Friday, October 21, 2011

Magic versus metaphysics

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Larry Niven

Some atheists are intellectually serious.  Some are not.  There are several infallible marks by which an atheist might show himself to be intellectually unserious.  Thinking “What caused God?” is a good objection to the cosmological argument is one.  Being impressed by the “one god further” objection is another.  A third is the suggestion that theism entails a belief in “magical beings.”  Anyone who says this either doesn’t know what theism is or doesn’t know what magic is.  Or (no less likely) doesn’t much care one way or the other – it’s another handy straw man, useful for those who want to believe that theistic arguments are manifestly fallacious or otherwise silly, or who find it rhetorically useful to pretend that they are.

What is magic?  In Renewing Philosophy, Hilary Putnam makes some interesting remarks on the subject:

If a witch must have magical powers, then it is far from clear that the concept of a witch is a coherent one, because it is far from clear that the concept of a magical power is a coherent one.  We can certainly imagine possible worlds in which things regularly happen that superstitious people would regard as magic; but the very fact that they regularly happen in those possible worlds is strong reason for saying that in those possible worlds those things are not really magic—it is just that those worlds have different laws than the actual world.  The notion of a world in which things happen that are “truly magical” is, I think, an incoherent one; and that means, I think, that the notion of a witch is an incoherent one.

One might try to meet this difficulty by defining a witch not as someone who has magical powers but as someone who has supernatural powers, where the supernatural is understood not in terms of the notion of magic, but in terms of not falling within the categories of substance, space, and time.  It is extremely doubtful that the pagan witches, or the witches of present-day African tribes, are supposed to derive their powers from something which is supernatural in that sense.  It is a feature, in fact, of pagan thought that the gods, demons, and so on, are not supernatural in the sense which came into existence with the rise of Greek philosophy and the incorporation into the Jerusalem-based religions of a certain amount of Greek philosophy.  The notion that what is magical must derive from the supernatural, in the philosophical/theological sense of “supernatural”, is not part of the original meaning of the term. (p. 44)

Putnam surely captures one important sense of the term “magical” here (though there are other senses, as we will note below).  More to the point, he surely captures the sense of “magical” in which the notion of magic is thought by the atheist to be objectionable.  And rightly so, for it is objectionable.  “Magical” powers, as Putnam here describes them, are powers which are intrinsically unintelligible.  It’s not just that we don’t know how magic operates; it’s that there is, objectively, no rhyme or reason whatsoever to how it operates. 
 
That it is intrinsically unintelligible has to be what is objectionable about it.  For it is not reasonable to object to the notion of powers or causes which are intelligible in themselves, but which we simply don’t happen to understand, or perhaps even cannot understand given the limitations on our intellects.  There is, after all, no reason to think that whatever exists simply must be comprehensible to us -- especially for someone who regards our cognitive powers as the product of evolutionary processes that favor survival value rather than accurate beliefs per se.  Indeed, some naturalists have insisted that there are limits in principle to what we can understand, so that certain aspects of the natural world must remain forever mysterious to us.  There can be serious arguments for the postulation of such limits on our knowledge, and such a postulation can do real explanatory work -- again, for the naturalist or atheist no less than for the theist.  (In an earlier post, I discussed the various senses in which different aspects of the world might be said to be intelligible or unintelligible, from either an atheist point of view or a theistic one.)

So, again, what is objectionable about magic can only be that it is supposed to be inherently unintelligible, unintelligible even in principle and not merely in practice.  Appeals to magic in this sense can, of necessity, explain nothing.  They are rightly dismissed as pseudo-explanations or worse -- Putnam suggests that they are actually incoherent.  (He does not elaborate, but perhaps his point is that it is incoherent to suppose that an appeal to “magic” is any kind of explanation given that an explanation necessarily makes the explanandum intelligible, and the notion of magic is the notion of that which is inherently unintelligible.)

But the greatest theistic writers -- thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Aquinas, Leibniz, and the like -- would agree that the notion of “magic” in this sense is intellectually disreputable.  And when they argue for the existence of God, they are not appealing to magic.  On the contrary, they are appealing precisely to rational considerations about what the world must be like in order to be intelligible.  For example, the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) argument from motion rests on the distinction between actuality and potentiality (or “act and potency”), which was introduced by Aristotle as necessary to explain how change is possible.  Thinkers like Parmenides and Zeno had argued that change is not possible.  Their reasons are complex, but they involve the crucial assumption that a thing either has being or existence full stop, or it is sheer nothingness or non-being.  But change, they argued, would have to involve going from non-being to being, and thus from nothing to something; and from nothing, nothing can come.  Hence change is impossible, and the appearance of change illusory.

Aristotle argued that the assumption such arguments rest on is false, for in addition to that which is utterly non-existent on the one hand, and that which is fully real or actual on the other, we have to distinguish a third, middle ground category of what exists potentially.  A certain rubber ball might on the one hand be actually red, actually spherical, actually solid, and actually smooth to the touch; and on the other hand, it would be in no way a rabbit, or a quasar, or a Buick Skylark.  But in between these extremes there are the ways it potentially is, just given its nature -- for instance, it is potentially green (if you paint it), potentially flat and squishy (if you melt it) and so forth.  And that is how change is possible -- it does not involve going from sheer non-being to something actual (which would be impossible), but rather going from potentiality to actuality.  For while a potential is not actual, it is not nothing either.

But a potential, precisely because it is merely potential and not actual, cannot actualize itself; only what is already actual can actualize it.  And if that which actualizes a potential is itself being actualized as it does so, it must in turn be actualized by something else.  Such a regress of causes would be of the essentially ordered or instrumental kind; and it can only terminate (so the A-T philosopher argues) in that which can actualize without itself having to be actualized -- something which just is “pure actuality.”   And that is the metaphysical core of the A-T conception of God.

Now, there is more to the story than that.  The point for now, though, is not to develop or defend this sort of argument.   (I have done so elsewhere, e.g. here, here, and here.)  The point is rather to emphasize that there is nothing remotely “magical” about it.  You might disagree with the argument; you might think (quite wrongly, I would say, but let that pass) that it has somehow been superseded by modern science, or that in some other way it is fallacious or rests on mistaken premises.  What you cannot reasonably do is deny that such an argument is a genuine attempt at explanation, rather than an appeal to something inherently unintelligible.  The same can be said of the Thomistic argument from the distinction between a contingent thing’s essence and its existence to God as a cause whose essence just is existence; or the Neo-Platonic argument from the existence of multiplicity to a cause which is an absolute unity; or the Leibnizian argument from contingency to a necessary being; or indeed of any of the other major theistic arguments.  It is one thing to reject these arguments after a serious analysis of them.  But to dismiss them as appeals to “magic” is just silly.

Notice that Putnam rightly distinguishes the “magical” from the “supernatural.”  As I have noted before, “supernatural” does not have, in traditional theology, the connotations that movies, television, and the like have given it in the popular mind.  In particular, it does not have any necessary connection with belief in ghosts or other paranormal phenomena.  The “supernatural” is just that which transcends the natural order.  And if it is not governed by the laws that govern the natural order, that is not because it is less intelligible than the natural order, but because it is more intelligible, and indeed the source of the intelligibility of the natural order.  The natural order is contingent; its divine, supernatural ground is necessary.   The causal processes in terms of which we explain everyday happenings within the natural order are secondary, having only a derived efficacy; the divine, supernatural first cause is that which has its causal power inherently, in an absolutely underived way.  (See again the post on essentially ordered or instrumental causes linked to above.)  And so forth.  

Again, even if this whole picture were rejected as outdated metaphysics, that does not entail that it is “magical.”  Outdated scientific theories which appealed to notions like phlogiston, caloric, celestial spheres and the like were not “magical”; they were mistaken, but they were not appeals to what is intrinsically unintelligible.  Similarly, even if it turned out that Aristotelian metaphysics, Platonic metaphysics, Thomistic metaphysics, and Leibnizian metaphysics were all mistaken, that would not make them appeals to “magic.”  

Nor will it do to insist that only scientific or naturalistic explanations could even in principle be non-magical.  For one thing, such a claim would presuppose something like a verificationist theory of meaning, insofar as it implies that non-naturalistic or non-scientific explanations are not even intelligible; and semantic verificationism is self-defeating.   For another thing, scientism and naturalism are themselves self-defeating (unless they are merely trivially true), and tend to rest on non sequiturs -- that is, when they are actually being argued for at all, as opposed to being merely asserted.  (I’ve discussed these problems here, here, here and here.)

Indeed, if any view is plausibly accused of being “magical” in the sense in question, it is atheism itself.  The reason is that it is very likely that an atheist has to hold that the operation of at least the fundamental laws that govern the universe is an “unintelligible brute fact”; as I have noted before, that was precisely the view taken by J. L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell.  The reason an atheist (arguably) has to hold this is that to allow that the world is not ultimately a brute fact -- that it is intelligible through and through -- seems to entail that there is some level of reality which is radically non-contingent or necessary in an absolute sense.  And that would in turn be to allow (so the traditional metaphysician will argue) that there is something which, as the Thomist would put it, is pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens or “subsistent being itself” -- and thus something which has the divine attributes which inexorably flow from being pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens.  Hence it would be to give up atheism.

But to operate in a way that is ultimately unintelligible in principle -- as the atheist arguably has to say the fundamental laws of nature do, insofar as he has to say that they are “just there” as a brute fact, something that could have been otherwise but happens to exist anyway, with no explanation -- just is to be “magical” in the objectionable sense.  In fact it is only on a theistic view of the world that the laws of nature are not “magical”; and the Mackie/Russell position is (as I argue in the post linked to above) ultimately incoherent for the same sorts of reason that magical thinking in general is incoherent.  As is so often the case, the loudmouth New Atheist turns out to be exactly what he claims to despise -- in this case, a believer in “magical powers.” 

Of course, there are other senses of the word “magic.”  For example, the term is also used to refer to phenomena that are paranormal or occult, but not intrinsically unintelligible -- phenomena which do have an explanation, but where the explanation lies beyond the everyday material order of things and is to a significant extent closed to our investigation.  Now, as I indicated earlier, there is no necessary connection between the “supernatural” (in the theological sense) and the “magical” in this paranormal sense.  Someone could be a theist and reject all alleged paranormal phenomena.  And someone could be an atheist and believe that there are some genuine paranormal phenomena.  (C. D. Broad was one example of such an atheist.  I do not know whether Stephen Braude would call himself an atheist, but his interest in the paranormal does not seem to be motivated by any religious concern.)

To be sure, many theists do in fact believe in paranormal phenomena.  Alleged paranormal practices of the sort often labeled “occult” or “magical” are condemned by the Catholic Church, not merely because they are often phony (though of course they often are phony), but because even if authentic they involve an appeal to demonic powers or lost souls.  Now angels, demons, and souls are of course associated in the popular mind with all sorts of superstitions and crude images.  But rightly understood there is nothing superstitious about them, and certainly nothing “magical” in the objectionable sense of being intrinsically unintelligible.  The traditional philosophical arguments for the immateriality of the intellect provide independent grounds for holding that it is possible in principle for there to be a disembodied intelligence.  And in traditional theology, that is exactly what an angel, a demon, or a postmortem soul is supposed to be.  Here too, while one could of course disagree with the arguments in question, they are not “magical” in the sense of appealing to powers regarded as intrinsically unintelligible.  (It is worth emphasizing that Aristotle himself, who had no Christian theological ax to grind, thought that there were such things as disembodied intelligences.)  

The term “magic” is also sometimes used ironically -- for something that is so contrary to ordinary experience and existing knowledge as to seem unintelligible, but which is in fact perfectly intelligible in itself and can be made intelligible to us given sufficient advances in our knowledge (and which is thus not really “magical” at all).  This seems to be the sense in which Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven use the term in the statements quoted above.  And in this ironic sense, theological claims may well be “magical,” at least to those ignorant of what serious theologians and philosophers of religion have actually said -- just as scientific claims would seem magical to those unacquainted with modern science.  This suggests the need for a third law to supplement Clarke’s Law and Niven’s Law:

Any theological proposition will seem “magical” to someone insufficiently versed in the underlying metaphysics. 

278 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Nice post. I'm making some popcorn in anticipation of the barrage of angry comments...

Lorenzo said...

Surely magic has some notion of causation. Admittedly, processes of causation that one has to be especially "gifted" and/or special "knowledge" to have access to. But there is a notion of causation operating. A witch is someone who can "cause things" other folk can not.

Both Clarke and Niven are tapping into that, are they not? Since technology is what one uses to have certain effects.

Notions such as the law of contagion involve such notions of causation, Now, we can be confident that they are false notions of causation. But I am not sure what is therefore "incoherent" about that.

TruthOverfaith said...

"theistic arguments are silly"

Gee, what could possibly be silly about a god/man deciding to trot around the ancient Middle East two thousand years ago for the purpose of allowing his own creation to hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death in the most disgusting manner possible so that the horrendous sins of humankind could be forgiven.

So maybe the folks in the Palestine desert won the "God lottery".
Or maybe God just thought that the other 99% of planet earth had too many damn foreigners!

What do those silly atheists not understand about this beautiful, rational, perfectly logical story?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Ed,

I don’t think that “magical” is an appeal to the *intrinsically* unintelligible, but is an appeal to what happens to be unintelligible to one. For example, to me the naturalistic claim that a physical primitive such as the electron without any internal parts or access to computing machinery or the benefit of being moved around by some intelligence is nevertheless capable of producing computationally complex behaviour just by itself - is a “magical” claim. If I met a witch who is capable of flying on a common broom, or is capable to transform people into pigs just by waving a stick and speaking a few words, then I would say that what she did was magic simply because her actions do not fit with my understanding about how the physical world operates. So the concept of “magic” does not refer to a property of the claim alone, but refers to a relationship between the claim and one’s own noetic structure. Incidentally, this understanding of “magic” fits well with both the Clarke and Niven quotes.

When an atheist says that classic theistic arguments are appeals to magic, it may indeed be the case that she has simply not made a serious effort to study them. But, I'd like to suggest, it may also be the case that even though she has made a serious effort she can’t understand them; they simply do not fit with the way she thinks. She may lack the necessary power of abstraction, or perhaps after many years of naturalistic thinking she may have lost the flexibility to conceive of anything which does not fit with the mechanical norms of the “natural”. Now it’s easy enough to suggest that the thinking of non-theists is more simplistic than that of theists, but it may also be the case that theists imagine some order which is not really there. Such does happen as in the case of astrology or other superstitions. The deeper the order one is thinking about (and as you point out the supernatural order is way deeper than the natural order) the greater is I think the danger that one will lose contact with reality, and therefore the more important it is to develop epistemic countermeasures and reality checks.

Indeed here is a basic problem. As you say the classical theistic arguments are not appeals to magic but appeals to rational considerations about what the world must be like in order to be intelligible. But what is “intelligible”? It would seem that “intelligible” is that which fits with one’s ways of thinking, but one’s ways of thinking are not a given but subject to error, not to mention subject to non-rational pressures such as fashion. Thus I have the impression that it is not the case that great philosophers such as Kant or Hegel misunderstood the classical theistic arguments, but rather that they saw an intrinsic limitation in the very process of classical argumentation, a limitation which they tried to fix on a higher level. Even if to some degree they have failed, their purpose was I think right. In any case I understand that in the Christian tradition truth is ultimately not a thing one discovers by thinking right, but a person one meets by living right.

Anonymous said...

DG comments “…I understand that in the Christian tradition truth is ultimately not a thing one discovers by thinking right, but a person one meets by living right.”

I an sure Ed has heard that no one converts to God-belief based on losing an argument.

Instead of ‘magic’, consider sublime or ineffable and consider the hauntingly beautiful song by Mary Chapin Carpenter that ends with

"Baby where's that place where time stands still
I remember like a lover can
But I forget it like a leaver will
It's the first time that you held my hand
It's the smell and the taste and the fear and the thrill
It's everything I understand
And all the things I never will"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-geL4NS8Sk

Another theistic philosopher, A N Whitehead posits a metaphysics that boils down to something so simple: reality is felt experience through and through.

Even consciousness is a feeling of experience. Now we might consider that 'rational' arguments about God are mere logical attempts at identifying what we feel about God. “The heart has its reasons.”

A deistic, watchmaker God has no feeling; it does not interact with, relate with, us. Such a non-relational God is an irrelevant God.

Thus, the most profound question one needs to consider when wondering on God’s existence is ‘Is it God luring me in some manner?’

Look again at Mary’s last two lines. She says about the ‘place where time stands still’ (which I co-opt here as a metaphor for God):

It's everything I understand (Science)
And all the things I never will (Religion)

One Brow said...



Indeed, if any view is plausibly accused of being “magical” in the sense in question, it is atheism itself. The reason is that it is very likely that an atheist has to hold that the operation of at least the fundamental laws that govern the universe is an “unintelligible brute fact”; as I have noted before, that was precisely the view taken by J. L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell.


I don't think "likely that X has to hold Y" is meaningful; either 'X has to hold Y', or 'it is likely X holds Y' would be.

Also, there are a few atheists who think that a self-creating universe would actually look like this one, by necessity. A puttive Creator might be able to set up the properties of matter in any way the Creator wished, but to be self-created, the properties may well be fixed.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

May I suggest that what really bugs the atheist about theism is the notion of a Being who can make changes happen simply by virtue of willing them to happen, and not by virtue of any physical connection between the Being and the change that it causes. It's this aspect of theism that the atheist rejects as "magical", because to the atheist, it smacks of idealism.

In other words, most atheists have a deep-seated metaphysical intuition that (a) acts of willing, in and of themselves, lack the efficacy required to bring about changes, and that (b) the only genuine kind of explanation for any kind of change is a physical explanation (which is very different from saying that the only kind of explanation, full stop, is a scientific one).

Consider the case of the witch who waves her magic wand over a statue and says: "I command you to turn into a man!" The witch is expecting the statue to respond to the semantic meaning of the words she utters. Is this any different from the case of an angel who moves objects by willing them to move to the place it desires them to go? What do you think?

The only effective rebuttal to this objection is to argue that the very concept of a physical law presupposes an underlying Mind that makes it hold. But in my experience, most atheists I've argued with reject this kind of explanation of the laws of Nature on principle. They argue that laws of Nature are connections that we need to trust in order to go about our everyday lives, but as they see it, there's nothing about an act of will as such that makes it trustworthy: the Being willing that the causal nexus should hold today might not want it to hold tomorrow. Hence the notion of a Mind upholding Nature is no guarantee of its reliability.

How would you counter this line of argument, Ed? Thoughts?

Doug said...

@ToF:

For twenty centuries, the silliness you speak of was quite intelligible to the vast majority of humanity (though there have always been "Greeks" for whom the message was "foolishness"). That cultural forces have recently (very! recently) inclined a significant (though still small) fraction of the world's population to consider it silly says more about those cultural forces than it does about the message itself.

J said...

@TruthOverFaith --

You do realize that theism and Christianity are not exactly the same thing, right? Ever heard of natural theology (I must assume not)?

Also, based upon your moniker, you must not be aware that truth and faith are not antonyms; 'belief without reason or evidence' is not an appropriate definition of faith. Dr. Feser has addressed these issues at length, I would encourage you to READ his blog sometime (hee hee).

The Deuce said...

Ed:

There is, after all, no reason to think that whatever exists simply must be comprehensible to us -- especially for someone who regards our cognitive powers as the product of evolutionary processes that favor survival value rather than accurate beliefs per se.

Indeed, for such a person, *nothing* can be rationally considered intelligible, because for such a person (if they are consistent), what we call "truth" simply *is identical* to those brain states that evolutionary processes favored for their survival. Using those assumptions, no distinction can be made between objective truth, as it really is, which can be found by use of reason, and brain states favored for their survival value. "Reason", after all, can't be something that somehow connects to a world of objective truth under these assumptions, but is just another brain mechanism that tends to result in brain states that favor survival.

Anonymous said...

@The Deuce,

Isn't that the core of Plantinga's EAAN? What is the current status of that argument?

George R. said...

DG writes:

Thus I have the impression that it is not the case that great philosophers such as Kant or Hegel misunderstood the classical theistic arguments, but rather that they saw an intrinsic limitation in the very process of classical argumentation, a limitation which they tried to fix on a higher level. Even if to some degree they have failed, their purpose was I think right.

First of all, Kant and Hegel were not great philosophers, they were jerks. And the “intrinsic limitation” that these two bozos tried to “fix” evidently concerned the fact that classical philosophy was bound up and hemmed in on all sides by both reason and sanity. And in this they did not fail, but succeeded in spectacular fashion.

Btw, I consider Kantians to be even worse than New Atheists, because they are subtler and, therefore, more treacherous.

djindra said...

Parting of the Red Sea was an invocation of magic.

djindra said...

Doug,

"For twenty centuries, the silliness you speak of was quite intelligible to the vast majority of humanity"

-- which then makes appeals to "intelligibility" quite meaningless.

The Deuce said...

I think Platinga argues that there's no reason under naturalistic assumptions to think that brain states would happen to correlate with knowledge of objective truth.

Of course, Platinga is reasoning from outside of naturalism, as a non-naturalist who doesn't accept naturalistic premises. I'm making the further point that for a naturalist to even acknowledge a distinction between the categories of objective truth and whatever brain states evolution has happened to favor is to be inconsistent with their theory.

I think the state of the argument is summed up pretty well by Ed here: "You see, if naturalism leads to absurdity, then it must not really be absurdity; because, kids, naturalism just can’t be wrong."

Richard said...

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/09/clarkes-fallacy.html John Michael Greer, a noted occultist and neo-pagan druid, had some recent thoughts on this issue as well...

djindra said...

"For it is not reasonable to object to the notion of powers or causes which are intelligible in themselves, but which we simply don’t happen to understand, or perhaps even cannot understand given the limitations on our intellects."

Therefore it is not reasonable to object to the notion that material brains have intentionality simply because we don’t happen to understand the mechanisms. And it is not reasonable to object to the notion that the material universe has inherent, eternal, uncaused being simply because it boggles the mind.

djindra said...

"And that would in turn be to allow (so the traditional metaphysician will argue) that there is something which, as the Thomist would put it, is pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens or “subsistent being itself” -- and thus something which has the divine attributes which inexorably flow from being pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens. Hence it would be to give up atheism."

That's certainly circular reasoning on Feser's part.

Anonymous said...

"Therefore it is not reasonable to object to the notion that material brains have intentionality"

Feser, AFAIK, doesn't deny that "material brains have intentionality". He doesn't even deny that rock cycles have a kind of intentionality. It's materialists who deny this.

"And it is not reasonable to object to the notion that the material universe has inherent, eternal, uncaused"

So you think that the universe is intelligible through and through?

"That's certainly circular reasoning on Feser's part."

Then explain the circularity. And it's apparently also the reasoning of Mackie and Russell.

Jime said...

Off-topic:

The atheist philosopher from Oxford Daniel Came's lastest article refutes Dawkins' main argument against theism, and says that Dawkins' refusal to debate William Lane Craig is cynical and anti-intellectual, which in his view is typical of the new atheists:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/22/richard-dawkins-refusal-debate-william-lane-craig

TimL said...

djindra,
Either you don't know what "intentionality" means or you don't know what is entailed by materialism.

DNW said...

October 22, 2011 11:39 AM
djindra said...

" 'For it is not reasonable to object to the notion of powers or causes which are intelligible in themselves, but which we simply don’t happen to understand, or perhaps even cannot understand given the limitations on our intellects.'

Therefore it is not reasonable to object to the notion that material brains have intentionality simply because we don’t happen to understand the mechanisms. And it is not reasonable to object to the notion that the material universe has inherent, eternal, uncaused being simply because it boggles the mind."

LOL

Just pausing for a moment to wonder what the term "material world", or the word "materialism", would actually come to mean if a thoroughgoing and radical materialism were assumed and one traditional pole of the definitional framework were to evaporate completely.

What kind of definition would remain? Some operational definition? One necessarily implying then, that more "material" comes into existence as detecting and manipulating technology improves in sensitivity and reach?

Let us suppose, that the radical materialist is like the atheist who insists that he is merely an a-thiest, and that the a-theism he has in mind is simply that of "being" (whatever that is taken to mean) without a supernatural or other cause (whatever residual meaning "cause" might retain).

The monist materialist's materialism then, must be properly understood as having no antonym [to borrow from a previous commentor] that is or can be verbally meaningful according to the positivist's standard operating doctrine; other than maybe ... an opposite in the sense of an optical illusion. Though you could argue against that too, as we have already seen. That is, if all mental impressions including misimpressions and inchoate nonsense are considered as significantly material in a philosophical sense ...

So then ... what exactly, in conceptual terms is left there, regarding the concept of "material world" for, or upon, analysis?


What specifiable meaning has "material" in this context?

Would it not become a supposedly empty word, in the way some suggest the word "being" is.

Just for the record, once again, it is not anyone's atheism per se that especially annoys me: it's the puling and absurd claims of social solidarity and that ersatz natural rights morality that so many weak limbed atheists continue to blather on about that offends. One would think that they would have the courage or at least decency to look at the conclusions of their own syllogisms. But, apparently not.

But then, again, that's admittedly a different issue.


Note: Just as I was about to hit the publish button, it occurred to me that remarks along these lines - excluding the latter two paragraphs - have been made before. Possibly wherein implications, other than merely conceptual implications, have been suggested as being entailed when considering the coherence of a unipole - so to speak - conception of materialism.

Machinetechnology, or a like name, may have been one, and there were a couple of others, possibly, as well ...

Jinzang said...

Skeptics will use the term magical interchangeably with mystical. It has no very precise meaning, it's just a term of abuse for anything outside of the current understanding of science.

Nice essay, but it's like dropping a bomb on a mouse.

Jinzang said...

Dawkins' refusal to debate William Lane Craig

Maybe he's realized a degree in biology does not confer an understanding of philosophy? If so, I congratulate Dawkins on his newly found humility.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

Feser, AFAIK, doesn't deny that "material brains have intentionality".

Really? When did he give up hylemorphic dualism?

djindra said...

DNW,

I'll let you stress over what the material world is. But I have a different take on your "different issue." it's not the absurd beliefs of theists that annoys me. I, frankly, don't care what nonsense people want to believe. But I do wish they would stop hiding behind God's pant-leg, stand up on their own two feet and own up to their personal beliefs as their personal beliefs. You brought up cowadice. Well, look no farther than that.

Anonymous said...

When did he give up hylemorphic dualism?

Do you realize that hylemorphic dualism involves a commitment to what the material world is, such that the presence of teleology is affirmed rather than denied? That saying "there is no teleology in material brains" is not a position all materialists endorse, but actually one a number explicitly endorse?

You've been here for almost a year, maybe longer, and you don't even understand that the position Feser advocates entails that the material world is teleological, even apart from the question of minds?

djindra said...

Anonymous,

I don't know what you think I said, but perhaps Philosophy of Mind, p.206 might clear it up. Feser endorses the following: "meaning or intentionality, and thus the first-person point of view of the conscious, thinking subject, are irreducible to and inexplicable in terms of anything material, including the brain."

BenYachov said...

>p.206 might clear it up. Feser endorses the following: "meaning or intentionality, and thus the first-person point of view of the conscious,thinking subject, are irreducible to and inexplicable in terms of anything material, including the brain."

I love how djindra leaves out the sentence before that quote on page 206 "In summery the difficulty intentionality seems to pose for the materialist is this if Searle is right, intrinsic meaning or intentionality, and thus the
first-person point of view of the conscious, thinking subject are
inextricably bound up together; and if the argument in the proceeding section are right, meaning or intentionality, and thus the first person point of view of the conscious etc...Dualism would seem to be vindicated.END QUOTE

The title of this page is MATERIALISM, MEANING AND METAPHYSICS.

Clearly djindra can't read & he can't cite in context and Anon is correct. Feser is citing a criticism of Searle's against materialist monism in favor of dualism not repudiating
hylemorphic dualism.

djindra this speaks for itself & your total lack of any credibility.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know what you think I said, but perhaps Philosophy of Mind, p.206 might clear it up."

No, it won't.

"Like the book in general (which first appeared in 2005), it is perhaps a tad too Cartesian and "representationalist" in spirit. Were I writing it today, I would make it more thoroughly Aristotelian-Thomist. (The philosophy of mind related portions of The Last Superstition reflect my transition toward a more consistent Thomism.) Still, Cartesianism is better than materialism, to say the very least."

Last Superstition, pg. 259: "Nor is it correct to say that the student of the rock or water cycles just happens to be interested in the way some rock generates other kinds and how water in one form brings about water in another form, [...] For the patterns described by scientists studying these cycles are objective patterns in nature, not mere projections of human interests. But the only way to accoutn for this is to recognize that each stage in the process, while it may have various sorts of effects, has only the generation of specific ends among them as its "end" or "goal" [...] In short, it is to recognize such cycles as teleological."

BenYachov said...

>it's not the absurd beliefs of theists that annoys me. I, frankly, don't care what nonsense people want to believe.
But I do wish they would stop hiding behind God's pant-leg, stand up on their own two feet and own up to their personal beliefs as their personal beliefs.


I reply:???????????????????????

Does anyone here know what this blather means?

djindra said...

BenYachov,

You really are dense. There was no need for me to quote any more than I did. Feser clearly endorses the view I did quote. He agrees with Searle on the point.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

You fail to make any connection between students of rocks and philosophy of mind. Do you seriously expect me to believe Feser now thinks a collection of souless brain cells produce, inherently, intentionality?

djindra said...

BenYachov,

"Does anyone here know what this blather means?"

I know you need it simple but that's just too bad.

BenYachov said...

>You really are dense. There was no need for me to quote any more than I did. Feser clearly endorses the view I did quote. He agrees with Searle on the point.

Yes he agrees with Searle Materialist Monism is problematic.

How that translates into him abandoning hylemorphic dualism or denying the brain has intentionality is anybody's guess?

You can't read. You got caught. Heck didn't you once misrepresent Searle and personally attacked him on your own blog because he questioned your precious monism dogma?

Watching your readers correct you & watching your substative backtracking was beyond entertaining.

djindra you have nothing to teach us but you have a lot to learn. If only you would begin.

BenYachov said...

>I know you need it simple but that's just too bad.

So it doesn't mean anything eh?

Well coming from a Nominalist I shouldn't be surprised.

You are unreal to this moderate realist.

Anonymous said...

"Do you seriously expect me to believe Feser now thinks a collection of souless brain cells produce, inherently, intentionality?"

If by soulless you mean "conceived of by mechanists", no - but that's the point. Feser believes that final causes can exist even in non-living systems, and certainly in wholly physical (say, animal) brains. Clearly, Feser does not believe that most animals have an intellectual soul. But just as clearly Feser believes that there is intentionality in animals.

TLS, Pg. 263: "The late "new essentialist" philosopher George Molnar concluded that the powers inherent in physical objects exhibit a kind of "physical intentionality" insofar as, like thoughts and other mental states, they point to something beyond themselves, even though they are unlike thoughts in being unconscious. But the notion of something which points beyond itself to a certain goal or end-state even though it is totally unconscious is, of course, nothing other than the Aristotilean notion of final causality."

Emphasis in original.

djindra, have you been basing your arguments all this time on Feser's writings in Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction? Have you ever read The Last Superstition? If you have, do you feel you have understood it if you're showing up here to claim that Feser does not think brains have intentionality?

Admittedly, Feser offers a different conception of matter and nature than the mechanist view. That's likely why another commenter emphasized what "the material world is", and why you made a mistake when you treated it as something you can dispose of. Remove humans from the picture, and Feser is still advocating a metaphysical view of the world at odds with the mechanists, because they do not conceive of 'wholly physical' things (whether rock cycles or rock pythons) the same way, because they have very different views on what the material world itself is.

Aquinas3000 said...

Well I've said it before but djindra is one of the lamest atheist commentators I've seen. I wouldn't even bother with him. Room temp IQ.

Untenured said...

@Vincent Torley:

An interesting point, but I'm not sure I would reconstruct the atheist's argument that way. Some of them do appeal to strictly mechanistic accounts of causation. Nevertheless, I don't think this is terribly convincing. From where I sit, the objection seems no better than one of the objections to Newton's account of gravity that was presented by the continental mechanistic physicists. i.e. "How can matter, just by sitting there, interact with other bodies across space?" Newton's basic answer was the right one: "We can know that matter does this even if we cannot describe the mechanism. hypotheses non fingo" I think the theistic response to the objection you describe should be analogous. "We have sufficient evidence that there is a being who can interact with the universe through acts of will. Whether we can describe some mechanism through which it does this is irrelevant. hypotheses non fingo"

Vincent Torley said...

Untenured,

Thanks for your post. I liked the reference to Newton. Good point. Thanks again.

djindra said...

BenYachov,

"Yes he agrees with Searle Materialist Monism is problematic."

At least we can agree on that.

"How that translates into him abandoning hylemorphic dualism or denying the brain has intentionality is anybody's guess?"

Mine too, since I was working on the opposite assumption. It's you who isn't reading too well.

"Heck didn't you once misrepresent Searle and personally attacked him on your own blog because he questioned your precious monism dogma?"

No, I did not misrepresent Searle on my blog, nor did I personally attack him. And you shouldn't be one to complain about personal attacks anyway since that's your primary tactic.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"That's likely why another commenter emphasized what 'the material world is', and why you made a mistake when you treated it as something you can dispose of."

I have never treated the material world as something that can be disposed of. That's the opposite of what I believe (and say I believe) so I have no idea what you mean.


"Feser believes that final causes can exist even in non-living systems, and certainly in wholly physical (say, animal) brains."

You keep referring to final causes and teleology and a kind of "physical intentionality" (notice the quotes, btw). When Feser starts talking about thinking rocks I'll concede the point. But, yes, I've read TLS. I saw no thinking rocks in there.

TimL said...

Let's see how honest djindra is: "parting the red sea is an invocation of magic".

But, is that parting of the sea use as an argument for theism? Because that's the point - arguments for theism. Not things that happened in the Bible.
I've NEVER heard the parting of the red sea used as an argument for theism. And neither has djindra. This is merely to do exactly what Doc Feser is critiquing in this post.

Anonymous said...

Since no one appreciated my metaphorical attempt at demonstrating the power of feeling over thinking about God, maybe I should be more to the point (as was DG just before me).

All arguments about a God - on either side - which deal with It as some sort of cosmic physical causation - like gravity - ultimately must boil down to physics.

Any important discussion of God must get at a personal God who relates and cares about creation. Absent the ability to convince atheists that such a God has being, theists will continue to dwindle in number.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra "When Feser starts talking about thinking rocks I'll concede the point."

Alluding to "thinking rocks" shows that you don't understand intentionality as set forth by Feser since his appeal to the rock cycle was based on the intentionality argument for God presented in the Fifth Way.

Your objections often seem to be due to a lack of understanding of the positions you are arguing against.

djindra said...

TimiL,

"But, is that parting of the sea use as an argument for theism? Because that's the point -- arguments for theism."

By some, yes. Biblical miracles are important evidence for God. You say you've never heard of this. I seriously doubt that. Were you brought up by wolves?

The A-T reliance on miracles is more subtle. Rather than Moses invoking spirit powers to part the waters, the magic spirit waits for no human command. It holds the universe together by its own command. Nevertheless, it's magic. And then there is that other connotation of the word -- slight of hand. I definitely attach that meaning to the A-T arguments for God.

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

You and Anonymous equivocate on your meaning for "intentionality." That I fully understand.

Anonymous said...

The mechanistic view of the world is the correct view. If the world didn't operate according to strict physical mechanisms, physics as a subject would make no sense. (e.g. Newtonian Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics)

BenYachov said...

>No, I did not misrepresent Searle on my blog, nor did I personally attack him.

So calling him dishonest & stupid is not a personal attack?

see here.
http://donjindra.blogspot.com/2011/06/can-stupid-be-smart.html

Wow you have no shame! As my best friend's father once told me if you are going to lie at least don't be forgetful!

PS Now would be a good time to take down that blog post liar.

Check it out people I caught djindra in a bold faced lie!

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Anon 10.04 ,

The mechanistic view of the world is the correct view. If the world didn't operate according to strict physical mechanisms, physics as a subject would make no sense. (e.g. Newtonian *Mechanics*, Quantum *Mechanics*)

Why not? One can very easily conceive of a deeply non-mechanical reality which nonetheless produces physical phenomena of a strict mechanical order.

djindra said...

BenYachov,

You really do like to jump to conclusions and then make wild accusations. The "stupid" referred to computers, not Searle. I claim Searle's Chinese Room argument is intellectually dishonest, which it is.

Benyachov said...

djindra,

Your the one misquoting Feser, misreading Searle and making personal attacks on the one hand while denying them in the face of plain evidence.

You have been caught red handed.

Pot and Kettle said...

"...making personal attacks."

That's priceless coming from Ben. Ha!

Anonymous said...

"I have never treated the material world as something that can be disposed of. That's the opposite of what I believe (and say I believe) so I have no idea what you mean."

What you disposed of was conversation over what the material world is. But that is precisely where the most important points lie.

"When Feser starts talking about thinking rocks I'll concede the point. But, yes, I've read TLS. I saw no thinking rocks in there."

You weren't asking for "thinking rocks". You were asking for intentionality in the brain. I've pointed out how Feser believes that the world, living and not, is infused with final causes and teleology. I've pointed out that while Feser believes that humans have a rational soul/an (immaterial) intellectual soul, that clearly he doesn't believe that most animals have such a soul - but he still would believe that they have intentionality. Clearly one that would differ from humans, but intentionality all the same - because it's entirely possible for brains to have intentionality.

Feser, from this site, with emphasis: Of course, given its typical usage, the term “intentionality” does smack of mentality, so that the idea of “intentionality below the level of consciousness” might seem jarring. And the medievals from whom Brentano derived the term did indeed use “intentional” as a way of characterizing the objects of the intellect. (To describe the phenomena Bill, along with Armstrong, Molnar, Turner, et al. are interested in, the medievals would just have spoken of potencies, powers, final causes, and the like, not intentionality.) So it is certainly defensible to suggest that “intentionality” be reserved to describe the kind of directedness that is associated with grasping something with the intellect (as we do but physical objects manifesting potentialities, dispositions, etc. do not), and perhaps more generally to describe the sort of directedness that animals exhibit in their various states of conscious awareness (as even creatures without intellects can do). In short, it seems to me that if there is a difference between Bill and me over the existence of intentionality below the level of mind, it is probably a verbal one.

Do you appreciate that a point of difference between Feser's views and the views of those holding a mechanistic philosophy is not only related to their views of the mind, but also views of the material world? That what Feser thinks of as "material" and "physical" will differ from what, say... Descartes thinks of as "material" and "physical"?

Anonymous said...

Dianelos,

"Why not? One can very easily conceive of a deeply non-mechanical reality which nonetheless produces physical phenomena of a strict mechanical order."

More than that, the science in question involves mere descriptions of regularities - and it seems to me that any regularity that exists could be described in a mechanistic way to a point. Accent on to a point: The position of those who reject the mechanistic metaphysics does not commit them to rejecting the usefulness of mechanistic understandings. What they reject is that those understandings are complete, as far as I am aware.

FM said...

Gee, what could possibly be silly about a god/man deciding to trot around the ancient Middle East two thousand years ago for the purpose of allowing his own creation to hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death in the most disgusting manner possible so that the horrendous sins of humankind could be forgiven.


Another trolll ridiculizing what he does not understand.

First of all you'd had to show cause why exactly Christ diying for us would be "silly".

Second there a lot more than that to it.


Your post is equal to those who say:

"Evolution is silly. Monkeys giving birth to humans? That is so ludicrous"


Of course those people misunderstand evolution completely and you are their ateist equivalent.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Smith said... Your objections often seem to be due to a lack of understanding of the positions you are arguing against.

djindra never understands what we're talking about. Why don't people just ignore him? I sympathize with the urge to counter baloney, but it just clutters up the comments pointlessly.

Rosetta Stone said...

FM:
"Second there a lot more than that to it."

Exactly. The all powerful creator of the universe requires of us that we spend years learning all the nuance in his fan fiction. He's a pretty ineffective communicator if there are so many interpretations of what he had someone else write for him.

Rosetta Stone said...

And don't tell me about sola scriptura. Tradition is just a post hoc argument.

BenYachov said...

I love Gnu'Atheist troll's ability to keep using the same boring shtick time and time again!

You believe in faeries, RPG's, FanFic, Bearded Wizards......

Atheism-the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.

Makes sense doesn't it?

Child's play!

BenYachov said...

>djindra never understands what we're talking about. Why don't people just ignore him? I sympathize with the urge to counter baloney, but it just clutters up the comments pointlessly.

Well he sucks you in in that he sometimes acts like he needs to make a serious point & sometime he tries too make one.

He tries to learn something about philosophy so he will at least appear credible. I suspect that is because in the past some rational Atheists have stopped by and their example shamed him.

dguller and Chuck come to mind.

He is still a troll but there is always the same chance he will improve.

One can always hope.

BenYachov said...

OTOH maybe he really is hopeless.

It appears he needs to "win the argument now" rather then be patience and learn what the argument is in the first place.

Maybe we should ignore him till he actually says something intelligent?

Thoughts people?

Asadullah Ali said...

Professor,

I would love to see you take on the "default position" argument proposed by many contemporary atheists. This idea that atheism is somehow the rational default or starting point because theism lacks evidence.

Even if Theism did lack evidence, this argument seems flawed.

Aquinas3000 said...

I gave mine further up Ben. There's room for the intelligent atheist but some of them don't even get to first base. Ignore till they say something challenging.

One Brow said...

The Deuce said...
Indeed, for such a person, *nothing* can be rationally considered intelligible, because for such a person (if they are consistent), what we call "truth" simply *is identical* to those brain states that evolutionary processes favored for their survival.

More precisely, what we can know of the truth is consistent with brain states whose capability is derived from evolutionary processes which were connected to survival.

Using those assumptions, no distinction can be made between objective truth, as it really is, which can be found by use of reason, and brain states favored for their survival value.

There is a difference between that which exists, and the limits of what can can know about that which exists.

"Reason", after all, can't be something that somehow connects to a world of objective truth under these assumptions, but is just another brain mechanism that tends to result in brain states that favor survival.

Much more likely is that reason is the result of cooption from brain processes that had originally a more direct connection to survival, but are now being used for a different purpose (unless you wish to argue that reason itself has survival value, in which case you will get no disagreement from me).

Anonymous said...

The all powerful creator of the universe requires of us that we spend years learning

Stand back, everybody -- it's the new intellectualism! "I'm too stupid to understand God, therefore He does not exist."

Powerful stuff.

One Brow said...

TimL said...
Either you don't know what "intentionality" means or you don't know what is entailed by materialism.

What theists claim to be entialed by materialism is often different than what is entailed by materialism. Unless you refer to the most reductive sort of eliminative materialsim, there are variations where intentional states are either epiphenomenal or part of the causitive cycle.

Anonymous said...

OneBrow:

"What theists claim to be entialed by materialism is often different than what is entailed by materialism. Unless you refer to the most reductive sort of eliminative materialsim, there are variations where intentional states are either epiphenomenal or part of the causitive cycle."

So you're just an epiphenomenon?

Anonymous said...

OneBrow:

"Unless you refer to the most reductive sort of eliminative materialsim,..."

But isn't non-eliminative materialism just materialism which hasn't been thought to its logical conclusion? Is there rational reason to be a non- eliminative materialist?

Anonymous said...

BenYachov said...Well he sucks you in in that he sometimes acts like he needs to make a serious point & sometime he tries too make one.

No, he sucks you in. I wasn't picking on Daniel, because he is not one of the problem offenders. You, however, are. I'm sure your heart is in the right place but you still need to take responsibility for your actions. Ed has asked everyone not to feed the trolls and you promised. It has noting to to do with whether someone agrees with us, only whether they are interested in having a constructive conversation. Chuck and duller are in a completely different class because no matter how much they might disagree they didn't just act like people who differed were stupid and they would listen to explanations and offer explanations for their own positions.

Maybe we should ignore him till he actually says something intelligent?

We should ignore anyone who comments unintelligently, not just posting something that could possibly be interpreted in a useful way if you try hard enough, but anyone who shows that they aren't committed to learning more about A-T, because that is what this site is for. If you think there's some one-in-a-million hope of getting some troll to change his spots, do it on your site or his. Hospital work is great, but not if you try turning a school into a sick ward and infect all the healthy people around you. Don't be a modern and go ignoring final causes! In the case of this site, that means constructively contributing to philosophical understanding. You promised!!

Rosetta Stone said...

Anon

"Stand back, everybody -- it's the new intellectualism! "I'm too stupid to understand God, therefore He does not exist.""

Right. 30,000 different denominations and it's my problem that his message is so clear. Seems the message is pretty ineffective and garbled.

Keep spinning genius.

Anonymous said...

Rosetta Stone:

"Right. 30,000 different denominations and it's my problem that his message is so clear. Seems the message is pretty ineffective and garbled."

It's self evident that everyone has a slightly different opinion of facts. Since the 30,000 chose to not have a central body to standardise the teachings - a type of ISO institute, everyone feels free to make his widgets to his own specifications customised to his own requirements. However, at heart most of these widgets are pretty similar and the central message is pretty consistent.

DNW said...

Edward Feser writes:


"Nor will it do to insist that only scientific or naturalistic explanations could even in principle be non-magical. For one thing, such a claim would presuppose something like a verificationist theory of meaning, insofar as it implies that non-naturalistic or non-scientific explanations are not even intelligible; and semantic verificationism is self-defeating. For another thing, scientism and naturalism are themselves self-defeating (unless they are merely trivially true), and tend to rest on non sequiturs -- that is, when they are actually being argued for at all, as opposed to being merely asserted. "


I should probably read carefully through the whole of the articles Feser presents before posting my own ruminations in response to other's comments.

Why reduplicate the "counter-critiques" that have already been adequately stated, and even more fully implied?

djindra said...

Anonymous,

I'm glad we've had this exchange. It will now be so much easier and more fun to lambaste the A-T position. More on that later.

First I'll point out the equivocation. Even in the text you quote, Feser begins: "Of course, given its typical usage, the term 'intentionality' does smack of mentality..." Furthermore he admits "it is certainly defensible to suggest that 'intentionality' be reserved to describe the kind of directedness that is associated with grasping something with the intellect." So even from your own reference, Feser admits my usage of the word is defensible.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

But you might complain that the typical usage of 'intentionality' is not appropriate around here. You seem to suggest that I should use the term as Feser does. But I say I do use it as Feser typically does. We'll forget about Philosophy of Mind for the moment, where he clearly uses it as I do. Let's go to TLS, p194: "the mind is characterized by what philosophers call 'intentionality'." Does Feser claim to be a philosopher? If so I suggest he should use the term as philosophers use it. Does he wish to characterize a mind as distinct from a rock? If so, I suggest he must use the term in such a way as to distinguish mind from rock.

And he does.

"For example," he says, "you can think about rocks..." -- but does a rock think about you? No. "Intentionality is regarded by many as the defining feature of the mind, the 'mark of the mental,' as the 19th-century philosopher Franz Brentano famously characterized it." Feser is obviously using the term like I do -- and what follows next depends on him using the term as I do: "And it should be obvious that it is simply a conceptual impossibility that it should ever be explained in terms of or reduced to anything material..." This sentence, wrong-headed as it is, nevertheless *depends* on the material world being devoid of intentionality. Matter can be a conduit for intentionality, but intentionality cannot be intrinsic to matter. For if the material world has intentionality inherently already, of course the brain can have it based on the intentionality already present in matter. It would certainly be conceptually possible to explain the mind's intentionality on intentionality already present in matter. If you and Feser admit the intentionality of matter -- rather than simple 'final cause', then the structure of the A-T position collapses.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

You might complain. "Of course, that's what we're saying! Matter has intentionality. The materialist denies this. So he cannot explain Mind." But you have just created a bogus system. It doesn't really matter if the materialist denies that intentionality is in matter. It's either there or not, regardless of what anyone thinks. If it's there, then it follows that it's in the brain too which is also matter. The material brain becomes all that is required to explain Mind. There's no need for dualism of any sort. There is no reason to ask, where does this intentionality come from? It's just a property of matter. Matter has a will of its own. You've just killed God.

But what are you now?

I think it's pretty easy to see what you are now. By attributing intentionality to inanimate matter you personify it. You give it a will. Rocks become enchanted. No matter how hard you try to dress it up with thousands upon thousands of pages and methaphysical 'proofs,' this A-T silliness is nothing more than a species of animism. It's a magical world indeed.

Untenured said...

The Djindra phenomenon explained.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

"Alluding to 'thinking rocks' shows that you don't understand intentionality as set forth by Feser since his appeal to the rock cycle was based on the intentionality argument for God presented in the Fifth Way."

Aquinas:

"The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."

Clearly Aquinas is not attributing intelligence to rocks. He's attributing intelligence to God -- the designer -- who moves the rocks. Aquinas doesn't appear to be attributing will to rocks either. But that's what Anonymous is doing. If Feser does that too, so be it. They both become animists and enchanters of nature by doing so.

djindra said...

Untenured,

Another typical, impotent ad hominem. Problem is, you've never successfully countered me. That speaks for itself.

djindra said...

BTW, just to make it clear. I don't really believe Anonymous and Feser are animists. I believe rhetoric gets out of control. Words like "intentionality" get muddled because people stake out positions and change meanings to fit their agenda.

BenYachov said...

The Dunning–Kruger effect!

That explains djindra to a tee!

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
One Brow: ... there are variations where intentional states are either epiphenomenal or part of the causitive cycle."

So you're just an epiphenomenon?


Depending on what one means by "you", some materialists would so contend. I, personally, think that describing intentional states as supervenient on physical states, but still part of the causitive cycle, forms a better model.

One Brow said...

Anonymous said...
But isn't non-eliminative materialism just materialism which hasn't been thought to its logical conclusion?

It does not seem that way to me, and I have read no convincing arguments to indicate it would be.

Is there rational reason to be a non- eliminative materialist?

To me, being an eliminative materialist (as it has been described on this blog) would be like making a bootleg copy of a DVD, selling it, and then claim the disk didn't change in any substantive way, so you didn't break any copyright laws in selling it. Of course, eliminative materialists might have a more sophisitcated view of patterns and their reality than I have seen indecated in here.

Anonymous said...

"So even from your own reference, Feser admits my usage of the word is defensible."

Please note what immediately follows Feser's talk of "grasping something with the intellect", the part that I bolded: and perhaps more generally to describe the sort of directedness that animals exhibit in their various states of conscious awareness (as even creatures without intellects can do)

In other words, animals have intentionality. Even animals without a rational soul or intellect. But animals without rational souls are considered entirely "physical" by Feser. But the mechanist materialist is nevertheless wrong about animals just as he's wrong about rock cycles, because Feser thinks the mechanist materialist is wrong about the material world too.

Think of it this way. Galen Strawson calls his view Real Materialism. He thinks it's obvious that entirely material beings have consciousness, among other things. So he's a materialist, right? But he's a panpsychist. But a panpsychist disagrees with the average materialist over what the material world is.

I am pointing out that even when you remove Feser's discussion about rational and immaterial souls, metaphysically he still differs greatly with the materialist because of his metaphysical conception of matter. And this different metaphysical conception of matter explains why animals, which lack an intellect, still have intentionality. Or, to go back to the start, why a brain does have intentionality on Feser's view.

Do you appreciate that two people can have metaphysically distinct concepts of the material world? That he is not merely making a claim about the material world, period, but about the materialist-mechanist conception of the material world?

"This sentence, wrong-headed as it is, nevertheless *depends* on the material world being devoid of intentionality."

You have misunderstood Feser. That passage is talking about the human mind specifically, the rational soul. Furthermore, you did not finish that sentence you quoted, which crucially bolsters my point. Here it is: And it should be obvious that it is simply a conceptual impossibility that it should ever be explained in terms of or reduced to anything material, at least as matter is understood by the advocates of the Mechanical Philosophy and their contemporary naturalistic descendants: material systems, the latter tells us, are utterly devoid of final causality [Emphasis added]

Do you appreciate that Feser's point here is that he and materialists disagree on what constitutes a material system in nature?

"Clearly Aquinas is not attributing intelligence to rocks. He's attributing intelligence to God -- the designer -- who moves the rocks."

What Aquinas is doing is noting that natural things, even unconscious things, have natures and final causes - and then making an argument about what could be an explanation of those natures and final causes.

From Aquinas (Pgs. 115-116): "Like Aristotle, Aquinas takes the teleology or final causality that exists in nature to be immanent to it, to such an extent that one could for practical purposes (and as Aristotle himself did) ignore the idea of a designer [Or "God"] altogether when searching out the final causes of things in the course of doing physical and biological science."

Feser is not attributing consciousness to all natural things. But many natural things which are unconscious nevertheless have final causes. And his conception of matter is such that even some things (animal) which lack a rational, immaterial soul nevertheless have intentionality in the sense quoted at the start of my comment here.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "Matter can be a conduit for intentionality, but intentionality cannot be intrinsic to matter. For if the material world has intentionality inherently already, of course the brain can have it based on the intentionality already present in matter."

"There is no reason to ask, where does this intentionality come from? It's just a property of matter. Matter has a will of its own. You've just killed God."

"Clearly Aquinas is not attributing intelligence to rocks. He's attributing intelligence to God -- the designer -- who moves the rocks. Aquinas doesn't appear to be attributing will to rocks either."

I see your points and I have expressed these same objections to Dr. Feser elsewhere (and no, I'm not going to take the time to try to find the posts right now!)

His response was that the intentionality that is inherent in matter is still dependent on God because all intentionality is mind-dependent.

I tend to think simplistically, and - for me - the position that intentionality is NOT inherent to nature makes more sense for the very reasons you just laid out. I think the case for God is actually weakened by such a stance myself. I'm still new to this philosophy jazz though and not quite up on all the nuances yet, so I'll defer to the experts here.

Mr. Green said...

One Brow: I don't think "likely that X has to hold Y" is meaningful; either 'X has to hold Y', or 'it is likely X holds Y' would be.

Why not? He's just compressing two thoughts together: if X is likely to hold Z and because of that would then have to hold Y, you can say that X is likely to have to hold Y. (The Z is summarised in the rest of the paragraph.)

Also, there are a few atheists who think that a self-creating universe would actually look like this one, by necessity. A puttive Creator might be able to set up the properties of matter in any way the Creator wished, but to be self-created, the properties may well be fixed.

Yes, a universe that doesn't have any "loose ends" cuts down on the possibilities (though pretty obviously that still leaves more than one), but that doesn't explain, as Hawking put it when he was being more diplomatic, what breathed fire into the equations. If the "equations" are "self-firing" then you've effectively got the A-T Pure Act, and if not you're leaving an unintelligible magic fact.

Robert Oerter said...

Feser completely misses the point about the "Magical God" objection. It's not about the ontological status of God (or the laws of physics) - I doubt many atheists worry about that. It's about attempts to use God to explain things about the universe.

Theists don't seem to realize the extent to which God's omnipotence destroys any explanatory power. If I say the explanation for the orbits of the planets or the spectrum of hydrogen is "Magic!", that's not really an explanation at all. Likewise, if I say the explanation for the beginning of the universe or the origin of life is "God!", that's not an explanation at all. Since God is omnipotent, the God explanation is consistent with any possible set of observations. (If you disagree, please tell me what the God hypothesis says about the Higgs mass or the nature of dark matter.)

Like magic, God is an explanation that doesn't explain.

For another example of this, see my blog post on how fine tuning supports naturalism:

http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2011/10/fine-tuning-supports-naturalism.html

One Brow said...

Mr. Green,

If you feel that uncaused events like atomic decay are the AT pure act, I can find no reason to disagree. I'm surious how you would defend them all being the same source, if you believed that.

grodrigues said...

@Robert Oerter:

"If you disagree, please tell me what the God hypothesis says about the Higgs mass or the nature of dark matter."

You do not understand a single thing about the classical case for theism, do you?

1. The existence of God is not an hypothesis, like scientific hypothesis, designed as the best explanation for some obervable facts. Rather, the existence of God is the *conclusion* of a rigorous deductive metaphysical proof. Either the proof fails or it does not; either way, you misconstrue the whole thing.

2. What God is supposed to explain is not the Higgs mass or the existence of three generations of Leptons or quark confinement or what other physical fact you care to name. Physics, chemistry, etc. are enough to do that. Rather, the type of questions that God is supposed to be the answer to are questions that *cannot* be answered by physics or any of the empirical sciences: why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there order in the universe? and questions such as these.

DNW said...

djindra said...

"DNW,

I'll let you stress over what the material world is. But ..."



A belch is generally not considered much of an argument outside of those Sarmatian potato fields.

grodrigues said...

@OneBrow

"If you feel that uncaused events like atomic decay are the AT pure act, I can find no reason to disagree. I'm surious how you would defend them all being the same source, if you believed that."

Here we go again with the uncaused rot again...

Look, you cannot derive a metaphysical conclusion (this or that event is uncaused) from the abstract formalisms of physics, QM say, whose job is to explain and predict correlations of physical events. Just because there is no discernible cause, it does not mean that there is no cause. In fact, the statement is if taken literally simply false, because there is a cause: radioactive material. Literally uncaused events are completely unexplainable by their very *nature*; they would appear to us as completely magical and mysterious -- I even have a hard time imagining how such an event would look like. Thus, the very existence of a physical theory of radioactive decay shows that radioactive decay is not an uncaused event. The fact that we only have access to probability distributions is irrelevant to the question.

To argue your case that radioactive decay is an uncaused event with a semblance of plausibility, you would have to do two things in the very least:

1. Explain what causality is.

This is not a physical question but a metaphysical one that science itself must presuppose to do its business. I wager that your claim would already be shot dead at this step.

2. You would have to say what interpretation of QM you are picking and why.

This is important because there are fully causal, deterministic interpretations of QM. Since we have no empirical evidence enough to decide which of the interpretations is the right one, your case would have to be a philosophical one. Good luck with the enterprise.

Brian said...

djindra - from one skeptic to another - you are making me cringe. Your misunderstandings are are deep and pervasive. Give credit where credit is due, even if in the end, you disagree with your opponent's conclusion.

A-T is an incredibly breathtaking and thourough conception of reality, even if ultimately false.

dguller said...

Grodriguez:

Look, you cannot derive a metaphysical conclusion (this or that event is uncaused) from the abstract formalisms of physics, QM say, whose job is to explain and predict correlations of physical events.

Sure, you can. There is an assumption that the reason why QM can make reasonable predictions is that it captures some truths about how the world works. It then comes down to trying to figure out what the world must be like for QM to work at all. Sure, there is insufficient information to make this a necessary and logical deduction, which may be all that you mean, but surely one can speculate to some extent. In some ways, this is akin to Aquinas’ procedure of making observations about the world and inferring what deeper principles must be operative in order to explain those observations.

Just because there is no discernible cause, it does not mean that there is no cause.

That is true, but it is possible, especially at a level of reality where our intuitions are routinely violated. I am not saying that quantum phenomena are genuinely uncaused, but only that the formalism allows it as a possibility. I don’t think there’s any question about that, but only about whether this possibility is more likely than the alternative, i.e. that there are causes, but that we are unaware of them.

In fact, the statement is if taken literally simply false, because there is a cause: radioactive material.

But if you had two compositions of radioactive material, A and B, that were absolutely identical in all respects, but A radioactively decayed while B did not, then what would you say then? Either (a) they were not really identical and there must have been some subtle difference between A and B that would explain the decay, or (b) at that level of reality, the rules of causation involve the possibility of uncaused events in the sense of the absence of any determinate cause in A that resulted in decay, but which was absent in B. Personally, I have no idea whether (a) or (b) is true, but the fact that (b) is even a possibility undermines a key premise of the cosmological argument, I think.

Any thoughts?

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

why is there something rather than nothing?

My thoughts about this issue is that we have no experience of nothing, and thus have no experience of either nothing coming from nothing or something coming from nothing. All we have experience of is something coming from something, and that is all our intuitions and concepts are rooted in. Thus, when we start speculating about what can come out of nothing, we have wandered off the reservation, so to speak, and into uncharted lands where we lack any genuine guideposts. As such, no clear or definitive knowledge can be had in this matter, and thus we should all remain agnostic.

Any thoughts?

Josh said...

dguller,

My thoughts about this issue is that we have no experience of nothing, and thus have no experience of either nothing coming from nothing or something coming from nothing. All we have experience of is something coming from something, and that is all our intuitions and concepts are rooted in.

I'll bite. We have experience of Being, of that which is, and by virtue of that, we can understand the concept of 'nothing,' or non-Being, or that which is not. What more is necessary? Isn't "experience of nothing" just an incoherent concept?

dguller said...

Josh:

We have experience of Being, of that which is, and by virtue of that, we can understand the concept of 'nothing,' or non-Being, or that which is not.

It still seems that you are assigning properties to something. In other words, when you say “that which is not”, you are referring to a “that”, which seems to be a concrete something, which seems to have the property of “is not”. And it seems difficult to understand how nothing can have any properties at all, being nothing. In addition, when one says that nothing can come from nothing, that seems to assign properties and limitations to “nothing”, which seems absurd.

Isn't "experience of nothing" just an incoherent concept?

That’s a fair point, and I should have stuck to talking about concepts rather than experiences. So, thanks for the clarification.

But I would say that even the concept of “nothing” is incoherent to an extent. We do not have a direct concept of “nothing”, but only of the negation of “something”, and thus even our concept of “nothing” inevitably drags “something” into its conceptual definition.

Admittedly, these thoughts are pretty muddled, and would appreciate some pointed criticisms to clarify them.

Josh said...

dguller,

I don't think we really disagree, except on the intelligibility of the "nothing coming from nothing" thing. To me, it would seem that we can meaningfully say non-Being could not produce Being because of our experience of Being, not because of our experience of non-Being.

Legitimate points though on the ontology of a concept. In other words, what is the ontology of what is signified by the concept of 'nothing,' if it is not a Being itself? A good question that perhaps others could be equipped to handle.

dguller said...

Josh:

To me, it would seem that we can meaningfully say non-Being could not produce Being because of our experience of Being, not because of our experience of non-Being.

Right, but if our knowledge is rooted in Being, and not non-Being, then all we can do is talk about the properties of different forms of Being, and actually can have no knowledge of non-Being at all. Even the negation of Being is incoherent, because the concept of not-X inevitably includes X within its content. It would like trying not to think of a pink elephant. The negation necessarily involves the affirmation.

In other words, even if nothing existed (ha!), then maybe we are simply unable to think about it in a manner that does not inevitably involve being, thus compromising our ability to truly understand nothing at all.

It's no wonder that logical positivists wanted to prohibit such conversations as meaningless!

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"That passage is talking about the human mind specifically, the rational soul."

Agreed. He uses 'intentionality' to talk about the human mind specifically. I stress 'specifically.' If he can do that, I can do that. That's my point.

Concerning Aquinas (Pgs. 115-116) -- I don't have the book. But, again, the quote is about final cause, not intentionality. They are different terms with different meanings.

"Furthermore, you did not finish that sentence you quoted, which crucially bolsters my point."

It doesn't bolster the issue that set off this discussion. In that issue it makes no difference if I understand matter as the "advocates of the Mechanical Philosophy and their contemporary naturalistic descendants." Feser claimed it is not reasonable to object to powers or causes which we simply don't understand, but which are intelligible in themselves. I noted that the brain's intentionality is one such power. We "advocates of the Mechanical Philosophy" do not yet understand how intentionality emerges from matter which displays no signs of the sort of intentionality we, or animals, possess. But such power is intelligible. Taking us down a tangent concerning 'intentionality' of matter (when you mean 'final cause') serves no purpose when it comes to the parallel I drew.

djindra said...

Daniel Smith,

"[Feser's] response was that the intentionality that is inherent in matter is still dependent on God because all intentionality is mind-dependent."

If that's his position I don't see how it's different from your position or my position -- because if matter's intentionality depends on God then it would not seem to be intrinsic to matter. And the position sets up a war of wills between God and Man, for assignment of purpose to a tree could conflict with God's purpose for that tree. Since I have a saw, my will becomes more powerful than God's, which is a paradox (if we believe in free will).

djindra said...

DNW,

It was a yawn, not a belch. I think you already guessed my first definition of the material. 'Material' is what can be sensed and measured. Is there an opposite to that? I can't think of one. Is there something that's not able to be sensed and measured? In the way we normally use words, yes, but ultimately, no. For example, most people can sense something they call beauty. So beauty exists. It exists as a pattern of neural responses in the observer's brain. That pattern is obviously sensed. Concepts like gods and spirits and purpose will turn out to be the same sort of measurable thing, I think.

djindra said...

Brian,

"A-T is an incredibly breathtaking and thorough conception of reality, even if ultimately false."

Now you're making me cringe. I find nothing real or compelling about it. As far as my deep misunderstandings go, you're welcomed to re-educated me. Otherwise I'll consider it a bluff.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

""Look, you cannot derive a metaphysical conclusion (this or that event is uncaused) from the abstract formalisms of physics, QM say, whose job is to explain and predict correlations of physical events."

Sure, you can."

No, you cannot and yes, what I meant is close to, but not exactly, your paraphrase -- in other words, if I read you right, we actually agree.

Just to make sure we are on the same page: I do not deny that metaphysical questions are informed by discoveries of physics; of course they are. And the QM puzzles sure pose interesting questions. But ultimately, questions of metaphysics cannot be decided by physical considerations alone.

"I am not saying that quantum phenomena are genuinely uncaused, but only that the formalism allows it as a possibility. I don’t think there’s any question about that, but only about whether this possibility is more likely than the alternative, i.e. that there are causes, but that we are unaware of them."

The formalism of quantum mechanics is a map of reality. It is constrained by the specific methodology of physics that entail a reductionist view of physical reality to the aspects that are amenable to a mathematical treatment. Currently, we do not have a scalpel fine enough to cut through reality at the subatomic level; it may even be the case we will never have such a scalpel. Either way, QM is still a map not the territory; let us not mistake the two. It is an illegitimate move to go from an epsietemic operationally-descriptive vision of reality to the imposition of an ontological status on said reality (and sometimes this is done in such categorical terms, that one is lead to ask what animates such over-zealous embrace of anti-causality).

In my previous post I have already stated some hurdles you have to overcome if you want to argue consistently that there are uncaused events. I add another one: the principle of causality (the scholastic version; and I should add that causality is not reducible to what can be mathematically described). Like all first principles, it is not amenable to proof, only motivation. Want to deny it? Go ahead. Just do not complain if you get charged with irrationality.

"My thoughts about this issue is that we have no experience of nothing, and thus have no experience of either nothing coming from nothing or something coming from nothing. All we have experience of is something coming from something, and that is all our intuitions and concepts are rooted in. Thus, when we start speculating about what can come out of nothing, we have wandered off the reservation, so to speak, and into uncharted lands where we lack any genuine guideposts. As such, no clear or definitive knowledge can be had in this matter, and thus we should all remain agnostic."

It is not important whether we have experience of nothing (what does it mean to have experience of nothing?) or of something coming from nothing (why is that?); what is important is that we can conceive or grasp the concept of nothing and meaningfully think and talk about it. In other words, I deny that we cannot have any definitive knowledge on this matter. This reminds me eerily of those naive mathematical questions: is 0 a number? is the empty set a set?

As far as the proposed agnosticism, my answer is the same as the above for the principle of causality: ex nihilo nihil fit. Denying it is embracing irrationality; abandoning it is forfeiting intelligibility and stop doing science -- conceived in the broadest terms possible.

Josh said...

dguller,

I think Feser talks about the issues here in Aquinas, in the section on Being, pp. 55-61.

Also, P. Kreeft has a section on Existential Import in his Socratic Logic which also delineates differences which may complicate our thoughts on talking about 'nothing.' Perhaps after I read for a bit I can get back in the discussion...

Alyosha said...

djindra,

Just out of curiosity, why do you spend so much time here since you obviously struggle to get along with those who post here, and you repeatedly tell us how little you think of A-T philosophy?

I recall seeing a society of flat-earthers once, but I was all but compelled to engage them in dialogue. It's one thing to dialogue with them in a forum dedicated to your point of view, but to engage them on their home turf? Constantly and consistently? That requires motivation whether it be charity, concern, or some form of obsession. What's your purpose?

BenYachov said...

Brian the "skeptic" and dguller have raised the collective Atheist IQ around here by an order of magnitude.

Good job men.

thefederalist said...

@dguller,

"But if you had two compositions of radioactive material, A and B, that were absolutely identical in all respects, but A radioactively decayed while B did not, then what would you say then?"

Maybe it's because I'm not well read in quantum mechanics, but this makes no sense. If two things are identical in ALL respects, but one decays and one does not, then how are they identical in ALL respects? Doesn't your definition of the two items violate the law of non-contradiction?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

grodrigues,

questions of metaphysics cannot be decided by physical considerations alone.

Right. I’d say that physics can falsify metaphysical beliefs but cannot confirm them. It can falsify them by proving that some phenomenal implication of such beliefs contradicts the order of physical phenomena which physics studies. Thus the physical sciences have repeatedly falsified beliefs that both theists and naturalists used to hold.

ex nihilo nihil fit

Is there really any doubt about this? After all if something came out of nothing then that would not really be nothing but rather a nothing with the potential of becoming something. True nothing stays nothing by definition.

In this context I don’t see how QM contradicts this principle. People often mention the example of radioactive decay. But the correspondent event does not come out of “nothing”, rather there is a lot already there, namely an atom having precise physical properties including the property of decaying in a probabilistic fashion. The same goes for the other example sometimes mentioned, namely the creation of virtual particle pairs. In none of these examples is it actually the case that something is caused by nothing. Indeed, any event which would really be caused by nothing would not be amenable to a mathematical description, and thus could not be described by physics.

Anonymous said...

djindra: It will now be so much easier and more fun to lambaste the A-T position.

Merely drawing this to the attention of anyone who has, like me, wondered whether djindra simply doesn't get it, or is deliberately trolling. Now can we just ignore him?

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

But ultimately, questions of metaphysics cannot be decided by physical considerations alone.

But they ultimately have to be rooted in principles derived from the physical world.

Either way, QM is still a map not the territory; let us not mistake the two. It is an illegitimate move to go from an epsietemic operationally-descriptive vision of reality to the imposition of an ontological status on said reality (and sometimes this is done in such categorical terms, that one is lead to ask what animates such over-zealous embrace of anti-causality).

Fair enough, and I would even agree with you that any conceptual framework is a map, and thus distinct in many ways from the territory it purports to describe, which means that we must always be cautious in our speculations, including those that are well grounded by solid evidence. That being said, I think that your principle must be fairly applied to all such scenarios, including metaphysical speculations rooted in a particular map of reality, which – as you rightly pointed out – is distinct from reality itself. Logic is one such map, and it has been highly useful in understanding the physical world, but it does not follow that it necessarily is applicable to all aspects of reality, including the divine. After all, the map is not the territory.

In my previous post I have already stated some hurdles you have to overcome if you want to argue consistently that there are uncaused events. I add another one: the principle of causality (the scholastic version; and I should add that causality is not reducible to what can be mathematically described). Like all first principles, it is not amenable to proof, only motivation. Want to deny it? Go ahead. Just do not complain if you get charged with irrationality.

First, what principle of causality are you referring to?

Second, the existence of uncaused events does not necessarily result in irrationality. It only means that the apparatus of predictability is limited in specific instances. Now, if all events were uncaused, then that would lead to irrationality, but if some subatomic events were uncaused, then I don’t see how irrationality follows. After all, the macroscopic world is still predictable and follows the principles of causality, even if the microscopic world does not in some instances.

It is not important whether we have experience of nothing (what does it mean to have experience of nothing?) or of something coming from nothing (why is that?); what is important is that we can conceive or grasp the concept of nothing and meaningfully think and talk about it. In other words, I deny that we cannot have any definitive knowledge on this matter. This reminds me eerily of those naive mathematical questions: is 0 a number? is the empty set a set?

Good questions. I have no idea if 0 is a number, or if an empty set is a set. It seems that the answer is both yes and no. What is the consensus of mathematicians and philosophers on this matter, because it definitely seems puzzling. And if there is no consensus, then intuitions vary, and there may not be a fact of the matter at all, making these matters quite paradoxical. You seem to have a good grasp of these issues, and so your feedback would be most appreciated.

As far as the proposed agnosticism, my answer is the same as the above for the principle of causality: ex nihilo nihil fit. Denying it is embracing irrationality; abandoning it is forfeiting intelligibility and stop doing science -- conceived in the broadest terms possible.

Not at all. It is saying that by staying within the realm of Being, and its different forms, one is on safe ground, and that we should just admit that we have no idea what is happening with non-Being, except a concept that is inevitably tainted by Being. One can still be perfectly rational and intelligible when talking about Being while admitting that non-Being is too perplexing and unavailable.

The Deuce said...

One Brow:

More precisely, what we can know of the truth is consistent with brain states whose capability is derived from evolutionary processes which were connected to survival.

You've contradicted materialist premises right from the get-go by drawing a distinction between truth and brain states that were selected by evolutionary processes. What you should have said is "What we call 'truth' *simply is* those brain states whose capability is derived from evolutionary processes which were connected to survival."

Anonymous said...

"Agreed. He uses 'intentionality' to talk about the human mind specifically. I stress 'specifically.' If he can do that, I can do that. That's my point."

You seem to be under the impression here that Feser thinks that all operations of the human mind are immaterial. But that's *still* is false. My point to you is that brains can have intentionality under Feser's understanding: Animals have it. We have it. The physical world, even parts of it which are unconscious, still operate according to formal and final causes under Feser's view. Brain states can still be "about" something under Feser's view.

So you were incorrect to say that Feser doesn't think brains can have intentionality.

"We "advocates of the Mechanical Philosophy" do not yet understand how intentionality emerges from matter which displays no signs of the sort of intentionality we, or animals, possess. But such power is intelligible."

Intentionality is intelligible. How to get intentionality from a physical picture devoid of it, is not. Hence eliminative materialists. Hence new mysterians. Hence "materialists" who *radically change their account of the material* to account for it.

I think you agree with me now, even if you don't want to say it: Feser gives a very different depiction of the material from standard materialists. It's not merely that he affirms an immaterial intellectual soul. And that's crucial to understand about where he's coming from, and why your initial criticism of him regarding the physical/material is off-base.

Tony said...

Second, the existence of uncaused events does not necessarily result in irrationality. It only means that the apparatus of predictability is limited in specific instances. Now, if all events were uncaused, then that would lead to irrationality, but if some subatomic events were uncaused, then I don’t see how irrationality follows. After all, the macroscopic world is still predictable and follows the principles of causality, even if the microscopic world does not in some instances.

dguller, I don't think that works. If there are uncaused quantum level events, then these events are not subject to laws - for if an event were to come to pass without a cause, it could have no cause to limit it within certain restricted bounds or patterns. For example: suppose someone were to say, "oh, no, it is uncaused, but it is still bounded - it is only to happen within these 4 walls, a floor and a ceiling." My answer is that if uncaused, then it can come to pass outside of those 6 surfaces just as easily as anywhere, there is no reason to ascribe it happening here rather than there. There is no cause for it to be restricted in space, or time, or energy, or anything else.

(Nota bene, if unrestricted as to all limits, then there is no reason for it to be only a quantum level event, it could just as easily be a macro event.)

But if unrestricted, then there is no basis for us to suggest that these events will be few or many, will be unusual or will overwhelm the caused types of events, or will fall into mathematical laws. For them to fall into patterns of mathematical laws WITHOUT CAUSE would be not just unexplainable, it would defeat the very possibility of science. For, all of science consists of noting regularity and proposing causes thereof. If there is regularity that has no cause, then there is no reason to propose a cause for ANY of the patterns of regularity we see. If uncaused events can be many and still be patternable, then EVERY POSSIBLE pattern or event we see could be, directly, uncaused events coming together. The car goes 60 mph for 4 hours? That's just a bunch of random quantum-level events just happening together. No cause.

To do science is to ask "why does X sort of event happen regularly?" (If you are asking "why did Y happen at 2:00 on Friday" with a focus on its particularlity, you are probably doing history.) To even ask why is to presuppose, as a foundational substrate for your question, that a cause is potentially discernible from its effects. But no cause is discernible from its effects if the same effects can come about without cause.

The same problem goes the other direction: if you have Z event, you cannot ascribe it as having effect Z' if there are events that are uncaused. For, if there are uncaused events, then there is no reason for thinking that there could be events that have no effects. If Z' often happens after Z, and uncaused events happen, then (as Hume claimed) it can be mere random chance that Z' is happening after Z, without Z being a cause of Z'. There can be no rational attribution that Z' is happening due to a cause, it may be happening without cause.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"That being said, I think that your principle must be fairly applied to all such scenarios, including metaphysical speculations rooted in a particular map of reality, which – as you rightly pointed out – is distinct from reality itself. Logic is one such map, and it has been highly useful in understanding the physical world, but it does not follow that it necessarily is applicable to all aspects of reality, including the divine. After all, the map is not the territory."

Methinks the map metaphor has lead you astray. I adamantly reject (metaphysical) anti-realism, Kant's negations, etc. but this would lead us too far. Let me just say that if logic does not apply to all aspects of reality then there are aspects of reality that are not rational -- is this a commitment you are willing to made? And why should I agree with you?

"First, what principle of causality are you referring to?"

The principle of causality, also called the principle of sufficient reason in the scholastic version (PSR for short): every contingent being has a cause. Note, this is a metaphysical claim about reality but of course, it also has epistemological consequences. Cause for Aristotle is a because, that is, a mode of explanation, and he famously asserted in the "Posterior Analytics" that "we think we know, only when we have ascertained the cause".

"Second, the existence of uncaused events does not necessarily result in irrationality. It only means that the apparatus of predictability is limited in specific instances. Now, if all events were uncaused, then that would lead to irrationality, but if some subatomic events were uncaused, then I don’t see how irrationality follows. After all, the macroscopic world is still predictable and follows the principles of causality, even if the microscopic world does not in some instances."

You are wrong, so very wrong. I already had this debate several times; do you want me to start unfolding the looooong list of problems with asserting there are uncaused events? Here is a small sample:

1. Asserting that subatomic events are uncaused is irrational because it literally means they happen with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. It means abandoning science which is knowledge through causes.

2. Related, why positing uncaused events is not an appeal to ignorance? Is there any reason to dismiss any future scientific improvements that will / could lead to an improved understanding?

3. How can one even recognize uncaused events? You must have some criteria, for otherwise I can also say that this or that event has no cause (which I repeat, literally means, no *reason*) and this marks the end of all discussion. Good luck finding such criteria.

4. At what level of reality do events "switch" from being uncaused to caused? it is no good saying that the quantum weirdness only happens at the subatomic level because that would be like saying that the universe is perfectly rational except in this tiny corner, which just happens to be the most fundamental level of reality by the way, where everything is spooky and for all we know, little magical elves are calling all the shots.

5. Do you even realize that there are quantum *macro* phenomena (Bose-Einstein condensates, superconductivity, etc.). And if scientists ever get to Quantum Gravity then quantum weirdness will extend to the whole universe. That will surely be fun...

I could continue, but this should be enough.

grodrigues said...

@dguller (continued):

"I have no idea if 0 is a number, or if an empty set is a set. It seems that the answer is both yes and no. What is the consensus of mathematicians and philosophers on this matter, because it definitely seems puzzling."

0 is a number and the empty set is a set. For example, it is a theorem of ZF(C) that the empty set exists. What is puzzling is that there are people that have doubts about this.

"Not at all. It is saying that by staying within the realm of Being, and its different forms, one is on safe ground, and that we should just admit that we have no idea what is happening with non-Being, except a concept that is inevitably tainted by Being. One can still be perfectly rational and intelligible when talking about Being while admitting that non-Being is too perplexing and unavailable."

But why should I admit "that non-Being is too perplexing and unavailable"? On the contrary, non-being is remarkably simple -- it is the lowest degree in the hierarchy or modes of being. I really am puzzled why you think non-being a mysterious, ineffable and unknowable thing.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

One thing more: I conflated together the principle of causality and the PSR; strictly speaking this is not correct, A more precise rendering is:

PSR: everything that exists has a sufficient reason for its existence.

The Principle of Causality: whatever comes to be has a cause.

DNW said...

grodrigues perceptively asks ...

[Rearranged]

"3. How can one even recognize uncaused events? ..."

2. ... why [is] positing uncaused events ... not an appeal to ignorance? "

Yes, why, logically speaking, is such an affirmative claim not?

djindra said...

Alyosha,

"Just out of curiosity, why do you spend so much time here since you obviously struggle to get along with those who post here, and you repeatedly tell us how little you think of A-T philosophy?"

I've listed some reasons elsewhere. Basically I enjoy it. I enjoy challenge. And these issues do matter. If they didn't matter few would be here.

Mr. Green said...

One Brow: If you feel that uncaused events like atomic decay are the AT pure act, I can find no reason to disagree. I'm curious how you would defend them all being the same source, if you believed that.

You can find the reasons in the subsequent chapters of the Summa. That is, since something or other must qualify as the Primary Cause, we can then turn our attention to whether it is more like, say, Yahweh, or more like atomic decay. And then I guess your question is, how could multiple acts of decay all be the Primary Cause? And of course since there can be only one such Cause, they can't. So it must be something else. And so on and so forth.

Mr. Green said...

dguller: That is true, but it is possible, especially at a level of reality where our intuitions are routinely violated.

That's why metaphysical arguments don't rely on intuition or experience. That may make it harder to understand sometimes, just as advanced physics can be harder to understand, but in both cases we rely on careful logic to see us through. If you abandon reason, then there's nothing left.

I am not saying that quantum phenomena are genuinely uncaused, but only that the formalism allows it as a possibility.

Not quite; it doesn't explicitly say anything one way or the other, because it's a question of metaphysics, not of physics. QM is also not a proof that 1+1=2, but you could hardly say that therefore it "allows as a possibility" that 1+1=3. That's an impossibility, so obviously nothing "allows" it. Same for causality. I doubt you'd take someone seriously who said, "Maybe the rules of arithmetic don't apply outside of our everyday experience!" Especially when there's a perfectly good system to hand that explains everything without abandoning mathematics or the principle of sufficient reason.


DNW said...

grodrigues writes

"Cause for Aristotle is a because, that is, a mode of explanation, and he famously asserted in the "Posterior Analytics" that "we think we know, only when we have ascertained the cause".

Eventually it appears that you are supposed to quit asking why (in whatever sense of "why"), and instead content yourself with manipulating the whatever-it-is, for the sake of an unexamined who-knows-what.

Thus, it's funny how a supposedly strict empiricism segues into a monist materialism which finally ends up as a kind of mysticism, or at least obscurantism.

It wouldn't necessarily have to.

But it is doubtful that those treading this path could survive the consistency of internalizing the implications of their own deconstructive reductionism; unless that is, they indulged themselves with a bit of myth-making concerning their unflinching courage in the face of reality, and gibberish about an awe inspiring natural world. One which is on their own terms reduced to patterns of more or less nothing.

I guess it helps to distract one's self by saying that the universe is really big, even if any emotive sense of the term has become as pointless as the meaninglessness of a reference to its absolute "size".

And too, maybe there's good money in the "wonder world" coffee table book industry ...

djindra said...

Anonymous ,

"You seem to be under the impression here that Feser thinks that all operations of the human mind are immaterial."

No, I'm not under that impression. But he does think that *some* operations of the human mind are immaterial. That's all I need to refer to.

"My point to you is that brains can have intentionality under Feser's understanding: Animals have it. We have it. The physical world, even parts of it which are unconscious, still operate according to formal and final causes under Feser's view. Brain states can still be "about" something under Feser's view."

You keep repeating this as if I doubt it. I don't. I dispute mainly two things: 1) your conflation of 'intentionality' and 'final cause,' and 2) that non-living objects have -- as an inherent property -- intentionality.

"So you were incorrect to say that Feser doesn't think brains can have intentionality.:

Where does a brain's (rather than the mind's) intentionality come from? And by 'intentionality' do you still mean 'final cause?'

"Intentionality is intelligible. How to get intentionality from a physical picture devoid of it, is not."

Nonsense. It's certainly more intelligible than claiming it comes from a vague and mysterious 'soul' or 'form' or immaterial substance.

Daniel Smith said...

djindra: "If that's his position I don't see how it's different from your position or my position -- because if matter's intentionality depends on God then it would not seem to be intrinsic to matter."

I tend to think of his position re:intentionality as "quasi-deist". It's like God puts his intentions into matter, winds it up, and walks away - letting nature take its course. Feser is adamant though, that all being is still dependent on God at all times - which is why I call it "quasi-deist".

"And the position sets up a war of wills between God and Man, for assignment of purpose to a tree could conflict with God's purpose for that tree. Since I have a saw, my will becomes more powerful than God's, which is a paradox (if we believe in free will)."

You may have stumbled onto something there... 'free will' and 'inherent intentionality in matter' require basically the same explanation: in both instances God creates and sustains something that is then allowed to violate His will. (And by "His will", with regard to intentionality, I mean the 'pure form', or the 'perfect form' that matter would attain if there were no defects whatsoever in nature.)

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

Let me just say that if logic does not apply to all aspects of reality then there are aspects of reality that are not rational -- is this a commitment you are willing to made? And why should I agree with you?

I think I need to clarify my position. I am agnostic about whether logic is applicable to all aspects of reality, and thus there may be limits to our rational faculty’s ability to discern truths about reality. Certainly, logic and reason work splendidly well when we study the physical world, but just because they work well in that area does not necessarily mean that they are equally effective in all areas of reality. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t. I just don’t know.

Asserting that subatomic events are uncaused is irrational because it literally means they happen with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. It means abandoning science which is knowledge through causes.

It only means abandoning a scientific account of some subatomic events. It does not mean abandoning science entirely, because clearly there are also caused events that science can sink its teeth into.

I am under no illusions that the universe is necessarily fully rational and logical, although it might be the case that it is. Perhaps when we have a fully rational and logical explanation for all aspects of reality, then this principle will be vindicated, but until then, it is an operating assumption.

Related, why positing uncaused events is not an appeal to ignorance? Is there any reason to dismiss any future scientific improvements that will / could lead to an improved understanding?

Well, if we knew the causes, then we wouldn’t be ignorant, and thus wouldn’t need to postulate uncaused events at all. So, uncaused events necessarily involve our ignorance of causes. That being said, in cases where our intuitions have already been radically altered and revised, and where there is no current evidence for any deeper causes to explain some phenomena, then I would consider it an open question whether there are, in fact, such deeper causes. Maybe there are, but maybe there aren’t.

How can one even recognize uncaused events? You must have some criteria, for otherwise I can also say that this or that event has no cause (which I repeat, literally means, no *reason*) and this marks the end of all discussion. Good luck finding such criteria.

This is an outstanding question. A rough idea is if there is a model that can predict events with a tremendous amount of accuracy and reliability, but makes no mention of any underlying causes involved in underlying processes being predicted. Any thoughts?

dguller said...

grodrigues:

At what level of reality do events "switch" from being uncaused to caused? it is no good saying that the quantum weirdness only happens at the subatomic level because that would be like saying that the universe is perfectly rational except in this tiny corner, which just happens to be the most fundamental level of reality by the way, where everything is spooky and for all we know, little magical elves are calling all the shots.

Where we can find causes, causality applies. Where can cannot find causes, then maybe causality applies, but maybe it doesn’t.

0 is a number and the empty set is a set. For example, it is a theorem of ZF(C) that the empty set exists. What is puzzling is that there are people that have doubts about this.

Why would anyone have doubts about this?

But why should I admit "that non-Being is too perplexing and unavailable"? On the contrary, non-being is remarkably simple -- it is the lowest degree in the hierarchy or modes of being. I really am puzzled why you think non-being a mysterious, ineffable and unknowable thing.

It is because whenever you talk about non-Being, it is as if it is some kind of thing. In fact, it even has properties, such as not being able to have anything actual come from it. In addition, it is a “mode of being”, and is an actual rung in a ladder of being. Again, it seems that you are always sneaking Being into non-Being, and thus pure non-Being may be something beyond our conceptual capacities, because we always smuggle Being into it when thinking about it.

Jinzang said...

Maybe it's because I'm not well read in quantum mechanics, but this makes no sense. If two things are identical in ALL respects, but one decays and one does not, then how are they identical in ALL respects? Doesn't your definition of the two items violate the law of non-contradiction?

Because there is an element of randomness in all quantum mechanics, genuine randomness, and not just, "we don't understand the mechanism, so we'll call it random."

Whether quantum mechanical events are caused depends on your definition of cause. Certainly they are lawful, but the laws only describe probabilities, and even stranger than that, not inherent probabilities, but probabilities when subjected to a specific measurement.

dguller said...

Mr. Green:

That's why metaphysical arguments don't rely on intuition or experience. That may make it harder to understand sometimes, just as advanced physics can be harder to understand, but in both cases we rely on careful logic to see us through. If you abandon reason, then there's nothing left.

I think that metaphysical arguments rely upon premises that inevitably generalize from our empirical experience, and that generalization depends upon multiple intuitions about the underlying principles of how the world works.

Not quite; it doesn't explicitly say anything one way or the other, because it's a question of metaphysics, not of physics.

Right. It’s a question of how to interpret the formalism, and there is an interpretation that rejects hidden variables, and thus permits uncaused events. After all, the hidden variables are supposed to explain the random events, and if they do not exist, then there is no explanation, i.e. it is uncaused.

QM is also not a proof that 1+1=2, but you could hardly say that therefore it "allows as a possibility" that 1+1=3. That's an impossibility, so obviously nothing "allows" it.

I don’t think that’s a good example. QM wouldn’t work if 1+1=3. The math wouldn’t add up, and the theory would fall apart.

Same for causality. I doubt you'd take someone seriously who said, "Maybe the rules of arithmetic don't apply outside of our everyday experience!" Especially when there's a perfectly good system to hand that explains everything without abandoning mathematics or the principle of sufficient reason.


First, mathematics has done the impossible in the past. It allowed irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, and so on, and thus the rules had to be revised on a number of occasion, showing that the previous understanding was false, or at least, limited.

Second, does everything in mathematics apply to the world? Does everything in the world have to be represented by mathematics? If there are aspects of reality that cannot be captured by mathematics, then mathematics is limited. I don’t think this is particularly outrageous, but only prudent. I think it is possible that there are aspects of reality that simply cannot be captured by logic and reason. Maybe all of reality is rational, or maybe it isn’t. The only way we will ever know is when all of reality is explained according to logic and reason. Until then, it is an operational assumption that has been highly successful thus far.

Any thoughts?

DNW said...

djindra said...

" DNW,

It was a yawn, not a belch. I think you already guessed my first definition of the material."

Not to be too rude, but in the final reduction it appears that what you really think of as material, or real as we shall see further on down, is what you can, figuratively speaking of course,
get into your stomach ...

" 'Material' is what can be sensed and measured. Is there an opposite to that? "

Possibly, on your own assumptions, what is real and cannot be accessed to be measured or sensed.

First, a little matter of potential consistency.

I am not sure how on your (I take it) acceptance of the evolutionary reformulation of Kant's "basic idea" (if this notion is not part of your suppositional system feel free to say so) one would go about confirming that men have any way of knowing that they have exhausted material reality through means available to them, or that they could in principle exhaust material reality through the techniques they develop as a result of what were originally evolutionary pressures.

The defining question would be whether all of "material" reality can be known to have exerted a pressure sufficient to provide a context for fixing its existence.

Of course unlike an insect, you cannot see ultraviolet light yet still can know it is there. But that is because ex hypothesi the broader detection of light is part of your evolutionary survival kit. So, on the evolutionarily conformed mind hypothesis, one's indirect knowledge of it seems plausible at least.

But given the evolutionarily conformed mind hypothesis, what grounds there might be for going on to say that you could know that everything that materially exists is accessible to your senses or the measurement techniques which are inspired by them, is somewhat opaque to me.




"I can't think of one. Is there something that's not able to be sensed and measured? In the way we normally use words, yes, but ultimately, no."

"In the way we normally use words, yes, but ultimately, no." sounds like an article of faith or a stipulation rather than an empirically verifiable statement.


You might wish to explain how you "know" without recourse to some stipulative circularity, that there is nothing that exists that cannot be sensed and measured.

Some things can be measured yet not directly sensed. Can things be sensed yet not measured? Does measurement cause the existence or permit the use of the term materially "exists"?

We can also take note that you are using material as a synonym for that which exists, i.e., "is there something?"

Materialism is the doctrine that all reality is material. You are saying that we know what is material when we can sense and measure it. Thus only what we can sense and measure is real.

Russell's 1936 essay, "The Limits of Empiricism" begins, "Empiricism, says the Encyclopedia Britannica, is 'the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense experience"


Empiricism is a theory of knowledge, not an account of reality or what exists.

Josh said...

dguller,

Perhaps 'nothing' need not have existential import when we use it in a proposition, and the concept itself can be understood like we understand 'evil,' not positively, but negatively as a privation of the Good.

Lefkis said...

Someone please help me understand this teleology business.

That X has some innate capacity to act on Y in a certain way may imply a causal relationship between X and Y, so that because my heart tends to pump blood it is safe to deduce that my heart has the capacity to plump blood and that the pumping action of the heart causes blood to circulate.

How in the world do we derive from this the idea of purposefulness or goal-directedness?

I have the ability to pick up a rock and throw it -- does this mean I am ordered toward the picking up and throwing of rocks?

I don't mean to sound confrontational, I'm just sure there's something I'm missing here that goes from capacity to purpose.

Anonymous said...

"No, I'm not under that impression. But he does think that *some* operations of the human mind are immaterial. That's all I need to refer to."

Your statement was that Feser does not think that material things can be intentional. That was clearly wrong, even if some operations of the human mind are immaterial.

"You keep repeating this as if I doubt it. I don't. I dispute mainly two things: 1) your conflation of 'intentionality' and 'final cause,' and 2) that non-living objects have -- as an inherent property -- intentionality."

No, I'm not. I point to the final causes inherent in non-living things like rock cycles because that goes a long way towards demonstrating the important point that on Thomist metaphysics *even the conception of what is material differs from those of a mechanistic materialist metaphysics*. Naturally, if even rock cycles are understood differently by Thomists as opposed to materialists, it helps to point out why brains would be understood differently as well, even if there was a key difference between rock cycles and brains *even granting Thomism*.

Pretty simple.

"Where does a brain's (rather than the mind's) intentionality come from? And by 'intentionality' do you still mean 'final cause?'"

I never conflated "intentionality" with "final cause". I noted that even clearly "material" things, on Thomism, are understood differently than they are under materialism.

And it does not "come from" anywhere. You're thinking that intentionality is generated by something like a product - put in some chemicals, pull the lever, and out pops your intentionality. It's not the case.

"Nonsense. It's certainly more intelligible than claiming it comes from a vague and mysterious 'soul' or 'form' or immaterial substance."

No, it's not. Because in the case of the material, the only way to make it intelligible is to either default to a kind of cartesian dualism, or to start radically changing what materialists mean by material, or to deny there's any intentionality at all. All three moves, Feser refers to.

It's like trying to make "The circle is a square" intelligible. Sure, it's possible. So long as you change what circle means, change what square means, or...

machinephilosophy said...

"Natural selection needs a boost, like me with a shotgun."

--Eric Harris, Columbine shooter, 1999

Now -that- is what I call materialistic atheism. No bible-thumping of arbitrary shoulds and oughts or posturing Little Bo Peep Sunday School science homilies.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"I think I need to clarify my position. I am agnostic about whether logic is applicable to all aspects of reality, and thus there may be limits to our rational faculty’s ability to discern truths about reality."

A string of mights and ifs does not amount to an argument. Is there any reason to abandon logic anywhere?

"Asserting that subatomic events are uncaused is irrational because it literally means they happen with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. It means abandoning science which is knowledge through causes.

It only means abandoning a scientific account of some subatomic events. It does not mean abandoning science entirely, because clearly there are also caused events that science can sink its teeth into."

Non-answer. First, you are understating the case, it is not just "some subatomic events". If the anti-causality peddlers are correct, there is an uncaused event at each collapse of the wave function and un-causality is everywhere. Second, you are admitting that the universe is irrational in some part of it, which just happens to be the most fundamental level of reality. This is abandoning science and I have no stomach for it. And what is the evidence for it? The *mere possibility* that the mathematical formalism of QM, whose job is to explain and predict correlations, opens the door for uncaused events. Not exactly impressive. You are letting yourself be guided by the mathematical formalisms of QM, and more generally by a physicalist reductionism, instead of a sober and realist philosophy of nature which can probe deeper than science.

I would also draw your attention to Tony's post where he expands on this point much much better than I ever could.

"Related, why positing uncaused events is not an appeal to ignorance? Is there any reason to dismiss any future scientific improvements that will / could lead to an improved understanding?

Well, if we knew the causes, then we wouldn’t be ignorant, and thus wouldn’t need to postulate uncaused events at all. So, uncaused events necessarily involve our ignorance of causes. That being said, in cases where our intuitions have already been radically altered and revised, and where there is no current evidence for any deeper causes to explain some phenomena, then I would consider it an open question whether there are, in fact, such deeper causes. Maybe there are, but maybe there aren’t."

Non-answer. You have not explained why, when and how, we are allowed to throw up our arms in despair and abandon all search for further understanding. Otherwise, God-of-the-gaps arguments suddenly become respectable. Following through the "Maybe there aren't" is abandoning the possibility of science.

grodrigues said...

@dguller (continued):

"How can one even recognize uncaused events? You must have some criteria, for otherwise I can also say that this or that event has no cause (which I repeat, literally means, no *reason*) and this marks the end of all discussion. Good luck finding such criteria.

This is an outstanding question. A rough idea is if there is a model that can predict events with a tremendous amount of accuracy and reliability, but makes no mention of any underlying causes involved in underlying processes being predicted. Any thoughts?"

Non-answer. First, there is the eminently metaphysical question: you have to first define what causality is for then be able to show that there really are uncaused events. But even forgetting this "minor detail", you have just kicked the problem somewhere else. Now, instead of recognizing uncaused events, you must be able to recognize when a theory is the ultimate theory -- because otherwise you cannot coherently say the event is uncaused. Third, your rough idea does not do the work you think it does. Consider Statistical Physics. In a classical system with a large number of particles, say the order of Avogadro's number, the phase space is humongous and the Hamilton equations are impossible to solve. What do we do? We partition the phase space in "macroscopic cells" and consider observables that make sense for large ensembles (temperature, pressure, etc.). What we end up is *of necessity* a probabilistic description. Do we go around proclaiming Statistical Physics allows us to say there are uncaused events? Of course not, that would be stupid and simply false.

"At what level of reality do events "switch" from being uncaused to caused? it is no good saying that the quantum weirdness only happens at the subatomic level because that would be like saying that the universe is perfectly rational except in this tiny corner, which just happens to be the most fundamental level of reality by the way, where everything is spooky and for all we know, little magical elves are calling all the shots.

Where we can find causes, causality applies. Where can cannot find causes, then maybe causality applies, but maybe it doesn’t."

Non-answer. At the fundamental level of physical reality, causality does not exist; past some unspecified threshold, causality, an eminently *metaphysical* concept, "pops into existence". Huh? This may be an accurate description of the current state of physics, but the fact is that reality is just one, there are no "levels" of reality. In other words, this is a metaphysical repugnant mess.

In my estimation, 4 non-answers. I wonder why on the mere possibility of uncaused events (a possibility "read into" a mathematical formalism or laws, metaphors we use to correctly predict events) you cling to this anti-causality tosh? Maybe it is because you surmise, and quite correctly in my opinion, that causality is letting the divine foot in the door? Whatever the reason, I stand by my arguments.

grodrigues said...

@dguller (continued): must start reducing the size of my posts...

"It is because whenever you talk about non-Being, it is as if it is some kind of thing. In fact, it even has properties, such as not being able to have anything actual come from it. In addition, it is a “mode of being”, and is an actual rung in a ladder of being. Again, it seems that you are always sneaking Being into non-Being, and thus pure non-Being may be something beyond our conceptual capacities, because we always smuggle Being into it when thinking about it."

Non-being is the negation of being, or privation of being (this terminology is not 100% correct, but I am not an AT expert, not even by far, so all you will get from me is the Reader's Digest version). Since non-being is the antithesis of being, it is only natural that we drag being along when we talk of non-being. Even more; when proving something about non-being it will usually be a proof by contradiction with an appeal to being tucked in somewhere along the way -- in a technical, logical sense, this is inevitable. Once again, I simply do not understand why this is "beyond our conceptual capacities".

DNW said...

Someone please help me understand this teleology business.

That X has some innate capacity to act on Y in a certain way may imply a causal relationship between X and Y, so that because my heart tends to pump blood ..."


You need to take a closer look at the terminology you are using to frame your question.

"My heart tends to pump blood ..."

Bread tends to grow moldy after a time. Unsupervised children tend to wander. Political progressives tend to seek government provided fillings for their ricebowls.

But your heart tends to pump blood?

DNW said...

"Non-being is the negation of being, or privation of being (this terminology is not 100% correct, but I am not an AT expert, not even by far, so all you will get from me is the Reader's Digest version). Since non-being is the antithesis of being, it is only natural that we drag being along when we talk of non-being. Even more; when proving something about non-being it will usually be a proof by contradiction with an appeal to being tucked in somewhere along the way -- in a technical, logical sense, this is inevitable. Once again, I simply do not understand why this is "beyond our conceptual capacities"."


This business of "being" positively conceived of as a synonym for the (hypothesized or naive realist) class of all real and independently existent things, as distinct from a more phenomenological definition, poses, as you point out, some interesting logical implications.


Would dguller disallow a logical statement of the form negating the collection of all material objects, as being intellectually meaningless?

The problem as becomes immediately obvious, is what it is we mean by being when we attempt to place it in a class.

Does being equal "matter"?

On the scientific view, built on the foundations of realism, the class of all extramental material objects should form a class with some comprehensible meaning. Define mind as matter, and you have the complete description of being on those assumptions. What then is the conceptual problem with an indefinite series of negations, or a class negation?

The fact that the descendents of the positivists claim to find this incomprehensible, shows that some supplemental consideration to their usually stated rules of interpretation is in play here.


I might quote a couple of remarks from Kneale and Kneale a little later ...

DNW said...

Blogger machinephilosophy said...

"Natural selection needs a boost, like me with a shotgun."

--Eric Harris, Columbine shooter, 1999

Now -that- is what I call materialistic atheism. No bible-thumping of arbitrary shoulds and oughts or posturing Little Bo Peep Sunday School science homilies." October 25, 2011 11:39 PM


That's the way to talk. If to live rightly is to live as an atheist, and to live as an atheist is to live without illusions, let us do so.

All this timorous crap about respect for "human beings" whatever they are supposed to be, or the awesomeness of sentience, or the grandeur of pointlessly spreading boundary patterns of crystals or "life", is just so much self-consoling bafflegab engaged in by fleshy faced institution dwelling males with narrow shoulders, soft hands and scanty beards, who fear to walk on the reality paths they have laid out. They are just another pointless pattern.

Life, wholism, yada yada yeda.

LOL

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

Before we proceed, I think that your comments on the Bell inequality and the significance of its violation would be helpful.

My understanding is that the violation of the Bell inequality demonstrated the inconsistency of a quantum reality that is characterized by both hidden variables and locality, meaning that quantum reality is either (a) non-local, but involving hidden variables or (b) local, but lacking hidden variables.

Both (a) and (b) are problematic, and require giving up key intuitions that we have about how reality works:

If (a) is true, then there are deeper causes (i.e. hidden variables) that explain the random quantum phenomena -- even if we have no idea what they are -- but instantaneous connections are possible between quantum events.

If (b) is true, then there are no deeper causes (i.e. hidden variables) that explain the random quantum phenomena, which would make them inherently uncaused, but all connections between quantum events unfold over time.

Do I understand this matter correctly?

Thanks for your engagement, by the way. It's always good to have one's mistakes pointed out.

Alyosha said...

djindra,

Thank you for responding. If you don't mind my asking a second question, what do you hope to accomplish? Are you here for entertainment value only, or do you have other ends in sight as well?

dguller said...

grodrigues:

Non-being is the negation of being, or privation of being (this terminology is not 100% correct, but I am not an AT expert, not even by far, so all you will get from me is the Reader's Digest version). Since non-being is the antithesis of being, it is only natural that we drag being along when we talk of non-being. Even more; when proving something about non-being it will usually be a proof by contradiction with an appeal to being tucked in somewhere along the way -- in a technical, logical sense, this is inevitable. Once again, I simply do not understand why this is "beyond our conceptual capacities".

If all our concepts of non-Being involve Being, then we have no concept of non-Being per se, which has no Being whatsoever. And if we have no concept of non-Being as a pure concept without any pollution by Being, then it is beyond our conceptual capacities. It seems to involve an unstable dance of antinomies that never settle into an equilibrium. By thinking about non-Being, we also think about Being, but then we negate Being to get non-Being, but we negated Being, and thus have not thought about non-Being per se, and round and round we go without an end point where we think of pure non-Being.

Any thoughts?

dguller said...

grodrigues:

I guess my problem with non-Being is that I do not think that one can think not-X without simultaneously thinking about X. It is like thinking about God not existing without thinking about God.

Ray Ingles said...

It’s impossible for humans to distinguish between the “intrinsically unintelligible” and the “intelligible in themselves, but which we… cannot understand”. The putative difference makes absolutely zero practical difference.

From a practical perspective, the only way to tell which category something falls into is to try to understand it; if you succeed, then it was knowable. The problem is, if you fail, you can’t conclude that it’s unknowable. It might be… but it also might be the case that you just didn’t happen to figure out something knowable, and you or someone else might have better luck on a subsequent attempt.

If you decide that something is fundamentally incomprehensible, you will stop trying to understand it. (Some examples here and here.) Richard Feynman once joked that “You don’t understand Quantum Mechanics, you just get used to it,” but he never stopped trying to advance understanding of QM, despite how counterintuitive it is.

So my problem with ‘unknowable’ things is that ‘unknowability’ is a useless philosophical concept with zero practical utility, like solipsism. In practice, the only thing we can ever do is keep trying to understand things. All we can ever say with confidence is, “We don’t understand that… yet.”

dguller said...

Ray:

Those are all fair points.

Only, I would not say that “We don’t understand that yet”, because that presupposes that we will understand it eventually, and there is no justification for the assumption that our reason can understand anything and everything in reality. I don’t think that anyone here would agree with that assumption, because there are clearly limits to our abilities, being finite beings and all. I would say that “We don’t understand that now” instead. That is a fairly neutral statement that I think is more accurate.

The question is how we know when we have come up against a limit, and there is no way to know that, because there is always the possibility that the next attempt will crack the puzzle. So, we are stuck in the paradoxical situation of knowing that we have limits, but never really being able to know what they are, and thus having to continue in our quest to understand the universe as much as possible to the best of our abilities.

Josh said...

dguller,

I read your responses, but it seems to me that you are basically committing yourself to saying we can't (given A-T terms) know what evil is, know what nothing means, know what infinity means, or pretty much any other negative existential because...we know it through the corresponding positive term?

I really don't think I can swallow that skepticism. It seems like you are saying not-x is not logically different from X, because "not-X" is "polluted" by X.

I don't think we have to have existential import in our propositions; reasoning about 'nothing' as a concept shouldn't require me to affirm a real existence of 'nothing.'

Alyosha said...

DNW said:

All this timorous crap about respect for "human beings" whatever they are supposed to be, or the awesomeness of sentience, or the grandeur of pointlessly spreading boundary patterns of crystals or "life", is just so much self-consoling bafflegab engaged in by fleshy faced institution dwelling males with narrow shoulders, soft hands and scanty beards, who fear to walk on the reality paths they have laid out.

I have wondered about this myself. I wonder about guys like Rosenberg who assure us that we will be "nice" nihilists. So what? If we're nihilists, why should we care? He begins by claiming that we should dispel the illusions, and ends by making a direct appeal to one.

For men freed from the illusion of value, they sure have a lot of fluffy, flowery assurances and desperate attempts to ground ethics in something (anything) else. They grasp to the rotting corpse of value like a child clinging to a security blanket. And like the child, they refuse to acknowledge that the only thing which remains is a string of shredded rags.

dguller said...

Josh:

I read your responses, but it seems to me that you are basically committing yourself to saying we can't (given A-T terms) know what evil is, know what nothing means, know what infinity means, or pretty much any other negative existential because...we know it through the corresponding positive term?

That sounds about right.

I really don't think I can swallow that skepticism. It seems like you are saying not-x is not logically different from X, because "not-X" is "polluted" by X.

I am saying that the content of “not-X” always involves “X” as the positive term being negated, and thus our concept of “not-X” always involves “X”, and thus cannot be purely “not-X”. It is like saying that we can only understand God analogously to human categories, and are simply unable to conceive of him as he is without polluting our understand by finite human categories. In that case, any conception of God inevitably involves our finite human categories, and thus inevitably falls short of true understanding of God on his own terms as he is (or something).

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - Now -that- is what I call materialistic atheism. No bible-thumping of arbitrary shoulds and oughts or posturing Little Bo Peep Sunday School science homilies.

Ah, yes, Eric Harris, that noted expert on the implications of evolutionary biology. Peer of Deepak Chopra, expert on the implications of quantum mechanics.

Hey, wait...

Ray Ingles said...

dguller - I would say that “We don’t understand that now” instead. That is a fairly neutral statement that I think is more accurate.

I would say it's no more accurate than "We don’t understand that yet". As you concede:

So, we are stuck in the paradoxical situation of knowing that we have limits, but never really being able to know what they are, and thus having to continue in our quest to understand the universe as much as possible to the best of our abilities.

But since we can't tell the difference between what we can eventually understand, and what we can't ever understand... and thus, we have to keep trying to understand... there's point in worrying, even in theory, about the 'unknowable'.

It's just as useless as wondering if we're all 'brains in vats' (or 'stuck in the Matrix', to use the modern reference). Sure, it can't be disproven... but what's the point of worrying about it, even for a moment?

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - They are just another pointless pattern.

Pointless to whom?

dguller said...

Ray:

I would say it's no more accurate than "We don’t understand that yet".

Here’s the difference, at least as far as I can tell. Saying that we don’t understand X yet implies that it is only a matter of time before we understand X. Saying that we don’t understand X now carries no such implication, and thus is neutral with respect to whether we will ever understand X. Unless you know for a fact that we will understand everything eventually, then your statement makes a claim that is unsupported whereas mine makes no claim at all with respect to the future, and thus is more accurate.

But since we can't tell the difference between what we can eventually understand, and what we can't ever understand... and thus, we have to keep trying to understand... there's point in worrying, even in theory, about the 'unknowable'.

The issue is that the future is unknown, and will only be known once it has become the present. You seem to endorse the principle that “if there is no way of knowing whether X or not-X is true now, then we should not worry at all about whether X or not X is true”. The problem is that there are a number of X’s that we could put into that principle, including the existence of God, which would require us to just not care at all about their veracity. We cannot know that God exists now, because there are arguments for and against his existence, and only the future will truly reveal whether he exists, typically in the form of a day of judgment and afterlife. Then we will all know the truth. So, by your own principle, we should not care about God’s existence?

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"Before we proceed, I think that your comments on the Bell inequality and the significance of its violation would be helpful."

Before we proceed (heh) I have to stress that invoking Bell's theorem or other no-go theorems like Kocken-Specker is a red herring because the core of the dispute lies in the concept of causality and a realist philosophy of nature (with some prior heavy metaphysical lifting) and a reductionist, mechanist view that is illegitimately "read into" the QM formalisms. Formalisms do not dictate ontological reality.

Having registered my protest, let us go you and I (to echo a gloomy poem) down this rabbit hole.

"My understanding is that the violation of the Bell inequality demonstrated the inconsistency of a quantum reality that is characterized by both hidden variables and locality, meaning that quantum reality is either (a) non-local, but involving hidden variables or (b) local, but lacking hidden variables."

There is a false dichotomy here. I will talk about the more important aspect below, but let me just note that there are at least two other loopholes in Bell's theorem that would allow us, in principle, to reinstate local realism.

1. Counterfactual determinism: down this path madness lies, so I won't belabor on it.

2. Ditch Boolean logic: one of the foremost experts in Quantum Gravity, Christopher Isham, and collaborators have embarked on a program of "rewriting" quantum mechanics using ideas of topos theory, whose internal logic in intuitionistic, that is the law of excluded middle is not valid (for all hardened classical logicists out there -- which includes me -- this is not as bad as it sounds). The bigger fish to fry is of course Quantum Gravity for which the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI for short) is woefully inadequate as there is no sense to be made of a classical observer standing outside the universe, but one of the express purposes is to reinstate local realism. Whether this will pan out or not, I do not know and am not competent to judge.

So how could we rationalize the results of Bell's theorem?

1. Deny that events have any cause in nature as per the anti-causality peddlers: This is your (b) if I understand you right. For the reasons I have already stated I reject this.

2. Non-local causes: your (a) if I understand you right. This keeps the possibility of science and rationality intact and in fact I have a lot of sympathy for it. For if Quantum Mechanics is telling an approximately correct picture of reality then non-locality is just about inevitable. In CI it is located in the state vectors that are inherently non-local (this is a straightforward consequence of Heisenberg's principle); CI salvages the whole mess by stating that state vectors are not directly observable and are something like a purely theoretical construct. Of course the lump was just shifted to a different place and it reappears in "spooky action at a distance" phenomena.

The problem with non-local variables is that it opens a *really nasty* can of worms; it does not bode very well for the intelligibility of the universe.

There are probably more solutions from the purely physics theory side. But either they are completely mad (many-worlds interpretation) or I do not understand them (transactional interpretation).

But really, why should we buy into this explicitly mechanist, reductionist view? And this leads me back to my opening paragraph.

3. Posit a cause that cannot be described in mathematical terms. The cause in question could still be local, natural and real, but just not describable by mathematical formalisms, and concomitantly by the empirical sciences. Whether this can be done I do not know; what I do know is that an AT philosophy of nature has the resources to pull it off -- and work in this direction was already done, except I have not read it.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

Josh already summarized very nicely what I wanted to say. Let me pick this thread up from your response to him:

"It is like saying that we can only understand God analogously to human categories, and are simply unable to conceive of him as he is without polluting our understand by finite human categories. In that case, any conception of God inevitably involves our finite human categories, and thus inevitably falls short of true understanding of God on his own terms as he is (or something)."

This is eerily similar to what Aquinas states. Check out the ideas of apophatic theology and analogical language.

Anonymous said...

@ Onebrow re causality

Have a read here.

Isidore said...

dguller & Josh:

I think you actually agree with each other. Terms such as non-being, evil, and so forth are the negations of positive terms (being, good). Since intelligibility is only insomuch as being, non-being as such is strictly unintelligible. What we do know through the negative terms is not non-being or evil as such, but something relative, namely the subject of non-being or evil. E.g., the term blindness makes sense, and we know something about things by it, but not blindness as such (without reference to anything else), since that is not being.

Ray Ingles said...

dguller - You seem to endorse the principle that “if there is no way of knowing whether X or not-X is true now, then we should not worry at all about whether X or not X is true”

No. Some things aren't known now but could be knowable in the future. Those are things we could potentially worry about.

But you've admitted that we can't ever know that something's unknowable. If we can't ever, even in principle, know - if it makes zero practical difference - then yeah, "we should not care".

Josh said...

Isidore,

I'm inclined to agree that we agree, except I'm not sure dguller thinks that we can use 'nothing' as a subject in a proposition, that we can predicate something of: the "out of nothing, nothing comes" variety.

Other than that, I think we probably have a broad agreement in practice on understanding what 'nothing' is (how could one not?!)

Anonymous:

Many thanks for the telicthoughts link. That looks like a great blog.

dguller,

From what I recall, our last discussion involved analogy of Being as related to God, and I don't think that was ever resolved. It seemed that Aquinas had a different type of analogical knowledge in mind from what you were using to criticize our negative/positive theological claims. Maybe the same issues are at play with respect to reasoning about 'non-Being' and such.

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

Posit a cause that cannot be described in mathematical terms. The cause in question could still be local, natural and real, but just not describable by mathematical formalisms, and concomitantly by the empirical sciences. Whether this can be done I do not know; what I do know is that an AT philosophy of nature has the resources to pull it off -- and work in this direction was already done, except I have not read it.

But isn’t that exactly what “hidden variables” are supposed to be? The idea, as far as I understand it, is that there are factors that are not represented by QM, and thus are “hidden”, but are still operative in reality to create the quantum phenomena that are represented by QM and observed by experiments. That is how the randomness that we observe actually has a deterministic underpinning that is just beyond our understanding. How is that different from your third option?

This is eerily similar to what Aquinas states. Check out the ideas of apophatic theology and analogical language.

I know it is, which is why I brought it up on an A-T blog! But I have my own problems with Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy.

The point remains that we cannot have a clear concept of non-Being, because all our concepts involve Being, and thus Being sneaks into our concept of non-Being. It is like walking across a clean floor with muddy shoes, and saying that the floor is still clean! This incoherence could mean either (a) that there is no such thing (ha!) as non-Being, i.e. there is always Being, or (b) that there is such a thing (ha!), but that we cannot adequately represent it in our minds.

I think that Thomism would align itself with (a), because God necessarily exists, there is never non-Being, and always some Being.

Verbose Stoic said...

Ray,

"But you've admitted that we can't ever know that something's unknowable. If we can't ever, even in principle, know - if it makes zero practical difference - then yeah, "we should not care"."

What basis do we have for thinking that we can't know if something -- in this case, the truth value of a proposition -- is unknowable? Surely I can talk about concepts that would imply unknowability and therefore know that if something like that existed, we could never actually know it. This should follow only from the definition of the concept and the definition of knowledge.

DNW said...

Alyosha said...

" DNW said:

'All this timorous crap about respect for "human beings" whatever they are supposed to be, or the awesomeness of sentience, or the grandeur of pointlessly spreading boundary patterns of crystals or "life", is just so much self-consoling bafflegab engaged in by fleshy faced institution dwelling males with narrow shoulders, soft hands and scanty beards, who fear to walk on the reality paths they have laid out.'

I have wondered about this myself. I wonder about guys like Rosenberg who assure us that we will be "nice" nihilists. So what? If we're nihilists, why should we care? He begins by claiming that we should dispel the illusions, and ends by making a direct appeal to one.

For men freed from the illusion of value, they sure have a lot of fluffy, flowery assurances and desperate attempts to ground ethics in something (anything) else. They grasp to the rotting corpse of value like a child clinging to a security blanket. And like the child, they refuse to acknowledge that the only thing which remains is a string of shredded rags.
October 26, 2011 8:49 AM "




Another amusing thing about this is how many seem to be quite conscious of the contradictions.

I'm not at all sure that there is any one explanation for the "hypocrisy". Could be inertia. Could be a survival strategy for that type of organism: They may inhabit a physically comfortable niche, and don't see any reason one way or another not to continue to spout what they hold to be objectively groundless and substantively false values dogmas, which will at least tend, if taken seriously by their listeners, redound to the maintenance of the hypocritical expositor's comfort.

What I do more confidently believe though, is that the argumentum ad populum "we" language many of the type so often deploy is a total ruse, which quite deliberately misrepresents their actual views concerning what they consider to be human welfare. Or more precisely, the flourishing of those humans with whose welfare and existence they are actually concerned.

You don't have to dig very far to find examples of progressive academics whose private views on who should live and who should experience the phenomenon of existential elimination, would - apart from the targeting of these persons on the basis of race - compare rather neatly with some of the human ogres of the recent past.

dguller said...

Isidore:

I think you actually agree with each other. Terms such as non-being, evil, and so forth are the negations of positive terms (being, good). Since intelligibility is only insomuch as being, non-being as such is strictly unintelligible. What we do know through the negative terms is not non-being or evil as such, but something relative, namely the subject of non-being or evil. E.g., the term blindness makes sense, and we know something about things by it, but not blindness as such (without reference to anything else), since that is not being.

I think that I can agree with most of that. Of course, all of our knowledge is relative to an interpretive framework from which propositions get their sense and meaning, and so it is not especially problematic that positive and negative terms are relative to each other, their being part of an interpretative framework themselves.

I am not sure how this helps my original concern, though. My point was that all talk about non-Being seemed paradoxical and incoherent, and thus all talk about what can follow from non-Being is equally problematic. So, talking about whether Being or non-Being can come from non-Being is ultimately incoherent, because we can form no clear idea of non-Being without involving Being. Certainly, if non-Being “existed”, then it would have no trace of Being, and yet our concept of non-Being has traces of Being, i.e. via the negation, and thus our concepts fall short of non-Being, making it difficult, if not impossible, to talk about. The map is not the territory in this case.

Now, whether this indicates a deep metaphysical truth, or simply a byproduct of the grammar of our language resulting in some confusion, I do not know.

dguller said...

Josh:

From what I recall, our last discussion involved analogy of Being as related to God, and I don't think that was ever resolved. It seemed that Aquinas had a different type of analogical knowledge in mind from what you were using to criticize our negative/positive theological claims. Maybe the same issues are at play with respect to reasoning about 'non-Being' and such.

Maybe you are right. I suppose my struggle is with how we can talk about something indescribable. I am content with the idea that our abilities are limited, and thus cannot capture all aspects of reality, whether the pinnacle of Being (i.e. God), or the utter absence of Being (i.e. non-Being), which makes discussion of either ontological pole paradoxical, to say the least.

DNW said...

Blogger Ray Ingles said...

DNW - They are just another pointless pattern.

Pointless to whom?"


Following the link ...

"I realize, of course, that I haven’t really answered the challenge as to whether meaning is “justified.” "

I guess your goal was to show that if you could work up a subjective feeling of meaning, your existence would somehow have a point in a reality that didn't?

If not, I don't know what you are trying to say by linking your reflections on "meaning", to my remark about the view which advances the idea of an inherent pointlessness to the "generation" of patterns.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - BTW, that isn't my essay, and I never claimed it was. (I put my thoughts here.

I guess your goal was to show that if you could work up a subjective feeling of meaning, your existence would somehow have a point in a reality that didn't?

Don't stop quoting him where you did, DNW! Let's move on just a tiny bit further:

[P]art of the reason I haven’t even attempted to answer the question about “justification" is that I’m not entirely certain it makes sense to speak about meaning that way in the first place. It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact. You either find your life meaningful or you do not, but it’s not even clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone’s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that your life isn’t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?

And that "meaningful to you" is important, for as he explains:

To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.

Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children? These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero.


You talk about "a reality that didn't" "have a point". In light of the above, I ask - "have a point" to whom? Is the concept of an 'objective meaing' even coherent?

DNW said...

dguller writes,

"... Second, does everything in mathematics apply to the world? Does everything in the world have to be represented by mathematics? If there are aspects of reality that cannot be captured by mathematics, then mathematics is limited. I don’t think this is particularly outrageous, but only prudent. I think it is possible that there are aspects of reality that simply cannot be captured by logic and reason. Maybe all of reality is rational, or maybe it isn’t. The only way we will ever know is when all of reality is explained according to logic and reason. Until then, it is an operational assumption that has been highly successful thus far.

Any thoughts?"


Having subsequently asked a closely parallel line of questions to a somewhat different end, I think that I would be panicked at the thought of having unconsciously repeated dguller's text, if the time stamp had not reminded me that I had the reply window open during the time dguller was placing his observation/question up.

Geez ...

Credit to dguller for broaching the the old "Given your limiting suppositions, how do you justify your assertion that you can or can't know?" theme.

Ray Ingles said...

Verbose Stoic - Surely I can talk about concepts that would imply unknowability and therefore know that if something like that existed, we could never actually know it. This should follow only from the definition of the concept and the definition of knowledge.

Okay, you come across - or think of - something you don't understand. How do you go about establishing that it's unknowable? Walk me through the decision process.

DNW said...

Blogger Ray Ingles said...

' "DNW - They are just another pointless pattern."

Pointless to whom?'


Following the link ...

"I realize, of course, that I haven’t really answered the challenge as to whether meaning is “justified.” "

I guess your goal was to show that if you could work up a subjective feeling of meaning, your existence would somehow have a point in a reality that didn't?

If not, I don't know what you are trying to say by linking your reflections on "meaning", to my remark about the view which advances the idea of an inherent pointlessness to the "generation" of patterns."


_____________


Blogger Ray Ingles then said...

DNW - BTW, that isn't my essay, and I never claimed it was. (I put my thoughts here.
...

Don't stop quoting him where you did, DNW! Let's move on just a tiny bit further: ..."


Ok. I'll take another and more patient look at it later.

I was primed to cut it short after observing the author sandwiching the very kind of emotionally subjective appeals he stated he was going to eschew, in-between claims he was performing a logical analysis.

I didn't really see anything significant in the way of even use-examples.

As regards the meaning of my use of "pointless", I don't see that anyone would have anything to object to.

One might wish to claim that saying something is pointless in the sense I used it, is illegitimate, since the phenomenon could never in the first place have had - on your understanding - the kind of point to it which someone, a deluded person for example, might imagine.

But that doesn't follow.

It is fairly easy to illustrate how "having an objective point" could have a meaning through the idea of collections of people.

The theist, deluded or not, may imagine that some human phenomenon is analogous on a "higher plane" to a children's gathering for a birthday party.

Daddy has arranged it so all the napping invitees are delivered to a particular place in order to commemoratively celebrate Daddy's son, little Johnny's birth, on awakening.

If under such circumstances some intelligent tot awakened and rubbed his eyes and asked "Why are we here? What is the point?" He could be given an answer that didn't involve informing him that the point of it was whatever he could make of it.

If you then denied that Daddy planned a party, it would make propositional sense, and not be a violation of some rule governing the use of the terms "meaning" or "plan" or "point".

Now, the fact that you would probably strenuously deny that such a situation was in any way analogous with the way in which people actually find themselves in the world as it is, doesn't mean that a proposition negating the assertion that Daddy exists and has a plan, has itself no logical sense because Daddy doesn't really exist in the first place.

You seem at first glance to want to save the importance of a subjective meaning of "value" by saying that the proposition that there is no objective or god's-eye point or purpose, is a proposition that can itself have no meaning.

Or maybe that's not what you are trying to convey with your link and implied objection.

I'll take, as I said, a closer look a little later at the "essay" no matter how much it grates to slog through it ...

Josh said...

dguller,

I am content with the idea that our abilities are limited, and thus cannot capture all aspects of reality, whether the pinnacle of Being (i.e. God), or the utter absence of Being (i.e. non-Being), which makes discussion of either ontological pole paradoxical, to say the least.

Here's a doozy of a paradox: unless we implicitly understand Being and Non-Being (i.e., the principle of non-contradiction), then we have no limits to knowledge whatsoever (it's whatever one wishes to "know")!

Just finished reading this:
http://telicthoughts.com/empty-space-time-logical-being-real-being-or-really-really-nothing/

Erudite and challenging, it seems. He says: "Philosophically and logically speaking, nothingness has no being. On its own it does not even have the potential to be something. "Nothing" or "nothingness" has no potential to create anything or become anything on its own. If it did, it would not be "nothing" or "nothingness" but something that has potential. Nothingness cannot become actual by itself. Nothingness can only become something as a result of creation (creation ex nihilo). Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit is axiomatic on this view."

Now, the only way one can take issue here is I think by assuming that a premise like 'nothingness has no being' assumes existential import for the subject, and then predicates something about it. But if we follow Aristotelian logic, then there's no reason to assume existential import.

DNW said...

Just for kicks, as they used to say,


"The anxiety of many logicians to insist that truth is an affair of sentences rather than of propositions is due to a phobia of abstract entities, and this in turn seems to arise from two sources. The first, which has been noticeable among philosophers ever since Plato aroused opposition by his talk of a supersensible world, is an obsessive desire to be economical in thought. The second, which belongs to more recent history, is a violent reaction against all attempts to talk about the structure of the world. When such a phobia has been diagnosed, the patient should be encouraged, and even urged, to carry out his programme of elimination systematically instead of merely making oracular pronouncements.

If he can be induced to persevere for a sufficiently long time, he may in this way be brought to realize that it is impossible for him to say all he wants to say without speaking of qualities, relations, beliefs, hypotheses, conclusions, and the rest. The cure will be complete when he is ready to admit that, although Plato and his followers fell into the absurdity of talking about the supersensible as if it were something that might be observed by a kind of super-sense, this is a very poor reason for holding that all attempts to designate supersensible objects are in some way improper. For if we are to talk at all about our use of language, we must allow ourselves to say that a sentence or a predicate phrase expresses something. And in order to say what it is that such a sign expresses we require not another expression but a designation, since in any true expository statement of the form ' ... expresses - - - ' the signs which fill the two blanks must both be designations, the first for an expression and the second for what that expression expresses. It is foolish therefore to deny ourselves this facility merely because it has sometimes been abused. "

Wm & Martha Kneale, "The Development of Logic" p. 591. Clarendon-Oxford press, reprint 1986

Paragraphing introduced.

Isidore said...

dguller:

My point was that we don't (and can't) treat non-being as a thing. Just as we don't think blindness, evil, etc. can be understood in themselves.

If causality implies being, then not-being implies not-causality. As long as the premise can be established, I don't see what is unintelligible about the "conclusion".

Josh said...

Isidore,

I don't think dguller thinks 'nothingness' is a thing, or a being of some sort. I believe he is just trying to say that our knowledge, judgments, reasoning, etc. are limited to Being only, and we cannot say anything about non-Being.

My point is that implicit in any either-or judgment is the understanding of both the affirmative and negative of the proposition (because of the principle of non-contradiction). Propositions about Being or Ontology are just the highest generalizations in Philosophy...

So, if one can speak meaningfully about that which is, then one must necessarily be able to speak meaningfully about the negation. Otherwise no knowledge is possible. Eh?

dguller said...

Josh:

Here's a doozy of a paradox: unless we implicitly understand Being and Non-Being (i.e., the principle of non-contradiction), then we have no limits to knowledge whatsoever (it's whatever one wishes to "know")!

That is intriguing.

I think that we can understand that something does not exist as distinct from nothing exists. That is the difference between “there does not exist an X”, and “for all X, X does not exist”. In other words, there is a difference between saying that the ball is not red, and saying that nothing exists. In other words, the ball might not be red, but it could have been red, and could become red, which puts it into the category of potential being, which is a type of being, rather than absolute non-Being, which is not a type of being at all. So, I think that one can preserve the law of non-contradiction independent of the possibility of conceiving of absolute non-Being.

machinephilosophy said...

Ray Ingles

Sorry, but atheism, except for the naive me-too moralists of the New Atheists, doesn't -need- any justification for one's views.

One can use science for one's own purposes, but in a purely arbitrary and selective way, to cure diseases -and- gas the Jews, for example. Natural Selection includes both, unless one has some God-level criteria for including one and excluding the other.

Atheistic moralism is comical, but still just vacuous thumping.

And to think that all the time I was an atheist, I was sure in my heart of hearts that it would liberate from any religion-like lust to scold.

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - One can use science for one's own purposes, but in a purely arbitrary and selective way, to cure diseases -and- gas the Jews, for example.

Simple question. Is it a good idea to sacrifice your queen for a pawn at the start of a chess game?

JA said...

"Simple question. Is it a good idea to sacrifice your queen for a pawn at the start of a chess game?"

No, but this is a false analogy. First, human affairs are not analogous to a game of chess. Second, chess offers hard rules for behavior (pawns can only move forward, bishops can move diagonally, etc.). An atheistic framework rejects the idea that there is an objective moral order imposed from the outside.

Without either a God or a metaphysical framework where morality becomes a matter of teleology (and such a framework that will lead to God by necessity, anyway), then there is no such thing as an objective moral order--there is only morality as we manufacture it given historical and cultural circumstance. This means that curing disease is no more moral than, say, clitoridectomy or human sacrifice to appease the gods--or hey, just for kicks. If the enjoyment we all get out of it outweighs the suffering, then we are also being good utilitarians while we are at it!

True, most people in the US won't like that, but that is because they have inherited a late secular cultural Christianity, but there really isn't a rational basis for it.

I really don't know why you think that this can be disputed. Dawkins admits it (despite not living consistently with it). This is the default position in political and moral philosophy in general, which is why elaborate frameworks of justification, like Rawls' first position, are designed--even though they ultimately all fail.

JA said...

As an aside, we need more serious atheists like Nietzsche who realized the implications of his atheism. Perhaps when the masses hear that sacrificing three thousand of them to produce a Mozart is justified, then perhaps they will be disabused of atheist doggerel.

machinephilosophy said...

JA
Thanks for answering the question for me, as well as your other good comments.

However, I do actually believe there can be an objective morality on the part of atheists, but there's no objective reason for it, since it simply runs in tandem with objective rationality itself. As I said in a recent post on my blog:

"An atheist can have an objective concept of good in the sense that any kind of reasoned approach to reality as a whole necessarily assumes a good in the notion of intellectual propriety. In other words, a good is already assumed in the logical/illogical distinction that prefers logicality."

JA said...

Macinephilosophy,

Is your argument that atheists implicitly make appeals to a universal morality all the time, even if they won't admit to it? If that's the case, then I agree.

machinephilosophy said...

JA,
If they are objectivist/rationalist atheists (or if they make objectivist/rationalist universal claims), I think they do, but I don't think that universal morality -directly- depends on the existence of God epistemically. The basic principles of thought -imply- the existence of God (see my Criterial Argument), but I don't see how any case can be made for such principles -directly- assuming God's existence, however implicitly this might be (and it is) alleged by my fellow theists. And I'm not saying you are claiming this last, just trying to fill in some context for this issue, in relation to the existence of God.

Verbose Stoic said...

Ray,

Let's start with the "think of" first. So, you've thought of something, which means that you have at least the beginnings of a concept. You work out the details of the concept through definition and thought experiments, and come to know what the concept entails. Once you have that, you then look at the properties of that concept as they determine what it would be like if it happened to be instantiated. Then, using those properties, you can ask:

1) Is it possible for it to exist at all?

2) Is it possible for it to exist in this world?

3) Is it knowable at all?

4) Is it knowable in this world?

5) Is it possible for us as human beings to know it?

All of these are knowable propositions, and follow only from the definition of the concept, which we know.

Starting from a thing in the world is more complicated. The procedure would be to form a concept of that thing, and then follow the above procedure, but we get a new issue introduced: how do we know that our concept really reflects the thing we've discovered? But that's knowable as well, even if the thing ends up being unknowable for whatever reasons. So while it's difficult, it's far from impossible.

Ray Ingles said...

JA - "No, but this is a false analogy. First, human affairs are not analogous to a game of chess."

Ah, but you misread the analogy. To wit:

"Second, chess offers hard rules for behavior (pawns can only move forward, bishops can move diagonally, etc.). An atheistic framework rejects the idea that there is an objective moral order imposed from the outside."

Wait, it's a rule of chess that you can't sacrifice your queen for a pawn at the start of the game?

I mean, there's a "hard rule" against putting your king in check, but I've never heard of this rule that 'you are not permitted to sacrifice your queen for a pawn'. Can you show me where I can look up this rule? Perhaps somewhere in here?

Ray Ingles said...

Verbose Stoic - "All of these are knowable propositions, and follow only from the definition of the concept, which we know."

So, has Fermat's Last Theorem been proven yet?

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"But isn’t that exactly what “hidden variables” are supposed to be? The idea, as far as I understand it, is that there are factors that are not represented by QM, and thus are “hidden”, but are still operative in reality to create the quantum phenomena that are represented by QM and observed by experiments. That is how the randomness that we observe actually has a deterministic underpinning that is just beyond our understanding. How is that different from your third option?"

If I am reading you right, you are being misled by the expression "hidden variables". I am not completely certain of the history, but as far as I know it is an artifact of the Einstein-Bohr debates. The natural cause in my 3. is not amenable to mathematical treatment so it escapes Bell's theorem and local realism is saved. It is not "hidden" if by it, you mean unknowable -- at least in principle. Determinism or its negation are irrelevant in this context -- non-determinism is a characteristic of the mathematical formalisms of QM that *must* take into account our epistemological limitations (which for all we know might never be surpassed). Once again, I stress that probabilistic descriptions, necessarily non-deterministic, at least in the strict sense, do not entail ontological randomness.

Here, I will insert one paragraph of yours that is relevant to these matters, but that I forgot to reply to in due time.

"Second, does everything in mathematics apply to the world? Does everything in the world have to be represented by mathematics? If there are aspects of reality that cannot be captured by mathematics, then mathematics is limited. I don’t think this is particularly outrageous, but only prudent. I think it is possible that there are aspects of reality that simply cannot be captured by logic and reason. Maybe all of reality is rational, or maybe it isn’t. The only way we will ever know is when all of reality is explained according to logic and reason. Until then, it is an operational assumption that has been highly successful thus far."

I do not have any problem asserting that not every aspect of the world is amenable to a mathematical description. In fact, it is more or less inevitable that this is so given a commitment to an AT metaphysics. What I take issue with, is your jump from "cannot be captured by mathematics" to "then mathematics is limited" and later, "aspects of reality that simply cannot be captured by logic and reason", two non-sequiturs in my estimation. For the first, sure, mathematics is not able to fully describe the world, and in that sense it is limited, but since the objective of mathematics is not to describe the world it is hardly a limitation that matters to mathematics qua mathematics. For the second, it simply does not follow that because some aspects of the universe are not mathematically describable that they fall out of the purview of logic and reason. Or are you asserting that logic and reason reduce themselves to what mathematics can handle? That is simply false.

One parting comment. The theist and the atheist do not differ simply in the difference of opinion about the existence of one particular being, but rather in their whole world view. A theist, at least one of a classical persuasion, will insist that the world is intelligible through and through. The universe is, not turtles all the way down, but ordered all the way down. This "ordered all the way down" is but a crude summary of AT metaphysics. The atheist will have to undermine this picture to escape the deductive metaphysical proofs and then offer his own alternative, which as far as I can see, lead inevitably to positing brute facts. Although undeniably there is more wiggle room, I would advance pretty much the same objections against brute facts as the ones I raised previously against uncaused events. Anyway, whether I am right or not, I insist on this crucial difference of world views.

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"The point remains that we cannot have a clear concept of non-Being, because all our concepts involve Being, and thus Being sneaks into our concept of non-Being. It is like walking across a clean floor with muddy shoes, and saying that the floor is still clean! This incoherence could mean either (a) that there is no such thing (ha!) as non-Being, i.e. there is always Being, or (b) that there is such a thing (ha!), but that we cannot adequately represent it in our minds."

Honestly, I do not know what else to add. I probably am going to be unfair, but all I am reading in your complaints is a personal argument from incredulity. I would also wager that you are conflating imagining and conceiving via the intellect. We may not be able to form a clear image of non-being, quite plausibly so, because all we ever sense is being and never non-being, but we can quite clearly form the concept of non-being. It is actually a particularly simple concept. Lacking in all potentiality, there is not much that can be said about it, is there? But we *can* think and talk meaningfully about the concept. For example, is it instantiated, meaning does non-being exist? Of course not, because if non-being existed then it would be actual (in admixture with potentiality or pure act) but since it is not actual in any way, it does not exist -- at least in this specific sense.

I think I have not botched things up; if I have, maybe an AT expert can correct me.

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"So, has Fermat's Last Theorem been proven yet?"

Yes.

This is not my fight, but it is an interesting one, so I would like to ask you what exactly is your point in making the question?

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "This is not my fight, but it is an interesting one, so I would like to ask you what exactly is your point in making the question?"

Andrew Wiles is the mathematician credited with proving Fermat's Last Theorem. But his first attempt turned out to have a critical error. He and a collaborator spent close to a year trying to salvage that proof, but couldn't do it. He had to switch to a different scheme to finally prove it.

Now, here's the problem: are we positive that Fermat's Last Theorem is proven now? It's a complex proof, might there be an error lurking in there somewhere?

Verbose Stoic claims the knowability of a concept "follow[s] only from the definition of the concept". FLT is n example of an apparently simple proposition that proved excessively difficult to know. (A currently-unsolved example would be the Collatz Conjecture.)

I claim that, in practice, the knowability of concepts isn't all that different from the knowability of "a thing in the world". Indeed. it's harder with concepts, since they are harder to test.

(Try computer programming if you want to learn just how fuzzy and incomplete human conception is. From a famous book on software engineering, Fred Brook's 'The Mythical Man-Month': "Computer programming, however, creates with an exceedingly tractable medium. The programmer builds from pure thought-stuff: concepts and very flexible representations thereof. Because the medium is tractable, we expect few difficulties in implementation; hence our pervasive optimism. Because our ideas are faulty, we have bugs; hence our optimism is unjustified.")

If knowability is hard to prove, unknowability is even harder.

djindra said...

machinephilosophy,

"One can use science for one's own purposes, but in a purely arbitrary and selective way, to cure diseases -and- gas the Jews, for example."

One can use theology for one's own purposes, but in a purely arbitrary and selective way, to feed the poor *and* burn witches *and* fly airplanes into buildings.

If you think there is a difference between atheism and theology in this respect then you haven't been paying close attention.

Ray Ingles said...

DNW - "It is fairly easy to illustrate how "having an objective point" could have a meaning through the idea of collections of people... Daddy has arranged it so all the napping invitees are delivered to a particular place in order to commemoratively celebrate Daddy's son, little Johnny's birth, on awakening."

Wait. The gathering means something to Daddy, sure. It probably means something to Johnny. But that's not the same as some kind of 'objective meaning', hanging there unsupported, not having anyone to mean something to.

And the gathering doesn't have to mean the same thing - indeed, mean anything - to the invitees. They may rather be somewhere else, they may not care one way or another about Johnny. Are they somehow automatically wrong for not finding the same meaning in the gathering that Daddy does? If so, why?

"You seem at first glance to want to save the importance of a subjective meaning of "value" by saying that the proposition that there is no objective or god's-eye point or purpose, is a proposition that can itself have no meaning."

Actually, quite the opposite. Why would a "god's-eye point or purpose" be the same as an "objective... point or purpose"? I'm saying all purposes are inherently subjective, that the concept of an 'objective purpose' is incoherent.

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Now, here's the problem: are we positive that Fermat's Last Theorem is proven now? It's a complex proof, might there be an error lurking in there somewhere?"

Do you have any reason to doubt the proof or is this just a rhetorical question? And if you are taking a skeptical stance why not follow it through? Why be skeptical of complex arguments only and not of simple ones also? Your argument is fairly simple.

"Verbose Stoic claims the knowability of a concept "follow[s] only from the definition of the concept". FLT is n example of an apparently simple proposition that proved excessively difficult to know. (A currently-unsolved example would be the Collatz Conjecture.)

I claim that, in practice, the knowability of concepts isn't all that different from the knowability of "a thing in the world". Indeed. it's harder with concepts, since they are harder to test."

Provably, there are arithmetical statements not provable in PA. Provably, there are arithmetical statements not provable in ZFC. Provably, there are arithmetical statements not provable in ZFC + large cardinal axioms. Given that our minds are finite, conceivably, there are proofs so long that no human mind could grasp them. So what? We know a fairly good deal about arithmetic and as far as I understand Verbose Stoic that is all we need. He never implies that we have to know *all* about a given concept or that even everything that could possibly be known is actually knowable.

And I do not know what "harder to test" means when comparing "things in the world" and concepts.

Anyway, I should probably drop this discussion and let Verbose Stoic pick it up as only he can clarify what he meant.

djindra said...

Anonymous ,

"I never conflated "intentionality" with 'final cause'.

From my POV that's exactly what you've been doing. Maybe you should tell me what is the difference between the two terms in your mind.

"And it does not 'come from' anywhere."

Then if this thing you call 'intentionality' is inherent in matter then you are no dualist of any sort and are no different than a materialist.

"in the case of the material, the only way to make it intelligible is to either default to a kind of cartesian dualism, or to start radically changing what materialists mean by material, or to deny there's any intentionality at all. All three moves, Feser refers to."

Yes, I've read Feser's self-serving propaganda. His arguments are bogus. For example, one could use the same arguments with something like 'sexiness'. How can a being be sexy unless sexiness was infused throughout matter? Do we need dualism for sexiness too?

Rusty Mason said...

Wow. The hardback version of The Last Superstition is $999 at Amazon.com today.

DNW said...

Ray Ingles writes,


"Is the concept of an 'objective meaing' even coherent? "


Well, it depends on whether or not you can accept the common definitions of "objective".

I put up "No trespassing without permission of the owner", signs on my hunting land. They have a public meaning not dependent on the decision or interpretation of a potential poacher.

One encounters an obelisk in the desert. It announces the boundary of Upper Egypt in hieroglyphics. You cannot read hieroglyphics and the old kingdom no longer exists. Does this mean the obelisk has no objective meaning?


You are hiking and realize you are being stalked by a brown bear. There are undeniable practical implications to this for any potential prey, as well as whatever subjective interpretations may occur to the target.




As for "objective" I suppose we could consult the dictionary for a definition.

After having done so,if by objective meaning you refer to an event's or object's meaning independent of the inclinations or capacities of one particular mind or subject, then of course it is coherent to speak of an objective meaning.


If you refer to meaning as a mental phenomenon of projection independent of any conceivably existing mind no matter how sophisticated or rudimentary, then your notion of meaning would of course be incoherent on the basis of an internal inconsistency.

It is plainly not however nonsensical to speak of objective meaning and either affirm or deny its existence in particular or generalized contexts.

E.H. Munro said...

I've read Feser's self-serving propaganda. His arguments are bogus. For example, one could use the same arguments with something like 'sexiness'. How can a being be sexy unless sexiness was infused throughout matter? Do we need dualism for sexiness too?

Sexiness is a subjective valuation made by an observer. I suppose that all matter has the potential for sexiness, but only insofar as conscious observers so evaluate it.

DNW said...

"Actually, quite the opposite. Why would a "god's-eye point or purpose" be the same as an "objective... point or purpose"?

I'm saying all purposes are inherently subjective, that the concept of an 'objective purpose' is incoherent."


What you are actually saying is that all purposes are linked to minds. So what?

That discussion has already taken place on Feser's site repeatedly and at length.

I don't know what it is you think you are arguing here, unless it is that you think that the use of the terms "point" or "purpose" or "meaning" must always radically refer back solely to a private disposition generated by the/a perceiving subject.

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

If I am reading you right, you are being misled by the expression "hidden variables". I am not completely certain of the history, but as far as I know it is an artifact of the Einstein-Bohr debates. The natural cause in my 3. is not amenable to mathematical treatment so it escapes Bell's theorem and local realism is saved. It is not "hidden" if by it, you mean unknowable -- at least in principle. Determinism or its negation are irrelevant in this context -- non-determinism is a characteristic of the mathematical formalisms of QM that *must* take into account our epistemological limitations (which for all we know might never be surpassed). Once again, I stress that probabilistic descriptions, necessarily non-deterministic, at least in the strict sense, do not entail ontological randomness.

Here is my understanding of hidden variables. The idea is that QM is excellent at producing probabilistic predictions of behavior of quantum events. The question is whether this randomness is ontological or epistemological. In other words, is it built into the fabric of reality at a deep level (i.e. ontological), or is it due to our ignorance (i.e. epistemological). If it is due to our ignorance, then it would follow that if we could only know these hidden variables, making them hidden no longer, then we would be able to derive the probabilities of QM from them. The ontological randomness option rejects hidden variables, and the epistemological randomness option accepts hidden variables.

When Bell’s inequality talks about hidden variables, it is referring to properties of quantum particles that are objectively present, but unable to be determined by us, which is why they are hidden, but not non-existent. It seems that you are saying that your hidden variable (or “natural cause”) is not a variable at all, because it cannot be represented by mathematics. So, when Bell’s inequality shows that combining locality with hidden variables is impossible, you are avoiding this by denying that your “natural cause” is a variable at all! In other words, you are taking the epistemological randomness option, but saying that there are truths that cannot be specified by mathematical formalism, and thus avoid Bell’s inequality.

Do I have this right?

For the first, sure, mathematics is not able to fully describe the world, and in that sense it is limited, but since the objective of mathematics is not to describe the world it is hardly a limitation that matters to mathematics qua mathematics.

Good, so we agree that mathematics is limited in terms of being able to fully represent all aspects of reality. That was the only point.

For the second, it simply does not follow that because some aspects of the universe are not mathematically describable that they fall out of the purview of logic and reason. Or are you asserting that logic and reason reduce themselves to what mathematics can handle? That is simply false.

I was making an analogy between one tool of inquiry being spectacularly useful for understanding how the world works, but being limited by the likelihood that there are aspects of the world that cannot be captured by it, and another. My point was that if one can accept that mathematics has limitations in terms of understanding the world, then why the reluctance when it comes to logic and reason? The latter also works spectacularly well in a number of respects, but it does not follow that they necessarily work to capture all aspects of reality. They might do so, but we simply do not know at this time, and will only know once all of reality has been captured and understood by logic and reason. Until then, it is an operating assumption.

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

If I am reading you right, you are being misled by the expression "hidden variables". I am not completely certain of the history, but as far as I know it is an artifact of the Einstein-Bohr debates. The natural cause in my 3. is not amenable to mathematical treatment so it escapes Bell's theorem and local realism is saved. It is not "hidden" if by it, you mean unknowable -- at least in principle. Determinism or its negation are irrelevant in this context -- non-determinism is a characteristic of the mathematical formalisms of QM that *must* take into account our epistemological limitations (which for all we know might never be surpassed). Once again, I stress that probabilistic descriptions, necessarily non-deterministic, at least in the strict sense, do not entail ontological randomness.

Here is my understanding of hidden variables. The idea is that QM is excellent at producing probabilistic predictions of behavior of quantum events. The question is whether this randomness is ontological or epistemological. In other words, is it built into the fabric of reality at a deep level (i.e. ontological), or is it due to our ignorance (i.e. epistemological). If it is due to our ignorance, then it would follow that if we could only know these hidden variables, making them hidden no longer, then we would be able to derive the probabilities of QM from them. The ontological randomness option rejects hidden variables, and the epistemological randomness option accepts hidden variables.

When Bell’s inequality talks about hidden variables, it is referring to properties of quantum particles that are objectively present, but unable to be determined by us, which is why they are hidden, but not non-existent. It seems that you are saying that your hidden variable (or “natural cause”) is not a variable at all, because it cannot be represented by mathematics. So, when Bell’s inequality shows that combining locality with hidden variables is impossible, you are avoiding this by denying that your “natural cause” is a variable at all! In other words, you are taking the epistemological randomness option, but saying that there are truths that cannot be specified by mathematical formalism, and thus avoid Bell’s inequality.

Do I have this right?

For the first, sure, mathematics is not able to fully describe the world, and in that sense it is limited, but since the objective of mathematics is not to describe the world it is hardly a limitation that matters to mathematics qua mathematics.

Good, so we agree that mathematics is limited in terms of being able to fully represent all aspects of reality. That was the only point.

For the second, it simply does not follow that because some aspects of the universe are not mathematically describable that they fall out of the purview of logic and reason. Or are you asserting that logic and reason reduce themselves to what mathematics can handle? That is simply false.

I was making an analogy between one tool of inquiry being spectacularly useful for understanding how the world works, but being limited by the likelihood that there are aspects of the world that cannot be captured by it, and another. My point was that if one can accept that mathematics has limitations in terms of understanding the world, then why the reluctance when it comes to logic and reason? The latter also works spectacularly well in a number of respects, but it does not follow that they necessarily work to capture all aspects of reality. They might do so, but we simply do not know at this time, and will only know once all of reality has been captured and understood by logic and reason. Until then, it is an operating assumption.

dguller said...

One parting comment. The theist and the atheist do not differ simply in the difference of opinion about the existence of one particular being, but rather in their whole world view. A theist, at least one of a classical persuasion, will insist that the world is intelligible through and through. The universe is, not turtles all the way down, but ordered all the way down. This "ordered all the way down" is but a crude summary of AT metaphysics. The atheist will have to undermine this picture to escape the deductive metaphysical proofs and then offer his own alternative, which as far as I can see, lead inevitably to positing brute facts. Although undeniably there is more wiggle room, I would advance pretty much the same objections against brute facts as the ones I raised previously against uncaused events. Anyway, whether I am right or not, I insist on this crucial difference of world views.

I think that you are right. My own view is that I know that much of the world is intelligible, and that the rest might be equally intelligible, but I really do not know if this is true. It is a guiding assumption that has worked out very well in a number of respects, but only time and work will tell if it is true. My gut tells me that there are limits to our reason’s abilities, just as there are limits to the capacity of mathematics, in terms of everything in the universe being able to be processed and represented by human intellect. It would be great if that were the case, but I think it a little grandiose. It is in my temperament to be in awe of the majesty of the universe and the fact that there are aspects of it that are beyond the capacities of logic and reason simply add to its majesty, in my opinion.

djindra said...

DNW,

"I am not sure how... one would go about confirming that men have any way of knowing that they have exhausted material reality through means available to them...

They wouldn't. But it doesn't follow that anything dreamed up is worthy of serious consideration.

How do we know that everything that materially exists is accessible to our senses or measurement techniques? We don't. But what difference does that make? I don't claim we can't speculate. I do claim speculation is not knowledge.

"'In the way we normally use words, yes, but ultimately, no.' sounds like an article of faith or a stipulation rather than an empirically verifiable statement."

If you mean by that: I have 'faith' that scientific knowledge will progress, I plead guilty. I also have 'faith' the sun will rise tomorrow. Sure, that 'faith' could be misplaced but what are the odds?

"Can things be sensed yet not measured?"

Love -- at least we can't measure it with precision.

"Empiricism is a theory of knowledge, not an account of reality or what exists."

True, but if we can't know about it how are we to have any knowledge that it exists?

djindra said...

Alyosha,

"If you don't mind my asking a second question, what do you hope to accomplish?"

Primarily, I hope to learn. I hope to learn about myself and about what I believe or why. The best way of doing that, IMO, is to put oneself in challenging conditions. I'm not under any illusions that I'll convince others of my positions. If it happens, fine. I don't expect it.

DNW said...

@ Ray Ingles,


Ok. I took another whack at reading through the material you linked to.

I'm going to have to just push it aside and let you argue your own case, as it resembles nothing I am used to reading that purports to be a legitimate kind of philosophical analysis of concepts.

I don't know what the guy is doing. It is certainly not what he insinuates he is doing, which is supposedly investigating the meaning of the term "meaning" and the legitimacy of its employment.

Apparently he is pushing this doctrine of "meaning", which you earlier quoted:

"It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact."

I don't know anyone serious who would take such stuff at face value. You don't really, do you?

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