Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Lewis's AFR and Plantinga's EAAN

  Plantinga's is an argument that is designed to be consistent with externalism. I have thought of it as the argument from the reliabillity of our rational faculties, though I think he ends up appealing to mental causation. However, I think there are some aspects of science that seem to require internalist accounts of knowledge. Sure, there's other knowledge, but for science to work a scientist has to be able to present his or her experimentaal process so that someone else can follow the same process and check to see if the result is the same. There are some kinds of knowledge where wee can say "It doesn't matter about the process so long as it's a reliable one." But if we are relying on that kind of knowledge in order for science to be possible, it won't work.

Monday, July 24, 2023

From Lewis's essay Bulverism

 But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called “a reason.” Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the results of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Teleonomy and evidence

 Materialism, ordinarily understood, means that all causation is mechanistic. Consider materialistic determinism. The basic elements are in some position at the beginning if there was one, and everything that happens to every basic element of the universe that is necessitated by the laws of physics.  All other states that exist are states that follow necessarily from those basic physical states. On chance-and-necessity physicalism, there is a brute chance factor involved, but nothing at the base level is teleological, normative, perspectival, or intentional. You may get, as Churchland indicates, effects that one might think require intelligence, but they are in fact produced by stupid elements properly hooked up. This is teleonomy, not teleology, the quality of apparent purposefulness of structure in living organisms due to evolutionary adaptation.

 When a Darwinian materialist says “The purpose of your eye is to see” it is not literally true. There are no true purposes in a materialist universe. However, the power to see did result in the eye being selected for.  In the same way, if a materialist says that he accepts materialism because the evidence supports it, this is also not literally true.

Friday, July 14, 2023

The relevance of logical laws

 IV. Argument from the Psychological Relevance of Logical Laws

My fourth argument concerned the role of logical laws in mental causation. In order for mental causation to be what we ordinarily suppose it to be, it is not only necessary that mental states be causally efficacious in virtue of their content, it is also necessary that the laws of logic be relevant to the production of the conclusion. That is, if we conclude “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man, then no only must we understand the meanings of those expressions, and these meanings must play a central role in the performance of these inferences, but what Lewis call the ground-and-consequent relationship between the propositions must also play a central role in these rational inferences. We must know that the argument is structured in such a way that in arguments of that form the conclusion always follows from the premises. We do not simply know something that is the case at one moment in time, but we know something that must be true in all moments of time, in every possible world. But how could a physical brain, which stands in physical relations to other objects and whose activities are determined, insofar as they are determined at all, by the laws of physics and not the laws of logic, come to know, not merely that something was true, but could not fail to be true regardless of whatever else is true in the world.
We can certainly imagine, for example, a possible world in which the laws of physics are different from the way they are in the actual world. We can imagine, for example, that instead of living in a universe in which dead people tend to stay dead, we find them rising out of their graves on a regular basis on the third day after they are buried. But we cannot imagine a world in which, once we know which cat and which mat, it can possibly be the case that the cat is both on the mat and not on the mat. Now can we imagine there being a world in which 2 + 2 is really 5 and not 4? I think not.
It is one thing to suggest that brains might be able to “track” states of affairs in the physical world. It is another thing to suggest that a physical system can be aware, not only that something is the case, but that it must be the case; that not only it is the case but that it could not fail to be the case. Brain states stand in physical relations to the rest of the world, and are related to that world through cause and effect, responding to changes in the world around us. How can these brain states be knowings of what must be true in all possible worlds?
Consider the difficulty of going from what is to what ought to be in ethics. Many philosophers have agreed that you can pile up the physical truths, and all other descriptive truths from chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology, as high as you like about, say, the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and you could never, by any examination of these, come to the conclusion that these acts we really morally wrong (as opposed to being merely widely disapproved of and criminalized by the legal system). Even the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie argued that if there were truths of moral necessity, these truths, and our ability to know those truths, are do not fit well into the naturalistic world-view, and if they existed, they would support a theistic world-view. Mackie could and did, of course, deny moral objectivity, but my claim is that objective logical truths present an even more serious problem for naturalism, because the naturalist cannot simply say they don’t exist on pain of undermining the very natural science on which his world-view rests.
Arguing that such knowledge is trivial because it merely constitutes the “relations of ideas” and does not tell anything about the world outside our minds seems to me to be an inadequate response. If, for example, the laws of logic are about the relations of ideas, then not only are they about ideas that I have thought already, but also they are true of thoughts I haven’t even had yet. If contradictions can’t be true because this is how my ideas relate to one another, and it is a contingent fact that my ideas relate to one another in this way, then it is impossible to say that they won’t relate differently tomorrow.
Carrier responds somewhat differently. He says:
For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works—or, to avoid begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way that the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying-machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is that the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.
What this amounts to, it seems to me, is a denial of the absolute necessity of logic. If the laws of logic just tell us how truth-finding machines work, then if the world were different a truth-finding machine would work differently. I would insist on a critical distinction between the truths of mathematics, which are true regardless of whether anybody thinks them or not, and laws governing how either a person or a computer ought to perform computations. I would ask “What is it about reality that makes one set of computations correct and another set of computations incorrect?”
William Vallicella provides an argument against the claim that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations:
1. The laws of logic are empirical generalizations. (Assumption for reductio).
2. Empirical generalizations, if true, are merely contingently true. (By definition of ‘empirical generalization’: empirical generalizations record what happens to be the case, but might have not been the case.)
3. The laws of logic, if true, are merely contingently true. (1 and 2)
4. If proposition p is contingently true, then it is possible the p be false. (True by definition)
5. The laws of logic, if true, are possibly false. (From 3 and 4)
6. LNC is possibly false: there are logically possible worlds in which p & ~p is true.
7. But (6) is absurd (self-contradictory): it amounts to saying that it is logically possible that the very criterion of logical possibility, namely LNC, be false. Therefore 1 is false, and its contradictory, the clam that the laws of logic are not empirical generalizations, is true.
Logic, I maintain, picks out features of reality that must exist in any possible world. We know, and have insight into these realities, and this is what permits us to think. A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.

Two ways of criticizing the AFR


There seem to be two lines of criticism of arguments from reason. One is to argue, a la Moore and Anscombe, that causal antecedents of belief are irrelevant to rationality, because reasons are not causes. The other is to argue that, along the lines of Haldane and Churchland, that mechanistic causation and rational inference are compatible, explaining the confluence in terms of Darwinian survival advantage. The former line of critique denies that reasons are causes, the other claims that reasons are causes, but are a species of ordinary physical causation.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

From James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought

 Some thinking (iudgment) is determinate in a way no physical process can be. Consequently, such thinking cannot be (wholly5) a physical process. If all thinking, all judgment, is determinate in that way, no physical process can be (the whole of) any judgment at all. Furthermore, "functions" among physical states cannot be determinate enough to be such judgments, either. Hence some judgments can be neither wholly physical processes nor wholly functions among physical processes.


Wholes and parts, minds and brains

 The argument from reason, I am being told, has a problem because it focuses exclusively on the parts (atoms) and doesn't take wholes seriously. 

If this argument in Hume's Dialogues is right,  wholes are products of "an arbitary act of the mind." Wholes, including brains, depend on being thought together by minds. 

In such a chain too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. 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 per|formed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each in|dividual
in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. That is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.

The Blind Programmer


Patricia Smith Churchland, however, in response to a version of the Argument from Reason presented by Geoffrey Madell, attempts to defend materialism by suggesting that although humans, unlike computers, are not products of intelligent design, the evolutionary process simulates intelligent design in such a way as to provide reason:

There is a fatal tendency to assume that intentionality cannot just be a function of the neurons and their connectivity, but that there must be someone in the head who interprets neuronal signals, who sees the activation patterns of the visual cortex, who takes the data and makes a free decision, and so on. As Dan Dennett has tirelessly pointed out, postulating homunculi does not explain anything - it just defers the question. And on this, even someone as wedded to intrinsic intentionality as Searle, agrees. If AI has taught us anything, it is that effects which seem to require an intelligent homunculus can really be done by stupid elements properly hooked up. Who hooked us up? Evolution.

So, not only do we have a Blind Watchmaker, we have a Blind Programmer.

But stupid elements cannot select in the interests of truth, and can they add up to determinate meanings? Without determinate meanings it is never clear what anyone means by anything, and logic is impossible.


 Determinism is the view that given what happened in the distant past (which you and I had nothing to do with) the future is inevitable. Such past events can simply be the positions of the material particles in the universe as of, say, July 13, 1950 at 12:13 AM Pacific Daylight Time. Or the set of past event could include choices God might have made to predetermine that such and such will happen. Whether it's physical or divine, given that past state, the future is inevitable. If you play a CD with Ariana Grande's music, you will hear her songs the same way every time you play it, and you won't hear Demi Lovato instead. It's predetermined.

Let's call the set of events over which you had not control X.
The argument against moral responsibility might be stated this way.
1) You are not responsible for X. (It happened before you were born).
2) Necessarily, if X occurs, Y occurs (Y is some action you performed. Think of the worst thing you ever did. Make that Y).
3) Therefore, you are not responsible for Y.
See. you're off the hook.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The framework of meaning


The argument from reason says that reason cannot emerge from a closed, mechanistic system. The computer is, narrowly speaking, a mechanistic system, and it does “follow” rational rules. But not only was the computer made by humans, the framework of meaning that makes the computer’s actions intelligible is supplied by humans. As a set of physical events, the actions of a computer are just as subject as anything else to the indeterminacy of the physical. If a computer plays the move Rf6, and we see it on the screen, it is our perception and understanding that gives that move a definite meaning. In fact, the move has no meaning to the computer itself, it only means something to persons playing and watching the game. Suppose we lived in a world without chess, and two computers were to magically materialize in the middle of the Gobi desert and go through all the physical states that the computers went through the last time Fritz played Shredder. If that were true they would not be playing a chess game at all, since there would be no humans around to impose the context that made those physical processes a chess game and not something else. Hence, I think that we can safely regard the computer objection as a red herring.

Christianity and homosexuality

 Sexual orientation is a matter of who you are naturally attracted to sexually. Some people seem to be sexually attracted to the same sex, others to both sexes, and some only to the opposite sex. Now, traditional sexual morality says that these desires can only be acted on where there is a marriage, and marriage, in the sacred sense is only possible for opposite-sex partners. I seriously doubt that this is simply genetic, as some have argued, but for some people at least it doesn't seem to be alterable. Trying to "pray the gay away" doesn't seem to work for some people, and the failure of Exodus International seems to support this contention. But if traditional Christian sexual morality holds, then people who are in this condition through no fault of their own are morally obligated to be celibate. It doesn't seem to me that those who are in that condition can alter their condition, nor does it seem to me that they had to have committed some sin in order to get into that condition.

What does the Church have to say to such people? There are four possibilities.

1) You are this way because God hates you. When Westboro Baptist says that God hates fags, they don't mean that since you chose to be a fag, you is angry with you. They believe in a particularly strong version of Reformed theology according to which God chooses some for heaven, whom he loves, and he hates everyone else. And one expression of God's hatred for you would be if you were to be an homosexual. That is a pretty good sign that God has created you for the fiery pits. God doesn't have you because you're gay, you are gay because God hates you.

2) You can change your orientation and become straight, through prayer, Bible study, and therapy. I think this was the position of Focus on the Family, and is the basis of Exodus International, and it looks to me like it doesn't work. And I when I read histories of the gay rights movement, and try to explain why so many Americans now accept gay marriage, this chapter in the story tends to be left out.

3) The celibacy option. This is the view that, yes, there are people who are unalterably gay, and these people are obligated to be celibate. Technically, there is nothing wrong with being gay any more than there is anything wrong with having black skin or blue eyes, but the moral path to acceptable to intimate relationships is closed to them.

4) The Lord is my shepherd and he knows I'm gay (the title of a book by Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church). This is to hold that the traditional prescriptions against homosexual conduct are not absolute, and that gays should seek a homosexual equivalent of traditional heterosexual marriage.

These are the four options. 1 seems unacceptable, 2 doesn't work, so 3 and 4 are what is left.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Physics is leading us to a mental universe

 So says Scientific American. 

Haldane vs. Haldane


Unlike Balfour, J. B. S. Haldane is quoted by C. S. Lewis. Also unlike Balfour, Haldane was a dedicated atheist. He wrote in 1934 “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.” Haldane was also a virulent Lewis critic who considered Lewis a “danger to clear thinking.” He once gave a presentation on behalf of atheism at the Oxford Socratic Club with Lewis present but departed without answering questions, preventing any in-person exchange between the two of them.

            Nevertheless, in 1927 Haldane offers a reason for rejecting materialism. He writes.

"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere byproduct of matter. For 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. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

What he seems to have been committed to at this stage is some version of Absolute Idealism, as evidenced by this passage:

But I notice that when I think logically and scientifically or act morally my thoughts and actions cease to be characteristic of myself, and are those of any intelligent or moral being in the same position; in fact, I am already identifying my mind with an absolute or unconditioned mind.

However, by 1940 he wrote “Why I am a materialist,” giving an account of his rejection of his previous idealistic philosophy but not rebutting the specific argument he had provided.


 But in 1954, after Lewis in 1947 had quoted him so prominently in the third chapter of Miracles, he wrote “I Repent an Error,” for Literary Guide, in which he responded to the passage Lewis had quoted. Haldane’s counter-response bears little resemblance to Anscombe’s reply to Lewis, but is resembles how many naturalists’ respond when they first encounter the argument. Benjamin Fain summarizes it as follows.

….computers act in accordance with the laws of physics, and despite that they act in full accordance with the laws of logic. The human mind can be represented by the brain, which we can compare to the computer. It is simultaneously a physical and logical being.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Popper's version of Haldane's argument against materialism


The context here is that I have been  working on a paper on the history of arguments from reason. Balfour seems like the first post-Darwin version of the argument, and Haldane is interesting because he uses the argument against materialism, then develops a rebuttal to his own argument based on computers which I think more closely resembles a lot of people's responses than did Anscombe's rebuttal. Popper is interesting because he defends the earlier Haldane against his later self. 

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Two differernt but physically identical worlds.

Here's a BIG problem for people who think that the physical facts determine all the facts. There is a possible world in which I am you and you are me, despite the fact that the two worlds are physically identical. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The denial of consciousness

 You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning.

And in a period when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliverately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience.

The extreme limit of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about to study the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism.

The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”

–C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 114-5.

The silliest claim ever made

 What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience. Next to this denial—I’ll call it “the Denial”—every known religious belief is only a little less sensible than the belief that grass is green.

-Galen Strawson