Monday, January 9, 2012

Video of Science and Faith Conference now online

Last month I gave a talk at the Science and Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, on the theme “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not in Natural Science.”  The other main speakers were Stephen Barr, Michael Behe, William E. Carroll, Jay Richards, Alvin Plantinga, and Benjamin Wiker.  My understanding is that a conference volume containing the papers is planned, but video of most of the talks is now available online here.

You’ll find my own talk below.  (Keep in mind that the camera adds ten pounds.  Lots of gin and pizza can add a few pounds too.)  There’s a lot of new stuff in this paper.  I argue that it is impossible in principle to get from the world to the God of classical theism unless we affirm the act/potency distinction and (therefore) the reality of immanent final causality.  Along the way I deal with Greek atomism, Berkeley’s critique of matter, the nature of divine causality, the existential inertia thesis, the problem with Leibnizian cosmological arguments, the limitations of the Kalām argument, and some other stuff as well.  Jonathan Sanford also makes some important points in his reply, which follows my talk.

156 comments:

amtheomusings said...

You look fine. You don't sound as fearsome as your picture would make one believe.

But gin and pizza? Must've been really good pizza... or bad gin.

Tom Esteban said...

This is great. Also the first time I've heard a priori pronounced in the Ecclesiastical Latin way. "ah pree-oh-ree'' rather than the usual "ay pri-or-eye''.

I've always wondered, Dr.Feser, if you are a traditionalist Catholic? Your style of writing would be well suited to traditionalist apologetics (why the Tridentine Mass is better, etc). Like a Michael Davies v2.0 [NB: traditionalist in the FSSP sense, not SSPX sense].

Tony said...

Very cool, I will definitely be listening closely. I actually just got Aquinas by you, can't wait to dig in after this first pile of books.

Long time follower, first time commenter, keep up the good work!

Ismael said...

On the subject of science, faith and philosophy, I am really hyped to know your response to Krauss' "A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing " (Afterword from R. Dawkins... ).

It's already been prophetized to 'revolutionize the debate on the origin of the universe and even kill metaphisics on the subject'...

However reccomendetaion from Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (from the Amazon site) states:

Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something. That's how a cosmos can be spawned from the void -- a profound idea conveyed in A Universe From Nothing that unsettles some yet enlightens others. Meanwhile, it's just another day on the job for physicist Lawrence Krauss.”

which seems to me that to atheists finding something new to define as 'nothing' must be really exciting an 'rocking'... yet I doubt it will impress the philosophical or even the more evenminded scientific community...

Martin said...

Ismael,

Have you seen this.

Ismael said...

@ Martin

yes I did.

I did not read Krauss book yet, though.

So, even if it is unlikely, he might put forward some interesting arguments or some new fallacies of reasoning.

Since Dawkins decides to write the afterward the book either has something worth attention or it's complete garbage.

As an 'educated guess' I speculate the second alternative, as for Dr. Krauss 'nothing' is actually 'some quantum state'... amd since both Krauss and Dawkins are awful at philosophy I do not expect anything truly mind-boggling.

Yet I am curious to hear a professional philosopher's opinion on it. :)

Matthew G said...

I didn't really recognize you, mostly because my mental image of you is that you look _exactly_ the way you look in your profile picture (I mean otherwise that would just be silly) and that you sound exactly the way you sounded on catholic answers (because telephones don't change the way people sound, otherwise that would just be silly). Also, I'm immature and still couldn't stop thinking how Dr. Phaser would make for a great Austin Powers villain.

machinephilosophy said...

Ed,

Great lecture. Both the act/potency distinction and and final causality (the impersonal directedness thing) need to be fleshed out to the Nth degree, and it seems like you're headed there.

Just having finished my exhaustive notetaking on Superstition, I get the feeling that there's some kind of unnecessary conflation of terms that necessitates the qualification that final causality is *not* the same as mind-directed purpose. But I'm still very hazy on all this and may either be missing something or else misconstruing the notion. If it *is* different, then it seems like the terms should be different as well, so that it doesn't give the impression of fudging on teleology somehow. Not sure if that's at all clear, so I'd appreciate any comments from you or others.

The Deuce said...

The more I think about it, the more I fail to see how the modern, "loose and separate" so-called "mechanical philosophy" is even a coherent view. It seems to me that if you attempt to state it in any sort of detail, you end up with just an unnecessarily complicated variant of the A-T metaphysic.

Whenever I put ice under hot water, the ice is melted. The A-Tist would say that being in a melted state is a potentiality of the ice, and that it "points to" or has an inherent tendency toward being melted when exposed to heat. The ateleologist would say that cause and effect are "loose and separate", that there is nothing intrinsic to ice or to heat that points to the ice being melted, and that it's simply a regularity we observe that the event of ice being exposed to heat happens to be followed by the event of the ice melting in our experience.

But presumably the ateleologist isn't claiming that it's just pure chance that the ice always happens melt under hot water when I'm looking, right?! There must be *something* accounting for why it always happens, and if it's not the nature of the ice and the heat themselves, then what? Here I guess the ateleologist might say that it's physical laws which the ice and heat "obey," thereby basically conceiving of natural laws as actual active agents that direct events rather than as mere abstractions of the predictable ways in which physical things behave by virtue of their intrinsic natures.

Well, okay, but I still don't see how this escapes the A-T view. Rather it's just an unnecessarily complicated version of it. Even if we postulate that the Laws Of Thermodynamics (or whatever other law you wish to postulate for any given phenomena) are actual active entities, it remains a fact that the laws consistently cause the ice to *melt* specifically and not turn to into a puppy dog or dance the Macarena. So all you've really done is attribute teleology to the reified laws themselves. Additionally, it remains a fact that the laws consistently cause *ice* (as opposed to, say, stainless steel) to melt under *heat* (as opposed to, say, while in the freezer), so the intrinsic nature of the objects following the laws is still part of what determines how the laws act on them under this view.

In other words, if you try to state this "extrinsic", "mechanical", "ateleological" view in a way that makes sense at all, you end up attributing intrinsic teleology to material things *as well as* hypothetical, reified "natural laws." It's basically just the A-T view with a bunch of unnecessary kruft tacked on. Applying "Ockam's" Razor (which thanks to TLS I know wasn't Ockam's creation), we can then eliminate the superfluously multiplied entities (the reified natural laws) because the natures of the material things themselves are explanatorily sufficient to understand why we see regularities.

DNW said...

Lucid and enjoyable exposition.

Especially found the remarks on the idea of the "new" conception of "matter", and Berkeley's treatment of it, to be interesting.

Not because of the implications for theology necessarily, but because of what the construction of the new framing presupposes, and the problems implied for retaining it given certain tenets of even more modern physics. An issue which various commenters here (specifically NOT including myself)have addressed on occasion.

SR said...

Why did Aristotle, when confronted with the apparent contradiction inherent in the observation that "things change", decide that it is change that needs explaining and not thingness? If one considers that choice to be arbitrary, then isn't the whole act/potential theory arbitrary as well? Or should I ask, what makes that choice not arbitrary?

goddinpotty said...

Whenever I put ice under hot water, the ice is melted. The A-Tist would say that being in a melted state is a potentiality of the ice, and that it "points to" or has an inherent tendency toward being melted when exposed to heat.

Didn't Molière effectively satirize this kind of thinking? In his play The Imaginary Invalid, he depicted an oral doctoral examination in which the learned doctors ask the candidate to state the “cause and reason” why opium puts people to sleep. The candidate triumphantly answers in dog Latin, “Because there is in it a dormitive principle (virtus dormitiva).”

By contrast, the mechanistic explanation actually explains, in terms of the different ways chemical bonds behave under different heat conditions. And a mechanistic explanation of opium would show how it effects various receptors in the nervous system.

That is not to say the Aristotelian view, if that's what it is, is wrong, it just goes nowhere.

machinephilosophy said...

Deuce

That helps to think through those issues.

I'm not sure one could apply the terms causation or agency to the laws themselves. It could be that nature is just a blanket term for all of the universal forms instantiated in the separate natures of the things, or maybe some kind of pervasive formality per se.

Martin said...

goddinpotty,

Feser brings up that very example (dormitive power), and shows why it is wrong.

I highly suggest you get a copy of The Laster Superstition.

Alat said...

@Tom Esteban

Is the "normal" pronunciation in the United States "ay pri-or-eye"? (Honest question, I'm not a native speaker of English). It sounds so awful...

But I imagine you must be right. I remember once in college, a good while ago, when we had a short presentation by a prominent American biologist. He spoke about a mysterious organism called "Ihcolleye", and the hundreds in the auditorium could not get what was so important about the studying this organism no one had heard about. Question time, no one raised their hands, since no one had background information about the obscure species. Only later someone connected the dots and discovered that "Ihcolleye" = "E. coli"...

Thanks, Dr. Feser, for pronouncing Latin as it should - it at least makes it easier for the rest of us to understand you!

M.Mc. said...

posted this on my facebook..

goddinpotty said...

I did get my hands on a copy of Feser's book. I must say I'm unimpressed by his treatment of this argument. His attempt to split hairs about what it means was unconvincing. The crux of Feser's position seems to be this statement: "...whatever the specific empirical details about opium turn out to be, the fundamental metaphysical reality is that these details are just the mechanism by which opium manifests the inherent properites it has qua opium, powers that a thing has to have if is going to have any causal efficacy at all."

This makes approximately no sense. Opium's causal powers derive from its physical structure, not some metaphysical essence. If the molecule has some essence (and I admit there is a sense in which it can be said have an essence, due to the discrete structure of the atomic and chemical domains), that physical essence does not include any "dormitive principle", which only arise as the interaction between opium and a nervous system that has receptors that it can effect.

I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to think in terms of metaphysical essences, which have no explanatory power whatsoever, when there are perfectly good physical explanations available. Aristotle might have had a good excuse for thinking in essences (that is, not knowing very much about how the world actually works), but we don't.

Anonymous said...

i wish i could "refute" an argument by stating how unimpressed I am and that it does not make sense, and then repeat exactly what the argument is going against.

goddinpotty said...

I did not use the word "refute", in quotes or out. I said Feser's worldview was not useful in understanding how opium works or what it is. It may be perfectly correct and consistent on its own terms.

Pseudo-Augustine said...

Bravo. I was hoping that Plantinga would interact with the other papers but appears that he just gave a condensed version of his new book. Great lecture Dr. Feser.

The Deuce said...

goddinpotty,

This may be the first time I've seen someone claim that something makes no sense, but then go ahead and affirm its truth, all in one (virtual) breath.

and I admit there is a sense in which it can be said have an essence, due to the discrete structure of the atomic and chemical domains

So, in other words, opium behaves in predefined ways as determined by its form (specifically, its chemical structure). So Aristotle was right and cause and effect are not "loose and separate" pace Hume.

By "makes no sense" you apparently meant "too obviously true to have much practical application without being augmented by more details." Which is exactly right of course. But recognizing that things have inherent tendencies is the first step to figuring out *why and how* they have those tendencies. We wouldn't even know to ask how opium causes sleep if we didn't first acknowledge that there is something about opium (and something about human bodies) such that it consistently causes sleep. The idea that cause and effect are "loose and separate" certainly doesn't tell you anything about why opium does what it does. In fact, it makes it unintelligible, and has to be ignored by those who believe it when actually engaged in science.

The Deuce said...

machinephilosophy:

I'm not sure one could apply the terms causation or agency to the laws themselves.

I think one probably could if one were so inclined. The laws could be conceived as pure forms or something, the function of which are to make material substances behave the way they do. I suppose it's possible, from what we can tell, that things work that way. But arguing that this is the case would be a blatant example of multiplying entities beyond necessity, because it still wouldn't do away with the need for formal and final causes in material substances to make sense of their behavior, and since their mathematically predictable behavior can be understood just fine in terms of the attributes of the material entities alone, reifying the physical laws is superfluous.

The Deuce said...

Hi Ed,

I've finished listening to the whole thing now. Just a couple questions:

You mentioned that according to the Greek atomists (and the related mechanist conception of matter), change is an illusion, and there is no potentiality, because the atoms are eternal and unchanging. I'm still not quite able to make sense of this idea though, and specifically how it's supposed to do away with the actuality/potentiality distinction. After all, under this view, don't the configurations that the atoms are in change, thereby resulting in different potential configurations (and hence different forms of groups of atoms)? Aren't they supposed to affect each other by banging into each other and whatnot?

Another thing I've been wondering (and which the speech reminded me of) is, under the A-T view, is it possible that a human could create something that would have intrinsic teleology? For instance, if we managed to make a self-replicating robot that had was programmed to procure energy thereby keep itself going, adapt by changes in its replication code, etc, would it have intrinsic teleology, and in that case would it be *both* a natural object *and* an artifact?

goddinpotty said...

@TheDeuce

I was trying to be generous. I was referring to the fact that atoms and molecules come in very discrete kinds. Eg, there are atoms of gold and atoms of aluminum, but no atoms that are sort-of gold and sort-of different, or atoms that are part gold and part aluminum. Similarly for compounds such as opium -- a molecule is clearly either opium, or another type. So it makes a certain amount of sense (not much) to think of there being an ideal form of such things, and individuals as merely instances of the form.

Not everything in the universe works like that. There are no hard and fast boundaries between puddles, pools, ponds, and lakes for instance. And of course biological species, which were thought to have eternal essences, turn out to be more like lakes than molecules -- they blur into each other over long scales of time.

By "makes no sense" you apparently meant "too obviously true to have much practical application without being augmented by more details."

Not really. I made no reference at all to "practical application" -- by "useful" I meant "useful in understanding how the world works". These do tend to have practical applications, compared to entirely useless ways of thinking, but that is not a requirement.

Re Hume v Aristotle, I am entirely prepared to believe that they are both wrong, or at least, both not very useful in the above sense for understanding the world. And if you read Hume, you see that he is talking about the perception of causality, not causality itself.

man with a computer said...

goddinpotty,

Opium's causal powers derive from its physical structure, not some metaphysical essence.

Nobody is disputing this, and that is exactly Feser's point. A substance's potentials are determined by its material and formal causes, e.g. a ball tends to bounce the way it does because 1. It is made of rubber (matter), and 2. It is spherical (form). Neither a cannonball nor a rubber mat can produce the same states. Similarly, opium needs to assume a certain form (smoke or liquid) in order to be consumed and actualize its dormitive potential -- you don't get high by rubbing the solid crumbs on your belly.

But then, why essential final causes at all? First and foremost, because they are a logical consequence of the distinction between potentiality and actuality. Any two substances that have the same actual material and formal qualities will have the same potentials, they will have the same finality (understood as the set of possible states it can bring about, if actualized by something else). Final causes embody the idea that an effect is derived from its causes, not some "loose and separate" Humean sequence of events.

The "dormitive virtue" schtick is an example of mockery by tautology. It's essentially saying "thing X produces effect Y because Y is among X's effects," but Aristotelianism never claimed that the final cause of something constitutes everything there is to say about it. In fact, this is the point of the "finality is the cause of all causes" dictum: that by noticing the regular dispositions and effects that substances possess, we infer that there is something particular about them from which those dispositions are derived -- their material, formal and efficient causes.

The exchange between Feser and McGrew in this post's combox clarifies the matter quite a bit.

man with a computer said...

Re Hume v Aristotle, I am entirely prepared to believe that they are both wrong, or at least, both not very useful in the above sense for understanding the world. And if you read Hume, you see that he is talking about the perception of causality, not causality itself.

I'm interested in what you have to say about Hume. Feser contends that, if one abandons the idea of substantial final causes, the Humean notions of causality follow automatically.

Fat overrated Scot told me that a brick could randomly appear in front of me at any time. I've been waiting for years and it hasn't happened yet. WHY DAVID WHY?!?!

George R. said...

The Deuce:

“For instance, if we managed to make a self-replicating robot that had was programmed to procure energy thereby keep itself going, adapt by changes in its replication code, etc, would it have intrinsic teleology, and in that case would it be *both* a natural object *and* an artifact?”

Negative.

The reason why a natural object has intrinsic teleology is because it has substantial form. A robot, no matter what it can do, is only an accidental form, as are all artifacts. Therefore, it can never have the substantial form of a robot; it can only have the substantial form(s) of that which it is composed. So, if we say, for example, it composed of steel, it will have the substantial form of steel, and, therefore, the intrinsic teleology of steel.

goddinpotty said...

I don't have much more to say about Hume I'm afraid. The "loose and separate" quote is from a work entitled "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" and to my eye clearly refers to our knowledge of causality rather than causality itself.

And I think he's wrong about the perception of causality, since it is pretty clear that the nervous system is hardwired to perceive it (see the work of Michotte, for instance). This is not at all surprising from an evolutionary or materialist standpoint.

Brandon said...

And I think he's wrong about the perception of causality, since it is pretty clear that the nervous system is hardwired to perceive it (see the work of Michotte, for instance). This is not at all surprising from an evolutionary or materialist standpoint.

This is a somewhat strange comment on Hume given that the keystone of Hume's account is that our minds are set up to perceive causation (this is the whole point of Treastie 1.3.14, the major part of the major Humean discussion of causation).

The Deuce said...

And I think he's wrong about the perception of causality, since it is pretty clear that the nervous system is hardwired to perceive it (see the work of Michotte, for instance).

That's a pretty... odd way of saying things. The only way you could possibly attempt to prove that the "nervous system" is hardwired to perceive causality is if you already had both the ability to perceive causality and the ability to perceive the nervous system perceiving it. In other words, the validity of the "proof" would be premised on the very thing being "proven". That we are able to perceive causality is thus a minimal fact about the world that any sane person must accept as a starting point of any sort of empirical proof, not something subject to proof or disproof.

goddinpotty said...

@TheDeuce: you philosophers seem to make a cargo cult out of "proof" and "refutation", modes of talking which are appropriate to mathematics but become more or less nonsensical when applied to philosophical abstractions like "causality".

Michotte (you can see a demonstration of some of his results here) did not "prove" anything, he demonstrated that certain perceptual primitives lead to an inference of causality, even when that causality is not actually present. It's sort of an optical illusion, which tells us something about how the low-level perceptual mechanisms of the brain work.

The Deuce said...

No cargo cult here. You could just as easily have substituted "demonstrate" or even "provide evidence for" in place of "proof". As a matter of fact, I usually make a point of insisting that nothing is ever deductively proven in empirical science (although logical deduction is involved, otherwise anything could be evidence for anything).

Anyhow, do you realize that the argument you've just made contradicts your claim to disagree with Hume? Before you were claiming that you thought we could actually perceive causation, but the interpretation of the evidence you provide purports to show that we actually *construct* causes from "loose and separate" events, as Hume argued.

But, in the end, even attempting to show that people may *mis-attribute* causes in some situations is premised on the ability to perceive causation - otherwise there'd be no basis for comparison.

The Deuce said...

Hey Ed, if you're reading,

This discussion brought to mind something else I wanted to ask you. As you mentioned in TLS and Aquinas, Thomism is a form of direct realism. That is, when you perceive something, the same form of the thing being perceived exists both in the thing, and in the intellect.

But what goes on when you *mis-perceive* something? You mentioned the Matrix/brain-in-a-vat/evil-demon thought experiments, and the havoc they play with modernist conceptions of perception, but how would the Thomist interpret these sorts of scenarios? I want to say that when (say) you see a tree in the Matrix, you're still perceiving a form that is really there, because the same form was perceived and placed there by the creators of the Matrix, but I'm not perfectly clear on that. Also, what would the Thomist say is going on when you hallucinate, for instance, or attribute a false cause? What is in the intellect in these situations?

man with a computer said...

I don't understand the charge of "cargo cult". Last I checked, there is no sense in which philosophical arguments and mathematical proofs differ in structure and how we determine their conclusiveness. If the premises are sound and the deduction is logically valid, then the argument is conclusive.

I grant that progress is easier in mathematics because the premises are always either previously proven+accepted results or universally accepted axioms, thus most of the work is focused on the validity of the deductions, which tend to be convoluted and error prone. In philosophy, most of the deductions are rather simple and straightforward, but the premises are usually non-obvious and sometimes controversial, so the focus is on the truth/falsehood of the premises.

goddinpotty said...

Let's skip over whether or not I disagree with Hume -- I'd have to read him more thoroughly than I have time for right now to determine that.

But take this statement of yours "Before you were claiming that you thought we could actually perceive causation, but the interpretation of the evidence you provide purports to show that we actually *construct* causes from "loose and separate" events, as Hume argued."

This seems to betray a fundamental confusion. Yes we construct our mental representations of causality, but that is not something different from "actually perceiving" it. That is just how brains work, by distilling low-level signals into higher-level representations. Most of the time, it presents an accurate picture of the world (and don't get hung up that, maybe "useful" is better than "accurate"), but the brain's mechanisms can be fooled, which is a good thing or watching a movie would not be much fun.

The Deuce said...

I don't understand the charge of "cargo cult".... If the premises are sound and the deduction is logically valid, then the argument is conclusive.

I usually take that sort of charge as an unintended compliment / indication that too much logical consistency is probably dangerous to the position of the person making it.

goddinpotty said...

I don't want to dive too deeply into the difference between what constitutes a proof in mathematics vs philosophy -- but notice that mathematicians rarely argue bitterly about the validity of a proof. Either something is obviously proven or it isn't (there are exceptions). Whereas that is practically all that philosophers do.

The Deuce said...

That is just how brains work, by distilling low-level signals into higher-level representations.

Oy. You realize that in order to draw any conclusions about how brains work, you must (wait for it) already be able to perceive causation? So using inferred knowledge of how brains work to prove (demonstrate/show/use as evidence for) our ability to perceive causation, as you tried to to, is an example of circular reasoning.

and don't get hung up that, maybe "useful" is better than "accurate"

Actually, yes, let's get hung up on that. It makes the difference between whether what you're saying about the world is supposed to be accurate (aka true), or merely "useful" to you.

goddinpotty said...

So using inferred knowledge of how brains work to prove (demonstrate/show/use as evidence for) our ability to perceive causation, as you tried to to, is an example of circular reasoning.

I have no idea what you are talking about. Yes, we are part of the world, and any attempt of ours to understand the world is circular in some sense. We must start from where we are. So what? What do you think is at stake in this argument? I've lost track. Are you trying to argue the position that we don't perceive causation?

Actually, yes, let's get hung up on that.

Let's not. Whether causality is a real thing in some absolute sense or not, it is demonstrably useful for organisms to be able to organize their perceptions in causal frameworks. Things that are so useful that nobody but a philosopher would deny them become what we call "facts" or "reality".

man with a computer said...

I don't want to dive too deeply into the difference between what constitutes a proof in mathematics vs philosophy

Do we even need to? Those are pretty shallow waters, mang. But let's roll with it.

but notice that mathematicians rarely argue bitterly about the validity of a proof. Either something is obviously proven or it isn't (there are exceptions). Whereas that is practically all that philosophers do.

Oh, yeah. I kind of mentioned that in my previous post. A faulty inference rarely provokes a bitter exchange. You just go back and fix the proof, if you can. But premises are often controversial, and disputes about them can be sour and tedious.

The Deuce said...

Also, mathematicians rarely claim that a proof isn't "useful" in lieu of arguing that it isn't true, or think that whether or not they are "impressed" is somehow relevant, etc. Call me crazy, but I think it *might* have something to do with the controversiality conclusions being argued for.

The Deuce said...

Whether causality is a real thing in some absolute sense or not, it is demonstrably useful for organisms to be able to organize their perceptions in causal frameworks. Things that are so useful that nobody but a philosopher would deny them become what we call "facts" or "reality".

So, what you're saying right now may, by your own admission, only be "useful" to you, and not actually true, and this doesn't matter to you. Thanks, but I'll stick with the truth. And I prefer my facts and reality without scare quotes.

goddinpotty said...

Since we are both human, and talking about fairly basic human capabilities, what is useful for me is likely to be useful to you.

Thanks, but I'll stick with the truth. And I prefer my facts and reality without scare quotes.

Good luck with that.

goddinpotty said...

But premises are often controversial, and disputes about them can be sour and tedious.

It's not just that they are controversial, they generally involve terms with meanings in ordinary language, and people confuse the formal meaning in the proof with the ordinary meaning.

If a mathematician proves a theorem about compact Hausdorff spaces, not only is that not controversial, but there is a limited danger that he's going to confuse what he just proved with facts about his tiny office.

On the other hand, if you "prove" something about causality, you are guaranteed to mix in your everyday notions of causality with the formal properties of the terms of your proof. Indeed, that's kind of the point.

The problem is that there is no reason to believe that everyday concepts obey strict formal rules. What we think of as "causality" is whole mishmash of things.

The Deuce said...

Whether causality is a real thing in some absolute sense or not, it is demonstrably useful for organisms to be able to organize their perceptions in causal frameworks.

I'd like to pick this apart in a bit more detail than I had time for before. Note what you're saying here: you're saying that you believe it's useful for organisms to "perceive" causal relationships whether or not causation is objectively real, because (you believe) this has been empirically demonstrated.

But here's the first major problem: your empirical "demonstration" is itself a causal inference (you are inferring that perception of causality causes benefit to organisms), and is implicitly premised on the prior assumption that our perception of causality are correct.

If your prior assumption that our perception of causality is correct is false, then your "empirical demonstration" that's based on it is, therefore, worthless as well, and doesn't show anything at all. If your prior assumption that our perceptions of causality are true, on the other hand, then your "empirical demonstration" is superfluous and doesn't really prove anything. Either way, it's worthless. Your argument goes, literally, "Assuming that our causal perceptions are correct, this empirical data is evidence that our causal perceptions are probably correct." It's a circular argument.

That's bad enough, but then you go on to say that maybe our causal perceptions aren't actually accurate, but merely "useful". But, once again, I must remind you that the "empirical demonstration" by which you think it's been demonstrated that our causal perceptions are useful is itself a case of causal perception. So, if our causal perceptions are only "useful" instead of accurate, then your belief that causal perceptions are useful is itself only at best useful instead of true, which would then imply that it isn't actually true that our causal perceptions are useful instead of true after all, which is a contradiction. So at best your argument is a case of circular reasoning, and at worst it's also a case of reductio ad absurdum. Either way, it's deeply confused and invalid. The only question is whether or not the nonsense is on stilts. You can correct your errors (and thereby substantially change your worldview), or decide that at the end of the day, logical coherence isn't important.

And *that's* the real difference between philosophical and mathematical arguments. People will make and then hold on to fallacious reasoning in philosophy (even rejecting the reality of objective truth and inviolability of the laws of logic in some cases), because the stakes are higher.

Anonymous said...

The Deuce, on January 10, 2012 5:28 PM,

Bravo.

man with a computer said...

It's not just that they are controversial, they generally involve terms with meanings in ordinary language, and people confuse the formal meaning in the proof with the ordinary meaning.

[...]


That's not a problem with philosophy. It's a problem with the popular understanding of philosophy.

Math wouldn't be less true if the terms mathematicians used had other, different meanings in ordinary language.

machinephilosophy said...

"That we are able to perceive causality is thus a minimal fact about the world that any sane person must accept as a starting point of any sort of empirical proof, not something subject to proof or disproof."

Very good all around, Deuce, not just the above.

Funny how self-exemption, as in the causality objection you refuted, subtly gets into the scenario without notice.

Seems to always come down to self-reference, criteria, and background assumptions.

Anonymous said...

The Deuce,

why are you so cruel? goodness.

The Deuce said...

Sorry, I honestly wasn't trying to be cruel there, but I also didn't want to sugarcoat or mealy-mouth anything.

The Deuce said...

Btw, one other difference between philosophy and math that occurred to me is that mathematicians restrict themselves to a specialized notation that everyone agrees to use. If a particular mathematical postulate gets disproven, it's generally clear that it's been disproven, and impossible to come back later and state the same thing again in a different way.

In philosophy, we use our own spoken language, albeit with a few specialized terms added in. If something gets shot down, there are typically a myriad of ways to restate it such that it's not immediately obvious that it's really the same proposition as before.

The obvious example here is positivism/verificationism. It pretty much died out as a formal position in the second half of the century as philosophers accepted the fatal argument that the claim of the position (that only those statements that are empirically verifiable are meaningful), as well as the more fundamental premise that empirical verification is a guide to truth at all, were themselves not empirically verifiable, and that therefore the position was meaningless on its own terms, as well as self-contradictory.

But positivism lives on in scientism, which is actually the exact same position stated more informally and vaguely. And the people stating it are mostly not philosophers most of the time, but scientists, journalists, and especially Internet jockeys (Which is another thing that makes philosophy different from math: only mathematicians seriously argue math. The content of philosophy, however, concerns everyone, so almost everyone gets in on the act sometimes), who don't realize that they're stating the same position, and probably haven't even heard of it, but are simply making the argument as it seems intuitive to them. From my experience, most arguments with naturalists on the Internet boil down to hashing out some linguistic variation of logical positivism all over again.

Anonymous said...

The Duece,

Have you heard of recursion? Honing in of 'truth'? It's circular. Works good in math.

An unanswered question lingers from a previous thread.

Outside of math. How are you sure you've made the correct assumptions, chosen the correct presuppositions in a metaphysical argument. Oftentimes, assuming you are certain in metaphysics is nonsense on stilts.

Share with us how you are certain. As has been said, thousands of years of 'thinking' in philosophy and no consensus about 'god', 'free will', or 'truth. What makes you think you've got it right?

Martin said...

TheDeuce,

From my experience, most arguments with naturalists on the Internet boil down to hashing out some linguistic variation of logical positivism all over again.

Noooooooo kidding. I myself have recently dumped naturalism as a worldview because I realized that this is what I was doing (but I'm still shopping). The question I now seek is, are there any good defenses of naturalism? Nay, are there any defenses at all of naturalism?

Anonymous said...

"mathematicians restrict themselves to a specialized notation that everyone agrees to use."

Not everyone agrees with presuppositions like beginning of time (Aquinas didn't think it was possible to 'prove'), or potency and act, or making leaps in judgements about the 'purpose' of quarks to judgements about the 'whole', like the mouth.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"Outside of math. How are you sure you've made the correct assumptions, chosen the correct presuppositions in a metaphysical argument. Oftentimes, assuming you are certain in metaphysics is nonsense on stilts.

Share with us how you are certain. As has been said, thousands of years of 'thinking' in philosophy and no consensus about 'god', 'free will', or 'truth. What makes you think you've got it right?"

Share with us how you are certain that first order Peano Arithmetic correctly formalizes arithmetic. Is it consistent? By Goedel's theorem such a proof must be done in a system that is stronger than PA, whose consistency is of course even more problematic.

technical note: what I said above is not strictly true. Gentzen's consistency proof of PA is in a system that is weaker than PA in certain respects (induction is only over a restricted class of sentences) and stronger in others (induction is up to the infinite ordinal epsilon zero).

Share with us how you have chosen your axioms. Do you agree that the axiom of choice is a valid one? What about the vast swath of new axioms that set theorists consider like large cardinal axioms, combinatorial principles, etc. to decide questions independent of ZFC like the Continuum Hypothesis? What do you think of the multiverse hypothesis in set theory (roughly, that there is no "correct" universe of sets but a whole multiverse of them)? Tell us if and why you reject ultra-finitism or finitism? Or predicativism? Indeed, share with us if and why you do not find impredicative constructions problematic (Poincaré thought so, Nelson certainly does think so)? Do you reject constructivism? On what basis? And if you do accept constructivism (or some form of intuitionism) then the notion of truth, the meaning of the quantifiers and the logical connectives is not the same as in classical mathematics, the law of excluded middle is no longer valid, etc. Share with us why after thousands of years of mathematics (and growing at an exponential rate), there are finitists, ultra-finitists, structuralists, predicativists, intuitionists and constructivists, platonists and probably a whole lot more ists that I am unaware of, who still regularly butt heads on these and many other questions.

If your answer involves words like "useful" you have already made a philosophical commitment (and in particular, disagree with Platonist realists) so it will not do.

Lest anybody get the wrong idea, I am not suggesting that mathematics and philosophy are on the same level; they are not. What I am suggesting, nay asserting, is that these anonymous questions betray a good deal of ignorance of both philosophy and mathematics and what is worse, a scientistic prejudice towards the latter masked under a "reasonable" question but that on further inspection, is a pretty silly one because the same question can be asked of virtually every field of human knowledge: share with us how you are certain that the scientific method is correct? Share with us how you are certain there are other minds? That our senses can be relied upon? That the universe is ordered and knowable, at least in part? All these are at bottom, metaphysical questions, whose answers *base* and *found* (in the sense of foundation) the enterprise of the empirical sciences in the first place. You want to be a skeptic? Fine, but do not exempt yourself or mathematics or the empirical sciences of the havoc you sow.

Anonymous said...

"I am not suggesting that mathematics and philosophy are on the same level"

Then why the diatribe on mathematics?

"...a scientistic prejudice towards the latter masked under a "reasonable" question but that on further inspection, is a pretty silly one because the same question can be asked of virtually every field of human knowledge."

It's not masked. It's plain as day.

Those questions *are* asked of virtually every field of human knowledge and those fields produce results that you so disparagingly call 'useful'.

Good luck with your pure reasoning. If that works for you great. It doesn't work for me and evidently many others.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I am not suggesting that mathematics and philosophy are on the same level

Then why the diatribe on mathematics?"

1. Those who invoke mathematics the most seem to be the ones who understand it the least.

2. The same questions you ask of metaphysics can be asked of mathematics with the same propriety.

3. Follwoing 2., I explicitly warned you against invoking words like "useful", not because useful-ness is not an important criterion, but because first, you have to answer the question "useful for what?" and second, because the answer you provide will inevitably commit you to some metaphysical position, and thus you will open yourself to the very same charges you level against metaphysics in general.

4. Following 3. you have not answered any of the questions that follow the quoted excerpt. Self-exemption is great, ain't it?

"Good luck with your pure reasoning. If that works for you great. It doesn't work for me and evidently many others."

I can only guess what you mean by "pure reasoning" but if my guess is right, it does not work for anybody; but feel free to live in the illusion that it does.

Alyosha said...

I think it is useless arguing with those who try to discredit philosophy. Typically those who try to do away with philosophy are precisely those who are no good at it. It is not an honest problem with the discipline that can be corrected by better reasoning. It is a personal vendetta against something that consistently gets in their way. Getting past it requires a change of heart, not a change of mind.

SR said...

@grodriguez,

Share with us why after thousands of years of mathematics (and growing at an exponential rate), there are finitists, ultra-finitists, structuralists, predicativists, intuitionists and constructivists, platonists and probably a whole lot more ists that I am unaware of, who still regularly butt heads on these and many other questions.

These are positions raised in the philosophy of mathematics, not mathematics. True, if all mathematicians decided to conform to, say, constructivist norms, mathematics would be smaller, but that does not cast doubt on the results. That is because on any philosophically contentious issue, the proofs can simply add an "if" to the assumptions, as is done commonly with the axiom of choice, i.e., "if one accepts the axiom of choice (and the rest of the axioms), then...".

The difference between mathematics and all other disciplines is that a mathematical concept does not refer to anything outside of itself: the concept of a line in geometry is a line in geometry, while the concept of a horse is not a horse. In philosophy, on the other hand, one must ask (e.g.) how well does the concept of hylemorphism match up with physical things? And for that matter, how well do the words 'physical' and 'thing' hold up in mapping out our experience? Mathematics does not have these worries.

And yet, and as I mentioned in a comment in that last thread that wasn't responded to, I consider metaphysics to be closer to mathematics than to science. While mathematics has no reference outside of itself, metaphysics does have reference outside of itself, but not to much of anything testable. Mathematical systems do not need to be tested. So how do we evaluate metaphysical systems?

I don't assume that last question is unanswerable, but it should be clear that the correspondence theory of truth does not obviously apply-- and is, indeed, just one more thing to argue about.

goddinpotty said...

Share with us why after thousands of years of mathematics (and growing at an exponential rate), there are finitists, ultra-finitists, structuralists, predicativists, intuitionists and constructivists, platonists and probably a whole lot more ists that I am unaware of, who still regularly butt heads on these and many other questions.

Such concerns do not trouble the vast majority of working mathematicians, who for the most part are content with a naive default Platonism that lets them get their work done.

That's not to say that philosophy of mathematics is useless. But the lack of consensus on the foundations of mathematics somehow does not stop mathematics from proceeding.

The Deuce said...

Have you heard of recursion? Honing in of 'truth'? It's circular. Works good in math.

Well, that's a new one! I take it I'm on the right track when the response is that circular arguments are valid after all. Remember what I said about how naturalists will even go so far as to reject the reality of objective truth and inviolability of the laws of logic in some cases? Well, exhibit A. (And yes, I'm aware of recursion, which has nada to do with this, and doesn't magically make "concluding" your own premise valid).

grodrigues said...

@SR:

"These are positions raised in the philosophy of mathematics, not mathematics. True, if all mathematicians decided to conform to, say, constructivist norms, mathematics would be smaller, but that does not cast doubt on the results. That is because on any philosophically contentious issue, the proofs can simply add an "if" to the assumptions, as is done commonly with the axiom of choice, i.e., "if one accepts the axiom of choice (and the rest of the axioms), then..."."

Incorrect on several counts. As expected, it is largely ignorance and a naive view of both mathematics and philosophy that guides these type of criticisms.

- It is true that for example one can stuff the axioms in the hypothesis and formulate theorems as if thens, but that goes against the intuitive understanding one has of such basic, primitive mathematical theories such as PA (cut down to whatever fragment of arithmetic is suitable to you) or ZF. One does not think of PA as a structure described by a bunch of axioms whose choice is completely arbitrary and dictated solely by the criteria of usefulness; rather, one rather has an intuitive notion of what arithmetic is or what a set is (built up from our experience with conceptualizing reality) and these axiom systems aim to formalize our intuitions. Mathematicians do not produce theorems -- a computer can do that -- mathematicians produce *understanding* of their subject matter much like any scholar of any other field of knowledge.

- You say that if mathematicians decided to be all constructivists, mathematics, would be smaller. This is false. Constructivism introduces a finer-grained distinction between constructive and non-constructive proofs that does not exist in classical mathematics, so in a sense, mathematics would be even richer.

- You seem to think you can completely disentangle the day to day practice of mathematics with the philosophical positions one holds. This is patently false. A finitist's rejection of the existence of the infinite set of natural numbers as non-sense influences deeply his direction of research, his approach to the whole of mathematics, etc. Besides having obvious consequences on very "practical" and "useful" mathematics. The same can be said about practically all philosophical schools of mathematics.

- Arguing, as goddinpotty does, that such concerns do not hamper the progress of mathematics, besides being an extremely naive view, just concedes the point: metaphysicians routinely disagree about their worldviews and yet the progress does not seem to have stopped -- peer-reviewed journals are edited, conferences are organized, books are penned, the sum total of knowledge rises. If you think that does not count as progress is because once again you have put on your scientistic color-filtered glasses and are simply begging the question.

grodrigues said...

@SR (continued):

"The difference between mathematics and all other disciplines is that a mathematical concept does not refer to anything outside of itself: the concept of a line in geometry is a line in geometry, while the concept of a horse is not a horse. In philosophy, on the other hand, one must ask (e.g.) how well does the concept of hylemorphism match up with physical things? And for that matter, how well do the words 'physical' and 'thing' hold up in mapping out our experience? Mathematics does not have these worries.""

I cannot make much sense of what you mean by "a mathematical concept does not refer to anything outside of itself". The best comment I can offer is that you seem to disagree with Platonists, since they hold that mathematical objects are real, extra-mental objects. So if my guess is right, you have just taken a philosophical stand; where are your arguments to back it up?

I repeat, if you want to play this skeptical game to its logical consequences, then this same charge applies to the philosophical foundations of the empirical sciences themselves. You have to justify your unargued implicit position: you use words like "mapping out our experience" which betrays a certain view of human cognition. So tell me, what in the universe corresponds to "the scientific method" or concepts like "causation" or "physical law"? Where are the oh so famous tests for these and similar concepts? Or are you so naive that you pretend that one can do physics like a new Adam in the morning, free of all metaphysical baggage?

"While mathematics has no reference outside of itself, metaphysics does have reference outside of itself, but not to much of anything testable. Mathematical systems do not need to be tested. So how do we evaluate metaphysical systems?"

And there we go with the testability again... clear your mind of cant; drop the scientism. I actually responded to that question (but maybe it was to another poster):

"I go back to quantum mechanics. It wasn't by pure reasoning that one could determine how things worked on a small scale. What gives you the confidence you can accurately do it with 'God'?

I go back to mathematics. What gives you good reason to think the Feit-Thompson theorem is true? Repeat with me: you study the proof. The same with metaphysics; you study the arguments."

And to add: you weigh the evidence for and against and, hopefully, you reach a conclusion, even if tentatively. How exactly is this so bad that you keep harping on it? Physicists do it. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and all that.

goddinpotty said...

metaphysicians routinely disagree about their worldviews and yet the progress does not seem to have stopped -- peer-reviewed journals are edited, conferences are organized, books are penned, the sum total of knowledge rises.

Really?

I don't mean to condemn the practice of metaphysics. But I'm a little unclear about how you can measure its progress in therms of number of books penned. Eg, there are lots of novels penned every year, does that mean that the quality of novels is increasing, or that we've increased our knowledge of fiction?

Metaphysics (and philosophy more generally) seems to me a lot more like novel-writing than science. That is, it certainly has its place, and it might be both useful and pleasurable, but it doesn't seem to be a cumulative knowledge discipline like science or mathematics.

SR said...

@grodriguez,

You have completely misconstrued my position, apparently confusing me with others. I am not in the slightest "scientistic". I reject naturalism. But more on that anon.

I seem to recall in my algebra class that Zorn's Lemma was taught to be valid if and only if one accepted the axiom of choice. So mathematicians do what I said they do. And by "smaller" I mean that a constructivist will not include things like Cantor's diagonalization proof since it assumes an actual infinity. Further, I intended the "if all mathematics conformed to constructivism,..." to be a counterfactual. Some (a few) do, most don't. And so there are mathematical results that some work with and others do not. Just as there some metaphysicians that work within the A-T system and others that do not.

Lastly, I am a Platonist, and I am one as a consequence of the observation that the concept of a mathematical object is the mathematical object. It is the nominalist who takes this to mean that the object is "only mental" and so not quite "real". I take it to mean that the mathematical concept is an eternal object, which we humans tune into.

My issue is that because mathematics does not refer outside of itself it is possible to be certain of one's results, as long as one acknowledges the need to insert the appropriate "if"s. But with metaphysics, one does not have certainty, just plausibility. That doesn't mean one can't do metaphysics -- I for one greatly enjoy it. And within a particular metaphysical system, like A-T, there is real progress. But in working within A-T one cannot be certain that one is "getting nearer to the absolute truth", because maybe it is those process metaphysicians, or neo-Platonists, that have the inside track. I do hold that there is an absolutely true "way things are", but I fail to see any objective way to evaluate which track is the most likely to be approaching it. That doesn't mean there aren't other ways, just that they are not objective.

For example, I see Aristotelianism as doing a great job in turning common sense into something precise that a philosopher can work with. But what if common sense is, in terms of fundamental reality, fundamentally wrong? As, for example, one finds in Berkeleyan idealism? This does not invalidate science, which can just say, ok, we now know we are working with mental creations, but our results are the same. But it does have an effect on, for instance, natural theology.

And please, I am not advocating Berkeleyan idealism. I do have strong doubts about A-T, but have much stronger doubts about Cartesianism and its offshoots, and reject scientism entirely.

goddinpotty said...

This is in response to Deuce at January 10, 2012 5:28 PM

But here's the first major problem: your empirical "demonstration" is itself a causal inference (you are inferring that perception of causality causes benefit to organisms), and is implicitly premised on the prior assumption that our perception of causality are correct...If your prior assumption that our perceptions of causality are true, on the other hand, then your "empirical demonstration" is superfluous and doesn't really prove anything. Either way, it's worthless. Your argument goes, literally, "Assuming that our causal perceptions are correct, this empirical data is evidence that our causal perceptions are probably correct." It's a circular argument.

You are confused.

Michotte's experiment is not a demonstration that our perception of causality is "correct". If anything, it demonstrates the opposite, but that is besides the point.

Michotte is doing psychology, not philosophy -- that is, he is investigating how minds work, using the techniques of natural science. It is a (usually implicit) assumption of psychology that minds produce a roughly correct picture of the world, speaking very loosely, or that they are at least functional in an evolutionary sense. In fact our nervous systems are highly imperfect, so one popular technique for experimenters (and educators, because these effects are very easy to detect for yourself) is to produce an optical illusion, where you can make people percieve something that is obviously not correct.

So at best your argument is a case of circular reasoning, and at worst it's also a case of reductio ad absurdum.

Again, you are confused.

Science is inevitably circular in the sense you are using the term, because humans are embedded in the system they are studying. So yes, we can't say anything about causal mechanisms without making use of the causal mechanisms that constitute our brains. This may seem circular to you, but doesn't seem to impede scientific progress very much. Sometimes the embeddedness is more of an issue than other times -- for instance, which interpretation of quantum mechanics you favor depends on how radically you view the embeddedness of the observer. And to take a very different kind of example, anthropologists spend a huge amount of energy worrying about how their presence effects the cultures they are studying.

The arguments of theists along these lines seem to me to reduce to "this kind of circularity makes me very uncomfortable, therefore I will posit a God who lives outside the system." To me, that doesn't really seem to solve the problem, instead it introduces much thornier ones, but YMMV.

grodrigues said...

@goddinpotty:

"metaphysicians routinely disagree about their worldviews and yet the progress does not seem to have stopped -- peer-reviewed journals are edited, conferences are organized, books are penned, the sum total of knowledge rises.

Really?"

Yes, really.

To take a completely different example, literary criticism has advanced since Aristotle or Longinus and deepened its knowledge of its subject matter: the total literary order. Progress does not mean the same thing neither it is measured in the same way for all disciplines. It is a simple truism that progress also means a deepened, clarified understanding. If you cannot understand this, then there is not much I can do.

"Metaphysics (and philosophy more generally) seems to me a lot more like novel-writing than science. That is, it certainly has its place, and it might be both useful and pleasurable, but it doesn't seem to be a cumulative knowledge discipline like science or mathematics."

I do not know if you have noticed but we are having a philosophical discussion and this is a philosophy blog; so maybe, just maybe, you are in the wrong place and you should take your novel-writing elsewhere?

grodrigues said...

@SR:

"You have completely misconstrued my position, apparently confusing me with others."

My apologies then.

I am going to abandon the whole mathematical stuff as I am getting nowhere with it.

"And so there are mathematical results that some work with and others do not. Just as there some metaphysicians that work within the A-T system and others that do not."

Right. But surely there must be some *rational* justification for some mathematicians rejecting some axioms and others accepting them? But of course there is! Set-theoretical axioms like ZFC are the sort of axioms that attempt to capture and pin down our concept of set and there is *ongoing* work on uncovering new axioms. Disagreements exist, dialogue pursues, understanding is deepened, mathematics advances -- even though mathematicians will disagree on the status of this or that axiom or philosophical interpretation. Pretty much the same happens on metaphysics. Sects present their views, dialogue ensues, criticisms fly, insults are hurled (and by the way, atheists have bad breath), the discipline advances in the sense that understanding is deepened and the issues are clarified.

"My issue is that because mathematics does not refer outside of itself it is possible to be certain of one's results, as long as one acknowledges the need to insert the appropriate "if"s. But with metaphysics, one does not have certainty, just plausibility."

You still have not explained what "mathematics does not refer outside itself" means. Why is that important, even? Besides, as a Platonist, you hold that there is a mathematical, extra-mental *reality*, and mathematical truth is correspondence with that reality. So why don't your questions apply to mathematics? One more question: replace metaphysics with physics in your paragraph (including the one below the quoted above); is the sentence obtained one you would subscribe? And if not why not?

"That doesn't mean one can't do metaphysics -- I for one greatly enjoy it. And within a particular metaphysical system, like A-T, there is real progress. But in working within A-T one cannot be certain that one is "getting nearer to the absolute truth", because maybe it is those process metaphysicians, or neo-Platonists, that have the inside track. I do hold that there is an absolutely true "way things are", but I fail to see any objective way to evaluate which track is the most likely to be approaching it. That doesn't mean there aren't other ways, just that they are not objective."

So there is progress in AT but we are not "getting nearer to the absolute truth". There is an absolute truth, but we have no way to objectively evaluate how we approach it and yet you do hold as an absolute truth that there is an absolute truth. From the conjunction of all this, I conclude that you believe that there is an absolute truth but you cannot justify your belief and you even think that there is no possible way to justify your belief. In fact, since absolute truth is a concept with no obvious connection to reality (was it you who said the correspondence theory of truth is inadequate?) how are you sure that the concept is even meaningful? That it "maps to reality"? To quote your paragraph below, what if you are fundamentally wrong? What if we really are in The Matrix? What if Keanu Reeves is a good actor? Ok, this one has an obvious answer.

"As, for example, one finds in Berkeleyan idealism? This does not invalidate science, which can just say, ok, we now know we are working with mental creations, but our results are the same. But it does have an effect on, for instance, natural theology."

I do not know what you mean exactly by "invalidate", but it sure is in a pretty pickle. But is this your project all along, maneuver to consign natural theology to the dustbin of irrelevance all the while keeping empirical science safe?

goddinpotty said...

I do not know if you have noticed but we are having a philosophical discussion and this is a philosophy blog; so maybe, just maybe, you are in the wrong place and you should take your novel-writing elsewhere?

Well, I am not claiming to be novel-writing. You on the other hand seem to be claiming that fiction and philosophy are completely disjoint, which would come as news to Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Borges, Kierkegaard and many others who blur the lines between these genres.

The Deuce said...

Science is inevitably circular in the sense you are using the term, because humans are embedded in the system they are studying.

I'm using the term in the sense it's used in any logic class: A circular argument is one where a premise is it's own conclusion. It's a basic logical fallacy. You've committed this fallacy. Trying to tell me that mathematicians do it too, or that scientists do it too, doesn't make it any more valid. Sorry, your reasoning is fallacious, and so can't be correct.

And no, science isn't inevitably committed to circular logic or any other sort of fallacious reasoning (and even if it were, it would still be fallacious). It's *you* (and other naturalists) who are committed to it, and your concept of what science is that is based on it. That means that your particular concept of science is ultimately incoherent and wrong-headed, and that you should change it.

goddinpotty said...

A circular argument is one where a premise is it's own conclusion. It's a basic logical fallacy. You've committed this fallacy.

Translation: your misinterpretation of my remarks, which I've corrected a couple of times now, may be a logical fallacy.

I fail to see why this should be my problem.

your particular concept of science is ultimately incoherent and wrong-headed, and that you should change it.

It works pretty well for me, but thanks anyway for the advice.

Here's some advice for you: read the prior posting with a mind open enough that you can at least understand what I'm saying, whether or not you agree with it. You might actually learn something.

Maolsheachlann said...

Watching Dr. Feser's video and hearing him mention the doctrine of divine simplicity reminds me of a question that keeps bothering me. If god is absolutely simple and without parts, and if a cause cannot give what it doesn't have, how could god create multiplicity and complexity?

SR said...

@grodriguez,


You still have not explained what "mathematics does not refer outside itself" means.

I thought I did, when I gave the example that there is no geometrical line beyond the concept of same. The concept is the line, while philosophical concepts have a reference beyond the concept.

Why is that important, even?

Because (a) it shows the difference between mathematics and all other disciplines, and (b) because metaphysics refers to non-empirical things, it shows why one might consider metaphysics in practice to work more like mathematics than (natural) science. In both metaphysics and mathematics there is no place to look (run experiments, etc.) to see how one is doing. So how does one tell? That is my question.

So there is progress in AT but we are not "getting nearer to the absolute truth".

You probably are if your premises are true (and your logic is impeachable) but if not, maybe not. Problem is, how do we know for certain that they are?

There is an absolute truth, but we have no way to objectively evaluate how we approach it and yet you do hold as an absolute truth that there is an absolute truth. From the conjunction of all this, I conclude that you believe that there is an absolute truth but you cannot justify your belief and you even think that there is no possible way to justify your belief.

The key word is 'objective'. (God is not an object, so how can God's existence be an objective truth? That's why I used the word 'absolute'). I did not say there is no way to back up a metaphysical claim. Just that one can't use the correspondence theory to do so, because there is no access (other than, perhaps, mystical insight) to that to which the theory refers.

In fact, since absolute truth is a concept with no obvious connection to reality (was it you who said the correspondence theory of truth is inadequate?) how are you sure that the concept is even meaningful? That it "maps to reality"?

I'm not sure of anything metaphysical. That's my point. I have certain intuitions that I adopt as assumptions, and work from there. And I don't think the situation is different for anyone else.

Alan Aversa said...

@Maelscheachlann: Read St. Thomas's Summa Theologiæ I q. 47 a. 1 on how there is a multitude and distinction of things in the world. Your objection appears to be his Objection 1.

Alan Aversa said...

Although I was initially turned off by the title ("Natural Philosophy Must be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science"), being a fan of River Forest / Aristotelian Thomism, I enjoyed the talk.

Would you say, Dr. Feser, that your argument is compatible or incompatible with the tenets of River Forest / Aristotelian Thomism? If compatible, then how do you prove that modern natural sciences must tend to validate an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy of nature? Would you need to prove that? Thanks

Maolsheachlann said...

Thanks a lot, Alan Aversa!

The Deuce said...

You still have not explained what "mathematics does not refer outside itself" means.

Actually, metaphysics doesn't refer outside itself either, in the sense that I think SR meant it, since the internal scope of metaphysics is all of existence!

I think what you could say is, mathematics mostly follows uncontroversial rules that mathematicians agree to, and where's there's controversy over rules, it does rise to the level of, say, the very meaning of one's existence.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Alan,

Please keep in mind that, as always, I am trying to make A-T as understandable as possible to people coming at these issues from the point of view of contemporary academic philosophy and contemporary intellectual life more generally. Hence (as I tried to make clear in the talk) I was using terms like "natural science," "metaphysics," and the like more or less the way they are used in contemporary philosophy and contemporary intellectual contexts more generally, a way which differs from the way they are often used in Scholastic literature. This is practically unavoidable. If I insisted on using these common terms in that more narrow sense -- a sense which would take a fair amount of time to explain to the uninitiated (which is most people) and be tangential to the point of my talk -- even more people would tune out and/or misunderstand than are already likely to.

Anyway, I certainly intended no criticism of the River Forest approach, with which I sympathize, and I think that when the terminological issues are worked out, what I am saying is essentially compatible with it (perhaps with some tinkering here or there, though I suspect any difference would, again, be more terminological than substantive).

Alan Aversa said...

I figured so when I realized the content of your talk didn't jive with my interpretation of its title. Thanks for the clarification

SR said...

@The Deuce,


Actually, metaphysics doesn't refer outside itself either, in the sense that I think SR meant it, since the internal scope of metaphysics is all of existence!

Well, no. I meant that there is no non-mathematical X such that mathematics is about X. "All physical things are form/matter composites" is referring to physical things, which exist outside the metaphysics. "The angles of a Euclidean triangle add up to two right angles" does not refer to anything outside of Euclidean geometry. A Euclidean triangle is the concept (not the words) 'Euclidean triangle', while a physical thing is not the concept 'physical thing'.

machinephilosophy said...

Deuce,

"The laws could be conceived as pure forms or something, the function of which are to make material substances behave the way they do."

That seems to suggest that at each point of variance in substance behavior, the laws' functions have changed as well in *some* sense, and therefore the laws themselves have changed. This may be just a wording issue.

Of course they *don't* change, but I think the laws' effects are merely reactions on the part of the universe to what those laws are. In that sense I think of them as inert, but undiminished in causal effect on the behavior of objects as you described.

In this context, I think of the perfect rectilinear solid of the film 2001. It's very inertness changed the world, aside from it's changes in location.

That's how I think of God and the world, and I think God necessarily includes all of the irreducibly basic and necessary laws. Seems like that goes with the job of being the universal ground of being.

The Deuce said...

SR:

"All physical things are form/matter composites" is referring to physical things, which exist outside the metaphysics.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by that. You could argue that the statement is wrong of course, but I don't understand what it means to say that the things it's referring to are "outside" its scope.

grodrigues said...

@goddinpotty:

"Well, I am not claiming to be novel-writing. You on the other hand seem to be claiming that fiction and philosophy are completely disjoint, which would come as news to Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Borges, Kierkegaard and many others who blur the lines between these genres."

Neither Nietzsche nor Kierkegaard wrote novels. Borges neither; he wrote poetry, essays and short stories. And calling him a philosopher is something of a stretch. Even more so with Tolstoy. So philosophers employ literary devices in their writing. So does Gibbon in his historical writings (or pretty much any historian worth reading) or, to take up my earlier example, pretty much any literary critic worth reading. On the opposite extreme, writers like Aristotle and Aquinas are about as dry as they come, and Spinoza consciously made an effort to mimic the pattern of mathematical writing. To sum it up; you may have a point but it is not a relevant one. If you want to make a comparison, then philosophy should be compared to literary criticism. To quote Northrop Frye, one of the giants of literary criticism of the 20th century:

"Criticism, rather, is to art what history is to action and philosophy to wisdom: a verbal imitation of a human productive power which in itself does not speak."

grodrigues said...

@SR:

"You still have not explained what "mathematics does not refer outside itself" means.

I thought I did, when I gave the example that there is no geometrical line beyond the concept of same. The concept is the line, while philosophical concepts have a reference beyond the concept."

I will concede that I am obtuse, but this explanation explains nothing, zilch, nada. Two questions:

1. You admitted you are a Platonist. Thus a geometrical line exists as a real *extra-mental* object in the Platonic realm. Now, we may grasp or perceive this mathematical object via the intellect, but are you saying that the concept of line we hold in our minds and its extra-mental correlate are exactly the same thing with the same mode of being? If the answer is in the negative then the concept of PA we hold in our minds and PA are two different things and your claim is thereby refuted. If the answer is positive you have some explaining to do.

2. Independence phenomena. According to Goedel's theorem there are PA theorems not provable in PA, so the concept we have of PA cannot be a complete formalization of the ideal PA living in the Platonic realm. This seems to indicate that our intellect only perceives a fragment of PA, and thus per-force, the concept of PA and PA are two different things, and your claim is thereby refuted.

"In both metaphysics and mathematics there is no place to look (run experiments, etc.) to see how one is doing. So how does one tell? That is my question."

The realm of the hard empirical sciences is relatively small when compared to the sum total of human knowledge -- so the practical effect of your skepticism is throwing most human knowledge overboard. And since some of this knowledge is essential to base the (hard) empirical sciences, you are thereby also throwing the empirical sciences overboard. And I have already answered your question. More than once. If you want to know how historians have confidence in the documents they use as data, you go to the historians and learn the methods they devised to sift the chaff from the wheat. If you want to know why mathematicians have confidence in the proof of Feit-Thompson's theorem (about 200 pages of difficult mathematics) you study the proof. If you want to convince yourself that the formal system in which the proof is accomplished, say ZFC, is a good one, you go to the books that motivate and justify the axioms. If they convince you, fine. If not, you try to articulate your objections and seek an alternative. Dialogue ensues, criticisms fly, insults are hurled. The usual affair. With philosophy is the same thing.

"The key word is 'objective'. (God is not an object, so how can God's existence be an objective truth? That's why I used the word 'absolute')."

Huh? You are seriously messing things up.

"I did not say there is no way to back up a metaphysical claim. Just that one can't use the correspondence theory to do so, because there is no access (other than, perhaps, mystical insight) to that to which the theory refers."

The correspondence theory of truth just says that truth corresponds to fact or reality (simplifying, but for the moment it suffices). Your claim only makes sense if metaphysics does not deal with reality which is preposterous -- but once again, it all boils down to your scientism (protest all you want), that the only way to "access" reality is through empirical means and the only sure knowledge is made up of testable, falsifiable statements, which is an obviously self-refuting assertion.

Alyosha said...

"I did not say there is no way to back up a metaphysical claim. Just that one can't use the correspondence theory to do so, because there is no access (other than, perhaps, mystical insight) to that to which the theory refers."


In a debate about scientism this is as question-begging as it gets.

"There is no access... to that to which the theory refers"? Sure... given scientism.

SR said...

@The Deuce,

I seem to be a poor communicator. All I mean is that metaphysics is not its scope (its territory), while mathematics has no scope, other than itself.

@grodriguez,

On the mathematics, I will concede that I have a great deal of explaining to do, but would rather not at this point since it is tangential to my main issue here. For now, does what I said above to The Deuce clarify what I meant about mathematics not referring outside itself?

On the "access" business, I again seem to be a poor communicator. I am deliberately using the word 'objective' in a limited way in saying we have no objective access to all of the scope of metaphysics, which only means that metaphysics' scope and methodology is going to be different from that of the natural sciences, and so I am at a loss at why you accuse me of scientism. Metaphysics, in addition to dealing with objects (both physical and mental) must also deal with awareness of objects, which is not an object. It must verge into the apophatic. Apparently you take my saying this as saying that metaphysics is impossible, or useless, or something. Well, I am not. Quite the opposite. I think metaphysics, because it confronts mystery -- not because it intends to "solve" mystery, but just because it is there and real it must be faced -- is a calling of the highest order. And so the question is: how do we do it? When we consider that as our words cannot be "about" mystery in the same way that they can be "about" objective reality, we need some different way of evaluating our words.

Anonymous said...

If we can't trust our reasoning (brains) because we can be fooled by optical illusions, how come it is that we are able to trust our reasoning (brains) that optical illusions exist?

grodrigues said...

@SR:

"For now, does what I said above to The Deuce clarify what I meant about mathematics not referring outside itself?"

Sorry, no.

Instead of tackling the rest of your post I leave you with two links:

The questions science cannot answer

and

The basic difference between science and philosophy

Maybe reading them will help clear the confusions (yours or mine).

Tony (not first time commenter) said...

Hey, Tony, welcome to the arena. Comment some more. However, can you maybe, please, designate your "Tony-ness" a little more distinctly? Or, if you would rather not, I will start doing so. I have been commenting as "Tony" for a while, and I wouldn't not have people get my mistakes attributed to you.

SR said...

@grodriguez,

It would appear that the confusion arises, as I indicated in my last post, in the phrase "objective truth", which Adler claims to be the achievable goal of philosophy. If you are determined to shut out all the questioning going on concerning this phrase, then that is your choice. My view is that there is such a thing as objective truth, but that there is also subjective truth and (for want of a better word) mystical truth, and that these are just as much the concern of philosophy as objective truth. It is pretty clear to me that one cannot be objective about awareness of objects, because, as I mentioned, awareness of objects is not an object. One can think about it, and write essays about it, but you are not going to explain it in objective terms. As I see it, this kind of limit to objectivity is acknowledged in A-T by the resort to analogy. While it is useful, it does appear to move one out of the realm of objective truth. I think, though, that there might be better ways for confronting mystery (which as indicated, I think starts with plain ordinary everyday consciousness). One possibility is Nishida's logic of place.

Furthermore, I think these issues can be dealt with by the community of philosophers, or at least I am not ruling that possibility out from the start. But not if one requires from the outset that all eschew anything with a whiff of post-modernism about it.

goddinpotty said...

If we can't trust our reasoning (brains) because we can be fooled by optical illusions, how come it is that we are able to trust our reasoning (brains) that optical illusions exist?

How is it we can be fooled by a stage magic trick and then go home, read a book that explains the trick, and understand how the illusion was performed? It's a contradiction! God must exist!

How is it we can watch a movie while simultaneously knowing that James Bond is not real, and that his apparent motion is produced by a series of still images flickering at 24 frames per second? More contradictions!

You'd think people would be turned into gibbering heaps by the inconsistencies in their thinking and perception, yet somehow they manage to function.

goddinpotty said...

I have a question (only tangentially related to this thread, but we are all over the place already):

Here, Feser makes a sharp distinction between "classical theism" and "theistic personalism".

My problem with this is that if you water down theism to the point where God is a metaphysical abstraction and not a person, then there is nothing much there for an atheist to object to. I mean, if you want to talk about some kind of Absolute Ground of Being, knock yourself out, but then if you call that "God" you immediately start to think of it/him as a person, which (according to Feser, if I understand him) it/he isn't. Which is the correct pronoun?

This argument is made better and at more length here by Sean Carroll. The nut graf:

The problematic nature of this transition — from God as ineffable, essentially static and completely harmless abstract concept, to God as a kind of being that, in some sense that is perpetually up for grabs, cares about us down here on Earth — is not just a minor bump in the otherwise smooth road to a fully plausible conception of the divine. It is the profound unsolvable dilemma of “sophisticated theology.” It’s a millenia-old problem, inherited from the very earliest attempts to reconcile two fundamentally distinct notions of monotheism: the Unmoved Mover of ancient Greek philosophy, and the personal/tribal God of Biblical Judaism.

I'm sure this is not a new line of thought for Feser and fans, but I don't know what your reply is and would like to hear it.

SR said...

@goddinpotty,

One answer, though I should probably defer to those with more expertise: the "abstract" God of classical theism is not all that abstract. It is, for example, intellect and goodness. That distinguishes it from some other candidates for the role of Absolute Ground of Being, for example, one that is meaningless.

SR said...

@goddinpotty,

I guess I should add that if you consider 'intellect and goodness' as just more abstraction, then I would say that therein lies the problem. I don't think that classical theism and nominalism mix too well.

Anonymous said...

@goddinpotty, so in other words, we can trust our reasoning. The optical illusion bit you or someone else posted earlier was only a red herring. Thanks.

BenYachov said...

>My problem with this is that if you water down theism to the point where God is a metaphysical abstraction and not a person, then there is nothing much there for an atheist to object to.

Well here you are assuming without proof that the Theistic Personalist view is the original and only true version of Theism.

As Brian Davies has shown this is not the case. Theistic Personalism is a post enlightenment view of God not the ancient view.

The Classical view is the view held by the Church Fathers, the Rabbis & Muslim Theologians.

The modern New Atheism is a simple minded fundamentalism for infidels.
It postulates a one size fits all polemic against all religious belief & that is simply irrational and impractical. They can argue with YEC nothing more sophisticated then that.

99% of the nonsense you learned from the Gnus will be non-starter objections here.

God is not a human person. Even the Bible says so as well as Aquinas.

You need to learn the doctrine of analogy.

>I mean, if you want to talk about some kind of Absolute Ground of Being, knock yourself out, but then if you call that "God" you immediately start to think of it/him as a person, which (according to Feser, if I understand him) it/he isn't. Which is the correct pronoun?

Learn the difference between comparing God to His creatures in an unequivocal way(TP) vs analogously like Classic Theism.

Otherwise most of your objections are doomed to be non-starters.

You must polemic the God we believe in here. Not the one you wish we believed in.

We are not obliged to accommodate Sean Carrol's and Richard Dawkins' hyper-stupidity.

BenYachov said...

Sean Carroll- a brilliant physicist who is also a philosophical and theological illiterate. A man who actually believes Aristole/Aquinas "argument from motion" is an argument from physics.

A man too ignorant to realize Aristotle's use of the term "motus" is not equivalent to Newton's use.

Or does he want us to believe with a straight face that Democritus & Heisenberg meant the same thing when they each talked about "Atoms"?

Nuff said.

>It’s a millenia-old problem, inherited from the very earliest attempts to reconcile two fundamentally distinct notions of monotheism: the Unmoved Mover of ancient Greek philosophy, and the personal/tribal God of Biblical Judaism.

Except the Rabbis, the Talmud, Philo, Josephus etc believed they where the same God. Carroll has offered no proof the early Jews had an anthropomorphic view of God.
The OT radically denies God is anthropomorphic. It uses analogous language to describe God.

Nuff said.

Rupert said...

I've only read Genesis and Exodus and a bit of Leviticus, but based on that I find the contention that the OT "radically denies that God is anthropomorphic" a bit strange.

I would just like to hear a clear statement of the doctrine of classical theism, then I can have an opinion about it.

jonh303 said...

I just made a post about this on my blog that deals with faith and reason, and philosophy as the interlocutor. Thanks for your work Dr. Feser, I'm a big fan. I graduated from the FUS MA philosophy program the semester before you came... http://battleforthecoreoftheworld.blogspot.com/2012/01/faith-in-science-part-ii.html

BenYachov said...

BTW I read this article by Carroll before. It was cited to me by an Atheist over at Biologos. Trying to defend Dawkins is always a losing gambit.

Here is some of Sean's genius at work.

QUOTE" To make sense of the cosmological argument, it’s important to realize that Aristotle’s metaphysics was predicated to an important extent on his physics."

WRONG!!! Even in a godless universe it is simply a brute fact Aristotle's metaphysics where a response to the metaphysics of Parmenides and Heraclitus!

Both denied our senses interpreted the world in a real way. They denied realism in any form. Parmenides taught change was impossible and Heraclitus taught change was the only reality.

Aristotle's metaphysics explained how change and permanence could co-exist if we understood them in terms of actuality and potency and not have to appeal to Plato's strong realism and realm of forms.

Carroll doesn't even pass the laugh test.

BenYachov said...

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

BenYachov said...

>I've only read Genesis and Exodus and a bit of Leviticus, but based on that I find the contention that the OT "radically denies that God is anthropomorphic" a bit strange.

Show me one verse that tells us God is human in His divine nature or that his divine nature is identical to human nature only more uber?

I don't deny the Bible uses anthropomorphisms to analogously discribe God but that is not the same as saying God is unequivocally human.

He is not.

Brian said...

Rupert said: "I've only read Genesis and Exodus and a bit of Leviticus, but based on that I find the contention that the OT "radically denies that God is anthropomorphic" a bit strange.

I would just like to hear a clear statement of the doctrine of classical theism, then I can have an opinion about it."


There's your problem. You are taking a Protestant, ahistorical approach to the Bible.

Anonymous said...

So, then what's proper way to read the Bible, specifically the Old Testament? Is there another book anywhere that explains how to read the Bible with proper sophistication?

BenYachov said...

Anon

You should take that question to the CATHOLIC ANSWERS forum.

Alyosha said...

Anon,

Welcome to Hermeneutics! To sufficiently answer your question you probably ought to pursue a degree in biblical studies with an emphasis in Old Testament. But, there are several good texts on the subject you could use. If you would like a more in depth answer to your question, I'm sure several of us here could recommend some.

goddinpotty said...

Well here you are assuming without proof that the Theistic Personalist view is the original and only true version of Theism.

I wasn't claiming that. I don't think either of them is particularly "true", and as Carroll points out, they stem from different traditions that have been imperfectly joined together.

God is not a human person. Even the Bible says so as well as Aquinas.

Well, obviously God is not a human (although I thought the whole point of Christianity was that he WAS human, among other things; that is an additional point of confusion), but he is often treated in the Bible as a person -- he gets angry, makes promises, has perceptions, takes actions, etc -- rather than some abstract eternal absolute.

You need to learn the doctrine of analogy.

Well, assuming this means that God is understood as only analogically human, this kind of begs the question. Humans are changeable, the God of classical theism is not, so the analogy is going to be of limited applicability. So given the doctrine of analogy, you still have the open question -- Is God something eternal, changeless, partless, and absolute, or the kind of entity that can observe humans sinning and get angry about it, when before he was not? Can't be both. Or maybe he can, in some way that is beyond the reach of human reason and logic. I could accept that, but then all these proofs and logic-chopping become inoperative.

You must polemic the God we believe in here. Not the one you wish we believed in....We are not obliged to accommodate Sean Carrol's and Richard Dawkins' hyper-stupidity.

I wasn't polemicizing anything. Leaving Dawkins out of it, Carroll and I are pointing out an apparent contradiction in the sophisticated (not the naive fundamentalist) view of God.

Brian said...

I do not understand where you are coming from, goddinpotty. The classical theistic conception of deity is de fide of the Catholic Church - that is, it is a conception of deity that is proposed as revealed doctrine by the Church.It simply is Christianity. That being the case, how could their be any discrepancy? I think you are confusing "the God of Christianity" with "the God of my interpretation of the Bible." There may be a discrepancy between your understanding of classical theism and your interpretation of the Bible. The people who actually made the Bible and who are divinely authorized to interpret see no discrepancy.

Brian said...

Carroll and I are pointing out an apparent contradiction in the sophisticated (not the naive fundamentalist) view of God.

Yet you hold on to a fundamentalist/ahistorical/heretical/Protestant approach to the Bible. THAT'S the true source of the inconsistency, and since this is not a blog on Protestantism vs. Catholicism, I suggest you go to Called to Communion at calledtocommunion.com

goddinpotty said...

Yet you hold on to a fundamentalist/ahistorical/heretical/Protestant approach to the Bible.

Can't imagine where you got that from.

The people who actually made the Bible and who are divinely authorized to interpret see no discrepancy.

The Bible is a loose collection of texts with different authors. I thought pretty much everybody was aware of this other than the real fundamentalists (which you seem to think I am, for reasons I can't being to fathom). Given that, it is not surprising that it has radical inconsistencies of tone and content.

That doesn't bother me at all, but it ought to bother someone who claims to be capable of making rigorous proofs about the existence and nature of god. Presumably you are aware that in logic, once you have a contradiction you can prove anything.

Brian said...

The fundamentalists, following the Reformation, ditched Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in favor of the notion of private judgment, a radical departure from orthodoxy. And in suggesting an inconsistency between classical theism and Christianity, you implicitly accept the innovations of the Reformation since you, like the fundamentalists, think that the "plain sense of Scripture" disagrees with "Romanism," or classical theism. A fundamentalist, for example, would agree with you that "[God] is often treated in the Bible as a person." The fundamentalist would be right there with you using the Bible (at least as he sees it)to propose inconsistencies between it and "Romanism." Every Catholic here is familiar with that tired charge, and you are just parroting it. You are implicitly affirming Sola Scriptura, and what we're saying is that that doctrine is reductionistic, not a part of orthodox Christianity, and, ultimately, unbiblical and (therefore) self-defeating.

And so, the notion of a discrepancy between classical theism and the data of revelation is a non-starter for Catholics since it presupposes from the get-go Sola Scriptura. That charge might be a problem for Protestants who happen to be classical theists, but it is not a problem for Catholics.

goddinpotty said...

A fundamentalist, for example, would agree with you that "[God] is often treated in the Bible as a person."

Anybody who can read would agree with that.

I'm not any kind of a Christian, and I don't much care about the divisions between different flavors of Christianity. I thought this was a philosophy blog, and doing philosophy should not depend on subscribing to some particular faith.

Of course this disjunction might also serve to illustrate Carroll's thesis: that philosophy (greek, rational, skeptical) doesn't jibe well with monotheistic, scriptural religion, based on faith and/or authority.

Brian said...

"Anybody who can read can agree with that."

All you are doing now is just doubling down on your Protestant commitments - i.e., the perspicuity of Scripture; the sufficiency of Scripture; and the notion of private judgment in interpreting Scripture. The whole point is that we disagree with all of those propositions, and so, no, anybody who can read will not come to the same interpretation as you!

Yes, this is a philosophy blog, but you are the one posing a specially Christian theological question, and we are merely pointing out that the question is predicated on premises that are reductionistic and false.

Of course this disjunction might also serve to illustrate Carroll's thesis: that philosophy (greek, rational, skeptical) doesn't jibe well with monotheistic, scriptural religion, based on faith and/or authority.

This betrays a gross, offensive ignorance of historical Christianity.

goddinpotty said...

Let me see if I have this straight. Your answer to my observation of a conceptual disjunction in the concept of "God" as employed by various monotheisms is to say that no, this is a non-problem because certain churchmen, millennia ago, decided that only they were qualified ("divinely authorized" was your expression) to interpret the bible and as a result of this there is no possibility of contradiction, no matter what the Bible actually says or what believers actually believe?

All I can say is that that is the lamest form of argument I've heard in a long while. If that's the best you can do you have no business bashing Dawkins or Carroll for their supposed naivete.

Brian said...

Maybe we can try this again.

A lot of Protestants accuse the classical theistic view, or the Catholic view of deity, of being incompatible or not sufficiently supported by Scripture. Your accusation is the same, but you do not realize that it presupposes an approach and understanding of the Bible that has an inherent anti-Catholic bias. Historic and orthodox Christianity has always understood the Bible in relation to the Church. The Bible was made by the Church and for the Church, and if you do not read the Bible with the mind of the Church, you will lead yourself or be lead by someone else into error.

From a purely historical point of view, it is clear that the documents of the New Testament are ecclesiastical documents - some for the instruction of the Church (i.e., the Epistles) and others to be used in the liturgy of the Church (i.e., the Gospels). And so they exist within a context that guides their interpretation and use. In fact, it is that context from which the documents emerged and which were the authoritative means to decide which of the documents would be put in the biblical canon. All of this forms a collective memory and understanding concerning the data of Revelation that others not in the fold, so to speak, may not share. Even in the days of the Old Testament, the writings of Moses and the Prophets existed alongside and within an authoritative interpretative schema that itself was not written down.

Since no book interprets itself, all of us bring to our reading and interpretation of Scripture biases and presuppositions. Yours happen to be those of the Reformation. Catholics happen not to share those presuppositions and think they are (demonstrably) false. And so, the accusation of inconsistency between classical theism and Scripture is simply a non-starter for Catholics, and since you are the one making the accusation, the onus is on you to show us that 1) your approach to interpretation of Scripture is the correct one or that 2) even within our own approach, there is still inconsistency. Even if you manage 2, you need to keep in mind something else.

At bottom, what we are really discussing is the doctrine of Scriptural Inspiration and Inerrancy since what you are alleging is that the Bible contains theological errors. The thing is, we do not believe those doctrines because they are themselves evident. The Church did not scour the Good Book in search of errors and, not finding any, defined the doctrines. Rather, the doctrines of Scriptural Inspiration and Inerrancy are items of faith to be believed by faith. That does not mean that the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible is an irrational or uncertain proposition. On the contrary, since it is a divinely revealed doctrine, it rests on the infallible authority of the God who reveals; the proposition, then, is more sure than any other knowledge. And so, "errors" in the Bible could only ever be prima facie. Some can be dissolved and refuted, others not so much. In any case, we have the assurance of faith that there are no errors.

As an atheist, you have not assented to that infallible authority, I know, but the point is that perhaps it's useless for atheists to talk to Christians about doctrines of the faith since there is no shared ground on that yet.

goddinpotty said...

The Bible was made by the Church and for the Church

Large parts of the Bible predate the Church, as I'm sure you are aware.

You are distorting my perfectly clear query in an attempt to force it into your own framework. It has very little to do with scripture or the proper way to interpret it. It doesn't even have that much to do with Christianity since you can find the same tensions between anthropomorphic and more abstract, philosophically sophisticated conceptions of God in other religions (eg Hinduism).

Brian said...

...So your question about Scripture has nothing to do with Scriptural interpretation? The very idea that there is a tension involves an interpretation on your part, which all I am saying involves presuppositions that are alien to a proper interpretation Scripture.

BenYachov said...

Thanks Brian,

I couldn't have said it better myself. To many Atheists assume whatever version of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity they abandoned to embrace non-belief was historic Christianity when in fact it is at best a 100 years old splinter from a splinter from a splinter that originated with a German Priest at Augsberg.

Some short answers to potty.

>and as Carroll points out, they stem from different traditions that have been imperfectly joined together.

Carroll in his ignorance makes that claim but I know from studying Christian & Jewish history he is full of shit. Even if their is no God it is simply a brute fact the Church Fathers, the Rabbis, Philo, The Talmud, RABAN, & even all the Muslim theologians without exception understood all the anthropomorphisms in the Bible analogously not unequivocally.

>Well, obviously God is not a human.

I used the term human person. You are not allowed to change proper Theological terminology anymore then I may make up own private physics terminology contrary to that used by physicists & expect someone like Carroll to take me seriously. God is not a human person.

>(although I thought the whole point of Christianity was that he WAS human, among other things; that is an additional point of confusion),

I assume you are talking about the Incarnation? Jesus had two natures the Divine & human that where united in His Divine Person without mixing. (note the last two words in that sentience).

If God was just a magical disembodied human mind only more uber then the Incarnation wouldn't be all that special. OTOH if God is an Incomprehensible Transcendental Ground of all Existence whose Word took on a human nature. Then it is a true bridge between the Knowable and the Unknowable Transencent Intelligence that creates all. It's more profound & sugnificant.

>but he is often treated in the Bible as a person --

According to your private interpretation which we must reject. Even if we remove God and Chruch Infallibility then it's just you and Sean's interpretation vs the Church's. They would both be equal and there would be no reason to accept your interpretation over Hers.

BenYachov said...

continue.....

>he gets angry, makes promises, has perceptions, takes actions, etc -- rather than some abstract eternal absolute.

I remember a quip from Protestant Thomist Dr. Norman Geisler to people who dogmatically insist the anthopomorphisms in the Bible must be taken literally.
"So when the Psalms say the Lord `enfolds us in his wings' that means God is literally a giant chicken"? Seriously?

The burden of proof is solely on you and Carroll to show the anthopomorphism where meant literally and understood to be literal by Religious Authorities. They where not. That is simply a brute fact.

>Well, assuming this means that God is understood as only analogically human, this kind of begs the question. Humans are changeable,

You really don't understand the difference between analigious comparisson vs uneqivical comparision do you? Saying God is like a human, humans change therefore God changes is to make an uneqivocal comparision not an analigious one.

Learn before you leap.
http://faculty.cua.edu/hoffmann/courses/308_1078/308_analogy.pdf

FYI to point out one example from your many errors. God's anger is simply His Will to justice. God has no emotions/passions. Just as His love for me is to will my good & not some flight of sentiment.

>Carroll and I are pointing out an apparent contradiction in the sophisticated (not the naive fundamentalist) view of God.

Rather you are both showing your ignorance of the subject. You clearly confused analigious comparison with unequivocal comparison. Here is a clue. Just because Carroll is a good physicist doesn't mean he knows shit about everything else outside his field(like philosophy). Orthodox Jewish Physicist Gerard Schroder wrote some bad criticisms of Evolution which any biologist worth his salt like Dawkins or Gould could knock down in a heartbeat. Schroder has written some interesting stuff about God from the perspective of a physicist but I don't believe all his claims. I have standards.

Go do some more reading. This will not do.

BenYachov said...

>Large parts of the Bible predate the Church, as I'm sure you are aware.

I cited Philo, Josephus, The Rabbis and the Talmud. All Jewish.

Wasn't the OT written by Jews?

Jesus himself said the Pharasees sat in the Seat of Moses & to do what they say.

The Torah itself says the Priests & Prophets interpret the Law. Not private individuals.

Your Protestant view is a non-starter here.

BenYachov said...

@godinpotty

Your mistake here is in order to prove your claim that the anthropomorphisms in the Bible are to be taken literally you first have to step outside your Atheism & put on the hat of a Protestant Apologist who believes the Bible is Perspicuous & can be interpreted privately by individuals.

Two concepts we Catholics reject since they are human traditions made up by the Reformers.

So in all practical effect you have to convince us to stop being Catholics and be Protestants before you can convince us to consider Atheism.

That seems like a whole lot of work.

The Bible is common ground for Protestants and Catholics. The OT is common ground for Christians and Jews.

But it is not common ground for Christians vs Atheists. So it is a waste of our time, you giving us your interpretation of the Bible, an interpretation our religion compels us to reject a priori since it did not come from the True Church.

No, you must learn philosophy and make a philosophical case against God as we understand him.

Anything else is a waste of our time.

goddinpotty said...

OK, I'm getting bored with repeating myself, so this will be my last word on this unless I see a glimmer of insight from my interlocutors.

I am not trying to convert anybody to atheism or anything else. I was merely pointing out that either you have an anthropomorphic concept of God or you don't. If you go with the former, you match the naive person's conception of God. If you go with the latter, you make the philosophers happy, but you don't satisfy most people's emotional needs for a personal God, and in addition you have the problem (or non-problem) that you don't really have any meaningful differences with atheists, who would probably be quite alright with a god that was only "the form of the good" or whatever and not a gaseous vertebrate.

If you try to reconcile them, you run into absurdities quite quickly. Or you build elaborate institutions that somehow achieve reconciliation because they say so and they are authorized to.

Josh said...

I was merely pointing out that either you have an anthropomorphic concept of God or you don't. If you go with the former, you match the naive person's conception of God. If you go with the latter, you make the philosophers happy, but you don't satisfy most people's emotional needs for a personal God

You may be unaware that this guy, Thomas Aquinas (among others), sought to unify Faith and Reason, just so one wouldn't have to submit to the false dilemma you have presented. Sure, one can be a fideist, and submit to "Jesus is my homeboy" which discounts Christ's otherness, or one can be a rationalist, and discount our personal relation of creature to Creator. The synthesis is what Thomists are interested in, not your silly either/or.

Josh said...

If you try to reconcile them, you run into absurdities quite quickly.

Oh?

Brian said...

If that is all you were claiming, we would not have gotten into a discussion about Scriptural interpretation.

And just so we're clear, classical theism does prove a personal God, just not a human person.

James said...

“The classical theistic conception of deity is de fide of the Catholic Church - that is, it is a conception of deity that is proposed as revealed doctrine by the Church.It simply is Christianity.”

Where do you get this nonsense? Classical theism is not de fide. Some elements are ‘theologically certain’, i.e. deduced from a de fide truth and an otherwise certain truth, and therefore denial of those truths is a mortal sin and an error in theology, but not an error in faith, let alone heresy against ecclesiastical or divine faith. Perhaps you should look to your own errors before glibly accusing others of heresy.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty, I think the issue here (as with all complicated issues) is that one has to so some homework before one deconstructs 2000 years of tradition and teaching. Reading one sided polemics by people you agree with is not enough. :)

Anonymous said...

trollinpotty.

Anonymous said...

"Welcome to Hermeneutics! To sufficiently answer your question you probably ought to pursue a degree in biblical studies with an emphasis in Old Testament. But, there are several good texts on the subject you could use. If you would like a more in depth answer to your question, I'm sure several of us here could recommend some."

11:02 Anon here.

Yeah, I'm really just looking for a few good recommendations for texts on Biblical hermeneutics, since I neither have the time nor the money to pursue a degree in hermeneutics. In my first year of medical school (a.k.a. Hell) at the moment.

And let's be clear: The Bible apparently is an incredibly difficult thing to read and understand properly, not at all the simple thing for laymen that most modern Christians make it out to be. Yet it demands to be understood by the World.

With that in mind, why doesn't hermeneutics enjoy colossal popularity? Most people won't have even heard of the term "hermeneutics," and moreover won't know its meaning or significance, and hence will inevitably read the Bible improperly. Isn't it true then that 99.99999% of Christians around the world do not have a genuine understanding of their faith? This ought to be utterly unacceptable. Why do I even have to hunt for books on the topic? They ought to be as ubiquitous as the Bible, because what good is a Bible that you have no idea how to begin reading?

Benyachov said...

>And let's be clear: The Bible apparently is an incredibly difficult thing to read and understand properly, not at all the simple thing for laymen that most modern Christians make it out to be.

We Catholics have been trying to tell that to the Protestants for the past 500 years but they would insist on this Perspicuity novelty.

>Yet it demands to be understood by the World.

The Gospel the message of the Bible is demanded to be known by the world. That can be preached by the church otherwise only the literate could be saved & the illiterate would be damned.

It's not hard.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the Gospel, being in a straightforward historical form, is easy to understand (thankfully....though even there you'll probably need to understand the prevailing Jewish culture of the times to fully understand it.) But understanding how it relates to the earlier and the later portions of the Bible is, in my view, also an essential part of being a knowledgeable Christian, and that requires a good deal of hermeneutics.

Most churches do not give such proper hermeneutical instruction, leaving their congregation in the dark and propagating an ignorant form of Christianity.

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 10:48am:
Most Protestant churches would say that belief in Jesus Christ is enough.
The rest is for academics.

Benyachov said...

By Gospel I mean the teachings of the Church for salvation (which comes from Scripture and Tradition). Not the first four books of the NT.

The Bible isn't needed for salvation per say. Nor is an exhaustive knowledge of it needed.

Benyachov said...

>This ought to be utterly unacceptable. Why do I even have to hunt for books on the topic? They ought to be as ubiquitous as the Bible,

Says who? Sola Scriptura is a false doctrine made up by Luther.

Live with it.

> because what good is a Bible that you have no idea how to begin reading?

The Bible is more of a Constitution for the Church rather than a mere handbook for believers.

We will have none of Luther's errors here.

James said...

“The Bible isn't needed for salvation per say.”
Of course it is. How is this not heretical (as well as illiterate)?

“We will have none of Luther's errors here.”
But we (for whom, exactly, do you think you are speaking here?) apparently will have equally grave and far grosser errors.

Alyosha said...

Anon 11:02,

Yeah, I'm really just looking for a few good recommendations for texts on Biblical hermeneutics, since I neither have the time nor the money to pursue a degree in hermeneutics.

Understandable! I'm not sure what the best popular resources on this would be, unfortunately, and my own courses on the subject were at a protestant university so I can't refer you to best recommendations from Catholic scholars either. I look forward to seeing what books others recommend. One good book (written by a protestant) that you might like, however, is Biblical Interpretation by Gerald Bray. By and large I remember the book being fair and comprehensive. It's also rather large, so I would recommend getting it for a resource and reading through it topically.

The Bible apparently is an incredibly difficult thing to read and understand properly, not at all the simple thing for laymen that most modern Christians make it out to be. Yet it demands to be understood by the World.

This is only partially true. To get the full meaning out of the Bible does require a great deal of study. The modern methods of personal interpretation are disasterous for popular understanding of the Bible, and I blame them for a large part of our society's biblical illiteracy. However, there is much meaning that can be gained from the Bible from responsible reading alone, and all, even non-scholars should make a practice of this.

With that in mind, why doesn't hermeneutics enjoy colossal popularity?

For the same reason that practicing medicine doesn't enjoy colossal popularity. It is difficult, time-consuming, and requires a great deal of knowledge and skills if it is to be done properly. Hermeneutics is generally left to biblical scholars, apologists, and clergy, because the average lay-person neither has the desire nor the resources to become proficient at it. The layity are largely dependent on biblical commentaries, interpreter's bibles, responisble clergy and popular works by biblical scholars. I don't know whether it could be any other way. We just hope that most people peruse the resources available to them to get the most out of reading the bible as they can.

Isn't it true then that 99.99999% of Christians around the world do not have a genuine understanding of their faith? This ought to be utterly unacceptable. Why do I even have to hunt for books on the topic? They ought to be as ubiquitous as the Bible, because what good is a Bible that you have no idea how to begin reading?

My only comment here is to caution against overstating the case. True, a vast majority of Christians probably do not understand their faith. But the question is, why? I don't think it is so much a lack of resources as it is a cultural problem. Most people, quite frankly, don't care enough to read the books even when they are written. A lack of demand has probably resulted in a lack of supply to some extent, but there are a great number of resources available nonetheless. You are correct that the sad state of our biblical understanding is unacceptable. That's a problem many of us are working on fixing, but it also a problem that has deep roots in history. The best solution for those of us in the present is to acknowledge your sentiment and try to correct the problem in the most obvious place first: ourselves.

BenYachov said...

>“The Bible isn't needed for salvation per say.”
Of course it is. How is this not heretical (as well as illiterate)?

So how do people who can't read get saved then?

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see such a clear and unified message coming from the religious.

Two thousand years of trying to get a cogent message out and still not quit there.

James said...

“So how do people who can't read get saved then?”

ἄρα ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος Χριστοῦ.

Daniel Smith said...

I just ran across this at a website called Unequally Yoked...

I ran into a Dominican at an American Association for the Advancement of Sciences event in DC, and now I’m reading and arguing about Edward Feser‘s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the Last Atheism with him and another brother at the priory.

This seems like a nice opportunity to explore the ‘non-nihilistic metaphysics logically require theism and probably Christianity’ pitch that I’ve gotten from plenty of Christians and more than a few atheists. Hopefully the discussion will put me in a better spot to answer Dom’s challenge. All posts about this book will be listed here, with the first one coming out Monday.

BenYachov said...

James you just contradicted yourself or more likely you are just being contrary troll for the sake of being contrary.

You cited Romans 10:17 in Greek "Faith comes by hearing" thus it is not necessary for the individual to read and understand the Bible to be saved. Thus the Bible isn't necessary per say. The Church is necessary to interpret the Bible and transmit it's teaching as I said.

After all I originally said "By Gospel I mean the teachings of the Church for salvation (which comes from Scripture and Tradition). Not the first four books of the NT.

The Bible isn't needed for salvation per say. Nor is an exhaustive knowledge of it needed."


Good day.

James said...

Are you proposing a disputation on the articles of the faith: a bible vs the bible?

JA said...

James,

Why do you only post here when it is to indict someone for heresy, often on tendentious grounds, or other views that you consider incorrect? Last time I questioned you on this, you never really responded, except to tarnish me as a heretic. What have you got against this site that you insist on policing it without restraint?

Anonymous said...

Heh. You guys look and sound like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETAGB6LGD5Q&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Anonymous said...

Anon,

A sneer is not an argument. Whatever differences we may have, we still hold to a fundamental position that is leagues better than your massively ridiculous New Atheism.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

You hold to nothing more than an opinion. Period!

BenYachov said...

It seems this "James" person isn't a serious poster at all but some Troll ballbuster.

So there is no point in answering him.

Thanks for the heads up JA.

James said...

“Why do you only post here when it is to indict someone for heresy, often on tendentious grounds, or other views that you consider incorrect?”

There’s nothing tendentious about it: in order not to be liable to canonical censure, do not advance temerary, erroneous, or heretical propositions. So then, tell me, what is the binding force of a posteriori demonstrations of the existence of God?

“What have you got against this site that you insist on policing it without restraint?

Now that is tendentious. I would expect the dissemination of false doctrine to be the concern of any Catholic.

BenYachov said...

Clearly a troll.

>Are you proposing a disputation on the articles of the faith: a bible vs the bible?

So now you are asking me what I meant?

Before you just practiced "READY! FIRE! AIM!".

I was clearly giving a polemic against private interpretation of Scripture, the Reformation heresy of Perspecuity and Sola Scripture.

Others like Brian got it.

So you are either an idiot or a troll.

Bye!

BenYachov said...

Let's see we have this guy named James claiming to be an orthodox Catholic who objects to heresy.

Yet he is attacking other orthodox Catholics here by hairsplitting there statements giving them a heretical interpretation.

We also have an Anon ranting about how Theists attack each other and can't agree...blah..blah...blah etc.

It's obvious!

James and Anon 10:07 AM are the same troll.

Thank you! I will be here all week.

JA said...

James,

Either you are being humorous or obtuse. I asked why your posts are generally accusations of "paganism" or "heresy" and you respond: "So then, tell me, what is the binding force of a posteriori demonstrations of the existence of God?"

Who is even making this claim? This has nothing to do with the question. Why are you looking to dispute this point -- tendentiously -- when I am not making this claim?

And this isn't NECESSARILY about the dissemination of false doctrine, but the general tenor of your comments. Now, to be clear, I'm not annoyed by them, but they do certainly all seem very critical; and speaking as someone on the receiving end of the experience, it isn't pleasant. So, to be honest, I'm more baffled than anything else. Why be a Torquemada? Why only post to be critical? Why police this forum? Do you find metaphysics in any way heretical? If so, why even read this blog?

Of course, I've asked these questions before, multiple times, and each time you evade them. Why?

James said...

“I've asked these questions before, multiple times, and each time you evade them. Why”

I don’t evade them, I ignore them. Your questions are themselves psychologising evasions and have no bearing on the orthodoxy with which I am concerned.

“Do you find metaphysics in any way heretical?”

This, on the other hand, is a reasonable question. I find the any use of metaphysics which contradicts de fide truths heretical, of course, since that is what it is to be heretical. Your own remarks on the other thread were incontrovertibly liable to be understood as such. The a posteriori demonstrations to which I referred, and with which this blog is frequently concerned, aren’t. So, I asked you what you think their binding force is. They are theologically qualified, but not in the way you claimed. That is a question of orthodoxy, not a question of our respective psychologies.

JA said...

James,

This is absolutely not an attempt at psychologizing; this is an attempt to understand your views, your concerns, and your presuppositions.

Why are you so defensive? Not everything is a debate that must be won. I have been trying to have a friendly conversation with you, nothing more. And you have returned this with rudeness.

You may or may not have orthodoxy as proper belief, but you are absolutely failing to embrace it through praxis.

Have a good day and God bless.

JA said...

And just for the record, I never claimed there was a "binding force of a posteriori demonstrations of the existence of God."

Jon Haines said...

England: Metaphysics Banned from Schools.... http://battleforthecoreoftheworld.blogspot.com/2012/01/england-metaphysics-banned-from-schools.html

Alan Aversa said...

I don't have time to re-watch your presentation, but I remember you referred to modern philosophers taking interest in Aristotelian philosophy again. Who are these philosophers? What are some of their works that make you think they're becoming interested in Aristotelian philosophy? Thanks