Monday, April 30, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part X

And now we reach, at long last, the end of our detailed critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In this final post I want to examine what Rosenberg has to say about a set of philosophical arguments he regards as “among the last serious challenges to scientism” (p. 228).  The arguments in question all entail that the realm of conscious experience -- what common sense says we know only “from inside” (p. 238), from a point of view “somewhere behind the eyes” (p. 222) -- cannot be accounted for in terms of neuroscience or physical science more generally.  In his treatment of these arguments, we get Rosenberg simultaneously at his best and at his worst.

Rosenberg takes the sort of argument in question to get its “neatest force” from the example presented by Thomas Nagel is his famous article “What is it like to be a bat?”  Bats get around via echolocation.  What is it like to experience the world that way, as opposed to (say) visually?  You might think it’s like looking at the sonar screen on a submarine, but as Rosenberg says, to imagine that is instead merely to imagine “what it would be like to be a human inside the head of a bat, using sonar screens to convert the acoustical data the bat receives into human visual experiences” (p. 230).  Nor could any amount of neuroscience give us knowledge of what it’s like to be a bat.  The most neuroscience can do is pile up descriptions of the arrangements of neurons, their firing patterns, and so forth.  And what an echolocational experience is like is something you’ll never learn from that sort of thing.  But by the same token, what it is like for a human being to have a visual experience of red (say) is also something you could never know from neuroscience alone.   Hence we have, Nagel argued, no idea how conscious experience could be explained in neuroscientific terms.  

Rosenberg also makes reference to some famous dualist arguments associated with Descartes and Leibniz.  Descartes argued that while one cannot possibly fail to exist as long as one is even wondering whether one exists -- since to doubt this would itself be a kind of thinking, and one couldn’t do such thinking in the first place if one did not exist -- it is possible at least in principle that the entire material world, including one’s own body and brain, could be a hallucination.  Hence if I could exist as a thinking thing even if my body and brain and the rest of the material world did not, I must not be identical to anything material.  Leibniz argued that if we imagined some purportedly thinking, feeling, and perceiving machine expanded to the size of a mill so that we could walk around in it, we would never observe in it anything which might explain such mental activity, but only physical parts mechanically working upon each other.  The same thing can be said of the brain.  As Rosenberg writes:

[A]ll we would ever find are sodium and potassium molecules moving one way or the other, complex neurotransmitter molecules changing molecular shape as other molecules come into contact with them.  We would never find anything that introspection identifies as an experience, a sensation, a feeling, or even a thought about stuff.  We would never find anything that reveals what it’s like to have a sensation of yellow, an experience of pain, a smell or sound, or any other experience.  (p. 234)

(I have discussed Descartes’ and Leibniz’s arguments at some length in earlier posts, here and here.)

Though he does not for a moment agree with any of them, Rosenberg is not dismissive of these arguments.  He regards them as “wonderful, entertaining, thought-provoking riddles” (p. 228).  Descartes’ argument, he says, at least “looks absolutely airtight” (p. 226, emphasis added).  And Nagel’s argument is “really cool… the sort of puzzle any philosopher would give his soul to have invented, if he had a soul” (p. 233).  And this reflects a strength of Rosenberg’s book that I have emphasized before: Despite the utter bizarreness of some of his conclusions -- conclusions most of his fellow atheists would not agree with -- Rosenberg has a better grasp of the philosophical implications of scientism than most of these other atheists do, and realizes that the objections to scientism cannot be as easily dismissed as some of them would like to think.  Indeed, that is why his conclusions are so bizarre and extreme.  Rosenberg sees that a consistent scientism requires a radical abandonment of commonsense notions of meaning, the self, introspection, and the like.

As I have said, though, his treatment of these arguments shows Rosenberg at his worst as well as at his best.  The reason is that his response to the arguments amounts to little more than the combination of ad hominem remarks, begged questions, non sequiturs, etc., that one finds elsewhere in the book.  However clever he acknowledges them to be, Rosenberg insists that such arguments ultimately amount to “grasping at… straws,” often by those who are “credulous about religion” (p. 227); and he assures us that Leibniz’s “theological beliefs made him particularly eager to find arguments against scientism just when it was beginning to pick up speed with Newton’s work” (p. 233).  (Never mind that Nagel is an atheist, indeed someone who in his book The Last Word acknowledged that he “want[s] atheism to be true.”  And never mind that other prominent contemporary philosophers who have presented similar arguments -- such as David Chalmers and John Searle -- are also atheists.)  

As to Rosenberg’s actual grounds for rejecting the arguments, they lay in part in his claim that neuroscience (and, in particular, research on “blindsight” phenomena and the like) has shown introspection to be unreliable.  But we’ve already seen that neuroscience has shown no such thing.  Rosenberg also thinks the case for scientism is so powerful that any arguments against it can safely be rejected, even if we can’t say what is wrong with them:

Does scientism actually have to take Descartes’s argument and others like it seriously?  Does it actually have to diagnose each of their mistakes, or any of them?  No.  Even before you hear them, science provides a compelling reason that they must all be wrong.  One has only to weigh the evidence for scientism -- 500 years of scientific progress -- and the evidence against it -- including those cute conundrums.  It’s clear which side has the weightier evidence.  (p. 227)

Scientism is safe to conclude that there are flaws in Nagel’s argument and Leibniz’s.  We don’t know where the slips occur.  But we know that their conclusions are false.  (p. 235)

But we’ve also already seen that, far from being strong enough preemptively to disable all counterarguments, Rosenberg’s argument for scientism is in fact embarrassingly feeble.  So far, then, Rosenberg has given us no new reasons (let alone good reasons) for doubting that the arguments of Nagel et al. constitute a refutation of scientism.

But Rosenberg makes two further claims, and they deserve closer scrutiny.  Here’s the first:

[T]he arguments against the mind’s being the brain cheat.  They stack the deck against neuroscience so that it cannot succeed in meeting their challenge.  The arguments demand that neuroscience take conscious introspection seriously.  But they subtly deny it the use of any tools to do so.  Naturally, if science cannot apply any of its methods to understand introspection, scientism won’t be able to show what is wrong with the arguments. (p. 229)

This, it seems to me, is quite bizarre.  Suppose a critic of Gödel's incompleteness theorems complained:

Gödel's arguments cheat.  They stack the deck against those who think that every true arithmetical statement in a formal system capable of expressing arithmetic is in fact provable within the system, and that the consistency of arithmetic can in fact be proved from within arithmetic itself.  For Gödel's arguments do not allow their critics to use the tools of formal systems to prove these things.  Naturally, if Gödel's critics cannot apply these methods, they will not be able to show what is wrong with the arguments.

Or suppose you knew someone who insisted that all money is made out of paper, and you pointed out that coins are made out of metal, that in some cultures seashells or stones have been used as money, and so forth.  And suppose he complained:

Your argument cheats.  It stacks the deck against me so that I cannot succeed in meeting its challenge.  Your argument demands that I take coins, seashell money, etc. seriously.  But it subtly denies me the use of any tools to do so.  Naturally, if I can’t appeal to the paper composition of coins, seashell money, etc., then I will not be able to show what is wrong with your argument.

It is obvious what is wrong with these objections.  The whole point of noting that there are such things as metal coins, seashell currency, etc. was precisely to show that not all money does have a “paper composition” in the first place.  Hence to complain that noting that some money isn’t made of paper “cheats” either completely misses the point, or begs the question (if it simply assumes that all money must have a “paper composition”), or is perhaps simply a bit of childish whining.  (“No fair!  You’re example shows I’m wrong!”)  Similarly, the whole point of Gödel's theorems is to show that the formal methods in question cannot prove what the critic thinks they can.  Hence to complain that the theorems “cheat” would be entirely to miss the point, or to beg the question, or to indulge in a bit of whining.

It is hard to see how Rosenberg’s accusation is any better.  He complains that arguments like Nagel’s, Leibniz’s, etc. don’t allow for the possibility that neuroscience might explain conscious experience.  But showing that it is not possible for neuroscience to do so is the whole point of such arguments.  You might think they fail to show this, but accusing them of “cheating” simply misses the point.  Or does Rosenberg mean to insist that anything that is a genuine and not merely illusory aspect of conscious experience simply must be susceptible of a neuroscientific explanation?  In that case he is just begging the question against Nagel and Co.  Or is he simply whining that Nagel and Co. have come with an objection he doesn’t have a good answer to?  (“If Nagel and Co. were right, scientism would be refuted!  All those religious fanatics would have a good laugh at the expense of us rational, reality-based folks!  And that’s just not fair!”)

Surely Rosenberg has something better than this to offer?  He does, but only slightly better.  It is what many advocates of scientism seem to think is their trump card, certain to guarantee victory when confronted with an objection to which they have no other answer.  Here it is: “Science has managed to dispose of all the other arguments that have been advanced to show its limits” (p. 228).  Therefore, it’s just a matter of time before it disposes of arguments like Nagel’s.  How likely is it, after all, that the human mind, this tiny little corner of the universe, should magically turn out to be the one holdout to the centuries-long string of scientific successes?

Now, isn’t that a pretty good argument?  No, it is not a pretty good argument.  It’s actually a pretty bad argument, for reasons I’ve explained before -- in earlier posts (such as this one) and in chapter 3 of Philosophy of Mind and chapter 6 of The Last Superstition.  To see why, consider the following analogy.  Suppose the floor of the house is filthy and mom tells you to get rid of the dirt.  You get out the broom and start sweeping the living room.  After gathering all the dirt into a little pile, you sweep it under the rug which lies under the living room coffee table.  Then you go to one of the bedrooms, sweep all the dirt in it into a pile, and sweep that pile too under the living room rug.  You repeat this process for each room, for the kitchen, hallways, etc.  The house was so filthy that you’ve now got a noticeable bump in the rug made by all the dirt you’ve piled under it.  Your brother says: “Nice work, Einstein, but mom said to get rid of the dirt and all you’ve done is relocated it.  How are you going to get rid of that lump?”  You answer: “Isn’t it obvious?  The same way I got rid of all the other dirt!  The ‘sweep it under the rug’ method has worked everywhere else in the house.  How likely is it that this pile of dirt under the rug should magically turn out to be the one holdout?”  But of course, the lump under the rug is in fact the one pile of dirt that cannot possibly be dealt with the same way.  There is nothing at all “magical” about this; it is simply entailed by the nature of the method.  The “sweep it under the rug” method gets rid of dirt precisely by putting it under the rug.  Hence you are in principle not going to be able to get dirt out from under the rug in that way.   (And if your brother points this out to you, naturally it would be quite silly to accuse him of “cheating” by not letting you use your favored method to solve the problem!)

As I noted in an earlier post in this series, to say that “science has now explained everything else, and so it’s only a matter of time before it explains X (where X = qualia, or intentionality, or some other feature which poses a difficulty for naturalism)” is delusional in just the way that your thinking that the “sweep it under the rug” method would work to eliminate the dirt under the rug would be delusional.  Here’s how the delusion works.  First, “science” is (implicitly if not explicitly) defined in such a way that no explanation that makes reference to irreducibly teleological or qualitative features of the world is allowed to count as “scientific.”  Second, seemingly irreducibly teleological and qualitative features of the world -- apparently goal-directed natural processes, say, or colors, sounds, heat, cold, and the like as these manifest themselves to ordinary experience -- are re-described as mere projections of the mind onto external reality and not allowed to count as truly “material.”  Teleology, color, sound, heat, and cold as we experience them do not (so the story goes) really exist in the material world itself, but only in our subjective mental representations of it; objectively there are only colorless, soundless, purposeless particles in motion, which by virtue of their motions cause us to experience them as if they had the characteristics common sense attributes to them.  (Color, sound, etc. as physical properties are accordingly also re-defined, in terms of surface reflectance properties, compression waves, and the like.)  Third, it then asserted that “science has explained” such-and-such external material phenomena in a way that makes no reference to irreducible teleological or qualitative features.  What is not acknowledged is that this claim is a tautology, since (again) nothing that made reference to such features would be allowed to count as “scientific,” and (again) no features that couldn’t be described in non-teleological and non-qualitative terms would be allowed to count as “material.”  Fourth, it is fallaciously inferred that since this methodological sleight of hand has “shown” that irreducibly teleological and qualitative features do not exist in the external material world, we have every reason to believe that it will also “show” that they do not exist in the mind either.  In particular, it is claimed that mental phenomena like intentionality (the “aboutness” or “directedness” of thought, which is comparable to the “directedness” of teleological phenomena) and qualia (which are what is left of qualitative features like color, sound, warmth, coolness, etc. when they are removed from the external world and relocated into the mind) will be “explained” in the same way that all other phenomena possessed of qualitative features or “directedness” have been explained.  But in fact the mind is the one place to which the method cannot possibly be applied, precisely because the mind is the “rug” under which everything that does not fit the method has been “swept.”  

Indeed, this was, more or less, the point Nagel was making in his famous article.  His point was not just that the experiences of bats are so unusual that neuroscientific inquiry is not likely to tell us what it’s like to have them.  The argument goes much deeper than that.  Nagel’s point was that the very nature of the practice of giving a reductionist account of a phenomenon seems to preclude its application to the realm of conscious experience.  For a reductionist account is couched in entirely “objective” terms, that is, terms that make no essential reference to the point of view of a particular observer.  For instance, the way red looks or the way heat feels, since those are tied to the points of view of particular observers, are stripped away and relegated to the “subjective” realm of conscious experience.  A reductionist account of color might define it instead in terms of the surface reflectance properties of objects, and a reductionist account of temperature might define it in terms of molecular motion -- features which are “objective” in the relevant sense.   But when it comes to explaining the “subjective” point of view of the observer himself, and in particular the conscious look of red or conscious feel of heat themselves, it is hard to see how the same procedure could possibly be applied.  For to strip away the subjective element in this case would just be to ignore that which is to be explained, and thus not explain it at all.  As Nagel puts it: “If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity—that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint—does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it.”

Nagel himself did not go so far as to say that this showed that a physicalist reduction of mental states to physical states is false, but he did think it showed that we do not have any conception of how it could be true.  Other writers have drawn the stronger conclusion.  For early modern thinkers like Malebranche and Cudworth, and contemporary thinkers like Richard Swinburne, it is precisely because modern science has removed color, odor, sound, taste, etc., as common sense understands them, from matter -- including the matter that makes up the brain -- and relocated them into the mind, that we should conclude that these mental features are not material.  As Swinburne writes in The Evolution of the Soul:

All ‘reduction’ of one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i.e. the ‘secondary qualities’ of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all.  It siphoned them off to the world of the mental.  But then, when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this.  If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter.  In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena.  The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind and the world of physics. (p. 191)

Thus, dualism of the post-Cartesian sort is not some desperate attempt to resist the implications of the modern science; on the contrary, it follows from the conception of matter that is operative in modern science.  Or at the very least, precisely by relocating whatever does not fit the reductionist approach to the “subjective” realm of the mind -- to the realm we know “from inside,” from “somewhere behind the eyes” -- modern science  made that realm more problematic for the materialist, not less.  That is what Nagel’s argument implies, and Rosenberg completely misses the point.

But as we’ve now seen over the course of ten posts, missing the point, begging the question, non sequiturs and ad hominems are standard fare in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  For all that, the book is more philosophically substantive and consistent in its scientism than the atheist tomes of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.  That is why it has merited our attention.  If you are beholden to scientism, you ought to read Rosenberg to see how extreme and bizarre are its true implications.  And how weak are some of the arguments given in its defense, even when presented by a major philosopher of science. 

130 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, clear, focused, compelling, and decisive. As always. Thanks for another excellent article, Dr. Feser!
~ Mark

Maolsheachlann said...

"Does scientism actually have to take Descartes’s argument and others like it seriously? Does it actually have to diagnose each of their mistakes, or any of them? No. Even before you hear them, science provides a compelling reason that they must all be wrong. One has only to weigh the evidence for scientism -- 500 years of scientific progress -- and the evidence against it -- including those cute conundrums. It’s clear which side has the weightier evidence."

I think this is actually the strongest argument for scientism in most peoples' minds. Is it not similar to Newman's illative sense of converging probabilities? Obviously I don't agree with it, but it seems fairly formidable to me.

Anonymous said...

In the history of science we have witnessed the systematic. displacement of intentional explanations of nature (involving the gods, vital forces etc) with non intentional mechanistic explanations. The reverse has never been observed even once. Instead we've witnessed philosophers telling scientists what science can and can't do (e.g Comte claiming that the temperature of a star will never be known or Kant claiming that the origin of the universe will never be known and so on). Eventually these philosophers are humiliated and move the goal posts with a spot of armchair reflection. But we have no reason to take their reflection seriously when we look at the history of science. If you want to throw your lot in with philosophy theology and your primitive gods you are free to do so. The rest of us prefer to throw our lot in with science. When the mind is eventually explained we bet that it will be done through science not philosophy or theology. And if the the history of science is anything to go by it will be a non intentional explanation as well.

Anonymous said...

Maolsheachlann, the appeal of that argument rests on an inability to distinguish between saying that 1)science and the scientific method is the best way to achieve technical progess, and 2) saying that science is the only way to know about reality. ~ Mark

Anonymous said...

Consider the statement: "Science is immensely successful at achieving technical progress, therefore, reality is restricted by what can be scientifically described." <-- How is that reasonable? ~ Mark

Anonymous said...

That was a great parody Anon. 3:14. Of course, arm chair philosophers and theologians keep retreating with their explanations until we have only one hold in the mind.

Maybe next time you should actually read the substance of Feser's post. What part of, "modern science helped to create the mind-body problem, because of its faulty premises" did you not understand? Remember also, that Nagel and others are atheists, they don't want 'science' to fail, but they realise the consequences of scientism and see it for the absurd nonsense it is.

Arthur said...

Anonymous at 3:14:

You're basically repeating the argument that Feser explicitly dealt with in the post. The reason that scientific explanations that include intentionality have "never been observed even once" is because, as Feser says, "no explanation that makes reference to irreducibly teleological or qualitative features of the world is allowed to count as “scientific.”" You're welcome to disagree with anything Feser says, but first you should make sure you understand it.

"If you want to throw your lot in with philosophy theology and your primitive gods you are free to do so."

Now I know that you're not even trying. Feser and other Catholics believe in God, singular, and there are many relevant differences between "gods" and God. If you don't know what those differences are, that's part of your problem.

I'm also a little shocked that you lump "philosophy" in with "theology" and "primitive gods". Philosophy is a rational discipline that involves the use of reason, something that science requires to work in the first place. If you honestly think that the role of philosophers is to discourage scientists you are seriously confused.

Eduardo said...

Every now and then someone Scientism True-Believer pops and say how we should expect Science to explain everything and how Science does not depend on philosophy. XD I mean it is all over the blog.

It doesn't matter if you try to explain to them the mistakes on their thinking proccess because TO DO THAT IT takes philosophical skills which these people think it is worthless. And this is pathological behavior everywhere with people that Vox likes to call Fettishists XD, but at the Physics course where I study people are very similar they hardly understand science but it is standard that they will attribute to science a level of total objectiveness. "There is no such thing as discussion, or different takes on an issue since science is just do the experiment an voilá, you know what have happened."

Of course you always point to History of Science and Philosophy of Science to tell them the nuances that he have not noticed ( basically that Science is not this Black monolith they believe it is ). But it doesn't matter everytime you talk about Philosophy of Science in this blog some person with Scientism will pop up talk some popular misconceptions and just go away.

They are just educated trolls XD.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Next up, not the least since he's been in the press lately, is Richard Carrier's "defense" of metaphysical naturalism, _Sense and Goodness without God_. It's well beneath Dr. Feser's talents and time, but would be a delicious hat trick on the "handling" Carrier is getting lately on another front, and it would technically tie in with the theme of these Rosenberg posts that "no, naturalism doesn't need any help in sounding crazy".

Crude said...

One has only to weigh the evidence for scientism -- 500 years of scientific progress -- and the evidence against it -- including those cute conundrums. It’s clear which side has the weightier evidence.

This line of thinking has long rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not sure my problem with it is identical to Ed's.

Imagine I tell you that a socket wrench is capable of solving every engineering problem. You ask me for evidence why I believe this, and I point to a long list of engineering problems that were solved by use of a socket wrench. You point out a list of engineering problems that were not, or even cannot, be solved by a socket wrench - my reply is, "We haven't solve them with it YET. It's only a matter of time. Granted, we may not be able to even conceive of how this problem can be solved with this wrench. But look at the track record so far! You'd be a fool to bet against it!"

I think there's an obvious problem in that scenario. And I worry that the claim being made here cashes out to "Aside from all the problems it hasn't solved, science has solved all the problems it has faced."

Another problem I have: Rosenberg makes reference to 500 years of scientific progress. But he leaves out the pretty fundamental revisions science had to go through to solve a lot of those problems. Prior to the 19th century, someone could have said "Classical mechanics is inadequate to explain certain phenomena." Someone could have replied pointing out the success of classical mechanics up until that point, and given that as a reason to continue to have faith that classical mechanics would be vindicated again. The problem is that, according to contemporary scientific thought as I understand it - the skeptic would be correct. Classical mechanics was inadequate - we needed something more. (Quantum mechanics.)

And that's another issue with Rosenberg. He's not just saying "Science will show us solutions!" He's saying, "Science will show us solutions, and they will be of this type and character!" At which point, he can't call on "500 years" of scientific progress, because those 500 years are evidence against his claim. There were multiple revisions about fundamental views about nature in that time frame. If there are more in the future, it could well be fatal to Rosenberg's vision.

Hunt said...

What about impromptu surgical experiments when surgeons touch parts of the brain and elicit responses like "I taste cherries," or feelings of ecstasy? These are not, of course, solid cases for physicalism, but they do seem to be evidence for it, at least wrt. qualia. It may seem strange to you that reductionism will ever explain qualia, but isn't it equally bizarre that a mere surgical probe should be a direct connection to the non-physical world?
I do object to the notion that science is actually moving us further away from the explanation of subjective experience. Every time you drink alcohol (if you do) or pop a pill, physicalism is confirmed to the extent that we understand some of the physics (molecular brain chemistry) and that it correlates with subjective experience. We know that there must be at least some physical connection there. Now the reductive task is simply to keep pushing that point further and further down the hierarchy of complexity.

SR said...

@Hunt,

How does the surgical probe experiment -- or any other experiment one can think of, like the effects of alcohol, no matter how far it is "pushed" -- differentiate between the consciousness/brain identity theory and what can be called the "TV model" of the relation between brain and consciousness (that the brain acts as a tuner for a non-material consciousness)?

Tom Simon said...

@Hunt: ‘Now the reductive task is simply to keep pushing that point further and further down the hierarchy of complexity.’

To use the analogy from Dr. Feser’s post, your argument is isomorphic with: ‘Now the cleaning task is simply to keep sweeping the dirt further and further under the rug.’ That dog won’t hunt.

Crude said...

Regarding qualia and the brain.

My understanding is that Aristo-Thomists themselves think that qualia is a 'brain process'. However, they take the view that this requires a conception of matter that is at odds with the current, physicalist view.

If I understand this right, then it seems like the Thomist reply to Hunt would be that any evidence one supposes that links qualia with the body/brain would be evidence that squares neatly with Thomism.

I think the substance dualists could make a different case, but one which goes similarly. SR gives an example of a TV model - I've gotten the impression that's not the mainstream SD view, but it seems that something like it can work.

Eduardo said...

The vibe I get from Hunt is that Dualism = Mind controls us and brain has nothing to do with it.

Which is absolutely wrong XD, most dualists don't think like that, if they did ever think like that.

SR said...

@Crude,

I was just about to ask what the modern Thomist's position on qualia is. Here's the problem I have with it, and it is the same problem I have with physicalism, and that is that everything we know about the brain comes in the form of qualia. So isn't saying that qualia are "brain processes" the same kind of attempt to explain something in terms that require the same explanation?

Actually, my concerns go deeper, in that if one assumes that what one is looking at is a spatiotemporal process, then any perceptual act involves a unification over space and time that cannot be done by means of a spatiotemporal process, on pain of infinite regress. This is why I consider the so-called primary qualities (which include space and time) to be just as "secondary" as the others.

(By the way, I don't subscribe to the TV model, but just put it out there as an alternative explanation to physicalism of any neurophysical fact.)

JA said...

Science has been able to provide such results because, like any good method, it narrows its range of inquiries, in this case to the material and quantitative aspects of reality. Scientism-ists make an unwarranted assumption when they divide the phenomenal from the noumenal and assume that the way we experience is not the way that reality actually is. This needs to be demonstrated--and good luck doing that empirically--otherwise there is a real possibility that they are merely reifying abstractions (i.e. the quantitative nature of reality), rather than describing reality in toto, and mistaking their method for an ontology.

In other words, all the discoveries of science serve to demonstrate is that it is a successful method. It does not establish that this method can explain everything, nor does it mean that it will inevitably be able to do so (that is, by the by, a position of faith--and one that is rather methodologically unscientific). Further, it also does not warrant an opposition between science and philosophy as separable and irreconcilable approaches (this is another reification based upon assumption). In practice, the opposite is actually the case. One cannot begin scientific inquiry without first making a number of philosophical assumptions about the reliability of the senses and the consistency of reality; likewise, philosophy has been and continues to be informed by empirical investigation.

Perhaps the truth is that scientism-ists are not interested in answering these charges. Many of the "guest" commentators here have stopped by to spread their dogma without actually engaging any of the arguments, and then never return. This is ideology that rivals anything that comes from the most unreflective of fundamentalists.

Crude said...

SR,

I was just about to ask what the modern Thomist's position on qualia is. Here's the problem I have with it, and it is the same problem I have with physicalism, and that is that everything we know about the brain comes in the form of qualia. So isn't saying that qualia are "brain processes" the same kind of attempt to explain something in terms that require the same explanation?

Let me say, you're asking a fair question here - but it's one I just don't want to get into right now. My only point here was similar to yours - that 'the brain being involved in qualia', specifically, is not some kind of inconvenient discovery from either substance dualism or Thomism. That's all.

Hunt said...

"How does the surgical probe experiment -- or any other experiment one can think of, like the effects of alcohol, no matter how far it is "pushed" -- differentiate between the consciousness/brain identity theory and what can be called the "TV model" of the relation between brain and consciousness (that the brain acts as a tuner for a non-material consciousness)?"

It can't disprove the TV model, which is why it's not a sold case. Whether it offers more evidence for physicalism or TV tuner is a judgement call at this point. You also have to consider the fact that the brain seems to exhibit a high degree of functional modularity, so if it's just a tuner mediating between body and mind, it's one with many very distinct channels.

It all comes down to whether you find that convincing or if it strikes you as adding epicycles to an increasingly problematic theory.

Eduardo said...

You also have to consider the fact that the brain seems to exhibit a high degree of functional modularity, so if it's just a tuner mediating between body and mind, it's one with many very distinct channels.

_____________________________________

Actually the idea is that the real you that receives information uses the brain as monitor. Well actually the Monitor is not like a old phone channel I suppose, or that each channel in the monitor can only receive one type of information.

I mean remember it is an analogy that is not univocal.

Now when it comes to precise models of how dualism or materialism works is really something that need months or years of coming up with ideas, testing them, either philosophy or checking against scientific data.

But remember that the Dualism ,in Thomism is far different from a Dualism that posits mind as another substance like Descartes did. But anyways the arguments for Dualism ( the really simple version ) are at the beginning of the blog, first year.

Anonymous said...

I was just about to ask what the modern Thomist's position on qualia is. Here's the problem I have with it, and it is the same problem I have with physicalism, and that is that everything we know about the brain comes in the form of qualia. So isn't saying that qualia are "brain processes" the same kind of attempt to explain something in terms that require the same explanation?

To the best of my knowledge, there are no such things as "qualia" for the Thomist. The stuff contemporary philosophy describes as qualia is that which is irreducible to scientific measurement. The Thomist posits that qualia inhere in the natural world: they are not a projection of the brain. As a result, there is nothing particularly special or mysterious about qualia. They're just another feature of the world, as objectively real as any mathematical quantification.

Hunt said...

"@Hunt: ‘Now the reductive task is simply to keep pushing that point further and further down the hierarchy of complexity.’

To use the analogy from Dr. Feser’s post, your argument is isomorphic with: ‘Now the cleaning task is simply to keep sweeping the dirt further and further under the rug.’ That dog won’t hunt."

Dr. Feser uses very creative analogies, but they're not always accurate. Many, or perhaps most, of the things science has resolved in favor of physicalism or materialism hasn't just been done by shuffling them into an untidy den or sweeping them under a carpet, as if there is one central problem that is growing in a critical way and is at any moment ready to explode. When scientists use bravado wrt. these things, it actually is based on a track record. Think about things like vitalism or the idea that demons caused mental illness. For those who didn't understand what they were talking about simply because science hadn't advanced far enough, vitalism explained something every bit as mysterious about life as qualia are to brain science. However, when finally understood, biological science became as mundane as other material theories, at least insofar as vitalism was rejected.
The same is possible with subjective experience. The visible pile under the carpet might be vacuumed away. It's just too early to say.

Eduardo said...

Dr. Feser uses very creative analogies, but they're not always accurate. Many, or perhaps most, of the things science has resolved in favor of physicalism or materialism hasn't just been done by shuffling them into an untidy den or sweeping them under a carpet

__________________________________

He didn't say that.

What was said is that problem in mind-body are dismissed by sweeping them under the carpet, not that materialism is argued through sweeping problems under the carpet.

What you are saying is that materialism is inferred but what Dr. Feser is saying is that Materialism is pressuposed.


-----------------------------------

Crude said...

Think about things like vitalism or the idea that demons caused mental illness. For those who didn't understand what they were talking about simply because science hadn't advanced far enough, vitalism explained something every bit as mysterious about life as qualia are to brain science. However, when finally understood, biological science became as mundane as other material theories, at least insofar as vitalism was rejected.

First, it's not true that biological science has "become as mundane as other material theories", given their being replete with teleology.

Second, the cases differ sharply. In the case of mind, you're dealing with problems in principle that are spawned out of the very materialist* concept to begin with, rather than, say... arguing that some things are so complicated, or would be so complicated, that it's hard to see how they either exist or would come to exist.

(* And it's also untrue that physicalism and materialism kept having things 'resolved in their favor'. What did happen was that there were materialist and physicalist views of the world - and these, repeatedly, turned out to be wrong. A new view replaced them (classical mechanics to quantum mechanics at various scales), and this new view was called 'material' or 'physical'. Which, frankly, pretty weak.)

SR said...

@Anonymous at 7:01 PM

The Thomist posits that qualia inhere in the natural world: they are not a projection of the brain. As a result, there is nothing particularly special or mysterious about qualia. They're just another feature of the world, as objectively real as any mathematical quantification.

When I look at a leaf, where (ontologically) is the greenness? To say "They're just another feature of the world" doesn't answer this question, But you say it is "objectively real", so I ask: are you using 'objective' in the modern or the medieval sense? Didn't Scholastic philosophy make a distinction between object (thing as perceived) and subject (thing in itself), and wouldn't they have placed greenness in the (Scholastic) object? (I may be misunderstanding this Scholastic object/subject distinction, so if I am, I would appreciate correction.)

Anonymous said...

SR,

I'm not sure about the scholastic object/subject distinction you mentioned--that's news to me. I was using "objectively" in the modern sense. Ontologically, the green-ness is in the leaf. We merely perceive what is already there. That's pretty much all there is to it.

Note that Thomism, being a development of Aristotelianism, is committed to a "moderate realist" position. The green-ness is not a projection of a universal form (Platonic realism): it inheres in and cannot exist apart from its instances in reality. At the same time, green-ness (as instance or as universal) is not a projection of the mind, which would take us into nominalism and Cartesian mind-body dualism. The green-ness is in reality, within its instances, independent of any mind.

JA said...

Just to correct Anon at 9:13 above me, his post is not entirely correct. Green-ness would actually be in 3 places. First, it would inhere in the mind of God and sustained there, but it would also inhere in the leaf itself. It would then also exist in the human mind after the active intellect abstracts green-ness from the image of the leaf in the mind and deposits it into the passive intellect. So it would be more accurate to say that Aquinas, while certainly a moderate realist following Aristotle by arguing that green-ness inheres in the leaf itself, would also argue that this is so only because it first inhered in the Divine Intellect.

This is why it's wrong to call Aquinas an Aristotelian or Thomism a form of Aristotelianism. Thomas heavily revised Aristotle and blended his thinking with Platonized Christianity. And recall that he was under attack from the Averroists or integral Aristotelians of his day, such as Siger of Brabant. Since most modern academic views follow Siger, more or less, and present Aristotle as inherently opposed to Platonism, this formulation is ripe for confusion.

Anonymous said...

JA,

Very true. I'm still learning about how forms pre-exist in the Divine Intellect, so I decided instead to provide the stripped-down Aristotelian explanation most commonly presented by people like David Oderberg and Prof. Feser. Thank you for the correction.

As for the abstraction of forms by the human intellect, I had considered mentioning it, but I had decided that it wasn't needed. You're right that I probably should have included it--to someone unfamiliar with Aristotle's realism, it would be necessary to explain how the mind comprehends form. Again, thank you for elaborating.

SR said...

@JA,

I was referring to the actual experience of greenness, not the concept 'greenness'. I don't see how that experienced greenness can be said to "inhere in the leaf". It is actual when light that has reflected off of a leaf strikes the nervous system of the perceiver. So it must be in the light or the perceiver, or perhaps better put as being the interaction of light and perceiver. One wouldn't say that the colors of a rainbow inhere in the water molecules in the air, would one? That is why I asked about the Scholastic object/subject distinction. I would think it just is the distinction between what inheres in a thing and what is perceived.

I'm asking about this because I don't see why a Thomist would consider qualia a "red herring", as Dr. Feser says they would in Aquinas. If the existence of qualia (by whatever name) isn't basic to the (Scholastic) object/subject distinction, what is?

JA said...

There is no Thomist subject/object distinction that I'm aware of, though someone else may prove me wrong.

The subject/object distinction, if I remember correctly, is a modern one following a model of nature that turns on Cartesian or quasi-Cartesian mind/body dualism. Under this conceptualization, one knows an object by mirroring it in the mind (i.e. "the mirror of nature"), perfectly and totally. For classical theists, on the other hand, there is no object to know by closing the mind around it and mirroring it. Rather, something--a leaf, a musical note, etc.--is known by participation in relations.

Knowledge is participatory and relational because there are no "things" to be turned into "objects" to begin with. The idea of a "thing" as a discrete and particular singular is a consequence of nominalism, which doesn't really emerge with any force until William of Ockham. Classical theists prior to this (with some exceptions) did not understand things as singulars that are self-contained units, but relations, both externally, in that that they participate in universals, and internally, in that any thing in the world is itself constituted of relations. Thomas, for instance, understands all things in the world as principles of relation: the principle of substance is a relation of form and matter, essence is a relation substance and accidents, and there is a relation between essence and existence. Note that, to take an example, form and matter do not exist on their own, but are rather terms of relation. You could almost consider this a Trinitarian metaphysics where anything that exists, exists as a unity of distinctions that do not exist independently of that unity.

To get back to your question, because "things" in the world are relations and not discrete singulars, and because the borders of these relations are not self-contained since they exist in a great chain of being by which they participation in universals, there is no self-contained "thing" to be made into an "object" by a "subject." Instead, all things are terms of relations, and there is no hard and total distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. Knowledge is then achieved by participation and experience, not through mirroring the world in the mind.

(By the way, this is why poststructuralism and postmodernism has NOTHING on premodern thought. Rather, it begins with the modern assumption that things are objects to be mirrored in the mind. If they cannot be mirrored totally and perfectly, then knowledge is impossible and we must despaire. Classical theists, on the other hand, understand knowledge in terms of degrees of participation, and where total and complete participation is impossible for finite being. It's no biggie that they don't hold perfect knowledge, since, unlike the moderns, they don't begin with a nihilistic quest that demands final and absolute knowledge in order to make themselves gods.)

Hunt said...

"First, it's not true that biological science has "become as mundane as other material theories", given their being replete with teleology."

Biological teleology is another great example of a "gaps" claim. It appears teleological until a material theory explains it and then poof, teleology disappears. The supposedly extravagant claim of scientism is no more than extrapolation of the trend that gaps are going to continue to close until they disappear outright. There is no teleology in biology unless you want to interpret processes we don't completely understand teleologically, but you might as well say "here be magic."

It's the same with brain science. There is a gap in our understanding of subjective experience; we fill it with some mumbo jumbo or another like qualia that we don't fully understand. You're betting that perhaps this one time it's going to turn out that there isn't a mundane explanation, even though there is not a single thing that everyone considers supernatural.

Not a bet I'm willing to make.

Anonymous said...

Hunt,

It's not so much that teleology is a "gaps" explanation akin to the "God of the Gaps" explanations, where a natural explanation is lacking for a process in nature and God's direct intervention is posited as filling that gap. Thomists, at least, would posit an intermediate created order that God operates through secondarily, not primarily.

Instead, an account of change that makes use of the four causes, including final causes (teleology), is an alternative explanatory framework to the mechanistic and materialistic one that (I assume) you hold. To call it an attempt to fill "gaps" is quite the category mistake.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel that JA's response completely jibes with A-T essentialism as I understand it, so I'm going to take a shot at responding to SR myself.

SR,

You're taking this too much from a contemporary metaphysical perspective. Thomism (and traditional philosophy generally) rejects the reductionist approach you outlined above.

Even though we understand that light is critical in our being able to perceive green-ness, the green-ness of the leaf cannot be reduced to light. Green-ness is (in technical jargon) an accidental property that the leaf is capable of possessing as a result of its essence. If its essence did not grant the possibility of accidental green-ness (for example, if the leaf was essentially immaterial), then no amount of light could make it green. The same goes if the leaf did not exist: the green-ness of the leaf would not remain even if every condition for its appearance was met. (If some kind of green-ness did appear in the empty space where the leaf would have been, it would not be "of the leaf" but rather "of whatever substance was in the empty space".) As a result, it makes no sense to state that the light combined our perceptions is the green-ness in an ontological sense.

At least, that's my understanding after reading a large portion of David Oderberg's Real Essentialism.

Anonymous said...

The above should say "the light combined with our perceptions".

Anonymous said...

Biological teleology is another great example of a "gaps" claim. It appears teleological until a material theory explains it and then poof, teleology disappears. The supposedly extravagant claim of scientism is no more than extrapolation of the trend that gaps are going to continue to close until they disappear outright. There is no teleology in biology unless you want to interpret processes we don't completely understand teleologically, but you might as well say "here be magic."

This is just a bunch of unargued assertions and bluster. You're going to have to present a stronger case for your side than that.

SR said...

@JA,

In reading John Deely, it is necessary to be aware that he uses the words 'subject' and 'object' (and 'subjective' and 'objective' in the way scholastics used the Latin equivalents, and that way is just about opposite to their modern meanings. For example, in New Beginning (p. 55) one finds

"Poinsot [John of St. Thomas] accepted rather [as opposed to Descartes] a doctrine of substance according to which ontological unities in nature do not ordinarily correspond and can seldom be made to correspond in one-to-one fashion with objective unities represented in knowledge...Cajetan enunciates the principle that differences among things are quite another matter than differences among objects....Knowledge, Poinsot considered, consisted in the establishment...of a correspondence in relationships between objective representation and ontological reality, allowing in particular for objective states of affairs which have no ontological counterpart existing apart from their representations."

And he gives a quote from Poinsot"

"For existence is always in an order to itself and subjectively [subiective], whereas to a power [potentiam] it always pertains objectively [obiective]."

Now I don't really know what that means, or how or if it applies to questions of perception, nor do I know really how Thomistic it is (though he certainly thought it was), but it does indicate that a subject/object distinction was made, different from the modern one, so if anyone could elaborate on just what 'subject' and 'object' meant to a Scholastic, I'd be grateful.

But back to perception, given what you say about relations, why doesn't it make more sense to say that the greenness lies in the participatory relation between me and the leaf, and not inherent in either me or the leaf?

Hunt said...

"Instead, an account of change that makes use of the four causes, including final causes (teleology), is an alternative explanatory framework to the mechanistic and materialistic one that (I assume) you hold. To call it an attempt to fill "gaps" is quite the category mistake."

Using the word "gap" does risk conflating it with "God of gaps" argument, and I'd be dishonest to say that wasn't my inspiration for using it, but my interpretation and your are pretty much in line. The "gap" is in our complete understanding, everybody's complete understanding, yours, mine, humanity's. In the knowledge gap that was our understanding of biological matter, we inserted vitalism, which turned out to be an unjustified placeholder because nobody could fathom how organic matter could be plain old garden variety matter, but that's how it turned out, and vitalism was rejected the moment a complete enough understanding of biochemistry was at hand. I have extremely high confidence that a similar thing will happen with the nature of subjective experience for the very simple probabilistic reason that so many mysterious phenomenon have later turned out to be mundane. Yet there will remain those who are staunchly determined that each new mystery cannot possibly be a mirage, forgetting the list of dead mysteries that each offered the same promise. How silly of those people to have believed what they did, but this new thing...this is the real deal! Each new gap in knowledge is another upturned lifeboat the non-scientism-ist clings to for dear life. Hope springs eternal.

Hunt said...

Dr. Feser likes analogies, so here's one of my own that I think is pretty exact and makes the concession that you even might have good theories about non-scientism, while recognizing the crucial fact that nobody actually understands consciousness or intentionality at this point:

You're called to coach a children's baseball team even though you don't exactly know what you're doing. You begin the season with a loss, and then go on to have an unbroken string of twenty losses. At the final game of the season you think you've figured out what you're doing wrong, but you still don't know for sure. What is reasonable for you to believe, and what is reasonable for an observer to believe about who will win the game? Would you put any money on winning the final game?

SR said...

@Anonymous at 12:04 AM,


You're taking this too much from a contemporary metaphysical perspective. Thomism (and traditional philosophy generally) rejects the reductionist approach you outlined above.


I wasn't aware of taking this from any metaphysical perspective, nor of reducing anything to anything. Just repeating the modern scientifically-informed common sense notion that leaves appear green to us because its molecules reflect light of a certain frequency and absorb the rest. So what is the justification for saying that its essence includes greenness, rather than just saying it includes having those kind of molecules?

Even though we understand that light is critical in our being able to perceive green-ness, the green-ness of the leaf cannot be reduced to light.

Who says it is? I said that greenness happens when suitable nervous systems encounter a certain light frequency which gets emitted by the electrons of a leaf, so it is not "reducible" to any one of these places, rather it requires all of them, as conditions. But those conditions still do not "explain" the experience of greenness. To do so one does get into metaphysics. However, the Thomist answer -- that it inheres in the leaf -- seems quite inadequate to me.

Green-ness is (in technical jargon) an accidental property that the leaf is capable of possessing as a result of its essence.

How is this saying anything more than "a leaf looks green because it is capable of looking green"? On the other hand, saying the leaf looks green because its molecules reflect green light does say something (though that is far from a complete explanation.)

If its essence did not grant the possibility of accidental green-ness (for example, if the leaf was essentially immaterial), then no amount of light could make it green.

But also nothing could make it green if there are no eyes looking at it. I see no way of getting around the fact that greenness is only actual when more than what is inherent in a leaf is present, while saying it is potentially in the leaf doesn't really say anything interesting. That is, that potential can be reduced (to its molecular constitution), so what is inherent in the leaf is the capability of reflecting light of a certain frequency, but there is no greenness unless that light is absorbed in a retina.

The same goes if the leaf did not exist: the green-ness of the leaf would not remain even if every condition for its appearance was met. (If some kind of green-ness did appear in the empty space where the leaf would have been, it would not be "of the leaf" but rather "of whatever substance was in the empty space".) As a result, it makes no sense to state that the light combined with our perceptions is the green-ness in an ontological sense.

How that follows as a result I do not understand. Remove the leaf, there is no greenness. Remove the light, ditto. Remove the eyes, ditto. On the other hand, there can be experience of greenness when there is no physical thing present, as in a dream. So there is a prima facie possibility that greenness is projected by the perceiver. I don't happen to agree fully with that notion, but it is not easily dismissed.

SR said...

@JA,

Speaking of participation, as I mentioned in a comment a couple of posts ago, I am familiar with the concept, being a Barfieldian, who's book Saving the Appearances is all about participation. But with this important difference: that in Aquinas' time, participation was still dimly felt (and in more distant times was strongly felt -- it is why they were pagans -- they experienced spirit in things), while in modern times it no longer is. Instead, it has to be inferred -- his book shows how that inference can be done. It is because consciousness has evolved in this way, with participation becoming completely subconscious, that non-participatory metaphysics emerged. But because consciousness is evolving in this way, Thomism is no longer adequate. The modern subject/object distinction exists in theory because the subject has in fact become further separated from objects (this separation being pretty much the same thing as the loss of an awareness of participation), which means that Thomism is no longer adequate to the data. A bigger picture is needed, which Barfield provides, and needed especially to overcome modernism, which Thomism alone never can.

Untenured said...

The inductive argument for scientism, though often parroted, is not the least bit impressive. The basic reasoning is that science has good track record of solving certain problems, ergo any philosophical problem we can come up with is likely to eventually yield to a scientific explanation.

This is pure bullocks, because the problems which are addressed by science are largely pre-selected for their empirical solubility. It would be like me picking fights only with people I knew I could beat up, and then confidently announcing that I can beat up anyone because I haven't lost a fight yet.

Likewise, science makes lots of progress when it comes to limning the structure and dynamics of natural phenomena. To infer, from this alone, that science can solve any conceptual problem whatsoever is to reason in this same sloppy way. Sure, you can get away with this argument in most PGR top-50 departments, but that doesn't make it a good argument. It just makes it a lousy argument that lots of professional philosophers are inclined to accept.

Second, nobody ever brings up the absurd claims which have been made on behalf of the explanatory reach of science and which never panned out. It was once widely believed that science was going to yield theories in psychology, sociology and economics with same predictive power as physics. It used to be commonly thought that such theories were right around the corner. These are clear cut cases where the explanatory paradigms in science have failed miserably. Why isn't this evidence against scientism? If the successes count in its favor, why don't the failures ever get counted against it?

Arguments like the one presented by anon 3:14 are repeated ad nauseum as though they are decisive, when really they are nothing more than ignorant parrotry.

Hunt said...

"The inductive argument for scientism, though often parroted, is not the least bit impressive. The basic reasoning is that science has good track record of solving certain problems, ergo any philosophical problem we can come up with is likely to eventually yield to a scientific explanation."

Nobody contests that science has a good track record in uncontested areas. (Well, there are a few.) But it also has a good track record in areas where it was said not to belong; it's just that the ground has been so thoroughly ceded that nobody actually remembers that it was ever outside the domain of scientific discourse. People are left with the impression that you just voiced.

Untenured said...

@Hunt:

We will need to deal in specifics. I am well aware of specific claims by philosophers about the limits of scientific inquiry which have been empirically refuted. But this is not sufficient grounds for the optimistic induction which is favored by many proponents of scientism, and it certainly doesn't justify Rosenberg's glib dismissal of all philosophical arguments contrary to scientism as futile. Some philosophers have made false empirical claims. So what? How does this help us decide which claims are properly empirical in the first place, and how does this help us determine whether something is outside the scope of empirical inquiry, or is explicable according to the dominant mechanistic paradigm? Frankly, I am not seeing much argument to back up all of the rhetorical blustering by the proponents of scientism. Just a whole lot of hand-waving and Dennett style rhetorical posturing.

T. Aquinas said...

A writes: "In the history of science we have witnessed the systematic. displacement of intentional explanations of nature (involving the gods, vital forces etc) with non intentional mechanistic explanations. "


This account, of course, is a non-intentional mechanistic explanation of the history of science, for it requires that there are "witnesses" who possess thoughts about the history of science, not to mention scientists who apparently have intentions about what sorts of projects are worthy of exploration and discovery.

In order to pull of this "explanation," you have smuggle in understandings that your theory undermines.

This, by the way, is the core problem in the attempt to "naturalize" everything in philosophy. It requires an unphilosophical move, bracketing a cluster of issues and pretending they're not relevant and then pronouncing "victory." It is what i like to call eliminative philosophizing.

Lamont said...

People sometimes forget that one of the grandest scientific - atheistic programs of all time was Marxism. We have all seen how that worked out.

Science that lacks a sound philosophical foundation, (ethics and metaphysics) is just a loose cannon that threatens to destroy humanity.

Eduardo said...

I suppose you have no need to "bet" on what will happen in thbe future.

Using vitalism is a perfect example. Vitalism was created to explain why a plant could grow inside a closed recipient of glass. According to the laws of thermodynamics in this case the second law, the components inside the glass should change towards disorder ( which is the state with the highest probability really ). But the plant kept growing, defying the law. Voilá, vitalism was created to solve the problem.

Now what is this vital force ??? well it is the energy of the sun xD. We simply didn't know that the sun was inserting energy into the recipient and that was allowing the plant to grow. Now there was no move away from materialism, there was just a problem with the theory that had to be solved by adding a new element into the equation.

Needless to say we could have figured it out what was this extra element, if we had tried all possibilities of where this energy is or where is coming from. I mean it would be a pain in the ass filled with especulation, but definetely we ccould have figure it out using principles and rules.

So I suppose there is no need for a bet, we just have to go out there and make theoretical work ( theoretical work is what "explains" really, we always see the experiment and try to contextualise on our theories ). Now if there are critiques, that hurt the principles of materialism or Thomism or any other approach, then they are valid, because deep down it is our Philosophy that explain stuff and not our perception.

So even IF a philosophy has a outstanding track record ... that does not mean it will be always right; if there are valid arguments against it... then voilá we have found the limits of the philosophical approach.

Arthur said...

"Nobody contests that science has a good track record in uncontested areas... But it also has a good track record in areas where it was said not to belong."

Like what? I'd love to hear an example of science intruding into apparrently philosophical territory. As it stands, I don't even see how that's legitimately possible.

Anonymous said...

Hunt: Biological teleology is another great example of a "gaps" claim.

That's another great example of not understanding what "teleology" is. There are a ton of posts about it on this very site, feel free to educate yourself.

There is no teleology in biology unless you want to interpret processes we don't completely understand teleologically, but you might as well say "here be magic."

On the contrary, it's because we do understand certain processes that we know they are teleological. Indeed, it's because they are teleological that they are understandable as scientific processes in the first place. Lots of people misuse the term, but if you want to discuss teleology in the A-T sense, you first have to have some idea what it actually means.


I have extremely high confidence that a similar thing will happen with the nature of subjective experience for the very simple probabilistic reason that so many mysterious phenomenon have later turned out to be mundane.

That's dumb. It's not just that it's wrong, it's that that is a stupid reason for being wrong. (Cf. Untenured's nice example of claiming you can beat anyone in a fight.) Either your confidence is the result of a bizarre psychological prejudice, or else there are better reasons for believing that, in which case it would be a good idea to consider what those reasons might be a bit more carefully. (Tip: try actually reading the article you're replying to.)

How silly of those people to have believed what they did, but this new thing...this is the real deal!

Oh, if you're just picking on the silly people, sure, it's always fun to laugh at silly people. But that ignores the serious arguments on the subject that go back further than Aristotle, you know. (Or maybe you don't know. Scientismists have a track record of scientific proportions when it comes to ignorance of history and philosophy.)

Anonymous said...

Hunt: What is reasonable for you to believe, and what is reasonable for an observer to believe about who will win the game? Would you put any money on winning the final game?

Interesting analogy. I see what you're saying: the mechanistic, "scientistic" approach has consistently been at a loss to provide any useful answer to problems it faces like intentionality, qualia, etc., so it would be rather foolish of us to suppose that it suddenly now is about to come up with one. In other words, the reasonable thing to do it to bet against naturalism. Of course, no analogy is perfect (baseball is something where practice can lead to improvement, whereas scientism is philosophically crippled by its nature), but I think you're onto something!

Arthur said...

To my mind, the fact that scientism is self-defeating is more than enough reason for anyone to reject it. You really can learn all you need to know about scientism in five minutes.

Sure, you can also spend time exposing all the faulty arguments, or drawing out some of the absurd implications, but why bother? One refutation is enough.

goddinpotty said...

OK, "scientism" may have some problems. But, if you wanted to understand what "greenness" is, do you really think it's preferable to spin theories based on unobservable and musty concepts like "the mind of god" and "passive intellect", or instead make use of concepts grounded in empirical science such as the wavelength of light, the frequency response of the cone cells in the retina, the neural processing that make it possible to maintain perceptual color constancy under varying light conditions...there's a hell of a lot of interesting actualities there.

Perhaps that doesn't address the question you are really interested in. You don't care how green actually works, all you care about is understanding the subjective experience of green, which science doesn't have much to say about. But you guys don't seem to like subjective ways of speaking at all (based on earlier conversations), which puts you in the position of trying to make objective statements about subjectivity. Seems like an awkward job to me -- art does a better job of capturing the subjective than philosophy.

Codgitator said...

gip:

The point is that subjectivity is an objective reality. It's not some fiction in need of reduction by "science": it is the very condition for science. To pit laboratory objectivity against (emotive?) subjectivity is just a shibboleth for your instinctive Cartesianism. Indeed, there were few stauncher advocates of the physiological study of perception than Descartes. But he pit "all that objective" reality against our "inner subjective experience", as if the two "domains" had nothing to do with each other. By contrast A-T is basically saying it's a false dichotomy and that the two are really one. There are no objects apart from their objectivity with respect to (literally vis-à-vis!) real subjectivity. You propagate the false dichotomy as an u.sitting disciple of Descartes.

Eduardo said...

Theories are theories no matter what Potty XD.


We just believe that the theories that correspond to measuments in our experiments are the right ones. But in the end it is just wild talk just like here XD, your brains just got trained to accept certain answers than others even though they might have the same result in nature * in case any of them are correct *.

And still potty they are talking about green-ness not HOW I see green, but the correlations either in the human being or the plant that creates green-ness, and since they are talking about a theistic conception of the world they also talk about G*d.

I mean no one is trying to guess experiences here, which looks like what you are trying to imply, they want to understand just a common experience we all had, * ... unless you happen to be green blind XD * and are discussing some metaphysical concepts.

The Deuce said...

Biological teleology is another great example of a "gaps" claim. It appears teleological until a material theory explains it and then poof, teleology disappears.

You'd think, then, that teleology would have disappeared by now. But biologists themselves help to keep this "gap" going by constantly talking about "function", "purpose", "goals", "programs", "information", etc.

The problem is that it's simply impossible to meaningfully describe what goes on in biology without teleological concepts. In fact, the teleology is the very thing that the discipline of biology is meant to explain and describe in the first place. The physical constituents of biological organisms aren't what need to be explained. Carbon, water, etc exist throughout the universe. We don't require scientific disciplines to describe just any old arrangement of carbon. What makes biological organisms special, the very reason that biology exists in the first place, is that we observe them to have function.

If we claim that the function doesn't exist, that it's simply projected onto reality by us, then all attempts to describe and explain that function (which would include all the biological disciplines, as well as Darwinian explanation), must likewise be held as subjectively appealing fictions, rather than actual investigation into the truth about reality, forcing us into a constructivist philosophy of science.

That's why most self-proclaimed materialist philosophers of biology don't actually deny that organisms have function or telos, just as most materialists aren't eliminativists in the philosophy of mind. Instead, they try to redefine teleological concepts in non-teleological terms (aka "non-reductive materialism").

But, just as in philosophy of mind, consistent materialism in biology requires eliminativism, and thus the insane conclusion that the phenomena that biology describes are non-existent (just as materialism in philosophy of mind requires the insane conclusion that beliefs don't exist).

The Deuce said...

One has only to weigh the evidence for scientism -- 500 years of scientific progress -- and the evidence against it -- including those cute conundrums. It’s clear which side has the weightier evidence.

Here's another problem with this: What can a statement like the above from Rosenberg possibly even mean, given that he's an eliminativist, and as such according to his view, evidence doesn't even exist, just as beliefs and other "propositional attitudes" don't exist? It's a similar question I had when he claimed that what matters is the "truth". It's impossible to search for or know the truth if there are no beliefs, and hence no true or false beliefs. The very concepts of truth, evidence, etc depend on the existence of beliefs and other teleological things eliminativists dismiss as "folk psychology". The conclusion Rosenberg wants us to reach explicitly denies the validity of the concepts he's trying to use to argue for it.

Arthur said...

"OK, "scientism" may have some problems."

It's self-defeating, all the arguments for it are lousy, there's plenty of counter-evidence, and it has many absurd implications. You don't even seem to disagree. I don't think "may have some problems" really covers it.

"...trying to make objective statements about subjectivity. Seems like an awkward job to me".

I'm less certain about this one, but you may be confusing objectivity of approach with objectivity of subject matter. Just because a statement is objective doesn't mean that it must refer to the objective.

goddinpotty said...

Biology has had a mechanistic reduction of teleology since Darwin; cognitive science provides a sketch of how intentionality may similarly be reduced. Hard to believe there are still people who don't get it 150 years later.

@Codgitator -- I don't get your point. Obviously subjectivity and objectivity have a great deal to do with each other -- they are, if you like, two different viewpoints on the same reality. My point is that the methods of science are providing us with genuinely new knowledge, whereas the subjective view has not make notable progress, and what progress it does make seems to be through art rather than philosophy, and by their nature aren't necessarily better -- eg, James Joyce certainly explored some new territory in subjective experience, but opinions differ on whether his picture was an improvement or not.

I am not an eliminativist and I don't think subjectivity is unreal or to be scorned, but it is what it is, and necessarily has to take a somewhat subordinate role to objectivity in any kind of academic discussion., because the very format of discourse favors objectivity.

Eduardo said...

Still teleology exists.

Doesn't matter if a mechanism that get's as much variation as you desire couples with a selection system which you don't know quite what is was created the machines you see.

The function is still there, is not an illusion.

The Deuce said...

Biology has had a mechanistic reduction of teleology since Darwin; cognitive science provides a sketch of how intentionality may similarly be reduced.

No, it hasn't. What biology and cognitive science both have is a philosophical cottage industry in coming up mutually exclusive, inconsistent, and incoherent attempts to redefine teleological concepts in mechanistic terms, as well as groups of people (the eliminativists) who insist those terms are invalid and should be done away with. They're all agreed that teleology has (somehow) been explained away with as an irreducible thing, even though, mysteriously, nobody agrees with what that explanation is, and nobody is even internally consistent with their own favored explanation.

The Deuce said...

Eduardo:

The function is still there, is not an illusion.

If you've watched Darwinian discussions, you'll know how much of a mess it is. Half the people say that the Darwinian mechanism shows teleology to be an illusion, and the other half say that teleology is real, and that the Darwinian mechanism accounts for it. The reason the debate rages on is that it's an irresolvable conceptual problem at core, with neither answer being compatible with both materialism and scientific realism.

After all, if teleology is an illusion, we don't need a biological theory to explain why we see it - we need a psychologist, since it's all in our minds. On the other hand, if teleology is real, then non-teleological theories of biology are automatically false. What most non-teleologists settle for is a sort of fuzzy ambiguity about the whole thing, where they try to have their cake and eat it too, and to not analyze it too much. When they actually try to spell it out explicitly, they invariably try to redefine teleology in non-teleological terms via equivocation, circular logic, and homunculus fallacies.

Eduardo said...

"If you've watched Darwinian discussions, you'll know how much of a mess it is."

I happen to be one of the muddle head who use to do that ahahhahaha ... alwyas had interested in Evolution, so I thought that the discussions would be "good".

Now to quite sincere I didn't have the luck to come in the teleology discussion... just once actually.

Most of the time what I hear from Darwinian hard-cores is that Teleology is an illusion, everything has no purpose, but the majority of the times they are just argumenting in circles and unwantedly. They just go, certainly in the past there was no purpose in every form, so therefore there is no purpose now. But the problem is that you are already pressuposing it has no Telos of any form.

Anyways, I still own myself to read Darwin and other Evolutionary Biology Theorists and check for the evidence, but the whole discussion is indeed a mess * and the internet helps nothing *.

SR said...

Do you suppose it would be possible for Thomists to avoid using the phrase "objective reality" so as to avoid the on-the-surface contradiction of saying "subjectivity is objectively real"? After all, all you mean to say is "subjectivity is real", and the addition of 'objective' is just a rhetorical addition that has its punch from a modernist confounding of its meaning. Its use seems to imply that subjectivity can be treated as an object, but it cannot, for when it is, it ceases to be subjectivity. It's like thinking one can study life by studying dead things. True, one can learn some things, but not the essence.

rank sophist said...

I was the Anon at 12:04.

I wasn't aware of taking this from any metaphysical perspective, nor of reducing anything to anything. Just repeating the modern scientifically-informed common sense notion that leaves appear green to us because its molecules reflect light of a certain frequency and absorb the rest.

Such a notion is implicitly reductionist. Understand that nearly every possible statement requires a metaphysical backdrop--the backdrop to this statement is reductionism.

Consider David Oderberg's discussion of reductionism in Real Essentialism:

"... real essentialism, whilst incorporating into its definitions whatever correct science has to offer about the inner structures of things, takes all objects, from the very big to the very small, at face value. This means that qualitative characteristics of things are held to be a real part of ontology, not mere epiphenomena, or expressions of, or reducible to, the underlying quantitative characteristics of things given by mathematical theory, no matter how predictive and explanatorily successful the mathematical theory may be."

He makes clear that both microscopic and macroscopic elements are on equal footing. In the case of gold, its existence as a "soft, shiny, yellow, heavy, malleable, ductile metal" is just as relevant as its atomic structure.

So what is the justification for saying that its essence includes greenness, rather than just saying it includes having those kind of molecules?

See above.

Who says it is? I said that greenness happens when suitable nervous systems encounter a certain light frequency which gets emitted by the electrons of a leaf, so it is not "reducible" to any one of these places, rather it requires all of them, as conditions. But those conditions still do not "explain" the experience of greenness. To do so one does get into metaphysics. However, the Thomist answer -- that it inheres in the leaf -- seems quite inadequate to me.

Ontologically, the green-ness begins in the leaf. We could not perceive green-ness if we were, for example, blind; but that does not say anything about the ontological location of the green-ness. So green-ness does not begin in its perception. And, as the light merely allows us to perceive the green-ness, it obviously cannot begin in the light. The ontological ground of the leaf's green-ness, then, must be in the leaf itself.

How is this saying anything more than "a leaf looks green because it is capable of looking green"? On the other hand, saying the leaf looks green because its molecules reflect green light does say something (though that is far from a complete explanation.)

You seem to think that "a leaf looks green because it is capable of looking green" is a tautology. It is not. Here is a tautology: "a leaf looks green because it looks green". My statement had little content (as a result of my lack of knowledge about leaves), but it was not content-free.

I was merely trying to state that there is a necessary connection between essence and property. In the case of water, Oderberg writes that "not only does having the H2O structure metaphysically guarantee having the properties of water, but having the properties of water guarantees having the H2O structure ... One might call this a two-way supervenience between the properties of water and the H2O structure - no difference in one without a difference in the other." This, for example, includes water's brand of "wetness", and it includes accidents such as water's ability to turn green. Same with the leaf. As a result, it is incoherent to say that the green-ness is metaphysically separate from the leaf, just as it is incoherent to say that the wetness of the water, say, is metaphysically separate from the water.

rank sophist said...

(Continued)

But also nothing could make it green if there are no eyes looking at it. I see no way of getting around the fact that greenness is only actual when more than what is inherent in a leaf is present, while saying it is potentially in the leaf doesn't really say anything interesting. That is, that potential can be reduced (to its molecular constitution), so what is inherent in the leaf is the capability of reflecting light of a certain frequency, but there is no greenness unless that light is absorbed in a retina.

I never suggested that green-ness was "actualized" by perception. You're looking at this from a Cartesian viewpoint. As I said above, the wetness of water no more requires human participation than does the green-ness of the leaf.

How that follows as a result I do not understand. Remove the leaf, there is no greenness. Remove the light, ditto. Remove the eyes, ditto.

Remove the light or the eyes and we cannot perceive the green-ness. But the green-ness is still ontologically present within the leaf.

On the other hand, there can be experience of greenness when there is no physical thing present, as in a dream. So there is a prima facie possibility that greenness is projected by the perceiver.

Green-ness conceived apart from physical things is no issue for Thomism. The (immaterial) intellect abstracts and retains forms from objects in the natural world. I would go into it further, but this post is already huge.

SR said...

@rank sophist,

[Me:]leaves appear green to us because its molecules reflect light of a certain frequency and absorb the rest.

[You:]Such a notion is implicitly reductionist. Understand that nearly every possible statement requires a metaphysical backdrop--the backdrop to this statement is reductionism.

I suppose you could say that if I had meant 'because' as 'solely because', but all I had intended it to mean is that we see greenness in an object if it reflects light of a certain frequency, which is just a low-level fact about vision. It would only be reductionist if I thought that that (along with some other low-level facts, like what electrons in retinas do) was a full explanation of seeing green. Which I don't, as I said later.

[Me:}So what is the justification for saying that its essence includes greenness, rather than just saying it includes having those kind of molecules?

[You:]See above. [that macro facts and micro facts are all relevant]

Yes they are, but it is simply an assertion to say that "greenness is in the leaf" is a macro fact, one I don't see any reason to accept.

Ontologically, the green-ness begins in the leaf. We could not perceive green-ness if we were, for example, blind; but that does not say anything about the ontological location of the green-ness. So green-ness does not begin in its perception. And, as the light merely allows us to perceive the green-ness, it obviously cannot begin in the light. The ontological ground of the leaf's green-ness, then, must be in the leaf itself.

Here is my alternative: greenness cannot just be in the perceiver because there is no greenness without light or (in this case, but not in general) something to reflect light. Greenness is probably not just in the light, as it gets absorbed by other things (than eyes) where we can assume it does not result in an experience of greenness. And greenness cannot be just in the leaf because there is no experience of greenness without light and a perceiver. So the ontological location of greenness lies in the participation of all three.

Wetness of water also lies in the participation of water with a perceiver, and not in either alone.

The point being, it is an alternative metaphysical interpretation, one which makes more sense to me than the Thomist one.

Remove the light or the eyes and we cannot perceive the green-ness. But the green-ness is still ontologically present within the leaf.

Again, just an assertion. As is my alternative, which would say: no more than the greenness is ontologically present within the light and the perceiver. So how does one choose one assertion over the other? My answer would be to consider the greater picture implied by each. I prefer my assertion since it is relevant to the idea that perceiver and perceived are in polar relation (in Coleridge's sense of the term) with each other, that neither has substantial existence on its own, while in Thomism (as I understand it), while superior to Cartesian dualism in that it recognizes the participation of the two, does not go far enough.

The (immaterial) intellect abstracts and retains forms from objects in the natural world.

That's another thing I take issue with, but as you say, another time.

dover_beach said...

Hunt:
At the final game of the season you think you've figured out what you're doing wrong, but you still don't know for sure. What is reasonable for you to believe,

This is not an apt analogy for your purpose because the two things that you require in order to understand what is going on, let alone offer a strategy for victory, are the formal cause of the game (its rules) and final cause (that its directed towards victory as understood within the terms of the rules of the game.

Nobody contests that science has a good track record in uncontested areas. (Well, there are a few.) But it also has a good track record in areas where it was said not to belong

You seem to be simply ignoring Feser's point; namely that the goings-on swept under the proverbial carpet are not amenable to the sort of explanation that is characteristic of modern scientific understanding. There is a reason these goings-on are being swept under there.

BTW, to explain intentionality, for instance, without reference to it being directed towards X or Y is not to explain it but to explain it away; that is, to provide no explanation of intentionality.

rank sophist said...

Yes they are, but it is simply an assertion to say that "greenness is in the leaf" is a macro fact, one I don't see any reason to accept.

True that I didn't argue for it. However, it is not just an assertion. Oderberg spends a large portion of Real Essentialism arguing for just that conclusion; I merely excerpted that statement to illustrate his viewpoint. If you want to see the case made for it, I recommend picking up Real Essentialism (only $30 in ebook form, and available as a preview on Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=tIhbUIyYLHYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=real+essentialism&hl=en&sa=X&ei=G4igT9XbKerq2AWJxInAAg&ved=0CDUQuwUwAA#). It's extremely dense and technical, but it rivals and in some ways exceeds Prof. Feser's work regarding the nuts and bolts of contemporary A-T philosophy.

Here is my alternative: greenness cannot just be in the perceiver because there is no greenness without light or (in this case, but not in general) something to reflect light. Greenness is probably not just in the light, as it gets absorbed by other things (than eyes) where we can assume it does not result in an experience of greenness. And greenness cannot be just in the leaf because there is no experience of greenness without light and a perceiver. So the ontological location of greenness lies in the participation of all three.

Wetness of water also lies in the participation of water with a perceiver, and not in either alone.

The point being, it is an alternative metaphysical interpretation, one which makes more sense to me than the Thomist one.


This position is unfamiliar to me--I'm used to materialist, Cartesian, A-T and to some extent Platonist conceptions of qualitative features, but I've never encountered this one before. So you're saying that "qualia" are not grounded in any one place, but somehow exist between two or three? Interesting. I'm not sure how to argue against it at this moment, but I'd like to read more. Does this view have any historical defenders?

Anonymous said...

Both materialism, and exoteric religion (which is at root anti-Spiritual) eliminate the paradox from reality. Both make reality seem to be rather "pat" and under control. But, as a philosophy both materialism and conventional exoteric "theology" are merely rather adolescent arguments. Or in the case of "theology" childish and even infantile.

What IS matter?
Where IS matter?
When IS matter?
When IS you?
Where IS you?
What IS you?
What you?

The presumption of "you" is not inspect by either the materialist or the exoteric (anti-Spiritual) religionist. "You" is as much a paradox as "water","atom","sky","big bang". There is no concrete "you". "You" or "I" is merely a particle of common speech. To speak it suggests that you know what you are talking about. But there is no such something - independent, discrete, like a particle. There is nothing to it but a fear-saturated ball of thought that would not be penetrated by the paradox of reality.

All philosophy and "theology" seeks to control the seeming chaos of existence, but, ultimately everything is out of our control.

We are fundamentally uncomprehending. We do not know what anything IS. We keep thinking, talking, acting as if everything were comprehended. In Reality nothing is comprehended. Not only is there a beginningless and endless flow of appearances, a matrix of paradox, but even you yourself are not the same, from moment to the next. You are not a separate "thing" or "one". You are identifiable only in a state pf Inherent Oneness with Paradox, or Non-comprehension, or the Mystery of Fullness Itself.

Hunt said...

I have extremely high confidence that a similar thing will happen with the nature of subjective experience for the very simple probabilistic reason that so many mysterious phenomenon have later turned out to be mundane.

That's dumb. It's not just that it's wrong, it's that that is a stupid reason for being wrong. (Cf. Untenured's nice example of claiming you can beat anyone in a fight.) Either your confidence is the result of a bizarre psychological prejudice, or else there are better reasons for believing that, in which case it would be a good idea to consider what those reasons might be a bit more carefully. (Tip: try actually reading the article you're replying to.)


Why do I feel justified applying a probabilistic model to this? Well, it's mostly due to what I said before. At issue isn't my ignorance, or your ignorance; It's all our ignorance, and the current lack of genuine understanding on these matters, and no amount of hand waving and using placeholder words like qualia is going to change that. As far as I can tell we're still at the bloodletting, leeches, and burning incense stage of knowledge about these things. You just don't know what you're talking about, and neither do I.

Which doesn't mean we shouldn't all continue to make the effort to understand, but I'm sorry, when I hear claims along the lines that intentionality will never be addressed by science, I've got to cry BS. How do you know?

Hunt said...

"Most of the time what I hear from Darwinian hard-cores is that Teleology is an illusion, everything has no purpose, but the majority of the times they are just argumenting in circles and unwantedly. They just go, certainly in the past there was no purpose in every form, so therefore there is no purpose now. But the problem is that you are already pressuposing it has no Telos of any form."

That one is actually covered by Occam's Razor. There is no need to introduce teleology into biology any longer. Evolution by Natural Selection is what expelled it. If you still want to see teleology in molecular machinery, or some type of directed evolution, it's up to you, but teleology is about as dead in biology today as Paley's watchmaker.

SR said...

@rank sophist,

Does this view have any historical defenders?

See my post to JA at May 1, 3:58 AM, for some info on my main mentor. Though one might also mention C.S. Peirce and his semiotics, though I might be going beyond his comfort zone in how I apply it. Roughly, I am working within the classical idea, reformulated by Coleridge and Barfield that the so-called material world is the expression of the Logos, which expression modern humans can no longer read. Barfield is particularly important, because he gives the reasons why that has happened, which is to say, why modernism happened, and had to happen, why it will be looked back on as a necessary, albeit painful, step on the way to redemption.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Barfield is drawing on 19th century British idealism and the hegelian dialectic, no?

Hunt said...

You'd think, then, that teleology would have disappeared by now. But biologists themselves help to keep this "gap" going by constantly talking about "function", "purpose", "goals", "programs", "information", etc.

The problem is that it's simply impossible to meaningfully describe what goes on in biology without teleological concepts.


It's not impossible, although it is extremely difficult and tedious, I will grant. There's no question that as intellectual shorthand, teleology does offer a great deal in service to communicating ideas. Whether you want to make more of that that it actually signifies, or think that it's just a legacy of how we have traditionally learned to think and talk about our world, is up to you (and me).

SR said...

Barfield saw Coleridge and Goethe as precursors, and the idealism of Rudolf Steiner (see his Philosophy of Freedom), rather than Bradley or Hegel. C.S. Lewis is the one who got enamored by Bradley for a while. Barfield's fundamental principle is (following Coleridge), polarity, not dialectic.

Hunt said...

How silly of those people to have believed what they did, but this new thing...this is the real deal!

Oh, if you're just picking on the silly people, sure, it's always fun to laugh at silly people. But that ignores the serious arguments on the subject that go back further than Aristotle, you know.


The point was that they weren't silly people. They were just like you and me (and I'm not silly). They just wandered a bit outside the bounds of prudent skepticism. Probably the best thing a philosopher can ask is "Is this going to make me look silly, a few hundred years hence." I just think so much of this is going to evoke giggles in 2400. Maybe we'll all be robots by then.

Event the "serious" argument dating from the ancients are also accompanies by a whole lot of ridiculous absurdities.

Anonymous said...

So Barfield is a mix of post-Kantian idealism and neoplatonism. What little on "polarity" I've found certainly sounds dialectical (though not Hegelian). This seems to fall into the same traps and pitfalls as German idealism. Plus, its a radically human-centered philosophy, unlike classical theism, which is God centered. This leaves it prey to the same charge of nihilism that Jacobi leveled at Kant and Fichte, as well as Heidegger's later charge against post-Cartesian metaphysics.

Although perhaps this judgment is more than a bit hasty. You should, after all, be given a chance to explicate and defend Barfieldianism. Personally, I'd relish seeing how the Thomists here deal with post-Kantian idealism. All of the squabbles with materialists bores after the 80th time the same silly point is refuted.

dover_beach said...

Hunt:
and no amount of hand waving and using placeholder words like qualia is going to change that.

This is a placeholder created by the mechanistic philosophy you call science; it's not an invention of Thomists.

but I'm sorry, when I hear claims along the lines that intentionality will never be addressed by science

Has anyone hear argued that a science that involves formal and final causes could not make sense of intentionality?

There is no need to introduce teleology into biology

Except that biologists cannot make sense of biological goings-on without reference to teleological notions.

It's not impossible, although it is extremely difficult and tedious, I will grant.

We've all seen attempts to do so; not only are they difficult and tedious, they make the biological goings-on unintelligible.

Recently, Dawkins talked of 'non-random' variation. How can 'non-random' make sense outside of a framework in which those variations are not "directed toward" this or that end?

SR said...

Yes, dialectic and polarity are similar. The difference is that in polarity, the two "sides" are two poles of a unity, which means there is no "resolution" at a higher level. What it is most like is the logic of the Trinity. It can also be found in the "logic of contradictory identity" of Nishida Kitaro.

I should also say that Barfield's main book, Saving the Appearances is not, strictly speaking, a philosophical work. It is, rather, the laying out of the history of consciousness, as that can be inferred from etymology and the histories of art, literature, philosophy, and so forth. But, of course, it has tremendous implications for philosophy, indeed providing a basis for understanding its history. To attempt to categorize his outlook as "post-Kantian idealism" or whatever, without getting hold of an understanding of the evolution of consciousness is like criticizing a scientific theory without considering the data used in formulating it.

Anonymous said...

Alright. Then tell us about it if you think that characterizing it as post-Kantian idealism with a swig of neoplatonism is off base. Explicate the ideas. Explaining polarity a bit more would help. Is it a striving for reunion of polar opposites that never meet? If that's the case, then it's not very Trinitarian, as there is no absolute division in the Godhead, but a seamless unity of movement in distinction. Do they meet? If so, how is distinction maintained? And how is this not dialectical? Further, how can it be God-centered theologically and/or metaphysically if it is confined to the human experience of phenomenon, which is what an account of the evolution of human consciousness, as you put it, suggests? Finally, if it depends upon Kantian antinomies, which is what it sounds like when you posit an evolving human consciousness in isolation that can opt out of participation, does it fall to pieces if the modern foundation that Kant built his philosophy upon crumbles? You don't have to answer all of these questions--they probably aren't all clear, but you need to explicate this framework if you want us to engage it, especially since there isn't much clear info on the interwebs.

Hunt said...

"Recently, Dawkins talked of 'non-random' variation. How can 'non-random' make sense outside of a framework in which those variations are not "directed toward" this or that end?"

You'd have to point me to where he said that. Dawkins tends to get infuriated by creationists who make too much of the "random" part of random variation with natural selection, so it depends on context. If he was including natural selection in the process to make the point that the entire process is nonrandom, then that would explain the confusion.

I agree that on the face of it, it does seem strange that so much teleological language is involved in biology. However, teleological language or even thought in biology confirms teleology in the same way that anthropomorphism confirms animism. In other words, not at all. I will assume that if you had a tour of Disney studios you would find a lot of animators taking about the motivation and intents of their creation, which obviously doesn't mean they think they're alive.

dover_beach said...

You'd have to point me to where he said that.

I heard it while he was debating Cardinal Pell on Q&A in Australia. Here is Dawkins in New Scientist:
"Natural selection is quintessentially non-random, yet it is lamentably often miscalled random. This one mistake underlies much of the skeptical backlash against evolution. Chance cannot explain life. Design is as bad an explanation as chance because it raises bigger questions than it answers. Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life, and it does so brilliantly."

If he was including natural selection in the process to make the point that the entire process is nonrandom, then that would explain the confusion.

No, it wouldn't because he is still helping himself to teleological notions, like directedness, etc.

However, teleological language or even thought in biology confirms teleology in the same way that anthropomorphism confirms animism.

What's ironical is that you nevertheless believe that a mechanical understanding of biology confirms mechanism, even though it is saturated with teleological notions.

I will assume that if you had a tour of Disney studios you would find a lot of animators taking about the motivation and intents of their creation, which obviously doesn't mean they think they're alive.

Rather than employing inapt analogies maybe you should attempt to explain what a non-random process is like without also being teleological.

Eduardo said...

Folks, just a reminder. Thomistic teleology is different from paley's.

So careful to not get confused or confusing other readers.

Hunt said...

No, it wouldn't because he is still helping himself to teleological notions, like directedness, etc.

I don't agree. From your quote, and as I suspected, Dawkins was including natural selection when he mentioned random variation, and the entire process is anything but random. That's the entire point of natural selection. The "directedness" you speak of is the statistical and purely mechanistic process of survival of the fittest, or using less loaded terms, the selection of traits favorable to reproduction.

Rather than employing inapt analogies maybe you should attempt to explain what a non-random process is like without also being teleological.

Random variation with natural selection is nonrandom and non-teleological. It's a pretty simple little rhyme. I guess to those unaccustomed to thinking in that manner, it's hard to get without looking sideways at it, but really, this ain't brain surgery.

Eduardo said...

I think what is being pointed out os that, the variation which gives rise to everything in biology is random.

That means that evrything in biology is random, but natural selction simply hides this randomness. and if you were to argue about natural selection as something that filter the variation ... Well it all depends on how the selction system works, what are its parameters, if it has any laws. Otherwise is yet again random.

Well anyways the creation of bodies is random and the survival of these parts is taken to be certain, or rather to have higher probability of survival theb probability of extinction.

Arthur said...

> "...when I hear claims along the lines that intentionality will never be addressed by science, I've got to cry BS. How do you know?"

Hunt, I'm saying this for your own good. Read Feser's article. The answer to this question is right there, on the very web-page you're browsing now. Feser wrote:

“Science” is (implicitly if not explicitly) defined in such a way that no explanation that makes reference to irreducibly teleological or qualitative features of the world is allowed to count as “scientific.”

That (in Feser's view, at least) is why Science will never address teleology. It's been implictly defined as a-discipline-that-doesn't-address-teleology in the first place.

As I've said before, you're welcome to disagree with Feser. Believe it or not, I want to see the best possible arguments for Scientism or Materialism. It's clear that you're at least trying to explain your views, but please, try harder. Read what your critics are actually saying.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: All philosophy and "theology" seeks to control the seeming chaos of existence, but, ultimately everything is out of our control.

Oh, that's too bad. Guess there's nothing to do but pack up and go home. It was nice knowing you!

DNW said...

I think somebody (and this isn't a disguised reference) is going to have to define exactly what they mean by random in the evolutionary context.

And ultimately, what random means and how it applies in a material and restultantly strictly deterministic world.

Perhaps by random nothing more is meant than "beyond our current ability to completely predict at the individual level"; which has it seems some potentially interesting implications for the notion of an individual instance as well.

However, if random ceases to have a "deep" meaning, then of what use is it in refuting the idea of directedness? Which is of course a separate questions as to whether directedness has anything necessarily to do with mind.

Eduardo said...

@DNW

I suppose I could give my understanding of the overall idea * not exactly the actuall Modern Synthesis that involve so much more *.

OKay first, Random = equal probability of happening all possible events.

This applies to our DNA, and DNA creates our body plans * how this happens, I have no idea, and I even heard that nobody else does it too. *. Our body plans are build at random and dynamic between our bodies and the environment decided who survives. The emphasis of this dynamic is reprodution; so the being that reproduces more will eventually stay alive.


So is sort of random ( rise of body plans and other characteristics ) and "law-like" ( the usrvival of the fittest )

So that is the basic idea behind Theory of Evolution.

SR said...

@Anonymous at May 2, 2012 3:05 AM

Alright. Then tell us about it if you think that characterizing it as post-Kantian idealism with a swig of neoplatonism is off base.

I'm not saying it is off-base, I'm saying it is not going to be of much use to characterize without first understanding how consciousness has changed. But I have said that Barfield is "most like" the philosophy of Coleridge, who I suppose is a post-Kantian idealist with a swig of neo-Platonism.

Explicate the ideas.

For a quick blurb on the conclusions of Saving the Appearances see here. For an idea of how accepting these conclusions might affect theology, follow the first link in that post (the second link, alas, is broken.)

Explaining polarity a bit more would help.

I do that, under the name "logic of contrafactory identity" here and here.

Further, how can it be God-centered theologically and/or metaphysically if it is confined to the human experience of phenomenon, which is what an account of the evolution of human consciousness, as you put it, suggests?

I would say that there is little point in being God-centered, or anything-else-centered unless and until we have a better understanding of ourselves, in particular how false understandings (basically, Original Sin) result in false understandings of God and Nature.


Finally, if it depends upon Kantian antinomies, which is what it sounds like when you posit an evolving human consciousness in isolation that can opt out of participation, does it fall to pieces if the modern foundation that Kant built his philosophy upon crumbles?

Hardly. Barfield is even more critical of those modern foundations than are Thomists. Furthermore, he shows why those foundations came into being, which Thomists need to learn -- that is not just some bad ideas driving out good ones, but the underlying experience of reality changing, that gave those bad ideas legs.


You don't have to answer all of these questions--they probably aren't all clear, but you need to explicate this framework if you want us to engage it, especially since there isn't much clear info on the interwebs.

I hope the links above serve somewhat. I am working on a fuller explication, but there is no way to fit that in a comment here, and which in any case would be inappropriate. Hence here I usually just try to point out what I see as problems in Thomism, like the idea of prime matter.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying it is off-base, I'm saying it is not going to be of much use to characterize without first understanding how consciousness has changed. But I have said that Barfield is "most like" the philosophy of Coleridge, who I suppose is a post-Kantian idealist with a swig of neo-Platonism.

But the story of the history of consciousness depends completely upon a post-Kantian idealism. This is why it is so difficult to buy this. Consciousness can only change if it is isolated from the external world, which assumes a distinction between phenom and noumen a la Kant. This is quite ironic--for all its presumed hostility to modernity, it is essentially a modern perspective that relies upon the epistemological skepticism that is unique to post-Cartesian thinking.

There are also a number of historiographical and historical problems with the history of consciousness itself. First, it falls into all of the same problems that bedevil any other variant of historicism that posits "evolution" or "progress" or any kind of directedness. This is incredibly difficult to demonstrate and such views of history have led to disaster, as the 20th century attests. Second, it's very difficult to posit self-contained ages or epochs that are unlike the others. Such descriptions tend to become oversimplified, unable to account for shifts from one age to the other, and they all fail to account for diversity of views at any given time or the overlap of ages. This one is quite problematic for you, as the majority of the world's population does not think like many Westerners, which opens this story to the same charges of Eurocentricism that plagued other accounts of developmental historicism. Third, why do we believe this story, especially with all its problems, and not others? You mentioned how well it jibes with Radical Orthodoxy and how they make a villain of Scotus for his supposed ontotheology, but are you aware of how problematic their interpretation of him and the history of metaphysics is? Why not go with Heidegger's history of being? Or Collingwoods history of metaphysics as the history of absolute presuppositions? Or Hans Blumenberg's story that modernity is an escape from gnosticism? Or Cyril O'Regan's view that it is a return to gnosticism? There's even the standard German/British idealist story of dialectic and progress. Nietzsche also tells a rousing, if not compelling, story. And then there's Foucault's story of epistemes, too. One can also find narratives that are less fixated on intellectual developments and instead focus on things like the rise of the modern nation-state and its reorientation of human life from the next world to this one. Finally, there's the one that's my favorite, also held by David Bentley Hart and best described in Michael Allen Gillespie's The Theological Origins of Modernity, that the shift to modernity involved a reaction to a new conceptualization of God that prioritized His will as absolute and sovereign, even to the point of arbitrary action, and is most evident in the thinking of Ockham. In this story, metaphysics and consciousness are moved by theology, not vice versa. Further, this story treats modernity as an accident, predicated upon a contradiction in Western theology brought about by a uniquely western view of the will that is absent in the Greek East.

continued on next post

Anonymous said...

continued from last post

In short, the problem with your account of Barfield is that you are attempting to justify his philosophical views by recourse to his narrative of the history of consciousness--but every narrative of that type is plagued with problems. This effectively renders his entire philosophy questionable--especially since it presumes an problematic epistemology to warrant its claims.

I would also caution you against framing the matter in terms of Barfieldianism versus Thomism, though, granted, you may only be doing this given the strong Thomist streak in Catholicism since the late 19th century. But not all Catholics are Thomists: the Pope, for instance, is a Bonaventurean/Platonizing Christian. And don't forget the Christian East (of which I am part of), which is strongly Platonic in orientation and whose view of Aristotle is at odds with that of the West.

Anonymous said...

I was going to make certain refutation of scientism and the incoherent appeals to the myth of the progres of science made by a few anons and hunt but it seems that most posters here beat me to it.


Instead I will recommend Barfield's work as SR has done. It served me extremely well in freeing myself from my materialistic beliefs at a time prior to becoming acquianted with the Classics.

It might not be the best and most rigorous argument against the superstitions of modern times but it's extremely illuminating and though-provoking. The man is simply brilliant. Along with his seminal work Saving the Appearances I would also recommend Worlds Apart.

I think much of what Barfied says can easy be supplemented with the works of the Classics although his assumed metaphysics is not necessarily a Classical one.

Read him. You will gain a lot from doing so.

Anonymous said...

Although I doubt it, I am hoping that the following will put an end to the nonsensical appeals to the progress of science as a means to argue against teleology.

The fact is, teleology is not only real but indispensable. In fact, it is an assumption that one ought to make for there to be a scientific enterprise even in principle, as such it's a pre-scientific truth. The reason why teleological explanations are sometimes avoided in science is because science is too inept as a discipline to account for teleology. It's a limitation of science rather than a conclusion of science.

The truth is science can help us a great deal with some things but it's extremely impotent in dealing with others. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply one living in delusions.

SR said...

@Anonymous at 1:59 PM,

But the story of the history of consciousness depends completely upon a post-Kantian idealism.


Apparently I did a poor job of explaining what the evolution of consciousness entails. The change in consciousness that Barfield describes is the creation of the "external world" within recorded history. That evolution is the gradual splitting of subject from object that you say I must be presupposing. On the contrary, what Barfield is showing is why there really is no mind-independent external world, and why and where the feeling (and hence the belief) that there is came about.

And that is what Thomists (and I would say the same of Hart, I believe) need to understand. While neo-classical philosophy justly points out the error of modern epistemological presuppositions, it needs to understand that a subject distinct from nature is now "common sense" in a way that it was not in the participatory past. And there is no going back, only forward to final participation.

Consciousness can only change if it is isolated from the external world, which assumes a distinction between phenom and noumen a la Kant.

When consciousness changes, so does nature -- that is his basic point. What Barfield would say is "Having isolated the external world, we can now make a distinction between phenomenon and noumenon", though whether we should or how we should is the big question. Basically human consciousness has gradually taken itself out of nature. So now there is, or at least appears to be, an objective world. There was once one world. Now there appear to be two, the subjective and the objective (in the modern sense). On the one hand, this is the second Fall, but on the other it is a necessary step in human development. It is no accident.

Overall, I think you are confusing the history of ideas with the history of consciousness. We experience a change of consciousness every time we go to sleep and dream. That is the kind of change Barfield is talking about (though I hope you don't take that to mean that pre-moderns lived in a dream-like state, though perhaps if one goes back far enough that would be an appropriate description.)

Anonymous said...

Then Barfield is inconsistent. He wants to claim that the subject/object and phenomena/noumena distinctions are false and shows "why there really is no mind-independent external world," to use your words; and, at the same time, he wants to claim that human consciousness is capable of "isolating the external world" and that "basically human consciousness has gradually taken itself out of nature." Which is it? If there is no separate external world, then the post-Cartesian and post-Kantian distinctions have no grounding and moderns merely ignore mind-independent participation while still taking it for granted. On the other hand, if consciousness can take itself out of nature, then this affirms modern epistemology and the isolation of the Kantian/Fichtean "I." To follow Jacobi's critique, this type of philosophy centers reality on the human person rather than God (who becomes peripheral), rendering it implicitly nihilistic. Following Heidegger, this leads to "world-projection" or the "Age of the World-Picture," which is the modern tendency to project and force the world into reducible and calculable metaphysical categories (something that, pace Heidegger, classical theism avoids because the ground of reality is a God that can only be known by analogy or apophatically). This is pretty evident in the quasi-dialectical process of "polarity" you describe (and I'm being very generous here because, while not Hegelian, it looks a lot like a dialectical process), which directs consciousness in history, bringing it to a final point. This makes it an onto-theology that reduces the world to human categories, access, and control.

And you didn't answer any of my other criticisms. Claiming that I am "confusing the history of ideas with the history of consciousness" is a poor distinction to make. The narratives I mentioned were not about the "history of ideas," but the history of modernity, which given the nature of modernity, is very centered around epistemology. Since Barfield's narrative of consciousness is predicated upon a particular theory of knowledge, most of the other narratives I brought up have implications for "consciousness." Given the buffet of narratives on order (here's another one that deals with cosmographies, which is pretty close to what you're talking about: Remi Brague's The Wisdom of the World), I have no reason to go with Barfield's over the others, especially since . . .

You also did not answer a single critique over the historiographical problems with narratives of this type: they tend to be eurocentric, to posit a problematic progressive line of development, to be too uniform and neat, etc. Frankly, I don't see how this story avoids all of the critiques above. I also don't see how it's much different than other forms of post-Kantian idealism, which, from my platonic Christian eyes, appear little more than attempts to salvage platonism within a modern setting--and in doing so bring back the problematic dialectic of Plotinus that Christianity banished in its infancies. I would suggest that rather than Hart needing to read Barfield, you should read more Hart--especially on the topics of Trinitarian theology and Heidegger.

Anonymous said...

Rather than linking articles that bury the concept of polarity in a lengthy discussion of Buddhism and other topics, could you summarize it within 1-4 paragraphs? The links that you provided only served to further confuse.

SR said...

Then Barfield is inconsistent. He wants to claim that the subject/object and phenomena/noumena distinctions are false and shows "why there really is no mind-independent external world," to use your words; and, at the same time, he wants to claim that human consciousness is capable of "isolating the external world" and that "basically human consciousness has gradually taken itself out of nature." Which is it?

The isolation was not a conscious decision that people made. It was something that happened to them. It is only now that the process is complete that we can look back and see that it happened. The subject/object separation is true in the sense that that is how we experience reality. But one can infer that it is not a real separation. Indeed, the proper word for it is 'delusion'. Not a delusion of having wrong ideas, but of actually being insane, in the sense of being out of touch with reality, which of course is what mystics have been saying all along.

On the other hand, if consciousness can take itself out of nature, then this affirms modern epistemology and the isolation of the Kantian/Fichtean "I."

That's partially correct, in that the "I" has been isolated. We are now self-conscious to a greater degree than previously. It is a deluded isolation, but it is how we now experience reality. And so modern epistemology arose, and made sense for a while. But it is in fact baseless, as more and more people are realizing. The question is what one does with that realization. Post-modern excess is one response. Reverting to neo-classical philosophy is another. Barfield is a third.
.
If there is no separate external world, then the post-Cartesian and post-Kantian distinctions have no grounding and moderns merely ignore mind-independent participation while still taking it for granted.

They have no true grounding, but it takes some thinking to realize that, which is of course what thinkers like Coleridge and others have done. Basically, the Cartesians and Kantians are grounded in delusion. And we don't "ignore" participation, we have lost it. (Mind-independent participation? I have no idea what that could be). It is because we have lost it that we perceive a mind-independent external world. Again, that perception is a delusion.

To follow Jacobi's critique, this type of philosophy centers reality on the human person rather than God (who becomes peripheral), rendering it implicitly nihilistic.

Barfield would agree that if we base our philosophy on the delusion, we end up in nihilism. That's why he called his collection of essays The Rediscovery of Meaning. The isolated, non-consciously participating "I" is a severe sickness. One way of coping is to revert to a pre-modern philosophy, but that doesn't really cure anything. Only moving on to final participation will do so.

As for the rest, and why I haven't responded to your criticisms, it should be clear from the above that there is no point in doing so unless you grasp what Barfield is saying, which you clearly haven't done yet.

I would suggest that rather than Hart needing to read Barfield, you should read more Hart.

I've read Hart, and like a great deal of what he said, though I would have to reread him to comment intelligently on him. Have you read Barfield?

Hunt said...

“Science” is (implicitly if not explicitly) defined in such a way that no explanation that makes reference to irreducibly teleological or qualitative features of the world is allowed to count as “scientific.”

That (in Feser's view, at least) is why Science will never address teleology. It's been implictly defined as a-discipline-that-doesn't-address-teleology in the first place.


Show me an example of irreducible teleology that isn't based on gap in our understanding or a misinterpretation -- and which I can't explain more completely (if tediously, see below) nonteleologically. If I thought this was't an elaborate case of self-deception, I'd probably place a higher probability on the existence of purpose in the inanimate world or in biology (excluding, of course, the "purpose" that we and other animals create).

Teleology provides a useful framework and language to understand the world. I think there have even been studies that show that scientists think teleologically, but this doesn't mean there is teleology in the world in the sense that you mean it. You can view the world teleologically or nonteleologically, as you can view physics using Newtonian or quantum mechanics. QM, though tedious, is more accurate.
You can consider that the giraffe's neck is long for the purpose of reaching high leaves, or that it is long because evolution favored long necked giraffes. The teleological view isn't necessarily "wrong" unless you stop there and try to use it to say something about the metaphysics of our world.

SR said...

Rather than linking articles that bury the concept of polarity in a lengthy discussion of Buddhism and other topics, could you summarize it within 1-4 paragraphs?

Here's one author's definition: "the tensive interdependence and interpenetration of opposite forces, which, however, have one source. 'One wind, two directions' is an image that fits." [Shirley Sugerman, in David Lavery's "Re-weaving the Rainbow: The Thought of Owen Barfield"]

Another: '"Every power in nature and in spirit must evolve an opposite as the sole means and condition of its manifestation, and all opposition is a tendency to reunion." Mind and nature, subject and object, are thus "two forces of a single power", one tending "to expand infinitely," the other seeking "to apprehend or find itself in this infinity"'. [John Ulreich, Jr, quoting Coleridge, also in Lavery]

Here is Merrell-Wolff's experiential account of polarity: "While in the State [of High Indifference, as he called it], I was particularly impressed with the fact that the logical principle of contradiction had no relevancy. It would not be correct to say that this principle was violated, but rather, that it had no application. For to isolate any phase of the State was to be immediately aware of the opposite phase as the necessary complementary part of the first. Thus the attempt of self-conscious thought to isolate anything resulted in the immediate initiation of a sort of flow in the very essence of consciousness itself, so that the nascent isolation was transformed into its opposite as co-partner in a timeless reality....It seemed to be the real underlying fact of all consciousness of all creatures. [Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Experience and Philosophy, p.286]

Anonymous said...

I don't think you quite understand my criticism. If the separation is only a "delusion," then at best it is a virtual separation, but the principle of "polarity" presumes that reality is a projection of the mind, which makes the modern position to be more than one of delusion and in some way real. In the context of classical thought, which Barfield wants to uphold in the background, people cannot cut themselves off from participation. Sure, they can pretend that it isn't there--this is certainly a form of insanity--and this, in some way, means that they are failing to be fully human. But Barfield goes further. He posits that humans have isolated themselves from participation and confine themselves to a mind projected reality, along with an evolutionary process of dialectical reasoning. From a classical perspective, it is impossible to do what Barfield claims we have done.

His position is then essentially modern, because he argues that the human subject, the "I," becomes effectively centered, then it means that the modern epistemology was always operating in the background and that "consciousness" was only aligned with participation for some time, but does not have direct access to it at all times, as the ancients would argue. In effect, Barfield is arguing that a post-Kantian distinction is always there, only that it can align with reality if consciousness is properly oriented. For the classical thinker, this is an impossibility, as consciousness cannot "evolve." In short, this renders his position untenable, as he cannot have one foot in two different epistemological worlds, which is precisely what he is attemping to do, but in effect he prioritizes the modern view when he argues that consciousness is even capable of evolution to begin with. At this point, I hasten to add, that this is precisely what the German and British idealists tried to do--and it failed miserably. This also means that this isn't a "third way" in the least, but open to all of the critiques of the postmoderns as much as any other form of modern idealism.

And there is no excuse for not addressing the other arguments I made, as they are criticisms of a historiographical and a historical nature, which is a critique separate than the argument over epistemology. In fact, if his historical narrative is subject to all of the problems that I described, then his thinking should be rejected and the argument over epistemology becomes academic.

Anonymous said...

Hunt: Show me an example of irreducible teleology that isn't based on gap in our understanding or a misinterpretation -- and which I can't explain more completely (if tediously, see below) non teleologically.

Electrons. Or specifically, "electric charge", that is, the natural tendency of electrons to (simply put) be attracted to positive charge and repelled by negative charge. I can assure you that it is not a "gap", it is something that physicists understand quite well and are able to quantify very accurately. But it is thoroughly teleological.

Anonymous said...

@hunt

"Show me an example of irreducible teleology that isn't based on gap in our understanding or a misinterpretation"

Human thought.

Now please stop talking nonsense.

Hunt said...

Electrons. Or specifically, "electric charge", that is, the natural tendency of electrons to (simply put) be attracted to positive charge and repelled by negative charge. I can assure you that it is not a "gap", it is something that physicists understand quite well and are able to quantify very accurately. But it is thoroughly teleological.

Then I don't see how teleology is any different than descriptive physical laws. It's just another word for the aggregate action of the laws of physics.

Human thought.

That's pretty solidly in the We Don't Understand category.

JA said...

Hunt,

How do you know that there are transcendent laws of nature? How do you know that these laws aren't just abstractions of an innate teleology? You seem to pretty certain about an account of change/motion/causality that most philosophers of science are not. Further, how do you empirically verify whether causality is governed by laws, driven by an innate telos, or by something else without making use of philosophy?

SR said...

@Anonymous at May 2, 2012 8:48 PM

I don't think you quite understand my criticism. If the separation is only a "delusion," then at best it is a virtual separation, but the principle of "polarity" presumes that reality is a projection of the mind, which makes the modern position to be more than one of delusion and in some way real.

No, the principle of polarity does not presume that reality is a projection of the mind, and I'm not sure where you got that notion. Mind and nature are a polarity, so one could just as well say that mind is a projection of nature as that nature is a projection of mind. What Barfield is saying is that this mutual projecting has, so to speak, gotten taken to an extreme. But yes, the separation is "in some way" very real, like a dream is in some way very real while being dreamt.

In the context of classical thought, which Barfield wants to uphold in the background, people cannot cut themselves off from participation.

I'm sure they did think so, and in one way they were right. Participation still exists, but it is no longer conscious. If it didn't exist we wouldn't perceive anything. But as I said in the last comment, no one consciously cut themselves off from participation. It was a gradual, evolutionary process.


Sure, they can pretend that it isn't there--this is certainly a form of insanity--and this, in some way, means that they are failing to be fully human.

Do you experience spirit in trees or streams? I don't. If you don't then would you say you are just "pretending" not to? Does Coyote speak to you? Not to me, and I am not pretending that is the case, that is the case, as far as I am consciously aware. (This by the way is the fallacy of New Agers, or at least some of them -- that what they seek is a return to original participation, which is very much the wrong thing to seek.) And yes, we are not fully human. This whole evolutionary process is so that we can become fully human.

But Barfield goes further. He posits that humans have isolated themselves from participation and confine themselves to a mind projected reality, along with an evolutionary process of dialectical reasoning.

If I understand you right, yes, except for that last part about dialectical reasoning, which I don't get. The evolutionary process was the process of isolation. It wasn't anything people reasoned about at the time. We have (albeit intentionally) cut ourselves off from the spiritual reality that in original participation people were aware of on "the other side" of the representations (macro nature). Now all we see are the representations, but do not experience them as representations. We take them to be the "really real", which is to say, we have made them idols (hence the subtitle of Barfield's book A Study in Idolatry). That is our delusion, and why we have epistemology. Now this does have a Kantian flavor, but Kant did not know about the subconscious, where the meanings of the representations currently reside. Final participation is about bringing them back into consciousness, but now experienced within.

From a classical perspective, it is impossible to do what Barfield claims we have done.

True. Which is why the classical perspective is inadequate. And, again, "what we have done" sounds like we consciously intended to do it. Not so.

SR said...

(continued)
His position is then essentially modern, because he argues that the human subject, the "I," becomes effectively centered, then it means that the modern epistemology was always operating in the background and that "consciousness" was only aligned with participation for some time, but does not have direct access to it at all times, as the ancients would argue.

This sounds like participation is something one can switch on or off, which of course is not the case. I suppose one could say that the modern epistemology was potentially in the background, but it wasn't "operating". A child of three does not operate in the modern epistemology, but will when he or she gets older. As for the ancients, see above. Obviously they wouldn't think participation could disappear, because in their experience it never did. And, of course, it didn't vanish, it just moved into our subconscious.
In effect, Barfield is arguing that a post-Kantian distinction is always there, only that it can align with reality if consciousness is properly oriented.

How you get this I don't understand. The distinction came into existence as apparent reality changed. The philosophical distinction correlates with the change in consciousness, it doesn't precede it. The birth of discursive reason correlated with the earlier change. Both will eventually die out, as we change further. (Coleridgean Imagination being the replacement).

In short, this renders his position untenable, as he cannot have one foot in two different epistemological worlds, which is precisely what he is attemping to do, but in effect he prioritizes the modern view when he argues that consciousness is even capable of evolution to begin with. At this point, I hasten to add, that this is precisely what the German and British idealists tried to do--and it failed miserably.

He has his feet in neither epistemology, that is what seems to be the stumbling block here. He recognizes the classical view, and recognizes the modern view, but adopts neither. As just said, his "epistemology" is Imagination, which is not so much a theory of knowledge as a praxis of creation. Barfield would say that it is what the Romantics tried to do and failed to achieve, largely because they were overly focused on original participation rather than final.

And there is no excuse for not addressing the other arguments I made.

As I said, your arguments seem to me to be directed at something other than Barfield. Hence I can't address them. An argument against Barfield would be one that addresses his arguments, but I can't supply them here, other than the brief mentions in my essay, no more can one expect to explain to a New Atheist the philosophy of Aquinas in something much shorter than Aquinas. Perhaps it is necessary to go through the arguments before the conclusions can be understood.

SR said...

That should "(albeit unintentionally)" in part 1.

Anonymous said...

SR,

I'm going to say two things in as few words as possible to make these points clear because you aren't quite getting this:

1) There are only so many metaphysical and epistemological configurations on the table. If Barfield is actually arguing that consciousness can evolve and that the mind does not have immediate access to reality/participation, then he has assumed a post-Kantian idealism that is subject to all of the same critiques as German and British idealism. In fact, you even suggest that he fits into this groups because you keep bringing up how much he relies on Goethe, Coleridge, and Steiner. And this is especially evident in his doctrine of "final participation," which is internal, i.e. mind-projected. Barfield even clearly identifies with this crowd, even discussing the development of "Anthroposophy" from Hegel, Goethe, Coleridge, through Steiner, and up to himself (Listening to Steiner).

And to suggest that participation means animism is a confusion of terms. Participation is directed toward the great chain of being, understanding the world as analogy, the reality of universals, and the union of the soul with God. This is a platonic philosophical doctrine that was later Christianized. Plato did not sense spirits in trees.

Because Barfield posits that we can be captive to our minds and isolated from external reality, he follows post-Kantian idealism and all of the critiques that apply to Kant onward follow: nihilism, ontotheology, presencing, otherizing, the will to power, the will to knowledge, etc. You only avoid these by decentering the human mind, which you can't do if consciousness evolves.

2) Barfield is making historical claims about the evolution of consciousness, which he claims develops in stages. Historical narratives, no matter what they are gauging, that posit the development through a process in epochs are subject to the critiques that I mentioned. You appear to be poorly versed in the philosophy of history and all of these problems. I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with such and texts of philosophical hermeneutics so that you understand how difficult historical narratives of development of this sort can be. There's literally a century's worth of take-downs of this brand of philosophy.

You have justified Barfield's thinking based on this picture of the development of consciousness. If that falls, then so does the entire house of cards.

Gyan said...

SR,
"in Aquinas' time, participation was still dimly felt (and in more distant times was strongly felt -- it is why they were pagans -- they experienced spirit in things), while in modern times it no longer is"

Could it be possibly related to the great movement that CS Lewis terms Internalization?
Eg. Genius once meant something like one's guardian angel but now it is a part of you.

Anonymous said...

Gyan,

Internalization is the consequence of post-Cartesian and post-Kantian metaphysics and epistemology. In premodern thought, epistemological skepticism was considered a frivolity. The "center" of being or reality was placed in things external to the human person: God, eidos, ousia, kinesis, logos, physis, etc. With Descartes, we have the creation of the subject and the object distinction. This "re-centered," for the first time, philosophy on the human subject. Nature, rather than being accessible, had to be reflected in the mirror of the mind. This led to a number of problems: how can the mind reflect nature in toto? How do we know when this has occured? This led Kant to posit a distinction between the phenomenom--how we experience reality--and the nounmenon--how reality really is, the "thing-in-itself." This isolated the internal person from the outside world, fostering a growth in "subjectivity" through "internalization." One of the responses to this was German and British idealism, which either embraced the isolated "I," making it the center of existence (Kant, Fichte, etc.) or tried to reconcile the "I" with the rest of reality through a dialectical process (Hegel, Barfield, etc.). C.S. Lewis was, prior to becoming a Christian, a British idealist.

The problem, of course, is how to pinpoint the origins of internalization. SR and Barfield want to claim that consciousness evolves and drove the process, but this is putting the cart before the horse. It's just as plausible that this is rather less about evolution than the mere reaction to social and philosophical developments that prioritized the development of the "inner person."

Hunt said...

How do you know that there are transcendent laws of nature? How do you know that these laws aren't just abstractions of an innate teleology?


I don't, but at the lowest physical levels, the levels of "laws" of nature, I don't see the difference between calling something teleological and purely mechanistic. To me, it's just like arbitrarily choosing one word or another.

Paradoxically, for more complex systems, like biological systems, the distinction becomes more obvious and clear, probably because there are components to the system that we can understand and either attribute teleological or mechanistic properties. The complex systems seem reducible without teleology and by extension I assume so are the low level ones, but I don't know for sure.

Further, how do you empirically verify whether causality is governed by laws, driven by an innate telos, or by something else without making use of philosophy?


Again, it seems to depend on the complexity of the system, and to use the "sweeping" metaphor, my opinion is that we'll eventually sweep teleology under the carpet of the lowest level physical laws. If everything is ultimately explained by simple laws, where does teleology have to hide except within the laws? But if the laws are fixed and lawful, teleology collapses into the mechanistic or has the trivial lexical meaning. For teleology to logically exist, it must either be inherent in the physical laws as you suggest and which I think is a trivial formulation, or the laws must at times be broken, or there are laws that we are not yet aware of.

Hunt said...

And, by the way, those new laws, or the exceptional behavior of existing "laws" will need to be very strange indeed. Then again, quantum mechanics is pretty string.

Hunt said...

Sorry, pretty "strange"

Codgitator said...

Hunt, that's the key you're missing: it is natural teleology that grounds the reliability of mechanism. Teleology speaks of conditions being properly ordered toward their effects. It's the proleptic nature of causality that grounds it's mechanistic immanence. The key point is that mechanism must be understood in the context of existents with genuine, empirically discernible powers and dispositions. Mechanism reduced to itself is a Humean chaos, which is not only incoherent but also clearly not what real science is after. Teleology does not reduce to the mechanistic, since the latter is about sheer energy transformations, whereas the latter is about real natural patterns and correlations.

Anonymous said...

@hunt

"That's pretty solidly in the We Don't Understand category."

No, it's in the "hunt doesn't understand category". That's the problem.

Also, by looking at your responses to the electrons comment as well as others that follow regarding your wishful thinking of reducing teleology to mindless mechanomorphisms I can easily conclude that you don't understand teleology at all. I don't even know what to make of your claims as they are simply incoherent. At one point you even talked about teleology breaking natural laws... Seriously dude? That's just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Hunt,
You may or may not be right about teleological explanations being reducible to non-teleological ones. At this point, however, this needs to be bracketed and set aside because it isn't the issue. Rather, the issue is your incoherence and ignorance. You really need to actually read about causation, teleology, and the philosophy of science before you comment further, as you are only embarrassing yourself. It's evident to all of us who actually understand the nature of the dispute that you just don't get it, which leaves your claims all the more unpersuasive.

We aren't going anywhere. Go spend a few days on it and come back.

SR said...

@Anonymous at May 3, 2012 2:52 AM

There are only so many metaphysical and epistemological configurations on the table.

On your table perhaps. Or, it may be that the words 'metaphysical' and 'epistemological' need to have their meanings changed to include what Barfield is talking about as a metaphysical system. I think most modern philosophers would not want to think of Coleridgean Imagination as an epistemology, which is fine. In that case what I am saying is about moving beyond epistemology.

If Barfield is actually arguing that consciousness can evolve and that the mind does not have immediate access to reality/participation,

Does that second part need to be argued? Do you have immediate access to quantum reality? Do you have immediate access to God? I sure don't. Do you not believe that we are Fallen? Do you reject all mysticism? That's what a mystic experiences: a change in consciousness. That's what we experience when we awaken from a dream.

how much he relies on Goethe, Coleridge, and Steiner.

I wouldn't say he "relies" on them. He arrived at his theory of the evolution of consciousness based on the study of language before he had heard of Steiner.

And to suggest that participation means animism is a confusion of terms.

Not "animism", which is an invention of more or less materialist thinkers, but "paganism".

Participation is directed toward the great chain of being, understanding the world as analogy, the reality of universals, and the union of the soul with God. This is a platonic philosophical doctrine that was later Christianized. Plato did not sense spirits in trees.

By Plato's time, intellect had started to develop, the flip side of which is the driving out of "original participation". It is only by not having one's thought be "tree-driven", so to speak, that intellect can arise, and so a philosophy of participation can arise.

Because Barfield posits that we can be captive to our minds and isolated from external reality,

See above about isolation. The only way one can claim that we are not isolated to some degree from external reality is to believe that the macro world of our senses is the whole of reality. That would be materialism. It is because of our isolation that we can philosophize at all, or need to. And that was true for Plato as well, though it took the extra isolation of modern times before Descartes and Kant could philosophize as they did.

...he follows post-Kantian idealism and all of the critiques that apply to Kant onward follow: nihilism, ontotheology, presencing, otherizing, the will to power, the will to knowledge, etc. You only avoid these by decentering the human mind, which you can't do if consciousness evolves.

Correct about the need to decenter, but that decentering is the further evolution of consciousness. As in mysticism. As in what I wrote in the two pieces that you didn't have time to read. The centering was a change of consciousness.

So basically, you simply reject Barfield's arguments, though it would appear that you are doing so because you think you can pigeonhole them in advance, without actually knowing what they are. You say: consciousness cannot change. I say: mystics say otherwise. How do you respond to that? I would think a response to that would be a lot more helpful than just repeating that "Barfield is a post-Kantian idealist and therefore must be wrong."

SR said...

@Gyan,

in Aquinas' time, participation was still dimly felt (and in more distant times was strongly felt -- it is why they were pagans -- they experienced spirit in things), while in modern times it no longer is"

Could it be possibly related to the great movement that CS Lewis terms Internalization?
Eg. Genius once meant something like one's guardian angel but now it is a part of you.


Yes. He also said that paganism was the logical religion for those who had not to some degree undergone this internalization. Monotheism could not make sense without it. Which is not to say that he fully agreed with Barfield, but the disagreement was, I believe, about whether or not Coleridgean Imagination could be regarded as the "way out" of excessive internalization.

Anonymous said...

My tradition, Eastern Orthodoxy, has "mystics," though we don't call them that. Rather than their consciousness evolving, they experience union with God through noetic prayer. This is not "final participation" or "evolution." It's about directing the consciousness so that it is receptive to God.

Your story and arguments only make sense if you paper over the differences of traditions and treat experiences, events, etc., as part of one uniform narrative, such as in the case with "mystics" where they do not uniformly say what Barfield says he does. This is the same problem with Hegelianism: it forces all of reality into one narrative.

And again you have neglected to respond to the historiographical and hermeneutical challenges leveled against the narrative. I'm going to assume that you have no answer that doesn't involve the reaffirmation of sweeping generalizations or uniform descriptions. Whether you realize it or not, this really is the most damning part of the critique, and your lack of engagement with it tells me that you aren't really aware of the real issues. You may want to start with Heidegger and Gadamer.

SR said...

My tradition, Eastern Orthodoxy, has "mystics," though we don't call them that. Rather than their consciousness evolving, they experience union with God through noetic prayer. This is not "final participation" or "evolution." It's about directing the consciousness so that it is receptive to God.

They changed their consciousness -- they became receptive to God. Since God is not an object, there consciousness couldn't have been operating in subject/object mode, as ours are.

Your story and arguments only make sense if you paper over the differences of traditions and treat experiences, events, etc., as part of one uniform narrative, such as in the case with "mystics" where they do not uniformly say what Barfield says he does. This is the same problem with Hegelianism: it forces all of reality into one narrative.

Barfield doesn't actually talk about mysticism. That's my addition. But how you could read, say, Bernadette Roberts' Experience of No-Self and not see that as being a radically different kind of consciousness as you (I assume) or I have, I don't know. As to the many varieties of mystics, that has no bearing. If one zones out in Nirvana, while another is receptive to God, while a third starts seeing spirits in trees, they are all changes in consciousness.

And again you have neglected to respond to the historiographical and hermeneutical challenges leveled against the narrative.

You win, or rather, I will explain in more detail why your challenges are off the mark.
(see next comment)

SR said...

(From earlier)
First, it falls into all of the same problems that bedevil any other variant of historicism that posits "evolution" or "progress" or any kind of directedness. This is incredibly difficult to demonstrate and such views of history have led to disaster, as the 20th century attests.

Yet you know in advance that Barfield could not possibly be talking about something else.

Second, it's very difficult to posit self-contained ages or epochs that are unlike the others. Such descriptions tend to become oversimplified, unable to account for shifts from one age to the other, and they all fail to account for diversity of views at any given time or the overlap of ages.

Not all that difficult if it is consciousness that is topic, and not a diversity of views.

This one is quite problematic for you, as the majority of the world's population does not think like many Westerners, which opens this story to the same charges of Eurocentricism that plagued other accounts of developmental historicism.

Yes, it is Eurocentric in that that is where he gets the data, from western languages and their speakers. So if that is a concern you can take this as the evolution of western consciousness, as long as that includes the Near East as well. It should be noted, though, that the changes that (I think it was) Jaspers described as the Axial Age, were globally spread out.

Third, why do we believe this story, especially with all its problems, and not others?

Well, by comparing it to the others. Have you done that? Could it not be that Barfield's is a story about something else? As for the "problems", how do you even know what they are, if you haven't read his book?

You mentioned how well it jibes with Radical Orthodoxy and how they make a villain of Scotus for his supposed ontotheology, but are you aware of how problematic their interpretation of him and the history of metaphysics is?

Where it jibes is in the criticism of modernism, and in seeing the symptom of modernist disease in things like nominalism, or Ockham's voluntarism. So all the problematics are beside the point, as it is not a history of ideas.

[List of a bunch of other histories]...One can also find narratives that are less fixated on intellectual developments and instead focus on things like the rise of the modern nation-state and its reorientation of human life from the next world to this one.

"narratives that are less fixated on intellectual developments..." In other words, these are all histories of ideas, not consciousness.

...this story [the voluntarism one] treats modernity as an accident, predicated upon a contradiction in Western theology brought about by a uniquely western view of the will that is absent in the Greek East.

This I replied to. And obviously, this is where the disagreement lies. The question I have is do you understand why Barfield holds the opposite opinion? That is, have you read his arguments?

Anonymous said...

SR,

You are presuming precisely what is being contested. How do you know that you aren't merely conflating states of consciousness, which can vary from person to person depending upon their activity or disposition, from a mode of consciousness captive to an age and subject to an evolutionary process? You are reading Barfield's interpretation into the multiplicity of human relations and experiences. This is precisely the type of totalizing metanarrative that fails to account for difference that the postmoderns criticize, ignoring supplement, addition, variation, return, and unexpected movement, the play of God in the interval of Beauty and Being. Nothing, including God, can escape this metanarrative and its now deified principle of "polarity," guide, subverting God, now guides human behavior. And to the Christian this is pagan and gnostic, posting a "final participation" centered within the human person that bipasses the external world and its ultimate indeterminacies. For the Christian, creation can never be understood merely as a text that conceals abstract and fundamental meanings, such as "dialectic" or "polarity" to which all particularities can be reduced. Rather, the theme of creation, ultimately, is a gift of infinite possibility and configuration. Barfield, like Hegel, would have us capture it to an abstract process in order to overcome our contradictions. This is nihilism--and as much as Barfield wishes to escape nihilism through polarity, he is positing a nihilistic process captive to human imagination to do so. This leaves him open to all of the postmodern critiques: world-projection, presencing metaphysics, etc. The only way to escape these critiques is to posit a reality that is not reducible to human reason and centered on the absolutely transcendent. "Polarity" is precisely the opposite of this.

The responses that you provided over the historiographical issues of positing a universal, uniform, epochal historical narrative of any sort did not really address the criticisms. Nor will it do to dismiss the other narratives as involving the "history of ideas" (which is not accurate) and not the "history of consciousness," as they all posit counternarratives that either (1) tell a different story about "consciousness," whether implicitly or explicitly, (2) represent criticisms of the narrative you propose, implicitly or explicitly, and (3) demonstrate how difficult it is to actually prove or demonstrate the accuracy of anyone narrative by exposing their multiplicity and the disagreement they foster. You're not going to convince many people if an impossible to demonstrate "totalizing" narrative is what Barfield's ideas are predicated upon.

I'm going to repeat myself from last time: you aren't aware of either the theological or philosophical issues that complicate Barfield's story. I've tried to mention some of them here, but there's only so much one can write in a combox. If you are really interested, I would suggest Hart's Beauty of the Infinite, as it really does cover many of the problems associated with modern metanarratives, including those rooted in post-Kantian idealism, and how only classical theism escapes them.

SR said...

How do you know that you aren't merely conflating states of consciousness, which can vary from person to person depending upon their activity or disposition, from a mode of consciousness captive to an age and subject to an evolutionary process?

Because the history of language and literature bears it out. Why was there no philosophy until ~500 BC? Why does all the mental vocabulary stem from non-mental (as people like Bentham would put it)? Hint: it is because originally there was no mental/non-mental distinction. And so forth. The arguments are there. If you find specific fault with those arguments, then there is something to discuss. Otherwise, you are just prejudging.

And yes, polarity is a totalizing concept. As in the act/potency, unity/multeity, time/eternity, self/other, etc. polarities. Polarity is, as I see it, a better tool than analogy and apophaticism for dealing with mysteries, one of which is the nature of the self and its relation to the other. (Again, this is what the two posts you didn't read are all about).

And to the Christian this is pagan and gnostic, posting a "final participation" centered within the human person that bipasses the external world and its ultimate indeterminacies

Do you read anything I have written? I addressed this centering/decentering business. Did you respond? No, and here you are making the same offbase accusation.

For the Christian, creation can never be understood merely as a text that conceals abstract and fundamental meanings, such as "dialectic" or "polarity" to which all particularities can be reduced. Rather, the theme of creation, ultimately, is a gift of infinite possibility and configuration. Barfield, like Hegel, would have us capture it to an abstract process in order to overcome our contradictions.

Again, you haven't read what I have said. "infinite possibility and configuration" is precisely what polarity is. And it is never overcome, which is how it is different from Hegel. Oh, and abstract/concrete is another polarity, so there is no danger of getting lost in the abstract.

I have read The Beauty of the Infinite, as I said earlier, but I guess you didn't read that either. Nothing in it leads me to reject Barfield, and a lot of it fits in well with what Barfield says.

Christianity has its narrative of fall, incarnation, and redemption. Barfield's work casts some much-needed light on this narrative, which is why I take Christianity seriously, and don't just ignore it in favor of Buddhism. If I am not fully orthodox, so be it, as I'm not trying to be.

Anonymous said...

You weren't quite fair in that post. Yes, you mentioned you read Hart and I did take note of that. No, you did not mention you read that book in its entirety. Yes, I looked over the articles that you posted, but I don't think it answers the charges adequately.

You also don't seem to quite understand what I, Hart, and the pomos mean by totalizing. Again, as Hart argues, only classical theism escapes this charge because it doesn't subsume all of reality into one conceptual framework, as "Polarity" does. You seem to think that you evade this by claiming that we are post-Kantian now, but Barfield's entire epistemology presumes this from the get go--it has to. And I did read what you wrote about centering/decentering; I just found it to be an inadequate response to the charges, as I've argued.

If all you have is this narrative, ridden with all the problems mentioned, and implicitly predicated on a problematic epistemology, then you don't have much. At this point, I would suggest that you read Hart's "Christ and Nothing" or MacIntyre's "After Virtue." You seem to be doing exactly what they fault modernity for: selecting your beliefs by cobbling together traditions half-remembered (Barfieldianism, Buddhism, mysticism, etc.) in ways that suit you. It's put together this way because you find it attractive--as it certainly isn't coherent or demonstrable.

SR said...

"two forces of a single power, one of expanding life, the other of confining form" (Coleridge, probably not exact.)

"the theme of creation, ultimately, is a gift of infinite possibility and configuration."

What's the difference?

Calling it "totalizing" was just playing on the word. I am aware of the way it is used as a criticism. Polarity escapes the charge of "subsum[ing] all of reality into one conceptual framework". just as classical theism does, for the same reasons. Really, the only difference between classical theism and polarity is that, as I said, polar thinking is a better tool for approaching mystery than analogy and apophatics. The "single power" is, after all, the Logos. What can be more Christ-centered than that?

It would be a great deal more useful to hear you respond to this than give me more reading lists or repeat your too-quickly-arrived-at presumption of what Barfield is all about. Or show how his arguments on the evolution of consciousness are faulty, rather than saying they must be wrong because they are just more post-Kantian stuff.

I discussed why I think MacIntyre's program is not going to work in the Radical Orthodoxy essay. As for my "cobbling together", that's one way of looking at it. I see it as obeying Berger's "Heretical Imperative". I pick and choose because there isn't any other way to do it, though I would have phrased it as suiting the demands of reason, not "suiting myself". One can, of course, just pick classical theism, but I find it doesn't quite meet the facts. Your mileage obviously differs.

Hunt said...

"At one point you even talked about teleology breaking natural laws... Seriously dude? That's just ridiculous."

It was only a couple comments up, so you had to actually try to get me wrong.

"For teleology to logically exist, it must either be inherent in the physical laws as you suggest and which I think is a trivial formulation, or the laws must at times be broken, or there are laws that we are not yet aware of."

" It's evident to all of us who actually understand the nature of the dispute that you just don't get it, which leaves your claims all the more unpersuasive."

It's also painfully obvious that people aren't reading what I wrote. Perhaps it's a little rough around the edges, but if you're going to tell me I'm full crap, at least read my stuff -- or ignore it, I don't care.

Eduardo said...

Okay let me tell you what you are getting wrong.

You confuaing teleology will will/intention.

Even in Paley's teleology, you would be wrong.

There you go hunt and co. Now you people can stop talking past each other.

Gyan said...

SR,
"Why does all the mental vocabulary stem from non-mental "

Perhaps it is so in English or other European languages but how can you be sure it applies universally?
My own language,
Hindi, the mental words are distinct from physical. We do not use "grasp" to mean understand but have a word that is used for mental only.

SR said...

Gyan,

The word 'understand' in English is used for mental only, but has an obvious physical meaning in its formation, so the question is where the words used for mental only originate. In English, for example, the word 'reason' stems from a Indo-European root meaning something like "fit together". Whether that is the case with your word, I don't know, but since Hindi is an Indo-European language, it might not be hard to find out, as it is well studied.

Sean Robsville said...

Attempts by physicalist (aka materialist) philosophers to bridge the gap between the brain and the mind have always started from the brain, with the Hard Problem formulated in terms of 'how can physical phenomena give rise to mental experience'; as if the mind were just a passive consumer of whatever the 'neural correlates' dished up for it! This is begging the question by assuming the outcome they have not yet proven.

Since the physicalist attempts to bridge the gap from the neurological side don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps we should investigate whether we can start to build a section of the bridge out from the opposite end, from the mental side.

To do this we need a clear definition of what the mind is, before we can begin to consider how it might interact with physical systems.

The properties of the Mind can be summarized as:

Process
Devoid of structure
Clear
'About' its object (intentionality)
Source of semantics and meaning
Experiencing qualia (happiness, suffering, peace, stress, beauty, ugliness etc)
Non-physical
Non-algorithmic
Non-deterministic, possessing freewill
Required for the survival and evolution of complex animals.