckoo clock.

David Brightly said...

It has been a struggle to understand both pieces but I have come to agree with much of what Anscombe says. The obscure passages that she highlights, eg, The other, our present act, claims and must claim, to be an act of insight, a knowledge sufficiently free from non-rational causation to be determined (positively) only by the truth it knows, I take to be Lewis expressing a strong realism towards knowledge and truth. He hints at this when he says that, under Naturalism, the old, high pretensions of reason must be given up. But I don't think we have to take a position on this to see where he might be going wrong. Lewis's argument presupposes a strong connection between inference and knowledge. Is this right? He gives an example of deductive inference, roughly,

if Grandfather is well then he gets up early; it's late today and Grandfather has not got up; ergo, Grandfather is not well.

If we have thus arrived at truth we are entitled to ask, What day is today? and Who is Grandfather? We immediately see that this is a story that Lewis has made up. It's a fiction. But there is surely a genuine inference here. Likewise Tolkien may tell us that Hobbits have hairy feet and that Frodo is a Hobbit. We infer that Frodo has hairy feet. This may feature later in the story. But it is just a story. We don't have to latch on to some aspect of reality for the inference to work. We just have the words. Indeed, we don't even need specific words. Modus ponens is characterised as if p then q; p; ergo q, where p and q could be any sentences at all. If someone tells us 'if p then q' and 'p', but then goes on to deny q we would think that he is deliberately trying to confuse us, or doesn't understand the meaning of 'if...then...' or doesn't care. All this suggests to me that inference is not bringing us into contact with reality in the way that Lewis seems to be supposing.

StardustyPsyche said...

oozzielionel said...

"Lewis and Anscombe disagree fundamentally on the definition of truth. Lewis believes that truth corresponding to reality can be known. Anscombe describes truth is relative terms."
Both are wrong. I find no value in the work of Lewis and little value in the work of Anscombe.

There must be a true existent reality with its true real natures.

Human beings are at present ignorant of the precise natures of this true reality, even on the postulates of the basic reliability of human senses and reasoning..

Human beings are fundamentally and inescapably prevented from justifiably claiming to know anything about the true natures of reality with absolute certainty.

oozzielionel said...

This is a good description of the state of human spiritual poverty. Good thing God intervened to reveal the truth.

Hal said...

David,

If Grandfather is well then he gets up early; it's late today and Grandfather has not got up; ergo, Grandfather is not well.

If we have thus arrived at truth we are entitled to ask, What day is today? and Who is Grandfather? We immediately see that this is a story that Lewis has made up. It's a fiction. But there is surely a genuine inference here. Likewise Tolkien may tell us that Hobbits have hairy feet and that Frodo is a Hobbit. We infer that Frodo has hairy feet. This may feature later in the story. But it is just a story. We don't have to latch on to some aspect of reality for the inference to work. We just have the words. Indeed, we don't even need specific words. Modus ponens is characterised as if p then q; p; ergo q, where p and q could be any sentences at all. If someone tells us 'if p then q' and 'p', but then goes on to deny q we would think that he is deliberately trying to confuse us, or doesn't understand the meaning of 'if...then...' or doesn't care. All this suggests to me that inference is not bringing us into contact with reality in the way that Lewis seems to be supposing.


I agree with this. However, I think Lewis would reply that what he has trouble with is the claim that it is a physical substance (the human brain) that has the capacity to make an inference and use language to express that inference. Becuase of his conception of how the physical world works he is simply incapable of believing that a physical substance could have the capacity to reason.
After all, in his conception matter is inert and causation is fully determistic and all explanation has to ultimately be reduced to the basic level. For the naturalism he was attacking that basic level is to be located at the microscopic level. For the supernaturalist the basic level is the mind: a mental substance with intellectual capacities.

I find his underlying assumptions to be seriously flawed.

David Brightly said...

Hello Hal,

If Lewis were to reply as you suggest I think he would be repeating himself. His argument seems to be a reductio:

(1) under Naturalism inference cannot exist or cannot be a 'real insight' into the world;
(2) without the real insight of inference there can be no knowledge;
(3) but we do have knowledge;
ergo, Naturalism is false.

I take no position on (1) here. My argument tries to cast doubt on (2). I have to say that Lewis uses the term 'inference' rather broadly. He says, for example,

It is clear that everything we know, beyond our own immediate sensations, is inferred from those sensations. I do not mean that we begin as children, by regarding our sensations as ‘evidence’ and thence arguing consciously to the existence of space, matter, and other people. I mean that if, after we are old enough to understand the question, our confidence in the existence of anything else (say, the solar system or the Spanish Armada) is challenged, our argument in defence of it will have to take the form of inferences from our immediate sensations....All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning.

I find this rather contentious, as does Anscombe, I think, because it's not clear what Lewis means by 'inference'. So I focus on deductive inference and suggest that the possibility of inference within fiction shows that inference, in itself, has no direct connection with knowledge. Something more has to be added. Additionally, this narrow understanding of inference, which starts to look like pattern matching over sentences, is compatible with Naturalism. Of course, it's open to a Lewisian to reply that this understanding is too narrow, in which case I would ask him to expand a bit on his notion of inference.

Hal said...

David,
I'm not sure I understand your point. I fail to see why using our capacity to gain knowledge of what happens in a work of fiction undermines or negates our using that capacity to gain knowledge of what happens in the world we inhabit.
Given that Lewis was an instructor of English Literature, I'm sure he knew that inference could be applied to the world of fiction as well as the real world.

David Brightly said...

Perhaps the quickest way of making the point is to say that although 'Frodo has hairy feet' is a valid, genuine, bona fide inference from 'Frodo is a hobbit' and 'All hobbits have hairy feet', it doesn't amount to knowledge. It's just not true. None of it is true. None of it is even an attempt to say anything at all about the world.

Hal said...

David,
I would beg to differ. It is true that hobbits have hairy feet. One who would deny that claim simply does not know much about hobbits. :-)

Maybe it is because I majored in English Lit. in college, but I have no issue with truth claims applying to fictional characters or events that take place in tales of fantasy.

David Brightly said...

OK, Hal, I guess we will have to agree to differ. I'm happy to say I know nothing about hobbits. There are no such things, so no one has ever been acquainted with one to report its properties. There is, however, much to know about what Tolkien says about hobbits. It's true, for example, that he says that they have hairy feet. But that's something different from their having hairy feet.

Note that there is a connection here with what we discussed recently.

Hal said...

David,
I'm happy to say I know nothing about hobbits.

And I'm happy to say that I know quite a bit about them!:-)

Of course hobbits are a product of Tolkien's imagination. Recognizing that does not entail one can't have false or true beliefs regarding hobbits, imho.

Not sure I see much of a connection with the post you linked to. That struck me as being more concerned with the reliability or certainty of different beliefs than whether or not a belief is true or false: we trust what we see more readily than a report of what someone else claims to have seen.
But it could very well be that I have simply misunderstood what you were saying.

David Brightly said...

I would rather say that what came out of Tolkien's imagination was the idea or concept of hobbits, and said idea or concept enters our imagination when we read Tolkien.

...we trust what we see more readily than a report of what someone else claims to have seen. Or has simply made up. We generally won't trust at all anything that we know somebody has made up.

Hal said...

David,

I would rather say that what came out of Tolkien's imagination was the idea or concept of hobbits, and said idea or concept enters our imagination when we read Tolkien.

Well that is one huge philosophical rabbit hole we could fall into and be trapped in for eternity.:-)

Not going to argue that you are wrong. Will simply add that having the concept of imaginary beings is something we humans are blessed with. Unlike the Thermians in "Galaxy Quest" who had the misfortune to lack it.

I would not call hobbits themselves concepts. They are imaginary beings. So if I were talking to someone about Frodo's hairy feet I would not consider myself to be referring to a concept but to those hairy feet of that particular hobbit. But I would never think for a moment that I could trim those feet with my razor since I do possess the concept of imaginary beings.

David Brightly said...

Hello Hal. Yes, indeed! It's a topic full of linguistic snares, and very interesting in consequence.

When we say we know something about hobbits I think we must be saying that we correctly understand something of the concept 'hobbit' as expressed in Tolkien's writings, promulgated by films, etc. That is, of a human-like creature possessing consciousness and intelligence and language, small in stature and silent-footed, living in houses tunnelled into hillsides, sociable, and fond of birthdays, especially ones divisible by eleven, but not generally keen on horse-riding, and so on. We can be said to know a concept even if that concept has no instances. But as soon as we say something about a particular hobbit, say 'There was a hobbit called Bilbo who went on a quest with a dozen dwarves and a wizard called Gandalf' we are in the realm of falsehood and thus beyond knowledge precisely because there never have been any hobbits.

I too would not call a hobbit a concept. A hobbit is a concrete thing, a concept an abstract thing. But I wouldn't say a hobbit is an imaginary being either. The concept 'imaginary being' is self-contradictory: a being that isn't a being, as it were, somewhat akin to the concept 'round square'. When we say 'A hobbit is an imaginary being' what we are trying to convey is really 'In imagination, a hobbit is a being'. Somehow the sentential operator, 'In imagination', which tells us what kind of credence to give the following clause, is transferred into the clause as a pseudo-adjective applied to 'being'. There's a whole bunch of terms like this, including 'fictional' and 'possible'. Do have a look at my Fiction category if you are interested.