Thursday, September 18, 2014

The straw man that will not die


What’s more tiresome than reading yet another brain-dead atheist attack on the “Everything has a cause” straw man?   Having to write up a response to yet another brain-dead atheist attack on the “Everything has a cause” straw man (as I did not too long ago).  It’s like being Sisyphus on a treadmill stuck in reverse.  It’s like that annoying Alanis Morissette song.  It’s like that annoying parody of the annoying Alanis Morissette song.  It’s like swimming through a sea of confusion, on a dead horse you’re flogging with a hoe in a tough row of run-on mixed metaphors.  ‘Til the clichés come home.

I noted recently that Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. was making pretty much the same complaint (sans the YouTube link) over 40 years ago.  Turns out even he was late to the pity party by at least 75 years -- and indeed, beaten to it by another Fr. Clarke, S.J.  Dear reader, I give you the third edition of Fr. Richard F. Clarke’s textbook Logic, from the year 1895:

The reader will observe that the Law of Causation does not state (as some modern writers most unfairly would have us believe) that Everything that exists has a cause. In this form it is quite untrue, since God is uncreated and uncaused.  If it were worded thus, the objection, that we first formulate our universal law and then exclude from it Him on Whom all existence depends, would be perfectly valid.  But this is entirely to misrepresent our position.  It is one of the unworthy devices of the enemies of a priori philosophy.  (pp. 78-79)

Yes, you read that right: 1895.  (And that’s the third edition.)  Yet Steven Hales, Nigel Warburton, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, et al. still haven’t gotten the memo. 

The Church thinks in centuries.  The “skeptic” takes centuries to think.  If he ever does.  I think I’ll have my youngest son legally renamed “Fr. Clarke, S.J.” so he’ll be ready circa 2050 to offer yet another gentle reminder. 

189 comments:

Bob said...

Everything that begins to exist, begins to exist ex-materia.

I know of nothing that begins to exist ex-nihilo and I doubt that such an event is even possible.

That is simply about as far as one can go on intuition, or so it seems to me.

Timotheos said...

"The Church thinks in centuries.  The “skeptic” takes centuries to think."

That line's brilliant; got a nice G.K. Chesterton ring to it.

Alan Fox said...

What’s more tiresome than reading yet another brain-dead atheist attack on the “Everything has a cause” straw man?

Where did this latest "strawman" attack occur and who was the "brain-dead" atheist involved?

I

E.Seigner said...

@Alan Fox

Some are listed by the end. The latest is irrelevant, because it's as annoying as that Morrissette song.

Alan Fox said...

Some are listed by the end.

Oh, so it is just Steven Hales, Nigel Warburton, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett who are being called "brain-dead atheists", then and not someone else who has attacked a strawman.

Of the list of brain-dead attackers, were any considering Ed Feser's TCA?

E.Seigner said...

Bob: Everything that begins to exist, begins to exist ex-materia. | Says your ordinary sense-experience.

Bob: I know of nothing that begins to exist ex-nihilo and I doubt that such an event is even possible. | Says your personal incredulity.

In some philosophies this apparent dilemma is reduced or painted paler by positing degrees of reality, by giving substance to concepts like "more real" and "less real".

God is the ultimate absolute reality, whereas the universe is relative (or contingent or dependent and therefore lesser) reality. Creator is comparable to all-Mind, and creation is Creator's thought or imagination, and imagination is fundamentally illusory. Therefore the universe is basically an illusion at closer look.

Illusion is not unreal just so without argument. Illusion appears "real enough" for some purposes and some people, but can be transcended or "explained away" when examined rightly.

What would you get when arguing from facts inherent to this universe? You'd get a sure conviction "from nothing, nothing comes" side by side with creatio ex nihilo. If Creator is to create, then it must be because nothing's there and creation is needed. But if nothing's there, wherefrom then creation? If there be something to fashion the creation from, then basically creation is already there, and where's the need for creation?

Logically you'd get a creator who creates everything, and since the creator is real and really creating, therefore everything is real. But if every little thing is real and they fill all the space out evenly, then where would the creator fit in? You'd get rationally arguable atheism side by side with rationally arguable theism. And you'd get all the other known logical and experiential paradoxes, true and false, good and evil, warm and cold, pleasant and disgusting, all mixed up in one.

We run into all these contradictions and paradoxes consistently all around, therefore this is the truth of the matter. Therefore truth of the matter can be had despite all of these contradictions and paradoxes. Truth is consistency, therefore what ultimately matters in pursuit for truth is consistency with facts, not facts per se. Facts are contradictory and require organisation so that anything explanatory could be extracted, to arrive at what's "really real". Therefore facts are less real, their consistent organisation is more real, and so on up to the final analysis.

Alan Fox said...

Bob writes:

I know of nothing that begins to exist ex-nihilo and I doubt that such an event is even possible.

Indeed, if the law of conservation of mass and energy is (and it is certainly not negated by observation or experiment) correct the total of mass and energy in this universe remains a constant. There is no popping in and out of existence.

So it's a little more than personal incredulity.

The Scare-Crow said...

When will you people grow up and face reality? Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery. Think about it:

Causation is not a predicate

Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Existence

If Nothing comes to be without a cause then Nothing disproves the 'Principle of Causality' and thus First Cause 'Arguments' fail

If God Essence is his Existence then he can't perform Athematic whilst cycling and thus can't be all-powerful

Richard said...

"Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Existence".
Please, please tell me this is a joke.

Anonymous said...


Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery.


So because i-pods and brain surgery exists, God doesn't?

Right...

Irish Thomist said...

@Bob
I know of nothing that begins to exist ex-nihilo and I doubt that such an event is even possible.

Problem with that line of thinking is it isn't caused by nothing. Seems that your reasoning is trapped in a materialist prison. I suggest a jail break unless you like platonic shadows (i.e. what is not real).

Irish Thomist said...

@The Scare-Crow

If you have come to shoot fish in a barrel, well bad news we are not fish and this is not a barrel.
There are plenty of glass houses for you to throw stones at, this not being one of them.

Should I apply Poe's Law to your comment or is your blinding ignorance/arrogance here to entertain us as our whipping boy to make amends for the faults of the fools whose books you read; let me guess Dawkins et al?

I can be balanced and will learn from what is true no matter the source but if you think coming here to insult those you deem unenlightened I think you might find yourself more on the defensive - advice; find a flat earth blog instead.

Have a Nice Day.

Bob said...

@ Irish Thomist

Problem with that line of thinking is it isn't caused by nothing.

What isn't caused by nothing?

Bob said...

@Irish Thomist

Seems that your reasoning is trapped in a materialist prison.

Perhaps, though I definitely blame my physical senses for this state of affairs...

Daniel said...

Errrr 'The Scare-Crow' basically posted a number of stock-atheist platitudes ('Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Teleology', 'Kant proved Existence is not a predicate') and spliced them together for comic purposes. The skit on Quine's Cycling Mathematician Argument against Essentialism in God not being able to calculate whilst cycling is of the same type.

I will raise the game by adding:

Atheism proves the Kalam Cosmological Argument is false

So called 'objective-moral values' are hardwired into us by the Fregean Existential Quantifier

On second thoughts none of them seem that much worse than the 'What Caused God' objection does.

Anonymous said...


When will you people grow up and face reality?

The implication being that those who believe in God do so because they want a "magic sky daddy" to look after them, right?

But this confuses "because" as a psychological relation with "because" as logical relation. The latter indicates reasons for believing a conclusion (e.g. Aquinas's "Five Ways"), the former indicates subjective, psychological motive, which is indeed the first meaning of "because" that children learn.

If I were you, I'd stick to scaring crows.

Bob said...

@Daniel,

On second thoughts none of them seem that much worse than the 'What Caused God' objection does.


Is it really though?

The reader will observe that the Law of Causation does not state (as some modern writers most unfairly would have us believe) that Everything that exists has a cause. In this form it is quite untrue, since God is uncreated and uncaused. If it were worded thus, the objection, that we first formulate our universal law and then exclude from it Him on Whom all existence depends, would be perfectly valid. But this is entirely to misrepresent our position. It is one of the unworthy devices of the enemies of a priori philosophy. (pp. 78-79)


So, if I understand this quote; what is really stated by the Law of Causation is - some things that exist have a cause of their existence - but, of course, not everything.

So, I look around and see that everything - bar nothing in my experience at least - seems to have a cause of its existence.

As I said earlier, this cause is inevitably an ex-materia cause. I know of no actual Samantha Stevens moments to point to; thus I believe that I would be justified in re-stating that premise as follows:

Everything that exists has a material cause

(I await some evidence showing that this is not the actual case).


Thus if God exists, then God must have a material cause, since everything that exists has a material cause, until shown to be otherwise.

So "what caused God?" seems like a pretty good question actually.

*** Now I understand that God is defined as 'uncreated and uncaused', but I would then counter that the cause of the God is not a what, but a who (as in who defined God as such in the first place).

Anonymous said...

So, if I understand this quote; what is really stated by the Law of Causation is - some things that exist have a cause of their existence - but, of course, not everything.

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

Everything that exists has a material cause

Mind. Thoughts. Life. Quantum level effects.

It's trivial to come up with examples of very common things that exist which do not obviously have material causes, or which arguably and plausibly did not begin to exist.

Especially on materialist assumptions, where some things just have no explanation: they are brute facts.

Either way, all this establishes that A) it's not as easy to dismiss the question as you think, and B) you'll have to give an argument to do so.

Thus if God exists, then God must have a material cause, since everything that exists has a material cause, until shown to be otherwise.

This is of no help to the atheist, since if you conclude that God exists and has (or "must!" have a cause), theism is still true.

Moreover... you just said that everything that exists (based on your experience, rather than as a law of thought) has a material cause, and you know of no exception. So any exception you bring up, you automatically classify as a non-exception, based on your current experience?

Looks like there are some nice big holes to drive a truck though in that logic.

grodrigues said...

@Bob:

"Everything that exists has a material cause"

No one here disputes that everything that exists in the material universe has a material cause; and contrary to the infinitely elastic concept of "matter", that means anything and nothing, a precise account of what matter is can be given on demand.

So your objection, translated is: "I do not agree with the arguments for the existence of God."

What an impressive critique.

Georgy Mancz said...

@E.Seigner

Forgive me, but I find your post incredibly odd. I understand the doctrine of analogy might seem odd at first, but it's key to classical theism.

To infer Creation being an illusion, for example, you need
to be univocal about cognition in us and in God, not to mention identifying imagination and the intellect, which is at least dubious (and to me it seems manifestly false).

To address your very controversial point about creation ex nihilo - surely you realise God is not nothing?.. Creation is not actualisation of potencies, it is creation of actual being with potentials.

I'm terribly sorry, but I didn't manage to grasp the idea behind the passage about everything "filling up space", and therefore all the purported relevant inferences (including switching to consistency theory of truth).

Sorry if I sound a bit off, but I just don't see these alleged paradoxes and contradictions.

Kantian Naturalist said...

The only way to establish atheism as a position within a priori modal metaphysics is to demonstrate that the concept of God contains a contradiction.

I once tried to see if I could make that argument myself, and concluded that it can't be done. Briefly: the strongest claim that could be established on the line of thought I entertained is that the divine intellect is radically different from the human intellect, which of course no theist would demure from affirming.

So as an a priori modal metaphysical position, atheism cannot succeed.

Bob said...

@Annon,

Mind. Thoughts. Life. Quantum level effects.

All of these things have a material cause, as far as I am aware.

...

Anonymous said...

All of these things have a material cause, as far as I am aware.

The most charitable way to interpret this is as a plea of ignorance and a statement of advance philosophical commitment.

TheOFloinn said...

There is no popping in and out of existence.

Until it is necessary to assert that some things do not have causes. Then the virtual particles of quantum theory are trotted out for their turn on the stage. But I see in this thread that the opposite belief is being touted.

Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Existence

From which we conclude that Evolution does not Exist?

A later comment claimed that Evolution abolished the need for Telos; but that is absurd, since the telos is quite clearly advertised as "the origin of species." (Generic causes have generic ends.) More specifically, it is directed toward greater aptitude in a given niche; hence the term "ad-apt-ation."

Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery.

So because we can take selfies and follow the tweets of people called Kardashians, we can look down our noses on the people who invented the university?

Everything that exists has a material cause

And a formal cause, and an efficient cause, and a final cause?

Anonymous said...

Good to see Le Poidevin has started to get airbrushed out of these pictures.

Alan Fox said...

TheOFloinn wrote:

[quoting AF]

There is no popping in and out of existence.

Until it is necessary to assert that some things do not have causes. Then the virtual particles of quantum theory are trotted out for their turn on the stage. But I see in this thread that the opposite belief is being touted.


I don't think talking in terms of cause and effect correctly characterizes reality. I prefer to think in terms of interactions where at the simplest level, two particles can collide and both are changed in the collision. And quantum effects do not undermine the conservation of mass and energy.

Brandon said...

Thus if God exists, then God must have a material cause, since everything that exists has a material cause, until shown to be otherwise.

But, of course, people don't say that God lacks a material cause for no reason; they have quite extensive arguments for it that they claim have, in fact, shown otherwise. Nor is this any elaborate secret; it's a common topic in natural theology and you can easily find them yourself. Thus what actually needs to happen is that you need to show why these arguments fail, given that merely saying that things have material cause "as far as you know" and "in your experience" is about the weakest argument imaginable. Certainly nobody here has reason to think Bob's speculative guesses based on his experiences are better arguments than any of the arguments that have existed for centuries that Bob's speculative guesses are wrong.

Alan Fox said...

...merely saying that things have material cause "as far as you know" and "in your experience" is about the weakest argument imaginable.

What other way of knowing is there than by experience? What can you know of the world about you other than what arrives in your consciousness via your sensory pathways? Had you been born blind and deaf and raised by a robot in a room that you could never leave, what would you know of the world?

Bob said...

The most charitable way to interpret this is as a plea of ignorance and a statement of advance philosophical commitment.

If that makes you feel better about it, go for it.

I interpret as not making stuff up to advance any philosophical commitments, but ymmv.

Anonymous said...

I interpret as not making stuff up to advance any philosophical commitments,

Oh, you want to not make stuff up to advance any philosophical commitments? Cool. Here's a recommendation then.

"Everything to begins to exist has a cause."

No need for "material", since it runs counter to experience in various situations. Heck, considering we only have experience with thought, not the material (see Berkeley) then "material" is extraneous too.

Awaiting explanation of why we really need to "make stuff up", so long as it curiously aligns with the conclusion you'd like... and no more. I think that's a transparently obvious game, but ymmv.

Brandon said...

What other way of knowing is there than by experience? What can you know of the world about you other than what arrives in your consciousness via your sensory pathways? Had you been born blind and deaf and raised by a robot in a room that you could never leave, what would you know of the world?

Do you normally respond to things with irrelevant questions as if they were relevant? Your questions equivocate on what is meant by the phrases; none of them are relevant to the point. I will be interested to see the reactions you get when you go around defending kooks who say that species don't transform into other species "as far as they know" and "in their experience", or that the earth is flat "as far as they know" and "in their experience" by lecturing everyone on the importance of experience. In reality, of course, it's a blatant logical fallacy, and I'm not really sure why you're wasting everyone's time by insisting on it as if it were some kind of argument that weren't regularly associated with looney-tunes kooks.

Bob said...

@Brandon,

But, of course, people don't say that God lacks a material cause for no reason; they have quite extensive arguments for it

Sure they do, but upon closer inspection, they no longer stand up.

given that merely saying that things have material cause "as far as you know" and "in your experience" is about the weakest argument imaginable.

I agree with Alan Fox here.

Certainly nobody here has reason to think Bob's speculative guesses based on his experiences are better arguments than any of the arguments that have existed for centuries that Bob's speculative guesses are wrong.

Simply show me some actual reason to believe that your position may be correct, else all we have is words.

Brandon said...

Sure they do, but upon closer inspection, they no longer stand up.

And you, being intellectually lazy, have done nothing to show that this is so. I return to you your hypocritical words:

Simply show me some actual reason to believe that your position may be correct, else all we have is words.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Alan Fox

What other way of knowing is there than by experience? What can you know of the world about you other than what arrives in your consciousness via your sensory pathways? Had you been born blind and deaf and raised by a robot in a room that you could never leave, what would you know of the world?

I'm not delighted about the thought-experiment as posed here, but it almost gets at the right issues. And since the issues are generating some of the tensions here, it's worth making them explicit.

There are, speaking quite roughly, three different positions that Western philosophers have taken towards a priori assertions.


(1) at least some features of reality can be known a priori (ancient, Scholastic, and rationalist metaphysics);

(2) all knowledge of reality is based on experience alone, and there is no a priori knowledge; a priori assertions are "true by meaning alone", and ultimately nothing but tautologies (Hume, Mach, early Wittgenstein, logical positivism, Quine (sort of));

(3) there is a priori knowledge, but such knowledge consists in explicating the constitutive rules of our conceptual framework (Kant, pragmatism, C. I. Lewis, Sellars).

The whole point of contemporary Scholasticism, as I understand it, that that both (2) and (3) lead (in slightly different ways, maybe?) to idealism, skepticism, and nihilism. So if you want to preserve common-sense realism, we should adopt (1) as a our position about a priori knowledge: that at least some features of reality can be known independently of all experience.

Alan Fox said...

Brandon wrote:

I will be interested to see the reactions you get when you go around defending kooks who say that species don't transform into other species "as far as they know" and "in their experience", or that the earth is flat "as far as they know" and "in their experience" by lecturing everyone on the importance of experience.

In my experience, species do not transform into other species. What appears to happen is that part of a breeding population (species) becomes isolated (geographically is an obvious case) and differences in selective pressure (warmer, colder drier, wetter, different food sources, predators) will allow those populations to evolve on separate pathways that means the two populations can no longer interbreed. It's a bifurcation - a parting of the ways. The theory comes from observation and experiment.

The Greeks were seafaring folk. Experience with horizons soon reinforced the idea that the Earth is approximately a sphere.

There's no other way to find out about the world except via your sensory inputs. Oh, that and making stuff up.

Daniel said...

This has got out of hand. Apologies to all (not least to Ed whose combox has borne the brunt of it) - the 'Scare-Crow' and his post was as joke on my part. I essentially took all the general pop-atheist quips and spliced them together in nonsensical fashions. I thought the God not being able to cycle whilst doing arithmetic (or 'athematic' for that matter) and Nothing not having a cause would have given it away. I initially considered using the moniker 'Allen Fox' but wondered whether that might be too obvious.

Re Bob,

With all due respect how up are you on contemporary philosophical issues, for instance the controversy of the existence and nature of abstract objects which has raged in Analytical circles for at least the last forty years? Many of the individuals involved for instance e.g. Quine or J.H. Sobel are atheists and have no theological stake in it (in fact a Platonic understanding of Mathematics features in a number of objects to the Kalam Cosmological Argument). And I won’t even start on universals…

@ Kantian Naturalist,

I’d broadly agree.

Some might ask whether the concept of a 'Maximally-Great' being (I hate Plantinga's term) is incoherent in the sense a Maximally-Great Number might be but such critiques are always fairly arbitrary and question-begging. The more common route is to enquire into the nature of the various Divine Attributes and ask whether they are coherent or compatible with one another. Richard Gale basically does this in one of his books. The nature and reality of these attributes is far from being unanimously agreed upon by theists themselves though so it more amounts to questioning the validity of individual points about God. Of course different schools of Theism also criticise and claim incoherencies in others concept of God - for instance Classical, Open and Process Theists will disagree radically on questions of Divine Simplicity, Immutability and Timelessness.

Re your recent post, does not Hume employ of A Priori metaphysics in his Conceivability argument against Causality (a pivotal part of his philosophy). I am suspicious as to whether a Kantian or early Analytic views on the 'A Priori' can be retrospectively applied to him as easily as some would think.

Gary Black said...

@Alan Fox @2:45AM

Of course, just as most points where you attempt to bring the science to reinforce your points, you are wrong.

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/02/22/energy-is-not-conserved/

Alan Fox said...

KN writes:

So if you want to preserve common-sense realism, we should adopt (1) as a our position about a priori knowledge: that at least some features of reality can be known independently of all experience.

"How do you know that" is my immediate reaction to many assertions made in posts and threads here.

I don't see how any human can be capable of any reflection about reality without some prior experience - at the very least a rudimentary language that you could only learn from interaction with other humans.

Brandon said...

There's no other way to find out about the world except via your sensory inputs. Oh, that and making stuff up.

To repeat myself: irrelevant. As I explicitly said, you are equivocating on the words and your defense of Bob involves a very obvious logical fallacy -- in this case immediate grounds of a particular inference with remote grounds of knowledge in general. You used to be much less sloppy than this, Alan.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be "conflating immmediate grounds" etc.

Anne said...

All existence on Mother Earth comes from Her.

Her soil provides important nutrients.
Her water nourishes them.

But when man turns on Mother Earth She has to respond back in kind.
Global warming, earth quakes, plagues.

I don't get why you need to make a post mocking Alanis Morrisette. Her songs speak directly to the souls of many women.

So I ask you, isn't it ironic that you made a post to mock her and that you found someone whom wouldn't take it?

Anonymous said...

You used to be much less sloppy than this, Alan.

Considering it's Alan Fox, this had to be a point in time during which he said nothing at all.

Even this early into the conversation it's been straightforwardly shown why Bob and Alan's objections are lame. But I look forward to seeing this dragged out over 100 more comments.

Bingo card time:

Every time Alan makes a scientific claim that turns out to be false.
Every time Alan repeats an objection that has been answered.
Every time Alan screws up a philosophical argument.
Every time Alan engages in a fallacy.

And so on.

Free space in the middle of the card is "Alan backs off and says he'll read and understand the arguments he's tried and failed to answer, someday, but clearly he never does."

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming Anne just another version of The Scare-Crow, just not by the same person. ;)

E.Seigner said...

Georgy Mancz

Forgive me, but I find your post incredibly odd. I understand the doctrine of analogy might seem odd at first, but it's key to classical theism.

I understand the doctrine of analogy as elucidated by Feser just fine. The same goes for classical theism.

To infer Creation being an illusion, for example, you need to be univocal about cognition in us and in God...

I kept Creator and God distinct terms for a reason. Namely, they are distinct. To view God as a creator is already an analogy that threatens to collapse into a univocal interpretation.

To affirm both absoluteness (inapplicability of genus, class, and attributes) and creatorship of God is to equivocate on a necessary distinction. It's to make a concession on divine simplicity. (Maybe my version of divine simplicity is a bit more radical than yours.)

...not to mention identifying imagination and the intellect, which is at least dubious (and to me it seems manifestly false).

Human intellect discovers truth. Pure intellect reflects truth. Imagination conceives (in every sense). To assume a creator is to assume imagination, because to create means to conceive. Intellect can see beyond that, namely beyond creation and even beyond the creator. (Not everyone's intellect of course. Human intellect has its human limits.)

To address your very controversial point about creation ex nihilo - surely you realise God is not nothing?

Does God create out of himself then? Doesn't this change God, even though God should be immutable?

I'm terribly sorry, but I didn't manage to grasp the idea behind the passage about everything "filling up space", and therefore all the purported relevant inferences...

Is there any space in the universe where there's nothing, or is there something in every place? If there's some thing or element everywhere, then there's no place for God. If there are some empty places where you could claim God to be, then there would be other places where God is not, and that would be a limited God of the gaps.

And so on. Anyway, my purported inferences are not too relevant.

Alan Fox said...

Gary Black asserts:

Of course, just as most points where you attempt to bring the science to reinforce your points, you are wrong.

I checked your link and there does not appear to be anything in it to suggest that the conservation of matter and energy is not true for this universe. As sean Carroll says:

We all [cosmologists] agree on the science; there are just divergent views on what words to attach to the science. In particular, a lot of folks would want to say “energy is conserved in general relativity, it’s just that you have to include the energy of the gravitational field along with the energy of matter and radiation and so on.” Which seems pretty sensible at face value.

Ismael said...

@Anaonymous

Mind. Thoughts. Life. Quantum level effects.

It's trivial to come up with examples of very common things that exist which do not obviously have material causes, or which arguably and plausibly did not begin to exist


Careful here…

Virtual particles are not particles at all, but fluctuations of a field, so they "pop in and out of existence" the same way waves in a lake appear and disappear...

Of course ALL particles can be seen as "ripples" in a field but "real" (as opposed to "virtual") particles are like a big wave, while virtual particles are like a tiny ephemeral ripple (which is caused by the fact that even fields with zero energy fluctuates).

So virtual particles do have a cause (at least a material cause: the field and perhaps the efficient cause: uncertainty principle, or rather the laws of physics that lie beneath it) and do NOT "pop in and out of existence" in the literal sense of the word.

One also can ask “why is there an uncertainty principle at all”? Usually it is taken as a postulate, as a “brute fact” of quantum reality.

-

In any case only a pure materialist would say that everything that exists (or begins to exist) has a material cause.
But then materialism has several problems (and Prof. Feser blogged about this as well)

I would that PHYSICAL things that come into being, need a material cause, since they are composed of “physical matter” (which includes energy)

----

@ The Scare-Crow

When will you people grow up and face reality? Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery.

Indeed it IS incredible that in this day of computers and internet people can STILL produce the stupid straw-men you listed below!!!


I mean… your “arguments” (if they even can be called that) would be ridiculized even by most atheists.

So either do consider putting down the ipod an read something cogent. Although I assume you are just trolling (or you might consider brain surgery).

PS: brain surgery existed even in ancient Greece and Egypt and even in the Middle-Ages (although it was quite crude!)… so… be more specific.

Also you consider ipods a pinnacle of technology? Weird… I consider it an over-expensive and little useful object… but then I am not an Apple fan!


Causation is not a predicate

Actually you are misquoting Kant. Kanst said EXISTENCE is not a predicate (which is a problem for Anselm’s original ontological argument… but that argument was already criticized way before Kant).

Even if “causation” is not a predicate, so what? This does NOT mean that causation does not exist and it is not necessary.

I mean “existence” is necessary in the sense that everything that exists, exists.

See here for example: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.it/2014/01/does-existence-exist.html



In reality, depending on how one actually defines the term “existence”, it can be a predicate, in my opinion. The way Kant and later Frege define it, it is not a predicate.

If I say “Martians do not exist” I could rephrase it as “The essence of “Martian” has not been actualized”. There are essences, like martians and unicorns that are present at least in someone’s mind, but are NOT actualized. In that case the term “exit” in “martians do not exist” can be seen as a predicate.


In any case causation is a predicate, since if I say “A is the cause of B”, “being the cause” is clearly a predicate of A.

Ismael said...

(continued)

----

Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Existence

this does not even make sense!
You mean that animals and people who evolved to not exist? That’s a rather harsh position to take (and a ridiculous one too).

I wonder is Dawkins claims that as well haha (no, he does not)

People might argue that Darwin “showed” there is no final causation or telos… that would be more coherent as a statement, although still false.



---

“If Nothing comes to be without a cause then Nothing disproves the 'Principle of Causality' and thus First Cause 'Arguments' fail”

This is also nonsense. “Nothing” cannot “come to be”, since nothing is not a being in a first place, but rather the lack of all being.

Like vacuum (in classical physics sense) is the lack of matter within a certain space.
You are asking (to a classical physicist) “of what particles/atoms is vacuum made of”, which in classical physics it has no meaning since vacuum was defined as a lack of particles. (mind you, this question has sense in today’s physics, mind you, since vacuum is not nothing, but I was taking classical physics as an analogy)

“Nothing” is NOT something, It has no being, so it does not need at all to “come into being”.

---

“If God Essence is his Existence then he can't perform Athematic whilst cycling and thus can't be all-powerful”
Athematic? Or Mathematics..?

Anyway, this is ALSO a STRAW-MAN.
One might say: well God is beyond human logic, so he can do that. Although I will NOT use that reply (which I do no favor at all!)

Omnipotence means, in classical theism “to be able to do everything logically possible”, i.e. what is not a contradiction in terms.

It is for example logically impossible for God to sin or to disappear, hence these feats, like making a “square circle” (which is indeed a contradiction in terms as well).

Of course we could also think about Jesus, who was God AND man… and Jesus, could do mathematics while cycling… ;)

Alan Fox said...

Brandon says:

You used to be much less sloppy than this, Alan.

Really? When was that?

Ismael said...

Does God create out of himself then? Doesn't this change God, even though God should be immutable?


Creation is what Geach called a CAMBRIDGE CHANGE.

God creates out of his powerm but this does not change God itself.

it is NOT to be seen as God taking a piece of himself and making it into something.

Rather if God has infine power, he could create something without the need of anything else and his power would remain unchanged and would not be diminished.

Feser blogged about this as well:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.it/search?q=cambridge+change

Ismael said...

"Is there any space in the universe where there's nothing, or is there something in every place? If there's some thing or element everywhere, then there's no place for God. If there are some empty places where you could claim God to be, then there would be other places where God is not, and that would be a limited God of the gaps. "

Space IS something... it's certainly not nothing ;)

Also vacuum is not truly empty at all, according to modern physics anyway.

In any case God is not some kind of gas that fills stuff up... so I am not even sure where you are coming from here.

-


Paul Amrhein said...

@Alan

You might want to check out Lawrence Krauss's *A Universe from Nothing*. I'd be interested in your take on it, really. What prompted me to respond was your comment about things not "popping int and out of existence" which is exactly what Krauss claims to claim happens all the time.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@Alan -- presumably one could think that some things could be known a priori -- e. g. by transcendental argument -- and also think that our capacity to appreciate such arguments is dependent upon, among many other things, our having successfully acquired a conceptual framework (or family of frameworks) through a complex pattern of interactions with one's social and physical environments.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Alan

On the acquisition of concepts. Believe it or not your very close to St Thomas on this issue. I would only ask you to say how it is possible to recognize a repetition based solely on what is given in sense experience.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Alan

PS

These issues are a little off topic. So if you want to explore them privately or in some other forum, I'm game. I'd also invite you to check out my blog. It's easy to find. Just google my name.

Georgy Mancz said...

E.Seigner

My apologies, but I hope you do realise that your position is very unorthodox. I'm not a native English user, but I'm confident the concept of God does cover Creation (I'm with Aquinas on this one: "et hoc dicimus Deum").
As to how admitting God as creator threatens Divine simplicity and how radical must one's idea of divine simplicity be, I really don't know.



On other points I concur with Ismael, naturally: to say that God (or this supposed "creator") must occupy space is to beg the question. That is, if you really are saying that, of course.

@Ismael

Thanks!

By the way, Scare-crow was a joke on Daniel's part, and a good one at that, in my reckoning.
Trouble is, it's really is hard to tell whether one's trolling or not, increasingly so.

Alan Fox said...

Paul Amrhein:

These issues are a little off topic. So if you want to explore them privately or in some other forum, I'm game.

You'd be welcome at TSZ and you can always author a post, should you wish. I'm not sure if it is you who lived in France for a while.

Jonathan Lewis said...

I think that Bob's reason for believing that everything has a material cause is the result of his general belief that everything that exists is material.

So why does Bob think this? He believes that reality is revealed through the senses alone. But it is this true?

Do you believe in Reason, Bob?

If so, which of your five senses shows you reason? What color is reason? What shape is it? How much does it weigh?

Take a sentence like this: "I decided that I should consider this idea further."

We have no trouble understanding what the words in that sentence mean, but none of those words has any sensory component to it.

If all knowledge comes through the senses, then why don't animals have the same knowledge that people do. Animals have the same senses as us. Indeed many of them have senses that are more acute. Humans have intellect in addition to senses, and this is what enables them to attain knowledge.

Clearly not everything in your experience is sensory.

Alan Fox said...

KN writes:

...presumably one could think that some things could be known a priori -- e. g. by transcendental argument -- and also think that our capacity to appreciate such arguments is dependent upon, among many other things, our having successfully acquired a conceptual framework (or family of frameworks) through a complex pattern of interactions with one's social and physical environments.

I just don't see how anyone is capable of thinking anything without first acquiring some basic (linguistic is the key element, I'm sure) framework to enable any kind of abstract conception to form or be expressed and that can only come in through the process of learning which involves inputs from an exterior source.

Alan Fox said...

Clearly not everything in your experience is sensory.

I refer you to my earlier thought experiment. Blind, deaf, raised by a robot in a room that you never leave, without any social contact, what will you know of the exterior world?

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"I just don't see how anyone is capable of thinking anything without first acquiring some basic…framework…that can only come in through [a] process of learning which involves inputs from an exterior source."

What does this have to do with a priori justification? I can't offhand think of any philosopher who has ever held that we could have a priori knowledge without having any sort of "experience" at all.

I may need "experience" in order to know what a nickel is. But I don't need any further experience (let alone empirical laboratory tests) in order to justify my belief that it takes more than four of them to make a quarter.

"I refer you to my earlier thought experiment. Blind, deaf, raised by a robot in a room that you never leave, without any social contact, what will you know of the exterior world?"

Likewise, even if I need specifically sensory experience in order to have knowledge at all, that doesn't have the slightest tendency to show that all of my knowledge comes from or through sensory experience or can be reduced thereto. Referring Jonathan Lewis to your "thought experiment" does nothing at all to refute his counterexamples.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I would only ask you to say how it is possible to recognize a repetition based solely on what is given in sense experience.

Exactly so -- and even more precisely put, how it is possible to recognize a repeated sense-particular as a repeated sense-particular.

My main objection to Alan at this point in the dialectic is his tacit commitment to the assumption that one can accept the legitimacy of a priori knowledge if one also thinks that such knowledge is "innate". Conversely, that if all mental contents are acquired, then there is no a priori knowledge.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I just don't see how anyone is capable of thinking anything without first acquiring some basic (linguistic is the key element, I'm sure) framework to enable any kind of abstract conception to form or be expressed and that can only come in through the process of learning which involves inputs from an exterior source.

Surely that's right, but that's a separate issue from whether or not there's a priori knowledge.

The question of a priori knowledge is about whether the justification is immune to revision on the basis of sensory evidence. For example, the Pythagorean Theorem is a priori because no empirical data can give us reasons for rejecting the geometric proof of the theorem.

When Quine rejects a priori knowledge (which is the implication of his rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction, as Putnam indicated many years ago), he does so because he holds that any sensory episode could give us reasons to revise the truth of any sentence in our language -- even those of logic and mathematics.

The question, "what is the basis of a priori knowledge, and what accounts for it?" is a different question than whether or not there is any at all.

Even a logical empiricist who thought that a priori knowledge is based on nothing more than linguistic convention would not deny that it makes sense to distinguish between a priori and a posteriori claims relative to a linguistic framework.

Nor need one (I maintain) adopt Scholastic metaphysics in order to make good philosophical sense of a priori knowledge at all.

benYachov said...

This blog is not a barrel and there are no fish here.

I love this place.

Irish Thomist said...

@Bob
Everything that begins to exist, begins to exist ex-materia.

I would disagree. This begs the question does it?

Making an assertion on your part (which begs the question on your first two sentences) is not the same as a direct counter argument to @Ed. Although thank you for expressing your opinion. Now we know where you stand on this.

TheOFloinn said...

I interpret as not making stuff up to advance any philosophical commitments, but ymmv.

Like making up a world lacking in cause and effect?

TheOFloinn said...

In my experience, species do not transform into other species. What appears to happen is that part of a breeding population (species) becomes isolated (geographically is an obvious case) and differences in selective pressure (warmer, colder drier, wetter, different food sources, predators) will allow those populations to evolve on separate pathways that means the two populations can no longer interbreed

You have actually experienced this?

Or does "experience" not mean what you think it means?

Irish Thomist said...

@Bob

Since you are the one making an argument and being the apologist for materialism; you have the burden of proof. So actually

Now what caused matter? of its nature it is not self necessary, so then where did it come from?

I also have to highlight my compadre that you need to quote Edward Feser himself since I think sadly you are falling into the trap of strawmen type arguments - or at least you are calling people out to give proof of something without giving the arguments (quoting them) that you are actually attacking.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scare-Crow
Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery. Think about it:

That isn't an argument and could be reworded to fit atheists - although I at least have the degree of charity to realize people may have come to conclusions contrary to the truth for good subjective reasons - i.e. maybe they can't see how a God can exist and X at the same time.

Does it help that I have such gadgets and take an interest in all the empirical sciences?

On second thoughts I doubt it.

Irish Thomist said...

@Jonathan Lewis

+10 for comment to Bob. 'Ratio' may be informed by sensory experience but it is not the same thing as that experience or reducible to such experience alone.

Irish Thomist said...

@Alan
I just don't see how anyone is capable of thinking anything without first acquiring some basic (linguistic is the key element, I'm sure) framework to enable any kind of abstract conception to form or be expressed and that can only come in through the process of learning which involves inputs from an exterior source.

Something tells me this isn't a stones through away from the wider Scholastic view. I also wonder if you are looking at this as if we held a cartesian dualist position of mind and body.

Can anyone help fill in the details because my knowledge on this is rather sketchy?

Daniel said...

Summarizing Quine: 'He does so because he holds that any sensory episode could give us reasons to revise the truth of any sentence in our language -- even those of logic and mathematics.'

'even those of logic'

Now how are we to take that initial statement in contrast to the part highlighted? What sort of claim to truth does it make? Dallas Willard once wrote that about twenty lost years of philosophical time could be regained had Quine actually read the Prolegomena to Husserl's Logical Investigation where such theories are gone into in great depth. Psychologism died an ignoble death only to rise again out of sheer naturalistic-Empiricist desperation.

If there is one philosophical idea I am glad we seem to have heard the last of it's the Analytic/Synthetic distinction. Brentano and Husserl were pointing out the problems with it way back at the beginning of the last century only to be ignored in favour of Mad King Ludwig and friends.

Daniel said...

There is also that annoying tendency to confuse the meaning of an expression with the fluid meanings we gradual attach and dissociate from the sounds (words) we at that time use to express it.

Preintentional Analytical philosophy always strikes me as a vision of Hell.

dover_beach said...

""Seriously it makes me sick to think there are people who actually believe this stuff in the age of I-pods and brain surgery."

So because we can take selfies and follow the tweets of people called Kardashians, we can look down our noses on the people who invented the university?"

TheOFloinn, can I please print this on some t-shirts and make some filthy lucre? You know it makes sense.

Glenn said...

It might be noted that 8 years prior to 1895 James McCosh, in his Realistic Philosophy (1887), gave a brief sketch, an extremely brief sketch, of the process whereby maxims are formed -- and used the "everything has a cause" mistake as an example of the fact that errors may creep in during that process:

"It should be noted of intuitive truths that they are, in the first instance, individual or singular, and that we need to generalize the single perceptions in order to reach general maxims. In them we begin with contemplating a single object, say an external object, and know it to be extended and solid, or an act of benevolence and know it to be good, or an act of cruelty and proclaim it to be evil.

"But we can generalize the individual perceptions, and then we have general maxims or axioms, which we can apply to an infinite number of cases. We perceive these two parallel lines will never met; and we are sure that we should affirm the same of every other set of parallel lines, and hence we reach the general maxim that parallel lines will never met. We perceive, on the contemplation of this deed of deceit, that it is base, and hence the maxim deceit is evil.

"But it should be observed that in the formation of these general principles there is a discursive act, in the shape of a generalizing process, involved. It is here that there may creep in error; for we may form a partial, a one-sided, or exaggerated generalization.

"Thus, on discovering a particular effect we at once judge or decide that it has a cause. But when we would make the principal universal we may fall into a mistake, and declare that 'everything has a cause,' which would require an infinite series of causes and make it necessary to hold that God himself has a cause. In such a case our generalization is wrong.

"But let the maxim take the form that 'everything which begins to be has a cause,' and we perceive that on a thing presenting itself to us as beginning we should proclaim it to have had a producing power.

"We thus see that there may be both truth and error in our metaphysical or moral maxims: truth in the primitive perception at the basis of the whole, while there may be hastiness leading to mutilation in the expression."

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Daniel:

Now how are we to take that initial statement in contrast to the part highlighted? What sort of claim to truth does it make? Dallas Willard once wrote that about twenty lost years of philosophical time could be regained had Quine actually read the Prolegomena to Husserl's Logical Investigation where such theories are gone into in great depth. Psychologism died an ignoble death only to rise again out of sheer naturalistic-Empiricist desperation.

I'm the last person to defend Quine! More precisely, much of what Quine says is both true and original, but what is true is not original (he got it from C. I. Lewis) and what is original is not true (that extensional semantics is all we need for philosophy of language and philosophy of science). And I most certainly do not think that "philosophy of science is philosophy enough"!

The fact of the matter is, Quine's extensionalism is simply a dogmatic article of faith on his part. There's absolutely no reason to think that the semantics of natural language (or the semantics of scientific theories) can be reconstructed on purely extensional terms.

(I also think that it's only if one is first committed to extensional semantics in the first place that one will then need realism about possible worlds in order to clarify the semantics of counterfactuals. Possible worlds is where analytic metaphysics goes off the rails.)

If there is one philosophical idea I am glad we seem to have heard the last of it's the Analytic/Synthetic distinction. Brentano and Husserl were pointing out the problems with it way back at the beginning of the last century only to be ignored in favour of Mad King Ludwig and friends.

I'm surprised to hear you say that. I would have thought that a close student of Brentano and Husserl would accept that intentionality and intensionality are irreducible, interderivable, and mutually indispensable. But an intensional semantics makes the analytic/synthetic distinction indispensable!

More precisely put, Quine's arguments against the notion of analyticity simply presuppose an extensional semantics, which is why he cannot make sense of intentionality.

Davidson, to his credit, recognizes the indispensability of intentional discourse -- but since he shares Quine's extensional semantics, the only way he can square the circle is by treating intentional discourse in anti-realist terms. We attribute beliefs and desires to others; we do not recognize them.

That seems completely bizarre to me, and among other things, it renders his account of animal minds so incoherent that he finds himself completely unable to even imagine the evolution of human language. That's the indication of a flaw in the heart of the diamond.

Better, I think, to recognize that intentionality and intensionality are indispensable, that there is original intentionality, and that not all intentionality is linguistic. If our conception of nature does not permit us to see how intentionality is natural, then so much the worse for our conception of nature.

Perhaps now you can see why I find Aristotelian naturalism more compelling than reductive materialism?

Daniel said...

Quick Message: Neither Husserl nor Brentano denied the necessity of some sort of distinction, instead they challenged the Kantian understanding of it and others which were appearing at the time and sought to provide a wider conceptual framework.

C.O. Hill has written a couple of interesting books on Husserl and the way issues of intension vs extension. There's an article about Husserl and Quine touching on the subject up on her website.

I never implied you were endorsing Quine's philosophy (the remark was more of an off-the-cuff observation about certain stances which seem to mean rejecting the possibility of science in the name of science). So apologies if it appeared if I were attacking you about it.

Anonymous said...

“ Darwin showed Evolution abolished the need for Existence ”


This is the dumbest comment I've ever seen on this site.

Scott said...

"This is the dumbest comment I've ever seen on this site."

The post was a joke by Daniel. Apparently it worked.

Anonymous said...

Apparently.

But the modern atheist has sunk that low into irrationality so as to make these jokes possible.

Hatman Strahw said...

Ok Dr. Feser if everything has a cause then explain to me wwhat caused cause? Or is it "God"? Why not Boogey Spaghetti Monster?

Oh right because religion teaches it is must be so!

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope no one thinks that one is real...

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Daniel:

Neither Husserl nor Brentano denied the necessity of some sort of distinction, instead they challenged the Kantian understanding of it and others which were appearing at the time and sought to provide a wider conceptual framework.

I agree with that entirely. I haven't read Brentano yet, and my knowledge of Husserl is meager -- only Cartesian Meditations and Crisis -- but even from that one can see that Husserl is exploring the structures of experience far beyond the 'scientificatization' of experience that one finds in the Critique of Pure Reason.

I never implied you were endorsing Quine's philosophy . . . apologies if it appeared if I were attacking you about it.

No need for apologies -- I didn't feel criticized on that point. I only wanted to take the opportunity to make known my misgivings about Quine, that's all.

Alan Fox said...

KN writes:

My main objection to Alan at this point in the dialectic is his tacit commitment to the assumption that one can accept the legitimacy of a priori knowledge if one also thinks that such knowledge is "innate".

Frankly, I don't know what you mean here.

Conversely, that if all mental contents are acquired, then there is no a priori knowledge.

There's no "conversely"! There is no a priori knowledge.

Alan Fox said...

The OFloinn asks:

You have actually experienced this?

Or does "experience" not mean what you think it means?


Experience includes shared experience, vicarious experience. There is first-hand knowledge and shared knowledge. It all comes in through the senses.

Anonymous said...

@ Alan Fox

'There is no a priori knowledge.'

Whilst it's true that I'm a philosophical ignoramus, I'm very confused about this.

Are you saying that 'Triangles are three-sided' or 'All bachelors are unmarried' is a posteriori?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't know what you mean here.

Alan's comment pretty obviously applies to most of what's said here, including a good portion of what he says.

I do like how "experience" also includes things not experienced by the person referring to said experience. Doubly so since other people's experience, or the idea that they have any experiences to speak of... is not something that can be ever experienced.

Anonymous said...

Ten to one we're about to see Alan Fox unwittingly give an a priori argument for his rejection of a priori knowledge.

Matt Sheean said...

"Experience includes shared experience, vicarious experience... It all comes in through the senses."

As others have mentioned, this is a pretty medieval way of thinking, Alan. Only in this case, to be called medieval is a compliment.

I suspect you mean something more radical, though, so I will first pose a question for clarification. Do you mean to say that only those things that can, in principle, be experienced by senses (biologically speaking) are those things about which we can reliably discuss?

Matt Sheean said...

by 'reliably discuss' I mean to say that we can discuss them in such a way as to come to knowledge about the world, rather than knowledge about, say, the topography of Middle Earth (I take it you believe that theology, no matter how philosophical is something like discussions about the topography of Middle Earth)

Kantian Naturalist said...

Are you saying that 'Triangles are three-sided' or 'All bachelors are unmarried' is a posteriori?

In order to forestall the response of the naive empiricist, let us note the distinction between

(i) assertions that turn to be a priori by virtue of being analytic, i.e. true by meaning alone (as the above sentences clearly are):

(ii) concepts that are a priori, in the sense that one must already possess the relevant concepts in order to have experience at all in the first place -- so for example Hume denies that there are any a priori concepts but accepts that there are analytic (hence a priori) assertions ("relations of ideas");

(iii) assertions that are a priori and yet not true by virtue of meaning alone ("synthetic a priori").

There is, additionally, the question as to whether there are any a priori concepts necessary to understand the sensory influx as genuine experiences of a world of objects located in space and in time.

An empiricist who insists that sensory flux can somehow turn itself into structured experience has a lot of explaining to do as how this happens!

Anonymous said...

"I checked your link and there does not appear to be anything in it to suggest that the conservation of matter and energy is not true for this universe."

The link explained why most cosmologists don't talk about the conservation of matter and energy for the entire universe. You cherry picked a paragraph which explained how some people try to salvage the idea, and then Carroll goes back to explaining why he thinks it's better not to think of it that way. But that's the point--the law of the conservation of energy if applied to the entire universe is a dubious one at best.

Anonymous said...

Another anon here to add...

But that's the point--the law of the conservation of energy if applied to the entire universe is a dubious one at best.

We have experience of entire universes having the law of conservation of energy apply to them?

Gary Black said...

@Another anon,

We have theories that apply to our general observations of the universe. These theories show the conservation of energy is dubious at best when applied to the universe as a whole. You cannot hold Anonymous to the same standard Alan Fox holds himself to - but even if you did; Anonymous would be right to hold the theory as dubious within the context of our experience.

Anonymous said...

Gary,

I (other Anon) was making a point about Fox's failed methodology, not Anon's.

Alan Fox said...

An anonymous commenter wrote:

I do like how "experience" also includes things not experienced by the person referring to said experience. Doubly so since other people's experience, or the idea that they have any experiences to speak of... is not something that can be ever experienced.

Say Aristotle moved to a Greek island called Lesbos for the good of his health. Say he had the opportunity to look at samples of sea creatures brought in by the local fishermen. Say he left records of what he found when dissecting cuttlefish. Say I read those records. Tell me I am not enjoying a sense-experience arriving via my visual sensory system. More than that, I can repeat his experiments or, at least, go to an aquarium or just watch a video of living cuttlefish. Shared experience saves a lot of reinvention of the wheel.

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters wrote:

...Carroll goes back to explaining why he thinks it's better not to think of it that way.

So what's changed? The physics or the "way of looking at it"?

But that's the point--the law of the conservation of energy if applied to the entire universe is a dubious one at best.

Science doesn't deal in certainties. The best explanatory model is that which makes predictions that are confirmed by observation and experiment. I suspect it is difficult (even for a cosmologist) to conceive of an experiment that could test such a broad claim. Scientific progress is made with the pragmatic assumption of regularities and continuities.

Demonstrating that the properties of this universe are variable rather than fixed for the time and space for this universe would be a challenge for science. That day is not yet here but who can predict the future. :)

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters wrote:

Ten to one we're about to see Alan Fox unwittingly give an a priori argument for his rejection of a priori knowledge.

But there can be no a priori knowledge. We have to learn something (a language, at least) in order to even discuss the concept as is demonstrated by the pixels on the screen. I agree that there can be a priori arguments. That's philosophy in a nutshell!

The really interesting thing to me in this is the biology. How did a population of social primates develop the necessary adaptations for complex speech, a large brain, the hyoid bone etc. and why did these adaptations begin so deep in our pre-history? Homo erectus was already showing these traits half a million years ago. I think Geoffrey Miller ws on to something

Alan Fox said...

KN writes:

In order to forestall the response of the naive empiricist, let us note the distinction between

(i) assertions that turn to be a priori by virtue of being analytic, i.e. true by meaning alone (as the above sentences clearly are):

(ii) concepts that are a priori, in the sense that one must already possess the relevant concepts in order to have experience at all in the first place -- so for example Hume denies that there are any a priori concepts but accepts that there are analytic (hence a priori) assertions ("relations of ideas");

(iii) assertions that are a priori and yet not true by virtue of meaning alone ("synthetic a priori").

There is, additionally, the question as to whether there are any a priori concepts necessary to understand the sensory influx as genuine experiences of a world of objects located in space and in time.

An empiricist who insists that sensory flux can somehow turn itself into structured experience has a lot of explaining to do as how this happens!


I don't think we disagree as I see no reference to a priori knowledge. You refer to assertions and concepts. My simple point is that a new-born human infant has the potential* to develop into a person capable of complex abstract thought and reasoning. That infant has an amazing ability in two or three years to learn a language and demonstrate communication skills. None of this will happen without a minimum amount of nurturing by that infant's carers - the social system that surrounds it.

Alan Fox said...

Matt Sheean writes:

As others have mentioned, this is a pretty medieval way of thinking, Alan. Only in this case, to be called medieval is a compliment.

Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.

I'm happy to agree with Aristotle and Aquinus on this. Seems self-evident!

Arthur said...

Eh? Even if it's true, surely it's not 'self-evident'?

Alan Fox said...

Arthur states:

Even if it's true, surely it's not 'self-evident'?

It's true for me. How much more self-evident can it be than that?

Alan Fox said...

Sorry, missed this earlier. Scott wrote:

I may need "experience" in order to know what a nickel is. But I don't need any further experience (let alone empirical laboratory tests) in order to justify my belief that it takes more than four of them to make a quarter.

No "may" about it. You needed to learn a a language and abstract concepts to enable you to have a concept of money, coinage and addition. Without learning communication and other social skills, I doubt you would have any concept of "belief" either.

Arthur said...

It's true for me. How much more self-evident can it be than that?

'True for me'? What is that supposed to mean? Do you mean it's true in your experience? That's not the same thing as 'self-evident'.

Surely 'self-evident' means that something can be known to be true simply by understanding the terms involved.

Alan Fox said...

Arthur asks:

'True for me'? What is that supposed to mean? Do you mean it's true in your experience? That's not the same thing as 'self-evident'.

Well, a Wikipedia contributor wrote: For most [epistemiologists], the belief that oneself (sic) is conscious is offered as an example of self-evidence. and consciousness is experience in that being unconscious renders you temporarily without experience.

Surely 'self-evident' means that something can be known to be true simply by understanding the terms involved.

Without the initial experience of learning, you would have no tools for considering the concept of self-evidence.

Arthur said...

Your response sounds very muddled to me, Alan.

Let's refocus: you implied to the maxim that 'Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses' was self-evident, and I questioned this.

I don't see what your Wikipedia quote is intended to show. You may have given an example of a self-evident truth, but I don't see how it contradicts anything I've said. Indeed, it seems to agree with me.

Likewise, where the 'tools for considering the concept of self-evidence' come from is irrelevant to what I was asking.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Alan Fox

a new-born human infant has the potential* to develop into a person capable of complex abstract thought and reasoning. That infant has an amazing ability in two or three years to learn a language and demonstrate communication skills. None of this will happen without a minimum amount of nurturing by that infant's carers - the social system that surrounds it.

Yes, of course. The difference between your view and mine is that you think that pointing out the above counts against a priori knowledge, and I do not. That suggests to me that you are thinking of a priori knowledge as "innate."

The idea that such knowledge is "innate" is, of course, one specific way of accounting for a priori knowledge. One sees this quite clearly in Plato and in Descartes.

What I'm contending here is that there is nothing in the very concept of a priori knowledge that requires innateness; the distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is fully consistent with the idea that all knowledge is acquired.

More specifically, one can think that a developing brain needs to acquire concepts from its social and physical environments in order to have the richly structured experiences that a rational animal ordinarily enjoys. Before all concepts, the infant's mind may well be a "blooming, buzzing confusion," as William James once said.

However, there's some new work on infant minds that I haven't read and I accept that I might well be underestimating infant cognition.

Kantian Naturalist said...

But there can be no a priori knowledge. We have to learn something (a language, at least) in order to even discuss the concept as is demonstrated by the pixels on the screen. I agree that there can be a priori arguments. That's philosophy in a nutshell!

And the conclusion of an a priori argument isn't a priori knowledge because . . . ?

The really interesting thing to me in this is the biology. How did a population of social primates develop the necessary adaptations for complex speech, a large brain, the hyoid bone etc. and why did these adaptations begin so deep in our pre-history? Homo erectus was already showing these traits half a million years ago. I think Geoffrey Miller ws on to something.

I think you'd enjoy Tomasello's work, especially his new book.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Le Fox

I'm just curious. Do you think that a priori knowledge pretty much amounts to making unwarranted assumptions or assertions prior to all sensory experience? Do you think such knowledge is necessarily language-dependent?

Don't it worry you that you seemingly critique Scholastics for this, still they mostly follow the "Nothing is in the intellect..."-quotation. Could it be that you're not being very fair in your readings, but create great thinkers in your own image? Is that even an option?

Alan Fox said...

Daniel Joachim asks:

Do you think that a priori knowledge pretty much amounts to making unwarranted assumptions or assertions prior to all sensory experience? Do you think such knowledge is necessarily language-dependent?

I think that "a priori knowledge" is an oxymoron. And I would say it is impossible for a human to have any deep understanding of the outside world without the ability to communicate. And, yes, everything starts with the senses. Without any external information, life would be very dull!

Irish Thomist said...

Hatman Strahw said...
Ok Dr. Feser if everything has a cause then explain to me wwhat caused cause? Or is it "God"? Why not Boogey Spaghetti Monster?

Oh right because religion teaches it is must be so!
September 18, 2014 at 1:29 PM

Anonymous said...
I sincerely hope no one thinks that one is real...


Poe's law breaks down at this level of ubersurdity [sic -and I coined it just for you]. It's like the event horizon of a black hole. In any event there is that level of dumb we just can't see yet. Sadly in this case it escapes every now and again into the blogosphere - just floating over the horizon from a sinking ship of fools.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Alan, at this point I'm beginning to suspect that the term "a priori knowledge" has a technical sense that you're not fully appreciating.

As I was taught the term (and as I teach it to my students), the "a priori" means that the justification does not depend on experience; it does not mean that one has the knowledge already prior to having any experience.

When I tell my students that 2+2-4 is a priori, the most common response is, "how that be? we learn that from experience -- I have two apples here, and then add two more apples, and now I have four apples -- so how it can be a priori?"

The reason it counts as a priori is not because we don't acquire it through experience, but because the justification is immune to revision on the basis of empirical evidence. There is no scientific experiment which will show us that 2+2 is not always 4. And there cannot be any such experiment, because the justification does not lie in any sensory evidence; the evidence lies in the mathematical proof itself.

Anonymous said...

Say Aristotle moved to a Greek island called Lesbos for the good of his health. Say he had the opportunity to look at samples of sea creatures brought in by the local fishermen. Say he left records of what he found when dissecting cuttlefish. Say I read those records. Tell me I am not enjoying a sense-experience arriving via my visual sensory system.

You're not.

Let's say you read some records making claims about animals living on a certain island. Except, unknown to you, neither the animals nor the island exist.

Are you still "enjoying a sense-experience arriving via your visual sensory system"?

More than that, I can repeat his experiments or, at least, go to an aquarium or just watch a video of living cuttlefish. Shared experience saves a lot of reinvention of the wheel.

Pity it's not experience itself you're relying on, at least for your argument.

Also, 1: if you did the experiments or went to the aquarium, that would be experience... which would be reinventing the wheel after all, and 2: one of the cornerstones of modern science is supposed to be replication, which is "reinventing of the wheel".

Not possible replication. Actual replication.

Jonathan Lewis said...

There is knowledge that people are born with. There is an experiment where crawling babies approach a precipice covered by clear glass. They do not go near the edge. They know that they should not approach such a drop off. They do not know this through experience. They have never had the experience of falling off a cliff or anything like that. No one told them they shouldn't go near an edge. They don't even have language yet.

Innate knowledge is even more obvious in animals. A spider comes out of its egg and knows how to build a web. No one teaches it how. Birds are born knowing how to build a nest and how to migrate south by navigation. They navigate by the stars, but no one taught them stellar cartography.

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"Sorry, missed this earlier."

And you've still missed it. Fortunately for both of us, though, Kantian Naturalist has been kind enough to spell it out for you in more detail.

Glenn said...

Alan's myopia has him "making stuff up", so he, e.g., asserts, believes, claims, declares, etc., that what is necessary but not sufficient is nonetheless sufficient because it is necessary.

Daniel said...

There is another issue about the A priori which hasn't been fully elucidated, namely, that when making his distinction Kant operated under the assumption that no A Posteriori statement could express necessity.

He does so because of Hume's arguments about causality and induction*. However A-T metaphysics and Realism generally deny that such problems exist and thus for them any true scientific statement about Natural Kinds expresses A Posteriori necessity. For instance the statement ‘Under X conditions Y substance (say Salt) behaves in Z fashion’ is a necessary statement as much as the truths of mathematics despite being an almost paradigm example of what Kant thought couldn’t be so.

*Hume’s reason for this was that he claimed though such entities had always behaved in the past we could easily conceive them not doing so and thus their behaviour was no exhibition of necessity. Hume, as a concomitant of his Imagism, assumes a thing to be a mere bundle of its sense qualities. Since he or she rejects the Imagism the Thomist may reject the overall thrust of the argument against A Posteriori necessity – they are free to regard an entity as being a nexus of dispositional qualities which can exemplified in multiple instances. We might convince of something that looks Salt and does not dissolve in water under X conditions but that substance would not be Salt, for to dissolve in water under X conditions is precisely part of what it means to be such.

This however requires a commitment to Realism about Universals, something which would be very difficult to account for on Naturalistic terms. Universal essences may be given in sense-experience (both Husserl and the Schoolmen are Empiricists) but that just shows that sense-experience is not what the Naturalist thinks it is.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Daniel,

Thank you -- that's very helpful! The only further point I'd make in response is, since this is so, we cannot determine by conceptual ingenuity alone (i.e. by a priori considerations) what is necessary and what is possible.

Or, more precisely put, we can discover logical necessity and possibility by a priori means -- what holds in all possible worlds -- but not nomic or natural necessity. Natural necessity is discovered through experience.

And yes, that does mean that empiricism is wrong about experience!

Kantian Naturalist said...

Some of you might be interested in Rorty's review of Naming and Necessity.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Daniel,

This however requires a commitment to Realism about Universals, something which would be very difficult to account for on Naturalistic terms.

I find this a bit puzzling -- it suggests that naturalism is too deeply entangled with nominalism. There's surely some historical association between them, but they are separable, no?

What it does tell us, however, is that if we must be committed to realism about causal powers, then we should not accept the Epicurean metaphysics of nature as ultimately constituted by little bits of matter that are passively moved by chance and necessity. We might have very good reasons to be more Aristotelian in our conception of nature -- or Aristotelian about some aspects of nature and not others.

Universal essences may be given in sense-experience (both Husserl and the Schoolmen are Empiricists) but that just shows that sense-experience is not what the Naturalist thinks it is.

That much seems right. I recommend the unfortunately obscure but really quite magnificent Body and World by Samuel Todes as a phenomenological refutation of both Hume and Kant. Specifically, he makes the rather interesting point that Hume motivates his empiricism by conceiving of experience as a purely passive process -- as a mere stream of sense-impressions.

There is perhaps a very deep connection between perceptual activity and our implicit grasp of causal powers, and that the latter are the ground of natural necessity.

It's an open question (to my knowledge) whether scientific realism requires realism about causal powers or just realism about modal structure. I don't have a horse in that race, but it's an interesting race.

Daniel said...

Yes, that is a rather sweeping statement. I was going to mention D.M. Armstrong in a bracketed aside at that point but thought it might be a bit gratuitously pedantic. I am sceptical of whether Naturalism is ultimately compatible with realism about Universals but an intelligent Naturalist could surely make counter-claims on that score which are worthy of serious discussion.

Curio said...

@ Jonathan Lewis

First, I'd consider the fact that sensation in utero likely influences knowledge after birth.

Second, it's interesting how quick you are to rule out the possibility that human sense organs are responsible for babies recognizing the dangers of the precipice. Also, many infants *do* crawl right over edges and this is something responsible parents are aware of. And how old were these babies? Neonates? They'd have to be pretty young to absolutely rule out the possibility of knowledge derived via sensation.

Third, you are relying on an empirical study that is open to falsification and indeed has been criticized for its methodology
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_cliff#Criticisms

Fourth, there's no real good materialist way to account for innate knowledge without sliding into Platonism. And spiders don't have knowledge, though you did just demonstrate that things without minds act for an end.

Anonymous said...

KN said (to Fox)

'Yes, of course. The difference between your view and mine is that you think that pointing out the above counts against a priori knowledge, and I do not. That suggests to me that you are thinking of a priori knowledge as "innate."'

My point in questioning Fox about a priori knowledge (e.g. 'all triangles have three sides') was trying to clarify AF's position. I agree with KN that AF does seem to erroneously assume that all a priori knowledge is innnate which, even to an unsophisticated commentator such as myself, is clearly false. There are obviously truths that do not require experience for their confirmation.

Now whilst I wouldn't want to commit myself to the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge (although I have at times found this attractive), it just seems obvious that there is knowledge apart from experience (a priori) and, whilst this might also be (merely) analytic, to deny the possibility of a priori knowledge suggest a deep confusion about what is under discussion, and makes me extremely suspicious of further discussion of these issues.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I'd point out that by the time babies are crawling, they are well on their way to accumulating a good deal of knowledge in terms of sensory-motor skills. They are working up a lot of non-propositional "know-how" as a practical foundation on which other perceptuo-motor skills will be based.

Aquinas3000 said...

I think this thread is proving it's not going to die and that your son will need to write his book.

Alan Fox said...

KN asks:

And the conclusion of an a priori argument isn't a priori knowledge because . . . ?

OK, you got me! Though would an erroneous conclusion add to your knowledge? How would you know whether a conclusion was right without testing it.

I guess if you can start with "change occurs" and end up with "Therefore the Catholic version of God exists", I suppose you don't need to check your result!

Sandymount said...

I think if one is to be generous to ones opponents, it is wrong to say 'who caused God then?' a strawman fallacy because in effect, with a nice metaphysical framework we do in effect say what our critics accuse us of.

God is pure actuality and doesnt need to be caused. Well, this is pretty much what our opponents say in their less pretentious way. 'Who caused God'..well, we just stop at God with 'He is Pure Actuality' ...

Alan Fox said...

Johnanthan Lewis wrote:

There is knowledge that people are born with. There is an experiment where crawling babies approach a precipice covered by clear glass. They do not go near the edge. They know that they should not approach such a drop off. They do not know this through experience. They have never had the experience of falling off a cliff or anything like that. No one told them they shouldn't go near an edge. They don't even have language yet.

Visual cliff experiments have not been conclusive whether human infants have an innate fear of heights but as no toddlers were harmed in producing the results, I would welcome further research. Anecdotal evidence: my daughter, when I took her to the local playground, I guess from around 18 months, would hurtle down the slide with gay abandon but a few months later she could not be persuaded to take the plunge.

Innate knowledge is even more obvious in animals. A spider comes out of its egg and knows how to build a web. No one teaches it how.

Indeed, Amaurobius ferox (Black Lace-weaver spider) mothers are consumed by their offspring, giving little opportunity for learning. Yet those offspring can construct webs of top quality without any practice. Studies have shown that web-building performance tails off with age rather than improving. Yet that behaviour must pass through the bottleneck of the zygote, somehow encoded in the DNA (where else is hard to imagine unless you are a dualist). The problem of how innate behaviours get passed on genetically is a subject whose surface has yet been hardly scratched.

Birds are born knowing how to build a nest

Indeed, but in some species at least, there is evidence that nest-building improves with practice.

...and how to migrate south by navigation. They navigate by the stars, but no one taught them stellar cartography.

Well, it seems that there is a special pigment in the visual system of birds, Cryptochrome, that interacts with the Earth's magnetic field, so that it might be said that migrating birds "see" the magnetic field of the Earth.

Corvids, the crow family, are , judging by many experiments, demonstrations and observations, highly intelligent birds, capable apparently of learning, abstract reasoning and problem solving.See this video

Alan Fox said...

Matt Sheean asks:

Do you mean to say that only those things that can, in principle, be experienced by senses (biologically speaking) are those things about which we can reliably discuss?

No, I have to concede I've been at cross-purposes regarding the a priori stuff. I say that sensory input and learning a language is a prerequisite for human's having the ability to discuss the abstract. Because this is so obviously fundamental to me, I was more interested in talking about this than whether certain propositions can re reasoned without reference to external reality, which I freely accept.

Alan Fox said...

@ curio

Sorry, didn't see your comment till after replying to Johnathan Lewis. Appears we agree!

Alan Fox said...

KN writes:

Some of you might be interested in Rorty's review of Naming and Necessity.

Thanks for the link. What with having bought "Scholastic Metaphysics and looking at A Natural History of Human Thinking, I might have to postpone my purchase of The Linguistic Turn.

Rorty does write well.

Alan Fox said...

On starting to read "Scholarly Metaphysics"I'm disappointed to find there are no pictures and no diagrams. Worse: I can't read it in bed as I keep disturbing my wife, with my mutterings of "how do you know that"!

Real life intervenes but I promise a heads-up when I get round to writing a review.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

On starting to read "Scholarly Metaphysics"I'm disappointed to find there are no pictures and no diagrams. Worse: I can't read it in bed as I keep disturbing my wife, with my mutterings of "how do you know that"!

Checkmate, Feser.

Glenn said...

On starting to read "Scholarly Metaphysics"I'm disappointed to find there are no pictures and no diagrams. Worse: I can't read it in bed as I keep disturbing my wife, with my mutterings of "how do you know that"!

(Take heart--for every chapter slogged through, you'll earn a free lollipop.)

Here's a 'picture' painted by a physicist:

"I do not mean to suggest that all mathematical relations can be perceived directly as 'obvious' if they are visualized the right way--or merely that they can always be perceived in some other way that is immediate to our intuitions. Far from it. Some mathematical relations require long chains of reasoning before they can be perceived with certainty. But the object of mathematical proof is, in effect, to provide such chains of reasoning where each step is indeed something that can be perceived as obvious. Consequently, the endpoint of the reasoning is something that must be accepted as true, even though it may not, in itself be at all obvious." -- Roger Penrose

That is a math 'picture', but no matter--the same basic 'picture' shows itself on different levels, including the metaphysical one.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Alan Fox:

No, I have to concede I've been at cross-purposes regarding the a priori stuff. I say that sensory input and learning a language is a prerequisite for human's having the ability to discuss the abstract. Because this is so obviously fundamental to me, I was more interested in talking about this than whether certain propositions can re reasoned without reference to external reality, which I freely accept.

Fair enough, then. For what it's worth, I happily agree with you that learning a language through interactions with one's physical and social environments is necessary for even the most elementary acts of rationality, such as judging, inferring, asserting, and reporting.

There's a big distinction between what kinds of assertions and inferences one can make with a conceptual framework once one has competence with it, and how competence with any conceptual framework is acquired -- especially the very hard question of how one acquires one's first conceptual framework, in the course of learning one's first language.

(I accept, of course, that animals and babies have concepts -- and the exact difference between those kinds of concepts and the kinds of concepts exercised in distinctively rational thought is something I have not yet worked out to be own satisfaction.)


Don Jindra said...

Kantian Naturalist,

"The reason [2+2=4] counts as a priori is not because we don't acquire it through experience, but because the justification is immune to revision on the basis of empirical evidence. There is no scientific experiment which will show us that 2+2 is not always 4."

To play devil's advocate (as I normally do here), I wonder how true this is? There is no scientific experiment which will show us the rules of chess are wrong. To castle is always to castle. Yet nobody would claim castling is a priori knowledge. The justification for the rule is tradition. It's the way we play the game. Is a math equation different than that?

Math is a language. It was invented to describe as surely as English was invented to describe. What does "2+2=4" describe? If we say nothing then the symbols are as arbitrary as castling. Surely arbitrary rules cannot be a priori knowledge. If we say the equation describes something, then what something?

You used the example of apples. I wonder if there's any way of explaining arithmetic other than focusing on sets of things like apples? I say focus intentionally. For there is no such thing as two apples. "Two apples" is a human construct. There are in reality billions of apples and none are the same. We may focus on two objects we classify as apples we put in a basket. We focus on two of something because these two things interest us for the time being. That "2+2=4" merely describes what interests us at the moment in a certain context. Yes, we can add two apples to a basket having two and find we now have four apples in that basket. "2+2=4" describes the result of our action and interest. But how can mere description of such fleeting interest be counted as a priori knowledge? Our very interest invented the sets to begin with.

IOW, for something to be a priori knowledge it has to transcend a human point of view. I'm not sure counting four apples in a basket while ignoring the billions that aren't in the basket transcends human POV. Classifying and counting themselves are human inventions. If we take that human POV out of the equation, we're left with arbitrary rules.


Alan Fox,

"Worse: I can't read it in bed as I keep disturbing my wife, with my mutterings of 'how do you know that'!"

LOL!








Anonymous said...

What's going to be a real laugh is Alan Fox trying to talk about and accurately explain anything he claims to have read in Feser's book. We have yet to see him mount an argument or a criticism on this site that even so much as accurately depicts what he's criticizing, and amazingly, even his attacks on caricatures of arguments don't really work.

In fact, I can predict what Alan will say at the supposed end of his reading the book: "I read it, and I found it a complete waste of my time. It was just mistaken all over the place. In fact, I think it would be a waste of time to even explain why, so don't ask me to spend my time talking about this. If this is the best theism has to offer, theism is doomed."

Then, strangely, it's right back to criticisms of ideas Alan can't even get right, along with a lot of repetition.

A bit like DJ, in that way.

Kantian Naturalist said...

There is no scientific experiment which will show us the rules of chess are wrong. To castle is always to castle. Yet nobody would claim castling is a priori knowledge. The justification for the rule is tradition. It's the way we play the game. Is a math equation different than that?

I don't see any problem with saying that "a bishop moves diagonally" is an a priori truth of chess. It's just not very interesting because chess is not a very important part of human activity.

It's true that we can tell a historical story about how the rules of chess came into being, but I don't see why we can't also tell a similar story about mathematics.

Greg said...

Anon,

I foresee the same. I spoke with Alan at length and he spent most of the time trying to wrangle out a list of premises to one of Feser's arguments. Once he got what he was looking for, he copied them, scurried over the the "Skeptical Zone", and pasted them over there so that someone could tell them which of them were wrong. (ie. I had to get someone to give me the premises of this argument I'm unfamiliar with, but whatever they turns out to be--I know that one of them has to be wrong. It's just gotta be.)

To put it lightly, he lacks the disposition of a philosopher. Perhaps his review of Feser's book will prove us wrong.

Tommy said...

Perhaps the answer is to give the strawman a name, to distinguish it from the real thing? Here I argue for "The Phantasmagorical Argument": http://www.darklingwood.com/2014/09/the-phantasmagorical-argument-for-gods-existence.html

DNW said...

Apropos of Feser's point and for Daniel's amusement:

" ... Mr. Enlightenment whipped up the fat little pony and they went bowling along the road as if nobody had a care in the world. Presently they began to talk.

"And where might you come from, my fine lad?" said Mr. Enlightenment.
"From Puritania, sir," said John.
"A good place to leave, eh"
"I am so glad you think that," cried John. I was afraid—"
“I hope I am a man of the world," said Mr. Enlightenment. "Any young fellow who is anxious to better himself may depend on finding sympathy and support in me. Puritania! Why, I suppose you have been brought up to be afraid of the Landlord."

"Well, I must admit I sometimes do feel rather nervous."
"You may make your mind easy, my boy. There is no such person."
"There is no Landlord?"
"There is absolutely no such thing — I might even say no such entity in existence. There never has been and never will be."
"And is this absolutely certain?" cried John; for a great hope was rising in his heart.
"Absolutely certain. Look at me, young man. I ask you — do I look as if I was easily taken in?"
"Oh, no," said John hastily. "I was just wondering, though. I mean — how did they all come to think there was such a person?"

"The Landlord is an invention of those Stewards. All made up to keep the rest of us under their thumb: and of course the Stewards are hand in glove with the police. They are a shrewd lot, those Stewards. They know which side their bread is buttered on, all right. Clever fellows. Damn me, I can't help admiring them."
"But do you mean that the Stewards don't believe it themselves?"
“I dare say they do. lt is just the sort of cock and bull story they would believe. They are simple old souls most of them — just like children. They have no knowledge of modern science and they would believe anything they were told."

John was silent for a few minutes. Then he began again: "But how do you know there is no Landlord?"

"Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder!" exclaimed Mr. Enlightenment in such a loud voice that the pony shied.

“I beg your pardon," said John.
"Eh?" said Mr. Enlightenment.
“I didn't quite understand," said John.

"Why, it's as plain as a pikestaff," said the other. "Your people in Puritania believe in the Landlord because they have not had the benefits of a scientific training. For example, now, I dare say it would be news to you to hear that the earth was round — round as an orange, my lad!"

"Well, I don't know that it would," said John, feeling a little disappointed. "My father always said it was round."

"No, no, my dear boy," said Mr. Enlightenment, "you must have misunderstood him. It is well known that everyone in Puritania thinks the earth fiat. It is not likely that I should be mistaken on such a point. Indeed, it is out of the question. Then again, there is the paleontological evidence."
"What's that?"
"Why, they tell you in Puritania that the Landlord made all these roads. But that is quite impossible for old people can remember the time when the roads were not nearly so good as they are now. And what is more, scientists have found all over the country the traces of old roads running in quite different directions. The inference is obvious."

John said nothing.
"I said," repeated Mr. Enlightenment, "that the inference was obvious."
"Oh, yes, yes, of course," said John hastily, turning a little red.
"Then, again, there is anthropology."
"I'm afraid 1 don't know—"
"Bless me, of course you don't. They don't mean you to know. ..." C.S. Lewis "The Pilgrim's Regress" 1933

E.Seigner said...

Tommy

Perhaps the answer is to give the strawman a name, to distinguish it from the real thing? Here I argue for "The Phantasmagorical Argument":

I'd give it some snappier name, such as Porological Argument - argument from porous logic.

Anonymous said...

To put it lightly, he lacks the disposition of a philosopher. Perhaps his review of Feser's book will prove us wrong.

I wouldn't count on him delivering. In this thread and others you can see he's in over his head with relatively basic philosophical concepts. For him to write a review would be for him to make a bunch of claims about what Ed wrote, what the arguments say, and so on. He would be drawing a great big bullseye on himself inviting people to estimate his philosophical and intellectual capabilities, and he knows he's going to come up very, very short.

Even if he went over to his den and begged them for help, ultimately it would be his name he'd be putting to those criticisms. He's the one who'd have to defend them. And once he realizes how he'd fare there, he'd also realize that his review would be an unintentionally positive review of the book: all he can produce is a sloppy wannabe hatchet job about topics he doesn't understand, and which honestly intimidate him quite a bit. It would be a small advertisement to say, "Ignorant atheists are freaking out about this book enough to trash it, and it's easy to see as much. It must be good."

Like I said, my money is on "it's such a bad book I don't see the point in wasting my time talking about it much".

Don Jindra said...

Kantian Naturalist,

"I don't see any problem with saying that "a bishop moves diagonally" is an a priori truth of chess."

Then you at least agree a priori knowledge can be a trivial thing indeed -- certainly philosophically uninteresting and unimportant. I wonder if any a priori truth rises above that low standard and how it would be demonstrated? Does the degree of mere human interest do that? If so, how did we become the metaphysical center of the universe?

Anonymous said...

Wow.

I used to believe that only my religion could be right, and that every other religion was wrong. I studied apologetics so I could prove this to anyone I met. Anyone else who claimed to know their religion was true deep in their heart was clearly suffering a Satanic delusion. At the exact same time, I believed a clearly mythological story with blind faith and nothing more to back it up than the fact that I knew deep in my heart that it was true. Then I realized that people fly planes into buildings, run into crowded plazas with bombs strapped to them, and drink poisoned Kool-Aid in the name of their gods. If faith is really the true measure of the veracity of a religion, I was clearly in the wrong church, and should have become a militant Muslim.

Greg said...

@ Anon

At the exact same time, I believed a clearly mythological story with blind faith and nothing more to back it up than the fact that I knew deep in my heart that it was true. Then I realized that people fly planes into buildings, run into crowded plazas with bombs strapped to them, and drink poisoned Kool-Aid in the name of their gods. If faith is really the true measure of the veracity of a religion, I was clearly in the wrong church, and should have become a militant Muslim.

Are these sentences intended to be related to each other?

Kantian Naturalist said...

. I wonder if any a priori truth rises above that low standard and how it would be demonstrated? Does the degree of mere human interest do that? If so, how did we become the metaphysical center of the universe?

The degree of significance of the practice for human life makes almost all the difference. I say almost all just to hedge my bets against the possibility of some kind of difference other than that one.

I don't know what "metaphysical center of the universe" really means, and insofar as I can attach any meaning at all to it, it's certainly not us.

In some sense, our phenomenologically elucidated experience is the epistemological center of our conceptual grasp of the universe, but that's not the same thing as "the metaphysical center of the universe" unless there were the tightest possible link between phenomenology and metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Are these sentences intended to be related to each other?

Give the guy a break, it's hard to spin a pious atheist lie consistently.

DNW said...

"Anonymous said...

Wow.

I used to believe that only my religion could be right, and that every other religion was wrong. I studied apologetics so I could prove this to anyone I met. Anyone else who claimed to know their religion was true deep in their heart was clearly suffering a Satanic delusion. At the exact same time, I believed a clearly mythological story with blind faith and nothing more to back it up than the fact that I knew deep in my heart that it was true. Then I realized that people fly planes into buildings, run into crowded plazas with bombs strapped to them, and drink poisoned Kool-Aid in the name of their gods. If faith is really the true measure of the veracity of a religion, I was clearly in the wrong church, and should have become a militant Muslim."



With a record of delusional thinking and poor judgement like that, there's no reason for anyone to take what you say seriously now, is there ...

Clearly, if you are right in any sense or to any degree it is purely by accident.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Then you at least agree a priori knowledge can be a trivial thing indeed -- certainly philosophically uninteresting and unimportant. I wonder if any a priori truth rises above that low standard and how it would be demonstrated? Does the degree of mere human interest do that? If so, how did we become the metaphysical center of the universe?

I would say that how interesting the a priori truth is depends on the importance of the practices of which that truth is a metalinguistic explication. In the case of chess, since it's "only a game," it's not at the core of our epistemic practices -- whereas logic, mathematics, and ethics are quite central to our epistemic practices. (So much so that it's hard to know how we would respond to putatively intelligent beings that simply didn't care about logic, mathematics, or ethics.)

I find this question -- "how did we become the metaphysical center of the universe?" -- hard to parse. I'm not at all sure I know what it means. I don't know what "the metaphysical center of the universe" means nor why one would attach this phrase to anything about human beings (if that is the "we" in this phrase).

I can somewhat understand the thought that our experience of the world is the epistemological "center" of our conceptual grasp of reality, but that's a different matter entirely -- and even then, "center" isn't the best word I would use.

Don Jindra said...

Kantian Naturalist,

"I would say that how interesting the a priori truth is depends on the importance of the practices of which that truth is a metalinguistic explication. In the case of chess, since it's 'only a game,' it's not at the core of our epistemic practices -- whereas logic, mathematics, and ethics are quite central to our epistemic practices."

But my question is, What makes math 'central to our epistemic practices?' My claim is that math is only central to those practices in so far as it corresponds to the physical world in which we count two apples plus two apples makes four apples. That counting of objects is indeed (theoretically) falsifiable by experimentation. If we remove math from that correspondence to the physical world, math is in fact just a beautiful game, fundamentally like chess. The puzzles are fun but no matter how much the game interests us, its supposed a priori truths have no metaphysical interest on their own, nothing to hint at a connection to epistemology.

This is why I'm skeptical of a priori truth. It looks to me like a metaphysical game once we pull anchor from the depths of experience.

Anonymous said...

@Don,

My claim is that math is only central to those practices in so far as it corresponds to the physical world in which we count two apples plus two apples makes four apples. That counting of objects is indeed (theoretically) falsifiable by experimentation.

I don't see how that is the case. Suppose I put two apples in a bag, then add two, and ask you to count them. If you tell me there are five, I'll say you're mistaken. If you then empty the bag, and show that there are indeed five apples there, I'll conclude either that there was already one in there before I added my 2+2, or that another one appeared after I added but before you counted, or that when I thought I added a total of four I was mistaken and accidentally shoved a fifth one. Etc.

Kantian Naturalist said...

What makes math 'central to our epistemic practices?' My claim is that math is only central to those practices in so far as it corresponds to the physical world in which we count two apples plus two apples makes four apples. That counting of objects is indeed (theoretically) falsifiable by experimentation. If we remove math from that correspondence to the physical world, math is in fact just a beautiful game, fundamentally like chess. The puzzles are fun but no matter how much the game interests us, its supposed a priori truths have no metaphysical interest on their own, nothing to hint at a connection to epistemology.

More precisely, we are able to apply mathematics to experience because (i) the world has the right sort of structure that it can be divided up into countable objects and (ii) we human beings have the right sort of cognitive functions to experience the world in countable terms.

Whether (i) can be explained at all is a question above my pay-grade, but presumably (ii) can be explained in terms of how evolutionary forces sculpted neuro-cognitive functions.

An intelligent being that was unable to experience the world as consisting of countable objects would be unable to apply arithmetic to the world, even if (ex hypothesi) had an intellectual grasp of the concept of a set and the successor rule, and so on that basis was able to grasp a priori that 2+2=4.

However, the fact that we are able to apply arithmetic to the world, because we can experience the world in countable terms, does not make the mathematical relations themselves empirically disconfirmable.

d.meyr said...

Anyone who has attempted, ad nauseum,to explain the validity of the scientific method regarding evolution and the age of the earth to brain dead christians can relate to your frustration.

Anonymous said...

@d.meyr,

I agree, although the general idea applies to all brain dead versions of: Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Scientific Materialists, Muppets, ....

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

The fact that you looked for a reason for the miscount implies that counting is theoretically falsifiable and (more importantly) that our arithmetic must match the physical world.


Kantian Naturalist,

"Whether (i) can be explained at all is a question above my pay-grade, but presumably (ii) can be explained in terms of how evolutionary forces sculpted neuro-cognitive functions."

Nicely said and I agree. But it makes me wonder about those 'sculpted neuro-cognitive functions.' They were sculpted by experience -- sculpted not only in the experience of each organism's life but in the many experience-based adaptations in the formation of the species itself. How would the truth or significance of arithmetic be measured prior to these facts?

So I wonder what it really means to say some relation is not empirically disconfirmable? Can a relation mean anything if it's outside of all experience? I keep thinking about meaning. I'll put it thus way: Can a closed system of formal relations among symbols (2+2=4) have an important philosophical meaning on its own? Do collections of symbols carry their own significance? I'm inclined to think not.

BLS said...

If arithmetic is empirically falsifiable, doesn't that lead to Kripke-style adding vs quadding issues?

grodrigues said...

@BLS:

"If arithmetic is empirically falsifiable, doesn't that lead to Kripke-style adding vs quadding issues?"

If arithmetic is falsifiable, falsifiablility is an impossibility.

Tommy said...

@Don

"...our arithmetic must match the physical world"

In what direction do you mean that "must match" to apply? Clearly our arithmetic *does* appear to match the "physical" world, but I could still take your assertion to mean two different things ((I *think* you mean the first of these two, but wanted to check):

1. The physical world is in some way primary, and so our arithmetic had better match it (otherwise it -- the arithmetic -- is little more than a game, albeit a beautiful one.)
or
2. Arithmetic is in some way primary, and we construct what we refer to as the "physical" world in such a way as to match the numbers. Here I could allude to Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak..." in the sense that arithmetic constitutes (a subset of) the language with which we describe the world, and so *of course* it must match, because the world Just Is that which is sayable.

Which of those is it (or is it something else again)?

Kantian Naturalist said...

So I wonder what it really means to say some relation is not empirically disconfirmable? Can a relation mean anything if it's outside of all experience? I keep thinking about meaning. I'll put it thus way: Can a closed system of formal relations among symbols (2+2=4) have an important philosophical meaning on its own? Do collections of symbols carry their own significance? I'm inclined to think not.

I take the converse position, because I don't think that empirical significance is the only kind of meaning that there is.

I understand meaning in terms of inferential role: the expression, "2+2=4" means that if one has asserted "2+2", then one is entitled to assert "4", because the equation is an inference rule from "2+2" to "4." (More precisely, addition -- and all mathematical operations -- is the inference rule.)

There are two crucial differences between meaning in a formal language and meaning in a natural language. The first is that natural languages are governed by "material inferences" and not just "formal inferences". In material inferences, the semantic content plays a role in the inference. For example, if one asserts that "Pittsburgh is west of Philadelphia," then one is committed to asserting "Philadelphia is east of Pittsburgh".

The other major difference is that inferential role in natural languages is governed by language-entries (observations, perceptions, etc.) and by language-exists (volitions, actions). For example, if one knows what "dog" means (i.e. has mastered the relevant inferential relations), then one will be disposed to say (or think) "dog" when one is in the suitable perceptual circumstances.

(But merely responding to the presence of dogs by uttering the sound "dog" or "Hund" or "chien" isn't enough for linguistic meaning -- even a well-trained parrot can do that!)

All this is somewhat distinct from the further question, which prompted this discussion, of whether there is reliable knowledge about particular features or domains of reality distinct from empirically-guided or empirically informed cognitive content.

On that specific point, I think that there isn't. But one can deny that there's non-empirical knowledge of particular domains of reality while still affirming that there is non-empirical knowledge of general aspects of reality. For example, we know a priori (by transcendental argument) that there is a mind-independent reality to be experienced and known by us at all.

It takes just a little bit of Kant to prevent empiricism from becoming skepticism, and the result is pragmatism.






Alan Fox said...

Don Jindra wrote:

"Two apples" is a human construct. There are in reality billions of apples and none are the same.

Indeed! Rather than mathematics being the perfection to which reality strives, it is a pragmatically useful modelling tool for understanding how the world is.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Rather than mathematics being the perfection to which reality strives, it is a pragmatically useful modelling tool for understanding how the world is.

Nevertheless, it is also the case that arithmetic could not be applied to the objects of experience if it were not the case that

(1) the universe has the right kind of structure for it to be divvied up into objects;

(2) we had the right kinds of cognitive capacities to classify similar and different patterns or processes as objects with determinable properties and relations.

(If we had the kinds of minds such that all terms were mass-terms, and we didn't have counting-terms at all, then though it is logically possible that such a being might invent set theory and derive some truths from it, such a being could not apply its insights to its experiences.)

It's fairly clear that organisms with our kinds of cognitive capacities couldn't have evolved in a universe that didn't have the right kind of minimally specifiable structure to it.

So while it's true that arithmetic is useful, the pragmatic gesture doesn't get us off the hook from doing any metaphysics at all. We can still ask, "what can we say about the world in itself, given that the world is the kind of world in which mathematics can be a useful aid to satisfying our needs and interests?"

If one isn't terribly interested in that question, then that's fine by me -- but that doesn't mean isn't not a senseless question for someone to pose.

Glenn said...

DJ: > "Two apples" is a human construct. There are in reality billions of apples and none are the same. [1]

AF: >> Indeed! Rather than mathematics being the perfection to which reality strives, it is a pragmatically useful modelling tool for understanding how the world is. [2]

(cont)

Glenn said...

[1] Is the same thing true of two oranges?

The reason I ask is because I purchased two oranges last night. Honestly, really and truly. At least I think I did. Now, I'm not so sure.

It seems that, if the pattern holds true, in reality there are "billions" of oranges, and it just so happens that all of these so-called "billions" of oranges, excepting the two oranges I purchased last night--er, excepting the "two oranges" I think I purchased last night--are not presently in my refrigerator.

Btw, if there are billions of apples, or billions of oranges, then isn't it true that there are either 2X pairs of apples (or oranges) or 2X + 1/2 pairs of apples (or oranges) in the world (where X > 500 million)?

Additionally, how can you guys (DJ and AF), fastidious empiricists that you are, count as high as billions of apples (or oranges) without approaching and meeting – and possibly passing by and leaving behind -- two apples (or two oranges)?

Maybe "billions" is a figment of your imaginations, and in reality there are simply more than two apples (or two oranges) in the world.

OTOH, maybe it is simply a case of there not being less than three apples (or three oranges) in the world.

I know there are not less than three oranges in the world, for there are two oranges in my refrigerator right now, and I left behind in the supermarket last night considerably more than two oranges.

As far as apples are concerned, I--alas--purchased only one half of two apples last night, and, placing great reliance on the assumption that my memory isn't playing tricks on me, I'm quite confident that, as I did with the oranges, I left behind in the supermarket last night considerably more than two apples.

Anyway, what makes you guys think there are such things as "apples" and "oranges"?

Aren't you being inconsistent when asserting that there are such things as apples and oranges?... in lieu of being consistent by asserting, e.g., that in reality there are just "things that grow on trees"?

[2] From Franklin's intro to his An Aritstotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics (p 2):

“A typical mathematical truth is that there are six different pairs in four objects[.]

“The objects may be of any kind: physical, mental or abstract. The mathematical statement does not refer to any properties of the objects, but only to patterning of the parts in the complex of the four objects. The truth is thus about pure structure, and is also quantitative, in dealing with the necessary relation between the number of objects and the number of parts.

“If the statement seems to us [--Franklin is being excessively charitable by using ‘us’; he really means people like DJ and AF--] a less solid truth about the real world than, say, the causation of flu by viruses, that is simply due to our blindness about relations, or our tendency to regard then as somehow less real than things and properties. But relations (in the example [of six different pairs in four objects], relations of equality between parts of a structure) are as real as colours or causes. There is nothing [kind] to be said for the view of the engineers [such as DJ and AF (though sound engineers they are not)] that mathematics is no more than a grab-bag of methods and formulas, a 'theoretical juice-extractor' [--again with the fruit-related malarkey--] for deriving one substantial truth from others. The truth about pairs of object [--such as apples; or, say, oranges--] is not hypothetical or logical or symbolic in nature, but a straightforward truth about objects--objects of any kind, physical or otherwise, but real objects.”

- - - - -
(Btw, if there are exactly one billion apples in the world, then there are exactly 499,999,999,500,000,000 unique pairs of apples. (Yeah. But how many pips are there.)

Glenn said...

("Yeah. But how many pips are there" was to be part of a continuation; a continuation I decided not to pursue, but forget to delete.)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"Btw, if there are billions of apples, or billions of oranges, then isn't it true that there are either 2X pairs of apples (or oranges) or 2X + 1/2 pairs of apples (or oranges) in the world (where X > 500 million)?"

I think you've multiplied by two where you wanted to divide, and I think you have a + where you want a -.

If there are X apples, then they can be sorted into either X/2 or (X-1)/2* [which is X/2 - 1/2, not X/2 + 1/2] pairs according to whether X is even or odd, respectively.

I'm just nitpicking for fun here; your point is perfectly sound. If there are either 2n or 2n+1 apples (for some nonnegative integer n), then they can be sorted into n pairs. Of course there are lots of ways of doing this, but you're not talking about combinatorics here, just a count of the grand total of unordered pairs. ("Hey, I didn't order pears. I ordered apples!") It's perfectly acceptable to say that there are therefore n pairs of apples.

It's also, in a way, acceptable to say that each such pair of apples is a "human construct," but not if this is contrasted with what there "is in reality."

----

* Because, of course, if the number of apples is odd, then there will be one left over.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"(Yeah. But how many pips are there.)"

Three.

Glenn said...

Scott,

(Been away til now; sorry.)

Nit picking for fun is always... well, fun. ;)

As for the answer to the question "how many pips", I am quite relieved to hear that the answer is three. There was a mysterious looking envelope in the mail today, so I was more than a little concerned that the answer might be five.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Oh, yikes, I thought you meant apple pips. I'm afraid I don't have good news for you…

But look, hurry home and place the remaining papers on the sundial. Maybe it will be all right.

Glenn said...

Yikes.

But the heck with the sundial-- I'm booking passage on the midnight train to Georgia. It's 10:34 here, so I've still time to catch it.

Don Jindra said...

Tommy,

Yes, I believe 1) "The physical world is primary, and so our arithmetic had better match it (otherwise it -- the arithmetic -- is little more than a game, albeit a beautiful one.)"


Kantian Naturalist,

"But one can deny that there's non-empirical knowledge of particular domains of reality while still affirming that there is non-empirical knowledge of general aspects of reality. For example, we know a priori (by transcendental argument) that there is a mind-independent reality to be experienced and known by us at all."

I agree we have to assume a mind-independent reality -- for purposes of sanity if nothing else. We have to assume order too. But is this really what we mean by a priori knowledge? A mind-independent reality seems to be solidly true but I don't know how I'd prove it's true. (I did formulate a tongue-in-cheek proof once but it relied on experience.)


Glenn,

Aren't you being inconsistent when asserting that there are such things as apples and oranges?... in lieu of being consistent by asserting, e.g., that in reality there are just "things that grow on trees"?

I'm pro-classification of the world so I'm glad you mentioned this. I wonder how a caterpillar would classify things that grow on trees? For at least the past two centuries we've been interested in origins. Discovery of evolution and DNA have been treasures for us. But I wonder if dogs, with their keen sense of smell and probable disinterest in history (which manifests itself in their interest in butts but their disinterest in the origin of the smell), would classify the world in the same manner we do?

Glenn said...

I'm pro-classification of the world so I'm glad you mentioned this.

You're glad I mentioned your inconsistency? Well, then, there may be hope for you yet.

Glenn said...

Btw, whether members of one species might classify things differently from members of another species isn't a profound insight. Different members of one species not infrequently classify things differently from other members of the same species. And the same member of a given species might classify one thing one way at one time, and the same thing another way at another time. Again, not profound. Also not profound is the equally true, though less often noticed, fact that that which is classified remains what it is regardless of how it is classified, as well as regardless of who does the classification.

Glenn said...

(s/b "...who does the classifying.")

Scott said...

Also not profound is the implication that because there's more than one way of classifying things, none of them is objective. In fact, that's not only un-profound but demonstrably flat-out wrong.

Scott said...

(For example, a box containing a red button, a red marble, a blue button, and a blue marble could be regarded as containing "two red things and two blue things" or "two buttons and two marbles." Both are correct.)

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

We classify by sets. Those sets have numbers and qualities both of which are of interest to us. That interest is the basis for our classifying. Those unprofound statements are not anywhere inconsistent.


Scott,

"Also not profound is the implication that because there's more than one way of classifying things, none of them is objective."

That objectivity is based on empirical data -- experience. Nobody claims a priori truths about blue buttons and red marbles so I don't see how it's relevant. The subject is a priori truth.

Don Jindra said...

Scott,

Let me see if I can better explain. Blue, red, marble and button have no meaning outside experience. I'd like someone to tell me what meaning 4 has outside experience? If 4 has no such meaning outside experience, how can 2+2=4 have meaning?

Kantian Naturalist said...

Blue, red, marble and button have no meaning outside experience. I'd like someone to tell me what meaning 4 has outside experience? If 4 has no such meaning outside experience, how can 2+2=4 have meaning?

Why ever would one think that "four" has no meaning outside of experience? "Four" can be defined in terms of the empty set and the rule of succession. Frege pointed this out at the beginning of the 20th century., and maybe it was known before then.

I don't have any firm views on the ontology of numbers. The more interesting question is, "if there are abstract objects, then how could we know it? what is our mode of epistemic access to abstract objects?"

And it precisely here where we see the stark divide between the Scholastic commitment to realism about universals and modernity's implicit nominalism.

I think we can all agree on this much: if we have any epistemic access to abstract objects, that access is not described by anything in our contemporary neuroscience.

The question is, does that mean "so much the worse for our neuroscience!" or "so much the worse for abstract objects!"

As the old saying goes, one person's modus ponens is another person's modus tollens!

Glenn said...

Glenn,

We classify by sets. Those sets have numbers and qualities both of which are of interest to us. That interest is the basis for our classifying. Those unprofound statements are not anywhere inconsistent.

Scott,

Let me see if I can better explain. Blue, red, marble and button have no meaning outside experience. I'd like someone to tell me what meaning 4 has outside experience? If 4 has no such meaning outside experience, how can 2+2=4 have meaning?


If you're going to contemplate whether the character string "2+2=4" might not have any meaning, you might as well also contemplate whether the character string "Don Jindra" might not have any meaning.

Hold on there, not so fast:

I've responded under the pretense of responding to what you said (to Scott), when in fact I've responded to something you didn't say. For you were not treating "2+2=4" as a character string, and you did not say that that character string might not have any meaning,; rather, you were treating "2+2=4" as an equation, and said that that equation might not have any meaning outside of experience.

But, you see, what I did is known as "tit for tat".

For you have responded under the pretense of responding to what I said, when in fact you responded to something I didn't say. That is, I did not say that your assertion about members of one species possibly classifying things differently from members of another species was inconsistent. Rather, my statement about your inconsistency was made prior to your comment about members of different species classifying things in different ways, and in fact had to do with two (2) things:

1) that you claim there is not any such thing as "two apples" yet assert that there is such a thing as "billions of apples"; and,

2) that whereas you acknowledge that there are general quantities of apples (e.g., "billions of apples") yet deny that there are specific quantities of apples (e.g., "two apples"), you do not deny that there are specific types of things which grow on trees (e.g., apples) even though there also are general types of things which grow on tree (e.g., fruits).

Glenn said...

(s/b "...general types of things which grow on trees...")

grodrigues said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"And it precisely here where we see the stark divide between the Scholastic commitment to realism about universals and modernity's implicit nominalism."

From SEP's entry on abstract objects, historical remarks, beginning of the first paragraph:

"The contemporary distinction between abstract and concrete is not an ancient one. Indeed, there is a strong case for the view that despite occasional anticipations, it plays no significant role in philosophy before the 20th century. The modern distinction bears some resemblance to Plato's distinction between Forms and Sensibles. But Plato's Forms were supposed to be causes par excellence, whereas abstract objects are generally supposed to be causally inert in every sense."

and from the last paragraph of historical remarks:

"Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are sometimes called nominalists. This terminology is lamentable, since these words have established senses in the history of philosophy, where they denote positions that have little to do with the modern notion of an abstract object. However, the contemporary senses of these terms are now established, and so the reader should be aware of them."

The way you framed the problem is a typically modern one, and it is anachronistic to project it into the Scholastics.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ grodrigues:

I see your point about the shift in terminology, but I hadn't understood my own remark as being anachronistic in content, only in terminology. I happily acknowledge your point that if we adopt the contemporary conception of "abstract objects" as not having any causal relations with anything spatio-temporal, then neither Plato's eidos nor Aristotle's morphe are "abstract".

A Scholastic, after all, does have a way of specifying our mode of epistemic access to the Forms -- it's a causal relation, and it looks 'odd' to modern ears because the Scholastic conception of causality is quite different from the modern one.

If anything, it is the contemporary analytic metaphysician who is unable to answer the question, "what is our epistemic access to abstract objects?"

Here's a story -- as reported to me by someone who was there. Jerry Katz was defending his account of semantic platonism about meanings, and Hartry Field called him out on it. He wanted to know how we could ever become aware of meanings thus construed. "Is there some magical fluid in the brain?" he asked Katz. Katz, of course, said "yes" -- and he had to, given all of his other commitments. And when you have to end up positing magical brain-fluid to get your philosophy of language off the ground, something has gone very badly wrong!

Scott said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"[W]hen you have to end up positing magical brain-fluid to get your philosophy of language off the ground, something has gone very badly wrong!"

Well, unless "magical brain-fluid" is a conciliatory euphemism for "immaterial intellect." ;-)

Kantian Naturalist said...

Well, unless "magical brain-fluid" is a conciliatory euphemism for "immaterial intellect." ;-)

Indeed! But my point rather was that Field was able to trap Katz into making what is frankly an absurd remark because Katz, as a modern philosopher, had no choice but to rely on contemporary neuroscience in order to explain our mode of epistemic access to meanings, quasi-Platonistically conceived.

It's certainly a virtue of Scholasticism that it avoids this entire problem by virtue of having a different account of causation altogether.

Don Jindra said...

Kantian Naturalist,

"'Four' can be defined in terms of the empty set and the rule of succession."

Can you explain how concepts of 'set' and 'succession' acquire meaning outside the experience of sets and succession? and do so without appealing to yet another concept that hinges on experience? An appeal to platonic forms has the same problem, imo.

Glenn,

By 'billions of' I didn't give a fixed number. I used it as a generic totality. Maybe I should have said 'countless'. I also specifically said no apples were the same. I did that to meet your objection before you made it. We categorize those things that grow on trees -- things that are not actually identical -- as a general category of 'apple'. That's us making one category out of similar but nevertheless unique items that grow on trees. I hope it's clear I'm not suggesting there are no apples. I'm suggesting a priori knowledge has to exist outside of us which includes outside of categories and sets we create out of our interests.

Alan Fox said...

I also specifically said no apples were the same.

But what about apple essence? Those potential apples itching to become actual apples. Striving to achieve the status of essential apple!

Biological entities vary in much more interesting ways than protons.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Can you explain how concepts of 'set' and 'succession' acquire meaning outside the experience of sets and succession? and do so without appealing to yet another concept that hinges on experience? An appeal to platonic forms has the same problem, imo.

For some reason you seem to think that a concept is a priori only if it is not acquired through sense-experience. In other words, the very notion of the a priori commits us to some kind of Platonism. I disagree, because I think that pragmatic naturalists such as myself can think about a priori concepts in a very different way.

I would say that the a priority of a concept has nothing to do with how we acquire the concept in question. Instead, it is about whether the inferential role of the concept in our discursive practices is constrained by perception and by action.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Those potential apples itching to become actual apples.

Yeah, those are called seeds. :)

It's often thought that the Darwinian shift from typological to populationist conception of a species is inconsistent with Aristotelianism. Ernst Mayr thought that. So did Jacques Monod. But I'm genuinely puzzled as to why they thought so.

I'm not entirely sure about this suggestion, but it doesn't seem implausible to say that the morphe or Form of a living thing is its genotype.

Alan Fox said...

Kantian naturalist writes:

It's often thought that the Darwinian shift from typological to populationist conception of a species is inconsistent with Aristotelianism.

Have to say that thought never occurred to me!

Just glancing through De Partibus Animalium (available on line here
I'm struck by Aristotle's prescience in his efforts at classification, with his talk of "bifurcations" which is how we now talk about the trend of increasing diversity as bifurcation as the origin of species. Reading his work (albeit in translation), one gets a much more rounded impression than through the lens of later developers of his work. I am beginning to suspect the same of Aquinus.