Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Philip Kitcher, bait-and-switcher


Here’s a thumbnail history of philosophy and science since the early modern period, in three stages.  First, the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition had by the beginning of this period hammered out a conception of the natural world that is at the same time unified and radically anti-reductionist.  It is unified insofar as to all natural phenomena we can apply the theory of act and potency, the hylemorphic analysis of material substances, the doctrine of the four causes, and other components of Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  It is radically anti-reductionist insofar as it affirms that certain divisions in nature -- between the inorganic and the organic; between the merely “vegetative” or non-sentient forms of life and the sensory or animal forms; and between the merely sensory or animal forms of life and the distinctively rational or human form -- are nevertheless differences in kind rather than degree.
 
Then, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and Co. inaugurated a new, mathematical conception of the world which eschewed formal and final causes and the rest of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  Its dramatic predictive and technological successes in physics would lead to the dream of unifying all of the sciences in a reductionist way, with the new mathematical physics being that to which everything else would be reduced.  The differences in kind affirmed by the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition would turn out to be differences in degree, merely more complex variations on the same kind of stuff physics tells us about.  The high tide of optimism about this program was probably the logical positivist movement of the early twentieth century. 

Finally, by the late twentieth century it became clear that positivism was a failure and that no reductionist program would succeed.  Moreover, the traditional Aristotelian divisions in nature stubbornly persisted: The irreducibility of rational life to sub-rational forms of life manifested itself in the failure of projects in contemporary philosophy of mind to provide a naturalistic account of the “propositional attitudes”; the irreducibility of sentient life manifested itself in the failure of attempts in the philosophy of mind to provide a naturalistic account of “qualia”; and regarding the reduction of the organic to the inorganic, as atheist philosopher Alva Noë writes, “we don't have any account of how life springs forth from the supposed primordial soup.  This is an explanatory gap we have no idea how to bridge.”  (See David Oderberg’s contribution to Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics for a recent Aristotelian defense of the irreducibility in principle of the organic to the inorganic.)

As the century ended, a small group of Neo-Scholastics, joined by a few neo-Aristotelian defectors from the ranks of analytic philosophers, stood at the back of the crowd, barely audible above the din, yelling: “Helloooo… um, guys?  Told you so!”  The few others in the back who heard gave a puzzled shrug and went back to reading Jobs for Philosophers

Jump to the present, and the controversy over Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  As I noted in my series of posts on the controversy, though it is not clear that he realizes it, in his views regarding rationality, consciousness, and the origins of life, Nagel has essentially recapitulated the traditional Aristotelian division -- and Noë, in responding to Nagel, does so too, at least implicitly.  I also noted how the standard shtick among Nagel’s critics was to express incredulity that Nagel should think reductionism anything other than a straw man.  “Hey Tom, the 1960s called -- they want their copy of The Structure of Science back.  Don’tcha know there ain’t nobody in here anymore but us non-reductionists?”

I also noted, though, that this response cannot suffice.  For the problem facing a “non-reductive naturalist” is to show exactly how his view fails to collapse into either some form of dualism (or perhaps panpsychism, neutral monism, or other non-materialist position), or a return to the Aristotelianism that the contemporary naturalist’s early modern ancestors were supposed to have moved us beyond for good.  Nagel, who sees the problem, opts in part for a kind of neo-Aristotelianism. 

At the Opinionator blog at The New York Times, philosopher of science Philip Kitcher has offered his own fair minded and non-polemical response to Nagel’s book.  William Carroll has replied to Kitcher, from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, over at Public Discourse.  Give them both a read. 

To what Bill says in reply to Kitcher, I would add the following.  Like other Nagel critics, Kitcher agrees that reductionism has failed.  The “Newtonian vision” promised a “cosmos in which everything would be explained on the basis of a small number of physical principles.”  But this, Kitcher says, is not what science has actually delivered.  It has given us “no grand theories, but lots of bits and pieces, generating local insights about phenomena of special interest.”  And the future of science promises to continue in this vein, taking us beyond “the illusion of unity” and replacing it with “an enormous and heterogeneous family of models.” 

What about the specific aspects of nature emphasized by Nagel?  Kitcher doesn’t seem to dispute that they have not been explained the way reductionistic science and naturalistic philosophy promised.  He acknowledges that “we lack a physico-chemical account of life” and indeed that the problem of giving such an account “hasn’t been directly addressed by the extraordinary biological accomplishments of past decades.”  And he allows that scientists have an “incautious tendency… to write as if the most complex functions of mental life — consciousness, for example — will be explained tomorrow.”

So, what then is Kitcher’s alternative answer to the questions reductionist science and naturalistic philosophy have failed to answer, and to which Nagel offers a (partially) neo-Aristotelian answer?  He doesn’t have one.  Instead he suggests that we stop asking the questions.  More precisely, with respect to the nature of life, he proposes: “[D]on’t ask what life is (in your deepest Newtonian voice); consider the various activities in which living organisms engage and try to give a piecemeal understanding of those.”  He recommends taking a similarly piecemeal approach to answering questions about mind, and forgetting about whatever won’t succumb to this method.  “With luck, in a century or so, the issue of how mind fits into the physical world will seem as quaint as the corresponding concern about life.”  For “philosophy and science don’t always answer the questions they pose — sometimes they get over them.”

Well, “get over it” is, needless to say, not an answer we would accept in other contexts.  When you give the cashier a twenty for the three dollar coffee you just purchased and he hands you back seven dollars, “Get over it” is no answer to the question “Where’s the other ten?”  When you go into the hospital for an appendectomy and awaken to find your legs missing, “Get over it” is no answer to the question “What the hell did you do to me?!”  And, needless to say, “Get over it” is no answer Kitcher or any other naturalist would accept in response to criticism of a theological proposition.  So why should we give naturalists a pass we wouldn’t give to theologians, surgeons, and cashiers? 

It’s worse than that, though.  For when someone offers you a unified explanation of the world -- as Nagel does, in a very sketchy way, and the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition does in a rigorously worked out way (and a way that can incorporate what we’ve learned from modern science, as present day representatives of the tradition have shown) -- it is no response whatsoever to say: “Well, I’ve got this alternative view of the world on which there is no unified explanation.”  The only thing to say to that is: “Um, thanks for sharing, but I’ve just given you a unified explanation.  So what you need to do, if your rejection of it is going to be rational, is to show me exactly what is wrong with it, and not just question-beggingly assert that there is no explanation, or that acceptable explanations have to fit into your Procrustean philosophical bed.”

Actually, it’s worse even than that.  For the main philosophical selling point of naturalism has, of course, always been the idea that it can explain everything its rivals can but in a more economical way.  The original claim was that we don’t need all that Aristotelian metaphysics (or the Cartesian, idealist, or other non-naturalistic metaphysics that replaced it) in order to account for rationality, sentience, life, etc.  Ockham’s razor and all that.  And Ockham’s razor, of course, says: Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity.   It doesn’t say: Don’t multiply entities when doing so would be tantamount to an embarrassing admission that naturalism can’t after all perform as advertised.  And if it turns out you do need the entities for explanatory purposes, then multiply away.

Nagel’s proposal is like that of the honest salesman who gives you a refund when his product doesn’t do what he said it would do.  I’m sorry ma’am, here’s your money back.  You should have stuck with Aristotelianism rather than that new-fangled Elixir of Materialism I was peddling.  In fact I now rep the Stagirite brand myself!

Kitcher’s proposal, by contrast, makes of naturalism (whatever his own intentions) something of a bait and switch.  Naturalism will explain mind, life, etc.?  A unified metaphysical picture of the world?  Did I say that?  Hmm, doesn’t ring a bell, lady.  Must’ve been some other salesman.  Anyway, the check’s cashed and you already signed the contract.  But hey, have a look at these really interesting recent findings of molecular biology.  Might lead to some new pharmaceuticals…

Or to switch metaphors, Kitcher’s brand of naturalism transforms it into something like a politician accused of corruption, who repeatedly and indignantly denies the charges made against him -- until the evidence of his guilt becomes overwhelming, after which he dismisses the charges as old news, no big deal, not as bad as what his opponent is guilty of, etc.  Of course naturalism will explain life, mind, the whole ball of wax.  And, mark my words, in a reductionist way.  Anyone who says otherwise is a bigoted ignoramus.  Except that, well, yes, there are all these problems with our accounts of life, mind, etc.  And yes, reductionism is a failure.  But come on, we’ve always known that.  Nobody cares.  Why do you keep bringing it up? 

Not that Kitcher himself is playing politics.  As I said, his remarks on Nagel are fair-minded and non-polemical.  But his approach is, I think, hopeless.  And if you don’t know that political concerns are driving a lot (not all, but a lot) of the response to Nagel, you haven’t been reading the reviews. 

59 comments:

Crude said...

Like other Nagel critics, Kitcher agrees that reductionism has failed.

One thing that has surprised me about the Nagel reviews is how his book marked an odd public turning point - the moment where, even as reviewers went on the attack against him, they near universally did so by way of quickly abandoning (or presenting themselves as having abandoned) the very philosophical schools of thought he was principally targeting. I think the two themes I've seen played out in response to Nagel - the immediate abandonment of reductionism, and the hasty erection of some of the most wishy-washy, content-lacking versions of materialism I've ever seen - have been more damning than Nagel's actual book in some ways.

davidtchua said...

Maybe I'm missing something but I thought Kitcher is the one who advocates the unificatory account of scientific explanation? Isn't unification of diverse phenomena precisely the mark of good scientific explanation by Kitcher's own standards of scientific explanation? (Or perhaps I've misunderstood the scope of Kitcher's theory?)

Robert said...

I think I am confused on why you repeatedly claim that reductionism is a failure.

Do you have a specific example that actually falsifies it?

Jeff said...

It strikes me that what Kitcher advocates is analogous to what physicists advocated decades ago: "Shut up and calculate!"

Daniel Joachim said...

@Robert

You probably noticed the part about "mind, life, etc"? That would include the problem of consciousness, intentionality and so on.

Anyway, Feser has dealed with this to a large extent in other posts and his books. As he says: This blog is a compliment to those who are already familiar with the content of his earlier writings.

Robert said...

@Daniel Joachim

Thanks. Any of those other writings in particular that you would suggest that specifically identifies something that actually falsifies reductionism?

Daniel Joachim said...

@Robert

Depends on what you mean with "falsify". If you mean like an empiricist Popperian voyage, you're likely to end up disappointed, as the issue at hand is primarily philosophical.

As Thomas Nagel argues, the problem with the origin of life, consciousness, mind, rationality, etc, isn't just that they represent materialist "scientific" holes (where some Theist might insert his "god"), but that they are in principle impossible.

Feser in "The Last Superstition", "Aquinas" and this blog, tries to argue how a return to Aristotelian teleological metaphysics can help advance science and better explain reality, where materialist reductionism just don't get off the starting line.

If interested: Another account is actually physicist Stephen Barr, providing an account from Quantum Physics, on how the human mind can't be entirely physical.
http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/does-quantum-physics-make-it-easier-believe-god

Robert said...

@Daniel Joachim

Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

Ed,

At least as the human sciences are concerned, you could sketch out a 4th stage:

The rejection of human nature (singular) for human natures (plural):


Some noteworthy pieces:


Human nature or human natures?

http://www.cgee.org.br/atividades/redirKori/7896



Can evolutionary psychology evolve?

http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2011/08/can-evolutionary-psychology-evolve.html




Human BioDiversity Reading List:

http://www.humanbiologicaldiversity.com/



...

Will Dunkirk said...

Every achievement and advance of science just makes the question of how we did it more glaring; I mean, it makes the human mind and the nature of human understanding more remarkable.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Robert

Any time. You're entering an utmost exciting realm of ideas! :)

@Zahid Ali

Now, that's actually one of the most coherent arguments I've heard against the God of classical theism from a New Atheist in a while! (Pun intended)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude wrote:
"One thing that has surprised me about the Nagel reviews is how his book marked an odd public turning point - the moment where, even as reviewers went on the attack against him, they near universally did so by way of quickly abandoning (or presenting themselves as having abandoned) the very philosophical schools of thought he was principally targeting...the immediate abandonment of reductionism"

This isn't a reaction to Nagel, but has been a popular view since the 1970s. E.g., see Fodor's highly influential book from 1975 'Language of Thought'. The introduction is an attack on reductionism. Major influence on all this was Hilary Putnam (e.g., Minds and Machines, published in 1960).

Perhaps ironically for those at this site who would tend to reject computationalism about mind, antireductionism was a natural (if misguided) byproduct of thinking of the mind in computational terms, thinking the implementation-level details didn't matter.

Similarly, this is not some new reaction for Kitcher, he has been antireductionistic since the 1980s (at least), for instance his highly influential paper '1953 and all that: a tale of two sciences.'

Nagel has not precipitated an abandonment of reductionism, but perhaps an awareness, outside of professional philosophy, of antireductionist tendencies that are extremely prevalent among materialist philosophers.

I think it has been on the downturn lately, so perhaps some have presented themselves as abandoning antireductionism, but I have not seen one example of this in response to Nagel.

Gene Callahan said...

@Robert:

You might note that reductionism is almost immune to falsification: its failure to reduce X to atoms (or whatever) can always be explained as "We just haven't quite gotten there yet."

Hallvard N. Jørgensen said...

A few books that might be of interest here are John Dupres "The disorder of things: The Metaphysical foundations of the disunity of science," and Steven Horst's "Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of mind and post-reductionist science." Chapter 3 in Horst's bears the title "The demise of reductionism in philosophy of science."

Hallvard N. Jørgensen said...

Well, what do you know. Horst's book is available online, as a doc-file. Just google "Beyond reduction," and there it is.

Anonymous said...

It is radically anti-reductionist insofar as it affirms that certain divisions in nature -- between the inorganic and the organic; between the merely “vegetative” or non-sentient forms of life and the sensory or animal forms; and between the merely sensory or animal forms of life and the distinctively rational or human form -- are nevertheless differences in kind rather than degree.

This passage indicates that you don't understand reductionism at all.

I don’t think even the most reductionist biologist would have any problem saying that there is a difference “in kind” between a cat and a pile of rocks.

You insistence on collapsing all reductionism to a radical eliminativism that almost nobody believes is a classic straw man tactic.

donjindra said...

That "rigorously worked out" "unified explanation of the world" got us relatively nowhere until Galileo et al ignored it. So why should we expect our hero with 18 centuries of failure and 4 centuries of exile to suddenly ride back into town and save the day? How long before we pass from ancient doctrine to the point we actually see this neo-scientific advancement? No pressure, but we moderns are a hopeful yet impatient bunch.

Flamingo art said...

Metaphysics first.
Mathematics second
Physical sciences third.

They all have their own proper objects. Don't mix them up..
Refer to "Division and Methods of Sciences by Thomas Aquinas for the real distinctions.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Your remarks indicate that you don't understand what an Aristotelian means by "a difference in kind not degree" at all.

Here's a tip when reading a blog post: Keep in mind that it's a blog post. I cannot be expected to offer a miniature course on Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature every time I want to comment on the op-ed du jour. Most regular readers around here understand where I'm coming from and read what I write in light of that.

Crude said...

BDK,

This isn't a reaction to Nagel, but has been a popular view since the 1970s.

It may not be a view caused by Nagel's book, but it's in the reviews of Nagel's book that mark the first time I've seen widespread, immediate and clear denunciations of reductionism by philosophers, and at the same time some of the most limp-wristed definitions of materialism in response. I think there have been plenty of opportunities for philosophers to come out in force talking about reductionism being dead - but for whatever reason, it took Nagel's book to get them to actually do it.

Ty said...



Donjindra: "That "rigorously worked out" "unified explanation of the world" got us relatively nowhere until Galileo et al ignored it. So why should we expect our hero with 18 centuries of failure and 4 centuries of exile to suddenly ride back into town and save the day? How long before we pass from ancient doctrine to the point we actually see this neo-scientific advancement? No pressure, but we moderns are a hopeful yet impatient bunch."

Dear Donjindra,

I have been lurking here for about seven months. I have had the opportunity to read many, MANY of your comments, and let me tell you that you never seem to have even the slightest clue what you're talking about. If this were just one or two posts, it wouldn't be so bad--but for (at least) SEVEN MONTHS I have read you bash A-T metaphysics without even bothering to understand it.

As for Galileo + modern science, the Aristotelian would argue that you cannot have *either* of them without Aristotelianism. All of science works with a sufficiently refined understanding of Aristotle--none of it works in the reductionist, scientistic understanding of science that you always assume because that understanding is *incoherent*. It doesn't even get off the starting block.

You're like a twelve year old racing dozens of Olympians in the 100m dash. You have no experience, no training, no understanding of sprinting mechanics, and your shoes are tied together--but still you try.

I'm sure you're intelligent, but you never even attempt to understand *why* Feser says what he does, which annoys me to no end. Dguller, on the other hand, is one of the most valuable commenters here because he keeps me and everyone else from feeling too cozy in our classical worldview. He knows what he's talking about. He takes Aristotle, Aquinas, and Feser *seriously* even when he disagrees with them. He spends hours trying to take down Divine Simplicity and the analogia fidei. He always has something to contribute. And he is most emphatically *not you.*

For the love of God, or at least for the love of Physics, can you please try to *understand* what we're talking about instead of strawmanning it into oblivion?

Thanks,

Ty

Ty said...


"This passage indicates that you don't understand reductionism at all.

I don’t think even the most reductionist biologist would have any problem saying that there is a difference “in kind” between a cat and a pile of rocks.

You insistence on collapsing all reductionism to a radical eliminativism that almost nobody believes is a classic straw man tactic."

I think Feser and you both mean different but related things when you say "reductionism". Feser is speaking from his Aristotelian, technically precise vocabulary. You are speaking as a scientist. The two meanings are related and do tie together somewhere, but the problem is that you're missing what Feser means when he says "x cannot be reduced to y."

From a (coherent) philosophical perspective, for example, my body cannot be reduced to the organs and cells and other parts that make it up. But if by "reduce" you mean "If some body part x makes the body do y then the function y can be 'reduced' to x", then there is no trouble, because you don't mean the same thing. From an Aristotelian perspective, the ability to "reduce" the body like this is just discovering the efficient causes x of the body, which is pretty much the only thing scientists and medics need to worry about when they're trying to find out what makes the body do stuff like dying and how to make it do other stuff, like not dying. There is nothing wrong with this from our perspective at all. It's just the way philosophically illiterate scientists (there are many) *reason* from this 'reduced' body to whatever almost always betrays a *real* philosophical reductoinism that does not follow. they do not *intend* to do this because they are unaware or unable to realize that they are seeing scientific practice through a very specific lens, one that is not necessary--and one that actually makes science unintelligible. It's not enough to interfere with scientific practice, because the scientific method itself is basically refined Aristotelian mechanics plus some applied mathematics (in the case of physics).

Anonymous said...

From a (coherent) philosophical perspective, for example, my body cannot be reduced to the organs and cells and other parts that make it up.

That’s not very coherent, since it depends entirely on what “reduced” actually means.

If the Aristotelian perspective is just that there are higher forms for things like organs and bodies, and we are obligated to think in those terms to understand the natural world, then I think there is no argument. However, the scientific position is that the behavior of bodies and organs is entirely determined by the underlying physical processes, without the insertion of any extraneous metaphysical magic. In that sense, the world is reductionist, even if our models of the world cannot practically be reductionist.

Anonymous said...

In that sense, the world is reductionist

citation needed

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude I think it's just that people aren't exactly knocking down philosophers doors for interviews. This is really not news. The Churchlands used to get attacked for being reductionists, thought to be passe and naive in the "computational" generation (obviously they also got attacked for eliminative materialism, but that was really the flip side of their neuro-reductionism).

I have noticed that many people at Christian sites (e.g., Dangerous idea) tend to underestimate how major nonreductive physicalism is as a position. They tend to dismiss it as undeveloped or some such. I haven't pushed it there because it was usually people like Ilion, so why bother....but perhaps it is something people simply don't know about.

That said, there is a "new wave reductionism" that has spread a bit, which is good because the arguments against reduction (at least from Fodor etc) I always found very weak.

This is all somewhat orthogonal to Aristotelian antireductionism, which seems an entirely unique species. Not that I understand it.

Crude said...

BDK,

Crude I think it's just that people aren't exactly knocking down philosophers doors for interviews.

I disagree. It's not like the the Notre Dame book reviews are some recent thing, or that there aren't books that generate a lot of talk in the appropriate circles. Actually, a good place to look here would be Chalmers - since he also made a good amount of noise along the lines of 'reductive physicalism just won't work here'. Granted, his scope was broader than that, but the point is that I don't recall this big response of 'Well who cares, reductive physicalism is only held by fringers anyway' at the time.

Not to mention, you mention DI. Now maybe my memory fails me, but I don't ever recall you yourself presenting reductive physicalism as some largely abandoned intellectual turf among naturalists.

I have noticed that many people at Christian sites (e.g., Dangerous idea) tend to underestimate how major nonreductive physicalism is as a position.

Because 'nonreductive physicalism' has this nasty habit of either turning out to fudge on the nonreductive end, or fudge on the physicalism end. Ed discusses this in part (and with some time spent on computationalism, in fact) in The Last Superstition. Ever read it?

Ty said...

"That’s not very coherent, since it depends entirely on what “reduced” actually means.

If the Aristotelian perspective is just that there are higher forms for things like organs and bodies, and we are obligated to think in those terms to understand the natural world, then I think there is no argument. However, the scientific position is that the behavior of bodies and organs is entirely determined by the underlying physical processes, without the insertion of any extraneous metaphysical magic. In that sense, the world is reductionist, even if our models of the world cannot practically be reductionist."

Yes! Progress! What you've done is nail down a Kantian/proto-positivist conception of form. It's not quite what Aristotle had in mind, but it's extremely close:

1. You're assuming that the "higher forms" are mind-dependent and don't *really* exist. Since we can determine how to manipulate a thing without direct reference to its form or any metaphysical propositions derived from its form, form is something extraneous that we impose on the thing.

This does not follow. Form is not "metaphysical magic"--the magic reference insinuates that you're trying to make it an efficient cause: "If I poke the form here, x happens". Nononononono. This is the fault of the Churchlands and company. You're not going to get anywhere trying to apply form to scientific practice, and nobody ever said you would, so taking the concept down because it's not scientific is impossible.

The Aristotelian argues that efficient causes (the things that make x do stuff and thus the things that can be captured with science) *are only intelligible* if form and formal causuality are real mind-independent parts of the world. If this is correct, then to coherently claim that science paints an objective picture of the natural world is to concede the objective reality of form. That is the structure of the argument that Feser explains here and elsewhere.

Ty

Anonymous said...

"As the century ended, a small group of Neo-Scholastics, joined by a few neo-Aristotelian defectors from the ranks of analytic philosophers, stood at the back of the crowd, barely audible above the din, yelling: “Helloooo… um, guys? Told you so!” The few others in the back who heard gave a puzzled shrug and went back to reading Jobs for Philosophers."

It is only a minor point, but I would question this statement. Aren't there many more voices questioning the scientistic naturalist orthodoxy from various traditional and related positions? Or are professional, analytically trained philosophers only being referred to?

Take, for an example, HRH Charles, Prince of Wales. He has a long history of opposing reductionist naturalism, under the influence of those associated with The Temenos Academy and others like them. Or we could mention the traditional Churches themselves.

There is a world of philosophical thought outside professional philosophy departments. Indeed, there are many people with a great interest in philosophy who pay very little attention to the current fads and foibles of analytical philosophy. I would always encourage breaking down further the intellectual authority claimed by philosophy departments.

Bush Hater said...

Professor Feser. I was wondering if your opinion on Shrubya has changed since your cringeworthy paean to him some time back when you claimed against all common sense that: "The main reason Bush is hated by the left, everyone knows, and it is the same reason Sarah Palin is hated by them. He was hated above all for his adherence to Christian morality, and in particular his opposition to abortion and “same-sex marriage."

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100225652/george-bush-mellows-on-gay-marriage-america-is-trending-pro-gay-and-anti-abortion-and-republicans-know-it/

Will you now admit that Bush is in fact a willing servant of the Antichrist who despises God and his unbreakable covenants commanding that man shall not lie with man nor woman with woman and that Bush's sole motivation for Iraq was the annihilation of its ancient Assyrian Catholic community and the betrayal of God's mercy delivered through the Prophet Jonah?

donjindra said...

Dear Ty,

It's odd that you've had the opportunity to read many, MANY of my comments over a seven month period since I've posted maybe a dozen comments over that period. And I can't really defend my position since Feser doesn't want me around. But you're simply wrong. I understand A-T very well (if 'understand' is the appropriate word).



The Deuce said...

Because 'nonreductive physicalism' has this nasty habit of either turning out to fudge on the nonreductive end, or fudge on the physicalism end.

Indeed. I think this is exactly why so many of Nagel's reviewers claimed to have abandoned the position Nagel was attacking, but were nevertheless so palpably enraged at him for attacking it. They want to keep the implications of reductionism (where politically convenient to them anyhow) but not the burden of defending it, hence the fudging. When a philosopher of stature comes right out and actually works out the implications of non-reductionism, they get uncomfortable.

Ty said...

"Dear Ty,

It's odd that you've had the opportunity to read many, MANY of my comments over a seven month period since I've posted maybe a dozen comments over that period. And I can't really defend my position since Feser doesn't want me around. But you're simply wrong. I understand A-T very well (if 'understand' is the appropriate word)."


1. You're forgetting that this blog has around for longer than seven months. Just because I've been reading the blog for the past seven months doesn't mean I've only been reading things posted between now and then.

2. No, you do not.

George LeSauvage said...

To me, what is puzzling is that we are often told that Aristotelianism "failed" because it somehow made modern science impossible for those who accepted it. But exactly why it so failed, has never been clear.

The most I've seen is that somehow people who believed in final causes wouldn't investigate efficient causes. Which is not very plausible. (Frankly, I believe Gutenberg had more to do with the scientific explosion than Galileo and Bacon.)

Ty said...



"To me, what is puzzling is that we are often told that Aristotelianism "failed" because it somehow made modern science impossible for those who accepted it. But exactly why it so failed, has never been clear.

The most I've seen is that somehow people who believed in final causes wouldn't investigate efficient causes. Which is not very plausible. (Frankly, I believe Gutenberg had more to do with the scientific explosion than Galileo and Bacon.)"

I thought about this for quite some time, and I might have an explanation.

If we examine the era just preceding the Scientific Revolution, we have the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers, on the whole, hated scholasticism. Both Luther and Calvin were nominalists, fideists, and voluntarists to the nth degree, and as their thoughts trickled into European consciousness, several offshoots of nominalism/fideism/voluntarism emerged:

1. Human reason is broken, and there is no intersection between the capital T Truth and our feeble conceptions of little truths. This anti-intellectualism frowns upon time spent doing metaphysics in the Ivory Tower.

2. Philosophy in general is just word-play with things beyond the human mind. There is no "form" of a book, there is just that papery thing that you read. This derives from 1, and emphasizes concrete sense experience over abstraction, because "abstractions are bullshit!"

This is mostly nominalism.

3. Praxis is closer to truth than theoria. This comes from the voluntarism of Luther and especially Calvin. God is not bound by our categories, which insinuates that our categories have no objective reality. God can *do* stuff, though, and we can study that. This is pretty much theological mechanics: "I don't *care* if your theory makes sense--does it work?" and "Shut up and calculate!" are the next two steps.

All together, these trends made Mechanics seem the stick that measured all of human thought.

What was Aristotle bad at?

Mechanics.

Of course, mechanics in our modern sense isn't possible without the Aristotelian distinction between efficient and final causuality. Aristotle didn't develop the scientific method, but the scientific method cannot exist without Aristotle.

Most people don't know this because general understanding of our philosophical heritage is shitty.

They also don't know much about the history of science.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude wrote:

>>>Actually, a good place to look here would be Chalmers - since he also made a good amount of noise along the lines of 'reductive physicalism just won't work here'. Granted, his scope was broader than that, but the point is that I don't recall this big response of 'Well who cares, reductive physicalism is only held by fringers anyway' at the time.

The big response against him was due to his antimaterialism, not his antireductionism. He is actually a pretty hard-core reductionist, but just thinks that physicalism doesn't provide a broad enough reducing base.

That is, he doesn't think consciousness can be reduced *to physics*. He thinks we need mental properties as fundamental in order for the reductive enterprise to work. So he is a reductionist, but includes nonphysical properties in his reducing base. See his recent book 'Constructing the World' to see just how tenaciously reductionist he is. The second coming of Carnap's aufbau.

>>>Not to mention, you mention DI. Now maybe my memory fails me, but I don't ever recall you yourself presenting reductive physicalism as some largely abandoned intellectual turf among naturalists.

I would not say it is largely abandoned, but that its popularity has dropped off. It is still popular. And for some phenomena I think it is the right approach (see third link below).

In terms of things I've written at other blogs, in a post I link to below, I wrote "Note I'm not endorsing nonreductive physicalism. I tend toward reductionism myself. I was just blocking the factually incorrect claim that reductive materialism is synonymous with materialism. There are plenty of nonreductive materialists, it was indeed the mainstream between 1970 and 2000 or so in philosophy of mind (before that, mind-brain identity theory was all the rage)."

I discussed nonreductive physicalism here and here and even briefly here a couple of years ago here.

In a comment above, I wrote:
"I have noticed that many people at Christian sites (e.g., Dangerous idea) tend to underestimate how major nonreductive physicalism is as a position."

Crude replied:
>>>Because 'nonreductive physicalism' has this nasty habit of either turning out to fudge on the nonreductive end, or fudge on the physicalism end.

My point was sociological. It is major in the sense of popular (still popular despite the fact that it is no longer *the* dominant position), not necessarily sound or reasonable. And the commenters at Christian sites tend to be largely in the dark about this position.

While it is less popular than the 80s and 90s, this is not because of Nagel's recent book. That was my point: the claim that Nagel's recent book has spawned this exodus from reductionism seems incorrect. I have seen zero evidence for it, and people like Kitcher have consistently been antireductionist.

Of course in response to your last sentence, we could argue about the merits/liabilities of nonreductive materialism, but that would be a different topic.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Just to clear up things more on Crude's claim about Chalmers. Crude said:
" I don't recall this big response of 'Well who cares, reductive physicalism is only held by fringers anyway' at the time."

Note he didn't just attack reductive physicalism, but all forms of physicalism. Also, his book was 1996, and nonreductive physicalism was losing its stranglehold at the time, even though it still was probably the most popular view.

One of the main turning points that blocked the stranglehold was Kim's work (e.g., 'Myth of nonreductive physicalism') in the late 80s. Churchland's vigorously pro-reductionistic work starting in the mid-80s probably played a role too, consistently arguing against the weird 1970s view that we don't need to study brains to understand minds.

So you are right there has been movement away from nonreductionistic materialism, but it started happening about 25 years ago, and the field has slowly shifted since.

I think one thing that has happened is that people just didn't find the reductionism/antireductionism debates productive or useful. Each side had good points, each side had their "perfect" examples (e.g., mousetraps versus temperature), but ultimately it seems to have not afforded much progress in practice, and people moved on to more concrete questions instead of making general claims about being reductionist or antireductionist (tout court).

Anonymous said...

BDK,

You act like the fashions of analystical philosophers are somehow linked to the truth, as if philosophy were like natural science and generally progressed, getting more and more accurate.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: not at all. I was simply remarking on the trends, not their validity. Whether they are right or not is a different topic I was not commenting on, as I indicated at the end of my second-to-last comment.

Crude said...

BDK,

While it is less popular than the 80s and 90s, this is not because of Nagel's recent book. That was my point: the claim that Nagel's recent book has spawned this exodus from reductionism seems incorrect. I have seen zero evidence for it, and people like Kitcher have consistently been antireductionist.

I didn't say that Nagel's book spawned an exodus - the book reviews I'm citing are almost all negative ones, with regards to Nagel's claims. What I do notice is that a number of the reviews of Nagel end up dismissing reductionism in pretty strong terms. You may think it's still somewhat popular, but some of the reviews seem to indicate otherwise - in fact, that's part of their Nagel criticism. ('These would be a problem primarily for the reductionist materialist, but pff, who are they anyway?' in essence.)

He is actually a pretty hard-core reductionist, but just thinks that physicalism doesn't provide a broad enough reducing base.

I don't think this distinction matters - materialism, including materialist reductionism, was definitely in his sights. And I also don't think it's correct to say Chalmers is a hard-core reductionist, certainly with regards to the mind. Last I checked he was toying with panpsychist kind of ideas, or mental-as-fundamental. No reduction going on there, at least not reducing the mental to the non-mental.

My point was sociological. It is major in the sense of popular (still popular despite the fact that it is no longer *the* dominant position), not necessarily sound or reasonable. And the commenters at Christian sites tend to be largely in the dark about this position.

Again, I disagree. If anything I think it's the non-reductive materialists who are in the dark about it themselves. You should find the absence of non-Christians bringing up non-reductive materialism at DI to be pretty telling - they'll happily bring up just about anything else.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude you just wrote:
"I didn't say that Nagel's book spawned an exodus"

But opened with:
"two themes I've seen played out in response to Nagel - the immediate abandonment of reductionism"

As for Chalmers, to get more clear on that I suggest looking over his recent book constructing the world. Or his paper 'Conceptual Analysis and Reductive Explanation.' I think you are not appreciating just how tenaciously reductionistic he is. As I said, second coming of the aufbau. He attacked reductive physicalism (about subjectivity, not intentional thoughts (take note Aristotelians) or hearts or stars or weather patterns).

This is beside the point: his reductive/nonreductive view wasn't controversial. It was his antimaterialism that specifically got people riled up. Though it is easy to miss his reductionism in his 1996 book if you don't read it closely. It is there, but not very explicit. It is more explicit now.

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude wrote:
" You should find the absence of non-Christians bringing up non-reductive materialism at DI to be pretty telling"

LOL....

donjindra said...

Ed,

I don't expect you to chime in now but "for the love of God," as Ty put it, maybe you could someday clarify a matter. I think you argue the "Aristotelian philosophy of nature," with its "rigorously worked out" "unified explanation of the world" was rejected by the moderns. The new boys on the block, the purveyors of reductionist science, said, "we don’t need all that Aristotelian metaphysics." So they ignored it. I don't believe I've taken you out of context.

Yet Ty asserts I don't understand you. Supposedly "[a]ll of science works with a sufficiently refined understanding of Aristotle" -- that same metaphysics you claim they ignored. It can't be both ways. Either they ignored it or they didn't. So I'm wondering where Ty got this idea since it appears to contradict you above. If "none of [science] works in the reductionist, scientistic understanding of science" (Ty), does the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition have a different definition of "works" than most of us have? I mean, for me the fact that modern science "works" is apparent. I don't think you deny this since you refer frequently to its "dramatic predictive and technological successes."

So if, as Ty asserts, modern science's "understanding" of itself "doesn't even get off the starting block" without Aristotle, it would seem that this sort of "understanding" has little to do with what "works" and less to do with using it -- at least so far. It would seem, by historical evidence, that it can be safely ignored if all we care about is what "works." It doesn't matter if Ty or you or anyone else claims the scientific method is not possible without Aristotle. If believing or not believing something has no effect, that belief is irrelevant. And we're arguing about angels on a pinhead.

But to be generous, maybe what Ty means, and what I suspect you mean, is that your neo-science would "work" better than "reductionist" science, at least on certain problems.

If this is the case it's appropriate to ask why that same Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition did not "work" well in the past. It's even more appropriate to ask why we would expect it to "work" better in the future. I realize you might not like these questions. But if you don't want to be accused, like Kitcher, of suggesting we stop asking the impertinent questions (and that maybe this cessation is the real meaning of "works" in this context), you're going to have to face these questions sooner or later. Nothing is stopping your neo-science from making the next breakthrough. To be trite, the proof of the pudding is in its eating.

Scott said...

@donjindra:

"It can't be both ways. Either they ignored it or they didn't."

Of course it can be both ways. They ignored it but implicitly relied on its concepts (or eventually reintroduced near-equivalents) anyway. Ed has addressed this many times over many years.

Jeremy Taylor said...

"I mean, for me the fact that modern science "works" is apparent. I don't think you deny this since you refer frequently to its "dramatic predictive and technological successes.""

Works in what sense? You clearly mean that modern science has been quite good in its explanation of the material, quantitative aspects of reality, and that its applied side, technology, has been quite good at proliferating inventions and gadgets.

Why should we define works only in this way? It would seem to rely on us taking a naturalist perspective to begin (and even then I'd think most naturalists want more than this - and men in general, and society, certainly do).

If one is traditionally religious then the kind of way in which modern science works must have a rather low ultimate usefulness, and one may well be able to suggest several traditional civilisations that worked much better.

"or what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Ty said...

"Ed,

I don't expect you to chime in now but "for the love of God," as Ty put it, maybe you could someday clarify a matter. I think you argue the "Aristotelian philosophy of nature," with its "rigorously worked out" "unified explanation of the world" was rejected by the moderns. The new boys on the block, the purveyors of reductionist science, said, "we don’t need all that Aristotelian metaphysics." So they ignored it. I don't believe I've taken you out of context.

Yet Ty asserts I don't understand you. Supposedly "[a]ll of science works with a sufficiently refined understanding of Aristotle" -- that same metaphysics you claim they ignored. It can't be both ways. Either they ignored it or they didn't. So I'm wondering where Ty got this idea since it appears to contradict you above. If "none of [science] works in the reductionist, scientistic understanding of science" (Ty), does the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition have a different definition of "works" than most of us have? I mean, for me the fact that modern science "works" is apparent. I don't think you deny this since you refer frequently to its "dramatic predictive and technological successes."

So if, as Ty asserts, modern science's "understanding" of itself "doesn't even get off the starting block" without Aristotle, it would seem that this sort of "understanding" has little to do with what "works" and less to do with using it -- at least so far. It would seem, by historical evidence, that it can be safely ignored if all we care about is what "works." It doesn't matter if Ty or you or anyone else claims the scientific method is not possible without Aristotle. If believing or not believing something has no effect, that belief is irrelevant. And we're arguing about angels on a pinhead.

But to be generous, maybe what Ty means, and what I suspect you mean, is that your neo-science would "work" better than "reductionist" science, at least on certain problems.

If this is the case it's appropriate to ask why that same Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition did not "work" well in the past. It's even more appropriate to ask why we would expect it to "work" better in the future. I realize you might not like these questions. But if you don't want to be accused, like Kitcher, of suggesting we stop asking the impertinent questions (and that maybe this cessation is the real meaning of "works" in this context), you're going to have to face these questions sooner or later. Nothing is stopping your neo-science from making the next breakthrough. To be trite, the proof of the pudding is in its eating."

Donjindra, I'd like to apologize. I was a bit harsh before. In any case, thank you for what you just posted. You've asked good questions.


Your problem is that you're assuming that all claims to knowledge must be substantiated empirically, through the scientific method or something like it. The problem with this is that it ignores the metaphysical underpinnings of the scientific method--where it came from, what it implicitly assumes, and so forth.

George LeSauvage said...

donjindra:

I think the answer is simply that your question shifts focus. The question is whether the metaphysics adopted by the early moderns, works. The answer Feser gives is "no". But the way you phrase your question, it really is asking whether the science descended from them works. And to that, the answer is "yes". That is, the underpinning rationale of modern science is faulty, but that doesn't prevent people from using it. I can drive my car, but I sure don't understand the workings. In the case of science, the problem arises when scientists try to answer questions their method isn't designed to handle.

Anonymous said...

Of course it can be both ways. They ignored it but implicitly relied on its concepts (or eventually reintroduced near-equivalents) anyway. Ed has addressed this many times over many years.

So, science is Aristotelian and you are just miffed because they don't give him and his acolytes the proper credit? Seems rather childish and petulant, certainly not worth all this blogfuss.

Crude said...

BDK,

But opened with:

Yep. All you have to do is read the reviews to see what I mean - Nagel gets taken to task, presumably, for even taking materialist reductionism seriously, and 'materialism' gets defended in the most wishy-washy ways possible. All materialism means is 'no spooky stuff'? When a professional philosopher is giving that line, even in a review, it's pretty damning.

And like I said - I haven't really seen this widespread acknowledgment of reductive materialism before. I didn't see it with Chalmers, certainly. When one of the leading counter-replies to Nagel is 'well reductive materialism is nonsense anyway', that's a pretty interesting indication of the state of the game, so to speak.

I think you are not appreciating just how tenaciously reductionistic he is.

I can grant that he is - it simply isn't relevant when his reductionism isn't materialist. He did go after the materialists of all stripes, including the reductive materialists - and I never really saw, at that time, any indication that people considered that a waste of time on the grounds that reductive materialism was some fringe view anyway. They did say that as much with the eliminativists, which hasn't really changed since then.

LOL....

LOL, nothing. The fringier ones on there have never met an argument for materialism or atheism they didn't like, yet they won't go to the bat for non-reductive physicalism. Even your own comments mostly seemed to define it and point out 'it's out there, this is really a thing'. I just don't think there's much to it once you actually look at it - or at least, it sure seems an awful lot like either reductionism niced up, or redefining the 'physical', the usual game.

Crude said...

To build on George's point: insofar as 'modern science' works, it's entirely compatible with Aristotilean metaphysics anyway - and 'modern science' itself descended from explicitly theistic thinking, which it's also compatible with.

That's why it's inane to make it sound as if Aristotileans need to get in the laboratory and do some work. What's going on in the laboratories, what's going on in research, insofar as it's actually science at all, are practices and methods and reasoning that fits just as well with Aristotilean thought as it does various other metaphysical views. (Idealists aren't, and shouldn't be, threatened by much of anything done in the lab - to give one example.)

That may tick off some naturalists and materialists who like to think of science as 'theirs'. But sorry gents - it ain't. You can own your eliminative materialism, your conviction that you don't exist and whatever other metaphysical views you care to. But science? That's our 'pudding' too, and you're sharing it, like it or not. And we don't have to take a helping of your metaphysics down with it either - that we can pitch into the trash.

Yum.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: Of course it can be both ways. They ignored it but implicitly relied on its concepts (or eventually reintroduced near-equivalents) anyway. Ed has addressed this many times over many years.

Many, many times. But I may as well remark that it goes beyond saying that they were rejecting Aristotelianism when they weren't, or even thinking that they were, or even not using it explicitly although it remained there under the hood — one of the changes that did happen when people started becoming "scientists" instead of "natural philosophers" is that they stopped being, well, philosophers, and so their opinions about what philosophy they thought was powering their work became the opinions of laymen — apart from all these formal reasons why the claim of Mediaeval retardation is wrong, there are also the material reasons: the notion that the Mediaeval understanding of nature was stagnant and then suddenly took off when the Renaissance ditched formal and final causes violently contradicts the historical facts. Roger Bacon, often called a "father of the scientific method" was a contemporary of Aquinas, for crying out loud! And of his teacher, Albert Magnus, another acknowledged great early scientist who also happened to be a great student and proponent of Aristotle. (It would be too simplistic to credit the rise of Aristotelianism — not its rejection — with the development of modern science, but it fits the facts a lot better than the Columbus-wanted-to-prove-the-earth-was-round-sized myth that "everybody knows".)

The Scientific Revolution was not a turning of the tables, but a turning of the wheel, the continuing advancing of a wheel that had been revolving for centuries. Renaissance and Enlightenment[sic] propaganda aside, early modern scientists made such progress because they were, as Newton put it, "standing on the shoulders of giants" (which metaphor also came from... that's right, the Mediaevals).

Ty said...


"So, science is Aristotelian and you are just miffed because they don't give him and his acolytes the proper credit? Seems rather childish and petulant, certainly not worth all this blogfuss."

No. Science implicitly depends on final and formal casuality, so any attempt to eliminate them by appealing to science is self-defeating.

pauld said...

George LeSauvage says:

"I think the answer is simply that your question shifts focus. The question is whether the metaphysics adopted by the early moderns, works. The answer Feser gives is "no". But the way you phrase your question, it really is asking whether the science descended from them works. And to that, the answer is "yes". That is, the underpinning rationale of modern science is faulty, but that doesn't prevent people from using it. I can drive my car, but I sure don't understand the workings. In the case of science, the problem arises when scientists try to answer questions their method isn't designed to handle."

I agree with the statement as far as it goes, but I think it is helpful to provide further elaboration. The early moderns devised science based on the assumption of mythological naturalism. For the purpose of conducting science, they assumed that matter and the natural laws that govern matter were all that exist. They limited the scope of science to detecting natural causes. This assumption allowed science to develop and achieve great success in describing how matter behaves. The mistake Mr. Feser would argue they made is that they made their method (i.e. methodological naturalism) into their metaphysical worldview (philosophical naturalism, i.e. the belief that matter is all that exists and that all reality can be explained by the interactions of matter governed by natural laws). The jump was made by many without even recognizing that there was a difference between the two.

Dr. Feser would acknowledge that philosophical naturalism works well to describe much of reality that can be measured and observed. The question is whether philosophical naturalism can provide a coherent framework for understanding all of reality. Dr. Feser would say no. Philosophical naturalism runs into its first problem when it attempts to explain undeniable aspects of our mind, in particular, the fact that our minds exhibit consciousness, intentionality and rationality. These problems and the difficulties of explaining them within naturalistic framework are explained at length elsewhere by Dr. Feser. Suffice to say, many atheist philosophers who have thought carefully about these problems recognize the magnitude of the problem they present for philosophical naturalism.

Alex Rosenberg, for example, follows what he believes is the logical consequences of philosophical naturalism and ends up with what I believe is an unattractive, nihilistic and, ultimately, incoherent metaphysical world view that Dr. Feser has discussed at length on his blog. Thomas Nagel attempts to conceive how the mind can be explained within a framework of philosophical naturalism and concludes that it cannot. He does not believe that the Materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature provides an adequate metaphysical framework for understanding all of reality, but he has difficulty proposing a well thought out alternative.
Now to the heart of the matter. Just as most people can drive cars without understanding how they work, most people give little thought to developing a coherent metaphysical world view. So why does any of this matter to anyone outside the field of philosophy?
It matters because one must have a metaphysical framework to answer the "big" questions in life: does God exist or not? Why does anything exist at all? Do objective moral values exist? If objective moral values exist, how do we discover what they are? Does life have meaning and purpose?
Philosophical naturalism provides answers to these questions. Dr. Feser argues, however, that his metaphysical system provides rational and coherent answers to these questions and that philosophical naturalism does not. That is what the debate is about and why it is important.

Crude said...

The early moderns devised science based on the assumption of mythological naturalism. For the purpose of conducting science, they assumed that matter and the natural laws that govern matter were all that exist. They limited the scope of science to detecting natural causes.

I don't think this is true. For one, aren't you thinking of 'methodological naturalism' here? Second, I don't think the early moderns even had 'natural' relevantly defined enough to do what you were speaking of. And third, they wouldn't need to 'assume that matter and natural laws were all that exist', even methodologically - and that assumption wouldn't be strict enough anyway.

pauld said...

yes, of course I meant methodological naturalism. I am not sire how such an embarrassing typo got through but I suspect it wasy spell checker

Anonymous said...

Strong writing.

Coming from science (not philosophy of science) background I have one question for professor Feser or any of his collegues.

Do you have some vision what happens if your neo-Aristotelian position becomes more accepted?

Ty said...



"Strong writing.

Coming from science (not philosophy of science) background I have one question for professor Feser or any of his collegues.

Do you have some vision what happens if your neo-Aristotelian position becomes more accepted?"


What will happen to scientific *practice*? Nothing. Science as practiced in an Aristotelian framework is identical to science as practiced in a modern framework.

What will happen to our *understanding* of science? Oh boy. Scientists will remain the well-respected knights of knowledge they are now, but they will no longer be able to claim their field exhausts every method to reason rightly about the objective, external world.

(I leave out the subjective, internal world because even scientismists recognize that literature is important, and so on.)

Religiously, we will see a move towards the three great monotheistic religions, especially Catholicism, less so Islam. Among intelligentsia, Judaism may have more converts than Protestantism. This is assuming each tradition's attitude towards Aristotle and classical theism in general don't shift drastically, which may be wrong. Luther hated Scholasticism, for example, but it didn't take long for Protestant Scholasticism to pop up anyways.

Culturally, people will start to debate the ethics of artificial birth control. Abortion will seem indefensible, especially because abortion "ethics" depend on the Lockean split between a human being and a human person.

Everyone will stop telling the Catholic Church to "adapt to modernity" and to "change its teachings", because it will become abundantly clear that the modernity is absurd.

ganv said...

I keep coming back here because I am interested in the development of an argument against materialism that takes seriously the conclusions of modern science. But is seems you have not internalized the actual arguments of your opponents. They don't claim to provide comprehensive explanations. In fact, on materialism, you wouldn't expect the human mind to be the kind of thing that would be able to achieve comprehensive explanations. You claim 'I’ve just given you a unified explanation.' If someone did, then of course the argument would be over. But your side has nothing close to a unified explanation of the human condition in the universe. How did we get here? If some divine intervention was involved, what physical changes occurred at what times in history to produce what we see? The fact is that no one has any ideas for observable consequences of how God intervened that have been successful in predicting future measurements so that they attract serious scientists to follow that avenue of inquiry. If no divine intervention was involved, then materialism is looking good. On the mind/body problem it is the same. Without any ideas about how non-physical minds interact with physical bodies, dualism is not a comprehensive theory. It is only rhetoric and concepts. Of course materialism isn't a comprehensive theory either because they can't explain how a collection of neurons can come to understand quantum mechanics. But they can always self-consistently say that it is not clear if you expect a physical brain to be able to achieve comprehensive self-understanding. The reason materialism is winning the argument is that the predictions they make about what future measurements will find have been much closer to reality than the predictions of the dominant anti-materialist voices. And that ability to predict and control is so useful that whoever uses science comes to dominate in economic or ideological conflicts. The problem that you, Nagel and your philosophical style has in this argument is that you don't take physical reality seriously enough. Scientists have learned not to trust human reasoning and human rhetoric when it strays more than a few simple steps from empirical verification and analytic mathematical reasoning. And that style has turned out to be extremely useful. A successful argument against materialism has to be connected to physical observations. The problem I face is that the unavoidable conclusions from observations already rule out the things I was taught to believe about evolution and the reliability of science by the Christian community I grew up in. And most people who realize this fact seem to adopt an understanding of how the universe works that is physically indistinguishable from materialism. Philosophically and theologically there are all kinds of sophisticated ideas. But none of them seem to have any physically observable consequences that differ from the expectations of materialism.

Ty said...

ganv:

Thanks for your thoughts :).

"But none of them seem to have any physically observable conseuqences that differ from the expectations of materialism"

Quite true! The battle between Aristotelianism and materialism is metaphysical and doens't take place on the turf of modern science.

The problem with materialism is not that it "doesn't fit the data" perse. The problem with materialism is that it's not even coherent, and *for that reason* it can not be inferred from "modern science", much in the same way that "blakjdslkfjalsdkfjalskfjalsdkfasdf" can't be inferred from anything. It has no semantic content.

On human reason: What you said is only partly true. Technical science (math, physics, metaphysics) cannot contradict human reason because its principles *come* from human reason. It can contradict naive intuition, however. Nobody denies that.


This is why understanding the metaphysical underpinnings of science is so important. The first scientists didn't just go outside and investigate nature while everyone else discussed angels and pins.

The first scientists sat down in the Ivory Tower, developed the scientific method, and *then* went outside, because they had discovered (metaphysically) that experimentation was necessary for the sort of knowledge they were shooting for.