Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mad dogs and eliminativists


As an epilogue to my critique of Alex Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears,” let’s take a brief look at Rosenberg’s recent interview at 3:AM Magazine.  The interviewer styles Rosenberg “the mad dog naturalist.”  So perhaps in his bid to popularize eliminative materialism, Rosenberg could put out a “Weird Al” style parody of the old Noël Coward song.  Or maybe he and fellow eliminativist Paul Churchland could do a re-make of ZZ Top’s classic Eliminator album.  Don’t know if they’re sharp-dressed men, but they’ve got the beards.  (I can see the video now: The guys, electric guitars swaying in unison and perhaps assisted by Pat Churchland in a big 80s hairdo, set straight some benighted young grad student who still thinks the propositional attitudes are worth salvaging.  Romance ensues, as does a job at a Leiter-ranked philosophy department…)

Two passages in the interview call for special notice.  The interviewer notes that “in the rather heated response to Jerry Fodor’s provocations about natural selection your response was one of the few that recognized that he was onto something.”  Rosenberg replies:

When Fodor argued that natural selection can’t see properties, and can’t produce organic systems, for example brains—that respond to, represent, register properties, he thought he was providing a reduction [sic] ad absurdum of Darwinian theory… I believe that Fodor’s attempted reductio of Darwinian theory is a modus tollens of representationalist theories of the mind, theories that accord to the wet stuff, to neural states what Searle calls original intentionality. It’s an argument for eliminativism about intentional content.  So Fodor is totally wrong abut [sic] Darwinian theory, but his argument shows that we Darwinians (and all the physicists if I am right that Darwin’s theory is just the 2d law in action among the macromolecules) have to go eliminativist about the brain.

End quote.  See “Eliminativism without Tears” for similar remarks about Fodor.  This, my friends, is why Rosenberg gets paid the big money: to see more clearly than either his fellow naturalists or most theists what is really at stake.  Naturalists (such as many of Thomas Nagel’s critics) and ID theorists alike are endlessly farting around with questions about the probability of this or that biological phenomenon having arisen through natural selection, and other such relative trivia.  In the dispute over Darwinian naturalism, that is a side show at best.  The serious questions are not empirical but metaphysical, matters of what is possible even in principle rather than of probability.  It is not what can be read off from the empirical results of science, but rather what has been read into them philosophically from the start, that is both the source of naturalism’s apparent strength and in reality its Achilles’ heel.  And that is the dogmatic insistence that the natural order is utterly devoid of any immanent, built-in, Aristotelian-style teleology, finality, or directedness toward an end.  It is the ancient Greek atomist view of the world as a kind of vast clockwork, of all observable phenomena as entirely explicable at least in principle in terms of aggregates of particles in motion or the like.

Once you grant that supposition, even for the sake of argument, then you have conceded the naturalist’s key move.  He will always be able to come up with some far-fetched but seemingly possible account of the origin of any empirical phenomenon in these terms, the only remaining question being whether there is direct empirical evidence that things actually happened as the account says they did.  And once you’ve conceded the general correctness of his method, the naturalist will think even the most far-fetched and empirically unsupported specific applications of that method are more plausible than any alternative, on grounds of the general success of the method coupled with Ockham’s razor.  The alternatives will always seem ad hoc, god-of-the-gaps exceptions to the rule, destined to be superseded and thus not worth bothering with in the first place.  That is what the ID theorist fails to see.

Once you grant the supposition, though, you have also implicitly committed yourself to a radical eliminativism.  If there is no such thing as teleology, finality, directedness, one thing “pointing to” another, etc. in the natural world in general, then there can be no such thing in the biological realm specifically or in the human realm even more specifically.  That means that the Darwinian naturalist has no business helping himself to notions like “function,” “selection for,” and the like.  These are irreducibly teleological.  Of course, many naturalists suppose that such notions can be reduced to non-teleological ones, but as Fodor argued, they cannot be.  All attempts to reduce them face intractable indeterminacy problems.  The naturalist also has no business helping himself to notions like “thinking,” “willing” (freely or otherwise), “meaning” (whether the meaning of thoughts, sentences, or anything else), etc.  All such notions also smack of “directedness” toward an object, so that intentionality must be as illusory as the naturalist says teleology is.  And all attempts to reduce rather than eliminate intentionality also face intractable indeterminacy problems, as Rosenberg notes.  Eliminativism is forced on you if you consistently deny teleology.  This is what most naturalists fail to see. 

That leaves the naturalist with two choices.  He can bring teleology back into the picture, which is what Nagel does -- essentially a journey “from Aristotle to Darwin and back again,” as Etienne Gilson prophetically put it.  Or he can bite the eliminativist bullet, which is what Rosenberg commends.  The trouble with that is that it cannot coherently be done.  Since science is as laden with intentionality as anything else, you will have to eliminate the very science in the name of which you are carrying out the elimination; and since philosophy (including eliminative materialist philosophy) is also as laden with intentionality as anything else, you will also have to eliminate eliminativism.  Eliminativism is a snake that eats its own tail.  The problem can be danced around, but it cannot be solved, for the reasons set out both in my recent posts on Rosenberg’s essay and in my series of posts on his book.

Not that the dummies who hang out in comboxes like Jerry Coyne’s or Jason Rosenhouse’s understand the gravity of the problem intentionality poses for their position, and thus the motivation for Rosenberg’s extreme solution.  This brings us to a second passage from the Rosenberg interview:

What is clear to me about the reception of The Atheist’s Guide was first how hard it is to get nonphilosphers to understand the problem of intentionality and aboutness, second how much harder to understand the eliminativist solution to the problem, and most all, the degree to which our emotional attachment to narratives—stories with plots, good guys, bad guys, agents with motives—gets in the way of our understanding science and applying it to these persistent questions.

Now I know how Berkeley must have felt when Dr. Johnson refuted him by kicking a stone, especially when I read the puerile self-refutation arguments against my eliminativism.

Of course a few theists have identified The Atheist’s Guide to Reality as correctly identifying the implications of demonic materialistic naturalism. But I am actually surprised by how few have done so. It’s no tribute to the intelligence of the rest of them.

And of course naturalists have pretty much ignored the arguments for the same reason. It gives naturalism a bad name with the public, whom they hope to win over to a humane and civilized point of view. I wish they had been able to succeed in reconciling science and the manifest image. Maybe they yet will. I doubt it.

End quote.  Note that, as we saw in our look at “Eliminativism without Tears,” Rosenberg is well aware that not all versions of the “self-refutation” objection are “puerile.”  Note also that if it’s “no tribute to the intelligence” of those theists who have failed to see the radical implications of naturalism, it is hardly a tribute to the intelligence of most naturalists that they have also failed to see those implications.  And note that if “stories with plots, good guys, bad guys, agents with motives” and the like are all fictions -- as they have to be on an eliminativist view -- then of course stories about bigoted religious believers (the bad guys, agents with bad motives) retarding the advance of science (a story with a plot) and resisted by intellectually honest naturalists (the good guys, agents with good motives) are also all fictions.  That Rosenberg either doesn’t see or doesn’t want to advertise this implication hoists him with the same petard he directs toward his more slow and/or intellectually dishonest readers. 

And then there’s this irony: The very scientism Rosenberg is pushing is, of course, what has made many of his naturalist readers too philosophically shallow to see the problems to which he is trying to call their attention. 

It’s a comeuppance worthy of a ZZ Top video!

113 comments:

Anonymous said...

"the dummies who hang out in comboxes like Jerry Coyne’s or Jason Rosenhouse’s" -- seems a bit mean-spirited. Good post though.

Edward Feser said...

Hang out for a while in either one and you'll think I was being too kind.

Scott said...

I was about to remark that Ed's characterization was if anything over-charitable, but he beat me to it.

Debilis said...

I've been frustrated by Rosenberg's unwillingness to apply elimativism to science or scientism.

I won't venture a guess as to whether or not this is intentional (actively dishonest) or implicit (a result of biased thinking). Neither option is acceptable.

Still, he did more to confirm my belief in theism than almost anything I've heard from a pastor.

Edward Feser said...

Scott,

Thanks. Of course, now that we're essentially congratulating each other for seeing how stupid the other side is, we've effectively become just like the Coyne brigades. Uh oh...

Debilis,

Rosenberg would apply it to science and scientism themselves, and my best guess is that he thinks that there simply must be some way to make this all coherent, even if the best he can do right now is vaguely gesture (in the latest paper) in the direction he thinks the solution must lie. His confidence, I think, is grounded in (a) the (utterly fallacious) inference from the success of science to the truth of scientism (and thus of eliminativism), together with (b) the conviction, given (a), that the incoherence problem simply must be more a Thomas Kuhn-style "puzzle" for scientism than an outright refutation.

Scott said...

@Ed:

"Of course, now that we're essentially congratulating each other for seeing how stupid the other side is, we've effectively become just like the Coyne brigades. Uh oh..."

Oh, I don't think it's quite that bad. (Or at least I hope not.) What I had generally in mind is that you could justifiably have described them not only as being a bit (or a lot) thick but as arguing in bad faith and willfully missing the point. Generally you're pretty careful not to do that even when someone might (inconclusively) appear to deserve it, and in that sense Hey, they're not the sharpest bulbs in the ocean is actually the charitable interpretation.

Edward Feser said...

I know, Scott, I was just kidding around. Should have used the customary smiley face: ;-)



Scott said...

@Ed:

Figured as much. But you know how easily things get out of hand on Teh Interwebz when people leave that sort of thing implicit. The Other Side of the Coyne: Feser Admits He's Just as Bad as His Critics . . .

By the way, this is an incisive observation:

"And then there’s this irony: The very scientism Rosenberg is pushing is, of course, what has made many of his naturalist readers too philosophically shallow to see the problems to which he is trying to call their attention."

That's right on the money and it had never occurred to me until you called attention to it. "You don't have to know philosophy; you just have to know science. Except that, wait, you do have to know philosophy in order to understand why the following point is important . . . "

I suppose it just illustrates that people who militantly refuse to engage in philosophy are bound to do so anyway—just poorly.

Mr. Green said...

Wait a minute — Weird Al Rosenberg can't write a song. That would require intentionality! Aw, heck, I'll do it myself.

[P.S. Gentle Reader might want to use one of those clean-screen reader thingies or otherwise avoid premature line-wrapping from the ridiculously narrow columns imposed by the Blagher software presumably to make the typical "LOL. me too" comments look less paltry.]



In modern circles a type of jerk'll censure
  With no proportionality those who defend intentionality.
Their unshakeable brief that there is no belief's a brain-wrencher.
And quite rightly you'd be quizzical of this dubious metaphysical adventure.

  This kind of joke a normal bloke tut-tuts —
  Because they're absolutely positively nuts.



Madmen and nat'ralists go on but don't mean a word.
  One cannot help but mention they've simply no intention.
Ancients and Mediaevals are teleologically self-assured;
    But nat'ralists find meaning demeaning.
A Cartesian horse is a horse of course —
      you can tell it's not a cart;
And panpsychic works (though they have their quirks)
      find thoughts in every part.
While no Scholastic was ever so drastic to push a view that absurd!
Yet madmen and nat'ralists go on but don't mean a word.

Madmen and nat'ralists go on but don't think a thought.
  Although sometimes they're seen to, in truth they never mean to.
They're fixed by fate to eliminate what nature [sic] hath wrought —
    It's all just evolution's illusions.
They oughtn't to preach what they claim they can't teach,
      And they could if they had free will.
Their view's self-refutal is mentally brutal,
      Enough so to make you ill!
They think they've thought, though they've thought naught... or so they think — say what?!?
But madmen and nat'ralists go on but don't think —
            You might raise a stink,
            But you'd just waste your ink.
            It'll drive you to drink!
            Just find 'em a shrink.
                — they can't think a blinkin' thought!

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

This blog needs a "Like" button.

Glenn said...

"the dummies who hang out in comboxes like Jerry Coyne’s or Jason Rosenhouse’s" -- seems a bit mean-spirited.

Being imprecise is not necessarily being mean-spirited--at least not anymore than is being precise.

Masha Gessen in Perfect Rigour:

Where [Grigori] Perelman and his crowd came from, a high-school student who could not produce the solution to the Cauchy Problem on request would be disdained as an imbecile--"and rightly so," commented [Alexander] Golovanov.

:-)

Matt Sigl said...

Thank you Mr. Green, someone had to do it, but certainly not as well! Bravo.

A philosophical question: is something like the 2nd law of thermodynamics necessarily intentional or "goal-directed" too? Rosenberg seems to think not. In fact, he rests his whole world view on the notion.

Scott said...

@Matt Sigl:

"A philosophical question: is something like the 2nd law of thermodynamics necessarily intentional or 'goal-directed' too?"

To whatever extent that it's an actual law rather than a description, yes.

(And of course even as a description it involves the goal-directedness of whoever's doing the describing and whoever's trying to understand it. But I think you're asking about goal-directedness in the part of nature that the law is supposed to be telling us about.)

George LeSauvage said...

@ Mr Green:

Thanks, I'm including a link, for those who haven't heard the original:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPnJM3zWfUo

I do object to this line:

"A Cartesian horse is a horse of course —
you can tell it's not a cart;"

Surely, you know better than to put DeCartes before the horse.

(Duck and run back to Frostbite Falls.)

Chris said...

I just came across a quote that I'm very curious to hear how a Thomist would respond to:

The fundamental difference between the traditional and modern world views is the knowledge of a spiritual level of reality that transcends our ordinary experience.
This spiritual level is the source
of all manifestation and is known, not through empirical evidence or a process of reasoning, but rather through a direct "knowing", called Intuition or gnosis. This gnosis is not irrational, but is supra-rational, that is, above reason, though not contrary to reason.

E.H. Munro said...

Surely, you know better than to put DeCartes before the horse.

Damn you, George LeSauvage, I get to make that joke around here, It's in my contract! Shaking fist

Tony said...

Chris, the Thomist would say: this gnosis also goes by the names: "claptrap, gobbledy-gook, and bull droppings."

This sense of "modern" would have to lump both Aristotle and the Scholastics in "modern", a very strange construction indeed.

Aristotle and Thomas both say that knowing comes from intellection upon sensory data as source material. There is, for humans, no knowing that is prior to sensation, and there is no adequate basis for a claim that we DO have prior knowledge - nobody can ask of a fetus pre-sensory "tell us what you know."

Chris said...

Tony,

Thank you for the response. As I understand it, the Thomist is not opposed to mystical experience and/or knowledge- how does gnosis fit within the AT framework?

Gene Callahan said...

Although whether Thomas would have continued to say that after his mystical experience is doubtful!

rank sophist said...

Chris,

The quote seems to equivocate between several worldviews and in the process misrepresent both ancient and modern metaphysics. However, a Thomist could identify this "gnosis" with several types of knowing--such as the intuition of esse.

Chris said...

RS

I think I may understand what is meant by the intuition of esse. As I understand it, knowing comes from "seeing" that sensory data is actually the reflection of a Divine idea.

Anonymous said...

And that is the dogmatic insistence that the natural order is utterly devoid of any immanent, built-in, Aristotelian-style teleology, finality, or directedness toward an end. ...If there is no such thing as teleology, finality, directedness, one thing “pointing to” another, etc. in the natural world in general, then there can be no such thing in the biological realm specifically or in the human realm even more specifically.

I’ve seen this move over and over again, and I can’t see how it could convince anybody.

The facts of the matter are very clear – whether or not there is any immanent built-in teleology, it is perfectly possible for natural selection to produce systems that display purposiveness. We know quite a bit about how this works; while there are many unanswered questions there are not any real mysteries there.

The fact that you don’t want to understand how it works is not a proof of anything.

Scott said...

"The facts of the matter are very clear – whether or not there is any immanent built-in teleology, it is perfectly possible for natural selection to produce systems that display purposiveness."

The facts of the matter are very clear: whether or not there's any water in my pitcher, it is perfectly possible for me to pour you a glass of it.

'Fraid not. The most fundamental reply to your footless assertion is that without "built-in teleology," it's meaningless to speak of anything "producing" anything at all.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony,

So the Thomist rejects utterly St. Clement of Alexandria and Alexandrians as "claptrap, gobbledy-gook, and bull droppings" ?

St. Thomas would have said no such thing, even before his mystical experience, as intellectual or mystical knowledge is Scriptural and had long been an important part of Christian teaching and experience. St. Thomas quotes Dionysius more than any other figure. Knowledge that does not come from the senses need not somehow precede in time that of the senses, the point is that rational and sensual knowledge is derived from intellectual knowledge and that man is capable of having knowledge other than the sensual. It is certain St. Thomas moved towards sensism, downplaying intellectual knowledge, but he could hardly dispense with it completely, unless he wished to call St. Paul a liar, not to mention he later had a mystical experience which caused him to refer to his philosophical work as straw.

Intellectus or Nous was recognised as the highest form of knowledge by the Schoolmen, even if they did not credit it the emphasis you find in more Platonic sources. It is undoubtedly true that with the Schoolmen arises a move towards rationalism, understood as overemphasis on discursive reasoning, which culminated in the rationalism of Descartes and those who followed him, but the Schoolmen are far from reducing reason simply to ratio, as Descartes would do.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Rank Sophist,

I'm not sure how one could come to such broad conclusions from such a quote. It seems to me that quote defines its terms in a certain way and makes claims that one would need lengthier exposition to truly pronounce on (which are presumably provided in the text from which it comes).

It is presumably a Platonic source. What is outlined is a basic Platonic perspective on the difference between modernity and dominant trends in pre-modern thought. I'm not sure it is an incorrect perceptive. From the Platonic perspective, a fundamental difference between Platonic-Pythagorean and Aristotelian, though this later school has always less strongly emphasised this - still, Aristotle expressly makes the distinction between Nous and Ratio, or Intellect and Reason, that the Schoolmen did, viewpoints on one hand, and modern ones on the other, is the recognition of Noetic knowledge as the summit of knowledge.

Timotheos said...

@ Mr. Green

Set your song to the tune of Damien Jurado's "I had no intentions" and I think you've got a hit!

Bedarz Iliaci said...

"the natural order is utterly devoid of any immanent, built-in, Aristotelian-style teleology, finality, or directedness toward an end."

Doesn't it depend upon how "natural order" is defined?
CS Lewis in Miracles considered rational thinking to be supernatural irruption into otherwise deterministic nature.
Thus, why can't I believe that only minds have directedness and the "nature" ,strictly speaking, lacks directedness?

Scott said...

@Bedarz Iliaci:

"Deterministic" is still "directed."

Anonymous said...

@Scott -
The facts of the matter are very clear: whether or not there's any water in my pitcher, it is perfectly possible for me to pour you a glass of it


So for anything at all to exist, chairs or cows or hamburgers, it has to be built-in to the foundations of the cosmos from the beginning of time? Or just some things?

Chris said...

Before I became familiar with the AT tradition, I understood man as a tripartite being, that is, a unity of Spirit, soul and body. These states of being are hierarchically arranged, with the lower states subordinated to the higher states.
I don't think that this is actually not opposed to the AT pov, just that the schemata would be understood more dualistically -mind/body and Spirit.

Scott said...

"So for anything at all to exist, chairs or cows or hamburgers, it has to be built-in to the foundations of the cosmos from the beginning of time? Or just some things?"

A cause can't impart what it doesn't have. More fundamentally, a cause without any sort of directedness toward its effect(s) wouldn't be a "cause" at all. In a world that had no "immanent built-in teleology," it would be meaningless to talk about natural selection (or anything at all) "producing" anything.

Anonymous said...

"A cause can't impart what it doesn't have."

Here's a blogpost that that expands on/defends this principle.

http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-axiom-of-perfections-pre-existing-in-agent-causes/

Scott said...

That's a good post; thanks for the URL. For convenience, here it is as a live link.

Anonymous said...

A cause can't impart what it doesn't have.

So nothing novel can ever come into existence. The universe is without any creativity; everything has been set in motion by a first cause far outside anybody's cognizance or control.

I cannot imagine why this would be an attractive picture of the universe to anybody. It explains nothing and has no place for human originality (or any other kind). I find it much more nihilistic than materialism -- what would be the point of living in that kind of universe?

Scott said...

"So nothing novel can ever come into existence."

Nothing can come into existence that doesn't have its ultimate source in the Divine Intellect, but I don't really see that as a problem.

Scott said...

Moreover, if penguins have evolved, then we can say that the causal power to evolve penguins must have been built into the universe. That doesn't mean there have always been penguins.

On the other hand, the sort of acausal novelty you appear to prefer would make science and understanding impossible. That seems a high price to pay for what strikes me as a questionable sort of "novelty."

Anonymous said...

Actually, I find it quite enjoyable. Thanks for the First Cause for such a great idea (bringing the virtual me into existence). By the way, who did write that article?

Anonymous said...

"The facts of the matter are very clear – whether or not there is any immanent built-in teleology, it is perfectly possible for natural selection to produce systems that display purposiveness. We know quite a bit about how this works; while there are many unanswered questions there are not any real mysteries there. "

I'm generally sympathetic to the claim that naturalism is wrong and would not be surprised if it really is because Western philosophy took a wrong turn some centuries back, but that said, what is wrong with the above statement? Darwin seems to have thought of a way where natural processes could create systems that act as though they have a function and purpose. That much is true whether or not there is some deeper metaphysics going on that most of us moderns (or at least those given a modern scientific indoctrination) have trouble understanding. I suppose that might be my problem-- I really don't understand teleology

Donald

Anonymous said...

Scott, IIRC didn't you have a similar discussion recently with a commenter named Robert? Perhaps you should link to that blogpost and let people read the exchange in the combox regarding teleology and emergence.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think, in Miracles, C.S Lewis is just accepting a naturalistic view of the physical universe for argument's sake.

Anonymous said...



That is true only in a trivial and uninteresting sense. In that sense, anything that ever happens is "built into" the universe. Presumably the only reason we are talking about built-in features is because there are some that are not built in.

On the other hand, the sort of acausal novelty you appear to prefer would make science and understanding impossible.

WTF are you talking about? I made no mention of "acausal" anything, and science and understanding are quite possible in the only universe we have available.

Anonymous said...

"...science and understanding are quite possible in the only universe we have available."

And I'm pretty sure that Scott would say that this is true precisely because something like the principle of proportionate causality is true. See the link up thread for the "trivial" objection. When Scott said "acausal" I think he was referring to the lack of proportionate causality. There's also this:

"Some of the other things Dretske says point in the same direction. Recall that he claims that what he calls “natural signs” have at least a kind of “natural meaning,” even if not the kind of meaning that might explain misrepresentation. But how can a materialist justify even that modest claim? What licenses a description of expanding metal (say) as a “sign” of a rise in temperature, or as “meaning” that the temperature is rising? True, when we observe the expansion, we can (given our background knowledge) infer that the temperature is rising. But how does that show that the expanding metal has, all by itself and apart from our knowledge of it and its properties, a semantic property like “meaning”? Did it have “meaning,” or count as a “sign,” before any human beings were around? “Meaning” to whom, in that case? A “sign” to whom? In fact there would seem to be no “meaning” or “sign” literally present at all until intelligent creatures like us come along and, discovering that a rise in temperature causes metal to expand, come to take expanded metal to “mean” or be a “sign” of a rise in temperature.

Now something like built-in meaning might plausibly be attributed to expanding metal, spots on the face, and other examples of the sort Dretske gives if we were to adopt an Aristotelian-Scholastic conception of nature, on which final causality or directedness-to-an-end is inherent to patterns of what Aristotelians call efficient causality (that is, to what moderns mean when they speak of causality). If, as I put it earlier, causes inherently “point forward” to their typical effects and effects inherently “point backward” to their causes, then Dretske’s examples might do the sort of work he needs them to do. But the whole point of the early moderns’ chucking out of Scholasticism was to get rid of this sort of immanent teleology."

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/dretske-on-meaning.html

Scott said...

"Scott, IIRC didn't you have a similar discussion recently with a commenter named Robert?"

I did, and linking to it is a good idea. I don't recall which post it was under, though, so I'll look when I have a little more time to dig around.

"And I'm pretty sure that Scott would say that this is true precisely because something like the principle of proportionate causality is true."

Right you are. The rest of your post is spot on as well.

@Donald:

"[W]hether or not there is any immanent built-in teleology, it is perfectly possible for natural selection to produce systems that display purposiveness.

[W]hat is wrong with the above statement?"

To "produce" in this context means, and can only mean, to cause. Causation essentially involves directedness toward an end; there's no such thing as a "cause" in a universe that has no "immanent built-in teleology."

In that case, if natural selection can "produce" purposiveness (in fact if anything can "produce" anything), then that alone would confirm that there's "immanent built-in teleology."

Scott said...

"Scott, IIRC didn't you have a similar discussion recently with a commenter named Robert?"

Finally had some time to look, and here it is.

Anonymous said...

Causation essentially involves directedness toward an end; there's no such thing as a "cause" in a universe that has no "immanent built-in teleology."

You can invent private meanings for words all you want, but it proves nothing and makes for a tedious argument.

In that case, if natural selection can "produce" purposiveness (in fact if anything can "produce" anything), then that alone would confirm that there's "immanent built-in teleology."

Ah, I see you are confirming my idea that creativity is impossible. Why anybody would prefer that static worldview over the dynamic reality is a mystery to me

Anonymous said...

"You can invent private meanings for words all you want, but it proves nothing and makes for a tedious argument."

This isn't a rebuttal.

"Ah, I see you are confirming my idea that creativity is impossible. Why anybody would prefer that static worldview over the dynamic reality is a mystery to me"

This isn't an argument.

Try again.

urban jean said...

Ed says,

That means that the Darwinian naturalist has no business helping himself to notions like “function,” “selection for,” and the like. These are irreducibly teleological. Of course, many naturalists suppose that such notions can be reduced to non-teleological ones, but as Fodor argued, they cannot be. All attempts to reduce them face intractable indeterminacy problems.

I agree that 'selection for' sounds teleological. (By no means as sure about 'function'.) But this is part of the language in which Darwinism has traditionally been expressed, by analogy with the 'artificial selection' practised by animal and plant breeders. I note that Rosenberg uses the phrase 'environmental filtration' to express the same idea. See, for example, the video here, already referred to in these pages. But I'm not impressed by Fodor's argument in 'What Darwin got wrong'. Are there other arguments for irreducible teleology in Darwinism?

Anonymous said...

Im pretty sure that a Thomist would not bother focusing on evolution directly, but rather any instance of causation when it comes to finality.

Scott said...

"You can invent private meanings for words all you want, but it proves nothing and makes for a tedious argument."

Good thing I didn't do that, then.

"Ah, I see you are confirming my idea that creativity is impossible."

Hey, just ask God to make you something brand-new ex nihilo. He can; the only question is whether He will (or, from an eternal point of view, is timelessly doing so). In fact I believe the official RC view is that God did something very much along these lines when He created the first human being: the first substance with a rational soul was not "produced" by evolution.

But that's not emergence or production of the sort you're more or less trying, sort of, to discuss here. As long as God works through secondary causes, those causes will already have to possess virtually what they impart to their effects, and they'll have to work by actualizing potencies that are already there to be actualized.

In one sense that means nothing novel can "emerge" that wasn't already there at least virtually. But it pretty obviously doesn't mean that nothing novel to us can ever occur as an effect of causes that we didn't know existed, or that nothing can come into real existence that has never existed before in any non-virtual manner.

"Why anybody would prefer that static worldview over the dynamic reality is a mystery to me[.]"

Why anybody would think this worldview is static rather than dynamic is a mystery to me. It seems to me to combine the best of both—and also, and more importantly at least in terms of my preferences, to have the decisive advantage of being true.

Mr. Green said...

Urban Jean: I note that Rosenberg uses the phrase 'environmental filtration' to express the same idea. [...] Are there other arguments for irreducible teleology in Darwinism?

The problem isn't that the language used sounds teleological; it's the very concepts. However, when most people hear the word "teleology" they think of something like Wile E. Coyote furiously drawing up blueprints. And certainly that figures into teleology somewhere. But the concept is much broader than that: Do anvils, boulders, and Acme Rocket Sleds fall down, instead of up or sideways? That's teleology. Does your compass needle point north, instead of south, or towards passing traffic? That's teleology. Does fire make things hotter and ice make things colder? That's teleology. Any sort of directedness, any acting in a particular way instead of randomly, that's the teleology we're talking about.

A rock used as a paperweight is "for" holding down papers; but only because rocks are "for" being heavy in the first place. Of course, we don't usually phrase it that way, but it wouldn't matter if we did. The idea of a purpose, being "for" something is just one way we can talk about teleology. Get rid of that language and the directedness is still there. In fact, it has to be: in Darwinian terms, if an organism's being this way instead of that didn't make it more likely to survive than less, then there would be no evolution. It would all just be random. And more than that, there couldn't even be any science at all: masses being attracted to other masses, charged particles attracting opposite charges and repelling like charges... these are all teleological. Experiment, repeatability, observing — and of course "filtering" — these are all thoroughly teleological notions in the sense being discussed here. So the next time you hear someone arguing that something sciencey has explained away teleology, you know he's thinking of Wile E. Coyote teleology, and not Aristotelian teleology (i.e. he's missed the point).

Mr. Green said...

And thanks, gentlemen.

(George: Duck? You're going to pull a duck out of your hat?? That trick'll never work!)

urban jean said...

Thanks, Mr G. Ed's talk of the Darwinist helping himself to teleological notions is an accusation of a performative inconsistency, I think. But if teleology is as ubiquitous and all-encompassing as you suggest why does Ed need a sophisticated Fodorian argument to show that accounts referring to 'function' and 'selection for' are irreducibly teleological? All he need say is that any talk of regularity by the Darwinist, say that genes are regularly expressed phenotypically, is inherently teleological. But this would just beg a metaphysical question against the Darwinist. No, Ed has to say that the Darwinist's ordinary talk of gene expression, etc, does not involve a certain species of teleology but that his explanation of differential gene frequencies in terms of 'selection' does involve such teleology. And it's this latter kind of teleology that the Darwinist denies resorting to.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Ed's talk of the Darwinist helping himself to teleological notions is an accusation of a performative inconsistency, I think."

Well, let's be precise here: the inconsistency is not with (the biological theory of) Darwinism as such but with (the metaphysical outlook of) "Darwinian naturalism," insofar as the latter is understood to dispense with teleology as "built in" to the universe and try to reduce it to something else.

And this inconsistency is not merely a "performative" contradiction. To say that teleology arises through some causal process is in effect, since causality itself is inherently teleological, to say that teleology is produced teleologically by non-teleological teleology. The problem here is not merely that naturalists' verbal practice belies their premise; it's that the premise itself is incoherent. Without teleology, no causation. End of.

I emphasize this point because it's exactly why Ed's argument is, non-question-beggingly, that the Darwinian naturalist's "explanation of differential gene frequencies in terms of selection does involve . . . teleology." The Darwinian naturalist can deny resorting to such teleology all s/he pleases, but it won't alter the fact that according to the standard Darwinian account, differential gene frequencies are the results of causal (and therefore teleological) processes. This isn't just a verbal issue.

urban jean said...

Hi Scott,
I think you are re-affirming Mr G's reply. My question to you both is why does Ed need Fodor's quite difficult argument to show that 'selection for', etc, are teleological notions? Why does he not just say, as you do, Darwin's account is causal, ergo it's teleological, case closed?

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"My question to you both is why does Ed need Fodor's quite difficult argument to show that 'selection for', etc, are teleological notions? Why does he not just say, as you do, Darwin's account is causal, ergo it's teleological, case closed?"

He does say the latter, and I see no indication that he "need[s]" the former. He mentions Fodor's argument here because (a) not everyone accepts the argument that causality entails teleology, so it's good to have a backup argument or three; (b) that's not the only thing wrong with the eliminativist argument; and (c) he's specifically replying to someone (Rosenberg) who is expressly responding to Fodor's argument and failing to deal with it satisfactorily. I don't know why you would think a brief allusion to Fodor is the only weapon in Ed's arsenal.

Anonymous said...

Scott said: More fundamentally, a cause without any sort of directedness toward its effect(s) wouldn't be a "cause" at all.

You are attempting to redefine what causality means. A volcano in Sumatra might cause a red sunset in Peru; that doesn't mean it was "directed" at the sunset, whatever that might even mean.

Anonymous said...

A sunset is due to particles affecting photons. Thus, the cause must contain or produce such particles. The particles point back at the volcano.

Scott said...

Dueling Anons . . . I think. I do wish people would use the Name/URL option when posting so that we can tell them apart.

Anyway . . .

"You are attempting to redefine what causality means."

What, so before I came along, causality never meant that something made something else happen? Right.

"A volcano in Sumatra might cause a red sunset in Peru; that doesn't mean it was 'directed' at the sunset, whatever that might even mean."

That's (very obviously) because the volcano is only in a vague and partial sense the "cause" of the red sunset. As (the other?) Anon has suggested, the appearance of the sunset is affected in part by particles in the air, which it's in the nature of a volcano (or rather of its physical constituents, as a "volcano" is not, so far as I can see, a substance in its own right) to produce. The volcano isn't directly "aimed" at the production of red sunsets, and I don't know why you would think I was claiming otherwise.

Break the steps out in the way that science (or anyone with any sense) would do, and your feckless objection is answered. The alternative is that nothing ever makes anything else happen—which isn't what you believe even according to your vaguest and most begged-question-laden posts.

We seem to be going around in circles here, so unless you have something new to add, I'm done.

Anonymous said...

Scott -- you seem to be unable to make sense even on your own terms, so I agree, pointless to continue.

People actually interested in understanding causality should check out the work of Judea Pearl. A decent introduction is here

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"People actually interested in understanding causality should check out the work of Judea Pearl. A decent introduction is here"

Red herring; the mathematical apparatus involving causality graphs sheds little to no light on the metaphysical issues under discussion, much less resolve them.

dover_beach said...

"Scott -- you seem to be unable to make sense even on your own terms, so I agree, pointless to continue."

Bluff and bluster is all this anon has: all hat, no cattle.

George LeSauvage said...

But Mr Green, is not the true philosophical question, "Why a duck?"

Step2 said...

Thus, the cause must contain or produce such particles. The particles point back at the volcano.

Well, I don't see teleology used that way very often by theists. Typically it is used to assume a singular function or purpose directed to the future rather than indicate multiple effects which can be indirectly traced backwards in time. So if we are going to argue over language meanings, I would claim the modern interpretation of indeterminacy beyond the most direct and local effects is better suited to reality.

Anonymous said...

the mathematical apparatus involving causality graphs sheds little to no light on the metaphysical issues under discussion

Translation: "I am too lazy and/or stupid to do formal reasoning, so I will bandy about vague words whose meanings I redefine to suit my purposes, and glorify it with a fancy name."

FZ said...

Aww grod, you hurt Anon's feelings. Anon's resorted to insults and empty accusations.

FZ said...

Also, I love all the arrows in that presentation. You know, the ones that are pointing from causes towards effects.

dover_beach said...

"Also, I love all the arrows in that presentation. You know, the ones that are pointing from causes towards effects."

I know, and yet Anon and Step2 seem oblivious to the arrow's significance in this and that discussion.

urban jean said...

I'm tempted to satirise Mr G's reply to me at 9:48AM. "What, son, your boomerang won't come back? Ah, that'll be the teleology". But Scott at 12:35PM seems to be saying something similar, viz, causality entails teleology. Has Aristotle's final cause annexed the other three?

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"But Scott at 12:35PM seems to be saying something similar, viz, causality entails teleology. Has Aristotle's final cause annexed the other three?"

I'm not quite sure what you mean here. Teleology, which has been the subject of this discussion, is all about final causes. But material, formal, and efficient causes aren't irrelevant—just insufficient without final causation. In other words, a full account of causation may include more than "directedness," but it can't just leave "directedness" out altogether.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Surely, the regular and orderly nature of causation is an indication of its teleological nature? Without seeing efficient cause and effect as part of an end directed process, it becomes, as Hume pointed out, hard not to see cause and effect as loose and separate.

Or, as the Angelic Doctor puts it:

"Every agent [cause] acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance."



Anonymous said...

You don't seem to understand the difference between model and reality.

Yes, a causal model by definition contains arrows from causes to effects. My model that [volcano]-->[sunset] is such a causal model.

That I have constructed such a model is quite different from saying that the volcano itself is "directed at" the sunset, or any of the intervening phenomena such as emitting dust.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Coward:

'Translation: "I am too lazy and/or stupid to do formal reasoning, so I will bandy about vague words whose meanings I redefine to suit my purposes, and glorify it with a fancy name."'

So humor me; how exactly does Judea Pearl work shed light on the metaphysical issues under discussion? Let us start with his book "Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference". The first two paragraphs of the preface read, and I quote:

"The central aim of many studies in the physical, behavioral, social, and biological sciences is the elucidation of cause-effect relationships among variables or events. However, the appropriate methodology for extracting such relationships from data - or even from theories - has been fiercely debated.

The two fundamental questions of causality are: (1) What empirical evidence is required for legitimate inference of cause-effect relationships? (2) Given that we are willing to accept causal information about a phenomenon, what inferences can we draw from such information, and how? These questions have been without satisfactory answers in part because we have not had a clear semantics for causal claims and in part because we have not had effective mathematical tools for casting causal questions or deriving causal answers."

In the next two paragraphs he oversells the accomplishments, and in the fifth comes a confession:

"Ten years ago, when I began writing Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems (1988), I was working within the empiricist tradition. In this tradition, probabilistic relationships constitute the foundations of human knowledge, whereas causality simply provides useful ways of abbreviating and organizing intricate patterns of probabilistic relationships. Today, my view is quite different. I now take causal relationships to be the fundamental building blocks both of physical reality and of human understanding of that reality, and I regard probabilistic relationships as but the surface phenomena of the causal machinery that underlies and propels our understanding of the world."

So humor me. How exactly are Bayesian causal networks relevant to the metaphysical issues under discussion? This will be fun.

Scott said...

"You don't seem to understand the difference between model and reality."

What, that a model has arrows in it and reality doesn't? What do the arrows mean, then?

"My model that [volcano]-->[sunset] . . . is quite different from saying that the volcano itself is 'directed at' the sunset, or any of the intervening phenomena such as emitting dust."

Translation: "That 'volcano' points to 'sunset' in my model isn't in any way intended to imply that the volcano points to the sunset in reality. I just put arrows in my diagram for no reason other than that they make it look all sciencey."

You don't seem to understand the relationship between model and reality. Helpful hint for future reference: "My model refers to and depends on features not found in reality" means "My model is wrong."

dover_beach said...

What Scott said. It's as if anon has wondered into a field strewn with rakes with his eyes closed even though we've warned him to take care and to look before he takes a step. It was amusing to begin with but now I'm concerned for his health and safety.

Anonymous said...

Let me explain slowly. A volcano has many many effects. It moves rocks around, heats up the ocean, kills bunnies. More to the point, any physical event exerts an influence on every other physical event that is contained in its downstream lightcone.

So if I understand you folks correctly, because there is a causal connection between the volcano and the sunset, and also this one tiny rock a mile away being displaced by an inch, thereby the volcano is thereby /directed/ at both of these events and every other event in its lightcone?

I realize I was slightly confused about which word you are redefining. It’s not causality, you are redefining /directed/, so that it apparently is possible for something to be directed everywhere at once.

FZ said...

>A volcano has many many effects.
>directed everywhere at once.

Pick one. I'm pretty sure they don't mean both of these.

FZ said...

Oderberg's rock cycle, anyone?

urban jean said...

You guys are not going to discomfort the Darwinian naturalist by saying to him "You claim to eschew teleological explanations. But your account is causal and hence teleological. So you are being inconsistent." He will simply deny your metaphysics of causation and carry on as before. What you have to do is persuade him that certain of the terms he uses, such as 'selection for', have hidden teleological roots, and that's where you need Fodor's argument. You have to show him that even on his own terms he is helping himself to a teleological form of explanation.

Anonymous said...

If volcanoes creating pretty sunsets is an example of teleology, then there's nothing particularly special about natural selection, is there? That is, natural selection is no more and no less a challenge to the naturalist than any other process where you could draw explanatory diagrams with arrows linking the steps. Or that's what I understand or misunderstand from the discussion so far.

I'm asking from the POV of someone who's been reading intelligent design/creationist attacks on Darwin for a great many years. So far as I can tell, this teleology argument has absolutely nothing to do with those debates--the issue is on a deeper level and could be conducted without reference to any specific scientific theory, which is why Aristotle could be right about this and mostly wrong about everything he ever said in the area of physics.

Donald

Anonymous said...

If volcanoes creating pretty sunsets is an example of teleology

It’s not – that was my point.

then there's nothing particularly special about natural selection, is there?

Physical laws only work with forward causation – that is, they have no goals, no final causes. However, through the magic of feedback (and natural selection is an example of a feedback process), you can have goal-directed processes that operate on top of a purely mechanical substrate. That is what makes natural selection, or the bee’s purposive attitude towards flowers, possible and special.

The Deuce said...

I believe that Fodor’s attempted reductio of Darwinian theory is a modus tollens of modus tollens

Fixed it for him.

Anonymous said...

Nitpick:

Physical laws don't work. Matter works.

ozero91 said...

What about bacteria?

Consciousness, intelligence and neural structures don't seem to be a requirement for goal directedness.

Anonymous said...

"If volcanoes creating pretty sunsets is an example of teleology"

"It’s not – that was my point."

I wish the other anonymouses would label themselves. I'm the "Donald" anonymous.

Anyway, I think you're the naturalist in the thread and I understand the naturalist viewpoint, more or less. I'm trying to understand the Aristotle/Aquinas viewpoint, at least as it is being presented here. One of the things I'm trying to understand is if they have any beef with Darwin's theory of natural selection in particular, or if the argument is at some deeper level. I think it's the latter and that they are claiming that teleology is something one finds everywhere, in falling rocks and Mie scattering and also in natural selection. If I can get that established maybe next I'll wonder about what exactly they mean, and then whether their argument is convincing, but I'm not even in the ballpark of trying to figure that out yet.

Donald

ozero91 said...

Donald, if you are interested, here is a bit on inorganic teleology:

http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2011/01/10/reading-selections-from-teleology-inorganic-and-organic-david-s-oderberg-part-ii/

George LeSauvage said...

@Anonymous (10:25)

"Physical laws only work with forward causation – that is, they have no goals, no final causes."

But the point is that this causation IS forward. If there were no teleology to efficient causes, then your volcano would sometimes spit out fish into the sea, and sometimes release perfume. The fact that efficient causes (what you call "forward") consistently cause the same things, is precisely what their teleology is.

(Of course, IRL, the volcano is really a complex of events, but I'll use it, as that's what's been said so far. What it is really directed toward is spewing dust into the air. The dust causes the refraction. And the refraction causes us to see red. In each case there is an efficient cause with a final cause--that is, the effect it reliably produces.)

Scott said...

"It's not – that was my point."

Of course it's not. The mystery is why you would expect anyone here to disagree.

The carelessly wielded baseball bat that breaks the heirloom China doll is in some way "directed" toward breaking fragile things, so much so that the bat's breaking the doll just is the doll's being broken by the bat; it's one event looked at from two different perspectives.

But the bat isn't directed toward making Mommy cry. That event is a consequence much further "downstream" and the bat itself isn't its efficient cause; there's a complex causal series/network between the one and the other, and there's a hell of a lot more to it than the action of the bat.

No one here has said or would say otherwise, so your volcano/sunset caricature is simply irrelevant.

@Donald:

"I wish the other anonymouses would label themselves."

So do I. Your way at least works.

An even better way, though, is to use the "Name/URL" option under "Choose an identity" (above the "Publish Your Comment" button). The name doesn't have to be real; it just has to differentiate you from the other posters.

"One of the things I'm trying to understand is if they have any beef with Darwin's theory of natural selection in particular, or if the argument is at some deeper level. I think it's the latter and that they are claiming that teleology is something one finds everywhere, in falling rocks and Mie scattering and also in natural selection."

It is indeed the latter. A-T has no beef specifically with the occurrence of evolution by genetic natural selection, although it certainly objects when the theory is applied outside its scope or used as a basis for metaphysical "deductions" that are not only wrong but inconsistent with the theory itself. The underlying issue is just what you've said: a complete account of causation involves teleology, specifically final causes.

Scott said...

@Donald:

"If volcanoes creating pretty sunsets is an example of teleology . . . "

To clarify what I suggested in my previous post, it's not an example of directedness of volcanoes toward sunsets. But of course there is teleology involved anyway, just not a direct link from "volcano" to "sunset" such that the volcano "aims at" or "points toward" sunsets.

A volcano, in A-T terms, doesn't even count as a substance, so we should really be talking here about its physical constituents—and we should be getting the precise details from volcanology, not from metaphysics. The point is just that, whatever it is the constituents of the volcano do have as their immediate effects, they're in some way "directed" or "pointed" toward those effects, not toward longer-term consequences that depend on other, further conditions for their realization.

Anonymous said...

To clarify what I suggested in my previous post, it's not an example of directedness of volcanoes toward sunsets. But of course there is teleology involved anyway, just not a direct link from "volcano" to "sunset" such that the volcano "aims at" or "points toward" sunsets.

So where I said "directed", substitue "directed*" which is the transitive closure of the one-step directedness relationship.

Scott said...

"So where I said 'directed', substitu[t]e 'directed*' which is the transitive closure of the one-step directedness relationship."

Why? Are you trying to get wronger?

The relation of "directedness" we're discussing here is obviously not transitive. You're the one who seems to want to insist that Parts of the volcano are inherently directed toward throwing up ash and Atmospheric conditions in which there's ash between the sun and an observer are inherently directed toward making the sunset appear red somehow implies that Parts of the volcano are inherently directed toward red sunsets.

Anonymous said...

But the point is that this causation IS forward. If there were no teleology to efficient causes, then your volcano would sometimes spit out fish into the sea, and sometimes release perfume. The fact that efficient causes (what you call "forward") consistently cause the same things, is precisely what their teleology is.

That is another divergent use of language. The process of forward causation does not involve teleology, just physics.

FZ said...

"The process of forward causation does not involve teleology, just physics."

Begs the question. Where's your argument?

Anonymous said...

"The process of forward causation does not involve teleology, just physics."

Begs the question. Where's your argument?


Let's put it this way: you can predict the forward evolution of a physical system very well without recourse to any teleological explanations or ideas.

That does not prove, of course, that it isn't the Divine Will of the Creator who set everything up so that when electron a pushes electron b, there is not some purpose involved. I don't know how you would prove that. Similarly, you can't prove that the entire universe didn't pop into existence 5 seconds ago, complete with a fake history and fake memories. It just doesn't seem like a very parsimonious or useful idea.

FZ said...

"you can predict the forward evolution of a physical system very well"

So you don't see how this brings you right back to George's post...

Anonymous said...

Ozero and Scott--Thanks for the replies. Ozero's link is what I need, but it'll take awhile to read it with the care needed.

On my anonymous status--I may try to establish a name/url later.

Donald

dover_beach said...

"you can predict the forward evolution of a physical system very well without recourse to any teleological explanations or ideas."

That you can predict these effects indicates teleology; that is precisely the point.

"That does not prove, of course, that it isn't the Divine Will of the Creator who set everything up so that when electron a pushes electron b, there is not some purpose involved."

Oh dear, you're still not getting it. Teleology isn't about "electron a push[ing] electron b" for some specific purpose, but about electrons having specific effects; effects that are of interest to physicists and chemists.

Anonymous said...

Teleology isn't about "electron a push[ing] electron b" for some specific purpose, but about electrons having specific effects; effects that are of interest to physicists and chemists.

Funny then how physicists and chemists manage to their work without reference to teleological concepts (in the usual sense, not whatever contorted meaning you folks seem to be using).

Teleology, as the word is normally used, does not mean "having specific effects", it means having purpose or design. If you are going to invent private interpretations for words, it makes communication impossible.

I'm growing exceedingly bored and will probably shut up now unless somebody manages to make a point that doesn't entirely depend on arbitrary redefinition of terms.

George LeSauvage said...

One thing to keep in mind is that the causes we look for aren't necessarily the proximate causes of things. This arose here in the volcano example.

To illustrate, take a murder case. The doctor doing the autopsy is looking for the exact cause of death (what the bullet did). The bullet is the efficient cause, the wound is the final cause, here.

He sends the slug to ballistics. Here, they are trying to identify the model of the gun (and the specific gun, if they can get it and compare). Here, the gun is the efficient cause, the marks on the bullet are the final cause.

The detective gets both reports, and tries to use them to identify and arrest a suspect, who is the efficient cause of the crime. His arrest is the final cause of the detective.

And so on....

But once again, the very notion that "you can predict the forward evolution of a physical system very well" entails the very teleology denied ("without recourse to any teleological explanations or ideas"). For the teleology is the thing predicted. If there were no teleology, then there would be no predictable effect. End of story.

ozero91 said...

This might clear up semantic problems with regards to teleology.

http://www.epsociety.org/userfiles/art-Feser%20%28Teleology%29%281%29.pdf

Step2 said...

I know, and yet Anon and Step2 seem oblivious to the arrow's significance in this and that discussion.

Volcanic ash is able to cause red sunsets at great distance if atmospheric condition are right, but the "if" is a probability branch in the "aboutness" of the first cause. Maybe you know what those probabilities are for that particular effect and other distant indirect effects in order to make it determinately significant, but I don't.

Scott said...

@Donald:

"On my anonymous status--I may try to establish a name/url later."

Just FYI, you don't have to set up an account or anything; just click the radio button next to "Name/URL" and type "Donald" into the text box that appears.

dover_beach said...

Anon (not Donald):
"Funny then how physicists and chemists manage to their work without reference to teleological concepts (in the usual sense, not whatever contorted meaning you folks seem to be using)."

This comment again demonstrates that you are still walking in a field of rakes with your eyes wide shut and be-clowning yourself. We are talking about what is assumed by the scientist in conducting his/her investigation; that they should not be self-consciously employing teleological concepts is beside the point since the concepts themselves are intrinsically teleological (which is what has been argued here all along).

"Teleology, as the word is normally used, does not mean "having specific effects", it means having purpose or design. If you are going to invent private interpretations for words, it makes communication impossible."

Wiki should give us an idea here of its 'ordinary' usage: "A teleology is any philosophical account that holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that, analogous to purposes found in human actions, nature inherently tends toward definite ends.

'Definite ends' is strikingly similar to 'specific effects'.

Setting that aside, I would have thought that its technical usage by Aristotle or Aquinas would be more relevant than whatever happens to be ordinary usage.

"I'm growing exceedingly bored and will probably shut up now unless somebody manages to make a point that doesn't entirely depend on arbitrary redefinition of terms."

Portrait of a Village Atheist.

Step2:
"Volcanic ash is able to cause red sunsets at great distance if atmospheric condition are right, but the "if" is a probability branch in the "aboutness" of the first cause."

Yes, but we are only concerned with the ability of volcanic ash to cause the effect of red sunsets where the circumstances are conducive; we are not saying that it will in each and every instance regardless of the circumstances. The volcanic ash has such a potential or potency. The conditions are what actualize this potency.

George LeSauvage said...

I think the problem is that Anonymous (the exceedingly bored one who posted at 4:41) cannot shake the notion that teleology really means "conscious intention." And that the rest of us are trying to redefine it for our own purposes.

It doesn't, and we aren't.

George LeSauvage said...

(Posted my last comment too soon.)

This is analogous to the problem with other AT arguments. People have taken for granted that the current presentation is the correct one, indeed, the only one until someone recently tried to "Feser it" into something it never was.

Here, it is to ignore the fact that teleology never did mean what Anon says: "Teleology, as the word is normally used, does not mean "having specific effects", it means having purpose or design. If you are going to invent private interpretations for words, it makes communication impossible." Anon is reading some modern claims back on to Aristotle, et al. And then claiming we are "inventing" when we are just being Aristotelian.

Among others things, it ignores that what others have said needs refuting, per se. When challenged that efficient causes entail certain following effects, and not others, it's not enough to say "but that's not what we moderns mean by teleology."

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that Anonymous (the exceedingly bored one who posted at 4:41) cannot shake the notion that teleology really means "conscious intention."

Don't know where you got that idea.

Bacteria have teleology, because they are a result of a feedback process. They don't have conscious intention.

-- still bored

FZ said...

"Bacteria have teleology, because they are a result of a feedback process."

How do you define "feedback process?"

Wouldn't blackbody radiation, CO2 absorption by oceans and atmospheric water vapor be feedback processes? If so, does that mean climate change is teleological?

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to imply that all feedback processes result in teleology, only that in the case of living systems, it is the feedback of natural selection that results in purposiveness emerging from the non-purposive substrate of physics.

Some people think that the climate constitutes a living system (the Gaia hypothesis) but I think they are wrong.

George LeSauvage said...

@Anonymous:

Well, you HAD said "Teleology, as the word is normally used, does not mean "having specific effects", it means having purpose or design."

Now you say something like that exists in non-conscious ways, but only in living things.

But why? Because in living things it is "purposive"? How is that different, in itself, from the proposition that all causes are inclined to have certain effects, and not others?

And finally, you have yet to really respond to the arguments in favor of Aristotelian teleology, but only objected to the use of the term. (Note that, though this usage may seem new to you, it is really the older use.) What about the concept, per se. Not liking it is no refutation.

Anonymous said...

But why? Because in living things it is "purposive"? How is that different, in itself, from the proposition that all causes are inclined to have certain effects, and not others?

Purposiveness is like pornography -- hard to define perhaps, but you know it when you see it (in fact it is likely we have innate perceptual hardware for seeing it).

IOW, a rock rolling downhill and a bee flying around in search of nectar are both following physical laws, both are being controlled (in a sense) by their environment, but it is easy enough to call one purposive and the other not. The bee's path is more complex, for one thing, and visibly oriented towards a goal (and yes, the rock's path is oriented towards the bottom of the hill, but we don't seem to have much trouble distinguishing the situations).

ozero91 said...

The Scholastics already differentiated between living and non living causation, hence the technical terms such as transeunt and immanent causation. Both involve final causality.

Anonymous said...

What reason to we have for justifying complexity as a criteria for teleology?

Step2 said...

Yes, but we are only concerned with the ability of volcanic ash to cause the effect of red sunsets where the circumstances are conducive; we are not saying that it will in each and every instance regardless of the circumstances.

So you admit it is a probability branch and I don't have any reason to grant that you know the probabilities.

dover_beach said...

Step2:
"So you admit it is a probability branch and I don't have any reason to grant that you know the probabilities."

It wouldn't even be in a 'probability branch' if it lacked the power of causing red sunsets.

BTW, I notice Anon is still walking in a field of rakes.