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?


Victor Reppert said...

So, no one wants to comment on the nonpolitical stuff?

Kevin said...

I don't know enough of the background information to make an informed comment here. Figured those more familiar would do so.

One Brow said...

It's been a crazy week for me. I was hoping to read it more carefully on the weekend.

Starhopper said...

I don't know enough about Anscombe to make an intelligent comment. All I know is that she allegedly embarrassed Lewis in a debate, and he re-wrote a chapter in one of his books in answer to her comments. So it seems to me that Lewis dealt with the issue and moved along. Shouldn't we all do likewise? Or is there something that Lewis left unresolved?

Victor Reppert said...

Two issues. First, Anscombe did provide some further responses to Lewis's revised chapter. One was her introduction to her own paper in the volume of her papers, and the second was at an Oxford C. S. Lewis society meeting at in 1985, the transcript of which, (unfortunately for me when I was writing a dissertation about the argument) only came out in 2015. She thinks Lewis improved the argument, but she saw some problems with it, problems that I attempted to resolve in my first published response in Christian Scholar's Review in 1989. When she critiqued Lewis originally wrote her rebuttal she said you couldn't argue against naturalism by arguing that it is inconsistent with the validity of reasoning, a claim she does not repeat in her subsequent responses. But she doesn't deny the claim either. John Beversluis maintains that Anscombe's objections can be pressed further, and Lewis's revision does nothing to meet them.

Even though Lewis's revision is an improvement needs further development. For example, Lewis thinks that naturalists have to be determinists, but they can be what is now called chance and necessity physicalists.

bmiller said...


What are you looking for?

We can't read Anscombe's mind nor Lewis's and neither spent a great deal of time hashing it out when they were alive.

I assume that the major obstacle for people considering this is that atheists just don't care. Only rubes would still wonder if God exists. There is no pushback, because the majority of people have given up on Christianity. Even most self-identifying as Christians.

One Brow said...

I couldn't access the 1985 talk on-line, so I don't really have a basis looking at this. Instead, I have other questions.

My understanding is that quite a few materialists would see science and religion as language games not necessarily in conflict. What's the objection to that from a materialist point of view?

I'm still unclear of the difference between reason-explanations and cause explanations. Is there a good primer for that?

Dominik Kowalski said...

Well the reason is regularly said to be the intention to do something, decided because of reasons. However the issue is to translate desires and intentions into a language of purely physical causes. That however is required if one wants to safeguard causal closure. One attempt I'm familiar with is the afromentioned Smart's reformulation of Peter Strawsons question about qualia (e.g. of pain) into something akin to "I'm in a brain state x that makes it feel like I'm in pain" which intends to enable neuroscience to fill x so that the issue gets resolved. Sorry, it has been quite some time since reading about that exchange (I think it was in Robinson) and that reformulation doesn't quit represent Smart's formulation, but it represents his intention. Now, I don't see how that actually resolves anything, but it's the way the reason-cause gap needs to be bridged.

I don't know whether that's what Victor was getting at though.

One Brow said...


Thank you for initial bit.

So, would you be saying that qualia are the reason-explanation, as opposed to being the cause-explanation for humans undertaking phenomena?