Saturday, December 5, 2009

Petersen on naturalism

Over in the combox at What’s Wrong with the World, reader Bobcat points us in the direction of Steve Petersen’s paper “Naturalism as a coherent ism.” Petersen is a naturalist but acknowledges that most presentations of naturalism are open to the charge of incoherence – that their way of making the claim that natural science is the only genuine path to knowledge fails to explain how this claim itself can be judged a scientific claim.

Petersen’s solution is as follows: Let’s think of naturalism as a commitment to the methodology of science; let’s think of science as a commitment to the model of inference to the best explanation; and let’s think of explanation as a matter of systematically boiling things down to a minimum number of brute facts. Or in Petersen’s “soundbite form”: “Naturalism is scientism is explanationism is unificationism.” Mathematics, with its axiomatic method, and philosophy, with its methods of conceptual analysis and unification via general principles, would count as “naturalistic” in this sense. Astrology, which posits unexplained relationships between celestial activity and the course of everyday human life, would not. More to the present point, naturalism itself would count as a naturalistic theory in this sense, so that the coherence problem is solved.

The trouble with this is that it makes naturalism completely trivial; in particular, it makes Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Aquinas, et al. all “naturalists” committed to “scientism.” Indeed, it makes their views more “naturalistic” and “scientistic” than those of most contemporary self-described “naturalists.” For Neo-Platonic arguments for The One, say, or Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments for an Uncaused Cause who is Actus Purus and ipsum esse subsistens, eliminate brute facts altogether – the ultimate cause of things, on these views, could not possibly have been other than it is – while most contemporary naturalists assume that some brute facts or other are inevitable, and the only question is how many we need to countenance.

Petersen is aware of the problem that his position seems trivial if it entails that philosophical claims collapse into scientific ones, and his solution is to bite the bullet and propose that we accept this expansion of what is allowed to count as scientific. The problem now is that while this might seem plausible if we focus only on the sorts of thinkers Petersen takes as examples of “naturalistic” philosophers in his expanded sense – Hume and Quine – it seems absurd when we consider philosophers like the ones I mentioned.

Petersen also insists that his position is non-trivial insofar as it is incompatible with any conception of “first philosophy” that would let philosophy trump empirical science when there is a conflict between the two. The trouble with this is that it attacks a straw man. No advocate of “first philosophy,” whether in the older, Scholastic understanding of this idea or in the modern Cartesian rationalist sense, believes that philosophy and empirical science can ever truly conflict with one another. It would be nice to have an instance of such a purported conflict, but Petersen does not give us one.

But let us consider, for example, Thomistic arguments for the immateriality of the intellect or Cartesian arguments for immaterial substance. Are these incompatible with any finding of empirical science? They are not, because they are not probabilistic “empirical hypotheses” which have somehow been superseded by later and better “empirical hypotheses.” Rather, they are attempts to demonstrate that the mind cannot even in principle be material, so that the immateriality of thoughts and the like is itself simply part of the data of which any empirical theory must take account. We can argue about whether or not they succeed in showing this, but in the nature of the case they cannot be said to be incompatible with any finding of empirical science, because they have to do with higher-order questions about the data from which such scientific inquiry must begin – questions Peterson himself allows as a legitimate area of philosophical inquiry on his broadened conception of naturalism.

I don’t know if Petersen would claim otherwise, but many other naturalists would, on such grounds as that (a) arguments for dualism involve “positing” something like “ectoplasm” as the most “probable” way of “explaining” human behavioral and psychological phenomena, where these arguments are held to be less compelling than the materialist alternatives, or (b) that natural science has somehow already “shown” that there are no immaterial phenomena. The problem here is that (a) is a complete travesty of what dualist arguments actually say, and (b) is invariably question-begging, and typically committed to the very sort of incoherent naturalism that Petersen rejects.

As it happens, though, Petersen is happy to acknowledge that his position so broad that it will allow even Richard Swinburne’s arguments for God’s existence to count as “naturalistic.” Many would no doubt regard this as a suicidal concession, but it is not. For Swinburne’s arguments are essentially of the family of arguments most famously associated with William Paley – arguments that take for granted a broadly mechanistic conception of nature, conceptualize God in terms used univocally both of him and of us, proceed via probabilistic hypothesis formation, etc. And as I have argued in a couple of recent posts (here and here) a sophisticated naturalist would realize that he has nothing to fear from Paley-style arguments. What naturalists really want to avoid is the God of classical theism, and as I argue in those posts, Paley-style arguments not only don’t get you to, but indeed get you away from, the God of classical theism.

What does get you to classical theism, though, are arguments informed by some variety of classical metaphysics – arguments of the sort given by Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, Thomists, etc. That’s where the real trouble for Petersen’s position comes in, because it is so broad that it includes even these. And if metaphysical demonstrations of Plato’s Form of the Good, or Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, or Plotinus’s One, or Aquinas’s ipsum esse subsistens count as “naturalistic,” then Petersen’s “naturalism” isn’t anything close to what contemporary naturalists think of their position as consistent with.

Or to put it another way: If Petersen’s “naturalism” has put him in the same camp with the author of The Last Superstition, then his dissertation adviser has given him some seriously bad career counseling…

47 comments:

Bobcat said...

Hi Ed,

Minor point: it's PetersEn, not PetersOn.

Bobcat said...

Ed,

Another point: Petersen thinks that van Inwagen's argument for libertarianism would be ruled out by his naturalism. Van Inwagen's argument, just so we're all on the same page, is:

(1) Determinism and free will are definitely incompatible.
(2) Indeterminism and free will seem to be incompatible.
(3) A necessary condition for our being morally responsible is that we have free will.
(4) We know we are morally responsible.
(5) Therefore we know we have free will.
(6) Therefore, indeterminism and free will must be compatible.

Petersen would rule out (4) as permissible within his scheme, so if you're going to be a libertarian, it seems you have to be one for a different reason than van Inwagen gives, at least if you accept Petersenian naturalism.

What do you think of van Inwagen's argument for free will? Do you accept it? If you don't accept it, then what reason do you have for believing in free will? (I read TLS, but from what I remember, its treatment of free will was rather brief.)

Anonymous said...

It isn't clear to me that Aristotle or Aquinas are incompatibilists or libertarians.

Crude said...

Bobcat,

While Petersen may rule out 4, I'm not sure his IBE scheme necessarily would. Over at WWWtW, he makes the claim that Van Inwagen is 'appealing to mystery'. But I don't think that's necessarily the case, especially given how he seems to let McGinn off the hook.

If Van Inwagen says "we have no good reasons to believe we have free will, but we have free will", it'd be one thing. But would he say that? Or would he say that we have many good reasons to believe we have free will, but how this could be the case is (currently) a mystery?

That seems to make a lot of difference.

And Ed, thanks for the post. That's quite a permissive "naturalism" indeed. You should start calling yourself the naturalist orthodox Catholic. ;)

Edward Feser said...

Whoops, thanks Bobcat, and sorry Steve. I've fixed it.

Re: free will, as you might expect, I think the problem is badly framed in modern phil. So whenever I see arguments like van Inwagen's I want to say "Well, what exactly do you mean by 'determinism' and 'indeterminism' when we keep in mind that not all causes are efficient causes in the first place?" For example, I don't see intentions (say) as efficient causes of bodily movements but rather as the formal and final causal side of an event of which the bodily movements are the material and efficient causal side.

Having said that, like Crude, I'm not clear on why van Inwagen's step (4) has to be read as an exercise in mystery mongering.

Crude, yeah, just call me a naturalistic supernaturalist. ;-)

Edward Feser said...

One more thing: I'm also less sure than Steve is that a lot of what he thinks of as appeals to mystery really are that at all. Take his astrology example: While astrology is certainly superstitious, the astronomical theory in terms of which it was originally understood (the transfer of motion from outer heavenly spheres downward to the earth etc.) did in fact at least make it intelligible insofar as it tried to spell out a mechanism by which celestial bodies affected us. Of course the whole framework was totally wrong and the astrological conclusions were no doubt never defended in convincing detail. But the point is that this would seem to be a case of bad science rather than non-science. In general, lots of the things Steve might want to point to as incompatible with naturalism might on analysis turn out to be, not appeals to mystery, but rather poorly argued for non-appeals to mystery. In which case they're not non-naturalistic (on his analysis) but just bad attempts to give a naturalistic account. And in that case, his account of what is "naturalistic" seems, again, to be threatened with triviality.

Anonymous said...

The more I think about it, the more I like Petersen's account. If people are going to call themselves naturalists, then there are basically two options. The first is to understand 'naturalism' as a substantive ontological thesis about the sorts of things that can and can't exist; the other is to understand it as something much more like a methodological thesis about how 'scientific' (in the broad sense of scientia or episteme as fully-fledged knowledge-cum-understanding) inquiries should be conducted and theories constructed. Petersen's is clearly the second sort, and this seems to me to be broadly right. After all, it has the virtue of avoiding a problem that the first account would run into, namely insisting that certain kinds of things which turn out to be necessary for good accounts (even natural scientific ones) are actually 'supernatural.' Ed's last point is right on track; many of the entities and processes that naturalists decry as 'supernatural' are in fact better conceived as hypothetically natural entities and processes that turn out not to exist and/or serve any role in good accounts of the world. The fact that Petersen's formal account excludes so little seems like a virtue; it allows us to focus on whether or not a putative theory is a good one without worrying ourselves over the pseudo-problem of whether it is properly 'naturalistic.' I'm even happy to let him keep the word 'naturalism,' since if his view were accepted, we could return to something like the much more sensible pre-modern view in which 'the natural' encompasses the entire world of finite beings with essences (since naturalists are now increasingly acknowledging that they can and even must believe in essences -- with all the necessary qualifications and advertisement for Oderberg's book). After all, even for really traditional Thomists who believe in angels every bit as much as Aquinas did, angels are not technically speaking supernatural -- only God is technically speaking supernatural, because only God is (very metaphorically, one must add) 'above' the world of finite beings with natures. And this account of 'naturalism' can even help us get everybody clear on what it means for God to be supernatural -- it means not being a finite being with anything like a straightforward essence. In other words, Petersen's 'naturalism' can help us more easily distinguish between classical theism and the 'theistic personalism' of Paley, Swinburne, Plantinga, et al.

Of course, none of this will sound very appealing to most people who would call themselves 'naturalists.' But in my experience, anything that makes those people happy is probably at least somewhat confused. So, with all the reservations about Petersen's judgment of van Inwagen and the rest, I say we accept this as an account of naturalism. If widely accepted, it could only open the path for more traditional metaphysical positions to meet with serious argument again instead of dogmatic dismissal.

Jime said...

I think that for most naturalists the essential thesis of contemporary naturalism is the rejection of the supernatural (God, immaterial souls, etc.).

That's the answer that most naturalists tend to give when you ask them "What's naturalism?"

Of course, defining the natural in terms of rejection of the supernatural (and viceversa) seems to make no sense, unless you specify what do you mean by these concepts; and this support the idea that the core of naturalism is actually the rejection of the God of classical theism.

Even the theistic naturalism of David Ray Griffin (based on Whitehead's metaphysics) reject the God of the classical theism (and bear in mind that Griffin's theism is compatible with the afterlife, free will, objective moral values, and other ideas existing in classical theism).

Also, naturalists like Evan Fales accept libertarian free will and Platonic realism, or Michael Martin who call himself a "moral realist" (in my opinion, these positions are inconsistent with naturalism; but the point is that there are naturalists who accept such ideas)

But they wouldn't accept that their naturalism is compatible with God (of the classical theism).

Finally, and just as a funny anecdote, watch how naturalist and skeptic Michael Shermer got his ass kicked in his own "scientific test" by a vedic astrologer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3N1dIUTbZTo

So, like naturalist orthodox Catholicism or naturalistic supernaturalism, vedic astrology is not scientific, but it's scientifically testable by skeptics ;-)

Anonymous said...

Griffin ought to be in a good position to give a clear account of what 'supernaturalism' is, but I don't think he succeeds (in Reenchantment without Supernaturalism, at least). As he characterizes 'supernaturalism,' he's right to reject it. It's just that it doesn't actually describe classical theism correctly, at least if Aquinas represents classical theism. But that's typical of process theists, in my experience. Ultimately, I'm not surprised; after all, these are people who seem to think they can make coherent sense of the idea that processes are metaphysically basic and 'substances' (or rather, what would traditionally be taken as paradigmatic substances) are emergent features of the processes. I'm sure Griffin et al. could do a better job, but so far I haven't been able to get a process enthusiast to give me a straight answer to the question "processes of what?"

If naturalism is just atheism and anti-substance-dualism, then it is basically compatible with most things: certainly with moral realism and freedom.

Burl said...

Great posts, Dr. Feser, and great comments, all.

Anon, your question about 'process of what?' would be answered by Whitehead as 'experience', Hartshorne and Griffin say 'psychism', Pirsig (a process philosopher also) says 'Quality'.

I think Aquinas would liken it to 'the action of hylomorphic becoming', or maybe ‘an occasion of esse taking essence (becoming being)’.

All of these are hard to conceptualize in words. Very existentially real, though.

On free will…The most mind-blowing thing I have come across is when neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas describes his self-test for it here (about 36 min into talk)
http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-science-studio/enter-the-i-of-the-vortex

He also gives a panpsychic explanation of cellular feelings and our emotions that any Whiteheadean would love. A great thinker here.

Phritz said...

For example, I don't see intentions (say) as efficient causes of bodily movements but rather as the formal and final causal side of an event of which the bodily movements are the material and efficient causal side.

Theists must grant that a G*d by definition would have supreme override rights (and set all causal parameters a priori): ergo, free will does not ultimately exist under theism, including the thomistic/essencia view. (indeed Aristotle's causes as mechanist as Darwin in ways)..and all monotheists are de facto calvinists....

That said humans, at least sane ones, have the unqiue ability to think and make decisions (or play chess, spin integrals etc)--thinking is causal--- and naturalists, even the Searle sorts routinely overlook that fact, and error in reducing reason to mere biological byproduct. Mind exists, even if bio-dependent...

Steve Petersen said...

Hi folks! I posted here many hours ago, but I see now it never showed - looking back, I think what happened was that I hit "publish" but forgot to fill in Blogger's captcha before surfing away, confident I had published, and missing an error report. Oops. I'm not much of a blogger.

Anyway thanks again for your thoughts and attention to my work. Of course I have some thoughts in reply!

First, as to the specific point that Plato, Aquinas, et al. are "naturalists" in my view: it is important to remember that the way I recover the ideological component of naturalism is by saying that science (to me, IBE) is the only route to knowledge. Of course just about any philosopher you pick will use something that looks like IBE with fair frequency; indeed, I think everyone usually uses IBE, philosopher or no, in everyday life. The question is whether they hold that IBE is the only route to knowledge, and this I think clearly rules out Plato, Aquinas, Plantinga, and whoever else appeals to non-scientific routes to knowledge such as faith or revelation.

The more general theme to the objections, both here and back on WWwtW, is that my view makes naturalism "trivial" or "sets the bar too low." Well, if all the theist readers of that blog and this are willing to sign on as card-carrying IBE-only evidentialists, then a) you're probably right that my view excludes far fewer people than I thought, but b) I would be delighted to discover as much! If we're all on board with IBE-only methodology, then we can use that method to build consensus where now there is a great deal of disagreement over particulars.

My main target was, as I say, those who in a debate eventually resort to some other putative source of knowledge about controversial claims (faith and revelation, most notably, in philosophical and theological circles). So if there are those who wish to maintain access to such claims in support of any part of their religion, then my view must not set the bar too low to be exclusionary, since there are views that are (so to speak) still lower.

A sidenote on free will and van Inwagen. If "we know we are morally responsible" means "we know we are morally responsible in the retributive sense" then yes, this is illegitimate dogmatism IBE-wise in a context where that very claim is up for dispute. If it means "we know we are morally responsible in some sense" then of course I (and I hope PvI) would deny that entails the existence of free will, given consequentialist approaches to moral responsibility that do not require free will.

Anyway thanks again for your thoughts, it's been very helpful for me!

Steve

TomH said...

Of course, Laudan showed that the word "science" can be rendered so vague as to be meaningless. There is no defense against proposals to incorporate horsemanship, football coaching, art, woodworking, common ancestry, young earth creationism, or astrology into one's definition of "science," since Laudan has shown that the "non-science" category is undefined.

Petersen's entire argument is therefore meaningless if some formal definition for "science" is expected to exist. If instead of a formal definition for "science" an ad hoc definition is substituted, there are plenty of competing ad hoc definitions for "science," so there is no reason to prefer Petersen's definition over any of the others.

Crude said...

Steve,

I don't think IBE clearly "rules out" who you think it does, precisely because you've expanded 'science' to include philosophical arguments and more. Even if you think Aquinas, Plato, and others personally held some beliefs owing to 'faith and/or revelation', so much of their views become "naturalistic" under your scheme (I'd argue, practically all of them) that it should be worrying to naturalists. You've admitted that Swinburne's arguments for God are 'naturalistic', even if you're convinced something has gone wrong with them, though you (of course, given the focus) don't say how in your paper.

What's more, your paper doesn't spend much time talking about "faith or revelation". In fact, the only view you really hammer away at are raw appeals to mystery (and I think it's far from clear that the examples you give are actual examples of this). But here's the additional problem: As you wrote in your paper, it's possible to come up with 'naturalistic arguments' for God under your scheme (not just by Swinburne's route, but by Aquinas' and other classical theists).

Once you've walked down the road of allowing for the possibility of such IBEs, you've opened a big door re: "faith and revelation". Now revelation is simply a question of whether we have an IBE for said being's existence, and if so, whether we have an IBE for believing that He said/commanded what we believe He did. In other words, you can have an IBE for faith and revelation.

Now, I imagine you'd instinctively reply that you don't agree that we have an IBE for God. And perhaps you can fall back to, even if there is an IBE for God, we may lack an IBE for those particular beliefs in Him saying or commanding one thing or another. But the point is that all of these arguments are going to be scientific and "naturalistic" - and just which IBE is truly the 'best' is not preordained, nor is there a guarantee that we'll have a clear route to the 'best' IBE (we may end up with multiple reasonable candidates).

In the end, I think the only 'bite' your idea of "naturalism" has comes from the name itself. But I have a sense of humor, and have no problem calling myself a committed naturalist who has faith in in God, Christ, and the Church. That I relied on IBEs (experience, philosophy, logic, reasoning, etc) to get there is of no concerned.

TomH said...

Perhaps Petersen is attempting to defend rationalism and cut off faith due to its irrationality. It seems that experimentation and theorizing often rely on irrational elements, including some sort of faith, acceptance of testimony in many forms, imagination, creativity, tenacity, curiosity, intuition, analogies, etc. I don't think that pure rationalism is defensible. Otoh, if irrationality is allowed, then that seems to undermine Petersen's attempt to demarcate faith and religion on the basis of irrationality, assuming that I have understood Petersen properly.

And regarding IBE, how much influence do our theological commitments (Christian, atheist, etc.) weigh on our perception of what is "best?"

Anonymous said...

Plato appeals to "faith and revelation"? I'm not sure it's fair even to say that Plantinga appeals to faith and revelation in ways excluded by your conception of 'scientific routes to knowledge,' but Plato? I guess your graduate program didn't require you to do much history, huh?

Steve Petersen said...

Hi again! Too-brief responses before I call it a night:

a) Remember, remember, remember, that I am a naturalist about method, so my theory does not rule out magic pixies, let alone God, because it is not an ontological naturalism. No methodological naturalism will rule out any entity "for free". Work must be done to show that the method will not endorse the entity.

b) Remember too that sometimes or even often using IBE is not enough to qualify you as a naturalist. You have to insist on only that method.

c) Aquinas, for one, quite explicitly states that we need a source of knowledge beyond reason; see eg Summa Theologica Prima Pars. This is explicit non-naturalism on my view.

Okay, night! As the school week starts again I won't be able to play much, but I do look forward to more discussion in the future.

Steve

TomH said...

Does Petersen allow for invisible ninjas for IBE, which ostensibly are natural? How then would we distinguish between their impact on phenomena vs. the impact of supernatural agents?

Crude said...

Steve,

First - Yes, Aquinas is saying that "revelation" is necessary for man's salvation - but I already outlined how you can get an IBE to accepting revelation, particularly once you have an IBE that gets you to God. Aquinas seems to be saying that God is in a position to grant knowledge that humans on their own either would not discovered, or could not be expected to discover broadly enough. I dare say that's an IBE-worthy conclusion. And I'd further add that it's not at all obvious that one could not IBE their way to accepting revelation.

Second - I can accept quite a lot while committing myself 'only' to IBE. Maybe you recognize the can of worms you've opened by making philosophy "science", but maybe you don't. Keep in mind, as I believe someone else has said, Aquinas considered theology "science".

I'm joking around in part by saying I can call myself a naturalist, keep in mind. Also keep in mind that this can cut both ways; a naturalist who says something like "we can't allow a divine foot in the door", or who says we have to rule out God because the idea strikes him as silly, or repugnant, would not be a naturalist under your system either. Irony of ironies.

Idris said...

"Does Petersen allow for invisible ninjas for IBE, which ostensibly are natural? How then would we distinguish between their impact on phenomena vs. the impact of supernatural agents?"

Tom, I presume that he would allow the possibility (as such)... though I suspect that invisible ninjas will never in fact win the exaulted title of "best explanation".

Perhaps if the postulation of invisible ninjas turns out to be equi-explanatory with supernatural agents, there is some problem with the supernatural agents hypothesis.

TomH said...

Idris:

"I suspect that invisible ninjas will never in fact win the exaulted title of "best explanation"."

Doesn't that depend on one's epistemic commitments?

"Perhaps if the postulation of invisible ninjas turns out to be equi-explanatory with supernatural agents, there is some problem with the supernatural agents hypothesis."

I was speaking to Petersen's first plank of methodological naturalism. In an experimental context, if one can repeat results, then Occam deals with excess baggage like ninjas or pixies. However, lacking capabilities to intervene/control, unseen agents/unknown causes become a serious epistemic problem. It depends on context--experimental or forensic (where we infer from results to cause).

As an example of the forensic problem, consider the situation of a beaker encrusted with NaCl. How did it reach that state? Was a solution of NaCl poured into the beaker and allowed to evaporate? Or was a dilute solution of NaOH mixed with a dilute solution of HCl and then allowed to evaporate? Both end with the same results.

As a second example, consider that my spouse knows that I leave the house in my car at a certain time and arrive back 20 minutes later. There are many routes I could have taken which are consistent with those known facts. Forensically speaking, how do I distinguish between them?

It seems that methodological naturalism will have epistemic problems with any forensic methodology it uses.

Steve Petersen said...

Hi again!

I read Aquinas as saying quite explicitly that we need a route to knowledge other than reasoning. He does not say "we can reason to God's existence and thereby to the holy trinity". He says instead that "although those things which are beyond man's knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God, they must be accepted by faith." "Faith" in this context, I take it, is standardly understood as belief without reason. Thus faith is non-naturalistic on my view.

As I say over on WWwtW, if instead you want to throw revelation into the IBE hopper, and say that all tenets of your religious belief are based on pure IBE-like reason alone - defeasible like any other, open to investigation and falsification by better explanations - great! That's all I want to hear (in clearing the methodological ground, anyway).

Yes, sometimes induction is difficult, TomH, and it is in the nature of induction that no one answer is guaranteed by the accepted evidence. This is why we must infer to the best (simplest etc.) explanation of the data - because there will always be many possible theories consistent with them.

Thanks again!
Steve

Crude said...

Steve,

I don't know who "standardly" understands faith to mean that, but hopefully it isn't professional philosophers - that's a caricature of faith to say the least. And I think it's a caricature when applied to Aquinas. He's not making a disconnected declaration there - he's laying out reasons why faith (here, believing something that is not fully comprehended) has a role when revealed by a trustworthy source (here, God). Again, very IBE.

What's more, where is the requirement that an IBE be defeasible, open to investigation and falsification by better explanations, etc? Those requirements would require IBEs to justify themselves, would they not? It seems entirely possible to have an inference to an explanation with said inference not being defeasible, not open to decisive investigation or falsification, etc.

Seems like IBEs can do a lot of things that would give most modern naturalists headaches, really.

Burl said...

On free will…The most mind-blowing thing I have come across is when neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas describes his self-test for it here (about 36 min into talk)
http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-science-studio/enter-the-i-of-the-vortex.

Seriously, no one is moved to comment on Dr. Llinas' self0test?

TomH said...

Steve,

I think that existentialists have the right view of man without God--very similar to the Ecclesiastes view. Beginning with that position, it is unreasonable, it seems to me, to use an argument from authority, like the presuppositionalists do. I think that some evidentialism is required, which leads to some reliance on IBE. The evidentialism is necessary to validate a credential of divinity attached to revelation. The credential must be sufficient to allow validation, but not necessarily so powerful that it compels faith. In this way, IBE "shoehorns" in revelation, in a sense.

Crude said...

Burl,

I read the transcript where he talks about the test. I admit, it doesn't seem that interesting to me (at least on deeper questions of free will). He's saying an electrical stimulation made him want to move his leg inward, even though he previously said he would move his leg outward. Even given that, would free will proponents (compatiblist or libertarian) ever argue free will cannot be overrode? I've never heard it from the former or latter.

There's other problems with his views, like his wildly anthropormorphic understand of God, that to apply anesthetic to the brain is to apply anesthetic to the mind (When someone drops a calculator in water, do they think they're getting numbers wet?), and his treatment of the mind in general. The idea of intentionality being present even in cells is interesting, of course, but his idea of the mind seems like it would quickly fall prey to objections Ed has outlined before.

(Though I have some sympathy for panpsychism, only because it seems vastly more reasonable than materialism.)

David said...

Burl: "On free will…The most mind-blowing thing I have come across is when neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas describes his self-test for it

OK, I read it in the transcript (about half-way down). Briefly, he stimulated his brain with a magnet which caused his foot to move. The funny thing is, when it happened, he didn't feel, "Aha, the electrical stimulation has triggered the foot-moving circuit in my brain!". Instead he felt, "I have moved my foot!" That is, he felt the same sensation as when he volitionally moved his foot of his own accord. Thus he concludes that free-will is an illusion — just something the brain feels when it anticipates that some other part of the brain is about to do something.

It's fascinating neuroscience, of course, but it doesn't contribute anything one way or the other to a proper philosophical understanding of the will, or of materialism. I don't have a transcranial magnetic stimulator to try out the experiment on myself (though I wish I did; I'd be interested in my own reaction!), but here's a simple trick you can do at home: put a mirror at an angle in front of your eyes and position it so that when you hold both hands up before your face you see one hand and one reflection, rather than seeing both hands. The idea is for the reflection to appear where your other hand would be. I just tried this, wiggling the fingers of both hands in parallel. Of course, with the reflection, it looked just as I expected — I "saw" both hands moving their fingers. Then I moved one hand, but not the one covered by the reflection. Again, my eyes saw "both" hands moving in unison, but of course I knew that I had moved only one hand. Aie! It caused surprise, not only despite knowing I was really looking in the mirror, but knowing that I was deliberately trying to trick my brain in exactly that way. We are simply so used to certain things, such as seeing our hands move the way we feel them move, that any disruption of the expected pattern will disorient our brains.

In other words, all Llinas's experiment proves is that we are exceedingly accustomed to feeling a certain way when we "intend" to do something like move our foot. And while our eyes are able to work independently of our other senses, the part of his brain that he stimulated is never intended to work other than as part of a real foot-moving-volition; hence it's entirely plausible that he managed to trick himself into thinking he had the feeling of willing even though he didn't actually will anything.

I will go farther than that: how do we "feel" that we have willed something anyway? Wills are not physical machines, with gears to grind and frames to shudder, sending out sounds and vibrations. Does it even make sense that we could in any way sense that we have exercised an immaterial faculty? Perhaps our souls are constructed such that any act of willing leads to some activity in our imagination. Or perhaps it's less direct: perhaps an act of will acts on the brain, which causes the appropriate signals that manipulate our bodies accordingly, but also signal a feeling in our brain, the sensation of "I've just willed to do such-and-such" (which feeling our brain then sends back up the chain, ultimately causing the matching quale in our imagination). In other words, his experiment doesn't stimulate [only] the circuit in your brain that moves your foot; it stimulates the circuit that makes you feel that you've just willed to move your foot.

Brandon said...

I think David is quite right: in effect, what Llinas is doing is creating the volitional analogue of an optical illusion. It would be very odd to argue from an optical illusion to the claim that ordinary sight is an illusion; so also it is very odd to infer from a volitional illusion that free will is an illusion. It's striking and interesting that you can do it, but it really doesn't establish anything one way or the other that under strange circumstances you get strange results; especially given that we already know that bodily effects (fatigue, intoxication, dreams) can muddle up our sense of choosing and intending in various ways.

Jime said...

Regariding neuroscience and free will, perhaps you're interested in the paper titled MENTAL CAUSATION AFTER LIBET AND SOON: RECLAIMING CONSCIOUS AGENCY by philosopher Alexander Batthyany:

http://philpapers.org/archive/BATMCA.1.pdf

He concludes "Contrary to the reductionist interpretations of the findings of Libet and Soon et al., it is no objection to conscious causation that it does not entail causing urges or desires. For urges or desires are passive experiences rather than actively and consciously chosen mental events; both empirical psychology and our everyday experience tell us that much, and so do Libet’s subjects when they report that they did not consciously bring about their urges to move, but that the urges came “out of nowhere”. Importantly, non-reductionist agency theo-ries, too, predict that desires and urges are not consciously chosen and brought about. I therefore conclude that neither Libet’s original experiment, nor the follow-up study by Soon et al. can be legitimately interpreted to provide empirical evidence in favour of agency reduc-tionism."

Burl said...

Most excellent comments on Llinas.

TomH, I also feel that existentialism is a good vantage point from which one may begin more unbiased thinking. Whitehead follows James in asserting that experience is the ontological primary, but this is so close to saying existence is primary as to be considered equivalent. (Though a few journal articles have probably been written to say otherwise!)

Crude, what struck me was he found that his mind could not report otherwise than what his brain did – he was forced by his brain to identify his self with what his brain did.

David said “Thus he concludes that free-will is an illusion — just something the brain feels when it anticipates that some other part of the brain is about to do something.” I think Llinas says that our personal ownership, our sense of freely taking an action, is a posteriori to the brain’s already having taken the act. Like you, I would love to take a test like this. I want to try the mirror thing – the stuff Ramakrishnan is doing for phantom pain in amputees with mirrors is just…miraculous.

Llinas’ seeing our sense of “I act” as a posteriori rationalization sorta addresses your question “Does it even make sense that we could in any way sense that we have exercised an immaterial faculty?”

Brandon said “…it really doesn't establish anything one way or the other that under strange circumstances you get strange results; especially given that we already know that bodily effects (fatigue, intoxication, dreams) can muddle up our sense of choosing and intending in various ways.” This efficacy of illusions to correct the brain’s functions (as with Rama’s phantom pain work) speaks to this a bit. Also, I recall Patrica Churchland recounting a study where a college age male is given two photos – a blonde and a brunette woman – and is told to pick which one he is most attracted to. Then, without the student’s knowledge, the researcher switches the placement of the pics and points to the one he did not select and asks him to explain why he chose this one. The student goes on without skipping a beat to explain all the reasons he chose the one he didn’t choose!

Jime, the study says “I therefore conclude that neither Libet’s original experiment, nor the follow-up study by Soon et al. can be legitimately interpreted to provide empirical evidence in favour of agency reduc-tionism." Then which of our activities do we will, and should we dismiss crimes of passion from the courts?

The Cogitator said...

Burl:

Freedom of will is rooted in rationality. We don't will to be hungry or to feel sad, but we can will to eat or watch a funny movie. Even when we "will ourselves" to feel happy, we do so as a condensed form of taking concrete steps to enact a practical syllogism of means to that end.

Not all volitional feelings are rational and not all rational willing is emotional. This disjunction is why I think compatibilism is incoherent. Cf. my latest couple posts on freedom, reason, and agency.

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/let-them-fall-as-they-may.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/wrong-i-guess.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/dont-mind-me.html

As for being forced or induced to "feel the will to move your foot," it's just a magnetic version of influence we know well enough in a social-linguistic form. I may will to go to a Gators game without much feeling in the decision. But a pre-game frenzy of fans on the street could induce in me the feeling of willing to go to the game. For that matter, I could will not to go but then be induced to feel the will to go. Doesn't mean I will go. Doesn't mean I won't. That's the thing about indeterminism. Feeling the will to do something is not the same thing as willing to do it for rational reasons. Akrasia is a reality. The law recognizes how emotional inducement attenuates responsibility, too.

Kind of scattered and abrupt reply, which you didn't even ask of me, but it's late, so be charitable.

Best,

The Cogitator said...

Burl:

Freedom of will is rooted in rationality. We don't will to be hungry or to feel sad, but we can will to eat or watch a funny movie. Even when we "will ourselves" to feel happy, we do so as a condensed form of taking concrete steps to enact a practical syllogism of means to that end.

Not all volitional feelings are rational and not all rational willing is emotional. This disjunction is why I think compatibilism is incoherent. Cf. my latest couple posts on freedom, reason, and agency.

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/let-them-fall-as-they-may.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/wrong-i-guess.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/dont-mind-me.html

As for being forced or induced to "feel the will to move your foot," it's just a magnetic version of influence we know well enough in a social-linguistic form. I may will to go to a Gators game without much feeling in the decision. But a pre-game frenzy of fans on the street could induce in me the feeling of willing to go to the game. For that matter, I could will not to go but then be induced to feel the will to go. Doesn't mean I will go. Doesn't mean I won't. That's the thing about indeterminism. Feeling the will to do something is not the same thing as willing to do it for rational reasons. Akrasia is a reality. The law recognizes how emotional inducement attenuates responsibility, too.

Kind of scattered and abrupt reply, which you didn't even ask of me, but it's late, so be charitable.

I have specifically dealt with neural inducement here: http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/04/i-kicked-you-he-agreed.html

Best,

The Cogitator said...

Curse my eyes! The dreaded double comment! (Burl, refer to the second post instead of the first.)

The Cogitator said...

Actually, while I'm on a hobble, I wanted to ask readers here to consider the following post of mine. I'm working on a book on reason, freedom, and determinism so I need all the constructive criticism I can get.

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/wrong-i-guess.html

T'anks!

Burl said...

Anonymous, I wanted to add a bit on the things I said about process...

For anyone who wants a good summary of A. N. Whitehead, one is here

http://www.iep.utm.edu/whitehed/#SH2a

A relevant quote

... the word “prehension,” which Whitehead defines as “uncognitive apprehension” (SMW 69) makes its first systematic appearance in Whitehead’s writings as he refines and develops the kinds and layers of relational connections between people and the surrounding world. As the “uncognitive” in the above is intended to show, these relations are not always or exclusively knowledge based, yet they are a form of “grasping” of aspects of the world. Our connection to the world begins with a “pre-epistemic” prehension of it, from which the process of abstraction is able to distill valid knowledge of the world. But that knowledge is abstract and only significant of the world; it does not stand in any simple one-to-one relation with the world. In particular, this pre-epistemic grasp of the world is the source of our quasi- a priori knowledge of space which enables us to know of those uniformities that make cosmological measurements, and the general conduct of science, possible.

... concrete modes of relatedness is essential because an actual occasion is itself a coming into being of the concrete. The nature of this “concrescence,” using Whitehead’s term, is a matter of the occasion’s creatively internalizing its relatedness to the rest of the world by feeling that world, and in turn uniquely expressing its concreteness through its extensive connectedness with that world. Thus an electron in a field of forces “feels” the electrical charges acting upon it, and translates this “experience” into its own electronic modes of concreteness. Only later do we schematize these relations with the abstract algebraic and geometrical forms of physical science. For the electron, the interaction is irreducibly concrete.


This snippet from above [Our connection to the world begins with a “pre-epistemic” prehension of it, from which the process of abstraction is able to distill valid knowledge of the world.] is exactly what Pirsig identifies as Quality.

Burl said...

Oh, I left out the part about Aquinas...

In my previous post, the description of the electron coming to be is a beautiful description of the Existential Thomistic notion that real beings arise having this or that mode of existence, this or that essence of esse.

Cogitator, I will look at your links soon...

Crude said...

Burl,

We don't dismiss crimes of passion from the courts, but they've been treated differently from calculated crimes (at least in America, I'm not sure of other countries) for quite a while. See the distinctions between murder in the first degree, second degree, manslaughter, etc.

As for Llinas saying "he was forced by his brain to identify his self with what his brain did", I guess you mean that he felt ownership of an action that was really grounded in an external stimulus. First, I'd point out that it's pretty risky to put a lot of stock into a subjective experiment of one (I've heard reports of someone in a similar experiment who, when asked why they moved their leg, immediately said 'I didn't move my leg, it was that [stimulus being applied to their brain] that moved it'.) Second, I'd mention that many people have a similar, but opposite experience - taking an action without thinking, as a reflex, etc. In those cases an action is taken, and there's no rationalization of why they willed as much - because their 'willing' the action is denied. But that fits awkwardly with Llinas' report. Which again leads me to ask, "Assuming free will is true, is it possible for the will to be overridden?" or "Is it possible for someone to have free will, but be confused about what they did and didn't will after the fact?"

Re: Churchland's experiment, I always wonder if experiments like that do more to show what they claim to as opposed to 'people volunteering for an experiment could care less about it, and generally just go through the motions.' If we did a similar experiment here (you asked me to justify a statement which I didn't in fact make, and I did so) would you conclude that, say.. reason was an illusion? Or that I wasn't paying attention?

And that actually brings up another point. Llinas is saying that we don't "will" actions - actions (always) just happen, and we (always) rationalize them after the fact. But isn't rationalization yet another action? And I think answering that question will eventually end up with the whole idea either collapsing in absurdity EM-style, or into conclusions Llinas would probably reject (formal/final causes, some kind of soul, etc.)

Burl said...

Cog

I read your three links. I am guessing you don't approve of determinism :)

In the 'don't mind me' post you said

... believing determinism simply because "it is true," is as much an illusory valuation as all others.

I do not see what else you could say to add to your correct case. I am not really up on the determinism debate...are there really determinists who state that determinism is true?

I know I experience existence, and cannot say much for sure after that.

Burl said...

Oh yeah

My dog says ditto on that last sentence I just posted :)

Crude said...

The Cogitator,

Actually, I have a question of my own. You make a good case against determinism (or at least you show what happens to reason and rationality once determinism is accepted).

But, of course, the determinism you're talking about is materialist/physicalist determinism. Matter is arational stuff moving in arational ways, etc. So to that, I have a few questions.

1) What if it's denied that matter is arational? Maybe via idealism (all 'matter' is really 'thought'), maybe some variant of panpsychism (Experience and intentionality is fundamental and rock-bottom to the world)? What I really mean here is, what if there is "determinism", but what does the "determining" isn't mindless interactions of matter, but something else - perhaps something fundamentally mindful?

2) Would you say that formal and final causes demand indeterminism? Or, as I tried to get at above (though it comes across butchered) a 'different' kind of determinism? Would you consider something platonic like "truth" to be causal? Indeed, would putting it that way be akin to a "final cause"?

Burl said...

Crude, I am not the Cog, but I will take your question.

Whitehead said something to the effect that in one of our rare moments of conscious awareness as ourselves as a solitary ‘one’ (before taking in other-ness, ‘the many’), we have a rich experience that tells us to “have a care, there is something of worth here.” This is what Pirsig says is the Quality event – a pre-intellectual awareness of ourselves valuing otherness. Both of these thinkers urge the exercise of ‘caring’ to open us to a way of experiencing the ineffable.

Both see final cause as dynamic, creative advance of value (valuation, morality, goodness, or Quality) – the good (God) unfolding. This dynamic activity/process of necessity takes on stable habits and patterns we see as matter, laws, subjects and objects (formal cause). And both spoke lovingly of ‘good dogs!’ (I couldn’t resist )

What I am learning from reading about Existential Thomism is they are saying much the same with their modes (essences) of esse that are ways of being of esse which itself is only knowable thru pre-intellectual intuition of being.

As for matter, none of the three strains of thought depicted above are all that hung up on it as being someTHING in itself. They are all accepting it as a real mode of reality among many others. They are all be comfortable in sitting back and saying “we’ll just have to see what those Europeans discover about the Higgs Boson – which is all about mass.”

What of determinism? I feel bad for anyone who can watch a one-hour interview of a man with the brilliant and gentle quality of Dr. Llinas and be unable to appreciate/hear him due to personal rigid valuations that negate the potential insights into existence that he is presenting.

Crude, Pirsig's notion of rigid values might well be the non-physical determinism of which you speak.

Burl said...

Dr. Feser, do you have any insights to add to our discussion here?

The Codgitator said...

Crude:

As for 1), I would say that idealism cuts no ice since, as Berkeley showed, the world "functions" the same in idealism as in materialism, but without the mystery-mongering he saw in the reign of "matter." If all "matter" is thought, as on idealism, then I face the same spectre of irrationality for taking material phenomena at face value, since they would still function irrationally (e.g., it would be a "law of thought" that a coin is now heads and now tails). If rationality is mapped onto matter ALBEIT IN AN IDEALIZED FORM then rationality is subject to the same randomness and aimlessness as we see in physicalism. Hylomorphism admits our rationlity is molded but not constituted or determined by our engagement with the material world. Idealism is just a holographic form of physicalism.

As for 2), I would allow for panpsychism as long as it is grounded in a solid doctrine of analogia entis. In a sense, relative to the infinite otherness of God, all things, even atoms, are "relational," "intentional," "personal" ... but only analogically so. God has a "mind" in as radically an inverse way as, say, fermions have "minds." Man as microcosm is balanced between noth extremes, between relative sheer mindlessness and absolute supramindfulness, so to speak. Analogy, analogy, analogy.

I should add that, yes, I actually do believe in "determinism" in the sense that everything actual is actually determined. But that is just a kind of "determinism" which admits what is, is. It includes "background" indeterminism for the "getting to" of what is. This "actualist" determinism just resolves into the law of identity (what is, is: what is X, is X, etc.), which then gets on the ramp towards robust Thomism.

Best,

Burl said...

Cog and Crude, about this determinism thingy…

In an actual occasion, or occasion of experience, a process wherein the experiencing of my immediately extended actual, determined environment compels me to take in (grasp) some objects (actual entities) – namely our recent posted text bites. Each existent actual entity (text bit) has a physical form (its objective datum), and a subjective form (essence).

The above describes is physical prehension – the physical pole of an actual event, an occasion of experience.

Within this event is also a grasping of relevant conceptual existents – this is conceptual prehension – that may pertain such as existence, being, becoming, valuation, determinateness, aims, Platonic Ideals, etc. All selected concepts and physical subjective forms are held together in mutual contrast. Thus begins the mental pole of this actual occasion with initial aim to synthesize a creative new existent bit of reality, another bit of text, with new physical and subjective form. The new text bit that emerges once a decision has occurred is a new determinate existent, an actual entity, a new ‘one’ that joins its fellow ‘many’ in a process of creative advance.

Within the mental pole of this actual occasion, some physical and some conceptual prehensions are compared and propositions may arise (in higher level occasions) to be considered in juxtaposition to still other concepts – all driven and SOMEWHAT* directed by primordial creativity (or Quality, or esse).

In this ‘determining’ mental phase of this actual occasion, an intellectual feeling arises if the propositions considered have objective form of ‘what currently is and might not be, or what might be but isn’t’. The subjective form of this intellectual feeling of this negative/affirmative propositiion is creature consciousness. Such propositions only occur in high level occasions.

So we have by creative advance a new actual occasion coming into being as it prehends its extensive relatedness, feels, considers, perhaps even judges best alternative possibilities going forward – this is subjective indeterminate potential. Next, a decision is made, and we have determinate actuality, an actual entity.

For low level events like electrons, the mental pole is limited and pretty much entails physical prehension of the enviornment, juxtaposed with basic concepts related to material activity, and if conditions warrant, the result is likely a determination to keep things as they are (a static pattern of Quality ala Pirsig – who, I must remind you, likes dogs!).

It may appear that the electron’s fate is predetermined, but not so – it felt that its options in its situation for going forward were best met in replication of past. A change of its environment may mean it will feel the need to jump to some new energy state in its successive occasion of experience.

This natural philosophy of organism contains all the cool categories such as: physical, mental, perception, proposition, judgement, one and many, duration, relatedness, extension, potency, act, consciousness, form, purpose, creativity, and primordial existent Being.

*On the SOMEWHAT in the above text, process holds that each actual entity decides freely, but its extensive relatedness does not offer infinite options. Higher order actual entities are less constrained, especially conscious ones.

All that remains is to figure out the ‘I’ in all of this!

What say ye?

The Codgitator said...

Burl:

Thank your for your nuanced, if not tortuous, process analogy. I admit that my eyes got higher and higher as I read, though, until they peked at the word "organismic". Why? Because, far from being novel with Whitehead, organismic ontology applied to exact science goes back to at least Aristotle and wreaked havoc on the birth of exact science in its wake. I doubt it bodes any better for exact science in our day, which is why scientists instinctively react so strongly against it ("you say an electron literally WANTS to bond or leap??") that they miss the median doctrine of analogy which I tried to limn in my last comment. Process has a place but only if there is at least something stable--say nature of the divine will--which can undergo the process. As always, though, with process thought, I'm sure I'm missing "something."

Best,

The Codgitator said...

ERRATA MISCELLANEA:

"process ANALYSIS"
"eyeBROWs got"
"peAked"

Crude said...

As for me, I still have much to learn about Aquinas and Aristotle. I now and then have read up on Whitehead due to some various interesting thinkers (I think Henry Stapp, among others) referencing him. But as Cog said, nature as "organismic" seemed like something Aristotle was already talking about.

I will say, though, that talk of an electron "wanting" to go here or there is something I always wondered about in relation to panpsychism. As in, if panpsychism is true, is it possible (heck, would it follow) that mathematical descriptions of nature are describing desires and inclinations? As Cog said, that sort of talk tends to freak out scientists. On the other hand, I don't mind that so much anyway.