Saturday, August 28, 2021

If materialism is true, do brains exist?

 If materialism is true, do brains exist? The particles of what we call the brain exist, but the brain, as an entity over and above the parts that make it up, does it exist?

Hume said "I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things.

The mind is the brain? The brain is a product of the mind, if Hume is right.

A summary of Lewis-Anscombe (at least in part)


            Lewis had originally argued that if naturalism/materialism is true, then all thoughts are produced by irrational causes, that is, the motions of atoms in the brain. Since atoms in the brain move the way they do because of the laws of physical and their original positions, if naturalism is true, then our beliefs would end up being no more likely to be true than false.

            We ordinarily distinguish between people who, to use Lewis's example, form the belief that the neighbor's black dog is dangerous by inferring it from evidence (they have seen it muzzled, messengers avoid the house), and people who form the belief that the dog is dangerous because they were bit by a black dog in childhood and have been terrified of black dogs since. One of these people is being rational, the other isn't. But, he argued, the real causes for everyone's beliefs, if naturalism is true, have to be blind physical causes, and therefore the distinction between people who form their beliefs rationally and those who don't breaks down. If naturalism is true no one ever believes anything for a reason, and if we are forced to assume that some people believe some things for a reason (which is certainly what scientists imply when they claim we should believe something because scientific evidence supports it), then we have to reject naturalism.

I think a lot of materialists would respond to this either by appealing to computers or appealing to evolution (though Lewis anticipated the argument from evolution). Anscombe does neither. She starts by distinguishing irrational causes from merely nonrational causes--she says that irrational causes are, basically, causal mechanisms that typically produce errors, while non-rational ones need not be shown to show that proclivity. However, to get an anti-naturalist result through this kind of argument is to confuse reasons-explanations with causal explanations. If someone gives an argument to the effect that the dog is dangerous based on evidence you can't rebut that argument by saying that the real reason the person believes the dog dangerous is because he was bitten in childhood. That's the fallacy that Lewis himself criticized as Bulverism, and is known in the logic books as the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.

            However, Anscombe then considers the response that what Lewis is claiming is that if naturalism is true, then, as a matter of actual fact, logic and evidence are never relevant to the actual production of any belief, because a full explanation of every belief can be produced in terms of physical, not rational causes. However, full explanations for every event are simply explanations that answer completely what we want to know about the event. And if I ask for why you believe something I am asking for grounds, not causes, what I want is what I get if I ask you why you believe something. Casual laws are based on observed regularities, but reasons are elicited from people when you ask why they believe something or did something. Wittgensteinians typically held that reasons weren't causes at all, and that Wittgensteinian position seems to be built into Anscombe's response to Lewis.  Naturalism, Anscombe says, just says we can have causal explanations for all our thoughts in terms of causal laws, but that doesn't mean, as Lewis implies, that there are no reasons. One way of looking at this would be to say that talk of reasons and talk of causes occur in different language games, so there is no real conflict.

I maintain that although Anscombe has provided an attack on an anti-naturalist argument, but a modern naturalist might not, or should not, be inclined to stand up and cheer. Naturalism, I maintain, is an attempt to provide a comprehensive ontology, it is committed to the idea that other non-scientific explanations have to be either absorbed into the universe of naturalistic explanation or eliminated. While anti-causalist theories of reasons were popular in the 50s and early 60s, most naturalists today, I think, would follow Donald Davidson in saying that reasons are causes. I once gave a paper on the Anscombe exchange at a faculty colloquium at a secular philosophy department. The consensus  was I had a good critique of Anscombe, but that Anscombe's criticisms of Lewis's argument weren't interesting.


        First of all, explanations, causal or not, have an ontology, and naturalism isn't just a claim about causal explanations, it makes ontological restrictions. If I explain the presence of presents under the Christmas tree in terms of the munificence of Santa Claus, I imply that Santa is real. If I explain my belief in terms of reasons, then I imply that reasons exist, whether that explanations is a causal explanation or not.

            They do maintain that a total causal story, from big bang to big crunch, can be given for every event, and that causal story is part of a closed and nonteleological system. Lewis asked,

But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?

And Anscombe said “We haven’t got an answer” to the question Lewis asked here.



Saturday, August 21, 2021

Would contemporary materialists like Anscombe's response to Lewis?

Maybe not.

 What happens to Lewis's argument before and after Anscombe is interesting. He had a number of versions of it, and some of them actually had strengths that the Miracles presentations do not have. In addition, the argument had plenty of advocates before Lewis, so Lewis thought of himself as defending a "philosophical chestnut." At one time this type of argument actually prevented militant atheist Haldane from embracing materialism, at least until he changed his mind (for reasons that were very different from Anscombe's). I looked at J. J. C. Smart's Philosophy and Scientific Realism, published, I think in 1961. Lewis's argument is mentioned, Anscombe is not mentioned, but Flew's exchange in the Rationalist Annual is (my dissertation advisor thought Flew's original essay was out and out plagiarism of Anscombe), and Haldane's argument and retraction are mentioned. When materialist theories of mind become prominent in the 1960s, arguments of the Lewis variety seem to be almost completely marginalized.

It is an interesting question as to whether a contemporary materialist would be entirely happy with Anscombe's paper. She claims, of course, that it gets Lewis-type arguments off their backs, but it seems to imply a lot of language-game theory that materialists would not like much at all. (Are science and religion just different language games, with no conflict between them? And saying that reasons-explanations are not causal explanations doesn't answer how such explanations can be given within the constraints of naturalism, or whether they make naturalistically unacceptable ontological commitments. Don't materialists today say that reasons ARE causes, just, in the last analysis, physical causes?

My interview with Reasonable Faith


Friday, August 13, 2021

Climates of opinion


In The Problem of Pain Lewis indicated that he took a very low view of “climates of opinion.” They do tend to shift. When I was in college, psychology departments were dominated by behaviorists. When I was getting my doctorate in philosophy, some 10 or so years later, the behaviorist era was being dismissed as “the bad old days.” In biology sociobiology is still considered debatable. In philosophy movements like Absolute Idealism, or Deconstruction, or Logical Positivism, or Naturalized Epistemology, or Eliminative Materialism, or Critical Race Theory, or even New Atheism, have their ups and downs.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Good and bad reasons for restricting immigration

On what grounds do we justly restrict people from entering out country? Well, we don't want criminals, weapons, drugs, or infectious diseases coming in, so we should screen those out. If we are refusing to let people into our country because we don't want too many s****s, n*****s, and k***s in America, those are bad reasons. You'd think that would be obvious, but one of the main advisors on immigration in the last administration was an out and out white nationalism. See here.

Between the obvious good reasons, and obvious bad reasons, what reasons are valid?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Everything old is new again

 Heard any new arguments against vaccination? Probably not. All the arguments against the COVID vaccine were used by opponents of the smallpox vaccine. 


By the way, have you run into anyone lately who as contracted smallpox? How 'bout polio. Those  used to be dreaded diseases. I wonder what  happened to them. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

There's a new article out on Jesus mythicism, so it must be Christmas

A redated post. No it's not Christmas. 


This article compares them to anti-vaccinationists.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Legal immigration

 The REAL issue between me and people like Trump administration supporters is this. I think that most of who or what that tries to come over the border is benign, consisting mostly of people looking for a better life in much the way our ancestors did. Due to our prohibitive requirements for LEGAL immigration, people end up trying to come into the country illegally, and sometimes succeed and for the most part become law-abiding citizens. I have been a sub in public schools and have taught a lot of their kids. They weren't on their best behavior for me, but they are not bad kids, and they are certainly not murderers and rapists. Their undocumented parents work for a living. They should have had the opportunity to come here legally. We would need a lot less border security if we turned the ports of entry on the Southern border into little Ellis Islands instead of trying to build the Great Wall of China down there. Think about asylum seekers. They're trying to come here LEGALLY. Yeah, we would become a majority-minority country sooner, but so what? Yeah, they might need public assistance sometimes, because we let people work in America, in many cases, without paying them a living wage. This is NOT an open borders position because there still criminals, and drugs, and weapons that we need to keep out, and we would still need border security to keep those people and things out. But I think we can go a long way toward fixing illegal immigration by creating more fairness in the area of legal immigration. "Give me your tired, your poor," shouldn't just be pretty words on a statue. It's still good public policy.