Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rosenhouse redux

In fairness to Jason Rosenhouse, I want to call attention to some comments he makes in the combox of the recent post of his to which I replied earlier today.  First, in reply to some comments by Vincent Torley, Rosenhouse makes some remarks which include the following:

I intend to read [Feser’s book].  For what it's worth, I've actually enjoyed some of Feser's purely philosophical posts in the past.

Considering the heat that has characterized our exchange, this is very gracious, and I appreciate the kind words.  Unfortunately, he also goes on to say:

But the fact remains that in the posts that triggered this little kerfuffle he has been behaving very badly indeed. Prickly and combative is one thing, but flinging ad hominem attacks (as he did with Eric MacDonald), or calling someone sleazy and contemptible based on a gross distortion of what they said (as he did in pretending that Robin Le Poidevin was trying to make theistic philosophers look foolish by placing a bad argument in their mouths when it's completely unambiguous that he was doing no such thing) is quite another. 

None of this is fair.  First of all, as I have already noted, Rosenhouse fails to give any example of how I “grossly distorted” anything Le Poidevin said.  It is pretty obvious that what he is really upset about is that I used words like “sleazy” and “contemptible.”  But I never said that Le Poidevin himself was a sleazy or contemptible person.  For all I know, he is a very fine fellow indeed.  What I described as “sleazy” is the common atheist practice of presenting the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” straw man as if it were the basic thrust of the cosmological argument.  I cited Le Poidevin as merely one writer among others who engaged in this practice and I explicitly said that I was not claiming that he was deliberately trying to mislead his readers.  I said only that he should know better than to engage in this practice.  To say “This practice is sleazy; Le Poidevin shouldn’t use it” is very different from saying “Le Poidevin is a sleazy person.”  Again, I never said that, and would not say it.  Rosenhouse, who claims that I have not represented Le Poidevin’s views carefully, has himself not represented mine carefully.  In any event, as I’ve complained before, it is risible for Rosenhouse to try to find some gnat to strain out of my remarks while ignoring the camel of misrepresentation that so many of his fellow atheists swallow when they attack crude straw men instead of what writers like Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said.

Second, I never made any ad hominem attack on Eric MacDonald, nor indeed any attack on him at all.  I simply noted that if someone is looking for advice on what to read in order to understand theology (as Coyne was), it is questionable whether “an ex-Anglican priest” who maintains that “religious beliefs and doctrines not only have no rational basis, but are, in fact, a danger to rational, evidence-based thinking” is likely to be the most objective source of advice. If Rosenhouse can’t concede even that much, then I submit that he is merely being argumentative.  

Third, Rosenhouse has a helluva nerve complaining about my aggressive tone.  In the post that began this series of exchanges between Coyne, Rosenhouse, and myself, Coyne dismissed theology as “drivel” and said that he was starting to believe that the “obscurantism” of which he accuses theologians is “deliberate.”  In his own first post, Rosenhouse characterized theology as “sewage” (!) and then dismissed my response to Coyne as a “temper tantrum.”  This despite the fact that judging from their remarks, Coyne and Rosenhouse have little or no knowledge of what the most significant theologians -- Aquinas and thinkers of similar stature -- actually had to say.  Even worse are the bizarre denizens of Coyne’s combox -- a nightmare world of ignorance, shamelessly begged questions, gratuitous nastiness, and Stalinist ideological policing if ever there was one.  And, as I pointed out in my recent post on the cosmological argument, ill-informed attacks on straw men are routine among New Atheist writers when they deal with arguments like the cosmological argument.  In response to this kind of stuff, I have indeed been aggressive, and justifiably so.  

Finally, in another combox remark I did not see before posting my most recent reply to him, Rosenhouse says this about Dennett’s treatment of the cosmological argument:

I wouldn't say this was Dennett's finest moment.  I think his desire to write at a popular-level got the better of him here, and he ought to have been a bit more careful about explaining what the issues are.

Well, kudos to Rosenhouse.  Unfortunately, he goes on halfway to take it back:

But it's still a far cry from how Feser makes it sound.  And I certainly agree with Dennett's conclusion that the lucubrations devised by theistic philosophers to prop up the argument are not compelling.

Here Rosenhouse simply misses the point again.  As I keep saying, what thinkers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz et al. are up to is precisely not trying to “prop up” lame arguments like the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” argument, any more than Darwinians are trying to “prop up” the claim that “Monkeys gave birth to humans.”  Yet the contrary impression is what Dennett leaves his readers with.

Still, even a halfhearted concession that Dennett’s discussion is flawed is something, and it may bring down upon Rosenhouse the wrath of the Dawkins Youth.  Hope he doesn’t get banned from his own combox!

168 comments:

d said...

Edward,

I've been an outsider to the whole shouting match going on between you and Jerry Coyne et al. -- and I have no dog in the fight. In fact, I think the cosmological argument deserves more attention; however, I have a question you might be able to answer: what arguments do Thomists use to bridge the gap between this first cause and the Christian god?

Thanks,
d

E.H. Munro said...

I found his defense of Le Poidevin unconvincing (i.e. that Le Poidevin only used the strawman to introduce "basic concepts"), because, frankly, there was nothing in that section that introduced anything "basic" that I could see. The only reason for that sort of reductio ad absurdum is to prejudice the reader against what follows. I think Le Poidevin let his evangelical streak colour his arguments.

Another gnuherdian, Jos Gibbons, uses the trick in addressing the Kalam version of the cosmological argument, though one wonder why as he's preaching to the choir at Dawkins' site. Even though his arguments against Kalam are mostly awful, the gnuherd would never have questioned any of them.

TheOFloinn said...

what arguments do Thomists use to bridge the gap between this first cause and the Christian god?

Well, they are rather lengthy because there's a slew of "divine attributes," but to take one single example:

Lemma. The First Cause is purely actual; that is, not potential in any respect.
Proof. If it were potentially X, then it could be caused to become actually X and, since the cause must lie outside itself, it would not be First Cause. Popper! I mean, modus tollens. (Remember: "first" does not mean first in time sequence, but first in logical priority.)

Now, once that is established all sorts of conclusions follow, so to take one example:

I. There can be only One such being.
Proof: Suppose there were two. Then if they are distinct, one must have some attribute or power X that the other lacks. But to lack something just is to be in potency to it. So one of the two would be in potency to X and therefore would not be a purely actual being and therefore not First Cause. QED modus tollens

And so on for eternal, immaterial, unchanging, outside space-time manifold, all power-full, personhood, source of all goods, and so forth.

Chuck said...

If it is any consolation Dr. Feser, I began the exchange between you and Dr. Coyne as a committed follower of Dr. Coyne who enjoyed the easy rebuttals used in the combox there. I've come away humbled and excited to read your book. You and the contributors here seem like very careful thinkers who are committed to a way of thinking and don't seek to prejudice contrary views to deepen the understanding of your scholarship. I've grown disappointed in Dr. Coyne. He is a very smart man and his book on evolution is great but, the practice of holding one set of rules for his position while demanding another set of rules for a contrary position seems too defensive to be intelligent. Thanks for keeping up the work you do. I'm looking forward in actually engaging the TCA on its terms rather than dismiss it with the fallacious retorts I once chose.

Chuck said...

subscribing

d said...

TheOFloinn,

I'll grant that there can be only one first cause -- it's, as far as I can tell, logically implicit in the conclusion of the cosmological argument (but I could be missing something, since I work in epistemology and philosophy of science, rather than philosophy of religion).

Now, could you get on to the arguments for a first cause that are "eternal, immaterial, unchanging, outside space-time manifold, all power-full, personhood, source of all goods"?

Anonymous said...

d,

I've always thought that certain arguments for the resurrection of Christ were quite good. In fact Feser recommends a few books on the topic in TLS. Not sure how much stock other Thomists like TheOFloinn put in them, though. Also not sure how, without such historical arguments, one can conclude that the God of Thomistic metaphysics is not the God of Islamic monotheism.

d said...

Anonymous,

Such arguments for historical resurrection, if taken seriously, would require that I accept most second-hand accounts of resurrection appearing in most religions without some prior assumptions.

Even today, there is that one Indian yogi with millions of followers that attest to his powers at resurrection ...

In short, the arguments for the historical 'fact' of the resurrection does little more than give solace to someone that already believes. If, for instance, the historical 'fact' of Muhammad's ascension into heaven on the back of a white horse would be extremely convincing to a Muslim, but not to you, would it?

Edward Feser said...

Hello d,

I would say that as a preliminary to arguing for Christianity, one has to establish first, through independent and purely philosophical arguments:

1. The existence of God
2. Such attributes as the unity, simplicity, power, intellect, and will of God
3. God's conservation of the world in being and providence
4. The immortality of the soul
5. The possibility of miracles

These are just the sorts of topics one finds treated in old-fashioned manuals of natural theology written in the Scholastic tradition. And once one has established this much, religions like Buddhism, Taoism, most forms of Hinduism, etc. are ruled out already. Only some form of monotheism can be true IF any form is true at all.

The next step is to show that IF any allegedly revealed religion is true, it has to be backed by miracles in the strict sense -- events that could not in principle happen naturally and that could only have had a divine cause. There is no other way one could have rational grounds for confirming the claim that some message really came from God.

That much pretty much rules out Islam. Muhammad never even claimed any miracle other than the Koran itself. But the Koran is clearly not miraculous in principle even if one believed that it was so extraordinary that Muhammad could not have written it. By contrast, everyone agrees that Christ's resurrection would be impossible by purely natural causes, IF it really occurred.

The next step is to defend the historicity of Christ's resurrection itself. In my view, it is foolish to do this until one has already independently established points 1-5 above. For only in light of 1-5 is the evidence for the resurrection going to have its full power. Apart from 1-5 a skeptic could always say "Who knows what really happened, but we know it couldn't have been a miracle" etc. That won't wash if one has already established 1-5, though.

If one establishes that too, though, and if one grants (what I think there is no reasonable doubt about) that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be divine, then the fact that He was resurrected, that only God could have resurrected Him, and that this happened despite His saying something which would (if false) be blasphemous in the extreme, all would confirm that it was not false. In other words, it would show that there is a divine "seal of approval" on what He said and that what He said is therefore true. But if He is divine, and yet He is a different Person from the Father and Holy Spirit, etc., then we've got the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity. And then from there a Thomistic theologian works out the rest by inferring from what natural theology tells us together with what Christ's revelation tells us. And that takes us beyond natural or philosophical theology and into sacred theology.

That's nothing more than a sketch, but that's the framework that a sound Christian theology would begin by fleshing out. It's the sort of thing Aquinas and other Scholastics do, and the sort of thing that has to be done before the more detailed stuff (law and grace, sin and salvation, Eucharistic theology, etc. etc.) can properly be treated.

Edward Feser said...

Thanks, Chuck. Coyne and Rosenhouse (and MacDonald too) do seem to have their reasonable moments, unlike most of their readers, and (it seems) unlike Dawkins. So maybe there's hope for a fruitful discussion at some point. But just in case, I'll refrain from holding by breath.

d said...

Edward,

Thank you for the quick response.

I'm willing to grant 1, 4, and 5 for the sake of argument. Could they be 'established' as you say is required? As a comprehensively critical rationalist, I think not, so I think it would be unfair for you to be burdened with an impossible task for all.

With 1, 4, and 5 given to you from the start, what steps would you think best 'establish' 2 and 3? As you say, without them, the field of potential players is still quite large.

What steps would you take from 2 and 3 to eliminate enough potential players and still leave a small number of particular interpretations of Christianity? (Quite a task, I know!)

Best,
d

TheOFloinn said...

Now, could you get on to the arguments for a first cause that are "eternal, immaterial, unchanging, outside space-time manifold, all power-full, personhood, source of all goods"?

Buy the Good Doctor's book, Aquinas. Comm boxes are too confining.

But you might even try to winkle it out yourself. Start with First Cause as the (singular) being of pure act and consider that to be not eternal is to either come into existence, pass out of existence, or both. Now, go for it.

BenYachov said...

Chuck,

If you are reading this the really good meat in TLS is found in the Bibliography and the Footnotes.

d said...

TheOFoinn,

The arguments, when edited for length and spread over several blog posts or a short paper, should be sufficient, don't you think?

P.S.

Aren't you already smuggling in several attributes of this first cause when you call it "the (singular) being of pure act"?

Crude said...

The arguments, when edited for length and spread over several blog posts or a short paper, should be sufficient, don't you think?

Not really. Ed's written quite a lot on his blog, but he's also repeatedly mentioned that what he writes here is given fuller treatment in TLS and Aquinas. He's also pointed out that Aquinas himself devoted a considerable amount of time to explaining these arguments in detail, dealing with objections, etc, rather than just going with 'a short paper'.

People write books for reasons, after all.

d said...

Crude,

If Edward has blogged on this previously, then please direct me to the blog post where Edward has argued for for one of the five positions he thinks is necessary for Christianity.

Crude said...

d,

Can I direct you to the blog posts where Ed mentions that what he's writing on is fleshed out more fully in TLS and Aquinas?

They're books, they won't bite you. Go get 'em. I mean, clearly you're not after basic summaries here, but a fuller treatment regardless.

d said...

Crude,

Yes, you can, but I'd prefer blog posts by Edward (or others), even if they are mere sketches of the arguments.

My initial criticism, if traditional, should be easy to answer by anyone versed in the literature; if nontraditional, may not have been covered in Edward's book. In short, I think a conversation is better for all than reading the book.

BenYachov said...

Don't sell reading books short d.

Please? For the sake of your intellect if nothing else.

Cheers.

d said...

BenYachov,

I'm not in the mood to buy a book that isn't already on my ever-expanding reading list. Please don't ask for me to buy the book again like everyone else on this thread; I'd rather talk.

Crude said...

I'm not in the mood to buy a book that isn't already on my ever-expanding reading list. Please don't ask for me to buy the book again like everyone else on this thread; I'd rather talk.

It sounds like you're interested in arguing more than anything else, and would rather get right to that part than do the whole "actually reading and understanding the arguments in detail before engaging them" thing.

If you won't make the effort to read and understand, I'll leave it to others to help you out with your goals.

d said...

Crude,

I've accepted the cosmological argument, the existence of a god, the possibility of miracles, and the immortality of the soul -- all for the sake of argument. That's far from being 'argumentative' on all the substantial issues, no?

... but preferring the 'CliffsNotes' version of an argument over buying a book, waiting for it to arrive, putting it at the front of my reading list, reading the book, and then coming back here to have a discussion is being 'argumentative'. Have I got that right?

BenYachov said...

I suppose d some people here might try to indulge you but only if they want to do all the heavy lifting.

Some people might resent that. Doing all the heavy lifting but you not doing your fair share.

It's up to you. But I think it's a mistake and not productive to not read the backround material.

Like I said it's up to you.

d said...

BenYachov,

I've made it clear that any post or paper is permissible if it sketches out an argument for any of the five topics Edward put forward. It doesn't have to be on this blog. I'll even access it off JSTOR if someone only has an name of an article available.

That's not heavy lifting, is it? By my lights, the bar is set fairly low.

Crude said...

d,

Have I got that right?

Not at all. I said you seemed to want to argue rather than read and understand. That you accept things "for the sake of argument" doesn't exactly speak against my view. Though I love the exaggerated difficulty with which you described a book-reading process.

With that in mind, I don't want to put you through the chore of loading up an operating system, finding and executing a web-browsing program, navigating your way through hundreds of billions of html addresses, selecting the appropriate page from dozens on a particular site, examining dozens of comments to ascertain the most recent one, then reading the information therein before attempting to craft a comment (its own crazy, convoluted process.)

You're a busy fellow, after all, what with that reading list. I'd hate to ask you for time you can't spare.

BenYachov said...

Online Philosophy Journals might help pick up the slack and do the heavy lifting.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

>I'll even access it off JSTOR if someone only has an name of an article available.

Do that at least. Thought the articles that cost money are a bitch.

$35 in this economy? Are they kidding!

d said...

Crude,

Please, don't. A link to a blog post will do. A name for a paper. It's not that hard, is it? Your condescending tone doesn't help.

It doesn't sit well, insisting that I cannot possibly understand an argument without understanding the entirety of it ... as written by Edward Feser, of course.

d said...

BenYachov,

I have free access to most articles on JSTOR. Tools of the trade. Any recommendations?

Crude said...

d,

Come now. Condescending tone? It's not as if I wondered aloud how you can manage to breathe and think without choking, eh?

I've helped all I care to. Good luck.

d said...

Crude,

Ah, now I see a possible explanation for the abrasive attitude so far. Do you wish to defend the muddleheaded objection?

P.S.

If that was help, I hate to see you try to hinder someone.

Crude said...

No, I got the hypocritical 'please don't use a condescending tone on me oh my God' out of you after you smugged it up on your blog. I have ample reason to expect you to be disingenuous. Why go further? I got a pile of books to read, y'see. ;)

BenYachov said...

Not about the first Cause.

But on Theocity

Or more precisely

Against Theodicy: A Response to Peter Forrest.

http://philpapers.org/rec/TRAATA-2

From my reading of Feser I was lead to the writings of Brian Davies and his unique and original way of dealing with the Problem of Evil.

Long story short I won't even look at the Free Will defense again. I've stopped accepting it's calls.

BenYachov said...

Crude,

He is not going to read a book. It's stupid I agree but that is his thing.

So let's throw him a few articles and maybe he will soften up?

Or rather I will but I won't work too hard.

d said...

Crude,

Oh, it's an flame war we're having? I'm happy to admit that what I said was rude, perhaps even uncalled-for. If TheOFloinn wants an apology, I'll give a mea culpa.

Can we get back to the important business, or are we still fighting? Or are you just finished with me?

d said...

BenYachov,

Thank you for the recommendation!

Edward Feser said...

Hello d,

I do think they can be established, but of course to make that plausible to a skeptic I'd need not only to spell out the arguments for each, but also to give an account of what it is to "establish" something. And that requires giving an account of the nature of metaphysical demonstration vs. scientific theorizing. The short answer is the one I gave in my recent post on the cosmological argument, i.e. that the classical arguments for God's existence, properly understood, begin with what all scientific theorizing must assume, e.g. the existence of change of some sort (even if just within the realm of experience itself).

Re: 2, the way the arguments proceed is via a consideration of what is entailed by being a purely actual uncaused cause -- the conclusion of the theistic arguments -- together with the Scholastic principle that whatever is in an effect must in some way be in the cause, whether formally, eminently, or virtually (to use the Scholastic jargon). I do some of this in Aquinas, but Aquinas himself does it at length in the Summa and elsewhere, as have later Sholastics who develop and refine arguments like his.

Re: 3, the arguments proceed by showing that whatever is in any way composite -- e.g. a composite of act and potency, essence and existence, or form and matter -- necessarily must at every instant be "held together," as it were, by something distinct from them. For example, start with the Aristotelian view that material things are composites of substantial form and prime matter. A material thing can only exist even for an instant so long as its form and matter are combined. For since the substantial form of a purely material thing is merely an abstraction apart from its matter, it cannot exist apart from matter. Prime matter, though, is also a mere abstraction, since qua pure potentiality it can never exist on its own but only with some form. But that means we are left with an explanatory vicious circle unless there is something outside the form/matter composite that maintains it in being.

Now my article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" in the current ACPQ (I just posted a notice about it below) actually deals with precisely this latter set of issues at length. And there's no point in getting into it except at length. For example, you'll find that I set out in that article a ten step reconstruction of what I take to be the thrust of the argument from motion or the First Way (I do the same for the rest of the Five Ways too). Now, suppose I cut and pasted that step-by-step argument here. Immediately I'd get several clueless New Atheist loudmouths who, given their lack of familiarity with the technical terminology, will make irrelevant smart ass remarks about every step. And of course I'll also get reasonable questions from other, more reasonable skeptics. That means I've now got to respond to both sets of questioners. If I focus on just the reasonable people, the loudmouths will accuse me of ignoring what they think are their brilliant points. So I'll have to go back to square one and give a miniature lesson in general Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics just so the loudmouths will know why their objections are irrelevant. And even then most of them won't get in anyway, because they're not even trying to understand or convince anyone rationally of anything, but just looking for avenues to make smart-ass remarks.

(continued below)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

Even if I ignore the loudmouths and answer only the reasonable questions, though, I will only end up just rewriting stuff I've already said -- and said more fully -- in books and articles. And my answers will lead to follow-up questions the answers to which are also in the books and articles. So why not just direct people to those? Why re-write everything I've already said elsewhere, especially in an ephemeral combox exchange? And why spend the time when I've got new books, articles, and other blog posts I'm supposed to be writing? Not to mention a wife and six kids, and a day job (at least during the school year).

So, that's why I sometimes say "Please read what I say in Aquinas" or "Please check out this article." I know it's more convenient for some people to find out about this stuff in combox exchanges, but it sucks up enormous amounts of time that I simply don't have. The main point of the blog is to write about things that wouldn't be suitable for a book or article, to sketch out ideas that are still inchoate, to apply things I've said in books and articles to specific issues that people raise from time to time, to promote ideas that I think are important, and so on. When I can I do get into exchanges in the comboxes, but I tend to do so in a very irregular way. It all depends on how much time I might have at a particular moment, and most days I don't even have time to read the longer combox exchanges, let alone contribute to them. (Today has been a bit lucky since I've finished a big article draft and haven't yet started the next, though I must get working on it this week.)

BenYachov said...

d

If you look at Feser blog where it says Recommended philosophers' websites

Go look for the name David Oderberg.

He has a lot of philosophical articles from a Thomistic Perspective including the First Cause and a Thomistic take on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

The later not being a historic Thomistic type argument since Thomist didn't believe you could philosophically prove the world had a begining,

Still they may help with learning natural theology.

Crude said...

d,

"Flame war"? Please. I'm having some fun. It's over now. And I stand by what I said prior. I'll simply leave it at that.

Ben,

As I said, the problem here is more to do with the attitude than anything else. But by all means, help him out. It's good-hearted of you. I'll decline for now.

Edward Feser said...

d,

BTW, given your professional interests as indicated on your webpage, I wonder if you might find of interest Louis Groarke's recent book An Aristotelian Account of Induction. I have only read a very little bit of it so far, so I cannot comment at length, but it is an attempt to do for induction what I maintain should be done for metaphysics and epistemology in general, namely re-ground them in a broadly Aristotelian framework. It seems it might nicely complement what people like Brian Ellis, Nancy Cartwright, Stephen Mumford, and others are doing in metaphysics and philosophy of science. Just FYI.

d said...

Ben,

I've already accepted the cosmological argument. I had more in mind any of the five positions Edward claimed ought to come before arguing for Christianity. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

Crude,

Some constructive criticism, now that you're done: in the future, please be more like Bonhoeffer.

BenYachov said...

Crude,

I'll help but not that hard. Not because I suspect or don't suspect d of being disingenuous but because as you should very well know I am in fact a lazy bastard.

Perhaps I have a small soft spot for one of my own?

But I won't work that hard.

d said...

Edward,

Thank you for your comment. I understand how difficult it must be to deal with such comments, even if I don't accept your Thomist stance.

By the way, thank you for the suggestion. The author, I would presume, has a few articles available that are parts of chapters (or at least that's how it's usually done in the phil of sci). I'll also look into a few of your articles, if I can find them.

That said, I was taken aback by the general attitude of commenters on this blog towards requests for past blog posts or names of articles (either by you or others in your field) that covered any of the five statements that must be adopted before addressing Christianity. But so it goes, being the internet and all.

Oh, I want to make it clear that I was not asking for you to sit down and write a post to address any of those five statements in detail.

BenYachov said...

d,

If I see anything I will sent it your way.

I hope one day you will give up the whole book phobia thingy.

Oderberg's website is a good place to start.

Crude said...

d,

Some constructive criticism, now that you're done: in the future, please be more like Bonhoeffer.

Right. Here's one for you as well: In the future, please be less like a caricature of an academic.

Ben,

Well done. I mean that sincerely.

Edward Feser said...

Hi d,

No prob. Sorry if I misunderstood.

BTW, Crude, Ben, and Co. are good guys. Probably just feel burned by past exchanges with people who were not discussing things in good faith. But you clearly are.

Edward Feser said...

Crude, Ben and d,

OK, big group hug now. Not my kind of thing, though, so I'll just nod approvingly...

Crude said...

Ed,

Thanks for the kind words. I'll kindly holster it for the duration here - not interested in crapping up your blog with this stuff, but I felt it was right here.

Done and done.

d said...

Edward,

The Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews is usually a first stop for me (it's sad that Groarke doesn't have anything published recently on JSTOR)--I don't think I'll buy the book after reading the review. Thank you anyway for the recommendation.

Crude,

Some people talk and think differently than you. If you want, I'll crack a beer in a minute and we can share an internet "l'chaim!" How does that sound?

BenYachov said...

I'll hug. I am a hugger.

But like Clint Eastwood in HEARTBREAK RIDGE I must state even though we are hugging that doesn't mean we are going to be taking nice warm shower in the f***ing wee hours of the morning!

YOU HEAR ME MARINE!!!!

YEH!!!!!!

d said...

Edward,

Oh my! Phil in Review XXX (2010), no. 5 has a review with the following:

"All reasoning starts with first principles which are
unquestioned, indubitable, infallible, and simply not argued for. These first principles are
acquired by inductive reason, that is, a capacity for intelligent insight which is a non-
discursive ‘mental illumination,’ ‘a leap of understanding,’ ‘a radical leap of creativity,’
and so on."

I simply can't take that position seriously. It sounds more Randian than Rand!

Ben,

I'm willing to internet-hug, but I'd prefer drinking a beer together by internet-proxy.

Will said...

Something I have not been able to accept (maybe because I don't understand it) is the argument that a First Cause cannot have any potentials. (TheOFloinn repeats this argument; thanks for the clear statement.)

Couldn't it have an internal state that activates potentials inside itself at different times?

A clock doesn't strike twelve because something outside it told it to in that moment; its internal state made it happen. I don't wake in the morning because of an external event (sometimes), but because I'm wakeful.

Maybe I'm thinking too much temporally.

Will said...

(BTW I did read _Aquinas_, and do remember this argument; just have not found a resolution for that problem.)

Edward Feser said...

d,

OK. As I've said, I haven't read more than a few pages of the book, so I'm in no position just now either to defend him or criticize him.

d said...

Edward,

No need to praise or bury anyone. If it's true, that's quite an extraordinary claim to make, especially in this day and age.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Will,

If it had an "internal state" that did such a thing, then its doing so would require actualization by something else, either internal to the prime mover or external to it. If external to it, then it isn't really a prime mover we've been talking about, contrary to hypothesis. If internal, than that "part" of the prime mover that does the actualizing is the true prime mover, and the whole of which it is a part is not really the prime mover after all.

In short, anything that requires actualization doesn't really break the vicious regress in a per se series of causes. Only what is purely actual can do that.

Edward Feser said...

d,

My point is just that I'd want to read the part of the book where he says that stuff to get a sense of what he means by it. Admittedly, talk of "radical leaps of creativity" and the like is not the kind of thing that I go for either. But he may just be saying in needlessly flowery terms something more down to earth. I just don't know (yet).

d said...

Edward (or would you prefer 'Ed'?),

I'd like to hear your thoughts after you finish. The two reviews, at least when read between the lines, imply that Aristotle doesn't cotton well to modern epistemology. They're just dealing with different problem-situations.

Edward Feser said...

"Ed" is good. "Edward" just looks better on the books.

I may write up some remarks on the book for the blog when I have a chance to get more into it.

Re: Aristotle and modern epistemology, it's true that he doesn't cotton well, but an Aristotelian will say that the problem is with modern epistemology (or at least certain aspects of it, depending on what specifically we're talking about). But of course, there are different ways an Aristotelian might approach the task of challenging the modern assumptions.

John McDowell is someone who approaches these things in ways Aristotelians often sympathize with, but I think he is not willing enough to challenge the metaphysical assumptions that have gone along with the epistemological ones. Wittgenstein too -- he wants to dissolve metaphysics and epistemology as such in favor of common sense, rather than (as the Aristotelian would) defend a metaphysics and epistemology that are continuous with, but refines and systematizes, common sense.

John O'Callaghan's book Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn is one book that tries to bring the analytic and Thomistic traditions into conversation on these issues, but in my view a lot of the best stuff on this is in older Thomist books that are far outside the (rather too narrow) orbit of what analytic philosophers are willing to consider. (I say that as someone who was trained as an analytic philosopher and who has enormous respect for the analytic tradition.)

Anyway, bedtime. Sleep tight, all!

Matthew G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew G said...

I think people are saying "You called Le Poidevin sleazy" because of this:

"Compare that to Le Poidevin’s procedure. Though by his own admission no one has ever actually defended the feeble argument in question, Le Poidevin still calls it “the basic” version of the cosmological argument and characterizes the “more sophisticated versions” he considers later on as “modifications” of it. Daniel Dennett does something similar in his book Breaking the Spell. He assures us that the lame argument in question is “the simplest form” of the cosmological argument and falsely insinuates that other versions – that is to say, the ones that philosophers have actually defended, and which Dennett does not bother to discuss – are merely desperate attempts to repair the obvious problems with the “Everything has a cause” “version.” As with our imaginary creationist, this procedure is intellectually dishonest and sleazy, but it is rhetorically very effective."

But not Le Poidevin is being called sleazy, it's Dennett. Or, actually, it's something Dennett did. You make a distinction between saying "Person P is X" and saying "Person P did action A which is X", but I would still argue that this is an indirect judgment of the person.

dguller said...

d:

Even looking at the Church Fathers, it seems that in the transmission of information, there were so many points at which (un)willing distortion or fabrication could have occurred that the farther in the past we go, the more skeptical we should be about the veracity of the information in question. And this is even more so in the ancient world when the physical evidence is so limited.

It would be best if you knew where I am coming from.

I have read a great deal of psychological literature about cognitive biases and distortions that we are mostly completely unaware of and thus ignore in our regular attempts to understand ourselves and the world. Some of the books that I have read are:

“The Invisible Gorilla” by Christopher Chabris

“Don’t Believe Everything You Think” by Thomas Kida

“Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Carol Tavris

“The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb

I think that if you read these books, then you will see that the number of limitations that we operate under that end up distorting our perception, memory, and intellectual inferences are so numerous that it is inevitable that we make a number of mistakes, especially about matters that are emotionally salient to ourselves. And given these facts about human psychology, and the limited physical evidence in the ancient world, all of which is quite open to a number of divergent interpretations without any hope of elimination down to a single unified theory, we are left with a difficult situation when it comes to belief.

I am not a scholar of ancient texts, but I recall that the earliest Christian texts were recorded decades after the death of Jesus. A lot of distortions can happen in a few decades, and without a huge number of texts from the period, we just do not know if the sample that we currently have, or even that the Church Fathers had, was representative. In other words, if all they had was the interpretation of a subset of early Christians, then they would base their teachings upon a biased sample, which may not even represent what Jesus actually said.

In such situations, I would advice extreme caution and skepticism, and would recommend not basing any important life decisions upon them. After all, sometimes it is better to have no map than the wrong map.

Bobby Bambino said...

Chuck @ July 24, 2011 6:19 PM:

What an honest and refreshing post! Thank you for writing it.

Matthew G said...

"I am not a scholar of ancient texts"

And yet you still make judgments about them based on "people can be wrong".

TheOFloinn said...

@d
Try this:
http://www2.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/gc.htm

But you might want to look at this, too:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/

Or even here:
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/is-stupid-making-us-google

TheOFloinn said...

@will
A clock doesn't strike twelve because something outside it told it to in that moment

Actually, the clockmaker did, in the design and construction of the clock. Otherwise the wood, metal, gears, springs, pendula, et al. would never have come together to form a clock. That is the essential difference between nature and artifice, and it is why a biochemical system cannot really be compared to a mousetrap.

dguller said...

Matthew:

>> And yet you still make judgments about them based on "people can be wrong".

Honestly, read some of the books that I cited in my comment. The human mind is fraught with biases and distortions, which are incredibly insidious and difficult to correct. If ancient humans were similar to modern humans, then they were also prone to a number of cognitive foibles that they would have been oblivious about, which could explain the miraculous phenomena that they recorded.

Where the evidence is limited, our conclusions should also be limited, and we should be open about these limitations rather than pretending that they are solid and secure. And this is especially so when it comes to history, because our evidence is necessarily limited and fragmented, which gets even worse the more distant in time one examines. And when our evidence becomes limited, then we should be very careful about what we infer from it.

As I said, often it is better to have no map than the wrong map. I would strongly recommend reading those books to get a better sense of why this is an essential credo to live one’s life by. We all have a need to make sense of things and create a coherent narrative that explains the world in a causal fashion, and this drive is operative even when the facts that we base such a narrative upon is fragmentary and limited. It feels so right that we ignore the flimsy nature of the supporting structure. However, the truth is that it is there, tottering away.

TheOFloinn said...

The human mind is fraught with biases and distortions, which are incredibly insidious and difficult to correct.

So, you're saying that skeptics are likely mistaken?

Or just that it's impossible to know anything?

dguller said...

TOF:

>> So, you're saying that skeptics are likely mistaken?

I think that everyone could be wrong, because these biases and distortions seem to be present in all human beings.

>> Or just that it's impossible to know anything?

If these cognitive foibles are controlled for -- as much as possible -- then we can acquire knowledge. As far as I understand it, this is what science does, i.e. attempts to minimize cognitive bias and distortions through a number of control mechanisms in order to increase our chances of discovering the truth.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

"Where the evidence is limited, our conclusions should also be limited.."

I would like to hear more about this principle, specifically whether you think, in the light of limited evidence, our conclusions should be both subjectively and objectively limited, one or the other, or neither.

By subjectively limited, I mean the level of commitment one is willing to give on the basis of a conclusion. For instance, it would be very difficult to prove, prior to getting married, that the person you will marry is just the person for you and the marriage will work out. In that sense, marriage is an objectively limited conclusion. But it is subjectively unlimited (or less limited) since it is a lifetime commitment (or at least used to be). Would you say that a subjectively limited conclusion should always follow from an objectively limited conclusion?

I ask because, if that is so, then approaching Christianity through historical reconstruction will fail in principle, since history yields only probable results but Christ asks for much more than a merely probable commitment. He asks for a subjectively unlimited commitment. So if we are in principle against subjectively unlimited commitments based on objectively limited conclusions, Christianity can't work for us.

TheOFloinn said...

If these cognitive foibles are controlled for -- as much as possible -- then we can acquire knowledge. As far as I understand it, this is what science does, i.e. attempts to minimize cognitive bias and distortions through a number of control mechanisms in order to increase our chances of discovering the truth.

It has been pointed out that Darwinism arose in a milieu of laissez faire capitalism, that pointilism coincided with quantum theory, that relativity in physics followed on impressionism in the arts. To what extent is "objectivity" defined as "congruent with current cultural norms"?

Still, if we define a "burglar" as "that which sets off a burglar alarm," have we really grasped the essence of burglars? If not, why accept that which sets off other instruments as the whole of the matter?

Josh said...

dguller:

"Would you say that a subjectively limited conclusion should always follow from an objectively limited conclusion?"

You the type of guy to get married because of logic telling you it will work out?

This seems to be an over-rationalizing of conclusions that belong to faith.

DNW said...

Edward Feser said...

"(continued)

Even if I ignore the loudmouths and answer only the reasonable questions, though, I will only end up just rewriting stuff I've already said -- and said more fully -- in books and articles. And my answers will lead to follow-up questions the answers to which are also in the books and articles. So why not just direct people to those?

Why re-write everything I've already said elsewhere, especially in an ephemeral combox exchange? ..."


I cannot tell you why you should.

But I can - as could most anyone who has any experience with Internet discussions - tell you why you should not.

You shouldn't because when in response to the umpteenth request for the same information, you casually rewrite a carefully formulated argument so as to accommodate a comment box format, while simultaneously trying to re-present it in a moderately novel, or non-repetitious way, you merely open yourself up to some troll that has been patiently lying in wait in order to pounce on any hint of ambiguity, real or imagined, relative to previous formulations.


"Please ... please ... please ..." and "please explain once again" followed by:

"That's not what you said before!"

dguller said...

Dmt117:

>> By subjectively limited, I mean the level of commitment one is willing to give on the basis of a conclusion. For instance, it would be very difficult to prove, prior to getting married, that the person you will marry is just the person for you and the marriage will work out. In that sense, marriage is an objectively limited conclusion. But it is subjectively unlimited (or less limited) since it is a lifetime commitment (or at least used to be). Would you say that a subjectively limited conclusion should always follow from an objectively limited conclusion?

The question that you are getting at, I think, is whether being irrational is better than being rational at times. With regards to outcomes, this is clearly true on a number of occasions, but does it follow that we should elevate irrationality as a principle above rationality? I am unsure.

In addition, our capacity to predict the future is always hamstrung by our limitations and ignorance, but it does not follow that we should disregard any attempt to be reasonable or rational in our predictions, especially when it comes to our relationships with other people. For example, there are certain red flags that one would be reasonable to be mindful of in a relationship – e.g. history of physical abuse, drug addiction, systematic invalidating remarks, and so on – and it would be the height of folly to ignore them and pursue a relationship. That being said, I am sure there are probably examples of marriages that worked out despite being loaded with red flags at the beginning.

Again, the issue is what we should do in general. I think that, in general, we should tailor our assent in proportion to the evidence of the assertion. Where this results in the need for action in the face of limited evidence, then it does not mean that we should not act, but only that we should act with caution, because being reckless in such a context could carry a significant price. Overall, I would say that lying to oneself can turn out to have a positive outcome, but in general, it would be better to be truthful.

That being said, my own marriage happened after seeing my future wife for only three months! We have been married for 8 years, and have three beautiful children. Would I recommend that people should get married after only knowing someone for three months, though? No! ;)

>> I ask because, if that is so, then approaching Christianity through historical reconstruction will fail in principle, since history yields only probable results but Christ asks for much more than a merely probable commitment. He asks for a subjectively unlimited commitment. So if we are in principle against subjectively unlimited commitments based on objectively limited conclusions, Christianity can't work for us.

But the issue in question is precisely what Christ asked of us. If this information is contained in a flawed historical record, then we do not know what he said. This is about facts, and whether we can assert with certainty that we know something to be true that we cannot possibly know to be true, and is this a responsible way to live our lives, especially if we claim to revere the truth?

dguller said...

TOF:

>> It has been pointed out that Darwinism arose in a milieu of laissez faire capitalism, that pointilism coincided with quantum theory, that relativity in physics followed on impressionism in the arts. To what extent is "objectivity" defined as "congruent with current cultural norms"?

And Mendeleev got the idea of the periodic table from a dream. So what? The origin of an idea is irrelevant to its truth (i.e. the genetic fallacy). Its truth is demonstrated by scientific investigation that is based upon the truth that we are easily fooled into believing falsehoods, and so safeguards and controls must be in place to minimize the biases and distortions that make this happen.

TheOFloinn said...

Its truth is demonstrated by scientific investigation that is based upon the truth

But that truth is elusive, as you yourself have said. We tend to see things through the prism of the age. Right? Or is that only to be wielded against the other guy's thinking and not our own?

You misunderstood the examples. I'm not talking about methodology, like Maxwell's intuition versus Ampere's empiricism. I'm saying that what the facts look like depends on the milieu in which they are looked at.

When laissez faire was all the do, evolution was a ruthless struggle for existence in which the less fit inevitably perished. Later, when touchy-feely became the Zeitgeist, evolution received a big heaping dollop of "cooperation" and the story was differently told.

And it is always "This time we finally got it Right!"

dguller said...

TOF:

>> And it is always "This time we finally got it Right!"

Fair enough, but despite its flaws, it is the best method we have to understand the world. I like modifying Churchill’s quote about democracy, and using it to describe science: “It is the worst system in the world, except for all the others.” That is how I would describe science, which has numerous flaws from the manipulation by powerful corporations to the egos of investigators modifying test results, but it is better than all the alternatives when it comes to discovering how the world works. And one of the features that makes it better is that it takes self-deception seriously enough to install controls to minimize its presence and correct for it when it happens.

And the tentativeness that I encouraged us all to adopt when it comes to facts about the ancient world are equally applicable to science. Read a research paper, and you will find a discussion of all the limitations and flaws in the study in question, and how future studies could correct for them. That caution is what I was encouraging, not the arrogant dismissal of flaws and limitations in the process of declaring absolute truth.

Brock said...

"The next step is to show that IF any allegedly revealed religion is true, it has to be backed by miracles in the strict sense -- events that could not in principle happen naturally and that could only have had a divine cause. There is no other way one could have rational grounds for confirming the claim that some message really came from God."

"That much pretty much rules out Islam..."

I'm a long-time lurker, have recently read TLS and reading Aquinas now, and I would like to ask Dr Feser and/or The O'Floinn and/or the other worthies in these comboxes if they have any recommendations for sources that specifically discuss miracles with regards to the claims of traditional Judaism.

It seems that observant Jews are very dismissive of miracles as evidence for divine revelation, with the major exception of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and they try to ringfence that one by the so-called Kuzari argument. As far as I can see, the Kuzari argument relies on several assumptions that are not well-founded at all, and all of this anti-all-miracles-but-Sinai is special pleading. However, I'd love to see a really detailed and solid discussion of these issues.

TheOFloinn said...

it is the best method we have to understand the world.

Change that to
"it is the best method we have to understand the metrical aspects of the physical world"
and we are in agreement. The difficulty stems from supposing that a method useful in one field is ipso facto the best method to use is another, as if the fresco were the answer to the problems of cooking. It doesn't help a bit in mathematics, art, history, law, and so forth, save to the extent that a physical matter may be involved. But anyone who supposes that Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A is wholly understood by knowing the physics of vibrating air columns does not know the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

My father explained the difference thusly:
"Knowledge" is when you know that a tomato is a fruit. "Wisdom" is knowing that you don't cut one up into a fruit salad.

21st Century Scholastic said...

Brock, i don't know if he discusses the "Kuzari argument", but Michael L. Brown is the foremost christian specialist of judaism (give a look to his books here: http://www.amazon.com/Michael-L.-Brown/e/B001IZVFFU)

Anonymous said...

One of the more well-known and extended treatments of the Kuzari Principle is Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's.

http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Kuzari_Principle_Intro.htm

http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/2054

Brock said...

Yes, thank you, I've read R. Gottlieb's account. I should be clearer: I'm looking for a detailed discussion of Judaism and miracles and possibly the Kuzari argument, approaching it from a classical theistic and preferably Catholic POV.

TheOFloinn said...

I consider science to be any human effort to systematically study the world by using empirical evidence in as unbiased and distorted a manner as possible

Then Aquinas was a scientist in your sense. Of course, you fall far away from the tree of the Scientific Revolution, and your definition of "science" is rather all encompassing. You still leave mathematics out of the loop, since it uses no empirical evidence and does not study the physical world.

The aim of art is (or, these days, was) the pursuit of beauty. This does not mean pretty pictures. Your hypothetical painting is not disproven by science. Such a painting might well have been meant as a dark satire, or as expressionism.

It might well be that to achieve empirical objectivity is itself a distortion, as when the scientist studying people places himself rhetorically outside of humanity in order to be "objective."

dguller said...

TOF:

>> Then Aquinas was a scientist in your sense.

I have no problem with that.

>> Of course, you fall far away from the tree of the Scientific Revolution, and your definition of "science" is rather all encompassing.

That is the point. Science is just the refinement of everyday inquiry, which is: you have a question, and then you look for evidence to answer the question. It refines everyday inquiry by the use of tools to extend the senses (i.e. telescopes, microscopes), and uses mathematical models and statistical analysis to identify the core patterns within the surrounding noise. It also makes a concerted effort to minimize bias and distortion through safeguards like peer review, using a control group, and so on. None of which eliminates bias and distortion, but all of which are supposed to decrease its impact.

>> You still leave mathematics out of the loop, since it uses no empirical evidence and does not study the physical world.

That’s fine.

>> The aim of art is (or, these days, was) the pursuit of beauty. This does not mean pretty pictures. Your hypothetical painting is not disproven by science. Such a painting might well have been meant as a dark satire, or as expressionism.

But even if it was meant as a dark satire, it is still rooted in an empirical fact, i.e. the suffering of the concentration camp. Art is based upon facts about the world, but presents those facts in various ways to elicit diverse emotional responses in order to open up new possibilities of experience.

>> It might well be that to achieve empirical objectivity is itself a distortion, as when the scientist studying people places himself rhetorically outside of humanity in order to be "objective."

Right. We can never achieve pure objectivity, but that is fine. Even impure objectivity pays enormous dividends in terms of understanding the world. I am not saying that science is perfect, only the best tool we have to understand the world.

Sure, it does not help to understand the world of mathematics, but it also does not help to understand the world of Harry Potter. So what? If there are elements of mathematics or Harry Potter that are about the empirical world, then science is the best way to know this truth. The fact that science only works in its domain, but not in others, is not an argument against science. It is only against the argument that science is the best tool we have for knowing anything. I did not say that. I say it is the best tool for knowing anything about the world.

dguller said...

I'll repost this, because it does not seem to have stuck:

TOF:

>> The difficulty stems from supposing that a method useful in one field is ipso facto the best method to use is another, as if the fresco were the answer to the problems of cooking. It doesn't help a bit in mathematics, art, history, law, and so forth, save to the extent that a physical matter may be involved.

A few comments. (I know, you’re surprised).

I consider science to be any human effort to systematically study the world by using empirical evidence in as unbiased and distorted a manner as possible, which happens to involve controlling for confounding factors, human error, and so on.

In that sense, it can be helpful in both art and history.

Art is supposed to demonstrate truths about the world through artistic media. Just because an idea is artistically represented does not mean that it is true. Its truth depends upon being demonstrated by scientific investigation. For example, if an artist makes a painting about the joy and happiness of a concentration camp, then a scientist (loosely defined) could show the artist evidence of the utter misery and despair of the concentration camp, and that would be important to knowing whether the work of art is truthful or not. Certainly, this would not be applicable to artwork that made no representation of anything in or about the world.

History is the attempt to create a narrative about past events that is consistent with archeological and textual evidence, because this is assumed to be the best route to understand what really happened in the past. Certainly, this would involve activities consistent with my above definition of science.

I hope that our difference over this matter is just definitional.

Anonymous said...

dguller,

"For example, if an artist makes a painting about the joy and happiness of a concentration camp, then a scientist (loosely defined) could show the artist evidence of the utter misery and despair of the concentration camp,"

Surely the subjective mental experiences of the victims of the camp (testimonies, diaries, second hand accounts, witness accounts) should not count as objective scientific descriptors? Unless one did fMRI/SPECT scan or brain autopsy using histochemical analysis for serotonin or the like in the limbic system (having previously correlated dysphoria with these objective features) one would not be able to reliably say that anyone suffered, the same way one cannot reliably say that Jesus Christ rose from the dead based on the testimony of His followers?

I'm just wondering how far one can trust the contents of others' brain states.

The other issue is whether positivism can gauge irony or satire or other subtle meanings depicting the human condition? A 'happy' death camp depiction could have other less obvious meanings in art, e.g. triumph of the human spirit, achievement of redemption or some such.

Jinzang said...

Is the measure of Hamlet whether the Prince of Dane lived or not, or saw the ghost of his father? "Clearly unscientific tosh. It should be consigned to the flames."

if an artist makes a painting about the joy and happiness of a concentration camp, then a scientist (loosely defined) could show the artist evidence of the utter misery and despair of the concentration camp

Obviously he has never seen Life Is Beautiful.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

You and I are speaking the same language then. I have three children as well, and I've been married 24 years. I'm guessing I'm a little longer in the tooth than you.

Rather than suggesting that we should sometimes be irrational, I'm suggesting that we should come to a truer understanding of what it means to be rational. The human condition is such that we must regularly make decisions based on incomplete information. Even when we aren't forced to make them, it is also true that the best things in life are available only if you take a chance - marriage and friendship, for example. I'm suggesting the question of Christ is more appropriately approached like the question of marriage rather than as one of philosophical/historical scholarship. But I don't think it is any less rational for that; it is only less rational if we identify reason with a dehumanized, abstract rationality.

Dr. Feser and I are both Catholics, and I know he only presented a brief sketch of his rational case for Christianity, so this might be unfair... but I find his approach more typical of Protestantism than Catholicism. The connection of a Catholic to the events of Christ's time on Earth isn't through historical reconstruction but through the sacred tradition of the Church. The Church (starting with St. Peter) was authorized by Christ to teach in His name and has preserved his message ever since. How do I know that? Well, it's like a marriage and there is an element of trust involved. One thing I know for sure is that the Church has been consistently proclaiming the same message with the same meaning (the Nicene Creed) since the 4th century - 1800 years ago. It claimed at that time, and claims now, that the Nicene Creed is but an elaboration of creeds going back to Christ Himself, an elaboration necessary to combat certain heresies (e.g. Arianism). The Church has proven itself a trustworthy caretaker of the "Nicene Message" for the last 1800 years, in the sense that it hasn't changed or lost the message; based on that track record, I believe it is rational for me to hold that it was also trustworthy for the 300 years before that going back to Christ. That is why I think I can reasonably know what Christ said and what He asks of me, because He doesn't speak to me through the dead letter of history, but through the living voice of the Church.

Anyway, I say all that merely to briefly suggest that there are other, perhaps better, ways to approach Christianity than as a question of historical scholarship.

machinephilosophy said...

A real sign of genius, spending more time arguing (shallowly of course) about someone's position than it would take to simply read the freakin book that fully delinates the position. But neo-bibliographical gossip *about* arguments is so much easier. Sheesh

awatkins69 said...

"To say 'This practice is sleazy; Le Poidevin shouldn’t use it' is very different from saying 'Le Poidevin is a sleazy person.'"

Ah, but professor, you of all people should know: agere sequitur esse!

lichald lolty said...

machinephilosophy,

Strong posting career on that blog, amigo. Bookmarked.

dguller said...

Dmt117:

>> I'm suggesting the question of Christ is more appropriately approached like the question of marriage rather than as one of philosophical/historical scholarship. But I don't think it is any less rational for that; it is only less rational if we identify reason with a dehumanized, abstract rationality.

I think that there is a difference between making decisions reluctantly based upon incomplete information while being absolutely clear about those limitations and the tentativeness of the decisions made, and doing so while exalting in our ignorance and making absolute claims of cosmic significance without any acknowledgement of the flimsy objective support for those conclusions.

I get the impression that you think it is a good thing to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information, and that it is just fine to jump to conclusions and over-generalize without recognizing that these are actually bad moves that result in fallacious conclusions. It is analogous to the framework that justifies the evil in the world as something really good, because it gives us the opportunity to test our moral muscle and learn a number of virtues. I prefer to look at it as a necessary consequence of the way the world is structured, but would hardly call evil an ultimately good thing even though good sometimes comes from evil.

And I think that there is an important difference between the limitations involved in making a choice in marrying someone, and the limitations involved in making a choice to follow Jesus Christ. The former is based upon a real, flesh-and-blood person that you are interacting with on a regular basis, and have repeated opportunities to receive feedback about how things are going, which would allow you to correct your course, if necessary. The latter is based upon an ancient text that may not even accurately represent the true sayings of Christ, because we just do not know if those texts are a representative and reliable sample of Christ’s teachings. They may actually be utter heresies that managed to survive due to chance historical circumstances. Even worse, you would not know if you had made a mistake until you are dead and experience the afterlife (or lack thereof), which means that there is no opportunity for feedback or course correction at all.

>> That is why I think I can reasonably know what Christ said and what He asks of me, because He doesn't speak to me through the dead letter of history, but through the living voice of the Church.

But why listen to the Church at all? Why is it important to do what Jesus said to do? Ultimately, it seems to me, because the Bible says that this is a necessary course of action to take. And why believe in the Bible? Because the Church endorses and has preserved its teachings. This all seems quite circular to me, I’m afraid.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

>> Surely the subjective mental experiences of the victims of the camp (testimonies, diaries, second hand accounts, witness accounts) should not count as objective scientific descriptors?

Why not? It is an objective fact that people have subjective experiences that they can communicate using language. Their verbal reports are important pieces of data in any theory that attempts to understand human beings.

DNW said...

dguller says

"But why listen to the Church at all? Why is it important to do what Jesus said to do? Ultimately, it seems to me, because the Bible says that this is a necessary course of action to take. And why believe in the Bible? Because the Church endorses and has preserved its teachings. This all seems quite circular to me, I’m afraid. "

Do any systems of ethical or moral precepts look any different to you? If so, why?

dguller said...

DNW:

>> Do any systems of ethical or moral precepts look any different to you? If so, why?

Not too sure what you mean. Are there different systems of morality? Sure there are.

dmt117 said...

dguller,

"I get the impression that you think it is a good thing to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information, and that it is just fine to jump to conclusions and over-generalize without recognizing that these are actually bad moves that result in fallacious conclusions."

Well, I don't think any such thing, but I've learned that when people choose to engage against their uncharitable "impressions" of me rather than what I actually write, the conversation has reached a point of diminishing returns.

Peace and I wish you and your family health and prosperity...

DNW said...

dguller said...

DNW:

>> Do any systems of ethical or moral precepts look any different to you? If so, why?

Not too sure what you mean. Are there different systems of morality? Sure there are."


What I meant to ask was whether they all seemed premised on processes of circular reasoning to you.

dguller said...

Dmt117:

I’m sorry that you are ending our conversation, but that is your prerogative.

My only point was that the fact that we are often forced to take chances and make important decisions in the face of limited information does not mean that we should take this unfortunate state of affairs as a good thing to be used as often as possible. In other words, just because we are forced to take chances in personal relationships in the absence of total knowledge does not mean that we should take chances when it comes to historical facts and their impact upon our current lives. That is a good example of arguing fallaciously, and thus irrationally.

I think that we should minimize the uncertainty in our lives as much as possible, and where we are forced to take action in the face of uncertainty to do so with the understanding of the limitations of our knowledge.

dguller said...

DNW:

>> What I meant to ask was whether they all seemed premised on processes of circular reasoning to you.

No, they do not.

DNW said...

dguller, originally wrote



"But why listen to the Church at all? Why is it important to do what Jesus said to do? Ultimately, it seems to me, because the Bible says that this is a necessary course of action to take. And why believe in the Bible? Because the Church endorses and has preserved its teachings. This all seems quite circular to me, I’m afraid. "


And I asked,

"Do any systems of ethical or moral precepts look any different to you? If so, why?"





dguller asked for a clarification of the question's meaning and afterward responded

"DNW:

>> What I meant to ask was whether they all seemed premised on processes of circular reasoning to you.

No, they do not."

Ok I think I know what you mean by circular in this context. You see the Bible as self-referential, and as a kind of closed system referring in on itself. I had misread you to intend something more broad.


If so, it would probably be correct to take your use of "circular" as being directed specifically at the presumed authority of the Catholic Church when deemed sufficient to validate the ends they or "Jesus" direct one to.

You mean that, rather than intending "circular" to include any system of ethics based on ends axiomatically assumed as "good" as part of the argument?

If that's your view, I would assume that while you might agree that although certain precepts found in the Scriptures might be in accord with natural lights or reason; it is the use of the text, in order to justify the story, which then justifies the precept, which is in turn justified by the text, that constitutes the grounding problem as you see it.


If that were the explanation in your case, then saying that the ethical "argument" is circular, is a significantly different application of the term "circular" from when, say, I might use it while kicking at the decayed corpses of Bentham and Rawls.

dguller said...

DNW:

I have no disagreement with what you wrote above.

Jinzang said...

kicking at the decayed corpses of Bentham and Rawls

Jeremy Bentham's corpse is undecayed. It was stuffed, mounted and put on display.

arensb said...

"In the post that began this series of exchanges between Coyne, Rosenhouse, and myself, Coyne dismissed theology as “drivel” and said that he was starting to believe that the “obscurantism” of which he accuses theologians is “deliberate.”"

Well, if the shoe fits...
I must say that you're no model of clear and concise explanation. Half the time what you write sounds like an elaborate Sokal-style hoax. When you write things like "God is pure actuality", I have trouble convincing myself that that actually means anything.

"In his own first post, Rosenhouse characterized theology as “sewage” (!) and then dismissed my response to Coyne as a “temper tantrum.”"

That may have something to do with the fact that you posted several multi-page screeds about how people are misrepresenting you (see lack of clarity, above; maybe if you were better explaining what you mean, people wouldn't misunderstand you so much). In the blogosphere, that tends to be interpreted as stamping one's feet and complaining that the other kids are being mean.

Anonymous said...

When you write things like "God is pure actuality", I have trouble convincing myself that that actually means anything.

This is like dismissing what a mathematician is saying because they write things like "The finite integral of a function is the area below the curve."

It does mean something. The problem is not that you can't convince yourself, but that you just don't want to do your homework.

see lack of clarity, above; maybe if you were better explaining what you mean, people wouldn't misunderstand you so much

LOL, is this a troll post? Ed is usually quite clear. Accusing him of delivering Sokal-hoax style stuff because he uses Aristotle's terminology is ridiculous. This isn't Lacan's jouissance which doesn't really mean anything; we're talking about concepts that Western intellectuals have understood for thousands of years.

ANC said...

Regarding the Sokal Hoax, I'd use this riff of Arthur C. Clarke's quote.

Any sufficiently detailed explanation is indistinguishable from a Sokal hoax to someone appropriately ignorant.

machinephilosophy said...

thanks Lichald.

TheOFloinn said...

arensb
When you write things like "God is pure actuality", I have trouble convincing myself that that actually means anything.


What part of "actual" (versus "potential") do you find hard to grasp?

Anonymous said...

>> When you write things like "God is pure actuality", I have trouble convincing myself that that actually means anything.


With all due respect, that's simply because you're a self-satisfied ignoramus.


>>"maybe if you were better explaining what you mean, people wouldn't misunderstand you so much"


Or maybe if people weren't habitually dishonest, he wouldn't have to keep explaining himself.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous:
"Accusing him of delivering Sokal-hoax style stuff because he uses Aristotle's terminology is ridiculous. This isn't Lacan's jouissance which doesn't really mean anything; we're talking about concepts that Western intellectuals have understood for thousands of years."

Ah, the Courtier's Reply. Silly of me, really, to expect anything else, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Courtier's Reply accusation. Silly of us, really, to expect anything else, I suppose.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-philistinism.html

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

You mean "The Myers Shuffle"...

doonxib said...

Ah, the Courtier's Reply. Silly of me, really, to expect anything else, I suppose.

LOL, thanks for the time spent on a hrefs. Like WE TOTALLY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT, BRO.

The Courtier's Reply a.k.a. the "LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" strategy.

HAR HAR HAR GUISE LOOK I FOUND THIS BLOG WITH SOME DUMB XIAN THEISTS THEY GAVE ME THE COURTIERS REPLY LOOK SO IRRATIONAL I TOTALLY PWNED THEM IM SO BOSS *farts, eats a handful of Cheeto's, thinks about the day he'll leaving the basement for once*

Marisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will said...

The Courtier's Reply has a resemblance a genuine fallacy, which is ad hominem: your argument is wrong because you are [blank]. You fill in the blank with something that doesn't invalidate the argument: "not a professional philosopher"; "not a biochemist"; "ugly and your mother dresses you funny too."

But the Courtier's Reply fills in the blank with something relevant: "ignorant of the issue." And the first part is not "your argument is wrong"; it is "your argument is wrong on this other basis; you could understand this by ceasing to be [blank]." It's not a fallacy to say that someone can better understand topic X by learning about topic X. It's pretty close to a tautology.

Someone who doesn't wish to learn about topic X has every right, but it's peculiar to cite ignorance as a qualification.

Will said...

Now on this First Cause requiring *pure* actuality: I can get that if a First Cause has an internal state that changes -- thus having potentiality -- it's an internal part that is really the First Cause. Suppose there's more than one internal part involved? Like the spring and the pendulum on a clock: you need both parts, or the state does not change.

In such a case, neither part is the true First Cause. You could consider the "spring and pendulum" set to form the First Cause _together_, but then you have some potentiality mixed in with your actuality.

The best fix for this might be to show that such a subgroup can't form a First Cause, but I don't know how to do that.

Anonymous said...

What part of "actual" (versus "potential") do you find hard to grasp?

Perhaps the lack of academic rigor in establishing purity?

djindra said...

arensb,

When you write things like "God is pure actuality", I have trouble convincing myself that that actually means anything.

It means, "I am that I am." So it doesn't really mean anything in a rational way. It's supposed to instill an incredible feeling of awe.

Bobcat said...

It doesn't mean "I am that I am", at least if "I am that I am" is supposed to be a non-cognitive phrase meant only to instill awe.

He has explained in at least three places (The Last Superstition, Aquinas, and to a lesser degree in the post, "A First without a Second"), what it is for something to be pure actuality. Also, other writers talk about what it is for God to be pure actuality. If you don't understand the explanation, or don't know about it, it doesn't follow that it's a non-cognitive utterance.

some kant said...

You know, the actual problem with the Courtier's Reply is that it can be used --this is usually the case-- by someone to justify his laziness and unwillingness to learn when presented with a challenging opinion. You can always bring it up whenever there is some nuance that requires you to do more than opening a new browser tab and going to the Wiki.

It reminds me of PC indignation addiction. People say they are offended, but they actually aren't -- they decide to get offended in order to manipulate others and to protect the progressive orthodoxies from even being discussed, i.e. DAS RAYCISS.

It means, "I am that I am." So it doesn't really mean anything in a rational way. It's supposed to instill an incredible feeling of awe.

LOL bad troll post, dj. You've made better before. Try harder.

E.H. Munro said...

"You know, the actual problem with the Courtier's Reply is that it can be used --this is usually the case-- by someone to justify his laziness and unwillingness to learn when presented with a challenging opinion. You can always bring it up whenever there is some nuance that requires you to do more than opening a new browser tab and going to the Wiki."

One of the very funny ironies is that PZ used the term in reference to a critical review of Dawkins gawdawful The God Delusion which he couldn't be bothered to read.

Which goes back to one of the things about the gnu herd that annoys me most. It's not merely the fact that when you watch them in action in the Internet Wars of Religion™ they do nothing but accuse the people they're debating of making an endless lists of logical fallacies, it's that they misapply nearly all of them. PZ misapplying one that he invented is just the icing on the cake.

some kant said...

It's not merely the fact that when you watch them in action in the Internet Wars of Religion™ they do nothing but accuse the people they're debating of making an endless lists of logical fallacies, it's that they misapply nearly all of them.

Yeah. Ad hominem gets abused too often. Some people just don't seem to understand that calling X an idiot is not a fallacy, it's just an insult. Saying that "X says Y, but X is an idiot, so Y is false" is the actual ad hominem fallacy. And, to be honest, it's not that common, most people understand that it's a cheap trick.

Misapplying fallacies is a fallacy. It's good to point that out.

Also LOL at "The Internet Wars of Religion™."

TheOFloinn said...

Ah, the Courtier's Reply. Silly of me, really, to expect anything else, I suppose.

Ah, Searle's "Give-it-a-name" fallacy. Silly, really, to expect anything else.

Fan said...

Hey TOF, they need you Physics + Thomist expertise on the thread post right below this one.

TheOFloinn said...

What part of "actual" (versus "potential") do you find hard to grasp?

Perhaps the lack of academic rigor in establishing purity?

Eh? Purely actual means that there is nothing in it of potentiality. This is clear from the ordinary meanings of the terms, and has been so for more that two millennia across several languages.

I'm not sure what you mean by "academic rigor" in this case, or why you believe that academics would have lacked academic rigor. Do you mean what mathematicians call "well-defined"?
+ + +

It means, "I am that I am." So it doesn't really mean anything in a rational way. It's supposed to instill an incredible feeling of awe.

I really doubt that Aristotle ever heard of that line; or that the inventor of logic meant anything to be not rational.

Anonymous said...

Purely actual means that there is nothing in it of potentiality.

IOW you're (and by implication Feser) is saying your God figure is changeless. That as He has exited then so He exists now so He shall exist in the future, that there is no question of His existence nor is there a question of a start or and end to that existence.

How convenient a supposition on which to base an argument.


This is clear from the ordinary meanings of the terms

Well no, it's not, else this discussion would not occur. There is no purely actual definition of the terms there are only contextual definitions that are applicable within a frame of reference and it is both critical and foundational that the working definition is provided by the actor to the audience at the outset in order to provide the boundaries of the reference frame.

Brian said...

Internet Wars of Religion would be a kickass title for a blog!

TheOFloinn said...

Purely actual means that there is nothing in it of potentiality.

One of the Anonymoi:
IOW you're (and by implication Feser) is saying your God figure is changeless. That as He has exited then so He exists now so He shall exist in the future, that there is no question of His existence nor is there a question of a start or and end to that existence.

How convenient a supposition on which to base an argument.


This is just what Dr. F was pointing out: too few critics of the argument understand what the argument is. That a purely actual being must exist is not a supposition, it is a conclusion of a line of argument that started with the supposition that some things in the world change.
+ + +
This is clear from the ordinary meanings of the terms

Anonymous:
Well no, it's not, else this discussion would not occur.

Of course it would. "For the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable." (Thucydides IV, 108)

I have seen folks of a certain species argue vehemently not only for causation, but deterministic causation when the topic is freedom of the will; but then turn around and poo-poo the idea of causation when the topic is the first cause.

some kant said...

IOW you're (and by implication Feser) is saying your God figure is changeless. That as He has exited then so He exists now so He shall exist in the future, that there is no question of His existence nor is there a question of a start or and end to that existence.

The existence of an entity that is Pure Actuality is not a presupposition, but an inference. There is an argument for that one. Try harder.

Anonymous said...

TheOFloinn said:
I have seen folks of a certain species...

Folks. Of a "certain species". Explain yourself.

Anonymous said...

some kant said...
The existence of an entity that is Pure Actuality is not a presupposition, but an inference.

And thus the claim lacks sufficient academic rigor. Feel free to elucidate the chain of inference that begins with naught and yields the existence of the Xtian God. You'll excuse me if I don't wait up for you to summarize it.

Anonymous said...

TheOFloinn said...

too few critics of the argument understand what the argument is.

Apparently you have forgotten the root debate - the existence of the Christian God. Never forget that context is important.

Now that that's cleared up, the reduction of your argument becomes, "God exists because to question the existence of God violates the existence of God." I'm sure you can understand how that argument is insufficiently convincing.

some kant said...

And thus the claim lacks sufficient academic rigor.

And why is that so?

Feel free to elucidate the chain of inference that begins with naught and yields the existence of the Xtian God.

1. A metaphysical system that accepts an actual-potential distinction, e.g. Aristotelianism.

2. That, for some actual X to achieve one of its potentialities, there must be another actual Y that facilitates the transition. That is, no potential can actualize itself.

3. That, given (2), there must be an Entity that is Pure Actuality, and has no unrealized potentials.

As you might already know, the hardest part is (1), and results from accepting some type of realism/essentialism. This is a matter of necessity, esp. when presented with its alternative (nominalism/conceptualism). Rivers of ink have been written on this topic, but to summarize it for you: no realism = no making sense of the world.

Anonymous said...

some kant said...

1. A metaphysical system that accepts an actual-potential distinction, e.g. Aristotelianism.

[...]

As you might already know, the hardest part is (1), and results from accepting some type of realism/essentialism. This is a matter of necessity,


Thank you for the rapid response.

Unfortunately the first preposition is not only hard, it's where everything falls apart. It's akin (and we thus enter the danger of the analogy) to a physicist defining a proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson with, "1) A physical system that accepts the existence of a distinct elementary particle possessing the following characteristics: 1a)...1b)...1c)..."

*Why* a metaphysical system? *How* is the (assumed defined) metaphysical system interacting with the physical universe? *Where* is the requirement that the distinction between the actual and the potential independently validated?

If the requirement of said distinction is only valid within a limited context then either the boundaries of the context must be laid out or it's applicability in a larger context must be established through equal rigor. To devalue the strictures of context renders the entire exercise meaningless.

Jinzang said...

*Why* a metaphysical system? *How* is the (assumed defined) metaphysical system interacting with the physical universe?

You can lead a skeptic to philosophy, but you can't make him think.

Anonymous said...

Jinzang said...

You can lead a skeptic to philosophy, but you can't make him think.


Thank you for confirming that you're nothing more than an intellectual masturbator.

Jinzang said...

How many times have I had this argument:

Skeptic: Science is the only truth! Everything else is mere belief!

Me: But the truth of science must be established by something more fundamental than science, This ground is the meta-physics to physics.

Skeptic: But of course science is true! Look at all the wonderful things science has given us! What has philosophy ever given us?

Me: Aaaaah!!!

StoneTop said...

You can lead a skeptic to philosophy, but you can't make him think.

How is that question not a valid one? If the metaphysical system does not interact with the physical world then a) how do you verify that the metaphysical system exists, b) how does one distinguish between different metaphysical systems, and c) how is the system relevant to those in the physical world?

some kant said...

Hi, Anon. Yours are very important questions.

*Why* a metaphysical system? metaphysical system interacting with the physical universe? *Where* is the requirement that the distinction between the actual and the potential independently validated?

Metaphysics is concerned with many questions, the ones more relevant to our discussion being those that deal with 1. The relation between the world as it is and our ideas, and 2. Change and permanence in the world.

It's tempting, particularly in these modern times, to dismiss metaphysics. The problem is that it's technically impossible to do so without positing more metaphysics. The most egregious example is that of the logical positivists of the early 20th century, who argued that metaphysics wasn't necessary to make sense of the world because everything we needed as a foundation for knowledge (including science, mathematics, etc.) was some sort of logical atomism like the one described by the early Wittgenstein and a verificationist epistemology. The problem with such a statement is that it is itself a metaphysical proposition, and for a pretty inadequate system.

So we need to deal with questions (1) and (2). This is where the Greeks started when they were trying to understand how change happened (recall Zeno's paradoxes and all that?), a long conversation that eventually led to the postulation of various forms of realism/essentialism by Plato and Aristotle. It was a major breakthrough, the dominant worldview until the Middle Ages when some Christian theologians came up with nominalism.

Now, you might be thinking "what are all these 'isms' about"? Well, think about a triangle. There are many things in the world that are shaped like a triangle, but there's also the idea of a triangle as a figure with three sides whose angles add up to 180 degrees and for which a lot of equivalences (e.g. Pythagoras' theorem) hold true. So what is the relationship between this ideal triangle and the ones that you see in real life? Are they the same? Are the ones I see just instances of a "higher" ideal triangle? Does that ideal triangle exist only in my mind, or independently of it? This is where realism (the view that there is such a thing) and nominalism (the view that there isn't) come into play. This also happens to be related to the theological question because there are fairly straightforward arguments from the Classical forms of realism to the existence of God.

The topic is long and interesting. I am currently going through Saul Kripke's work which is a modern re-introduction of essentialism (which looks very Aristotelian) as a response to the challenges of analytic philosophy. There are many introductions to the topic, and Ed deals extensively with them in his books -- from what I can remember, at least half of TLS is devoted to explaining and arguing for moderate realism.

Cheers.

Jinzang said...

How is that question not a valid one?

Now is my chance to be very Zen and say that your question itself is metaphysical, The question of whether a certain metaphysics, or any metaphysics, is valid is itself a question of metaphysics. Did you suppose it had a scientific answer?

It's in front of your eyes
It's in front of your face
But you must open your eyes
If you're to see the truth

StoneTop said...

Now is my chance to be very Zen and say that your question itself is metaphysical, The question of whether a certain metaphysics, or any metaphysics, is valid is itself a question of metaphysics.

Actually I was more referring to the question of how does a metaphysical system interact with the physical world... which would be the measure of its validity.

Did you suppose it had a scientific answer?

Yes, if it interacts with the physical world then that interaction can be tested using Science... which would give the metaphysical system validity.

StoneTop said...

But the truth of science must be established by something more fundamental than science, This ground is the meta-physics to physics.

This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Science... the "truth" of Science is based on the amount of supporting evidence and the ability of a theory to make predictions. If a theory makes accurate predictions (and thus accumulates evidence) then the theory is said to be accurate. No deeper meta-physics is needed.

Skeptic: But of course science is true! Look at all the wonderful things science has given us! What has philosophy ever given us?

A fairly accurate statement... as the manner in which we are communicating rather aptly demonstrates. If Science was unable to construct accurate models of physical phenomena then how exactly are you reading this?

Gail F said...

I tried to read R's post but I had to quit when he talked about being underwhelmed by the " absolute vacuity" of Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Tillich, Kierkegaard... and the list went on.

Seriously? What can you say to someone that calls some of the smartest people who ever lived (not that everyone in the list qualifies, but still!) "vacuous"? I think Marx was spectacularly wrong, but I would never say he was stupid. Yet this guy dismisses some of the greatest minds of history as not being worth his time. I suppose saying so is one way of making yourself look like a genius -- to some people, anyway. At the very least, yourself. "Thomas Aquinas? He never had a thought worth the time of day!"

some kant said...

Off topic, I know. But some of Marx's stuff, like the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, is very entertaining. Not that I agree with him, but he wrote a couple of interesting pamphlets.

Oh, and the Theses on Feuerbach. Those...

E.H. Munro said...

You can lead a skeptic to philosophy, but you can't make him think.

I hope you don't mind, but that made me laugh enough that I reposted it on ehmsnbc (attributed to you, of course).

Untenured said...

"If a theory makes accurate predictions (and thus accumulates evidence) then the theory is said to be accurate. No deeper meta-physics is needed."

This simply isn't true. The history of science is littered with false theories that were able to make highly accurate predictions within the available limits of testability. Ptolemaic astronomy was extremely accurate at predicting the observed locations of stellar bodies. And yet philosophers and scientists at the time regularly denied that the Ptolemaic system "accurately" reflected reality because it required the introduction of bizarre novelties like equants and epicycles, and because it was incompatible with Aristotelianism. Even though it was predictively accurate, it would have been perfectly rational to have rejected it on metaphysical grounds.

TheOFloinn said...

Bravely Anonymous
Folks. Of a "certain species". Explain yourself.

Of a certain type, group, likeness, cast of mind, etc. In this case, folks who had claimed to be atheists.

TheOFloinn said...

Bravely Anonymous
Feel free to elucidate the chain of inference that begins with naught and yields the existence of the Xtian God.

There is no such chain. The classical arguments begin with the fact of that in the world some things change, or with the fact that there is an ordering of efficient causes, or that natures work toward ends. That's not naught.
+ + +
...too few critics of the argument understand what the argument is.

Apparently you have forgotten the root debate - the existence of the Christian God.

Actually, if you look at the post you will learn (in case you have forgotten or - more likely - never bothered to learn) that the topic is that too many noo atheists do not understand the arguments that they think they are refuting. They simply don't have the chops of people like Nietzsche, Sartre, and the other Old Atheists.

You have simply provided a further datum in support of Dr. F's thesis.

the reduction of your argument becomes, "God exists because to question the existence of God violates the existence of God." I'm sure you can understand how that argument is insufficiently convincing.

Of course, which is why no one has made such a silly argument, except for you, providing another datum in support of Dr. F's contention.
+ + +
*Why* a metaphysical system?

Because it deals with the things that the physics must take for granted a priori.

*How* is the (assumed defined) metaphysical system interacting with the physical universe?


How does sphere "interact" with physical rubber to form a basketball?

*Where* is the requirement that the distinction between the actual and the potential independently validated?

You seem under the delusion that everything is natural science. The problem is that without the distinction between what exists only potentially and what exists actually we are left with Parmenides and the paradoxes of Zeno. Motion cannot exist! This makes modern natural science rather problematical.

Is it truly said that you cannot simply recognize a difference between
a) something that potentially exists and
b) something that actually exists?
What about the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy? How far did you get in your study of physics?

StoneTop said...

This simply isn't true. The history of science is littered with false theories that were able to make highly accurate predictions within the available limits of testability.

And within the limits of their "testability" they are, as you say, accurate. Which is what Science is concerned with... creating accurate models

And yet philosophers and scientists at the time regularly denied that the Ptolemaic system "accurately" reflected reality because it required the introduction of bizarre novelties like equants and epicycles, and because it was incompatible with Aristotelianism.

That is rather contradictory... that the Ptolemaic system was accurate (within the measurements available at that time) is rather obvious.

That is used "bizarre novelties" to get the job done is certainly a mark against it... but the Heliocentric models that replaced it only came about when new evidence was discovered (starting with Galileo).

Incidentally, it is odd that you would mention Aristotle... as the Ptolemaic system is based off his works

Even though it was predictively accurate, it would have been perfectly rational to have rejected it on metaphysical grounds.

If metaphyisics can be used to reject the model then why did it take the Copernicus's Model nearly two hundred years to reach wide acceptance? Why the need for the evidence brought about by Galileo's telescope?

As you point out there were theories that are accurate that have since been replaced with more accurate descriptions... Which is again the strength of the Scientific system. Models are refined as new evidence comes in, or overturned when contradictory evidence emerges.

TheOFloinn said...

the Heliocentric models that replaced it only came about when new evidence was discovered (starting with Galileo).

Copernicus lived some 70-80 years before Galileo. He made almost no actual observations of the heavens. His model was based upon no new evidence, simply a conviction that heliocentrism "must" be true. The calculations were based on the then-current Tables, which had become corrupted by copyist errors over the centuries. Hence, its predictions were in many cases less accurate than those of the Ptolemaic system.

Why the need for the evidence brought about by Galileo's telescope?

Galileo presented no actual evidence for a heliocentric system. He helped usher in the gosh-wow-look! era of astronomy; but that Saturn had handles, the sun had spots, the moon had mountains, or even that Jupiter had moons, did not prove that the earth went around the sun. (The Medician Stars did prove that some bodies went around other bodies.)

The one relevant discovery was that Venus had phases. This meant that the Ptolemaic system was false, and it was discarded forthwith in favor of the Tychonic system. All of the then-known data were equally well explained by the Tychonic and by the Copernican systems. The Copernican system may have had more epicycles than Tycho.

Tycho had undertaken a program of systematic new observations using a variety of pre-telescopic instruments of surpassing precision in order to replace the old corrupted tables that Copernicus and the Ptolemaics had relied upon. They were eventually compiled as the Rudolphine Tables under Tycho's protege and successor as Imperial Mathematician, Kepler. The Tychonic system was more accurate than the Copernican system in many areas.

why did it take the Copernicus's Model nearly two hundred years to reach wide acceptance?

a) Because it predicted parallax among the fixed stars and no such parallax could be observed.

b) Because computationally it was no simpler.

c) Because in prediction it was no more accurate.

The Copernican and Tychonic systems were mathematically equivalent, being only a shift of coordinates.

In fact, the Copernican system was soon discarded in favor of the Keplerian system. What a fortune it was that Tycho had assigned Kepler to work on the orbit of Mars: it is the most eccentric of the then-known planets. Had he been assigned Venus, the most circular of orbits, he might never have had his elliptical insight!

Now, the real revolution in astronomy is that the telescope revealed the heavens to be a physical region in which new things could be discovered. It is hard for us to realize, but until then astronomy had been considered a specialized branch of mathematics, and astronomers regarded their mathematical systems merely as gimmicks to make the appearances come out right. They did not suppose that deferants and epicycles were physically real. That's why they could live with the contradiction between Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics.

it is odd that you would mention Aristotle... as the Ptolemaic system is based off his works

No, Aristotelian physics had no room in it for epicycles and the like.

Let's see what Aquinas says:
"the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them."
Summa theologica, I, q.32, a.1, ad. 2

StoneTop said...

His model was based upon no new evidence, simply a conviction that heliocentrism "must" be true.

Which is a pretty terrible reason, scientifically speaking.

Galileo presented no actual evidence for a heliocentric system.... The one relevant discovery was that Venus had phases.

You are contradicting yourself there, the phases of Venus provide evidence for a heliocentric model. Further the moons orbiting Jupiter is also evidence against the Ptolemaic System (as the moons orbited Jupiter, not Earth).

The Tychonic system was more accurate than the Copernican system in many areas.

Very true.. but, as you point out, it was repeated observation (gathering evidence to support the theory) that led to a more accurate system, metaphysics wasn't involved.

But then it sounds like the Copernican system was, until the evidence started to accumulate on its side, in a much worse position then String Theory is today... It took evidence, not metaphysics, to overturn geocentrism.

That's why they could live with the contradiction between Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics.

That rather contradicts what Untenured stated (the post I was replying to).

No, Aristotelian physics had no room in it for epicycles and the like.

In what way? After all the epicycles and the like were developed under Aristotelian physics... as a way to rectify observations (retrograde motion and the like) with the underlying principals of Aristotelian physics.

"the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them."
Summa theologica, I, q.32, a.1, ad. 2


That sounds more like he had a problem with epicycles, and not geocentrism. The statement "some other theory might explain them" is pretty much meaningless unless he offers at least indication of what that theory might be.

TheOFloinn said...

the phases of Venus provide evidence for a heliocentric model.

No, they only demonstrated that the Ptolemaic model could not be physically real. That did not mean that the heliocentric models were. Both the Copernican and Tychonic models accounted for the phases of Venus.

That's why they could live with the contradiction between Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics.

That rather contradicts what Untenured stated (the post I was replying to).


The mathematical model was contrary to the physics. But mathematics was not considered as necessarily reflecting physical reality.

After all the epicycles and the like were developed under Aristotelian physics... as a way to rectify observations (retrograde motion and the like) with the underlying principals of Aristotelian physics.

No. Astronomy was mathematics. They were only trying to accurately predict the movements of the stars, period. The job title of an astronomer was "mathematicus." And mathematicians were considered mere pencil-pushing calculators compared to the august physicists, who paid little attention to the astronomy.

It was not thought that the Ptolemaic system was physically real until very late in the game. No one understood the physical nature of the skies until the telescope revealed that new physical facts could be discovered. The importance of Columbus' voyages becomes apparent: it was "the discovery of discovery."

Summa theologica, I, q.32, a.1, ad. 2

That sounds more like he had a problem with epicycles, and not geocentrism.

He didn't have a problem at all. He simply pointed out that a current theory might at some point be falsified by a better one. Essentially, he was doing Popper centuries before Popper.

The statement "some other theory might explain them" is pretty much meaningless unless he offers at least indication of what that theory might be.

No, because he was not doing natural philosophy. He was only using it as an example and only pointing out that evidentia naturalis (unlike evidentia potissima) was always subject to possible falsification.

A nice essay on the death match among the seven competing astronomical models is here:
http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/galileo%E2%80%99s-great-bluff-and-part-of-the-reason-why-kuhn-is-wrong/

StoneTop said...

No, they only demonstrated that the Ptolemaic model could not be physically real. That did not mean that the heliocentric models were. Both the Copernican and Tychonic models accounted for the phases of Venus.

You are contradicting yourself... the phases of Venus are evidence for the heilocentric model, and evidence against the geocentric model.

The mathematical model was contrary to the physics. But mathematics was not considered as necessarily reflecting physical reality.

Since the mathematical models are the physics how can they contradict the physics?

And mathematicians were considered mere pencil-pushing calculators compared to the august physicists, who paid little attention to the astronomy.

that seems like a fairly big gap... but then you are arguing that Astronomy was not a formal Science until after Galileo introduced the gathering of evidence.

That would also mean that the Ptolmic system and Copernican system were not theories in the modern sense... and so talking about them as though they were does not make much sense.

The importance of Columbus' voyages becomes apparent: it was "the discovery of discovery."


Err... it was the discovery of a new continent... that the world was round was well known among those who were concerned with shipping.

He didn't have a problem at all. He simply pointed out that a current theory might at some point be falsified by a better one. Essentially, he was doing Popper centuries before Popper.

That is hardly a remarkable statement... indeed it is so overly general to be meaningless.

No, because he was not doing natural philosophy. He was only using it as an example and only pointing out that evidentia naturalis (unlike evidentia potissima) was always subject to possible falsification.

A true statement... and what is then the point? It certainly does not show that there is "no room in Aristotlian physics for epicycles".

TheOFloinn said...

the phases of Venus are evidence for the heilocentric model, and evidence against the geocentric model.

One last time: the phases of Venus were evidence against the geocentric model being physically real; but they were equally compatible with the Copernican, Tychonic, and Ursine models and so cannot be said to be evidence for one and not for the others. There was still the lack of observable parallax.

Since the mathematical models are the physics how can they contradict the physics?

Mathematics is not physics. Even today, a Feynman or a Hawking must occasionally point out that the appearance of a term in a mathematical model does not obligate the appearance of an entity in the real world.

you are arguing that Astronomy was not a formal Science until after Galileo introduced the gathering of evidence.

a) Mathematics is a formal science. Math is as formal as it gets. But it was not a physical science. The only expectation on the calculations is that they produce accurate predictions, not that the algorithms somehow ape physical processes.
b) It was not Galileo who "introduced the gathering of evidence."

Err... [Columbus' voyage] was the discovery of a new continent... that the world was round was well known among those who were concerned with shipping.

Who said anything about "round"? That was well-known to the medievals. I said it was the "discovery of discovery," i.e., the visceral realization that the world was not entirely known, and there were new things to be discovered.

Let me suggest Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by Toby Huff.

StoneTop said...

the phases of Venus were evidence against the geocentric model being physically real; but they were equally compatible with the Copernican, Tychonic, and Ursine models and so cannot be said to be evidence for one and not for the others. There was still the lack of observable parallax.

And also once again... I did not say that the phases of Venus specifically favored one heliocentric model over another, just that it was evidence for heliocentric models.

even today, a Feynman or a Hawking must occasionally point out that the appearance of a term in a mathematical model does not obligate the appearance of an entity in the real world.

True... but there is a vast difference between using a mathematical model that may not directly correlate to the world and a mathematical model that is directly contradicted by the evidence. Mathematical models are constructed to describe the evidence, if the maths do not match the measurements then the maths change.

a) Mathematics is a formal science.

Irrelevant... as I asked if Astronomy was a formal Science, not mathematics. I can construct incredibly complicated mathematical models to describe a system (the Ptolmic system being a rather good example)... but without measurements to support its accuracy it is just a set of equations on a page.

b) It was not Galileo who "introduced the gathering of evidence."

But he did introduce it to Astronomy... as you seemed to imply with your statement

"He helped usher in the gosh-wow-look! era of astronomy; but that Saturn had handles, the sun had spots, the moon had mountains, or even that Jupiter had moons, did not prove that the earth went around the sun."

and

"Astronomy was mathematics. They were only trying to accurately predict the movements of the stars, period."

the visceral realization that the world was not entirely known, and there were new things to be discovered.

So empirical evidence gathering did what thousands of years worth of metaphysics failed to accomplish?

fan said...

at this point Stonetop is arguing just for the sake of arguing.

TheOFloinn said...

I did not say that the phases of Venus specifically favored one heliocentric model over another, just that it was evidence for heliocentric models.

The Tychonic and Ursine models were not heliocentric. The phases of Venus were compatible with these two geocentric models and with the flawed Copernican model.

there is a vast difference between using a mathematical model that may not directly correlate to the world and a mathematical model that is directly contradicted by the evidence.

One reason the Ptolemaic model lasted as long as it did was that it accurately described the "evidence." Yet, it contradicted the Aristotelian physics, which did not allow for physically real descants and deferants and such. It didn't bother anyone because the mathematics did not have to describe the mechanism, only forecast the outcomes.
+ + +
I asked if Astronomy was a formal Science, not mathematics.

Astronomy was a specialized branch of mathematics, and thus formal rather than physical.

The great metaphysical revolution was the paradigm shift that began to look at astronomy as describing physically real properties and shifted it from the math department to the physics department.

I can construct incredibly complicated mathematical models to describe a system (the Ptolmic system being a rather good example)... but without measurements to support its accuracy it is just a set of equations on a page.

Actually, it is still used by NASA today for such things as satellite launches or (at one time) moon trips.

But [Galileo] did introduce it to Astronomy...

He was one of many, and not always the first; yet ever-willing to argue that he was the first. While a big deal in the 17th century, he remained an important-but-not-key figure until the 19th century, when he was recruited into a pseudo-war that he would have detested. Think of Harriott, Fabricius, Marius, Scheiner, and other pioneers of observational astronomy. Hence: "He helped usher in the gosh-wow-look! era of astronomy." Astronomy was placed on a firm scientific foundation by Cassini.
http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/extracting-the-stopper/
and
http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/one-day-later/

So empirical evidence gathering did what thousands of years worth of metaphysics failed to accomplish?

a) Metaphysics does not try to "explain the universe." It is concerned with the basic assumption behind the physics: being as such. Hence: Meta-physics.

b) A basic metaphysical principle at the time was that "nothing is in the mind unless it is first in the senses." It is a metaphysical principle that empirical evidence is meaningful.

c) The meaning of a datum depends on the metaphysical viewpoint from which it is viewed. The shifting viewpoint from astronomy-as-specialized-math to astronomy-as-branch-of-physics was the important revolution.

StoneTop said...

The Tychonic and Ursine models were not heliocentric. The phases of Venus were compatible with these two geocentric models and with the flawed Copernican model.

So the phases of Venus are not compatible with a heilocentric model?

Because I am fairly sure that it is...

and really the Tychonic model is heilocentric... as the entire system orbits the sun, which in turn orbits the earth (with the earth only treated as stationary because parallax calculations had yet to show it moving against the background of the stars.)

Yet, it contradicted the Aristotelian physics, which did not allow for physically real descants and deferants and such.

So then the choices are either that Aristotelian Physics was incorrect or the model was incorrect?

You seem to be saying simply that nobody cared that the two were highly incompatible... which shows some fairly deep flaws in their thinking.

Astronomy was a specialized branch of mathematics, and thus formal rather than physical.

But it was not a data gathering exercise... so it wasn't really a Science, rather it was an exercise in logic.

Actually, it is still used by NASA today for such things as satellite launches or (at one time) moon trips.

True... but not to describe the solar system. Mathematics is a toolbox, used to build accurate and useful models (the Ptolmic system is also used in planetariums, as those systems are only concerned with the view from earth).

Metaphysics does not try to "explain the universe." It is concerned with the basic assumption behind the physics: being as such. Hence: Meta-physics

Though it is funny, to me at least, how metaphyisics always seems to follow behind the actual physics... producing no new avenues on its own.

A basic metaphysical principle at the time was that "nothing is in the mind unless it is first in the senses." It is a metaphysical principle that empirical evidence is meaningful.

Still following the empirical evidence there, and providing no new insights.

The meaning of a datum depends on the metaphysical viewpoint from which it is viewed. The shifting viewpoint from astronomy-as-specialized-math to astronomy-as-branch-of-physics was the important revolution.

Which came about as the result of new evidence, not a change in metaphysics.

ACuriousMind said...

Since the other thread seems to have died, I may participate here as well:

Metaphysics does not try to "explain the universe." It is concerned with the basic assumption behind the physics: being as such. Hence: Meta-physics.
I wish people would stop pointing this out. True, Metaphysics as we know it today claims to deal with things beyond the physical realm. But the origin of the term is just that Aristotle wrote his books on "metaphysics" just after he wrote his "physics". The terminus metaphysics really doesn't mean anything more than "that books that came after 'physics'" originally, and some Latin guys who knew little greek only justified the terminus in hindsight to mean "that which is beyond physics" to conform to the scholastic view of Aristotle.

It is a metaphysical principle that empirical evidence is meaningful.
Yup, it is an axiom of physics (hence: a metaphysical statement in your sense, as the axioms are simply believed to be true without evidence) that what we believe to be true should damn well not contradict the evidence, and that it is without meaning if it relates to no evidence at all.
But to claim that there is an alternative to this position is to embrace the idea of Russell's teapot as a meaningful statement about reality, which is absurd on the face of it.


Actually, it is still used by NASA today for such things as satellite launches or (at one time) moon trips.


Such systems are called "effective theories". They work (i.e they produce accurate predictions, but we know that they do not actually describe reality - they just yield the right prediction as long as we do not look too close (e.g. subject them to the findings of science as a whole, and see that they are inconsistent with what we know otherwise). Further, all geocentric models compared to a heliocentric one simply fall prey to Occam's Razor: Kepler's laws of planetary movement are evidently more simple than the endless epicircles of Ptolemy, or some of the obscure things in Tycho's view. Some very simple equations, and that's it (except for the precession of mercury, and some other very marginal weirdnesses). The simplest and most accurate description wins.

I may say that the phases of venus debate here is pretty much senseless, because the Tychonian model, which is geocentric, explaines them. The phases only disprove Ptolemy. Kepler however used Tycho's data to show that the planets are going around in ellipses, and therefore found a much better description of what was actually going on. Today, we know that Kepler was mainly right, and Tycho was mainly wrong, because we know about gravity - and can thus can explain the solar system much more easily than the old astronomers could.
(Remember that Newton only came after all the astronomers.)

ACuriousMind said...

However, talking about centricity while we know that there is no absolute rest is pretty much senseless, too. Heliocentrism is just another "effective theory" (still better than geocentrism, because the sun experiences no force worth mentioning inside the solar system, and is therefore well-suited to attach an inertial frame to when we only talk about the bodies of our solar system), while GR (stating that there is no center at all) is what is reasonbly believed to be true (i.e. conforming to reality) at the moment, although one may suspect that there is still more to be found.

Daniel Smith said...

StoneTop: "the Ptolmic system is also used in planetariums, as those systems are only concerned with the view from earth"

Pardon me for breaking in here, but it would seem to me that the "view from earth" was all that mattered to early astronomers since stars and planets were primarily used as navigation tools. Sailors and explorers didn't care whether the Earth orbited the Sun or not, all they cared about was where the stars and planets they could see were in relation to their actual position.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

ACuriousMind,

“The terminus metaphysics really doesn't mean anything more than "that books that came after 'physics'" originally, and some Latin guys who knew little greek only justified the terminus in hindsight to mean "that which is beyond physics" to conform to the scholastic view of Aristotle.”

From an etymological viewpoint you are correct. However, that doesn’t change the fact that metaphysics is concerned with the basic assumption behind the physics, and behind everything else for that matter. That is the content of metaphysics, even if one cannot say that it is inherent in the original use of the word.

ACuriousMind said...

@Kjetil:

However, that doesn’t change the fact that metaphysics is concerned with the basic assumption behind the physics,
I did not deny that, see my sentence before going into the etymology:
True, Metaphysics as we know it today claims to deal with things beyond the physical realm.
I was objecting to the "Hence: meta-physics" that TheOFloinn said, as it implies an incorrect etymology. I'm a bit of a pedant when it comes to such things, and meant no offense.

StoneTop said...

Sailors and explorers didn't care whether the Earth orbited the Sun or not, all they cared about was where the stars and planets they could see were in relation to their actual position.

Sure... but then the question wasn't about utilitarian models... it was a question of if the geocentric model was inconsistent with the metaphysics why did it take actual empirical evidence to overturn the geocentric model?

Why is it that the metaphysics always follows the empirical evidence, and never leads it?

TheOFloinn said...

Why is it that the metaphysics always follows the empirical evidence, and never leads it?

It is a metaphysical proposition that empirical evidence is reliable in the first place and not the delusion of a brain-in-a-vat.

They simply are not trying to do the same thing.

A proper metaphysics can help you not jump to conclusions where the self-same empirical evidence can support more than one theoretical model.

StoneTop said...

It is a metaphysical proposition that empirical evidence is reliable in the first place and not the delusion of a brain-in-a-vat.

And what would be the difference? If we are just brains in jars hooked up to someones Droid then our empirical theories are only concerned with modeling what occurs inside that simulation.

Saying "It is a metaphysical proposition that empirical evidence is reliable" is rather meaningless... unless you can propose a way to differentiate a brain/jar scenario from some other scenario.

It is also worth noting that metaphysics is in no way needed to claim that empirical evidence is "real" as it is something that every child learns through experimentation.

A proper metaphysics can help you not jump to conclusions where the self-same empirical evidence can support more than one theoretical model.

So it is a way to understand our on cognition? A tool to help model and understand our own reasoning?

TheOFloinn said...

metaphysics is in no way needed to claim that empirical evidence is "real" as it is something that every child learns through experimentation.

How can "experimentation" demonstrate an "empirical reality" when it must assume that reality in the first place? That is what is technically known as "begging the question" or more popularly as "circular reasoning."

StoneTop said...

How can "experimentation" demonstrate an "empirical reality" when it must assume that reality in the first place? That is what is technically known as "begging the question" or more popularly as "circular reasoning."

So when was the last time you tried to walk through a wall?

Saying "well maybe we are all brains in a jar presented with a perfectly believable reality" is akin to saying "there is an undetectable dragon living in my garage"... then talking about the properties/abilities of said dragon.