Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nagel and his critics, Part VIII


Resuming our series on the serious critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s turn to Simon Blackburn’s review in New Statesman from a few months back.  Blackburn’s review is negative, but it is not polemical; on the contrary, he allows that the book is “beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope” and even that there is “charm” to it.  Despite the review’s now somewhat notorious closing paragraph (more on which below) I think Blackburn is trying to be fair to Nagel.
 
This post will be briefer than the earlier installments, since for the most part, Blackburn’s remarks are variations on points raised by other reviewers, to which I’ve already responded.  However, there is a passage in Blackburn’s review that I think merits special comment.  He writes:

In the case of consciousness and mind, [Nagel] has bought heavily into the so-called “hard problem”: first envisaging consciousness as a kind of purple haze or glassy add-on to our animal lives, he then finds its arrival, and its way of interacting with physical things, inexplicable. This was Descartes’s problem, but since Wittgenstein and Ryle we have tried to put it behind us. If consciousness is a purple haze over and above, and irreducible to, my animal nature, then perhaps you don’t have it, and perhaps I didn’t have it yesterday; for who is to say whether my apparent memory of “it” is reliable? Part of the problem here is the abstract noun. If we follow Ryle’s advice and replace it with an adverb (people doing things more or less consciously), Descartes’s problem begins to deflate.

End quote.  Now, the “purple haze” stuff is an allusion not so much to Jimi Hendrix as to Joseph Levine’s (excellent) overview of the debate about consciousness in contemporary philosophy of mind, Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness.  I’ve got no beef with the expression itself -- in fact I agree with Blackburn that it’s an appropriate metaphor given the way the notion of consciousness is typically understood in post-Cartesian philosophy. 

The question is why it is understood the way it is -- as a kind of ethereal “add-on” to our corporeal attributes.  Blackburn implies that it has something to do with a fallacy of reification.  We say things like “I was not conscious of having done that,” “I was barely able to remain conscious while reading Feser’s book,” “That martini knocked me unconscious,” and so forth.  Then (so Blackburn’s argument seems to go) we fallaciously infer that “consciousness” must be a kind of stuff that is present in some of these cases and absent in others; only, since it is not an observable kind of stuff, it must be some unobservable kind of stuff.

Of course, that is a tendentious account of the issue, as Blackburn knows.  Nothing per se wrong with that -- he can’t be expected to consider, much less respond to, every alternative view in a short review.  I even agree with Blackburn that the problem of consciousness arises from a kind of reification fallacy.  However, I think the specific kind of reification involved is not the one Blackburn’s remarks imply that it is.  It isn’t a matter of jumping from adverbial phrases to an abstract noun.  Nor is it only the post-Cartesian notion of mind that involves a questionable reification; the post-Cartesian notion of matter is equally suspect. 

More to the present point, the reifications in question are ones whose origins are described by Nagel, and they are of a kind that poses a serious problem, not for dualism so much as for the materialism that is Nagel’s target in the book.  Blackburn completely ignores this aspect of Nagel’s position, even though it is not only a key point in the new book, but has been central to Nagel’s work for nearly forty years, since his famous article “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”  I am referring, of course, to the point -- emphasized in several previous posts in this series -- that modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms, and therefore strips from the physical whatever smacks of the irreducibly qualitative and relocates it in the “mental” realm.  Hence color, odor, sound, taste, heat, cold, and the like (as common sense understands them) are treated as mere projections of the mind, existing not in matter itself but only in our conscious experience of matter.  As Nagel writes in Mind and Cosmos:

The modern mind-body problem arose out of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, as a direct result of the concept of objective physical reality that drove that revolution.  Galileo and Descartes made the crucial conceptual division by proposing that physical science should provide a mathematically precise quantitative description of an external reality extended in space and time, a description limited to spatiotemporal primary qualities such as shape, size, and motion, and to laws governing the relations among them.  Subjective appearances, on the other hand -- how this physical world appears to human perception -- were assigned to the mind, and the secondary qualities like color, sound, and smell were to be analyzed relationally, in terms of the power of physical things, acting on the senses, to produce those appearances in the minds of observers.  It was essential to leave out or subtract subjective appearances and the human mind -- as well as human intentions and purposes -- from the physical world in order to permit this powerful but austere spatiotemporal conception of objective physical reality to develop. (pp. 35-36)

This is the origin of the so-called “hard problem of consciousness,” otherwise known as the “qualia problem.”  From the concrete material objects of everyday life, Descartes and the moderns who have followed him derived two abstractions (as I discussed in an earlier post).  First, they abstracted out those features that could be captured in exclusively quantitative terms, reified this abstraction, and called that reified abstraction “matter,” or “the physical,” or that which is “objective.”  Second, they abstracted those qualitative features that would not fit the first, quantitative picture, reified that abstraction, and called it “the mental,” or that which is “subjective.”  Once this move was made, there was never in principle going to be a way to get mind and matter together again, since they were in effect defined by contrast with one another.

Thus, Cartesian dualism was not a reactionary resistance to this central move of modern science and philosophy; it was a natural consequence of it.  And the problem derives as much from the post-Cartesian notion of matter as it does from the post-Cartesian notion of mind.  To follow Blackburn’s lead in citing Ryle, it isn’t just the ghost that is the problem, but the machine too.  And that is why Mind and Cosmos speculates about possible alternative conceptions of matter -- neutral monism, panpsychism, neo-Aristotelian teleologism -- in passages that (contrary to what one would guess from some of the reviews) are much more crucial to understanding Nagel’s overall position than anything he says about Darwinian biology.

Hence, at least if Nagel’s critic is committed to the modern, materialist conception of matter -- which essentially keeps Descartes’ machine while chucking out the ghost -- it is no good to accuse him, as Blackburn does, of reifying abstractions.  For Nagel’s point (though he doesn’t put it this way) is essentially that the materialist is reifying an abstraction, or at least that the materialist’s conception of matter is just as much a part of what generates the mind-body problem as the Cartesian dualist’s conception of mind.  Purple haze?  Sure.  But purple haze conjoined to another bizarre invention, one the materialist uncritically accepts -- the body reconceived as insensate clockwork.

An analogy: Suppose you squeeze every last drop of juice out of an orange, and then, deciding you want to put it back in while at the same time keeping the dried-out husk you’ve created, puzzle over how to go about doing it.  A Blackburn-like critic assures you that the problem is a pseudo-problem of your own making: “You’re illicitly moving from an adjective to an abstract noun.  We say things like ‘This orange is juicy’ and ‘That orange is not so juicy.’  You fallaciously infer from that that there’s this stuff called ‘juice’ that exists over and above the husk of the orange.  Resist the urge to do that and the problem begins to deflate.” 

Well, the critic in this case is partly right; the problem is of your own making.  But he does not see how deep the problem goes, and indeed seems deeply implicated in it himself.  For the source of the difficulty is not a mere tendency to shift from adjective to noun.  The source of the difficulty is that you have made of the juice a separate stuff precisely by squeezing it out of the orange, and you have created an insoluble problem of how to get it back into the orange precisely because you insist on doing so while at the same time keeping the orange a dry husk.  You are stuck with a dualism of dry husk and juice, and will remain stuck with it unless you give up not only the aim of keeping the juice as a stuff separate from the orange, but also the aim of keeping the orange as a dry husk devoid of juice.  The Blackburn-like critic, meanwhile, is in if anything an even odder position insofar as he regards the dried-out husk as somehow more real than the juice.  The solution is to get the orange back -- juice and husk in their organic unity, as a single entity.  The juice/husk dualist wants to make of an orange an aggregate of two stuffs; the Blackburn-like critic wants to chuck out the juice, keep the husk, and call that alone an “orange.”  The second position is hardly better than the first.

The parallel with the mind-body problem is, I trust, obvious.  The Cartesian dualist treats a human being as a slapped-together aggregate of Descartes’ desiccated “husk”-like quantitative conception of matter and his “juice”-like conception of mind as the repository of the qualitative features that don’t fit the quantitative description.  The materialist regards a human being as the mere “husk” all by itself.  What we need is to get the “orange” back -- that is to say, human beings (and other material substances too for that matter) in all their quantitative and qualitative richness.  And that is precisely what Nagel is trying to accomplish in toying with various non-materialist conceptions of matter (neutral monist, panpsychist, Aristotelian).

Finally, about that closing paragraph.  The now somewhat notorious bit reads as follows:

I regret the appearance of this book.  It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence.  It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off.  If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

End quote.  Taken in isolation, that sounds pretty bad -- like the ranting of a humorless ideologue.  But in context it has a different feel, or so it seems to me.  It is in the immediately preceding sentence that Blackburn says: “There is charm to reading a philosopher who confesses to finding things bewildering.”  And the passage comes at the end of a review that is not only substantive, but begins with the very kind words about the book quoted above.  So, it seems to me that Blackburn’s final sentence is clearly just meant as a joke rather than a suggestion that Nagel’s book should be shunned -- and a joke justifiable from the point of view of someone who seriously thinks that the “Intelligent Design” movement is a threat to science. 

But you don’t have to be a fan of ID (and I am not) to think much of the secularist reaction to it absurdly shrill, paranoid, and dogmatic.  So I don’t think the joke is a very good one.  And of course, were a non-materialist to make such a joke about a materialist book, you can be sure most secularists would not treat it as such.

139 comments:

ingx24 said...

I think there's a problem with seeing the "hard problem of consciousness" as simply the question of how things like colors and sounds could exist in a material world that does not contain them. As David Chalmers put it:

"The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience... When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations:
the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual
field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a
clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms;
mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience
of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is
like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.
It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how
it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing.
Why is it that when our
cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or
auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain
why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion?
It
is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good
explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich
inner life at all?
It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does."

Notice that this problem has nothing to do with whether colors, sounds, etc. do indeed exist objectively in reality - the problem is why we are even have subjective experiences and a point of view on the world and our own inner states (such as emotions) at all, regardless of what the outer world is really like. The mechanistic stripping of colors, sounds, etc. from the physical world certainly does make the hard problem worse, but it is far from the only source of it.

ingx24 said...

To clarify further:

"This further question is the key question in the problem of consciousness. Why doesn’t
all this information-processing go on “in the dark”, free of any inner feel? Why is it that when
electromagnetic waveforms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a
visual system, this discrimination and categorization is experienced as a sensation of vivid
red?" (Chalmers, "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (same source as my last quote from him))

Again, this has nothing to do with whether colors (for example) do indeed exist "out there", as Aristotelians claim. The hard problem of consciousness is the question of why, even assuming that sensation does consist of reception of an aspect of a form (say, the redness of an apple) by an organism's sensory organs, the sensation is then consciously experienced, rather than going on "'in the dark', without any inner feel". I suppose Aristotle and Aquinas would just take it as a brute fact that animals can consciously experience things in virtue of their form due to their non-mechanical conception of matter, but to me this is not satisfactory.

Edward Feser said...

Hello ingx24,

Look at it this way. I think the proverbial "man on the street" finds it odd at least at first to be told, as philosophers tell him in Phil of Mind class, that (e.g.) a pain sensation is something "mental." It sure seems to common sense to be about as bodily, and thus "physical" or "material," as a thing could be. it feels like it's right there in the arm or leg itself.

Now, through various lines of argument, from telling the complicated neurological story about pain to emphasizing what the matter that makes up the body is "really" like at the level of physics, the student is brought around to see how pain sensations and the like get "problematized" philosophically.

But what it involves is a variation on the basic move made by the early moderns who "mechanized" nature -- define "the physical" in quantitative terms so that even pains, itches, tickles, etc. come to seem what they do not seem to common sense to be -- somehow not inherent in matter per se. Voila, you got your problem of consciousness.

Now from an Aristotelian POV, that's just not the right way to approach matter metaphysically (even though it is obviously very useful for purposes of physics etc.). "Prime matter" is what persists through a change of substantial form; "designated matter" is a marked out parcel of prime matter characterized by quantity but still considered apart from substantial form. But there is nothing in matter's taking on a substantial form that requires that the resulting substance be characterizable in entirely quantitative terms. There's no privileging of that category, no reason whatsoever to think "I can see how a material substance could have dimension or local motion, but why the heck should it have a sensation of pain or a mental image of a sound?"

Anonymous said...

"I am referring, of course, to the point -- emphasized in several previous posts in this series -- that modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms, and therefore strips from the physical whatever smacks of the irreducibly qualitative and relocates it in the “mental” realm.",

I think it is important to add that, although the materialist is certainly looking for pure quantity, the entirely quantitative terms of Res Extensa are not purely quantitative. This is true especially when it comes to the actual corporeal world, but even the physical world of plane geometry. Extension, Shape, and Direction (to mention a few attributes) are not purely quantitative - they are irreducibly qualitative: the difference between a triangle and a square is not reducible to a matter of quantity alone.

I think more focus could be given to these basic, fundamental problems with materialism.

Anonymous said...

That should be physical world (ie., mathematical models) even plane geometry.

ingx24 said...

Ed Feser,

This is what I suspected when I first heard you say that mental images, pains, etc. were "material" - the Aristotelian conception of matter simply doesn't require things to be publicly observable and quantifiable to be considered "material". Am I correct in saying this? Your post just now seems to suggest it, at least.

BLS said...

@Anon:

I guess you would have to ask a materialist whether or not space and time are "material."

Maybe they should change the name from "materialism" to "observablism" or "measurablism."

Anonymous said...

Well yes, the materialist will generally come up with some vague and ambiguous label, like physicalism or naturalism, or just redefine materialism. But surely the whole point of materialism is for it to a complete bottom-up explanation of reality; that is, for it to reduce all reality to pure quantitative building blocks. If there are irreducibly qualitative aspects of reality, then that shows reality doesn't conform to such a bottom-up perspective.

You will find that most so called materialists shy away from pure quantity as the sole building block of reality, and are more naturalists than materialists. However, many resort to such a quasi-materialism that they are loath to admit the independent existence of any intellectual or qualitative element if they can help it.

Debilis said...

Piggybacking off of Anon's comment, I'd say that the acceptance of mathematics required by science is itself the acceptance of non-material truths (whether or not one is a realist about numbers). Mathematical proofs are not determined by observation of physical particles, but by reason.

This seems an even more fundamental reason to reject the idea that materialism can ever ground itself apart from any appeals to non-material truth.

This is escapable only by arguing that reason itself is a purely material process. But this suffers, not only from the objections Feser has already mentioned, but also from the problem of determinism. That if reason is driven by the blind laws of physics and chemistry (rather than logical rules of inference), it undercuts any confidence we could have in reason–and therefore materialism.

Or, in short, materialism has become a self-contradictory mess that, as far as I can tell, doesn't remotely deserve the prestige it has in academia.

Curmudgeon said...

Re Debilis' post: as a naive layman as far as philosophy is concerned, I admit I don't understand what it might mean (if "mean" is the relevant word) to say that, in F = d2r / dt2 (Newton's second law) the entities symbolized by "=", "d2_ /d_2" and the bold face letters, are all material entities. How do materialists account for the material status of vectors, equalities and second derivative functions? Surely people like Alex Rosenberg must have a ready answer. How many mathematicians are materialists?

BLS said...

The question is whether mathematical Platonism can be considered naturalistic/materialistic or not.

Robert McDougall said...

"Pith-only" physics explains why the shorter string generates higher-frequency pressure waves than the longer string. It doesn't explain the difference in the subjective experience of sound, but then it doesn't attempt to. That task gets handed off, via auditory physiology and neurophysiology, to cognitive science. And that, the Cartesian and Aristotelian agree, will be unable to perform it.

Well, what's the Aristotelian alternative? If juicing the orange is the original error, do we need an Aristotelian "whole-orange" physics that doesn't abstract away the experiential quality of sound? Or is juicing the orange the right ("very useful") way to proceed in physics, just not in metaphysics, so that the Aristotelian "whole-orange" alternative is not a to-be-developed Aristotelian physics but already-existing Aristotelian metaphysics?

And in either case, how is positing in-the-string experiential properties supposed to lead us to a account of the difference in the subjective experience of the high tone and the low one? Or put another way, if the root of our difficulties with mind is not the subjectivity nature of experience but Cartesian abstraction, shouldn't we be able to look forward to an Aristotelian account of what it is like to be a bat?

Eduardo said...

You change the origin of the incoming information, and that solves the problem doesn't it?

You also happen to be offering a different of concept of nature, one that might be more realistic.

Well if you so intend to turn physics into a more wide-scope endeavor then you would have a more complete picture of nature.

Anonymous said...

Or is juicing the orange the right ("very useful") way to proceed in physics, just not in metaphysics, so that the Aristotelian "whole-orange" alternative is not a to-be-developed Aristotelian physics but already-existing Aristotelian metaphysics?

I think the Aristotilean would say that there's nothing wrong in and of itself with what goes on in physics, the experimental approaches, etc. The problem is the perspective and understanding we have about those approaches. No one is, say, "doing physics wrong" - they're just having the wrong understanding of what we learn from physics as a scientific discipline.

Or put another way, if the root of our difficulties with mind is not the subjectivity nature of experience but Cartesian abstraction, shouldn't we be able to look forward to an Aristotelian account of what it is like to be a bat?

That doesn't seem correct. A large point of Nagel's essay was to point at something that physics and science in general 'leaves out', despite what it learns. It's not that Nagel was advocating scientific way to discover what is 'left out'.

Anonymous said...

So...when are you (and classical theism) going to be as popular as William Lane Craig (and theistic personalism)?

Eduardo said...

Maybe never XD.

Or until classical theists find a guru to guides lots and lots of people XD.

otherwise... why would be popular, most people find philosophy to be useless, and if takes philosophy to be a classical theist... I am afraid classical theism will always be a "esoteric" thing XD.

JesseM said...

Dr. Feser wrote:
But there is nothing in matter's taking on a substantial form that requires that the resulting substance be characterizable in entirely quantitative terms. There's no privileging of that category, no reason whatsoever to think "I can see how a material substance could have dimension or local motion, but why the heck should it have a sensation of pain or a mental image of a sound?"

But you're talking about non-quantitative features inhering in the material substance of the observer here--wouldn't Aristotle have thought that redness inheres in an apple itself, not just in the brain of someone perceiving it? And yet it does not seem to make sense to say that a qualia of redness really inheres in an apple itself independent of who is observing it, unless we believe that all beings with color vision would experience the same qualia of red when looking at it (surely that can't be true, it should always in principle be possible to rewire the neural connections between my retina and my brain so that an apple would look blue to me), or that any who didn't would somehow be seeing "erroneously" (if some species see colors erroneously and others see them correctly, we would have no way of knowing which group we belong to). If redness doesn't inhere in the apple, can we point to any non-mathematical features of reality that inhere in inanimate objects? If not, there seems to be something very special about qualia (and consciousness in general) in that properties of things seem divided into objective mathematical ones and subjective qualitative ones.

JesseM said...

Anonymous wrote:
I think it is important to add that, although the materialist is certainly looking for pure quantity, the entirely quantitative terms of Res Extensa are not purely quantitative. This is true especially when it comes to the actual corporeal world, but even the physical world of plane geometry. Extension, Shape, and Direction (to mention a few attributes) are not purely quantitative - they are irreducibly qualitative: the difference between a triangle and a square is not reducible to a matter of quantity alone.

I get the impression that for the purposes of this discussion, "quantitative" properties are meant to be synonymous with mathematical properties, not just numerical ones. You can describe precisely the difference between a square and a triangle in the context of a formal axiomatic system so the difference is a mathematical one even if it isn't a matter of differing numerical amounts of some quantity.

DNW said...

Stopped in at B. Dalton's the other day during the noon hour to finally break down and pick up a copy of The Last Superstition.

Last time I was at that particular location, the philosophy section was about 20 feet long and composed of two double sided freestanding shelves with an aisle running down the center. Half the selections were then of a level that might have fitted-in in a campus bookstore.

In order to save time this go-around I walked up to the information kiosk and asked the seemingly overwhelmed clerk to check inventory for the name Edward Feser. "Ok", he said with a sigh.

After a moment he began to frown as he read off a number of titles in a questioning voice.

Yeah, got any?, I said.

"No", he said as if I had asked for something written by David Duke; "and none on order".

The philosophy section is that way right?

I'll show you.

You can just point ...

"No trouble", he said, while making it plain it was considerable trouble.

After climbing down from the little stage where the information clerks are enclosed, he began rapidly sashaying toward the back of the store about as fast as I imagine it would be possible to go while walking like that.


Reaching the philosophy shelves, he pivoted with a Vanna White-like flourish toward the books, and said "See?", and walked off.

Philosophy was now a double sided shelving section about 8 feet long and 5 feet high. About 40% of the busy side was composed of "Atheism" books.

I hadn't known there were so many. The titles alone provided as much shoe pounding "We will bury you!" stridency as Khrushchev ever managed to deliver during his comic heyday at the UN.

Even Vincent Bugliosi was there; though a quick scan of the text indicated that he was convinced that hard core atheists were only a cut or two less contemptible than Christians. It's a large print book, for any who might be interested.

No Feser, though. No Nagel. No Searle. No Ayer or Russell or Ryle for that matter.

I did see a paperback copy of Roscoe Pound's "Philosophy of Law" identical in absolutely every respect to the one I had to outline in dreary detail chapter by chapter, 25 or so years ago. You would think they'd change the cover at least.

However it looks like Ray Monk has a life of Wittgenstein out that is worthwhile. And, besides "Godel's Proof", which I picked up, they did have half a dozen jumbled volumes of Copleston's History of Philosophy for 27 bucks each or thereabouts. You can of course get them in remainder bins and college town bookstores for about six, in new condition.

I guess that's why God invented the Internet.


Pax.

Anonymous said...

JesseM,Firstly the physical world of mathematics and plane geometry is not that of the corporeal world. Secondly, if the mathematical world is inherently qualitative then the materialist seems to have failed to bring about a reduction to a completely bottom up perspective, letting in the existence of intellectuals and qualitative aspects of reality that leaves his quasi materialist, physicalist perspective ambiguous and likely to be overturned completely.

If at once you admit differing qualities into reality, you have to explain their relations with each other and you are already beginning to leave the shores of any meaningful materialism far behind.

Susan said...

Re: "I guess that's why God invented the Internet."

Way before that He invented the public library and it is easy to Feser's books there.

Eduardo said...

Good point Susy .... Susan...

Anonymous said...

Jesse M, you also use the term some quantity. It is important to understand that quantity, pure quantity, is discontinuous number. All other quantity is reducible to this quantity, such as continuous or extended quantity, and qualitative aspects. It is not an arbitrary kind of quantity (some quantity) being referred to in any (futile) attempt to reduce shape or direction or extension to quantity, but pure quantity (the Materia Secunda of our level of being).

Anonymous said...

The phrase 'such as continuous or extended quantity' belongs after the phrase 'All other quantity' and not 'this quantity'.

Anonymous said...

It may just be that combox gnus and materialists are particularly inane, but has anyone else noticed how much they absolutely love the concept of the burden of proof?

In discussion of Mind and Body relations, if they couldn't say say that the burden of proof was on their side (because of the successes of science or the apparent fact we only have evidence of matter apart from the Mind, etc., etc.) then half of them wouldn't have any arguments at all.

Indeed, it is an argument Gnus generally use, but I'm simply not sure it is sound. The metaphysician Frithjof Schuon once wrote;

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/Public/articles/Concerning_Proofs_of_God-by_Frithjof_Schuon.aspx

It has been said that the proof of an affirmation is incumbent upon him who enunciates the thesis, not upon him who rejects it; but this is a perfectly arbitrary opinion, for if someone owes us a proof for a positive affirmation, he equally owes us one for a negative affirmation; it is not the positive character of the affirmation, it is the absoluteness of its character that obliges us to prove it, whether its content is positive or negative. There is no need to prove an inexistence that one supposes, but one is obliged to prove an inexistence that one affirms. It is true that those who deny the supernatural do not lack arguments which in their eyes are proofs of their opinion, but nonetheless they imagine that their opinion is a natural axiom that needs no demonstration; this is rationalist juridicism, not pure logic. Theists, on the contrary, feel that it is normal to support by proofs the reality of the Invisible, except when they speak pro domo, basing themselves upon the evidence of faith or gnosis.

This seems fundamentally correct to me. Besides, atheists make much of the difference between so called positive and negative, but does not each negative claim also presuppose positive ones? Does not the claim that the evidence does not prove God's existence rely on a positive apprehension and conclusion on the evidence?

I think more work could be done on this question, but it seems to me that the Gnu shouldn't be allowed to get away with his burden of proof line.

The burden of proof would seem to be on both sides of the argument, so far as any point is in contention and so far as it is an intellectual argument and not just an assumption made in the course of one's life.

BLS said...

Anon, you should have saved that reply for when the Magic Fluid/Fairy Dust Anon started posting.

E.H. Munro said...

Yes, in logic every negative proposition can be reformulated as a positive one. This is one of those lines of demarcation between thinking atheists and the New Materialists™ (who identify themselves by unknowingly rejecting materialism).

Anonymous said...

It isn't just Gnus, though. Russell's Teapot is a classic example of just this confusion over the burden of proof.

Anonymous said...

I linked to the wrong essay above. Here is the correct essay:

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/Public/articles/The_Primacy_of_Intellection-by_Frithjof_Schuon.aspx

Interestingly, however, in the first essay Schuon makes a similar point in even more forceful term:

It is in light of these axioms that one should approach the question of the proofs of God; such proofs, far from being apologetic aids alone, can serve as keys for restoring to intelli­gence its characteristic and integral nature. First of all, however, it is necessary to respond to a curious objection put forward by rationalists, even though it has already been mentioned elsewhere in this book. The objection is this: whoever asserts that “God exists” is under an obligation to prove it, whereas the skeptic is in no way obliged to prove the contrary since—so it seems—only he who makes an affirmation owes his critics a proof, while he who denies it is under no such obligation; the skeptic therefore has a right to reject the “existence” of God without being required in his turn to prove the “nonexistence” of God. Now this line of reasoning is completely arbitrary, and for the following reason: a man who finds himself unable to verify a statement undoubtedly has the right not to accept it as certain or probable, but he has by no means the logical right to reject it without pro­viding valid reasons for doing so. It is not difficult to discover the basis of this objection: it starts with the preconceived notion that the affirmation of God is something “extraordinary” whereas the denial of God is “normal”; the skeptic obviously begins by thinking that the normal man is the atheist, and from this he deduces a kind of one-way jurisprudence."

Eduardo said...

That last phrase got me, because it is the only way I could come up as the possible intention to someone that believes that only a side that proposes something has to offer proof to it's proposition...

I mean, you can kid around and ask since he wants to propose that a proof must be given, he ought you know; to proof that everybody with a proposition needs proof to it, then they obviously get mad because they know you gonna drag them straight to Ethics, which some people believe it must be as liberal as possible, or in another words, that we ought just leave people do their thing unless they hurt us... or something like that anyways.

Anyways, to me epistmology is just a person's prime belief, doesn't matter what you choose, if you begin by epistemology, the theory you choose is just an ungrounded belief XD, you know, because to ground a belief you need, guess what... the theory you just came up with, so if that theory doesn't ground itself there is no reason, or no grounds for you to believe in it.

So the conversation ends with the guy talking about the victories of thinking like him, but losing the argument anyway.

Susan said...

Re Schuon's "It is in light of these axioms that one should approach the question of the proofs of God; such proofs, far from being apologetic aids alone, can serve as keys for restoring to intelli­gence its characteristic and integral nature."

It reflects what I am just reading. [philosophical proofs of God]"are utilized by [St. Thomas] as manuductiones, leadings by the hand, methods by which the fallen mind is led to the appreciation of the God of revelation" (Robert Barron)

Fr. Barron writes of Aquinas as ecstatic. Boy is it ever a different Aquinas than this blog presents. I have a feeling the truth is somewhere in between. Barron uses the word proof with quote marks at times and shows that these demonstrations of proof have a goal: a path for making the mind more rational and clear and able to believe. Restoring the intelligence to its natural integrity a la Schuon is more helpful than insulting atheists ever will be. (Well, I can't prove that ... but then again the burden of proof is not on me because I am making it a nonabsolute negative.)

Glenn said...

Re: "I guess that's why God invented the Internet."
Way before that He invented the public library and it is easy to Feser's books there.


And before God got around to inventing the public library, people told stories. Why did they do that? They did that for a number of reasons, a few of which, in isolation or combination, may be: a) for the heck of it; b) to while away the time; c) to convey information; d) pass along knowledge; e) make a point; f) comment on changes taking place; g) entertain and delight; or, h) edify, enlighten and nourish the soul. Sometimes edifying, enlightening and nourishing the soul results in an opening of the eyes. But sometimes the eyes have to be open first before the soul can be fed. So that's another likely reason why stories were told: i) to open eyes.

The poor, put upon clerk, having spun the mouse wheel for DNW, was dismayed to see the pointer hadn't landed on "Bankrupt". Ach du lieber! Neither "Not in stock" nor "Not on order" were sufficient compensation, and nothing short of an ostentatious conveying of haughty resentment would enable the clerk to recover (somewhat).

OTOH, maybe the harried clerk was jolted by DNW's insouciance, and, in a fit of mild paranoia, feared he might be a 'shopper'--someone from who-knows-where, headquarters perhaps, there to scout out how store employees treat paying customers. If so, it may be that the clerk was dismayed, not that the pointer hadn't landed on "Bankrupt", but that, since none of the books were in stock or on order, he was deprived of an opportunity to display the excellence of his attitude and service by retrieving a book from the shelf or helpfully saying, "It'll be here soon." But, then, DNW came to the rescue with a follow-up question. "The philosophy section is that way right?" Manna from heaven! Deus ex machina! A reprieve! And so, no, there was not an ostentatious conveying of haughty resentment, but an over-zealous effort to indelibly impress upon the 'shopper' that a better employee than he B. Dalton could not have. "And, just in case you were wondering, the fiction section is right here."

Eduardo said...

Glenn, do you want my calmants? XD

JesseM said...

Anonymous wrote:
JesseM,Firstly the physical world of mathematics and plane geometry is not that of the corporeal world.

I didn't say it was, but the point of Galileo's distinction between primary and secondary properties, which Dr. Feser mentioned in his post, is that the objective primary properties of material objects are solely mathematical ones. Neither Galileo nor any later thinkers who argue the same way would say that mathematical properties should be limited to numerical amounts rather than including other notions such as shape, though; this seems to be a strawman version of materialism that you have invented.

Secondly, if the mathematical world is inherently qualitative

What does "qualitative" mean? Are you arguing that mathematical truths depend on the subjective experiences of the ones perceiving them and could thus be different for different observers, just as different species may have different experiences of color? Because that's the sort of thing that Galileo was referring to when he talked about secondary properties, and I would bet that this is also what Dr. Feser meant when he talked about the "irreducibly qualitative" in his post--at least, I highly doubt that he meant that phrase to include any totally mathematical properties like shape, which are objective in that all mathematically literate observers should agree on the correct formal symbolic description of the shape (for example, the set of coordinates it occupies in a cartesian coordinate system).

then the materialist seems to have failed to bring about a reduction to a completely bottom up perspective

Why would anyone define "bottom up perspective" in terms of pure numerical quantity, rather than other mathematical attributes? Again this seems like a strawman, do you know of any materialists who define reductionism or the bottom-up perspective in terms of such a limited slice of mathematics?

letting in the existence of intellectuals and qualitative aspects of reality that leaves his quasi materialist, physicalist perspective ambiguous and likely to be overturned completely.

It seems to me you are just confusing yourself with words--you adopt an idiosyncratic definition of the "qualitative aspects of reality" which includes things like shape, and then since you have heard materialism described as the view that only quantitative properties really exist, not qualitative ones, you conclude this is a problem for materialism, when really it's just a matter of the speakers defining the quantitative/qualitative distinction differently than you, so that any mathematical properties including shape would fall on the "quantitative side". Suppose we were to check with a bunch of materialists (and philosophers describing materialism) and they all confirmed that there notion of primary properties, or the "quantitative" aspects of reality, was meant to include any arbitrary properties describable in formal mathematics, including shape. In this case, would you still argue that the fact that objects have non-numerical properties like shape should be a problem for materialists, even though no one is defining shape as a secondary property or "qualitative" aspect of reality? If so, can you present a substantive argument for this that doesn't depend on how we choose to define particular words like "qualitative"?

Anonymous said...

Jesse M,

This is not my invention. Rene Guenon's The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times is where my argument comes from, although it is also an argument similar to the idea of Coleridge and various other Platonist thinkers. I think you simply do not understand their perspective.

I think you are confused about what materialism is.

Materialism is surely the reduction of all reality to a purely quantitative building block. The quantitative combination of this building block, or atoms, and its purely mechanstic relationships, are to explain all reality. This is the only meaingful definition of materialism. Materialism is, after all, atomism, is it not? If you think materialism is not atomism in the sense I'm using this term, just what is it?

Pure quantity, the basic building block, can only be supplied by discontinuous number.

It is actually you playing loose with definitions, as you seem loath to actually define quantity. Quantity, as I said, can only, ultimately, be discontinous number, meaning shape, direction, extension, etc., are qualitative.

The ultimate point is that once it is admitted that even qualities such as shape or direction are included as part reality, it must be admitted that reality cannot be reduced to one purely quantitative building block whose quantitative combinations and mechanistic relationships explain all reality. The materialist is then forced to explain the relationship of qualities to each other and he simply cannot do this without his perspective essentially leaving the shores of materialism.

Anonymous said...

If you are not describing the position of contemporaries accurately it doesn't necessarily entail a strawman. It could be that these contemporaries are using labels ambiguously and dubiously.

Materialism is pure atomism or it is nothing, this is what I maintain and you have said nothing to make me believe other, Jesse.

Indeed, a quick conversation will reveal, although they won't admit all is reducible to pure quantity up front, they are loath to admit any qualitative and intellectual aspects a reality if they absolutely don't have to.

JesseM said...

Anonymous:
Materialism is surely the reduction of all reality to a purely quantitative building block. The quantitative combination of this building block, or atoms, and its purely mechanstic relationships, are to explain all reality. This is the only meaingful definition of materialism. Materialism is, after all, atomism, is it not? If you think materialism is not atomism in the sense I'm using this term, just what is it?

Well, everything in mathematics can be defined "atomistically" if you define mathematical truth in formal terms, as I suggested before: the sum of all truths about a mathematical domain is then just the truth-value of every possible proposition, consisting of a finite series of symbols, which qualify grammatically as well-formed formulas in that domain (for example, defining the shape occupied by an object could just consist of affirming various statements about the spatial points, labeled with Cartesian coordinates, that the object occupies). Are you familiar with formal axiomatic systems in math? (if not, I liked the basic introduction to the idea in Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach) There is no aspect of mathematical geometry that cannot be captured this way. Of course these finite propositions may be about something other than numerical quantities, which is how I thought you were defining "quantitative" before, but perhaps you would allow the term "quantitative" to include this sort of "logical atomism" (Bertrand Russell's term); in that case, I would say you are simply incorrect that there is anything about the mathematical notion of "shape" that cannot be captured in this sort of atomistic way.

Eduardo said...

Jesse, are we capturing their essences or their translating into another language a mental image?

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: The burden of proof would seem to be on both sides of the argument, so far as any point is in contention and so far as it is an intellectual argument

Indeed. The "burden of proof" is a legal principle, designed to cut down on wrongly convicting the innocent. It is pointless in a philosophical context — intellectual honesty demands that anyone making a claim be prepared to defend it. In a practical sense, of course, the "burden" lies on the one who wishes to persuade others of his claim: if you make a claim but don't care whether anyone accepts it or not, then I guess you don't "have to" prove anything.

As you note, any "positive" claim can in general be reworded into a "negative" claim, or vice versa. One can meaningfully identify a positive existential claim, and it is sometimes claimed that "you can't prove a negative", which has some sense to it, insofar as proving that something doesn't exist can obviously be tricky: without accounting for every possible truth, how do you know the entity in question isn't "hiding" somewhere? But it doesn't help the atheist's position to resort to saying he can't be expected to disprove God's existence because, well, maybe He does exist after all. And of course it's easy to prove lots of things don't exist (for example, that there is no elephant in this room, or that there is no largest prime).

So basically, it's an indefensible cop-out, yes.

Glenn said...

in that case, I would say you are simply incorrect that there is anything about the mathematical notion of "shape" that cannot be captured in this sort of atomistic way.

If I change the entry on your timesheet for, say, Tuesday, then the "hours worked" which you report is simply incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Jesse M, I think you are confusing the metaphysical atomism of historical materialism with various mathematical or philosophical positions. Your use of the term atomism is very much flawed.

Logical atomism is nonsense on the face of it. What is the relationship between these atoms? It will soon be seen that they are not proper atoms.

What I mean to especially say is that a shape is not reducible to pure quantity. That is, you simply cannot reduce the difference between a square and a triangle to pure quantity. And pure quantity must ultimately be discontinuous number. You are trying to introduce mathematical elements that are not necessary.

By the way, philosophy is older than Bertrand Russell and the early twentieth century.

Daniel Smith said...

Blackburn: I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

Feser: So, it seems to me that Blackburn’s final sentence is clearly just meant as a joke rather than a suggestion that Nagel’s book should be shunned -- and a joke justifiable from the point of view of someone who seriously thinks that the “Intelligent Design” movement is a threat to science.

I would wager that it's no joke and the fact that you think of it that way shows me you probably don't really understand the mindset of the modern atheist toward creationism and ID.

For the modern atheist, creationism and ID are anathema and those who support them - the enemy. You can see that in his phrasing: "it will give ammunition..."

This, for him, is the danger of Nagel: that the enemy will seize upon his ideas and use them against the Darwinian dogma. For it is Darwinism--the atheist's god, gospel, and truth--that must be defended against even the hint of heresy.

Magic Fluid Anon said...

@Eduardo -- Not sure why you think I'd be interested in that. I never talk about proof or burden of proof. Deductive axiomatic proof is only applicable to mathematics; theorizing about the actual world is more a matter of abduction to the most plausible explanation.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

Of course I realize that. I was talking about Blackburn's attitude toward Nagel's book, specifically. Someone who calls a book civilized, modest, courageous, charming, etc. and then goes on to engage with it critically obviously doesn't think it should simply be ignored or shunned. And of course it no doubt helps that Nagel is himself an atheist and an established name in the field. But Blackburn is obviously not dismissing the book as not worth reading or beyond teh bounds of respectable discourse.

Do naturalists treat ID works that way? Of course they do -- I explicitly referred to their typical reaction as "absurdly shrill, paranoid, and dogmatic." But what I described as a "joke" was Blackburn's remark about Nagel's book, specifically, not naturalists' attitudes toward ID in general.

Eduardo said...

Magid Fluid =
Not sure why you think I'd be interested in that.

Me =
I... wasn't thinking of only you, you behaved in certain predictable ways, but you are far from the type of people I was talking about, come on, I read your comments for days now, I guess I know what your tactics are.


Magid Fluid =
I never talk about proof or burden of proof.

Me =
Fair enough... never thought you did to begin with.


Magid Fluid =
Deductive axiomatic proof is only applicable to mathematics;

Me =
I don't know, your inference seems to be deductive, and you don't seem to be doing mathematics. Metaphysicians would disagree strongly with you about that, but overall, I would say that Deductive axiomatic proof is applicable, whenever you can have a deductive axiomatic inference. Yeah you know I am generalist kind of guy XD.


Magic Fluid =
theorizing about the actual world is more a matter of abduction to the most plausible explanation.

Me =
Or a matter of the most cozy wishful thinking among a group XD. Trying to generalize a epistemological theory to get a jump start doesn't change the lack of warrant... Epistemological theories without anything else, are just axioms, like the one you created just now to dictate how one should investigate the world, now of course you can upon pragmatism, but remember just because it works doesn't mean it is the truth XD.

FZ said...

Nice review of a review.

About atoms vs equations:

Presumably, atoms exist regardless of minds/observers. But do "well formed formulas" have a similar, "objective" existence?

JesseM said...

Presumably, atoms exist regardless of minds/observers. But do "well formed formulas" have a similar, "objective" existence?

I think this basically boils down to the question of whether you accept mathematical platonism. I think it would be hard to find a platonist who on the one hand believes numbers and other mathematical forms have an objective existence independent of human beliefs, but rejects the idea that there is an objective human-independent truth about whether a given well-formed formula is provable in a given axiomatic system. Personally, since I find mathematical platonism compelling but am also inclined towards monism, I like to adopt a panpsychist view in which everything that exists is ultimately a type of qualia, and objective mathematical forms are a special type of qualia perceived by some kind of ultimate consciousness, the "mind of God".

JesseM said...

Logical atomism is nonsense on the face of it. What is the relationship between these atoms? It will soon be seen that they are not proper atoms.

They are "atomic" in the sense of being basic, with the world consisting of combinations of them, no one is saying they represent exactly the same notion of "atoms" that would have been believed in by historical atomists like Democritus. The relation between logical atoms would be one of logical implications, I think--propositions X and Y can logically imply proposition Z. Indeed, this sort of logical implication is basically the only notion of "causality" in modern physics, whose laws are time-symmetric--facts about a system's state at time A can be used to infer something about its state at time B, and this works exactly the same way if A happens later than B as if A happens before B. Huw Price's book "Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point" has a good discussion of the philosophical implications of time-symmetry, and how it implies a lot of traditional notions of "causation" may need to be revised in light of modern physics.

What I mean to especially say is that a shape is not reducible to pure quantity. That is, you simply cannot reduce the difference between a square and a triangle to pure quantity. And pure quantity must ultimately be discontinuous number. You are trying to introduce mathematical elements that are not necessary.

"Not necessary" for what? You have only asserted that mathematics must be about "pure quantity", you haven't provided any argument for this. What does it say about this view that almost all modern mathematicians would probably reject it?

By the way, philosophy is older than Bertrand Russell and the early twentieth century.

So are there philosophical arguments for the idea that mathematics should be about "pure quantity"? What are they? I think mathematical platonists, who have been around for a lot longer than Russell, would always have defined shapes to be among the pure mathematical forms (consider the platonic solids, which Plato discussed in his dialogues). And the idea of formalizing mathematics in terms of judgments about the truth-values of well-formed formulas is fairly recent, I think from the late 19th century--it makes sense that this new conception would have implications for the philosophy of mathematics.

rank sophist said...

If I may butt in, Anon's "pure quantity" seems to be quantity without form. A triangle is not a quantity without quality, because a triangle has qualitative elements. If we reduce the triangle to numbers, we still have not succeeded in eliminating quality, because numbers have qualities. A quantity without quality would be something similar to the atoms of Atomism, I believe: identityless building blocks. I may be wrong, but that's my take on what Anon is saying.

Anonymous said...

Jesse M, I was talking about metaphysics.

I think I'm not being very clear in my meaning. Rene Guenon put ifar better than I ever could in the first chapters of The Reign of Quantity and The Signs of the Times , which are available online.

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/The_Reign_of_Quantity_the_Signs_of_the_T.html?id=-9I2Iek5BlwC&redir_esc=y

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

That is sort of what I mean. But it doesn't require number to be qualitative. What I mean is simply that the distinction between a square and a triangle is not reducible to number alone.

As Guenon puts it:

"but in the most elementary geometry not only has the size of figures to be taken into account, but also their shape; and would any geometrician, however deeply imbued with modern conceptions, dare to maintain for example that a triangle and a square of equal area are one and the same thing? He would only say they are 'equivalent', but he would clearly be leaving out as as being understood the words 'in respect to size' and he would have to recognise that in another respect, namely that of shape, there is something that differentiates them; and the reason for which equivalence in size does not carry with it similitude of shape is that there is something in shape that precludes its being reduced to quantity.

I think what Jesse keeps bringing up isn't directly relevant to what I'm arguing.

Chris said...

Many people are put off by the esoteric universalism of the Perennialist school; nevertheless, their proponents are unmatched in the comprehensive and scathing criticism of ontological materialism and modern philosophy.

As such, the writings of Guenon and Schuon were instrumental in my movement towards the Christian tradition.

E.H. Munro said...

The "burden of proof" is a legal principle, designed to cut down on wrongly convicting the innocent. It is pointless in a philosophical context — intellectual honesty demands that anyone making a claim be prepared to defend it. In a practical sense, of course, the "burden" lies on the one who wishes to persuade others of his claim: if you make a claim but don't care whether anyone accepts it or not, then I guess you don't "have to" prove anything.

As you note, any "positive" claim can in general be reworded into a "negative" claim, or vice versa.


Damn you, Eduardo, see what you've started? Now even Mr. Green is confusing me with the Army of Anonymi™ and mixing my common sense with their non sense (sic).

Anonymous said...

Dear Ed,

Tonight at St Andrews Russian Catholic Church:

11pm, Easter Vigil

538 Concorde St, El Segundo, Ca., 90245

below LAX

Said in english, faithful to the Papacy

Dying parish ! All are welcome.

Very traditional liturgy, No guitars.

-Jim Mothe

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Yes, whatever one feels about the doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, the major Perennialists, Guenon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Burckhardt, and Dr.Nasr, must ranks amongst the few dozen most important and profound thinkers of the last century, from a traditional metaphysical perspective, alongside Etienne Gilson or Henry Corbin.

Guenon and Schuon in particular are stand out as sages of a rare worth and insight. Guenon, as a master of metaphysical doctrine in such works as The Reign of Quantity and the The Multiple States of Being, and Schuon for a breathtaking and piercing spiritual and metaphysical intuition and expression. Schuon even wrote poetry, in German, towards the end of his life. I'll admit I'm no more an expert in poetry than I am in philosophy, but I find his poetry, even in translation, quite beautiful.

http://www.frithjofschuon.com/uploads/pdfs/poems/RoadtotheHeart.pdf

It is unfortunate that their universalism keeps many traditional seekers from benefiting from their insights.

Chris said...

Anonymous,

The main objection to the Perennialist view would seem to rest with the relationship between esoterism "pure metaphysics" and theology. The best book that I have read which deals with resolving the conflict between Trinitarian theology and the esoteric universalism of the Traditionalist school is by the Perennialist Catholic, Wolfgang Smith, in his book "Christian Gnosis".

The defected Schuonian Catholic philosopher ,Jean Borella, also presents an excellent criticism of the Perennialist synthesis in "Guenonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery".

I always thought it interesting that Schuon, the Catholic turned Sufi mystic/esotericist, when asked by a follower for reading suggestions, put Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, at the top of his list.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but often the objection seems to rely on a right to be illogical that makes me uneasy. That is, Schuon maintains no theological dogma, although it may be supralogical, has the right to be actually illogical or absurd. Sympathetic critics of the Perennialism, like Sherrard and Caldecott, seem to imply that Christianity has a right to insist on a Trinitarian theology that is actually illogical (I'm not calling their formulations illogical; rather, they seem to admit they are) and judge all else through it. Schuon will not allow this and I tend to sympathise with him over this (after all, why can't the Scientologist or Mormon claim the same?).

My own position is that though the Council and Patristic formulations of the Trinity are the best extended, dogmatic possible, it was probably a mistake to give such a discursive treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity to begin with. Indeed, despite this overly discursive treatment, much of the Trinity and Christology is still left vague. The exact sense of nature and person and substance, in this context, are far from exhaustively defined.

Anyway, it is an area I tend to leave aside. I think a lot of the philosophical and metaphysical insight of these figures is largely separable from certain controversial areas of their thought. Unfortunately, it seems they are unfairly tossed aside because of these controversies.

Anonymous said...

I think Schuon was raised a Lutheran.

JesseM said...

Jesse M, I was talking about metaphysics

Yes, so was I--why do you think I brought up Platonism? Do you think that Plato didn't consider the "Platonic solids" which he discussed in his dialogues to be among his metaphysical "forms"?

And again, you haven't given any metaphysical argument for why we should consider mathematics to be solely about "quantity"--you just seem to be asking me to accept Schuon's assertion (which I think he may have gotten from Guenon, who had a book about how our era was the "reign of quantity") based solely on his authority. In a way this could be seen as just an argument about word-definitions, not metaphysics--if mathematicians have long defined their field to be broader than just dealing with "quantity", is Schuon just asking us to accept an alternate definition for rhetorical purposes? But sometimes philosophers distinguish between categories that "carve the world at the joints" and those that don't, so I suppose one could arge that in some sense it's more "natural" to put the study of quantity to be put into a different metaphysical category than the rest of mathematics, regardless of what words we choose to use for the division. But again, one would need to make an actual argument for this, not just an assertion.

JesseM said...

I wrote:
(which I think he may have gotten from Guenon, who had a book about how our era was the "reign of quantity")

Sorry, I somehow missed the fact that this was the very book you mentioned in the comment I was responding to!

grodrigues said...

@JesseM:

"They are "atomic" in the sense of being basic, with the world consisting of combinations of them, no one is saying they represent exactly the same notion of "atoms" that would have been believed in by historical atomists like Democritus. The relation between logical atoms would be one of logical implications, I think--propositions X and Y can logically imply proposition Z."

As you correctly state, the relation between propositions is a logical relation not a constitutive relation as it is with atoms. But a constitutive relation is asymmetric in a fundamental way that logical relationships are not: things are constituted (if at all) by atoms, but atoms have no parts. Because of this, I cannot see what meaning at all you attach to "basic". Certainly not in the proof-theoretic sense, for given any collection of statements X there are usually many subsets of X (even minimal for subset inclusion) that logically entail all the statements of X. I also do not have the foggiest idea of what you mean by the world being consisted of "combinations [of propositions]".

Lastly, I fear you are laboring under some misunderstandings. First, and assuming I am understanding Anonymous (far from certain), quantity is one of the nine Aristotelian categories of accident. You seem to understand "pure quantity" in a more restricted manner, as codified say by some formal mathematical theory. Of course, if you do understand it this way, then you have a point, as mathematics deals with objects other than numbers.

Second, Anonymous was directing his criticism at physicalism; it hardly seems relevant to bring Platonism to the table as a rebuttal. To see more clearly what I am trying to get at, in a previous comment you say: "There is no aspect of mathematical geometry that cannot be captured this way." But this is a tautology; of course there is no *mathematical* aspect that is not captured by mathematics. And this is precisely the point of Anonymous (once again, as far as I understand him), that there are aspects of reality that are not captured by mathematics. One must remember that at the end of the day, physical theories are only good if we can extract *numbers* from them with which to compare to the *measurements* we make; and what you measure *is* quantity. Physical theories can be couched in mathematics as sophisticated as you could wish, but the formal structure is not reality; or if you want to make such a strong Platonist claim, you must argue it. Platonism is inimical to naturalism, which was the target of Anonymous' criticisms; and naturalists do tend to view only as objectively real those *quantitative* aspects of reality as revealed by physical theories -- if you asked a staunch positivist as Bohr what is the ontological status of the formal structure of QM (Hilbert state spaces, Von-Neumann algebras of operators, etc.) his answer would be unequivocal.

Glenn said...

Very nice, grod.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand

reighley said...

Anonymous,
"Materialism is surely the reduction of all reality to a purely quantitative building block. The quantitative combination of this building block, or atoms, and its purely mechanstic relationships, are to explain all reality."

I cannot get behind this characterization of materialism. What makes a building block purely quantitative? Every description of the world in physical terms involves quality as well as quantity. Units of measure as well as measure itself.
To work with a practical example : I might say "in a system of two electrons, the only features that matter are their distance from one another, their relative velocity, and whether they have the same spin or not."
To me that is an unequivocally materialist statement. To be sure each of the features of the electron does have a number attached to (I count the field of two elements as being numbers in standing). Yet he statement is not at all reduced to the purely quantitative. For example, no materialist would deny that also important is the fact that they are electrons, or that there is a difference between a component of velocity and a distance (even though they are both real numbers the units of velocity and the units of distance are different). Nor are all the numbers the same. Velocity is a vector, distance a scalar and spin a finite group.
So anyhow, I do not see in what sense an electron is "purely quantitative" even though I think we would all confess that it is material.

Magic Fluid Anon said...

Reading Guenon, it appears that "quantitative" and "qualitative" are being used approximately zero relationship to their normal meanings. They are more like synonyms for "substance" and "form". Why the need to add another layer of obfuscation onto an already broken set of concepts? Why would any person living in the 21st century try to understand the world in this archaic and obsolete way?

FZ said...

Form and matter:

http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/03/whats-matter-with-matter.html#more

JesseM said...

As you correctly state, the relation between propositions is a logical relation not a constitutive relation as it is with atoms. But a constitutive relation is asymmetric in a fundamental way that logical relationships are not: things are constituted (if at all) by atoms, but atoms have no parts.

See the notion of an atomic sentence, which is distinct from a "molecular sentence" which consists of multiple atomic sentences joined by a logical operator like "and".

Related to this, would an atomist actually accept any notion of there being objective facts about "things" consisting of multiple atoms (people, for example), beyond simply collections of facts about the individual atoms making them up? If not, then to say "there is an object consisting of atoms A,B,C,... at positions X1,X2,X3,... with velocities V1,V2,V3..." would, for an atomist, contain no additional content beyond the collection of independent statements "atom A is at position X1 with velocity V1", "atom B is at position X2 with velocity V2", etc. So if the atomist's ontology consists solely of atoms, with composite "things" not having any distinct ontological status, then what does it really mean to say the atomist accepts "constitutive relations" that are different than merely joining various propositions by the logical AND operator?

I also do not have the foggiest idea of what you mean by the world being consisted of "combinations [of propositions]".

I suppose you'd have to read the writings of logical atomists like Russell to understood how they elaborated the idea. For me, the idea that the world consists of propositions is connected to the idea of Max Tegmark that an anonymous commenter linked to above (in the comment that just says "On the other hand"), which suggests that our physical universe might be nothing more than a "platonic" mathematical structure, with no properties other than formal mathematical ones (no "prime matter" for example). So a collection of mathematical propositions about the world wouldn't leave anything out about its objective side ontologically, though I would still say there is a need for "psychophysical laws" (a term that comes up in philosophy of mind) which determine which formal mathematical substructures correspond to which qualia.

JesseM said...

(continued)
Lastly, I fear you are laboring under some misunderstandings. First, and assuming I am understanding Anonymous (far from certain), quantity is one of the nine Aristotelian categories of accident. You seem to understand "pure quantity" in a more restricted manner, as codified say by some formal mathematical theory. Of course, if you do understand it this way, then you have a point, as mathematics deals with objects other than numbers.

I don't know exactly how anonymous was using "quantity", but all that's really relevant to the argument is that it was defined in such a way to exclude geometry, and that the existence of geometric properties was argued to be a problem for materialism. The fact that Aristotle (or Schuon) chose to define shape as being non-"quantitative" does not really explain why geometry should be a problem for materialists. Anonymous said atomism should be solely about quantity, but clearly the historical atomists like Democritus believed atoms had geometric properties. Anonymous needs to present some sort of philosophical argument here, not just assert that materialism/atomism requires that objects have only "quantitative" properties in the sense of Aristotle when few or no materialists through history would actually have agreed that the materialistic hypothesis does not allow material entities to have shapes.

Second, Anonymous was directing his criticism at physicalism; it hardly seems relevant to bring Platonism to the table as a rebuttal.

Why not? Materialism need not exclude mathematical platonism. And particularly in modern times, when most materials would accept the distinction between primary and secondary qualities and say that the objective properties of the physical world are all mathematical ones, it seems problematic to maintain that belief without accepting that there are objective truths about mathematics that don't depend on human beliefs.

To see more clearly what I am trying to get at, in a previous comment you say: "There is no aspect of mathematical geometry that cannot be captured this way." But this is a tautology; of course there is no *mathematical* aspect that is not captured by mathematics.

But "captured this way" did not refer to "captured by mathematics", it referred to "captured by the truth-values of the set of well-formed formulas". This is not so tautological, as this formal approach is a relatively new way of thinking about what "mathematics" is; Plato wouldn't have conceived of the mathematical forms as collections of well-formed formulas!

JesseM said...

(continued)
And this is precisely the point of Anonymous (once again, as far as I understand him), that there are aspects of reality that are not captured by mathematics.

Anonymous may be saying this in addition, but it wasn't the point I was discussing with him; I was specifically disputing his claim that purely geometric properties of physical objects are, in themselves, a fatal problem for materialism. Do you disagree that he was arguing this?

Physical theories can be couched in mathematics as sophisticated as you could wish, but the formal structure is not reality; or if you want to make such a strong Platonist claim, you must argue it.

I do personally favor the Tegmarkian view that the formal structure is the reality, but note that I wasn't attempting to argue this point when I brought up Platonism in the discussion with anonymous--I brought it up only to dispute his claim that for philosophers, shape cannot be a truly mathematical property, which he then used to argue that physics includes a "qualitative" element which violates the materialist conception of reality.

Platonism is inimical to naturalism, which was the target of Anonymous' criticisms

Again, I was disputing a very specific criticism Anonymous was making about geometric properties contradicting naturalism, I didn't intend to get into an overall defense of naturalism. However, I think you are incorrect in any case that there is any wide agreement that "platonism is inimical to naturalism"--my impression is that openness to mathematical platonism is not uncommon among believers in naturalism, see here and here and here for example.

Glenn said...

For me, the idea that the world consists of propositions is connected to the idea of Max Tegmark that an anonymous commenter linked to above (in the comment that just says "On the other hand"), which suggests that our physical universe might be nothing more than a "platonic" mathematical structure, with no properties other than formal mathematical ones (no "prime matter" for example).

And on still another hand, Max Tegmark has recently asserted--i.e., neither speculated nor suggested, but, rather, asserted--that: "If I've learned anything as a physicist, it's how little we know with certainty. In terms of the ultimate nature of reality, we scientists are ontologically ignorant."

FZ said...

JesseM, I'm not an expert in terms of all these metaphysical views, but I have a question.

Are you advancing the claim that there are mathematical objects (existing independently) that are ABOUT the material world, or that the material world just IS mathematical objects?

If it's the latter, does it follow that all "matter" is just mathematical abstractions? If matter is an abstraction, then matter has no real "spatio-temporal" properties/relations, right? And if matter has no spatio-temporal properties/relations, how can it possibly be described by "mathematical coordinates?"

(Again, I might be totally missing the mark here.)

Susan said...

Re: "Why would any person living in the 21st century try to understand the world in this archaic and obsolete way?"

Because it is fun. Grab a great whiskey (doubled), pick up a copy of the Summa at your public library and begin disdaining new atheists (or "New Atheists", to give them greater gravitas). Atheists have ammunition of sorts, but they usually don't know metaphysics! We win.

Anonymous said...

Jesse M, Schuon had little to do with our discussion. I quoted only Guenon and linked to his work. Obviously, I chose the quote and it was only a very small part of that work, so it is not far to judge Guenon based on my rambling.

What I'm saying, not very well, obviously, is that pure quantity is discontinuous number. I do not believe this is an arbitrary definition, but the only logical one. That is, if I count two apples or measure two feet of a table, the pure quantitative element is ultimately discontinuous number - the units of number. All the other elements are not pure quantity, they are quantity and something else, some quality, including extension, shape, and direction.

My point against materialism is that materialism is a bottom up perspective that would reduce all reality to a purely quantitative building blocks, arranged mechanistically. By introducing other qualities you have to explain their relationships, which soon forces you to admit that existence of all sorts of holistic, qualitative, and intellectual aspects to reality that leaves materialism far behind.


Susan, to help bring people to faith and salvation, a thrashing of the materialists and other modernists is almost always a good thing.

Anonymous said...

MagicFluid,

Quality and Quantity are form and matter, or Essence and Substance. Quantity is the Materia Secunda of our realm of being, which is why it is absurd to try and this realm of being to purely quantitative atoms.

Personally, I find it best to understand reality correct, not according to whatever way might happen to be fashionable at a particular time.

JesseM said...

Jesse M, Schuon had little to do with our discussion. I quoted only Guenon and linked to his work. Obviously, I chose the quote and it was only a very small part of that work, so it is not far to judge Guenon based on my rambling.

Sorry, I got confused; Schuon was the first Traditionalist mentioned on the thread, so I misremembered your later reference to Guenon to support your argument as a reference to Schuon.

What I'm saying, not very well, obviously, is that pure quantity is discontinuous number. I do not believe this is an arbitrary definition, but the only logical one.

In a sense all word-definitions are "arbitrary", no? Presumably you are not arguing that there is something inherent in the symbols q-u-a-n-t-i-t-y that demands the "only logical" definition is the one you chose. As I said before, I think it really comes down to the notion that some conceptual divisions are more "natural" than others, that they "cut the world (or our natural way of conceiving it) at the joints", so that even if a word for some conceptual division did not exist we would be compelled to invent it (a good discussion by a philosopher of the notion that some categories "cut the world at the joints" can be found in the book Writing the Book of the World by Theodore Sider). So, I would interpret your argument to be saying it is a natural conceptual division to split mathematics into the part dealing with discontinuous number, and more continuous parts of mathematics like geometry. But then there is a further argument that you would need to make to support your position, which is that somehow this conceptual division is relevant to materialism; you need to explain why you think it would be consistent with materialism if the only properties of objects were in the first category, but it is fatal to materialism if they have properties in the second category.

But so far I haven't seen any argument for this latter point that doesn't turn crucially on the use of the particular word "quantitative", which makes me think you may have just tricked yourself with word-games. If your argument basically boils down to "geometry is not quantitative, but materialists argue that physical objects have only quantitative properties, so it's not compatible with materialism for objects to have geometric properties" then you are just ignoring the fact that any materialist who would agree that objects have only quantitative properties would presumably be using a different definition of the word "quantitative". If you want to show that your argument is something other than word-games, it can't turn on the requirement that we define one specific word a particular way.

JesseM said...

(continued)

If you really have a philosophical argument, I think you should be able to state it in a form like this: "I will accept for the sake of argument that 'quantitative' can be defined to include geometric properties, and this is the definition materialists have in mind if they say the physical world has only quantitative properties. But I would still say the division of math into discontinuous number and everything else is natural, and that even if materialists throughout history would have disagreed that materialism requires that the only properties of physical objects be discontinuous numbers, some set of basic assumptions of materialism (which materialists either would accept explicitly, or which they are logically required to accept to avoid internal inconsistency in their beliefs) actually imply this, even if materialists don't realize the implication." And then you should be able to present the argument for what these basic assumptions of materialism are, and show that together they imply the conclusion, without the argument turning on the definition of "quantitative" (if there is such an argument to be made, it should still be possible to make it even if you accept for the sake of argument that the word "quantitative" will be defined to include geometry).

Eduardo said...

Lol, Jesse... Why not ask him to define quantity, by arguing why that definition must be so, instead of declaring what he possibly saying... You just did what you are saying others did XD.

Eduardo said...

Now quite sincerely I think Jesse, does have a point that some qualitative characteristic is include in mterialism.

Of course, what that qualitive might be is unknown, becuase you know... Matter has no definition or we are waiting on science to tell us what those are.

But technically, that qualitative part produces all other ones.

For instance the shape of things explain why they are the way they are and why they act the way they act, now there might be no connection between a shape and a phenomena but all materialism needs is correlation, you know, round things exist but blocky things don't, so round things are stable while other shapes are a not stable. And round things produce x, y, z so all experience is produced by roundness, and if there are more stuff then roundness can predict that means we just don't really fully understand roundness!

JesseM said...

Why not ask him to define quantity, by arguing why that definition must be so

Because the notion that any word-definition "must be so" is patently absurd--like I said, do you think there can be something inherent in a string of symbols like q-u-a-n-t-i-t-y that demands we choose to link those symbols to a particular definition? The relation between strings of letters and their meaning is obviously a matter of pure human convention. And if materialists choose to define the arbitrary symbol-string q-u-a-n-t-i-t-y differently then he does, then obviously it is not a valid move to combine his definition of "quantity" with their statement that physical objects have only quantitative properties, in order to show that geometric properties disprove materialism--this would be merely playing word-games.

You just did what you are saying others did XD

What did I "say others did" that I am now doing here? What specific comment of mine are you thinking of? I would have no problem with others asking me to adopt a particular definition of a word for the sake of argument, to make clear that my argument consisted of something more than word-games. It's a simple enough matter to come up with new terms for whatever actual concepts one believes to be relevant to the argument (for example, one can say that a property dealing with nothing but "discontinuous number" is a "numerical property"--but you won't find any materialists arguing that physical objects have only numerical properties!)

Glenn said...

>> You just did what you are saying others did XD

> What did I "say others did" that I am now doing here? What
> specific comment of mine are you thinking of?

How about: In a sense all word-definitions are "arbitrary", no?

To say that in a sense all word-definitions are "arbitrary" is to say that Anonymous has in a sense assigned (or is employing previously assigned) "arbitrary" word-definitions / meanings re 'materialism', 'atomism', 'quantitative', etc.

But to say that is equally to say that you yourself are in a sense assigning (or employing previously assigned) "arbitrary" word-definitions / meanings re 'materialism', 'atomism', 'quantitative', etc.

Notwithstanding your verve (or maybe because it has made you sloppy and inattentive), you have pulled the rug out from under your own feet.

DavidM said...

JesseM wrote: "Because the notion that any word-definition "must be so" is patently absurd--like I said, do you think there can be something inherent in a string of symbols like q-u-a-n-t-i-t-y that demands we choose to link those symbols to a particular definition?" -- Sure, but this comment on 'word-definitions' presupposes a definition of 'word' as 'purely conventional string of symbols' - but whether that captures what a word actually is (whether that is an accurate *definition* of 'word') is another matter - something which must first be established. You can of course *stipulate* that all definitions in play shall be merely stipulative definitions, but it seems to me unlikely that you will be able to consistently act in accordance with that stipulation. And yet, from the materialist p-o-v, it does appear natural to think that 'symbols' (and 'words') should be reducible to quantity (regardless of whether or not that reduction reduces geometrical properties to strictly numerical ones). (If this is not correct, please explain why not.) But surely the stipulation leading to this way of seeing the world is arbitrary (unjustified) and implausible...? So in the end it is precisely 'the word' which is most fundamental and most in need of explanation, and a stipulation which effectively annihilates ('reduces') 'words' is a most foolish one - isn't it?

Eduardo said...

JesseM =
Because the notion that any word-definition "must be so" is patently absurd...

Me =
Yeah, I agree that is true... I don't think Anon is trying to play word games though, he seems to be correlating a group that people call "quantity" to some general rule that is not logically invalid, but yeah, I mean I agree to your argument.


JesseM =
What did I "say others did" that I am now doing here?

Me =
Strawmen or inventing things for other people, didn't you just decided to say what Anon was saying instead of asking for clarification???


JesseM
What specific comment of mine are you thinking of?

Me =
The one before this one XD. Which is the one right above the one I accused you.


JesseM =
but you won't find any materialists arguing that physical objects have only numerical properties!)

Me =
Yes I agree to that... Don't worry I am not saying that Anon Wins XD, so far I think you have a point a strong one to begin with, but your proposition that materialism is compatible with Mathematical realism, I really don't think that is so UNLESS you define Matter as mathematical entities, which of course materialits don't say that. Otherwise, I don't see how... unless I expand the definition of materialism, but if that is so, then materialism is just this morphless thing that anything can fit with it!

Magic Fluid Anon said...

@Anonymous Personally, I find it best to understand reality correct,

Well, I applaud that goal.

Quality and Quantity are form and matter, or Essence and Substance. Quantity is the Materia Secunda of our realm of being, which is why it is absurd to try and this realm of being to purely quantitative atoms.

But you are not going to get there with this kind of word salad.

If all of those paired opposites mean the same thing, maybe just pick one pair and define it clearly, rather than conflating them all. That would be a good first step in clarifying your thinking.

This nonsense about "purely quantitative atoms" has to stop. We know a lot about atoms, including how they are structured internally (which means they aren't really atomic in the classical philosophical sense). It is possible to talk a lot of sense about atoms, so stop spouting nonsense.

Eduardo said...

Yeah you not gonna get there because you are not using my word salad!!!!!1111

FZ said...

A small point from the link I posted earlier:

"The principles of potency and act are seen in the duality of matter and form. Matter is the principle of potency and Form, the principle of act. (Lat. princeps, "that which takes first.") That is, Matter is potentially any thing; Form makes it some thing. Together, the two explain Being."

I think Anon might be talking along these lines, but of course Anon will have to clarify.

JesseM said...

Me =
Strawmen or inventing things for other people, didn't you just decided to say what Anon was saying instead of asking for clarification???


Most of that post wasn't about describing what Anon was saying, it was about describing the way in which I thought he would need to elaborate his argument, in order to clearly demonstrate that the whole thing wasn't just based on incorrectly applying his own preferred definition of "quantitative" to statements of materialists that were almost certainly assuming a different definition (and also to statements by philosophers describing the materialist position, like Dr. Feser when he said 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms'...I don't think Dr. Feser was saying that modern science has completely excluded geometry from physics!)

The one part where I maybe claimed something about what Anon was actually saying was "So, I would interpret your argument to be saying it is a natural conceptual division to split mathematics into the part dealing with discontinuous number, and more continuous parts of mathematics like geometry". But I didn't imagine Anon was consciously thinking of his own argument in exactly these terms, I just thought he might be working from an intuition that could be elaborated in this way. This was the only way I could think of to unpack statements like "pure quantity is discontinuous number" in order to make them refer to an idea with some actual philosophical content, not just a bare assertion of a preferred word-definition. Basically, I was trying to use the type of strategy described here as "argue the other side", translating his statements into the best type of argument I could think of, rather than a strawman which is a caricature designed to be easy to shoot down. But if there's another way to explain the argument in a way that doesn't depend on what definition of "quantitative" we use, he's free to explain it.

JesseM said...

DavidM wrote:
But to say that is equally to say that you yourself are in a sense assigning (or employing previously assigned) "arbitrary" word-definitions / meanings re 'materialism', 'atomism', 'quantitative', etc.

Sure, but why would this undermine my argument? If people have the same understanding of the word-meanings then there can be a meaningful discussion about the concepts involved, even thought the conventions about which words will denote which concepts are of course arbitrary. My point was that Anonymous' understanding of the meaning of "quantitative" seems different from the meaning of people (including Dr. Feser) who characterize materialism (or atomism, or physicalism) as a view that says the only objective properties of physical objects are quantitative ones. If such a disagreement over definitions exists, it would make no sense to try to win a conceptual argument by saying something like "but my definition is the correct one!" as if there were any standard for "correct" definitions aside from mutual agreement.

To have a meaningful discussion about concepts you need to agree on terms, or at least "translate" the other's terms into your own idiom before drawing out the implications of what they say. If Anonymous wants to continue using "quantitative" to refer purely to discontinuous numbers and to exclude geometry, then he at least needs to understand that a statement like Dr. Feser's 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms' needs to be translated in such a way, replacing "quantitative terms" with something broader like "mathematical terms".

JesseM said...

Sorry, my last response was actually directed at Glenn, not DavidM. To address DavidM's comment:

Sure, but this comment on 'word-definitions' presupposes a definition of 'word' as 'purely conventional string of symbols' - but whether that captures what a word actually is (whether that is an accurate *definition* of 'word') is another matter - something which must first be established.

Surely the only standard for "accurate definition" is how the word is used in practice by people, or by some linguistic authority? If you don't think most people/linguistic authorities would use "word" to refer merely to the symbol-string, you may be right, but feel free to substitute "string of letters" into the paragraph of mine you quoted, it would capture my intended meaning.

Step back for a moment and look at the overall point I was making--if materialists, and others describing their position like Dr. Feser, sometimes say that their position allows for only "quantitative properties", but conceptually they meant for this statement to include any mathematical properties including geometry, do you think it's therefore valid to try to demonstrate materialism is false by saying that the "correct" definition of "quantitative" involves only discontinuous number? Even if this is in fact more of a "correct" definition in terms of how the word quantitative is used by most people or by authorities, all this shows was that the materialists and other philosophers were using poor terminology, but surely it's not right to use this as a "gotcha" to show that materialism, as a philosophical view, must be false. It may be that this isn't really an accurate summary of Anonymous' argument (I invited him to clarify), but hopefully you would at least agree that if someone were to make this argument, it wouldn't be a valid one--you can't disprove a philosophical view by catching someone in an idiosyncratic use of terminology.

You can of course *stipulate* that all definitions in play shall be merely stipulative definitions, but it seems to me unlikely that you will be able to consistently act in accordance with that stipulation.

I don't know exactly what you mean by "stipulative definitions"--certainly I do think we all must rely on common understandings derived from general usage, and there's only need to talk explicitly about definitions if it appears that a disagreement hinges on different understandings of the meaning of words. But even if someone uses a word "incorrectly" by the standards of general usage, you can't use that to disprove their arguments--you can always mentally translate their statements into more "correct" terms, and address what they "really meant".

And yet, from the materialist p-o-v, it does appear natural to think that 'symbols' (and 'words') should be reducible to quantity (regardless of whether or not that reduction reduces geometrical properties to strictly numerical ones). (If this is not correct, please explain why not.)

Not sure what you mean by "symbols" and "words", if you intend them to include the concepts denoted by the letters/sounds or not (as I mentioned above, when I said word-definitions were arbitrary I was using "words" to just mean strings of letters). If so, I suppose materialist might say that "concepts" are purely arrangements or behaviors of atoms in the brain, and these arrangements or behaviors have no properties other than mathematical ones. But I am not a materialist and am not trying to defend the materialist position overall, I'm just saying that Anonymous' particular attempt to disprove materialism by pointing to geometric properties doesn't seem to make sense.

Glenn said...

JesseM,

If such a disagreement over definitions exists, it would make no sense to try to win a conceptual argument by saying something like "but my definition is the correct one!" as if there were any standard for "correct" definitions aside from mutual agreement.

If you're going to take this stance, then, so as not to give the appearance of being inconsistent, it may behoove you to do more than claim that Anonymous would be incorrect if he accepted your definition (e.g., perhaps you would allow the term "quantitative" to include this sort of "logical atomism" (Bertrand Russell's term); in that case, I would say you are simply incorrect), and allow that Anonymous may be right given the definition he's using.

Glenn said...

(Of course, if it were true that Anonymous would be incorrect if he accepted your definition, then perhaps it is likewise true that he would be incorrect to accept it in the first place.)

JesseM said...

Any argument which is valid at the level of concepts should be easy to rephrase if the definitions of some words are changed, just like it should be possible to translate it into a different language with an entirely different set of words.

Anyway, it doesn't seem like you have been following the substance of this discussion very closely--you quote my "perhaps you would allow" comment, but that was from much earlier in the discussion when I wasn't sure if Anonymous meant "quantitative" to deal only with numbers or if he would include any mathematical structure based on logical propositions (the statement you quote was just asking if he defined "quantitative" this way, not telling him he should do so). But later discussion clarified that he meant the former, and my later case against his argument had nothing to do with that issue. The basic point I have been making in more recent comments is that even if he wants to define "quantitative" properties to be exclusively "discontinuous numerical" ones, that is not the definition being used when materialism is described as the view that objects have only quantitative properties, so it's not valid for him to substitute his own meaning into a statement like Dr. Feser's that 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms' in order to prove that geometric properties contradict this "modern" materialistic view.

Do you think it's valid to try to disprove a view by taking the statements of experts describing the view and ignoring what they meant in their choice of words, instead just using your own preferred definitions and showing that under these definitions, the statements are obviously false? Even if the statements wouldn't be obviously false in this way given the intended word-meanings of the people making the statements?

reighley said...

One of the strangest things about reading a Thomist blog is how the nominalist controversy seems to be constantly cropping up on the sidelines.

Also : hooray a definitional argument! I didn't realize there was disagreement on the definition of "materialism" or of "quantity", but I'll take what I can get.

My working definition of materialism would be something along the lines of "nothing exists which is independent of matter". The truth of falsehood of this statement obviously hinges on what the definition of "exists" and of "matter".

On reflection I realized I do not have a working definition of "quantity", only a vague sense that "number" is to weak and "element of some field F" is to strong for any F.

In my mind this combination renders Anonymous's apparent definition of materialism as "of the reduction of all reality to a purely quantitative building block" somewhat questionable. As Glenn points out this could well be my fault and not Anon's.

Who will offer me a respectable counter-definition?

DavidM said...

JesseM: "if materialists ... sometimes say that their position allows for only "quantitative properties", but conceptually they meant for this statement to include any mathematical properties including geometry, do you think it's therefore valid to try to demonstrate materialism is false by saying that the "correct" definition of "quantitative" involves only discontinuous number?" -- No, I think that is clearly not a valid demonstration that materialism is *false*. It could well indicate, however, that materialism is a fundamentally confused and groundless theory - couldn't it?

"I don't know exactly what you mean by "stipulative definitions"" -- Words express concepts. A definition explains what concept a word expresses. A stipulative definition stipulates what concept a word shall be taken to express, regardless of correct or standard usage.

"(as I mentioned above, when I said word-definitions were arbitrary I was using "words" to just mean strings of letters)." -- So 'words' such as, say, {WITHAYTA}? That's a string of letters; do you think it is a 'word' (or a 'symbol' - or a 'string of symbols')? If so, in what language is it a word? Or what does it symbolize? ...The thing is, sometimes people think they *mean* something that doesn't actually make sense. And in doesn't make sense *in light of other stuff they know* - although they don't realize it at the time. They think they can and do use a definition which they in fact cannot and do not (consistently) use (because it is wrong and doesn't make sense).

"...I suppose materialist might say that "concepts" are purely arrangements or behaviors of atoms in the brain, and these arrangements or behaviors have no properties other than mathematical ones." -- Yes, and if this view is implied by materialism, and can be traced in its origin back to the false definition in question, then the question of correctly defining terms is substantive and can't be translated out (so as to be able to claim that, correcting for the false definition, the basic statement of materialism is coherent after all).

OTOH, it may well be the case that the definition-issue doesn't matter, INSOFAR AS we can still show that a view is wrong even if we accept the dubious definition of terms as originally given. But that being the case shouldn't prevent Anonymous from attempting to present a more fundamental critique, targeting a confused use of fundamental concepts - should it?

Anonymous said...

Jesse M, my argument is Guenon's. My ramblings are no doubt not he easiest thing to make sense of, so you can always read the first chapters of the books I linked to, to make better sense of what I'm saying.

I do not think it matters which term we actually use, but surely there is quantity that exists in reality? We can see it is connected to number. That is, quantity is connected to things we can count, add up, and so forth with number. I'm arguing that the element that is pure quantity is discontinuous number. That anything else attached to number, even shape or extension, is ultimately number added to something else, and it is number, discontinuous number, that is the source of quantity in a thing, even a triangle. I am therefore talking about reality and metaphysics, and I'm not sure too much worry over definitions is helpful.

Quantity is indeed the Materia Secunda of our realm of being. That is, it is not Prime Matter, or completely formless, undifferentiated potency. But it does form the material substrata for our realm of being. This means it does not exist in itself in our realm of being. Anything, even a square or extension, includes qualitative or essential or formal aspects that combine with quantity to create a corporeal entity.

Again, I just do not understand what possible meaning materialism could have if allowed all sorts of holistic, intellectual, and qualitative relationships. In what sense are materialism, physicalism and naturalism not synonymous then? Surely, they aren't supposed to be?

As Dr.Feser notes, materialism was always considered incoherent until about the 60s. Surely, this wouldn't make sense if it were simply the same thing as naturalism. Whatever the flaws of naturalism, it isn't quite so prima facie incoherent.

Glenn said...

JesseM,

Anyway, it doesn't seem like you have been following the substance of this discussion very closely--you quote my "perhaps you would allow" comment, but that was from much earlier in the discussion when I wasn't sure if Anonymous meant "quantitative" to deal only with numbers or if he would include any mathematical structure based on logical propositions (the statement you quote was just asking if he defined "quantitative" this way, not telling him he should do so). But later discussion clarified that he meant the former, and my later case against his argument had nothing to do with that issue. The basic point I have been making in more recent comments is that even if he wants to define "quantitative" properties to be exclusively "discontinuous numerical" ones, that is not the definition being used when materialism is described as the view that objects have only quantitative properties, so it's not valid for him to substitute his own meaning into a statement like Dr. Feser's that 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms' in order to prove that geometric properties contradict this "modern" materialistic view.

If I haven't been following the substance of this discussion very closely, then I plead inability to unfasten myself from Anonymous' addition to Dr. Feser's, a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms, and therefore strips from the physical whatever smacks of the irreducibly qualitative and relocates it in the “mental” realm."

But my not having followed the discussion very closely is no great loss, is it? In fact, it has turned out to be a wonderful energy-saving device--for since you have returned to the comment, there's no need to expend energy by tagging along. I've been here all the while.

The addition to Dr. Feser's comment made by Anonymous was, to quote in part, that "the entirely quantitative terms of Res Extensa are not purely quantitative". If I have read him correctly, then Anonymous' meaning is that the quantitative terms themselves are not purely quantitative.

(So that you may understand what I mean by "addition to", let me say that I mean one thing added to another thing, and not at all that that one thing has been substituted for another. Your speech is such that a reader may be led to believe that you think what Anonymous did was 'substitute for' rather than 'add to'. However, I'm of the opinion that a reasonable and rational reading of Anonymous' comment will lead one to the conclusion that Anonymous wasn't substituting for what Dr. Feser said, or even undoing or counteracting what he said, but, rather, adding to what he said.)

But to help speed things along here, can you provide an example of a 'quantitative property' that hasn't anything to do with quantity? Or an example of such a property which only partly has something to do with quantity, along with an explanation as to how and why that part of this 'quantitative property' which hasn't anything to do with quantity nonetheless qualifies as 'quantitative'?

Anonymous said...

Did Galileo and Newman have any notion of continuous and discontinuous functions? How did they define "quantity"?

Years ago I read that Aristotle defined "quantity" as "that which has parts outside of parts, which parts are all of the same kind". This does not define it in terms of numbers. (Sorry, don't have a reference.)

It seems to me that the meanings of "quantity" need to be settled upon before the discussion can continue profitably.

Anonymous said...

owqneOops-- should be: Galileo and Newton

Anonymous said...

Other Anon (or one of them):

I'm no expert, but I think Aristotle actually even defined number, in a sense, qualitatively. That is, particular numbers were forms of indefinite units of plurality. The unit was the true and pure quantity. But I may be wrong. I simply didn't bring this up because of my lack of proper knowledge about it.

I believe what you said, and what I said, about Aristotle can be translated into Platonic or Pythagorean terms as number being linked to the Dyad, of the One and the Many or the One and the Dyad. That is, being as a whole has a basic polarity between the One and the Dyad, or Essence and Substance, or Form and Matter. This polarity also exists in any particular realm of being and individual being. In our realm of being, quality and quantity represent this polarity. That is, quantity represents the Dyad or the substantial or the material pole of being and quality represents the One or the Essential or the Formal side of being.

So, it is quantity, in our realm of being, creates parts of things, in the same sense it is the Dyad, or Substance, or Matter that creates plurality and individuation. But quantity itself exists not in the parts of plurality in our world, as it is the material substrata of this world, which makes possible the conditions within it. It is never manifested as pure quantity in our world, it always is united to quality. Analogously, plurality itself, the Dyad or Prime Matter, is completely formless only has any sort of proper manifestation when it combines with Form.

I think this is how best to understand it, but I may be wrong.

JesseM said...

Anonymous wrote:
Again, I just do not understand what possible meaning materialism could have if allowed all sorts of holistic, intellectual, and qualitative relationships. In what sense are materialism, physicalism and naturalism not synonymous then?

And I don't understand why you think there is anything problematic about geometry being part of materialism. Is it only because you have heard others say that materialism involves the idea that quantitative aspects of the world are the only real ones, not qualitative ones, and you imagine they define "quantitative" and "qualitative" the same as you? Or do you think that even if I am right that others who describe materialism as "quantitative" mean for that word to include all of mathematics including geometry, there is still some novel argument for thinking it's problematic for materialism to include geometry, one that doesn't rest citing the authority of others who say materialism includes only "quantitative" aspects? If so, what is this argument? You haven't really presented any so far.

You use the word "intellectual" as an additional description paired with "qualitative", which perhaps suggests that you may see "qualitative" properties as more mind-dependent in some sense. But hopefully you realize that laws of nature can include geometry and yet predictions based on these laws can still be made in a completely rote way, by a computer for example--no more judgment is required than when evaluating arithmetical sums. And hopefully you also realize that geometry has been part of the historical conception of materialism since the beginning--the ancient Greek atomists thought of atoms as having different shapes, for example, and also spatial relationships with one another.

Glenn wrote:
The addition to Dr. Feser's comment made by Anonymous was, to quote in part, that "the entirely quantitative terms of Res Extensa are not purely quantitative". If I have read him correctly, then Anonymous' meaning is that the quantitative terms themselves are not purely quantitative.

Anonymous, can you comment on this? Is Glenn's characterization of your meaning accurate? I don't understand what it would mean to say "entirely quantitative terms ... are not purely quantitative", taken literally it sounds like a self-contradiction.

Glenn wrote:
But to help speed things along here, can you provide an example of a 'quantitative property' that hasn't anything to do with quantity? Or an example of such a property which only partly has something to do with quantity, along with an explanation as to how and why that part of this 'quantitative property' which hasn't anything to do with quantity nonetheless qualifies as 'quantitative'?

Not sure what you mean, since if we assume any single meaning of "quantitative" (mine or Anonymous'), your descriptions again just sound self-contradictory to me. The point I have been making is that I think different definitions of "quantitative" are at play, not that under any single definition, there can be a "quantitative property" that has nothing to do with quantity. When Dr. Feser says ''modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms', I 'm pretty sure that he meant for "quantitative" to allow for geometric properties, since he's presumably aware that modern physics contains plenty of geometry (forces on bodies depending on their relative positions in space, for example). But Anonymous defines "quantitative" in a way as to exclude geometry, so by using a different definition I think he misreads the intended meaning of statements like Dr. Feser's.

Anonymous said...

Jesse M,

Lets try and discuss this in the spirit of finding the truth, not in scoring points, if we can.

Historically it is a question of just what is materialism. For instance, Guenon makes the claim that materialism is a product of the 18th century. That is, he says that though the ancient atomists were mechanists they were not materialists, nor was Descartes' Res Extensa, though it laid the groundwork for his materialist successors. It depends, does it not, on how we understand these terms. After all, the ancient atomists, I believe, did not refer to themselves as materialists.

I haven't presented a detailed argument, but I have given the outline of my argument about why this is problematic for materialism: that it forces materialism to explain how holistic, intellectual, and qualitative aspects relate to each other and this soon leaves behind any reasonable materialism.

I have also argued that your definition would make materialism, physicalism, and naturalism synonymous. You didn't really reply to that.

"You use the word "intellectual" as an additional description paired with "qualitative", which perhaps suggests that you may see "qualitative" properties as more mind-dependent in some sense. But hopefully you realize that laws of nature can include geometry and yet predictions based on these laws can still be made in a completely rote way, by a computer for example--no more judgment is required than when evaluating arithmetical sums."

I'm more of a Platonist, and I think the phrase Mind-dependent itself has Cartesian connotations that overly divide the Mind from he material world. I do think the above though, is questionable and brings into play all the questions of compuationalism that Dr. Feser often deals with.

If by quantitative terms is meant shape or extension or direction, then yes, I'm saying quantitative terms are partly qualitative. But as I keep arguing, it is discontinuous number that logically (and not just in terms of a definition) is the pure quantitative aspect of any of these quantitative terms. When we actually examine it, we find that extension or direction or shape are quantity plus some quality.

I was making a comment in addition to what Dr. Feser was referring to. I'm bringing it to his attention, so to speak, as an extra that compliments his other arguments, but otherwise neither weakens them or is an obstacle of them.

JesseM said...

Anonymous:
Historically it is a question of just what is materialism. For instance, Guenon makes the claim that materialism is a product of the 18th century. That is, he says that though the ancient atomists were mechanists they were not materialists, nor was Descartes' Res Extensa, though it laid the groundwork for his materialist successors. It depends, does it not, on how we understand these terms. After all, the ancient atomists, I believe, did not refer to themselves as materialists.

True, but the label is commonly applied in retrospect. In any case I agree that the meaning of materialism underwent significant refinement due to modern science, in particular the idea that "material" was supposed to follow mathematical laws. But I think it's fair to say that if we look at the schools of thought that have been labeled "materialist" in any era, the idea of matter arranged geometrically in space has always been part of the conception. And your original comment about geometry being a problem for "materialism" (your choice of words) seemed to be about the modern meaning of materialism, since you were responding to Dr. Feser's comment 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms'.

I haven't presented a detailed argument, but I have given the outline of my argument about why this is problematic for materialism: that it forces materialism to explain how holistic, intellectual, and qualitative aspects relate to each other and this soon leaves behind any reasonable materialism.

What is the outline? "Holistic", "intellectual", and "qualitative" are just adjectives, not an argument. If you want to use these adjectives to describe mathematical geometry you're free to do so, of course. (But it might be helpful if you would explain a little about how you define these adjectives--in terms of my own understanding of the meaning of the word, I don't see why geometry should be called "intellectual" but arithmetic shouldn't, likewise for "holistic". It's fine if we use words a little differently, but if your argument turns on particular words then it's helpful to define them if your meaning isn't clear to me, or we'll be talking past each other.) But just because you label mathematical geometry with these particular adjectives, it's not as if that opens the door for materialism to include other, non-mathematical properties that you might also label with the same adjectives. So if we agree that modern materialism says matter has only mathematical properties including geometry, what is the argument for why there is any problem whatsoever with some of these mathematical properties fitting your definition of "holistic", "intellectual", and "qualitative"?

I have also argued that your definition would make materialism, physicalism, and naturalism synonymous. You didn't really reply to that.

Personally I have always understood "materialism" and "physicalism" to be synonymous. But I don't know what you mean by "my definition" (can you quote some specific words of mine?), and I don't think I even mentioned the words "naturalism" or "physicalism", so how could my comments have any implications as to how those terms should be defined?

JesseM said...

(continued)
I do think the above though, is questionable and brings into play all the questions of compuationalism that Dr. Feser often deals with.

Are you questioning the specific statement I made that mathematical laws involving geometry can just as easily be predicted with a computer as arithmetical rules? Or are you bringing in some larger philosophical questions related to "computationalism", which my comment was not intended to deal with? My point was simply that I don't understand why geometry should be labeled any more "intellectual" or "holistic" than arithmetic, since I would think a computer program would be considered non-intellectual and non-holistic, yet it's just as easy to write a program to churn out the answers to geometric questions as it is to write one for arithmetical questions.

If by quantitative terms is meant shape or extension or direction, then yes, I'm saying quantitative terms are partly qualitative.

But the question is about what you mean, not about whether the definition others use for "quantitative" would fit your definition of "qualitative" (given the confusion over definitions so far, I think it's better to avoid switching definitional frames without explicitly stating that you are doing so). Do you understand the term "quantitative" to include shape/extension/direction? I thought you had been saying that according to your definition, "quantitative" refers solely to "discontinuous number".

Glenn said...

JesseM,

You to Anonymous,

I thought you had been saying that according to your definition, "quantitative" refers solely to "discontinuous number".

To satisfy my curiosity as to where Anonymous has stated that "quantitative" refers solely to "discontinuous number", I searched the comments above for his use of the term "discontinuous". Here are the usages that I found:

o It is important to understand that quantity, pure quantity, is discontinuous number. -- March 29, 2013 at 7:24 PM

o Pure quantity, the basic building block, can only be supplied by discontinuous number. -- March 30, 2013 at 6:09 AM

o Quantity, as I said, can only, ultimately, be discontinous number, meaning shape, direction, extension, etc., are qualitative. -- ibid

o And pure quantity must ultimately be discontinuous number. -- March 30, 2013 at 7:35 AM

o What I'm saying, not very well, obviously, is that pure quantity is discontinuous number. I do not believe this is an arbitrary definition, but the only logical one. That is, if I count two apples or measure two feet of a table, the pure quantitative element is ultimately discontinuous number - the units of number. All the other elements are not pure quantity, they are quantity and something else, some quality, including extension, shape, and direction. -- March 31, 2013 at 10:51 PM

o I'm arguing that the element that is pure quantity is discontinuous number. That anything else attached to number, even shape or extension, is ultimately number added to something else, and it is number, discontinuous number, that is the source of quantity in a thing, even a triangle. -- April 1, 2013 at 2:59 PM

o I'm saying quantitative terms are partly qualitative. But as I keep arguing, it is discontinuous number that logically (and not just in terms of a definition) is the pure quantitative aspect of any of these quantitative terms. When we actually examine it, we find that extension or direction or shape are quantity plus some quality. -- April 1, 2013 at 10:47 PM

(cont)

Glenn said...

You to me,

I don't understand what it would mean to say "entirely quantitative terms ... are not purely quantitative", taken literally it sounds like a self-contradiction.

But Anonymous did not say that "entirely quantitative terms are not purely quantitative".

What he did say is that "the entirely quantitative terms of Res Extensa are not purely quantitative" (emphasis added).

His use of the term 'Res Extensa' is a clue as to what he is talking about.

Not only is it a clue, it is an important clue; and to ignore it is to change the context of his statements.

1. ...Rene Descartes...based his view of nature on a fundamental division into two separate and independent realms; that of mind (res cogitans), and that of matter (res extensa).... For Descartes, both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial matter was mere 'res extensa' to be approached in the same way. [1]

2. "Nemo extensio in longum, latum et profundum, substantiae corporea naturam constituit (extension in length, breadth, and thickness constitutes the nature of corporeal substance). (Principles of Philosophy, Book I)."

This is Descartes' definition of matter. He goes on to elucidate it in this way: 'Everything else that can be ascribed to body presupposes extension.' The other qualities of matter, then, are less important and he tells us 'though substance is indeed known by some attribute, yet for each substance there is pre-eminently one property which constitutes its nature and essence and to which all the rest are referred'. The pre-eminent property of corporeal substance which constitutes its essence and nature is extension. The essence of matter then is extension, according to Descartes. As he puts it in his physical treatise 'Le Monde' , referring to matter he tells us 'I conceive its extension, or the property it has of occupying space, not at all as an accident, but as its true form and essence.' Extension is the essence of matter then. Whatever has spatial extension is matter and matter, by definition, is that which has spatial extension. Spatial extension, then, constitutes matter. What is spatial extension? It is length, breadth and thickness, the three straight lines that constitute Euclidean space. So that which has length, breadth and thickness is matter and all matter, on this definition, has length, breadth and thickness.

The matter of common sense has, however, many more properties than that merely of extension in space. It is coloured, soft or hard, brittle or elastic; it may be edible or inedible; it may emit a sound when struck or it may not; it is combustible or not; it has a variety of textures; it is bitter or sweet to taste, and so on. Why should spatial extension be selected to be the definitive quality of matter? What is the rationale behind their virtual identity of matter and extension? Why not some other quality of matter? Cartesian matter seems to lack variety. It does not tell us how to distinguish chalk from cheese. It does not seem enough to tell us that both chalk and cheese have length, breadth and thickness. We need to know a lot more than that. There is more to things than their geometrical aspect.
[2]

3. According to Descartes, then, every single thing of Res Extensa--which is what Anonymous quite clearly, non-ambiguously and unequivocally indicated he was talking about--is necessarily quantifiable (for by definition they necessarily have length, breadth, and thickness, and each of these three things can be quantified). Nonetheless, things of the Res Extensa--which, again, is what Anonymous quite clearly, non-amibiguously and unequivocally indicated he was talking about--do have a non-geometrical 'moreness'. And this non-geometrical 'moreness' of things is not itself, as Anonymous puts it, 'purely quantitative'.

[1] Descartes Definition of Matter.

[2] ibid

JesseM said...

Glenn wrote:
But Anonymous did not say that "entirely quantitative terms are not purely quantitative".

I did include an ellipses--I was simplifying to make the seeming contradiction more obvious. It seems just as contradictory to say "the entirely quantitative aspects of X are not purely quantitative", regardless of what that X happens be (Res Extensa or anything else)--either the aspects are "entirely quantitative" or they are "not purely quantitative", I don't see how a given "term" can be both. As I suggested at the end of my last comment to Anonymous, it's possible he was switching definitional frames in mid-sentence, saying that things which have been labeled "entirely quantitative" by others would not qualify as "purely quantitative" according to the preferred definition he uses. But maybe that's not it; hopefully he will respond to that question and clarify.

Glenn said...

It seems just as contradictory to say "the entirely quantitative aspects of X are not purely quantitative", regardless of what that X happens be (Res Extensa or anything else)

It's no more contradictory than referring to 'an ellipses'.

But it really isn't all that difficult to figure out what is meant.

Glenn said...

Btw, if you haven't a problem with using non-synonymous terms synonymously ('terms' and 'aspects'), why do you have a problem with synonymous terms being used non-synonymously ('entirely' and 'purely')?

DavidM said...

JesseM: "hopefully you realize that laws of nature can include geometry and yet predictions based on these laws can still be made in a completely rote way, by a computer for example--no more judgment is required than when evaluating arithmetical sums." -- Which invites the question: how much 'judgment' is that (that is required when a computer 'evaluates' arithmetical sums)? You seem to be suggesting completely arbitrary distinctions here - computers can 'evaluate' or 'judge,' *in a completely rote way*, the answers to all kinds of questions, can't they? Surely Anonymous' argument would be that computers *do* do this based on manipulation of discontinuous quantities or 'purely quantitative' terms? Which is correct, isn't it?

DavidM said...

JesseM wrote: "hopefully you realize that laws of nature can include geometry and yet predictions based on these laws can still be made in a completely rote way"

I'm trying to understand this. Is the claim that IF a prediction can be made in a completely rote way on the basis of some law, THEN that law is a legitimate law of nature in a materialist world-view? Is it implied that such predictions must also be *accurate*? Is materialism really essentially tied to being able to predict the future? If so, why?

JesseM said...

Glenn wrote:
It's no more contradictory than referring to 'an ellipses'.

Are you just trying to be snarky now by pointing out grammar mistakes? Yes, I should have written "ellipsis", I just misremembered the term for that series of dots.

But it really isn't all that difficult to figure out what is meant.

It would be helpful if you would explain "what is meant" rather than just scolding me for not trying hard enough. In particular, do you think the selfsame meaning of "quantitative" was being used in both the phrase "entirely quantitative" and the phrase "purely quantitative"?

Btw, if you haven't a problem with using non-synonymous terms synonymously ('terms' and 'aspects'), why do you have a problem with synonymous terms being used non-synonymously ('entirely' and 'purely')?

I read both pairs of terms as being synonymous in context. If you think I am reading it wrong, and that this makes an important difference to correctly understanding what Anonymous meant, then please elaborate. What is a "term" of Res Extensa, if not just a part or aspect of what is meant by that phrase? Hopefully you would agree it's a contradiction to say the selfsame term both is and isn't "entirely quantitative", and likewise it'd be a contradiction to say the selfsame term both is and isn't "purely quantitative" (assuming the meaning of "quantitative" is the same in both cases, see my earlier question). If so, what is the relevant difference between "entirely" and "purely" that makes it non-contradictory to say the selfsame term is "entirely quantitative" but not "purely quantitative"?

JesseM said...

DavidM:
I'm trying to understand this. Is the claim that IF a prediction can be made in a completely rote way on the basis of some law, THEN that law is a legitimate law of nature in a materialist world-view? Is it implied that such predictions must also be *accurate*? Is materialism really essentially tied to being able to predict the future? If so, why?

I think modern materialism, which has been shaped so much by findings of science, is tied to the idea that there are some ultimate laws of nature, and they are mathematical ones--though they might be statistical rather than deterministic. Of course, it may be that we will never discover the true laws and thus make the best possible predictions, but an ideal observer with the best possible knowledge of the laws and initial state (a Laplacian demon) could in theory make the best possible predictions according to this conception (either perfect predictions in the case of determinism, or the best possible statistical predictions if the laws are statistical--a different demon with the same physical/mathematical knowledge couldn't improve on the predictions with other types of non-mathematical knowledge, like knowledge that "acorns have a telos which drives them to grow into oak trees") Not that all self-proclaimed modern materialists would agree that material bodies move and change according to mathetical laws of nature, but I think most would.

DavidM said...

Unfortunately I'm still thinking about this. Perhaps this is the basic issue: A wants to say that materialists must be committed to a thorough reduction of reality to 'pure (numerical) quantity.' J says, why? - why not let them try to reduce reality to numerical and geometrical quantities? IOW, why shouldn't they consider, say, triangles (or tetrahedrons?) as basic constituents of reality? A's answer *could* just be: because materialism is fundamentally motivated by reductionism, and materialists provide no non-arbitrary reason for regarding triangles as basic, irreducible constituents of reality.

JesseM said...

DavidM wrote:
Which invites the question: how much 'judgment' is that (that is required when a computer 'evaluates' arithmetical sums)? You seem to be suggesting completely arbitrary distinctions here - computers can 'evaluate' or 'judge,' *in a completely rote way*, the answers to all kinds of questions, can't they?

Well, this is again a case where it depends on definitions, but I was using "judgment" to mean the idea of having a conscious understanding of the question one is looking at, and making a decision based on that understanding. Even though I think a conscious computer program might eventually be possible, I think most would agree that simple mathematical programs don't make "judgments" in this sense.

DavidM said...

"I think modern materialism, which has been shaped so much by findings of science..." -- I would stop you right there: Is that true? Or just a popular myth? Has materialism really been shaped by real scientific findings? I highly doubt it. Could you give an example?

DavidM said...

I've got an abacus, and a computer, and a son that can evaluate the sum of 3 and 2 - do you judge that all three of those evaluators are doing the same thing? How do you define 'evaluate'? You can't just always say "it depends on the definitions" - words have meanings ('meaningless word' is an oxymoron) and clarification of meaning sometimes requires that you reflect on those meanings, not just stipulate new definitions whenever it suits you.

JesseM said...

DavidM wrote:
I would stop you right there: Is that true? Or just a popular myth? Has materialism really been shaped by real scientific findings? I highly doubt it. Could you give an example?

The example is exactly the one we have been discussing about the behavior of "material" following uniform mathematical laws. I think finding the "best" definition of materialism is basically a sociological question, it involves looking at what ideas most people would consider to be defining features of that word (perhaps weighted towards those who actually consider themselves materialists, and people with more philosophical education). I think most modern materialists would believe nature obeys mathematical laws, and would also consider it a cheat to say something like "I believe in something like a Cartesian free-willed soul that interacts with the neurons of the brain and does not behave in any lawlike way, but I define this soul to still be a type of 'material' entity with a distinct spatial location, so I am still a materialist". But this is just based on my readings of, and interactions with, people who would consider themselves materialists or physicalists (as I said it seems to me the terms are used synonymously), I could be wrong about the beliefs of the typical materialists, one would have to conduct a poll or something to be sure. In any case, remember that Anonymous first mentioned "materialism" in response to Dr. Feser's quote 'modern science works with a conception of the “physical” that redefines it in entirely quantitative terms', so I think it's reasonable to focus the discussion on that subset of materialists who share the conceptions of "modern science" that Dr. Feser was talking about.

clarification of meaning sometimes requires that you reflect on those meanings, not just stipulate new definitions whenever it suits you

Sure, that's why I keep going on about the definition of words that seem central to Anonymous' argument, like "quantitative" and "holistic". But I think the reflection needed is just about making sure there is a shared mutual understanding between the participants. As long as they are mutually clear, it's fine for them to stipulate meanings that don't necessarily precisely equate to common usage--often in philosophical discussions it's useful to adopt clear but narrow technical definitions, for example. I do in fact think that my use of "judgment" would match common usage--if you ask the average person whether computers make "judgments" I think the majority would say no--but even if I'm wrong, since I've spelled it out you can hopefully understand what I meant. "Evaluate" I just used as a shorthand for "determining an answer, whether consciousness is involved or not"--again I think this is a common usage, if you go to google books and type the phrases "program evaluates" (or "computer evaluates" or "algorithm evaluates" or "software evaluates") in quotes, you get plenty of results from programming textbooks and such. (not nearly as many relevant hits with "program judges", "algorithm judges" etc.) But even if this is not the most common understanding of "evaluates", I've spelled out what I mean above so hopefully this term won't cause any further confusion, and of course if you understand what I meant conceptually you are free to translate the ideas I was discussing into your own preferred choice of words.

Magic Fluid Anon said...

Roughly, materialism == naturalism == atheism. That is, the salient part of "materialism" is not that little bits of stuff are the most fundamental thing in the universe, but that the universe is shaped by a lawful but unintelligent process; with no overarching intelligence guiding it. Physics is temporally and metaphysically prior to mind. Or, maybe it isn't. That is the fundamental disagreement, all the rest is noise.

Of course materialism has been shaped by science. Darwin in particular was able to put biology, which had previously seemed to require an intelligent creator, on a materialist footing.

Eduardo said...

Materialism = atheism

Etymologically this makes no sense whatsoever hhahahahahaha, but that is okay materialism has no definition that seems to be it hahhahahaha.

Eduardo said...

Of course materialism was shaped by science that is why I will give an example that is obviously science being shaped by materialism LOL, wholy shit brilliant!

Glenn said...

JesseM,

Glenn wrote:
It's no more contradictory than referring to 'an ellipses'.

Are you just trying to be snarky now by pointing out grammar mistakes? Yes, I should have written "ellipsis", I just misremembered the term for that series of dots.


And a portion of Anonymous' statement was idiomatic.

JesseM said...

Glenn wrote:
And a portion of Anonymous' statement was idiomatic.

Which one? Is it relevant to the debate we have been having? I haven't been pointing to word ambiguities to be pedantic--I genuinely don't see what the argument is supposed to be, beyond just pointing to adjectives like "qualitative", "holistic" etc. and acting as though it is a given that there is some contradiction between these adjectives and materialism. If that's all the argument amounts to, then it seems to me that Anonymous is failing to consider whether the common notion that materialism cannot be described by these adjectives is based on common usages of the terms which are different from the way Anonymous uses them (in particular, the same people who would say materialism is non "qualitative" or non "holistic" would mostly say the same about geometry, I think). If there's some other content to the argument beyond just an appeal to common notions that materialism is incompatible with certain adjectives, I can't find it, so if you think you have some insight please spell it out in detail instead of just criticizing my comments with one-liners.

DavidM said...

DavidM wrote: "I would stop you right there: Is that true? Or just a popular myth? Has materialism really been shaped by real scientific findings? I highly doubt it. Could you give an example?"

JesseM replied: "The example is exactly the one we have been discussing about the behavior of "material" following uniform mathematical laws..."

...So what exactly is the scientific finding?? And how has it shaped *materialism* (however you want to define it) as such? The fact that materialists tend to believe proposition P does not imply that materialism, as such, has been shaped by proposition P. That is a non sequitur. (Compare: Catholics tend to believe in (some form of) evolution; therefore Catholic doctrine has been fundamentally shaped by evolutionary theory.) What is the crucial propositional content of *materialism* (which must be somehow opposed to *non*-materialism) which is fundamentally grounded in or shaped by F (where F is some scientific finding that must be somehow *contrary* to *non*-materialism)?

DavidM said...

JesseM wrote: "I think the reflection needed is just about making sure there is a shared mutual understanding between the participants. As long as they are mutually clear, it's fine for them to stipulate meanings that don't necessarily precisely equate to common usage--often in philosophical discussions it's useful to adopt clear but narrow technical definitions..." -- Okay, but you're begging the question and missing the point: the point was that 'shared mutual understanding' is no guarantee that a stipulated definition *actually* makes sense and comports with what the stipulators of that definition actually know; so it begs the question to insist that the only reflection that is needed is to ensure that there is a 'shared mutual understanding between participants.' As long as the participants are all equally oblivious to their own ignorance and confusion they can perfectly well come to a 'shared mutual understanding' but still be up shit creek as far as actually understanding the supposed referent - e.g., *reality* - of their discourse.

DavidM said...

Also, JesseM wrote: "I think it's reasonable to focus the discussion on that subset of materialists who share the conceptions of "modern science" that Dr. Feser was talking about" -- riiight. And was I suggesting anything to the contrary?

DavidM said...

...what you seem not to realize is that what exactly that subset believes and whether it is actually coherent is very much at issue here! You can't very well say, "Oh well, I'm sure if you asked them *they* would know what the believed and be able to give a coherent account of it all, using *their* definitions." That's just begging the question!

Anonymous said...

Jesse M,

Let us try another way of proceeding.

What to do you is quantity? What is the source or essence of this quantity?

What I'm arguing is not just a matter of definitions. I'm saying that logically discontinuous number must be the basis for all quantity. That is, it is discontinuous number that supplies the ultimately quantitative aspects of the world, the units of plurality, so to speak. So, if I count three apples, I'm counting qualitative elements of apples which combine with discontinuous number. If I measure my table we can reduce the table to its geometric properties, getting rid of the qualities such as colour or hardness. What I'm saying is that these geometric properties are not less combinations of qualities and discontinuous number or units or plurality. Extension, for example, is the extended space measured by quantity. It is quantity plus something else. As quantity is the very measure of extension, it can hardly be only quantity itself. This is what I'm saying. I'm not talking just semantics, but the logical basis of quantity. I think this is important to clear up first.

Anonymous said...

That should be; What to you is quantity?

reighley said...

Anonymous,
why discontinuous?
given a certain quantity : I assert that half of that is also a quantity. Which would place quantities in a continuum.

Anonymous said...

Well, continuous quantity is extension, isn't it.

reighley said...

Anonymous,
"Well, continuous quantity is extension, isn't it."

I am perfectly willing, for the purposes of argument, to associate the natural numbers with the category of "quantity" and some topological space (which would provide us with a notion of continuity) with the category of "extension".

If we do that though, I think the proposition that materialism deals only with quantity is completely untenable. Historically and conceptually, the theory of matter has always hinged just as much on the way in which it occupies space as with its analysis into atoms and elements. I do not think most self identified materialists would deny the reality of space, extension, and continuum.

Are you suggesting that in doing so they have left themselves open to a contradiction?

DavidM said...

Anonymous: "So, if I count three apples, I'm counting qualitative elements of apples which combine with discontinuous number." -- Surely not? Surely you're just counting three things. Anyway, it seems that perhaps your point is just that materialists actually believe in matter and form, not just matter. (Correct?) But it seems that this is just obvious. The interesting thing about the materialist is that he believes that there are no *immaterial* forms, not that he thinks he can dispense with form altogether.

Anonymous said...

A little O/T guys.

"Scientists 'read dreams' using brain scans"

"Three people volunteered for this study and they were monitored through MRI scans while they slept. When they’re starting to fall asleep, researchers woke them up and asked them to describe what they were dreaming about. The procedure was repeated 200 times for each volunteer and their answers were grouped in categories and put in a database. Then the volunteers were scanned again while they were awake and looking at images on a screen. The researchers were then able to detect specific patterns in their brain activities that corresponded with certain visuals. For the next step of the experiment, the scientists were then able to predict 60% of the time what the volunteers were dreaming about by studying their brain scans and comparing them to their verbal reports.

For the next phase of the study, they want to explore what happens in deeper sleep and whether brain scans can also predict what people feel, smell and do when they are deep in the throes of dreaming. But Dr. Stokes warns that they will not be able to “build a general classifier that could read anybody’s dreams” because each person’s thoughts and dreams are unique and specific to the individual. "

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22031074

Eduardo said...

Well this is pretty interesting, but hmmm doesn't seem to contradict anything people say here, Feser wrote a post about brain scans hahahhah.

But even after 200 tries to gather data they still got 60%... i wonder if they have the reports and scientists comments for everyone ahhhaahahah yeah too lazy to go and find them U_U but that would be an interesting investigation.

Anonymous said...

This is how I would break it down.

"When they’re starting to fall asleep, researchers woke them up and asked them to describe what they were dreaming about. The procedure was repeated 200 times for each volunteer and their answers were grouped in categories and put in a database. Then the volunteers were scanned again while they were awake and looking at images on a screen. The researchers were then able to detect specific patterns in their brain activities that corresponded with certain visuals."

“When they’re starting to fall asleep, researchers woke them up and asked them to describe what they were dreaming about.”

“The researchers were then able to detect specific patterns in their brain activities that corresponded with certain visuals.”

“woke them up and asked them”

“patterns in their brain activities that corresponded with certain visuals.”

“asked them”

“corresponded”

Is it good work? Certainly. Unfortunately, while it does advance scientific knowledge, it does not advance the mind-body problem.

Anonymous said...

I've been lurking and hoping to see some discussion to help clear up my uninformed understanding of form.

It seems the argument regarding geometry is that:
1) materialists reject formal causes
2) geometric figures (triangles for instance) cannot be completely described without referring to their form (formal cause)
3) materialists allow formal causes for geometric shapes.
4) this is inconsistent

When I think of the 4 causes of something, I mentally think of them as the 4 ways of describing something.

When I think of the form of something, I think of its shape. Can something have a shape without formal cause?

Where am I going wrong?

reighley said...

Eduardo,

"But even after 200 tries to gather data they still got 60%... i wonder if they have the reports and scientists comments for everyone ahhhaahahah yeah too lazy to go and find them U_U but that would be an interesting investigation."

Actually, 60% with a sample size of 200 is amazingly good. Either

the brain is much simpler in terms of its internal representation than we might have guessed,

or they are faking their data.

or the newspaper is taking liberties with the numbers.

Eduardo said...

Wasn't saying it was bad, but I was wondering more in the why not 100% alley.

Well all we need is play around with models XD, and see why they got 60%. That was what I had in mind ahahahahah

Alexander Anderson said...

have you seen this review?

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2013/02/07/evolution-is-rigged-a-review-of-thomas-nagels-mind-and-cosmos/

It's the most interesting review of Nagel's book that I've come across so far besides your own. I'd very much be interested in your thoughts, especially regarding the usefulness of Nagel's conception of teleology.

Debilis said...

It seems clear to me that the notorious closing is a bit self-contradictory.

Though I agree it represents some paranoia about the ID movement, it also mentions concern about scientism.

That is, it seems to be a worry that it will fuel the modern dogma that science is the best way to answer metaphysical questions.

This is strange, given that Nagel's book is challenging that dogma. Yes, those most beholden to current superstitions are bound to ridicule Nagel. But I don't see how it follows that accommodationism is the proper response.

Rather, anyone worried about "creationists" and "triumphant scientists" (as I am) should see Nagel as an ally.